FARM MEMORIES-BOYHOOD DAYS
Written by Henry L. Darville
I dedicate my writings of “Boyhood Days” to my daughter, Diana (Darville) Allison, who is currently living with me in Weaverville, California.
LeMars Sentinel, Friday, May 6, 1927, Page 1, Column 2:
(This would be Tuesday, May 3, 1927)
AS REMEMBERED BY: Henry L. Darville, Age 9
The family was eating breakfast (all but Ralph, who was still in bed) when it was noticed that quite a bit of smoke was swirling down to the ground on the North side of the house just off from the kitchen. My dad, Leslie Darville, and my half-brother, Harold Kriebs, went outside to investigate. They came back in a hurry, saying that the house was on fire and for Mom (Ethel Rupe Darville) to get on the telephone and notify the neighbors. She first called our nearest neighbor, William (Bill) Buss, to notify him. We had a wall-mounted telephone on which you turned a crank with certain longs and shorts to get who you wanted. In this case, as was done in emergencies, you continued to crank for a long time and phones along the lines were picked up. Mom was able to get the word out that the house was on fire and we needed help.
Bill Buss was the first to arrive. Someone had put up a ladder to the roof of the porch which enabled them to go to the peak of the house. They first brought up a few buckets of water and soon found that the fire could not be put out. Remember, we did not have running water and had to carry it about 100 feet. By that time other neighbors were arriving.
Harold and I rushed up to our bedroom and got Ralph out of bed, then broke open the window and started throwing all contents in the room out the second story window. The mattress and bedding went first, which helped cushion the fall of other items. All clothing, etc. Mom and Dad’s bedroom could not be entered, as the fire had reached into it. About that time all of us kids were gathered up and taken to Gerben and Amy Keizer’s to await transportation to school. I don’t know who took us. By the road, the school was about 1 ½ miles from there. When we were brought home after school, only ashes remained with some smoke.
I recall a couple of stories being told, 1 – Two small men picked up the stove in the front room that had a fire started in it and carried it outdoors. It was said that the stove was heavy enough to require 3 or 4 men to carry it. 2 – Another story was that the railroad crew stopped, removed their had car from the tracks and came up to help. The railroad went through our property. Must have been only 400 or 500 feet from the house. I do remember very clearly another incidence. Edith (my twin sister) and I had a birthday April 9th. I received a pocket knife for my birthday and had placed it on the kitchen sill the night before the fire. I remembered it and went around to the north side of the house and found it on the ground with all of the glass from the shattered window. The flames were shooting out about 20 feet above, but I received my prize possession.
I remember staying at the Keizer’s house only a short time and then moved into a new small newly-erected building where we lived until the new home was built. I learned from the newspaper item that Dad was just completing a poultry house, which seemed to me to have been about 20 x 30 ft. in size. I remember the hauling of sand and gravel from a pit on Bill Buss’ property just below the school house. Of course, this was done by team and wagon. I believe that Bill Buss helped Dad a lot with the construction, as well as surrounding neighbors. Before the interior was completed, I recall a couple of dances given there. During that period of time, seems like quite a few dances were held in various homes within a five-mile radius.
Another thing I learned from the newspaper item was that my parents only had $1500 insurance and that amount covered only one-half the cost of a new home. There followed a brisk rush to purchase fire extinguishers by the farmers. Guess many had no protection from fire.
I have a picture of the house before the burning and a picture of the replacement house. The old homestead is gone, with a cornfield covering the area. The same goes for the property that the Keizers were living on at that time. Most of the old buildings to the South are gone and a different house and several outbuildings are there. Harold Buss drove me to my birthplace in early October 2003. The old schoolhouse has been replaced with a museum. I have a picture of where our old driveway entered the property.
About 300 feet to the North of the driveway was where my 2-year-old sister was killed by a train. It is ironic that the date of the fire was May 3rd, which is the same day of the month that my wife, Helen, died (5-3-2003.) My sister, Ruth Day, reminded me of Mom losing her diamond wedding ring in the fire and the next day or two, she was getting some help sifting through the ashes. It was never found.
Compiled from my memory of the events of our house fire:
HORSE BARN -- Seeing the picture of the old farmhouse before it burned shows the large manure pile outside of the barn door. There were three horse stalls with two horses per stall. These stalls were kept clean by shoveling the manure out the door, creating quite a pile. During winter months it would accumulate and freeze. The manure would be hauled to the fields in the spring and spread about.
My brother Ralph, who was about 5 years old, and I at 7 years old then, used to have fun playing in the haymow on the second floor. When we got tired of playing or pitching hay to the horse mangers below, we would jump out the large door (the entrance for storing hay) and land on top of the manure pile. This was a four- or five-foot jump and not a big drop. One day our jumping came to an end when Ralph jumped out and landed on my father’s back as he was emerging from the lower door. Guess they both went down to the ground but neither was hurt. My Dad put a stop to this activity.
STRAW STACKS -- used to be another area to play on. I don’t remember how high they were, perhaps ten feet. Quite a lot of loose straw was around the base of this stack, as the straw was hauled to the barn when needed for animal bedding. We dug a nice hole or tunnel into the side, making a good place to hide or get out of bad weather. We used to jump off the top into loose hay, doing a somersault, landing on our feet. We abandoned our tunnel when we found it was being used by a skunk or civet cat, as both were known to live in the countryside.
DEATH OF A HORSE -- One of the calves lost the "unit" or whatever it’s called, to put on its nose to wean the calf from its mother. It consisted of some spikes. One of the horses came up lame and it was found he had stepped on the calf weaner. The horse came down with lockjaw and soon died. I must have been 10 or 11 at the time and helped my brother, Harold, to dig a hole in the corn field big enough to bury a horse. I don’t imagine that I did very much digging, as the hole had to be about six feet deep. I wasn’t tall enough to throw the dirt from the hole. I might add that the ground on our farm did not have rocks in it, making it easier digging. I don’t remember being around when the horse was dragged to the horse grave.
MILKING TIME – The cow pasture was across the railroad tracks and the road ran through the farm property. The cows, 8 to 10, had to be brought up toward evening to be milked, and would remain in the barnyard overnight. Milking time came early in the morning, as it had to be done before heading out into the fields for work. After that was done, the cows returned to the pasture. The Floyd River flowed through our property, thus giving the animals water to drink. Ralph, my brother, and I occasionally had the afternoon job of bringing in the cows for night. Some of the cows would be in the holding area before letting them through the gate, but often a few would still be in the upper pasture and we would have to go get them to drive the cattle across the tracks with the others and up to the barn after making sure the five-o’clock train was not in sight. One afternoon as we were rounding up strays, we heard a train whistling. As we looked ahead we could see that the wire gate was down and the cows were ambling across the tracks. That put us in a run with the few remaining cows to get across. Fortunately, the train crew brought their passenger train to almost a stop giving us time to clear the cows from the track. It was a scary ordeal. We always made sure the gate was more secure after that. Can you imagine two small boys almost stopping a train?
Another thing Ralph and I did was to take off our shoes and socks to wade across the river (less than one foot deep) when the cows were feeding on the other side. After chasing them to the river crossing, the cows would usually stop for a drink of water. We managed to jump on the back of one of the smaller cows or large calves to ride across the river, therefore, we didn’t need to remove socks and shoes for the return trip.
Since I am talking about cows, I will say that my Dad taught me how to milk a cow when I was seven years old. To this day, I don’t know why the cows had to be milked from the righthand side, unless the cows were used to that. Dad picked out a cow that was gentle and easy to milk. They were not all that way. The barnyard cats would hang around and I would squirt milk into their mouths. The cats got really good at that but always ended with milk all over their face.
DOG CHASING TRAINS – I had a dog named Jack. He got his kicks and exercise by chasing trains that went past. He would run on the gravel just outside the edge of the ties. The train crew would blow off some steam as he usually started out at the engine. It didn’t faze him. One winter day he came limping home. On examination, he had a broken back leg. We never knew what happened, but some one suggested that a hanging piece of ice or an icicle could have hit him.
ANOTHER TRAIN STORY – One winter day as I was looking out the front window at an approaching freight train about ¼ mile away, the train began to separate, about in the middle, with the back half slowing to a stop. The space between the two halves became wider and wider until more than a block between them existed. The train crew brought the train to a stop, backed up to re-couple, and were on their way. (Don’t know why that came to mind.)
SAD TRAIN STORY—One day (I think in the Spring of 1925) Dad and Mom went shopping in Sioux City. Harold stayed home and Ralph and I were left with someone in Seney. I believe it was with our cousins, Eugene and Leroy Keizer. Edith and Carol Blanche were left with Grandma Darville who was then living in what I remembered as the Darville home place. When the folks came home they found that Carol had wandered off. They learned from tracks she left in the dust, that she walked down the railroad to our house about ¼-mile. From her tracks, she tried to get into the gate and failed. She then began walking back to Grandma’s and an oncoming train hit her, throwing her body off to the side of the track. A conversation with the train engineer brought out that he recalled something white flying out and he thought it was a chicken. He, along with some others, went to where he had seen this take place and found my sister's body. I have always thought what a sad thing for Dad and Mom to come home from a shopping trip to confront the fact that their daughter had been killed. It must have been horrible for Grandma, as she was responsible for her care. Carol is buried at the cemetery in LeMars, Iowa. I last visited her gravesite, October 2003.
CHORE TIME – Many small jobs are required on a farm. There is no end to work. The milk had to be run through a separator to obtain the cream. Occasionally, I turned the handle on this job. I think that Harold did this most of the time. Sufficient cream was held out to make butter and the rest went into the cream can, and later sold in LeMars at the creamery. All three of us kids helped churn the butter. Mom always took care of washing all the intricate parts of the separator. Since we had no electricity or running water, every day wood had to be carried into the house and a basket of corn cobs used to start the fire. They made a fast, hot heat. The corn cobs came from shelling the corn in the fall. Water had to be carried from the hand pump to the kitchen, a distance of 300 feet. We had a windmill for pumping water into the animal trough but if there was no wind, the water had to be hand-pumped to supply drinking water for the animals. Gathering eggs was a daily job. I think we had two to three dozen chickens. Water and feed had to be carried to them when they were cooped up. The chicken house had to be cleaned at least once a week. I enjoyed helping Mom work in her garden during the summer, pulling weeds, hoeing and spading the ground. A lot of fishworms were uncovered and saved to go fishing. During the drought and no wind, we had to pump water to the garden (our irrigation system.)
FALL HARVEST – One year Dad planted several acres of potatoes. When it was time to dig them up, a special plow was used to separate the potatoes from the soil. I can’t recall how it worked, other than the soil containing potatoes passed over some rods that would shake the dirt free and the potatoes passed over the rods to the ground. The potatoes were then picked up in buckets by some of the immediate family and then dumped into the waiting wagon. When filled, the wagon would be driven to the house and the potatoes would be dumped into the basement. There must have been enough for Dad to sell.
~Edith & Henry Darville were twins
The corn was ready for picking in October. Dad had one side of his wagon a few feet higher. As the corn was picked, the husk was pulled back from the ear with a special hook slipped over the mitten with hook in the palm of one's hand. Next, the ear was broken from the stalk and thrown into the wagon against the raised side. I can only remember going to the field one Saturday morning. Harold and Mom helped Dad with the rest of the picking until finished. The loads of corn were brought to the corn cribs for unloading. An elevator was used to take the corn to the height of the corn crib and the corn went into a shoot to the proper crib to be filled. The wagon was stopped under it and up-right, and horses removed. A hopper for the corn to fall into was swung around the back of the wagon. Dad had a gasoline engine with a belt connecting to the elevator and lift. When he got the engine running, he would move a lever that raised the front wheels of the wagon high enough for the corn to flow out the back into the hopper. The elevator carried the corn to the rooftop to flow into the cribs. The outside wall covering was 1” x 4” boards which were spaced about two inches apart. This gave plenty of air for the corn to dry. A person in the business of shelling corn would come to the farm with his corn sheller and would shell the corn. By shelling the corn, the kernel is removed from the cob. The shelled corn went into a wagon or back into a bin to await selling. The corn cobs ended up in a stack nearby.
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