A couple of years ago, my mom, Collene Spencer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, and I made a trip back to Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota to reconnect, and meet family members there. We had a wonderful trip, and both my sister and I have found sites on Facebook that display pictures of the area. Cheryl and I were both born in Superior, Wisconsin, so we feel a closeness to the area, even though we have not lived there for many years. It is still the area of our roots. Now that we have been back in a more recent time, a continue to feel drawn to the area. The strange thing is that the things I am interested in at this time, are more historic things…some of them, things that no longer exist. In my memory, we didn’t spend a lot of time in Duluth, but I’m probably mistaken on that count…at least to a degree. Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota are so close to each other, that if there were no signs to tell you so, you might not realize that you have left one and entered the other. I’m sure my parents shopped in Duluth, simply because as the larger of the two cities, there was quite likely more variety there.
Recently, I started looking into some of the history of that general area, and stumbled on something interesting. Duluth had an incline railway. Personally, I like incline railways, but I have never seen one that was in a city. Incline railways seem more like something that you would see at a tourist attractions, than anything that you would use in everyday life. Nevertheless, Duluth, in 1891, had a streetcar line, and in December 1891, the Duluth Street Railway Company opened the incline railway, as part of that street car line. The Incline Railway was on the right-of-way of Seventh Avenue West. The Duluth Street Railway Company had received a charter from the state in 1881 to build a streetcar line for Duluth. The hillside on Seventh Avenue West was too steep for a regular rail line, so they built an incline railway for that area. From it’s base station on Superior Street, the Incline climbed 509 feet in slightly more than half a mile, on a ten foot gauge track. Originally, a pair of forty one by fifteen foot cars counterbalanced each other, one going up while the other one descended. They were built to accommodate four teams and wagons, or up to 250 standing passengers. The Incline was powered by a stationary steam engine at the top. The trip took sixteen minutes, one way…just enough time to make it an enjoyable trip.
In 1925, it was noted that the Incline carried an average of 2,170 weekday passengers, while the connecting Highland streetcar line carried an average of only 1,114 weekday passengers. I’m sure that was because people like incline railways…they are unique….besides, climbing that hill would not be fun. Hourly checks showed that most riders traveled downhill in the morning rush hour and uphill during the afternoon rush hour. Most likely they were commuting to and from work. The Duluth Incline Railway was never profitable. Nevertheless, it and the Highland line were the last remnants of the streetcar system to be replaced by buses. Their last day of service was September 4, 1939. For that reason, I’m sure that many of the current residents of Duluth don’t even know about the incline railroad. I didn’t either, until I stumbled on it.
Whenever our cousins came to visit from Wisconsin, we always had such a great time. Hanging out in Uncle Bill’s bus, playing in the yard, playing cribbage, going for ice cream, or just hanging out with the cousins…it didn’t matter what exactly, just that they were here to visit again. We felt that way about all of our out of town cousins. In fact, the only thing that was bad about those visits was the end of them, and it always came too soon. I’m one of those people who really hates to say goodbye, especially when I know it will be for a long time. If I had my way, all those people that I love would live in the same town.
When it was time for them to begin the journey home, everyone tried to lighten the mood. We did goofy little things to make each other laugh, even though we were all sad. Of course, we had to take the pictures that last day too, because we wanted something to remember each other by, until the next time we got to see each other. There was still so much to say, and everyone wanted to talk at once, hoping to get just a few more moments with the cousins. A week just isn’t enough time to spend with your cousins. We promised to write to them more often, even though we had promised before and did for a while, and then got busy with our own lives again. I think we knew that writing wasn’t really going to happen, as we promised. Finally it was time to go, and all that was left was the hugging and waving goodbye, and the wishing that the week was just starting, instead of ending. Life seemed a little more mundane after they left. We had to think of things to do, and nothing seemed interesting now. Even the things we had done when they were here were less interesting.
The sad thing is that as we grow older, and have families of our own, sometimes those relationships are lost and become distant, because everyone is so busy. Seldom do the kids get together they way they did when they lived at their parent’s home. Families grow apart, and then comes the point when they almost don’t feel comfortable sitting down to talk, because they don’t know what to say to each other. They have both lived such different lives, with little in common, and it just gets awkward. Soon, it’s just easier to forgo the visits all together. Then comes the moment when the cousin or their parents pass away, and you feel bad because you have been out of touch for so long…and you feel great regret, but it is too late. I wish I had more time with all my cousins and I’m thankful for Facebook, which has reconnected so many of us virtually, and that is the next best thing to being there.
My Uncle Bill is a man of many talents. He hates to see something be thrown away or junked out if it could have some value. Now, I’m not saying that he is a hoarder, because that just wouldn’t be accurate. He just sees value in things that others don’t…such as an old bus. Uncle Bill came into possession of an old bus, and spent some time fixing it up to be used as a camper for his family. And it worked quite well.
They did a lot of traveling in it, coming out many times to visit us here in Casper. We took trips around Wyoming in that bus, and it was also a favorite hang out when they were here. Uncle Bill and I used to go out there and play Cribbage, while some of the other kids played in the bus. My little sisters liked to play house, because it was a separate “house” from my family’s home. And Of course, there was the various kids who wanted to play “driving” in the bus. I remember one time when my cousin Billy was “driving” and he found out that if you take the bus out of gear on a slope, the bus will roll. Thankfully, Uncle Bill and I were playing Cribbage at the time. I never saw my uncle move so fast. He ran to the front of the bus, and put it back in gear. Then, when he stopped shaking, he calmly backed the bus back to it parking place with a boys will be boys attitude. Thankfully there were no other cars in front of us. Looking back now, it’s easy to laugh, but it wasn’t very funny then.
The trips we took in the bus were so much fun. No one had to be tied down, you could sit and the table and talk or play games, and just enjoy the freedom to move around. It was much like traveling in a train…and we all loved it. I remember Uncle Bill teasing us kids about having to lick up our ice cream if we spilled, and then when his son Jimmy did spill, and started to get down to lick it up, Uncle Bill laughed heartily and said, “Don’t lick it up!! I was just kidding!!” The relief on Jimmy’s face was just hilarious!!
The memories I have of that old bus are varied and many, too many to put here. It was a great old bus, and my Uncle Bill did an amazing job on creating a great travel bus, but more importantly he created memories. I know I will never forget them, nor will my sisters. Those were such good times.
In the Fall of 1957 or 1958, my family was living in Superior, Wisconsin, which is where my dad’s family lived. I was just a toddler at the time, and our family had been visiting Casper, Wyoming, where Mom’s family lived. My grandma and my Aunt Sandy were to accompany us back to Wisconsin for a visit, and then they would take the bus home again. The amount of room in the car limited the number of people who could come to two, and my Aunt Sandy felt very blessed to be chosen, as a trip to Canada was in the plans. It was to be the only time Aunt Sandy traveled outside the United States…so far, anyway.
Aunt Sandy tells me that one of the most wonderful memories she has of the trip is the fall colors in the trees. Wyoming gets pretty much one color change in the fall…green to yellow. The reds you see in the Midwest and East are pretty foreign in Wyoming. The drive was very exciting for a young girl of 12 or 13 years.
The Canadian part of the trip would also be filled with lovely fall colors, and would take them to Port Arthur to stay the night. They drove along the north shore of Lake Superior, which is a beautiful drive, as I can attest. It was always a favorite of my parents, and of course, most people who live around Lake Superior. The area is filled with trees, and magnificent views of the lake, so it is always a very special treat.
At some point in touring of the area, we stopped to look around, and Aunt Sandy leaned up against a fence post. Not knowing the problems that can occur when you put a wooden post in the ground for a long period of time in a climate that is humid, and ground water is plentiful, poor Aunt Sandy had no idea that leaning against such a post was a bad idea. The post immediately broke, of course, and Aunt Sandy found herself laying in the sand. Big sisters being with they are with their kid sisters, my mother began laughing hysterically about her little sister “throwing herself in the sand”. Thankfully Aunt Sandy wasn’t bothered by her sister’s teasing, or maybe it was just that she was used to teasing, being the youngest of 9 children. Nevertheless, Mom laughed, and Aunt Sandy picked herself up, and blew off the laughter good naturedly. I guess the trip was too much fun to worry about such trivial things.
All too soon, the trip came to an end. But there was still one adventure to come. Grandma and Aunt Sandy were going to be going home on the bus. Now, as we all know, bus trips are very long, with stops in just about every Podunk town on the map, but to a young girl of 12 or 13 years, it was still a very exciting trip, and one that she has never forgotten in all these years. I could tell, as I was talking to her about her memories of the trip, that they are still very much alive and well in her memory.
Bob and I had always felt that our kids didn’t really need a phone in their room, and for the early years, they didn’t have one. But, when our girls reached the pre-teen years, we decided that since the phone was always for them, and having them talk, talk, talking in the living room made it really hard to watch television, maybe having a phone in their rooms wasn’t such a horrible idea after all. The constant chatter and loud laughter was hard to ignore…not to mention having the girls constantly telling everyone not to listen!!
So, along about the time they were 11 or 12, we decided that Christmas would bring a rather unexpected gift for our girls. We were going to get them phones for their rooms. Of course, there would not be a separate line, but there would be some peace and quiet in the living room. For the most part it brought peace to our home…sort of. There were times when one or the other of the girls took too long in their turn on the phone, and then we would have a few fights. Still, the moments of fighting were a small sacrifice compared to the hours of peace that fell in between. I will never forget the look on my girls’ faces that Christmas morning. They couldn’t believe that they could talk in their bedrooms and not have everyone listening to every word they said.
Much has changed since those days. Pretty much every child has their own cell phone these days…and their own phone number…and it is more important than many people would like to think. A cell phone can be a life line if their car breaks down, or they missed their bus, etc. I know of many parents who don’t think their child needs a cell phone, and that they are a distraction. In some ways, that is right…especially if they are using it during class, but a child walking home alone, who gets lost or is being followed…needs a phone…now!!
I am grateful that my girls have continued the tradition and that their children each have a cell phone. It’s nice to be able to get a hold of my grandchildren whenever I want to. Of course, today things are different. Phones are used in a completely different way…texting. And if you want to keep up, you have to be able to text. I personally like texting, because it allows you to go on doing what you were doing while you are waiting to hear back. And cameras on the phone can be fun and functional too.
Yes, much has changed since my girls’ first phones, but kids haven’t changed. They still get excited about that new phone, and just the fact that it is theirs. They still want the latest and the greatest technology. And what is cool today, will be old news tomorrow. As excited as my girls were with their new phones that Christmas morning so many years ago, today they would wonder if I had lost my mind, because I would be giving them an antique that would be viewed as worthless.
Once in a while, you find yourself in a situation that requires you to be someone’s hero. That is the situation my son-in-law, Kevin and my daughter, Corrie found themselves in yesterday evening. Coming home from work, at about 5:15 pm, Kevin saw a little girl walking up and down their street, crying and obviously freezing. The temperature was about was about 20 degrees at that time. As Kevin got out of his pickup, the little girl let out a scream of frustration, fear, and cold. Kevin turned around to see what was going on, but was concerned that the little girl would not come to him. He went in the house and got Corrie, telling her that he thought the little girl might be lost or hurt.
When Corrie stepped outside, the little girl turned and started to walk away…obviously afraid. Then, after taking about 4 steps, and knowing that she was in a lot of trouble, and could die without help, she turned back around and started toward Corrie. Corrie asked her if she was lost, and she said that she was. Then, she hugged Corrie with such deep gratitude that it almost brought tears to Corrie’s eyes. Corrie said, “Oh my gosh, you are so cold!!” She shivered and said, “C-c-c-cold!” Corrie asked her if she knew her address or phone number. The answers were no to both questions. She is in Kindergarten.
Corrie asked to look in her backpack to see if there might be any information in it. She found a hat, mittens, a small notebook, and a juice box. The little girl’s coat was on but unzipped. She told her to come into her house so she could get warm and they would find her parents. She asked her how she got to where they found her. She said she rode a bus and some kids usually walked her home, but they weren’t on the bus yesterday. She thought she could make it home alone, but got lost. She had walked about 4 blocks from the bus stop, but who knew how long she had wandered around during the hour and fifteen minutes before they found her.
The little girl knew the bus number, so Corrie called the bus garage, and said, “I don’t know if you can help me or not, but I have a little girl at my house who got lost walking home from the bus stop.” The person answering the phone immediately said, “Is her name…?” Corrie asked the little girl and confirmed that she indeed had the right little girl. They told Corrie that her parents don’t speak English, and they had been calling the bus garage, frantically trying to find their little girl…their only child. They were certain their worst nightmare had happened to their little girl. The bus garage dispatched a bus to pick up the little girl, now warm from being in Corrie and Kevin’s house, wrapped in a blanket, and snuggled up with the family cat.
What do you do after an evening like that. Your adrenaline has been pumping like crazy. You have found yourself on the helping end of a parent’s worst nightmare. You were the hero. You saved the day, and more importantly the little girl. You got her safely back home to her terrified parents. What does a hero do after something like that…well, if you are Corrie and Kevin, you don’t shout it from the rooftops. You wouldn’t have even told your mom if she hadn’t called at the moment you were on the phone to the bus garage. No, if you are Corrie and Kevin…you simply go to Walmart to buy groceries.