Ervin Borkenhagen was born in 1918 in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. He was raised on the Borkenhagen family farm, remaining there until he was seventeen. He then moved to town and started work as a blacksmith. During the war years, Ervin continued to work as a blacksmith and a farmer. Because of his status as a farmer and father, Ervin received a deferment from military service for the duration of the war. When the war ended in 1945, Ervin continued to farm, but gave up blacksmithing. After retiring from farming in 1979, Ervin kept busy by working around his house and taking care of his cabin. He was an avid hunter and fisherman.
In this interview, Ervin talks about his life as a farmer and blacksmith in rural Minnesota during World War II. He discusses major events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the dropping of the atomic bombs as well as effects of the war on his community and daily life. He recalls rationing, price ceilings, the pressure to buy war bonds, and how the draft touched his family and community.
Well, they’d ration meat and stuff. We had to get stamps and stuff for getting butter. But then, that was no trouble on the farm, because I went and made my own butter churn, and we churned our butter.
DB: Were there any other things that you provided for yourself on the farm when they started limiting?
Well, meat. Yeah, we butchered our own meat. We had chickens and stuff. It didn’t bother the farmers as much as like the guys in town. They had to have, I don’t know, it was red stamps or some dumb thing to buy meat.
DB: Did you ever sell your meat directly to friends or anything like that? Or was it just for your family?
No, we sold our animals to the packing companies.
DB: But you didn’t sell it to other people in town or anything like that?
A New Car in 1946
Well, this was right after the war was over. The Ford Motor Company, if you paid down, was it 100 or 50 dollars, you’d put your name in line for a car. I put my money down for a car. It was for a ’46 model. See, they didn’t make ‘em from ’41 on until ’46. And I know I was always wondering, and I had guys in Truman waiting and watching to see how many cars had come in. [laughs]They ended up giving me a car. It only cost about twelve-hundred-and-fifteen bucks I remember. And they put everything on it they could, with seat covers and [unclear] all, just to get it up that high!
DB: So, it was loaded in some way then, huh?
Yeah. And then that one happened to be a 6 [cylinder]; they didn’t sell as good as the V-8s. I heard that the V-8s, most of them they got five hundred bucks under the table or something, because they were more of a luxury. But the V-8 was quite a deal in them days. Those things were quiet and had a lot of power.
Buying War Bonds
You were supposed to buy war bonds. And hell, I didn’t have much money, and— [pauses] How did I do that? I don’t remember for sure. Anyway, oh, I bought some war bonds, and I paid my dad off in rent with the bonds. I gave him the bonds for some darn thing. I had to pay some rent or some darn thing, and I bought some war bonds then, and I gave them to my dad.
DB: When they came out—they came out in a car you said—and they were offering to sell you war bonds, was it kind of understood that you should buy them?
Oh, they didn’t offer to sell them, they said you were supposed to buy them! [laughs]It was your duty to buy war bonds.
DB: And they did this to everyone? They just went farm to farm and said, “How many war bonds do you want?” [laughs]
Yeah. You see, you could buy a war bond and you could put your name on it and your dad’s name on it, or anybody you wanted. And either one of them could cash it if they had it. Well, I took these war bonds and I would give it to my dad for the money I owed him.