The Farm

A couple of winters before we moved to the farm a fellow came into Pa's livery barn and said he was Sam Schram and had just moved into town. He had rented half of Mrs. Marden's house across the street from us and was wondering whether Pa had any work. [8.154-3]

(Sam was a blacksmith with road construction outfits then, shod horses and repaired machinery, etc. His wife was from here and that's why they lived here then.) [8.155-2]

Sam was solidly built and strong-looking, so Pa asked him if he could use an ax and he said, "I was born in the woods." Sam was from Wisconsin and Pa could tell by his brogue he was German. Pa thought only Norwegians could use axes, but he sure got fooled when Sam came along. They must have been the strongest pair of wood cutters Ashby ever saw, after they got together. Sam worked for Pa for many years in the winter after it froze up and Sam came home from road construction, etc. [8.154-3]

Sam always used some German pronunciations like "mit" -- "I will cut it "mit" the ax," etc. [8.154-4]

One day Sam was going for a load of hay out in the country and the snowdrifts were so deep and hard they had to dig a road through them to get near the haystacks with the sleigh and rack. Pa gave Sam a shovel and a grub hoe to break out the hard snow chunks. He made the mistake of saying to Sam, "This grub hoe has a good handle. It's been tested."

When Sam came home the handle was cracked. Sam had showed him that he could crack it, and Pa really felt bad because good handles were hard to come by. He learned the hard way not to insinuate that there was anything a German couldn't do. [8.154-5]

Mrs. Schram was young and pretty and full of fun and Marj and I were over there as much of the time as we were allowed to be. The next year they had a baby and after that Mrs. Schram was sick and crabby most of the time, it seemed, for many years. They only had the one boy (Marvin) and he had diabetes so bad he only lived until he was a teenager. [8.154-6]

The first two winters we were on the farm Pa and Sam Schram cut oak railroad ties, mostly in the woods south of the house: 107 the first year and 120 the second year. That south pasture was full of big oak trees. [8.154-7]

They cut the logs eight feet long and hewed them down to eight inches thick one way. The other way, they left them the full width of the tree, up to 18 inches or more on the butt end. The tops had to be at least eight inches. [8.155-1]

Sam notched the logs with the heaviest double bit axe he could buy and Pa hewed them with the biggest broad ax I had ever seen. Pa "snaked" the tie logs into the opening down in the pasture and they hewed them there.

Then he could hook the big team to the rest of the tree (and they were big!) and snake that down there. Sam would trim them with his ax and pile the wood for circle sawing. He kept a fire going and burned all the brush as he trimmed. [8.155-2]

The winter of 1924-1925 was the warmest I can remember and we would go down there when we came from school and watch. I can still remember the fresh oak smell. [8.155-3]

In the spring Pa had to haul the ties in and pile them near the depot. The railroad paid him from 80 cents to $1.50 each for them, according to size and quality. Those extra-big, heavy ties were shipped to the cities for use in the switch yards where the traffic was so heavy. [8.155-4]

One of the jobs I had to help with (and hated) was to haul all the "slivery" chunks and chips and bark from the ties up to the house in the fall and throw them into the basement for furnace kindling. We had gotten a one-horse wagon which was like a two-horse wagon except smaller and lighter and I got some of those jobs to do alone or with Ma and Marj for help. [8.155-5]

For four years after Pa bought the farm, he farmed it along with the land around town. Livery business was a dead issue by then, and someone else was doing the drayage business, which was petering out, too. [8.32-3]

Pa drove the Model T back and forth every day to farm, and we spent more and more time out there. He bought a small barn in town and moved it out by the lake. It had been a hog barn down by the old Creamery, where they fed the buttermilk to hogs. He fenced a small pasture along the lake, up along the hunting point to the north line, and left the four horses there overnight sometimes in the summer. He turned them out in the fenced area over Sunday. [8.32-4]

He put a box in the spring where the water runs out from the tile from the slough into the lake south of the hunting point. Then you could fill a cup or a Thermos bottle or a pail with clear spring water. That was really living, compared to knee pants and music lessons in town. [8.32-5]

Those last years in town, 1917-1921, Pa would haul long wood from the farm into town for the furnace and kitchen range. He hauled it in lengths as long as he could load on the bob-sleigh. One year he unloaded a big tree (in one piece) that looked to me like the big, lone oak out on the hill in the field north of the barn. I got real excited because I thought he had cut that tree down. Ma finally convinced me that it was a different tree. We had raised potatoes and watermelons for a couple of years out at the farm near that tree, and it was already an important part of the farm to us kids. [8.51-3]

Pa built the house on the farm in the summer of 1922 for $4,000. It was almost a carbon copy of the one in town (which he sold to J. John Halvorson, the school superintendent, for a like amount.) The "prof," as we always called him, was getting married that summer and wanted possession before school started, so we had to move before the house on the farm was completely finished. Some of the furniture (including the piano) got stored in the barn, which was built first. [8.61-1]

When Pa built the house in town, the style for the year must have been to have those awful barn gable roofs, which made the upstairs closets narrow and slanting. When they started planning the farm house, he argued for days for a different roof style, but Ma held out for a house just like the one in town. She hadn't had that one long enough to get tired of it, I guess. She must have been afraid she would come out short if the new one was any different. [8.77-5]

If a cow was going to have a calf or a sheep a lamb, we got sent into the house or were smart enough to disappear on our own. We did say "rooster," though. We thought we kept one of them to teach the little roosters how to crow, and a turkey gobbler to teach the young ones how to gobble. (We never asked for candy, either; it was always C.D.Y.) [8.160-2]

When we were small kids and someone said "bull," we practically blushed. At Teisbergs they had a hired girl who said bull, but it sounded like bowl to Marjorie Teisberg. One day she said, "Helen calls the bull a bowl. She must think he's a dish!" [8.160-1]

When we lived in town yet, Pa came out of the barn leading a cow and when I asked where he was going, he said he was going over to Petersons' to "mate" her (whatever that meant). [8.160-2]

One day when we first moved to the farm, Ole Walders came driving into the yard with a horse and buggy and asked me if "the old man" was home. I didn't get over that for a long time and never did forgive him. Nobody had ever called my Dad "the old man" before. [8.35-5]

Ole Walders was just a little old pipsqueak who lived up on the Lee farm then. He was small and insignificant, but his wife was big and fat and "loud" and homely. We kids always said she sounded like an old turkey gobbler when she talked, and Ole always called her "the old lady." Whenever he said it, she would puff up her more than ample bosom and look so proud. Ole looked proud of her, too! [8.35-6]

In October 1918, we were out at the farm one nice Sunday afternoon and Ma kept needling Pa to go out on the marsh and see if there were any cranberries. She had heard that people used to pick cranberries there. She finally wore him down and he walked out into the bog on a fallen tree. (There was a big ring of water around it then.) He just kept on walking around on the floating bog and didn't say a word. She kept hollering, "Are there any?" and he never answered.

When he came back to shore, he said, "I guess I'll go to town and hire some cranberry pickers."

The whole bog was solid red with cranberries and it was soon the busiest place in the country. Pa let people (mostly women) pick on shares for half of what they picked and he sold cranberries for 10 cents a quart, 7-1/2 cents a quart if they picked their own. He measured them in one-gallon syrup pails, figuring three quarts to the pail. Pa estimated that they picked 40 bushels and there were still some scattered ones left.

We kids were too young to get out there much. We mostly got tended in town while the women picked. Luckily, it was a late fall and they didn't freeze. [8.53-5]

All the rubber hunting boots in town got put into service. The bog was quite wet and every so often a lady would step off the access log and go into water over her knees. Nobody thought of bringing out a couple of planks. [8.54-1]

We ate cranberries in every form thought of by man up to that time. That was the bumper year. The next year there were some -- Pa figured about seven bushels -- and once or twice in the 20s there was a pailful or so and then no more until Jerri found a few in October of 1973 when they stopped off on their way home from hiking the Appalachian Trail. [8.54-2]

Before we moved to the farm, it was mostly brush and woods, only 30 acres of field out of 114 acres. Down by Lake Christina on the southeast corner of the farm, on what is field now, were a couple of acres of brush that was full of berry bushes: red and black currants, gooseberries (both small and prickly), chokecherries, june berries, and raspberries. [8.54-3]

There were more black currants than anything else, and we ate a lot of them, both fresh and canned, in jam and pie. Ma really liked them, but I didn't. Of course, any kind of pie was better than nothing, so I ate it anyway and so did Pa, but he always maintained that they tasted like bedbugs. [8.54-4]

We had a bit of chokecherry pie, too (and jelly and syrup) but you kept getting hungrier and hungrier on the pie because it was such a slow job spitting out the pits. [8.54-5]

In those days, nobody thought about ecology -- the only important thing was to clear the land for field. That super berry patch was on perfectly level land, so Pa cut the brush and fenced it for sheep until the sheep killed it all out and the roots rotted. [8.54-6]

Old John Dahl, who lived across the street on the corner north from the livery barn, asked Pa if he could go out and pick grapes. There were lots of wild grapes then, so Pa said he could. Old John had a press of some kind and squeezed the grapes, stems and bugs and worms and all and sold the juice by the gallon for making wine, etc.

He would ride out with Pa when he went out to the farm and fill several gunny sacks in a day up along the lake by the hunting point (and north) and carry them up on the field. Pa would haul them along and give John a ride back to town at quitting time. [8.54-7]

Pa never bothered to go over the hill and see where he was picking all those grapes, but one Sunday afternoon later in the fall, we went out to the farm in the Model T just to walk around and look at things. We walked up along the lake and then we found out. The grapes had been on big vines up in the oak trees and Old John had climbed every one and sawed off every branch that had a grape or grape vine on it and dropped them all to the ground. That was the end of every grape vine on that whole sidehill [for the next 60 years, or so -- ed]. [8.55-1]

Pa wasn't the type to say much under those circumstances. Ma was so mad she fumed about it for years afterward, but it wasn't any use crying over spilled milk (or dead grapevines). Old John couldn't have put them back up again even if they had chewed him out. He never even gave Pa a pint of his grape, bug, worm juice. [8.55-2]

Old John fished a lot, both winter and summer, and he gave Pa a fish quite often. Also, he was an old carpenter, of sorts, and Pa had him do odd carpentering jobs that weren't too fussy on the sheds, etc. so he didn't bring down Ma's wrath as much as a plain trespasser would have. [8.55-3]

Old John was a real character, old and bent up with rheumatism. One day when Ma brought coffee to the chicken house he and Pa were building, he said, "This coffee was cooked on an oil stove, wasn't it?"

She said, "Yes." And he said, "I can tell it; it always gets much hotter on an oil stove." [8.55-4]

After we got home from Wisconsin in the summer of 1921, Pa got busy getting ready to build on the farm the next summer. He had already made somewhat of a driveway through the woods where it is now. Before that, we had to come in by way of the Lee (Beaver's) farm from the north. There wasn't a sign of a building on the place, except the temporary, small horse barn down by Christina Lake, which Pa had moved out from town. There were only some cordwood piles here and there where the buildings are now. [8.64-3]

He dug the basement for the house that summer with a team and walking plow and a "slush scraper." Roy Boe helped him some. Pa paid him $2 for a good afternoon, and he was quite a spender, so he had to have the money every night. They would have an early dinner in town and then drive out with the team and put in a good afternoon. It was so hard and dry that year that they didn't go as deep as they ordinarily would -- too tough to pick the clay loose by hand. That's why the house stands so high. [8.64-4]

In those days, it was customary to try to build "straight with the world," but Ma wanted the house to face the lake for the view.

Pa and John Dahl went out to the barn site at 12 noon and set up two stakes. They lined up the shadows and thereby got the barn to face straight east and west. [8.65-3]

Late that fall, Pa dug out the basement for the barn. It came out on both sides of that small hill and the hill made a bridge on both sides of the barn. That meant we could drive a team east and west through the lower part to take out manure, and north and south through the upstairs part to unload hay on both sides.

I've never seen another arrangement like that. Pa got a lot of compliments on how smart he was, but he just happened to have exactly the right hill in exactly the right place. [8.64-5]

Some others had a door on the high side of a hill that they could haul the hay into the upstairs through, but they had to back out again. We could unhook the team and take them around the barn and use them to pull the hay up in the sling ropes. We could unload a big load of hay with only three sling ropes.

Also, we could haul hay in the winter on a bob-sleigh and drive right through, which those with only one door couldn't do. There were two big grain bins up there, too, and we could haul the grain in or out with the door on each side. [8.65-1]

One year we bought an old Model T engine that had been made into a power unit with a pulley for sawing wood. We mounted that on blocks just outside the door on the north side and we got an old six-inch Burr mill for grinding feed and put that just inside the door. We could put a belt on them when the door was open and grind feed from the bins up there by dumping it into the mill with a tub. We had a feed bin downstairs and ran the feed from the mill to it through a hole in the floor. We really thought we had modern, automated equipment then. [8.65-2]

I was only 8 years old that fall, but I went along on Saturday when he was digging out the big, oak stumps that were on the barn site. I was digging out a little one and got hold of some poison ivy roots. I got poison ivy so bad my eyes swelled clear shut. Nobody knew anything to do for it, except maybe wash the affected parts with soda water. I really suffered, but I didn't ever have poison ivy again until 30 years or so later, when Twila and Beaver (Bobby?) and I hauled rocks on Trow's hunting point. But then I could get anti-histimine shots, and they stopped it from swelling and spreading. [8.65-4]

The summer of 1922 was quite a summer, building the new house and tearing down the livery barn, board by board, and putting it back together again on the new barn basement. The big lean-to buggy shed in town was hauled out in big sections (the roof was), and put back together again for a machine shed (sort of where the lumber shed is now). Also, another small building and some old lumber and windows were put together for a chicken house, where the sheep shed nearest the silo is now. [8.65-5]

Last, but not least, there had to be an outdoor toilet down toward the garden, put together from three old barn doors and some more old odds and ends. Pa did splurge, though, with two new boards for the two-place seat. The door faced west so you could leave the door open in hot weather and nobody would see you, except someone coming in the driveway. And it was accessible from all directions.

It was always equipped with old Sears and Wards catalogs, which were better then, because they didn't have many shiny pages. They were really studied then, page by page, until they were used up. It was like Yorgy Yorgeson's song, "I wondered yust how they would dare/ to show beautiful ladies in long underwear!"

It seemed like when we had company the ladies always liked to go there, two and two, for companionship, or something. That was probably where all the gossip secrets were exchanged and the women could talk in private without some kid's big ears listening.

One of my greatest sports was to throw a rock and hit the back wall and then disappear into the barn. I didn't dare pull that too often, though. [8.66-1]

We had to use the outdoor privy when we were outside. (You certainly didn't go into the house for that.) [8.66-2]

There wasn't an inside toilet on the main floor, just in the basement and upstairs. The one upstairs used water from the rain water cistern and there wasn't water enough in that to stand flushing more than once a day. (In the morning, after everyone had used it, Ma was last, and she flushed it.)

We could go to the one in the basement, especially if we were already in the house. That one got its water from the hard water cistern by gravity. The one upstairs came off the pressure tank from the soft water cistern and the pressure had to be pumped up by a hand pump with a long handle. That was a tiresome job for a kid, almost as bad as practicing on the piano. [8.66-3]

Ma was a real water conserver and I don't remember the cistern ever going dry, even during the dry years. We used the bathtub (which was on the kitchen level then) for our Saturday night baths, but we carried warm water from a faucet on the hot water tank by the kitchen range in a three-corned aluminum kettle that held three quarts. That was all we got for a bath, unless we added some cold water from the bathtub faucet. [8.66-4]

Pa hauled all the gravel for both the house and barn basements from a hole in the road bank where the leaning tree is, between us and the Knutson farm on Tollef's side of the road. The gravel was pretty good, if you dug down, but for every yard of gravel, he shoveled out at least a yard of poor stuff that fell down from above. He had to shovel that to the side.

He hauled 100 wagon loads, a yard or more to the load, with horses, in the fall -- in his spare time between hundreds of other jobs. He also hauled a lot of rocks off the field to put in the cement walls. Of course, all the lumber for the house and the old lumber from the barn in town had to be hauled out from town, one load at a time, with horses. [8.67-1]

Working conditions must have been good. I don't remember any rainy days. The carpenters got 30 cents and 35 cents an hour and board and room. They boarded and roomed with Red Williams at the hunting camp by Christina Lake, down toward the gravel pit. Red was a widower and was the hunting camp guide, but he lived there the year around and had been a logging camp cook. He would bring the dinner up to the farm on foot for the three carpenters at noon and then work there, too, in the afternoons. Pa probably paid him about a dollar a day for each one for board and room. [8.67-4]

They had an old car or two to go back and forth to the hunting camp with, but it was too far for them to drive the six or seven miles clear home, morning and night. C.D. Anderson (Rudolph's father), Otto Otteson (Vernon's father), and Roy Elberling (Kenneth's uncle) were the main carpenters and there were a couple of old hit and miss ones (John Dahl and Carl Ellingson) that Pa took back and forth to town. [8.67-3]

The next year they hauled the temporary barn from down by the lake up to the north side of the present barnyard and that was our first sheep shed. It had a hay loft then and was pretty heavy, but they skidded it up on the frozen field on two telephone poles with four horses. Later we lowered it and moved it down by the garden and fixed it up for a lumber shed. [8.67-4]

Pa had to take the cows and horses out to the farm when they tore down the barn in town. I was supposed to go to the pasture and bring the cows home to milk. The pasture was so full of brush then that I was afraid I'd get lost.

The first thing Pa did was put a bell on one of the cows, and that helped a lot to find them, but sometimes they were just lying still and it didn't ring. [8.69-1]

The cow bells worked the best when the flies and mosquitoes were bad and they swung their heads a lot. Tollef and Knutsons both had bells, too, and they were all different. Ours was a real cheap one and I always thought their bells sounded better than ours. Later we had as many as three bells on three different cows at once. I was surprised to find cow paths through the brush and the cows followed them right home. [8.69-2]

Pa made a small barbed wire corral in the edge of the woods near the house to milk in until the barn was ready. The cows (there weren't over four of them then) were skittish. Pa had just petted one and got her to stand still enough to start milking when I came along and made some kind of commotion and scared her. That's one of the few times I saw him lose his temper. He even threw a stick at me while he was bawling me out. [8.69-3]

When they hauled the old barn lumber out from town, somebody threw an old whiskey or bitters bottle into one of the loads and Pa stuck it on the stub of a broken tree branch down near the barn. I used to look at it, off and on, for several years, because it was kind of odd: amber and shaped like a fish. When the tree was cut down, it was thrown over by another tree and eventually broken. (Probably a horse stepped on it -- we used to tie the young horses to those trees.) The last time I saw the price of that bottle quoted in the antiques price guide (1982 or earlier) it was $225. [8.73-1]