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The first motorcycle in the canton



Al Batt

We are learning to live in a new way every day.

I am part of the generation that is afraid of quicksand. I’ve never seen quicksand, but I’ve witnessed his betrayal in many old black and white movies. It was a standard trope in old action movies featuring jungles. I’ve seen Tarzan’s enemies, despicable fellows, fall prey to the quicksand. It made a good story.

I like it when someone starts a sentence with “Well, the story continues”, because that prompts me to lean into it. It is a professional development workshop.

This story began before there was Barney Fife or McDonald’s, and after people planted hot peppers in their gardens to keep Norwegians out. It was at the time when nothing was irreparable.

I grew up in Hartland Township – a land of enchantment and golden opportunity, and the northern county honeymoon capital. Hartland Township was organized in 1858. I don’t know what Native Americans called it, but I’m sure it wasn’t New York City.

Like all places, this township is filled with stories that teach listeners what not to do and what could be fun to do. The stories I heard growing up were often told to me by an old farmer who took off his hat to present a forehead as two-tone as a Ford sedan. The stories rarely included dates. They were more likely to be related to an event that few others the cashier found useful. “This must have been the year Maude, Merle Larson’s sister, ran away with the rural mailman.

The township’s first rural roads were established on September 1, 1904. Minnesota’s first began in Farmington on January 1, 1897.

“It was the year Grandpa Johnson built a poplar chicken coop. What a fiasco it was. He couldn’t get it to dry directly. This hard, soft wood has twisted and warped. He tried using it for firewood, but found it difficult to split when it was green and gave off an unpleasant aroma if not properly seasoned. He built himself a dandy’s coffin out of this substance.

To put this in time, it would be correct to say that I had no idea.

“Speaking of Minneapolis, one of the Olson brothers who lived near Mule Lake followed the money and moved to this beautiful city, got a job in a haberdashery office and did well. He bought a motorbike. He was purring like a kitten. One weekend, he drove him to his older brother’s farm. No one in these areas had ever seen a motorcycle. He taught his nephew Oscar to ride the machine. Oscar had a wild side and a special genius for nonsense. He had two gears – too fast and even faster – and shouldn’t have been on anything other than Shank’s pony. It took off in a roar and a cloud of dust.

He hadn’t mentioned Minneapolis, but there was a boom in motorcycle manufacturing in 1890-1930. The Minnesota Historical Society has a photo of a man named Guy Webb from Minneapolis who rode a motorcycle 100 miles on New Years Day around 1910.

“Oscar sniffed down the road like the world was all downhill, passing children, crops and cows before heading towards Ole and Ingeborg Hendrickson’s house. Ingeborg was washing the line wishing her cousin Clara from Chicago would send her more of these funny cat drawings when she heard the sound of that motorcycle. She had no idea what it was. She ran into the house and told Ole about it. Ole had shaved and was working on that sensitive area under his smell. “A close shave, clean thoughts” was Ole’s motto. Ole had a thick beard. When he was a baby, his mother had to tuck his beard into his diaper. Ole dropped his razor and ran outside, but not before grabbing his old double-barreled shotgun. Ingeborg hid in the bedroom. Ole got out just in time to see silly young Oscar Olson ride by on a motorcycle.

Ole had one major character flaw. He fired first and asked questions later. Ole let go of the two cannons, hitting the rear tire of the bike. Ole walked into the house thinking he had saved the world. Ingeborg asked him what this beast was.

Ole said, ‘I don’t know what it was, but I made him let go of that crazy Olson.’ “