The Chinese engineer who mined an American life on Minnesota’s Iron Range

Wen Ping Pan was arguably the fastest man in China in 1912. Also among the nation’s best tennis players, he had his pick between competing in the Olympics against Jim Thorpe or playing in the esteemed Davis Cup tennis tournament. Ultimately, he did neither. Geopolitical change would radically alter this young man’s life, most of… Read More →

From horse and buggy to hybrids, the woman who lived history


My great-grandmother Ruby Peck died Feb. 26, 2017 at the age of 103. For most of my life she lived alone in a small house set amid the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. My great-grandmother was a rock-ribbed Republican who voted that way because the GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S…. Read More →

The cold comfort of adulthood

Everything is easy until you open the door. That’s true of life, but especially winter in Northern Minnesota. After Christmas, winter becomes an extended stay in a Residence Inn. We already know what keeps in the hotel fridge, how long to microwave the popcorn, the cost of every item in the vending machine. Our only enemy… Read More →

Rawr: ‘Cougar’ catfight stirs controversy

Last week, a young hunter perched in his deer stand near Nashwauk got the story of a lifetime without even firing a shot. Here’s the description from an article by Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: I wasn’t there, but I know this: Jordan Bowen saw a big wildcat try to attack a deer. The… Read More →

Grandpa has something to tell Grandma

Gray skies hang low over the idled Keewatin Taconite plant. I meet my grandpa, Marv Johnson, at the very busy Sinclair gas station. We’re on a secret mission. “Too crowded,” he says. I peek around the corner at the gas station’s only table and chairs. Several townsfolk stare back like whitetail deer. Grandpa’s already back… Read More →

On Swedish (American) Egg Coffee

If you spend enough time around older Scandinavian-Americans in Minnesota they eventually tell you about Swedish Egg Coffee. Then they make you drink it. They will not let you leave or change the subject until you agree that it is better than “regular” coffee. What is Swedish Egg Coffee? Don’t overthink it. It’s coffee brewed… Read More →

On ‘Clarence’ and wallets filled with gravity

My kids like to watch a show called “Clarence” on Cartoon Network. To be honest, I like it, too. This oddball kid Clarence lives in Aberdale, a suburb of a large city in the American Southwest. His mom is a hair stylist and her boyfriend Chad, Clarence’s father figure, is unemployed. All but one or… Read More →

Dig a mile in another man’s skid steer

As khaki-wearing bloggers go, I interact with a unusually high number of people who operate heavy equipment. These people move dirt for fun and profit using machines that suck diesel fuel the way a dry horse drinks water. I owe part of this to family ties. My Grandpa Brown, now an octogenarian, uses his skid… Read More →

T-bone fever: Tales from a meat raffle

Though humans evolved as omnivores, many people on earth do not eat meat. Early vegetarianism could be found in ancient Greece. Abstinence from animal flesh has been part of Hinduism and Buddhism since the 7th Century BC. One finds vegetarians in many parts of modern society, many swearing by the health benefits and moral authority… Read More →

What makes Minnesota alligators different?

Passers-by found a baby alligator along a bike train near Brainerd earlier this week. A reptile handler from a nearby wildlife center retrieved the creature, the aftermath of which you can see in this YouTube video: Authorities believe it was either someone’s pet that escaped or was released illegally. It’s safe to say that alligators will… Read More →