"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The life and times of Carl Christensen

Carl Christensen, entrepreneur and man of at least nine lives, moved up to the Northwoods in 1930. We will dedicate several blog posts to following his story, which he recorded on tape and which was subsequently typed up. Janelle and Annette recently uncovered it on the library's dusty shelves and have brought it to light. Here we'll enjoy a few excerpts, cleaned up a bit for easier reading!

Carl did his dictation in 1993. We hope you will come to enjoy his distinctive "voice" as much as we have.

I have to tell you how I came into Manitowish Waters in 1930. That’s 63 years ago. Height of the Depression and there was no work. I was a carpenter. No work, couldn’t get work, any kind.

I put an ad in the “Wisconsin Agriculture,” a magazine, saying that I would do carpenter work for anyone who wanted me for my room and board. Anyone that needed any remodeling or anything else, I would be willing to do it for my board and room. I got a letter from Chicago and we answered it. The letter writer had a resort up in Spider Lake Wisconsin [Manitowish Waters] on Rest Lake and he wanted someone that had a strong back to come up there and take care of it... I answered that letter and told him that I was just the guy he needed – I had a strong back and a weak mind. I got another letter from him that said to meet him at the Northwestern station in Racine. I had another partner that went along with me.

And who did we happen to meet but Joe Ilg from Chicago? He was a freight solicitor for the Canadian Northern Pacific. We had quite a chat, and he told me about the resort that he had up there and everything else. ... He was willing, if I would take it -- he would give me my clothes and my food and everything for the winter. Take care of it, then in the spring of the year I could go on a payroll as a caretaker. So we agreed to that but I says to him, I says, listen, I don’t have any money to buy gas or anything to get up in that country. So he gave me five dollars that was for gasoline ‘cause I had a ’28 Chevrolet coupe.

So we took off real early in the morning and we drove all that day and part of the night and we finally ended up at ... Ilg’s cottages. We found the place all right and Joe Ilg was there to meet us. So he showed us around the place and we had to stay in a cottage called Moccasin. So we got everything unloaded and in there. He showed us around the place and everything else that we had to do because he had a team of horses, two riding horses, and a cow. We had to feed them, take care of them and everything else that had to be done around there. So that was that week.

The next week he came up and he says, we’re going to go someplace else. So we hitched up the team to a sleigh and he took us way back in the marsh around Circle Lily. That was a tamarack marsh and a disease had killed off the tamaracks so all there was standing was a bunch of rampites [sic] there and a lot of logs. So he says what we want you to do, cause there was another fellow staying there, a friend of his was staying there, he was taking care of too because he was just as destitute as we were, and that partner of mine was along with me.

We were to cut tamarack, load them on the sleigh and haul them in for firewood across the ice on Rest Lake. So we broke a trail, marked it with cut off pines and limbs and that and marked the trail cause it would snow over every time we go over we could keep going in the same spot. So we did that all winter and we had an enormous, enormous pile of wood hauled in by spring time. We never knew that we were not allowed to go in there, but he never said anything about it. We just kept cutting and cutting, hauling and cutting and hauling. So in the spring we had to get the buzz saw going and saw all that stuff into wood, short wood, and we had a mammoth pile of short sixteen inch stove wood and there were some nice logs in there.

Then Joe decided that he wanted a log cabin. So we picked out all the nicest logs that we could find in that pile, put them aside, and we were going to use them to build a log cabin. Which worked out all right.

Then when spring came he put me on wages, thirty dollars a month and my board and room. So that was all right, so I worked and I built cottages and repaired cottages, fixed the cottages he had and everything else and put an addition on his main house out of logs but they were all different logs. We had to get them selected logs and put them on. I think I built an oil house for him and I also built another cottage for him. Some frame cottages I built for him. I worked for him all that summer.

Winter came on. He still kept me on wages of thirty dollars a month. So come spring next year, we had more building work and repair work to do and fix this and everything else and he wanted to plant some corn and that. So he had a piece of land that was over off of 51 near Pete Vance’s old house and we tilled that all up and planted corn in there and everything else and he had a big garden spot in the back and we put garden stuff in there, corn and everything. And then when hay time came then we went out on the big Powell Marsh and mowed that swamp grass, what do you call it, it’s a long leaf swamp grass. And hauled home loads and loads and loads of that and made stacks and that was to feed the cattle.

1 comment:

  1. My name is Roger Burk (Wausau). My father-in-law was Ben Hafeman and he was working in the Circle Lily Lodge area in the early 1930's with friends Laffin (no last name) . John Dilinger and his gang came up there (Little Bohemia) and Ben and friends made snow shoes and shot deer for the Dillingers. Believe it or nor I saw a picture (in 1955) of Ben with John Dillinger's arm around Ben. I was going with Ben's daughter Darlene (still married to her) and present when I saw Darlene show the picture to her dad. When he saw it he exploded and tore the John Dillinger half off and threw it away. He was afraid someone from Chicago would see it and go after his daughters. We couldn't believe what he had just done!