UP IN THE WOODS, EARLY TIMES
Ray. E. Stangl
Foreword by Dennis Stangl
My dad wrote this book about his experience growing up 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 fireproof 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 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. 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. 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 Lablancs place. Logs were stored behind the 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 horses. 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) when he 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 drinkin so he never sold berr. 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 buisness 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 esd 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 adn in the summer wednesday and saturday too. They would take a can of buttermilk for home every can of cream they brought in. 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 nes 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 cordwood 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 efficent. 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 cremery started sending out small trucks daily to pick up the cream at the farms, this was a new thing at that time adn 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 enjoyede 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 eqipped 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 “O 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 may 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 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 calf 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 farrow 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 adn 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 plymoth 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 kids job to keep the water pails and the wood box full. Mother always cooked and baked wth the wood stove. In hot weather we had a kerosene stove out in the porch. We also had the cream seperated 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 seperated 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 seperator anymore. The cream seperator 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 adn 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. But this was surSe 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 Jounal. We spent our evening reading, playing cards 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 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 Stangls house wheret everbody 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 driveway 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 mail man 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 the route and walked from north of Loren Tomala to our Corner when he Would meet his sub in the car.
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 ski’s. 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 was three cents and post cards were just one cent. I used to get penny postcards 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 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 awhile 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. We all slept downstairs until I was about ten years old.
Making hay in those days was quite a 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, ours 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 usside 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 grainary. Until elevators or blowers were used the grain had to sacked into canvas bags. The machine had a weighing device that measured out half a bushel at a time. Three dups were put in each sack. The sacks were hauled to the grainary and emptied. This was quite a job. If 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 thrasing 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 dessert. If the 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 good but it had vey poor standability 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 ourselves 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 boardy and dusty. Dad did not drive too much. Sunday to church and hauling cream to Center Valley Saturday to take us to Catechism classes 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 sundy ther was always sort of a race on the way home. Some guys would pass everybody. During the second world war we had gas rationing and everyone was given coupons to buy gas. Dad never needed all his coupons as he did not drive 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, then it was put in the car. A dollars worth was the usual amount put in. 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 livestock. 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 onto 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 west bound train at two in the aternoon. 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 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 was 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 taht 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 amlie of road. If you had a heavy load behind a team of horses, this road was even more scary.
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 now stands. 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 me. 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 waliked to school. Some children had over tow 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 year. 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. 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 out 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 caem 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 hour, 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 fourth 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 achool year. In spring we had state board examinations. In the seventh grade you took geography and if you passed that you went into the eight 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 th G.E.D. classes and got the high school equivalent certificate.
My dad loved to read, he preferred German magazines and almanacs. He used to readshort columns out loud. He liked humorous coloumns. 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(Cigs) 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. For a few years in the 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.