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Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Visit to Minong, Wisconsin

(as always, click on any photo for a larger image)

UPDATE 9/24/2013
It has taken five years, but the tractors are almost all gone.  Just one left!

UPDATE 06/19/2012
With Governor Walker safely past the Recall Election on June 5, he could turn his attention to the big issues facing the state.  He declared June 12, 2012 as Jack Link's Beef Jerkey Day!   Minong is unlikely to see bigger news than that very soon.

On a sadder note, those old tractors that I mention below are gradually being sold off.
Here was the display back in 2008:

And now, most are gone.  But if you hurry, maybe you can pick up one of what are left.

Update 03/26/2009Welcome Kris' friends and Facebook users. I've had a Kris-talanch! Please look around my modest little blog while you're here. You might find the Egypt posts over the January-March timeframe interesting. Linda has pictures from parts of Egypt that very few tourists have seen.

UPDATE 01/07/2009
Unfortunately, this cheerful story about Minong and its business community has some sad recent additions. As described in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posting from April of 2007, a lawsuit pitted Jack Link and son Troy against his elder son, Jay. The Links were battling over the ownership of Links Snacks Inc. This article goes on to say that a
Washburn County Circuit judge in Shell Lake, Wisconsin awarded $26 million on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, to Jay Link, the son ousted from Link Snacks for his share of the family business.
If that weren't enough bad news, this October 29, 2008 article in the Duluth News Tribune describes the bankruptcy filing of Link Recreational.

UPDATE 12/24/2010
In July of 2009, The St. Paul Pioneer Press published this article on the Link family battle. "This is a story about a family feud fueled — it is alleged — by a stern father, a scorned son and a lust for revenge. --- And beef jerky." The story details a lawsuit filed in Minneapolis Federal Court by Jerky Snack Brands against Jay Link.
However, this story in Twin Cities Business from August, 2010, names Jack Link as one of ten Entrepreneurs of the Year. In the story, Link recalls the early days of the Link Brothers store:
“We were sort of the Wal-Mart of the north woods in those days,” Link says. “We were open seven days a week. We had farm machinery and we had cars and we had appliances and furniture and groceries, plumbing supplies and mufflers.”

If you are cruising along U.S. Highway 53 in Northwest Wisconsin about 50 miles south of Superior, you might catch a glimpse of this sign marking the town of Minong.

Don't let the tiny population deter you from visiting. There are modern attractions here and a well-preserved town dating from around 1900. Pull off U.S. 53 onto the business route through town.

People in Northwest Wisconsin have been shopping in Minong for many years. The Link family has been a prominent retailer in the town for probably close to a hundred years. One of the first things you might notice in town is the giant Link Ford Dealership.

Just about a quarter mile to the north, you will see Link Recreational, one of the nation's largest boat dealers.

In between Link Ford and Link Rec you might note a long low building housing the local IGA store.

For many years, this was the site of Link Brothers, the finest grocery, bakery, meat market, appliance and liquor store in the United States! Back in the 1970s you could drop in and pick up a gallon of garlic powder, a twenty pound package of sausage, fifty pounds of pancake mix and a hundred hamburger patties and be on your way.

Where the heck were you going with that load of food? You were headed to the local resort or restaurant/bar that you owned on a nearby lake, of course. In the 1940s through the 1970s, Northwestern Wisconsin was dotted with "mom and pop" resorts each having 5 to 15 cabins. I posted a bit about one of them, Pajac's Pines, previously. Well, this was long before the days of Sam's club and Sysco who nowadays supply the restaurant industry.

The Link Brothers had found the perfect niche business in this area selling both retail groceries and serving as the wholesale supplier to resorts and restaurants. Of course, you needed both a big freezer and an industrial stove to serve those resort visitors. Link Brothers had both in the appliance end of the store. And if you needed a baby stove or refrigerator for your cabins, Link Brothers had those too.

By the way, this store is still more than "just an IGA." Stop in and head to the North end of the store where you'll find a great bakery.

Head south of the Ford dealership about a half mile and you come to the World Headquarters of Jack Link's Jerky:

Not too many years ago, I became very fond of this product when I picked it up at the Link Stop fuel and convenience store on US 53. Soon it became available throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin and now I have purchased it from Montana to Florida. I don't know if any of the Link family has been to Harvard, but the Harvard Business School should at least teach a case based on this group of entrepreneurs. As the community needs have evolved from tractors to appliances to resort supply to large boats, they have read the needs well and moved to supply them.

Well enough for the Link Family. What else is in Minong?

How about the best ice cream store within fifty miles? The Village Scoop is located in "downtown" Minong and has the best choice of cones, sundaes and shakes within perhaps a two hour drive. You will be transported back in time as you enter the combination gift shop and ice cream parlor. The interior has not changed much in the last fifty, if not more, years.

And if old time small-town American buildings capture your attention, check out both the local saloon:

and the local hotel

Looking for a smaller place to stay? With more privacy? Well, do you remember the "cabins" that your parents used to stop at in the 1950s? Just south of the Ford dealership you'll find these:

And the best part is they are just down the street from Wendy's Place. This is the place in Minong to go for breakfast. You might be tempted by newer spots (Like Grandma Links) or slicker advertising (FlapJacks) but resist it and head here. The breakfasts are definitely four-star and the service is great. In the morning the parking lot will be full of pickup trucks belonging to the locals. You might find it hard to get a seat but it definitely is worth the wait.

Another spot not to be missed is Roxy's antiques. Don't look for a building, that burned down some years ago. But, you can't miss the stock sitting on the corner and behind the fence. The pictures speak for themselves:

You are probably getting anxious to leave home and head to Minong by this time. How to get there? Well, automobile via U.S. 53 between Spooner and Superior is one way. But how about if you are on an ATV in the summer or a snowmobile in the winter? Just follow the Wild River trail until you find the spot marked "you are here."

Are you unfamiliar with those red and green number routes that appear to cross lakes and parallel highways? Yes, that's right, we folks in the upper Midwest have our own set of marked and numbered trails to follow once the snow settles in for winter:

But I have left the best for last. If you followed my link to the Link family above, you noticed that the Links held the Allis Chalmers franchise for the area beginning back in the 1930s. North of town, on US-53 business route where it rejoins US-53, is the best collection of old tractors that you are every going to see for free. Most are Allis Chalmers but there are a few others too. If you only have a minute or two for your visit to Minong, make the turn!

As a bonus, there are several pieces of horse-drawn road grading equipment on display. These were used around 1900. Generally, a township would own one to both produce and smooth out the township roads.