Editor's note: Before Effingham County dairy farmer Martin Feldhake died in 2000, he penned a history of his family and its life on the farm. He called it Feldhake Memoirs. It tells the story of Effingham County agriculture by telling the story of an Effingham County farm family. The Effingham Daily News presents the memoir in four parts. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tuesday, Part One: Taking root in Effingham County
Wednesday, Part Two: Growing up on the farm
Thursday, Part Three: Expanding the farm
Friday, Part Four: A farm family
By Martin Feldhake
I, Martin, wish to leave this legacy of some of the years of my life and that of my ancestors and family to my children and to the future generations of the Feldhake family.
After moving in 1910, the first improvement was for John and Anna Feldhake to build a new barn. Again they started to cut logs and have them sawed for lumber. A structure 28 feet by 50 feet was built with a basement 30 feet long and opened to the south. It was built on a hillside which made a warm place to milk cows in the winter months. It never froze in the barn while cattle were housed there.
When John moved to his new farm, which was the former Tedrick farm, he began to milk more cows. With a new barn and silo, things looked much better. He bought eight horses. With the help of his eldest son, Ed, and the foster son, Harry, the farm was progressing steadily. This gave him more time for outside work, like building silos and doing masonry work.
John and Anna had been blessed with six living children to carry on their legacy of a proud and prosperous family: Edward, Josephine, Estella, Clarence, Laura, and Johanna. After John and Anna moved to the new farm site, another son was born on April l, 1911. They named him Martin. He was the only child born on the new farm. He married Clara Pals on Aug. 23, 1939. They were blessed with five children: Marjorie, Virginia, James, Evelyn and Dorothy.
John's luck didn't hold out very long. His wife, Anna, became afflicted with rheumatism and at times was nearly helpless. She was taken to the hospital at Olney for six weeks. Johanna was a baby at this time and was taken along with Anna to the hospital. The treatments did not show any improvement. Then she had her tonsils removed and her rheumatism disappeared. That seemed to cure it.
About 1911 silos came into being. John bought a silo that was to be constructed of glazed tile. The tile were made in Brazil, Indiana. With no funds to hire a man to build his silo, John decided to build it himself along with the help of his relatives. This was the start of silo construction in the Feldhake family. This type of work took up most of the spare time in the summer months. He traveled a wide area building silos for other farmers. John also did plastering on a limited basis. For this kind of work he received two cents a square yard.
After several years of marriage, John and Anna decided to make molasses. They purchased a one horse press and evaporator pan. This molasses making carried on even after they moved to their new
farm. This operation involved the entire family. You were never too small to carry cane stalks up to the press or to drag away the pummies. (Editor's note: "pummies" are the squeezed-out cane stalks.)
Mrs. Feldhake tended the cooking and John fired the furnace which took a lot of wood. A great deal of time was spent during the winter cutting cottonwood to fire the furnace for cooking cane juice. It took about 15 gallons of juice to make one gallon of molasses. The Feldhakes received one half of the molasses or 25 cents a gallon for making it. Molasses sold for about 50 cents a gallon at that time.
Around the year 1918, John bought a larger cane mill. The press required two horses to pull it, which
in turn needed two evaporator pans and furnaces. The press was set up on top of a hill so as the juice could be piped directly into the building where it was being cooked. It went into one 16-foot pan. From there it ran into the finishing pan. On one end f it drained into a container as the finished product. By putting in a long day, about seventy gallon of molasses could be cooked with the help of four people.
Because of all the wood and labor involved, the mill was sold in about 1929 to a man from St. Elmo. The biggest problem involved was the ability to keep enough wood on hand. It had to be cut and split by hand with an ax and a crosscut saw. They tried a plan where the customer had to furnish the wood for his job. You can't imagine the kind of wood some people would bring.
While the cane juice was cooking, a scum came to the top. This was called skimmings. This was mixed with rye and made good hog slop. Everybody used to slop their hogs with these skimmings.
Drunk hogs and suspicious neighbor
One time they left the skimmings stand around for a week, which caused it to ferment – creating alcohol. About this time John and his family were going to move some hogs by loading them in a wagon. They first fed the fermented slop to the hogs. In about a half an hour they became drunk and couldn't walk. They staggered around and fell to the ground.
Around the year 1914, John was elected to the Bryant School Board. The school was located near the Feldhake homestead.
Trouble began when a neighbor's son was in trouble at school. His father told John if he didn't get a different teacher, he would burn his barn. The school board was not too concerned about the threat. However, on the morning of March l3, 1915, at about 4 a.m., John awoke and found the barn engulfed in flames.
He rushed from the house in his bare feet to turn the livestock out. Some of the cows were locked in stanchions and it was nearly impossible to free them. He got nine cows out and then the gable boards started falling. Since he had no shoes on his feet, he could not return to the barn and free the other livestock. He then went to release the eight horses, but when he opened the door, everything was on fire. A total of nine cows and eight horses burned to death along with some calves, and all of the hay and grain which was also stored in the barn.
This loss was great and hard to take as there was no insurance on the contents of the barn. Again John had to cut logs and rebuild the barn. It was built on the same foundation even though some of
the basement wall had caved in. Concrete had to be mixed with a shovel and carried by scoop shovels. The barn was rebuilt with the help of an uncle, John Hadallar, who was a carpenter. A lot of help also came from the neighbors and relatives.
It was finished in 1916 and the livestock moved in from their temporary shelter, which had been constructed from poles and wood and tin salvaged from the barn.
After the barn was completed all the neighbors decided to do something about the suspicious neighbor who had started the fire at the Feldhake homestead. They had the bank buy the person's farm, consisting of 100 hundred acres, and in turn sell it back to the neighbors. John bought 20 acres of this tract, which joined the 80 acres that John already owned.
Life went fairly well for a number of years even though recovery from the loss due to the fire was a slow process. During this time, John ran for assessor of Watson township and was elected. He bought a pony and saddle which he rode to cover his township on his duties. The salary was small but the expenses were nil.
John continued to build silos throughout the areas of Sigel, Teutopolis, Island Grove and Bishop Creek. Ed, the oldest son, was old enough to help as did the other two sons when they became of age. This is how the boys got their experience in masonry work.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Feldhake men built silos for three cents a block. The average silo took about 1,200 blocks. The job required the work of two men and a boy and took from three to four days to build.
At this same time a city worker earned about $12 dollars a week for a nine hour day and six day work week. It took an entire day's work to buy a pair of overalls. A good suit sold for $25, which took at least two weeks of work. A farm laborer earned $1 a day including meals. Most hired hands received from $25 to $30 a month plus room and board.
Cigarettes sold for 10 cents to 15 cents per pack. A can of velvet tobacco was 10 cents a can. In the early part of the century many farmers raised their own tobacco. During the 1930s, while we were trucking, you could buy a lunch consisting of two pieces of chicken, potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable, two pieces of bread and coffee all for 15 cents. An egg sandwich was a nickle and coffee was five cents a cup.
Girls doing housework during this time worked for three dollars a week. Those who went to the city such as Chicago earned $5 to $6 a week as a beginning salary. They had to buy their own food on their day off.
In the 1930s the banks paid one half of one per cent interest on savings accounts. They charged from 4 to 6 percent for loans.
From 1940 to 1950, Feldhake Bros. Charged 50 cents an hour for carpenter and block work. They furnished equipment like the scaffolding and always were fed a noon meal. We ended the carpenter business in the 1960s, earning $2 dollars an hour.
Very few people carried any health insurance in those days. Full coverage insurance on an automobile was around $15 dollars, twice a year.
In about 1923, a project was began to form a co-op equity to buy eggs and poultry in the Effingham area. John took out membership in the organization and was elected to the board of directors. They
needed a building from which to operate the business. Plans were drawn up and John was chosen to oversee the construction. The building was completed and opened for business in 1925.
This building is now the site of the Effingham Builders Supply. John was offered the job of manager but he declined. It was hard for him to refuse the offer since it paid one $100 a month. His wife, Anna,
persuaded him not to accept the position, which proved to be fortunate because the business eventually went broke.
I will try to relate to you how and why the business went broke as it was told to me. The manager they hired lacked experience in a business that had a lot of competition because at that time all farmers had flocks of chicken and some had geese and turkeys. It was difficult to make a profit because all patrons expected a dividend at the close of a year.
For several years the business did show a profit. John was elected president of the board and became very much involved. He lent the firm money because he thought it was business that would be around for some time. At one time he allowed them to use a fenced tract of land for the geese. He also fed them until they were large enough to sell to the market. At one time they had a thousand geese in this pen. Incidentally, this lot for the geese was located where Mart later built his house.
When the time came to sell the geese for slaughter, they were driven into Effingham rather than to catch them separately and haul in trucks. Then the co-op began to loose money. They obtained a loan form the Federal bank in St. Louis for $5,000 at a low interest rate. Some of this money was used to pay a loan at a local bank that was charging higher interest. The firm continued to loose money so the
directors went back to the Federal Bank of St. Louis for more money.
In their efforts to get another loan, the bank inquired as to what happened to the other loan. Upon learning it was used to pay a local bank loan, they were told they were subject to prosecution if they did not recover the money and repay the loan. It had been stated in their contract loan that the money was to be used for business purposes only. When they approached the local bank they were told the money would be available only if the directors signed a personal note for the money needed to pay back the St. Louis bank. This was all they could do in order to stay out of trouble.
There was some suspicion that something went on between the directors' lawyer and the local bank. This was the last straw. The equity had to close its doors. The building was sold at auction. The five
directors bought the building for $5,000, hoping to recover some of their loss.
All of this turmoil was hard on John's nerves. Soon he developed a stomach problem which was diagnosed as gallstones. He was hospitalized and operated on the remove his gall bladder. He did not recover from the surgery. Complications set in and he died that same night, Sept. l7, 1938, at the age of 66 years.
John and Anna's 41 years of marriage was not all work and hardship. Anna often talked about visiting neighbors, playing cards and dancing. These were almost always enjoyed with a keg of beer or a barrel of hard cider.
In spite of the ups and downs, Anna held her Catholic faith firmly. Especially her devotion to the rosary which she carried in the pocket of her dress or apron. She never missed an opportunity to attend church services.
In later life she developed anemia. For many years she took twelve liver capsules each day in order to keep going. Her body finally wore out and on May 3, 1957 she slipped away. She died at the age of 83.
Keeping my cool
I, Martin, was born on April 1, 1911. April Fools Day. I was the only one of the children of John and Anna to be born in the old Tedrick house. In the middle 1970s, my son, Jim, and I tore the house down after we purchased Jim's present home and moved it from South Banker street in Effingham. The house became available when the city made Banker street into a four lane highway.
I was always considered an easy going person who always kept his cool especially when emergencies arose or if disaster struck. This calm nature had to be something I was born with. To prove this, I would like to relate to you an incident which happened early in my infancy. This story my parents enjoyed telling many times as I was growing up.
In 1911 when I was six weeks old, the family was leaving home for Sunday morning Mass in a spring wagon. Upon leaving home it was noticed that some calves were out. My dad and Harry got out of the wagon to put the calves back into the pasture. Leaving Mom and me in the back seat of the wagon.
The team of horses became scared of the calves and turned around on the road and took off running. The first corner they came to they turned sharply and the spring wagon turned over in the ditch, throwing Mom and I out. Mom got badly bruised but as the story was told, I was fast asleep when they got us back to the house.
One of my first memories was seeing our barn burn the morning of March 13, 1915. I was only three at the time but I remember the fire and the dead animals and how the neighbors came with teams of horses and scrapers to bury the animals. I can see in my mind the building of the new barn and dad's uncle, John Hadallar, who was a carpenter and who stayed with us day and night for quite a while.
A big time was always had when Harry McMannamie would come home to visit and bring his camera. He would take a picture of me. I would always have to sdtand on a milk stool when Harry took my picture. Why? I really don't know, but he always called me "Shorty."
I started to school at the Bryant School, which was across the road from our house. I was 6 years old then. I had to come home for my dinner. This I didn't like because all the other kids would bring their dinner and eat together. We had a brown dog named Rover to whom I was very attached. He never came across the school yard but laid across the road until the school bell rang for the kids to go back inside for class. Then he would go over and hunt for food scraps that the kids would throw away.
Even when Rover was with someone out in the fields he would go to the school yard the school yard whenever he heard the school bell ring. He knew the kids were back inside the school house and he could hunt for food scraps.
It wasn't easy being the baby of the family. I usually wore hand-me-down clothes. I was about 12-years- old before I got a new suit. I was glad when my older brother and sister got married because they were always bossing me around when Mom and Dad were gone. If I didn't do as they said, I usually got punished when Mom and Dad returned home. Punishment usually meat a whipping and we were always threatened with the razor strap that hung on the wall. The threat of the razor strap was an old German form of punishment or discipline that was rarely carried out by Mom and Dad. Just the same it scared us into behaving.
Outgrowing the paddle
I don't know how old I was before I outgrew the paddlings but it often seemed to me that Clarence was the favorite son. If the two of us got into some mischief, I'd be the one who got into trouble. Usually I got my ears twisted. I remember one day, Laura, Johanna, and I were running through the house and one of us bumped a table and down onto the floor went a big glass lamp. At the time it happened we were home alone but that night we were punished.
Our family life was a good one, filled with laughter and sharing in fun and work. Our discipline may have seemed strict at the time, but as I grew older and began to raise a family of my own, I knew that good discipline is a parents‘ way of caring that their children grow up to learn right from wrong and respect.
Christmas when I was a child did not mean lots of toys under the tree. I remember getting a toy fire engine that was about eight inches long. Santa Claus often brought clothes and shoes and we were happy with these things. In those days kids did not get many toys for Christmas.
As I earlier mentioned, I attended Byrant school for three years. During my third year, the teacher put us with the fourth grade.
School left out for the summer the last of April, so I was sent to St. Anthony grade school for the remaining two months. When I arrived I was put into the third grade. I didn't loose a grade as it was
customary at St. Anthony when a child came from another school. They were usually put back a grade regardless.
We walked to and from school which was three and one half miles of very muddy roads. Sometimes we rode a big farm horse until the old rock road. We then got off, turned the horse around and he would go back home. It was easier to walk than to ride the horse, even though you didn't get muddy. When you rode the horse you were usually full of horse hair.
Catholicers and publicers
School wasn't too easy for me. I guess I didn't study hard enough. After walking home, it was usually 5:30 in the evening. It took only one hour in the morning. We were on the way to school by 6:30 in the morning and had to be at school by 7:30. After school it took two hours to get home. We usually did a lot of fooling around on the way back home.
The Catholic Sisters (nuns) that taught school were very strict and never had much sympathy for the country kids. They didn't like us too much because we always brought in too much mud on our shoes
and our clothes were never too neat. The town kids often made fun of us. Oiften on the way home, we tangled with the public school kids. They called us Catholicers and we called them publicers. Disputes with them usually came to a rock throwing affair.
When we got home from school we were expected to do our chores and then eat supper. When it was time to do my homework I was too sleepy and quite often I didn't get it done. I made it through the eighth grade with passing marks.
I started high school thinking I should get an education and be somebody. After I attended high school about seven months, I quit and stayed home. I have never regretted being sent to a Catholic school, even though it would have been easier to walk across the road and go to the Bryant Public school.