Bennie Johnson in Ashby, 1900-1920
Top: Bicycle shop in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where Bennie (center) worked awhile.
Bottom: Gilbert Hoff house [now Albert Hoff's house], about a mile north of Ashby, Minnesota, in its heyday (no date). Bennie worked there for about a year (circa 1900) and George worked there earlier. They were first cousins of Gilbert Hoff; their father was a brother of Gilbert Hoff's mother. [Another cousin, Thoralf Hoff, was a preacher in Decorah, Iowa.] This was the second biggest house in the country around Ashby. The largest was the Soren Knutson house, and Bennie also worked there for a time. The fancy porches have been removed from this house (probably rotted away). No one now remembers the Soren Knutson house.
Excerpt from Donald B. Johnson manuscript:
"Pa came to Minnesota in 1900 or 1901 and worked for Gilbert Hoff for a year. When Mrs. Hoff wanted something done, she always got Pa to do it. One day she told him to bring in a good-sized rock to weight down her sauerkraut. He brought one in at noon and set it on the porch. When she went to use it, she threw up her hands. She couldn't even turn it over. So he had to take it back and get a smaller one. He was always full of tricks, and I think he knew she couldn't lift it." [2.4-1]
"Later on he went out by Washburn, North Dakota, and filed on a 160-acre homestead. He built a shack, which was required to prove up on it, and then worked for another settler who was already there. His job was breaking prairie sod with a walking Prairie Breaker plow and four horses. The wind blew all the time and the plow hit a lot of rocks. They only had two chairs, so Pa sat on the sack of oats they kept in the shack for the horses. Some days the sack was full and other days almost empty. The settler's wife was dyspeptic, he said, and never hungry, and everyone else was the same way, so he almost starved to death. While he was plowing he could see the coyotes across the ravine and just wished he could get ahold of one and fry it." [2.4-5]
"Pa came back to Minnesota for the winter and when he went back, the Russians had stolen the floor out of his shack. He worked on a steamboat that summer, hauling freight on the Missouri River. The next year they had stolen the whole shack, so he got a job on the section gang on the railroad. I guess that was pretty boring to someone young and ambitious. The tracks went on as far as you could see and you didn't feel like you had accomplished anything, whether you worked or not." [2.5-1]
"Pa was the substitute mail carrier during World War I and carried steady for a 1-1/2 year stretch. During that time was the great flu epidemic. The young and able-bodied were hit the hardest and they died like flies. Pa got a bottle of some kind of crystals from the drug store (just a spoonful or so of crystals in the bottom of the bottle) and that was supposed to kill any flu germs we had picked up during the day. It must have worked, for us, anyway." [3.28-5]
"Andrew Runningen was the other mail carrier and he and Pa were both in the prime of life, in their 30s, the same age as most of those who died. Even though they were with the public every day, and Andrew slept with his boys who had the flu, neither Pa nor Andrew got it. They drove horses in winter on the routes, and in the summer Pa used the Model T. Andrew used a motorcycle, but I think he had a car, too." [3.29-2]
[The 1918 influenza pandemic was triggered by a bird virus that mutated into one that could attack humans, going on to kill a staggering 50 million people worldwide in a matter of months. --AP news story, 2007]