Plaisted, explorer and hunting camp host
Thirty years ago, the McDonald men rented a hunting shack from Ralph Plaisted and now share their stories
By Doug Voerding
Last week's feature story about Ralph Plaisted and his expedition to the North Pole brought a response from readers in the Watertown area.
The McDonald Clan, as they call themselves, has fond memories of Ralph Plaisted.
Thirty years ago this fall, back in 1988, Philip (Flip) McDonald, his sons Bill and Tim, their cousins John and Steve Borer, and Mike, Ewan (Jake), and Ed Joe McDonald stayed at Ralph Plaisted's hunting camp near Kerrick, Minnesota.
The McDonald Clan was there for a week of deer hunting in the Nemadji State Forest, southwest of Duluth.
They became good friends with Ralph Plaisted that week.
Arrival at camp
During the week of deer hunting, Ralph fed them an abundance of food on oversized plates.
On the first day, the hunting party had told Plaisted that they did not need a breakfast and that a few granola bars would be enough, but they woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the smell of frying bacon.
Steve Borer said, "When we rented his deer camp that year, we certainly were not expecting that kind of hospitality for the little bit he charged us. So when we awoke the first morning to see a breakfast buffet that would rival most restaurants, we were quite surprised."
Said Bill McDonald, "There were stacks of flapjacks, eggs, bacon, sausage, and pork chops. It was a buffet, and we were stuffed to the gills before we headed out to our deer stands."
"Then," said Bill, "when we came back for lunch at noon, Ralph had steaks and potato salad ready. I remember that he used cooking pans that were 30 inches in diameter with 10-inch tall sides. No kidding!"
Abundance of food
"This went on all week," said Steve, "for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That became the laugh of that year's hunt, that we could not hunt too far from camp because we sure did not want to miss the next meal Ralph was cooking! So, the focus shifted from deer hunting to when we had to be back for our next meal. When we ran out of cookies, Ralph ran into town to buy more."
Bill was a college wrestler at the time, and said that when he went back to college the next week, he was 20 pounds over his usual weight class.
"It wasn't one pork chop," said Bill, "it was four!"
Bill also said that they did see a few deer that week, but didn't shoot any.
"By the end of the week," said Bill, "after all that food and fun every day, we barely made it into the woods to the deer stands."
Bill also remembers that Ralph charged each guy $75 for the week. "I know we all ate more than $80!" recalled Bill.
"We had a lot of fun that year deer hunting with Ralph," said Steve. "He feed us like kings."
And the stories
All remembered that Ralph was a gracious and generous host, full of stories, and was the life of the party.
"Everything he did was huge," said Bill.
Steve said, "After days of hearing Ralph's North Pole stories about how hard they worked, some days chopping ice and building roads all day long just to maintain their position on the shifting ice, we asked Ralph, 'How did you survive that?'"
Ralph replied, "Back then, I was built like a strap of steel!"
Ralph also told the story about another explorer who was out on the ice pack, one person on cross-country skis. He came into their camp to warn Ralph that he had seen a polar bear that was stalking them.
Bill, a teacher at Watertown-Mayer Middle School, said that he uses Plaisted's stories about his determination and all they had to do to reach the North Pole when talking to his students.
"I also like to talk to my students about a specific Plaisted comment," said Bill. "I asked Ralph how he learned all that he needed for the North Pole expedition."
Said Bill, "Plaisted told me that he was not smart, but hung out with smart people. That is a great message for becoming successful."
The McDonalds said that these and other Plaisted stories still get told often now at their own deer shack near Effie, Minnesota,
Joe McDonald, who was not on the Plaisted trip but has heard the stories, shared that during that week of deer hunting, Ralph fed them an abundance of food on plate sizes that would "make a giant gag."
Added Joe, "They ate and laughed and drank so much that I don't think they even went hunting. At least not much anyway."
"To this day," said Joe, "whenever we have an abundance of food and large plates, we call it the "Plaisted's Plates."
Since 1988, Ralph Plaisted, Ewan, Ed Joe, and Flip McDonald have all passed away. Now the stories of that week with Ralph Plaisted are being passed down to the next generation.
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