Toy Factory friends: Memorial for Pete Fugleberg
By the early 1980s, I had done various jobs around town and ended up working evening shift at the toy factory with Pete, then a hefty bull of a young man with long reddish-gray hair, mustache and full beard that was sometimes festooned with bits and pieces of steel and aluminum shavings, little chunks of snus, or the crumbs left over from a sandwich. I learned quickly that Pete either liked you or he didn’t, and didn’t mince words otherwise. Thankfully for me, it was the former as we worked in close proximity to another for that year machining spindle housings on two ancient lathes with eight-foot beds. Each lathe had a brass plate that read: “Approved by The War Board” on it and lent us the notion that the toy factory spared no effort providing us with the best 40 year-old tooling money could buy. Even so, ‘Foog,’ (As in, ‘The Mighty Foog,’ his nickname derived from his last name) loved the old equipment and maintained it with a fervor only matched by his close friend, Syd.
Knowing proper machine operation, its precision adjustment, knowledge of raw materials and their properties were Pete and Syd’s forte; a sort of language or skill-set that set them apart from the general workforce and enamored them to others of alike mind, for example, the blacksmiths Sue Suess (The Raven, Volume 10 Issue 3) and Joel Miller, of Ravenwerks Forge in Falun Township, whose intrinsic interests included crafting iron by hand; giving it their signature, making it their own singular work. But for Pete, that longing was hard to accomplish in a factory setting where parts are mass-produced by the thousands, where the same tools and machines are used by others often less skilled.
One night Pete brought a large twelve-inch diameter rock to work with him and set it on the lathe turret with a sign that read: “Hammerin’ Helen’s,” in reference to the mushroomed steel corners of adjustment wheels on the lathe that both shifts used. Pete likened the abuse of that machine to that of this individual using a rock instead of the rawhide or plastic-faced hammers we were supposed to use. Of course, his complaints to management fell on deaf ears. His rock however, did elicit attention, if not stop the damage.
The year I worked with Pete on the lathes was a real education. Even though we wore plastic aprons to shield our clothes, our feet fairly swam in our machine oil-impregnated leather boots. Our hands were as soft as baby-butts though mine were sometimes cut or burned from picking out hot curls of steel shavings from the lathe chuck until Pete showed me the right way to do it. Pete would spout machinists lingo that took me weeks to decipher as he frequently talked about being on ‘the mill’ or about sixty ‘thow’ this or thirty ‘thow’ that; the latter, a reference I learned was to ‘thousandths of an inch’ in decimals, and the former, a vertically standing metal-working machine that cut or bored blocks or plates of steel or aluminum. To say Pete literally loved machining would be a gross understatement. Working iron perfectly suited the exacting nature inside of the man who, on whose unkempt outside, wore Steger mukluks and custom-made heavy-weight denim bib overalls the year around.
It was common knowledge that Pete, in his later position as a tool & die machinist, had little respect for college-educated manufacturing engineers who brought him their computer drawings of weld fixtures they wanted him to make. They illustrated the details as they conceived them, making him chuckle or reel with sarcasm after they had left. He would ignore their drawings for the most part, and go ahead to build it the right way: his way, maybe using one-inch thick aluminum plate, yards of pneumatic tubing and air hoses, clamping devices, additional aluminum or steel he milled into holding blocks and uprights. He would ‘trig’ the layout of his elaborate fixtures by hand, without a calculator, scribbling his figures on paper, envisioning what it was that his creation had to do, perfect every time. After Pete built something from nothing, no one had to tweak Pete’s work like they had to do with outside vendor’s fixtures. However, Pete wasn’t fast, and that fact had long been a bone of contention with the powers that be, but Pete didn’t care.
Perfection wasn’t just conjecture with Pete. His work wasn’t ‘close enough,’ it was ‘gnat’s ass’ perfect. It was one click of adjustment at a time. One draw of a flat file wielded by hand, for agonizing hours on end, sometimes days. Younger co-workers couldn’t see the point; they were schooled on computer-operated tooling and its resulting speed. Pete was an old-school craftsman out of his element in today’s fast-paced manufacturing environment. Younger employees jumped on their electric carts to service fixtures on the manufacturing floor; Pete would idle out on his, the speed of youth gone from his ailing body. The sometimes cantankerous side of his character conflicted with the increasing demands of the job. His impatience with stupid people, especially in management positions, finally ended his career at the toy factory despite his 29 years of loyal service and machining expertise.
I mentioned Pete in THE RAVEN, Volume 11 Issue 1, Page 8, “... as a local legend of epic proportion, longtime friend of Syd and his wife, Laura.” After which, Pete had grumped, “I’m only a legend in your mind, Sven.”
Not entirely so. Pete had been featured in THE RAVEN, years ago, in at least two stories excerpted below and personified as some raucous character or another throughout its tenure. Pete was written about in the Roseau Times-Region many times for his contributions of time and energy to the community at large, especially at Hayes Lake State Park during the winter when he offered free dogsled rides to the public.
I countered, after his untimely death, “No Pete, you are legend.”
Pete died in his sleep on July 25, 2012. Although his health had deteriorated over the past few years in part because of a respiratory ailment he had somehow acquired, among other physical discomforts attributed to his greater size, his friends were concerned about his state of health and although saddened deeply, not too surprised when they learned of his death.
Pound for pound Pete Fugleberg was no lightweight when it came to being a good man and friend to many people. Whether he was seen driving his ‘94 blue three-quarter ton Ford 4x4 pickup through Roseau amid a passenger-side pile of stuff, or astride his flat-black 2010 Harley Sportster at a stoplight, or sitting on his favorite stool at RJ’s bar & grill in Roseau, Pete was known to many, even if they didn’t know his name. Some young people in Roseau only knew Pete as the big old man who often fell asleep in a booth late at night at the Cenex Convenience Store in town. Little do they know, for a big man, Pete’s size belied the fact that he had been deceivingly quick in his day. I saw him vault off a dogsled many times to untangle a writhing pile of wild, crazed sled dogs and get them back on the trail in no more time than it takes a man to lace his boots. Or the time when his best friend and almost-brother, Syd, on-purpose, scraped Pete’s new custom-made Redwing boots and received a lightning-fast kick in the shins for his effort. Or the time when Pete awoke suddenly to the blast of a train locomotive’s air horn and headlight when, after quite a party, Syd stopped their car on the railroad tracks where the locomotive stood parked by the grain elevator in town. The incident made the paper, and Syd, very nearly made its obituary page.
But that wasn’t all who Pete was as an individual, not at all. On the wall of his tiny work area at the factory were several yellowed photographs of his sled dogs and outfits along snowcovered wilderness trails or his camp and canoe on some Quetico Provincial lake in Canada or the BWCA near Ely. Some photos were close-ups of ‘his huskies or his malamutes with names like ‘Namakan,’ ‘Saganaga,’ ‘Maligne,’ ‘Kahshahapiwi,’ or ‘Kawnipi,’ among others. One I remember was ‘Cobe.’ Another simply, ‘Black Dog,’ who, if I’m not mistaken, was another of his canoe dogs he said would jump ashore at a remote campsite and alert him to the presence of bears, if there were any. Foog would grow lively when he talked about those earlier days of ‘real snow,’ when he ran his teams regularly; his imagination would take him away to those days again. Everyone who knew Pete knew he enjoyed a good story, a good laugh, and was never one to drink to excess, especially in his later years.
What was noticeably absent from Pete’s company, in these later years, was one or two of his many sled dogs he’d bring to town with him. He told me one time, he had forty-one on his place, below Minnesota Hill, near Pinecreek, a cadre he called the ‘Lost River Bush Mutts.’ Pete said his dogs howled at the CN train when it sounded its horn across the border in Canada, just a stone’s throw away.
In addition to being fed a healthy blend of high protein dogfood, every day, that he purchased a half ton at a time, Pete would sometimes buy large quantities of hot dogs if they were on sale, and give them to his dogs as treats. Pete bonded with all his dogs by brushing and handling them daily from almost the day they were born. He kept his dogs in a big dog yard not far from the cabin. Each dog was chained to his doghouse where the ground around it had been excavated here and there by its high-strung resident. He cleaned their area and watered them every day, loosing one or two to run free for the duration. His dogs all had their shots against rabies and distemper; problem dogs he put down as unruly dogs were never tolerated in the yard or on the trail. Pete never married, so it appeared to me that his many dogs and the loving way he cared for them, substituted as his family in some respect.
One day, many years ago, Pete was talking to me about his sled dogs and how he would run them on the trails on Minnesota Hill. He lived below the Hill in a cabin he had built himself from cedar logs. I asked him if I could help exercise them sometime and he told me to come out when I could. All I knew about mushing was what I had seen on TV, as a kid back in the 50s, on “Sergeant Preston of The Yukon.” He had a part husky, part wolf dog named “King” that helped pull his sled and catch evil-doers. I knew Pete had to be just like Sergeant Preston if he was any musher at all and so I was all for the adventure.
I wrote about my experience in THE RAVEN, Volume 2, Issue 1. "What A Ride.”] : “Pete’s dogs were howling and barking continuously as he chose one after another for harness. Some lunged against their length of heavy chain and stood braced upon their hind legs straining for his attention. Others paced in wide-circles around their swivel tie-out stake, their chains tight.
Pete unhooked each chain one at a time and muscled a wild-eyed, plume-tailed, white fanged hyena to a neckline alongside his pickup truck. After he had picked four small wolf-like animals, he opened a box and picked out four red harnesses, each size designated by a special colored cord. The huskies cooperated thoroughly. The dogs seemed temporarily calmed by Pete’s looming presence and methodical demeanor as he put the harness over the head of each one and pulled their hard-muscled front legs through each side. Once left alone the pandemonium resumed....
Pete, working silently, dragged two sleds to the tie-out posts in the middle of the dog yard and tied a quick release snap to each. Then he laid out the black and blue-braided polyethylene tow lines and untangled the four tug lines and necklines that designated each dog’s place at the sled. He pointed out where each dog went and I unhooked them, one at a time, from the rocking truck as the other six of Pete’s team strained wildly at their necklines. I snapped each tug line and neckline and went back for another dog surprised by their instant cooperation once handled. This sudden timidness made me suspect that Pete had assembled these particularly small dogs for me, because I was inexperienced and they wouldn’t be so hard to handle. My suspicions grew firm as he man-handled each of his six matched, big-boned Alaskan and Siberian sled dogs and snapped them into their places on the tow line of his sled a few yards from mine.
Both teams stayed parallel to the other, straining and lunging ahead against the bungee strap shock cords between them and the sleds. Their loud barking and yowling was unnerving as all around me the unchosen dogs wailed their disappointment, their chains slapping the ground as they leaped against its length.
Pete emerged from his pickup wearing a large coyote fur cap and fur choppers looking for all the world, a mountain man from Jeremiah Johnson’s era. He walked to his sled, expressionless behind a full red-grey beard and bushy mustache. Only then did I think to ask, “How do you steer these things?” Pete simply shrugged, pulled his quick release with a jerk, shouted “OKAY!” and shot out of the yard like a mini-ball from a Hawken rifle, his dogs clawing for traction.
My shy dogs turned to demons as the sled began to jerk and shake as though possessed. I pulled the quick release but nothing happened. I struggled with it as the dogs leaped and cried eager to catch the other team. I pulled against the straining dogs, afraid to let go of the sled to work on the quick-release with both hands. Suddenly it fell apart and we rocketed out of the yard, my right arm jerked to its full elastic length of six feet. I tried to hold onto the handle bow and leaped in flying giant strides to maintain my footing. I was ripped from stationary and vertical to mobile and horizontal, and just as fast yelled “WHOA!!” to stop and jumped on the brake with both feet, as we collided with Pete’s entangled team, a virtual husky-hell of howling hounds that were just beyond sight of the dog yard...”
Pete was always popular at Hayes Lake State Park near Wannaska when he would bring a team of sled dogs and a sled and give free rides along the park’s snowmobile trail system to bring attention to the park’s beauty in the winter. He would tell people about mushing and answer their questions about the sport. One year he was asked by a resort to come up to the Northwest Angle during WinterFest and give rides on the Lake of The Woods to the uninitiated. Joe and his family and I met Pete at Young’s Bay. Joe wrote and illustrated the story, titled “Mushin’ with Pete” in Volume 1 Issue 2 of THE RAVEN ‘way back in 1994:
“It sounded like a good idea. Take the kids for a sled dog ride on Saturday morning. They’d love it. Several resorts up at the Northwest Angle were sponsoring a winterfest and one of the resorts had arranged for Pete Fugleberg to be there with a couple of sleds and eight of his beautiful dogs to give rides on Saturday and Sunday.
The whole family wanted to get in on the fun, so we set off for the Angle with visions of dogsleds dancing in our heads. It was cold that day, -10 below, but no wind.
We got to the Angle and there ahead of us was Pete. It’s hard to mistake Pete’s pickup, with its eight portable kennels, three sleds lashed on top and a plume of exhaust waving out back like a dog’s bushy tail.
Pete didn’t seem sure where he was going. We followed him down onto the plowed road across the lake. We came to an island. Pete sniffed it out then continued along the ice road. The road ended at the house of a nice lady who was telling people where to go. The big WinterFest was five miles away at another island she told us. We would have to finish the rest of the trip by dogsled.
Pete began to unlash and unload and to lay out lines and organize dogs and arrange a large assortment of buckets and bags. Having a dog is a simple matter. I have a dog and all it involves is buying a twenty pound bag of dog food now and then. But having a dog that actually does something is a terribly complicated matter.
The wind had come up and was cutting through my wool pants like I was wearing bermuda shorts. I told the nice lady that I couldn’t imagine myself riding a dogsled five miles in that wind.
“No problem,’ she said, ‘I’ll get on the radio and have the bomber come and take you to the resort.”
Thirty minutes later, a blue tank-like vehicle came crawling around the bend. A door popped open and a gloved hand beckoned to us. I was beginning to have second thoughts about this adventure. I had come for a quick sled ride, a bite to eat, and an early return to my cozy home in suburban Wannaska.
Pete was still laying out lines and arranging bags and looked nowhere ready to go. It was still ten below but the wind was howling along about 20 knots, kicking up loose snow on the lake. Now I was supposed to let myself be transported five miles from my car. To what end?
My wife Teresa and son Joey had warm clothes and wanted to go with Pete. Matt and Ned decided to go with me in the bomber. It was slightly warmer inside the bomber than out. A little fan oscillated over the windshield giving the driver a pair of peepholes. The bomber roared and lurched over the drifts. I noted the escape hatch in the roof.
After what seemed a long time, the bomber came to a stop. Outside, dozens of snowcats sat abandoned by the dock. We made our way through the greasy cloud of the pig roast and entered the resort. The small dining room was packed. It was like the cave of the Cyclops. The tables were covered with bones and big whiskey bottles. A cleaning woman made a futile effort to keep ahead of the debris.
We edged our way over to the window where I could keep a lookout for the dogs. But the dogs never came. As I stood in the noisy den I admitted something to myself that I’d been trying to keep a secret: I am a couch potato at heart. What wouldn’t I have given then to be sitting on the old couch at home, dozing with the old NBA?
Two hours we waited. At long last the dogs arrived. Teresa and Joey claimed they had fun, but by now the arctic dusk was falling and people weren’t pouring out of the resort demanding dogsled rides. Pete took the dogs out of their traces and hooked them onto their nightline. I found the driver of the bomber and herded my family back to civilization much wiser for the experience."
In the early 1990’s, when my daughter Bonny was five or six years old, Pete gave her his old wooden dogsled that was built on Hyfax or snowmobile-quality plastic slide-rail runners. He also brought her, two Alaskan husky pups we named ‘BB’, for his one blue eye and one brown eye, and ‘Two Socks’, for his two white front feet. Bonny also had a Dalmatian at the time appropriately named ‘Black Spot.’
When the huskies got bigger we would hook the three of them up together, with the harnesses and lines I bought from Pete. Bonny’s birthday is in January and when she turned six years old, she drove the three-dog team from our yard all by herself, the half mile to the mailbox, stopped them with a ‘whoa!’ and turned them with a ‘gee!’ and ran them home as fast as they could go, her feet on both the runners, her head below the handlebow, her short arms stretched above her head to hold onto the sled. What a sight! Jerry caught the whole thing on his video camera.
I remember Pete’s great facial expressions and humor, and the nights when he played riffs on his harmonica on the intercom at work. I remember the big party he threw every year, called ‘Foog Fest,’ where he and Syd cooked up a pig and maybe drink a beer or two, where on whose machine shed floor:
“NO RICE BURNERS ALLOWED” was scrawled into the concrete.
I remember Pete who paddled hundreds of miles in lightweight Winona Kevlar canoes that were systematically packed with Duluth knapsacks and all his important gear; whose other passions included a variety of musical instruments, matching handguns, custom-made rifles and scopes and whose friend, the gunsmith Miller, was spoken of frequently with respect due of a fellow high craftsman.
I know Pete’s closer friends will chronicle his unique life below Minnesota Hill for years on end, still, it’s hard to accept he’s gone from the community. -- WannaskaWriter