|Growing Up in Woodside Township During the Great Depression
The following article was written by Becky Colebank of Shevlin as told to her by her mother, June Colebank
June and Vickie in front of the log cabin
Lester and his horses
Haying in Woodside Township 1940
John Colebank Jr. and June Colebank, taken at
the Roof farm in Woodside Township, 1926
|The Woodside District 156
schoolhouse in 1970
June still showing the tuleremia spots.
Vickie and the covered sled
|Swen Glotta, Lester Colebank, Ted Austinson,
Herman Austinson, Bill Jack, and Gordon
Austinson at a cutting bee at Lester’s
Woodside township farm, 1938
The new house in 1941
|Warren, Lester, Linda
June and Vickie March 1938
Lester and Linda, Esther and Robert and
kids, year 1934 or 35 Rear: Lester, Linda,
Esther, Rob Colebank holding Wayne Front:
Warren, Vickie, June, Dale Colebank, Carrol
June reading in the living room of the
Woodside farmhouse, Dec. 1943
Lester and Linda (far right) with the John
and Clara Colebank family.
June and lamb in June 1940
Warren, Arky, June and Carrol Colebank
about 1931 or ‘32. Warren made the truck
they are playing in.
Vickie, June, neighbor girl Alfhild Akre and
cousin Grace Colebank
|Linda and Lester Colebank standing behind
their children Vickie, June and Warren
|The Colebank family about 1944. Dogs
Pooch and Jackie in front. Picture taken by
Warren in the U.S. Marines
Warren, June and Vickie with Arky
June in 1941
The dining room in the house Lester built for Linda
The John and Clara Colebank children and
the Lester and Linda Colebank children with
their paternal grandparents L. S. and Martha
Colebank in 1932. Back row, L to R – L. S.
and Martha Colebank; Middle row, L to R –
Laurence, Warren, and Maynard; Front Row,
L to R – Norman, June, Martha Ruth, John
Jr., and Ann holding Grace.
I grew up in a log cabin in the woods of northern Minnesota during the years of the
Great Depression. My father, Lester Colebank, whose family had come first to Illinois and
then to Minnesota from the Lake District of England, and my mother Linda Nasman
Colebank, a full-blooded Swede whose parents had immigrated from Sweden, moved to
Woodside Township, Polk County, in 1924 from Madelia, a small town in southern
Minnesota. My mother taught school for 8 years before she married my dad, a farmer who
had been an ambulance driver in World War I. Both were age 30 at the time they moved
north and they had a son Warren, age 3. They rented my mother’s half-brother John (Jack)
Oleson’s farm in the northeast corner of section 30 of Woodside Township on shares for
four years until they acquired livestock for a farm of their own. In 1928 they moved to their
own 80-acre farm 7 miles south of Mentor in sections 8 and 17 of Woodside Township.
The farm was near the south shore of Maple Lake and on the north shore of Minnow Lake,
a shallow pothole that didn’t contain any fish. A plat book of Woodside Township from the
1930s shows our neighboring landowners to be
Olina Brekke, Carl Paulson, Jens P. Rude, Ludwig
A. Hammer, J. Ganghorn, N. E. Gaas, Helen Hattelie,
John Wilson, Albert Olson and Charles H. Kittleson
of Fairland Farm.
We lived in an area populated mainly by Norwe-
gians, and if you weren’t Norwegian or Lutheran
you weren’t considered to be quite up to par. My
dad did serve on the school board of the Woodside
School (District 156) for a number of years and my
mother Linda 9 years after that. My mother had
been a teacher for 8 years before she was married.
One of the schools she taught was District 46 in
northwest Becker County near Ulen.
We had a small family for those days, even though
my mother never used birth control. We were all
born at home and there weren’t any problems. I was born in the dead of winter in
January, 1926. Doctor Griffin drove the distance from Fertile to attend the delivery and
Mrs. Helmer Kittleson from a nearby farm was the midwife and nurse. I weighed 9
pounds and was named June Esther, in honor of my mother’s twin sister Esther.
I remember when my sister Victoria Ann was born in May of 1931. I was 5 years old. My
Dad called Dr. Rasmussen after supper and made us kids go to bed. I must have gone
to sleep because I didn’t hear anything after that. Dr. Rasmussen made the 14-mile trek
and charged 25 dollars, the price of a milk cow or 5 pigs in those days. Mrs. Kittleson
was again midwife and nurse. My dad stayed right there in the room for the birth. Vickie
was a very large baby who weighed 10 ¼ pounds, according to the doctor. Mrs.
Kittleson stayed a few days afterward to help out with the housework and cooking.
Our home was a vine-covered log cabin
with a lean-to on each side. It had an
upstairs which was rudely partitioned into
bedrooms. We slept upstairs and the
snow often came through the cracks onto
our beds if it was windy. Frost covered
the windows all winter long, and we always
came downstairs to stand by the stove to
My dad built his own barn in 1929 with lum-
ber he logged himself. At first, our livestock
consisted of 21 chickens, 3 roosters, 3 Hol-
stein cows, 2 horses and one pregnant pig.
We were fortunate to live on a farm during the Depression. My dad grew wheat, barley,
oats, flax, fodder corn, alfalfa, and hay. We had a large garden and had our own
vegetables, meat, eggs, and milk. My mother canned vegetables and fruit. Mom paid me
10 cents per gallon to pick Juneberries, pin cherries, chokecherries and cranberries in
season. Twice a week we went 3 miles to the creamery in Maple Bay, a tiny community
consisting of a store, a blacksmith shop and a creamery. We traded eggs for groceries
like sugar, flour, salt and pepper, etc. The storekeeper would always slip a little bag of
hard candy in an egg crate. We always searched for
it when Dad came home.
We had horses to do the field work and pull the
sleds in winter. One of our horses, Nellie, learned
to lift the latch on the chicken house door and
would go in and eat all the chicken feed. She
got in the rain barrels and stirred them up and got
them all dirty. She also liked to walk under the
clothesline when it was hung with clean clothes to
scratch her back, much to my mother’s chagrin.
Nellie hated fires. If she ever saw a trash fire she
would immediately stomp it out with her hooves.
When the epidemic of sleeping sickness came,
it killed poor Nellie. My dad fixed slings under both our sick horses so they wouldn’t get
hurt if they dropped, but Nellie got too nervous about being sick. The other horse pulled
through. The loss of a horse was a blow to our farm family, especially since we were so
attached to her.
My dad worked very hard. I hardly ever saw him sit down and rest. There were chores
night and morning since we milked 8 – 10 Holstein cows. We also had a few pigs. I think I
was 12 or 13 when we got our first tractor, a Fordson on steel wheels that Dad bought
from our neighbor Ingebret Akre for $25.
Harvest time was extra busy as the threshing
crew made up of neighbors moved from place
toplace. The lady of the place had to provide
meals for them.
We always butchered in the fall. Every year we
butchered one hog and one calf, and Dad would
hang the carcasses up in a tree. We used just
about every part of the hog. It was dipped in a
barrel of boiling water mixed with ashes to make
lye, because lye made it easier to scrape
the hair off the hide. Mom would put the fat in the
oven and render the lard from it. What was left
was called cracklings and sometimes we’d eat
them. The skin was left on to make bacon. We
would store the salted meat in the oat bin and it
would keep for months. My mother usually canned
the beef and that’s what we had in the summer.
Dad built the chicken house in 1930 and it was
big enough to hold 100 laying hens. The eggs from
those chickens were enough to keep us in groc-
eries during the worst years of the Depression.
Dad raised a mixture of grain and ground the feed
for the cattle and the mash for the chickens
My mother raised rutabagas to feed the chickens in the winter and they got all the
vegetable peelings as well. She had Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks to begin with,
but they didn’t lay as well as she wanted. Then she tried Leghorns, but they were too
nervous. Austra-Whites turned out to be just perfect. They were white with a few little
black feathers. We kids had to make sure the chickens were all in at night. We still lost a
few to weasels, however.
Wash day came around once a week and it was a tiring day. We had a wringer-type
Meadows washing machine with a gasoline engine. The one we had before that was
wooden and completely hand-operated. Water was heated in the copper boiler on the
stove. The day was almost over before the clothes were all hung on the line. In the
winter we hung them on racks in the house, usually near the stove.
The next day was ironing day. We had 3 detachable-handled irons of three different sizes
which we heated on the wood cook stove. When an iron cooled off we exchanged it for a
hotter one. I always used the light-weight one.
Our well was quite a distance from the house so
we had to haul it to the house in 10-gallon milk cans
in a wagon. We had a pail of water standing on the
cupboard with a dipper in it for drinking. Our well
was over 100 feet deep and the water was very cold
and clear. It was also very hard, so we saved water
in rain barrels for washing our hair, etc.
We used kerosene lamps at home for light. My job
was to wash the chimneys, trim the wicks and fill
them with kerosene every Saturday.
We attended the District 156 school, which was
called the Woodside School. If we walked on the
road, it was two miles away. If we cut through our
neighbor Jake Ganzhorn’s pasture, it was only a
mile, but that was dangerous because of his huge
Holstein bull and cross dog. Some of the kids had
to walk 3 miles and it did affect their attendance.
Our school had one teacher for all 15 to 20 pupils. School started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted
until 4:00 p.m. each day. We had a 15-minute recess in the morning and in the afternoon,
plus one hour at noon. Every country school had a picture of George Washington and
one of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. We students put the flag up every morning and took
it down every afternoon.
Every fall some of the parents sawed up firewood and the pupils would carry it all to the
basement and stack it up neatly against the wall. The stove had other uses besides
keeping us warm. It had a large pan of water on top to keep humidity in the air. We would
bring pint jars of food, mainly soup, and set them in the pan. They would be warm by
noon. We also put potatoes in the ash pan and they were baked and delicious by noon.
We all brought a lunch pail with our lunch. Our lunch boxes were often a lard or Karo
Syrup pail, but a few had real store-bought lunch boxes.
There were two other students in my grade – Ardell (Trygve) Hauge and Lance Hanson.
Our first grade teacher was Miss Lang. Later grades were taught by Miss McKinnon, Miss
Woelk, Miss Howe and Mrs. Holmvik.
We were like a big family. We had lots of fun playing games outside like ball, Nibb Stick,
Pom-Pom-Pullaway, Last Couple Out, and Fox and Goose. We jumped rope in the spring,
ice skated on a small nearby pond and skied in the winter. Every spring the pond got
‘rubber ice’ and we dared each other to go out on it. Our feet would always get soaked.
The teacher would make us take our socks and shoes off and sit on a bench until they
Mrs. Holmvik used to bring her record player to school and play classical records.
Then she would test us by having us name the records she played. She thought the
school had a lot of musical talent, because we could even do four-part harmony. When I
was in the 6th grade she took the whole school to a music contest in Crookston.
The Christmas program was a highlight of the school year. We practiced plays, songs and
poems for weeks beforehand. We usually performed the Nativity and sang carols. We
exchanged names for gifts and took up a collection of 10 cents each to get the teacher a
present. We usually had something new to wear to the program. My mother would go
upstairs and find something in her schoolteacher clothes in the old red box and make
Vickie and me new dresses.
After the program, lunch was served. It was usually
coffee, a sandwich and cake. Then the rows of seats
were pushed to one side and the young people played
the ring games while the old folks looked on and visited.
A picnic was held on the last day of school and our
parents came and brought pot luck. Our 8th grade
graduations were held in Crookston.
In May of my 8th grade year, I got Tularemia from a
woodtick that was stuck fast on the side of my face. The
doctor said it must have been on a sick rabbit before me.
I was in bed almost a month, but I was determined to get
well in time for my 8th grade graduation in Crookston. I
did go, but you can see the spots that still adorned my
face in pictures that were taken that day.
My mother kept current on health matters. She used
to give us cod liver oil. We hated the taste, but we
usually didn’t get sick all winter. My dad would also
buy a bushel of apples or oranges and we’d eat one
a day. My dad would eat one too.
We had a family in school, the Strand family, that had tuberculosis. The father died first,
then the baby, then Marion, a little girl in my brother Warren’s 5th grade class. The last
one to die was Gladys, the Strand’s married daughter. Marion Strand’s funeral was the
first funeral I remember going to. About that time they began testing for TB and the whole
school was tested. A number of pupils reacted positively, including my brother, and my
own result was questionable. I had to be x-rayed but nothing showed up on the x-ray. My
brother Warren reacted to the test, and though his x-ray was negative at that time, when
he went into the Marines he had what were thought to be tubercular scars on his lungs.
Vaccination for smallpox also came out then and we were all vaccinated. It was too late
for my sister and I, however, for we had already been exposed. We got smallpox two
weeks after the vaccination. Vickie had sores in her mouth and even under her eyelids.
Mom had Dr. Sturman come out from Erskine. He looked at and felt our “pox” and said,
“Smallpox. I’ve seen enough of them in the service to know.” Vickie was very sick but
she pulled through. Later we also got the whooping cough because there were no
vaccinations for that yet.
Our first car was a Ford touring car with a cloth
top and isinglass windows. Then we got a 1925
Model T Ford sedan, followed by a Model A and a
Model B. My dad was a good mechanic and fixed
his own cars – even overhauling them.
I remember in 1938 or ’39 when Uncle Herman and
Aunt Olive Roxin came from Nicollet with a new
bright-red Pontiac. Uncle Herman took us for a ride
and we went 60 miles per hour. We couldn’t wait to
brag to our friends.
We usually got snow in November and for the
next three months we had to travel by horse and
sled because the roads were impassable to cars. My
dad made a covered sled with a heater and car seat
across the back. It was fairly comfortable.
We sawed wood in the fall. Usually the neighbors
helped each other so that it could be done in one
day. We had a large pile of popple, ash, oak, box
elder and elm north of the house. It was my brother’
s job to carry in the wood after school. We had a
noisy gasoline engine to run the saw.
By 1940 my dad had saved up enough to build
a new house (he never would go into debt for
anything except the farm) with lumber he logged
himself. He got a book on electricity and studied
it and wired it himself (REA came along about
then). He dug the basement with horses and
what he called a “scraper” and then finished it
He put in the foundation and built it all by himself. I think it took him a couple of years.
Mom was so pleased with the new house. She got a new wood stove and left the old
Monarch in the log house. Both stoves had reservoirs on the side so we always had hot
water and a warming oven above to keep things warm. We had the usual outhouse but
used a pot inside in the winter and at night. Emptying that was another job of mine. Our
school had a chemical toilet in the basement that emptied into a tank. One little boy in my
class was scared of it so he sat in his seat and wet his pants all the time. Finally a cousin
of his helped him to get used to it.
We heated water for baths on Saturday night. Vickie was first, I was second, and my
brother was last. We had a long galvanized tub that we put on the floor near the stove in
By the time I was 6 we had a telephone and were on a party
line. Our ring was one long ring and two shorts. Six short rings
was for everyone on the line and would mean an announce-
ment of some kind of emergency like a grass fire or a com-
munity service announcement.
One year, after we had moved into the new house, I took
landscaping for 4-H. I was a member of the Woodside Willing
Workers. My dad and I planned the layout of the yard, and
planted a long Siberian Elm hedge, some flower gardens, and it
seems like we planted a weeping willow tree.
We lived 13 or 14 miles from a town of any size (Erskine) and
it wasn’t very big. The county seat was Crookston and that was
about 30 miles away. The County Fair was a big thing. Dad took
time out to go one day to the Fertile Fair and one day to the
Fosston Fair. We took a picnic lunch and enjoyed the exhibits
and rides. As 4-Hers, we watched to see if we won a prize in
baking, sewing, etc. My brother Warren won a trip to the
Minnesota State Fair in health.
Up until the time I was 15 or 16, I had only seen two movies. My dad took us to Fertile to
see the “Wizard of Oz” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
When I was about 10, I remember my dad’s 15-year-old brother Royal came from Madelia
and brought a radio for us to listen to. It had two headsets and we got to hear a little of
“Amos and Andy.” It wasn’t long before Dad got one with a speaker. He put a wind
charger on a pole on top of the house to charge the radio’s battery. We listened faithfully
to “Fibber and Molly McGee,” “George Burns and Gracie Allen,” and “Jack Benny.” Dad
always listened to the boxing matches and news and weather reports and every Saturday
night he would listen to “WLS Barn Dance.” Mom loved to listen to the soap operas like
“Ma Perkins,” “The Guiding Light,” and “Pepper Young’s Family” while she worked. In
school we discussed the programs of the night before, repeated the jokes, and gave our
We had parties among the young people at each
other’s homes whenever there was a birthday or
any other excuse for a party. We had parties at
the John Colebank’s, the Lee’s, the Bakken’s and
the Broden’s. We played what we called “ring
games,” which were sort of folk dances, like “Skip
To My Lou,” and “There’s Somebody Waiting.” I
also remember “Two Little Girls Skating On The
Ice.” The verses started with the lines: “Two little
girls skating on the ice;” “The ice was thin and
they all fell in,” and “They all went out to search
for help.” Some of the ring games were
Norwegian in origin and two of them we always
sang in Norwegian. I didn’t know what
the words meant but I knew the actions. After the ring games, we’d have lunch and play
The P. T. A. meetings were another form of entertainment. They were social affairs with a
program of local talent that was quite good. Mom gave humorous readings and Dad sang
and played the guitar. Aunt Esther, my mother’s twin sister who lived with her husband
Rob in section 16 of Woodside Township, also gave humorous monologues and Uncle
Rob played his violin or mandolin. Once Rob made a xylophone out of bottles filled with
various amounts of water and played that. He could also play the piano, but there was no
piano at our school. Hartvig Folvig played the accordion.
The audience usually sang a few songs out of the yellow
“Golden Book of Favorite Songs.” We sang patriotic songs
as well as songs like “Old Black Joe” and “Carry Me Back to
Old Virginny,” which were okay to sing then. These same
song books were used in school, too.
The Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs were a big
source of enjoyment. They came twice a year with sale
catalogs in between. We would pore over them by the hour
and Mom would order things now and then. She ordered
material for dresses at 5 and 10 cents per yard and sewed
our clothes until we were old enough to do it ourselves. My
dad occasionally ordered a new record for the wind-up
phonograph, which we played over and over. He also
ordered the sheet music for the latest songs in hopes that
we’d learn to play them.
Mom had a piano which she bought when teaching and
it stood proudly in our small living room. My dad loved
music and played guitar. He had a nice tenor voice.
He sang songs like “Old Spinning Wheel in the
Parlor,” “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving
Somewhere,” “When It’s Prayer Meetin’ Time in the
Hollow,” and “Rag Doll.” He did all he could to
encourage us to learn to play. We couldn’t afford
regular lessons, but I got about ten group lessons
from Mrs. Kordula Holmvik, a teacher who
offered to teach us as a group for 25 cents per
My sister was luckier because later on they could
afford to buy her lessons from the local
My folks couldn’t afford too much in the line of newspapers and magazines, but we
always took “The Farmer” and the “Farm Journal.” They were necessary, according
to my dad. Once a young salesman talked my mother into subscribing to the “St. Paul
Dispatch” for a year. We really enjoyed that. We did take the “Erskine Echo” and the
“Fertile Journal” at times too.
There were three families of Colebanks living within a three-mile radius – Robert and
Esther Colebank in section 16 (Robert was a cousin of my dad’s), John and Clara
Colebank in the northeast corner of Section 29 on a farm purchased from Gust Felsing
in 1920, and our family. John was my dad’s
brother and Clara was my mother’s sister, so
there were three Colebanks married to three
Nasmans. We got together on holidays for
dinner and sometimes for homemade ice cream.
I think we borrowed a big freezer and the boys
took turns turning it (ice blocks had been cut
from the pond in the winter and kept in the
sawdust pile from the wood sawing). We ate
our fill of ice cream and enjoyed playing a game
It was a big occasion when relatives from a
distance came to visit. We had a lot of relatives
so we had a number of visits. We admired our city cousins who could swim like fish and
do gymnastics, etc., while they envied our living on a farm. Sometimes they brought us
used clothes. One very special time was in 1937 when my Great Grandmother Caroline
McIndoo came from California to see us. She was on her way to Madelia for her daughter
Martha’s 50th wedding anniversary. I thought it was really great to get to see her.
Several times during the summer we went to Union Lake and got to go swimming.
Uncle Ray and Aunt Bernice Roof owned a resort in the southeast corner of Woodside
Township and we went to visit them.
In 1939 my Uncle Rob and Aunt Esther, my mom’s twin, lost their farm and packed up
their belongings and went to Oregon. My mother felt the loss very much as she and her
twin were very close. Uncle John and Aunt Clara lost their farm too but were able to buy
it back. John and Clara had 7 children and I loved to go and stay overnight there because
of all the excitement going on with all the children. They were very active in community
affairs including 4-H. Uncle John was on the Fair Board for many years and was a member
of the Farm Bureau.
During the Depression, all our houses became
infested with bedbugs. As soon as the lights went
out they bit us until they were full -- then we could
sleep. My mother was death on bedbugs, spraying
the mattress and setting the bed legs in cans of
kerosene. They lived mostly in the walls and
crawled onto the bed only at night. If Mom wanted
to know if she got them all she would have me
sleep in the bed, because if there were any I’d
be the first one to know it. I think I was allergic to
them. If all else failed, the house was fumigated
and that took care of them.
One time we got the “seven-year itch” at school. I think it might be the same as scabies
today, but I’m not sure. The doctor gave us a salve to put on, but they didn’t have much
to combat it with in those days. We had to put on all clean clothes on every day and hang
out all our bedding in the sun. We eventually got rid of it.
Sometimes the dark-skinned gypsies would come around to our farm and beg for food.
One of them would keep you talking while others would sneak around and steal whatever
they could. If the people weren’t home, they liked to steal chickens. They had cars loaded
with stuff. A lot of them traveled with the carnival that came with the fair. Eventually the
gypsies disappeared and I don’t know what happened to them.