Friday, May 16, 2008

Memories from Uncle Ray

Harden Farm circa 1940s...

I was child number 6, born to Paul and Florence Harden in the farm house in Lexington Community, December 15, 1931. I believe my name was picked by my older siblings who had a favorite teacher named Ray Simmons. It had been a long “dry spell” (5 years) since the last baby, Lloyd. I don’t remember much about it, other than what I was told, but Lloyd apparently got the pleasure of watching out for me and keeping me entertained when Mom was too busy to do it. (He still tries to keep me entertained – what a great brother.)

Many of my memories will parallel Dan’s, since we were only 16 months apart, but I will try to fill-in some of the blanks. Yes, we slept in the southwest upstairs bedroom, which joined the attic through the clothes closet. That attic was sometimes used as a playroom when it wasn’t too cold or hot, but mostly it was as most attics, a storage room. And Dan and I discovered a large pottery bowl up there that served as a urinal when it was just too cold to go to the outhouse. I’m not sure whether it was Mom or Frances that discovered this very practical use of the large white bowl, but I do recall that Mom saw to it that we got the pleasure of removing it and cleaning it. (This event preceded indoor plumbing.)

The only heat upstairs was through a register through the floor in the southeast bedroom and through the ceiling above the stove in the dining room. Obviously, the “older boys” received the benefits of a heated bedroom. We “little guys,” Dan and me, had to rough it with the only heat coming from a flatiron heated on the stove and wrapped in a towel at the foot of our bed. It did feel good as long as the iron was warm. The first stove I recall was wood-fired, only one for the whole house, in the dining room. The kitchen stove was also wood-fired, although I believe Dad would manage to buy a ton of coal which lasted much longer than the wood. And this presented another chore for us, to see that there was plenty of wood on the back porch along with a bucket or two of coal.

Gathering wood for the stoves was another event. I believe it was Uncle Henry that had a “Buzz Saw” (about a 36” circular blade mounted on a mandrel and driven by flat belt from a tractor--very dangerous) Dad, Uncle Henry and the older boys set the saw up down by Bluff Creek. I believe they used a team of horses to drag dead logs and limbs from the cottonwood trees to the saw site. Uncle Henry ran the saw and Dad or one of the older boys would catch the 18” log as it dropped from the saw and throw it into the truck. The truck would be unloaded out by the chicken house for the winter supply of heat.

Dad was one of the more progressive farmers in the community, and he always had equipment and utilities ahead of the neighbors. The electricity for most farmers in the community was generated by a “wind charger”, 32 volts dc. Dad had a gasoline powered “Kohler Light Plant” that generated 110 volts dc, 1000 watts. That was enough electric power to operate an electric water pump and an electric iron for Mom to iron clothes with. But, we only ran the generator when we needed water or lights. Later, he got a larger Kohler Plant that generated 1200 watts at 110 volts dc.

Keeping cool in those 100-110 degree days and 90-95 degree nights was another story. Mostly, we sweated a lot, but my ingenious older brothers, Duane and Willis, built our first air conditioner (water cooler). They built a wood box that covered the lower half of the 2 south windows in the dinning room. The outside of the box was covered with a straw-filled pad contained between chicken wire. They installed a pipe across the top of the pad that had a series of small holes drilled in it and connected it to the garden hose. (Remember we now had an electric well pump that came on when the pressure got low.)

Mom would open 2 north windows and the good old perpetual southwest wind did its part blowing through the wet straw pad to cool the whole downstairs without an electric fan.

I also recall our first experience with indoor plumbing and running hot water. Prior to this, our hot water came from a copper boiler mounted on the side of the wood/coal-fired kitchen stove. You would “dipper” out what water you needed and then re-fill the boiler.
Summer showers were not a problem – we had a 55 gallon drum mounted on the roof of the work shop/shower house that was heated by the sun. But, winter baths were another story – sponge baths mostly. But I can recall Mom putting a wash tub on the open oven door of the kitchen stove and bathing us “small tykes” there. Later, Dad got a kerosene-fired water heater that was installed behind the kitchen in what was to become our indoor bathroom. I believe we had a bathtub installed sometime before the toilet. But, before we could have an indoor toilet, we needed a septic system. The tub water and kitchen sink water (gray water) was emptied into a cesspool (Dan’s Sewer), which was nothing more than a covered “hole in the ground.”

Dad got plans (from the Protection Plumber, I believe) for building a septic tank and drain tile field. Duane, Willis and maybe Bob hand-dug the hole, about the size of a grave. They then formed the walls and partitions of the tank, hand-mixed the concrete and filled the forms. They also hand-dug the tile field that ran from the back of the house, all the way to the road east of the house. They had to haul all the sand and gravel from the creek, hand-shoveled, of course. The completion of this project allowed for the plumbing of the toilet, bathtub and kitchen sink. We were now modern. The year? Probably 1938-39. All of this modernization was prior to rural electric power (REA). That didn’t come to Lexington Community until around 1948 after WWII, so even the youngest of us didn’t see Rural Electric Power during our years of living on the farm.

All of us spent our elementary school years in a one-room school house with one teacher. And this school house was not equipped with indoor plumbing or electricity. We did have two out-houses (boys & girls), a wood/coal shed for our winter heat, a well with pump outside the front door and a barn to stall our horses if that was our mode of transportation. Yes, we swept the floor, cleaned the slate boards and dusted the erasers at the end of the day and brought in a supply of firewood for the next day. If we had a school play, we had to use gas lanterns for light. Dan shared his experience with the horseback riding, but I believe his “old gray mare” was, in fact, a Shetland pony, and she was mean. But we also occasionally rode “old Pete,” a very large cow horse. He didn’t “buck,” he was just too wide for Dan to keep hold of and he would often slide off. I spent 7 years in that school. We moved to town when I was in the 8th grade.

No, we didn’t have store-bought toys, we made our own out of blocks of wood, nails, wire, metal and whatever else we needed to make plow tracks in the dust under the big old Chinese elm tree out by the workshop/shower house. The run-off from the shower kept the big old tree well-watered. I can recall one occasion when Dad took us to Protection around Christmas-time, and I remember walking around a table that had toys on it. I don’t remember whether Dad bought us anything or not. We wore overalls with patches on the knees. Mom would salvage some useable denim from worn-out overalls to make patches for the better ones, but that is what every one else was doing too. Since Dan & I were too young to work in the field, we watered and hoed the garden, fed and watered the chickens and hogs, went to round-up the milk cows and get them in the corral so the older boys could milk them after they got in from the field. We would catch 1-5 chickens every day for dinner (sometimes getting to kill and de-feather them).

Harvest time was always the highlight of the year. It seemed to be a community contest to see who would be first to start cutting wheat. I think Dad got the first self-propelled combine (a Massey Harris) in the county. He got one of the first new tractors available after the war (an Oliver 99 that came with steel wheels – converted to rubber using surplus bomber tires). Dad got the first commercial cattle-hauling license for the State of Kansas, and as a result of his trucking capabilities, we hauled thousands of bushels of wheat to the elevators after railroad cars were available after the harvest.

My days in the Harden Farm House pretty much ended when we moved to Ashland in 1942. We would go out on weekends and Mom would clean house, wash clothes and whatever else needed to be done that the older boys hadn’t taken care of. And that all ended after Duane & Linda were married and set up housekeeping on the farmstead.

How grateful I am for the heritage I have. Mom became a Christian the year I was born, so I never recall a Sunday I was not taken to church along with the rest of my brothers. I need also to honor my sister for her mothering of Dan and me until she married and left home. My mother’s prayers for her family were eventually honored by all her children and many of her grandchildren coming to faith in the Lord Jesus.


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