In the late fall, the beets had to be topped and hauled to the beet dump where they were shipped to the sugar factory, by rail. The schools always had a one week vacation beginning the third week in October for harvesting sugar beets. The beets are first pulled by a machine which is propelled by a team of horses. It is a two-wheeled cart with two blades that are raised or lowered. The blades are lowered into the ground and run over on each side of the row of beets and loosen the ground and lift the beets enough so they can be picked up.
The toppers then top about three rows at a time. He stands straddle of the center row. He tops the beets with a knife about 15 inches long with a thong on the handle that goes around the man’s hand and a hook on the other end for hooking and lifting the beets. The topper hooks the beets on the first stroke, transfers the beet to the left hand as his hand is raised and tops the beet with a downward stroke as he reaches for the next beet. With the left hand he throws the beet into a row so the wagons can be driven between two rows of topped sugar beets and loaded. The wagons were driven by Father generally and I had the other toppers would pick up the beets, bump them together to remove the dirt and load them into the beet rack one at a time by hand. The loading was a relief from topping because you could at least straighten up to put the beets in the rack but when topping, the man had to remain bent over to reach the ground with the knife hook. It took some degree of dexterity to lop rapidly without skewering your feet or slicing your knees. It was unfortunate for me that the beet season so I never got to go deer hunting.
In the fall of 1935 I started high school. I was about 5 foot 11inches high and weighed about 110 pounds. The family could have picked me if we had raised string beans. But I was a tough farm kid that worked from daylight to dark and few men could do more work than I could at farming.
I wanted to play football and basketball but to go out for the ball teams, you had to take athletics in lieu of physical education. You had to have Coach Wilson’s permission to sign-up for athletics. I went down to the Coach’s office. He took one look at me and politely said, “Come back when you grow up.” So I ended up taking physical education at 2:00pm from the coach and typing from him at 10:00am. During the early part of the year, we exercised in P.E. or played touch football, but nothing exciting happened. Meanwhile I was practicing typing like all the other students in the class. When the outdoor weather started getting cold, we moved into the gym and started playing basketball and my world started changing. The coach would come into typing class and say to me, “Don’t you think you should go to practice shooting baskets this morning?” So off I’d go to the gym and shoot baskets. In a few weeks, I was invited to join the sophomore basketball team which practiced after school. The teams practiced at the junior high school, which had a newer, better gym and most of the team took athletics, but I had another class at that period. So, I would finish my last class, dash out the door down the half mile hill to the junior high and change into my uniform by the time to start the sophomore practice. After practice, since I had missed the school bus, I would run the two miles home to do my milking before dark. Then I would get to play perhaps 5 minutes of each game. It wasn’t too close a game.
During the basketball season, the coach had arranged for me and Billy Raditz to play with the ward M-man team, even though we were technically too young. This was designed to give us additional playing experience for later high school years. So we played ball one night a week in addition. Our team had an acute shortage of players and we both got to play almost all of each game. Billy played forward and scored 10 points a game. I played guard and scored 2, but I got a lot of rebounds and assists. The high school coach was also Stake Athletic Director and could bend the rules a bit to keep our ward participating.
During the following summer, the coach had me put a barrel hoop up on the side of the shop so I could shoot baskets and gave me an old basketball to play with. So, after working in the fields all day and after getting the cows from the pasture and milking them, I would shoot baskets, if it wasn’t too dark.
In the spring after basketball, the coach suggested I run the mile in a local meet. I had never run in a race but with his encouragement, I agreed to enter, although the school had an excellent miler who had placed in the State the previous year.
In the first race, I drew the fourth lane to start, but no one had told me I didn’t have to stay in that lane all of the race, so I did. The coach had said just to pace myself on the older miler and to sprint when he did so I just kept up him and pretty soon there was just him running the inside lane and me running in the fourth lane. About 100 yards from the end, he started to sprint so I just kept up with him. He took first place and I was real proud to get second. I hadn’t got off the track until the coach was cussing me out. Didn’t I know enough to get in an inside lane and didn’t I know I could have easily beat the other boy?? Heck no, no one had ever told me.
After that, the coach would come to typing class and say, “Don’t you think you should go run a few laps?” And so I would.
As we approached the county track meet, and this time I had received his best coaching. He said to me, “You know you are going to flunk typing. If you do real well in the county meet Friday, I’ll give you your typing credit.” You know, I got a straight A. But I didn’t place in the State meet—although I was real close.