Modernizing The Farm

Modernizing The Farm

In the spring of 1939, the bigger farmers were converting fast from horses to tractors and the tractor companies were taking a lot of horses in on trades for tractors.

We traded four horses (we had 15 or 20 then), along with about $400, on a used, 2-ton Caterpillar, in Fergus. We also bought a new John Deere 2-16 tractor plow. It was the first one in Ashby on rubber tires. I had my "dream" (a Caterpillar) then. It had just barely enough power to pull the 2-16 plow up the hills.

The Caterpillar replaced eight horses on the homemade tandem disk. We hooked two wagons behind it for shock threshing and silo filling. There were a couple of extra men in the field to help load wagons with grain or corn bundles. [234-3]

While we had it, we rented a tractor brush breaking plow and broke up about 12 acres of stump land between Tollef Hoff's and the Indian Mounds. A Caterpillar was ideal for that, crawling across stump holes, etc. That plow was a 20-inch single bottom with a knife in front to cut tree roots, etc. [234-5]

The track pins didn't last and were almost worn out in two years, from the dust and sand in the fields and from driving it back and forth to the rented land in town. [234-4]

We had junked the 1927 Chevrolet and traded the one-wheel trailer on a 1929 Chevrolet Coupe that had been made into a sort of pickup. Twila learned to drive that but always complained that when she turned around, like on a road, she couldn't see where her front wheels were. I assured her she could just go ahead and turn, that her front wheels weren't nearly as close to the ditch as she imagined. [235-6]

A short time later, she had occasion to turn on the grade just west of the approach going into the pasture across the road, up on the Lee farm. Sure enough, she came walking home. She took my advice and turned and the Chevrolet was leaning against a tree in the ditch with one side still up on the road. We fished it back onto the road and it wasn't even scratched. [235-6]

On November 11, 1940, we drove the team and sleigh up to the home farm so Twila could wash with Ma's machine. It started to storm so bad we went home about 11 a.m. and then we had the famous "Armistice Day blizzard." It really blew. I remember that a big buck deer so big he looked like an elk stood just above the leaning tree and watched us go by with the sleigh. [238-6

We only had a few turkeys outside; they blew down under a hay rack and froze to death, but we didn't lose much. Some turkey farmers lost a lot of them and a few townspeople bought some of the dead turkeys real cheap and ate them. [239-1]

We didn't have to worry about the power going off because we didn't have power yet, although I think we had wired by that time and would get the power the next spring. [239-2]

We pumped water with a Briggs & Stratton engine. The pump down by the house forced the water up to the cistern. We did chores with lanterns, a gas Coleman lantern to see by and we took a kerosene lantern along to find our way out when the Coleman lantern went empty or plugged up. [239-3]

Rubber-tired tractors were just coming into general use and we traded the Caterpillar and some more horses ($975, more or less) to the Equity for the new "H" 1941 Farmall, "on rubber." We could have had an "M" for $175 more, but didn't think we needed such a "big" tractor. [237-1]

A whole new era of farming started opening up. We got a new tractor hay bucker, a new tractor mower, new two-row tractor cultivator, all the first year. [237-2]

I rode along with Earl Anderson in the cattle truck to look for a car in The Cities. I heard they were cheaper out at Hopkins, so I took a bus out there. I told the dealer I wanted the "latest model" he had for the "least money" and bought a 1935 DeLuxe Chevrolet 4-door for $225. It had been spray-painted over all the flaws and it had some shortcomings, but it ran, so we junked the "now priceless" Chevrolet Coupe and made a wagon out of it. It was only worth about $15 then. [237-3]

I stayed with Earl [Anderson] and slept in the "Shippers' Club" overnight. There was a big roomful of single beds with just room to walk between them. I woke up early in the morning and a couple of beds away was someone with long, black hair in it.

I knew that some women brought truckloads of cattle down there and I was quite startled to see a woman in there with probably 50 men. The illusion didn't last, though; it turned out to be a man with long hair.

We went down where the hogs were in the morning and the "barn boys" were dumping sacks of corn in the troughs for the pigs before they weighed them. Earl said it was mostly a big show; they were only that free with the corn when they saw the owners coming down the alley.

One time with Earl we stayed in the "Hook 'em Cow Hotel. That was much worse than the Shippers' Club. We had an inside room in that old fire trap. Like being the center bottle in a case of "pop" bottles. No more of that for me!

We bought an almost like new Model T Touring Car made into a pickup from Sam Schram to use for going sheep shearing, etc. for $15. [237-4]

In the spring of 1939, I got the first power sheep shearer and Briggs & Stratton motor and put in such long days that I milked the cows by lantern light, both morning and evening in June. I would be on the job shearing sheep by 6 a.m., sometimes 25 or 30 miles from home, and I got sick then, too. Nervous stomach. [237-5]

The day I got sick was at Martin Huggett's. She was a super cook and I didn't feel just perfect at noon, but I ate plenty and then she talked me into a second piece of coconut cream pie about three inches thick. It was hot in the old log shed and Harold Skaar was helping me, catching sheep and tying wool. There was about two hours of shearing left, but I got sicker and sicker until I had to rest after every sheep. Harold felt so sorry for me, he wished he could finish for me, but he had never tried it. I finally finished about 4 p.m. [237-6]

Someone had told me that the best thing for stomach flu was beer, so going through town I stopped and got two bottles of beer and drank them when I got home. I had only "throwed up" twice in my life before that, and never since, but I threw up that night. I could feel the coconut leave my stomach and drag and scratch all the way up, about like flax straw would feel, and I would have it stuck all over in my mouth. There wasn't enough sour beer to wash it out. [237-7]

I recovered again and when I told Martin Huggett about it long after, he laughed and said, "I've eaten her cooking for 30 years and it's never done that to me." [237-8]

On day L.H. Langen from Fergus and his renter on his farm east of Wall Lake came to see me about shearing their sheep. A few days later, I was shearing away and felt someone's eyes on me. I looked up and there was Alice Anderson watching me and she started to laugh. (I had known her in 1935 when she was in the Fergus Drum and Bugle Corps.) She was married to Sherman Ferguson, the renter I was shearing for. I knew her before Sherman did, but I didn't know Sherman. [238-1]

We got along so good that I stayed over an extra day and helped "dip" the sheep, too. Then Sherman went along and helped catch sheep the rest of the shearing season. [238-2]

I had a new machine then and electricity was coming in and I was getting pretty good at shearing. Ten sheep an hour was average. Sherman had a lot of "go" to him and got restless farming at home alone, so he thought it was great to go along from place to place. He was the first one I had ever found that I would work good with. About like Pa and Sam Schram. Everybody else I had worked with was too slow or too dumb or too lazy, but nothing was too much for Sherman and me then. [238-3]

Sherman was an expert at getting out of a "pinch" and many times, for many years, when I got in a pinch I would stop and try to figure out what Sherman would do and it usually worked. He always said, "We'll figure out something!" or "We'll get out some way!" [238-4]

Sherman was more of a diplomat than I was. One day I went with him to one of his neighbors to get something and we were in the horse barn. The neighbor pointed to a pair of thin, rough horses that were brown and white spotted. We always called them Indian ponies. He said, "Do you know what kind of horses those are?" I simply said, "Scrubs!"

I could see Sherman look horrified and the neighbor looked like a deflated balloon. He gave me a withering look and said, "They are registered Pintos!" [238-5]

Once the cow herd got started, it increased fast, when the heifers started to come in. We bought a good cow now and then, and a new DeLaval separator and increased the cow stalls from 14 to 26 by taking out the milk room and two of the horse stalls. We had a perpetual remodeling project going in the barn. The cream checks got bigger and bigger. [236-1]

Pa kept the "Uncle Steve" bull up there because he had more Holstein cows at that time. We planned to keep him until his heifers produced, to see whether he passed on his ancestors' milking ability to his offspring, which would take about five years. We had another one for our mixed assortment of cows at our place. In the middle of the breeding season, we found out that he was sterile and had to find another one, fast. [236-2]

We heard that Art Synstelien's dad had a few yearling bulls from his cows for sale, so we got one of them, just for that year. He was just barely big enough. In the spring, we sold the temporary Synstelien bull to Tony Holtberg for hamburger. [236-3]

We already had another young calf we had our big hopes set on for the next year. Sherman Ferguson got hold of him for us. He had a fantastic story behind him. A couple of brothers from near Fergus were working in the barns at the State University at Crookston and one night the best pedigreed cow there had a bull calf. Those guys put that calf in their car and went down to their home farm and exchanged him for one of their dad's ordinary calves. Nobody knew the difference at Crookston. Everything looked normal there in the morning. [236-4]

In due time, we had heifers from all three bulls. I think we had five from the ordinary Synstelien bull and the increase over their mothers' production was unbelievable. By that time, we had a new DeLaval milker and the 40-pound (20 quarts) milker pail wouldn't hold all the milk from one milking on three of them. It had to be taken off and emptied before the cows were empty, and their [butterfat] "test" was good, too. One of them had to have the milker put on a third time -- up to 50 pounds of milk in one milking! [236-5]

All the heifers from "Uncle Steve's" bull and the blooded University bull turned out to be just very mediocre. Too late. That priceless, "one-in-a-million" bull had long since gone for hamburger and we had boarded those other two for years for nothing! [236-6]

The "milking" cows had increased to about 12 by then and I was milking by hand. I figured I could handle 15 by hand, if necessary, but before we got that many we got electricity and Pa started suggesting I get a milking machine, which surprised me, as he wasn't much for promoting anything expensive. [243-2]

We made a deal for a new DeLaval milker, which really speeded things up and really worked good. The power went off and on quite a bit, so we got a used Briggs & Stratton engine and mounted it so we could slip the milker pump belt off from the electric motor onto that when the power went off. We also got a new, low base and electric motor for the cream separator. [243-3]

We ran a pipe from the separator, which sat in an alley, through the cement barn wall to the cement slab on the north side of the barn into two big wooden troughs. When I was done milking, I could open a gate and let up to 60 feeder pigs in there to drink the skim milk. [243-4]

Up to then, Pa was milking seven or eight cows, too, but one day, after I got my system perfected, he said, "I guess I'll just chase my cows down here and forget 'em," and so he did. I still had enough extra stalls by then so I had room. [243-5]

At that time, I discovered what to do to keep from having the milk taste "grassy" in the spring and from the pollen on the weeds and acorns in the fall, or even from hot silage in the winter. The secret was to save milk for the house only in the morning, before the cows had been fed. In the pasture they would usually lie down the last part of the night and it's what they eat the last couple of hours before milking that makes the milk taste bad. [244-1]

Somewhere along there, our incomes were equalizing and we went half and half on everything, both income and expenses. We both kept track of what we took in and what we spent and settled up once a year. Pa's income, that way, was soon more than it had ever been before. Ma quit complaining because she finally got some money to bank. We didn't even tell her what we were buying anymore, like cows or new machinery, etc. [243-6]

We got a new silage cutter and a new International one-row tractor corn binder with a wagon-loading bundle carrier that elevated the corn bundles right up on the wagon being pulled alongside. (Before that, Emory Casberg brought a silo filler and tractor and filled our silos.) Hauling our big, green, bundles of corn and cane from down by the lake was a man killer. We weighed some of the bundles and they weighed up to 90 pounds. [243-7]

We drove the horses in the field in tandem hitches and, especially when it was hot, on the binder, the lead team would get doggy so I bought a cheap BB gun to wake them up. After once or twice in their butts, just shooting in the air had the same effect. [239-5]

I was wondering how hard it would shoot, so I gave the gun to Twila, standing in the house door, and I went out by the milk house and bent over and said, "Shoot." She had never shot a gun and was sort of hesitant, but as long as I asked for it, she shot and her aim was perfect. I guess I really jumped and hollered and she laughed. I shot another shot into the milk house door and it embedded half the depth of the BB. [239-6]

Oscar Olson knew of a fellow in Fergus who was being drafted and had to sell a really good 1938 Plymouth 2-door. The car was left in the hands of a Fergus car jockey to sell. He knew someone he could sell the 1935 to, so we could trade it in for about $425 to boot. The jockey was getting a percentage, so he promised Oscar a bottle of whiskey if he could promote the deal with us. Oscar never got the whiskey and lamented ever after about that. [241-5]

When the Rural Electric Association (R.E.A.) was first being promoted, a lot of farmers, including Pa, wouldn't sign up for it because they thought it would cost too much, and cost too much to wire the buildings (about $200 altogether). By the time it went through, times had picked up and we wired and got ready but we had to wait about a year after that before they turned on the "juice." [241-6]

When the big day did come, the lights came on and most of the fuses in the house blew. Just some crossed wires, though, and the electricians came back and corrected them in a couple of days. Then the scramble began to get motors for pumps, etc. and there was lots of waiting to get stuff like that as the war absorbed more and more "strategic materials." [241-7]

That summer, I sent $25 to the Reader's Digest for a lifetime subscription and it has been coming for 41 years now. We were beginning to make money by then and there wasn't much to buy, on account of the war, so I have lamented ever since that I didn't send for a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine, which was only $100 then. [240-6]

Sometime along there we had to sign up for the draft. Even Pa had to register, but I had so many cows, etc. by then that I was in no danger of getting drafted. [241-4]

We didn't have any kind of a cream cooler, so in the spring of 1941 we built the milk house with a three-can cement cooler in one corner, with a pipe coming in from the cistern with a float on it and another pipe going out of it to the barn so all the water for the livestock went through the cooler. A really good arrangement that worked the year around. That was also where we washed the separator and milker and all the other utensils. [241-8]

Marie, Twila's sister, wasn't used to a lot of Minnesota ways, including everybody having nicknames. There was a character called Nick Depopolis on the radio then and when Nick Johnson was coming out to lay up the blocks for the milk house I told Marie that Nick Depopolis was going to build the milk house. While Nick was working there, I discovered Marie was calling him Mr. Depopolis! [242-5]

Marie was a fanatic for using good English. Oscar and Eunice Olson were there for supper on night. Twila was trying to urge some more dessert onto Oscar, and he said, "No, I have 'et' so much of this, and I have 'et' so much of that..." Marie almost jumped straight up and said, "You what?" I don't think Oscar ever did know what was ailing her. [243-1]

Marie got a job in the City Restaurant, after she had been here a while, and worked there that winter. [1941-1942] She stayed at Capper and Esther Boe's the nights she worked.

I guess that was the winter we had a couple of hired men for a month or two and cut enough logs (basswood and elm) to saw a carload of lumber, which we sold on the "black market" to a company in Wisconsin that made ironing boards and wooden toys, etc. [244-4]

Nobody had even dreamed about chain-saws then. We did it all with axes and crosscut saws and skidded the logs out of the woods with horses. We also cut the tops up for wood. Prices hadn't gone up much then. We got about $45 a thousand for the lumber and thought we came out pretty good. [244-5]

To get the logs sawed, we were going to have a portable mill come in, but Milton Amundson offered to haul the logs over to Fossan's where Nels Fossan had a steam engine and saw set up in cahoots with George Melby. Milton offered to haul them so cheap it wouldn't pay to get the portable outfit, but after he had hauled a few loads, he struck for much more money. There was nothing to do, but pay. We hauled the lumber, after it was sawed, into town and loaded it into a railroad car. [245-1]

One of the fellows who helped cut the logs came from up by Erhard. He had directions to the home place but didn't know where we lived and Pa and Ma were gone the afternoon he came, so he sat in his car and played the radio until they came home in two or three hours. Fred Moerke and I were cutting logs up on the hill just northeast of the Indian mounds and we kept smelling an odd smell. Afterwards, we found out that the woodchopper was smoking corn-cake or some similar cheap tobacco in his pipe and the smoke was wafting through the air clear down to us, more than half a mile away! [245-2]

Those guys helped with the chores and then went up to the folks' to sleep. This was before we had electricity and when we all three went to do chores, we carried four lanterns: two Colemans and two kerosene ones. [245-3]

After we sold that lumber, we used the real cull stuff to build the extra bedroom on the house [1944], thinking it was only a temporary sleeping room, but it's still on the house in town now (where it was moved in 1948), 40 years later. [245-4]

There were some real odd weather spells in the winter during the forties. One year, it rained really hard in January, with thunder and lightning, just like in June. The snow and ice kept the rain from running around the buildings in the usual pattern and I had to put a trough under the west window in the silo room and lead a regular river across and out the east door or it would all run right into the barn. [244-2]

Another fall, I was trapping muskrats in their houses and push ups all up and down our side of Christina Lake and the ice all went out of the lake in December. The ice was OK in the morning but it warmed up so fast that when I tried to go back, the ice had turned to slush and wouldn't carry me. Then the wind came up and the lake opened up completely, taking all my traps along with the ice. [244-3]

The road on the county line between Skaar's and Albert Hoff's was only a dirt road and only two people lived on it. They were both "bootleggers' so nobody else took much interest in it. Orville Hoff pestered the county commissioners by being at every meeting, campaigning for a new road, until the two counties finally decided to build it. Raymond Skaar claimed that they only did it to get rid of Orville at their meetings. So Raymond promptly named it the "Bourbon Highway." [245-5]

I took two boards and painted them white with black edges and printed "Bourbon Highway, See America First" on one and "Bourbon Highway Scenic Drive" on the other and put one at each end of the road about midnight on a Saturday night. We went back and took a picture of one of them the next day (Sunday) with Marie and Muriel (Gronner) Engebretson standing behind it, planning to go back another day and take a picture of the other one. [245-6]

The next morning (Monday), the engineers from both counties met to view the road and accept the job from the contractor and they each took one of the signs back to their Grant and Otter Tail County offices with them. In a short time, the sheriff picked up both Orville Hoff and Frank Rowe and fined them for "bootlegging." [245-7]

One day Pa and I went to Elbow Lake for something and I went into the Variety Store while I was waiting for him. They had just put out a big, new shipment of Valentines and among them were a big bunch of what they called "penny sheets" with funny pictures and very sarcastic sayings on them. You could find one to fit just about everybody. I bought 15 of them and that Saturday night I took them along and we went to see Oscar and Eunice. [246-1]

Eunice and I put them all in envelopes and addressed them to all the appropriate people. Twila and Oscar went into the other room and refused to have anything to do with it.

We had some dandies, like for "crabby old maids" and "bragging hunters" and "drinking bums" and "boring people" and "gossipers," etc. They all fit just perfect.

The next Monday I went into the Post Office and bought 15 stamps and stamped them and dropped them into the letter slot. [246-2]

Sometime later, Ernest and Raymond Skaar were down to our place (they weren't married yet), and all of a sudden, Raymond said, "You weren't the dirty stinker that sent me that Valentine, were you?"

I must have looked awfully startled, but I got by with denying I sent it. He said he had put it right into an envelope and sent it to Carl Iverson. It had something to do with drinking and they were both "spreeing" quite a bit then.

Also, Raymond had gone in to see Claude Stubbe (the postmaster) and asked him who had mailed all those Valentines, but all Claude said was, "You know that big rock out there along the road? Go and ask it."

I think neither Eunice nor I would have dared show ourselves in town for a long time if the truth had leaked out. [246-3]

We were hauling so much hay and stuff from over by Ask Lake, and the road was so far around to get there, that we decided to build a road right through the woods, straight west of the barn to the field by Ask Lake. There weren't many "cats" and dozers and scrapers then. One day, some road machinery came into town and parked down by the depot. Pa saw them and went and asked the foreman if they would build a road for us. [242-1]

He came out and looked at it and sent two D-8 "cats," a dozer and scraper and a big blade out about 5 p.m. They did some filling in the driveway up at the home place and then worked all the rest of the night, taking out stumps and making a road through the woods to Ask Lake. They did a good job and charged us less than the going rate at that time, which was $10 an hour, or less. [242-2]

In the morning, the freight train left some flatcars and they loaded the machinery to ship it to North Dakota. Only then did it dawn on us that they were only the hired men and no doubt pocketed all the money; the owner, in North Dakota, thought the machinery had just been sitting in Ashby, waiting for the cars to arrive in the morning. [242-3]

Sherman was there and he and I stayed up all night bringing food to the three cat-skinners and telling them what to do. We both worked in the gravel pit all the next day without going to bed. The day we got the cultivator for the new "H" Farmall we didn't get it on until 10 p.m. and Sherman cultivated behind the schoolhouse all night. I stayed up, too, and again we worked the next day without going to bed. [242-4]

We bought a second-hand 26-inch threshing machine and an Oliver-Hart-Parr steel-wheeled tractor, second-hand, for $400 so we could thresh early from the shocks and not have to stack the bundles or wait for hired machines while it rained. We did most of the threshing by bucking the shocks up to the machine with the new tractor bucker. The steel-wheeled Oliver was bigger than the "H" Farmall and extra good for belt power in the separator and silo filler, also for hard plowing, like alfalfa sod. [247-1]

After we got the barn full of cows, we kept culling them and raising heifers and the good ones from the Synstelien bull were milking. I think we had one of the best producing herds around here and when anyone hesitated about drinking our raw milk, I bragged about how healthy our cows were and how clean our milk was, using a milking machine and everything. [247-2]

I had the milking system perfected, doing the chores alone with two milker units and a transfer pail. I could milk at the rate of 45 cows per hour, weighing the milk from each cow and running the separator at the same time. The skim milk ran directly to the hog troughs outside, on the north side. Half way through the milking, I would run out and flip the pipe over to the other hog trough. [247-3]

We had Lester Johnson build the 16'x30' silo with the idea of later adding on 10 or 15 more feet. The old wooden silo was only 12'x28' and we filled them both -- also the one at the home farm. We added an 18' addition on the west and part of the north side of the barn, for heifers and some brood sows. [248-2]

The old well with the force pump on it was a shaky, leaky contraption, so one of those years we had Ole Salvevold and Roy Berge (who later sold out to Iver Hanson) dig the new three-inch well up by the cistern. He always did a lot of monkeying around and it took days. He never bought enough of anything and made three trips to Fergus for five more feet of casing before he finally got down to water. [248-7]

The well machine had four steel wheels then and they used to move it from farm to farm with horses. After Iver got it, he took off the front wheels and made a semi- out of it and moved it behind a truck. It's still up on the Dalton Thresher's Ground. Iver used to run it there as an antique, the first years they threshed there. [249-1]

That three-inch well had wooden pump rods and stood idle from 1948 until Beaver got married. He put a motor on it and it pumped as well as ever. [249-2]

When I poured a cement top on anything and wanted a manhole in it, I would set an old dishpan with smooth, slanting sides in it and when the cement was partly dry I'd lift the pan out and the cement in the pan would be the cover. I did this on the top of the old well pit on the Knutson place. When the cement was dry to the right point, the pan wouldn't budge. This had never failed before, but nothing would loosen it. [307-3]

Several years later, Earl Anderson bent the frame on his truck (the one we bought later that had a 20-foot flatbed on it). He was wondering where to go to get it straightened and what it would cost, etc. I had a bright idea. [307-4]

We went out and parked it over the well pit cover and put a real heavy chain through the clevis that was in the cover with a bar through it and around the truck frame. Then, with a 20-ton jack, we jacked the frame higher than normal. When we let it down, it was perfectly straight. The dishpan didn't "give" a bit! I would sure like to know what is holding that dishpan in the hole! [307-5]

The creameries were starting to buy both milk and cream and Evansville got going on that a year before Ashby did. We wanted to get away from separating and it paid better, so we hauled milk to Evansville until Ashby got equipped for it. We were the biggest producers hauling to Evansville then, also to Ashby when we hauled it there. [248-3]

By then, we had bought a 1935 used Plymouth pickup for $500. It was one of the few Plymouths and a really good one. It had been turned in to Minnesota Motors with a frozen, broken block, but they had welded it and it didn't hurt it any. [248-4]

I had always hauled the milk to the creameries myself but the Ashby creamery got two milk trucks to pick up milk around the country. One of the vans is in the gravel pit now; we used it for a tool shed. [248-5]

"Nip" Larson drove one of the milk trucks for many years, but one year he had to take a long, unscheduled vacation. They had a whole bunch of boys (teenage and less) who went skating on the small lake near their place. One day "Nip" said, "I'll come down and show you kids how to skate."

He went along and put on the skates and took off, with one foot right into a crack in the ice, and broke his leg real bad. His big, husky kids loaded him on a sled and hauled him home and did more damage to his leg in so doing. After a long time, his leg grew back together and he has gone good ever since. [248-6]