Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, The Minnesota Twin

the Little Gray Gym

Life passes by so quickly, even the material things that remind me of my own personal past sometimes disappear. My memory of weightlifting in the eighties is always colored gray, is subterranean and was shaped like a cave. I was one of the lucky ones who lifted through the eighties in Marty’s Gym in the basement of the Record Barn.

The Record Barn was a building that sat in the area which is now the little parking lot on the east side of the China King restaurant. Marty Collins sold records and electronics on the main level, there were some apartments upstairs while downstairs held my interest-the gym. The basement of the Record Barn was accessed via thick-treaded, uneven steps painted gray. Most of the basement was concrete and painted that same gray color. The gym was about twenty feet wide and maybe forty feet long with a small bathroom mounted on a riser of concrete. There was one overhead leg press, a few benches, some pieces of Universal equipment and a ton of iron weights. It was perfect-no distractions, no sauna and no earthly reason to be there unless you wanted to lift weights.

Eighties weightlifting was pretty basic. There is so much information and misinformation about health and fitness today that you can find a work-out to achieve whatever fitness goals are important to you. However, my education in weightlifting came from my high school football coach, Mr Gebhart. I also had some suggested exercises I received while at UND football camp and many issues of “Iron World” magazine which featured only black and white pictures and was on the newsstand at the old Piggly Wiggly store.

I think most of us in Marty’s Gym wanted to be strong; we didn’t care about pretty “beach muscle.” There were always a few “fake tough” guys who would do their lifts improperly or incompletely in order to lift more weight. I focused on a few basic lifts with as much weight as I could lift for 3-5 repetitions. Part of this work-out was that I drove from Fosston three times a week because they wouldn’t let me work-out at the high school gym. I had to make my work-outs count so there was no time for triceps kickbacks, endless bicep curls or gazing lovingly at myself in the mirror.

Today, I watch the pictures appear on Facebook as people “discover” the basic powerlifting exercises that really make you strong, particularly in John Clay’s “Go Beyond Fitness” classes. I really enjoy the pictures of Clay’s students as they hit new personal goals. Many of the lifts they perform are considered “old school” and I’m happy to say there are several of us who are alumnus from that school. My nephew, Derik, and some of his buds also have a place where students of physical culture can be serious and that makes me happy too.

When I think of the little group of us in the basement of Marty’s, I get a little nostalgic. We were all young and perhaps naïve about proper lifting yet we worked hard and did some of the best lifting in Minnesota for our time. I wish you could have seen Marty’s Gym but it’s now gone and all of that effort is buried under asphalt, Thanks Marty, for that little gray gym and all the great memories.

Rural Reflections Radio

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.Rural Reflections RadioHere is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Valentine Day Reflections

Valentine Day Reflections

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.It’s Valentine Day; but does it really matter? To focus your love and
appreciation for someone special to one day only is akin to
acknowledging your belief in Jesus only on Christmas. In either case,
one day is too small a window of opportunity. Showing love and
appreciation in a sincere fashion is something that must occur a bit
at a time over the course of days, weeks and years.
I have written about love fairly often; I have often said that love
is a decision. To many, love is the initial burst of affection that
occurs at the beginning of any relationship but those who believe
this usually cast aside their “love” as soon as this sensation is
gone. It is an act similar to spitting out your gum when the
strongest of the flavor is gone.
Love is dedication, respect and compromise-intelligent compromise,
real compromise. Both halves to any relationship should get a little
of what they want, because when only one consistently gets their way
the relationship loses balance and everyone suffers.
So what about all the other stuff? You know- sitting next to each
other, holding hands, kissing, etc.? These are just a few of the
symptoms of love. There are however other less obvious but even more
powerful symptoms of love. The young couple who is learning to play
together by ice fishing or tubing down a snow-covered hill before
they get to the work of building a family. Perhaps consider the
experienced couple who seek mutual activities that they both can
enjoy and thereby blend their interests. How about two people who
have received the news which all of us fear yet bravely go forward
and face life with courage. These are all symptoms of mature,
thoughtful love that show depth of character in each individual and
the relationship in which they share.
I am a writer and as such may occasionally use my column for my own
good. My wife is Lisa Nelson. We have been married for better than
twelve years and we are good together. I could tell you how much I
love her and it would be the truth but listening to someone blather
on about their relationship is about as interesting as watching a
PowerPoint presentation so I will save you the time.
Here is what I want to tell you; I have been a little lost the last
few years. Changes in my life made me from a person who is always
sure of himself to one who questions. Questions are good, because
that is how you grow. Confusion is not a good thing. In my
frustration, I reached out to Lisa for some perspective and she gave
me…Love. She gave me her perspective on me, our life and our future.
It was probably no more than four of five sentences however it was
more than most people ever offer to their spouse. I felt loved and
I do not brag about the relationship I have with my wife. It is a
personal matter between us. However, I do acknowledge when someone
does the heavy lifting to make my life better-it is a symptom of her
love for me. Happy Valentine Day and acknowledge your love. But
instead of one day out of the year, make it the first of 365 days

The Minnesota Twin fishing machine

Lynn Hammer built the “Minnesota twin” fishing machine from two Polaris snowmobiles.

I like hand-crafted and home-made. When I see something made one at a time, by one person and done well, it means a lot to me; that product
can be food, a wood product, something made of metal, etc. The point
is, when I see a hand made object, I know it was created out of
passion. It means the craftsman behind the project built it because
of a need-perhaps even mild obsession. I know this obsession in
myself and recognize in others. I recently recognized a healthy
obsession and want to write about it this week.

Lynn Hammer spends much of each summer working in the excavation
business. He told me he spent one of those summers plus three more
seasons thinking about a self-propelled machine from which he could
fish. Hammer considered building this machine from the ground up but
eventually decided to orchestrate several proven technologies into
what he wanted; a tracked, heated, ice fishing beast he would
eventually name the “Minnesota Twin.”

The are four snap-holes from which to fish, two between the snowmobiles and two in the back near the rear entry door.

The ‘Minnesota Twin” fishing machine is so named because it is based
on two Polaris Indy Classic snowmobiles. The two snowmobiles were
married together while each retained one outside ski but share an
inside ski. While there are two snowmobile bodies, there is only one
engine. Hammer spent a lot of time developing a system that includes
a short power take-off shaft and two universal joints so the right
side sled can power itself and it’s partner on the left. Hammer used
a combination of plywood and dimensional lumber to create a cab which
mounts on top of both sleds. The cab was covered with rubber-backed
carpet from the inside and a very bright, heavy tarp from the
outside. There are four snap holes from which to fish, two in the
decking between the sleds and two in the rear deck by the entry
door. The shaft connection means that both tracks drive at the same
speed so there is no differential to make turning easier. The
steering for both snowmobiles is controlled from one station and
Hammer told me that the machine turns just fine with two occupants
but takes a bit more planning when four people are on board.

Lynn Hammer also built a second cab snowmobile on an Arctic Cat Pantera sled.

I should also mention that Lynn built another snowmobile cab on an
Arctic Cat Pantera chassis. Many of the parts for the cab came from
John Deere donors-mainly an 8850 tractor and an 8820 combine. It is
also done professionally with plenty of window area and gaskets
around panel edges.

Okay, here’s the thing. I saw some pictures of the “Minnesota Twin”
and at first assumed it was a professionally made product or kit. I
did a little digging and found out that this machine was instead made
by one man with a passion. The interior of the machine has almost a
“fit and finish” look to it and obvious care was taken in making
everything just right. It speaks well of any person when they takes
the time and pains to make what they want and to make it right. It is
my guess that Lynn Hammer had as much fun building the “Minnesota
Twin” as he does driving it on Lake of the Woods. There’s quite a few
of us building and creating in shops all over the country and when
one of our group builds something this nice, we all need to look up
from our benches and pause. Good job, Lynn!

A “fit and finish” interior awaits the fisherman.

The dam and the water tower

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.It’s not a place most would associate with great physical or emotional pain. The location, one mile west of my hometown of Viking, Minnesota, marks a spot along the railroad tracks that’s seen pain you can feel and the pain you can only describe. On the lighter side, this spot has also seen good deer hunting and was the site of a water tower used by a railroad once powered by steam. There’s still a dam where a stream provided water for the steam engines to feed their boilers. It’s a spot with history and it’s very own story.


People like to hunt; it’s great recreation and generally a safe hobby. It was 1948 and Wayne Hanson plus a few friends were walking the tracks near the water tower bird hunting. It had been a good day and a good hunt but things would soon change. One boy used a pump 12 gauge and after taking a shot he racked the next shell like always but this time the gun accidentally fired. Wayne Hanson now lay bleeding on the ground. No 911 phone call to make, no ambulance-just the help of a neighbor and his parents who sped him off to the hospital in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Wayne, just fourteen, lay there and peered at both sides of death for better than a week. Forty-four days into his hospital stay, Wayne felt a tremendous pain and felt like his heart was creeping up his throat. When the pained reached its pinnacle, something finally gave and Wayne knew from his relief that he would live.

In 1995 I was walking along the railroad tracks near the water tower gathering wood. My dog, Rudy, was along for his good company. I noticed a train approach so I gathered Rudy in my arms and waited. When the trained neared Rudy squirmed away and just stood on the tracks. I thought about jumping for him but the train was too close. He just stood there until the last moment when he turned to die. My first marriage was failing at the time but I’d always had my little dog to listen to my problems. I wouldn’t compare the loss of my dog to the loss of a child but I would compare it to losing my connection to everything good in my life at the time.

Today Wayne Hanson is healthy and my little dog is buried in the ground and in my mind. The water tower is gone and the dam is hard to find. I drive by that spot near my hometown and it’s a striking scene; railroad tracks that inspire imagination, woods to either side and a little creek just to the south of the railroad grade. But that’s not what I see when I close my eyes and remember.

One Hundred years in the making

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.(2005) Earl and Joyce Erickson are long-time residents of Viking, Minnesota. They’ve seen much of Viking’s history and so I approached them to share it with me. Remember this is recollected history so some of the dates are approximate. Memorizing dates isn‘t history, it’s the people and their stories that make history. Joyce’s brother, Wayne Hanson, recently joined Earl, Joyce and myself for a nice afternoon of remembering old Viking and huge cups of Joyce’s delicious coffee.

Joyce and Earl Erickson lived the farm life, raising Guernsey cows and kids just off Highway One. Joyce and Earl began their lives together at a time when Viking was a bustling agricultural town. It was the early fifties and the Viking creamery made butter until larger bulk plants made the little creamery close its doors in 1961. Henry Sustad managed the Viking Livestock Association which provided a central drop-off for cattle, horses and even donkey’s. Standing at the stockyards sixty years ago you could have walked to one of Viking’s four elevators. Those elevators now are gone and the rough cut lumber from the stockyards became part of Earl’s barn.

Joyce’s brother, Wayne, filled in as depot agent at the Viking Depot in 1952 and ‘53. The depot received telegraph messages, bulk fuel and sold passenger tickets during the war years. A lot focused around the railroad back then because roads were questionable especially after rain or in the Spring. Dale Anderson was always known to me as a solitary bachelor but back then served as unofficial ambassador and met the new arrivals to the Viking Depot. Dale and the Depot are now gone but you can visit the Depot at the historical village in Thief River Falls, Mn. The early fifties changed Viking’s dynamic when steel for an oil pipeline arrived at the Viking Depot. The pipeline and it’s nearby pumping station created a Viking subdivision of square two-story homes just a mile to the West. The rail was a means for transport but it seems was also a catalyst for change.

Viking was always a working man’s town but we liked to play a little too. I asked Joyce about entertainment of the past and she produced tangible proof that Viking residents liked a little fun. Joyce brought out a framed poster advertising a wrestling match courtesy of Viking promoter C.O. Kulseth.

The poster featured grappler L.C. Curtis of Bemidji, Minnesota. According to the poster, Mr. Curtis had agreed to “throw” Thure Blomberg of nearby Numedahl Township and Martin Sjostrand of Viking. The date was February 25, 1922 and it must have been a huge event.

We lose a little of our history every day. Histories’ gold mines sit in retirement homes and some will carry their wealth to the grave. My visit with Joyce, Earl and Wayne was a rich vein of history so please watch for more about Viking, Minnesota-one hundred years in the making.

My Hometown

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.I currently live just a few miles from Dorothy, Mn and drive through it on my way to Red Lake Falls. This little town lies just off of Polk County 23 and was probably very busy at one time. Theres a fair-sized elevator there and I can imagine people coming from across this area to deliver grain and get a bottle of soda from the machine and compare yields. We used to do the same thing in my hometown.

The Viking, Minnesota elevator seemed like a skyscraper to me and I enjoyed the fast pace of trucks coming and going. The Soo-line railroad would drop off cars on the siding to be filled and I would look down the long, straight tracks and wonder where they went. Years later I would find out when I went to Harvey, ND when I attended my brother’s wedding. He even married the daughter of a railroader. My hometown of Viking once had a bank, two stores, an elevator, a café, post office and two churches. The café, post office and the churches are still there. I used to ride my bike to town after chores and sit with the others kids in front of the post office and listen to a radio. I still drive to Viking once in awhile to see my family. The town looks great.

I miss my old town. I love my new farm. I can’t have both. I’ll always have memories of growing up in that great little town, however. I loved the Viking Elementary school and never wanted to leave. I had a crush on my fourth grade teacher. I wanted Beef cattle like John Gustafson or Melvin Grandstrand. Eventually I left Viking Elementary and Mrs. Anderson was already married to a great guy. However, I have some cattle from Melvin’s bloodline and John stopped me at the grocery store and told me he enjoyed my column. You take the good with the bad.

You can take the kid out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the kid. It’s too bad more kids don’t have the chance to enjoy the memories I enjoy. Then again, not everyone can be from my hometown.

Love in a small town

Click here or on the web link for this week's program.Love is the only time when it isn’t good to outnumber the opposition. Viking, Minnesota was acutely aware of this fact in 1948. Viking was reported that year as the “Bachelor Capital of Minnesota” in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. The guys were winning a losing game as they outnumbered the women by a ratio of one hundred to one. The “batches” didn’t let this fact get them down for as Pastor C.T. Thompson reported to the Tribune reporter, “They are a cagey bunch.”


The bachelors of Viking formed a club with Pastor C.T. Thompson as president. It wasn’t a lonely hearts or a sour grapes club either; they just got together for supper and coffee. The high school girls of Viking would serve a favorite meal for all the singles from twenty one year-old Stanley Larson to eighty one year old Dan McMillan. The high school girls never married the bachelors as they were expected to move on to big dreams in a bigger town. I love the pictures that were included with this story. George and Gus Burg were known as the Gold Dust twins and lived quite happily with George at the stove while Gus manned the broom and sewing needle. Some of these good-looking young men from the late forties have become good looking seniors today. I recognized Earl Erickson and Leroy Gustafson from the pictures who eventually married-up to Joyce Hanson and Edna Eggen respectively.

Ruth Peterson read the story about the Viking bachelors in the tribune. She was a young, single woman living in Minneapolis in 1948. Ruth’s friends Elvira and Laura urged the young lady from Akeley, Minnesota to look into this source of good men. Ruth wrote Pastor Thompson who hand-picked a few young men but Ruth never heard from the shy, country boys. She did receive a letter from Tillie Sustad, however. Tillie said her son, Leroy, was sick with scarlet fever and was unable to correspond at the time.

Leroy got better and he and Ruth Peterson soon began using stamps at an alarming rate. Leroy Sustad soon traveled to St Paul for a friend’s graduation but spent the rest of the Memorial Day week-end with Ruth Peterson. The young couple rode the Ferris wheel at Excelsior Park, had dinner at Hasty Tasty and even shared a picnic lunch at the Red Rock bible camp. On June 15th, 1949 Leroy Sustad held onto Ruth’s hand after their wedding ceremony and wouldn’t loosen his grip until he passed away last summer, just shy of their fifty-fifth anniversary.

The Bachelors of Viking are no more, they’re now married or have passed away. Ruth Sustad still lives at the Sustad farm where I enjoyed our visit. So what is still there after all the memories and romantic stories have been told? It’s the love, there’s still love in a small town. (if you like to see the original Minneapolis Tribune article upon which this column is based, please go to

John Gustafson letter

This was a letter which was spoken by John Gustafson to his sister who translated it into English. This was a letter which Leroy Gustafson allowed me to scan in 2005.