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Lake Kabetogama in the 1960s
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Deer Horn Resort - 1940s
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Back in the Day
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Deer Horn Resort

(1942 - early 1950s)

As told by Patricia Hamalainen (May 29, 2008)

Mr. & Mrs. Roy Rhodda, a county commissioner from Eveleth, built Deer Horn Resort in 1938. It consisted of six cabins, an icehouse, a fish house, and a sundries store that also served as home to the owners. Several Finnish builders did the actual construction. However, Mr. Rhodda made some pieces of furniture from two inch diamond willow decorated with pinecones. A few pieces still exist at the resort. Louie and Jennie Colbassani, my parents, bought Deer Horn Resort from Mr. &. Mrs. Rhodda when I was 11 years old in 1942.

Louie & Jennie Calabasani
Louie & Jennie Colbassani sitting on Morrie Cline's boat
Louie Colbassani was from Fossato de Vico, Italy, and Jennie, also of Italian descent, was from Hibbing. The Cobassanis lived in Virginia, MN, before moving to the resort. They operated the resort in the summer months and went back to Virginia in the winter months where Louie worked for the DWP Railroad. Jenny was a housewife, because in those days the man was thought not to be much of a man if he could not support his family.

The property was overgrown with trees and brush, and overrun with mosquitoes. The decision was made to trim the branches of the trees off the ground and clear out some of the brush to let air circulate. This alleviated the mosquito problem.

There were many repairs to be done when the resort was purchased. First came new bedding, blankets, sheets etc. because Mrs. Jennie Colbassani was a very neat and proper Lady. A trip to Fairbault, Minnesota to purchase all new linens was made in the 1938 Dodge panel truck.

The log cabins had not been regularly treated to prevent damage, as they need to be. Louie decided to spray the gray logs to a light tan to resemble their natural color. Jennie painted colorful window boxes, and the resort took on a fresh look.

There were old heaters in each cabin. Dad changed them to new oil heaters because many people did not know how to operate the old ones.

Guest and dock boy Joe Kovich
Guest and dock boy Joe Kovich
Then there was the purchase of wooden Larson Crestliner boats, six 18-ft boats replaced the 16-ft boats. Dad kept one 16-ft boat for me to use. Guests, who were executives from Montgomery Ward, helped Dad purchase Sea King and Johnson Motors. Each fishing season they would hire one person, a dock boy. Some of the names of the dock boys that I can remember were Tom Mortaloni (a cousin), Dick Oakman, Joey Kovich and Billy Samuelson. They had a little house they cleaned fish in and, at times, would have fish cleaning contests. Each day the dock boys would hoist the old wooden boats up with ropes, then wash out and clean the boats. The hoist was invented for us by a guest that had a machine shop.

The game warden was Melvin Larson, and the guides were Eric Rantila, John Salmi, Bert Magee, Earl Hawkers and a woman guide, Lou Brown.

As a child, I was never allowed to call anyone by their first name, but had to refer to them as Mr. or Mrs. I was also not allowed to leave the resort because there were bad influences down on the west end. The Nightingale Dance Hall and several local bars were the places my parents would not allow me to be seen in. However, after graduation day my father took me to the Nightingale. My mother received a phone call that Louie was at the Nightingale with a beautiful young lady. My mother said, “I know, that is our daughter, Pat.” The local people did not know me as I rarely left the resort.

Sundays were real work days preparing the cabins for new arrivals. Cleaning, sweeping all the floors with brooms (no vacuum) and then washing with soap, water and mops. Mondays were laundry day. Each piece was washed and then put through the mangle (wringer). I was always working the mangle and became an expert at the process. I sat in a chair with one foot up to push the button that operated the mangle.

The cabins had running water, but I remember the Health Department saying that the well was not good. Louie (my dad) then put in a system to draw in lake water so the cabins had good water. The outhouses were the worst thing to clean.

Each resort had their own little grocery with milk, eggs and things that people would need. The nearest grocery “store” was run by Mr. Neil Watson and was located in the town of Ray 8 miles away. Some of the the roads were one-lane gravel to get to the paved Highway 53.

There were telephones, but everyone was on the same line with different rings. One long, two short and one long was Deer Horn’s ring. Mrs. Watt was the telephone operator in Ray.

Deer Horn did have something unique... slot machines! Jennie's brother-in-law, who wasa a deputy sheriff, owned the company that provided the slot machnes. These were to occupy the women while the men went fishing. The men really didn’t want the women in their boats. Governor Youngdahl eventually outlawed gambling.

Guests on the dock, with Louie's labrador retriever Duke
Guests from Indiana (the Ryan brothers and their wives), on the dock, with Louie's labrador retriever Duke
In the evenings, the young people would stroll along the shoreline from resort to resort. There was entertainment by Gordie & Buckie Johnson from Four Winds Resort. They had guitars and could harmonize very well. Dad and the Johnsons would get together to harmonize and relax from their hard work.

We had an icehouse and harvested ice in the winter. My Dad hired Alfred Rantila to help harvest the ice. It was stored in wooden boxes with sawdust to keep it insulated. We had ice all summer long. Each cabin had a wooden icebox in the kitchen.

Alfred Rantila also helped build our breakwater dock. The ice would come in on our dock in the early spring and break it apart. When ice starts moving and is still very thick, it is powerful and strong. We lost our breakwater dock about three different springtimes. The Army Corps of Engineers, who tried to control the lake levels to alleviate the problems during spring break up, would come up to survey the damage.

From the Deer Horn breakwater, looking toward Yates Resort
From the Deer Horn breakwater, looking toward Yates Resort
Mr. & Mrs. Eggleston came through Canada in about 1950 and had been staying at Yate’s Resort. He had been Street Commissioner of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They were walking the path along the lakefront and came to our resort. They asked if we wanted to sell the resort. My dad said, “No, I don’t think so.” Mrs. Egleston had inherited some money, so they were persistent. They compared the resorts and after looking at our books decided that Deer Horn was a little less work and more money because our resort did not have a restaurant.

Dad had been working at the D.W.P. Railroad only in the winters, and at the resort during the summers. It was beginning to wear him down. Mom thought selling the resort was an offer they should take. When dad received a letter from the railroad telling him they needed him full time, he decided he should sell. So, the Eglestons came in and did an inventory of all the dishes and everything, and we sold the resort. That fall, Pat went off to college. Jennie and Louie returned to live in Virginia, where Louie built homes and continued at the D.W.P. Railroad until he was injured.

Louie Calabasani and Duke
Louie Colbassani and Duke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Photo Gallery for more photos of Deer Horn Resort from the 1940s.