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Stumps, potato bugs and money in the drawer

Northland farming in the 1930s required every type of equipment: axes, shovels, sickles, hoes, hammers, rakes, saws, plows, picks, wheelbarrows ... even dynamite to blast stumps to clear the fields. Speaking of stumps, it was an arduous task to c...

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Paul Lampi's future wife, Irene, on the family farm in Shotley Township, north-central Minnesota. Also pictured are her nephew, Edwin, left, her brother, Carl, and her pet goat. (Photo submitted)

 

Northland farming in the 1930s required every type of equipment: axes, shovels, sickles, hoes, hammers, rakes, saws, plows, picks, wheelbarrows ... even dynamite to blast stumps to clear the fields.

Speaking of stumps, it was an arduous task to clear a field of those scars. Unscrupulous land sellers would photograph a stumped field covered with three feet of snow after a snowfall to see it as a cleared meadow, leaving the new owner with a mountainous task of stump removal.

Another trick was to sell a photographed field of early high corn at a good price; only later would the buyer find out that the sellers were all actually kneeling, thus adding height to the corn plants.

Another was selling sure potato-bug killer at a high price. What came in the mail was a package with small wooden blocks, with instructions: Place potato bug on block. Crush with another block.

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We were told to be wary of what we were buying, but it was the great merchandise stores that opened up the country, triggered by our postal system.

Trade was a two-way street. Merchants came to the country selling all manner of merchandize. Sold were kitchenware, clothes, needles, yard goods and books and leisure products.

In the fall, farmers came into town selling their produce: vegetables of all kinds, fruits and berries, firewood and holiday greenery. Some had periodic butter-and-egg routes. Later, daily milk routes were common to supply customers.

Goods were a common medium of exchange and used as money. Bank failures caused distrust, so people searched for alternatives.

We had many farmer friends in northern St. Louis County. Amazingly, we opened a "bank" for them, operating out of our bedroom drawer. They deposited and then retrieved money when shopping in Duluth. Nothing unusual there; when cities ran out of funds they pirated their own, adjusted when taxes again flowed in. Remember, a happy event for a child was finding a penny.

At the end of her life, my dear wife, Irene, found her small box of trinkets. Among them was a candy bar wrapper carefully housed in a folder, a gift from the country store owner. Christmas, 1931.

Looking back, families were intact and together. We were united to face the violent storms that were immediately ahead.

Paul Lampi is a retired Denfeld teacher. Previous installments of this series may be found here .

Related Topics: HISTORY
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