Biography of Allen & Gladys Korns of Somerset County PA

Korn family

Allen Lester Korns, son of John Wilson Korns, was born Nov. 7, 1904 in Somerset County, PA and died May 8, 1974. He was a well-loved man with a good sense of humor. His wife Gladys Edna (Bittner) Korns was born May 9, 1904, and died in 1976. They were married on August 25, 1925 by Rev. Charles Railey. As a young woman, Gladys was a school teacher; she taught at the Korns School on the farm of her future father-in-law duirng 1923-24, for example. To we grandchildren, they are affectionately known as "Pappy Korns" and "Grammy Korns". They attended the E.U.B church in Wellersburg, and are buried at the Cook cemetery in Southampton Township. As a restless toddler in that church, Grammy would calm me down by letting me listen to the ticking of her watch.

Dating and marriage
When Allen Korns was dating his future wife Gladys Bittner, it was in the era of the horse and buggy, and well before telephones and electricity reached the remote farms in Somerset County. When I was a child, they used to joke about how she could always tell if he had been seeing another girlfriend on a different mountain, because the clay road was of a different color that left tell-tale signs on his buggy wheels. When they got married it was believed that it was good luck to burn the wedding dress to bring riches in married life; Grammy burned hers, but saved a piece of lace. One story from their early married life relates to a wind-up alarm clock that sometimes didn't work. One morning when it didn't work, Allen threw it out the window, and after that it was reliable (they were living in the little house that was later a chicken coop at the time). Another story from when my mother was little was a dog that, upon command would go out into the field where Pappy was working and fetch him back for mealtime. As a child, my mother had a lamb that followed her everywhere. One day it got it's tail stuck in the door of the house, and panicked and yanked its tail off.

Two daughters who died young
Pappy and Grammy had two other girls that didn't survive. One was scalded when, as a toddler, she pulled boiling water down on herself from the stove, scalding her arm. These girls aren't listed in the Korns book, but they are listed in Grammy's genealogy notebook.

Dairy farming
Allen and Gladys lived out their lives on the family dairy farm in Southampton Township, Somerset County, Pa. that had belonged to Allen's grandfather Dan Korns, then Allen's father John Wilson Korns. The barns and out-buildings were sheathed in rough-sawn oak boards painted the traditional Somerset county red with white five-pointed star decorations and fake white windows made from boards. The house had two porches on the rear (south side) that stretched the full length of the house, one on the first floor and one on the second floor. The view from these porches was beautiful.

In the 1950's, I remember the farm having a milk barn with vacuum milkers, a cement block milk house with a refrigerated milk tank that was filled one bucket at a time, the "new barn", the sugar camp, a pig pen, two chicken coops (one being an old house), a corn crib, two garages/workshops and a children's play house. Above the garage was a wooden ramp for changing oil in the cars. I remember the garage had a hand-crank planter, a hand-cranked drill press, and fruit jars with metal spouts for dispensing lubricating oil. The corn crib had one of those old hand-cranked wooden-framed gadgets for taking the kernels off the corn cobs; turning the crank made the cob pass a toothed wheel that knocked the kernels off. I also remember one or two cherry trees, a plum tree, a pear tree and a grape arbor. They also had an old crank-style telephone that I made a call on once; their phone number was davenport-something. Remnants of the old zig-zag split rail fences were still present on the Allen Korns farm during the 1950's and early 1960's; I can remember seeing them in wooded areas that must have been pasture or field at one time. (Such remnants were also present in Mercer County in the mid-1960's; with the owners' permission, we neighborhood kids built a cabin out of split fence rails on the Schultz farm for camping in.)

Modern conveniences
The house had a chain on pulleys that went down through a hole in the living room floor to regulate the coal furnace; as a child, I thought this was high technology. My uncle Melvin said that the chain in the living room was for controlling the furnace draft. Melvin also said that the furnace was put in after they got electricity, circa 1946. Before that they used to have a square Heatrol cast iron stove in the living room for heating. At the time, because of wartime scarcity, Pappy couldn't get a furnace with a plenum and ducts to the rooms. At first the furnace just had a big register into the living room.

Mother told me that Pappy was always looking for modern conveniences, and in the days before rural electrification, he rigged up a wind driven propeller to generate electricity for the house. Melvin said that this was a wind charger with six foot blades that was mounted on a 45 to 50 foot locust post. It was wired into the kitchen near the cook stove. This made them the first with electric light in the area. They had one bulb in the dining room, one in the kitchen , and one in the basement. There were two six volt car batteries there. They hooked the radio up to the one of them that wasn't being charged. The radio was noisy if it was hooked up to the battery that was connected to the wind charger. It was a Silvertone radio. Before this arrangement, they went over to Elmer Lepley's every Saturday night to listen to the Nashville radio station and drink cider.

The house was electrified circa 1939/40. My mother remembers that soon after electricity was installed, they turned on the lights one night and went over to the next hill so they could look back and see the house all lit up. Before electricity came, they used an Aladdin lamp, which had a mantle and put out much more light than kerosene lamps; approximately as much light as a 100 watt light bulb.

After we moved to Mercer County, I always especially enjoyed going to the farm because there were children there to play with. Although some were much older than me, they always took the time to entertain me. I might end up getting tied to a tree, but we had fun. A few memories are basketball in the barn, swinging along the haymow on a rope, camping out, walking over to the other road to get the mail, hunting mushrooms in the woods to cook up, setting up "underground" rooms in the haymow to camp out in, camping out and cooking corn on the cob in the husk, and using mud to protect the husk from the fire, and sliding down the staircase banester in the house. The mushrooms that we kids collected for cooking were the Morell variety, but I've heard a vulgar, shape-based local name that I won't repeat here. Website contributor Mike McKenzie also likes to pick and eat Morell mushrooms, and reports that many locals follow the tradition of hunting them in the spring.

Hard work
Pappy and Grammy both worked hard on the farm. One of Pappy's habits that I remember is that when he stopped working and came into the living room to sit and visit, he inevitably fell asleep in his chair. The usual farming activities were milking, feeding, butchering, gathering eggs, gardening, plowing, rock picking, harrowing or disking, planting, tilling and harvesting (hay, silage, grain). The work days were long, and enough to tire anyone out. Visiting kids like me were expected to help with the work. Picking rocks from the fields must have been an annual job, and one that I remember vividly for the jolting ride on the rock-filled wagon, after it was laboriously filled. Loading hay-wagons with large, heavy bales wasn't exactly a picnic either, but unloading them into the hot loft of the barn was far worse. One of the more unusual farming activities that was done before my time was making lime from limestone using fire and water; the limestone was dug on the back side of the farm. Lime is used to help maintain soil fertility by replacing some of the elements that successive crops extract from the soil.

Pappy had a combine for harvesting grain, but I can remember helping my other grandfather shock it the field the old fashioned way, so that it could later be threshed by someone who would come by with a threshing machine.

Explosives were also used sometimes to remove trees to improve fields. One of my early childhood memories was helping one of Allen's sons pack explosives under trees to knock them over. It was a marvelous sight, as a small child, to watch the debris be thrown hundreds of feet into the air by the powerful explosions.

Coal mining for personal use
Korns School, and Daniel Korns' coal mine on map from 1876 Beers atlas.
Up until the early 1950s, Pappy also mined coal in a tunnel that went far back under the hillside. This was small scale mining, and I seem to recall that I was told by one of his sons that it was for personal use. The tunnel wasn't high enough to stand up in. They used a long drill to drill back into the formation, then used explosives to blast the rock. The location of the mine is shown on the 1876 map shown above, when the farm was owned by Allen's Grandfather Daniel Korns, Jr. The map is from the 1876 Beers atlas of Somerset County, PA.

Saw mill for personal use
Pappy also had a sawmill that seemed to be used frequently, because there was often fresh sawdust on the pile when I visited the farm as a child. This was a roofed-over, belt-driven circular saw mill, perhaps 10 to 15 yards long, with a blade that I would guess was maybe four to five feet in diameter. To run it, you used a long heavy belt, roughly 4 to 7 inches wide and about 1/4 to 5/16" inches thick. The belt was driven by a pully from a tractor. I had the chance to help work the mill once with my uncle during the summer of 1969, and it was amazing to watch it rip through oak logs (the material of choice for outbuildings, etc.), and create one rough-sawn board after another. A man was killed on this mill once, when a log kicked back and hit him mid-section. (Both of my grandfathers owned similarly sized sawmills, and both sawmills had men killed on them.)

Pappy was the "Maple Syrup King" at the Meyersdale Maple Syrup Festival one year, and his son was King in another year. When it was sugar collecting time, the men worked till late at night to boil the sap down. The sugar camp was back in the woods, and was quite picturesque, with the wood smoke curling up through the trees, not to mention the aroma of wood smoke and boiling sugar water. The camp had a room for cooking and sleeping, a room for boiling syrup, and a room for canning. The syrup was placed in metal cans for sale. The syrup was boiled in long pans over a brick fire pit which culminated in a chimney. The wood for the fire was stored in a separate building just up the hill from the camp, and the wood was brought down to the camp by gravity on a cart which ran on rails. The following is brief article from the 1951 "Official Souvenir Program for the Fourth Annual Somerset County Maple Festival":

"Korns Sugar Bush
Allen Korns, Hyndman RD1, as been in the maple producing industry since the death of his father in 1931. At that time he began to modernize, and has slowly expanded the business. Now he sets over 2,000 keelers. Mr. Korns' maple products are shipped to all parts of the world, and his is best known for the quality of his 100% pure maple syrup. He uses all wood fuel in his production of syrup, and has the latest in equipment. His family helps him during the season when production is at its peak. The sugar farmer from Hyndman has won awards for his products in the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg at various times. Last year, he won first prize in the Maple products contest held in connection with the third annual Maple Festival.

One of my fond memories from the 1950's or early 1960's was cutting open a gallon syrup can with my cousin, and using it to boil our own sugar water over a small fire outside the sugar camp. Another fond memory was sampling the syrup from the boiling pans (I can't think of the right name for the pans) using a cup. Maple sugar was sometimes made, and one night Grammy showed us grandkids how to have a taffy pull using the maple sugar to make the taffy. Its flavor beat any store-bought taffy I've ever had, hands down. Another memory was my first bee sting, which Grammy treated with a mud poltice.

Pappy loved to hunt, especially deer and squirrel. He used a bolt action .30-30 Savage rifle for deer, and a pump shotgun for squirrel. One of the memories that I have of him is helping him clean squirrels in the kitchen. I was only about 9 or so, and together we pulled the hides off of the squirrels. It was a mis-matched tugging match if ever there was one. My dad told me that deer were scarce in Somerset County at one time, and in 1932 Allen Korns got one of the first anyone had shot in a long time. Allen had gone to Negro mountain to hunt and didn't see anything, then went home and saw tracks while doing his farm work, and got a gun and went after it and got it. When I was a teenager, Allen Korns told me that he ran a trap line as a boy, and carried a four barreled pistol to dispatch the animals that he caught. He also told me that this pistol was destroyed when the upper barn on his home place burnt down (which occured in 1923). When I talked to Lester Korns in 1997, he said that Wilse Korns didn't much like guns, only having a cartridge shotgun himself, and wouldn't allow Allen have a gun as a boy. Allen asked Lester to help him save up for one, and eventually they saved enough to buy a .22 rifle, which Allen hid under a board in the barn so his father wouldn't know about it. According to Lester, they used it extensively.

Korns genealogy
I believe it is useful to document the hand-written family tree made from memory by Gladys (Bittner) Korns for me, her grandson L. Dietle, circa 1968. The ahnentafel numbering was added by me for my children, where I am individual no. 2:

2: Lannie
4: Roy
5: Estalene K.
10: Allen Korns
11: Gladys Bittner
20: John Wilson Korns
21: Mary Geiger
22: Calvin Bittner
23: Ida Ada Petenbrink
40: Daniel K. Jr.
41. Caroline Tressler
42: Aaron Geiger
43: Lavina
44: Joseph Bittner
45: Drucilla Beal
46: Peter Frederick Petenbrink
47: Flora Kennel
80: Daniel Korns Sr.
81: Elizabeth Reiver
88: Franklin Bittner
89: Mary Beachly
90: Owen Beal
91: Elizibeth Klingaman
92: Christian Peepenbrink
93: Elizibeth Winters (NOTE: I found out in 2006 that her name was really Coleman)
94: Andrew Kennel
95: Lidia Boyer
160: Michael Korns
161: Susana Basher
185: Annie?
320: Carl Korn
321: Otillia

This is obviously a remarkable genealogy list to be able to create from memory on the spur of the moment. I asked her about family history while she was busy in the kitchen, and she grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the list down while standing at an ironing board. The only relevant error that I knew of for years was "Annie" for individual no. 185, and Grammy indicated at the time that she was uncertain about that person. In 2006 I learned that "Winters" was wrong for individual no. 93. In regards to individual no. 161, the book by C. B. Korns gives her last name as Baker, but there are more recent Korns scholars who believe the name may have been Boucher. Maybe Grammy knew something that C. B. Korns didn't.

Grammy wasn't especially fond of housework, much preferring barn work. My mental picture of her outdoors is her in a long dress, a tattered mans jacket, and a woman's scarf on her head. She particularly liked taking care of the young heiffers in the "new" (upper) barn. She once told me that when she was dead and gone, she didn't want her grandchildren to remember her for keeping a meticulous house, she wanted them to remember her for what she did together with them. One of the last outdoor things that we did together, when she was in her 60's, was hike up over a mountain so that she could show me an interesting rock formation. Nowadays, you can drive most of the way there. When we did it, it was a long, hard summertime climb over rocks and fallen branches, watching all the while for poisonous snakes. I also recall that in her older years, she liked collecting dolls, and had a room-full upstairs.

One of her farm-related activities was tending hens and collecting their eggs for sale. She packed the eggs up in boxes of roughly 48 dozen. I believe that when I was little she told me that they took the eggs to Cumberland for sale. Naturally, when chicken was served, it wasn't from the grocery store. She demonstrated the chicken preparation process for me, and yes, a chicken really does run around awhile after its head has been cut off. One chicken coop was an old house on the farm that was torn down in the 1960/70's time frame. This house was located north of the main farm house, near the road to the "new" barn. One of it's features that intrigued me as a small boy was the staircase that took tight turns on the way to the second story. I later learned that she and Allen once lived in that house during their early married life.

One task I had as a youngster was cleaning another one of the chicken coops one pitchfork-full at a time, which unfortunately involves stirring up the strong ammonia-smell in the droppings, so the standard operating procedure was to gasp in a breath of fresh air each time you went to the window to pitch a fork-full into the spreader.

Misc. items, to be worked into the narrative later:

  • Pappy, and probably one or more of his sons, modernized the road coming in to their house; I think they moved it a bit.
  • The stairway woodwork was painted in a pattern that looked like woodgrain.
  • Ashes/clinkers from the coal furnace were used on the path into the house in the winter, so it wouldn't be so slippery.
  • Their small dog "Teeny" would catch and kill groundhogs.
  • The house had doorknobs, rather than latches, which is probably a clue to the age of the house.
  • The porch was closed in on the west end of the house, and the house was used for two families. Over the years, several different children and grandchildren of Allen and Gladys lived in the west end of the house. There was a framed hole in the wall near the telephone; I think it may have been so both families could use the telephone.
  • Grammy had a piano.
  • There was a spring right at the house, on the north-east side. One went down a set of steps to it, and there was a hand pump at sidewalk level. The hand pump was no-longer used when I was little.
  • There was a pie safe in the basement that was made from wormy chestnut.
  • There was enclosed room under the east end of the south porch that was used for cleaning game, etc.. I believe that it was made from stone; the photos would show what it was made of.
  • When I visited my uncle Melvin, who now owns Allen's farm, he told me that cabbage was a cash crop that Allen's family raised, when my uncle was growing up there. My cousin told me that this was still a practice when he was little, and said that groundhogs in the cabbage patch were one of the problems that had to be dealt with by Allen. In 2009 my uncle Melvin told me that Pappy had two acres of cabbage. He also said that Pappy sold cream once a week in town when he was a kid, and that was the money that Pappy had to shop with for the week.

    L. Dietle

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