Wayne Westerberg

 

I am a businessman, residing in Madison, South Dakota with strong ties to the nearby city of Carthage. For three decades, I have owned and personally managed: combine crews harvesting wheat, sun flowers and other grains; grain elevators associated with this commerce; and a wide variety of associated businesses.

Alex and I met in early September, 1990 on U.S. Highway #2 in Cut Bank, Montana. He was headed east and asked if he could get a ride. I told him I was only going east as far as Shelby, because my crew was harvesting wheat at Sunburst, Montana, north of Shelby. A thunder storm came up and I asked Alex if he wanted to continue his journey in the rain or come to Sunburst and stay at the camper we had. He joined us for several days and got a taste of harvesting. Before I took him back to Shelby to continue his journey, he asked about a fall job and I told him when he was done seeing Montana to come to Madison, South Dakota and go to work.

A couple of weeks later a truck pulled in and dropped Alex off at my shop in Madison where we were getting our soybean headers ready for harvest. I put him to work with the harvest, and at my grain elevator and a house painting project in Carthage. Being very particular, I normally painted my houses myself. But after working with Alex he began to gain my confidence and soon the house painting became his project. I had been gone for several days, and on my return I was surprised by the detail he had put into it with offsetting colors of his own choosing. Most of the people of Carthage were very impressed by it and he could have stayed there and had a job painting every house in town. But, as winter approached, Alex got itchy feet and decided to head south on another adventure.

Alex stayed in touch with an occasional post card or phone call. A year and a half elapsed before he came back to Carthage to work for me once again as part of a plan to obtain money for an adventure into the backcountry of Alaska. Alex worked and played with my friends, family and crew for just over a month and in spite of my urging to stay longer he set off for Alaska. I expected him to reappear for the fall harvest but as the summer wore on the tragic news of a young man found dead in an abandoned bus near Denali, Alaska was too close to home. I contacted the authorities with information that latter turned out to be a key to his identification.

The legacy of Alex has been part of my life since then. I soon met and formed a bond with Alex’s family, particularly his mom Billie and dad Walt. I was an integral part of Jon Krakauer’s research to unravel the path of Alex’s Journey for his book “Into the Wild” and subsequently worked on Sean Penn’s crew that created the film of the same name. As part of the “Back to the Wild” and other related projects, I continue in the evolving process to tell others about his Journey.

The picture is of Wayne and Billie on the set of 'Into The Wild' in Slab City. Billie was also an extra in the movie in a scene where Chris is singing.

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