Ramble `Round the Lakes

Weather: Sunny, warm, and windy.

The Lady of the Lake?
Lady Liberty beckons anglers back to shore at Liberty Beach Resort, Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota.

After a long week riding the frantic freeways of the Twin Cities, Frogwing and I were both ready for a breather.

This past weekend found us cruising leisurely up old U.S. Highway 61, into the vacationland of Northern Minnesota. My Dad has a trailer up there, on a high spot in the swamp near McGregor. To get there, we usually follow old 61 on it’s many modern alignments: 361, 23, County 61, and so on, in a relatively straight line to Moose Lake. There, we turn left and head west on various roads until we get to Highway 65, which takes us north to McGregor. But it’s that vague section between Moose Lake and Highway 65 that we explored in detail this time.

While planning the trip, I used Google Earth and flew over my intended route. I wanted to see which roads were still unpaved, and draw up a detailed set of turn-by-turn directions that I could follow when I got up there. In practice, it couldn’t have worked more smoothly.

While flying in virtual space over this lush countryside, I found a little town called “Automba”. It didn’t look like much from the old satellite image, but you can miss a lot from that perspective. Further research revealed this description of the area from a rather strange, spiritualist website:

Summer Solstice Celebration 2006 Retreat will take place on Dee’s land, which is located in Automba, MN. 100 acres of open land and woodlands filled with animals, birds, fairies, and other enchanted beings. Together we create a sacred space to explore, share, grow and heal together.

Allll-righty then! That sounds like fun. I’ve never had a fairie splatter itself on my visor before. Are they larger and messier than normal bugs?

Wiki-pedia says the township itself boasted a population of 137 at the 2000 census, but when Frogwing and I rolled down the gravel road into “town”, we found this:

Automba, Minnesota
No roadhouse, no gas station, and no fairies, that I could find…

That’s quite a discrepancy. I wonder which count is more accurate? Did they count fairies in the census?

Then it was on to Lawler, which is only a few dirt-road miles away. Lawler is famous for only one thing, and it’s called “Jackson’s Hole”. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the place this time, because it was high noon, and the light was all wrong. Besides that, there were so many pickup-trucks towing boats parked around the place that Frogwing and I had a hard time finding a place to park.

I really need to get a good shot of Lawler, one of these days. The rest of the town is in tumble-down decay, but Jackson’s Hole stands proud as the only roadhouse of it’s type for miles around. Famous for wonderful burgers, it has a reputation as a rowdy place during certain sporting seasons. The crowd of fishermen I found inside were typical, slightly loud, and hungry enough to keep the little lady in the kitchen hopping. She made several burger runs while I was there, and they really did look tasty.

Unfortunately, I had stopped earlier for homemade enchiladas at another place, and couldn’t eat another bite. I guess that just gives me a reason to go back someday.

When Frogwing and I arrived at the trailer, Dad was waiting. We talked for quite awhile, and soon it was time for dinner. Rather than fire up the grill, we decided to go into town for the wonderful prime-rib special at The Fireside. This was consumed with gusto, as we both got caught up on family happenings. Then it was time to go back to the swamp and start our customary Saturday-night campfire.

We spent the evening sipping whiskey and telling lies… It was wonderful. Way out there, away from the crowds and traffic of what my Dad calls “The Jungle”, we could relax and get to know each other again. The fire turned to embers about the same time as the light faded from the sky, and we went to bed, happy campers.

That picture up top was actually taken during our ride home, at a resort called Liberty Beach, on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs. I decided to take the Highway 47 route home, and investigate the fishing resorts for some friends of mine who write me occasionally from England. They have been talking about vacationing here for years, and maybe what I found on Lake Mille Lacs will be enough to finally get them to cross the pond.

During the ride home, we passed this old gas station, which now seems to have become somebody’s house…

Old station in the boonies
Mobil? Standard Oil? Philips 66? I guess we’ll never know…

Nobody was home outside, and I didn’t feel like bothering anyone inside. The “Closed” sign in the window was enough to send me on my way. My guess is that the old fuel pumps were sold at auction, or maybe even on eBay, and they don’t really want or need any strange visitors asking history questions.

The rest of our ride home was… interesting. I found lots of other places to explore, and you can be sure that I will make this trip again in the near future. But my time tonight is almost up. The girls are clamoring for my attention, and Amy is making burgers for dinner.

I wonder if they will be as good as the ones I missed at Jackson’s Hole…

14 Responses to “Ramble `Round the Lakes”

  1. Ron Johnston Says:

    There’s no discrepancy – 131 people left town since 2000!

  2. Mad Says:

    Nice post Gary

    And if faireys leave green juice and hit like a bullet I had one ricochet of my lid last Sunday :D

  3. jim Says:

    Gary, sounds like you had a good time. Made me wish I still had my dad to talk to.

  4. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Ron: You may be right… I didn’t see a soul anywhere in Automba.

    Mad: No fairie strikes either.

    jim: When I think about life without Dad, I quickly try to think about something else. You have my sympathies…

    Ride well,

  5. Buster Brown Says:

    Well, Gary, this one pulls together a couple of ideas that have been rolling around in my head since your Dulono’s entry, the one where you were were hanging out with Soucheray. I lost my father in September of 2004. A week later, Soucheray marked the occasion with a column that gratuitously insulted the old man, a newspaperman with some notoriety of his own. He has since apologized by email, but never publicly, and never face to face (difficult, since we haven’t met). Which leads me to two thoughts:
    1. Treasure the time you spend with your dad, as I now treasure the time I spend with my son, and as I’m sure your father treasures his weekends with you.
    2. It says here that Soucheray is a no-class jerk (who only incidentally has bad politics).

  6. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Buster: I owe you an apology. I left our conversation rather abruptly on First Thursday to rub elbows with Soucheray. That was inconsiderate, and I’m sorry.

    As for hanging out with Dad, well, I do that every chance I get. In fact, I will have to leave Blind Lizard early on Sunday to attend the family Father’s Day picnic in North St. Paul.

    Oops… did I mention Blind Lizard in public? Now I’m in trouble…

    Ride well,

  7. Tom Staggs Says:

    I do enjoy your articles. They are interesting, sometime crazy and always thought provoking. My question is that I joined to hear about your scooter experience. Although Frogwing is a GREAT all around machine. I was wondering if you still had a baron around.


  8. irondad Says:

    The carving on the front of the gas station looks like an evergreen tree. Therefore the brand must be “Cone-Oco”! ( Conoco )

  9. Biker Betty Says:

    Sounded like a great trip on Frogwing. Enjoyed your reminiscing of the drive and the visit with your dad. You take wonderful photos. I chuckled over the description of Automba and the discrepancy of the population.

    Thanks for the ride-along.

  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Tom: It seems I did my job as development rider too well. The two prototypes I was testing are both sitting in the shop, waiting for the design changes to be implemented.

    Baron sales have exploded this year, beyond all expectations of the limited staff here in the Minnesota headquarters. They have all they can do to assemble and ship customer bikes at the moment.

    When the new parts come in, I think I will volunteer to go down to the shop and install them myself. This will get me back on a scooter much more quickly.

    As much as I love riding Frogwing, I also miss the ease and comfort of the scooters. Not to mention those weekend rides with my girls! Bear with me… I’ll be scooting again soon.

    Irondad: Very punny…

    Betty: I only wish I had more time to blog these days. That trip could have run to several pages and at least three more photos. But work is heating up, and other obligations are keeping me away from the computer right now.

    I also want to check out your site. If you ride your motorcycle to work, you might consider joining our little group of Ride to Work bloggers. We don’t have a female member yet.

    If you haven’t visited the other Ride to Work blogs, I encourage you to do so. “Irondad”, aka Dan Bateman, is especially prolific in his writing of late, and our resident full-time scooterist Steve Williams takes (he would say “makes”…) better photos than I do.

    You’re welcome to ride along any time. Thanks for your comment, and…

    Ride well,

  11. Biker Betty Says:

    Just by hearing your responses to others, you do sound very busy. Life has a way of doing that. No, I don’t ride to work. Actually, I live at work, lol. I’m a stay-at-home mom. When weather permits and I don’t have a lot to haul, I do all my errands on my motorcycle. Just yesterday I did 37 miles doing my errands around town. Enjoy reading your blog.

    Safe Journeys, Betty :)

  12. fairy lover extraordinaraire Says:

    HI Gary, Thanks for the free exposure and advertising on the spiritualist website. Just wanted to give you some history on Automba. When I moved here from the cities in 1976, Automba, and the sign you took a picture of, was featured on national TV, on the old HeeHaw. At that time the sign read population 1, which is why it was featured. One elderly lady lived in Automba at that time. Before her husband died, it was the 2 of them that made up the poulation of the twon. And he, Matt Reed, is said to have stated when leaving town, “It’s like the whole town packed up and left with us.” It used to be a very busy town in the first half of the 20th century, with the RR going thru. The elederly couple ran the grocery store. It had a bar, and I have heard many wonderful stories of things that took place here in the old days. The discrepency in population comes from the difference between the town proper, and the township population, which is Automba also. So, I do beleive that many people still live in the township.
    I just want to add that I beleive it is important to sit still and scan the horizon when watching for animals and fairies. Next time when you visit town, sit in the park there in stillness and see what comes to you. The other day I had a wolverine visit, and the rabbits scurried to hide upon its silent approach. Safe journeys, and may the fairies be with you!!! Dee, fairy lover extraordinaire (of the spiritualist website)

  13. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Dee: I’m delighted that you stopped by to visit my site! What you are relating here is exactly the kind of thing I look for when I go visiting small towns in the middle of (relative) nowhere.

    Living here in the city has armored me with a certain necessary cynicism, I’ll freely admit that. This is precisely the reason why I try to get out of here so often.

    Perhaps I could email you the next time I am passing through, and you can teach me some of the finer points of fairy-spotting? I think that would be fascinating. I could offer you a motorbike ride in return.

    Thank you so much for writing in.


  14. Wayne Scott Says:

    At least it wasnt bullets or rocks you worried about hitting your window, unless on the dirt road mabe . You should of honked when you drove by my house in the big town of Automba. However I am glad you just took a picture and left. We would hate to have to repaint the population sign!
    However it isnt just farries we [I]? Se around here. A walk along the muddy swampy banks of the deadmoose river may reveal water spirits and beaver houses. In the woods it isn’t unusual to see the past lives both of animal and man. On digging a fire pit on a nice prominent point that seemed the place to camp for the night I found the remains of a fire pit Imagine that somewhere in the past somebody thought the same as me!
    But of course Automba was here before me.
    The fairies, or as I prefer [woods spirits] are here as they are everywhere. But mabe these ones are just not as mischievious as some of them. However I usually see, feel,hear them at night as I myself try to walk silently around the popple trees and alder brush. These woods and the deadmoose river have been my stomping grounds since I was first let out on my own. I’ve trapped , hunted and explored most of the Automba township area in detail some areas have more woods spirits then others but they can sneak up behind you in the dark and say hi even when you are sure nothing knows of your presence.
    The full moons here are truly inspiring as they are everywhere but I try to walk in the woods around that time each month and at these times if you count the woods spirits the population goes right up there.
    Of course they didn’t count them on the census probably because they
    refuse to pay taxes.