MIDDLE YEARS ON THE FARM
To the east we had an old fashioned windmill, a quarter mile down the hill which pumped water up the hill to the wooden supply tank by the house. The wooden supply tank was made of wood from Port Orford, Oregon. It sat on a base of bricks about five feet high in a circle of about ten feet with an opening big enough to crawl in. This was so we could crawl in and put a lighted kerosene lantern under the tank to keep the pipe from the windmill from freezing as well as the water in the tank. We would put hog fence around the outside of the brick base leaving a space of twelve to eighteen inches to fill with horse manure up about six feet. It was a terrific insulator and we used to put it all the way around the base of the house as well. We had a bathtub but it had no running water or drain. We also had what was known as a summer kitchen which was like a little house where we cooked in the summer. It was a short distance from the back door. This kept the house from getting too hot.
This was the time when I really learned how to help dad. We had a lot of Holstein cows. One of the things I hated worst of all was butchering pigs and steers in the fall. We'd take about a 250 pound hog and flip it on its back. I'd have to sit on it holding its front legs while dad stuck it in the throat with a knife and then we'd jump because the pig would get up and the blood would fly all over until it fell over dead. In the meantime we had water boiling in a 55 gallon drum and put lye in it. We'd lift the pig into the drum with a block and tackle to douse him up and down. The lye would enabled us to scrape the pig hair off. After getting the hair scraped off, we would hang the pig up with the block and tackle. Then we'd cut it open and remove the internal parts. After that we sawed it into two halves from top to bottom, and let it hand cool.
One of the things I loved to do was go out with a sauce dish and a spoon and pick out the brains cause I loved them fried. Mom would take the head and make head cheese out of it. From the rest of the fat she'd make soap. We made our own brown soap. We lived high on the hog, so to speak.
Each winter my dad would always send up to Duluth, Minnesota to get a big box of frozen white fish from Lake Superior. It would come to us packed in ice and contained a bucketful of anchovies also. So we had fish aside from our pork. The other thing is that we would kill a beef once in a while. I remember the last time we were going to kill a beef. Dad had decided he was going to hit this big steer in the head with a sledge hammer. This steer was a pretty good size. I think it was about a four hundred pounder. Maybe a two year old or a three year old.
I remember my dad wound up with that sledge hammer and he put all he could into it. He hit the steer right in the head and it just blinked its eyes and shook its head as though it was just disturbed a little bit. Dad said "Boy I'll try this once more but I don't think it is going to do it." I said "it looks terrible to me."
He did it once more but it was no good so he took out a 22 and shot it. We had to hurry up and get busy because we had to stab or slit its throat to get rid of the blood. Then it had to be skinned. In the fall we usually killed one pig and one steer each year after the first frost.
We preserved the meat in natures freezer and canned some of it. We didn't have a smokehouse or an icehouse. We didn't have any ice. We had five horses and we raised a lot of spotted Poland China pigs. We milked about eighteen Holstein cows.
I usually had a heifer that dad would give me. I belonged to the 4-H club and the last one was "Flossy May." I got a blue ribbon at the Audubon County Fair with her.
We decided we were going to buy our own bull for breeding purposes so we bought a bull calf. I named him Billy and kept him out in the front yard the first summer as he was a real nice little pet. He was starting to grow. We kept him in the yard for quite a while. He got bigger and bigger and Dad said "Why don't you let him run with the cows?" I used to like to walk behind the cows when they had a bowel movement and I'd stick my bare feet in that hot manure. It felt good.
The bull started feeling his oats a little bit and he'd look at me and wouldn't back up. Then I'd make noises like he did to tease him. One time I did that and he didn't move at all. He kind of rolled his eyes and blew in the dust a little bit. I told Dad about it and he said "You'd better take a black snake with you." I had a black snake whip with a big leather cracker on it.
About a year went by and he got bigger than ever. We were using him for breeding purposes. One night when I went after the cows, I cracked him in the nose and he didn't back up an inch. Well, dad says you had better take the pitchfork with you from now on. Well, I would jab him with that and he'd take off. It finally reached the point where I would jab that pitchfork in his back 12" and he wouldn't move. He'd paw the dirt and roll his eyes. Dad said we had better do something about that. We built a concrete pen in the north barn with a steel fence around it. Of course he had a ring in his nose and we'd put him in the pen and leave him there in the pen except when we wanted to breed a heifer or cow. We kept a staff in his nose. He finally got too big for breeding purposes. He weighed twenty two hundred and fifty pounds when we finally sold him. He was as long as a house.
We weighed him on a truck scale. He had gotten real mean. We had one mare about to foal. One day he ripped her belly open and the intestines rolled out in the yard. He got so he'd walk right through the side of a barn. Nothing could stop him. He had respect for one animal and that was Jenny, the donkey. She just kept her back end toward him and anytime he got too close she would rat-a-tat-tat on his old skull with her hind hoofs and he didn't like that. She was the only one he had respect for. Well that is the story of Billy the bull.
Every summer we had one or two cows killed by lightning. They would be down in the field and we would just bury them. You don't eat an animal that has been hit by lightning because the carcass is usually burned to a crisp.
I started doing a little trapping. Dad told me I could just as well make a little money that way. We had two creeks on our farm. One on one side and one on the other. Dad taught me how to trap. I had a bunch of traps set in the west creek including about twelve muskrat traps. There was a tile coming out of the neighbors field with a little water trickling out of it. I set a trap in the water behind a little piece of sod. Every morning before it was light I'd go down there before we started milking. I'd bring one or two muskrats home every day. Dad would skin them for me and put them on stretcher boards. He always told me that any kind of an animal like a mink, was very hard to kill. He remembered when he was a kid, he thought he had a dead one and he threw it behind the barn. He was going to skin it when he came home from school, but when he got home it was gone. I remembered that. Every morning I'd go down an look at the traps. And the one in the water was always undisturbed.
I took the kerosene lantern because I didn't have a flashlight. I looked for the trap in the water and it wasn't there! I looked a little further and there were two little black eyes with a body about two feet long looking at me. I didn't have a gun. All I had was a club. I remembered what dad said, so all the way up through the corn field to the cow barn I would whack its head every so often. I had to go to school after I had the milking done. I came back that night and dad said "what in the world did you do to that mink?" I said "why?" He said it was almost impossible to skin it. He said I had crushed the skull. Well it measured 36" on the stretcher. I had twelve muskrats, one weasel, two civet cats, one skunk and a mink. I got $36 out of that when I turned it in.
I bought my first gun, a Stevens "favorite", which was a single shot lever action 22 caliber. I also bought a fine leather hunting jacket.
Another thing we had in the fields were gophers. Gophers are like moles only they are bigger and worse. And the county paid us ten cents if we cut their paws off and brought them into the bank. So everyone was trapping gophers. And they were usually very bad up in the Alfalfa fields. I always put the paws in a can of Prince Albert till it was full and then took them to the bank. I heard that if you put salt in there it would preserve them better. I'll never do that again. It became full of maggots caused by the moisture and the salt.
One of the things back there that you have a lot of respect for is the elements. You know that God is up in Heaven and you use good common sense when in contact with the cold, the heat, lightening, thunder, hail, tornadoes, wind, cloud burst, duststorms, etc.
When I was nine, Dad used to put me out in the field with four horses or with a tractor. One day he put me out in a plowed field with a four section harrow behind four horses and said "I'm going to Atlantic." which is about twelve miles away and he'd be back about three o'clock and spell me off. So I'm out there, a little guy walking back and forth about a half a mile each way and I am doing that for about three hours. The horses were dragging me along. The three hours were long gone. I was just sure something had happened to my dad. Oh man, I never worried so much in my life. I shouldn't have worried, I guess, as he finally came out there. He was only late about an hour and a half but it seemed longer.
I also started driving when I was about nine. My mothers brother, Uncle Neal, had a garage similar to Gary Freeman's He worked on tractors and cars. I'd go to Atlantic for parts in this great big 1921 buick, nine-passenger touring car he had that made a lot of noise and had a lot of power and had no top on it. It was a monster and my being only nine made it impossible to see ahead without an extra high cushion in the drivers seat. You didn't need a drivers license, no insurance or anything in those days. It had a Boyce Moto-Meter radiator cap with a thermometer in it.
Another day dad sent me out disking cornstalks with the tractor. The frost had gone out of the ground but it was windy and cold. I had a big sheepskin coat on and was standing up on the tractor. The exhaust pipe was just a few feet from my face. I could hear the exhaust real good and should have had some ear plugs. All of a sudden it jerked with a big leap and took off while I almost fell off. The engine seemed to be wide open and I couldn't do anything about it. So I just released the clutch, jumped off and ran about 100 feet. It sounded like an airplane. It throbbed, roared, and then stopped. I sat down in the dirt, afraid to go near it.
I was about a mile from the house and dad was looking all over for an airplane. Finally he decided it might be me. So he came out and I wasn't very brave. I just sat down in the dirt looking at the thing. I finally went over and took hold of the crank and I could spin it with my little finger. We took the engine apart. It had a flat fan belt which ran a governor. The fan belt had broken which made the throttle run wide open. It had run so fast that it had gummed up all the valves and all the valves were open. We put a new belt on it after cleaning the valves, springs, and cylinder head. Then he and Uncle Neal reassembled it.
Some of the cousins would come up for a visit and we would go down to the creek with a steep clay bank. Erosion was pretty bad. We would take off all our clothes and slide down the clay bank on our bare bottoms. We would get all dirty and get in trouble with our moms.
Dad gave me a team of horses called Dan and Lady. They were probably as close to being human beings as I have ever seen. I never pulled on the reins or anything. When I plowed corn, I'd just sit in the seat and watched the cultivator. The horses would go to the end of the row and turn around and away we'd go back the other way. Dan was always an eager beaver while Lady always held back. She was always a little slower. Of course Dan died a lot sooner because he was a hard worker and she wasn't. All of our animals had names. And all of them had personalities. The cows were like human beings. I never saw so many personalities in my life. Some were nervous, some were mean. Some were nice and the horses were the same way. We had one horse called "Joe" that had a fistula in its neck. The vet had cut the fistula out. Ever after that when you came next to the horse and got next to its neck, it would jump. The horse was always very nervous.
We usually had a bad storm about the Fourth of July and I remember one storm in particular when we had to go down in the cave. After it was over, we went out to see what the damage was. The hog house was no longer there. We looked down to our neighbors and his garage was gone. He came up to see what damage was done at our place and said "you know, I came home from town last night and parked the car in the garage but this morning the garage was over east of the timber, one hundred yards away and intact! I can't see a board in it that is broken." He said "I guess the good Lord wanted my garage over there. I'll just leave it there and park my car there." A lot of these storms were bad. Back then we didn't have any satellite picture to look at on the TV. We got our first radio in 1928 with a head set. It was a Crosley two tuber. We were listening one night and heard a guy telling a lot of jokes coming from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1932. Dad listened a while and then he said "that guy sounds like he is pretty sharp." It was Bob Hope. First time I ever heard of him. Our favorite stations were: WLS in Chicago, WHO in Des Moines, WOW in Omaha, WLW in Cincinnati, Del Rio, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana.
When you had fed all the livestock in the wintertime and the milking was done you carried the milk into the house where the cream separator was with a long hand cranking handle. It wasn't electric and we'd take turns cranking this thing up and pouring the milk through the big tank up at the top.
When we were through separating we had to clean all the separator parts which was something else because you had all the separate discs in the bowl and everything had to be clean. Then we had to carry the skim milk out to feed the hogs. Sometimes we had to wait for a bad storm to blow over. By the time we got that done we had to come in and eat. When we got through eating we might sit in by the stove in the living room. We might look at the paper if we had one, otherwise that was about it. We'd go to bed, because we had to get up so early in the morning. My Grandpa Anderson lived down at Casey. He finally decided that I could have his donkey, Jenny the burro. I really got excited. Dad and I sawed the back end off of the '23 Model T and elongated the truck bed (platform) so we could haul the donkey back the thirty five miles from Casey. We loaded the burro and put an army saddle on her to tie her so she couldn't move and headed home. Was I ever excited! It was just like getting a Shetland pony only better. Anyway we were coming u0p the last hill with the temperature pretty high. One of the floor boards was missing and that old manifold was red hot with sparks flying around our feet. Next morning I was up at four currying Jenny and putting a saddle on her. A donkey is smart. She'd blow her belly up like a balloon. You'd tighten both girths and then you'd try to get on and put your foot in the stirrup and the saddle slid down under her belly. I soon learned that she was pretty tricky. I'd kick her in the stomach and I'd pull that cinch tight quickly.
We had one kid in the school who was kind of a bully: Leon Christofferson. He knew that the donkey was shy of things. So he'd ride his Shetland pony up when we were both riding and put a cloth or sheet in front of me and the donkey would just stop. She didn't go fast and she didn't run good. One morning I really got her going. She was going along up over a little rise and ran into a flock of sparrows that went right in front of her nose. She just slid to an immediate stop. I never even touched her long ears and landed ahead in the dust. I had a lot of escapades with her. So did Lyle. One day he rode out in the woods and saw a big hollow place on a tree trunk. He could not see in it without standing up on her back. So he stood up on her back and looked in. It was a beehive. The bees came out and started stinging him all over. He cried "Come on Jenny! Giddap!" She just stood there and they stung him all over. He was in bed for a week. But then I got a cart and a harness. That was kind of a kick too because we got in a lot of trouble with her catching the cart in fences and on the corners of buildings.
We had a wooden silo we decided to pull down because we weren't using it any more. That was quite exciting. All the neighbors helped with that. We also had a threshing machine that was stored at our place. It was a cooperative. It belonged to a group of farmers who all had use of it. In the summer we had to get that out and go threshing grain for everybody.
I should tell you about my mom. She had a big operation which I didn't understand. Up until this time she was probably the prettiest thing I had ever seen but she had to have the operation. When she came back she was sick for a year and we had to have a hired girl because she was unable to do all the things that were necessary. We had quite a few hired girls, one at a time that is. Some were really something. We had one called Arlene Freese. She was about as useless as anything I have every seen. She had a boyfriend that came over everynight. They'd come back everynight about midnight and sit in the car till it was getting light. Then he would leave and she would come in and go to bed. A short while later Mom would call her and she'd reach over and let her shoes drop which sounded like she was getting up. She'd do this maybe two or three times before she would get up.
There were some robbers stealing the neighbors chickens.
So one night all of a sudden Dad had to get out of bed. He saw a flashlight coming around the front of the house.
My mother says "what is the matter?"
She got worried. He didn't
answer. Then he heard the chickens squawking as though disturbed in
the chicken house. Then he heard a
shotgun go off. He thought "oh
oh", the robbers are stealing chickens.
And then he didn't hear anymore so he went back to bed. Well, we had a big watermelon patch up in the alfalfa field.
We went up there the next day and here was a big pile of watermelons, a
couple knives and gunny sacks. Some
of the watermelons had been plugged and sampled.
We went over to our neighbor, Erik Christiansen.
He said "you know, something has been taking my chickens.
So I decided to sit in the outhouse to wait with my shotgun.
I got out there and all of a sudden something white came around the
chicken house. I let him have it.
Two shots. It was a civet
cat. Apparently three things were
all happening at once, which included our hired girl and boyfriend in the front
The next girl was Katherine Larson. She had been crippled since she was a baby from polio. Then we had Myrtle Christiansen. We called her Myrtle the Mud Turtle or fertile Myrtle. She was our best hired girl. We enjoyed her. We had fun. She had a boyfriend by the name of Elmer Weldy. Everyone called him "bugs". One Saturday we were getting ready to go to town and Myrtle was going to go with us. Elmer "Bugs" had to drive a long ways to see her. Just as we were going out the lane, here he came. She scooted down in the back seat because she didn't want him to see she was with us. He went back to town because he didn't see her and she went with us.
The Oakhill Danish Lutheran Church was inside the cemetery on a knoll three miles west of Brayton with a parsonage, horse barn, and a little Danish schoolhouse. The whole thing was planned and built by the local Danes, who came to America in the late 1800's. Great Grandfather, the seaman, built the church steeple. The matriarch of the group, Christine Hoegh Petersen, came to this country in 1882. She was 75 at the time and died in 1889. She was the first person buried in the new (at that time) cemetery. Most of the relatives on dad's side are buried here with good size markers. Grandma Anderson (mom's mother) is buried here with no marker and few people know where it is. What happened to Grandpa I don't know.
Sunday School was mandatory for most of the farm kids in the neighborhood and they usually walked because the parents would come later for church. From the home ranch we went west down the rabbit trail (a winding road) over a bridge, by the old creamery to the next corner, turned right, went up the hill by Emil Kluever's and the next hill was the church. It was probably a mile and a quarter.
For a while all the newly ordained preachers in Denmark would come to Grandma Hansen's in Brayton. Most were single but occasionally one would come 2ith his young family. To me they all seemed like freeloaders as they had no money and someone had to provide them with food, lodging, etc. Grandma would try to help them get a church somewhere in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, or wherever. Some of us went to summer school with a little Danish thrown in the little schoolhouse. We always had a big Christmas tree in the church with dozens of candles (no electricity) cranberries, and popcorn. The kids would form two rings holding hands. One ring would start walking around the tree in a clockwise direction while the other went in the opposite direction. While doing this and with the candles all lit everyone sang different Christmas songs together. There was usually a Santa Clause who delivered gifts as names had been exchanged in Sunday School. After this, Ted Daugaard, who had a wooden leg because he had gotten in the way of a mowing machine, gave each of us a big apple, an orange, and a small sack of peanuts in the shell. Those Christmases were much more exciting than any I have experience since.
Some years ago they tore down the church because of deterioration and built a new one in Brayton. Even with the old church gone the area holds lots of memories.
One Sunday after Church, a picnic was held on the grounds around the church. Dad had just bought a new tan and turquoise Landau Pontiac Big Six. All the farmers present wanted the hood open to look at that flat head engine. "Yup," they said. "They can't improve on them much more than that!"
I am trying to remember the names of the teachers I had in the Center School down below the hill. We called it Punkin Center or Oakfield Dist. #5. We had a teacher by the name of Wilma Smith who was a hothead. We had another teacher by the name of Ruby Potts who was the worst. Then we had Dagmar Hansen who was the neighbors daughter right below the hill. One of the things about Center School was that we didn't have running water. It had two outhouses and we had to have water for the kids to drink. What we did was we took a piece of pipe about 7 feet long and we made a U in it in the middle to put the handle of the bucket. The water carriers were called water bucks. We had a schedule for the water bucks which sometimes was a boy and a girl. Sometimes just boys but mostly girls. Every week there were two different water bucks. Each day they went down to the H. R. Hansen farm and got one bucket of water for the school.
I finally graduated from Center School and my mother said I had to go to high school but I said I don't want to go. Then she said "your going". So I ran away from home (not too far).
I was 11 or 12. Anyway I ran down in the biggest cornfield we had, ran clear up to the north end, and sat down in the shade. The corn was about 6' high by that time. I thought it over and decided to go home. I had to go to school in Elk Horn which was about eight miles over little clay hills and Dad said "we'll have to get transportation for you." So my Uncle Harold down in Brayton, my dad's second brother, had somehow accumulated a 1926 model T roadster that had really been driven. It was just worn out and Dad talked my Uncle out of that for $40. Then we took it down to Uncle Neals. He rebuilt the whole thing so that I would have transportation to go to school. After about one week in high school you couldn't stop me if you tried. I was really excited about it. It seems like I always thought I had some kind of girlfriend. The first one was Signa Olsen pronounced "Sena". Everyone called her Signa "Mowpeen", which in Danish means a stomach ache. She was always complaining about her stomach. Anyway I called her my girlfriend for quite a while. I took part in all the plays and operettas and I usually had the lead in all the plays. I had one friend who still is my one and only really true friend. his name is Charles Kolb. He lives in Atlantic Iowa. He and I used to think up crazy things to do. He had a Ford Roadster, just like mine. We used to have races and he couldn't understand why mine went faster than his. We had school picnics which were fiascoes. All the boys were trying to make points with the girls and it was really comical. One noon at High School I was in shooting baskets in the gym. I had eaten a big banana and all of a sudden I felt faint and broke out with the hives. The doctor said I should never eat bananas after that. So about a year after that I am in the gym again. I didn't have any bananas this time and all of a sudden it was like someone stuck me in the side with a knife. I had a ruptured appendix. So I went to the Atlantic hospital and had my appendix out. Just before that I had my tonsils removed.
The high school years were very emotional and intense years which you can easily understand if you were ever a teenager.
In our family, of course, there were no girls. And a female in high school class was something you steered clear of. I didn't understand what made them tick. It was a struggle of eight miles over clay hills each way every day. We didn't even have gravel roads. The roads would mostly get impassable in the wintertime. A lot of times I would ride Lady Patch, our horse, or just walk. Sometimes I would take the toonerville trolley which was a model T ford chassis with a cab on it that ran on the railroad tracks and had an exhaust whistle. The railroad was about midway between school and home at a place called "Hansen Heights".
Sometimes in the winter when the weather got real bad I'd sleep in the Domestic Science Room on the top of two desks or at other times I would go home with our coach.
I was also active in declamatory contests. I got to rewire the stage in the auditorium because when it was build it had no controls what so ever. My brother Lye and I went up and worked a couple of Saturdays. I made a rheostat for the footlights out of parts of a corn binder, a corn sheller, and a cedar chest, believe it or not.