April 13th…“AS A LITTLE BOY GROWING UP IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, DID YOU EVER FIND A TREASURE IN A VERY UNLIKELY PLACE?”
Nestled among weeds and brambles, on the southern city limits of Kiester, Minnesota, dwelt our town junkyard. Old cars, trucks and other paraphernalia came here to rust away or be parted out for folk looking for cheap repairs on a vehicle of their own back at their farm. Dear Mr. Elmer Simonson was the proprietor who ran this business. This was a metal-laden heaven for dead hulks that once were sleek traveling conveyances in their heyday. Our father, Russell C. Noorlun, and Mr. Simonson were good friends and Dad would sometimes stop by the junkyard to see if he could get a part off of a wrecked car or tractor to use for repairs back on our farm. It was times like this that I LOVED to tag along with Dad to town, cause while he was talking with Elmer, it was my opportunity to explore and climb through countless classic ol’ cars and trucks. As I climbed inside the creaking contraption of what used to be a car, I’d settle behind the steering wheel and pretend to be driving the car on some imaginary adventure. Like any bouncing, boisterous boy, I relished the clouds of dust that would billow up within the interior of the old automobile from those dirt laden seats as I’d bounce up and down in my vigorous play acting.
Amongst all of this caliginous clatter of cluttered clunkers, there lived a quite unique individual. This man’s name was Beryl “Lightning” Lark and his “home” was literally a shack either in or nearby the boundary of the junkyard itself. To create some form of income for himself, “Lightning” would rummage through the junkyard and find discarded toys. He’d bring them back to his ramshackle dwelling and do his best to repair and then re-sell them.
To promote his little business endeavor, “Lightning” even advertised his business as a “Toy Factory” and would dress up in old lady’s clothing and ride a bike in the local High School Home Coming Parades as he’d throw out candy to the kids. It didn’t seem to bother “Lightning” in the least that this old dress was wayyyy too small for him and resulted in his big belly bursting open the dress up the side seams. Besides his “Toy Factory” earnings, Mr. Lark would also garner income by working odd jobs around town. He even got hired on to come out to our farm sometimes to help the grain grinders that would grind down the field corn into more of a powder form that was easier for our cows to eat.
On a very pleasant Summer’s evening, our cows had been milked and other chores had been completed. Now was the time that Dad needed to drive into town for something and asked if I’d like to come along. I was thrilled, of course, so we climbed into our 1950 Ford pickup and headed into Kiester. Sure was a good thing that I just happened to come along that night, because that was to be the evening I found my “treasure” in that junkyard. As the gentle light of dusk was bidding the world goodnight, Dad pulled up next to “Lightning’s Toy Factory” to step inside that shack and talk story with Mr. Lark. While the two men were talking, my little boy eyes locked on to what I thought was the coolest looking piece of boy treasure I had ever seen. It was a handsome, orange, dual axle, all metal Tonka brand dump truck. It was a little on the worn side, but it was in basically great condition. I must’ve used my saucer-sized pleading eyes to Dad, cause he made a deal with Mr. Lark……..and the truck was MINE!!!! My dump truck even had special piston hydraulic lifters that, when you tripped the dump box lever, it didn’t just flip up fast, but instead would slowly rise and bring the load of dirt up and allow it to dump out the back tailgate just like the real trucks did. And ohhhhh, those real rubber, knobby-treaded tires made the greatest tracks in our soft soil back at the farm. I cherished and played with that Tonka dump truck for many years! As I grew out of that toy truck stage of life, I made sure to tuck this orange treasure away and brought it out years later when our only son was ready to play trucks in his generation.
One boy’s trash (of that orange toy truck) was definitely another boy’s treasure for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.