I was a sophomore at Moorhead State College in 1966 and very intent on becoming a school teacher. My grades were average except for my Major; Industrial Arts where I just seemed to always get an A. I guess I was just paying better attention in those classes. My buddies in college and I had gotten jobs in the city of Dilworth, Minnesota working in a college work study program that paid didally squat but we had a ball tormenting city hall. On a normal day we fixed things up for the city and drove Mrs. Varianno crazy by working with our shirts off. She always called Mayor Brown and complained that; “Those Boys were Indecently Exposed”; although she never missed looking at us? My buddies who lived in Dilworth Ken Nygard and Tom Seaberg were great friends and we spent every available minute talking about hunting and fishing.
One beautiful Minnesota day I remember Ken Nygard talking about the Ash River and Lake Kabetogama up in Northern Minnesota. Our minds immediately saw fish jumping into the boat and loads of adventure awaiting for us in the remote wilderness. Ken got the maps, Tom studied the lake , and Alan made the lists for Wilderness survival. We didn’t have any money and little equipment but we kept planning; not wavering off the goal to experience our adventure.
The day of decision had come upon us and we voted to go up to the Ash River for a few days of fishing on the 4th of July. We had meetings daily and at night to glean out any errors; making sure all lists were filled and accurate. None of us had ever been to the Ash River and we were only smart enough to read a map and get there. I had an old 1955 Ford four door so I volunteered to drive. My buddies and I figured how to remove the rear seat and give us more space for gear and coolers to haul back the gigantic fish we had dreamt about. On the night before we left to the Ash River Trail we spent two hours at K-Mart buying gear that would snag the largest fish and put our names in the history books of time.
The day had come for us to leave and we hit the road with the 1955 Ford almost dragging from all the gear in the back seat. The ride was fun with my two buddies Ken and Tom because we were always hitting on each other and teasing to the point of driving off the highway. We had all adopted French Lumberjack names given to us by Ken Nygard who could dream up the best names in his sleep; we would all die laughing when they came out of his mouth. I was called Jock The Strap; Tom was called Pippy La Pew; and Ken named himself Francewa De Lumbre. In order to say your name it was customary to stand tall arch your chest out and hit your chest with two closed fists as you pronounced your name to give your voice the woodsy touch and also give yourself the manly pose. I remember the ride getting sort of long on highway 53 north to International Falls, Minnesota and the road seemed to go forever with no signs of people or life: it was heaven! After six hours of driving we finally came to the turn off to the Ash River Trail and the great adventure to come.
The road was gravel and wound around every tree and had six million pot holes in it but we didn’t stop. After what seemed to be a day we reached the Ash River Lodge and rented a 14 foot boat, bought minnows, and purchased a bright yellow and green map which was sure to locate every fish in Lake Kabetogama. We loaded the boat, placed Ken’s Firestone 3 H.P. Motor on the boat, realized we would have to make two trips for gear, and let out a screaming lumberjack yell as Ken’s motor ignited and we were off up the Ash River. We could only go two miles per hour with the boat loaded with all three of us so it took a while and rightfully so to reach a little island in the bay about eight miles away. I’ll never forget that feeling when we beached the little boat onto the sandy rocks and got out to claim this island as the French Stronghold. What a place: Virgin timber, boulders, and a place to pitch our tent and make a fire pit. Ken left to get the remaining gear and Tom Seaberg and myself started the camp building chores.
About an hour later we heard a funny noise coming towards us. It sounded like a tin can with an exhaust pipe; sure enough it was Francewa De Lumbre returning to complete phase one of the traveling to camp. After unloading the boat Ken informed us that he had seen a Black Bear on the cliffs overlooking his travel lane on the lake coming back. The adventure had taken a new feeling for me because I was scared of bears and wanted them all to go south and far away from me. My buddies knew I was scared of bears and assured me everything was safe and fine out on that beautiful island. We set up the old tent I borrowed from Ben Newell and located all our sleeping gear and made ready for a beautiful sunset. Our campfire was beautiful and small when we heard a boat coming at us very fast. The two men in the boat hit our landing and one man who claimed to be a Government Forest Ranger began telling us we had built our campfire wrong and it was his duty to save the island from unseasoned campers who would cut down trees and allow a fire to burn into the ground and re-appear somewhere else. He was not a hit with us and we all thought that he had forgotten who paid his bi-weekly salary.
Next morning we were up and gone fishing after a hearty and burnt breakfast. The strategy was to catch fish to eat and enjoy the beautiful summer day that had been given to us. We caught a couple of fish and decided to fry them on an open fire up on this high cliff overlooking the lake. The fire was roaring and the fish were vigorously put into our stomachs when Ken Nygard yelled “BEAR”! Then Tom Seaberg yelled “BEAR”! My first reaction was to get my Norwegian Butt out of there. I ran with my cowboy boots as fast as I could towards the lake and jumped off the twelve foot high cliff over the water into a cool bath. I remember the cold water, the blue color, and the thought that I had escaped that Bear. I swam hard to the rocks and got myself out of the lake when I noticed my two buddies looking over the cliff at me. “Are you OK”? they asked. I replied: “Is the Bear gone”? The reply was laughter and a statement: “there never was a bear”! I felt bad that I had fell for the joke but I forgave my buddies and was so glad there wasn’t a bear! We built a bigger fire. I dried out and we went back to camp for some dryer clothes. As the days moved on and we all had a great time it was so much fun pulling gags on those two bear yellers. I am sure that Ken Nygard never knew that the spark plug wire was off his motor and wouldn’t start? I also bet that Tom Seaberg never knew that the spider in his sleeping bag was a book of matches crumpled up? Getting even is such a great sport!
Today Ken Nygard is Dean of the Math Department at NDSU in Fargo, North Dakota. Tom Seaberg is a great Biology Teacher somewhere in Minnesota. Alan Ogaard is a Contractor in Buffalo, Minnesota who would never pass up a chance to pull a good joke or go Bow hunting for bear in the fall.