THE FAMILY OF CLARENCE LESTER SCHOONMAKER AND HIS WIFE CLARA LOFTHOUSE
Clarence Lester Schoonmaker, son of Charles and Emily Coles Schoonmaker, entered this life 13 Jan. 1902 at Granger, Sweetwater, Wyoming. His father, at age 17, had an accident while separating cars on a railroad train in Uintah, which cause him to have his leg amputated. As a result of the injury, the railroad gave him a lifetime job running the railroad water pump at Granger. The steam-driven water pump, which was in part of the house in which he lived, pumped the water into the water tank which was high enough to fill the boilers of the steam engines on the trains. In those days steam engines pulled the trains. Lester’s father had to keep fire in the boilers going to keep the steam pressure high enough to pump water, and he had to insure there was always plenty of water in the tank for servicing trains.
Lester’s father bought some sheep, which he and his son Fred herded on the range land around Granger; Charles’ wife and his daughter Hattie took care of the post office. When the railroad sold some of their land to private individuals, Charles understood that he would have no place to graze is sheep, so he sold them. Then he learned that he could have grazed his sheep as before. Since his sheep were gone, he quit his job on the railroad, his wife gave up the post office job, and they moved to a small farm in Plain City, Utah.
Loading what belongings they could bring in their wagon, they shipped the remaining furniture, piano and other things by rail. Charles and Fred brought the wagon over the dusty roads to Plain City, and Emily, her daughter Hattie and Lester came by train. Charles picked up his family from the train and took them to their two-room adobe home in Poplar Lane.
Charles added two rooms to their new home. They used kerosene lamps for light until electric lights became available about 1918. Lester received the assignment to carry water for family use from the flowing well located about 200 yards from their house.
John Henry Taylor’s family lived across the street from us. Gilbert Taylor and I were good friends; also, Theo Thompson, another good friend, lived around the corner from us. Arvilla Taylor, a neighbor of Theo’s, was one of Lester’s first girl friends.
Lester attended the Plain City School for the first eight grades, and then went to Warren for his ninth year. He rode the school wagon all those years.
Church was held in the Poplar Ward church house, a one-room building located at approximately 3475 West 1975 North - a branch of the Plain City Ward. Lester attended church regularly until he was not allowed to hold the priesthood and partake of the sacrament because of his not being a member. His father, who was not LDS, insisted that his son wait until he was twenty-one and knew for sure that he wanted to join the church. Since his friends attended church, Lester usually went, also, in spite of his embarrassment.
Swimming, one of Lester’s favorite sports, brought him and his friends together in every canal, and pond in the area. Anderson’s hole on the Weber River below the Warren pumps was the most enjoyed place. It was secluded enough that no girls were around, so men and boys could enjoy skinny-dipping to their heart’s delight. Lester liked to take his Saturday Night bath there.
Sleigh riding was one of the favorite winter sports. After putting some straw in the bottom of the sleigh and bringing some quilts to keep warm, one of the group would make the rounds to gather up friends and ride along, listening to the sleigh bells that were fastened to the harnesses on the horses. What fun they all had together! Horses were sharp-shod, so when the sleigh came to a curve where the road was especially wide, the driver would start the sleigh sliding in a circle while the horses braced themselves to keep in the center of the circular slide.
Lester began working at the Harrisville brickyard at age 16, where he made 15,500 bricks a day and received $4.25 daily pay. He carefully saved his money.
In the spring of 1921 Lester was able to buy his first car “a 4-door Model T Ford touring car” at a cost of $650. Side curtains were buttoned on for bad weather. Curtains could be removed and the top folded back for driving in warmer weather. It had no heater or windshield wipers. The gas feed was located on the steering wheel. It was controlled through three pedals on the floorboard - clutch, reverse and brake. An emergency brake was located on the side next to the pedals. Top road speed limit was about 30 miles per hour. Going faster brought the risk of flipping over, especially on curves.
The gas tank in front allowed gas to be gravity-fed into the engine; however, when going up a hill, the passengers sometimes had to get out and push, or if that did not work, they could put the car in reverse and drive up the hill backward. Using the reverse pedal brought its hazards. One day Lester pressed the reverse pedal instead of the brake and backed into a drain ditch. He had to get Mr. Crane to pull his car out of the ditch.
In the spring of 1922 Lester got a job as a carpenter helper on the maintenance crew of the Southern Pacific Railroad at Lakeside, Utah. Later when he was promoted to carpenter, he worked on bridges in Nevada, the snow sheds in Truckee California, and on the Lucin cutoff west of Ogden.
Lester met Clara Lofthouse on 14 May 1921 when he and Gilbert Taylor offered to take her and her friend Ella Boss home from their eighth grade graduation exercises. After two and a half years of dating they were married in the Weber County Courthouse 5 November 1924.
Clara, daughter of Anthony William and Sarah Housley Lofthouse had been born in a two room, two story frame house on the southeast corner of Paradise, Cache, Utah, on 26 Oct 1905. Her childhood days were happy times, coasting down the dug way road on their little red wagon in the summertime and on sleighs in the winter. She helped herd the family cows on the hillside in the summer and herd pigs in the grain fields after the crop was harvested. Clara and her siblings loved life on the farm, especially riding horses.
When she was nearly seven, Clara started school in Paradise. Since the family was living on their ranch in Avon at the time, she and her sister Sarah rode a pinto horse named Babe the four miles into school. Along their way, a dog would come out and chase us. Since it frightened the girls, their brother Bill instructed them that next time it happened, they were to let down the horse’s reins. They did just that, and were amazed to see the horse grab the dog by the nape of the neck, shake him and toss him a few feet away. The dog never chased the horse again. (After the crops were harvested, the family moved down to their house in Paradise to be nearer the school.
Although it was the custom for most children to be baptized in a ditch or canal, Clara felt favored to have her baptism take place in the Logan Temple on 7 July 1914.
In the spring of 1915 Clara’s folks sold the ranch in Avon and the home in Paradise, and then moved to Willard in July 1915. Several trips were required by horse and wagon to move the family’s belongings, each trip requiring a full day to travel the 30 miles.
The family home in Willard was located a mile from school, church, post office and stores. Clara walked each day to pick up the family mail. Each week they walked to see the picture show. If the weather were bad in winter, their father hitched up the team and sleigh to take his family.
Clara was hired by farmers in the area to pick fruit and to work in the fields. Clara started to pick fruit at age ten. When she was older, she would thin and hoe beets.
Clara’s brother Bill was drafter into the army in June 1918 and by fall was fighting in the front lines in France. He went “over the top” six times before the armistice was signed. After sleeping in mud and water in the trenches, he got pneumonia and died 10 December 1918 in the base hospital in France. Although he was buried in France, the body was later shipped home and buried in the Willard Cemetery.
Clara had secured employment at the Perry Canning Factory in 1918. When news was received about the signing of the Armistice, Clara and others pulled the rope on the factory whistle so hard that the rope broke. Then they got on the factory trucks and drove around town blowing the horn.
During their growing up years, Clara and two of her good friends liked to hike into the mountains and take a good book to read by a cool mountain stream. Too, she learned to crochet and to tat, so she made many beautiful articles.
While attending Box Elder High School, Clara decided she wanted to be a nurse. However, after three months of training at the Dee Hospital in Ogden, she grew so homesick that she quit and returned to high school.
Lester’s description of some events involved in their starting a home provides a good story, as follows: “Fred and I bought fourteen acres of land in 1923 (the year before he was married” Clara and I were married 5 Nov 1924 in the Weber County Courthouse in Ogden). I built a two-room house in the fall of 1925 with plans we would build more rooms when we paid off the cost ($200) of the lumber. But the depression of 1929 came and money and work were very scarce, so the plan to enlarge our home was put on hold until 1935. At this time we dug a basement under the house. This was accomplished by using a scraper and one of our horses to pull the scraper from under the house. With Clara leading the horse, I working the scraper, we removed 40-50 yards of dirt from under the house.
“After the entire required dirt was removed, Clara’s brothers and my brother Fred mixed waterproof cement with a hand mixer and poured it to build a basement. The water table was so high; we had to pump water out as we laid the cement. We put the empty sacks on the floor before we poured the cement to try and keep the water from coming up through the cement. Clara and I stayed up all night filling in little springs which pushed up through the cement. We would dig out the pushed up dirt and fill the holes with cement.
“The addition under the house (basement) gave us more room. We put two beds down in the basement so Kenneth, Jay, Freda and Emily could sleep there.”
Lester’s description of farm work in the 1920-1930 timeframe includes a variety of farm practices with editorial comments inserted in parentheses. “In those days farming required many long, hard hours using horse-drawn machinery. We plowed our ground in the fall or early spring. (We would harrow the ground to prepare it for planting crops.)
“We would plant several acres of tomatoes by hand. We would first make furrows for the rows, then run irrigation water down each furrow, using a shovel to open a ‘hole’ beside the furrow into which a tomato plant would be inserted, and then the soil would be pressed against the plant roots. This would give the tomato plants a drink of water after we planted them with a shovel. I would make the hole with the shovel and Clara would put the plant in the hole.
“The sugar beets were drilled with a beet seed planter that would put the seeds close together in the row. Those were the days before segmented seed was developed, so the beet plants came in very thick. This would require us to cut out most of the plants, using a short-handled hoe to leave only a single beet plant every twelve inches. During the rest of the summer the row crops required hoeing and cultivating to eliminate the weeds. In addition the crops required regular irrigation each week to provide moisture for plant growth.
In the fall we would loosen the beets with a beet plow or digger, and then each beet was picked up by hand, using a long-bladed knife with a hook on the end. The knife part would then be used to cut off the green tops from the sugar beet. The beets were thrown in to piles to be gathered up with wide beet forks and thrown into a box on a horse-drawn wagon and hauled to the beet dump. The beet dump was located (on what is now the northwest corner of 2000 West and 1800 North Streets in Farr West.)
(During hay harvest) we would cut the hay with a mowing machine pulled by a team of horses. The following day we would rake it with the horse-drawn hay rake. (The wide rake would gather the hay from two windrows at a time, periodically dumping the rake to make the right size of piles. One man would follow the rake, turning the right side of the pile onto the left to make a final pile
One day Kenneth (Schoonmaker, Lester’s son) was coming out from the neighbor’s with the hay rake when he stepped on the trip (bar) and down went the rake onto the concrete road. The noise of the rake hitting the road frightened the horse and it began to race down the road. This caused Kenneth to fall down into the path of the rake tines, where he was turned around and around by those tines as the horse raced down the road. As the horse went over the railroad track into the deep drain ditch, the tines hit a rail and caused them to jump up and release Kenneth. He was very lucky that he didn’t get killed when the rake and the horse ended up in the drain ditch. He received no serious injury.
When the hay was dry enough to keep (avoid spontaneous combustion after stacking), we would hand pitch it onto a hay wagon. The horses would pull the load of hay down to the barn, where we would pitch it off the wagon onto a stack of hay. The hay was later used to feed farm animals, especially during the wintertime. Later, we built a derrick, which allowed us to lift a large amount of hay at a time from the wagon onto the stack. We used a horse to pull the derrick fork, which was attached to a cable. (Many farmers used the same principle to pull the derrick fork into a barn, where the fork load of hay was tripped and thus the hay was dropped into the proper compartment of the hay barn.) Now the hay is cut by a machine that cuts it into a 16-foot swatch, and the hay comes out of the hack into a window in one process. After the hay dries in the windrows, a baler picks the hay up in the windrow and bales it. If the farmer has no animals to use it, it is loaded onto a truck and hauled right out of the field.
“A grain binder used to cut the grain and tie it into bundles. We would stack several bundles together with the grain heads up and the butts down, letting the grain dry thoroughly. We hauled them to the grain stack. The thresher would come and thresh the grain for us. The thresher was run by a steam engine. Three men went with the thresher to operate the outfit. At threshing time the neighbors worked together helping each other. A couple of men would feed the bundles into the thresher, and someone would sack the grain while others carried the bags of grain and empties them into the granary, and then returned for more grain. If the grain bundles were left in the field to dry rather than hauling them into stacks, a few farmers would be enlisted to bring their wagons and haul the grain to the thresher on threshing day. The dirtiest job was stacking the straw
“At mealtime there were usually about twelve men to feed. Boy, these meals were good - fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, beans, corn on the cob, plus pie and ice cream. Now the combine and a truck come in and do a complete job in much less time. And there’s no big meal to cook or enjoy.”
Lester’s autobiography includes a good description of the effect of the Great Depression on the farmer who had insufficient land to be classed as a full-time farmer:
“The depression started in 1929. I could not find work anywhere to supplement my farm income. The government furnished a script and a few handouts, but we always had enough to eat and to keep warm. People in the cities hardly had enough to eat and to keep warm.
“When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, he established the Work Progress Administration (WPA) and the New Deal, which gave work according to the needs and the size of their families. They were paid with monies.
“At first I worked as a laborer or used my team of horses to do work around town. When this didn’t provide sufficient money, I worked as a carpenter. Each month we would get work orders to work a certain number of days. Some of the projects I worked on as a carpenter were Lorin Farr Park’s swimming pool, dressing rooms and restrooms. I also worked on the Wahlquist Junior High School and the machine shops at Weber County High School on Washington Blvd. in Ogden. The WPA provided many worthwhile projects in and around Ogden, such as building roads, curb and gutter, and many buildings.
“In 1935 I got a job taking care of Mrs. Harriet Utsman’s cows and her farm. I would milk our cows and help with our farm work. It took all the money to pay off Mother and Fred and to keep my place. I used the money I made at Mrs. Utsman’s to keep us alive and with the help of the WPA we were able to survive.”
Lester records another part of his experience on the farm that is very interesting, as follows: “I had a very keen eye for straightness. I would plant our beets and row crops as straight as an arrow. The neighbors always wanted me to plant their beets.
The neighbors in the lane were like one big family, always helping each other. If anyone was hauling hay and it looked like rain, the rest of us would hitch up our teams and go and help them to get their hay in before it stormed. One fall when my brother Fred was sick, the entire neighborhood came and helped to get the beets out.
“One day when our cows were being kept in the upper pasture during the day, the boys drove them home through the hayfield, where they stopped and ate too much green hay. By the time they got to the barn, several of them had bloated. Jay ran home to tell me. When I got down there, all the neighbors were there and had taken care of the cows, thus saving several cows from dying.
(Before Pineview Dam was constructed) -we would have plenty of irrigation water in the early spring and by fall the water was very low. In 1930 Art Crane, Mrs. Utsman, Joe Stevenson, Jess Brown and I dug a well on Jess Brown’s farm. We had electricity brought in to increase the flow of irrigation water.”
“When the Ogden State Bank went broke, we had enough money in it to pay off the land payment of $84.50 to the Federal Land Bank. We tried to borrow enough money from a finance company; we had ten head of cows for security, but no deal. The Federal Land Bank extended the payment (due date) until we harvested the beets in the fall.
“My mother had to be operated on in 1932. To pay for this, we dug potatoes with a digging fork and sold them for twenty-five cents per 100 pounds. We were able to pay her hospital bill. To make it through the fall, we had to borrow money from Clara’s life insurance. These were very hard times for everyone.. . .
“We would go up on Monte Cristo every summer and get enough firewood to last through the year. This would save the expense of buying coal.
“Twice a year the gypsy horse traders came to town. Every wagon would lead a large number of horses. They would have several camps (near our house). The children were afraid of the gypsies, because they were famous for taking things that did not belong to them.
“If we had horses to trade, we would dicker all day long. To be sure, we did not get stung, we (usually) would not buy, but this one time we did buy. She was a beautiful horse. When we started to work her, she would start to have the heaves (this is a disease of the lungs which makes a horse short-winded.)”
About 1939 when war was brewing in Europe, government defense plants in the Ogden area generated employment opportunities Lester’s fortunes began to change. In 1940-41 he and Clara added three bedrooms and a bathroom to their home, and they enlarged the kitchen. Remembering the difficult years of the depression, they would first save their money, then buy the lumber as they proceeded with the building. They finished one room at a time, paying cash for all the building supplies.
In the years that followed the Schoonmakers added other buildings to their place - a barn, cinder block chicken coop and garage. In this building Lester laid the blocks, Clara mixed the mortar.
Lester loved the outdoors. He was particularly fond of fly fishing and taught the art to children and grandchildren alike. Lester and Clara enjoyed many lovely travel opportunities in the latter part of their lives.
Lester and Clara raised six children, whom they dearly loved and enjoyed. Raising their family and keeping them fed and clothed occupied much of their time and attention in the early years of their married life. Particularly is this true of Clara, who spent so much time and effort in helping their daughter Carol, who was born with cerebral palsy. And these parents did a wonderful job of teaching the basic principles of work, honesty, thrift and service.
As the children began to grow up, Clara accepted assignments to serve in the various church organizations - Primary, Junior Sunday School, Sunday School and Relief Society. Lester, who had been ordained a priest in 1925, had thoughts of preparing himself to progress in the priesthood and taking his family to the temple. However, his tobacco habit stood in his way for many years. Now and then he would make an honest attempt to kick the habit, but it seemed to keep him a slave. It was not until 1965 that he demonstrated his mastery over the habit and was able to take Clara and two of his children to the Logan Temple to become an eternal family. What a joyous day for them and the nine other couples who made the grade ”that 13 May 1965!”
After that glorious day in May, Lester and Clara just glowed the rest of their lives. They enjoyed their family activities. They took a number of memorable trips. They gave loving service wherever asked to do so, and they found fulfillment in going to the temple to provide saving ordinances for their beloved relatives.
Clara passed away at her home from a massive stroke on 26 December 1984. Lester’s health seemed to deteriorate from that time on. His final weeks were spent in the McKay-Dee Hospital, then in a care facility in Ogden, where he passed away on 23 April 1989. Both Lester and Clara were buried in the Plain City Cemetery.
SOURCES: This biography was written by Brian L. Taylor in September 2006, using the following
THE CHILDREN OF CLARENCE LESTER SCHOONMAKER AND CLARA LOFTHOUSE:
1. Kenneth Dean Schoonmaker was born 14 Feb 1926 in Ogden, Weber, Utah. He married 11 Jul 1947 in Ogden, Weber, Utah, Doris Vivian Ahrens. She was born 6 Jan 1928 in
SOURCES:1. Family record of Carol S. Groberg, P.O. Box 172, Honeyville, UT 84314