“When ‘old-timers’ talk about the weather, they often compare it to 1936, which I think of as the ‘benchmark’ for weather.”
So wrote Roger Engstrom, Detroit Lakes, Minn., to Neighbors many years ago when, as always, Neighbors was swamped with column ideas, so it didn’t get it in. But now, at last, here’s what Roger wrote, both about the weather and a special barn.
“As the year (1936) began,” he wrote, “temperatures dipped well below zero almost every night until the first part of March.
“I researched newspapers at the Becker County (Minn.) Historical Society and found that from January through July in 1936, only 7.62 inches of precipitation fell. This was about half of normal for that period, which tells me 1936 was an extremely hot and dry summer. In addition to the weather extremes, the Depression of the 1930s added to the misery of the year.”
Roger sent in the high temperatures in Fargo-Moorhead from July 4-18, 1936, in Fargo-Moorhead. The lowest high temperature, on July 4, was 90, and the highest, on July 6, was 114.
These figures were from a Forum article titled “15 Days in a Furnace.”
“Even though this historic year occurred nine years before I was born in 1945, I heard the stories about 1936 so many times it was like I lived them. That was the year my dad, Frederick Engstrom, hired his neighbor, Fred Palm, to be the head carpenter while a big red barn was built on our farm.
“Lumber for the 36-by-72-foot barn came from logs that were cut from trees along the east shore of Pickerel Lake on land owned by my uncle, Albert Engstrom. The logs had been sawed into lumber during the summer of 1935 using a steam engine for power. Elmer Wallgren remembered going swimming at the sawmill site in the evening and pulling the chain that blew the whistle on the steam engine.
“During the winter, my dad used the horses and sleigh to haul the lumber across a frozen Pickerel Lake, a distance of about 3/4 mile, to the site where the barn stands today.
“Fred Palm lived near Rock Lake, about 2 1/2 miles from our farm. He drove a 1929 Model A Ford pickup. When he drove this green pickup with black fenders, it had one speed — full bore! If you heard him coming, get out of the way! When he started out, the grass flew from under the wheels. He didn’t take his foot off the floor until it was time to stop. A corn cob pipe was in his mouth. A carpenter pencil stuck out from under the striped cap he wore. He was rather a short man with a full beard that always had some shavings in it.
“Reid and Wackman Lumber of Detroit Lakes made one 25-mile round trip with their truck to the Engstrom farm to deliver the cedar shingles. Dad said it was a very big load. The shingles kept the barn roof dry until 1979 when Tom and Doug Sandford replaced them with asphalt shingles. I think my dad said it cost $3,000 to build the barn in 1936. It cost almost as much to re-shingle it 43 years later.
“The foundation for the barn was built with gravel that came from ‘27.’ That’s how the gravel pit was described that was on property John Wennerstrom owned in Section 27 of Holmesville Township. Wide boards were used to make the forms for the 4-foot-high foundation’s concrete walls that were 10 inches thick. Cement was mixed with gravel and small rocks to make the concrete. Wire was used for reinforcement. When the forms were removed, the boards were used on the roof.
“At the time, it was difficult to make good concrete because it was hard to find good gravel, and the methods of mixing concrete weren’t the best. But the foundation and concrete floor of the barn are in excellent condition,” Roger said when he wrote in 2005.
“Many hot weather stories centered around the barn,” he continued. “The story about building the rafters on the haymow floor was told the most. My uncle, Marvel Chase, said if the form for the rafters had been taken away, they could have continued to build rafters by following the beads of sweat on the haymow floor.
“I admire the true craftsmanship of the men who constructed this barn using ‘arm strong’ tools, which consisted of a hammer, saw, square, level, folding ruler, brace and bits and a plane. Electricity didn’t come to our community until 1951.
“When it was time to thresh that fall, my dad set the blower pipe of the threshing machine so it blew the straw through the big door and into the haymow. I think Dad said they threshed two loads of bundles. This, along with some slough hay that had been gathered during the summer, would provide feed for the cattle and horses for the coming winter.
“The summer of 1976 was another dry summer. After we filled a 20-by-70-foot silo with haylage and a hay shed with bales, we brought the leftover hay to this barn and put it in the haymow. We think we put in about two loads. In 40 years, history had repeated itself.
“This barn has become a landmark on the north end of Pickerel Lake. It survived the ‘Blast of ‘95’ when a grove of trees near the barn was destroyed by the high winds.
“Dairy cows were milked in this barn until Nov. 5, 1974, when a new barn was completed for the dairy herd. After that, the big red barn housed young calves until we quit raising cattle in 1996. The barn was a place where many kittens were born and barn swallows found a place to build a nest. Unfortunately for the swallows, many of their babies left the barn in the bellies of the many barn cats that made the barn their year-round home.
“In their day, these barns played a very important role. Crops harvested on the farm were stored in them and fed to livestock. A crop marketed through livestock, especially the dairy cow, was worth more when it was sold to be made into dairy products like butter, cheese and ice cream, often by a farmer-owned cooperative. Within the walls of these aging barns, most of the monetary returns on the farms were made.
“As the barns with haymows disappear from the landscape, the memories of them remain in the hearts and minds of men and women who depended on them for their livelihood in a bygone era.”
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.