June 15, 2013

Ours For A Season


There is a time for everything and season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.

This very familiar passage from the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of the many phases of our lives, as individuals and as families. In looking back at my life, I see God’s loving and gracious hand in events, experiences and their timing. In thinking back to our growing up at Bayshore Farm, I see how significant the time spent there has been for us. And not just for our immediate family but for so many of our cousins, nieces and nephews as well. It was the place where life happened for us, where we felt ‘at home’, felt safe, felt loved and cared for. It was the place where we knew Shalom or the Peace of God. The Farm was the place where all of these things mentioned in the passage above, took place in our lives. Bayshore Farm itself was ours for a season, a brief 30 plus years. In those years our lives and futures took shape. The Farm, with its buildings, its land, the lake and the animals, but mostly its people, helped shape us into the men and women we are today.

The farm had caught my father’s eye probably from the first day he drove to it in his milk truck. Every day except Sundays, Dad picked up the milk from over 75 farms scattered all over Stanton Township. This particular farm was situated nearly a mile off the Houghton Canal Road eight miles northwest of Houghton. Turning right off the main paved road at that point, and driving in towards Portage Lake you reach the farm property line and the woods give way to a large open field. Across that field the farmyard comes into view with the lake in the background. The most striking feature of the farm is its long red barn with a corrugated aluminum roof that reflects the sun brilliantly. The barn sits just below the two story white farmhouse on a gentle slope down towards the bay and lake beyond. There are several massive cottonwood trees in the yard along with three or four maples and an apple orchard. The house has a commanding view of the bay and the canal extending southward toward Oscar. It is a quiet and almost idyllic scene, especially on those calm mornings when the lake mirrors the farms and hills of the opposite shore. The out buildings consisted of the two story granary with a garage attached to it right in the front yard, a long low chicken coop off towards the lake, and a machinery warehouse out behind the barn. At the time we moved to the farm there were several other old buildings scattered about the farm all in various stages of disrepair.

The farm belonged to an elderly couple, Art & Lena Oinas. They had no children but managed to run the farm by themselves for many years. Dad apparently had said to Mr. Oinas several times that if he ever wanted to sell the farm he would be interested in the place. I remember stopping there many times while accompanying Dad on the milk route. I liked the place too because it was one of the few farms actually situated near the lake. When one day Mr. Oinas told Dad of his intention to retire and move into town, Dad was quick to make an offer on the place and soon the farm was ours.

I was 11 years old, going on 12 the year we moved. It was the spring of 1958. Mr. Oinas didn’t want to do the spring fieldwork so we arranged to take over the farm operations gradually that spring. We drove there in the evenings and on weekends to plow and prepare the fields for planting. Mom, Tony and I spent time getting acquainted with the cows, their feeding and milking procedures. We learned each cow’s name, her particular needs, her good qualities as well as her bad habits. We had to be familiar with things like which stall each cow preferred as they came into the barn for milking, which cows gave the most milk, which ones protested at having the milking machine put on, and which ones were prone to step on your toes or swish you in the face with a messy tail.

The actual moving day, June 4th, is a bit of a blur in my memory. I remember loading our furniture and other belongings into our station wagon, pickup trucks and Uncle Ricku’s big flatbed truck. One of the trucks carried my parent’s chest-of-drawers, the top drawer of which was reserved for their important papers. Along the way the drawer vibrated open on the washboard gravel roads and the papers flew out all over the roadside. When it was discovered, Mom, Dad and several others had to go back and comb the ditches along both sides the road for several miles to recover all those papers. I’m not sure if they ever found them all.

Eventually we actually moved in and started getting used to our new home. There was plenty for us kids to explore as we got to know our way around the farm and all its out buildings. And we finally had our own sauna! Up until then Saturday night meant packing the family into the car and going off to some relative or neighbor’s farm for our regular weekly sauna bath. This was really a social event as there were usually one or two other families visiting whichever farm we chose to go to. Families took turns going to the sauna while the others talked and had ‘coffee and nisua’. Sometimes we kids got to have pop with our Ritz crackers, squeaky cheese and summer sausage, especially at Grandpa & Grandma Garnell’s farm.

But now we had our own sauna and it was even attached to the house. No more having to walk across someone’s farmyard in the dark and the snow or rain just to take a bath. And now the neighbors came to our place on Saturday nights. It was usually my brother Tony’s and my responsibility to keep the fire burning hot in the sauna stove and to make sure there was plenty of water in the hot water tank next to it. We had lots of Saturday night company those first few months. People came not just for the bath and coffee but also to see our new place. But they kept coming back again and again. My parents knew a lot of people and they came not just for the sauna but because they appreciated Mom and Dad as good friends and neighbors. I remember one Saturday soon after moving to the farm. Mr. & Mrs. Oinas came for a sauna, and I suppose, to see how well we were taking care of their farm. It was a warm sunny afternoon and Tony and I were wanting to play baseball, so we got out the old push reel lawn mower and started cutting the diamond shaped base lines in the field beside the house. When Mr. Oinas saw us pushing the mower in the field he bawled us out for cutting grass in his hay field. We didn’t get to play ball that night.

What does a dairy farmer do twice a day, 14 times a week, or 730 times a year? Milk the cows!
Sorry boys, but cows don’t take days off and definitely don’t take vacations. Once we moved onto the farm we spent more time with those dumb animals than with anyone or anything else. Mom and Dad would get up ahead of us boys and brew the coffee. Then we heard Mom call up the stairway, “Boys it’s time to milk the cows.” That was usually before 6:00 am. Tony and I would don our ‘barn clothes’ and trot off to the barn where Mom would usually already have the milking machines put together and ready to go. Then when we got home from school Mom would have supper ready for us, and after eating it was back into those ‘barn clothes’ and into the barn again for the second round. Round is a good word here because the stalls for our cows were arranged in a circle, like pieces of a big pie so that the cows faced each other with an area in the center for feeding them. The ladder to the hayloft went up from that center area so that we could just drop the hay down and then easily fork it into the mangers. We would first give the cows their grain and then wash their udders, which were often quite dirty depending on where they had been laying just a few minutes before. Then we started the milking process. We had three machines, which were hung under the cows belly by a strap slung over their backs. Then the vacuum is turned on to the suction cups that are attached to the udders. This is usually a fairly straightforward procedure, especially if the cows are busy eating their grain. But we had several cows that would always fuss at having this strange mechanical contraption attached. The time it took each cow to be milked varied depending on breed, size and how long ago she had calved. By experience and instinct you know how long to leave the machine attached. Once finished the machine was removed and taken to the milk house where it was poured out through a strainer and into ten gallon milk cans.

I don’t know how it happened that Tony ended up with the job of operating the milking machines with Mom while I was landed with the job of mucking out the barn. But that is how it went. In the summertime it wasn’t too bad since the cows were only in the barn for an hour each morning and evening, meaning there wasn’t a lot to shovel. But late in the fall, when the weather turned really cold, the cows took up permanent residence in their stalls. That meant they did all their business right there in the barn giving me lots of shovel and pitchfork time both morning and evening. Mr. Oinas had devised a unique manure removal system in the barn. It consisted of a track suspended from the ceiling rafters that ran in a big semi-circle around the barn. On this track was a trolley with a large metal container suspended by chains. This container could be raised and lowered by means of a chain-operated winch. While Mom and Tony ran the milking machines I ran this waste removal machine through the barn and shoveled the manure out of the gutters behind the cow’s stalls into it. It usually took two loads to clean up. Once the container was full I would push it along the track to the back door of the barn and on outside. The track continued for quite a distance beyond the barn to the ‘winter waste storage area’, otherwise known as the manure pile. Once at the end of the track a handy lever was pulled which caused the container to overturn and deposit the aromatic animal waste in the storage site.
Occasionally this lever was inadvertently tripped while still in the barn spreading all my hard labor all over the floor. This caused no little upset and a few choice words fit only for such an occasion.

If I had my share of upsets so did Mom and Tony. As mentioned earlier we had the odd cow now and then that for some reason balked at having the milking machine slung to its back and than attached to her udders. These were usually young cows that had just calved for the first time and were unused to the whole idea of being milked. They would kick and fuss and protest. They shied away from you even as you approached with the milking machine. Occasionally they managed to get their hoof caught in the strap that held the machine and would send the whole thing flying across the barn floor, splashing fresh milk and milking machine parts in all directions. But for the most part we had fairly docile and contented cows, which once fed and watered, gracefully accepted the procedure two times a day.

No season was more looked forward to and more dreaded than hay making season. Making hay was hard work and fun at the same time for us boys. It was a time of machines, gasoline, grease and baler twine. We got to drive the tractor, but it often involved driving from dawn to dusk. We got to ride on the hay wagons, but had to load those heavy bales on and off it. There was the sweet smell of fresh mown hay, along with the itchy, scratchy hay dust that stuck to your sweaty neck and arms as we toted the bales around.

There were the occasional really hot days when we would take a break and run down to the lake for a quick dip between loads. There were unsettled days when you hoped the rain would hold off just long enough to get the dry hay in. There were those rainy days when everything had to come to a stop. And there were always lots of cousins around to help share the work and the fun. The first thing we would do in the morning was to examine the sky and guess if it was going to be dry or rainy. If dry, and after the dew was of the grass, the mower was attached to the Farm All tractor and off one of us went to cut the hay for the next day’s baling. After the mowing was done, the John Deere was fired up to pull the side delivery rake. This was a tedious and monotonous job of going around and around the field sweeping the hay into windrows for the bailer to pick up. Once the hay was dry enough, the mower came off the Farm All and the baler attached in its place. We had three large flat bed farm trailers that we pulled behind the baler to stack the bales on as they came out of the machine. This is the job that was fun and hard work at the same time. And there were usually one or two cousins around to assist with this job. Depending on how dry the hay was, those bales could weight any where from 30 to 75 pounds. And stacking them properly so that they didn’t fall off the wagon when we went onto a sloping part of the field was an art in itself. Once a wagon was loaded to capacity, the John Deere brought an empty one to replace it and the loaded one was hauled to the barn to be unloaded into the loft. Once the wagon was in place, the tractor had to be disconnected and the power take off drive shaft attached to the conveyer that lifted the bales up into the loft. This job usually went fairly quickly and was followed by a stop in the house for a big glass of Kool Aid and a cookie. We also took Kool Aid to the crew on the baler and hay wagon. It often took the remainder of the day to bale all the dry hay and get it safely into the barn. We would build forts of hay bales in the loft as soon as there were enough up there to work with. Now the above was a description of an ideal hay making day; a day without rain and a minimal amount of dew in the morning. Those days were few and far between. It seems like more often then not there was a threat of rain most days or we would wake up to rain. That meant delays and poor quality hay. Once mown hay was rained on it was very hard to dry. If it rained too much, the hay would mildew and become worthless. But in the end there was always a loft full of bales and a deep sense of satisfaction of a difficult job completed.

One of the reasons why I was attracted to Bayshore was the bay itself and the prospect of fishing.
It’s not that I was much of a fisherman but the thought of having a lake in your backyard was just about every boy’s dream. Back in Onella we would go fishing occasionally in the stream that ran through the back forty of the old Lampinen farm. Dad would put a hook and sinker on a length of fish line and we boys would dig worms. Then we would go down to that stream and find willows the right length to cut for poles. We did actually catch brook trout in that stream which was only about two feet across in the wide places. But now we had a whole lake and especially the bay behind the barn to fish in. We graduated to real fishing poles with reels on them. At first we went for the perch that were quite abundant, especially at the mouth of the bay. We used worms for bait. But if we ran out of worms we would pop out the eyes of the fish we had caught and use them as bait. Amazingly, they worked as good as worms.

While fishing for perch, we saw other fishermen going after bigger game, Northern Pike that enjoyed the shallow and weedy waters of the bay. We also decided to go after these “monsters of the deep” too. I remember trying to catch them by casting red and white spoon lures but all we ever caught was seaweed and lily pads. Then we saw that others were using live bait. We couldn’t afford that but discovered that smelt worked well. We caught them by the bucketfuls in Oscar Creek in early spring when they were going upstream to spawn. We would fill empty milk cartons with them and put them in the freezer. When we went fishing we would just chip out a few frozen smelt and take them down to the bay. These shiny silver fish worked well and many a Northern Pike was caught with smelt on a good stout hook, a strong steel leader, and a bobber up about two feet from the hook.

One day I was using this tried and true smelt bait set-up at the mouth of the bay. The Pike weren’t biting so I decided to reel in my line. As I was doing this a seagull passing overhead saw the smelt, which by then was looking a little ragged, moving slowly near the surface. The gull dived for my bait, picked it up and started flying off. I don’t know who was more surprised, the seagull or me. I just kept reeling in the line. Once the gull realized he was getting more than he bargained for, he let go and my baited hook came down with a splash. That was enough fishing for one day.

But I guess the biggest ‘fish story’ was the day I caught the ‘whopper’. Now there are two accounts of this event –the real true story, and the one that made the front page of the Daily Mining Gazette. This is how it really happened.

I went fishing after school one day in late May or early June. I had my trusty pole with an open reel and 30# test line and a few frozen smelt for bait. I cast my line out and sat down on the shore to wait, watching my bobber bob on the ripples. Watching a bobber for too long does funny things to your eyes, and you can become mesmerized by the rhythmic up and down motion. You often imagine it going under when it really isn’t. Well, after a few minutes of staring at that bobber, it suddenly went under and didn’t come back up. I jumped to my feet and started to reel in my line. From the very beginning I knew it was a big one because he started reeling himself back out, making the drag just whir. He didn’t jump but put up a steady resistance. But eventually tiring out, I was able to start reeling him in toward shore. When I got him right to the water’s edge the hook straightened out and pulled out of his mouth, causing hook, line and bobber to fling back past me into the bushes. I immediately dropped my pole and grabbed the fish and flung him as far on land as I could. My heart was racing as I stood there looking at the biggest fish I had ever seen in my life. When I carried it up to the house every one was surprised. We took pictures and decided that it needed to be mounted. So we put in on a board and laid it in the freezer. You can bet that I had a good fish story to tell my schoolmates the next day! News of the ‘Whopper’ spread and the number of fishermen in the bay increased for the rest of the season. Dad caught one a couple weeks later that was almost as big. After that Dad hooked another big one that put up a really big fight and eventually broke the line. But the hook and bobber remained firmly attached. So for several weeks afterward we would see this bobber moving about the bay and know exactly where that fish was. We tried several times to sneak up on him in a boat and grab the bobber but never got close enough. Eventually he must have gotten the hook free because we never saw the bobber again.

Later that summer when newsworthy events were at an all time low, the Daily Mining Gazette sent reporter Billy Brinkman out to find stories to print. He had heard of the ‘Whopper’ and came to the farm to get the ‘facts’ and take a few pictures. The following is his account of my catching this fish.
All bedlam broke loose Saturday night near sundown when this 46 inch Northern Pike was hooked by David Lampinen, 14, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilbert Lampinen of the Houghton-Canal district. Accompanied by John Yrjana and brother Kim Lampinen, 5, David started to reel in what seemed a waterlogged piece of sunken driftwood when as he pulled it in the vicinity of the boat, the object suddenly became a mass of fight and fury. With tugging and thrashing the surface into foam, the battle became general with members of the Lampinen household within earshot of the melee emerging from house and barn with a bat, gun and pitchfork to join the battle. Other fisherfolk and boating enthusiasts converged upon both sides of the Portage Lake giving vocal support to the lad to hang on while tiny Kim hung on for dear life while witnessing the battle between man and fish. It was 20 minutes before the 22 pounder decided he had had enough and permitted to be pulled limply out of the water by gaff and net. But on landing in the boat he began all over again with David and John pouncing on it with paddle and gasoline cans midst the rocking of the boat. Soon it was tied securely and the prize catch was displayed to the multitudes along the shore. “Kelly Bay” near the Lampinen property was the site of the catch along the flowery waterlillies and cattails adjacent to shore.

Living beside a lake was like a dream come true for me, even though I hadn’t actually dreamt of it before moving to the farm. There’s just something that attracts a boy to water. Is it our unquenchable urge to throw stones into it, to splash our feet in it, or the pure adventure of building a raft and somehow to float atop its surface? For me there was something almost mystical about living on Portage Lake. Maybe it was the awesome sight of the huge Great Lakes iron ore freighters passing by the farm only a stone’s throw from us on shore. Or was it our fishermen neighbors’ boats cutting through the mirrored surface of the lake at dawn on their way out to the ‘Big Lake’ to check their nets. But a big part of the mystique was the way the lake came to life in the summer. When school let out in early June, all the families that owned summer cottages along the lake arrived to remove the window shutters and air out their summer places. They also put their boats in the water and the lake came alive with the traffic of motorboats, water skiers and sports fishermen. For us the lake was a place to go for a break from the labors of the farm. On the rare hot summer days during haymaking season, we would run down to the lake for a quick dip between wagon loads of hay bales being unloaded into the hay loft. Many long summer days and evenings were spent at the shore, whether fishing, swimming, having a picnic or a bonfire, or just sitting around and telling stories and enjoying the cooler off- lake breezes. Tuesday evenings were always a highlight in those early years, as that was the night when the cruise ship, the South American, would pass through the canal. This big glistening white ship would dock in Houghton on Tuesdays on its weekly cruise from Chicago to Duluth. We would be down on the shore early to get the bonfire started well before the ship came into view. Our goal was to get the captain to blow the ship’s horn for us. We would wave, holler and blow a car horn to get his attention. This ship, like the ore carriers, was such a big ship that, as they appeared to suck up the lake water as they passed by. The lake level would actually drop by as much as a foot and then come surging back with the wake of the ship. We kids would always walk out onto the bare lake bed as far as the water receded and then make a run for shore as the water came rushing back to its normal level.

Our first boat was a small flat-bottomed wooden rowboat with a 5 h.p. outboard motor that we got from our Uncle Wally when they moved out to California. It was great for fishing and just dinging around in the summer. But it was not very fast. No matter how hard we tried, we could just barely pull someone on a kneeboard. For a while we also had an 8 ft. fiberglass dingy that came in handy when we had a lot of cousins around. That way we had one boat for the girls and one for the boys. The girls liked to row that dingy across the lake to Boston creek or just to check out the boys at the summer cottages along that side of the lake. They would also just take it out and lay on the bottom to get a suntan. We boys would take the other rowboat out for exploration. Whether up the slough in the bay or up and down the lake, we always had some plan or adventure in mind. Then Dad bought a used Dumphey 14’ ‘speedboat’ he saw advertised the newspaper. It had a 25 h.p. Johnson outboard motor, which worked well for pulling water-skiers. Although old, this boat had a bit of class and could keep up with a lot of the other boats on the lake. It even had a windshield and steering wheel; a real step up for us in the boating world.

Most of what we called the shore was actually made up of sand and silt that was dredged out of the lake when the ship canal was constructed. The last mile or so of the canal had to be cut out of swampy low land to connect Portage Lake to lake Superior. And that part of the canal started right where our farm was located. So much of the sand and silt from the canal digging was deposited on the lakeside on our farm. When the canal was completed the farm had about two more acres of land in the shape of a peninsula.

When we moved to the farm, there was a barbed wire fence running across the tip of the peninsula cutting off about the last 100 yards of the land. Apparently the man who owned the land across the bay thought that his property line should extend across the mouth of the bay and that he owned that bit of the peninsula. He had put up the fence several years before we bought the farm, but the former owner had done nothing to settle the issue. Dad hired an attorney and the court ruled that the land was ours so we tore down the fence and the cows were able to graze there once again. Dad wanted to put up a small cabin down on the ‘point’, as we called it. One year Michigan Tech was auctioning off several of the small married student houses on the campus and Dad bid on one and got it. We had it moved onto the point and it became the center of activity during the summers, a changing room for swimmers, a place to prepare food for picnics and just a place to hang out with friends and cousins. Eventually it even had electricity and running water. We also rented it out to out of town fishermen in the late summer and fall.

The biggest events to take place at the lakeshore were the underground cookouts. This was something introduced by Aunt Millie and a Peruvian doctor who she worked for in his office. The doctor came over the first time to supervise the cookout. It involved collecting a lot of rocks (something easy to do on our farm) and carefully piling them in the shape of a hollow dome. Then a fire was built inside the dome to heat the rocks. The fire was kept burning for about six hours until the rocks were heated through. Meanwhile, the food was prepared; chicken, pork, beef; potatoes, carrots, corn. When the rocks were hot, they were moved to one side and the food was placed in the fire pit in layers separated by tin foil (the original Peruvian way is to use banana leaves) with the hot rocks in between. Once all the food was in place, the whole thing was covered with foil and then with a 3 or 4-inch thick layer of sand. It was left to cook slowly for a couple of hours. Once it was determined that the food was thoroughly cooked (mostly by smell), the sand was brushed off the mound and the foil carefully folded back to reveal the deliciously cooked food. You always had a few grains of sand in your food, but no one minded. These cookouts were always a hit and attended by the whole extended family, as well as, neighbors and friends.

Uncle Henry was a man who knew just about everything that was happening along the Canal. He knew that one of his neighbors, the Malms, who had a summerhouse just down the canal from his farm, were planning to build a new house to live in year round. Uncle Henry approached Mr. Malm to ask what he was planning to do with the old summerhouse. He arranged for Dad to buy it for one dollar and move it off the site and to the point on our lakeshore. Rather than moving it along the road, which would have been very difficult and expensive, Uncle Henry persuaded Dad that we could move it much more easily along the lake, but to do it in the dead of winter over the ice! Well that is what we decided to do. December of that year was cold but it didn’t snow until just before Christmas. That meant that the lake froze and the ice was getting thick. During the Christmas break from college we worked at preparing the house for the move. We jacked it up off its foundation and ran two long straight maple logs under it to act like huge sled runners. With the house on the runners and braced for the move we just had to wait for the right time to move. That timing was up to Uncle Henry, who knew about the load bearing capacity of ice, by instinct and experience rather than science. It was late February of 1968, after another long cold spell that Uncle Henry felt that the time was right. We hired two small crawler tractors from Matilla Construction Co. and attached them to the two maple runners with different length steel cables to distribute the weight on the ice, and the move began. It was a slow but steady move across the two plus miles of ice to the point, but the move was successful. The only mishap was when the crawler tractors returned across the ice to the starting point and one broke through the ice just as it was approaching land. It took a long time to rescue the machine, but they managed to do that the next day. But the important thing was that we now had the house sitting on the point, and Uncle Henry was right about the strength of the ice.

The farm was a home away from home for many of our cousins that lived in cities like Detroit and San Francisco. During the summers, our city uncles and aunts would make their annual pilgrimage back to the Copper Country. During these times our cousins would spend anywhere from a day or two to several weeks on the farm. Sometimes the cousins would come up on their own and spend time with us, especially during haymaking season. They were always welcome and always willing to pitch in and help with the farm chores. Mom would just put a few extra plates on the table and find an extra bed or two for them. But we also had time to play and as well. We would usually be down at the lake, in the lake or on the lake in whatever boat or raft we had at the time. Or we’d go off on adventures exploring in the woods or on nearby abandoned farms. Once we decided to trek through the woods from the farm to the Houghton Breakwater along the canal. This turned out to take nearly all day as both the underbrush and the mosquitoes were thicker than we expected. For the last several hundred yards we had to walk along the steel pilings right at the water’s edge. It was a lot like walking along a railroad track except that falling off could mean a cold dip in the lake depending on which side of the steel casing you fell. We’d like to spend nights in different places. There was an old shack on the bay that had been abandoned for many years. Whoever had lived in it left in a hurry, it seemed, since they left a lot of stuff behind. It had a wood burning cook stove and most of the furniture still in place. The building was nearly falling down but one summer we decided to clean it out enough to spend the night in it. The cleaning took quite a bit of time but that was part of the fun. The shack had a second story with two old iron double beds. We brought flashlights and food. That is all we needed to have a great time. I can’t remember how much sleep we got that night, but it probably wasn’t much with the late night story telling, too many boys in one bed and strange noises. But I remember that we only spent one night there. The Koski cousins would usually manage to find fireworks along their trip from California and we had great fun setting them off. Our favorite thing to do was to blow up cow pies. We also developed rocket-propelled Campbell’s soup cans. We would make a small hole in the bottom of and empty can and insert a firecracker in it with just the fuse sticking out. Then the can was carefully placed, open end down into a fresh cow pie. When lit, the can would fly high into the air and the cow pie launch pad would disintegrate, with you know what flying all over the place. Great fun, if you could run far enough away before the firecracker exploded!

When we moved onto the farm there was a big pile of rocks in each field. They were sort of like monuments to the only lasting fruit of farms in the Copper Country. I guess you could excuse Mr. & Mrs. Oinas for not taking the effort to move them a bit further afield. After all there were a lot of them and they just kept coming back again each spring. Anyway, Dad, in conjunction with the county extension agent, hired the Gaspardo brothers with their two big Caterpillar bulldozers to come and bury those rock piles. They dug huge holes in the ground and buried those rocks six feet under. They also landscaped our fields to help with drainage and allow for what they called strip crop rotation farming. We had alternating strips of about 10 acres each planted in oats and alfalfa. There were other smaller fields where we grew potatoes and strawberries. But no matter what we planted, we had to harvest the rocks first. After plowing and cultivating the ground, before we could plant anything we had to pick rocks. It was kind of like outdoor spring-cleaning. Only now, because the rock piles were gone we had to haul each new crop of spring rocks all the way to the gullies at the edges of the fields and dump them there. I’d swear that we got more bushels per acre in rocks than anything we ever planted.

After several years on the farm Dad noticed that we were losing some of our valuable lakeshore property. Each year the waves were slowly eroding away a few feet of the point of land that formed the bay just behind our barn. He consulted the county extension agent who came up with a solution that would cost us very little, apart from backbreaking labor. He suggested that we dump lots of field rock on the shore so that the waves could no longer eat away the sandy soil that made up that point of land. He called it “Rip-rap.” Kind of sounds like one of those rap singing groups you hear on the radio, doesn’t it. Well, it is a ‘rock group’. Lots of rocks grouped together to keep our land from washing away. He may have called it Rip-rap but my brothers and I called it hard work. Now we had to pick up rocks that we had already picked up once and put them back on a truck, then haul them down to the lake. It took two summers between haymaking and fall harvest to build that Rip-rap. We had to almost literally put each rock in place by hand. Several hundred yards of Rip-rap! All around the point and the bay. All I can say is that at least we found a good use for our abundant supply of field rock.
What was first seen as a nuisance actually became very useful. Those rocks that made farming difficult, and only got in the way of the equipment, were transformed into something that now protects the farm from being eroded away by the lake.

It was not long after I got home from a short day at Tech in March of 1968 that Dad and I were working on some problem with the plumbing in the laundry room, running back and forth from there to the basement, when we first smelled smoke. We checked the furnace first but saw nothing wrong. But when the smell of smoke grew stronger we started looking around the house to find the source. Dad went upstairs and when he opened the door to my brother Kim’s room he was met with a flash of flame that singed his hair and eyebrows. He quickly closed the door and ran down the stairs hollering FIRE! Mom called the fire department while we got out the garden hose in an attempt to put it out ourselves. But the fire was too big for that to do any good. Realizing the seriousness of the blaze, we started moving out the furniture as quickly as possible. It was early spring so there was some bare ground to put the furniture on in the front yard. We couldn’t get anything out of the upstairs rooms but we were able to get most of our things from the main floor outside by the time the fire department arrived. By then the fire had broken through the roof, and they began pouring water on the fire. It took some time but they got the fire out before it spread to the whole house. The fire damage was confined to the second story but there was a lot of water and smoke damage to the rest of the house.

Suddenly we were faced with the awful reality that our home was ruined, and we had no place to sleep that night. We also realized that a lot of our personal things were destroyed or damaged by the fire. One thing that we almost immediately thought of was the big shoebox of family photos that was somewhere upstairs. The pictorial record of our lives lost to the flames. But somehow those photographs were spared and only a few suffered smoke and water damage. Also important papers kept in the heavy metal safe up in Mom and Dad’s room was preserved, although the safe had to be forced open due to fire damage. But most importantly we were all safe and unharmed. JoAnn, Gail and Kim were at school. Amy and Anne were downstairs with the rest of us. We were thankful to God for his protection that day, although sad that out home was severely damaged.

The rest of the story has to do with how neighbors and friends came to our aid in our time of need. Wesley and Ethel Johnson opened up their farmhouse for us to use as temporary living quarters. They had moved into town for the winter months, so their place was available and nearby. Many others gave clothes, helped in cleaning up the mess and putting our furniture into the garage, the granary and other places for safekeeping. Others helped with milking and caring for the cows. This was a very trying time for us, especially for Dad and Mom, but the loving care and help of family, friends and neighbors made it possible for life to go on. Dad was working for Matilla Construction at the time. They came to our aid by helping Dad work out plans for rebuilding our home.

I will never forget how the whole new second story was put up in one day. A lot of work had been done in tearing down the charred ruins of the second floor. The house, we discovered was made of logs hewn flat on two sides and dovetailed together at the corners. These exterior walls had to be torn down to the second floor level and all interior walls removed till all that was left was the floor. Construction materials had to be ordered and delivered to the farm. In the meanwhile, in the Johnson’s barn, we had worked on making the roof trusses for the house. Once these were ready, the workday could be set. That morning men came from all over, Dad’s co-workers and neighbors, carrying with them their carpentry tools and a desire to help. I don’t know who organized the project and acted as foreman, but soon the walls were being framed and stood up, first the outside walls and then the interior ones. The plywood sheeting was nailed on and then the roof trusses were lifted up and put in place. By late afternoon the plywood was on the roof and the tarpaper nailed down to make it weather proof. As this was all happening, women from all over the neighborhood were cooking lunch for the workers and keeping them supplied with coffee and baked goods. It was like the old “barn raisings” that you hear or read about—neighbors helping neighbors. And the help didn’t stop there. Men came by for weeks afterward to assist in the finishing of the interior and putting on the roofing. Some worked on plumbing others on electrical wiring, insulation and putting us sheet rock. Waino Lepisto and uncle Earl did a lot of the finishing work on the inside. It wasn’t until summer that we were able to move back in, but it would have taken much longer hadn’t it been for the helping hands of so many. In looking back over this event, I see just how well loved and respected Dad and Mom were, and how willing people were to help in time of need. I wonder how much of that kind of community spirit still exists today?

We all left the farm at different times, for different places and purposes. We had been on the farm for only ten years when I graduated from Michigan Tech in June of 1968. Going to college at the Tech meant that I could stay at home on the farm for those four years. But now the time was near for me to leave. After graduation, I was able to go to California with my uncle Carl Koski as he drove back with cousins John and Dave, who were both studying at Tech. John and I graduated in 1968. While visiting in California, I received a letter from the Draft Board calling me to report for a pre-induction physical in Milwaukee, WI in July. So when I got back to Michigan, my next trip was to Milwaukee. I passed the physical and was told to expect to be called up for active service in September. At that point my cousin Dean Allen was already in the Navy and advised me to also join the Navy. So when I received a call from the local navy recruiter I went for an interview and signed up for a delayed enlistment, allowing me to wait until November before entering bootcamp at Great Lakes, IL. At that point I was focused on the future and didn’t even think very much about what I was leaving behind. I did suffer from homesickness while at bootcamp but after that found the excitement of going to new places and doing new things made leaving home easier. It wasn’t until much later, however, that I began to realize the real impact and importance of those ten years on the farm. The Vietnam War took me away from the farm and although I came back to visit, I never lived there again. But my life experiences on the farm and the way they influenced me have gone with me everywhere I have gone.

Several years later when Dad and Mom finally decided to sell the farm and move to into town, Mom wrote the following in a letter to my sister Sandra. “Our life from now on will be so different; selling the farm. Dad and I have come to the point in our lives where it has to be done and we are ready for the change. All our memories of all the years past will be taken along with us. We will always cherish them, the good and the bad. God has been good to us. He has given us 8 children and our 27th grandchild will be here soon. Our life was full and many people have gone through our home; relatives, friends –some visited for a day, some stayed a few weeks many from the Scandinavian countries.”

Bayshore Farm was ours for a season. It was a special place that will live on in our memories.

Posted by David at 8:18 AM

Ours For A Season

Ours For A Season

Posted by David at 8:05 AM