Dad and His Horses

Nowmight be a good time to say something about Dad and his horses. We had a 1916 Model T Ford, and Dad drove it when he was going more than thirty-five miles and had to be back the same day. But if he was going to enjoy the trip, he drove his team and wagon. His favorite team was Myrt and Pet, both mares. Each was about seventeen hands high and would weigh about eighteen hundred pounds. Myrt (Myrtle) was black with a white star on her forehead. Pet was steel gray with black feet. She also had a light star in her forehead. When the family went to an event, such as the last day of school or “Old Settlers Day,” we went in the wagon. Dad’s team was usually kept in the barn, when they were not working. They were turned out to pasture only at night. Each morning, they were put in the barn and fed and curried. His team was worked in the field only when others were not available. Their harness was U.S. field artillery harness. The harness was made of very heavy leather with brass buckles, snaps and rings and decoration. They were of black leather and, when oiled with neatsfoot oil and rubbed by hand, had the appearance of black velvet. When Dad felt he could afford it, he would feed the horses eggs to make their coats shine. The hames were of wood with large brass balls. The inside spreaders were made with about eight celluloid rings, starting with a one-inch ring and with each successive ring slightly larger and of a different color. The rings were laced into a piece of leather cut into a fancy shape, so that each ring overlapped the one above it. In the summer, fly nets were used with this harness. The wagon was a high wagon, painted green with white trim. Sideboards were added to make the box three feet deep. This made the spring seat higher than the horses’ backs. No modern man in his Rolls Royce appears more impressive or happier than Dad did in his wagon behind his big team. The only thing that ever came close to competing with his team and wagon in Dad’s heart was a big, red Buick Master touring car with red leather upholstery and a tan top that he bought in 1929. The car is another story to come later.

     It was the summer we lived on this place that Dad made a deal to move a neighbor and his family to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Dad put a box on the back of the Model T and affixed a tractor hitch. Fred Alcorn had an old Model T that was beyond repair. He and Dad took the engine and body off it and bolted a wagon box to the running gears and attached a short tongue to make it into a trailer. Early on the appointed morning they hitched the trailer, loaded with all the Alcorns’ worldly possessions, behind the Model T, loaded Alcorn, his wife and eight kids in the back, and they were off to the Ozarks. As I remember, Dad was gone for about a month. When he returned, he had many stories to tell of his adventures on this trip. The round trip was only about eight hundred miles, but as distances were recorded then, this was a very long trip. While he was there some of the neighbors there took him coon hunting one night. About midnight, the dogs treed a coon in a large oak tree. The man who owned the dogs sent a couple from the party back across the mountain to get an ax and a crosscut saw from the cars. While they were waiting for the men to return with the saw and ax, the leader of the hunt suggested they visit a neighbor who was probably spending the night in a little hollow about a mile farther down the creek. Dad said he thought it a little odd to go visiting neighbors at one in the morning. But he took the attitude, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so they started. They floundered up a steep ridge in the dark, but going down the other side was easier, as the moon was shining on that side of the hill. Near the foot of the hill, they stopped and the leader started calling his dogs. One of the dogs was named Prince, and this was the one he called. After several minutes, a pair of rather rough- appearing men wearing black, slouch hats and bib overalls and carrying rifles appeared from the deeper shadows of the undergrowth along the stream. After everyone was introduced, they started down the bank of the stream. Dad, thinking that these men were coon hunting, too, asked if they had found anything. The larger of the two men told him they hadn’t found anything – they had known where it was all the time. A little farther downstream, they came to a liquor still. One of the men at the still got a jar of white lightning that had been placed in the stream to cool and passed it around. One of the men operating the still suggested that the coon hunters hang around a few minutes until he finished, so he could join the coon hunt. As they waited, he kept passing the jar, each man taking his little nip in turn. Dad said, as well as he could remember, the trip back to the coon tree was much shorter than it had been going the other way. When they got back to where the coon was treed, the men who had went after the saw and ax had returned and had the tree nearly down. They finished felling the tree and killed the coon. By 3 a.m. they had killed two more coons and nearly finished the second jar of moonshine. They came upon a small spring where the cold water gathered in a natural rock trough. Some of the hunters skinned the coons while others gathered wood and started a fire. Then they removed the hindquarters from the coons and fastened them on spits over the fire to roast. One of the hunters had brought along a bag of cornbread. Dad said, as he had been walking all night without his supper, that coon ham and cornbread, washed down with moonshine and spring water was about the best breakfast he had ever eaten.

     Another time, some of the neighbors took Dad and Fred up on the side of a mountain, where there was a depression in the rock about two feet deep. There was a good-sized stream of water running across the bottom of this hole in the rock. There was an apple tree nearby, and Dad cut his initial on an apple and dropped it into the water. Then they walked down the mountain about two hundred yards to a little cabin site where there was a spring house. There, Dad found his apple caught in the spring box.

     When Dad was ready to start home, he loaded the trailer with fruit to bring home. I can’t remember what all he brought, but I do remember the apples, persimmons and hickory nuts.

     On his way home from Arkansas, Dad passed through Lyons, Kansas. He heard that they planned to build a new schoolhouse there soon. He located the people in charge and got a contract to do the plastering and brick work on the building. He came home and got Uncle Buck (Mother’s brother) and they went to Lyons to do the work. They finished the job there sometime in December. The money made on this job helped him to buy horses, cattle and machinery so he could start farming again.

     Christmas was always a very exciting time in our house. I don’t know why, as it was not that much different than any other day. But I think it was the anticipation and dreaming that made it special. On the day before Christmas, the whole family would go to look for material to use in decorating the house. We usually returned with some colored leaves and a few sprigs of evergreen. There were very few evergreen trees in that country at that time, but generally someone found a few sprigs of cedar. For our Christmas tree we would cut several stalks of sumac and tie them together, being very careful not to break the leaves off. For tree decorations, we would cut strips of paper about a half inch wide by three inches long, color half of them red and the other half green, and with these we would make chains by forming the strips into interlocking rings and gluing the ends together. Mother would pop corn and dye the kernels various colors with food coloring. Then we would string these kernels on colored thread to make garlands for the tree. Sometimes Mother would make popcorn balls and hang them on the sumac trees for decoration. I think the most beautiful tree I ever saw was one we decorated with popcorn balls and apples. We always had turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as Mother always raised turkeys and never sold them all. Mother always made several sour cream raisin pies for Christmas. Santa came in through the window, as our house never had a fireplace for him to come through.

     Charles was going to high school in Ionia at this time, and since he had no way of getting to school, Dad rented a room in Ionia so he could stay in town during the week. So Charlie batched in town and only came home on weekends.

     On Halloween night some of the boys from high school took a steam engine and thrashing machine from Wint Hoygh’s farm. They fired the engine up and pulled the separator down onto the main street of Ionia. They stuck the straw blower through the gable window of the opera house, placed a few bundles of grain into the machine, engaged the clutch, tied the whistle open, and left town in a hurry. I think no one has ever been sure who did this, but there were a lot of suspicions, and Charlie figured prominently in most of them.

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Wemoved from the Dusenberry Place in March 1927 to the Ohmar Place. A widow woman, Mrs. Fronie Ohmar, owned this place. She was very old, about fifty-five or sixty at the time. She had never had any children, so she felt qualified to tell everyone how kids should be raised. She was very ugly and very crabby, and us kids weren’t too fond of her. She drove a Crow Elk Hart automobile. It was a monstrous touring car with two little folding seats between the front and rear seats. When she came to collect the five dollars cash rent each month and to check on the place, she always brought one of her cronies with her. She charged five dollars per month cash rent and a third of all crops harvested on the place. Her husband had hung himself in the barn on the place several years before we moved there. There was a piece of old, frayed rope still tied up in the rafters of the barn. Us kids thought it was where Mr. Ohmar hung himself.

     We moved there on the first day of March. There was a light snow on the ground. As we had several head of cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys, moving was quite a job. The Ohmar house was a large, Georgian- style house. The rooms were large with high ceilings. The slightest sound in the large, empty rooms was echoed throughout the whole house and was heard many times, giving one an eerie feeling. On moving morning, we had two wagons loaded with household goods and pigs, chickens and turkeys. Since we could not haul all the household goods on the first two wagons, they were to be unloaded as soon as they reached the Ohmar Place and returned to the Dusenberry Place to finish the move on March 2. Kenneth and Charlie drove the wagons, and Laurence, Willis and I herded the other stock behind the wagons. It was a long, cold trip. Mother had packed food for us. As it was about noon when we arrived, we got the loose stock in the corral and the horses unhitched before we ate our lunch. As soon as lunch was finished, the wagons were unloaded, and Charlie, Laurence and Willis started back home, leaving Slim and I and the dog to take care of things there. We spent the afternoon doing what was necessary to make the animals safe and comfortable. As it was very cold, windy and threatening snow, we installed a tin heating stove in the kitchen, and while I milked, Slim cut wood to last through the night. By dark, we had all the outside work finished. We had only a coal oil lantern for light. We closed all the doors and built a good fire in the little stove, and soon the kitchen was very comfortable. Slim heated some fried pork loin and cornbread, which Mother had prepared and sent for our supper. He also made a pot of coffee, and we thought we had a good supper. As we warmed up after being cold all day, we were soon ready to go to bed. As this was not yet home to Bowser (the dog), Slim was afraid he might leave, so he put Bowser on the screened-in porch, hooked the door, and gave him the scraps left from our supper. We also gave Bowser a pie tin full of milk. Then we made up our bed on the floor by the stove and turned in for the night. We had been asleep only a short time when we were both awakened by something that sounded as if someone was walking back and forth on a tin roof. The sound would gradually come closer to the kitchen door and then seem to move back to the end of the porch. We found that if we moved or whispered or made any sound the noise would stop. Whatever was making the noise seemed to be conscious of our presence. Finally, the noise stopped, and we were able to get to sleep again. We were awakened several times during the night by this same noise. I’ll admit we were scared. Trying to sleep in that big, strange house where a man had hung himself would have been difficult at best. Those weird noises made it nearly impossible. The next morning, as we were having our pancakes and milk, the noise started up again. We investigated to find the noise made by Bowser as he tried to lick the cold grease out of the pie tin.

     The Ohmar Place was in the Brewer School District. As there were no children in that district at the beginning of that term, the school was not open. So we went to school in the adjoining district to finish that term. This caused us to have to walk about three miles to school.

     Sis started to school the next term, so there were four of us. There were two other little girls in the Brewer District school that year. There were now six kids in the district, so they had school there the next year. [21] Of the six children attending, there were four brothers and sisters, and three of the six students were in the primary class. We moved on March 1, and after that there were only two pupils left, both in the first grade.

     The pasture on this place was a long, narrow strip, running through the center of the place from north to south. The farmstead was situated on the southwest corner of the place, so there was a long, narrow lane from the barn to the pasture. The well where the stock watered was located near the center of the pasture. Snip and Zion were both old horses and were both steady and gentle. Snip had a colt while we lived there, and we named it Nellie. Sis and I went to bring the cattle in one evening. When we got to the well and had started the cattle to the house, Snip and Zion came down to the well to drink. I got Sis up on Snip, and then I got up on the pump platform, and when Zion came up to the tank, I jumped on him while he was drinking. When he finished drinking, I kicked his ribs so he would overtake Snip, who had started on to the house with Sis on her back. As Dad’s buggy team, they had been in a few races, and didn’t like for another horse to pass them. So when Zion came up behind Snip, she decided to stay ahead of him. He kept going faster to catch her, and she kept trying to stay ahead of him. So we had a horse race. Sis started screaming as loud as she could, but she held on. About this time, I realized the barn door was open, and when Snip got there, she would not slow down to go into the barn. I could shut my eyes and see Sis being scraped off as Snip entered the barn. I started screaming at Sis to duck when she went through the barn door. Sis was screaming so loud, I knew she didn’t hear me. Just before Snip went through the barn door, I batted my eyes and Sis quit screaming. When I opened my eyes, Snip was inside the barn and Zion was fast approaching the door. I rolled off him and landed on my feet and then on my face and skidded to a stop in the barnyard manure. When my senses returned enough so I knew which way was up, I turned over and sat up. Sis was standing there, very cool and collected with that superior air she could assume when she had bested one of her big brothers. She said, “Why did you fall off? You told me to duck!” I still can’t figure out how she could scream and listen at the same time.

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21. The six students in the Brewer School were Winton, Willis, Lawrence and Blanche Sipe, Katherine Kemmerer,and Mildred Stone. The teacher was Miss Fern Elliott. Return

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