First Generation Finnish Story – Part I

First Generation Finnish Story – Part I

Bernard Rikala’s Story

My mother once remarked that when I was born I looked more like a skinny rat than anything and my chances of survival not the best.

I was born April 14, 1914, in what was then a small town known as Hibbing, Mn.

My grandmother, Mrs. John Bankord, ran a boarding house in Hibbing. As news of her fabulous cooking spread around, more and more of the miners, a lot of them lately emigrated from Finland, started eating there, my dad to be amongst them. He had come to this country around the year 1908 at the young age of 17, to join about six older brothers here settled around the range.

Father was 22 years old and mother 19 when they married at Hibbing, Mn, Aug. 18, 1913. As a result of this marriage, there were 12 children born in quite rapid succession.

My grandmother, Mrs. John Bankord, ran a boarding house in Hibbing. As news of her fabulous cooking spread around, more and more of the miners, a lot of them lately emigrated from Finland, started eating there, my dad to be amongst them.

My first memories seem to go back to when I was five years old and mother leaving me with a number of strange kids and a teacher. I put up quite a fuss and shed real tears being painfully shy.

We moved away from Hibbing when I was six years of age and settled at Suomi, Mn, a new Finnish settlement 15 miles north of Deer River. There was a logging railroad called the Minneapolis and Rainey River, which was the only mode of transportation at the time. Our farm consisted of a house, a barn, and 80 acres of big pine stumps, second growth pople, birch, and a variety of brush, besides a lot of rocks which for years kept us busy if there was nothing else to do.

Father’s blasting experience in the mines proved to be very useful as some of the stumps were 8 to 10 feet across. It would have been a nice sight to see those big pine trees when they were still standing.

We started with about three cows and eventually had a herd of 12 to 15 Jerseys and Holstein cows besides a team of horses and perhaps 50 or so chickens.

We moved away from Hibbing when I was six years of age and settled at Suomi, Mn, a new Finnish settlement 15 miles north of Deer River. There was a logging railroad called the Minneapolis and Rainey River, which was the only mode of transportation at the time.

Farm women don’t have things too easy but I don’t believe too many worked harder than Mom. Besides the cooking and baking, she took care of the grocery store, usually milked a couple more cows than Wesley or I did. The post office was also one of her duties besides buying and testing cream, which was then sent to Bridgeman Russell in Duluth. One of my jobs was to drag the ten gallon cans over to the train depot, which luckily wasn’t too far away. With a can in each arm I could make fast work of 6 to 10 cans.

When we weren’t busy clearing land or making hay, Father kept busy with logging operations. One of our biggest operations was in the late thirties and early forties. We had a contract to cut over a 160 acre tract of spruce pulpwood. It was a three year job and Dad, Wesley, and I did it without the power saws that are used today. Each year for the next three years we averaged a thousand cords, which is the equivalent of 50 of those gondola cars in which pulpwood is hauled on the railroad.

Story taken with permission from the “Rikala Roots,” all rights reserved.

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