Once Upon A Farm


-Clarence Holm

Over the years my family had many dogs on the farm. Each in their unique way performed the duties that were expected of a working animal. A farm dog’s responsibilities included fetching the cows, guarding the chickens, killing rats and defending the house. If a dog could not handle those duties it was replaced. There was no forgiveness for mistakes, a dog that attacked chickens or stole their eggs cost money or at the very least stole food off our plates. Life on a small Dakota farm didn’t allow for tolerance.

That did not mean we didn’t love our dogs and treat them with reverence and respect. A good canine was a companion and friend. They possessed a spirit and seemed to have the ability to read minds and carry out unspoken commands. A good dog took the place of two men in the pasture and could easily maintain control of the herd as we drove them to a meadow for grazing. While the cows fed on the sweet June grass the dog would keep a wary look out as he sat with us on those lazy summer days.

pup 2

Farmers knew each other’s dogs. They recognized which had special skills as herders, hunters or guard dogs and spoke almost reverently of their talents. They were able to identify a dog on sight and recite which farm they worked on.


When I was young we had a collie named Lassie. She was a smart dog and who did her best to keep me out of trouble. She loved to go with me to the pasture, where she could run and chase the pheasants she’d flush out of the weeds. If she came across a hay bale, she would wait patiently for me to turn it over, exposing the mice nests that were always underneath.

But Lassie lived to round up cattle, as we approached the herd she would quiver with excitement, waiting for the command to “sic-em” whenever a young heifer dared to separate from the herd. The older milk cows would just roll their eyes at the foolishness or the yearlings. They would watch, while lazily chewing their cuds, as Lassie nipped at the hooves of the insolent bovines. However in the back of my mind, I always suspected it was all an act, put on for our family’s consumption. We truly believed when we weren’t around, it was a good bet that the heifers and Lassie were out playing together.

My final year of farming was when I was 10. By that time I had learned to drive the truck and most of the tractors. I could successfully drive a tractor, while towing a wagon to a field to pick rocks. While straw bales were no challenge to throw around, alfalfa bales (at 70-80lbs) were still a little too heavy to throw. (Although I could pick them up by one end and slide them around.) I could sack grain and run the auger; in short I left one year before becoming an official field hand. But by far the hardest thing was saying goodbye to that dog.

We took Lassie over to our Uncle’s farm and left him there. As he had eight children at home, Lassie’s last few years were filled with joy. The last glimpse of her was as she took over her new brood of kids, waiting for one of them to say “Sic-em”.

Twelve Feet is Less Than Eternity

All wound up and looking for trouble!

All wound up and looking for trouble!

Adventures On The Farm
-Clarence Holm
In the morning, we had fed the pigs, collected the eggs and run up the road to check for mail. By mid-morning we were slaying dragons and hunting wooly buffalo. The afternoon started with a circus, featuring the warted toads along with black and yellow salamanders we had captured near the well to be exhibited as wild animals. We loaded our side show into our red wagons, hooking them up to our bikes and trikes and held a parade. We sang “ta-da” and banged on the oil cans we used for drums.
For three young boys, ages 4, 5 and 9 we knew we had to keep busy. We had learned that people on a farm that didn’t have something to do, were given a job by my mother.
After an afternoon nap we were well rested, so we decided to go exploring and poking around through the old garage. Under a shelf we found a rusted hammer, with one claw snapped off. On the shelf was a can of used nails dad must have put aside to be straightened. Leaning against the wall was some old lumber that we knew could be built into something…
It was Jim, the eldest and most worldly that decided we would build an airplane. We had seen them fly over the farm many times and knew the basic shape. We needed two boards for wings, one longer than the other and a board for the planes body, big enough to hold one passenger. So we grab three boards, precut to length. We found a six-footer for the body with another the same length for the front wing and a four-footer that seemed just right for the tail.
With the nails we found in the shop, we pounded the ship together. It was Jim who remembered we needed to turn the plane over, allowing us to crimp the nails down. “That’ll make it extra strong” he said.
We dragged the plane out into the sun to do a final inspection. We had no wheels to put under it, but once it was flying it wouldn’t matter. 
We took turns climbing aboard imagining the flight. In our minds we soared up high and chased the crows from the sky. Our excitement really grew once we convinced ourselves that this plane could really fly. All we needed was a way to get it airborne.”If we could drag it up on the barn roof, I bet we could do loop de loops” I said. “I know I can fly it!” Eugene the youngest shouted.
“Because Eugene’s the youngest, he should be first.” Jim ruled. “But” he continued, “since he’s so small we should start off a smaller building- like the garage”.
With that bit of wisdom we agreed on a plan. We would climb up on the roof with the old wooden ladder, dragging the plane to the peak. There Eugene would climb on board while Jim & I would push as hard as we could to get him started. Eugene would slide down the roof, gaining speed and would soar off the garage roof out into the pasture where he could land safely.
Just a short test flight!
Next would be me, then Jim, who would go up on the barn for the grand finale. He planned to fly the plane over to our cousin’s farm and wave to them as they looked up in awe.
It was a grand plan – one of our best.
“Clarence” Jim said. “Grab the plane and head up the ladder, I’ll follow and push.”  With that we sprang into action and in no time all three of us were up on the garage roof gazing off into the wild blue yonder. Eugene was excited and wanted to go, but Jim had some last minute instructions. “Hold on tight and don’t fly to far, remember this is only a test flight.” Jim said.  Eugene nodded sincerely.
With a mighty 1-2-3 we pushed Eugene and the wooden airplane off the peak and down the roof.
It never really got going; in fact it skidded really slowly with Eugene bouncing it forward, urging the plane to the edge. As we watched it reached the edge and flopped slowly off the twelve foot drop, disappearing with a mighty crash.
When it didn’t reappear soaring into the sky, we ran to the edge and peered down at our brother- motionless. As we watched we heard him gasp, as if he was drawing in all the air in the world. We knew what was coming next; this was not our first adventure!
Eugene’s scream pierced that summer sky and reverberated off the barn. We knew we had to shut him up, before he attracted Mom. We clambered down the old ladder and ran up to Eugene. “Are you OK?” “Look at how far you flew!” “Do you want to go again?”
Confused at first, he struggled to his feet. After a moments silence he said. “Did you see me fly? I flew the plane, but now it’s all broken.”  Then he shouted out, “Should we find more wood to make another, so you two can have a turn?”
At that moment, Mom called, “Supper” and another day had ended.

John Holm – My Grandfather

John & Victoria Holm at Home

John & Victoria Holm at Home

My grandfather John Holm passed away August 31, 1951, just a little more than a year before I was born.  As a result he is the grandparent I know the least about.

Because of this, I should start this with the facts I’ve found. John Holm (no middle name) was born September 22, 1883 in Cologne, Carver County, MN the eldest child of John E Holm and Kathryn Ann Ranft. His parents were lifetime sweethearts, who defied the ethnic restrictions and combined their lives around their Swedish and German heritage. The blending of Swedish Lutheran Evangelism and Germanic Roman Catholicism resulted in my grandfather having a deep respect for education and a devotion to the lord. (Tempered with gusto for life enhanced by good German beers.)

In about 1883, he moved with his parents to the hills just west of Valley City. His father’s 1st cousin and boyhood friend, John Anderson, a real estate developer who controlled many sections of land, convinced John Erickson Holm to sell his mercantile in Cologne and bet it all on a new life in North Dakota. All went well until sometime in 1886 when a disastrous fire consumed the entire farm, sending my Grandfather and his family back to live with relatives in Minnesota. Ten years passed until John E Holm tried North Dakota again. (Although he didn’t officially move back to North Dakota till 1896 he actively worked the land near Cuba for many years during the summers leaving the family in Minnesota.) Together with his partner John Anderson he began another farming operation, this time on the flat treeless plains near Cuba, North Dakota (southeast of Valley City). Perhaps it was a testament to John E’s vision that he christened the area Meadow Grove Farm.

As a young teenager, John Jr. helped his father expand the farm to control many sections of land (A section of land is measured one mile long and one mile wide), while establishing a hardware/mercantile store serving the needs of the small Barnes County community. On November 11, 1911 John married Victoria Anna Schiele. Victoria had come to North Dakota to work on the Holm farm to help feed the growing group of hired hands that worked the expansive fields of wheat and durum that North Dakota was known for. Victoria was the sole remnant of her family, who joined the John Schug family when her widowed mother remarried. (John Schug was a cousin of Kathryn Ranft and many of Shug’s children came to North Dakota to work the Meadow Grove Farm).

Upon his marriage John and Victoria Holm were offered their choice of a section of land or the Cuba Mercantile. (It was a source of pride for my Great Grandfather that he had accumulated enough land to marry off each of his children and provide them with their own farm.) Rightly or wrongly John chose to farm and settled with his bride in Norma Township, just southwest of Cuba, ND.

John and Victoria had five children, Dorothy Anna Storbeck, Lucille Mary Kunze, my father Clarence Louis Holm, Evelyn Catherine Grant and Walter Ervin Holm. In each, John and Victoria established a strong work ethic, a love of the teachings of the Catholic Church, along with dreams of adventure and a taste for strong beer. (There seems to be a pattern evolving here)

From federal censuses I can track the family’s growth as sons and daughters married and either left the farm or stayed on the expanding farm. The original farm grew to three sections and provided shelter and sustenance for all who stayed.

From stories I’ve been told, my grandfather enjoyed life and took relish in simple pleasures, like capturing the images of farm life with his camera and tripod or driving with his grandchildren with long cane poles tied to the car, pursuing the wily “Sunnies” that inhabited the nearby Sheyenne River that flowed through the valley just west of his farm. From photos I glimpse a man, well-rounded from good German cooking served with plenty of Swedish meatballs along with an occasional touch of Lutefisk and a side of apple flavored sauerkraut.  If I look closely, I catch in his eyes a twinkle that he retained in the face of a life that included his share of challenges.

I don’t recall my father speaking much of his dad, other than the time my mother decided I should shave off a youthful mustache I had grown in the summer of my senior year of high school. While she went on and on about how horrible it looked and how it would reflect badly on me when I went looking for work, my father waited patiently for the storm to pass and stated, “I never saw my father without a mustache and if a son of mine wants to grow one that would be his decision.” My mother never spoke of my choice of facial hair again.

While I can’t say for certain that he was without faults, I can tell you I know my father loved and respected him and missed him dearly when he was gone.




1885 Julius Nicoli Family Homesteading Claim Proved

1885 Julius Nicoli Family Homesteading Claim Proved

– Clarence Holm

They came in search of independence,
Dream chasers from the east.
On tracts of land, sustained attendance,
A family’s debt would be released.

With hope so high couple’s sought their fame
On the prairie of Dakota.
They broke the sod and made a claim
A quarter section filled their quota.

The first year flew, so much to do,
There spirits would not weaken.
Another year the hardships grew
Their faith became a beacon.

The third year came, a second child was due
Space had become a problem.
More sod was cut to house the crew
The home began to blossom.

At the end of five the claim was proved,
The family had beaten the trial
Their land was theirs, the debt removed
And the effort seemed worthwhile.

I’m Homesick!

I want to return to my old neighborhood, the place where I felt welcome no matter which friend’s house I was in. I want to go back to the place where dark mysteries involved misplaced bats and balls and were normally solved long before nightfall.


I want to hear the children’s songs of “Double Dutch” accompanied by the sound of leather soled saddle shoes landing on the sidewalk in time to the rhythm. I listen to hear “Ante I Over” and “Pum Pum Pull Away” in the night-time air just before the curfew whistle.

I hunger to taste hearty homemade doughnuts cooked in an iron kettle full of lard, heated on an old cook stove. I want to hear the voices of women gossiping in country kitchens about neighbors and friends and who were and weren’t at church last week.

I want to turn the scratchy tuner of a wooden AM Radio to KOVC to catch the broadcast of the noontime market report, followed by an hour of Polka Party, hosted by Dale Olson, hawking bedroom suites from the local furniture store. I long to hear the “Rest of the story” from Paul Harvey and smell the sulfur of a match lighting a Chesterfield my father would smoke before heading back out in the field.

I wish to feel of the power of the old John Deere rumbling through the field, tugging a four bottom plow and listen to the flutter of the pheasants flushed from the slough as my old dog followed along in the field. I hope to catch the morning sun burning the dew off the pasture where our Holsteins spent the night.

I crave warm hugs from people who are now long gone that still serve up memories that encourage me to do my best at everything I do, that remind me that the best part of life is still coming and I have family and friends that love and need me with them.


Memories must serve as placeholders of dreams locked in my heart till I come home again in time.

Chicken Soup For My Soul

More years ago than I like to admit, I was raised on a small grain farm in North Dakota. It was about 500 acres of sandy loam soil that needed more water then it got and required all 6 of the children to work hard with my parents to scratch out a sharecropper’s living. If I learned anything from the experience, it was the value of good food to fuel my body for a hard day of chores.

The only things we had in abundance on that farm were vegetables from our huge garden and mean old clucking hens. As one of the younger children in the family, it was my daily job to gather the eggs from the coop. Everyday I had to confront those same old clucks who were intent on guarding the eggs in their care. With most chickens, a simple waive of the hand would send them running, but these evil creatures fought me hard with their beaks and claws.

It’s no wonder my favorite soup was chicken!

Of course I’m not talking about the soup that comes out of a red & white can! I’m talking about a soup that’s thick with chicken and vegetables and had battleship sized dumplings floating on the top. A soup that started on Monday, simmered on Tuesday, and only by Wednesday was ready for the table. It was the type of soup that didn’t need crackers and was served as a meal to give you the energy to work hard all day long.

Years later I’m finding, the values I learned on the farm are still valid today. Number one is, nobody likes an old cluck and two, that there is a huge difference between quick and easy and real homemade quality. People understand and appreciate the time and effort it takes to expertly combine high quality ingredients to make a product that satisfies.

Oyster Crackers

– Recollections of Christmas Eve, Abt. 1958 – Cuba, North Dakota

Of course it was Christmas Day that included a holiday feast with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, but it was the Christmas Eve meal that would become our family’s favorite tradition.  My parents loved oyster stew and crackers, and would served it as our family’s “pre-gift” Holiday Eve treat. Unfortunately, my brother Eugene and I wouldn’t eat it. To placate us, the youngest of the six children, they would serve a second type of soup, Campbell’s chicken noodle. Even though we had different soups, we all shared the other part of the menu, the little round oyster crackers.

Other holiday meals included richer foods, but the sights and smells of the chicken and oyster soups along with the crackle of the cellophane bag containing those crackers, remain in my memory.

The soups were served at our table in the pots they were warmed in. Our entire family would sit around the Formica topped kitchen table with its matching vinyl and chrome chairs and would wait to eat until Joanne, the only girl of the six children, lead us through Grace saying, “Bless us Oh Lord…”

My mother would dish up the soup. She knew we had to finish the meal quickly! The doors to the rest of the house had been closed, to allow Santa to enter and bring our gifts. Those same doors would not be reopened until everyone was finished with their soup and oyster crackers.

In most families it would be the children who would have a hard time waiting, but not in ours. It was mother who poked and prodded us to finish the meal. Mom loved Christmas! She could barely stand the wait to see what Santa had brought. While we slurped at our soup, she would exclaim, “Did you hear that? I think I heard Santa’s reindeer on the roof!” Or, if that didn’t work, she would shush us and say, “Do you hear sleigh bells?”

We children loved the time between our parent closing the hallway doors and waiting for them to open them again, allowing us into Christmas. Anticipation warmed us as our mother stoked the fires of our imagination. It was a magic time. It was the time when everything we dreamt of was possible. Even as children, we sensed we should hold that feeling and revel in that moment.

After the meal was finished, the doors would be opened and we would be allowed to open the gifts that were left for us. Memories of the gifts that my parents had scrimped and saved for all that year have long ago faded. I’m sure we were given lots of toys and candy along with new clothes to wear for Christmas. I vaguely recall trying to learn the rules of new games and my older brother’s exasperation as he read the instructions out loud to us over and over again. But these are distant memories.

Christmas days come and go; gifts under a tree fade with the years. Only the best moments of Christmas stay with you forever.