Roger Engstrom: 1950, the shortest summer in Becker County
May 17, 1950, was the beginning of the shortest summer in Becker County.
From information gleaned from issues of Detroit Lakes newspapers at the Becker County Historical Society, I noticed weather reports from that cold and miserable spring of 1950 are very similar to what we experienced the past two months.
At the end of April, R.L. Given of the Fargo-Detroit Ice Company, noted ice near his bottling plant was 29 inches thick. When Tim Lamb drilled a hole for Kevin Wallaven for a WDAY-TV news report on April 29, 2013, the ice on Detroit Lake near the Holiday Inn was 34 inches thick.
April 1950, was the coldest since 1907, with an average mean temperature of 34 degrees. Weather records for the first 10 days of May showed temperatures in the 30s at night with daytime highs in the 40s. A “raging snowstorm” was forecast for May 9, bringing total precipitation for the week to 1.31 inches.
Temperatures began to moderate after May 10 and the sun shone for the second time in nearly a month. A high temperature of 73 degrees was reported on May 12, which was followed by a high of 70 degrees on May 13 —the opening day of fishing season.
However, these warmer temperatures were no match for ice that was covering Big and Little Detroit Lake. On Monday morning, May 15, the game warden, Emil Frank, reported the lake was still about one-third covered with ice. On the opening day of fishing season Richard Blanding remembered standing near the pavilion, which was built about 1915, and casting out from shore about 30 feet to the ice.
Clem TeVogt began building his big dock at his Marina on May 17 when the ice went out. It was ready for use by Sunday May 21. Clem’s Big Dock, now J&K Marine, was started in 1876 by John K. West. At 137 years of age, this is one of the oldest continuous businesses in Minnesota.
From the May 18, 1950 Detroit Lakes Record:
Mayor F.J. Rogstad of Detroit Lakes along with Aldean Pearson, Kent Rogstad and Bob Bratt were trapped momentarily by a big sheet of ice.
The four men were fishing on Big Detroit, opposite the outlet of the Pelican River. Not having any luck, they decided to move further out in the lake and fish near the edge of the ice pack. They had been fishing in this spot a short time when they noticed that a sheet of ice had drifted between their boat and the shore.
Immediately the men started to get themselves out of their predicament. They had to take an oar to break the ice in order to reach shore. At times they couldn’t break the ice with the oar and had to get the boat up on the ice before the ice would break.
The four men didn’t get their boat home, but they did manage to reach shore. As an observer remarked: “They looked like George Washington crossing the Delaware.” However, Mayor Rogstad described the entire experience as “fun.”
Reports in the following week’s newspapers noted it was one of the poorest openers on record in recent years. Long Bridge, between Little Detroit Lake and Deadshot Bay reported one walleye was taken the first few hours. The best activity was down by the Pelican River where about 20 fellows were spearing suckers and they all had fish.
Duane Johnston entered a 6 pound 13 ounce walleye he caught on Detroit Lake at Coast-to-Coast (Now Ace Hardware). Three local business’ had a fishing contest; Coast-to-Coast, Bunnell’s and Specht’s Sport Shop.
Each business gave away an outboard motor as a grand prize at the end of the contest, which ran until Oct. 1. Weekly prizes of tackle were given for the largest fish in six different categories. Each entry had a chance to win the grand prize. Specht’s Bait Shop listed 40 sponsors in their two-thirds of a page ad in the newspaper.
The State Game and Fish Division reported walleyes were still spawning. It was noted as long as the water stays cold, walleyes would continue spawning. Samuel Eddy, professor of Zoology at University of Minnesota, said northerns and walleyes ordinarily spawn in water of about 38 degrees. A water temperature of a “fishable 45 degrees” was needed for better fishing. It was hoped this would be reached by Memorial Day, which was Tuesday, May 30.
Mink at the Twin Haven Mink ranch were sharing their “meat diet,” which is placed on top of the mink cages, with hundreds of robins.
Gill Gigstead noted that meat was needed by insect eating birds and grain was needed by game and seed eating birds. The cold weather was especially hard on the purple martins that relied on insects for their diet.
William Joy, superintendent of the State Fish Hatchery on Lake Sallie, noted that they couldn’t transplant the “fry” or fingerlings until the ice went out. Just before the fishing opener, it was noted that some areas might be “closed to fishing” if it was noticed there was a heavy concentration of fish in spawning beds.
Some areas of open water on Detroit Lake were a haven for hundreds of ducks, mostly bluebills.
The year 1950 could be called the year of the shortest summer on record. Ice didn’t leave Detroit Lake until May 17. After being ice-free for 177 days it froze over on Nov. 10.
Using the “ice-dates” for Detroit Lake, the summers of 2012 and 1999 hold the record of 247 days for the longest ice free period since 1911.