Crane Lake Stories: Growing Up At Crane Lake – Michael Schwanke Part 1
Episode 9 – Memories of Boating on Crane Lake and More
Stories and Sentiments from Crane Lake Visitors
Matt Addington is back with another great interview, this time with Crane Lake resident and owner of Voyageurs Guide Service, Michael Schwanke. Michael discusses some of his fondest memories of Crane Lake, including learning how to operate a boat, working at Handbergs, and exploring with his Grandfather.
Crane Lake is an amazing place to create memories with your family. Head to visitcranelake.com today to learn more about this wonderful area and the opportunities that await you there!
What You’ll Learn in this Episode
- The importance of being prepared in the outdoors.
- Why it’s valuable to have a place to get away to.
- Crane Lake is an amazing place to make memories that will last a lifetime!
Matt Addington: Welcome back to another episode of Crane Lake Stories. I’m joined this episode with Michael Schwanke, who has lived a lifetime in his short life involved at Crane Lake. Michael is now a full-time resident except for the ice in and out season. But we’ll get to that later. Michael and his wife Emily own Voyageurs Guide Service and Voyageurs Guided Adventures, and do a lot of things. Michael right now is coming to us from South Carolina where they’ve got family. But really appreciate you coming on today, Michael.
Michael Schwanke: Thanks for having me, Matt. It’s good to be here.
Matt Addington: Yeah, like I said, you’ve lived a lifetime with Crane Lake in your blood. Rewind all the way to, your family’s from Lakeville Minnesota. But what’s the connection with Crane Lake and take us all the way back to your first memories of going up there.
Michael Schwanke: Sure. Yeah. Like you said, I was born and raised in Lakeville, just south of the cities. The original connection was my grandparents on my mother’s side, the. They owned Sugar Bush Island or part of Sugar Bush Island before the park came in, Kabetogama. That’s where my mom grew up spending her summers or good portions of her summers. Not the whole summers, but good portions of them.
Then when the park came in, my grandparents got bought out of course, like most people did and took that money and bought land on Crane, off of Bayside and Hamburg road in 1976. Then they sat on that land for a bit and then eventually built their cabin, which is still there now, in ’91, I believe. I’m 33. I was born in ’88. Right away, we would go to grandpa and grandma’s cabin in the summer a fair amount. Not for the whole summer when I was young, but for big chunks.
The cabin next to my grandparents happened to come up for sale in ’92. I was four, and they bought that. Once that happened, school would get out and we’d spend the whole summer up there. School would get out and we’d stick around for a week or something. Then we would just go up there and stay up there and be up there until a week or so before school. Then come back and buy school supplies and go back to school. It was great.
Matt Addington: Yeah. One fourth of your year, if not a little bit more, Crane Lake was home. On a personal note, I still remember when we first met. I was coaching in Lakeville, so I was going to be your basketball coach. I had gotten that job. I remember having a conversation with your dad on the phone, and we were talking about our summer basketball plans and we’re going to do this camp all of these different things that we were going to do as a varsity basketball team.
Your dad said, “Well Michael’s probably not going to be there much because we’re moving up to the Lake.” I remember I was kind of like, geez, people are moving to the Lake.” A lot of the way that sports and youth sports has gotten out of control in our world now it’s like people make the ultimate sacrifice to play sports 24/7, 365 and it’s traveling all over. I was amazed that at your age, going into your junior year of high school, that your mom and dad were still like, nope, we’re going to the lake and you were all in. I just had just tremendous respect for that. Obviously, growing up there for all of those years had a huge impact on your life.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. To be honest, the high school part of it was there. Sometimes I was like, dang I know I’m up here really enjoying it. But there was part of me that wished that I was in the cities a little bit more. But looking back now, I’m super glad that I was in Crane the whole time.
Matt Addington: Yeah. With so many, the guests that we’ve talked to on Crane Lake Stories and you just have conversations with, there’s something about that place up there that our world needs more of. Being in the twin cities especially, maybe as a high school kid or even younger, we get caught up. I think our world gets caught up in technology and keeping up with the Jones. Moving fast and all of those things. To take young people, we can use that as adults, but to take young people and just immerse them in an environment where all of those things just get pushed aside, I just really feel like our world needs more of that. You’re a great product of a family that made a commitment to say, hey, our time together, away from all those things is really, really important.
Michael Schwanke: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. I was super lucky to have parents that had the foresight to do that. Now that I’m 33, I can appreciate that a little bit more.
Matt Addington: Exactly. I think it’s even exponentially gotten worse in the 15 years or so since you were in high school. That’s one of the great things about, I think the visitors that come and maybe even the first time visitors that come up there, they are taken aback by the quiet and just all of the things that get left behind back on I-35 or however far down the road. The fact that cell phones don’t work great.
You’re just there, and it’s the same as it was 100 years ago or 200 years ago in a lot of ways, which is really a beautiful thing. Like I said, our world needs more of. Good for you that you were able to grow up in that. If you think back to being, not that you’re going to remember a lot when you were four or five, but what are some of the first things that you remember or can recall about your experience up there?
Michael Schwanke: I got a handful of them. From a boating standpoint, the best memories I have are, in our family, you had to go through, there was a boating program that my grandpa put us through. I was probably four or five when you first started to run a boat, run a tiller. You’d start on a five and a half horse, 14 foot boat. You had to prove you could choke it, cold start it. This would be on the dock. You’d shift neutral, reverse, forward, all that stuff.
Go through the throttle. Prove that you could take the cover off or the cowling off. Then you’d go out with my grandpa in the bow and you’d cruise around, do some maneuvers, turn and whatnot. We’re in South Bay, so you’d go out to where the lake starts to open up out of the bay and he’d have you kill the engine and then you’d have to get the oars out and row back to the dock. Once you could prove those things, we ran that five and a half horse for like two or three years.
Then the next jump was a 15 horse on a 14 foot boat. That first boat we called the Silver Bullet, that was the five and a half. The 15 horse was the navigator. Because then once you could prove your skills on the 15, then you could leave the bay. Drive to the Gorge, that was a big deal. You could navigate with that boat. That boat was the navigator. I was probably seven to 11 years old driving that 15.
Age 12, you get bumped up to a 25 horse on an 18 foot boat. That’s when I started working at Handbergs. I started working at Handbergs from, I was 12 going on 13. I worked there from that age to 25. Yeah, 25. Every summer was working at Handbergs. I remember when I first started there at age 12 or 13, I was like, dang, I feel like I’m really young to be working here. They called me pockets because I’d stand down on the dock with my hands in my pockets. I was a little shy and they’d call me pockets.
Matt Addington: That’s great. As you were able to get out in the navigator and start making your way around, do you have any adventures that happened or stories of when something went wrong or something epic happened that you came back to the dock with like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe this just happened. Do you have any memories of things like that?
Michael Schwanke: Yeah. What we love to do was, my brother and I would go bring our slip bobbers and just go blasting up the Gorge. All the big boats stop when the current hits and we had that little boat, it’s not drafting this much water. We’d just go ripping up there and fish from shore, around the bend and stuff. Just catch huge smallies. Back then we weren’t catching a lot of Walleye’s. We thought that keeping smallies was super cool. We’d have this big stringer of four or five pound smallies and we were just these young little kids. I’d be driving and my brother would be in the front of the boat and we’d just put it on step right away and come ripping out of there. He’d hold the stringer up as we were driving out past the boats. Just dumb kid stuff. But it was fun. It was fun.
Matt Addington: What are some of your first memories of then getting out on the big water? Maybe going up in through the narrows, into Sandpoint, into Namakan. What were some of your first solo adventures that you remember about that?
Michael Schwanke: Not necessarily a solo one. My grandpa had one of those big Crestliner IO’s called a big blue. Since they had the place on Kab, he liked to go from Crane and drive to Kab a lot. We did that a fair amount, make a big day out of that. He would always have us drive and stand behind us. I remember the first time that he’s like, “You got to drive through the pinch now.” I was all white knuckled.
I was probably, I don’t know, 10 or 11. I was pretty young. But he was right behind me and you made it through there and it’s like, whew. You’d spend the whole day driving up there. Then you fall asleep on the bottom of the boat on the way home, because you’re tired. It’s super windy, not super windy, but there’s a chop out there and you’re sleeping on the bottom of the boat with a bunch of waves.
Matt Addington: What are some of the memories that you have of activities that you did with your family? Whether it be, you with your grandparents or the whole crew when you’d go on those days, what things did you guys like to stop and do along the way? Walk us through what one of those days would be like.
Michael Schwanke: They would be all day. Because grandpa, he didn’t travel in miles an hour. He traveled in RPMs. You had to keep that thing right at 3500 RPMs. I’d always try to hit the throttle a little bit and then you’d back it off. But we’d stop at My Island a lot. Once you leave Crane, you’d drive for a bit and then get up there and stop. Those days to Kab, you didn’t go to Kettle Falls, you just kept going. The goal of those days was really to get time and spend it in Kabs. We’d go to Arrowhead Resort up there, play around on the beach. Ski up there. I think it was kind of like a thing, now that the cabin was gone, to kind of recreate a day in Kab. Because us kids didn’t know what that was like. We knew what Crane was like, but not so much Kabetogama. Go to the rock gardens.
Matt Addington: Yeah. How about fishing? This is going to be a two episode piece that we’re doing here, because you’ve had this generational flip now as an adult and how your world has changed, that we’ll get to on our next episode. But fishing is a huge part of your life now and a huge part of your life going forward. But talk a little bit about your experiences and some of the things that you learned about fishing from grandpa, from dad, from mom, grandma, everybody. What those parts of that experience looked like.
Michael Schwanke: Sure. Growing up, my dad grew up on a farm in South Dakota, so he wasn’t necessarily like a fisherman. He is now and he loves to fish now, but he really wasn’t. Grandpa liked to navigate more. He liked to go explore and see things and whatnot. A lot of the knowledge that I use today, the navigational stuff, came from grandpa and driving around and all that. The fishing thing was, growing up, we fished a lot.
It was a lot of Bass fishing. Walleye fishing’s harder. It takes more skill. It takes more patience, especially as a kid. We did a lot of Bass fishing. Then I don’t know, the shift from Bass to more Walleye fishing and stuff. We would go spend more time starting at about 15, we’d rent a cabin on Loon and spend some time fishing on Loon where the Walleye fishing is a little better. Then we made the switch from Loon to go fishing on the Croix more.
Once you go up there and fish, your eyes kind of open. By that time I was 16 or 17 and had the ability to drive up there on my own. Do that and then drive on my own and start to learn that lake. My first solo trip to the Croix, I was 16. I took my parent’s 40 horse up there. Had a little handheld GPS, little Garmin. Totally got lost, but caught a bunch of fish. I think about that day often. That was a fun day. I knew kind of where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was using this GPS to help me get there, but the GPS wanted to take me in a direct route, not the boat route or the channel per se. I definitely went through some rocky areas and stuff. But I came back unscathed.
Matt Addington: Do you have any harrowing experiences as a young person where you got caught in weather? You kind of alluded to being a little bit turned around and lost on that trip. But do you have any crazy harrowing experiences?
Michael Schwanke: Yeah, fast forward four years. I guess really the only harrowing story I have in a boat, which is I guess, a good thing. I was driving back. It was late September, driving back with some friends, we were fishing Rainy. It was one of those nasty fall days, like 34 degrees, it was sleeting. Namakan was an easy four or five foot shot coming out of the east. We were coming back from Rainy, it was right in our face.
We were taking it slow, but it was just hammering waves and all of a sudden the engine just quit. That time of year nobody’s on the Lake, especially a day like that. Nobody’s out there. We called my wife Emily. We were married. Called Emily, because we have service out there, thank God. I ran the boat with my trolley motor over to shore and tucked it in a bay on the Canadian side of Namakan.
We start a fire. We get a hold of her, thank God. We thought we were spending the night there for sure. We get a hold of her. Then she comes in complete darkness, in our tiller horse to bail us out. I think she only saw us because of the fire. We had a pretty good had fire going for that reason, so she could kind of see us. We left my guide boat there and then came back in the tiller. I think the tiller had six people in it. We were just getting crushed.
Matt Addington: Wow. Yeah, it’s a place that if you’re not prepared and if you’re not well versed on safety and all of those things, it can be a nasty place. Especially that time of year with cold weather, let alone wind and everything else. Big water can do things to those people that are inexperienced. It’s definitely a place that you want to be careful. Think we’ll even talk about that maybe in the second part of this, where that’s why it’s important to probably hire people like you and Emily and your team to show the newcomers around.
Michael Schwanke: Working at Handbergs, starting there at age 12 and going through 25, I guess for me, I felt like I got to meet the cabin owners. You just see how the place changes and grows throughout your time. Not just being someone that’s vacationing there, but working there. As I went through high school and as I went through college, that stuck with me. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with my life going through high school and college.
I knew I loved Crane, but I didn’t think it was going to be anything in Crane. Then as you remove yourself from high school and college and stuff, you start to look at the world a little bit different. For me, it was like dang, up there is pretty special and pretty unique. I think I want to spend my time doing something and building something up there that’s going to last for my lifetime.
Matt Addington: Sure. That experience that you had at Handberg’s, you become Handbergs. There’s a number of places just like that where those folks on the dock, you’re the face of the whole place. Not just Handbergs, but like you said, you get to know the cabin owners, you get to know the visitors. It was probably great for you socially to meet people. Even though they called you pockets, because you were quiet, you came out of that into a confidence person that’s very personable and can visit with people. That was an important part of, like you said, who you’ve become today, which is really admirable.
Thanks to those of you who joined us for this episode with Michael Schwanke. Talking a little bit about his youth and his growing up and just his family’s history at Crane which goes back a long, long time to grandma and grandpa on Kabetogama and how that’s evolved to this point now with Michael. He alluded to it and kind of hinted at it with his wife, Emily. We’ll jump into another episode if you’ll join us next time, where we’ll visit a little bit more with Michael about what life looks like now as he has made a commitment to saying this is where I want to spend my life. Thanks a lot for joining us this time on Crane Lake Stories. We’ll see you again next time with part two with Michael Schwanke.
Michael Schwanke: Thanks, Matt.
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