Pioneer Potluck: About remodeling the old farmhouse, a hair cut for Jimmy and chocolate cake

  • By Grannie Annie
  • Tuesday, February 25, 2014 11:45am
  • LifeFood

I so appreciate the interest in this column from all you readers. Many of the questions I get concern Mom and Dad. Here is a little background taken from a hand written genealogy-heritage book that Mom took the time to write. She printed every word in her teeny tiny handwriting and most of what I know about them, I have taken from this book.

My mom’s name was Loretta Edith Cogswell, her dad’s name was Ernest and her mother’s name was Freda. She was born Dec. 19, 1915 near Wellington, Colorado where her parents resided on the farm. She went to School District Number 35, now a portion of Interstate Highway 25, north and east of Fort Collins. She studied piano for several years (although not one of us kids ever heard her play!) then by correspondence with the American College of Music in Kansas City, Missouri. Following two years of high school in Wellington, her family moved to a cherry, apple, fruit orchard at Rural Route 2, east and north of Fort Collins. She assisted her father with care and harvest of the fruit and worked various jobs in the area and in Fort Collins.

On August 28, 1936 Loretta and John Melvin McClure were married in Greeley, Colorado. John came to Colorado from Kansas in 1934 working for various Fort Collins area farmers. After spending a month in Kansas following their marriage, John and Loretta returned to Colorado residing north of Severance where John was employed by a farmer and sheep herder. (Now I know why my Dad detested sheep!)

The following year in 1937 they rented an irrigation farm 6 miles east of Fort Collins within a mile of where my Mom’s family had the fruit orchard. (Note from me: My brother John Jr., also know as Butch or Sonny, used to walk up to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Grandma’s sugar cookies and cold milk or a handful red cherries and a nice sweet apple.)

The owner of the rented farm was Sam Kemp, a well-known producer of Japanese white popcorn, who wished to retire from active farming and devote full time to producing and canning popcorn, marketed as Kemp Korn for Safeway out of Denver. Under the terms of the lease John planted and harvested popcorn for several years in addition to grain crops and alfalfa hay to feed milk cows that John had acquired. (He sold milk in large milk cans to Pourde Valley Creamery for several years.)

In 1945 John purchase the farm from the Kemps and expanded the farming operation to include sugar beets and raising registered Shorthorn cattle. He eliminated the popcorn (and the milk cows except one — Old Bessie). In 1947 and 1949 John was cited as one of the High 10 Beet Producers in the Fort Collins area.

In 1947 John purchased another farm south of the home place. He also purchased another farm to accommodate an expanding Shorthorn herd in 1949, across the road north and west of the home place. Extensive soil conservation work on this farm and on the home place won John the top honor in the Statewide Soil Conservation.

In 1947 they increased their living quarters by remodeling and adding a full basement and expanding the main floor, doing much of the work themselves.

(This ends the story of my Mom and Dad’s history of where they came from. We do not know more than what she wrote about herself. Dad’s family all lived in Kansas and we made a few trips to see them in coming years.)


This is my recollection (and version) of how the house was remodeled in 1947.

Dad and Mom’s father, Ernest, hand dug the basement out from under the original farm house. I remember the grueling hours and hours of bringing the dirt up out of the basement in a wheelbarrow — but most of all I remember the hours and hours of the motorized cement drum setting in the yard, turning and turning as Dad shoveled in just the right amount of sand, cement and water.

He dumped the cement into a wheelbarrow and wheeled it down the ramp and to the forms and went back for another wheelbarrow load, day after day, week after week, until the forms were filled with cement to form the basement foundation. When the foundation was dried and the floor poured and dried, we moved into the basement while Dad and Grandpa (Ernest) went to work remodeling the old farm house living room into a large kitchen for Mom and additional “L” shaped wing for a bed room and a large living room. The porch to the kitchen was added last.

Dad being very, very busy building a new home for his growing family of five (Ann, the oldest, John, Ginger, Elaine and Jimmy) passed by Jim in the highchair, rubbed the top of his head and said, “Jimmy, you sure do need a hair cut.” That evening, for the first time ever, they left me in charge of my two brothers and two sisters as they drove into town to pick out paint for the new living room. So remembering what Dad said about Jimmy’s hair, I found the only pair of ancient scissors, that cut everything from string to wire, captured the little brother and tied him to the highchair with a dish towel. I began cutting the squirming, wiggling 4-year-old’s hair. I did the best I could, with only a few dents and some bald spots, I thought I did a pretty good job. Then I untied him. Brushed up the hair and made a chocolate cake! The recipe was on the back of a soda box. I “cooked” it in the oven and when Dad and Mom came home, Jim’s hair was cut and I had made a cake. I was so proud of myself!

Dad came down the basement stairs, took one look at Jim and said “Who did that?”

“Ann did,” said all my brothers and sisters. “Oh MY!” And that is all my Dad said. The next day Dad made an extra trip into town to get Jim a real haircut.

About the time my brothers and sisters were tattling on me, Mom spied the chocolate cake and asked “Who did that and look at that mess!”

“Ann did,” said all my sisters and brothers. The cake was a flop (too) but we ate it anyway with cream over the top, with a spoon. I did not understand when you live in Colorado you compensate for the mile high altitude and taking a recipe off the soda box was not the thing “cookers” in Colorado did unless you adjusted the recipe for the altitude.

Dad had a lot of fun with my flops and teased me if he saw the old scissors he would grab the top of his head and run with a big grin on his face or tell Jim to run and hide. I never lived down the terrible hair cut or the horrible chocolate cake, both my first adventures.

We lived in the basement of the house for about six months until Dad and Grandpa finished and painted the upstairs. Ginger and I moved into a brand-new bedroom with its hardwood floors, big picture window with its view of the front yard, Mom’s flowers, big trees and the gravel road. We even had our own closets!

I had heard at one time through, a hushed discussion between Dad and Mom that the new bedroom was supposed to be theirs, but somehow they disagreed on something about how the bedroom was built and they stayed in the same old bedroom they had been in for years, until they sold the house and farm.


Next week: Mom and Dad’s disagreement about the new bathroom.


The series is written by a 44 year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her Mother, a self taught wonderful cook.

Grannie Annie can be reached at

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