Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Man's Journey - Part XVII


July 17, 1917

On this date, sister Elizabeth was born. It was a hot miserable day. Doctor Meyer drove his horse out to deliver the baby (Dr. Meyer delivered the baby – not the horse – Sorry about that). On the same day, Dad had made arrangements for a photographer to come out and take pictures of our potato and wheat fields. You’ve probably seen these pictures. I don’t know where Arthur and Colonel were. They probably stayed with Uncle Andy and Aunt Ellen to keep them out of the way. I stayed with Dad and got my picture taken leaning on a hoe or shovel. I don’t look too happy in those pictures. {I was unable to locate any of the pictures Uncle Jack mentioned. I'll be on the lookout for them.}

Of course, the arrival of a girl was good news to our parents, because, I think, they wanted another girl pretty bad. Colonel, however, wasn’t too happy about the whole thing and when asked what he thought about her, he suggested that she should be drowned. That thinking soon passed and we were bragging about her. She was a beautiful baby and Mama made a doll out of her.

I know when we started back to school several weeks later both Colonel and I talked about our new little sister.

We had beautiful crops of potatoes, wheat and corn that year, as they exceeded all expectations. The monetary returns I don’t know about.

I believe now that Dad had a reason to take those pictures. I believe he wanted to either sell or lease the place so he could get Mama into better conditions. Earlier in the year, a man from Sequim, Washington, worked for us for a few days sorting potatoes in our cellars. Mr. Bradshaw talked to the folks about the Sequim area. I don’t know if any decisions were made at this time.

I guess I was lucky to get the school janitor job. It paid $12.50 a month and that was by voucher. This sort of way of paying the help almost got me in trouble later on, but it did provide a valuable lesson. (will explain later) To earn the $12.50 I was to keep the stove going during cold weather, and sweep the floors each afternoon after close of school. I also dusted when needed, which was pretty much all the time, clean black boards and erasers. The floors were oiled, so a sawdust-like preparation was used before each sweeping that had to be cleaned up and placed in an airtight container (a barrel with a lid). I must not forget inkwells – these were filled maybe once a week.

Fall 1917

As stated above, the crops were good, so Colonel and I earned considerable that fall picking potatoes, haying and working some in threshing. For picking potatoes, we earned $5.00 per day, which was an excellent pay for that day and age. The day was usually 12 hours; if we worked less, we got less. I believe Dad traded his time on other places as explained above.

Aunt Gertie in Spokane, WA
We didn’t get paid for work on our place since we eventually shared in all income from the farm through room, board and clothing. Colonel and I normally earned enough each year to buy some clothing and Aunt Gertie, who lived in Spokane, always managed to send us some clothing, especially around Christmastime.

I just don’t know when or what time of year that our parents either leased or sold the farm, but we did move to Caldwell, renting a large house with barn and chicken house on the northeast side of town. I think it must have been in early winter. Dad sold one team and took one or two cows. Mama also had a few chickens. Dad did a lot of odd jobs, but mostly worked at the College of Idaho landscaping the campus.

I was in the 8th grade in 1917-1918 and didn’t want to leave the school in our valley and I also had the job paying $12.50 a month. I continued to go to school out there by riding the trolley from Caldwell to a point about one mile from school. For some reason, I don’t remember what Colonel did to finish the 7th grade. I think he must have finished that school year in Caldwell.

Doctor Meyer, who had been our family doctor for years, had purchased an orchard in the valley and he either hired or leased it to another party to operate. It was in early spring of 1918, and the Dr. planned to spray the orchard, so he hired me to drive the team pulling the spray wagon. I must note here that spraying orchards to kill harmful insects was something new, so very few people in the area had had any experience with this sort of thing. I also must note here that most sprays used for many, many years were a concoction of lime, sulphur and lead. Most surely a lethal dose for horse and man, as well as insects. {There is a picture from 1918 here}

After maybe a dozen trees had been sprayed, I got deathly ill and couldn’t continue with the job. Luckily, Dr. Meyer’s place was across the road from the railroad, so I was able to get back home in a couple of hours.

One, two, or three months later, I was called into court to testify on the behalf of Dr. Meyer. I don’t know who was suing who, for work performed or work not performed. I was scared out of my wits. Judge, lawyers and a lot of people setting around watching. I was asked over and over how many trees had been sprayed to which I gave the same answer each time. Dr. Meyer told Dad later that I had done real well; so well, in fact, that he had won the suit. So much for court action!! {John G. Meyer was born in March 1856 in Missouri. He was married to Harriet, who was born in August 1859. They had four children, three of whom were: Georgie, born March 1887; Mary E., born September 1883; Elsie E., born November 1898. The children were born in Missouri. The fourth died before 1910. They lived in Owyhee County, Idaho, in 1900, and Caldwell, Idaho, from at least 1910 until 1930.} {NOTE:
1906 - Commercial preparations of lime-sulphur appeared for first time. 1918 - Wettable lime-sulphur introduced as spray}

The Case of the Bouncing Check

Above I mentioned that I was paid by voucher for the janitor work in the school. I believe our teachers had been paid in the same manner. I treated these vouchers as a check not knowing they were used when the payer didn’t have funds to pay in cash or by normal check. A voucher would draw a certain amount of interest so noted on the face. It also contained a discount rate by the banks or other holders of such vouchers to further advance their possibilities of income. I was credited with the amount after the discount had been applied, thereby reducing the amount I thought I had in the bank. I was lucky since only one of my checks came back NSF (non-sufficient funds). The banker saw my dad and told him what had happened. Dad asked me to go see the banker, which I did immediately, and did I get a chewing out. It was a good lesson – one that has stayed with me all my life.

The balance of the school year was pretty much like the fall that preceded it. Colonel and I still read a lot, and as we nearly always received books for birthdays and Christmas, we had a fair supply of material. I believe brother Eugene still has some of these books on hand, that I’m sure you’ve also read. Such things as magazines were expensive and hard to come by.

When I graduated from the eighth grade, it wasn’t a big deal – just picked up my belongings and walked out. I did sweep the floors before leaving – May 1918.

Summer 1918

We were pretty much at loose ends now. We missed the free and comparatively easy life on the farm. As the spring advanced, we were able to find a good swimming hole in the Boise River which was in fairly easy walking distance of our house. We didn’t have bathing suits, so continued to swim in the nude all that summer.

Maxey’s Hardware

In order to earn some money, I got a job in Bill Maxey’s hardware store. I don’t remember how much Mr. Maxey paid me, but I’m sure it wasn’t much over $1.00 per day. I had never been bored before in my life, but this job was terrible. Business wasn’t big enough to keep one busy and after dusting all the shelves, sweeping all the floors each day, there wasn’t much of anything else to do except dream of that river 15 miles away. Up to this point in life, we had a pattern to follow which didn’t vary much each day and which didn’t require too much thinking, so now I had a job that was demanding more than just sitting on one’s two-spot. Maybe it was almost too much to ask a 15-year-old boy to think for himself. We shall see.

Sun eclipse

During the summer, we had a total eclipse of the sun. Since it is not good for your eyes to look at the sun, I smoked some pieces of glass, a lot of which was lying around the back room, and sold them to passersby to look at the sun. I also rigged up a piece of stovepipe with a piece of smoked glass. This thing gave us a real good view of the sun without damage. Many things were done after that to get rid of boredom, but never quite eliminated it. {photos of the 1918 eclipse here}


The war in Europe was really heating up. The big drive through France was on and we were losing a lot of men. A lot of men I knew had gone. I don’t know of any that were killed, but there was fear nevertheless. The big sign showing Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying “I Want You” finally got to me and I applied at both recruiting stations in Caldwell in an attempt to join the army. Although I was big for my age, those guys took a good look at me and said no! I tried several times that summer with the same result. I shudder at what might have happened if they had been foolish enough to take me. (I did go to high school with a fellow three years later who was smaller than I physically who joined at 16 and spent one-and-a-half years in France, but I think he was a bit smarter; John Rule. I shall mention him later.)

The summer continued in this manner until middle August when potato harvest started. That is when I divorce myself from the hardware business and headed for the farms to make some better money.

Picture Shows

I should mention here that during the summer of 1918 we probably saw more moving picture shows than in our entire lives to date. Most of them were 10-25¢; however, “Tarzan of the Apes” was 50¢. There were a number of war pictures: i.e. “The White Feather” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

High School

I believe schools started soon after Labor Day, so I was due to start at the Caldwell High School. I was a little bit awed by the procedures since I was used to a small school with few in each class. Giles Bacon had graduated from grade school in the spring of 1917. I can’t recall what he did in school year 1917-1918. Colonel had one more year to go in the eighth grade, so it was decided that he would live with the Bacons and Giles would live with us. This arrangement worked out fine.

Up to this point I had always been called “Jack” (Many years later the “Jackbusiness nearly got me in trouble.) When I registered, I was asked if my given name was “John.” When I said yes, I was told that henceforth I would be called John.

I know that three of my subjects were: algebra, English and history, and I’m pretty sure, a first year science course.


NOT Jack-example of 1918 uniform
Giles Bacon decided to turn out for football and asked me to go with him for practice. We had never really engaged in competitive play, especially contact games such as football. I did turn out and liked it very much, so decided to continue, so purchased a pair of cleated shoes and other items the school didn’t furnish. The football equipment was certainly not up to today’s standards. As a result, there were many injuries. Our coach was a young man and a recent graduate. His name was Frank Nagy.


I must not here that I shaved for the first time in September 1918. I purchased a single blade safety razor for the event. The razor cost $1.00. I can’t recall the name of the razor. Dad, of course, had some comments about my shaving, which were: “spread some cream on your face and let the cat lick it off,” end of quote.

School didn’t last long and after about six weeks, it closed down until further notice because of the influenza epidemic that swept the county, killing many, many people. Our soldiers in training camps had troubles because of wet and cold conditions. All schools in Canyon County closed, so Giles went home and Colonel came home.

Getting ready to move

I don’t know when the folks decided to move to the Pacific coast, but it must have been somewhere between the 15th of October and the first of November 1918. They must have moved pretty fast after making a decision, because there was livestock and some equipment to dispose of as well as the packing of other possessions.

**This is the end of the second phase of our dissertation on memories in the life of John Aitchison**


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