Pioneer Potluck: Remodeling the old farmhouse

  • By Ann "Grannie Annie" Berg
  • Tuesday, January 27, 2015 5:36pm
  • LifeFood

North of Fort Collins,
Colorado, 1947- 48

Dad and Mom needed to add on to the old farm house as the family had grown by two more children, Elaine in 1945 and Jim in 1947. Dad and Grandpa Cosgwell and a few other fellow neighbors hand dug the hole that became the basement and bedrooms for Uncle Guy and brother John.

This most labor intense remodel began in 1947, the year my brother, Jim, was born. The little two bedroom house was bursting at the seams with five McClure kids. Dad and Grandpa began by hand-digging the basement under the existing house. They disposed of the dirt with buckets and wheelbarrows full, pushed up a steep incline built from plywood. Shoring up the existing house, then building cement forms was next on the list.

The next step was to borrow a cement mixer with a loud gas motor. They hand shoveled gravel, sand and cement into the large mouth of the mixer, adding water, which at times was my contribution to the biggest job ever tackled on the farm.

The forms were filled with cement, by a wheelbarrow full of cement, carefully guided down the steep incline and poured into the deep trenches of the forms. I still remember Dad and Grandpa saying “Whoeee — we are getting there, one wheelbarrow of cement at a time — will this ever end?”

Those forms were finally filled — I cannot remember if the floor had been poured before or after … then the basement bedrooms were built that winter, a playroom added. A large pantry was built in the laundry room, with long shelves going from floor to ceiling, that Mom filled every year with her canned pickles, vegetables and fruit.

The next spring, 1948, we moved to that basement, converting the laundry room into a kitchen, electric stove installed, table and chairs and Jimmy’s high chair at one side, the washing machine at the other side. Mom’s pantry closed off on the east wall. We were snug, crowded and for the most, happy. (This is the place where I performed the hair cut with the big kitchen shears on my little brother, Jim, after I tied him down with a tea-towel in the high chair. I also made the total flop of a chocolate cake from the recipe off the soda box. We ate it with spoons. Well, I was trying to help! I was 11 years old.)

Dad and Grandpa tore down the old part of the house that was, at one time, used for a porch, but converted into a cold breezy large kitchen with the old black coal burning cook stove. I have no idea what happened to that old stove! Or the red handled water pump that was in the sink, positioned above the cistern. When I see the pictures of these two items I remember my days on the farm vividly!

The living room of the old house was converted into a large spacious kitchen. Grandpa made cupboards from counter to the 10 foot ceilings. Large cupboard doors were varnished and installed by Grandpa. He was an expert at making cupboards and screen doors. Mom painted HER kitchen bright yellow, with bright apple red paint for the ceiling, because it made the ceiling not look so tall. It also turned our glasses of milk pink from the reflection off the red ceiling.

The bedroom off the new kitchen remained Mom and Dad’s room. There was a bedroom off the dinning room and a new bedroom that became Ginger and mine, off the new living room. This was supposed to be Mom and Dad’s but some kind of argument ensued and they stayed in the same bedroom until they left the farm.

There was a big fireplace in the large, new living room with big “bay” windows. Dad and Grandpa built the fireplace. Mom picked out “blonde brick.” It was a masterpiece that Dad dreamed of laying in front of, with a big roaring fire, in the winter time. NOT SO! Mom did not like Dad dragging logs through the living room, over the beautiful new green carpet, to the fireplace. But most of all she did not like the terrible ash mess it left. So the wonderful, beautiful fireplace, was a focal point of a vase of flowers in front of it. The mantel held pictures and a large mirror above. I never, ever understood that! I loved to be warm in front of the fireplace, especially with my Dad!

The other argument that was never settled, was the new bathroom off a hallway, behind the kitchen. Dad wanted a shower installed and Mom wanted a bathtub. Dad said the bathtub used to much water from the cistern and Mom said the shower used to much water! So there was an empty place on the west wall with the stool at one end and the wash basin, medicine cabinet and a towel cupboard next to the door. We took our baths in the large cement laundry tubs in the basement! If you asked about the shower or the tub, Dad would say “Ask your Mom.” Mom would say “Ask your Dad.” End of that conversation.

Mom had her new electric stove in the kitchen — without the mess of the old coal cook stove! I still see her standing in front of HER stove and conjuring up wonderful tasting meals day after day for years. On holidays the whole kitchen was turned into wonderful smelling room with the stove cooking or baking something all day long. She so enjoyed HER stove! She enjoyed her new home as we all did. She took pride in putting a freshly ironed, linen table cloth on the new Duncan Phyfe dinning table with matching chairs, turning it into a great table laden down with sparkling china, spotless silver ware, turkeys, hams and the fixins’, her bouquet of flowers from Dad, in the middle. She turned the whole house into a great celebration of food.

I could go on and on about my years of growing up on the farm. I am so lucky I have those memories!

My Salmon Pattie recipe brought this e-mail to me from a high school friend Marian Thayer Johnson: “My Mom always made Salmon Patties for my four ‘urchins.’ One of them always called them ‘Patty Salmons’ and the name has stuck to this day. My second daughter, Wendy, made ‘Patty Salmons’ for HER daughter who is about to graduate as a Doctor of Physical Therapy in May.” Marian added: “I can relate to so many of your memories, like the ‘man names,’ water, gas, milk and coal man.”

Thanks Marian!

Grannie Annie can be reached at

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