Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal Oral History Interview, 1984  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Hjortedal, Osten (Øystein) Johannes
Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal Oral History Interview
1984 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal, 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

Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal was born on January 29, 1890 at Hjortedal, Skånevik, Hordaland, Norway. His parents were Johannes (Mosness) Hjortedal and Gunhild Mosdal, and he had two siblings, Joergen and Angjerd. The family sold the Hjortedal farm in 1892 but stayed on as caretakers, and moved to Mosness in 1902. Osten became a fisherman when he was 14, and during winter, he worked as a cook on Utsira, an island in the North Sea. He emigrated with his friend Lundval on March 12, 1911, went through Ellis Island, and arrived in Glasgow, Montana on April 14, 1911. The next morning, a friend of Osten's brother gave them a job with the railroad, and within a year, Osten was a part-time "relief" foreman. He was granted citizenship in 1917, and in 1921, he spent four months visiting his parents in Norway. He moved to Edwall, Washington in August 1922, and met his wife, Gjertine, at a friend's house in Glasgow while on the way to visit Norway in Christmas 1925. They married in 1928 in Chicago, where she worked as a nurse in Cook County Hospital, and had two children-Gladys in 1929 and Erling in 1931. Osten joined Sons of Norway, and took two more visits to Norway in 1966 and 1968.


Full Name: Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal. Father: Johannes (Mosness) Hjortedal. Mother: Gunhild Mosdal. Paternal Grandfather: Angjerd Mosness. Maternal Grandfather: Øystein Mosdal. Maternal Grandmother: Gunhild Mosdal. Brothers and Sisters: Joergen Hjortedal, Angjerd Bjoerkestrand. Spouse: Gjertine Hjortedal. Children: Gladys Hjortedal, Erling Hjortedal.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Osten Hjortedal on August 22, 1984 in Spokane, Washington. This interview contains information on family background, childhood and fishing in Norway, emigration and Ellis Island, settling in, work in railroad, learning English, WWII, citizenship, transportation, marriage, Scandinavian community in Spokane, church, return trips to Norway, pride in Norwegian heritage. The interview was conducted in English with some Norwegian towards the end of the interview. Also see Hjortedal, Gjertine, t274.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Preferred Citation

[Collection Number, Collection Title] New Land New Lives Oral History Collection. Scandinavian Immigrant Experience Collection. Archives and Special Collections Department. Robert A.L. Mortvedt Library. Pacific Lutheran University. Tacoma, WA 98447

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 Janet Rasmussen 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
273, side 1 014: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Osten (Øystein) Johannes Hjortedal was born January 29, 1890, at Hjortedal, Skånevik, Hordaland, Norway. His father was Johannes Hjortedal and his mother Gunnhild Mosdal. Hjortedal's county seat was Skånevik, which was located on the Åkrafjord, about 18 Norwegian miles south of Bergen. This is western Norway fjord country characterized by rugged mountains and fjords.
273, side 1 116: HJORTEDAL FARM
This large farm containing pastures and mountains belonged originally to Osten's great grandfather (a Mosdal) who divided it between his three sons. Years later, Osten's father at 20 bought the farm. His original name was Mosnes, but he became Hjortedal when he acquired the farm.
273, side 1 152: PARENTS
His father was born in 1847, but there's no records of his folks. His mother's ancestors came from Telemark years before. His parents were married in 1876.
273, side 1 192: CHILDHOOD
The farm had cows, goats, and sheep. They rented out the extra land for a cash income and cut wild hay for the animals.
273, side 1 224: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
There were three children: Joergen, Osten, and Angjerd (Angerd ?). Joergen immigrated to America in 1904 and returned to Norway in 1910 to get married. He immigrated to Glasgow, MT in 1913, but wife remained in Norway. Joergen returned permanently in 1915. His wife's folks had a fine farm for her and Joergen to take over.
273, side 1 285:
Angjerd married and had five children. She died at 34 of tuberculosis, which was a secondary infection to Spanish flu. Sabrina, the husband's sister, raised the children very well.
273, side 1 320: CHILDHOOD
The Hjortedal farm was sold in 1892, but they stayed on as caretakers. His father was a shoemaker and also bought a share in a fishing outfit. In 1902, Osten and the family moved to Mosnes (further up the Åkrafjord). When 14, Osten became a fisherman.
273, side 1 356: FISHING
In winter, Osten worked as a cook on Utsira (an island in the North Sea) on the second floor of a building. The younger guys started with the land jobs. He had to carry water and fuel and help cook simple food for 24 people. The herring fishermen came in daily to eat and sleep.
273, side 1 394:
In 1905 Osten and some family members went sardine fishing having been outfitted by a wealthy uncle. They were lucky - ran into a school of sardines, and they caught and sold enough to pay off the outfit plus have salaries. The sardine season was in August, and the sardines were caught inland in fjords, not at sea.
273, side 1 452: EMIGRATION
Osten and a friend immigrated to America on March 12, 1911. They left from Stavanger and caught the big ship (Tyronia ?, Cunard Line) in England which took them to New York. They arrived in Glasgow, Montana on April 14, 1911. The entire ticket from Stavanger to Glasgow cost $84.
273, side 1 498: BOAT TRIP
It was a good passage; Osten and his friend, Lundval ?, were on the second deck and the food was reasonable. The weather was good, and they entered the New York harbor on Sunday, April 10, but weren't allowed to land until Monday.
273, side 1 532: ELLIS ISLAND
Osten was impressed by the big buildings and the big room where they waited to be processed. The Norwegian Lutheran Church had pastors present who helped the immigrants with the language and further travel. Osten and Lundval boarded the railroad in New York and went straight to Chicago, transferred and went to St. Paul, transferred to the Great Northern for the final leg to Glasgow. They were met by three fellows who got them food and room. Next morning a friend of Osten's brother gave them jobs.
273, side 1 600: SETTLING IN
When Osten began work with the railroad his pay was 15 cents an hour, and he worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. Within a year he became a "relief" (part-time) foreman who earned $70 a month and had a homestead also. As a section laborer or foreman, he maintained the railroad line: pick and shovel work changing rails and ties. His crew was seven Norwegians and one American, so they spoke Norwegian. His next crew was smaller and less Norwegian, so Osten learned English from one of the men who was bilingual.
273, side 1 680: LANGUAGE PROBLEMS
No problems as many Scandinavians helped him. Tells a story about one humorous situation.
273, side 1 700: MONTANA ENVIRONS
Osten "put up" with the hot, dry summers and the awful cold winters for 11 and a half years. Then, he quit and moved to Spokane.
273, side 1 707: MONTANA HOMESTEAD
He took up a quarter section four miles from Tampico. He had no equipment, so he hired the work out. The railroad job took him from Tampico to Hinsdale in 1919, where he worked for two years. In 1921 he quit and intended to go to Seattle, but accepted a job for the Great Northern outside of Spokane. Talks about railroad seniority system and management.
273, side 1 769: RETURN TRIP TO NORWAY
He had promised his folks that he'd return in 10 years, and he did, spending four months in 1921 visiting Norway. Things were the same.
273, side 2 097: WWI
At this time Osten was a foreman in Tampico. Nine Italians in his crew registered and returned to St. Louis, and he had to hire 14-15 year old kids. The government took over the railroad and decreed that the existing RR workers couldn't quit even to enlist. They were "frozen" on the job.
273, side 2 160: SCHOOL
Osten had none in America, just newspapers and dictionary. He read Skandinven, Visagutten ?, Norwegian literature, and corresponded regularly with 10-11 people.
273, side 2 180: CITIZENSHIP
He applied at the county seat after studying from a book. The judge (inspector) asked tough questions, but Osten passed and was granted citizenship in 1917.
273, side 2 229: TRANSPORTATION
Osten has a "life pass" to travel free by rail. His first car, a 1919 Ford, was purchased jointly. He later sold his half interest and bought a succession of Fords.
273, side 2 275: DIFFERENCE IN AMERICA
Yes, the food.
Moved to Edwall in August 1922 and has lived in several towns close by while employed by the RR for 47 years: Bluestem, Mohler, Marlin, and Hillier ?.
273, side 2 338: MARRIAGE
Osten returned to Norway the Christmas of 1925 due to an elderly mother. However, he stopped in Glasgow first to do homestead business. While having dinner at a friend's house, the wife requested Osten to greet her sister, Gjertine, a nurse in Haugesund.
273, side 2 385:
Osten already had a Norwegian girlfriend, but she didn't want to emigrate. He met Gjertine as asked and eventually married her in 1928 in Chicago where she worked in Cook County Hospital. Gjertine was 33 years old, and he "saved her from being an old maid". (Lively exchange of words at this point!)
It was very strong: Danes, Finns, and Swedes. He joined the Sons of Norway. There were also Scandinavian stores where Norwegian was spoken. The smaller communities had more Germans and Irish except for the Danes outside of Odessa.
273, side 2 468: SCANDINAVIAN JOBS
1) lumbering 2) carpentry - construction 3) farmers.
273, side 2 476: ORGANIZATIONS
The Sons of Norway had singing, speakers, and dances in a rented building. Osten was not active in the other groups.
273, side 2 520: RETURN TRIPS TO NORWAY
He has returned to Norway twice by boat and twice by air: 1921, 1925, 1966, 1968. The changes in Norway 40 years later were big; Norway is very advanced and modern.
273, side 2 541: NORWEGIAN HERITAGE
Osten is proud of his heritage, feeling the people are characterized by honesty, industriousness, and dependability.
273, side 2 581: SPEAKING NORWEGIAN
Snakker litt norsk om barndom og jul: nye klaer, 2-3 uker lang, spiste fersk fisk og lutefisk, flatbroed, osv.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Fishing
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs

Personal Names

  • Hjortedal, Osten (Øystein) Johannes --Interviews (creator)
  • Mosdal, Øystein
  • Hjortedal, Erling
  • Hjortedal, Gjertine
  • Hjortedal, Gladys
  • Hjortedal, Gunhild (Mosdal)
  • Hjortedal, Johannes (Mosness)
  • Mosdal, Gunhild

Corporate Names

  • Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.)
  • Great Northern Railway Company (U.S.)
  • Our Saviours Lutheran Church (Spokane, Wash.)
  • Sons of Norway (U.S,) Tordenskjold Lodge No. 5 (Spokane, Wash.)
  • Tyronia (Steamship)

Family Names

  • Hjortedal family
  • Mosdal family
  • Mosness family

Geographical Names

  • Chicago (Ill.)
  • Edwall (Wash.)
  • Glasgow (Mont.)
  • Hordaland fylke (Norway)
  • Skånevik (Norway)
  • Spokane (Wash.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Cooks
  • Farmers
  • Nurses
  • Railroads – Employees
  • Shoemakers