Farm Life

One day I was down toward the far end of the south pasture and I thought I heard Marj up toward the house. I started to call to her, but later I found out it wasn't her at all, but a loon flying by. [12.71-4]

Ma was quite a gardener, so we tried lots of exotic things and sent for lots of seeds (including yard-long beans), but most of them didn't pan out like the pictures, or we didn't care for the stuff when it came to eating it, so the garden got back to the basics, after a year or two. [12.71-6]

We had heard that peanuts grew well on sandy land and we had plenty of that, so Ma ordered some planting peanuts from the seed catalog. We had sort of a garden over on the hill facing Lake Christina, and we harvested some rather undersized peanuts and put them out to dry on the flat porch roof (where the kitchen addition is now). When we looked up there again, a squirrel was just leaving with the last of them. [12.71-5]

We raised two kinds of corn when we were first on the farm. We had probably seven or eight acres of ear corn and a few acres of fodder corn, which we planted later and thicker. Fodder corn would have more leaves and no ripe ears. We cut both kinds with a corn binder and shocked them in the field. We would haul the ear corn shocks home and stack them in a long pile near the yard fence, after they were good and dry. Then we would husk a tub or two every day for the pigs and throw the bundles over the fence for the cows or horses or sheep. [12.72-1]

We always had an extra tub to put the biggest and best ears in. That was how we got the seed corn for the next year. Sometimes we would stack the fodder corn the same way, or we'd haul it right from the shocks during the winter with a team and sleigh and hay rack. [12.72-2]

Everything that got out during the winter would be found in the corn pile. That's where the neighbors' turkeys usually landed, too, and some of the neighbors weren't in any hurry to come and get them as long as they were being corn fed. Until we got differently colored turkeys, sometimes we didn't have very many left after all the neighbors got through picking out all that they claimed were theirs. [12.72-3]

A steady stream of squirrels carried corn from there to the woods, too. The first year or two we had the corn pile on the north side of the garden, and we could watch everything from the kitchen window. There was a jet black squirrel there every day one of the first years, but he was only there one year. [12.72-4]

By the time I was 12 or 13, I was allowed to carry the rifle some, and would shoot a few squirrels every fall for stew, which we thought was pretty good, then. The only rifle we had was the 22 Special, which was pretty heavy artillery for squirrels and gophers. A box of shells for the 22 Special was only 50 cents then. The smaller 22 shells sold for about 12 to 22 cents a box. [12.72-5]

Later on, I helped John Knutson for about 50 cents a day and bought the little 22 short Winchester from him for $7.50. The back end of the barrel was worn egg-shaped, so I sent to the company for a new barrel for $4 and screwed it in myself. It was made for all three sizes of 22 shells, but the repeating mechanism of the rifle would only work with 22 shorts. The new barrel spoiled the antique value. I should have saved the old barrel, but I didn't. [12.72-6]

We bought four young cats from the Bowman kids in town for 10 cents each and took them out to catch mice on the farm when we moved. Pa managed to box up a beautiful, black-barred gray, half-wild mother cat and her kittens and took them out there from the barn in town, too. The mother cat only stayed until she could leave the kittens on their own; then she went back to town. [12.73-2]

The small cow barn that was attached to the livery barn was left in town for a few years, on the back end of the lot. It was a place where a cat could headquarter, and also a place where we, or other kids, could leave a horse or pony while at school. It was big enough for four horses. Sometimes Pa would leave the horses there overnight when he was working the land around town and drive the Model T back and forth to the farm, morning and night. [12.73-3]

The first year or two we didn't have anything but a hand pump on the well up by the house, so Pa put some pipes and troughs on sawhorses, barrels, etc. and pumped all the water for the livestock by hand into a trough down toward the garden all winter. The first fall, he chased the cows down to the lake to drink once a day until the snow got too deep. [12.73-5]

He had tiled the small slough east of the buildings into the lake. It ran all winter (I suppose it still does) and kept a hole open. It was spring water and the end of that tile was where he put the wooden box where we got drinking water before the well was dug. [12.74-1]

When I went to get the cows from the north pasture, I discovered three old cellars where there had been houses, but only the holes were left by then. One cellar was just northeast of the big oak tree out on the field. (That whole hill was brush then.) Another cellar was on Lee's, north of that one about 40 rods (it's still there), and the third one is up near Highway #78, north of our woodpile. I never saw any remains of a well by any of them. [12.74-6]

There is an extra-wet spot out from the northwest corner of that east slough, and the first settlers dug a hole there and could dip spring water out of it. They didn't think anything of carrying their drinking water a quarter or a half mile then, I guess. [12.74-3]

Pa thought that by tiling the east slough he could farm it, but it was too low and springy. We did plow it one dry year, but it was too wet to farm and then the brush grew up on it after it was plowed. [12.74-2]

The first time Pa plowed over that wet spot, he turned up two or three buffalo skulls. Just the bone part -- the shiny, outside horn shell had disintegrated. [12.74-5]

Pa thought he could drain the big slough south of the house and farm it all. In 1918 or 1919 he had a crew of ditchers lay tile underground along the south and east and north sides of it, with a tile leading out across the field from it into the lake. They found out the slough was only one foot higher than the lake. The ditch across the field was 12 or 14 feet deep, and they hit so much quicksand trying to dig it by hand that they had to come up a foot. The slough got a lot smaller, but never dry. So that was $500 he wouldn't have spent if he had known it wasn't going to be successful.

A lot of water went through the tiles and the slough got a lot smaller, so there was quite a bit more pasture for 30 years, or so. The tiles were made of poor quality cement or gravel, though, and in the 30s and 40s they started to cave in, so now the slough is the same size as it was originally. [12.74-7]

(About 1942 we were cutting grain with the new Farmall and one back wheel dropped into a hole the size of a cistern in the middle of the flat field. Then we realized the sand had been feeding into the disintegrating tiles.) [12.75-1]

The part of the slough that goes way back into the woods below the house was awfully soft before the tiling and Gamey Peterson had some young horses in that pasture. One colt waded out in the water and mired down and died (perhaps drowned). [12.75-2]

After the tile was in, that part of the slough got dry and hard. Pa burned some brush on the edge of it about the time we moved to the farm. The peat on the surface caught fire and it burned (smoldered) for three or four years, winter and summer. The peat was less than a foot thick and it finally all burned off. Pa could have stopped the fire by ditching around it, but he didn't, and we breathed that odd smell whenever the wind was right. [12.75-3]

All of the hill south of the slough was woods, except an open spot on the top that was bare. There wasn't much more than a strip of field that went clear through to the south gate by the road between that hill and the big berry patch by the lake. All the wood was eventually cut off and the stumps dug out by hand with the help of a team and a grubbing machine, which wound up a cable and helped pull them out. [12.75-4]

There was a lot of hand digging and chopping, as the stumps were big and green -- oak, basswood, and elm. Alfred Lundberg and Carl Pearson did the grubbing for about $30 or $35 an acre, plus room and board.

One year they grubbed seven acres for Knutsons, up where the Indian mounds are. They owned the machine; we furnished the horses, and they furnished the driver. They had an old motorcycle engine and grindstone they sharpened their grub hoes and axes with. We watched them do that every night. [12.75-5]

I was with Pa the next spring, hauling the stumps over into the woods with a stone boat, when John Knutson came walking down and said he had just heard that Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic. When that news reached Ashby, old Ole Buskerud bellowed, "I wish he had dropped in the ocean" -- because Lindbergh was a Swede and Ole was a Norwegian. [12.75-6]

There weren't many airplanes that flew over, then. We always stopped and watched them. When we were still in town, one would go over once in a while, and everybody would run outside and yell, "Aeroplane!" [12.76-1]

Right after the war, barnstormers in old army planes flew in a few times and landed on Gamey Peterson's field, or up on the field across the track from the elevator. They would take passengers, and quite a few would pay $5 or so to go up, putting on helmets and goggles for about a ten-minute ride. They said Dutchy Germanson went up and got so scared he filled his pants. You had to be brave to enjoy a ride in those rickety open planes. [12.76-2]

During the 20s, the government started disposing of Pyrotal, dynamite left over from World War I. It was cheap and farmers bought it to blast out rocks and stumps. Raymond Skaar got to be quite expert with it and they cleared a lot of their farm of stumps. Pa hired Raymond to blast quite a few stumps for us. Splitting the big stumps up in the process of blowing them out made them much easier to work up for furnace wood, too. I was too young to help when he cleared about two acres north of the barnyard, but I watched and learned how and blew quite a few when I got older. [12.76-3]

Raymond like to live dangerously. He would load several at a time and then run from one to another and light the fuses with wooden matches and then keep on running. He quite often lit up to five at a time, and his record was seven. By the time he got to the last one, the first ones would start going off, and the wood and dirt chunks would start raining down.

When I got to doing it myself, I never lit more than one at a time. Waiting for each one to go off was much slower. [12.76-5]

We blasted some big rocks, too, but it was a lot of work loading and hauling all the small chunks and chips. We broke up a few really big rocks that were on the surface by putting the dynamite on top and covering it with mud. For some reason, that made the shock go down and break the rocks into hundreds of pieces.

If they were sitting deeper in hard ground, like clay, we would make a hole under them with a big, round bar and put the dynamite there. If we judged the amount of dynamite right, it would blow them out of the hole and usually it would crack them into several big chunks. [12.76-5]

Up above the "kettle" there were a lot of big rocks sticking above ground. Where they were set in sand, Pa would dig a big hole alongside them, undermine them, drop them into the hole and cover them up. They are still there; none of them ever showed again, as far as I know. [12.77-1]

Hoffs had sold the "10 acres" to Red Williams, the caretaker in the hunting camp. He was going to build a cabin on it, but decided to move to Canada instead, so Pa bought it from him for $300. The hunters had bought it for him and had paid Tollef's father $650 for it. There were only 2-1/2 acres of field on it. [12.77-2]

The triangle off our home farm across the road was trees and brush, too, so we pastured the sheep there a few years and then grubbed the rest ourselves -- dangerous, hard work. Marj drove the team on the old grubbing machine. We had them hitched to the sweep made from a green oak tree, and the big team almost bent it double sometimes, but nothing ever broke or flew, and no one ever got hurt. We grubbed five acres there that way. [12.77-3]

I went with Pa up above the kettle to bury rocks one day, and there was an eagle walking on the field with a broken wing. He was really mad. Some duck hunters down on the point on Sam Lee's must have shot him and broken his wing. I went home and got the gun and Pa shot and killed him. Tollef came along about then and took him and had him mounted. It cost him only $10 then. (Later, Harlan Jacobson got the eagle from Tollef.) That was the first eagle I ever saw and it has been only two or three times in the next 50 years that we have seen one flying around. [12.77-4]

Pa used to fill an old ice house in the alley behind the City Restaurant when we lived in town and he hauled ice from there the first summer, on the running board of the Model T. [12.78-1]

One of the first years, he built an ice house on the farm. It's still called that, but has only held bolts and junk for a long time, now. The door faced north when it was an ice house, making it easier to fill. We could back the sleigh loads of ice to the door, by going a little past and then angling downhill. There was no foundation under it, but we later dug away some on the west side and made a sort of lean-to pole shed for the Model T. Later, we put a foundation between the posts, which is the west foundation of the ice house now. [12.78-2]

One of the hardest jobs of the whole year was sawing the ice out in the middle of Christina Lake to fill the ice house: cutting blocks by hand with a big six or seven-foot ice saw, hauling them home with horses and sliding them on skids into the ice house. I think Sam Schram helped him the first years, until I left school at 14; after that, I was the helper. [12.78-3]

The first years, Pa sawed it both ways in place, out on the lake, to form blocks, when the lake ice was 18 to 24 inches thick. That was a lot of sawing. In later years, we got Earl Anderson to bring out an "ice plow," which was a long row of chisels fastened to the bottom of a beam like a breaking plow beam. We pulled it with horses and later with his Model T truck. It didn't plow all the way through, but the blocks would break off with a chisel when you got a hole opened along one side. [12.78-supplement]

I never did last very long sawing, but from then on, I had the job of cleaning all the sawdust out of the ice house and putting it back in, over and around the ice. There was a lot of it, and if I left it too long in the ice house it would all be frozen solid, because it was always wet, and have to be picked loose. If I did it too early in the winter, it would all freeze solid in the pile outside and have to be picked loose out there. [12.78-4]

The sawdust would rot and more would have to be added every other year or so. Pa could usually get a big wagon boxful or two from Sivert Guldseth, who had a small lumber saw on his farm, a couple of miles northeast of town. [12.78-5]

When the ice was "in" and the sawdust back in again, then we could take a deep breath and enjoy the winter.

About twice a week, in warm weather, we had to uncover one of the big chunks and saw off a chunk to fit the ice box, which we kept on the back porch. We were real modern -- almost no farmers had ice boxes. Most of them kept their milk and butter, etc. either in a cream cooler by the pump or down in the pump pit on the end of a rope. [12.78-supplement]

Pa put a funnel under the ice box in place of a pan, and a pipe under the floor to carry the melted water to a big crock outside with a dipper and wash basin alongside. We had a place to wash the field dirt off outside in the summer in soft, running water before we went inside for meals. The afternoon sun warmed the jar and the ice box always seemed to provide just about the right amount for our washing needs. [12.77-6 and 78-supplement]

After 10 years or so, Pa bought ice from Tony Holtberg's big butcher shop ice house and again hauled it home on the Model T running board, while it dripped in the hot sun. [12.78-6]

One time Pa was going to town with a team and wagon for something and took a 12-dozen case of eggs along. The road was frozen and rough and the wooden-wheeled wagon rode rough. When he got there, he found that he had 12 dozen scrambled eggs -- some broken, some only cracked, and some good. [12.79-5]

Pa was a good friend of Andrew Runningen, who had the City Restaurant, so he drove up to the back door of the restaurant and took the eggs in to Andrew. They went through the case and salvaged what they could of them, and he told Andrew he could have them. [12.80-1]

Of course Pa had coffee and he ordered a quarter's worth of peanut brittle. The peanut brittle came in a wooden bushel basket and about four inches in the bottom was fused into one solid chunk, so Andrew sold Pa the basket and all for 25 cents. We chiseled peanut brittle out of there every evening for a long time. [12.80-2]

When Pa needed a little cash really bad, he would borrow $10 to $20 from Andrew Runningen. He always paid him back promptly, so he could do that anytime. (Our family's reputation for paying up was always so good that after I started farming, Andrew lent me $1,000 on a note for six months or a year.) [12.80-3]

One of the first years, a bright red cardinal wintered in the big, open machine shed. That was quite a novelty, and has never happened again. [12.97-1]

We thought it was such a novelty when a pair of pigeons set up housekeeping upstairs in the barn that we just let them increase until there were pigeons nesting all over the barn, both upstairs and down -- 30 to 40 of them. Then we started eating them. Ma fried a few of the young ones, but mostly she roasted them, and we thought they were really good. [12.96-3]

At first, we could just pick them off the beams after dark in the barn basement. Some of them had nests there and along the tops of the outside walls. We took some right off the nests just before they learned to fly. Some roosted high up in the cupola and on the hay track above; we shot some of those with the .22 rifle. [12.96-4]

One day a pigeon was picking up spilled grain on the ground in front of the barn door and I was up on the bank about 15 feet away. I had a homemade slingshot and could hardly ever hit a barrel at 30 or 40 feet, so I put a rock in the slingshot and took a passing shot at her, knowing I would miss her anyway. I hit her square in the head and Pa bawled me out because no one had time to pick her then. So I had to do it myself. [12.96-5]

We didn't have freezers full of fresh meat then, and had better appetites from working harder, too. Sometimes Ma would roast a fat chicken and put pigeons around it in the roaster. Pigeons were dry and that way they absorbed the chicken fat and tasted more like chicken. When we finally got so we could afford to roast a goose, she put them in the roaster with the goose and they tasted just like goose. [12.97-2]

One night, about the second year on the farm, Pa came in from milking during a blizzard with a prairie chicken that had just flown into the barn wall and killed herself. It was entirely illegal to hunt them then, but Pa and Ma picked her anyway. I'm sure they were nervous about picking a prairie chicken out of season. That was the only time I ever tasted prairie chicken. [12.96-6]

We raised turkeys for several years before we could afford to eat one ourselves. Eventually some of them "stole their nests" and raised a third batch that were too young to sell in the fall. We got to eat them. A lot of them were only half grown and full of pinfeathers, but they tasted as good as, or better than, the big ones. [12.97-3]

We always had one big kettle of soup every year, when we ate the old rooster after the hatching season was over. Sometimes the roosters were traded back and forth with the neighbors and got to be 3 or 4 years old, or more. Then the soup had a lot of flavor. [12.97-4]

We got a shepherd pup from someone for $1.50 the first summer, but the next spring he got distemper or something and died real quick. [12.97-5]

We only had eight cows and four horses, to start with, and three old ewes. Toward spring Pa bought two more ewes and, a year or so later, five more. They cost about $10 each. That was our start with sheep, and we have had some sheep ever since, except for part of one year in the sixties. (That year we sold all the sheep and planned to quit with them, but after one summer we decided we needed them to keep the weeds and brush down in the gravel pit. We pastured cattle there one year, but they did too much damage, licking the wires off the engines and tractors and rubbing off belts and tipping over oil cans, etc.) [12.97-6]

In March or April, old John Moseng walked from farm to farm with a dehorning saw and a wire stretcher and a light log chain under his arm to dehorn cattle. We usually had three or four head of young stock to dehorn every spring. [12.97-7]

John would put the chain around the poor critter's neck, back near the shoulder, and around a "stall post." Then he put a rope around its neck, just behind the ears, and attached the wire stretcher to that and to a post across the alley somewhere. Then he would pull the wire stretcher so tight you would think the calf's head would pull off.

Grabbing the saw off the floor, he would saw off both horns as fast as possible and release the stretcher at once. [12.98-1]

It never happened at our place, but once in a while a calf would drop dead from the treatment and they would hurry up and butcher it right there. [12.98-2]

Sometimes a calf wouldn't quit bleeding and we would wrap its head with long strips of cloth with flour between each layer. Some bled until they got real weak, but none died for us. (Nowadays the dehorners pull out the arteries and they quit bleeding before they let them go.) By the end of the day, John was a bloody mess. [12.98-3]

In the fall John Moseng walked around the neighborhood and helped butcher. We usually came home from school and found a beef and a hog hanging from tree branches to cool. Butchering was usually done on school days so they could cut up the meat the next day and evening. [12.98-4]

We never had a big butchering kettle, so early in the morning Pa would build a fire under a 50-gallon barrel half filled with water. To scald the hog, they would hoist it up with a wire stretcher on a tree branch and dunk it into the barrel. Then they would lay the hog on an old door or something and scrape the hair off. [12.98-5]

The next night when we came home from school, Ma and Pa would be cutting up the meat on the kitchen table. They would have been at it all day and would work until late into the night. The packaged meat would be put out on the back porch to cool and freeze. Some of the beef and pork would be mixed and ground and canned for sausage. Quite a bit of the other meat was canned, too. [12.98-6]

The barn basement was real warm in the winter with the livestock in it (four horses, eight cows, some calves and even three to five sheep the first winter or two). There was an extra stall that Pa kept full of clean straw that he carried in on a fork every day from the straw pile for bedding. [12.98-7]

We used to go along after supper when he took the kerosene lantern and went down to milk. We would sit in the pile of straw and play with the cats and pup and listen to the fascinating sounds of the horses and cows chewing hay and the squirts of milk hitting the bottom of the tin pail when Pa started on each cow. There would be a five- or eight-gallon can in the middle of the floor, to pour the milk into after each cow, and a couple of cat dishes. The pup and cats expected a little fresh milk from each cow, and got it.

The last thing Pa did was take the lantern upstairs and throw hay down for the cows. We sat real still in the straw in the dark until he came back down. [12.99-1]

The milk was carried up to the house basement and then strained into a hand-cranked cream separator there. The cream was separated into a five-gallon can, which was taken to the creamery, usually three times a week. [12.99-2]

While we were still in town, the country kids would come to school with a bag or a pocket full of "blackhaws" [Viburnum sp.] and I got a small taste a couple of times. When you sucked on a mouthful of blackhaws you could spit brown juice just like the old tobacco chewers. I thought they were better than the best candy. After we moved, when I was getting the cows from the north pasture, they led me right past a bunch of blackhaw bushes along the south edge of the slough, just over the hill north of the garden. I ate or sucked a lot of blackhaws then, but they never seemed as good as the ones the Walseth boys brought to town. [12.99-3]

There weren't any deer around here then. I guess the settlers had eaten every one. I remember that after several years Billy Hanson's grandfather, who lived six miles west of Ashby, put it in the paper that he had looked out early one morning and seen a deer in his meadow. [12.99-4]

Nobody had seen a fox for many years either, until one day in the early twenties, Clarence Haugejordan set traps around some rotten eggs to catch crows he thought were robbing their turkey nests and caught a young fox. He put the live fox in a big wooden box and everybody went over there to see it. Deer and foxes were as rare around here then as moose are now. [12.99-5]