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Interview with Rudy Gustafson




Beginning in 1998, the City of Duluth (Minn.) Sister Cities Commission collaborated with the Iron Range Research Center to record a series of oral history interviews. Independent scholar Dr. JoAnn Hanson-Stone acted as the lead interviewer. The voluntary, self-selecting participants were second-generation Swedish Americans whose parents settled in northeast Minnesota in the early 1900s. The interviews were initiated to create supplementary material for a planned exhibit, “A Long Way Home: Swedish Immigrant Life in Duluth and Northeast Minnesota, 1890-1940.”





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Use of this oral history is governed by U.S. and international copyright law. Please contact the Iron Range Research Center for more information in regard to this oral history; http://mndiscoverycenter.com/research-center/archive




Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 1

DATE : June 22, 1999
SUBJECT : Interview with Rudy Gustafson, Duluth, Minnesota
INTERVIEWER Dr. Joann Hanson-Stone
PROGRAM Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
City ofDuluth Sister Cities Commission

I'd like to begin by doing a bit of a summary of your family history that we had talked
about the last time I 'Was here. 1understand thatyour father's name was Victor


And your mother's name was Hanna or Johanna Mohm -and could you tell me again
where your father emigrated from. Where his home was?
He was from Urlma? and he did work in the railroad and that is how he happened to meet my

mother because she was from the Norland and so he got involved somehow and how he met
her I can't tell you but anyway that is how he met her when he was on the end ofthe railroad.
And her name was?
Hannah Mohm.
And she came from?
What year your father emigrated from Sweden to Duluth?
As Irecall it was 1905.
And your mother?
She came 1907.
Your mom and dad when they met they kept up with correspondence?
Asfar asIknow; 1can'ttell you much aboutthat.
Did you mother immigrate directly to Duluth?

Swedish Immigrant OralHistoryProject
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999


What brought her to Duluth?

Wellshehada brotherthathadalreadyimmigratedtoDuluthandhisnamewasOle.Andso
hewashereandmyfatherwashereandofcoursetheywerecorresponding sosheendedup
comingdirectlyto Duluth.

What motivated your father to come to Duluth?

theagranddaughterthatwas -Herfatherwashereandhewastheoldestoneofthefamily
and Hannah -Her namewas Hannah too andthen shecamebecauseofher fatherbeinghere
andthenwhenshegothereshemarried Victor Olsonandtheyhadtwoboys,Leslieand
Arvidandmy mother ofcoursewhenshecameheretheygotmarriedandshediddo
housework jobs hereat the eastendbut shemarried myfatherthen.

Did you remember what year?

Theywere married in 1907.

What was your dad doing?

Whenhecameto Duluthhegotajobinthe sawmill.

What was his job?

I amnotactuallysurebuthewastendingtothetrolleythatorthecarriagethatcarriesthelogs
tothesawandthat ishowhehappenedtogethishandcutbecausehewasridingthis carriage
withthe logon it andhereached outtopickup somethingandcuthishandoff.

Which hand?

Hisrighthand.Hedidn't cutitcompletelyoffbuttheydidsewitbackonsothathe hadsome
useofhisthumbandthesefingers werestiff ofcourse.

And bent inward?

Likethis. Sohe couldusehis thumb.

Did he work for more than one saw mill?

As furasIknowonlyonesawmillandIcan't tellyouwhichoneitwas.Idon't remember
the name.

You mentioned Alger Smith?

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 3

That was a logging company and they did have a saw -mill in Duluth and I am assuming that
that was the mill. But they had a railroad that ran straight north from Knife River way up into
the north woods and so they were hauling logs from there and shipping them into Duluth by

Your father was injured before your parents married; do you have any knowledge of
It happened before they were married.

As a result did he continue to work?
They-hedidn'tcontinuetoworkexceptthathewent-theyputhimonasomekind ofa
pensionorsomethingand theypaidhim $300.00and ofcoursehehad tohavecare but
anyway he took the $300.00 and bought some land up at North Palmers up in Clover Valley.
So they moved up there after he was able to -his hand was healed so he could use it and then
they started and they built this house and he hired people from around there to cut these logs
and trim them and lay them and put them together like that.

This part ofthe house was built first and only one room and there was no room upstairs and
later on when we moved in there -when we first moved in there was just a one room and
while we were there they -he had this added on.

So it was it two story addition with one room downstairs and one room up?

No after this was built then they built a stairway going up to the upstairs and made sleeping
quarters up here.
Yes and is this the mud porch?
Yeah it's a kind ofan entrance porch.
So you can keep the water off of you.
Where did your family live in Duluth prior to moving to the country?
We lived at 18 Y:z Avenue West just above Third Street on the hillside.

Iwasborninthehospital ofcourse-St.Luke'sandmysisterwasbornayearandacouple
months later at the home in Duluth.

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 4

What is your birthday?
December 18, 1908 and then my sister in 1910 in February.
You were the two children that were in the house in Duluth?
Any memories of that house?
Well no except that that house was across the street from where my father's sister lived

Anna Sundquist -and so we got up there when my father took me to Duluth and we visited
them and pointed out the house where we were living when I was born.
Were they renting?
No they didn't rent.

Tell us about the homestead in Clover Valley?
Well this house was about 20 feet wide and 24 feet this way and then when they added this on
it it was just the same width about a little further over but it was -it had hardwood floors.
Well I can't tell you where the wood came from but it was the hardwood floor -tongue and

Were there other buildings?

After we were there they put up a shack so they would have a cow and of course there was a
toilet that was in the back yard, but that shack of a bam was just a tar paper shack you might
say and I remember that. And then later on they built another bam and had some cows and a
horse and chickens ofcourse, but other than that and a hay bam so they could harvest the hay
and store it in the bam. That bam lasted till about 1932 and the wind blew it down.

Was your family living on the homestead?

Yes, my mother was living there. She died in 1950.

So did she live the rest of her life there?

Yes to 1934 -she lived there a few years. I think it was two or three-years and I wasn't
married yet then. I was married in 1935 so it must have been she did live there for a short
time and then I had moved her. I got a job in the city of Duluth and I moved my mother -we
rented a house in Morley Heights and I moved in there and Mom and my sister went with me.


Swedish Immigrant OralHistoryProject
June 22, 1999


How many acres?

Therewas 40tobeginwithandthenhesold 5acrestoa fellow-abachelor.

Did you father have to clear any acreage?

Oh,yah, allthelandhadtobeclearedbecausetherewaspinestumpsallovertheplacethat
hadbeenloggedoffandallthosestumpshadtobeblastedwithdynamite andthenpulledout
with a horse and burnt. I remember them very distinctly and so all the land had to be cleared.

Therewasno clearingwhenwe came.

So the logging companies had been there first?

Oh yah, definitely.

Were any crops raised other than the hay?

Well,hewasabletodigapatchandraisesomepotatoes anddigthembyhandandlaterwhen
wegotahorsewehadaplowthatyouwalked behindandyouplowedupenoughsothatwe
couldraisea garden.

How did your parents make a living in Clover Valley?

Wellthe onlylivingtheyhadwasfromwhattheyraisedonthefarmandthemilkfromthe
cowsandstufflikethatandoccasionallyhewouldgetajobforthetownship workingand


soyouhadto standthereandshovelthegravelontothewagonandusuallytheywereall

farmers therethathad horses andtheywouldhaveawagonsoIevenhadto shovelgravel

myself '

So it was a temporary part time job?

Oh' just temporary, temporary.

Did your parents belong to a cooperative?

No,not -well,I rememberhaulingcreamtothisPalmer's,whichwas3 Yz miles and hauling

itwithahorseand wagon. Andthatwastheonly incomewehadoutsideofsellingpotatoes


themtothevarious peoplelivingalongLondon Roadandwalkinginandaskingifthey

wantedtobuysomepotatoesandsomeofthemboughtcreamandmilk -butthatwasonly

once or twice a month that this happened.

And a certain time of the year?

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
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Right;itwasinthesummertimewewouldtakethehorseandwagonandgoto Duluth.

How long did that take you?

Well,itwouldtake quiteawhilebecausethe roadwas3 Yz milesto Palmer'sandthen10
milesto LesterParkandthenhaveto continueon London Roadto aboutlSlb AvenueEast is
wherethesepeoplelivedthat boughtourproducts.

I have no idea how fast a horse and wagon?

Usuallya horseandwagonwouldtravelabout3 Yz milesan hour.

So it would be a long day. Did you stay overnight or go back the same day?

Asa rulewewouldstayovernightbutIthinkweusedtotakethe streetcartothewestend
wheremyfatherhadrelatives andwewouldstaywiththemforovernightbutordinarilywe
would only be gone a day.

Where on the west end?

Wellmyuncle-myfather'soldestbrother-livedon 2301 AvenueWestand <ilb Street and he
wasthefatherto AnnGustafsonwhohadthe A & ESupplyCompany. Benwashalfsisteror
washerfather. Butshewasraisedin Swedenwithmyfatherandfolksandthencameover andhe
seutforher andsoshecamehereandstayedwiththem for a whileand marriedVictor

Was the A & E Supply Company?

was a blue-printingbusiness that had beenstarted.

On the west end?

Yeah.Ithink it startedonthe westend.

What are your memories of your mother?

WellthesearesomanythingsIdon't knowwhatIcouldsayaboutherthat shedidhaveto
milkthe cowsbecausewehadcowsoutonthe farmandusuallythree or fourcowsandshe
to putthe milkinthe flatpanandwaituntilthe creamwouldcometo thetop and skimmedit
offandthento beginwiththeyhadaccumulatedfourorfivegallons ofcreamandIwould
haulit downto the Palmer's stationand shipit intothe Duluthcreameryandproduce

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companyinacanofcourse. Butthatwasabouttheonlyincomethattheyhadexceptoncein
a whilehe wouldget ajob shoveling gravelfromthetownship.

Do you remember your mother -did she enjoy certain activities?

Idon't thinkthatshehadanyparticularthingthat shedidexceptshewouldhaveto sew
prettywellatthatbecause wenever starved.

Would you consider her a good cook?

Oh,yeah,shewasagood cook. Shewouldcook oatmealinthemorningforusandmilkand
oatmealandshehadto bakeallthebreadsowehadtotoastthebreadbylaying it on the
stoveandthenofcourseshehadto makeherownbutteroutofthecreamthatshegotsoshe
wasalwaysbusyalongwithin 1914we-myfatherhelpedjoinatelephoneco-opandthen
wegotatelephoneandwhenthatcamebythenshe always hada telephonetotalktothe
neighbors and thatusuallylastedseveral minutes oryoumightsayhours.

Tell me about your neighbors?

Acrossthe roadfromus wasthe Gustafson familyandhis originalnamewas Kivi;
somebodyhadchangeditfromGustafson andthatwasbeforewemovedupthereandthey
hadaloghomeandtheyhadthreechildren: twogirlsandaboyandtheboyNeiloisstill
livingthere in that old house.

Were they Finnish?

Theywere Finnish. Andtheydidn'tspeakEnglishatalluntillaterontheygottounderstand
it. ThennexttothemsouthoftherewastheElicksonfamilyandhehad-theyhadseveral
childrenandtheoldestboywaskilledbylightening -struckthehomein 1917 andhe
happened to be standing bythe chimney andit wentrightdownthe chimney andkilledhim.
Hewas about16or 17yearsoldatthetime. Andof coursefromthen onElimElicksonnever
insaneasylum. In themeantimebeforeheactuallywastakenawayhewas -theywere -he
wasveryunfriendlywiththeGustafsonfamilynextdoorsothattheywere always quarreling.

Was he Swedish?

TheywerewhattheycalledSwede-Finns-from Finlandbuttheyhad someSwedish ancestry.
Ms.Elicksonshehadabrother;hisnamewasMatt Picariandhe-whenIfirstgottoknow
himIwasprobably10yearsold-hehada bottlingworks-Kaleva BottlingWorks-inDuluth
onFirst Avenue EastandMichigan Streetandtheneventuallyheboughtsomelandjustahalf
ofa milefromtheElickson farmonthemainroadthereandhestarted farming so-

Would you consider your neighborhood predominantly Finnish?

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June 22, 1999
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I wouldn't say predominantly-not in our area. The Gustafson's and Elickson's and the old
manthatboughtthat 5acreswasFinnish andacrosstheroadfromtheretherewasaSwede

FinnbythenameofElicHakalaandhewasabachelor. Sotherewereamixtureandfurther
originally. Therewasamixtureofdifferentnationalitiesallalongthatroad.

Tell me memories of your father?

Well, Idon't recallofanythingparticularabouthim;hedidhavetogooutandshovelgravel
to makeafewdollarsandhewouldtakethehorseandplowaroundforsomeoftheneighbors
supervisor-towardstheendbeforehediedhewasatownsupervisorandotherthanthat I
can't tell you much about it.

Did he have any hobbies?

Well,wedidhavea Swedishnewspaperthatwegotonceaweeksohehadthattoread.


SenskaAmerikana(?).Therewastwodifferentnewspapers andthatwastheoneIremember
andthatcameoncea week. Goingnorthfromourplacejustahalf ofamiletherewasa
loggingcompanystillin operationandtheywerecuttingtimber backinthe woodsandthen
theywouldhaulitto Palmer'swiththehorsesandloadthemonfreightcarsandthenthey
wouldhaulthemintoDuluthandeventuallysometime laterontherewasthefamilybythe
name ofHoughtaling's(?)that movedin wherethe loggingcamphadbeen sotheywerethere
whereI wentto schoolup in Clover Valley; there was Evelyn, Elmma and I can't remember
the boy's name.

Tell me what public school?

Thatwasa schoolthatwasthere;theoriginalonewasorganizedbythe settlersandbutbythe
timeIjoinedorgotintothe schoolinthebeginningclassthatschoolhadtransferredtothe
countyboardofeducationsotheyhadcontroloftheschoolandtheonly -itwasonlyaoneroomschoolandoneteacherbuttheyfurnishedthe
thekidsto studyandsoon.Therewasuptotheeighthgrade.

Do you remember the school number?

92. St. Louis Countynumber 92.
Did you -what language?

OhwellI learneda littleFinnishbeforeIwentto schoolbecausethe neighborkids alltalked
FinnishandIlearnedtotalk"Finn"andIcanstilltalk "Finn"and ofcourseIlearned

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 9

Swedish at home because that is what they talked and then I learned how to talk English after
I went to school but other than that the beginner's class was quite set-
Do you have memories oflearning English?
Learning English: I learned it basically after I started school.
But then I learned English and my parents learned how to talk English after I did.

How did they learn?
Well they had -they didn't have to correspond so much but they had to go out and buy
groceries and the neighbors were Finnish and Swedish and mostly Finnish and they had to
learn to talk English to the extent my father could learn how to talk English so that -then of
coursenorth ofus-haIfamilenorth ofus-was 00-Saamen'sandtheyspokeEnglish-

So your father and mother learned English to communicate?

Oh yes they all learned to talk English. We got a telephone in 1914 and then my mother of
course would talk Swedish to her friends. It is English ifyou had to call somebody-
Do you remember teaching your parents English?
No, I don't.

Did they talk to you in English?
Oh yes, after I grew up and I got into school they learned to talk English and between
themselves ofcourse there was Swedish and ofcourse I had four sisters and my sister Signe I
think-she lives out in Washington; she went to school a year after I did and so we all got to

. learn English.
Were you helping Signe to learn English before school?
I don't recall that. I had a sister next to that was Ruth and but she was born and she couldn't

talk and she didn't -she was not able to talk to people so Did
she understand?
She could understand but she could always yell at us and they would Any
There was no language -special

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
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Elsie,and Edithwas bom afterthat.
Do you have recollections of school?
I remembersome ofthe teachers, yes.Therewas Eleanor?Ahola?Merritt,the daughterofthe

Merrittsthat startedtheIronRangeMiningCompany, andshewasa kind ofa bossyteacher.
Any teachers Swedish?
I don't recallany ofthem being Swedish.
Were there any activities that you would do as a family?
Theywouldhaveapicniconcea yearatthetownhallandthat wasatmid-summerandthen

wewouldallgatherthereandsometimesthe mostlySwedishpeoplethere,butanywaythat
wasthemainevent ofthe-inthecountrythere,themid-summerpicnic.

Do you remember celebrating 4th of July?
Wedidyes,Irememberfirecrackers. Somehoworotherwewereabletogetfirecrackers thesetinyonessoyes,
theydidhavecelebrations forthe4thofJuly; andthat's whereyou
would hear firecrackers -you would hear firecrackers. That was at the town hall.

In Palmer?
North ofPalmer-

Did you know the name of the town hall?
DuluthTownHall.ItwasinSt.LouisCountyanditwasjusttwomilesnorth ofus onthe

righthandsideandthebuildingasfuras Iknowisstillstanding.But it was only a one-room


How far was your school?

Two miles.

Was it in the same direction as the Town Hall?

Right;wehadtogobythetownhallinordertogettoschool. Twomilestoschool.

How did you get to school?

Walk.TobeginwithwehadtowalkandthenlateronafterI spenttwo orthreeyears

walking,thenthetownorthecountydecidedtomake -haulthekidstoschoolandmyfather

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
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bidonit withhis horseandwagonandhewouldpickuptheneighbors' kidsandgo alongthe
road and we would all ride in the wagonto school. .

He would come and pick you up at the end of the day?

Atthe endofthedayhewouldpickusup.

So it was another paid job?

Yeah,itwasapaidjobbutitwasquitelow ofcourse. Ican'trememberhowmuchitwas.

Didyou have any responsibilities when you were growing up?

Well,IusuallyhadtocarrythewoodinandthenIwouldsometimes havetogoout arid clean
the bam. Andwegot a car;ofcourse1wasprettywellgrownup whenwegotthe first model
Tcar.Ihad toseethatthatwascleanedupandrunningbutwealwaysputthewheels -took
thewheelsoffinthewintertimeandputthat model T intheshedandtookthewheelsoffand
storedthewheelsinthebuilding someplace. Butweneverhaduseofthecaruntilafterthe
snowwas gone.

What do you remember -year?

1924. AndIwasold enoughthenthatIhadbeento DuluthandIhadcommitted myselfto
buyingacar.ButthenwhenmyfathersawthatI wanted acarthatbadhewentwithmeand
wewentto TwoHarborsandfromTwoHarborsthedealertherecame -broughtamodelT
car to us and so we boughtthat.

So that was your first car?

A 1924-a 1921 model.

So you were able to use the car?

I got sothat I coulddrivethe car, yes.

Didyou take your family in the car?

Oh,Ialwaystookthem.Myfathercouldonlyhavetheuseofonehandsohecouldn't very
thosedaysyoucouldjust pressthe footpedaldownandyouwerein lowandif you let it back
outyouwereinhigh.Sohedidu'thaveto usehisrighthandforshiftingbuthediduseitfor

Did you have friends?

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June 22, 1999
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Well,Ihadneighbors'friends andneighborkidsofcourseandthenfromschoolwewere

friendly-Iwasfriendly withsomeoftheboysthere;infactoneofthemjustdiedherea

couple yearsago.Leo Aho, namewas.

What did you do with your friends?

Well,wewouldgo hunting. Wedidn'tgettogetherthatmuchbecauseweweremilesapart



boxes to play with so we playedwith thekidsthere-Iplayedwiththekidsthen.

Do you remember people visiting?

Therewasn'ttoomuchvisitinggoingon.Ican't rememberanythingespecially-mymother
wouldvisit -shewouldwalktoAlexson'sandtalktothemandasfarasvisitingtheother
neighbors, reallytherewasn'tmuchofthat.

Do you remember people popping in on you?

. Well,therewasaftercarswereavailable; thentheywouldhavevisitorsbutlikeIsaythere
wasn't too muchofthatgoingon.

Did you belong to a church?

Therewasa churchorganized-itwas -theywouldhave-itwasn'texactlya churchbutthey
somebody wouldpickhimup andtake himupto thetown hall andthenthey wouldhave
preachmgserviceson Sundlly. Buttinswasn'tevery Sundlly.

The preacher came from Duluth?


So it was open up to the community?



Well,usuallythePresbyterian. ThatistheonlyonethatI remember.

Anyorganizations, Swedishthat your familybelongedto?


A Swedish newspaper?

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Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 13


Traditions around the holidays? Traditions kept alive?

Well,theywouldalwayshavea localpicnicin mid-summerandthatwasusuallyatthetown
hallandthenat Christmastimethentherewasthe celebrationswouldbeatschool.Otherthan
that there wasn't much.

Do you remember Christmas at home?

Weusuallyhada Christmastree andIremembergoingoutandfmdingthetree andputtingit
in the house. We had it in the house for usually a week and my mother would trim it with
tinselandthings.OtherthanthatIdon't rememberanythingspecial.

St. Lucia day?

No. Theynever celebratedit outthere.

Did your parents share their feelings with you about leaving Sweden?

Idon't recallespeciallytalkingaboutit.Irememberthemtalkingabouttheirrelativesandmy
fatherofcoursehad brothers and sistershere andthey wouldcome-after automobileswere
availabletheywouldcomeandvisitusuponthefarm.Idon't recall ofanythingspecial.I
andhe eventuallymovedoutto Denverwherehisandmyauntlivedandfromthere hewent
to California.

To live?
He lived.
Did your family communicate with their relatives in Sweden?
Oh yes, they did; they all wrote letters. I can't tell you what was in them because I couldn't

readSwedish. Icouldunderstandit.
So they did keep a correspondence?
Oh, yah.
Did any of your family go back and visit Sweden?
Not that I koow of.

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Did you have any family members stay behind and come to visit and then return to

I can't rememberanyone particular -it seemsto metherewasonethat cameoverandthen
went back but I can't tell you who it was.

Did your family exchange photos?
Ithinkthey didsendpictures andwegotpicturesbackandwestillhavethem.Otherthanthat

my grandmother -my mother'smother-diedjust shortlybeforewecameto Swedenthefirst
time so I nevergotto knowher.
That was when you were an adult?
Are there-any artistic nature?
Were there any artistic talent with your sisters?
Idon't recallofanythingparticular. BecausewhenIwasthroughthe 8thgradeofcourseIleft

shecameto Duluthanddidhousework andRuth ofcoursecouldn't doanythingbecauseshe
was-shedidn'tdevelop, Elsieshewentandstayedwithmycousinthenandshewentto


Shewastheyoungestone.Shedidcometo Duluthandstayedhere
too but thatwasaftermyfatherhaddiedand my motherandI moved into Duluth.

Do you remember where Elsie taught?
I can't tell you.
So you and Signe went as far as 8th grade?
So then you went to work?
Well,Iwentpart ofthe9thgradeandIstayedwithmyauntinWestDuluth. Ididn't getalong

withmy UncleAlbertsoI leftthereandwentto workfor mycousinat the A & E Supply.
What school?
The oldDenfeldonCentralAvenue.

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What did you do for work?
I startedout runningerrands-runningtothedifferentarchitects forblueprintsorfortracing

andbringingthembackandprintedthemattheblueprintshopandIwouldhaveto bring

thembackandtothearchitects.Sothatwasmy -Iwasanerrandboy.

How old?

Oh, I supposeI was 16 or 17.

How old were you when you started school?

I was 6 years old.

Where did you live?

Well,Ididgoandfindaplaceto liveandIcan'ttellyoujust whereitisnow.

But you were on your own?


Signe did housework?


Ruth was born with mental illness?
Degenerated, yah.

So Elsie did graduate from normal school?

Shewent to highschoolandnormalschool.DuluthNormal.

A one room teacher?
Shetaught in Duluthbut I can't tell youwhereit was.

Younger sister?

ShefinishedhighschoolupthereinCloverValleybecausetheyhadalreadybuilta new

schoolthereandshewasthefirstonetograduatefromthe schoolupthere.
In the first class?

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Well, shegraduatedfromthe glb grade-waita minute;Ithinkshegraduatedfromthe senior-
Was there one senior and that was your sister?
There was a group.
So she graduated from the first class?
Clover Valley High School.
Any heirlooms from Sweden?
I can't tell you.
Your life?
Well, I went to work as an apprenticeplumber for a plumbing.company, East End Plumbing

Company. John Kommerwald? was the owner at that time.
What year?
It was in the early or late 20's. I can't tell you what year it was. It was the late 20's anyway.
Work history?
After I left Kommerwald's, I wentto workinthesteelplantinDuluthandworkedthere for

severalmonths-Idon't rememberhowlong,andthenfromthere IwenttotheWesternSteel
ProductsinGarywhichisintheNewDuluthandworkedtherefora while. ThenIcame-I
can't tellyouexactlywhatIdidafterthat.

What made you move from one job to another?

somehoworotherIdidn'tgetalongwiththeforeman, orhedidn'tlikewhatIwasdoingand
so I was let out or I quit.
Was that US Steel?
Yes.Thatplantis no longerthere. Fromthere I wentto workfor a plumbingcontractor,asan

GraduallyIwentintheplumbingbusiness myself.

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What year did you start that?

I can't tell you exactly, but it was in the early 30's.

The name?

Gustafson Plumbing Service.

You were a one -man company?

Yah,exceptthat Ihadtohirepeople.Igotenoughbusinesssothat Ihadtohireplumbersand
helpers and so forth.

How long did that company last?

Well,Iwasintheplumbingbusinessuntilthesecondworldwar startedin1942andthenI
intothearmysoIgotinthe shipyardsandevadedthe draftandthenaftertheshipyards
closedorthewarwasover,thenIwentto -moreorlessintothe plumbingbusiness myselfthewayIstarted-
IwouldputmytoolsinthebackofthecarandIwouldgo outanddoajob
if'Igota callyouknowandIhadsomebodyanswering aphoneandwegotbusinessthat way
buteventuallyIhadto-IopenedupashopandthatwasoutonEast4th Streetand I had to
hire plumbersand

So Gustafson Plumbing Company?

GustafsonPlumbing Service.

Do you have photos ofthat shop?

No, becauseit was on the main drag -about 6th AvenueEastand 4th Street-one ofthe
buildingsinthere.Iwasonlyintherelongenough-itgot too small and I had to move out to
a differentshop.

Where was that?

5th AvenueWestandworkedout ofalittleshopthere.Ican't rememberexactlywhereIwent
fromthere, but I was inthe plumbingbusinessfor severalyears.

After the plumbing business?

buyinga backhoe-the firstbackhoethatwasinDuluth-itwasmountedonatractorandsoI
boughtthatandwentoutandthefact ofthe matteris it handled by Sterling Motor Company
and I was the first one who had it sotheywantedmeto have it and they sold it to me real low
priceand eventuallyafter I gotgoingfor a whileI was doingdiggingfor otherplumbers and

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Page 18

eventuallySterling Motorwantedto getout ofthattractorbusiness sotheycameto me and
askedme if1wouldtakeitoverso1did; tookoverthetractorbusinessandsomehowor
other-can't rememberwhere1locatedit

What year?
Late40's afterthewar.
What was the name?
1think 1used the name GustafsonTractor and Equipment.
Do you have photos?
Yes. 1havesomeplacehere.

You were married?
10 19361think it was.
Who did yOIl marry?
1married Auni Maki.

_________---»'Where-were yon mamead'!-?-------_

1waslivingthenatmyparents'-mylivingwith my motherand sister at MorleyHeightsand
.Where is your wife from?
Shewas fromnearIronRiver.
What is her ethnic group?
SheisFinnish. Well,hermotherhadalittleSwedish bloodinher.
How did your mother feel about this match?
Shedidn't makeanyremarksaboutthatatallasfaras1know.
Being Swedish did you marry another Swede?
1thinkmymotherdidmakea remark;shesaid, "IknewhewouldmarryaFinn".

Swedish ImmigrantOralHistoryProject
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 19

How many children do you have?

Wehavefiveboys. DanielinAugust,Dennisbornayearlater, Donald,JohnandBillor


Where were they born?

TheywereallborninDuluth. Well, Ithink it was St. Luke's.

Do your children identify with their Swedish heritage?


Were they interested iu your family history?

Well,those are the thingsthat I can't remember anything particular about.

How long did you have your company? When did you retire?

Well,Isoldout to-Donaldcameand workedforus-workedwithmeandtheneventuallyor

shortlyafterwards Johncameandworkedforusand somehoworothertherewassome

misunderstandinganddisagreementandthenDonaldleftandhewentintoa businessfor

himselfso I-then I turnedoverthebusiness to JohnandwewerelocatedthenonRileyRoad

just north of Procter.


Yeah,GustafsonEquipment Company. Andweweredoingabigbusinessthereatthattime
and2milliondollarsayearinsalesbuteventuallyin 1980whenReagangotin-1981Ithink
weoperatedupthereonRileyRoaduntil 1986andthenitjust folded up.SoIhadto sellout
andI-somebodycamealongandboughtit andtherewasnothingleftas farasassetsare
concerned soI endedupwithnothingbut it wasa bigbusiness becauselikeIsaywewentup
to 2million dollarsayearsalesatonetimeandthenwentdownhillfromthereon.

Did you retire in 1986?

10 1982andltumeditover toJohn.

What did your sons do in their lives? Did your wife ever work out of the home?

Oh she did very little -she did a littlehousework

Anywhere out of the home?

No, a mother

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
, Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 20

You live today here in Duluth on Owatonna Street?


Tell me about your sons?

Daniel-Daniel got to be head ofthe physics department in Wayne State University in
Detroit. He got -had a daughter and she is now a doctor -she is married and has two
children and they live in Ohio. And Daniel's wife of course -Daniel got killed in a accident;
he was on a vacation with his wife and daughter in Florida and they went out to the beach and
the daughter was out swimming and somehow or other she yelled for help and she couldn't
get to the beachand Daniel went out to get her and he drowned, The daughter got out of
there. So Daniel was a real sad thing for us.

He went til graduate school and obtained a Ph.D. in physics. And

Dennis -and Dennis was killed in 1960 in a car accident, He was coming from some races or
something in Wisconsin and was coming home and he went head on with another car and got

When did Daniel drown?

In 1980.

So that was sometime after Dennis.

Dennis was killed in 1960 and Daniel in 1980.

What did your son who was killed in the car accident-was he working anywhere at the
He was working for me in our business,
Donald -he was the third son ofcourse and he graduated from Central and I think he went up

to UMD for a while and I don't know whether he graduated; anyway he is now in business
for himself.
What kind of business?

I should know -my memory doesn't -well he's in business now down in Wisconsin.
John -he got to be professor in physics and his last job up here in Duluth at the university up
onthehillside.Idon'tknowwhattheycallit-nottheUniversity ofMinnesota-thereis
another one up there on the hill,

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999

Did he get a Ph.D. in physics?

Yeah and right now he is living in Knife River and pretty -he does a job here and there for
Donald but the school was out just a few days ago -so he has the summer off.

William -Bill is a doctor -M.D. in Appleton, Wisconsin.

When you look back growing up in a Swedish immigrant household how would you
describe it to someone else who never had such an experience?

I can't tell you much about experience because I was two years old when we moved out of
there and moved to the country. Well I guess there isn't much to say about it except when you
are two years old and growing up in the sticks you have cats, rabbits, and I helped with the
barnchores after Igrewolderand ofcoursegradeschoolwhichIhadtowalk twomilesand.
then ofcourse in the mean time when school wasn't going I had to help with the chores in the
barn and do the hay and gardening and various things like that besides having to go out at
night and socialize.

When you think about your family history what do you think about that?

Well I never really think about it -I don't think I'm a foreigner but I really can't say much
about it except that naturally my mother and father were immigrants-they spoke English but
broken English and between them they would speak Swedish and occasionally they would
have arguments in Swedish. But other than that I can't tell you much just the old farm work
that had to be done.

Now you belong to the Swedish Cultural Society in Duluth-?

Right; I have been a member for about a couple three years. It is interesting. I like to know
more -I would like to know more about -I have been to Sweden three times, and I would
like to know more about Sweden and I have been to Finland too. I have a fairly good
knowledgeofwhat it's likethere.

Have any of your sons gone to Sweden to visit?

Not that I know of. They had -Bill we had with us once and that's it.

When someone asks youabout your ethnic background how do you answer?

Well, I can't say anything more about that -that I'm from Sweden and I had been there three
times so I have a little knowledge ofwhat it's like and I got to meet some ofthe relatives on
my mother and father's side and many ofthose have passed away since I was there. So but
I'm glad I went out there and as far as Finland is concerned I was able to get along quite well
because I could understand Finnish and so it was an enjoyable trip.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 22

Do you have a sense of pride or does it make you feel good that you come from Swedish

immigrant families?
Wen, I don't have any particular feeling about it except that I know my background from
Sweden arid as fur as I know everything was hunky dori so I am glad I went there and met
someofthembeforetheypassedawayandwehave-Iwentto myfather'sorgrandfather's
grave site and where he was sexton in the church and that's it right there, so we were walked
in there and he was already passed away but he was in the church cemetery so we were-you
know-Ihave gottenaround seeingquite abit ofthingsthatIwanted tosee.

So you wanted to connect?
Yeah, of course we met relatives there that we wanted to see more than once.
Do you keep in touch with relatives here?
Wen, I had one cousin that ended up in California and I -his name is Godfred and in

Swedish you said Godfred elan?son and he changed his name to Fred Lanson using part of
the old name but he has passe~
away now as fur as I know.
Youhave one sister still living?
I have two sisters still living.
You have a sister who paints?
----------ThatwaS-EisilUlR<Lshe bas passed awa)'~.~Sh"'e"_d"i"'dctP"'a"'in"'t~.
Acrylics or watercolors or both?
I can't tell you -she was a good artist.
She paiated-pietures ofthe homesteads and other rural scenes?
Right. Yeah.
Anything else?
Elsie had a daughter Elise who is-my memory isn't good anymore but she is in this country.

Ruth ended up at Faribault?
She didn't end at Faribault because she died here in Duluth. She spent some time in Faribault
and she died here in Duluth and in the hospital-St Luke's hospital. She was in a rest home
here in Duluth and she got to the point where she had to be transferred to the hospital.

Swedish Immigrant Oral History Project
Rudy Gustafson
June 22, 1999
Page 23

So she stayed with the family as long as ?
As long as my mother was able to take care ofher.
Did she have strong feelings about that and that she wanted to make sure Ruth was ok?
Well actually she had to put Ruth in the rest home before my mother died so she was

conscious ofthat fact but she was quite well taken care of in this rest home so my mother
didn't have any particular worries about that. She used to go there and visit.

Did you remember how Ruth was able to function in your community?
Well pretty much stayed at home; the only time she would go out would be with my mother
and so she was not able to function with other people because she couldn't talk.

What did she do during the day?
Well it seems like she was always doing something, fooling around with something. She

would look at newspapers but I don't know if she could read or anything. But she couldn't
talk very well.
Did she help mom?
Yeah, she could wipe dishes. Yeah, she got around and did that but other than that she was

notcapable of-wellIguessshediddressherselfbutotherthanthatthere wasn'tanything
she could do.

How did people handle that in those days?

. Well it seems like they were able to handle it because she could take care ofherselfand my
motherhadto helpherwith variousthings andshecouldeatandwipedishesand stufflike
that so -she was part ofthe family.