Life’s Lessons Learned
The Chronicles of Harold
The Making of A New Home,
That I Would Not Get To Enjoy Very Long
Dad, in early December, 1954, for having the audacity to have a disabling heart attack and not being able to perform the duties of a young man, was summarily fired from his job by the new corporate management; so much for all of his preaching about employee faithfulness. There were no fair labor practices in effect at that time and nowhere to turn to for unjust situations like this.
The house was just a shell and I was hard pressed to keep up with my schoolwork, chores around the place, and the timber contracts still outstanding. I had to virtually drag my younger brother out to help me with things I absolutely could not engineer a way to do by myself. I finally decided that he could be better served by sitting with Dad, since Mom had gone back to work at the cheese factory as a milk tester, since we so badly needed the money she brought in.
I had been de-tasseling seed corn for DeKalb during the tasseling season. Since I was twelve, with all remaining money (After I bought school clothes, –first time I had more than one set of clothes to wear, even though they were blue jeans and blue chambray shirts, and I also had underwear for the first time.) being turned over to the folks. And after Dad had his heart attack, I had to turn it all over to them and wear what I had from the year before. It wasn’t long until I was down to just two sets of clothes from then on, until I went into the Army. An Uncle had given me a couple of pairs of old Army coveralls that I used to work in the woods with, so it spared my school clothes somewhat.
After talking things over in the evening, Mom would fix Dad’s breakfast and a lunch for him, and my brother was supposed to stay in the house and keep an eye on him while I worked outside on the projects. In the evenings inside the house, I was putting up insulation and drywall finishing each room and then moving to the next. I finished the kitchen and living room first, and then my parent’s bedroom. I was still living in the cabin by myself, and after I had insulated and hung drywall in the bedroom where my younger brothers were sleeping, they were supposed to sand the drywall-taped seams in both the ceiling and walls. It was never done and on reflection, I think it still had not been done when I returned from Korea in 1958.
As time passed by, I had little time for myself and if I took a break was immediately yelled at. Once, while Dad was still bedfast, he sent the youngest brother down to the timber for me where I was cutting trees and sawing them into logs for the mill. I went to the house and he told me that my younger brother had disappeared right after breakfast and it was now a little past lunch, so he sent another brother for me instead of him just getting Dad’s lunch from the refrigerator. This is the kind of stuff I had to contend with for some time.
Me and the Sawmill
Below are Sawmill Pictures
When Dad was able to get out of bed and move around, my Mother hired one of the neighbor Amish girls to come in and clean, do the laundry and fetch for Dad until he was fully able to get around on his own. My brother then made sure he stayed around the house to bother the girl, until regretfully her parents had her just quit. He still bothered her for a number of years after that, after I had left home.
Making Cypress Wood Doors and Window Screens
After about six months, Dad was again able to get around and do some small chores, but not able to work a steady job ever again. He started taking Mom to work and would try and find small jobs he could bring home, like making window screens and doors which I would wind up making complete with painting and hanging the hinges. He would then take the second younger brother with him to the job site to hang the doors and screens. This brought in a little extra money for us and since this was the days before the aluminum combination windows, his work was much in demand.
For one thing, he had me make all of the frames from cypress which one of the bartering friends brought back up from Mississippi a couple of times a year. Since cypress does not rot, the storm windows, window screens and screen doors lasted a long time, so were in demand. I always had a set under construction it seemed, even in the dead of winter. I still worked making tool handles from the hickory we had in our patch of woods and scraping to finished shape and texture with pieces of broken glass. Now it was much better because we had control over the growing hickory, I was able to form and tie a hickory sapling as it was growing and make whatever shape I wanted.
Making Buggy Shafts
Amish Buggy—the shafts go alongside the horse.
The shafts for an Amish buggy were much in demand and I would tie the sapling into the appropriate arc, securing it to the ground so it would grow parallel with the bend in the right place. A pair of these matching would be big enough by the second year to cut, debark and season in the rafters over the stove in the shop, sort of like primitive kiln drying and then be fabricated with the cross pieces and iron work into a pair of shafts which even then brought healthy money.
Dad was a quality carpenter and had passed the knowledge down to us and it came in valuable many times over. I had cut several small wild cherry trees on the property and had them sawn into boards that I then put up into the ceiling rafters to dry and season. The following year, I had them planed and made a half dozen library tables with a Queen Anne pattern legs, which I had intended to sell for a little extra money. One day I noticed that the two I had finished were gone and found that evening that the folks had taken them to town and Dad had sold them to the wife of the cheese factory manager for a goodly price. Nothing I could do about it since legally, anything I had belonged to him until I turned twenty-one. I did get repeated orders for the same in black walnut, maple and ash for the following year. I guess in retrospect, the money went for the family and not for a drinking habit like some would have invested it in. Just another of life’s lessons well learned.
I Finally Got Something of My Own!
David Bradley Walk Behind Garden Tractor
Speaking of things that were legally not mine, in 1952, my Mother’s youngest brother had given me a two-wheel walk behind David Bradley garden tractor with full set of equipment with the engine blown up. This Uncle made sure to let Dad know, in front of everyone, that he was giving the stuff to me for my use and not for Dad to sell. He also gave me the firearms I had along with an old 1939 International Harvester pickup that needed some work done on it which I did. Most everything I had as personal possessions that I had when I entered the Army came from this one Uncle. A mechanic in town who worked on our mechanical stuff and engines and had a son my age I went to school with, agreed to furnish an engine and install it in return for my helping him a couple of evenings a week after school. When he was finished, he had also installed a set of step pulleys, so I could change the speed ratios from low range for plowing to a high range set for traveling on the road with a little trailer hooked on behind that I rode in and carried some of the equipment to jobs. He also installed reverse gear idler and ratchet lockouts for the wheels, so I could back it up.
I had a number of jobs in town from clearing weeds, mowing lawns, plowing and tending gardens to hauling a lot of broken tile and bricks at the lumberyard. In return for me keeping the outside area of the lumber yard cleaned up, they allowed me to use the four acre patch, that had been the tile yard I had cleaned up, to farm and thus keep the weeds down on. I was able to get for free, seed corn samples from the local grain elevator when planting season was about over, and I appreciated getting them. I may have had several different varieties of corn growing on that four acres, but since I got it for free it was pure profit, less my sweat and labor. I continued this sideline until I went into the Army in 1956. When I would hand shuck the corn and take it to the elevator, by prior arrangement with my Dad, they did not even tell me how much I was harvesting, so I have no idea of the productivity and had to use an estimation to qualify for my FFA project in high school. Since I had no cash outlay other than the gasoline I used in the tractor, the profit margin seemed high even using a grossly underestimated yield. Dad, of course, would collect the check when all of the corn was harvested and later on we used about half of it to feed the pigs with after we moved to the country.
Another Money Making Project Waylaid By Stubbornness
Yorkshire Sow and Piglets
The pigs were also an FFA project that I paid for, but did not see a single penny of profit from. Dad considered all of the baby pigs as belonging to him and he insisted on crossbreeding my registered lean meat sow to a fat type boar for two years during which time he received little market value for the piglets.
I had prevailed and gotten to keep four of the gilts from my bred gilts first litter of fourteen (She always produced fourteen pigs from then on, when bred to a Yorkshire boar like she was.) and the third year over his loud protests, I traded farm labor service to the guy I had originally bought the bred gilt from for breeding service for the five pigs. The fall return from the pigs we shipped was like hitting Fort Knox. Pound for pound, the pigs we shipped brought five times as much money per pound as the crossbred pigs he insisted on and the ones we sold locally to the butcher brought a premium over market value, since they were fattened on acorns which makes a very tasty and highly sought after pork no matter what cut–ham, sausage, bacon, ribs, etc. We kept half of one of the locally butchered hogs and it sure was good meat.
After I left home to go in the service, Dad discontinued this practice of pure bred breeding and tried again several times with the fat hogs, since he always swore that the gaunt lean look of the Yorkshires made him think they were either sick or starved for water or food. He just could not be convinced that people wanted lean meats and bacon that had more than half lean meat was in demand, not the streak of lean from the fat hogs he liked.
Practicing and Refining of New Skills, Without Pay of Course
Coopering, Making Shingles and Iron Work
After Dad had gotten on his feet again, he began to teach me a lot of the old time stuff he knew that could be taught while he sat in an old rocking chair I had made from twisted and bent hickory saplings. I learned how to cut and carve barrel, keg, bucket and churn staves and how to assemble them. I had wondered for years how they made the potbellied wooden barrels and the local cooperage had long been closed having been done for business when the 55 gallon steel drum was invented during WW II.
DuPont had invented it to ship aviation gasoline in and the quantity it held represented the capacity of an individual fuel tank on one of the fighter planes. Prior to that the iron drum was straight sided, real heavy and the top and bottom were very thick. DuPont made the drum a lot lighter by rolling the reinforcing channel gussets in the side of the drum 1/3rd and 2/3rds of the way up the side and used a roll crimp on the top and bottom which used much less material and made manufacture much speedier.
The old cooper who was in his eighties when I was in high school, came out a couple of times and fine-tuned my abilities, including making a tapered barrel band. The barrels, kegs, buckets and churns always sold to someone for a good price. I know the guy who bought the hickory handles, until someone from Missouri beat me out of the market, used to take churns and buckets back to Wisconsin with him and would sell them either in Chicago or Milwaukee. I did not care, since he always brought back the crates of frozen pike every winter for us.
Dad taught me how to make the shingles. He taught me how to use a wooden mallet and a tool called a froe to split tapered thick butt shingles from a dried cedar billet. I later used some of the shingles on a little cabin back in the woods that started as a warm up house and a tool shed. We had a little forge that had a foot pedal powered fan to heat up metal in, and after I learned how to make charcoal, it was a lot nicer than the coal, which although getting hot quicker would not stabilize like charcoal would.
To properly make charcoal requires most generally a steel bucket you can tightly close with one vent opening. The selected wood is placed inside and then the bucket placed over the fire. When the process starts a gas will escape from the vent. This is wood gas and is burnable and powered vehicles in France during WW II. When the out gassing stops, the charcoal is ready for use and will burn without smoke or further out gassing, but will still produce invisible carbon monoxide.
I also learned how to make strap and T hinges for the barn I had built from lumber scavenged from several buildings we had demolished for people around the area. The cows did not seem to care whether I had made the hinges or latches myself, just that they worked to close the doors in blizzard weather. We maintained two cows during this period of time and until my Mother came down with cancer while I was in the service and away from home.
Beginning My Own Little Woods Cabin, A Home Away From Home
One day in the spring of 1955, a truck belonging to the large hardware and furniture store in town pulled up in front loaded down with a lot of naily lumber. Dad was gone at the time and they wanted to know if we wanted the lumber. I told them we could not afford it, but they said if we just allowed them to dump it we could have it for free. I had them back the truck down into the woods quite some distance from the house and unload the lumber. There was quite a bit of it and it took a lot of brush to cover it up from sight. Dad had not started to venture down that far from the house as yet and I spent some time I could steal away from other projects, cleaning and stacking the lumber.
Flitch Sawed Siding
When I was done there was enough to build a ten foot by twelve foot building on runners I had sawn from an oak tree too small to make lumber from, but had to be cut down anyway for a roadway to the back. Since I did not have enough lumber for siding, I also had several of these logs flitch sawed into siding for the cabin giving it a rustic look. I did not have any roofing material, so I used some of the cedar shingles I had made and not sold.
My original intent was just to use it as a warm up building and tool storage, so I did not have to go all the way back to the house to get warm or store tools I was using. I had an old laundry stove that I had salvaged and made a leg from strap iron that had gotten broken off and I installed this in the little building. I had made some windows to fit a dozen panes of glass I had picked up, so the little cabin had light. It was tight and snug, especially after I had lined the walls with tar paper and cardboard on the inside and then painted white so we could see in the building. I had built in a couple of bunk beds and a couple pieces of furniture also and just used one end to store the tools in. I expected Dad to hit the roof when he found out about it, but surprisingly he admitted it made good sense to have it available, so one did not have to leave the work area to get warmed up.
A New Use For My Cabin–A Hunting Shack
A friend of the local doctor who I sold firewood to every fall, came out one day and when he saw the cabin wanted to know if he and a couple of friends could rent it for a week during duck season when they would come down and hunt. I told him sure, that it was very primitive and I had just finished building a little one holer toilet close to it. Water was available from the little spring in the stump just a short distance away and there was ample firewood to keep it heated. Mom even found a couple of the old Rochester mantle oil lamps she used to use and they put out plenty of light for the cabin.
He and two friends came down from Chicago and the first day it was a beautiful bright, sunny, chilly day. My younger brother took them down to the slough where we had obtained permission to hunt and he later described the activity as anti-aircraft gunnery. He said the ducks came over high and fast and they blazed away at them with their big twelve gauge shotguns and missed every time. They had the same results the next day.
A Lesson In How To Hunt Ducks When You Are Serious About It
The third day dawned blustery with intermittent rain sprinkles. My Mom had asked me to get her two ducks that day, because she had agreed to fix them a country dinner the next evening. I did not like duck, so she said if I got a pheasant, she would fix it also.
I started down the next morning in the bad weather and just as I got to the cabin, one of the gentlemen was coming from the outhouse. He asked where I was going and I told him my Mom wanted me to get her a pair of ducks for their dinner tomorrow night. He said, “You hunt in weather like this?”
I said, “If you want ducks around here you do.” He wanted to know if he could accompany me and I told him, “Just you and no guns.” He was a little miffed and I told him, “I hunt differently than you do.” The other two guys wanted to sit and play cards where it was warm and dry, so we started off through the woods with the shepherd and beagle dogs I had with me.
He said, “You hunt with dogs?”
And I told him, “They do the hunting, I just do the shooting and if I could figure out how to have them do that, I would.” He asked to see my shotgun and I handed it to him, after breaking it open and taking out the shells. He was amazed that it was a .410 bore double barrel Iver Johnson shotgun.
Iver Johnson 410 Double Barrel Shotgun
He said, “You expect to bring down ducks with that?” And I told him I always had. We arrived down by the slough and I told him to sit on the stump close to me and just wait and not move. I put the shells back in the gun and the dogs came around when they heard the gun close to see where we were. They circled out through the tall rank grass, where the ducks were feeding and talking to each other, and soon a duck burst from the grass, flying low and slow as it circled away from where the dogs were working. As it flew past me, I raised my shotgun and shot it from behind causing it to drop like a rock. The shepherd grabbed the duck and brought it to me and then they went back in the grass. Several minutes later, another duck done the same thing with the same results. After picking it up, the dogs were very reluctant to leave, so I allowed them to stay and I and the doctor started to walk back. He wanted to know if I was going to hunt anything else, since I had mentioned that I did not like duck, so Mom was going to fix a pheasant for me at the same time. I said no, that I had only brought the two shells with me. He said, “Only two shells!”
And I told him, “Mom only wanted two ducks.” He then wanted to know what load I was firing, and I told him I only have two loads for the 410, one of them a rifled slug and the others are high brass number four shot. I explained to him that, “Shooting a duck from anywhere other than the dead rear is not a winning combination, since the force needed to force shot through their greased and closely overlapping feathers would also destroy a portion of the meat. By shooting them from the rear, the heavy shot goes up under their feathers instead of bouncing off and brings them down. There is less meat spoiled this way than using large bore shotguns.” He still marveled at me only bringing two shells with me and I told him, “I would have rather netted the ducks, but it is too swampy down there.”
Remington Express .410
He asked me where I was going to get my pheasant, and I told him in the fencerow when we got back to the place. We arrived at the fencerow and I had two pheasants in my improvised traps, a cock pheasant and a hen pheasant. I let the hen go and wrung the cock pheasant’s neck and added him to my game bag.
When the doctor asked something about duck stamp limits, I told him I did not know what he was talking about. He then asked me if I had a hunting license and I told him, “No, I am merely foraging, not hunting.” He was speechless. I left him at the cabin and took the birds up to the house and dressed them out for Mom to put soaking in salt water overnight to remove some of the gaminess from them.
The doctor showed up shortly after lunch, he had been down to the local hardware where they called a fellow they knew who wanted to sell his shotgun. He came back with a 20 gauge double barreled Fox shotgun which was a real beauty and several boxes of high brass shotgun shells with number four shot. He went back out that afternoon and came back with his limit of four ducks and only shot four shells. That was the last time the two other guys, one a doctor and one a dentist came down with him, though he came many times after I left home until the cow got into the cabin where Dad had his dynamite to blow stumps with stored, ate the dynamite and trashed the cabin pretty well and it had to be torn down.
To be continued…
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