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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

The Peterson Family

Blessings flow through a Century Farm family
Peterson family farm 100 years old
by John Grones  |  July 1, 2003

On the weekend of June 21 and 22, friends, family and neighbors gathered at the Albert ‘Perk’ Peterson home, in rural Cromwell, to celebrate two major milestones. First of all, Perk was celebrating his 90th birthday; secondly, the family farm is now 100 years old and is being recognized as a Century farm. Perk greeted his many friends with a handshake, and then proceeded to share one of his many stories about his family and the farm. Listening to the soft-spoken man, I came to one conclusion, he has truly been ‘blessed.’

Perk took over the farm from his father in 1931, and he still resides there. The actual homesteading of the farm was by his father, Carl Magnus Peterson, back in 1903. The farm has many stories, but the first is quite interesting. According to a book by Bennett A. Beck entitled: A Brief History of the Pioneers of the Cromwell, Minnesota Area, Carl Magnus Peterson (C.M. Peterson), inherited the farm from a young man out of Minneapolis. The story reads:

A young man came up from Minneapolis with a mule team, following the Old Military or Stage Road up through Anoka and Elk River. He drove his team on through to Mora, on the Military Road, to a point northwest of Kettle river and north on an old tote road to Cromwell. He filed on a homestead, SE 1/4 of SE 1/4, Sec. 26-49-20, and built himself a little log cabin. This was about 1899. He advertised for a housekeeper and, in due time, a nice young lady came on a late train, about 9:30 p.m. He met her at the train with his mule team and lumber wagon and took her to his new home. He had invited his neighbors to be on hand to give her a rousing welcome. They danced until the early morning. The neighbors went home and his lady took her baggage and walked back about three miles, to the depot, to the 6:30 morning train for Minneapolis. She did not have enough money for her ticket, so she left her watch to insure that she would send the money for her ticket. My information is that she did so, and so our Prince Charming up and left with his mule team for North Dakota and, later, relinquished his homestead rights to Carl M. Peterson of Minneapolis, who filed on it and moved his family up onto the homestead. He established his home there about 1903.

From then on, the farm would be the seed for many more stories, and the ninety-year-old Albert ‘Perk’ Peterson can remember them all. His six children, Elaine, Bill and Warren (twins), Russell, Diane and Jean were home this past week to help dig up the memories.

One of Perk’s biggest blessings was meeting his wife, Fran. His son, Bill, spun the tale. “The story, as I hear it, is really quite interesting. He (Perk) went to the prom on a date with his hired man.”

This brought plenty of laughter from the family and youngest daughter, Jean, encouraged her father to tell the story of his hired man named Chester Larson. “His parents moved to Barnum and he wanted to finish school in Cromwell,” Perk began. “Chester stayed with me on the farm and helped with this and that. Come prom night, he was supposed to bring his parents and, of course, since his parents were in Barnum, he invited me to go with him.”

“A chaperone!” Bill exclaimed. “And then, now, the other part of the story is the fact that dad danced with mom.”

“Yeah, she was a teacher at the school,” Perk added.

“And they lived happlily ever after,” concluded Elaine, Perk’s oldest daughter.

Another farm related story came from Perk’s good friend, Arnold Dahl, who helped him milk cows. “We milked 28 cows by hand,” said Arnold. “Then we went in and his mother always had a big breakfast for us. Then we went out here and hitched up the horses to the wagon... forked it full of manure by hand... spread it on to the potato field and that went on until noon...then dinner... then more of the same...then in the evening we went out and milked 28 cows once more by hand. I gave Perk the weekend off for the 4th of July. I should have never done that. I milked all them cows alone by hand. I swear I milked from morning to morning.”

There was one tragedy that occured on the farm. Perk’s nephew, Carlyle Peterson, lost his leg in a tractor accident. “I was working in the shop that day,” Perk shared, “all at once I had a funny feeling... something’s wrong. I ran out of the shop, around the corner of the barn and here he came a crawling. I took him to the doctor. It was a hot day... hotter then heck and he says, ‘Can’t you go any faster?’. I was afraid we might blow a tire, it was so hot. But we got there and by golly the first thing he did when we got there, he started teasing the nurses. So I figured he was going to be alright.”

In addition to farming, Perk is also known for bringing television to Cromwell. According to friend and neighbor, Lincoln Hansen, Perk’s was one of the first families to get television. “I started selling them in 1952,” said Perk. “I must have sold 150 all over.” Perk became the local television repair man. He really never had any formal training. According to him, he just learned by the bootstraps. Back in those days, the programing was limited, and Perk enjoyed Friday Night Fights and wrestling.

“That was before everything was pretaped,” said Lincoln.

“Everything was live,” Perk added and then he asked Lincoln. “Were you there the night there was women’s wrestling and her top came down and the referee stepped in front until she pulled it up?”

Perk has been blessed with six children and he has enough memories to fill a book. One of the more vivid, and the first one to come to mind, had to do with the twins, Bill and Warren. He thought the two were about three of four years old. “We had to make a fence around the yard, otherwise they would be gone,” he shared. “They figured, (I didn’t know this at the time), but they got together and pushed on the fence back and forth and got it down. They took off. I was up putting a roof on the house and I looked and saw two heads above the brush way over in the woods.” That would note the first and only mischief the boys or girls would get into.

Mischief aside, the kids had a great upbringing and according to Bill, their dad kept a close eye on their behavior. “He never had any absolutes,” said Bill, “but we darn well knew when we crossed the line.”

“You did cross the line once,” Perk piped up. “Remember the time you were throwing rocks at the chickens?” Everyone laughed and then Bill shared a couple of stories about more line crossings that are best kept secrets of the family, and this reporter.

Perk can be proud of his six children who have also been blessed. All attended college, have gone their separate ways and had successful careers. All six are nearing retirement age and one son, Russell, has returned to the farm. He and his wife, Trish O’Conner, built a log home on the east end of the farm. Perk also boasts eleven grandchildren (six boys and five girls) and 12 great-grandchildren (11 boys and one girl).

Looking back on those 100 years, one can only conclude that the Peterson family has been blessed. If you don’t believe it, check out the aerial photo of the current farm, it is made up of five forties, end to end from west to east and two more forties complete a perfect cross.

This article first appeared in the July 1, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.