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Co-founder reflects on deer camp's history

Hjalmar Johnson, at 95, is the oldest living member of the Johnson deer camp near Warba. He and a brother started the camp in 1957, and it's now in its 51st year. Johnson has been at the camp every year, but this year he is at the Deer River Heal...

Hjalmar Johnson
Hjalmar Johnson

Hjalmar Johnson, at 95, is the oldest living member of the Johnson deer camp near Warba. He and a brother started the camp in 1957, and it's now in its 51st year. Johnson has been at the camp every year, but this year he is at the Deer River Health Care Center in Deer River, recuperating from illness.

In an interview Friday afternoon before deer season, Hjalmar talked about his life as a railroad carpenter, as a deer hunter and more. He sat in a wheelchair at the health center, wearing brown slacks and a yellow dress shirt. He's a tall man with a firm handshake, a sharp mind and a quick wit.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

* On having built the deer camp: "Mostly, it was my brothers who wanted to join the camp. Year after year, we made additions [to the shack]. So, the camp evolved. Now we didn't have to drag them [deer] two miles into Warba. There was no road up there then, just a trail up to camp."

* On the camp's tradition of sourdough pancakes: "My brother [Waldemar Johnson] introduced sourdough pancakes to camp. He gave me a batch of it [a mixture of sourdough starter] in 1980, and it's still alive. I have to turn the starter over to [Ryan] Sutherland [a young hunter in camp] now."

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* On once meeting a bear when going to camp: "When I came walking in, there was a bear between me and camp. I wasn't going to challenge that guy. He decided to leave. Just to make sure, I cut loose with my 12-gauge shotgun. I could hear him going [down the creek] -- splash, splash, splash."

* On missing the Friday night dinner before deer opener at camp for the first time this year: "They're going to have barbecued pheasant, and I won't be there. But they said they'd see if they could smuggle some of it to me. [Long pause.] But time goes by. Things change."

* On working for the Northern Railroad: "I was a carpenter for the railroad. We drove pilings and built bridges. We done our work in the winter, when they can't haul iron ore. There's less traffic. I loved it. We were building things and leaving a mark, a track where we'd been.

"I was drafted [for World War II], but the railroad stepped in. They said, 'We've gotta have that guy.' I was exempt for the duration."

* On the transition from horses to cars: "I drove horses in my teen years. We hauled a lot of timber out of the woods. We got $3 a cord for split green popple. Cars were a nuisance at first. The horses would get scared. I didn't like that, but it [cars] made life easier."

Related Topics: HUNTING
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