Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Water fights and catfish in Franklin July 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:19 AM
Franklin Catfish Derby Days water fight

Franklin Catfish Derby Days water fight

Saturday afternoon and we are westbound on Minnesota Highway 19, slowing for the tiny town of Franklin. I look to the south. And there, across the ball field, I glimpse a fire truck and the arc of spraying water.

“We have to stop,” I immediately tell my husband. “They’re having a water fight.”


Decades have passed since I’ve watched this form of small town festival entertainment and I am determined now to see it.

We turn off the highway, drive past the blockaded streets and find a parking spot only a half block from the park-side residential street where volunteers from four communities—Franklin, Morton, Litchfield and Danube—are competing in a Fire Department Water Ball Fight during Franklin’s annual Catfish Derby Days.

They are aiming their water hoses at a bright red beer keg suspended high in the air on a cable, trying to push the barrel to the other end. Spectator bleachers remain mostly empty as folks have unfolded lawn chairs farther from the action, avoiding the water that showers the area in this afternoon of fierce wind.

Some of the kids, though, frolic in the spray, splashing through the water that runs along the curb.

From the sidelines, firefighters shout encouragement at their trios of team members as the keg wobbles and sways. Finally, when it is over, they knuckle each other, slap each other on the back, swig another taste of beer.

I hope there’s no fire in the Franklin area today, I think.

Then we are heading back to our car and before us walk three boys whom I saw earlier, huddled beside a tree watching the water ball fight. One of them is wrapped in the warmth of a Mickey Mouse towel. A woman walks beside them, a stash of towels tucked under her arm.

The scene makes me smile. So does the sight of three other boys dumping their bikes on a street corner before racing toward the park.

I imagine for a moment that this is the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings, even though I know in reality no such idyllic place exists.

As we drive west out of town and back toward the highway, I am searching for a fiberglass catfish statue. I see none. But that seems somehow OK for a small Minnesota town which, later Saturday evening, will host a “Kiss the Catfish” contest.

From the sidelines, cheering on the teams.

From the sidelines, cheering on the teams.

Two Litchfield firemen aim to win.

Two Litchfield firemen aim to win.

Walking home after watching the water fights.

Walking home after watching the water fights.


2 Responses to “Water fights and catfish in Franklin”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Ok — You’ve blogged and photographed the Franklin Catfish Festival. Now you need to schedule a trip up to Floodwood, MN for Floodwood’s Catfish Festival. Floodwood’s Catfish Festival is held the 2nd Weekend of each July. This year was I believe festival number 28.

    Mayor Jeff

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Mayor Jeff–I would think Floodwood would be more walleye country. But then what do I know? I grew up catching bullheads in School Grove Lake. Will you be fishing for bullheads, uh I mean catfish?

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