Happy New Year! We hope that 2023 is starting well for everyone.
To start the new year, we have retitled the “Weekly Radio Readings” to “Historic Happenings”. Each week’s story will be posted in its entirety. The stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Looking Back in Time” program.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
Available recordings will also be linked to the Wild 102 “Looking Back in Time” page.
January 1, 2023
Today I’ll read from one of the booklets of stories written by Arnold Grefthen. Part one of “A Land of Howling Wolves” was printed in 1973, and Part two was printed in 1975. Both of these booklets can be seen at the Roseau Museum in the Research Area. This story comes from Part 2.
One of the coldest winters to hit Northern Minnesota was in the year 1936. The thermometer hovered around the zero mark and below for a period of six weeks. It was at this time that five of us were fortunate enough to land a contract cutting tamarack cordwood for an International Falls man. We had to build a camp at our own expense, furnish all tools, bedding, groceries, et cetera. However, after getting ourselves established, we were to get one dollar and fifty cents for every cord we cut.
Cordwood was cut in four-foot lengths. To make a cord required a pile four feet high, four feet wide, and eight feet long. The cordwood timber was located near Lake Kabetogama.
On the eighth day of January, we arrived at Headquarters Camp where we stayed overnight. The following morning a team of horses and a sleigh driven by an employee of Headquarters Camp started out for our tract of timber. The sleigh was loaded with five bales of hay, our bedding, groceries, an old wood-burning stove, stove pipes, four barn windows, some lumber, tarpaper, nails, two kerosene lamps, two kerosene lanterns, a supply of kerosene, and other items. The sleigh was so loaded with stuff that there was no room for us cordwood cutters to ride, so we trotted along behind the sleigh. On arriving at our destination, our supplies and equipment were unloaded in the snow. The teamster turned his team around and was soon out of sight and on his way back to Headquarters Camp, a distance of about four or five miles.
The first thing we did was to select a suitable site for our cabin. Then removing as much of the snow as possible, we built a large roaring fire on our cabin site. After all of us were sufficiently warmed up to do some work, we started in felling nearby dry tamarack trees that would make logs fourteen to eighteen feet in length and with a minimum diameter of six inches and a maximum of eight inches in diameter. After cutting what we figured was a sufficient number of logs to make the walls of our cabin about seven feet high, we all doubled up on carrying the dry logs to our building site. All that day the weather was bitterly cold, not rising above the thirty-below-zero mark. It was by now late afternoon and we all decided to walk back to the main camp for supper and to sleep there again that night. First, we piled an enormous amount of dry tamarack wood on our fire.
Back at the main camp that night we were asked, “How did it go with your building today?” We told them that we had enough logs out for our walls and didn’t expect to come back to Headquarters to sleep the next night.
At the break of day the next morning we were back at our building site, our fire was now a bed of hot coals. These coals were now removed and two smaller fires were started about thirty feet from where the walls of our cabin were to be, one to the north and one fire to the west. Our groceries had been covered the night before with balsam and spruce boughs at a safe distance from the fire. They were not frozen but in good shape. The groceries were now moved near to where our large fire had been. The ground there was still very warm.
Now began the task of building and notching our walls into place. That day and evening we ate sandwiches brought with us from Headquarters Camp. By dark, our walls were of sufficient height. Openings had been left in the walls for windows and a door. That night we all slept on the ground where our big fire had been. There was still warmth coming from the ground. First, we spread the spruce and balsam boughs, covered them with hay, and over the hay we spread our blankets. It was not the most comfortable night I have spent, but it could have been worse. We did not undress except to remove our footgear while keeping our woolen socks on, as well as our caps and mackinaws. We lay watching the starlit sky overhead and listened to the shotgun-like reports of green timber exploding and cracking in the intense cold of a northern Minnesota winter.
Next week I’ll read more of Mr. Grefthen’s winter experiences at a wood-cutting camp. I wonder how many of us these days would be willing to work as hard as he had to.
Thank you to (www.roseauonline.com) for letting us share our county’s history with your listeners by donating air time, studio time, and production staff every week.