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WILTZ: Remembering the way it was

Do you ever give any thought to the way things used to be? I do. Perhaps it's a part of growing older. Think about beds.

I'd bet most of us today sleep in a queen-size bed. A few readers may even have a king-size. If you can even find one, try stretching out on an old standard double bed. How could anyone have slept on one of those? Now think of two people trying to fit on that old double. It's hard to imagine that Betsy and I made it work for a lot of years.

What was the hunting like when I went to Brookings in 1960? Most of the guys brought their shotguns to school where they were stacked in a corner of the dorm room. If you'll allow me to wander for a moment, my first teaching job was in Willow Lake. Our superintendent told us that if we were onto a good flock of snow geese in the morning, not to worry about being late for school. He'd take our kids to study hall. Upon our late arrival at school, our shotguns found their way into a corner of the school's Ag shop until the end of the day.

Back to 1960 at what was then SDSC, all of us were in great physical condition thanks to football. So how did we hunt? Believe it or not, we usually rode around in cars. This technique was called "road hunting."

While some road hunting continues to this day, the glory days of road hunting are gone. I don't wish to glamorize road hunting. It was just how most of our pheasant hunting was done. If we did want to walk, we could legally hunt any land that wasn't posted or strung with woven wire.

While road hunting, two typically rode in the front and two in the back, if four of us were hunting. If only two hunted, we would occupy the front seat. Top speed was about 5 mph, and when a rooster pheasant was spotted, everyone bailed out. I can recall times when in the heat of the excitement, the driver failed to take the car out of gear, and the vehicle continued on down the road by itself.

Road hunting was extremely frustrating for me at first. A guy on my side would call "Rooster!"

I'd look, straining to see a bird but finding nothing. This went on for weeks, and then one day, I had it down like I'd been doing it all my life. I had been looking for an entire bird. In reality, I should have been watching for a protruding tail, an eye or a small patch of white on the bird's neck ring. The color red was a real give away.

This wasn't the first time I'd learned to see something the uneducated eye couldn't detect. During the summer, I'd become a ladleman at East Chicago's Republic Steel. After a furnace had been tapped, a process where the molten steel was poured from the furnace into a giant ladle, the craneman guided the ladle over the slag pit and to a platform where empty cast iron molds were lined up on special railway cars.

I stood on that platform right next to the molds and held a remote control box in my hands that raised and lowered a stopper in the bottom of the ladle. I wore a helmet, gloves and a thick, woolen full-length coat that protected me as molten steel sloshed around like water.

When the craneman centered the ladle over a mold, I raised the stopper, filled the mold with white hot molten steel and dropped the stopper when the mold was filled. Things became more complicated when the 13th or 14th mold was being filled. I was to drop the stopper the instant the molten steel turned to molten slag. An ever so slight change of color occurred, but I couldn't see that change until about the fifth day on the job. Once I saw it, it was like black and white. Experience under fire was the only way to train a ladleman. I was very proud of the "I Make Steel" decal on my Plymouth's windshield.

Getting back to the art of road hunting, the birds were easiest to spot in corn rows where they were anywhere from the edge to five yards in. Thank God friends and I eventually developed some safety precautions like "No loaded chambers in the vehicle." More than once a gun had gone off in the car. We also fine-tuned an exit strategy. Only the guys on the opposite side of the pheasant bailed out of the vehicle. This eliminated the chance of someone rising into a line of fire.

There were so many pheasants! We didn't go a quarter mile without seeing one. I can't recall what we did with all the birds, but I had a drawer rented at the locker plant. Game was also much easier to give away than it is today. For 50 cents, one could also take a pheasant to the Pheasant Café on the south edge of Brookings where it was turned into a full course meal.

And then there were jackrabbits. Can you imagine the first time this naïve city boy went rabbit hunting at night? It was a high-speed pursuit across pastures while shotguns blazed from the passenger side front window or roof. At times someone rode the front driver's side fender! Driving was more fun than shooting, and riding a fender while shooting tested any would-be cowboy's skill. A car ran over my right thigh one night, but it didn't break anything. Breaking one's neck should have been a concern for inside the car passengers as it wasn't that uncommon.

At a time when a glass of beer cost a dime, and a late night hamburger with a big bowl of chili at George Brush's Night Hawk Café cost a buck, one could get a dollar for a jackrabbit! That was big money back then. During the winter of 1960-61, one could get $1.05 for a rabbit. That's the best rabbit price I can remember.

There were very few deer in those days. If one wanted to hunt deer, it called for a trip to the Black Hills where $5 licenses could be purchased over the counter. It was red plaid, .30-30 rifles and an extra deer for camp meat. But that's another story.

Well, I strayed a bit too much from the subject matter today with that steel mill story, but that's South Dakota hunting as I remember it back in the fall of '60. See you next week.