Your Stories Are Needed

What’s it like to live in Morrison County, Minnesota? That’s what we want you (former and current residents) to tell us. Rather than collect your stories through traditional oral histories, we are interested in gathering them via short, focused essays (“mini memoirs”). Our goal is to collect a minimum of 100 essays, which will be posted on this blog and added to the collections of the Morrison County Historical Society.

The title of our project provides a clue as to how to proceed. The brackets sandwiched between “What’s It Like” and “in Morrison County” are to be filled with the topic of your choice.

Examples: “What’s it like [to write a poem] in Morrison County?” — “What’s it like [to pick up mail at the post office] in Morrison County?” — “What’s it like [to be French-Canadian] in Morrison County?”

The topics are only limited by your imagination. (See the Suggested Topics tab at the top of the page for more ideas.) We’re looking for between 200 and 1,000 words on subjects ranging from the mundane to the sublime. We’re more interested in the history than the grammar, so don’t let the mechanics of writing hold you back. (We’ll help with editing, if needed.)

For a complete description of the “What’s It Like” project and submission guidelines, check out the tabs at the top of the page. Send your essays to weymu@morrisoncountyhistory.org.

We look forward to your contributions.

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Continue reading to see examples of essays that have been submitted.

Disclaimer: The views expressed within the essays are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of the Morrison County Historical Society.

To Spend Your Summer in Morrison County

My life in Morrison County began in May 1943 when I was born in St Gabriel’s hospital.  Dr. GM Fortier delivered me.  I have no memory of the event but I was told my mother and I had to remain in the hospital an extra day because of a spring snow storm.

My roots in Morrison County were deep. When I was brought home it was to the yellow brick house kitty-corner from the yellow brick brewery on North East 7th Street.   My grandma’s father, Jacob Kiewel  built both along with a couple of yellow brick buildings in downtown Little Falls.

My father, Edward A Berg Jr. was also born in Little Falls.  His father had the first Ford agency in Morrison County.  His grandfather had a store on East Broadway where he sold and serviced Majestic Radios.  My mother recalled how although he was an old man, T.O. Berg climbed a tall ladder to get on the roof of the two story yellow brick house on  NE 7th street  to install an antenna.

When I was born my dad was in the army, stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After defending them, he was sent to OTS in Baton Rouge and ultimately to Europe.  My mother and I remained with my grandma and grandpa on NE 7th Street, kitty corner from the brewery where my grandpa, Barney McGivern was the office manager and bookkeeper.

The war in Europe ended on my second birthday but my dad wasn’t sent home for a while.  I was over three years old when my mom, dad and I moved to teeny apartment in a duplex in north Minneapolis.  By the time I was four we moved back to NE 7th street.  My mother was pregnant with my brother Tom and she wanted to be under the care of Dr. Fortier.  After Tom was born we moved away and my life in Morrison County became limited to summers, spring break and Christmas vacation, except for when I had tonsillitis when I was six.  Only Dr. Fortier was trusted for that operation.

My summer memories of the late forties and early fifties are the clearest and dearest.  Tom was too little to be away from home so I got to spend several weeks in Little Falls without him.  I waded in the Mississippi at the Municipal Beach, played croquet, hit a tennis ball against the back of the house for hours, and waved hello or goodbye to the National Guards on their way to the camp or home by way of the train which chugged slowly on the spur line running between  NE 5th and 6th streets.

Weekdays at noon my grandpa walked from the brewery to the yellow brick house to have lunch and listen to Cedric Adams read the news.  Some days he drove downtown to make a deposit for the brewery at the First National Bank.  After he concluded that piece of business, he’d  cross First street  and walk up the block to Larson’s Market nestled between the J.C. Penny store and the Ripley Theater to pick up the order my grandma called in that morning.  I seldom missed the chance to go with him.  He always made sure that he walked closest to the street because “that’s what a gentleman does when he walks with a lady.”

Larson’s had sawdust on the floor and a glass meat counter.   Cans of Monarch vegetables, Flame Room coffee and paper products were stacked along the walls up to the tin ceiling. Emile Larson would retrieve items out of reach with a grabbing tool on a long wooden handle.  Jerome Larson was the butcher and fetched the freshest chicken, roast, or chops from the back room.  With my grandpa’s approval, he’d wrap it in paper, tie it with string and drop it into the brown paper bag that held my grandma’s order.  My grandma left instructions when she called that I be allowed to pick a dozen cookies from the bins in the center of the store containing fig newtons, ginger snaps, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin,  chocolate chip or sugar cookies with white icing.  Fig newtons were my favorite.

In the evening we would often go for a drive.  If my grandma had a letter she wanted to mail, we  headed to the train station and waited for the evening  train. Whistle blowing, bells clanging, and wheels screeching, it pulled into the station.   A few passengers would get out and a few would get on.  The black porters loaded luggage from the platform onto the train.  The conductor shouted  “All Aboard!~ as he leaned out and waved to the engineer.   I loved standing on the platform and watching the train pull out.  As it picked up speed, it felt as if it was standing still and I was moving.  The train was on its way to Chicago by way of the Cities and I thought that was very glamorous.

Other evenings our after dinner drive would end up at the Dairy Queen on the north end of town.  My grandma would take two dimes out of her coin purse and I would go up to the window and order nickel cones for my grandpa and her and a nickel cone dipped in chocolate for me.  The chocolate topping cost an additional five cents.  Sometimes she would give me a quarter and let me keep the nickel change.  It would go into my Morrison County Fair fund.

When my age was in single digits, the Morrison County Fair was the pinnacle of summer.  My grandpa worked in the cinderblock ticket office by the main gate.  He would get me a few passes for the rides but never enough to satisfy my passion for the tilta-whirl.  My grandma enjoyed the 4H, food and crafts displays and not much else.  After she had taken those in, she sat on a bench by the front gate and was joined by other ladies of her acquaintance.  After taking us to see the farm animals and taking us on a few rides, my mom and dad joined their friends in the beer garden.   Tom and I stayed on the midway where one year he learned a hard life lesson by losing all of his money on a miniature steam shovel, trying to scoop up a pocket knife he coveted.  As it got dark, we all gathered together for the grandstand show. Before it was over, I could barely manage to stay awake.

Now when I return to Little Falls, I drive by the old fairgrounds on my way to the cemetery.  I think of the happy times I had there and how I used to enjoy my summer vacation in what I will always call my home town.

- Mary Berg

Bert Rudie – Part X

Horses

We had this one white horse – kind of speckled gray — dirty looking gray. He was getting to be an old horse, and they always used him when they needed an extra horse. Sometimes they used 3 horses for thrashing and different jobs. The neighbors used to borrow him when they needed an extra horse. When they got through using him they would just tell him to go home, and he would walk home even if several miles, he would still come home. My Dad sold him to a guy 20 miles away by Little Falls. Two weeks after he was sold, the horse was standing at the barn – he walked home – had gotten away from the guy. So the guy came back and got the horse and kept him locked up.

Working in Montana

When I was 17 or barely 18, everybody from Minnesota used to go out to the Dakotas or Montana to work harvesting the wheat.  When we got paid, everything was in silver dollars. I went to the bank and cashed the check from the farmer who had hired us and he wanted to give me all the money in silver dollars. I said, “Now how am I gonna carry all that home to Minnesota?” I insisted that they give me paper money. In the old days they called them wagon wheels. A silver dollar was called a wagon wheel. Everyone was carrying them, but now you don’t see them.

In the Navy

I used to be stationed at the Naval Air Station in Great Lakes, which was between Milwaukee and Chicago. It was a naval station and training center. I used to get 72-hour passes for a long weekend to go to Milwaukee to visit my uncle, Paul Rudie, my dad’s brother. They were so good to me and fixed me meals. My cousin, Marian, was a couple years older than me would take me out for the evening (roller skating, dancing, and seeing the town and running around for the entire weekend). Paul would let me use his car. One weekend, we put so many miles on the car that the gas gauge looked like it was down to empty, so I had put in some gas in. The next weekend when I came to visit, Uncle Paul insisted on giving me the money for the gas. “No,” he insisted, “I put the gas in the car for you. I was in the service in World War I. I know what it’s like to be a serviceman who ain’t got any money.” So he insisted that I didn’t pay for anything like that. I spent many weekends at their house and it was very enjoyable — good memories.

Out of the Navy

A few weeks while I was being processed, there were barracks where we hung out for 30 days or so playing cards waiting for the paperwork to come through. I decided I was going to fly home. I got a ticket on a DC3 a little 2-engine airplane they had in those days.  The route was Portsmouth to Virginia to Washington to Pittsburgh to Chicago to Minneapolis. We boarded the plane and we sitting in little rows. There was no separation between us and the pilot. So everyone is all aboard. Pilot turns on the switch, cranks up one engine, then the other and starts taking off – didn’t warm up the engines at all. We started down the runway and there was a puff of black smoke. One engine sputtered and almost died, and suddenly we were sinking and going down like we were landing. Then suddenly it started back up and he revved it up, and then we were up and away. There were no terminals or anything like today. When we got between Chicago and Minneapolis, there was turbulence. The plane was jumping up and down. We couldn’t read a newspaper or anything. The reason I wanted to fly home is because we had so much traveling on trains in the Navy going from San Diego to Chicago to Milwaukee, and the trains took forever poking along. So I said I don’t wanna ride in a train ever again. When we landed in Minneapolis, I took a bus. Royalton is where I used to go, then I called my folks on the farm and they would come and get me. After I was back on the farm hanging out for a while, I became friends with the guy that ran the liquor store in Bowlus, Albert Lutitsky. He was about my age, we hung out and went to dances and drove around.

Bert Rudie – Part IX

Partying

I remember whenever there was celebration like for somebody’s wedding, they had parties and they’d wind up at the dances in Elmdale. They had dances there like every weekend. I remember that I was about 15 years old when I was starting to hang out at the dance places. I was standing around watching them dance and I didn’t know how to dance. One girl that was in my sixth grade class came by and said, “Oh, you’re not dancing!” and I said, “I don’t know how to dance.” “Oh,” she said, “I’ll show you. There’s nothing to it!” So she grabbed me and away we danced. So that’s how I started dancing and with a little practice, I kept it up, and continue to dance today.

Things have sure changed. When I was 15 years old you could buy a beer for a nickel. If you had five cents or a nickel and you put it down, you got a glass of beer. There was no such thing about worrying if you were old enough. If you had the nickel I guess you were old enough to buy the beer the way they figured it. Nobody made a big deal about it then.

School Memories

What classes did I like best? I liked Chemistry and Biology and those kinds of things. History and English were not among my favorites. Was I a good student? Well I was usually above “C” level. I didn’t get to play any sports because I had to come home and work always. How did I earn money? Well there wasn’t very much money. Some of the neighbors used to hire us during harvest. We’d get maybe a dollar a day for helping with the harvest, the threshing and stuff.

After high school I went into the Navy, I went to basic engineering school at Great Lakes Naval Academy in the Milwaukee or Chicago area. I had refrigeration schooling in Norfolk, Virginia. After I got out of the Navy, there were no jobs available so I wanted to take some more schooling so I went to a private school and had some more refrigeration training. As a result, I got a little dinky job with some guy in Minneapolis there servicing refrigerators and working in the shop.

When I got married and moved out to Crystal, I had an idea that I wanted to get some bees and be a beekeeper. I thought I’d find out what it was about. I went to a vocational school and took a beekeeping course. After I found out what the pros and cons were and how expensive it was plus how complicated it was, I decided that I didn’t want to invest in any bees and beehives. We had the idea that we would put the hives on the farm by Upsala, but when you figure all of the things that can happen to bees it’s not a good thing to get invested in unless you’re really, really equipped to do it in a big, big way.

I went to vocational school to learn how to rewind motors – rebuilding electric motors. I got the motors from where I worked; a lot of motors were replaced on washing machines. I would take the motors home and take them apart over the weekend. I would tear out the copper and rewind them a new copper. I had a regular little oven with an element in it to bake the varnish that you dipped them when they were all through and assemble them. I got a few dollars for each of them – I don’t remember just what it was, but it was something extra to keep us going because the jobs that I had weren’t paying an awful lot. Then of course, I always had an extra job. In Crystal I worked for this outboard motor place – Harold F. Aarons was his name. He had the Evinrude motors and bottled gas. I used to do that Saturdays and in evenings. I’d work on outboard engines like in the summertime, get them tuned up. On Saturdays, I’d deliver bottled gas to the people in the area, which were quite a few yet at the time. I was always working extra time with part-time work trying to make an extra dollar.

Bert Rudie – Part VIII

Larry Litchy’s Chrysler

I vaguely remember when I was around seven, maybe eight years old, Lawrence Litchy used to cook moonshine. I remember he came driving in the yard and he had this great big Chrysler car. It was a big 8-cylinder car and in those days it was the fastest car that was made. It used to go like 100-miles per hour real easy. He’d come driving in the yard and was always laughing and showing everybody where the federal agents were chasing him. They fired shots at him and he had bullet holes in the back end of this car. He’d say, “Here’s one. Here’s one” and there were several holes there where slugs had gone through and this was on the left driver side of the rear of the vehicle so he was real lucky that he didn’t get shot or killed.

Moonshine

Speaking of moonshine, when I was younger – about that same vintage (seven-or-eight years old) – on our farm they used to cook moonshine in the hog house. They had that rigged up so that there was a false wall and you didn’t know that there was an extra room in there. The pigs were on one side and of course the smell of the pigs would camouflage the fumes and the smell of the moonshine which had a strong odor. They could feed the by-product (the mash) to the hogs when they were through cooking the moon out of it. When it got to where the smell was too strong and they figured that maybe the federal agents would be able to discover it, they would break down the still. I remember that my Dad, in order to get his share out of it before they guy pulled away, he took some of the pieces of the still and hauled them out into the field. It was at the time of the year when they harvested corn and they had corn in bundles (shocks). The guy came and he wanted the rest of his equipment and Dad says “Well, you’ve got to pay me, you know, what you owe” and then finally they settled up. So then they walked out in the field — retrieving all of these pieces of the still that were hidden underneath the corn shocks.

Trading Chickens for Peddlers’ Wares

When I was younger on the farm there were two peddlers that used to come around trying to sell their wares — like the Watkins and Raleigh guys. They had a lot of spices and really good nectar from Watkins. We used to really, really like it. We’d trade a bunch of chickens – a kind of bartering system for items. My mother went to the chicken coop and you could tell which hens didn’t lay eggs by the looks of them. Some of them were a little bit sick. They had little pus-looking eyes and drippy noses. So they are the ones we’d catch. The chickens would just sit there. We had a long wire with a little loop on the end to try to catch the chickens and jerk the wire. The loop fit around the chicken’s legs so it couldn’t run away — that’s how they’d catch them. The merchants had a regular box on the back of his car – a regular crate for hauling chickens. We used to get all kinds of goodies from selling those chickens — that was kind of nice.

Hatching Our Own Eggs

On the farm, my folks had incubators. They would save the chicken eggs and put them in an incubator. After twenty-one days the eggs hatched. That’s how they replaced the chicken flock. They hatched their own eggs. There were a certain percentage of eggs that were infertile or something happened that they didn’t hatch. So there were many discards. What we did one year was to take them out in the woods and stuck them in the bottom of a tree that had a V-shape to it. There was a sportsman’s club that Dad belonged to and for getting rid certain pests like crows or rats, they gained a certain number of points. There would be a prize for whoever got the most. So when I would set these eggs out there I had a whole bunch of foot traps and I would cover them with leaves and stuff. Sometimes I would go out there and there would be a whole bunch – like maybe four or five crows that had walked into these traps – and most of them were still alive. We would save the legs or the beaks or the head or something like that. Of course when Dad turned in all of these things for points, he won the prize from the sportsman club, which was a case of 22 mm rifle shells which was a pretty neat prize to get in those days. When the chickens would hatch, they would be running around wild on the farm. In the fall when it started getting colder, we got rid of the older chickens that didn’t lay eggs anymore. We would sell them off and get a whole bunch of younger chickens. We would clean the chicken coop and disinfect it. There was always this round-up of the new chickens, which wanted to roost in the trees. We had this grove of apple trees and different trees around the buildings and that was where the chickens used to sit for the night – night after night. When it got near fall or before winter – before the cold came, we would catch them and that was like a round-up catching all the chickens. We’d put them in the chicken house and of course we would leave them locked up there for a few days until they got used to it. Then finally we opened the little door so they could get out and run around in the yard — that was quite a fun thing.

Bert Rudie – Part VII

The Happy Farmer

On the farm we had horses to do all of the field work. I used to have to cultivate and plow everything with the horses. I think I was about ten-or-eleven years old when Dad found this used tractor. It was a big steel-wheeled thing. It was bought somewhere past the town of Royalton, which is like some twenty miles away from the farm. I don’t know what he paid for it; I don’t remember the details, but it was called a Happy Farmer. It was a two-cylinder putt-putt – something like the John Deeres that go “putt putt putt” with their two cylinders. It needed some work, so Dad brought the thing home to work on it. I would be helping him there and watching him. That was a big deal because then we could plow and we could do a lot of work with that old tractor. In order to bring the old tractor home, he had to take off the lugs. It had steel wheels that were about six feet high. And it had these lugs that were bolted on. Some of the roads around Bowlus and Royalton were better roads —even had tar on them. They didn’t dare run the lugs. It would ruin the road surface. So we had to take off all of these lugs from both of the rear wheels. When we got home, we had to bolt all of the lugs back on and put the thing together. It was quite an interesting experience.

Who Needs a Driver’s License?

When I was twelve years old, I was already driving the tractor, plowing, and doing different chores with the tractor. Dad said, “If you can drive the tractor, you ought to be able to drive the car.” So I tried it and yeah I could drive the car and shift it with a stick shift. I would drive and do errands. I didn’t have a driver’s license.

As time went on I would drive and deliver some of the milk cans to the creamery. I would drive to school every once in a while when Dad would have some important chores that he wanted me to get home from school sooner than usual, or if there were some extra activities at school that I would stay after then he wouldn’t have to drive to Upsala to pick me up at the high school. I would drive the family car to Upsala and park it there all day, and then drive home –again, no driver’s license.

I didn’t have a driver’s license until I left home after I graduated from high school and had my own car. We didn’t have no license and no insurance or anything like that. My first driver’s license was when I was working by Dassel after I left home. I got the driver’s license by going to the post office and you filled out a little card. I think it was 50¢. You paid for it and you sent it in and they sent you a driver’s license. There never was a written test or driving test. We just drove … no insurance — never ever had any insurance.

Bert’s First Car

I remember when I got my first car in South St. Paul. Dad used to drive the truck to haul the livestock to the South St. Paul slaughterhouse. I went with him this one time and we went to a place in South St. Paul and found this car that we liked. It was a 1933 Chevrolet. That was about the time that I graduated from high school, I guess. I was like 18 years old. Then I drove it home and after a short time I left home and went to work by Dassel and drove the car over there. That was where I got my first driver’s license.

I just happened to think of something about the 1933 Chevrolet that I had when I left home and was working in Hutchinson. I had picked up some old Model T lamps – some old antique car lamps from the old days when they had kerosene lamps for side lights on the vehicle.  Somehow I got a hold of some of them and mounted them on my Chevrolet. They were in good working order. They had a little glass in there and a little burner. It was like a regular kerosene lamp. We used to light them and that was a big deal. We’d go cruising up and down the streets on Friday or Saturday nights in Hutchinson, which was called “cruising the streets.” Big deal, huh? When we were working in Hutchinson, I only got a dollar a day. That was all I made working on the farm, and then of course I got room & board. So that was a big deal. That’s what it amounted to in those days. I remember that in order to buy gas for the car (we didn’t have that much money to allot for this or that or other things). There was this one place in Hutchinson where this guy had this real cheap gas for 10¢ per gallon. We would buy a dollar’s worth of gas which would last for a long time. We could even make a trip back all the way to Upsala and back and still have some gas left. Cars in those days used to get like 20-miles per gallon like with the old Chevrolet or the Model A. They make such a big deal about getting 20-miles per gallon in this day and age. Why they haven’t advanced anything in a lifetime you might say!