When I was a kid living in Los Angeles my parents felt that my experience should not just be that of being a big city youngster. My mother and father had come to Los Angeles when they were very young and just married from the southeast part of Nebraska. In 1923 they departed by automobile and headed for Los Angeles. It was a new world for them. They had both been raised on farms just outside a town of 5,000 people called Fairbury. Farms circled the town and life was easy and uncomplicated.
After arriving in Los Angeles, Dad was able to get into the battery business in the downtown area. He later owned it. Mom enjoyed being a homemaker with the duties that entailed. I came into the world in the earlier 1930s. Although Los Angeles was growing at a rapid rate, it remained a wonderful city until the later 1960s when freeways began carrying city dwellers at fast speeds around the area. The weather in Los Angeles is hard to beat year-round and that is probably why it grew so rapidly after World War II. It also provided jobs, which were in great demand.
As stated earlier, my father felt that I should not just be exposed to life in a large city, but that it would be good for me to experience life on the farm, as he knew it at the same age. When I was about 8, my parents decided to send me for the summer to my aunt and uncle’s farm in Nebraska. How exciting this seemed. Dad purchased a ticket on Union Pacific Railroad’s streamlined “City of Los Angeles” to carry me to Omaha. There, my aunt and uncle would meet me at the station and drive me to the farm.
I enjoyed a private bedroom on the train and was cared for by the train car porter as well as the conductor. Can you imagine sending a kid alone on a train in the U.S. today? I would occupy my time by watching the countryside roll by the train window and get to feel like a “big kid” in the diner. When the train would make the various station stops I would get off for a few minutes and walk around, always staying near my train car. When I heard “all aboard” being called by the conductor, I would again re-board the beautiful yellow streamliner to continue the journey to Nebraska.
This was my first adventure across half of our country. In the middle of the second night onboard the train we arrived in Omaha. My aunt and uncle were there with smiles to take my suitcase and me to their car and drive over 100 miles to their farm.
I had my own room at the farmhouse and felt quite grown up having traveled over 1,500 miles alone to get there. My uncle gave me a walking tour around the farm, which was 120 acres. They had chickens, rabbits, a few milking cows, a goat, pigs, mixed in with dogs and cats — a typical farm for the time.
The second morning I joined my aunt to feed the chickens and assorted animals and then watched my uncle milk the cows. A couple days later I was doing my best to milk the cows with my small hands.
As time moved forward I was able to drive the tractor a bit. I really felt “grown up” now! They grew wheat and some other crops I can’t remember.
Friday nights and Saturdays were the time to go into town to replenish supplies and to purchase needed items for self and home. My aunt and uncle knew so many people, which amazed me. Other farmers and townspeople walked around the square with the county courthouse at its center. My uncle was a close friend of the sheriff. We couldn’t walk more than 100 feet on the square without talking to some acquaintance. It all seemed nice and friendly. It wasn’t that way in Los Angeles.
After the first week I became acquainted with the farm routine and felt quite at home. My aunt played the piano and we would sing songs together after dinner. My uncle would listen to the noon news broadcast from station WOW in Omaha.
On Sunday afternoons they usually hosted friends for a summer picnic under the wonderful shade trees near the house. Friends would bring food to share and my uncle would barbecue chicken, beef, pork or sausage. All of it good!
During one of these Sunday afternoons I was playing in the rather tall grass near the party of friends and stepped on a green snake just behind the head.
I screamed and heard a voice tell me to stand still and not move. This I did and the sheriff picked me up and moved me away while a couple others killed the snake. Ever since I have been afraid of snakes!
Often on Saturday afternoons my uncle would take me to the cattle auction nearby. This was another event where the farmers would have lengthy conversations with one another. They would inspect the cattle to be auctioned and discuss the pros and cons of each. My uncle told me about some guy who would stick a hose down the throat of his cattle to be auctioned, which would increase the weight. The price of cattle is based on condition, age and weight.
When August arrived it was time to harvest. I was able to help my uncle (I thought) in assisting him in driving the tractor. This is hard, hot work during long hours in the sun. This, mixed with the early morning duties was no “holiday.” My aunt prepared hardy lunches for us during this period and, of course, we also listened to WOW noon news on the radio. The local paper came out once each week.
A few times the sheriff would let me ride with him in the police car, which was fun and very educational.
At the end of August it was time to return to Los Angeles, my parents, and to get ready for the next semester of school. That meant another wonderful train ride on the yellow streamliner, “City of Los Angeles.” My aunt and uncle drove me to Omaha where I boarded the train, found my private room and went to bed. I was so excited that I slept little and watched the nighttime action pass by my window as I lie in bed. The food, the service and excitement of the dining car will always be remembered and the thrill of enjoying the passing scenery during the day from the observation car on the end of the train.
I was able to visit the farm in Nebraska for the next several summers while I was growing up. It was always a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget.