We went to school in a 30 x 30 ft. one room brick school house almost a mile from the house. New Memphis Station was about a quarter mile further on. We had all eight grades with only one teacher. I think we had from 32 to 36 children most of the time. We had a woman teacher when I first started in the first grade when I was 7 yrs. old in 1932. That's the first date I remember writing on my papers. Later we had a man teacher. At that time he was paid $90 a month. We had a coal fired heater, and it was by the L&N Railroad tracks. Many times when the snow was deep Dad would hitch a team of horses to the big sleigh he used for hauling wood and other things in the wintertime and drive us to school a mile from the house.
Several times while we were in school there the train would come by with President Roosevelt on board. A pilot train would come through a couple of hours ahead, dropping a soldier with a rifle off every quarter mile or less out in open country. Near a group of houses there were more than one dropped. We would all get to go out and watch the train go by. Another train would then follow and pick up the armed soldiers.
The Weather Balloon
Sometime before the country went off the gold standard in 1932 I found a weather balloon in our pasture. It had deflated and had a card rolled up and tied with string. I took it home and my parents sent it in to the Weather Bureau. They sent a $2.00 gold piece as a reward for returning it. It was mounted in a card. When we went off the gold standard they asked everyone to turn in all their gold, so my parents took it to the bank and turned it in, buying me a DeLuxe Coaster wagon with it. $2.00 was a couple of days' pay for a lot of people in 1932. It really was a nice one.
In the spring and early summer we had to go through the pasture with a hoe and chop out certain poison weeds. We chopped it off in the ground a little, and because they had a long tap root we put a handful of coarse salt on it to kill the tap root.
Dad had learned how to raise watermelons when he lived in Oklahoma and always planted a large patch. We would gather corn cobs from the hog pen. They were well water soaked and mud covered. Then we'd get manure from the place in the pasture where we fed the cattle "corn fodder". There was a fine loam like soil left behind. A good depression was chopped out in the ground and four mud covered corn cobs were put in and a shovel full of the fine loamy manure with them. Then another shovel of loamy soil was mixed into the rest of the soil and made into a small hill. About five seeds were planted into the hill and it was tamped down firmly. When the seed sprouted and came through the soil, Dad would take his pocket knife and lift out any over three and replant them in hills that were less than three sprouts. The corn cobs held water when it rained and we had some very large watermelons. One time we had one that weighed over 100 lbs. People would come from New Baden and buy them. 25 cents for a big melon was a common price.
Scarecrows were never much use to keep the crows out of the watermelon patch. Dad used hemp twine, crisscrossing it back and forth across the patch, and it worked most of the time. He said they were afraid to fly in because of getting their wings or feet tangled in the twine. Once in a while a smart alec one walked in and pecked holes in some of the melons. Hazel and Harold reminded me that one night some guys came to the patch and stole watermelons, leaving across a plowed field, dropping a trail of melons as they went, maybe because our dog chased them.
We also planted cantaloupes -- several varieties, such as Rocky Ford. One year he planted Banana Melons next to the cucumbers and they had a distinctive cucumber flavor. We would cool our watermelons in cold water pumped from the deep (36 ft.) drive well we had pumped into a tub where we cooled the milk. This tub overflowed into the stock watering trough. I always liked pepper on my cantaloupe, and we often had home made ice cream in a cantaloupe half. Those Banana Melons were really good. We always kept them well away from the cucumbers after the crossbreeding incident.
Peanuts grew well in the sandy soil, and we grew several hundred pounds a year of those. Dad tried several varieties, but the little spanish one that he got from Georgia were the best. They have pretty yellow blossoms and bright green leaves that make a pretty bushy plant.
Mail Order Vs. Store Bought Clothes
We used to take a day about two times a year and go clothes shopping in Belleville, (this was after our mother has died)usually at the Montgomery Ward Store. They had good quality clothes at a better price than locally. We bought most of our clothes by mail order from Wards, but when we went to Belleville we always did some clothes shopping at the store, too. We'd always get chocolate candy there, too, usually what is called old fashioned chocolate drops nowadays, and those kind they call candy kisses, only they weren't wrapped. I remember one time I got very sick after we got home from eating too much of that pure chocolate. We usually bought oranges there, too.
We also stopped in on East B Street and visited our Uncle Charles, who was much older than Dad. He had quit farming and moved to Belleville when Mother and Dad bought his farm in 1923 after they moved to Illinois from Oklahoma. Charles was the father of Margaret Kuhn.
Dirigibles and BiPlanes
Scott Field was 14 miles away to the northwest of our house and it was an Army Dirigible Base in the 1930s. They had a giant hanger that they could store them in, and beside it they had a high mooring mast. We could see a Dirigible tethered to the mast from our house. When they took off for a cruise they often passed over our farm. The men were in a little wicker gondola hanging under it and would be only about 500 ft. off the ground. It had a small engine and pusher propeller. They always waved and us children waved back.
There were a lot of BiPlanes flying out of Scott Field, too. When the war started in Europe they trained pilots and radio operators, so there were frequent double wing aircraft in the area. I remember a lot of aircraft in the area. Apparently the real action took place after I went into the Navy in 1943. Hazel says that they daily fought mock dogfights over the farm, and she often watched them. A lot of guys built their own planes in those days using Model A engines and flying out of their cow pastures. You could buy a kit and assemble it yourself. For a few years there wasn't any regulation on flying. You were free to build and try to fly anything that you could devise.
During the Great Depression when money was scarce we would take some wheat to the grain elevator and trade it directly for flour. After the coal mine in New Baden closed we would take a box wagon load of wheat to the grain elevator in Mascoutah -- 9 miles -- and bring a wagon load of coal back. It was an all day trip, but I was always glad to get to go along with Dad. We would drive on the paved road (called the Hard road in our vernacular) until a car was coming, then drive on the shoulder until it passed. Traffic was very sparse in those days so you didn't have to drive on the shoulder very often.
The coal is only 16 ft. below the ground on some places on the farm, but we didn't own the mineral rights. They had almost all been bought up by large companies in the 1880s. Peabody Coal owns the land and the coal today, and will someday strip mine it, I imagine, since that's the cheapest way.
The Sun Oil Company
The Sun Oil company drilled for oil on our farm in 1940 or '41. We didn't own the mineral rights so owning the land, we would have got 1/32nd. They brought in all the steel it took to put up a drill rig, a several thousand gallon propane tank, a large engine that ran on the propane, and they set the tank by the field road and would bring in a large tank truck and fill it with propane. They had a one inch steel gas line laid about 1/4 mile across the field. It was winter and when it got real cold they had a pipe curved around to the side of the tank and a large flame against the tank to drive the gas through the line across the field. The Engine had about a 6 ft. iron flywheel on it, and one night one of the men was sitting in front of it and got sleepy and fell back into the wheel. It caught the back of his coat spinning him, killing him instantly. They came to the house to call someone on our phone and to borrow something to carry the body out with. Dad gave them a section of a trundle bed. It was a metal frame with springs woven into it.
Almost every day the different oil well reports were in the paper, telling what depth they were at. They had different names for the different strata. They called it the "Sun Oil Co., Joe Friederich #1, and they went to just under 2,800 ft. They told us that they only got a flow of 30 barrels a day, not enough to develop it at that time. One night they brought a large tanker truck in and backed it up to the wellhead, and I understood at the time they dumped a load of some kind of acid into it, cut off the pipe below ground and capped it. They said in 30 years, if it was economically feasible, they would open it up again and there would be a large cavity of oil collected below. That was 50 years ago and it has never been reopened. I heard a man offer Dad $40,000 for the farm if they struck oil. I don't know if he was serious or not.
Odds and Ends
Our dog would get bit by a rattlesnake pretty often and would swell up pretty bad. We would feed him a lot of fat pork meat and he would get over it allright. Hogs would catch a snake and eat it. Getting bit didn't bother them a bit because of all the fat.
Dad had a 55 gallon drum set into a frame with two wheels on it, and a handle bolted onto it to pull/push it. It had to be wheeled to the well and water added. All our garbage and dishwater was put into it along with bonemeal, wheat bran and middlin (a wheat supplement), stirred up and left to sour. This was fed to the hogs several times a day along with the left over skim milk that had been left to sour into curds.
Some of this milk curds were also fed to the chickens, with mash, which they loved. The hogs also got ear corn and in the summer we would pull or cut with a scythe any weeds about the place for the hogs to forage on.
We had a lot of rusty nails around in those days, sometimes in a board turned the wrong way. I stepped on one one day and it went all the way through my foot. I soaked it in turpentine, which we often did at that time, and the next day it was red and swollen and speckled on top, so I tied a large piece of fat bacon on the puncture on each side. The next day it was better and got well without any infection. I talked about this with my sister, Hazel, recently and she said that the meat was more pure then. They didn't feed the antibiotics and growth hormones that have been fed to the hogs since.
We had two different kind of mulberry trees. One had big, delicious berries on it. In the spring I would often climb up, sit in the tree and eat mulberries. They sure would stain your fingers and lips. I ate some of these with sugar and cream. The other mulberry tree had berries that were a different kind of sweetness, and I didn't like them.
You didn't get Salmonella poison from hen eggs in the 1930s. They used to break a raw egg into a glass of beer and drink it. I saw guys break them into their upturned mouth and swallow them whole just for laughs.
What Was Out Then is IN Now
We had a pair of hand clippers for cutting hair, and usually in the summer time we would get our hair clipped as close as the clippers would get it. It was allowed to grow long in the winter. We always had shaped haircuts, but a lot of people who didn't know how to cut hair would put a bowl over a kid's head and cut it off like that. We called it a bowl cut. After 60 years it seems to be back in style. The kids like it now but they sure didn't then. Barbers charged 15 cents for a haircut. But then a common wage was $1.00 a day for a 10 hr. day, if you could get any work.
No one wanted to be seen off the farm with worn or patched overalls in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. Now it's fashionable to have ragged holes in them. We always wore dress clothes and shoes when we went to town, always our best to church.