CHARLEY'S PLACE

Among the interesting people living in Cokato many decades ago was Charles Halvorson, who I believe returned to the community after an absence, for the purpose of going into the service station business.  The year was 1927 or 1928   Halvorson obtained a Conoco franchise and purchased a spacious lot directly across from Highway 12 from the present Tom Thumb. He added an unusual feature to the station which older residents may nostalgically remember.

But first, a brief background on Charley.  He was a bachelor who lived with his elderly mother, Mrs. Sjogren (twice a widow), in the first house on the east side of the road leading to Brooks Lake., directly behind the present laundromat.   The most memorable feature of their home was a huge backyard swing with two bench seats attached to and facing each other, suspended from a large wooden frame.  My mother would occasionally visit Mrs. Sjogren on summer evenings, their time always spent on the swing for a reason that will become apparent.

Charley was a good person, always willing to help his neighbors, especially my grandparents, whose home was situated next to the service station.  And my sister vividly recalls his intervention when some would-be abductors attempted to lure her and me into their automobile.

But Charley lived with a physical ailment--a leg wound that never healed and was gangrenous.  At the time there were no drugs for treating this wound which emitted an offensive odor.   He was also addicted to what is now euphemistically referred to as smokeless tobacco.

Whether he had a penchant for expensive cars or Chrysler offered individual front seats, I do not recall.  In any case, he purchased a large Chrysler Tudor from which he immediately removed the right seat, replacing it with a shiny brass spittoon.   It is doubtful that this spittoon was ever cleaned and one can only wonder what it was like for his mother as she rode in the rear seat.

Getting back to the construction of the service station.  It was modern with all the amenities of that era, including an outdoor drinking fountain used by every youngster en route to and from a swim at Brooks Lake.

Unlike most other stations, Charley's facilities were spread over the large lot with three above-ground storage tanks, each of a different height, and a nearby pumping station situated alongside a circular drive about seventy-five feet wide.   It was within this circle the object I will describe was constructed.

Whether Charley had worked for a railroad or had motored through the Rockies, he muse have been inspired to build a replica of a mountain scene.  It would be interesting to know who he engaged to design and build this structure, for this person was indeed creative and talented.

To call the structure a garden is somewhat a misnomer since it contained no flowers and little vegatation.  It was essentially a rock formation, perhaps thirty-five feet long and eighteen feet wide, simulating a piece of mountain terrain.   A viewer could imagine driving a car or bus (there were miniatures of both) over a tortuous, breath-taking road built through mountain tunnels, alongside mountain lakes, and next to high cliffs.  It was truly a work of art and fascinating for all who stopped at the station.

In the mid-1930s, Charley sold (or leased) the station to John Russ and Stanley Johnson.  For whatever reason, they dismantled the garden, much to the regret of all who back in those years gazed at this attraction and visualized the grandeur of a mountain range, and the exhilaration of an adventurous journey.

Written by Gordon Nelson, a Cokato-native and long-time historical society member.

© Cokato Historical Society, 1997.