Prairie

The Story Of A House

 

The family who homesteaded this land came from Northern Ireland via Boston, Massachusetts. After living in Boston for a period, the family brought their son to the Alberta prairie. For a young man entering the 9th grade, life on a prairie farm required considerable adjustment. He lamented that chores had to replace participating in organized sports and that adapting to a new school environment was challenging, but soon adjusted to his new life and considered it a blessing.

He attended the Olds School of Agriculture and received his Diploma in Agriculture in 1928 and went on to have many productive years farming the family homestead. Some of the changes he saw throughout the years included the building of new churches and schools to accommodate a growing population, changes in farming methods as a result of some hard lessons learned from the Dirty Thirties, along with many technological advances.

After the owners passing, the land and buildings were sold at an auction sale in 1992.

Prairie Gold Task Force

 

A GB model Minneapolis Moline tractor in signature 'Prairie Gold' paint and a Task Force Chevy grain truck sit together in retirement.

The Minneapolis Moline GB was built in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1955 until 1959. Priced at $5000USD the two-wheel drive tractor weighed 7100 pounds. The GB came equipped with a liquid-cooled 6.6 liter four cylinder rated for 71 horsepower at 1300RPM.

Chevrolet and General Motors introduced their all new light trucks – the Task Force series in March of 1955. Borrowing from passenger car styling, the new GM’s smooth sheet metal, hooded headlights and wrap around windshield (an industry first) gave them a contemporary look. Along with the drastic styling changes, 1955 saw many new options introduced for GM trucks. For the first time, power steering, power brakes, a 12 volt electrical system, an overdrive unit, and a 265 cubic inch V8 were available. Buyers still had the option of sticking with the venerable stovebolt six which had been in use since 1929.

1958 saw a redesign of the front end sheet metal; quad headlights were introduced. The first fleetside boxes became available, and factory air conditioning was found in Chevy trucks for the first time. The Task Force body style was manufactured until 1959.

The Big Yellow School Bus

 

Alberta's first one-room schoolhouse was located in Edmonton in 1881. By 1910 there were 1195 one-room schools in Alberta, with the majority located in rural areas. Students traveled to and from school on foot, horseback, or horse-drawn buggy.

In the 1920s, while buggies became motorized, school districts consolidated into larger buildings, forcing students to travel farther to receive an education. In the 1930s students began riding steel bodied early versions of the modern school bus. During a 1939 conference, the first standards were set out to streamline production and increase the safety of school buses. One rule that remains in effect today is the use of 'school bus yellow' because it is easy to see at dawn and dusk and contrasts well with the black lettering.

These days, over 700 million trips are completed in Canada annually, using roughly 36,000 yellow school buses.



Volkswagen Beetle

 

Ferdinand Porsche, known for developing the world's first gasoline-electric hybrid, designing winning race cars and light, yet powerful airplane engines, first thought of a small car for the everyman in the early 1920s. Porsche saw an opportunity for a people's car in the economic, political, and social changes taking place in the wake of the first World War. The leaders of European auto companies did not agree with Porsche. Cars were for the well-to-do. Workers would take the bus or cycle to work.

Not seeing eye-to-eye with big automakers, in 1931 Porsche founded a consulting firm. In 1934 Porsche won a contract from Adolph Hitler to design a small people's car. This peoples car was to consume no more than seven liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers, have four seats to accommodate the family, be air-cooled to prevent the engine from freezing in cold weather, and be able to maintain a speed of 100 kilometers per hour. Working from his previous designs, Porsche completed his first two prototypes in 1935 and built subsequent iterations, until the final design was realized in 1937.

By the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, only a handful of consumer cars had been produced, when production switched from civilian to military vehicles. Following the end of the war, the Volkswagen factory was controlled by Allied forces who tried giving it way but could find no takers. The British automakers were uninterested and said: "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car.” When Henry Ford II asked his right-hand man Ernest Breech what his thoughts were, Breech said: "What we're being offered here, Mr. Ford, isn't worth a damn!"

Not being able to give away Volkswagen, Major Ivan Hirst was put in charge of getting the bombed out factory up and running again to fill an order for 20,000 VWs for the occupational forces. By January 1948 the factory was producing 2500 cars a month when the British Army appointed Heinz Nordhoff as the General Director of Volkswagen.

Nordhoff took the reins and defying the odds, began steering Volkswagen down the road to success. In 1950, Nordhoff appointed Maximilian Hoffman to introduce the American car buyer to the Volkswagen. Hoffman sold an underwhelming 330 VWs that first year. Sales slowly increased over the years. In 1955 Volkswagen of America was established and the millionth car was produced. Out of the first million, only 9000 had made it to North America. By 1965 one million Beetles per year were being built. In 1972 the 15,007,034th Beetle rolled off the assembly line, matching Ford's Model T worldwide sales record. 1974 saw the last Beetle produced at the original factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.  Production continued in other European facilities, Mexico and Brazil. The final Type 1 VW Beetle was built in Puebla, Mexico on July 30, 2003. The original VW Beetle sold over 21,000,000 units!

With the odds stacked against it, not only did the Volkswagen Beetle prove the need for an affordable reliable people's car but it garnered a cult following along the way.

Gambrel vs Arch

 

The gambrel roof barn in this post was built in 1934 and gradually fell out of use in the 1980s. The current owners, who have been living here since 1972, tell me that the original builder's brother built a gothic arch style barn just down the road in an attempt to outdo his brother. Both are very handsome barns but, in my opinion, the effort in one-upmanship was a success.

Inside a gambrel roof barn, you will find at least one gambrel used for hanging carcasses at butchering time. The word comes from the hock of a horses leg. The bend in the leg resembles the bent rafter line of a gambrel barn roof. These roofs provided more storage in the hayloft when compared to a gable roof or A-frame. A gambrel roof barn is usually an indication of European influence.

Gothic arch (pointed arch roof truss) barns evolved from the gambrel roof design and provided even more storage capacity by allowing for large, open haylofts with no supporting columns in the middle. The graceful contours of a gothic arch barn were thought to increase the value of a farm.

A complete kit could be ordered delivered to the nearest train station. The kits included floor plans, pre-cut lumber, and all hardware needed to assemble the family's new barn. In 1920 Sears-Roebuck offered the “Cyclone,” a gothic arch style barn, starting at $530.00 for the 24x24 foot model. The largest Cyclone barn was 40x140 feet and could be had for $3418.00. In 1916 Sears-Roebuck advertised their Barn No. 60, a 32x62 foot gambrel-roofed barn for $945.00.

Bardo, Alberta

 

Norwegian settlers who had been living in the Red River valley near Crookston, Minnesota came to the Bardo area in May 1894.  Many families spent the first winter in dugout shelters while collecting materials to build a proper home.  As many new families came from Norway, the community was growing.  A significant number of these settlers came directly from Bardo, Norway, and that is how Bardo, Alberta took its name.  The first post office operated under the name Northern, from March 1898 until December 1904, when the name was officially changed to Bardo.  The first school was built in 1898 and was also used as the community's place of worship.  In 1908 land was donated, funds were raised, and Bardo's first church was built.  This church was in use until it burned down in 1921.  A second church was constructed, and the first service held on September 3, 1922.  Telephone service came to Bardo in 1910.  The first power line in the area was built in 1928, but it wasn't until the formation of a Rural Electrification Association (R.E.A.) in the early 1950s that electricity became more widely available to the area. 


Construction of the Tofield–Calgary branch of the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad began in 1909, shortly after the mainline from Winnipeg to Edmonton was completed.  Steel was laid to Bardo, the first station south of Tofield, in November of 1909.  The first train traveled from Tofield to Camrose on the 5th of February 1910.  Due to default on repayment of construction loans to the federal government, the GTP was nationalized as the Canadian National Railways in 1920.  By the mid-1930's passenger and freight service going through Bardo began to dwindle.  Freight service continued until 1977-78 to accommodate the grain elevators.  In 1978 the rails between Tofield and Kingman were removed.

As farms increased in size, producing more grain, Bardo realized the need for a grain elevator.  In the early 1920s the Pioneer Grain Company built a 40 000 bushel elevator at Bardo.  Power was supplied by a 10-15 horsepower, one cylinder engine.  These engines were referred to as a one lunger.  In 1929 the elevator was sold to Alberta Wheat Pool who added a 35 000 bushel annex in 1940.  The annex, intended to be temporary was not built on a foundation.  The one lunger was replaced by a four-cylinder continental engine in the 1960s.  The Bardo elevator closed for business on July 31, 1971.  In 1972, the elevator was sold to the Bardo Elevator Co-op who used it for about ten years. 

Today, the current owner, who acquired the property a little over a decade ago, does what he can to prolong the life of the elevator but it is falling into disrepair and needs a roof.  With estimates well into six figures for a new roof and no help from the powers that be, the Bardo grain elevator will continue to deteriorate like so many others.

Kingman, Alberta

 

Francis Kingsbury opened the Kingsbury post office in 1904.  It was located in his home, one and a half miles south of the hamlet of Kingman, where he lived with his father (a widower) and two brothers.  In 1909 the post office was moved into Kingman.  As there was another post office in the province called Kingsbury,  the post office changed its name to Kingman to avoid confusion with mail delivery.  
 
Lots in Kingman went onto the market October 19, 1909, at 10:00 am.  In short time, Kingman had two general stores to serve the new residents.  The first was owned by Taje & Olson Company of Bawlf.  The second, directly across Main Street, was occupied by A. Horte and Sons (later becoming the International Store).  In February 1910 the first passenger train on the Tofield-Calgary branch of the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad stopped at the Kingman railway station.

During its first years, Kingman experienced extensive growth.  The community laid claim to a doctor's office, a real estate office, a dressmaker, a grain buyer, a farm machinery warehouse, and a restaurant, where a full course meal was had for 35¢, or coffee and pie for 10¢.  
 
The construction of a Hogg & Lytle grain elevator began in July of 1916.  The 40,000 bushel elevator was ready for business in August of that year.  In September of 1926, the Home Grain company purchased the elevator, continuing operation until it was acquired by Searle Grain Company in the spring of 1929.  1940 saw an annex added.  Sometime in the early 1970's Searle sold the elevator to the Federal Grain Company, who in turn, sold it to the Alberta Wheat Pool a few years later.  The elevator was dismantled in about 1975.

A United Grain Growers (UGG) elevator, with a 35,000 bushel capacity, was completed and ready to handle grain for the 1922 harvest.  During its first year of operation, the UGG handled 60,000 bushels.  Kingman's UGG elevator was demolished in March 1976.

Kingman's Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator was built in 1928 with a 40 000 bushel capacity.  Two 15 000 bushel annexes were added in 1941.

By the 1960s things in Kingman began to slow down; businesses closed and people moved away.  In the mid-1960s rail service was discontinued; the tracks removed in 1978.  In the late 60's the train station was relocated to Dodds where it was used as a dwelling. Sadly, it burnt down a few years later.  The International store was the last remaining general store in Kingman, closing its' doors in 1971.

On February 15, 1977, the last grain elevator in Kingman was moved to a private farm.  It took ten days of preparations and loading to ready the 200-ton structure for transport. It was transported with a modified former WWII tank carrier.  The 8 mile move took six and a half hours.

Today Kingman has a school, post office (in the former International store building), museum, community hall, and an outdoor skating rink.  Kingman celebrates its Scandinavian roots with an annual Lutefisk Supper.  The 2017 supper saw a turnout of over 400 people.  

Some noteworthy dates in Kingman's history:
1911- Prospering with a population of 87
1912- Telephone service began
1912- Kingman's first school opened
1913- Pool hall built
1914- A. Horte and sons opened their second store
1917- Yngve Johnson bought the first tractor in the area
1919- In May fire destroyed the post office, telephone exchange, a store, and a building used by Camrose Central Creamery
1922- Garage opened
1922- Small cyclone hit the village damaging some of the buildings
1922- Barbershop opened
1923- April 11, 9:45 pm - fire destroyed the livery stable
1927- Kingman hall built. First dance held in January, 1928.
1928- Cafe built on the site of Horte & Sons store that was destroyed by fire.
1930- Manning -Sutherland Lumber Company sold to Beaver Lumber Company
1932- Progress Lumber Company builds hardware store adjoining the lumberyard
1947- A New school built
1967- Population 100 (approx.)
1988- Kingman School burned down
2006- Population 87
2011- Population 90
2016- Population 103 – and growing

 

1937 Chevrolet Master

 

A blackbird sits perched on this 1937 Chevrolet Master, taking in another spectacular prairie sunset.

For the 1937 model year Chevrolet introduced it's most complete redesign since 1929. Bodies were wider, roomier and now made completely of steel marking the departure from using wood in the body's construction. The Chevrolet is a 5 passenger sedan with trunk that cost $817 when new. It was equipped with the 216 cubic inch Blue Flame inline six cylinder that made 85 horsepower. The Master Deluxe model cost $70 more than the Master. Upgrades included dual taillights, two windshield wipers, better upholstery, an engine temperature gauge, a lower axle ratio, and most notable was the 'knee action' independent front suspension. This was the last body style where cars and trucks shared a similar appearance.

While working under America's Car Design Pioneer, Harley Earl, Jules Agramonte and Lewis Simon were responsible for the 1937 (and '38) Chevrolet's styling. Understated details made the Chevrolet stand out from its competitors. The 'diamond crown speedline', a body crease sweeping back from the front fenders down into the doors, gave the car an extended body look. The 1937 Chevys are still considered some of the most beautiful cars ever made.

Esther, Alberta

 

Never a large settlement, only ever reaching about 65 residents, Esther has always been known for its community spirit. People would come from far and wide to attend social gatherings, they would lend a helping hand whenever needed, and undertake projects for the betterment of their community. The area saw most of its settlement happen between 1910 and 1915. Esther is named for the first postmaster Yens B. Olsen's daughter, Anna Esther Landreth.

With the onset of the First World War, many were prosperous. 1914-1916 were booming years. Crops were good, wheat was at a premium, roads were built and school districts organized. In 1913 the Municipal District of Canmer was formed. The name was chosen because many of the settlers came from Canada and America. In late 1937 the municipality was disorganized and along with many others became what is now known as 'Special Areas'.

The late 20s and 1930s were some of the worst years the area has ever seen. Dust storms and weeds started to appear. There was drought, hail, and grasshoppers almost every year. In 1932 wheat sold for as low as 19 cents per bushel and cattle as low as 2 cents a pound. Taxes could not be paid and people were leaving in large numbers, reverting their land to the municipality. Those who stayed were able to purchase this land, often for the cost of taxes owed on it.

In 1932 the Alberta Government awarded Canmer Municipality a relief contract to build nine miles of Highway 9 north of Oyen. This helped some make it through the winter, but the Alberta government deemed it too costly of a way for providing relief.  This, in turn, brought about a direct relief program where a family of three would receive $8 a month for groceries, $15 a year for clothing, as well as coal and extra vegetables when needed. This continued until the start of World War II when work became available again.

The Second World War saw the mechanization of farms intensify. Tractors were replacing horses and combines started appearing in the district. With these machines men were able to work longer hours on their expanding acreage, often into the night.

Esther's only elevator, an Alberta Wheat Pool, was built in 1926 and closed in 1979. It was the third Wheat Pool elevator to be built in the Province and is the last one still standing. Prior to the train coming to Esther farmers made the 14 mile trip to Loverna Saskatchewan to sell their grain. The railroad arrived in Loverna in 1913. Before that Alsask, Saskatchewan was the nearest market town.

Today, many of the original homesteading families have left the area in search of other opportunities. Those who have stayed are farming larger acreage and raising cattle as means to make a living. The owner of the grain elevator and many of the other buildings remaining in Esther has made efforts to secure funding, hoping to preserve these historic structures, but has met with little success.

Nielsen - Penner Barn

 

The original homesteaders on this land came from Denmark.  The farm was passed down in the Nielsen family from 1903 until they sold to Bob Penner in 1971.  The barn was built in 1914 as part of a mixed farming operation.  From 1914 to the end of 1941 the barn was used for the horses that worked the land.  In later years it was home to dairy cows and hogs.  The barn received power in 1947, a cement floor was poured in 1964 and by 1968 the barn was no longer in use.  It still stands as a testament to the hard work and determination it took to settle the land.