... Taking a look back

Guest Columnist Roy W. Ranum Reprinted with permission from "The Good Old Days." In the winter of 1953, the Cloquet (Minn.) High School basketball team made it to the district finals. On this particular night, they were to play the title game at ...

Guest Columnist Roy W. Ranum

Reprinted with permission from "The Good Old Days."

In the winter of 1953, the Cloquet (Minn.) High School basketball team made it to the district finals. On this particular night, they were to play the title game at the armory in East Duluth.

I was a bus driver teamed with Roy Weedman, another Cloquet police officer. We covered one regular route; whoever was off patrol covered the morning or afternoon bus route.

On the day of the game, a snowstorm had started, and it was intensifying by the hour. I had worked the day shift, and Roy was on afternoons and not available. Due to the bad weather, several drivers had turned down the chance to drive one of three buses to transport the team, cheerleaders, the band and fans to the game.


The school buses were 1950s Ford "flathead" models with heating systems that were mostly a joke. The radiators were covered with cardboard to get a little heat, mostly for defrosters to keep the windshields clear.

Upon arriving home from work, I received a call from Walt Hebert, the bus owner, asking me if I would be willing to pick up a busload of students at the high school at 6 p.m., drive them to the armory in Duluth, and return to Cloquet. I would earn my usual hourly rate.

I wasn't even sure if I could get my car across town to the bus shed. And the buses had no snow tires.

But I had an early supper and then drove to the bus shed. I selected my regular bus and made it to the high school, expecting to find no students waiting in the horrible weather. Two other buses showed up - another of Hebert's and one from Ray Clough. As it turned out, there were enough kids to fill two buses. Ray's bus went back to his garage.

The snow was still coming down. The trip on old Highway 61 wasn't too bad, but driving through Duluth was difficult.

I arrived at the armory, discharged my load, and looked for anything resembling a parking space. I circled the building, but everything was full. Then, two blocks east of the army, I found a spot.

Walking back to the building, I identified myself as a Cloquet bus driver, and was told I'd have to buy a ticket to get in.

"I was told drivers would have passes," I protested. "OK, I'll just get my bus and return to Cloquet now."


After a brief co

nversation among gate people, I was in.

The Cloquet team played at 8 p.m. and the game lasted until 10 - just when the city of Duluth quit plowing streets. I had them announce over the loudspeaker that the bus would pick up the Cloquet students where they had gotten off; they were to roster themselves and stick together in one bunch.

I waded through deep snow to the ice-cold Ford. By the time I got back through the traffic, it had barely started to warm up. The kids were waiting for me; they were all accounted for, and they quickly loaded.

I knew I was really going to have a tough time getting up the long grade of Thompson Hill to get out of Duluth.

I went back into the building and found a telephone. I called my father, who was the mayor of Cloquet. He was aware of my problem - busload of kids and a raging snowstorm.

I asked him if he or the city could help me get those kids home.

"A city snowplow will be waiting for you in Esko," he said. "Blink your headlights when you see it and it will plow you to the high school. Also, a city squad car will meet you at the high school to get children home."


The other bus already had loaded and departed. It got as far as a motel in West Duluth, where it stopped and unloaded everyone. They were packed into rooms and got back to Cloquet the next morning.

As I had feared, Thompson Hill was a nightmare. Cars and trucks that hadn't made the grade were scattered all over the two lanes. A state plow had zig-zagged up the hill just before I arrived, and I made it to the top, very slowly. The plow turned around at the top and headed back down.

The windshield kept fogging up and the fan defroster could not keep up. I had to shut off the heat, and I appointed a front-seat girl to keep scraping the windshield by hand. Then I realized that we were almost in Esko.

A city snowplow and a squad car met us at Esko as my father had promised. I flashed my lights and they took off, the plow in the lead, leaving a beautiful plowed lane in its wake, and the squad following, all flashing lights turned on.

It was close to midnight now. Who would be waiting for "my" kids? The local radio station, WKLK, usually went off the air after the 10 o'clock news, but it had stayed on to report our progress. Roy Weedman informed the police station by police radio, and it was relayed to the radio station.

The snowplow took us directly to the high school, where some lights were on and a door was open. Many cars were parked there, waiting, all with lights on and motors running.

Four kids had no one there to meet them. We quickly decided that Roy would take two from inside the city limits and the plow would take me a short distance outside to deliver the other two. Then the plow would take me back to the bus shed and plow me home.

Finally, all the kids were safely home.


The plow driver had to start plowing again at 4 a.m. Roy Weedman would have been home at 11. I had a bus route to run at 6:30 a.m.

The radio station signed off with the news at 12:45 a.m.

I later learned that if the city had not been able to find someone to drive the plow, the county would have.

My dad's first call to the city engineer, Bruce Boyer, had yielded a volunteer.

The amazing thing about all this was that no one - the city plow driver, Roy Weedman nor the radio station announcer - put in for overtime.

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