Nels Simonseth Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Simonseth, Nels
Nels Simonseth Oral History Interview
1981 (inclusive)
3 file folders
3 photographs
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Nels Simonseth, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 253-535-7586
Fax: 253-535-7315
Access Restrictions

The oral history collection is open to all users.

Additional Reference Guides

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Nels Simonseth was born on May 13, 1901 in Rindal, Norway, which is ten Norwegian miles southwest of Trondheim. His parents were Endre Simonseth and Marit Drugli, and there were eleven children in the family. Endre was dairy farmer, and the family lived on a large farm. Nels attended school for seven years, and after he was confirmed, he did carpentry work. Nels met his wife, Gertrude Sinnes, when she was working for his relatives, and they decided to immigrate to America in September of 1922. From New York, Nels and Gertrude took the train to Dawson, MN, where Gertrude's friend's boyfriend had a farm. They began to work on farms in Dawson and were married in Madison, MN. Nels later got a job with the railroad, and they moved to Watson, MN and later Montana. After a few years, Nels and Gertrude moved to the West Coast, where Gertrude had relatives in Conway, WA. They had two daughters at this time, Marie and Esther. They settled in Washington, and Nels obtained a logging job. He worked in logging camps until World War II broke out and then began doing carpentry work again. In 1941, he began building naval bases in Oak Harbor and later joined the union. He continued to do carpentry work for another thirty-seven years. He and Gertrude also had five more children while living in Washington: Edmund, Norman, Grace, John, and Agnes. Nels attends Free Born Lutheran and belongs to the Sons of Norway. He has returned to Norway twice and says that the country has changed so much, he no longer recognizes it.


Full Name: Nels Simonseth. Father: Endre Simonseth. Mother: Marit Drugli. Paternal Grandfather: Tore Halgumseth. Paternal Grandmother: Mali Simonseth. Maternal Grandfather: John Fredrekli. Maternal Grandmother: Olaug Drugli. Brothers and Sisters: Malie Simonseth, Olina Simonseth, Tore Simonseth, John Simonseth, Ingeborg Simonseth, Karen Simonseth (died as a child), Nils Simonseth, Einar Simonseth, Marie Simonseth, Eline Simonseth, Karen Simonseth, Magnar Simonseth. Spouse: Gertrude Sinnes Simonseth. Children: Marie Simonseth, Esther Simonseth, Edmund Simonseth, Norman Simonseth, Grace Simonseth, John Simonseth, Agnes Simonseth.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Nels Simonseth on October 30, 1981 in Stanwood, Washington. It provides information on family background, emigration, marriage and family, employment, and community activities. The interview also contains a photograph of Nels and a friend felling a cedar tree with a 13ft. diameter and two photographs of Nels at the time of the interview. Also see Gertrude Simonseth and Nels and Gertrude's personal tape. The interview was conducted in English.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Custodial History

The Oral History collection project was started during an experimental course on Scandinavian Women in the Pacific Northwest. Students in the course were encouraged to interview women and learn about their experiences as immigrants to the United States. The project was continued and expanded with support from the president's office and by grants from the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, from the Joel E. Ferris Foundation and the Norwegian Emigration Fund of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project was directed by Dr. Janet E. Rasmussen. The collection was transferred to the Archives and Special Collections Department.

Acquisition Information

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Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Inger Nygaard Carr using a cassette recorder. A research copy was also prepared from the original. To further preserve the content of the interview, it is now being transferred to compact disc. We deliberately did not transcribe the entire interview because we want the researchers to listen to the interviewee's own voice. The transcription index highlights important aspects of the interview and the tape counter numbers noted on the Partial Interview Transcription are meant as approximate finding guides and refer to the location of a subject on the cassette/CD. The recording quality is good

The collection was transcribed by Mary Sue Gee, Julie Peterson and Becky Husby.


Rasmussen, Janet Elaine. New Land New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific NorthwestTacoma, WashingtonUniversity of Washington Press1993

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
111, side 1 004: PERSONAL BACKGROUND
Born in Rindal, Norway in 1901 on May 13th. Rindal is 10 Norwegian miles southwest of Trondheim.
111, side 1 012: PARENTS
Endre Simonseth and Marit Drugli. The names are place names. His mother was from the neighboring county.
111, side 1 020: FATHER
Was a farmer on a big farm, mostly cattle, dairy farming and timber. Raised crops for the cattle. Sold milk, cream and butter.
111, side 1 032: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Eleven in the family. Everyone stayed at home until they were old enough to go out on their own.
111, side 1 040:
Tore took over the farm when his parents died. Tore's daughter's husband then took over the farm.
111, side 1 050:
Malie married a guy who owned a grocery store. Olina died when she was 20 or 21. Ingeborg. Karen died when 11 or 12.
111, side 1 056:
Eline and Marie are his twin sisters, who are both nurses. Karen married a fellow in the butcher business.
111, side 1 065:
Einar and John came to Vancouver, Canada. John was a logger. Einar operated gas and steam shovels. Magnar does carpentry and painting in Rindal, Norway.
111, side 1 081: GRANDPARENTS
Paternal grandparents were Mali Simonseth and Tore Halgumseth. The farm was given to his mother because there were no brothers and she was the oldest girl. The name Simonseth came down from the 1600 & 1700s. Simonseth means "Simon set on the place." Name goes way back.
Olaug Drugli and John Fredrekli. Olaug was the owner of a farm. John married her and operated the farm. Had a little bit of everything on the farm.
111, side 1 120: CHILDHOOD HOME
It was a big place with a red barn. It was a big living house with 8-10 bedrooms with a big front room, living and dining room. The home also had big kitchens. There was an extra room for grandparents.
111, side 1 132: SCHOOL
Seven years.
111, side 1 132: CONFIRMED
111, side 1 138: CHURCH
Two in the valley. Big main church and a little church named "kapell" where the minister came every other Sunday. Nels went to the little church because it was closer. Confirmed in the big church, in cars to ride in.
111, side 1 152: ENTERTAINMENT
Considered an adult when confirmed, went to dances, and small parties. Walked around in the woods. Skied to school, which was the means of transportation in the winter.
111, side 1 169: TRANSPORTATION
Had horses. Had a sled for the horse to pull and buggies and wagons.
111, side 1 180: CHRISTMAS EVE
Put on best clothes. Took a bath. Lutefisk and lefse for dinner. Everyone stayed home.
111, side 1 187: CHRISTMAS DAY
Went to church. Second day of Christmas was a holiday. Young people gathered around for parties and dances. Celebrated between Christmas and New Year's. Not much work went on.
111, side 1 201: PRESENTS
Not many. Had a Christmas party for the kids at the schoolhouse. Teacher handed out one apple per student for a present. "Can still smell the apple." They were special shipped from Spain and other countries.
111, side 1 212: CHRISTMAS TREE
Had one at home. Homemade decorations. Baked goods hanging from the tree.
111, side 1 220:
Put out food for little birds. Saved a bundle of barley for them at Christmas.
111, side 1 231: JULEBAKK
Ate rice soup. He was big and would reach over to the table from the door and eat it.
111, side 1 248: WORK
Nels worked at home for a long time because he was needed. Did carpentry work, building houses. Helped build his brother's house on the land near the home place.
111, side 1 265: TALK OF AMERICA
At age 22, he started talking about coming to America. He always wanted to go. His uncles had been there. Heard one could pick up gold in the streets in America.
111, side 1 277:
Came to America with his wife, Gertrude. She was from the same district. He met her when she was working for his relatives. They decided to go to America.
111, side 1 295:
Their parents were still living when they left Norway.
111, side 1 305:
Left Norway in September of 1921 or '22. Left from Oslo on the Stavangerfjord. Took the train from Trondheim to Oslo. Spent the night in Oslo and then caught the boat.
111, side 1 324: DEPARTURE
A brass band was playing when they left. Lots of good-byes. People were seeing each other for the last time.
111, side 1 334: BOAT TRIP
Traveled along the coast of Norway to Stavanger and Bergen to pick up people. Went across the Atlantic north of Scotland. Weather was nice.
111, side 1 341: BOAT TRIP
Always something going on, church, dancing, and good food.
111, side 1 348: ARRIVAL
Landed in New York. Took 3-4 days at Ellis Island because a French boat was ahead of them.
Couldn't speak any English. Used sign language and got along fine on the train. He describes an incident in Chicago where someone helped them buy some food in a restaurant. Could buy food on the train.
111, side 1 398:
Describes a Swedish friend who bought some shaving soap in Chicago and met a Norwegian barber. Was surprised.
111, side 1 421:
Didn't try speaking the language.
111, side 1 433: TRAIN TRAVEL
Took the train from Chicago to Dawson, Minnesota. Gertrude's friend's boyfriend has a farm in Dawson. Gertrude's friend planned to come with Gertrude and Nels to Minnesota but her plans changed. She came next spring and they were married.
111, side 1 451:
His name was John Egen and her name was Anna Viken. They did farming in Dawson which is SW of Minneapolis. Stayed in Minnesota for four years.
111, side 1 462: WORK
Nels worked on a farm and got a job on the railroad. Got a job with a contractor in Montana building grain elevators in new towns along the railroad tracks. Boss's name was Ed Webster from Winthrop, Minnesota.
111, side 1 484:
Gertrude worked as a hire hand in the fields.
111, side 1 492:
Moved to Watson, Minnesota when Nels began working on the railroad.
111, side 1 496: MOVED WEST
Moved because Gertrude had relatives in Conway, Washington. Had heard it always rains on the west coast.
111, side 1 505: MARRIED
January 29, 1923 in Madison, Minnesota at the county seat.
111, side 1 531: MOVING WEST
Gertrude had taken the train to Scobey, Montana. Nels bought a Model-T Ford. Gertrude went to Redstone, Montana for a few days. He had two children now, Marie and Esther.
111, side 1 560: WEATHER
Problems with the snow. Couldn't see through the windshield. No wipers. Describes the route to the west coast. Were traveling in October by train.
111, side 1 602: IDAHO
Looked good, timber and hills. Looked more like Norway. Came to Everett, Washington. Took a train to Mt. Vernon. Took a bus to Gertrude's relatives.
111, side 1 614: WORK
Nels started working in the woods. Just went and asked for the job. Spent 15 years falling timber in logging camps at Snoqualmie Falls, Oregon, and Peninsula, Washington. Lived at the camps.
111, side 1 636: LOGGING CAMPS
Good camps. It was clean and had good food. They changed the beds every week. Bed maker made beds every day.
111, side 1 649: LOGGING CAMPS
Working conditions were good. Starting pay or scale. Head faller was the boss over others.
111, side 1 660:
"SWEDISH MYSTERY WHIP" A hand saw, buck saw.
111, side 1 667: LOGGING
Nels was second and head faller. Head faller made $3.75 a day. Second faller made $3.50 a day. $3.50 a day as a bucker. Most you could make in a month was $70. Room and board was cheap.
111, side 2 007: DEPRESSION
In 1929, the logging camps closed down. Stock market crashed. A few camps stayed open. Got better with Roosevelt. Worked in logging camps until WWII.
111, side 2 022: CARPENTRY WORK
Started in 1941 building naval bases in Oak Harbor, Washington. Joined the union in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Paid $50. Went to work in Oak Harbor. Learned carpentry in the "Old Country." Had done carpentry for 36 years.
111, side 2 032: LOGGING CAMPS
Many Scandinavians, Swedes and Finlanders. Contracting work was a mixture of people. English was usually spoken.
111, side 2 040: MONTANA
Mostly Swedes there. Nels was the only Norwegian. They told stories about Norwegians.
111, side 2 048: MINNESOTA
Everyone spoke Norwegian. The doctor was Irish in the town but he could speak fluent Norwegian.
111, side 2 064: LEARNING ENGLISH
While working on the railroad, didn't practice English because people made fun of you. Boss spoke English. Fellow workers helped him learn English.
111, side 2 086: ALASKA
Did carpentry work on the air bases in Fairbanks.
111, side 2 093: WORK
Worked around Mt. Vernon, Washington and built houses on the island. Now he makes grandfather clocks and cedar chests. He is retired. Sells some of the things he makes.
111, side 2 113: CHILDREN
Marie married Roy Anderson who is a school bus driver. They have three children. Esther married to a fellow who sells hospital supplies and lives in Toledo, Ohio. Karen married to a butcher (this is his sister, Karen). Edmund drives a timber truck for a company in Everett.
111, side 2 136:
Norman worked for Carnation. Now has a business with his brother in Seattle. Grace married to a Wilson who drives trucks, sells potato chips and mayonnaise to grocery stores.
111, side 2 145:
John has a business in Seattle, Washington. Agnes married to a fellow who drives a milk truck in Conway, Washington.
111, side 2 152: CHURCH
Belongs to Free Born Lutheran.
111, side 2 157: SONS OF NORWAY
Belongs. Talking to people. Had friends there.
111, side 2 165: TRIPS TO NORWAY
Twice. He didn't recognize the country. "Recognized the hills." Trondhiem was different.
111, side 2 176: CHANGES
Use tractors and machinery. Not horses like in the olden days. People are different.
111, side 2 190: PEOPLE
People in town have changed. Police and railway agents are more polite and friendly than years ago.
111, side 2 203: CHANGES IN AMERICA
Everybody used to know each other. Neighborhood support. Today you don't even know your neighbor.
111, side 2 215:
People don't visit each other as much. Neighbors don't know each other, same in Norway and the U.S. A big difference in people.
111, side 2 235:
Still corresponds with people in Norway.
111, side 2 243: CHILDREN
Can't speak Norwegian. Speaks Norwegian. English at home.
111, side 2 252: SPOKEN NORWEGIAN
Nels speaks a few words.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Christmas
  • Depressions--1929
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel

Personal Names

  • Simonseth, Nels--Interviews (creator)
  • Halgumseth, Tore
  • Simonseth, Agnes
  • Simonseth, Edmund
  • Simonseth, Esther
  • Simonseth, Gertrude
  • Simonseth, Grace
  • Simonseth, John
  • Simonseth, Mali
  • Simonseth, Marie
  • Simonseth, Norman
  • Drugli, Marit
  • Drugli, Olaug
  • Fredrekli, John
  • Simonseth, Endre

Corporate Names

  • Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.)
  • Free Born Lutheran Church (Stanwood, Wash.)
  • Sons of Norway (U.S.) Fritjov Lodge No.17 (Stanwood, Wash.)
  • Stavangerfjord (Steamship)

Family Names

  • Drugli family
  • Fredrekli family
  • Halgumseth family
  • Simonseth family
  • Sinnes family

Geographical Names

  • Conway (Wash.)
  • Dawson (Minn.)
  • Montana
  • Rindal (Norway)
  • Watson (Minn.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Carpenters
  • Farmers
  • Loggers