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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
Sixty years ago Harry Lung, an 18-year-old graduate of Superior High School, agreed to go swimming with friends in the nearly new Courtland Canal. While I wasn't one of the friends, I knew Harry. He was among the high school guys who frequently visited the Blauvelt family's gasoline station. What happened that afternoon, made it a day I will never forget.
As a youngster growing up on Blauvelt's Hill, I'd watched the Courtland Canal being built and it became my favorite playground. Construction of the canal was a multi-year project. As the work progressed, the canal was filled in increments. I'm not sure when water reached Blauvelt's Hill but I suspect it was 1954. It probably didn't reach Lovewell Lake until late in 1957, perhaps early 1958.
While I was allowed to play around the canal, my father had warned me to always respect the canal and the dangers it posed. The banks were steep and the water deep. Depending upon the year and the season, the water could be nearly motionless or flowing swiftly.
In the first months the canal was filled, a neighbor had several head of cattle get into the canal and drown when they couldn't get out.
When I was in high school, I had a horse get out and fall into the canal when a bank gave way. I suspect the horse thought the grass growing along the canal would be better than what was in his pasture and ventured to close to the water. The horse was able to get out but he was so exhausted he willingly let me catch him. With just my arm around his neck, I was able to lead the nearly exhausted animal to a gate that opened into the pasture. Normally that animal was never willingly caught and certainly not in the open where he an opportunity to get away.
I liked to ride horseback on the service roads that lined both sides of the canal and climb the big piles of dirt left the canal excavators. It was particularly thrilling to ride my horse off the new dirt piles. I now suspect the men in charge of maintaining the canal didn't appreciate my doing so but it was a thrilling ride, never-the-less. And care-free youngsters like doing thrilling things. My horse, Tony, must have enjoyed it as well because he willingly did what I asked.
In the early years, before the piles were grassed, settled and eroded, Tony would step right off the edge. With his front feet straight out in front and sitting on his haunches, he slid down the bank with a roll of dirt in front. I've never seen a land or snow slide but I imagine they must look somewhat like we did going off one of those piles of loose dirt.
In the early years before sandburs took over, the canal trails were popular nighttime party spots. On warm summer nights when my bedroom window was open, I would lay away listening to the sounds coming from the parties. The next day I would go in search of the bottles the participants left behind. Pop bottles were gathered and sold back to the bottling company for a 2 cent deposit. The other beverage bottles I used for target shooting. When I grew tired of standing them up in front of a dirt bank and blasting away, I learned to stuff the necks with mud and toss them into the canal. As the bottles bobbed down stream, I had a floating target to shoot at. Though WWI had ended more than 30 years earlier, I dreamed I was a member of the United States Armed Forces trying to sink the Bismark.
Summer days I went fishing in the canal water. In the fall I set traps trying to catch the animals who investigated the standing pools of water left after the canal was drained for the year.
The canal offered a shortcut to country school, and I often took the route through the pasture and along the canal instead of riding all the way on public roads.
When it snowed, I went sledding on the canal property. When the water pools froze, I went ice skating.
In the fall, after the canal was drained, it was fun to play in the squishy mud. One winter I wanted to know what it felt like to wade in ice water. I slipped off my boots and socks and walked onto the ice. As expected, it broke and I went straight down into the knee deep water pool. Glad it wasn't deeper.
It was a memorable experience but I only tried it once.
I never got to do it with them but I have friends who liked to slide down a concrete drop near their home. The trickle of water which flowed over the drop, encouraged the growth of moss. My friend said it was fun to slide down the chute but advised one should always wear jeans and tennis shoes because the rough finished concrete could be hard on one's skin.
I have slid over the Guide Rock diversion dam but I'll save that story for another time. Today my focus is on the canal or as my mother often called it, "the ditch."
In the spring of 1956, I had the chicken pox and wasn't allow outside the house for what seemed like an eternity.
One afternoon I pleaded for an opportunity to go with my father in answer to an emergency call for help. He made me stay home and went alone. Now I'm glad he did for what he saw that day would haunt me to this day.
In his teen years and while serving in WW II, my father worked as a lifeguard. He proudly wore a Red Cross patch on his swimming trunks which indicated he had passed lifeguard training.
That afternoon tragedy struck in the canal about two miles east of the gasoline station. The first calls for help were received at the station. My father rushed to lend a hand when he learned a teenager was floundering in the canal.
I watched out the window as a Superior utility truck sped by. I didn't have to be told, for a knew it was hauling the resuscitator. That machine was retired decades ago but it 1956 it was a state-of-the-art mechanical device used to bring people back from death's door.
It wasn't until my very somber Dad came home that I learned the story.
Harry Lung was the first to arrive that day at the designated swimming place where the canal had been lined with concrete because of unstable sand banks. Apparently he had tried to sit on the concrete liner to await the arrival of his friends. Instead he slid into the water.
When his friends arrived Harry was in the water and in trouble. They tried to get him out and couldn't and sent for my father.
Harry was hauled out of the water but it was too late. Life had left the 18-year-old.
From that day on, Dad didn't have to warn me about the danger the canal posed.
After Harry's death, those responsible for operating the canal stretched steel cables across the canal and placed rope nets near the openings to all siphons.
I knew to stay away from the siphons for I had witnessed what happened when an old fence post was thrown into the canal near the mouth of a siphon. But that didn't keep me away from the concrete tube that carried the water under Highway 14 for the water didn't fill that tube like it did a siphon. I sometimes floated the boats I made out of scrap lumber though the highway tube and occasionally a beer bottle I failed to break while target shooting floated under the highway.
When the canal was drained in the fall, I climbed on the net while playing pirate. But the nets soon rotted and all that was left was the steel cable. But the cable offered a way to cross the ditch. On a hot summer day, one could by going hand-over-hand cross the canal and cool off in the water. But you sure wanted to have your belt cinched up tight because the flowing water tugged mightily on your jeans. I've also used the cable to cross when the canal was drained but that probably the most dangerous time. Had I lost my grip and dropped to the bottom of the canal I would have landed on rock and concrete. That probably would have been worse than floating under the highway.
And just between you and me, some of the stories I've shared today I never told my mother though I'm sure my father knew-for he was the first one I ever saw crdoss the ditch while holding onto the cable.


Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Memorial weekend draws people back to their hometown, their roots, to gather with family, friends and classmates. Whether it's to attend a school or family reunion or to visit the cemetery to honor the memories of our loved ones that are no longer with us, there is a good feeling just to come back home.
We are drawn to the old hometowns of our youth, but when we return, sometimes the surroundings don't seem the same. That is when we stir up memories of how we remember it and how the hometown and its people influenced our lives as youths. Remembering how important this town was to us, and still is.
My hometown has always been within close driving distance of where I reside. I remember as a young child visiting Burr Oak with Mother to gather groceries at one of the three grocery stores there. Dr. Poppen was at that time the only doctor in town, but later I learned that years before there had been at least three doctors there. I even found out the first doctor in town, Dr. Hawley, established a hospital there years ago. Later, when my family moved to another town farther away, about every other weekend, we'd drive our big Buick through the busy town, across the iron clad bridge north of Burr Oak, and up the highway to visit my grandparents. It was such a beautiful view to drive up Highway 28 and look down into the valley where the town was.
After my family moved back to Jewell County in the late 50s, we made our home on a farm a few miles north of Burr Oak. Trips into Burr Oak were done to visit either Barland's or Aspegren's grocery store. Aspegren's store was the Walmart of its time, and about every food item needed was found there. It was a mom and pop store, owned and operated by a tiny lady with a big smile named Margaret, and her husband, Art, who was as big and tall as his wife was short and little. They had the store open six days a week, from early morning to 6 p.m., except for Saturday nights when they would remain open until everyone left the store. The other businesses in Burr Oak visited by the Boyles family at that time were either of the four service stations in town: Johnson and Platt, Mobil Station operated by Wayne Yetter and later by Gutschers, the Olena station that was just up the street a block from the other two stations, and out on the north edge of town was the Huntsinger station. Jennie Huntsinger, wife of the station owner, was the owner and operator of the drug store where a variety of goods were offered along with delicious sodas and ice cream items at her soda fountain. Of course, the grain elevator was a business that Dad and Mom often visited, called Walker Grain. This elevator was owned and operated by a husband and wife team, Clayton and Maxine. I had two aunts who had summer and after school jobs at two businesses in town and so we'd often visit there; Nettie Johnson's variety store (Nettie was the mother of a co-owner of Johnson and Platt, Gene Johnson, and mother-in-law to the other co-owner, Bud Platt). The other business that one of the aunts worked at was Aspegren's grocery store.
The summer before I entered the 8th grade, my parents made the decision that my sisters and I would leave the one room local school house called Oak Creek and enter the much larger Burr Oak Schools. One summer Saturday night brought me and my family into Burr Oak to visit our good friends, Stanley and Ginger Johnson and family. Stanley was one of three rural mail carriers in the Burr Oak Post Office who had as its postmaster a descendant of the town's first postmaster who named the town Burr Oak. This came from the burr oak trees that grew all along Burr Oak Creek and White Rock Creek that joined and then curved around the west and north borders of the town. The postmaster was Jim McCormick, and the other two carriers were Ralph Smullins and Clell Hancock. All three of the rural mail carriers were WWII veterans, along with Gene Johnson, Bud Platt and Harold Olena. That Saturday night, I remember going to the town's hot spot, Zetta's Cafe, with my sister, Glenna, and two of the Johnson girls, Bonnie and Kathy, sitting in a booth sipping away on our malts when I noticed the heads of three boys peeking around the corner of the front window. Then their faces disappeared and we four girls began to giggle at their antics. Soon, the three boys walked into the cafe and kept looking our way, smiling as they seated themselves on the padded stools, looking towards the counter. Bonnie laughed and explained that she thought they were coming to check out the new girls who would be coming to school in a couple of months. Memories of Zetta's cafe are wonderful ones, as it would continue to be the hang out for after school visits and especially during the Saturday night family trips to town. The cafe was owned and operated by another mom and pop duo, Dan and Zetta Pettit.
I can well remember Korb's furniture store, whose father had run the business before him. There was Norman Morris who at that time ran the Burr Oak Lumber Yard. Burr Oak had two plumbing businesses, Cosand's and the second one was Belt and Fearing. Another WWII veteran, Lynn Lewis, owned and operated the local blacksmith shop. There was Morris' Garage, owned and operated by a father and his two sons, with another son having a radio and television business within the same building; Issac, Cleo, Tubby, and Keith. Later, Elwin Lamb took over the television repair business.
Amos Calahan was the town marshal and his wife worked at Zetta's cafe. Elmer Staatz, Barney Oldfield and Richard Frasier were the town mechanics. Burr Oak State Bank was a busy place and working in the bank in the early 60s were Lyle Wood and his wife, Ruby, and their right hand woman, Eileen Tegley. AnnaBelle Grubbs ran the local beauty shop in the building that was once a large barber shop. The large, two story limestone building on the main street was once Sumner's Drug Store and later was turned into the Lewis Hardware business location, where Charlie Lewis and Lottie Meyer could be found. Since the earliest Burr Oak days, Canfield Shoe Store was owned and operated by yet another mom and pop couple, but in the mid 60s it was operated by Marjorie Suchsland whose husband, Lester, another WWII veteran, worked in the post office.
There were and still are three churches in Burr Oak, United Methodist, Nazerene and Christian. Some smaller churches have come and gone throughout the years, and some eventually incorporated into the main three. Each congregation at that time was large and faithful in attendance, with Sunday schools, choirs and youth groups. They all pitched in with town events and duties.
The town's library was located in the heart of the town and its long time librarian was Lela Dillon.
The many school teachers, staff members and bus drivers, will never be forgotten in good old Burr Oak Schools during the early 60s and beyond. Naming all would be impossible, but a few remembered during that time are Clifford McCune, Red Brandon, Mr. Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Hafner, Rosetta Jeffery, Evelyn Harris, Cleo Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Stepp, Jane Diehl, Jack Bradrick, Mr. Schmidt, Cheryl Barnes Hillman, Joyce Fogo Palmer, Tubby Morris, Lyle and Curtis Jeffery, and the teaching sisters, Edna Masters and Mildred Mullins. The Burr Oak Braves will never be forgotten.
The American Legion and Auxiliary in Burr Oak were two of the main organizations in town, as well as the Lodge. The fire department were and are still made up of local dedicated volunteers.
It seemed to me that the business people and residents of my hometown were so supportive to fellow businesses, the school, the churches, the organizations and the town itself. They all worked together and they each worked hard putting in long hours. They were friendly and helped each other out when needed. The business owners hired local youths and were good teachers. They kept the town clean and well maintained. They were proud of their town and community and it showed. Waiting for someone else to do a job was not what they did, they just did it themselves. The business owners back then were of the "Greatest Generation" with their strong beliefs and values.
There is a saying: "The good thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows what you are doing, and the bad thing is that everyone knows what you are doing." This is true, but it is a good feeling to return to your hometown where everyone knows your name and recognizes you. You just feel welcome there!

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

My wife was a career Girl Scout. She began in the organization as early as possible and continued until she was a camp counselor in college. Afterward, she took a break until her own daughters joined, at which time she became a troop leader. This is my roundabout way of saying she enjoys the outdoors. A lot.
A big part of that has always been tent camping. When the girls were small, we used to keep track of the number of nights each summer that we slept in a tent. The number was typically between 15 and 20. But lives get busy and girls go off to college and husbands begin making movies ­­ resulting in not one single night in a tent last year. Afraid we would repeat that unacceptable statistic this year, we packed up and went tent camping Friday night, staying until noon Sunday.
When we were married, we inherited the canvass cabin tent she camped in with her family when she was growing up. It was 12 x 12 and tall enough in the center that I had to stand on something to hang the lantern. I think we would still be using it except it was destroyed in a wind storm at Lake McConaughy when the stakes pulled free of the sand and it tumbled into the brush.
When we replaced it, we decided on the same size cabin tent, only of the "instant set-up" variety. It was expensive, but we placed our order and waited for it to be shipped. Instead of a tent, we received a correspondence from the manufacturer stating all their instant tents had been shipped to Haiti to aid with hurricane relief, but we were free to order something different. Needing something fairly quickly, we went to a retail outlet and picked one out instead.
Since then, we have had a "love-hate" relationship with the tent. Once it is up and in use, we like it nearly as much as the old canvass cabin. It is 16 x 7 and what the manufacturer calls a "modified dome" tent. Putting up the tent, however, is a nightmare. Seven shock-cord poles instead of two or three in a regular dome tent. I don't think you should have to consult the instructions for a tent every time you put it up, especially when you've done it dozens of times, but I can't see ever being able to put this one up without them.
For that reason alone, even though it is still in excellent condition, we've decided to replace it. We looked at instant tents again, but our hesitation is they're the size of a Smart car and weigh 100 pounds packed away, which wasn't a problem when there were four of us and we were traveling in a 12-passenger van, often pulling a boat. Now, however, it's just the two of us, and we're usually in the small car I drive to work. So I did some research and found what we're replacing it with ­­ a 14 x 14 "teepee" tent with a 9-foot center pole. Best of all, packed away it weighs 14 pounds and fits in a small duffel bag.