Rex's family history in the county started in 1869, when his great grandfather, Alexander Franklin Salmon of Scotland, arrived to claim 160 acres of prairie land under the 1862 Homestead Act signed by President Lincoln. "Sandie," as he was known, cut trees along the Blue River and built a cabin before returning to Wisconsin to marry Jean Rutherford on February 22, 1870. They honeymooned in a covered wagon pulled by two oxen on the return trip. Rex's grandfather, Tom Salmon, was born in the cabin five miles west of Stockham on March 3, 1871. Rex's great grandparents on his Grandma Lizzie Salmon's side, Albert and Myra Thayer Detamore, arrived at Giltner from Illinois in 1886 to join other family members.
Duty called while he was attending the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in February of 1956, and the Military led Rex to San Diego, California. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and graduated from San Diego State in 1965. Editor of three San Diego County newspapers, Rex retired from the San Diego Tribune in 1992, where he had been photo editor, graphics editor, copy editor, and writer-photographer.
Rex's parents were A F "Shorty" and Luella May Delano Salmon. He has five siblings living within 25 miles of Aurora and one living near Phoenix. Rex married Lynn Ballast, from Denver. They have no children, but many wonderful friends.
If you have comments on Rex's memories -- or perhaps your name was mentioned -- he would love to have you e-mail him at Rex L. Salmon.
Dripping Double-Dip of Pure Pleasure
How could the world get any better in the summertime than sitting in the Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor in Aurora contemplating a dripping double-dip of pure pleasure?
Ice Cream didn't happen much to this farm boy in the mid-1940's, so when my parents had five cents to spare for a double delight, I was sure I'd died and gone to Heaven.
World War II was ending and the soldiers and sailors were coming back to Hamilton County. They'd be greeted with a pat on the back and verbiage like, "Glad to see you're back from the Front" -- the War Front. It took me years to figure out the meaning.
The world was safe again and the nightly blackouts on the farm were over. Windows didn't have to be covered to prevent enemy pilots from zeroing in on the ammo dump at Hastings or the ammunition plant at Grand Island. Our kerosene lamps glowing through the windows could again be a cheery sight to nighbors passing by in the dark.
The whole world was at peace, especially for this farm boy of seven years when he pictured himself being seen in the Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor with a cone. The vision and anticipation were what a young farmer’s dreams were made of. My dad had visions of corn growing in those hot dry years of the 30's and 40's. An important vision of mine was walking south from the courthouse to that green and white palace devoted to pleasure. That was P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E with a capital P, which rhymes D for devotion, T for treasure, and E for eating.
Now, not to mislead you, there were other spots around the square where you could get ice cream, but it was only a sideline business. At the two soda fountains -- Charlie Rutherford's Drugstore on the north side by J.C. Penney's and Lee Steele's Rexall Drugstore on the west side by the Mazda Theater -- ice cream came in a little fancy bowl standing proud on one leg. But we’re talking big money here, maybe 15 cents with peanuts and chocolate poured over it. Why, land sakes alive, for 15 cents this smart-minded economical farm boy could get a double-dip cone on three visits to town. Why blow it all on one trip?
I also heard that restaurants had ice cream. On the east side of the square, there were the Little Owl Diner in a railroad car and Van Housen's Lockerplant and Café, on the north the SYA Café, and on the west Cora's Café. Going east along Highway 34 there were also a café at the J.B. Weem's Sinclair and at the Frontier service.
Family Gathered To Eat, Not Dine
I didn’t have first-hand knowledge of these places because my family never ate in a restaurant. Our kitchen with its cob-burning stove was where we six kids were fed. We gathered around the table to eat, not dine. It was "Work hard, eat fast, sleep quickly and do it again the next day."
Oh, yes, the grocery stores -- Safeway, Red and White, Jack and Jill, and even the South Side Grocery on 9th Street -- must have had ice cream, but this farm boy only remembers where the real stuff came in cones. My mother Luella didn't buy ice cream from grocers because it didn’t store well on a cupboard shelf. We country folk 50 years ago didn’t have plug-ins in the house for those cooling boxes which did not require a block of ice. Who needed electricity? The sun gave us all the light we needed, besides when it got dark, the chickens went to roost and we turned in likewise. We could see with kerosene lamps in the house and a lantern for the barn -- but that’s two others stories.
Speaking of ice cream, those city slickers sure knew how to live. Boy, not only did they have a summer ice cream parlor, but they also had concrete paths and a pretty grass pasture around the courthouse. They could even walk in the rain and not get muddy. On the farm I scraped so much mud off my shoes that I thought it was my middle name. "Rex, mud!" my mother would remind me as I stood on the back porch. "Scrape that mud off your shoes before you track it on my clean kitchen floor." I never had that problem walking into Dad's barn, corncrib, henhouse, or granary.
No problem either with tracking at the Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor, because I got an ice-cream high just contemplating the best-eatin’ stuff in the world. I must have floated in because the whole store was a dream that captured this farm boy’s tastebuds and imagination. Oh, the aroma was even heavenly.
Dream with me as I enter the Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor! Pull open one of the tall green screen doors and enter this farm boy’s Disneyland of the Future. Many fans are whirling from the tall ceiling, on the left behind the big counter is our "Ice Cream Woman" and you see that the big room has three or four rows of green wooden chairs with arms. The walls have giant pictures of kids and bigger kids enjoying ice cream. Oh, look there’s already six kids and their mothers here feeding their faces. Just being here and being seen by other kids looking in the big windows were also highs, even if I didn't know them. Can it get any better? Yep, when we're licking our own cones. We can get a double-dip cone for five cents or a malted milk for 12 cents, but I don’t know anything about sundaes, or floats or other disguises for ice cream. Remember, the store is only open in ice-cream weather -- summertime.
Beat The Hot Summer Afternoon
Tell me, friend, how could you beat a hot summer afternoon cooled by a double-dip vanilla ice cream cone while sitting under a fan in the ice cream parlor? You could be daring and order a mixed chocolate and vanilla cone. Maybe there were other flavors, but this farm boy didn’t venture far into the unknown. (I found out that the "Ice Cream Woman" was Mrs. Tivis while attending the 1970 Hamilton County Nebraska Picnic at Bixby Park in Long Beach, Calif.)
I had no idea what was in ice cream that made it taste so good, but I found out when Grandpa Joe Delano said we were going to have homemade ice cream for dessert on Thanksgiving. He and Grandma Grace lived on the James McKeand homestead by the Blue River five miles west of Stockham. (A grandson of the McKeands was James Kirk, who was office manager of the Aurora News-Register for many years.) Homemade ice cream? Life was getting better down on the farm.
It was Grandma Grace’s job to prepare the formula for ice cream. I watched and I got an education that day. Boy, did I! She put milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and something from a bottle that ended in "nilla." Why, for goodness sakes, cows and chickens helped make ice cream! It was the farms that made it possible for the city slickers to have that fancy ice cream parlor.
This farm boy started not to feel so deprived. From then on, as I gathered eggs from the nice cackling Leghorn hens and helped to milk our three Holstein cows, I kind of felt akin to ice cream. I had my hand in the production of this wonderful taste treat. On Saturday nights, my folks would take the cream and eggs to town to sell at Shaneyfelt Produce so they could get a couple of dollars to buy flour in printed cloth sacks for sewing and other supplies around town, which is another story.
Back to the homemade ice cream. I was all eyes as Grandpa took the metal tank of Grandma’s formula and placed it in a wooden bucket and he snapped a crank handle on top of it. In the meantime, Dad got some ice from the Blue River and put it in a gunny sack and beat it to chips with a hammer. Grandpa dumped the ice around the tank, then he did something funny. He poured salt on the ice. I asked why, and Grandpa Joe said "it makes the ice colder." It blew my mind: how could cold get colder? (I learned many years later that rock salt with water makes brine and it freezes at 0 degrees. That’s what the German scientist Daniel Fahrenheit found out in 1724 so he marked 0 degrees on his thermometer scale that we use today because it was the coldest temp he could make in the lab.)
Homemade Ice Cream Cranks Up Patience
So, the ice and rock salt are in place and Dad started cranking. Then Grandpa would crank, then Dad again. My brother Steve and I took turns sitting on the machine to add weight. It seemed to take forever and the air was freezing also, so I’d run inside and watch from the front room window. I was helping by being a part of the great moment, but I didn’t know what patience was. I thought waiting for Christmas Eve took a long time, but that’s another story.
Finally, when Dad’s strong arm couldn’t turn the crank, the formula had become ice cream. It’s ready, but hold it . . . more waiting. Not only did the ice cream have to "set" but we had to eat the turkey dinner first. Eat food at a time like this? Life sometimes goes in the slow lane for a young farm boy. Sure, we learned some patience from planting corn, watching for sprouts, cultivating it, hilling it, picking it, cribbing it, and shelling it, but waiting another hour to open up the ice cream machine took a special calling. I made excuses twice to get up from the big pulled-out table just to peek out the front room window to make sure the ice cream was still there.
OK, the food was good, but let’s focus on what I knew was the main event of the day. While the womenfolk cleared the table, Grandpa Joe brought in the gleaming tank dripping with salt water. Excitement was building and I’d left plenty of room to eat a big bowl of homemade ice cream. Imagine, now eating ice cream on the farm. Could it get any better than this?
Oh, look! Grandpa just pulled a "paddle" out of the tank. It sure wasn’t the kind of paddle I’d been introduced to by Dad. Grandpa kept the paddle loaded with ice cream for himself, and then Grandma Grace started dishing out the ice cream. There were many around the table, so the dishes weren’t as big or as full of ice cream as I was dreaming, but I found out I had to take my time eating homemade ice cream. Grandpa warned us kids not to eat it very fast. Something tasting that good was hard to slow down. Wow, what a headache! I thought someone dropped the heavy crank on my head. Grandpa Joe noticed I shut my eyes and held my head. "See, didn't I warn you not to eat so fast," he said smiling at me. A couple of headaches a bowl was a good average, but worth it.
Over a half century later, I still have a vivid memory of the beautiful Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor in Aurora, painted in glistening white and trimmed in a soft light green. For church and school picnics, Fairmont would put ice cream in a 3-foot tall tub wrapped in padded canvas to keep it cold. I remember when the ice cream was gone, I’d open the flap, lower my face in, and breathe deeply. Oh, the aroma carved my scent trail for life. Even in 2002, when I get a whiff from a vanilla ice cream carton, my mind flies back to the Ice Cream Parlor and the ice cream in the park.
I say again, can life get any better than having a double-dip ice cream cone with this young farm boy?
©: Rex L. Salmon 2002
Feeding The Icebox Was A Real Summertime Chore
Back in the 1940's when I was a lad the only refrigeration we had on the farm was when Ol' Man Winter came blowing in and turned our whole county into an icebox.
Our fresh-butchered meat stayed frozen on the back porch shelves, while milk and eggs were kept from freezing in our pantry behind the kitchen cookstove. A left-over roast would freeze overnight on the screened porch and be good for a few days unless Penny, our yellow English-Fido cattle dog, snuck onto the porch for a midnight snack.
But then as spring rolled into summer, nature's icebox went on vacation. Then it was a continuous headache improvising ways to extend the life of milk and meat on the farm. The challenge was keeping fresh food edible.
Often when the whole milk started clabbering, Mom made cottage cheese with it, so the milk wasn't entirely wasted. She'd put the curdles in a little white bag sewn from a flour sack and hang it on the clothesline to drip dry.
So, without electricity, how did we keep our perishable food cold in the summertime down on the farm?
Enter the piece of furniture called the icebox. Every up-to-date kitchen had one of these varnished wooden cabinets, garnished with snazzy brass handles to brag about but the icebox came with a price. The wood on the icebox could even be selected to match the oak on the sideboard and the solid oak table and chairs . . . that is, if your cookie jar bank would permit it.
However, the real price came in keeping the prized object fed with ice. As the weather got hotter, the icebox got hungrier! Spring and summer were especially busy times when field work was tacked onto the chores: Milking morning and night, slopping the hogs, feeding the chickens and gathering eggs, haying the horses, and making sure all the animals had water to drink.
So you see, garnering ice came with a high price in intensive labor, that is, getting the ice and emptying the drip pan.
Cold of Winter Captured
The icebox became a necessity in capturing the cold of winter and introducing it to the heat of summer. Natural ice was the answer for both the farmer and his city slicker cousin. Artificial ice had to wait until electricity arrived, and wait until refrigeration was invented, and then, the farmer had to have enough silver dollars to rub together to afford it.
Since the ponds, lakes, and river were frozen in the winter, why not cut ice, haul it, store it, and then cool the icebox with it in the summertime? So that's what pioneers in the cold-winter states did, including our homesteaders in Hamilton County from the 1870s to the 1930s.
They harvested corn, oats, wheat, barley, and alfalfa in the summer to provide food for themselves and their animals in the winter. Then they harvested ice in the winter to keep their household food cool in the summer. For some farmers, ice became another cash crop by selling it to neighbors. Some even had a special wagon pulled by horses for delivering ice to customers in Aurora and its sister villages.
How did we store winter's ice on the farm so that it wouldn’t melt in warm weather before we could use it? The answer is the ice house, some of which were in hillsides, but most were 50 to 75-foot deep silos lined with bricks. The ice was packed in wheat or oat straw for insulation and to prevent the blocks from freezing together. The roof of the ice house was A-framed with a block and tackle pulley system to lower or hoist the ice -- just like we used for silage for the cows.
This farm boy remembers discovering an ice house in the early 1940's at the James McKeand homestead along the Blue River west of Stockham. I was in the garden eating extra-ripe strawberries as fast as I could pick them and spied this A-frame building at the corner of the garden fence with the roof almost touching the ground.
My young brain told me either a shed sank into the ground or a tornado blew the roof off a nearby building. I asked Grandpa Joe (Delano), who was renting the farm, and he told me it was an ice house. "A house for ice?" I asked, thinking the kidder was at it again. Grandpa opened a swinging door of the ice house for me and it looked like a regular brick silo but located too far from the barn for livestock. What an ice chest!
Farmers Helping Farmers
Harvesting ice was a neighborhood project, much like when farmers helped each other in threshing time, or when shelling corn, or at harvesting bees.
"Icing" was hard work, but a lot cooler than laboring in summer's heat. The cold winter time has always been considered as down time on the farm, so days were spent sawing the frozen rivers and ponds into blocks of ice, then transporting it on sleds or wagons pulled by horses. A hayrack of straw was stationed beside ice house door so the ice could be layered.
Ice harvesting was also a great time for the wives to chat while preparing hot food and soup for the hungry cold workers. Young boys scampered about the farm, watching their dads work, skating on the ice, or having jumping contests in the haymow. When jumping from the rafters, straw also made soft landings . . . besides insulating the stored ice blocks.
Progress brought harvesting ice slowly to an end as (1) horseless carriages arrived (2) electricity was wired into towns, and (3) refrigeration became commercially profitable.
By the time this farm boy came on the scene, ice harvesting had all but died out. I was told about the good old days on the ice. Oh, there was still plenty of free ice on the rivers and ponds, but the farmers learned during their trips to market their crops that the modern city slickers had the latest fangled things available.
On the north side of the Aurora square, E. R. Springer’s storefront was entirely glass to display his latest wares -- both gas and electric washing machines, gas cooking stoves, and that wonder of all wonders, a refrigerating machine called the Frigidaire. Just think, wives could keep their milk and Jell-O (which was important to this young farmer) cold year-round without hauling ice and emptying the drain pan (the latter chore which was also a real pain to this young farmer). The machine could even keep ice cream frozen until you wanted to eat it. No waiting for Ol' Man Winter when you were the proud owner of this fabulous invention.
But on the farm, we could only dream about owning this refrigerating machine (that's what the originals were called) -- once we learned how to pronounce refrigeration . . . and could afford it!
We still used kerosene for lighting and we used wood, coal, and cobs for heating. In the late 1940's, electricity was working its way out from Aurora on lines being installed by the federal REA project. (That's the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 administered by the Department of Agriculture. I learned that much later. I just knew it as REA.) I remember seeing crews across the road from our farm in 1947 digging wide deep holes along the ditch next to barbed-wire fences. I really wondered what kind of animals they were going to put in the pasture that needed tall poles like that.
I was a 9-year-old supervisor watching them raise the big post with a crane, drop it in the hole, pack it, and then watch as men would somehow step slowly up the giant post, and add little wooden wings at the top with glass caps. This much excitement on the farm ranked right up there with Christmas, or having the grandparents come to the farm for Thanksgiving dinner. Climbing trees was also a challenge to me, but I couldn't go up one as fast as these pole climbers. I couldn't see that they had any special thing on their boots.
The REA crew returned soon and started unraveling wire along the road. The men somehow walked up the pole again and attached the wire to the glass caps. Weeks later, as I was walking down the road, I kept hearing what I thought were muffled voices singing. I discovered that the sound was from the wires and that this stuff called electricity must be passing through.
But, alas, the electricity didn’t turn into our farm. It just hummed on by. In the meantime we had to keep our icebox fed with ice when summer was hot upon us. Where did we get the ice? From the Aurora Ice Plant, located behind the Aurora Electric Company in the alley between K and L streets by 13th Street. The giant Aurora city water stand pipe was next door.
In the hottest weather, a trip north into town to the ice plant was required every third day. City slickers who couldn't afford a refrigerating machine had their ice delivered first by horse and dray wagons, and then on flatbed trucks. However, we on the farm had to drive to town, taking care of any business first -- maybe even getting a five-cent double-dip ice cream cone from Fairmont's if Mom’s pocketbook still had a few coins -- and then as we left town, stop to get the ice. Then we headed straight home before too much of the ice melted.
Ice Man Appears
Ordering ice at the ice plant was always a mystery to me. Dad worked hard on the farm, so it was Mom's job to get ice. She would drive up to the waist-high dock in the alley, get out and push a black button. After a few times, I pushed my shyness aside and pressed my luck on the magic button. A few minutes later, a man would appear dressed in winter coat and hat during our hot summers. He'd also be wearing a long canvas apron. He’d ask "What size?" We had a 50-pound icebox, so Mom would say "50." The ice man would disappear and then return in a few minutes dragging the ice block with tongs. He'd jump off the dock, place the ice on the floorboard of the back seat of our 1934 Chevy, take a coin from Mom, and then hop back up on the dock and disappear again into the darkness. I don't remember the price, but it must have been around 25 cents. My sis Pauline tell me his name was Mr. Swanson, but my mind goes blank on his title.
Dad had always been a Ford man -- with his Model T and his Model A -- but he regretted buying this Chevy when it threw rods twice while he was gunning the motor trying to drive through the deep mud ruts on our rural roads. Despite that few county roads had gravel, we had to get ice no matter the weather. Mom said to make sure the handmade rug covered the ice entirely so it wouldn't melt so fast. Somehow, my lips turned ice cold on about every ice trip. My brothers and sister Pauline didn't tattle on me because we took turns, but if you were lucky enough to be riding shotgun in the front passenger seat, you "got no licks." It would be a dead giveaway leaning over the seat.
So, it's now 1947. Electricity is across the road, but we still have our old wooden icebox. It's about 4 feet square with four doors held by brass clasps. The inside is lined with sheets of galvanized metal covering the insulation. The big door on the left is where the block of ice goes. The smaller door below holds the drip pan catching the melting water.
When Mom spies water running across the kitchen floor, it means that this young drip named Rex hasn’t been watching the pan close enough. Every time that water runs across the floor, the kitchen gets a scrubbing so it wasn't that bad -- just an inopportune time, I guess.
Half of the icebox is taken up by the ice and pan, so there wasn’t much room left for food. Keeping milk, cream, butter, meat, salad, plus setting the Jell-O, was pretty much all that was in the ice box. Eggs were kept in the pantry or cellar in either a 15-dozen crate or a 30-dozen crate, depending how many hens we had and how many were molting.
Much of the food in the summertime was eaten fresh so the icebox wasn't really overloaded. Vegetables were eaten from the big garden, plus extra seeds were planted so Mom could can the vegetables for the dinner table in the wintertime. Boiled beef was also canned. The cellar was the home for all the canned goods plus the potatoes, onions, and apples. No problem with freezing in the winter because the temperature stayed at 55 degrees year-round in the cellar. In tornado weather, the cellar was also home many a night for our neighbors and our family. We kept a kerosene lamp and matches in a fruit jar for such scary times.
Meat Kept Fresh on "Hoof"
For fresh two-legged meat in summer, we’d get 200 male chicks in late winter and raise them in the hot brooder house. It was always so much fun to watch the chicks turn from a fluffy yellow to white miniature roosters. In 6 to 8 weeks, we’d have fried chicken for dinner -- the noon meal. No refrigerating machine was needed when the meat was walking about . . . waiting their turn.
When Mom asked for a rooster, my brother Steve and I would grab a leg hook and I’d toss out a handful of corn for "The Last Meal." We had a tree stump which we called the execution block. We took the fryer to Mom, who had a pail of boiling water waiting that she'd heated on the wood-burning stove. After a few minutes of dipping, she would tie its feet to the clothesline and I'd start pulling out the feathers, dropping them into a bushel basket to be used later for stuffing pillows and mattresses.
Mom would singe the plucked chicken over the kitchen stove. She’d remove a lid from the big cast-iron cookstove, drop in a few more cobs to get a high flame to burn off the tiny fuzzy feathers. Within a few minutes, the naked bird was all cut up and the rooster sure wouldn’t recognize himself. The pieces were rolled in flour and fried in a large black iron pan. Oh, what good eating! There’s nothing like the wonderful taste of eating chicken that went from hoof to plate in an hour.
Meat wouldn’t stay very fresh for long in the icebox because it just wasn’t that cold. Whenever we wanted chicken for dinner -- which was at noon -- we simply went outside and got one. As the 50-pound of ice became 25 pounds, or 5 pounds, the cold air in an icebox would disappear. It would be time to head toward the Ice Plant again.
Maybe you were wondering what happened to a whole beef frozen on the back porch? One family couldn’t eat a butchered beef or pork fast enough before it spoiled. This is where the practice of curing the meat in salt came about to prevent it from spoiling. When they wanted to eat it, they boiled the meat for a long time and kept changing the water to get rid of extra salt. This farm lad saw some smoke houses where some neighbors smoked and salted pork, but not beef.
So, how did we preserve half a beef in the summertime?With electricity and refrigeration in Aurora came the arrival of something called "lockers." The Farmers Union Creamery at 9th and G streets had one and so did Van Housen's Café on the east side of the square. Large rooms were insulated and turned into freezers with individual wire-cage boxes for rent made from unpainted 2x4's and chicken wire.
Our rented unit -- about 3 foot -- square had a latch where we could place our own padlock. Talk about a cool spot in the summertime!! This young lad would go into the locker barefooted and shirtless -- my summer attire, except for Sunday-Go-Meetin’ at Prairie Gem Church. The locker would be just like winter on our back porch . . . in the summertime.
In 1950 when our house was wired, the folks bought a Leonard refrigerator. It was my measuring guide as I was growing. It wasn’t very tall, but I couldn’t see over the top. In two years I was a foot taller and thought it had shrunk. We had several refrigerators over the years, but Dad called all of them the icebox, or Frigidaire - no matter what brand.
I cherish the memories of the icebox I once knew but I don’t desire to live with it again. That drip pan was a pain in the . . . . back when you had to empty it when full . . . without making a mess on Mom's clean floor!
©: Rex L. Salmon 2002