Friday, July 24, 2020

Flashback Friday: Carlton Bike Rental Prepares for Ribbon Cutting with Congressman Oberstar

10 Years Ago Today

One of my early peach freelance writing assignments was in 1988, two years after moving to Duluth here in the Northland. I received a call from the Twin Cities asking if I'd be interested in interviewing the two candidates vying for Congress from the 8th District. The 5,000 word piece would appear in a magazine called People & Politics that aimed at serving as a voter's guide.

That was my first meeting with Congressman Jim Oberstar, son of an iron ore miner raised in Chisholm, a few miles from the largest strip mine in the world. At the time, "Jim" had been representing the district for seven terms. I concluded my article by stating that he would remain in Congress for as long as he wanted to, and now that he is in his eighteenth term it would appear that my prescience was well founded.

This weekend is Carlton Daze and Congressman Oberstar has scheduled a visit to this year's festival. One stop this morning will be Carlton Bike Rental & Repair, a new business in town situated at the hub of three major biking trails. In addition to the bike rental business, founder Joelene Steffens has a bit of a passion for the arts, operating a framing business called Art Dimensions. Many of my own paintings have been framed by Joelene, with wonderful results. Some of them can be seen on the walls of Carlton Bike Rental, along with photography and works by other local artists.

Joelene is also a nostalgia buff, and seeing as Carlton is located along the railroad tracks and has a history for being home to hobo camps during the Great Depression, she has called her composite businesses Hobo Junction, now replete with gazebo and an invitation to the public to make themselves at home here.

In 1988 Congressman Oberstar said to me, "My father told me when I graduated from high school, 'You have two choices. You can work in the mines, or go to college to create for yourself a better life... And it better be one that helps other people.'" With this advice tucked away in his heart young Jim did indeed choose college, attending St. Thomas in the Twin Cities. But his life aim at the time was not a career in politics. He said he first wanted to be a missionary, and if remember correctly he went to Haiti for a short time after graduation. But his ultimate life direction was altered, he said, quoting Robert Louis Stevenson who said, "The greatest adventures in life are those we do not go forth to seek."

Being a pro-life Democrat has made him something of an anomaly within his political party, but as a child of the Iron Range his pro-labor values make him a candidate hard to unseat up here with its working class roots. His years of service in Congress have resulted in the quiet accumulation of influence, especially as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a role that enables him to keep a close watch on legislation that affects Great Lakes shipping and the steel industry.

But he also serves on a number of other committees, and one of them is the Bike Caucus, which is undoubtedly the reason he is heading to Carlton today.  

He also likes reading and in 1988 when I asked who his favorite authors were, he said C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. If I get a chance I'll try to ask him again today who his favorite authors are.

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July 24, 2020
EdNote: The late Congressman Oberstar passed away in May 2014.

Life is Like Riding a Bicycle was the theme of our Toastmasters meeting last  night. Do you remember your first bike? Did your bike have training wheels? What color was it? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.
Learn more about Carlton Bike Rental & Repair at

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