St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Bass Lake School

The 1904 Bass Lake School house (closed in 1944) is being rejuvenated.  Driving by the last few months, we have seen a dumpster outside.  Today as I drove by to dig marl, I noticed someone there, and stopped to introduce myself to a possible new neighbor. 

A Twin-citian bought it from the current owner and is busy cleaning and hoping to make it a residence.  

The history of the school briefly:  With large farm families at the turn of the century (1900) and the one room Orr School a mile up the road and the one room Cushing School a mile down  road bursting at the seams, a new school district was formed in 1904, the building built that summer and opened in the fall.  As many as 60 children attended the school -- with the basement used as a classroom when needed. 

The Nelson family, who built the farm house and barn where I am this last year, had 21 children themselves--all who attended Bass Lake school.  The Christensons, Gullicksons, Hansons (Burnell and his siblings), Rutsch, Jensen, and others within walking distance.  Cousin Marley Hanson, the Mariettes, those directly west on the River Road, walked east over a foot bridge on Wolf Creek, up the very old road linking Wolf Creek and Alabama to school.  Cross country cut off miles from the square section roads. 

The depression stopped many of the large familes--couldn't afford them anymore, and then World War II made teachers hard to find (the men were gone--and women teachers married deferred farmers).  Women rarely continued teaching after they were married.  The Bass Lake students were absorbed by Orr, Cushing and Wolf Creek districts and the school sat empty for 15 years or more.  

Clarence Westlund, a neighbor of ours who had two farms, one surrounding the Bass Lake School, bought the school house after his wife died and he sold his two farms and houses.  He lowered the ceiling, put inside partitions, and insulated the ceiling and moved in and planted some apple trees to the west.  He lived there a few years before being laid up.   

His daughter had it and occasionally came out from the cities and stayed.  She passed it to her daughter who also came out occasionally until health problems limited her mobility.  

The school house sat empty, for another 20 years, with some breakins, the yard and orchard growing up to trees, and then last summer, my friend Mike contacted the owner to ask about doing his treasure hunting detection on the school yard.  He mowed some of the yard, put plywood in broken windows and made it look somewhat active again.  

Then the current owner saw it, found the owner, and a new dream of living in the country is underway.  The owner grew up in Nebraska with her job taking her to the Twin Cities.  

I brought some tables to loan for a garage sale tomorrow (Saturday June 28) and bought an item for the Cushing Museum, jumping the gun on the sale!   
Clarence Westlund likely made this in the 1950s to pick blueberries on the Sterling Sand Barrens.  Broom handle piece, sardine can and finishing nails soldered to the rim to emulate a bear's paw scooping up wild berries.  Blueberries start to ripen most years on the barrens about July 4th (mom grew up out there and always started looking then).  Burned over brush prairies supported vast stretches of blueberry plants -- low to the ground with small wonderfully tasty berries.  Dad said, that when he was young and living near Barron, WI., when the blueberries got ripe, his mother and the boys took the car and drove north to the sand prairies and picked milk cans full of berries to bring home for canned blueberry sauce -- for winter dessert, pies, flavoring, jellies and so on.  They took blankets, sheets, bug nets, and braved the mosquitoes, poison ivy, deer flies and gnats that thrived in blueberry country.  The boys tented out with sheet or blanket tents and slept on the ground or under canvas if it rained. 

Headed for the Museum in Cushing!

We wish the new owners good luck and welcome to the neighborhood.  Restoring old buildings is something I heartily approve!

                Photos from the Bass Lake School 1904-1944

Bass Lake's version of a merry-go-round.  In the distance, the white house is the August Rutsch homestead, later Kermit Rutsch, Roy Rutsch and Shane Burnett. The house is gone, the barn burned down (was Jimmy playing with matches or did the sun shine through a jar...--only Jimmy knew and he is gone now).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Color on the Farm

Red clover above, white clover below.  Clover reminds me of two things--the Clover Farm Store of my youth and of course the 4-H with it's 4-leaf clover symbol.  Dad always looked for 4-leaf clovers and got so he could spot them anywhere you asked him to look.  He said the best hunting was on field edges where traffic damaged the plants as he believed they were often the result of plant injury

Dandelions are spreading seeds and apples ready for spraying


When the seedling geraniums take hold and begin to bloom, I probably will take down the holly wreath!

Grandpa Eugene Hanson made a cart from his mother, Anna Beebe Hanson's old wheel chair (she died in 1936).  The wheels are original, the axel pipe fittings and the handles from some other scrap.  Eugene passed away back in the 1970s as I remember.  He couldn't resist a good pair of wheels. 

The seedling coleus and begonia bulbs are still idling. 

Scott ties down an old riding lawn mower, rusty wheel chair, and below the 1950s apple sprayer and engine for a ride to Freiberg's Gone Green recycling at Frederic.  A $44 load because it included a 63 lb damaged old electric motor (.25 per pound) rest at $145 a ton--about 500 lb load.  

Uncle Ralph Haselhuhn and Dad (VR Hanson) started a barn white-washing business together back in about 1951.  The gas engine and piston pump with a barrel and nozzle on a trailer was the equipment.  You mixed a sack or two of unslaked lime with water (it heated mightly) and then sprayed the brilliant white lime onto the cleaned barn walls and ceilings to give a fresh Grade A look to the whole inside.  When they finished the neighbor barns there was really no more work, so they business quit and Dad turned it into his apple sprayer for DDT and other insecticides.  

Monday, June 23, 2014


Maury and Loren visit.  Maury turned 80, but was too shy to stay for the group photo. 

Joy, a first timer whose family has roots in the area, Lucy and Dottie listen intently to the exciting speaker at the podium.
The 76th Sterling Old Settler's Picnic is now history.  The picnic was nice; the pot-luck food excellent; the rain didn't bother us in the Cushing Community center and I got a lot of visiting done with neighbors, friends and a few new folks.  So, as I told the Committee afterwards, "we should be proud of the picnic."   

A few mentioned that at 63 folks out we were down 10-15 from the previous year attendance.  That didn't mean the picnic was not a success, but that some of our regular folks are missing, and we are not replacing them with new ones as fast as they leave. 
Ruth (93) Frank (94) Boatman, married 73 years

My friend and neighbor, Loren Hoffman, was not there.  He has been having health problems, and his sister, who did attend, tells me that he is soon to move to a care center.  He always brought old family photos (Hoffmans, Swensons and neighbors of the Orr School community).  His father, Bill, and mother Effie, were always there when I first remember the picnics.  
Mary Jo arranges a pail of flowers and ferns picked from the Sterling Barrens roadsides.  Russ and George help with advice!
Every flower here is from the Dump Road in Sterling.  Russ picked some of them as poison ivy, gnats and mosquitoes picked on him. 

There were no strawberries this year as for the first time, possibly since the picnic began in 1939, a Lundquist family member wasn't there to bring them, and the rest of us never thought of it.  Aaron Lundquist and his wife (Lucy Noyes?) came to the picnics having grown up on the family farm out near the St Croix River in West Sterling where the sandy soil always provided the early strawberries Swedes like on their midsummer cake.  When he moved across the river into MN, he still brought the berries.  When he passed on, his son Ray and daughter Florence brought them.  Florence passed away and Ray didn't make it this year from Rochester, MN.  Don't know why, but it worries us when a regular doesn't make it.  
Dr Samuel Deneen and wife came to Wolf Creek in 1854, built the first dam and mill and cleared a farm.  He was a full service doctor, taking care of his patients as doctor, building coffins from mill sawn lumber and burying them in the cemetery land he donated on the other side of the road -- the Wolf Creek Cemetery.  He and his wife lived a long productive life, nearing their 90s before moving across the River Road themselves. 

Virgil Brenizer didn't always come to the picnic, but the Brenizers were always represented.  Virgil passed away last week, so he was listed along with Mom (Alberta Hanson) and Elsie Berg for whom a minute of silence was observed.  

LaVerne Johnson, who last year made the 80 year old category, was missing.  His brother told me he had just gotten out of the hospital and back home after first a stroke a month or so ago, and then an intestinal problem.  We hope he will make it next year. 
James and Margaret Orr -- 1860s settlers 

I expected neighbor Jennie Nelson to be the oldest woman there, at 98, I think, but she didn't make it.  Don't know why, and I surely should have checked to see if she had a ride.  She and Mom were great friends--the last of a circle of River Road friends from the early part of last century.  

The Nelsons, my Bass Lake neighbors, decided to move from the farm to South Cushing settlement in upper St Croix Falls.  A group of 6 or 7 couples or individuals who have chosen to give up mowing lawns, putting on storm windows, shoveling snow and so on, are taking advantage of condominium life in the big city.  Good Luck to them!
The Williamson Brothers who, with other relatives, still own the original 160 acre homestead on the River Road.  Their Dad and Mom were long time Sterling picnickers.  George (right) told me of the summer of 1951 when a neighbor raised string beans and cucumbers for the factory, drove through picking up neighborhood children to pick them each summer day.  George earned $354 that summer, and when he went to High School, was "rich."  "I could have a burger and malt anytime I wanted to downtown!"   
Mom, who grew up out in West Sterling, where the picnic originated in 1939 for the families who lived on the Sterling Barrens back in the 1870s-1920s before moving to greener pastures, decided to get together and reminisce and visit at the junction of Trade River and Cowan Creek, next to their old cemetery and where their church, post office, town hall and school had stood. 
Gradually the community center began to fill. 

 Most traces of their life on the barrens were gone, but friendships forged in pioneer days, still strong.  The families included the Scandinavians, Iowans, Voyageur/Native Americans and Yankee and Canadian logger families who settled the area from 1850 forward.  Mom's grandfather, Charles Wesley Carnes and his brothers Oren and Loren and cousin Amos Finch each homesteaded 160 acres and together owned all of section 26  (about a mile directly south of the horse campground).  Grandma, Nettie Carnes Hanson, told us stories of running the Sunrise Ferry back in 1909 and her nieces running it through the 20s and 30s.  
Shirley reads the "Green" essay attached at the bottom of this story. 

Lucy Kurtz grew up in Anderson Township just into Burnett County up the River Road.  She told of riding 5 miles to school in a horse drawn wagon with her siblings and neighbors. 

Andy Swenson was missing, his wife having been ailing.  He ties to the large Swenson family of Trade River.  Faye was there and the Harris family, although Floyd's daughter Sharon didn't make it.  The Christenson's were there in force, although Willus is 83 and Maurice just turned 80 -- still the Christenson kids to me.  Ione and Shirley made it, following their parents Chris and Martha in picnicking who followed her parents, Bert Brenizer and Hattie Noyes.  No Noyes left at the picnic. 

Two Orr family members showed up, but they are Hanson's by marriage, so it doesn't seem right without their mother Vada Orr along to connect them to Orr Lake and Orr Creek.  

Yes, as Dad told me, "when you live to be old and the friends and relatives of your generation die off, things are the same."  I understand it better now.  My parents who shared the common eras of their life with their friends and siblings, most striking, the Depression and World War II, the years of shortages, really couldn't relate to those of us from the throw away, planned obsolescent world. 

Shirley Christenson read the following -- which, of course came to her by forwarded email. 

Checking out at the supermarket recently, the young cashier suggested I should bring my own bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. I apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days“.

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations“.

She was right about one thing–our generation didn’t have the green thing in “Our” day. So what did we have back then? After some reflection and soul-searching on “Our” day, here’s what I remembered we did have….

Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles repeatedly. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 240 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Wales. In the kitchen, we blended & stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a water fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then? 

Click here PICNIC PHOTOS to see all the 2014 Sterling Picnic photos taken by my son, Scott, who I introduced to the picnic this year as a new helper to replace Mom (who started helping in the 1950s).  

The Over 80 Crowd

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Scarred Childhood

Brother Marv on the new 1947
Farmall B.  Growing up on a farm
was fraught with injuries, although
I can't remember any tractor
accidents other than Dad and then
Colby rolling over tractors.  
The other day I was taking inventory of my skin.  That happens a lot in June and July as we search for wood ticks each evening in the hope of preventing Lymes's disease. .  If we are lucky, the ticks give up by August, but right now you have to strip and check the hard to see areas.   

Margo is away with her father, who is still having difficulties after his stroke--confusion sometimes.  His memory seems to be OK, but he doesn't tell time right (got up at 3 am Sunday and dressed for church).  He didn't have this problem before his stroke 3 months ago, so Margo is trying to figure out with the help of the doctors if it is a medicine side-effect, a stroke created problem, or the beginning of dementia or??  Not being able to tell time, watch TV meaningfully, or read is surely a hard situation.

When Margo was here, tick checking was a rather enjoyable evening task as I carefully checked her all over for ticks and in turn she checked my back for me.  I think tick season leads to March babies here in the midwest.  However, on my own this summer, the fun is gone.  As I check my body, it is like reminiscing about growing up in the country.  

If you grow up on a farm, it is likely you have some scars to show for it.   There are endless scraped knees, bicycle road rashes, stubbed toes (yes we went barefoot), hammered or door crushed fingers, cuts, etc, but they really don't count unless you have to go to the doctor and get stitches or a cast. A chunk of silage in the eye, even if the doctor took it out--nope, I don't count that at all.  

My earliest scar is the skin dent above my left eye--where the milk can Marv and I were playing with toppled over on me for a 3-stitch cut.  As I remember it, I was 3 and he was 5 and we were playing milkman--lifting the milk can and setting it up on the wagon to haul it to the creamery.  I am pretty sure the milk can was
empty because, unlike me, Marv was a puny little kid like brother Ev (normal weight!).

On my left leg is a slight scar left from toppling over brother Marvin in the house when we were playing with pointed scissors.  He was cutting red and green Christmas chain loops and I toddled over to see what was going on and tipped over onto the scissors (at least that is the story he told).  I don't think there is any truth to the rumor that he poked me with them to keep me from eating all the flour paste.   Two stitches there.  

Falling out of a tree (actually shook until I lost my grip on a branch by Dale), broke my wrist in 3rd grade in the pine tree bordering the Wolf Creek cemetery and the school grounds (automatic home run if you hit the ball into the cemetery).  I coped during the school day by buttoning my sleeve to my shirt button near the neck, holding it up like a sling, until I got home and Doctor Mom who had me try to bend it unsuccessfully, hauled me to see Dr. Riegel who put a fence stretcher (or something like that) on my hand and pulled out until he could pop the wrist bone into place and plaster it there for a month.  No scars, but with a cast on my right arm through to the hand, I could whack my enemies soundly!  

Doctor J. A. Riegel brought me into the world, and his son, Dr. Fred Riegel patched me up as needed. 
Everett, Russ and Marv in our Lee Overalls ready to Farm.  None of those "half pants" for us. 

Dad converted an old horse grain drill to tractor pulled version.  It still had the seat on the back so 9 year old Russ decided to ride around the field for a few rounds to see if the grain was feeding down through the gears and tubes into the ground without plugging up.  The opening for each tube exposed two small gears that somehow helped push the oats through the openings.  Sure enough, one plugged up and needed a finger pushed in to clear it out.  Three stitches and a permanently wrinkled fingernail was the result.  
Note the "ladder" on the open haymow door.  I wonder if Byron, on the right, was using padding!  This is in later days when we came home to help with haying in the summer. 

Hauling hay was a fun job on the farm, as it got us four boys out working with Dad.  Dad was a very hard worker, but liked to joke a little along the way.  We followed in his footsteps, hooting at the wagon driver for jerking at starts and stops and in general goofing around while still working hard.   I still remember the howls from my brothers when I threw the tractor in neutral down the steep road hill while hauling a full rack of straw home.  They were riding on the top front of the 5 bale high load when the wagon started swerving back and forth on the road.  I tried to slow it down, but that exaggerated the swerves and soon the brothers were in the ditch mixed with straw bales.  They weren't hurt at all, but their dignity was injured and I had to really push on them to get them to reload and continue with the hauling. They did like to complain a lot. 

When we unloaded a wagon full of hay or straw bales, we had a rope and pulley hay carrier system.  You stuck the bale fork into 10 bales, signaled the tractor driver hooked to the end of the rope to go forward and up the load went into the haymow.  

We were speed unloading one day, trying to set a record for time to unload 80 bales (4 layers of two bale-fork sticks --8 pullups).  In anticipating my signal to go, brother Marv on the tractor started 3 seconds too quickly and my hand, resting on the hay pulley and rope got into the pulley tearing off my nail.  Mom took me to St Croix where Fred Regal numbed it, stitched it, and in an hour I was back on the load.  Went fine until the numbing went out and man it hurt for the rest of the day and night.  You could feel each heart beat throb in the finger. I lost the "half moon" on my right ring finger and it left a small scar.

Sometimes injuries were at play.  Jumping across our makeshift dam on Wolf Creek composed of a cattle watering tank (that doubled as our minnow tank) I slipped and came down on my knee on the angle iron across the middle of the tank.  A few stitches and a sore knee.  A month later, somewhat healed up, I was practicing at football at St Croix Falls when my friend George said "Hey, you're bleeding all over your leg."  It had opened up again. Two weeks later, somewhat healed, and back to football, it opened again.  I quit football and my direct and sure path to the NFL was closed off.   The scar remained, through later tearing the ACL on that knee while  skiing, and then falling off the roof breaking the leg and three surgeries later leading to a knee replacement made that scar disappear in much more impressive ones.  

We were filling silo at Grandpa Gene's farm (where brother Marv lives--he knocked down the 12 foot silo and used the base for a gazebo).  I climbed to the top of the silo as it was nearly full to do some spreading out the silage and grabbed the top handle of the silo door (stave silos had insert doors that had built in crude steps) and it was loose and down I fell with the door dropping on top of me.  I waited until I could breath and didn't seem to find anything wrong even though there was only a few inches of hay on the concrete floor.  So I put the door back in and went on about my work.  For some reason, I blamed myself for the fall.  I was a heavy kid even at age 12 when this happened, and had already learned to be guilty for things that happened to me and not my feather-weight brothers and parents.   Anyway, we finished the day and filling without me noticing much problems.  Then for two weeks, I walked around bent over and limping like an old man--no running and as easy on the working as I could get by with.  I didn't say anything to mom and dad and tried to look normal when around them and eventually I returned to normal.  No external scars but somewhat of a permanent list to the left when I walk.  
Dad's cousins, the Hughes boys of Barron WI (grandpa Hanson's sister Ella Hughes). Dad was one of 6 boys who lived on adjacent farms next to their 6 boy cousins.  Endless amount of injuries plagued active boys on the farm.  However, all 12 boys made it into adulthood with their limbs intact. 

Haying for neighbor Raymond Noyes, I was climbing into the haymow up the ladder and a ladder step gave way.  Now in barns, there really weren't ladders, but instead metal rungs in the cement barn foundation and then cross boards nailed between the studs in the haymow part.  Most of these had been nailed up sometime when the barn was built and over the years weakened with use.  
Down I tumbled through the hay shoot onto the floor below (with a little hay cushioning the fall onto the concrete floor).  Always these kind of falls were the same.  You fell, had the wind knocked out of you and had to wait until you could catch your breath before taking inventory of what else might have gotten damaged on the way down.  
When I could breath, it hurt with each breath.  No head, arm, leg or other noticeable hurts, just couldn't breath without pain each time. 

  Raymond took me home and Mom to St Croix where the Dr. Riegal pushed here and there on my back and chest pin-pointing where the greatest hurt was.  "Just some cracked ribs.  Your haying season is over for 6 weeks.  Take aspirin when it hurts and don't do any lifting and you will be fine."   And it was--no x-ray, but some stronger pain killers just in case.  I went to Stokely's soon after that for the string bean picking season where all I had to do was drive a tractor bean-picker so it didn't really bother me!

My left shoulder is messed up--drops lower then it should, so much that my suspender keeps slipping off it.  That came from a car accident where my left shoulder hit the car door pillar and pushed it out a couple of inches in a collision.  I think the doctor called it a shoulder separation.  The treatment was pain killers and time--the shoulder just is lower now then the other one.  I have often thought I could go into acting-- the Igor on Frankenstein who hitched around with a bad leg and a misshapen shoulder--and do it with little acting needed.  

So, having not found a tick again tonight, I cover up the injuries with my Superman PJs and drift off to sleep ignoring the twinges, creaks and dents, evidence of an eventful life.   

I fell from the top of this silo, 12 feet down the metal chute on the left side when I was 12 years old.  Other than walking around like a 90 year old man for a few weeks, no problems persisted except a tendency to drift left when I walk.