Back On The Home Farm

In 1951, the spring after Beaver was born, the government was giving away trees, free. They were only little seedlings, but we planted them along the west edge of Ashby and on the side-hill on the west side of the cranberry marsh. By that, you can tell how old they are. [281-1]

They really grew on those two places, except for a short space on the edge of Ashby. Evidently, something is wrong with the soil, for a small section in there, as we replanted it twice, with bigger pines, but they always died the first year. [281-5]

We also planted several rows along the east side of the driveway on the Knutson place, but that rich former barnyard produced so many weeds that they didn't have a chance. [281-6]

We also had cut all the trees southwest of the house down there, so we planted seedlings between the stumps. The stumps sprouted suckers and overshadowed them so fast they didn't have a chance there, either. [281-7]

One year, somewhere in there, I bought a bunch of small, white, feeder pigs. Among them was a bigger red boar. I got the idea of letting them run and see what would happen. They roamed across the field up here on the farm and when it got hot they mostly lay in the springs north of the point. They had quite a few little pigs in June and came up, across the field to the barnyard for feed, which was in a self-feeder. They mostly followed well defined paths through the grain field and did surprisingly little damage. [281-2]

There were only 10 or 15 of them and it worked so well that we did that for several years, until I got the bright idea of fencing the pasture down at the Knutson place for them and putting about 30 of them down there. That worked better and we knew where we had them better. When we raised the number of sows to 50, they averaged fewer pigs per sow [281-3]

We always had roundup day on Labor Day; we sent all the sows to South St. Paul and started with new ones every spring. They usually averaged between six and seven pigs per sow, and one year more than seven. [281-4]

The hunting club that bought Gust Melby's hills came up to see us about hunting on our hills, too, and we made a deal to pay the taxes on their land and let them hunt ducks -- only -- on our hills, in exchange for the use of the land. We wanted it fenced and so did they. They wanted me to find out the cost and put it up and they would pay me. I measured the length the fence would be and gave them a close estimate of the cost of material and so much a rod for labor. [289-4]

We put it up the next June; the whole family helped with all of it. [He offered us a proposition: he could hire it done or we could do it as a family project and use the savings to finance a vacation trip to Yellowstone National Park. We jumped at the chance for a trip and worked willingly to get the job done. --JL] [289-5]

I paid Glen Dahlen $48 for helping with the corner posts and rolling out the heavy wire, etc. Beaver ran to get a wire stretcher and caught his toe on an old, nearly buried, wire. He went down the road bank head first and broke his arm. We all felt so sorry for him, because we planned to take a trip to Yellowstone about the 4th of July. We thought he would have to go with his arm in a sling, but the doctor let him take the cast off just a day or so before we went. The money the family made on that fencing job was enough to pay for the whole trip. [289-6]

Somewhere in there, we mounted a new manure spreader on the 1946 Dodge truck and got quite a bit of attention. No one around here had seen one like that before. [295-8]

Two or three people turned Allis Chalmers tractors around and mounted Farmhand loaders on them. I thought Farmalls were better and bought the 1940 "H" Farmall for $400 to do the same thing. [296-1]

Harold Olson had a blacksmith shop on the corner by the elevator and he was going to do the work. He soon found out there were some big problems turning the "H" that the Chalmers didn't have. When he moved the gear over to make it run backward, there was no place to put the shift lever. It took quite a bit of inventing to solve that problem, but he worked it out, by taking off the pulley assembly and extending the gear shift slides back there. [296-2]

The loader was almost as much of a problem. It was too flexible to use when he took the braces off, so it would come down over the tractor; it had to be braced entirely different. [296-3]

When it was done, Kathy painted the loader green and red and it really attracted attention. The tractor is 42 years old [in 1982] and still running every day in the winter to feed the livestock with. It's a one-of-a-kind, though. I have never seen another backward "H." [296-4]

About the spring of 1959, we decided to build a new barn. In 1954 we had had an awful windstorm the first part of June and we watched through the kitchen window as the old barn waved back and forth, one and a half feet or more at the top, and would have gone down if it hadn't been so flexible. Quite a few better barns went down in that storm. [296-5]

After the wind died down, we pulled it back "plumb" with a chain hoist and put a cable from the roof on the north side to the foundation on the south side. That held it straight, but the old boards it was built of had seen their day. It looked like a sieve from the inside. It had stood 32 years since it was torn down in town and put together out here. [296-6]

We had to make the new barn much higher than we had planned, to get rafters to span 28 feet without center posts. The Wadena sawmill sawed the rafter boards and Jalmer Benson's crew nailed them together here. We had sawed enough logs ahead of time to have enough boards for the roof. We added on to both ends, making it 84 feet long, instead of 50. It no longer had the cozy feeling the low-ceilinged one had when we were kids; then it was full of horses and cows and cats and a dog and a pile of fresh straw. [296-7]

That same year, or the next, we used the old barn rafters for the third time and built the cattle shed on the north side of the yard. We lowered the roof pitch and that made the rafters long enough for a 30'x50' shed, instead of the old 28'x50' barn. This entailed dismantling and clearing up the old pole straw shed and getting the Jacobson brothers to cut the hill down where the shed is. [296-8]

During this building process, I kept going to the bank for more money until one day Vernon Hauge said they had reached the limit they were allowed to lend on a chattel mortgage. I would have to give them a mortgage on the farm. Before they could get that, the title had to be brought up to date. He suggested having the attorney, William Goetzinger, do that. In the meantime, he would lend me money, temporarily, out of his personal funds. [297-6]

The title on the Knutson place was such a mess, with so many small wood lots incorporated into it, that it took the lawyer several weeks to get all the titles brought up to date. In the meantime, I sold the year's crop of feeder cattle and other livestock and paid off so much that I didn't need the mortgage anymore. [297-7]

We kept increasing the sheep until we had up to 300 ewes and had them lambing in the new barn in February and March. We sheared them in January and kept them indoors, but we had to let them out to feed them. With a gas stove and up to 30 heat lamps going, we still had a lot of trouble with pneumonia and stress-related ailments. [298-1]

We had a plank up in the rafters the full length of the barn, so we could walk on that and look down and see where a ewe would be lambing. Then we could go down and get them into a small pen. The plank was about 18 feet up and Twila and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary in the barn, taking turns walking the plank all night. [298-2]

The barn was too high and cold when it got down to 20 degrees below zero and it was too crowded. After a few years, we went back to lambing in the woods in May. We had thought we could get the lambs on the early spring high market, but the spread between the June and January markets didn't stay that great. [298-3]

One day I found a bumper sticker on the end-gate of my pickup that said, "Donald Johnson for Governor." Two or three days later, someone delivered a hundred business cards that said, "Donald Johnson for Governor" and said they had been left at the Borg Drug store for me. I never did find out where the sticker and the cards came from, but even though I handed out quite a few of the cards, I didn't get elected. [298-4]

We decided we were spending too much for milk with five kids now and I bought a cow at the sale barn in Fergus. It wasn't long until we had three, by buying good cows that only milked on three quarters, cheap. [298-5]

Also, from then on, we had a pasteurizer and pasteurized all our drinking milk. [248-1]

At first, I milked them by hand in the sheep shed, but soon we rebuilt the machine shed that had an open front to the west. We closed the open side and insulated it all. It was sure nice to have a warm barn to get into on cold days, after having only outside chores for a few years [298-6]

The south end was for chickens, the middle for three cows with three used, steel stalls and an auction sale Surge milker and a two-can, used, electric cooler. The north half of the shed was for raising calves and I kept it full in the winter with our own calves and the rest from the sale barn. [298-7]

That whole setup paid better per hours of work than anything I ever did, before or since, but it was on a small scale. That's when we had high quality, good-tasting milk and eggs. Besides the three cows in that small space, I sometimes had two sows in the corners with little pigs and Bob White quail and Chukar partridges in cages on the walls. [The first deer, Bambi, lived in there for a while, too. --JL] [298-8]

A year or so after we started milking the three cows, I picked up three Brown Swiss heifers that were six or eight months old in the sale barn. As soon as they were old enough, they replaced the Holstein three-titters and we had a whole herd of three Brown Swiss cows. [299-1]

The first time the inseminator (Merv Nelson) came out to service the Brown Swiss heifers, he came up to the house and said he had just started to use a new, imported, breed of bulls called Charolais. I had never heard of Charolais before, but I said to go ahead. That's all we used for quite a while and that was the start of our multi-colored beef herd. [299-2]

In April of 1960, the water that ran to the barn from the small cistern that has the pump in it now got so rotten the calves wouldn't drink it. When we cleaned it, I dumped a can of B.K. powder (50 per cent chlorine) in it and swept it up the walls. [I think he said he sloshed Hi-lex bleach in there, too. --JL] It started to get awful hot in there before I crawled out, but I didn't think I had hurt myself any. [305-1]

A few days later, I started to cough and thought I had caught a cold. Raymond Skaar had been here just a few days before and was all worked up about the folly of taking pills. So I thought I would follow his advice and just see it through. Glen Dahlen was helping me put up a fence over beyond the Indian Mounds and he said he could tell where I was every minute by my steady coughing. [305-2]

When I finally gave in and went to Dr. Roy Nelson, he listened to me breathe and almost cried. He said, "Ohhhh, your lungs are solid. I hope we've got something that will have an effect on them." [305-3]

I got an antibiotic shot and went back for more every day. He tried everything, but nothing had any effect on me. I kept pushing myself to get the work done, but I was so short-winded and coughed all the time. Finally, he put me in the hospital about the 4th of July for tests. He called in Dr. Nicholson, a special respiratory doctor, and between them they tried to find out what caused it. [305-4]

They said, "You have been into something, like silo gas or carbon monoxide, or something." [305-5]

I had already forgotten about the cistern cleaning and didn't mention it. They couldn't pinpoint anything or do any good, either. I had every test, like "Mantoux" test for tuberculosis, etc. Dr. Lu tried to put a bronchoscope down, but my reflexes were so hard I stopped breathing whenever it touched my throat. He tried for two days, with smaller and smaller bronchoscopes, but they wouldn't go and he finally just walked off in disgust. [305-6]

Sometime during the first summer, Twila remembered and said, "You know, you cleaned that cistern." I went back and told the doctors that and they all looked relieved. They said, "That's what did it." [306-1]

I kept on working, by taking slow, measured steps and stopping to get my wind every few feet. I kept coughing up stuff, but more stuff replaced it right away. They had me back in the hospital over New Year's again, but found out nothing. [305-7]

I would sit and wait all day for Beaver to come home from school. He was awfully young, but could feed the livestock with the Farmhand and do all the other chores. I did milk the three cows but had to take measured steps and stop to catch my breath often. [305-8]

This went on for three years and nothing changed much, although I made innumerable trips to the doctor to try out different antibiotics, etc. The third spring, I coughed most of the yellow stuff out and got along better during the summer. [305-9]

After I cleared up, the third summer, it all came back in the fall and I was as bad as ever. [306-2]

The year Mitzi was 5, we trapped muskrats down on the slough in the fall. Mitzi and Twila carried the traps and hatchet and stakes and did most of the work of chopping into the houses while I walked along slowly and supervised. [306-3]

One day, when we were down on the slough, our dog started chasing a raccoon around and around, through the cattails. I heard them coming toward me and got ready with a club or something I had with me and, sure enough, he came right past me. I killed him with one blow. We tried roasting him, but he didn't measure up to my fond memories of roast 'coon. Just not as hungry, I guess. [306-4]

After the fifth winter, I was going back to the hospital for forced oxygen treatments and to Dr. Nelson's office for ultrasonic and deep heat treatments. In June, Susan (who worked in Dr. Nelson's office) said, "Come back again Friday, unless the sun comes out." [306-5]

The sun did come out and I sat with my back to the sun. I coughed up some really old, vile, stuff then and my lungs got to where they were normal for my age, I figured. I said to Dr. Nelson, "I thought lungs never recovered when they were damaged. I wonder why mine did." He said, "Don't wonder, just be thankful." [306-6]

Beaver was indispensable those years and did all the chores and things he was able to do. When we loaded gravel up in "the mountain," I would push it down on the conveyor and then back up on the hill and sit in the sun while we waited for trucks. Beaver started and stopped the conveyor and took care of everything on that end. Maynard Fisher and Morris Evavold came and did all the things like cleaning the cow barn and calf pens, etc. in the winter. [306-7]

When Beaver was 10 years old, he took over running the conveyor and all odd jobs when we were hauling gravel. The first job I remember this was from Orris Torgrimson's pit in 1960. When we were alone in the summer after that, he would load the gravel trucks and meet me up at the head of the driveway. We would exchange trucks and I would take the loads and deliver them. This worked for several years, until he was old enough for a license. [307-6]

Several years later, he had a very narrow escape. He was hauling gravel alone one day and stopped to look at the fish or ducks by the creek where it comes out of Christina Lake. He backed down in along the creek and stopped the motor on the V8 Dodge gravel truck. The truck vapor-locked and wouldn't start. [307-7]

I came by in the 3/4-ton Dodge pickup and was going to give him a pull. There was quite a hump of dirt between the truck and the pickup, which I planned to stop on. The brakes were good on the pickup when I stopped to get out the chain. [307-8]

Beaver took the end of the chain and stood in front of the truck, ready to hook it to the bumper as soon as I backed the few feet up onto the hump. When I got there, the brakes were non-existent, from a line that had broken right there. He had no warning and I had one of the most sinking feelings of my life when the brake pedal went clear to the floor. [308-1]

Too late to get out, he grabbed the end-gate of the pickup and took the whole weight of it in his middle when it rolled off the hump, into the truck. [308-2]

We had to drive up to the farm with no brakes. He couldn't tell if he was hurt internally or not, so we called the ambulance and it took him to the hospital. Luckily, no real damage was done, but there could have been if he hadn't been so young and strong. [308-3]

When Beaver got near the end of high school, we bought an old 1952 Chevrolet car from Bob Boren for him to drive. We listened to a long line of talk about what good shape it was in and it sounded like it was almost new. [312-5]

The first night he had it, Beaver went to town for some school "doings." When he left, just for a joke, I said, "You know, a good share of the kids that get their first car smash them up the first night." [312-6]

Sure enough, somebody brought him home about 11 or 12 o'clock. He had started to take one of the girls home, the long way. Where the snowplow, with its long wing, had turned a sharp corner on a township road, it had bladed the snow level with the road quite a way out across the ditch. Beaver turned the corner too short and the car settled down on about four feet of snow over the ditch. [312-7]

We got Maynard Fisher to pull it back onto the road in the morning and it hadn't hurt the car any, but I sure laughed and said, "I told you so!" [312-8]

That car had everything wrong with it that a car can have, in spite of the good sales talk, and we soon traded it on a 1958 Chevrolet that looked and ran almost like new. [312-9]