Fred’s Nebraska " his memories live on forever
by Jack H. Gillette
In about six months, he will be 90 years young, but some of his memories are as if they were yesterday. Fred W. Alles of Greeley, Colo., was born to immigrant parents, Germans from Russia, in Lincoln, Neb. He has lived in or near Greeley since 1928, but he still cheers for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Fred’s older sister, Katherine, married and moved with her husband to a farm between Sutherland and Paxton, Neb. When he was about 14, he went to visit her for the first time for the summer. He enjoyed going there, and he thinks his parents were glad for the breather, since he was their youngest and quite active.
During one of his visits, the entire family became sick with the flu. Katherine’s father-in-law and Fred kept the place going until they got well. During the sickness, Fred had to ride a horse into Paxton for medicine. They had a car, but he couldn’t drive it. The medicine was helpful, but the youngest child, a boy, still died.
Fred worked while he was there, staying long enough to help with the harvest. When asked if he was paid for his work on the farm he said, “Yes, room and board and experience.” He was a city kid and had a great deal to learn about dryland farming. He had been on irrigated farms where he had hoed and thinned beets, but on his sister’s farm, it was a different story.
He remembers driving their John Deere Model D tractor. The tractor and the combine had wide steel wheels with lugs. He said they were needed to keep from sinking in the sandy soil, although it was possible to get bogged down, especially if you didn’t keep going around the corners. The combine was equipped with a Model A engine to operate the threshing section.
The main crops were wheat and corn. In the very early 1930s the price of corn hit bottom. Corn was heaped up on most every farm and could not be sold. Instead of selling the corn, it was used as fuel in the stoves. It made a good hot fire, Fred said. Some corn (maybe a lot) that wasn’t burned was used for bootleg whiskey, but that had been going on since the start of prohibition.
The farm was divided by Highway 30. North of the highway was the pasture land and south were the farm buildings and the farm ground. Part of Fred’s work was to ride horseback around the pasture fence lines and do any necessary repairs. This is where Fred learned to ride horses.
Horses were also still used for some of the farming. Fred remembers having to cultivate the corn field with four horses pulling the cultivator. The rows were about a mile and a quarter long. He made three rounds in the morning and two rounds in the afternoon, after which he still had to do the evening chores. The ride was very dull with the horses plodding along, knowing where they had to go. One day, he found that he had fallen asleep sitting on the cultivator. When the horses got to the end of the row they stopped and just stood there until he woke up.
After the second cultivation of the season, Fred had to take a wheat planter, pulled by one horse, to plant winter wheat in the 36-inch space between the corn rows. He rode another horse behind the planter, so he didn’t have to walk.
As far a recreation goes, Fred said it was mostly work, and everyone lived so far apart there wasn’t much socializing. They went to town about once a week.
That’s where they would see other neighbors and get the “latest” about everyone and exchange news.
When the Chautauqua group came to Paxton, Fred and the family got to go and enjoy the programs that were presented.
The farm was located between the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers. They put up hay along the South Platte and fished in the North Platte (that is, if you want to call it fishing, said Fred). The river was very low because of the construction of the dam for Lake McConaughy. Fred would take a three-tine pitchfork, stab it into the deeper water under the banks and almost every time pullout a catfish. Some of them were up to 2 feet long and heavy. They would fight hard to get off the pitchfork, but they soon wound up in the frying pan.
“They were good eating,” Fred reminisced.
Those summers on Katherine’ s farm seem to hold good memories for Fred, even though the work was hard and the days were long. He has lived in the Greeley area since 1928, but a part of his heart is still in Nebraska. I guess it always will be.