Building the New Farm House
It was around 1938 or 1939 when my parents decided to replace or build a new house on the farm. I just happened to think of this … in the old house, one of the reasons that we tore it down was that my mother was so scared to live in it. With the wood burning, they had two chimneys. They had the kitchen stove that burned wood and then they had a heater in the middle of the living room. Creosote built up in the chimneys from the natural burning of the wood and every once in a while the chimney would catch on fire. It would be roaring and cracking and my mother was just afraid that it was going to burn the house down. One time there was such a fierce fire and I was in the upper attic section above the kitchen stove. The chimney was so hot, if you touched the chimney, it was just like a hot stove. My dad would go up on the roof to put on salt or use a chain to knock the thing down. He had me sitting one time with several pails of water by the chimney. He says, “In case it cracks and starts burning, dump some water on it so it doesn’t set the rest of the house on fire.” Some scary moments we had once in a while — that was the life … we were quite used to it. Before the old house was torn down, every fall my dad put a wood-like partition around the foundation of the house. He went to the saw mill in town where they sawed the logs and got loads of sawdust for a two-foot-wide box that they had – like a fence – filled it up with sawdust about three- or four-feet high. That kept the house a little bit warmer from the northwest wind that would blow in. The house sat on a kind of stone foundation and there were cracks in it. If you were in the basement, you could almost see daylight through some of the cracks around the stones — that’s how crummy it was.
We tore down the old house and salvaged as much lumber as we could. We all lived in the big garage that we had. And that’s where we slept while they were building the new house which took like over a year to build. In the new house, they put in indoor plumbing. They dug a trench that went down in the swamp for draining away the toilet and waste water.
Dad had the house wired for electricity—even when there was no power line anywhere near at that time. But dad says “We’re gonna have the house wired in case the power comes through some day.” In the meantime he put in a 32-volt generating system. We had an engine in the basement with the exhaust pipe out through the side of the house. We had like 16 or 18 jars, each one of them had 2 volts and there were great big giant cells or glass containers. We had to recharge the batteries every so often, so everything was on 32-volts. We had lights! We had bulbs, three 2-volts and motors and stuff. We rigged up an electric water pump so we could pump water.
They dug a big trench that went from the well alongside the new house over to the barn. They dug it down below the frost line – about seven feet deep – and put in pipes. We had a big cedar storage tank in the upper level of the barn that held hundreds of gallons of water that provided water for the drinking cups in the new barn for the cattle to drink. They had to pump water and whenever it ran empty, refilled this tank so that the cows would have plenty of water.
Washing clothes in the old days before the automatic washers and before any wringer washer: My mother had a wooden tub washing machine. It was made like a barrel, only it wasn’t curved. It was more upright. It had an arrangement where there was a pulley and a gizmo that used to go from the top and from the lid. There was a hinged lid and the lid lifted up. It was a thing that looked like a milk stool that had four legs on it or four little arms and that was the agitating device. It was suspended from the lid and when you closed the lid, there was a little bar with some gearing teeth on it that would go back and forth. It was connected to a pulley and it was run by a stationary gas engine with a flat belt on it that would turn and make the washing machine work. I remember that my mother was so disgusted and used to cuss this old thing out because the belt would always keep jumping off. She would have to stop and put the belt on. I remember when I was pretty small I had this job of standing there with a board and keeping this belt from falling off from the two pulleys: one on the washing machine and one on the gas engine. I was helping her and standing there holding the stick so that the belt would stay on so she could finish her job. I guess that was quite a job to do the washing. They had to heat the water on the stove – maybe start a day or two ahead and fire up the wood stove. The big boiler container held over 15 gallons of water. I think that we still have one of those boilers back home that came from Grandma Gelking’s collection of stuff from the farm. So if anybody wants the boiler, I think it’s here in Crystal.