Friday, April 27, 2012

Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

Spring 1945--Daddy home on leave
before shipping out to the Philippines
In the beginning of 1945, toward the end of WWII when fighting in the Philippines was intense, my father was called up to the army. Daddy was 35 years old and the father of three, a category that would not ordinarily been eligible for the draft. The war had, by that time, consumed so many men that it was necessary to expand the reach of the military. The other soldiers in Daddy's training group were all very young men, so he was nicknamed "Pappy" by them. After basic training, he was sent to the Philippines. While they were on the ship the effective end of the Pacific war was gained, so his group was clean-up crew rather than in the active fighting.

All that background is in explanation of why our Mother took a teaching job for a rural school located only three miles from the homestead where she grew up. This was the Teckla School. It was on Teckla Putnam's land. She was the Postmistress for that area; thus, the Teckla Route, Teckla Post Office, and Teckla School.  This school had three students, two of Mrs. Putnam's grandchildren and a girl from a neighboring ranch. We McLaughlin girls brought the total to six.

I had turned four years old in July of 1945. (I remember that my birthday wish before blowing out my candles was for my Daddy to come home.) Because there was nothing else to do with me during school hours, Mother took me to school with her. She and my young uncle Bob made a little desk for me out of an orange crate (they were wood in those days). Mother taught me to read from the first grade reading series featuring Dick, Jane, Sally, their parents, and their pets, Spot the dog and Puff the cat. I loved reading! Having learned to read at such a young age, I cannot remember what it was like to not be able to read.

Mother with her students: Forest, Terry, Lois, Mother, Michelle, Grace, JoAnne
Conditions were very different in 1945 than they are now. Teckla School was a one-room building, heated by a wood or coal stove. The rest room was an outhouse--no such thing as running water or flush toilets. Water for the school, Mrs. Putnam's house, and the teacher's house, came from a pump in the yard. This was the old fashioned pump that you poured a little water in to prime the pump, then pumped the handle up and down vigorously until water flowed into the bucket.

Grace, Michelle, Terry in front of
the Teacherage
The teacherage that we lived in was a one-room tar-paper shack. I think it probably started out as a homesteader's shack. It was very small. To accommodate her family, Mother created bunk beds from two double bed mattresses. She slept on the bottom with one of us and the other two slept above. The beds took up almost half the space. There was a drop-down table leaf under one window. In order to have any space to move around, this was kept folded down except when we were actually eating. We had a small coal stove for heating or cooking. The inside walls were not finished. Just the bare framework of the building, no insulation. Large nails pounded into the 2 X 4s provided a place to hang our clothes. Such primitive conditions for housing a teacher and her family would be unthinkable today! On photos Mother sent to Daddy she called us "The Rabbits and the Hutch."

That little building was later moved to my uncle's place, where it was used as, first, a chicken house, and, later, a storage shed!

With the war over, Daddy got released from the army and returned home early in 1946. Since he was coming home, Mother resigned her teaching job at the semester break and we moved back to our home in town. I always felt like my birthday wish had come true!


  1. It is really difficult to think of you little girls and beautiful Grandma Rose living in that cold little shack.

    1. Looking back, the only thing that seemed a hardship to us girls was missing our Daddy. We were with our Mama and just a few miles from our grandparents, whom we saw frequently. We felt safe and loved and just adapted to our living conditions. And I liked going to school!

  2. Dear Michelle,
    My name is Teckla Putnam, granddaughter of Mrs. Putnam of Teckla Schoool. Jack Putnam was my dad and Forest is my cousin. I have been to "Teckla" a couple of times in my life and it seems a special place.

    1. Thanks so much for your note. We always respected Mrs. Putnam. She seemed a lady of great dignity. Lois and Forest were friends of our family, particularly of my two older sisters who were in the same age group. We visited with them when in the country at our grandparents', and they had some visits in town with us--I have some photographs of those occasions. The last time I was at Teckla was about 16 or so years ago; Mrs. Putnam's house was a fallen ruin, which made me a bit sad. I believe a coal company bought the land, but I don't know if they have mined it. My grandparent's former land had been mined; I don't want to see it now. I hold it in my memory as it was.

    2. Great articles on Teckla, Wyoming.
      My father,Stanley Roof, was in WWII and a prisoner of war with Jack Putnam of Teckla WY. If Teckla Putnam is his daughter, I would be interested in conversing with her. Feel free to contact me,
      Allan Roof via e-mail at
      I live in Tomah Wisconsin and plan to visit the area around Bill and Lusk Wy later in May 2012.

  3. I always love to hear the story of my brave grandma, my aunts and my momma. I still think canned milk cocoa is a treat. :0)

  4. Oh my, Just found your blog and was thrilled - So many memories came flooding back, I am 75 years of age now and work as a paraprofessional in our local high school in Washington, Connecticut. Comparing the differences in the school I am now in and the school I went to at Teckla could fill several volumes. It was a wonderful experience growing up and going to school on the prairie and I would not trade it for ANYTHING!!

    1. Forest--I really enjoyed hearing from you. Mother always shared your Christmas letters with us, so we kept up with your family at least a little.

      I'm glad you are still working with the school children!

      I also have a number of photos of Mother's of you and Lois with us McLaughlin girls when you visited with us in town, etc.