June 11th…“WHAT WAS THE HARDEST AND HEAVIEST JOB YOU GOT PAID FOR DURING YOUR FARM YEARS IN MINNESOTA?”
The Ozmun family knew me when I was “knee high to a grasshopper” back in 1954 when I entered the world. It was sweetly common for neighboring farmers to get together for picnics in those days and our families enjoyed that local tradition with all the gentle bonding of friends as was common once in American rural life. In one photo, I’m so tiny that I’m sitting on top of the table and being fed by the Ozmun’s daughter, Janet, whom I’m told was “in love” with this little pug-nosed Norwegian baby. The only thing that was strong about me in those days, was the smell of my diapers!!! 😉 Later in life, I’d be able to show strength of my young muscles and earn some dollars.
A decade, or so, of time passes and Kurt Kephart, my farm neighbor pal joined me on the bridge that hovered over Brush Creek just south of our farm. As we hung over the bridge railing, enjoying the view of the creek below, Chet Ozmun came along driving a magnificent team of massively large Percheron Draft Horses pulling a flat bed farm wagon. After a powerful pull on the reins to stop his team, Chet said, “How would you boys like to earn some money working for me?” That deep base voice of his matched the enormous girth of that gentle giant of a farmer. With a glance and a nod to each other, it took only a second for us boys to respond in unison, “Sure thing, Mr. Ozmun!!” Chet smiled from our affirmative answer and said, “Very good, then, I’ll get final permission from your parents and I’ll see you two youngsters at my farm bright and early tomorrow morning.”
Since the Ozmun home place was less than a half mile from our farm, I started the hike down the gravel road the next morning and met Kurt coming down an adjoining road from his farm. Now even though our boss for the day was a big man, Chet’s Percheron Stallions were like walking mountains!!! As he brought each enormous equine from their barn, they would lift their massive hooves to step over the threshold timbers across the doorway. Oftentimes, their hooves would strike that threshold with such weight, that it would cause the entire structure of that barn to quake and shudder by the impact. Although fearful of the crushing power of these behemoth horses, I was also captivated by their powerful beauty.
Our hilly area of southern Minnesota was part of a glacial moraine left over from the Ice Age of ancient times. Basically, that means that as the glaciers melted and receded, they left behind large amounts of rocks on the hillsides. Those rocks would range in size from the small dimensions of baseballs, all the way up to basketball size and even major boulders. Since rocks could do significant damage to farm equipment, those rocks had to be picked up from the ground and hauled off to piles or to local gravel pits to be crushed.
The job for Kurt and I was to walk along each side of Chet’s horse-drawn wagon and pick up any large rocks from the field. The smaller stones were o.k. to chuck and throw them into the wagon, at first, but oftentimes, we ‘d come upon monster size rocks that would take both of our combined strength to heave those gargantuan slabs onto the flatbed wagon. Seeing that we were struggling to keep up with the moving wagon, Chet would holler, “Whoa!”, to his team and he’d wait till we cleared each field area of its rubbled population.
Around the noon hour, Chet’s very kind wife, Violet, treated us to a scrumptious farmer’s dinner in their quaint farm home kitchen. We washed down those tasty mouthfuls of grub with ice cold lemonade and were very grateful for the meal. During that midday meal with the Ozmuns, I was fascinated to watch old Chet as he ate his pork chops on that enormous dinner plate. In those days, butchers left all the fat on the pork chop. The family then had the option to either eat it, or cut it off and toss it in the trash. Like a doctor in surgery, I watched in amazement as Chet cut away the fat from the periphery of that piece of tasty meat. After he downed the meat, potatoes, strings beans, etc…….lastly, as if he was saving the BEST for last, he gathered all that fat on his plate and ate it as if it were a dessert, savoring each mouthful of pure fat. Wowsa!!! Not ME!! I cut the fat away from my pork chops that day, as well, only I left mine on the plate to be thrown away.
Another three or four hours of picking rocks with Chet were ahead of us after we finished with that wonderful meal. Both Kurt and myself were thoroughly exhausted by the end of that day. Not only did we have to load the wagon with rocks, but then had to UNload each wagon back in the woods of the Ozmun’s tree windbreak. Even though I don’t recall the exact amount of our paychecks that day, it was yet another chapter in how to make a dollar for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.