Looking back, we have to thank our Mom and Dad for teaching us the value of work back in the 1940s.. For twin brother Duane and I, when we were 10 or 12, our family of seven had a modest lifestyle with Dad's work at the Sparta Foundry (AKA Muskegon Piston Ring) providing the only outside income except for Mom's occasional work downtown at the Ben Franklin and Finch's Meat Market. Mom was amazing at stretching those dollars and thinking back - it was almost magical how she did it.
The reality for us kids was that we couldn't go to our folks and get a dime or a dollar when we wanted to go to a movie or buy a cold Orange Crush. Mom would say “Go and shovel Mr Fields's walk or get a mowing job at Miss Walker's”. She wasn't about to let us sit around the house even during the cold of winter or on the hottest summer day.
Those were the days of the reel type mower as the gas powered type had yet to be invented. They worked fine if the grass wasn't too tall and as long as the blades were well adjusted so they met the bed all the way across. Otherwise, the blades would just flatten the grass down rather than cut it.
When Duane and I first started mowing lawns in the neighborhood, we were too small to push a mower by ourselves, so we pushed in tandem; one on each side of the handle. Being twins and the same size it worked just fine and I can't remember ever having an argument over one of us not pushing hard enough. It was a matter of pride; not to get out-worked by the other.
Snow shoveling, of course was always by hand and heavy work with wet snow. Those big flat shovels or worse yet, for the guy that got stuck with that huge coal shovel of Dad's. Forest and Deette Field's walk was especially long but we didn't complain, that 50 cents was our ticket to see “My Friend Flicka” or penny candy at Bick's store.
Perhaps our most interesting business venture (it was more than a job) was delivering corn cobs. Who can ever relate to that in this day and age? In the 1940's there were still many people who heated their homes with coal and their water with wood in a small water heater in the basement.The water heater didn't run constantly but would be started on wash day and bath day.
Corn cobs were the ideal way to start those wood fires, so there was a need and we had the answer. I don't remember how we got started but most likely Dad or Grandpa Bradford heard from those who needed those cobs.So each week we had several customers waiting for our delivery. In those days the local feed mill shucked the kernels for various uses but there was no use for the cobs which ended up in a large pile just back of the Sparta Feed Mill.It was a blessing for two boys looking to make some money and to several widow ladies who needed the cobs to heat their water.
When Duane and I got jobs on main street at Walt Miller’s Grocery and Ben Franklin, our younger brother Larry took over the mowing business which he expanded with a power mower and more neighborhood customers. Larry, already a “banker type” with a paper route, started a savings account at Sparta State Bank where he saved most of his $1.00 per lawn haul.
We have always been grateful that our parents taught us the benefits of working hard.
By Don Bradford
This is article 3 of 7 in the Sparta 175th Birthday Commemorative Article Series.