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"...I thoroughly enjoyed the book, not just for the new information on Stearns. I thought you did an excellent job incorporating one family's history into the larger currents of economic, social and political history that affected it.
I do think that the book would be useful for American Studies students to read.... your book is an especially colourful saga of repeated moves and resilience."
Dr. Benita Howell, Professor Emeritus, Head of the Department of American Studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Dr. Howell provided some research assistance on Stearns and the Appalachians and asked to be informed when the book was published.
"I found From Sailing Ships to Spitfires to be a riveting story of turn-of-the-century immigration to the United States...."
Tom Des Jeans, Cultural Resources Manager, National Park Service, Oneida TN. Stearns, KY, where the family lived from 1904 to 1910, has been incorporated into a National Park, in the United States.
America Is Not What It Used to Be
(United States—1904-1911) - Synopsis
Selected Readings: Chapter 3
"There are thousands out of work"
"A summer as slack as this is more than anyone remembers," Olav wrote in late August 1904. The turmoil in the labour situation in New York had dashed their hopes of finding employment in the construction trades for the summer....
....About half a million passed through Ellis Island that year and about a quarter of them remained in the city. But in 1904, those responsible for this astonishing growth in the city—the builders, employers and unions that represented the workers—were in a state of turmoil and conflict with each other.
.... "If we could get hired on a steamboat we would take it until times got better. In the spring I am thinking about going inland to see if things are better there."
In order to understand the circumstances that Gustav and Olav encountered in New York in the summer of 1904 and in their work experience in the next few years, we must look back on the changes in American society following the Civil War.
Through word of mouth in the Norwegian community, they heard of jobs available in lumbering in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.... They could see nothing better on their horizon, so they were off to Kentucky in late September.
"If you gain something, you lose something else"
....Across the tracks and beyond, to the south, stood a new electrically driven planing mill, the first all-electric planing mill in the United States. Stearns already had an electric plant in Ludington, so he had no problem setting up another plant in Kentucky.
"Right now it is hard times all over"
At Yammacraw, the camp houses stood on the recently logged, steep slopes, on both the lower and upper sides of the railroad tracks, overlooking the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Anna tended one of the small gardens on the sloped hillside of the rough, recently logged terrain. One book on the region mentioned a local joke about "...falling off a garden." In August, Gustav wrote, "I guess Eilert told you how we live here, and that frightened you."
In mid-July Olav travelled by train to Chicago and then to Minneapolis, where he obtained a contract for farm work.... Since coming to America, twenty-six-year-old Olav had learned to speak English well, and was anxious to see more of the country. Gustav wrote, "Ole can take care of himself. He knows the language and the American system well."
The "Panic.... Complicating the crisis in America was the lack of a central bank to accommodate fluctuations in the money market....
"You should see how black we look when we come back from work. We look like chimney sweeps." Olav hoped to begin work as a photographer during the day, while working in the coal mines at night.
"Right now it is hard times all over." They had heard that it was better times out west, but the cost of travelling was too high. They could go broke looking for work.
"We can’t make up our minds what to do"
On November 7, 1908, the Republicans won the U.S. elections William Taft became the next president of the United States. Olav had been reading newspapers and was well informed on the election and election issues. He was not short on opinions.
"I guess you are unfamiliar with the name Standard Oil Company. It is one of the richest companies in the United States. I just read that this....
Standard Oil was the first major trust formed in America and became the subject of much criticism by muckrakers. A trust was.... "There is lots of dirty stuff going on during elections. Money talks."
Progressivism in American society sought political change to correct the perceived injustices and evils brought about by the power.... ....Then companies set up prices for their goods." He believed that Roosevelt was a man who tried to stop this. He hoped that if Mr. Taft used the same policies as Roosevelt, maybe they could enjoy the same good times that they had earlier.
"1908 was a bad year for America, a worse year than many can remember,"
The family had witnessed great changes in the Appalachians in the early years of the 20th century. Large areas of the mountains had been denuded of their great stands of virgin hardwoods....
Gustav and Anna remained in Stearns until the spring of 1910, when they moved to Ludington, Michigan, the hometown of Justus Stearns.
"Sometimes things do not go the way we want"
Olav and Eilert travelled to North Dakota for the threshing season, and in late October they found work through an employment agency at Ely, Minnesota, 115 miles northeast of Duluth. The job was with a construction crew laying a "corduroy road." "One day after lunch, I was with a group of five men, resting after a meal. While talking together, we found that we were from different nations, all six of us." But they didn’t like working there, so they returned to Duluth in early December.
"I am not going there whether it is good or bad years. I have had enough of the Dakota farming work. Where we were last, we worked 12 and 15 hours every day, and at the end we lost $15 and $20...."
With the mine closure in December, Olav and Albert decided to join Gustav and Anna in Alberta. In the week between Christmas and New Year's, 1911, they made the move from Davis, North Dakota to Castor, Alberta.