Originally Posted: Sep 14, 2005
By: Janet L. Hanson
Born in 1916, Hartley King grew up in Boundary County on a small dairy farm. After he grew up, he moved away to find work, worked in the woods, returned home to marry, and eventually returned home once again to retire with his wife in their home in Bonners Ferry. Today, he gardens and creates intarsia woodcrafts. This is his story.
I grew up during the Depression days when it was hard to find work, and often people wouldn’t pay a kid even if he did work. It was a time when you had to be physically bigger than the employer, if you wanted to collect your money! It seemed many employers used the Depression as an excuse, which made it a very good time for the rich, but it was also very bad for the poor.
However, we didn’t need to buy much in the way of groceries, other than sugar, coffee and flour because we raised everything else at home. We had a small dairy farm and made money by shipping 10-gallon cans of cream, which brought in about $2.50 each. At that time, we could buy about three pairs of overalls for that amount of money!
Insurance wasn’t available during that time, so we didn’t have those types of expenses, besides, there wasn’t anything much to insure. If the house burned down that was too bad; you just built another one and almost any type of construction from logs to hay bales, worked. When I was a boy, before leaving for school each morning, we had a lot of chores to do, so we had to get up at 5 a.m. just to get it all done.
We didn’t have a well, so for our drinking water we drank straight from the river; we all used the same dipper to get water, and sometimes we’d see a dead cow floating by as we were drinking. In the winter, temperatures could drop to 40 below zero and stay that way for a month; the dipper would freeze and we’d have to thaw it out before we could get a drink. We don’t have weather like that anymore.
Times were tough and we didn’t have much money, so we often went to school in worn and ragged clothing, but everyone else was poor too, so it didn’t matter.
At times, we even went to school with cow manure on our overalls from milking the cows in the morning. When the day warmed up, the flies would get after us but nobody thought anything of it.
There wasn’t a cafeteria at school so we took our lunches, which was usually just two pieces of bread with jam, and we sometimes traded with other students who had brought bean sandwiches. It might have been different for the kids living in town, but I went to a country school that had only 11-12 kids. Today, the other kids would tease and make fun of a child coming to school in ragged clothing or bringing a lunch of just a jam or bean sandwich. Our teachers were young girls fresh out of school. They were nice, but I felt sorry for some of them because some of the people going to our school were as old, or older, than them.
Summers were filled with haying and herding our hundred head of cattle that had to be moved to high ground in early spring because of the flooding in the Valley. That was a mess with the water pouring into the Valley! One year, the Valley flooded before we moved our cattle, and we had to swim them across the river to get them to higher ground. Sometimes the river was too high and we couldn’t get the cattle across, but after the dam was put in, we didn’t have to worry about flooding anymore.
We used to rent the old Sam Smith place, and one year during the flooding, we had to drive the herd up to Moravia and around to get over to Meadow Creek. You bet it was hard work back then, and we did everything by hand or with a team of horses.
We did have a car but we couldn’t use it most of the time because in the winter it would be froze in, or in the summer, the roads were knee deep in mud and it couldn’t be driven. Therefore, the car sat most of the time.
I left home when I was 17 and never went back again. My dad died when I was six or seven, and I loved him so much that I never could take having a step-dad. It was a rough life. This all happened during the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1936, I went to Oregon to find work, I found work and Myrtle, my wife-to-be! I met Myrtle through her brothers who were working where I was in Oregon. She was a Wyoming gal. We decided to get married in Boundary County, so we left Oregon with about $20 in our pocket and had $1 left when we arrived here.
Fortunately, I knew the banker in town so I went down and borrowed $25. Myrtle got a ring, and I bought the license. I gave the judge $5 for marrying us, and then bought some groceries. We didn’t have much money left after that! However, I met with my old boss and went right back to work in the mine. I worked seven hours a day, which was nothing in those days; I could stand on my head and do that. I built our house after work and on weekends.
Life was also tough for Myrtle growing up; her mom was born about 50 miles back in the woods outside of Buffalo, WY, and her step-dad was a moonshiner. He had a tunnel back in the hills where he made the moonshine, and she said he was always half drunk and always mad at everybody. Lots of people are still cruel to kids, but today it is called abuse, in those days everybody blamed it on the kid!
My wife and I sat pretty well with one another, and we lived in Boundary County until 1942. We returned to Oregon and I got a job earning 64 cents an hour for setting ratchets in a sawmill. That was big money back then! Working in the mine, I was making top wages at 53 cents an hour. Throughout my years in Oregon, I worked in the woods and became the superintendent of a sawmill for 17 years. Later, I went to work for a tree farm.
I don’t know how couples make it today with both people working and paying $600-$700 a month just for rent. And they don’t have time to raise their own food, so a lot of money is also spent on buying groceries. You can’t send your kid to school with a turnip for lunch like we did.
We eventually moved to Alaska to find work, and I did just about everything from building houses, to driving a garbage truck, and working in the maintenance department at a school. I also built my own house in-between. In 1981, we moved back home to Boundary County when we decided it was time to retire.
I will say that we are in a mess with the high national debt we have in this country and with the billions of dollars we continue to pour out, I don’t see how it will ever be paid off.
With the prices of natural gas going up, I am worried for myself because it is going to be doggone rough to stay warm this winter. Last winter it cost us over $200 a month to stay warm, and my daughter, son-in-law and I decided this year to get some long handled underwear. But we still have to keep the house from freezing up.
I’m sorry to say that my wife died last year. She loved flowers and it seems she left me with 40 acres of flowers! She had every kind of flower. The crocuses come up first, right under the snow. She put in some snowdrops too, and those little flowers bloom to beat the band right through the snow! She had pansies, daisies, tulips, daffodils, roses, a yellow lilac and a yellow butterfly bush. Right now the roses of Sharon are blooming and they will keep blooming all summer.
The telephone rings…and Hartley explains, that is my daughter. She calls me every night about this time and asks, “How are ya?” I tell her I’m doing fine.