As I have written in my last few columns, going to town in Milaca was always an adventure. There were always so many things to see and do when I would go to the area around Main Street. In the country, we would see the people who lived around us but a trip to town meant seeing more friends and relatives than usual.
New item catches on
Don’s Lunch was owned by Don Anderson and it also was were my Great Aunt Agda Reed worked. A visit here meant having a pop or grabbing a hamburger. One time when I was eating there Agda suggested I try this new food that had just been added to the menu. It was a newer food that had just become popular in other restaurants, and Milaca was seeing if it would catch on. She gave me a plate of these long, skinny, greasy things that were fried and made out of potatoes. They really had no color to them. I thought they were OK, but I did not really like them that much. Little did I know this would become a huge staple in most fast food restaurants…French fries. So Don’s Lunch was the first place that most people in Milaca, at that time, had their first taste of the French fry.
Bottle caps as boot scraper
I had to do a 4-H project and with the help of Agda working at Don’s Lunch it was a success. During the 1940s, a bottle of pop had a top on it that was made out of metal and you had to use a certain type of opener to take off the cap. The edges around the metal cap were jagged, almost like a rippled effect. I asked Agda when she served people a bottle of pop, instead of throwing the cap away would she please save them for me. At that time having a bottle of pop was something that happened for special occasions, so without her help I am not sure how long it would have taken me to collect as many caps as I needed. I was so happy when she gave me the caps she had collected at the restaurant so I could start my project. What I made was a shoe scraper. When farmers would come in after a long day in the fields or barn they usually would have dirt, mud, and other stuff caked on the bottom of their boots or shoes. They needed a way to get it off at the end of the day. I provided this when I nailed all 50 or so bottle caps upside down to a 2X2 piece of plywood. The idea was before you would walk into the house you could scrape everything off the bottom of your shoes. It really worked well. I made one for my house and one for my grandparents and we thought it was a hit. At the Mille Lacs County Fair I was awarded a second place ribbon for my project. Too bad Shark Tank was not around then.
Seeking special bottles
On Railroad Street, was the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Milaca was so proud to be able to say that we had been picked to be one of the cities where they bottled Coke. In the 40s when I grew up Coca-Cola was bottled in glass bottles in many different places in the United States. After you drank your bottle of pop, which cost about 10 cents then, you could return the bottle and receive 5 cents back. Then the glass bottles were collected and sent to a bottling company where they would be refilled. On the bottom of the bottle would be stamped where the bottle had originally been filled. It was so much fun to turn the bottle over and see where it had started from and a bigger thrill was if it had Milaca stamped on it. I do not think I ever got a bottle that said Milaca but I always hoped it would happen. Florence Wahl owned the bottling company, and she or another employee would give us a free bottle when we would stop in. We really thought that was a big deal. They closed the Milaca Coke-a-Cola Bottling Company around the mid 1950s and I was really sad to see it go. Years later, I told my daughter Jill about my visits there and that started her on a mission. Every time she would see a glass Coke bottle she would turn it over looking for my Milaca bottle of Coke. I do not know how long it took her to find it, but she did. Where do you think she found it? Just outside of Milaca in a big barn full of treasures. The coolest thing is that it is full of the original Coke. It sits on my bookshelf in my office and is a prized possession of mine.
We had two drug stores in Milaca, Borcher’s Drug and Presley’s Drug that were right across the street form each other. At Presley’s there was a big soda fountain that served all sorts of ice cream treats. The girl behind the counter was Jeannie Helman-Isaacson, who would later become my sister-in-law. She would make the most delicious malts and serve them to us as we waited on the ice cream parlor chairs around tables. My favorite malts were the butterscotch or cherry ones. Borcher’s Drug was where you would go to buy the junior and the senior class play tickets. There were two plays put on during the year, one in the fall by the juniors and one in the spring by the seniors. There was a box that was set up to look like the seating area and you would pick what tickets you wanted. It was actually well thought out because you could see each row and each seat compared to where the stage was. You could pick your tickets based on where you wanted to sit and get a good idea were you would be at. Kinda that same idea as now, where you can go on the computer and click on the seating chart to see what is available and where you want your own tickets to be. At Borchers there was a lady who worked there who took her job very seriously. From the moment us kids would walk in the door she would watch us like a hawk to make sure no one took anything. One funny thing about the two drug stores was that customers would get confused if they went into one store and then visited the next. They would see that the same person was working in both stores at the same time. Often they would say, “I thought I just saw you at the other drug store”. No, it was not that they where seeing double, they were seeing the Reed twins, my second cousins Janice and Joanne. One twin worked at Presley’s and the other at Borcher’s.
Do-it-yourself dance parties
Across the street from the old high school to the west was Harmony Hall. It was an old building even back in the 1940s and most of the time it sat empty with nothing happening in it. A few friends and I decided we wanted to rent it when we were in high school and have a dance. There were very few places back then where junior high or senior high kids could go and dance and this hall provided the perfect place for my friends and me to have some good clean fun. I went to the city hall and purchased a $5 permit to rent and hold a dance in Harmony Hall. I could tell by the way the clerk acted that they really did not want to let me have the permit. I think they thought we would cause problems or damage the hall but they did grant it to me. My buddies and I cleaned it up and decorated it a little bit. We collected money from the people who were going to come and bought some pop and food for the dance. Our friends came and danced to the music provided by my record player from my 45 RPM records. When slow songs came on everyone danced. When we played the fast music, us boys would not go out on the dance floor but the girls did. I think we thought that you had to know certain steps to dance to the fast songs so we were a little intimidated to go out on the floor and possibly look awkward. Little did we know, we could have gone out there and pretty much done anything like the kids do dancing to fast music today. After the dance we all cleaned up the hall, which made all the adults happy at city hall. It went so well that I rented out the hall about eight times over the years and we had our parties.
I hope that you are enjoying going down the 1940s-50s Milaca Main Street with me. I’m hoping it make some of you smile, some of you laugh and to some bring back great memories of your childhood during the same time as mine. To those born after this time period I hope it shows you what made Milaca what it is today. Most of all, I hope it provides enjoyment to all.
Jerry Carlson grew up in the Milaca area and now resides in Bloomington, Minnesota. With the help of his daughter Jill’s writing, he hopes to bring back memories of past Milaca experiences.