Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 5-27-13
In honor of Memorial Day week, and in memory of my great uncle Al who passed away earlier this year, I wanted to share some of his memories of growing up on a farm near Bennett, Colo. Al was drafted into the military in 1950 during the Korean War. He served two years stateside, but was never sent overseas to fight.
Al was born the third child of six in 1928. He grew up in a small two-bedroom farm house with his parents, four brothers and one sister. His strict Germany-born grandfather also lived with the family in a small extra bedroom they built onto the side of the house. The family didn’t have running water, indoor plumbing, electricity or a telephone until 1946.
Like nearly all Colorado farming families, Al’s family was poor in the 1930s when he was growing up. But, at that time almost all of their neighbors were poor too, so Al’s family didn’t know the difference and were mostly content.
They grew almost all of their own food and used a pressure cooker to can things they didn’t eat in a day or two. Generally they only bought flour, sugar and coffee at the local store. They butchered cattle, pigs, chicken and geese occasionally. When they slaughtered cattle they did it around sundown when it wasn’t too hot. The morning after butchering, when Al was done helping hand -milk the cattle, he’d often get a special treat for breakfast — liver and cream of wheat.
Al and his older brothers did a lot of work on the farm, but they also attended school. A school bus (which was actually just someone’s car) picked them up at their house. Since Al was the youngest of the three oldest boys attending school, he was responsible for holding the eggs in a container — and not breaking them in the car on the way to school. The boys sold the eggs to the local store – Westerman’s Grocery – and used the money to buy school lunch. Lunch cost between 20 and 25 cents a week per boy.
The family received a government subsidy of $6.00 a week for groceries and coal — an amount that Al remembered made it difficult to afford many groceries. Thankfully though, the family not only had farm products to use for food, but they also didn’t have the modern-day expense of entertainment. They played cards, visited neighbors or spent time outside to pass the time. They enjoyed sitting around their battery-operated radio and listening to their favorite program, Amos and Andy. Batteries for the radio were expensive, so they converted it to run off of a car battery. They had to take the battery to town to get it charged every week so they were without a radio for two or three days each week. Al was excited when his dad saved up enough money to buy a second car battery so they still had one to use when the other was getting charged.
One of Al’s most unforgettable times growing up was the 1935 Kiowa Creek flood. He was only 7 at the time, but he remembers it well. The railroad bridge on Kiowa Creek acted like a big dam during that rainy year. When the bridge broke, it unleashed a wall of water one-mile wide and 25 feet high. The water rushed from the creek at 35 miles an hour, wreaking havoc along the way and permanently altering the creek’s course.
At the time, Al and his family didn’t realize how bad the flood would be. They had no form of outside communication, so thankfully a man from a Bennett restaurant stopped by and warned the family. The kids moved slowly to gather things and get in the car and leave with their mother. Water was just starting to invade the farmyard when they left. Al’s dad stayed behind to get the tractor running. The water was knee-deep before he could get it started and drive off. Al’s grandpa also stayed behind, but wouldn’t leave the house and rode out the flood there. The house wound up being the only thing that survived the water. The barn, outbuildings and some cattle, chickens and pigs were washed away. The flood was so bad, that two years after it, Al’s older brothers found a body covered with brush and debris near their farm. The body wound up being from a woman in Elbert – 40 miles upstream – who had been washed away and was never found.
Al enjoyed his life on the farm, but had a bad case of hay fever, so when he grew up he moved to town and became a mechanical engineer. ❖