Auto-biography of Jerry c russell The Early Years

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Auto-biography of Jerry C Russell

The Early Years

Updated 11/15/2007

The first of the Russell family in the new country was John Russell who came from England about 1710. John had a son Edward, who was active in the rebellion against the King. He was a leader in the early days of the activities that resisted taxation, and threatened rebellion. Edward signed the Association Test which was a document questioning whether to rebel or not. He was a delegate to the convention that wrote the Articles of Confederation. Edward lived in Merrimac County New Hampshire. He was a minister of the Church of Christ

Edward had at least six offspring. One son Samuel became a prominent Protestant minister. Samuel was born Sept 24 1798, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1821, and Andover Theological Seminary in 1824. He was pastor of Churches in Boulton Mass. and Huntington Mass. Another son was Jeremiah who was also a minister and lived in Concord New Hampshire. Not much is known about Jeremiah now.

Jeremiad had a son Peter Twiss Russell, who was to become the patriarch of the Russell family in the Midwest and my Great Grandfather. Peter was born April 13,1808 in Concord New Hampshire. He graduated from Philips Academy in Exeter New Hampshire and became a Methodist Minister. His first church was in Wayne County New York. While in New York he met Adelgirtha Shurter. They were married and had a son William in March of 1844. William was to become my Grandfather. Peter changed to become a Disciples of Christ minister and moved west to Indiana. They then had a son George in 1850 who became a prominent lawyer and Married Florence Ankeny. Florence was a member of a very prominent family in Iowa that had founded the town of Ankeny. George died young and left a son Fletcher. Fletcher was a source of much of the genealogical data in this document as he left a box in the archives of the State Historical society. There is much more information in that box and it can be seen by going to the Iowa State Historical Society Archives identifying yourself and asking for the box for Fletcher Russell.

Peter and his family moved west again to Des Moines Iowa around 1853. Both Peter and Adelgirtha became prominent in Des Moines Society. Peter served in the Iowa legislature for ten years and wrote many articles and a book called “ Materialism Against Itself”. Adelgirtha wrote many articles for the Des Moines Register and became a editor of the paper. When the Civil war started Peter volunteered and even though he was over 50 years old he was accepted and became a chaplain for the 39th Iowa Infantry. William also volunteered and joined the 26th Iowa infantry although he was only eighteen years old. Both the 39th and 26th Iowa were assigned to General George Sherman. They saw action at Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain and all of the battles that Sherman had during his march to the sea in the later part of the war. Sherman used Peter as his chaplain and William was a drummer boy as he was so young. Peter kept a journal that describes life in the camps, preparation for battle, battle and the actions of the armies in regards to civilian property. He complains a lot about troops looting and the destruction associated with Shermans tactics. Although he also takes issue with the civilian population who hid confederate deserters and who in many cases were actually combatants posing as civilians. These journals are in the Iowa State Historical Building listed as property of Fletcher Russell. If you want more detail about the Russell’s in the Civil war, go get the box of material and spend the day. Both Peter and Adelgirtha had portraits that hung in the Historical building for many years. They are in the archives now, although there are copies in the Flecher Russell box.

After the war both Peter and William returned to Iowa. William followed his fathers footsteps and became a minister. He also served in the Iowa legislature. William met a woman named Ada, and they married. They had three children Ward ,Burton and Katie. The family lived in Adel, Iowa. However the marriage was not a happy one. Ada finally decided she did not want to be married, so they divorced. William met a young vivacious divorcee by the name of Elisabeth Palmer who was to become my grandmother. Elisabeth had two children from her previous marriage. William continued to be active in the church and was very religious but never preached again. In 1884 they had a son Irving ,my uncle, who farmed near Perry all his life. A daughter Lucille was born in 1892. She married and moved to Wisconsin. Harrison (Dick) Russell my father was born in 1893. In 1900 another daughter Emma was born.. Their final child was Pearl. William died around 1920. Elizabeth lived until around 1938, and stayed with us for a while when I was born, although I can’t remember her. Those who knew her described her as ‘hell on wheels”. She was very aggressive, competent and confident. She married twice after William died and outlived all her husbands.

Dick grew up on the farm in Perry. He told me about working hard on the farm from dawn to dusk every day except Sunday. On Sunday they spent the morning in church and William then gave a private service. I think dad kind of rebelled at this rigorous approach to religion. He never was a very active church member in later life. As he grew older he began to rebel against the strict rules imposed on the family by William. He told me a story of one night when he was eight or ten he walked into town and didn’t start back until after it got dark. The route back was down the railroad track and it was very dark. He began to think somebody was following him. He kept hearing this noise behind him. He began to run but the noise seemed to stay with him. He then panicked and ran as hard as he could until he was near the house and exhausted. As he stopped the noise stopped. Then he figured out what it was. He was wearing corduroy knickers that his dad insisted on and they were rubbing together as he walked or run and made the noise. When he got in his teens he was disgusted with the austere life and ran away several times. Finally he got a job in a gas station. It was with the Battle Shepard Oil Company . Eventually they offered him a job as a salesman. He then began his career as a traveling salesman for various oil companies. He met a woman and married in his early twenties. They had a Daughter Madeleine around 1915 and a son Jack around 1918. The marriage was not successful and They were divorced around 1930. I don’t know much about dads life in this period.

My mother to be was Ruth Virginia Cash. The Cash family were of Irish descent and came west through Indiana to Flora Illinois. The family had four daughters. Ada, Ethel,Nell and Ruth. Ada married had two kids and operated a Beauty parlor in Eagle Grove Iowa for many years. Ethel Nell and Ruth all went to nursing school at Mercy Hospital in DesMoines. Their father died and the family moved to Eagle Grove Iowa. Mother graduated from nursing school and became a registered nurse. Since Mercy was a catholic school , mother had to put up with a lot of pressure to become catholic but she resisted. Ethel and Nell also graduated and eventually opened a small hospital in Indianola Iowa. They ran this for many years. Mother worked at the hospital in Des Moines. She met dad around 1930 after his divorce. I don’t know much about their courtship although I have seen pictures of them taken when they were on a automobile trip to the black hills in the late 1920’s. They had a Model T and appeared to be having a great time. Nell was along as a chaperone.

There first child Thomas John Russell was born June 13 1932. I was born a year and a half later. The family lived in Rock Rapids Iowa at this time. Several years later we moved to Alta Iowa. By this time I was about four or five and can start remembering things first hand. We had a big white bull dog as a pet. He was very protective of the two of us. We rented a house in Alta. It was next door to a funeral home ran by Jess and Neva Wilkerson. They became friends of the family for many rears. We also had next door neighbors in Alta who had two kids the same age as Tom and I. They were Jackie and Chuckie Christenson and they were our best friends for several years before they moved to Springfield Missouri and we never heard from them again. I did try to contact them 50 years later. Dad used to settle us down around Christmas by “hearing” slaybells and Santa Claus outside, who was supposedly looking in to see if we were being good. He would say “I think I hear the old bastard now”. One Sunday we went to a outdoor park where a Santa Claus was coming. There was a large crowd and dad had me on his shoulders. When I saw him, according to dad, I yelled out “There he is dad, there is the old bastard”. It caused quite a commotion with the men laughing and mother hiding behind dad. Dad had a 1929 four door Chevy at this time. I had seen dad open the door and slam it ( the front door) while we were moving so I tried it with the back door. Since I was in the back seat, the wind caught the door slammed it back and through me out. We were going over 50 miles an hour. I remember sailing in the air before hitting the ditch bouncing and rolling. It skinned me up pretty bad but nothing was broken. We started school while we still lived in the rented house.

Around 1940 we bought a acreage on the north edge of town. It was about ten acres. Dad decided to get into the chicken business. He had a large chicken house built and we began raising chickens in large quantities. We had a barn and kept several milk cows and pigs, geese etc. As we got older we got assigned more and more of the farm chores. At first we mainly took care of the chicken. They had to be fed, the manure cleaned out , and the eggs collected. We sold eggs and feeder chickens. Mother had to ring there necks though, we weren’t up to that yet. As we got older we had to feed and milk the cows. During the winter, we fed them hay that was in bails bound with wire. Using wire cutters to open the bales, we tore off sections of the bail to give to each animal. During this time dad was still traveling for an oil company in Waterloo called Wolfs head. Therefore most of the management and work of the farm was up to mother with us helping. When we were around ten or twelve dad bought a Shetland pony for us. We rode that pony for several years. It was generally with one or the other of us all the time. We had it trained to buck if you did not sit in just the right place. Most of the other kids that we played with in town would not get on it because it would throw them off. Dad used to love watching somebody who did not know this getting thrown off. It would buck off grown men who could hardly sit on it without their feet touching the ground. The darn animal would also chase the cows just for meanest. As we got older dad bought larger and larger ponies until he finally got a registered Kentucky racehorse we called Sandy. I don’t know why he did this because the animal was expensive, high strung, and more horse than we were ready for. However we bought a nice saddle and Tom and I got pretty good with the horse. He was always skittish though and if a pheasant would fly up as you were going along he would run for several miles before you could get him stopped. There was a steam train that came through town several times a day and blew it’s whistle. If you happened to be on Sandy when that happened It was a wild ride for a few miles. Several times we went right down main street of town with that horse flat out. People kind of got used to it. Since it was the only race horse in the area we could enter it in the races at the county fair, and expect to win. The competition were normal saddle horses and so we never lost a race. Finally dad figured out this was a more expensive horse than we needed so he sold Sandy at mothers request. During the early forties, times were tough, dad worked as a traveling salesman and collected bulk milk from the farmers in the area and delivered it to the creamery in town. Dad bought a new 1940 truck for this. Tom and I went with him a lot and helped load and unload the milk cans. Mother ran the farm and also became the school nurse. This was not an advantage for Tom and I to have mother at school socializing with the teachers. In those days the house did not have a bath tub or hot water. We had to heat the water over the stove and take a bath in a tub.

We had a lot of fun living on the farm. The neighboring kids such as the Sierce’s, Katsenbergs, Lichtenbergs and Johnsons were often there riding the horses, hiking out to a small river to fish, flattening pennies on the rails when the steam trains went by, and hunting rabbits and pheasants. We sometimes would have flocks of 30 or 40 pheasants in our corn field. For most of this time, we ate the pheasants instead of our chickens. One Sunday afternoon (Dec 7 1941) we got word the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. There was lots of concern that finally died away. During the early years of the war we collected tin cans and milk weed for the war effort. The milk weed was used to make life jackets. Gasoline and tires were rationed but because of dads job we had a A card and could get more than most families. Our livelihood depended on the car and truck.

Jack, dads son from his first marriage came to visit us about once a year. He was in law school at the University of Iowa. He graduated at the top of his class and was drafted. ended up in Nomeau New Guinea fighting the Japanese and survived all right. Ethel and Nell and Nell’s son Warren were there several times also. Warren was in the army in Germany. Tom and I rode the Interurban train to Perry , about 50 miles several times to visit Madeleine, dads daughter from his first marriage and her husband Johnny. Johnny was a fun guy who worked in a steel mill there. Later he became the town policeman. He was big and tough, but a nice guy who used to take us hunting and fishing along the Coon River. We went out at night and set long multiple hook lines across the river , camped and then cleared the lines several times during the night. A great adventure. The town of Alta was five miles from Storm Lake Iowa, and mother took us fishing in small bays that were near Alta. At first we went with mother and some of the teachers, then we began to ride our bikes and go ourselves. We were catching bullheads and it began a lifetime of enjoying fishing. Sometimes on weekends we would go to Island Lake, about thirty miles with mother and dad. The highlight of our week was when we could go to the movies in Storm Lake on Sunday night. Eventually a theater opened in Alta and we could go to a matinee for a dime. Every Saturday evening dad would park the car on main street as did almost everybody else in town. This was the time to socialize. We kids would run around occasionally go to the movies and some times have a nickel to spend. Most of the time we just fooled around with the other kids while the parents socialized. Dad used to occasionally take us to Charlie Miller’s restaurant for a milkshake. Dad hung around with a couple of guys from town while he was in the milk hauling business, Charlie Miller who ran a restaurant and Ivor Johnson who ran a gas station. They went out drinking sometimes and mother would we waiting for him with fire in her eye. I can remember some fights about this but it never got too bad as mother was very firm and dad never went too far. Charlie Miller got to investing in the stock market and ended up losing his restaurant. Ivor Johnson got one of mothers teacher friends Selma Munzel pregnant and she had as abortion, the town scandal in 1943. Mother kept in touch with Selma and several other teachers and we got a card and flowers from Selma when she died in 1989.

There were 50 children in my school class and I still remember most of them. Memorable ones include the Zesiger twins, who were boys that were as ornery and mean as any kids I’ve ever seen. They were bullies and always in trouble. I never had any trouble with them as they always wanted to come to the farm and ride horses. Then there was Screwy Obanion. Screwy was a little kid that had a bad leg and limped. Bu when Screwy got mad he was a terror. The Sesiger twins went after Screwy one day and it was a sight to behold. They got the best of him for a while but he wouldn’t give up and it was no holds barred. Ended up he was chasing both twins down the street with everybody bloody. Nobody was seriously hurt but they never bothered Screwy again. Lowell Lichtenberg was a kid who was a kind of leader and supposed to be tough. Lowell and I had several fights with no clear winner. I could easily get him down and hold him but he would end up with a scissors hold around my waist and it would eventually be a draw. They were basically wrestling matches and no blood was drawn. We eventually became friends. After we moved from Alta in 1948, I never saw or heard of any of these kids again, made a. brief stop in Alta in 1990 but didn’t see any of them.

Dad sold the farm and we rented a house in town a year or so before we moved from Alta. By this time I was in seventh grade and was being bothered by girls, who I still wasn’t much interested in. Joined the football team and played in several games in Junior high just before we moved. We got used to get a bunch of kids together (most of them older than us) and do all kinds of bad things on Halloween. In addition to dumping outhouses (of which there were lots), we would move heavy things like telephone poles and put them on teachers front porches. We got in a rivalry with the small town of Aurelia nearby and traded vandalism. One of the kids got a tractor with a manure spreader and ran down the main street of Aurelia around three o’clock in the morning spreading manure. They had to spread lye and fumigate the whole area to clean it up. This caused a big uproar and a lot of us kids were in big trouble for a while.


In 1948 the family moved to Indianola Ia. This was where mothers sisters Ethel and Nell , who were also nurses, ran a hospital. We bought a small farm about two miles east of town. We now had a bathroom, hot water etc. We kept two or three cows some pigs, geese, chickens and a Welsh pony for us kids to ride. Lake Auquabie was five miles south of town and we went bass fishing there many times in the morning. Tom made fishing lures and really got into fishing. There was also a good swimming beach there and we learned to swim and dive. The farm had a wooded creek running through it which we used for all sorts of fun activities. We camped out back there, hunted with BB guns and once dammed up the creek to make a swimming hole. We had forty eight acres that we planted in corn, oats and alfalfa hay in varying amounts of each. We picked and shucked corn by hand most of the time using a small hook strapped to your right hand to shuck the ear and then throwing it into the wagon. Later we hired a guy with a corn picker on a percentage basis. We hired a guy with a bailer for the hay but we had to pick up the bales, load them on a wagon and into the barn. We used a bailing hook to grab the bails. One day a guy dad had hired to help hit dad in the leg with his bailing hook, and it went straight in. It bleed like a stuck hog but he was OK. Getting started in the new school was hard at first, we now had about 80 in each grade. We soon had made new friends, lots of the kids from town liked to come out and ride horses. Dad brought home a cocker spaniel puppy one day and we named here Judy. This was the first of three cocker spaniels I would have for most of my life. She became a great dog and would kill rats from around the corn crib by throwing them left and right. We had a large garden and raised most of our own vegetables and hoeing the garden was a common and much reviled job for us. To avoid thieves we put our water melon patch in the center of the corn field to hide it. However, this did not work for long and we began to get raided at night. Tom and I had worked long hours on that water melon patch so we were not about to let it get torn up. We spent many nights hiding out in the corn field guarding that patch with only marginal luck. One night we did run two kids down. Broke rotten water melons on them and had a good time harassing them. It did slow the thieves down but we never did stop them and finally had to abandon the water melon patch before somebody got hurt. Two kids got shot in a nearby town during a water melon raid when the farmer used his shot gun. About two miles south of the farm was the South River. It was not very big, when it was dry barely a creek, but it was a lot of fun for us. We fished for catfish, swam and just explored along the river. There were bayous where we fished and ice skated. Dad decided to breed our Welsh pony to a full size stallion to try to raise a larger horse as we were getting to big for the pony. The stallion was from a nearby farm and when the guy brought him over he was very large and rambunctious. The pony kept kicking him as he tried to mount her and he couldn’t get it in her because he was too high. The owner of the stallion wanted to give up because he was afraid the pony would hurt the stallion. Since I had been around horses a lot, and was fast, dad let me try to help. I ran in and grabbed the stallion and shoved it in at the right time and he got the job done. This story was told over and over so I got a reputation.

When I was in 10th grade I got a job in a Lumber yard. The Green Bay Lumber yard and the boss was Harry (POO) Taggart. Started work each day at seven o’clock and worked until nine, went to school and worked after until six, and on weekends. Started off cleaning the office etc. then got to work in the yard unloading railroad cars, stacking wood etc. Used to have to unload cars loaded with cement bags, which is a lot of work and also coal cars. Finally got to saw wood to fit for customers and get what they wanted. The worst was when we had to haul stoker coal to houses and fill their coal bins. Poo insisted we got the maximum amount in each bin. This required me to crawl around on the coal in the bin and shove it back to the back. I was covered with black and then would have to get cleaned up as best I could to go to school. Soon I had enough money to buy a motor-bicycle called a “Whizzer”. This was a motorized bicycle that could go maybe 20 MPH. It was used and needed lots of work. I took the engine apart many times before a got it running right. Mother used to complain about taking me to Des Moines so I could get parts for it. I always wanted a Larger motorcycle but never did get one, maybe I will yet. Tom was now old enough to get a driving permit and this started changing everything. Tom got to take the car out at night, and we would go to town in the evening. The first two years I would have to wait for him to take me home. Finally I got my license and we would have a continual battle over who gets the car. At the time we had a 1938 Ford coupe, that we bought while we were in Alta, and a 1940 Chevy that dad used for his work. Dad was still a traveling salesman for the Wolves head Oil company. When Tom was a senior in high school he was out with a bunch of guys on Halloween burning corn fields. He was driving the Chevy with the lights out going from a fire they lit and run into the ditch and rolled the car over. The farmer , the police and everybody else got involved. Nobody was hurt but Tom was out of business driving for a while which was fine with me as I now had much more access to the car and Tom had to wait for me to get a ride home. Dad bought a 1948 Chevy coupe to replace the other one and this was the car I drove in high school and the first three years of college, when I could get it. After two years at the Lumber yard I quit to work with a construction company that was blacktopping the city streets. It paid better but was the most uncomfortable work I ever did. I was working with hot oil , spreading it on up in the corners where the truck distributor couldn’t get to. Near the end of the summer the foreman told me to put a bucket under the big hose at the end of the truck, before I could get away he turned the hot oil on. It hit the bottom of the bucket and splashed all over me. My hands and face were burned with second degree burns. They paid my medical bills but that was all. Nobody had workman’s compensation then.

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