The Superior Express -

Editor's Notebook


January 21, 2021

After writing a weekly column for the better part of five decades, I fear I repeat my stories all too frequently, and with the continuing pandemic and an attempt to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus, I’m not acquiring new stories.

Last week a caller from the Courtland area said his favorite topic was the stories I told about living and working on Blauvelt’s Hill.

Well, folks those stories might be liked but I have lived elsewhere a lot longer than I lived there and I’m sure I told all of the stories more than once. It is a struggle to put a new spin on an often told story.

After the recent fires, Rita suggested this week I should write about the fires experienced while living on Blauvelt’s Hill.

While surrounded by grasslands, perhaps 50,000 gallons of refined petroleum products in storage and the operation of what we advertised as the stand with the largest selection of fireworks in North Central Kansas, fire was a constant worry.

As a youngster, it seemed somebody was always mowing. Dad wanted not only the front yard mowed, but he the weeds mowed behind the buildings and the highway ditches. At the time, I thought his mowing fetish was inspired by the thought manicured approaches would encourage travelers to turn off the highway and stop at his business.

But keeping the weeds and grass clipped short also provided less fuel for a fire which he probably considered.

In my early years, all we had for a mower was an old rig originally pulled by horses. In my earliest memory, it was pulled by what he called the “Billy Goat.” The old goat had started life as a Chevrolet car which was adapted for use as a tractor. The adaptation was done in a machine shop on East Second Street.

While my father drove the goat, someone had to ride on the mower and step on a pedal whenever it was time to lift the sickle bar. Riding the mower became my job at a far to early age.

I was hardly big enough to do the job. I had to hang on to the mower’s iron seat with both hands and put both feet on the pedal to get enough pressure to lift the sickle bar. Dad would had keep watch and often stop the tractor to give me enough time to do my job.

By the time I was10 years old, he had progressed to a Ford tractor with a sidemount mower. Mounting the mower was a chore and it meant the tractor could be used for nothing else. It did make mowing a lot easier as the tractor driver could do it all.

Later we attempted to convert a mower designed to be pulled behind a Farmall tractor to work with the Ford’s 3-point system. Dad had customers who thought the IH mower was the best mower ever made but my pick was a 3-point rotary mower mounted on the rear of the tractor. Particularly after the Ford was upgraded to a Massey Ferguson with a live power-take-off. With the live p.t.o., the driver could slow or stop the forward motion of the tractor while maintaining p.t.o. speed which was a real aid when mowing the sweet clover that grew along the highway.

One afternoon, while I was attending country school, a fire broke out a mile or two west of the station. Dad and all the neighbors had gone to beat the fire out with shovels and wet burlap sacks. At the country school, I was looking out of the library window at the smoke and thinking school should be dismissed. I don’t know which way the wind was blowing but I knew there was mostly grass between the fire and the school house.

My mother grew concerned for the safety of our animals grazing in the pasture on the other side of the highway and went to move them to the lots behind the station. Most of the animals were pets and very willing to take her directions. All that is but the calf being fattened for the freezer. He may have sensed what the future held for he was always uncooperative. Instead I suspect he was born with an uncooperative nature. That uncooperative nature was probably why my father was able to buy him at the McKee Livestock Sale Barn. I suspect the animal was a problem his entire life and his previous owner got mad and got even by taking him to the sale.

To get animal out of the pasture, my mother gathered up an apron full of hedge apples. By throwing the apples at the wayward calf, she was able to direct him to the gate and safety.

If we were to move that story into the current time, I would have to make some changes. When it happened in the 1950s, my mother was wearing a dress and full apron. It is unlikely a housewife of the current decade would be dressed that way. If they went to the pasture and encountered a stubborn calfe, where would they put the needed ammunition? And what would they used for ammunition? Most of the Osage orange trees from which my mother gathered hedge apples have been replaced by red cedars.

In all the years we lived on Blauvelt’s Hill, the fire we feared would roll in from the west and jump Highway 14 and destroy our home and business never happened. Dad however, tried to stay prepared. In case of a fire, he kept a supply of burlap sacks hanging in the grainary.

I haven’t heard any talk of using burlap sacks to fight this week’s fires but if my father was still living on the hill, I suspect he would want a supply of burlap bags, just in case. But where do you find burlap sacks in this area of paper and plastic sacks?


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