I never heard much about the years between when Pa homesteaded in North Dakota and when he and Odin Boe bought the livery barn in Ashby, in about 1909, before he was married. The partnership only lasted a year, as Odin's wife spent all of his half of the income and in a year he owed Pa enough that Pa took over Odin's interest and ran it alone after that. [3.5-2]
The livery barn was on the northeast corner of the block between the Ashby Laundry and the Legion Hall and rented out buggies and horses and also stabled horses for farmers who came to town to spend the day. It was a fascinating place to me as soon as I was old enough to be down there. [3.22-1]
There was no place to buy or rent in Ashby, so Pa built the house in town before he got married, in 1911. It's the house with barn gable roofs, the second one up on the east side of Cedar Street, north of Norge Street. It cost him $1,700 to build and he sold it to J. John Halvorson, the school superintendent, in 1922 for $4,000. (He built the house on the farm that same summer. It was almost a carbon copy of the one in town, and it cost $4,000 to build.) [3.5-3]
The livery business was quite a thing before cars came in, which started about the year I was born (1913). They rented out buggies and horses and also stabled horses for farmers who came to town to spend the day. [3.5-4]
When I first remember the barn, which was up on the northeast corner of the block between the laundry and the Legion Hall, it was on its way out and not being used much for "livery" anymore. The barn was 28 by 50 feet with an upstairs haymow. The hay was pitched up there by hand, from wagons with racks, through doors that opened out. One man pitched and another one had to take it back and "mow" it away. There were open chutes down to each horse stall or pen, to put it down through when they fed the horses. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I fell down through one of them and landed in a horse manger, but only got a bump on the head. [3.5-5]
The front end had a big, sliding door that opened right on the sidewalk or cement ramp. The first corner inside to the right was partitioned off for an office with a desk and chairs where customers could wait for the team and buggy to be hitched. By the time I can remember it, the office wasn't used anymore. The dust was an inch thick on everything and it smelled of old-fashioned Lysol. [3.5-6]
The left front corner had the well and hand pump where the horses could be watered in big wooden pails that candy was shipped to the stores in bulk in. [3.6-1]
The buggies could be backed in by hand into the alley between the pump and office and the horses hitched there so the customers could get in and bundled up in blankets in cold weather before they drove out of the barn, and the same when they came back. There were single and double horse stalls on both sides, all the rest of the way back, except for a couple of cow stalls for the family cows. [3.6-2]
There was an open-fronted shed at the back end of the lot and barnyard in between it and the big barn for the idle horses and/or cows to exercise in. There was a small shed called the "little barn" in which Pa kept two to four cows or heifers, to milk and sell milk. We grew up drinking milk; we weren't raised on "pop," like some kids are now. [3.24-6]
People, both men and women, would rent buggies for any place they wanted to go, like visiting someone out in the country, or to go berry picking, etc. Traveling men (or salesmen) would come into town on the train and call on the stores. They hired the livery man to take them to another town to call on stores there the same day and then they'd take the train again. [3.6-3]
As cars started to come in, the livery business started to wane and Pa bought a new 1913 Ford the year I was born and used that as a sort of charter bus service. He was also the "dray man" who hauled all the local freight and express from the depot to the stores. (The first "boughten" bread was shipped by rail from Fergus in big wooden boxes, unwrapped, and the empties were hauled back to the depot and returned to the bakery.) [3.25-1]
One day he was nonchalantly driving down Main Street and he noticed everybody was looking and smiling. He looked back and I was sitting on the back end of the dray wagon "smoking" a corncob pipe that Mrs. Marden had made for me. (I was probably about 4-1/2 years old then.) I guess she must have figured smoking was all right if you only pretended. [3.25-2]
Pa told about getting a boil or carbuncle on his rear and the wood seat and the wood wheels on the buggies almost killed him with pain. He said he took a block of wood to sit on to keep the boil off the seat. [3.6-4]
Another time, he got pleurisy and every jolt of the wagon or buggy and every slight cough hurt so bad he could hardly stand it and if he should accidentally sneeze, he would almost pass out. [3.6-5]
He never quit working on account of such little things, except for one day when he got tonsillitis, or quinsy throat so bad he could hardly breathe. His throat was so swollen he could hardly swallow, so he went home and took a swallow of clear alcohol. That opened it up, but he thought he was going to strangle. I guess he took a day or a half day off that time, but that was the only time. This was all before my day. [3.6-6]
In those days, livestock were loaded in railroad cars and shipped to market in South St. Paul once a week. Some of the more "innocent" farmers didn't trust the commission men in South St. Paul, so they sold to local cattle buyers that in turn shipped them there. That way they knew what they were getting. [3.18-4]
The local cattle buyers weren't all exactly crooked, but they were awfully foxy. They had to buy cheap enough to make a profit in South St. Paul. Sometimes Pa would take them around the country in a livery rig. [3.18-5]
Some of them were outright crooked, but the foxiest one had a system he sometimes used. Usually there would only be one or a few head of cattle for sale in a poorly lit barn. He would tell the innocent farmer that the light was too poor to see them very well but he would give him "so much" and if they were better than they looked when he got them out in the light, he would give them some more money. They usually bit on that and took the money, but nobody ever heard of anyone getting a cent more. [3.19-1]
Pa was the substitute mail carrier during World War I and carried steady for a 1-1/2 year stretch. [3.28-5]
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. [3.29-1]
[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]
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 on the routes in the winter and in the summer Pa used the Model T. Andrew used a motorcycle, but I think he had a car, too. [3.29-2]
Pa would carry a spade and ditch out the big water puddles in the road when he carried mail and Ted Johnson tells about seeing him ditching behind the buggy when the horses left him, but he out-ran the horses and jumped in the back of the buggy and stopped them again. [3.29-3]
When it was cold he had a hard time keeping a blanket over his legs as he had to move and stretch so much to get the mail in the boxes, so he sent for a pair of extra-long yellow angora goat hair cowboy chaps. They were the real answer to that. If I remember right, he got them from Sears for about $30. We still have them. [3.29-4]
In the summer I got to go along on the route sometimes, only when the Model T went, and I usually went to sleep in the back seat part of the way. I always had a lunch along. The only thing I remember having along was leftover pancakes from breakfast, rolled up with butter and sugar, but I did have other things sometimes.
I always wanted to start eating lunch as soon as we got out of town. A kingbird had a nest on top of one of the mailboxes about half way around the route and Pa always convinced me to wait until we got to the kingbird's nest to eat my lunch. [3.29-5]
One day I was down at the Livery Barn shortly before the 4th of July and I was trying to work Pa for a cap pistol I had seen down in the store. He never gave me anything when I asked for it. I think he thought I would appreciate it more if I wanted it awhile first. I begged and begged, but he pretended he didn't hear me. [3.22-2]
Carl Hanson (Iver's father) was sitting around there (Ma said boozing). He had stallions and probably had one there in the barn.
After I had worked on Pa for a while, Carl gave me the money for a metal cap pistol, and I ran all the way to the store. They cost 10 cents then, with a box of caps. There were only single shots then, and the caps were round and came packed in sawdust in a round box like a snuff box. [3.22-3]
Pa used to tell a lot of interesting things. On one occasion the village police had raided an illicit "blind pig" (booze joint) and confiscated a bunch of booze which the Village Council was supposed to dump in the sewer.
The council got together for the dumping (if I remember right, John Western and Nick Johnson were two of them) and each time one of them uncorked a bottle to pour it down the drain he would taste it and say, This is good stuff, taste it, and would pass it around to the next councilman to taste and pass his judgment of it. He would say, Ya, that's good stuff, and pass it to the next one, until they all got so they could hardly uncork the last ones. [3.22-4]
The telephone switchboard was next door to the old Running Hotel and Restaurant buildings. The operators were the town flirts. So many boys hung around there the service was terrible. Then there got to be some new members on the telephone company board (including Pa). They moved the switchboard to a different place and hired Cora and Emma Ellingson for operators. They were the stiffest and sourest old maids in Ashby. No boys hung around and the service improved dramatically.
Also, it took only a fraction of the coal to heat the building as Ole Bunny had been the telephone office janitor and it was handy just to take buckets of coal from the telephone office bin to fill the hotel and restaurant stoves, too. [3.22-5]
One of the flirts had a baby one night and claimed she didn't know she was "that way." Her mother rounded up the baby's father and got them married while her daughter was still in bed. [3.23-2]
Pa told about old man Bratvold, who lived on a farm out northwest of Ashby. He had long, snow white whiskers clear to his belt, if I remember right. He would come walking into town on the railroad tracks for groceries. One day the track was snow-blocked and Great Northern Railway sent a big rotary plow down from the northwest to open it.
Old man Bratvold heard it coming and climbed up on the high railroad board fence to watch it go by. He said, "I saw it coming, but I didn't see it go by." He was right in line for the whole discharge of snow from the blower. [3.23-3]
Running's Hotel and Restaurant was across the street from the Runningen's Cafe (City Restaurant) and was run by a different breed than the Runningens. They weren't related and had no "e" in their name. [3.23-4]
The two Running buildings were connected by a short hall and people could rent rooms by the night, or longer. Some working men and such both roomed and boarded there. The restaurant was a great place for traveling salesmen, hunters, etc. to sit around and visit in the evenings. [3.23-5]
Pa stayed there for a while before he was married. At that time, when they teased Pa about getting married, he always said he was going to wait until he found an old maid that nobody else wanted. When we were kids and Ma got on the war path, we always said he had kept his word! [3.23-6]
Pa knew a lot of stories from there. They had a big, short-haired brown dog and one night he was being petted and laid his tail on a big box. The fellow petting him took out his razor sharp jackknife and cut the tip of his tail off for a joke. The dog didn't pay any attention to it and dripped a drop of blood now and then, which nobody noticed on that floor. Eventually he bled to death without anyone noticing what was happening. [3.23-7]
One of their periodic boarders was Herman Coleman, who was famous for his big appetite. He was sort of a moron, but big and strong and worked at day labor, mostly, because no one could afford to feed him on a farm, or such. When he ate in the restaurant he ordered two dinners at once.
One day he shot two big rabbits and had Mrs. Running fry them for him. He ate all but two of the hams and wrapped them up in a napkin and said, "They'll be good for lunch."
Another time, he sat down to the table and ate the whole bowl of gravy. Then he said, "That was awful rich soup." [3.24-1]
In those days, just when I can first remember, all the streets had a row of posts with a pipe running through them to tie horses to. I remember hearing about Harold Dahl, who was only a kid then, putting his tongue on one of the pipes on a cold day: he jerked all the skin off his tongue. [3.24-2]
In those days everyone burned wood and a lot of wood was stolen at night from the neighbors' wood piles. One story was that someone got tired of this and bored a hole in a stick of wood and filled it with black gunpowder and plugged the hole. They said it blew the covers off the "borrower's" stove, but I don't know if it cured him. [3.24-3]
After we were on the farm awhile, we sawed a pile of wood across the road at the approach to the Ask Lake fields. The one who threw the wood from the circle saw had piled a neat row of the best hardwood along by the saw around the outside of the pile. We knew where it went. Big Bunny had just moved back to Ashby with a wife and kids. He burned wood but never cut or bought any. His big old touring car held quite a bit.
His father-in-law said that one day he went for a trip with them and one of the little kids kept pointing every once in a while and hollering, There's a woodpile, Daddy! [3.24-4]
I heard lots of Norwegian spoken, as that's what a good share of the farmers were. Pa could understand and talk with any Norwegian or Swede, it seemed, regardless of what dialect they had from in the Old Country. [3.24-5]
Ashby had a lot of fires in the early days. A lot of them I only heard about because they were before my day, but I do remember a few. Pa told about one store fire that had people living upstairs. They were carrying some of the household goods down the outside stairs and everybody was so excited that one fellow came out on the upstairs porch carrying a fancy hanging chandelier with prisms, etc. and he dropped it down on the sidewalk from up there. They came walking down the stairs carrying two stovepipes. [3.25-3]
Quite a few of the fires I heard about had the suspicion about them that they wanted to burn. I remember one store fire when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I remember waking up and hearing the fire bell ringing and Pa grabbing his clothes to go to the fire in the middle of the night.
I tagged along downtown the next day and the canned goods were still exploding and going off like bombs. The girl who clerked in the store said, We just washed the floor with kerosene last night. [3.25-4]
I guess most everything that caught fire burned to the ground in those days. The Fire Department didn't have much to work with. There were a few cisterns around town, which they kept full, and they had a "hand pumper" on buggy wheels and some hose and pails and ladders. [3.25-5]
I remember there was one fire cistern on the corner up by the schoolhouse. I filled it with sand during the 40s. The fire bell is probably the same one that is in the tower in the alley by the old firehall behind Spangler's Grocery. [3.26-1]
One morning I tagged downtown with Pa and the whole front of the bank was blown out. It was the same building as the old part they are still using. My memory says that one of those big, old original cement steps was on the other side of the street, but it is a little vague.
George Wangsness, who worked in the bank, had smelled gas in the morning. That was when the village still had a gas plant, before electricity. He lit a match in the basement to find the leak and the front wall blew out of the bank. It knocked him backward against the wall and all he got was his hair and eyebrows singed. [3.26-2]
Everything pertaining to my "town-life" took place before I was 9 years old, because we moved to the farm where we live now the summer I was 8, coming 9 in October. During those years I felt sorry for all the other kids in town because I thought I had the best dad in town and none of the other dads compared with him at all! [3.29-6]
We always had a car and my biggest treat was to go along out to the farm with the horses and wagon. A lot of the country kids didn't have cars in the family then yet and their biggest treat was to get a ride in a car. [3.30-1]
We used to go for rides in the Model T quite often on nice Sunday afternoons as long back as I can remember. One of the favorite places we went was out to my grandmother's farm, which was the land between Mill and Torgerson Lakes. There weren't any buildings on it except an old falling down house up in the woods that my grandmother's brother had moved in there, though he never lived in it. He was going to work in my grandfather's flour mill, but the mill burned down.
We liked to walk around on the hills up there and throw stones in the lake, etc. The house that Ma was raised in was across the road, west of the Grue Church driveway, but that part of the farm had been sold some years before, when they moved to town. [3.26-3]
Pa got some bigger horses about the time my memory starts and started to rent some land around town from Emma Melby: the "40" where the ball diamond is now, the land around the south and east of the cemetery and other pieces of land. [3.30-2]
Pa used to go down to see Emma periodically about things in connection with renting her land. She was an old maid and lived in half of the big brick house her father had built as a duplex and later became the nursing home. Sometimes when I was a little kid I got to tag along.
She always treated us to a little glass of homemade grape wine and a couple of white cookies. I would get the same as Pa and Sivert and I would sip the wine real slow. I thought it was awful strong, but it was really top quality. That family was noted for the good wine they made. [3.30-3]
Sivert Peterson was an older bachelor, a cousin or something of Emma's and made his home there for many years. Also, Emma's mother would always be sitting there. She sat there for 20 years in a wheelchair after a stroke and couldn't talk. [3.30-4]
The summer cow pasture was between the cemetery and the railroad depot and various people, including us, kept the family cows there. I used to get to go along in the summer when Pa walked down in the evening to milk. There was a barbed wire corral that they put the cows in just a little ways south of the fertilizer plant. The cows were tied to the fence if they weren't tame enough to milk without being tied.
The Huggett family kept their cow there, but they took theirs home every night and back in the morning. They lived across from the schoolhouse, on the far side of town. [3.30-5]
Richard Huggett (he must have been in his very early teens) solved the problem. He rode the cow, grinning from ear to ear, and the cow at a dead gallop, while all the older people along the way shook their heads and wondered how the cow stood it, full of milk and heavy with calf, etc., but I never heard of any bad effects. [3.30-6]
One nice summer night I thought I would try milking, too, so Ma gave me a one-gallon tin syrup pail and I tagged along with Pa. The cow was tame and stood still as a mouse for me, but I couldn't get a drop of milk. Nobody bothered to help me. Pa and Sivert Peterson just looked amused and Sivert had a special chuckle of his own.
When we walked back home, right through town, I carried my pail real careful, like it was plumb full, not swinging it, so nobody would know I had got skunked. [3.31-1]