Ford Model T controls – click to enlarge
For years Judy and I were members of the local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. Our car, the 1953 Cadillac, was one of the newer vehicles in the club. Several members owned Model T Fords, including Peter A. On one tour, while we were having lunch at the county historical center he allowed volunteer club members to drive his Model T.
What a hoot! Those of us unfamiliar with the vagaries of such an ancient vehicle had trouble believing that anyone could learn how to drive such a beast. Everything Jim mentions below is absolute truth. Steering was difficult at best. Perhaps Jim was too young to notice, but to me the foot pedals were the most confusing part of driving the car. They were nothing like a modern vehicle. Today’s cars have an accelerator and a brake pedal. Not the T.
From the left, pedals include the high/low clutch (push in to start, then let it out when you get to speed), the reverse pedal (press to go backwards), and the brake (note that it’s on the right, unlike the car you drive). Then there’s the emergency brake / clutch release lever. The whole thing reminds me of the class we took on how to Rumba. My feet are still dizzy.
All the farm work was done with horses; plowing, planting, tilling, cutting hay, raking, stacking and hauling. The year before we sold the farm (1930) we had a hired hand. He went by the improbable name of Willie Handy. I can still see him now …
Jim (r) and his step-father Einar in about 1953.
If you’ve read this blog for very long you’ve seen stories similar to this one before. It seems that just about everyone in Jim’s generation told stories about one room schools. Most of my generation missed the opportunity, and there can’t be many left. Some think that home schooling can replicate the one room school learning environment, but there isn’t much that can bring back the daily grind of a horse-drawn sleigh in the winter.
How many blankets and burlap sacks would it take to keep warm for that long ride through the snow? I’ve heard stories about heating rocks on the cook stove and wrapping them in burlap to use as foot warmers. That’s more believable than the one about using rabbits or cats to keep warm.
My four block walk to Franklin School seems pretty tame by comparison.
Many of the people I visit with in my age bracket state that they attended a small one room school in the country. I, too, am one of those in that group. The year was 1930 and the school had about twelve students from the first thru the eigth grades. It was heated by a coal stove and the further you sat from it Continue reading
Manual labor was a big part of life in the thirties. That’s about the only job a teenager could find back then. The pay may seem a little low, but converting 1930 dollars to 2015 dollars means Lucy was making about $20 per week. That’s not too bad for a first job, taken on while going to school.
By the time Judy and I came of age manual labor had given way to service oriented jobs. I did some sweeping floors initially, but quickly graduated to working in an office putting together mailings and brochures. Judy got a fabulous job working as a telephone operator at the television station with her mother.
During the depression years when I was a “teenager,” jobs were so hard to get. I knew the best thing I could do for my mother was to be away during the summer. She cooked for teachers, rented out part of our house, washed clothes for the Moody Farm during the winter but during the summer having Selmer Engen come to the house for meals was her only income.
Most of us were born in town, in a hospital, and grew up on a street with sidewalks and other houses. My mother had none of those luxuries, and a childhood quite different from mine, starting with where she was born.
Grace on the farm
Grace grew up on a farm in the middle of North Dakota during the Great Depression, just south of Lake Williams, ND, south of Kunkel Lake. These are the letters she wrote to me in 1991 with her memories of life on the farm, going to school in Steele, ND, and the first couple of years she lived in Jamestown, ND. The stories end with her wedding to Louie Havelick.
Kidder County hasn’t changed much since the days Grace lived there. It might be worth your time to visit that part of North Dakota. A highlight for me is the Fairview Cemetery where Grace, her mother and other relatives are buried. From the top of that hill, there are almost no signs of civilization. No visible buildings, no houses, few roads, but plenty of sky and birds. One day Judy and I were at the cemetery alone and a solitary pair of pelicans circled overhead the entire time we were there. They were marvelous birds, quiet and graceful. We thought “Maybe that’s Grace and her mother?”
Sunset is an especially captivating time there. Quiet really sets in, which is a surprise since it’s quiet during the day. The wind dies down and stars come out. For a city kid like me who’s interested in astronomy, there is nothing in the world more captivating. Uncountable stars, and the Milky Way. Stars and no sign of civilization. (There may not even be a cell tower nearby.)
Grace’s first letter relates a story of Native Americans on the prairie and how the railroad influenced rural development.