Items of Genealogical Interest
Volume 19 Number 6
LaVonne I. Bennett
LaVonne has received permission from Grayden Slowins to edit and submit Sebewa Recollector items of genealogical interest, from the beginning year of 1965 through current editions.
THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR; Bulletin of the Sebewa Center
June 1984, Volume 19, Number 6: Written by the late Robert W. Gierman.
(Submitted with written permission of current editor, Grayden D. Slowins):
FROM THE CHARLES ESTEP DIARY
Mr. Estep learns something about the lumber business. Sometime after this he
started in the lumberyard business at Lake Odessa. Afterward he sold that
business to George Reiser. He then established a lumberyard at Portland at the
corner of Grand River and Water Streets. Later he sold that business and began
another lumber business in Lansing. It was in the attic of his house in Lansing
that the 1883-86 diary was found recently.
Tuesday, October 20, 1885. Christopher leak commenced work for me by the month @
$16.00 per month. We sawed some wood today. Watson Reeder was here today. I let
him a job of building me a barn for $130.00.
Saturday, December 10, 1885. It was very windy and wintry today. This forenoon I
drew a load of wood and done some tinkering. Afternoon I took Minnie Carter’s
trunk over to her and went and made a bargain with Tom Little today. My barn
wall will cost me $2.50 per day for Tom Litte’s work.
Thursday, December 10, 1885. I and Chris Leak cut saw logs this forenoon. We cut
12 basswood. John VanHouten skidded logs for me today. This afternoon I
commenced to draw saw logs. Drew two. The sleigh runs quite well but the roads
are rough and rutty. Prof. J. C. Field is at our house. He has organized a
singing class at the church.
Saturday, December 12, 1885. I drew four saw logs today. It has snowed some this
Monday, December 14, 1885. I drew saw logs today. Ward drove the team this
afternoon. I went over to Jake Sayer’s and hired him to cut and slab out a few
logs for me.
Tuesday, December 15, 1885. Chris Leak and David VanHouten cut saw logs for me
today. They cut the old elm on the road. It was rotten from top to bottom. I
drew saw logs. Brought home a load of lumber.
Wednesday, December 16, 1885. Drew saw logs today. One trip. Father and Mother
are here today. The sleighing is good.
Thursday, December 16, 1885. I drew some logs from Sayer’s today. Went to
singing school this evening.
Friday, December 18, 1885. I finished drawing logs from Sayer’s.
Saturday, December 19, 1885. I skidded logs with John’s oxen this forenoon. He
took a load with my team. I took another load this afternoon. Bion drew for me
today. The sleighing is thin.
Monday, December 21, 1885. I got Geo. Boynton to help me to saw up a tree this
morning. I took one log to mill. Afternoon finished threshing my clover seed.
Tuesday, December 22, 1885. I drew two loads of lumber from the mill on the
wagon. The sleighing is gone.
Thursday, December 24, 1885. I took my clover seed to Portland. I only got $4.00
a bushel. The roads are very rough. It froze up last night. We went to the
Christmas Tree this evening. Foe got a towel and two books. Beach got a picture
book and slippers and stockings.
Friday, January 1, 1886. I stuck up lumber today. Prof. J. C. Field rode Frank
to the Corners this afternoon.
Saturday, January 2, 1886. I finished sticking up my lumber and cleaned out the
stables this forenoon. Afternoon I went to Sebewa Corners.
Tuesday, January 12, 1886. Jake Sayer helped me to cut posts this forenoon. Mr.
Reeder came and we commenced to get out timber this afternoon. Jake and I
scored. Henry Brownfield made me a log boat today.
Wednesday, January 13, 1886. Jake Sayer, Ike Gunn and Ben Lowe scored for me
today. I skidded square timber and unhewn posts. Went to prayer meeting this
Thursday, January 14, 1886. Same as yesterday with Frank Congleton in addition.
Friday, January 15, 1886. Ward, Ike Gunn and Frank Congleton scored for me
today. Ben Lowe and I cut long timber and posts. Mr. Daniels and wife visited
here this evening.
Monday, January 18, 1886. Mr. Reeder, Ward and Frank Congleton came to work this
morning but it stormed so they went home. I took a log to the mill. Rilon
Truxton came this morning. He is going to work for me a couple of months.
Tuesday, January 19, 1886. Father and I went to Portland to see about buying
lumber for a barn. Took the train and went to Muir. Did not buy there. Will buy
in Portland. It is a cold day.
Wednesday, January 20, 1886. Bion went with me today after lumber. We took four
loads of lumber over to the planning mill and brought two loads home.
Thursday, January 21, 1886. Bion and I went after lumber again today. It has
been a very severe old and stormy day.
Monday, January 25, 1886. Bion and I went to Portland after lumber again today.
The sleighing is not very good. We took some lumber to the mill.
Saturday, January 16, 1886. Got up late. Skidded up three sticks this forenoon
and two this afternoon. It stormed this afternoon. My dog bit one of Mrs. Lapo’s
sheep and I killed him.
Tuesday, January 26, 1886. We went after lumber again today. I bought my batten
lumber and took it over to the planning mill to have them made.
Wednesday, January 27, 1886. I bought No. 2 shingle and had part of them home
and I changed my mind and Bion and I took them back today and I bought Star
shingle at $3.25 per M and I brought home 10 ½ M hi 6 M. Father brought home the
Thursday, January 28, 1886. We cut and drew two logs to mill and got another out
to the road.
Friday, January 29, 1886. I took a couple of logs to the mill today and brought
home a load of lumber. I got two oak logs on Bion’s, 9 foot long, skidded them
and drew one to mill.
Saturday, January 30, 1886. Bion and I went down on Bion’s and got a log. He
took it to mill. I got horse and cutter, took Foe over to Lute’s. They were not
at home. I went to the sale at O. Stebbins and bought a fanning mill.
Monday, February 1, 1886. I went down to Father’s this morning and cut some
small timber to square 6 x 6. Got dinner there. Took three prulin posts along
Tuesday, February 2, 1886. It is very cold and quite windy this morning. I took
two saw logs to mill today. Charley VanHouten’s folks were here a while today.
Wednesday, February 3, 1886. Rilon and I went over to Mast Gray’s this morning
to look for sand. Went from there to Peter Knapp’s. We got it there. We opened
up the pit and got three loads.
Thursday, February 4, 1886. C. S. Lawrence helped me to draw sand today. We got
five loads. Rilon went to Ionia.
Friday, February 5, 1886. Father brought his team down this morning. We drew
with two teams. We got six loads of sand today.
Saturday, February 6, 1886. We got up six more loads of sand today.
Monday, February 8, 1886. I commenced to draw my posts to mill to have them
sawed. Drew seven of them today.
Tuesday, February 9, 1886. Drew more posts today. It is quite warm, indeed, and
the sleighing is going fast.
Wednesday, February 10, 1886. I took a load of posts this afternoon. I have been
loading both ways. This afternoon I finished drawing them home. I have them
about half sawed. The sleighing is about gone. I will have to quit now.
Here, apparently, Mr. Estep got so busy with his barn building that he gave up
his diary and thus ends his three-year record.
TO PLUCK A DUCK by Robert W. Gierman
My grandfather was a gooseherd. As a lad in Germany in the mid 1860’s it was his
task to tend the gaggle of geese belonging to his family or perhaps to the
feudal lord to which the family “belonged”. Not only did he keep the geese from
straying beyond their proper bounds, he also fed some of them with that curious
instrument that funneled and forced corn down goose gullets in quantities beyond
goose appetites. The purpose of that forced feeding was to cause the livers to
greatly enlarge to become the source of that European delicacy, goose pate or
pate de foir gras, as the French called it, translated “pate of fat liver”.
Whether or not occupational traits are in the least way hereditary or had in any
way influenced getting me mixed up with ducks is highly debatable. My first
experience with a duck was with a white drake that had the freedom of the yard
and mingled with the flock of chickens that were everywhere about the farmyard.
I knew that ducks could fly, because spring and autumn we saw regularly V-shaped
flocks overhead. It seemed to me that our drake, with a little encouragement
could do as well. Hens used their wings to hop to the roosts and if you had
White Leghorns you might find them at the tops of apple trees at roosting time.
One day my desire to experiment overwhelmed me. I caught the old drake and
carried him upstairs in the “old house” that had once been Ben Probasco’s
(grandpa to the Ben we knew) cooper shop and later the Emanuel Tran house. There
was an open window to the south. When I gave the drake the assist I though he
needed, I thought he would spread his wings and sail off toward the barn as
would any respectable bird. Alas, the troubles that come with overweight! The
air seemed to provide no lift at all. The drake landed with a thud a few feet
from the building and the days of his life were over.
Somehow my reputation as a duck killer, though a bit embarrassing, did not
stick. A year or two later some kindly neighbor gave our family a setting of
duck eggs and a broody old “settin’ hen” was given the four-week task of
bringing them to a hatch. Seeing the little fellows swim so easily in a water
puddle was great entertainment. The “queak, queaks” of the ducklings gradually
changed to the throaty “QUACK QUACKS” of the rapidly maturing ducks. I think we
may have had Christmas dinner that year from the surplus of drakes. By spring
there was only one drake, with silvery gray feathers with black and green
iridescent colors about the head. I’ll never forget him with his tiny, cute tail
as dapper as any courting gentleman with a new hat. He followed his flock of
dull brown ladies wherever they chose to waddle.
That was the year when I was in the eighth grade in school. Somehow, tending the
ducks became my job and I was to have a project raising them. By early spring in
1922 an occasional large white duck egg was to be found, right where a duck had
been when the urge to lay an egg came upon her. Our ducks were free to go and
come as they would. If you have had any experience with ducks you know they go
long before daylight when any reasonable person is still abed. If I were to
raise ducks, I’d have to collect the eggs and keep them from freezing until I
had enough for a “setting” under a willing hen. It didn’t take long for me to
find out that ducks do not lay eggs at ten o’clock nor in the afternoon. That
was an early morning chore and I might find an egg here or there, wherever the
ducks had chosen to amble on their morning treks.
The ducts had not yet become broody and had not opted to make nests of their
own. Instead, an egg might be found anywhere along their favorite haunts. During
the snow melt, little ponds of water collected here and there and always there
was the drainage ditch that the ducks liked to work over for tidbits of food
that nature supplied there. I made daily morning rounds before school was
called. Getting one, three or four eggs a day soon had several henhouse nests
filled with setting hens on duck eggs. Frequently I would find a shining white
egg in the clear flowing water of the ditch. With a dead willow branch, I would
fish it out and perhaps not get my feet wet.
Later in the season I found that at least one of the ducks had made a grassy
nest on the side of the ditch bank and carefully laid a clutch of eggs in the
down lined nest. Whenever she left the nest, she covered the eggs with down and
grass to make them unnoticeable. She hatched those eggs and resumed her place in
the flock with the ducklings.
I recall that before the first eggs hatched from the group I had under my care
in the henhouse, Uzel and Harold Probasco had invited me to come home with them
and stay the night. That was always a pleasurable exchange for schoolboys. The
stay lasted well into Saturday and when I got home, the first duck eggs were
hatching and I had not been there to tend to my business. A new hatchling or two
had died and I realized I might have saved them had I been “on the job”. That
was the end of my neglect. When a nestful had hatched, I promptly removed them
with the foster mother hen to one of those inverted V coops that were to be seen
in every farmyard in those days before incubators and chicks delivered through
the mail from hatcheries.
The duckling fed and grew and soon abandoned their foster mothers and grouped to
form a flock of their own kind. There was never a stray; the flock moved as a
unit. One of the pleasures of feeding ducks was digging for angle worms and
seeing a duckling grab an end and worm it worm it whole down his hungry throat.
In the early 1920’s the fuel for our kitchen range came largely from chopped
rails that had served their time as fences for 40 or 50 years. I was born too
late to have ever seen rail splitting. That belonged to a generation or two
back. By 1920 wire fences were the “in thing” and the rails they replaced became
the kitchen fuel. A sharp axe and a few well placed blows would soon turn a rail
into an armload of fuel and a scattering of wood chips. The chip area got larger
and larger and the rotting fragments made a fine breeding ground for earthworms.
I was never quite certain whether the ducks eating worms where I dug up the rich
soil had pleasure to exceed mine watching them. Many times during the summer we
indulged in this chip-pile pastime.
Soon they lost their down and became feathered. Drakes’ coloring identified them
from the females. I never could determine where the directing brain of that
flock was located. At one time the flock would move to the ditch or another to
the hay field, but when night came it would return to the farmyard quite unlike
some of the neighbors turkeys that flocked to the woods and would be seen only
infrequently until it was time to harvest them in the fall.
I could almost locate the ducks by listening, even if the flock was fairly
distant. When on the move there was always the loud “QUACK, QUACK” of some
determined leader, who seemed to be giving orders. If, some evening, the ducks
did not return to the farmyard, I would go round them up.
When it came fall we started for high school at Lake Odessa with the new $350
Ford Roadster. Sometime previous, John York had discovered the J. W. Keys
Commission House in Detroit where they would market live poultry, return the
crates and send a check covering a better price than could be obtained in the
local market. Always a new set of shipping tags came with the check. Somehow we
got some crates and tags and when it was time to market broilers or old hens,
we’d crate them up, tie a couple of crates to the Model T running board and
start for school early enough to leave the crates, after weighing in, on the
dray at the depot and get a shipping bill. A few days later the empty crates
would be dumped off the express car of the daily passenger train and we would
bring them home. On days we shipped poultry we could glance out the assembly
hall window at 8:30 A. M. and see the train headed east. We knew our poultry was
on its way to market.
Marketing eggs was a different matter. When our 12-dozen crate of eggs was
filled in neat layers of dividers, it was our task to take the eggs to Tingley’s
poultry and egg mart. Not many roads at the time were conditioned for smooth
traveling. It was seldom that we arrived at Tingley’s with less than six to ten
badly cracked eggs with some drizzling “all over”. With the egg money there were
always groceries to be shopped for. I recall “Grandma” washing powder and “Olive
Eye Lo” toilet soap. Also there were frequent shopping errands for the
neighbors. When the kids were going to town every day, there was no need for
neighbors along our route to make a special trip to town for some little
Lake in the fall it was time to market the ducks. That was where my Dad took
over. He found that the price for dressed duck was much better than the live
price and decided that the family had better earn that difference. Dressing
chickens for Sunday dinner was old stuff to us---catch a hen, axe its head on a
chopping block, toss it in a pail and scald it with a teakettle of boiling water
and pull off the feathers. With ducks, we found, it was different. The ones we
tried with that system remained half scalded as the oily down did not allow the
hot water to reach the skin. We spent hours trying to get all the feathers from
the bird and small floating feathers began appearing everywhere about the house.
In 1922 you didn’t select your chicken or duck from a refrigerated bin of
plastic wrapped pieces of meat. Rather you went to the meat market and made a
selection from a row of heads-on birds, hanging in the window. If you wanted
your selection eviscerated, the butcher would do that task after you had paid.
That meant that we did not market any headless ducks. I always thought my Dad
got just a little more pleasure than necessary in killing the ducks. With a
stout cord attached to the legs, he would suspend them over a line and with his
carefully honed jackknife he’d open the beaks, reach in with the blade and sever
the blood supply to the head and let them bleed.
Soon we had a stack of ducks ready to be plucked of their feathers. Trial and
error found that they could be thoroughly scalded in the copper boiler kept
boiling on the Engman-Matthews wood RANCE ETERNAL in our scanty kitchen. The
wooded clothes rod could be held to submerge a duck long enough to boil off the
oil in the feathers and reach the skin. The feathers became fairly easy to
remove---course feathers in one pile and the downy ones in another, saved for a
family supply of pillows.
The hot water loosened the grimy skin of the legs and feet, exposing the
pleasingly pink tootsies. It was not just one day’s work to get the more than
100 ducks neatly plucked, cooled as they were suspended from lines upstairs in
the “old House”. It was Garlingers who purchased the lot. I think they sent out
a truck to get them.
That was the end of my project. I don’t recall where the money went---into the
kitty, I suppose, as I never got my hands on it.
But there were the feathers left, dried and stored in cloth feed sacks upstairs
in the “old house”. As might be expected, mice explored, found the sacks and
added a few walnuts and hickory nuts before the feathers were used for pillows.
The pillow that is my favorite and the one I now use and though it has been
through the renovator twice, still has one walnut in it and that occasionally
punches me in the jaw to remind me of those days of long ago.
November 16, 2013