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1900 census showing F.A. Denman as farmer

“When Father sold the farm and moved to town so that Mother could take care of her parents, he was left with nothing to occupy his time and he had to figure out something that he would do. [This was beginning in about 1901, and Grandpa Lyle was about 4-5 years old.] He decided that the town needed a grist mill so that the farmers could get their grain ground for their livestock, and an elevator to hand– to buy and sell the grain, wheat, oats and corn — those were the main things that were raised around Wakeman.”

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1900 census showing Humphrey family that owned mill (I think)

“To do that, he bought from the Humphrey family an abandoned saw mill. At one time there had been two saw mills at Wakeman; the McMann family owned one and the Humphrey family owned the other. For some reason, the Humphrey family discontinued and dismantled their saw mill including all the machinery was taken out and sold and disposed of but the shells, the empty buildings — there were two big empty buildings — left.

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1910 census showing F.A. Denman as proprietor, elevator

Father converted one of those buildings into a warehouse to store grain, feed and fertilizer and items that farmers would need. We will call it a farm supply building. The other building — he dug, or had dug, a very large basement. I can’t give you the size of it. But it was a very large basement. At the end of the basement he erected three grain bins to store wheat in, or wheat, oats or corn, whatever, the storage. Then he had a place for an engine room beside the — the engine room was to be located next to the storage bins. The center of the building became the operating area for the machinery. To crush the corn, there was a corn crusher that would crush the cobs and corn and all into a fine, fine enough so it could go through a grinder and be ground up for animal food. And hog food could, they would use, they would eat the, even the ground up corn cobs mixed with the grain and it provided a bulk for the animals. He had the corn crusher, a corn sheller installed beside — and then the grinder for grinding the grain and then a wheat cleaner. Those four items were sort of placed parallel, in a line along one side of the building, the front side of the building where the farmers could drive up with their rigs and a chute would be opened up that would open out so that they could empty their grain right direct from their wagons into this chute and it would either go in to the crusher or the sheller or the wheat cleaner where there was wheat. The one other small elevator in town had a horse powered arrangement which was very, very slow and it took farmers a long time to unload. Father installed this cleaner which was operated with the energy from his gasoline engine which was installed. In doing so, a farmer could unload his grain almost as rapidly as he could dump the bags of it or shovel out — if it was a tight wagon box they would just shovel it out into a little chute that opened out and it would be through the cleaner and with the chaff and screenings the imperfect matter was taken out of it and the good wheat was stored in bins. The wheat that Father had for sale on the market thus was much superior to the wheat that the other elevator had because they did not have any way of cleaning it. The wheat that they took in was just as it came from the threshing machines and contained the chaff, screenings and any impurities that the cleaner would take out.”

“I will go back to explain about the power that Father had for operating his machinery. He had the first gasoline engine of any size in Wakeman. It was 25 horse power. He purchased it from a company at Columbus, Ohio. It had been used. It was a second — it was a used engine but it was fully guaranteed, had big heavy fly wheels on it that were more than six feet in diameter and must have weighed a ton apiece. That machine was very heavy and had to have a solid, firm base. People advised him to have it put in the basement where it would be down on the ground and solid. He disagreed with that. He couldn’t see going down, running to the basement, every time they wanted to do something with the engine. He conceived the idea of building a rectangular pyramid of solid masonry, rock, rubble, brick, anything that, and with cement — mostly sandstone, rock, and hardheads — anything in the way of heavy rock material and they built a rectangular pyramid from the basement up level with — a little above level, a few inches above the first floor. It was quite an undertaking but that’s the way Father said he wanted that engine up on the first floor where they could run to it and get at it and shut it on and off without having to run downstairs into the basement which the company thought was the proper place for it.”

“Directly above the first floor, he had a huge piece of sandstone quarried from the quarry which operated north of Wakeman that must have been at least two and a half to three feet thick, at least three feet wide, and perhaps nine or ten feet long. It was a very huge chunk of sandstone. That he had quarried to set on top of the rectangular pyramid built up from the basement. That sandstone block was to be the base on which the gasoline engine was bolted. Holes were drilled in the rock and they had a way with chisels of building that and then setting bolts in there. And the bolts were surrounded by concrete and at the proper distances. It was all very nice, very well worked out. When the engine arrived it was unloaded from the train with the aid of pulleys and rollers. It was a very arduous task but the people knew how to handle the machinery. They got the engine inside the building and had it hoisted up with pulleys and rope and had it moved over the, directly over the base, and had it lowered onto the bolts that were set in the rock and everything was put together perfectly and those, then the base of the engine was bolted firmly to that big sandstone bed that was on top of the rock pyramid. It made a perfectly sound foundation for that motor and it worked — that part of it, it worked perfectly.”

“The engine was connected to a drive shaft which went the full length of the building. That drive shaft was one that operated the various elevators that would carry the grain from one floor to another. This drive shaft had pulleys on it that operated the crusher and the corn sheller and the cleaner and the grinder that ground the grain. Different sized pulleys, different sized belts and a clutch that would engage or disengage each one of those items as they were needed. Otherwise the elevators ran continuously whenever the line shaft, as we called it, or the drive shaft — the elevators operated continually up and down and that was the power that was used to operate the cleaner and the grinder. And the fact that he could clean that wheat made it very wholesome and some people would buy just the cleaned wheat and prepare their own breakfast food from that. It was rather a novelty in that there was nothing like it anywhere in any of the towns around.”

“The grinder had two stones. They were perhaps 24 inches in diameter, maybe 28 or — yes, I would say they were around 24 to 28 inches in diameter. One stone was fixed permanently in a solid piece of metal. And the other stone was on a shaft that would whirl against the fixed stone and grind the grain. In other words it was an — you may have heard of stone-ground flour or stone-ground corn meal or stone-ground various items in the grocery store. Sometimes it used to be advertised.”

“Well about once in a — depending on how much the grinder was used, it would have to be sharpened. It would be taken apart and the two pieces of stone would be laid flat on their back and then a man with metal picks, steel picks — first it would be marked out on there, the original markings would be marked with, they called it Venetian red. It was a sort of a paint but it was just a marker to guide the person sharpening it. And the person sharpening it would wear gloves and goggles to protect their eyes and would sit there and pick, pick, pick. The picks were sharp metal with flat blades, perhaps an inch wide on both ends and a handle in the middle. And having them sharpened on both ends make the single pick, made a double use. And it would take many hours. It would take perhaps a matter of two days to sharpen those stones to dig, to rechannel, make a slight, just a slight channel all the way around from the center to the outside so that as the stone whirled, the grain would be in those little channels there, but it would, there was a very delicate adjustment that would push the moveable stone up against the fixed stone to cause the grinding of the grain between the two stones.”

“And the sharpening of that was quite an event. It would take a couple of days or more to sharpen that and it would take hours. Two people could work, one on each stone. And it would take the two people anywhere from six to ten hours for two days to complete the job of sharpening those grinding stones. That covers the grinding operation there.”

“The grain that came in from the farmers was stored in the elevator there and when the elevator storage was filled, Father would arrange to sell a carload of wheat and — I don’t remember that he shipped out any oats. He may have sold oats, but most of the oats were consumed locally for livestock feed there. But the wheat was all, it was practically all shipped at that time out of town. At a later period, he constructed a flour mill in connection with this and put in a brand new power plant. I’ll come to that just a little later.”

I got interested in what this all looked like, and since I don’t have any family pictures of any of it, I went looking on the internet. What I found was a blog entry that describes the process and shows some great pictures of a grist mill still working today, in southern Indiana. If you’re interested, here is the link to that post.

This is the second in the Wakeman series, based on my Grandpa Lyle’s reminiscences.  The voice is his, I have just partially cleaned up the transcription to take out the pauses and interruptions.  Given the heat we’ve been having here in New England, it’s nice to read about something cold!

“This little section of the ancient history is just a matter of historical interest. In the days when I was a youngster at home, it was before there was any such thing as an electrical refrigerator. There were ice boxes. The word refrigerator was almost unknown. And the local meat markets had to have ice to take care of the needs of their meat markets. The meat market man would always have a crew who was, many of them were volunteers, who would help cut ice in the winter time on the river, to be used during the year. And some arrangement whereby they were to have what ice they needed for their labor. It was very little money changed hands in the deal.”

“When the Vermilion River would freeze over and the ice would become a matter of at least six inches (eight to ten inches was much better), they would harvest ice for use during the coming summer. They would see that the snow was all scraped off from the ice, in case there was snow, and it would freeze better with no snow on it. They used a sort of a marking device that was pulled by a horse and the horse would go out on the ice pulling this marking device and it would scratch little furrows in the ice, just perhaps maybe a quarter or a half an inch deep, merely as a marker for the cutters. When they had a large number of, a substantial area marked out, ready for the cutters, then the device was removed and the horse, of course, was no longer on the ice, the men with the saws would begin to saw along the marks there. And they would saw that ice. Sometimes, depending on the thickness of it, sometimes it would weigh a hundred pound block. Sometimes the blocks would be a couple hundred pounds. As they would saw these big blocks of ice out, an ice tong would be attached to it and rope on the ice tong. With the aid of the horse, the big blocks of ice would be hauled up onto the mainland and loaded into a wagon. It was before — I don’t think there was any trucks ever used because they were — it was a little before the day that trucks were common. The wagons would haul the ice to an ice house to be stored.”

This picture is not from the Vermilion, but a river in Canada.  It shows part of the ice cutting process in the 1890s.   I wish I had a picture from the Wakeman family showing ice cutting, but I expect that they didn’t have a camera quite that early.  (Picture from the Wikipedia Commons.)

“For quite some years, for some reason, an ice house had been built on the saw mill property that Dad owned. And it was, we called it the Red Ice House. And it was quite a little ways from where the ice was harvested. I say quite a little ways, maybe half a mile or so. But anyway, the ice would be hauled up there in the winter time. A layer of sawdust would be placed on the earth, then the entire floor of the building which was probably some, let’s say twenty by thirty feet — and when that layer was filled on the floor, about two inches of saw dust would be placed over the whole thing. Then a second layer of ice blocks would be placed on that. And tier after tier of ice blocks would be built there until that was perhaps as high as fifteen feet or more from the base to the top. And the upper ones was always, the blocks of ice were hoisted up there with a rope and a pulley and placed. And when it came time to, in the summer time, to take it out for use, it had all the — it was reversed. They’d lower it from the upper ones there and, as a rule, they tried to harvest sufficient amount of ice so it would go through the summer. And I do not recall any summer that they completely ran out of ice. They’d get down maybe to the last tier. But the meat markets had to have this ice to preserve their meats.”

“And on the days that the market would refill their market coolers, people could buy whatever ice they wanted — 25 pound cake, or 50 cake or hundred, or whatever they wanted. Maybe they’d, twice a week the market cooler would be filled and you’d take a little express cart or any, any con-, any way you wanted and wait while they were bringing the ice up to put it in the meat market. And as soon as the market cooler was filled — they always brought up extra — it would be sold to people who wanted it. In your own home, we did not have — I think it was about 1906, it could have been 1905. We had no refrigeration of any sort — no ice box. And Uncle Bert bought, from the manufacturing plant at Kendallville, an ice box — and shipped it to us. And that was our first ice box.”

“I will explain something further. On the shores of Lake Erie at Lorain, Huron, Sandusky, all along there, they would have enormous big ice houses that would hold carloads and carloads of ice. And it was harvested there in pretty much the same manner as it was harvested at Wakeman on the Vermilion River. And it would be stored in those big ice houses and the railroad spur was in — they would have a series of anywhere from maybe three to six of those big ice houses right along a railroad track. And a railroad car would be put in there and they would load it with ice and cover it. It would be properly covered with sawdust. And that would be shipped to Tennessee, New Orleans, or any place. The entire carload would be shipped south. Of course there was a substantial melting amount. But even then, it provided ice for the southern cities that was available no other way. And all of the cities along the great lakes had their own ice house and their customers that depended on them to provide them with ice for cooling.”

This post is the official beginning of a series I want to do from my Grandpa Lyle’s memories.  My mother, bless her heart, who didn’t think to tell me much about her side of the family and didn’t write much of it down, did think to tape interviews with her father over a couple of years.  She had a list of things she wanted him to talk about, and he did although he had his own ideas about what needed to be remembered too.  These interviews were done in February 1985 and February 1986 (my mother was a teacher and these were on her winter vacation visits to her father), when Grandpa Lyle was 88 and 89 years old.  The first in this series was actually my post about Grandpa Lyle and food (a big part of his life for someone who as far as I know never cooked).  This is the next.

The theme of this series is life in north-central Ohio in the early 20th century.  My grandfather was born in 1896 and these stories about life in Ohio were from then to about 1910, some a little later perhaps.  So they provide an “up close and personal” look at what different aspects of life were like in a small village farming community.  Wakeman, Ohio, is located in Huron County and the Vermilion River runs through it.  It is close to the shore of Lake Erie, just south of the lake.  And is part of the historic Firelands area of the Connecticut Western Reserve.

“This little bit of information I lived through and I can give you a fairly accurate description of it. My younger sister, Doris, which was Anna Doris, but she preferred the name just Doris and the word Anna has been left out of her name a good deal. But that’s her correct name. She was born in 1906. We had — six months earlier, knowing that Mother was pregnant, we left my grandfather’s house on River Street and moved into a rented house on Pleasant Street. We lived in that house for a little over a year perhaps. She was born in June. We had lived there six months before her birth and we stayed there until the spring, probably the spring of 1907. That’s as close as I can recall right now.”

“Directly, or not directly, but across the street from where we lived and about two houses to the north of us was an old house that needed a lot of repair. It was being rented to someone there and there was a change of renters and one thing or another. The house was in a low lot and sometimes water would gather around it and there was no basement under it. It was in a very bad shape but the location was good and the framework of the house was good and my father arranged to buy that house for $700, thinking that he would restore it, which he did.”

“We got moved — I have forgotten exactly when we got moved into that house, but it was not too long after he had purchased it. He had contractors come in and place timbers under the framework of the house and start jacking it up. They raised that house very high, I would say a matter of eight or 10 feet and we had to go up steps to get into it. We lived in that house up, that had been raised up there, probably for the better part of eight or nine months, maybe longer. I don’t recall. The reason: he wanted to put a basement under that. And in order to — and the ground surrounding it was low and he wanted the dirt out of the basement to fill up the, and raise the level of the earth around the house so the water would drain away from the house instead of draining towards it. The basement was dug out with pick and shovel for a little while until they could get a one horse scraper and they dug a sort of a passage way that a horse could be driven down under the house and the scraper loaded with earth could be pulled out with the horse and scraper.

Digging a cellar with a horse and a Buck scraper

How many days that took, I don’t recall. But that’s the way the excavation under the entire house — it was a two story house and about six rooms. It was a two story house. The roof needed some repair and it needed repair all over. And, of course, in those days there were no sanitary facilities or no electricity and no plumbing of any sort.”

“But we got the house raised and then Father had the basement all cemented. He prepared a place for a furnace to be installed. He had a division through the center of the house. The furnace and the storage for coal and kindling. We used corn cobs for kindling and they would put in a wagon load of corn cobs in the window. And there were two basement windows and coal would be put in the other one there and it would hold several tons of coal and a load of corn cobs. The partition divided the furnace room from the storage room. My father decided that instead of having straight walls on the sides of his basement, it would be nice to have a shelf to put things. So the wall was constructed down, oh, we’ll say with a 12 inch shelf all the way around. Concrete. The earth was faced with concrete up to this. Then there was a setback of about 12 inches. And then the rest of it was concrete or building tile. I think it was building tile was used — the upper part, to the height that they wanted it. When that was all complete, the house was lowered onto the foundation that had been made. That foundation had to be constructed, and was constructed, correctly so that the house settled onto the building tile and there would be, there was a space of perhaps three feet from the floor of the house down to the self — it was a 12 inch shelf completely around the sides of the walls there — on which we stored everything that you can, a family might want there.”

I actually visited this house as a teenager with my family, I think in the summer of 1961 or so.  I can’t describe it fully and don’t seem to have any pictures of it.  What I remember as a snippet is that the old kitchen had a pump in the sink as a remnant from the time before there was water and indoor plumbing.  There was also a pump in the yard outside.  I was intrigued.  The other clear memory from that trip was that my uncle and cousins made homemade ice cream, taking turns cranking by hand, which I had never seen done before.  It was delicious!

Update: I recently got permission to use the picture I have inserted.  James Morgan of the www.seldomseensheep.tripod.com website was kind enough to allow me to use it.  Although it wasn’t under an existing house, it gives a good idea of what the process was like.  Thank you, James.

My grandfather, Lyle Denman, loved food and loved to eat.  I think this must have been true all his life.  Ok, this doesn’t make him a gourmet but he did like his meals.  And was always interested in where food came from and how you used it or preserved it.

He told the story about traveling with his parents as a young boy, to visit relatives in the West, and many of his memories included food, how they got it, what they ate, etc.  He said that on his 9th birthday, which occurred during that trip, he came to breakfast saying “Today I am nine years old and I am going to eat 9 pancakes.”  And he did!

Because he was interested, he carried the memory of how things about food were done in the early days of his life and he talked about this with my mother during the interviews they did.  Here he was describing the cellar that his father had built under a house in Wakeman, Ohio, that he had moved the family into.  His father had sold the farm and moved the family into town when his wife’s parents needed care and now they were in a house of their own.  These memories would be from about 1907 on.

“And there was ample room there to store crates of potatoes, crates of apples, cabbages, turnips, squash — all the vegetables.  Then there was a place that we had big ten gallon crocks for brine to, for corned beef, and to cure hams and bacon.  They would be cured in brine and then betaken out and smoked.  There was no refrigeration available at that time as we have now.  We did have what was known as an ice box which was kept up in the kitchen.  And we would get a chunk of ice and I will tell you more about the ice business later.  And that we would store milk in up there, and butter and things.

But most things, the meats, were all as they say, “pickled in brine.”  And they would be taken out and smoked.  We had ham, we had shoulders, and we would have spare ribs and things of that sort.  Father would buy half a pig or a whole pig or sometimes a pig and a half depending how many people were to be fed there.   At one time we had a man living with us.  He helped to build the mill and that will be another story.  He would buy a quarter of beef and we would have it cut up and it would be made into corned beef and we would — in the winter time it would be hung out on our large back porch that Father had built on the place.  And we had that screened in so that it could be practically fly-proof, or fly-resistant.  And we would hang the beef and the raw pork out there from the rafters of the porch during the cold weather until it got warm and it was no longer safe to have meat hanging out there.  We would smoke our hams and bacon; we used corn cobs in a metal tray.  We had a barrel, just probably a 50 gallon drum of some sort with both ends out.  And the bottom end was where the metal tray on the bottom — we would dampen them down, pour a little bit of coal oil or gasoline, just a small amount, to start a smudge.  And then we did get the small pieces of hickory bark and hickory to make a smoke there.  And we would smoke hams and bacon in that barrel.  We would hang them, maybe only two or three at a time inside the barrel on sticks placed across the top of the barrel.  And it would take, it would take a week or ten days to smoke them out sufficiently so they would keep through the summer.

Later, those would be taken — after they were smoked and when the weather began to get warm, Mother would slice them all up and place them in jars of lard.  She would have these crocks, a five gallon crock — the ten gallon crocks were used for the brine to pickle the meats or to have the meats cure in the ten gallon crocks.

This crock is used for pickles, not meat, but is similar to the ones Grandpa talked about

But the five gallon crocks was where she would — sausage that was made from the pork — a layer of grease would be poured in, then a layer of sausage, then another layer of grease and a layer of sausage, until the five gallon crock was filled with fresh sausage, covered with lard, pork fat, rendered.  And from time to time during the summer she would dig that out.  That would be, that sausage would not be fully cooked.  It would be heated through and partially cooked.  But it would be so that in the summertime when we wanted sausage, she would take a big spoon or a little trowel of some sort, or some article, and dig out the sausage and we would have sausage and pancakes or sausage and toast, and French toast and things of that sort.  And she did the same thing for ham.  Our hams, when the weather would get hot and we were afraid of the flies getting at the hams — the meat would become fly-blown and could not be used — before that would happen, she would have the hams cut up, sliced, and they would be packed in five gallon crocks, covered with lards.  And when we wanted a meal of ham, Mother would dig it out of the lard there, whatever we wanted for the meal.  And then would, if there was any uncovered, she would pour some of the melted fat back over so that it was completely covered at all times.  That was the way we lived there.”

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