Farm Life 2

After I quit going to school I had a lot of unused energy and squirreliness, and if Ma was in a good mood I never left the house until she chased me out. I'd put on my cap and jacket and mittens and five-buckle overshoes. Then I'd stand with one hand on the doorknob and tease her or "razz" her until she would grab a broom or stove poker or something and start for me. Then I would open the door and run. I didn't have much entertainment the three years Marj went to school after I quit, and I had to invent my own entertainment like that. [17.109-3]

Ma used to say if I would learn to keep my mouth shut I would have my education, so once, after I'd had an extra-painful haircut with quite a bit of hair taken out by the roots, I went on a no-talk strike and didn't say one word in the house for four days. Pa practically begged me to talk, "before the woman goes crazy," as he put it. I finally did talk, and things got back to normal again.

Marj got hers when she got the snarls combed out of her hair and also on washday. That day she was Ma's captive audience and Ma vented her feelings about Marj and everyone else she knew. Marj would do any kind of hard jobs outside if she could duck washday. [17.109-4]

I really gave Ma a bad turn one day. We had an old horse that had seen its day, so one day I shot it and skinned it out for the pigs. Ma didn't know I was doing it and when I got through I came to the door all covered with blood and kicked on the door. When Ma opened the door she almost fainted. All she could do was gasp, very weakly, "What happened?" [17.109-5]

The year I was 14, Pa and I dug a ditch by hand, with spade and grubhoe, from the hard water cistern by the house to the barn. We laid in a 1-1/4-inch pipe and had a tub in the barn to water our livestock in. A little later we installed four drinking cups for the eight cows. We also laid a pipe to a big, round, wooden tank in the edge of the north yard for any livestock that might be out there, and to water the horses, both summer and winter. [17.110-1]

The wooden tank had a wood-burning tank heater. Part of the chores each day included going up the hill north of the garden and dragging down a small dead tree or dead branches and chopping that up for the tank heater. That way we got warmed up, too. We only fired enough to keep a hole open during the day. The rest of the tank had several inches of ice on it. [17.110-2]

The only trouble with our water system was that we didn't get the pipe more than about six feet underground because the clay in the ditch was so hard to pick loose. Six feet was supposed to be enough in those days, but the pipe froze up about every third winter, on the average. Then we would have to make a pipe or trough line above ground in barrels and boxes, etc. and pump directly into the water tank. We turned everything outside once a day to drink then. [17.110-3]

The second year out there Pa bought a pump jack and an old 1-1/2 horsepower gas engine to pump with, but it took almost as long to crank and start that old balky engine as it would have taken to pump the water by hand.

Sam Schram helped Pa quite a bit those winters, cutting wood, etc., and at noon Pa would do chores while Sam started the pump engine. He usually took about as long to start that old engine as it took Pa to do the noon chores.

Three or four years later, when we had begun to prosper a little more, Pa bought a new 1-1/2 horsepower John Deere engine and our troubles were over. The well was a new three-inch one and put out a quart for each stroke. [17.110-4]

We usually cleaned the barn by pulling a sleigh right through it with a team and pitching the manure onto it. We unloaded on the tops of the poorest hills on our fields. [17.110-5]

One of the first things Pa built was a straw shed. A bunch of oak posts with crotches on the tops and poles across them again, plus some old wire netting and old planks and boards around the sides. We stacked the grain in the yard and blew the straw from the threshing machine onto the straw shed, which made a really warm shed for a few sows and heifers, etc. to winter in. [17.110-6]

When first covered with new straw, it was really nice and the smell of the fresh straw made it a really cozy place The coziness deteriorated fast during the winter, with all the manure, etc. and by spring the only good thing about it was that we could usually dig grub worms around it for sunfish bait. [17.111-1]

All the glamour was gone in the hot summer when it was time to clean it. That was a hot, backbreaking job, forking out all the packed down straw and manure from inside and around it into an old rickety manure spreader while swarms of flies buzzed around. We spread the manure and straw on the fields between the shocks right after the grain was cut, on the hottest days of the year, it always seemed. [17.111-2]

The straw shed had lots of nooks and crannies up between the poles, etc. for the chickens, which were always outside in the summer, to make nests in. We didn't always find all the nests right away and sometimes we ate some eggs of questionable age and freshness. We called them straw shed eggs.

Ma couldn't stand to waste anything and always tried to convince me that the eggs were all right when I complained. (When I complained that the milk was sour, Ma would drink it and say there was nothing wrong with it, either.)

I know I lost my taste for any kind of soft-cooked eggs. They weren't so noticeable if they were hard-boiled and mixed in with plenty of potatoes when you ate them. [17.111-3]

Raymond Skaar told about when they were "batching" and he broke a rotten straw shed egg directly into the frying pan. He took the egg, pan and all, clear out to the edge of the grove and, for all I know, the pan is still there. [17.111-4]

Bennie Walseth became almost famous for his method of handling straw shed eggs in later years. He just brought all of his outdoor eggs into the poultry plant and let them candle them out, which worked all right -- except when they accidentally broke one of the ripe ones. [17.111-5]

In 1928 (before the Depression) Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward had a price war and one of them sent out a letter offering to pay postage or freight on anything in their catalog. We ordered the steel boat right away. Round bottom, copper-bearing steel, 15 feet long, with oars, for $47.50. (The freight would have been $15 or more.) [17.123-3]

The boat is still good, 52 years later. I replaced the wooden rim once with redwood and put hot roofing pitch on the joints with a blow torch after I invented a boat cart with rollers that flexed the joints and cracked the solder. [17.123-4]

A very short time after we got the boat, a new catalog came out and the big things like boats weren't shipped freight-free anymore.

We got a used Elto-Twin outboard motor for $65 in Alexandria and we did a lot of boating and fishing. [17.123-5]

One Sunday we were boating along the west shore by the Springen farm and came to an upturned boat with three drunk fishermen (Jumbo, Big Slide, and Pete Hanson) hanging onto it. Big Slide was a pretty good swimmer and hit for shore. He tried to wave us off and hollered that they didn't need any help. Not so with Jumbo and Pete! They had just about had it and were "all in." If we hadn't taken them to shore, I doubt if they would have survived. No other boats were in the area. [17.124-1]

Sometimes we boated across Lake Christina to see the "bird town" on the big, wooded point. (The herons, etc. later moved to "the island" in Pelican Lake.) We would go right through to Pelican Lake under the road and under the railroad track through "the arch." (Old Highway #52 hadn't been built yet, then.) There weren't any fish screens to block the creek then, and the twenties were wet years, so the lakes and creek were high. [17.124-2]

During the dry thirties, the creek between Pelican and Christina dried up completely. We even went boating on Ask Lake, but we never could catch any fish there then. [17.124-3]

One time, when we were bored, we even put the boat on the "lake" that covered the garden early in the spring.

We had a wooden water trough, 12 inches wide and 12 feet long, and one spring I paddled across the garden in that. Ma had some posts that stuck up out of the water for her raspberries, and I stood up in my water trough boat and put one foot on one of the posts. I started to do the splits, but I kept cool and got both feet back into the boat again. I came awfully close to taking a bath in three feet of ice and manure water, though. [17.124-4]

Before we filled in the yard, the hill sloped all the way from the kitchen door to the bottom of the hill. We never plowed or shoveled any snow, so there was always plenty of hard-packed snow to slide on. Marj and I did a lot of sliding down that hill by taking one of the sleds and running for a way, then slamming down on it. Toward spring, on warm days, the hill was really slippery. We would leave the big barn door open and shovel a little snow in onto the floor. Sometimes we could slide all the way from the house and 10 feet into the barn. We never thought of walking down to the barn if the snow was packed down -- just grabbed a sled by the kitchen door and slid down. [17.124-5]

We were never allowed in Ma's kitchen just to get warm between chores on cold, winter days, but the basement was a really warm and cozy place, with the big wood furnace going. That's where we split up some of the stumps and wood that wouldn't go in through the furnace door, too. (There was quite a bit of open space between the stairs and the furnace then, before we built in the closet and cabinets. [17.124-6]

During my teen years, after I quit school, I always had some project going down there on cold days, like building sleds and bird houses, etc. [17.124-7]

When the weather was fit to be outside, we kept busy splitting stumps with mauls and wedges and going through the woods with a team and bob-sleigh picking up or cutting dead trees to be sawed and split for the kitchen stove. In the furnace we mostly burned stumps that had been dug out or blasted in clearing land. (We always looked down on the farmers who spent their afternoons in town, sitting around the restaurant or standing around in the Equity.) [17.125-1]

We sent to Wards for a pair of "quarter-sawed, seven-foot ash skis" for $4.75. (We still have them, too.) I only had toe straps, but I made a ski jump out of snow on the hill that is in the north yard now and got so I could go off a three-foot (or higher) jump wearing four-buckle overshoes and just the toe straps. I felt like I was made of rubber and never thought of such a thing as getting hurt, no matter what I fell off -- skis or bucking horses, or anything. [17.125-2]

We had a Holstein cow that was so vicious and kicked so bad we couldn't get near her to milk her, so I crawled over the top of the cow in the stanchion next to her and slipped over onto her back. She bucked and jumped up and down some, but with me on her back, Pa could slip the "anti-kicker" onto her back legs, because when she tried to kick him she would lose her balance on the other three legs. We did that for quite a while When she had the kicker on, she gave up and stood still while she was milked, by hand. Later Marj learned to slip onto her back while Pa put the kicker on if I was out in the field or somewhere at milking time. Eventually, she'd let you walk up and put the kicker on if you didn't monkey around any first, but she was never milked once in her whole, long life without the kicker on. [17.125-3]

We had a couple of orphan lambs one summer when we were kids and we taught them to nurse a cow. We kept them in the barn and turned them loose to nurse while we were milking. Before long, the cow "mooed" for them when she came into the barn, just as if they were her calves. [17.125-4]

The usual method of straining milk was to put a piece of cheesecloth across part of the top of the pail to pour it out through. The more modern farmers got a strainer with a brass screen in the bottom and the more fussy ones put a cheesecloth across the top of that. The fussy ones also milked into pails that had tin hoods over part of the tops so only part of the straw and hair from above fell into the pails. [17.112-5]

A new invention that was supposed to be a real labor saver had a brass screen in the hood on top so you could just pour from the pail and strain at the same time. Pa bought one of them but didn't use it long. All the accumulation of dirt that landed on top went into the clean container with the first milk. Dirt inside the pail just fell back into the pail to help contaminate the milk from the next cow. [17.113-1]

Pa bought five sheep the first or second year on the farm and five more the next year. Our first sheep pasture was the woods along the lake by the point. One day Ma and Pa and Marj and I took salt to them. While the sheep were licking the salt, Ma and Pa and I walked back to the Model T, but Marj stayed behind. She was engrossed in singing and dancing for the sheep (something about "dancing for the muffin man" that she learned at school.)

All of a sudden Marj let out a scream and lit out running as fast as the could with the big, old sheep buck right at her heels. She made a big circle and as she got back near Pa he sidetracked the sheep buck. She got teased for years about how fast she could run. [17.128-5]

We got Perley the second fall we went to school from the farm. One of the kids we walked with told us to stop in at Hoffs' on the way home. It seems the Moseng kids had brought a pup home from somewhere and their folks wouldn't let them keep it, so they had taken it down to Hoffs' and left it. Hoffs didn't want it either, so they convinced us we should take it home.

We took the little black and white roly-poly female pup home, but we didn't know how it would go over, either, so we opened the kitchen door, put her in, and shut the door again.

Ma was ironing and I guess the pup wiggled and wobbled and looked so cute and happy coming across the floor toward her that she couldn't have said no if she had tried. Then we opened the door and started campaigning, "Can we keep it," over and over. [17.133-1]

Pa said they had a dog called Perley when he was a kid, so that's what we called her. We thought she was the most wonderful dog, because she had seven or eight pups twice a year. We would save one or two of them and they were the cutest and cuddliest pups. It was always a problem to give them away when they got to the "awkward age." [17.133-2]

Perley was smart, if not intelligent. We got so mad when stray tomcats killed our kittens that I started shooting them. In no time at all, Perley learned to spot a stray cat at any distance, tree it, and stay there until I shot it. She never even looked at our own cats. [17.133-3]

One year we only had two or three old cats and they got the idea that chipmunks were farm animals, like chickens, so they ignored them. The chipmunks got so numerous and tame that they hopped around right in front of the cats. The cats would catch mice and gophers, but not chipmunks. The next year the young cats grew up and they didn't discriminate. The chipmunks all but disappeared for good. [17.133-4]

When Perley got older and the pheasants got thick, she got pretty good at smelling them out and was crazy to hunt. But if I shot a duck or pheasant and it landed in the water five feet from shore she wouldn't get her feet wet and go after it. [17.133-5]

When we first moved to the farm we could raise poultry such as turkeys and ducks and let them roam in the woods or roost in the trees at night and predators weren't too much of a problem. Coons would sometimes raid the turkeys' nests in the woods and eat the eggs, and once in a while a hawk would make off with some little chicks. Foxes were almost non-existent and raccoons were scarce. Very rarely, a mink or weasel would get into a chicken house and kill some chickens. [17.133-6]

The 'coons started to increase and finally got to the point where it was impossible to have any poultry running loose. Some of our chickens would roost in the trees in the summer and the coons would kill them during the night. [17.134-1]

One year I was raising ducks and Ma got tired of the sloppy things around her chicken house. All the poultry ran loose in the summer and she talked me into chasing the ducks down to the slough where they would find their own feed. So we chased them all down there, old ones and young ones, 35 altogether.

They were busy gobbling down small frogs right away and they stayed right there. In the evenings we could hear them squawking when the coons were after them. In the fall when it froze and we could get to them, there were only seven left. [17.134-4]

Morton Teisberg had raised bees since he was a schoolkid, and Pa got some hives from him. Pa "hived" a swarm he found hanging in a tree, in transit to their new home. He learned from Mort how to take care of them, eventually expanding to five hives. [17.138-3]

The first year when they swarmed, they would hang up on a tree branch for a while and Pa would put on the veil and gloves to saw off the branch and take them down. He shook them off in front of an empty hive and they would usually go in and take possession. [17.138-4]

(Sometimes the swarms settled so high in the trees you couldn't climb the small branches, and Mort Teisberg told about shooting bee branches off with a rifle.) [17.139-1]

I had seen pictures in the bee journals of men doing this without veils or gloves. They said if you didn't "rile" them up they wouldn't sting. So one day when I was in the teenage, "know-it-all" age the bees swarmed and settled on a branch high in a tree near the hives. I volunteered to go up and bring them down without a veil, like in the pictures. [17.138-5]

I went up the big extension ladder and about 10 feet above that, by climbing on the branches, to saw off the bee-covered branch.

The swarm was so big and heavy (about a 10-quart pailful of bees) that I couldn't hold it outright. It swung down and knocked off a lot of bees, but the branch wasn't sawed clear off yet.

The bees started to sting all over my face and arms. They kept on stinging while I crawled down -- fast. When I got to the ladder I considered jumping the rest rest of the way (20-24 feet), but didn't. [17.138-6]

My grandmother was there and she was considered good at nursing. She and Ma picked stingers and washed the stings with soda water. I was stung at least 30 times, and boy, was I sick! They thought I would live, I guess, so no one thought of going to Doc Randall (and maybe he didn't have anything for bee stings, anyway). [17.138-7]

The first year Pa's bees started to produce, Pa spotted a big, hollow oak on the Lee farm, just a few feet south of Beaver's big "washout" by the lake, and he bought it from Mrs. Lee for $5. He knew it was full of bees, so when it got cool in the fall, Pa and Sam Schram sawed it down and split it open. It was big and it was full of bees and honey and dirt and wood dust and sawdust. The weather was cold enough that the bees were pretty dormant and didn't sting much. [17.139-2]

They brought the honey and wax home in tubs and dishpans. Everything Ma owned was full of it. They tried to keep the new, clean wax separate from the old, dark stuff. The kitchen was quite a place for a while as they strained and squeezed the honey out of the wax. They got about nine gallons of honey, and that was a lot for a bee tree.

We ate the clear honey, and the dark stuff with wood dust in it went into Honey Jumbles, etc. which Ma kept on hand year around for many years. We ate 20 gallons of honey that year. The first years, we ate all the honey we produced. [17.139-3]

In the fifties I bought four guinea hens in the sale barn and they roosted in the tops of the highest trees, but the 'coons ate two of them right away, so we ate the other two to see what they were like. The meat on them was really dark and not especially good. [17.134-2]

We had ducks penned in the barn during the fifties and the 'coons started to take them. I left the door open about a foot and set traps and caught a coon right in the barn door. We had some young ducks in a pen halfway between the house and the garden. The pen was a foot above ground on blocks and had half-inch mesh hardware cloth for a floor. The 'coons pulled the legs off the ducks right through the wire. [17.134-3]