Interviews May 18, 2009
Mary Libby: Welcome everyone. We will be reminiscing about the Depression Era. John Ehle is our M C.
Ruth Ann Montgomery will give us an update about the WPA
John Ehle; Welcome everybody and thanks for coming. There are some people here that are working here
today that I would like to introduce. We have Kiel Geisler, Bill Olmstead, is our photographer from the
Gazette, Gina Duwe, from the Gazette, who has been with us for several of these. Brandy Balmer and
Matthew Miller from the high school. Again thanks so much for coming. This will be an opportunity for you
to talk about your experiences during the Depression. I’d like Ruth Ann to talk about the Depression Era
projects in this fair city. She does have a lot of printed material for people to look at, old photographs, etc.
Ruth Ann Montgomery. There are many projects that were done in Evansville during the Depression era,
starting in 1931 with the Viaduct. That was a state project. They had added a gasoline tax. They were
building roads and bridges with that money. That viaduct was the first attempt by government to employ
unemployed people. Many of the men working on the project had been working previously and had been
laid off from their jobs and were hired to work on the viaduct. It went up in 1931. It was a very fast project
and for those of you that remember, it came down in 1981, 50 years later. Many of the other projects are
very visible in the park. The rip rapping of the creek with the stone walls, the bell tower, the park store, and
the Henneberry shelter were all built during the Depression era. In addition to that, the high school was
also built in 1939. That was a public works project as well. There were other projects that included things
like music lessons, painting in the library, in the City Hall and in the schools. It was a great effort to put
people to work during that time, when there wasn’t much work. I’d also like to give credit to Baker
Manufacturing Company. In 1931 in order to keep their 120 people working, they went to a four-day week
and a seven-hour day, so their employees did not have to be laid off. It was a great community effort on the
part of the people of Evansville to keep the unemployed with money in their pockets.
John Ehle: Prent I think you can break the ice for us.
Prent Eager, One comment regarding the viaduct. As I remember, somebody correct me if I’m wrong. We
had one car that stalled on the railroad track. It broke down and stopped. The train ran over it. People
didn’t get hurt, then we had the viaduct, which I thought at the time was a poor use of public funds, to put a
big viaduct on the railroad crossing. As far as my recollection is, I’m assuming that we are speaking of the
period from 1928-1939. I don’t remember too much about it at the younger stage, but I remember reading
about some it. Where people used barter quite a lot to pay some of their bills, trading work, trading eggs,
this and that. There was a lot of unemployment at that time. The Great Depression, it lasted about 10
years. History tells us that the country never recovered until World War II. We also had the big dust storm
out in the west. The dust bowl, the dry weather, which was a very bad thing. I remember the WPA and
PWA, as all of you do. It was really pretty hard times during the 30s. I don’t know that I have a great deal
more to say about it.
John Ehle. One of the things that I remember hearing ever since I was a kid, is that Bob Antes ran that work
crew that did the park project, the lower shelter house, the bell tower. Most of you who lived in the
community at the time knew Bob because he was one of these guys who was very civic minded and was
deeply involved in the projects. Those crews, it seems to me, were up to 20 to 30 employees and mostly
from this town. As Ruth Ann said, the evidence of all that work is still apparent in our park.
Mary : Why don’t we go around the table and if someone wants to say something about the Depression
John Ehle: Let’s start with Mary.
Mary Libby: Mary Peckham.
Mary Peckham: I grew up in Brodhead so I don’t have any memories of Evansville, at least not very many. I
do remember that you had the Economy Store and I remember that you had an old hotel right on Main
Street, because we drove through the town. That’s all I remember.
John Ehle: You can remember about Brodhead.
Mary Peckham. I can remember about Brodhead? I was a little country girl and I was walking to country
school. I went to the Decatur School and right now there is a rustic road that goes almost past that school.
Gaylord Reeves. I’m from Janesville but in the early 1960s I was pastor of the Free Methodist Church in
Evansville. I think now it is a Baptist church on Church Street. Back then, even before that, Evansville was
noted for the Seminary. I think something like 200 students came from all over the country to go to school
there, because of their reputation. In the Seminary there was a big training point for all kinds of ministers.
We had a small church there. I think I was there in 1963. Just recently, one of our members was Wilmer
Hockett, which I’m sure a lot of you know. Wilmer died and he was 100 years old. I came to go to the
funeral. The funeral was going to be held at the cemetery. I was a little early and so I went over to the
church and I got permission to go in to the church and 40 years later it still looked the same. It brought
back many memories local families and people that were coming to our church. Evansville has always held
a special part in our homes. I was a pastor so I think I am allowed about two hours. Let me just say that it is
quite ironic for us to be here today and to discuss the Great Depression. It was a horrible once in a life time
event that happened in America. So many of the retched stories that came out of the 1930s. Many people
vowed that it would not happen again in America. But a lot of us, very many of us in fact, I think believe that
we are heading into a recession that will make the last one look like child’s play. We have to blame both
parties. The last party we had in the government, they started spending like crazy. The new party has
gone absolutely insane, the spending, with spending, figures that you just cannot comprehend the trillions
and trillions of dollars that will be hoisted onto our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. They
are bankrupting America and very likely plunging us into a depression such as we’ve never seen before.
Did we learn anything from the last Depression?
Mary: We’d like to have everyone have a chance to talk. If you want to just wrap it up with some
reminiscing about the Depression.
Gaylord: Not really, No.
Bob Olsen: I’d like to allude a little bit to Ruth Ann and the viaduct. I was about a seven year old kid at the
time. I used to carry my cane pole down to the creek and liked to fish down in the creek. I watched the
bridge go up very slowly and 50 years later I was mayor of Evansville and I saw that we brought the viaduct
down. Now, Francis Cook, who is Pat Engendorf’s father, he was involved in that program over there and
through him, I have a viaduct light. If you want to see it, it is located at 409 Longfield Street where I used to
live, before we moved to Florida. That was through Francis’ effort that I was able to achieve that. Going
back a little earlier, at that tender age of six or seven, whatever it was. I remember that we lived at 102
Water Street and we had a beautiful crab apple tree and I used to collect those crab apples in peck sacks
and put them in my little wagon. I used to carry them around and sell them for 25 cents a bag. At that age
you don’t under stand what the Depression is all about. We always had something on our table to eat and
so we didn’t know too much about it. Beyond that point, it’s great to have your mind and be able to
reminisce back that far.
Bill Brunsell: A couple of comments on the viaduct. It was known to most people as LaFollette’s Folly.
People thought the money should be spent on food. I remember that very well.
Times were really tough. My dad went to Brooklyn to settle a milk strike. They threatened to shoot the next
truck driver that drove through the Brooklyn collection yard.
He had to go up and make a speech. He was shaving and I noticed he had a mustache. I noticed that my
dad was growing a mustache. I said, “Dad, you’re growing a mustache.” Ya, he said, “The world seems like
its going to hell, so I might as well wear a mustache.”
We were in the coal and feed business. I remember that Rheine Gallman called a sit down strike. He said
they are sit-down striking in Detroit and we are going to have one here, Fred. He told my Dad. Well Dad
said, “Let’s get the books out and see what we can do.” Dad got out the books they divided up the money.
Dad got $25 and Reinhie Gallman got the high wages. He and Earl Schwartz got the high wages. They
were the best employees the company had. Harry Dennison was there at $15. Winona Graham, of course
being a woman, she got $7. That’s for a week. That’s for a week. Can you Imagine living on $7 a week.
Well, as far as I was concerned, a farmer out on the edge of town broke his hay rope. “ My dad called me
and said, “He can’t afford to buy a hay rope and can you fix him up. I’d been in Boy Scouts and I had
learned to braid rope. I went out and braided the hay rope. I will never forget it. He asked me after I
braided the rope to run the hay rope. The horse was standing on my left foot. Of course you didn’t wear
shoes, if you were a kid. I’ve had four operations and it still hurts.
The Farmers and Merchants bank was the bank my dad was in. My Dad said, they decided that they could
not have two banks in Evansville, so they merged, with what is now the Union Bank. He named it Union
Bank. His effort at the meeting was to name it.
As far as myself was concerned, I remember Ted Greenway and Gene Greenway were two Boy Scouts that
lived on Church Street. George was the Scout Master. Right across the street was a painter, I won’t say his
name. He had to sell his car and he offered it for $14. No one would buy it. It was a beat up Model T, all
covered with white paint and white wash and stuff. I ran home and ask my Dad what I could spend and he
said, “What do you need.” I said, “I think $3.50 would do it.”
I took $3.50 over and Gene, Ted and I bought it. In that week we were proud as could be to be able to push
that down the street. This guy came over and said ”I need my car back and not only that boys,” he said, “I
can’t pay you the $14.”
We went to George Greenway and said, “What are we going to do?”
George Greenway said “Look he’s working and your not working. You don’t need it, so he needs it.” “What
about the $14?” “You don’t need that either.” The car went back and I don’t know if we ever got paid for it.
That was kind of the times for me.
Mary Libby: Good, thank you Bill.
Pearl Bowen. I’m not an Evansvillite, so I will pass.
John Ehle: There are a number of people who are not originally from Evansville and that’s fine. Mrs.
Maves grew up in North Carolina. We’re not going to put the gag on her, just because she didn’t grow up
in Wisconsin. Anybody that wants to speak can.
Ruby Bernstein: I was from Albany and a large family. We raised everything we possibly could. We
canned everything that anybody would give us. We always had enough to eat but we never could go to the
store and buy junk. Things that they had for sale, like Jell-O and that kind of thing. I wouldn’t want to go
through the Depression again. I keep telling everybody that the way many people were spending, I was
afraid they might learn what some of the Depression was. I’m thankful that we got through it like we did.
Mary Maves. I might be able to give you a little contrast between the North and the South. I did marry a
Marine from Edgerton, Wisconsin. He gave me quite a few stories of the Depression when he was alive. I
was born in 1922 in Halifax County, North Carolina. Basically we lived on a farm and we did not see the
Depression as some people did because we had a cow, we raised our own chickens and had a garden. But
we didn’t have money. We had chickens, so that we had plenty to eat. But the only mode of transportation
we had at that time was a horse and a cart. We called it the Hoover buggy. Of course, he was President at
the time. Then I married Elroy Maves from Wisconsin in 1945 and came to Edgerton and he used to tell me
the stories that they encountered. His father was a painter and a paper hanger, so obviously people didn’t
have work for them to do at that time. So there was no income there. There was no work. His wife, Elroy’s
mother, had to go to work in the local tobacco warehouse. She was paid $1 a day for work. That was the
only income they had. Really, the only way they survived was hunting and fishing. That was their only
source of meat, was from that. They ate potatoes three times a day. They ended up with that and
popcorn. One of the things, they had coal for heat. They used to walk the railroad tracks and pick up coal
that would fall off of the trains along the tracks, to use for heat. So you see, it made a different where you
lived whether you notice the Depression like a lot of people did. That’s my story.
Bert Milbrandt. I was born in Kendall, Wisconsin. I can remember my mom and dad out there raising these
beans. When they got ripe we put them in gunny sacks. Us kids would stomp on them and then they’d put
them on the screen and shake the dirt off of them. Then they’d take them into town and trade them for
groceries. We sold eggs for groceries and that.
Elizabeth Cole. I’ve lived in Evansville since I was 7 years old. I don’t remember too much about the Great
Depression. We had enough to eat and enough clothes. I had my Mom. I didn’t even know that we were
poor. We managed. Mother always managed to have something for us to eat.
Alvina Patterson. I’ll pass.
Robin Patterson: I’ll say a few words. I was born at the beginning of the Depression in 1930 and I can
remember it, as it progressed. I remember sitting in the kitchen and listening to the newscasts and
President Roosevelt. Then the war came along and that changed everything. It’s sad to say that it takes a
war to recover from a recession, but that’s kind of as I understood it. I remember that when the war did
came along, my Grandfather and John’s Great Grandfather lived on South First Street. He had a lot of
bees and a cow and a big garden. I remember we used to extract the honey, quite a lot of it. The
government wanted the beeswax to coat military shells that were being shipped overseas by boat, to protect
casings from the salt water. I believe that I was the first country kid who came to Evansville for kindergarten.
I rode in with my brother, Bill, on Monday morning and stayed the week with my Grandfather who lived right
across the road from school. At the end of the school year the school board sent my dad a bill for my
tuition. My Grandfather went stomping across the street and said, “No god dammed way we are paying
tuition for that kid.” He was a little strong in his language some of the time. “No way we are paying for that
kid’s tuition. He was living with me.” That was the year my mother died. I guess that’s all I’ve got to say.
Charles Nelson: Well, I’m a lot younger than Robin, I was born the following year in early July. We were
poor people. My dad was a relief telegraph operator for the Northwestern Railroad. At that time he would
probably get work for a week or week and half at a time every six weeks. The rest of the time he’d have to
look for work. We did not have our own house to live in, that they were able to afford to rent, until I was
about 4 years old. Back then there was no welfare system. Family took care of family. We lived with one
grandpa who was up by Norwalk for awhile and then we’d go to down to South Central Illinois, near St. Louis
and live with Grandpa Nelson down there. Then we’d go back up to the Wilton area where I was born not
far from Kendall Mother would help on Uncle Pete’s farm. They always milked by hand. Mother would help
on Uncle Peter’s farm. She was a good milker and she’d help with haying. There were no tractors, they
had their team. Mother would take me out when they were making hay, once in a while. Doc and Dan were
the two horses. She’d sit me up on the two horses, Doc and Dan. We’d walk back to the barn to put the
hay up. That was a great treat. We always ate well. We had all we needed. We had lots of love in the
family and it was great, really. I had no idea we were poor. I had a couple of aunts that we lived with for a
time that had no children. I was the baby of the family, born to the youngest of their family, and so they
spoiled me. I had everything a kid needed. I didn’t have any shoes probably until I was three, but I had
other things. It was a great time for me.
I remember the first time I ever went to Sunday School. We were down in Illinois. My cousin, Calvin
Kissinger had a goat cart and so anyway he wanted to take me to Sunday school. My mother got me all
fixed up and put my new clean pants on and clean shirt. I don’t think I had any shoes. She slicked my hair
down with water and put me in the goat cart. We took off for the Methodist Church which was about a block
and a half up the street. I could see my mother back maybe half a block or three quarters of block down the
street. She stayed just far enough behind so that she was inconspicuous. I could see her kind of spying on
us. When Sunday School was over, I could see my mother standing down there waiting for the goat cart to
come back again. That was a fun experience.
I remember Dad when he came up to Wisconsin to work the extra board. They gave him 50% pass on the
way back, but he couldn’t afford the other 50% so he’d ride in the box cars. Back in the days of the steam
locomotives, I can still remember as a little boy sitting on Grandpa’s front porch. This man coming up the
street. He was blacker than the ace of spades. He was about a half a block away. Mother and I were
sitting on the front porch. She was doing some sewing or something. All of a sudden this man smiled and
he had such beautiful white teeth. My Dad had such a pretty smile. He came closer and all of a sudden he
started running for the porch. He grabbed my mother and swung her around you know and gave her a
hug. It scared me, because I didn’t know who this man was. He’d bummed rides all the way from
Wisconsin. Of course it was my dad and he had been riding on the train and was black as could be. I can
remember my mother going into the kitchen and heating up water on stove, and pouring it in the wash tub
so that he could wash up and look like himself again. I can remember a lot of those incidents that were lots
and lots of differences from what we have today.
There were no cars down in this town at that time. That was a poor district down in Illinois that grandpa
lived in. If there cars, they were up on blocks and they went back to horse and buggies. They had dirt
streets in town and hitching posts in town, just like in the old West. I remember Uncle George Kissinger. He
had a horse and buggy that went out every day. He used to take me down and get the mail and I got to ride
in the buggy. These were difficult times down there. Nobody could afford gas.
One more thing, I have to tell you about the first time I ever saw girls with makeup on. I was probably about
three years old and I was sitting in the front of the house again. These girls drove up in this car. It was a
black car with red wheels. These two beautiful girls got out. They were different than anything I’d ever
seen. They had red lips and red fingernails. I had never seen anything like that. My mother wasn’t all
painted up like that. She couldn’t afford that.
A couple of years later when Dad got his first car after he got steady employment. He said, “What kind of
car should I get, Charlie?” I said, “I don’t care as long as it has got red wheels.” So anyway he bought an
old used Model A up at the Chevy garage and when he bought it part of the deal was they had to paint the
wheels red. Anyway those are a couple of stories from my childhood.
Delores Reese: The thing that I remember most was the fact that during this era, I needed a new snow
suit. Mother was doing the best that she could, but she could not afford a new snow suit. The couple living
up stairs, he was a salesman for a woolen company and he had the most beautiful, between an aqua and
green, snow suit. He made arrangements so that he sold it to her at a very reduced price. I had a new
Peg Berg: It reminds me. My first coat, brand new coat, I was 14 years old and my grandmother died and
my mother got a little money and she bought a washing machine and me a new coat.
Tom Kennedy: I was born in 1922. I was pretty young during the Depression, but I have a lot of memories.
My mother was a very good cook. She would make angel food cakes and would sell them. It was 75 cents
for an angel food cake and if it had icing on it, it was 80 cents. That helped to make the expenses in our
house. She used a lot of rice and macaroni, spaghetti and noodles to make the other food go farther. So
actually, she was using Hamburger Helper before it ever available in the stores.
We lived on North First Street, next to the Catholic Church. We were probably about three or four blocks
from the railroad. Tramps or hobos, whatever you wanted to call them, they’d get off in Evansville at times
looking for work or food. They quite often ended up at our house. No matter how scarce the food was, my
mother always saw that they got something to eat. It was usually a fried egg sandwich.
I wore hand-me-downs from my older brother. He was three and a half years older than me. If his clothes
were worn out or had holes, my mother would patch them, wash them and iron them. They were ready for
me to wear. My mother would never let us go to school looking ragged.
I never realized we were poor because we always had a roof over our head, a warm house and always had
food on the table.
One thing I do notice though. Now days, most of these kids going to school have got a cell phone. Back in
the early 30s, we did have a telephone, but it wasn’t used for just frivolous talk. One day, I said to my
mother, “Can I use the phone.” I said, “I want to talk to Bob Gibbs.” Bob Gibbs lived just one block over on
Second Street. She said, “If you want to talk to Bob Gibbs, you walk over there and talk to him.”
Harry Roderick: I was born in Brodhead but my folks moved here when I was seven. So I consider
Evansville my home. I graduated from High school in 1931, which was right at the start of things. I was
fortunate to get in the local canning factory. For 25 cents an hour, I remember working on the line where
the cans were coming off near the cookers. I think it was about 20 years after I quit that I would eat canned
peas again, because the smell of the canned peas was really something.
In the fall of 1931, I was lucky enough to get to the University in Madison. $50 was the tuition. It covered
everything. It’s amazing when you think of what tuition is today. I was also fortunate, that I stayed at the
YWCA, which was between the Memorial Union and Red Gym. I got a meal job there and I was working on
cleaning pots and pans. I always remember when I got promoted to doing dishes. I thought that was a big
advancement, going from pots and pans to dishes.
I want to say one thing that was very interesting. You used to be able to send your laundry home for 10
cents by the bus. In other words, you’d take it to the bus station and they’d send it down to Evansville in the
bus and your parents would pick it up. My clean shirts I could send to Evansville. If I did come down to
Evansville, I would hitch hike and that way I could get my laundry case back to Evansville.
I was fortunate also that I had an amateur radio station with an FCC license and based on that I was able to
get a part time job at WHA at the University. There I got 25 cents an hour handling remote broadcasts.
They had Freddie Fuller’s Cathedral Echoes. It was an organ program that used to be on in one of the
churches on Monroe Street. I used to get out of class at 3:30 and I could run real fast and get out to where
the radio broadcast would start at 4 o’clock. I got out the portable equipment and set it all up. Freddie
Fuller would come in just 3 minutes before 4 o’clock. I always used to wonder what would they do if they
said “and now we will transfer you to Freddie Fuller’s program” and he wasn’t there. I found out later that
he lived next door.
This part time job I had at the radio station was really interesting. It did help when I graduated in February
1936. I could show it on experience. Three and a half years experience at the radio station. It did help me
get a job, when very few people were able to get jobs in those days.
Several friends of mine they were electrical engineers also and one went back to farming. Another one
enlisted as a private in the air force and later on was able to get pilot’s training. Another one’s father lived
up north and he went back up north to run a hardware store.
Charlotte Collins. I think everything has been pretty well covered. They haven’t mentioned how many
people lost their farms during the Depression. We were very fortunate. My father died when I was seven
and of course my mother was left with the five children. We were very lucky, my aunts owned the farm and
everything worked out fine. I never knew I was poor either because everything was supplied on the farm.
LaVonne Craven. I was given a book. It was called The Family Farm. As I looked through it, I couldn’t help
but think of when I was brought up when I was a young girl on a farm. There is a picture of a tractor with
lugs and if you lived on the farm, you know what that was. My father used horses for putting sileage in the
silo and for putting hay in the haymow. I can see Robin nodding his head. And when I talk about the farm, I
have a picture of a thresher here and I remember how they used to thresh and I can see my father standing
on top of the straw and stacking it. Then, my father had a watch and John’s father, Clare (Ehle), made a
collage of it. If anyone would like see it, afterwards, I’ll show it to you. It is very clever. That’s why he lived
to be 94 years old. We should have him here today. Anyway on the back he says about the watch, “It didn’
t go through the washer. The main spring was busted. Oats chaff was under the crystal.”
Then of course, I’m like Charlotte. I was born in 1927. I never thought about being poor. I just accepted
life as it was.
I had to do a lot of work. One of the works I had to do was hoe my mother’s garden because she canned
everything. I hated that job. I just hated it, but I did it. I was hoeing and hoeing and hoeing and one day,
there were some new plants. I thought they were weeds, but they were pepper plants and I hoed them off
and that was the last of my hoeing.
Lilas Miller. I was born in the middle of the Depression. Our Depression kept going because Dad got in an
argument with the light company and wouldn’t put in any electricity. So our Depression kept going. I
remember playing cards and board games with Dad, eating homemade ice cream and popcorn on Sunday
nights, by the light of an Aladdin lamp, or a kerosene lamp. That would have been in the mid-1930s.
We never went hungry because mother and dad made sure of that. They slaughtered something or they
went to the garden. There were quite a few of us, so there was a lot of pitching in. Mother made dishes to
this day that my older brothers and sisters say, “Do you remember when we didn’t have anything, but
mother always found something to eat.”
Angela Wyse. So many things have been said here and have reminded me of things to say. We are sitting
almost on the site of where the camp of the CCC boys, conservation. There is a monument out here and
this was about where it happened. After the war we came down here to watch for air planes. Do you
remember? There was a little tower that we sat in about where we are sitting now. I had a friend that lived
on North Madison so I can remember walking over the viaduct. I had another friend on Jackson Street.
Wasn’t our water treatment plant done by WPA? Our first water treatment plant and we all had soft water. I
had so many things to say, but I forgot what they are. That’s part of having been born in 1922, like Tom
and all these other guys.
One thing I can remember in regard to the depression. You’ve all said this. My mother said to May
Richardson, “we were poor but so was everybody else was too.” So it didn’t matter. It’s not like the division
that we have now, between the very rich and the very poor. I took piano lessons and Lou Howland some of
you remember her. She charged $. 50 for a half-hour piano lessons, 75 cents for two a week. My brother
decided he would like to start piano again. He was a Junior in high school. My parents could not afford to
give two of us $ .50 piano lessons.
Now that just seems incredible. I think it does.
My father was a competitor of Bill’s father. I remember he went into the implement business during the
Depression. He would have to take in two or three old used tractors or whatever the machinery was in
order to sell one new one. When John, who bought my father’s business, later on wanted to go into the
portable mill business. My father thought that was terribly risky. I said, “Do you remember going into the
implement business in the height of the Depression. That seemed like a fool-hardy thing to do.”
John Wyse: I’m a stranger. I grew up on dairy farm in Princeton. My experience was similar to yours. My
father and my uncle, his brother, had the largest dairy farm in Green Lake County. About 1931, ‘32 or ‘33
we had a bad fire and it burned. The barn burned. They were putting hay in it too wet apparently.
It was the largest barn in Green Lake County also. His dairy herd was Guernseys. They milked 92 all of the
time. The milk went to the Ripon Ice Cream Company. They made ice cream from it. They used to
advertise that their ice cream was more yellow than most because of the Guernsey milk in it.
Well the barn burned, August 3, 1933, and so my dad and uncle got together and they worked their
business to build a new barn and get it going. Everything was going fine. Then on August 31 that year,
they met in our living room. They signed all the bills for a new barn, with insurance of course, they paid it,
and put them in the mail the next morning. The next morning, the City bank closed in Princeton, Wisconsin
and all those checks didn’t pass, so no one got paid. They paid them about three years later. From that
time one it was Depression in our house, I can tell you that.
Our farm was on the city limits line. Every morning there were 10 people lined up there. They’d come out
to the farm to find work. They’d bring their lunch pail with them. They’d work for $1 a day and that day was
10 hours too.
Sometimes my mother would try to feed them, give them hot or cold dishes. Other than that, that’s all they
got all day long, what they brought with them in their pail.
Some of those people later on, they were youngsters then, high school students and so on. Later one, they
said, “if it wasn’t for your dad we would have starved to death.” It was my mother that was feeding them all
Prent Eager: I’m certainly glad that I came because I had forgotten that we had a great big garden. Guess
who hoed it most of the time? I had also forgotten that we had hobos, for lack of a better word, that came to
the house all the time and mother would usually find some odd job and then we always fed them. I always
had a feeling that most of them knew where to go when they got off of the train. They had their favorite
spots. I’ve enjoyed all of the stories. It brings back a lot of memories to me and to the rest of you. I think it
was a good idea.
Pat Engendorf: I think most of it has already been covered. We grew big gardens. My mother canned
anything and everything. I can’t tell you how many different ways she could can corn. We ate a lot of fish
out of Lake Leota. We ate a lot of squirrel and rabbit.
Farming was done by my great uncles down here in Magnolia. I got to the farm as often as I could. My dad
raised poultry and chickens in the back yard. We always had something to eat.
They talked about when the high school was built. I was born in 1934. I started my kindergarten down in
the basement of the library because the school wasn’t finished yet. Then I can’t even remember how long,
but they did put the kindergarten in the grade school building afterwards.
A lot of what they say, I can remember. We lived on the corner of Church and Maple and the hobos were
stopping by there to see if there wasn’t something they could do so that they could at least get a sandwich.
Grandma always fixed them up with something. It was a pretty interesting time to live.
John Ehle: Anybody want to add to the comments that they made?
Angela Wyse. I can remember one time, we were talking about hobos. It’s a word we don’t use anymore.
They must have stopped at every house or they had them marked. Mother always fed them on the porch in
the summer time. One time, one came at supper time and I can remember that we ate in the kitchen. The
hobo was sitting out in the living room eating off of a tray in the living room, while the family ate in the
kitchen. We trusted them. We weren’t afraid that they would steal anything. They were honest men who
just didn’t have anything to eat.
Ruby Bernstein. When I started working I got 50 cents a day for house cleaning and I was pretty lucky to
have a job. That was for a whole week. Back in those days, there was no electricity or ice boxes, or
telephones. So, things were all together different.
Bob Olsen. I wanted to add a couple of things. Where the CCC camp was here. It was located right
straight across beyond parking lot out here. Right here where you are sitting was probably the grandstand
for the Fairgrounds. We also had a race track out here.
I was one of the… my folks thought I should start school early. They started me at 4 years old. Well, I
flunked the first year. Anyhow, when I progressed up, I think it was in second grade. My birthday is in July
and all those birthdays that occurred during the school season, normally a treat would be brought.
Dan Finnane had a store down near the school. One day I came home and told Dad I needed 50 cents.
He said, “What do you need that for?” I said, “I have to buy a book.”
I went down to Dan’s store and I bought 50 cents worth of suckers. I took them to school and treated the
students there. Everything was wonderful. Except one day downtown my Mom ran into the teacher and she
thanked mom for Bob treating the class. They were very proud of me after that.
Charles Nelson: My Dad being a telegraph operator back, when we were in Livingston and I was probably a
first grader. I went down to the depot one day. One of these men was sitting on the platform. Not too far
from the depot and all the windows were open. I went into the depot and I said “Dad, there is a bum out
there on the sidewalk.” My Dad said, “These are traveling men. These are not bums.” He said, “If you ever
say anything like that again, I’ll spank your butt.” He had been one of those traveling men, so he knew.
Angela Wyse: I have heard that the movies of the time, if you recall, the women dressed so glamorously.
Carol Lombard was in one of the movies, My Man Godfrey. The very rich had a scavenger hunt. One of
the things they had to get was a hobo, so Carol Lombard went in her riches and her wealth and picked up
William Powell for a butler. I’ve read recently that the reason the movies of those days; the women were so
glamorously dressed was that we were in such dire straits that it was wonderful to go to the movies and see
these glamorous, it was a treat for us to see that sort of thing. We were all children of people who had to
deal with the Depression. I don’t people had as much to miss then as we do today. Because we have so
much. We have computers and cell phones. We didn’t have any of that then. We played cowboy and
Indians with sticks for rifles, instead of all this stuff you do on the television.
Ruby Bernstein: Almost everyone was very poor and we didn’t notice as much. You didn’t buy anything.
Lilas: Just to show the difference between now and then. My brother was asked to go to his granddaughter’
s school and tell them about the olden days. Well my brother called and said, “How old I was when it was
the olden days.” He was seventy at the time this happened. I laughed.
Anyway, he went to school. He had to old hectograph from Pleasant prairie school. He had the school bell.
He had everything.
He told the kids all about the hectograph and about carrying the water and going to that little shed out in the
back of the school. All of that you had in a country school. The kids would ask him, “Didn’t you have a
microwave. You didn’t have a television. Didn’t you have an inside bathroom.”
John Ehle. I don’t know what a hectograph is.
Lilas. It was made with a gel. It was the original copier. There was a gel and a certain purple pen that you
wrote what ever you wanted. You rubbed it on this gel. The print would go down in gel and you’d have four
or five copies of that test that you were going to have tomorrow. Then you’d wipe if off with a wet cloth and
it was the original copy machine.
I remember working a hectograph. My brother said the difference between now and then, and he just
roared. He still goes to Africa every year and he’s seventy-seven now. He said, I didn’t consider those the
John Ehle. We have some people to thank. Kyle, Gina Duwe for organizing the Gazette Crew. Thank the
prime timers. It is really a privilege.
Mary Libby. Lilas made dishes from the Depression. Thank you for M.C.ing this John.