My dad passed away on August 8th, this year, as the result of an automobile accident.
In the 1980s while working as a real estate agent, he wrote a book. It’s not very long but it’s the story of his life up to a point. The part he didn’t write about is all the years spent retired with mom and enjoying the grandchildren (which if you read the foreward to the book needs to be updated to 10 grandkids and six great grandchildren) among other adventures.
The following is his “book” (There are two versions that I have included).
UP IN THE WOODS, EARLY TIMES
Ray. E. Stangl
Foreword by Dennis Stangl
My dad Ray Stangl, the author of this book, wrote this book about his experience growing up on a farm in Central Minnesota. The title he wrote on the yellow three-subject notebook was “Up in the Woods, Life on the Farm.” In the eighth grade I learned how to type by spending nights after school and any free time typing his notes. It took me a long time back then, today I could probably type everything he wrote in one or two days or less. For many years I had referred to dad’s book at Up in the Woods, Early Times. I recently dug out that notebook which was safely tucked away in a fire proof box and saw the title he had written. I’m sure this book will be most cherished by my dad and our family but I think it’s also worth reading for others. Dad started to write this book while he was selling real estate in the 1980s. I remember dad probably wasn’t the best real estate salesman, since most of the time he could be caught taking a little cat nap at work. This upset mom so much, and she had every right to be embarrassed since they both worked in the same building at the time. Dad only sold real estate for a few years and then became a mailman before retiring in 1995. Dad has been through a lot during his life, including raising a family of one girl and three boys, one who arrived a lot later than the others (me). Those children went on to give him nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. Dad had several careers throughout his life, from being a farmer to truck driver, real estate salesman, to mailman. Ray is the son of Edward and Helen (Frohener) Stangl. He had one brother Victor who passed away in November 3, 1999 at the age of 70 and a sister Regina who lives in LeSeur, Minnesota. He shares many of his experiences in this book. So enjoy!
The first thing I remember about our area that dad said about it was that in the early 1900’s great fires roared through there. A man named John Altricter was going to homestead on section 18 “our home place” when a forest fire came through and he packed up and left the area. I also remember seeing furrows on the northwest corner of our farm where he had started breaking open land.
Dad told about the log drivers that used to come down the Hillman Creek (we always called it the Hillman River) to the Skunk River. He said the valley just south of Pierz had a plank fence on the west side of the river to keep the logs from getting away from the river and being high and dry. The way logs were floated was with a series of dams one was south of the Kimman farm, another one was south of Conrad Stangl’s place and another one was one forth of a mile west of Old Center Valley and a big one was northeast of Clint Lablanc’s place. Logs were stored behind the dams. When the dams were opened, the water would take the logs from one dam onto the next one.
The men who worked the logs were known as “river pigs.” They were real tough guys and the Pierz saloons had big fights. Some of the old timers said Pierz was a pretty wide open town.
The Hillman township area was a good timber area with stands of White Pine. I can remember when I was a kid we used go pick up pine stumps and pitch knots to burn in the tank heater to warm up the water for the cows and horse’s. Pine stumps were not used to heat homes because they burned too hot and they were not safe to use in heaters. Some of the stumps were four feet across and must have had great trees on them.
Hillman town had a gold rush at one time. One man named Billmeyer blasted big holes down into the granite east of Center Valley but I guess he never found anything. Billmeyer had great plans for Center Valley, he was the one who named the town and got everything started. He had roads plotted out across section eight to the center of the section from all sides. When the railroad came thru around 1907, he had even put up a mail hook along the track to hang mail sacks on, so the train could pick them up as they came thru in the morning and the afternoon.
When the creamery was built in 1926, and was built a half a mile west of where he wanted his town built. Billmeyer was greatly disappointed.
The Center Valley Store was down in the valley along the side of the creamery, it was operated at first by Alois Hass Huening. About 1930 Fred Dahmen took the store over and a ran the store. Fred bought out Pete (who) then married my aunt Katie Froehner.
The store had just about anything people needed in those days. They had, gas, oil, kerosene, and food staples salt blocks, flour, and other groceries. They also had overalls to wear for all the farmers to work hard work in the fields. They even had small hardware, such as hammers, etc. Fred fixed shoes at the store but that was mainly it. There was no refrigeration so the only meat was summer sausage. Uncle Fred didn’t approve of drinking so he never sold beer. Snuff was a bigger seller it was three boxes for a quarter. In 1940 he sold the business, to Jake Kinzer, though not the building, Jake ran the business until 1946 when Earl Britz bought the store and the business. In 1948 the road east of Pierz to Hillman was tarred and he thought business would be better on the highway so he had the store moved to the corner where it is now. In 1955 Earl sold the business and the building to Ed and Gertie Medek. Gertie ran the store until just this year, when she became ill and now it will probably never be opened again. The creamery started in 1926 and ran for a while then it closed until 1927 when Henry Marshik was hired to operate it. In those days the milk was separated at the farm and the skim milk was fed to the calves and pigs and the cream was taken to the creamery and was churned into butter. The farmers would bring the cream into the creamery Monday and Fridays in winter and in the summer Wednesday and Saturday too. They would take a can of buttermilk for home every can of cream they brought into the creamery. This was sour and was for pigs. All farms had pigs in those times, the trip to the creamery was usually the time when the farmers would catch up on the news and took quite a while in those less hectic days. The power for churn and the pumps was furnished by steam which was also used for pasteurizing. The boiler burned wood and great piles of cord wood were stacked along the side of the creamery.
Electricity came to the area around 1943. Then the creamery bought motors and used them for power, it was much more efficient. The boiler was still used for the steam. Hank Marshik was very much interested in baseball, all types of hunting and fishing. He lived in many different house’s and he built a house in 194, just south of where the Center Valley store is now.
In 1947 the creamery started sending out small trucks daily to pick up the cream at the farms, this was a new thing at that time and was in response to the trucks sent out by the large creameries like the west side creamery of Little Falls. In 1948 I was hired to haul cream. I bought a 1938 ford half ton pickup and hauled cream for about 20 farmers, this was my first job off the farm. I enjoyed route driving and I guess I still like it.
In 1955 more farmers started selling whole milk and the Clover Belt Creamery (that was the Center valley creameries name) was not equipped to handle whole milk. On May 25, 1955 the creamery burned down. Henry Marshik was burned over a large part of his body and around June 15 he died. The creamery died with him.
I guess one thing that used to rile me to no end was when I was asked which Stangl was my dad and I said I was Ed’s son. The people around Pierz would say “Oh, yes the and up in the woods,” we may have been up in the woods but I think the people of our area were better informed about things than many of the well to do farmers around Pierz.
Our township and school meetings were always well attended and elections were very lively contests. Al Dominick ran for the state legislature and served several terms. I remember dad telling us about one election where dad was an election judge, and Al came to watch the votes counted. They told him our few votes would not mean much in the whole county. He said my neighbors votes mean more to me than all the rest. If I get my neighbors votes even If I loose I will be satisfied. One year both legislative candidates Al Dominick and Clarence H. Stroschien were from out township.
My dad opened the land and buildings on our farm grandpa Stangl (Conrad) bought a piece of land dad and my uncle Conrad (died 1927) cleared the brush and stumps and rocks. The land was purchased around 1917 or 1918 and the buildings were built on 1919. My parents were married on November 25th 1919. My dad bought 40 acres half a mile south of the home 105 acres a few years later. The barn was 24 by 32 with a 16 ft lean on the south side. The barn could hold nine cows on one side in pen, and there was also a calve pen, for calves and young stock. On the other side was what we called the Horse barn.
There was a hog barn, my dad would keep three sows and would have them furrow in spring then he would sell the sows and feed out the young pigs which would be sold in fall except for those that were butchered for the years supply of meat. In those days there were no freezers and meat was preserved three different ways. Some was fried and put in crockery jars and covered with lard this kept very well and was very tasty, sausage was made out of some and smoked and the bacon and hams were cured in salt brine and then were smoked.
In the spring and summer the only fresh meat we would have would be the chicken old hens were all these were. I remember we always had two big roosters and often we didn’t need any hatching eggs they had their heads chopped off. These roosters were very aggressive and sometimes would chase us. One year a big rooster chased my brother Victor and he took a long stick (the binder whip) and that rooster was no more. We always had some chickens but they usually didn’t lay too much until spring, they were usually were Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island Reds. In 1936 Conrad Stangl worked at our place for the winter because dad had an appendectomy and in those days that meant a six month recovery. Conrad showed dad how to feed chickens so they would lay eggs all winter long. I guess Conrad was one of the pioneers of modern poultry farming.
The house is still standing and still in fair shape and has not been remodel much. It was built out of rough frame lumber and sheathed with ash lumber. Dad built the house in 1919. There was a cellar under the kitchen with two big pens for potatoes. The cellar was dark and cool. In spring and during rainy weather there would be water down there and we had a cistern pump on the south side east corner
of the house to pump the water out of the cellar. This was a tiresome job and it was a real joy to hear the pump suck air whenever we had it pumped dry.
We had a wood kitchen stove which had a reservoir on the side to warm up the water this was real handy, as there was always some warm water there to wash up with, We had to carry in water from the well. We had two water pails on top of t the wood box and it was the kid’s job to keep the water pails and the wood box full. Mother always cooked and baked with the wood stove. In hot weather we had kerosene stove out in the porch. We also had the cream separated out in the porch. The milk was carried to the house. The separator was turn by hand; you had to turn it at a high steady speed. A bell would ring if you turned too slow. The milk was separated into cream and skim milk. The cream was kept in the cream cooler this was a smaller size tank and it would r then run in the stock tank. When the electricity was hooked up in 1943 it was sure great not to turn that separator anymore. The cream separator was taken apart and washed every day. This was just another job mother had to do. When we built a milk house around 1946 dad had a wood heater there and he took over this job.
We always had a telephone (or at least ever since I was born) it was a party line. When we heard one long and four short rings that was out ring and we answered that. We could hear everybody else’s rings too. We listened to the telephone then too. This was called “rubbering” people and people who did this were called “rubbernecks”. This was a great way to keep us in touch with the local news. We did not have a radio until 1939, but we still kept up with the news. Until that time we always had a daily paper and one weekly paper and the phone. The weekly paper was the Pierz Journal. We spent out evening reading, playing cars or board games and dad and mother would talk. They told us about years ago and different families. We always went to bed before none. So the evenings were not too long. In 1931 the Pierz bank (now a restaurant) was held up. Dad and I were in town when we got home mother had already heard all about it.
The phone was a grounded system phone, there was only one wire. When the weather was dry we had to pour a pail of water over the ground rod or else the phone would not ring. There was a telephone meeting every year at uncle Joe Stangl’s house where everybody paid his phone bill this was about two to five dollars a year.
The mailman was the main link to the rest of the world. I think people wrote more letters years ago that we do now with easy phoning. We were on route four Pierz and for along time we also got mail on route two Hillman. Route two came right past our drive way but we liked route four better because the mail came a day earlier. We got the Little Falls Daily transcript and the Pierz Journal every Thursday. The papers had a lot of local news. Such as who visited who and who had a new baby or who bought a new car or piece of machinery. The mailman on route two Hillman was Pete Buessler and later Pete Blake. On route four it was Charlie Willingburg he was a very tall man, He used to walk parts of the route and walked from north of Loren Tomala to our Corner when he Would meet his sub in the centr. In 1936 I got a pair of skis for Christmas. That winter my dad met the mail man while he was on part of his route and asked him why he didn’t use skis. Charlie said he delivered so many that he didn’t want to see another pair for a long time.
People did get a lot of parcel post mail in those times. Postage was cheap and there was no UPS or Fed Ex or anything except the railroad freight or express. Up until about 1933 local letters were two cents and out of town were three cents and post cards were just one cent. I used to get penny post cards and I sent away for anything that was free. I got a lot of junk mail and sometimes I got something that was even useful. Magazines all had serial stories in them and you had to wait a month to read the next chapter. All magazines had stories in them; even the Transcript had serial stories until about 1942.
Our house was heated with a wood heater. Sometimes when dad had not made enough wood he would buy a few sacks of coal. In winter time the house would be pretty cold in the morning until the stoves got hot. We always had to make two kinds of wood, cook stove wood which was split into smaller pieces and wood heater which was bigger chunks usually oak or other hardwood. One thing I remember about the kitchen stove it was a great place to pop popcorn, I also liked to make toast when the stove was real hot.
Washing clothes was a big job; mother would heat up the wash boiler on the stove. The white wash was boiled, then the water was poured into the wash machine this was quite a contraption. You had a handle on top and a place for your foot then you had to push this handle back and forth. There was a flywheel under the machine so you could keep a steady motion, my dad used to help run this thing until we got big enough to help. There were two tubs of water for rinsing and a hand turned the wringer and then everything was hung out to dry in either the outside or in spring or summer or the winter clothes racks and upstairs in the unheated room. Then everything had to be ironed there was no such thing as wash and wear.
Lights were kerosene we had kerosene lanterns for outside, wick lamps for rooms in the house and a an Aladdin lamp for the kitchen which hung from the ceiling and made a real good light for reading, playing cards and so forth. Once in a while it would get a big chunk of carbon and the room would slowly get darker. When we noticed this we had to turn it down and we all sat in the dim light until the carbon burned itself off.
I remember one night when I was very young, we had a kerosene light turned down low in the bedroom and, I was in a small bed and I saw a dog or I thought it was a wolf looking in the window. I was so scared I could not cry out, I was scared stiff. Once when I was six I said I was going to sleep upstairs and I was getting ready for bed, upstairs and I went down probably to get a drink of water and fell down the steps after that, we all slept down stairs until I was about ten years old.
Making hay in those days was quite an operation. The hay was raked into windrows and then it was bucked up to the stack and pitched by hand onto a stack, where it was hauled to the barn in the winter.
The great big deal of the summer was the grain harvest. First we had to get the binder out of the shed the day the grain was ripe, it was completely inspected and repaired. This machine needed three horses, (our machine was a smaller six foot Minnesota). Dad would sit up on top with a long stick; to prod the horses’ and the harvest would start. The binder was a fascinating machine, with lots of moving parts. The grain was cut, tied into bundles and dumped into windrows then the bundles were shocked into shocks to dry. In a about a week or two it was either thrashed or stacked into stacks.
The stacks were shaped like an ice cream cone set upside down. By the thirties most grain was thrashed right from shocks. This was called shock thrashing. About ten to twelve people were required to do this. There were five or six wagons to bring the grain in from the field two men to run the machine three men to haul the grain to the granary. Until elevators or blowers were used the grain had to be sacked into canvas bags. The machine had a weighing device that measured out half a bushel at a time. Three dumps were put in each sack. The sacks were hauled to the granary and emptied. This was quite a job. I f the machine was running out of empty sacks the wagon hauling the grain would race out the machine so the grain wouldn’t end upon the ground. One of the first jobs I ever had was as a sacker with Christ Lust’s machine. We went from farm to farm over the whole area around Center Valley. The job was kind of fun unless the wind was wrong and the dust came your way. Most of the time the machine was set with the wind and the straw was blown on to a large pile and used for bedding and sometimes as feed for the winter the men usually enjoyed thrashing time. Visiting with the neighbors and the great food the ladies always cooked up. The meals were real good, they also made pies, and cake for desert. If the crops were good someone was sent to town to get a “pony” of beer.
After harvest things were pretty quiet on the farm, my dad did not own a corn binder so the corn was chopped off by hand. A corn buck was set up and the corn was cut and set up along side this thing and tied with twine. After it was dry my dad would husk it out by hand. Then he would tie the stalks into bundles. Then he would stick it up by the barn for winter feed for the cows. In those days we didn’t buy hybrid seed corn he always like a corn called white cap, it had a yellow kernel with a white outer cap. It yielded pretty well but it had very poor stand ability and it went down whenever we had a strong wind. It had a good taste as and eating corn. I liked it better than sweet corn, I remember the first time my dad tried hybrid corn, Rienie Hartman gave him a sample. He planted about an acre. The stuff was about as twice as tall as his other corn and the cobs were almost a foot long. Dad didn’t like this kind of corn; he said it was too coarse.
We always had about an acre of potatoes. We had to hoe the potatoes around the end of June, this we got paid for, five cents a row. This was around the fourth of July and was our spending money. We budgeted it to get us a bottle of pop and ice cream cone, a candy bar, a go at the fish pond and maybe some caps of firecrackers. The job I hated most was picking potatoes, my dad and uncle Joe owned a potato digger (in company) we had to go down to his place unbolt all the lugs on the digger wheels, drive it home, and then bolt the lugs back on. Then we dug up the potatoes, we would pick them up and put them on large piles to dry out for a few weeks, covered in vines and straw. Then we put them in a wagon and took them home and put them in the cellar.
Our farm was small but we raised most of everything we needed. I can remember one year our gross income was less than seven hundred dollars, but we did not consider our selves as poor. The first car I can remember was a Model T Ford it had a cloth top and side curtains, In 1929 my dad bought a Model A two door car with a trunk. We had this car until 1943.
In those days the road to Pierz was gravel(it is about five miles from our place to Pierz) and in summer it was very wash boarded and dusty. Dad did not drive too much. On Sunday we went to church and hauled cream to Center Valley. On Saturday he took us to Catechism classes in Pierz and a few times a year to Little Falls (only 12 miles). This was on a Sunday afternoon to visit relatives. This was about all the pleasure driving we did. Cars in those days were very different from one another and we knew every car in the whole area by sight and quite a few by sound. After church on Sunday there was always sort of a race on the way home. Some guys would pass everybody,
During World War II we had gas rationing and everyone was given coupons to buy gas. Dad never needed all his coupons as he did not driver very much and the Model A was easy on gas. We usually bought our gas at Center Valley. Fred Dahmen had to pump the gas up into a glass jar up on the pump, and then it was put in the car. A dollars worth was the usual amount put in the tank. All cars had manual shifting and foot clutches. Fords usually clattered and G.M. cars were a lot quieter, but they did not last as long. There are no 1920 and early 30’s G.M. cars around today yet, but model A’s are still seen in the hands of antique car lovers. In the early 30’s Otto Bartel and Henry Bartel were the only truckers in the Pierz area. When a farmer had some livestock to sell he called one of them to haul it to south St. Paul. A traveling livestock buyer named Louie Wiener used (Pronounced Viener) used to come around to farms and buy live stock. If you sold to him you had to haul the cattle to Genola, where it was loaded on a train. In the late 20’s a siding was built at Center Valley and I remember stock pens and a scale right east of the crossing but dad said that no one ever used it. He said only a few cars of stock were ever sent from there. During the 30’s a platform was built right along the track and the creamery had the butter loaded on to the train when it stopped at Center Valley, this lasted for a while than trucks started picking it up right at the creamery. During the winter the roads were often closed to cars for days or even weeks at a time. We lived close to Center Valley and if we needed anything from Pierz, dad would go and get a ride from Fred Dahmen. But most of what we needed we could get at the Center Valley store. Our neighbor on the north was also the Soo Line Railroad (which is now gone and is a hiking or ATV vehicle trail). There were two trains every day one at eleven, the fore noon and a westbound train at two in the afternoon. The trains had a passenger car and a baggage or mail car on the back end. The trains had steam engines. It was quite thrilling to watch them go by. In fall the wheat trains would go east and as it was up grade or up a hill all the way from Genola to about a mile east of Center Valley, they would go slow and the engine would really pound. The smell of coal smoke from the train always was a pleasant smell to me. One Sound we did not like to hear was when the train made a series of short toots that meant that there were cattle on the track. I don’t think that any of our cattle were ever killed by the trains. There were a few times when other people’s cattle were killed on the track though. The hills south of Center Valley were very steep to the track, but there was never an accident there until 1986 when a milk truck was hit by the train.
The hills would be slick with packed snow and that made a nice place for sliding, this was great if the roads were blocked and we did not have to watch for cars. We could slide all the way from the top of one hill to the bridge over the Skunk River. The two hills with a narrow bridge and the railroad combined make a scary half of a mile of road. If you had a heavy load behind a team of horses, this road was even scarier. The mile between the school house and our home was always a pleasant and interesting walk all the eight years I went to school (since then I have gotten my GED) . And yes it was actually uphill both ways, but never 10 feet of snow. I remember one day I was walking home from school and I saw what I would call a squirrel convention, dozens of squirrels were in trees right north of the railroad crossing, running up and down the trees and chattering away. I don’t know what these gatherings are for or why they occur but I saw bunch like that in some tree’s in the southwest corner of our farm also.
The school in our district was across the road from where the Center Valley store was located. It was a large square building. It had high ceilings and a wood heater. The first three years I went to school there was just two of us in my grade, Alvina Lust and myself. There usually were 25 to 30 in the eight grades, in addition the teacher had to keep the school in order. Some years a boy was hired to start a fire in the morning. Ever so often all the children would help carry in wood from outside and pile it up in the wood room. Sometimes we got a candy bar for this. Everybody walked to school. Some children had over two miles to go to school. This was unusual as schools were usually about three miles apart. There was a school near Llyod Voltens another one where Jim Hohiesel was and another was close to where Dave Schmidtbaur lived. The school back in those times was the center of the community. Each school had its own school board. There was a county superintendent. He would visit each school once a ear. I always felt each district had its own personality, the people seemed to be slightly different in each district. Some school boards were pretty stingy and only had supplies that were absolutely required. I think our district was quite generous with supplying the school. We had good books and all pencils, paper and books were furnished. This was probably due to Mrs. Al Domnick she always promoted education. She tried to teach kids to want to learn and once you start learning by yourself you will never stop. I remember the first day I went to school. I was six on August 27th and school started in September. I was supposed to go but I guess I was too scared or mother and dad were trying to protect me I don’t know. So I started in spring and went the last two months of the year. I did not know how to speak English but it seemed after a few days I was catching on to things. In fall I started in the first grade. There was only the two of us. I caught on to reading real fast.(Editors note -he never has stopped yet our basement must have thousands of books) I was reading thick library books by the end of the year. We carried our lunch to school, I had a regular lunch bucket but most kids carried their lunch in a half gallon syrup pails. We had a drinking fountain in the corner. A pail or two of water was poured into a container on top. One year the pump was broken or didn’t give any water and some big kids had to carry a pail of water from Joe Huvers place (the Wilfred Waytashik farm). One big spring time sport was drowning gophers. Some kids were sent for water, and all the kids were supplied with sticks. Water was poured into the gopher hole until the gopher came out of the hole. Then that gopher would be no more. We had a ten minute recess in the morning and in the afternoon and an hour at noon. In winter it was half only a half our, so we got out earlier. We had a lot of different games we would play. In one game a rubber ball was thrown over the school by a group of kids on one side and if it was caught, they would run around the school to try to tag somebody on the other side with the ball. The ones tagged were considered captured and became part of the other team. This went on until all the players on one side were captured or the ball went down the chimney or was stuck up on the roof. A big event of the year was the school Christmas program. Miss Gertrude Virnig (now Mrs. Louis Pryzbilla) had the biggest programs. There were short skits and a longer play and there was Santa Claus who would pass the exchanged (ten cent) gifts and a bag of nuts and candy to all the children. All of December was used for rehearsal and we had to learn to sing Christmas carols. Mrs. Dominick did not like the programs, as it seemed a lot of time was wasted on them. I usually missed quite a few days in January as it was very cold and one year I had whooping cough and I missed three weeks of school. In the forth grade I was put into some class as the fifth grade. Then there were five in one grade, Alvina Lust, Regina Kurtz, Richard Lust, Roman Meyer and me. As long as I went to school we had eight twenty day periods or a total of one hundred sixty days in a school year. In spring we had state board examinations. In the seventh grade you took geography and if you passed that you went into the eighth grade. The next year you had exams on arithmetic, English, science and history. If you passed then you were through with school. I was thirteen when I passed eighth grade. I did not go to school anymore after that. When I was fifty six I took the G.E.D. classes and got the high school equivalency certificate.
My dad loved to read, he preferred German magazines and almanacs. He used to read short columns out loud. He liked humorous columns.
One man that came around every month or so was the Watkins man. He sold spices and lineament and stock and poultry tonics and patent medicines. We kids thought he was great as he always gave us a piece of his gum. His name was O.W.Carlson. Another salesperson was the Raliegh man and there were a lot of different peddlers around the country. One man I remember was selling stoves and he had a complete model stove about two feet high that he put together right in the kitchen. I remember another one who was selling suits plus all the magazines and insurance salespeople we have today. I sometimes think today how we regarded those salespeople as pests. During the early 1980s I sold real-estate and I now realize how hard it is and what those people were trying to do. Just make a buck like everybody else. Sales must not have been too good for me, because that’s when I started writing this book.
Hillman township was organized as a township around 1906 or 1907. It was described in Mrs. Fisher’s book “The Land Called Morrison” as a rocky and swampy area. He said it was not too promising an area for successful farming.
This area had been logged off in the late 1800s and when I was a boy you could see many pine stumps although out. Most were burned off in the great fires that went through the area around 1910 and earlier.
On our farm in the northwest corner near the railroad track, furrows were still visible where a man named Jon Altricter had attempted to homestead but a brush fire had chased him away. He left saying I was too dangerous to live out there.
When I was a boy the logging road through our farm were still there where the logs had been hauled down to the Hillman creek. We never called it a creek, to it was always a river.
My dad talked about the log drives down the river at Pierz when he was a boy.
In 1930 places in Hillman township were occupied by the following people starting in the northwest corner. The north half of Hillman township. (Note some of these names may be misspelled, I apologize for that). West to East: Michael and Catherine Meyer now Gerald Meyer. Bill Huver later Dan Waytashek. Tony Waytashek later Ardell Waytashek. Al Dominick later Tom Bullinger. Nath Meyer later Rod Przybilla. Christ Lust later Dan Hueiman (sp) Ted Billmeyer now Dan. John Tomala later Loren Tomala. Charlie Lust later Ray Stangl, then Tom Stangl. Tom Feucht later Harry McDonald. Walter Litke later Allan Storkamp. Ed Stangl now Victor Zwack. John Volin now Lloyd. Nick Schraut. Joe Medek, Ed “Pat” Otremba, later Alfred then Wilfred. Frank Kastanek. John Medek, Ed Kastonek, Allen Schraut.
The Hillman River had a series of dams. One was about two miles east of Pierz, another was just south of Conrad Stangl’s farm another was about a quarter mile west of the Center Valley road. A large dam to store water was east of Clint LaBlanc’s farm.
The logs were stored at these dams and when the dam was opened the rushing water would carry the logs downstream to the next dam where the process was repeated.
Dad said in the flat area just south of Pierz a plank fence was erected on the outside of the bend in the river to keep the logs in the river and keep them from being stranded on dry land.
The men who worked on the log drives were called river pigs. They were a colorful and very tough lot, who came to town and “raised hell.”
Pierz in the late 1800s had many saloons and some of the old timers would sometimes talk about fights and other rowdy times, but not too much was said as Pierz did not like to be known as a wild place.
The loggers were very thorough in stripping the timber from the area as I can recall only one large pine tree in the whole area when I was a boy. This one was down in the valley west of where the creamery used to be, but Roderick Przybilla cut it down right after he bought his farm.
I remember seeing stumps of trees that must have been over three feet in diameter but the stumps were considered very good wood for tank heaters to heat the water for cattle. The wood would burn very hot so it was too dangerous to use in a heater in the house.
I remember going out to eastern Hillman Township with Dad to get stumps for our tank heater. So this last remaining part of the Great Pine Forest was soon used up too.
The Center Valley Store was started in a shed behind the creamery, this shed was a lean to alongside the ice house. The first store manager was young Phil Thielen. He was still a teenager. He later started the Thielen Store in Pierz (now famous Thielen Meat Market). An old school house was moved down alongside the creamery and a regular store was started. The first owner was Alois Hass Hearing and in 1930, it was purchased by Pete and Fred Dahmen. The Dahmen brothers operated the store until Fred married my aunt Katie Froehner. During the thirties the store had groceries, flour, salt, sugar, work clothes, small hardware and Fred also repaired shoes and leather harnesses. Fred disapproved of drinking so they never had beer. One of the most important staples was tobacco, snuff was three boxes for a quarter.
In 1940 he sold the business to Jake Kinzer, Jake ran the store until 1946 when Earl Baity bought the store and also started a car repair business.
In 1948 Earl moved the store a half mile north to the new tar road County Road 39 where he thought the business would be better. (The store was later owned by the Medek family and closed in the 1990s. The building still remains and is still owned by Brad Medek).
Hillman Township had a miniature gold rush at one time. Well, at least one man had dreams of striking it rich.
A man named Billmeyer had started big shafts in the middle of Section 8. He felt the granite had veins of gold. He would work until he had money for blasting supplies and hoists to get the rocks out of the shaft but he never found his dream. When World War II scrap iron drives were held and the price of scrap metal was high all the equipment was hauled away.
Mr. Billmeyer had great plans for his area. He had roads platted into the center of Section 8 around 1908. At that time there were two trains a day plus other freight and grain trains. Dad said Mr. Billmeyer had a mail hook put up along the track to put mail sacks on so the train could pick up the mail sent out from his new town. But nobody used this so it was soon abandoned. Mr. Billmeyer said if people would stick together there could be a great town there.
He had a great disappointment when the farmers of the area organized to build a cooperative creamery. Due to the large amount of granite it was not possible to dig a well to supply a creamery so the creamery was built a half a mile west.
The creamery was built in 1926 and ran for awhile than it was closed until 1927 when Henry Marshik was hired to operate it. He was the operator for the life of the creamery until was destroyed by fire in 1955 and he died as a result of burns from the fire.
In those days farmers separated the cream from the milk and the skim milk was used on the farm to feed calves and pigs. The cream was delivered to the creamery where it was pasteurized and churned into butter. Farmers would take the cream to the creamery in cans and they could take a can of buttermilk home for each can of cream they brought into the creamery. In the winter time cream was brought in on Monday and Friday in warm weather it was also brought in on Wednesday and Saturday.
Farmers usually had plenty of time when they went to the creamery. So they visited and caught up on the news while they waited their turn to unload. The creamery was a fascinating place to visit when I was a boy. (Insert diagram of Creamery).
The boiler and the engine furnished all the power for about 18 years until electricity was available. The steam engine was connected to a long line shaft which had long belts to the pasteurizing vats, the churn and all the pumps which pumped the cream and the water that was used in the butter making process.
For about 20 years wood was used as fuel for the boiler and great piles of wood were stacked along the south side of where the creamery stood. The boiler was used to make steam for the pasteurizing process as long as the creamery was in operation, although electric motors were used to replace the engine.
In 1947 the creamery started sending out small trucks to pick up cream from the farmers farther away from the creamery. This was done to respond to the trucks sent out by other and larger creameries such as the West Side Creamery in Little Falls.
In 1948 I was hired to pick up cream. I bought a 1938 Ford half ton pickup and hauled cream for about 20 to 25 farmers. This was my first job other than helping neighbors. I enjoyed route driving and I guess I still like it. (I delivered mail for many years until I retired in 1993).
In 1955 more and more farmers started selling whole milk. And our Clover Belt Coop Creamery (that was the Center Valley creamery name). was not equipped to handle whole milk. On May 25, 1955 the creamery was destroyed by fire. Henry Marshik was burned over a large part of his body. He died on June 15, 1955. The creamery died with him.
One remark that used to burn me up years ago, was when people around Pierz and others too would ask me which Stangl family I came from. When I told them Ed Stangl they would say “Oh yes, Ed, up in the woods.”
We may have been up in the woods but the people of our area were as well informed about the world in general and government as the well to do farmers around Pierz who could talk about nothing else but farming.
Our township and school meetings were always well attended and elections were lively contests. One year both legislative candidates were from Hillman Township, Al Dominick and Clarence H. Stroschien.
Al Dominick was elected to the state legislature in 1938 and served several terms. I remember one election at which dad was election judge. When he came home he said Al Dominick had come in to watch the votes being counted. The judges told him the few votes in Hillman Township would not mean much in the whole county, Mr. Dominick said “My neighbors votes mean more to me than all the rest of the county. If I get my neighbors votes I’ll be satisfied.”
In 1935 or 1936 dad was appointed township treasurer. He held that office until about 1965. Later, I was elected and held the office until 1981 when we moved to Pierz.
Life on the farm
My grandfather “Conrad Stangl” bought the land that became our farm around 1916 or 1917. Dad and his brother Conrad (he died in 1927) started cleaning the stumps, brush and rocks from the land, the first crops raised were wheat and oats. This home farm was 105 acres.
The first building on the farm was a summer kitchen which had been moved from one and a half miles east of Pierz. The barn and the house and granary were built in 1919.
Dad and mother were married on November 25th, 1919 and lived there until mother died on March 14th, 1965. Dad bought 40 acres of wild land, which he cleared for meadow and later field. He bought this in the early twenties and is still known as the “40.”
The barn was originally 24’ x 32’ but dad soon added a 16 foot lean-to onto the south side for horses. The barn had stanchions for nine cows on one side and pens and stalls for calves and young stock on the other side.
Dad built a hog barn in 1927 to replace and old shed for hogs. Dad kept three sows which would furrow in early spring. He had a stove in the hog barn which he would fire up to warm the barn when the sows had their baby pigs.
He would sit out there at night by lantern light to make sure the sows would not have trouble or kill their young as they sometimes do. He said one night a man passing by on the road saw the smoke from the stove and the light in the hog barn and stopped by to see if dad might not be cooking moonshine or whiskey.
After the sows had weaned their pigs would be fattened and sold. The pigs would be raised up and fattened and by fall they would be sold a except for three young gilts which would be bred and kept for the next spring’s crop of pigs. And of course two or three would be butchered in late fall. The bacon and hams would be put in a salt brine and kept till spring and then smoked. The bacon seemed to last way into the summer.
We did not have freezers then and meat had to be preserved either by smoking or canning or by frying it and covering it with lard and as it was needed it was heated up and was very tasty. Beef was also canned in jars and this is still being done by some people. It is very good too.
The only other fresh meat we had in the summertime was to butcher chickens. Older hens were cooked for soup and we also always kept a couple of roosters. These old roosters were very aggressive and when we were little kids we were very much afraid of them as they sometimes chased us.
One year the old rooster chased Victor and he took a long stick “the binder whip” and the old rooster lost the battle. Dad always raised chickens. We would get setting hens “clucks” and just about a dozen eggs under them and after 21 days the eggs would hatch and we would have baby chicks. Dad built little houses for the brood. We were always glad when the young roosters got big enough to eat as young fried chickens was a real treat after a long summer of bacon and canned meat.
The chickens usually did not lay very much until spring. The breed of chickens we usually had were either Plymouth Rock (a gray chicken) or Rhode Island Reds.
In 1936 Conrad Stangl worked at our place. He had studied raising chickens and he showed us how to feed and care for chickens so they would lay eggs all winter.
Conrad was one of the first people around to raise chickens in the modern way by feeding balanced rations and using artificial light in the short winter days.
The house dad built is still standing today (As of 2009 it is still standing, making it 90 years old) it was very sturdily built. The frame was of rough two by fours and sheathed on the inside and outside with ash lumber. There was a cellar under the kitchen and there were two big pens for potatoes, and shelves for canned goods, also a few big crocks for sauerkraut.
In spring and during rainy weather there would be water in the cellar floor and we had a cistern pump outside on the southeast corner of the house to pump the water out of the cellar. Pumping out the cellar was a tiresome job and we were always happy to hear the pump suck air when the cellar was empty of water.
When we got electricity in 1943 or 1944 one of our first inventions was a homemade pump jack to pump out the cellar. We carried in the water from the well. We had two pails on top of the wood box and it was our first chore to keep those pails full. We also had to keep the wood boxes full.
We always had two kinds of wood, cook stove wood was usually poplar and was split into small pieces so it would burn quicker and make more heat. The wood for the heating stove was usually oak or some kind of hard wood that was split into bigger chunks so it would burn slower and last longer.
The kitchen stove was quite an appliance. It had a warming oven over the top and a reservoir on the side which was kept full of water this water was always nice and warm and was always ready for washing up. The top of the store was always ready to pop popcorn. I also like to make toast by laying bread right on the stove top when the stove was used a lot.
In hot weather we had a kerosene stove out in the porch. The heater stood in the living room. Early in the morning dad always made the fire, although the living room heater never went out all winter, he would get up during the night and fire up the heater.
It was always nice to lean on the Healwla (the name of the heater) and get nice and warm. Mother always cooked with the wood cook stove except in the hot weather, she used the kerosene stove. The kerosene stove had an oven on the top but I guess it did not work very well as it was hardly ever used. We also had the cream separator out in the porch. Dad would milk the cows, carry the milk to the house, the separator was turned by hand. You had to turn it at a certain speed. A bell would ring if you turned too slow. We were really happy when we got electricity and an electric motor to turn the separator. The cream was cooled and taken to the creamery and the skim milk was taken out to the barn and fed to the calves and pigs. The cream separator was taken apart every day and washed by hand. This was another job mother had to do every day. We built a milk house around 1945 or 46. Dad had a wood heater in there and he heated water and washed the separator and milkers after we got a milk machine.
We always had a telephone. It was a grounded line which only needed one wire up in the air. This kind of telephone line had only one wire on telephone poles (known as a grounded line). Sometimes when the ground got dry, it would not work and a pail of water was poured over the ground rod to reestablish a ground. We were on a party line with about 10 other families. When we heard one long ring, and four short rings it was our number and we would answer the phone. When we heard other rings we would listen too. This was called “rubbering” and people who did this were called “rubbernecks.”
This was a great way to keep up with the news. We did not have a radio until 1939. But we always heard what was going on. In 1931 the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Pierz was robbed by the Barker – Kayes gang. Dad and I were in town that morning. By the time we got home mother had heard all about it. There was a telephone meeting every year at uncle Joe Stangl’s house at which time, everybody paid his telephone bill for the whole year, usually around $5.
Washing was a big job every week. We had a big wash boiler on top of the stove. The white wash was boiled, and then the hot water was poured into the wash machine. The wash machine was quite a contraption; it had a handle on the side with a place for your foot. You pushed the handle back and forth and there was a flywheel under the machine to keep an even speed. Dad helped peddle this thing until we kids were old enough. There was no such thing as wash and wear, everything had to be ironed. Mother used irons that were heated on top of the stove. There were no clothes dryers either. Everything was hung out to dry until it got too cold, then some clothes hung on a clothes rack or hung upstairs.
Lights were kerosene lamps or lanterns for outside and we had an Aladdin lamp over the kitchen table. The Aladdin made a very nice light for reading or playing cards, etc. Once in awhile the room would slowly darken and we would see a big chunk of carbon on the mantle, then we would turn the lamp down and we would sit in a dim light and the carbon would slowly burn off.
I can still remember when I was quite little and I was sleeping in mother and dads bedroom, we had a kerosene lamp on all night. Once, I saw a dog or I thought it might have been a wolf looking in the window. I was so scared I could not cry out. I was scared stiff.
We all slept downstairs until I was about nine or 10. I remember once when I was about six, I said I was going to sleep upstairs. When I was getting ready for bed I went downstairs for some reason and I tumbled down the steps. I didn’t sleep upstairs again for a few years.
We did not have a radio or phonograph. I guess that is why radio is still a great thing to me. We always had a daily paper, the Little Falls Daily Transcript” and the Pierz Journal was a weekly. Both of these papers carried a lot of local news as well as state, national and world news. I think people were as well informed if not more so than today. The only difference was the news was a day or so older than now.
We always liked to read the local news, each area had its own reporter. The news was something like this: Christ Lust motored to Little Falls Tuesday on business, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Billmeyer visited the Frank Marshik home Sunday afternoon and a delicious lunch was served.
We spent our evening reading, playing cards or games and dad and mother would talk about years ago and about the people in the area we all knew, who was related to who and a little gossip.
People often had a hired man or a girl to help in the house. One of the hired men we had most often was Joe Priglemier. He was a short fat man. He was very conscientious about his work, in fact all hired men were proud of doing a good job. Joe could write his name but could not read. He always had a car of which he was very proud. He loved fishing especially spearing suckers. When he was young he loved to go to parties and dances. We kids loved to tease Joe, we were brats. Joe had one brother Mike and two sisters Katie and Annie. Their father was a small man with a roaring style of talking. He always smoked a pipe. He grew his own tobacco and always smelled of tobacco smoke. His wife was a very big lady. She looked like she had a very hard life but she was a very kind woman. I remember when we were kids and my dad would go to their place on business. We kids would have to stay in the car. Mrs. Priglemier would waddle out to the car and give us kids huge and very delicious cookies.
Another man who often worked for dad was Jake Huver. He was a character, but we kids like him. He was very patient with kids and did not mind us bugging him. He liked to brag about being a great fighter, but he always made sure that he did not get into a fight.
We had other hired men such as Gust Huver, Leo Hoffman and our favorite was Conrad Stangl. Leo was a good storyteller, he talked of riding the rods under a train. He traveled all over the country this way. We liked to hear about places he had been.
Making hay was quite an operation in those days. Dad would cut hay with a horse mower. Most meadows were rocky and then a day or so later it would be raked with a horse rake. It was then pitched by hand onto a stack. It was left out there until it was hauled into the barn in winter.
The big deal of the summer was the grain harvest. When the grain was ripening the grain binder was pulled out of the shed. It was completely inspected and repairs were made. The day the grain was ripe, three horses were hitched to the binder (ours was a small six foot Minnesota binder) and dad sat on the seat high up on the binder and he had a long whip to keep the horses going and he would drive out to the field. The binder was a fascinating machine with lots of moving chains, wheels, a big reel to pull the grain into the cutting part, a canvas platform that moved the grain up to the tying mechanism and a bundle carrier on the side to carry the bundles of grain to rows where they were set up in shocks. The binder made a loud noise and with the shouts of the driver it was an exciting spectacle. Dad drove the binder and until we were old enough to do it, we had a hired man do the shocking. If the grain was barley, there were beards on the barley that would get into your clothes and this was very itchy on a hot day. In a week or so after the grain was cut and shocked. The bundles were either stacked or thrashed. If the grain was stacked it was stacked into round stacks about 15 feet high. These stacks were set in pairs so the thrash machine (called a separator) would be pulled between them. These stacks were left sit until fall when the grain was dry. This method of handling grain was used until about the 1930s. About 1930 shock thrashing became more popular because there was only one handling of the bundles. About 10 to 12 people were needed to do this right. There were five or six wagons with horses to bring the grain in from the fields, two men to run the machine, three men to haul the grain to the granary and until elevators or blowers were used the grain had to be sacked up in canvas grain sacks. The machine had a weighing device that measured out a half a bushel at a time, three measures or dumps were put in a sack, these sacks had to be hauled to the granary. If the machine was running out of sacks, the wagon would have to race out to the machine so that no grain would be dumped on the ground. One of the first jobs I ever had was sacking grain by the machine. I was hired as a sacker by Christ Lust and we went from farm to farm all around Center Valley. This job was fun unless the wind was blowing from the wrong direction and the dust came your way. This did not happen too often as the machine was always set to take advantage of the wind. The straw was blown into a large pile and used as bedding and sometimes feed for livestock. The men usually enjoyed thrashing time as you could visit with your neighbors and the farm wives always prided themselves in serving great meals. Dinner was served at noon, supper and lunch in the afternoon. Sometimes when the crops were good someone was sent to get a “pony” 1/8 barrel of beer.
After harvest things were pretty quiet on the farm. This time of the year was when a new shed or other buildings were built. Dad usually raised six to eight acres of corn he did not own a corn binder, so we cut the corn by hand. A corn buck was set up and a six by seven or eight hill area was cut, leaned against this buck, tied on top and the buck was moved ahead and another shock was cut. When the field was cut, it really looked neat to see the rows of corn shocks. When the corn was dry dad started husking out the corn and then he tied the corn stalks into bundles which were later stacked up by the barn as winter feed for the cows.
Dad liked husking corn by hand. I was not very crazy about the job as a seemed it took forever to get done. In those days we did not buy hybrid seed corn. Dad always like a variety called White Cap. It had a yellow kernel with a white cap. It yielded real good but whenever a strong wind came when it was really ripe it would likely lay flat on the ground. White cap corn was very good for eating. I liked the taste better than sweet corn. I was about eight or nine when Riene Hartman gave dad a sample of hybrid corn, he planted about an acre. It was almost twice as tall as our other corn and the cobs were huge. Dad said he did not like this corn as it did not ripen and he said it was too coarse.
We always raised about an acre of potatoes. For awhile potatoes had been a fairly good cash crop in our area but around 1930 the market for potatoes collapsed and people just raised as many as they needed for themselves. Dad planted the potatoes by hand and cultivated them with horses but between the rows they had to be hoed by hand. We got paid five cents per row. We did this before the fourth of July. We budgeted our nickels to buy a bottle of pop and a go at the fish pond and a candy bar.
The job I disliked the most was picking potatoes. My dad and uncle Joe Stangl owned a potato digger (in company). It was stored at uncle Joe’s place. When we needed it we drove down to his place with horses. We then unbolted the lugs from the wheels so we could drive it home. When we got it home we had to re-bolt all the lugs back on and then go dig the potatoes. We picked them all and put them on big piles which were covered with the weeds and vines until the potatoes were dry. We then picked them up and put them on the wagon and hauled them home and carried them down into the cellar. One year we had a blight and about half of the potatoes were rotten. We had to pick them over before we could store them. What a mess!
Our farm was small, but we raised most of everything we needed. We had our own meat, milk butter and cheese from the creamery. Flour, sugar, spices and some baking supplies were all that was needed from the grocery store. I once had a pattern sheet on how to make things out of tin cans but I did not have any tin cans to use. I think the home cooked foods are better than the canned or frozen foods we eat now.
The first car I can remember was a Model T Ford. It had a cloth top and side curtains. In 1929 dad bought a model A two door car with a trunk on the back that opened up. Dad hauled his cream to the creamery in it. In the thirties the road to Pierz was gravel and in the summer it was wash boarded and dusted. Dad did not drive too much, mostly Sunday to church and hauling cream to the creamery a half a mile to Center Valley. Saturdays he took us to Catechism classes in Pierz. We went to Little Falls (12 miles away) a few times a year. If he had to go to St. Cloud (about 35 miles), he would usually took uncle John Stangl along. I think that car went to the Twin Cities (about 115 miles away) once. Sunday afternoon we sometimes went to visit relatives.
Cars in those days were all very different from each other. We knew every car in the whole area. We could even tell whose car was by their sound. After church on Sunday, there was always sort of a race on the way home. Some guys had to pass every car on the road.
During World War II we had gas rationing and everyone was issued coupons to buy gas. Dad never used his coupons as he did not drive much and the Model A did not use much gas. We always filled up at Fred Dahmen gas pump in the City of Center Valley. For a long time gas was five gallons for a buck. Fred used to pump the gas up into a glass jar high up on the pump then it was put in the car by a hose. All cars had manual shifting with a foot clutch.
Fords were noisier than Chevrolet or other GM cars but they did not last as long. Today, there are almost no 1920s or 1930 GM cars around but there are still a lot of Model A’s around in the hands of antique car lovers.
In the early 1930s Otto Bartel and Henry Langer were the only truckers that hauled livestock to South St. Paul for farmers who had cattle on hogs to sell. A livestock buyer named Louie Wiener come out to the farms and bought livestock but the farmer had to haul the livestock to Genola where the stock was weighed and loaded on a train. In the 1920s a siding was built along the Soo Line track at Center Valley. I still remember the stock pens and a scale right east of the crossing at Center Valley but dad said it was seldom used. A platform was built right east of the crossing where for a year or so, the butter from the creamery was hauled over there and loaded on the train. Around 1936 or 1937 trucks started picking up the butter and trucking it to the cities.
During the winter the roads were often closed to cars for days even weeks at a time. We lived close to Center Valley and if we needed anything from Pierz, dad would go to Center Valley and get a ride with Ferdinand Dahmen. The road from Pierz to Center Valley was usually kept open. Most necessities were available at the Center Valley store.
West of our neighbors farm was the farm of Walter Litke. His farm was on a very poor road and was usually snowbound. The Litke’s had turkeys. I remember dad went there and I saw this huge turkey gobbler. I was sure scared. The last building on the place burned down in 1976. Allan Storkamp now owns the land where the buildings were and has built a new house.
Across the track to the north of our place was the Math Meyer farm. Along our side, it was all woods. I spent many, many hours fishing in the hole below where the log dam used to be along the Skunk river. Victor and I also went swimming there and in another deeper place down where the river runs out of the farm there are many granite outcroppings. Some of the outcroppings on south side of the river are quite interesting. We had fun climbing to the top of the highest point and pretending it was a castle or a theatre.
North of the Meyer’s farm was the Wiess land that later became my farm. Frank Wiess had cattle out there and it was also fenced to hold sheep but I can’t remember sheep. Once I was walking home from school and a big red bull bellowed at me. I was sure scared to walk past there every day to go to school but I never dream it would someday be my home.
There was a small barn and a cabin in the middle of the place. I guess Wiess’s would milk cows out on their farm and sometimes when it rained they had a place to go. When I bought the place, I torn down the barn and filled in the well and moved the cabin to where we built our farm. I tore the cabin down for the lumber in the chicken coop.
Across the road was the Zwask farm. There was and still is a small woods. We knew every foot of this. There were trailed and a beaver dam and a small creek. Whenever dad needed a few poles he always went over there to cut them. The farm was always rented out as long as dad lived there until Marvin Hoheisel bought it in the early 1950s. The renters I can remember were the Sufkas, James, Wituckis, Billmeyers, Ben Hoheisel, Victor Heimenz, Thell, Ervin Girty. The large house and barn were built around 1917 by Zwasks of New Prague.
A man bought it from him and when farm prices collapsed in the early 1920s, John Mischke of Buckman bought it and was the owner until he sold it to a lady named Mary Thommes of Pierz. She offered to sell it to us once for $8,000 and I always regretted the fact that we didn’t buy it.
The Christ Lust farm was also across the road from the north end of our place. Christ Lust used to be a thrasher and in the early 1900s he spent the whole fall going from farm to farm threshing wheat, oats, rye and barley. He also had a sawmill east of where the buildings are located. I was in the second or third grade when they sawed lumber for the last time. Ed and Richard told us told us to come down to watch, but we had orders to always come home right after school so I never got to see the mill in operation. There used to be a house on top of the hill south of Center Valley. This house was moved to the Clarence Lust place which was still owned by Christ Lust. Clarence built all the buildings where Charles Dexter now lives. When this house was moved, we kids thought that was one of the greatest operations we have ever seen. Two tractors were hitched to the front of the building, which was on two large timbers and pulled by the tractors. This land was owned by my brother Victor. Victor and I both knew this land very well as we spent a lot of time helping Ed Lust pick rocks in the 1940s on the land. The Lust farm that was farmed with tractor power in our neighborhood. They had a big IHC tractor which was used for plowing and belt work. But cultivating corn was a time consuming job. The corn was checked, meaning that the rows went both ways like a checkerboard. The corn was cultivated about five times, three times one way and twice across. Dad had a marker that marked out four rows at a time, he first went over the field one way and then went across making a checkerboard pattern. He then used a hand corn planter and planted a hill in each place where the rows crossed. He only planted about six acres of corn so it was a fairly easy job. Most farmers used a horse drawn planter that used a wire with buttons on that made the planter drop the kernels every three feet.
South of our farm was the Ed “Pat” Otremba farm. Ed Otremba also opened the land and built all the buildings. Dad and he had a few disagreements about fence lines and boundaries but except for that he was a very nice neighbor. He had a sense of humor. He like jokes. He had a Model T Ford with a hand gas feed. He used to speed up the car until it ran fast and then coast for a ways until it slowed down and then he would repeat the same thing. A person could her them coming for about a mile.
Our closest neighbor was the Soo Line railroad along the north side of our farm (the tracks were removed during the 1990s for the Soo Line trail, the longest paved ATV trail in Minnesota. The trail goes from Genola to Moose Lake). Two trains came through every day, one at 11 a.m. and the other about 2 p.m. The trains had steam engines until the 1950s. All the trains had a mail car and a passenger car at the back end.
It was quite thrilling to watch them go by each day. We always liked to wave at the engineer. In fall the wheat trains would go through and as it is upgrade all the way from Genola to two miles east of Center Valley. The engines would really pound as they slowly went by. The smell of coal smoke was always a pleasant smell to me.
One sound that we did not like to hear was a series of shot toots. That meant “cattle on the track.” I don’t think any of our cattle ever got on the track but a few times cattle happened to get on the track and were killed.
The hill on the south side was very steep but there never was a car-train accident until a milk truck ran into the side of a train in 1986. Sometimes the hill was slick with packed snow, this made for nice sledding this was great when the roads were blocked and we did not have to watch for cars. We could slide all the way from the top of the hill to the bridge.
The two steep hills with a narrow bridge and a railroad crossing combined to make a scary half a mile. This was all the more scary if you had a heavy load behind a team of horses.
The mile between the schoolhouse and our place was always a interesting place to walk all the years I walked to school. I remember one day I was walking home from school and I saw what I called a squirrel convention. Dozens of squirrels were in the trees just north of the railroad crossing, running up and down and chatting away. I don’t know what these gatherings are for or why they occur. One other time I saw a gathering like this in the southwest corner of our farm.
The mailman was our main link to the rest of the world. Since we didn’t have a radio until 1939 we always were eager to see the papers. Dad subscribed to the Little Falls Daily transcript and the weekly Pierz Journal. The papers had a lot of local news and even who visited who and who had a new baby or a new car or tractor. People wrote more letters then. It is so easy to call by phone now on private lines and long distance is easy and cheaper than it used to be.
We were on two mail routes until the post office said we could not have this. Rural route two Hillman came form the south and went east. The carrier was Pete Buescler. We did not use the Hillman route much as it as a day later than Pierz. Rural route four from Pierz came from the east and went north. We had to walk to the corner to get the mail there. The carrier was Charlie Williubring. He was a very tall man. He used to walk parts of the route. He walked the two miles from Loren Tomala’s corner to our corner where he would meet the sub in his car.
In 1936 I got a pair of skis. That winter dad met the mailman when he was walking part of his route and asked him why he didn’t use skis. Charlie said he delivered so many skis that winter that he did not want to see skis for long time. People did not get a lot of parcel post in those times. It was easy to order things by mail, postage was cheap. There was no UPS or FedEx or any way to get things delivered except for railroad freight and express.
Until 1933 local letters were two cents and out of town was three cents, post cards were a penny. I used to buy penny post cards and send for anything that was free. I got a lot of junk mail and once in a while I would even get something useful.
Magazines all had good fiction in them and they all had serial stories in them where you had to wait until the next month to see what happened next. Even the Daily Transcript had serial stories in it until about 1942.
Dad loved to read. He liked German Almanacs and magazines. He used to read short articles aloud. He liked humorous columns. Another man who came around about every month or so was the Watkins man. He sold spices, lotions, liniment and stock tonics, poultry medicines and other patent medicines. One I remember were laxative cold tablets. We kids thought he was great as he always passed out gum. His name was O.W Carlson. Another salesman with about the same line of goods was the Raliegh agent. A lot of peddlers came around the country. One man I remember was selling stoves and he had a complete model stove about two feet high that he put together right in the kitchen. I remember another one who was selling suits plus magazines, and the insurance we still have now.
I sometimes think today how we regarded those salespeople as pests. After selling real-estate and co-op insurance, I can appreciate how hard it is to make a living selling and I now realize what those people were trying to do, just make a buck like everybody else. Sales must not have been too good for me, because that’s when I started writing this book.