THE EARLIER LIFE AND TIMES OF TOM ROGERS
(Autobiography by Henry Thomas Rogers 1913-1999)
This rambling story started out to be just one person's view of how it was, starting in the 1920's, so that those denizens of the 1990's and beyond might have something to compare with. But inevitably it has become entwined with my own personal adventures. Thus it has become the story of a farm boy two miles out of a small town in northwestern Montana, of how he saw life, and what he experienced in the fascinating, enjoyable, sometimes hectic years that followed. Possibly this may impart some of the feelings which I experienced, without boring you too much. So here goes!
When we first moved to Columbia Falls, we lived for about a year in town, in a house with running water, electricity, a bathroom and a lawn. My brother and I competed for the fun of turning on the electric lights in the evening. The next spring we moved to a little house across the Flathead River in the country, with the intent to buy it but the Scott family bought it instead. Shortly thereafter we bought the forty acre farm (for $4,000. On it was an old, unpainted two story house, without a foundation and of course without running water or electricity or a bathroom. An outhouse and a washtub by the wood-burning kitchen cookstove served instead. Hot water was supplied by the teakettle and a reservoir heated by the stove. In the dining room was a wood-burning heater stove with little ising-glass windows through which one could glimpse the flames. My job was to keep the woodbox full.
We didn't use the upstairs, except sometimes to hang clothes to dry when the weather was wet or cold. But it was a great place for mice, which I sometimes trapped, because they made regular forays downstairs, principally to the pantry for their food. There was a mouse hole in the corner by the stair door; In the hole was a marble lost by some child of an earlier occupancy. Try as I would, I couldn't get it out, for the hole wasn't wide enough for me to put my finger around it and get it out. (I wonder if my brother found it when he recently tore down the house.)
Papa did some "remodeling", turning a closet on the "sleeping porch" into a pantry connected to the kitchen. Also, he turned a rather useless porch on the east side of the house into a "sunroom" where Mother kept a variety of house plants, geraniums, calla lilies, begonias, flowering sultana, wandering Jew and a big Christmas cactus. We also had two canaries, Dicky and Dotty, which succeeded in rearing several young.
When I was in about the fifth grade we moved to a big three story mansion overlooking the river. Not that we were rich, far from that. We got it rent-free as caretakers, for we needed the big pasture for our cattle. It had seventeen rooms, not including the basement. Most of them we seldom or never used. To heat the entire house in winter would have been a Herculean task. We did sometimes open up the entire ground floor for the church Hallowe'en party, for which it was ideal. On the south end was a sunroom, great for Mother's plants, and I got part of it for the jars in which I raised caterpillars--which occasionally got loose and wandered about. Most of the rooms had a fireplace. In winter we used the one in the dining room. I nearly forgot: We had electricity, running water and a bathroom. No refrigerator but the cellarway was cool enough to keep food for a short time, or the milkhouse with its tank of water used to cool the bottles of milk-- we had a little dairy.
After the mansion, (which had been built by the banker who originally owned the Bank of Columbia Falls and had enough children to fill it) changed hands, we had to move out. It was first occupied by a couple, with one son, who tried to make a sort of guest house out of it but without success, then by a North Dakota farm family, also with many children, who bought it and are still there. (The house burned down--apparently it was only brick veneer--in the 1930's; one barn was moved to town and turned into a dance hall and the other one burned. A "hired man" house was moved onto the foundation of the old house.
We bought the "Scott house" with its 29 acres and moved into it. Back to kerosene lamps, the water pail and outdoor toilet, until Mountain States Power Company, facing the likelihood that the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) during the Roosevelt years would get ahead of it, extended power lines to our road. Then we added a little water system of our own, electric-operated. Still no sink or indoor toilet. Rarely a mouse. During the "big" depression we had a milkhouse built by customers who couldn't pay their milk bills, also an addition containing a kitchen and a utility room. A sunroom for Mother's plants and a back porch and pantry were also added. This made a little house that actually had two bedrooms.
Food--Back in the "Old Days".
Breakfast on the farm usually was oatmeal "mush" but my brother said, "Can't we have a different kind of cereal?" So we sometimes had "Pettijohn's", rolled wheat, cooked like the oatmeal, or "Wheatena", which was ground wheat produced by a local mill. Quite often we also had a boiled egg on our toast. Occasionally, mostly in winter, we had hotcakes (we called them pancakes) especially when we had chores to do outdoors, when the thermometer was around zero or below, the snow was deep and drifting before the blizzard wind howling out of Badrock Canyon to the east.
My mother made great mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, pie, cake, cookies and doughnuts. Sometimes she made homemade bread, after we teased her for it--it was so much better than the store bread. But we didn't get it often, for it was a lot of work to knead it by hand. At Thanksgiving and Christmas jello, mincemeat pie and suet pudding were special dessert. (I'd have eaten nothing but sweets if I'd been allowed.) But what I really didn't like was cooked carrots, though when I pulled one from the garden and wiped the dirt off on my overalls, they tasted just fine. Then there was, at times, some very tough meat from an old dairy cow ,and my jaws got weary trying to chew it. Mother's only remark was "It'd be tougher if you didn't have any." Once or twice my brother brought home a deer and once he got an elk after packing in to the other side of Columbian Mountain. Very good.
We were never lacking in milk to drink, nor whipping cream for our cereal. My mother, father and brother always had their morning cup of brewed coffee--no decaf or instant then--but I didn't like it. Chicken and eggs, raised ourselves, were plentiful. (Townspeople on our dairy route considered chicken and whipping cream real treats, to be ordered for holidays and sometimes Sundays.) Milk and cream, in returnable bottles, sold for ten cents a quart and fifteen cents a half pint, though in winter, when we had to buy hay, we usually put the price of milk up to twelve and a half cents. (We didn't have enough land to raise enough hay.)
In summer, when the new little potatoes and peas from the garden were ready, Mother cooked them with milk and butter--they were delicious! I finally learned to eat lettuce (with sugar and cream!), tomatoes and rhubarb from the garden. Sometimes we had cantaloupe--"muskmelons" they were called then--from the store and we had bananas, but no oranges--too expensive. My father loved strong cheese but the rest of us didn't. All cheese came in a big circular cake about 18 inches across and it sat on the store counter covered with, logically, cheesecloth. The storekeeper cut a wedge-shaped piece for the customer, wrapped it in white paper and tied it with string from a big spool suspended from the ceiling. The only kinds of crackers we had were soda crackers and graham crackers. The grahams came in a wooden box. My mother made use of one of the empty ones for a footstool. There was no such thing as pop that I was aware of--until one day a friend of mine bought me a bottle of Coca Cola (it wasn't "coke" then); I didn't like it. We drank water, nice and cold from the well, and later from the town water supply--no chlorine. Winter fare was very short on fresh fruit and vegetables, though a big wooden box of apples was standard fare, alternated with stewed prunes. Mother canned peaches, pears, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and sometimes huckleberries we picked up the North Fork of the Flathead River.
I suspect we were short on vitamin D for it wasn't added to food then and we didn't get much sunlight on our skins--we weren't in the habit of going shirtless, though we got some when we went swimming in the river or its little pools behind the sandbars.
What food prices I can remember in the twenties and thirties were unbelievably low, except that wages and income were very low too. A one and a half pound loaf of bread sold for fifteen cents-- it seems that nearly everyone ate white bread. A can of pink salmon, about the cheapest meat one could buy, sold for fifteen cents. We couldn't afford the "red" salmon, which was somewhat more choice. Mother mixed the salmon with white crackers to make salmon loaf. Hamburger was twenty-five cents a pound. In winter we had our own beef--no way to keep it in summer, since we had no refrigeration except a cooling tank to cool the bottled milk, and later an icebox supplied with ice cut on the river. Sometimes Mother canned beef, cold-packing it in jars and boiling it in the washboiler on the wood range for an hour. It seems that a box of apples cost about a dollar and a half.
As far as "dining out" was concerned, my first meal "out" was when my college friend and his parents took me with them to a restaurant in Missoula--a welcome change from "batching." Then, many years later, in Libby, Jane and I took the kids, just Danny and Lois then, out to dinner just once. We concluded that the dinner didn't beat what we had at home. In the Spokane Valley, after the kids had all left home, we do sometimes eat out. Beats trying to figure out what to eat at home!
Clothes--In the "Old Days"
In the early grades of school (they weren't called elementary), all the boys wore knee pants. It seems the little girls dressed much like today except for the bright colors in vogue now. With the knee pants came long black stockings, to above the knees and held up by garters! Then long trousers replaced the short ones and the black stockings were no more, replaced by short socks, for a time also held up by garters. Starting somewhere in grade school it was expected, at least for my brother and me, to wear a dress shirt and necktie to school every day. This continued through high school and even college. A few boys in public school got away with wearing overalls, but not us. Each of us had a dress suit, for Sundays and special occasions. Dress shoes, at first "high-topped" but later "oxfords" were the school attire--one pair of dress shoes at a time. In summer our "dogs" got free to wear "tennis shoes", much like today's but always with canvas tops and rubber soles; after a summer's work and play they were worn out, but they cost only about a dollar or so while dress shoes were perhaps two and a half. (We seldom went barefoot because there were too many stones in our soil.) We wore our one set of clothes until they wore out. (The overalls did get patches sewn on the knees, which wore through because we got down on them playing marbles.)
Winter clothing, when we had to fight the storms, was a very different story. Heavy woollen mackinaws, heavy caps with ear flaps, thick mittens and rubber overshoes were necessities. Later on we had sheepskin-lined leather jackets, high leather boots and heavy wool socks. During blizzards a scarf over the face was essential. (I did once freeze the tip of my nose and my ear lobes, no serious damage.)
My earliest recollection of a disease was when I had the measles. I lay in bed and read a book, "The Little Red Rockinghorse." Later I learned that one shouldn't read and should have subdued light when a measles victim.
One of my earliest memories was of picking wildflowers on the way home from school. I was so late that my mother set out with the horse and buggy--she never did learn to drive a car--to look for me and found me with a big handful of yellowbells, roosterheads and "honeysuckles". (The wildflowers are now replaced by houses and bluegrass lawns.) We still had some wildflowers in the front yard--no lawn. Climbing trees was fun and so was digging holes in the back yard. The yard had a little juniper tree on each side of the dirt path to the house at the home place, and three little apple trees that produced very poor fruit. My brother and I set up a pup (army) tent and slept out for a few nights in summer, but soon forsook it and slept under the stars. (Sleeping in the barn was a bit stuffy and dusty.)
Outdoors, when neighbor kids came over, we played hide and seek and a version of it, kick the can, where a can was placed in the center of a big metal buggy tire and kicked as far as possible while everyone ran to hide. The one who was "it" had to retrieve the can before looking for the hiders. Then a hider could run out and kick it again, giving those who had been caught the privilege of hiding again.
Plenty of exercise. No TV then. Rolling hoops was also a popular pastime for the two of us, and later, rolling tires (around the big mansion) to see how fast we could do it.
Fourth of July and two packages of 1-1/2 inch firecrackers was about all I could afford, except for a capgun and a few rolls of caps--more noise for a dime! Oh, there were the "flashcrackas" at five cents each. Perhaps 2 1/2 inches long and powerful enough to blow a tin can 15 feet into the air. I didn't wait around but ran fast after I lit it. Later on I became extravagant and bought a 25 cent skyrocket.
For several years, especially after Lindberg flew the Atlantic, much of my leisure time was spent building model airplanes, mostly from materials I found around home, for kits to build them cost money. Thus, since the wood from cracker boxes was heavier than balsa wood, my creations didn't fly very far, and the rubber band motors couldn't take them very far either. Like many a boy, I aspired to be a flier (they were called aviators then) but I thought that my increasing nearsightedness would prevent this.
About this time my butterfly collecting began and my interest in biology grew. Birds were a minor interest, which became more serious after high school and really became a passion after World War II. In the summer we sometimes fished along the river. Equipment was a willow pole with a piece of fishline tied to the tip. My small assortment of flies included a black gnat, a gray hackle and my favorite, a royal coachman, which I fancied was a better fish catcher, though I caught very few on anything. After butterflies captured my attention, fishing no longer held any attraction for me.
Just for fun.
What did we do with our leisure time? It seems that, in the summer at least, it was the children who had most of that. All of my childhood was lived in the country. We had no lawn, only a front yard with native grasses and wildflowers, and a backyard where I could dig holes and make roads for my little cars which I pushed around by hand. The woods were great for exploring, with their flowers to pick, trees to climb and squirrels and birds to watch. In the swamp we could pick the three foot long skunk cabbage leaves. In the seventh grade I began to learn about the world of butterflies and spent many hours collecting them. My Aunt Abbie, who lived a half mile down the road, encouraged me in this, buying me Holland's Butterfly Book. My mother also encouraged my interest, which eventually led me into the study of biology and my career in teaching it.
My mother encouraged me in planting a little flower garden, in which my favorites were bachelor buttons, especially the pink ones. Weeding the garden wasn't exactly recreation but took up some time.
We boys were paid five cents each for trapping ground squirrels ("gophers" we called them). I think back now how the little animals must have suffered in traps. They really did very little damage to the crops as they lived in the clearings at the edges of the woods. But we did pick potato bugs off the potatoes. They really did do damage, quite defoliating the plants if not removed. Sometimes we sprayed them with Paris green.
For several years I was captivated by building model airplanes, rubber band propelled, which didn't fly very well but were a lot of fun. Also little boats powered in the same way.
Wintertime was time for fun in the snow. First it was coasting down the hill on sleds and later on skis. Skiing then was a kids' sport. No adult ever indulged in such child's play. What they did with their leisure time, what little they had, I have no idea. My mother took a brief nap in the afternoon and my father read quite a lot. When we lived where there was a big empty barn, we played basketball, with one hoop, without a net, working much harder at it than we ever did at real work.
Summertime was time to swim in the backwaters of the river. No heated pools then but sandy beaches to run on or enjoy the sun. I finally learned to dog paddle, after overcoming somewhat my instinctive fear of water. A nearby slough provided great fun, for it contained a lot of little animals, tiny fish, tadpoles and a fascinating variety of water insects, many of which we brought back to try to keep alive. We did manage to bring a few tadpoles to the little toad stage.
Indoors was a time to make paper animals--horses and cows-- with which we played. Also we played marbles on the living room rug, being careful not to let any go into the mouse hole by the door to the mostly unused upstairs. Then we also played games: Pollyanna, checkers and Pit. In the evening the whole family quite often played dominoes.
Once in a great while the whole family took in a movie. A few local businesses had advertisements on slides, thrown on the screen at this time. These were followed by a cartoon, starring Felix the Cat, in whose antics we reveled. As for the main show, I remember only a few: "The Ten Commandments" and "Smiling Through", both with serious messages, and the thoroughly entertaining "Circus Days" starring Jackie Coogan. Of course there were the Westerns with Hoot Gibson, who emerged from the bar, leaped into the saddle from behind and rode off at a gallop after the bad guys. Then there were the favorites, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Norma Talmadge. For a long time the movies were silent, with captions to let us know what the actors were saying. With only one projector, every so often the reels had to be changed, so a local woman played the piano during the pause. No popcorn. Sometimes we kids hiked to town to a matinee, price fifteen cents. Once I earned my way in by distributing handbills advertising the movie. A great experience!
Then came the "talkies." About all that could be said about the first one that came to town was that it talked. Otherwise it was rubbish. A memorable movie when I was in high school was "All Quiet on the Western Front" based on World War I. The message was antiwar but it didn't stop World War II, which seemed to make the earlier war look like a local skirmish with antiquated weapons of destruction.
Once every few years a Chautauqua came to town, a series of live entertainment programs, held in the school auditorium. For me the magic show was by far the best, but there were always a three act play, a music night and an inspirational lecture by a middle aged man. What was on the fifth night I don't remember, so I probably didn't go to it. Once there was a full length puppet show in Kalispell during my high school years. And a combined high school and adult community cast put on "The Mikado".
In some years we had a rodeo at the local ball park. It was mostly bucking horses with local riders. It was generally on July 4 and the consensus was that it always rained on that day. More often the family went somewhere for a picnic. A favorite place was Cedar Creek a few miles north of town. The spot was burned over in the 1929 fire and later the road up the North Fork of the Flathead River bypassed it. How well the place has recovered I don't know. Sometimes we went to Lake Blaine south of town, though only my father could swim and he generally didn't. He was in his sixties then so who could blame him? The highlight of the summer was a trip to Glacier National Park twenty miles to the east, up through a winding, mostly one lane road through beautiful Bad Rock Canyon up above the river. Now it's a paved road that allows you to drive at high speed with little time to enjoy the scenery.
Since I was, I suspect, supposed to be a girl -- my mother had said she would have liked one to make dresses for -- I got "drafted" to do household chores, though sometimes my brother washed the dishes while I dried them. Consequently he always got through first! The most dreaded job was to run the washing machine, a wooden tub on legs and a lever that, when swung from side to side, moved the agitator. Really dirty clothes, for example overalls, required 300 strokes (and a weary arm). Then there was the cranking of the hand wringer. Hanging up the clothes on the outdoor line was more pleasant, except in winter, when it was very cold on the hands. Sometimes we put some clothes on the folding clothes rack indoors to dry.
Somewhere in my pre- or early teens I developed a phobia for work. Typical? But later, like the horses, I learned to tolerate it as a necessary evil. My first attempt to milk a cow resulted in old Brownie, really a gentle cow, putting her foot in the pail. Neither one of us liked the experiment! I retreated in tears but came back and finished the job. Teaching the calves to drink out of a bucket was easier. At least they didn't kick you. Cleaning the barn (shoveling the manure out onto the pile) wasn't fun, but necessary. Planting the corn (with a hand planter), cultivating it with a horse-drawn cultivator and cutting it to haul to the barn to make up for the lack of succulent fall pasture, was wearying work. Haying was hot, dusty work. Butchering (cows and chickens) I hated. That was the main reason, not the work, that I didn't want to become a farmer. So I turned to collecting insects--killing and pinning them wasn't "butchering" or at least not in quite the same sense! Delivering the milk house to house wasn't a half bad job, except when we sometimes ran short of milk or cream, making a problem. No question of having to try to expand the market. It was already too big. A small rival dairy finally quit--at that there wasn't room enough room for two--and we heard that their quality of product wasn't as good as ours (didn't keep as well.)School Days. First Grade through High School. (with ideas for changing schools.)
There isn't much I remember about first grade. We had a big sand table but what we put on it, I can't recall. We sometimes sat in a big circle and played "Button, button, who has the button." One time we acted out "Billy Goat Gruff" with the bad troll of course. But most memorable was the azure bluebird that somehow got into the school room--years later I learned that it was a male Mountain bluebird, the only kind we had around Columbia Falls and not uncommon. Was this the beginning of my interest in birds?
In second grade we were learning how to add and to count money. To do this we played store. Each of us brought a toy to "sell" for the play store and "bought" some toy with play money. I wanted to buy a little toy oven but the price was a dollar and I didn't have that much. I learned that the other kids got a dollar because they got to school during a blizzard--they lived in town only a few blocks from school but my mother didn't dare to let me walk the two miles from our farm through a blinding snowstorm. I felt it wasn't fair but settled for buying a toy horse that cost only a quarter! I made the best of enjoying "my" horse.
Come Valentine's Day and we made valentines no "store-bought" ones) but usually with pictures cut out from wallpaper catalogs from Sears or Montgomery Ward. We put them into a big decorated box (a round hatbox?). A big concern was that the less popular kids might not get any valentines.
Since we had no school library, about once or twice a year a traveling library came around so we got to check out a book of our choice. My favorite was about a baby zebra--I checked it out twice. Again a prophecy? We also made picture puzzles, bringing to school a picture we liked, pasting it onto cardboard and cutting it up into big squares.
Third grade--seems like nothing very remarkable happened. Oh, we were supposed to draw a picture of the giant, the one which was bested by the little tailor who squeezed water out of a piece of cheese and made the giant think it was a stone. Not having much imagination, I drew it just as it was in the picture in the book: the giant with no legs showing below the knees!
Fourth grade. The outstanding event was making a map of what was produced in South America. Not being able to come up with an emerald, I had to make do with a little circle made with a green crayon. Seems we also grew some cotton plants from seeds picked out of cotton bolls my mother had brought back from the South, where she had taught in a mission school in Alabama. Long lived seeds!
We had a contest in arithmetic, where we went to the blackboard and did multiplication or whatever and the ones who did it the fastest were the winners. I tied with a boy who was several years older--obviously had not been promoted several times--and the teacher gave each of us an eversharp pencil. That same big boy was very kind to me but had a very difficult time with reading. Dyslexia? He got so discouraged along about the seventh grade that he had tears in his eyes. The teacher made arrangements for him to drop out of school, even though state law required that everyone had to attend school through the eighth grade. He was super at arithmetic but just couldn't make reading do much for him.
We never had a bulletin board in any classroom in grade school (that's what it was called then) but at special times (Thanksgiving and Christmas) the teacher brought out a big sheet of paper with pinholes depicting some appropriate decoration or scene. Two of the girls held it against the blackboard while a third patted it with a very dusty eraser, the result being that the design was transferred to the blackboard. Then the lines were drawn over with colored chalk. Very pretty!
Sometimes we staged a little drama. I recall we had a Thanks- giving play: apparently all the pupils (that's what we were called then) took part. One time we wrote Hallowe'en stories. I wrote one and drew a picture of a jack-o-lantern. The teacher devised one out of orange paper and put it on the head of one of the boys while I read my story as we stood before the class.
I don't recall anything really earth-shaking in fifth and sixth grades. From fifth grade on we had some four different teachers and passed from room to room to be taught the different subjects.) Once I disputed the teacher's pronunciation of "Guiana". She pronounced it "Guinea". Guess who won. (Advice to a future teacher: If you don't know something, admit it and say "Let's find out." Kids are pretty smart, more so than when I was one. You can't fool them.)
In sixth grade we had to share a room with seventh graders, since there were five grades and only four big rooms in the old brick schoolhouse, and while they recited, we were supposed to be studying. I think that half the time I listened to what they were reciting. When their teacher asked for some pupil to give the name of a book, one girl always said, "Wildfire, by Zane Gray" I later found out that members of her family were horse lovers, which shouldn't have been hard to guess. I think that was when I learned "The Last Leaf" by Oliver Wendel Holmes. I believe it was in sixth grade that we made booklets about ancient history and illustrated them with our drawings. My stick people illustrated "Horatio at the Bridge", which I was allowed to enter into the little fair that the town had down town. Any prize? I don't remember. Maybe a ribbon.
Seventh grade: I was fascinated by the way in which the formula for the area of a circle was derived. But I was stumped by how to find the area of a circular sidewalk when the inside and outside diameter of it was given. No imagination! (One version said: No recollections at all.)
Eighth grade: We were required to have a class in agriculture. O.K. with me--I lived on a farm. I think the teacher had never been on a farm in her life but she did the best she could. We made booklets in which, among other things, we pasted pictures of farm animals. In grammar class (that's what it was called) we were to write stories, choosing our own plots. I was turning out a mystery story (no violence) and, believe it or not, the other kids were waiting around to see how it turned out. I don't remember. Never got me anywhere but I was learning to write coherently.
Of course we had a morning and afternoon recess, at least in the lower grades. One game was "Pump-pump-pull-away" (if you don't come I'll pull you away), where the one who was "it" tried to catch anyone running from the schoolyard fence to the cordwood pile--the building was heated by a wood furnace. Incidentally, if we needed water in the classroom the teacher sent someone down to the basement with a pail. (The toilets were down there too.)
For the boys marbles was a favorite pastime. We also had a swing and one or two teeter-totters. We also played baseball and once put a foul ball through the fourth grade window. It was all hardball then and we couldn't afford gloves or a catcher's mitt. That was kind of rough, I thought.
Came high school. (We had no graduation exercises, such as delight the proud parents nowdays, from kindergarten up, until high school graduation.) I attended high school in Kalispell, since my brother dropped out of the local high school in his sophomore year, disappointed because it had no ag course. Our mother got busy and hatched the idea of getting him into Flathead County High School, so we decided that when it was my turn, I might as well go along. That meant a seventeen mile drive each way. Ted had cows to milk before we left, and after we got home. I started to help with the milking somewhere along this time. No milking machines; all by hand. My skinny arms would take twice as long as my brother's strong ones, and they are still skinny. (After all he played both football and basketball, while a coach wouldn't take a second look at me.)
As you might have guessed, I took the science course. My ambition was to become an entomologist. Other courses were O.K. except history was mostly a bore: endless processions of kings and wars and presidents and political battles, and English classes. The grammar was easy but when it came to the reading of literature I was always about a week behind. Too late I realized that I read every single word--probably because of my inclination toward science, which needs to be read that way--instead of learning to "skim." I did win some scholarship contests, in English grammar, biology and chemistry, plus the "pentathlon" in which one took tests in five subjects of his own choosing. I don't believe I learned to think much, but had a good memory so I got by. It seems just about all learning was just memorizing. Algebra was easy except for the "word problems" which still bother some students. "If a boat going four miles an hour crosses a stream flowing three miles an hour, how far down the stream would it end up?" Who cares? Maybe the one who is in the boat! (Perhaps we could use situations with which students can identify.)
Journalism did give me a chance to do some writing, and we did get chances to go down town to see how our school newspaper was printed. The linotype was fascinating. A thing of the past! And the physics teacher took us down to see the weather bureau facilities. No other field trips. In biology really no place to go. No school buses to take us farther.
I agree that part of the class time must be devoted to learning basic information but I think more time should be devoted to discussion, to examining different ideas, even though they may be at odds to accepted thinking, more time to questioning the "why" of things. I never was explained why you "carries the one" in addition or multiplication. We just did it. While use of calculators and computers is very valuable, we should also know how to do things in case those tools break down or are not available.
As for learning how to think, always a difficult process, I don't believe I did much of that until after I got out of college. I probably did more thinking outside of school, working on the farm or later, elsewhere. I'm not at all sure that taking geometry in high school gave me any thinking skills that were transferred to any other field. I believe that "teaching to think", if that can be done, is best done in situations that apply to real problems in the students' lives, not in abstract ones.
Teaching of the various sciences, be they physical, biological or sociological, provide ample opportunity for thinking, questioning, discussing. Especially today, in this complex world, many controversial subjects confront us. So many of our conclusions are based upon our past experiences, so it is often difficult to look at a situation with an unbiased mind (especially when conclusions are based upon our own finances!).
(If you're interested, the account of my college days will follow. Otherwise, enough for now.)
Since I was, I suspect, supposed to be a girl -- my mother had said she would have liked one to make dresses for -- I got "drafted" to do household chores, though sometimes my brother washed the dishes while I dried them. Consequently he always got through first! The most dreaded job was to run the washing machine, a wooden tub on legs and a lever that, when swung from side to side, moved the agitator. Really dirty clothes, for example overalls, required 300 strokes (and a weary arm). Then there was the cranking of the hand wringer. Hanging up the clothes on the outdoor line was more pleasant, except in winter, when it was very cold on the hands. Sometimes we put some clothes on the folding clothes rack indoors to dry.
Transportation (of various sorts).
Walking, the oldest known form of transportation, was my principal mode, primarily for getting to school. Up through about the fifth grade it was a two mile walk, down the gravel road, through the Mikota's "cutoff", a diagonal through their forty acre woods, which was most enjoyable, especially when I could look at a big anthill. Then there was the bridge over the Flathead River. In the spring when the high water poured around the pier, it was awesomely fascinating. It was fun watching the rain and snow melt carve little rivers down the dirt road; I could see how real rivers changed their channels and built sand bars. From fourth grade on it was cutting diagonally across town through vacant lots--there aren't any of those anymore--to Columbus School, so named because it was built just 400 years after that adventurer "discovered" America. When we boys wanted to go to a Boy Scout meeting in town, we "hoofed" it, the same way we got to school, but we lived closer to the school where the meetings were--only about a mile.
No school buses. Bicycles were rare. I had a second hand one, costing ten dollars, I believe, but didn't ride it to school. Two farm boys who lived up the river walked three or four miles to school. Motorcycles? Perhaps once in a decade some much-envied owner of a Harley-Davidson attracted much attention as he roared through. Farm horses sometimes served as transportation, especially when my brother decided to ride his to school, stabling her in the little barn belonging to the Methodist Church. At times the horses were most useful to us kids when we played cops and robbers. The rest of the time they had to earn their keep plowing, harrowing, cultivating, mowing and raking hay, pulling the hayrack and eventually pulling the hay up into the mow by a fork or, better yet, by slings which took up a third of a hayrack load at once. It surely beat putting it in by hand with pitchforks!
As far back as I can remember, we had a car of some sort. First, it seems, we had a little pickup truck with a brass radiator and a tiny, improvised box on the back. Of course no starter, and a horn perched on the place where a door would have been on the driver's side (only one door). You blew the horn by pushing down on a big "button" and a loud grating sound emerged. To provide voltage for the ignition, there were four little boxes, each with coils to step up the voltage and a condenser to store the charge momentarily. When a coil failed to function properly the procedure was to remove it from the container box, located where later autos would have a dashboard, and file the points until they were smooth again. This car would now be worth a small fortune as a vintage car but I suppose it ended up on the town dump.
We had a one-horse buggy but we were already hooked on gasoline autos, which went somewhat faster than a horse could trot. In those days everyone drove down the middle of the road, pulling over only when another car met us.
Then we had a big, old Studebaker touring car (1917 model, I believe), hard to turn over with a hand crank--either the starter didn't work or it didn't have one. It was the car we used when the whole family went along, and when it rained, there was a scramble to stretch the cloth curtains around to keep out the water. But when on those memorable occasions when we drove to Glacier National Park (over narrow gravel roads and, through Bad Rock Canyon, a road so narrow, with beautiful cliffs on each side, that one had to look for a wide place to move over to let an oncoming car pass us. It was great, however, when Papa put the top down so we could see the tops of the lofty mountains. The Going-to-the-Sun Highway wasn't completed until years later, however. The Model Ts' gas had to be measured by a wooden "ruler" dipped into the tank, which at first was under the seat--you just got out and removed the cushion to get at it.
At first no drivers' licenses or examinations were required, or even available. The legal driving age was 18 but I was able to get permission to drive before that, so I could get to high school in Kalispell. Other country boys had to drive too, but, like me, drove the family car. One exception: the son of a man who owned the Dodge Garage in Kalispell had a 1924 Chevrolet of his own and drove it to school, even though he lived in town. I recall seeing him drive down the street by the high school, slam on the brakes, turn the steering wheel sharply to the left and skid the back wheels around so he could park in the opposite direction on the other side of the street.
In the "roaring twenties" (which we didn't know until years later that we were living through), we bought a "tudor sedan" (two door) Model T Ford for a family car (and it was green--up until then all cars were black). It had glass all around and a hand- operated windshield wiper. Top speed was around forty-one miles per hour. After a few years we traded it in for a blue-green Model A tudor. What a beautiful car! But it cost more, some $700! But it had an electric windshield wiper, wire wheels, "bullet" headlights and a spare tire mounted on an extra wheel. It even had a gasoline gage (a little window on the dash so you could see the gasoline because the tank was mounted just in front of it under the hood.) Once I tried it out at sixty-five miles an hour, still not wide open, but it didn't feel steady--too light a car--so I never tried it again.
By now the passenger cars all had glass windows all around--no more rain, snow or wind to chill you--and all had electric starters that worked most of the time, though they still came with hand cranks just in case the battery was low or in the winter the engine was too cold and stiff for the battery to do its job. All the cars had cloth-covered tops--a severe hailstorm punctured the top of the Model A. Brakes were still mechanical, not hydraulic. Wheels were of large diameter, making cars tall. It was easy to remove the tires and patch the inner tubes yourself, which happened rather often for it seems that town residents burned their wooden boxes in the alleys, leaving the nails for tires to pick up. The cars were rather simple, possible for the owner to do much repair work. (My father and brother put new piston rings into the Model T with only ordinary tools.) As cars got more complicated, repairs got too difficult for novices. Broken springs, rather common on the rough roads, were repaired by a mechanic, who could take the spring apart and replace the broken leaf.
We had bought a black Model T Ford pickup, which we used to deliver the milk. A real delivery truck was financially out of the question; it had to be a general purpose vehicle. After Father Time caught up with the pickup, we traded it in on a Dodge, which didn't have enough power to blast through the winter snowdrifts, so we traded it in for a Ford V8.
In the fall of 1941 Mother and I (I put in $40) bought a used 1937 Ford V8, in which we drove back to Indiana. During the war, no more autos, for civilian use at least, were being produced, so I wrote from an army camp telling Mother to go ahead and sell it. We could have used it after the war, when we were located out in the dryland wheat and cattle country in far eastern Montana, but occasionally I borrowed my neighbor's old Chevrolet. After we moved to Libby, we bought a 1936 Chevrolet, $75 down and $75 the next month and it was paid for! It even went as far as Spokane, when I took Bill over to get him a hearing aid. But one day it quit, actually because the battery was dead, but I thought it was time for a change, so bought a used six-cylinder Ford with an overdrive. Can't remember the price, but we couldn't afford much. It was quite able to pull a U-Haul trailer several times to Spokane, moving all our stuff to "Maxwell House." Then another used car, "Old Blue" a Ford station wagon, which took us as far as the Canadian Columbia Ice Fields and to the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. Then a used Ford Fairlane (12 miles to the gallon in the city!) and finally a new Honda Wagon (1977 and still going strong. A few minor things went wrong but one cylinder gave out at about 95,000 miles so we got a "new used" engine, guaranteed not to have more than 30,000 on it. It gets 35 to 40 miles per gallon on trips (when only I am in it) and better than the original engine. Beats all the previous ones for mileage, and though it has no catalytic converter, passes the emission tests better than cars that have them! I had its beautiful dark green (a color hard to see) painted yellow (so people wouldn't run into me any more, though they seem to try.)
In the 1920s travel over longer distances apparently was accomplished entirely by trains, pulled by the dramatic steam locomotives with their big black plumes of smoke and the pistons, one on each side, connecting directly with the big drive wheels and leaking steam. They were fueled by coal and reputedly were only 6 per cent efficient. My aunt and uncle and their two sons, from St. Louis, visited us in this way, but in the 1930s they made the trip in their Model A Ford. The big locomotives with their rather melodious whistles were replaced by diesels with their dull, droning "whistle". A fireman was no longer needed to shovel coal into the firebox. The branch line to Kalispell was served by the "galloping goose", in which a gasoline engine, occupying one end of the baggage car, turned a generator which provided electricity to run an electric motor that ran the train, which consisted of one passenger coach, seldom with more than a few passengers. As a result, the "goose" has been replaced by bus service. Except for the subsidized Amtrak, passenger traffic has been taken over by the more convenient but less efficient private auto, though much freight still moves by rail, even "piggybacking" truck trailers. In the 1920s and '30s the arrival of an airplane in the Flathead Valley was an exciting event. When an occasional barnstorming pilot, usually in a two-seater biplane, landed in the bumpy stubblefield just south of town, he attracted a crowd, some of whom paid a dollar for a ride. I didn't have the dollar. During the winter of 1929 or 1930 several Army biplanes fitted with skis landed at the Kalispell airport, attracting a big crowd. It seems that it was about that time that airmail routes were being pioneered.
Spring and summer.
It was a great day when we first heard the Canada Geese honking overhead as they winged their way north in V-formation. The first robin was a real sign of spring, and we hoped to find buttercups by March 28, my mother's birthday. Later on came the "roosterheads" (shooting stars), yellowbells and "honeysuckles" (bluebells). One afternoon my mother became worried because I had not returned from school by late afternoon so she drove the horse and buggy toward town to find me. She found me, quite unconcerned, with my hands full of wild flowers. (To find such treasures now is almost impossible there because they have been destroyed in favor of green lawns in continuous housing development. Even the shady woods through which I walked, on the "cutoff" path, are filling with houses. How lucky I was to have those beautiful experiences now denied to so many children now!
By the end of the school year in late May, the walk over the bridge over the Flathead River was awesome, as the flood swept past the pier in the center. One could feel dizzy watching the water as it swept by. It even lapped close to the bridge's approaches. Many years later a "one hundred year flood" came high enough to flood out houses built close by on the flood plain. No more houses have been built there since.
When the waters receded somewhat, they left pools in a slough back from the river, pools that provided living space for little water animals that delighted my brother and me: tadpoles, little fish, water beetles, back swimmers and many another little creature. Always some of them were carried home in assorted cans and, alas, generally came to untimely ends, except for one tadpole which succeeded in becoming a tiny toad.
Autumn brought on the foreboding of winter. For me it was sad because there would be no more butterflies, but only the hope of finding a few cocoons and chrysalids. Most of the birds were gone, with only occasional chickadees, nuthatches, magpies and Steller's Jays. What had been a real delight in my earlier days became an enemy when I had to go out and work in it. One compensating quality of winter was when I started taking part in Christmas bird counts with a minister friend whose hobby was birds. (It's still a hobby of mine, or more realistically, an obsession, which I do yearround now.)
What was winter like in the "old days"? My memory goes back only to when I was about four years old. Winter was a time for fun in the snow. Not very exciting compared to now, but nevertheless fun, making "roads" through the snow with my little sled. No hills to slide down but it was still great to be out in the snow. After I started to school, we played "fox and geese" with a big circle in the snow, four "spokes" at right angles and a "safe" place at the hub, which the "geese" tried to reach before the "fox" caught them. Then there were snowball fights and snow forts to build. Occasionally some of the big kids would terrorize us little ones with snowballs packed as hard as ice but we all managed to survive.
The two mile walk to school mostly wasn't bad but I felt it was gross injustice when in the second grade we were playing store with play money and the teacher gave a dollar each to those children who came to school through a blizzard but my mother did not dare to let me go. (The other children had short, safe walks from in town.) Then came the memorable Christmas day when a beautiful Flexible Flyer sled thrilled me, and a pair of wooden skis with leather toe straps for my brother. I got to use the skis too but, for lack of hills--we were living on the farm then--it was mostly going over more or less deep snow on the level. When we later moved to a house that stood on a hill by the river, success was being able to speed down to the bottom without falling down. (We didn't have poles--apparently they hadn't been invented yet.) Sometimes we were almost able to reach the bank that dropped off to the river. Come mealtime, we were ready to quit and change our wet clothes.
When a midwinter thaw created, in the field, pools that froze and were swept snow free by the wind, we had great fun with our sleds, pushing ourselves around with old wooden buggy spokes which, into the end of each we had driven a nail and sharpened the head.
Another pastime which I alone apparently took part in was searching for cocoons and butterfly chrysalids. Under the back eaves of the chickenhouse were the delicate pendant pupas of thistle butterflies. Occasionally I would find the prize of them all, a polyphemus moth cocoon wrapped in a leaf which the caterpillar had fastened to a birch tree twig. In the seventh grade I became interested in collecting butterflies. (Aunt Abby, who lived in a little log cabin in the woods a half mile down the road had given me Holland's "The Butterfly Book" and encouraged my interest in nature. I invariable stopped at her place on the way from school and relished a cup of sweet cocoa and often a piece of jellyroll.) Years later I recall a handsome Steller's jay that came into the back yard and stole some of the table scraps put out for the cats, which, by the way, were not allowed in. They curled up in the cozy barn at night. They did a good job of keeping down the population of mice. At that time we had a little dog of doubtful ancestry, called "Pup" for lack of a more imaginative name. He never did learn to help round up the cows--they always got the better of him. On one very cold winter night we locked him in the little granary where he would be warmer. That night, when he couldn't warn us, someone stole some of our chickens!
After a blizzard that piled snow from the field into deep drifts, blocking the gravel road to town, travel by car was next to impossible. It usually took a week before the county crew plowed us out. Chains were standard equipment on the Ford pickup, which we used to get the milk to town. Later, a Ford V-eight pickup took its place. It had enough power to crash through even a two foot snowdrift, provided we put some extra weight in the back to give better traction to the rear wheel drive. A shovel was standard equipment for when we got stuck, and a hatchet was also very handy for the gravel roads often developed frozen ruts, which were hard to get out of unless one chopped his way out. (The usual practice was to drive down the middle of the country roads, until one met another car. Then one had to get out of the lefthand rut and the other car had to do the same in the other direction. No white line down the middle then. Of course, when the trip was over, we drained the radiator, for, at first, antifreeze was unknown, and during the Big Depression, we couldn't afford it. But there was an advantage: filling the radiator with warm water made the car a lot easier to start, in fact it was just about impossible to turn the engine over, even with the crank--cars had cranks then--unless warm water was in the radiator. When the thermometer was well below zero we usually had to enlist the team of horses to give us a pull. Funny, but they always started OK in cold weather, and never complained. Two foot snowdrifts didn't stop them either.
After one storm Mabel O'Conner, the thin, wiry rural mail carrier, was stuck with her model T open touring car in front of our house. With the help of my brother and me she finally got through. As I recall it, she gave each of us a dime, big money for a kid then. It would be worth about a dollar now. What we did with all that money I don't remember but I'm quite sure we didn't spend it on candy.
After my brother and I were in high school, we drove seventeen miles to Kalispell to school, since my brother wanted to take the ag course, not available at our little town. Mostly we got through the snow uneventfully but one afternoon we got less than halfway home when the blizzard stopped us and we put in at a farmhouse where the grandparents of one of our passengers lived. Papa (we always called him that) had to milk all the cows that night (no milking machine then). We sank into a feather bed upstairs, where the pitcher of water for washing was frozen in the morning.
After graduation from high school I really found out what it was like to fight the winter storms. This was in the middle of the "big" depression, when we didn't have enough money for me to go to college, my goal. (I had enough scholarships to pay for tuition for five years of college but the college system required that I use them at once so I lost them all. That was understandable, since nobody of that generation realized the seriousness of a depression and had no rules to cope with it. Thus I worked on the farm and delivered the milk to the customers in town, sometimes fighting the winter blizzards when they roared out of Badrock Canyon. How I hated to get out of bed when I heard the winter winds whistle around the house on those zero degree mornings! And how welcome was Spring with its buttercups in the edge of the woods. (These woods are now mostly a housing development with boring, manicured bluegrass lawns. Maybe a few buttercups still are hiding there somewhere.) Robins were also a sign of spring, as were bluebirds and Canada geese honking their northward way overhead. How exhilarating!
The Great Depression.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, it seemed that nobody really knew what that meant. Our little town didn't seem much affected. We kept on selling milk at ten cents a quart (usually twelve and a half in winter). Then a rival dairyman dropped his price to six cents, saying that since he was going broke, he might as well do it this way. We dropped our price to six cents also, then after a month, raised it to seven cents--and lost only one customer.
It was then that we really had to tighten our belts, watch every penny. The Model A family car went into our ramshackle garage, put up on blocks to protect the tires, "for the duration". A farmer down to the south of us came by and asked if he could borrow the head off our car since his froze and cracked and he couldn't afford to buy a new one. We accommodated him. (Neither of us could afford antifreeze so we filled up the radiator with warm water in winter and drained it when we got home. Anyway it made the car start better!
We couldn't afford a telephone so we had to use the neighbor's phone a quarter mile away when we had to use one. Later, when things got a bit better, we finally got one. Somehow we managed to get a little radio. Mostly we just got the station in Kalispell some seventeen miles away.
After the gap of three years during the Depression (which was good for me, giving a chance to mature (and a chance to find out what the everyday world was about), my direction changed a bit. I got into the "Epworth League", the young people's group of the Methodist Church, and also was much influenced by a youngish minister, one of whose hobbies was birdwatching. We did several Christmas Counts together as well as a few birding trips. I finally concluded that I wanted to teach high school biology. College at the University of Montana was, by and large, an enjoyable experience. But it was done on a monetary shoestring for, after three years of counting our pennies during the big depression, the family managed to squeeze out enough money to get me started. The first year of college cost $300 for everything, including tuition of $50 a year. Oh, one pair of trousers, one of shoes, and my mother did the laundry I sent home, also darned the holes in my socks. For much of the time I got together with one or more other fellows and we did our own cooking. During my senior year I had the luxury of driving the Model A to Missoula but there was very little money for gas--walking was the way to get to school.
A major in zoology, with German, chemistry, some botany, some math, some social studies (I was bored with the required "Introduction to Social Science" course, which consisted of listening to a lecture on European history three times a week and attending a discussion session the other two. I did have the privilege of being in Mike Mansfield's section and recall that he gave me a "Good" remark on my comments as to why the Roman Empire fell. Are we heading the same way? I petitioned to get out of the last quarter of the "Introduction" course, however, and took sociology courses instead, much more interesting.
By far my most enjoyable class (and the one I worked hardest in, not getting much sleep for working so late into the night on it, sometimes napping on a lab table), was animal ecology. The field trips were great. Spring vacation we spent at the Biological Station at Yellow Bay on Flathead Lake. Not surprisingly I was assigned several groups of insects to identify, including butterflies and grasshoppers, my two favorites. This class did require some thinking. The quarter of chemistry that took up qualitative analysis was next in my list of favorites. Sort of an adventure in detective work!
After I finally got started in college, about half of those years I got together with one or more other boys and "batched", the details of which I sha'nt describe. But we survived on our own cooking!
In my freshman year I was "treated" to the mumps and ended up in St. Patrick's Hospital. Thanks to good care my reproductive ability was not impaired. Then in my sophomore year I got a rope burn from climbing a rope in gym. Neglecting to have it tended to netted me an infection that again landed me in the hospital. Painting my leg with gentian violet and also trying bacteriophage didn't do anything to stop the infection. (There was no penicillium or other antibiotic known then or the staph albus would have been knocked out quickly. After weeks in the hospital, during which my legs got so weak I couldn't stand alone, and I had lost a lot of class time, I dropped out for the remainder of the year and picked up again the following year. (We like to think we are more or less in control of our destiny but if this mishap had not occurred, I would have graduated a year sooner and would never have met my future wife, who, supposedly, would have come to WSU after I had finished there, again assuming that both of us had ended up there! So our children (and grandchildren) would have been someone else.)
At the University I was persuaded by colleagues and instructors to apply for a scholarship or assistantship in graduate school, with the idea of getting a PhD. I had an exalted opinion of myself and applied only to big name schools. This netted me nothing. Finally Fred Barkley, one of my botany instructors, informed me of an opening in Botany at Washington State, offering me a $300 assistantship--not much to live on, but I was in no position to be choosy. But I told them I couldn't take it if I had to pay $150 of it for out of state tuition! Reassured that I wouldn't have to, I grabbed it. It seems the department was short of money that year but the second year I got $450. My job was to assist in the labs. I got some very helpful and interesting courses, mostly in botany but I chose zoology for my minor and took some organic chemistry and math also.
In the spring of my first year there I spent two months along the Columbia River and up the Grand Coulee collecting plants before Grand Coulee Dam flooded them over: 444 collections of 20 herbarium sheets each so there would be some for the department to send out for exchanges with other schools. I camped out the entire time and cooked my own means--and survived! The following year I spent much of my time identifying the collections and writing up my findings for my Masters thesis--finishing it only minutes before the deadline!
The greatest achievement was meeting my future wife, Jane Markle, who migrated out to the wild west from Northampton, Massachusetts. We agreed to get married after I had completed a year at Indiana University and she had finished the work on her Masters thesis in plant physiology.
At Indiana University in Bloomington I again assisted in the labs, back again to zoology. Dr. Kinsey of gall wasp (and sex behavior) studies, was my advisor. He suggested I work on the taxonomy of the oak trees, the hosts of his gall wasps. I couldn't get interested in them and also it seemed to be rather weird to be getting a PhD in zoology by writing a thesis on oak trees!
World War II had begun two years earlier and was a somewhat remote cloud on the horizon. All the young men had to register for the draft but those over 28 were not to be called. So from November 28 (my birthday) to December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day) I was free from it. Then I became subject to it again and it hung over me like a sinister cloud. Luck had it that I received a high draft number so I wasn't called until November of 1942.
With the draft breathing down my neck, Jane and I got married. After all, I was assured of a "job", although not the one of my own choosing. We lived in Aunt Abby's cabin (she died some years before) and for a while lived in a tent (behind the pigpen) near Bayview, Idaho, where I worked on Farragut Naval Training Center (now Farragut State Park--you can still see the remains of some of the foundations. When the November weather began to make living in a tent anything but pleasant, it was almost a relief to be called by the Army. Where I lived during my experience as a "guest" of the Army will be described under another chapter.
Meanwhile we were married and spent the summer at Columbia Falls, me working for my brother on the farm, Jane learning how much an active man could eat! Between work we collected plants, some of which we sold to an eastern herbarium for ten cents a sheet. We also hiked up a few mountains (Columbia and Teakettle east of Columbia Falls). Dan, our oldest son, "hiked" up them too but never knew it. As I mentioned earlier, we spent a month or so living in a tent with my minister friend, who also was working on the naval training station, until Uncle Sam sent "Greetings." (See "Army Life" for the next three years' adventures.) Jane went back to Massachusetts, where Dan was born--I got there on furlough just the night before. My feet didn't touch the ground for three days. I was a father!
World War II was casting a shadow over the world and over us. For nine days I was free of being called by the draft, for I had turned 28 on November 28 but then came December 7. A high draft number spared me until the next fall however. After working for my brother, who kindly gave me a job on the farm, and some time off for Jane and me to hike up a few mountains, we went to Farragut where, as mentioned before, we lived in a tent until the Army sent "Greetings".
My draft board was in Colfax, Washington, as I had signed up when a student at Washington State. After a couple of weeks grace period back at Columbia Falls, and difficult "Goodbyes" I boarded the train for Spokane and thence to Colfax. Denver was the next stop. At the reception center there for a couple of days, a noncom herded us to a recreation hall where a cute little gal in cowboy boots and hat sang "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas", which really didn't help much (though the girl didn't interest me at all).
Thence off to basic training at Camp Roberts, in central California, by way of Los Angeles! Buck private in the rear rank. Fifty dollars a month plus food, a bed, clothes and any needed medical attention. About half of the money went to keep Jane and baby Dan alive; the government chipped in enough to make it $50. Company D in a barracks with a lot of other fellows who weren't any happier than I. Training wasn't all that tough, however. My Christmas day was spent on KP, peeling onions--I never peeled a single potato in the army! I picked a corner bunk with a Mexican- American boy (Ezekiel Varella) next to me. I wanted to learn some Spanish but didn't get much time to. In the company were several of these boys from Texas, a few of which couldn't read English, so I volunteered to help teach them after hours. I don't think they were very anxious to learn, for it just meant that they would have almost no chance to get out for lack of reading ability. I think some of them eventually did, however.
Training included the firing of the 30 caliber Model 1903 single shot rifle, and how to drop a shell into a mortar. Also how to fire a Browning automatic rifle, and how to disassemble and reassemble both rifles. There was the learning of the Twelve General Orders, instructing us in what our duties were when on guard duty--I can remember only the first one. We were to memorize our rifle number but when a lieutenant grabbed my rifle and asked me to repeat its number, I'm sure I didn't give it correctly, I was so flustered, but he didn't check it so I must have made it sound O.K. We also did some close order drill on the parade ground, which occupied a stretch about one mile long in the center of the camp. Toward the end of our stay we took a two day bivouac into the hills west of camp, among the manzanita and little oak trees. I recall sitting on a bank beside a little stream after duty hours, looking at a bright yellow flower, when the Colonel came by and smiled at me!
The next stop was Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi. (I surely got to see a lot of states, even though mostly superficially.) We got there in late winter and though it wasn't really cold, it was damp and chilly in the unheated barracks. Come summer it was humid and hot. (One Sunday I walked a couple of miles to the Camp library (nice to have one) and came back with the back of my shirt very wet from sweat.) Back to early spring: the camp was a mire of sticky mud. Came a call, "Are there any carpenters here?" Several jumped at what looked like an opportunity to get into some other branch of service but they got the privilege of building sidewalks out of scrap lumber!
Once we got called out on an alert, without being told why-- the Army is close-mouthed about those things. The rumor went around that a black company was about to cause trouble, but nothing came of it, though a few of the white boys from the South sounded eager to mix it up with them. Happily the Army has abandoned segregation. My most frightening experience was when we had to come out of a shallow trench and crawl under and toward live machine gun fire. You may be sure I was the last one out of the trench--and probably the closest to the ground! No casualties. While there I was assigned to regimental headquarters as a clerk, for at the reception center I had typed some 60 words a minute. (They had forgotten that I had been recommended for the Medical Corps, and sent me off to the infantry.) While assigned to headquarters I got up enough nerve to suggest to the captain in charge of the classification section in which I worked, that I could use the pay ($66 a month plus the usual board, room, clothes and medical services) that would go with a technical fifth grade rating. He said there was no rating open there but he would give me a corporal's stripes, same pay. On off duty time I roamed the woods, photographing the strange flowers and catching a few butterflies and a big black damselfly. A shrub with a much- compounded leaf at least two feet long was fascinating. I pressed one under my footlocker. What eventually happened to it, I don't know. Seems I showed it to my biology classes at Libby. Birds I couldn't do much with, for I had no binoculars, but I felt certain that I repeatedly heard a Chuck-wills-widow.
The next move was back to the West. Hooray! Camp Carson at Colorado Springs at the base of the Rockies. Dry air and sunny skies.
After my discharge from the Army in the winter of 1945, I got my teaching certificate and we (now with the addition of Dan and Lois) moved to the little unincorporated town of Lambert, 29 miles west of Sidney, Montana, where I took over from a local farmer who, with several young people with some college training, were manning the little school. He had to get back to do the spring work on his wheat farm. I took the job because there was a house to rent. Most places, because of the war effort, had no houses to offer. This house did have electricity, but a coal furnace that didn't work, so we had to install an oil stove--there was no wood to burn here. Again, however, no running water. We had several kinds of water in the house: rainwater from the cistern at the back door, drinking water carried from the school in a bucket, and when the cistern went dry because of the lack of rain (we had only one good rain in over a year), soft water from a 200 foot deep well several blocks away in the middle of the town. That water was fine for washing clothes but contained iron compounds that turned your clothes brown when you ironed them, so one had to rinse them in hard water from a well on the lot across the street, where once a house stood. (Shortly before we left, we paid old Emil fifty cents a barrel to carry us water from the deep well on his hand truck.)
1306 Dakota Ave., Libby, Mt.(2006 picture)
Since, as Jane said, "If you have to have a tree, we'll move to western Montana. That is how we got to Libby, where there was almost nothing but trees. We felt a bit shut in but got used to it. After renting for the first school year, we decided to buy. That was how we acquired 1306 Dakota, for $4500, paid for at $25 a month for ten years. It was an old, uninsulated house with an unfinished attic which we were able to make into two bedrooms after insulating the walls and ceiling. The rough floor never did get replaced. Some remodeling improved the kitchen and we put in an electric water heater to replace the water tank heated by the wood range. Finally I built a one-car garage--a couple of years before we moved to Spokane!
In late fall of 1957 I went house-hunting in Spokane. I put down $100 as earnest money on a big old house but an army officer made a better offer so we lost it. That was lucky, we discovered later, for it was less than a block away from busy, noisy Sprague Avenue. Finally we settled on "Maxwell House" and have lived there ever since. We drew a deep breath and signed the contract for the stiff price of $12,500 at 6 percent interest for 20 years. When we were nearing the end of the payments we bought out the former owner's equity ($1500) and got back to the FHA rate of 4 1/2 percent! The whole deal turned out to be the best one we ever made. Just compare the cost and interest rates now!
On the lot, 116 by 119 feet, we had a little mountain ash tree, an even smaller pie cherry tree and a flowering crab, plus a few bushes and a jillion iris plants. After thirty-four years we have a little forest surrounding us, affording us privacy, shade and protection from the cold winter winds. It's a messy yard but great for birds and for a variety of interesting insects, including crickets that sing away the late summer days. Two upstairs bedrooms and a small "TV room" that serves as an extra bedroom for a grandchild and, more recently as a computer and cabinet file room for you know who. A full basement--now full of recyclables and other assorted junk and stuff. The two bedrooms I finished off suffered the same fate as the large room that supposedly had been destined for a recreation room. We actually have a furnace, oil- burning, and in the same room two laundry tubs and room for an automatic washer and a drier. A fruit room served also as a darkroom when I developed and printed my own black and white pictures. It's all color now.
Of course almost nobody would live in such "poverty" now, for the house has only one bathroom, no wall to wall carpeting and no garage--though grandson Loren has proposed to build one for a school shop project. We do have hardwood floors, much easier to keep clean than carpet but not much of a status symbol. But somehow we manage to struggle through and survive. (It's by far the best house we ever owned and quite adequate. And it's paid for!) Taxes: "only" $744.67 for 1991. Water bill runs $10 a month, electricity about $19 a month, oil (1988-1990) between about $450 and $550 a year. Sometimes I wish we could get away from the noise of traffic--the freeway four blocks away can be heard all day and much of the night. Noisy motorcycles seldom are a problem any more but I could live happily without the drone of power lawn mowers. But we don't expect ever to move again.