Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For April 6th, 2007 Edition.
About a month ago, as the north began to sink into the eternity that is March, I paid a visit to a local bookstore to purchase some interesting reading fare, which would hopefully speed the dreaded month along more quickly. I really lucked out on one of my purchases that held me spellbound throughout the course of its 304 pages.
Somehow I had never stumbled upon the literature of Cully Gage, a pen name for one Charles Gage Van Riper, who was born, raised and forever thought of home as being Republic, Michigan in the heart of the U.P.
The book I read was a reprint of books 2, 6 and 8 of nine different books he authored entitled "The Northwoods Reader." After his death in 1994 at the ripe old age of 88, his publisher combined the nine individual works into three volumes. The one I read was volume three, and I have begun the search for volumes one and two.
The majority of his short stories revolve around his youthful years growing up in "Tioga", which was the original name for the community now named Republic. He recalls unique persons and a host of memorable experiences during his boyhood and formative years during the early portion of the 1900s.
Books two and six were delightful trips back in time to an area that has changed very little. For anyone who was born or raised in rustic rural regions, this is a book that will tug at your heartstrings, make you laugh, shed a few tears and probably cause one to recall similar experiences and memories from their youth.
Book 8 was written when Cully was 85. And I strongly suggest this is a must read for people of all ages, especially those who are approaching the last few innings in the game of life.
One particular tale about the old style Finnish saunas caused a memory to surface from my personal box of recollections that I had not re-visited for some time. And it brought back a host of sweet memories.
I'm sure many of you have had first hand experience with a sauna. I do not refer to the modern contraptions one finds in the pool areas of some motels, nor the hot tubs that are often labeled as a sauna. No, I am speaking of the true Finnish sauna built of real logs, which contains a small mountain of rocks piled upon and around a wood-burning stove.
My maiden journey into such a sauna took place during the fall semester of my freshman year in college.
On one of the back streets in the eastern region of Superior, Wisconsin an aging Finnish couple had constructed a traditional old-world sauna where persons wishing to step back in time and experience being nearly broiled to death, could do so for one dollar.
The building that held the sauna contained three main rooms. Just beyond the entrance door was what might be considered a small office where you paid your dollar and was given a large white towel and a bar of lye soap. The two additional rooms were on either side of the pile of heated rocks, one for men only and the other reserved for individual families.
The actual sauna areas were actually divided into two separate rooms. In the first room the patrons disrobed and hung their clothing on spikes driven into the log wall. There were also a couple of showers in the room to cool off under after visiting the steam oven. Wooden buckets were also available, which the wise filled with cold water and took with them into the actual sauna.
Upon opening the heavy wooden door that separated the shower room from the steam room a wave of what at first felt like nearly unbearable heat slammed into you. Men, who always like to act macho, did their best to act nonchalant about the blast from hell. Once your eyes adjusted to the heat and dim light a set of bleacher like wooden benches offered a place to sit down and bake your body. The unwary didn't sit long on their first attempt, as the plank seats were so hot they nearly blistered your backside. Here was the first reason for bringing in a bucket of cold water. Cool off the seat before sitting down! Another use for the cold water in the buckets was to keep your cans of beer cold.
It was wise to sit on the lowest level for several minutes and then work your way up the bleachers if you so desired. Of course if you stayed on the lower level you were deemed to be "chicken poop." Next to the bleachers were two large wooden buckets filled with cedar "switches" soaking in water. These were used to beat yourself, which supposedly hastened the opening of your pours allowing more sweat to trickle down your beet red skin.
If the temperature dropped, a pull on a rope opened a trap door over the heated rocks and a stream of cold water would be shot out of a hose on top of the rocks. A new wave of scalding water vapor rolled into the room in an instant! At this point, slipping down to a lower level was not frowned upon.
After 15 or 20 minutes a cold shower was in order, or for the more insane individuals, a side door off the shower room would allow one to exit to the outside and roll around in the snow to cool off. I tried the insane version once!
During my 4 year hitch at Superior the old Finnish sauna became a fairly regular stopping point, generally once a week during the winter months.
I doubt if the structure still stands, but it still stands bright and clear in my mind.
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: email@example.com or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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