Going Out West to Work

Sometimes just a few words or phrase make me curious. That was the case when cousin David sent me, among other gems, a newspaper article about Emil and Gina Borreson’s 40th wedding anniversary which took place early August of 1939 (in advance of the actual October 17 date). The end of article tells of their children and where they resided, and mentions that Bennie and Edgar missed the celebration because they were “in the west for the threshing season.”

That phrase “in the west” was hanging around the edges of my memory when cousin Conrad sent me more photos, among them this absolute delight.

What did Conrad say about this vehicle? “As I remember, this was Ednar’s camper [when] he went out to Minnesota to work in the fields. 1938.” My best guess is that this is about a 1928 Model A Ford coupe onto which a covered camper/sleeper has been built. Not quite an Airstream, but I’ll bet it kept one or two people dry! And I love the way the name “Wisconsin Special” promoted Badger State pride. Doesn’t there appear to be grain shocks in the photo on both sides of the camper?

Then cousin Dan wrote me, “Dad [Ednar] went to the Red River valley several summers to work on wheat threshing crews and other crews that today would be termed migrant workers. Sometimes Edgar accompanied him…. I have seen a picture with Dad having many empty sacks on his back when picking potatoes there…. I know he helped shred corn as well. Most of the time they were using horses to pull the wagons to stationary machines.”

Sandra adds that Ednar kept in touch with a family in Michigan, North Dakota – the Floyd Adamsons. Ednar looked them up in the sixties or so, and the Adamsons visited French Creek too. (She even has an April 30, 1938 envelope from Floyd Adamson addressed to Ednar at Carl Okerwall’s place in Evanston, IL.) Dan remembers a similar vehicle (to the above photo) that his dad had made into a pickup which he used until the late forties.

Sid doesn’t remember the pictured camper, but he himself did go out west in 1942 or ’43 and he ended up staying three years. The first day they were threshing grain on one farm, the owner lost his arm in the best of the threshing machine. Here was a labor crisis for that man. So, according to Sid, the neighbors petitioned Sid’s draft board for him to stay out there to milk 14 cows, care for the pigs and chickens, and work 600 acres. Later he returned home to farm with Odell.

So that gives us at least four Borreson brothers who went out west for work – Bennie, Ednar, Edgar, and Sid – probably from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties. Why? I would guess they went where the work was as our country was finding its long way out of the Great Depression. And there weren’t enough opportunities on the home farm or in Fitch Coulee.

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