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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Home, sweet home, circa 1929

Chuck Hinman: Home, sweet home, circa 1929. Chuck recounts how the Hinman household enjoyed the latest advantages on a Nebraska farm in the late 1920s.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - Review of "The Passion Of The Christ"

By Chuck Hinman

Home, sweet home, circa 1929

I grew up on a farm in southeast Nebraska, Gage County to be exact. Our house was a large two-story bungalow-style structure with a front porch that wrapped around the front and east side of the house. The house was replete with porches and entry-ways.


You could come in the back door through the combination entrance, the stairway of which led to the basement or to the vestibule adjacent to the kitchen. There was a kitchen porch, a dining room porch, and the huge front porch as well.

Hinman house had the latest bells and whistles

The house had all the bells and whistles of new construction of the day. There was a full concrete floored basement which among other things housed the wood burning furnace. The furnace was equipped with ducts that crisscrossed the ceiling of the basement to furnish heat to the entire house on frigid cold Nebraska winter days. There was a large floor register directly above the furnace on the first floor between the colonnades where you could stand and warm your tootsies.

The basement contained the water "works" that included a 500 gallon water storage tank with a pressure system to supply water throughout the house. The water source was a witched and dug well (20 feet in front of the kitchen porch). This water well was powered by a Dumpster windmill later replaced with an electric pump when the Rural Electric Cooperatives came into existence. The windmill, powered by Nebraska winds of which there was never any shortage kept the cistern, at the northeast corner of the house filled with water which was then pumped into the storage tank in the basement as needed. The water system, primitive by today's standards was state of the art in 1929.

Basement had laundry, generator, and storage for firewood

Now a little about the laundry set up in the basement. There was a double tub washing machine with wooden dollies that was powered by a large gasoline engine nearby, vented out the basement walls of course. I have written more about the laundry facilities in another writing.

In later years, when the carbide gas lighting system gave way to a 32 volt Delco generator with all the glass bottles involved, that system was housed in the northwest corner of the basement.

Generally, the basement was a sheltered storage area for the firewood for the furnace and cook stove. In addition it housed dry corn cobs for use in getting fires started in the wood burning kitchen cook stove and in the furnace. In a later writing, I will tell of the endless job of cutting wood all winter.

Hinman indoor plumbing was unusual for farm homes

We had indoor plumbing, unusual for farm homes. We had gas lights from a carbide plant installed in the cave described later. The gas light fixtures were very stylish. Air-conditioning had not been heard of; rural electricity was a few years away. But Mom was a master at making the house comfortable in the hot Nebraska summertime by closing windows and pulling the shades before noon. She knew what she was doing.

And of course, on hot summer nights the whole five member Hinman family slept on beds on the front porch. There was plenty of room. And what fun to giggle yourself to sleep on a bright moonlit night with lightning bugs (remember them) to decorate the night air. Even Sport, our family dog giggled at nothing, like the rest of the Hinman family -- really! Good-night John-boy! Laughter gave way to snoring as the happy Hinman family drifted off to sleep.

When we got up in the morning, each one was responsible for folding up their bedding and storing it in a closet during the daytime. Times were tough but no one told us Hinman kids!

Hardwood flooring provided neighborhood ballroom

The house had hardwood flooring and the living-dining room was the neighborhood ballroom for the 'in' dances of the day. Neighboring farmers, dressed in their best overalls, and their ladies, dressed in colorful gingham dresses, danced to an Edison Victrola with 78 records. They danced the very popular fox trot or the one-step or two-step and eventually the very lively Charleston.

My parents had a lot of friends from their school days in the Wymore-Blue Springs, Nebraska, area who socialized at the drop of a hat. When they gathered on Saturday night at the Hinmans' place, Mom had already waxed the oak floors with homemade paraffin-kerosene wax so that the house had a faint petroleum smell. It wasn't offensive; it was the smell of fun about to break out!

Kids 'help' in polishing floor

One of the delights of floor polishing time was when Dad pulled all three of us kids around the floor on a worn-out braided throw rug to polish the floor to that just-right sheen. We would scream with delight as he tried to pull the rug out from under us. Who said farm kids' life is a drag? We created fun out of things not inherently funny, the best kind of Nebraska farm-kids fun!

When the dance crowd began to arrive, the new born babies after they had been ogled a bit were put to bed on the front guest room bed which Mom had already covered with an heirloom counterpane with peacocks. This was the pride and joy, hand-woven product of Grandmother Hinman's artistic hands! Nothing had better happen to her masterpiece (by damn -- emphasis intended) or there will be hell to pay in the hereafter! She was a no-nonsense Granny, my Dad, Arley Hinman's grandma. See a separate writing about her hand-woven counterpane.

House setting provided views and colors galore

And the house setting was marvelous. The view was forever, rolling Nebraska prairie. In a distance we could see the trains that plodded the CB&Q route from McCook, Nebraska, to St. Joseph, Missouri. When they passed in a distance at night, you could see the lights on the Pullman cars of the passenger trains.

In the fall, it was an artist's dream with fall colors galore featuring reddish-orange sumacs which were everywhere side by side with the Nebraska state flower, goldenrod, interspersed with lavender and silver Russian thistle. To top it off, gorgeous pheasants with their brilliant plumage, strutted their stuff in the fields of rowed crops challenging the wannabee Nimrods of the day. It was a hunter's delight and in the fall, hunters from all over the country converged on this part of Nebraska to pit their hunting skills against the wily pheasant.

Life goes on in spite of depression days

Perilous times were about to take over and the glory days were about to be side-tracked for a few years. But that may be a little glum-sounding. Life still went on in spite of the depression days. Babies were still being born even though expected cash producing crops were wiped out year after year by little or no moisture. People still belly-laughed at funny things, even though admittedly there wasn't much to laugh about.

It took some ingenuity on the part of my parents, and particularly Mom, to do something as seemingly simple as put food on the Hinman table, meal after meal, season after season. There was little cooperation from the elements! Someone must have had a forewarning of these perilous times to come when they masterminded the building of the cave-food cellar at the Hinmans' place. Here's a little about that addition to the Hinman farm.

Hinman cave food cellar

First they excavated a large hole in the ground which was 12 or so feet below the surface of the ground. The underground room was 16 feet long by 12 feet wide. The ceiling was 10 foot high at the highest arch point. It had a cement floor with a drain in it. The walls and ceiling were covered by quarried sandstone rock from the rock quarry north of the Marples' farm east of Wymore on the Blue River. The individual stones were all about the size of a small bale of hay. The stones were laid so there was an arched ceiling. There was an air vent in the ceiling and the ceiling was covered with a couple feet of dirt held in place by a rock wall.

A concrete stairway was built down and into the entrance of the cave. This stairway was housed in a nice building with entry door built in the style of our house 30 or so feet away. That entry building to the cave housed garden and yard tools.

The carbide plant that provided the gas lights for the house was put in place before the cave was lined and covered with quarried rock and dirt.

What was stored in the food cellar

On the walls of the cave one of those large rocks the size of a small bale of hay was intermittently omitted making room for jars of canned food or jellies and jams or whatever Mom chose to store on those shelves in the cave. It was comfortably cool and of course, dry, down there -- an ideal place to store our huge cache of food.

On one side of the length of the cave there was a large wooden box, the size of a farm wagon without wheels that held the yearly production of potatoes. They had been harvested, cleaned and dried and protected by the coolness and dryness of the cave. Other root crops such as turnips, parsnips, etc. were stored in the potato bin. The crop of large onions -- both yellow and white -- had been harvested and allowed to dry in net bags eventually found their way to the cave and were hung by hooks on the rock walls until they were taken to the house for consumption.

The largest amount of food that was in the cave was the canned food, food that took Mom all summer to process from the garden. There were canned tomatoes, peas, green beans, corn, all kinds of cucumber pickles and relishes, catsup, pickled beets, every kind of canned fruit, peaches, apples, applesauce, plums, all kinds of jams and jellies, fruit juices for jellies waiting to be made, not to mention all the home-canned meats and gravies and meat by-products. You name it and Mom had thought of it and stuck it in a jar and canned it so that very little was lost by improper canning.

Canning roast beef, pork tenderloin, and link sausage

Mom canned many quart jars of delicious roast beef with roast beef gravy, not to mention pork tenderloin and gravy, and link sausage. Can you imagine the rich flavor that developed over the few months this was curing in those quart jars. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING compares in this day and age. And how convenient at dinner time to simply warm up a quart jar packed with delicious roast beef and brown gravy to go along with mashed potatoes, a canned vegetable or two and even canned fruit -- peaches, pears, apples, or cherries for dessert. And that's exactly what Mom did each day, she made her early morning trip to the cave to select the food for the delicious meals of the day to go with the fresh milk, cream, and eggs which we had in abundance. Does it make your mouth water yet? Wait till you see that fried chicken popping on the stove. Yum, yum!

Or if Mom really wanted to put on the dog, she would make a peach pie using a jar of peaches she had canned last summer when fresh peaches were in season. Farm people of those days may not had much cash flow, and the principal of the farm loan went many years with just the interest paid, but we were rich with fantastic food from the cave. A-men!

Dad Hinman and grinding horseradish

Dad even got in on the act when he pulled some of the horseradish roots which grew wild in our garden. He moved the white porcelain topped utility table in the kitchen outside on the front porch to minimize the potent fumes as he ground the horseradish in a hand-powered food grinder attached to the porcelain table.

I wasn't privy to the secrets of the horseradish canning process but I suspect it wasn't very complicated. Since the taste was so potent, who would know if it contained deadly food-poisoning? The well-known term "a little dab will do you" was shared by a well-known men's hair dressing AND horseradish!

Food cellar was also cyclone cellar

And who could forget the scary times when a quick forming Nebraska cyclone was spotted heading our way and we took cover in the ideal place, the cave. Even Sport knew 'something was up' and gladly joined the rest of us -- where else -- in the cave!

Well, all of that was then, and this is now. The happy noise of the Hinman family's busy activities has been silenced by the years, death, 'moving on,' etc., etc.... but those sounds, smells, and memories live on in the few of us that are left. Brother Bob together with his wife, Lindy Lundine of Chanute, Kansas, inherited the farm when my folks (Arley and Merle Hinman) passed away. Bob and Lindy made many updates to the house and farm buildings including surrounding the farmstead with windbreak trees which have long since matured.

What happened to the homestead in later years

Bob is gone and his wife Lindy moved into the little village of Liberty, Nebraska, population 72, which has likewise gone through change since the glory days of the 1920's. That wonderful farm which provided so many wonderful memories in somewhat perilous times was sold and the new owners kept the house and a few outbuildings and sold off the farmland; they being interested in only the wonderful house. They are not farmers, and have jobs in nearby towns.

They have made their own extensive improvements to the Hinman farmstead and have extended an open invitation to the remnants of the Hinman family, me, sister Joy Ann and husband Jack, and sister-in-law Lindy who lived there longer than Jody and me to drop by any time for an in-depth tour. I would love to do that and my sister-in-law Lindy has promised the next time we get together, she will make arrangements with the current owners for this nostalgic experience. I know ahead of time, it will play havoc with our senses, but most will be tears of joy, not much talking, just remembering....

The Nebraska state song says it best ... "There is no place like Nebraska...." I couldn't agree more.

And that, my dear kids, is where your Dad and Grandpa was obviously privileged to grow-up! Thank you Lord and Mom and Dad for our home, sweet home!

Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed Tuesday, 16 January 2007



This story was posted on 2014-04-20 04:59:57
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