from the upcoming and untitled book about Northern Wisconsin

Depression Refrigeration

By Leon Anderson of St. Germain, Wisconsin

Born 1937

 

            My grandparents on both branches of my family tree immigrated to the U.S. from Sweden and Denmark shortly after the Civil War and homesteaded on sandy, rocky farmland near Mountain, Wisconsin. My father, Roy Anderson, the youngest of six siblings, lost both parents by the time he was twenty, then a year later, in 1932, lost the family farm when the bank foreclosed on the mortgage.

            With all his belongings in one suitcase and a quarter in his pocket, Roy hitchhiked north, ending up in Minocqua, where he found work at a gas station for 25 cents per day plus board and room. But more importantly, Roy discovered Wisconsin's Northwoods! He fell in love with the beautiful area and vowed someday he'd buy property and start a new life far from the world of sand and rock infested farms!

            Roy eventually returned to Mountain in 1935 and married his high school sweetheart, Esther Jorgensen. In 1937, a son, Leon was born to the couple. My parents scrapped up enough money to finally purchase land "up North" in 1938: 80 acres of wilderness and water for $3.00 per acre! Roy's dream had become a reality.

            We were living in Mountain, where Dad was employed at a WPA project for $1.25 per day, but somehow during the summers of 1938 and 1939 a small log cabin over1ooking a small, pristine lake in St. Germain took form. And on October 9, 1939, Roy, Esther, Leon, two dogs, and a cat moved into the yet unfinished log cabin they dubbed "The Homestead."

            Dad kept a diary at that time and the entry for Oct. 9, 1939 reads, "Moved to the lake today. Have $6.38 to our name and no job. Looks like a long winter ahead."

            That is was, along with many more!

            At the time, no other dwellings existed at Dollar Lake, as the small body of water was known by locals. Our nearest neighbors lived more than a mile away, and the tiny village of Sayner was three miles northwest of our home. No phone or electrical lines ran along county highway C, and so, neither of these utilities were available to us. No electricity meant no running water or electric lights.

            To overcome these inconveniences Roy pounded down 24 feet of galvanized pipe next to the kitchen sink and attached a hand pump to supply "running water." A "two-holer" outhouse was built down the hill next to a swamp as a substitute for an inside bathroom. Several kerosene lanterns and one Coleman gas lantern supplied lighting.

            Mom cooked on a wood-burning cook stove and we kept the small cabin warm in winter with a wood burning pot-bellied cast iron heater. This kept Dad busy cutting, splitting, and piling wood! During our first winter in St. Germain Dad partitioned off a portion of the cabin to create two small bedrooms. It wasn't much, but for us it was Home Sweet Home.

            The owner of the local general store in Sayner, Carl Eliason, generously allowed Dad and Mom to charge basic staples all winter simply on Dad's promise of "I'll pay the bill next summer as soon as I find work." The two shook hands and cemented the verbal contract! Trust in one another was much different than it is in this day and age!

            Securing fresh meat for protein was no problem, as deer were plentiful and most local families simply harvested deer and other varieties of wild game as the need to do so occurred, open season or not! Our immediate problem in 1939, and for many years to come, was solving the problem of long-term refrigeration. And Dad came up with a gem of a solution!

            A portion of our "back forty" contained a twenty-acre swamp oozing with ice cold spring water. Throughout the interior of the thickly forested swamp were numerous shallow, muddy "spring holes" where the muddy bottoms remained a chilly 38 degrees year-round. Mom would fill quart and two-quart glass Mason and Ball jars with fresh venison and Dad would fill his canvas Duluth backpack with the canned venison and carry it the quarter mile to one of the small spring holes.

            I vividly recall tagging along with Dad and watching him remove the pack from his back, set it on the spongy edge of the spring, roll up his sleeve, grin at me, and push a jar of venison into the icy water until it was completely covered by inky-black muck. When the entire load was hidden from sight, he'd wash the mud off his arm and hand and we'd walk home, secure in the knowledge we'd eat well whenever fresh meat was needed!

            Electricity finally arrived at our residence in mid-November of 1946. However, we didn't buy an electric refrigerator and freezer until 1949. So, the "refrigerator in the spring" remained our primary unit for keeping venison fresh until the summer of 1949.

            An "eight-party" phone line arrived in May of 1950, one TV channel broadcasting from Wausau, Wisconsin, was available by 1954 and by 1955 Dad verbally decreed "The Depression is finally over!"

            However, the story of our "venison in the spring" doesn't end yet!

            My dad, Roy, passed away very unexpectedly from a massive heart attack in December of 1961 at age 52. My wife, Peggy, and I purchased the family's property from Mom in 1966, which contained our original log cabin and a modern resort complex catering to summer vacationers from all across the nation. Our small lake had been re-named by the State of Wisconsin as "Kasomo Lake." "Kasomo Lodge and Resort" operated as a popular tourist destination from 1943-1975.

            By 1966, Peggy and I had four children, plus plans to expand our resort business to include other tourist related activities, one of which was constructing a complex of trout ponds in the swamp that contained the cold water springs.

            We obtained a permit to begin construction on the trout ponds in the spring of 1972. I hired a dragline operator to dredge three large ponds at the site where our former "venison cooler" was located.

            Our oldest child, Chris, age 13 at the time, begged me to allow him to stay home from school and watch the dragline dig our first pond. I somewhat reluctantly agreed and made him promise to stay clear of the machine and don't bother the operator!

            At the time I was teaching school in St. Germain and when I returned home that afternoon about four o'clock Chris had a surprise and a family heirloom waiting for me!

            Chris excitedly told me an almost unbelievable story. As he was sitting on the crest of an old abandoned logging railroad grade that ran next to the work site watching the mammoth machine enlarging the small spring where our venison once cooled, the operator discharged a dredge bucket filled with black muck. But a solid object was also in the bucket load of slop. Chris watched a mysterious object slide down the ever-growing pile of mud, which he first thought was a large rock.

            As the boom of the dragline swung back for another load, Chris quickly ran to the pile and retrieved the mystery object. He immediately remembered my stories concerning our hidden venison cooler and recognized the object as a long lost jar of his grandpa's and grandma's venison!

            The jar was a two-quart blue-tinted glass Ball canning jar with a zinc screw-on cover. Over the many years of the jar’s confinement in the cold water and mud, the contents had been reduced to a thick, sickly white colored liquid, which convinced our son not to open the top!

            But I did! Surprisingly the zinc top unscrewed fairly easily and the contents actually did not smell too awful! And so, we cleaned the container and displayed it on the top of a shelf in the lodge dining room as a “conversation piece” and a reminder of the “good old days” when folks survived by hard work and innovative thinking!

            P.S. The jar has actually had four homes. When originally purchased it was housed in The Homestead. After Chris recovered it in 1972, we displayed it in the dining room of our resort’s lodge, which was completed in 1949. Peggy and I sold the resort in 1976 and built a new tri-story home on the "back forty" just a hundred and fifty yards from the trout ponds where the Ball jar was recovered in 1972. Here it found a home on top of our kitchen cupboards. Once all four kids left the roost, we sold our much-too-large four-bedroom home in 2004 and built a much smaller "retirement home" on another portion of the "back forty" close to one of the trout ponds. As I finish this narrative the jar is presently situated atop Peggy's kitchen cupboards about 15 feet from my computer desk, smiling down on me and happy to be free from its almost watery grave!

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