My first gravel pit experience was loading gravel in "our" pit, which was then owned by John Knutson. There was a dug-out area in the road bank with plank sides and top and a two-foot square hole in the top with a grate over it with holes about six inches square. The small hopper had a sliding door under it called a trap, which the truck driver could open and shut.
We had teams with "Fresno Scrapers" that we would drive in a big circle through the open pit behind the hopper and over the trap, dumping the gravel through the grate into the truck. [23.143-2]
John Knutson had a hired man and a team there and I had our team. The job was a horse killer, walking in the loose gravel in a circle all day. (A day then was never less than 10 hours.) We were loading two big trucks with single rear tires, probably Dodges that hauled two or two-and-a-half-yard loads. They were graveling a township road somewhere. [23.143-3]
The Knutson team was quite small and the hired man was rough. The horses finally quit, just before the job was finished. They wouldn't pull anymore and when they were taken home they lay down for two days. [23.143-4]
There was another gravel outfit working down the road a little in Gust Melby's pit. They had the same kind of loading setup and were hauling with two Model T trucks, on the road from the cemetery to Pelican Lake. One of them was an old, converted hearse and they hauled one-yard loads. Those trucks had "self dumps" on them, which meant they were hinged a little ahead of center and the weight in the back end flipped them up when the driver stopped and released the catch on the front of the box. [23.143-5]
I imagine someone with horses dragged the gravel and spread it on the road. The teamster no doubt threw the rocks into the ditch (or the woods) as he walked behind the drag. [23.143-6]
Our gravel pit was opened up in 1916 to furnish gravel for the new schoolhouse being built in Ashby that year.
The gravel to make the "cement blocks" for Teisbergs' silo came from there, too. Some poor "slave" mixed cement in a box with a hoe all one summer at Teisbergs' and made the silo blocks in molds on the ground. That was the first silo in the area and is still good. Many silos made with other gravel disintegrated in just a few years. [23.144-1]
About the time the Depression hit, the paving contract had been let to pave from Fergus Falls through Elbow Lake to Evansville. A big gravel washing, crushing, and screening plant was set up across from the Ashby motel site. The gravel was loaded onto rail cars for shipping. [23.145-3]
I loaded the gravel for the plant foundations in the Knutson pit, using horses. The gravel was hauled over there on the road through the woods where the gate is, south of the gravel pit, in a chair-drive, solid rubber-tired truck. The plant was built out of pure timber in a small hollow next to the track. A spur was built up to it from over near the creek.
(The highest hills in the area were all around, close to the north side of it. Now they have all been hauled away -- in one place down below lake level, where the cattle drink.) [23.145-4]
The whole area where the Ashby Motel is now was a cattail slough. To get enough crushed rock, the excess sand was run over there in a flume and the whole area filled in with 10 to 20 feet of sand. [23.145-5]
When the steam shovel I hauled water for wasn't working, the horses and I got other odd jobs around the gravel plant. When railroad officials gave the boss a bad time because the water was soaking up the railroad grade, he sent me across the track with a team and Fresno scraper to keep the sand from piling up at the end of the flume. [23.145-6]
The flume was an open trough and carried the water and sand from a 10-inch pipe. This was more sand than water and no team and scraper could possibly move that much sand. I had to go back and forth across the sand so the water could get away faster. [23.145-7]
One day a dressed up Great Northern Railroad official came down and started to bawl me out because I wasn't getting it moved fast enough. My faithful team was soaking wet and I was wearing hip boots. When the horses went across the stream I would step up on the edge of the flume and across.
Just as he was giving me a good, old-fashioned Great Northern bawling out, my foot slipped off the board and into the running water. That sprayed the crabby character from head to foot with water and clay and rusty sand. All I could think of to say was, "Oh, did I splash you?" He left as fast as he could, swearing a blue streak. I never saw any more railroad men. [23.145-8]
The gravel plant ran for seven years -- five months the first summer and about that long for the next two or three years. The last three or four years it ran for only a month or two each season. Then the soft wood timbers it was built on rotted out and the whole big washing and screening plant slowly tipped over. There were two or three men (including Donovan Grover) up in it. Nobody got hurt, but it was end of an era. [23.146-1]
The gravel plant was set up right at the beginning of the Depression. It employed a lot of men and helped Ashby survive the Depression. [23.146-2]
All the unemployed from a big area came and went continuously, looking for work at 30 to 35 cents an hour. They worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and changed shifts every two weeks. The plant never stopped, night or day. When they changed shifts, the crews worked a 24-hour shift every two weeks and had 24 hours off at the end of the next two weeks. No overtime pay, Social Security, withholding, or government red tape, either. [23.146-3]
I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't even have to ask for a job there. We had good, big horses and they came and asked us if Pa could send a team down to work on the stripping crew, plowing the black dirt and sod and clay with a walking plow and hauling it off to the edge or into a hollow with Fresno Scrapers. There were five or six teams, to start with. [23.146-4]
We soon found we were in an Indian burial ground just above the field we farm on Gust's hills, west of the creek. When we saw some bones as we drove the teams, we picked them up and threw them into a pile. There got to be quite a pile to start with, but it got some newspaper publicity and hundreds of people came to see the Indians and the big gravel machinery and to look for work. They soon carried all the bones away for souvenirs. [23.146-5]
I never saw any artifacts (arrowheads, etc.) but there was a story that someone had picked up a skull with an arrowhead stuck into it. It was evidently one of those once-a-year burial grounds. They were just dumped in holes helter-skelter. [23.146-6]
The stripping teams worked only 10-hour days, 50 cents an hour for man and team. After three or four years some of the stripping was done with a new invention: a 30 Caterpillar and "Tumble Bug" [a rollover or "reversible" plow]. [23.147-1]
The water to wash the gravel was pumped from the lake, pumped through a 10-inch pipe with power from an old Fairbanks Morse upright single-cylinder diesel engine. The rocks were crushed by a 15-inch crusher powered by another, similar diesel, which also powered a generator which furnished the electric lights for 24-hour operations. [23.147-2]
The gravel was pulled in from the hill with a big, gas Waukeshau motor and 1-1/4-yard drag bucket. Eventually another conveyor and crusher were set up and powered by a big, Waukeshau gas motor and fed by a fleet of trucks loaded by a new 1-1/4-yard gas shovel and an old steam shovel from the iron mines. [23.147-3]
I guess I had the biggest and best stripping team and I was lucky to get the job of hauling the water and coal for the steam shovel. We supplied both teams for that, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Walter Shultz drove them one shift and I the other. It was the best job down there, but we had to leave the farm at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. and got home at 7 p.m. or 7 a.m. [23.147-4]
I got the bright idea of hooking the tank wagon to the undercarriage of the steam shovel with a chain. When it moved up, the wagon went along and I could lie in the sand and sleep until the tank was empty and the fireman would wake me up. It took about five tankfuls in 12 hours if the plant ran steadily. [23.147-5]
Sometimes we hauled the water from the creek where it comes out of Christina Lake and had to pump it in by hand. Christina was so low that the creek didn't run, but I dug a ditch in the creek as far as the bridge. Later they put a valve in the 10-inch line and we could hook a hose on that and fill the tank with Pelican Lake water in minutes. [23.147-6]
One day while I was pumping in a load from Christina a nearly new Model A Ford stopped and a slim, pale city man stepped out. He only weighed about 125 or 130 pounds and looked like an office worker from the cities. He wanted to know if I knew of any place he could get a job in the harvest fields. That was the height of the Depression and people were really desperate. [23.147-7]
The first night I worked the night shift I was sort of keyed up and wasn't sleepy when I got home in the morning, so I took the team and went to town for a load of lumber for one of the sheds we were building. I stopped at the Equity and got a Mr. Goodbar to eat on the way home, 1/2 pound for 10 cents, worked all day and went back and hauled water in the gravel pit that night.
I thought, This is a breeze -- I'm not going to bed until fall.
I was still keyed up, but by the end of the second day it was a different story: I went to bed in the daytime. [23.148-1]
Gust Melby owned the hills where the washing plant was and he got 5 cents a yard for all the gravel that was shipped out. It was rumored that he collected more than $30,000 altogether. (About like $1 million now.) [23.148-2]
When the big gravel plant was running to capacity, they had the gas shovel and the steam shovel farther out in the hills sometimes, loading trucks to haul better gravel with a higher rock percentage to supplement the big drag bucket that pulled the gravel to the plant. [23.149-6]
The trucks, all hired by the hour, were of various makes, some in fleets and some singles driven by their owners. I was "crazy" to drive a truck and some of the private owners would sometimes let me drive their trucks for an hour or so when I wasn't busy. [23.149-7]
I learned much by observation: it took skill to rock a truck away from the shovel in loose gravel without burying it, and I got real good at it. (Sometimes I would hook my team on and help out a poor driver who buried his truck.) [23.150-1]
In one of the fleets from Duluth there was a big old chain-drive, single-wheel truck that took better than average skill, and I was just sick to try it. I begged and begged the driver to let me take a trip (about a city block) with it.
He took out his "snoose" box and said, "If you will take a good, big mouthful of snoose, I will let you try it."
I weighed that over and over many times, but never got the nerve to take the snoose. [23.150-2]
Helmer Langlie was driving that same truck one night and as he was going up one of those steep hills to get a load from the shovel, one of the drive chains slipped off. He thereby lost his brakes, which were on the transmission. He had a wild ride back down, but didn't tip or hit anything.
There were a lot of narrow escapes and dangerous jobs, but I don't remember anyone getting hurt very bad in the seven years it operated. Just minor things. [23.150-3]
There was continuous testing around the hills, including what later became our hills, for coarser gravel. Really deep test holes were dug by hand and cribbed up with lumber as they went down. The man in the hole filled a bucket, which was cranked up by a man on top with a windlass, like an old oaken bucket well. [23.150-4]
There was a continual problem with clay balls in the gravel and crushed rock cars. The state kept an inspector there around the clock (they thought) to test for clay and the company had men sitting along the conveyors picking off clay balls and Indian bones. The state inspectors would "spree" quite often, however, and just look at the cars on the side track in the morning. The company would have already had a man down there to throw off all the clay balls from the top of the car, and they looked okay, so the inspector would pass them. That's why the pavement both ways from Elbow Lake was so full of holes: clay balls! [23.150-5]
One of the hand-dug test holes along the west side of the pit turned out the best coarse gravel they found, so they moved our steam shovel there and loaded trucks for several shifts, loading mostly sand from the edge of the hill and expecting at any time to get to the coarse stuff. We finally got behind the prize test hole and found out that the coarse stuff was just in one small shaft-like area. The test hole diggers had hit it square and had shoveled out almost every bit of the coarse gravel in the whole hill. [23.150-6]
The last year the plant ran, to finish up the job regardless of what it did to the pit, they put a longer cable on the gas shovel and dipped from the best hole with a drag bucket until they were below lake level, where the water stands now. (The cattle go way down in there to drink now.) [23.151-1]
Those were the dry years and Pelican Lake was getting lower and lower. Philip Carlson tried to get out a petition to stop the gravel pit from operating because he thought they were shipping all of Pelican Lake's water out in the cars of wet sand. He didn't get far; it was what was keeping a lot of people alive. [23.151-2]
There was almost no time lost for rain those dry years and the summers were extremely hot. (Someone in Fergus fried an egg on the sidewalk one day.) [23.151-5]
Some of the men lived out of town and walked to work, and everyone carried his food in what Orville Jacobson called "the damn' bucket," even enough for the 24-hour shift. [23.152-1]
Some of the truck drivers and gravel inspectors looked pretty dissipated sometimes, but that was from spreeing and chasing some of the well-known local women, not from hard work on the job. Some of the truck drivers from Duluth and elsewhere had some problems sometimes when they had local dates and claimed to be single, only to have their wives show up unexpectedly to spend the weekend. [23.152-14]
Pete Stokke had one of the hardest jobs, cleaning and loading the railroad cars -- all hand work, leveling the loads just so, etc. He lived three miles west of Ashby, across the road from Emory Casberg's and he often walked the five miles to work. [23.152-1]
Some of the open steel gondola cars had been hauling coal and the poor guys had to sweep the coal out and line the cracks with burlap to keep the sand in around the trap doors in the bottoms. [23.151-5]
Carl Evavold delivered the gasoline down there from the Equity in an old International 1-1/2-ton tank truck. He unloaded by filling a five-gallon can from a faucet on the back of his truck and then stepping up on blocks to empty them into the gravel pit tank. He was the only gas hauler for the Equity and worked almost around the clock some days. I remember him coming to the pit as early as 4 a.m. to keep them supplied. [23.152-2]
I was the lucky one; it was our good horses that got me the job, stripping first, and then hauling water. I was one of the few who didn't have the perpetual worry of being fired. I was only a necessary evil they had to put up with to get our horses. [23.152-3]
That was the end of one of the area's most interesting eras, but it had been survival of the fittest on the jobs there. I suppose there were a hundred men available for every job. Nobody dared shirk for fear of getting fired and some of the men on the harder jobs looked like refugees from a prison camp after working all summer. [23.151-4]
The pay was 30 or 35 cents an hour and you could buy cars that "ran" for $10 to $25. But there weren't any unemployment payments then and no welfare, so those who had only wages to live on had to save in the summer to live the next winter. [23.151-6]