Fritjiof and Emma

The following are bits and pieces about Fritjiof and Emma and their lives in North Dakota and Minnesota. The conversations with Doris were in 2006. Those with Poppa (Fritjiof) were in 1971.

Fritjiof Backman and the Backman farm in Dale, Eglon Township, Minnesota

Hawley MN

The Star shows the location of Hawley and Dale Minnesota. Fargo is just across the border in North Dakota.

Dale MN

Map of Dale Minnesota - site of Backman farm.

Poppa (Fritjiof):

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.
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.

Poppa seemed to be very mechanically inclined from early on.

Doris - August said that my dad worked on farm equipment for years and wanted to get into automobiles. He even took a job in Fargo so that he could go to the North Dakota Agricultural School that was there. There must have been another name for it. What it was was teaching about mechanics and repairs I guess. Apparently this fellow, who had an auto agency, hired my dad to have the repair part to it. Apparently, my dad took maybe one course through the North Dakota Tech. School that was in Fargo.

Auto Garages, Lake Park 1913-1917, Fargo 1918-1930

Johnson and Backman garage in Fargo

Johnson and Backman garage in Fargo - August Backman is 2nd from right

Poppa worked in a garage in Lake Park starting in the fall of 1913. He worked there 4 years. During that time, he had room and board at Mollerstrom's restaurant (which had rooms upstairs) for $30 per month.

April 15, 1918, Poppa started work for Doyle Motor Company in Fargo, ND. He worked on Overland cars six days a week. His wages started at $22.50 per week. From 1918 until he and Emma were married, Poppa stayed at Dahlgren's in Fargo.

Poppa: 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.

Fritjiof and Emma

Fritjiof and Emma

Fritjiof and Emma (Oberg) Backman

Fritjiof and Emma

Fritjiof and Emma at a picnic - Could this be the picnic at which they met?

Conversation with Doris in 2006:

Chris – Your parents were married in 1920 in Fargo. Your mother was the ripe old age of 26 and your dad was 34. Do you know any stories about how they met?
Doris - Yes. Apparently my mother was a skilled seamstress. She worked in Moody's Department Store as an alterations lady. A lot of people bought garments that were tacked together and they had the alterations lady personally fit it to them. Men's suits came partly put together and so men's tailors were all over. One summer, Moody's had a company picnic for all of the employees. My aunt Ida needed a ride. Ida was in the alterations department also. The story goes that Ida said that there was this kind of pretty Swedish girl that is in my department. She doesn't have a way to get to the picnic.
Chris – Ida the matchmaker!
Doris - Yes. We have some pictures that look like picnicking around lakes in southern Minnesota that may be that picnic.
Chris – I noticed that Ida never got married. She was good at finding a match for somebody else.
Doris - But not for herself. I don't know if she was too picky or didn't start looking until she was too old. A lot of guys didn't want to marry someone in their late 20's or anything because, it was a tough life.
Doris - That's what my dad told me – that it was Ida that played the matchmaker there.
Chris – Well, thank you Ida!
Doris - After the marriage, he and Emma lived in an apartment over a grocery store in downtown Fargo. They lived there until 1921 when Poppa built a house at 1329 10th Ave. South in Fargo. He started in May - had a man with a team dig out a basement. Poppa put in the footing and had a man lay the concrete block basement. They moved in October 1, 1921.
Doris - In 1923, Doyle offered Andy Johnson and Poppa a chance to take over the shop. They ran the shop until 1930. That was when Doyle closed his Hudson-Essex dealership - the result of the depression. This put their shop out of business.

1930 - a very bad year

Emma died May 2, 1930.

Doris – I don't remember anything about that initial move – after my mother died. My understanding is that she had been in a hospital for a long time and really had drained Poppa's finances. He kept working. That was the only thing - that auto agency – it was a luxury car – equivalent to a Cadillac agency today. It was called Johnson and Backman and I remember using that stationary to scribble on as a kid. Who this Johnson was (I believe it was Andy Johnson - not a relative), I don't know. But, Poppa was the Backman. When the agency couldn't sell any more cars – nobody had any money left after the fall of 29. Then, of course, there was no need for that agency to have a repair type place there. Besides, they were selling the building.

Hawly 1933-1936

In 1933, Poppa bought a house in Hawley.

Doris – I remember my dad taking the money (and he told me this later) from the sale of the auto shop building and that is what bought the piece of property in Hawley – in this little suburb of Hawley – that somebody doing research on it – what it was there – called “Little Stockholm. This east side of the Buffalo River that went right through Holly. My dad built a barn-like structure that, I remember, had a concrete floor. He had a lot of his tools from Fargo there. He would take automobiles or trucks that had been wrecked. He wanted the frame for the wheels and the transmission and so forth. He would make farm wagons that he would sell for about $15 only. I know that they didn't have a very high price on them. He was ingenious and made do with every little scrap he could get. I can remember one time that his cousin (actually, first cousin once removed – Mathilda Anderson) Tilly Anderson and her sister or her cousin had a dress shop in Holly. It was when the automobiles had kind of a little floating ball that would tell you how much gasoline you had left. I remember the he got all of twenty-five cents for fixing that for Tilly. And I thought, twenty five cents – is that all you got for all (that work)? Maybe it was cut-rate because she was a relative. I remember twenty-five cents because somebody told me that he got about five dollars for a farm wagon. After other expenses, he got about five dollars for his labor. This piece of property was not a productive farm property – left over from that big glacier from Lake Aggassi. All through that area of Minnesota are sand dunes and gravel bars left over from the melting glacier coming down from Canada. Poppa had two levels of productivity of this land. He had the high land that the house was on. Then sloped off to the north where this little Buffalo River had an elbow in it – it had very choice silt. So, that was productive there. I remember the front half – down to highway 10 where the little Buffalo River joined another one – they eventually went up to the Red River of the north – the one that went on up to Canada – that was all gravel and rock. I can understand why it didn't have any lawn. It had a very sturdy, two-story house on it. No indoor plumbing. There was a toilet out in the back. If one of us kids had to go at night, we had a chamber pot in the house. Somebody took care of it in the morning – I didn't have to do that. I remember thinking – Forrest and Olga Cameron (Olga – Poppa's sister) they had the first indoor toilet in their house. I was probably four or five when I stayed there when I had the measles. I had gotten them from Phyllis. Minnie had me stay with Forrest and Olga. So, the house, in order to have a bath on Saturday night, Poppa had to put, in those days you could have round or oval wash tubs. We were having this round wash tub in the kitchen on the floor. There was a pump at the sink. But, the water had to be heated on the wood stove. Because I was a girl and I was cleanest, I could have clean water. Then Fred came. Then next would be Donald. I guess he would be the last one there. I don't know when my dad ever bathed. Probably after Donald even because he was a very private man. I can remember the layout of that house – I could draw you pictures of how it was because I was strongly interested in how it worked because other people had houses that were hap-hazard. But, this one was a nice, sturdy house.
Chris – Was it there when he moved in?
Doris – Yes. He did not build it.

In July 1936, Poppa was out to Washougal and put $100 to hold a 40 acre ranch up on Forest Hill. After staying there a short time, Poppa built the house in Midland Acres. Moved in Nov. 1936