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Reminiscences of June, a Traveling Grandmother

Chapter: 3 - 1927-1950 - June's Family Cars and Early Life










Henry Rolstad Holding June 1928

(June's Father Henry Holding June by Team of Horses - 1928)



June was the family’s second born child. The first born child was a boy, Richard Herald who unfortunately survived only  approximately  7 months. He was born on 20 November 1925 and died in June of 1926 at the family farm in Rural Route, Wheeler, WI. June born on 8 November 1927, became the first surviving child and as such also became the oldest of the Rolstad famiy children. June accordingly, was the source of special pride to her father. June recalls the times in her early years when her father would show her off to his friends and how much pleasure this memory still gives her.

June grew up during the years of the “Great Depression” so money was in very short supply. June was just age 2 in 1929 when the stock market crashed on Wall Street, signaling the start of the “Great Depression”.

Ironically, just 4 days before the crash, President Herbert Hoover stated to the American people, “The fundamental business of the country…. is on a sound and prosperous basis”.

At the depth of the depression in1932-1933, June was age 5-6. Unemployment was 23.6% (1932) and rising to 24.9% in 1933. Over 70% of U.S. families had income below what was considered “the minimum necessary for a decent standard of living”. Average annual farm income was approx. $400. The average weekly (non-farm) wage was a little more than $16. (10,000 banks had failed - 40% of the total U.S. banks.)

By the time June had reached age 12, (1939) the economy had improved only moderately. The average U.S. farm family income was approx. $1,000 a year. U.S. unemployment was still at a high figure of 17%.

Fun and entertainment, was of necessity the free and simple joys of life without the frills. The family especially enjoyed the annual 4th of July outings at Picnic Point near Wheeler. 


 (June's father Henry Rolstad - His Single days - New Model T Ford car - 1923.)  


Henry Rolstad and his Model T Ford 1923


 Such outings were dependent on whether or not the old family car was operating or not. The early family car was a Model T Ford and required hand cranking.  While the electric self starter for automobiles was invented by Charles Kettering and introduced on the first car (1912 Cadillac) in 1912, Henry Ford was slow to adapt this new convenience to the Ford line of Cars. Even the early cars with the new electric starter had a means of hand cranking in emergencies (battery dead etc.) and the hand crank was a standard accessory for some time.

It is said that Americans have a love affair with the automobile. While this may or may not be true, there is little question as to the importance of an automobile to the family social and entertainment life as well as the simple quality of their life.

Rolstad Family Car Ownership Chronology:

- Model T Ford - 1923 Runabout.

1930's - Late - 1933 Ford Coupe.

1940's - Mid - 1937 Nash 4 door.

1940's - Late - 1941 Plymouth 4 door.

1950's - Mid - 1950's Chevrolet.

June's father Henry had originally acquired the Model T Ford car as a new car in 1923. That was a year before he married Haldis on June 14th, 1924. the price of the Model T in 1923 was approx. $300. The body style that he chose was the "1923 Runabout".

This would be the last new car that June's father could afford until in later years after June's graduation from High School and the other children had matured. 

(The Model T was produced from 1908 until 1927 when it was replaced by the Model A.) Various body styles were produced over the years. (Touring Car, Roadster, Coupelet, Town Car, Coupe, Runabout, Fordor, Tudor and Centerdoor Sedans.)

Because the old Model T was both in need of repair as well as having already had some repair modifications, June said it presented a rather unusual appearance.

June recalls that the old Model T was in such poor shape that in order for her Dad to negotiate some of the hills near their home,

(especially the Emerson hill) he had to back up the hills in order to make use of the mechanical advantage of the reverse gears


(June and her family in front of family car in Circa 1940-1941)


Rolstad Family and family car 1940's

June's memory of her Dad negotiating hills with the Model T in reverse may well have been the result of a technical requirement that made this necessary. This was probably due to a design defect in the early Model T's. The car had a 10 gallon tank mounted to the frame beneath the front seat. Fuel relied on gravity flow forward from the tank to the carbureator. The Model T would not climb a steep hill when the fuel level was low. The immediate solution was to drive up steep hills in reverse. In 1926 a design change moved the tank forward and upwards into the cowl section of the car. 

It may also have been the 1933 Ford Coupe that June remembers her Dad having the problem with. June was only about 10 years of age at the time that  the 1933 was acquired. Most depression farm families could not afford a periodic tune up of the automobile, spark plug replacement and adjustments. I personally recall a time when I was in grade school living on a small farm near Rice Lake. We had an old Chevrolet pick up truck. It would hardly climb a small hill in normal high gear. I will never forget the time the car received a "tune up" that enabled the car to go up the hill in high gear at a remarkable speed of 40 mph.

The Model T had a 4 cylinder engine. The throttle was controlled by a lever on the steering wheel. The spark was hand controlled by another lever.

There was a danger involved in the hand cranking of the engine to start it. The crank was at the front of the car. Before cranking the car to start the engine, the spark had to be retarded. There was a danger of an engine "kick back". The crank had to be gripped in a special way so as to avoid fracturing the wrist or thumb should an engine "kick back" take place. The transition to the electric self starter, removed that danger and made the operation of cars by ladies much more feasible. This converted many ladies from "back seat" drivers to behind the wheel drivers!

The Model T  transmission drive was rear wheel. The transmission was described as "Planetary Gear" type with two speeds forward and one in reverse. The transmission was controlled by three foot pedals and a lever on the road side of the drivers seat.

Between the years 1916-1926 only a black color was available on the Model T. Henry Ford was said to have made the statement: "Customers can have a car painted with any color that they wanted as long as it is black". He had chosen the black color as it dried faster in the assembly line process.


 (June in 1946 - Colfax High School Senior - Family 1937 Nash 4 door car)

June Rolstad 1946 with 1937 Nash Car


After the passing of the Model T Ford, the Rolstad Car in the mid 1930's and until early 1940's apparently was a 30's vintage Ford. A 1930's car enthusiast Gary L. Halverson has examined the above family picture and believes the car in the picture is a 1933 Ford Business Coupe  He comments as follows:

"After researching the 30's cars by the configuration of the roof line, wind-shield wipers, grill shape and design, body shape and what I could see of the headlights and fender curves, it looks to be a 1933 Ford business coupe. During that period of time in the USA, those were probably the most affordable cars available to the working mans family. Relatively inexpensive, dependable and could be tough enough  for the rural roads of the times. With what little I could really see of the car, I'm about 85% sure of the year, 100% on the make, and 90% sure on the model."

During June's high school graduation year of 1946, the family car was a 1937 Nash 4 door car..The exact year of purchase for the 1937 Nash is unknown.

June recalls that the family car was a source of embarrassment to her when she was dating. She was with a date one early summer evening when she saw her Dad approaching in the family car.. Being embarrassed, she slid down in the seat as the cars passed. She remembers her date exclaiming in a loud voice – “What was that”. June pretended that she had not noticed anything.

The 1937 Nash is probably the car that June's sister Lyndell recalls with a reminiscence of an unpleasant time:

 "I know we just about all perished after riding in it. The air in the car was blue with exhaust fumes and we all had to lay on the ground to get our wind back - it was awful."

As the economic times improved in the late 1940's and early 1950's, June's  parents were able to acquire cars that were more presentable and operational. A sturdy 1941 Plymouth 4 door became their mainstay for several years.


In the mid 1950’s June's parents purchased a new Chevrolet to replace the old but still in good condition 1941 Plymouth. They decided to give the Plymouth to Denis and Jerry to assist them in finding work for the summer. Denis was still in High School in Barron. Jerry had just graduated. Unfortunately, history has shown that this was not a wise decision. Denis quickly established the folly of their making such a gift to the boys. While out with a girl friend one evening, and while he was driving with one hand (his other arm was around the girl friend) Denis managed to sideswipe the right side of the Plymouth on a bridge as he was crossing it.

Brother Jerry was more than a little upset at this quick and unfortunate turn of events. Jerry however would later be part of masterminding an even greater indignity on the trusty old family car. The sideswiped Plymouth and the boys proceeded next to Milwaukee for job hunting. While in Milwaukee, It was decided to make a convertible out of the 4-door Plymouth sedan. The reasoning and logic behind this bizarre course of action is still a mystery. Perhaps they thought that this would somehow enhance their social life with the local girls. Because the car was a sedan, it would require cutting off and removing the top half of the car. They enlisted the aid of a local car salvage yard owner. The owner of the yard wisely refused to cut the top of the car off. In the alternative he offered to let them use his cutting torch if they wanted to do the job themselves. His refusal should have sparked some return to sensibility on the part of the boys. But alas, the fate of the trusty old Plymouth was sealed. After cutting off the top, the door supports were lost and the doors had to be wired shut. The hallmark of a convertible is the ability to restore the top when conditions required it. This car was a permanent top down car. The resulting car was a monstrosity that made even the old family Model T look like a Cadillac. One can only imagine what it was like to drive this car on a rainy day or on a cold northern Wisconsin day. Jerry recalls that he and Denis were driving in Milwaukee one day when a rain downpour took place. They had stopped at a stoplight next to a bus. The bus driver called the passengers attention to this strange vehicle next to them. The driver and passengers all appeared very amused at seeing this bizarre vehicle next to them with two drenched occupants and the car rapidly filling with water.

When June's father later learned about the final condition of the dependable family Plymouth, he was more than outraged and his normal calm demeanor was tested to the extreme.

Going to the movies during the early days usually meant sitting on the grass and watching a free outdoor movie sponsored by one of the nearby towns. Sometimes after the “free” movie, and if money was available, June's mother and dad would buy each of the children a 5 cent double scoop ice cream cone to eat on the way home. An ice cream cone was a very special treat at that time. June and the other siblings would quickly down their cones except for Lenore. Lenore would slowly lick her cone in order to make it last all the way home. This was a source of irritation and envy to June and the other siblings who were forced to watch. The popularity of ice cream among children of that time is is best demonstrated by a popular and comical children’s chant:

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream.”


Wintertime sledding consisted of using their mother’s rug, sitting on it and pulling it up over the front of their feet. It provided a quick but bumpy ride down hill. Skis were hand made out of hardwood. June recalls that they were heavy and clumsy. They were attached to the feet with a single leather strap. The tips were bent upward manually after being heated and soaked in boiling water. This was not a very effective means of producing a permanent bow on the tip and most of the bow was eventually later lost.


(Mother Haldis -  horse and cutter and two Children - winter snow ride)


Haldis and Cutter and Horse


June remembers that a ride behind a horse harnessed to a cutter (2-4 person winter sleigh) was sometimes a fun Sunday afternoon winter activity.


Most farm families had an old battery operated radio. The radio was AM and required an “A” battery (like a car battery) and a set of “B” batteries. The “A” battery could be recharged but the “B” batteries had to be replaced when discharged. June's family had such an old radio. June remembers that the family had difficulty finding the money to periodically replace the “B” batteries.

June can remember seeing her Dad Henry  trying to listen to the news with his ear up against the side of the speaker so he could make out the faint radio signals.

June's  father Henry had a talent for playing the violin and would do so at some of the local barn dances. As a result of  June's Dad being a violinist (Fiddler) the soulful strains and sounds of a violin would always bring pleasure to June in her later years. In addition, June's favorite and very talented uncle Jake also played a violin.