April 22, 2021
Though we awoke Tuesday morning to find the ground was covered with puffy snow, apparently the custom harvesters are anticipating the arrival of spring and wheat to harvest in the southern states. The editor of this newspaper was looking out the front window of the newspaper office, when he should have been writing this column and saw what appeared to be a custom harvesting crew heading south.
Highway 14 has long been a popular route for the harvesters.
When the Blauvelt family operated a gasoline station near the Kansas-Nebraska stateline, we could count on each year selling truck fuel to a crew from Canada. Each year the crew followed the wheat harvest from Texas north to Canada.
State regulations required they buy fuel and pay the associated highway maintenance tax in each state they traveled. Thus they wanted proof of having purchased Kansas fuel before checking into the Port of Entry at Mankato.
It was then common for the custom harvesters to haul the combines on the bed of the trucks which also were used to haul the grain from the fields to the elevators. The combines were loaded so the headers extended over the truck cabs making the load wider than the standard eight feet allowed for a vehicle.
We thought the machines to be huge and they were compared to the Farmall tractor and Gleaner combine one of our customers used. He had driven that tractor and pulled the combine along the harvest route from Texas to Canada. When the harvest was finished, he loaded the equipment on a railroad car and had it shipped back to this area.
For many years, the Blauvelt Station had a canopy which extended over the drive nearest the office and the pump island. There were light poles just beyond what we called the “outside drive.”
For a harvester’s loaded truck to reach the pump island, someone had to stand in front of the rig and guide the truck driver to make sure the header cleared the obstacles.
As trucks grew in size, we eventually had both gasoline and diesel pumps with long hoses that would allow for the fueling of vehicles stopped on the grass parking area in front of the station. That area was part of the state highway right-of-way.
The Blauvelt gasoline station drive wasn’t the only difficult obstacle for the harvest crews to navigate.
I was riding with friends enroute to school in Superior when we saw a custom harvester’s convoy leaving town.
As the lead truck attempted to navigate the sharp corner before crossing the Burlington and Missouri Pacific railroad tracks, the rig overturned blocking the highway.
Fortunately our vehicle was not underneath that overturned load.
Another time I was with my parents travelling on Highway 14 when traffic stopped near Central City. A loaded combine had gotten tangled in a narrow, overhead truss bridge which spanned the Loop River. It was a long wait while men worked to free the machine.
Last week a friend showed me a picture of two well-dressed men fueling at what appeared to be a California gasoline station. My friend asked if I thought what they were doing was safe.
I didn’t have to think about my answer, but could quickly affirm what they were doing was extremely dangerous.
Gasoline safety classes stressed the danger of a fire following the spill of gasoline near a hot engine.
The pictured fellas were wearing and fueling what appeared roller skates powered by gasoline engines. What if they spilled the fuel and it caught fire? With the skates on their feet, they couldn’t run away from the fire.
Seeing the gasoline powered skates reminded me of the time a Superior resident adapted a chain saw motor to power his roller skates.
The late Vernon Quy got to demonstrate his invention on the Johnny Carson show.
I got acquainted with Vernon in 1958 when he and a partner, Oscar Carpenter, were hired to build a cement block building which served as the gasoline station store. I’m not sure if I was more hindrance than help but when that building was under construction, if I wasn’t in school, I was trying help with the construction. Both Vernon and Oscar were patient with me. One of the jobs they gave me was to cut the bottoms out of empty quart oil cans. I then climbed on to the roof nailed the metal discs over voids in the barn boards Dad used as sheeting. Supposedly they didn’t want a hail stone to hit one of the voids and go through the roof.
Fast forward to the construction of the Simic Roller Skating Rink, though officially retired, Vernon was one of many volunteers who gave of their time to help construct the roller rink. He was among the older men who had learned to skate as youngsters and shared a vision for introducing new generations to the popular past time.
After seeing a televised report of a man’s invention of a motorized roller skate, Vernon decided he could make an improved version. The skate Vernon saw on television was much like the one I saw pictured this week. It had a small chainsaw type engine mounted on the heel.
The skates Vernon designed in 1985 had the engine mounted on the toe. Vernon tested and demonstrated his invention at the Simic Rink and drew the attention of a local television station. That clip drew the attention of the Tonight Show and Vernon was asked to appear on the show with Carson.
His 10 minutes of fame came on June 14, 1990.
Carson interviewed the carpenter from Superior and gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his invention on national television. With the skates he could travel an estimated 30 miles per hour, skating either forward or backward.
For the effort he received $1,000.
Vernon grew up in Formoso and began skating in high school, His first skates were the kind that clamped onto his regular shoes.
After serving with the U.S. Army during W.W. II, he returned to Jewell County and in 1949 built a roller skating rink at Mankato. He ran the rink at night and by day was a hardware store clerk.
He grew tired of working two jobs, tore the rink down and moved to Superior. For the next 30 years he constructed houses.
He is probably responsible for the building of more new homes in Superior than any other person. According to his tally, he built 145 houses and remodelled twice that many. He is responsible for starting what is now the Highland Estates Subdivision.
In 1979, health problems brought his construction days to an end and he turned his attention to restoring Model A vintage Ford automobiles, several of which he imported from South America.
He continued roller skating until he was 80. having never broken a bone.
Along the way, he and his projects were included in this newspaper’s feature stories.
When Vernon appeared on the Tonight Show, he appeared to be a real television pro. He was not intimidated by the Great Carson. He bantered with Carson as easily he talked with grade school student patching voids in a roof.
As I recalled the story about Vernon and his skates, I remembered having a VHS tape of his Tonight Show appearance. In my ever growing list of things to do when I catch up on “must do” projects, I would like to convert that tape to a digital form that could be more easily shown today. But before that happens, I must find the tape. Where should I look?