Superior’s Berger Hardware

The narrow aisles and crowded counters behind Berger Hardware owner Sam Berger serve to support his advertising slogan, “The store that has everything.” This photo is from January 1983. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

This hardware store really does have everything

News-Tribune, January 24, 1983

Sam Berger is a chip off the old block – and so is the hardware store he owns in Superior.

Berger has spent most of his life, starting as a youngster, in the business his father opened in 1915. And like his father, who worked at the store until he died five years ago, Sam Berger has kept the Berger Hardware of today just like the Berger Hardware of yesteryear.

It stocks hardware and household items that can be found on the shelves at most of his competitors, from neighborhood hardware stores to the supermarket-style home-building centers.

But what Sam Berger, and before him Morris Berger, have done is retain the atmosphere of a hardware store of decades ago – complete with merchandise that may have been on the display shelves and counters 10 to even 40 years ago. Tucked away in corners, on shelving, hanging from the walls and ceiling are such items as handles for walking plows, horse collars, blacksmith tools, two-man saws, milk cans and plumbing and building supplies of another era.

Sam Berger knows what’s in the store at 525 Tower Ave. and, despite its old-time flavor, he’s an astute businessman. If Berger Hardware doesn’t have what a customer wants, he’ll try to locate it by telephone from some other hardware store owner or supplier from among a list of connections he’s made over the years.

“You can call Berger Hardware the store that has everything,” Sam Berger says in his astute businessman’s sales pitch. “Everything but money, that is.”

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Sam Berger, who took over the hardware business founded in Superior by his father, makes some long-distance phone calls to locate a hard-to-find item sought by a customer in January 1983. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Sam Berger died in 1993, and the store passed to his son, Charles. Charles Berger suffered some health problems and sold the store to Jim Kremer in May 1994. Kremer ran the store for about three years, but was plagued by the lack of a inventory or organization of all the store’s merchandise. He closed the store, and the contents were auctioned off in March 1999. Here’s the story from the March 19, 1999, News-Tribune…

Eager bidders eye a spool of rope up for auction at the old Berger Hardware in Superior on March 18, 1999. People came to the auction from all over the area, including small groups of Amish from southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

FOLKS HAVE SOFT SPOT FOR LONGTIME HARDWARE STORE

BARGAIN HUNTERS FROM REGION, FAR AWAY REMINISCE, PICK UP TOOLS AT BERGER AUCTION

By Candace Renalls, News-Tribune

They came to Superior’s North End by the hundreds Thursday for good buys and rare finds as Berger Hardware’s massive inventory began being auctioned off.

With it goes the end of an era.

The old-fashioned store at 525 Tower Ave., a North End fixture since 1915, had long been known as THE place to go in the Twin Ports for odd pieces of hardware, no matter how old or obscure.

On Thursday, bidders wearing serious expressions, crowded around the auctioneer’s truck on a closed stretch of North Sixth Street as item by item, box by box, pile by pile, the inventory began to shrink.

Items sold quickly — 100 pounds of rope, pick ax handles, cross-cut saws, rolls of wire, old boat anchors, large steel shelving units used in Berger’s warehouse.

By 12:30 p.m., two hours after the auction began, about 260 people from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ontario had registered as bidders. The auction continues today and Saturday, then resumes next Friday and Saturday.

For $25, Jim Jamaouski of Esko bought caulking compound, a bunch of nuts and bolts and some rubber belting. For years, the 56-year-old farmer had been a regular customer at the store.

“It had a little bit of everything,” he said. “You could get stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else.”

The cash register inside the old Berger Hardware in Superior, seen here in March 1999, had been around since at least the 1950s.(Bob King / News-Tribune)

Among those who turned out Thursday were members of various Amish communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota who read about the store and auction in “Country Today,” a weekly farm newspaper.

Emery Hershberger of Harmony, Minn., was one of them.

“I’m interested in things we still use, like stainless steel milk strainers for straining cow’s milk,” said Hershberger, 28, who came to Superior with his nephew.

Jim Kremer, the store’s owner, said he intentionally tried to reach Amish communities with news of the auction.

“They’re looking for old hand drills, horse harness buckles, snaps, some buggy whip holders and braces for buckboards,” Kremer said.

And Berger Hardware had them, as well as an abundance of other hard-to-find items, some still in the boxes they came in more than 50 years ago.

The store, with its squeaky wooden floors and decades-old display cases, was founded by Morris Berger in 1915 in the tradition of a general store.

He’d buy in volume to get a better price. He’d go to auctions and buy in bulk, rapidly filling his storage space.

When Berger died in 1978, his son Sam took over the business.

The jam-packed store had it all, from horse harness buckles to hand plows, from turn-of-the-century coffee pots to globes for old ceiling lights, from 2-inch drill bits to old door knobs.

“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” Sam Berger used to say.

Sam Berger ran the business until he died in 1993 while sitting at his office desk. His son, Charles, left his chiropractic practice in St. Louis to take over the family business. But health problems forced him to sell the following year.

Jim Kremer at Berger Hardware in Superior in June 1994, shortly after he bought the iconic store. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Kremer, a former owner of Kremer Disposal of Superior, bought Berger Hardware in 1994. But finding merchandise seemingly placed randomly on shelves and stacked in storage was a challenge.

The Bergers kept no stock charts or inventory lists. They just knew what they had and where it was.

“Surprisingly, I got to where I could stumble around and find what I was looking for,” Kremer said.

But after running the operation for three years, Kremer tired of the hardware business. He closed the store 1 1/2 years ago. But the merchandise remained, filling the building’s three floors, basement and next-door warehouse.

“I loved the place,” Kremer said. “I appreciate some of the old stuff. But it started getting to me. It just isn’t my line of work.”

The entire stock is being auctioned off, along with display cases, office furniture and storage shelves. The building is up for sale, with an asking price of $185,000.

Sam Pomush, who says he practically grew up in the store, couldn’t resist showing up Thursday.

“I just had to come back and reminisce,” he said with a big grin.

“It was like a menagerie,” said the 52-year-old Pomush, who grew up in the North End. “Anything you wanted you could buy here.”

He pointed to a corner of the store and said, “Every kind of screw you’d ever want was there.”

He recalled the row of Schwinn bikes that used to be in the basement and the pans that lumberjacks used for cooking. He remembered well the turn-of-the-century safe and old cash register that soon will be sold.

“The store never changed,” he said, adding that that’s what made it special.

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The building that housed Berger Hardware has since been home to several restaurants, including Mama Get’s and, currently, Marlee’s Caribbean Restaurant.

UMD art student Matt Palmer browses through Berger Hardware in Superior to find art supplies  on June 1, 1993. (Clara Wu / News-Tribune)

Share your memories of Berger Hardware by posting a comment.

36th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Today, Nov. 10, 2011, is the 36th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in a November gale on Lake Superior.

Last year, on the 35th anniversary, I compiled a pretty extensive collection of photos and video related to the wreck. You can view that entry here.

I may try to dig up some more stuff to post later today, but in the meantime I’d suggest you look at last year’s post… and listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s famous song about the wreck, and think about the ship and crew on that stormy night – and all the other ships and crews that have been wrecked on the Great Lakes over the years:

 

Split Rock Lighthouse will host its annual beacon lighting and memorial service for the victims of the Fitzgerald wreck, and all Great Lakes wrecks, this afternoon. More information on the event is here.

Old aerial photos of downtown Superior

I found a couple of undated aerial photos of downtown Superior in the News Tribune files. They were taken by the News Tribune’s Earl Johnson, probably in the early 1960s – though if you see any clues in these that could help pinpoint the date, please post a comment.

The first two photos below are the original, complete images. Below them are a selection of zoomed-in views:

Do you have stories about the Beacon Theater or any of the other long-gone buildings visible in these images? Share your memories by posting a comment.

Anniversary of the 1991 Halloween megastorm

At 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, 1991, Duluth residents continued to dig out from the storm on East Seventh Street. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

NOTE: This post was compiled in 2011…
This week is the 20th anniversary of the Halloween megastorm, which ranks among the most severe – if not the most severe – winter storms to strike Minnesota and the Northland.

It certainly sits atop the snowfall record books for Duluth, having dumped nearly 37 inches of snow – 36.9 inches to be exact. That shattered the previous single-storm record by nearly a foot.

Copied below are two articles that ran in the News Tribune in October 2001, looking back at the storm on its 10th anniversary – one a chronological account of the storm’s sweep across the region, and the other a look at the meteorology of the blizzard. And there are more photos that ran in the News Tribune as the storm raged two decades ago; I apologize for the marks on the photos; they had to be photographed off microfilm because the original glossy prints have gone missing.

You can share your storm memories by posting a comment (click the “voice bubble” at the top right of this post). And if you have any storm photos to share, send them to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Traffic is sparse and pedestrians few on Superior Street in downtown Duluth as heavy snow falls on the morning of November 1, 1991. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

A BLIZZARD OF MEGASTORM MEMORIES

By Chuck Frederick, News-Tribune staff writer, October 2001

A little snow on the pumpkin — no biggie.

And that’s all it was.

At first.

Before it ended, though, the storm that hit Minnesota and then the Northland 10 years ago today would be the stuff of legend. It would even get its own nickname: the Halloween megastorm.

Decades-old records fell during the three-day winter blast. Duluth alone received more than a yard of snow. Across the state, blinding whiteouts hampered travel, cars slid into ditches, forecasters issued blizzard warnings, power outages darkened homes, principals closed more than 400 schools and owners shut down more than 500 businesses.

An estimated 190 million cubic feet of snow had to be plowed, shoveled and blown away by crews in Duluth.

Everyone was left with a story.

Cars lost under snowbanks. Kids sledding down suddenly deserted hillside avenues. Workers stranded. Snowmobilers in full glory. Weddings called off. Births that couldn’t be. And trick-or-treating. Did anyone make it to more than just a few houses that night?

The storm wound up clouding Duluth’s mayoral election, with supporters of one candidate charging that supporters of the other candidate were plowed out while they were forced to wait.

Who could ever forget it? Who’d ever want to? Here’s a look back at the largest snowstorm in Duluth history.

A group of current and former UMD students didn’t let the heavy snow deter them from enjoying an afternoon in a hot tub at a home on Second Street on Nov. 1, 1991. Clockwise from far right are Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala.  (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

THURSDAY, OCT. 31, 1991

7 a.m. — Railroad worker Tom Johnston of Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood wades into the Brule River in Northwestern Wisconsin. “The fish were literally jumping on the banks,” he reports. “I don’t know how many I caught, but it was a ton.”

1:30 p.m. — A light, fluffy, postcard-quality snow swirls across Duluth and parts of the Northland.

2 p.m. — With the snow just beginning and with winter weather advisories posted, Duluth’s Judy Rogers remembers an order of 120 tulip bulbs she received weeks earlier from a mail-order catalog. She hurries home from work at a travel agency, slips a snowsuit over her good clothes, and then sets out digging six-inch holes, one for each bulb. Motorists honk in support of her earnestness. “Better hurry up,” one of them shouts from East Superior Street.

3 p.m. — Snow begins to accumulate on the edges of roads, then in grassy areas. The storm strengthens.

4 p.m. — The Walter J. McCarthy, a 1,000-foot coal carrier that makes weekly trips from Superior to Michigan, sails toward Duluth. Unable to see the Aerial Lift Bridge through what is now a whiteout, the boat’s captain joins several others in deciding to anchor off-shore.

4:15 p.m. — Duluth angler Tom Johnston leaves the Brule River after a huge day of fishing. He trudges through the deepening snow and climbs into his truck. For several hours, he tries but fails to climb a hill that leads from the remote parking area back to the sleepy country road above. “I didn’t think I was going to make it home at all,” he said. “I thought I’d spend the night in my truck. It was scary.”

4:30 p.m. — Like other kids across the Northland, Bobbi Pirkola’s children bundle winter clothing under their Halloween costumes in Esko and prepare to set out for trick-or-treating.

4:45 p.m. — With the storm raging, the Pirkola children abandon their plans. Instead, they join Mom in shoveling the driveway. “I’m sure we made quite a picture,” Bobbi Pirkola said. “An ugly witch, an old bum and Rambo all out shoveling snow. It was one of the best Halloweens ever.”

5 p.m. — Emily Meyer, 3, sets out for trick-or-treating in her Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood, the long green fin of her Little Mermaid costume leaving a wake in the fresh snow behind her.

7:30 p.m. — Back along the shores of the Brule River, snowbound angler Tom Johnston perks up. Headlights. A 4-by-4 truck pulls into the parking lot where he’s been stuck for hours. “He broke trail for me,” Johnston said. “He crawled up that hill and I followed. I tried two or three times and finally, thankfully, I made it, too. Nowadays when it snows, I head home real quick.”

Rachel Armstrong of Duluth tries to dig her car out of deep snow on Nov. 1, 1991, during the worst of the Halloween megastorm. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

FRIDAY, NOV. 1, 1991

2 a.m. — Furniture topples and cabinets pour open aboard the 1,000-foot Walter J. McCarthy Jr. The boat rolls wildly in the storm, reports watchman John Clark of Duluth. The captain decides to pull up anchor and head for Thunder Bay, where he hopes there are calmer waters. “It was waist deep on the deck,” Clark said. “Sailors just aren’t used to moving around in that. It was awful.”

8 a.m. — Don Johnson steps into his Lakeside home’s attached garage and presses the garage door opener. A floor-to-ceiling wall of white fills the garage’s opening. “A snowblower would be useless,” he said. “Where would a person put the snow?”

8:15 a.m. — After weeks of praying for snow, Dorothy Carlson’s granddaughter is delighted as she makes her way to the breakfast table in Two Harbors. The eighth-grader is visiting from the Philippines, where her parents serve in the Navy. She had never seen snow. “Tina, you didn’t have to pray so hard,” her grandmother teasingly scolds.

8:30 a.m. — In Ely, Vermilion Community College student and football player Tim Myles fights through the storm to pick up a marriage license. He realizes there’s no way he and his fiancee will make it to the courthouse in Virginia for the ceremony.

11 a.m. — The phone rings in Marcella Von Goertz’s Hunters Park home. “How are you doing over there?” a voice comes from across the street. “Just fine,” Von Goertz answers, “as long as I have electricity, heat and telephone. Only I can’t get out of the house.” The front door is drifted shut.

11:15 a.m. — Betty Plaunt, the owner of the voice across the street, crawls over the snow piles with shovel in hand. She pokes holes in the snow like an ice angler. Then, an inch of snow at a time, she frees Von Goertz’s door from its tomb.

Noon — Gusts up to 60 mph whip the fresh snow. Nearly 4 1/2 additional inches fall during the morning, pushing the storm total past 13 inches, with no sign of letting up.

12:15 p.m. — With license in hand but no way to get to the courthouse in Virginia, Tim Myles calls churches around Ely. On the third call, he finds a pastor who agrees to perform the ceremony.

1 p.m. — Marti Switzer calls an ambulance to her Lincoln Park/West End home. Her 19-month old daughter Carleigh is lethargic and running a fever, likely a reaction to immunization shots the day before. But an ambulance can’t get through the snow. A pair of snowmobilers happen by and offer help. They go to the house and carry Switzer and her daughter back to the main road, where emergency personnel await. “I never did get to thank them,” Switzer said. “They may have saved my daughter’s life.”

3 p.m. — The best man and maid of honor both snowbound, Ely’s Tim Myles corrals two teammates from his college football team. The vows are exchanged — with a free safety as best man and a linebacker as maid of honor. The happy couple celebrates with Hot Pockets at the Holiday gas station, about the only business open. Theirs is one of only a few Northland weddings to go on despite the storm.

5:30 p.m. — With no stores open, restaurants operating with skeleton crews, and 300 guests in town for a tourist-railroad convention, Leo McDonnell of Duluth’s railroad museum finally makes arrangements for a family-style meal at the Chinese Lantern. His group sets out en masse from the Radisson Hotel a block away. But three women, all from Mississippi, refuse to go. “They were afraid,” McDonnell said. “They were afraid they’d fall into the snow and drown.”

6 p.m. — Storm in full gale with continuing high winds and more than 9 inches of fresh powder falling during the afternoon alone. Thunder crackles overhead and lightning flashes.

8:30 p.m. — With the storm whipping into a fury, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials scramble to choose a message for the flashing warning signs they have along Interstate 35. “How about I-35 parking lot,” plow driver Brad Miller jokes. “But that’s what it was,” said the department’s Wendy Frederickson, also on duty that night. “You looked out and it was this sea of white and then all these abandoned cars that looked like they just parked there.”

11:59 p.m. — An additional 5 1/2 inches of snow fall during the evening, stranding workers downtown and residents in their homes. Only four-wheel-drive vehicles move. And only on main roads as snowplow crews can only hope to keep main arteries open.

The front page of the Saturday, Nov. 2, 1991, Duluth News-Tribune, with coverage of the Halloween megastorm. My apologies for the creases – this copy had been folded and stored in a drawer for years. Click on the image for a larger view in which you can read the stories (you can click on most photos in Attic posts to enlarge them).

SATURDAY, NOV. 2, 1991

4 a.m. — Back in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood, the mother of “Little Mermaid” trick-or-treater Emily Meyer, Barb Meyer, awakens with a wave of sheet-ripping pain. The family’s expected baby decides it doesn’t want to miss the storm.

4:30 a.m. — With emergency lights flashing, a police 4-by-4 arrives at the Meyers’ home. A fire truck follows, then a snowplow, sanding truck and finally an ambulance. “Boy, they’ll do anything to get their road snowplowed,” a neighbor jokes.

5:30 a.m. — After more than a half hour of white-knuckle, siren-wailing driving, the ambulance with Barb Meyer and her soon-to-be-born baby arrives at St. Luke’s Hospital. The family realizes quickly theirs will be one of many storm-baby stories. The maternity ward is jammed with mothers about to give birth and with new mothers unable to be discharged because of the snow.

6 a.m. — Northland residents wake up and can’t believe their eyes. Nearly 4 more inches fall overnight as strong winds continue. Drifts reach the tops of grocery stores. Snowbound and abandoned cars make plowing difficult.

10 a.m. – Unable to drive in the deep snow, Dr. Niles Bartdorf arrives at St. Luke’s Hospital on cross-country skis to help deliver Barb and Ron Meyer’s new baby.

Noon — Two more inches of fresh snow fall during the morning hours. Residents emerge to shovel or to walk to stores for junk food.

12:15 p.m. — Fran Tollefson’s eyes fill with tears in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. Her husband, Dave, who had fallen off a paint ladder over the summer and suffered a life-threatening brain injury, is out blowing snow with his son. In that moment, she realizes for the first time he’ll be OK. “I hurried for my camera,” she said. “It was hard to see through the lens because my eyes were filled with tears.”

1:13 p.m. — Amy Meyer is born to Lincoln Park/West End couple Ron and Barb Meyer. The little girl is quickly nicknamed “Amy Storm” or simply “Stormy.”

6 p.m. — Nearly 2 1/2 inches of fresh snow fall during the afternoon.

11:59 p.m. — High winds continue, but the snow begins to taper. Less than half an inch of new snow falls during the evening.

There was a lot of digging out to do at Catlin Courts in Superior on Nov. 3, 1991, as the Halloween megastorm wound down. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

SUNDAY, NOV. 3, 1991

6 a.m. — Barely a trace of new snow falls overnight, marking an end to the Halloween megastorm and the beginning of the cleanup. Most streets are still impassable. Hundreds of snowbound cars are still buried.

1 p.m. — After three frustrating days of scrapped-and-updated forecasts, TV weatherman Collin Ventrella pays a group of college students a case of beer to dig his car out of a snowdrift. “Probably the best deal I’ve ever made,” he said.

Liz Howard’s coat bears a silent plea as she shovels out the front entrance of the Archer Building in Duluth’s Canal Park on Nov. 3, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

SIX MONTHS LATER

Barb Meyer wraps “Amy Storm” into her stroller and heads out on a spring walk along Lincoln Park Drive. A city of Duluth street-cleaning truck pulls up alongside her. “Was that the baby born during the megastorm?” the driver asks. “Yes,” Barb Meyer says. The driver beams. “I was the one driving the snowplow that night.”

NINE MONTHS LATER

The Birthplace at St. Mary’s Medical Center is very, very busy, reports nurse Holly Calantoc.

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Don Syring fixes the snowmobile he used to get from his Woodland home to IGA Foods on East Superior Street during the winter storm on Nov. 2, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune) 

THE MAKINGS OF A MEGASTORM

News-Tribune, October 2001

The Halloween megastorm wasn’t done after it dumped record amounts of snow on Duluth and the Twin Cities.

The 1991 storm was one of three that headed to the East Coast and produced the now-famous “perfect storm,” the one written about by Sebastian Junger and later turned into a feature film starring George Clooney.

Around here, it snowed like crazy because of a high pressure ridge across the eastern Great Lakes that held the storm in place for the better part of three days.

According to the National Weather Service, a low-pressure system roared north from Texas that week on a jet stream pointed straight at Minnesota. The weather system carried humidity, and tons of it, from the Gulf of Mexico.

When it reached Minnesota and then Duluth, the low-pressure system met a cold air mass moving south from the Canadian plains. Snow developed. It fell and just kept on falling, because the high-pressure ridge over the eastern Great Lakes was stubborn about letting it shake free.

With a Halloween pumpkin grinning behind him, Ben Bjoralt, 11, of Duluth, used a shovel to make a snow fort at a friend’s 21st Avenue East home on Saturday, Nov. 2, 1991. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

At least two feet of snow fell from a line just west of Mankato, through the Twin Cities to Duluth and finally to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Southeastern Minnesota was hit with a deadly ice storm. The Twin Cities got 28 inches of snow, topping the single-storm record there by eight inches.

Duluth also set records. With 36.9 inches of snow, the city easily topped the suddenly wimpy former single-storm mark of 25.4 inches. That one had been set in December 1950.

For the month, Duluth wound up receiving 50.1 inches. That easily iced the old snowiest November mark of 37.7 inches set in 1983.

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Click here for some additional interesting information about the Halloween megastorm from the National Weather Service in Duluth.

And, as mentioned up top, share your Halloween megastorm memories by posting a comment.

Superior shots from the ’60s

Here are a couple of photos of Superior from the 1960s from the News Tribune files; click on the photos for a larger view.

First up is one from May 1965, of the new Montgomery Ward store on Tower Avenue:

You can see the opening signs and some of the merchandise inside:

Montgomery Ward isn’t there any more, of course, but the remodeled building still stands on the east side of Tower Avenue in the block just north of Belknap. Horizons Travel occupies part of the building.

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The other Superior photo I have is this aerial view looking northwest over the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus – then Superior State College – in October 1966, taken by the News Tribune’s Earl Johnson:

The photo was taken to show the then-new Gates Physical Education Building, at lower left.

It’s interesting to compare this photo with a present-day map, to see how the campus has grown. Several streets in this photo, including a portion of N. 18th Street, have since been vacated to make way for new buildings.

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Share your memories by posting a comment. And share your old photos of Duluth and Superior by sending them to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Listening to Rawhide at Johnny’s Bar in Superior, 1981

November 1981

The crowd at Johnny’s Bar in Superior twirls to the sounds of Rawhide in November 1981. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Rawhide plays to tough crowd at Johnny’s

By Bob Ashenmacher, Duluth Herald staff writer

Parked in front of Johnny’s Bar in Superior on some nights is an old Comet Cyclone, red except for one black door.

The car has that sexy boxy shape; the sharp-edged lines of a mid-60s Plymouth Satellite that make it look like it wants to leap forward even when it’s just sitting there. Taped to its dash are Polaroids of the driver’s family.

Johnny’s Bar itself is a bit like the car: a little sharp-edged at times (the clientele leans toward grain truckers and sailors who are built like trucks and ships), and always exciting to be in. But it has the right interior touches to feel comfortable.

The touches include the “homemade pasties” sign above the bar and the TV above the pool table showing “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

And the house band, Rawhide, the professional vehicle of ElDean Johnson. The 37-year-old singer-guitarist has seen it through many personnel changes in nearly five years at the club. He now has things pared down to his wife Linda on bass and Mike Badden on drums.

ElDean likes it that way. Apparently the crowd does, too: a hand-lettered cardboard sign by the dance floor warns, “Not responsible for any accidents while dancing with your shoes off!”

The stage is small, with a purplish fluorescent “black” light hanging above. The ceiling is so low that when ElDean jumps to end one of the faster numbers, his straw hat brushes it. The crowds are lively people from many walks of life. Plenty of grain truckers and sailors.

Asked to describe a typical Johnny’s crowd, ElDean says: “Well, they’re a fun-loving bunch. Sometimes they do surprising things, but they have fun and in the end that’s what matters.”

He laughs. “I know so many of them now it’s pretty familiar.” Like the trucker who often stops by on weekend nights to climb up on stage: “His specialty is Red Sovine songs. Always gets a big hand for ‘Giddyup Go.’ ”

Sometimes the strangers are a kick, too. There was the night a boatload of Greeks came in. “One fella gets up there and starts singing away, and we tried to back him,” ElDean recalls. “I couldn’t understand what he was saying and didn’t know the song. But he looked happy when he was through. Kept smiling, anyway.”

ElDean pauses. “I like playing at Johnny’s. You can go to work and watch the show, you know what I mean? It’s out there on the dance floor.”

Rawhide plays a mildly progressive country show, with some ’50s rock and any requests you care to hear thrown in. ElDean’s strong suit as a vocalist is moderately paced songs by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Moe Bandy, Gene Watson and the Gatlins. His smooth baritone has a nice way with ballads.

ElDean plays a slightly nicked black Fender Stratocaster. His guitar style is in the jumpy, snazzy manner popularized two decades or more ago by guys like Duane Eddy – an early idol – and Carl Perkins. On the rock-flavored things such as “Wipeout,” ElDean shows a Ventures influence. He likes to use a lot of echo and wah wah pedal – “my gadgets” – through his Fender Twin Reverb amp. He plays a mean rendition of Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts.”

Linda, who handles that vocal, is a blonde not much bigger than the Fender bass she plays. She sings plenty strongly, and shows a charming touch with things like Lacy Dalton’s “Takin’ It Easy” and Gail Davies’ “I’ll Be There.”

Mike the drummer’s big number is “Kaw-liga,” the tom-tom thumping Hank Williams tune. Sometimes when he goes on a run from snare to tom-toms he ends up where he’s going faster than the rest of the group. But they catch up quickly.

Rawhide is at Johnny’s only three nights a week. He has an upholstering business and he and Linda have a small son. “It’s almost hobby playing. And you know, I like it that way,” he says.

A lot more than in the early years. He was based in Rochester but spent most of his time in a station wagon and motel rooms. The groups came and went along with gigs throughout the nine states between Michigan and the Rockies. He cut an album in Nashville.

“The record company promptly went broke. The famous Nashville swindle. When I hear the name of that town my hair still stands up. But that’s all right. I still like the music.”

Eventually ElDean (“I know it’s unusual,” he says, adding “No idea” before asked why his parents chose it) ended up in Duluth. He played a number of years with the Country Gentlemen.

“I liked it all right, but eventually I was getting into things like Waylon Jennings and they all wanted to stay more traditional. They had steel guitar, you know. The sounds we wanted were different.”

So five years ago he used his CB handle to name his new group.

“I could tell you stories about my life,” ElDean says, “but you couldn’t print ‘em. When I try to think of ones you could print, that makes it tougher.” He scratches the stubble on his face.

“I could write a book.”

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Johnny’s Bar, 1508 N. Third St. in Superior, as seen in September 1985. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

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The members of Rawhide in January 1993, from left: Jack Rygg (drums), Linda Johnson (bass) and Al Johnson (lead guitar). (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Share your memories by posting a comment

Assemble the best Northland restaurant meal of all time

Any Attic post involving restaurants inevitably spurs stories of long-lamented menu items that readers wish they could taste just one more time – stuff like, say, the onion rings at King Leo’s or the London Inn.

So, I’d like to devote this post to those memories of favorite foods from restaurants past and present in Duluth, Superior and elsewhere in the region. If you could assemble a perfect meal from those establishments, what would it be?

Mix and match – pick an appetizer from one place, an entree from another and dessert from a third restaurant. Combine stuff from a restaurant still open with food from one closed for 40 years. Or just pick one item – whatever you want.

Think it over, and then share your choices by posting a comment. And if seeing others’ food selections jogs your memory, by all means post again. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

More Arrowhead Bridge photos

A few years back, early on in the history of the News Tribune Attic, I did a post on the Arrowhead Bridge – the old wooden span that linked Superior with West Duluth until it was replaced by the present-day Bong Bridge. You can read that post here.

While going through those files again, I found a few more Arrowhead Bridge photos that were not included the first time around. Here are a few:

The Arrowhead Bridge, looking from Superior toward Duluth, on October 22, 1978. (Karl Jaros / News-Tribune)

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The Arrowhead Bridge was closed on October 3, 1973, after the lake carrier Peter Robertson struck a pier on the Wisconsin side the day before. The accident disabled the drawbridge lift mechanism. Inspecting the span were, from left, Vern Kekkonen and Edward Fleeze of the Minnesota Highway Department, and Mel Sarvela of the Wisconsin Highway Department. (George Starkey / Duluth Herald)

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The Arrowhead Bridge, looking from Superior toward Duluth, on August 19, 1980. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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Here are a couple more shots of the construction of the Arrowhead Bridge’s replacement – what is now the Bong Bridge:

Wisconsin Gov. Lee Dreyfus (front left) and Minnesota Gov. Al Quie (front right) share a joke during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Arrowhead Bridge – now the Bong Bridge – on September 27, 1979. (News-Tribune file photo)

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The new Arrowhead Bridge – now the Bong Bridge – takes shape across the bay on May 11, 1982. At this point, the center span stood on its own, unconnected to either shore. (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)

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You are welcome to post comments with your Arrowhead Bridge memories – but I won’t be able to get around to moderating them until later this month. They’ll be saved, though, so go ahead and post comments if you’d like, and I’ll get to them when I can.

A walk down restaurant memory lane

The News Tribune Attic is full of photos of restaurants that have come and gone in Duluth and Superior. Here are a few; if you have  memories of any of these places (especially the Australian food restaurant), post a comment:

Casa de Roma restaurant on Fourth Street in Duluth, February 1998. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

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The Bella Vita restaurant shortly before opening in December 1996 on West First Street in downtown Duluth. It’s one of several restaurants to have come and gone in the building since longtime tenant Chinese Lantern was destroyed by fire. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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The Bellows restaurant on London Road, October 1997. The building now houses Elysium Salon and Spa. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

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Orchard’s Pie Shop and Restaurant at 15th Avenue East and London Road, shortly after it closed in September 1995. The building later housed Louis’ Cafe for a few years. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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The Library on Tower Avenue in Superior, after closing in June 1998. (Renee Knoeber / News-Tribune)

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Alex Zbiljic waits on a table in January 1994  at the newly opened restaurant at 219 West First St. called The Roos Ltd.  It features Australian food. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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The Big Ray burger was one of the menu items at Ray’s Place on East Superior Street in July 1998. (Renee Knoeber / News-Tribune)

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Here are links to a few past Attic posts on now-closed restaurants, including Lundahl’s Coffee Shop, the Buena Vista, the Whistling Bird, the Glass Block coffee shop, Mars Drive-In, Tony’s Koo-Ko’s Nest Cafe, the Streamliner Diner, Mr. Nick’s, Mr. Pete’s, Mr. Frank’s Pizza, Mr. Steak, Guppy’s Drive-In, Henry’s Hamburgers, the Fountain Drive-In (also here), Heffty Steer, the Olde Depot Inn, the Lemon Drop and the Chinese Lantern.

While it’s been mentioned a few times, apparently I’ve never done a post on the legendary Joe Huie’s Cafe; I’ll have to get working on that.

And if you can think of any other old restaurants you’d like me to try looking up, post a comment.

Superior’s ‘Apple Annie,’ 1980

September 7, 1980

Ruth Weidinger, aka “Apple Annie,” greets customers at a produce stand in South Superior in September 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

‘Apple Annie’

Ruth Weidinger’s stand is a Superior institution

By Richard L. Pomeroy, News-Tribune

The small truck pulls into a parking lot in South Superior shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday.

Several people are waiting for the woman sitting behind the wheel.

She stretches, walks around to the side of the truck and hangs a weathered sign announcing “Apples for sale here – also squash” before going to the back and dropping the tailgate.

Inside are bushel baskets stacked to the top of the truck box. Ears of corn peek from the baskets as if intent on eavesdropping on the start of conversation.

“Apple Annie” is more than four hours into her long working day. She has been up since 6 a.m., worked in her garden and wheeled her truck about 80 miles to Superior. For her, this day is like any other fall Saturday or Sunday.

“Apple Annie” is open for business – selling apples and vegetables as she has for 20 years next to the firehall at 58th Street and Tower Avenue.

Although known to many of her customers only as “Apple Annie,” the vendor is formally and legally Ruth Weidinger. She operates a vegetable farm and apple orchard about 4 1/2 miles north of Bayfield.

Bushel baskets of fresh-picked corn are stacked on the back of Ruth Weidinger’s truck in South Superior in September 1980. On the side of the truck, a sign reads “Apples for sale here – also squash.” (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Weidinger is aware of the “Apple Annie” nickname, but has “not the slightest idea” how it came to be.

“It doesn’t matter – maybe they just don’t know what else to call me,” she said during one of the brief breaks in the sales operation that continues until about 6 p.m.

“As long as I’m selling, and they’re buying, it doesn’t make any difference,” Weidinger added.

“It’s a living and if I wasn’t doing this I don’t know what I would be doing. It’s too late for me to change my ways now – I never did anything else. This is it, this is my life.”

Sales are brisk for more than an hour. There’s no time for small talk.

It takes only a few minutes for Weidinger to get the operation organized.

Several bushels of corn are moved onto the tailgate. That gives her room to stand and begin filling orders.

A kitchen scale is used to fill the first order – for tomatoes.

Weidinger shows her marketing knack by quoting the price at “three pounds for $1.50,” thus filling few orders for less than that amount.

The corn? It was fresh-picked this morning “like it always is.” It sells for $1.25 per dozen.

Why no white corn? “Because I don’t plant any – that’s why.”

Apples? “Yes, but they’re not good keepers. Everything’s pretty early, but the best apples won’t be had for at least a couple of weeks. These are Melbas – soft, but good for pie if you use them right away. The best ones – Wealthies, Cortlands and McIntoshes – come later this month.

Ruth Weidinger keeps up a steady exchange of conversation with her customers as she peddles fresh produce from her farm near Bayfield in September 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

The sun beats down. Weidinger slips out of the woolen shirt she wears over a blouse.

The sales continue, Weidinger filling one order while answering another shopper’s questions about prices.

She totals purchases with precision, accepts payment and makes change from a cardboard box well inside the truck.

Twenty years ago, she sold produce at the Superior fairgrounds, and before that worked with her father at a farmers’ market at 14th Street and Ogden Avenue. After the farmers’ market was discontinued, she teamed with her father in door-to-door selling in Superior.

“But that was too much walking and carrying,” she recalled.

Ruth Weidinger waits for customers as she sells produce in South Superior on Nov. 26, 1989. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Her products vary with the fall season but always include the traditional vegetables of the area.

Weidinger operates the orchard and truck farm on the old family homestead of about 360 acres. She has about 50 acres, “including the apple trees,” under cultivation.

Her brother, Edmund, whose family lives in another house on the homestead, is a partner and helper.

He and his two sons help with the harvest and help load the truck.

By 6 p.m., it’s time to close shop and head back to Bayfield.

The schedule is the same the next day: up before 6 a.m. to pick more corn and tomatoes, then more wheeling and dealing – wheeling 80 miles to Superior and dealing with both friends and strangers.

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Ruth Weidinger, aka “Apple Annie,” made trips to sell produce in Superior until 1994. She died in Washburn on April 1, 2002, at the age of 91.

In News-Tribune story reporting Weidinger’s death, her niece told the paper that Weidinger preferred selling her produce to people, not to stores, because she liked the variety of folks she would meet.

“She always wanted to smile,” Donna Line told the News Tribune. “She was very, very genuine and friendly, and she liked to talk and visit.”