Grandfather’s Grandkids ParadiseBy Kent Converse
was lucky, for about twelve years, I had a Grandpa who would be every kids dream. He had a farm which any boy or girl would love.
The farm was about midway between Pawnee Rock and Radium. It was on the border of Pawnee and Stafford Counties. It had sandy loam soil, which was easy to work and grew trees and gardens easier than most places.
I didn’t get to see my Grandpa Converse much. In those days twenty-five miles seemed a long-distance. I might have been able to spend one or two days a year on Grandpa’s farm. But what a delight. He had about everything a young boy would like.
His garden was the first thing I noticed. His plants were about four times bigger than mine. His soil was easy to work. He had grapevines and a great orchard. He had a cider press. He had chickens, hogs, cattle and horses. He had a great barn, silo, workshop, cooling house. He had a small elevator with a dump pit. Just like, but smaller than those wooden grain elevators in town. He ran the elevator with an old water-cooled one-piston engine with a big flywheel that drove a huge belt to the elevator that ran the grain leg. He had a scale platform to weigh the trucks. He had a great two-story house, big enough for six boys, which he and Grandma reared. He had interesting furniture. A square table that had so many leafs that it could be stretched out to seat all his family’s six boys, their wives and the older grandchildren. The younger ones had to sit in the kitchen. He had what was called a love seat, piano and a radio. The radio was listened to every night to hear some preacher from Dalhart Texas. My Dad said Grandpa was a sucker for those preachers’ offerings. There was an incubator in the basement where we could watch chickens hatch, egg candling equipment, lard press and rows on rows of Grandpa’s canned vegetables. His sauerkraut was the best in the world.
He made so much of it we ate it for years after he died. Grandma made such interesting things as green tomato pie.
Grandma had a toaster that was the best in the world. Her toaster let you butter the bread before you toasted it. She had a great wood-burning stove. Besides cooking food it also heated water.
It was the little things that Grandpa dreamed up that really interested me. He had strings and wire running through all his orchard trees somehow hooked up to cans within cans. You could
Stand on his porch and pull this rope and cans would jiggle and make noise in every tree in his orchard to scare away the birds from his fruit.
An orchard had a biblical ring to me. You know, the Garden of Eden. I guess that is what I thought when I was walking through his orchard. You could reach up and pick an apple pear, peach or plum. Enjoy some grapes or cherries. When the apples would fall off, no problem, make a great cider.
Maybe better than all the above was Grandpa’s fishpond. Just to the east of his place on what is now Uncle Harvey’s land was a big mud hole. Most farmers would want to fill it in or drain it. Grandpa thought differently. Instead of fixing it he made it bigger by scooping it out more to make a dike around it. Then he installed a windmill for more water and he had a fishpond. Then he planted trees around it and built a rickety old walk with post and planks out to the middle of it. Then he built a platform to fish from.
This probably wasn’t very big and I understand now that the water was only two to four feet deep. But to a little kid it was like an ocean. We could fish off the platform all-day and catch several fish. I suppose they were not too big but to a kid they were big enough.
After fishing all-day Grandpa would show us the easy way to fish. We would get in his “Hudson Flyer” which I think was the car’s model name. We would take out through the sand-hills at what seemed a great speed. As it would go over a small hill it would momentarily leave the ground and Grandpa would say: “See, it really does fly.” Then he would stop and pull out his single shot .22 rifle and shoot a jackrabbit.
We would go back to the fishpond and he would pull up this fish trap and put the dead jackrabbit in. The next morning the trap would be full of fish. We would then have a great fish fry and our parents would come and take us home. I have great memories of those days. In many ways I have tried to have the grandkids paradise he created on my farm. I of course haven’t come close. It was not just the things Grandpa had, but it was he, Grandma, Uncle Howard and Aunt Eloise across the road with my two cousins Betty and Barbara. Two of the really nicest girls I have ever known. Uncle Percy and Aunt Helen further down the road with cousins Charles and Keith. Keith could make Grandpa’s piano come alive. Charles was the WW II veteran who I always tried to get to talk about the War but he wouldn’t. My other Uncles Merle and his wife Marie, Harvey and Marcile with cousins Jean Anne and Patty, Uncle Glenn and Esther with Carole and Arlyn.
Before I sign off on this I must tell you not another memory but something I have been told many times:
Grandpa was the Watermelon King of Pawnee County
This story has been told to me many times from many people who have memories of Charles Converse and his boyhood’s watermelon exploits.
Grandpa got interested in watermelon growing in the late twenties and early thirties. Those were the days of the large watermelon. Some weighing 100 pounds or more. He bred a special melon - a cross between a Tom Watson and a Klackley Sweet. He planted the two varieties in the field and they crossed. Each year he would take the best melons for seed. Grandpa and his boys raised about twenty acres of melons. His boys sold them all over western Kansas.
What most people remember were his Saturday and Sunday watermelon feeds. For the one feed you see in the photographs they picked 100,000 pounds of watermelons to sell. They picked a few thousand more for the feed. The best melons were saved for the feed because this is where they got their seeds for next year. Over two thousand people would show up on some weekends to eat watermelon. The people were instructed to spit out their seeds on a screen. Grandpa and his boys sold watermelons and got their seeds for next year in one operation. What they sold went from ¼ cent to ½ cent a pound.
This was of course a great social gathering. I still meet people who when learning my name, tell me about going to the watermelon feeds. One of the mysteries of the time was the German women who would show up in the fall and buy all the little green watermelons. What did they do with them? My cousin Carole when she went to Hays to school met some of them. She was told the Germans would pickle the small green watermelons whole.
The down side of this is that all six boys developed bad backs razing watermelons. 20 acres is a lot of watermelons. This was before herbicides so it meant a lot of hoeing. Harvesting they would drive their old Roe truck through the field and like an assembly line they would spread out in the field and throw the watermelons from one to the other until they were placed on the truck.