Starting A Farm

We were negotiating for the Knutson farm, but it was rented until the first of October so we stayed at home for a month. Then we got to use the "front room" of the house Ma inherited from her father. (The second house south of the creamery.) The Sam Schrams were renting it at the time but they let us have that one room. It had an outside door and we soon had it fully equipped. [223-1]

During that month we were still living with Ma and Pa, one night I lay down on the bed and stretched out and said, "It would sure be nice to have a bed alone for a change." Twila got mad and said, "I'll go and sleep in Marjory's room." I went right to sleep and she was still mad in the morning. She thought I would come and get her. [224-1]

Pa and Twila went to a couple of sales and got a big kitchen range for about $8 and a White treadle sewing machine for $8. When they brought the big stove in, they set it off on the front lawn in pieces and I was helping scrub it up when someone came along. I said, "I didn't think I'd ever be reduced to this," and I guess Twila was kind of "let down" or didn't feel too honored or something when I said that. It was quite a far cry from sitting around, waiting in fancy dress shops in Los Angeles. [223-3]

We got a Hoosier cupboard from Gilford Slotsve for $15 and a real squeaky 3/4 size folding cot for a bed from home for nothing. [223-2]

Tillie Hagen, a gabby old maid, lived in the room above us and every night I would sit on our squeaky bed and really make it squeak so she could enjoy the sound effects. [223-4]

Tillie had several men tagging after her over the years but lost them all. I don't think they figured they could stand the incessant chatter. Her biggest enjoyment was to find out that two people didn't like each other and then to take turns running back and forth between them and telling what the other one had said about them. Just her way of entertaining herself, not meaning any harm at all.

One day she cleaned her room and scrubbed the whole thing with Lysol, the old-fashioned smelly kind, because it made everything smell so "clean" and nice. The whole house smelled like Lysol. [223-5]

Pa and Twila and I painted that house that summer and when I painted around Tillie's window, I painted "Dr. Hagen" on her window with my finger. You could read it clear across the street. The first she knew about it, Dr. Randall started teasing her about starting up competition with him. She went almost nuts for a few days, until she could finally get someone to go up a ladder and take it off with a razor blade. [223-6]

Mrs. Schram was getting sickly and cantankerous, not the fun she was when we were little kids. One day she found out Twila had plugged an electric iron into the light socket and she stopped Twila from ironing. It took too much juice! [223-7]

We didn't want Ma to think we were lazy, so we went to the farm at 5 o'clock every morning and worked there every day (except when I went sheep shearing). Twila was trying to learn how to drive the 1927 Chevrolet coupe, so she would drive in the mornings when nobody was around. One morning, going up the bridge hill, she stuck the coupe in reverse instead of second and we landed back downtown faster than we left it, but nobody was up yet to watch it. [224-2]

Someone told Ma that it was nice for her to have someone come out and help her with her work every day that summer. She answered them by saying, "I've never worked so hard in my life!" She had to set my "Hollywood bride" a good example.

One day it was drizzling and raining and we both went in and lay down on her couch. She came running in and said, "The lawn needs mowing." She then ran out and ran the lawnmower around the house a couple of times in the rain and came back in to remind us it needed mowing again. [224-3]

When I was in California, I wore a necktie and when we got back here I dressed as the natives did again: bib overalls, striped engineer's cap, etc. Twila always threatened to write home and send a California picture and a Minnesota picture of me and say, "This is what I married -- and this is what I got!"

I used to delight in taking her for rides around the country and pointing out old, decrepit, falling down farmhouses (there were still a lot of them then) and telling her she should count her blessings -- she could have landed in one of them, for all she knew when she married me. She has always maintained that she has never had to count her blessings because I always counted them for her! [224-4]

We finally got the deal for the farm ironed out. Knutsons' rural credit government loan had grown from $3,000 to $3,800 because they hadn't paid taxes or interest, but rural credits was disbanding and offered to settle for $2,500 cash to get off the hook. Knutsons had one year to collect rent and/or redeem the farm, so they wouldn't sign off for less than $500 which, added to $300 (more or less) for back taxes, etc. made a total of $3,300 for us to pay. This was for 156 acres of land, with a new barn and water system that had been built only about seven years earlier, at a cost of about $3,000. It also had the gravel pit on it. [225-1]

Lars Hauge was the banker then and wasn't very popular with the general run of "deadbeat" borrowers. When he answered the phone, he only said, "Bink!" Not like the canned speech they answer it with now. His main byword was "invariably so," and when his boys went to school, the other kids would say, "invariably so" when they were around. [225-2]

When people came in to borrow money, his first question was, "What have you got for security?" Then, if you could prove that you didn't really need the loan, he would lend you the money. His policy paid off but didn't make him very popular with a lot of people. [225-3]

There was another bank, the Farmers' Bank down on the corner where the Cenex station is; it had a more lenient policy toward the poor risks and was favored by the poor, like the Democrats are. When the banks started going broke, the Farmers' Bank folded up and depositors lost nearly everything, but the Hauge bank survived and is still going strong. [225-4]

Hauge would let us have a loan for only $2,500 with such a poor farm for security and Pa gave us $1,000 on an unrecorded note. That was our start. About our only cash income was shearing sheep with hand shears at 10 cents a head. Forty sheep per day was the maximum. [225-5]

Pa did most of the grocery shopping for all of us and Ma insisted that he write all of ours down so we could pay later. Her theory apparently was that if we were busy and broke enough we wouldn't do any foolish things. I had rebelled against Ma's haircuts and Twila hadn't tried it yet, so one day in town I had to ask Pa for 50 cents to get a haircut. [225-6]

We got two or three old cull cows and a few nondescript heifer calves out of the stockyard and two or three of Pa's small heifers to put in the barn the first winter. Also a big team of horses from home, to keep the barn warm. There weren't enough of them and the first winters were one continual battle of frozen water pipes and frozen and broken drinking cups. [225-6]

We got a little milk from the cows but not enough to sell cream, so Twila made butter and Ma bought her butter from us to discount against our groceries. We started cutting mostly soft wood on my land by Ask Lake, to sell at $3.50 to $4.50 a cord, sawed up. So the income wasn't much to start with! [226-1]

We also cut a thousand oak posts and used them all that spring, building new fences, mostly with woven wire fence, so we could clean up the brush with the sheep. Pa paid for the fence, as he got the income from the sheep. Walter Anderson and Belvin Benson set the posts with two identical sets of tools, post hole diggers, etc. We always had them working on opposite sides of the farm and it went right along when they were too far apart to visit. [226-2]

Marj came back the first fall and helped renovate the house. It looked so bad that I said I didn't think I could ever eat a meal in it. The floor was covered with about a dozen pieces of linoleum scraps, all colors, and tacks and nails of assorted types and lengths, about every inch around each piece. They pried most of it off with a shovel. [226-3]

The windows had all been good when Knutsons left, but a family with six kids had rented it for a year and had broken 12 window panes in the house and 14 in the barn. Old rags, etc. were stuffed in the broken windows. There were only two rooms downstairs and one upstairs, and the "entry way." [226-4]

While Marj was here, she and Eunice Olson had a small shower for Twila. She got a blanket or two and a few usable things and some "token" gifts like carving sets with cheap plastic handles that wouldn't carve a pound of soft butter. Nothing like the big "shakedowns" they have nowadays. [226-5]

We borrowed a small, wood-burning stove the first winter, but it wouldn't hold fire overnight and neither would the kitchen range. We would fill them to the limit before we went to bed and still the cover would be frozen to the tea kettle in the morning. It got so hot when we first went to bed that some Christmas candles we had bent over double one night from the heat. [226-6]

Pa and Twila went to a sale the next summer and bought a parlor heater for $15 and that was much better. When Marj and Twila got the house inhabitable, new window glass, new linoleum, new cupboards made out of wood crates or boxes that coffee was shipped in from the Equity and everything painted red and white to match our new, modern, chrome red and white dinette set, I decided I could eat there after all. We moved in in October of 1937. [227-1]

Things were easing up a little and the Depression was waning in 1937. Pa started to buy ice from the butcher shop ice house. One day Pa and I cut a couple of feet off the bottom of the ice house and turned it around for a tool shed. I had summer flu and could hardly move, just sat down every chance I got. Pa said, "Why don't you sleep nights?" We got an old icebox the next year, too, and Pa had to haul ice for two iceboxes until we got electricity four years later. [227-2]

We went to a sale and Pa bought 34 ewes for $1.40 to $2 each, some old and some young, but basically good. [227-3]

We had a fairly modern house because Knutsons had piped the water in from the cistern up the hill. We had a faucet over the stove reservoir, to fill that, and a faucet over the sink where everything was washed, including hands and faces and dishes. There was a pump there, too, to get soft water from the rainwater cistern on the roof. [227-4]

An outdoor toilet up on the hill was little more than a windbreak. Pa bought a real good one in town from someone putting in a bathroom and we put that down behind the garage, closer to the house. [227-5]

I got a real young black Labrador pup from Gamey Peterson for $2 late in the fall. She got pneumonia and we had to bring her in from the barn. She was real smart and when she got well and wet the floor, Twila would take her and wet her nose in it and then put her outside. She had heard that was the way to train them. After a couple of days, Perley II would wet on the floor and turn around and wet her nose in it and then go and stand by the door to be let out. [227-6]

While we were in California, I had left Old Perley and one of her year-old pups at home. The pup was real smart and I had him pulling a sled. Some neighbors' dogs came to see our dogs one night and got into the sheep yard; they killed and ripped up the sheep something awful. Pa went out with the gun in the morning and that was the end of several dogs, including my Perley and Torchie. [227-7]

We thought we were going to have a farm with a little of everything like the old place so we made a sheep yard and got all the old ewes down there. We had chickens and turkeys and pigs, etc. but that turned into just a duplication of effort. Eventually, we had just cows, and hogs to feed the skim milk to, and my pony and a team to haul out the manure with every day. [228-1]

We tried keeping some old hens in a small building the first year and they nearly froze to death. Later, we kept chickens for a few years and had a real good system. We had a couple of brooder houses. We got a couple hundred or more little chicks in the spring and moved the brooder houses out on the alfalfa field in the summer. [228-2]

We enclosed a room with home-sawed lumber upstairs in the barn for the hens' laying house. It was under the hay in the winter. We got some used roof windows for light and a big, used, wire turkey porch for the chickens to go out in on warm days. The heat from the cows below kept it warm and it had a pipe though the floor from below with an automatic waterer. Also, a trapdoor in the floor to scrape the cleanings through so we could load them in the manure spreader with the manure carrier that was on a track. [228-3]

There was so much junk and clutter and weeds and small, falling down, buildings when we moved there that the first spring I would park a big wagon with a big, triple wagon box. Twila would clean up around it during the day and have it full when I came from the field at night. I would unload it into the big washout and park it in a different place for the next day. It would be full again that night, with old mattresses, bed springs, tin cans, junk, grass, weeds, and rocks. [228-4]

There were enough "Union Leader" tobacco cans laying around to pave an acre, it seemed. We probably buried some good collectors' items, if we had known. At least, we hauled many loads to the washout. [228-5]

The lawn was only weeds and we thought it was so contaminated by dogs and kids and chickens, etc. that we wanted new, clean dirt on top. So we plowed it all up, right to the house walls. We seeded millet and grass seed together and had a beautiful lawn almost right away. We mowed it just like an old lawn all summer. When the millet died out in the fall, the grass seed had taken over. It must have been rich dirt, fertilized by all the vermin and kids without pants running over it all through the years. [229-1]

They tore down the old Dalton schoolhouse and we bought a bunch of the old wainscoting there and built a picket fence, painted white with red tops (eventually); we always had a nice, fenced lawn after that. [229-2]

I was so scared of having a $2,500 mortgage on the farm that when there was some kind of conservation "Santa Claus" payment of $60 on the farm the first fall I took it in and paid it on the mortgage. When we finally got enough cows the second year to start getting milk checks, we didn't need any more "welfare" from home. Ma even forgot about the grocery bill we had accumulated. Our days of "subjection" were over for good. [229-3]

Then, as now, all the equipment and action centered up at the home place and we often all ate dinner there. Twila would walk or run up there at noon and help Ma in the afternoons. The trees weren't so thick then and many times we would see her leave the house. Five minutes later she would be there, running all the way up through the woods. [229-4]

There used to be a joke about the Norwegians having seven meals a day, starting with coffee before chores, then breakfast, forenoon lunch, dinner, afternoon lunch, supper, and lunch before they went to bed. They did everything the hard way, or backwards, so they never got far. [229-6]

Some of the farmers had the women bring coffee or lunch to the field twice a day at 9:30 and 3:30 but we always had chores in the mornings and didn't get to the field with the horses until 8 o'clock or so. Ma didn't go for the forenoon lunch idea, but we always had lunch delivered in the afternoons unless we were too far away for them to walk to (like when we hayed in town). Then we carried Thermos bottles and a bucket. [229-5]

Sherman was plowing for me on the field down by the lake on the home place with the new "H" Farmall when Pa and Ma still lived up there. Someone brought Sherman afternoon lunch from there and carried the coffee in Ma's expensive, extra heavy, aluminum coffee pot. He didn't get off the tractor and set the coffee pot on the wheel. When he finished, he started up in a hurry -- and before they noticed the coffee pot, it went under the wheel. [251-6]

He sure had a long face when he came and showed it to me. We carefully hammered it as straight as possible. Ma didn't say anything and used it for a long time afterward, but it sure showed and the cover didn't fit just perfect. [252-1]

We slowly increased the cattle, with some help from Pa. An old cow or a thin red heifer, etc. now and then from the stockyards and a heifer calf from his Holstein cows now and then. When we got a little more milk, we got an old separator for $10 and put it in the entry way and sold cream to the creamery. [229-7]

None of the creameries bought milk yet, so as the milk increased we had to increase the feeder pig numbers to use the skim milk. We would buy small, rough, undernourished feeder pigs; they lived in a straw shed north of the barn and thrived on milk. [230-1]

Pa and Ma went to Austin on the train for my grandmother's funeral. Down there, my grandmother's sister's husband, "Uncle Steve" Noble, had a farm with pedigreed Holstein cattle on it. He gave Pa a Holstein bull calf to bring home for us for a wedding present. He was from one of their best cows. Pa put him in the baggage car on the train and brought him home. We expected to turn out some real high producers when he grew up and his offspring started milking, using Pa's Holstein cows as foundation stock. [230-2]

The fields on the hills hadn't been plowed very many times since the timber was grubbed off and there were a lot of rocks near the surface, so the first time I plowed there with the 2-bottom horse gang I carried a crowbar on the plow. Every time the plow hit a rock, I would stop and pry it out and lay it up on the plowing. The ones that were too big for the plow to hook out, or to pry out with the crowbar, we dug around; then we pulled them out of the hole with a big team of horses. [230-3]

There were a lot of big rocks sticking above the surface. We spaded the dirt away from them and pulled them out of the hole with the big horse team. This made it much easier to plow the second year. We didn't get them all the first time around, but enough to make a dam across the washout and keep the whole field from washing into the lake. [230-5]

Alfred Evavold had a couple of Ford dump trucks he had used in road building. They had no cabs or windshields. We rented one in the spring, for $2 a day and our own gas, to haul rocks to the big washout. We pulled a "stone boat" behind for those too big to load. [230-4]

There was always some gas in the tanks when we got those trucks from Evavolds' and we took them back with some gas in them. When Lennie Bothum took back one that he had rented he didn't want to waste any gas -- so he carried a can of gas along to pour in a little when it ran out on the road. [230-5]

We used one of those trucks to gravel the home farm driveway. We shoveled the gravel into the truck off the top of the knoll east of the barn, which is good, coarse gravel -- at least on top of the hill. I remember that we borrowed the village blade and spread that gravel on the driveway on Thanksgiving Day that year. [230-6]

We broke White Foot and were using him a little in the field. I was anxious to break him to ride but I was a little scared of him. He had one "glass eye," which means a nearly all-white eye -- a sign of "high life" and temperamental. I knew what you could do in the sale ring didn't mean you could do it out in the open. [231-1]

One day, I finally put the big western saddle on him and took him out on the edge of the field behind the barn. Someone held him while I slipped into the saddle. He took off across the field, bucking every step. He finally stopped over near the lake and I got off. I had had it. I had hung onto the saddle horn so tight I rolled about a square inch of the thick skin right out of the center of my left hand. [231-2]

In my overall bib pocket, I had a Pocket Ben watch, on a rawhide strap, fastened to the top of the bib. That came out out of my pocket and flew up and down between my nose and the saddle horn with every buck. All that was left was the strap and the outside ring of the watch. All the rest had fallen out. [231-3]

I planned to ride White Foot again, when my hand healed up, but in the meantime, we broke him real good to drive and sold him to Paul Peterson. He had a horse that matched him pretty well. He used them on a buggy, driving around the local hills fixing farm telephones and lines. He was broke the best with the breaking harness. Paul could tie them to any piece of brush and fix broken and down lines. I never knew what became of him and always wondered what he would have done if I had ridden him a second time. [231-4]

I kept the new horse (Billy) in the barn year around so I could get the cows from the pasture with him. Sometimes the pasture went clear over to Ask Lake. I could ride him with just a halter and rope or even without anything on him. I never used a saddle on any horse -- too dangerous, galloping through the woods under tree branches and things. [249-3]

One day, Twila was bringing the cows from the south gravel pit pasture on foot and a few of them were lagging behind her. Among them was a young Holstein bull. When she got between the garden and the woods, she looked back and the bull was coming on the run, right for her. She went right up a post and over the fence into the garden without even sagging the wire, which was just light netting and five feet high. [249-4]

The pheasant hunting stayed pretty good for a few years and the Labrador, Perley, was a good hunter and retriever. I would pot a few big mallards on the small sloughs quite often. The Labrador wouldn't go in the water the first time, so I took off my pants and waded out and she swam behind me. After that she picked up every one. [234-6]

One day I decided Perley, the Labrador dog, needed worming and gave her (or I should say I poked down her) two tetrachlorethylene capsules (the dose for a full grown sheep). I thought she was going to die. When I went out to spread the daily load of manure, she staggered along behind like she was drunk. All of a sudden she stopped and expelled a ball of white worms almost the size of a softball. Right away, she started to jump and run and play like she felt good all over. [239-4]

I used to shoot sparrows upstairs in the barn with a BB gun and a flashlight at night and Perley would retrieve them or catch them as they fell, and swallow them whole, with one gulp. She sure could hold a lot of sparrows. [235-1]

I always had worried about mice running up under my pant-legs and, sure enough, up in the hay one night, one did. That's one of the worst feelings I had ever had, even if I grabbed it and squeezed it until I knew it was dead. Ugh!!! [235-2]

Daisy (Twila's cousin) and Henry (her husband) stopped off the first summer on their way from California to Aitkin to see his relatives and Henry and Twila both climbed to the top of the 40-foot silo on the home place, on the outside steps. [235-3]

I was lying on the floor at noon, resting, by the kitchen stove and Daisy was going to take a kettle of boiling water over to the sink. She said, "Shut your eyes, Don, in case I spill this water on you," so I shut my eyes and she did spill the water on me. She was more scared than I was burned, but I sure hollered. [235-4]

When John Knutson first grubbed the stumps off the hills, there were two Indian mounds -- one round one and one long one -- that stood up fairly high. They flattened out quite a bit after being plowed a few times. One year, I was plowing over the long one and turned up the lower jawbone and a full set of teeth of an Indian. All the other bones had disintegrated. You could see some of them, but they fell apart like dirt. I gave the jawbone to Raymond Skaar and he gave it to his dentist in Evansville. [256-2]

I found a few axes and stone hammers on the hills and down by Ask Lake but my eye wasn't trained or sharp enough to spot arrowheads and I never did find any. Raymond Skaar had a sharp eye and found some up there. They had a tractor (F-20) before we did; he disked that field for us once and even spotted an arrow head from the tractor seat. [256-3]

After heavy rains, the Skaar boys used to go on the field we farm down by the creek on Gust's, and also on Gust's other fields and down on the island; they found quite a few arrowheads. Kent Skaar dug a ditch across the long mound but didn't turn up anything at all. [256-4]

One evening, Twila and I went over beyond the Indian Mounds to shock up that small field of barley. All of a sudden, Twila started to jump up and down and scream. I hollered, "Get away from there!" She was jumping up and down right on top of a hole in the ground that a bunch of yellow jackets (wasps) had a nest in and they were stinging her right and left on the legs. Since then, we have always known that field as "the field where you got stung by the wasps." [235-5]

We visited back and forth with the Skaar boys (Ernest and Raymond) quite a bit. They always had a fire in the fireplace and popped corn and cooked coffee. They weren't married yet and could do as they pleased. They had more interesting stuff to tell before they got women to do their talking and drown them out. [231-6]

Kent and Thelma Skaar had just gotten married and were living with his mother that first winter. Thelma had cabin fever real bad. They came out one night and we had such a good visit that they came out almost every night after that, when the road was open, the rest of the winter. [231-5]

We got a long-haired, gray and white kitten from someone and he was the smartest cat I've ever seen. No "sandbox" for him, just a newspaper on the floor at night, which went into the kitchen range in the morning. He would go to the door in the daytime. He would sit at the top of the stairs and jump on my shoulder and ride down in the morning. He would ride along to the barn and back on my shoulder. I think Thelma came to see the cat more than us. [232-1]

Toward spring, the cat disappeared. There has never been such a "cat hunt" in history, but no cat -- until I was disking in the field in the spring. He had trusted the big horses too far. One of them had stepped on him, accidently, I'm sure, and covered him with manure. I had hauled him out and spread him on the field without seeing him. That was the end of that. There has never been another one that even compared a little bit with that cat, or was more missed. [232-2]