The Pioneer Spirit of Vernon Pick

Vernon Pick (photo courtesy of Pick’s nephew, Jim Hanson of Maple Plain, Minnesota)

The more I read of this brief biography of Vernon Pick, the more and more awestruck I became. How could one man know so much and do so much? I guess some people are just born to wield power over the material world. I am not one of them. The day I build my own dam and power plant is the day I fly to Saturn on a gasoline-powered broomstick.

Pick truly is the definition of the rugged American hero. Although his story reads like science fiction to me, I am grateful that people like him exist. Stories like his inspire me to do the best I can and be the best I can.

The following story was written by Bill Morgan of the St. Cloud Times in my home state of Minnesota.

by Bill Morgan

People knew Vernon J. Pick was in town when they saw his red Ford pickup, long hair, battered hat and torn leather jacket.

In 1942, Pick, a self-educated electrical engineer, bought a 25-acre plot three miles west of Royalton in Morrison County’s Two Rivers Township. A four-story flourmill, built in 1875, and three-frame buildings stood beside the picturesque stream that still flows through the site today.

Pick, who dreamed someday of finding a place to erect a hydro-electrical plant, spent the next decade building a dam and a concrete structure to accommodate a power plant. Pick also used the old flourmill to house a factory where he could build furniture by hand.

Pick’s life began on a farm near Portage, Wis., in 1903, the same year his parents moved to another farm near Redwood Falls, Minn. Later, the family settled on a farm near Warroad, Minn.

Bored with farm work, Pick left home at age 16. In the early 1920s, he joined the Marine Corps and later worked in a Manitoba goldmine. Sometime during that period he also learned how to fly airplanes.

With a nest egg in hand, Pick moved to Minneapolis where he started and for 17 years ran an electric company. With but one year of high school, Pick took Extension courses in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota and furthered his education by devouring books in philosophy, science, religion and literature.

After moving to Two Rivers, Pick cut down an oak tree and fashioned a loom so his spouse, Ruth, could make drapes from fine fabrics. The couple and their daughter, Virginia, ran a hand-fed printing press. In his shop, Pick repaired electric motors using waterpower from the river that ran beneath the plant. Ruth helped support the family by teaching in Benton County and by canning vegetables, berries and fruits.

Disaster struck May 9, 1951, when fire destroyed the mill where Pick stored tools and machines. When he found that insurance covered only one-third of his holdings, Pick decided to use the insurance money to buy a trailer and, with his family, head west for a combination vacation and job hunt.

In Grand Junction, Colo., a mining engineer at the Atomic Energy Commission headquarters circled on a map the tiny community of Hanksville, Utah. Pick might just find uranium near there, the engineer said.

Pick’s life was about to change forever when that idea sparked a nine-month search for treasure.

The area that Pick explored is as rugged today as it was in the 1950s. To find the deposit he later called the Hidden Splendor Mine, Pick left his truck and walked 25 miles into the site. For one six-mile stretch he had to ford a stream 21 times.

In a 1954 Time magazine article, Pick said, “My feet got wet over and over again, and then they softened and the sand got in my boots and made blisters. At night I would pick the grains of sand out of the blisters with a matchstick.”

One day, while resting on a rock, Pick’s Geiger counter indicated that he was sitting on a solid chunk of uranium ore. After staking his claim, the prospector fashioned a crude raft that would carry him back to civilization. When the raft capsized, Pick began a four-day journey on foot during which he subsisted on dried milk and oatmeal.

Back in Colorado, Pick used his truck as collateral to buy a jeep and rent a bulldozer. In Utah, he proved up 300,000 tons of ore that Time magazine called “one of the richest finds in the Colorado Plateau.”

He later sold his mine for $9 million, collecting $6 million after taxes, a sum equal to around $100 million today. As part of the deal, he also acquired a $250,000 seaplane.

With a fortune in hand, Pick purchased an historic cottage on an 800-acre site in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. In honor of his hero Thoreau, he named the place Walden West. There, he built an electronics and geology lab where he employed 20 scientists.

In the 1970s, Pick began another project he called Walden North in British Columbia. Until his death in 1986, Pick stayed abreast of new developments in computer and scientific calculator technology.

A writer once said that Pick “spends a lot of time in a log cabin hidden in a forest a couple of miles from the main house. There, in absolute seclusion, he likes to putter about, making kitchen utensils, cutting his own wood, cooking his own food and, most of all, reading and dreaming.”

I like Vernon J. Pick’s story because it defines the American Dream: A life that combines the pioneer spirit, Yankee ingenuity, the pursuit of Thoreau’s simple life, and the rags-to-riches theme as found in the novels of Horatio Alger.

Ann Marie Johnson from the Morrison County Historical Society in Little Falls provided sources for this story. Jim Hanson, Maple Plain, helped corroborate certain facts about his uncle’s life.

Finally, here is a video offering a brief history of Vernon Pick and a tour of Walden North.


If you feel more stressed than blessed . . . if you have more confusion than clarity about how to live your beliefs . . . if you long to live a richer, happier, more meaningful life . . . you will find a wealth of insight and guidance in Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World.

Through God’s Eyes is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the only book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.

Readers everywhere are discovering that when you challenge yourself to look through God’s eyes, the world around you changes, and so do you.

Who will benefit from reading Through God’s Eyes?
Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to be.
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to.
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier.

Click here to order your copy of Through God’s Eyes from
For an inscribed copy, click here to e-mail Phil for information.

Click here to visit the Through God’s Eyes website.

Click on the link below to download a FREE 28-page chapter!

Click here to read endorsements from authors and thought leaders.

Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers.

Click here to ask Phil to add you to his e-mail list for updates on his blog and books.

Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.

Like to learn more about Through God’s Eyes? Here is a free 44-page PDF sampler from the book that includes:

• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders

Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!

Schedule a Mastery Mentoring phone session with Phil to learn how to apply principles of spiritual living more effortlessly and effectively. Priced affordably! Click here to e-mail Phil for details.


Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents.

Order it at

In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• How do you reconcile the “free will vs. Divine Will” conundrum?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?

Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.

sixty-seconds-coverPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.

Click here to order Sixty Seconds.

Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.

Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers.

Here is a three-minute video introduction to Sixty Seconds.

Tags: , , , ,

13 Responses to “The Pioneer Spirit of Vernon Pick”

  1. Richard Says:

    I knew Vernon. I met him in B.C.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’d like to hear more, Richard. What kind of man was he?

  3. Lindsay Says:

    I was only 4 when my Uncle Vernon died. We visited him shortly before that. He was as eccentric as he sounds. Tall, quiet, kind. Walden North was also a unique place. I don’t remember much except the large buildings and property, riding a rickety elevator.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    It’s so nice to hear from you, Lindsay. Your Uncle sounds like an incredible human being.

  5. Says:

    Lindsay, we have just returned from the Walden North area and were intrigued to hear about Vernon Pick from a local RCMP officer. We look forward to exploring that beautiful area further.

  6. Cy Says:

    Hey everyone, I lived at the walden north complex when I was a kid, my dad ran the dam and power plant for a number of years. My brother and I landscaped the fish channel below the power house, it was a fantastic place to be when I was young — nothing but freedom and good memories of fishing, gold panning on the cayoosh creek and exploring the whole area. Bears in the orchard down by the dam and cougars walked right through the yard. Also at the top of the mountain above the houses are remnants of an old Indian pit house. Also below the spill way gates in the canyon there are pictographs on the rocks walls in some spots. Haven’t been to the area in a long time as it was mid 1990s when I was there. Was wondering if anyone had some pictures of the complex houses,shops,dam,ponds,orchard,power house,fish channel, etc.. If you haven’t been there is t’ll worth checking out. Any pics or info on the place now would be appreciated. Thanks.

  7. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Sounds like a great experience to be there as a kid, Cy!

  8. Scott Says:

    Walden North is a very special place indeed!

    The property deserves to be treated with the utmost respect as it will soon be recognized for its significance as a Canadian National Historic Site. The story of Vernon J. Pick and Walden North is one that captures the interest of everyone who hears it. In the not so distant future, I see a time where there will be a great interest in Vernon Pick’s version of ‘Walden’ that ends up being held by people from all around the World.

    Vernon Pick, or more accurately the spirit of Vernon Pick, should also be shown the respect that he deserves on the very property he helped build with his own two hands. To this day, he continues to reside at Walden North where he haunts the halls of his mountaintop mansion which overlooks the valley far below.

    I know this to be true, not from what someone has told me, nor from rumors that I have heard. It is from my own personal experiences while spending time at Walden North that I have had the honor of meeting Mr. Pick in spirit.

    In my opinion, Vernon Pick was one of the most amazing men of our time! In fact, he is my ultimate hero & someone that I hold in the highest regard for so many reasons that I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I were to try and tell you.

    Now with all that said, I recommend that everyone who reads this will hopefully take my advice very seriously and subsequently head the following warning I am about to give.

    If you are an uninvited guest that is foolish enough to make an attempt at trying to visit the property where Walden North is located

    Anyone who tries to sneak themselves past the front gate and onto the property in the valley below will have already had their presence long since detected prior to actually setting foot onto the grounds where the Walden North compound is situated.

    Upon making the initial approach leading up to the main gate at the top of the driveway your every movement from that point onward will be closely monitored without your knowing. At this point, it is already too late!

    Soon after this you will find that the adventure where you had intended to explore the not so abandoned Walden North property has been abruptly ended for you (and not in a good way either). The most disappointing part of all will be the fact that this will most probably occur long before actually reaching anywhere near your intended destination.

    Walden North and the surrounding area can also be a very dangerous place if one is not careful! There are things that live in that valley as well as up there on that mountain peak that you are not prepared to come face to face with no matter how strong or fearless you think you are. There are Dark things… very dark things there! It is not somewhere I recommend finding oneself after the sun goes down, that’s for certain! In fact, it is probably one of the very last places I would recommend being after darkness falls over the Cayoosh Creek Gorge. Once the darkness sets in, there is no leaving until the light of morning.

    I am telling you this from my own personal experience. Trust me, you do not wish to go through what I had to endure while spending the night while all alone at the Walden North mansion which is located high a top a mountain peak surrounded on every side by an almost vertical drop which must be over 1000 feet to the valley floor below…

    Especially for the fact that it turned out that I wasn’t actually alone at all during that very, very long evening! The fact that I was not alone was made very clear to me for a good solid 10+ hours until just before the first light of dawn came in the morning. What happened to me during that long and stormy night is not something that I am ready to share at this point in time but someday soon I plan to tell my story and the frightening details of what I encountered there.

  9. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Scott. It certainly sounds like you have a good story to tell.

  10. Ben Says:

    Scott, I would be interested to exchange stories of Vernon with you, I am very intrigued by your experience at Walden North. I have a history with his perhaps lesser known Walden West site here in the lower 48. I am amazed by the story you tell of Walden North, the feelings you describe bring me back to my own adventures, and until seeing the above video have always wondered what his northerly escape looked like. Truly impressive, and a sight I hope to one day experience (with full permission of course) firsthand.

  11. Scott Says:

    Hi Ben, I would really be interested in speaking with you as well (in person if at all possible). I have actually spent a fair amount of time studying everything there is to learn about the Walden West property. I know all about its past incarnations (IE: prior to Vernon living there & during the period when he made it his residence) as well as the present day version of Walden West which is now an amazing Summer Science & Nature Camp for kids. Phil & Cy (hopefully Cy is still reachable), I would also like to speak with the both of you as well. I do not wish to make any more information public at this time with regards to my connection with Vernon Pick & Walden North. I think we all should get together for a little pow-wow via conference call if we are to discuss things further at this juncture. I have so much more to share but the information is of a somewhat sensitive nature at this time. Phil, from what I gather, this is your Blog page so maybe you can be the one to facilitate the group of us getting together for a serious chat. Let’s make it happen!

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You can both email me at and I’ll forward you each other’s address.

  13. Sunrise Canada Says:

    Thanks Phil! You are a good man.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: