The Gravel Pit

We bought a Horn hydraulic loader for the "H" Farmall and then we thought we really had it made. We thought we could do anything now. [250-1]

Then we got a stub-nosed 1941 Ford gravel truck with a three-yard box that the John Dieseth Company had brought back from working on the Alaska Highway and that was our first gravel outfit. [250-2]

Those trucks had been rolled over many times and looked terrible. Dieseth's had taken off one of those half cabs when it was new to build something else on the truck. We bought that cab and took it over to Sherman's and replaced the beat up one on our truck with that new one. The right front fender was missing, but that didn't show too much on that stub nosed model. [250-3

One of the first jobs I got with that truck was moving a house to the present Art Synstelien farm from a farm about 1-1/2 miles west of the Grue Church. Fred Johnson owned the farm northwest of Ashby then and the house had burned. He only wanted a cheap house as he was renting out the farm.

It was a high, narrow house and a sort of one-horse house mover was moving it. He only had one truck and that was hooked directly to the "dollies" the house rolled on. He couldn't pull it alone and my open air truck was ideal to hook ahead of his as I could see all around and go according to his hand signals. [250-4]

All went well until we got to the farm it was going to be on and the house mover decided we couldn't go in on the driveway for some reason. So we turned off a quarter mile sooner, into the pasture, and then would have to go through a low area not pastured. We took down the pasture fence and it was on some high ridges caused by plowing the field out for several years. We almost got stuck on those sod ridges and Larson motioned for me to pour it on through the non-pastured area where the ground was soft and the weeds were four feet high.

There were a lot of high gopher mounds in the weeds and the house swayed like a tree in the wind. He kept motioning not to slow up and I didn't. We made it across and up to the foundation waiting for it. I thought every minute I was going to get to see a tipped over house, but I didn't. [250-5]

About that time, someone was going to move the Erdahl Elevator to Evansville and that did tip over before they had gone a hundred feet. They took that one apart and sold the lumber right there. [250-6]

The Ford truck had a windshield but no back or top or doors. Among other things, it was the thing we used to pull the wagons in the field, loading corn bundles alongside of the new corn binder. It was good for that, because you could see in every direction with no cab on it. [251-1]

After the first summer we got a new Mercury motor put in it and it was a real good truck for a while. [251-3]

Those trucks had really taken a beating in Alaska, but it was the only thing you could buy then, during World War II. What little came on the market was all rationed and there was a long waiting list. [251-2]

Up until then, most basements had been dug with horse and slip (or slush) scrapers. I dug the basement for Kenny Thompson's house with the new "Horndraulic" loader and thought I had quite an "excavator." [251-3]

Then I took the job of digging into the bank behind the creamery for the creamery truck garage for $75 and Sherman drove the truck and hauled the dirt and rubble down to Carl Peterson's, where the lake was eating up the driveway. The creamery had recently hooked up to the new village water main and they gave us the pump jacks from their two wells. Sherman took one and I took the other and used it on our new three-inch well. It's still working there. [251-4]

When Sherman moved to a different farm, the cover for his jack got into his scrap iron pile and sold with that. When he got into the well business some years later, he had a chance to sell the jack for a good price but the buyer insisted on a cover. He came down and practically demanded the cover off our jack and said we didn't need it anyway because we kept it covered. He told Twila he would give her a new, heavy aluminum coffee pot, worth several dollars, for it. And that's why the jack doesn't have a cover. [251-5]

Out near Breckenridge, I got hold of an old, crooked, beat up 18"x44' gravel conveyor, which we set up in the pit. We powered it with a big pulley on the back wheel of the Model A Ford that had a Model T truck rear end. I loaded gravel onto it with the "Horndraulic" loader and kept three trucks going, hauling on township roads south of Melby. [252-2]

We had the Ford truck and Milton Amundson had a three-yard Chevrolet truck and Earl Anderson a three-yard 1936 Dodge truck. The poor Farmall really took a beating then, but it's still going, 36 years later. [252-3]

I think we got 50 cents a yard for the gravel, delivered, on the township roads, of which I got 20 cents for the gravel and the loading. The trucks got 30 cents a yard, just for the hauling. [252-4]

Adolph Balgaard had been a gravel hauler but had quit and he sold us his drag bucket outfit, mounted on an old rubber-tired truck frame. The bottom of the gravel pit was about 10 feet above the road then, so we set the conveyor near the road on the south corner of the pit and ran the bucket north and south and dug out a deep trench parallel to the road. Then we pushed the edge into the trench from the road and got a start in on the road level. [252-5]

The first year we had the Farmall, Kent Skaar came over in the fall and helped me build our first tractor-powered snow removal equipment: an angle dozer eight or nine feet wide and 4-1/2 feet high, all made of home-sawed lumber with tin facing, and an old road grader blade on the bottom. We had a lot of snow that winter and it really worked good. [252-6]

Later, when we got the "Horndraulic" loader, we hooked it up to the hydraulic cylinders to lift it and that made it much better and easier to handle. We used it for about five years, until we got the Farmhand loader and snow bucket. [252-7]

The war was using more and more strategic material and there was almost nothing new to buy in the line of machinery or trucks. There was a ceiling price on everything, even used things. If a farmer had a sale and had a tractor on the bill, you had to sign a slip and there would be a drawing to see who got to buy it at the ceiling price. [252-8]

New tires became almost nonexistent and the "vulcanizing" business snowballed. The speed limit was only 35 miles per hour, so the repaired tires stood up pretty well. [253-1]

Once in a while, a new tractor would come through to a dealer, quite often on steel wheels again, or with such small tires as to be hardly usable. I saw an "H" Farmall come on steel wheels and one with only 8x38 tires. [253-2]

Everybody signed up for new tractors, trucks and farm machinery and they were more or less rationed according to need. A lot of people who got them at ceiling prices only used them a short time and then sold them on the black market for twice to four times what they paid. [253-3]

We found a pretty good used Chevrolet ton-and-a-half truck with a small city delivery van on it up by Erhard and also found an old 3-1/2-yard dump box to put on it. We were getting to be quite a gravel outfit, with two trucks and Earl Anderson with two and Milton Amundson's one truck. Robert "Andy" Anderson was just old enough to get a restricted chauffeur's license. [253-4]

Pa and I bought all the loading equipment and the others just hauled by the yard so we never got involved in partnerships. We powered the drag-line with the Farmall to start with, even moved it to some other pits to haul township gravel. We used it a lot up in "the mountain." [253-5]

Finding gravel near the roads we wanted to gravel was hard and frustrating. Every farmer with a sandy hill on the farm was anxious to sell gravel and was sure he had good gravel. We walked miles over fields and pastures looking at sandy hills. [253-6]

St. Olaf township wanted all their roads graveled, especially on the north half. A farmer came down from near Stalker Lake and said there was real good gravel in his pasture along a not-much-used township road. We went up there one evening and dug a test hole about four feet deep and the gravel was perfect. The town board looked at it and said it was perfect. We got permission to block off the road and it was a perfect set-up. [253-7]

We pulled the old conveyor up there with the Farmall and the drag-line machinery behind the old Model A car-truck. We set the conveyor right across the township road and built a temporary plank hopper over the loading end. The screen would send the rocks down the bank on the other side and the trucks could load right on the road. Then we had to cut his new five-strand fence and dig in a deadman up on the hill to hold the pulley the drag cable ran on. We took the loader part way off the Farmall to use the belt to power the drag bucket machine. [253-8]

We got it all set up the first day and hauled a few loads of gravel for the Green Gables Resort. We went up there with four or five trucks the next morning. Everything worked perfect, but before the first truck was full, the bucket hit pure, white, sugar sand without a sign of a pebble in it. When we dug a hole in the bottom of our ditch and more holes along the roadbank, etc., we found that the whole hill was sugar sand with just a cap of gravel over it. [254-1]

We had to dismantle the whole thing and move over into Smedsrud's barnyard and set it up all over again in a very unhandy place -- and the gravel was just barely good enough to get by. The next time we graveled those roads, the township specified from the Stavaas pit, 15 miles away. We got about 75 cents a yard and hauled only three- to four-yard loads. [254-2]

We found a 1929 Chevrolet-six car engine that had been taken out to power a corn dryer with and bought it to power the drag-line. It ran without much trouble, clear up until the early 1970's, when we quit using the drag bucket. After we got the "cat" to load another conveyor in other pits, we left it set up the year around in the home pit to load cement gravel with. It was always ready to go and the motor was never taken apart for repairs. It still ran perfect the last day we used it. It finally got into Bruce Melby's hands and is probably still sitting down in his junk yard. [254-3]

Eventually, we looked like we were making so much money that Virgil Olson got a couple of gravel trucks and a drag bucket and conveyor and started competing with us. He didn't have our good cement gravel pit; in fact, he had no pit of his own, and he didn't keep on very long. Then we bought his drag bucket and had them both set up in the home pits, one for cement gravel and one for fill and road gravel. By then, we had bought another, better, 18" conveyor in Little Falls and still later a third, 24" conveyor over there. [254-4]

We sold the Chevrolet truck and bought a 1940 Dodge, two-ton truck with a new 4.5 yard box from Fergus Dodge. The next year, the Ford started breaking pistons, so after the third one broke, we bought the 1946, 1-1/2-ton Dodge and got a 4-yard used box, and later the manure spreader went on it. [259-1]

From then on, we bought almost every used Dodge truck that turned up. They wouldn't trade in the cabless Ford, but we took the box off and put it on the trailer with the big gas tank on it and sold the hoist. Cliff Bergland sold the Ford almost right away to someone in northern Minnesota on monthly payments. We wondered whether we would get the truck back, or the money, but we got the money. [259-2]

Somewhere in there, we went over to Browerville and bought the 1943 gas "M" Farmall and thought we really had a big, powerful, tractor -- and it was, way back then... Raymond Skaar had said, "You haven't really farmed until you get an 'M.'" [259-3]

We switched the Farmhand back and forth from the "H" to the "M" and when we were in a hurry to go graveling, etc. in the spring, sometimes we had both Farmalls and the little Chalmers and the steel-wheeled Oliver all going at once. [259-4]

Help was only 80 cents an hour then and over the years we had quite a variety of help [not always at only 80 cents an hour]. There was always someone available. Some we got for the summer, after graduating from high school, until they went on to something else. I'll try to make a list of the ones who worked for us. Some of them were only for a few days and some for all summer. This was mostly after we started hauling gravel and they mostly drove trucks. Some of them drove the tractors and some only came when I called them: [259-5]

Gerald Helgeson, Gayle Langlie, Glen Dahlen, Milton Smedsrud, Gene Hanson, Kenneth Evavold, Darrel "Poofy" Koefod, Robert Anderson, Wayne Bugbee, Ralph Samuelson, Stubby Samuelson, Robert Hoff, Dennis Anderson, Dennis Evavold, Wallace Langlie, Robert Newton, William Newton, Gene Pesch, Milo Taylor (fired for coming up to two hours late), Belvin Benson, Walter Anderson, Harris Christenson, Alrick Bergstrom, Larry Pesch, Jimmie Evavold, Maynard Fisher, Dennis Helle, Dennis Bowman, Larry Odens, Edgar Anderson, Loren Bystol, Iver Hanson, Arvid Smedsrud, LeWayne Herness, Morris Evavold, Robert Torgrimson, John Torgrimson, Harland Thompson, Doug Balgaard, Bobby Grover. [259-6]

Oscar Olson was working for the A.B. Kilde Company in Fergus and in the winter of 1946 they got three Cletrac crawler tractors, two gas and one diesel, for farm work. We signed up for the allotted B.D. diesel model for farm work and, with Oscar on the "inner circle," we got the promise of it. They also knew an industrial dealer who had been allotted a hydraulic loader and dozer blade to fit it; they got that and put it on the Cletrac for us. [256-5]

In the spring of 1946, Lewis Hatling was remodeling the present laundry building into a mortuary and pouring a cement floor in the whole building. When they were ready to mix cement, we were expecting Kilde's to deliver the Cletrac any minute and the loaders were off the Farmalls, so three of us started shoveling by hand into two trucks and we couldn't quite keep up with the mixing crew. [260-1]

The second day, while we were home eating dinner, Oscar Olson drove in with the cat on Kilde's truck. One of us looked out the window and then everybody looked and started to holler, "Here comes the "Cat!" Kathy was 1-1/2 and couldn't see out and she said, "Has it got a tail?"

From that noon on, very few people ever had to wait for cement gravel again! [260-2]

We bought a big, old, semi-trailer and gave away the van body off it and Kilde's shortened it and made a tag-along cat trailer to haul the Cletrac behind the "new," used, 1940 Dodge truck. [260-3]

The Cletrac had two immense batteries and started directly on diesel, which entailed a long period of starting and smoking before it would fire on cold, fall days. Starting fluid hadn't been invented yet and we heard about someone in Dakota who poured ether into a tractor and blew the head off it. There was a large plug that screwed out of the side of the manifold (not mentioned in the Operator's Book). We got a bottle of ether in the drug store and filled a small squirt can. Someone would take out that plug and squirt a little in while I stepped on the starter and that worked. [260-4]

Then, Roger Carlson said that in Alaska, in the service, they would light a torch and hold it in the air cleaner pipe to start the cats. So we tried that in the hole and it worked. When we were graveling, we would leave the cat on a hill and in the morning one of the help would run alongside with a rag dipped in gas on a stick and lit, and the diesel would start just like in summer. Then we learned to wire the burning rag to the manifold, just below the hole, and eliminated the extra man. [260-5]

The bucket wouldn't stay up all night, so I would let it down on a round rock, which would roll when I let the clutch in to coast to start in the morning. The hydraulic would start to lift the bucket as son as the "Cat" started to roll. [260-6]

At that time, they posted Highways #78 and #52 for three tons in the spring. There was a sewer ditch dug between the Equity and the fuel station through the tarred street in the fall that had settled two feet or more. The Village insisted it had to be filled while the roads were posted. I was hauling in partial loads past the motel. [260-7]

Gieseke and "Firstick" were the State Highway Department "time killers" who looked after the roads then. Gieseke had it in for me because I chased him and some of his drinking buddies out of the slough on Lee's when they were hunting ducks. One of the guys hunting with Gieseke was a chronic outlaw, game violator, that the State hired to guard their fish traps at night, down between Pelican and Christina Lakes. I guess they figured if they hired him they wouldn't have to keep chasing him. [261-1]

Gieseke and "Firstick" were idling along #52, killing time that day, in to the Ashby Motel for coffee, etc. Then they disappeared. Sure enough I met a Highway Patrolman in between the Motel and Carl Peterson's and he swung around and stopped me. [261-2]

"Looks like you've got a pretty heavy load there," he said, and I smelled a rat right away. He couldn't see up in the box, but I did have a yard or more too much. A legal load wasn't more than a yard and a half. He wrote me a ticket to appear in the Ashby Village Hall before Justice Andrew Olson, the Village Justice of the Peace. [261-3]

I said, "What should I do with this load? I suppose I can dump it right here and Gieseke can clean it up. He hasn't done anything else today." [261-4]

Boy, did I get a bawling out for smarting off to an officer! He knew then that I knew Gieseke had sent him. Later, Lena Benson told me she saw Gieseke run over and tell the patrolman something just as he was leaving the Standard Café for Fergus and he turned around. [261-5]

The mayor and the village council members all made it a point to talk to the Justice for me before my appearance. I was expecting to pay a $30 or $40 fine, but Judge Olson's sentence was the minimum in the law book: $3.50 and costs (total about $5). The cop almost fell off his chair and on the way out he said, "You sure got out of that easy!" [261-6]

A couple of sheep died in the pasture and one day I picked up what was left, just the heads and bones and wool and dumped them over the bank at the head of the driveway, along with some brush and other rubbish and Gieseke's dog dragged the sheep heads home. The first I knew about it, I got a threatening letter from the County Attorney, quoting some certain volume and chapter about properly disposing of dead animals! [261-7]

One year we got a Wall Drug sign and put it up along the road west of town, toward the dump ground, but it was a little too close to the road and Gieseke pulled it up and took it to the dump. [261-8]

Another time, it was only a day or two before the posting was coming off the roads and I dug a basement for Mrs. Tobalt, third house south of the Legion Hall. We then loaded up two, four-yard loads of cement gravel for the footings about 5:30. We left them at the head of the driveway and walked into the house for supper. When we went into town about 6:30, Gieseke heard us go. Before we could dump them, he was there, but we were already on Mrs. Tobalt's lot. He said he could hold us there until he called a patrolman. He admitted it couldn't hurt the road; it was hard and dry. It was the principle of the thing. [262-1]

Then I really exploded! I told him if he called the patrolman I would let out a beller that would be heard clear to Morris, his head office, and they would hear how he put in, and killed, his time, and the slipshod job of maintaining the roads. Then he said, "Well, we'll just forget the whole thing." [262-2]

Eventually, his seniority got him a district job, headquartering in Wheaton, but our feud wasn't over. He came over here on inspection trips. Once I had pushed one bucket of snow into the ditch across from the stop sign [by Highway #78]. I had to go back and remove it "because it might start a drift." [262-3]

The last time I heard from him was when his successor, Don Jacobson, came and told me that Gieseke had been over and measured the right of way and my electric fence up on Lee's was four or five feet into the right of way. (They didn't have any right of way posts then.) He was supposed to tell me to move it back, or he would cut it up into pieces. [262-4]

Then I did call his head office in Morris and asked them who had promoted Gieseke and they said the one who promoted him had, in turn, been promoted himself and was at some other office. So I said, "Gieseke should have been fired, not promoted," and told them about threatening to cut my fence and that it was not hurting anything where it was and only made a swatch or two less for them to mow. [262-5]

Two engineers came clear up from Morris and agreed that it wasn't hurting anything but asked if I would kindly move it back, to save trouble. So I moved it back, and heard no more from Gieseke. (I'm getting ahead of my story here; these events were over a period of several years. [262-6]

We thought we could branch out and get more graveling and more trucks, etc. but Sam Olson from Elbow Lake had ways and means of getting all of the county graveling and most of the township graveling in Grant County by being in with the county engineer at that time. The town boards and county commissioners got their advice from the engineer (Gordon Eidal) and they would accept Sam's bid as the most satisfactory bid, even if he wasn't the low one. [265-1]

Another trick was to include a blade for spreading the gravel. Earl and I bid on a township job and didn't include the blade, but Sam included a blade at so much an hour, and we were disqualified. When Sam was done graveling, the county blade spread his gravel. [265-2]

We bid on the Delaware township graveling one year and got the job. Nobody could figure out why Sam hadn't bid. Later, we found out he got his dates mixed up and went over there to bid the day after the bid opening. The town board thought that was a good joke on him, too. [265-3]

"Poofy" Koefod and Kenny Evavold and Robert "Andy" Anderson were just barely old enough to drive then and we drove the Plymouth pickup back and forth over there. Pa and Earl and I rode in the seat and the three kids had blankets and slept back in the box going back and forth, 30-35 miles each way. We left home at 6 a.m. and hauled gravel full 10-hour days, six days a week and the boys chased girls nights some, so they were awfully tired. [265-4]

There was a girl plowing along the gravel-hauling road over there and she would wave every time they went by. It seemed it always happened that she was quite a ways from the road on her half-mile field when they went by. They imagined she was a real beauty and it was all they talked about. They were all three talking about making a date with her and going back some night to take her to the fair in Herman. They even wanted to take blankets and sleep one night in the gravel pit, four or five miles this side of Herman, to save driving so far. [265-5]

Then, one day the tune changed. She was having some plow trouble and was right by the road and, according to the boys, she had a face like a tomato and was as homely as a mud fence. The end of the plow girl dream! [265-6]

One day "Poofy" went under the conveyor with his box partly up and hooked the screen and bent the conveyor almost a quarter turn, about eight feet from the end. That looked like the end, for now, out there on the prairie, with not much tool equipment. [266-1]

We had chains and blocks and bars and sledge hammers and a new 5-ton hydraulic jack that would lift while lying on its side. We ran the dozer blade of the Cletrac loader up against the bent place and, with a chain on each end and the jack and blocks against the blade, we could jack the angle irons somewhat straight again. We had it going again in a couple of hours. [266-2]

We did a lot of looking for graveling jobs for townships, etc. and Twila and the kids got taken for a lot of rides in the car, but they always wound up sitting in gravel pits while I looked for places to get gravel. There were a lot of budding, new gravel haulers then and lots of competitors. They sure got tired of waiting and looking at gravel pits, but not any more tired than I got when Earl Anderson and I would go to look or to bid. Earl always ran into some old baseball buddy, or someone he had played against, and I could wait for hours while they reminisced about baseball. [266-3]

Hauling cement gravel around the country was the most interesting to me because I hauled a lot of that myself and got to see more people and places and how everyone did things. One day I took a load to Alfred Thompson's and the whitest lamb I ever saw, outside of pictures in the kids' books, came running to see me. I mentioned how white it was and the little granddaughter spoke up and said, "I give it baths in bubble bath!" [267-1]

As Earl used to say, "Bennie (Pa) got a kick out of the gravel hauling," and he would go along and be the "handy man." Starting and stopping the conveyor and rolling the big rocks off the conveyor, etc. He was handy for knowing primitive methods of repairing things. One time, closer to home, the babbitt bearing on the main conveyor pulley shaft wore out. We beat it home and cut the top out of an old leather army boot and fit the leather into the bearing; that worked until we finished the township. [267-2]

We got the job of graveling St. Olaf township from the Stavaas pit (south of Dalton) one year. Jimmy Ellingson was going to drive one of the trucks. We were loading planks and blocks and hooking up the conveyor and cat trailer, etc. in the home pit to move to the Stavaas pit. When he came to work the first morning, he was wearing shorts and white ankle socks and tennis shoes and leather gloves. He had to be real careful not to scratch his stomach when he picked up planks, etc. [268-3]

When he got his first load of gravel loaded, he got instructions to go from the Stavaas pit to the northeast corner of St. Olaf township, 15 miles, one way. Elmer Salvevold was there, waiting to check the gravel loads, but Jimmy turned north a mile too quick and couldn't find Elmer. He turned around somewhere up by Stalker Lake and came back to the pit again, still hauling the travel. He was on township roads all the time and if he had dumped it where he turned around, or anywhere, we would have gotten paid for it. After a new set of instructions, and 45 miles, he finally found out where the other trucks were dumping. I suppose I got about $2.50 for the 4-yard load. [268-4]