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August 21, 2014

Oil era: 47 years of Nundahl Oil

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In 1945, Bernie Nundahl Sr. and his wife, Sadie, came to Perham from Minneapolis, Minn., and purchased the Phillips 66 Station and bulk plant from Ziegler and Johnson. Bernie’s goal was to sell more than a million gallons of gas and fuel in a year.

With four road constructions going and much farm trade, the heating fuel and gas pumps at the station were kept active from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., making that dream come true.

Nundahl Oil was the first Perham dealer to install a metering system on their delivery trucks. As distributors, they supplied many of the Philips 66 dealers in the area and also supplied aviation fuel to Park Rapids, New York Mills, Wadena, Henning, Evansville, Detroit Lakes and Perham – where they had pumps and tanks at the airport. The shop at the station was a busy place, with repairs, tires and oil sales.

After serving three years in the Navy, Bernie Jr. joined his father in the business in 1946. Bernie Sr. retired in 1952, selling the business and leasing the station to his sons, Bernie Jr. and Vernon.

At this time, Ed Beringer became a partner. Bernie Sr. died in April 1954, at the age of 48. Ed Beringer retired in 1971, to recover from a heart attack, and moved to California. Vernon worked part-time at the Perham Post Office, eventually selling his share of the partnership to Bernie Jr.

In 1979, the Nundahl Oil building at West Main was purchased by Bauck Chevrolet. The business was moved to 210 E. Main, where Bernie Jr. and his wife, Jan, continued to operate the station along with the bulk plant (which had relocated to the industrial park).

Bernie Jr. and Jan retired in January 1992, ending the Nundahl Oil Company era after 47 years.

Bernie Nundahl submitted this information for the “1994 East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. An exhibit about the early gas stations of Perham is currently on display at the History Museum.

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August 14, 2014

The Palubicki merchants

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In the early 1900s, Jacob Palubicki and his brother John started a business in Perham, selling general merchandise and groceries at the corner of West Main and 2nd Avenue SW. In 1913, John moved to Montana, but “Jake” continued in business until he sold out in 1930 due to illness.

After finishing high school and two years of college, Jake’s son, Bernard, got the urge to follow in his father’s footsteps. He bought the Red and White Grocery in the Bauck building from Leon Ceynowa in 1937, taking on the Red Owl franchise in 1938.

Adjoining the Red Owl was the Perham Department Store, owned by Bernard’s aunt, Ann Mohr, who was also his bookkeeper.

In 1959, Bernard and his wife, Esther, took on an extensive remodeling project, expanding and converting their store into a modern “self-service” supermarket. They absorbed the area formerly occupied by the Perham Department Store and Bauck’s Hardware storage, plus a new warehouse addition in back of the Bauck building. The Red Owl corporation honored the Palubickis via KCMT-TV in conjunction with their grand opening in October 1959.

In the 1970s the Palubicki Red Owl was recognized for operating one of the top three meat departments in the Red Owl firm’s 300-store territory. Norbert Mikula was the meat department manager for 15 years.

In 1971, after four years of college and three years in the U.S. Army, Bernard’s son, Dick, returned to Perham and joined his father, taking over as owner in 1974. Dick and his wife, Karen, ran the store until the Red Owl Corporation was bought out by Super Valu in 1988. Due to this change, and the lack of customer parking, Dick sold the business and became owner of the Super 8 Motel. He also became part owner and manager of the Super America gas station and convenience store in Perham.

Bernard’s youngest son, James, was also in the retail food business, in Fosston, Minn.

Merchandising was an important part of the career of Palubicki’s daughter, Ann Marie. She and her husband, Bill Hughes, owned and operated the Hughes Department store for many years on Main Street, in the location now occupied by Lakes Café.

Bernard’s youngest brother, Michael, was also a food retailer. After serving with the U.S. Army in World War II, he returned to Perham and spent a few years learning the grocery business from Bernard. In 1949, with Bernard’s help, he bought the Red Owl in Aitkin, Minn. and operated it until his death in 1970.

Mike’s widow, Marge (Pawlowski), with the help of their sons Greg and Phil, continued in business and eventually built a modern new supermarket. After Marge’s death in 1978, Greg took over the Aitkin store and Phil bought the Red Owl in International Falls.

“Jake” would have been proud to see so many of his descendants inheriting his business ability.

Bernard and Esther Palubicki submitted this information for the “1994 East Otter Tail History Book, Volume II.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

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July 31, 2014

The founding of German Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

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The first meeting of the German Mutual Fire Insurance Company was held in Perham on July 22, 1895. Franz Wasche was elected chair, Karl Alstadt elected secretary, and they, along with three others (Diederick Sieling, John Krekelberg and Albert Zitzow) formed a committee to draw up the by-laws.

At their second meeting, the following were elected to the board: Jacob Jung, president; Karl Alstadt, secretary; Andrew Dietlein, treasurer; and board members Frank Wasche, Joseph Nau, Martin Fiedler and F.D. Seiling.

The original area of operations included 10 townships. The board set the following limits of coverage: horses $70, oxen $20, cows $15 and sheep $1.50 per head. The premium rate was set at 75 cents per $100 for five years, payable in advance. This came to 15 cents per $100 of coverage per year.

The treasurer’s books show receipts beginning with January of 1896. The first loss paid was paid to Karl Alstadt on Sept. 5, 1896 for the loss of his cow to lightning. The first fire loss was paid Aug. 17, 1897, to Franziskar Alzheimer, for a dwelling loss in the amount of $310. The first directors of the company were paid $1.50 per day. The secretary received 50 cents per policy issued and the president received 3 cents per signature. Agents were paid $1 for each application.

Up until December 1931, the minutes and records of the mutual were written in the German language. (In 1977, these books were at the Lake Region Mutual Insurance Company office in New York Mills.) The name of the company was changed at the annual meeting in 1953, from the German Mutual Fire Insurance Company to the Perham Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The area of coverage increased to 45 townships and the rate of premiums to 20 cents, or 2 mills.

In 1960, Perham Mutual and Finnish Township Mutual merged to form the Lake Region Mutual Insurance Company. In 1964, Hubbard County Mutual merged with Lake Region and the area of operation grew to cover 146 townships in seven counties: Otter Tail, Wadena, Becker, Hubbard, Cass, Beltrami and Todd. On Jan. 1, 1997, Flom Mutual merged with Lake Region Mutual of New York Mills to form the Flom Region Mutual Insurance Company.

It now operates in a 10-county area within a 90 mile radius from Flom, Minn., with agents in Perham and New York Mills at United Community and Farmers Merchant Agency. Policy holders now number over 3,000, with an insured value of property in excess of $500 million dollars.

The above includes information from “The History of East Otter Tail County, Volume I, 1977.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

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July 25, 2014

Famous people of Perham past: Sam Wallace

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Sam Wallace was one of the most unique and interesting characters that Otter Tail County has ever known. He was a pioneer of Corliss Township, coming from Scotland in the early 1880s.

He and his wife were the first European settlers northwest of the Toad River for 200 miles. Logging was a big industry in the early days. For seven winters, Wallace was a cook in the logging camps. In 1883, he was employed by A. Pelton as a timekeeper on the first large drive to Winnipeg. After that, he took to farming and built a large barn, of which he was particularly proud. Sam was always a writer and a thinker, and was very active in politics.

He was a Populist when the People’s Party flourished in Minnesota in the early 1900s. Ten years later, he was a Socialist, welcoming the Non-Partisan League in 1916. Later, he became an ardent champion of the Farmer-Labor Party. Sam didn’t believe in hiding his lamp under a bushel. At every Non-Partisan League or Farmer Labor picnic held within 30 miles of Corliss Township, his Scotch voice could be heard, strong and clear, either in speech or song (for he was as good a singer as he was a speaker and writer).

Sam’s body was rather small, but his soul and spirit were large. He was honest, sincere, courageous, and to know him was to love him. Born in 1854, he had been married three times and was the father of 21 children. At the time of his death at the age of 93, he had 36 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Virginia Wallace, a descendant (by marriage) spent years at the History Museum of East Otter Tail County compiling extensive research on Sam Wallace.

The above information is from “The History of East Otter Tail County, Volume I, 1977.” Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

History,Perham

March 13, 2014

St. James Hospital cared for 40,000 patients

The St. James Hospital stood at the corner of Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue SW in Perham for more than 90 years.

Built in 1902 at the request of Dr. Frank Brabec, it was constructed of yellow brick from a local brickyard owned by August Haut. Many turn-of-the-century buildings in Perham were built from this yellow brick, and a few still remain.

The St. James Hospital was built by the Franciscan Sisters, whose primary concern was function. Nonetheless, the structure had a pleasing symmetry, and the bricklayer, named Alex Nelson, topped each window with a graceful arch.

Above the main entrance was a bell tower. The bell was used to summon the doctor who lived across town. In 1925, a new wing was added to the building, which botched the original symmetry but greatly increased the ability of the hospital to serve the growing area. The 60-foot addition contained an elevator and many other modern features of the day. This addition was also built by Alex Nelson.

The hospital served the village of Perham and surrounding communities for more than 50 years. Although it was managed by the Franciscan Sisters, it was described in Mason’s History of Otter Tail County as “a public institution, being maintained by donations from Catholics and their friends for the benefit of the public generally irrespective of religious beliefs.”

The building contained 70 rooms and was always filled. By the late 1950s, it was necessary to build a new hospital to conform to the burgeoning regulations for medical facilities. St. James became a home for the aged. It continued to be staffed by the Franciscan Sisters until, finally, they gave the St. James building, land, and a cash donation to the community.

Once a new nursing home was built, the St. James building was left vacant (except for storage of medical records and supplies). In 1989, hospital district representatives voted to demolish St. James, but delayed doing so at the request of local citizens and because of a lack of money. It was eventually demolished in 1993.

St. James Hospital played an important role in the history of healthcare in the Perham community. During the half-century that it flourished, it cared for close to 40,000 patients.

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

Forgotten Towns,History,New York Mills

February 27, 2014

Following the Northern Pacific Railroad through Otter Tail County

In the mid to late 1800s, the Northern Pacific railroad platted towns along its tracks in order to draw more business to the railroad. The first town platted by the railroad, entering Otter Tail County from the east, was Bluffton. It was platted by A.M. Arling for the proprietor, C.M. Maltby in 1880 and recorded in March of that year.  Charley Maltby also established a grist mill in the town, which accounted for its rapid growth. In the early 1870s, its population was larger than that of Wadena.

Next up the line was Topelius, also spelled Dopelius. It was located about four miles east of New York Mills and had a depot that was open day and night. Further on was Boardman, the first village platted in Newton Township. It was located on the Northern Pacific railroad in Section 7 and its plat recorded in 1880. Being that New York Mills was laid out one-half mile from Boardman, it was eventually enveloped and lost its identity and became a part of New York Mills, which was platted in 1883.

New York Mills had been named by Dr. Van Aerman and his two partners, Olcot P. Boardman and George L. Cornwell, who built their sawmill in Section 8, the present town site. The first car lot shipment of material hauled by the railroad was supplies for their saw mill.

Richdale, which was a few miles west, was located in Section 33, where the railroad crossed Pine Lake Township.  It was platted in 1899 by George A. Burbank for Albert and Augusta Boedigheimer. It was originally platted as Richland, but due to another town by that name, it was changed to Richdale.

Coming next:  Perham and westward on the Northern Pacific railroad line.

History,Perham

February 20, 2014

Perham hospitals vital to the community

Dr. Frank J. Brabec came to Perham in 1893. He first established his office over the old Kemper Drug store, adding a small operating room in which to do surgery. As his practice grew, he utilized the space over an old tavern and then persuaded a Mrs. Price to build him a hospital downtown next to the Bauck store. Dr. Brabec’s practice soon outgrew these quarters and the doctor appealed to the Franciscan Sisters to build a much needed hospital in Perham.

The St. James Hospital was built in 1902 at the corner of 5th Street and 6th Avenue. Brabec was responsible for the 45-degree angle of the building. It, like the home he built for himself on the north side of town, was set on a true north axis, to get maximum light exposure. For years, they were the only two buildings in town to have this orientation. The rest of the community is aligned with the railroad tracks which run northwest to southeast. The St. James Hospital played an important role in the history of health care in the community, and was the cornerstone on which today’s hospital is built. During the half-century that it flourished, it cared for close to 40,000 patients. Many are still alive and many more remember loved ones among those numbers. Dr. Brabec died in 1950.

Over time, medical technology and population growth outpaced its ability to function as a modern hospital. The hospital remained until 1993, and then it was demolished. Many artifacts were rescued from the building prior to demolition. They have been catalogued and archived by the History Museum of East Otter Tail with larger items stored at the Pioneer Grounds.

History,Ottertail

February 6, 2014

History of the ‘Red River of the North’

Sometimes called the Red River of the North, the Otter Tail River is considered by many to be one of Minnesota’s most beautiful streams.

The river begins in Big Rock Lake in southern Clearwater County and travels southward 200 miles until it reaches its junction with the Bois de Sioux, where it empties into the Red River and then flows north to the Arctic Ocean. At the railroad crossing near Perham, the river is 1,343 feet above sea level.

Before the glaciers melted, and Lake Agassiz dried up, the river flowed south into the Mississippi watershed. Many of its fish are similar to those in the tributaries of the Minnesota River. There are six species of fish and two species of mussels that have been found in the Otter Tail River and nowhere else in the Red River system. Some unique residents of the Otter Tail River include the Fresh Water Sponge, Northern Hog Sucker, Least Darter and Pug-nosed Shiner.

Because the Otter Tail River passes repeatedly from lake to wild rice marsh and back to stream, it may be the best naturally regulated waterway in the state. Mussels are important as an alarm system for the health of a river. They are filter feeders, siphoning nutrients out of flowing water and cleaning streams in the process. A drop off in a local mussel population is the first sign that water quality is deteriorating.

There are many species of mussels. Some live more than 50 years. The Otter Tail River has the highest density of mussels in the state. Mussels are a popular food source for fishes, muskrats, raccoons and otters. Mussels are a protected species and harvesting is illegal.

Early settlers used the power of the river for grist mills and sawmills. The Craigie Mill near Otter Tail Lake and the Thomas Mill (now Phelps Mill) are both historic sites. Lumberjacks cut trees and used the river to transport the logs to Winnipeg, Canada.

In 1907, the first hydroelectric dam was built on the river. The site was Dayton Hollow, a historic ford used by the Red River oxcarts. In time, five dams were developed by Otter Tail Power to harness the potential power of the river.

From 1936 to 1941, the Department of Conservation restored 63 lakes in Otter Tail County by building many small dams at the outlets of lakes to control water levels.

The turbulent rapids of the Otter Tail River that caused problems for the early voyageurs created a unique habitat for lake sturgeon, but since the construction of dams these fish have vanished. The DNR is now trying to reconnect the Otter Tail to the Red River by putting in “fishways.”

To discover more about the Otter Tail River, visit the displays at the History Museum of East Otter Tail County. Lina Belar is the founder and retired executive director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

Forgotten Towns,History

December 12, 2013

A tale of two saloon owners (and one dime)

In the early days, when grasshoppers were ravishing the country and business was dull, there were two saloons in Fergus Falls, both on Lincoln Avenue and about two blocks apart. One was kept by a Norwegian called John, the other by a Frenchman, Captain Dampier.

Trade was dead. Gloom settled down with the grasshoppers. Farmers were futilely fighting the pests and watching their crops disappear as the locusts, in myriads, marched over their fields.

Merchants sat waiting for customers that did not come, and the only place of activity in town was at Nichols and Dearborn’s drug store, where the everlasting game of checkers went on day and night.

The general inactivity seemed to get hold of even the dogs. The very hens, gorged with grasshoppers, refused to lay. Nothing is known to equal a locust raid for spreading gloom.

One morning, during this depressing period, John opened his saloon, stepped out front and looked on this scene of inactivity. Up and down the street, not a thing was moving. He returned inside and sat down to wait for the customer that did not come. The stillness and utter quietude got on his nerves. For lack of something better to do, he got up and went to the money drawer, thinking to count the cash receipts of yesterday. There he found only a lone 10-cent piece. The dime looked as lonesome as John felt. He put it back and waited.

After a time, he approached the till, took out the solitary dime and started down the street for Cap’s saloon. He found that to be as quiet and deserted as his own place of business. He bought a drink, paid for it with his only piece, and went back to his own saloon.

In Cap’s till there had been no cash at all before he made a deposit of John’s dime. This transaction encouraged Cap. Business was ‘picking up.’ In a short time, it occurred to Cap that he ought to reciprocate and patronize his competitor, so he took the dime and started for John’s place. There, he bought a drink, paying for it with this nimble piece.

In a little while, John, imbued with the same spirit of reciprocity, took the dime and started on a trek for Cap’s place, where he indulged in a libation equal in value to the whole volume of circulating medium in town. Soon Cap “reciprocated” some more, and so these business transactions continued throughout the day.

When night came, both felt happy, hilarious and prosperous. As they meandered up the street, each supported by the loving arms of the other, Cap said: “John, that’s what I call financiering. We both got full and it cost us only 10 cents. Can you beat it?”

This story and many more can be found in “History of Otter Tail County,” edited by John W. Mason, published in 1916. Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

Forgotten Towns,History

November 8, 2013

A bear hunt in the early days of Dora Township

Gust Fredholm left Sweden in the fall of 1880. After a few years in Wisconsin, he heard of a farm in Dora Township. He went to look at it and decided that this land of woods, lakes and hills was just what he wanted. In 1885, he sold his prairie farm and traveled by covered wagon to Dora Township. He married Christine Erickson and they had two children, Augusta and Carl.

On their farm, land was cleared. Cordwood and railroad ties were the sources of income, being hauled to Pelican Rapids, mostly across Lake Lida in the winter. Gust bought a team of very dependable horses. During the really bad snowstorms, he would depend on the horses to find the right road home, as there were many roads out on the big lake. When the snow was blowing hard, he couldn’t see any shoreline.

In the early days, people who drove with teams through the area would stop at the Fredholm home to feed and rest their teams, and would sometimes stay overnight.

Occasionally a bear would come walking through the area of the early settlers.

One windy fall day, when Gust returned to his plow, he found bear tracks in the newly-turned furrow. Along came a neighbor, Joe Jacobs, who’d been out squirrel hunting with his pedigreed bulldog and a .22 rifle. Gust showed him the tracks, the dog sniffed them, and away he went along the trail with his plow, followed by Jacobs, who thought they were just following a “‘coon.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t a raccoon they were following. The dog had a big black bear up the tree. Jacobs shot it, but he had only that one shell. Down the bear fell. It laid still a few minutes, then came back up.

Jacobs called, “Sic ‘em” for all he could. The dog took after the bear, biting him in the hind legs (a bulldog never knows defeat). Finally, the bear collapsed and died.

The hunters came back unhurt, but to get the bear out of there was another problem. Jacobs had horses and no suitable rig. (Horses, cattle and most animals, including most dogs, will not go near bears.)

So Mr. Jacobs decided to get a neighbor, Wm. Schimmelpfenig, who had a suitable rig and a team of oxen. The oxen were well trained, but someone had to hold onto them while others loaded the bear. The oxen galloped over the plowed field, up the hill, with the men barely managing to hang onto them until they reached their destination. Oxen never went so fast again.

The venturesome bear became a bear skin robe and bear steaks after a lucky hunting trip that ended happily for all (except for the bear).

This story and more can be found in the East Otter Tail County History books, available online at www.HistoryMuseumEOT.org. Lina Belar is the founder and former executive director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.