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Pulp truck, moose: rarities in our area

I saw a pulp truck the other day … near Hutchinson.
It looked as out of place as the moose that took up residence at a New Ulm area farm recently. They both appeared to be lost.
The sight of a pulp truck brought back memories of my college days working in a pulp and paper mill in International Falls and of my early days as the editor of the Fort Frances (Ontario) Times. Pulp trucks, loaded with 10-foot logs, were a common sight coming and going to the Boise Cascade mills on both sides of Rainy River, the divide between Minnesota and Ontario.
But to see one this far south was, well, unusual.
I traveled to International Falls in early November and remember seeing just one or two pulp trucks from Cloquet northward. So the pulp truck is now a rarity in northern Minnesota, too. That’s a sad commentary on that industry, once the lifeblood for so many in those northern communities.
In its prime, the sight of a lumbering pulp truck rumbling into town was as familiar as a Ford pickup. It was a healthy sign of the region that encompassed hundreds of square miles and hundreds of thousands of acres of forest prime for harvesting.
I worked my way through college and helped support my young family by working in the pulp and paper mill as well as an accompanying Insulite plant that made home insulation out of wood fibers.
I literally started at the bottom. The bottom being the bark plant where they stripped the logs and recycled the bark for its massive boilers. When I say bottom, I mean it. We were on the lowest level of the plant, which happened to be below the water level of nearby Rainy River.
With pitch forks and waders, we stood in water pitching the wet bark onto conveyor belts to places unknown for eight hours a shift. If your replacement did not show up, you worked the next eight hours, too. When the load of incoming bark became too much, someone hit a button that jettisoned the bark out into the river and that allowed us to catch up again. I liked that button ... a lot.
Remember, the 1960s were the days before the Environmental Pollution Agency regulations were taken real seriously, especially by the pulp and paper industry.
During the summer, the bark plant was nice and cool; it was a different story in the winter. Besides wet, damp conditions, one always had to keep an eye out for dive-bombing bats and birds. Great incentive to get that college degree!
Prior to the 1960s, residents on both sides of the river also lived with the sulfur smell generated by the mills. It literally smelled like rotten eggs on some days. Good days were when the south wind blew the smell to the Canadian side. A north wind was a bad omen.
But all the oldtimers used to say: “That’s the smell of money.” The mills were operating and hundreds of workers were employed. That is not the case today. The good old days are over.
Before my mill career was over, I worked in the dangerous boiler house, on the hot paper machines and in the stifling Insulite plant that is now long gone. Not sure what was the worst job I had, but several were close to the top of that list, including the bark plant.
The pulp trucks continued to roll down the streets of the Falls and Fort Frances for many years thereafter.
At the Fort Frances Times, the staff took a coffee break at a main street hotel restaurant at mid morning. The length of the break often coincided with the number of pulp trucks we counted that rolled past the big picture window on the way to being unloaded near the river and mill on the Canadian side.
When we saw 15 or 20 pulp trucks, we knew the half-hour coffee break was over.
Things were going well as long as the pulp trucks kept rolling through town.
So the sight of a pulp truck near Hutchinson surprised me. I don’t think there is a new paper mill in Hutchinson.
Perhaps the Hutchinson pulp truck simply took a wrong turn and stopped to ask for directions. That would have been one heck of a wrong turn! Just like the wayward moose.
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, but still plans to submit an occasional column.