Dad never smoked, but had chewed tobacco for a time when it was fashionable when he was around 30, but he said it gave him heartburn so bad he quit. He liked licorice, though, and always carried a stick of in his watch pocket in the breast of his overalls, where he would crack a small piece off once in a while.
Dad was always interested in world affairs, and soon after leaving home he bought a first class set of encyclopedia. We used them all the time when we were children. I remember the color plate pages of snakes, all the Indian tribes, and things like that. He subscribed to the St. Louis Globe Democrat, a daily paper, and never wanted to miss the news on the radio. I guess he taught us a love of reading which Hazel and I still have.
Dad was interested in radios and bought kits from Allied Radio (now Radio Shack) and modified them to use a car battery. We had no electricity in those days and radios used A B C batteries and sometimes several other types at different voltages that powered different areas in the set. Some had battery boxes in the lower part of the set that took up as much space as the radio with six different batteries. Later they developed battery packs in one case that was much smaller and you just plugged into it that lasted much longer.
He showed us how to make a radio out of a pocket knife and a pair of headphones. The blade was slightly magnetic, a ground wire was attached, the antenna, and then a piece of pyrite off the lump coal was set on the knife and the blade lightly resting on it, touching it, And when the two prongs from the headphones touched to the knife you could get KSD and KMOX from St. Louis 35 miles away. You got a different station by touching the knife blade to a different part of the crystal.
An oatmeal box could be made into a radio by winding so many turns around it, using the Pyrite crystal and headphones and this was often a science project. We had a radio that was powered with a car battery, and used headphones. You would plug in a coil and then tune in a band of frequencies, plug in a different one for a different station. He made them himself out of old tube bases. We listened to Amateur radio operators and short wave.
Later we had a battery pack radio with a loud speaker. They had made tubes smaller and you could get a pack at a reasonable price that lasted 750 hrs. We had a high wire antenna strung between insulators, about 20 ft. off the ground, and an iron water pipe driven into the ground for a ground. This had to be disconnected during lightening storms. We also had to stay out of the kitchen during lightening storms. Blue fire would come across the kitchen sometimes from the wire being struck. It was grounded on the outside but sometimes the current didn't all go to ground.
Dad was very inventive and was always tinkering with something. He built his own electric fencer from an old Model T Ford ignition coil. I remember when he was working on it in his shop in the car shed, where he also had all his tools. He got shocked so many times one day he said that he was sick. He perfected it and had it mounted inside one of the hoghouses with a 6 volt battery pack. A wire was run out over the hog pens to an area where he would put a temporary fence around areas of fields for temporary grazing for the cattle.
Dad always had a lot of spools of very fine copper wire that he used to wind radio coils. Harold and I took some of this wire one day, and wrapped one end around an ear of corn. Then we'd throw it into the hog pen and toss the other end over the electric fencer wire where it passed overhead. A hog would grab the corn and let out a loud squeal before dropping it. We did this a few times, until Dad -- having noticed that the hogs had just about quit eating corn -- caught us. We didn't do that any more.
When we planted corn we soaked the seed corn in turpentine to keep the red wing blackbirds and crows from digging it out and eating it. The crows were such a nuisance in the 1930s that some farmers hung pieces of dynamite in roosting trees and detonated it when they had gone to roost for the night.
We had hand crank phones in those days. They had two round batteries that powered them that were called dry cells. They were about six to eight inches high and three inches across. It was a party line and you were signaled by the rings. Ours was one long ring and two short, I think.
In the fall we would go into the timber where we had five acres near the river, maybe four or five miles from our house. If it wasn't that far it seemed like it. We would cut our winter supply of wood from trees that Dad selected -- a lot of ash and oak. Most of the oak was split with wedges on the spot after we cut them down with a two man crosscut saw. They were split into quarters by driving iron wedges into them until they split. With the good use of an ax and the proper wedge placement they came out pretty good. Most of these were used for fence posts for around the pasture.
If we needed lumber to build something we would cut down selected trees, about three ft. through and in the winter, when the ground was wet or frozen with snow on it, we would take a skid or mud board which was made flat on the ground out of thick oak boards bound together with iron bands, and with a hitch to put a doubletree for a team of horses to pull it. With the help of CANT hooks we would roll the log up on the skid and drag it to a sawmill at the edge of the timber on the Clinton, St. Clair line, where they sawed it into lumber in the sizes you wanted and whatever else they could get out of it. They took a share of the lumber for payment.
When we hauled the lumber home it was stacked to air dry and covered enough that it didn't get wet. It had to be turned and restacked several times as it dried with spacers in. It was kept from warping by this restacking process.
The wood selected for firewood was piled in an area of the farmyard and dried for a period of time, but was being constantly cut into for cooking wood for the kitchen range.
We used coal, too, but a lot of wood was used when you wanted a faster fire, or to start a coal fire. We had a sawbuck set up where we would pull a log into the thing, and then using the two man crosscut saw to saw pieces off, then they were split with an ax to pieces small enough to burn in the kitchen range. The heating stove took most full size blocks. When the weather got real cold and other work was caught up we would pull the 1915 Model T out of the shed with the pulley on the end of the drive shaft and with the belt to a pulley and a large circular saw set in a frame. Neighbors usually helped each other with this. The men would bring up a 6/8/10 inch log and slowly feed it into the sawblade sawing off chuncks, and others throwing them off to a pile to be split as we used them. One of the younger boys -- I remember doing it often -- would sit down under the steering wheel and pull down the gas lever at the appropriate time to speed up the saw blade as the log was fed into it. I remember one time -- I don't know whose house it was -- they fitted a pulley to the rear wheel of a Model T and were running the saw apparatus like that.
Dad had modified the 1915 Model T we used so that the drive shaft was run out through a bearing block on the rear of the frame, and it was stripped of any body, but everything else was left on it. He had a generator on it, so anytime we were using it to grind feed with the hammer mill we were charging car batteries, too. So he always had a spare.
Electricity was not brought into the area until after WW II. I remember going to a REA meeting in 1942, I guess it was. One man got up and said "They already have electric in the mountains of Arkansas and we're dragging our feet on this."
The General Store in New Memphis
There was a small general store in New Memphis and a tiny post office was next to it. The store owner was also the postmaster. The mail was picked up from the train station at New Memphis Station, a little over a mile from our farm. A mailbag was hung on a metal arm and an arm on the mail car would snatch the bag off without the train slowing down. We got our mail through New Baden by carrier who delivered it to a mailbox at a crossroad 1/2 mile from the farm. If we wanted to mail a letter and didn't have a stamp, you just left the letter and the three cents in the box, and the carrier took care of it.
Baby chicks were even shipped by mail but it's not clear to me now how that was handled. We usually got ours from a hatchery in Breeze or Mascoutah, and sometimes from our own eggs.
To get back to the store in New Memphis, you could call in an order for anything and he would leave it within a building that used to be a tavern, but had closed. He sold a little candy and had an ice house, but he always left the door open for us children to come in and get warm.
Aunt Rosina (Emil Sr's wife), who lived on the farm next to us, was an avid reader, too, and she always loaned Dad the books before she returned them to the Library or wherever she acquired them. I remember The Grapes of Wrath and Gone with the Wind. She always seemed to get them and always let Dad read them before she returned them. Often when we visited Aunt Rosina she and Dad would talk about some book or social issue of the time. They didn't always agree and argued the issues.
Something To Talk About
It was kind of like I remember one day when Dad, Uncle Pete and I were shucking corn, and Uncle Pete said to Dad, "Why do you disagree with everything I say?" Dad said, "If I agreed with everything you said we wouldn't have anything to talk about." When Dad and I were working together we always had a conversation going. I guess he taught me how to keep a conversation going, and it was educational talking to him. He had traveled quite a bit, homesteaded in the Dakotas, and taken a train to Michigan, Tennessee and Maryland, traveled in a covered wagon train to Colorado. He was a good storyteller and told stories about life in Oklahoma next to the Cherokee Strip, when outlaws and renegade Indians hid out. When horse thieves were caught up with and hanged on the spot.
He had a friend who was doing life in the Oklahoma State Prison at McAllister. He used to visit him on Sundays. The friend told him of how other inmates would spit in your food sometimes to get you to give it to them. For discipline they strapped them down to a table, bared their buttocks, and beat them with a broad horsehide leather strap. I was always fascinated by the things he had done and the places he had been.
He told me about when he was younger, and his best friend in those days was David Henderson. He and his sister lived down the road from him. Dad asked the woman to marry him several times, but she refused, but never told him why. Later, cousin Elmer told me, that when my Mom and Dad were having a party on the evening after they got married at the Catholic Church in Eufaula, in May 1921, Elmer overheard her say, "If I had known it would be like this I'd have married him myself."
It seems that some Baptist preachers in those days in the country told their people that the bride had to sleep with the priest the first night, as he had to break them in.
We also had Guinea Fowl on the farm. They were better than a watch dog. They always slept in low scrub trees and if a mink or some other predator would come around they set up a loud screeching racket. We had some ducks at times, but they would get away from the farmyard early in the morning and a fox would get them. We had some geese at one time. Everyone kept some geese to make their own pillows and feather beds. You plucked some down from their breast at intervals through the summer. We plucked down from the ducks, too.
When geese are young you always had to be there when it rained and get them under shelter. They would turn their beaks straight up and drown themselves if it was raining hard enough.
In the home garden we had permanent beds of asparagus, rhubarb, gooseberry bushes, rose bushes, and peonies. It always had to have a high fence around it because we let the chickens out in good weather and they roamed about.
In the evening we closed the main chicken house doors and opened a narrow little door, and before it got dark they had all filed in to go to roost through that door. The small door had something to do with some predators not following the chickens in at dusk. We always had to close it at dusk. The chicken houses had concrete floors and in the winter time we had to cover them with straw, it gave the chickens something to scratch in and kept them from freezing their feet. The roosts were 2" x 1" slats over wire covered boxes with gates on the front, so the chickens could not get into it. Every couple of days we had to clean the boxes out using long handled hoes to rake it out. We also always had to see that the hens got plenty of chipped oyster shells and small gravel. The oyster shells for their bodies to make eggshells, and the gravel that they had to have in their craw to grind up their food. They have no teeth -- no lips either -- in case you didn't know about things like that.
We bought sacks of oyster shells but went to the Okaw River to a gravel bar for our gravel. It's amazing how much gravel 1,000 chickens ate. In the wintertime we were always culling out hens that were through with their cycle of laying eggs. At night when they were on the roosts you could put your hand under them and feel if their breast was bare, they were no longer laying eggs. We would put them into shipping coops and call a trucker that made regular trips to the stockyards, and ship whatever crates we had. Occasionally we shipped a veal calf or some hogs on the same truck. The trucker would bring back a separate check and ticket from the stockyards for each person who shipped something.
We had a Rope making machine. It clamped to the workbench in the workshop. It had about a faceplate with spindle hooks on the face of it. Hemp twine was tied to as many spindles as the size rope you wanted to make required, and ran out to a length that the finished length required, through a wooden paddle with holes matching the spindles on the machine. Then with someone holding the paddle and twine lengths the machine was operated, the spindles turning and the rope was slowly formed. We made most of our own rope up to about 1 inch.
We usually had about six milk cows, and for a good many years had a cream separator that did a good job of separating out the cream. You poured the milk into a tank on the top and as you turned a crank it spun a bowl with many plates in it and separated out the cream. But the bowl had to be taken apart everytime you used it, twice a day, and about two dozen metal cones with irregular holes in them, washed in warm soapy water and then rinsed and dried. Then the cones had to be reassembled in numbered order. Later Dad bought a DeLaval stainless steel separator that was the "state of the art" machine for the time, and you could just pour the water through it and clean it without having to take it apart everytime. I think we still had to take it apart once a day anyway, but it was stainless steel and did not have all the cones to wrestle with.
We had to use a lot of baking soda to sanitize milk buckets. We made butter using a glass churn that held a gallon of cream. It had a paddle that went down into it and had a geared assembly on top that you cranked by hand. After cranking it for maybe 15 minutes, and when you could see a tint of yellow flecks in it, we would place it in cold water and keep cranking it. It would gather together in a ball, and you had butter. You removed it and you could then add salt, mix it a little and pack it into a 1 lb. mold.
Mother used to make a type of cheese that was put into crockery jars and put on a warmer shelf behind the kitchen stove. I have tried to find out how this was done but no one remembers. They called it Smear Cheese and I remember it was very good. We also made cottage cheese by pouring the soured-curdled milk in a clean flour sack and hanging it out on a clothesline, letting most of the liquid drain out, then mixing some cream back in.
Once a week we had to take the cream we had to the railroad station at New Memphis Station. The 3:30 evening train on the L&N would stop and pick it up and the Blue Valley Co. picked it up. They sent a check in a few days, paying for it by butterfat content. We always got to spend this money for clothes and things ordered from the Montgomery Ward Catalog.
Fertilizing The Soil
The farm soil is pretty sandy and was so poor when Mom and Dad bought it, that he used to say that "it was so poor a rabbit had to carry his lunch across it." They slowly built it up. It had to have limestone put on it to sweeten it, to get the PH right. In the days before they started doing it with trucks we would have a railroad car of lime delivered to the siding at New Memphis Station, about 1 1/4 miles away, and you had so many days to unload it. We shoveled it off into a box wagon and hauled it home. Then we'd put it in large piles in the field. After we emptied the rail car we had to reload our lime, and using a whirling disk spreader geared to a wagon wheel, shoveled it into a hopper spinning it out in a thin layer on the field. Dad limed a certain number of acres per year, until he had the whole 100 acres limed and then started at the beginning again.
All the chicken, cow, and horse manure was hauled to the field on a wagon and was spread on selected fields, by hand, with manure forks.
Besides the 100 acres we had at home, for a time Dad farmed some land for corn in the Okaw River bottoms. The owner got a third. It was rough land with sprouts with roots in it, so it had to be plowed with a two horse walking plow. You had to hold the plow handles so when it hit a root it could flip up and over without taking you with it.
The rattlesnakes were so bad that he would wrap his legs in burlap sacks and occasionally a snake would be hanging in the burlap by its fangs. We had some big rattlers out there. Also cottonmouthed water moccasins, blue racers, garden snakes, king snakes and black snakes. Everywhere you went in the summertime you had to be snake conscious.
While Dad plowed the field there we boys were always hunting for Indian arrowheads and musket balls, which we always found on a slough bank at one end of the field. No doubt there had once been an Indian village there, and we found arrowheads and lead musket balls there anytime we went looking, especially after a rain. There were chippings from the arrow making to such an extent that it was probably a camp for many years. We never found any bone fragments, but it is strange that so many perfect arrowheads were left behind -- except that there were a lot of rifle balls, too. We assumed at that time that there had been a battle there. Otherwise, we thought, they would have saved the musket balls to use later.
We called it Brickhouse Slough, I don't know why. There were only clubhouses in the area, no more than wood shacks. It was about 1/2 mile from the Okaw and we often fished there and caught a lot of catfish. I remember Mother and Dad taking us there on Sunday afternoon to fish a couple of times. Harold and I went fishing there many times.
Many times we went on to the Okaw and fished from a gravel bar when the river was low. Harold and I went swimming from the gravel bars in the Okaw with Ray Friederich and Arnold Walthes, always first staking off an area with wooden stakes that we were not to go beyond. And yes, we went skinny dipping.