This column was on my “to do” list over a month ago.  Then a couple of other topics came to the fore, as is often the case.

Interestingly enough, this topic was planted in my consciousness again last Fall at about this time…in late September.  I was back in my Minnesota homeland primarily to attend my 50th Reunion of the Class of 1968 at Concordia College on the Red River border between Minnesota and North Dakota.

Of course, there are other touchstones that needed touching whenever I am back in my homeland.  Cherished, aging relatives living in recent decades in suburban Minneapolis, as well as their sons and their families….and of course where I grew up, in Douglas County, halfway in a northwesterly direction, on the 250-mile interstate highway between Minneapolis and Moorhead.

Douglas County has abundant farmland on the edge of the western prairies….and it also had many beautiful lakes adding their numbers to Minnesota’s legendary “Land of 10,000 Lakes”.  The area is one of Minnesota’s favorite destinations (after the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the far north) for vacationers, fishermen (and ladies), campers and anything else one does in, and/or near, beautiful lakes.

Alexandria is the largest town, and county seat, in Douglas County.  It had about 7,000 year-round residents when I graduated from high school there (Class of ’64).  Today the population is over 13,000.  It is a thriving community with a tourism-based economy much like Rangeley.  Yet, there are significant differences.

One of the most striking differences is the nature of its fishing culture and history.  Here, as beautifully displayed at the Outdoor Heritage Museum in Oquossoc is the long history of the art and science of the pursuit of the legendary Brook Trout (“Brookies”) of the Rangeley Region.  In Alexandria, it is not so much the art, but mainly the science and utility of pursuing Minnesota’s favorite trophy (and tasty) Walleyed Pike (“Walleyes”).

Amid my moseying around Alexandria, the small town where I grew up…Carlos (curiously named because when I grew up there were no residents of hispanic descent to my knowledge of the entire county) and my grandparents’ farm, (and source of many fond memories), and their simple “cottage” on nearby Lake Miltona (source of many, many more fond memories.

I would row their old wooden rowboat around the lake, fishing with my Zebco spinning reel for anything that would bite on those freshly-dug earthworms, but especially developing my love of nature, especially lake-based natural environments..  That old wooden rowboat was made locally many years earlier at the Alexandria Boat Works.  It was their signature model, the “Lady of the Lakes”.  Great name, eh?

While in the area, I was urged to stop in at Alexandria’s relatively new museum (next to the longstanding Runestone Museum, extolling the region’s Scandinavian heritage), the Legacy of the Lakes Museum.  I stopped in, and was very glad that I did.  Go to legacyofthelakes.org for a look at this fine, (click on the 3-minute YouTube video)  and expansive museum.  What you will notice first is the architecture of the proud facility…and inside you will get a very complete feel for the boating and fishing cultural differences as compared to Maine and Rangeley.

What thrilled me the most, was the presence of my uncle, Albin Wicken’s, Lady of the Lakes wooden fishing boat, complete with a dark green paint job, and all of his fishing gear.  He was a renowned walleye-fishing guide in the area back in the ‘30s, ‘40s and beyond.  The fishing boats could be rowed, as I did as a kid, but were mainly a square-stern 12’-14’ craft built for a Johnson or Evenrude motor mounted on that stern.

“The 1935 wood and canvas Old Town “rowing canoe” that I delivered (after refurbishing it with Peter Christensen) to our sons and their families in Colorado a couple of years ago. Seen here with its new name, VikenBaten (Wicken Boat in Norwegian) and resting on younger son, Chris’, shorefront on beautiful Grand Lake next to Rocky Mountain National Park” Allen Wicken

And….what you will also see is an expansive collection of antique wooden power boats built by ChrisCraft, Garwood, Century and HackerCraft boats of beauty and powerful utility.  I knew them collectively as ChrisCraft boats….the dominant manufacturer back in the day.  And I always wanted to take a ride in one.  Alas, I had never had that opportunity….that is, until this past August at the marina on Rangeley Lake in Oquossoc!

It was a beautiful midweek morning and I was sitting on the picnic table on the first set of floating boat slips, ….sipping a cup of O.C.-brewed coffee and reading the New York Times with “All the News that’s Fit to Print”, of course.  I had just finished an always enjoyable hour and a half of doubles tennis on one of the three private courts surrounding Rangeley Lake (in addition to the two courts in Rangeley’s Town Park) that are generously reserved at 9 a.m. weekdays for our 40+ participants in the local summer tennis schedule (a shout-out is due to Amy Brenner, who does a very fine job scheduling the doubles matches each week).

That dock is also the one whereby the gas pump for boats is located (on the land, of course).  Soon, a beautiful 1939 ChrisCraft power boat (see photo) pulls up to the dock for a fill of fuel.  The nice owner, a summer camp owner on Rangeley Lake from New Hampshire, asks me if I was in charge of the gas pump that morning.  My quick answer with a smile was “No, I’m just sitting here waiting for an antique ChrisCraft owner to give me a ride in his fine boat”.  His answer was immediate.  “As soon as I fill the tank, hop in and we will ride full throttle to near Doctor’s Island and back !”

The 1935 ChrisCraft wooden power boat approaching the Oquossoc Marina on Rangeley Lake, and its very generous owner. Allen Wicken

I almost passed out.  It was a great ride with this very kind boat owner (see photo).  I filled him in, over the roar of that large inboard diesel engine, that I had been waiting for most of my 73 years for my first ride in a beautiful antique Chris Craft.  After thanking him profusely again as he roared off to give his grandkids a ride later that morning….I was left with a feeling that my life is now closer to being almost complete.

Among my composite (fibreglass and the like) canoes and kayaks…is a beautiful, fully restored, antique Old Town wood and canvas canoe (1929).  I also had a 1935 Old Town wood and canvas “rowing canoe”.  A couple of years ago, Peter Christensen helped me to restore it to its original condition.  I then took it to Colorado to give to our two sons, one of whom has a cabin on beautiful Grand Lake (see photo) in the mountains….in hopes that the love of rowing and paddling a beautiful wooden boat is passed on to our Colorado grandkids as well.  I am confident that it will.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone….

Pomplamoose

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are quite welcome.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond….or simply fire off an email to [email protected]


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