A penny slot machine.

by Otto Ringle

We were talking about some of the old restaurants in town — The Bodega, Goalpost and Zona Rosa, which is still in operation, but has such an interesting past. Then, because of all the excitement and enthusiasm in town over our victorious girls’ volleyball team, my thoughts and recollections turned away from old watering holes.

Let’s get back to the subject of old restaurants and talk about Bob’s Cafe. Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Bob’s Cafe was located on Main Street where Terra Reflections is now. Like many restaurants in Walker’s early history, Bob had his name on the sign in front, but his wife Rose did most of the work. Come to think of it, Rose didn’t do much work either.

She could, however, always be found sitting at her table in the back of the restaurant, nursing her Hamm’s Beer and making certain all the help did their jobs. In the front of the very popular restaurant was a huge, round booth, which was always filled with teenagers.

It was a well-liked refuge for kids after school and rainy Saturday afternoons to gather together and talk about their happenings and their successes of the night before.

Rose and Bob had two very popular kids of their own — Eleanor and Dewayne, and it was not unusual for them to arrange for their friends to receive a Coke or a 7-Up free of charge, and perhaps a bag of peanuts to munch on.

Dewayne and I were inseparable buddies. We did every together — hunted, fished, shot hoops, worked on scouting activities, and of course — chased girls! Later on Dewayne was in my wedding party and I in his.

In addition to his popular restaurant, Bob Marshman had another business — slot machines. Bob had slot machines all over the immediate area — slots ranging from many dollar machines out at Kaiser Savard’s “Silver Dollar,” to one lone penny machine just down the block in Tom Barker’s Jewelry Store.

According to a March 2005 report, “Gambling in Minnesota,” prepared by John Williams, a legislative analyst in the Minnesota House Reserve Department, “Minnesota law may have left no room for commercial gambling, but in the post WWII era its presence in some parts of the state was persuasive despite its illegality. An estimated 8,000 illegal slot machines were being operated in Minnesota and the annual revenue from these machines was estimated at $4 million, which is the equivalent to about $35 million today.

“Many of the machines were operated in resort areas with little interference from local law enforcement.”

Hmmm, many machines were operated in resort areas with little interference from local law enforcement! I can attest to those words! Every Saturday, Bob Marshman, Dewayne and I would travel around the area checking on all of Bob’s slot machines — and many machines were located in area resorts.

If the machines weren’t paying at all, Bob would fix them so they would pay — just a little bit! If the machines were paying too much, Bob would fix them so they would pay — just a little bit!

History tells us that in 1947, Governor Luther Youngdahl’s anti-slot machine law was enacted. Extremely controversial at the time, the new law was largely successful in driving slot machines out of some parts of the state. However, only in some parts of the state!

Again, I can attest to the fact that Bob, Dewayne and I continued to check on all of Bob’s slot machines until Dewayne and I graduated from old WHS in 1949 — two years after the law was passed. I don’t know how long it was after that before Bob had to remove all of his machines, but I can recall coming home from college when, the Silver Dollar, just south of town was filled with silver dollar slot machines with signs on them that read, “Luther Was Here”!

It is also well-known that Bob’s penny slot machine in Barker’s Jewelry remained popular for many, many years afterwards. As long as the kids were tall enough to reach the handle, the machine was there for their enjoyment.

A picture of the very popular one-armed bandit is shown above. I wonder where the machine is now, as it is a relic of historical and sentimental interest in Walker’s past.

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