The Honor System
(Sentinel Butte, North Dakota) Not so far from the North Dakota Badlands and a little east of the Montana border is the town of Sentinel Butte. Not much here anymore except memories of better days.
Years ago, this was a thriving farm town. Here on Main Street there were all kinds of stores, a couple of banks, there were four grain elevators in town, a school, and a train depot, too. But that's all gone now.
What's left is 80 or so people who share a love of this place, who share a sense of nighborliness and who share a trust in each other.
Harry Smith: Buzz Olson owns the little gas station in Sentinel Butte. You can get a carton of milk and a candy bar here, too, or sit and have a cup of coffee.
Mr. Buzz Olson: You got plenty of coffee over there, Doris?
Smith: What's the best thing about living out here?
Mr. Olson: Freedom. Good people. Honest people. What more could you ask?
Smith: Buzz isn't at the station much because he's down the street all day at the post office where he's the postmaster. The great thing about Buzz's station, though, is even when no one's around you can still get gas.
Smith: So you have your own key?
Mr. Stan Koppinger: Yeah, I got my own key.
Smith: Let me see.
Mr. Koppinger: Good old honor system, I guess. Works real simple. You just go in here.
Mr. Koppinger: Put the key in.
Mr. Koppinger: Flip it up.
Mr. Koppinger: There you go.
Mr. Koppinger: It should be on now.
Smith: So the pumps are on.
Mr. Koppinger: The pumps are on.
Smith: There you go. Stan Koppinger and more than 40 other folks have a key to Buzz's pump. After you fill up, you leave your money or a check or a note to let Buzz know you've been by and how much you bought. Kind of hard to imagine, isn't it?
Mr. Koppinger: There you go.
Smith: Next time you're around you pay it up?
Mr. Koppinger: Yeah, or Buzz will send me a bill.
Smith: How do you qualify to get a key?
Mr. Olson: Well, if you live and breathe and you look trustworthy, that's all you need.
Smith: Buzz leaves the garage door open, too. Jim Cook has his battery on Buzz's charger. Oh, you put the battery on the charger. It's free?
Mr. Jim Cook: Yeah, I did it myself. As a matter of fact, I took his tools.
Smith: Get out of here.
Mr. Cook: No, I'm going to take them again when I put it back in.
Mr. Olson: People just can't believe that we can do this. But there's kind of natural for us here.
Smith: And as long as you're in Sentinel Butte, you'd better meet Fidlin Bill Johnson. At 80, Bill still has an award-winning way with a tune. Changing times has just about downsized the life out of a lot of little towns out here on the prairie. Sentinel Butte somehow keeps hanging on.
Mr. Olson: Sure, we can live in other places but we all feel that his is one of the better places in the world to be.
Smith: A place with trust, friendship and neighborliness. We could sure use a little of that out our way. Harry Smith, CBS News, in Sentinel Butte, North Dakota.
First aired on the CBS Evening News
November 01, 1996