Railroad flares

One of my closest friends when we lived in the Pink House was Nathan B. He was really a lucky kid because his mother would make toast for him whenever he wanted it. They lived in a rented house between our house and the park, right along the James River.

Railroad flaresOne warm summer evening we had one of the most exciting times ever. All summer Nathan and I combed the railroad yards for half burned railroad flares. It was finally time to use them. We found a little cove along the river near his house and started lighting flares. We thought we were nicely hidden and private where there was no way that parents could see us.

I really don’t know what’s in a railroad flare, but they had to be bright so the engineer at the front of a fifty car train could see what the brakeman back in the caboose was trying to say. They may have had black powder, and some chemical that caused them to burn blindingly bright for a long time. Probably not something an eight year old should be playing with. After dark. With a bunch of friends. Let’s just say we had a lot of fun.

Even in those days I was one of the first ones to leave the party. My house was only a block or two away, so it was a quick run home. When I got home and looked up the river towards Nathan’s house there was an astounding sight. A warm red glow lit up the entire river, side to side and from water to tree tops. I could clearly see the other boys playing with the still burning flares. Anyone crossing the second street bridge could have easily seen what we were doing.

Little did we know that the way the river twisted around, the entire neighborhood could see us clearly. Since we were night blinded by the flares, we had no idea who could see us. Why nobody saw us having that much fun I do not understand.

The rail yards gave us boys a lot of fun experiences. By comparison, today’s railroad tracks are incredibly sterile and boring. Perhaps they’re a bit safer, too?Grandpa Guy Havelick


1929 Chandler

1929 Chandler

1929 Chandler

This was one of Grandma Fanny’s favorite stories. Grandpa Ted won this experience, even if he got sort of snookered in the process. My brothers and cousins all have versions of the story that differ in many details, but the result doesn’t change. Ted got a fancy new car.

Any time two people tell a story, or any time one person tells a story twice the story changes. It’s no different from the old childhood game of “Telephone” where one child tells a story to another child, who tells it to another child, and so on until the story is totally mangled. In Sunday School when I was about ten we played this game. I mangled the story more than anyone. Maybe the girl telling me the story didn’t speak loud enough? It couldn’t have been my fault.

In this story the Brown Fence Company moved to Chicago from Cleveland. Probably not important to the story, but it perfectly illustrates how stories change in telling.
Grandpa Guy Havelick


Grace Writes …

Mama told the story of how they got a new Chandler car in 1929.

There had always been “open range” before that so people had to either let their livestock wander where they wanted or herd them. As people farmed more of the land they needed to keep the animals out so it was then that the barbed wir fence was built so all the farmers started to fence their land.

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Lucy’s Family

Charlie & Alice Heath

Charlie & Alice Heath

Both Lucy and my mother Grace grew up on North Dakota farms. Roads were dirt. Electricity and telephone were rare. By the time I started grade school there televisions were showing up in our neighbor’s house. The similarity of Lucy and Grace’s experiences show the circumstances of time and place. In this letter the item that leaps off the page for me is the reference to Native Americans looking in the windows of the sod shanty that Lucy’s family called home.

My mother, Grace, had the same experience. I don’t remember anyone peeking in our windows. I’ve read stories about “bums” riding the rails and stopping for a meal or short-term job before they moved on. If someone like that happened by our house these days, we’d probably just call 911.
Grandpa Guy Havelick



Lucy writes:

 My mother was such an inspiration to our family. She was left with five children to raise – Alice, Llewellyn (Lew), Pat, Loly, and me of course.

She was always helping young people who couldn’t go to school during the depression. I know of three men just off hand. My father would hire men from Norway to work on the farm and I know of three of them that became farmers on their own with his help.

Mother played the organ for her father, Rev. Charles Henry Heath and her mother sang for services, when he was pastor at Valley City. There was no one to marry or bury or preach at that time. Mother and Uncle Merrit spent many a day alone. Wild horses would come up to their sod shanty and look in the window. Indians roamed the prairie and she was always afraid of them.

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Thank you, Aunt Esther

Last week while we were out of town, the news arrived that my Aunt Esther had died. She was my mother’s older sister.

You might say that Esther was my favorite aunt. Maybe that’s because my mother learned so much from her sister. In a future letter from my mother you’ll read about how Esther taught her how to sew. She was always there when something needed doing. It seems that Esther was always around when the important things happened. The move to New Mexico. Buying the house at 319. I was too young and unaware to understand, but perhaps this is what a big sister just does? I think so.

Those two girls were alike in many ways, but different in just as many. It was clear that they were sisters. The older one was maybe a little smarter, picked up on nuances quicker, and appeared to be a little more successful at most things. Sometimes the successes were trivial, other times wonderful.

Esther at business college in Fargo

Esther at business college in Fargo

Our grand mother was proud of her daughter. The small example I remember clearly is when I learned how to fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Grandma made it clear that it was my Aunt Esther who, while in business school in Fargo, learned the right way to fold a personal or business letter . If you didn’t do it right there would just be a bunch of paper wadded up in the envelope.

One year Esther came through Rochester and demonstrated what I thought was the epitome of success. She had a small van outfitted as a camper, and was traveling across the country visiting friends, usually staying with those friends or family. She was doing what she wanted, on her schedule, with the people she liked. If that’s not successful, I need to get educated. Continue reading

Visiting Relatives in Wisconsin

Louie’s first story reminds me that our lives are similar, but unique. We both grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, with our childhoods spent near the steam-powered railroad. In this story, Louie talks about trying to take the train to visit his relatives.

Goose at station

Gas electric locomotive – “Goose”

My parallel story involves the same train, the Galloping Goose. These little gasoline powered motor coaches carried mail, passengers, freight, and milk to the small towns near Jamestown. My uncle and aunt lived in one of those little towns, Pettibone. When I was ten or eleven I’d take the Goose to Pettibone to spend a week with my cousins in the country.

The uniqueness of my story, compared to Louie’s, is that I got to visit the relatives. He didn’t. The other unique feature stands out compared to my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Louie got his butt whipped.
I may have paddled my kids once? Maybe twice, or maybe never. It just didn’t happen. Did the difference in discipline make a difference in how he and I turned out?

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

When I was the ripe old age of around 6, I had a good idea that it would be nice to visit some of relatives in Wisconsin.

I went to the railroad depot and got on board what was called the “Gallopin’ Goose.” It was actually a gasoline driven locomotive that they used on one of the branch lines going just north of Jamestown only traveling about 75 miles.

The conductor wanted to know where I was going and asked for my ticket. Not having a ticket started the trouble. The conductor tried to take me off the train. I started to rant and rave, it did cause quite a commotion. Continue reading

The Caribbean Sea

Update in progress. Please do not read this.

Jim loved movies. He seemed to know every star and director of every movie from his era. He was forever talking about movies and actors I didn’t know. As I age out towards (and beyond) the age when he was relating those stories, it’s obvious that I know many movies, actors and directors that my kids have never heard of. Just like Jim. Are we doomed to be just like the people who raised us? I hope so.

“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

Jim includes this letter early in his series because he spent WWII in the South Pacific in the very ship that’s being filmed for this movie. Early in the war he had been in the bowels of the ship. During their deployment he was promoted to work on the bridge.  He lived exactly those scenes, at least once and maybe more.

I imagine that Jim could have been one of the sailors stripped down in the Caribbean sun, waving his shirt at the camera boat. Could he have been an “extra” climbing on the guns? His squirrely attitude fits that opportunity.

Grandpa Guy Havelick


Originally published 2014-10-20
Updated 2017-02-01

Jim writes:

AwayAllBoatsWho hasn’t heard of the movie “Away All Boats” starring Jeff Chandler and Lex Barker? This WWII saga recreated the landing of American forces on a Japanese held island in the South Pacific during 1944. Universal-International Film studios in cooperation with eighteen U.S. Naval ships, thousands of troops, in full battle gear, planes, tanks and landing craft enacted a very convincing portrayal of a wartime assault on an enemy in all its horrors and furies!

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Best School Friend

Mark is on the far right corner.

Mark is in the right corner.

Mark was a close friend even before we were born. My mother was pregnant with me, her first child. Mark’s mom, Esther, was an experienced mom pregnant with her third child. They met at the local store, Peterson’s Grocery, on second street, about three blocks from the Pink House. That store is where my mother, nineteen years old, probably learned the important things about getting ready to have a baby.

Mark and I went to the same grade school and high school. We became very close friends during those years. We had the same teachers, friends and experiences for years. His phone number was 252-3024, somehow that number comes to mind right away as I write this. He had two older sisters, Joanie and Susie. They seemed so much older then. They may have been in senior high when we were in grade school.

They lived in rented housing and moved several times, always in the same quadrant of town as I lived in. No matter where they lived Esther always welcomed me with a smile and cookies. Mark and I enjoyed a lot of the same things, science, radios, music, reading, and whatever it is that young boys do.

They threw parties for us in junior high; overnight pizza parties! They would cook up a couple of pizzas. Mark , our buddy John and I would stay up ’till late, talking and playing games. His parents always had board games on hand for us. That and records. They even had a piano! A favorite pastime was to go sledding in the winter. (Well, not really sledding, but who wants to say cardboarding?) Schwartz’s was always the home of choice to go to afterwards because they would have hot chocolate and cookies waiting. After one particularly long winter event at “Cardboard Hill” we stood my frozen jeans up over the hot air register in their living room and watched them thaw out.

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Driving to Alaska

Henry's shop, with the 1953 Chevy he drove to Alaska.

Henry’s shop, with the 1953 Chevy he drove to Alaska.

Henry was possibly my favorite uncle. He always had ideas and aspirations, and his politics were a little strange. For some reason my memory of him has always been linked with the John Birch Society.

Most memorable was his ability to do (almost) whatever he wanted. Build a house. Experiment with an Oldsmobile Diesel engine. Tear down a grain elevator. Build a wooden bull, pagoda or castle. Or drive to Alaska on a whim.

The attached letter describes his trip and his impressions. It’s not clear to whom the letter is addressed, but it would be fun to know! Henry had a huge shop, with dozens of fascinating projects, including many of those I mentioned above. In the back of the shop were a couple of identical 1953 Chevrolet sedans. One of them is the car he took on this trip.

A question for the family … Did Ray go on this trip with Henry? My memory says yes, but there’s no mention of him in this letter.

Henry writes:

One day in August I started to drive north from my home in Pettibone, North Dakota. No particular destination in mind, I just planned to see what the country looked like farther north. I had a good old car and some money for gas so thought I could just as well make use of it.


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Papa and Mama

Original family farm house

The Kunkel house

I’ve often thought about what it must have been like to buy land a couple of states away, move to the desolate prairie of North Dakota, not knowing anyone, and trying to make a start of it on an abandoned farm. The agent who sold this young couple a farm on the prairie was quite the business man. His name shows up often in a Google search of Sioux City in those days.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

Grace writes:

Dear ones,

Papa + Mama bought the farm through a land agent named Mullhall from Souix City, Nebr. Papa had worked one summer somewhere in the Red River Valley and thought he was getting land like that.

What a letdown!! The hills were mostly sand that hardly anything grows on. They came to North Dakota in 1919 from Waterbury, Ne. Mama told about living with Bowermans one mile to the east while carpenters rebuilt house. It hadn’t been lived in for many years so was in sad shape. Horses had used it for a barn and had left lots of manure in and around it. Windows were broken and the doors were off. They built a full basement under it and I think that may when the cistern for rainwater was built.

They came to N.D. from Souix City on the train as far as Jamestown where they bought a Dodge Car to drive the rest of the way on muddy trails across country to the farm. One of their trunks got lost so she had to do without many personal things she had packed.

The rainwater cistern was really nice as we had a pump + sink in the kitchen so we had water handy for washing clothes and bathing. We had to carry water from the well for cooking and drinking. There was no plumbing in the house so always had a bucket under the sink for waste water and had an outdoor toilet.

The well was real deep so the water was always very cold even in summer. There was a concrete casing around the well + pump maybe 6 by 8 feet and probably 8 ft deep where we could go down on a ladder to store milk + butter etc. It was about the same temperature as we keep refrigerators now so it was really good for keeping food. We ran the windmill a lot for water for the livestock and to water the garden so the cold water through the well pipe kept the well cold.

The cistern started to get cracks when I was about 12 so we had to carry water from the well then for washing + bathing besides for cooking + drinking.

Love, Grace


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Starting School

I remember trauma on the first day of school, too. In her first letter, Lucy describes her first day of school, and she implies that there could have been tears. I’ll bet that Lucy’s mother had trouble on the first day of school, too, as her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter all had great reluctance to start school.

Mara (center) on the first day of school.

Mara (center) on the first day of school in 1986.

When our daughter started, she was not a little reluctant to get on the bus for school. Her brother was four years older, so we thought he could help her navigate the bus and getting into her classroom. That plan worked perfectly until Lon saw one of his friends as he got off the bus. Mara was left alone, scared and wondering where to go. Not a good start.

There was excitement on my first day of school, too. I don’t remember being scared or worried, mostly looking forward to it. One of my best friends that summer had been our neighbor Ray. We started in the same room for first grade in Franklin School in Jamestown. Ray did not like being left alone with all those strange kids, so he made a fuss. Such a fuss that his mother couldn’t leave. She sat in the back, in the cloak room, for the morning.

We’re all a little afraid of something. It helps to have someone along to allay that fear.

At least I didn’t have to bake stones in the oven to keep my feet warm on the way to school.
Grandpa Guy Havelick


Originally published 2014-10-13
Updated 2017-02-01

Lucy writes …

Going to school was a major step for me as I was so shy – of course the first grade meant singing a solo at a program. Our teacher was Miss Niblock and I really loved her. When my Dad took me the first day, telling the teacher “Don’t hurt her feelings or she won’t stop crying until she sees her mother”. Continue reading