Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gramp's Story - From 1916

This the next letter to dad from Allen, his dad, still recovering in the hospital from his motorcycle accident on July 10, dated 9/6/51

So, it's July of 1916 and Gramp has sold his '13 Harley-Davidson and is without a bike living in Wisconsin.....

I got the fever to go out to So. Dakota and see Emery and maybe work awhile to pay for the trip.  He was always telling us how good it was and what a big scale everything was on.  By this time of Sept. our silo was filled and the grain was very likely in the stack.  We usually stacked our grain and let it cure and threshed in Oct. or even November.  So on Sunday the 10th of September, we had come home from church and ma was out to the windmill letting it pump a fresh pail of water.  I told her I'd decided to go out on Tuesday for a month or so.

Gramp's dad gave him a ride to the local train in Hillsdale, got another train in Barron to St. Paul and from there, boarded the "Northwestern" bound for the Black Hills.

It was not possible to sleep much on the train, not for me, and at first crack of dawn I was straining my eyes to see under the curtain and get a glimpse of the prairie or see if we had yet come to them.  As it got lighter it developed we were beyond Canby and about ready to move into the state of So. Dak.  By full daylight we were up around Watertown and beating across prairie flat as a rug.  The railroad seemed to have very little grade and that the cars were running almost right on the level prairie.  The grade is low, but there is a grade there.  It was around 9 in the forenoon when we got to Doland.  Emery had told me to go to a phone and call him up whenever I arrived and he'd come after me as he lived out about 12 miles.  It was about an hour before he got in.  Then he bought some groceries and got his hair out as he had a plan to go to the State Fair at Huron the next day.

Emery had a beat up old Ford of 1912 model, or 4 years old but a Dr. had pretty well whipped it before he traded it in.  Its motor ran pretty good but there was quite a lot of racket, and some smoke.  We started out of town and went about a quarter of a mile when Emery thought of something, put on the brake and turned around in a driveway.  "By Jehu, " he said, "I forgot to get some cigars."  Like Kilmer, he had to have a cigar when he went to town.  But at home around the hog pens he stuck to his corn cob pipe.  He bot 6 or 8 cigars and lit up one and we again hoisted anchor.  Emery was stiff in the back or legs and when he shoved off a model T it was something you would not soon forget, he seemed to raise up, brace his left foot against the pedal and then sort of slide down into the seat.  The bands may have been glazed because it would always make a metallic screech and then grab and when this took place we were in low gear and going forward.  Emery would either grip his cigar tight in his teeth with his lips away from the thing or else he would keep turning it over with his lips as if the tobacco irritated his mouth.  It was never necessary to knock the ashes off these cigars, not while under way in an open model T.  Because the wind took care of this, whisking the ashes in the face of whoever sat behind, which was Ida, when the whole family went.

We went to the fair on Sept. 16th and it was Harold's 4th birthday.  That was the day Emery bot him a red, white and blue celuloid windmill.  It was a bright clear day but the wind blew from the NW all day.  Emery knew it was going to get cold and for me he took along a fur coat.  We had a good day down there and I saw my first airplane, queer shaped craft with the motor behind and the rudder in front. A man named Adams flew it and people nearly unhinged their necks watching him.  His name was printed in large letters on the top of the wings and when he flew upside down you could read the name.  We left the grounds about 7 or 8 o'clock, was getting dark, the wind blew and it was colder than the Devil.  In spite of the fur coat I felt blue as a whetstone by the time we made the 35 miles home.  The rear end was about shot in the Ford and it made a peculiar sound like Zub, Zub, Zub, all the time, one for every revolution of the ring gear.  But the sound seemed to come from directly under our feet, in the transmission.  next day Emery had it taken to the garage and they found the pinion gear so worn that the edges of the teeth were so sharp you could cut your fingers on them.  About one good pull and we would have been stranded.

Next letter to dad's hospital room, dated  9/7/51 ....

In April, 1917, war was declared with Germany and many drafted that summer.  I wanted to do some traveling and also get away from the asthma.  Dr. Post thot if one could keep from having it for a period of time it might let up because one might develop an immunity to it, or something.  So I picked Denver as the place to go.  Looking back, this was because Uncle Ed Hulburt had told me tales of Denver, he having been there in 1898 or it may have been earlier.  This was a poor decision I found out later because Denver was a health resort and many were there who would work cheap just to enjoy the advertised mild climate. Des Moines at about 11pm, they pulled from one track over to another on a "crossover" right where it is all planked over.  They got the engine off the track and spent an hour trying to replace it but it was so heavy it cut right thru the planking like cheese.  They finally got another big engine and they both huffed and puffed but all they got for it was noise ans smoke.  They finally backed the train out from the rear and got a freight engine on it and left town.  But they never made up the hour and every time they started the train the passengers just about changed seats due to the spring draw-bar a freight engine has.

At KC uncle Birge razzed me for coming down on anything but the Rock Island (Uncle Birge Haviland was an Engineer on the R.I., his position with the railroad held in high esteem by the family).  He said I was lucky they derailed the thing on the flooring because if it had happened in the country it might have been bad.  

After spending a few days at KC, I bot a ticket via Missouri Pacific for Salina.  It took all day to go out and at Salina took another MP train to ride the two stations down to Falun.  Aunt Lottie and uncle Morris, the old skinflint, lived on a farm 4 miles out of Falun.  Aunt Lottie drove two hay burners in to get me, Morris never having owned any faster transportation than that.  One of the horse limped and the hack kept up a lurching motion that would almost make you seasick.

Here Gramp goes into detail about staying at and living at the Denver YMCA.  Gramp figured the "Y" would be an obvious and affordable place to stay.  Regrettably, I've got to leave some of these details out....

.....But it was not too congenial in some ways.  It was one of two large rooms on the 5th or top floor.  it was 12 x 24 feet and had three single beds.  Rent was $25 and we each paid $8.35 a month.  One of my room mates was a barber and the other a clerk in the silk and linen department of Lewis' department store.

Both of these boys had bankers hours and could stay up until 1 and still get plenty of sleep because they could lie in bed until 8 or more in the morning.  But poor me, I had to work at hard labor jobs like a SOB and at night was so tired it was only with difficulty I could expectorate over my chin.....First worked for a lead company, all heavy and dirty work.  Then for a wholesale company that had everything to build with from cement to paint.  It was out door work and hard on clothing.  Gloves lasted only a day or two and overalls were soon wore out from the splintery fir lumber. 

Here was something that caught my eye....

After selling my HD in July 1916, did not own another until the fall of  '21.  There were many in Denver but they meant nothing to me because it would have been impossible to have bought one.  But one day on South Broadway I walked into the Floyd Clymer agency and looked at them.  This is the same Clymer who now sells books on old cars, etc.

Gramp left Denver, deciding that he was only subsisting, not getting ahead and went back to farm life in rural Kansas.

.....Did not have to work very hard out there as they had six besides myself and the boss was a real good guy.  He was gone most of the time, promoting feed for the 450 head of white faces they had or on other business promoting the ranch, which was owned by Louie Rothschild, the same one who runs the clothing establishment at 10th and Baltimore, in KC Mo.  The grub was good substantial farm grub out there and all you wanted to stow of it.  The weather by then was warm and made a guy feel drowsy most the time.  While there spent my 21st birthday and knew that the next registration was June 5th, so went home about the last of April in order to register from my own state for the war.

Gramp goes into some detail here about signing up and serving at the Army Hospital in West Baden, Indiana.

....Was discharged from there April 23, 1919.  Was home then for three years but things did not go well.  I was dissatisfied with the farm, had little income, and had the itchy heel.  Lorence and I had access pretty freely to the old man's model T but in 1921 I bot an old T roadster and fixed it up. (Forgot going to Auto School in 1920 and working at Phillips, Wisconsin a month or two).  Had about 250 bux in it and it ran very good.  Used to take out the Chambers girl and usually she invited the Jacobs girls to go along.  I had no notion about matrimony at that time, it was not for me.

Nora and Ruby get mentioned here...

We had a date for one afternoon and on the way up my spark plugs or something, acted up and it was 10 minutes late when I showed up where she roomed.  She had left.  I took the hint.  At this time in my life we were living on Poor Farm Road and Edwin Peterson drove by frequently with his 1920 HD 61 and sidecar.  The motor finally got to knocking and he was considering dealing it off and I hit him up for a trade.  In spite of the work I'd done on my Ford roadster, it also knocked.  He said it was rods but I knew better because I had put most of the entire spring from an alarm clock in behind the bottom rings of two of its pistons.  I told him nothing but reboring would stop it and that went for his motor too but he thot it needed wrist pins.  After we dealt I sent the cylinders to Milwaukee and had them rebored and new pistons and rings fitted.  Also got most the entire assembly of gears for the transmission and a new clutch sprocket and front chain.  Side car wheel was straight but rear rim of bike had been run in ruts and was bent.  Had Bakke tear down the wheels and put the crooked one under the sidecar.  Wheels were not interchangeable at that date.  During the winter drove this outfit quite a little with runner under sidecar and one under front wheel.  It ran right in a sled track which was of 38" tread.  By spring I had decided to go to Montana to see my cousin Frank.  After working for Chapman 3 weeks in his mill, left on April 27th with about $50 in my pockets.  More next time.

There will be in Gramp's next letter to my bed-ridden dad. 


  1. Your Gramp would have made quite a blogger in these days! As to Denver, it hasn't improved.

    1. Dom, I've thought about that soo often! Gramp had penpals all over the place and loved corresponding with any and everyone. I remember seeing letters from "old lady Penton", she with sons that enjoyed the same sport that we do. Seems they connected via Gramp's published motorcycle tales.

      With the Internet I'd wonder if his garden, his Purple Martins, the wood turnings, etc., etc., ever would have found a place in his schedule!

  2. Interesting how back then one could just up and go for a month or so, find work and housing along the way. Not to mention tear down an old car, or motorcycle and fix it yourself.
    Nowadays we don't dare wander off for fear of being without cell service, wi-fi, or a Starbuck's grande, non-fat, double shot, mocha latte, extra hot. Work doesn't come easy either, we're not so hungry to do manual, back breaking, dirty work for our next meal or for somewhere to lay our heads.
    Interesting story and great read.

    1. Brad, your lens on this was focused a bit differently than mine. You and I are witnessing the end of blue collar middle class. In Gramp's day, it hadn't yet begun, certainly not in the middle of the country. Thanks for the kick start!