Grampa

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In 1987, when he was in high school, my cousin Randy (first cousin once removed) interviewed my grandfather and wrote this report. I previously posted my mother’s remembrances of her grandmother; this takes us one generation closer to the present. I think Randy’s son Petey should take it a step further, and interview his grandmother (my Aunt Ellie) and my mother. Now would be the time to do that. They’re a year older than Grampa was in 1987, and Ellie’s memory is failing.

Grampa with Randy and his sister Kristy, 1974ish(?)

Grampa with Randy and his sister Kristy, 1974ish(?)

I conducted my interviews with my great-grandfather, Floyd R—— of Alstead. He was born on November 28, 1903 in Alstead, and has lived most of his lived in the area, now living about ½ a mile from his birthplace. In 1924 he married Margaret Benware of Langdon, who is also still living.

Mr. R—— recalls his teenage years well, and remembers a great number of names and events. Until the age of 14 he lived and worked on his family’s farm, and then he moved into Alstead and boarded with a Doctor Stevens. He did a number of jobs as a teenager, mostly physical labor. He worked in one of the village stores as sort of a stock-boy, earning 10¢ an hour, the standard wage for kids. He also owned his own cows and horses, selling milk for 10¢ a quart, and drove cattle from Alstead into the surrounding towns for other people. At this time most people had a couple cows or horses, even those living on Main Street. He had some jobs kids today wouldn’t be allowed to do, such as assisting the doctor in his office and helping deliver the mail during the winter, which he did have to be sworn in to do. He feels he did more work than most of the teenagers of the time, and worked hard, making 20¢ an hour working on some jobs, which was an adult’s pay. His most profitable job was hauling sawdust to people in town with animals, for which he got $3 a load, and sometimes he got 2 loads a day. It took a while with a wagon and two horses. Another job was working at Vilas Poo when it was being built. His father worked there as a carpenter, and Floyd was an assistant to Mr. Carter, the overseer for the project. He made $3 a day and didn’t have to work too much, going with Carter to town for supplies or working part of the day and then going to an auction. No one else could put him to work while he was just hanging around the pool, because they didn’t want to get Mr. Carter upset; he didn’t really care whether he ran the project.

His most interesting job was working on the race circuit for 3 years with Doc Stevens, touring New England and New York. He never rode the horses; he took care of the horses. He met a lot of gypsies on the race circuit and remembers them as nice but shrewd people. There was one group he knew well in New York, a large family headed by an old man. The old man was a very smart horse trader, and often got good horses cheaply. He would stand outside of the gates in his ragged clothes, and when he saw a good horse, he would wait until it had run a poor race and then offer to buy it from the owner, who was usually eager to get rid of the horse. He would then go into the stables and pretend to borrow the money, instead taking it out of a huge wad he carried with him. He got a lot of good horses cheaply this way, and it took the owners a while to catch on. The gypsies all appeared poor, but once Floyd accepted an invitation to visit this family in NY City, and found they lived in a mansion with huge stables.

For sports, he enjoyed skiing, sledding, bicycling, and football. The YMCA had a program in Alstead for a while, and he got involved in boxing and other physical sports.

Alstead was smaller in the 1910s, but had a lot of local businesses, a horse-shoer’s, plow shop, lumberyards, 2 grocery stores, a barbershop, garage, hardware store, and dry goods store. Freight was brought into town by wagons. The nearest railroad was in Walpole and Bellows Falls. The train depot he used the most was in Cold River, across from where the Jiffy Mart is now. Cattle were shipped out of there, and wild horses were sometimes brought in and sold. There were hobos who wandered through and sometimes slept in the culverts near the train depot. The hobos were generally not bad; they would work wherever they could find a job, and then move on. The tramps, or bums, were mostly dishonest, and were more likely to steal food than work for it.

In 1918 he received a letter from President Wilson notifying him that he would have to report to an Army training camp after his birthday, which was two weeks after the war ended. He says he thinks that at the time they were drafting people between the ages of 16 and 40.

He said that the women’s rights movement didn’t make much of an impact around this area. Floyd and Margaret both remember there being many more boys than girls in the area. Margaret was the only girl in the 8th grade class in Langdon. Her whole class had to repeat the 8th grade because her schoolteacher had been fooling around with a married man, and she had been run out of town. The class had to repeat because the parents figured the teacher hadn’t done a good job. Floyd went to school through the 7th grade in a two-room schoolhouse in Alstead. The nearest high schools were in Walpole and Bellows Falls, but Margaret did go to 2 months of high school in Keene.

In the 1910s, when there was a fire the only way the town had to fight it was a pump to get water from the river or nearest source of water. Then a bucket brigade would have to pass the water to a holding tank near the fire. Using this method, there wasn’t much of a chance to save the burning house; they worried more about saving nearby houses. Finally the town bought a Model T fire engine because they were losing too many houses.

When asked what changes were least appealing in the world, he said that it was too hectic today – life was less hurried when he was younger, with less noise and fewer cars. He bought his first car in 1924 – a Model T Ford for $440. He doesn’t remember there being more than 5 to 10 cars in the whole town before WWI.

He doesn’t remember hearing about many famous people while he was young, mainly the presidents and Babe Ruth. He remembers seeing one of the presidents around 1910, either Taft or Roosevelt, drive by his house in Alstead. He said no one believed him at first, but then they heard news that he had gotten lost going to Keene and ended up on the back roads. Around 1920 he went with one of the Wilder boys from Alstead to Vermont, where they ate supper with Calvin Coolidge, who was already vice president. The Wilders were related to Coolidge, and they had gone to pick up a cow they’d bought.

During the Great Depression, money was scarce around the area. During the early 1930s , many of the men in town sat on the Post Office steps waiting for work. Floyd spent one week on the steps, and then decided that was enough. He found a road job in East Alstead. The town was hiring men for 3 days and then laying them off, giving more people a chance to work. He was the only one to stay on after the 3 days, he worked hard, but he said he was friendly with the lady the foreman boarded with, and she may have talked him into it. He stayed on the job until it was done, hauling gravel to East Alstead from Alstead, the same site where the proposed gravel pit is now.

During the end of the Depression, he worked for the state, pulling gooseberry plats, which were a cause of blister rust in pine trees. After the hurricane in 1938, he worked cleaning old roads of debris.

During World War II, he worked in the mica mines, which became a high-priority government job for the war. Because he was working in northern N.H., gas rationing didn’t hurt him, because the rationing agents would give him as much as he could use. He also remembers rationing meat, lard, and sugar, and covering windows for blackouts.

After the war, he continued working in the mines, and then he joined the state road crew, working until his retirement. After retirement he put all his time into his farm and gardens, which is what he is still doing today.

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