Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Big, Stinky Moneymaker on the Hill

Yes, I'm talking about Armour and Company, sitting on the hill just east of town.  Others who grew up in Huron will relate to the "stinky" description.  Let's just say that depending on which way the wind was blowing, the air drifting through town could get fairly aromatic. But it kept the lights on and food on the table in many local households. 

While the Armour plant did not open until 1925, its roots actually go back to 1919, when a co-op of citizens and local farmers decided that the area could benefit from a meat packing plant, and money was raised to construct it just outside of town.  However, it didn't take long for them to realize that besides producing the meat, they needed a way to market their product as well, so the plant was dead in the water before it even opened the doors.

Armour and Company, however, had not only the ability to produce the meat, but had the necessary connections to market their product efficiently.  They purchased the building as it was, but had to make a substantial investment in equipment before opening for business on November 2, 1925.  They processed cattle, hogs and sheep.

They had two clubs for employees, the Armour Athletic Club and the Armour Men's Social Club.  The former sponsored a bowling league, and provided a kittenball diamond on Armour property.  They kittenball team they sponsored in 1938 won the South Dakota state championship.

I was an "Armour's Brat," enjoying the benefits of my father's employment there, as were many of my cousins and friends.  My grandfather, Adolph Hammer, started working there in December of 1950, and my father did as well after his military service, and made a career of it.  Several of my uncles did as well.  We paid $1 for our prescriptions for a long time, and I remember the consternation when the price went up to $2.  The money must have been good, but the work was hard.  I remember many extremely early mornings, when my dad would eat his breakfast around 4 a.m. before leaving for work, or talking about being cold all day when he worked in the freezer.  I remember his back pain, and his sore muscles.  I also recall the stories of practical jokes and all the friendships made with other Armour employees.  The Marvels, Connors, Gundersons, Boghs, Magers ... we all grew up together.

But all good things must come to an end.  The plant closed in the early 1980s, and since then the population of the town has been on the down-slide.  The once impressive, imposing building deteriorated and was eventually torn down, leaving only part of one of the structures.  The empty, gaping hole where it once stood still looks shocking to those of us who had never seen the landscape without it. 

But time marches on. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you…

[Note: George Knutz was my great grandfather's brother]

The year was 1906.  The place was Sedalia, Missouri.  George Knutz, ill after a dog bite, was taken by the night train to Dr. L. E. Stanhope in nearby Nevada, Missouri.  There were plenty of doctors in Sedalia, but none like Dr. Stanhope.  He had a madstone.

George Knutz
Knutz, a carman on the Third street line in Sedalia, was bitten by a local dog known only as “Tramp” on Friday.  By Monday night, his symptoms worsened to the point where he and friend Fred Koyl took the Monday evening train to Dr. Stanhope, who, for $35, would treat him with the controversial stone.

A “madstone,” as the name implies, was used to treat bites that might potentially transmit rabies, or “hydrophobia” as it was also known.  These porous stones were found in the stomachs of cud-chewing animals, but not all of these stones were created equally.  A stone from a white deer was said to be more effective than a stone from a brown deer, for instance.   The stone was boiled in sweet milk until the milk turned green, indicating all poison was removed from the stone.  It was placed hot on an open wound; if the wound had scabbed over, it was re-opened first.  The stone would then adhere to the wound, and draw out any “poisons” that might be present.  When the poison was gone from the wound, or when the madstone was full, it would drop off, and then it could be re-boiled to start the process all over again until the patient was purged of whatever poison had been in the wound.

The process had to be followed exactly, and there were additional caveats.  If the owner of the stone tried to sell it, it would negate the healing power; also, the patient had to come to the owner of the stone, and not vice versa.  Many folklore testimonials can be found attributing miracles to these madstones, while others suggested it was simply placebo, although no amount of placebo can stop rabies.

George Knutz had the madstone attached to the calf of his leg for nine and a half hours, afterward feeling so well that he returned to working his streetcar route on Friday morning.  Dr. Stanhope told him if he had waited another day, his outcome may have been very different.

“There are a great many so-called madstones that are bogus, and, of course, worthless,” stated Dr. Stanhope.  “I have a madstone that has been thoroughly tested, which I apply to bites at a reasonable price, with perfect confidence that it is a sure cure for hydrophobia.”  Besides his usual fee of $10 for the first hour plus $5 for each additional hour, Dr. Stanhope was offering stock in his madstone for the price of $1, which entitled the whole family the lifetime privilege to have the stone applied free of charge for all poisonous bites.

There was no word on the health of the stray dog, Tramp, who bit Mr. Knutz.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Those Bad Vibes

I love genealogy road-trips.  I especially love walking through cemeteries.  It’s so peaceful and quiet, walking past the graves and reading the headstones, and imagining the lives that were lived.  From time to time a family historian will tell of looking for a grave among hundreds of them in a cemetery, and will suddenly find themselves right there  – and they attribute it to their ancestor guiding them to the correct place.  What a lovely, warm-fuzzy, feel-good story.  But have you ever experienced the opposite?

I was doing some research for someone, and took a short day trip to take some cemetery photos.  I love going to new towns and poking around to see what’s there, but from the moment we pulled into this small town, I got the creeps.  Bad vibes.  I was fairly uncomfortable, but there was no obvious reason for having that feeling.  We easily found the cemetery, and I looked forward to getting out of the car and doing some stretching, enjoying the fresh air, etc., and most of all shaking off that creepy feeling. But the bad mojo only got worse at the cemetery.  Typically when visiting a small graveyard, we’ll walk the whole thing and photograph it for Find-A-Grave, but this feeling was so unpleasant that we found the graves we needed, photographed them, and got out of there as quickly as possible.

My research continued at home.  As I learned more and more about the family, I discovered that two of them had terrorized their families and eventually taken their own lives, some 50 years apart.  While both of these men were buried elsewhere,  many of the family members they left behind lived in this town and were buried in this cemetery.    

That is one town, and one cemetery where I’ll never go again.

Similar experiences?

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Perfect Storm

 [Note: The Conductor of Train #412 was my great-great uncle, E. E. Hittle of Huron, South Dakota.  He was married to Maude Graves, sister of my great-grandmother Elvirta Knutz.  As far as I know, he walked away from the crash without injuries.


                Webster defines the term “Perfect Storm” as a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors.  And that is precisely what culminated on the morning of Sunday, April 25, 1937, when Chicago and North Western passenger Train #412 plowed into the rear of Train #504 just west of De Smet, South Dakota, killing one and injuring several others.

                It was described as a “freakish late-April storm” that rolled into the area on Saturday, April 24, bringing strong north winds of 60-65 mph.  Only an inch of snow was deposited in the city of Huron, but massive drifts high enough to cover the fence line could be found east of Huron between Iroquois and De Smet.  Highway 14 was quickly impassable, with dozens of cars stalled and abandoned near Manchester, as their inhabitants made their way into town to catch the eastbound train to their destinations.

Map of pertinent area in eastern South Dakota, courtesy of Google Maps.

                Late Saturday evening, Train #504 left the depot at Huron for its eastward run, hauling a passenger car plus five other cars, with a gas-electric motor coach that was hitching a ride, or “deadheading,” to Tracy, Minnesota, at the end.  All was uneventful but for a few small drifts until they were within three miles of De Smet, when the train met its match in snow and became stalled.  Conductor Arthur Howard, of Huron, and his Engineman Mr. Key, thought the train might have a better chance without the deadheading motor coach, so it was detached and they attempted to thrust the train through the deep snow, but this effort was unsuccessful.  The crew then attempted to get the detached motor car back to Manchester to summon help, but the high winds and heavy snow only allowed about 50 feet of movement before it, too, was stuck.  Engineman Key sent out the flagman to the rear of the train, and they made the decision to have Conductor Howard try to walk the three miles to De Smet for help and to notify the proper people of the stall.

                The Flagman Mr. McIntyre sprang into action to minimize a very dangerous situation.  This area of track was single-rail; trains were operated on a timetable, with train “orders” and a manual block-signal system during the day.  During other times, “time spacing rules” were in effect to prevent accidents.  Flagman McIntyre situated a red fusee (very similar to a flare) about 500 feet behind the train, and continued walking until he found another clear spot on the rail on which to put torpedoes to alert any oncoming trains.  Continuing, he put another two torpedoes down about 1/4 mile from the train, then went back to the train to warm up.  He went out a second time, this time 3/4 mile from the train.  Overnight, he made several trips back and forth, standing guard to get the attention of any approaching train, and returning to his train when his eyes and face were covered with the freezing heavy snow.  In the early morning hours, he and baggage man Fred Behrens, of Tracy, decided to try to get to a nearby farm house in hopes of being able to contact the depots in Huron and De Smet to let them know of their predicament, and bring back some food for the passengers, despite their conductor already being on the way to summon help.  In his absence, Flagman McIntyre enlisted Baggageman Venard to take his place as flagman.  Although Venard’s 16-hour “tour of duty” would soon be expiring, McIntyre did not consider it of importance during an emergency situation, and departed with Behrens. They were ultimately not successful in locating the farmhouse, and leaving Behrends behind, McIntyre proceeded to De Smet. 

                Meanwhile, Venard acted as flagman, but informed Conductor William Innes, who was in charge of the deadheaded motor car, that his 16 hours were nearly up, expiring at 7:40 a.m.  According to Venard, Innes replied that he would take over the flagging duties at that time.  When 7:40 rolled around, Venard came back to the train, and made a sign to Conductor Innes, who nodded back.  Venard took this as a sign that Innes would take over, and he proceeded to the mail/baggage car and went to sleep.

                Sharing responsibility with Innes for the deadheaded motor coach was Engineman Frank Carpenter, also of Tracy.  He and Conductor Innes alternated going to the engine for coal.  Carpenter was preparing for his turn and Innes went to the passenger compartment of the motor car, located at the rear, apparently having no knowledge that there was no longer anyone at all acting as flagman.


Depot and Rail Yard of the Chicago and North Western Railroad at Huron

                Meanwhile, at the Huron Depot, the crew of passenger Train #412 was preparing for its run.  Dispatcher Kelley came on duty at 6:30 a.m., and discussed the situation with the night shift dispatcher, who informed him that all communication east of Huron was down.  However, he had no reason to believe that the previous nights’ train, #504, had not been successful in reaching its destination.  As Dispatcher Kelley was preparing to issue orders for the outgoing train, he was distracted by a train patron inquiring about shipping animals, and he inadvertently issued the conductor a clearance card reading “block clear” rather than issuing a caution order. 

                At 8:18 a.m., Conductor Hittle and crew left the depot 13 minutes behind schedule.  Engineman J. C. Shephard noted the severity of the storm, but the visibility was at least good enough to see the front of the engine, and the train had no trouble attaining its regular speed.  But all that changed as they went through Manchester; the snow on the tracks caused the train to lose speed, and Fireman Hoffman expected a stall, but Engineman Shephard was able to use more steam to get the speed back up and keep the train moving.  Their speed was up to about 20 mph, but visibility was so poor that the front of the engine was now a blur in the blizzard conditions.  


             In De Smet, Train #504 Conductor Howard discovered that communication lines were down in the whole area.  He knew he would not be able to contact the depot in Huron, but was at least hoping to contact someone in Iroquois to warn of the stall.  He stayed in De Smet until 5 a.m., then headed back toward his train, but discovered the drifts had become 2-3’ deep and was forced to return to De Smet.  He was surprised shortly after that when his Flagman McIntyre showed up at the De Smet depot.  When Howard inquired who was doing the flagging, he was told that Venard was handling it.  They were in the train station when the mail clerk came over and told them that the unthinkable had happened.


                There was nothing the crew of Train #412 could have done to stop the crash.  They heard no torpedoes, and saw neither fusees nor a flagman.  After the accident, Train #412’s Flagman Shanahan went to the rear of the train to flag, and found an unexploded torpedo about a half mile behind the train – his train had slid right over it.1  He walked the 6 miles back to Manchester, and his face became covered with ice in the nearly 3 hours it took to get there.

                The deadheading motor car with Conductor Innes and Engineman Carpenter was the first to be hit, and it was hit hard.  Made of steel, it was crushed like a piece of aluminum foil, “telescoping” it.  Conductor Innes was in the rear part of car, and was critically injured.  Engineman Carpenter, in the front part of the car, sustained a broken nose, numerous head lacerations, and bruises.  After the motor car was hit, it propelled into the main train, partially derailing it and causing minor injuries among the passengers.  Had the motor coach not been detached, the situation would have been much more serious than it already was.

                A plea was immediately made in the passenger car for anyone with any medical skill to help.  A young Huron College student, Paul Besselievre of Pierre, was traveling to Irwin, South Dakota to preach a Sunday sermon, and his scouting experience gave him some basic first aid skills.  A nurse, Miss Beulah Vostad of Rapid City, was also aboard.  Nurse Vostad attended to the more seriously injured Conductor Innes while Besselievre cleaned and dressed Engineman Carpenter’s wounds, stating that the hardest part was keeping Mr. Carpenter still – he was compelled to go to the main train to see what he could do to be of service, despite his wounds and dazed condition.  Unfortunately there was not much that could be done for Conductor Innes other than an injection of morphine to ease his pain.  He was talking coherently Sunday night, but took a turn for the worse and passed away the following day.

This was the Perfect Storm of conditions – snow, wind, lack of visibility, downed phone lines, and a number of critical human decisions that went wrong.  The investigation questioned why the flagman would leave his job, which was paramount to the safety of everyone on the train, to duplicate the efforts of his conductor.  His replacement went “off-duty” in an emergency situation.  The next replacement apparently did not know he was expected to act as flagman in addition to what he was already doing.   In a moment of distraction, the depot clerk did not caution the outgoing crew of a potential problem down the line.  These were all factors that came together resulting in a large amount of damage and most importantly, the loss of Conductor William Innes’ life.


1Pg. 63 of Accident Bulletin, Issues 63-82, by United States Federal Railroad Administration, Office of Safety.
                “When a train is stopped by an accident, obstruction, or from other cause, the flagman must immediately go back with stop signals to stop any train moving in the same direction.  At a point one-third of a mile from the rear of his train, he must place one torpedo on the rail; he must then continue to go back at least one-half of a mile from the rear of his train, and place two torpedoes on the rail, 60 feet apart (two rail lengths), when he may return to a point one-third of a mile from the rear of his train, and he must remain there until recalled by the whistle of his engine; but if a passenger train is due within 10 minutes, he must remain until it arrives.  When he comes in he will remove the torpedo nearest to the train, but the two torpedoes must be left on the rail as a caution signal to any following train.  At night he will also leave a green fuse burning on the track.  If there is not a clear view for one-fourth mile to rear of train, the train must start before calling in the flagman, and move ahead at a speed of not less than 4 miles per hour until it reaches a point where the view is unobstructed for one-fourth mile in its rear.”

Monday, January 2, 2017

The 1880 Agricultural Schedule Sheds Light on William Graves

Years ago, I found digital copies of the 1880 Agricultural Schedule for my direct-line ancestors, William Graves and Lawson Lair in Peoria County, Illinois.1  The headings of the schedules were impossible to read, and I wasn’t terribly sure how valuable any of the information would be, so I stashed them to deal with later.  Yesterday I decided to put the effort into seeing exactly what was on those schedules.

William Graves
I was able to find a document online with information on the agricultural schedule and blank forms for several years2; then began the work of going back and forth between the blank form and the schedule until I had extracted the information.  I repeated the process on the second schedule I’d downloaded for Lawson Lair – but discovered that William Graves was also listed on that schedule as well!  Princeville Township only had one William Graves during that time period, so I assumed he had a second farm somewhere in the township.  I was aware that William, through thrift and hard work, had given each of his children (including his daughters) their own 80 acre farm when they became adults.  I began looking at plat maps for various years, and looking at neighbors both on the plat maps and on the agriculture schedules to determine which schedule entry pertained to which of the farms he owned.

As it turns out, one schedule entry notes that William does not own this particular farm, but is leasing it for a share of the profits produced.  Looking at the other entries on the schedule and comparing them to neighbors listed on the plat maps for 1873 and 1896, I was able to determine the farm was located in Section 4 of Princeville Township, land that William owned in 1873 and his daughter Sarah A. Cox owned in 1896.  Sarah was married to Charles Cox in 1874, and may have been given that farm at that time, or at least prior to 1880.

1873 Plat map of Princeville Township, Peoria County, Illinois.  The red "X" in the upper left corner shows the location of land that would later belong to William's daughter Sarah; the green "X" toward the center shows the location of William's farm, with land he'd later give to Tom and Oscar; across the road, denoted by the purple "X" is the land that would later belong to Austin.

The second entry is a bit harder to explain.  Again, looking at those around him both on the schedule and on the various plat maps, this farm appears to be his personal farm.  William had purchased land that was clustered around his primary farm in the western half of section 2 and the eastern half of section 3.  On the earlier 1873 plat map, the section 2 land had been divided into two farms – one owned by his daughter, Martha Cox, and the other in his name.  Later that land would go to his son, Austin, who was just 3 at the time this map was created.  Across the road, in section 3, he owned a 240 acre farm, which would by 1896 have been divided into thirds – 80 acres for his son Oscar, 80 acres for his son Tom, and 80 acres for himself.  But this does not explain the findings on the 1880 agriculture schedule – William’s farm was described as 80 acres.  Twins Austin and Oscar would have been just 10 at the time of the schedule, and Tom would have been 18.  It is conceivable that Tom had gotten his farm by 1880, but unlikely that Austin and Oscar’s would have been in their names.  Perhaps these 240 acres of unaccounted-for land was rented out and appears on the schedule under the renter’s name.  Thus, William’s second appearance on the schedule with 80 acres of land would make sense.

William Graves' land, photo taken about 2007 by author.
Regarding the specifics of William’s farming, he tilled 79 of the 80 acres on Sarah’s farm, but only 30 of his own, keeping the remainder as meadow or pasture.  Each farm produced about $700 for the year in profits.   He kept horses, pigs, and chickens at both places, but also kept cattle on his own farm – 2 cows for milking and 16 others to sell or slaughter.   Butter was produced on his home farm – 150 pounds in 1879. 

Crops grown on both farms include Indian corn, oats, and Irish potatoes (as opposed to sweet potatoes).  100 bushels of apples were sold from the orchard on Sarah’s land, and 125 gallons of molasses were produced from there as well.

Besides an interesting snapshot of what a typical workday for William may have looked like, finding these two entries on the agriculture schedule really forced me to take a good look at William’s land ownership and how his land acquisitions were divided among his children, and when that may have occurred.

I have one question I wish I could ask William’s wife: Who really churned all that butter??

Both these men were great-grandfathers of Bill Knutz Jr.  William Graves’ son Tom married Lawson Lair’s daughter Nettie, and they were Bill’s grandparents.