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Claude Duncan and
Mabel Marney Duncan

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson,
McMahon, River Junction
School Districts Pages 313 - 315
by Gwen Duncan Ladd

Once upon a time, a young man by the name of Claude Duncan, met a young woman named Mabel Marney. Both were attending Homer Institute, in Rocky Comfort, Missouri. Claude was the eldest of seven children born to Robert Perry Duncan and Lucinda Jane Scott Duncan. Mabel was one of the seven of George and Minta Collins Marney. Both families were close knit, and all of the children lived in that area. Claude, age 22, and Mabel, age 20, were married in 1910. A farm had been purchased near Rocky, with a nice two storey home, and they set up housekeeping there. In two years, a daughter named Gwendolyn was born, the first grandchild in both families. In 1916 a second daughter arrived, and was named Valmorice. By all rights, they should have lived happily ever after in their bit of Eden, alas, a villain came, in the person of Floyd Wiley.

Floyd, a friend of Dads, had just returned from Western Canada. He came to the house and undoubtedly exaggerated the potential of prairie living. Dad fell for his tales. It was not a very long time until Dad left to see for himself. He first looked around Winnipeg, but did not find a place he liked. Then he looked in Saskatchewan, and on to Alberta. I have letters he wrote to mother while he was on this search. In Lethbridge he found what he wanted, closed the deal and returned to Missouri. The news of this great move was calamitous in the families. Mother took it especially hard.

Preparations started at once. I think the farm was sold, and a sale held to dispose of items they did not want to move. Five freight cars were loaded with livestock, equipment, including the Rumley tractor and threshing machine, furniture, etc.. The etc. included a shot gun and his wedding suit, which Mother donated to the Galt Museum in later days. Dad went on a freight car. Days or weeks later, Mother, Val and I left by passenger train. The trip took several days and Dad met us at night in Lethbridge. We stayed in a hotel overnight, and early next morning set forth for the farm with a horse and buggy. I have vivid memories of that day in August 1917. The distance seemed endless - no tree in sight and few houses just open space. The road was two ruts. The sun seemed hotter than in the Ozarks. It was like a different world. Then, as later, I lay the blame for all misery on Floyd Wiley.

Dad bought the farm from the Leonard family who had moved from Wisconsin. I believe the father was Frederick. His son W.G. and his wife, Florence, also lived there. They had two children, Julia, my age, and Miller, Val's age. For many years they were our only friends. Mrs. Leonard came close as she could to replacing Mother's three sisters. Julia and I were friends until her death in 1993.

In 1917, when we moved, Dad did not know if he was going to be drafted to go into the service for WW 1. In the end he was deferred as the draft board decided he would do more good for the country providing food. If the draft board had known what the future held, he would have had to go.

Things were bad enough in the summer, but then winter arrived. Mother had been taught bedroom windows should be left open for fresh air. She could not open the storm windows, so she left the front door open. One morning a neighbor came by, before Mother had shovelled the snow drift out of the living room. As I recall, it was Mame Laycock. She told Mother, we did not need that much fresh air when the temperature was forty degrees below zero. She probably saved our lives. I remember the frost on the bedding in the mornings, and going to bed with heated rocks.

When I was seven or eight I was designated to bring in the cows. They were pastured in a square mile field, that had two miles of coulee on the opposite side. I went by horseback on old Boonie, also from Missouri. One could see for miles, but the cows were always out of sight in the coulee. If I went west, the cows were south. If I went south, the cows were west. At that time I could not understand, but now I know it was Murphy's Law.

The first years were unbelievably difficult. For one thing Dad did not know how to farm in Alberta. The weather was not favorable. The winds were horrendous and the top soil drifted. Hail storms destroyed entire fields of grain. Sometimes snow came while the grain was in stooks. Few things went the right way. In the fall Dad did threshing for other farmers, thus utilizing the equipment he had brought from Missouri. An aside - Dad was not given to profanity, but he did get a lot of feeling into "Thunder", and when exceedingly exasperated,'Thunder and lightning".

About 1918 the horrible influenza epidemic hit. Dad had it first, but kept going as much as he could. Then Mother became ill and she, Val and 1, were admitted to Galt Hospital . During the winter of 1919 we rented rooms in Lethbridge, corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue, from the Chapman brothers. Dad hauled coal and froze his toes, but fortunately did not lose them. I started school in the second grade at Central School and Mrs. MacLeod was my teacher. I have a picture of the class and believe several are still around. In the spring the rest of the family went back to the farm, but I was boarded in town and left behind. I believe it was in 1922 that we had no crop and no money. Somehow, Mother, Val and I went to Missouri and spent the winter with Mother's parents. I have no idea how this trip was financed. Dad stayed on the farm and survived by eating wheat.

Dad hated weeds and would hand weed all those hundreds of acres of grain. He worked such long hours, he was known as "Midnight Duncan". As the years passed, Dad learned a lot about farming from experience and from close contact with the Government Experimental Farm. In the end, I think he was one of the best, if not The Best farmer, in that area. I recall that after WW II he got top dollar for his weed free seed through the Marshall Plan.

The Community School was built on a part of Dad's land, in 1923. The opposite corner of the section from where we lived. Val and I attended, going by horse and buggy, and eight others were enrolled. In winter, Dad got up at 4 A.M. to go to the school on horseback, to start a fire to heat the building.

From the time we arrived in Alberta, we attended the First Baptist Church in Lethbridge. It was quite a trip with horse and buggy. I do not remember when we got our first car. Many of our friends were members of that church.

In the early years of threshing, wheat was stored in granaries. In winter it was hauled by horse and wagons to the elevator in Lethbridge. The men would leave early in the morning and get back in time to load the wagons for the next day. Overnight the wagons would freeze to the ground. I can still hear the crunch of the breaking loose in the mornings. After the advent of combines and trucks, the wheat was hauled directly from the field to the elevator. I think I started hauling wheat about age 12, and my sisters all had their stint. Today, April 3, 1995, I had a flat tire. My first thought was Dad's instructions given 65 or 70 years ago. He said, "Always kick the tires before you start. " One day I started and a wheel came off. Someone had stolen one of the dual wheels, and if I had kicked, I surely would have seen it was missing. I am sure that evoked a roaring 'Thunder".

Sometime in the 20's we got a telephone, party line, of course. That was a great day for Val and me. Now we had entertainment - listening in. The one name I remember is Barney Gwatkins. He had a girl friend, whose name I have forgotten. One of them was on our line, and that was our "Soap" of the day. The phone brought another sound to the stillness of those clear, cold nights. The wires hummed or whistled a duet with the howling coyotes.

In 1925 our sister Patricia arrived and sister Barbara in '28. About this time Dad bought a house in town and Mother spent less time doing all the cooking on the farm.

When we arrived in 1917 the Felger Farm was established one mile away. They had many painted buildings. (Our three room house was not painted.) It was quite a set-up, especially for those early days. They had a tragedy, perhaps 1920: A fire started west of the buildings, and I suppose the west wind was blowing. The stable was destroyed and over 30 head of horses were killed. The beautiful main house was also destroyed. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Boulton had recently moved from England, lived and worked there. They were our good friends all the years. Their sons are still in the area.

Sometime in the 20's the Hutterite Colony bought the Felger farm. About 1960 they bought Dads farm. Dad surely deserved a rest after all his years of labor, but he worked for the Colony until he became ill. He had suffered with arthritis for a long time but then he had cancer which had metastasized before it was discovered. The next year he had massive strokes. The final blow was tuberculosis, so he spent almost two years in the sanitarium in Calgary. He succumbed December 21, 1966. Mother had a very lonely life after he was gone. She lived on in Lethbridge, and finally Calgary until June 13, 1980.

The four sisters had a reunion in Phoenix in November 1990. Julia Leonard came for dinner one day. It was a happy occasion. The next mouth Barbara became ill with a brain cancer. She chose not to have treatments and had a very good year till her demise December 7, 1991. Patricia had surgery in early 1991, followed by complications and she passed away in Febniary 1992. Val and I are still hanging in, albeit the worse forwear!!

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup