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Johnson keeps El Paso's famed log cabin going

TOWN OF EL PASO--Adolph's Old Log Cabin is known beyond the borders of the small Pierce County community where it's located. Indeed, the El Paso gathering place is recognized well outside of county lines.

Last month, owner Adolph Johnson received an inquiry for information about the cabin's history from a Southern Wisconsin resident. Last week, he shared a write-up about the bar and former service station found in the book "Badger Bars and Tavern Tales."

"I bought that while I was at a place in Wilson," the area native said Thursday.

The book traces the cabin's roots to a log cabin once used as living quarters in the vicinity. Lewis Bowen is identified as having torn down that place, with the materials going into what was then called the "Log Cabin Inn."

The earliest reference to the outlet being in operation is 1933. From then until 1937, Bowen and his brother, "Cricket," ran the premises at various times, as did Cooney Bjornson. It was eventually leased to Fred Raehsler.

"I've got a chip from when (Cricket Bowen) had it that was good for a drink," Johnson said.

The cabin's real heyday arrived after the late Ernie Seifert took it over in '37, according to the book. Seifert not only manned the bar, but expanded vehicle services to more than the gas pump then situated out front. He changed oil and repaired tires, especially during World War II, when rubber was scarce (beer supplies were also cut back).

"Ernie had a pit outfitted with steel rails so he could crawl underneath and fix cars," Johnson said, noting his predecessor raised a family of five in a house across the road.

The book states liquor was voted out of the town for awhile during the '40s. When the town was opened up again, Seifert could have gotten a liquor license, but decided to stick with just beer. Johnson said the old Walters Brewery in Eau Claire supplied the brand of choice.

A 24-by-30 foot icehouse was located behind the cabin, the book states. Chunks of ice would be sawed off from the nearby pond at Jones Mill and stored there to cool the beer. The ice could be kept as long as from winter until August. Electricity became available in 1938.

The Fourth of July was the busiest occasion of the year during Lewis Bowen's tenure and Seifert's, too. The book tells of one such holiday when four barrels of beer plus 100 cases each of beer and pop were ordered to meet the demand. Yet, 20 more cases of beer had to be obtained by the end of the day.

As much as nearly $500 in sales was brought in one Independence Day. Typically in the early years, beer sold for five cents a bottle, and liquor was 10 cents a shot or $1 a bottle.

Also behind the cabin is an outhouse, as plumbing's never been installed inside.

After Seifert died, the log cabin was only open to a group of hunters during gun-deer season for a couple of years, Johnson said. An estate auction was held in '92, where he got both the cabin and the house. The hunters have continued to open the former some years; otherwise, it's mainly used for the El Paso Days celebration each August.

"But if I'm here and have the door open, someone usually stops in," he said, adding Spring Valley High School's Class of 1971 plans to hold a reunion there next month, in honor of it being a destination during "Senior Skip Day."

One of the first things Johnson did after assuming ownership was replace the bar itself, which had been removed. He said he had another one made from logs and brought it in through a window. Several patrons who did sanding and finishing by trade volunteered to complete the top.

The present owner put new cedar shakes on the roof, pressure-washed the exterior log walls and stained them. He's since dedicated a walking trail on the property to his late wife, Ruth. Their family includes three sons (Dennis, Doug and Dale), three daughters (Diane, Darla and Debbie), six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Johnson has 100 acres left of a former dairy farm that once totaled 380 acres, 11 miles away from the cabin toward Woodville. He came to the area in 1943, farmed until 1966, then worked on the Spring Valley dam project. He later labored as a dynamiter on jobs in Wabasha, Minn., Kansas and elsewhere.

Before his wife died five-and-a-half years ago, they traveled in a recreational vehicle still parked next to the cabin. The retiree now stays closer to home, enjoying the area, visitors to the cabin and his memories.