Front and back of a Ray Gesell political campaign card from 1944.
Collection of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County
“It all started as a joke,” Ray said. One day, while talking politics over beers, two of Ray Gesell’s friends told him he should run for office. Ray, jokingly, said he would. Within a few days, his friends were actively campaigning on his behalf. “I tried to back out and I couldn’t.”
Ray Gesell served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1945-1951. Again, he found himself following in the footprints of his grandfather Randolph Probstfield, a poor but respected farmer who served as a Minnesota State Senator.
Clarence Oscarson holding two bags of onions and standing in front of the Old Trail Market.
Ray Gesell returned to the Probstfield Farm after the war was over. While much of America experienced an economic boom during the Roaring ‘20s, farmers started their Great Depression a decade earlier than everyone else. For twenty years, prices for grain, vegetables, and meat were too low for farmers to make a decent living. “It didn’t make any difference how hard you worked or what you did,” Ray said years later. “You couldn’t come out even.”
Ray and his aunts and uncle on the farm were able to make it because of the garden. While they had no money, they had veggies, a flock of chickens, a milk cow and usually a pig or two. They were truck farmers, growing vegetables to bring into town or to sell at the Old Trail Market, the roadside vegetable stand on the farm.
Ray Gesell joined the Army in 1918 and trained in the Pidgeon Squadron at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Ray Gesell left the Probstfield Farm to join the Army in 1918. He trained in the Pigeon Squadron, using carrier pigeons to send military messages in a time before the widespread use of radio. The war ended while Ray was still training in Fort Lewis, Washington.
Army Lt. Walter Gesell fought in the Great War.
His brother Walter was not as lucky. Lt. Walter Gesell lost his right arm while fighting in France a month before the war ended.
Ray Gesell, age 19, sitting atop a sprayer.
Before Fargo and Moorhead existed, settlers Randolph and Catherine Probstfield started a farm on a piece of high ground about three miles north of here. They called the spot Oakport, and here they grew vegetables to feed the towns that grew south of the farm. In Randolph’s last years, he took his young grandson Ray Gesell on his knee. He told the boy that that this land was the best in the world and he wanted Ray to take care of it one day.
Raymond Gesell moved onto the Probstfield farmstead in 1916, when he was 19 years old. He came to help his Aunts Millie and Josie Probstfield and Uncle Andy Probstfield. Ray became the driving force behind the Probstfield Farm for the next half century.