The Year God Forgot Us
The Year That God Forgot Us is set in northwestern North Dakota in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression. Dust bowl conditions ravaged the Midwest. Crops withered; tempers flared. Johnny Ogdahl owns a café in the town of Bernadotte, a largely Scandinavian and protestant German community, isolated and suspicious. He and his customers argue about the state of the world and who should be blamed.
Then Al shows up, passing through town. He pours water into his gas tank, then some powder, shakes the car, and drives off. This happens again and again. Al eventually befriends Johnny, and, before long pours his heart out as he drinks coffee in Johnny’s café.
Al works for the Mormons, who have discovered the secret formula to turn water into gasoline. This will allow them to take over the world. Al needs the job, though he hates the Mormons.
Bernadotte is a small town, so, of course, before long everybody knows all the details. Al has a plan. He knows Ezekiel, who came up with the formula. Ezekiel wants to sell that formula, and get out from under the thumb of the Mormons. Investors are needed. Imagine that. People compete to put money into this investment with the promise of unlimited wealth. Respectable people sell their souls. The Lutheran Pastor is one. The grocer another. The newspaper owner takes some ethical liberties because he has invested also. Johnny tries to invest. Bernie, the banker, steps to the front of the line of greed.
After all, you could see it, twice a week, water in the gas tank, a little powder, and Al was such a nice guy. This would be a chance to save Western Civilization. You could protect the world from those Mormons, and get rich in the process. It would give you a good feeling at night when you went to sleep. The Mormons bring in the big gun, Joshua, the epitome of evil, Darth Vader 40 years earlier. This only jacks up the resolve of the people of Bernadotte. The world will be in our debt, they surmise. Johnny dreams of riches and better weather as he fries bacon and eggs. Hoboes roam the town. There’s violence as they clash with the townspeople. National politics become particularly ugly. Everyone is looking for someone else to blame for their misery. The targets are many. The drama continues as Al drives through town again and again. There’s another World War on the horizon, but you have to take time for a little romance. Still, the moment is ripe. We got to act now, Al says, if we want to succeed. Johnny tries to invest in the formula but Bernie, the banker, blocks him. Greed. Betrayal. Nothing new. A shake of hands and Al is on his way to get this formula. He’s on his way with all the money. Of course, we all know what will happen, and we can all see the irony in the story. It was really the year we forgot about God.
There was a scam in the Southwest in probably the late 40’s that involved changing water to gasoline. I changed the location and time frame in this novel. I kept, however, all the prejudices that were common in 1936, some still common today. While doing research on the year 1936 I found many similarities to the present. There was high unemployment, overheated political rhetoric, business failures, irresponsible financial institutions and home foreclosures. There were Ponzi schemes even back then.