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Branstner's days on the road, up a ladder

At Fair Oaks Lodge Fred Branstner is called Fred, but in his old stomping ground around Hewitt and Bertha, if you want Fred, you have to ask for Darrel, the name he was known by until he came to Fair Oaks Lodge.

Fred was born in 1940 to Fritz and Madge Branstner on a farm west of Hewitt in Oak Valley Township. He attended high school in Bertha.

Fred -- or was it Darrel? -- first worked as a service person for the telephone company. Fred liked trucks, and learned how to drive one by watching how it was done. A bit more instruction and he was driving big Mac semi's for OTR (over the road) trucks for Polman Transfer Company in Wadena.

The Polman job took Fred from coast to coast. Fred remembers well-maintained trucks that were comfortable. He mostly drove fresh produce that had to be delivered in two days.

There were log books but a driver could drive as long as he could keep awake. Nobody was watching. Then along came a schedule that said 11 hours driving, followed by nearly as many off was enforced. Fred agreed that 11 hours at the helm of an 18-wheeler was a great plenty.

The traffic was worst nearing Chicago and Philadelphia. He detested roads around Milwaukee. He bucked worst snow storms in the Dakotas and, of course, Minnesota.

Those big Macs, pulling a loaded trailer, weighing 48,000 pounds, could go over almost all kinds of roads, but remembering all those stretches of treacherous black ice still haunts him. Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota are the prettiest. He doesn't much care for mountains.

Fred enjoyed the camaraderie he found with other truckers at stops along the road and in restaurants. A truckers bane are the car drivers who pass them, then slow down.

A bleeding ulcer decked Fred in Hibbing, where two-thirds of his stomach was removed, sort of putting a stop to his driving.

Fred turned to painting houses or whatever, anything below 20 feet. He worked in the Cities, at Hibbing, Grand Rapids, and several years in Colorado. He liked making old buildings look like new again, and it was outside work.

Lunches? Oh, yeah, he never turned down cookies or whatever. The lady of the house always made sure he had a cold drink, unless she was working which was often the case.

Fred was married in 1957. He has a son and two daughters.

If it was in the works for Fred, he would like to paint again. He liked visiting with people for a bit instead of just driving through their town. Going on a cruise would have been fun, and in better years he thought about a trip to Hawaii.

At Fair Oaks Lodge, Fred is the weatherman, keeping everyone up on current conditions. He plays cards, attends church and programs, as well as watching favorite TV shows.

In all those many miles, all that climbing on scaffolds or ladders, or up on a roof, there must have been a few hairy times, Fred. Tell us about one.

Fred couldn't think of an accident or having a scary time, on either job. He didn't even see a bad accident.

Aw, c'mon Fred, my readers want to hear about something exciting and how you managed.

Nope. Didn't.

I looked so disappointed that he hadn't had bad luck, Fred said: "Well, I had a flat tire on a big rig somewhere in Pennsylvania on a lonely road at 2 a.m. in January. Is that hairy enough for you?"