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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 Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
After last week's entry in the editor's notebook about receiving a truck load of newsprint a week ahead of schedule and the problems that caused, Rita suggested I should record some of the unusual experiences this newsaper has had with truck drivers
When my family was in the gasoline business, there were many weeks when we received more truck loads of product than the newspaper does in a year. Most years the paper received one or two truck loads of newsprint. The most ever was four loads. At the gasoline stations most loads were routine and left me with few stories to tell. Perhaps that is because we usually had the same drivers who knew their way and what it took to unload at Blauvelt's. In more than 30 years of receiving newsprint, I only remember once having a driver deliver more than one load and even he made a story.
The first time he brought in a load on a frigid winter day. When he finally arrived, he was more than 12 hours late and we had to rig lights in his truck so we could see to take off the load.
The trucking company was short trucks and gave him an old tractor that had been assigned to yard goat duties. The tilt-cab truck had neither power steering nor a heater. Every 50 miles or so across Iowa and Nebraska he had to find a truck stop where he would attempt to warm up.
He delivered the second load in the summer and was a much more pleasant guy to work with.
One driver arrived with broken glasses. Before starting to unload, he asked for time to visit the vision center with the hope his glasses could be repaired. They couldn't and we were advised his vision was such that he definitely should not be driving. However, he left behind the wheel of his truck and the broken glasses in his pocket.
Though he tried hard enough, one driver from Canada was never able to back his trailer up to the unloading door for our Second Street warehouse. Finally, when he had half the trailer to the door, he said, "If you will let me stop here, I'll work the trailer and move the load over so it comes out the one door you can reach with your fork lift."
Another load arrived with a broken trailer spring. The truck was leaning so much I wouldn't have been surprised if it had overturned while backing into position. Had I realized how dangerous and hard it was going to be to unload, I would have refused the load before starting the unloading process.
Though semi-trucks are regularly in our alley, one driver said "I've only been driving 13 years and there is no way I can fit my truck in your alley." The next week when we told a driver he would have to wait about 15 minutes for the truck unloading autoparts to clear the alley, I was told, "That driver will just have to back out. I'm not going to wait. Go get your fork lift started while I back into the alley." And he did just that. He lined up perfectly on his first try.
Another time a woman was three hours late in getting here because of a flat tire. I was worried she would have trouble getting into the alley because of where other vehicles were parked. Like the guy that backed in, she wasn't worried. "She said, Get your forklift ready, I'll slide my fifth wheel and move my tandems and I will be ready when you are." As she opened the doors to the trailer, she went on to say, "We are late, I'll work the trailer, you run the forklift, we are going to make up time." The rolls were stacked in her trailer but she got each one down and moved onto the forklift and we unloaded at record speed.
One driver from Canada brought a load to Superior as a vacation trip. He regularly drove rigs hauling supplies over the frozen lakes of the north country. I certainly enjoyed his stories about that work. He was driving an extra heavy tractor for the ice work. Top speed on the ice was said to be 10 miles per hour and all traffic goes the same. Trucks depart every 15 minutes over routes cleared by dozers. The driver loved the ice routes and showed many pictures.
Some of the stories I've heard are hardly believable.
One driver told of being trapped in a Chicago alley by illegally parked vehicles. After he called a policeman to move the illegally parked vehicles, an officer told him, "Push them out of the way. Don't worry about banging them up. They ignore my tickets, perhaps you can teach them a lesson."
Another driver told about the time a criminal tried to hijack his truck in New York City. At a traffic light the thug with a club jumped onto the truck's running board. While he was trying to force he way into the cab, the driver approached an underpass, pulled his truck to the side of the road, and rolled the thug off.
Down the street a police officer pulled the driver over. The driver was sure his jig was up but the officer handed him the rear view mirror that had been torn from truck and said, "I saw what happened, Don't leave any evidence on your way out of New York City."
It was snowing lightly when one driver from the south arrived. It wasn't of much concern to me, but he thought he was caught in a major Midwestern blizzard. Once unloaded he said he was going to park in the Pamida Parking lot and wait out the storm. No doubt he did because earlier that morning we found him parked in the Pamida lot afraid to drive the rest of the way to the newspaper office. We convinced him to try but I didn't try to talk him into leaving Superior. Wonder how many days he stayed at Pamida?
At least twice we have received loads that became unblocked. The rolling rolls of newsprint had destroyed one trailer. We about had to cut the doors off.
Once we received an incorrectly stacked load and the truck had to be sent to Hastings, unloaded and then reloaded so we could unload it in Superior.
There are more newsprint stories I could record here but perhaps I should conclude with a few gasoline stories accumulated over about the same number of years.
One of the earliest ones involves a driver bringing fuel from Enid, Okla., who tried to take the county road west from Highway 81 through Republic and Webber. Near Republic he got the transport stuck. It set in the ditch several hours awaiting a tow. Overnight several gallons of gasoline were removed from the tank.
Another time a truck got stuck trying to turn off Highway 14 and all the fuel was taken off in five gallon buckets and carried to the storage tanks. Glad I didn't have to help with that work.
My last story involves cannon balls, a.k.a. 55-gallon drums of oil.
We had been taking cans and cases off through a semi-trailer's side door. A skid-wheel conveyor system was used to move the containers from the truck into the warehouse. Two of us were stacking the oil but we couldn't keep up with the driver who was putting the containers on the conveyor. While waiting on us, he had moved the drums from standing to rolling position. When he went to move his trailer so we could unload into a different warehouse door, the drums of oil came shooting out the back of the trailer like cannon balls.
Fortunately no one was hit and none of the drums broke open. However, they were badly deformed and we had to drain each drum and repackage the contents.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli
Memories of camping beside beautiful lake waters, roasting marshmallows on a campfire and enjoying outdoor picnics have caused me to have a major attack of camping fever. So the search for a camping trailer began last summer. We combed through classified advertisement sections in newspapers and websites, seeking out just the right camper for me and my husband. Of course, it had to be at just the right price.
Thoughts of past camping trips came to mind when friends recently purchased a camper and started making plans for us to join them on their campouts. It had been years since I stayed in a camping trailer. Would I still like camping as I once had? Would my husband enjoy it?
Many years ago, when my sons were little boys, we thought great family times would occur if we did some camping and fishing. So friends found us a small camping trailer that today would be considered "vintage." It had a shiny silver aluminum exterior. A table made into a small bed and the couch made into a full-sized bed. The interior was of polished pine wood panels. I guess you would call it "cozy," but our family enjoyed that trailer.
In the 1980s we acquired a different camper. My granddad and granny Boyles had used the Road Ranger trailer to live in during winter months in southern Texas. When they decided to sell it, we purchased it. It certainly was a step up from the small trailer we had before. The two boys were still able to enjoy family camping and fishing trips with us. We joined other friends and family members that had children the same age, and theypulled their campers in beside our trailer. Meals were potluck picnics. Games were played and trips to lakes and rivers were taken to fish or to simply wade in the cool waters.
Though it is now nearing the end of camping season, we decided to go ahead and buy a trailer while the prices seemed to be lower. A week ago, we decided on one and towed it home. We already enjoyed our first camping experience in the trailer. We parked it at a local lake and went to the fields for harvest during the day, then back to the campsite for supper and to stay the night.
Soon the trailer will be winterized and stored, but plans are already being made for some spring and summer camping next year. I can't wait.

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

I wonder if chess is becoming more or less popular as the years go by. My friend and longtime chess foe said he believes fewer people are playing now than when we were in high school, when there was both a chess club and a competitive chess team.
My brother taught me how to play when we were youngsters in Wisconsin. He is six years older and I'm sure he taught me so he would have someone to play. I was a quick study and was soon holding my own against him. When I sought out other, better players outside my home, I became even better and was able to beat my brother most of the time.
That's how you get better in chess. You can read books, you can study famous games played by the grand masters, you can arrange your own pieces in sticky situations and stare at them until your head aches, but the best way to improve your level of play is to compete against much better players. I did that. Fortunately, there were some guys at my high school who were immensely good. I got beat a lot on my way up.
The friend I mentioned in the first paragraph is someone I have played against literally hundreds of times. Maybe a thousand. I don't know. Since our high school days, we have been pretty evenly matched. We still try to play a couple of times a year, though sometimes a year or two passes in which we don't. Our families also camped together a lot. More so when all the children were younger, but still at least twice a year.
A lot of times, sitting at a picnic table in the shade, one of us will comment that we should have a chess set with us. We never do. But I think that's changed now. He called me Sunday morning and wanted to meet at the lake to catch up and show me a new travel chess set he had been working on. For most reasonably accomplished players used to playing on spacious boards with luxurious metal or wooden pieces, travel sets are quite unsatisfying, with their tiny metal boards and diminutive magnetic pieces.
The box for one of my favorite sets of his ­­ a Renaissance-style set ­­ had finally disintegrated and was not usable. He fashioned the interior of one of those stainless steel briefcases to securely hold the pieces and made a wooden two-piece tongue and groove board that when apart fits snugly over the top of everything. He said he plans to leave it in his Jeep all the time, so we will always have one if we are together and want to play.
We tried it out Sunday in a close game that lasted nearly two hours. The weather was beautiful. During mid-game, where I typically play my best, I executed a well-disguised fork and took his queen. It was only a matter of time after that.

Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

Marty and I indulged our wanderlust with a weekend getaway to Omaha this month. Our last trip to Omaha was a quick overnight stay in March for a Gordon Lightfoot concert. On that hurried occasion, we experienced just enough of the atmosphere of downtown Omaha and the Old Market to assure our return.
For our recent trip to Omaha, blue skies and moderate autumn temperatures made for further enjoyable exploration both indoors and out. Marty and I first visited the Durham Museum near Omaha's Old Market district and Little Italy. The museums I enjoy most are those that not only contain pieces of history, but those that are part of the history they contain.
The Durham Museum building is the result of renovations from 1975 to the present day, of Omaha's Union Station, originally opened as a passenger train station by Union Pacific Railroad in 1931, and closed in 1971. According to museum's historical timeline notes, in 1971, Congress established the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, now Amtrak, to handle all railroad passenger travel. Union Station was given to the City of Omaha in 1973, and despite initial discussions of demolishing the building, it was opened as the Western Heritage Museum in 1975, later renamed for Chuck and Margre Durham, whose leadership and generosity made for further major renovations.
For me, the Durham Museum was an opportunity to imagine what train travel might have been like in its heyday, with complete train cars including passenger and dining cars accessible for visitors to board and walk through. For Marty, the Durham Museum offered a chance to meld his interest in trains with nostalgic recollection of his own travels by rail. For some, like my husband, Marty, train travel might have included the luxury of finely cooked meals shared in a dining car. For others, like my mother, it was a necessity as she traveled by train east to west in her childhood, with her parents and sisters, leaving their New Jersey home for a new life, new home and new adventures in Colorado.
I imagine train travel, before Amtrak, a time lost to us perhaps, when travel was part of the experience and adventure, and not simply a means to an end as our regulative forms of commercial travel seem today. "Getting there is half the fun," an idiom explained as what happens before doing something is a large part of what makes that thing enjoyable, meant more in the days of pre-1970s passenger trains.
My insistence in the present day, on regular stops of our personal vehicle at truck stop convenience stores, a large, ice filled styrofoam cup of Diet Coke, and maybe a lukewarm chili dog in route to whatever destination Marty and I have chosen, cannot be compared to a seated meal in a dining car of maybe a Spanish omelet for 98 cents, or for dinner a well-prepared and expertly served grilled Oregon salmon for $1.65, complete with potatoes rissole, corn O'Brien, warm dinner rolls and your choice of dessert from a selection that included Camembert cheese and toasted crackers or fresh baked apple cobbler.
For Marty, there are memories in riding the rails, of raw power, strength, perhaps integrity and masculinity, exhibited in plumes of smoke from the stack of a steam engine, or promises of yesterday's adventures with the urgent wail of a train whistle. For me, there are imaginings of romance and unforgettable journeys by way of bygone day passenger trains, not unlike what some people might consider when they think of Paris.