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The Two Story Chicken House on Vashon

The scoutmaster told us that there was going to be a special meeting on Saturday, to help the Kvisviks get in their hay.  Mr. Kvisvik wasn’t well and needed help.  It was about 1952 and I really can’t remember if there were Kvisvik boys in Troop 294 or not, it didn’t matter.  When 25 of us hit the field, the hay was in the barn in just a matter of hours and that is how I remember the chicken house with two stories, not far from the hay barn.  What I learned later was that Kvisviks had the only two story chicken house in America.  

I hear lots of stories at the Eagles Club, most are true.  One person told me that they couldn’t figure out how to remove the manure from the second story, so they removed the second story.  Another person told me that they used a chute to get the manure down, until it became too much work. Someone told me it was the only two story chicken house in America, at the time.  

There are lots of old chicken houses still standing on Vashon.  Elijah Morgan’s chicken house has been converted into a very nice dwelling on Elijah Lane and Fr. Roach told me that the rectory had once been Masa Mukai’s chicken house and that the dust in the walls was affecting his health.

To tell a good egg from a bad egg, you have to candle it and that is why Mrs. Pedersen candled every egg that came from her chickens and she had a lot.  She wouldn’t let a bad egg out the door and if they had a blood spot in them, she sold them to my Mom for a dime a dozen, so our Labradors had nice, shiny black coats, which is what the eggs would do for them.

In the old days the chicken farmers used a candle to see through the egg, looking for blood spots or irregularities.  Glen McCormick once told me that his younger brother cracked an egg in the frying pan and a baby chick tumbled out and after that Dennis wouldn’t eat another egg for the rest of his life, the egg had been in the nest too long, or, so goes the story.

I can remember Mom cleaning a chicken for our dinner and lo and behold, there were four or five little yolks forming, from the size of a marble to the largest, about to come out.     

Young hens or pullets would lay little eggs with no shell just a thin skin, as if they were practicing to lay big ones.  Broodies are older hens that lay a clutch of eggs and then sit on them for about 21 days, the amount of time it takes for the chicks to hatch.  When the hens are brooding, they stop laying and there are no eggs.  David Church tells the story of his mother preserving eggs in a crock covered with a gooey mass called “water glass” that seals the shell of the egg so no oxygen can get in and spoil the egg.   It makes the shell of the egg very smooth as it preserves the egg for use when the hens are brooding.  David hated sticking his arm in the sticky mass in the crock to get eggs and called it “elephant snot,” which on occasion he used to stop the leaks in his old truck.   When he went to Alaska to fish they carried a half case of fresh eggs and three cases of eggs that had been in “water glass”, wiped dry and stored in the lazarette in the stern of the boat.

Another way the chicken farmers on Vashon preserved their eggs was in an “egg well,” which was twenty feet deep and covered by a small house with a windlass inside.  The eggs were lowered down in a basket and the well covered so as to hold the temperature to 40 degrees.  Every few weeks, old Mr. Bruner would load up his 1937 black panel delivery with eggs from his egg well and head for the public market in downtown Seattle.  

I picked cherries for Mrs. Bruner and ate so many she fired me, I walked home and came down with a nasty case of hives the next day.  Was it retribution?

The walk to Bruners took me past Secors who also raised chickens to sell.  Bob Secor loved to sing at the top of his lungs like Caruso and we could hear him clear to our house a quarter mile away.  Mom said that Bob was practicing for the opera.  They had a neat machine, a motor driven revolving drum that had rubber things sticking out that would pluck a chicken faster than blazes.

“Watch out Mike, the old rooster is trying to sneak behind you,” I yelled.  Mike, my little brother, was scared of the rooster and would enlist me to guard him while he collected eggs.  I kicked that old rooster so hard that he flew over the fence and into the bushes.  It was Mike’s first business of a long line of successful ones and he failed miserably.  Mike sold his eggs to Mom and also to the Bradleys next door until the night the raccoons decided to attack his chickens and killed them all, including the old rooster.  The chicken pen was too far from the house for us to be able to hear the ruckus.  Mike was out of business at seven years old.