Excerpts from autobiography by Carl H. Schlegel.
1The homesteaders had another unlikely problem, the dearth of material for making fence posts. The law required that each homesteader had to fence his claim. On a treeless plain, there weren't any suitable trees for fabricating the necessary posts. The cottonwoods, locusts, sand hill plums and chock cherry trees did not lend themselves readily for that sort of application.
Fortunately, there were deposits of limestone at or near the surface of the ground. Someone came up with the idea of cutting the stone in the shape of a post but the problem was how to accomplish that. I don't know if I was ever told who finally developed a satisfactory method of doing this. It may have been Darlene's Grandpa Brack because he became very proficient at producing the posts and cut so many of them he was nicknamed "stah koinig" (Stone king).
It was very hard work; one had to drill holes to a depth equal to the narrow width of the post and that was done by hand. One drilled the holes, which took on the configuration of the post. Then water was poured in the holes, and when the water froze and expanded, VOILA!! It broke out the post. They were heavy, from 200 to 300 pounds. I can vouch for that because my father and I had to move a mile of them when the county wanted to widen the road by our and the neighbor's farms. Mr. Moore had three girls, no boys to help him, so my father volunteered us to move his posts. In order to relocate them, we had to dig new holes, then dig around the set posts to loosen them, hitch a team of horses to them and pull them to the new hole, set them and tamp the soil tight around them. I remember very well I didn't require any sleeping pills when I went to bed at night during the time we were doing this. I think I was about 13 or 14 years old at that time. Incidentally, many of the posts in Rush and Ellis counties are still there; however, they no longer are being used for replacements or new fencing.
Ironically, the stone posts served other purposes than the stone masons had envisioned; during the heat of the summer, the jackrabbits would lie in the shade of the posts, which helped them stay cool. The stone posts have other uses such as loading a couple of them in the back of the pickup for ballast during the winter months when the roads are snowpacked. Back in the '30s, what snowplows they had couldn't do much. They were usually a small "V" shaped blade on the front of a 11βΡ2-ton truck; in order to break through a drift, the driver had to take a run at it; he might move snow a foot or two, then he would have to back up and repeat the whole maneuver. I remember after one blizzard in April, it took four days to plow the way to Otis from the county seat where the snowplows were kept. So, in the wake of a snowstorm prior to the war years, we were pretty well left to our own devices.
The stone posts also were used for hitching posts to tie the horses; I recall there were hitching posts in front of all of the businesses, the churches and the schools. Given the windy conditions they also were used to anchor a small building. The stone quarries furnished material for many uses; the most important was for housing. Many homes were constructed of the native limestone. They had the advantage of being cool in the summer and warm in the winter and they were durable.
When Grandpa homesteaded, he erected a two-room limestone house. Early on, it had a dirt floor but later he put in a wood floor. The room where one entered was the tack room; this is where the harness, saddles and the like were kept. The second larger room was the living and sleeping area; my grandparents and their five children lived in this house until 1911 when he built a new house on their land nearer to town.
However, an old man by the name of Schenk who had no family and was homeless lived in it until 1936 when he died. The little stone house stood until after World War II when someone had use for the stone. I visited the little house often when I was a boy and tried to visualize how five people managed to live in that one room. It had one window on the south side and one on the west side; my father told me they didn't provide a window on the north side because of the cold north wind in the wintertime.
Most windows back then were made up of four glass panes, inserted into a square frame and then held in place by a compound called putty. The putty was much like child's clay and served the purpose, but over time it would dry out and fall off causing loss of the seal, which permitted rain, dust and cold to blow into the house. Of course storm window, caulk and other sealers were years down the road.
Even in the 1930s in the house on the farm during snowstorms, I would wake up in the morning with snow on the INSIDE windowsill.
Those were the days!
Carl Schlegel lives in Hays with his wife Darlene. They both grew up at Otis. He worked 40 years for the Bureau of Mines managing a helium plant.