Hard Times

Twila started talking about getting Lars Borgas to paint the inside of the house. I always hated those painting sessions, so I said, "If I come home and find Lars Borgas painting the house, I'll crawl right into bed!"

One day we were hauling gravel from "the mountain" and I started getting sick with some kind of flu. When I couldn't stand to stand and run the drag bucket levers any longer, we quit early and when I got home, there were Lars Borgas and Richard Weden, painting the house. [255-1]

I went right to bed and it took quite a while to convince Twila that I wasn't just pretending but I was really sick, too sick to get back up and feed the cows and milk them. [255-2]

I called Doc Randall and told him I had the flu and asked him if he could come out and give me a shot of some kind to get me going so I could get the chores done. He said, "I guess so," and he came out and gave me a shot of some kind and went back to town.

In a short time, I started to feel better and better and got up and went to the barn. By that time, I was just floating through the air. The big tubfuls of silage felt like nothing and the 20-quart milker pails felt like they were empty. I couldn't even feel my feet touch the floor -- doing chores was just a breeze. [255-3]

I went back to bed again, but at 3 a.m. I woke up, shaking so hard I had to hold onto the bed to keep from just jiggling right off it. I thought I was going to die. So back to the telephone for Twila and Doc Randall came out again.

He said, "The only thing I can do is give you another shot," but I said, "Oh, no, you aren't," and after a while I simmered down some. Doc said, "You are having these spells so often I think I'll make an appointment at the hospital to have you 'fluoroscoped'." [255-4]

I couldn't even think about doing the chores in the morning. We hadn't had the milking machine very long and I was the only one who had used it. It was all "Greek" to Pa, so he went to town to see if he could find someone to milk. [255-5]

Kenny LaValleur was working at the Equity; he had just quit farming and he had had a milking machine just like ours. Pa talked Carl Iverson into letting Kenny come and do the milking. Carl was pretty reluctant, because they had so much work, but Kenny did finally come and milk, along towards noon, and again that night. [255-6]

Doc Randall made an appointment at the hospital for the next evening to have me looked at. By that time, I was pretty well recovered, but they X-rayed and fluoroscoped me. I had to drink that warm chalk. Ish! They didn't find anything wrong, so Doc took me home, and I got OK again. [256-1]

One day we found a dead, premature, calf in the pasture from our very best cow, so we called the vet (Harold Larson) and it was "Bangs disease" [Brucellosis, also known as "contagious abortion" ... infected milk causes undulant fever in humans], which meant "tests." Between 15 and 20 cows reacted and had to be branded and shipped. In the second test, some months later, some more reacted and we had to ship a total of 22 cows and heifers. [247-4]

We had the old crank telephones then and were on a party line that went several miles out into Eagle Lake township. Whenever we used the phone, we had quite a few "rubbernecks." A short time after I called and made arrangements to get so many cows and heifers hauled to South St. Paul, someone far out on the line called and asked if we had heifers to sell. I just said, "No." They must have been really puzzled about what was going on. I hadn't said they were sick. [247-5]

The government had a "Bangs disease" eradication program going and reimbursed us some, but most of our best cows were gone. There was only a fence between our cows and Tollef's, and I tried to get Tollef to test, too, on account of re-infection. I offered to pay all the testing expenses, but nothing doing, he wouldn't do it. Probably thought it might hurt the cows. We never heard anything about Tollef's cows having any trouble, so they must have been OK. [247-6]

We had a lot of heifers left and started vaccinating all the young enough ones from then on. We also bought a good cow now and then and soon had a real good herd going. [248-1]

The last part of September 1945, someone pounded on our door one morning and said, "Your barn is on fire." I looked out and it was burning from top to bottom on the west and slanted up to the top of the roof on the east end. My first impulse was to cover up my head and go back to sleep. The ones who woke us up were going duck hunting and saw it from clear down by the creek between Lake Christina and Pelican Lake. [256-6]

One of the Edlund boys was over on the other side of Lake Christina at 4 o'clock that morning to get the place he wanted in the rushes to shoot ducks. He said he saw it start from there. [257-1]

The telephone wire had been fastened to the barn and was already burned off, so one of them went to town to wake up the Fire Department. The sparks were already landing on the house roof. I hurried up to the home place for a ladder, tooting the horn to wake the folks up. One of the hunters got up on the house roof with a garden hose and kept the roof wet. [257-2]

The Volunteer Fire Department came, but there wasn't much they could do. The barn was full of hay, clear to the roof, and when the roof burned off, whole bunches of burning hay went sailing across the house with a straight north wind. The block silo was full, which saved it from being damaged much, but the heavily creosoted wood silo was empty; when the roof burned off that the rest of it burned with a big, blue flame, right up the middle. [257-3]

The cows had all been dry; the first one had just had a calf in the pasture and went down with milk fever. Dr. Harold Larson had given her a milk fever treatment. She got up and we had walked her home and put her and her calf in the bull pen in the west end of the barn about 8 p.m. The cow and calf were in the burning end so we couldn't get them out. [257-4]

We had a lot of damp, weedy, straw that year and had cleaned up chaff after a light rain around all the straw piles sometime before and packed that stuff clear to the roof of the drive alley, upstairs in the barn. That's the end the fire started in and we figured that stuff had combusted and started the fire. It's possible that opening the upstairs door to get an armful of straw for the cow and calf in the evening had given the hot straw enough air to make it start burning. [257-5]

There were burned shingles clear down south of the gravel pit. Everything burned clean and so hot that the steel stalls bent over double. [257-6]

We had built the addition on the barn at a cost of about $1,800 and I had mentioned to Pa that maybe we ought to raise the insurance on the barn, but he had said, "Oh, they hardly ever burn," so we hadn't done it. All we got was $1,900 -- for both the barn and silo. [257-7]

Building material was still rationed, or at least almost non-existent on the market yet, and the cows were all due to calve very soon. Some of the hunters from the camp came up that morning and the millionaire one said they would help us any way they could to get material, but it looked hopeless to do anything in such a short time. We advertised a sale right away. [257-8]

The cows had been bringing in $800 to $900 a month when milking, but we were just getting enthusiastic about the gravel business and knew we were getting the Cletrac "cat" and loader in the spring. We had just gotten the new Farmhand for the "H" Farmall, too. The farming went faster and we had more time to haul gravel, which was more fun and interesting than cows. We were getting tired of cows and manure and we didn't realize that they had been making us more money than we would see again for many years. If we had known what we found out too late, we might have been slower to decide to sell. [258-1]

We had to take the cows up to the home place for the auction and sell them "loose" in the yard between the sheep sheds. A couple of heifers jumped the board fence as soon as the sale started and all the buyers saw was their tails, but they all brought a pretty good price.

When things quieted down, we caught the two heifers a couple of days later and tied them to the outside steps of the silo. There was nothing to get their feet in and hurt themselves with there and the buyer from Fergus came back with a truck and managed to load them. We had enough money to pay cash ($6,400) for the Cletrac when it finally got put together. [258-2]

All we had left was sheep and there was nothing to get up for until breakfast was ready. I thought I had it made then, but my conscience bothered me for a long time because I wasn't out doing chores in the morning for the first time in my life. [258-3]

After the barn burned, we could devote almost full time to hauling gravel and crushing rock, etc. Earl and Robert and I took on the job of unloading the coal and lumber cars that came into Ashby, using the gravel trucks. When we were in the middle of a township job, sometimes we would have to lay off for a day to unload cars that came in. [267-3]

One day we had two cars of coal and a load of lumber to unload. I guess Kenny Evavold and "Poofy" Koefod helped us that day. The lumber unloading was slow and had to be handled board by board and hauled up and put up in the proper stalls in the lumber yard. [267-4]

The coal had to be delivered around the country and mostly shoveled into coal bins in the basements through the windows. We made V-shaped end-gates for a couple of the trucks and could dump a lot of it into a chute we put in the windows. We were pretty "slam-bang-y" and ruined quite a few flower beds with the coal that missed the chute. [267-5]

The schoolhouse had a coal bin with a flat cement roof, just outside the south side of the old 1916 building. The system, ever since it was built 30 years before, was to shovel the stoker coal in through two windows in the wall on the south side. To get it near full, someone had to be inside and rake it back, away from the windows. [267-6]

We had the new Farmhand loader and snow bucket on the "H" Farmall then. We got a bright idea, after the first carload, and pounded two eight-inch holes halfway in, through the cement top. Then we got two garbage can covers to put over the holes, with a bolt going down through an iron bar to hold them in place. By dumping the coal into the snow bucket, and then dumping that over the two holes, we could empty the truck in just a few minutes and get the bin nearly full without any leveling. [268-1]

We unloaded the two cars of coal and one load of lumber in one day, which was considered quite a "feat" then, compared to the several days it would have taken our predecessors to do it. [268-2]

Lester Johnson had just built an almost all cement and masonry house where Borens live now. Radiant hot water heat pipes in the cement floor, etc. and we were all set to build one like it. Harold Halvorson, an architect cousin of the Skaar brothers, was making blueprints and Pa had seen a house mover from Breckenridge moving a house in Fergus and had talked to him about moving the old Knutson house (where we lived) to town to fix up and rent out. [268-5]

Early in the morning, on the 30th of April, 1948, the telephone rang and Ma said, "Pa's gone," and the bottom more or less dropped out of everything. Ma had been sleeping in another room with a plaster cast from her foot to her hip after falling on the ice and breaking her hip a few weeks earlier. Pa had been up to help her to the bathroom at 2 or 3 a.m. and then went back to bed and never moved again. [269-1]

Doc Randall explained it as, "The arteries supplying the heart had closed off."

I know his circulation had been poor the last years; his face would turn white real quick if we were out hauling hay or anything when it was cold, but he hadn't been sick at all. [I had asked him to take me to the barn to see the newborn lambs the night before, but he said he was too "all in." --JL][269-2]

Pa had been doing the last day's spring work the day before, dragging the field up on Lee's, next to Sam's line fence, with the "H" Farmall. Raymond Skaar was working in the field across the fence. He said Pa had turned too close to the fence and caught the drag. Instead of carrying it away a section at a time, he picked up the whole drag and dragged it back. Raymond thought he had a delayed heart attack. [269-3]

It was awfully sudden and so final, to be left with many things he had always taken care of. He always paid certain bills like taxes, gas, etc. and I took care of feed and repairs and things like that. That finished the plans for the new house. [269-4]

Marj and Sandy, 2 years old, came on the train for the funeral. Her old Plymouth (the one Dad and Marj drove to California in 1936 and Dad and Twila drove back to Minnesota in 1937) was still in real good shape. Ma gave it to Marj and she drove it back to California again and had no trouble at all. [269-5]

Earl Anderson knew a couple of old maids working in the commission office in South St. Paul who wanted to sell their car -- a 1946 Dodge, 4-door, almost like new, for $1,150. I rode along down with him and bought it. [270-3]

Pa had been saying for some time that Twila should have the big house to raise the kids in and now Ma said if we would move the Knutson house to town like we had planned, she would move in there and we could have the big house. We went right ahead and got the house mover that Pa had talked to, to move it in as soon as the basement was ready, but we had a few things to learn first. [269-6]

I dug the basement right away and got the blocks laid and all back-filled so nice. Cement block basements were quite a new thing yet, and we didn't know you couldn't back-fill until there was a house to hold the walls. We got a heavy rain (cloudburst) and the whole south 36-foot wall tipped in. Some mess of sticky clay. Then it had to be all dismantled and cleaned up and re-laid and braced. [269-7]

After the house was moved, we lived in the garage all summer, until September, and fought flies, while we fixed up the house in town. Gust Hoff and Alvin Olson and Twila (mostly Gust and Twila) were the "fixers" so it took a while. [270-1]

Jerri had started school the year before and had her 8th birthday party in Ma's new basement the next spring. [270-2]

As soon as we moved up to the home place we started an almost perpetual remodeling project.

After we traded houses with Ma and moved in at the home place, we put an electric pump on the cistern water. Ma had lived there for about 26 years and the cistern had never gone empty. With the electric pump and Twila's new washing machine, the cistern went empty in three weeks. That meant a new water softener and the end of the rain water. [271-1]

Our first pressure tank, with the hand pump, was a 200- or 300-gallon tank that Pa got a deal on when he built the house. When we got a new, smaller, one with an electric pump, we had to get a scrap iron buyer to come and cut it up with a gas torch and take it out in pieces. [297-4]

We had a new Westinghouse electric stove and Westinghouse automatic washer that the bearings went out of in no time. It would have cost so much to repair it that we traded it in to Hintgen-Karst Electric in Fergus on a new Easy spin-dry washer. We blamed the automatic's failure on all the sand in our clothes from the gravel pit. [271-2]

After we got the door pounded out into the old cistern and the floor filled in to basement level and the separate drain, we got another used spin-dry and a used wringer washer. Also, a new Maytag dryer. Twila ran all of these at once but complained steadily about the gloomy washroom down there. [271-3]

The first thing we did above ground was tear out the old kitchen cupboards and build in the new birch ones. Kent Skaar and Lester Johnson did most of the work, in the winters. They set up their power saw right in the middle of the kitchen and cut all the cabinet parts right there. [279-5]

The east bedroom and west part of the kitchen were both open porches then; the bathtub was in the west end of the kitchen, so there wasn't much space in the kitchen. When the new cabinets went in, the bathtub was moved upstairs. [279-6]

When Kathy was five years old [1950], we tore off the east porch and built the bedroom on. [279-7]

When they poured the footings for the basement under the new room, Twila told Jalmer to pour an extra chunk of cement on the south side, in case we ever wanted to put in a fireplace. I started to holler that we weren't monkeying with no fireplace, but she won the argument and the fireplace went in, right with the cement blocks. [280-6]

Kent and Lester laid the blocks and when I came home at noon, they had that big, wide, brick chimney started. Then I hollered some more about wasting all those bricks just for looks. I had only pictured a single chimney, like for a furnace. [280-7]

I have had to admit Twila was smarter than me that time. That fireplace has really been used, every year since. The one time I backtracked on that was years later when Kathy had a party. I was told to go to bed and then they played a guitar down there, right under us. There was only a single floor and no carpet in the bedroom then. Twila had all she could do to keep me quiet! [280-8]

The winter after the new room was finished, we found out that the furnace heat wouldn't circulate out there so we had to put ductwork on the furnace. Up until then, we only had a floor register that you could stand on, like we had had in town.[280-4]

When Beaver started learning to walk, he couldn't let go of anything without falling down on the waxed maple floor, so we had to carpet the living room and hall and stairs. The carpet took an awful beating some years later, when Beaver and Richard used it almost continuously as a wrestling mat. [280-5]

The next project was tearing the west porch off the house and digging out the basement for an addition to the kitchen. When Jalmer Benson came to build it, Twila told him I was always talking about needing more wives. She said she had decided to keep remodeling and spending money so I would decide I could only afford one wife. [I guess that explains why there wasn't any money available when it was time for me to go to college! --JL] [297-1]

That addition meant pounding the third doorway through that thick cement basement wall for another door. I had already chiseled one into the east addition and one into the old rainwater cistern on the south side for a laundry room. [297-2]

While the hole was open, we lowered the big 20-cubic-foot freezer down and slid it into the main basement with the Farmhand. When it comes out, it will have to be cut up into pieces. [It was still there in 2007, but Beaver said his more recent remodeling has made it possible to move it out of the house in one piece through the "tunnel."] [297-3]

The old cistern that became a laundry room is probably the best tornado shelter in the country, but no one has ever thought to go down there when a storm went over, so far. [297-5]

For years, there had been a search for the secret of how to bond fresh cement to an old cement wall or floor. One year when there was some cement work going on, the kids got some cement and sand and mixed it in a one-pound coffee can. Then they dumped it upside down on the top of the cistern on the south side of the house. The part that was next to the old cement stuck like it was all poured at one time and it's still there. [in 1982] [307-1]

I tried it several times, over the years, and my new cement lifted off as easy as a carpet. Now, if the kids could have only patented their formula! [307-2]

We had a bunch of ducks one year [1953] and Twila was taking a box of 39 duck eggs over to Virgil and Lorraine Olson's to get them hatched after taking the kids to school. They had quit graveling highway #78, because they were going to rebuild it that year, and it had three or four inches of slimy mud on it.

Over between Tollef's and Teisbergs' (on the old highway), the car slid around and into the ditch. It rolled onto its top and over onto the driver's side, real slow. Twila and the three kids didn't get hurt at all, and someone came along and gave them all a ride home. Kathy was really a sight, with yellow duck egg yolk dripping off her clothes and out of her hair. [276-2]

We took the car (the 1946 Dodge) to Fergus Dodge and had it all fixed up again, but I couldn't bear the thought of all that egg down inside the doors and soaked into the upholstery in the top. We traded it in right there for the 1952 gray Dodge Ram Charger, which was a really good car with only 20,000 miles on it. WLF. Nelson bought the '46 and drove it for years afterward, to peddle Rawleigh Products with, and thought it was a real swell car. [276-3]

[My recollection is that this happened in 1953, when I was in 6th grade. The '46 Dodge was traded for a black 1950 Dodge that turned out to be a real lemon, constantly back and forth to the shop; it was soon traded for the 1952 gray Dodge. --JL]

Bobby was trapping gophers and used the little B Chalmers tractor to drive around the fields. Jerri would ride along on the draw-bar and carry traps, etc. Dennis Evavold worked for me that summer, mostly hauling gravel. [282-6]

Bobby had a 1-row cultivator on the little tractor and was cultivating the corn on the Indian Mounds with it. One noon we were wondering whether there was a family of little skunks being raised in the culvert under the road, just south of the driveway. I was complimenting Bobby about cultivating the corn so Dennis and I could haul gravel and I put my hand on his head and said, "You are worth your weight in gold, Bobby." [282-7]

Dennis and I went to the gravel pit and Bobby stopped to fill his water jug. While we were loading our trucks, Louise Ellingson stopped and said, "Your boy had an accident up by your driveway." [282-8]

When we heard that we stopped everything and took our half-loaded truck and went up there as fast as we could. There were several men there already. Leonard Ellingson had been spraying on Tollef's and he was the first one I saw. I said, "How bad is it?" and he said, "He's gone." [283-1]

The first ones there were two men in a gas truck from Evansville, delivering gas to a crew building Highway #78, right by Sam Lee's yard. The tractor was upside down by an oak tree, just a few feet south of the culvert and about 100 feet south of the driveway. The back of the seat was across Bobby's chest and shoulder and they couldn't lift it off. It wouldn't have made any difference. He was too badly crushed. [283-2]

They hurried up to the road crew and all the Cat drivers jumped off their Cats and onto a truck and went back and lifted the tractor off him. They were still there when we got there. I had to go in and tell Twila and the kids what had happened and someone else called the coroner. It was June 22, 1954. [283-3]

That was the end of life worth living for a long time. I loaded gravel with so many tears in my eyes I couldn't see the bucket all the rest of the summer. [283-4]

There was quite a bit of memorial money given. We gave the school enough to buy a speaker's stand with his name on a small plate on the front. We gave the rest of the money to the helping hand club at The Farmer magazine. We had sent the memorial money for Pa there, too. [283-5]

It was eight years before Beaver got to be Bobby's age and that seemed like it would be forever, but in looking back, it actually seemed to happen overnight. There was so much to do that had to be done that we had to keep on going. [283-6]