Book explores ‘Two Worlds’

Published 3:23 pm Saturday, May 23, 2009

After 50 years of diving, Bill Matthies of Brainerd has some tales to tell.

He had told those stories in 135 radio shows he did for the Little Falls radio station, KLTF, beginning in 1998.

“I thought maybe the public would like to hear these stories,” said Matthies, who grew up in Albert Lea. So he re-wrote the scripts into story form during the slow time of year at his business, Minnesota School of Diving.

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The result is a 524-page book, “One Earth, Two Worlds,” published in 2008.

Matthies said he learned to love the water at an early age. As a Boy Scout, he earned his life guard award. He graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1954. In the Army, he earned the title of All-Armed Forces 3-Meter Diving Champion of Panama.

It was while he was attending college in Mankato and was working as a lifeguard at the municipal swimming pool that he got his first opportunity to experience scuba diving. A friend, Dick Watanabe from Hawaii, brought tanks and a regulator into the pool and asked Bill if he wanted to try diving.

“I was never so hooked on anything in my life,” Matthies said.

He admitted to spending $250 he didn’t really have on diving equipment soon after that.

After earning their teaching degrees from Mankato State, Matthies and his wife, Evelyn (also a 1954 ALHS grad), got teaching jobs in Brainerd in 1959. Evelyn taught art at the high school and Bill taught math.

Bill said his goal was to explore the bottom of as many lakes and rivers in Minnesota as he could.

Matthies said it was inconvenient and expensive to drive to Minneapolis every weekend to refill his air tanks. He eventually bought an air compressor and rented a little building and the Brainerd Skindiving Supply Co. was born. Later the name was changed to the Minnesota School of Diving Inc., a business they still operate with their son, Todd. Today, the school is housed in a 27,000-square-foot facility.

Matthies retired from teaching in 1993, after 34 years. Evelyn moved onto teaching at the college level and taught there for more than 30 years.

Matthies’ radio program described what could be found below the surface of our lakes. When he turned the scripts into a book, he learned he had to start each story on a right-hand page. That left a lot of blank pages, so Matthies added photos, calling them “Bill’s Scrapbook.”

Matthies details artifacts found in the area, including a flintlock rifle, muzzleloader rifle barrels, stone carvings, old bottles and much more. There were also many logging tools.

He tells of discovering a graveyard of prehistoric bones that came from a species of buffalo that have been extinct for more than 12,000 years. There was also a human skull among those bones.

He tells the story of what it’s like diving under 20 feet of mud to retrieve two D-8 Caterpillar tractors in 1961.

Matthies also shares stories of exploring Lake Superior shipwrecks, a tornado that blew across Lake Roosevelt in Outing in 1969 and airplanes that have gone down in lakes, including the L-19 Bird Dog in Green Lake near Spicer in 1958. The plane was discovered intact in 2004. There is an account of the searches Matthies made in 1964 and the recovery of the plane in 2005.

“One thing I have learned over the years is that when something is stolen and the thief is afraid he will get caught, the merchandise is often thrown over a bridge. You will be amazed at the articles that have been found under some of our local bridges,” Matthies said.

Matthies also worked on a recovery effort of a train that hit a bridge in Little Falls and plunged into the Mississippi River.

Matthies said he didn’t plan to write about the recovery of drowning victims, but over his 50 years of diving, he has recovered 99 people.

Also included in the book is a conversation with Jacque Cousteau’s granddaughter, Alexandra.

Although the main part of the book is about diving in central Minnesota, Matthies has also written about diving in other parts of the world, including Honduras, Truk Lagoon, Palau, Cozumel, Denmark and England.

The author also includes a history of diving, the evolution of diving equipment in the last 50 years and sections on rebreathers, pressure, fluorocarbons, fear of water, learning to dive, certifications and underwater photography and video.

Matthies said the title of the book shows that divers exist on one Earth, but live in two worlds.

The book is available in both hard and soft cover. The books are available at the Minnesota School of Diving building at 712 Washington St., Brainerd, and at the Evelyn Matthies Studio in the Franklin Arts Center at 1001 Kingwood St., Brainerd. For more information, call (218) 829-5953.