Dirks Family

History and Genealogy

Johnny Dirks

July 1933  --

Johnny Dirks was born on July 5, 1933 to Gretchen and Dick Dirks at Fonda, Iowa. He was born on the Jordan farm which was located one mile south and one mile west of Fonda. Johnny was the 11th of 14 children.

The 1930's

The 30’s were a time of the depression and dust bowl.

Fonda, Iowa

The town of Fonda is located in northwest Iowa. In the 30’s the small towns were a center of business. Fonda had two car dealerships—Chevrolet and Ford, two implement dealers Case and International, two hardware stores Ace and Gambles, two grocery stores, a newspaper, bank, variety store, two men’s clothing stores, a harness and shoe repair, two barber shops, two pool halls, a theater, butcher shop, and a couple of cafes. The swimming pool was a sandpit left when the brick factory left. The pool was fed by a natural spring and had diving boards at the sides and middle of the pool. There was a bathhouse and cement steps leading into the water. There were no fences around the pool so I guess it was open all the time and I am sure there was ice skating there in the wintertime. Fonda had many churches and two schools—a parochial and public school. The fairground was located on the southwest corner of town and a lot of activities took place there, especially during the fairs and 4th of July celebrations. There was a race track and bandstand and many barns to keep the animals that was there for show

The Jordan Farm (1933-1938)

The Jordan farm was located one mile west and one mile south of Fonda. Dad rented the farm from the Jordan’s. The rental agreements were usually 40/60 where the owner received 40% of the crop and paid no expenses. Some rental agreements were 50/50 where the owner and renter shared the expenses and each received 50% of the crop. The interesting thing about this was that the Jordan’s lived on the outskirts of Fonda and had a barn and some farm animals. Part of the rental agreement was to deliver straw and corncobs. The corncobs were great for cooking and starting a fire in the stoves used to heat the houses. The Jordan farm was 160 acres and a lot of it was pasture land that was next to the Cedar River which ran through the west side of the farm and it flooded quite often and produced a lot of snakes. There was a large grove of trees to the north of the house, which served as a windbreak, provided firewood and also a place for us to play.

We had kerosene lanterns, which we used outside and in the barn, gas and kerosene lamps were used, in the house. The water for washing dishes, bathing, etc was heated using the cook stove. There was a reservoir on the end of the stove that heated water whenever there was a fire in the stove—which was quite often since the stove was used for cooking-this usually supplied enough water for washing dishes, hands and faces. For washing clothes or bathing we had to put a large copper boiler on the cook store and fill it with water and heat it up—then you had to carry the hot water to the washer or bathtub. The bathtub was usually a galvanized tub set on the kitchen floor. Some were lucky enough to have a double tub and you could sit in it—but when you were done you had to carry the water out and dump it. The men worked in the fields from daylight to dark, weather permitting, and repairing equipment when they could not do field work. We had single bottom plows, one-row cultivators, horse drawn mowers, disks, hay rake, buggy, and a bobsled. It took weeks to plow/cultivate a 40-acre field. Manual labor and horses did all of the farming at this time.

The women and children did the cooking, gardening and housework. Monday was the day to wash clothes, Tuesday was mending, Wednesday was ironing, Thursday--, Friday was baking, Saturday morning was a time grind corn, restock the feed bins, clean the chicken and hog houses, take baths and go to town to do the shopping. Then there was cooking, gardening, taking care of the children.

On Saturday evening we would all go to town and visit with friends, maybe go to the movies and then go to the depot and watch the passenger train arrive. If we didn’t go to the movie we just walked up and down Main Street. Mom would sit in the car and visit with friends and Dad would be at the bank corner visiting.

When the garden produce was ready they would do the canning and preserving the produce to be used during the winter months. The chickens were a joint effort between the family members. Sometimes during the harvest the women would be in the fields working with the men and also the men would help with canning, washing, etc. if they were caught up on their work. Most of the time was sharing and helping each other.

Normal Day

A normal day consisted of getting up with the sun and Dad starting a fire in the cook stove and putting on the teapot and making tea. We then had a cup of tea and went out and did the chores of milking the cows, separating the milk, feeding the hogs, chickens, calves and horses. Then we had breakfast, in the winter time it was a warm cereal such as, cream of wheat, oatmeal, toast (made in the oven), or pancakes. Then the men would harness the horses and head for the fields. The women did the dishes and started planning the noon and evening meals, making beds, sweeping floors, etc. One of the staples of the meal was potatoes, enough would be pealed for the noon and evening meals. They would be boiled for the noon meal and the leftovers fried for the evening meal.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon was time for a break. Coffee or tea was made and the younger children brought it to the workers in the fields. The drink was placed in a Kayo syrup can. Syrup came in a can with a wire handle and a pry off lid and it was it was empty it was used for carrying the hot coffer or tea to the field and carry lunches to school. Also a few extra cookies were included so the one taking the coffee/cookies would get some. When we were assigned the task to take the drink and food to the field we would watch the workers and make sure we would arrive at end of the field closest to the house when they did.

At noon the men would come in from the field and water and feed the horses and eat lunch and go back to work. Around 5 o’clock they would stop the field work and take the harness off of the horses, do the evening chores of milking the cows, feeding the hogs, feeding the horses and shutting the chicken house as soon as the chickens were all inside. Then the evening meal and clean up and time to relax. Sometimes we would listen to the news on a battery powered radio—but not too long as the battery did not last long and had to be recharged.

When the sun went down it was time to be in bed and be quiet, this did not always happen and we paid the consequences.

Normal Week

Monday was wash day. Some of the washing was done by hand. We had a washer that was hand powered. It had a lever that was used to move the agitator back and forth. Later Dad rigged up a motor and pump jack to move the lever. The wringer was turned by hand. There were two tubs: one for rinsing out the soap and one had bluing in it to make the clothes whiter. Later in the 30’s we had a Maytag washer that was powered by a gas engine.

Tuesday was mending which was done by hand or on a treadle sewing machine. The large family required much mending.

Wednesday ironing was done with the flat irons. They were first heated on the top of the cook stove. The handle was removable on some brands so when the iron got cold it could be returned to the stove and a hot one picked up.

Thursday was a time to prepare the dough for baking—It was prepared in a large bread pan and left to rise. Then it would be kneaded and placed in pans—once it had risen it was placed in the oven and the fire had to be tended to during the baking process. We always looked forward to warm homemade bread.


Saturday Morning—Cleaning and mopping floors—grinding corn---cleaning pig pens and chicken houses. Afternoon—baths, Evening—Going to town

Sunday Going to church and visiting with relatives in the afternoon


In the wintertime there were still the chores to be done. If we had cold cereal for breakfast we had warm milk to go with it. There were ash boxes on the stoves to be cleaned corncobs to be put in bushel baskets, wood and coal, which was used for heating and cooking was placed next to the stoves. There was usually one stove in the living room. If you were cold you moved closer to the stove—if you were too warm you moved away from the stove.

There were paths and driveways to clear of snow. The main paths were the ones to the well, outhouse and barn. Sometimes when we were shoveling a path we would pile up the snow so we could make a slide out of it. We sloped the snow pile and poured water on it and when it froze it made a nice slide. If we could find a small patch of ice we would put on the ice skates and try our luck. We also had sleds and had fun pulling each other or sliding down a hill. We also used the sleds to haul the corncobs, wood and coal from the corncob pile, wood pile and coal shed.

We had to do our chores before we went to school and then we would walk to school. After school we would walk home and grab a snack on our way to do our chores. If we had pancakes for breakfast there were usually some left over and we would put a little butter on them with sugar or cinnamon roll it up and eat it on the way to do our chores.

Log Cabins

LogCabin There were two log cabins on the Jordan farm—there was one in the grove and the boys were building one on the riverbank. I don’t think the one on the river ever got finished. I heard one of the neighbors on the other side of the river took the logs for firewood. The older boys would not let the girls or the younger boys in the log cabin. We would sneak in once in a while and also climb on the roof. It was more like a club house. This is a picture of the cabin on the Jordan Farm.

Very Dark Day

One day I was outside playing and Mom and Dad were talking. I knew something was going to happen as it was in the afternoon and they were trying to get the chickens in but the chickens did not cooperate. Then Mom got us together and we headed for the basement. As we were going in the house the darkness surrounded us. I do not remember any wind or storm—it was just eerie and very dark. Then as suddenly as the darkness appeared it disappeared. I think it may have been a solar eclipse but at I looked in the encyclopedia I could find no record of an eclipse during the time I thought this happened.

Running down the lane

One Saturday morning Dad was going to town on an errand and I wanted to ride along. I went back into the house to get something and he left without me. I ran after the car but he didn't stop and I didn't catch up. About half way down the lane, which was by the hay field, LeRoy was mowing with a team of horse and he was turning the mower around. He stopped and talked to me and I went back home. I don't remember what he said, but it must of helped.

Uncle John’s Visits

Uncle John AhrensUncle John was a unique individual. He came from Germany and had a girl friend there. He wanted her to marry him and come to America, but her parents would not allow that. He never married. He saved his money and bought a farm during the depression. He had surveying equipment, loved to hunt and fish and had some very expensive gun and fishing equipment. He also kept all the cars he ever owned. He had a big steam engine, Model “T” and a 1941 Chevrolet business coupe. A tornado went through is farm in 1951 and destroyed the building where he kept his cars. He was caught in the tornado and laid by a gate while it went over him. The tornado destroyed the corn crib, took the haymow off the barn but let the lower level intact and they just rebuilt the upper part. It trimmed the trees that the level of the house top and never hurt the house. The house was very large, Uncle John lived in half the house and his renters lived in the other half.

Uncle John Ahrens used to come and visit us quite often. He would always bring oranges or apples. He usually had one of the later models of the automobile. As far as I know he never sold any of them. He kept them in a machine shed on his farm. The shed was destroyed by a tornado around 1949. Uncle John never married.

1929 Chevrolet

The first car I remember was a 1929 Chevrolet. Dad made a small bench to fit between the front and back seat, so he could get all of us kids in the car. I was one of the smaller ones and I sat on the floor ahead of Mom. I remember the heater had folding doors to direct the air flow. The doors were open or I was playing with them. Dad made a sudden stop and my head hit the edge of the heater door. I have a small scar between my eyes as a result.

1933 Chevrolet

The next car I remember was a 1933 Chevrolet. It was not as big as the 1929 and the older kids were starting to leave home. We were still living on the Jordan farm when Dad purchased this car.

Hot Box for plant starters

On the east side of the corn crib we would did a hole about 2-3 feet deep and fill the bottom with cow manure but on some dirt and Mom would start her plants in early spring. We would put old windows in the form of a box over this area. The manure decaying and the solar energy from the sun provided enough heat to make this a small green house.

Grave in grove

In the grove near the road was a grave of an unknown person. I read later the the Cedar River, which ran through the farm was flooded. A stranger wanting to get across the river asked if he could hang on to the horses tail as another person went across. He lost his gripe and drowned. No one knew who he was and he didn't have any identification or money. They buried him in the grove. The neighbors to the north had a windmill that needed oiling and putting the two together made for some creepy nights.

Visiting Grandparents

Pearl and John U. Dirks lived in a small cabin on a creek bank. John used a cane as one of his legs was shorter than the other one. They would drive their Model “T” to visit us. Grandma did the driving. They did not speak English and now I realized the grand kids missed a lot by not being able to communicate with them. My older brothers always said that Grandpa was mean and would try at times to hit them with a cane. I learned later of some of the pranks they pulled on Grandpa and now I can’t blame him. One time they put bricks in the springs of the Model “T” and grandpa said it was the roughest riding car he knew of. Then one day they caught all the snakes they could find and dropped them down the vent pipe to the root cellar, so when grandpa went into the cellar it there was a lot of snakes. One day Otto (grandpa’s son) was visiting and he was sitting by the stove chewing tobacco and spitting it into the stove, meanwhile the boys were on the roof dropping snowballs down the chimney and grandpa was blaming Otto for putting out the fire. No wonder he wanted to hit them with his cane.

Grandpa Dirks died in 1937 and while we were getting ready to go to the funeral we were standing outside by the grove and notice a owl in a tree, We were trying to kill time so decided to throw some rocks at it. We were dressed in our Sunday best and mom wasn’t too happy with us. A short time after grandpa died dad and the boys took the hayracks and wagons and moved grandma’s furniture into a lean-to by the corn crib. Grandma moved into the house with Carl and Mattie Joens. Mattie was her daughter and she lived with them until she passed away in 1952.

Moving Day

Moving days were always a busy time. We would put everything in the hayracks or wagons. Most of the furniture was made so it could be disassembled and would not take up much room. The stairs were very narrow, but the houses had one upstairs window that could be removed and the furniture was passed through that window and then it would be reassembled. The moves were interesting because the livestock had to also be moved the same day. I think moving day was May 1. The farmers were allowed to work the ground in the fall and spring before they moved. After we moved we also moved to our new school. This was no big deal and we just hit the ground running.

The Mullen Farm (1938-1941)

The Mullen farm was located two miles south of Fonda and one and three-forth miles west. The Cedar River bordered the east side of the farm. LeRoy and Freddie did a lot of hunting and trapping. One thing unique about the farm is that there was a spring there and it flowed all year. It was located about 200 feet east of the house and one the west side of a creek bed. The spring flowed into a stock tank so the livestock always had water. There was plumbing from the spring to the house but it was in disrepair and we never used it. There was a tank in the attic so as I think about it, it would have been nice if it was working.There was a shallow well near the house that we used for drinking water. We stored the rain water from the roof of the house in a cistern and used it for washing and bathing.

There was smokehouse on the farm for smoking hams and other meats which was a way to preserve meats through the winter months. We usually butchered a hog in the fall. We would eat the liver and meats that would spoil and then we would can the meats and preserve the bacon and hams. We would render out the lard and use some of it for cooking, baking, etc and some would be used to make lye soap. My job was to grind the fat with a meat grinder before they rendered in a large pot.

Battery radio – Wind charger

We did not have electricity on this farm. We did have a battery operated radio and we kept the battery charged using a wind charger. A wind charger was nothing more than a car generator with a prop on it and the wind would power it. We did not get to listen to the radio very much—mainly for the news. It was a 6-volt system. All the cars were 6-volts in those days. The boys took some bulbs from the cars and hooked them to a battery to provide lights in the barn. We used kerosene and gas lamps in the house. We also had kerosene lanterns, they didn’t provide much light but dad thought the gas lanterns were too hot and dangerous for use around the straw used in the barns.

December 7, 1941

Mom and dad gathered us together to listen to the evening news. It was FDR announcing the declaration of war on Germany. That was a very sad day as mom could no longer write to her parents and family who lived in Germany.

Dad brought a Woodbrothers threshing machine

One day dad came home with some $500 bills and they took the McCormick Deering tractor to go get a Woodbrothers threshing machine. It took them all day and they got home late in the evening. The tractor had steel lugs, so they had to drive on the sides of the roads, I don’t know what they did when they came to the bridges, which were usually made with wood bases. It was used to thresh the oats. The oats was mainly used to feed the chickens and horses. The corn was used to feed the cattle and pigs.

The threshing Rings were a group of farmers that worked together. The one who owned the machine charged by the bushel. They took turns going from farm to farm. The oats was cut in July and the bundles were stored by shocks. The shocks were formed by stacking the bundles in groups of 6-9 bundles. The person operating the binder would drop these in groups and then the workers would place them in shocks. Since the oats did not ripen evenly some was still green so it was allowed to cure for a couple of weeks. The shocks were in the form of a tepee and would shed the rain. After the shocks went through the heat stage it was ready to thresh. The threshing ring went from farm to farm until all the oats were threshed. They would start early in the morning and work until it was time for the evening chores. There was a big dinner in the middle of the day. A make-shift table was usually set up under a shade tree. There was no air conditioning so the cooking area were very hot. Most farms were around 160 acres and the average field of oats was about 40 acres and it would usually take a day to set up and thresh one farm. The threshing machine was driven by a McCormick Deering tractor using a long belt. The heavy drive belt acted as a large flywheel and keep the machine at a constant speed.

My First Watch

I can’t remember why but I had a cheap watch and it may have been one that didn’t even run—but it was mine. One of the men offered to trade me his watch—but I was so proud of mine that I would not trade him, after all it was my first watch.

Porch Fire

This happened while we were living on the Mullen farm. The house was heated by a wood burning heater in the living room. The wood was cut and chopped to fit into the stove. Sometimes we didn't get it the right size. Some of the wood was stored on the porch for easy access. The fire was getting low--so Margie got a log to add to the fire. It went part way into the stove but not all the way. She took it back out and got another log that fit. She put the other one back on the pile. It must of had a spark or two in the bark because a short time later we noticed fire by the window on the porch. We rushed out to the well and grabbed the buckets of water. There was always a couple of 5-gallon buckets full of water at the well in case we needed to prime the pump. We were carrying and throwing buckets of water on the fire and put it out. We did have to shingle the roof of the porch. We didn't have telephones then so we couldn't call the fire department.

Christmas Time

Christmas time-we had our special place at table and candles on tree. Christmas time was special. There were special programs at school and church. At the school they handed out a sack of fruit and nuts after the program. At church we would draw names in our classes and exchange presents and then there were sacks of fruit, nuts and candy handed out. We usually had a small part to speak which we read and sometimes it was memorized.

Our presents were placed at our place on the table during the night and we found them on Christmas morning. There was usually only one present. The present I most remember was a book “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. It was not an expensive book but mom knew I liked to read. I also remember getting a bow and arrow with the rubber suction cups—I think we must have started shooting at each other—because it soon disappeared. We also had some pistols that were spring loaded with suction cups. We also had a few pop guns—they shot corks or just made noise The Christmas trees was decorated with a few hand trinkets and paper chains made from strips of colored paper, we would also string popcorn and cranberries and place them on the tree. I don’t remember any presents under the tree.

Skinny Dipping

One Sunday afternoon when our relatives were visiting we walked down to the Cedar River just east of the farm. The water was warm and at first the boys decided to wade in the water and then they decided to skinny dip. I couldn’t swim so I didn’t join in. This was great until the boys heard the girls standing on the bridge talking and giggling. I had to bring to cloths to them. If I knew then what I know now—I would have just went home. We had a Red Ryder bb-gun. It was pretty well worn as it would load three bb’s at a time—so it didn’t shoot very far.

Refrigerator Leaking Ammonia

We had a ice box and would put in a large block of ice and that was used to cool the food. The cream cans were placed in the stock tank that was fed from the spring so that water was always nice and cool. We finally got the Rural Electric Company (REA)to supply us with electricity and we got a refrigerator. The refrigerator used ammonia for a coolant. One day it developed a leak and it was quickly removed from the house.

Maytag Washer

One of the washers we had was powered by hand and later a pump jack was adapted to move the handle up and down. Then we got a Maytag washer that was powered by a single cylinder Maytag engine. After we got electricity it was replace by an electric motor. When we washed cloths we had to heat the water on the cook stove and carry it to the washing machine. The cloths went from the washing machine through a wringer and the to a rinse tub and through the wringer and then to a final rinse (which may have a bluing agent or bleaching) then through the wringer and out to the cloths line to dry. The wringer was attached to the washing machine but it could be rotated from tub to tub.

Pump Organ and Piano

We had a piano and pump organ. I think dad thought one of kids would have some musical talent. We had color tape on the keys to match the notes in some music. I don’t know of anyone who learned to play either the organ or piano. Aunt Freda and Uncle Otto Dirks would come to visit along with Sadie. Aunt Freda could really play the piano. Her and Otto never had any children and he was a bouncer and think a heavy drinker. They did live at Twin Lakes and had a dock that extended onto the lake. We would go to Twin Lakes and go fishing. We only had cane poles and fished from the bank or deck. Don’t remember if we caught very many or not. I am sure we did get enough for a mess.


We had a bicycle which we referred to a Ed’s bike as I think they bought it for him, but we all learned to ride it. One day LeRoy gave me a ride on the bike and I was sitting between him and the handle bar and my right foot got caught between the front fork and wheel. I remember laying on the ground while they were figuring out the best way to get my food out. It did a number on the inside of my ankle and left a good sized scar. The bikes then were only one size and that was large. We would lean the bike against a fence climb on and get it started and try to get away from the fence. Then you realized you had to get off so you would try to glide along the fence and stop. That didn’t work very good so there was a lot of falling. One day I decide to ride the bike to the mailbox which was ¾ mile from the house. I got to the mailbox got off the bike got the mail and then tried to figure out how to get back on and get home. I leaned it against the mailbox and after several tries got it going. My legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedal at the bottom so I would push down on one pedal and catch the other pedal on the way up with my toe and pull it up and then move my foot to the top and push it down. I don’t know if anyone else had all those problems trying to ride a bike.


(Jan 10, 1926-- Aug 14, 1940)

Verneeda was seven years older than I was I think she was the one put in charge of me when I was growing up. I remember us playing house and stuff in the grove. We would use branches or lines in the dirt to outline the wall. We had chopping blocks from the woodpile to use for tables and chairs. We made a lot of mud pies, cookies, etc. One day she got sick and they took her to the doctor and he operated on her. I thought is was appendicitis that burst and gangrene set in and she never recovered. Mom thought it was cancer. She was sick for a long time and she had a little rose color bell that she would ring when she needed something. I remember toward the last the room was darkened. The threshing crew was at our place and she died in the afternoon. Mom sent word out to dad and they stopped threshing until after the funeral. The hearse came and got her and later it returned with the coffin and we held a wake. Dad and the boys went to the Union Cemetery in Pomeroy and dug the grave. I remember that after the church service we went to the cemetery and they lowered the coffin into the grave and mom sprinkled some dirt on the coffin and the men filled in the grave.

Corn Shelled and Sorted

We would shell our own corn for planting. We used a hand sheller to shell the corn and we picked the best ears to shell. We had a kernel grader which was a long tube starting with small holes and graduating to larger holes. There were about six sizes and baskets were used to catch the different sized kernels. This was necessary because the planter plates worked with different sized kernels. Later on we purchased seed corn from the dealer.

Popping Popcorn

We would make popcorn on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We would pop a large wash pan full, butter it and everyone would dig in. Sometimes we would make popcorn balls. We would shell the popcorn by hand. We grew our own popcorn

Stepping on Nails

We always had a board pile full of old boards. We were supposed to make sure all the nails were pulled before we put boards on the pile, but sometimes we got in a hurry or missed a nail or two. When we played hide-and-seek we sometime ran over the board pile and would step on a nail that would go through our shoe and foot. Mom would put some salted pork on it and boy did that burn. You think we would have learned—but it would happen again.

Miller Farm(1941-1949)

We moved to the Miller Farm, about three miles east and a mile south of Varina. We now went to Varina Consolidated School. We rode the school bus, but we had to walk a mile to get to the school bus. I was in the 4th grade.

Scarlet - Fever - Chicken Pox - Measles

Scarlet Fever was rare but one day we came home from school and the doctor was there. Eileen had scarlet fever and we were quarantined. Chicken Pox, Measles and Mumps happened about every year. The year that we had mumps it spread though out the communities and families. You had to stay home from school. I think everyone in the family had the mumps but me. I kept telling mom my throat was sore but she just kept sending me to school.

Richard and Eileen on Windmill

One wonderful summer day Dad and Edward was working in the field. I was doing chores and it was supper time. Mom sent me to find and call Richard and Eileen in for supper. I looked and looked and heard them talking I looked up and they were sitting on the platform of our 60 foot windmill. I was afraid of heights and I had to figure out a way to get them down. I just yelled at them and thankfully they came down. I talked to Richard about that later and he told me they would climb up one level walk around on the bracing and then go to the next level. I said you were not tall enough to hang on to the cross bracing—he said we did have to leave go once in a while. I asked what they were doing up there and he said they were just watching Ed and Dad work in the fields.

Corn Picker

We picked corn by hand. The horses would pull the wagon and you would walk beside it picking corn. The procedure was one hitting the backboard, one in the air and you were shucking one. One man could pick about 100 bushels a day. Then we got a two row corn picker. One person would run the picker and one would take the loaded wagons home and unload them. The picker was mounted on our F-20 and the F-12 was used to haul the corn. Ed usually ran the picker and I was running back and forth. The F-12 had a top speed of 5 mph—so there was no rest as I could barely get home and unload and back before the next wagon was full.

Minnesota (1949-1951)

My parents farmed in northwest Iowa. There were 14 siblings in our family and I was the 11th. My older brothers were taking care of most of the field work and I felt I would get to do more field work if I were allowed to work for my brother-in-law Norvan Just who was renting a quarter section of land in southwest Minnesota. I also thought my younger brothers would be given the opportunity to do more around the farm if I wasn't there. My dad wasn't really in favor of it but he gave in and let me go

My junior year I attended Okabena High School in Okabena, MN. It was larger than Varina as they had about 100 students in high school. We were closer to Brewster, MN so I met some of the kids there. Also we went to Heron Lake on Saturday nights to do some shopping.

I bought a 1939 Chevy business coupe. Cars back then needed to be overhauled every once in a while. I decided to do this and Norvan helped. We went to the parts house to get a overhaul kit for a 1939 Chevy and nothing fit. We found out it had a GMC 1948 truck engine. The previous owner had soupped it up and used it for racing. It had about twice the power as a regular 1939. Some days I would the bus with Jerry but most the time I drove to school. One day I was going to Lakefield to get some parts. The road going into Lakeville was down a steep hill at the edge of town with a stop sign at the bottom. I hit the brakes and there was none. I begin downshifting and had that working when I hit Main Street. I was going slow when I hit the curb but I bounced over it and almost hit the store window. I got excited and back up—yes all the way across the street, finally got parked and got the part and took it easy going home. Wasn’t smart enough to buy some brake fluid and fill it up.  That was one of life’s learning experiences.

We had a lot of rats on the farm—we torn the corn crib down and used the wood on a new hog house. Norvan had a table saw and I used some of the lumber to make a small kitchen cabinet for Norine for Christmas.  We also built a garage on that farm. The farm was owned by the Heide and Eikes—I didn’t know that  they were our relatives.

One day at Norvan’s grandfather Fred Hammer drove up in his Model “T” and stayed until his sons from Kansas City came up and loaded up the Model “T” and took him with them. I think they were afraid Grandpa was going to give Norvan all his money. I don’t know if he had any or not.

Norvan bought and Farmall MD and we used that to do most of the farming. He had a F-14 which is like the F-12, We put and overdrive in it and it had 6 speeds forward and 2 in reverse. It had a top speed of 10 miles per hour. We were also moving from two-row equipment to 4 row equipment. We could take out fences when we turned around at the end of the rows. I did get to do most of the field work and I enjoyed that.

We had a 6-foot Allis Chambers combine. We decide to but a Wisconsin V-4 engine on. We had some old windmill iron. A welder loaned us his portable welder and we went to work. We burned up the directions about half way through but we did get it working. I didn’t learn until I took welding in college how dangerous it was to weld galvanized metal. It puts off a lot of toxic gas. We were lucky we worked outside.

I was 16 years old when this event took place. I was a Junior in High School and had scheduled all my classes in the morning so I could leave at noon and work on the farm. This was interesting in the fact I was only counted for a half day, so out of 180 days I was absent 90 days--but never missed a class.

I had watched my dad plant corn. The corn in the 40's was checked (planted by wire). The rows were spaced 42 inches lengthwise and crosswise. The Norvan's corn planter was an International Harvester, 4-row, pull type. We pulled it with a F-14 Farmall tractor. The planter wire had buttons every 42 inches. The buttons tripped a mechanism that dropped the kernels of corn. The planter wire was anchored at each end of the field with a stake made for that purpose. When you came to the end of the field you had to release the wire, turn the planter around, get off the tractor and reset the stake. If you reset the stake to the proper position and drove at the proper speed the corn dropped in the proper place to line up crosswise across the field.

It was a nice spring day and Norvan was planting corn when I left for school When I came home at noon I was informed he was in the hospital. He was having problems with hemorrhoids so the doctor operated. He had a field about half planted and I knew it was important to get the corn planted. I asked him who he was going to get to finish the planting and he said for me to do it.

I had never planted corn before and I told Norvan that we would never be able to cross cultivate the field. He said that didn’t matter and to get the corn in the ground. So I went home and did my best. I did all the things I had seen others do. I dug up the kernels and checked the alignment--made adjustments. The corn grew-but about eight rows in the middle of the field did not line up with the rest of the field. The middle of the field was not too far off alignment and we were able to cross cultivate with a little more effort at that part of the field.

The farmers are proud of their planting techniques. They would drive down the road very slowly and check the neighbors fields for straightness of rows and from the side for cross checking and finally diagonally for equal spacing of the rows. Everything should be in alignment. I was fortunate that the field I planted was in the middle of the section and not near any roads. In the flat lands of Iowa and Minnesota they still drive slowly and check the straightness of the rows.

Today with contour farming and chemical cultivation there is no need to cross cultivate as the purpose of cross cultivation was to control weeds. It is amazing at how clean we kept the fields clean of weeds.

Iowa (1950-1951)

I went back to Varina to finish high school. That was because if I didn’t they wouldn’t have enough boys for a basketball team. Seemed like a good reason at the time. Not too much excitement at the Varina School. We just did our own work—we could have helped each other, but we didn’t. After school I went back to Minnesota for the summer.

Lackland AFB, TX (Dec 1951-Jan 1952)

JohnLAFB Since I was 18 in July I went to Lakeville, MN to register for the draft. I decided to enlist in the USAF before I was drafted. I have a deformed chest (pigeon breast) and I knew I would fail the physical and they would send me home. The next thing I knew I was on a troop train headed for Lackland AFB, Texas. We traveled by train from Minneapolis to San Antonio, TX and then by bus to Lackland AFB, We were given our uniforms and sent all our civilian clothing and stuff home in a box. We were taught the military procedures. We were also given a lot of tests to see what and if we had any abilities. After six weeks there was a drill completion and our squadron won this and we were free the next two weeks to do what we wanted before shipping out to technical school.   

Scott AFB (Jan 1952-Sept 1952)

JohnSAFBWhile at Scott AFB we did a lot of Kitchen Police (KP). Before we arrived at Scott AFB the students did KP once a week for 6 weeks. They said it affected their learning. They decided the airmen waiting for classes to start would pull KP every other day and Detail every other day. What they meant was that we would alternated between KP and Detail with no days off. They were redoing the downtown area in St. Louis, MO. So most of our Detail was going to St. Louis and getting bricks from the torn down buildings and bringing them back to the base and building sidewalks. We were assigned guard duty, furnace duty (keeping furnaces and hot water heaters fired in six barracks). These duties were usually for two hour shifts.

After we started classes started and they decided that the KP every other day was too depressing so they decided the students would pull KP once a week for 6 weeks. After six weeks they decided that it was not good to do it the first six weeks because those students were really getting depressed so they decided the next six weeks would do it. It followed us all 36 weeks. After we graduated and were awaiting shipment out. They decided the airmen awaiting shipment would have KP every other day and Detail every other day. My new assignment was Alaska

Alaska (Oct 1952-Oct 1954)

JohnEAFB We went to Oakland CA to board a ship for Alaska. While we waited there was Detail every day. Some of it was policing up (cleaning up) the area—just picking up trash. Other times it was painting, landscaping, etc and every once in a while KP. KP was not a punishment it was a privilege. Finally our ship came in and we marched to the dock. We marched passed a couple of very big ships and then we keep marching and decided our ship hadn’t arrived yet. We looked over the dock and there it was. A Victory ship, a converted tanker, that was used to carry the troops home from WWII. It was the Aiken Victory. We were stacked 5 deep. We left the harbor and I was sea sick. A friend told me to keep my stomach full—but all that did was feed the fish. The trip took 7 days and about the 4sth day out we ran into a hurricane with 40 ft swells. Every time we went over a wave one the props came out of the water and really sped up. We kind of hit the big waves sideways and I asked one of the sailors why we didn’t hit them head on and he said if we did the ship would break in half. One night during all this we had a life jacket drill and were on deck during the storm hanging on ropes to keep from being washed overboard. The next morning we complained and said that was a terrible time to have a life jacket drill. The answer was, “That was no drill” we hit the critical angle of 45 degrees twice while we were on deck. The critical angel is the angle at which the ship capsizes.

We finally arrived in Alaska and on solid ground. We took a train to Elmendorf AFB and begin more training on the equipment we would be using out at the radar sites. Meanwhile there were always the Detail assignments. Firing furnaces and guarding warehouses. One night while I was out in the boonies I walked around the building and there stood a big moose—I just eased myself back around the building and he went back into the woods—I didn’t challenge him.

Alaska was supposed to have a lot of snow, but we didn’t have only about 6” on the ground. They were building new barracks and had this huge pile of dirt (20-30 ft high), so we climbed to the top and took pictures. We didn’t want to disappoint the folks back home.

One day going to the class I saw an aircraft mechanic working in sub-zero weather on an airplane. I was glad they decided I needed to go to be a radio mechanic.

The 10th Radio Relay Squadron was a special group attached directly to the Alaskan Air Command. We had 5-6 airmen attached to each radio site. We were responsible to link all the radar sites back to the command center at Anchorage. We were using WWII equipment designed for 30 miles and we were going for 300 miles.

I was assigned to an outpost on the Aleutian Islands. There were no roads so we flew in on a C-47. This was my first airplane ride-we had parachutes strapped on and the C-47 barely cleared the mountain tops—and yes, I was airsick. It was so foggy you couldn’t see the engines, but we landed anyway.

We had the equipment on the floor of the radio site and there was no communications with our next site. We made a call every hour—but no response. We tuned the equipment according to the technical manuals. We were there about two weeks and one night I heard the next station very faintly. I begin tweaking the tuning coil and was able to get pretty good contact with the next sight. I instructed the rest of the group how to tweak the system and we were operational. We could handle four voice channels or 96 teletypes on each transmitter. We had to use one of the voice channels for maintenance.

We were also the antenna test site so we got a lot of practice with different type antenna. One of our first experiences was a nice summer day and soon we had on our water proof clothing and we covered up. Out in the tundra we stirred up the mosquitoes. They were the biggest I had ever seen—any tight clothing they would drill right through it.

We had a 50 watt transmitter and then we got a 250 watt—made a little difference. Then we got 1000 watt transmitter. Things were going well until a mouse got into the transmitter and knocked us off line. We didn’t know what happened but it killed the mouse and a couple days later is smelled up and shorted out the transformer and burned it up. It was going to take 6 weeks to get a replacement. Meanwhile we were operating on 250 watts. My sergeant Alan decided to take the burned out transformer apart—so we did and we repaired it and got it back on line—it would last a few days and then short out again. We had it apart several times before the replacement come in

Once a big raven landed on the antenna and we thought it would break the element off so Alan took the M-2 carbine and was going to shoot it. He missed and shot off the element. We had to climb the 90 foot pole to repair it.

We worked six hour shifts—7 days a week, we didn’t have anywhere to go so it was no big deal. We were at the site for 18 months because we had a military radio station that played music and gave us the news. We also had a short wave radio at the transmitter site and could pick up some stations from the states if the skip was right. So we could get some news about ball games six hours before the rest of the troops. They delayed the broadcasts for it would match our local times. One day we told on of the other airmen about a game, the score, winning plays and when it happened like we said he want to scoop every day so he could place bets—we didn’t help him in that endeavor.

We had a 2 mile long runaway which was an emergency landing site for Anchorage. The local pilots (bush pilots) were also allowed to use it. We saw a lot of interesting small planes. One looked like the Spirit of St. Louis. Naknak was small village and was powered by a 1000 watt generator. There was a salmon cannery there but it only operated for a few weeks during the salmon run. They were the King Salmon and we caught one that weighted around 75 lbs. I held it up by the gills and it tail still toughed the ground. There were also some rainbow trout in the river. We seen a lot of flakes of gold and though we had really found something—it was fool’s gold. There were also some abandoned mines in the area. If we caught any fish the cooks would cook them for us. You do not fillet the King Salmon; you just cut them like steaks.

Our building was about two miles from the main base and we had to get military drives licenses to drive the jeep (2x2). They licensed us for 6x6’s so we could drive some good sized vehicles. The first time we went to the motor pool to get a jeep they didn’t have one. They looked at out license and gave us a 6x6. We climbed into it and got it running. We figured if we got it out of the motor pool we would figure out how to drive it. We went out of the motor pool very slow—probably super granny. We learned to double clutch and learned all the gears

Altus AFB (Sep 1954-Dec 1956)

Cal Poly (Jan 1957-Jun 1961)

Boeing (Jul 1961-Jul 1991)

Retirement (Jul 1991- )