THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty-Five

No. 34

 

October, 2004

 


 

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Depot's 150th Birthday 

A Weekend of Celebrations 

 

vol_45_14.jpgThe celebration of the 150th birthday of the former railroad station that now houses our Depot Museum was

kicked off by a reception on Friday evening, September 10, for the Batavia Park District's board and executive director, the Batavia Historical Society's board of directors, and special guests.

 

These guests included the original purchasers of the recently closed depot in 1966, members of the Blue Ribbon Depot Committee that spearheaded the fundraising needed to move the depot from South Van Buren Street to its present location in 1973, local government officials and members of the Gerald Ruble family. "

 

On Saturday morning, Mayor Jeffery Schielke cut the ribbon opening the Depot Museum's permanent railroad exhibit, "A Ticket to the Past." During the remainder of the day, entertainment was provided by Larry Penn and Mark Dvorak, and there were refreshments, door prizes, tours and activities.

 

The fall meeting of the Batavia Historical Society the next day featured an unusually interesting andinformative presentation, "The History of the Burlington Railroad and Roundhouse," by John Jaros, executive director of the Aurora Historical Society.

 

Approximately one hundred members and guests attended th is special event and enjoyed the light refreshments and-the-chance10 talk with John Jaros -- and their friends -after the presentation.

 

The depot's birthday was marked by proclamations, plaques and letters of congratulation from the President of the United States, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, the State of Illinois, Kane County, Batavia Township, the City of Batavia, and the Batavia Park District.

 

These were on display throughout the weekend. In addition to those organizations and persons recognized in other stories in this issue, the following ones supported the weekend's celebration:

 

American Bank and Trust Company,

Avenue Chevrolet,

Batavia Township,

Feece Oil,

Joe Marconi

Allison Pellegrino,

Mayor Schielke,

William Wood. None of this would have been possible without the months of planningand p reparation of the Depot Museum's exceptional staff, Director Carla Hill and Chris Winter. Their efforts were present in everything seen and unseen throughout the weekend, and material they assembled has been used extensively in the stories that appear in this issue.

 

They have our thanks.


Annual Potluck Dinner

 

Mark Your Calendar

 

The highlight of the Society's year, the annual potluck dinner, will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday,

December 5, at Bethany Lutheran Church. You will receive a notice with details nearer the event, but you should mark it onyour calendar now to avoid possible conflicts.

 


From the Editor

 

We had some big events during the weekend of September 11 and 12 when we celebrated the 150th birthday of the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy station that now houses our Depot Museum. Because we wanted to cover these events and related stories in some detail, we have been forced to defer some articles that would otherwise have appeared in this issue,most notably the second installment of our series on the VanNortwicks ofBatavia.

 

These wi ll be included in the next issue. By coincidence, however, you will find the story of John VanNortwick's role in the purchase of the Pioneer, Chicago's and Batavia's first steam engine, in a story with that name. Our desire to include complete coverage of the 150th birthday celebration, coupled with your editor's departure for a vacation immediately afterwards, has resulted in this issue reaching you later than usual. For that we apologize, but hope the resu lt makes the delay worthwhile.

 


The Former Railroad Station That Is Now

the Batavia Depot Museum

 

A Brief History

 

By the early 1830s, steam railroads were being constructed in the United States, and by 1840 there were more miles of railroads in the nation than canals. Railroad fever was raging through the states of the old Northwest Territory, including Illinois, because they were efficient movers of people and freight, relatively unaffected by the winter ice and snow that slowed stagecoaches and stopped canal and river boats altogether. By 1870 three railroad lines served Batavia: The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy ("C B & Q"), the Chicago and North Western, and the Ottawa, Oswego and Fox River Valley. These railroads shared in the moving of passengers and Batavia's major exports: quarried limestone, paper, windmills and wagons.

 

The oldest of these railroads was the C B & Q (originally the Aurora Branch Railroad), over whose tracks the first train arrived in Batavia on September 2, 1850. When it left for 'Turner Junction (now WestChicago), it was powered by the doughty little engine, the Pioneer, pulling one car. Batavia's John VanNortwick, who as chief engineer of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (predecessor to the Chicago and Northwestern) had negotiated the purchase of the Pioneer in 1948 from the Michigan Central arranged its use by the Aurora Branch for this occasion. vol_45_18.jpg

 

VanNortwick was later to serve the CB&Q as president for eight years. Four years later, the C B & Q built its station on Prairie Street; it was to become the oldest station on that railroad's line.

 

It had a station agent for 109 years -from 1857 until it was closed to operations in 1966. In that year, twenty local businessmen, headed by Phil Elfstrom and Art Swanson,I contributed $50 each to purchase the building and preserve it for Batavia.

 

It was estimated that $31 ,000 would be needed to move the building to a more advantageous spot on the pond, which was owned by the Park District.

 

A "Blue Ribbon Committee"2 spearheaded the fundraising, which was accomplished with wide community support. The Furnas Foundation donated $5,000 outright, with matching funds until the goal was reached. On October 10, 1973, theold depot journeyed through downtown Batavia, "nine blocks, one hill and a bridge away," to its destination on Houston Street. In 1979, the Depot Museum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The original purchasers other than Elfstrom and Swanson included William H. ("Scoop") Clark, Robert A. Becker, Clifford V. Anderson, Roy David, John T. Lincoln, Victor E. Anderson, Hertha Mullins, Philip B. Carlson, William L. Laird, Bert L. Johnson, William Rachielles, Donald L. Peterson, LeRoy H. Feece, Phipps Department Store, Batavia Bank, First National Bank, Hubbard's Home Furnishings and Batavia Savings and Loan. 

 

The Blue Ribbon Committee included Dave Sawitoski, Walter Kauth, Marlene Rotolo, Skip Greviskes, Harold Patterson, Paul Johnson, Philip Becker, Mrs. Melton Ambel, Robert Phelps, Robert Riley, Phillip Talbot, Nancy Allen, Ruth Burnham, Daniel Holbrook, Sue Waterfield and Gerald Ruble.

 


Railroad Arrives in Batavia September 1850

 

The following article appeared in theAurora Beacon in September of 1850. The "steam horse' referred to was the

Pioneersteam engine (see story elsewhere on its purchase by John VanNortwick), which is currently on display at the Chicago Historical Society.

 

A large number of citizens turned out on Thursday last, to join in celebrating the opening of the Aurora Branch Railroad as far as Batavia. The importance of the occasion seems to have been duly appreciated by neighboring towns, and particularly by Chicago, a delegation of some four hundred being present from that city. As we were unable to attend the Celebration, we adopt the report published in the Chicago Tribune, the writer of which, at least, appears to have enjoyed himself: At nine o'clock A.M., between three and four hundred of our citizens presented themselves at the depot. The morning was beautiful after the thunderstorm of the previous evening, and the gay party were rapidly whirled along by the untiring sinews of the steam-horse. At twelve M. (a.m.) they arrived at Batavia, where they were greeted by the firing of cannon, and the joyous acclamations of the assembled multitude.

 

Two tables, some fifty feet in length, had been laid for dinner in the beautiful grove which crowns the bluff on this side of the river, just before you enter the town, and at half past one o'clock, the guests of the Batavians, having been formed in procession, the ladies of course being in advance, marched to the table to the inspiring music of the Aurora Brass Band (which by the way, discoursed most exhilarating melody), where they stood up to a sumptuous entertainment consisting of substantial meats, tame chickens, prairie chickens, pies, puddings, besides many lesser and more delicate "fixin's." Everybody was hilarious and satisfied The cravings of appetite being satisfied, Messrs. Farnsworth, Parks, Wilson, Buck, and Dr. Hard successivelyaddressed the assemblage inneat, appropriate speeches.

 

That of the latter was especially terse and appropriate to the occasion. After dinner, the Batavians took a free ride to [Turner] Junction, the whole town apparently turning out on the occasion. The cars were crowded inside, and on every square foot of the roofs was stowed the living freight. After they were gone, we took a walk around the town, and it seemed to be almost completely deserted of inhabitants. The visitors amused themselves in various ways. Ladies and gentlemen promenaded through the charming grove, admiring its beauties, and the general appearance of the town; some stretched themselves under the trees, to watch the play of light and shade and listen to the gentle hum of summer life; some strolled around the town; and a few indulged in the amusement of rowing in the river. On the return of the Batavians from the Junction, the following sentiment was read by the President; "The Aurora Band -- May they ever prosper.

 

They are entitled to our thanks fortendering their services on this occasion." Three enthusiastic cheers were then given to the band. Near the grove where the dinner was served, the Ladies of Batavia held their Fair, which was really a very fine affair. The articles, consisting of quilts, counterpanes, children's clothing, toys &e., were numerous and beautiful, and did great credit to the industry and skill of the ladies by whose nimble and delicate fingers they were made. At 5:00 o'clock P.M., the Chicago party started for the city, very tired in body with the day's entertainment, but very happy in spirit. On the way a meeting was called in the cars, presided over by Dr. C.v. Dyer, and of which Alexander Officer was chosen Secretary, the object of which was to give some expression of thanks to the citizens of Batavia for their kind and hospitable treatment of their Chicago visitors. On motion, a committee of five was named to draft resolutions for the purpose. Arrived at the station at half-past seven, and departed to their several homes in a happy frame of mind, and with pleasant reflections upon the socializing influence of railroads.

 

 


Our Railroad Exhibit

 

vol_45_15.jpgDespite the importance of railroads to Batavia's history

and the fact that our museum is housed in a former depot, railroads had never been featured in the Depot Museum until September 11, 2004 when the permanent railroad exhibit,

 

 "A Ticket to the Past," was dedicated. The last agent

for the depot was Charles Hodson, who worked in that position from 1964 until the depot closed in 1966.

 

Chuck donated many artifacts that are part of the new exhibit; and in honor of his memory, his wife, Bea Hodson, donated the money to purchase the mannequin at the ticket window n a figure so lifelike that it startles visitors when they turn to the right on entering the museum.

 

Gerald ("Jerry") Ruble, whose storyappears elsewhere in this issue, was a longtime railroader, who worked for 43 years for the Milwaukee Railroad, the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad,

and the Nickel Plate Railroad. The basement of his home became a museum called the "Caboose," which housed the hundreds of railroad items that he had collected during his career. When Jerry died in 1997, it was his wish that many of hisrailroadartifacts be donated to the Depot Museum.

 

It is those artifacts that became the basis for the permanent railroad history exhibit that was dedicated on September 11. Others who have made donations to the-exhibit include;

 

Batavia Township,

Phil Elfstrom,

Richard Featherstone,

Jon Habegger,

Jim Johnson,

Peter Johnson,

Bob Mabbs,

N. W. McGeachy

Pat Torn,

Bill McGrath,

Jim Nies,

Don Pelletier,

Marilyn Robinson,

Bob Roehrig,

Ted Schuster,

the Troutt family

and Leo Zucker.

 


 

Jerry Ruble  - Collector of the Railroad Artifacts

That Are the Foundation of Our Railroad Exhibit

 

The following story is an abridged version of material provided by Jerry Ruble's daughter, Betty Lou Snyder, in connection with the dedication of the permanent railroad exhibit.

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Gerald Carlyle ("Jerry") Ruble was born at home on November 5, 1905 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, to an Irish immigrant mother, Elizabeth and a father, John, from Stockton, Illinois. Jerry's railroad career began in September of 1927 as a clerk with the Milwaukee Railroad in Minneapolis.

 

By January 1, 1928, the job he had hoped for as Chief Clerk for a small eastern line, the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, was his. In June 1937, Jerry was promoted to freight traffic representative with an important territory that included northwest Indiana, east to South Bend and west to Salt Lake City totaling eight states and half of the city of Chicago.

 

In 1949 the Nickel Plate Railroad merged with the Wheeling & Lake Erie. It was then that he asked for, and was given, the northern half of Illinois from the Fox River, west to the Mississippi River including Dubuque and Clinton on the Iowa side. Eager to escape Chicago's congestion, in December of 1950, the Rubles moved to Batavia.

 

In 1955 Jerry built a new home on North Avenue and began converting the basement into an entertainment! museum room based on a railroad theme and called it the "Caboose." The room housed the hundreds of railroad items that he had collected during his career. On November 30, 1970, Jerry retired from the railroad after 43 years. He was a dedicated museum volunteer and a forever railroad enthusiast.

 

He also seNed on the "Blue Ribbon Depot Committee" that was responsible for the decision to make the old station into Batavia's museum. When Jerry passed away on January 4, 1997, it was his wish that many of his railroad artifacts be donated to the museum.

 

It is those artifacts that be came the basis for the permanent railroad history exhibit which we recently dedicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Pioneer

The First Steam Engine to Leave Chicago

And the First to Arrive in Batavia

 

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As described in "Railroad Arrives in Batavia: September 1850" in this issue, Pioneer was the steam engine,now on display at the Chicago Historical Society, thatpulled the first train into Batavia in 1852. A prominentearly Batavian, John VanNortwick, chief engineer of apredecessor of the Chicago and North Western and laterpresident of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, was instrumental in making the Pioneer available for this historic run.

 

The following story is taken from Pioneer Railroad:

 A Story of the Chicago and North Western System by Robert J. Casey and W. A. S. Douglas, with some abridgments, rearrangement and updating. The book is available at the Gustafson Research Center.

 

In the summer of 1848, William B. Ogden, the first

mayor of Chicago and now president of the predecessor

of the Chicago and North Western, ordered Chief

Engineer John VanNortwick to go look for a locomotive

-- a secondhand locomotive, to be paid for by stock.

"That's a difficult order to carry out," the railroad's chief engineer told its president. "Railroads, as you know, Mr. Ogden, are sprouting up all over the Middle West.

 

A good many of them seem to have more money than we have; possibly because they are projects fostered by eastern bankers and not, as in our case, by the people along what is to be our right of way. Cars I can get you. Locomotives, that's something else again. But I'm on my way." VanNortwick lunched at the Tremont House that day and by lucky chance ran into an acquaintance, Robert Mahan, paymaster for the Michigan Central Railroad. "Yes, we've got some light engines," said Mahan in reply to VanNortwick's query. "Good enough for those ten miles of strap rail you're starting off with. We're getting new stuff from Baldwin any day now. How many of the hugger-muggers do you want? Four be enough?" "One will be quite enough," replied VanNortwick modestly. "You've got to crawl before you walk, leap, or run. Just a little farm-to-market railroad, Mahan."

 

"Well, if it's crawling you want," replied the Michigan Central paymaster, "we've got it. Cash on the barrelhead, I suppose." "We'll pay you in stock," replied VanNortwick firmly. Mahan's ardor cooled slightly, and he said the matter would have to go to higher quarters.

 

In the meantime, would the engineer come out to New Buffalo and look over an engine or two? Van Nortwick was agreeable. In the Michigan Central yard he found what he was looking for -- the first locomotive of the Chicago and North Western Railway System! All engines had names in those days and this humble hauler of ties and rails and working men was no exception; it was called Alert, Mahan had neglected to mention that Alert was a used engine when the Michigan Central had bought it from the Utica and Schenectady Railroad two years before.

 

As a matter of fact, when VanNortwick first looked it over, Alert had already put in eleven years of grueling service; when its purchase was finally approved by President Ogden ibtubteacatmhierdhnaontd a esnegcionnedh-a- nwdhicehngwira\s-'J) nothing to its discredit. Alert had been built to last; it still lasts at the ripe old age of 167! VanNortwick did some scurrying back and forth between Chicago and New Buffalo.

 

The purchase price was finally settled at 40 shares of stock, par value per share one hundred dollars; the chief engineer had a new name plate made, and Alert became Pioneer. The first engineer was John Ebbert. Ebbert lived to exhibit his engine at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, passing on six years later. But his iron horse, the first locomotive to pull a train out of Chicago, showed up again at the St. Louis Fair of 1903 and at the second Chicago World's Fair in 1933. In 1948 it made its bow to the public again at the Chicago Railroad Fair, and it now resides permanently at the Chicago Historical Society.

 


 

The Wolcotts

An Update and Some-Corrections

 

The January and April issues of this year carried a story of the Wolcotts in Batavia. Roger Derby of Memphis, Indiana, a

Wolcott descendant, has provided us with some corrections, as well as some interesting additional information that we wish to share with our readers.

 

Roger is a son of Malcolm ("Bud") Derby, who lived on South Batavia Avenue until 1970 and was well-known to many of our members. Bud's mother, May Wolcott Derby, was a daughter of Henry Kirke Wolcott and Helen Newton Wolcott. Roger writes about his paternal grandfather, another Roger Derby: "I was told that the Derbys were just passing through Batavia on their way to California where they settled and proliferated. Roger Edsel Derby was so besotted by May that he returned from California and persuaded her to marry him.

 

This was not Henry Kirke Wolcott's idea of a good match, but May was never a docile child." In our story, we wrote: "His [Henry Kirk Wolcott's] family does not seem to have left much of a mark on Batavia -- possibly there was enough money that the sons did not feel compelled to work. As Ollie recalls about one of them, 'I don't know what Elbert did; the whole time I knew him he was retired.''' On the basis of information that Roger has provided, our treatment of that branch of the family, and particularly Elbert, was unintentionally cavalier and unfair.

 

Roger wrote: "My father's 'Uncle Bert' L'ved a couple of doors south of us, and as Ollie said, he was retired, but only after a successful career as a consulting engineer. (He would have been nearly 70 when Ollie got out of the army in 1945.) Uncle Bert held several patents and was part of a small corporation which designed and supervised the installation of coaling and watering stations for the many steam locomotives crisscrossing the county with passengers and freight before and during World War II."

 

We are glad to give this member of the Wolcott family the credit he obviously deserved. Roger goes on to provide information on his parents, Bud and Sylvia Derby: "Bud and Sylvia Derby were very active in the Batavia social scene for thirty years. Bud enjoyed the SPEBSQSA, was a member of the school board, and was active in the First Methodist Church. These were his spare time activities after commuting to Chicago daily and using evenings and weekends to take care of the books and the banking related Pthecattle'feeding operation that he and his brother owned near Creston, Illinois.

 

In Chicago, his prime account was the Tribune Tower, but as he rose to vice-president, he added other clients; e.g., The Wrigley Building, John Hancock, the Marina Towers, etc." Roger sent us an excerpt from his mother's busy calendar, which included attending a variety of meetings and teaching Sunday School. He ends with the note: "One of Sylvia's continued problems was keeping track of which meeting was which since the same ladies attended most of them She only served hard liquor to the WCTU once, though."

 

Roger's letter included a correction of our reporting that Bud died in 1970; he wrote: "Actually [he] died in 1986. in the 1970s Bud and Sylvia were persuaded that the site of Henry Kirke's mansion was to be converted to a shopping center and that the area was to be rezoned for commercial use. Potential investors wanted his house for office space. After I declined his offer of the house (a maintenance nightmare with horrendous heating bills) on the basis that Batavia Avenue was too busy for my three young children, he bought a condominium at 1 Normandie Drive in Sugar Grove and sold the house."

 

In 1983, Bud and Sylvia moved to a'retirement community in Lombard; he died in 1986 and she survived until 1999. We are certainly glad that Bud enjoyed sixteen more years of lifethan we allowed him. Richard J. Nealis, owner of the building at 510 South Batavia Avenue, has also written us regarding the story on the Wolcotts. He writes: ''The 510 property was build by [Henry Kirke Wolcott's] son, Frank Wolcott, in 1903. I have a deed in 1924 where his wife, Clara, as administrators of his estate, sold the property of J.K. Wolcott.

 

The article states that H.K. was born in 1840, so at the time he purchased the property he would have been 84 years old. The Wolcott ownership came to an end in 1950 when a Nora Wolcott sold the property to a Roger and Mary Mullen:' It would appear that, at one time, much of South Batavia Avenue must have been a private Wolcott preserve!

 


 

FIRES OF 1903

Marilyn Robinson

 

Batavia suffered several damaging fires in the summer of 1903. May 20, the factory buildings, boiler room, and barn belonging to Williams & Son's Greenhouse Company on Batavia Avenue and First Street were destroyed.

 

The fire was discovered about 1:30 a.m., and the alarm was sounded. The fire company prevented the numerous adjoining frame buildings from burning, including the residence, greenhouses and office, so the company's numerous flowers and plants were not badly injured. The fire had such headway that the firemen were unable to save the horses housed in the barn, and they perished in the flames. Less than two weeks later, the store building and granary of Charles

 

Johnson, a west side lumber dealer, was discovered to be on fire at 11:30 the night of June3. The fire company immediately responded, but the fire was so far along that thelumber house and granary was consumed by the flames along with their contents-25,000 feet of lumber and 500 bushels of corn. The C. B. & Q. freight carstanding near the burning building was also badly damaged.Friday morning, July 31, about 3:30, a fire was discovered in the barn of CharlesPierce on South Batavia Avenue by a neighbor, George Guy. Again the alarmwas immediately given, but the fire was so far advanced that Pierce's horse, them one he drove for his mail-delivery, perished. The barn on Nelson Wolcott's place,adjoining the fire, was also damaged, but the fire company was able to preventthe fire from spreading further. No cause for any of these fires was known.


Membership Matters and Contributions

 

Since the last issue, we have added the following new life members (all formerly annual members and from Batavia unless otherwise noted):

 

Eugene and Jeneva Becket,

Carol Birch,

Ray Bristow, and Jim and Carol Hansen (Winnetka).

 

Other new members include Stacy Cisneros (East Dundee),

Jeanne (Johnson) Hunt (Escondido CA -- gift from Robert C. Johnson), Nancy (Campbell) Janike (Lincoln, NE), David and Romona Camarata James (Indianapolis, IN),

Colin and Lisa Johnson (gift from Bob and Sharon Pikrone),

Alyce Konen (Aurora),

Forrest and Carolyn Nelson,

Gail B. Peyton (Lexington, KY),

Johanna E. Rawlings,

Lawrence and Patricia Rittle,

Richard Schroeder (Georgetown, TX),

and Larry Wicklund (Medford, OR).

 

We regret to report the deaths of longtime members Frank I. Olson and Helen Bernice Olson.

 

Memorial gifts have been received for

 

Archie Bentz from Pearl J. Blass;

for Ray Anderson from Ruth D. Burnham;

for Walter Kauth frpm Ruth D. Burnham,

Roger and Pam Carlson,

Jerry D. and MaryT. Harris,

and John E. and Cynthia Teegarden;

for Elliott Lundberg from Ruth D. Burnham and Roger and Pam Carlson;

for Adelaide Nelson from Ruth D. Burnham;

and for Frank Olson from Carole and Marvin Dunn,

Philip B. Elfstrom, and Marilyn G. Robinson.

 

A $500 contribution was received from the Furnas Foundation at the direction of Ted Clauser.

 


A Boy's Memories of His Father

And the Old A. E. & C. Power Plant

William F. Cavender

 

William Cavender, a 1951 graduate of Batavia High School, is a retired psychiatrist now living in Alexandria, Virginia. He has provided us with his memories of the old Aurora, Elgin & Chicago power plant located south of Batavia on the east side of Batavia where his father, Max Cavender, worked for many years.

 

 

My father, Max Robert Cavender, a second generation Batavian, worked for the A. E. & C., then the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois for forty-seven years before his retirement because of illness in 1959. My memories are enhanced by some old newspaper clippings and pictures from my parents' photo album. One picture is especially intriguing because it is of the interior of the building back at the time when it was filled with generators. I, born in 1933, remember it after it stopped generating electricity but still had three or so turbines I went there often with my father on weekends when he needed to make a brief visit to check on something. Occasionally, I would go with my mother during the day to deliver Dad his lunch. vol_45_19.jpg

 

I remember that black, standard lunch bucket with the vacuum thermos inside. On a typical visit, we drove south on River Street to turn right down the steep cinder and rock driveway to the plant. Parked in the yard before some large metal double doors, we walked to our right up cement steps to the entrance, a green painted metal door with an opaque upper half window. My fatherhad the key. He would open the door, and I would step across the high threshold into a world of its own wonder: there were the steady hum of the turbines, loud but welcoming; the sweet smell of ozone and the engulfing warmth that was never too much, especially agreeable on a cold winter day.

 

 

We walked on the cement floor (it seems to me the floors were painted either dark green or a dark red) to metal steps that went up to the control room high on the right. Inside there the smell and the warmth continued, the hum was less. I do not remember more than one man on duty; he was usually sitting at a small wooden desk at the far wall, with large windows overlooking the river. There was a tall bank of gauges, dials and manual switches at the wall overlooking the interior of the building. What was most pleasing to me was to go to the water cooler, pull down one of the flimsy, cone-shaped paper cups, hold it under the spigot, press the button, and listen to the gigantic gurgle and watch the huge bubble rise to the surface while the icy water filled the tiny cup. The taste was exceptional -- as are many memories from one's childhood. The third rail tracks ran parallel between the building and the river. Outside, we would walk down the cement steps onto a path that crossed the track between a break in the third rail (that was a thrill in itself). My dad and his coworkers took pride and pleasure in the lawn that stretched down to the river. It was lush green and mowed. During the war (WWII, this is) they had rather large victory gardens planted up closer to the tracks. There was a small brick building at water's edge -- in goodshape, though I believe it had no use at that time except, perhaps, for storing yard maintenance equipment.

 

The river behind the dam was broad and placid. There were a few large trees at water's edge, and an occasional fisherman not catching much. During the winter, that pond of water became a splendid place when it froze over and the strong wind kept it clear of snow. That is where I learned to skate. Dad was a skater, as were so many people who grew up in our town blessed by the Fox. We were bundled up -- not excessively -- and sat on the bank to put on our black shoe skates. Dad would then stride out onto the ice, and I would watch. I never saw him so free and easy, gliding along, doing a few cross cuts, skating backward, digging the blades to a halt and beckoning to me, "Come on out." I did and before long could pretty much keep up with him. I was probably five or six.

 

 

The ice was generally smooth as glass, dark green, glistening, marked by frozen ripple and the white slashes of our skate blades. Sometimes my sister would be with us. Mother did not skate. Otherwise, I remember not one _ other soul on that paradise. It was just ours. In later years, at times, when unsure that I could do something, I would envision that scene: my father standing far out on the ice, smiling, beckoning. "Come on, you can do it." And, I would. After the skating,the usual stop in the plant warmed us immediately, and I had my cup of delicious, ice cold water. Then, it was back to home. My father went on to work as a supervisor out of offices in West Chicago and Maywood. He even had a company car, which was rarely used for anything but his daily business traveling to the office and various substations in his territory. There were a few nights when he was called out for an emergency. On one occasion, the shaft on a large generator in a town closer to Chicago exploded. I'm sure there were casualties. He was gone many hours. Other employees, Les Updike and Ira Willis, lived just north of us on Prairie Street. Les was a lineman expected to be at his best when the weather was the worst. How did they do it?

 

The Willises bought a "mom and pop" phone company in Wisconsin, moving away. There were frequent visits with and from other company employees. My father's long career with on company may never be repeated by anyone of the younger generations. He and my mother always seemed very satisfied with his job, and it saw us well through the depression years when so many others were without work. Reading the Winter 1999 issue of Fox River Lines magazine, I was surprised to learn of the many fatalities suffered at the plant. I vaguely knew my father had sustained burns once. I am told my late uncle, Walter Stephana, was working with him at the time and ran for help. I recall no evidence of scarring on Dad. There was a hint of family myth that it was after that his hair turned completely white. Maybe, but that did not explain why his sisters' hair also turned white at an early age. Sympathetic? Doubtful. I have driven by the place where the power plant stood for so many years, and though the space is now occupied by other enterprises, there still stands in my memory that grand building with its magnificent smoke stac" the smell, the warmth, the hum, the lawn, the river, the skating -- all alive and very well.


My Fathers Land

 

Memories of Helen Bartelt Anderson

 

 

Much work would be needed on the land when the time and ground were right. Papa would plow or disc the field. The finishing touch would be to smooth out all the lumps and rough spots with the big rakes or the drag. Papa was proud of the work he and his horses had done. He would say, "In the morning I will begin to plant." But in the morning, it rained. Delay! Disappointment! That passed. In a few weeks, we could see the tiny shoots of corn in perfect rows. I asked, "Papa, how did you make the rows so straight?" He replied, "When I plant the first row, I keep my eyes on Lyle Hawks' elm tree:' Our horses seemed to understand, too, and walked straight toward the elm tree. When the corn was about six to eight inches high, the weeds were beginning to grow faster than the cord. It was time to get out the cultivator, with our horses Chuck and Coaly again ready to obey Papa's directions. They rarely stepped on a single plant. This had to be done one more time before the corn was too tall. Canadian thistles were also a menace. They had to be chopped out by hand so as not to damage the one and a half foot corn that was now too tall for the cultivator. Mama was a pretty good weather predictor. She watched the sky and read the predictions in the BeaconNews. Still, many stormy days came when Papa had just cut a field of hay. There was nothing to do but wait for the sun to dry the hay.

 

Farm work in the '20s was incredibly hard, with long, long days and aching muscles. From early in the morning until after sunset, the cows had to be milked and other animals cared for. I have often wondered about my

parents' great addiction to the farm. They were always looking forward to the coming season, no matter how tired they were. Was it the miracle of harvesting the seeds in the fall, planting the same seeds the next spring, then harvesting the increase over and over, year after year? The land was to care for -- to love. On a spring day late in April, our son Jim took us for a ride going west on route 38 to Sycamore. I could not take my eyes off the velvety fields that had been prepared for planting. Only the monster instruments of today's industry could perform with such perfection. ln a few weeks, my visual pleasure included tiny shoots of corn in perfect rows. Weed control and fertilizer added at the time of the corn planting meant that the ground probably would not be disturbed until harvest. If only Papa could see this! But would he have traded his farm with all the hard work and aching muscles -- his closeness to the land and the animals and his almost innate sense of the rhythm of the seasons -for today's beautiful mega farms with their newly painted building and wellkept lawns? Papa's answer: "Most definitely not." He was a man of the soil.