Mom’s April 9, 1980, column. Appropriate quote for today, “Apparently, weather, rain, wind, and snow, is never divided equally.”

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Liz Taylor

April 9, 1980

Mouse River Farmers Press


                While going through some old things the other day, (and I have a lot of “old things!”) I came across a birthday book wherein my mother had recorded some of the profound happenings of my early years. She only made three or four entries in the book, so apparently not too much happened.

                When I was in the winter of my third year, she wrote “Elizabeth really talks a lot now. Mostly she says, ‘Shut the door, it’s cold in here!’” There is nothing so great about this remark except that I said it often, and that was in the winter of 1935-36, North Dakota’s coldest winter.

                I suppose I was playing on the floor most of the time near one of our three wood and coal burning stoves in our four room house. If I wasn’t playing on the floor, I was at least “short” enough to feel those close-to-the-floor drafts when the door was opened to the severe winter outside. I do not have official records at hand, but do recall from conversations of others in recent years, that the winter of ’35-36 broke all records with temperatures not climbing above the zero mark for several weeks in January and February. A low of 60 degrees below zero was recorded in more than one North Dakota hamlet that winter.

                Being only three years old, I probably was not too concerned about the weather…unless the door was open! However, I wonder now how difficult it must have been for my mother and father and other farmers and ranchers at that time with large families, little money, and poorly insulated homes. And without electricity, indoor plumbing, good roads and few automobiles in which to escape winter’s isolation of the farm!

                On the plus side, very few country dwellers had tractors. Consequently, you didn’t have to struggle with starting a tractor to feed the cattle and haul wood! You just harnessed and hooked up the team of horses and pitched the hay on the rack…after going to the meadow for it…and then came home and pitched it off for the cattle, saving some for the barn animals, milk cows, working team, and maybe some calves. Come to think of it, if we still fed cattle this way, there would be a lot less people keeping cattle.

                On the minus side, it must have been a real struggle to keep wood on hand for the hungry stoves, to cut down and haul in trees, to saw them on the buzz saw if you had a tractor to run it, or a buck-saw if you didn’t and then to split the chunks into stove size. Very few could afford any amount of coal, and the price was around $1.50 per ton! And there were those who did not have a good stand of trees to cut from, so they had to buy wood from others, or lease woodlots to cut from, or burn dried manure, corn cobs, twisted bundles of straw, or whatever they could find. I believe wood sold for $4 a cord and that made coal a better buy.

                I remember the friendly crackling sound of burning wood, the fascination of watching the red and yellow glow of the fire through the isinglass on the door of the parlor stove, and the homey smell of wood smoke as we approached the farm, walking across the pasture from school. Unfortunately, I also remember how cold the floors were and indeed, all of the house in the morning when the fires were almost out and we had to get up and get dressed for school. And how often the ash pans were full and the wood box was empty. There was also the ever present ash dust in the air when you “shook” down the stoves, or carried out the ashes.

                Weather has never been a laughing matter to country people in North Dakota. It seems that TV weathermen (and women) feel obligated to joke about the weather, or fill part of the time allotted for weather information with inane patter and opinions. For example, “Another nice weekend coming up folks, with no rain to dampen the spirits of you campers, fishermen, and golfers!” We’ve all heard this type of forecast during a drought, with crops burning up and pastures thirsting for a grass-saving shower.

                I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a farmer sincerely complain about getting too much rain. Maybe during a fall harvest when the weather settles in for a month long drizzle and fog, they feel pretty bad about not getting their crops off the field. Still they will try to find something good to say, that the rain will be good for fall grazing, or that it will be better next spring if we have adequate rain before freeze-up, and so on.

                The reason for this is that we seldom have too much rain in the Midwest. We sometimes have too much sun, or too much wind, and sometimes the rain falls at the wrong time, but too much rain is unusual.

                I found a clipping from the Mouse River Farmers Press giving the precipitation averages from 1896 to 1958, with the exception of the years 1901 and 1906, which were not available. These averages were compiled by the late August B. Rieder of Towner, who was the local weather observer for many years.

                In this record, 1899 and 1900 were the wettest years, with 28.65 and 28.35 inches respectively. The only other years there were more than 20 inches, were 1916, 1927, 1937, 1941, and 1954.

                To give you an idea of the fluctuations of moisture in our area, 1916 had a total precipitation of 21.25 inches, and the following year, 1917, only had 8.22 inches! No wonder farmers have such a gamble! Another similar variance was 18.6 inches in 1935, which was preceded by 1934 with 8.41 inches. This same clipping also stated that 1954 had the wettest June, with 9.37 inches recorded. Keep in mind that we had more moisture in that one month than in the entire year of 1917 and 1934.

                In 1954, my sister, Sigrid, and I started out for California on the morning of July 10 to attend the funeral of our Aunt Cora (Oium) Cushnaghan. We were driving, and I recall an incident somewhere in Wyoming when we stopped for gas. We had encountered a shower or two in North Dakota, and there was mud on our car. The filling station attendant said, “Gee, where did you get that mud?” We told him we had had over 9 inches of rain in June, still had occasional showers in July.

                Later, we drove into the yard of a rancher living near the highway to stop and rest and lunch for a time under the cottonwood tree in his driveway. It was the only shady spot we had seen for a long time and the temperature was 105 degrees above. The brown grass crackled underfoot when we got out of the car and we talked about the weather for a time with the rancher’s wife. She said, “Gosh but it’s been hot and dry! We haven’t had moisture in any form for seven months now!” We did not tell her how wet and green the Towner area was when we left. Apparently, weather, rain, wind, and snow, is never divided equally.

                Thought for the week, “By the time a man has money to burn, the fire is out!”

                Next week, “Potpourri.”



A little 1980 visit about politics with Liz

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Liz Taylor

April 2, 1980

Mouse River Farmers Press


                “Good heavens, you didn’t think I’d vote for that skirt chaser just because he’s a Democrat, did you? You must be out of your tree!” And that was my reply to a question about a political candidate recently, no names, please.

                So much for religion, politics, and sex, along with a dash of mental health!

                For some reason, folks think I should not take a stand on politics and so on, in this column. Well, it’s an opinion column and everyone who knows me, knows I have strong opinions on many subjects. However, I do not intend to expound on my views at this time, except in an abstract form, or perhaps on the national level. Apparently, it’s always safe to nip at the heels of the man on top, or so it would seem from listening to the national news.

                In the course of a recent conversation with a young man about the affairs of the state, and indeed, about world affairs, I asked, “Are you a Democrat or Republican?”

                He replied, “I am neither, I am an anarchist.”

                I liked his reply, and was not too surprised at hearing it from one less than half my age.

                An anarchist is one who favors anarchism (what else?) and for those of you who don’t want to look that up, although I did, anarchism is the theory that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable, and should be abolished! Doesn’t that sound like some of the ideas expressed in recent speeches by would-be presidents during some of our state primaries? Or is constant criticism of our current president and his cabinet just criticism and nothing more? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

                All Americans seem to have one thing in common, we would like less government interference in our private affairs. We talk about it as we drive down our federal and state highways, in our cars with pollution control brought about by national law, and strapped in our seats with seat belts put there (again by federal law) to hopefully keep us safer if we have an accident.

                We stop at a café for lunch and enjoy relatively pure food because the café had to pass inspection for cleanliness. And as we enjoy a sumptuous meal, some of our friends and relatives are also enjoying a meal, perhaps not so grand, but adequate, through the benefits of money and food stamps provided for them by our state and national government to help them over the rough spots in life.

                I could go on and on about our less than perfect society, referring to our national parks so that you can all enjoy the outdoors even if you don’t live in the country, about our meat inspection programs, school aid, farm programs, and, of course, our military defense system. And much, much more. Perfect? No way.

                How much government is too much? We live in the most freedom oriented nation in the world. How many of you know an American citizen who has defected to Russia? There are a few, but how many do you know? Do we have a fence, barrier, or “iron curtain” forbidding you to leave our nation to seek a better life in another land? No, you are free to go if you so choose.

                Think about the advantages of being an American citizen before you criticize. And when you do complain, think about an alternative to the problem you complain about, and let our government representatives know what you think would be a solution, or even a partial one!

                What would you suggest for getting our hostages out of Iran? Let you president or congressman or senator know if you think you have a good idea.

                No, I’m not happy with the current state of affairs in America. I’m not satisfied with the high gas prices and low farm prices, high interest rates, and low farm prices and wages that don’t keep up to inflation. Maybe writing to our government officials with ideas is not the solution, but it’s the only one I have at the moment. So please don’t throw up your hands, take a pen in hand instead and “let the folks in Bismarck and Washington” know what you think! And tell your friends and neighbors what you think, and our city and county officials, and on down the line. Yes, I know I mentioned low farm prices twice in this paragraph, and I’ll mention them again. Hog prices the lowest in 6 years, cattle prices dropping so fast you wonder what’s happening, and grain prices no way keeping up with the cost of production and inflation.

The Farmers Home Administration closing the doors, or finances, to some of their borrowers in the spring of the year just before calving and grain seeding with no more justification than saying they are short of funds. When our government recently bailed out the Chrysler Corporation with enough money to keep our farmers and ranchers going for years, just to have one more make of car on the market. Not for competition with General Motors and Ford, because there is no more competition between them than there is with groceries bought at our grocery conglomerates and chains, and our appliance and implement monopolies.

Get mad, and write to your representative in government, and tell them it’s an election year, no matter who they are. And tell them to shape up or ship out and go make a living without a guaranteed wage and pension plan.

Speaking of writing, I receive letters about my column, and how welcome they are…whether they are for or against what I say. I did not realize so many people read this paper, or cared enough to comment. One of the more amusing ones I received recently was about the change in my picture at the head of this column.

“Is that a new picture of you and Bud?” This was in reference to the picture of me and the “bull” skull hanging on our corral fence!

No, it’s not Bud and I. Actually, I always thought he was at least as “bull-headed” as me, but that is not his head by me in the picture. It is the skull of a Hereford bull we bought about 15 years ago for $1,200 when $1,200 was quite a price to pay for a bull. Anyway, said bull had a bit of failing health one day, turned up lame, with a dislocated hip or knee, and I suggested butchering or selling him.

“No, he’ll get alright,” said Bud. Well, the bull didn’t get alright so all we have is the memory of a once good bull and a skull to hang on the fence. There was a time when I thought about hanging someone else’s head on the…oh, never mind!

Thought for the week: ‘God grant me patience, and pleas hurry!”

Next week: “Weather…or not.”