Book Review- The Tenderness of Wolves

 

The Tenderness of Wolves

 

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney appeared to be a formidable reading group assignment with almost four hundred pages of dense type. After testing the first few chapters it seemed my concerns had been confirmed. At the same time it became obvious that the author was a skilled at weaving an interesting story and provided outstanding descriptions of people and places and also after working through first hundred pages I found it difficult to put the book down.  Despite a cast of characters that would fill a small book I had been hooked. The story is set in nineteenth century Canada in an area dominated by the fur trade and the Hudson Bay Company. A murder occurs in a Hudson Bay ruled settlement. The reason for the murder and by whom is the mystery to be solved. The early chapters of the book deal with setting up the characters and situation. The stories action intensified as the author put this large cast into motion and moved them like a chess player while the mystery deepens as more and more potential instigators’ and reasons for the terrible crime emerged. However, I was one of a number of readers in our reading group didn’t quite figure out who had done the murder after completing the book. That may have been the author’s intention. Ambiguity to the end.  An interesting read but as a person who has lived in the northern latitudes and experienced many winters, the descriptions of casual travel by foot and living outdoors for days during the deep winter by men and women, (The women in long skirts) seemed a little unrealistic. The books background information revealed that the author had never visited Canada. Possibly, boots on the ground might have made that aspect of the book more realistic. Another small complaint; the story had some detours that were interesting but didn’t move the story line to its conclusion. Maybe a little pruning would have made the novel less dense and formidable.

What a Person Is Changes Over Time

What One Is, Changes Over Time

A person’s title, what a person is or claims to be will likely change over time. When I began this blog I claimed to be an author. I started the effort to be an author at age seventy three. Before that my life had taken on a number of different roles and titles.

I had spent my early years on a South Dakota farm and  expected to be and wanted to be a farmer. In preparation for my future I became a full time farm worker on my parent’s farm after completing the eighth grade. Our farm was seven country miles from a high school. Busing for rural students hadn’t been considered by the high school at that time. Our family was recovering from the Great Depression and dirty thirties and high school was considered an inconvenient and an unnecessary expense. That had not been an unusual choice during that time and place for farm children.

I had finished the eighth grade about the time Pearl Harbor happened. Everyone followed the war events. I became intrigued by aviation and air war. I began to imagine myself as a fighter pilot in buzzing our home town and battling the enemy in a far off land. At the end of WWII many small towns, felt the need to have an airport associated with the town. Milbank South Dakota, our nearest town, bought a farm about two miles from our farm, laid out two cross wind grass strips and moved in a small building to act as an office. Two men, one an old time barnstormer and the other a recently discharged marine Corsair fighter pilot, who flew combat in the South Pacific, brought in two recently new J3 Cub Airplanes and were ready train locals on how to fly. I became one of their first customers. The ex-marine fighter pilot was my instructor.  It was like being taught by God. I soon had my private pilot’s license but my fighter pilot dreams faced the reality of only an eighth grade education. Although I had no good alternative, my interest in farming waned. As a result I enlisted in the Navy with no idea what I would end up doing there. My interest in aviation led me into training to be an Aviation Electronicsman which provided the best opportunity to become an aircraft crewman. My original enlistment would have expired in 1950 if the Korean War hadn’t interfered. I was given the choice of being extended or reenlisting.  A two hundred dollar bonus was being offered if one reenlisted. I considered that a no brainer and ended up spending seven years in the Navy. I flew 2495 hours as a crewman on patrol and logistic type aircraft from the time I finished Aviation Electronicsman training until I left the Navy. Although I never became a real pilot, I spent a lot of time in airplanes during that phase of my life. I considered myself to be a aircrewman during my navy service.

Having become eligible for the GI Bill as a result of the Korean War, I attended South Dakota State College and earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I worked in the computer industry as an electrical engineer for thirty three years. During that time computer technology changed from room sized machines using vacuum tubes to personal computers with microchips with more capability than rooms filled with vacuum tube machines. I considered myself to be an engineer during that period of my life.

At age 63 I retired from engineering and changed directions. I went into real estate as a realtor working in home and commercial sales. I experienced a very steep learning curve during the early days of the real estate business and great change from my engineering experience. Financially I experienced some lousy years and some great years. That is the nature of the business. I considered myself to be a realtor during that phase of my life.

After ten years in real estate I decided to become an author. I had no background or training to back up that decision. As in the real estate business I had a very steep learning curve but different in that the after fifteen years the curve is still steep.  Although I self-published three novels and a number of short stories, my work has never been recognized by an agent or publisher. I am still struggling. Although I sometimes claimed to be an author, I really didn’t believe the claim. In any case my days as an aspiring author are diminishing as circumstances are changing what I am and what I do.

Four years ago my wife of over fifty years was diagnosed as having dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Actually I started recognizing symptoms of memory lose going back over ten years ago. At the point where she wasn’t able to keep track of her prescription medications, a series of tests concluded that she was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. I am now my wife’s caretaker with all that implies. It now takes up a large part of my time and will ultimately take more time than I have. So I now identify myself as a caregiver.  It is a designation that I am comfortable with and capable of doing and thankful that I am able to provide this care and hope I’ll be able to provide it as long as it is needed. I do not consider it a burden and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to provide it.

What will happen with the blog that is devoted to writing? I expect that we will see the blogs emphasis change to better reflect the blog masters changing responsibilities.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Book Review of Canoeing With the Cree

 

Canoeing With the Cree

Teenagers Undertake An Epic Journey

It is 1930 and two teenagers graduate from a Minneapolis high school. One of them, Eric Sevareid has no plans for the summer and a classmate; Walter Port talks him into joining him on a canoe trip he had been thinking about for some time. It would be canoeing from Minneapolis up the Minnesota River and Red River into Canada and to the Hudson Bay.  Walter knew enough about the plan to know there would be rivers and lakes all the way to Hudson Bay. They didn’t know a lot more about what such a journey would involve nor did they have the money or experience for such a trip.

 

Canoeing with the Cree Cover
However, as teen age boys, these details didn’t deter them. They made a list of items they thought they would need, somewhat pared down to fit their budget. The obtained a used eighteen foot square sterned canvas covered canoe for the trip. Eric, who had been the editor of the school paper, suggested they get a sponsor, maybe a paper that would print stories they would submit while they made the journey. They were turned down by some prospects but did find the Minneapolis Star interested and they were given a stipend to help them get started and with another payment if they finished the trip. And so they took off from Minneapolis on June seventeenth with worried parents waving and hoping they would return in a few days after facing the reality of what they were attempting to do. The trip up the Minnesota and Red River into Canada and Winnipeg had been mostly tedious and time consuming. They did find people along the route had been following them because of the stories being run in the Minneapolis Star. At times this became helpful when they ran into difficulties and also provided a chance to meet people who provided helpful information and also some free meals along the way. However, by the time they reached Winnipeg  they were worried because they were running behind their planned schedule and the possibility of not making it to Hudson Bay before the fall freeze up. In addition the most hazardous part of the trip lay ahead. On Lake Winnipeg they experienced ocean sized waves and winds that kept them off the lake for days making the completion of the journey before freeze up even less likely. After leaving Lake Winnipeg they faced five hundred miles of wilderness and little chance of getting help if they ran into trouble. If  the streams froze up they would have little chance of surviving with only the summer clothing they wore. Their maps were rudimentary and the possibility of becoming lost was added to their concerns. There was no GPS, no means of communicating with the outside world. They learned many of the things they needed to know by doing; such as how to maneuver the canoe through rapids that could have torn it apart.  Great story, well written by Eric Sevareid.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Free Copies of Finding the Way

Kindle users will be able to download a free copy of Finding the Way starting on May 7, 2016 through May 11, 2016.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A moving story of an immigrant’s journey to fulfill a dream to homestead land in America and realize his potential.” —BookWire Review

“Few American immigration stories have the vast scope this novel has. The journey covers much of what was then America.” —iUniverse Review

“The characters are believable in this exciting work of adventure, love, self-discovery and hard choices.” —Deadwood Adams Museum

“Author Alfred Wellnitz has done a great job in creating a story and characters that his readers will truly care about, and will think about long after the book is done.” –Readers Review

Cover 2015

While serving in the Prussian Army during the Franco Prussian war, Karl Mueller learns about the opportunity to homestead land in America. As the son of a landless peasant family this represented a great opportunity and he decides to immigrate to America

Karl meets Heinrich Schlicter while crossing the Atlantic and with little money between them after landing in Baltimore, the two team up. They take menial jobs to pay for food and shelter and to accumulate funds needed to work their way west where land can be homesteaded.

Karl and Heinrich first move to Chicago to work in the meat packing industry where Karl strives to accumulate enough money to fund his homestead plans. They find the meat packing work and living conditions oppressive and the compensation inadequate. They move onto the north woods of Wisconsin and work as lumberjacks for two winters. After Karl finally accumulates the funds needed to fulfill his plans, Heinrich convinces Karl to join him in the 1876 Black Hill’s gold rush.

The Black Hills adventure includes deadly encounters with Indians, a lively existence in a lawless Deadwood and Karl falling in love with a mixed blood Indian woman. After two years in the Black Hills and seven years of pursuing his dream, Karl, with the woman he loves, and Heinrich set out on a four hundred mile horseback ride to homestead fertile virgin prairie near the eastern edge of the Dakota Territory.

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Free Kindle Copies of Finding the Way

Kindle users will be able to download a free copy of Finding the Way starting on May 7, 2016 through May 11, 2016.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A moving story of an immigrant’s journey to fulfill a dream to homestead land in America and realize his potential.” —BookWire Review

“Few American immigration stories have the vast scope this novel has. The journey covers much of what was then America.” —iUniverse Review

“The characters are believable in this exciting work of adventure, love, self-discovery and hard choices.” —Deadwood Adams Museum

“Author Alfred Wellnitz has done a great job in creating a story and characters that his readers will truly care about, and will think about long after the book is done.” –Readers Review

 

 

Cover 2015

 

While serving in the Prussian Army during the Franco Prussian war, Karl Mueller learns about the opportunity to homestead land in America. As the son of a landless peasant family this represented a great opportunity and he decides to immigrate to America

Karl meets Heinrich Schlicter while crossing the Atlantic and with little money between them after landing in Baltimore, the two team up. They take menial jobs to pay for food and shelter and to accumulate funds needed to work their way west where land can be homesteaded.

Karl and Heinrich first move to Chicago to work in the meat packing industry where Karl strives to accumulate enough money to fund his homestead plans. They find the meat packing work and living conditions oppressive and the compensation inadequate. They move onto the north woods of Wisconsin and work as lumberjacks for two winters. After Karl finally accumulates the funds needed to fulfill his plans, Heinrich convinces Karl to join him in the 1876 Black Hill’s gold rush.

The Black Hills adventure includes deadly encounters with Indians, a lively existence in a lawless Deadwood and Karl falling in love with a mixed blood Indian woman. After two years in the Black Hills and seven years of pursuing his dream, Karl, with the woman he loves, and Heinrich set out on a four hundred mile horseback ride to homestead fertile virgin prairie near the eastern edge of the Dakota Territory.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Plainsong Book Review

Book Review

Plainsong                           

Author: Kent Haruf

Plainsong Review

Planinsong is a story about ordinary people in a small town in eastern Colorado doing ordinary things. Although the book is about ordinary people doing ordinary things, I found it hard to put the book down when reading it and although the story plot sounds complicated and tracks two young brothers, ages nine and ten, the boy’s father, a girl seventeen years old and pregnant, and two bachelor farmer brothers, the action filled story moves quickly and is easy to follow. The two boys are doing boy things while in the process of losing their mother to mental illness while the father, a teacher, takes on the added responsibility of an only parent.  Meanwhile the story of the pregnant teenager follows a separate but parallel path that engages the boy’s father coworker at school and the two bachelor farmers. Eventually the stories merge in an uplifting and emotional climax. The author knows his subject, region and people and is able to describe them skillfully in a way that reveals this in a way that seems natural and authentic. From my perspective, a five star read.

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Man on the Moon

Apollo Lift Off

 

APOLLO MOON ROCKET LIFTOFF

Man on the Moon; A Short Story

The Cold War was at its peak when President Kennedy first broached the idea of sending a man to the moon in a speech to a joint congressional audience in May of 1961. Part of the Cold War competition involved developing a superior capability in space and putting a man on the moon would be a dramatic demonstration of the United States capabilities.

The United States industrial complex took notice. This included the Data Action Corporation (DAC) Government Systems Division located in Minneapolis Minnesota. The DAC Government Systems management asked their marketing people to beat the bushes to see if they could find  opportunities related to the moon landing program.

Pete Jorden in the DAC Government Systems Washington sales office had maintained contact with NASA engineer Denny Johnson who had been a classmate at South Dakota State College where both had graduated as electrical engineers. Their relationship had been mostly social since the DAC Government Systems hadn’t been involved in any NASA programs.

Denny had grown up in a small town in western Minnesota and still had family there. His wife also came from that part of the country but they had been recently divorced. Denny, in his late thirties had an eye for attractive women and having an athletic build and strong features was in turn attractive to women. It had been a bad combination for the marriage.

Denny had spent two years in the army during World War II and went to college on the GI bill and started working for NASA when he graduated from South Dakota State. Computers were just emerging as useful devises and Denny ended up in a department evaluating computers for NASA applications. Since no entrenched computer experts existed Denny was able to move up quickly and had engineering sign off responsibility for computers his department used in its programs.

Pete called Denny and arranged for a lunch meeting.  He figured a lunch meeting with Denny would be a good place to start looking for moon landing business. Making the luncheon arrangement with Denny would be easy since Pete would be picking up the tab and they had a lot in common to talk about. Pete said he would be bringing along Ray Olson, a sales support person from Minneapolis.

Ray had recently come off a North Dakota wheat farm, made a stop at the North Dakota State College to pick up a BS in electrical engineering. He found design to be boring but marketing matched his personality and abilities perfectly. He loved to entertain customers by taking them to restaurants and hot spots locally in Minneapolis and away when visiting customers. He didn’t have a lot of technical depth but made up for it with a likable personality and enthusiasm. Ray Olson’s round face, blue eyes, blond hair and extremely fair skin made him look even younger that his thirty years. Pete Jorden on the other hand had technical credentials. He had been around the block a few times and was recognized as a capable system conceptualist. Pete wasn’t particularly social in part because he was an abstaining alcoholic and when it came to after meeting dinners and other entertainment he would often find some excuse for bringing Ray Olson out from Minneapolis to bolster that part of marketing.

They met at a K Street restaurant famous for its two hour lunches and prices to match. Lunch conversation started with Pete and Denny sharing recent information about some classmates that they had known while attending South Dakota State. Ray Olson had attended North Dakota State, and had to defend its reputation against that of South Dakota State, big rivals in sports and academics. The three had a lot in common, growing up in western Minnesota and the Dakotas, and then leaving the area after being trained as engineers, going to places where they could find work in their fields. Pete finally got around to asking Denny if he saw any need for any DAC equipment in any of the upcoming programs Denny was dealing with.

“Maybe,” Denny replied. “This moon landing thing by the end of the decade is turning NASA inside out and upside down. They are going to need a lot of stuff once they figure out what it is.”

Ray asked Denny if anyone had figured out how get to the moon and get back.

“The physicists at Redstone have come up with what they say is the best way to do it,” Denny answered. “What they call the best way sounds kind of scary to me. The lab put together a little animation that shows how it’s supposed to work. They have this spacecraft that will carry three people with hardly space for two that will fly to the moon and then orbit around it. This spacecraft has a moon lander attached to it. While the space craft orbits the moon the lander will be detached with two astronauts in it and descend and land on the moon.  After they land they will look around and walk around for a while. Then they take off and rendezvous’ with the orbiting spacecraft which then returns to earth and they splash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

“What are the odds of that happening? Ray asked. “It has to be close to zero. Don’t know if I would trust those physicist if I was an astronaut. Imagine being in that lander. Say you bang up the lander, can’t take off. You’re done. Nobody you can call for help. Maybe you do get off the moon and then can’t connect up with the spacecraft. Nobody had ever done this for real before. You’re done.”

Denny agreed. “I wouldn’t give you very good odds that this will go off without a glitch or two.” Denny hesitated, and then added, “There is a small computer to be used for spacecraft checkout before launch. Got any recommendations? We would like something off-the-shelf, don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

“Sure, we have the DAC6 and DAC6A, got some information on it in my briefcase.

Denny shrugged, “I’m familiar with the DAC6’s. They are using some of them on the Gemini program. Looks like a desk.”

Pete agreed. “It’s housed in a grey office desk with the computer parts in a drawer. The company genius, Clayton Douglas, designed it one weekend when he needed and input output device for his latest’s super computer. But it’s a fully functioning computer. It’s a mini computer but lots of capability; can run FORTRAN.”

“They want redundancy, think it can it do that?”

“It might take some modes. I don’t think you will find redundancy built into any off-the-self computers. Do you have specs?

“Not really, we don’t want to design a computer. There are requirements, what the computer has to do.”

“Can you get me a copy of those?” Pete asked.

“Can do. What kind of money are we talking about for a DAC6?”

“Less than fifty thousand for the DAC6A, unmodified.”

Denny looked surprised, “Sounds interesting.”

Ray had an idea, “I’m staying overnight, want to meet for dinner somewhere, bring a copy of the requirements, maybe do the town a little.”

Denny thought that would be a good idea, “Takes care of what to do for dinner tonight.”

Pete said he wouldn’t be able to make it but would meet Ray in the morning for breakfast at eight.

 

Ray looked a little peaked the next morning. “Damn, only got a couple of hours of sleep last night.”

“Long dinner?” Pete asked.

“That Denny knows how to party, met a couple of gals he knew, things went downhill from there.”

“Glad I didn’t go; did you get the requirements information?”

“Got two, one for you and one for me. I’m wondering how to show some of the expenses for last night on my trip report.”

Pete laughed, “That’ll be a good test of your creativity.”

 

Ray Olson delivered the spacecraft checkout computer requirements to Jerry Aden the DAC Government Systems Division design engineering manager. Jerry looked Ray over with a wary eye. Jerry looked, acted like and was a typical engineer. He wore a white shirt with a tie, no coat, a pocket protector that held a number two pencil, a pen and a six inch slide rule. His hair needed a trim. Jerry didn’t consider engineers that worked in marketing or other such activities to be real engineers.

“Can you get right on this,” Ray asked, “This has potential and we have an opportunity to get our ideas in before there’s a request for proposal (RFP).”

“You got a charge number? Jerry asked.

“Charge overhead while I get a number approved.”

“Easier to get a proposal number than charge to overhead.”

“Jes, how many hours do you need? Look, we have mentioned the DAC6A as a candidate. While you are eating your lunch you can scan the requirements and figure out if the DAC6A can do the job. If it can’t then we’ll have figure out what we have to do to make DAC6 or something else work.”

“OK. Means I’ll miss playing duplicate bridge during lunch. You’ll owe me.”

“Right, I’ll get us a contract so you can keep your job.

 

The next morning Ray checked with Jerry to see what he had learned about the requirements.

Jerry sat in his office drinking his first cup of coffee from the department party sized perk. He greeted Ray, “Hell, I was wasting my time. If you had read a page or two to the requirements even you could have figured out the DAC6A wouldn’t cut it.”

“True, but I had to get an expert opinion.”

“OK, so now if you are serious about this you will have to put a logic guy and a programmer on it for a couple of days and a memory guy and an input output peripherals person on this for a day each and a couple of days for myself. That is to come up with a system concept to meet the requirements. Don’t know if division management will spend that kind of money on something they have never heard about before. It might be some NASA engineer’s wet dream.

“Sounds like you are designing something from scratch, where does the DAC6A fit in? Ray asked.

“Maybe we can save the logo, not much else; maybe some of the logic boards. They are asking for complete redundancy between two computer systems, with a common memory shared by both computers, and two redundant input output (I/O) systems with redundant peripherals. I’m not aware of any existing computer system that can do what they are asking for. They describe an interrupt system that has to be invented. We need over a 100K of core memory in the computer main frames and double that in the memory modules. This is not a DAC6A.”

“How in hell are we going to sell something like you describe as off-the-shelf?”

“Your problem Ray. I don’t worry myself about those kinda problems but I’m sure no competition has anything like it off-the-shelf either.”

 

Ray brought Pete Jorden back from Washington D.C. to help convince division management to spend the money to come up with a system concept to satisfy the NASA requirements for a computer to use in the spacecraft automatic test system (ACE). Pete persuaded division management that DAC had an inside track as a computer supplier for the spacecraft ACE system. Ray got the funding and backing to pursue the perceived NASA opportunity.

When the computer system concept for the ACE system had been completed, reviewed and approved, Pete Jorden set up another meeting for Ray Olson and himself to meet with NASA’s Denny Johnson. They met in Denny’s office and Ray did an over the desk presentation of what DAC had designated as the DAC6G. It met all of the NASA ACE needs as spelled out in the requirements that Denny had provided to DAC. Ray showed a conceptual diagram that showed boxes that designated both computers interconnected with both memory boxes and two I/O boxes that connected to devices being tested and a bank of magnetic tape handlers.  Either computer could connect to either memory box which could connect to either I/O boxes.

Denny liked what he saw, said he would send information about it down to the Cape where a NASA team worked on the ACE concept. He divulged that GE will be the prime on the ACE system and they would like to develop a government funded computer system for the application. “They say there’s nothing off-the-shelf that can do the job. By the way what does the “G” in DAC6G stand for?”

“Government Systems,” Ray replied. “We are using the same circuit boards as the “A” uses, with some added types; it uses the “A” instruction set with some additions.  The memory and I/O units are new developments. We will repackage everything, no more grey office desks, lot of bright colors.

Denny wanted to know how the modes would be paid for. You know we want this off- the-shelf if possible..

Ray said the modes would be included in the unit price based on the estimated number of units to be sold. He added “You can bet it will be more than the 50K we were talking about for the DAC6A.”

Actually Ray didn’t know how the DAC6G modifications would be paid for. To include the cost in the price of the systems would mean DAC would be treating the “G” like a commercial product and amortizing the development cost over the estimated number of units to be sold. Company money would be at risk until the development costs were recovered. Government Systems Division wasn’t in that kind of business.

Pete asked the next obvious question, “How many systems would NASA need?”

“It’s been fluctuating around thirteen- fourteen systems,” Denny replied.

To Ray the number Denny mentioned wasn’t impressive although those were dual redundant systems so you could double the number but even that wouldn’t be an exciting number.  Getting management to go along with the off-the-shelf story might be a stretch.

Ray and Denny talked about dinner that evening and Pete decided to join them even though he knew it might be a long night. Pete had concerns about the NASA communities working on the ACE system not being aware of the existence of the DAC6G. Talking to Denny was kinda like preaching to the choir. The final decision about the ACE computer wouldn’t be made by him.

Denny suggested a watering hole with good food and mature clientele. During dinner and drinks and then after dinner drinks Pete drank carbonated water. Denny had put away three water and bourbon drinks and had his eyes on some of the women at the bar that appeared to be unattached. Despite Denny’s wandering interst Pete suggested talking about how to best get information about the DAC6G to NASA personnel working on the ACE program.

Denny responded by noting that the blond in a green dress sitting at the bar had been giving him the eye.

Ray checked out the blond, “Hell she’s old enough to be your mother.”

“Damn, my eyes must be going bad. Pete, what were you saying about computers?”

Pete repeated his question about how to inform NASA about the DAC6G. Denny, now on board said he would distribute the same DAC6G information he planned to send to the Cape to other NASA people involved in the ACE program.

Ray wondered if Denny could arrange to have Pete and him visit the people that would be getting the information. “Talk up the DAC6G, answer questions. How many groups are we talking about?”

“Half a dozen,” Denny replied. “We won’t have much time, the Apollo train has left the station and we have less than ten years to put a man on the moon.

 

Ray and Pete spent the next two months briefing NASA ACE system people about the DAC6G and trying to convince DAC management that this was a great opportunity for the company to become part of the Apollo program.

 

When the ACE RFP hit the streets the DAC Government Systems had no problem responding to requirements since they were written around the DAC6G system. Price was a different matter. The DAC proposal would feature the off-the-shelf DAC6G. The term off-the-shelf implied that any development cost of the DAC6G would be amortized and included in the recurring price of the DAC6G. Therein lay the conundrum. The DAC Government Systems Division was not in the business of developing products using company funds to be recovered in sale of the products developed.

DAC Government Systems Division was headed by a General Manager named Robert Glassman. Robert Glassman had held that position for a little over a year. Tenure of general managers of the Government Systems Division had a history of being short lived. Competition for government contracts in the defense and technology business was brutal. The Government Systems Division general managers were expected to grow the business and profits in this competitive market. Historically the proceeding general managers were able to grow the business or profits, but not both simultaneously. Bidding low might grow the business but hurt profits while maintaining profits might cost business growth.

Glassman felt confident enough that he could be successful that he moved his family to the Twin Cities and bought a home in a tony suburb.

Glassman had been kept informed of the ACE opportunity and the latest developments. Marketing claimed DAC had an inside track to supply the computer for the system. However when Glassman saw the backup for the pricing he was shocked. The non-recurring cost for the external memory and I/O units were included in the bid but the non-recurring for the DAC6G computer development did not appear. Glassman called the two men who claimed responsibility for marketing the DAC6G concept for use in the ACE system, asked them to meet him in his office the next morning.

Pete Jorden was in his Washington D.C. office when he got the call and took the red eye into Minneapolis to make the meeting. Ray Olson threw together information he thought he might need for the meeting.

Glassman greeted Pete and Ray by asking them where in hell they had buried the DAC6G development costs. Ray dug through his data and fished for some spread sheets.

While Ray searched for the spread sheets, Pete reminded Glassman that the DAC proposal was describing the DAC6G as an off-the-shelf product. NASA is familiar with the DAC6 products and the “G” is being promoted as part of the family.

Glassman, a heavy set middle aged man with a lot peaks and valleys in a rugged square face stared at Pete through deep set grey eyes. “Why?” He asked.

“NASA is looking for off-the-shelf hardware where possible and we’ve promoted the DAC6G as off-the-shelf.”

“Who is we?” Glassman asked.

The question caused Pete to realize that the “we” had been Ray and himself. They had been doing the NASA briefings and planting the idea that the “G” version of the DAC6 was off-the-shelf. “Well a lot of people” Pete replied.

“Be more specific, I like to know who I need to fire.”

At that point Ray came up with the spread sheet which showed that the DAC6G development costs had been amortized over a build of fifty units.

Glassman asked how many computers is NASA planning to buy.

“The RFQ ask for the delivery thirteen systems,” Ray replied, “Which will include twenty-six DAC6G computers.”

Glassman wanted to know who would buy the other twenty-four computers.

Ray had prepared an analysis of the market potential for the DAC6G justifying the fifty unit amortization, but the numbers were based for the most part from an input from NASA’s Denny Johnson that the price shouldn’t exceed $250 thousand.  The recurring price came out at $200 thousand and the development amortization for fifty units came to $40 thousand per unit so they priced the DAC6G at $245 thousand. It all worked out but it didn’t seem like the right answer for Glassman’s question. Ray instead talked about the analysis, the potential market.

Glassman wasn’t hearing any of it. His voice became louder as he asked “What in hell are you guys thinking?  We don’t have a budget for carrying any of the development cost on the books; Government Systems isn’t in that kind of business.”

Pete didn’t like the way the meeting was going. The DAC inside track on the procurement was about to be scuttled because of how the company was organized. He and Ray had busted their buts on this procurement. OK, so maybe we sold something we don’t exactly have, but not something that can’t be done. OK, DAC needs to take some financial risks to ensure we sew up the procurement.  So what else is new? It’s that kind of business.

Pete made an attempt to articulate his thoughts and concerns. “Because of our nearly off-the-shelf computer is able to satisfy the ACE system requirement we are in a favored position to win this program. If we include the full DAC6G development cost in our proposal we lose that advantage.”

“Nearly off-the-shelf,” Glassman huffed, “the numbers don’t support that.

Pete moved to why DAC should want to win the program. “This is a big chunk of business for our division; it establishes DAC as a NASA supplier in a significant historical event.”

Pete’s last argument touched Glassman in a vulnerable place. The ACE program would be a big chunk of business for the division, something needed to grow the business in the near term. Winning would as always entail financial and technical risks. It was these thoughts that caused Glassman to make his decision to approve the ACE proposal as prepared with the provision that DAC Defense Group Management would support the amortization of the DAC6G development cost.

The DAC Defense Group consisted of three divisions and had the wherewithal to manage the risk of amortizing the DAC6G development. The Defense Group Management approved the proposal that had been prepared with the understanding that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers.

 

DAC Government Systems Division won the ACE computer system program and executed the program well. The DAC6G meet all of the ACE system needs, proved to be reliable and never held up a launch.

However the Government Systems Division only succeeded in selling three more dual DAC6G systems for a total of six computers. The DAC6G had proved to be an excellent computer that made technical advances in redundant computer design and use but could not find customers who needed the capabilities it provided.

True to upper management’s stipulation that Glassman’s job depended on the sale of at least fifty DAC6G computers, he was invited to seek his opportunities at a place other than DAC.  However before Glassman had been given the opportunity to leave he had provided the same opportunity for Ray Olson. He would have done the same for Pete Jorden but Pete reported to a different chain of command.

Ray soon found a similar position with another defense industry company in St. Louis and he put DAC and the moon landing business behind him.  On 20 July 1969 he had been visiting a company on Long Island New York. After an early afternoon meeting he went to Kennedy Airport to catch a plane that would take him back to St. Louis. While walking through the airport lobby he noticed people crowding around a TV monitor. He remembered the moon landing was to happen that day and here it was, pictures from the Eagle as the Lunar Module settled down on the moon at the Tranquility Base. Ray felt a strong reaction to the scene on the TV monitor. He was watching a historic moment in the human experience in real time and he had contributed to making that happen. All the ups and downs of that experience, like losing his job didn’t matter at that moment. That he had been part of the team that made this happen was all that mattered.

 

 

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

A DIVERSION

PMB Mariner - WWII American flying boat

Martin Mariner flying boat in flight. U.S. Government photo.

A Diversion is a fictional short story that describes an incident where two marines assigned to the security contingent for the Sangley Point Navy Air Station were involved. It happened during the time the United States Marines in Korea were heavily engaged with the enemy in a number of crucial battles. The story describes what some marines far from the battlefields were doing while the war went on in Korea.

A Diversion

 By

Alfred Wellnitz

 

 

Pete  and Tony, two PFC Marines, had been part of a base security contingent stationed at the US Navy Air Station Sangley Point in the Philippines for the past five months. Pete and Tony had completed boot camp in San Diego two weeks before the North Korans had invaded South Korea and the Cold War suddenly turned hot. Soon after that the United States Marines hastily putting together the First Provisional Brigade to send to Korea. By the fickle finger of fate Pete and Tony ended up at Sangley Point doing guard duty rather than shipping off to Korea as part of the First Provisional Brigade.

Pete and Tony was an odd pair; Pete a six foot two, blond, blue eyed farm boy from South Dakota and Tony, a ruddy first generation Mexican American who called San Diego California his home town. Both had just turned twenty and full of testosterone. They weren’t friends in boot camp but became close friends after arriving together in the Philippines. For Pete, Tony’s Spanish was a plus because it gave them an in with the mestiza women in Manila.

Pete and Tony followed news about the Marines in Korea who fought battles to hold the Pusan parameter, then led the landings at Inchon and were now in the mountains in North Korea fighting the Chinese.

Pete had mixed fillings about their situation as part of the security at the Sangley Point Air Station. He had enlisted in the marines with a neighbor farm boy, Chris, who ended up in the First Provisional Brigade. He had told Tony that sometimes he wished he was with Chris, fighting in Korea like a real Marine.

“Are you crazy?” Tony wanted to know. “Got maybe the best job in the Marines and you want to be in Korea.”

“Ya, doing things like real marines do.”

“Well real marines do guard duty, drink lots cold beer and get hustled by women in Cavity and Manila” Tony argued. “I like what we’re doing, we get back to the states and they aren’t going to know if you been to Korea or doing guard duty at Sangley Point.”

“Ya, but I’ll know”

“Hey, you’ll get over it.”

“Besides it gets kinda boring,” Pete added, “after a month or two.”

“Better to be bored than shot at.”

 

A couple of weeks later Pete and Tony had agreed to meet that afternoon in the  enlisted men’s club when Pete finished his main gate watch. They decided to go to the patio at the back of the club where they would be in the shade that time of the day and drink a cool frosted mug of San Michaels beer.

The patio projected out over the bay and provided a view of the workings of the sea plane base that was part of the Sangley Point Navy Air Station. Sangley Point also had a runway to handle land based planes. Land based and seaplane patrol planes based in the west coast of the United States rotated in and out of Sangley point on six month tours. There were four other land-based patrol planes parked in a restricted area at Sangley that didn’t rotate. They had their own guards and were involved in some secret activity. Base personnel had started calling the secret outfit the 50-footers because of a rumor that if you got closer than within fifty feet of their area, they would shoot you.

While Pete and Tony drank their beer a lumbering seaplane moved to a takeoff position. They watched the seaplane for a while as it sat in the bay like a half-submerged turtle. Pete said that the navy called it a PBM.

“Bet that thing can’t fly,” Tony surmised.

“We see them flying all the time.”

Tony agreed, “I know.”

The plane finally got itself lined up for takeoff.

Pete and Tony could hear the two engines roar and half submerged plane started moving slowly through the water. It gathered speed and the plane rose up and started planing through the water like a high speed motor boat and the ugly duckling was soon flying.

“I’ll be dammed, it does fly,” Tony admitted.

Two days later a rumor circulated that a PBM had run into a mountain on Bataan Peninsula during a rain storm. A few days later at muster they were asking for volunteers to go up the mountain and pick up the remains. Anyone interested, let your platoon sergeant know.

As soon as muster had finished Pete collard Tony and said he was going to volunteer and wanted to know if Tony wanted to go.

“Are you nuts,” Tony asked. “The remains will have lain in the tropic heat over a week by the time we get there. Don’t think so.”

“It’ll be a break from the old routine.”

“And then some. OK,” Tony replied, “I’m easy, let’s get it out or your system.”

Pete and Tony learned that their platoon sergeant, Sergeant Klowoski would be the senior non-commissioned marine on the crash site team going to Bataan and would be in charge of the marine contingent. He gave the marine contingent the details of their task. “Officer in charge of the operation will be LTCD Richards, the PBM squadron executive officer. Two navy crash site investigators will be part of the team and two navy corpsmen. The corpsmen will help identify victims and put the pieces together. This won’t be a picnic. Six Philippine army soldiers that know the terrain and environment will also come with us. The Philippine soldiers will carry their weapons. Everyone else will carry a sidearm. Don’t expect to run into any Huks, but could run into some aggressive scavengers. We’ll sail on a LCU, Landing Craft Utility,  to get close to the site. There’re no roads. It’s estimated we will have to cut through a couple of miles of jungle from the nearest good beaching site. We’ll use the LCU as a command center. There is a lot of room on the LCU but limited accommodations. It can haul tanks and over a hundred men, but it isn’t a hotel. Any questions?”

Tony asked, “How long is this going to take?”

“Getting ready, the job itself, and then cleaning up is expected to take about a week.”

“Will we be spending nights in the jungle or on the boat?” someone asked.

“Both,” the sergeant replied. “We won’t be returning to the LCU to sleep. If we are at the boat at the end of the day, we’ll sleep there. If we are in the jungle, we’ll sleep there.”

“How do we get the remains out?” someone else asked.

“In body bags carried by two men on a stretcher.”

“Won’t that be kinda heavy, down the mountain?”

“The doctors say most of the body fluids will be gone, animals will most likely have consumed some of the remains, shouldn’t be too heavy.”

Pete began to feel queasy just thinking about it.

 

The crash site team boarded the LCU on Friday. While they waited to get underway, Pete and Tony visited with Sergeant Klowoski.

“My normal tour for this place is up in three months,” Klowoski said. “The way things are going up north, could be sooner. The First Division is getting pretty beat up in the Chosin Reservoir. Can you imagine fighting when the temperature is minus forty degrees? Jesus. War is hell in decent weather. You can thank your lucky asses you are in the Philippines living the good life.”

The conversation steered Pete’s mind to Chris, his South Dakota buddy. Very likely Chris was in the middle of those hellish conditions. God, Pete thought, boredom is my biggest problem.

After two hours of cruising, the LCU reached the entrance to Manila Bay and passed between the tip of the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island. They cruised along the west coast of the Bataan Peninsula for another two hours until they reached a place near the crash site. They pushed up to the beach and prepared to spend the night on the landing craft. It had started to rain, so the team rigged up a tarpaulin on the back half of the open deck to shelter their sleeping cots.

In the morning Pete, Tony, and the rest of the team headed into the jungle to make their way to the crash site. They were loaded down with everything they would need to live in the jungle while they worked at the site. Their gear included shelters, rain wear, and water and food for three days in addition to eleven body bags, six rolled-up stretchers, and gear to be used for extracting body parts from the wreckage.

The two-tiered jungle consisted of a high canopy which grew above thick, almost impenetrable undergrowth. Five marines at a time were set to work with machetes in half-hour shifts to hack a path through the undergrowth. When a team started a shift, they slipped off their heavy packs and took the machetes from the marines who had the previous shift. Pete, familiar with hard work, had no doubts that he could handle cutting a path through the jungle with a machete. Since age sixteen, he had been throwing around feed sacks weighing a hundred pounds and pitching heavy bundles of grain during threshing season in the hottest part of the South Dakota summer.

After only a short time of chopping the undergrowth, Pete’s T-shirt became soaked with sweat. Every whack of the machete raised a swarm of biting insects. The thickness of the jungle prevented any breeze that might help relieve the stifling heat. Pete and Tony weren’t doing much talking, saving their energy for the work at hand. About halfway through their shift, they came upon some unnatural mounds and holes in their path. “You know what?” Pete said between deep breaths as he worked. “These must be World War II earthworks. The Americans and Filipinos fought the Japanese in this stinking jungle for about three months at the start of the war.”

“You think so?” Tony answered. “Can you imagine fighting in a place like this? Didn’t take long for the jungle to cover it up.”

Pete did the math. “’Bout nine years,” he said.

After finishing their shift the team walked back down the path they had cleared to retrieve their packs. Tony recounted all of the reasons it had been such a mean job, including that they were working on a steep incline.

Pete agreed. “The hills I know go up and down, not up and up. How high you think this hill is?”

“Mountain,” Tony replied. “This is a mountain, not one of those South Dakota hills you’re used to. I think I heard its two thousand feet high. I’ve been on mountains higher than this in Mexico that were a lot easier to climb. No jungle, just rock and sagebrush. The plane crashed about halfway up the side of this mountain.”

Pete speculated that the plane didn’t know where they were. “They should have known they were flying lower than some of the hills around here.”

“Mountains,” Tony corrected. “I heard they had lost an engine and were flying in a rainstorm. I talked to an airman at the EM Club, said a mountain can make a big shadow on radar, looks like water. They could have thought the mountain was the entry to Manila Bay.”

“Could be” Pete acknowledged. “Could have died before they knew they had a problem.”

By the time the team took a noon break, they were more than half the distance to the crash site. The party opened C-rations for lunch but had little time to relax. After half an hour, Sergeant Klowoski put the next team of trail-breakers to work. “We need to get to the site in time to set up camp before dark,” he said. “Tomorrow we’ll get started on the job we’re here to do.” That afternoon the usual tropical shower developed, and the men donned rain gear and kept going. They arrived at the site of the crash in the early evening. The plane had flown straight into a mountainside that inclined about forty-five degrees so the area of impact was relatively small. The navy investigators established a perimeter around the site and the team set up camp just outside the perimeter.

The investigators spoke to the team members who would be removing the bodies, described the plans for the following day. The investigators would first do a walk-around with the marines and navy medics to find the downed airmen’s bodies and identify things the investigators didn’t want to be disturbed during the bodies’ removal. During the walk-around, the marines would hack down any foliage that might impede the work. The walk-around would take most of the following morning.

It had grown dark by the time the team ate their C-rations, and many of them turned in early. It had been a long day, and the following day would be no exception.

The marines and medics spent the next morning walking the crash site with the investigators to flag all of the visible bodies and body parts. It was not a pleasant experience for Pete. He had seen dead people before: a cousin who died young of leukemia, his grandmother on his mother’s side. They were laid out in fancy coffins, dressed in their best, looked like they were sleeping. These bodies didn’t look anything like that. He had tried to prepare himself for what he expected to be a difficult experience, but reality overpowered his imagination. The crash had occurred almost a week before, and the bodies were infested with maggots and insects and had been mutilated by feeding animals. An appalling odor pervaded the site.

At lunch time, Pete couldn’t eat. He lay in his hot pup tent and tried to prepare himself for the afternoon ahead. After the mid-day break, the medics and marines split into two teams. They donned face masks, rubber gloves, and aprons and went to work. Each five-man team worked with a body until they were satisfied they had identified the crewman and had bagged the body and all of its parts. Pete and Tony were on the same team. The first body they worked on had been torn apart at the torso. There were dog tags identifying the upper torso, and the medics identified a lower torso with a missing leg to go with it. A partially eaten leg was linked to the one-legged torso by shoes on the two feet which matched in size, type, and amount of wear.

Pete found the actual bagging of the bodies didn’t bother him as much as the walk-around had that morning. The initial shock must have prepared him for what had to be done in the afternoon. By evening, eleven body bags were laid out along one side of the crash site. The next morning, the marines and medics teamed up to carry six of the bodies to the LCU. Each pair of men would carry a body on a stretcher two miles down the jungle path the team had cut two days earlier. Pete and Tony found the two-man carry possible though difficult. Ten-minute breaks every half hour made the task bearable. The route that had taken a day to cover when they were cutting the path to the crash site took only two and a half hours to navigate when they were carrying out the crewmen’s bodies. After reaching the LCU and placing the bodies below deck, the marines returned to the crash site and picked up the last five body bags. When these had been placed aboard the LCU, the marines returned a third time to collect any gear they had left at the campsite. The navy crash investigators, who had spent the day at the crash site, returned to the LCU with the marines on the last trip.

It had become dark by the time the LCU backed off the beach and started the four-hour trip back to Sangley Point. Pete and Tony relaxed and rested their aching muscles as the landing craft pushed its way through a calm sea. Pete, although tired after the day of taxing physical effort, felt satisfied. He tried to communicate his feelings to Tony. “I think we did something important the last few days,” he said.

“What’s that?” Tony asked.

“Well, you know. We identified and retrieved the remains. The families will get the remains, have a decent funeral. That’s important.”

“I suppose,” Tony replied. “I wonder if the families will see the mutilated, decaying flesh we picked up. More than one marine lost their cookies picking them up.”

“So you think we should just leave them up there?” Pete asked.

“I’m sure the dead airmen wouldn’t care one way or the other. If the families saw what we picked up, maybe just covering them up for sanitary reasons would be preferable. We confirmed that they died, that’s good, but beyond that, I guess I don’t understand the need to haul the remains back to Tim Buck Too or wherever.”

Pete didn’t buy it. “That seems immoral, against Marine tradition.”

“The wounded, sure,” Tony replied. “The dead, what’s the point?”

“You’re a real hard ass.”

“I just don’t get too excited about human remains, but haveta admit it hasn’t been boring.”

“We agree on that,” Pete replied.

“And better than being shot at” Tony added.

They dropped the subject and talked about getting together with a couple of mestiza sisters living in Manila the following weekend.

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

 

Copyright © 2016 by Alfred Wellnitz

 

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

 

 

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Main Street Review

Author Sinclair Lewis

 

A first impression of the books use of many three syllable words, some of which must be googled to understand, is that this is not a dime store type novel. The prose suggests an author who has been exposed to literary excellence, probably in a prestigious back east university. That would be an apt description of Sinclair Lewis who had grown up in Sauk Center Minnesota. The novel Main Street, takes place in Gopher Prairie Minnesota which is modeled after Sinclair’s Sauk Center birthplace. Sinclair obviously understood the eccentricities small towns of the upper Midwest in great detail and found it wanting after being exposed to the wider world.

Sinclair’s descriptions of the town of Gopher Prairie in the protagonist Carols voice was, “In all the town not one building save the Ionic bank, not a dozen buildings which suggested that in the fifty years of Gopher Prairie’s existence, the citizens had realized that it was neither desirable or possible to make this, their common home, amusing or attractive.” Sinclair’s opinion of the inhabitants was similar, “Carol discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher Prairie. Even the young smart set, the hunting squire set, the respectable intellectual set, and the solid financial set, they sat up with gaiety as with a corpse.”   Sinclair’s descriptions looked at the underside of the noble pioneers who wrested the land from its natural state to subject it to their will and to claim it as their own. From Sinclair’s description the result had been the planting of ugly little towns inhabited by intellectually impaired people. That Sinclair Lewis, a Midwestern small town reared boy was the first American to receive the Noble prize for literature belies Sinclair’s theses. However, believe that  gifted small town youths migrate to large population centers is valid. The flotsam remains.

It is interesting that the appearance of Midwestern small towns has, if anything, deteriorated during the approximately hundred years since Main Street was first published. The remaining buildings are a hundred years older and in need of maintenance, many buildings are gone and not replaced. Any new structures are usually built on the outskirts of the towns using prebuilt low cost construction methods that have a forlorn appearance on opening day.

Sinclair Lewis’s described the pettiness of small town intrigues and jealousies. There is no upside to Midwest small towns in Main Street, yet Carol returns to Gopher Prairie, accepts it for what it is and knowing that she will not be able to change it except maybe around the edges.

Having grown up in the Gopher Prairie type environment I found the story interesting for that reason. Beyond that, Sinclair is a skilled writer. His character and place descriptions are exceptional and he brings tension and anticipation to otherwise ordinary events.

 

Main Street

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12

Minnesota Winter

 

 

What to do in Minnesota in the winter?

Minnesota is not noted for its pleasant weather, particularly its winter weather. Why would anyone want to live in such a place? In my case the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) area in Minnesota had been the source of the best offer after graduating from South Dakota State College in 1958 with a degree in electrical engineering.  That is why I ended up in Minnesota.  I would have gone to Texas for the right offer.

Since I had grown up in South Dakota, Minnesota weather didn’t surprise me. Minnesota winters were, if anything, gentler than what I had been used to in part because the Twin Cities didn’t have the persistent Dakota wind.

My wife and I had started a family soon after moving to Minnesota and as the children grew up we started looking for things to do with them, particularly outdoors in the winter. Snow itself presents outdoor opportunities for children such as: snowball ball fights, making snowmen, building forts, snow tunnels.  Children are very good at finding uses for snow.  There were other opportunities. Most parks in the Twin Cities and suburbs maintained recreational and hockey rinks for skating. Hills with a good run out became sliding hills in the winter. By the sixties a number of the best hills in the Twin Cities area had been developed for downhill skiing and snowmaking had become common so good skiing conditions could be guaranteed for the winter months for that activity. For adults ice boat sailing on the numerous lakes in the area and ice fishing were options. Snowmobiles became popular in the sixties and they were everywhere until the local municipalities banned them because of the noise and because they were making trails through people’s back yards. They remain popular but have been confined to the many miles of snowmobile trails away from populated areas.

We bought skates which were put to good use and every kid in the neighborhood had some kind of device for sliding down nearby hills. We bought a family size toboggan and occasionally the whole family would spend an afternoon using it on a big hill on a river bluff.  That is until we hit a tree and our older son got a minor concussion. We put the toboggan away and never used it again. Although our family did take advantage of a number of winter outdoor activities, we hadn’t focused on any one activity that we would devote a great deal of time to. This changed at the end of the sixties.

A large number of Scandinavians had settled in Minnesota and the upper Midwest during the Nineteenth Century. Despite this, Nordic Skiing, commonly called cross country skiing in Minnesota, had not been widely practiced or popular when we moved to the state in 1958. This had begun to change in the Twin Cities by the end of the sixties. In December of 1969 we saw a notice that a North Star Ski Club would be demonstrating and giving Nordic Skiing lessons on a Sunday afternoon. My wife and I decided to try it.

We rented Madshus skis with lignostone edges and three pin bindings along with boots and poles. The North Star Ski Club notice had attracted a large number of interested potential skiers and they were divided into three groups. We were instructed on how to hold and use the poles and given a few instructions on the technique of Nordic classical skiing. They then had us ski around a large circle while the instructors critiqued our style. After that they had us ski a short trail which included a small hill to climb and ski down.

Christmas was approaching and we took advantage of a discount we could get to buy the ski equipment we had rented and bought ski equipment for the two oldest children. The youngest boy wouldn’t turn two for a couple of months and wasn’t quite ready for skies. From that time until I reached my mid-eighties skiing became my winter obsession. Our family winter vacations became skiing vacations. My daughter skied races as part of a club team and with her high school. During the off season I stayed in condition running and biking to be in shape for winter skiing. I became involved in citizen ski racing and skied in several races during the winter with the American Birkebeiner and Minnesota Mora Vasaloppet being the season highlights. I skied whenever there was snow. Snow was the only required condition. Things like temperature, air or wind chill were not a factors. The winters were too short. The winters couldn’t start soon enough and ended too soon. January thaws were not appreciated. I have slowed down because of age and I am a caregiver for my wife of fifty nine years but still ski occasionally.

 

Nordic skiing went through a surge in popularity in Minnesota and throughout the United States snow states during the seventies. There were significant enhancements in skies, poles, boots, and clothing during that same period. During the early development of composition materials in the seventies to replace wood in skis, changes were coming so fast and improvements were so significant that like smart phones, the skies had to be replaced often if you wanted to keep up with the technology. During the early eighties, Bill Koch an American elite skier, introduced the ski skating technique to Nordic racing and blew away the competition. Of course the competition also began skating and the technique quickly spread through the Nordic skiing community.  Eventually the races were separated and designated either for the skating or classic technique as the sport evolved. There had been a lot of controversy during introduction of skating between the traditionalist and the people skating who ruined the trails groomed for the classic Nordic technique. Now many ski trails are groomed for both classic and skating techniques.

Before the seventies there were only a few trails devoted to Nordic cross country skiing in the Twin Cities. Now there are hundreds of miles of designated cross country ski trails in the Twin Cities metro area and probably thousands of miles in the whole state of Minnesota. There are now three parks in the Twin Cities that make snow for Nordic skiing. Sky racing seems to be a natural outcome of the sport and citizen races can be found somewhere in Minnesota and western Wisconsin during any weekend during January and February.  This includes the internationally known fifty kilometer American Birkebeiner, which is the largest North American marathon ski race attended by elite skiers and citizens skiers from around the world. The race has been held in Hayward Wisconsin every year since 1973.

 

 

Birkebeiner Finish 1981

Finishing the Birkebeiner many years ago

There are many memories from those years. My wife and I have skied cross country in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, California, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and Switzerland and we found that some of the best cross country skiing anywhere was about two miles from where we lived. We have easy access, ideal weather, and terrain and infrastructure right here in a major urban area with a great skiing community. Who needs Florida; they have lousy Nordic skiing conditions.

 

 

Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred+Wellnitz&x=19&y=12