In the month of April, the cod season in Lofoten was closed and the fishing fleet would either go home or seek other fishing banks at Røst or Finmarken. My brothers came home in 1899 and spent some time in late April and early May fishing for brosme and lange in Vestfjorden, and later spent their full time working on the farm.
I was now 14 years old and went to public school two terms (3 weeks each) in the Spring of 1899. This year was to go for review and examination before the priest at Kabelvaag and be confirmed a member of the Lutheran church. In June I went to Kabelvaag and took up residence with an old maid whose name was Miss Thorsen. While attending the minister's 30 day course (preliminary to the confirmation), my companions at the boarding house were my cousin Harold Paulsen and a son of Ole in Karivika. There were also staying at the same boarding house a girl, Sofie Rokkan, from Fagerbakken and her companion. I cannot remember her name. I enjoyed this thirty days' schooling and examination at the Parish church very much. I liked the minister, Pastor Jerløv and his assistant. They were fine men. We also had a chance to meet many young people of our age from many parts of the parish.
It was a beautiful summer and every day, the weather permitting, a number of us boys would go swimming in the ocean or in a lake located only about a mile and a half from the church.
On the thirtieth of July was the final examination and the confirmation. The parents, close relatives, and friends of the students were there and the church was filled to capacity. It surely was a memorable day for everyone confirmed.
The priests made it very plain to us that when confirmed we were grown up and had the full responsibility of men and women. My mother and myself were not happy that from now on I could not go to public school, inasmuch as in the northern part of Norway there was no public high school at that time.
I remember in the Fall of that year, mother and I went to see her old and rich uncle Jonas Fall in Risvaer to see if he would be able to lend me the money to pay for a course at the Northlands Provincial Agricultural School in Bodø (about 140 miles south). But after much talking it was finally decided that during the cod fishing season the next winter he would give me a job, doing odd jobs around a place and clerking in the store when needed. I went to Risvaer and started in my work early in January 1900. 1 enjoyed my job, which turned out to be mostly clerking in the store, but I did not like my living quarters. In the first place I was assigned to eat in the kitchen, and my room was in a loft above a storage room in a building separate from the home. My roommate was Kristian Olavassen. I accepted these conditions and did not complain. By February the cod season was in full swing. Many fishing men stayed at Risvaer and we were very busy at the store. The store was a general store (grocery, a few dry goods, fishing equipment, and a variety of liquors and wines). The privilege to sell liquors and wines was under an old license that Jonas Falk obtained from the King for life when he was in his twenties. He was now over ninety years old and lived until he was ninety-six, so he must have been in the liquor business for about 70 years. By April 14th the cod season was over for that year and Mr. Falk had by this time decided to pay for my lodging and expense for six months at the Provincial School at Vold Boksness in West Lofoten. But the agreement was that I would return to Risvaer and continue in my job until I had paid back the money advanced.
The 6-month course was divided into two terms from April 20th till July 20th and in the Fall from September 15th to December 15th. I took the first boat to West Lofoten and arrived at Vold Boksness in time for the first term.
At Vold Bokness I met many boys of my own age. I especially remember one boy from Vesteraalen. His name was Edward Valle Strand; we roomed together. I liked him very much, and I admired his ambition to be a great writer. (In 1913 1 came home to Norway on a mission for the LDS Church, and in the Spring of 1914 I met this man on the street of Trondheim by chance. He was then following his ambition as a newspaper reporter for a Bergen paper. I talked to him about the Gospel, but failed to arouse his interest in the message.)
At Vold I studied arithmatic, Norweigen grammer, and a simple system of bookkeeping. I also took a woodshop class. But though I studied early and late and really applied myself to the work, six months was not enough time. I just got started and then the time was up, and my schooling was finished. I have many times deeply regretted that I was not able to continue in school at that time.
I loved to study. I enjoyed the school and loved the teachers. But under the circumstances I was unable to meet the expense.
So I returned to Risvaer for the Christmas rush (people bought extra and special food supplies as well as liquors at Christmas time-few presents). In Risvaer it was customary to ask all the servants to eat in the dining room with the family for about 10 days during the Christmas season and also participate in games (mostly card playing) and occasional dances at this season. Personally I never spent the Christmas season in Risvaer. On Christmas Eve my brothers came for me and took me home to Sommerset for Christmas.
Bergitte Falk, a daughter of Jonas Falk, was the household manager at Risvaer. She did not like the idea that I always wanted to go home at Christmas. But I reasoned that if Christmas was the only time I was worthy to eat with the family I would rather be home.
After the 1st of January I returned to Risvaer and started at my old job. Risvaer had an excellent harbor, and a small group of islands protected it from the heavy winter storms, but it was a lonesome place to live except during the cod season (1st of February to April 14th). Only one family made this their permanent home - the Falks, consisting of Jonas (then over 90), his son Christen Falk (about 66, who was a partner and general manager of Falk and Company), and Christen's wife Sigrid (who was about 36), with their two small children, and Bergitte Falk with her adopted 10 year old son, Martin (she never married). Among the hired help was Baker Eliassen and his wife, who lived on the top floor of the bakery and had their own household. The 1st clerk, Conrad P. Stellon and I were the only people that worked in this store with the manager. The first clerk ate with the family and had a room by himself in the same loft that I stayed in.
Kristian Olavassen cut the wood , carried coal, and did other outside chores. The head maid in the house was Kaspara Falk, a daughter of Andreas Falk (of Halvarsö) another son of Jonas Falk. The children's nurse was Anna Jones. The cook was a girl named Lina. There was also a girl that did the milking and in the winter took care of the cows in the stable. I can not remember all their names, but I have now mentioned all the people that lived permanently on this island.
Risvaer is located at the furthermost, northeast cod banks in Vestfjorden. The fishermen from the northern part of Norway always stop at Risvaer before going further southwest - first to fill up jugs and bottles with liquor, and then to talk with old Mr. Falk to find out where the bulk of the cod would be caught that year in Lofoten. Mr. Falk calculated the run of cod by periods. He always wound up with the same prediction that before the end of the season the heaviest fishing would be in Risvaer. This prediction always pleased northern settlers because they liked Risvaer - the only place where they could be sure to get something to chear them up.
So it made no difference what point they fished at, they always stopped at Risvaer on their return home in the Spring. I remember often in the Spring with daylight most of the night and favorable wind from the south in the morning there would be dozens of boats in the harbor. When we opened the store in the morning at 8:00 there would be scores of people with kegs, jugs, and bottles waiting to have their containers filled. I remember days when in an hour or two we would do 8,000 to 10,000 crowns of business ( about 2,500 dollars) - mostly liquor, bread, cookies, and pretzels. Probably 96 to 98% of these sales would be liquor. At the time I was in Risvaer there must have been liquor for about 65 years. Jonas Falk was the only and last man in Norway to be in possession of a life time license from the King to sell any and all kinds of brandy, whisky, wine, and liquors. The new law was under "local option" and if the majority wanted liquors in the community they would start a community store to handle the project. No wonder the people from the North never passed up Risvaer - the habit was too old.
There are a number of steamship companies that carry the items of commerce, passengers, and mail around the coast of Norway. We had in Risvaer at the time a line of steamers called "Third-route" that stopped twice a week - once going north and once on the return trip south. While we knew about what time to expect them, sometimes they were delayed for many hours. About twenty minutes before actually reaching the mouth of the harbor they blew a loud whistle as a signal of their arrival (no telephones or telegraph). There were no docks large enough for a large steamer. Therefore we had to row out of the harbor and meet the steamer in open water with a large enough boat to take inland all the freight, passengers, and mail for Risvaer. Sometimes our boat was loaded right to the rim with outgoing freight as well as incoming freight. As a rule, if the steamer did not come before bedtime, we all undressed and went to bed as usual and then when the whistle from the steamer sounded we threw on our clothes and ran for the boat. It usually took us from 3 to 4 hours to expedite the cargo.
In the winter when it was cold with snow and wind it was a miserable job to get out in the dark night, but in the summer with daylight around the clock it was a pleasant undertaking, though always hard work. I stayed on in Risvaer all of the year 1901, until Christmas Eve when my brothers came and brought me home to Sommerset. 1 had then paid back every crown (about $.25) borrowed for my schooling and I was square with the world. However I had no money to show for my labor. I could see no future in Risvaer for me so I decided to quit my job and said goodbye for the last time on Christmas Eve. During Christmas I always had a wonderful time at Sommerset - skiing, visiting, dancing, and seeing the girls. Christmas was a great time for the young people in the North. We did not work for about 10 days. The wood had all been cut and peat to last two weeks brought home. Much of the food had been prepared. All we had to do was bring the water in from the creek and that did not take much time with us all at home to do it.
In the Spring of 1901 my two older brothers in company with two of the Christiansen brothers from Hundness (who had also two years previously lost their father) decided to go in partnership and buy a large open boat which they named, "The Brothers." The new owners were my brothers Erling, 21, and Paul, 19, and Christiansens, Simon, 21, and Signor, 18. That same Fall the four brothers went fishing herring with nets and had fairly good success. Many people thought them too young and inexperienced to operate a fishing boat by themselves. However they proved to be a fine combination and were always successful with their commercial fishing in the Winter, Spring, and Fall seasons. In the Winter of 1904, 1 went with them fishing for cod in Vestfjorden. "There were eight of us and we caught 24,000 cod fish - a very good season's catch for eight men.
My brothers and the Christiansen brothers were considered to be excellent fishermen and very good sailors. I did well when with them, and loved their company, but my desire was not the sea. I wanted to be established as a salesman.
In the early Winter of 1902 I sent a number of letters to stores that I would like to work for. In the meantime after the new year 1902, 1 spent my time hunting in the mountains for ptarmigan and shot many scores (20) of these birds.
Early in February I received a letter from Berg Brother's Company in Svolvaer, Lofoten, telling me that they had looked up my references and would hire me for the rest of the winter season as clerk in their store. I of course accepted, packed my suitcase, and took the first boat for Svolvaer.
I liked it very much in Svolvaer. They gave me a beautiful room, and had me eat with the other clerks in the dining room with the family of John Berg, one of the partners in the business. In 1902 there was heavy fishing going on and thousands of fishermen in the harbor. We were very busy in the store. Svolvaer is one of the main cod fishing centers in the Lofoten Islands. The harbor is one of the best in the northern part of Norway. Every steamship line on the coast makes Svolvaer one of its main stopping points. At the time I was there in 1902 the permanent population was probably about 500. Now it is a city with a population of over 3,000.
I was getting along very well in the store and the Berg brothers seemed to like me. However I was hired for the cod season only and when the fishermen were gone I was laid off. I returned borne to Sommerset late in April 1902. Earlier in January 1902 my oldest sister Anna (then about 23) married an older brother of the Christiansens named Edwin ( 25 years of age). Edwin had served his apprenticeship and was then a first class shoemaker. For about two years previous to his marriage he had operated a shoemaking business of his own at Vasiauri on the Norwegian - Swedish border. His customers were mostly construction workers on a railroad passing through this point from Lulea, Sweden to Narvik, Norway.
Edwin spent the winter at our home making shoes and boots for neighbors and friends, but when I returned in the spring I decided to go with him and Anna to Mo i Rana. A new railroad was then being built from Mo i Rana up to the Iron Mines in Dunnerlands Valley. One of the first days in Mo i Rana I met a man by the name of Aakerstrom. Even though he was flat broke he was still the most optimistic man I have ever met. His aim in life was to make big money. And to hear him talk, he would do it. He told me of many fantastic schemes which unfortunately never materialized. We stopped in Mo i Rana only three days and then walked up the Valley to Skonseng, about 7 miles from Mo i Rana. In Skonseng we first built a barrack from cheap material for the three of us to live in. Edwin and I obtained common labor work from the company building the railroad. We also painted the sign on our barrack "cafe" and served sandwiches and coffee, doing most of our business on Sundays and dance nights.
Skonseng was a beautiful place. We enjoyed it a great deal the summer we lived there. However, in the Fall with heavy storm and rain and the prospect of much snow and cold in the corning Winter we did not wish to stay on. So late in October we disposed of our things and went back to Sommerset.
After my return home from Rata I at once took up my old occupation hunting ptarmigan. My hunting went well. I shot a number of ptarmigan, in fact in the fall and winter of 1902 - 1903 1 shot hundreds of ptarmigan, about 60 Orfugler, a number of geese, ducks and other sea birds, and two red foxes.
If I had wanted to become a fishingman I might have decided to go with my brothers or some of the neighbors cod fishing that winter, but I wanted to be a salesman and mailed letters of application to Berg and Company, Svolvaer, and many other places asking for a job as a store salesman. But though I waited for weeks and Months, still no favorable reply was received all winter.
My brothers with their partners the Christiansen brothers left for West - Lofoten late in January, but it so happened this season that the heaviest cod fishing was in East - Lofoten and the day they received the news of the cod catch at Brettesnes they at once returned to Guldvika about 14 miles from their home. In Guldvika the first week they fished many thousands of codfish, about 3,000 kroner or 800 dollars worth. The cod came unusually close to the shore, about a half mile from the mouth of the harbor so they were able to use both night and day set lines and usually came to the harbor loaded to the rim twice a day, morning and evening. We at Sommerset did not know the good news until Sunday and when we heard about how close to shore the fishing was done, Edwin, my brother in law, and I decided to go to Guldvika at once in our small row boat and participate in the cod fishing. There was no housing to obtain in Guldvika so in the end we had to crowd into the small cabin of the "Brodresse" and the next morning the two of its ventured out in the small row boat with some set lines after the cod. But the masses of fish that were there the week before had now shifted and spread out. We made a fair catch and continued for about three weeks in this fishing operation with a gradual diminishing reward so about March 20 Edwin and I went home but our brothers continued until the end of the season, April the 14th.
Edwin and I probably made about 100 kroner or 30 dollars each, but it made us realize that money could be made on cod fishing if properly equipped. Early in June there was a market in Kabelsvaag. Many men came there from North and South Rana, and Saltdalen with large and small boats, wooden rakes, chests, and many other household articles made out of wood and commonly used in northern Norway. Hundreds of men came there to look at and buy boats and other items, but the majority came to the market to have a good time. There was a carousel, side shows, and dancing so a person had a variety to choose from. I went with my brothers, the Christiansens, and some of the neighbors in 1903. All of us were young, unmarried, and went there to have a good time, see the shows, dance, and enjoy ourselves in company with the girls. On this, the first trip to the market, I fell in love for the first time with a girl, Marie Larsen from Orsness. I met her at the dance. She knew me from the confirmation school, but we had not met since then. We were both born in November 1884 and confirmed on the same day in 1899. On my return home from the market I wrote her a long letter and she replied as though she would like to hear further from me, so a little later I sent her another letter and she replied promptly. In the meantime I had taken a job with Karl Falk in Halvardso to help him mind Seines. Karl Falk was the owner of a large herring company, Seine Co. The equipment was: a yacht for lodging of the men, two lyster boats to carry the two 14 seines (nets), two small row boats - one for the seine boss and one for the second man in charge of seining the herring. I also, for about 2 weeks, helped Karl Falk haying in Kvansjospollen, located across the fjord from Halvardso about 4 miles . While working in the haying we stayed in the cabin of a large, open boat and in this same boat we brought the hay back to Halvardso. Karl Falk was no worker but an excellent conversationalist with a keen imagination and a very likeable personality.
We never stayed in the hillside cutting or raking more than 2-3 hours at the time before he suggested that we return to the boat and warm the coffee. While on this haying project Karl Falk persuaded me to go as a crew member with his seining outfit that fall, and he also wanted me to keep the books, as the seine boss, Mr. Røsand though a fair seine boss was a poor notebook keeper. He had previous difficulties in making the final settlement with the owners and men on other herring seining trips - were he had been the boss. I was to keep a record of all the herring sold, the money received and also the moneys drawn by each man in the crew period but the seine boss was to hold the money. I tried, to the best of my ability, to keep the books; but when the season closed and final settlement came in early November, Mr. Røsand was short several hundred kroner. For several days we checked and rechecked every item in the books but found no mistakes and finally Mr. Røsand claimed that somebody had taken the money that he kept in his cabin. Every man on board knew this was not the truth the thief was Mr. Røsand and he knew it.
All together this seining trip was a miserable failure. In the first place our catch came late in the season, poor quality on account of the herring being too small and the prices low. Our total brought enough to cover the food bills while on the trip, but no money to take home for the men or owners of the outfit.
On our lodging vessel the 2 men in charge lived in a cabin in the rear of the yacht and the 16 crew members lived all under deck in one large room. We slept in bunk beds on both sides of the boat. The arrangement was okay, but the man next to my bunk was full of lice, and it was not long before I started to itch and scratch like something was eating me up. When the trip was over the bedding was all in rags from kicking and scratching, and when I arrived home I had to stand by the open window to take the clothes off and throw them out into the snow. First I shaved all hair off the body before taking a hot bath and then in four days I took another hot bath.
In the month of August of 1903 after promising Mr. Karl Falk that I would go with his seining crew that fall I received a letter from The Berg and Company in Svolver that they now could give me a permanent position in the store and invited me to come to Svolver as soon as possible. I, of course, because of my promise to Karl Falk, replied at once with regrets that I could not accept their offer at this time and explained why. I heard nothing further from this company.
In the meantime, upon my return home from the seining adventure I planned with my brothers and the Christiansen brothers about the coming cod fishing season this winter and after much discussion we decided the following. The Paulsen Christiansen four partners would go ahead to build a house for four men over the middle of their boat, "The Brodrene." They already had a house for four men over the front end. And the four old partners would buy a new four and a half room northland boat for fishing and my brother-in-law, Edwin, and I would buy another fishing boat of the same type and size as the first.
My brother Erling would be the boss or høvedsmand on Edwin's and my boat and the fourth man on our boat would be a younger brother of the Christiansens, John - 15 age 18 years, I was 19, Erling was 23, and Edwin was 29. Our boat crew would live in the middle house. On the other boat, Simon Christiansen - 23, was the boss or høvedsmand, Paul Paulsen - 21, Signor Christiansen - 20, and a hired man Jakob about 37 years of age. This crew lived in the front house of the Brödrene. To start with, the plan was that each crew would fish for themselves; but this season the cod came up to the furthest north cod banks of East - Lofoten and the heaviest fishing was in Risvaer and Svellingen.
We fished most of the time at Svellingen and had the Brödrene anchored in Skjelingsvellingen (the best harbor) and only about 3 miles from the cod banks.
We left home late in January and in the beginning we had a lot of bad weather when we could not go out on the cod banks. On days like that we stay in the Brödrene and slept, read, wrote letters home, or just talked almost anything one could think of.
Not one the the 3 Paulsen and the 4 Christiansen brothers used tobacco in any form, and Mr. Jacob (a heavy tobacco chewer) one day brought this up and made the prediction that while we now felt fine, just wait until the heavy fishing started and we had to stay out on the banks from 10 to 12 hours in one stretch without eating. Unless we had something like tobacco to chew on we could never stand it or live because of human pains. We never took this prediction seriously, but latter in the season we found out that the first man to give up was Mr. Jacob, the tobacco chewer himself. He quit and went home when the season was about two-thirds over, but before leaving he had confided to a neighbor that he had to quit because we worked him to death.
The cod fishing in Lofoten is not done for wages, but by lot or a percent of the season's catch. The høvedsman, or boss, holds all the money until the end of the season. Of course, if a man wants to, he can draw at any time all that he has earned. The general rule is that every man furnish his own set lines. The lodging boat owner gets one mans share. The fishing boats owner, in our case, a one-half mans share. Like I have stated before, when we started this season each of the 2 fishing boats aboard the Brödrene fished only for their own crew, but after the fish came so close to shore we decided that we would do better sharing the catch.
Always in the evening we set the night lines parallel just far enough apart so that the cod in the night would not weave them together and then after pulling up the night line we threw all the fish and night lines into the one boat and sent them ashore to disperse of the fish. Then we put the bait on the night set line and went out to the other boat in the evening with the tubs of baited set lines.
Then we set the night line again and took part of the day catch ashore if the boat on the banks was overloaded.