TRAVERSE CITY - The story of Chester Olson is a tale of one man's willingness to fight for the Boardman River.
By day, Olson was a salesman for Rick & Son Grocer local jobbers in Traverse City in 1940. It was a time when a new car cost $800, a gallon of gas was 18 cents, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the radio and innocence was still the order of the day.
On nights and weekends, though, Olson was perhaps the Boardman's greatest advocate. He spent his spare time fly fishing the river below the Brown Bridge Dam.
For Olson, it was a place of peace. He wrote of the river's excellence and allure, calling it "one of the most beautiful rivers, and one of the finest brown trout streams in the state."
Olson noticed something was wrong with the river below the dam in early 1940. Sometimes the water raged out of the base of the dam and flooded the entire river. In other instances, the water flowed through the dam like drips from a leaky faucet, leaving a dried-up riverbed and dead fish.
An alarmed Olson committed to doing something about the huge fluctuations in the river flow he saw from day to day. He maintained a diary, taking photos and meticulously recording measurements.
His 1940 letters were kept in a "trophy book" that ended up in the hands of local outdoor writer Dave Richey.
"He knew something was wrong with the Brown Bridge Dam," said Richey. "I'm not sure he knew exactly what part of the dam was defective, but he knew something was wrong."
Olson commenced a letter writing campaign to Michigan power brokers and newspapers in an attempt to get the dam fixed and the river flowing at a more normal rate. His letters are typed, in blue ink, on old-fashioned, see-through, yellow and white typing paper that still crinkles to the touch.