Volume X, No. 4, Summer 1983
A VISIT WITH ARTHUR HARPER
Edited by Anne Hall
I spent two years in Siberia in World War I after I was drafted in 1918.
We didn't even know where we were going when they put about two thousand of us enlisted men on the boats in the bay at San Francisco. They didn't tell us when we left because some of them old submarines sunk some of the boats that were going across the Atlantic. But they didn't know that they was any soldiers out on the Pacific. We were out about two days before they even told us where we were going. We went to Vladivostok which is the seaport in Siberia on the Pacific Ocean.
Russia first went into the war in World War I, fought awhile, captured something like a thousand German prisoners, and then she just throwed up her hands and quit the war. When we first went over there, we took over a big lot of German prisoners that Russia had captured.
I suspect another reason for being in Russia was a lot of the equipment and machinery along the railroad and in the mines we guarded was made by America. These companies sold all this equipment to Russia, and Russia wasn't able to pay for it. We were over there to keep the Germans or anyone else from taking it over.
Of course, they tell you something else. Besides guarding German prisoners, the official reason for being there was to attack Germany from the east if the war went on.
I was stationed at Vladivostok in September 1918, and stayed there until March with three or four companies that were stationed there that winter. There were about ten thousand American troops in Siberia scattered up the railroad line. The French and English had troops there, too.
We went to a coal mine, sixty or seventy miles out of Vladivostok, and guarded those mines that summer. They dug that coal way back in the hills someplace, run it on a bucket line and then loaded it on the railroad cars.
The Russians got to where they didn't much like the Americans to be there, and in a way they did. Part of them didn't want us and part of them did. One evening they fired on our camp. When they went to firing, we left our tent. When we came back, it had seven bullet holes in it. In the street between tents, it looked like hail hitting the ground but not a man got hit.
That last winter in 1919, ten of us went out as guards for the Red Cross on the railroad to Omsk which was four thousand miles. We guarded Red Cross material which was for the Russian soldiers. We made stops along the railroad at Red Cross stations.
We took about twenty carloads of supplies, but we only gave out five or six loads and brought the rest of it all the way back. We had two carloads of sugar which you couldn't get over here, and we took that two carloads all the way up and brought it all the way back. I don't know what the idea was.
We was gone all winter on that Red Cross guard when we shouldn't have been gone over six weeks. We were six weeks going to Omsk and five months coming back because of the trouble in Russia.
The Czar of Russia was killed in 1917 if I ain't mistaken. Then started what was called the Bolshevik Revolution back then which is now nothing but communism. When we were trying to get back, those Russians were fighting among themselves. They'd pull us down to a station, and we'd sit there maybe two weeks before we'd get on down to another station.
The ten of us spent a winter in a Red Cross car. It was as cold as seventy-eight degrees below zero. We had a little old coal stove, a little old round thing, in each end of the car. We had to sleep with our clothes on.
Coming back, when we got to Irkutsk, the Russians had blown up the bridge between the railroad and the town and shot up the town. At Irkutsk, the railroad is on one side of a river which flows from a lake and the town is on the other side.
Irkutsk is about two thousand miles out into Russia and there's the largest lake in the world there, Lake Baykal. It's some 5,000 feet deep and supplies more water than all of the Great Lakes. It finally freezed over so hard they couldn't even bust it up. There's a lot of white sand on the bottom. I walked out across that in the sunshine and lay down to see through that ice. That lake's about as clear as can be. We were there in February, and after I came back to the U.S., I saw a little piece in the paper which said, "Believe it or not, around Irkutsk during the month of February, the therometer went to seventy-eight degrees below zero for about twenty days."
The river from the lake flows to the north. The water coming out of the lake is warm and doesn't freeze over for quite aways down, and then it just kind of freezes to mushy ice. We wasn't there but a day or two until this mushy ice froze enough that we could walk on it in ten minutes or so. There maybe would be a hole as big as a house, but we would just go on around it. If we had ever went under, that would have been the last of us.
The Russians were very friendly.
The first thing when you went to one of their houses, they'd give you a cup of tea right off. Tea's their main drink unless you count vodka. I tasted it. Ooo, talk about fire.
The people were poor, though, and not well fed. After the Bolshevik War started these people that were living in eastern Russia was trying to get back. They had left wherever their home was. I don't know where they figured on going, but they'd been pushed out of Russia and they'd come into Siberia.
All along down the line to Vladivostok there was railroad cars loaded with refugees. That was all the home they had, and everything they had was right in that car and part of it piled on top of it. yoU'd go in some of those depots, and they'd be sitting around there about as thick as they could sit, with just a little bunch of clothes and three or four children in a little huddle. It was pitiful to see.
When we finally got back to Vladivostok to go home, the bay was all froze up solid so we had to go down around the bay and out to the edge of the open ocean before we could get on the boat.
I didn't get back home until May 1920, a year after the war was over. Looking back on going to Siberia, back then I didn't enjoy it so much. But since then I know that is something very few people get a chance to see. And of course, when you get up my age and look back, you have quite a long life to look back on.
My grandfather came across from England when he was fourteen years old. If any of his folks came across, he never did know it. He run off from home to come to Canada. He stowed himself away on the boat to come across, and they weren't going to let him off, but a carpenter signed for him, and he worked for several years for this carpenter.
He married his first wife. They had my father and two other children. Then she died in Canada, and he came to this country when my father was just three or four years old. My father was born in 1863, and I imagine they come to Missouri in around maybe 1866. My grandfather married and lived in Illinois for just a little while. Him and his father-in-law then come to Missouri and lived here ever since. My grandfather had six boys. For years, they all lived around close down at Osage Beach.
My grandfather used to carpenter. He built several schoolhouses. There's one down here about four miles still standing that my grandfather built.
Harper Chapel near Linn Creek, that was built in 1912, was named after my grandfather and they still hold services there. He got donations to build it. I worked on it. I was about eighteen along then.
I was born right here in Camden County on a farm near Osage Beach. When I was five years old, we moved to this side of the river. That's where I growed up. At the home place there, the post office was Damsel.
You know back years ago, we used to build log houses. When they would build one they had what they called a log rolling. There would be about hundred people come and put up a log house. And that would give them an excuse that night to have a dance.
There were several log houses pack then. The house that we lived in on the river was two concrete rooms, but the kitchen was a log kitchen.
I helped build a few log houses. One fellow gets on a corner, and the other three give him the log, and he's got to cut his end just like the other fellow cuts his. You chop one corner and then the other to make it fit. Then they filled the cracks with chinkim, which is just some split wood in between the logs. Then they mixed up clay mud and daubed that up. It would stay pretty good, but if you let the rain on it, you would have to redo it every year. In later years they used lime and made concrete.
One winter my brother and I made some ties. We cut maybe a couple hundred, hued them with a broad ax and hauled them to the river bank. I didn't make too many because I couldn't make over five or six a day. I've seen my dad make ten or twelve ties easy enough. Some people could make about twenty-six or twenty-seven a day. That's pretty good with a broad ax. We got eighty cents apiece for them. Now I see them advertised in the paper here, twelve dollars a tie. Of course, back then they thought it was good money.
When they got ready to sell the ties, they would nail the big string of ties together and float them down the river. They would have something like two thousand ties in the string. They used great big long poles to float them. They just run so far, and when it pretty near got dark, they got out and slept right on the bank, got up the next morning and went on.
They went from Linn Creek to Bagnell. By main road that was about twenty miles, but if you go around by river, it's about forty miles. Bagnell is where they floated most of the ties, but they took some on to Pacific twelve miles further.
You could make the trip in a couple of days according to the stage the river was in. If the river was up quite a bit, a couple of days was easy enough, but if the river was low on some of these shoals--that's the shallow places--maybe you had to cut up the raft and make another trip.
On the trips they was always great to do something to one another. They'd get some fellow's shoe and nail it to a tie and you'd have to near tear it loose.
Sometimes for supper they'd get a chicken from one of the farms along the river. One of my uncles saw a chicken coming down to the float, so he chased it up to the house it came from and told the lady up there, "We had this chicken down there. We was going to kill it and it got loose. Will you help us catch it?" So she chased it around, caught it and give it to him, and he took it back to the raft!
Another time a fellow was working with them on the river. They got down close to his house and decided that they'd steal some chickens. They wanted him to go with them, but he couldn't go. They said, "Well, if you don't, don't you tell." So they went over to his place and got five or six great big chickens. He said, "Where did you get that?" Larry said, "Well, you guaranteed you wouldn't tell it. We got them over at your house."
I went to a little one room school which was called Conway School. I enjoyed going to school. After I finished the seventh grade, I missed about two years before I went back to school to take the eighth grade.
I'd say a lot of them quit about sixth grade. Back then you was lucky if you had six months school. I was working on a job, but after that job played out, I thought, "Well, I'll go to school and try teaching a little." They used to teach the seventh grade one year and the eighth grade the next year. I didn't go at the home school on account of that was the seventh grade year, and I had taken the seventh grade. So I went to Linn Creek to finish the eighth grade. I rode a horse eight miles to school that last year, every night and morning. I only missed one day. I'm of the opinion that an eighth grade education back then, just as far as the essentials, was as good a high school nowadays. Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned.
After I went to school, I took the spring term of what they called a Normal. It was a review of about six weeks. When I come into the county treasurer's office here, that is all the education that I had.
That spring after I got out of school, I took the teacher's examination and taught school for two years. The teacher's contract says forty dollars a month. That's all we got.
After I taught those two schools, I went to the army. When I came back from the army, I didn't go on to school. I would a had to went to school that spring before I could have taught again and took an examination. After I had been in the army, I didn't feel like going to school. I came back and got married instead.
The first summer after we married I went to Marshall, Missouri, and lived on a farm. If I had a-went to school that spring, I could have got a hundred and twenty-five dollars a month, but instead I worked on a farm for fifty. Then we came back and rented a farm for a year or two before we moved in 1931 to where I live now.
We had five children, but the oldest girl passed away from pneumonia fever when she was sixteen years old. The other four are all still living. The place we lived on when we rented is all under water from the Lake of the Ozarks.
Before the lake come in, sometimes there'd be a thirty foot rise in the Osage River, covering a lot of farmland. They thought the dam would help the flooding and also make electricity. Those were the principal reasons they put in the lake.
A lot of people didn't like it because they didn't want to sell their homes. It had been their home all their life, maybe even their grandfather's. They even tore down several houses that were just close to the lake. I don't know why they did that, but the house we lived in when we moved away from the river never flooded. It was up on the hill back from the bottom. They just blasted it and tore it down.
The developers can condemn your land whether you want to sell it or don't want to sell it. They get a permit from the government to build something like the lake, and if you want to sell your land, well all right. But if you don't, they appraise it and pay you whatever they want to. Of course, you have a chance to take it to court.
They were building on the lake in '30 and '31, but they went to stopping the water to fill it up in the spring of '31.
It took it but a year to get up. It filled up pretty fast. They just let a very little water through, just barely enough to keep the river from going dry below. Generally in the spring of the year we had quite a little bit of rain, and it come a little rush, filling up pretty fast.
That was interesting when the dam went in. I don't know if I liked it better before than now. The lake covered up a lot of good farm land, but since that building, all the country is worth a whole lot more money than it was back then.
We moved up here near Camdenton where I live now in 1931. The reason I moved up here was my father-in-law owned a place just about a half a mile out of Camdenton. I first moved there, and then I got a chance to rent this place for just little or nothing, really just pay the taxes on it. I lived here about two years, and then I bought it. I liked it here. They had done decided that Camdenton was going to be the county seat by the time I moved here. That contributed quite a bit to my decision. Also when we lived down on the river, we had to see to taking our two girls back and forth to school which was almost a mile. I said, "When I moved someplace else, it will be where the children can go to school without having to take them." That is one reason why I moved here. All they've ever had to do was just step out and get on the bus and ride to school.
The first school here they taught in an old building, a small schoolhouse about twenty by thirty. They had about eighty children in that. You know what kind of school that would be. Then the high school pulled together a few little oak buildings with tar paper on the side of them that some of these people working on the highway was living in. They taught school in that the first year, and then they built the first brick building.
Camdenton didn't start until 1931. Camdenton was built in a new place all together.
The streets wasn't paved or anything for several years after they grubbed out the stumps. The courthouse wasn't started yet, but there was a temporary courthouse.
There wasn't no road from Linn Creek up to Camdenton. It was an old country road. It was muddy, and you could hardly get through it when people would travel in their Model T's. For several years we lived on Highway 5, and in the evening until they blacktopped it, the dust would be to where you couldn't hardly get your breath.
The people around here didn't realize the property around the lake would be real valuable then. They thought a lot of it would never be worth anything much. Before the tourists all began to come to the lake, they didn't know what the land around here was good for. There was no farming. It was just weeds and rocks. They began to realize the value in the last twenty years when the tourists and lot of the stores around here came in.
When I took office as county treasurer the evaluation of Camden County was about eighteen million. Today it is over a hundred million! This last year, our payroll was over a million dollars.
I have been county treasurer here for twenty-four years. I tell people that I went to work when I should have retired, at sixty-five. The first weeks as county treasurer I didn't know what I was going to do. I've never kept much books. I looked at the previous treasurer's books, and I didn't want to set up that kind of book. She didn't keep no record of any kind of check or warrants. If anybody paid, she just wrote their name down there and the amount that's all there was to it.
I've been audited, I don't know how many times, but I've never been off. I've been told I've had the best set of books any place. Last time they audited, they come back in about two weeks and said all the other officers had a little something wrong with them. Some of them said, "We're all here but Harper. Where's he?" And they said, "We don't have nothing to tell him!"
Now I'm going to retire. If I had been younger, I would have run again, but I would have been ninety-three before the next four year term was out, and that's a little too old. I figure on staying here when I retire. I own 325 acres so I think I have room to turn around a few times.
Several years ago, one fellow said to me, "Well, you must have never done any hard work." Well, I think I've done about as hard work going as coming. I've always been on the farm, and I didn't know much of anything else.
The farm we moved on when I was a boy didn't have but just eight or ten acres clear. With eighty acres, I growed up cutting sprouts, and they grow pretty fast.
I've cut wheat with a cradle. We cut and then of an evening, my mother used to bring up our supper. Then we'd shock it about sundown. Back in them days, we didn't work eight hours and quit. We got out at day light and quit at night.
We had some bad times. There was a depression in about '20 and '21, and about '35 and '36. Back during the Depression, times was pretty hard what with a few dry years and all. You had to generally do most anything you could find to do.
That was the time they were cutting all the timber off that the lake covered. Some fellow would get a contract to clear so much land, and whatever his contract was, he wanted to clean it just as fast as he could to get rid of everything that was on it. If you wanted the wood off it, you could haul it off, but you had to have it off in just a little time. Otherwise, it didn't make any difference if it was good logs or what it was, they burnt it to get rid of it.
I worked on the bridge across the Glaize. I started in March and I think it ended up in January. Back then they didn't have the equipment they do now, and a lot of it was just man power. I had a team part of the time. If there was a piece of steel out of place, I hooked a team to it and turned it around. I helped pour the floor on it, too.
I've worked on the highway, shoveled gravel, worked in a lumber yard, cut meat and a little of everything. I've done a lot of hard work. Back in them days, we was kind of glad to get a job at most anything.
When we moved to Camdenton, I went to milking cows and delivering milk here in town. We bottled the milk in glass bottles. We got eight cents a quart. We got milkers a little later, but when we first started, we milked about twenty cows at one time by hand.
They talk about back in the good old days, but back in the good old days was a lot of hard work. If you had to go back to that now, there's not many people that would want to. But I'll tell you one thing. Even today, don't think you are going to get rich quick. There's a lot of hard work ahead, and it depends on what you think and what you decide that you'd rather do.
I can remember the first automobile that I saw. It was just part of a thing with a chain drive. Now we see airplanes every day and we've been on the moon. I saw the telephone come in. Now you can sit in your house and see all over the world. I just wonder what the improvements will be the next eighty years.
Of course, when you've got about ninety years to look back over, you've got a lot of things to wonder about, too.
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