Thursday, August 1, 2013

Odds & Ends

When we signed into our campground in Bemidji, Vicki grabbed a handful of brochures for local attractions we might be interested in. One of these was for the Rapid River Logging Camp in Park Rapids, a little town about an hour south of Bemidji. The brochure went something like this: "Trade an hour of your life today for an hour of life in the 19th century.  See the logs being floated and hear the sounds of the sawmill." Then it goes on to talk about how the logging camps with the best food attracted the best lumberjacks and blah, blah, blah… "come and eat at our logging camp cookhouse, all-you-can-eat always served family style."  So I had visions of a working logging operation with people in period costumes and a waterpowered sawmill, etc.
A couple of old buildings and the cook shack.

Family style
Well, it turns out the only working part was the cookhouse. It was basically just a restaurant set up in what may or may not have been an old logging camp. There were a couple of log cabins and two or three pieces of antique equipment on display, but if you wanted to hear the screech of the sawmill you would need a really vivid imagination. Inside the cookhouse were about 12 rows of picnic type tables laid out with tin plates and cups. Instead of setting up a buffet, they bring you an assortment of side dishes and ask you what kind of meat you want, the choices being ribs, chicken, roast beef, roast pork or baked ham. They then bring you out a metal platter full of meat and they will keep on doing this until you surrender. We tried a little of everything except the ham. The ribs were really good, as was the roast beef. The chicken tasted suspiciously like "Shake 'n Bake".  Overall it was a pretty good meal at a reasonable price but I wouldn't have driven an hour for it if I'd known there weren't going to be any lumberjacks.

Officers Quarters
One of the programs of the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR's program for young men to go do makework projects for the federal government under the condition that they promised to send most of their meager pay back to their families. They got room and board plus $30 a month of which they got to keep $5. If you have ever been to any National or even State Park, you have likely seen some of their handiwork. From 1933 until 1942 they build lodges, rest houses, picnic areas, roads,
Mess hall
bridges, fire watchtowers and much more. At a time when large portions of our country had been deforested by the lumber companies, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted 3 billion trees.

In the Chippewa National Forest sits one of the few remaining CCC sites, Camp Rabideau. Most of these camps were either torn down or left to rot when the program ended in 1942. The buildings were all prefabricated so that they could be put up quickly when the camp was established and were built on posts, like a backyard deck instead of any kind of solid foundation. They were never really intended
Vicki lined up for chow
to last for more than a few years. Camp Rabideau however was usurped by the University of Illinois and used as part of their forestry program from 1946 until 1972. By that time the buildings were significantly deteriorating and becoming unsafe. Fortunately, the state of Minnesota became aware that by that late date they had one of the very few remaining CCC camps in the whole country and took steps to preserve what was left.

The camp was set up like an old-style military camp (probably because it was run by the Army) with workers barracks, officers quarters, a community mess hall and a small "hospital" which was really more of a dispensary since anyone who became significantly ill got shipped to the Army base at St. Paul. There are only about four buildings you can actually go into, but we visited the mess hall and the hospital and roamed the grounds for a couple of hours.

Rest house at Scenic State Park
At Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minnesota you can see one of the fruits of their labors. This is a log rest house designed to give people who visit the park someplace to get in and out of the rain and weather. It has a fireplace and they keep a supply of wood so people can light a fire if they want to. There are tables and benches which were made by the CCC out of sort of whatever was at hand. You can see these original pieces of wood furniture still present in the rest house. 80 years later, it is still doing yeoman's duty.
Interior.  Note scrap wood furniture

One of the things that we noticed in Minnesota was a dearth of visible wildlife. After spending hours driving through heavily wooded "scenic byways" and "wilderness" after five days we had not seen anything bigger than a squirrel. Finally on Saturday we saw a deer. Unfortunately, it was lying dead by the side of the road and was being picked over by several birds, one of which looked like this.

Deer scavenger

As we drove by, he flew up into a tree and watched us. We pulled off about 30 yards down the road and got our cameras out. After a few minutes, he got impatient and made a couple of swooping passes at us, possibly hoping he could scare us off. When we didn't budge, he gave up and flapped away over the trees and out of sight.

Our last day in the Bemidji area we drove to "Big Bog", the largest peat bog in the United States. We hiked out onto the bog on a raised walkway. You are not allowed to leave the walkway and the vegetation was so dense we couldn't see more than about 3 feet on either side. Vicki thought it was fascinating, but I do not particularly recommend hiking the Big Bog. It's full of Big Bugs.  However, on the drive back, I got this picture so it was at least somewhat worthwhile.
Barn and mustard field

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