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Moccasin Mike Road, Melba toast and MacGyver

Editor's Note: This latest submission for the "Senior Class" column is from T. W. King, Solon Springs. * * * It was the summer of 1954. The city of Superior was celebrating its centennial. "Super City," our family's home for so long, was 100 year...

Editor's Note: This latest submission for the "Senior Class" column is from T. W. King, Solon Springs.

* * *

It was the summer of 1954. The city of Superior was celebrating its centennial. "Super City," our family's home for so long, was 100 years old!

Most of what I remember from the celebration itself is what I have seen in our family pictures. But I do recall vividly a few important (to a four-year old) events that penetrated even more deeply into my young brain.

First would be the steam engines and trains down at the old depot in Superior. The low, powerful vibrations and chug, chug, chug of the old-time steam engines as they moved the trains sink into your soul forever. Also, the loud, commanding whoosh and hiss, as the engines slowed and brought the trains to rest, are all unforgettable. I recall too the voluminous clouds of water vapor, and the intense heat coming off the engines as we watched them work from close by that bright, sunny summer day.

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For some reason, I also recall in detail the long hand-tied bow tie that my Uncle Clough wore with his dapper suit for the occasion. He had let me, the eager young nerd-kid in plaid suspender shorts (good grief!), "help" him tie his bow tie. Not much help, probably, but I can remember trying hard to keep the ends straight and to loop them correctly for him.

Tying my shoes at that time was challenge enough for me; it still is some days. So the Superior centennial picture of him with his natty bow tie neatly and properly knotted likely had nothing to do with my efforts.

The "downtown'' Superior events held are a bit foggy, figuratively only, to me now. But I sure remember the next part. We rode in Uncle Clough's and Aunt Mabel's big car out to Wisconsin Point on the then rough-graveled Moccasin Mike Road for a picnic with the whole family. They even had the wicker picnic basket of food, and the red plaid picnic blanket to put out on the beach for everyone.

Then two amazing things happened, based on my four-summers-old memory. The first was that we had Melba toast with the picnic lunch; the first time for me. I thought they were kidding when Aunt Mabel first handed it to me to eat. It seemed like just some dry, old, stale, hard bread. Today, we might even call it "edible styrofoam" or some such. Anyway, it seemed a pretty strange thing to eat.

But it was OK, I guess. I ate it. By the end of that busy day, I was really hungry, having not eaten much in the rush of events. That was probably why it tasted all right at the time. If, in fact, actual styrofoam had been invented then, and we had had it with us, it may also have tasted fine to me at that point. Who knows?

The other amazing event I recall with complete clarity, and it will stay with me the rest of my life. As we drove in and out of the many side inlet roads (dirt tracks, actually) checking out the beach areas off Moccasin Mike Road, the huge, lumbering car bottomed out several times on the rocks, roots, and sand ruts we were driving over. We heard a clank -- and a crunch.

Soon, the smell of gasoline surrounded us. Uncle Clough's beautiful, bodacious Buick (Oldsmobile, maybe?) had sprung a leak. The gas tank was punctured. We could see and smell liquid draining from under the car onto the sand-rock-rut road we were on right near the Lake Superior shore.

Without missing a beat, and still dressed in his 1850s-period centennial suit, and of course still wearing the bow tie with which I had assisted him, Uncle Clough popped two sticks of gum into his mouth! I thought that was pretty cool -- immediate treats in an emergency always seems like a good idea to me, then and now.

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He chewed the gum furiously for a few moments, then hurriedly bailed out of the driver's seat to his left and disappeared under the car. I had no idea what was going on. He emerged a few moments later, smiling. Then he drove us back to their house, with the gas tank fixed just fine -- for the moment at least.

Years later, when I read "The Thinking Machine" stories in school in the 1960s, and then saw the "MacGyver" television series in the 1980s, both based on creative problem solving, I remembered Uncle Clough and our adventures that day. I will always relive a bit of that thought-evoking experience each time I see problems fixed in creative ways. And I still keep a pack of gum handy in my Suburu dashboard -- just in case.

But no Melba toast. That would only go in the ends of our kayaks for flotation.

(Dr. T. W. King is professor emeritus, Communication Sciences & Disorders, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He lives and writes in Solon Springs. © 2006. Thomas Wayne King. All Rights Reserved.)

* * *

The "Senior Class" column is a forum open only to seniors who wish to share remembrances with other seniors and those who care about them, those who can best understand what it all means and how very important it all is. We invite all our other senior readers to submit similar written memories of a graduation, birthday, holiday or other special occasion, recollections of what life was like when they were young, historical items of interest, etc. We can't guarantee we'll be able to publish everything we receive, but we'll try to be fair and use as much as we can.

Because space is always a premium, try to limit the length of offerings to about 400 words. Send your submission to "The Senior Class," % Editorial Department, The Daily Telegram, 1226 Ogden Ave., Superior, WI 54880.

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