Thoughts on growing up in the Hillman countryside


The year is 1935, about the middle of the great depression, a time that changed the thinking and character of people for the rest of their lives. I am going to write a little bit about that time period as I heard and lived it.

Far eastern Morrison County and the Hillman area had been a vast pine forest that was logged off in the 1880s. Large earthern dams were put on the creeks such as Tibbets brook, west branch of the Rum, and the Hillman creek which can still be found today. They were about two miles apart. The logs were cut by hand and hauled onto the ice in the winter by oxen. Then the dams were blown in the spring, and the logs floated to the saw mills. The dams made great swimming holes for the kids 60 years later. There was a large winter camp on my father’s land, and we found many ox shoes when he cleared the land to farm.

Then the dry years came, and the large fires burned everything including the little top soil, leaving the rocks and poor land. Some of the very first settlers came in about 1900, but many came in the 20s and 30s and tried to farm the poor land, cut wood, trap, and hunt deer.

In the fall of 1935, George Rinkel, one of 15 siblings, left his father’s farm south of St. Cloud, along the Mercedes Beumer of St. Augusta, along with another couple, and went to North Dakota to pick potatoes for three cents a bushel. They later came back to Maine Prairie for his father’s auction on Oct. 12, 1935, bought two horses and I believe one cow, along with a Rumley tractor and a breaking plow, which his father had bought new in 1929.

They bought 80 acres of land in eastern Morrison County Lakin Township, section 2, about 10 miles from Hillman. On Oct. 15, 1935, they took what they had and moved up there. The Waite Park Railroad car shops were busy making wooden railroad cars, and George bought some box car doors from them. This was their home for the winter of 1935, a 12×20 foot building nailed together with hay over the top, and a dirt floor. With no time to dig a well, they cut a hole in the ice of Tibbets brook for water. His wife, father, and 20-year-old cousin spent the winter there.

In February 1937, my mother was expecting me, so in January she went and stayed with her aunt in Melrose, where I was born on Feb. 15, 1937. A few days before, Dad had taken the horses and sled as far as John Kaufmann’s. Now at the Earl Dahlkes’ farm, the snow was too deep for the horses, so he left them there. He then walked the last four miles to Hillman and caught the Soo-Line train to Melrose, which took just about two days. The railroad would unhook the passenger car to plow snow then come back and reattach. When Mom and I came home on the first of March, the land had thawed, and most of the snow was gone. My father said the snow was so loose and deep, you could set an ax down and just the tops would be out.

The next two children, Joyce and Vern, were born at home with Minnie Starr being the midwife, something she did a lot of. Carole was born in 1944, and she was the first child my Mother delivered in a hospital. I remember well my father complaining about how he was ever going to be able to pay the $6 per day bill for the St. Cloud Hospital.

By the early 1940s, they had built up a small herd of cattle, maybe 10 to 15. By buying a cow here and there, he received a cow with Bangs disease, and that proved to be his downfall. He lost the entire small herd, so he had to find a job off the farm. His brother-in-law was working on the Alaskan highway and got him a job as a cook, the only opening at the time. Although Dad had graduated from Dunwoody as a mechanic years before, the government said don’t worry about it as he could change jobs when he got there. This switch never happened, so he helped build the road above Dawson Creek B. C. Canada.

While he was gone, an 80 acre piece of land adjoining their land was on a sheriff’s sale. Mom went to the sale and someone at the courthouse helped her with the paperwork ($1 per acre or $80 total). They then had 240 acres. He cleared about 125 acres with the use of a lot of dynamite and sweat.

I guess what I remember the most is the constant mud; you could not call the trails a road. The closest blacktop was 169 (east 12 miles), 23 Foley (20 miles), and 25 at Buckman (17 miles).

R.F.D. mail service came through from Hillman in the mid 1940s. We as a community did not get electricity until R.E.A. in 1948. Before that we went to bed at dark and got up at daylight first with a kerosene then a gas lantern-what a difference. We also had a small wind charger, and an old Philco radio. We would use about a half-hour per day for the news powered by the car battery my father took out of the car. We first heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on that old radio. Then all the young men started to leave. My Dad was a little too old to be drafted.

We had no running water or bathroom, only Saturday night baths with the youngest kid getting the water first then on up through the oldest. There was a two-hole outhouse, and I never could understand that, as I never saw two people using it at the same time.

My Dad taught me to use a gun and trap at a very early age, probably nine or 10. I trapped weasel, muskrats, raccoon, and a mink now and then, always thinking we had that big one till Sylvester Weiss, the fur buyer, would dig out that monster pelt he had in the back room. There were no fox, maybe one track per winter. The area had lots of rabbits, grouse and pheasants. The money I received from trapping was my Christmas spending money.

Everyone seemed to work together. I know us kids sure did play together never knowing we were poor. I do not recall anyone going hungry. The diet may not have been the best, but there sure was lots to eat. We always butchered in the late fall, laid the meat out to freeze (one kid had to watch the dog so he wouldn’t get it) then packed it in a barrel on the north side of the house for the winter. Always a lot of canning for the year, my mother was a great cook. She could make a terrific meal out of what you wouldn’t think was much to use.

The nearest phone was five miles away at Gunner Anderson’s. He would deliver any messages either by car, horse, or foot-never good news. What a nice man, never getting pay or expecting anything more than a thank you.

In about 1938 or 1939 my Dad donated land for a school to be moved from about three miles away, which meant the Rinkel children only had about one quarter mile to walk. Many of the school children had to walk up to three miles one way. If the weather was real bad some parents would bring them with horses and sled, but not often.

There were five one-room schools in Lakin and Mount Morris townships (District 83, District 84, District 137 and Districts 96A and B). The Hillman school was much larger and children from the north half of Mount Morris went there. The one-room school houses were taught by one teacher from first through eighth grade. The schools were supervised by a school board and one county superintendent. George Sprandl of Little Falls usually made one visit per year to each school. The schools were all heated with wood. The wood was carried in from the woodshed and started by the teacher. It took a long time for the school houses to get warm on Monday mornings in the winter time. The teacher also carried water from the well to the crock fountain which we used for drinking water. Absenteeism was very high as the older kids were needed at home in the spring and fall. In the early years, all eighth grade students had to take a state board exam to graduate. The first teacher after the school was moved was a young lady from Minneapolis who boarded at my parents’ house for two years. Her salary at the time was $40 a month.

I started the first grade at five years old. There were no children in the next class and three in the third grade. Joy Probasco was the teacher, and she said she thought I could keep up with the class (not that I was any smarter), so I skipped the second grade and was in third grade by fall. I was still six years old but that was how things were done then.

The first high school bus that came into the area from Milaca was in the late 1940s, driven by Vernon Markason. This is the reason so many of the area children go to Milaca at this time. Foley and Onamia school buses came a little later. Pierz still did not have a public high school at that time.

Dairy was always a very stable part of the area as it has been for all of Morrison County. At one time, seven milk trucks were in our area. Hillman had a creamery until the 1950s. The Milaca creamery is gone, and Ramey’s closed a few years ago. Thanks to very good thinking and planning, Buckman, Lastrup, and Little Rock creameries merged as Sunrise Ag and do a very good job to this day. Thirty years ago we had over 2000 dairy farmers. Today we have fewer than 400, but produce more milk then we did then.

There have been many changes in Morrison County in the last 150 years. Sixty-eight of which I have been a part of. I am sure there will be many more.

Let us move on.

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