Spring in Northern Minnesota, early 1900s

The Goff family lived in northern Minnesota from 1903-1905. Rural schools in Polk County closed during the winter because the weather was too brutal. So the children started classes during the spring. Leora was in her early teens then.

1902 plat map of Key West, MN, Northwest Publishing, 1902. Northern Pacific Railroad goes east and west. The tracks running north are called Sherack Spur. Goff’s lived half a mile north of town, and their school was a mile north of that.

From Leora Goff Wilson’s memoirs: “A branch of the railroad went north and was on the east side of our place. It went to a grain elevator and went by the schoolhouse. At noon on nice days it was so much fun to push a flatcar, which would be along close to the school sometimes. We would all push ’til we got it rolling good and then we’d all jump on and ride.

“One day the bell rang for school and we were quite a way down the track, so we left the flatcar and ran back to school. A section man came to the schoolhouse and told the teacher to not permit her pupils to play on the flatcars. He was afraid some little one would get hurt. Of course, we never thought of that–it was so much fun. So it was a good thing he stopped us, as there could very well have been an accident. 

“Another enjoyable pastime  in spring, when the snow melted and filled ditches along the railroad track, was to fix rail ties together to make a raft and float along. We could do that at school and we had a raft at home, too.”

Rural schools didn’t have playground equipment over 100 years ago. They made up their own games and activities, which would certainly be frowned on today!



  1. Riding on a flatcar sounds like great fun, albeit very dangerous. There is something irresistible about railroad tracks to kids. (At least when I was growing up. I don’t know about now.)

  2. No kidding! That does sound dangerous – and exactly the sort of thing I would have done as a kid! Amazing we survived childhood, huh?

  3. part of creativity and a small part rascal, so I understand that. They probably built huge bonfires outside in the winter too, such fun.

    • How I wish I could ask Grandma Leora! I’m amazed at the stories she remembered, which caused my husband and I to visit the area a few years ago!

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