Dean graduated in 1961. I'm sure you'll enjoy the memories he has written about his life in Spring Valley. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Memories of Grandma Jensen's Zoo|
|Spring Valley Memories|
a collection of memories from Dean Blegen, Mollie's grandson
I have many memories of this place near River Falls which now is an open field with only a small house located on what was a very remarkable tourist attraction when I was growing up.
I did not know it at the time, but according to this article, some of Grandma’s ideas came from the Dickeyville Grotto located about 10-miles northeast of Dubuque, IA in Wisconsin. Her love of animals created the Zoo that made it famous.
More recollections from Dean:
Stories from Grandma Jenson’s Zoo
By Dean Blegen-Grandson of Mollie Jenson
Grandma had many different animals at her Zoo. Many of them were from the woods of Northern Wisconsin, but some were not, and those are the ones I’d like to write about here.
The African Lion was a prime example of that. His name was Powder and he was very tame, but he was still a Lion and my Uncle Harold told me his story.
Grandma bought him from a traveling vagabond that was visiting River Falls and was charging twenty-five cents to peek into the wooden box that he was kept in. Unfortunately the guy was starving the Lion as he spent his quarters on “booze”.
The Depression was in full bloom and Grandma offered him $100- cash for the lion and he took it. When he sobered-up, he went out to Molly’s home claiming that she had “cheated him out of him living”. Obviously he lost his argument!
However……Grandma had no place for the lion on a dairy farm and all of the other animals were “Fair Game”. So the boys (Harold & Lloyd) were commissioned to build a large cement chain-link cage for Powder.
While this was going on, Harold was feeding the Lion some meat as that was all he would eat through the bars on the wooden box. That made the Lion Purr as Harold would scratch his mane at the same time.
When the cage was finished, Harold got the bright idea to go into the cage and wrestle with Powder! (Not a good idea!)
As Lloyd pulled-up the opening of the box so the Lion could enter the cage, Harold was ready. Powder leaped upon Harold with his paw placed right on the middle of his chest while he put his mouth around Harold’s leg!!!!
The Lion was really playing with Harold, BUT…..how was Harold going to get his leg out of the Lion’s mouth?
He was hanging by one hand on the side of the cage while his other hand was still free.
Meanwhile Lloyd went to the house to get the shotgun. (Uff Da!)
Harold was in serious trouble and he knew it. If they shot the Lion, Grandma would probably shoot BOTH of them!
However Harold took his free hand and grabbed the Lion’s lower lip and pushed it down over the Lion’s sharp lower tooth which hurt the lion and he immediately opened his mouth and ran to the other side of the cage. Harold escaped out of the cage and slammed the door.
That was it, nobody to my knowledge ever entered the Lion’s cage again.
Grandma fed her animals quite a bit of dated bakery goods because it was all free. For other animals, scraps from the locker plants in the area, was their food.
The bears would eat just about anything, but Grandma soon learned that if she fed the bears meat, they would get “Ugly”, and so she fed them bakery goods. One of them was a frequent rider with Harold in the back seat of the old Chevy with the “suicide” back doors.
Harold would remove the bottom cushion and load the bear into the back and go bar-hopping on Saturday nights in River Falls and Hammond. Grandma went to bed when the sun went down so I doubt that she knew what Harold was up too. The bear loved to ride in the car and usually went to sleep like a dog. When the car stopped, it wanted to get out like a dog.
One time Harold saw a hitchhiker, stopped the car and motioned for the hiker to “Just get into the back of the car”. When he opened the door, he met the bear ready to get out and slammed the door! Imagine that?
One day she asked me to take a bucket of meat down to the Lion’s cage. I was instructed to NEVER stick my hand in there to retrieve his metal dish not far from the door. There was a yard stick nearby that I could reach his dish with to allow me to pull it under the door. I would dump in the meat and then shove it back under the door. I did that many times.
On this day the Lion was watching me reach for his dish and immediately pounced on it with both paws and refused to let me have it. (A dog would’ve been wagging his tail anticipating a meal). He roared at me and then I pulled on the yardstick harder. That made him mad and he roared his displeasure and then he rammed his huge claws out of his paws and made eight holes on that metal bowl. WOW!!!
I said, “Grandma I don’t think he’s hungry”! She said “Leave him alone and do that job later”
Later…..he was again relaxing on his elevated perch in his cage and I tried putting the meat into his dish again and he didn’t even flinch, and he didn’t come down to his meal either. Again, I said Grandma I don’t think he’s hungry and Grandma said, “He will eat it when he’s ready to eat”.
She reminded me about something that I should’ve known, cats will do whatever it wants to do on their own time and not before and the Lion was nothing but a great big CAT!
I always liked to watch Grandma’s monkeys because they were so much like people without any inhibitions!
E.g. They were always trying to grab something that didn’t belong to them. And they spent quite a bit of time picking fleas out of their compatriot’s fur too.
One the spider monkeys was missing an arm because he tried to snatch the badgers lunch and the badger chewed it off! That made quite a ruckus! His tail became his missing arm and he continued to bounce around in his cage with his other pals without any problem. Poor guy!
She also had a big black and white monkey whose name was Robert. Robert loved to chatter his teeth at people and the people would chatter back which really “bugged” him. As spectators were teasing Robert they would inevitably lean over toward him closer and closer, if they were wearing glasses, Robert would snatch them and then dangle them in front of his face as he looked back at people chattering his teeth. He had won again! What a Con Artist!
I spent the night once at Grandma’s when I was about six years old. What I remember was just after dark, and the animals were all sleeping, the Lion started roaring because I guess they hunt at night. The other animals immediately got excited and started making all sorts of racket. The donkey was the loudest…………….Hee-haw, hee haw! The monkey’s chattered and after about 15-minutes the Lion was again quiet and everything just settled down until he wanted to raise cane again a few minutes later.
One night my brother Don and I went down by the cages with a flashlight and watched the animals looking at us. The peacocks got excited and up went their feathers. We turned out the flashlight and what did we see? Huge animals with huge eyes looking straight at us in the moonlight! Those round things in a peacock’s feathers look exactly like giant eyes. If we didn’t what they were, we’d be scared to death. Don used the peacock’s feathers for tying flies for his fishing hobby.
Probably the funniest experience was with Grandma’s talking parrots. Uncle Harold was cleaning the cage where Grandma had 7-parrots under a big willow tree.. This was a weekly thing and Harold was very careful not to lose any of the 7-parrots by shaking their cage to drive them to the other side while he opened the door and putting them in a box while he cleaned the cage.
It was Friday now and Harold had taken the parrots out, put them into the winter quarter’s building and was picking up the newspapers in the cage. He heard Grandma holler from the house “H-a-r-a-l-d”, so Harold runs up to the house and says, “What do you want”? Grandma says: “I didn’t yell for you, now go back to work.”
Again Harold was cleaning the cage and again he hears “H_A_R_O_L-D”, and again runs up to the house. By now Grandma suspected that one of the parrots was not in the building so they went in and counted them.
They counted SEVEN, so they BOTH went back to the parrot’s empty cage and sure enough “H-A-R-O-L-D”- rang out again! Hmmm.
They looked around and then heard H-A-R-O-L-D rang out from up the big willow tree towering over the parrot’s cage. Can you guess what was up in that tree?
A crow’s nest! A big old CROW that learned how to talk from the parrot’s below!!
Grandma immediately set about a plan to trap the Crow for her menagerie, but she never got him, crows are very smart you know!
One last story, Grandma had a concession stand behind the house where she sold soda pop and cookies. I decided that I would play entrepreneur one weekend and bought 10-Hershey Candy Bars for 39-cents down at Joe Langer’s store. (They usually cost a nickel a piece.)
I figured I’d make 11-cents on the deal after I had sold all of them for 50-cents.
But I got hungry looking at those bars and I ate one and figured I’d still make six-cents.
A while later I ate another one thinking I would still make one cent.
Then another one and I got a stomach ache and lost 4-cents on the deal. My Grandma laughed and so did my Dad over my first business venture!
SPRING VALLEY MEMORIES
By Dean H. Blegen
53 years have passed for some of these memories, and 40 years for others. If we don't put some of these memories in print, we won't have anything to talk about at our 80th reunion!
I think it's time for somebody to record some of these memorable episodes, especially so the Grandchildren can read them! We are getting older, but for them we were never young! Ah, but we were, and when they read this, they'll never look at us the same way again. I hope that with a few gray hairs and a sense of humor to match, that we can all lighten up a little bit and share some of our most embarrassing moments here tonight. AND THIS WILL BE EMBARRASSING for some of us, including me, but I am the one telling the stories, and that will make all of the difference! As you listen to this, imagine that you're in 1st grade, 6th grade, or high school, and imagine how our minds and emotions functioned then. There were so many things that we didn't understand so many things that we thought were embarrassing, and so many things we just did so poorly. It's time now to revisit those things through our adult eyes and adult perspectives and see how much we’ve changed and how far we’ve come in 40+ years. Get out the hankies now for a few tears of laughter and sadness because all of these things are in the past. They are only in our memories, and we can only go from age five to eighteen once. Thank heaven for that!
I can still see Helmer Peterson (Chevy dealer) clucking out orders to Marcus Fuhrman (mechanic) on how to unload my Dad's new black '47 Chevy truck from a double boxcar. What I liked best about hanging around the old depot, was the feeling of the old black steam engine shaking the floor of Rex's office as it went by, and the hissing it made just before it stopped. My mother hated that old engine because it made no noises as it came down the hill from Madson's Mill, as she always seemed to have her "white" sheets drying on the clothesline behind the house............near the tracks when the train came in! But I didn't mind. And we all wondered if we were going to "pass" into 1st grade!
2nd grade: Mrs. Helgeson/Mrs. Schilling: Listening to Marie Applegate's radio program "Let's Write", even when I didn't want to. Found out from Rose Helgeson that her mother's name rhymed with my mother's name. The stinging cold of the northwest wind coming down the old road by the depot, and recalling my eyes watering so much that they wanted to freeze shut! (I had to walk home backwards after the movies on Friday nights just to keep them open.) Discovered the sadness of a classmate dying. Remember Donald Hurtgen? He woke up three times in one night with a stomachache, the third time his dad punched him in the stomach, and Donald died of a burst appendicitis by morning! It was really sad, Donald was a good kid. I knew that my Dad would never do that to any of us. I can still see that little body in the tiny casket at Geving & Keere's and thinking that Donald sure looked small,.....and also very old. The Hurtgen family moved away a month later. Nothing happened to his dad.
I learned how to play marbles, and we decided NOT to allow "steelies"! Mary Ann liked the "cat's eyes" (marbles) the most. My Grandma Jenson's zoo with all the animals and stuff. It was there that I missed my first chance at being an entrepreneur.
I bought ten Hershey candy bars at Joe Langer's store for 39 cents on Saturday, on Sunday I figured that if I could sell all ten of them for a nickel, down by the lion's cage, and I would make 11 cents in one afternoon! Temptation got the best of me. I ate three of them, lost 4 cents, and got a stomachache before supper! And my Grandma just shook her head!
Read in the papers about Eddie Gein killing all those people in Plainfield, WI. I wondered if he had ever been to SV. I also wondered if anyone in SV could be like him! How would we know? David Wood jumping up and breaking a light fixture while Miss Hovde was out of our classroom. It hit Sharon Traynor on the way to the floor, and then we all waited for the sound of Miss Hovde's footsteps as she inevitably returned from lunch. David Wood growing one pubic hair. (We were all waiting to see who would have the honors!) We could only guess which girl might’ve won the contest.
Listening to the girls in the shower room through the grate up by the library near Miss Hovde's desk. (She thought we were actually interested in reading!?) Seeing Miss Hovde's cold stare when she learned of my score on the Stanford Achievement Test while "maintaining" my steady D+/C- average. Watching the clock and praying for the bell to ring! Got into a fight with Marshall Fuhrman and learned that I was a "pissing brute" (his name for me). It was my fault completely and I still feel guilty about it. Marshall had always been my friend, and I had been a jerk to him that day. Discovered '55 Chevy's and actually graduated to 8th grade, WHEW! Good riddance, Miss Hovde!
8th grade: Miss Crowley's big nose just got smaller! She had a thyroid disorder that caused her facial features and hands to be larger than normal and had the misfortune of a botched plastic surgery on her nose during the summer. It was now very red and ragged while the rest of her face was simply “enlarged”. We all felt sorry for her and it was hard to look at her directly in the eye. She really was a very good, kind teacher. Found out the hard way that 'pneumonia' started with a 'P'! One of the girls said it was "under 'P', stupid," after Miss Crowley told me if I couldn’t spell it, I should look it up in the dictionary! What a day! Learning how to dive under our desks in case of a nuclear attack by the Russians. Grown-ups volunteered to take turns going up to the smelter and spot planes for the civil defense. I remember my mother and dad using binoculars and checking a book with pictures of planes in it for identification, then writing it on a form. I wondered what would happen if we got bombed before the mail went out! No one else ever wondered about that.
One day in school we thought the threat was real when we heard a big boom from the third floor. We learned later from Jay, that his brother Roger Langer had just set-off a French "Time" Bomb using an M-80, a cigarette and a matchbook on a library shelf behind Suzie Eakin’s stool. He learned how to make it reading about WWII in the library, of course! And.........he was NEVER caught, because he wasn't in the library at the time......as planned! Remember the “Time” feature?
Being asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance by Marilyn Ofstie and skipping out at the break! Jay made me do it; he skipped out on Sharon Traynor, too! Discovered '56 Chevy power packs and 100 mph runs up Keene Hill with the boys from the Chevy Garage! Telling Rex Pence for no apparent reason that some people call me "D.H.".....and he still does(?). A new diesel train started coming to SV. Waking up to a police siren and hearing that Earl Spangler had been shot by his wife, leaving 6-7 kids without parents. I saw the picture of Earl's head down at George Wendtland's and it was terrible. The Spangler kids moved to Rhinelander to live with their grandparents. And Eddie, the boy that stuttered, drowned in a lake shortly thereafter. Their mother went to a mental hospital. It was very sad, they were all good kids.
Pastor Tullickson was supposed to conduct a public questioning of our confirmation class (remember all those "blue words"), and got sick just in time, and we didn't have a public questioning! What a lucky break!!!!!!! My older brother Don never got over it!
And then watching Richie Roach and Gary Roesler hang Butch Wendlandt upside-down by his ankles from the 3rd story window just to shake the change out of his pockets....while Mr. Aamodt was walking up outside of the school and catching the coins in his hand! Butch Wendtland never did tell who his tormentors were, he knew better than that!
Observed Roger Langer catch on fire in the Library filling his cigarette lighter. Observed Roger Langer prove that Ron Miller was really asleep in front of Howard's station by flipping him the bird two feet from the hood ornament of Ron's car while he was in it! "See" he said, "THE S.O.B. IS SLEEPING!" To our amazement, nothing happened! Roger was right about those "new and improved" mirror sunglasses that Ron was wearing!! Coming to school and reading on the current events board that the University of Minnesota Conference was going to honor "Dean Blegen", Theodore Blegen that is. I had never heard of him, it was Mr. Ames little joke on me. "Dean Blegen" was the "Dean" of men at the U of M. My ten minutes of fame was gone! Started driving my Dad's '57 Chevy milk trucks, what an exhilarating experience for a sixteen year old, especially with the snowplow on! The last train came to SV but I was interested in cars and girls now anyway so I didn’t care!
11th Grade: Got my driver’s license and started driving my Dad’s ’57 Chevy milk trucks! That was quite a heady experience as it was in late March and we got one final snowstorm. Trucks had snowplows on them and I just loved it! Imagine being in high school and doing an adult's job! And my Dad’s trucks were soooo nice! They had V-8’s in them and could pass any “Ford” on the road! Chuckles! In fact I have a ’57 Chevy 2-ton truck right now with only 18,000 miles on it (ex-fire truck) and it too has a V-8 Power pack in it…..and a snowplow just like my Dad’s.
Bought my first car because my Dad wouldn’t let me use his because he thought it would “go too fast” (it was ’57 Chevy too!). Worked two days trying to remove "Diane" from the dash board! Went through 2 engines, 3 transmissions, and 2 rear ends in 8 months! Learned a lot about how to fix cars! Got a job at Harshman's station and viewed everything that was going on in Spring Valley. From under the hood to the "backseat", Virgil had everything under control if you get my drift! (Perhaps we can devote a chapter to this at the next reunion.) Got chased out of Hastings after a fall dance that Bill Collins was sponsoring. Fifteen minutes later Jay Langer flipped the bird to four guys in a '53 Plymouth in Ellsworth that could go 5 mph faster than my '52 Chevy! Ten minutes after that, we were passed by that Plymouth at close to 100 mph and watched it spin out of control losing all of its hubcaps and landing in the ditch on Hwy 29 west of Pat Niedermeyer's house. I never wanted to go to Hastings in the first place, it was all Jay's idea. Raced with Bobby Reid, Marshall Fuhrman, Roger Zignago and lost every race! Claire Stein's "Lucky Day" was during a noon hour drag on top of Keene Hill. It was Claire's idea. At 100+ mph (I was going 92!) Claire passed me with a ready-mix truck approaching, and an old Ford loaded with feed sacks just ahead of us going VERY slowly. (A prescription for a disaster). Claire's car locked its brakes, swerved, went up on end and disappeared "ass over teakettle" down over the bank as I swished by at 70 in the dust and dirt swirling in the air. What a horrible feeling to know that two of my best friends were probably dead just because of some monkey business on the highway. We returned to find Claire and Bob Thompson scampering up the embankment unscathed. The car? Standing on all four wheels at the bottom of the ditch! The damage? A broken side mirror, grass stains on the driver's side which could all be polished off, and a flat left front tire! That was it! Who says God doesn't protect fools? Then back to Harshman's to have the car pulled out and report a "cooked-up story" to Ron Miller so we could stay out of trouble.
So far so good. Then it was back to school for 5th period. Wait! The story isn't over yet! Later, after school, Claire picked up his dad's '56 Chevy Bel Air, and drove home for chores........and discovered to his great benefit, his left front wheel fell off and he "totals-out" the car! Harshman's didn't tighten the bolts on the spare tire mounted AFTER the accident! The result? Harshman's insurance company had to buy Thorburn Stein a new car and Claire never did explain his little moment of indiscretion earlier in the day! Some guys are just lucky...........real LUCKY! Was asked by Jeanette Winger from Ellsworth via Mary Ann Howard(?) to the Sadie Hawkins dance in Ellsworth. She was so darn good-looking and we had a great time but I thought she was too young for me, after all she was only a Freshman and I was a Junior! And STUPID! (She was also on my Dad's milk route!) Don Richardson introduced me to the Schoonover twins in Baldwin, (Myra and Myrna). Wow, they really liked boys...and they were only Freshmen! I was beginning to think that Burl Ives had something after all in his song: "Mister In-between"! Watching Mr. Hunter throw erasers and chalk at Jay Langer and missing. Losing my driver's license for 30 days for driving 65 at night coming back from the Barron County fair. (This was after running at 92 mph........but I was still pissed!) Bought a '55 Chevy Bel Aire powerpack! Discovered the joy of keeping the inside of one's engine clean by using "Casite" in the carburetor! Jay tried it once downtown on a Friday night. He "floored" his car right in front of the Coast to Coast store and carpeted the whole damn town under a thick layer of smoke. You could see the people on both sides of the street, but you couldn't see the street at all. As the smoke "petered-out" by Art Duberke's station, we noticed flashing red lights emerging from the cloudbank.........it was Ron! "Oh, oh bubblegum machine says Jay. When Ron asked Jay why he did such a thing, Jay said: Sorry Ron, I didn't know you were there!" No kidding. After duel points, milled heads, solid lifters, and a Corvette cam, I finally blew the engine in my '55, and it only took me from Harshman’s Station to the sewer plant 1ŕ2 mile away to do it! The guys at the Chevy garage were right after all when they warned me that a “55 engine would never take such abuse!
After getting a brand new engine from Chevrolet, I raced my '55 against Bobby Reid, Marshall Fuhrman, Jay Langer, and Tom Golden and beat them all. All except for Bob Thompson's '56 Chevy powerpack. Even the new engine from Chevrolet couldn't beat him. Then I told my story to Leo Kadinger at his junkyard in Boyceville. It was then that I learned the little nuances between a '55 and '56 Chevy powerpack. Then Thompson and I were dead even, but I never did beat him! He had a good car. The lesson: Don't laugh at guys that work in junkyards, they really do know a lot of stuff about cars.
I'll never forget the midnight ride out of Baldwin in Tom’s dad’s '58 Ford Thunderbird Special chasing Campbell's 6-cylinder '56 Chevy, and the Ford ending up in a lake near Hammond. This had to be the epitome of folly, and bad driving! And it was no accident; it had to happen sooner or later. I never rode with Tom again, and his dad never let him drive that '58 Ford again either! Tom bought a '55 Ford and installed 3 deuces on it and I still beat him with my '55 Chevy! Some guys never learn! My last memory of my senior year was racing Ron Odalen and his ’57 Buick over the top of Keene Hill. We were coming toward SV and had just topped the hill. I was going 105 mph and pulled out to pass Ron as we began to descend. We both picked up speed to what I can only guess, and the next thing I knew was the bottom of the hill approaching in a flash. I never realized that the "corner" by the sewer plant was so sharp! I was still going 80 mph when I got to the bridge and I was slowing down as fast as I could! I remember thinking that if a rabbit, or a squirrel would've been anywhere along the way, it would've indeed been my last memory of SV. I never did that again, and neither did Ron. Then.....................listening to Karen Traynor's address in a hot auditorium in May and knowing the sadness that all of us would never be together again. And I grew up after that.
By Dean H. Blegen
For anyone wanting a good laugh at someone else’s expense, the following tales from Harshman's Station chapters of Spring Valley History will make a good read.
Driveshafts & hand grenades……………..
The Big Bang……………!
False Alarms & College Educations………………..
The Duke of “Hazzards”…………………
How to start a car the hard way……….
Hello? Anybody there?
One of the most controversial characters that patronized Harshman’s Station was Dean Madson. He had just gotten his driver’s license and thoroughly enjoyed “sliding” in the station with his dad’s ’61 black Chevy with all four wheels looked-up and ripping off the rubber hose that triggered the bell inside the station that alerted us in the back room that somebody was out by the gas pumps.
I was laughing so hard by the time that Dean hung up the phone and I came back into the office that I had a sore stomach. Dean said: “What are you laughing at?” I said: “Do you know who you were just talking to on the phone?” Dean says: “Yeah, Duane Jacobson!” I said: “NO IT WAS ME!”
“Well come up and get your fluid!” says Duane and that was it, the phone call was over.
Windshield Washers & Portable Bars……….?
One of the funniest and no doubt most creative stunts that I ever witnessed at Harshman’s was from a guy that had a number of drunken driving tickets, including driving with an open bottle in his car.
One time Virgil had a wrecker call from down by Seven Pines and was returning back to the station in his old dilapidated ’47 Chevy wrecker. (It was Rex Nord’s old oil truck). Terry and I noticed that as Virgil was rounding the bend by the sewer plant, the wrecker seemed to slow down and finally it stopped just short of the bridge and could go no further. We could hear the motor racing, gears grinding and finally Virgil getting out of the truck swearing a blue streak.
Being a rather innocent boy of just 15 when I first started working for Virgil, there were many “grown-up” things I did not know about. One was what a “safe” was. (Yes they’re called condoms now, but Virgil called them “safes”.) He bought them from a guy in Elmwood that sold him air fresheners and other knick knacks. They came in a box of 144 and looked like “gold dollars”; in fact I think their brand name was “Gold Dollars”. Anyway they were in the bottom drawer of the desk and Virgil said that we should charge 50-cents apiece for them and ring them up as “Nuts & Bolts”.
Looking for trouble?
Spring Valley had it shares of colorful cops and some were not quite on the up and up. One night after my Dad bought Harshman’s Station, my brother Douglas and my Dad were sitting in the office around dusk when one of SV’s finest came roaring up to highway 29 with his flashing red lights on and of course ran the stop sign while being in “hot pursuit” of something west of town. A couple of minutes later, the same cop car was slinking down the alley behind Mert Ducklow’s house with lights out and parked behind some pine trees almost right across from the station near the stop sign that he had just ran through. My dad, who was on the Village Board asked Douglas: “Didn’t that cop just go out of town with his red lights on and now he’s behind that pine tree over they by the stop sign?” Doug said: “Yeah it was, but he does that every once in a while”. My Dad said: What the hell for?” Doug said: “Well he’s waiting for somebody to run that stop sign over there thinking that the cop is out of town and they want to see where he’s going!” My dad says: “You mean the stop sign that he just run himself?” “Yes!” says Doug.
Dean Madson Redux
Next to Jimmy Stein, Dean Madson probably held the record for driving to Elmwood in record time. I can’t remember what their best times were but I’m thinking about 7-minutes, and that was BEFORE they changed the road going around the south side of the cemetary near the Spring Lake Chucrh. The only difference was Jimmy was handicapped by a six-cylinder Chevy with a Powerglide (automatic transmission) and Dean had the luxury of a V-8 with a “staright stick” transmission. The great equalizer was Jimmy Stein’s fearless disposition.
Bumper to bumber, butt to butt, slow down you crazy nut!
The year was 1956 and one-legged Johnny Glumski from Martell was driving up Keene Hill with a car load of merrymakers in his 1951 Chevy PowerGlide (automatic transmission) . He had only one leg and could not drive a staright stick and PowerGlides were very weak passing cars, especially uphill.
As with any small town in America, everybody knew everybody
and that included the cops!
Some knew them better than others and for good reason, and some for other reasons!? Enjoy……
Once upon a time in a quiet place, in a little town in Wisconsin called Spring Valley, there was a police force of just one individual. We called this person The Cop on the beat. The first one I can remember is Pete Hanson, a thoroughly nice man devoted to keeping the citizens of Spring Valley safe.
The second cop in Spring Valley was actually named Bert Safe, predestined to keep us safe. About the same time, we had a doctor whose last name was Doctor – Dr. Doctor, and we also had a dentist who slowly ground away on our teeth by the name of Dr. Fast.
Bert Safe got very little sleep as he also owned Bert’s Café which opened every morning about 6:00 A.M. That meant Bert had to be there by 5:00 to fire up his grill even though he worked until 1:00 A.M. as the village cop. Because Bert was the cop, he always had stories to tell the next morning over breakfast between frying eggs and running back and forth to and from his kitchen.
His restaurant was a menagerie of fascinating people. There was Belle Traynor, the waitress who was hard of hearing and always nervous. One customer, Edwin Iverson who worked at Floyd Helgeson’s Trucking firm, always inquired about the latest gossip and spread plenty of it himself. Johnny Longsett worked at Madson’s Mill and walked four miles one way to work with a gunny sack over his back with his lunch in it. My Dad and I always greeted him with a “Good Morning, Johnny” and he always answered “Yeah, nice day” even if it was pouring rain or howling snow outside. Johnny had but six teeth in his entire mouth and every time he chewed something, he had to swing his jaw in different directions to break down whatever he was eating.
One morning Bert had a story about Otto Siegert – we all called him Ott. Bert was an unusually good storyteller and many of them involved Ott, an easy target, since he'd do almost anything for a beer. Bert said that Ott had nearly died a few hours earlier at the Crystal Bar. Bert then disappeared back into the kitchen leaving all of us, especially Edwin, wondering what had happened. When Bert appeared again, he said that Ott nearly choked to death. Then Bert disappeared back into the kitchen. By now everyone had stopped eating and was waiting for Bert to reappear with the rest of the story. When he came back from the kitchen, he described Ott as turning blue. He said he called Dr. Doctor to come down to the bar right away. “Oh, it was nip and tuck,” he said as he again disappeared into the kitchen. Belle even stopped serving and wondered what had happened. When Bert came back, he said that there was alcohol involved and gave no more details.
My Dad started smiling about now as the other patrons were going absolutely crazy to hear the rest of the story, including whether poor Ott was still among the living. When Bert reappeared, he said that Art Anderson bet Ott that he couldn’t put a cue ball in his mouth for a beer, and then Bert disappeared back into the kitchen yet again. About now my Dad was absolutely hysterical with laughter and Edwin was admonishing him for something that "was no laughing matter."
It didn’t make any difference; my Dad couldn’t stop laughing, and then I knew something was afoot. When Bert reappeared for the last time, Edwin, with his eggs now getting cold, asked again what had happened and whether Ott was still alive. He said, “Well I had to take drastic action to save Ott’s life!”
My Dad knew Bert well and on many occasions Bert deputized him to break up fights in the bars on weekends among motorcycle gangs from the twin cities. Being a milk hauler and a former baseball pitcher, my Dad was very strong and quick. He was also very perceptive and Bert surely enjoyed my Dad chuckling over his pranks while everyone else was being taken in by them.
The next cop was Jerry Degross who was very young, a nice guy and a friend of Bob Gavic who was the Village Attorney at the time. Jerry couldn’t resist a little fun. He did two things that I remember well and the second one got him fired. The year was 1955. First, he wanted to see what it was like to hit 100 mph driving down main street in Spring Valley. Just after midnight, he went up to the north end of town near where the dam is now, turned on his red lights and siren and off he went. I don’t know if he got to 100 mph or not, but he woke up nearly everyone in town. If it hadn't been for Bob Gavic, who recommended his hiring, there wouldn’t have been a second chance.
The second chance occurred soon afterward when Jerry was drinking on duty in Bill’s Bar. He shot at a picture behind the bar of a man standing on a bridge with his .38 pistol. Then the bartender, Earl Danielson (Jimmy’s brother) took a few shots at it too. That was it: the second chance went up in gunsmoke and the next day Jerry was gone.
Roy Traynor took up the job next with his fantastically fast “Power-pack,” stick ’57 Chevy 150. It was equipped exactly like the Chevys that were winning at NASCAR at the time. I really loved polishing his car because I could drive it out to Madson’s Mill and back to dry it off before polishing it. It was very fast and even faster after I polished it according to Roy. Roy and the Justice of the Peace at the time gained a reputation with AAA as having a speed trap on highway 29. From Harshman’s Station we could see him driving without his lights on to catch unsuspecting speeders leaving town down by the St. John’s Chuch. Cops in those days clocked speeders with a large speedometer mounted on the dash of their police cruisers. (Radar had not made its debut onto the small town scene just yet.) There was also an issue at Harshman’s station about Roy having the keys to the station and selling gas after hours.
About this same time, there was a cop from St. Croix County by the name of Van Rance that liked to break up beer parties that his daughter informed him about, even though she attended them herself. He would always mysteriously show up and ticket the attendees for under-age drinking. I never went to those parties, but I heard about them from Roger Zignego. St. Croix County had the hottest cop cars in those days; they had Tri-Power Pontiacs, and excellent drivers and they always got their man.
After Roy Traynor, the cop was 23-year old Ron Miller and I remember him best because I had just bought my hot ’55 Chevy and he was constantly chasing us kids. One of the dumbest things I ever did shortly after turning 18, happened one night as I was leaving Harshman’s Station. I churned a little bit of gravel and made a little “burp” with my left rear wheel as it hit the blacktop. Ron Miller was sitting right next to the station and I knew it. He immediately stopped me for squealing my tire. He knew that I had lost my license a few months before for speeding in Dunn County when I was under 18 years old. When he asked me if I wanted to lose my license again, I said the dumbest thing in my life: “No sweat Ron, I’m 18 now." If you’re thinking I got another ticket, you’d be right.
It seemed like just about every week Ron had his car in the Ford Garage for some kind of body repairs like broken headlights or new grilles from car chases the night before in which he frequently ran off the road. One of those chases was mine, but he never caught me. It was down by 7-Pines going up the Lem Wells' Valley toward Fred Larson’s farm. When the chase started, I did not know it was Ron or I wouldn’t have done it. I thought it was just another local yokel trying to catch me. By the time that I could make out the flashing red lights in Ron’s grille hidden by the dust between us, my heart sank as I had already broken several traffic laws and I was now “in it." Fortunately I had a pretty hot car and I knew the road well. Because it was night I could slide around the corners as I could tell if I was meeting anyone just around the curve.
My conscience has bothered me ever since. I looked Ron up a couple of years ago, at the Ellsworth Police station to apologize to him. He just laughed and said, “Forget it!” He said that when he interviewed for the Spring Valley job, that he gave the village board the “biggest line of bull” that he ever gave anyone. As I said, he was 23 and I was just 18, so I guess we both had some growing up to do.
About this same time, when Ron wasn’t on duty we had another part-time cop that liked to run the stop sign on 29 by Harshman’s station (now our station), and then barrel out towards the nursing home not chasing anyone. One night my dad noticed this little stunt and he said to my brother Doug: “I wonder where that cop was going.”
Another part time cop in Spring Valley had a Nash Rambler with a little plug-in flashing red light that he parked on his dash for stopping people. No siren, no V-8, no radio, no nothing, just a badge. One busy Friday night a guy from the Centerville area by the name of Roen came into the station with his ’57 Ford and bought $2 worth of gas. Then he tore out of the station like Dean Madson used to do, and ripped out the rubber hose that rang the bell.
His young wife Inga Jahr was with him, along with their baby. He sped up Main Street, cut a "louey" up by Carpenter’s station on the blacktop and then raced back down to highway 29 where he ran the stop sign heading east toward Keere’s Funeral Parlor. Then back into SV the back way only to do the same thing again. It certainly appeared that he wanted to have the cop on duty chase him, and finally the cop did with his Nash Rambler. Down by the sewer plant again he sped, where he stopped, waited for the cop, then spun out again for a third run up and down main street. Again he came toward the station, only this time he headed west on highway 29 and ran head-on into the stop sign, flattened it to the ground in a “kathunk.” The cop could not keep up and was now following him at an ever greater distance. By now somebody had called the Sheriff’s Department in Ellsworth and somewhere out on highway 29 the county cop met him and got into hot pursuit. Just past Centerville, aided by police radios, a State Trooper joined the gaggle along with a St. Croix County cop.
The chase ended with Roen losing all of the them on a gravel road near my Grandma Jenson’s place where he was actually from. He sailed over a hill that had a “T” just past the crest, flew off the road WITHOUT leaving any marks, OVER the corn and landed in the field NOT leaving a trace for the cops to follow. Not finding anything, the cops eventually left the scene. The guy and his wife got a lift back to the cities and that was it. He got by with it as far as I know. The car? I’m sure it went to the junk yard after they picked the corn!
Not long after my high school days I moved to River Falls where I attended college and grew up!