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Denton Community
Historical Society

Tales & Trails
March 2008

A Trip Down a Lane 
Filled with Herb Elrod’s Memories


The following story comes from a taped interview given by Herb Elrod during a monthly meeting of the Denton Community Historical Society. The text is not Herb’s exact wording, but every effort has been made to be as accurate as possible as to his meaning. This transcript has been compiled by Don Daniel along with a personal interview with James Herb Elrod who passed away on Dec 13, 2007.

The timeline for Herb’s parents started with John D. Elrod being born in Sparta, Tennessee. He moved to Ashland, Nebraska, then to North Dakota, and then seven miles south of Pleasant Dale, Nebraska which is in Seward County and then to Lancaster County.

John D.’s father was killed while working in the timber. At the age of 13, John was sent to Ashland, Nebraska, to live with friends of John’s parents. Those friends were Leon and Sadie Barber Mays. John worked for Levi Mays, a carpenter, and met Florence Elizabeth Mays in Ashland where she was born.

The Fuller people, who lived west of Ashland, Nebraska, were friends of Sadie Barber Mays. John D. Elrod and Florence Elizabeth Mays wed in 1907. She was 22 years old. Herb was born in 1909. Two years later, 1911, Les was born and Bernard was born in 1914.

John D. and Florence Elizabeth took a ten-year lease on the Fuller land, but farmed it for only 6 years. At that time Mrs. Fuller died and her daughter, who Herb said was “a little devil” wanted the Elrod family off of the farm and offered them the cattle, horses and machinery if they would move. The attorney said that was a good deal and so they moved. They searched the “Nebraska Farmer” magazine for land for sale in Nebraska but found none that they wanted.

Herb was born in Ashland, Nebraska, and was 6 years old when the family moved to North Dakota. His family took their livestock and moved to Abercrombie, N.D. They were renting the land. The family lived in a caboose. They moved their gang plow, 3 cows, 6 horses, 6-foot disc plow, 6-foot binder.

In North Dakota they planted 320 acres of wheat with a 6 foot drill and harvested with a 6 foot binder. They also raised flax, barley, and oats. 

They hauled water from the town of Kent, Minnesota, which was across the Red River from the farm. They went once a week to get the water. There was a cistern under the kitchen to store the precious water. The livestock drank their water from the river, and there was an artesian well by the barn that flowed into the stock tank for the livestock. “But it was not good for drinking.”

This was a Norwegian community and many did not speak English. Winters froze them out. Mom said, “We will move if it’s the last thing we do.” The winter temperatures ran from -40 to -50 degrees (below zero). In 1918 the family moved. They sold the wheat for $6 a bushel (it was during World War I). They moved the machinery on a flat railroad car ($75 a car), and the cattle in a cattle car, an immigrant car for a family for $14. along with the household goods from Abercrombie to Township P, Seward County Nebraska.

They moved to the Christian/Herman land 7 miles south of Pleasant Dale, Nebraska. The land was near District 76 school house then ¾ west and ¼ south into the field. They paid $20 per acre for Seward County land.

“We had neighbors!” Herb said. Folks we got acquainted with first were Albert and Millie Petsch, the Novak’s, the Melichar’s, Bert Haist. We unloaded the immigrant railroad cars and took up residence in Seward County, Nebraska. It took 10-15 wagons to help move. We only lived in Seward County for 3-4 years.

Florence Elizabeth’s father (Herb’s grandfather) built the house in Seward County. Herb was 11-years old and hauled lumber from Crete, 5 miles with a team and a wagon running gear He hauled 20-foot lengths of 2 x 4’s for a two-story house in 1921-22. 

In the spring Herb’s dad would put him on the cultivator. He would cultivate on Mrs. Vaverka’s place. Mrs. Vaverka lived alone southwest of Elrod's. She would bring coffee and kolaches out to Herb. 

Herb remembers District 76 school had double desks and that he and Tony Patak sat together District 76 had 28 children in school and there was a bench that went all the way around the wall in that classroom and there was a recitation bench that was in the front of the teacher. Some of the teachers were: Carmen Brady, Helen Bromwell, Myrtle Haist, and Walter Bottrell.

He usually carried beef sandwiches or bread and syrup in his lunch pail. When asked if Herb was a good student; he said, “he didn’t want to talk about it” but then went on to tell that he and Tony Patak switched wheels on the teacher’s buggy. (They switched the large wheels on the back to the front and the small wheels to the rear.). But Les told on Herb and Herb said, “it wasn’t so funny when we got home.”

On May 1st the Seward County Superintendent of Schools came to Pleasant Dale and gave eighth grade tests and held the graduation ceremony and handed out report cards.

Herb graduated from the eighth grade. He drove a horse and buggy 7 miles to Pleasant Dale and graduated and he said “he could not drive the team home fast enough to tell Mom that he did not have to go to school anymore”. 
Herb related one story when they lived in Seward County. John D. Elrod and Herb took a load of wheat to the Denton Elevator and sold it and then Mr. Elrod bought a Liberty Car from Bert Bunnell who also sold Whippets.

Homer Davis then taught Mr. Elrod to drive. Homer Davis ran the garage. Herb took the team and empty wagon home with the admonition not to drive too fast. As Herb neared the District 76 school, he heard a “toot-toot” and his Dad passed him. By the time Herb got home, all the rest of the family had had a ride in the new car. A big change in life came next. Two sections of land became available in Lancaster County, section 33 in Denton precinct and section 4 in Highland precinct, known as Olaf Berggren land. 

The land agent told John Elrod, “Opportunity knocks just once”, and “you have these young sons growing up to help you”. So they bought the 2 sections. The land they bought in Lancaster County sold for $27 an acre for 1300 acres. It was the 2nd or 3rd day in February. Herb stayed alone at the new farm with the livestock. His dad helped Herb set up a little stove in the wash house, and he slept on a pile of gunny sacks. Herb is now 17 years old. Herb milked the cows. It started to snow hard and got very deep. Herb said, “He was scared to death”. However, the former tenants, the Hedvall's took him under their wing and fed him well. Herb said “Later they ran as many as 100 head of Hereford and 100 head of Angus with 400 acres of pasture for each.”

Another major event that Herb recalled was the Denton fire in 1930. There was a long ring on the phone on the wall telling everyone about the big fire, calling people to come and help. Les and Herb parked their cloth-top car by the school house, and went up to Main street and the Shaw’s Store and the bank were on fire. Someone suggested that they had better move the cloth top car farther away so it wouldn’t burn. The Peshek’s needed help and Les and Herb poured water on Peshek’s horse barn and their hotel.

Another incident that Herb remembered was the time that Les, Bernard and he were home alone and decided to tie the barn rope to the windmill tower. Then they slid down the rope. “Somehow” Herb said, “the wind blew the tower down, at least that is what they told their folks.”

The CCC camp was near the Elrod ranch. In conversation with someone at the camp, they mentioned that they could use some horses and Herb said that they had “four head of mules”. Bring them over the guy said. “Made some money” Herb recalled. Bernard Elrod remembers that Rufus Markle’s pond was where he learned to swim as well as many of the neighbor boys, and he remembers riding a mule to the pond.

Herb married Lydia Wickenkamp in May 1939. She was an artist from Crete, who painted his mother’s picture. Herb explains, “She was an artist, but not like my Mother. Mother, she was a real painter.” Lydia worked with Florence Elizabeth. Herb and Lydia had 4 children; Patricia Ann, Jim, Janice, and Carol. Lydia passed away in 1981.

Some information on the Elrod family:
John D. Elrod was born in 1885 and died in 1969.
• - Herb, oldest of the children—born 1909.
• - Leslie, 2 years later—born in western North Dakota, died May 2004 in Kimball Ne
• - Bernard, born in North Dakota
• - Joe, born in Seward County, Nebraska; died in 1982.
• - Sadie Elrod Juricek, born in Seward County, Nebraska.
• -George, born in Seward County, Nebraska

Herb continued his talk with remembrances about the Oregon Trail, the Elrod’s, and the O’Brien’s. Also about when Edna Rapp showed maps depicting the Big Rock on the Oregon Pass. The Oregon Trail went through the north section of the Elrod land. The Oregon Pass and the Mormon Trail went through the south section.

Herb remembers hauling grain to the Berks’ Elevator, Berks, Nebraska. He recalls times with Ray Giles, Vancel Skalak, Joseph Kraus. Another memorable event was when the Burlington Zephyr first came through Denton in 1936. “It would go 60 miles per hour.” 

He met Irma Flickinger in 1936. D. A. Jones and Herb hunted deer, red fox, and squirrels on Keller’s west of Gilbert’s. Henry Melichar and he hunted coyotes, got $2 each.

He spoke of Annabelle Peshek, Georgia Taylor Weathers, Joe Sullivan, Leona Melichar Kunz, Teresa Sullivan, and many other Sullivan’s. Another of Herb’s accomplishments was to study and pass the test to become an auctioneer on January 25, 1935. 

The above information is taken mainly from the presentation by Herb Elrod at a DCHS meeting and a personal interview with collaboration by Bernard Elrod and Sadie Juricek.