September 8, 2023
Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday. Carl Victor Fernelius was born at home in the small Utah town of South Weber on September 6, 1923. Although it was only one hundred years ago, my father was born into a world that was very different from today.
On the day Dad was born, the threshers were at my grandparents’ farm harvesting wheat. The neighbors all joined together to use a horse-drawn thresher, moving from one farm to another. The women at the farms prepared a large noontime dinner for the threshers. I’m guessing that on the day my dad was born, my grandmother was excused from cooking duties, but she was a tough woman. Dad was born in the morning, so I can’t be sure she didn’t join in by doing some lighter tasks.
In 1923, work horses were still common in rural Utah, and my family told the tale of the day my dad was born as being the last time the threshers used horses. By 1924, even in Utah, tractors had taken their place. My grandfather still used horses on his own farm, though. He loved them and could recognize any neighbor at a distance by the horses pulling their wagons – not by the men driving them. My dad was in his early twenties before the Ferneliuses bought their first tractor in the 1940s.
By 1923, my grandfather did have an automobile in which he drove his young family into town on Saturday afternoons. Despite this, Grandpa was secretly glad when winter came. He could take off the tires and put the car on blocks and hitch up his team to the old sled – his preferred method of transportation.
Like most parents, I’m sure Dad’s parents had high hopes for him. I suspect that they assumed those hopes would include Dad taking over their farm when they couldn’t handle it any longer. South Weber was a farming town, and virtually every man there was a farmer. South Weber was noted for its tree fruits such as apricots and cherries which seldom got nipped by spring frosts thanks to the canyon winds which kept the early morning frosts from settling. Tomatoes and peas were factory crops, and the creamery bought any excess milk the farm produced.
My grandparents’ farm wasn’t large, but it easily supported a family. His parents believed it would support my dad’s when the time came. As it turned out, my dad tried farming but eventually became an accountant. A small family farm just couldn’t support a family by the time my dad was a man.
On the domestic side, my dad was born into a household with an indoor bathroom – not always a given in rural America in 1923. When my grandfather’s house was built in 1906, it didn’t include indoor plumbing. In 1918 when my grandfather married my grandmother, he added the bathroom.
The house also had electric lights and a radio in 1923, but not a refrigerator. It also didn’t have central heating. A coal-burning parlor stove plus the wood-burning kitchen stove provided the only heat. Consequently, the kitchen and living room were warm. The other rooms were icy. The sink and clawfoot tub in that new bathroom had to keep a small stream of water running on cold, winter nights to prevent the pipes from freezing.
The house only had one bedroom. When the family grew to three children, my grandfather added a lean-to addition with one bedroom for my dad’s two sisters and a small alcove for my dad. The rooms were not insulated and had no heating. My dad remembered waking up many a morning to see his bedside glass of water frozen solid.
By today’s standards, the Fernelius Family’s life in 1923 sounds spartan. By 1923 standards, especially in rural areas, it was a decent life. In only a hundred years, my dad’s life turned out to be very different from his parents and grandparents.