'Herman the German' Recalls Homestead
Gilmour, Gerry. "'Herman the German' Recalls Homestead." Courant, 26 June 1984, sec. 5F.
Leaving his parent’s farm was about the hardest thing Herman
Pohle ever had to face in his life.
At age 72, when crippling arthritis forced him to give up his land
and his love for farming in 1975, it meant leaving the only home
he had ever known.
Now, at age 82, Herman Pohle lives at the Good Samaritan Center
His parents in 1893 homesteaded the farm five miles east of Kramer
after they arrived in Bottineau County from Saxony, Germany. In
the first year, Fritz Pohle planted a small plot and built a sod
hut for he, his wife and a small son. In 1902, he was able to build
a wooden house for his family. Part of that house is still standing.
When Fritz Pohle came here, he couldn’t speak a word of English.
"My dad couldn’t read, write or speak any English,"
Pohle said. "My mother could speak some, but not enough to
get along. At home they spoke only German to us."
"When my father would do business, my older brother would
interpret for him, later I became the interpreter. He couldn’t
speak the language, you see, because he was educated in the old
country, and they just couldn’t pick it up. It was such a
broken language," Pohle remembers.
He said it was often a frustrating experience for his father to
try and carry on a conversation with even a neighbor. "Most
families would learn English as the children went to school, it
was the other way around at our house," he said. "My
father couldn’t do much business by himself. Oh, he would
try, but they could never understand him."
The Pohle family belonged to the German Lutheran Church, though,
and it allowed them to meet with their German friends. Services
would be held at the schoolhouse or at the homes of one of the many
German families living in the Elysian Township, Pohle said, with
Mass spoken in German. In 1906, a Lutheran Church was built in Elysian
Pohle went to school in a township school from 1911 until 1917
when he was 14 years old and big enough to join his father in farming.
At the time, there was no high school to continue on to.
The family did well farming until 1919 when the first drought his
North Dakota, bringing with it grasshoppers and a taste of the depression
to follow. "By 1922, though, we had a good crop again,"
Pohle said. "We would haul our grain to White Spur or Gardena,
since they were an equal distance apart and both had an elevator."
The good years were short-lived for Fritz Pohle and his family.
By 1928, the first dust storms of the depression were starting to
hit Bottineau County. The health of Fritz Pohle began to fail and
Herman had to take over the farming operations. Fritz and his wife
moved to Gardena.
By 1931, the drought was so bad Pohle could barely bring in a crop.
The depression was to hold a tight grip on the county until 1936.
"Nineteen thirty-four was an especially dry year,"
Pohle remembered on a hot and remindful day of the ones during the
depression. "Gee whiz, it was dry, we had to drive over 100
miles just to find hay and straw for the horses. At that time the
only place you could find hay was the Red River Valley."
The horses in those years were the backbone of a farming operation,
with threshing machines and steam engines alike being operated with
horses. "It was hard working around those horses," Pohle
said. "They can get so hot – it’s just a corker
sometimes. And the water was so hot and stale it wasn’t even
fit to drink."
It was in the depression years that Pohle became one of the first
farmers in the area to raise registered Polled Herefords. In 1936
he started a herd of about 30 and bought a bull. "I just raised
cattle so I could do something for a living," he reflects
now. "There were some times when it was so dry that nothing
grew – we had to depend on something for living."
Getting water and hay for the animals proved to be an even harder
way to make living sometimes. It often meant a trip to Langdon,
ND for straw and hay – a trip that could take from before
dawn until far into the night to complete.
Pohle would make the trips in his relatively new 1930 Dodge truck.
"Sometimes on the way back," he said, "the weight
of the load and the winds would be too much. I remember traveling
with the gas pedal plastered to the floorboard and only going 20
Butchering the cattle and often bartering the cuts became a way
to keep above water for Pohle. "In those days there wasn’t
enough cash flow. The way it is today is ridiculous. Sometimes they
would open the cash register and there would be nothing in there,
but that didn’t mean you didn’t eat. Pohle would bring
in eggs and meats and so forth, that was the only way you could
Pohle’s father died in 1937, during the height of the Dust
Bowl. Fritz Pohle had seen the family farm grow from a homestead
to 520 acres, but he only saw it prosper enough for his family to
get along – not ahead. His mother died in 1947 in the Bottineau
hospital after a 53-month-long bout with a stroke.
During the depression, Pohle had to drive to Velva, ND to get coal
to heat his house. "It was cheaper that way," he said,
"because we took care of the hauling and got it directly from
the mine, a lot of others did the same. If you had a little money
for gas and a truck to haul it in, you could get the coal for a
dollar and a quarter a ton. By driving the 75 miles, 150 both ways,
we could save about six dollars."
After the depression, things went well for Pohle. The WWII boom
made up for some of the bad years and by 1951, Pohle was able to
buy a new Dodge car. He paid $2,200 for the green two-door and he
has it today, polishing it twice a year despite his arthritis. Prior
to moving into the Good Samaritan Center he was driving it slow
around the streets of Bottineau and the car looked like it was just
driven out of the showroom.
After 34 years of driving, the car has only about 82,000 miles
registered on the odometer. Prior to his move to the Center, collectors
and youngsters hounded Pohle for years to get him to sell, but he
refused. "It’s my transportation, I need it you know,
I can’t get around other wise. Besides, if I sold it to some
kid it probably wouldn’t last a week," he joked.
In 1954, Pohle erected a barn for his Herefords, 36 by 72 feet,
which stood in sharp contrast to the one built by his father. Pohle
said he used to pay between $500 and $800 for a prize Polled Hereford
bull. He still subscribes to a national Hereford journal but scoffs
at the $45,000 price tags on some of the show bulls. "I had
some good bulls but I was never a big shot like that," he
During his years of farming, Pohle worked with a Fordson and later
four different models of John Deere, D, H, B and R. In 1973, he
sold his Dodge truck and two diesel John Deere tractors, a 20-10
and a 30-20.
For all his years on the farm, Pohle never found time to marry.
He said he was too busy with his farm and taking care of his parents
in their last years. And after being a bachelor for so many years,
he said it was hard to find someone. "Oh, they used to joke
about when a new girl would come to town, a new teacher or working
girl but I just never found anyone."
Sometimes the joking went to far – and Pohle was harassed
by some of the locals. He often found his farm vandalized. "Some
people are just never happy unless they have someone to make fun
of," he said. Pohle said he learned to ignore it.
In 1975, the arthritis crippled him so badly he could not continue
farming. He had a house built and moved to 404 E. 10th St. in Bottineau
where it still sits today. He moves now at a careful step with a
wooden cane and insists he can get around all right saying he won’t
use a wheelchair.
Parting with his farm in 1975 also meant parting with his collie-shepherd
dog of 19 years. He had raised it from a pup. When Pohle left the
farm and house with his neighbor, Rodney Kersten, and his wife and
three children, he also left his only companion. He said the dog
would have never liked living in Bottineau.
Now he often sits at the Center, the arthritis making it hard for
him to move, and wishes he still had such a companion. The dog was
used to growing up with only one master and Pohle said such dogs
become loyal but overprotective.
Devotion to his master became the dog’s undoing and the Kersten
family had to have him put away because he wouldn’t let anyone
near the farm buildings.
"He was a faithful companion," Pohle says, "but
he couldn’t mix with people. He was okay if he was around
me but otherwise he was too protective. They say that where there
is only one person on the place a dog becomes sharper, but they
also become too loyal – his loyalty killed him."
Reprinted with permission of the Courant.