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What Happened

As remembered by Board Member Bruce Yernberg


It was the summer of 1957.  I was ten.   Pick-up basketball was played in an alley behind Paul’s Bar on ground-up clinkers mixed with red dirt.  The single hoop hung netless from the weathered plywood backboard nailed to an aging power pole.  We were careful doing lay ups to avoid slivers.  Many of us picked up a little “pole rash” that summer.  Baseball was played in the neighborhood intersection, curbs as bases.  No bump-outs or curb cuts in those days.  There were no storm sewer grates to trip over either.  Gutters guided the rainwater down to Lake Superior.  If you hit a ball and it rolled down the steep avenue, you had to retrieve it yourself.  We shared our hand-me-down bikes and rode in shifts spinning out for thrills on patches of sand.   It was the Duluth Central Hillside. Life was great.   One day we came up with the idea of building a shack.  Consensus hadn’t been invented.   

In the middle of a nearby block were the remains of a quarry.  We called it the dump.  There were 3 sides of what was known as blue stone (granite) that gave birth to the strong foundations for the surrounding homes built many years before.  The flat part, I was told, was a former trolley turn around.  Of course the rails were removed for steel for WW ll.  Once in awhile we would find a square rail spike, so I guess it was true.

There were trees to climb, rocks to scale and hills to visually survey.  We found a spot to build a shack.

Our “construction team” was composed of 7 able local neighborhood boys.   Two were immigrant brothers (both named Adam) from Czechoslovakia; whose family had fled the Russians.  They were 9 and not twins.  I think cousins.  Peter, an 11year-old Jewish boy, was the architect of our shack.   Tommy--his mother was a Cootie whom we would look for during the neighborhood’s 4th of July Parade and cheer. 


Brian was 12 and the oldest and he smoked his mother’s used cigarettes called Kents.  Sometimes he transferred the filters lipstick to his own lips. And, of course, myself and my brother the explorer, who was 8.  We would all watch my  brother so he wouldn’t disappear. 

We picked-up scrap wood and cardboard from around the neighborhood.  We got a hammerhead to start with.  We found a stick for a handle.  We had no saw so we would size the boards by using leverage to break them.  We collected a total of 11 cents among each other and bought a variety of nails at Fox Hardware.   Imagine 7 kids looking into the bulk nail bins each choosing the best nails.  Mr. Fox (the store’s only employee) gave us each a small penny-candy bag for our chosen nails.  He also gave us a couple of empty metal putty buckets to furnish our shack.  I know now we received more than 11 cents worth of nails that day.  


The next day we found some used tarpaper and made a pretty good roof.  It was the summer of adventure.

About 60 years later I drove by the “dump”.  It seems it is now considered a dangerous place by the helmet wearing progressives.   It was fenced in and marked NO TRESPASSING.   I started to think about how it took a “village” to build that shack.  Years ago it made no difference who we were.   We were just kids who cared about each other.  By pooling our resources, ideas, and talents, we built a society … if but for a short time.   

I wonder what happened to us?   

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