Memoirs of Howard Samuel Bradley

Family history is easily lost. Dad Bradley wrote this manuscript by hand. If Pamela Schriefer Schmidt had not transcribed it, it would have been lost in an October 1982 house fire.


It seems an almost impossible task to write of things that happened almost three generations ago, to write from hearsay and memory, and still keep things in the proper chronological order. In reviewing those eighty some odd years one begins to realize that we humans have seen more progress, if progress it really is, than in any other period in history.

As I recall some of the things we did not have, no radio, television, or aeroplane; the telephone, yes but it was crude, undependable, and hard to understand what was said. That might have been partly due to the fact that the first lines were party lines of twelve to fifteen phones, and when one rang they all rang and everyone listened.

There were autos, or at least there were machines that traveled under their own power; one or two cylinder gasoline or steam engines that hissed and emitted clouds of white steam. All were so rare that any respectable horse on meeting one became hysterically frightened and tried to take buggy, driver and all elsewhere in a hurry. There were no dishwashers, automatic clothes washers or driers. No rural free delivery, x-ray or laser beam and the disposable diaper was not even a dream. No such things as an aerosol can and deodorants as such were not yet on the market. All that in a world where the fastidious bathed regularly each Saturday night. I had one old Auntie, not really mine but we called her so, who thought it absolutely ridiculous to take a bath in the winter; but then everyone was allowed a certain amount of personality.

The thing we did have was a county recorder who duly recorded all births and deaths at least when he heard of them. Shortly after 4 a.m. on June 23, 1899 hearsay has it I arrived. Soon after it was recorded that a male child had been born to Leonard Perry and Bertha Bradley of Sumner Township in the County of Kankakee.

Some sixty-five years later I found that child still unnamed, so I proclaimed him to be none other than Howard Samuel Bradley. So it would seem, at least legally, I named myself. Since then one daughter and various grandchildren have shifted names about with somewhat questionable improvement upon their original. They were not following my example, however, because until this they knew nothing of my exploit.

Father came to Kankakee county at age 17 with his parents from Woodstock, Canada in 1876. Very early the Bradleys' came to New York State from Ireland but my ancestors migrated to Canada during or shortly after the revolution. It is my belief they were Tory's and no longer welcome in the new United States of America.

The Bebees', mother's people, came earlier to Vermont from England, and my grandfather, Samuel Bebee settled halfway between what are now Grant Park and Momence, Illinois with his parents in 1836 at age sixteen, just four years after the first white man settled near what is now Bourbonnais.

My father married twice, sisters. First Florence and later Bertha, my mother, the only surviving daughter of Sam and Laura Beebe. Mother was a survivor, as I am and as some of our children claim to be. When mother finally left us she was 102. To my memory, she never spent a night in a hospital but did survive an operation on the kitchen table shortly after my birth.

Remember, we used kerosene lights: There was no indoor plumbing, drinking water was carried in but we did have a cistern pump in the house, and hot water came from a reservoir on the kitchen range, fuel by cobs and wood.

Saturday baths came in a tin tub on the kitchen floor. Being youngest I came first. Whether the others were in rotation I can't say but I imagine so with my parents last. Of course I was in bed before these other baths, but knowing my mother I'm sure everyone had a Saturday night bath. This I do know, the water wasn't changed because there wasn't that much hot water.

Sunday morning we all six went to church in a surrey with fringe on top.

 

Dad led the way up the aisle, always to the same pew, then stood aside until mother and we four were seated between. Then we sat down and you just better believe we were all very quiet during the service.

Grandpa and Grandma Bradley were at the other end of that pew, and once in a while, like some of the other old men, Grandpa let out with a fervent "A-men". Grandpa had a white beard, short however as he kept it trimmed with whiskers clippers. Beside the "A-men's" I remember Grandpa in church best because he frequently had to clear his throat and he spit in an envelope which he carried for that purpose. Strange how it's only the important things I remember.

The first Sunday School Picnic I remember I picked a cherry off Mrs. Lily's hat. She sort of laughed and said it didn't matter. Mother frowned on the whole procedure, and perhaps she may have done something besides frown as I remember it so well.

Another time Mother frowned. This was much later as I must have been in the second or third grade. It seems I learned a poem at school. For some reason, Mother, Edith and I were in town, eating a lunch in the buggy in the church shed. Well, I recited the poem and Edith piped up with, "Say it again so I can remember it." All of a sudden I knew I shouldn't have said it once even. It went like this, "Mrs. Nichols made some pickles on a rainy day. Mrs. Martin came a fartin and blew them all away." Mother frowned.

It seems I can only remember the important things of my early childhood, like when I was in first grade and Clarence Gamble, about eight years older, picked me up by the ears. He was never one of my best friends.

In the summer of 1903 the doctor decreed that Edith, the puny one, would probably not survive another rigorous northern winter and suggested Florida as a possibility. With Dad the family always came first so if Florida was the answer Florida it would be. Since Dad couldn't leave the farm for so long, Mother would take us four in October and stay until school let out in May. Then he would come in February and stay as long as he could. He stayed about six weeks.

The pilgrim group included Mother and us four children, Grandpa Bebee, Uncle Frank my mother's youngest brother, frail and not expected to last many years, mild even-tempered, hen-pecked and perhaps a near saint.

Frank was married to my father's younger sister Dora. Little but all steel, determined and always right. Strange as it may seem she generally was. She feared not man, beast nor devil and when the neighbor's cow came along with gleaming horns and an air of authority it was Aunt Dora who sallied forth and vanquished the beast. Then there was their son Edward 3, my double-cousin.

At this stage Edward was a particularly nasty little brat. In the parental view, or perhaps it was only one parent's opinion, he could do no wrong although I do remember hearing told he was naughty. One episode will illustrate. This happened a year or so earlier but I saw it and remember it well. Grandma Bradley was tending us youngsters that day. Grandma was little, very little, she didn't even look big to me and I was only 4 or 5. Anyway she was trying to restrain Edward from doing something he was intent on doing. By edict above the only restraint allowed was to hold him which she was trying to do. Lacking strength or size to keep him away he was vigorously kicking her shins and screaming "Ya-Ya" at the top of his voice. Finally his mama came, picked him up, told him he was naughty then sat down and cuddled him as she rocked. The "Yas-Yas" gradually subsided. All these years I've thought there should have been a different solution.

 

The trip was by Pullman car.

We started at night though it must have been early because I remember the seats first and then how they miraculously became beds with one up above also. How many more nights I do not know but there were others. We carried much of our food but we must have eaten in the dining car at least once a day.

The dining table with its stack of table cloths; the porter removed the dirty dishes, placed what was to remain in the center and snapped the top cloth out from under them. Surely a wonder of the world for one so small.

Momence to Jacksonville, Florida where there were hours of delay before the Seaboard Line took us to Daytona Beach. At that time Daytona Beach was on the beach side of the river only and on the land side was Daytona.

Of the stopover in Jacksonville I only remember the Patrick Farm. I knew about big birds. A turkey I could look square in the eye had I been bold enough but these birds were big. A man rode one and another was hooked to a sulky and raced against a horse. Of course the horse may have been ready for the glue factory though I doubt it. The bird won.

Days were spent on the beach. Edward, Edith and I, while the two older ones were in school. Our feet in the water that came and went, building sand castles or just digging in the damp sand or playing in the dry sand back by the dune.

There I saw my first car.

A black speck appeared far down the beach. It came with a roar and passed faster than anything I had ever seen move. Before it got near, whoever was riding herd had us far back by the dune. They thought it might explode and they were probably right. Years later I learned as I suppose the old folks knew then it was Barney Oldfield and he was practicing the "measured mile." In 1949 when we made our trip to Florida we spent a week in Washington D.C., and there in the Smithsonian Institute was the car with its legend.

One other thing of that winter in Florida that must have impressed me as a 4 year old was Dad's day-long trip to the lighthouse at Ponce de Leon inlet ten miles south along the beach.

 

It was still working in those days but we were allowed to go to the top. It seemed so far up and the people below so small. In 1949 it wasn't nearly so impressive.

Dad had a bicycle propelled chair for Grandma Bebee while he was there so with the two girls on the seat and me on the step he peddled us there and back. The rest had bicycles, Mother and Elwyn theirs and of course Aunt Dora and Uncle Frank. Edward rode in a basket in front of his pa.

 

Early Farm Days

I suppose those early farm days would seem primitive today but somehow I've never felt deprived. The farm was no longer self-sustaining as a few generations before but a trip to town every couple of weeks or so was adequate.

We were strictly horse oriented and at one time could count 52 horses, colts and ponies on a 200 acre farm.

Maybe that isn't quite correct because Dad farmed Uncle Frank's 200 acres as well as his own. Our first pony, a spotted Shetland named "Bird", two years old came to use the year I was also two. She lived to be near 30, and produced several colts as did some of them. The highest the pony count ever got was nine.

When we were all too large for ponies and the number was down to three Dad sent old "Bird" to live with relatives in western Iowa so a pair of orphaned nieces could have a pony. She stayed there 3 or 4 years and was returned when outgrown. She could open most gate latches so if a gate was on hinges she was pretty much in control. One morning in Iowa she was missing and no amount of searching produced a clue. Weeks later she was found through a lost and found ad near the Mississippi River about 150 miles from our cousins' farm. She was on a near direct line towards home. They telephoned us the news.

We all four of us attended a one room country school the first eight years except for Ethel who did eighth grade in Momence. None of us were ever kept home to help as were most of neighbor children. Dad was a firm believer in education and insisted all of us go at least through high school and would somehow have provided a college education for any or all of us had we so wished.

Dad was a believer in culture as he saw it and the older three were all exposed to various lengths of time of piano lessons. Elwyn might have been good but had no desire as he could hear a tune and play it so why bother? Ethel, I'm afraid was as tone deaf as me. However, she persevered and acquired the mechanics and was able to perform quite adequately given the circumstances. Edith, the puny one, didn't want to so she didn't do much. I however, was to become a violinist. My lessons started when a half-size violin was required and struggled on through the three-quarter size and finally ended with the full size in a complete flop. I still can't read a note of music or carry a tune.

 

Summer School

"Ethics, Eugenics, and Economics" those were to be the theme for the summer of 1910. A retired school teacher, a Mr. Polk, was visiting his brother who was a civil engineer in Momence. 'Cultured, a Gentleman and a Scholar' could have been the way our local weekly might have described him. Dad saw the chance for us four to learn things the one-room country school had never dreamed of so Mr. Polk was subsidized for the summer. Classes were held each day all summer from ten till noon in the farm shop which was converted into a school room.

I think we did learn things too, at least the older ones more than I for being ten and having summer vacation interrupted so rudely I resisted all the way. About all I remember now is some mechanical drawing and proper use of those instruments. There were several times though when we were away from the school room. Elwyn was learning surveying and the main target was the half mile long seepage in Uncle Frank's west forty. I went along to carry stakes, drive and pull them again, also I needed to watch birds, chase frogs, get my feet wet and have a generally good time with only an occasional reprimand. Mr. Polk lived that summer in a tent that Dad provided and cooked his own meals. Mother cooked for numerous hired men and made beds for them, but I guess she put her foot down on the extra bit for culture and refused to have our teacher in the house.

How to judge success of the school I can't say but it must have had some impact. It was years later that I realized Mr. Polk with his school of the three E's was only trying to show us a code of conduct; a way of healthful living, and give us an awareness of the world we lived in and how it worked.

Never did I ever hear my parents argue in anger and that was one lesson I failed to learn as a child. Some sixty years later I was reminded of it when my youngest, who had been having discussions with her husband said, "But Daddy, you and Mother never taught us how to fight".

 

From Nineteen to Twenty in Centuries

I have little memory of the fieldwork of those early days except for the harvest. The grain was cut with four horses on a binder which cut and tied it into bundles which were then set up about twelve to a shock to dry and wait for the thresher.

The thresher travelled from farm to farm pulled by a steam engine at about two miles per hour. This was modern because I heard my brother, who was seven years older, tell us of the first one he saw where both the threshing machine and steam engine were pulled from farm to farm by horses.

Farmers formed a threshing ring of ten or twelve and helped each other through the harvest. Dinner was served to all and supper also to those who wished to stay. Breakfast also to the two or three men it took to run the machine.

Perhaps I remember this so well because when Ethel drove the pony and buggy to take water to those working in the field I could go along.

By today's standards our life was primitive. We had no inside plumbing. Drinking water was carried in from the pump. Water for the stock was pumped by windmill. A cistern supplied the house with rain water from the roof and there was a hand pump in the kitchen for that. Kerosene lamps inside and lanterns outside furnished the light and it was a daily task to wash globes, trim wicks and fill them with kerosene.

In 1905 Dad had a central steam heating plant installed and it was probably the first such in a farm house in Kankakee County. Then in 1912 the house was remodeled and a gas plant for lights and compressed air water system were added so then we had both lights and inside plumbing. Air was compressed by a one cylinder gasoline engine and stored in a large tank in the basement.

 

Ice was a luxury, however, that we had.

The ice house was built before I can remember, but I can remember the men hauling ice from the river to fill it. It was a double-walled, wood building with the space between walls filled with saw dust. The square blocks of ice were packed as closely as possible and covered with saw dust, and they lasted pretty well all summer. Years later, when I was 16 or 17 and we lived in town I helped fill the Simond's ice house during Christmas vacation.

Chickens and turkeys were our farm poultry. None were confined, but there was a hen house where the chickens were supposed to roost and lay, and sometimes they did, but hunting eggs was literally what we did because some of the hens liked to find nests of their own. The turkeys were shy and would hide their nests and did a very good job of shifting for themselves. Shy or not however, the gobblers would sometimes attack a child so Ethel always carried one of her gobbler whips which she kept by the kitchen door. When we youngsters were out and the turkeys were near she did what is now called babysitting with Edith and me and I can remember her telling us stories by the hour, or so it seemed. The chickens weren't fenced in but the garden was and it was Edith's and my job to get the chickens out that flew over there occasionally.

There was always a hired man in the house across the road, and also one in a small house on Uncle Frank's place while Dad was farming it. The first one I remember was a Mr. Utterbach from the hills of Kentucky.

Neither he nor his wife could read or write, but the children could and an older son was already away from home and was an engineer for the city of Joliet for a number of years. There was a story Dad told me, and I believe it was true. This young man was in need of a divorce from a disastrous marriage. The wife had a prominent attorney in Momence to fight the case. I won't name the guy even now, but his daughter Henrietta was in my class in high school. Dad gave him an extra ten dollars, which was a lot of money then, to lose the case and the case was lost. I don't believe Dad ever had him for an attorney.

But to get back to the senior Utterbach. He worked for Dad three times about two years at a stretch with a year or in between each time. The first time was too early for me to remember but he would save his money and go back to Kentucky where he could "live easy."

Wages then were about 25 dollars a month, milk from one cow, four hundred pounds of pork, and a garden spot. They bought little except coffee, white corn meal, molasses and sometimes fat pork when the four hundred pounds were gone.

They bought white corn meal because yellow corn was "Hog Feed." They even raised their own tobacco which they both smoked. Mother, of course, was against smoking, so Mrs. Utterbach was careful not to offend. Her corn cob pipe, when not in use, was stuck stem down in the top of her black high buttoned shoe and of course her dress almost touched the floor. They shipped their household goods back and forth in a freight car in which the family also rode.

There were always more young cattle and colts than could be pastured at home so each spring a herd were assembled. Colts were tied together two by two by short halter ropes which kept them pretty much in the herd because they could never both decide to run off in the same direction at the same time.

We drove straight through Momence and across both bridges then about eight miles southeast to the Bondurant Ranch, now Talmadge, where they spent the summer and fall. When old enough to ride a pony I went on those drives and it was my job to get the calves off the lawns and flower beds. It's surprising how disturbed some of those nice ladies could be when a calf walked through their daisies or left a souvenir on their lawns.

A Polish neighbor, Billy Yotsick, had 100 acres a half mile south and half mile west. He had a whole herd of skinny cattle and didn't believe in wasting a lot of land for pasture, so his herd roamed the roads all summer. Neighbors tried to keep the field gates shut. Occasionally Billy's herd would come up our lane and drink our water tank dry, so one day Dad thought if he could just tie an old tin bucket on the tail of one of the younger ones it might help. The only cow that would stand it though, even while drinking, was one old cow that looked like she was on her last lap. The herd started down the lane with the bucket tied to her tail dragging behind until the bucket got stuck on a tree root; swung up over her back and banged her hard. She let out a beller and took off through the herd and they didn't wait to see what was happening. Billy's herd turned the corner all right but didn't even stop for at least half a mile past their home. We had a real mad Polack for a while and Dad never let on he knew what happened.

 

Changing Times

In 1913 our mile of road was the only mud between Chicago and Danville (the rest gravel). Then Illinois started its road program and our mile became the first concrete slab in the state.

Fifteen feet wide for two way traffic, a break every fifty feet with two metal strips across and a three quarter inch pad of asphalt between. That was to prevent cracking from expansion and contraction. It didn't work and was never used again.

Nineteen fourteen came and things began to speed up. I was in High School going from the country school of a dozen or less of all ages to a class of over thirty all my own age. There was a war in Europe and we might be threatened. From then on the pace has increased. Dad got his first car; the horse was threatened.

 

The car was an Overland #79 four cylinder cloth top, no starter so it had to be cranked. There was no demountable wheel or rim, so when a tire went flat it was taken off, patched, replaced and pumped up right there on the road.

Those tires were guaranteed to go 2,500 miles, but seldom did. There was a battery but no generator so it had to be recharged in town and we did little night driving. It was a right hand drive. At that time you were given a choice and Dad wanted to sit on the right side to drive as that was where he always sat when driving horses.

Next year was uneventful, but still there was change. Ethel had taught a country school the year before and was now taking a secretarial and business course. Elwyn was farming in partnership with Dad.

Then 1916 brought an event that was to change the course of my life because it eventually led me to Davenport, Iowa.

A cousin, Hazel Elliot, the granddaughter of my Grandfather Bradley's youngest sister Sally, wrote from Chicago to William H. Bradley, the only name she knew on the state side of the family. Grandpa was gone but Dad got the letter. She had come from Brandon, Manitoba to a hospital in Chicago with her one year old son Maurice, who would be treated there for a cleft palate. She would be in Chicago for months and hoped to find some of her relatives. Hazel was only a year older than Elwyn but years older in maturity. A delightful person, and as I write, she still survives. About two years later her husband, Newton Elliot, quit farming and they came to Davenport, Iowa and both graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic.

 

Their oldest, Norman, was in school and stayed with them but Maurice, or Sonny as he was called, spent the two years with us, the first on the farm and then a year in town when we moved there.

Elwyn was married and ran the farm to Dad retired to town, but we went out every day anyway. Their marriage lasted fifteen years. Her name was Helen but it should have been Zantippa (wife of Socrates).

 

School was becoming more complex. I'd lost a half year with Scarlet Fever, quarantined in February for seven weeks, then a week before I should be let out Edith was quarantined, and then Ethel so school was out before we were free to go again.

Commercial courses, Domestic Science, Agriculture and German were now available. My first year in high school there were no electives. Required were four years of Latin, four of English, two of History, also Botany and Zoology.

German became unpopular, so the school dropped it and had French instead. I ended up with one year each of Latin, German and French; just enough of each to be confused. My last and fifth year in high school was the 1918-1919 term.

The next two years we went to camps at Culver, Indiana. After we were in the war he organized a Home Guard Unit, and it was mostly staffed with us ROTC Noncommissioned Officers.

I had all the required subjects, and enough credits to graduate in mid-term but they only graduated in the spring. I managed to talk the school authorities, all true patriots of course, into agreeing to graduate me with my class so I could leave in December and enlist in an Officer's Training School that was just being organized.

I was accepted, passed the physical exams and had orders to report for duty December 1, 1918. While taking the mental exams in Chicago on December 9th the false rumor of the armistice came out. Then on November 11th the armistice was signed. Shortly thereafter my orders were cancelled. I had never been sworn in so no discharge was in order.

In the fall of 1919, along with several of my classmates, I attended The University of Illinois. Thought I wanted to be a Mining Engineer. I liked college life and did quite well but I think I must have begun to have doubts as to my direction in life. Anyway, my eyes were bothering me a lot and I took that excuse to dropout at midterm.

The Dean of the School of Mines wrote to a friend in my behalf, Mr. Thatcher, Chief Engineer of New Jersey Zinc Mines. Summer was spent in Galena, Illinois zinc mines. Probably by orders from above I was shifted every month or so to a different job. Mr. Thatcher was really giving me experience. I never met him but I've always appreciated what he did. The outcome was that a lifetime in the mines became less attractive and I never went back to school except for an occasional short course.

Possible a contributing factor to my decision not to become a miner was an explosion on my 21st birthday. At this time I was a "Boulder Pop." That is it was my duty to drill, load with dynamite, and break up rocks too big to load.

That morning I had twenty-one to pop, I remember this because it was the same number as my years. I had them all loaded and ready to go. Fuse was cut to about two feet lengths which at a foot a minute gave less than two to light them all and get in the clear. We lit with the flame from our Carbide Miner's Lamps. I was supposed to have a helper to light fuses but he lit three or four then ran away. I tried to light the rest, but before I was done I knew there wasn't time so with three or four to go I dropped behind an overturned mine car. Just in time as the first explosion moved the car and me with it. I was scared, but not hurt, and we still had to find and destroy the charges that were unlit before the muckers could come back in.

I think if I had remained in school Dad would have sold the farm to finance it. In fact he had a buyer who was anxious to buy. However he was quite pleased with my decision and happy to return to farming. In the spring of 1921 we moved out again and began farming together. In the meantime Elwyn had bought 160 acres near San Pierre, Indiana. A few years later he lost it and moved to Michigan to a place owned by his father-in-law. Later he was divorced, returned to Illinois, married again, this time successfully to a wonderful woman who gave him six children. He now bought a farm on contract with nothing down, sold it just before he died at 84, for many times more than he paid for it. He still owed most of the original cost. It is providing very nicely for his widow.

Edith didn't graduate from high school, but her health seemed to be much improved, so she enrolled in the Palmer School of Chiropractic and graduated two years later as a Chiropractor.

In those days all you needed to go to Chiropractic School was to be able to read and write and have enough money for tuition, food and living expenses. The emotional stress of practicing was too much for a prim old maid. Just one instance to illustrate: With a young man patient, lying face down on the adjusting table, she working on his spine while he was trying to feel her leg, she just couldn't cope. Edith became a seamstress, and a good one, worked with only those of her own sex, lived quite a satisfying life enjoying ill health to the age of 77.

Upon graduating from high school Ethyl spent one year teaching a country school three miles from home. She lived at home and drove a horse to work. The salary was $27 a month. During that time she bought a suit for her father. It cost $15 and was a good one. He prized it highly and wore it seldom. Said he was going to be buried in it and he was. One year convinced her teaching wasn't her life's work so she took a secretarial course and then spent three years as secretary to the Superintendent of Schools in Momence, then went one year to Northwestern College in Naperville, now North Central College. On February 18, 1922 she married John Edgar Wright, Jr. That marriage lasted 57 years and produced two sons and four daughters. It has always been my opinion that Ethyl was the "pick of the litter."

 

Life on the Farm

August 1944 was nearly gone. Just a week or so more: such weather should last forever. Just a typical day on the dairy farm where anything can happen and it looked as if the next few days might be just as nice. As in the song "corn was as high as an elephant's eye" safe from anything but catastrophe.

Esther and I were alone that Sunday afternoon. Just Esther and me enjoying a bit of leisure for a change. Then the telephone rang. It was Frank Hertz and we had our catastrophe. Frank was our neighbor a half mile south just around the corner. "Your cows are in the corn right across the road."

Esther and I took the car down there to start the cattle drive with the cows between us and home. There was nothing to it. They had, had their fun trampling corn and had eaten all they could. Now they were ready to go home, lie in the shade and chew their cuds. Just a few whoops and a holler and off they started with us following to make sure they did it.

With cows out of the field we walked back to the car. No hurry now, it was such a gorgeous day and we had the world to ourselves so we dallied a bit on the way. Shortly after our last child Ruth came to live with us. It is reported that Esther was heard to say

"I'll never help anyone chase cows out of a cornfield again."
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