By Ben Welter
The Morning Tribune smartly chose to display this sweet drama on page one. I tracked down the little wanderer, now 80 years old, at his daughter’s home in Stillwater in September 2005. An interview follows the story.
Baby Sleeps on
Running Board in
Home Again, Laughs Off
Peril With Blink.
A 17-months-old boy, far too young to know the trouble he had caused, “ran away” from home Friday afternoon and covered more than two miles of city streets, across town, before he was found. Then he rewarded his parents with a sleepy blinking of his eyes.
The baby boy is Vernon Solem, son of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Solem, 604 Monroe street northeast.
He was playing in the front yard at 4 p.m. Friday. At 4:05 p.m. he had disappeared. His mother, unable to find him, enlisted the aid of the police department, and a futile but thorough search of the neighborhood was begun.
Three-quarters of an hour later a man stopped a motorist at Tenth avenue and Fourth street south, and asked him what he had on the running board of his car.
“Ain’t nothing of mine there,” the driver answered.
Nevertheless there was something – a sleeping child stretched precariously on the narrow running board. The pedestrian, not concerning himself with the identity of the driver, gallantly offered to take care of the child. He got the job.
He carried the child to the Riverside police station, deposited it on a desk and was himself allowed to walk off with the charming anonymity of all heroes. Later the child was taken to police headquarters, where he was identified as Vernon by the Solems.
Violet, 3-year-old sister of Vernon, had the only definite information concerning the disappearance. She saw an automobile parked outside in the front of the Solem home shortly before her brother disappeared.
September 2005 update: Vernon Solem doesn’t remember his 2-mile ride on the running board — he was only 17 months old at the time — but he recalled what his mother told him about it years later:
“The only thing I was told was that my hands were black from holding onto the fender. It was an old car. I don’t know what kind. … They thought I was sleeping. I don’t know. This all happened on Monroe Street. I think the guy was probably in getting a haircut in the barbershop right there. They parked on the street. He took off driving. It might have been a Model T — they had a running board on both sides. I must have gone on there and laid down or some darn thing.”
Solem, one of 11 children, said the incident didn’t have a big impact on how he was raised, or on how he raised his four children. But he observed: “I was always protective of myself. Maybe I am different. I’ll tell you, I did things different when I was 13 years old. My friends wanted to get me to smoke, but I tried one and it tasted like shit, so I threw it away and never smoked. I do drink a bit, but not much.”
Solem drove trucks for a living, delivery trucks and semis, in the Twin Cities — never over the road. He retired at age 62. He owns a lake home near Alexandria, where he still fishes for “sunfish, walleye, what have you” on occasion.
He was married for 56 years. His wife, Evelyn, died in in 2003. He’s moving to an assisted-living apartment this week. Had a cancer scare a few years back.
“I’ve been pretty lucky in life,” he told me. “I’ve had 42 treatments for cancer, and that’s all over. The doctor told me you’re cured. Like I say, I’m lucky I’m still alive.”