"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Awaiting the snowmobiles' scream

The 1968 Polaris "Mustang"
We have arrived at the time of year when the owners of snowmobiles look skyward in anticipation of the white stuff. We haven't had any real accumulation of snow yet. If you look skyward you'll see plenty of geese. Which means that snow may not come down but something else will. Look out.
The forecast calls for some snow this weekend (November 20-21).
When I was a kid geese were a rather rare sight here. If a flock appeared you'd gaze in a sort of mesmerized way.
The subsequent explosion in goose population caused the late writer/raconteur Doug Rasmusson to observe that geese had become "sky carp." Rasmusson self-published his work. Today he would have an absolute field day using the Internet.
Rasmusson and the late cartoonist Del Holdgrafer are examples of people who, if they had grown up in New York City, might have become household names with their talent. Just like we have all known young people with the looks, personality and talent to make it in Hollywood if they'd just go there and try the system.
I mean, if Ashton Kutcher can do it. . .
I don't blame anyone for not doing it because the odds are stacked against you.
I used to have breakfast with a co-worker on weekends, and we noticed a waitress at Don's Cafe whom we swore would look just as good on the cover of a grocery store magazine as anyone. This was years ago so don't speculate on who this might be. Actually I wouldn't even know her name.
What kind of a winter will this be for snowmobilers? It is a sport so at the mercy of the elements. We've had good years and some quite bad ones
I did some snowmobiling when young but none as an adult. As with everything else, technology has taken it a long way.
As a kid I never heard of such a thing as "grooming" trails. Without grooming, any well-worn snowmobile path becomes bumpy, like a washboard. I noticed this "bumpy' effect on snowmobile trails in the Brainerd area when young. It diminished enjoyment of the sport.
Snowmobiles burst into our consciousness in the early and mid 1960s. Middle class prosperity, relative to earlier times, was one reason. As with all new things, there was a small circle of people in town who exhibited it for the rest of us. A couple of these people brought their snow sleds up north with Morris boy scouts to a camp. The boys had fun testing the pastime.
The advent of snowmobiling was inevitable. That's because the ground is covered with snow here for much of the year, so why not fix up contraptions with engines for riding over it?
I suspect that many enthusiasts were just mechanically inclined people who wanted to see how the system could work. So, people snowmobiled "because it was there" - like mountain climbing.
But how much intrinsic enjoyment do we really find in snowmobiling? It's cold and dangerous. Inevitably we're tempted to go out on bodies of water. It's especially tempting out here when the alternative so often is a plowed field.
But frozen and snow-covered bodies of water have serious risks. We all know how young people especially don't fully appreciate risks. They're invulnerable, right?
Looking back, my snowmobiling was more hazardous than I realized at the time. As we get older I think we look back and wonder "how did I get through all that?"
Snowmobilers were a scourge for law enforcement. I don't know if they still are, because the enthusiasts might have developed their own "space" in which they can operate without irritating others. I know snowmobilers were once a scourge because the police chief of Morris told me. This chief was the late Henry Hull.
I remember Hull sitting with a rather contemplative look at the counter of Country Kitchen Restaurant, lamenting snowmobiles.
"We get more complaints about snowmobiles than anything," he said.
Country Kitchen was the first name of that restaurant. It was a chain. It has distinction in Morris history because for a long time it was 24 hours a day. I think UMM appreciated that. It made Morris seem like a bigger town than it is.
A 24-hour restaurant may have been more practical in those days because there was a "bar rush." Social drinking was far more popular, whereas today it's really being stomped down. The idiotic behavior of intoxicated people is no longer cool.
Country Kitchen attracted more than its share of alcohol-laced Neanderthals during late hours. It seemed hypocritical to accept or tolerate this behavior while decrying the pot-smoking kids who found they just needed "munchies."
"Reefer Madness" indeed!
Falling-down drunk at the VFW was no more admirable.
Country Kitchen Restaurant later became Atlantic Avenue Family Restaurant and today it's DeToy's (a mom and pop chain). Not only is the "bar rush" unthinkable there now, there's no smoking. Minnesota law probably should have slammed the door on smoking years earlier. I think restaurants attract far more business now that they're smoke-free.
Chief Hull would sit on one of those "fixed chairs" (not stools) at Country Kitchen. And then along would come Lester Podtburg to amiably order his "Dr. Pepper." And then Tib Kirwin who would order a "donut with a small hole."
I used to sit at the counter until I realized I was as entitled to a booth as anyone. The restaurant has plenty of seating space if you include the side room.
I'm sure the Morris police had headaches dealing with snowmobilers, but their whole job is to deal with headaches. Smowmobiling in the 1960s was pretty unfettered. We tore around hither and yon. I drove a fast Polaris sled that screamed across Lake Crystal.
It's fascinating to remember the array of snowmobile companies when the sport was young. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between them but they had different shapes and colors.
Scorpions were black. Moto-Ski was red. Sno-Jet was blue. The Rupp Sno-Sport was red and this line had a catchy commercial jingle: "Wake up your winter with fun." The Kussatz boys of Morris drove one of those.
Arctic Cat was black and promoted its "torsion bar suspension - patented."
I couldn't have explained what "torsion bar" was, but it must have been good. Because Arctic Cat with its black image seemed to emerge as the premier brand. These were made in Thief River Falls.
I was always defensive about the Arctic Cat's prominence because I drove a Polaris. Polaris snowmobiles were made in Roseau. I can't speak on where any of these snowmobiles are made today.
The Polaris company always made a concerted effort to do well in the "Winnipeg to St. Paul" 500-mile race. But in the races I attended out here, like at the Pope County fairgrounds (Glenwood), Polaris was very much back-seat to the Arctic Cats.
The Sno-Pony was a novelty - the Yugo of the snowmobile world. The AMF Ski-Daddler was gray. The Eul family of Morris had a Skiroule which was green.
The most powerful engine offered by most of these brands was the 634cc Hirth.
The most common brand might have been the Ski-Doo. It was so popular when the sport first bloomed, the name almost because a default name for snowmobiles, like "Kleenex" for facial tissues.
Ski-Doos didn't necessarily tear up the race circuit, although they had a model that could hold its own. But it was an everyman's snowmobile, fun for basically just tooling around. It was yellow.
(My vivid recollection of all these colors would impress a former co-worker and friend, Lynn Klyve.)
My beloved Polaris had the American red, white and blue colors.
I appreciate the families who brought their powered sleds up north for Boy Scout camp. It was quite the sharing spirit. I suppose today you'd need tons of insurance to do this.
Parents of the boomers shared in a pretty uninhibited way. Kids were the most important thing in the world to them.
The Boy Scout troop of First Lutheran Church wasn't just a small, tight group, it was more like an army. It had sub-groups, squads or whatever you wanted to call them. The scoutmaster was a gregarious sort, Sandy Munson; and the top pastor was Cliff Grindland. Kudos to these guys (and RIP).
The pastors of Firth Lutheran Church today - Ali Boomershine and Art Montgomery - would probably be shocked to learn that we played aggressive scatterball in the fellowship hall (downstairs). My, how could this be allowed?
To answer, let me cite a story from the childhood of Harmon Killebrew. Harmon and his brothers were pretty hard on the family's lawn (out in Idaho). A neighbor expressed some concern. Harmon's father then said "I'm raising sons here, not grass."
What an exemplary attitude.
I think the property concerns would trump that today.
So maybe it's no coincidence that people are having kids less. They're getting married less. There is no bigger indication that we could be paralleling the decline of the Roman Empire. A friend of mine from high school would joke about "dogs and cats sleeping together."
Well, it's not that bad yet.
Let 'er rip for the snowmobile season of 2010-2011.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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