Huerfano County, Colorado
Reminiscing with Jack
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Charles "Jack" Knoll was born and raised in Huerfano County in the Gardner area. Visiting with him about life "back then" he has shared many of his memories with me. Jack has written quite a few stories for his siblings and children. With his permission I will post some of them here so that you may enjoy them also. Charles wrote "I promised to send you some of the events in my life. Everyone has a hero-in my case it is my Dad!"
Thank you Jack for sharing your memories with us!
THE OLD LADY IN THE WELL
Charles J. Knoll
(In memory of a very caring man-my father--Charles W. Knoll)
During my senior year (1944) in high school an elderly lady (I think her name was Mrs. Fuget) fell in an abandoned dry well near her home. She lived in a one room house north west of Gardner, Co., probably no more than a mile from the center of town. I believe it happened in early spring or late winter.
During that period of time most wells were dug by hand. If no water was found or it went dry a common practice was to cover it with planks and dirt. Mrs. Fuget probably had not lived there long so did not know a well existed. One day in good weather she walked over the top and when the planks ruptured she fell in. The well was rock lined and possibly 20 feet deep. I doubt that it ever produced water.
That night a heavy snow storm occurred. No one knows how long she was in the well. Some one stopped by and found her door ajar and food on the table, snow blown in on the floor, but could not locate her immediately which means she fell before the snow storm since no tracks existed. Eventually she was located. Other people were notified. This was in the morning or early afternoon.
I was in school when I heard. Richie Agnes and I decided to drive to her house. I took my Dad's pickup and had to break through deep snow in front of our house and down our lane to a traveled road. I knew I was in trouble since Dad never took the truck out in weather like that but I thought the reason was justified. Little did I know. When we arrived at Fuget's house it was nice and cozy with a nice fire and three or four older men sitting around discussing the situation. Riche and I being young and fearless volunteered to go down in the well and pull her out. The old gents refused to let us saying, “ why risk a young life for an old lady who would probably die anyway”.
Richie and I returned to Gardner after dark. I left him at the Agnes house and proceeded home where I was greeted by a very unhappy father, to say the least. Even after explaining, things didn't tone down. Even though he was the Postmaster he had not heard of the lady in the well. After supper Dad disappeared walking. I knew he was going to get involved. I ran to the center of town and saw Dad getting into a car in front of Josh Hudson's store but could not catch them in time to join them. Turns out Dad had backed himself in a corner so he could not take the pickup.
I then took off running in the deep snow, taking a short cut across Wagner's hay field. This probably took me more that 30 minutes since I had to run about 3/4 mile. By the time I arrived at Mrs. Fuget's house some people were loading her in an ambulance for a trip to the Hospital in Walsenburg. I was able to catch a ride back to town with Dad in Bill Agnes' car. Dad and I walked up the lane home. He didn't say anything.
When mom questioned him he said XXXX (mentioning the name of the town drunk) was loaded and went down in the well to pull her out. This was fine until Mom saw his overshoes on the back porch. She took them into the living room where Dad was and said, “This mud came out of that well, you pulled that lady out”. Dad admitted he did.
The next day I got the rest of the story. When Dad arrived on the scene he immediately took charge. He sent Bill Agnes back to his store to get rope. Then Dad had himself lowered into the well and tied a rope on her.
She was far from dead. She fought Dad. Anyway witnesses made light of her eye glasses. I never found out if she made Dad find them before she would be pulled out or if he made a second trip down to retrieve them. In any event she was loaded into the ambulance with her eye glasses or they are still at the bottom of the well. I never found out for sure.
MORE ABOUT DAD:
My father was a strict disciplinarian with little patience but after blowing, the incident was over and forgotten. He would not mention it again.
He did a lot of things above the call of duty. For example, he and Mom hauled a dead man out of the mountains when they had the Model T so it had to be in the late twenties. A Mrs. Reed came to their place to report that her husband had not returned home from a logging trip as expected. He had been gone for at least a day. Mom and Dad traced his route and first found his team of horses caught in some trees. Dad unharnessed them and turned them loose. Later on they came upon the body of Mr. Reed. They loaded him in the Model T and returned him to his wife. Today, no one would touch a dead body in the wilds or anyplace else.
Later Dad found a young boy that had been lost for days in the “Pinion Country”.
An amusing incident.--- Dad was shaving in the afternoon when someone informed him a forest fire was burning. He immediately drove around town to pick up a load of men to fight the fire. He drove them near the fire site. As they unloaded he reached into his bib overhauls to get a note pad to take a list of the people on our truck. Instead of a note pad he came out with a straight razor. It took him some time to live that one down. I was on the truck but was not allowed to go near the fire.
The eggs.---One night we were returning from Walsenburg ( I was thirteen) on Highway 69. We had not gone far but I was asleep when his shout woke me up. Just before I hit the windshield I saw a car parked in our lane without lights. Dad hit that car with the rignt front of our truck. That car was driven off the road into a steep ditch. Dad crawled out fuming mad. I had a cut head and bruised knee. Before Dad could vent his displeasure a lady crawled out of the car and was cursing and sorting the broken eggs from a sack that she had on her lap. Her explosion prevented Dad from expressing his feelings. Turns out the people had a flat, no lights, and no jack. It was resolved by Dad helping them change their tire and replacing the ladies broken eggs from a case we had on the back of the truck we had not sold that day. Each agreed to fix their own car. We had to pry the bumper out of the tire. The rim was bent but the tire did not go flat. We drove home with the right light pointing almost straight up. I can pinpoint the general time since Mom was still in bed in the living room after delivering Carol that week.
HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION
Property - Dad bought about three acres in Gardner from a Bank in Walsenburg. This property is located behind the school and Josh Hudson's place. Cost was $50 per acre. The year could have been 1935
Well - He had Archie Harney drill a well to the depth of 55 feet. He bought second hand casing and new pipe in Pueblo. I think he paid one dollar a foot for drilling and probably no more than that for the casing and pipe. The extract from the drilled hole was allowed to run south on an area that was to become the garden. At the time it was evident a lot more material was withdrawn than should have come from a normal hole. This will be covered later.
Pump - Water was drawn from the 50 ft foot level with a hand pump. Water was struck at about sixteen feet but the lower level had softer water. A small concrete pad was poured for the hand pump.
Fence - Dad and I fenced the north side about the same time. In measuring the east side to determine the location for the north fence we were in error. Dad had (I now have) a steel tape he got in England during the war. It is marked on one side in Links and on the other side in Feet. I now suspect the link side was used. We measured from the south-east survey stake located in the middle of the Stevens road entrance along the Stevens fence for the east side distance. We could not find the survey stake for the north-east corner so we used the measurement only to set the corner post. Lucky mistake on the measurement since the chicken houses would not have been located north of the house. We fenced west to the Wagner fence.
Pump Motor - Dad installed a very noisy gasoline engine to drive the pump. Sure saved a lot of arm power.
Orchard - Dad and I then planted the cherry and apple orchard. This was all done while we lived in the Payne house and Dad was working on the WPA. We worked late at night and all day Saturday and Sunday after mass. We did not have hoses or pipes so had to run water from the first tree to the next in ditches. Dad would run the engine and holler directions to me. I was always in trouble for not hollering loud enough. I don't think he ever learned that ones voice carries with noise but not against noise.
Rocks - All concrete poured on the place contained a lot more rocks that concrete. Cement purchases were thereby kept to a minimum. Rock collection fell to the whole family and was an evening job. Something like the three bears-Frances and Genevieve picked up little one. Rosemary and I picked up larger ones. I don't know if Mom fell into our group or the big group that had to be Dad. Dad had a four wheel trailer that he pulled with a 1934 Chevy Sedan he purchased in 1935. These rocks were collected from the side of area roads and side roads. Rocks were used in the foundations of the house, garage, and two chicken houses. The basement floor and chicken house floors included many rocks.
Adobe bricks - The bricks Dad used for all the adobe building on the property are different from normal bricks. Dad built his homestead house, the house on the place with the spring, and possibly others with standard size bricks. This is a slow process as normal bricks are at most four inches thick and very light. Dad designed forms that were 8x9x18 inches in size. While they are much heavier than normal bricks one could build must faster. These bricks are no more than straw mixed in a mud pie and dumped into the forms. Each form had about eight bricks. These are allowed to dry long enough to firm up. The forms are removed and the bricks are turned daily until totally dry. Have to make them in the summer time so they don't freeze. The last chicken house had frozen bricks so a whole wall fell down. I don't recall mixing any mud but probably did at times. Dad hired other people to make some and Uncle Henry made some of the later ones.
The property was on a streambed eons before so two to three feet down one would hit unusable sand to make adobe bricks. That explains why so many mud pits existed. The biggest pit was in the orchard. It was later used as a trash dump for many years. One pit was outside the back door, one near the woodpile, and one or more in the chicken yards. Very likely one was on the site of the house.
Garage - We built the garage first. Construction consisted of concrete foundation, adobe brick walls, and a sheet metal roof. This building has a dirt floor slot for one car. The remainder, which is at least 2.5 times larger than the car part has a raised wood floor. This area was devoted to many uses over the years, grain storage, chicken feed mixing, shop, honey extraction to mention a few.
NO HOUSE YET BUT IT IS COMING
Now that we had a large building on the property Dad had the brainy idea to move the family into it while he built a house. That would mean saving maybe $3 a month in rent on the Payne house. He did not reckon with Mom. She insisted on a house first for fear once we moved the house project might be put on hold.
House Size - Width was predetermined by the available lumber Dad had salvaged out of several coal mine houses. Length was not restricted. It is longer than the mine houses.
Basement - To dig a basement we had to have a way to haul the dirt out. The trailer was not the answer. Goodbye Sedan. Only passenger car we ever had. Dad bought a new 1937 Ford Pickup with a V-8 engine. Dad and I hand dug the whole basement hauling the dirt and sand into the orchard building up a plot that later became our garden. This material was added to the extract from the well drilling operation We were doing fine until the hole got deep. One day, with the pickup backed down in the hole loaded with dirt it would not move. Both rear axles twisted. Dad called the dealer in Walsenburg. He offered to replace the axles if we brought in the truck. Big deal! Finally, he agreed to supply the axles and Gene Fraser put them in. Digging was easy as once the adobe was pulled out the rest was mostly sand.
Foundation Forms - Normal forms are built for both sides of the wall which requires a lot more dirt removal for the outside forms. We did not do that. We used forms on both side only above ground. The dirt walls were used for outside forms below ground level. This saved a lot of work. At the base we tapered the dirt wall outward to make a footing out of rock and concrete. Dad bought rough lumber locally for the forms. This lumber was salvaged and used for subflooring.
Foundation - Dad hired help since this process needs to be done quick enough to keep moisture in all areas for bonding. The concrete was mixed by hand on a large platform that was moved around the base as work progressed. Mix was probably 80% rock and 20% concrete. My job was to assist in throwing in rocks.
Floor Joists, et al - The floor joists were from the mine houses. The center beam and posts were used lumber from somewhere. The sub-floor was rough lumber from the forms etc. I recall Dad slaving away with an adz leveling out the rough spots before laying the oak floor.
Walls - Doors - Windows - Adobe bricks are laid on a bed of adobe mud and the chinks between also are filled with mud. The windows and doors were mounted as needed as the wall was built. The walls went up fast. I think Dad laid about three layers of brick a day. More would not be possible because the beds of mud must be allowed to dry since too much weight could cause slippage or worse. Only the front door, back door, and kitchen window were new. All the other windows were from the mine homes. A plate was put on the top of the walls to support the ceiling joists and rafters, more mine home material but already pre-cut. More rough lumber was used for the roof. The wood shingles were also from salvage. Think of the labor Dad put in that salvage operation. Shingles, for instance, had to be carefully pried up to prevent breakage and the nails extracted. The laths were also salvaged. That required breaking the plaster off each one without breaking the lath.
Interior - Mom had her say again. A door between the kitchen and adjoining bedroom was added to the design at her insistence. Dad had a lot of meeting for many reasons in the front room causing a problem for Mom getting from the kitchen to the bedroom in the Payne house. Her “private” door gave her access to the whole house without going through the living room. The only concrete poured in the basement was pads for the support posts and chimney. The studding, interior doors, laths, etc were from salvage. The oak floor was first grade but sold to Dad as third grade price because he accepted all short pieces. I think three feet or less. Next to the east living room window is the shortest piece. As I recall it is four inches long. Seemed like it took forever to lay this floor throughout the house because of the short pieces but it says a lot for love and family value, also for the lack of money.
Plaster - Dad hired two brothers to plaster the inside. I don't think he felt secure in doing it himself. However, in later years he plastered the outside of the house and the outside of the post office. One of the brothers was deaf. Dad made a deal with them. He helped mix some of the plaster and in return they plastered the chimney in the attic.
Wiring - I don't recall if Dad wired the house at that time or at a later date. However, when he did wire it he used salvaged wiring from the mine houses.
READY OR NOT WE MOVED IN
With no front steps, no back steps, exposed exterior adobe walls, external steps to the basement, and a dirt floor in the basement we proceeded to move in. Uncle Henry showed up the same day. That changed all the plans for sleeping arrangements.
As time went on, a front and back porch was built. The back porch and basement stairs were covered. The exterior wall was stuccoed. Built in cabinets were installed in the kitchen along with many other features. Of course, Dad made the built in cabinets. A concrete floor was laid in the basement.
NOTE: Earlier I mentioned the apparent excess of dirt coming from the well when it was drilled. It caused a problem later. Next to the concrete pad for the pump a big hole appeared. Luckily no one was hurt. Several truck loads of dirt were required to back fill next to the well casing.
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