After the tanning business played out, my father went into the threshing business with a horse-drawn small engine, going from farm to farm after the crops were cut. Later, he was in the huckstering business to Pittsburgh for 13 years.
He would start out Monday morning and travel until Tuesday evening, gathering up eggs, butter, chickens and calves. To help sustain the calves, he would break a half dozen eggs into their mouths. The wagon was built like a prairie schooner and was drawn by four horses. In the front where he sat was a box filled with coffee, sugar, spices and thread, which he traded for commodities off the farm. The next box was a butter box, then a box that he packed the eggs in; a layer of oats and then a layer of eggs. Then at the back was a chicken coop with compartments that fit the back of the wagon and formed a pen for calves.
One morning, when starting for Pittsburgh, the chicken coop door came open and he scattered chickens along the road before he saw it. He never recovered any of the fine-feathered friends, but the farmers had some good chicken dinners at my father's expense. Once I remember one of the calves got loose and started for the creek, swam in the creek and took off on the other side. Brother Roy and I got on a horse and followed it for 2 miles, and I can see Roy riding the calf and lassoing it. That was the only time I ever saw him play cowboy. We had to come home and get a buggy to haul the calf home.
It was a hard, exacting life, as father left home early Wednesday morning and didn't get home until Saturday in the afternoon if the roads were good, or late at night if the roads were bad. Helen and I used to climb the "Knob," as we called the highest elevation of our place, and watch for him on summer afternoons. As soon as we sighted him, we started off to meet him as he always had some bananas, peanuts, a ring of bologna, etc. that seemed a treat to us.
He had to spend parts of Thursday and Friday dickering with the grocers and butcher shop owners to dispose of his load. If things were in good supply, this was hard to do, but sometimes, if calves and chickens were in short supply, the butchers would drive out with a horse and buggy to the edge of the city to meet him and get ahead of their competitors.
I have often wondered how our parents made as good a living as they did for themselves and seven children on 13 acres of ground, but we always had enough to eat, and as my mother was a good sewer and knitter, we looked as good as our companions. We were poor but didn't know it. Now everyone is underpriviledged if they don't have a bathroom and electricity, but it was 1902 before we even had a pitcher pump in the kitchen. This we regarded as quite a luxury. The telephone line was built about the same time, and then we had the entertainment of the "party line!"
Our family was a great family to read, and we read all the books we could get hold of in our community. I can remember Clara reading to Helen and me in the kitchen near the old coal stove on winter nights by an oil lamp. Our favorite was the Leather Stocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper. We sat with mouths open at the Indian tales.
My father, when I was rather young, thought I should get more interested in reading so he brought home Alice in Wonderland as a start, and when I had finished that, he got the History of the French Revolution. Quite a change of diet! But they were ambitious for us to broaden our horizon as much as possible and gave us all some eduation in the academics of that day.