Homesteaders

Buffalo Pitts engine

A. J. Groffs threshing rig in 19154 at Fredonia, North Dakota. Buffalo Pitts engine and an Avery separator. Courtesy of A. W. Wilken, 10208 Pineridge Drive, Sun City, Arizona 85351

A. W. Wilken

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10208 Pineridge Drive, Sun City, Arizona 85351.

In the summer of 1905, my father, Jerry Wilken and Bill Walterman started out from Conastota, S. Dakota and headed for N. Dakota to stake out a homestead on the prairie and strike it rich (so they thought). They had two teams and a buggy and covered wagon. In those days, traveling was slow, so they didn't make much mileage, especially as they worked along the road to keep them in groceries.

The enclosed picture of their covered wagon was taken in Ellendale, N. Dakota. At that time Ellendale was just, as they used to say 'a hole in the road'.

I don't remember how long they were on the road, but they finally arrived at Lehr, N. Dakota and Bill Walterman got a job at the Lehr Cremery and Jerry Wilken went to work at the Lehr Lumber yard, so after they got a little 'stake', they bought enough groceries and started out to stake a claim. They finally found two claims about fourteen miles south-east of Lehr, near a grocery store and a post office called Helwig.

They built a shack on each claim and then made preparations for the winter. Jerry Wilken built a sod house on his claim and then sent for my mother and my brother and me. We were real comfortable in the sod house, but we had to walk about three miles through snow about two feet dep to school. But we were at an age when snow didn't bother us too much, but we had our ears and cheeks frosted so many times that the skin would peel off like it does with a good sun-burn!

When spring finally came and the snow started to melt, we got the pick-axe and crow bar out and started to clear our land of rocks, -and there were plenty. You never get it cleared because after the first crop of flax that you harvest, you plow out a lot more rocks as you ready the ground for the next year's wheat crop. Sometimes you wonder where they all come from again! The flax crop generally turns out good on the sod ground in the first year.

In the fall, we would work on the threshing rig, generally to pay for the threshing bill. One fall I worked for Joe Groff at Fredonia, N. Dakota, (he was my half-brother). He had a Buffalo Pitts Engine and a big old Avery Separator - and could that old rig ever inhale the bundles of grain. It kept five and six bundle teams busy hauling bundles.

We would get up about four o'clock in the morning and feed our team, curry them and harness them, then head for the house for breakfast. Then out to the field and load up the bundle wagon and the day's work started. Around nine o'clock the farmer's wife would bring out lunch and coffee to the rig and we surely enjoyed that, because when you pitch bundles for about four or five hours, you really can eat, especially when you're a young buck. After that, we threshed until twelve o'clock and then climbed on the old grain wagon and back to the house for dinner.

Taken at Ellendale, North Dakota in 1905, Jerry Wilken with his old Trusty 32-40 rifle and Bill Walterman beside him, on their way to Lehr where they each took up a homestead of 160 acres. Courtesy of A. W. Wilken, 10208 Pineridge Drive, Sun City, Arizona 85351

By the time we got back to the rig, the horses hitched to the bundles wagons would have their grain cleaned up and we would be on our way hauling bundles until about three o'clock. Then the farmer would bring out more lunch and coffee and after that back on the bundle pitching again until nine o'clock. When it got too dark, I remember the Separator Tender would bring out some of those big old kerosene lanterns so we could see the feeder, and not pitch the bundles over on the other side.

Those were the days when you got three dollars a day for you and the bundle team. After supper, you slept up in the old hay mow in the barn, and you didn't need any one to rock you to sleep!

I worked on different rigs up in the Dakotas and I always enjoyed it and sometimes I just day dream of the old homestead days.

May the Iron-Man Album never run out of steam and may the Good Lord bless all the Old Threshers.

An interesting statement of a 'Sale' back in 1909. This was a sale bill of a friend of mine that used to live in Kansas. Notice the prices of farm equipment compared to today's prices. Courtesy of A. W. Wilken, 10208 Pineridge Drive, Sun City, Arizona 85351