As summer's end approached, Gary Trueblood knew each putt on the Paul Bunyan Amusement Park miniature golf course signaled the end of an era. And every train ticket he sold brought a pang.
"It's the end - 50 years," Gary said as he worked on removing the structures on the mini golf course Friday. "We wanted to finish up like this. It was a living for us, but it was time."
He also taught accounting and economics at Rainy River Community College in the off season, so he said at age 65, he was ready to give up working seven days a week.
Gary bought the Paul Bunyan Amusement Park from his father, Don Trueblood, when he was a college student. He and his wife, Sandy, worked at the amusement park from the time they were students at Bemidji High School. Sandy said they met and dated at the park, as did many of the local teens. And the Trueblood daughters, Eva and Jessica, also worked at the park from the time they were in elementary school. They also met their future husbands there.
In 2006, the Truebloods sold off the Tilt-a-Whirl, Berry-Go-Round, Flying Fish and other rides, but they maintained the land lease with the city of Bemidji to run the tiny train, mini golf and concession stand until season's close this year. Even with the pared down amusements this summer, Gary said the park did well financially,
Although the community will miss the mom-and-pop amusement park, Gary said he is ready to retire and, for the first time next year, spend summer at their cabin.
The Truebloods have also kept mementoes of the amusement park for their family's pleasure.
"I'm going to put in about three holes of mini golf for the grandkids," he said. "I'm also going to bring the train home."
His grandchildren, ages 6, 2, and 3 months will never have the fun of working at the park as did his children did, he said, but the younger generation will be able to enjoy some of that experience at their rural home.
The mini golf featured a Paul Bunyan theme with a story at each of the 30 holes and obstacles drawn from the legend. For example, the Kerf Fish referred to the cut in lumber, and Johnny Inkslinger honored Paul Bunyan's bookkeeper.
"The fish was pretty cool," Gary said. "The fish went home. The mosquito went home. The mushroom went home."
Gary said he spent a winter designing the golf course. Sandy drew it out on tag board and his daughters worked out the stories for each of the holes.
He also designed the train route, machining some of the tracks and figuring the maximum curve the miniature gauge rail could take. He said he plans to use some of the timber from dismantling the golf course for ties in his home railroad.
The Paul Bunyan Amusement Park was built on fill that extended the waterfront past the Paul and Babe statues, once much nearer Lake Bemidji's edge. Gary said Don Holmes had some homemade rides on the site during the 1950s. Then his father bought the business and expanded it.
The park has changed over the years. At one time, the Truebloods had 15 rides, including a 40-foot slide, and leased the land all the way to the Mississippi River fishing dock. They also gave horse-drawn carriage rides, rented canoes and paddleboats, ran an arcade and popcorn wagons. Gary said those ventures overextended the business.
Now that the land reverts back to city use, the Parks and Trails Commission will have to decide what the future of the site will be.
"The question is, do you leave it green space or allow some development," said Bemidji City Manager John Chattin.
Marcia Larson, Bemidji Parks and Recreation director, said the entire area from Library Park at Lake Boulevard Northeast to the Mississippi River fishing pier covers 18 acres.
"We've had lots of people contact us with ideas," she said.