Jeff M. Sauve
“Times have changed,” declared the 1948 St. Olaf yearbook. With the post-World War II enrollment up from 100 to 900 men, both students and administration faced housing hardships. One solution was the creation in January 1947 of a “temporary” prefabricated housing complex and trailer camp below Old Main Hill. Dubbed Viking Court, the complex housed fifteen married couples and seventy-two single men in four crowded barracks that faced Lincoln Street.
Each married couple apartment had two bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette, bath and four closets. Heating and cooking stoves, natural gas, water heaters and ice boxes were provided. The barracks for the single men were divided into eight-man units each with four bedrooms, two study rooms and bath. Bunks, tables and chairs were provided.
However, common sense may not have been provided to all the Viking Court dwellers. On May 2, 1947, at 8:25 p.m.—only a few short months after the complex opened—the odor of natural gas permeated the air. One student thoughtlessly lit a match near unit 6, possibly causing the ignition.
The force of the explosion was heard miles away. The entire area near the campus was showered with stones and splinters. Three apartment units were blown sky-high. Fortunately only four people—including a baby found in the wreckage, pinned under a big timber—were slightly injured.
Some students on the Hill wondered about those veterans living below them—far removed from the college moral authority. Interaction included babysitting for their classmates or attending “scandalous parties” thrown by the single veterans. One student stated, “I’ve never been in a trailer. I’d like to see how two people can live in one of those things, and to think that some of them even have children.”
Children indeed! In May 1947, it was reported that the veterans’ families included twenty-six babies.
Parlaying their family status, the Viking Court dwellers took first place in the 1947 homecoming off-campus decorating contest with a banner proclaiming “Fathers of our College”—a play on the college song,”The College of our Fathers”—with a row of baby strollers complete with diapers. Another sign in the display stated, “The Lions, Their Mates, and Cubs Welcome You.”
Viking Court was intended as a five-year temporary solution, but the last remaining barracks were not removed until 1959. For Margaret and Ron Hinz, living in a trailer house in the late 1940s provided a warm, cozy and inviting place to relax with friends over a cup of coffee or a game of bridge, and a place they simply called home.