Appendices - Conversations with Fritjiof Backman
This is a transcript of taped conversations between Doris and her father, Fritjiof Backman, in August of 1971. He was 85 years old at that time. Parts of this show up elsewhere in these web pages. In those other places, there may be changes to reflect better guesses at "truth". However, this page is exactly as recorded and transcribed.
DK I have asked my dad to tell about things of early life and things that have happened in his life and about our family so that we will have a record of this.
FB This will be kind of a record as far as I can remember and my time begins when Cleveland was President of the United States. My earliest recollection is of the home we lived in. It was built of logs. It was, oh, about 18 by 20, one and one-half story, the top story was about 4 feet high at the sides. Of course, it was high enough for walking in the center. At the sides was where we had our beds. The house below had two windows -- one to the East and one to the South and the outside door was, oh, about four feet from the corner and there was a lumber shed on the outside of the door to protect the door and a porch. The chimney was in the West end. Of course, that's where the stove was -- a rather small cook stove that served for cooking, baking and heating the house, of course. And there was a dugout cellar below and a trap door and stairs to get down to the basement or -- to the cellar where the vegetables and potatoes were stored.
FB My parents came from Varmland, Sweden. My mother's parents immigrated -- came to Upper Michigan -- Negaunee and Ishpeming. And from there got to Minnesota where they homesteaded just East of Hawley. My father had also come to Upper Michigan and from there -- one winter in St. Paul. And from there he worked on the NP (Northern Pacific) when they were laying railroad going West. They were as far as Brainard and, no doubt, he walked up to where some uncles lived west of Lake Park. Then he homesteaded in Eglon Township where he built the log home and the other farm buildings. And, of course, broke ground for fields and started farming. He was good at building log houses so he built log houses and barns for other people at the time.
FB Our first school was the usual one-room school house. It had 16 seats -- the smallest seats in front and the larger at the back and quite often it was just about filled. And the water supply, of course, was -- a couple of boys came down to the farm and filled the water pail and it had the usual dipper.
FB My first teacher's name was Mrs. Storla (sp?) and her daughter lived at our home in a room that had been built as an addition on the west part of the house. So in those days taught all of the grades. Our playground was the road in front of the school because the school house was just a small jog in the fence on the side of the road. We were very fortunate to have so many good teachers. Emma Erickson was our second teacher and then up to l900 when Emma Carlson, a good friend of ours ever since she stayed at our place while teaching several terms of school. The teacher's pay was $50 a month and they were very happy to get that much.
FB In the early spring about the first work was to have the lumber wagon and I'd gather up all the rock that had been turned up by the plow the fall before in the fall plowing. And from there on when the weather moderated the fields were harrowed and seeded to grain. Then later on potatoes were planted -- about 2 acres of potatoes and cultivated with a one-horse cultivator. Haying would start usually the day after the 4th of July. And then for the next two or three weeks it was "haying time" --usually trying to provide two loads of hay for each grown farm animal -- cows and horses. And some extra for the sheep and smaller livestgock. Then came harvest. And when the fields were cut with the binder and shocked and when they were dried out -- usually in about two weeks, then in shock threshing there were about 8 or 9 farmers together in the shock _____________ as it was called. And that provided about l0 bundle teams and two grain teams. Of course, the threshing outfit had their own crew -- the engineer and separator man, fireman and the man to haul the water for the steam engine.
FB So when the fall work was done, it was about the time that there was frost and, sometimes, the lakes would freeze over with very nice ice and that's when young people would gather for skating until snow came and skating would not be any good any more.
FB Then, of course, when Christmas came there was Jul ______ _______. That's usually 6 o'clock in the morning and the second day of Christmas ________________. And this went on -- people had their company come in for dinner and so on-- the older people in the afternoon and the young people in the evening for enjoyment.
FB At first when I worked away from home one of the early jobs was firing steam engines. We fired with straw, of course, because that was cheap and plentiful. It was rather a strenuous job to keep up the steam for the steam gauge at l45 pounds and to keep the water level in the boiler just at the half-way mark. So a great deal depended on the fireman for the day's start of working. I usually got up at 4 o'clock in the morning, had a lantern and found my way out to the steam engine, cleaned the flues and fire box under the grates and so on and started the firing so I could blow the whistle at 7 o'clock when the first bundle teams pulled up to the separator. Those were long days for the men that hauled the bundles because they had to be out in the fields and have their load on and drive them up to the separator at 7 o'clock. So this kept going. Of course, there was a coffee break in the forenoon about 9 o'clock which was very welcome to everybody, and an hour at noon and then in the evening. They usually kept on until dark because the weather conditions might not be very good if it got too late in the season.
FB The crop was usually a mixed crop: there was the wheat -- that was the biggest part of the crop -- then there was oats and some farms had flax.
Now -- the threshing rigs were usually big steam engines and what they called a 36 inch separator. That was a separator that had a 36 inch cylinder. So it could handle anything that was pitched into it as fast as the men could pitch in when the straw was dry. The engine had large drive wheels -- usually, oh, about 6 to 8 feet tall and the engines I ran after I sort of graduated from fireman to engineer had -- it was a Reeves, the biggest one -- had 24 inch wide drive wheels with a l0 inch extention because it was necessary to have wide wheels because many places the ground was soft. And so with 8 foot high wheels and 34 inches wide -- it made quite a big machine. We also used that for steam plowing -- pulling 8 bottom plows.
DK Were they self-propelled?
FB Of course, they were self-propelled. Because the very earliest were small engines, they were pulled with a team from rig to rig. But these big ones, they pulled the separator and everything from one job to another.
FB The last crop to be harvested was potatoes -- the 2 acres of potatoes. But even so -- that small amount when we had to pick potatoes was quite a back-breaking job. So we were always glad when potato picking was over. The potatoes when they were ripe -- it was rather late in the fall -- they were turned up by the ordinary plow that we used for plowing the fields because that was before the days of potato diggers.
DK Then somebody came along and picked them out?
FB So then that meant that when a long row of potatoes was plowed up it was for us kids to have a basket and pick potatoes and put in sacks to be hauled to the basement for winter storage.
FB Then in winter time it was the time we had to haul wood. We had a piece of timber -- about l5 acres about 4 miles from our place. So when we went out there and got a load of logs on the sled -- it was almost a day's trip in the short winter days. Of course, they had to be sawed with a two-man saw for the big logs and the branches and so on cut so we'd be sure to have a full year's supply of wood -- mostly oak timber on that place. There was some ash and poplar but mostly oak and when that dried it was very good heating wood.
FB About that time -- oh, about what they called the "Gay Nineties" it was the time when the ambition of most anybody was to own a bicycle. So that was easier than walking anyway. When we went to Sunday School-- the Sunday School was in the church before services -- about l0 o'clock. So we walked the three miles to church and, of course, after services the older people were there and the kids got a ride home. Often we had company for Sunday dinner -- almost always my grandparents. They lived further west, so they were invited in so they spent the afternoon at our place. Or at other times we were invited out for Sunday dinner. In those days dinner was about one or two o'clock instead of 6, 7 o'clock as it is out here. So we enjoyed the afternoon. Kids would play together and the older people would have their discussions on different things.
FB About that time Father bought the organ that's still out at the farm. He bought that for $45 from Lawrence Pederson -- the man that had the farm where he organized the Children's Home. That farm is about two miles west of Lake Park. There were many underprivileged children that grew up in that place. They had their education and also learned to do the farm work. So many fine citizens came from there. To have an organ in the house was quite a prestige because there were very few places where they had an organ.
The Sunday dinner usually was a chicken dinner or it was a smoked ham or beef. They also in winter time ground up and made meat balls which they put in jars and poured hot lard over them and that preserved the meat perfectly for winter use. There was no way for anyone to go to the meat market there like it is now. For dessert they probably had rhubarb pie or something. Rhubarb was very good and appreciated. In the fall there were a lot of wild plums. There were many places where they were large as tame plums. We used to go out to the woods about a mile or two southeast of our place and gather, each one of us, about a milk pail full of plums. That was made into sauce and preserves that lasted all winter. There were also wild grapes and chokecherries -- and that made wonderful wine! Either wild grape wine or chokecherry wine. Chokecherries were so called because eating chokecherries -- they were very tasty when they were plump and ripe but they puckered up the mouth inside -- that's why they were called chokecherries. That wine was served in small glasses very sparingly during the winter when there was company.
We always had a big garden because we had to be self-supporting as far as vegetables went. We raised cabbage, carrots, beets, and rutabagas. Of course, there were tomatoes also during the summertime and ground-cherries -- they made real good sauce. The cabbage in the fall was hung up in the basement from the ceiling joists and the carrots were put away in the sand as were the onions. Then we had lots of peas -- green peas -- all summer and in the fall the large patch of peas we left ripen and threshed it out in the wagon box -- shook out the vines and then the peas and chaff were gathered up and when there was a strong south wind we'd pour the peas with the chaff -- holding it up above a tub and the chaff being light would blow off so we had all clean peas in the tub. Sometimes we'd raise a bushel or two for winter use. When they were soaked in the evening and cooked for soup next day they were just delicious.
DK Did you also do beans that way too?
FB We raised beans also the same way. We had a great variety of beans. Some for summer use and some for dried beans for winter use. When we needed flour we'd take, oh, a small load of wheat in to the grist mill. They had one in Lake Park where we usually went. And from a bushel of wheat we got 32 pounds of flour, 8 pounds of bran and 3 - 4 pounds of what they called midlings.
DK That was made into bread then?
FB Of course. Home grown wheat and baked like the good farm women knew how to bake bread -- it was delicious! It was far different from the bakery bread of today. It was more firm and nutty flavor. Of course, we had to churn our own butter in dash churns. And of course we had a small flock of chickens so we had our own eggs.
DK What about social life?
FB The big social event of the summer was the Mid-summer Picnic -- usually at the church but many times they decided to have it at different farmplaces. There was even one year at our home. And, of course, then a week later there was the Fourth of July when the small towns all put on celebrations. Or, at least, Hawley and Lake Park would alternate so there would be a good attendance at either place. My first recollection is that of a platform where the band was. In the very early days there were even Civil War veterans in their blue uniforms -- probably five or six. Each town, of the small ones, had a very good band because that was their biggest enjoyment to get together and play the band. Of course, there were no cars in those early days.
Then there was the event of going to Fargo for the State Fair once each summer. And then, maybe, once a year there was the big circus -- Barnum and Bailey or Ringling Brothers' circus. And they were really big circuses in those days. A lot of elephants and when the big parade came down Broadway -- elephants first, then the big animal cages -- gilded and dressed up real nice -- the bands and the very last was the clowns' band which was very amusing. We saw the three-ring circus for fifty cents. We went there on the train in the early morning and came back in the late evening.
After leaving the farm I worked in a garage in Lake Park. There was not much choice of occupation in those days so I had to take what I could get. Then eventually I had a chance to get to Fargo to start working for Doyle Motor Company. They were selling Overlands at the time and then later on they changed and sold Hudson-Essex. So then about l923 another fellow who worked there and myself, we took over the Hudson-Essex service that we had until l930 when Doyle quit so we were out of it also.
DK Tell me about how you met my mother.
FB In l920 there was a church picnic at a small town about 20 miles south of Fargo and that's where I met the children's mother Emma Oberg. So we were married in l920. Of course, in l930 sickness set in so that terminated that. After that I bought the place in Hawley -- on the east side of the river there -- at that time they called it "Stockholm". And that's where we lived while the kids were small and went to school.
DK How did you decide to move to Washougal in l936?
FB Then I saw no future in staying there for any of us so I made the trip alone West in July and located the farm where there was a good house and I invested a hundred dollars to hold it until we came out. And luckily I did because I went back and prepared for moving West -- bought a truck and then we loaded on the most necessary items on the truck -- leaving the rest and made our way west. It took us about l0 days but we finally got there. Then we had this house on the ranch to move into -- but I decided against going through with the deal so I built the house in Washougal where we lived while the three -- Donald, Doris and Fred -- went through the grades and high school. And from there on they were on their own. So as each one graduated and they left. I was then working at the twine factory.
My first work after getting there [Washougal] was in the following spring and was carpenter work. So that kept us in food and clothes and necessaries. Then I worked a month or so at the Woolen Mill. But I found a better job at McLaughlin Heights, Vancouver, where buildings were built for the shipyard workers. So I stayed with them during the summer. Then in the fall of l942 I got a job at the Paper Mill in the machine shop where I stayed then until l945. This was during the Second World War. And from there I was at the Twine Factory for four years until they moved to Vancouver, Washington, in the shipyard building. It made it quite far to be driving back and forth so I went to Seattle where I have been ever since.
DK Tell me about the trip out in l936. FB Coming out, we left Hawley the llth day of August, l936. And, of course, with the loaded truck and all that we had to come by easy stages -- Valley City, the first stop because of a late start. From Valley City to Medora -- of course, that is spectacular Bad Lands -- Teddy Roosevelt's town. And from Medora to Billings where the weather was very hot and with the hot weather and lots of vegetation and irrigation -- it smelled like boiling cabbage.
From Billings to Butte was the next stop and from Butte to Thompson Falls went very good. So from Thompson Falls we remember having dinner [noon] in Newport, Washington. And then in the afternoon we got as far as Ritzville. And from Ritzville we went down through Pasco and to Goldendale. But outside Goldendale, coming up a long hill, the pinion shaft bearing went out. So getting towed into Goldendale, it delayed us two days while I made the repair. And from Goldendale the final leg of the trip to the farm house on that ranch I had bargained for.
Deciding not to go through with the deal for the ranch, I went down to Washougal and bought a piece of land which was a very good move to make. In the late summer and fall I built the house which was ready enough to move into from the ranch so we had our first Thanksgiving dinner in the new house.
With our moving out here it made so many changes for many of us -- because Richard came with us out and , eventually, Winnie came out and they were married. And also, my sister Minnie and her Alice came to Portland. And with the many houses I built, it made a lot of changes for a lot of people.
Washougal, of course, is just a small town and it dates back from the time of Lewis and Clark. On their way West they stopped off before proceeding to Astoria. Washougal at the time we were there was not very progressive but they had a Woolen Mill where about a hundred and fifty people worked. And then many of them worked at the Paper Mill, just two miles to the west. So there wasn't much unemployment and that's why it looked good to me to settle there. Schools were quite good so they all got through the grades and high school and from there chose their own way to go.
After moving to Seattle in winter time there was time to relax some. At one time Doris lived in Oakland so I went there for a lengthy visit. And then when they lived in Hayward I was there two winters, I think it was. Then Fred was in Monterey one year so I went there for a lenghty visit and also when he was in San Diego I was there twice during the time when he was stationed down there. So I went with him over to Coronado where they had their Navy base and saw the big carriers. I was able to visit on the big carrier.
DK Tell me about your trip to Sweden.
FB Then in l957 when I mentioned taking a vacation they suggested and I agreed that a trip to Sweden would be interesting -- to see where my folks came from and how people lived there.
So I made arrangements for a trip -- getting to New York by plane. In those days there was a slower "prop" plane -- where it was enjoyable riding because it was like a sight-seeing tour all the way. They flew not so fast or so high and I could even take pictures out the window and it was a real pleasure to see the country all the way.
Left Seattle about 11 o`clock, picked up some more passengers at Portland, got into Minneapolis at daylight, and from there saw the country all the way to New York, and stayed overnight at the Commodore and the next day boarded the Gripsholm for Gothenberg and got to Gothenberg 8 days later. It was a very enjoyable ride on that ship. I met many interesting people who were all going tourist class, which is very informal. When I got to Gothenberg I rode a train for Amal -- to the only persons I knew in Sweden -- Martin and Mrs. Hult where I made my first stop -- and from there I traveled around quite a bit. Martin Hult and I went to Oslo one day riding the bus and another time down on the train to a landing place where there was an excursion boat going up the Dalsland Canal which goes through some beautiful scenery. That canal was built in the middle of the 19th Century by Nels Ericson, the brother of John Ericson that designed the Monitor in the Civil War days. It was marvelous engineering because the gates were still operated by hand. After all these years they still worked perfectly.
Then I traveled alone up north to Sunne where Selma Lagerof's home is preserved as a museum just as it was in the days when she lived there and wrote the books.
And later on went to Stockholm where I was fortunate enough to get a good guide and saw the most interesting places of Stockholm. Old Stockholm, for instance, with its churches, centuries old, museums and even parts of the Royal Palace which was open to the public.
Sweden, of course, is a beautiful country which is forests and lakes. I got acquainted with some Ericsons that lived about 2 miles out in the country where I often went and they were doing the oat harvest in those days -- partly with an old McCormick mower and also cut the grain with a scythe.
The homes over in Sweden -- especially the older homes -- could stand a lot of improvement. For instance, the plumbing was very crude. Also about the housing -- a permit had to be gotten from the city government and the floor plan had to be approved. And, of course, the number of people that were going to be living in the house governed the size of the house they were permitted to build. Even the color of the house had to be according to state control. With the advance in electricity it was surprising that at that time there were so few TV sets that if a TV set was going in a store window it drew a big crowd watching from the outside. The TV in homes -- I did not see a single one. They had radio and that came from the state operated radio stations so they were very monotonous.
I went to Skanson, that's a park and a museum and an amusement place -- and they have the old houses that have been restored. It seemed that people must have been very short in stature in those days because even I had to bend over going through the doorways. Thresholds -- they were anywhere from 4 to 6 inches high, even between rooms.
In traveling on the boat and also all the way through Sweden at hotels there I found the food almost identical with the United States food and served the same way. In Sweden the hotel rates were very reasonable. And getting around in Stockholm the taxi drivers were very helpful. Because when I got there I tried the hotels and they were full so at the depot they had a list of available rooms for travelers, I picked out one and gave the address to the taxi driver who took me there. It was quite a distance and the street on where that apartment building was was Tiltigaten. I found that lower 3rd floor and came back down and paid off the taxi driver. From there the guide I had took me around and (I) saw the best parts of Stockholm. Also, by chance, Adolph Danielson knew of a man in Vallingby. That is one of the brand new towns built 3 years before I got there -- Where an Axel Larson had an export/import business. This was in the forenoon. I told him I knew that he was busy so if he would come to where I stayed we would go out for dinner that night. Which he did and he showed me around Stockholm's interesting places. And we had dinner around ll o'clock that night. He was very interesting and he liked to meet people also.
It was the same way in Sunne. There was a man who had a bookstore. I often went to visit with him. He liked to practice his English so we got along just fine.
While I am narrating this I am with Doris over in Wenatchee where Wayne and Doris had their 25th Wedding Anniversary -- an open house with many guests and friends. It was a beautiful day and very moderate temperature so everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. They also made good use of their pool in the back yard where so many enjoyed themselves. Of course, we had punch and there was a lot of visiting. Next we'll be going back to Seattle and finishing up on my clock building hobby -- Grandfather's clocks and table clocks and other hobby works, and see how the garden has gotten along and the corn will soon be ripe.
Last summer in June -- Donald, Janet, Eric and I went East to Minnesota for the Eksjo Centennial. The Church had its charter just 100 years earlier and it is still going strong. The new church was built in 1900 and one of the most beautiful churches in the state of Minnesota. It was so well built. It has had minimum repairs and the only improvements had (end of tape)