We want your stories for the Edina Reads writing contest. Deadline is Oct. 1. To inspire you, here is a wonderful story from our collection. We shared Chuck Gilbertson's essay about his horse Copper with Edina Sun Current readers during our past "Growing Up in Edina" exhibit, but for those who missed it, here's a sweet boyhood tale from 1950s Edina.
By Chuck Gilbertson
I was eleven years old in 1951, and I wanted to be a cowboy. About a mile from my house in Edina was McNellis Riding Stable at 66th and France Avenue. I rode my bike out to the stables one day and asked Mr. McNellis if I could have a job. “Yes,” he said. “I cannot pay you, but if you want to go riding after you are done working, you can.”
When I got home from work the first day my mother would not let me in the house as my tennis shoes and jeans were covered with manure. Mom hosed me down. My dad asked me all about it and was pleased that I had a job.
I spent the entire summer working for Mr. McNellis. At that time, 66th and France was about the end of Edina, as far as residential communities were concerned. Southdale shopping center did not exist.
(Editor's note: See Historic Aerials website for a view of the dramatic changes at 66th and France from 1947 to 1957. Southdale and related development changed Edina from a rural area with riding stables, chicken coops and dairy farms to a thriving suburb. The image below is from 1947, but use the slider tool at the website to compare and contrast two years. This site is not affiliated with the Edina Historical Society, but it's a great resource for researching land changes over the years and you can purchase prints from them.)TV cowboy Roy Rogers in 1951
Copper was my favorite horse. He was good humored and easy to ride. Mr. McNellis taught me how to bridle and saddle the horses. Quite often he would let me go with him on trail rides. Sometimes Mr. McNellis would let me ride Copper out to the fields in the morning to bring the other horses back to the stable. I felt like a real cowboy.
Summer vacation was coming to an end. Mr. McNellis told me he was going to sell Copper for $75. I rode my bike to the bank and withdrew $75 of my paper route money. Then I went back to the stable and gave Mr. McNellis the money. Riding home down France Avenue I was proud as could be. When I turned on to Brookview Avenue where I lived, all the neighbor women came out in the yards to watch me. My mom came out the front door with her fist in her mouth, which she did when she was nervous. She said, “Oh, Chuckie, what have you done now?”
I put Copper in our one car garage and left the door open. I tied rope back and forth across the opening. A small crowd gathered by my homemade horse stall. My plan was to keep Copper in our garage and ride him to deliver papers down Lakeview Drive and Golf Terrace. When school started, I would ride him to school and tie him to the bike rack.
I am quite sure that dad must have noticed the minute he turned the car onto Brookview as he was coming home from work. He got out of the car and walked toward me asking mom what was going on. She told him.
I was sure he would be proud of me because of his farm background. Instead, he said to me, “Get on that horse this minute and take him back to Old Man McNellis. He is blind in one eye and older than the hills.” Tears started rolling down my cheeks, but I did what I was told. When I got back to the stable, Mr. McNellis was laughing. “I figured you’d be back,” he said as he reached into his pocket for my money. I never saw Copper again.
Chuck Gilbertson lived just over a mile and a half from the McNellis Stables. His trek with Copper back in 1951 took him through a much less populated area than it is today.
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