Michael Rustad's Memories

Water Hauling Business

 

Prior to the late 1970s, Humboldt-St. Vincent Kittson Countydid not have a central water supply. The water supply near Humboldt wasvery alkaline and fetid. Each resident would have to build a large cisternto hold water. The cisterns were large but we were very water conscious.Water was always precious. Many families shared bath water to conserve water.

During the 1970s, water conservation became a nationwideissue. I grew up with water conservation. I remember that the rule forbath water was that the tub could not be drawn over 4". The fourthor fifth person using that water would find that water level to be inadequate. We were urged to use the out houses in the summer and fall to save water. In my first seven years, we had no indoor plumbing in our house at town. The chamber pot was used versus the flush toilet! One of my greatest motivationsfor attending college was to gain access to a good library as well as unlimitedwater for baths and showers.

Water was hauled by tanker trucks to the farm. My fatherAlfred "Rustee" Rustad had a water hauling business from the mid-1950sto the early 1961 when he assumed the position of Postmaster at Humboldt. My Mother participated in the water hauling business by keeping recordsof calls and finances. The business was not especially profitable but itwas the only real cash flow.

Our farm consisted of only one quarter of land plus anotherquarter of rented farm. I cannot recall a good crop any year of my childhood. The crop seemed always to be destroyed by hail, excessive rain, too littlerain, or rust infestation. We frequently had extreme rain in the springthat made it difficult to seed the crops in time for a good harvest. Rainsduring harvest ruined other good crops.

Dad's water hauling business kept him on the road for muchof the week and weekend. Dad would purchase water from Pembina water plantrun by Johnny Monette or Emerson. He would purchase a tank for a coupleof dollars and sell it for around $5.00 depending on the distance he hadto travel. His business route extended to rural Hallock, Halma, Lancaster,as well as Humboldt. Clarence Iten had a competing business and servedmany of the residents of Humboldt. Dad also did the bulk of farm work duringthose years and had little time for leisure.

My Dad was extremely sociable and liked by everyone whoknew him and so his business flourished. He would frequently bring alongone or more of us kids to keep him company. When my sister Jamie was atoddler, she nearly fell out of the truck while they were crossing the bridgefrom Pembina to St. Vincent. She somehow opened the passenger's door andmy Dad managed to catch her as she was in the process of tumbling out thedoor. This incident shook him up. This incident occurred before Janinewas born in 1958. I also remember another incident when a wild bee enteredthe truck cab and bypassed Dad and stung my brother, Tony.

One of my favorite activities was to visit with friendsor shop in Pembina while my Dad was filling up his tanks. In the late 1950s,I was interested in baseball cards. My favorite team was the New York Yankeesand I had cards for all of my favorite players: Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra,and Mickey Mantle. I had a complete set of the Yankess from 1959 that wasstolen from me in Pembina. We would occasionally face bullies in Pembinaand learn to avoid certain characters. One bully once struck me in thehead with a rock. Most of the residents of these towns were friendly, thoughI was once given a bloody nose in Emerson by a kid who called me a "Yankee." However, these incidents are minor in contrast to the youth violence thatis now so pervasive. The Emerson kid clocked me hard in the nose and Ican still remember the blood streaming into the swimming pool. I still havea slight bump in my nose from the blow.

I think that the water hauling route was more than justa business. Dad had a very strong sense of compassion for the elderly. He wouild frequently do little chores for some of his older customers. I remember once he even got on top of a roof to help an elderly man fixthe flashing on his roof. One of his customers was Harry Wilson and hissisters. Harry Wilson, Belle Wilson and their other sister (I cannot rememberher name) lived near the Joe River. When we delivered water to the Wilsons,we were always invited in the house for refreshments. Belle thought thatmy Dad was deserving of her best pies and pastries. I have a memory ofnot liking her green tomatoe pie at all but trying to finish a molassesflavored pie which seemed to me to be sickenly sweet.

One day Harry asked my Dad to take a look at a motor inhis barn. I tagged along to the barn and was horrified by the rats thatran freely in the barn. I had never seen rats so brazen. I jumped on topof my Dad's back because I was afraid that the rats would bite me or attackme. The rats had literally overrun the barn and were openly eating throughbags of feed and running around the barn in a whirlwind. I asked Dad aboutthe incident and told him how afraid I was of the rats. He told me thathe was just as startled by the horrifying rats in Wilson's barn.

Dad's water hauling business came to an end after he wasappointed as Postmaster in Humboldt in 1961. The Humboldt Post Office wasa perfect venue for my Dad because it placed him in daily contact with everyonein the community. My Dad's motto was that if you cannot find anything niceto say about anyone, keep silent.

He always advised us to look for the best qualities inpeople. I don't believe that he had a single person who disliked him. Dad decorated the walls of his Post Office with arrowheads from his extensivecollection. He transformed the Post Office into a community center andstill complied with almost all of the Post Office regulations. Everyonein the community was glad to see Rustee to pick up their mail and chit chatabout the latest sporting event, crop report, or person excelling in college. My Dad and the Humboldt Post Office position was a match made in heaven. He loved his job. I think he preferred going to the Post Office to vacationdays.

Dad's routine in the Post Office was to take a coffee breakeach day at Pearl's Inn. He had a regular group of friends who congregatedat Pearl's. I can still hear Pearl chuckling at one of my Dad's anecdotes. This was a community where everyone had a sense of community. It was comfortingto know that Pearl was at the counter, Bob Boatz and Punky Maier in theElevator, and Don Brown or Monte Bloomquist at the service station. Ithink that my Dad was glad to be out of the Water business and into thePost Office.

The Postmaster position was a federal civil services positionand gave our family financial security, but not wealth by any means. I rememberthat the summer of the first year Dad was in the Post Office, we went ona family vacation for the first time.

Our destination was my mother's sister's home in ClintonIowa! I remember staying in a $6 hotel room in Southern Minnesota. Wehad a great time in Iowa playing baseball and getting acquainted with ourcousins.

My brother Tony and I were able to play baseball on mycousin's Babe Ruth team. Tony and I both hit home-runs. We were ringersof sort because we had been practicing hitting the baseball over the barnall summer. We turned our farm yard into kind of a Fenway Park. If wecould hit the ball against the barn, it was a double. A triple was intothe chicken wire or yard. A home run was into the stock pond or over thebarn. The chickens were quite terrified by our baseball game, though wenever killed a single chicken with a baseball! We did, however, break severalof the windows in the barn which did not make my father very happy. Lifewas good in the early 1960s especially after my father stopped hauling waterand began sorting mail.ther very happy. Lifewas good in the early 1960s especially after my father stopped hauling waterand began sorting mail.