Ford County Dust Bowl Oral History Project
A Kansas Humanities Council grant project
Interview: Floyd Russell Olson
Interviewer: Brandon Case
July 4, 1998
Brandon Case: Could you state your name and your age?
Floyd Olson: Okay, I’m Floyd Russell Olson; I’m 82 years old. Born on May the 21st, 1916. And, when I went to school, let’s see I started in the one room rural school there in the fall of 1922.
BC: Where was that located?
FO: Well, we had to go to school, before that, if I woulda been born a year earlier, I woulda started school a year earlier, then I woulda been in the country school about two miles away. But the country schools around Bloom consolidated into Bloom and built a high school there, and they moved some grade schools and consolidated them all there, and that’s the year they bought the buses too, school buses.
BC: Where is Bloom located in proximity to Minneola?
FO: Oh, just east, about eight miles east of Minneola on Highway 54. And also on the tracks, what’s called now Santa Fe Pacific. I don’t right remember much of my childhood before then. I only remember one occasion that when I had the measles, and my Aunt Ruth, she lived about half mile away, came over to see me. She was my favorite aunt, in fact for all intents and purposes, she was my only aunt, ‘cause the others lived miles and miles away.
BC: So, she was there close. Now what did your family do while you were growing up?
FO: Well, my folks, my dad was a farmer. And my mother, she didn’t help in the fields - she didn’t need to. She was, what my mother specialized in was growing a big garden and raising chickens. And plus the laundry, which took place every Monday, and the cooking and sometimes there were hired men to cook. She spent a lot of hours working, the kind of work she enjoyed. And my dad enjoyed farming. It’s just that my dad, they were both pretty poor when they married. My dad had worked up until he was 26 years old, and that’s when he bought a piece of land here in Ford County, and moved onto it with his cousin.
BC: How big was that, how many acres?
FO: He bought 80 acres on the first year and the next year he bought another 80. He bought the first 80, he paid six dollars an acre for, the following year on the other 80 he paid twelve dollars an acre for it. The price of land just doubled. And the man who owned the land in the first place doubled his money, you see because he bought it cheap and if he made anything at six, he made a lot of money at twelve. But he sold the land to my dad because my dad had worked for him, he knew my dad real well and so he sold him fifty dollars down payment on 80 acres of land - it was all he really needed. And his cousin, Dad’s cousin was named Elmer Ipsom, he grown up near Plevna in Reno County and he and Dad got a hold of Pine, so they, neither was married and showed no signs of getting married, so they decided to homestead, not homestead, but buy land together out there, and build a house, both would do the cooking and things like that.
BC: That was your dad and his cousin?
FO: Well, my dad did quite a bit of the cooking; it just worked out better that way.
BC: So all the years you were growing up, then your family did farming?
FO: Oh yes. It was the only thing; it was the only occupation my dad had, that he stuck with. My dad had every kind of work growing up. When he was 18 years old, he moved with his parents from Minnesota to near Piedmont, Missouri and the only occupation there to make any money was chopping ties, railroad ties out of trees. And he said he wasn’t very good at that.
So when he was 21, he moved to Reno County because my dad had a, his mother’s brother lived in Reno County. And he could stay there when he wasn’t looking for somebody else, that was Uncle Lewis, his mother’s brother. Now my dad’s mother, my dad’s mother’s name as Louise and uh she had several other brothers and sisters, but uh only one brother Lewis and one sister Hennasina had come with her to America from Denmark. Then my dad’s father also came from Denmark, he was from the same island of Denmark, and island named Moor Holm, which is very near the country of Sweden, in fact it’s much closer to Sweden than it is to Denmark. And, it’s an island, a rectangular island about the distance in miles about 20 by 40 miles, I believe, something like that. Uh, but my grandparents never knew each other when they were growing up. Apparently, they lived on different parts of the island, they didn’t know each other until they both came to America to a town named Pontiac, Illinois, not Pontiac, Michigan; Pontiac, Illinois. And in Livingston County turned out there were lots of things, their first stop, the first consequence was to go to Livingston County and that’s what my Grandma and Grandpa did. They got married there, and they lived there; well that’s a good question, I can’t remember when they got married. So, oh about fifteen years I think, eighteen years, something like that before Grandpa decided to move on to Minnesota.
Now, Grandpa was a carpenter, he’d been apprentice to a carpenter when he was 15 years old in Denmark. On his 15th Birthday, that ended on his 18th Birthday. Then he could legally leave Denmark, of course he did, and around Pontiac, he built houses, sometimes he was a carpenter doin’ it, sometimes he was a contractor in, he did that, oh about 1890 or so, somethin’ like that. He decided to try farming instead and they moved to Minnesota. To the southwest corner of Minnesota to a town named Pipestone, named for the Pipestone Indians that lived there and uh the Indians see were specialists. These Indians they specialized in cutting peace pipes out of the pipestone rock. They so Dad, I mean Grandpa lived there but, oh rented farm land and they had a it must have been around quite a bit ‘cause one year Dad told me, they uh moved to a big house. The the man, the landowner was named Shields, is a two-story house and the first time they had a, they boys had to sleep two boys in a room instead of being having four or five in a room. They thought that was great.
BC: Uh-huh, yeah.
FO: They also, they during the Depression, they called it a “recession” of “panic”, they called it a “panic”. In 1893, when people would, wanted to borrow money couldn’t borrow it, the banks just didn’t have the money to lend to ‘em and uh so prices went awfully cheap. Grandpa must have had a good corn crop that year because they burned corn in a cook stove instead of coal, burned his corn in the cook stove instead of coal.
FO: So, uh they, the corn must have been fairly cheap, I suppose around ten cents a bushel or something like that. And then after supper, they’d go into the living room and have, they of course had a heating stove and sit there ‘til bed time, and Grandpa would take straw in there and twist it, and make twists out of it and throw it in the stove. I don’t think he ever closed the door, straw burned so fast that he just sat there in the evenings making straw into twists and then when he’d say, “Last straw boys,” the boys would run to the bedrooms upstairs because they said the house got cold real fast. And I think my dad was, he was 10 years old when they moved there. I think he enjoyed it, he went to school for the first few years, big school, no high school in that area at all. My dad made it to the Fifth Grade before he got old enough to work full time, worked full time for his dad is what he did. And in wintertime, there wasn’t much going on except the, of course, feeding the cattle and the horses and throwing the manure outdoors. In the spring when the manure thawed out then they hauled it to the fields and started the field work. And the boys, they said all the men in Minnesota wore cuff boots always, all the time except when they were in bed they wore cuff boots. When they went outdoors, they’d put rubber overshoes on over the cuff boots and boys went to school; that’s how they dressed, he’s said.
BC: So how did the family come to Kansas then?
FO: Well, about 1898, Grandpa decided to move to the Ozarks down around Springfield. He’d wrote people who moved there and they’d write back letters how much nicer it was in southern Missouri than it was in Minnesota - a much better climate they said. And also Grandpa was running out of boys, my dad was 18 at the time, one boy, Harry who was younger, about three years younger, but Harry wanted to get out on his own, so Grandpa moved to Missouri to a farm, just east of Springfield, east of Fordland; what they called the Washboard Road and so my dad stayed there another three years, that’s when he tried his hand and chopping railroad ties out of trees. It was about the only occupation he said, but he enjoyed it.
For one thing, he had a married sister living in Fordland with her husband and when he walked to town, he walked in his working shoes, he’d walk to his sister’s house and put on his dress shoes and because they had board sidewalks in Fordland. He played in a town band in Fordland. I think they went to the Baptist Church and things like that. He knew, he did a lot of things in his old days.
Then, let’s see, somehow or another, he went to an Academy in Springfield, Missouri called um, it was a private business school, what it was they called it a yearly college. Then later on it was sold to the state of Missouri and they a different name, a teachers college for awhile and now it’s back to Regions Community College. So he took a business course there, because a 5th Grade education don’t get you business courses at all. He took bookkeeping and I don’t know what all he was into, but he went to Pueblo to stay with his Uncle Lewis and Aunt Lizzie, and he never went back except on visits.
So, he went to Pueblo, he helped his uncle and he worked for every farmer around there especially picking corn in the rows. He didn’t make a whole lot of money, but by the end of five years, he managed to save fifty dollars. That is what he used when he bought the land in Ford County.
BC: So, you were born there in Minneola?
FO: I was born in the Minneola area.
BC: When you were growing up, did you help a lot of the farm?
FO: Well, yes quite a bit. My dad sent them to the field younger than he sent me to the field and also there was a lot of hay fever at the time during the summers. He was not desperate but it certainly was a nuisance. Especially any type of pollen or weed or grass would send me sneezing, my eyes watering, my nose running. So I my folks just didn’t seem too appealed, until I put on about 15, something like that, like everyone started around 12 or 13. My dad said they didn’t want to see me around the hose, they’d send me to the field.
BC: So that was about 1931, when you started going out there?
FO: Yes, 1931. That was when I was full time, about ten dollars a day. Up until then, I’d be helping my dad do odd jobs around the farm.
BC: Now 1929, the Great Depression came along. What kind of impact did that have on your family, your father’s farming?
FO: Well, the price of grain and the price of wheat went down, that’s the chief impact it had on it. I don’t know, I’m not sure what the prices were, but I know ’30 and ’31 were odd years because the price of wheat was so cheap.
Transcriber: E.L., 8/17/2006