Grandpa Rudy’s Little Western Town gives the Old West a new touch


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Old West. An era in American history that’s been relived time and time again through books and movies.

But in Alexandria it’s on display for all to see. Grandpa Rudy’s Little Western Town was built by a creative man with a vision. Then it went into hiding for more than 30 years. But then, a creative grandson brought it back to life.

You didn’t have to live in the old west to at least get a “television” taste of it, with shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza playing on turn-the-dial TVs in the 50’s and 60’s.

“Matter of fact my mom and dad bought one of the very first color TVs in Eagle Bend, Minnesota,” said Jeff Roste.

Roste was a fan of the westerns, mostly because of his Grandpa Rudy Barthel. Rudy managed an Elk River liquor store and decided to get creative with the wine and booze crates.

“He built that town in about a year. He started in 1957 and got done somewhere in ’58,” said Roste.

He also used tiny motors from liquor signs to bring his western town to life.

“I was just mesmerized as an eight year old to see these little doors opening and people inside and their arms would move,” said Roste. “That first time I saw it was pretty cool.”

But then, like so many dirt road villages back in the day, this one too simply disappeared. When Grandpa Rudy died, his little creation went to Roste’s uncle. And there it sat in pieces for more than three decades. Forgotten by everybody- except for Roste and an uncle who had good intentions.

“He said I’m not going to get to it. I’m getting older. Why don’t you come and get it,” said Roste. “The day I brought it back I started working on it already. That’s how excited I was to have it.”

Like his grandpa before him, Roste spent more than a year giving the old west a new touch. He found 8-millimeter home videos to guide him.

“Paint was chipped off a lot of them so repainting,” he said. “I would talk to grandpa and say grandpa what would you do here?”

Marshal Dillon might say what came out in the end was a sight for sore eyes. So much so that Grandpa Rudy’s Little Western Town is now on display at the mall in Alexandria.

“You can just see all the imagination that went into it. Jeff takes it over after all these years and brings it back to life,” said Dave Bistodeau of D. Michael B.’s Bar and Grill.

Imagination is key.

“The blacksmith door never opened before so I made that open up,” said Roste.

However you look at it, the town is proof that our western intrigue never dies. Even if it spends more than three decades gathering dust on a shelf.

“I’m sure he would be pretty proud,” said Roste. “They don’t make them like they used to.”

Grandpa Rudy’s Little Western Town will be on display at the Viking Plaza Mall in Alexandria, indefinitely.

John Lauritsen

John Lauritsen is an Emmy award-winning reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-TV in late-July of 2007. Two days after he started, the…More from John Lauritsen