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Chuck "Charlie" Pillsbury Interview

Hi, Charlie.  This is Kyle Oen calling from the website Vintage Minnesota Hockey.  To make a long story short it’s a hockey history website, discussing hockey heritage and the rich history of hockey in Minnesota. Through the grapevine I got involved a little bit with the Duluth Heritage Committee in Duluth that you know is affiliated with the new arena (the Duluth Heritage Sports Center) and they had spoken to me saying that you had some old scrapbooks and some information in regards to history revolving around the Duluth Hornets hockey team.  I was calling you today to talk to you and ask you a few questions if you have a moment?

A. Sure

Q. It is our understanding that you were a 
long time referee in Duluth, did you actually 
play youth or college hockey in Duluth?

A. About 1938, way back in 1938.

Q. OK, so you started referring back then in 

A. Yes I was reffing.  We were using a bell 
then.  I gave my bell to the Heritage Center.

Q.  It wasn’t a whistle, it was a bell?

A. Bell, yeah.  It was so cold referring 
hockey outside.  We had to use a bell.

Q. Wow that’s pretty neat.  So you reffed from 1938 until, when do you stop referring then?

A. Well, I refereed out in California during the War I was out in Los Angeles, San Diego, Hollywood, and then I come back for service.  I refereed in the Eveleth, Hibbing, Fort Frances, Duluth...

Q. Did you serve in the War then?

A. Yes, for 46 months.

Q. 46 months, that is a long time to be in active duty.  Thanks so much for your service to our country.  

A.  Thanks.

Q. Regarding hockey in Duluth it predates the Hornets to around 1906-1907 and potentially before as well.  The Duluth Kelly Hardware Team was a significant team in early Duluth hockey, with significant players such as Coddy Winters, Gus Olson and many others whom also skated for the Hornets.   What do you remember more about your days?  Did you ever remember watching the Hornets as a kid?

A. Oh, yeah.

Q. Going to the Duluth Amphitheater or the Curling Club?

A. Yeah.  When our amphitheater closed, the roof caved in, we went over the Curling Club, and then they played there, and UMD finally come in there.

Q. 1930, with the Duluth State Teachers College.

A. Yup.

Q. The roof of the amphitheater collapsed on February, 12 1939 during a police benefit game.  Can you recall this tragic event?

A. Yes it was 1938 or 1939.

Q. Did you ref mostly at the Curling Club back then or did you ref a little bit at the Amphitheater as well?

A. Well, I was scheduled for my first, ahh at the Amphitheater and the roof caved in the night before.

Q. So you were scheduled to ref the next day?

A. Yeah.

Q. Very interesting.  Can you recall what game were you 
supposed to ref?

A. I can’t remember.  In those days it was Hank Jenson 
and I referring most of the time.

Q. Do you remember a gentleman by the name of Helmer 

A. Yeah he was, that was when they had the Cleveland 
and Chicago and St. Paul.   And that was Helmer Grenner was 
the referee. 

Q. He played for the Duluth Hornets as well, and then he 
also became a referee in Duluth, is my understanding.

A. That I don’t remember.  I don’t remember that, but 
remember him referring.

Q. Was he one of your refs that you reffed with?

A. No, I never refereed with Helmer.   With Hank Jenson and Ray Peterson.

Q. Do you recall any memories of Joe Linder at all that started the Hornets?  Did you have any conversations with him at all?

A. Joe Linder, I heard of him and probably met him but I can’t recall speaking with him, no.  I can remember there was a Winters that played hockey from Park Point.

Q. Yes.  That would probably be Coddie Winters that I spoke of before?

A. I don’t know if his name was Connie or what it was but he was a Park Point boy.

Q. What was your feeling with the Duluth State Teachers College starting in 1930, did that change the hockey outlook a little bit in Duluth?

A. No not too much.  See I worked when what is UMD now, they played outside at the old Ordean. I referred when it was Hamline and St. Mary’s and St. Paul, St. Thomas, outside on tennis courts.

Q. Is that where Duluth skated when they first started?

A. When they were playing outside, yea. 

Q. So you remember they put up boards and froze over the tennis court?

A. Well the tennis court, yea.

Q. OK, where in Duluth was that located?  Was it right on campus?

A. On the Ordean playground, that’s the name of the park, Ordean playground, it’s a city deal.

Q.  Can you recall the Duluth Glen Avon peewee Champions that won in 1951.

A. I was referring then, yes, that was a great..ahh for those kids to win that.

Q. Do you have any memories of Gus Olson, he was pretty prominent person that played for the Hornets.

A. He used to run, ahh, the professional team.  And there was, Evy Scottvold,  Lyle Wright and Evy. Then he went out to San Diego and his daughter would skate in the Ice Follies then and he had the rink in San Diego.

Q. That’s Lyle Wright?

A. Yeah, Lyle Wright at 2600, ahh was it Duponter, I don’t remember now, 2600 something.

Q. I’ve had the opportunity of talking about Duluth hockey with some folks at the current Curling Club, and I conducted an interview in the past with Butch Williams, whom I am sure you know very well….

A. Yeah, Butch, I remember the Williams family was about five of them with Tommy and Warren and Rip was the father, and there was Sam and Dave and Butch and Tommy.

Q. They were all playing at the local rink at Lower Chester. 

A. Yeah, Lower Chester.

Q. Yes, when I interviewed Butch he talked a lot about his memories of his father Rip flooding the rink down at Lower Chester, and about his brother Tommy in the NHL and capturing gold in the 1960 Winter Olympics.

A. Yeah, yup that was special.

Q. Do you remember the old sandlot games in Duluth, that was a pretty significant rink in Duluth for the development of youth hockey it sounds like.

A. Yeah.

Q. So through the years of reffing and being in Duluth and being part of the Duluth Hockey Association, you just started collecting old memorabilia? 

A. Some of it I had but during the War I was out in Los Angeles at Bakersfield, California.  I played hockey for Bakersfield Flyers and I went refereeing in Los Angeles, San Diego, Hollywood and Fresno. 

Q. That had to be a lot of different feeling than being up in the Iron Range where you said you were and Duluth I suppose?

A. No I refereed in Eveleth, Hibbing, Fort Frances and Virginia.

Q. Was the game a little different in Los Angles and California versus up north in Minnesota though?

A. No.

Q. No? About the same?

A. One time when at a game a guy went up in the stands and intercepted the President of the league.

Q. Really?  Interesting.

A. One of the kids from Hibbing. 

Q. He went up in the stands and intercepted him?  A player actually went up into the stands with his skates on you said?

A. A guy went up, I had thrown him out of the game, and he went up after the President of the league in Los Angeles.

Q. Really?

A. One of the Pepike boys.

Q. The Pepike boys?

A. It was Al and then it was.. Al played with Chicago Blackhawks and, then they were this other one who were out in San Diego.

Q. OK.  He got kicked out of the game, he went up in the stands and intercepted the president of the league, Huh?

A. Yeah.  He was already out of the game so it didn’t matter! (laughs)

Q. Did he go up and have a few nice words to say to the president?

A. I guess so.  I wasn’t there.  I was out on the ice! (laughs)

Q. OK.  You were concentrating on the game on the ice not what was going on in the stands.

A. Yeah. 

Q. Going back to the old curling club in Duluth, can you recall the arson that took place and the year they tore down the building?

A. Gee, I had the roller rink from the city.  You see in the summer we put a maple floor down and roller skated during the summer.

Q. Inside the Curling Club?

A. Yeah.

Q. OK.  Was that on the lower level or the top floor?

A. Top level.

Q. The top level was where hockey was played.

A. When we took the ice out we put the wood floor down.


A. A maple floor.  I heard that the floor went to Albuquerque New Mexico, after the ahh, I’m not sure of that, but ahh, the DECC sold it to some um, I heard they sold it in 548 sections.

Q. OK.  They sold all the maple flooring to somebody in Albuquerque.  

A. I heard that but I’m not sure.  I heard it that way but I didn’t investigate any further.

Q. Sure.  So the Curling Club sat vacated for many years after the DECC opened its doors.  Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And then they decided to tear it down.  What year was it they tore it down after the arson occurred?

A. That’d be, hmm, I think it was 30….

Q. I believe it was in the 1980's sometime they tore it down is my understanding.

A. You’re about right.  I don’t know when they closed the Curling Club, then UMD went down and  high school hockey and then went down there to ahh.

Q. Down to the DECC?

A. Yup.

Q. The folks at the current Curling Club said it was a sore subject and a political battle for awhile in Duluth.  There were a lot of people that would have like to have seen it turned into a museum of sorts and that never came to be, and they tore it down to make way for a road.

A. Yeah.

Q. It’s nice to see that the Heritage Sports Center, is trying to do something like that by getting a lot of this old history displayed within the arena.  It is going to be a shining example of Duluth’s hockey history within the walls of the Heritage Rink.

A. I thought it was pretty nice.  I’ve been out there a couple times.  My son took me out.  See I’m 93 years old.

Q. Yeah, You’ve got a pretty sharp memory and can recall a lot of your old memories.

A. I hope so. Yeah.  See you know in the olden days we teams would be like up in Woodland was ahh, they’d have teams and out in Morten Park they had teams and down in Raleigh State they had a team and then West End they had a team.  City teams were sponsored by Our Own Hardware, Red and White grocery.

Q. Oh yea, the Red and Whites, the Duluth Kelly hardware team.

A. Kelly Hardware, yeah.

Q. And then they had the Coolerators was ah...

A. Coolerators that was during the War.

Q. Coolerators were a team that was sponsored by a refrigeration company.  Correct?

A. Yeah.

Q. A lot of the teams names associated with various local businesses in Duluth then.

A. Yeah.

Q. How old were you when the Hornets came to Duluth would you say?

A. About ahh…

Q. It was in 1920.

A. I was born see in 1915.  I can remember in the paper and that but, I can remember we used to go in a side door in the Amphitheater for a quarter.  That’s when Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Minneapolis-St. Paul and Fort Williams played there.

Q. OK.

A. That was pro hockey!

Q. That’s when kind of all the historic players played for the Hornets during that time.

A. Yup.

Q. So they had the Eveleth Reds hockey team and the St Paul Athletic Club hockey team?

A. Chicago Blackhawks and Cleveland and then they had Pittsburgh.

Q. The Pittsburgh Yellowjackets?

A. Yea, I don’t remember what.  And then there was Port Arthur and Fort Williams.

Q. Fort Frances, right?

A. Fort Frances too.

Q. You went to the Amphitheater and saw them play for only a quarter, huh?

A. In the side door.

Q. The side door?

A. Yea, we had to go in the side door, then we sat in the corner behind, stand up in the corner.

Q. Otherwise if you had entered through the front door was it more than a quarter?

A. I don’t know what they got for front door. 

Q. OK.  Just the side door was a quarter.  Did your folks, your parents brought you to the hockey games then as a kid?

A. No walked down there.

Q. OK so you walked down with your friends?

A. Yeah.

Q. OK.  How many games did you see the Hornets play would you say when you were a kid?

A. Whenever they played!

Q. OK.  Can you remember what the team colors of the Hornets were, do you remember?

A. They were black and gold, like Hornets.

Q. OK.  Yea, your memory is pretty sharp there.  You remember all the teams that played.  So did you skate youth hockey in Duluth then?

A. I skated when I was a kid, with the neighborhood team.  I played over at Cathedral and then over to Superior Yellowjackets, and then I played at St. John’s in 1936.

Q. OK so you were down in the Cities here then.

A. Yeah.

Q. OK.

A. Then during the War I played in Bakersfield, California with the air base there.

Q. OK.

A. And then I went down and refereed in Los Angeles and San Diego, Hollywood and Fresno.

Q. OK.  Then you ended up moving back to Duluth after the War then, right?

A. After the War I ahh. The Pacific Coast League was going on in California, and there was no, they could only guarantee two games a week, so I didn’t think I could live on that.  I got $35 a night to referee out there.

Q. What other teams were in the league that you refereed for in California, do you recall?

A. San Diego, Los Angeles Monarchs, Hollywood Wolves. The Fresno, I forgot their name.  It was, they played Wednesday night in LA and get a bus back to get to base, then on Saturday I’d hitchhike a ride all the way to San Diego and back Sunday afternoon in Hollywood.  And then back to base by taking a bus.

Q. Wow!  You had a lot of sacrifices to get to the rink.

A. Yeah, yeah.  Back then it was easier.  When we were in service, it was easy to get a ride then.

Q. Oh, I suppose, being in uniform somebody would pick you up, huh?

A. Yeah.

Q. That’s pretty neat.  Do you recall in 1933 when the Hornets left for Wichita to become the Wichita Bluejays?

A. I thought the Hornets went to Omaha, you see Lyle Wright used to ahh, they went to the Ak-Sar-Ben race track.   That was the refrigeration unit from the Amphitheater was taken over by the Omaha, the Ak-Sar-Ben race track.

Q. The salvaged refrigeration unit from the Amphitheater went to a race track you said?

A. Ak-Sar-Ben race track in Omaha, yes.

Q. Sadly, in place of the old Amphitheater, and also the Curling Club there isn’t any historical markers that say that it was all once there.  So it’s just in the photos and memories of people like yourself that remembered where it was when you drive by today.

A. Yeah I guess.  I had a postcard I remember it was in it, picture of the old Curling Club.

Q. Anything else that you want to add at all, any other fond memories of certain players in Duluth?

A. When Lyle Wright had the team, Evy Scottsvold was up here to manage in the Amphitheater and the hockey team for Lyle Wright. 

Q. What was the gentleman’s name that managed the Amphitheater?

A. Evy Scottsvold.  His daughter used to skate in the Ice Capades.

Q. Oh, OK.  He’s the one that managed the Amphitheater.  Lyle Wright’s name is pretty well known here in the Twin Cities.  He managed the Minneapolis Arena and then after the Minneapolis Millers folded he moved to Duluth.

A. I worked the State Tournament in Lyle Wright’s arena.

Q. OK in Minneapolis, you did?

A. That’s a few weeks ago.

Q. That arena has subsequently been torn down as well, it’s a grocery store today in Minneapolis.

A. Yea.  Things have changed.

Q. It’s nice to see the Heritage Rink is going to be utilized for youth hockey in Duluth, and all of their High School teams additionally it’s nice to see that the DECC expansion as well.

A. Yeah, yeah.

Q. I think that’s long overdue, that’s for sure.  So it will be nice for these high school kids to be able to have a home rink to call home and not play at the DECC all of the time.

A. Play outside we used to play outside.  Yeah.

Q. Yea that’s neat.

A. It used to be cold with that whistle outside! (laughs)

Q. That’s why you had your bell right?

A. Yeah.  

Q. Yes, the technology and the invention of artificial ice really helped a lot.  That’s kind of the future of hockey I suppose, and it’s been around for a while now.

A. Oh yea, a couple weeks ago.

Q. Couple weeks, yup. (laughs). Well thank you so much for talking to me today.  We really appreciate it.

A. Happy to talk to you, have a good day.