Working For Hire

Morton Teisberg had the first silage chopper-filler in the country. It had open, dangerous, lawn mower-type cutting blades and was powered by a big, one-cylinder gas engine. I helped haul corn bundles to that silo filler one or two years, when I was 13 and up, but then it was powered by a modern, one-cylinder Waterloo Boy tractor on steel wheels, the forerunner of the John Deere tractor. The original engine was on wheels but had to be pulled around with horses. [24.144-2]

Teisbergs had some real antique machinery at that time. Most of it was already obsolete and went for scrap iron during World War II. One piece was a three-horse disk plow. One disk went about 12 to 18 inches deep and cut a nine-inch furrow. The other disk went about three or four inches deep and turned its furrow into the deep, front one. The idea was to bury the quack grass so deep it couldn't come up again. (Enough quack missed being buried that it grew better than ever.) [24.144-3]

During the Depression Mort had a cheap hired man who wasn't always busy, so he had him plow several acres of alfalfa sod with it. He rode around and around the field with three slow horses, taking a nine-inch furrow. When we walked home from school at night, we couldn't tell by the size of the plowed area whether he had been plowing all day or sitting still. [24.144-4]

Mort had junked a Maxwell car and hooked the drive shaft of the engine directly to a small burr mill. The winter I was there I spent several hours every week grinding feed with it for the Jersey cows. I would fill sacks with oats and barley, haul them over to the mill, dump them in, then catch the feed in sacks and carry them to the cow barn. [24.144-5]

He had a two-horse, one-row, riding cultivator that had a long blade on each side of the row. It was supposed to shear off the weeds just below the surface (real shallow so as not to hurt the corn roots). That rarely worked, either. It had to be dry, and the blades usually dragged too much ahead of them. [24.144-6]

He had bought one of the first Hinman milkers, run with a gas engine, but one man could milk faster by hand than the other one with the milker could with two units. He had the company take that back. [24.145-1]

They pumped the water into a big, round wooden tank for the livestock. When the wind didn't blow, the tank went empty; when it did blow, if you weren't right there, the tank ran over. I had to chop up old boards and dead wood and fire the tank heater all day when the weather was cold. [24.145-2]

When I was 15 I stayed at Teisbergs for three months in the winter and did the chores while he worked on the creamery books. As secretary of the board of directors, he did all the book-work for the creamery and had to get the books ready for the annual meeting in February or March. He did most of the book-work at home. [24.156-2]

Toward spring I had a wood stove going in the honey house and heated several years' accumulated wax cappings and separated them into honey and beeswax. I also broke a big, black 3-year-old draft colt to ride and rode him up to Julia's to get the mail she brought home when she walked home from the bank for dinner. I also split a lot of wood. [24.156-3]

That was a pretty modern place, then. They had a 32-volt light plant. A gas engine charged a whole bunch of big batteries every few days and furnished lights and ran a motor on the washing machine and cream separator. (There was no indoor plumbing then, though.) [24.156-4]

One day Mort said, "I suppose someday everything will be run by motors and tractors and we won't have to have horses." I didn't believe a word of it! [24.156-5]

Things were different then. I was used to sleeping in a warm room and over there I slept in an upstairs room about 8' by 16' with the long outside wall and two leaky windows covered with frost and the door shut and no heat (in the old house that burned down). They were short of blankets and Mort gave me his long, sheepskin-lined coat to put on the bed over the blankets. Was it ever cold! I suppose I had it much better than the "Klondikers" sleeping in tents in the Gold Rush, but it was really cold. [24.156-6]

They burned wood and lignite coal in three stoves downstairs to keep it warm enough for the small kids and babies (six at that time). [24.156-7]

If I had to go to the "bathroom" in the night (which was all I could think of when it was so impossible and so cold), I had to go outside. I would sneak down the stairs and carefully open the squeaky door into the kitchen in the dark, so as not to wake anybody up. I had to go between the cream separator and the table and more often than not there would be a milk can or pail in my path, which I would trip over -- and wake everybody up.

I know they had (chamber) "pots" downstairs, but one upstairs would have frozen solid. I'm sure I could have figured out something, but I was bashful and "nice" people didn't talk about such things. [24.157-2]

These inconveniences helped me appreciate our modern furnace and "once a day flush toilet" at home. (They probably also had something to do with my never having any desire to "rough it" since.) [24.157-3]

Marj would ride a horse over there on Saturday afternoon, leave it, and walk home. I would ride it home after chores, after dark on Saturday night. I would ride back Monday morning and she would stop in on the way home from school and ride the horse home again. [24.157-1]

Teisbergs had twins a few months old then and I was deathly scared of babies. I had never been around any at all. What little I had observed of any had really turned me green. It seemed like any I had ever observed at other places were either slobbering or spitting up or had wet and/or full diapers hanging clear to their ankles. When she brought one to the table and fed it with a spoon -- ugh! It seemed like everything that went in came out again, to be caught off his chin and poked back in again. Then she would taste it to see if it was still warm. Ugh! And poke it in again. The rest of us were supposed to be eating at the same time. Ugh! [24.157-4]

One day I came in for dinner and it wasn't quite ready, so Mort picked up one of the twins and plunked it in my lap and handed me his bottle, and he took the other one. I froze solid. I didn't dare let go, but I was as rigid as if I were made of cement. They must have felt sorry for the kid, because they never tried it again. [24.157-5]

The only chore Mort did before the annual creamery meeting was help with the milking. He sang old World War I songs all the time, such as: "I'm going to murder the bugler / I'm going to murder the bugler / and then I'll get the other pup / the one that wakes the bugler up!" Maybe he sang the whole time we were milking so he didn't have to listen to me, but he was a real good singer. We carried all the milk to the kitchen to separate it and then I carried the skim milk back out and fed it to the calves and pigs. [24.157-6]

In March, when the bookkeeping was mostly over, we hauled wood from the woods across the lake and had a saw rig come and saw it. Then I split it all and ricked it up in the woodshed. [24.158-1]

Mrs. Teisberg was the cleanest and best cook I knew of, but she had never cooked for anyone with any capacity before and didn't realize my teenage appetite. Mort ate very little and the kids were all too young to eat in volume. We had the best of food and luscious desserts, but I could have cleaned out all the small serving dishes all alone. She always had plenty of bread and jelly and honey, so when everything was down to a small amount in the main dishes, I would eat bread and honey until I got full. When the bread plate got empty she would slice some more. [24.158-2]

I was polite (then), but I learned that it didn't pay. I was at that hungry age and could have cleaned out any serving bowl at the table anytime, but if I did, one of the kids would start to holler for more as soon as he saw it go empty. [24.158-4]

Kaia Eian was the hired girl there that year and when she was there it was her job to keep the table supplied. She always waited until I ate the last slice of bread and then asked if I wanted some more. She looked like it was a real hardship to get up and slice some more bread. Then she discovered that if she asked before she did it I was too embarrassed to ask for more several times and that if she looked tired enough I would quite often say, "No, thank you."

She knew as well as I did that I could have eaten another half a loaf if she had just gotten it without asking. She would say, "Are you sure you don't want anymore?" and I wouldn't backtrack once I had said no, because I figured they would know I was lying the first time, and I had been taught not to lie. [24.158-3]

One night Mrs. Teisberg made waffles for supper on the wood range in the old cast iron waffle iron. They were delicious, but it went so slow and there was always someone waiting for the next one, so after it seemed like we had been eating for hours, I finally said, "No, thank you," when she asked if I wanted another one. [24.158-4]

Eventually she asked me again, but I had said, "No, thank you," once, and even if I could have held 10 more I didn't think I should say I wanted any more because then she would think I had lied the first time.

The next morning when I carried the five-gallon "slop pail" out to the pigs, there were several of the most beautiful waffles floating in it.

I decided right there that honesty didn't pay and politeness didn't pay and bashfulness didn't pay. [24.159-1]

John Knutson was older than Pa and had a real diplomatic personality. He talked me into helping him for 50 cents a day doing all sorts of hard work when I first quit going to school. [22.140-2]

I was John's source of cheap help for a few years, being three years older than his kids. Also, I was ambitious and they were not. The first job I had was riding his big horse, hooked to a one-row cultivator. He walked behind and held the handles. He used that system after the corn got too high to use a two-horse one. My pay was 25 cents a day for that, and then I worked up to 50 cents a day on harder jobs. That was before the Depression, too. [22.140-4]

He didn't have much equipment, but he was a good borrower. We had a posthole digger and he dug all his post holes with it for years. He would send one of his small kids on foot to get it and when we needed it, we knew where it was and could go and "borrow" it back. Pa had a good grain drill and he used that for years, too. [22.140-2]

When I first started fishing I saved all my money and sent for a new pair of hip boots for $7. They were my pride and joy and I treated them better than my Sunday suit. One day one of the Knutson kids walked up to our place, barefooted in the rain and mud. He said his dad wanted to borrow my boots to fence out in the lake.

I wouldn't even have thought of using my new boots for that and take a chance of snagging them. But when the kid said he planned to wear them home, that was the last straw! The answer was no. I would have killed him if he had stuck his muddy feet into my boots.

I suppose John fenced in the water that year the same way all farmers did -- that was to take off your pants and wade. [22.140-3]

One year the John Knutson family took a trip in their new 1926 Chevrolet Coach to visit some relatives up in Canada for a few days. I was supposed to cultivate their corn while they were gone and look after two 6-month-old bull calves. [28.180-5]

The calves were each staked out with a chain hooked to a ring that slid along a 50-foot wire with a stake at either end. I was supposed to move the wire onto fresh grass once a day. One noon I stopped in to move the calves on my way home for dinner. I had Bird and Molly on a single-row cultivator and tied one of them to a tree with one of the lines from the bridle bit.

When I pulled up the first stake the calf sensed that he was loose. He stuck his tail up in the air and kicked up his heels and tore across the yard, pulling up the other stake, and headed straight for my team and cultivator.

That startled the horses so bad that they took off and broke their tie strap. They only got about 50 feet and plowed right into the middle of John's dump rake.

Talk about a mess! Bird fell down and Molly stood on top of her. By a rare streak of luck, Pa was just across the road, picking the dirt off some stumps that had just been grubbed, and he came to my rescue.

We got the horses out and untangled and there was a very minimum of damage to the horses or harnesses and none to the cultivator. The dump rake was nothing but a bent up pile of iron, but when the Knutsons came home, John didn't get very excited. He said he was going to buy another, bigger, rake anyway, as the old one was only an eight-footer and everyone else had 10-footers then. [28.181-1]

Severin Johnson's wife died and he quit farming and moved to town with three kids: Harry, 4; Jessie, 8; and Sadie, 6. They lived in the last house south of the schoolhouse and he raised the kids by doing day labor, for probably one or two dollars a day. He wore a necktie every day and got all the dirty jobs nobody else would do, like standing in the straw pile in front of the thresher blower and stacking the straw, etc. [25.167-2]

There was no welfare then and they were really poor, but none of them ever complained. [25.167-3]

When Harry Johnson started school he would come on cold mornings, blue and cold and chapped, wearing an old suit coat with the lapels overlapped with a big safety pin. One day he told the teacher his dad had worked out on someone's farm and they had given him a quart of cream. Jessie had learned to bake bread at age 8 and Harry had eaten eight slices of bread and cream.

Harry worked and put himself through the university the hard way. He got a job with Ottertail Power and worked himself up to almost the top office there. He is probably the most successful self-made man Ashby ever turned out. [25.167-4]