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October 8, 2015

Henry Sieling’s lifetime of service

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Henry Sieling was born March 22, 1888 in Perham Township, Otter Tail County, the son of Fredrick and Sophia Shaffer Sieling. He started his schooling when seven years of age at a country school 2-1/2 miles from home.

As most children of that era, he did not finish the 6th grade, but took several additional courses at the Perham Public School. You can see his determination to get an education, as later he took a short course at the University Farm School.

Interest in his community began at the age of 12, when his father sent him with a petition to get Rural Free Delivery for mail in Perham and Edna Townships before it was made universal. They succeeded with this, so took another petition for Parcel Post Delivery, which was also a big help to the rural areas.

In 1909 he started as a trouble-shooter for the Perham Rural Telephone Company, and held that position until 1949.

In 1910, he moved to Section 11 of Pine Lake Township. He and his wife, Laura Meyer, daughter of William and Anna Johnson Meyer, whom he married in 1913, lived on the 760 acres until 1952. On this diversified farm, he raised certified seed grain, had chickens, hogs and a dairy herd.

In addition to his farming, he found time to help organize the Lake Region Coop Electric Assn. signing up members and getting easements. He was maintenance man of the Sub-Station out of New York Mills from 1938 to 1947, and served as director of the company until 1971.

His interest in farm organizations began about 1922, when he became a charter member of the Perham Oil Company, which became the Perham Coop Oil Company in 1933. He was president and director of that company for 34 years.

He also spent 34 years as a director of Land O’ Lakes District No. 11 and No. 13. He was a member of the Committee of the Boards of Review for the Midland Cooperatives, Inc., for 28 years; also director of District No. 13 of the Group Health, Inc. of St. Paul for six years: director of Midland District No. 4 for 10 years.

Township and county activities included being treasurer of Pine Lakes Township for 12 years. As County Commissioner for 12 years, 1940 to 1952, he instigated a $2,000,000 bond program to get roads in Otter Tail County.

Henry was a member of the Perham Historical Society as well as a director of the Memorial Hospital. All in all, his contributions to this community, county and state totaled 328 years of faithful and fruitful service.  He was admired, respected and highly esteemed by all who knew him.  Henry passed away Nov. 13, 1971

From East Otter Tail County History, Volume I, published in 1977 and now available on-line at   

-Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


October 1, 2015

Train wrecks in Perham

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The Burlington Northern Railroad line through Perham has been an economic lifeline for the community ever since it was finished in 1871. In fact the City of Perham is named after Josiah Perham the man largely responsible for the project that brought the railroad to town.

Thousands and thousands of trains have gone through Perham in those 100 plus years. Typically, they come and go, with little notice other than tying up traffic at crossings. But on at least three occasions, they haven’t made it through town because wrecks have occurred.  One was in the early 40’s and another occurred in 1947 when two trains hit head-on in a snowstorm. The train wreck of Oct. 1st, 1992 was undoubtedly the most spectacular, though.

An eastbound Burlington freighter was just approaching the edge of town when a semi apparently fell off one of the cars. As it fell, it either struck a switch or got wedged under the train, causing a derailment to begin near the Holiday Station (400 block west). Car after car derailed from the train, which was doing about 60 miles per hour at the time.

As they derailed, they slid and tumbled toward the heart of the downtown area (east of 300 block west), threatening businesses such as Crane Johnson Lumber, the Perham City Offices, Strom’s Cafe, Ma’s Little Red Barn, Coast to Coast, Ace Hardware and others.

Fortunately, one of the cars hit the loading dock at the old Burlington Northern depot, and came to a halt. It acted as a stopper for the rest of the cars, so instead of sliding, they began piling up.  When the train finally stopped, most of the 31 derailed cars were in a huge mound stretching westward about a block from the Depot.

Other than the BN depot building, which was wrecked the only other structural damage was to a loading shed.  Some adjacent vehicles were damaged or wrecked, one squished down to about two feet thick. One of the most incredible aspects of the accident is that there were no major injuries, despite the fact that it occurred about 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.

There were a number of eyewitnesses to the event, a couple got pinged by flying rocks or shards from railroad ties, but no serious injuries. The town was lucky from another regard, because the train also had at least two cars with hazardous materials, one loaded with molten sulfur and another with propane.

They were both behind the 31 cars that derailed and weren’t a factor in the wreck. Cleanup crews hustled to Perham to get the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible, and to get the BN line open again. The westbound lane was re-opened 37 hours later, and the eastbound lane 8 hours after that.

The text for this article came in part from information submitted Chuck Johnson to the East Otter Tail County History, Volume II, published in 1994 and now available on-line at

-Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


September 10, 2015

Royale Arvig – from telephone to tech

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Royale Arvig grew up in a family who had been pioneers in the development of the electric and independent telephone industries, and he carried on the family tradition.

He was active in the REA from its early inception.  He and his brother, L.H. “Tom” Arvig, formed the Arvig Brothers Construction Company and built power lines throughout Minnesota and North Dakota.  He also owned Arvig Electric, which had crews working in Minnesota and North Dakota doing commercial, farm and home electrical wiring.

The Electric Company and Appliance store was located in Wadena, Minnesota.

In October 1950, Royale and his wife, Eleanor, purchased the Perham Telephone Company which served approximately 830 customers at the time. Royale became president and general manager and Eleanor, secretary-treasurer. At the time the system was a Magneto type which was hand-cranked.    The process of modernizing and updating the service began.

By 1952, subscribers were provided with the first dial service. On Sept. 25, 1952, the city of Perham celebrated “Dial Day” with marching bands, floats, and visiting political dignitaries such as guest speaker, Hubert H. Humphrey.

Rural lines that were owned and maintained by the farmers were added to the telephone system.  Telephone poles and aerial cables replaced lines that had once been strung from fence post to fence post.  New switchboards were installed to give the most modern telephone service.

The name of the company was changed to East Otter Tail Telephone Company to better reflect the area served at the time.  As the company expanded, other exchanges were added to the systems which grew to include Perham, Dent, New York Mills, Bluffton, Deer Creek, Richville, Ottertail, Osage, Bertha, Hewitt, Akeley, Nevis, Walker, Whipholt, Longville and Vergas cities in Minnesota.

By 1976, the entire system was converted from aerial lines to buried and single party line service became the norm.

Royale Arvig had exceptional foresight, drive, and ability and guided East Otter Tail Telephone Company through many years of growth. After a battle with cancer, Royale passed away on April 2, 1975, at the age of 56 years. Upon Royale’s death, Eleanor assumed the position as president and general manager. Janice Theodorson became secretary treasurer. Allen Arvig, who had been serving as executive vice president, became general manager in 1982 and president in 1985. Donna Ward then became vice president.

Town ‘n Country Video was formed in 1980 and served sixteen communities by the summer of 1987. Arvig Enterprises was formed in 1984 to handle the acquisition of Twin Valley-Ulen Telephone Company and Valley Communications.  The company has continued to grow, serving news customers and adapting to new technologies throughout the years.

It had been Royale’s desire for his family to carry on where he left off, which is exactly what they have done.

Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. Information for this article came in part from the East Otter Tail County History, Volume II, published in 1994 and now available on-line at


August 27, 2015

The start of East Otter Tail County Extension Service

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The County Extension Service began in eastern Otter Tail County in 1922 with an office located in Perham to serve the northeastern 31 townships.

Due to a fire, the office was located in Henning from 1924-1932, after which it was moved back to Perham. There was a six-month period in 1931 when work was suspended due to a lack of funds. It was resumed again in 1932 because of a severe outbreak of grasshoppers.

Early educational programs in agriculture included farming with horses, introduction of

alfalfa, corn, and small grains, control of grasshoppers and insects, soil testing, improving milk production, organizing boys and girls clubs and supporting community development.

One of the original sources of funding was the Farm Bureau Organization which provided office space and travel funds. Later the Extension office received funding from Otter Tail County, the University of Minnesota, and USDA.

Youth work was an important part of Extension programs. In 1923, there were 101 youths enrolled in 12 clubs. Records show that youth participated in the County Fair in Perham in 1923.

In the 1930s, the youth clubs were re-organized into community 4-H clubs, with the first 4-H agent coming in 1935.  Enrollment peaked in 1969 with 640 members and 31 clubs. Early 4-H projects focused on livestock, bread baking, sewing, canning, leadership, health, conservation, and shop. Popular events during the year included club tours, softball games, County Fair, State Fair, Share-the-Fun, and 4-H Camps. From the standpoint of achievement, 4-H youth work has been one of the most successful and lasting programs of the extension service.

The Home Economics program officially began in the County in 1947 when the first home agent was hired. Up until that time, local leaders and University of Minnesota State Extension Specialists gave lessons to homemakers and leaders on a variety of subjects. Popular lessons were nutrition, clothing, textiles, housing, furnishings, use of time, money and energy, child development, human relations, and health. In 1982, there were 608 homemakers enrolled in 52 clubs.

Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

Denzil Cooper, former Agricultural Agent, submitted information for this article to the East Otter Tail County History, Volume I, published in 1994 and now available on-line at


August 6, 2015

Baseball has been a summer favorite in Perham since the 1920s

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Baseball has always been a popular summer pastime.

Baseball has been a part of Perham since its beginning from the days of semi-pro during the twenties to amateur baseball.

Teams over the years were the Greens, Colts, Kids, Kidders, Perham Brewers, Perham Independents, Perham Pirates, Perham Cubs and Perham Panthers.

Managers included: Kick  Claydon, M.B. Palzer, Bill Ryan, George Kelly, Eddie Stephenson, Al Woessner, George Bauck, Clarence Ruther, Elmer Eickschen, Ted Meinhover, Don Burgau Sr., Bob Stein,  Al Bretz, Art Winjum, Raymond “Stub” Burgau, Don Meyer, Arne Luhning, Al Krueger and Ernie Kawlewski.

Perham won the right to go to the State Amateur Baseball Tournament in 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1981,1982, 1983, 1984, 1985.

1949 baseball team

1949 baseball team

In 1966 and the first part of 1967, they won 32 games in a row.  One year, they came from being tied for fourth place, to winning the league title and missing the State title by one run. In 1961 and 1966 they were Class B State Champions.

In the late fifties and early sixties, crowds were considered poor if they numbered less than four hundred. A few of the outstanding players have been Ligh Lucking, John Schmidt, Carl John, Hank Fellerer, George Kelly, Roy Martin, Milo Wakefield, Pat and Romey Johnson, Paul Krueger, Vic Pearce, Harvey Smalley, Tuffy Nelson, Don and Stub Burgau, Al Dunn, Al Stigman and the list goes on.

Roy Martin and Harvey Smalley were the first to be named to an All-State team. Raymond “Stub” Burgau, Don Burgau Sr., and Al Stigman have been given more region and state honors than any other players.  Al Stigman pitched a perfect game against Ashby in 1956.

Information in part from the East Otter Tail County History, Volume II, published in 1994 now available on-line by visiting Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


July 29, 2015

Lefse and tortillas: The history of Perham’s Bec-Lin Foods

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Bec-Lin Foods was begun in Lake Park about 1951 by Arthur Carlson, who began baking  and selling lefse to surrounding area residents. It was a seasonal business, operating in the fall until Christmas.

In the late sixties Tory Olsen, Norman Nelson and Ed Knutson purchased the business. It was still operated as a seasonal business and had a sales volume of about $275,000 when Bill Schoeneberger and Tuffy Nelson purchased the business in late 1982.

The company consisted of two full time and seven part time employees and was located in an old cinder block building.

Bill and Tuffy set out to develop a year around business.  They expanded into the Mexican Food business while growing the lefse business.

In 1984 they purchased a piece of equipment that allowed them to mass bake lefse while retaining the old fashioned recipe. Expansion into the corn and flour tortilla markets was also begun.

Tuffy was diagnosed with cancer in May, 1985, and he died in February, 1986. Because of increased business a new, modern plant was built in Perham in October, 1987. With nineteen employees and sales of $1.5 million the Perham chapter of Bec-Lin Foods had begun.

In 1991 a pressed flour tortilla line was added, requiring an expansion of the current facility. By 1994, Bec-Lin Foods had about sixty-five employees, sales of five million dollars and was the largest lefse baker in the United States. In addition, its

Mexican Foods were marketed over a wide area of the United States.  Employees came from Audubon, Detroit Lakes, Dent, Ottertail, New York Mills, Vergas, Sebeka and Deer Creek to work in the facility. For many years, Bec-Lin was one of the major foods manufacturing companies in Perham.

In June 2000, Cenex Harvest States Cooperative bought two Minnesota tortilla businesses, including Bec-Lin of Perham, with plans to produce the company’s Monteray Wraps and El Gran Deli tortillas, as well as Scandinavian Premium and Aunt Julia lefse  at Cenex Harvest States’ New Brighton, Minnesota facility.

Information in part from the East Otter Tail County History, Volume II, published in 1994 now available online at

Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


July 1, 2015

Independence Day – Alf Jorgenson

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The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is the National Day of the United States.  The date commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain.

The day is commonly associated with picnics, parades, family reunions and fireworks – but, it is also a day to recall the lives of those whose service to the United States helped ensure freedom and independence both here and throughout the world.

Alf Jorgenson enlisted in the local National Guard infantry company, a part of the 135th Minnesota Regiment in February of 1941.

They joined three other infantry regiments from Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota at Camp Clairborne in Los Angeles, Calif. for basic training.

Once assembled, they were known as the Red Bull 34th Infantry.

In April of 1942, they landed at Londonderry, Ireland for more infantry training and were the first troops overseas in the European theatre.

In December of 1942, they landed in Algiers, North Africa and took part in an all-summer campaign to drive the German and Italian armies out of Algeria and Tunisia.

Once completed, the 135th Minnesota Infantry Regiment was one of the American troops in the Tunis Victory Parade.

Their next stop was the mountains of Italy. This was mud and mountains all the way from the “toe” of Italy, up through the boot and finally almost to the border of Switzerland.

Alf fought in the battles of Hill 609 in Africa, Salerno Beach and Conte Cassino (Abbey) in Italy, Anzio Beach (where he was wounded) and the Road to Rome.

By the time the war with Japan ended, he had been reassigned to a training unit at Camp Gordon, Ga.

He was discharged on July 3, 1945, after having fought for independence for nearly four years.

Information from the archives of the newspapers of Perham, an index of which is available online at Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


June 25, 2015

A history lesson on public education in Perham

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With the railroad arriving in Perham in 1871 and settlement in 1872 the Perham Public School

District #44 was organized in September of 1873. Classes were held in Christ Schroeder’s

Harness Shop until the first frame schoolhouse was built in 1875.  In 1888, a two-story solid brick schoolhouse, including basement, was constructed. The frame school building was purchased by St. Henry’s Parish for $25.00 in 1890, and used as a school until it was replaced by the current St. Henry’s brick school building in 1916.

In 1898, the public school constructed an addition and the upstairs became a high school, with the first PHS students graduating in 1903. A new high school was built in 1917 and located at 200 5th St. SE, its current site. In 1935, 36 students graduated, with senior class sizes varying between 4 to 52 pupils.

In February of 1936, the 1888 school, including the 1898 addition, was destroyed in a spectacular fire, possibly from spontaneous combustion of wood refuse in the basement. The subzero weather prevented the fire department from extinguishing the blaze.

In 1937, a gymnasium-auditorium, four classrooms, a band room and a county agent’s office were added to the 1917 school building. The gymnasium-auditorium was one of the finest built at the time, which offered theater seating for both basketball games and stage performances. In years, to come, the hardwood gym floor was turned to a 90 degree angle, expanded and spectator bleachers were added.

In 1937, one bus handled the Perham

School bus route whereas in 1994, 28 buses travel the routes. In 1955, an expanded gym, home economics and shop areas were added to the building.

In 1964, a school building addition provided more elementary and office space, a multipurpose area and science laboratories.

Dent Independent School District #55 1, (originally #274), consolidated with Perham in 1970-71. Dent, having combined with four adjoining districts, #514, # 1505, # 1523, and # 1526, built its current structure to house its increased student enrollment in 1963. The Perham-Dent School

District #549, having consolidated with 18 school districts, between 1956 and 1970, flourished and the student population continued to grow.

In 1971, the city of Perham celebrated its Centennial, with PHS graduating 126 students and offering 53 subjects from which to choose. Major growth in student enrollment brought additional expansion and building projects in the 80’s and 90’s. In 1989, Dent Elementary School received a two-classroom addition and major renovation and accommodated more than 100 kindergarten through fourth grade students in the south part of the district. In 1990, Heart of the Lakes Elementary School (HOTL) was built at 810 2ndAve S.W. as part of a three phase project.

It houses kindergarten through sixth grade students and cost $3.5 million. In 1991, at a cost of $3.8 million, PHS completed a major addition and renovation project. The PHS Auditorium was updated and modernized in 1994 for $600,000. Also in 1994, ground breaking and construction began on a six million dollar Middle School, southwest of HOTL, which would house fifth through eighth grades. Total student enrollment for 1993-94 was 1,610 pupils, with 135 classes for 7th – 12th grades and 209 school district employees.

As stated in the 1917 Perham High School Annual, our school facilities and community’s priority on quality education have been made possible through the “sacrifice and foresight” of its citizens.

Perham-Dent Schools’ Alumni have become successful men and women in all walks of life, thanks due in part to the 119 years of dedicated school teacher, staff members, principals, superintendents and board members. May the rich tradition of Perham and Dent School History provide the cornerstone of its education building blocks for the future!


Information for this article was taken in part from the East Otter Tail History Book, Volume I, 1977, now available online at  Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


June 18, 2015

Merchants of Perham: Bauck Brothers General Merchan-dise

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In 1894, two brothers, Fred Bauck, Jr. and Henry Bauck, sons of Fred Bauck, Sr., a pioneer of Perham, established a general merchandise store in Perham.

They sold hardware, dry goods, and groceries, among other things. In 1903, after several years operating their business in wood frame buildings, the two brothers built the building known as the Bauck Block at the corner of West Main Street and Second Avenue SW.

The building was erected at a cost of $18,000. A few years after the building was completed, the brothers decided to dissolve the partnership, with Fred taking the hardware business and Henry the grocery and dry goods business.


A news item from the March 6, 1913 edition of the Perham Enterprise reads:  Henry Bauck left for Canada where he will take up land.

Fred, however, expanded the hardware business and began selling farm implements and cars – Page, Reo, KRIT – and in 1917 added the Chevrolet line. He also began dealing in alfalfa, clover and related seed buying, cleaning, and selling.

Fred was active in community and church affairs, serving for a time as mayor. He was also a volunteer fireman from the early years onward. Fred died on July 4. 1931.

Fred’s oldest son, Ed, had been working with him in the automobile business and continued after his father’s death. Another son, Erv, managed the hardware and seed business for two years, at which time a third son, George, the youngest, took over the operation continuing in the same spot in the Bauck Block.

In 1963, George changed the store from a hardware business to a paint and supply business. In 1970, he sold the seed operation to Perco, Inc. of Perham.

In 1935, the older brother, Ed, added a school bus operation to his automobile business. In 1947, he built a new building for his dealership at 235 W. Main St. The Oldsmobile line was added in 1954. Ed died in 1962, at the same age as his father, 59.


Information for this article was taken in part from the East Otter Tail History Book, Volume I, 1977, now available online at  Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.


June 10, 2015

Merchants of Perham – Vin-cent Drahmann

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Vincent Henry Drahmann was born in Perham on May 13, 1887, the son of John Bernard and (Mary) Elizabeth Goecke Drahmann.

John Drahmann was one the first merchants of Perham, buying out his brother Henry Drahmann and John Barney Kemper and Henry Kemper who had first built a small frame store near Rush Lake.  They moved it to Perham in 1867 when the coming of the railroad made it likely that the small settlement was to soon become a bustling community.

Later, the wood frame building was replaced by a sturdy, large, yellow brick structure known as Drahmann’s Store.  When John B. Drahmann he died in 1907, at the age of 53, the business was taken over by his sons. Leo and Vincent Drahmann operated the general merchandise store from 1907 to 1964.


By the time the business was discontinued on Oct. 10, 1964, Drahmann’s Store had been in existence a total of 97 years. The grocery department had been closed out in 1959, and the entire building devoted to dry goods after that time.

Vincent H. Drahmann was married to Louise Speiser on May 14, 1912.   At that time he was already a busy merchant and continued to be so until his retirement some 50 years later. Besides the grocery business, he was active in community affairs, being chairman of the Perham Public School Board, and first president of the Perham Advancement Club which later became the Perham Chamber of Commerce.

He spent long hours on the road committee and was instrumental in getting adequate roads built in the Perham area. About 1920, he and his brother Leo, who was managing the dry goods department of the store, went into the potato raising business on the prairie just outside of Perham. Growing, storing and shipping potatoes became a thriving sideline for the Drahmann brothers for some years.

Vincent Drahmann was a lifetime member of St. Henry’s Catholic Church (which, incidentally, is a replica of the church in St. Henry, Ohio from where many Perham area pioneers came) and a long-time member of the Knights of Columbus and St. Henry’s Society.

Vincent and Louise Speiser Drahmann were the parents of seven children. Catherine Louise, born in 1922, was bookkeeper in Drahmann’s store for many years and the first librarian of the Perham Library. She still lives in Perham.

Vince Drahmann died in 1979. He lived from the horse and buggy days, when there were no cars, airplanes, radios, television, telephones and countless other conveniences, to well into the computerized age and the spectacular event of the landing of man on the moon. His business experience went through bad times and good, from the barter stage to the supermarket era.

The Drahmann building, home of Perham’s first general merchandise business, was razed in 1976.


Information for this article was taken in part from material submitted by Catherine Drahmann for the East Otter Tail History Book, Volume I, 1977, now available online at   Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.