By Victor Knell
Written in 1994 for the
Knell Book "Pioneers and Their Children"
This is written as a tribute to my parents, their way of life, and as a remembrance of how things used to be. Victor Knell
According to an old proverb, "History is a fable agreed upon." In this collection of shared reminiscences I am recording a small part of the history of Traugott and Hertha Knell, the family and life on the farm and in the community.
Traugott was born on September 22, 1915 north of Zap, North Dakota on the farm which Jacob and Pauline Knell, his parents had homesteader in the 1900's. Traugott had two older sisters, Clara, born in 1910, and Katherine, born in 1912, and one brother, Arnold, born in 1914.
In 1916 his parents had a chance to purchase the Gottlieb Schuh farm north of Krem. The 160 homestead had become too small to support their growing family; Walter, born in 1917, Herbert, born in 1919, Lorentina, born in 1922 and Alvin, born in 1924.
Herbert died in 1939 of cancer of the kidneys. He had been ill since December 1936. In January 1937 he entered the Bismarck hospital, where he was operated on to have a growth removed. He seemed to be on the road to recovery, but in August 1938 he again underwent treatment at Bismarck. Several times Herbert had to stay in the hospital for more treatment. Shortly after New Year 1939 his parents were told that there was no more hope, Herbert had cancer of the kidneys. He was only 19 years old at his death.
Hertha Augustana Adolf was born on August 12, 1917 in the Expansion, North Dakota, Mercer County area, north of what is Hazen today. She was born on what is the Roger Rasch farm today. Her parents, Reinhold and Pauline Adolf started to farm here soon after their marriage in 1916. She was the oldest of six children; Ida, born in 1919, Erwin, born in 1921, Frieda, born in 1923, Clarence, born in 1925 and Violet, born in 1931.
Hertha, being the oldest meant that she soon had to help work the farm fields. She was only able to attend school until she was in the sixth grade. Hertha did enjoy working outside in the fields with the horses.
In 1936 the Reinhold and Pauline Adolf family moved north about two miles to the homestead of grandparents, Friedrick and Christina Adolf, who sold their farm and equipment and moved to Newberg, Oregon to live. The Adolf family, after arriving in America from Russia in 1889 had stopped in North Dakota for only about six months, when they moved on to Newberg, Oregon.
Grandfather Friedrick came back to North Dakota in 1892, married Christina Schimke, a widow with five children, and began to farm in Mercer County.
Times were hard during the 1930's with the depression and the hot dry weather. Some of the young men went to Montana to work in the beet fields. Traugott wrote a letter to Hertha on October 12, 1939 from Fairview, Montana. He was working for a Jake Buxbaum. In this letter he asked her to send him a picture that he knew she had which has many of their friends on it. He also wrote that he missed her and hoped she was fine and that he would be gone for several more weeks.
In 1939 Hertha was working for the National Youth Administration. Her classification card listed her as a maid and cook. The young women were told to report for work at the Hazen Log Cabin, this was the local meeting place in Hazen at the time. There was also a sewing unit and here they sewed for various projects. They were asked to report to work with their own scissors, needles, thimbles, pincushions and tape measure, and some were told to bring sewing machines. On June 30, 1940 this work unit was terminated.
Traugott and Hertha knew each other almost all their lives. They were neighbors, attended the same rural school and worshiped at the same church.
Traugott was confirmed at St. Peter's Lutheran Church on April 13, 1930 by Pastor Christian Goeken. Hertha was confirmed at St. Peter's on May 24, 1934 by Pastor E. J. Hammer. She also taught Sunday School here before she was married.
Traugott received his 8th grade diploma on January 25, 1932, from Krem Number 3, Mercer County District Number 4.
Traugott had an accident with an exploding firecracker early in his life, this caused some damage to one eye, forcing him to wear glasses for the rest of his life.
On September 29, 1940 wedding bells rang for Hertha and Traugott, at St. Peter's Church. The marriage was performed by Pastor Philip Peter. Married with them were her sister, Ida, and his brother, Arnold, making it a double wedding.
In July 1990 both couples and their families celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in conjunction with a Oster Adolf Knell Family Reunion at the Hazen City Hall.
On their wedding day both brides wore identical gowns and veils, purchased from a mail order catalog, costing $30.00 all together.
From her parents the couple received three milk cows and 25 chickens. These were to be their main source of food for some months.
Traugott and Hertha first lived in a house that was located on land now owned by Harold Miller. Arnold and Ida Knell lived a very short distance east on their farm. They then moved to a farm that is owned by Quintin Ziemann today.
It was here that their oldest son, Victor, born in 1941, got lost one day. Hertha was feeding baby, Elaine, then known as "girly", born in 1943, when "Sonny" as he was known at the time came in wanting something to eat. Since Hertha was busy, Victor had to wait, but he became impatient and ran outside. When his mother was ready to feed him, he was no where to be found. They called the neighbors and they started to search in the corn field, which was close by, but Victor was not to be found. Finally someone walked by a depression on the farm where the chickens had made a hole taking dust baths, and here their son was laying asleep, with the chickens around him. For some reason, the family dog, who usually was with Victor, was not with him that day. The two other sons of Hertha and Traugott are; Marvin, born in 1945 and Gary, born in 1950.
Traugott's first tractor was an International Harvester Farmall "H". It was on steel wheels, but these were quickly exchanged for rubber tires. This was used with a three bottom plow, a packer, and a pony drill, to do the spring plowing and seeding.
Traugott always bought International Harvester farm equipment. He later owned a W 9 tractor, followed by a 660 and a 806, all Internationals. Most of the others were traded off as newer larger tractors were purchased, but the "H" was kept as a utility tractor to do small jobs such as cultivating the corn hauling rocks and other things.
The first Knell transportation was a Chevrolet ton and a half truck that was used. This was used for hauling, but was also the family’s only means of getting around. It was not till 1948, that the Knell family got their first car. It was a moron, two door, Chevrolet. This was used by the family until 1956, when a new Chevrolet was purchased. The 1948 car became the car used by the children to go to high school in Hazen and to do other chores.
In 1945 Jacob and Pauline Knell retired from farming, built a home in Hazen and moved to town. Traugott and Hertha and the family then made their home on what is still the Knell farm to day, farmed by son, Gary and his family.
Hertha always made a large garden. This was her pride and joy. She grew many vegetables, which were than canned and storied in the root cellar to be used later on the family table.
In the early years there was always a potato patch planted in a near by field. There were normally five or six long rows of potatoes.
Sometimes when the potato bug infestation became too great, in the early years, the children and Hertha would take small cans, fill them half full of kerosene, then go up and down the rows picking off the bugs, dropping them in the can to kill the pests. In later years the potato plants were sprayed to control the insects.
When the Traugott Knell family moved to the family farm, Traugott's youngest brother, Alvin, lived with them until he married and purchased his own farm in 1954.
The family always had milk cows, Hertha had received three cows from her parents as a wedding gift, and to these others were added.
In the first years all the milking was done by hand. The family got up at 5 a.m. and went to the barn to start the milking. When the milking was completed, the milk was put through the cream separator. This extracted the cream from the whole milk by a centrifical force process. The separated cream had about a 350 butter fat.
At first the cream separators were cranked by hand, a back breaking job, if there was much milk to be processed. Later motors were added making the chore much easier.
After separating, the cream was put in 5, 8 and 10 gallon cans to be taken to a creamery. Mandan Creamery had a truck route, which came to the mail box every week to pick up the full cans of cream. The following week the empty cans would be returned containing checks for the cream from the week before. A very nice source of farm income.
Some of the cream was also used to make butter for the family. The butter churn was a round container with a four open blade construction inside that was turned with a handle. The cream was poured inside and then the handle had to be turned until the butter fat had combined into butter. Sometimes, if everything was right, if the cream was the correct temperature, the butter fat was high enough and you had good luck, this did not take too long. Other times it could be a long ordeal. after the butter had been made, it was removed from the churn and washed with cold water to remove any remaining butter milk. It was then salted and stored for later family use. The butter milk that resulted was used to drink, bake and cook.
The skim milk from the separator was fed to the young calves and what was extra was fed to the pigs.
At first the milk cows were mostly Milking Shorthorns. Soon the black and white Holstein started to replace the red and white cows. Over the years milking machines replaced hand milking and a bulk milk operation took over from the separator.
The horse stalls in the barn were replaced with cow stalls and the Knell family became dairy farmers. When the new barn was built in 1959 soon a milk pipe line was installed to take the milk direct from the cows to the bulk milk tank. In later years the hard never ending work of dairying was discontinued and the cattle were sold, as was the equipment.
During the spring planting time and in the summer harvesting season most of the milking was done by Hertha and the children. Traugott needed to put get in the planting as early as possibly and in the summer many hours were needed to get the harvesting done quickly before fall and winter weather came and it was impossibly to finish the fall work.
The first chicken coop on the Knell farm was a log building, with a sod covered roof. Here the laying hens were placed after they had raised in the brooder house. Later this chicken house was replaced when a new garage was built. The old building was then turned into a hen house. This remained until about 1970, when the chicken coop at the Albert Miller farm was purchased and it is the current coop on the Knell farm.
Baby chickens were ordered from a hatchery. They were shipped by mail. Usually they were received in late March or early April. When they arrived they would get a call from the Hazen Post Office telling them that their chicks had arrived. Some times the rural mail man would deliver them with the daily mail, but normally a trip was made to town and the chicks were picked up.
After the young chickens were on the farm, they were put in the brooder house, where they were given their first drink of water from the upside down water container and chick starter was set out in the feeders so that they could start to eat. For the next few weeks they had to be checked every hour or so to see that they were not too warm or too cold. They grew very quickly and soon they developed pin feathers and soon their downy bodies were covered with feathers.
As the young roosters grew to a few pounds, they were butchered as needed for food. The selected cockerels were taken out and then their heads were cut off with a hatchet. They were allowed to bleed, then they were put in hot water to loosen the feathers. They were then plucked and they were made ready for the family table.
Ducks and geese were also raised for meat. Before freezers were in common use most of them were butchered, canned and storied in the cellar until the meat was needed.
Breeding pairs of ducks and geese were kept on the farm in the early years. Later on these too were ordered from a hatchery as young goslings and ducklings. Two or three ducks and a drake, and two geese and a gander were kept to produce eggs to be set under broody hens to hatch the young. In the spring when they started to lay, the eggs were collected and kept until there were enough to put under several hens. The hens were put on nests in the upstairs of the barn. After the ducklings and goslings had hatched they were put in the brooder house with the chickens. During the day they were placed in a pen outside on grass so that they could graze. This pen had to be moved every day because they cropped the grass very short. When they were large enough, they were given free range and allowed to swim on the farm pond.
If the ducks and geese laid more eggs then were needed to brood for the family, Hertha used the large eggs to make noodles. The dark yellow yokes made nice yellow noodles.
After the eggs were mixed with flour and seasonings the dough was rolled out with a rolling pin. When the dough was thin it was rolled up and cut with a sharp knife. These noodles were then placed in some location to dry. After they had dried and hardened they were packed in storage containers to be used in noodle soup or in some other noodle dish.
Hertha made pillows with the feathers that were plucked from the many geese and ducks that were raised.
When they were butchered, some of the breasts and drumsticks would be salted in brine and smoked, these were a tasty addition to a family meal.
Hogs were raised for family use and extra pigs were sold at the sales barn providing needed farm income.
In the fall, just before it got too cold, the Traugott, Arnold, Alvin and Mike Neuman families would each in turn butcher several hogs and a cow and sausage, hams and bacon would be made and lard would be rendered to make casings for the pork sausage, many times the hog intestines were cleaned and scraped and then filled with the tasty ground pork. The stomach was used , in the early years, to hold head cheese.
The summer sausage and liver sausage was usually put in larger casings that were purchased prepared, and in later years plastic casings were used. Much of the liver sausage was put in jars and canned. These jars were then opened and cooked for the breakfast meal.
"Gollodetz" or pickled pigs feet was also made after butchering.
Hertha's well stocked cellar always contained many jars of cucumbers, sauer kraut and pickled beets. There were also many other jars of canned vegetables that came from her large garden. She made soups and cabbage rolls, which were a nice easy to make a quick meal on a busy day.
Fruit was canned as well and filled the cellar shelves. June berry, plumbs and other wild fruit would be gathered along the Missouri River and were preserved and added to the winter food supply. Strawberry, raspberry and other fruits were home grown and were made into jams and jellies.
The first combine harvester used by the Knell family was an 6 foot Case pull type. This was soon replaced by a 12 foot International Harvester self propelled combine. Later larger and better machines were to follow.
Till the 1960's the oats and some of the wheat was always bindered and shocked and then threshed with a threshing machine. Traugott, Arnold, Alvin and Mike Newman shared a threshing machine and their fields were threshed in turn every year by the four families. The straw stacks that resulted were highly prized. This straw was used for bedding in the barn and chicken coops and in the winter the straw stack offered a measure of protection for the livestock that was not kept in the barn.
Hertha did a lot of sewing in the winter during the early years. Almost all the children clothing were hand made by her. In later years she started to make quilts. It became easier to purchase ready made clothing for the members of the family.
Hertha did embroidering of pillow cases and dish towels. In later
years she used color paints instead of color thread to make her
figures and flowers. Sometimes the children were given the chance
to try their hand at seeing if they could make a traced pattern
come out looking good.
In the early years entertainment was made by going visiting. On Sunday, after church it was expected that you would have company for the noon meal, or the family would go visit some other family. After the meal the grown ups would sit and visit or play some cards and the children, if the weather permitted, would go outside to play games.
Visiting also took place in the evening after the chores were done. The family would visit neighbors, relatives or friends, or the reverse took place.
Weddings and funerals were always a great time to meet relatives one had riot seen for a long time. At weddings and funerals there was always a meal after the church ceremony, followed by much visiting.
Weddings were an enjoyable event usually followed by a dance in the barn hay loft or in another large building, to the music of a local dance band.
Baking day came once a week at the Knell home, usually on Wednesday, when mother got up early to also do the family laundry. Potatoes would be peeled the night before and cooked. After cooking the potatoes they were grated. A quart of "everlasting yeast" was then mixed with the mixture. This yeast was kept active year after year by saving a quart of the mixture from each baking. The potato/yeast mixture was allowed to stand overnight and ferment. In the morning this starter was added to a large bowl of sifted flour, mixed and allowed to rise. Several times the expanding dough was kneaded down and allowed to rise again. After the last kneading the dough was placed in large bread pans and again allowed to rise. When it had risen the loaves were put in the coal stove oven to bake. The whole house became filled with the wonderful smell of baking bread.
Normally on baking day "strudla" were made for the noon meal. The dough was rolled out with rolling pin and then rolled up and cut into about 4 inch long pieces. These were then placed in a large pot over diced seasoned potatoes. Once the pot was on the stove the lid dare not be removed, or the "strudla" would not rise and they became very heavy. At noon the "strudla" were usually eaten with gravy.
Another treat that might be made on baking day was a tasty sugar kuchen. Bread dough was used to make the crust. This was then filled with a custard of heavy cream, sugar and cinnamon.
For some meals "knepfla" (dumplings) were made. A dough was made and pressed thin. This was then cut into about three inch long "knepfla" and dropped into a pot of boiling salted water. After the "knepfla" were cooked they were drained. Some were then fried in a frying pan until they were nice and brown. The remaining were kept in the pot and croutons and a butter sauce was poured over them. These were sometimes served with mashed potatoes, wieners and sauer kraut and hot tea.
Another dish that was made was "fleishknepfla" (meat dumplings). For these the dough was rolled out and cut into small squares. These squares were then filled with a hamburger mixture and the edges sealed with the fingers. The knepfla were then dropped into the boiling water. after they were done some were again fried, while the others were again covered with a butter sauce. The water was then used to make a soup. Hertha liked to make the meat dumplings when the grandchildren came to visit, because they liked to help make the dumplings.
"Fleishkuechla" was another family favorite. It was a meat turnover. Again a dough was made. This was rolled out with a rolling pin in small portions. The round dough was then filled with a hamburger mixture and the dough folded over and the edges sealed by rolling a small saucer around the edge. The turnover was then put in hot oil or lard to deep fry: Some of the pieces of dough that were cut from the edge of the turn over were also deep fried. These narrow twisted pieces of dough were them eaten by putting jelly on them. The finished "Fleishkuechla" was normally served with potatoes and maybe a garden salad.
Fried bread or "kuechla" were made by taking dough, pressing it thin and then deep frying the dough.
"Stirrum" was another flour item that made a much enjoyed meal. This was a dough of eggs, cream and baking powder. This was put in a hot frying pan an then stirred until when the mixture was fried it had broken up into small chunks. This was served with stewed potatoes, lettuce or a cucumber salad and a meat dish.
Another German dish, "Kraut Bruschke", was much enjoyed by the family. To make this, chopped ham was mixed with sauerkraut and cooked. This mixture was then sealed inside rolled out dough and baked until a golden brown. This made a hard meal, and any left over were easily reheated.
The Knell farm always had a lot of rocks. In the spring, after the fields had been seeded, rocks were picked for several weeks. The smaller rocks were picked with horses and wagon, later with the tractor and wagon. The larger rocks were picked and placed on the stone boat, a large flat piece of sheet metal. the large rocks only needed to be rolled on the boat and then could be moved to the rock pile.
One time while picking rocks with the horses and wagon, the wagon ran over Victor's right foot. He was then taken to Rev. Rudolph Heupel at Hebron, North Dakota, who checked the foot with his sensitive fingers and said that he had two cracked toes and that his arch was pushed down. He re set the arch and told Victor to take care for a few weeks. The foot was never put in a cast and healed with no later problems.
Traugott liked to work the land. In later years when his son, Gary, did most of the farming, he enjoyed working the summer fallow and picking rocks with the rock picker.
For Christmas the Knell family attended Christmas Eve services at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. This was always the Sunday School Program, when the children recited their verses, some in German, and sang the old Christmas carols, both in English and German. One of the unique features was the Christmas Tree with. real candles. This was always very closely observed to prevent fires. After the program all the children received Christmas bags filled with nuts, candy and fruit.
When the Knells arrived back home Santa Claus had visited and Christmas gifts were opened. Sometimes relatives would come to visit, but usually it was a family evening. In later years after St. Peter's congregation had been disbanded, the family attended services at Peace Lutheran, but the feeling of a small church parish had changed.
A few days before Easter eggs were hard boiled and colored to make Easter eggs. A few weeks before a shallow box or container filled with soil was planted with oats. After the eggs were colored some were placed in the growing oats, the rest were placed in large bowls.
On Easter morning the Easter baskets for each of the children were filled with some Easter eggs, some candy and maybe a small toy. Easter morning were spent attend the Easter service at St. Peter's. In later years the sunrise services at Peace Lutheran were much enjoyed.
The Knells always had electricity, there was a 32 volt wind charger, with a bank of glass batteries in the house, these provided power on days when there was no wind. The wind charger was on a tall tower so there always seemed to be some wind to power the generator.
Saturday was the day of the week for the weekly bath. A large galvanized wash tub was set up and a large canner was put on the cook stove and filled with water. The baths started with the youngest going first, and then hot water was added as the rest of the family got their chance.
Saturday was also the weekly shopping day and for doing any business that needed to be done in town. Many times they went to town in the evening, but normally it was in the afternoon. Saturday night was the night when most of the neighborhood gathered in town to shop and visit.
The eggs that had been collected all week were put in egg crates and taken to town to the grocery store where they were exchanged for the family’s groceries. Some times they paid for the needs of the family.
Sometimes the weekly visit to town was made in the morning. If this happened the family would have a rare chance to eat at a restaurant. This was much looked forward to by the children.
Until the new house was built in the 1960's going to the bathroom involved going out side to the outhouse, which was some distance north of the house, near the brooder house. During the summer flies and the smell did get a little much, but in the winter in the cold and snow, doing your business could be quite uncomfortable. Many times stops would be made in the barn, where it was at least warm.
In the early days instead of a roll of toilet paper, a copy of the Sears catalog was at hand to be used.
The Knell family attended school at Krem Number 3, district 4. It was located about one and a half miles west of the farm, near to the Harold Miller farm, where the teacher usually boarded. Classes lasted 8 months and all eight grades, if there were children in all the grades, were taught by one teacher. Normally there were from eight to fifteen children. In the early years when Traugott and Hertha attend school there, the school had up to 30 students. In the 1960's all the Mercer County country schools were closed and the children bused to Hazen, where they attended classes.
When the regular classes ended, there was a two week review school for the 7th and 8th graders. They had to prepare to take the state tests to pass their classes and graduate to continue their education with high school or to start the eight grade.
During recesses many kinds of running games were played; pom pom-pull a way, was one of those games. There were two safe zones at both ends of the play ground. one person was "it" and the other children would run from one safe location to the other. It they were tagged they would join the person being "it" and try to catch all the other players. This continued until everyone had been captured, then the last one caught became "it" and the game started over. If someone did not want to run from one safe zone to the other, the person that was "it" could say "pom pom pull away" and come into the safe zone and pull them out and capture them. Blind mans bluff, was another game that was enjoyed. One person was "it" they covered their eyes and counted to a hundred, while the others ran to hide. The person that was "it" would try to find and tag all the other players before they could tag a base and be safe. Again the last person tagged then was "it" and the game started over.
Sometimes ball games were played; Softball was sometimes played, but usually there were not enough players. Andy over was another ball game that was played. Sides were chosen and the sides went to both sides of the school house building. A ball was then thrown over the roof, where the waiting team caught the ball, they would them come around to the other side and tag as many of the other team, who then had to join their team. The ream losing all their members was the loser. During the winter Fox and goose would be enjoyed. A large circle was made in the soft white snow. This was then cut into eight parts, with the center where the angles all met being the safe area. One person was "it" and this person tried to tag all the players who were not in the safe zone. this continued till everyone had been tagged.
If the weather was too cold or wet indoor games were played.
In the winter the children would get a ride to school and home with the horse and sled. Usually the way to school and home was made on foot, or by catching a ride from the neighbors. In the winter we were well bundled up to keep warm.
During World War II, war ration books were needed for every member of the family before some items could be purchased. Sugar, coffee, cheese, shoes, metal appliances and gasoline all need ration stamps before the could be sold to the customer If you owned a car, a "A" ration stamp allowed you to get 3 gallons of gas a week. Being farmers, the Knell family did not have to worry about ration stamps for meat, butter or fat. There were also price controls on most items, so shopping became a big headache.
The winter of 1949 was an exceptional winter with much snow and blowing winds. Bulldozers were needed to open the roads for mail service and for the farmers to get to town. Many trips to town were made with the horses and sled. Mail would pile up at the post office, because the mailman could not make delivers. Some mail was dropped near school houses by plane. Hay drops were also made in some locations, because it was impossibly to get feed to the cattle.
The Knell family attended church at St. Peter's Lutheran Church located about two miles west of the family farm. Services were in German until in the 1950's, Rev. Dietrich Bergstad, started to include some English in his sermons. About 1953 German and English services were alternated. In 1958, because the congregation had become too small to continue to support a pastor, the church was disbanded and the families started to attend services at Peace Lutheran Church in Hazen. Here also German and English was used until 1961 when English became the only language used.
For many years Traugott was a deacon at St Peter's Church. This meant that on Saturday the church building had to be cleaned and dusted and gotten ready for the Sunday services. He also had to toll the bell if one of the church members had died. He had to pay church bills and collect money from the members of the congregation to keep the church in operation. In the winter he had to make sure that the church was warm for the service.
Christmas 1991 was celebrated at home with most of the family. After Christmas, Traugott and Hertha and granddaughter, Bobbi Jo, went to visit their son, Marvin and his family, in Jamestown because they had been unable to make it to Hazen for Christmas. They stayed there for a few days and were on their way home on December 30. West of Bismarck on Interstate 94, near New Salem, their car hit a patch of ice , the car went across the center median and their car was broadside by a car coming in the east bound lane. Hertha was killed instantly and Traugott died before help could arrive. Bobbi Jo was thrown from the car and suffered a broken ankle and some cracked bones in her lower back. she also had numerous bruises and was hospitalized for some time but has fully recovered.
On Friday, January 3, 1992, at 10:00 a.m. Peace Lutheran Church was filled with family, relatives, neighbors and friends to say one last goodbye to Traugott and Hertha Knell. After the funeral they were laid to rest at the St. Peter's cemetery in a the beautiful rural setting that they had lived and worked in all their lives together.
Written in 1994 for the Knell Book "Pioneers And Their Children."
Updated: May 30, 2007