I’m not sure what year it was but it was during middle school when Rob and I planned a bike camping trip to Old Mill State Park. We were forced to take Carl Dallager with us. Carl was severely visually impaired, in fact he was legally blind. We were not too thrilled to find out that we had to take Carl on the trip, especially when we found out that his father had mapped out a route for us on gravel back roads through Viking Minnesota to the park. Our original intended route was to simply take the 32 mile trip to the State Park by biking along paved Highways.
Also, taking back roads was a longer route because Highway 59 angles to the northwest cutting the distance. On the way to Old Mill we were not particularly kind to Carl. We kept pushing him to keep up with us and if he wanted to stop and take a break when we weren’t ready for it, we would say, “No, keep going.”
It was raining lightly for our first night at the Old Mill. We were all in one tent together. Carl started to have difficulty breathing. He asked us if we had down sleeping bags because he was allergic to down.
Rob said, “Yes, I sure do. I have a duck down sleeping bag.”
“Then you’ll have to sleep outside because of my allergy.”
“Oh no, I don’t! You’re the one with the allergy. I’m not sleeping in the rain. If you have a problem with my sleeping bag then you can sleep outside.”
As I recall, Carl did for a while, but the rain stopped soon enough.
Beside that little tiff, we actually had a lot of fun at the park. We were there early in the spring and there weren’t really any other campers. Nobody was swimming at the beach where the damn creates a very nice swimming pond. We were riding our bikes down a hill and then leaping over a jump that we had made in the water. At one point we saw a park ranger approach. So, we started to nonchalantly walk back to our campsite, leaving our bikes in the water.
When he reached us, he said, “Hello, boys! Aren’t you going to get your bikes?”
We lowered our heads – guilt written all over our faces.
“Well,” he went on saying, “I suggest you get your bikes out of the water and I hope I don’t catch you jumping into the river pool anymore. Understood?”
When we got home, Rob and I we’re afraid that we were going to get in trouble because of the way we treated Carl.
One day my mom said, “I talk to Carl’s mom today…” Rob and I exchanged a worried look. But then, my mom added, “Carl’s mom said he had a great time and what he liked the best about the trip was the fact that you boys treated him like one of the guys.”
Speaking of Rob…
We dared to do anything as long as Rob was with us. If anything bad was going to happen it would happen to Rob. The boys and I were walking along with our BB guns and found a 30-06 bullet. We got the bright idea to stick it in the ground and shoot the primer with a BB gun. We were a little wary, but we had our backs turned toward the bullet and were looking over our shoulders.
I shot the primer and Rob immediately started to hoot and holler. A hot shrapnel had pierced and was stuck into the back of his leg.
On another camping trip, we canoed the river to a place we called the Country Campground. It wasn’t a real campground, it was just a place in the woods along the river where we liked to camp. We were close to the time when we planned to go home. We had a huge can of beans left that we hadn’t eaten. We got the bright idea to put the can on the fire unopened and wait to watch it explode.
There was a small ravine close to the campfire. We put the can of beans on the fire and jumped into the ravine, peeking over the edge, waiting for the can to explode. We waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing happened, nothing happened, and nothing happened. We finally got tired of waiting and decided to take the can off the fire. As we approached the fire, this enormous can of beans finally exploded! Its seam burst. No big deal about that, except for the fact that the seam faced Rob. When the can exploded, Rob was fired upon by hot beans.
The rest of us got hit with a few of beans but Rob was covered head to toe.
She didn’t believe any of our stories”?
Much later when we were in high school, Rob and I were given the task of entertaining a young woman who was visiting her aunt and uncle, Evert Marshal. Mr. Marshal was an English teacher. We spent the evening showing her around Thief River. We were recounting her all of the stories from our childhood, along with our other stories. Our stories included the suspension bridge from which we dove and did flips off of 25 feet above the water, Hillary Stoltman, and the story about Tek’s multicolored house.
Hillary was a millionaire who lived in a modest house. He had an old fishing boat, and old pickup truck. He had painted “H.P. Stoltman” on everything he owned. We used to tease his younger daughter Patty. She hung with us at the bridge. Frankly, we suspected that she probably had H. P. Stoltman tattooed on her body somewhere.
As for Tek, he was the cousin of Rob’s father. He once went to prison for his daughter. She was a motorcycle stunt person. She was caught with cocaine. To save her, Tek claimed that the cocaine was his.
He lived in a house by the river very close to Longs Bridge. He was retired and took care of his blind brother who had been blinded in a hunting accident.
Tek was driving the vehicle while his brother was sitting on the hood with a shotgun. They hit a big bump. Tek’s brother dropped the shotgun which hit the ground and fired pellets into his face, blinding him.
Tek got a bunch of paint for free but small amounts of different colors. He painted each side of his garage and his house different colors, so that you could see his garage from the bridge. It was yellow on the one side, green on another side and his house was red on one side and blue on the other side.
When we dropped the young woman off after a night of storytelling, we asked if she wanted to go swimming with us the next day. She did.
The next day she was standing on the bridge looking around. She saw us climbing to the top of the bridge and doing flips, she could see Hillary Stoltman’s boat with “H. P. Stoltman” painted on the boat and the motor. She could also see Tek’s multicolor house and garage.
The proof of three of our stories were right there in plain sight.
She looked at us and said utterly flabbergasted, “Those stories are true! I thought you were pulling my leg!”
We were surprised and a little offended.
“You mean you didn’t believe any of our stories?”
She replied, “No, not really.”
We had horses and rode them. We also had a number of animals that we would raise for spending money; calves and pigs mostly.
Knute and his horse Ali Kahn
My brother got a horse when he was in sixth grade. The horse was two years old and unbroken. Knute broke the horse but broke a rib in the process.
He named his horse Ali Kahn. He loved to ride him. The next year when he was in seventh grade, he decided he wanted to go to Northwood, North Dakota to help our Uncle Lloyd with his cattle.
Our uncle had started breeding exotic breeds of cattle. These breeds originated from European countries like France and Italy but they could not be imported into the United States. Breeds like Simmental, Limousine and Tarentaise cattle. However, the Simmentals could be imported. Our uncle needed someone to ride around amongst the cattle early in the morning and do “heat detection”, then round up the cattle and drive them into a corral where they could be sorted. The cows that were in heat the night before would be bred by artificial insemination. Then, in the afternoon, the cattle would need to be rounded up again and the cows that were in heat in the morning would be bred in the evening.
My brother loved riding his horse so much that he spent that first summer doing heat detection and rounding up cattle for free. The next summer, our uncle hired Knute and paid him to be a cowboy. Uncle Lloyd paid a traveling artificial inseminator to inseminate the cattle. When Knute was in ninth grade our uncle decided to send him to A.I. (Artificial insemination) school. All through high school, college, and medical school my brother worked as a cowboy and did artificial insemination for our uncle.
Riding to North Dakota
The first summer that my brother worked for Uncle Lloyd, my dad and Knute Rode their horses for the 110 miles from our house to the alkali flats between Grand Forks and Northwood, North Dakota where Uncle Lloyd pastured his cattle.
After that it became a yearly trip for Knute, Kyja and I. We would ride our horses on the two day trip to our Uncle Lloyd’s place. Sometimes others would join us. One year Guraba rode with us. Even though she was black as night, she got sunburned, especially her lips. Guraba was riding a white Pony of America, which is a smaller horse than our other horses but larger than most ponies.
At the end of the day her pony just lay down. Not on its side, just on its belly with its feet tucked under him. The poor thing was done and was not going any farther. That night, we camped on that spot.
The trip was a lot of fun but it was also somewhat difficult. We would be very sore after riding over two days. As we rode, we would find all sorts of new ways to ride, one leg over the saddle-horn then switch, then the other leg over the saddle-horn, then both legs up. Sit sideways, layover the saddle. We would also get off and walked quite a bit. Some years it was hot and sunny like the year Guraba rode with us.
We were wearing cowboy hats and sunscreen but still got burned.
Other years it would rain and we would wear trash bags with holes cut in them for our heads and arms because we did not have proper rain gear. Every year, at the end of the journey, we would say that we were not going to do that again because we were so sore. But we would not remember that until the second day of the trip the next year.
When we got a little more experienced, we would pack tents, sleeping bags and food. My mom would usually track us down and bring us A&W burgers.
We would never take the same route. We would wind our way over to North Dakota. My mom was an excellent tracker. She could drive down the gravel road watching for hoof prints.
During the second day of the trip, every year, we would have to ride right through Grand Forks because we had to use the bridge to cross the red river.
When Knute was done working for the summer he would ride Ali Kahn the entire 110 miles in one day. His horse was in such good shape. He would let the horse run as far as he wanted. When he stopped running, Knute would get off and walk a mile or two leading the horse, then get back in the saddle and let Ali walk until he was ready to run again, then he would just let it run as far as he wanted to run.
One year, I not only rode to North Dakota with Knute but ended up working with him as a cowboy for most of the summer, but I’ll get to that story later.
Horses were a big part of our lives. I was just a little boy when I learn to ride a horse. Then we got a couple of sleighs and a couple of bobsleds. One of them had a grain box. I built a rock over the other one. I liked to get a bunch of people together and drive a pair of horses on either the grain box or hayrack. Sometimes we would take along a bunch of firewood, drive up the river and have a party around the bonfire. Then later at night, we would harness up the horses and drive home. My dad’s favorite thing to do was to get a couple of one-horse-open sleighs, drive on the river with jingle bells on the horses.
He offered rides to anyone who wanted one. My dad was kind of famous for driving up and down the river with his sleigh and sleigh-bells.
He was a fabulous horseman. I loved how he would talk for the horses. It was hilarious when he would describe exactly what the horses were thinking.
On one occasion, my dad was driving one of our black Tennessee Walkers named Bub; I was driving another black Tennessee Walkers, named Lyle. Unfortunately, Bub’s breaching strap broke. This is the strap that goes around the horse’s rear end. It keeps the sleigh from sliding into the horses butt. My dad tried to get Bub to stop but if he pulled on the reigns the sleigh would be pulled into the horse’s legs. The horse started to buck and jumped his legs over the fills and got stuck between the fills and the sleigh.
My dad saw that the horse was going to tip over. To keep the sleigh from getting busted up when the horse fell, my dad jumped out of the sleigh and tipped the sleigh on its side as the horse fell over. He was then able to run up to hold the horse’s head down so that it could not stand up. He managed to calm him down and was able to get the horse’s feet back where they should be.
He re-fastened the breaching strap and let Bub stand up again. He then tipped the sleigh upright as the horse was getting up. He jumped in the sleigh and drove away.
NEXT TIME – RIDING FIVE MILES BUCK NAKED – CH 6