St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Crawfish'n

video

We watched a farmer pickup his crawfish traps today. He says the cold weather has made the season slow with small mudbugs (crawdads, crayfish) this year. He had rice on the field last year, then switched to crawfish for a year and next year will rotate back to rice again. In a good day he gets five sacks full, today only 1 sack with small ones.

Day 9: Sunny Saturday

The rains lasted most of the night and early morning was 44 and cloudy. We drove west to Pine Prairie to the Pine Cove restaurant for an early breakfast. It is a cement block building shared with a video store. The inside had 20 tables and chairs and at the end a buffet type counter. No one was eating there. We went to the counter and I ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, a biscuit and coffee. No biscuits today, so toast. Margo had a two egg ham and cheese omlet. One cook and one counter lady.

We poured our own coffee and sat down to wait. The walls were painted light green and were covered with wood shelves—the one to three shelf versions you might find at the Good will, all painted dark green and holding colorful mugs with food pictures on them and metal food tins and some miscellaneous jugs and jars. Overall, looked neat and clean.

The breakfast came on a plastic platter with silverware. The food was good; nothing special. Grits were good. Packets of jelly and butter. Sort of a mix of fast food and slow food. Price for both of us and coffee was about $9.00. OK.

We drove on toward Eunice to do some shopping. Along the way were many flooded fields with crawfish trap tops sticking up; often filled with ducks, egrets and cranes. At one, the harvesting boat was out in the water collecting shrimp. We stopped and turned on the video mode of the camera and visited with the crew.

We drove into town and bought a little food, some coat hangers, laundry supplies and a set of cheap speakers for the laptop (forgot to bring any along) and a $6 toaster. Then we took a long slow drive out through the countryside looking at the farming fields, homes and scenery. There are many nice houses; many shabby houses; clean roads and very dirty roads; smooth ones and pot-holed ones.

Did our monthly online banking and paid the bills. Several more campers moved into the park during the day and so a few bikers, hikers, fishermen etc were around the area.

Made a run into town to mail cards to Mom Hanson and Dad Wilkens. Stopped at the Sonic Drive-in for a fish sandwich for supper. Not too bad for fast food. Looks like an oldtime car drive-in, and you eat in the car. Temps got up to 60 today with the sun and felt very good.

Did some walking without the cane, but by later in the day, everything starts to ache. Back home for the evening to read and look on the internet. We had stopped at Floyd’s music store in Ville Platte and bought a CD with Cajun music from the 60s to listen to tonight. Pretty nice day!

Day 8 Good Breakfast and RAIN





Day 8: Raining

The forecast was for rain all day and it was right. It rained through the day and the night too, sometimes hard.

We drove seven miles to Ville Platte to try Café de la Salle for breakfast. The sign along the road said open M-F 8 am- 2pm lunch. We guessed that if they opened at 8, they would have something for breakfast.

We pulled in at 8:30. No cars in the parking lot. A dark brown neat and unassuming building. We stepped into the café and looked around. Cash register, buffet under glass table, and tables and chairs for about 60; mostly 4 per table with a few seating 6.

The walls were decorated with pictures, old signs and some antiques on a shelf. In one corner was a large Rotary banner behind a podium pushed against the wall and a few Rotary signs. A sixteen by eight foot wall painting of a Cajun paddling through a cypress swamp covered part of one wall. It was colorful and primitive.

Three plump middle aged ladies were sitting at one of the tables having breakfast. “Do you serve breakfast here?” I asked. “Yeah, just made a pan of biscuits and have a fresh pot of coffee on.” We sat at a wall table for four. Each table had a small wood boat (a bateaux) with salt, pepper, sauce, knapkins etc in the center. Each had a number and the French word for the number (we were at 4, quattre I think).

One of the ladies got up and brought us menus and a breakfast menu. Pretty standard choices. We picked scrambled eggs, bisquit, grits, and Margo bacon and me ham. “We come in and open up and first have a big breakfast,” said the waitress, “that’s why we are so fat. Where y’all from.” She spoke with the southern/Cajun accent. Minnesota. Came down to see how to get a winning football team,” a line that has worked pretty good with everyone around being avid New Orleans Saints fans.

“We needed that win at the Superbowl after all the bad things with the hurricane. And such a good Christian man, Drew Breese, to take us to the win!” as she took our order.

The tables had a glass plate on top of a dark table cloth. Under the glass were menus and religious mottos. She soon brought us our coffee in blue green mugs that said “First Baptist Church of Ville Platte” on them. The coffee was good, although the creamer was powdered.

Soon our meal arrived. A large white dinner plate with real silverware. On it was a huge, 4x4 irregularly shaped biscuit and our eggs and meat. Margo had two round crisp bacon pieces. I had a round slice of ham (thin sandwich style). A bowl of fresh grits and two small dishes, one with butter and one with grape jelly. The whole meal had the pleasant flavor of butter. The grits were good. The biscuit excellent; bottom crispy and butter soaked. The eggs scrambled in butter. I have been looking for a real southern breakfast with a fried ham slice with a bone in the center, so was disappointed, but the slice did taste good. It was the best breakfast we have had so far—and very filling. It cost $11.50 for the two of us with coffee. We recommend it! The only problem is it is not open on the weekends and only has breakfast and lunch. We plan to try lunch where the specialty is all kinds of local seafood including shrimp and crawdads running $5 to $11.

We went for a long drive in the rain out through the country and saw many white birds, egrets possibly, and hundreds of ducks in the bayous. In the early afternoon we returned to the camper in the heavy rain and read, did some email and napped. The campsites are still mostly empty with only one neighbor pulling in for the weekend.

One thing that puzzles us are the empty businesses in the towns around the area. Some downtowns seem to be half closed/boarded up. Even gas stations and businesses around the towns are closed in large numbers. The buildings seem to be kept up, so it appears the closings are in the last few years. We wonder if it is all from the recent recession or of longer standing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 7: Cops, Tires and Laundry

Day 7 A New Tire; Cops Raid the Park and Clean Clothes.

Last night, just before dark, a red pickup truck roared around the campsite loop, stopping and starting with squealing tires. It made the loop two times and then we couldn’t hear it anymore. A few minutes later, two police cars came through the narrow campsite loop. “Somebody called in the speeded,” commented Margo. “Probably some kid with his truck showing off,” I replied.

Ten minutes later and a parade of another police car, an ambulance truck, a fire truck and another police car came through the lane. “Wonder if the kid cracked up the car?” I speculated.

That night was quiet except when the raccoon dug into the elevated barrel garbage can with the heavy wood lid and threw everything out on the ground. Early sunshine woke us up. There was a little frost on the car and about 32. The sun was warming up nicely so we made breakfast—French toast, bacon, fried potatoes and coffee on the camp stove outside, eating it inside. Breakfast was excellent!\

The tire was almost flat, so I pumped it up at about 9:00 am, and after a short walk we turned on the computer to c-span to listen to the health-care summit, expecting a call from the Goodyear tire dealer at 11. We listened and cleaned the dishes and got the dirty clothes ready for the laundromat. Mostly the summit started with Reps and Dems restating their positions. However, it did appear that the President was trying to find areas of agreement.

At eleven, the phone rang and Faye DeVille told us the tire was ready and to come on over and get it mounted. As we drove out the campsite loop, the lone RV camper on the other side was walking his dog. The tent campsite was empty.

“What was the excitement last night?” I asked him. “You probably don’t want to know!” he replied. “A man and woman, in their 50s have been camping there for a few days. Yesterday afternoon, they came home and started arguing. I was just across from them and heard everything. The man started beating the woman, so I called 911 and the police came out. They both had gotten drunk in town. He was vomiting a few times and finally passed out before the police showed up. She was polite until the cops found an AK-47 rifle, a shotgun and a handgun in the tent and put her in handcuffs. Then she swore a blue streak. They took the man, still passed out, away in the ambulance and her in the cop car. Someone came and took down the tent and drove away the car.”

We drove on into Ville Platte and got our tire changed and were sent on our way. $143.40 seems kind of high for a single tire. It will be nice not to have to worry about a continually leaking tire. “Use Green Slime,” said a guy waiting in the shop for his tire,” it will stop most any leak.”

Faye, the clerk, told us about camping with her husband in their RV. “He’s dead now, but he always had us carry a pistol just in case. I was more scared of us having the pistol than I was of a thief. We never had any trouble, and I still go camping now that Bill is dead and don’t worry about it.”

We tried Popeye’s fast food for lunch and had the $4.99 shrimp, fries and biscuit basket with a pop. The shrimp were good, as was the biscuit, but the fries were pretty limp.

We stopped at the tourist info center, city hall, to locate a Laundromat. A man there asked Margo “You in here for the census taker test?” “No, just looking for a Laundromat.” “Nothing much open in this town anymore, you have to go to Opelousas or Eunice.“ I was at the library across the street looking for some more 25 cent books to read when Margo came in and asked about a Laundromat. “None in town anymore, you have to go about 9 miles to Mamou—one on main street there.”

We headed out of town to Mamou. Along the road were many 5-20 acre flat, flooded ponds with water in them. Others were dry, with 1 foot dikes around them. In some were red topped things sticking up every so often. The signs had “Fresh Shimp” and “Crawfish” for sale. At one place there was a large wire fenced bin of the red things. They were nets, maybe 2 feet long with the red top end. I imagine they are for catching the shrimp or crawdads.

Margo picked up a local phone book at the tourist center. It listed companies dealing in rice. Possibly some of the wet fields are for rice and others for shrimp and crawfish (locals don’t say crayfish, but crawfish, crawdads, or mudbugs).

We found the Laundromat. No coin machine, no bathroom, but the machines were clean and worked. This small town is like the others in the area in that about half of the businesses are empty. Many of the streets are very pretty with huge live oaks along the way and holly hedges and flowers. There are a mixture of very nice, very old, very shabby houses and buildings. Lots of farming with big tractors and machinery out of town. The tractors have three tires on each of the four corners, probably to keep them from sinking into the mostly watersoaked fields.

The local newspapers are filled with Republican Governor Bobby Jindahl and his efforts to cut his way out of $3 billion budget shortage. Sounds just like MN, as Jindahl is raising huge amounts of money out of state for a presidential run in 2012,, like Pawlenty. Both are trying hard to get all the stimulus money and federal pork they can while telling everyone how terrible it is for the feds to hand it out. Biting the hand that feeds you is what one writer said.

Tomorrow, Friday, with a good tire, a rested leg, and a $20 we are headed to see what tourism spots are around. Walking is still slow and stiff after the first week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deer Hunting Story from the 1960s remembered in the 1980s

The scene is at brother Everett’s deer hunting shack on “the sixty,” the rolling hills, woods and fields that formed the cow pasture until twenty years ago. Bordered on the west by Wolf Creek and ten miles of sand barrens, and otherwise surrounded by fields and other pasture, it was and is one of the favorite hunting places for my family. His shack is 16x16, built of home sawn lumber in the front yard and drug up the road on skids to the top of a hill, overlooking a large valley and opposite ridge. It has been in place for 30 years or so, sitting on cement blocks, held in place with cables and earth anchors after having blown part way down the hill in a storm years ago.

It is a wonderful hunting spot. It is high enough so you can see all the way to home looking south, to Gullicksons and the Bass Lake school to the east, to the big ridge west of Wolf creek and overlook the valley to the north. When Ev planted some trees around the shack, which stands on the only level spot around, he dug up several stone tools. Indians had appreciated the spot for camping too. Nearby, a century ago, was an old farm house and barn. John Nelson drug the house down the road to our farm using it for a granary, pulling up the well casing and leaving the only trace of the old buildings, a slight depression in the ground.

The date of this memory is somewhere in the early 1980s, after Dad sold the cattle, but before the valley grew thick with trees. Now the open pasture is gone except where Ev clears some shooting lanes.

Windows on all four sides of the shack let the hunter watch for deer while warming up inside. He can quickly step out for a shot at a deer. In one corner was an old wood cookstove for heating, cooking and keeping a coffee pot warm. There is an old couch, an easy chair, one of the old iron framed cots from the bunkhouse at Never’s dam, a table and some folding chairs for company. A gas lantern substitutes for electricity for overnight stays. Nearby, a two-holer stands on the edge of the valley. It has Dutch doors so with the top one open you get a full view of the valley and yet have privacy.

The date of this story is on a Thanksgiving afternoon, about 3:00 pm. The shack is crowded with Dad, his four sons, and a few grandsons. We just got up from Mom’s dinner table after eating turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, squash, cranberries and apple and pumpkin piessss. We are too stuffed to go out and hunt in the woods, and the 15 degree weather and north wind are too chilling after the warm house. So we fire up the woodstove at the shack and sit around looking out the windows hoping a deer won’t come too close and we have to shoot it.

“Do you remember what year it was that I shot the buck that died in Roger Lake?” I asked, hoping to tell the story of “The Floating Buck.”

“Well, I still had my ’55 Bel Aire that I bought from the money I earned at Nelson pea vinery when I was 16, that was 1960. I bought it the next spring and I got rid of that in ’64 when I went to Fortuna to teach. I remember how hard it was to clean the blood out of the trunk!” replied Marvin, “That narrows it to the hunting seasons of 61, 62 or 63. I think it must have been ’63, when I was going to PoCoTeCo (Polk Co Teacher’s College).”

“Yeah, I think ’63 sounds right. You know that was the first buck I shot on my own. I never knew deer floated until that one that died right in the middle of Roger Lake,” I continued. That was the third year I was using Uncle Chan’s old 32 special. It had that nickel steel long octagon barrel with the filed off “V” sight and the gold bead. It was a good deer gun.”

“Channy bought that from Lloyd (his brother). Afterwards, Lloyd, wanted to buy it back, but Chan liked it and wouldn’t sell or trade it back. Chan was a really good hunter. He was patient; he could sneak through the woods so quietly he got what he was after. When he turned fifty, he quit hunting. Said he had enough,” said Dad.

I continued, “I think the long barrel made it easy to aim. It was a too heavy though. You know in the ‘60s hardly anyone used a scope around here. Scopes were for long distance shooting out on the barrens with thirty-ought-sixes and our short distance through-the-brush was for open sights and 30-30’s or the specials. I really like the 30-30 carbine I have now for shooting better than the special. You know, they say there have been more deer shot with a 30-30 than any other gun.”

“Ha,” snorted Ev, “that’s right, more deer have been shot with a 30-30, but I bet you half of them weren’t killed. Not enough power. You need a 30-06, or some bigger gun to kill the deer.”

“I suppose a 30-06 it might be good to have if a mad elephant escapes from the zoo, but with a deer it depends on whether you want to turn it into hamburger with your bullets! You don’t dare shoot those big guns except downhill or the bullet might hit somebody in Minnesota. I guess if you aren’t a good shot then you gotta do what you gotta do. You remember Grandpa’s old 45-90 army gun? It had sights that flipped up and said ¼, ½, ¾, and one mile. The one mile sight must have tipped up a full inch,” I replied.

“You were going to tell about a deer floating,” reminded nephew Bryce. “Why would they float when they’re dead?”

“They’ve got hollow hairs that not only keep them warm, but make ‘em float like a cork,” noted Byron, “so what happened that he got into the lake anyway?”

“That was the year I tried bow hunting the first time with that fiberglass bow I got from Sears. I found a spot on the south end of the west ridge where I was next to the big deer trail going to Bert’s corn field. I saw a lot of deer, but nothing but fawns came close enough to shoot. I had a big stump to sit on and was pretty much hidden in the trees. It was a good spot, so I tried it on opening morning for gun hunting.”

“I bought one of those fiberglass bows too,” replied Ev, “still got it. They had 45, 55, and 65 pound pulls for the same price, so of course I got the 65—more bow for the money I figured. If I could have pulled the darn thing back, I might of got a deer with it. It wasn’t recurved, no pulleys, just straight fiberglass. I finally used it to replace the broken rear spring in the old Rambler. Even there it was a little too stiff. When did you shoot the deer?”

“It was a cold, probably about 20 degrees. We had about an inch of new snow, perfect for seeing and tracking. I was dressed warm enough so I figured I could sit for two hours. You know, buckle boots with felt liners just weren’t very warm,even with two pairs of wool socks. I had Marv drop me off at the sixty at 6:30. He went on down to his forty behind Granpa’s place. I snuck into the woods and sat down on my stump well before light.”

“How high was the stump?” asked Byron. “You know in those days they didn’t let you climb a tree or have a deer stand. I think you could sit in a tree, on a stump, or have a deer stand as long as both of your feet touched the ground. Bow hunters started going up in the trees, and sometime later they made it legal to do it for gun hunters. Can’t remember when though.”

“When I was hunting prairie dogs in ND back in ‘64, the rule was you could drive around the open range with loaded guns in the car, but when you shot you had to have one foot on the ground,” added Marvin, “you know, I only had a two year teaching degree and the salary was so poor in Fortuna, I don’t know what I would have done without Prairie Dog Stew.”

”Anyway, I was sat on that stump watching the morning light come. By 8 am, I was froze through. Hadn’t seen anything yet. I was busy wiggling my toes and shifting in my coats trying to warm up when I saw a flash way ahead on the next ridge. I watched as a deer came into a clearing about 50 yards ahead and stopped. He had come past me on the other side of the big swamp and had come back to the trail I was on, but going away from me, I continued”

“You know that big swamp must have a spring feeding it. When I had the DNR come in and make those ponds, that is the only one that stays full of water all summer,” said Everett, who bought the sixty from Dad and Mom after they quit the cows.

“That ridge you were sitting on is all gravel,” said Dad, “I was always going to open my own gravel pit there. Just too many hills to get back to it to make it worth the bother. John Nelson, who bought it back in the early 1900s said he cut enough big timber off that sixty to build the barn at home. He was surprised when I cut off enough to build the garage in 1949. He’d stripped it clean only thirty years earlier.”

“There’s some pretty nice aspen coming on the ridge in the middle. It won’t be long before it is ready to saw,” added Ev. “So where did you hit the deer?”

“I could see he had a small fork. I had a buck only license. I think that wasn’t one of those party deer years where four hunters could get a doe tag. I pulled up and aimed as best as I could. He was almost exactly facing away. He was far enough away, so I really sort of centered him in the sights and shot once.”

“Those party deer tags were a good idea,” said Dad. “When I was young, and lived on my Dad’s farm south of Barron, there weren’t any deer there at all. We all went up to Uncle Rick’s farm in Birchwood to hunt. He let us camp out in the haymow. It would have been easier on Aunt Mary if we could have shot a doe for her to help feed us. Dad told me that during the forty years he had a farm there he never saw a deer there. One time there was a deer track, and all the hunters in the area headed out after it with their dogs. They always went north to hunt.”

“Well, I shot one time at the buck. He reared up, like Silver and the Lone Ranger, and bucked around a bunch then took off running full speed over the ridge. I knew I had hit him enough to make him jump, so I beat it over to the spot. There was a little blood on the fresh snow. Not a lot. Luckily the snow was still fresh, so hardly any tracks were there but my buck. I headed out at a trot on the fresh trail, following spots of blood. He was headed north on the ridge just east of the creek. ”

“It’s better to wait a little before you track a wounded deer. If they are hit bad, they go a little ways, then bed down. Then, if you walk slowly, you can sneak up on them. If you chase them, they take of and cover a lot of territory before they die, “ said Dad.

“If you had a decent sized gun, you wouldn’t have that trouble,” said Byron. “With my thirty-ought-six you just hit em in the tail, and the shock is so big they die from a heart attack.”

“Why do they call it a thirty-ought-six? Why not a thirty-oh-six, or a 306 or something?” asked Marvin.

“Thirty is the caliber,” said Ev, “and 1906 is the date the model was patented, I think. A lot of people do call it a thirty-oh-six, just the old people use ought.”

“The old timers, like your grandpa’s, called the years 1901 to 1909 the oughts. Grandpa said “I bought the farm in ought-two, Alvin was born in ought-four, and great grandpa built his new house next door in ought-seven, you know the one that blew down in the tornado of ’29. So a gun that came out in 1906, was an ought-six model,” explained Dad. “I imagine the 2001-2009 ought to be the next oughts,” he added. “So did the deer go into Arnold Swanson’s pasture from ours?”

“His tracks looked like he was running wide open when he jumped the fence to Arnolds. He was down the hill pretty far, where Lily lake is. The lake was open all the way up to Roger, so I figured he would run along the west side. I followed him until the tracks disappeared in the tall wet cattail swamps along the south end of Roger Lake. The lake was mostly still open, just ice around the edge, so I figured I would just walk on up skirting the lake and see if I could pick up the trail.”

“I used to have an old tin boat on Lily Lake, “ said Dad. The first couple of years I was farming, Uncle Channy and I did had some good luck fishing up there and in Roger. Then I got married and had a bunch of kids to support, and never got back fishing until I retired forty years later. I should go back up in there and try it again.”

“Ice fishing is pretty good on Roger most winters,” said Byron, “mostly sunfish and crappies and some northerns. They bite better there than on Wolf or Orr. It is just hard to get back to the lake when the snow comes unless you have a snowmobile.”

“Do you remember the summer of 1965 when you and I worked at the plastic factory in Dresser,” said Marvin. “We went up there a lot in the morning. Caught sunnies mostly. Mac Fors always had an old wooden row boat on the lake that anyone could use when he wasn’t there. If I remember right, that’s how we got your deer out.”

“You’re jumping ahead in the story. Well, I walked all the way to the north end of Roger Lake without seeing any fresh track coming out. I met a hunter, one of the Brenizer’s I think, up on a ridge overlooking the whole side of the lake. ‘Did you see a deer come running up here along the lake or ridge about 10 minutes ago?’ I asked. “No haven’t seen a thing. Was that you who took the shot down south?” “Yeah, I wounded a buck and lost his trail in the cattails at the south east end of the lake. Thought he might have come out along here.” “I was watching close after you shot and didn’t see a thing, maybe he stopped in the cattails.”

I decided I was going to have to get down in the cattails, even if I got my feet wet, and take the walk back along the lake. The cattails area was pretty much frozen and gave good footing, with only an occasional breakthrough. I walked right out to the edge as far as I dared. The lake was frozen about 30 feet from the cattails and then open in the middle. I stopped looking for tracks and looked across the lake. There, about two thirds of the way across the lake from the south was a deer floating in the water, high enough so his head and shoulders were clearly out and I could see it was a buck; my buck!

I could also see Mac’s old rowboat across the lake, over on Uncle Maurice’s shore. What should I do? By that time, Dad would be out in the woods somewhere. I only knew where Marv was hunting, so decided to walk down to him, about a mile away. I followed the creek down and crossed at the old road crossing and into his 40 and found him.
To be continued
See part 2 at this link  Part 2 hunting story


Day 6: Rainy night, sunny quiet day

Day 6: It was a quiet morning after an all night rain. I was awakened at about 1:00 AM to the crash of the empty ice chest being toppled from the picnic table. Checking out the window, a raccoon was looking for something to eat. Nothing here so he moseyed on up the trail to the next camper. Lake Chicot State park has over 100 improved campsites (paved lot, wood deck, water, electricity and sewer). There are about 6 people in the campsites this week. Next to us is a group of carpenters staying in a big towed RV driving to work each day and coming home late to sleep. They are from Florida.
“We had snow in Florida two times this winter. First time I ever saw it,” said a young man in his early 20s. They move from job to job staying as a group in the park. They have two large work trailers with pickups and another truck to haul the RV.
It had stopped raining when we got up and the clouds were parting. It was 40 degrees to start the day, but the forecast said 50 for the afternoon. We decided to try a local restaurant, the Fat Pig, for breakfast in Ville Platte, seven miles away.
“Tire’s low” said Margo checking the right rear tire that has been patched two times now, “it lasted two days, so it must be a slow leak.” Yesterday when we found we had to order a new tire, we bought a cigarette lighter air compressor that promises to fill the tire in 3 minutes. We opened the box, plugged it in and in about 3 minutes the tire was full again.
“Let’s go to town and see what happens” I said. So we drove in and parked at The Fat Pig. It opened to the cash register and had two rooms, on to each side. We moved to the left where there were people sitting at tables. Nothing fancy, but promising that it would be a local restaurant. I picked ham, grits, a biscuit, and scrambled eggs. Margo had a biscuit, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. We also had coffee. We had to ask for ice water.
The waitress was a friendly older lady who, other than her top front teeth all missing, was neat in appearance. The service was quick. However the food was disappointing.
The hash browns were a McDonald’s style frozen pattie dunked in the fryer. The ham was just sliced sandwich ham. The grits were clumpy. The biscuits were likely not from scratch. Coffee was adequate, but not good. The bacon was curled and tasted OK. The price for the two of us was $13 including a $2 tip as the waitress was friendly and stopped by and visited. Certainly not worth a repeat—might as well do McDonalds.
We stopped at the Sears and Roebuck House (house bought from the catalog 90 years ago) that had a tourist shop and home made Cajun seasonings. We bought several varieties of “Slap Ya Mama” ($2.59) for 8 oz can. The lady in charge was probably in her 70s. She told us about the local flowers (magnolia in the yard blooming without leaves) and said that the cold winter had frozen most of the annuals that they usually have all winter long in the yard. We visited quite a while and gave her a bottle of WI maple syrup as a souvenir of up north. She didn’t know what it was, so Margo explained how it is made.
The tire was already getting lower, so we headed back to the park. I put in some more tire sealant, aired it up again and took a short drive to let the sealant work. We expect a call tomorrow at about 11:00 if the tire we ordered has arrived. Then we will feel like looking around a little more. At the camper, Margo caught up on her email. I did a little walking practice – slow and award—feels like the knee might buckle. I put on the brace and that made it even harder to walk.
The Leader newspaper showed up on the Internet in the afternoon. The last few weeks it shows up incomplete for the first day and then they get it fixed. This time about 10 pages were missing. Read through it all. My column on using correct grammar came through with only a few unintentional errors.
Had grapes and a sandwich for lunch and baked potatoes for supper. Both of us are reading books we picked up at the library yesterday.

Day 5 Settling In and Ordering a Tire

Having settled down in Chicot State Park (the locals pronounce it sheeeco—means tree stump), mid southern Louisiana, we started to get the camper organized, find some local sites to explore while practicing walking, and see about getting the tire fixed. This morning, it looked a little lower than yesterday, probably still has a slow leak.

The nearest town of any size is Ville Platte, about 9000 people. It boasts a Walmart, McDonalds and Burger King. It has a historical 150th anniversary booklet online at http://www.vpla.com/uploads/51187VPCompleteBook1].pdf. The morning temperature was 40 degrees and cloudy. The camper with the electric space heater was about 50 and our dual control electric blanket made it comfortable.

After cleaning up in the campsite bathroom—clean, but in need of fresh paint and some minor maintenance work, we headed to Ville Platte to find a local breakfast spot. The park road is badly in need of pothole filling. There are only a few campers in the whole park including a WI couple probably about our age who were tenting here for the night only, heading further south.

The 10 mile drive to town was on a scenic curving road with lots of houses in the woods along the way. Most trees have shed their leaves, but there are many magnolias, live oaks and other leafy green trees. Grass is mostly brown in the yards, but along the ditches a lot of green white clover and other weeds.

Louisiana has always been the worst state for roadside garbage that we have ever been in. The area to town is reasonable, but some places are really bad. At town we couldn’t find a local restaurant for breakfast so ended up at Burger King where it was 55 degrees inside as “the air conditioning won’t turn off.” We asked a mother-daughter combo about breakfast places and were told “the Pig Stand” is good for any meal with lots of local flavor and color. The only problem is that is has no sign to tell where it is or no sign on the restaurant itself! “A caterer driven out of New Orleans came down here and started it couple of years ago. Didn’t put up a sign. The crawfish are in season now—really good, but small because of the cold winter.” Stopped at the Super Walmart to get a tire—but they didn’t have a p235R70 15 car tire—the Buick Roadmaster used a big tire. Got a cigarette lighter air compressor and another can of tire sealant and some groceries. Also got a large 3-shelf plastic drawer set for use in the camper for our clothes.

Stopped at the City Hall and tourist bureau and picked up some local brochures. There was a sort of museum area. The local parish (county) is called Evangeline after the poem by Longfellow of the Acadian Settlers in Canada getting forced to leave and come down here and become “Cajuns.” She said to be sure and stop at the restored Sears and Roebuck house where they sold Cajun spices and sauces.

Walked across the road to the small brick library. Lots of computers and internet access and used books for sale. We bought a few for nights in the camper. We drove around the town a little. A few big old mansions; some nicely landscaped areas and lots of camellia bushes blooming with a few daffodils and paperwhites and pansys for color. Lots of closed businesses too.

Stopped at Good Year tires and asked about a tire. After a lot of calling around he finally said for $142 complete we could get one our size. It should come in Thursday (2 days) and he will call when it does. While waiting I visited with a young couple and their toddler waiting for their tires. I had mentioned we were from MN. The natives down here have a very very pronounced accent—we have trouble talking to each other at times.

“Got a strange fish in my nets two weeks ago,” he commented. “Called the DNR cause they want to check on non-native invasive fish. They said it was a walleye. Ugly look’n fish I thought. They said it was OK, and to release it back in the water. Said it must of come down from up North. Normally we get stripers now—I think they are called crappies where you’ll come from. It’s crawfish season here. I been trapping them now for a month. You cut up a shad and put it in net trap and leave it set a few days and then pick it up. Can get up to $40-50 for a trap full. Really good to eat—you boil them.

“The MN Vikings almost beat New Orleans for the NFC title this year,” I commented, “it was a good game.” “Yeah, it was a good game,” said the tire office clerk, a gray haired friendly lady, “I got so scared I hid in the corner when New Orleans got behind and just watched when they tied or got ahead. It was too hard on me!”

“We’re having a very cold winter this year. Had snow once last fall and 5 inches two weeks ago. It’s good to have a cold winter sometimes. The mosquitoes get so thick otherwise. This winter it killed ‘em off. They’re going to have to start over again!” she continued.

We drove back to he park and ate our last of the 5 for $5.00 roast beef sandwiches from Arbies a few towns back yesterday. Margo cleaned out the car and we got the camper organized. The temperature hit 50 and started to look like the sun might come out.

Tomorrow we explore Ville Platte

Monday, February 22, 2010

Days 3 and 4 Tire problems again


Days 3 and 4 Tire Starts Leaking again!

I’m writing this while waiting at a Bumper to Bumper auto parts and repair place in LA while the crew is away at lunch. The tire that we had patched in MO started leaking today. We put in a can of tire sealer and filled it with air, but it didn’t fix it. Another can and a couple of stops for air to re-fill it showed it just wasn’t going to make it much further. We found this tire repair shop who said could get it fixed in 15 minutes at 11:30, but the crew didn’t get there and then left for lunch so we won’t see them until 1:00 or so.

Sunday we drove through rain all day long from Branson MO to almost the south border of Eudora Arkansas at Pineville Motel. Cost $40 and was OK. The rain was very hard some places with occasional lightning. At Branson we saw our first magnolia tree! There were a few snow piles from a foot of snow they got a week ago.

Southern MO and Northern AR are in the Ozark mountains; large wood covered hills and valleys. Hwy 65 varied from a two lane narrow twisting road to four lane free way around Little Rock. The south 1/3 of AR flattens out and becomes farm land, and as we moved along the Mississippi in LA, it is all flat with cotton, beans, milo, etc. There were many cotton warehouses and occasional unpicked cotton fields.

Hwy 65 in LA is straight and flat going through huge fields. We are about 30 miles from Natchez (across the River) and headed for Alexandria LA—state park there.

Sunday stayed in the 40s and 50s with the rain. Today is in the mid 50s with lots of clouds and possible rain tonight before a cold front came in. The local newspaper says that Natchez got 5 inches of snow last week—a very rare thing for them.

Many of the small towns along Hwy 65 in LA are extremely poor with most of the businesses closed. Houses are very shabby. Gas prices in AR and LA have ranged from 2.39 to 2.65 with lots of variability along the way.

We saw the first blooming flowers in Branson where there were pansies here and there around the town. Here in Clayton we see a few daffodils (jonquils), paper whites and grape hyacinths and a few camellias blooming. Hwy 65 ended at Clayton. We followed it from Albert Lea to Clayton. I know there is a piece of 65 in WI too, that seems not to be connected to the one at Albert Lea. Pretty interesting road with good and bad parts.

In Arkansas we saw and smelled many dead skunks on the road, a few opposums, and a squirrel or two. We saw a few huge flocks of geese flying over late Sunday.

We probably should just replace the tire, but it had pretty good tread on it yet. It hasn’t had many miles buying it as we don’t drive the Buick much.

It is evening now. We are in Chicot State Park in Louisiana. It is in the 50s. We finally got the tire patched about 2:30 and got back on our way. I think we will get a new tire as this one has cost us $50 for the first service call and two patches; $10 for two cans of tire sealant to get us from out on the highway to the garage and another $12 for the last patch It was on the edge of the bottom. The repairman couldn’t put a patch on it so put a plug in it. Held all day, but I studied the tread and decided it can be replaced.

Supposed to cool down now for a few days We are here for at least 2 nights (got my Federal Senior Pass which gave us ½ price – ended up at $9.50 per night).

We only use the electric hookup in the camper. We have an electric heater and electric blanket for cool weather and a fan for warm. With wireless internet—we are pretty much civilized.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Branson MO

Day 2: Princeton MO to Branson MO

The tires were up; the roads wet, but not very slippery when we left the motel at Princeton MO at about 7:30 with the goal of getting to Branson by afternoon. The ground had about 3-4 inches of new white snow on top of both bare areas and old snow drifts. The temperature in the morning was 30 degrees with the local forcast to stay in the 30’s all day.

The forecast for Branson was 61 by mid afternoon with partly cloudy. By noon, we were in mid MO. They had not had any fresh snow, but there were some snow banks in the ditches. Mostly open—no snow!! As we drove along the temperature kept rising to 45 at noon and finally at about 3:30 when we pulled into Branson, it was 61!

We stopped for lunch at the Truman Dam along Hwy 65. The visitor center was closed, but we had a picnic in 44 degree, sunny weather. Felt pretty good as the first time we have seen over 40 since Nov.

Northern MO had a lot of farmland. The land became more rolling and wooded as we progressed southward through the state. After Springfield, we were in the edge of the Ozarks and left farming behind. An area north of Springfield on the north side of the Missouri river was very flat and all farmed.

We drove through mainstreet Branson. It is amazingly filled with tourist places. Most of the big theaters are closed until sometime in March. The Roy Rogers Museum is closed, possibly permanently. Some big theaters were for sale. The economic downturn seems to have hit Branson too.

We looked for a cheap motel. The advertised prices ranged from $24.50 to about $40. Many of the larger hotels didn’t list a price and many were closed for the season and a few for sale. We forgot to bring along our own Raid and Glade (necessary for the cheap motels) so picked a respectable looking one called the RIA Motor Inn towards the west end of town--$44.50 with tax. It is OK.

As it is Saturday night, the town was quite busy and full of traffic. We went to
Billy Bob’s Diner, a small mainstreet 1950s décor restaurant. It had meta-flake red kitchen chairs, metaflake red oil cloth covered tables and a black and white checker board floor. There was a counter with rotating stainless, red top stools. I had the burger basket and Margo the chicken basket. Pretty good!

We didn’t go looking for tickets for a show. We had planned to be here a couple of days, but the forecast says rain Sunday and cold (highs of 30s) for Monday and Tuesday. So we will poke along tomorrow towards Hot Springs Arkansas. I might take the mineral springs hot bath treatment to get my leg feeling better.

I was really sore in my thighs today. When we had the flat tire yesterday, I was out in the wet snow trying to take off the wheel, and getting up and down (good exercise for my legs), but since I hadn’t done a thing for 3 months, the muscles were sore as heck today! Sure is a pain getting back in shape.

I am using just one (left) crutch to walk the last two days trying to get my right leg working again. The ankle gets sore, the knee, the foot, and the leg. I mix aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol to try and kill the pain. Works sort of—of course you have to not mind a belly ache and bleeding out the rear end as side effects (and maybe a failing kidney).

No car problems except after I started the engine this morning, I heard sort of a metal scraping/grinding sound from under the hood. I popped the hood and listened awhile. I think it is something running on the main drive belt (maybe the idler/tensioner pulley, or the water pump bearings or the alternator bearings or maybe something else). When we get settled somewhere in a warm place, I will work on the diagnosis. The Roadmaster has so much insulation to keep you from hearing the engine, you don’t notice it with the hood down and the doors shut.

Sixty one degrees is really pretty warm!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trip South -- Re-Learning to Walk

DAY 1: Margo and Russ’ Trip South by Auto and Popup Camper Feb 19, 2010.

Highlights: Snowstorm and flat tire

Daily Goal: Pine Island to Branson MO via US Highway 65 550 miles (Big Goal--Go south far enough so there is no snow and warm weather to practice walking after 3 months of broken leg and crutches)

We left Pine Island, Friday at 7:15 AM, a beautiful sunrise and clear; temperature -3 F. We decided to take Hwy 65 south from Albert Lea as far as we could go. To get to Albert Lea, we took Hwy 14 to Hwy 56 south headed to I90. Hwy 56 was so pot-hole ridden, we had to drive 40 mph to dodge them. Some put sinkholes to shame. South of Brownsville it was OK. Note to self: Send Gov. Pawlenty an email!

US Hwy 65 parallels I-35 going south through Des Moines and on through Missouri to Branson. Our goal was Branson, where the off season motels are usually $30-40 in February. We had planned to spend another day there sitting through a couple of Time Share sales pitches to get a free meal and a free show.

Southern MN and the North 2/3 of Iowa was very snow covered with big snow banks along the roads and in town. Hwy 65 goes through lots of little towns, some alive; some dead; and other somewhere between. Lots of old farms with abandoned big barns; a few well kept and many on the way down, being replaced by big shiny steel bins. Very few cattle. Lots of trucks hauling corn on the road near a few big ethanol plants. Three clusters of huge windmills producing electricity. Along the road we saw the storehouse for the windmills with rail road cars being unloaded full of generators, propellers and tower components. Until you drive right along side these parts on the ground next to you, you really don’t realize how huge the parts are. The generator housing seemed about the size of a Caravan; the propeller longer that the railroad flatcar—everything on huge scale.

At Des Moine we hit snow. It got worse and the road became snow covered and very slippery. We moved along with traffic at 30 mph. The 95 Buick Roadmaster is rear wheel drive, and even with the trunk loaded and the camper on behind, was really slipping on the hills—thought we might not get up a few.

Some spots were wet and others slippery so at 4:00 pm we pulled in just into Missouri at Princeton to the Circle S motel. We remembered it as an emergency stop on a trip many years ago when we were headed back from a Jan vacation and got snowbound then too. The motel was $49.50 and nice.

The motel clerk recommended the Crossroads bar and grill just a block north across the big slippery intersection—no sidewalks and everything snow covered and slippery. We decided to drive over. We pulled into the road and the back of the car felt like something was bumping. I crossed the intersection and pulled into the small parking lot, head first with the trailer behind and parked; got out and found the back tire on driver’s side flat.

Margo went into the bar and grill to see if a tire shop was still open at 4:30 and I decided to take off the wheel cover. Took out the plastic lock release lever and all it would do is slip off the plastic lock. Couldn’t budge it at all.

The bar tender called a tire shop who said they would be over in about a half hour. So we had a pop and beer and waited. The service truck came over and a heavily bearded, rough looking 40 something guy got out.

“Can’t get the wheelcover lock loose,” I said while on both crutches for maximum sympathy, “can’t do much since I broke my leg.” He tried and couldn’t get it off either. “Let’s see if I can air it up,” he drawled with an accent that sounded more like Texas than northern Missouri. It held air, but you could hear it hissing out. “Follow me to the shop and we will fix it there” said John (at least his shirt had that name on it).

I carefully backed the trailer out and followed him 6 blocks over a slippery hill to an old fashioned garage—Princeton Tire Shop, and pulled up in front of the bay door and stopped as motioned. “We’ve got coffee and a warm room inside,” said John in a friendly way. “Gonna hav’ta chisel the hub lock out—it’ll still go back on again, but won’t lock very tight.” “Go ahead “ I replied.

The waiting room, about 12’x12’, had a small cash register, a wobbly old brown table and half a dozen chairs. The wall were chipboard, painted white, and altogether a man’s place. An foot wide green board 8 feet up ringed the the 10 foot tall room. One wall had green John Deere toys; one old oil cans, jars and garage items; one stoneware including a crock and whiskey jug, and some glass jars and such, and the rest with miscellaneous antique looking items. One wall had a bunch of 50’s tin car posters and a Route 66 sign. A coffee maker and full pot of coffee gave the room an oily coffee smell.

After 15 minutes, John’s partner, Jim, came in. “She’s ready to go. We patched two holes. The wheel cover is back on and should hold OK. Jim was a thin fellow, grizzled with graying hair. He used a cane and one of his legs seemed to be bent sideways. He stubbed out his cigarette, set down his cane and wrote up the bill. “Yer lucky ya got us ta night. I just got back from therapy on my leg and with all the snow, was telling John we might as well shut down early.” Sure glad you didn’t. We really appreciate it” I replied. “It’s 50 bucks with the service call.” I gladly paid him cash and we backed out, slid our way over to the motel and parked for the night.

Margo walked across the street to a grocery and picked up sandwich makings and we settled in to watch the snow out the window, and Kansas City TV. Four to six inches of snow for Saturday and continuing into Sunday. Roads are snow covered and wet in northern MO, and just wet further south” stated the forecaster while showing pictures of accidents on the freeway and around town.

The Circle S Motel has heat, wireless, cable, and HBO, so we are settled in for the night! It looks like if we get to Branson tomorrow, we will be out of the snow, unless, says the weatherman, we aren’t out of snow. Our tire is holding up; the snow seems to be stopping, at least for a while, and Margo is making sandwiches. We made about 350 miles. Gas was $2.37 at the MO border, but we had filled at $2.49 in IA. Further into MO, it is 2.49 to 2.60—not too bad. The Buick with it’s huge V-8, gets about 18 mpg.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SCFHS Class of '65 Reunion 2000

St Croix Falls Class of 65 Reunion July 1, 2000

Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm the proud remnants of the SCF class of 65 gathered to recall the joys and sorrows of their High School years. The smaller than usual group was offset by the increasing substantiality of the individual members. The afternoon started informally with snacks and visiting and was crowned by water balloon shelling of the emcee and the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" HS memory competition.

The author of this article interviewed each of the old timers. Summarized below are the truly remarkable achievements of the class members and some of their plans for the short futures they have left.

Tom Montgomery and his lovely wife Pam were there early as co-hosts and planners of this year’s reunion. It was agreed by all that the informal nature of the event was not due to weak planning on the part of Tom, Gary Harlander and Dan Woolson, but to their precociously perceptive insight into elderly people. They realized that rather than entertainment, the opportunity to relive the past, show pictures of the children and grandchildren and telling and re-telling stories was exactly what was really desired by the class members. Kudos to these wonderful gentlemen and their amazing sensitivity to the needs of the class(take note women-the men of 65 are truly modern men).

Tom has finally found out how to go back and improve his college record. This had been bothering him for 3 decades when he finally hit on the solution of becoming a computer consultant for a company that provides the computer systems and software to manage universities. He helps the university with the software. Currently he is doing this for the University of MN. He has found that his own college records were very much in error and has been able to correct them! He will invite us to his re-graduation magna summa mucho cum laude next spring (when he decides which college it will be at).

Gary Harlander was their early with elegantly designed signs to direct the traffic efficiently and quickly the the reunion site. He also wrote the liability insurance policy for the gathering(see him in Rice Lake, WI for all of your insurance needs-right on Main Street). The cost of only $850 for the policy (liability up to $1000) was covered by the free-will donation box on the table (note: if you did not see this and failed to contribute your share-just send it directly to Russ Hanson, 15937 County 27 Blvd, Pine Island, MN-55963 and I will see that it gets into the right hands). As master of ceremonies, host of the game show and judge of the athletic competitions he was truly masterful. All of his classmates were excited by his status of being the first male of the class of 65 to actually have body jewelry (although the rumor was that the jewelry was a cleverly disguised hearing aid). His new dental work was also widely approved as it gave him a more forward-looking appearance.

Dan Woolson never arrived. The general view was that he was worried that his status of "most times married" might not hold up. We thank him for his help in planning!

Duane Anderson attended his first ever class reunion. He also won the prize for having traveled the longest distance-coming from Buena Vista, Colorado. His career there as a cowboy, saddle maker, hunting and dude ranch guide was by far the most colorful of the gathered friends. His saddle making career and work inside and outside of state and federal institutions certainly give prison rehabilitation programs a good name. There were some problems understanding him with his Scandinavian cowboy accent, however it was agreed by all that his cowboy "Uff Da" brought to mind pictures of a cowboy eating lutefisk.

Jennifer Mueller (insert married name here) came in somewhat late. In cruising the Cushing establishments of entertainment she had run into Marlin Olson, class of 67 and as soon as they were able to drive had come on to the reunion. Jennifer was so excited to see her old classmates. She proudly showed them her AARP card, the latest of her marvelous accomplishments and achievements since graduating. She and Diana Brown were the "B" team in the millionaire competition of facts from the 1965 Sentinel (they choked on who was the senior class president?). Jennifer has been an important support person for her fellow women classmates as they lead their wildly interesting and riotous lives, she provides the calming stable influence that they so often need when they come down! Jennifer regaled us with a story of when she attended the class of 64 reunion and Gary Loudenback claimed NOT TO KNOW HER.

Diana Brown Whyte was there early, although her recently retired husband only came at the end of the day as a designated driver. She was wonderfully enthusiastic about her son’s recent marriage the excitement of making friends with her new in-laws. She is teaching the third grade in the Milwaukee area as she has for many years and has her sights on retiring in a few more years. Diana has not, like some elementary school teachers (you know who you are), gotten into the habit of talking to her peers as if they were little children. She keeps it fully on an early teen level and often soars above. Diana was on the losing side of the millionaire contest when she and Jennifer failed "What is Tom Montgomery’s last name?" The team never recovered momentum after this. Cheers from the crowd failed to motivate them, as the cheers were totally unorganized and spontaneous, causing confusion, incoherence and general disarray. They certainly were not done this way in HS when "WE" were seniors

Donna Ogilvie Witasek was there early with her first husband Tom. They live in the Winneconne, WI area where she is teaching PE in the elementary school with 6 classes of exciting and enthusiastic children. Donna and fellow cheerleader Sandra Lucken Berg were overheard discussing golf with ever decreasing scores as the afternoon progressed. Donna and her partner won the water balloon toss competition (although her partner was heard to mutter-"it just the same as the 60s I never did break anyone’s balloon then either"). Donna was very disappointed that none of the teachers from SCF were there, as she had brought along 3 test papers that she thought she could get a total of 6 extra points and change that one miserable A to an A+ in Mr Bilderback’s 8th grade class. (If the author may be allowed to reminisce: Many a time I have longed to be back in 4th period band and to hear the melodious saxophones set off from the squawking clarinets, the gastric drum rumbles, the mis-tongued brass and general mayhem with Mr Bilderback smiling in particular at the Tenor Saxophones whilst scowling at the whole rest of the band).

Sandra Lucken Berg traveled from Hudson to her alternate office in the Grantsburg area and then to the reunion. As a businessperson with her own public relations firm she has found an occupation that wonderfully suits her gregarious nature. Of course, she did have to lobby the class of 65 for the new casino in Hudson so that the travel, entertainment and hours were billable and properly tax deductible. We were treated to the wonderful amount of information she has immediately available on fellow classmates and our old neighbors. The ever-thoughtful Sandra says "a dossier on each of you may come in handy in the event you return to the area and become active in any organizations".

Gail Felland Felland attended her 6th consecutive reunion. She surveyed the attendees with the question "So when are you going to retire and what are you going to do?" Sadly, she has no idea of what she might do while retired, thus the effort to search out the best ideas of her peers (we can’t all be leaders, but Gail certainly is a gracious follower). Gail has lived in Minnesota for many years and has adopted the MN dream of the "Cabin at the Lake in Wisconsin". She spends her holidays and many weekends on Cedar Lake where she loves company. However, be gracious and call a few hours before coming on any prolonged visit to stay with her (work: 612-883-5820-Fax 612-883-5880) west of Osceola on M.

Gordy Peterson continues to be the person with appearance that is least altered with time. How he manages to maintain his slim build and healthy appearance is a secret that the rest of us would certainly like his plastic surgeon and barber to pass on to ours. Gordy works as a carpenter doing all kinds of construction and remodeling. As modest and unassuming as always he specifically insisted that I make no mention to those of us with cottages or homes in the area that he does high quality work for reasonable prices and gives free estimates.

George Gullickson is a faithful attendee of the reunions. He has worked as a computer engineer at Medtronic for more than 2 decades. However, cutbacks in medical insurance and Medicare funding and the ensuing problems at Medtronic have forced him to take up farming the 75 year old Gullickson farm on Bass Lake to support him still working full time at his chosen profession. George and his lovely wife Marcia won the contest for the fastest draw for retrieving pictures of their children (although there was a very close competition for this prize with Diana and her wedding pictures). George is very much the same in spirit and appearance as he was in HS except for being two feet taller and 100 lbs heavier on a ruggedly strong frame.

Don Hoag and wife came early and as they live in the Dresser area were up to date on the local scene. Don has over three decades in at Anderson Window where he is the supervisor of a very stable shop. He has such excellent rapport with his workers that the newest one has been there for 23 years (or was that 3 years that seemed like 23 years?) Don won the prize for most grandchildren and spends much of his spare time babysitting them in their new house. The glass ceiling that some people run into in their work certainly hasn’t hurt Don’s career.

Tim Nagler was also a visitor from a distance, coming from Indianapolis to visit his classmates. Tim was a short time HS student in SCF leaving a few months into his freshman year for the wicked and worldly Amery HS. As he attended his first 8 years with the Town kids, he knew them well and provided a focal point for those who still retain early memories. Tim was treated poorly by the master of ceremonies in the millionaire quiz by being selected on the A team with Sandra Lucken in a futile attempt to aide the B team. Tim having, left in 1961, would be very unlikely to have any chance of answering questions from the 1965 Sentinel! We apologize for such a gross injustice, however it is likely that behind the scenes this is just more revenge from the Town kids for having a father that saw farther ahead them their fathers! (for further information see Polk Co. court case Nagler vs the SCF Board of Education on foolish additions to obsolete buildings). When asked how he moved from being and English teacher to running a construction company, Tim compared diagramming sentences and grammar constructions to reading blueprints and building houses. A marvelously talented individual!

Russ Hanson cheerfully accepted the responsibility of coordinating the planning for the 40th reunion in 2006. He is planning on getting help from the other members of his class through the use of the Internet and e-mail (that is except for Jennifer who thought that she might have only B-mail). Russ has changed little from his HS days except that he proudly shows his college BS degree. Having started with a MN governor-like body he has continued to enhanced it in the over the 23(base 16) years since he graduated 1st(base 12 rounded off) in his class of 81(base 10) students.His wife Margo was elected honorary chair of the menopause discussion group(this was a high honor as she was not even a class member). Russ continues to maintain his cutting edge not only in technology but in his whole life. His wife assured fellow classmates that he was certainly as edgy and cutting as ever with his friends. As a hobby Russ began building a house at the time of the 30th (base 10) reunion. He expects to complete it in the year 2000(base 11).

A visitor from the class of 67, Marlon Olson came to share the day with the idols of his youth. His adoration for the upperclassmen was still evident with his language sprinkled with "sirs" and "madams" to show his respect for his elders. He traveled even farther than Duane, coming from Alaska to worship at the feet of the upperclassmen and women. A gracious spirit of condescendence was evidenced by his superiors as they included him in the discussions and reminiscences as if he were their equal. It was agreed that underclassmen showing the proper respect as exemplifed by Marlon would be welcome at future reunions. Thank you for attending Marlon!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Last Week for Crutches!


On Thursday I have an x-ray to see if my knee and broken leg are finally ready to walk on again. We plan to hook on the camper and head south Friday to find a warm ice-less area to practice walking on for 3-4 weeks before coming back to tap the maples in Wisconsin. Spring!!!!!

Here is a newspaper column from last week:

Rearranging Nature

“Practice your wave,” Byron told Margo who was sitting at the passenger window of his 1950 2-ton Chevrolet truck. We put the truck in super low and crawled our way though mainstreet Prentice, WI, accidentally becoming part of their 1978 summer parade; waving and smiling, wishing we had some candy to throw out. The truck had a sign, B &V Lumber, and was loaded with the bright orange 1947 Cletrac crawler, a DNR TP 110 label. When the parade route turned off mainstreet, we headed straight on out of town to Cushing to bring our new crawler home and begin re-arranging nature on the farm.

Back in 1970, a very dry year on the farm near Cushing, I watched as my cousin Harvey Roberts made one of our silted-in cattail swamps into a very nice farm pond with his big Cat Dozer. It made me realize that I too needed a dozer if my life was to be satisfying and complete.

That summer I worked for the WI DNR fire control group out of Grantsburg. Some of the time I was in the Sterling fire tower, but much of the time, I was at the station in Grantsburg where Glenn Nelson, Bud Nelson, Leslie Anderson and our boss Earl Meyer worked on projects while keeping prepared for forest fires. Glenn and I were the summer help and painted the inside of the garage and insulated and paneled the inside offices in the old cement block building. My name is likely still hidden under the paneling at the outlet next to the door that exited to the east.

During the time I was there, I got to see Bud and Leslie drive the Oliver Cletrac AG-6 and International TD-6 fire plow crawlers. These small, narrow tracked tractors pulled a two-way fire plow to make a wide furrow and stop a ground fire. The operators preferred the International as it was easier to turn. “the TD-6 clutches and brakes a track when you pull the lever, but the Cletrac just brakes, so you have to really yank and then it might not come around,” Bud told me. The crawlers were new in the late 40’s.


My brother, Everett Hanson, worked for the DNR out of Grantsburg starting in the early 1970s. He told me:
“Bud Nelson hated his Cletrac. He thought the IHC (T-6) replacement was vastly superior with it's excellent turning ability. With a fire plow, the Cletrac almost refused to turn. Bud claimed that he went from tree to tree bouncing off one side or the other. If the bounce went wrong he had to stop, raise the trailer plow, turn and try for the next tree. It wasn't quite that bad but if you had previously driven a T-6 it was maddening.”

“The Cletrac had a nice smooth sounding 6-cylinder Continental engine but I preferred the bark of a 4-cylinder T-6 with only a spark arrestor for a muffler--probably why my hearing is so poor. If you have really worked my IHC M hard you know the sound, you can almost count the cylinders firing. The assumed (mostly by those who fought fire from behind a desk) advantage of the differential steering of the Cletrac was slow gentle turns that would get you though swampy ground with out getting stuck. When pulling light loads the Cletracs turned fairly well.”

“The Cletrac had about 40 hp and the T-6 had just a little less, I think. The number was alway had TP for tractor plow on the old units. TD stood for Tractor Dozer. A lot of the old crawlers were 1947's with less bought in the early 50's. There was a larger purchase of 6 cylinder T-6's in the 1960's.”

“The old crawlers had trailers made by the Tomahawk DNR mechanics. They were long single axel, tilt bed heavy trailers. You tipped the back down; drove the crawler slowly up the two heavy metal rails and then the trailer tipped forward either gracefully if you were going very slowly or with a bang if not. An old army truck pulled the trailer loaded with the crawler and plow. At the fire, you backed the plow and crawler down the ramps and headed out to contain the fire.”
“The Cletrac was painted orange. It was narrow, not much over four feet wide, so it could skinny through the woods. The mechanics at Tomahawk WI added a metal rooftop and mounted two 70-gallon water tanks, one on each side of the operator, who sat on the broad bench seat; strapped in with a seatbelt and protected by canopy and tanks somewhat from the brush and trees as he plowed a furrow ringing the fire. They only pulled the plows; no front blades for pushing. The older crawlers generally had an 1 1/2" hose with a nozzle and some had an operator added 1" or a 3/4" garden hose for mop up. The early crawlers did not have water tanks just a back can mounted on the side running board/fender.”

“There were a few dry years in the 70's but 1977 was the year of the big fires in WI. The State bought, with much Federal Funding assistance, many new 1978 International 3 ton trucks, John Deere 450C crawlers, flatbed trailers and 4x4 pickups. They got rid of the 4 cylinder IHC T-6's and all of the Cletrac AG-6's. They still had some 6 cylinder T-6's but they would soon be replaced as with no dozer blade their non-fire use was very limited.”

In the summer of 1978, Everett, working for the DNR at Grantsburg, told me that there was going to be an auction of crawlers. “the Internationals go for $1500 to $3000 and the Cletracs for $1000 and up. These crawlers are 30 years old, but in almost new condition. We maintained them very well. We only used them for plowing around fires; maybe only 20-40 hours a year. Everything is like new. They are selling the old tilt-bed trailers too, as the new John Deere’s won’t fit on them. ”

In 1978, I was a married man; a school teacher with a job in Amery with summers off, helping at home on the farm when I wasn’t teaching. My teacher’s salary in those days was less than $12,000 a year including coaching, yearbook and bus chaperoning. Margo, knowing how badly I needed a crawler to make life meaningful, said “go to Cushing and ask the banker.” Mike agreed that I needed a crawler, “up to $2000 I can give you a personal note.”

Margo and I drove Hwy 8 over to Tomahawk on Friday, August 27, 1978, the day before the Saturday sale. We had our pickup with the aluminum topper. We spent the afternoon studying the five crawlers for sale. Everett told me “look at the tracks and rollers. If they are good, the rest should be good. Check the brakes and clutch for signs of wear. I talked to the Tomahawk people and all of them are good. The Internationals are likely to be used more as they were preferred by the operators. See if the oil looks clean, and look for any leaks.”

We ate our sandwiches from the cooler and inflated our air mattresses in the back of the truck; opened the side windows and slept fitfully over night in the back of the DNR lot. The auction was to start at 9:00 AM. We breakfasted on doughnuts and coffee brought in by the auction crew. Remember, $2000 dollars was 1/6th of our gross yearly income, and we were driving a 1961 Chev at the time (Grandpa’s old one that he bought from Bud Jensen—I think it was Larry’s go-to-college car).

We looked at the crawlers with the hundred or so other folks at the sale. There were two Internationals and three Cletracs, some trailers and some miscellaneous surplus tools and DNR gear. The first International went for $2500. Then a Cletrac went for $1350. Then the other International for $2000 and the next Cletrac for $1400 without me bidding.

“Did you come over here all this way and now you aren’t going to buy anything?” said Margo. “You better buy the last one.” I was waiting, hoping that the last one, the nicest one of the Cletracs would be the cheapest. My goal was $1250.

I started the bidding at $700. It quickly went to my bid of $1250 and then the other man bidding hesitated. “That sounds like a really good price,” coaxed Margo. She knew me and how hard it was for me to spend money. The auctioneer pried $1300 out of the other fellow. “This is just like a new machine folks. Don’t go home and kick yourself for missing this deal. Each year these sell for a couple hundred more. I got 13,13,13,13, go 1350. So with Margo poking me in the ribs, I bid $1350, and after another long spiel, the other fellow finally said $1400. I immediately yelled $1450, trying to intimidate him and keep my ribs from being broken. That did it! It was ours and the banks.

I settled up with a check that I said would be good Monday. The trailers went for nearly $1000 each, so I didn’t buy one. I did buy a brand new large stainless steel monkey wrench for $5.00 from a group of 20. Later, when Everett saw it he called Tomahawk and asked them to send a couple to Grantsburg rather than giving them away at the auction!

“Is there anyplace I can load it onto a truck?” I asked the DNR representative. “Sure, you can back up to a ramp we have over by the shed. Tell us when you are going to pick it up and we will have someone here to help.” We arranged for next Saturday.

Before the auction, I had asked Brother Byron, “Do you think you can haul a crawler on your truck if I buy one at Tomahawk? Everett says it weighs 7000 lbs.” Byron had bought and overhauled a 1950 two-ton Chev truck for log hauling. He had rebuilt the flat bed with very heavy white oak planks. “Oh, I think we can get it home with the truck,” he said. “You buy it and I’ll help you get it home.” We knew that if we had to we could hire Cousin Harvey to get it.

Early the next Saturday morning, Margo and I climbed into the old Chev truck and with Byron driving headed out for Tomahawk. Scott stayed with Grandma. We cruised along about 45 mph. I had arranged with the DNR for pickup just before noon. The DNR representative looked at my auction receipt and handed me a key and said “It’s right over there, next to the ramp. Are you sure that old truck will hold it?” Byron said “well, let’s drive it on and see what happens!”

He backed the truck up to the ramp. I told him “you drive it on,” worrying about what might happen. It started right up and had a wonderful throaty roar as the 6-cylinder Continental engine came up to speed. Byron put it in low and slowly drove up the earthen ramp and edged it on to the truck bed. The truck squatted down as he drove it all the way on, cutting the power and hopping off.

“Well, the springs are holding, even though they are bent a little down. It’ll likely sway some on the way back, but if we go slow, we should be fine.” We locked the brakes and chained it down to the rack.

We were in downtown Tomahawk stopped on mainstreet at the stop sign and the truck engine killed. “H’mm,” said Byron, “must be vapor lock.” We got out and opened the hood and looked at the engine. “Needs to cool down a little, I guess,” he continued. Meantime, the downtown traffic had to go around us. After ten minutes, it started up, much to my relief and we were on our way.

When you overload a truck, the back springs let the rear sway. At over 35 mph, the sway was too much to drive comfortably. We chugged along slowly, the truck swaying like a hula dancer, all the way to Prentice. The traffic was backed up and mainstreet closed. They were having their annual Prentice Progress Days Parade. Cars were backed up on one side waiting for the parade to end and parade units on the other. The policeman saw us coming, an antique truck loaded with a DNR fire crawler and waved us into the parade route! We became part of the parade as we drove through town and then continued on Hwy 8.

We got home at about dark, seasick from the swaying ride, but with no more problems. We backed the truck up against a steep ditch bank where we could drive the crawler off and give the truck a rest. We drove it around the orchard taking Scott for a ride with Dad and Mom admiring it. “Needs a blade,” I said, thinking of my next purchase.

The next year, we returned to Tomahawk and bought a surplus $700 tilt bed trailer built for the Cletrac so we could haul it from farm to farm. I found a dozer blade and had the Branstad Blacksmith, Al Mesecher, modify it to fit the dozer.

We have had the Cletrac now for 32 years. I started working on fixing it up last summer as the gas tank had gotten rusty and other parts need some work. It is true, for me to be a fulfilled man, the ability to rearrange nature has been key! You buy some land and then you clear brush, build ponds and roads and make it yours, just like getting a wife and re-arranging her until you are satisfied with the results.