Category: Historical

Earl, The Autobiography

(God Heard My Mothers Prayers)

The place was Cargill Ont. The year was 1920. The month was a lovely October, and the date Saturday the 23rd.

The time I do not recall as I can`t recall seeing a time piece of any description in the room when I first was introduced to planet earth.The midwife attending my mother, whose name I believe my mother spoke too was a Mrs. Colwell. And I have a feeling as she held me for the first time and spoke to my MOTHER and said `Annie`, he sure is a fine looking boy`,  (course could be she said that about all the boy`s she helped deliver.)

Time started to march on, and undoubtedly there was times my crying for the want of attention gave the rest of the family sleepless nights or days or as Archie  Bunker would say, (whatever). Family of course included five half sisters and four half brothers, as both my father and mother had been previously married, as their former spouses were taken in death.

Our house was across from the village railroad station, and as I began to walk, stood at the window and watched the daily trains come in, one up an done return. The train consisted of maybe a combination of one passenger and mail car and possibly a coal car, and a stock or goods car.  And from the village was shipped flour and livestock. Such excitement.

Cargill itself was I suppose a sleepy little village to most people, but for my first eight years of life, provided me with all the adventures a little tyke needed. There was a damn (which almost claimed my life) and a river ran through the middle of town (which incidentally did claim the life of a brother of the boy who saved mine.)

On one side of the river was– one side; bank, funeral parlor and furniture store combined; a variety store for tobacco, soft drinks etc.  A combination grocer and clothing store which also housed the telephone exchange.  A butcher shop, the Catholic church, and last of all the grist mill on the dam.  On the other side a small hotel and a general store. East side of the river was a molding shop and garage, which was run by mu father at this time.  A blacksmith shop, a creamery, the village hall, two churches.  As a postscript there was a barber shop and of course the village school on the first mentioned part of the village on River street if I recall correctly.

Birthdays passed and then to celebrate my fifth one, I got to go to school. October 23rd was the day, so I was starting the term a little late.

What a day! The school was a two story building. Catholics up and Protestants down, with grades running from 1 to 8 or at that time from first to senior  fourth.  First of all I had the urge to talk to pupils around me and the teacher warned me once that it was not allowed.  She was pulling my leg of course, and the the voices kept coming from my mouth.  So at recess I was taken outside with the teacher who held a strap, and on the steps as a stage and the other children looking on the drama began; five slaps fell on each hand, which had an effect on my eyes as a number of tears flowed from them. After recess Teacher began to write on the board, `pack up your troubles in your old kit bag`, and of course it ran through my mind that maybe school was all finished and she was letting us know to pick up and leave.

Mistake no. 2 and yours truly was well on the way of not being the teachers pet, although no more strapping’s from her for me.  But it was used many times on other children and I recall it seems that one boy, `Harold Litt`,  received punishment from it at least once a week.

By the end of the second week I was fairly well acquainted all the other pupils and surroundings. The toilets were outside. A large four holer, partitioned in the middle to separate the sexes,  but that partition had many viewing holes carved in it from sharp pocket knives, and there wasn`t very much privacy.

Fall soon passed away, then winter came and went, and then spring.  And with spring like weather the sap began to run in the trees.Cargill was blessed with many maple bushes and each farmer made syrup, so it was a joy to visit two or three places for taffy pulls, and to ride on the sleighs in gathering of the sap which fell into containers on each tree was dumped into the tank, drawn to the shanty and boiled down either in large iron pots or vats.

May passed and the strawberry season was at hand. Between our house and the village proper, was a house where lived a bachelor by the name of GEO. REYBOURN. Right next to the sidewalk of his place was a fence to keep animals and I suppose kids out. Between the the fence and the house was this strawberry patch, and skipping along the sidewalk this day with my bro. Lloyd (who incidentally was a year and a half older then me, and six months later became two and a half years older as I gave him one of my birthdays.) Well anyway as we were progressing past this strawberry patch , right next to the fence were these beautiful tempting berries.  Needless to say little fingers followed by arms went through the fence  and began to pick, and boy were they good.  About six berries later a shadow fell over us and there was Geo. In a quiet voice he said, “are the berries good buys?”  Sure they are?  But the best ones are near the house.  Come through the gate and help yourselves. So he ushered us in an disappeared, and do you know, those berries all at once became sour and we too disappeared as fast as our legs could carry us. And Geo. was probably looking out the window chuckling to himself.  (Thank you Geo. for a lesson well learned.)

As the year rolled by we were to see a bit more of Geo. and to hear tales.  Geo. would take us to the lake in his model T ford.  But the stories about him I suppose were mostly far fetched. Like when we asked the village about his wife, (which he didn’t have, as stated previously he was a bachelor.)  Well anyway years ago a lot of houses had a trap door in the kitchen or living room that opened up to a stairway in the cellar. And of course Geo’s. house was like that. So the story was told that Geo. kept his wife under that trap door.

Geo. was a thrifty fellow and his motto was a penny saved was a penny earned. Like when he bought a pair of shoe’s one time.  He kept one shoe polished all the time and the other one unkempt.  He wanted to know which shoe would last the longest. He said the polished shoe lasted ten minutes longer then the other.   Too it was Geo. that invented the, “Doggie bag. ”  He would go to church socials and carry enough home to last at  least a week. May you rest in peace Geo.

Summer holidays rolled around and during same the school was broken into and from my recollection only the strap was missing. Dad was the sheriff as well as school trustee at the time and he had to solve the crime.  Two culprits were caught, and one of them was my oldest half brother Edwin on my dad’s side.  When school commenced that Sept, Edwin and his friend were marched to the front of the class and with tears running down their faces had to apologize and return the strap.  My memory fails me at this point as to whether they got a licking or not.

In January of that year my sister May was born., and in the spring and summer my brother Lloyd and I had the job of pushing her around outside in the baby carriage which had wheels on it so large that it raised the sleeping portion so high that my short little body almost needed a periscope to see to push.

The tragedy struck late in the summer when our house was destroyed by fire and except for a few belongings our neighbours saved everything was lost; with very little insurance, and the depression was beginning to take hold of the economy at that time.  However we were able to rent a house on River St. next to the school and near my grandfather Brownscombe’s house.

Grandpa has a small barn at the end of the street, and the yard was fenced in which he kept grey rock chickens, one of which was a big rooster, a vicious bird I learned of when I was dared by a couple of playmates to enter the yard.  On opening the gate, that rooster came through like a horse from a starting gate at a race. It was quite a sight to see this barefoot six year old boy racing down the street with this rooster, neck outstretched in hot pursuit pecking at my legs.

About this time school was beginning to appeal to me somewhat.  Most of the children brought lunches and ate them by the furnace in the basement.  One girl named Dorothy used to like to strip  and run around nude. Then there was the time a boy named Roy asked to be excused to go to the bathroom, but was refused. Well he had to go somewhere, and in those days an inkwell graced the upper right had corner of each desk.  Roy proceeded to fill his. He was never refused again.

When I was about seven, we moved again to the south west part of the village bordering a fairly large acreage, and on the property was a number of vacant buildings that housed the machinery that was once used in a sawmill operation.  Also a huge stable that at one time was kept the horses, feed etc. for the mill operation. Then the mill pond or dam and mill race from which power was derived for making electricity  and to run the flour mill.  Many a good time was had exploring the buildings and playing by the pond.

The pond of course was used in summer for swimming and paddle boating, and my brother Edwin had one.  Then in the winter it was used for skating and ice cutting for winter storage.

I ran free as a bird, and as I found out in later years, it was my mother’s prayers that she prayed for us from the time we were born, until her own death and our dear Lord who honoured those prayers that  ever survived. Thank you mother, thank you Lord.

On the property we rented was a small barn, and kept a few chickens and a caw.  In summer the cow was pastured on our lot near the railroad station, and it was my brother Lloyd s and my chore to bring that cow home every day for milking.

When I was eight, excitement ran through the village. Silverwoods dairy started a sideline of killing and plucking chickens, and good money could be made as a chicken plucker. Three cents a bird was the going wage.  Yours truly decided to get in on the big money.  So after school this day I hired on, and by five o’clock when I had to get the cow, the first bird was only half plucked, which I left, and never did go back.

It was at the shop which my dad ran that I experienced the first taste of a cigarette.  One of my playmates was able to procure a small packet, so hidden behind an outbuilding at the shop where we were sure we wouldn’t be seen, lit up.  Dad came out of the shop a few times for materiel, and we sat there blowing smoke in air and feeling dizzy. At the table that night during the evening meal. dad said, “did you enjoy the cigarette Earl?  Of course yours truly denied it.  Well to shorten the story and to end the suspense I was let to finish my last meal of the day, and which became tasteless, was spanked severely, once for smoking, and again for lying.

Back of the damn was a large thimble-berry and raspberry patch where a few of the villagers picked berries in the summer, and our family (at least those living at home and old enough) spent many hours in the patch.  Then too in the summer, many hours was spent wading in the river, trying to catch red fin mullets, a type of carp or sucker.

The along came the great depression.  Although dad had ample work installing pumps, repairing windmills (which some he had installed earlier) repairing machinery etc., at the foundry, nobody had any cash to pay him, and so he had to give up the shop. And just previous to the closing, my sister Jean was born, an extra burden, but I guess she was worth it.

About this time dad answered an ad in the paper for a moulder at the New Idea furnace company in Ingersoll for 50¢ an hour, and was given the job.  I’m telling you, it sounded to my nine year old ears, like we were about to become millionaires.  Just imagine 50¢ an hour.

So a moving truck was hired from Woodstock (Bigham the Mover it was) and all our belongings that had not been previously sold was stacked on that little open truck, with our pet duck in a cage on top (with a quack quack here and a quack quack there).  If you have ever seen the T.V. episode of the “Beverly Hillbillies” this was it.  a car was sent along to carry the family.

We arrived in Ingersoll in the late afternoon on an rented house and about 12 acres of land and a small barn.  For all in all many enjoyable hours was spent there with the neighbours.  I believe it was the end of June when we moved there and I played with a girl all summer before I knew she was a girl even though her name was Jean as she wore boys clothes and acted like a boy.  It was the first day of school that fall when this girl, which I believed to be a boy showed up to show us the way to school and she was wearing a dress.  As previously stated her name was Jean and why my brain didn’t tell me sooner with a name like Jean and me with a sister with the same name.  Dumb?

That fall at school went by without too much to say for it, and that Dec. another sister was born; and she was called Helen.  Also should mention that the huge wage of 50¢ an hour that dad had been promised, that I figured would have put us on easy street didn’t last.  Dad had to take a cut in pay and hours and not even assured of any time.  So at this point he was able to find a job at “Coles furniture factory”  which at this time was in the casket making business.  He earned about 22¢ an hour, ten hours a day and for the most part six days a week.

This was a time of real depression and hard times.  Well we had a cow, a few chickens and a garden, and so long as the $25 a month rent was paid, things were not too bad.

But getting back to myself.  The next term at school with hand me down clothes, six sizes to big;  a neighbor man with a waist size of about 40 died and his pants and shirts were given to mother to re-do for me.  She done her best but they still were baggy.  A real conversation piece for the rest of the kids at school.

Also during this term at school I was strapped again.  For what misdemeanor?  For not chewing gum  That’s right!  For not chewing gum. Several students were caught chewing gum (no gum chewing or eating of candy in class) and were marched to the front of the class to deposit same in the waste paper basket.  Now I didn’t want to be left out, but I had no gum, so pretended to chew, not wanting to be seen by Miss Peck our teacher, but by the students, so they would think I was a somebody who could afford gum.  Well Miss Peck did see me ad asked me what I had in my  mouth.


Nothing Miss Peck

Miss Peck —Earl, would you please put your gum in the waste basket.

Earl — I don’t have any gum Miss Peck.

Miss Peck — What do you have in your mouth?

Earl — Nothing Miss Peck.

Miss Peck — For the last time what have you in your mouth?

Earl — well if you must know, my tongue and my teeth.

With this the teacher exploded and with the class in an uproar, grabbed the strap and proceeded to my desk.  About three on each hand and tears in my eyes i was sure sorry I had ever started anything.

After a couple of years living on this twelve acre lot and having to help hoe the enormous garden etc, we were on the move again.  I don’t think I was happy to do so, as even with all the work to do, there was always fun to be had with the numerous children in the neighbourhood as well as with my brothers and sisters.  But move we did, in a house at the edge of town, nest to a farm on Victoria St.  On that farm was a large family like our own and matching ages of our own.  So many happy hours when they were not too busy on the farm was shared, playing cowboys and Indians, (using their horses).  also corn roasts, swimming at the bare  swimming hole, and in winter, tobogganing on the steep hills on the farm; or bob sledding down Mckeand Street hill.

Should explain the bare swimming hole, for that is what it was.  It was on the Thames river a quarter of a mile from the house, and with a sandy bank was very popular part of the river in the summer time. When only boys were present, we usually did swim bare, and sometimes the girls did too, when they thought they were alone.  But there were a few surprises.

There were sad times to at this house, (which was called the red brick house) a square type solid red brick, where in the winter the frost hung on the inside walls, with the kitchen stove so hot the lids would sometimes glow from the heat  Sitting near it your face would be hot, but chills would run up your back.

It was here in 1933 that my brother Arnott and sister Enid were born, twin s they were.  But death took them from us a couple months later.  About this time too, my sister May (about eight years old) nearly passed away also.

The Doctor was given permission to remove her tonsils, and he took it upon himself to remove her adenoids as well.  Consequently she almost bled to death.  The Doctor sent her home  sent her home from the hospital, as he said, ‘to die’.  This was the first time in my life I believe that I got down on my knees and really pled with God to restore her health, and praise His HOLY NAME, He did.  Now I am sure there were other prayers for he as well, but I like to think that God honoured mine the most.

Going back to the bare swimming hole.  Bordering the railroad tracks which ran alongside of the river was this sand bank about eight feet high. Then between it ans the river was this ten of fifteen feet high of fairly level sand.  Well some of the fellows and myself dug a hole in the sand bank to crawl in out of the sun.  This day I was laying in the hole, with my feet stuck out, when a cave in occurred.  Lucky for me that out Lord had honoured my mother`s prayers for my protection for somehow there was this air pocket over my head and so I was kept alive and was dug out.

Finishing grade school in June before my 13th birthday, had no notion of going on further, but by the end of September that year, the town authorities persuaded me to go onto high school; which I did until February the next year, when o make ends meet in the financial situation at home., I hired to the farmer next door, who had taken over from the family we had enjoined so much companionship with. About 30 ¢ a day or 2 1/2 ¢ an hour and two meals a day was the wage to start, but by the end of the first year, 12 dollars a month.  It was fairly enjoyable work; hand milking cows, cleaning stables, seeding and harvesting, taking the milk to Bordens daily though town by horse and wagon.  Jim, a fair sized dapple grey, was usually my horse power.  It was Jim who incidentally was my near source of death  the following year but again GOD honoured my mother`s prayers.

It was haying time and Jim pulled the dump rake for me which was about eight feet wide, five feet high wheels, curved tangs of steel for gathering the hay into windrows for easy loading onto wagons.   This particular day, Alex, my boss, took Jim’s bridal and bit as the chin strap on one of the other horses was broken, so that left me with the broken one.  Well anyway, midway of the barn was the gateway of the field we were haying from this day, and the gate was just large enough for the rake to go though.   Finishing enough raking for a load, I pitched it on the wagon, leaving Jim standing and feeding.  we had just finished backing the load against the barn to unload, when Jim slipped his bridal and bolted, and now was a runaway.

Did you ever see a boy trying to stop a runaway horse pulling a rake?

I run to the the gate to try to stop him, but those big hooves just kept coming with the rake dragging behind. He came through the gate and into the orchard behind the barn where harness, rake and all was left tangled around a tree.

Now how did he get past me?  I’ll never know for sure,a s one second he’s coming right for me, the next he’s past.  My only explanation is that GOD had an angel protecting me which you will see, (if you care to read further).

Angels have protected me many times. Thank you LORD.

Spring of 1937 rolled around, and after a winter of loafing around at home and bugging my younger sisters, went back to work for Alex.  Home was on the flats of  McKeand St., Ingersoll (Ontario)between the railroad tracks and the river.  And that old man river knocked on our doors every time his banks overflowed.  This year of 1937 was no exception, except it was higher and forced evacuation.

Seeding had gotten underway on the farm when one Saturday and Sunday  it rained heavily.  Monday morning I took the milk to Bordens as usual.  Crossing over the Thames St. bridge the water was deepening  under the bridge, but nothing to be alarmed about.  But coming back an hour later — no bridge.   It had shifted about 20 to 25 feet and lay at the bottom of the river.  What to do?  I had to get back to the farm.

This time I was driving “Old Blackie” with the wagon, a fearless horse with many years experience.  We went to another bridge east of town, which too was under water, and for a few hundred yards north of it was  expanse of water.

Coaxing Old Blackie on, he partially swam and partially with a foot hold on the road, we landed on dry ground on the home side of the river.

Later that fall, my brother Lloyd and I purchased a four door Model A Ford.  We used to play hide and seek) with a couple of other young bucks who had cars.

This particular night with me at the wheel, and four of us in our car, was seeking Stan in his Roadster.  He evaded us for a time on the north side of the double track C.N.R railroad, in Ingersoll.  Seeing him cross over the tracks, we took off after him in hot pursuit.  But alas, just as we approached the tracks, a fright (train) hit the crossing going east.  Well it seemed like an unseen hand turned the wheels of the car, and we headed west on the other tracks.  And again, thank you Lord for answering my mothers prayers.

Spring of 1938 rolled around,, and this year I hired out with Frank Pirie.  My brother was on a farm across the road and friend Cecil was on another farm nearby and another friend Art across the road from him.  We used to like to go to town some evenings.

Piries chores always had to be done by six or six thirty.  Cecil`s chores never seemed to get done.  well anyway this evening I called on Cecil and he was going to be another half hour or so before we could go, this fairly large Holstein bull which was in the pasture had to be brought in.  he looked so gentle standing there beside a small creek, that yours truly volunteered to bring him in.

Now vision this bull standing there, as this stupid teenager approached him.  You can almost see him scratching his head with a look of unbelief.  Well anyway I walked up to him to put the leading stick in the ring of his nose, when wham, I was caught between his horns and was propelled through the air and across the creek.   Coming down and feet doing their duty I headed for a fence with the bull in pursuit.  Thank you Lord for the speed you gave me.

A month later after seeing hobos riding the rails past the farm day after day, while In was seating in the fields, and hearing of big money to be made in western Canada, talked it over with a friend named Dick, and we decided to ride the rails to the west.

For a few years I had played around with the tracks and rode on railroad cars going past our place, and too was familiar with the life of  a hobo, as just along the river from us there were usually a half dozen or so camping there overnight during the summer months after getting off a train, and quit often we fed many who came to our door.

Well anyway the morning arrived when we took off.  No money in our pockets and only the clothes we had (as the old expression goes) on our backs.  a freight had stopped in Ingersoll heading west.  we climbed in an empty car and were soon in London.  getting off there, a couple of other hobos (or men of the road) told us we had to go to Toronto and then around the lake head.  Soon we were able to catch one heading towards Toronto, and again with several other hobos, seated ourselves in an open door of a car, feet dangling out.  What a life!  At 12:15 in the afternoon the train crept across the crossing at Ingersoll and there waiting for the train to pass was a couple of my sisters and neighbor children on the way to school.  What a surprise they got.

Arriving in Toronto, the rail road detectives chased us but we were able to avoid them.  But what train to catch now for the north?  We had jumped on one moving in what direction we knew not, and landed in Niagara Falls.  Spending a day there and mooching for food we landed in Hamilton.  a day was spent there also, and hunger pangs led us to a garden, where we dug some potatoes and picked a few green tomatoes.  Such fare!  The the next afternoon we decided, like the “prodigal son”, to return home.

A long freight of about a hundred cars was sitting on the outskirts of Hamilton, looking west, and all the cars were closed, and all box cars.  Then with three engines pulling and a shunter pushing, it started up the steep grade.  By the time it started to pass us, it was going about 10 or 15 miles an hour.  about the eight car, I asked Dick to catch hold, which he did, and then he lost his grip.  So by the time he got up his nerve, the rear end of the train was coming in sight.   So we wee about 20 cars from the rear of the train before settling down on top.   Near the caboose were four or five other hobos.  Getting near Brantford and the sun going down, these other riders started towards us.  We didn’t like the looks of them so we headed for the front end, which wasn’t something to be done with ease, as the train was going about 60 miles an hour and the cars swaying somewhat, the 18 inch walkway on top, seemed a little bit narrow.  They chased us until we were near the engines and crossing over the trestle over the grand River in Paris.  By this time it was dark, and the train was moving slowly so we dropped off on the banks of the Grand, and ran and hid in an empty box car in the shunting yards at Paris.  For an hour we could hear those fellows looking for us, for what we never did find out, and a couple of times with us holding our breathes and flattening ourselves against the corner wall; one of them looked in and we hear him say, “They have got to be hear somewhere”.

Well finally things got quiet, so we scooted for the highway and walked from Paris to Woodstock, where we met friends and were able to get a ride to Ingersoll.  It is something I wouldn’t want to do again, but something I am glad we did, for it was a bit of a “thrill of a lifetime”.

June 1940 rolls around, and world war two had been going on nine months and Hitler was running rough shod as it were over other countries, trying to rule the world.   Well I thought that he had to be put in his place, so I joined the Canadian Armed Forces as an infantry soldier.  Not liking to march all day carrying a pack sack etc., got a transfer to the service corps and drove instead.

On November 12/41 sailed for England.  Many minor incidents happened, but the most outstanding one happened a few months after landing in England.  For awhile I hauled petrol or in Canadian language, “gasoline” in flimsy four gallon containers (and there always seemed to be a few that leaked) to service our transport company.  On this particular night with about 800 gallons on the truck, was heading for camp, when along the road, heading in the same direction but walking (after a couple of hours at the pub) was four of my friends.  I stopped to pick them up, and a short distance later, one of them sitting on top of the load decided to light a cigarette.  Now as you know, gas fumes or raw gas and fire do not normally agree.  well praise the Lord, he was still honouring my mothers prayers.

In October 1943 to celebrate my 23rd birthday, was on my way to the battle front in Sicily.  Now I am sure this enemy had manufactured many types of ammunition with my name on them, but do you know, the LORD must have confused the senders, as they all seemed to go to another address, right up to the time I left Italy in 1945.  Then it was back to England again. then to Holland for a couple of months, then back home.

Mother is gone now, but her prayers linger on.  Amen and thank you Lord.

Earl W. Crawford

(all material transcribed from the original documents typed by my Uncle Earl)

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Saying a prayer for those who died for their country in foreign lands.

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