My first job, except for chores around the house, consisted in peddling hand bills advertizing sales at the Racket Store on the square which my dad had bought after the Farmer's Grain Company, where he worked as secretary, went out of business. The merchandise was about the same as that carried by the low priced chain stores today, Woolworth's and Kresgy's or the Franklin Stores. None of the chain stores were as yet in existence. There was one clerk, a slim woman of uncertain years, who had worked there before my father bought the store. I passed the bills out on Saturday mornings, when the farmers came to town to trade and hitched their wagons and buggies to the rail around the courthouse square, securing then in some way to the vehicle so they wouldn't blow away. Less frequently I would have to distribute bills about town, a job I didn't like if all the other kids were out with their sleds or their skates. On one cold day when I was supposed to pass out bills in the west part of town I decided I would rather play so I hid the bills in a closet under the stairs and went to get my sled. I didn't enjoy playing, however, as I kept thinking about those handbills back in the closet. I finally started to cry and went back home to get the bills. My mother saw me and guessed what had happened. My tears were a dead giveaway.
About 1910 a concrete, one story building when up on South Cherry Street a block and a half north of the house we were then living in, the house that had been rebuilt after it had burned. We kids watched it go up and then saw workmen move in and set up a big machine, which I later learned was a lathe, several smaller machines and a gasoline motor. A forge was built like the one at Jacob Knoedler's blacksmith shop a block from us on the same street. I was fascinated by machines and spent a lot of time hanging around. No one chased me away.
The shop, a repair shop for anything made of metal, was operated by two men, new in town. The owner, who was around 45 or 50 years old, and a younger, red haired man of about 30 who worked for him. I stopped in often on my way home from school to watch then at work. One day the owner came to me where I was watching the red haired man heating and tempering some steel tools and asked me if I would like to come to the shop on Saturdays and work as an apprentice; I seemed to be interested in machinery. He needed a boy to do odd jobs around the place. After talking it over with my dad, I went to work but the job didn't last long. I was still at the dream stage where I could be in two places at once, one physically and the other mentally and far away. My first job in the morning was to sweep the floor. After that I ran errands, helped hold pieces of machinery the men were working on, looked for tools and just stood around watching the men work. I learned quite a bid about the blacksmith's trade tho I wasn't there long enough to try my hand at it. What I learned was a help when I was in engineering school in Michigan and one of the required courses was blacksmithing.
The two men were not the refined characters I was used to; they used pretty tough language. One day the decided to go to Sherwood, in the next county north where liquor could be sold, and get drunk. They didn't want to close the shop; someone might come in with a broken piece of machinery that had to be repaired, so they left me charge. There was an old car in the place waiting to be repaired and I couldn't resist the temptation to start it up and move it a few feet to show off before a neighbor boy who happened to come along and see me. When the boss came back he notice right away that the car had been moved. Shortly after that he was doing some work at the lathe which was powered by the gasoline engine in the corner and he yelled at me over the noise to shut the motor off. He had told me how to do it, turn of the gasoline first then the switch, but I had been dreaming and got hold of the switch handle when he ran over and stopped me. And so I lost my first job. I didn't feel too badly about it as I would just as soon have been out playing with the other boys in spite of my interest in machinery. My parents didn't like it too well but they didn't make a big issue of it.
After my father bought the elevator in Cecil he often took Raymond and me with him where we could do little jobs around the place tho we usually spent most of our time playing in the barns or around the square pond at the rear of the property. Any place that contained a little water had an irresistible fascination for us. The pond was full of frogs and all kinds of interesting bugs and butterflies flitted around over its surface. Once we found a garter snake on the bank which had half swallowed a frog. We killed the snake and tried to save the frog's life but I doubt it could have lived. It's hind legs had lost all of their color; were probably in the first stages of being digested.
Behind the office building were three or four unpainted barns, in the largest of which baled hay was stored until it could be loaded into boxcars and shipped. A smaller barn opposite served as shelter for a flock of leghorn chickens, geese and a few pigs. I was much surprised when George, the man of all work, went to the coal bin in the office and brought a bucket of coal which he dumped into the pig's trough. They ate it as though it were delicious. All George could tell me was that coal was good for pigs. The chickens and geese had free run of the place and lived on the grain which spilled from the wagons as they pulled in to be unloaded.
The geese not only furnished meat and eggs but goose down for pillows. One day when other work was slack, George and I were given the job of removing the down from all of the nature geese. That was another surprise. I thought it would be painful for the geese to have their feathers pulled out. We rounded up the flock, grabbed each goose by the neck, one at a time, turned it upside down with its head down between our legs and pulled the down off the breast by handfuls. It almost dropped off and didn't bother the goose at all.
The baby geese were very stupid. If it looked like rain we had to get then in the barn. George said if they got caught out in the rain the open their beaks and drown. It sounded a little fishy to me but I didn't question his statement.
Leghorns are a rather small breed of chicken but they are renowned as egg layers. My father made no attempt to breed fancy chickens but he always entered the yearly poultry show in Paulding and won several cups which he kept on the piano. When we needed a chicken for Sunday dinner, which was nearly every Sunday, it was my job to chop its head off. I held both of this legs in my left hand, stretched its neck over a block and whacked the head off with the hatched, then threw the body into the middle of the yard where it went flopping around for several minutes, headless.
One of the small bans had not been used for some time and before using it for storing some crop or other it had to be cleared of rats. The floor was dirt but there were a lot of old boards lying around under which the rats had dug tunnels and nests. Raymond and I and our cousin Russell Moran spent one afternoon with the help of George's little black rat terrier clearing the rats out of the barn. It was very exciting. We would all surround one of the boards on the floor with clubs about 18 inches long in our hands, then one of us would start running for safety with we three boys and the dog after them. Some of the rats were monsters as big as a cat. I chased one big brown rat out of the barn and half way across a field before I finally knocked it on the head. We not only cleared the rats out of the barn but from every place else we could find evidence of the, the little black dog sniffing them out and grabbing then when we dug them out with a spade.
Forty acres of un-cleared land which my father had bought at a low price needed to be cleared of a thicket of small trees and bushes before it could be plowed and planted to potatoes. Raymond and I were give the job of cutting out the trees which were about an inch in diameter but very close together. I think they were oak or maple but I didn't pay much attention. We were each given a full sized ax and left to ourselves. We did pretty well at first; it was fun swinging our axes and pretending we were pioneers but as the sun mounted in the sky it got hotter and hotter. Finally we each cleared a spot just big enough to lie down under the canopy of leaves and went to sleep. We tried to work again after we woke up and ate our lunch but neither of us had any energy. We were not used to swinging an ax all day. About three in the afternoon Raymond aimed at a small tree in front of him when the ax head twisted, bounced off the tree and cut a big gash in the side of his foot. Fortunately the cut wasn't deep tho it bled a lot, but from then on I had to work by myself.
After the trees and brambles were cleared off a farmer was hired to plow the land and spread manure over it. The manure came from a big pile next to an old cow shed and George and I had the job of shoveling it into the manure spreader. We had to wear rubber boots and use both shovels and pitch forks. It must have been a very old manure pile as there was no strong odor. Or maybe I just jog accustomed to it.
The farmer then brought his horse drawn potato planter and I was ordered to rid on the rear to hold it down. Otherwise the machine would not plant the seed deep enough. There was not seat; I had to hang on to the frame with my hands, but that was an easy task compared to the other two. Raymond was teased unmercifully because he chopped his foot, so he wouldn't have to work, all the kids said. I envied him a little, but not to the point of gashing my own foot.
Another job at Cecil that required the use of rubber boots was digging ditches. The whole of Paulding County was originally one big swamp covered with hardwood trees, mostly oaks, maples, walnut and hickory and, after the trees had been cut off and turned into barrels, boxes and lumber the land had to be drained before it could be used for agriculture. The water was prevented from sinking into the ground by a thick layer of fine clay under the top soil which seemed to go clear down to China. To dig into it you had to use a narrow spade with a sharp edge, slicing off a couple of inches at a time. I soon learned that there is a technique even to digging ditches. It took me some time to acquire it and I never was able to keep up with George who was a husky type with well developed muscles.
Work in the elevator itself was usually easy. Wagons coming in with grain stopped on the scales in front of the office and were weighed loaded. There were weighed again on the way out empty, the difference being the weight of the grain. The wagon was then driven up into the elevator where George or I took charge. During the harvest time when wagons were line up waiting to be unloaded we kept the engine in the shed running but in slack times it would be necessary to go down and get it started. It provided the power for operating elevator machinery and was controlled by a clutch. After the wagon was in place we put blocks in front of the rear wheels to keep the hoist from pulling the wagon forward when the front end was lifted. The two doors to the dump hole were then opened. People not familiar with the operation would think we ought to put the blocks behind the wheels instead of the front. They were afraid that the wagon would roll back and fall in the hole. The hoisting mechanism consisted of a long drum about two feet in diameter around which two heavy ropes were wound with the ends in the form of loops. By moving the clutch lover we could raise or lower these loops. They were first lowered and the ends passed thru the spokes of the front wheels and looped over the hubs. Reversing the drum raised the front of the wagon and dumped the load of grain into the hole. The sides of the dump hole were sheet metal in the shape of a V with a screw at the bottom of the V to carry the grain to one end where it fell into buckets connected to a long belt. The buckets carried the grain to the top of the elevator where it fell into chutes to the bin where it was to be stored. The leather belts built up a high voltage of static electricity.
Loading the freight cars with gain was a job I hated tho the machinery did most of the work. The local freight engine would uncouple a freight car onto the siding next to the elevator. It seldom would be placed directly under the grain chute where we wanted it so it was necessary to lever it into place with a special lever about 6 feet long which was placed between a car wheel and the rail and worked up and down. It didn't take much force to move the car that way. Once the car was in place it was necessary to nail boards on the inside of each door to a height of 3 or 4 feet. These were already made up and kept in piles at the side of the tracks. Then the metal chute was introduced and the bottom of the storage bin opened. The grain whooshed into the car long with so much dust that in three seconds you couldn't see the end of the car. We wore dust masks over our mouth and nose but it was impossible t keep the dust out. The grain plied up in one spot so we had to take big scoop shovels and move it into the corners. We kept adding barriers at the doors as the car filled. I choked on the dust and tried to hold my breath but that didn't work for long at a time and I had to go to the door periodically to take off my mask and get a few breaths of air. But the time the car was filled we looked like coal miners.
As a rule, baled hay and straw was loaded into the freight car directly from the farmer's wagon. We were provided with steel hooks with which we could move the 200 lb. bales by rolling them or dragging them along the floor. After the first layer of bales covered the floor, however, the bales had to be lifted. I soon learned to lift the bales by tilting them away from me, putting my knees against the, jabbing the hook into the opposite side of the bale, pull it toward me up on my knees and fall forward, the bale dropping onto the next tier up. I didn't mind loading hay and straw.
Before my dad was given his first car we made out trips to Cecil on the morning train. It was 6 miles and I believe the far was 15 cents. To get back to Paulding after work we often took the local freight train, riding in the caboose. It usually had finished all of its switching before the evening train was due going south. You didn't have to buy your ticket beforehand. You paid the freight conductor, and agreeable old man who allowed me to rid in the cupola where I sat and looked out over the hole train. Occasionally there would be other passengers, drunks going back to Paulding from Sherwood, who slept in a corner and threw up as soon as they got off the train. The sight of them was so disgusting that it turned me against drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage.
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:09