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Off to Stacker City (03/28/2007)
By Frances Edstrom

The Stacker City Players put on a boffo show last weekend, written by former Winonan Steve Andersen. Okay, you might ask, who are the Stacker City Players, where is Stacker City, and what is a stacker?

It turns out I can answer all of your questions.

My college roommate, Gayle Viehman Kirkman, is a retired English teacher in Holcombe, Wisconsin, where she and her husband, former Arcadia superintendent of schools Denis Kirkman, live on Lake Holcombe. It's a sportsman's paradise. Only trouble is, Gayle is not the sporty sort. She has a masters degree from the U of M in theater, and while in Arcadia directed the high school plays and coached Miss Arcadia contestants, one or two of whom went on to be Miss Wisconsin. You get the drift "” she wasn't concerned at all that the ice fishing was bad this past winter.

She and several other people who meant to end up on Broadway in New York City, but ran out of bus money in northern Wisconsin (not literally"ĶI think), have formed the Stacker City players, and since 1989 they have been staging theatrical productions to edify and entertain the good folks of that area. They come from all walks of life "” teachers, bankers, auto dealers, students, retirees and such. They presented a dinner theater at a local resort last weekend, and we went to see it, the Kirkmans and Steve, who was a high school classmate of John's. Steve wrote the play, "On the Air," a radio revue featuring such figures as the Shadow, Kate Smith, Spike Jones and Walter Winchell, with songs and music of the era, and a lot of comic bits. The play was originally performed at the Plymouth Playhouse and the Chanhassen Theater.

The group's usual performance space is an old movie theater in the town of Cornell, directly south of Holcombe, where the owner allowed the group to expand the stage to accommodate live performances. Cornell, Wisconsin, is Stacker City.

Here's why. Cornell is on the Chippewa River, which played an important role in the lumber industry in the last two centuries. There was a paper manufacturer in Cornell that used pulpwood to make its products. In the early days of the industry, when the logs came into a port, they were cut into smaller pieces which were then stacked by hand into enormous piles. When the wood was needed, it was taken from the piles and floated through tunnels to be ground into pulp which was then turned into paper.

But in 1911, a pulpwood stacker was manufactured by an English company, Joors, and in 1912 was installed at Cornell. It revolutionized the paper-making process, and was used at Cornell until 1971. The steel structure looks like a radio tower that is falling over. According to promotional material, "it measures 175 feet in height with a width of 36 feet at the base and 10 feet at the tip. The 45 degree angle is maintained by concrete counterweights. The conveyor, which was operated by a 35 horsepower electric motor located at the tip of the Stacker, consisted of a one inch wire cable equipped with iron discs. Workers made repairs by using the catwalk on the upper side of the left truss frame."

The town has preserved the stacker and built a park around it to commemorate its past.

So now you know why they are called the Stacker City Players, who delighted the audience with their production of "On the Air." And the trip through rural Wisconsin to get there was a bonus delight. 


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