Our Promised Land

Chapter 5.     CHRIS'S HOME


Arthur G. Thayer

Thayer Coat Of Arms

Copyright © 1983 with all rights reserved by Arthur George Thayer



      Dad and Mom decided to move to Hubbard Lake in 1923. Work at the refinery indicated that paraffin was no longer in demand and layoffs would be likely. Mom and Dad had 66 acres at Hubbard Lake and by selling their house, they had $2200 in cash. They knew that Uncle Chris, who had just built a house on his farm east of Uncle Fred's farm, would welcome us while we farmed our land and built our barn and house. Uncle Chris tried to urge Grandma to move too, but she never came.

      It was probably March when we traveled to Ossineke, Michigan (a few miles south of Alpena), where Uncle Fred met us with his team and sleigh. Our belongings (including a piano) came later in a railroad freight car. While awaiting the arrival of our freight, we visited Dad's brothers and sisters near Atlantic, Pennsylvania and then stayed with Uncle Fred and his family for a week.

      The farm was not Oil City. The closest town, Spruce, was six miles away and the closest city, Alpena, was 21 miles. With no car or horse, we walked or rode with Uncle Chris in his Model "T" or in Uncle Fred's sleigh or wagon pulled by his team.

      Quite a few farms were being sold and their equipment and animals auctioned. Dad bought things at the sales for our farm.

      Shortly after we got to Hubbard Lake, Dad bought a horse named "Maude" and a cow named "Lila". Lila produced a calf each year. Her milk was rich in butterfat and, when freshened, she'd produce ten or more quarts of milk morning and night. She was the only animal not to go to the slaughter house and she died of old age at the farm.

      Mom and I dug five or six balsam and spruce trees from our land and planted them on the west side of Chris's house. Eventually they made a windbreak from the west wind in winter and provided shade in the summer.

      Three sides of Chris's farm was fenced, but the south side was open so the cows roamed in the forest. Dad bought some barbed wire and we fenced in the farm by using a small block and tackle to stretch the barbed wire.

      Dad, Collie, and Mary in front of Uncle Chris' home.

      One day a neighbor from Spruce stopped his car to talk with Dad and perhaps to rest his dog. The dog and I quickly made friends and the man said I could have him. We named him "Collie". He was black and white with tinges of brown. This was my first dog.

Dad, Collie jumping and Mary in front of Chris' home.

      More than three-fourths of Uncle Chris's eight acres was forested and a swamp ran through the south portion and into the east end of the farm. There was black muck in the swamp and it would be very soggy in the spring from the melting snow or heavy rains. One spring we brought the cows to the barn for milking and one of the cows (Lila) was missing. As Dad traversed the area, he's stop and listen. He heard a soft "moo" near the east end of the swamp. Quickly he follwowed the sound and found the cow mired in the swamp. Poles and ropes were used to carefully pull and pry her out of the muck.

      Spring came fast. Mom selected an area for a garden by Chris's house and soon Dad began farming our land. He bought a Samsom tractor and plow for $640.00 and soon found that the steel wheels would sink in wet ground. Uncle Fred would snicker at our predicament when he brought his team in to pull the tractor out of the wet spot.

      Our seeder worked well for the grains, but would not spread the grasses. So, when Dad plowed and harrowed a field and seeded it for wheat or oats, he would also handspread alfalfa seeds, an excellent hay. Timothy hay does not have good nutrient value. The cows and horses prefered alfalfa and it`s a legume, thus putting nitrogen into the soil.

      A constant problem was chopping enough wood to heat through the winter. We would cut a tree, trim it and saw it to fit Chris's stove. Dad wrote to Grandpa and asked him to send the sawmill's crosscut saw, mandrel, and its bracket and belts when Grandpa's sawmill was being dismantled. Dad mounted the saw on a heavy skid, made a swinging frame on the skid, braced it to the tractor and, with Fred, Chris, George, Walter, Dad and me, a tree became stove-size in minutes or less.

      One day when it was time to go home, Dad and I picked up the tools we had been using on the skid and started off. A wood chisel two inches wide fell out of my arms and hit the joint of my big toe, going right through the bone. Dad wrapped it up in his "used" blue handkerchief and carried me piggyback to the house. Mom washed my foot and painted it up with a little Iodex. She had to bandage it around the ankle to keep my toe from falling down.

      In the fall of '23, I started in 6th grade at the Norwegian School. As there was no bus, George and Walter, who were 5th graders, walked the three and half miles with me. Once or twice we rode on someone's sleigh or wagon. The roads were never snowplowed and there were cattlegates across the road separating our farm, Uncle Chris's and Uncle Fred's. It was hard to keep my feet warm in the winter -- the best way was to just keep moving.

      In later years, starting the fall of '27, Mary went to grade school at Uncle Chris's house. We had moved into our home and the front two rooms of Chris's house were used as classrooms. The school opened with five students and the teacher roomed and boarded with Mom and Dad. When the snow came in the winter, Dad would put Mary and the teacher on Maude's back and they would ride to school. Maude would trot back alone to the barn.

      Kerosene lamps and lanterns provided our light, but the wicks needed frequent trimming or soot would collect on the glass chimneys. By such light, we read Jack London's Call of the Wild, Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, and James Oliver Curwood's Valley of the Silent Men. Dad would reminisce about books he had read such as The Winning of Barbara Worth and A Girl of the Limberlost.

      Some Saturday nights during our first winter, Uncle Fred would harness his team and sleigh and we would ride a mile north to Oscar Larson's farmhome to listen to Oscar's radio (perhaps listening to KDKA). Radios were new and Oscar had one with a good speaker. The next year Dad purchasd one. I'd run it and wear down the battery, which had to recharged in Alpena. Songs like "The Old Gray Mare' faded and "K-K-Katy" became the number one song.

      Even though neighbors were far apart, there were birthday parties with friends gathering from miles away for cake and a freezer of ice cream. We would play Touring or Pit or Fruit Basket Upset.

      Chris's house had a stove in the kitchen that heated that room and the bedroom above it. However, I slept in a north bedroom far from the kitchen and it was like an icebox. The next summer Dad put a furnace in the basement, which was a relief but brought with it other problems. Creosote would collect in the chimney and catch fire, shooting sparks on the wood-shingled roof. We pumped a few buckets of water in readiness, but did not have a ladder. Luckily, none of the sparks caused a fire. We bought a metal salt to put in the fire to reduce the creosote build-up.

      Near the house Chris had a garage, small barn and chicken coop. One winter a red fox approached the chicken coop. When he saw us, he ran into the woods. Dad bought poisoned bait and placed it in several strategic places, but the fox did not investigate and the bait was later burned.

      One year Dad and I were plowing a field and I was on the frame of the hitch in order to adjust the depth of the plow to keep the tractor wheels from spinning. The field had second growth hay for mulching, but it was hard to turn over and so we had a heavy chain dragging ahead of the rolling colters. I noticed that the chain was too close to the colters so I asked Dad to back up the tractor a bit. I went on the plow frame and grasped the hook of the chain with the idea of putting the chain over the beam and the hook onto the chain. Dad didn`t hear clearly what I was doing and took off just as I grabbed the hook. Well, I lost the end of the third finger of my right hand and I did a bit of yelling. It stopped the plowing for awhile as I went home and Mom washed it, put some Iodex on it and wrapped it.

      A landowner wanted his two-acre lot cleared of brush and dead trees. It was spring and new buds were starting to appear. Dad and I placed the brush on a pile and started a fire. Some dead leaves caught fire and the fire spread while we were eating our lunch. Dad had a shovel and I had the gallon bucket we had carried our lunch in. Dad worked on the hot side and I took the bucket to the lake, got water, rushed up the high bank and put it on the fireline. I made seven or eight trips for water before Dad asked for help. I brought water to his side and we controlled the fire. Dad's left foot was so hot that he had a deep burn and blister. It was a month before his foot healed. We were paid $10.00.

      Dad was continually clearing land. The big pine stumps required six to eight sticks of dynamite to loosen them. With a chain from the tractor, Dad would hook onto the huge roots and I would operate the tractor, dragging the stumps to a burning pile. It was pitch pine and smoked like soft black coal.

      The '23 Dodge touring car with Great Aunt Mary in the back seat, Great Uncle Dan, then Dad.

      After awhile, Chris's black horse stayed with us and along with Maude we had a team. Maude was a slow walker and Blackie fast so we tried to keep a tight rein on Blackie and prod Maude. If the load was heavy, Blackie would jump at the load making it difficult to move smoothly.

      The team would "hide" from us in the woods. Dad would walk through the area and listen for the bells, but the horses would not move much. Once while listening, Dad heard a buzzing sound near a large pine stump that was thirty incles in diameter and twenty-five feet tall. It was a bee tree. Searching cautiously, he found the hole the bees used to enter the stump. The following winter Dad and Chris sawed the tree down, split it apart, and we obtained nearly two washtubs of honey.

      In the fall of '24, with the help of Val Valentine, a hunter-fisherman who loved Hubbard Lake, Dad traveled to Detroit and bought a used 1923 Dodge touring car for $485.00. It was the first car Dad and Mom owned. It had side curtains and a heater --- my, my, especially if one was in the right front seat! Mud, as well as snow, gave us some problems. Spring thaws softened the dirt on the ungraded roads and in swampy areas the ruts could be as much as axel deep. The car's 32 x 4 tires provided some under clearance, but sometimes not enough.

The 1923 Dodge touring car with Aunt Mary in the back seat, Uncle Dan, then Dad

      One winter Dad removed the bed and rear bob (set of runners) from the sleigh and bolted a pair of braced planks on the bolster on the front bob. The car was driven onto the planks and chained in place so the team could drag or slide the sleigh-car unit the four miles from the house to State Route 10. Every other weekend, Dad would drive to Alpena to sell his produce and to buy staples while the team stayed in a farmer's barn. Route 10 was snowplowed by truck plows or by caterpillar plows with blowers.

      Our mailbox was two and a half miles away from the farm. In 1926, Dad petitioned the government to direct the mailman to place the mail in a box at the farm. Thus the gates across the roads were removed between ours and Uncle Fred's farm. In winter the mailman used a horse and sleigh with a box-like covering.

      Sometimes there was road or construction work available and we could earn 30 cents an hour ... ten hours for $3.00. A team of horses with a man earned $6.00 for ten hours. Each year the township alloted money for roadwork in our area. The elected overseer, Uncle Chris, would control the work, usually areas to be graveled. Mr. Olsen, Uncle Fred, and Dad would bring their teams and wagons to a gravel vein located in a hill. Chris, George, Walter, and I shoveled the gravel onto the wagons and the teamsters would drive to the proper place on the road, remove the sideboards, shake or heave each plank, dropping the gravel on the road. Year by year the roads were improved with grading and widening. This made them higher than the surrounding ground, Making it possible for the main roads, mail routes, and roads by our farms to be snowplowed.

      When the time came for us to build, Dad started on the barn and we hauled stone from everyone's stone piles to minimize the use of concrete for the foundation. Sand was hauled from the lake for cement and Dad hired a Mr. Knudsen to "frame" the barn timbers. He told the area farmers that on "barn day" he would need help raising the barn and thirty-five or forty farmers came. They erected the frames, sheeted the sides and the roof, and had nailed one shingle on the roof by quitting time. It was June of 1925.

      Outboard motors were new in '23. Uncle Chris had a Callie with a Model "T" coil and battery. Uncle Fred had a Callie with a magneto. Both were single cylinder, had no gear boxes, but had a long shaft to the propeller. We would unlatch the shaft about 30 degrees and let the propeller enter the water. Chris's motor wouldn't start -- even a DeSoto troubleshooter who wanted to rent it couldn't make it run. After fooling around with it for days or weeks, I took a bolt out of the crankcase and half a pint of gasoline ran out on the floor -- it had been flooded. I put the bolt in place and it ran like a top. One time I received a heck of a jolt when my hand touched the end of a sparkplug wire.

      Years later Uncle Fred's outboard motor would not work so they gave it to me. The key would jam in the keyways on the shaft and flywheel and the nut would loosen causing it to wobble. After many wobbles, the timing would be off. I cleaned the keyways on the shaft and wheel with a chisel and file, made a special key to fit the messed up keyways, and it ran. At first they did not want it, but after I repaired it they were glad to get it back.



      Map of Hubbard Lake.


                      Other Chapters

                        1.     Atlantic
                        2.     Silica
                        3.     Oil City
                        4.     Boat Trip
                        5.     Chris's Home
    Next - - - 6.     Hubbard Lake
                        7.     Hunting and Fishing
                        8.     Our Farm
                        9.     Schools
                      10.     The Depression and the 30's
                      11.     Michigan State University
                      12.     Jobs
                      13.     Our Home
                      14.     Boating
                      15.     Trips
                      16.     The Tropics
                      17.     With The Kids
                      18.     It Is Written


                      Thayer Letter


                      Tree Page


Copyright © 2001 with all rights reserved by William V. Thayer

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