My Dad's Childhood

My father, Wendell Young, wrote this short piece when he was 17. Leta, his mom, edited it. I simply could not resist and have added paragraphs breaks.


I was born July 6, 1919 in a house on Queen St., Sault Ste. Marie Ontario. I remember very little of the first five years of my life except that once each year we went up north and once a year down to Ann Arbor. I didn't know just where we lived. Mother would say that we were going home (up north) at the beginning of the summer, and at the end of the summer she would tell me that we were going home. It turned out that mother's and dad's homes were at the Soo but we were going to make Ann Arbor our home from now on. When I was five we moved to a house on Montclair Ave. We are still there.

That same fall I started to Kindergarten about Christmas time. I drew a picture on the black board of the railroad ferry "Chief Nawatam" and the teacher decided that I was past kindergarten age and put me in the first grade. Since them I have never failed or skipped a grade.

In a year or so I became the leader of five boys. We would take a lunch and explore the neighboring field and woods. They were about a block away and a great adventure. When we weren't exploring we were building underground huts or tree huts and playing cowboy and Indian. I still play "cowboy". We had some very neat underground huts.

One, I remember, had two rooms each about five feet square and four feet high. When we got to be better carpenters we put a floor in the upstairs of our garage. We had a secret way to get up. In one place we ran out of lumber so we hung an old tire chain in the hole with a string tied so that we could retract the chain thus making it a secret. It worked until it broke. I think that it is still hanging up in there.

The next shack or hut that we had was under our front porch. It satisfied our desire for secrecy. We had electric lights, our own doorbell and a burgler keeper-outer. This last thing was my invention. It was a doorknob with eighteen hundred volts running through it. One turned it off and on from the house. I might add that, although it was shockingly high voltage, it was very low amperage, and quite harmless.

The next year I got a bicycle for passing from the 5th grade. I went everywhere with it. Dad even has some moving pictures of me on it in the wintertime, when we had deep snow.

That summer my grandfather gave me his old boat after he had gotten a new one. The boat he gave me was a ten foot dinghy. In spite of the fact that the boat drifted quite badly, we put a leg o' mutton sail on her. We found that the only was she'd sail at all was with the wind, but we weren't particular where we would sail. My cousin Jack and I would start out in the morning bound for the end of the wind and we usually got back by night. We learned to take a lunch. Sometimes we would hit a reef and be shipwrecked. After the first time we always carried a can of white lead, some canvas, nails, and sheet iron. Once I patched a hole with some spruce pitch, the sleeve of my shirt, and an empty bean tin.

One day Jack, two other boys, and I started an overnight trip in the boat. When we cleared the point, the wind caught the sail at a bad angle and tore off the gaff. The wind almost whipped the sail to shreads before we could furl it. We had our choice of sailing home across the wind with the jib or of using the jib for a spinnaker and sailing down wind to an island. We didn't want to go home so we went to the island.

The island was as big as two city lots. It had two trees on it and a few bushes. All the rest was rock. We pitched camp, ate our supper, and went to bed. About ten o'clock the wind rose to what we call a three day storm. It blew our tent down and we woke up which was very lucky for us because the boat was pounding to pieces. We got some drift logs and rolled the boat up out of the water and tied it to a tree. The waves, as they hit the rocky shore, dashed up into the air and were queerly illuminated by the lightning. After making sure everything was all right, we crawled under our flattened tent and went to sleep.

The next morning the wind shifted so that it was coming in on the reef. Our boat was behind the reef. After two attempts we decided that it was impossible to get out. We were so sure that we could get out by night that we did not cut down on the rations. By the next morning we were out of supplies. At noon we flew the distress signal from the taller tree. My "crew" was getting mutinous. Suddenly there was a whoop from the other side of the island. Jack appeared with a good sized fish. He saved the day, and he doesn't eat Wheaties, either. By nightfall the wind was down enough for us to navigate the reef.

By the fall of 1932 I had saved up about fifty dollars toward a new boat. Dad said that it might be enough and that we would look around some. At Richard's Landing I found a very nice outboard hull for fifty-five dollars. After a bit of bargaining I got the man to allow me seven and a half dollars for my old boat. Dad ran the launch home and I steered the new boat in tow.

That winter I saved up thirty-five dollars and bought a two horse power Johnson outboard motor Maxwell Anning went up to our camp with us the next summer. We had a lot of fun learning how to run an outboard motor. One time I was coming out of a narrow channel. Max was in the bow and I was adjusting the needle valve. Neither one of us was looking where we were going. I ran into the biggest dock in the channel under full power. It split the bow piece and the impact swung our stern around onto some rocks. The rocks cut our prop and broke the sheer pin. Since then I have been more careful.

Later that same summer Jack and I bought another boat. We thought that it was a bargain until we took it out for a test run. It leaked very badly. We decided to buy it anyway. The price was twenty-five cents. Whenever we put the outboard motor on it, we put a life-preserver on the gas tank and one on a rope that was on the hand rail of the motor. The boat never sank but the stern piece almost fell off once.

The next summer went about the same as the last one until my birthday. I was fifteen and felt very old. I had always wanted to go out to Wyoming where my dad spends his summers. Mother thought that now I could help her drive. We would come back with him in a month. I was very much excited about the trip and wrote Maxwell a letter telling him all about it. At the same time Maxwell wrote me a letter telling me that he was coming up for a visit. I didn't get his letter and he didn't get mine until after we had taken our trips. When he got to our camp he was told that we were in Wyoming. I can imagine his disappointment.

The trip out was very exciting for me. Almost everything went wrong with the Ford. When we were twenty miles out of the Soo the car threw a con rod. We had to be towed a few miles and then wait all day for the garage man to get a new rod and install it. To put in a rod the whole engine has to be taken apart. In a Ford V8 they usually put in a new motor because all the rod bearings go at once. Another time I went over a bump and broke all the brake rods. That only took an hour to fix but it was very inconvenient. The next day I broke two more brake rods. That was the fault of the Ford service station. They put on the wrong size of rod.

When we got into South Dakota it was so hot that I had to tie up the sides of the hood to keep the water in the radiator from boiling. Even then I couldn't drive faster than twenty-five miles per hour. It was better than the old ox-drawn covered wagon.

The weather was much better in the Black Hills. I would like to go back there some time for a week or more and hide myself in the hills. We saw the Washington memorial. I didn't like it. Nature is beautiful enough with-out carving up the face of a hill. If they must put up a memorial, put it up to the American Indian! He was extinguished by great men like Washington.

We got into Jackson, Wyoming at about eleven P.M. We inquired as to where the camp was, got some general directions, and started out. After driving the directed twenty miles south, we started to look for the camp. It was dark, very dark. We saw a sign on a post. It said Camp Davis. We looked around and saw no camp. I started to follow a road by flashlight, but the road dwindled to nothing. Mother and I decided to drive back to Jackson, telephone dad, and have him meet us at that sign. On the way back to camp, I let mother drive because I was so sleepy. Mother was keeping well to our side of the road and we missed a washout by a foot. The washout led into a ditch. It didn't bother me much until the next day when I found out that the ditch was several hundred feet deep. At the bottom of the "ditch" was the Snake River.

I went riding out there for four hours, and I was so sore that I carried a pillow to the mess hall for a week. The trip back was uneventful.

The next winter we sold our cottage at the Soo. This did not put us out any because we owned some more land about six miles away that was better. Dad bought a '33 Plymouth and a house trailer.

The next summer we went back to Wyoming. It was much better the second time.The winter before, I had learned how to ride. The first Sunday I was out there I went riding with a bunch of boys. They got to the outfit first and had taken all the saddles. I rode bareback for eight hours and was not the slightest bit sore. This riding got me a job taking out dudes. I was to watch the horses and help the dudes; and Bud Thompson, a boy I knew, was to guide the parties through the mountains. After I got to know the hills, I helped Bud and he helped me.

Bud and I bought a Model T Ford coupe for ten dollars. Here in Ann Arbor it would be worth about two and a half dollars. A little while after we got it,we took Bud's sister and a girl friend for a ride. The two girls and I were in the front, and Bud was on the back deck. The front seat was quite crowded; and when I turned a corner and hit a bump the right hand door split off. The next day Bud and I took the whole body off. The ranger promised to give us a touring body. We painted the new body red with black fenders! It was swell. There were bullet holes in the back of the body, too.

At the end of two months we started for the Soo. It rained. It rained all the way to to the Soo. In one place the water came up through the floorboards of the car.

When we got to the Soo we built a sleeping cabin on our land at Portlock Bay. We have fourteen acres of pine studded rock. It will never be sold if I can help it. Mother and I spent the summer of 1936 at the sleeping cabin at Portlock Bay. We like it there very much because it is so quiet and peaceful. About the middle of the summer we bought a canoe. We had to live on beans until we got a check from dad. I made some lee-boards for the canoe and mother made a sail. As yet, I haven't upset.

I have always wanted a small mahogany runabout, but I thought that they were very expensive to run. It surprised me very much when I found out that one powered with a Gray "4-43" burned one-eighth as much oil as my two horse power outboard. This runabout goes three times as fast as my boat and only burns about three times as much gasoline. After thinking it over for a week, dad said that if I sold my boat and motor and turned in my next winter's allowance, he would buy a runabout if I could find one in good condition. I did! I found one in perfect condition, inside and out. We call her the Nenemoosha II, after dad's cruiser. I can hardly wait until next summer comes around.

January 17, 1937

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Last revised March 4th., 2006. Comments to: E. A. Young