Ralph (Heinie) Johnson Oral History
April 4, 1984
[Note: this interview was given to me as five pages, single-spaced, as one, long continuous paragraph. It was poorly transcribed, and does not make sense in many areas. However, the reader can get the gist of the conversation, and for that reason it is published here. – Editor]
I: Please give your name.
R: Ralph Johnson.
I: Where are you from Ralph?
R: East Halmer.
I: What township that will be in?
R: Marion Township.
I: How old are you? What is your age?
R: 79-90 years old. I told you while ago 89.
I: What year you were born?
I: What year?
R: A ,b,c,d. Just say 90 years.
I: What kind of work you did all in your life?
R: Hard work.
I: Were you a farmer?
R: I have been a slave in all my life while living. I ain't telling you a lie about being a slave all my life. Nobody ever give a dime, if they did I will get it out of our apartment. I give him first, I did.
R: I give him right back, big oh.
I: What kind of work you did?
R: All kinds. Drove truck, work on farm, haul stones, haul logs. ( muffled) I have done hard work and I done it.
I: When you haul logs?
R: Oh back in twenty - seventy years ago.
I: Where you take those logs?
I: The local sawmill?
R: Yeah up in here the Hill Brothers, um, oh boy.
I: Did you owe the farm?
R: Yeah I sure did. My boy’s living on it and now. It is paid for a long ____. ( laughing) Can you, ah?
I: When you bought the farm what kind of condition was it in? I mean is it still woodland yet or is it all clear?
R: No, no, no. Some of it is to be clear and some of it I cleared my self. Some of it that was cleared but it was just fifty to fifty I say about, hmm…
I: How did you clear it? By hand? Or did you have a bulldozer?
R: Oh no, I both _____. I have to take a shovel. They didn't have a bulldozer in them days. They didn't know what a bulldozer was until a bulldozer lived around until you see a couple.
I: (laughing) What year was that?
R: Roughly in the 20s, before that? Hm, there was plenty, I just say from the tens and going up to fifties.
I: Okay. Did you clear most of that by your hand then?
R: Yeah, sure, none of that gurgling bi… or tractor (pause) that be part of the year to pull out the shrubs or that kind of stuff, but the hard work was done then.
I: How did you cut the trees or what will you use?
R: Hm, ah, gosh, oh boy, oh boy, gosh, gosh, no, gosh, gosh, man, man, dab, log, gosh, gosh, so (pause) twenty-seven years ago, I hauled them.
I: What is the biggest tree you ever seen?
R: Oh, my brother was up at the time and helped to haul the log of the tree on the wagon and then I helped the wagon with a six-inch jarred of where the wagon and ah I had a good one and ah I had a good shot and the log was wide as the wheel on the wagon. I can tell you and dare not going to tell you again. About five feet.
I: Five feet in diameter?
I: You got about fifteen foot round tree?
I: How did you get up in the wagon?
R: Team horses
I: What kind of tree was it, an oak?
R: It was a sycamore.
I: Was it sycamore use for cheating or was it use for scuff?
R: Use it for fishing stuff at that time that was a good fishing number. Oh, around the harbor, I had it here from Findley, built his house out of the tree.
I: Yeah. He builds his whole house out of the tree?
R: He build his whole house out of that tree that was his framework.
I: I'll be darn.
R: Yeah. Like studying made out of sycamore.
R: It was made out of sycamore.
I: How tall was it, roughly?
R: Oh god, I couldn't tell you anymore. It was the biggest stump.
I: What is it straight or did have a lot of trunks?
R: No, no straight as a gun barrel.
I: Yeah, sure. I bet is a tall tree then?
R: Yeah I bet you have George Davis, George Johnson, and (name) spotted early grows on.
I: I'll be darn.
I: Did you remember much of the swamp, much of it’s left around here when you first started?
R: Oh, yes. Yeah.
I: Can you explain a little about that?
R: All can tell you is (laughing) need in town about all I can say for you (interrupted). It is wet.
I: Why, sure, it's wet.
R: Nobody put a dime in it, it has to be wet. If it rain, just rain it has no place to go.
I: Yeah. Were the roadside ditches been dug up by that time?
R: Oh, I say about half of them, and a good half of the ditches dug up at that time. They had to be hand dug, and you know big open ditches dug up at the time.
I: Did you watch them digging those ditches or help digging them? Do you remember any of that?
R: No I do not like them.
R: They dug up by hand age.
I: Can you explain it how that it was done? In my generation, they don't remember any of that. They don't have any idea what it would be like to do that.
R: To tell the God's truth is that doesn't walk by (volcano)? and took a slip straight barons. Straight draft. They do bank see side the same. You know. Hm and yeah. Usually, the dirt pile take out of ditch is put on the road that where the road suppose to be. Yeah sure, we dug along the side of the road to drain the road off.
I: Did you know at that time, and, uh, at that time in those days there were no efficaciated stone roads, not made yet. What ah, How deep when they dig those when they first started to dig a ditch? How big the deep that'll be along the road?
R: I say from 2 to 4 feet. Two to four feet. I say from 2 to 4 feet deep. Variation shape of the ground that is in and the size of it.
I: Will that will be survey out first before you guys going there to do that?
R: Yeah. Yeah.
I: Who will do that? Will the engineer be there something?
R: Yeah. Yeah. Court marshals come out and survey it you know.
I: How you guys know how deep to dig?
R: Hardly known. Do you say sticks? ( laughing) they say just dig that's all. ( laughing) yeah sure water runs down the hill and don't run up the hill you know down the hill. You went by seepage water then. Why sure. Went off the road.
I: Will you start the outland and going to work back?
R: Yeah, yeah sure. They surveys should know how deep the one end should be probably. Why sure he is at his business.
I: You guys just dug the mud.
R: Yeah. We dug the mud.
I: What will you do, if you came up to the stump?
R: A stump, well dig it out. Sure dig it out.
I: It will take a long time.
R: Why yeah, we use a pick and a shovel and whatever to dig it with.
I: Well did ya the first roads to put in through the area.
R: Yeah sure, I remember the first roads that some of it were put in that area. I help put some of it in, my friend.
I: How you do that?
R: With team horses and with team mule, I have a pair of mule and a pair of white (barriers)...I asked you for goodness. Okay. I give goodness.
I: You had a team of mules that you own yourself?
R: I drove it myself, right.
I: And they were your mules?
R: Yeah, sure, they are my mules and don't tell me your (laughing)...have a picture of be it. Tom and Jerry, okay.
I: Why do you use mules? Are they better than horses, or just like them?
R: Oh, I just like them. I bought a pair for a very sure, sure fellow and let, let shot in the hand, I bought and work in Virginia.
I: What is the difference between working team of mules and team of horses?
R: Just men did something like that. Just much as they did.
I: Why? Can you explain that?
R: Yeah, I said, said the horse didn't do change or couldn't do it, you couldn't change that devil, out of Patsy. There was a difference in them and now listen when you got good pair of, I've got a good pair old Tom and Jerry. With a good pair, I can do anything with out pair of mules. That you much not do with. They just sit there, no. Why they just stand there in the street and scare the _____ out of you. ( laughing) I told that I don't want to tell anybody. They don't know I'm talking about. That's right. ( laughing) Yeah. Yeah sure, I said, don't know whoever Tom or Jerry kicking ...while digging up the ditch along the side of the road. I suppose Joe didn't he move right and spoke to him right away see and I slapped him into the line and the end of line and he kicked his prints of his shoe on my overalls. That is close enough. That's close enough, not too close, about an inch farther he will kill me. Seriously. It gets in the line and have a pair of shoes on. Yeah.
I: When you dug up these roadside ditches, do you contact the courthouse to do that?
R: Yeah. So much a mile? Oh yeah. So much a rod.
I: How much do you charge a rod, do you remember?
R: Oh, yeah, all kinds of prices. All kinds of prices.
I: So many cents a rod? So many dollars with a rod, produce so much of it. You can't give me rough example of you will charge.
R: Oh no. It has been too long ago.
I: Why, yes, my gosh, is too long time ago. Cheap labor probably, wasn't it?
R: Well if you go by cheap labor.
I: 25 cents a day?
R: Yeah I worked a day for a dime. Sure.
I: And now, do you remember when the first stone roads came in that area?
R: Yeah. My uncle had the stones and join by farm.
I: Your uncle, what is his name?
I: Charlie Johnson, Okay. Is the quarry still open yet?
R: No. Well, uh, the quarry is open according to neighbors and the water is in the quarry out there.
I: They don't use it anymore?
R: Oh no it hasn't been used for, oh, I’d say twenty years, time goes so fast.
I: About what year, roughly what year in, what decade when they started to stone those roads?
R: Oh I hauled stones for the roads in 1910.
I: 1910. What is the difference when the road was stone, the one was before?
R: Ah huh, how big the deep in the mud.
I: Deep in mud?
R: Yes, oh boy, the long shot and how it turned up.
I: How do you get the mud off?
R: For God sake, it isn't even on. It fell off.
R: In 1910, you say first started, they called it Macro dam [Macadam] or something like that.
I: Do you remember using that name for stone roads?
R: Forget it.
I: And, huh, did they ever dorduroy those roads?
R: Not to my knowledge, and not in Marion Township, they didn't.
I: Where is Marion Township laying in regard to Henry County?
R: Well, uh ,I can tell you exactly where Marion Township is inside… road 37 and the road 205, that will be in the area of Marion Township.
I: It will near Putnam County, the west degree of Putnam County, will it?
R: No, ain't too far.
R: Coming from the Findlay area, going to west and going to the east drive in Marion Township.
R: Marion Township is located on the east side of ... Findlay.
I: Yeah. Could you remember when the first tile mills came around?
R: Oh yeah, sure, sure. Child Brothers.
R: Yeah, Child Brothers.
I: He owned Hancock brick and tile, I get it?
R: Yes, sure, it has been rule out too.
I: Did you … Do you ever …
R: (Interrupting) You name it, I have done it.
I: Did you ever do any hand ditching, Heinie?
R: Hand ditching?
R: Yeah (laughing), hand ditching.
I: How’d you do it?
R: With the spade and shovel.
I: How do you, if you lay out a ditch from scratch, can you explain what you do first and how you finish it?
R: Well uh, first I lay out a ditch first. First thing I do is to be survey the fall of it, you know, and then you go by the fall of a ditch and the water fall.
R: For you, ah, well you got to run the water at the hill at the side of discrepancies that doesn't work. No, no, you got to dig through the front, flat, place, see and, ah, is all done by hand.
I: Sure. How do you survey it, is it just by eye?
I: How do you survey it? Just with your eye, or you will have a transit?
R: Oh yeah, we dab the survey with an instinct, stick at the bottom like, huh how I am going to tell you. It had been longer (pause) longer than the yardstick it was. To tell the truth, I can't tell how tall it was anymore. It was a pretty tall stick.
R: The numbers, numbers burnt right on the stick.
R: You know , the markings were in feet, so many in feet, inches. Feet, inches, but I couldn't tell you anymore how, how tall it was. But is there around 5 - 6 feet tall. It take care of your high places and your low places, you know.
I: So you get a grade on it? Do you set a string there?
I: Do you lay a string?
R: Yeah. Straightest string you see and, ah, go by the string in water or the water soaked is tested onto my. Follow the string see, along the main and down, ah.
I: Do you have an overhead flying?
I: Do you have an overhead string or is it down in the trench?
R: Down and overhead is up in the banks, see and the bank have it.
R: You take the stick came on measuring on the string.
R: So your follow is right.
I: Sure, sure.
R: You know where you are at on inches above the road and above the water and depth see.
I: Yeah. How much do you dig in a day, do you start in the morning, how long trans can you finish?
R: Ohh, I say man at work. I say dig a ditch about ten feet deep. I say... I dig a... I don't known anymore. 20 - 40 rods. I say 40 rods are easy.
R: I dig 40 rods easy. Yeah.
I: That is hard work.
R: How I am going to say, they know how to dig.
I: Did you, when you dug a ditch, you did all the work and you did the finishing, the grading, scooping out of the bottom, and tiling too?
R: One that I didn't do, the guy does the bottom work.
R: I done where the lay of the tile.
R: I have different fellows work with me and dug with by hand, took the top spade off. Oh I done the top spading. But the... most of I have done myself. Top spade was left for the other fellow and I done the bottom. What we called it. Oh I got one in my shed now. To grade, to grade the bottom with. It shape like a tile or half shape.
I: A tile scoop.
R: Yeah, a tile scoop, see. I got one back in my shed now and so far it does go.
I: What type of a tile do you lay, is it a horseshoe shape type, square ones or all round tile you get?
R: All round tile, I never lay square tiles in my life that is, any distance but for browsing or something like that helping somebody or the neighbors something that. That is all round at that time. 90% of them was clay tile. The daddy got some of it and make the use of that tile. But there wasn't many of them and don't misunderstand there wasn't too many of them out yet.
I: I see.
R: Sure. They done away with the cement tiles and stay with clay tiles. But clay tiles is here at the edge of town. Yes, sure it is a short road.
I: Who had the mill?
I: Oh, in Findlay there?
I: Which Childs, do you know, the old man?
R: Yeah, yeah sure.
I: What is their names, do you remember?
R: Ahh, I don't remember the boys. Jim, James, I couldn't tell you anymore. It is too long time ago.
I: It was a big tile company, wasn't it?
R: Oh, yeah, sure they still have the business and stay with it for a long time too. Yeah, they are still making tile, but is plastic now, is all plastic. I don't think that they make clay tile anymore. Clay tile is all gone and they are making plastic tubing now.
I: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
R: I talked to Mr. Childs about a year ago.
I: I see.
R: And he's retired. He must be 80 years old now, I think. That is the boy.
I: Yeah, yeah, sure. Do you remember any other small mills that was in your area, a lot of small mills were there?
R: No, no, no.
I: Hancock had them all?
R: I don't know much about the town of Findlay. Only Childs that I know. That was it.
R: They had the old mills in towns and all over the country.
I: Now did you ever hear about Hancock contracting people, contacting ditchers or person like yourself to do ditching?
R: They just sell tile. Well to my knowledge, Childs was always done first, the project see. None other than that I didn't get to see done any other work. Other than that they took the job for furnishing the township so much to show decency, other than that know how they done that. I don't know.
I: Tell me a little about your family, Heinie? Were your parents from that area or from another part of state?
R: I was born and raised in the house as usual.
I: What is your parent’s name?
R: Harvey Johnson.
I: Harvey Johnson. What is your mother, her maiden name?
I: Okay. Do you remember your grandfather?
R: No, I couldn't, couldn't know for sure my grandfather.
R: They are natives of Findlay, they lived right in the...
I: Yeah, yeah.
R: But my grandfather... I never seen either one of them, grandfather. My dad died 62 years old.
I: I see.
R: He died young.
I: Did your dad ever tell you stories, about when they were pioneers in that area, when they settled it?
R: No, sure. He told me that I could open the business as long _____ as an old story, you know.
I: Coon hunting, you say?
R: Coon hunting, I say.
I: Do you ever go coon hunting?
R: Once or twice, not much.
I: You miss it?
R: You miss it. You take your old coon hound dog, now with you in the woods. Big woods in ‘em those days that I see. Got in the big woods and got a coon. On a tree down a tree, and hit the earth with a ten dollar bill with every dollar.
I: (laughing) Oooooh.
R: (interrupts) Ooooooh. They had big trees them days. Oh my, yes.
I: How are they going to get him out of tree, if they did not have a flashlight?
R: Get a flashlight and run it out of _____ and shoot in the trees to scare him out.
I: What about if you ever did any tracking or hunting in that area?
R: Not to speak of. Not to speak... I didn't have any time to try out. I did not have time to try out.
I: How many acres do you have there in Marion Township?
R: 100 acres.
I: Just 100 acres. Okay, did you do crop farming and did you have cattle?
R: Yeah. We had cattle, hogs, and sheep. We had them all. My boys are on the farm.
I: What about the farming methods, how have they changed in the last 50 - 60 years? How did you start the farm when you first farmed?
R: You see, with the team horses. Oh, Jim and Roy, oh, big brown and yellow in the rear.
R: Yeah, a good pair of jewels, boy. When they couldn't make it, that wasn't ... there’s a difference. Yes sir, I don't worry about it. I had a sycamore tree broke, I had the end broke something. My dad was telling me, "Pull a little harder. Pull a little harder." It started coming out and pretty soon sycamore tree broke, came up and broke my leg off like that.
I: (laughing) How long did you wait to pull out those stumps, couple of years?
I: How long did you wait to pull out those stumps, after you cut the tree?
R: Oh I say that be a question. Some of it is long time or short time... in a tree. How fast it rot. Kind of a tree, you see. Whether the roots grow on top of the ground or down in the ground farther.
I: How do you pull a stump with the team horses, just with leather tongues, with log chains?
R: Yeah. Sure. Dig around and then put a chain on them and pulled it out.
I: You didn't do it in 5 minutes. I am sure you didn't. How long will it take you to get a stump out, a good one?
R: Oh a big stump will take all day long, yeah a big stump will take all day long. Yeah. Heaven sakes, yeah, yeah.
I: What about... what does soil look like on new ground and how is it different from after you farm for awhile?
R: Well to be truthful, now there is lot of difference in quality of the ground, so far as raising crops is concerned. I raised just as good crops now as twenty years ago or forty years ago. Either one of them, far as I go.
I: Was the ground looser than you think?
R: Oh I say it is not looser. Hmm. If you farm it right.
R: No, you could spoil anything, see. I don't care how it is, you could spoil anything. You can break ground, get your down pour, won't rain, turkey buzzard part that goes, see. And then you can farm so it will raise anything that I know, yeah.
I: What is one of the rules of thumb when you farm is, clay soil in the spring, you have to stay off it when its wet, don’t you?
R: Oh, yeah, sure won’t _____ when the soil is wet.
I: What happened if you didn't?
R: (laughing) Why you just have a hard .. _____ you couldn't... asked my boy, he had a hard, with a hard time, you know.
I: What kind of crops, you first started to raised?
R: Well practically the same as right now. We have one of them referred to, you know.
R: Corn, oats, and wheat and we raised that when I was a kid, see.
I: Do you ever grow buckwheat?
I: What about clover crops? You started to grow them, didn't you?
R: They started to grow them before my time. They started to raise clover.
I: Do you remember why they first raised clover in this area?
I: Why is that?
R: Pasture. Hay in the winter. Pasture in the summer.
I: Is that considered a good soil builder, too?
R: Yes, sure, you bet it was, that was a good soil builder, but it was so grassy...
that raise clover and follow on the next spring, see.
I: What Wwill clover affect in the drainage of the field?
R: No, it did so good. Clover grow down deep and have drain off, you see. Make little holes in the ground.
I: When did you get your first tractor?
R: Oh I don't know when I got it. I had it for 20 years-25 years. I say 25 years since I had the tractor.
I: Remember when you bought your first one, when you got rid of your horses and bought a tractor?
R: I can't tell you.
I: Before the twenties?
R: No, no. After the twenties. I didn't'have a team of... I didn't have a tractor like a lot of
fellows as earlier some of them have, see. Some of the boys are bigger farmers and I wasn't. Had more money and give a hillbilly a system and an arm that I shouldn't give hillbillies.
R: I didn't have money and operate like they operated, but I finally give up them and rid of them any how.
I: Do remember when the steam power ditching machines came into this area?
R: Oh, oh boy, boy no power of my. Oh I say, by golly, I don't know. I don't know how to tell you... first came. When they... Findlay Park . I dug a... Oh I couldn't tell you. It just... time go fast. Then the old Buckeye. I say been forty years.
I: Sure. Do you remember when those first things came around, like I think in 1900 when they first used those in the Findlay area, the old Buckeye ditchers?
R: The buckeye ditchers, while Clark has one of them.
I: Yeah. Do you remember that plant that was in Findlay?
R: Yeah. Sure. I would of... Sure. See that was the only ditching machine company in the world at that time.
I: Well I didn't know that.
R: They invented the mechanic ditching machines. Findlay was the place where it started.
I: Well, oh, yeah, they did the first one.
R: Yeah sure, I worked for him.
I: How long did you work for him?
R: Oh I don't know, different times. I worked (pause) working ditch or tile.
I: Did you lay the tile?
R: No, no, no I worked in teams. I worked in teams. I hauled the tiles. I delivered the tiles around to different ditches, yeah.
I: How did you or what did you deliver those in, a gray wagon?
R: Well a flat rack. They called it flat rack. Oh, well, I’d say ten or twelve inches high. You sure got wheels off the ground. You should know turn under there.
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