On the evening of May, 18, 1922, my parents, exhausted and
deeply hurt, were trying to think of what might have caused the
fire that destroyed our house and everything in it. Suddenly Mom
shouted, "The incubator!" The big wooden box on tall
legs stood near the back door. Its tiny flame was the culprit
because there was no other possibility and the first clouds of
smoke came from the back where it stood. An incubator is a device
for hatching eggs.
A hen would "steal her nest out" and lay one egg
each day for about two weeks. Then she’d "set,"
keeping the eggs warm with her body and daily turning each one
with her feet to keep the embryo developing correctly. When the
time was up the baby chicks "pipped" the shell and the
wet chicks emerged, one each day. Then the mother hen kicked the
half shells out of the nest.
An incubator could produce a hundred baby chicks in less time
than the hen could produce a dozen because the eggs would hatch
at about the same time. It had large flat trays, which held the
fertile eggs and Mom pulled the trays out to turn the eggs daily.
The incubator’s warmth came from a small kerosene burner
with a regulator on the wooden top.
For the first several days after the fire we were guests of
the Eugene Crouch family. People shared enough dishes, utensils
and groceries for us to move back so we could be near the dairy.
A friend loaned us a big U.S. Army tent and Dad hitched the team
to the wood stove and drug it out of the ashes. We cleaned it and
the men set it up outdoors. Dad built a small shed under a big
maple tree nearby, for protecting foodstuffs from weather and
The tent was mounted between two tall stumps that were left
when young trees were destroyed by the fire. A telephone was
mounted on one of those "tent poles " and Mom again had
contact with the milk customers in Columbia.
After studying house plans by lantern light for many nights
and arranging for loans to supplement the meager insurance money,
Mom and Dad ordered an Aladdin Redi-Cut home from Bay City,
Michigan. He, with the Williams boys and John Estes, then began
digging a basement with mule teams and scrapers.
From May until October, while Dad and neighbors assembled the
new home we lived in the army tent. On Saturday nights Mom bathed
Jim and me out in the front yard in the washtub. She and Dad took
turns after dark, adding hot water as needed. Then she fixed us
soft-boiled eggs with crackers crumbled up in them. I liked that
routine but I dreaded Saturday nights.
That summer we had a frightening electrical storm almost every
weekend. In a wet canvas tent lightening illuminates the inside
of the tent as it streaks from one end of the world to the other,
time and time again! It’s like being outdoors in it and not
I was 6 years old, When a storm threatened or Mom put the tub
in the front yard I’d ask plaintively, "Is this another
Saturday night?" I dreaded the thunder and lightning, and
sometimes things got wet inside of the tent. These thunderstorms
dumped more water than the tent could repel. It sometimes blew in
through the door flaps and even ran under the canvas tent floor.
When it dripped on me I’d pull my cot to a dry spot.
We’d spend Sunday drying things outdoors.
In spite of this fear of Saturday night storms, I loved the
camping. And I’d camp again tonight at the drop of a hat.