On the Farm: The Delano Farm

This is me on the right with my little brother Jimmy, sitting in the dirt in back of the old Delano farm house.

As I wrote previously, I lived on a farm near Montevideo, Minnesota when I was about six and seven years old, and then later when I was about ten and eleven. In between those years we lived on a small farm near Delano, Minnesota. I have no memory of school there (3rd and 4th grade), but I have plenty of other memories.

The house was quite small and rickety—much smaller and older than the large Montevideo house. The ceiling leaked, the walls creaked, and the inside of the walls were infested with mice. We would hear them all the time. Though my mom and sister hated them, me and Mark had fun killing them with mouse traps. We would get at least one a day.

Another house adventure was the attic. Dad did some repairs to the attic and to the steps leading up there, but it still looked like an attic. And that’s where us kids would sleep. It wasn’t cold up there like the Montevideo farm was; but it was musty, and we could hear the mice; and once in a while we would even see and hear bats flying back and forth over our heads while we hid under the covers. That was scary. I think my mom felt sorry for us, but my dad didn’t seem to care.

Oh, I’m sure he cared, but I know he had so much on his mind. We were not making it too well financially, and I suppose he was always thinking of any way possible to make more money to hold the farm and the family together. And I know mom wasn’t happy in that house, and any suggestions she gave dad made him angry. I don’t know if it was her idea or not, but I remember that dad worked part time at a macaroni factory in town. I remember that he brought leftover macaroni home, probably swept up from the factory floor, and fed it to the pigs. He actually made a pig slop out of it; he mixed the raw macaroni with feed and sour milk. Oh, those pigs just loved it! They would go crazy over it! In fact, when we fed them, we had to be really careful, because when they would see us heading their way with a pail of slop, they would come running and squealing. If we didn’t quickly dump it in their trough and get out of the way, they would run us over.

We had a few acres of farm land, mainly corn; and we had one or two cows, some chickens, and about 30 pigs, as I mentioned. They were penned up only about 20 yards from the house. I remember that every time my grandpa and grandma came over to visit, they would always be holding their nose—literally. They couldn’t stand the pig smell.  But I didn’t mind at all. I guess you get use to it; and I really sort of liked that farm smell.

I have such vivid memories of that little farm, especially the back yard. Not too far from the back of the house, across from the pig pen was an old windmill, used to pump water. And it worked! Then not too far from the windmill there was a row of fruit trees; mainly apple trees, but also a pear tree. Mom would sometimes make apple pies from the apples.  And I remember, she would also make chokecherry jam from the chokecherry trees (pictured), which were scattered all over the farm. Mom was really good at making stuff. Besides making pies and jam, she baked bread—which was always wonderful.

We had one of those old-fashioned telephones that you had to crank. And it was a party-line phone—so you had to share it with the neighbors. We didn’t have many neighbors. But I remember up the gravel road, about a quarter mile, was a farm on the right with a crab apple tree and geese walking all over in the yard. Across from that farm, on the left, was an underground house with a flat roof that was about three feet above the ground level.

Then, a little way from that house was an old farm house, more like a shack, where two old bachelors lived, and where they often sat out on their back steps. We liked hanging around them, listening to their stories and watching them whittle their sticks. And they had a distinctive smell of tobacco and beer. Yea, they were a couple of happy, carefree guys, and I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like them!

This is me on the gravel road in front of the house.

On the Farm: The Farmhouse and Surroundings

This is our tractor and barn in the background. I don’t know some of these people, but I think that’s my sister behind the tractor steering wheel. She looks to be about two or three, so that would put me at one, or maybe not even born yet.

My most pleasant childhood memories, up to about age 12, was my life on the farm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we moved around a lot as a family, so it has been hard to keep all the memories straight in my mind, as far as how long we lived at each place. But the farm near Montevideo, Minnesota was the most memorable to me. And I think we lived there at three different times: from my birth to about age thee (which I don’t remember at all), then from age 7 to 8, and then also at a later time when I was about 11 or 12. In between those times we lived at 3 or 4 different houses. Don’t ask me why. But the farm near Montevideo was by far the best place, the best farm.

The Montevideo farm house and buildings were located in an area where, they say, use to be an Indian camp. If you were to look down from above on the area, you would see the farm house and buildings in the middle, surrounded by a winding creek. Then, beyond the creek, in a larger circle, the elevation steeply rises until it reaches the top, where it levels off into beautiful alfalfa and oat fields.

Actually, the creek only goes three-quarters of the way around, to leave room for the long narrow driveway which went out to the main gravel road. To the right, a little way down the road there is a bridge, under which the creek runs. To the left of the driveway the road sharply ascends and then branches off to the left and right to other nearby farms. (I should explain that none of the buildings, including the house are still there. I’m not sure about the driveway, but I’m pretty sure the creek remains. Yes, the last time I looked at a satellite map the creek was still in the same general area.)

The large, dirty white house was built on a small hill. The area was level in front, but lower in the back. It was a two-story house, but in spite of its size it didn’t have many rooms. The kitchen and dining area were all one room. The rest of the main floor was open with just one small adjoining room, like maybe a pantry or a sewing room.

And there was no bathroom in the house, but we had a three-hole outhouse outside; and in the wintertime we used a large pot with a toilet seat on top. We put Lysol in it to cover the stink. Nobody complained.

We also didn’t have running water. Oh, there was plenty of water, but not in the house. We had to walk down by the barn to get it from an artesian well. Hauling the water was usually my job. For a little guy, it was a big chore, especially since it was a long way to go, about 60 or 70 yards.

The second story of the house was where us kids would sleep. It was a large open area. Okay, I guess it was really the attic. The rafters were showing and nothing was painted; it was all bare wood. I suppose for a country house it was normal. Anyway, in the winter time it was cold up there, with only one small vent to let the warm air come up from below. I remember in the morning, after getting up, we would huddle around that opening to get warm.

The barn (pictured above) was a great place to hang out, especially in the morning when the cows were all in their stanchions, eating hay and being milked. Ah, to see those contented cows gave me a feeling that all was well in the world. Our dog brownie and the cats hung out there too, waiting to get some fresh cow’s milk. Everyone was happy in the barn, and busy. The cows had to be milked and fed; and later, after they went out to pasture, the gutters, full of manure, had to be cleaned out—scooped out and hauled outside. We had nothing fancy. We just wheeled it out the barn door into a wheel barrel and dumped it outside in a big pile. Later we loaded some of it up in a manure spreader and spread it around on the fields. We even used it on the garden—and boy did that work. We had the best watermelons you ever saw—until the pigs got into it. But that’s another story.

As with most farms, we had a silo adjacent to the barn, which we used mostly to store silage. When it was empty, sometimes we climbed up the ladder on the silo, even though we weren’t supposed to. I don’t think any of us ever got all the way up; it was a long way up.

Above the lower part of the barn, where the cows were milked and fed, was the hay loft. It was a great place to play. But I can’t remember playing there much; we had too much work to do—the chores! I will get to that later.

I want to tell you about the other places. Sort of across from the house was a shed we called a grainery, where oats were stored—mounds and mounds of oats.  Sometimes we would jump around in there and get buried up to our waste. And sometimes we would see mice in there, crawling around in the oats. I never liked seeing mice…anywhere, except in a mouse trap.

Between the house and the barn, we planted a large vegetable garden. My dad and mom planted it, and it was my job to pull the weeds. Some days I worked at it for hours. I didn’t mind it too much, but my mom would feel sorry for me. I remember one time she said to me, “Oh, you’re such a good son, you’ll get your reward in heaven.” From that point on I started to think a lot about what heaven might be like. My mom probably wasn’t aware of it, but her words at that moment became a turning point in my life; and in just a few years I would give my life to Christ.

From the garden going toward the creek was a muddy pig pen—where I remember one time my sister jumped in and was coated with black mud from head to foot. I don’t know why she did that. And she was the smart one! Next to the pig pen was the chicken coop with chickens, and then down the hill to the left was a large rickety sheep barn. At one time we had, I think, over 500 sheep.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Next time I will tell you about the chores, mainly my chores.