Vol.2..Norwegian Farmer’s Son..May 7th

May 7th……….“TELL US, GRANDPA, WHAT WERE SOME WAYS YOU HEATED YOUR FAMILY FARM HOME IN THE FALL AND WINTER MONTHS THERE NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA”?

Not only did I admire the man and his dear family, but Axel Challgren and I were kindred spirits in a common bond; his business and my farm home bedroom were as cold as a Meat Locker!!! 😉

The pioneer family that built our home in the mid to late 1800’s were obviously frugal and of pretty tough stock when it came to heating that old two-story farm house. I’m guessing those first farmers likely had a classic potbelly stove in the Living Room in those early days.

Officially, there was no viable means of heat in either of our upstairs bedrooms. Oh, there was a hint of heat that emanated into our sister’s bedroom via an open hole from the Living Room ceiling downstairs and the floor of their bedroom upstairs. To keep us little kids from falling through that hole to the Living Room below, there was a black, metal grating made of a curlicue filigree fastened to the floor. Other than that, though, the only hint of heat for the upstairs bedrooms was the venting stovepipe that carried the furnace fumes up to a chimney on the roof. That stovepipe was like a loving buddy with a WARM personality in the mornings when we’d jump out of our warm beds and into that frigid bedroom air to get dressed at the speed of light. When dressed, we’d then be able to run over to the stovepipe and hug it for the warmth it conducted to the metal, round surface of that pipe from the furnace below.

Elliott’s father, Russell, cuddles with one of his nephews next to the family’s oil-fired furnace in their Living Room.

Centered and to the north side of our modest Living Room stood our mainstay of keeping out Winter’s icy blasts; an oil-fired furnace. Many a can of fuel oil had to be hauled into the house and poured ever so gently into a reserve tank on the back side of the furnace to give it the “food” it needed to cook us up some heat on those below zero Minnesota winters.

During some of my frozen outdoors adventures, during those icy months of the year, I’d come home to report to Mom that, “I can’t feel my toes, Mom”!!! To which she’d reply, “Take off your boots n socks and put your frozen feet on the side of the furnace. Just don’t leave them on the metal surface too long at one time or you’ll burn your flesh since, right now, you can’t feel your feet”!!!

It worked like a charm. I’d cuddle up on Dad’s upholstered rocking chair and put my feet on that hot, vertical side surface while watching cartoons on TV. Pretty soon, those “shanks horses” of mine were coming back to life and I found the surface of the furnace too hot, then!!! 😉

This dual usage (gas + coal, corn cobs or wood) stove is very similar to the one in the Noorlun’s farm kitchen.

Our beloved family friend, “grandpa” John P. Madsen used to say, “Yah, them Noorluns, they’ve got EVERYTHING”!!! 😉 In a humble, yet grand way, we did. By many standards of the day, our family was monetarily poor, yet we had the marvelous blessings of, what I call, a two-way stove in our Kitchen!!! The one side of our stove could burn wood, coal and even corn cobs (left over from Dad’s corn-shelling times). This was an excellent back up source of heat AND cooking for our family in case we ran out of propane gas. The other side of the range in our kitchen operated on propane gas for the stove top and the oven for baking needs. In between the burn side and the gas side of our appliance was a rectangular and deep water reservoir that Mom always had filled with water. The burning wood, coal or corn cobs kept that water source hot for washing dishes, doing laundry, or even Saturday night baths.

On those blessed Saturday evenings, each winter, Mom would hang up a big quilted blanket in the doorway from Kitchen to the Living Room (to capture some heat in the Kitchen) and would then fill a very large metal washtub with water from that hot water reservoir on the stove. She’d then open up the large oven door and start the oven to create more heat so that we kids could climb into that tub and get all cleaned up for Sunday School the following morning. Heck, when we were really tiny, two of us would bathe in the same tub together. In olden times, research reveals, that the entire family had their baths in the same tub and same water. Dads first, then mothers, then all the kids and finally the baby. The water got so murky that, in a sense, you could “lose” the baby in the “chocolate brown” water……….thus came the old time saying, “Be careful you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”!!! Hehehehe 😉

To give you an idea of how cold our bedrooms were in the wintertime; when we’d pull back the heavy layers of blankets and quilts each morning, we could see our breath vapors in the bedroom air!!! For one thing, Mom’s heavy quilts were so insulating and cozy, it was torturous to even think of leaving that cocoon of warm comfort. And, for another thing, our boys bedroom bed was like an old sway-backed horse that kept us in the “valley” of its worn out springs at center. Either way, we finally would have to make the catapulting effort to spring out of that old bed and yank on our underwear, long-johns, long-sleeved T-shirt, flannel long-sleeved shirt and a thick sweater along with one or even two pairs of jeans and a couple pairs of thick socks for that day’s preparation of daily life. The window of our boy’s bedroom resided at the top of our stairwell and, on icy mornings like this, we couldn’t even see outside because of the thick ice buildup on that old, single-paned glass. For fun, I’d scratch words in the ice with my fingernails, like, “Where is Spring”? 😉

Layers of straw bales, plus red-framed storm windows helped keep Old Man Winter outside of the Noorlun farm house near Kiester, Minnesota in January of 1965.

Our loving parents did all they possibly could to make life comfortable and even enjoyable there in our fine farm home. Dad would stack multiple layers of straw bales around the house each Fall to ward off freezing of water pipes, etc.. Some farm families, with lots of horses, would even pile horse manure up against their homes for winter insulation. As the horse manure would decompose, it would produce heat naturally.

Dad also mounted “storm windows” over our regular window to keep out some of the blizzard winds and cold. The warmth of these measures, plus the warmth of family love kept all things cozy for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.

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