Sunday, April 29, 2007

Life Sketch

This scribe first saw the light of day on the Wopsipinicon River, in Linn County, near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 27, 1863. He was the youngest son of Joseph S. and Ann McCormick. There were nine children in the family - five girls and four boys - all of whom except the writer, have crossed the Silent River.

My parents came to Iowa from Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1845. Railroads were practically unknown at that time, so they came by boat down the Ohio to the Mississippi River, thence up that stream to Clinton, Iowa. They first settled at De Witt, Iowa, and my father, being a printer by trade, worked some with his brother in Chicago, on some of the early dailies of that city. Later, he became the editor of the De Witt Observer, which is still published in that little city. He was later engaged in mercantile lines, and finally purchased a farm on the “Wopsy” River, where he died in 1864.

Following the death of my father, of whom this writer, who was only a little more than one year old, has no recollection, my mother, with nine children, none of whom were equipped to operate the farm, shortly afterward rented the farm and moved to Benton County, near Norway, Iowa, where a number of relatives already resided. It was here that the writer has some slight recollection, in a way, of some of the things that were taking place around him.

There was the struggle of maintaining a large family, so, as seemed to be a custom of those pioneer days, our older two boys, Charles and Dewit Clinton, were “bound out” to farmers of the vicinity. This “binding” process was to continue from one to five years. At the end of the contract period they were supposed to get a certain sum of money and a new pair of boots, etc. The older brother became tired of his condition, broke his contract and went out on his “own”. The younger brother served out his five-year contract - and at the end received a coarse pair of heavy boots (which he was unable to wear without badly blistering his feet), but his cash remuneration for five years of tough farm work was mostly “balanced” by his board and keep. He received barely enough change to keep him until he could find other employment, and nothing to assist in helping the mother and younger members of the family.

My mother, leaving some of the older children in charge, did considerable outside nursing to add to the family larder. Three of the girls finally succeeded in getting sufficient schooling in the then scarce grade schools, worked their way through the “Academy” (small colleges), and then found employment in the small grade schools and small colleges.

My mother finally sold her farm in Linn County and purchased a quarter section of unimproved land in Hamilton County. It was in a sparsely settled country, about 18 miles north of (Boonsboro) Boone. It was here that she contracted an unfortunate second marriage, which was terminated by divorce in little more than a year. The principal difficulty was that both husband and wife brought children by prior marriage into the household - generally an impossible combination.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I determined to get a steady job so that I could complete my high school course. There were two country newspapers in the village - The Union, a rather pretentious weekly, and The Review, a smaller sheet, published by Sereno S. Farrington, a man small of stature, and as I learned later, smaller in principal. Recalling the fact that my father had been a printer, I determined to try the Review. Farrington, after sizing me up, admitted that he needed a Devil, but he was skeptical as to my ability and stick-to-itiveness, but finally consented to give me a tryout.

Well, after considerable hard labor, I succeeded in “learning the cases.” At the same time, I made the discovery that Farrington was his own foreman, printer, editor and pressman, etc., and as soon as I learned the cases, I found myself setting most of the 10 point type that went into the little five-column four page weekly, (also four pages of ready printed “patent” insides).

Home press work was done on a big one page platen press, operated by leg power, and I was soon “utilized” for operating this press. The paper had to go through the press four times each week and had to be folded and refolded as each page was printed. The “circulation” was small, but the press work was a strenuous job and generally took most of a ten or twelve hour day before the week’s issue had been completed and mailed.

In remuneration for my labor as a “devil,” printer, pressman, and all around utility servant, I was offered the choice of my board and lodging and ONE DOLLAR per week, or I could provide my own board and lodging and receive two dollars per week for the first six months. Although the picture of boarding with Farrington was not rosy, I tried it out for a week. With “salt rising” bread or a miserable bakery product, stale butter and some other so-called foods of like caliber, one week was a big plenty.

So I constructed a bed with fence boards in one corner of the large office and proceeded to board myself. I remember that the straw tick and a couple of quilts on my fence board bed were not any too comfortable but being young and healthy and generally tired at bedtime, the bed was generally welcome. As for eating, I certainly stretched that two dollars out to the full limit with crackers and cheese, cookies, milk, etc., and once and awhile with a warm meal at the restaurant.

At the end of six months my salary was boosted to the princely sum of three dollars per week. By this time I imagined that I had acquired about all there was to learn in the small print shop. The editor then was in the habit of leaving me for a full week, expecting me to shoulder the job of getting out the paper alone - which I did numerous times. And thus I completed two and a half years with the Review.

I had tentatively agreed to stay with Farrington four years, but his promises of more money were not fulfilled, so I quit and “took to the road” in quest of a better salary. On the way ”west” I worked for a short time at Marshalltown, later found a steady sit on the Boonsboro Herald, a newly launched weekly. Here I worked until the beginning of the next school year, when I entered the ninth grade, boarding at the time with a sister, Mrs. Woodruff, whose husband was a railroad engineer and lived in Boone.

By dint of hard work, I completed the tenth grade.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The desire for more remunerative pay and the beckoning of the Western country, terminated my school experience, and whatever education I have acquired since that time has been in the School of “Hard Knocks.”

The offer of a steady sit came to me from a friend at Oakland, Nebr. And I at once decided to go “west”. The trip by train to Missouri Valley, thence “over the Missouri” river by big transfer boat, then unloaded on Northwestern rails and taken on to Blair, Nebr. Here we changed cars to the C., ST. P. & Minneapolis branch line, and late in the evening we landed at our destination, where we became a citizen in the winter of 1882.

Of course I have never forgotten the impression that came to me as I arrived in the then almost primitive little village of Oakland that winter day of 1882. The population of the place was almost wholly made up of immigrants from Sweden and the Scandinavian countries, who had settled in the then new country. Comparatively few spoke the English language and it was rather disconcerting and discouraging to be able to hear little else than the Swedish language.

Further primitive and new country evidences were apparent all around. The new Central hotel opposite the depot was hardly completed and we (the passengers and railroad men) were ushered into the half finished dining room where we had long planks on “horses” for a dining table and planks for seats. However, I discovered that there could be just as fine cookery and food on a table of this kind as there could be under the most elaborate furniture and surroundings in the old Iowa settled “east.”

In spite of the fact that the people in general were very friendly, I never before had experienced the feeling of real homesickness that assailed me at that time. I thought of taking an early train back to “God’s Country” but unfortunately (or should I say fortunately) I lacked sufficient funds for a return ticket and the walking was mighty poor, so I was compelled to face a future that didn’t seem any too promising.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

That many of our troubles and misgivings are purely imaginary and borrowed has been demonstrated by the many years of real happiness and enjoyment that have followed those few weeks of disillusionment that followed. Meeting my new “boss” and his amiable wife, Mr. and Mrs. George W. Brewster, I was almost immediately “adopted” into their comfortable home, given a room and cordially invited to become one of the family. The Ellwell family restaurant, where I got my meals, was conducted by English speaking people and they at once constituted themselves as special guardians and cheer leader for the homesick boy.

As a “cub printer” on the Oakland Independent, I found that it resembled most of the print shops in which I had worked - there was always plenty to do. The mechanical force consisted of the foreman, Ned Sidey; the apprentice, Ed Cord; and myself. Editor Brewster, himself, was also a practical printer, and at times helped on the tedious job of hand setting the paper, and in operating the presses.

That you may know something about the work connected with the publication, I will explain that the Oakland Independent was an “all home paper,” of four eight-column pages. All of the type which made up the paper’s contents each week had to be “set” by hand, as such things as linotypes or typesetting machines were scarcely dreamed of at that time. The work of composing consisted of “setting” from 25 to 30 “galleys” of type (a galley is slightly more than a column length of type). The body or news of the paper was set in what was then known as Brevier (now eight point) and the editorial column in Long Primer or ten point.

After the almost endless job of composing the type the “forms” or pages had to be made up, locked up and placed on the old Washington lever press (known as the “Mankiller”) two pages at a time, thus taking two separate printings to finish the publication for mailing. The circulation varied from 1000 to 1400. It took several hours of real hard labor to do the press work on each side of the paper, and during the hot summer days we managed to do most of the press work during the night or cooler hours.

Setting the jobs and printing them on platen job presses, operated by foot power, and various other work and details around the usual print shop, kept the printers busy from ten to twelve hours a day - and there was no overtime pay - we just worked as long as the job lasted -strikes and walk-outs hadn’t been invented.

Recreation and entertainment in our new home were not plentiful. There were two Swedish churches, neither with any English service. And the there was not any movies or even vaudeville shows. In company with some of the local boys we did some amateur hunting and did a great deal of walking.

Finally, Mrs. Ellwell of the restaurant, and this writer, secured permission from the Baptist church officials to organize an English Sunday school in the church. Mrs. Ellwell volunteered to act as superintendent and the writer acted as secretary. Our school was held immediately following the Swedish church service in the morning. We had let it be known among the English speaking people of the village, also any of those who wanted to attend and join our Sunday school, that they would be welcome. We did not lack for attendance.

The English people came out in generous numbers; and the Swedish people - especially the younger element - remained to attend the Sunday school after their service. The attendance was far greater than the school’s sponsors had dreamed of. Supplies and printed matter was secured and the school grew in interest and added not a little to the benefit and advancement of the community in a moral and religious way. Later the English Lutherans and Methodists established churches, and after a time, the “independent” school was merged with these churches.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Affairs of the Oakland Independent moved along. Finally, Geo. Brewster’s interests in real estate and other matters (especially in Populist state politics) became so large that he decided to dispose of his newspaper. His younger brother, Edward A. of Creston, Ia., contracted to buy the Independent, moved to town and took possession.

While Brewster was a capable fellow, a good editor and printer, he seemingly had contracted some habits that did not fit in with country newspaper editing. He enjoyed a good (or bad) poker game better than getting out a successful country weekly. As a consequence, his installments on the purchase price became so far delinquent that the holders of the security papers came in and foreclosed. Edward stepped out and his brother George resumed the publication of the paper.

The retirement of E.A. Brewster as publisher was a rather serious disappointment to this writer, who had allowed his wages to become unpaid to the amount of several hundred dollars, as he had no need for all of his salary and thought that a good way to save it. Ed was perfectly willing and anxious to pay but just didn’t have the funds. So what? The “cub printer” seemed to be getting his eye teeth cut on a rather expensive scale. He hadn’t needed the money, as his habits were not expensive, but now that he couldn’t get it was something else again. It was a tragic awakening, but there might be a way out.

Politics in those days were just about as assorted as they are today. There wasn’t much to the Democratic party in Nebraska, but the Republicans, largely preponderant, had their quarrels and disagreements, the one side by old Senator Van Wyck, representing one element, and Congressman Valentine of West Point was at the head of the stalwarts.

While Senator Van Wyck had the Tekamah Burtonian and many old line Republican newspapers supporting him, the Valentine folks wanted a newspaper desperately. The managers of this faction got together and purchased the Burt County News at Tekamah from the Konkling brothers and changed it to a Valentine sheet, with Ed. A. Brewster as editor and manager. So this writer decided that it was best for him to accept the proffered job as foreman of the new project, with the hope that finances would improve and that I would finally get the money that was coming to me.

But alas, there were poker games in Tekamah fully as greedy as those at Oakland, and Brewster couldn’t resist them. The money slipped away, his debts accumulated and he finally approached me with the plan of my buying a half interest in the paper. Approaching the sponsors of the paper, they at once approved the move, and I became the owner (?) of a half interest. Comparatively few weeks later (undoubtedly under pressure and advice of his family and friends) Brewster assigned his remaining interest (if any) in the Burt County News to the writer.

It was with a great deal of misgiving that I assumed the management and direction of a political country weekly. My experience was somewhat limited and I did not possess all the confidence that seemed necessary but there seemed to be no other alternative. I plunged into the project. Having previous to this always favored the Democratic party with my vote and support, it was certainly a novelty and not altogether agreeable for me to conduct a Republican sheet, presenting the Valentine side of the picture. How well I succeeded is not for me to say. Undoubtedly many mistakes were made, but on the whole the leaders and advisors seemed to approve, and I had the somewhat doubtful honor of being dubbed by rival publishers by the title of “Valentine’s Kid.” And I could not deny part of this, as I was then only 20 years old - and in the kid class.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At this point in my biographical story, it is fitting that I should digress somewhat and dwell upon the most important event that had intimate concern in all of the many years of my life. Not long after taking up my abode and my new business in Tekamah, my attention was attracted by a very bright and vivacious young lady, and for some strange reason this young lady was responsive to my attentions and a friendship soon developed into deep regard. This young lady was Delina J. Flint, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.A.Q. Flint, long residents and farmers of the community.

“Lina” Flint, as she was known by her acquaintances, was just out of high school and was one of the leaders in the social life of the community. Bright and vivacious, this writer wasted no time in cultivating her acquaintance and she responded to my ‘bold’ approaches. The friendship rapidly developed into mutual regard. Space at this time in my story does not permit of the detail of the many happy weeks and months of good times that followed what seemed to be a mutual discovery. Date for the wedding was set and all arrangements completed.

On January 14, 1884, Delina J. Flint became the bride of Harry A. McCormick, “for better or worse.” In a quiet wedding held in the parlors of the Hubbard House (now the Martin Hotel), Sioux City, with only a few relatives and friends witnessing the ceremony a union was solemnized that continued for over 62 years. It was a long and happy married life that was sadly terminated July 1, 1946, when my beloved wife quietly passed over the “River of Life” to that unknown country, where it is my fond hope and belief that she is enjoying the reward and fruits of her long life of loyalty to her family and to her many friends in the several communities in which she lived.

In the presence of her family, all of her children and most of her grandchildren and hundreds of friends, last sad rites were held in the home in Omaha. Burial took place in the family lot in the beautiful Graceland Park Cemetery at Morningside, Sioux City, Ia., beside the three children that preceded her in death. Loving friends paid their last tribute with large and lovely bouquets of beautiful cut flowers, the casket being buried with the flowers she had so much loved in life.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Publication of our first newspaper evidently was not a very momentous affair. The writer freely admits that he suffered with a good deal of “stage fright.” But it was a novel and interesting experience - one that helped me to go on from there with the determination to succeed, no matter how difficult the task. One important thing that I learned from my first newspaper experience was that politics are a flimsy thing to bank on in operating a newspaper, and that it seldom brought in much cash.

I took the first opportunity offered to dispose of my interests in this first venture and sold, realizing all I had invested with a modest profit.

Leaving Tekamah and Burt County, and accompanied, of course, by my good wife, we moved to South Sioux City (then known as Covington) where my wife’s folks had previously moved. Making our home temporarily from this vantage point, the writer launched his successful effort to secure work in a real city print shop in Sioux City.

Making our application to join the Typographical Union, we were, through the influence of good friends, soon able to get a “sit” on the Sioux City Daily Tribune. We became one of the from 14 to 16 compositors who “set” the type by hand for the Daily Tribune, as well as doing a lot of type setting for the Sioux City Printing Company, which furnished printed sheets known as “Ready Prints” for numerous country weeklies.

In setting this type, printers were on what was known as a piece basis. That is, they set the type by the thousand Ems, and the more Ems one set in a day the longer his “string” was and this regulated his pay for the day. Hence, the swiftest compositors drew the biggest Saturday night check. There was a minimum on the amount the printer must set to get by, but this did not bother this writer, as his fingers were more nimble and his sight more acute than in our later years.

The most difficulty the novice had to contend with was capitalization of the right words and following the Office Style, which varied in different offices.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It was a jolly bunch of “boys” in the composition and mechanical room of the Tribune in those days and many of them, while fine fellows otherwise, liked very much to get out and “celebrate” after the pay check was received Saturday night. Of course, one element, usually small, came back to work Monday morning with a headache and an empty purse. New printers from the “sticks” were generally victims of the element who wasted their money in riotous spending over the weekend and came back to work broke. They were experienced “pan handlers,” and the new printers soon got wise and saved their money.

Later on, when an attempt was made to enforce prohibition in Sioux City, certain of the printers who craved an occasional drink, had to send an agent out to buy a quart bottle of “Duffy’s Malt,” a rotten whiskey product to be had at certain drug stores. After the daily was out at 3:30 in the afternoon, the compositors were on their own time, spending the rest of the day in-filling their type cases for the next day. The so-called whiskey was brought in clandestinely and passed around the same way - the only difficulty being to escape the observation of the foreman, who was a strict teetotaler and a deacon in the Baptist church.

However, I never knew of his detecting of anything of this nature, and I think that he considered it good policy not to see the operation, so long as it did not result in intoxication or disorder. However, there was little danger of this, as very few printers got more than one “swig” at the bottle.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not because he was dissatisfied with his job on the Tribune, this writer in 1886, always thinking of bettering his condition, accepted the foremanship of a somewhat imposing Cavalier job printing plant at Yankton, Dakota Territory, and moved to that little city with his family and established a new home. The Cavalier Company did quite a large amount of book work, consisting of Supreme Court Reports, large briefs and territorial printing. (South Dakota was as yet a part of Dakota Territory, and Yankton still the capital.) Our conditions in the Cavalier plant were generally quite pleasant. The help, aside from the foreman, was composed of from 12 to 15 girls, or young ladies, who set all the type by hand and part of them were used to feed the platen presses and the small cylinder.

There were those on the force who objected to some of the rulings and methods of the foreman and decided to get rid of the boss, even if they had to peddle false statements to the head of the concern. Being warned by his friends, the writer handed in his resignation and ended his work with that company after only a few months.

There seemed to be little trouble in landing new jobs in those early days, and the next day after leaving the Cavalier outfit, the writer found himself at the head of the mechanical department of the Yankton Herald, a Democratic weekly, published by Taylor & Sargent, the latter being the editor and publisher and Taylor holding the political position of Surveyor General of Dakota Territory.

Conditions were pleasant enough here, as the editor seldom paid much attention to the paper, except on publication day - Thursday. He seemed to have a lot of things to occupy his time outside. What it was, this writer knoweth not, but rumor had it that friend Sargent greatly enjoyed the “flowing bowl” and found congenial companions to take up his time elsewhere.

However, when he made his appearance each Thursday, the paper was generally well along toward publication and the “forms” all but closed. Sargent would usually tell us that he had a few items to go in the paper and the last page had to be opened up and re-arranged to accommodate his last minute contribution. Sargent was an economical fellow in many ways, one of which was to economize on paper. He wrote a beautiful, fine lady’s hand, would split open some old used envelopes and write his copy on the inside of the envelopes. It was really astonishing how much copy he could get on each of those envelopes, and he had no idea, nor did he seem to care, how much he disarranged or delayed the newspaper at this late hour, when there was a fixed deadline for mailing the paper. But that apparently did not concern him. The whole force, consisting generally of two printers and the apprentice, were put to work to rush this last contribution into type and into such vacant spots in the page that could be found. The writer frequently protested and begged the boss to get his news in earlier in order to avoid missing the mails; but week after week he persisted in the habit, until this writer, in disgust, resigned his job.

Having previously been offered the job foremanship of the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, I accepted it at once. This new position, while it did not promise a princely salary, gave this writer an opportunity to branch out in the trade and get the experience he wished for greatly. This department was the largest and most complete of any in the Dakota Territory. Nothing was too big or too small to handle here. There was a full fledged pressman and several platen press feeders, besides a utility man who prepared and cut the paper stock, etc. A lot of Territorial printing was handled on the big cylinder, keeping it busy ten hours a day. Much smaller jobs were handled on the three platen presses, as not only the state and county work, the printing for Yankton College, the high and grade schools and the large amount furnished by many business concerns. Four regular printers were employed regularly, besides the foreman. The plant was located in a large basement, with ample room for its varied departments and activities. Power was generated by a big water motor supplied from big artesian wells lately sunk in the hills west of Yankton. It was cool and comfortable in summer and well heated in winter.

Friday, April 20, 2007

While still employed by the Press & Dakotan in January, 1888, I had the tragic opportunity to witness the memorable and devastating blizzard that visited this section of South Dakota and Northern Nebraska leaving death and injured by the scores and resulting in great losses of livestock by the settlers.

It hit Yankton shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon. The weather in the forenoon had been mild and sunshiny. The writer went back to the office from lunch beginning his afternoon work at one o’clock. Shortly afterward the office became darkened so that electric lights were needed.

Glancing out the window, it was almost impossible to see across the street. Fine, floury snow was swirling in all directions, driven by a strong northwest wind. Business was largely suspended and the schools dismissed and the younger pupils escorted to their homes.

At that time the office happened to be caught short of coal. Draymen were not operating, and in order to get an emergency supply of fuel, a rope was stretched a half block to the railroad yards and a car of coal, where a basket was used to carry the coal to the office - one man keeping a firm hold on the rope as the snow was so blinding that one could not see where he was going.

When I went home that night, the storm was still raging full blast. I was wrapped to the chin with heavy overcoat, cap with earflaps pulled down and tied, and scarf tied about the head. Fortunately, there were fences around houses and residences at that time so I got my bearings, made a dive across the street to the fence on the other side of the street, and following the fence a block and then repeated the operation until I had reached the rear of the lot on which my home was located.

On entering the house, my wife could not see enough of my form to recognize who it was. I first peeled the snow and ice off my eyes and face, and then shed the other wrappings. The snow was so fine - like flour - and so damp that as it hit one’s body, it seemed to stick like plaster or wet cement, freezing at once. One can easily imagine what one would be up against out in the open with no fence or other object to guide him. Naturally, there were many fatalities and narrow escapes in our own vicinity, but also throughout all of Dakota Territory, and a great portion of Nebraska.

Our next door neighbor, who drove a pony livery team to smaller places in southern Dakota, started out that morning with a traveling man to take him to Scotland, then a small inland town, a number of miles northwest of Yankton. There was little but bare prairie along the trail to Scotland, only a few scattered pioneer settlers with small improvements, and no fences except perhaps those around his buildings and sheds and hay and straw.

The storm hit these two on the prairie about half way to Scotland. Tracks disclosed that they had traveled with the team of ponies as long as they could travel, and then apparently cut the ponies loose from the buggy and started out on foot, hoping to find a fence that would guide them to a cabin or a straw or hay stack into which they might burrow and keep from freezing. Their frozen bodies were found the next day after the storm subsided. The insurance man being much larger and stronger than his companion, his arms about the smaller man. (There were many details printed in the newspapers then, and in later years, about this great Dakota Blizzard, but to one who passed through it, there has been no exaggeration as to its ferocity.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Things moved smoothly at the print shop for some time, but there came a sort of depression in business generally, and our managers decided to cut expenses by reducing, generally, the salaries of workers. There was no union organization in the office, and nothing to do but accept the cut or find new employment. The cutting started in the newspaper department and then was attempted in the job printing department. When the proposal was made to me to lower my wages, I immediately handed in my resignation, as did several other of the men.

It was with sincere regret that it became necessary to terminate our stay in Yankton, as we had greatly enjoyed our stay there. It was a beautiful little city, with many schools and churches, as well as social advantages - not large enough so you would not “know” your next door neighbor, but small enough to make your family and the neighbor family really “neighbors,” who gave you a friendly greeting when you met them on the streets or elsewhere.

Going back to Sioux City with no definite job in sight did not seem to worry us very much, as we had by that time quite a large acquaintance among the printing industry. We had barely landed there and found an abode to live in until I applied and received the place from which I had retired when we went to Yankton - on the Tribune.

There we met old friends who gave us a welcome hand and the assurance of any help they could extend. After several months at the Tribune, the promoter of the Commercial Printing Company, a comparatively new organization in Sioux City, offered the writer what seemed to be a more ideal position as foreman and inside manager of the company. They contemplated a general job printing business, combined with purebred cattle and livestock catalogue printing. The business opened with the promoter’s son in charge as outside business manager.

A few weeks experience demonstrated that the manager’s habits were not very stable and that he had little idea of real business methods. He neglected his duty of bringing the necessary work and looking after the financial affairs. He seemed to have other interests that kept him away from the business and finally disappeared wholly from the scene. Pay days would come with only a part of the funds on hand to pay help and other expenses (the writer advancing the necessary funds) and something had to be done.

The manager’s father, who had promoted the project, resided up in a South Dakota city, where he conducted a purebred cattle ranch. He was notified of conditions and came down to try to get the business straightened out. He failed to get his son back in the business so he set about to dispose of it. He made the writer a proposition to take over the business, which, after due consideration and modification, was consummated, and the writer became owner of the job printing department, leaving out the stock catalogue, material, library, etc. which was moved to the South Dakota home.

Assuming the proprietorship of the business, which had grown to considerable volume during our short time as manager, the office was doing a profitable and rapidly growing business. A printer friend, who was looking for an opening, offered to buy an interest in the business, was finally induced to take over the whole proposition, with the proviso that the writer should remain as foreman and inside manager.

We accepted the proposition, with the permission to spend a portion of the writer’s time on building and other things connected with a home building project at South Sioux City. This arrangement continued for some time, following which the writer again entered the Tribune and continued as compositor there until, after rebuilding, the Tribune installed type setting machines and the whole mechanical part of the business was changed over to fit the new method of composing the type for the paper.

The writer declined to take over and learn the machine which was offered him and changed over to the advertising and job side of the newspaper. He continued at this for some time but becoming tired of the grind, decided to try another country newspaper.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

We leased the North Nebraska Argus at Dakota City, the county seat of Dakota County. The paper had been established and conducted by “Father” Martin, an odd but benevolent retired pioneer minister. He had been writing a ”continued” story in the paper, which was entitled “The Conflict, Love or Money,” and a provision in the lease was that I should continue printing this story, which I did.

The printing outfit was small and primitive, with a Washington hand press to print the sheet. I moved my family to Dakota City and we lived very happily during the two-year lease, which was successful, if not highly profitable.

My next venture was the establishment of the Dakota County Democrat at South Sioux City, the small but ambitious new city, opposite Sioux City. Business was quite successful for a few years and the paper cut some figure, as well as the editor, and was quite active in politics and public affairs of the county. The editor became acquainted in practically all parts of the county and finally could boast that he knew practically every permanent resident of the county.

It is not out of place here to explain somewhat the beginning and some of the early history of South Sioux City. One of the oldest villages in Nebraska was Covington, directly across the Missouri river from Sioux City. Covington and Jackson vied with one another to get credit as the earliest villages in northeast Nebraska, both in Dakota county.

While these communities were settled by many of the old and honored pioneers, they also became the most notorious, so far as morality was concerned. Saloons from the earliest days were taken as a matter of course by most of the people, and this attracted an element that is to be deplored in any community.

The location of Sioux City, across the river in Iowa, had its deplorable effect on the Nebraska villages. At intervals, attempts were made to enforce prohibition in Iowa and Sioux City. At such times the saloons and bawdy houses and gamblers, with the exception of the usual bootleggers and hidden lawlessness, migrated to Covington, where law enforcement was slack, and as a consequence, Covington became notorious as a crime and law breaking center.

In the latter part of the last century, a few enterprising boosters and promoters came on the scene to build a city of morality and progress, near the old town. At that time, South Sioux City was established with an elaborate and large town site. Some of the most prominent financiers of Sioux City got behind to help boost the new Nebraska town.

It grew rapidly the first few years and this grew into a real boom, from which developed the building finally of the big combination bridge across the Missouri, the final completion of a railroad from Sioux City to O’Neill, and many other big and little enterprises, of which it is impossible to mention in detail. After a number of years old Covington was incorporated as a part of South Sioux City, and from that time on its morals somewhat improved, but not before it had gained a notoriety for crime and lawlessness that were deplorable, to say the least.

This editor cast his lot with the new city at almost its first beginning, where he established a home and as stated heretofore, he established the Dakota County Democrat. While the early years were fraught with struggles and hard work, the Democrat grew and prospered, the paper and its editor taking a prominent place in the advancement of community and educational affairs, as well as that he was identified with the political and civic affairs of the county; engaged in several “battles” that brought clashes with the Republican newspaper located at Dakota City, the county seat. These disputes some times became personal, with name-calling and flings at one another, which were not a credit to either side, but seemed to be part of “journalism” in those early days.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

After a number of years of prosperous business, one of those periodical depressions hit our community and in fact the whole country. Prices receded, business failures were numerous and prices on real estate were badly depleted. Foreclosures, the lack of tax payments, etc., added to the calamity, and the newspaper business suffered with the rest. In Sioux City, the condition was more serious. Several other newspapers had been started in South Sioux City, and there was little business for even one or two papers. So this editor made up his mind to retire from such a struggle. Being fortunate in securing a buyer for the newspaper and a part of its equipment with not too great a loss, the next proposition was - where shall we go?

After consultation with an old friend, John C. Kelly, editor and publisher of the Sioux City Tribune, we set out to find a possible location. There were many country newspapers that could be bought, if one had the necessary funds. Our ready funds were limited, so what?

After the disposal of our Dakota County Democrat at South Sioux City, we finally decided to try a temporary location in northwest Iowa. In beautiful Sioux County there was a nice little business berg 12 miles north of LeMars and a distance of about 36 miles from Sioux City. This town was Maurice, eight miles west of Orange City, the county seat and the center of a large colony of Hollanders that had pioneered in the county. Most of them originally came from the Holland colony at Holland, Michigan. So Orange City was appropriately and “lovingly” known as “Little Holland”, the whole of the eastern, central and much of the western part of the county being populated by folks from Holland in Europe, from Holland, Mich., and their descendants.

With no intention of making it our permanent home, but simply as a “stop-gap” until something better developed, we decided that we could take a “gamble” on Maurice. Trucks were almost non-existent at that time, so we found suitable conveyance to the new location by wagons, “navigated” by beautiful big Percheron horses belonging to a relative. It was slow compared to present swift traveling, but sure and dependable. The trip was slowly made and we were able to get small office quarters and a livable residence.

The Maurice Review was launched August 20, 1897. This writer was editor and publisher, and his eldest son, Ralph, was the printer and all around office manager. There had been a number of newspaper ventures in Maurice, none of them succeeding to any great extent, so it took some courage and a lot of hustling to get a start. Many had tried out former Maurice newspapers, only to have the paper discontinued in a few years or months, with the subscriber holding the “sack”.

We tried all sorts of schemes and inducements to get the citizens of town and country to subscribe or give us much recognition or encouragement. We finally resorted to the plan of giving them the paper three months for 25 cents - pay in cash or at the end of the period. By dint of much talk and hard work, we finally succeeded in securing a list of over 500, and this number of readers was maintained during our five years of conducting the paper.

The merchants, business men, and other citizens of the village were extremely loyal and friendly, and also liberal in their advertising and other helps to make the venture successful. We managed to make the paper pay its way and earn living expenses for the family. To supplement this and increase income, the editor went into real estate and insurance to some extent, and this proved moderately successful and brought in substantial revenue that helped to get the editor out of the “red” after his sad experiences at South Sioux City. At the end of five years we had bought and paid for a home and had a substantial bank account.

In this little village of Maurice, there were only three churches at that time - two Holland or reformed organizations, the one exclusively Holland Dutch language service and the other occasional English service. A small congregation of Irish Catholics had a small church (which the editor and family attended, as the only real English church). Later, the Methodists came in and established and built a nice brick church building, which served for the Protestants of various sects for a number of years, but was finally sold to the young Hollanders, who wanted a church of their own with exclusive English service and speaking.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Our five year stay in Maurice was very pleasant, in spite of the fact that two cyclones and other bad storms visited that section, all of which did not bring any harm or disaster to anyone of our family.

In 1902 the decision was made to dispose of The Review and return to Sioux City. While grade schools had been taken advantage of by children of the editor and wife, there was no high school adequate, and this was the compelling reason of another move. Ralph, our eldest son, did not care for the printing business and wanted to go where he could prepare himself for some other line of work.

Selling our subscription list, good will and part of the equipment to a newspaper in a neighbor town, whose editor pledged himself to fill out all of our unexpired subscriptions to subscribers, we closed our business, sold our home and moved back to Sioux City.

However, great pressure was brought to bear on the editor to induce him to remain in Sioux County. Merchants and leading business and professional men at Orange City, the county seat, being somewhat dissatisfied with the conduct of their only English newspaper, offered to help finance and back this writer if he would buy and take over the paper. After due consideration, this writer, regretfully turned down the proposition for various reasons, which it is unnecessary to go into here.

We decided it best to again cast our lot at South Sioux City, where we already had some property interests. Buying a cottage in what was then considered a desirable location, we moved our family into this place. An old frame hotel building in the Covington section of the city, being owned by this writer, was wrecked and made into two desirable family residences.

After this was finished we returned to Sioux City, where we obtained employment in various offices; also engaged for a time in business ventures of our own in between time, generally disposing of them at a profit. These developments occupied close to five years, when we again got the “urge” to get back into the country weekly field.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The terminus of a railroad extension was duly investigated and through the recommendation of Rev. Geo. Bray, a Presbyterian minister, who had been preaching in that field, we visited the new town, Wynot, in northern Cedar County. There seemed to be a good future for the new town. Located near the Missouri river and just a mile west of old St. James, pioneer village of northeast Nebraska, 14 miles northeast of Hartington, the county seat, and plenty of territory south and east, as well as north, there seemed to be sufficient trade territory to support a growing and prosperous community.

The territory was well settled with people of all nationalities, the Germans outnumbering other nationalities in northern Cedar County. Cattle, hogs, corn and other small grains were the prevailing sources of revenue for farmers and they were in a prosperous condition at that time.

The “Omaha” railroad had not yet wholly completed building the new extension from Ponca but service, both passenger and freight, mail and express, was being maintained by a mixed train, twice a day from Sioux City. Upon our arrival in the new town we found the business part in the formative state, but practically all kinds of business had started and even two new banks were occupying temporary quarters, pending the completion of new brick bank buildings. Residences and other buildings were being moved from St. James, and a new hotel near the depot was being completed and offered board and room for visitors and new settlers.

Jones & Emerson were the founders of the new town site of Wynot, and also for the villages of Obert and Maskel east on the line. On our first visit to the new town, we had considerable difficulty in getting any encouragement or information from the officers of the town site company. From other sources we discovered that another hungry newspaper man had been there ahead of me and had arranged to move in a printing outfit and start a newspaper.

We finally discovered where we could locate this man, whose name was Adams, and who already had a paper at Fort Calhoun, near Omaha. Immediately boarding the train, we visited Adams, and it did not take long for this writer to make a deal with Adams. The printing “outfit” which Adams had planned to move to Wynot, had already been loaded in a box car, waiting for orders to ship it to Wynot. In due time the shipping order was issued. This writer then returned to Wynot and arranged for a place suitable for at least temporary quarters.

With everything new, except the buildings that were being brought from the old town of St. James, there was little choice. The best that could be had in the emergency was an old store building that had been used for a granary and storage building This could do in the emergency, so we paid the rent in advance and then returned to our home at South Sioux City, pending the arrival of the printing outfit, that had been shipped from Council Bluffs.

After more than necessary delay, notice came that the outfit had arrived in Wynot, and without delay, the writer journeyed again to the new town, where we proceeded to inspect our printing outfit that had been to us “sight unseen”. It was a heart-breaking sight when we opened that car and beheld the loading job of an amateur who had probably never seen or handled a printing plant. Cases of type of all sizes had been stacked up against the end of the car, with nothing to keep them in place. Probably the first start and stop of the car had upset the cases and the contents were scattered over the floor and eventually much of the type had rattled through a hole in the bottom of the old box car. It was a sight that almost brought tears to the printer, who would have the everlasting job of sorting out the type and returning it to its proper place in the cases.

There was other serious damage as a result of faulty loading. What to do? A down payment had been made on the outfit, but it had been damaged seriously. The railroad agent was told of the condition and instructed to lock the car until we could get in touch with the seller. This we did by phone and telegraph, and finally a compromise was arrived at and a discount agreed to.

The outfit was unloaded and arranged in the building that had been prepared for the birth of Wynot’s first newspaper. It was an exasperating and tedious job to get that outfit in shape to use. In fact, some of the type “fonts” had been partially lost through that hole in the box car. There was little adequate type left, so that it was necessary to buy considerable new type and other equipment, necessitating over a week’s delay in preparing the first issue.

To secure a place of residence was another complex proposition. Of course, there were no houses available in the new town. The townsite company was not as efficient as they are of the present day, when a flock of new cottages is generally offered as an inducement in the new towns. Our only resource was to secure some kind of a place in the old town of St. James.

We finally rented the only available place, an old frame house, belonging to a widower and his flock of boys. The old man was about “half baked” and his sons more or less better. They lived in a house across the street. One of the boys, almost a complete idiot, would get out in the yard late each evening and indulge in unearthly yells and hideous screams - apparently just to amuse himself, but not so amusing to children and women, who had not been used to such “antics.” In fact, my family refused to stay there in the evening unless I was there with them. Of course, we soon learned that there was nothing dangerous about this “half animal and half human” and we finally got used to it.

After a big job of attempting to clean up the filthy place - excepting the bed bugs that seemed to be hiding in all the cracks and crevices, (even scalding hot water had only slight effect in ridding the place of these nasty pests) we moved our household goods in and took possession. In the preceding years nine children had been born to the editor and his good wife. Two beautiful daughters and a son had died in infancy. The remaining children - three sons and three daughters - all came to Wynot with their parents, except the oldest son, Ralph, who, after completing a business education in Sioux City, began railroading, and was at that date agent for the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific. The other children - Ruth, Helen and Irene, and Harry and LeRoy - were all still in their teens or younger.

Eventually, with the help of the editors’ daughters and sons, the printing plant was made ready, and the first issue made its appearance. During their grade and high school days, the children helped materially, both in the home work and activities, and in assisting with work at the printing office. Ruth was the special stand-by for Mother for a number of her school years; Helen and Irene learned to set type and do various kinds of other work necessary in getting out a weekly newspaper, as well as assisting Mother as opportunity occurred. Harry and LeRoy also helped materially in the newspaper work from the time they were able to handle a “stick” of type and feed and operate the presses and other machinery.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Next Up

Next we will begin posting H.A. McCormick's Life Sketch, Harry McCormick, Sr.'s account of young adulthood from 1863 to about 1902. We will also republish some of Editor McCormick's Observations from the Wynot Tribune, circa 1918.

For the record, H.A. McCormick is K.A. McCormick's grandfather and my great-grandfather. The Life Sketch was written in the late 1940s when Harry was almost 90.

Meanwhile, if you have a memoir or story to tell about growing up in a small town, leave me your contact information in a comment.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Loose Ends
The Early Years

I remember, I remember the day that I was born....
but then I was born at a very early age.

I don’t know where these two phrases came from. They have stayed in my head all these years, probably part of the remembrances of my father, who died at age 50 before I really got to know him.

Actually, I was born December 30, 1929. (I always had trouble remembering whether it was December 30, 1929 or December 29, 1930. But that didn’t matter because I could always remember my age. Except for the last two days of the year, the last digit of my age coincided with the last digit of the current year.)

My birth date is significant since two months earlier, on October 30, 1929, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.

My family had not been long in my birthplace, Clark, South Dakota, and we stayed only a little while after my birth...13 days to be exact. My father was an early victim of “downsizing” because of the depression. He worked for the local newspaper and the owner’s son had come back, since college was no longer affordable, and he took my dad’s place. We had to move to Wynot, Nebraska, and the newspaper owned by my grandfather.

Daddy took my two older sisters back to Wynot and Mother stayed long enough to get her strength back after my birth. When I was 13 days old, Mother began the 200 mile trip in a January snowstorm. She got a ride to nearby Redfield, S.D., where she got a hotel room overnight in order to board a train the next morning.

As she told the story, she didn’t dare leave me alone in the room but was too weak to take me downstairs so she went without supper. My dad and his brother, Roy, met Mother in Yankton, South Dakota and they began the short car trip to Wynot. On the way, however, the car broke down and the snow forced them to find shelter in a nearby farm home. The car was eventually repaired and the trip resumed, but the short version of the story is that Mother brought me to Wynot at age 13 days through a 200 mile snowstorm.

When the depression hit and my dad lost his job, there was nothing to do but go back to Wynot. Subsequently the railroad through Wynot was abandoned, retail stores left, and the newspaper proved inadequate to support more than one family. Grandpa decided it was time to move on and he picked Schuyler, Nebraska, as a larger town where a newspaper could support two families. It was there he founded the Colfax County Call.

My first memory in Schuyler was going to kindergarten at age four, where we had to bring our own rug to lay on and take a nap in the afternoon. Another thing I remember is the lack of attention paid to my birthday. Since it came just a few days after Christmas, there was never enough money or desire to make a big thing of it.

One year I was invited to a girl’s party the same day as my birthday. I brought a piece of her birthday cake home and saved it so long it got rock hard.

We lived on a corner lot with a big yard and I remember the neighbor boy, who was much older and bigger than me, would come out to play football. He roughed me up, bullied me, and made fun of me; but I loved it -- and him -- for paying attention. When he moved away he gave me that tattered old black leather football and I thought it was the most wonderful thing anybody could do for me.

My next older sister, Rose Marie, was always late to school in Schuyler because her route took her through downtown and store windows attracted her attention. The same tardiness arose in the family many years later when my son pretended as if he was blind and tried to walk to school without opening his eyes.

My dad was a volunteer fireman. I can remember him coming home with his clothes frozen from water sprayed on him at a winter fire. Another story I remember was the storage building fire that wouldn’t succumb to water. As it happened, a lot of paraffin was stored inside and it caught fire and floated on the water. Today, foam would be used.

By this time it was 1935, Grandpa was 72 and the Call apparently was not doing that well against the long-established Schuyler Sun (which is still in existence). It was time for Harry Sr., to retire. He and Grandma Delina moved in with their daughter Ruth, who by now was married and head of the pharmacy department at Lutheran Hospital in Omaha.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Latch-key Kids

Harry Jr., with very little money but a lot of his father’s wanderlust and courage, bought the Murray (Iowa) Journal on a contract from a broker. We lived there for seven years accepting chickens, et cetera for subscription money and complimentary tickets to the movie house for payment of its advertising bill.

Murray was (and still is for all I know) a town of about 800. At that time it had the newspaper, a movie theater, a furniture store, two groceries, a cafe, lumber yard, and other miscellaneous businesses.

With Mother selling the advertising and doing most of the driving of our 1934 Chevrolet, we survived and didn’t know we were poor, because almost everybody was poor during the depression. We never went hungry or took welfare as many did, but I don’t recall it being a big thing. We were getting by and I don’t think we even considered applying for aid. We had many friends who did need it and we didn’t condemn them for it.

Our best friends in Murray were the Farrs. They had three children -- June, Jean, and Bud -- who were the same relative age as the three in our family. Except for the age similarities, that was the end of the likeness.

The Farrs farmed. We were town folk. Orville was the type that didn’t believe in government regulations (such as buying a fishing license) except when it came to welfare payments. My dad would not consider violating any rule and to fish without a license was like denying God.

Hazel was practically prostrate in excitement when Bud and I were confirmed in the Methodist church. My mother was a regular church attendee, but it was not her disposition to display any kind of emotion.

Mother was the disciplinarian. I don’t recall ever being spanked but the presence of a hickory switch resting behind a picture on the wall was sufficient incentive to stay in line. That switch across the back of your legs spoke volumes that the modern-day psychologists would be hard put to match.

And the one time I do remember the switch being administered, I was totally blameless -- well not totally. One of my sisters was provoked into throwing an overshoe at me. I ducked (and from that standpoint I must shoulder some blame) and the footwear broke a window after it sailed past my head.

Mother was particularly irate because she had trusted us to be home alone. We were early-day latch-key kids since Mom helped get the paper out and we were expected to share family responsibilities -- like getting along with each other.

While Mother was the dispenser of physical punishment (or the threat thereof) my dad was the man they nicknamed Happy as a youngster. He loved to sing and Bing Crosby was his favorite. What little spare cash we had went into records of the Crooner.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The California Job Case

My sisters were both named for popular songs of the day. On the other hand, Grandmother wanted me to be named Harry Anthony III but Mother wouldn’t stand for that so I got the mundane moniker of Kenneth Allen.

But in spite of Daddy’s gentle nature, serious malfeasance by the children sometimes called for a talk with the man of the house. These sessions, I think, were much more feared than the hickory switch.

One of those talks was needed following one of my misanthropic activities. My job at the paper on Saturdays was to throw in the type that had been set for the previous week’s paper. We printed only the front and back pages (the inside was boiler plate -- pre-printed articles from Western Paper company) but considering all the type was set by hand, letter by letter, it took considerable time to put it all back in the proper compartments of the case -- known as a California job case.

The California job case was designed for speed so the letters of the alphabet were not simply placed in order. The most-used letters -- the e, n, s, etc. -- were closest and had larger compartments. A typesetter, or anyone throwing in the type, was supposed to be able to do their job without looking at the location of the letters.

An average typesetter could set a stick an hour. That would probably be four inches or less in regular column width. By comparison, a Linotype operator in later years was expected to set at least a galley (one full 20 to 2l inch column) of type an hour and most were faster. Today’s computer operators are maybe twice that fast.

One Saturday my dad had gone out for his regular afternoon cup of coffee, leaving me to throw in type. I could have been out playing with my friends as most ten-year-olds would have been so I resented having to stay cooped up in the print shop. Consequently, I began idly tossing each letter wherever it happened to land -- in retaliation for my ignominy in being left to work.

Father came back and went to work setting type for the upcoming paper and, being an accomplished typesetter, it was not necessary for him to look at the letters as he set them. After finishing a stick, however, he glanced at his handiwork and of course saw just a jumble of letters. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened and you know who spent several minutes with Daddy and a talk. I then consumed several hours going through the type case putting the misplaced letters in their proper compartments.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Our family lived in Murray longer than any other place -- seven years -- and even though I was only 12 when we left, I still remember many events. One was particularly rewarding for Mother. One evening a traveling salesman knocked on the door and wanted to leave a Maytag washing machine with us for demonstration. Mother told the man there was no way we could afford a washing machine. (Not an automatic washer as we know them today -- one with just an agitator and wringer, but something few households had).

The salesman, in a ploy I later learned to use myself, said it didn’t matter. He got paid for the demonstration whether he sold the unit or not. Mother couldn’t see what it would hurt so she agreed to use the washer for a week. So instead of bending over a washboard in a tub, Mother used this wonderful gadget to wash our clothes and wring them out like magic.

At the end of the prescribed week, I really think Mother was trying to find some way to buy the machine but in the 1930s, even a dollar-a-week payment was out of the question. But the salesman didn’t come back. Several weeks passed and still no salesman or company representative came to retrieve the washer.

Mother wrote Maytag headquarters in Newton, Iowa, but got no response. Although we did have a telephone, calling long distance for anything but an emergency was out of the question.

So we continued to wait. Mother did not use the washing machine. She felt that would not be fair since we did not intend to buy it. Another letter was dispatched and no answer came for a long time.

Then one day the mail brought a form letter from Maytag that said it would not be cost effective for the company to send a man out to reclaim what amounted to a used washing machine. Apparently the salesman quit the territory and the company was just cutting their losses. At any rate, Mother used that Maytag for probably 20 years and would have been very happy to offer a testimonial to its reliability. There was only one trouble. People visiting our home who did not know the story of the free washing machine thought we were extravagant or must somehow be rich.

Other things I remember: Daddy singing Fire, Fire, Fire, London’s Burning in a deep bass voice; out fishing when a tornado struck and we had to hit the nearest ditch to prevent being blown away; fishing for bullheads and swimming in Finn’s pond; going with the theater owner in his Austin-Healy (smaller than the latter day Volkswagen Bug) to deliver show bills to area towns; walking home on a Sunday morning and finding out Pearl Harbor had been bombed and not having the least idea what that meant.

Mother always encouraged her children to give to charity. Although we didn’t have much, we were not on welfare and did have a few things many families did not. One Christmas Mother encouraged me to give one of my toys to a group providing gifts to needy families. Mother emphasized that giving meant parting with something that really mattered or it wasn’t real charity. I had a toy fire truck that was my pride and joy. I had kept it in mint condition. Although it hurt, I decided this would be a true charitable act if I gave it away.

The day after Christmas, we were out sledding in a neighborhood I knew as one in which one of the needy families lived. As we went by, I saw my prized fire truck smashed to pieces on top of a trash pile. I know it shouldn’t have, but my attitude toward giving to the needy has been prejudiced ever since.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pinky Thin Skin

Most rural areas in the Midwest have county fairs but Murray was not the county seat so we had our own celebration -- the Murray Jamboree. It was a two day affair usually, and one of the highlights was a public wedding. I don’t know how they picked the couple, but the young pair would be chosen and all of the costs of the wedding would be paid -- gown, flowers, reception, honeymoon. It was a real honor to be chosen and provide the entertainment for the Jamboree.

For the promoters, it was probably cheaper than hiring professional entertainment. The money was raised by selling lottery tickets -- a chance on a team of horses. Yes, even as late as the early 40s, horses were still being used in farming and a valuable prize to win.

The one other vivid memory of the Jamboree was the year I was riding the Ferris wheel when I realized it was past my curfew. I bolted from the ride and ran lickity-split for home. The Jamboree was held on one square block of city park and a single strand of wire enclosed it. In my haste to get home I hit the edge of the park at full speed and the wire was just the right height to catch me in the Adam’s apple. Needless to say, the blow decked me and I was unable to speak for several minutes and my excuse for being late fell on deaf ears at home. Perhaps, my nickname, Alibi Ike, had something to do with it. That nickname was coined because I always had an excuse when I was late.

And I was late lots because I loved to play croquet on the town’s public course. I have never seen one like it since living in Murray and in visiting there several years ago, I noticed the area was grown up in weeds. The area was surrounded by a wood barrier and the ground covered by sand, which was rolled out daily to insure a smooth surface. The standard wooden mallets and balls used on a lawn croquet court were not employed. Instead, hard rubber balls and short mallets with a fiber striking surface were used. The town’s retirees all played but when school let out, they would let us take over and then bet on the outcome of a particular match. Consequently, I would lose track of time and be late for supper. Thus, the Alibi Ike nickname.

I did pick up another nickname which remained with me the entire time we lived in Murray. I was very light skinned and blond and therefore highly susceptible to getting sunburned. One of my friends called me Pinky Thin Skin, later shortened to just Pinky. I think if I walked in to Murray today and anyone was still alive who knew me, they would say “Hi, Pinky.”

Our school did not have a band but we did have a town band that played each Saturday night in the town square. It was directed by Doc Fuller, a veterinarian. My family couldn’t afford an instrument, so I chose percussion to learn, since they were provided. Marcheta played the French horn for the same reason. Doc Fuller led the band from a motorized wheel chair -- simply an easy chair with batteries mounted in the rear and wheels under each arm. A wheel with a curved bar for guiding was in the front so what you had was the forerunner of today’s three-wheel golf cart. He was paralyzed in the early 1930s when he was shot as a member of a posse chasing a criminal -- but that is another story.

We played at outdoor concerts during the summers but sometimes performances would be in the school gym. Doc Fuller would have to be carried in to direct and that left his motorized wheel chair outside. That was too tempting for youngsters (myself included because I was not a part of the indoor concerts) and we got a thrill from riding that chair around the parking lot. I’m sure Doc Fuller knew why his batteries ran down sooner than usual during those periods.

The school did have both boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. I was too young but both my sisters were starters on the half court, six-girl style of Iowa ball at that time. Marcheta was 5’ 10” and played post. Rose Marie was about 5’ 4” and played on the guard end of the court. Her claim to fame was her scrappiness. She fouled out (four was the maximum in those days) before the end of the first quarter in one game. Some of my fondest memories were waiting for the girls to come home after a game and sitting around the kitchen table talking about it with our parents.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Guilt by Association

We had several means of raising spending money during the summers. One was legitimate, one questionable, and the other outright illegal. The honest labor was to strip blue grass. Farmers planted and harvested blue grass seed to sell commercially. They stripped it with machines, but we walked the roads and found volunteer blue grass in the ditches. We all had hand strippers (provided by seed buyers).

The tool was a device about 12 inches wide with teeth and a handle. We could walk along, swing the stripper to get the seed and pour it in a sack, which we would then sell to a local broker.

Another money-raiser was to go out to the countryside, find scrap metal, and sell it to a junk dealer. That was perfectly legal but some of our pals would sneak around back of the junk yard, pull some scrap through a hole in the fence, and eventually sell it back to the unsuspecting dealer. We also pulled a pump from an abandoned farm and took it in to sell. Come to find out, the pump was in use, the farmer found out who took it and our parents were informed. It was a long trip back lugging that heavy pipe.

As long as I am baring my soul, I remember another escapade that remains troublesome for me to this day. It was a matter of a theft I participated in and did nothing to correct. I’ve been told most youngsters, at one time or another, take something from a store without paying for it. Some, perhaps, develop into adult shoplifters, but most -- as did I -- have such a guilty conscience it makes them even more honest as the years go by.

This incident happened one summer when a bunch of us were just hanging out and we went into the local grocery store even though none of us had any money. One of our group told us to occupy the clerk, which we did, and he stuck a pound of Velveeta cheese in his shirt and walked out. We knew the intent of the shop lifter -- and we helped eat the cheese -- but none of us had the guts to say, “This is wrong; take the cheese back.”

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Things had been getting better economically and with the war good jobs became more plentiful. My dad was too young for World War I and too old to be drafted in the Second World War.

It was obvious the small paper at Murray would never be much for income, so Daddy took a job in Rushville, Illinois, in 1942. We stayed in Murray to see my sister Marcheta graduate at the top of her class of 21 students. Rose Marie finished her sophomore year and I got through seventh grade in Murray.

The house Daddy rented for us in Rushville was not ready so we had to live in a cabin camp for about two weeks. Bed bugs were rampant, cooking facilities were non-existent, and the small space was not really conducive to a happy family in a strange town.

We finally got into our house and it really was one of the nicest we ever lived in. Rose Marie and I enrolled in school and I had little trouble adjusting.

I got a paper route delivering the Peoria daily but the job ended abruptly when I was hit by a car. We had been instructed to be very careful crossing streets, particularly if papers blew away when we were folding them preparatory to delivery. In the darkness of one early morning, the paper I was folding got away and blew into the street. I looked carefully both ways and retrieved it. But just as I was returning, another gust caught a second paper and I instinctively darted after it into the roadway. Just at that time a car was passing and it hit me. I was leaning over to get the paper and the front fender of the car struck me in the forehead. Fortunately there was a hospital just a block away and I was taken there. I regained consciousness and was diagnosed with a contusion -- apparently a blow less serious than a concussion. The wonderful part of all this was that the newspaper’s insurance covered all expenses and gave my mother $5 a day for taking care of me at home for a week of recuperation.

My only other memory of Rushville was in the use of different terms for familiar things. For example, the first time I stepped onto a basketball court as an eighth grader, the referee blew the whistle and yelled steps. I was to learn that meant traveling, the term I was familiar with for taking steps without dribbling the ball.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Severed Heads

While I can’t remember being unhappy in Rushville, my dad apparently decided it was time to move on. He went to Monmouth, Illinois, to look into a printer’s job but came back and then looked into one at a calendar factory in Red Oak, Iowa. This job did not materialize but one at Avoca, Iowa, did and we moved there for the second semester of the 1942-1943 school year.

Rose Marie had difficulty adjusting. According to her account, she was operated on for appendicitis but the rumor spread that she had an abortion. She refused to go to school, which added to the rumor fire. Mother told her if she didn’t go to school she would have to work and would pay her five dollars a week to do our housework. She didn’t much care for the work and with the first paycheck, she bought a bus ticket back to Murray and stayed at the Farr home. (I have a hunch a boyfriend at the old hometown had something to do with all this.)

Mother called Hazel and told her to let Rose Marie stay a week and then put her on a bus back to Avoca. Rose Marie enrolled the following term at Avoca, made up her work, and graduated with her class.

As the new boy coming in the middle of the year, I was miserable for a long time because of teasing and taunting by other kids in the class. Finally, however, another new student showed up and the class bullies transferred their venom to him. Sad to say, I probably joined in the teasing of the new kid to prove I now belonged.

An example of the tricks played by my classmates came in the spring when a cousin of mine, Dick McCrary, came to visit. He lived in Omaha and had spring vacation. We didn’t get that spring break so he rode his bike the some 40 miles to Avoca and visited me in class.

During one class when the teacher wasn’t looking, one student pushed the unabridged dictionary off its stand. The noise, of course, startled everyone including the teacher and as she turned around, everybody around Dick pointed at him. He was innocent, of course, but the teacher informed him that even though he was a visitor, he would have to behave himself.

Dick perhaps brought this trick on himself because of the rather wild story he told the kids about his trip out to Avoca. He described a train wreck at Neola as he was riding by. It included heads being severed and rolling out of the cars and other gory details. The fact was, a train had derailed and he witnessed it, but no injuries were sustained.

Dick was prone to telling tall tales but when I would challenge him, he would say “Just ask my mom if it isn’t true?” Of course, if I did that, I would look bad in his mom’s eyes for accusing him of lying. Finally, I went to his mother in desperation and actually questioned her on a story he had told. Wouldn’t you know it? This was one of the few times he was telling the truth. Kind of like the poker player you know is bluffing but when you finally call, he has you beat!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

“Why, It’s For All Of Us”

The move to Avoca was not all that bad. My dad worked for the newspaper and the part-owner/editor was taken into the wartime Navy. My folks were both enlisted to take over the paper and run it for the duration. After only about six months, however, the editor resigned from the Navy and came back to resume his position. We never did find out the details of his military career.

When we first lived in Avoca, housing was in short supply so we found a place that was in the basement of a former funeral home. It wasn’t that bad except the windows were at ground level and curious neighbor kids tended to become window peepers interested in the new people in town. My clearest memory of the place was the canopied driveway where I could work on my bike. Hour after hour was spent tearing apart that New Departure brake and putting it back together again.

This was also the place where I had my first girl friend. I don’t remember her name but she was a large girl -- an Amazon, you might say. I was not alone when I got my first kiss. We were with another couple and my awkward one-armed smack drew a derisive comment from my buddy. He proceeded to give me instructions but the romance was short lived and the lessons ceased.

After we had been in town awhile and I became acquainted, a group of guys came by to see if I wanted to go bike riding. My folks were pleased I was being accepted by my peers so they said it would be okay if I was home by dark. We had not gone three blocks from my place before the plans changed and we ended up at a local pool hall.

Later, my dad had gone out for a pack of cigarettes and noticed my bike parked in front of the pool hall. I saw him come in and he stepped over and calmly told me to come home when I finished the game. I then realized I probably was in big trouble because the place was rather unsavory.

My dad grabbed me just as I got home, pulled me into a spare room and said, “For gosh sakes don’t tell your mom where you have been.” He explained that there were two pool halls in town. The one I was in was a hangout for some of the worst elements in town. The other one was run by a man who wouldn’t let you play pool if school was in session or if you misbehaved. He told me if I wanted to learn to play in that pool hall he would bring me down and teach me the game. Thus began an avocation to fill many hours of leisure time during my life.

One of my favorite stories involved the grocery store (where I worked part time), which belonged to Bill Hinz and his wife. As was the practice in most small town stores, customers charged everything and paid their bill at the end of the month. One noon hour, I was left alone in the store when a young boy about eight years old came in and asked for toilet paper. I got a three-roll pack off the shelf and sacked it for him and he began to leave. I asked him, “Who’s this for?” wanting to know whom to charge it to since I didn’t know him. He looked at me like I had to be the dumbest clod in the universe and said, “Why, it’s for all of us!” and he walked out. I reached in my pocket, got 25 cents—the 1944 price of three rolls of toilet paper -- and put it in the cash register. That story told over the years was certainly worth the 25 cents it cost me.

My profession for most of my adult career was probably influenced by a teacher I had in eighth grade at Avoca. Her English class was not the most interesting in school but the fact she had one glass eye and the other one was crossed made it virtually impossible to get by with anything in class. She was never looking where she appeared to be so you had to assume the thrown spit ball or passed note would be seen. Consequently, I learned more English than could normally be expected of a 13-year-old and my entry into the journalism field was made a little easier.

At just over 100 pounds, I don’t know why I went out for football -- but I did -- though my career at Avoca was short lived. While returning punts in practice one day, I was slammed into the ground by a teammate. I instinctively put out my hand to catch myself and it jammed my arm back into the socket. Something had to give and it was my shoulder.

The dislocated shoulder kept me out of football but I was a glutton for punishment and decided to try my hand at basketball in my sophomore year. I was only about 5’10” but was fairly quick and seemed to have an eye for the basket in practice. When time came for our first game, the coach, just before tip-off in the locker room, named four of his starters. The other one, he said, would come from me or my friend, fellow sophomore Ev Bauer.

Ev was a much better player than me and later I realized the coach was trying to get him to assert himself by giving him a chance to speak up. When the coach said, “Who wants to start?” I waited for only the briefest of time before I spoke up and said, “I do.” Soon in the first quarter Ev came off the bench and played well. I transferred out of Avoca the second semester but he went on to be a star for the team during his high school career.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

High School Daze

With the Avoca editor back from the Navy, my folks decided to move on and went to Ida Grove, Iowa, to work for the Pioneer Record. Mother learned the Linotype and became a two-thirder (an apprentice who got only two-thirds wage until they became qualified). The major ownership at Ida Grove was held by the same man as Avoca so the change wasn’t that radical.

Because of that linkage, it was natural for the two papers to be in communication. Thus, before I transferred to Ida Grove (I stayed at the Hinz home to finish the first semester when my parents moved), a story about a transfer sophomore basketball player was published in the Pioneer Record.

As is so often the case, accomplishments do not live up to expectations. While I was on the first ten at Ida Grove, I was more of a practice player -- shooting the eyes out, stealing passes, et cetera -- but those things never seemed to materialize in games. Consequently, I probably hold some kind of record in that I started my first game of basketball as a sophomore, but never started another contest in my entire career.

My basketball career was shortened when in my junior year at Ida Grove I quit in the middle of the season and pride kept me from changing my mind and coming back to the team.

We had a hot shot star player who was at heart a bully who liked to exert his skills to make his teammates look bad. For example, when a player went up for a jump shot, he unobtrusively tapped them on the chest, causing them to crash to the floor from such a vulnerable position. On loose balls, he would make a point to let you get there first and then slam you into the gym wall under the pretext of trying to recover the ball.

The coach either failed to see this or condoned it. I went after a loose ball in practice one day and I just knew this bully was going to try to jam me. He did and I blew up. Even to this day I do not swear very much, but I cussed him out with words that even surprised me and I stomped off the floor.

The coach and superintendent each talked to me in the next few days and asked me to reconsider but after a display such as mine, there was no way I could go back -- at least in a 16-year-olds’ mind. Besides, I had already talked to the drama coach and she allowed me a late part in an upcoming production so I had a legitimate excuse of no time to practice basketball.

That was the first of many plays I acted in during high school and one in college. Our school had junior class plays, senior class plays, all-school plays, and plays put on by the Thespian Club -- and I was in most of them.

There were many fond memories of those productions, but one in particular stands out because of the trick pulled on me by the cast members with the consent of the director. This play, I think, was High School Daze, a fluff piece much like the latter day teenie bopper movies with Frankie Avalon and that ilk.

My part was the popular class member with lots of girl friends. Unknown to me a girl, who in real-life had been hounding me and whom I had been trying to avoid, was inserted in the cast to follow me around just out of sight throughout the whole play. The audience, composed mainly of high school students aware of the real-life situation, enjoyed the ruse immensely. The laughter that resulted -- sometimes at times I did not expect -- made me think my comedic aptitude was brilliant. Eventually, I was told of the ruse and my ego was somewhat deflated.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Devil and Other Jobs

When I came to Ida Grove the second semester of my sophomore year, I walked in on an apparently volatile situation. An all-school assembly had been scheduled my first day in class and as we filed toward the auditorium, an upper class student stopped us and said, “We are going to do it at 11:05 a.m.” I didn’t have any friends, being so new, and therefore hesitated to ask what was going to happen.

I found out soon enough. The assembly started at 11:00 a.m. and at 11:05, ninety per cent of the student body rose and walked out. It appeared the senior class had a difference about something with the superintendent that was not being resolved and the walkout was in protest over it. I don’t remember the issue now but I suppose I did at the time. Regardless, as a newcomer, I was not about to stay in that auditorium while the majority of kids were united in leaving. We all got suspended of course, but after three days, either a compromise was brought about or the administration relented. At any rate we were re-admitted to school.

That was not a very comforting way to be introduced to my new school, but it did not prove to be a forerunner of further disruptive behavior. As a matter of fact, our class, as well as the ones following us and the one ahead, were generally superior from the standpoint of scholastics and activities. I’ll not include athletics in those groups because the record certainly does not reflect excellence.

As I had in Avoca, I found part-time employment in Ida Grove. It was nearly a repeat of Grandfather’s history as I was taken on as a devil at the newspaper office. My experience as a 12-year-old feeding that small press in Murray should have helped me but performing the same job on a huge newspaper press proved to be more than I could handle. Visualize, if you will, a blank piece of paper the size of your daily newspaper opened up. Take that very flimsy newsprint and guide it into three pins positioned just ahead of the press cylinder, where it is grabbed to be pulled through and pressed against the type forms for printing. That is simple enough -- it you have plenty of time to hit the pins and adjust if you are off.

However, the press runs at a speed to produce 1,500 or so papers per hour. So that means fitting one in place every two or three seconds. Let me tell you, it takes some practice and skill to learn that job and I did not fare well. When you let the paper go through crooked, it tends to tear and go into the ink rollers, thereby creating a mess and a time consuming process to clean up. Later on in my career, I did become proficient in press feeding but only after many frustrating days picking paper out of the rollers.

But for the time-being, I found working in a local grocery store less frustrating and more profitable. I got a job in Pete Besore’s store and after being there awhile I was making $23 week in the summer for a 50-60 hour week. That was more than Mother was making for her two-thirder job, but for only 40 hours, of course.

Pete was a long-time grocer and shuffled around the store like he was on his last legs. But come six o’clock, he would grab his golf bag and out he would go for nine holes before supper.

His son, also called Pete, worked in the store, too. Naturally, he did not have to worry about keeping his job so he was not really an exemplary employee. One Saturday night (we were open until midnight), the elder Pete handed me an extra five outside my pay envelope and walked away. I didn’t say anything -- perhaps because Pete’s wife was the bookkeeper and made out the envelopes -- but the next week, the same thing happened.

I waited for a moment alone with the boss and asked him what was going on. “Well,” he said. “You’ve been doing a good job and I wanted to let you know I appreciate it. Young Pete spends most of his time back on the can reading comic books but I didn’t want Hulga (his wife) to know I was paying you more than him.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

And That Starts with “P”

Hulga was a rather formidable women, both in size and demeanor. Even though the war was over by now, the draft was still on and one of the store’s employees was called. We had a going-away party for him and coming home from the restaurant, Hulga glanced out of the car and remarked about a girl trudging along the street. “She looks like she’s been following the plow all her life,” Hulga said in her own blunt form of talking. “Well,” said our guest of honor. “My family lives on a farm and that’s my sister!” “That’s not the first time I stuck my foot in my mouth and it probably won’t be my last,” said Hulga with no more of an apology.

Pete was a good merchandiser and ahead of his time in some respects. Super markets today stay open 24 hours a day but in small town America in the 40s, Saturday was the only open night, but there was no self serve. The customer came in with a list and a clerk filled it. On Saturday nights the customers would come in early, leave their list and then go to the movie, the tavern, or just visit in the town square, only to come back at midnight to pick up their groceries.

Pete tired of that system, so he put a notice in his newspaper ad that the next week we would close at 8 p.m. and any groceries left in the store would be stacked out front. I think we had one box of groceries left that first week, but after that we were able to get out of the store early and no complaints. Customers can be trained!

Food rationing was still in effect and many items were hard to get. Wholesalers used the situation to get rid of slow moving products. They promised extra boxes of candy bars, or whatever was in short supply at the time, if the grocer would accept these slow movers.

In this situation, we were stuck with a dozen cases of Otoe brand beans that just didn’t sell. Pete told us to build a wooden bin and put it right in the front where customers couldn’t miss it.

“Take the beans and dump them in the bin,” Pete said. “Don’t line them up in rows or anything -- just pile them up”

The beans normally sold for 10 cents a can but Pete made a huge sign that read, “Just In -- New Otoe Beans--2 CANS FOR 25¢.” The beans sold out in three days and we got extra goodies from the wholesaler. The candy bars were used as gifts to customers when they paid their bill at the end of the month.

That was something I still don’t understand. Pete carried them for 30 days without interest and then gave them a bonus. That practice changed, of course, when stores became self-serve and cash or check was required.

Bill O’Brien owned the one pool hall in Ida Grove. He was a large, bald-headed man who ruled his place of business with an iron hand, at least in the eyes of high school kids.

Since I had learned to play pool in Avoca and my dad found Bill’s place to be acceptable, I started frequenting the place when we arrived in Ida Grove and in that way became acquainted faster.

Bill did not allow any horseplay in his establishment and we considered him unduly strict. I learned much later, that for all of his gruffness, his heart was in the right place. Apparently many of his pool-playing high schoolers found him a source of financing when it was time to go to college. Several college graduates owe him their starts in life.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I was still considered new in town when we started our junior year but had become fairly well acquainted during the summer months. Early in the school year all the classes elected officers. Our class of ‘47 had been together for the most part since kindergarten and tended to elect the same group in each class from year to year. Someone got the idea it would be a big joke if they elected the new guy and they got enough votes together to put Ken McCormick in the president’s seat.

I felt quite honored but it didn’t take me long to find out what had happened. It was too late to do anything about it so I served as best I knew how. About all that was required of the junior class president was to conduct one or two meetings, to organize the junior-senior prom, and to give the welcome address at that function.

I assume most of the class members were in on the election joke, but most of them were not aware of how I got re-elected to the senior class presidency.

Having been a carry-over officer, it was my responsibility to assist in the vote counting during the senior class election the next year. Looking back, I can see it was not a very proper election. Instead of nominating candidates, we were simply instructed to write down whom we wanted for president.

Being neophytes, we didn’t realize how fractionalized the vote would be under such a situation. At any rate, when the votes were counted in the presidential race, there were four votes for Ken McCormick, three for Roger Anderson, two each for a couple other classmates and the rest divided one each for as many candidates.

The election committee (composed of myself, Roger, and the class sponsor) determined I was the presidential winner and Roger should be vice-president. The secretary and treasurer were elected on separate ballots.

We didn’t disclose the vote and let the class assume it was a landslide to retain the previous administration in office.

While the senior year was certainly busy from the standpoint of academics and activities, it was a relatively uneventful political two semesters.