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Phone: (218)663-7150
Fax: (218)663-7980
Mail: 4620 Sawbill Trail
Box 2129
Tofte, MN 55615

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Sawbill Newsletter Archives: September 2000
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « August 2000 | October 2000 »
9/30/00 - Ed Dallas, the Poet Laureate of Sawbill, writes:


At this time of year,
those who paddle
out from the Sawbill
find each night's campfire
a bit warmer,
sleeping bag zipped
all the way up,
stronger morning coffee
and portage trail mud
mimics potter's clay.

Oh, some will enjoy crispness
of blue sky dotted
with winter-chased geese
and yellow aspen-leaf rain
while others
(garageless city dwellers)
see only hardships
brought on by dreaded
and City Officials eager

9/29/00 - We had a visit on Wednesday from Wilson and Jane Arbogast. In 1934, Wilson and Jane, along with their father George, stepmother Jean, and two other brothers, built Sawbill Lodge on the south end of Sawbill Lake. Theirs is an amazing depression era story. They built a beautiful log lodge and twelve cabins from trees cut right on Sawbill Lake. It was a true northwoods pioneer effort under very difficult conditions. Wilson had many pictures from those times and I was impressed with how happy everyone looked. It was a hard life, but a great life. Sawbill Lodge went out of business in 1980. The Arbogast kids left the lodge to join the military during WWII. Their father and Jean divorced and Jean ran the lodge until she sold it in 1960. Jean started us in business in 1957 when she spun off the outfitting business to my parents, Frank and Mary Alice Hansen. - Bill

9/28/00 - Annie Pearson (nee' Stritmatter), former Sawbill crew member, now lives in Nicaragua. She sent up this picture of a 47' aluminum boat that her husband, Marcos, made. It is the second of three that he is making for an organization called Alistar. It will be used on Rio Coco for hauling freight and people to remote towns. Annie asks if we would like a few for BWCA Wilderness use. They only weigh two tons.

Pictured below are Brad (Gus) Gustason and friends who biked from Duluth to Sawbill and back last weekend. It took them four days total. They had wet and cold weather, but were revived by the Summit beer selection in the Sawbill store and the sauna.

Homer the puppy is thriving. Gus and Sunny have taught him well, as you can see...

9/23/00 - Gus and Sunny, Sawbill's most popular residents, would like to announce the arrival of their new friend, Homer Howard Hansen to Sawbill.

Homer, age 8 weeks.

Sawbill customer Eric Flom sent along this picture from the fires in Montana this summer. Impressive.

Photographed by John McColgan, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service

9/17/00 - Yesterday morning, Dave and Harriet, who live in a camping trailer here at Sawbill, woke up at 6:30 a. m. to some strange noises outside their door. Peering out the window, they discovered two canadian geese standing in the driveway honking at each other. I'm aware that geese are common, especially in urban areas, but we rarely see them here except flying overhead in "v" formation.

9/14/00 - Picture taken by Dave Freeman in front of the Sawbill Store. The pine martens are casing the place...

9/13/00 - A variety of news here at Sawbill. Moose continue to be sighted at a record pace. I saw three in one trip to town a few days ago. All were bulls who were starting into their annual mating period known as "rutting." These gentleman were obviously preoccupied and unwilling to concede possession of the road without a stare down. One huge bull even took a few threatening steps in my direction. I was stopped a respectful distance away, but still shifted quickly in reverse - just in case.

Ruthie Hansen departed yesterday, bound for her freshman year at the University of Chicago. People have expressed amazement that a country girl like Ruthie would choose one of the most urban campuses in the country. But, she is looking forward to the excitement and cultural enrichment that Chicago can offer. Perhaps we can entice her to submit a few impressions of Chicago from a northwoods point of view for this newsletter... if she has time.

Sawbill crew member Erik Hoekstra had an unfortunate accident with our big 3/4 ton pickup truck yesterday. He was driving down the Grade Road with the recycling trailer in tow and got sucked into some soft gravel. After a few fishtails, he ended up in the ditch. It was unlucky that the embankment was deep and steep at this point and the truck ended up on its side. Erik was thankfully unhurt. The truck is now in Richie Nelson's body shop having most of its sheet metal unwrinkled.

The fall colors have started in earnest along the Sawbill Trail. The maple hillsides near Tofte are showing about 20% red. Farther up, the underbrush is fully aflame with color. The birches and aspen are showing sudden splashes of yellow which are beautiful set against the vivid green background.

9/4/00 - David and Kathryn Olson, from New Jersey, have traveled many miles in canoe country over the years. They took the pictures below on their trip a couple of weeks ago and have many more on their website.

9/3/00 - We received this story by email this morning:


By Brand Frentz

We were forewarned to stay alert on the double portage from Kawasachong through Townline to Lake Polly in the South Central BWCA. In mid-July outfitter Bill Hansen's Sawbill Newsletter ( told about a smart, aggressive, and apparently pretty hungry bear who had been marauding along that trail. The bruin reportedly sneaked up on people, then when their backs were turned darted out and grabbed the food and ran! That put me on edge, but in fact we saw no bears in a week (probably because a good hazelnut crop had ripened). As it turned out, the wildlife was not as wild as their human counterparts. What we did see was some portage action, portaging, some original styles and interesting problems.

It was on the return trip. We had worked hard to get from Little Sag to Koma in one day, and started the last day late, and sore. As we moved slowly homeward the 190-rod portage from Townline to Kawasachong loomed as the back breaker.

As luck would have it, we faced a brisk south wind, right in our faces -- just as it had been out of the north and right in our faces when we came in. Because we were worn down to start with, it did not surprise me that as we crossed Lake Polly a pair of athletic young guys in an old 17-foot Alumacraft easily overtook us. We exchanged a few words, and they told us their impressive route: put-in at Hog Creek and in six days they had gone all the way west to Gabbro Lake and then back up the Kawishiwi River. To me that is a long trip, and they looked stronger than ever. We wished them good speed, although they already had it, and paddled on behind.

By the time we reached the portage they were loaded, each with a big pack on his back and a small one in front. What they did next did surprise me. They bent over and picked up the boat together, flipped it up over their heads and set it down with the seats resting on their big packs. This portage starts with a mean little rocky climb. They bounded up it like mountain goats, and out of our sight for good. So that is one way to carry the canoe, and it obviously was working for them.

We got loaded, Vycki with the food pack and incidentals, me with the canoe (Penobscot 16) and my day pack. Before going far we met a woman, then a man, then another, all with light loads and reserved (if not sullen) attitudes. One of them warned us that there were "terrible mudholes" on the second portage.

Then I came to the next curiosity of this portage, two women struggling with a red Penobscot 17. It was on the ground as I came up, and I couldn't help noticing that it had no yoke. Instead it had two broken pieces of wood connected to the gunnels, and nothing between them. They told me that one of the guys had been carrying it on the previous portage, and the yoke "just broke."

Very unfortunate, I agreed, so what are you doing now? They were on a day trip from Kawasachong to Lake Polly to fish, and they were determined to push on. How? They had secured PFDs to the bow and stern seats, then bent their heads forward and put the boat there, resting on their necks. Now that is a hard way to portage! I had to admire their grit, and wished them good luck. More with portaging than fishing.

After we completed the portage normally, me making a second round for the two other packs (equipment and clothing), we paddled across Townline to meet the day's main challenge. We had now been warned that it was muddy in addition to being long. We loaded and crossed over. Things seemed okay. Along the way we passed two young couples, who said a friendly "Hello," and gave a fleeting impression of uncertainty. At the put-in I rested a minute admiring our old friend Kawasachong, then started back for the final pull -- two 40-pound packs, front and back, and me already dragging. I thought to myself, "I'll at least enjoy the walk over, with nothing to carry."

You bet! I hadn't gone 100 yards when I came up to one of the young guys, struggling with a huge red seabag, a 17-foot Mad River Explorer on the ground next to him. Although I could see the problem, I said, "Hi, what's up?" He muttered something about this portaging being a tricky business. "Here," I said with my best BWCA manners, "Let me have that bag. The canoe is plenty by itself." He looked astonished. He muttered a breathless, "Awesome!" as I took his pack and he took the canoe.

As we walked I told him that it was normal for me to help him out, and that the other day on this very portage a guy had done the same for me. He told me that this was their first time in the BWCA and he didn't know how he could carry the pack and the canoe at once (this was the first real portage of their trip).

Before long we overtook his wife, who was cheerfully carrying two more big seabags, front and back. He beamed to her, "Look what this awesome guy is doing. He's taking our pack." Well, they were from Chicago, where I guess "awesome" is a popular word, and helping out strangers may not be as common on the street there as on portage trails in the BWCA. We chatted about the beauty of the woods as we approached the muddy section.

Now I had been through this mud already. It was okay. I just sloshed through in sandals, right down the middle where the trail once was. My friends from Chicago had not seen it. In fact they had only been in the BWCA for a couple of hours. Suddenly just ahead I heard, "Yiiiy!" and saw the woman sinking, right down to the packs! I dashed up and grabbed one arm, and another guy who happened to be coming the other way came over quickly and held her up on the other side.

Then slowly, carefully, we lifted her and her two big packs out of the rippling mudhole. When she was back at ground level, we set her down in the middle of the trail, where the mud was 3-4 inches deep but solid underneath. She gasped for air. Her husband with the Explorer on his shoulders came up just then, and she excitedly told him what had happened. More "awesomes," and everyone was happy.

The reason she went in, she said, was that she didn't like the looks of the mud on the trail. So she stepped off to the side, where it appeared to be grassy but was not.

We crossed the rest of the trail together in fine spirits. At the end, the Townline Lake put-in, I politely suggested that they consider double portaging next time, and they agreed enthusiastically. They thanked me, of course, and I said, "No problem, anybody would've done it." As I grabbed my two packs and headed across the portage for the last time I heard her say to her husband, voice crackling with emotion, "Wow, that was exhilarating!"

I was so anxious to tell Vycki about my adventures that I completely forgot that this was supposed to be the big challenge of the day, and the portage was over in a flash. Time flies when you're having fun. (The fatigue hit later, as it always does.)

9/2/00 - A man just walked into the store with a 27.9 lb Northern Pike tied to a paddle. He told us he caught the huge fish on a little spoon and 6 lb test line. Unfortunately our digital camera is having some technical difficulties, so we weren't able to get a picture of the fish. We're storing it in our freezer for the rest of the weekend. I was afraid to tell him that the last time someone stored a huge fish in our freezer, Adam pulled it out and threatened to use the stiff fish to play a few rounds of wiffle-ball.

Labor Day Weekend is in full-swing here at Sawbill. The campground was full last night, and is full tonight too. There's been a steady stream of people in the store and dome all day long. I know the summer's coming to an end when I overhear kids in the store discussing their school schedules. Oh my.

Sincerely Yours, -Ruthie

9/1/00 - 108 Carleton college freshman arrived at Sawbill today. In the morning they will split into 12 separate groups and venture into the wilderness on 12 different routes. Former crew members Natasha "BA" Warner and Annie Strupeck are here to help out over the busy weekend. It's great to see some different faces sitting behind the counter in the store. I'd like to write more, but Hey! There's work to be done!

Signing off, -Ruthie
Current Sawbill Newsletter | « August 2000 | October 2000 »


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