from the upcoming and untitled book about Northern Michigan
Wolf Creek in the '40s
By Jack Owen of Hillman, Michigan
My grandpa's log cabin along Wolf Creek should have been a picture on a 1943 calendar. It was kind of a "Late" homesteader's home whereby logs were procured from the nearby woods. This unique place had an A-frame roof with dormers. That's the good news: the bad news was that the cabin was built before electricity reached this rural area and without a water well.
World War II had generated many jobs downstate, so my grandparents headed down below toward Detroit to find work. My parents decided to move into their vacant log cabin because it was close to Mack Lake where my dad worked for the U.S. Forest Service.
Dad was a C.C.C. member during the Great Depression, which brought him to the Luzerne Camp near Mio. Incidentally, this camp was designated for white men only. Mack Lake also had a C.C.C. Camp designated for black men. Segregation was the policy back then. Later, the Mack Lake camp was converted to the Huron National Forest headquarters.
Wolf Creek supplied our family with water during our stay at Grandpa's cabin. During winter, Dad chopped a hole through the ice to dip water for our needs. I stood on a rug in the kitchen (the warmest place in the house) for my bath.
Years before, Mio had provided "city water" from Wolf Creek by using a ram pump that pushed water uphill through wooden pipes to an open reservoir after which gravity ran water down to Mio buildings. Of course, it was an unwritten rule that if you had to take a leak, stay back from the creek or you would be shot. Of course, the deer couldn't read so many became meat for the table.
Grandpa had a pet doe before he moved, but it disappeared during hunting season. This was long before any doe licenses were issued. Venison was somewhat of a staple in the diet of many rural folks. We even had deer meat at school because "good" road kills were donated to our lunch program. Hot lunches cost $1.00 per week while some poor kids got free lunches. My mother was always nearby because she was a teacher. Mom had graduated from Mio High School and had the opportunity to attend County Normal School.
We had Montgomery Ward catalogs and magazines for entertainment before we got electricity. I remember pictures of the surviving Civil War veterans in a Life magazine: all five of them. All were over 100 years old. One of the vets had dark hair supposedly because he only washed it once per year! Later, there were pictures of Harry Truman following his re-election when he ran against Dewey. By that time, you could spread your butter thicker because government rationing had lifted: the war was over.
Northern Michigan had some mighty cold nights during the winters, so Mother always made up the beds with flannel sheets and many wool blankets. The wood stove was out by midnight because we burned slabs. So the cabin got cold, real cold. You talk about quiet. This was the place to experience absolute silence. There was no traffic, no appliances, and no nothing that made noise, except for an occasional crack from a freezing log. This was a night that you didn't want to go to the bathroom. It involved going down the stairs, across the creek on the bridge, and out to the privy in the dark. We were a little short on night-lights, especially if Mom forgot to buy matches.
When we finally got electricity, it made a tremendous difference in our lifestyle. Right away, Mom bought a refrigerator and a wringer washing machine. She only caught her arm in the wringer once! We also got a radio. How nice was that? Sometimes I'd listen to Jungle Jim; our whole family gathered around the radio and listened to the Joe Lewis championship fights. My parents always turned on the six o'clock news with Walter Winchell.
Dad used to drive an old Chevrolet from the late 1930s. It had suicide rear doors, so Mom always preached safety about keeping the back door closed during a trip. Otherwise it would blow off and you with it. Dad always drove 45 m.p.h. so a lot of cars passed us on the highway when we went south on M-33, the only paved road in the county. This always frustrated me because I wanted Dad to drive faster. Then one day he bought a 1940 Chrysler, which would go 105 m.p.h. It even had an electric starter: no more cranking. At my urging, Dad would pass every car on the highway, including Buicks, Studebakers, and futuristic Kaisers. Dad and I beamed while racing down the road; after all, there were no speed limits. Mom often napped during trips, but at high speeds, the engine rumble would wake her. She sounded like a mad duck until Dad slowed down.
Then one day, a nice big house in town had a bad basement fire. The owner was at a local tavern and was not aware that his floors were burning. When he finally went home that night, he fell into the basement. I guess the local fire department did not communicate to him that his house had a fire. He was taken to the doctor's house (we did not have clinics) and it was determined that he was not greatly injured. He decided to sell the house and we bought it.
Carpenters were hired to repair all the fire damage. When we moved in, I realized how nice it was to have modern conveniences. We had a flush toilet, a bathtub, and a coal-burning furnace that held the fire all night. I could go across the alley and buy a nickel bottle of Coke at a local gas station and play "far away" with my friends. (Coke bottles had the bottling plant town on the bottom of the bottle.)
Our new modern home in Mio signaled a move up in social status. I could walk to school and later joined the Boy Scouts. Ironically, Mother was my third grade teacher in 1949. Later, my dad was my Scoutmaster. As could be expected, my ratings were very high during these years.
Good times continued for another decade. By that time, I was old enough to go out into the world on my own. It was then that I "grew up" because I discovered that you had to get with it and produce: otherwise, your status would go down faster and further than the pristine waters of Wolf Creek.