Little Falls, MN Thursday August 14
We are on our way to the Brainerd International Speedway for drag racing. Friday is a full day of qualifying competitions, the finals are Sunday but we thought one day might be enough for us. Instead of driving up and back on Friday and making it a really long day, we are spending Thursday and Friday nights at a B & B in Little Falls (Waller House B & B).
Our drive up was relaxed, stopping at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Our stop was just to check it out, maybe visiting Crane Meadow and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge at another time.
Little Falls is a town of over 8,000 and there is a falls on the Mississippi River for which the town is named. We stopped at the visitor center and received a concise summary of the town and some of the efforts underway to make the town just a little different from other communities. For instance, while there are some wall murals in town (which are popular in numerous towns), Little Falls is beginning efforts to install unique bike racks (see photos).
Little Falls was the source of water power and a lumbering community. Weyerhaeuser had a facility here and one of the Weyerhaeuser’s built a mansion here before moving to a larger house on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The Weyerhaeuser mansion is available for viewing but we passed it by for spending two hours at the Charles Lindbergh house. First, though, was a picnic lunch at Maple Island Park along the Mississippi River.
The Lindbergh home is where he lived during his youth. The tour includes a half hour video, docent tour, and museum. Our MN Historical Society membership gave us free admission. The house is located along the river and was built around 1900. I am not sure what each reader remembers about Lindbergh but we were struck by the “humanness” of the man.
His dad and mom ended up getting divorced and he spent time with each. He was not a good student, ending high school early to raise food on the farm for WWI efforts. He was asked to leave the Univ. of Wisconsin in his sophomore year. But he had a scientific and mechanical mind; constructing a hot water heater and home heating system off the wood stove installed in 1917. He was attracted to airplanes early in his life, and spent time in the US Army Air Service for a few years. He was one of the early pilots delivering mail by air in a time when 75% or so of these pilots died in crashes.
The historic site presents a balanced view of his life. Obviously, his record-setting non-stop flight over the Atlantic in 1927 made him famous, and is highlighted at the museum. The kidnapping and killing of his infant child is also covered. However, they also cover his isolationist stance leading up to WWII-of course most Americans were before Pearl Harbor; his pro-German comments; and his anti-Semitic comments. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the war effort as a civilian volunteer (FDR refused to accept him in the military) and he provided valuable assistance to the military in the Pacific. The site also informs you that in the early 2000s, three people in Switzerland came forward and were proven to be his children due to a extra-marital liaison with a Swiss woman.
A few interesting tidbits. A. Charles and his mother shook hands every night before going to bed. B. He and his mother took an auto trip to California in 1916. At age 14, he was the driver. However, there were no fuel pumps in an automobile then so gas was fed to the engine by gravity. BUT, going to CA means going over the mountains. How do you get gas while going uphill? You drive backwards up the mountain!!! It took them 40 days to make the trip.
After Lindbergh, we checked into the Waller House B & B, a very nice facility just a few blocks from downtown. The owners used to live in the Twin Cities and the husband worked at the Ford Plant. Dinner was at A.T. The Black and White cafe where the food was excellent. The husband and wife owners are Le Cordon Bleu trained and the food had excellent blends of ingredients and textures. Their chocolate mousse was one of the best I have ever had.
All in all, a brief visit to Little Falls has been pleasant. Another community whose initial reason for being, lumbering, has died out. Later on a strong boat manufacturing facility proved an economic engine but while still here, is much reduced in scope. The town still presents itself to an outsider as a pleasant, well-maintained community.
Earlier in the week I was an election judge for the primary election and attended Mayor Coleman’s presentation of the 2015 City of St. Paul budget. I am not sure why I did the budget presentation. I guess there was a sense of one should be involved in your local government but the presentation, while well done, was obviously a media event. 99.44% of the people there, over 150 in my estimation, were “suits”. No budget summary was distributed to normal people and no questions were taken. So, not an event I am likely to repeat.
When I retired in 2012, I needed a few activities to keep me active. One of the items was to volunteer as an election judge. In 2012, I worked the presidential election that brought in big crowds. I was a newbie and spent the entire day helping people figure out which line to get into. So when I volunteered for this year, I was a little nervous. All judges must take a multi-hour training class, I did mine online this year. There is a lot to know and I was uncertain I would remember the rules for registering, what to do with spoiled ballots, can you or can’t you use a cell phone in the voting booth (no), etc.
I was assigned to a different location than 2012, the Jimmie Lee Community Center at Lexington and Marshall. This new location also was the voting place for two precincts, meaning a need to help people figure out which precinct they were in. The working hours are from 6 AM to 8:45 PM, which leaves just enough time to set up and take down the equipment and signs before and after the voting hours of 7 AM to 8 PM. I drove there. Chris needed the car later in the day so she tried out a new bus line that was recently added. It is even closer to our condo that the St. Paul-MOA-airport line and goes up Lexington to Har Mar Mall. Our precinct has 2600 registered voters. This was a primary election, so only statewide offices with challenges were at stake. Well, after 13 hours of voting time, we processed 9 new registrations to vote and 203 people who cast their ballot. In 2012, we had more than 203 voters in the first hour. My biggest challenge was to stay awake.
I had brought a book to read (actually re-read, Asimov’s “Forward the Foundation”) but I only had snippets of time to read; a half-page here, a page and a half there. My morning task was easy, got me into the swing of things without worrying if I would screw up or not. I was the ballot counter official, showing people where to put their ballot in the counting machine, directing them to another spot if they voted wrong and the machine rejected their ballot (in a primary you only vote for candidates of one party). Despite instructions, by the end of the day we had 10 spoiled ballots from people who voted for multiple parties or multiple candidates in one race. I also had the major responsibility of handing out the “I Voted” stickers. It is surprising how polite people were and either truly wanted a sticker or enthusiastically pretended they did and took one with an eager, “Yes, thanks”. Even young men in their 20’s were eager recipients of a sticker. Relatively early on I witnessed the first spoiled ballot and could observe the process of discarding but still keeping track of the number of bad ballots and replacing it with a new one.
This easy first position coupled with the light traffic of a primary election made me more confident as I tackled job two-ballot judge. From noon until 8 pm, I was one of two ballot judges who distributed ballots to people who have registered today or were previously registered. (Registration judges validated their ability to vote.) Ballot judges are responsible for tracking the ballots distributed, making sure you only give a ballot to a person who is properly voting in this precinct. We have hourly checks on the total ballots, cross-checking on the number of ballots accepted by the ballot counter with the number of voters approved, spoiled ballots, blank ballots opened, etc. SUCCESS! our numbers at the end of the day tallied up. However, there was a time or two during the hourly checks during the day when my quick math totals were off and I had to say OOPS, 125 and 18 are 143, not 133.
Since it was a slow day, I was able to observe and/or talk to voters. We had one woman complain that we set up the voting booths too far from the registration table and ballot counter and that people who had difficulty walking (not her) were being inconvenienced. The head judge moved the booth with the chair closer to at least partially remedy the issue. There was a very nice young woman who translated our directions into Hmong for her parents and then came back and registered and voted afterwards. There was the guy who voted and told me how he had been a political science professor at St. John’s in 1971 and decided he should move to St. Paul and become involved in politics. He ended up heading a series of free health clinics. He is working on his wife to retire so they can travel more; she said she has a counter on her desk until next March when she turns 65 and will quit. There were a number of parents with their children in tow, most were very well-behaved.
The head judge was new to this precinct also. He had been a head judge before but not here so he had an opportunity to be concerned whether everything would turn out okay. (They did.) He told me since I had not noticed (there’s a surprise) he was one of the people in the training videos I had watched online. Several of us were new to this precinct but all of us had signed up to work the general election in November so we will return and be much more comfortable in the setting. At least two of the judges had worked here before. There were about ten judges in all. The head judge, a new registration judge, two judges to verify previously registered voters, two ballot judges, one election counting machine judge, and a greeter to direct people to the correct precincts. Three people only worked partial shifts, the rest of us worked the entire day. The head judge informed me that in Ramsey County, election judges are sent out to nursing homes in advance of the elections to allow residents to vote via absentee ballot. There are about 35 nursing homes they visit. They do not go to assisted living or independent living areas, just the nursing home component.
After a couple of hours, the head judge from the second precinct whose ballot area was behind a curtain in the huge gym we were using would start wandering over to compare total voters between the two precincts. Thus, began an epic journey for him, as he must have checked our counter about every ten minutes. After a while it became a game. We were always slightly ahead, 3 ballots, 10 ballots, maybe 15 ballots. Around 6 pm it seemed his precinct might pull ahead as they received a boost from a quick influx of about 8 voters. We ended the night the victors, 203 to 201. Chris picked me up in the parking lot and it was home to bed.
Ed and Chris Little Falls, 10 pm