Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rice Creek Rancho, Part 1

Our dad, John V. Mickman, was a perennial entrepreneur whose business pursuits were unique in many ways, but mostly because few people would ever have thought of these business opportunities in the first place. His foray into the Mexican Burro adventure is a good example. Here is how I remember my dad telling me about how Rice Creek Rancho began:

In the mid 1950’s he and our mom, Lucy Mickman, decided to drive down to Mexico for a vacation. Why? I’m sure the original intent was simply for pleasure. However, dad was one of those rare individuals that learns foreign languages easily, and while in Mexico for those two weeks, he learned Spanish.  40 years later in the mid 1990’s, Mickman Brothers hired two Hispanic workers through a temp agency and none of us spoke Spanish.  So, I called my dad and asked if he could remember enough Spanish to ask these workers if they were getting paid properly, how they liked working for us, etc. He said, “Well, I don’t know if I can remember enough Spanish, but I can try.” He met with the two workers and said, “Hola, Buenos tardes.” The two guys looked surprised, replied in Spanish, and off they went on an hour long conversation…….. Amazing!

Anyway after he picked up the language during the vacation, dad was driving mom through the Mexican countryside and stopped to get gasoline. While he was fueling up, dad looked to a mesa not far off and spotted a small herd of burros. Dad asked the attendant what they were, and was told that they were wild burro’s; no one owned them, they just lived there in the semi-arid land. “Well”, my dad said. “I wonder how much they are worth if a guy wanted to buy them.” “Buy them?” the Mexican replied. “Why would anyone want to buy them? You can just go out there and get them if you want them!”, he replied in Spanish.

My dad said, “I don’t know if I want them or not right now. But, if I do want them, how much would it cost to have you or your buddies go get them and put them on a truck? I’m going home from my vacation with my wife and don’t have time to get them right now.” The Mexican began stroking his long black mustache trying to come up with the right number; too much might scare this gringo away, but it would be silly to ask too low a price. “Amigo, I think my brothers and I can get some of those burro’s for $2.50 each. What do you think about that?”

Boy, this seemed like the deal of a lifetime to my dad. $2.50 each plus somehow getting them up to Minnesota.  He was sure he could sell them for over $50 each, maybe more. “Mi amigo, how many of those burros do you think you can catch?” The overwhelming opportunities seen by the Mexican were similar to my dad’s. “Senior”, the Mexican replied, “how many burros do you want; that’s how many we can catch.”

So the negotiations and logistics were worked out standing there at the gas station in northern Mexico. My dad gave the Mexican a small down payment to show that he was serious about this business opportunity, and the Mexican assured dad he would take care of everything. “Don’t worry Amigo, this is going to be a good thing for you…”.

My mom (a very nice, very clean lady) was extremely surprised (and concerned) when dad got back in the car, drove away, and told her of his grand new plan. The problem was that we lived in a subdivision in the new suburban community of Fridley. Mom was sure we couldn’t keep burros in our back yard and we had no other place for any livestock. Dad was an aeronautical engineer at Honeywell and it was important that he stayed focused on his job since she was busy with 5 kids under six years old at home.

As it turned out, there was an undeveloped 40 acre field across the street from our house that had an old dilapidated barbed wire fence around it. When they returned to Fridley, dad met with the old farmer that owned that field and asked if he could rent it for a year or so. “Young man”, the farmer said, what are you going to do with 40 acres? You’ve never farmed in your life.” Here was a critical time in the new enterprise for my dad; he didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with his new idea in case someone else heard about it and captured the market before he even got started. But, after going back and forth a couple of times, it became apparent that the old farmer wouldn’t lease the land to dad until he knew what he was going to do with it.

Finally my dad told him the plan, but that the plan was to be in strict confidence. “I’m going to keep burros in the field” dad explained. “What burros!” the farmer asked. “What are you talking about? How many burros?” Dad replied, “Well, I was thinking about 50 or 60 burros, from Mexico.” “From Mexico!” the farmer exclaimed. “What in the name of Pete are you going to do with 60 wild Mexican jackasses?” This seemed to be a funny question to my dad, because, from the instant he had the idea, he was certain his plan was a fabulous business opportunity. “I’m going to sell those burros, for $75 each!” dad announced proudly. 

So the deals between the Mexican and the old farmer were struck (much to mom’s dismay).  I’m not sure about the logistics of getting the burros to Minnesota or how the money was exchanged with the Mexican, but somehow dad arranged the whole thing. He repaired the run down barbed wire fence and fashioned a corral from some old lumber not far from our house. My younger brother Mark and I tagged along behind dad much of the time, but we were only 5 or 6 years old so weren’t able to help much. We really didn’t even understand what was happening – until the big day.

Dad with burros
So on one fine, early summer morning in 1956, our dad woke Mark and me up and while walking across our dew covered lawn, we watched the biggest truck we had ever seen, back up next to the corral in the 40 acre field. Then, when we reached the back of the truck, our dad yelled out to the truck driver, “Let ‘er go!” and the trailers huge tailgate dropped down to the ground, making a steep ramp. As it dropped, 60 wild, Mexican jackasses began stampeding down the ramp. They had not seen the light of day since they left the old country and were raring to go, literally. They jumped, and bumped and farted their way from the truck and ran away into the field like there was no tomorrow, happy to be free again. They were wild indeed and had never been fenced in. Mark and I crawled through the barbed wire and started running after these wild creatures; what fun!

My dad called this operation, RICE CREEK RANCHO, and he made the newspaper many times over the next few years as word spread about all the Mexican Burros in ‘friendly Fridley’. Even now, whenever I see a burro in Minnesota, there is little doubt in my mind that this is a descendant of one or more of those first 60 burros my dad brought to Minnesota in the ‘50’s. And, the good news is that this business turned out to be a pretty lucrative venture for our dad, and certainly a learning experience for all of us kids.

But to my little brother Mark and me, this wasn’t a business, this was by far the most exciting event in our young lives; we were going to be cowboys! We simply couldn’t believe that all those ‘little horses’ were ours. But, as you can only imagine, the fun was only beginning…

Find out what happens in Rice Creek Rancho, Part 2. Coming soon!

John S. Mickman
Mexican Burro Bronco Rider

Cash back this Fundraising Season!

Would your Fundraising Organization like to receive cash back on their Holiday Wreath Fundraiser this year? Do you know a Fundraising group, or maybe a friend or relative associated with a Fundraising group outside of your community? You've answered 'yes' to both questions? Our Referral Program is perfect for you!

All you have to do:
  1. Share your Fundraising info with your friend, family member or anyone interested in raising money for their non-profit organization.
  2. When they sign up at, tell them to include your group information in the comments so Mickman Brothers knows you referred them.
  3. Your referred group needs to sell just 75 Evergreen Products during their Holiday Fundraiser.
  4. After all sales are complete and the Evergreen wreaths (which smell SO good) have been delivered, you'll receive your Referral Rebate check in December.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Your Organization just got 50 cents back for every 25" Wreath your group sold during their fundraiser, saving your Fundraising Organization some hard-earned money! Cheers all around!

Contact our Customer Service Team with any questions: 1-800-446-4229.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fridley, Minnesota High School Award - Mickman Brother Wreath Fundraiser

John Mickman with girlfriend Terry M. at the Fridley HS Prom of 1968.
John and Chris Mickman have been chosen for the 2012 Fridley High School Distinguished Alumni Award.

They were selected for this award “because of their accomplishments since high school, their personal attributes and their contributions to their community. It is through programs such as this that Fridley High School students experience a world class community of learners in action. The presence and accomplishments of our alumni helps today’s students touch and experience the past and see possible pathways to brighter futures.”

The actual awards ceremony will be this October 26th at 5:30 at the High School. 

Congratulations, John and Chris! 


Monday, August 6, 2012

Brothers - Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser

My mom and I disagree about how old we were when my brother Mark and I embarked upon our first long distance hitchhiking excursion. She says I was about 13; I’m sure I was no older than 11 and our dad thought that was about right. My brother was 20 months younger than me.

At any rate, we had talked our parents into letting us stay a few days longer at our ‘rich’ cousin’s lake house near Crookston, MN – about 300 miles from our house in the Twin Cities. How were we going to get home? We were going to hitchhike.

On the fine July day back in the early ‘60’s when we started our journey, Uncle Jack dropped us off at an unremarkable intersection in the Red River Valley – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t any traffic, and Mark and I got into a discussion of who was the better hitchhiker. I was older and had hitchhiked home from school way more times than brother Mark, but Mark was adamant that he was better at getting rides. Being extremely competitive in everything we did, we ended up making this into a contest - a long distance race; the first one home would be the better hitchhiker, the winner of the race – no bones about it! We flipped a coin and Mark won. I slipped off into the cornfield to await my turn on the old, potholed, ribbon of highway.

The first vehicle to come by was an old, beat up pick-up truck which stopped and picked up Mark. Bad ride, I thought to myself; that old guy isn’t going to go very far. I jumped out of the cornfield and waited for my ride. The next car was a guy going about 30 miles down the road and I grinned and waved to Mark in the old pick-up when we passed him along the way. I was sure I was going to win.

My second ride took a little longer to get, and while I was waiting, Mark passed me by in the front seat of some car with a lady driving. Shoot, I wondered how far she was going to take my brother! We played ‘leap frog’ 3 or 4 times like this, each time waving to the other brother with a big grin, each of us gloating big time when we were in the lead. This was a great race! The day was warm, the sky was blue and all was well with the world.

Finally, some distance north of Little Falls, I picked up a ride with 2 guys in a new Plymouth who said they were going all the way to the Twin Cities. These guys were really surprised that a little kid like me was hitchhiking all the way from ‘Up North’. I told them all about my cousins and how I talked my dad into letting me make the trip – not saying anything about my mom who didn’t like the idea at all, or my brother Mark, who I knew was in front of me somewhere. After quite a conversation, they offered to go out of their way and drop me off at an intersection only about a mile from our house. Way cool; I was going to win. There was no way Mark could catch up now!

Unfortunately, on our way through Little Falls, I saw my brother a few blocks ahead, hitchhiking near a stop light. The two guys saw him too, “Look at that”, the driver said. “Another little kid hitchhiking. Let’s pick him up.” I was horrified! “No, don’t pick him up”, I stammered. “There isn’t any room back here for another person”, and I stretched both arms as wide as I could reach across the huge back seat.  The two guys gave me a puzzled look, eyeing the skinny little kid with a crew cut in the back seat of the huge Plymouth, and said, of course there was plenty of room. 

Extreme frustration set in and I realized that Mark and I hadn’t thought of the possibility of both of us getting a ride in the same car all the way home. When Mark got in the car, I immediately explained to him that this was actually ‘my ride’; that I got into the car first, so I must be the winner. “Na-ahhh”, Mark said. “The first one home wins the race, and we aren’t home yet” he said. Sometime during this sophisticated discussion, the two guys looked more closely at us and realized that we were brothers. When we explained that we were in a hitchhiking race they had a hard time believing us. But, there we were; how else could they explain how two little kids were hitchhiking alone through Minnesota?

Mark and I had to make a revision to the rules: The first one of us to actually touch the front door of our house would win. Nope, not the first one in the yard; the first one to touch the door. OK, so this was going to end up being a footrace.

After a long ride, the Plymouth finally pulled to the shoulder of Hwy. 65 at Mississippi Street in our hometown of Fridley. We were both so keyed-up and jumpy we could hardly stand it. Before the car was completely stopped, both the back doors of the Plymouth flew open and we both blew out of the car at a dead run, each of us carrying our dirty clothes and a swimming suit in brown paper sacks. We lived a mile away from the intersection and we were both great runners with lots of races behind us. But this one was different – our biggest race ever.

We were neck and neck, running as fast as our young legs could carry us. My legs were burning and my lungs were bursting, but I couldn’t let my little brother beat me. I pushed even harder, dredging up every last bit of strength I could muster. Mark was doing the same. Our young heart’s pumping harder than they had ever pumped before. Sweat kept running into our eyes, blurring our vision and burning as we wiped it off with already wet forearms. Block after block we ran through total exhaustion; can you picture this?

At last we rounded the final corner into the neighborhood, and I could see our house. I had an idea of dropping my paper bag as soon as we got to our yard to lighten the load, certain that this would help me win. Mark had the same idea and dropped his bag too. As we raced up the gently sloping yard, I thought my legs would give out, but we both kept running as fast as we could.

My last idea was that I wouldn’t actually climb up the front steps; I would jump across the steps to get just a half second advantage and touch the front door before Mark. My timing was perfect, and at the base of the steps, I jumped as hard and long as I could, reached my arm out, and touched the door with just the tips of my fingers. At that exact moment of glory, I looked to my right and Mark had done the same thing. We both had touched the door at the exact, same, moment! Unbelievable; the race had begun hours before, hundreds miles away, and had ended in an exact tie! We were both kinda scraped up from our skid across the concrete steps and completely out of breath, but as we laid there we started to giggle – and the giggles turned into laughs, and the laughs kept up until our sides hurt.

That is the last footrace I remember having with my brother Mark, who was killed a few short years later.

There is nothing else like brothers growing up together. Sometimes ‘partners in crime’ when something goes wrong, they are ferocious competitors when the opportunity arises. But, brothers are first of all best friends, discovering their world together with all of its wonder and adventure, developing passion’s and camaraderie’s that will be shared through a lifetime. I’m so glad my brothers and I shared those years together so long ago. I would not be the person I am today without them.

John Mickman,
President of Mickman Brothers (with brother Chris!)

Mickman Brothers Holiday Fundraiser