Stories

The Hansen farm and stories of its people

Johnson Family Voyage To America

This is the story of how Walter E. Hansen Sr.'s Mother's family arrived to America. It was written sometime in the 1960's by Walter Sr.'s Uncle Francis.

As per request! A summary of our journey from Finland to the U.S.A.

On Monday, November 15, 1916, our cousin Lina, Uncle John's daughter, came and took us youngsters, Esther, who had her 9th birthday while on the ocean, Elsa - 7, Elna - 3, Svea - 2, and myself - 10, to their home while our home and furnishings were being auctioned off.

The next morning, November 16th, Uncle John, our father's oldest brother, took us all with our personal belongings to the depot in Jakobstad, so we began rolling North, with snow beginning to fall during the day.

As day began to dawn on the 17th, we looked out to see a quite heavy coat of snow on the ground at Uleoborg. We arrived at Torneo as the short daylight began to wane in the midafternoon.

The bridge across the Torneo river into Sweden had gone out the spring before, so they had one-horse-sleighs to take everything over the ice, as the river was frozen over. By the time we had the paperwork and everything was straightened out, every conveyance was gone. By this time it was practically pitch dark, so we started off on foot.

We were dragging our suitcases across to the other side when a 12 year old Finnish boy was returning from delivering a load of passengers. He turned around and said he'd take us over for the regular price of crossing the river. We didn't realize it, but it couldn't have been more than 300 yards to the depot. The snow was falling, and it really was pitch dark by then.

As we were waiting to go aboard, people were standing around in groups in the darkness of midnight while they sang their various National Athems.

After our mother had checked our baggage (trunks) and presented our tickets to the train officials at Haparanda, Sweden, we boarded and found our seats. Mother had to take Elna and Svea to the lavatory, and while they were gone a train official came rushing in and calling out there was baggage still not checked and would be left behind unless paid for, and as freight to go on the train. Mother heard her name called and came out as quickly as possible, asking who was calling her name. I told her what i understood, that they wanted to find the owner to take care of it. (She had already paid for it, but had to pay for it a second time, because somebody had just pocketed the money and never reported it).

When she contacted the officials, they found no record of it being taken care of, so she told them her children were all on the train, and that it was beginning to leave. They said they would try to get her on it, which they were able to do -- as the last car at the end of the train came by! Needless to say i had four squalling younger sisters on my hands, and with night coming on, I was probably in tears, too.

It must have been a half an hour before Mother had worked her way up to the car we were in, and we were all on our way to the U.S.A.! we were all on the train until we came to Christiania, now called Oslo, where we could have boarded the ship; but Mother preferred to save two days of sea voyage by going around the southern end of the Scandinavian peninsula. Therefore we stayed at the hotel in Christiania for two days.

While there, we met a young Norwegian couple who had no children who fell for Svea. She seemed too be taking this travel in her stride. they asked mother to let them adopt her as their own, but Mother wouldn't think of such a thing. She was born on May 1st, 1914, and as Father had gone to the U.S. in the fall of 1913, he had never even seen her!

It was wintry, cold, and dark early on the morning of November 21, when we went to the railroad station. While Mother was waiting to board the train, holding Svea in her arms, she stepped back as some workmen came by pushing a hand truck with frieght for loading. She fell backwards about four feet down on the railroad tracks! Fortunately, heavy clothing prevented serious injury, but it left Mother with a somewhat bruised shoulder. Then we embarked on our last train ride on the continent of Europe.

We were on our way to Bergen where we were to board the "Bergen's Fjord". It was the "Modern Ocean Liner" of that time. As we were waiting to go aboard, people were standing around in groups in the darkness of midnight while they sang their various National Athems, as well as the hymns "In the Sweet Bye and Bye", "Rock of Ages", and others in similar vein in their languages. It was a very moving experience. Then we walked the "gang plank" onto the practically new ocean liner. All of this would appear as antique today.

Not far from Bergen, we encountered the worst storm the Captain said he's seen in his 40 years of sea travel. In no time, of course, everybody came down seasick--even most of the ships crew. Hardly anyone could hold anything but liquids. The storm lasted most of the time between there and England.

The ship bounced around like a cork, and toward the stern, one had to hang on to the side of the bunk to keep from being tossed out.

I do not recall whether we all got to the dining room together more than once or twice on the whole voyage. Svea and i went occassionally, and whenever we did there would only be arouind a half a dozen there.

The ship bouncred around like a cork, and toward the stern, one had to hang on to the side of the bunk to keep from being tossed out. We happened to have a room near the stern, and when the waves would toss the back end of the ship, the propeller would be spinning in the air above the water, and then down in the water again. It was quite some jar to everyone quartered in the rear cabins like we were.

The ship also sprang a leak, so with the tossing of the ship by the waves, and with the riveting going on, we had very little sleep that night. World War 1 was waging in Europe at this time, so somewhere off shore, we had about a one day stop at England, but we didn't get off the ship. After leaving England, the weather was calmer.

We saw the Statue of Liberty as we were ferried to land for our physical checks

When i woke up early on the morning of December 5, everything was quiet; I looked out the porthole and saw what seemed to be a circle of lights all around us in the distance. It was so quiet with no tossing of the ship that we had sort of gotten used to having.

We saw the Statue of Liberty as we were ferried to land for our physical checks, and the going through customs procedure, etc., until again we were once more on a train heading west. At Chicago we spent from 6:00 am till 6:00 pm waiting for the train to take us to Spokane, Wash., and finally to Portland, Ore. This was the end of train travel: the evening of December 10, Sunday night.

Our Father had been there for two days checking the incoming trains, so when the conductor opened the door, he was face to face with us. It had been nearly three and one half years since we last saw him.

We left Portland on the paddle-wheel boat, down the Willamette River into the Columbia, with a quick side trip into Lake River and the town of Ridgefield

We stayed in Portland until Tuesday morning, as we had to wait for the river boat to La Center, which plied between La Center and Portland three round trips a week. It left La Center Monday, returning on Tuesday, which was the day we would be at the end of our destination.

We left Portland on the paddle-wheel boat, down the Willamette River into the Columbia, with a quick side trip into Lake River and the town of Ridgefield. The we came back to and down the Columbia again to the South Fork of the Lewis River to La Center. Two of our Fathers brothers lived about five miles from here, on a muddy road out into the countryside. It was quite late in the evening by this time, after sloshing through the puddles and muddy clay, which was a [unintelligible] to all of us as to what we had expected America to be.

We spent part of the time with our Uncles' who were living a mile apart, and after the holidays our parents made a deal on a place another mile farther from La Center, that was being sold by heirs of folks who had homesteaded it in the 1800's. Our Father was very ambitious and started to work hard, clearing land and cleaning up. It wasn't long before he found out that he was afflicted with miner's consumption, something sometimes referred to as silicosis of the lungs, from which he died on Thanksgiving day, November 25, 1920 at the age of forty years. This was two days after our youngest sister, Gladys', second birthday -- the only one of us born in the U.S. Fathers funeral was held on Esther's 13th birthday, two days later. Two days after that, Mother had her 33rd birthday. This is just a part of our immediate family history.

Francis O. Johnson