Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rural community Life During WWII

Rural community Life During WWII

I remember that we mostly had mismatched cups, dishes and silverware when we were little kids. The ‘Sir David Beatty spoon’ was worth fighting over at meal times :>)

Not sure about grandma's set. I think it mostly matched. She really enjoyed her kitchen. Often had her ‘Ladies Aid’ over for ‘Hors d'oeuvres’. Small, strange tasting sandwiches, homemade bread with the crust shaved off (saved for later bread pudding). She set the table with her treasured linen and her finest dishes, then dressed up, as if for church. 

The well dressed ladies all discussed the needs of the community and how they would gather and distribute essentials to the needy and find employment for the bread winners of the Traditional families common in those days.. They were the community welfare, working with the local churches… before govt eventually took over, subsidizing the non-traditional ‘associations’ quite common today….

I remember Gram's early kitchen during WWII. The floor and cabinets were covered in linoleum with shiny little strips of edging. The ‘everyday’ table cloths were something called ‘Oilcloth’. After WWII and the end of rationing, when things got better, she got all new stainless steel topped cabinets and better flooring. The one hanging ceiling bulb was replaced with the latest ‘fluorescent’ lighting ring. The new, big box chest freezer on the porch after WWII rationing was over, replaced the town ‘Locker‘.

The countless frozen chickens she endlessly butchered, beef and pork were much handier. Closer to the well stocked, hand grown, picked and canned garden vegetables and preserved fruit in her basement. Whatever occurred, our family ‘compound’ would survive. Grandpa and Grandma had survived the ‘Great Depression’. For them, a World War was a walk in the park.

 The ICEMAN. Big man, sorta scary. Wearing a leather apron and carrying big blocks of ice over his shoulders with huge iron Tongs. He came in, rearranged the remaining pieces of ice. Returned with size needed, set the new block and replaced the smaller pieces around it. In hot summer we got a few fresh chunks from him to chew on. The Milkman was another periodic visitor (we raised a yearly Beef and Hogs, but not dairy cows). Milkman drove a strange looking delivery truck and left a couple of bottles in the icebox. We never locked the doors. Perfectly logical, because the iceman and milkman could not get in when we were away..

When WWII took all of the younger men, only the older or crippled up guys were left. 

 Harvest time was memorable. Pheasants loved the corn shocks for shelter against the winter blasts and food.

I roamed the exciting fields alone as an adventuresome 'little Buck'. I recall the Threshing crews with draft horses being used to pull the 'hay racks'. I got to scramble on board and ride to the barns. The big old iron spiked wheeled, tractor that in later years became a rusted derelict at Towner's pond (formerly on Prince Farm), was used to power the big grey Threshing machine during the WWII years. There were other old tractors, but gas was rationed, so the draft horses, Belgiums and Percherons did a lot of the real work.

The grey Threshing machine was moved from farm to farm, along with the 'mature' and kid crews. A long flat fabric belt, drove the pulleys that operated the countless gears and threshing devices, blowing 'chaff' into piles. The horses would walk and stop, when the older men using their forks, 'pitched' the hay or 'cut grain' up onto the high wheeled 'racks'. Hay and Grain was mowed by the draft teams pulling mechanical sickle bars. 

Nearby some smaller field farmers of the time, still used long antiquated hand scythes with 'bails' to lay the grain stems in orderly rows. They stepped along, swinging their scythe's in rhythmic fashion, all day long, stopping only when the distant community siren signaled 12 noon lunch.

At Kane's and Prince's farm, the racks full of hay and straw from threshing, were backed into position under the eve of the big barn. A long heavy rope with a large set of claw hooks, grabbed onto the hay, much of it 'baled', from the rack in one big bite. Draft horses pulled the long rope, lifting the hay to the open upper doors, where men forced it into the far reaches of the loft on a long metal trolley. The operation was repeated and continued for the days it took for harvest.,..

'Indian Summer', though somewhat rare,  periodically commenced after harvest. Today we are all trained to rush judgement noddingly, label it proof of Global Warming'. Some may remember that picture of the old man smoking his pipe, telling the little boy about seeing the hazy smoke and visions of the Indians. The famous picture and little story appeared every fall in the Chicago Tribune, 'Indian Summer' or not.  

We often walked the quarter mile across fields to Kane's dairy farm, carrying two milk pails. The warm milk came right from the cows, then was poured over a cold refrigerated coil into our pails. After it sat in our icebox for a day, the cream was scooped off for coffee and cooking. As a little kid, I always had a cup of fresh creamed coffee with Grams in her kitchen. Her fresh baked bread, rolls and donuts were never duplicated.
After WWII, the real refrigerators came to our houses. What a remarkable invention. The old wooden ice boxes went to the chicken house for storage of feed, Rats and Mice were always a problem around chickens because of their feed scattered about. Predatory Weasels and Foxes were a different problem.

 Rat Killin' was ongoing and exciting, some real fun. After dusk, Gramps and I approached the chicken house in silence, carrying Mom's .22. Gramps ripping open the door, I ran and grabbed 'em while they were squealing and Gramps shot em. Sometimes they were too fast, too big and biting at me.. I slammed them against the wall, then Gramps shot them. Ahh the good old days. :>)

After WWII, a new white electric ‘wringer’ washing machine in basement, came to replace the old pale green clamp on, hand crank ‘wringer’, that was a separate device. Before the electric wringer machine, mom and gram both used the big copper tub on the kerosene burners to boil the water and wash clothes on wash day (same two handled oval copper tub used for boiling and plucking hundreds of chickens).

The big 80 gal post WWII water heater was something special. It somehow was controlled to only provide electricity and heat water at night’s cheaper rates. Clothes were all hung outside to dry unless the rainy weather prevented it. Freeze dried clothes, though looking stiff, get just as dry.

The first flooring I recall in our kitchen and grandma’s, was something found at navy surplus. In rolls and glued down, it supposedly was left over from ships, as some of our original home construction material. Neighbor Larry’s floors were a cement board from surplus. Hard, cold and gray..

Our kitchen had a cast iron hand pump, like the one at an aunt’s little house I first recalled. Dad and grandpa put a little electric piston pump under the kitchen, when one finally became available. It pumped water from the concrete cistern that collected rain water from the house roof gutters. Both houses in our ‘compound’ had cisterns. The water was yellow and not much of it. Little pump often froze in cold winter. Had to go down into spider crawl space, with gas blowtorch, to thaw. Then hang an electric light bulb for freezing nights and days.

A weekly bath was taken in cold yellow water, with some added water boiled on the little kerosene stove on which mom cooked our meals. Before the porcelain iron tub and electric pump connected, the kitchen floor, wash tub was my ‘spa’.  The little kerosene stove had a round gallon can, that gurgled as the kerosene dripped into the burners. It also helped heat our home in cold weather. Our electric water heater in the hallway, after end of WWII, was a welcome addition, as was our first electric stove and fluorescent ceiling light. The hanging incandescent bulb was finally replaced. :>)

After WWII ended, uncle Harry came home from the war and married Betty to raise their family. Grandpa dug two pipelines from the new well in the communal yard, one for our house. I watched that well being drilled by a man with a pounding machine. It replaced an old hand dug, brick lined polluted well we could no longer use.

The drill rig eventually pounded the big drill pipe down about 100 feet. Lots of gray clay flooded out and down the driveway as it began pounding to break through the substrate. After pouring a concrete ‘well house’ below the ground and installing a new deep well piston pump, We finally  had clean, clear water we could actually drink. No more trips to the community well, filling big glass bottles in wooden crates. :>)

During WWII, grandma and grandpa had their coal furnace in their basement. It needed tightly rationed coal, shoveled directly into the firebox every few hours and 'clinkers' needed to be chipped loose and shoveled out with the cinders and ashes. The clinkers and cinders ‘paved’ our long driveway and provided traction in icy winter.
They then acquired a modern ‘Stoker’ to feed the coal. 

As a stronger kid, I often shoveled the new stoker full with coal from the big ‘bin’,  in a walled off section of the basement (I still have that same big coal shovel). They eventually got the fuel oil ‘gun type’ conversion installed in that same furnace. Oil that replaced the coal. No more shoveling. Grams and Gramps were aging  by then and had lost some shoveling agility.

For years, Jake the ‘Coal Man’ (he was blackened by the end of each hard day’s work) had backed up his truck and delivered the coal through the basement window by the birdbath in side yard flower garden. It had little red paper ‘hearts’ scattered throughout the black shiny coal chunks. I kinda liked the fresh smell of coal. Reminded me of my beloved steam locomotives that roared past in the night.
The coal furnace also heated some water in the winter, before the big electric water heater was installed after WWII. The furnace had a big bulging iron boiler ball suspended below the steel floor radiator grate. I spent many hours laying on that steel floor grate, after getting frozen and soaked during sledding.

‘Red Heart Coal’ was the best :>) Jake’s last name was ‘Flake’. Interesting name ‘Jake Flake’. He had daughters that turned out very pretty. His coal yard and home, was located near the EJ&E railroad tracks. The coal trains dumped the coal off the siding into his yard and he delivered it with his old truck.

Hockemier (Hokie) on highway 59A, had the local convenience store and Sinclair gas station. He delivered the ‘Fuel Oil’ of the sort we burned in the big brown ‘garbage burner’ that heated our house. Mom could finally afford to put in the ‘gun type’ furnace, located in the closet. That thing was sooty and really smoked. Later she had the floor furnace installed? If I recall, it was suspended under the house? Or she had a gas conversion put in the other box? Whatever type, it is always nice to actually get a natural gas line past the homestead. Homestead was ‘razed’ in recent years, but the memories remain strong.
Life sure changed didn’t it?.


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