Posted 9/8/21

WOODWORKING BY DAVE WOOD Saturday night discovery Years ago, I was glancing through an old family photo book and ran into a Kodak of my father when he was a Roaring 20s teenager sitting in the …

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Saturday night discovery

Years ago, I was glancing through an old family photo book and ran into a Kodak of my father when he was a Roaring 20s teenager sitting in the driver's seat of a shiny new Model T coupe (black, of course). I asked him how he managed to get that and he replied that when he was in high school, his father Ralph Wood received a phone call from the sales manager at Whitehall's Ford dealership.

“Ralph, your father's Model T just arrived. Come over and pick it up.”

“Father's Model T?! My father is 85 and had a stroke. He can't drive!”

“I know, I know, but he was insistent. And you know old Dave. You can't argue with him, so it's paid for. It's down here to be picked up,” replied the anxious Ford dealer.

“And,” my father concluded, “That's how I ended up having a Model T to drive to high school. Not many kids were so lucky back in the 20s. On top of that, Grandpa gave me a dollar bill every Monday. 'For your petroleum,' he'd explain. I guess he figured if he could no longer travel, at least his grandson could.”

Great-Grandad had done lots of traveling, as his 62 years of daily diary-keeping attests. When he was 16, he was selected by British aristocrat John Markham to guide him and his retainers from Marshall, Wis., all the way to the frontier in Western Wisconsin, where the Brit had purchased hundreds of acres of land near what would become Independence, Wis.

When that trek was finished, my greatgrandfather dug a hole in a hillside his father Deacon Wood purchased near the village that would become Whitehall. When the hole was dug, he crawled in and spent the winter there before Spring came when he continued the task of developing his father's homestead. He broke ground, he sowed, he reaped and hauled his wheat, 35 bushels at a time to La Crosse, the Black River Falls pinery and Trempealeau, Wis., where steamboats awaited, for more than a decade, until the railroad came in 1873.

Here's a sample of his activities from one of his (unedited!) 1869 diary entries.

“February 8—Drove to Hixton. Took up load of oats. Had on 59 bushels. Contracted for two thousand feet of fencing for Mr. Fisher. Got a load of fencing of 1230 feet at 12.90 per thousand. Paid five dollars left with me by Mr. Fisher. Due E.F. Wade for Oats as above $23.60.

“February 22—fair & cold. went up to Whitneys [mill] bought 1250 ft. of scantlings, joints, & paid 18 bushels of oats for it. Drove back to Abner & rec'd for Pas oats 62 ½ cts per bushel $11.25. recd of H.D Stratton on thrashing acct. $30. paid for dinner at knudtson .35. paid for dinner on trip last fall, also at Knudtsons .35.

“May 25—fair & warm had a heavy shower in the eve here in Gale[sville.] Went to Trempealeau & see McGilvray. Got rest of $15. paid up last of note on thrash machine, 80.00. bot pr shoes for [wife] Mary $2.25/ pr. Boots on time $7. bot shirts 7 for 3.45, slates .40. hat and butter bowl. Horse collar 4.00. Rec'd of [Coral City saloonkeeper] Inglesby for hauling bar and stools 3.00.”

Years later in the 1920s, at about the time Dave ordered the Model T from Auto Sales, he dropped by The Whitehall Times newspaper office to tell the editor about the good old days on the frontier. Here's what he told the reporter: “About 60 years ago during the winter months, Mr. Wood was hauling oats to La Crosse for 60 cents per bushel. The snow was deep and roads poor and an average load would bring about $18. Out of that sum he would have to pay hotel bills and by the time he returned home what was left out of a load of oats wouldn't be very big wages for the punishment endured in riding on a load of grain in 40 degrees below weather. It was in making the trip to La Crosse that Mr. Wood developed his memory.”

According to his account to the newspaper editor, all along the route settlers would ask him to do their trading, buying groceries and other necessities and was even called upon to purchase a hoopskirt for some damsel who wished to be in the latest style at some social event. (By this time Great-Grandad had crawled out of his hole in the sidehill.) “To remember the amount of money given him by each person, what they wanted and the size and color of hoop skirts naturally developed a keen memory. His many friends are glad to see him retain his remarkable intellect and be able to be about town taking an interest in everyday affairs, which is unusual for a person past four score years.”

Apparently, Grandad forgot that back in 1869 he had kept close written track of his wheelings and dealings in these 62 volumes of diary that repose in the Wisconsin State Historical Society collection at Davies Library, UW-Eau Claire, but I guess one must cut a little slack for “a person past four score years.”

Dave would like to hear from hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.