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Bob Lind, Published May 08 2012

Lind: Oil Patch life not always flowing with cash

Williams County is smack in the middle of the Oil Patch, that North Dakota area that is drawing thousands of people to the state. Money is flowing – well, like oil – in that region these days.

But it wasn’t the case when Lloyd Svendsbye’s parents and other relatives emigrated from Norway to that area, only to find that life in the Promised Land wasn’t always easy.

Lloyd is the son of Anders and Gudrun Svendsbye. Both immigrated in 1904 to Williams County, where they met and, in 1918, married.

Lloyd has written a book, “I Paid All My Debts …,” which focuses on his parents. Life for them was rugged, but they worked hard, were upbeat, and made it despite the obstacles.

Lloyd was born in 1930 in the tiny hamlet of Hamlet, north of Tioga.

He was one of 10 children raised in a small house, and with little money available in the midst of the Depression.

Food was parceled out. If Mom served chicken, each person got just one piece, and she baked five loaves of bread five or six days every week.

Gudrun bought material and sewed dresses and undergarments for herself and the girls, while the boys got blue denim jeans and shirts ordered from Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs.

There was no electricity; that didn’t arrive until 1952. Until then, Gudrun heated heavy flatirons on the kitchen stove, and ironed while singing her favorite hymns.

In 1938, they splurged, buying a Norge washing machine for $105. It was gas-powered.

During the drought of the 1930s, dust in the air at times was so thick the Svendsbyes could barely see the barn from their house. Anders dug wells to provide water for his family and the animals. But shallow wells soon went dry.

Birthdays for the kids meant no gifts, but there always a cake. Christmas also meant no gifts; no Christmas trees, either.

Killing the calves

Many farmers were foreclosed on, and many filed bankruptcy. Anders refused to do so, nor would he buy a tractor or other new machinery while he still owed money. That meant horses and human muscle did the farm work for many years.

The government had several programs aimed at helping farmers. One of them sought to raise the price of beef by buying animals from farmers, then slaughtering them.

Lloyd recalls a day in the mid-1930s when he watched from the house as government officials shot the calves grazing in the farmyard. He cried because he didn’t understand why his animal friends had to be killed. Later, he learned the program didn’t help anyway; beef prices still didn’t rise.

The worst year of the drought was 1937. On July 5, the temperature hit 107 at the Svendsbye farm. There was no rain. Nothing grew.

It was not until 1940-1941 that things changed, when the rains came, crops were good and wheat prices went up.

During the hardships of the Depression, Lloyd’s father never expressed reservations about having emigrated, and his mother, Lloyd writes, “never indicated anything but support for their joint venture; both were content to be wherever they were, however severe the economic hardships.”

A landmark year for Anders and Gudrun was 1964. That’s when they moved into Tioga, and for the first time in their lives had electricity and running water.

Moving up in life

Young Lloyd, meanwhile, attended a one-room school, where he felt he received a good education.

He went on to graduate from Concordia College and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, studied in Germany and at Union Seminary, New York, was ordained into the ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1955, was an assistant pastor in Minneapolis and then became president of Luther Seminary and of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D.

He’s now retired and living in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The theme of Lloyd’s book might best be summarized by its last lines, which tell of when he visited Anders just before his death in 1967 at age 85.

Lloyd asked his father of what event in his life he was most proud.

“Quickly, while lying in bed,” Lloyd writes, “he raised the upper part of his body with his right arm, looked straight at me, and said, ‘I paid all my debts.’ ”

And that became the title of his son’s book.


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com