This tale starts in Park Rapids, where we lived in a log cabin, back behind Pickerel Lake.
My dad earned a living in those days by owning a dray line. A dray line was a freight-hauling company. No trucks – it was all done with horses, wagons, bobsleds and lots of time. Everything, long ago, took a long time.
Horses were a big part of our lives in those days. County State Aid Hwy. 4 was just a wagon trail.
My dad would leave Park Rapids with a load of freight. First stop was Emmaville, a sleepover. The road then went around the back side of Lake George – not around the front, like now. The road left Lake George and came out about four miles north of Kabekona corner, joining the road to Bemidji. The next leg went to Walker. From there, at last, Dad started his final leg back to Park Rapids.
This trip took anywhere from three-and-a-half days to five- and-a-half days. The time depended on where he dropped off or picked up freight.
He would use two horses on some trips, up to eight horses and two wagons hooked to each other on others.
My dad was really good with those horses. He could take a rein and pop a fly off the lead horse – that’s a long way when you are driving an eight-horse team. He could do that without touching another horse.
I know most of you have never driven an eight-horse team, so let me tell you, it is very difficult. First, you have to hold four leather reins in each hand. You do that by putting one rein between each finger on both hands. To pop that fly, you first have to put all the reins in one hand, then with the other hand, take one rein and pop that fly.
This “Tale of the North” should make you realize how easy we have it today.
As I said, horses were a big part of our lives. My brothers and I had two small ponies named Tim and Trixee.
We went to a one-room school called Lake Emma School. We had to walk about two miles to school.
In the wintertime, the bobcats would circle us as we walked to school. I was scared to death; I would hang onto my oldest brothers’ pants leg. For our protection, he carried a .22-gauge rifle to school.
We were all sitting in school one day. Our two ponies had gotten out of their pen and came running by the school. We could see them out the window.
My brothers and I jumped up and ran out the door, chasing those ponies. Well, we caught them, then came home leading those horses. The teacher was there with my father. Both were very mad. When the teacher left, my father gave us a very good lesson in things we shouldn’t do. This lesson started near the seat and worked its way up to our brain.
A storyteller, John Zentz, 87, will share a blend of fact and fiction in his bimonthly column. Some tales he’s lived through, some he’s been told. Zentz and his family are longtime Hubbard County residents. He has a picture of his grandmother and grandfather, seven times removed, sitting on a porch in Park Rapids.