Listen Now
Pledge Now


West End News

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley

Clare Shirley owns and runs Sawbill Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Sawbill Trail in Tofte with her husband Dan. Clare was born in Grand Marais and grew up in Tofte. Clare is a third-generation Outfitter, and third-generation West End News writer. Clare follows in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Bill and Frank Hansen, long time West End News columnists.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.


What's On:
The dome at Sawbill Outfitters

West End News April 29

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100430.mp36.58 MB

We have all heard of delayed gratification. Delayed vindication, which is evidence that a decision made long ago turns out to be correct, even commendable, is not often discussed. I experienced delayed vindication recently. This is the story.

In the very early ‘70s Sawbill Outfitters was in dire need of more space. There was no possibility of further remodeling, so the need for a new building was obvious. The question was, what kind of building?

Sawbill is on a Forest Service lease, so we knew that any new building would have to be approved by the Forest Service. Preliminary conversations about what might be approved did not shed any light. The situation was: make a proposal, we will send it up the line, and we will let you know if the proposal flies or not.

I did get nostalgic about the approval that we went through when we built the public shower and laundry building designed by David Quick in 1965. Ed Wood, the Tofte Ranger at the time, drove out to Sawbill, looked at the plans, approved the project on the spot and said that he would write a letter to the Forest Supervisor and would include the plans. About a week later he called and said that everything was OK, but the Duluth office thought that there should be a drain in the laundry room floor. It was clear that the same informality no longer existed in 1975.

We began our research about the kind of building that would suit our purposes, always with one eye on the Forest Service. Eventually we discovered geodesic domes. The dome is quick to build, has loads of interior space, is very strong, comes pre-cut, and is uncomplicated to erect. So we chose a dome, had plans drawn, and approached the Forest Service about approval.

So far as anyone could find out, there was not another geodesic dome on Forest Service property in the nation. So this request really went up the line, all the way to Washington. The response was not enthusiastic. There was concern about appearance. What about resistance to wind loads? How about snow? Etc., etc., etc.

We had a customer who was a very competent structural engineer. He had been good enough to look at the plans before I submitted them and gave an unqualified, but informal OK. When I told him of the concern he wrote a letter stating that the building would withstand sustained winds of 120 miles an hour. Ten feet of snow burden would not cause collapse. He ended by writing that if local conditions ever got close to the limits of the dome everything around the dome would be flattened a long time before. I sent his opinion on to the USFS.

That resulted in a meeting with Forest Service folks at the district and forest level. It was obvious that someone had to make a decision. The conversation boiled down to, "It’s OK with me if everyone else is OK with it". Everyone in the room said that they felt the same way. I told them that I would take that to be a yes, and no one objected. So we built the dome.

Never in the 35 years that the dome has been in use have we ever had conditions anywhere near what caused so much concern. Now comes the vindication. Last week, at the DFL convention Bill Hansen met Denny Johnson, the contractor who built our dome. Denny is still building domes. He had a very current and amazing story to tell.

He has built three domes in Chile over the years. All three of the domes are located in the area devastated by the earthquake. All three of the domes survived the quake with no damage. So, after 35 years, we now know that we were right. Are we pleased? You bet.

We attended a performance of Treasure Island at the Playhouse. We have been to many, many performances at the Playhouse. This presentation has by far the best scenery, the best blocking, the best costumes, and the most consistent performances by the cast of any that we have attended. Just saying "creative" and "excellent" does not cover the performance. Every aspect is superb. We are so fortunate to have this wonderful facility and talented folks in our community. Thanks to the dozens of folks who prepared this treat for all of us.


Snow in August?

West End News April 22

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100423.mp34.85 MB

In the last column I mentioned that someone had said that August was the only month in which it had not snowed in Cook County. I expressed grave doubt that this could be correct. Eleanor Waha, the senior weather observer in years of service in the county, confirmed my opinion. There has been snow in August, lots of it on occasion.

The red flag fire danger has me spooked. Any evidence of careless behavior that might lead to a fire causes increased heart rate. So far all of the warnings that I have heard or read have failed to mention what to my mind is one of the greatest hazards, namely cigarette butts thrown from vehicle windows. This was reinforced when the pile of snow melted along the curb in front of our house. There are dozens of butts on the grass.

I fumed about folks who did not use their ashtrays in their vehicles. Then I realized that our car does not have either an ashtray or a cigarette lighter, but it does have four cup holders. So, if your vehicle does not have an ashtray, put an empty tin can in a cup holder. Please do not throw butts out of the window. Right now I would say that would be criminal behavior.

There are folks who make a lot of noise about doing very little; and than there are folks who do a lot with no noise at all. A good example of the latter is the induction of Jim Hall, of Lutsen, into the National Resource Conservation Hall of Fame. Jim was chosen for this honor because of his commitment to the development of the Laurentian Resource Conservation and Development Council in Duluth.

It is wonderful that Jim's many years of dedication and leadership to this very significant effort have been recognized. Folks like Jim are hard to find.

We had a fascinating e-mail from Art Wright. Art and Helen have many connections to the West End and its vicinity. Art was the engineer who had major responsibility for the design and installation of the telephone systems at the taconite plant and the town of Silver Bay when they were constructed.

Art was a scoutmaster and a youth leader. He brought many scouts and church youth into the BWCAW on canoe trips for a lot of years. His scouts, under the direction of Earl Hansen, the Forest Service ranger at Tofte at the time, built a rustic dam at the upstream end of Baker Lake. This made access to Peterson Lake much easier. This was more than 50 years ago and the dam is still there.

Art and Helen are charter members of the Commercial Fishing Museum at Tofte. At an annual meeting of the museum some years ago Art announced that the sum of their ages exceeded 180. Helen will be 100 on the 18th of May, and Art is not far behind. I am sure that Art is eager to announce that their ages now total more than 200 when that happens.

Art has an even earlier connection to the county. His mother taught at the Maple Hill School in 1904-1905. This was before Art came along. When he was around 12 to 14 years old he spent the summer at Maple Hill. Art learned to swim in the Hedstrom Mill pond, a dammed-up section of the Devil Track River. He was a friend of the entire Hedstrom family, and still stays in touch with Herb Hedstrom.

Another friend of the West End has left us with the passing of Tina Ingram. Tina was another of the one-of-a-kind folks. She never saw a plot of ground that did not need flowers planted. Every organization that she joined enjoyed her enthusiasm and leadership. As she made her way through the community and through life she made a multitude of friends. Tina successfully completed projects that would be daunting for most people. It is impossible to do anything but smile when we remember Tina.

Our heartfelt sympathy to Don and the rest of the family.

We renewed our friendship with Alan Ingram at the service for Tina. Alan was a summer employee for the Forest Service the summer after he graduated from Cook County High, and the next summer as well. He was the employee who took care of the campgrounds for the Tofte district, which included the Sawbill campground, so we got to know him well.

Alan went on to a degree in social work, and then a law degree as well. He has been the CEO of a non-profit for 32 years. It is very hard to know that Alan's tour with the Forest Service was about 40 years ago. Amazing.

As usual the Birch Grove Foundation is zipping along. Due to a new state law prohibiting overlapping boards of directors, two of the foundation board members who also are on the Birch Grove school board left the foundation board. So step forward folks. Two new board members will be welcomed. It could be you. If there ever is a worthy cause the Birch Grove Foundation is it. Jessa at 663 7977 has all the details.


With ice out happening early this year, Bill and Cindy Hansen enjoy a paddle on Sawbill Lake

West End News: April 14

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100416.mp32.96 MB

The current ban on fires of any kind is not the first and not the most severe.

I don't remember the year; but very near the end of the canoeing season, because of the severe fire danger, not only the BWCAW but also access to the forest interior was closed. Even driving into the forest was prohibited.

All of a sudden things got very quiet at Sawbill Outfitters. There were no customers. There were still a few folks out in the BWCAW when the edict went into effect. As they completed their trips they rapidly became uneasy when they became aware that they were the only ones around.

We also had a few late season canoeists with reservations so they had to be contacted and called off. They were understanding but not happy.

The closing continued through the fall and into the winter. A serious proposal was made that the ban should continue into the following spring, but that did not happen.

Most outfitters dream of the day that they could take the day off without guilt and go fishing. Unfortunately we were under the same prohibitions as anyone else, so entering the Boundary Waters to fish was impossible. No fishing for us either.

Even though it was technically illegal, we did need to go to town to get the mail and do the usual errands. We were doing great, but one Sunday we went into Grand Marais to church. On the way home we got as far as the intersection of the Grade and the Sawbill Trail. Wayne Smetanka, the ever-vigilant ranger of the Tofte District at the time, was on patrol at that spot as we approached.

I am sure that he was sure that he had caught flagrant violators. He was disappointed when he saw us. Even though there was some complaining about the ban, most folks agreed that caution was the way to go, so violations just did not happen.

All went well, but it was a very tense time. Weather reports that mention lightning are still sure to make me anxious.

At this time only fires are banned. Let's hope for rain so entry is not banned as well.

Bill Hansen looked at the weather records and ice-out records at Sawbill, which now cover 54 years. The ice went out of Sawbill Lake this year one full week earlier than the next earliest ice out. There have been a couple of years when the lakes were still ice bound when fishing season opened. That is more than a month difference between then and now. That is why answering the question "When will the ice go out?" is so tough to answer.

There is still a possibility of another snowstorm. Not much of a possibility, but maybe. I hear that we have had snow every month except August in Cook County. My reaction to that is - take another look at the August records.


Fishing in the BWCAW

West End News April 7

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100409.mp33.55 MB

The tax helpers will be at Birch Grove just one more Wednesday, April 14, which is just a day before the deadline for turning in your income tax returns. Thanks to all of the volunteers who have helped the folks in the West End with their returns this year. Thanks also to Birch Grove for hosting this program each year.

The official date for submitting your census forms was April 1. I have heard that the census bureau is allowing a grace period until April 15 for mailing in the census forms. After that date the census bureau will start sending out people to make visits to those addresses that have not yet sent in the form by mail.

The census bureau says that it costs less than a dollar to process a form that is mailed in. It costs close to fifty dollars if a census worker has to make a physical visit to get the information. So I encourage folks to mail in the form. If you have misplaced the form, contact the census folks. You can get a duplicate. If you never got a form in the mail by all means contact the census office. This does happen.

By now everyone must know that funding for many government projects depends on census counts, from representation in Congress to road projects. It is in our best interest to get as complete a count as possible. Cook County has been delinquent in returning census forms in previous census counts. Not this time, please.

There is an interesting statistic in the current issue of Range View, the publication of the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission. The statistic is that 90 percent of the businesses in Cook County have four or fewer employees. The number of businesses in our county was not given in the article. What is defined as a business was not given either.

The Minnesota Department of Resources put an embargo on fire permits on Monday, April 5. The US Forest Service adopted the same policy. Until there is significant rain the fire danger needs to be kept in mind all the time. I cannot imagine starting a fire anywhere outdoors as long as these dry conditions persist.

There already has been a wild fire at Isabella which destroyed a residence.

The date of ice out on the inland lakes will be the earliest in recent history. This presents an opportunity for canoeing without bugs, and without crowds. One little glitch is that fishing season is not open, so if you do take advantage of the open lakes, don't be tempted to jump the season.

I remember an incident that happened in our store many years ago. Much the same situation existed, the ice was out a week or so before fishing season started. An out of state customer was purchasing a fishing license. After the license was issued I gave him the book of regulations and mentioned that the season would not be open for another week. He inquired about the number of game wardens in the area. I told him that there was just one. He took a deep breath and then guessed that in the huge BWCAW the odds were very small of ever meeting a game warden.

I agreed with him and then introduced him to Dan Ross, the local warden, who had been standing right next to him the whole time. Dan was not in uniform. He had just come off the lake where he had arrested a beaver poacher. After his conversation with Dan the aspiring fisherman had no doubt that he had met a game warden.

Airdate: April 9, 2010


Frank reminisces about playing lacrosse

West End News April 1

Finalcut_westend_20100401.mp36.64 MB

A notice that an original member of the seasonal Gust Lake community, Dick Brown, had died brought back many memories.

Cap and Billie Peterson of Tait Lake owned most of the shoreline property on Gust Lake. Cap and Billie had set out to buy lake property and then never sell it so that it would be protected. That admirable goal was trumped by reality. They were caught up in the Depression and needed cash, so very reluctantly they decided to sell some of the Gust Lake property.

They had no money to pay for a proper survey. They laid out the lots by each holding one end of a rope, cut to the desired lot width, drove stakes for a starting point, and then walked toward the lakeshore, stretching the rope tightly between them. A county assessor's nightmare, right? All this was of very little purpose. Everyone else was caught by the Depression as well, so no lots were sold.

Then, right after the end of WWII, they tried again and did sell a couple of lots. One couple purchasing a lot was Dick and Phyllis Brown. The lots fronted on the Grade Road. At that time the Grade had not been improved. It was a horrible road full of oil-pan-destroying rocks, and where there were no rocks there were swamps. Years later Ed Thoreson and his crew improved the road, and the road was relocated somewhat. The Browns’ cabin had been built right on the edge of the road; but the relocation gave them an extra hundred feet or so of property in front of their cabin.

The road in front of the present cabins on Gust Lake is a remnant of the original railroad grade.

Dick was a skilled mechanical engineer. At that time, at the intersection of the Grade and the Sawbill Trail, in about the location of the Sawbill CCC Camp, Dick found a treasure trove of junk. It seemed that when the CCC went out of business a lot of two-man cross-cut saws, axes, Pulaskis and brush hooks were dumped there. Dick found an old electric generator. It was heavy, but he got help and hauled it to his cabin on Gust. He took it apart, repaired what needed repair, and got it running. It was a noisy small diesel engine, so Phyllis discouraged use of it when she was present.

Phyllis was a master crafter. Their small cabin was decorated with her production in many different crafts.

The Browns came to Gust Lake for many years. They would drive over to Sawbill Outfitters to use the phone and to visit with us. We also took messages for them and if it was an emergency we would drive over to Gust Lake at the peril of our vehicle to deliver the message. I don't know how she did it, but Phyllis always had a freshly baked treat on hand when we came. Dick and Phyllis were good friends. We extend our sympathy to Dick's family.

I feel like Rip Van Winkle. The current New Yorker magazine has an article about a famous lacrosse coach. Lacrosse was one of my passions when I was a kid. I lived in Baltimore, the lacrosse hotbed of the whole country at that time. The game was pretty much limited to high schools, colleges and club teams along the East coast.

The magazine article said that more than a half million high school students, boys and girls, now played the game on school and club teams. Not only that, it was played all over the country. My immediate reaction was, "When did this happen?" I inquired and found out that there were good teams right here in Minnesota. In fact the player who is recognized as the best of the best is from Eden Prairie where I was the school psychologist for many years, now many years ago.

I used to tell the athletic faculty about the wonders of the game, but never got any interest at all in the sport. Now they are turning out lacrosse players good enough for Division I teams. Imagine!

I am not aware of varsity teams or leagues or a state tournament. There must be, though. I have seen an occasional game on a sports channel, but don't hear the local in-state sports announcers ever mentioning the game. I am delighted to find out that the game is alive and well, but where was I when all of this was going on?

One time, a year or so ago, our senior Golden Moves exercise class met in one of the gyms at the high school. There was a barrel full of lacrosse sticks there. I picked one out of the barrel just for fun and then wondered why on earth lacrosse sticks were at the school. Lacrosse sticks belonged on the East coast. Little did I know!


Sled dogs


Finalcut_WestEnd_20100325.mp38.32 MB

Joan Koski, the longtime campground host at Crescent Lake campground, has retired. Joan's tenure at Crescent Lake as a camper with her family and then as campground host stretches over more than 30 years. The remarkable thing is that this is more than 30 consecutive years, no breaks.

Every campground has its own character with a unique clientele. Crescent is used a lot by local folks who have developed groups of friends who camp together. The major attraction is fishing in the summer and deer and bear hunting in season. Joan has been a friend to what is now a couple of generations of campers.

She has worked with many game wardens, deputy sheriffs, forest service law enforcement, and forest service campground people. She was the eyes and ears on site for all folks who had any official business with the campground.

During her time she had many unique wildlife experiences. She was the person who rescued an exhausted eagle found on the shore of the lake. She put the eagle in the box of her pickup and started for Sawbill Outfitters to get help with it. The eagle was flopping around, so Joan stopped and put the eagle in the cab with her. This was a mature eagle. Fortunately it remained quiet and Joan got to help OK.

The eagle was taken to the rehab center at the U in the Cities. Eventually it was brought back to the spot where it had been found, for release. Joan got to hold the eagle in her arms at the moment of release and throw it into the air, restoring it to freedom. This was a very emotional moment for Joan. The eagle did not soar off into the sky, but instead flew into a small tree close by and sat there looking at the assembled crowd.

Several times Joan saw a cougar standing in the river near the campground. On one occasion she saw two cougars, standing together in the river, and one of the cats had a rabbit in its mouth.

Bill Hansen told a well-known nature photographer about this sighting. The photographer said that if he had taken a photo of the cougars with the rabbit he would have had the most salable photo of his career.

Joan will be missed by all of the regular campers at Crescent Lake. Now a search is on for her successor. Her equal will be hard to find.

There was a really unique wedding on Iron Lake near Ely last Sunday. The bride is Amy Voytilla and the groom is Dave Freeman, both longtime folks around the West End. Amy and Dave are partners in the Wilderness Classroom organization. Amy has done a lot of kayak instruction in the area. They have a home base on the Grade, near the Brule Lake road; but they are rarely there. They may be familiar to you because they are the leaders of really wide-ranging wilderness trips into the far north, South America, and other locations. This spring they will start out on a "honeymoon" three-year trip (in segments) starting on the West coast of the United States and proceeding east across the continent and then down the east coast.

The wedding was outdoors on Iron Lake. The guests traveled to the site via five dog teams, a snowmobile, ice skates, and on foot. The wedding was on land on a picture-perfect point. Now I have to ask your total trust in my veracity.

The bride and groom were dressed, not in rugged wilderness gear, but in real wedding finery. Amy featured a strapless wedding gown. Dave wore wedding attire as well. The ceremony was performed by Eric Frost, newly qualified for the ceremony. All went well. But come on- it was a sunny day, but the temp was in the 40s. Strapless? Only in the West End!

The only wrinkle was when the staked-out dogs decided to get into a dog fight during the ceremony. No problem, there were lots of people who knew about dog fights. Just a blip at worst.

Amy and Dave left the wedding site riding side by side on the back of their dog sled, pulled by their favorite dogs who have been with them for years. Should you wish to see pictures of this event go to and enjoy.



West End News March 18

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100319.mp33.65 MB

Polly Erickson, coordinator of the recent West End blood drive, reports that the drive was successful once again. Colds and the flu forced some registered volunteers to skip donation; but the blood center people were pleased with the support extended to the program by our West End folks.

Polly wishes to thank all of the volunteer donors, and in return the West End community gives a lot of thanks to Polly for her dedication. There is more to bringing a blood drive to a successful result than meets the eye.

Polly says that the next blood drive at Zoar Church will be in July. Stay healthy!

Nothing is ever simple. The census, which is now ongoing, is a case in point. A very pertinent question involves "snowbirds,” local residents who escape from our winter weather to warmer places. The question is at what location should a snowbird be counted in the census? Here at home or winter refuge? The answer without any doubt is, declare your residence where you really live, here in Cook County. Please explain this to friends and relatives who are away for the winter.  This is no joke; we absolutely need every single resident to be counted here. If Minnesota loses a seat in Congress, legislative districts will need to be redrawn. The bulk of people in Minnesota now live in metropolitan areas. It is easy to guess that redistricting would favor those areas, and we would lose what little legislative power that we have now.

In the last census count, Cook and Aitkin counties had the lowest percentage of response of all the counties in the state. That is just plain dumb if this happens again. Fill out the very simple form and return it right away. Otherwise we may lose eligibility for many funding programs after the results of the census are counted.

A community effort is being organized to gather bicycles to provide transportation for our many summer workers. The workers need a way to get from home to work and to just get around in whichever community they are located while they are here. The bike path that runs along Highway 61 is a very efficient route for workers to get from one place to another in the West End, so bikes are practical in the West End.

If you have a bike that is in working condition, or that can be fixed up, the committee working on this would like to hear from you. There must be dozens of bikes that have not been used in a long time, which would be a big help to these workers.

For more information call Rick Schubert at 475-2778.

I must confess that I get a little edgy when there is any danger that the West End community is not a full partner in decisions that directly affect our well-being. We hear a lot about Superior National golf course, its funding, deficits, management and fate from county and city officials. I don't hear much about the West End town governments and business community contribution to decisions about this course. Very significant revenue comes to the West End from the course. The welfare of the West End economy should be one of the first considerations in any discussion about the course.

Let us hope that the new cooperative effort to join the various business promotion organizations is a first step toward giving everyone an equal voice in essential decisions. The fate of the golf course is an essential decision.


A one room school house

West End News March 10

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100312.mp33.65 MB

Please remember that trained volunteers will be at Birch Grove Center to help West End folks prepare their income tax returns each Wednesday. The volunteers may help everyone 55 years old or older; as well as folks with low or moderate income. I continue to be unbelieving that moderate income for a couple with two dependent children is $80,000 a year. That should cover almost everyone in the county.

The service is first come, first served. The volunteers start at 9 a.m. There is no charge for the help.

There certainly is a lot of publicity about the upcoming census. This census is very important for Minnesota and for Cook County. Minnesota is within a margin of 1,000 residents of losing one congressional seat. The number of congressional seats is calculated with the population. If a congressional seat needs 400,000 people to exist, then the population of the state will be divided by 400,000 to get the number of seats that Minnesota will have. If there are a lot of people in an area, a small geographic area will get a seat. Fewer people means a larger area.

Our congressional district is already the district with the largest land area in the state. Should a congressional district be lost, the district will cover even more territory, and we will be included. So, it is important that we keep our present eight congressmen. Make it a personal responsibility to be sure that you are counted. Much funding and even more important adequate representation in Congress is at stake. We need all the representation we can get.

A good example is the current state of school financing in our state and nation. I have been connected with education at all levels for many years. I cannot remember a time when school financing was not a burning issue. Everyone agrees that public education is essential. For some reason there is always emotional tension about funding our schools. Right now the situation is worse than any time I can remember. Not just here, but all over.

The pioneer immigrants of the West End built a school right after they built their houses. These folks were tight with money; but they agreed that money spent on educating their children is money well spent. If you wanted to get in trouble in the West End, suggest something to harm the school. This attitude was communicated to the children. The children were expected to work hard in school and to learn their lessons.

The attitude of the West End folks was summed up neatly by Ted Tofte, a first generation child who became a well-known school superintendent in Minnesota. Ted said, “In the schools there are things that would be nice to have, there are things that the school ought to have, and things that the school has to have.”  This was the secret of the success of the West End schools in the early days; and the tradition is carried on to this day by Birch Grove School.

As a result, the academic achievements of these children then and now are impressive. Many academic and professional advanced degrees have been earned by West End children. Many matured to positions of leadership in their communities as well as at the state and national level.

The WTIP fund drive has the motto, "So Many Reasons.” This excellent radio station is key to community effort for the census, for volunteer participation, and for the unreserved support of all of our schools. Supporting this station is one way that we can preserve the quality of life that we all enjoy.


Tracks in snow by Stephan Hoglund

West End News March 4

Finalcut_WestEnd_20100304.mp32.72 MB

The considered opinion of the folks who play in the snow is that this season has been as close to perfect as any season could be. Good, timely snow inland for the snow sleds, mushers, all varieties of skiers, and snowshoe folks.

An added benefit has been the mild temperatures and bright blue skies. So often snow is good, skies are blue, but high winds and bitter cold make snow sports downright uncomfortable. Other times snow is sparse, or there are problems with slush, or whatever. No need to extend the list. You all have lived through it, right?

So spread the word about how good the snow sports are now and will be for some time into the future. We can use the business.

Our family is going through an acute state of "What if?” Whenever our children were off on their various adventures, we worried about their health and safety, sometimes for good reason. Now we have the same worries about our grandchildren. Our children operated on the premise of "if we don't tell them, they won't have to worry.” The grandkids take the same position.

The massive earthquake in Chile reinforced our concerns. Our granddaughter, Clare, was in Chile from August through December 2008. She attended the university and lived in Vina del Mar, a coastal city very near Concepcion, the most ravaged city in Chile. Her significant other best friend, Dan, lived in Concepcion at the same time.

Since the quake they both have been trying to contact friends in Chile. They’ve had very little luck contacting Vina del Mar; but some luck in contacting Concepcion. So far those who they have talked to are OK. The report is that older buildings, constructed before modern earthquake engineering was in place, are significantly damaged. Buildings built to earthquake standards are OK so far as the building structure goes, but the contents of the buildings are a mess. They are told that it looks like the building was in a giant shaker that upset everything: pictures off the wall, dishes on the floor, furniture overturned and smashed, the works.

The blessing so far is that none of their friends are injured or missing. Property damage will be a burden.

We worried about Clare riding in rickety busses on single lane mountain roads into primitive communities; but we never thought of worrying about a record-breaking earthquake. So now we can add a new worry to our list. A grandson is about to go to Germany to study. Please tell us that Germany does not have earthquakes; but what about avalanches?


The Tofte Fire Department

West End News Feb. 25

WestEnd_20100225.mp310.43 MB

It is time for a heads-up to all West End folks about an upcoming blood drive at Zoar church. The drive will be held on Tuesday, Mar. 2, from 2:30 until 5:30 p.m. By this time we all know about the chronic shortage of potentially life-saving blood and blood products.

More information is available from the blood drive coordinator, Polly Erickson, at 663-7398.

There is a very loyal group of donors who volunteer time after time. I asked Polly if she had any record of how many times the folks in her core group had donated. She did have that information and when she tabulated the data she and I both were surprised at the results. Over the years 23 folks have donated between 10 and 20 units of blood; 10 between 20 and 30 units; and six have given 30 or more units. Just using the 10-,20-, and 30-unit markers, this amounts to at least 610 units donated by our friends and neighbors. There are many more people who have also given from time to time. That is wonderful. To me, that’s what a community is all about.

I would imagine that filling out state and federal income tax forms is one of our least favorite things to do. Seniors need not despair. Help is at hand. Every Wednesday, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., trained volunteer tax preparers will be at the Birch Grove Center to help seniors with their tax returns. There is no charge for this service. Not only that, most returns can be filed electronically. If you have a refund due to you, electronic filing will get a check back to you in less than three weeks. Pretty nifty!

As the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns gets closer, the traffic gets heavier for the preparers, so if you can get it together, go to Birch Grove, and beat the crowd.

The feedback from West End folks who went to the story time at the Fishing Museum in Tofte to hear Walter Sve tell stories from his own personal experiences gave a "wonderful" rating to the event. A large crowd came to hear the stories. These events take place several times a year at the museum. This is really oral history from first-hand experiences. Thanks to Walter for his generous sharing with the community.

There is big news about the new fire truck that will soon be on line at the Tofte Fire Department. The word "new" is hardly understood in the Tofte department. From the beginning, finances only allowed for buying used equipment, always as good as possible for the money available. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time were invested in this used equipment both to get it ready for use and then to keep it running.

Tom Laine devoted a lot of energy to finding and acquiring what he called "good deals". His deals ranged from not so great to sensational. Along the way he picked up some surprising items. I remember mentioning to him that the Eden Prairie Fire Department was getting new turnout gear, and the old gear was surplus and available. I knew that because I worked in the Eden Prairie schools and the head custodian for the school district was a friend and also the fire chief. Tom took immediate action, and for quite a while the Tofte fire fighters had "Eden Prairie" printed on the back of the turnout gear.

Equipment came from wherever. The telephone company, back when there was just one telephone company, donated a surplus service pickup truck to the firemen. This was a neat truck with a lot of bins and drawers. This unit was Tofte's first unit assigned to the first responders. Then there was what looked like a homemade unit. It was a unit to slip into the bed of a pickup. It had a rectangular tank that held about 100 gallons of water. The power for the pump was a small Briggs and Stratton gas engine. It carried about 150 feet of inch-and-a-half rubber hose. This unit was for brush fires. It did the job on more than one occasion.

Over the years the equipment was improved, each unit a little better than the one it replaced. Fortunately the Tofte department has always been blessed with members who are excellent mechanics and heavy equipment operators.

Lutsen Fire was much the same story. Get what you could, fix it up, and keep it running as long as possible. The Lutsen department has had outstanding support from fundraisers and private donations, which have made a huge difference. The Schroeder department got off to a somewhat faster start. Back in the day when the town of Schroeder got quite a bit of money from the taconite operation, the town could afford to buy new or next-to-new equipment right away. Among other things, this gave the Schroeder department star status in the Fourth of July parades.

All along there has been a strong tradition of mutual aid among the departments. A fire in any one of the West End towns gets immediate cooperation from the other departments. No question, it happens. Many thanks to all of the volunteers, with their expertise, who have protected the West End communities for so many years.