The Memoirs of James Albert Hirtle
Part Two

The Old Flint-lock Gun

Dad's gun was an old muzzle loader, a 12 gauge, and a very long barrel; now Dad cut off the barrel 9 inches, and left it without a sight; Now it was something like this. It had a small hole drilled at the back end of the barrel to a pan with a hinged cover, this cover had a steel face upright. The hammer had two jaws, one regulated with a set screw to clamp [unsure of this word] a piece of flint, a few flakes of powder would get into the pan, and the hammer was at half cock most of the time; but when firing the flint would strike the steel plate and cause the charge to explode. If bullets were needed they were home made. There was always a mold and plenty of lead, and bullets could be made. The old gun could give you an awful kick, unless you knew just how to handle it. I imagine my sister in Toronto has the old gun now.

Burning Charcoal

In my time at home our blacksmith used charcoal, and Dad was clearing some land on which there was quite a lot of birchwood, so with some help Dad cut a lot of wood into cordwood [a line seems to be missing] wide at the bottom, and to a point, probably 12 feet high; covered all over with earth, also a place to set it alight; now this must be watched day and night for it must not burn openly, but only char. How long it took to complete this charring I don't know, but probably two weeks. I suppose it had to be put out, about that I don't know for I was only a kid. They had a shelter, a one-side roof and the other side open. My big brother, and a friend of his, later his brother-in-law, took care of it night and day; and I used to be with them till late in the evening.

Our Cooking Utensils

The pots and pans that my Mother had, were all cast iron. Most were round and had three legs, these were pots, and she had only three, one small one, and one that would hold two gallons or more and a very large one, used only when a large quantity of water was used; also a water kettle, a frying pan and a baking kettle, all cast iron. The baking kettle would be about 14 inches in diameter and 5 to 6 inches deep.


Here is something else I did. We had growing up sometimes around the stumps in the field a shrub called pithwood, because it had a thin shell of wood on the outside, and a large pity center. now as my Aunt had a loom and did weaving, she used shuttles, and in those shuttles were quills or spools, filled with yarn or cotton, so we needed a lot of those quills, and I used to get pith wood of the right size, cut them to the right length and burn out he pith so they would go over a shaft in the shuttle; and when weaving a web of cloth for Mother, I would go over to her house and fill these quills or spools for her.

Oddities Hand Sled

The only handsled I ever had I made myself; sometimes we used a bend in a tree for runners, and hewed them and shaved them out of the tree; but more often we got a piece of ash made it to the right size and bent our runners, and this I had to do for myself.


We used to gather some marsh hay that we needed, where ever we could get it, there was a patch of grass down the brook [unsure of word] and brother and I went and he cut it down, the next day we went down to put it up into a stack. Nearly 1/2 mile from the house; and about as we finished the job, a thunder storm came on; so we took shelter for awhile, but as it got worse, Brother said we had better get home for it might strike somewhere; (now I did not know what striking meant) but I do know that when he got out of the bush, I was about at the house; and I haven't quite got over that yet; I was then only a kid. Please don't scare anyone, anywhere, and in any circumstances.

I Saw Stars at Noon

I was driving one day, and by going out of my way about half a mile, I came to a gold mine, I tied up my horse there; and the people working there took me down a shaft about 100 feet. Looking up to daylight, I saw two or three stars; and another time at my work, about noon, there was a total eclipse of the sun and there I saw one or two stars; again one night on a load of hay on the way home from where the hay was made I saw an eclipse of the moon from beginning to finish;

Some Lickings that I Got

I got lickings three times that I have thought of many times, but today I think we all should be very careful in what we do, and how we judge.

Uncle's House Burns Down

In 1877 late July or early August my Uncle's house and workshop burned down, and the heat was so great that apples on a tree back of the garden were roasted on one side.

Silver's Mill

A mill about 3/4 miles back of the home place, where we used to go fishing quite often, and where Dad often sawed logs into lumber. It was a one horse outfit, mostly homemade. Had a rolling bridge where logs were hauled up on, and then rolled in the mill and on to the carriage. The whole thing to me now is, that it was all out of balance, and therefore very dangerous. I saw Dad put his shoulder to the saw gate to give it a boost, when water was low, and if the saw gate ever came down on him, he would have been killed on the spot. In the dam there was a square hatch probably 18 x 20 inches to let the water run under the pentstack or floom, When the water was too low for sawing. One day when Brother and I were there we found a turtle dead jammed in this hatch, so much for the old mill.


We had some Indians come around, and they would camp close by the school house, they would be around there for some time each summer, who they were and where they came from I never knew, nor where they spent the winters. They would make baskets and what else I don't know. Those baskets were made with some material, evidently it was wood, a lattice, no a splint, that is a thin strip of some kind of wood about a 1/4 inch wide and very thin, and it was smooth. Where they got this material I don't know.

Our School Days, etc.

First of all, the school house was on the north-west corner of the cross road, a fairly large building for a country place. Inside I don't know much about what things were like when I first began school; (what about desks) I don't know; but I do know there was a large stove in the centre of the room, and that we could pull the benches up around the big stove when we were cold, but in later years the schoolhouse was finished inside, and long desks were put in, that would hold about five or six scholars. They were from one wall to an aisle to another aisle; then a third row of desks from the second aisle to the wall. Somethings that took place all through my school years, or better my school time, for I could not attend school regular; we had only one blackboard, and it was only about four feet square, no scribblers, (as now) but slates and pencils; for copy books we used foolscap paper and made up our own copy books and the teacher would set us a copy; till later we could buy copy books, containing copies. Our books were, primer, 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th readers; then later, a new reader came out known as the Royal Reader, from no. 2 to 7; now, these were our grades, according to the book we were in, that would be our grad; then there were spelling books, arithmetic, grammar, history, etc. (Next is Teachers) My first teacher was Mag Morgan, now I can't get her to mind, next was Mary Cameron; Then after that all were men teachers; Wilson Johnson who studied under Mary Cameron; afterward married her; and he afterwards taught the school for years, and one day while I was visiting at my home I happened to meet Mr. Johnson, and we had quite a chat, and he said there was no one in the school then, who was there when he and I studied there years before. I was always a pretty good scholar, for while the rod was used often those days, I got it only twice, and then only one clip at a time. One year I understood we had 76 names on the register, and an average attendance of 56, these would be from small children to young men and young women; There was a time when I took a class for 1/2 hour in the morning and Lavinia Dory took a class for 1/2 hour in the afternoon, to help the teacher. Now one teacher used to go out at noontime probably for a walk, and he would leave a monitor in charge, and one day, when he came back, he had quite a list of unrulies handed to him, and of course it would be read out so we all could hear the names; now James Silver was in charge, this day, and at the bottom of the list was Mr. James Hirtle; my last teacher was James Falconer, who came to us, bought a farm, about a mile from the school house, and ended his days there.

In my school days they used to call me a philosopher, for I used to talk about things away in the future. Now something about the outside, we played ball, we used a woolen ball wound very tight, and then darned thoroughly to make it hard and also to prevent it from ravelling; and most anything would do for a bat; sometimes we went half a mile away for a dip in the water during noon hour. Now when the spring work began, I was needed at home, and that with the offtime during the winter was quite a handicap to me, and yet among our boys, and there were five of us in a row, I managed to get the best education; later the younger girls did a lot better than we boys did.


We had a young Lutheran Minister whom I got to know very well, in fact so well, that if I was in town (Bridgewater) and was to stay over night, and he saw me, it was always come over to the parsonage and stay for the night, I only stayed there one night; and during the evening a young man Robie Crouse, and a young woman Sarah Tompkin, after knocking at the door, were admitted, they came to get married; The lady was a school mate of mine; and I knew Robie quite well. After the service was about over the man asked the minister how much he owed, the minister said I usually get five dollars, the man said how will two fifty do. Now that minister had the privilege of sending a young man through college free of charge, and I heard him say to Dad, if you let that boy go to school till he is nineteen, I was then about sixteen, I will give him six years in college. I then heard Dad say, you could not keep that boy in college six years. But when Dad talking it over one afternoon some time later he said, the other boys couldn't go to college, and so I couldn't and that settled that for me. I still feel sure that I could have gone to the parsonage for that three years, and had my schooling, board and clothes, for what work I could have done. The minister had a horse and a cow to care for and wood for the house, He was married and had two little boys. The school was a graded school, two blocks away from the parsonage.

More About School

When I was able to use an axe and care for the cattle, I was needed at home, and Casper and I went only day or week about, for a long while so I did not get the education that I should have had, and this was a handicap to me all my life. (This I may have mentioned before.)

Caspar and I Played Hookey

Now a special story where I should have known better. This day Casper and I went to school as usual, but before going into the schoolhouse, two other boys about our ages, who had a punt, that they called a boat, persuaded us to hook from school and go with them for the day. Should anything have happened nobody would have known where we were, nor anything about us. Now this punt affair, was on a river about two miles from the schoolhouse, so we walked till we got where the punt was. About the size of the punt I don't exactly know. It was just an oblong box, maybe six to eight feet long, maybe fifteen inches wide and eight or ten inches deep. Now for all time I think it was a most foolish and very dangerous thing to do. These two boys coaxed us to leave school and go with them to where the punt was, and then we would go down river and on the lake. Well we got to the mill, got the punt over the dam, and down onto the lake, we went down shore perhaps a mile or more crossing coves and places where the water is very deep. Along in the afternoon we heard some people talking, some berry pickers. So we went ashore, and there was my aunt and others picking berries; and aunt was good enough to offer to take Casper and I home in the buggy. I have forgotten just what the other two boys did, or if they ever got their punt back. However, we got home safe, and I expect the other boys did too. As for me, never again did I go away from school. And my aunt was very good, not to give us away, for if Dad would have ever found out about our escapade I know there would have been a severe trouncing for me.

Hand Organ Man

When it began to get warm in the spring, we would hear the handorgan man come along. He would have a monkey, or perhaps a bear for company.


Dad was pretty strict in many ways. However he was my Dad, and I crossed him only once, and we had quite an argument for awhile, and I told him what I intended to do. That was one evening, and he went away somewhere the next morning before I was out of be; however Mother had a message for me, and she said I had permission to do what I had planned. Dad was very handy (or clever) is the best word. He could do things with crude tools, that I never could do, with a good kit of tools in later years [James Albert Hirtle was an excellent craftsman]. He was for a long time the community vet, looking after sick animals. He did all our shoemaking at home; and clothing was all home spun, and home woven, and Dad did the cutting and Mother did the sewing and making up. The shoes were from cowhide, local tanned. Then he made pipkins or small tubs, that were used instead of crockery or metal dishes, to put milk in to set for cream. He also made heavy baskets from withs, and did many other things. He made his own sleds for hauling etc. [I have two chairs made by James' father]. Now his tools were a good picket knife, an axe, a hatchet, a draw knife, a gimlet, a big plane about 4 by 4 inches, and about 3 feet long, that he used upside down, a router, and an inside shave, then he borrowed some from my Uncle. I think he had a smooth plane, a hand saw and a square. I think that is about all he had. Some more things to Dad's credit; he made his own hand hay rakes, I will try and explain how they were made; the head was 18 to 20 inches long and about 3/4 by 3/4 inches square, had 12 teeth and he would bore the holes with a gimlet, make the teeth and put them in and they were in a perfect line, the handle was made from a small spruce tree, dressed with a smooth plane, then there were 2 braces going through the handle and into the head. He made them from pieces of white ash, and they were nicely rounded and bent, our spruce trees grew up quite tall and slim. Here is one on Dad; now Dad was very careful of his oxen and from the barn to where he would meet the main hauling road was about a mile; well, Dad would leave his bobsled there, unspoke his oxen and let them go home loose, and in the morning he would tie the yoke on one ox's head and drive them loose out the main hauling road again; Now one of those oxen was a little tricky and one morning he got away before he was yoked up, and he went back that mile to the barn and poor Dad had to walk all the way back to get the ox and also to lose about one hour. So much for Dad, instead of letting the oxen haul him home in the evening and back again the next morning.

Dad's Shaving Bench

We called it a shaving bench or shaving horse. This was a plank about eight feet long, having four legs, and another plank about six feet long fastened at the far end to the first plank, and the seat end maybe six or seven inches up of course sloped, now there was a head having two cheeks, a stem maybe 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches down through the center; the head facing the seat end, swinging on a cross bar in the lower plank, and a cross bar at the bottom for the feet. To operate, you sit on the seat, put your feet on the cross piece at the bottom; put your work under one cheek of the head and hold it down by clamping it with the feet; and doing the work by shaping with a draw knife. This is a fairly long knife with a handle at each end; and operated by drawing it toward yourself.

Our Hoes

At that time our hoes were mostly all claw or tine hoes, that is, two claws or tines and an eye for a handle to go in, mostly made by the blacksmith. They were made in different sizes according to the work they were to be used for. Then we had a flat hoe to use in new land where there were roots to cut. This was something like the present grub hoe.

About our Work on the Farm

At that time it was all and work, and all hard work. We put up hay enough to winter seven or eight head of cattle and about ten sheep. Our plowing was all done with a walking side hill plow and a team of oxen, and I was the teamster most of the time, from the time I was big enough and old enough to lead the oxen. In haying time again the work was all by hand, mowing and raking. We grew oats, barley, rye and potatoes. In earlier years all grain was cut with sickle by hand; Then later years oats and barley was out with the scythe, and raked by hand. The threshing was done by hand on the barn floor, all by hand. Our planting and digging was all hand work. Now at that time we had very little in the way of weeds to bother us, not like now. Now let us go over some of the gadgets that we used.

Some the Gadgets--The Plow

Our work was all done with a side hill plow; having a reversible mold board, and going back and forth in the same furrow, this work was on a side hill and so prevented a water course in rainy weather; and since coming out here, and telling people about it, they said I would need a long leg and a short one, some said the turning was too slow; you could not get your plow around quick enough; well, I can say this a kick and the hook will go over the beam, and a toss up and the moldboard goes over and the plow is ready by the time the team is half way around. So much for the plow.

Hill Land

Our land was all cradlehills, (well you say what is cradlehills), small hills and hollows that is hard to get over with a team and wagon. When breaking up this land we usually used two teams on the plow; and have help enough to level off the ground as fast as the plowing is done.


Well we had no brooms those days, as we have now, so we made our own brooms, cut down a small yellow birch or hornbeam tree, about three inches in diameter and go from the butt up about 12 inches, clean off the bark, leaving a half inch of bark ring, then with a good sharp jackknife start at the butt, and cut very thin and begin to draw each strand, The first time around they won't draw very far back, but they will get longer each time around until they come to the bark ring; so keep n cutting and drawing the strands till you get nearly through the butt, then cut the core off as close up as possible, then turn down the strands where they were before cutting; now clear the bark about the half inch ring for about 14 inches, and start cutting and drawing again until you are about thin enough for a handle; these strands are to be drawn over the first lot and tied real tight; and the end cut off even. Then the upper end is to be cut and trimmed down to the size of a broom handle; and that is the broom my Mother used for many years, and I have made some of them.

Barn Brooms

For a barn broom we used the same twigs that Dad in his basket making. Make a bundle of withs about 6 inches in diameter, and about 2 feet long, cut off the butt even, tie them very tight in two places about 6 inches apart, then make a stem or handle, point one end and drive it in the center.

On an Errand to New Germany

Dad sent me to New Germany one day, on an errand, about 9 or 10 miles away, and while in this village I saw my first mowing machine, they were training horses to the clatter of the machine. While I was there I was taken into a barn where I saw two young bears, my mission was a failure so then I started for home, so the next day, Dad sent me 12 miles away another way to get the job done.

I am Sent to Midville Branch

The next day Dad sent me to another place to get the job done and this time I was able to get the work done.


Our harrows were 3 1/2 x 5 feet, made with 4 long timbers about 4 x 4 inches and two 1 x 4 cross timbers, in there were 28 steel teeth, and an iron bar across the front, on which was a ring to pull by; this ring would go from side to side when turning and the whole affair was drawn cornerwise harrowing in new land where there were lots of stumps etc. The harrow was made from the crutch or for, of a tree, having an iron bar across, and on this bar three or four clogs, the whole had six or seven or eight teeth and was about 2 1/2 to 3 feet wide.


This is a gadget for outting grass. In haying time a snath, and a scythe attached to the lower and used for hand mowing.

The Sickle

The sickle, now known as a grass cutter, but in the 70's and 80's a much better too, so be careful for they had serrated teeth and could make a nasty cut and tear the flesh.

The Flail

This was a very necessary tool away back in the 1870s and 1880's, usually a maple handle and a green beech for a billet, having a cord, or we used an eel skin and hitched around a nick on the end of the handle so that it would turn when being used.

I Made Some Shoes

I got quite handy on shoe repair work, and by watching Dad carefully, I got so that I made quite a few pairs on my own or by myself.

Half Cent Coins

Away back in my early days we had half cent coins, a N.S. half cent. I somehow think the last issue was 1863 before Confederation; but they were in use well on into the 1897's

A Log Jam

When I was in my 15th year a man came along looking for a boy to help him in his planting for a month, so I went along with him. His place was right near the Lahave River, where drives of logs came down every spring, and sometimes the water gets low, and logs jam and that is what happened near where I was working, so one Sunday morning I went down to the river, and there I saw a log jam, and I walked up the river for about half a mile on logs, but I saw no water, just logs. In that drive there was supposed to be 67,000 logs.

Road Work

All boys over 16 years of age were required to do two eight hour days each year of work on the road, and property owners were to do according to their property value. One man in the district where the work is to be done, was named as overseer and he was responsible for the road for the entire year. Now this work could be paid for at $1.00 per day of eight hours, and then could be worked out at the rate of $2.00 a day of ten hours. A team was rated at the same rate as a man. But as we needed all the work we could get on our own road, we hardly ever resorted to the second plan. If we worked away from home, where ever we were working, we would be called on to do roadwork, or furnish a certificate from our overseer that the work would be done on our own road.

Some of our Winter Work

Dad and Brother Bill did the chopping, and I did a lot of the teaming, for I was the teamster. They would load me up and I would make three trips a day to the landing, about three miles away. I always had a pretty good team of oxen. (Thank Dad for that). One year I had a special team, one ox had horns, nearly two feet long, and turned out, Dad cut away all the trees along the hauling road, on the going side, so that there was no danger of this ox getting a horn hooked to a tree, and with a load behind him, I would not be able to get him clear. He was a big red ox, and the other had large horns too, but they went forward, and turned in, he was a sort of roan. They were a real team.

About the Old Ox Team

Why I come back to the old ox team the attached picture [there's no picture in my copy] brings back old memories, and, from [three words unreadable] Toronto, April 23, 1955 the paper says something about the land of Evangeline. Well, the land of Evangeline is about 100 or more miles away from where the attached picture was probably taken. This is near the fishing town of Lunenburg on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. The picture shown was probably taken at Blue Rocks, about five miles down shore from Lunenburg, where the cod fish are ours, at the close of the fishing season. The picture shows how the oxen were yoked up for work at that time, and are yoked up the same way now. If I were to go on the streets of Winnipeg with a team of oxen yoked up in that way today I would at once be arrested for cruelty to animals. But I say this I believe oxen can haul as much by their horns or heads, as they can by their shoulders. I also think it must be hard on them, because of the vibration and thumping on a rough road. I also think that a wooden bow or neck yoke must be hard on their shoulders. I only used one pair of oxen with a neck yoke, and I had very good satisfaction, except that I did not have the same control with a neck yoke, as with a head yoke. About curing codfish we will pass that up for now.

Oxen Again

Oxen must be shod expecially for winter work, now how is this done. Well, an ox can kick, so a frame is made, usually 6 x 6 timbers is used, foot rests are made slightly sloped, so each foot can be tied to it; four rollers and a canvas sling. The ox is taken into the frame, his head fastened, and he is raised up in the sling high enough so he can't get any weight on his legs, the feet are fastened on the leg rests, then on each foot is placed two shoes, and the operation is complete.

Around the Barn

Around the barn Dad made all his fixtures, wooden hinges and latches, his threshing flails etc; He also made cattle ties. These were wooden bows keyed at the top, and usually two links from a yellow birch rod about the size of one of my fingers. This was twisted, and then made into links and around a wooden post, and so tie up the animal in the stall; The oxen were always tied with chains.

Our Income

We would get 15 [cents] for a muskrat skin, $2.50 for a good mink skin, $2.50 for a good lamb, 10 to 20 cents a lb. [pound] for butter, 8 to 12 cents a dozen for eggs, and sometimes taking a load, it may be hemlock bark, lumber, or ship timber to the town 20 miles away and a two day ox team journey, and we would get $5.00 to $5.50 for the load.

Part One
Part Three
Part Four
Back to the home page