Vol.2..Norwegian Farmer’s Son..June 25th

June 25th………“DID YOU EVER LOSE ELECTRICITY ON YOUR FARM? WHAT CAUSED THE OUTAGE AND HOW LONG DID IT LAST TILL POWER WAS RESTORED”??

It fell in silent, sheathings of stealth while we slept cozily in our farmhouse beds that night. Early spring of 1966 saw the budding of every living plant and tree that were gladly showing indications, on the previous evening, of winter starting to let go of its grip and new life beginning to emerge.

Only problem was, the warm rain that night, in the upper atmosphere, fell through the clouds to the shock of a bitterly cold freeze happening at ground level. Every gentle droplet of moisture had no choice but to transform itself from water to ice. The more it rained down from the upper realms of clouds above us, the more the ice began to form layer after layer upon everything in and around our beloved hometown of Kiester, Minnesota.

The Norwegian “god of the winds”, Njord (Nyord), must’ve been angered by this dilemma and was riled to the point of churning the winds into a fevered pitch as they now also brought snow into this cataclysmic scenario. Not only were the tall, wooden power poles cocooning within ever-thickening ice layers, but the actual powerline wires, between each pole, had gained between 250 to 500 pounds of ice on EACH line as the wind began to make them “gallop” in the wildly wicked nighttime sky.

As the wind-god, Njord, rode the curlicued clouds above all this, he must’ve heard the creaking of those diligently faithful power-poles that were trying their wooden best to keep upright with their sagging load of ice-encrusted powerlines. Alas, the weight of the ice and the onslaught of wind were just too much and the wooden sentinels began to buckle, snap and fall to earth in loudly crescendoed, calamitous crashes; carrying their precious energy-giving supply of electrical power with them to the rock-hard ground. For literally miles around us, the power poles were snapped like matchsticks; rendering us all to darkness even before the next frigid sunrise arose to the east.

As our eyes opened that morning, our world had been thrown backwards by almost 100 years to the time of our grand and great grandparents. No lights, no radio, no television and no electricity to carry on the farm chores that required it, like milking cows.

By today’s dairy standards, our herd of Holstein cows was quite small as they numbered only fifteen “head”, but Dad was about to experience the “squeeze” of bovine reality. Even without electricity……those cows had to be milked twice a day; now it would be by hand.

That first snowbound morning, with the blizzard still at a howl, our father, Russell, entered the darkness of the barn with an oil lamp in hand to be able to see his way from cow to cow for milking. With the oil lamp for general lighting and a battery-powered flashlight in his bib overalls, he saw that ahead of him lay the daunting task of hand-milking fifteen Holstein cows that are known for producing large volumes of milk. Conservatively, a single cow can produce about three gallons of milk morning and evening for a total of six gallons a day (or more).

The hands of Elliott’s father could hardly move from painful cramps after milking all those cows by hand.

Without the convenience of electricity to run his two “Surge” brand, vacuum-powered milking machines, Dad had to bring out his little milking stool and “belly up to the milk bar” at the first cow in the stanchion lineup. Sources say that it can take up to 250 squeezes of the cow’s various milk spigots (known as teats) to gain a gallon of milk in your bucket below. What an overwhelming ordeal it was for our father to slowly squeeze cow after cow to get them milked morning and night. For our fifteen Holsteins, that would basically calculate to nearly 15,000 squeezes (or more) per day until the electricity was eventually restored to our farm. Well, within a day or so of this hand torture, our patriarch’s hands were literally cramping up into gnarled, turned in digits of pain.

Elliott’s father, Russell (on left), uses a crank-operated cream separator in the milk parlor of their family’s barn.

To Dad’s rescue came our beloved neighbor and “other grandpa”, Harry Bauman. Being a widower and all alone at his farm up the road, “Grandpa” Harry made his way through the snowdrifts with his Chevrolet to our farm and settled in with us for the duration of this snow storm. Now our poppa had another set of hands to help milk morning and night.

A Farmall H tractor, similar to this one, provided just enough vacuum to operate one milker machine for milking the cows.

Even with our precious Harry there to help us, Dad just knew there had to be a better way to get the milking done during the interim of this time without electricity.

An “AHHAAAA” moment lit up inside our Norwegian patriarch’s brain when he realized that he could borrow vacuum power from the engine of his trustworthy Farmall H tractor. Brushing snow off of his red beauty, Russell punched the starter and the H came to life. Backing up his Farmall closely to the barn door, our hardworking farmer dad ran a rubber hose from the tractor’s motor (that produced at least some vacuum) and hooked the other end of the hose to his milker. Revving up the engine to full speed, he was then able to make one of his “Surge” milker machines work!!! We were in awe of his “can do” attitude of gratitude for making do with what he had to work with.

This is a very similar-looking two-way stove like the one that kept Elliott’s family fed and warm during the Silver Thaw of 1966.

With the milking of cows now met and conquered, the next task without electricity was how would we water our animals without electricity to work the well pump?? With a phone call and a wagon, our sweet, widowed neighbor lady down the road, Mrs. Faith Parks, said, “Come on over, Russ, you can have all the water you’ll need from my artesian, year-round well”!!! Now the animals had water, too!!! So blessed we were for being part of the family of the fine fellowship of friendly farmers around us!!

As the blizzard subsided, we realized we’d have to get all chores done before the sun went down. It was just easier than carrying oil lamps or flashlights in the dark.

Our family kitchen, during this powerless time, became the focal point of our family and “Grandpa” Harry Bauman, who was our guest till the power came back on someday. Since we had no electricity to run our farm home’s furnace for heat, Mom and Dad saw to it that we had plenty of firewood and even shelled corncobs to burn in the one side of our two-way stove. Therefore, one side of the stove could burn wood, coal or corncobs while the other side of our stove was gas-operated. Goodness gracious how we were blessed with warmth AND a way to cook our food. Mom hung long, heavy quilts across the doorway into the Living Room in order to trap that precious heat in our Kitchen. There, in that sanctuary of warmth, the five of us gathered each day for Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch and Supper while the two-way stove worked faithfully to feed us and warm us. The evenings were especially cozy as we emulated our family forefathers by basking in the glow of oil lamps while reading and/or telling stories till it was time for little sister and I to grab our flashlights to see as we’d climb the stairs and jump under the thick blankets of our beds up in our VERY chilly bedrooms.

Through their dedicated diligence and enormous efforts, our local electrical power company eventually replaced all those “snapped matchsticks” with brand new power poles and restrung miles and miles of electric power lines to once again, after about a week and a half, bring lights, radio, television and all the other modern conveniences back into the life of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.

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