Wild Bison Travel Center opens near Alexander
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
On Aug. 1, the Wild Bison Travel Center opened southwest of Alexander. Those who drive by see that it is new, huge and its parking lot is always full. But what they may not know about the store is that it was once a small, two-pump gasoline station and convenience store in downtown Alexander on U.S. Highway 85.
R & L Oil used to be the only gas station on U.S. Highway 85 between Williston and Arnegard, and it offered everything that a commuter needed before the oil boom.
In April 2011, Ed and Mary Rettig, the owners of R & L Oil, sold their business to a group of out-of-towners in search of opportunity.
“Myself and my dad, brother, brother-in-law and uncle moved here from Washington because things were really slow there,” states Jackson Kysar, one of the owners of the Wild Bison Travel Center. “We heard of all the opportunities out here and we thought we would give it a try.”
With no connections to North Dakota or the Alexander community in which they eventually settled, they moved here with their families to start a new life.
“We were just here and happened to drive past R & L Oil and saw that it was for sale,” states Kysar. “We saw all the trucks and vehicles going through on Highway 85 and thought it might be a good business to invest in.”
Kysar states that buying R & L Oil could have been considered a risk for them having been so new to the area. But starting a new business is always a risk, according to Kysar.
Kysar and his partners turned R & L Oil into Jack’s Store in April of 2011. And things only grew from there.
“At first it was a lot of long days,” states Kysar. “But it did not take too long and we had a few employees to help run the store.”
Roughly six months after opening Jack’s Store, Kysar and his partners realized they were going to need to expand.
“We had maximized our space in Alexander as far as how many people and vehicles we could get in and out in a day,” states Kysar.
The fact that Jack’s Store could not accommodate truck parking and with the plans for the Alexander bypass underway, Kysar and his partners searched for land to open a bigger operation.
Kysar found a location where U.S. Highway 85 and N.D. Highway 68 meet. It was 11 acres positioned near the proposed route for the Alexander bypass. And it was perfect for what they were hoping to do.
“We laid the footings for the project in the winter of 2012 and actually started construction on the building on the last day of February, 2013,” states Kysar.
In just over five months’ time, the Wild Bison Travel Center became a reality as it opened for business on Aug. 1, 2013.
The owners of Jack’s Store had gone from running a 3,000-square foot building with 80 linear feet of shelving space, two gas pumps and three diesel pumps on a ½ acre lot, to managing a 13,500-square foot travel center on 11 acres.
The Wild Bison Travel Center offers eight pumps for pickup and car fill-ups and seven pumps that accommodate semis. And every gas pump at the Wild Bison offers diesel fuel as well as unleaded gasoline.
The Wild Bison also comes complete with 260 linear feet of shelving, filled with truck supplies like CBs, antennas, fuses, tools and more, along with clothing and gift items. There is a place for people to sit down and eat or lounge if they prefer. There are also showers, and a place to do laundry.
“We see probably three times or more the amount of people and vehicles in the Wild Bison than we did at Jack’s Store,” states Kysar. In Washington, Kysar states he was in the cabinetry business. When the housing market slowed in Washington and across the country, he had to find another way to take care of his family.
“This whole move, not just moving from Jack’s Store to the Wild Bison, but moving from Washington to North Dakota has been really good for myself and my partners,” states Kysar. “We have a good customer base, and the Alexander community has been very supportive and a great place to start a new venture.”
Kysar states that the Wild Bison is open 24/7 and it is run by the store’s general manager, Joe Etherton. Etherton is in charge of hiring and the general running of the store, and he has five assistants that help him run shifts around the clock.