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‘Thursday Crew’ pitches in, finds plenty to do at KCHS

They call themselves the Thursday crew, and since about 1990 have been showing up every Thursday afternoon at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society to do whatever jobs need doing, from maintenance, to repair work, to restoration work, to painting and many other things. They have tons of fun as they’re working, or taking a coffee break, which they’ve been known to do on occasion. “Anything you hear here today is really a fact,” quipped Wayne Fostervold, 83, and better known as Pinky. “I’ll second that,” said another of the crew. “You have to have very thick skin to work here,” chuckled Dale Johnson, 68, one of the youngsters in the crew. Fostervold has been with the crew since it was started all those years ago by Bob Lehman. “He thought we should get together one afternoon a week and do things around here. We’ve done a lot of different projects, including moving in a windmill, which we hauled in here on two hayracks behind a pickup.” Fostervold said they came right down Highway 71 with it, just like they owned the place. It’s sitting by the Sperry House which is located next to the historical society building. There used to have a windmill by the Sperry House, Fostervold said, going on to explain that it was a farm at one time. When they moved the current windmill onto the property, the brakes wouldn’t turn on that windmill. It would have worked if they had let it go, he said, but since the breaks wouldn’t turn they didn’t. This windmill sat on a farm north of Willmar where it pumped water for many years. “They wore out too many parts. We put oil in the container but it oiled up everything, so we shut it down.” He went on to say they started the Thursday group because there were a lot of little projects that had to be done. One guy said ‘and we wanted free coffee.’ Fostervold, agreed, saying that coffee is mighty important. “We do this instead of having to hire somebody to do it and it saves quite a bit of money.” They work every Thursday. “It used to be from 1-4:30 p.m., but it’s gotten shortened up a little bit, and it depends on what kind of a project we are working on.” They’ve been refinishing an old coach seat from a railroad car that they plan to put on display. “It was in sad shape and we couldn’t really display it.” They had to recover the seats of the backrest with material and get the rust and old paint off the rest of it. After that the plan was to match the original colors and get it put back together. It’s an old train seat that changes from one way to the other. Going out you sit one way and on the way back you flip the seat over so you can face the other way. You can sit facing traffic or facing away, whatever suits you. “It will look pretty good when we get done.” Loren Luschen, 67, another one of the youngsters, said it’s been fun restoring that old seat of a passenger train car. “Doing stuff like that is fun rather than just doing maintenance.” Fostervold said they also worked on the Guri Endresen cabin. The bottom log on that cabin was rotted away so much that the cabin was sagging down. They replaced that, he said. “At one time they had built a house around the cabin so we had to strip all that stuff out and get it back to what it would have looked like in its early days. They sawed down a large old tree on a nearby farm. “We got a lot of oak lumber to use and we used one for the bottom log and we put the loft in the way it used to be.” He said they worked with a big crew, probably ten guys, and stripped off all the wainscoting. “Some days there were three of four of those that were working. And we always had coffee.” The cabin had been used, Fostervold said. “I know a couple people that lived there after the house was built.” The house is very small, he said, with a loft where he’s sure they slept. The main floor had a kitchen with a table and that’s about all there was room for. There was no bathroom and there was no outhouse there either, he said. “There was a chicken house there but one of the renters that lived there burned all those logs up to heat with.” He said they enjoyed working on the Guri Endresen cabin. “We had these logs sawed at a sawmill by Nest Lake and that man wanted to do it for nothing but we did pay him some.” He said they had a lot of excess wood to get rid of when they tore up the wainscoting in the cabin. “We got rid of that. Walt Sommerville was still with us and he burned wood, so he went out of there with a pickup load of wood every day. We asked, ‘how big a length do you want them sawed’ and we’d saw them to his length.” Had they not done that, he said, they would have had to haul the wood out or done something with it. “He took it home and burned it in his stove.” Johnson said when he started with the Thursday crew in 1999, there were seven or eight that were working. He recalls one of the first projects he was involved with was to split all of the old telephone poles so they could put them around the locomotive. “And there were a couple of projects Pinky and I got hooked into. We redid the roof on the Sperry House. We were the only dumb ones to climb on top of the roof and fix it.” But then Luschen came along, he said, and they got him to climb up there. “We have various projects that go on and a lot of it ties into rebuilding or fixing up some of the equipment that’s donated and getting it into shape so it can be shown.” A few years back they had a nice set of harness that was donated. Johnson used to give tours in the ag building and since it was hard to explain to the younger generation how you put harness on a horse, they built their own horses out of barrels and wood and covered them in fabric. “We have ‘horses’ that have the harness on them. They look pretty good and this way you can put the harness on and explain to the kids how a harness goes on.” He added, “with a lot of the old ag equipment, most of the younger generation coming up have no concept at all of the old farm equipment, the milk separators and all of that, so it’s kind of nice to have those things on display.” They just have a fun time as they’re working, he said. Fostervold agreed. “We have a good time at it. He said putting lights on the locomotive for Christmas is also one of their projects. Johnson recalls how they collected the money to get the lights and then had to recruit Loren (Luschen) the last few years because there was only a couple of them that could climb to the top of the locomotive anymore. Fostervold said that first year he was the only one that could climb. “I had to get my grandson here to help me after school one day.” Fostervold recalled how back in 48 and 49 he fired on the train for parts of both of those years and some of that was on a train with the same class and same numbers as this locomotive. “I worked for the railroad and you still had hand fired engines where you shoveled coal, had a stoker that run the coal in and then the oil burners.” They were just getting the diesel locomotives back then he said, and it’s changed an awful lot. Johnson started volunteering when he was still working for the city of Willmar and had the city auditorium. “I was trained to preserve the memorial room and a lot of that relates to the historical society and everything else. That’s where a lot of my interest was early on.” Luschen, who is the newest recruit, started two to three years ago. He chuckled and said he joined the group after some harassment for many years by a certain person in the crew. Luschen retired from a part time job about two years ago and is finding this volunteer work to be very enjoyable. He’s enjoying working on the different projects “and some of the crazy things we do in trying to repair some stuff around here.” As a kid, Luschen remembers living on a farm south of Benson and seeing trains going through town that looked just like the locomotive at the historical society. “I think as you get older you get more interested in history and trying to preserve some of that information for the younger generation to look at, plus a lot of people come out here looking for historical information about their families.” He added, “Jill (the director at the historical society) and the others kind of take care of that stuff, while we do the exciting stuff out here, the hard work.” He said his most favorite project is decorating the train. A couple of years ago, Luschen said, they had to replace a log on the foundation of the old school house located at the historical society. That got to be what he described as quite a project, plus they had to paint it as well. “You have to kind of improvise but it’s interesting. We seem to figure out a way.” When replacing a log it might depend on what part of the building you’re doing, he said, but in that case it was just the foundation part that was basically covered up, so they just needed something that was good and sturdy. “I imagine if we had to be more historical we’d have to invest in somebody to find it for us.” Fostervold said he attended that old country school, which they moved in from its original location a mile north of the KWLM Radio Station.  Johnson said Elmond Eckblad, who is in his 90s and an old retired engineer, also has helped them out. “Until last year Elmond was always out here working and he’s well in his 90s. I’ve always liked it because when I started out here we had Elmond, Pinky, Don Niece and a couple of the others.” He talked about Pinky’s nickname and said they called him other things as well. Pinky said he’s hard of hearing so he doesn’t know what else they call him. He got the name Pinky from his social studies teacher when he was a freshman in high school. “I sat in the back of the row and he moved me up in the front and he’d stand there talking and out of the clear blue sky he’d (swat his hand through the air) just like that and I could feel the wind and I got just as red as a beet and he said ‘oh, we’ll call you Pinky’ and the next morning it was all through the whole school.” That’s been at least 25 years ago now he said with a chuckle. Johnson said when he started with the old railroaders, they’d have coffee and get around to talking about some of the old railroading times and it was always interesting just to come out and listen to the coffee times as well as the work projects they were undertaking. “It was real educational when we started talking,” said Fostervold. Johnson said he and Luschen have more of a farming background than the others and it’s interesting to hear them talk about some of the old buildings and some of the old history of the city of Willmar. The crew decided years ago that Thursday afternoons worked best for them and that’s how it’s been. Johnson said at one time a worker came in on a Thursday while they were having coffee and asked which one of them had died. “So we do have quite a bad reputation. We do perish occasionally, but all of us were having coffee that day and we were not the one that died.” Johnson said they also do a lot of work projects at the Guri Endreson site. “We keep the path cleared down to the gravesites that are out there, and we mow the grass.” He said there’s a couple of grave sites out there. “Any other projects that Jill or the others come up with, we get involved with too, including a little bit of painting now and then.” They re-sided the metal ag building, shingled the roof on the old log cabin, and did some shingling on the porch of the Sperry House a few years back. The log cabin belonged to Judge Quale at one time, and the last place it sat was on Long Lake for a duck hunting cabin. “It was in pretty good shape.”  ElRoy Gast, who is 80, enjoys the work as well. “I knew Pinky wanted to have something to do and I like the history of Kandiyohi County…it just seemed to be the thing to do.” He said he does whatever they suggest. “They were going 100 years before I got here,” he said to everybody’s laughter. Gast said he likes to work on keeping the engine going. “And just about everything up in the Sperry House is interesting, as well as all the displays in the back room which I enjoy and work with occasionally.” Gast was born and raised south of Willmar and has farmed there all but the two years he served in (Uncle) Sam’s army. They’ve made quite a few changes when it comes to displays, they said, noting at one time a circular display went all around the room. One of the projects they worked on was to dismantle that display, move it to different areas and open it up to make more of a display area. “A lot of displays that are in here are displays the Thursday crew built. We made some different display areas and it gives them some options.” From time to time they repaint them and the “up front group” will put in the different displays so we have some new updated displays every once in a while.” One of the first projects the Thursday crew did was to make ‘cubby holes.’ They built a number of the little cubicles. About two or three years ago they built an entire wall for displays. One display features an old post that came out of the courthouse, along with an old judge’s bench from the courthouse. A couple years ago they talked to Ralph Olson from Peterson Shoes about the old style x-ray machines they used in their shoe business. Well, Peterson still had one of those machines and he donated it to the historical society. “We picked it up, refinished it and rebuild some of it.” They explained how when you went to buy shoes, you’d put your feet in these old x-ray machines, press a button and look down into the machine which would x-ray your feet so you’d know whether or not your shoes fit. “But in the 50s they found out they were issuing too much radiation so they discontinued them. But they were very popular.” Eventually a lot of them were destroyed, they said, but they were fortunate Peterson Shoes kept it all these years and donated it. “A lot of people can probably remember going into the shoe stores and standing up and getting their feet x-rayed, and this is one of the few that’s probably still existing.” The guys also rebuilt the storage area in the archive room after the roof fell in one winter. There is no limit to their talent or the stories they tell. They don’t keep track of their hours, they just have fun as they’re doing what needs to be done. Luschen said the learning process on the Thursday crew is reasonable and both Johnson, Luschen and Fostervold said they’re always looking for volunteers, men or women. “If she can climb on the engine, that’s what we need, or on the roof. We need a couple of climbers.” There is one other essential criteria for that volunteer, bringing something to go along with that coffee.

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