Catching Frogs for Money and More Stories About America in the 1920s

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This is the third story from Ruth Zwald, written by her father, Robert Zwald, and submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear. She compiled her father’s stories in his own words, and they are posted in eight parts. Read the other parts:1900s Farming in Washington County Minnesota; Growing Up on a FarmOne Room School House; Borrowing Against Life Insurance; Changes in Agriculture; Courtship and Marriage and The Wisconsin Farm.

Grocery stores were different when I was growing up. Usually the clerk got things you needed from your written slip. We used to sell our eggs to the grocery stores in exchange for groceries. In the bigger department stores, there were clerks in every department who always waited on you, no matter what you wanted.

In winter, our mailman had one horse and a cutter (sleigh), which he built a cab around to keep the wind out. He went over the snow banks and around them, sometimes in the fields. He would take one horse halfway, and at a farm he had a horse to relieve the other one. He would go the rest of the way with that horse – the mail had to go. Our mailbox was one and a quarter miles from home – and no fourwheeler, either. We had to ski, walk or bike to get the mail. Stamps were 2 cents.

I remember catching frogs in a slough on the back of the farm. Anything to make a nickel. There were frogs by the hundred. I put them in the water tank and put up a sign, “Frogs – 20 cents a dozen.” People stopped to buy the frogs to use as fishing bait on their way to the St. Croix River.

There were many snakes, too. They would hide under the grain shocks and every once in awhile you’d get one on your head as you loaded grain bundles. I cut grain in bundles, then shocked it in the field. It was then loaded on hayracks and pitched into the thresher machine. Neighbors all worked together on this, helping each other out. There was always discussion when it came to which farm would be threshed first if it rained a lot. The grain would sprout in the field. But a rain also gave us a rest from those long days and hard work.

We bought a tractor for $900 in 1929. I used to plow before and after school when I was about 12 years old. I’d ride on the hood or get off and walk alongside to keep warm. It followed the furrow good. As a matter of fact, I could hardly steer it. I had to kick it in gear because I couldn’t reach the clutch and shift at the same time. We bought it in 1929 and made the last payment in 1944.

In 1929, my Dad’s brother, Richard, died. We drove our ’29 Chevy to Iowa, and was I excited to see that land! After the funeral in Garner, my Dad’s sister (Lena Zwald Ax) came on a wagon and took us to their farm near Klemme, about a six mile ride. I held the lantern on the back and below the wagon so my uncle (Charlie Ax) could see the ruts in the road. It was dark, and Iowa roads were bad in those days – black, sticky dirt.

Photos from Ruth Zwald: Bob on Dolly (1927 Woodbury), Cousins visit on Pioneer Road (July 1927).

Please send email submissions to with the subject line “Elder Wisdom” or send mail to: attn: Heidi Hunt, Re: Elder Wisdom, Mother Earth News, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609.

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