Our $700 mail order home

I was raised in an Eaton house assembled by my Swedish grandfather, a qualified carpenter. In the early 1900s it was pssible to order an entire house from the T. Eaton catalogue, choosing the floor plan and design that suited your needs and income. A house could cost about $700. The precut lumber to build the house arrived in a boxcar shipped from a B.C. mill. The CNR set the boxcar on a siding and the owner had a limited time to unload the shipment and move it all by team and wagon to the chosen site on his homestead.

Plans for a house with a bathroom were available but didn’t fit Grandpa’s farm; adequate water for livestock was always a consideration.

Grandpa picked a level area before the land sloped down to an alkali lake about half a mile north. In 1910, scarcely a native tree or shrub grew anywhere. He and Grandma planted a row of maple trees, Old Man bushes, lilacs and a windbreak of caraganas. By the time I left home 40 years later only the red brick chimney was visible over the tops of the maples.

He built a two-storey house with a full concrete basement including a cribbed well with excellent water in both quality and supply. A hand pump in the kitchen never ran dry. Inside walls were lath and plaster painted with calcimine. Many an elbow suffered a painful abrasion accidentally scrubbing along the wall while making a bed or asleep.

The top floor had three bedrooms, the main floor a living room, kitchen and another bedroom.The east end of the house had a full width balcony on the top floor with a screened veranda below. The balcony gave us a place to shake the mop or air bedding without hauling it all downstairs. And on a hot July day, it was a perfect place to bathe in a tin bathtub though water had to be carried upstairs to fill it to a depth of at least two inches.

In summer we enjoyed fresh air free from bugs and mosquitoes rocking on the veranda rocking, or sleeping on muggy summer nights. Huge green or red caragana leaves shaded the entire south end and east wall of the veranda . In my teens that’s where I spent hours helping Mom peel silver skin onions for pickle. My tool was Grandma’s tiny pen knife. By the time we had skinned a 20 lb. bag the ball of my thumb would be sliced to shallow ribbons.

At the opposite end of the house a one storey room housed the milk separator and the winter supply of ten 100 lb. bags of floor milled from our own wheat. The room’s sloping roof began under my bedroom window and ended near a maple tree. Our tabby cat took to climbing the tree, leaping to the roof, and meowing at my bedroom window to be let in so she could snuggle in bed with me until I got up late on weekends.

Grandpa managed to build the house while breaking sod and proving his homestead, with little help and no power tools. Room doors especially were well crafted and I was told the finishing touches on the roof corners represented an intricate trademark of Grandpa’s handiwork.

When my parents sold the farm in 1968 and retired, the house was moved two miles to the outskirts of Vawn and unloaded beside the highway next to a car relic and junk. Lacking all landscaping, even a tree or flower, it was sad to see.

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