Excursions and Tragedy Ch 11


When I started to drink and partying, my friends and I had been going on camping trips since such a young age and so often that camping became an easy way to hide our drinking activity. It got to the point that we had differentiated, amongst ourselves, if we intended to go on a real camping trip or if we were going to set up our tents somewhere, so that we could run around and party drink in hand. Our code word was to say we were going on an “excursion”.  If one of my friends called and asked if I wanted to go camping, I knew that it was going to be a real camping trip. If, on the other hand, they asked if I wanted to go on an “excursion” I knew that we were going to party. However, we always had enough sense to drive home stone sober. I had heard my father tell us enough times what he had seen on the slab of the morgue for me to realize where my limits were . . . except on a few occasions when we lost any sense of reality.

Beth Hamilton and Kristen Sollum were sleeping out in a camper in Kristen’s driveway….

In addition to hiking trips, canoe trips and bike trips, I would sometimes have sleepovers where we would sleep out in our barn.

Our barn was on a separate property, on the other side of a paved road. We had a long driveway to our house, so the barn was about an eighth of a mile away from home. At a very young age my brother, sister and I would sleep out in the barn with sleeping bags on the hay. As I got older I would have friends over and we would sleep out there. Because our parents were used to us sleeping in the barn, it became an opportunity to get out and run around at night.

One particular night when we were in 9th grade, Dana, Rob and I were sleeping out in the barn. We knew that a couple of freshman girls, Beth and Kristen were sleeping out in a camper Kristen’s driveway. They lived on the other side of town, a good five miles away from us. We waited until we knew my parents were in bed to trot across town. When we got there, Rob and I went into the camper and began talking with the girls.

Dana had stolen some cigarettes out of someone’s glove compartment on the way. He was sitting in an open field in the dark, a hundred feet from the camper, smoking a cigarette. We must’ve been making enough noise to be heard from the house because, in the middle of the night, Kristen’s dad came out and knocked on the door of the camper.

We were all just sitting, talking. None of us were in bed but for some reason when we heard the knock on the door, Rob tried to hide under the covers.

When Kristen’s dad, Mr. Sullum, came in, he hauled me outside and told me to stay there. He went back in the camper and I immediately ran away as fast as I could. Next, he discovered Rob, hauled him outside and told him not to run away like his friend. When Mr. Sollum went back for the girls, Rob took off.

Meanwhile, Dana was watching all this from his position in the field. He was laughing his head off. He said Rob was running serpentine like he was avoiding machine gun fire.

The three of us were separated and we didn’t get back together until we arrived back at the barn. To our surprise, no one ever called our parents!

Coors Runs

There was another set of adventures that Rob and I had together. I call them our Coors Runs to Montana. After my dad and I had each bought a mare from a Tennessee-Walker Horse ranch which was located in the very most southwest corner of North Dakota, we started taking our mares back to that ranch to be bred. Both of our mares were red but, they both had black color genetics.

We brought our mares back to the ranch to have them bred with a black stallion hoping to get black foals. Rick and I made four trips to the Tennessee-Walker Horse Ranch. Two trips to bring them out for breeding and two trips to bring them home. We ended up with three black colts and one bay colt. The first two black colts that were born from the first breeding looked and acted like two little devils. We name them Luke and Lyle, short for Lucifer and Belial. I named the bay colt Treker.  I knew my dad did not want me to keep three horses, so I decided to give him to my sister Kyja for her birthday instead of selling him. My sister lived in Colorado and brought him out there.

Luke was my dad’s colt; mine was Lyle. On the next breeding my dad got another black colt, which we named Bub for Beelzebub in keeping with tradition.

Rob and I volunteered to make the trips to deliver the mares and pick them up again. We wanted to take the trips mostly for the sake of taking a road trip. But, we had an ulterior motive as well. At the time it was not legal to sell Coors beer east of Montana because it was unpasteurized.

Being illegal made it popular. Rob worked at the Hartz warehouse in Thief River during the high school summer holidays, and more when he went to Northland Community College. When he told his co-workers he was going to Montana to pick up some Coors, they sent money with him to pick up some for them.

So between us, our friends and Rob‘s co-workers we had orders for enough Coors to fill a horse trailer. The four trips blend together in my memories but I know that the delivery trips were at the beginning of summer when the demand for smuggled Coors beer was high and that is when we had an empty horse trailer for the return trip. On the first trip we dropped off the horses and then when across the border into Montana to the Newest Liquor store and filled up the horse trailer with beer.

We had started heading back, both drinking Coors in the pickup, on a lightly traveled road in Southwest North Dakota when we came upon a highway patrol traffic stop. I think the reason for the traffic stop was to check vehicle registration, lights, turn signals and such.

My dad’s pickup had a rear sliding window that opened to the box. When we saw the traffic stop we knew it was too late to try turning around. We shoveled our empty and full beers into a cooler in the box of the pickup and closed the back window. There was one car ahead of us being checked out. Rob was driving. He pulled his license and the vehicle registration out of the glove compartment, ready for the patrolman, so that he would have the least amount of time to smell beer fumes emanating from the cab. When it was our turn, the patrolman checked his license and our registration. Then he checked out our lights and turning signals. There was a turning signal that was not working on the trailer and Rob quickly crawled under the trailer to try to fix it so that he would not have to be face to face with the patrolman. The patrolman told Rob that he did not have to fix the light right now and handed me a “fix-it ticket”. He never looked into the trailer – and we breathed a sigh of relief – so he didn’t see that it was full of Coors beer.

The second trip to pick up the horses was uneventful.

On the third trip, which was the second drop-off trip, Rob and I decided to swing down and come back across South Dakota just for a change of scenery. It was late at night when we filled the horse trailer up with Coors beer in Montana and set out to find a route into South Dakota.

We didn’t realize that people had twenty-mile long driveways and took a number of wrong turns, ending up at the end of one long driveway after another. After several trips back and forth, up and down these driveways, we were drunk and lost in the middle of the night. We had not seen another vehicle all night long, when all of a sudden, there was bright red-and-blue lights flashing with incredible startling brightness in the pitch black night.

We were pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy. He approached our vehicle with his pistol drawn and told us to get out of our vehicle. He surveyed us and asked us to walk ahead of him back to our trailer. He looked inside of the trailer and laughed. He had us show our drivers licenses and then he gave us directions to the highway we had been looking for. Thankfully, we were still in Montana, driving up and down rural roads with a horse trailer.

When the deputy realized that we were not cattle rustlers or horse thieves but just a couple of drunk kids with a horse trailer full of Coors, he let us go on our way.

Generation Gap…

I was in the graduating class of 1977. It was the 70’s. The TV shows of that era featured a Wisconsin graduating class of 1978 one year behind me. There was a lot of social upheaval and I know that our parents did not understand how different the school environment was from what they experienced growing up while in school.

John and the case of beer on Long’s Bridge….

John and I, during our senior year, were skipping school in the spring. On that occasion, we climbed to the top of Long’s Bridge. We brought up a case of bottles. Drank a couple of beers but then decided to go somewhere else. John tried to come down the side of the bridge facing forward with the case of beer under his arm. He slipped and slid down the entire length of the side of the bridge. There was a sign bolted to the bridge. John hit the sign but had the case of beer in front of him. The case of beer exploded, sending glass and foam everywhere. He fell down to the pavement. I was horrified at the sight of him. I thought he was going to collapse and die at my feet. Fortunately for him he got up, shook himself off and only then did he realize he was still alive. His face was bloody but overall he escaped with only scratches and cuts, but we had to pull some glass out of his skin.  He had no broken bones or bad lacerations and he was alive!

Physics labs on the day of graduation…

I went to physics often enough to know what was going on. I always went to physics on the days that we had a test. However, I missed a lot of physics labs. Even though I had an ‘A’ going on the tests. Right before graduation, the physics teacher, Mr. Michalchuk, informed me that I was failing physics and then I would not graduate because of my missing physics labs.

The day of graduation when everybody else was going through a graduation rehearsal, I was in the physics lab pounding out lab reports. I got a lot done but I had not finished when Mr. Michalchuk came in and told me to go. He said that I did not have to finish but he would give me credit nonetheless.

Tragedy the night after graduation.  

The night my graduation there was a kegger party at a gravel pit. A couple of my friends, Rob and Dana, sold tickets for the kegger to seniors only. Both to raise money to buy the kegs and to try eliminating other kids, either older or younger, from coming to our kegger party. They were trying to do a good thing. They were trying to keep kids that graduated years before or under class-men from coming to the senior graduation kegger.

However, the night after graduation, there was still beer left in the kegs. Someone decided to have another party on that night. Nobody was monitoring anything at all. One of my classmates got drunk and had four juniors with him in the car when he crashed the vehicle.

He lived but all four juniors riding with him died. The parents of one of the students who died brought a lawsuit against those involved.

The lawyer representing the parents was the father of my classmate Evelin. Because Rob and Dana had sold tickets, they were involved in the lawsuit. It was ironic that the parents that brought up the lawsuit had not raised their child. The kid had been raised by his grandparents. The parents of the other three kids were not involved in the lawsuit.

It was settled out of court when Evelin‘s dad found out that Evelin was also involved in organizing the graduation kegger.

My dad was the County Coroner for 30 years in Pennington County. The years when I was growing up, seemed to be particularly bad years for drinking and driving. My dad said that there was at least one drinking and driving death every year either associated with prom or with graduation.

A few years before my graduation, the year when my sister went to prom, as the County Coroner, my dad got a call from the highway patrol that two girls had been hit by a car and killed on the road out to our home. My sister and her friend Dana’s older sister, who lived just down the road from us, were not home yet.

My mom became frantic. Fortunately, hours later we learned that Kyja and Dana’s sister were not involved. Two other high school girls were walking along the road when a drunk classmate of theirs saw them. He thought he was going to swerve and scare them but instead he hit and killed them.

Mike runs into the liquor store….

I was eighteen when I graduated from high school. During the Vietnam War the legal drinking age had been 18. The argument being “how can someone be old enough to go and die for their country but not old enough to have a beer or going to a bar?” The legal drinking age was changed from 18 to 19 when I was a senior. But I had already turned 18 and was there for grandfathered-in.

One evening I went to the liquor store with my friends, driving my parents’ Malibu. I went into the store, picked up some beer and went to the checkout. I was cashing a check from my dad’s insurance agent which I had received for graduation. All of a sudden there was a huge bang which literally shook the building on its foundation.

I thought: some drunk must have bombed the building.

When I went outside I discovered that Mike had driven my dad’s car into the liquor store!

Mike didn’t have a father. He and his two brothers lived with their mother. Mike didn’t have much growing up and had never had the opportunity to practice driving a car. So, while I was in the liquor store, he decided to practice his gear shifting and going forward and backwards in the car. He accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake and slammed into the store.  

Mike was not 18; he was underage. I wasn’t driving. Yet, when the police reported the accident in the newspaper they said that a “car owned by Dr. Ernest Thorsgard had been driven into the municipal liquor store”. My dad was not happy. I don’t think I let any of my friends drive our cars or trucks again….



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