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Aunt Dora's Memoirs, part 3

posted Mar 12, 2014, 1:37 PM by James Nennemann   [ updated Mar 12, 2014, 1:42 PM ]

By Jerry Birkby

In the following, Aunt Dora talks about the local farmers hauling cordwood. In a year when heating fuel cost somewhere around $3.50 a gallon I think the price these old timers were getting for a cord of wood, which they cut with an axe and hauled 12 miles or so to deliver, reveals a lot about how people lived in those days. Aunt Dora also mentions Frank Birkby.  My father (Hammond) always held the utmost respect for his older brother Frank. He always said that what any other man would do in two days Frank would do in one--or die trying.  

High Cost of Cordwood

Story has it that the reason the sidewalk in front of Arbor Bank, Penn Drug and the other buildings on the South-west corner of the square is higher than the street is because after those buildings were built and the sidewalks poured, the City Fathers hired Frank Birkby to come in with a team and scraper and  dig the street down to a level grade.

He is also said to have torn down an old mill at Knox and used the lumber to help build those six stucco houses on Filmore Street. I have heard that in the basement of one of those houses the old mill stone still supports a pillar. 

During the fall and winter, some of the people who owned timber would cut it into cordwood.  As soon as the Missouri River was frozen over and the ice strong enough to hold a team and loaded wagon, they would haul it to Nebraska City. Before daylight loads would begin to pass our place.  On bitter cold and frosty mornings, the wagons could be heard for a long distance, creaking and singing. The drivers would be walking and clapping their hands to keep them from freezing.  As it was ten miles from our place to Nebraska City, it would be dark again before these same haulers would pass on their way home.  They could haul about a cord at a time and, for this long day’s work, were getting $2.50. When they would get $3.00 or $3.50 they felt like millionaires. 

Frank hauled wood one winter, and, one day, when Grace and I were upstairs playing, we found a sack of flour in his room. We could not understand what it meant until in February he was married. Then we knew he had been hauling wood to earn money to get married. He was twenty years old and, although he had always worked very hard, had received only his room, board and his clothes for his work. 

A young man’s clothes at that time were not likely to bankrupt his parents, as I dare say $25.00 would cover the cost of them for a year.  They paid about $8.00 or $10.00 for a Sunday suit and wore it a couple of years, or longer, if it would last. Young men had little spending money and my father did not spend a dollar a year on amusements for the eleven of us.

 (To be continued)