Bio: Heinz, Peter (1951)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Email: dolores@wiclarkcountyhistory.org  

Surnames: Heinz, Olson, Fowler, Nauertz, Dux, Manz, Marx, Meisner

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI.) February 8, 1951

Heinz, Peter (1951)

WITH ONE FOOT AND TWO EYES GONE, OLD PETE HOPES AGAIN TO MAKE HIS ROUNDS IN NEILLSVILLE: Makes excellent progress after rough encounter with Big Engine - It was a cold 6 p.m. last Wednesday and dark. But the latter didn’t make much difference to Peter Heinz. Pete, as most Neillsville residents know, is totally blind and for years he has been a familiar figure tapping his way along Neillsville streets with his cane.

Pete, who is 72 years old, was following a familiar path to his home at that time Wednesday night. Turn right off West Seventh Street at the Bowman Dairy, cross the railroad tracks, first the spur and then the mainline-across the bridge spanning O’Neill Creek, and then right again at the first walk on the other side which leads to his home upstairs in the Frank Nauertz residence. He had traveled this route many, many times.

Wednesday night though, as Pete reached that North Grand Avenue crossing so familiar to his feet and cane, there came a roaring sound to his ears. He stood there, trying to place the sound. It came from everywhere and in a moment it enveloped him. There was a shrieking of cold steel wheels on frosty rails, and then-nothing. When Pete awoke he was in the Neillsville hospital with his right leg amputated just above the ankle. That’s all that Pete knows about his accident.

The locomotive engineer, E. H. Olson of Altoona estimated that he struck Pete at about two minutes past 6 p.m. as he headed his big switching engine east and ____ town for his night’s work.

The Warning Whistle –As he approached the crossing his headlight showed a man standing on the track, apparently confused. He reached for his whistle cord and gave two or three short waning blasts and shouted from his cab, he said.

When the man failed to respond to the warnings, Olson put on the brakes, hard, but it was too late, to stop.

Somehow Pete managed to hear the thing that was bearing down on him and grab a hold on it; this probably saved his life. He rode the front end of the train for about 50 feet, his leg dragging and dangling off to the side. Fifty–five feet from the side walk is the point at which the spur track from the Van Gorden elevator meets the main line, and it was at this switch that Pete lost his foot.

The locomotive, almost stopped by that time, dragged Pete’s right leg up into the ever narrowing V-shaped frog where the two tracks joined and wedged his foot there. The locomotive, moving its line a few feet before coming to a stop, passed over the foot, almost severing it above the ankle.

The first ones on the scene were Olson, Ray Fowler, the train conductor and the brakeman. In a short time a small crowd had gathered from nearby business establishments. Among the first to arrive were Arthur Dux and Frank Nauertz, Pete’s nephew.

Doctor Kenneth Manz arrived within minutes after being called and Pete was moved to the Neillsville hospital in the Bergemann ambulance and taken directly to the operating room.

Pete loses Eye - Pete (copy too blurred to make out) formerly___ he was born west of Cashton in 1878 and stayed there until he was 23. After leaving home, he worked as a carpenter and did ____ Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. In 1918 (too blurred again to copy) he took _____ .The ____ from his pliers and lashed him in the face, blinding him in the left eye. He finished out the year with the telephone company and then went back to farm work. After a summer in Minnesota he retuned to Cashton to work for the telephone company for three more years.

From there Pete did some wandering, working at saw mills, in lumber camps and on farms. He was working on a farm about three miles from the place he was born when he lost the sight of his other eye. That was in 1938. Pete relates that he was doing chores in the barn by lantern light when he tripped on a plank and struck his eye on the corner of a manger. He could still see daylight for about a year and a half, after that. Then everything went dark.

Total blindness next - Totally blind, Pete lived in and around Wilton for the next three years. The sole income was his blind pension, which, he remembers was about $20 a month at that time.

Then in 1941, Pete came to Neillsville to live with his brother Chris. The next year Chris moved to Montana and Pete moved to his present home. There he lived in two upstairs rooms, except for mealtimes, which he shared with his niece and her family downstairs.

When the weather was favorable he would walk around the town for a couple of hours each day. During the summer he used a white cane with a wide red band around it. For winter he used a heavy white cane with a peg on the bottom for a surer grip on ice and snow.

Wednesday was not the first time Pete has run into trouble on his jaunts through town. In 1943 he got lost along the O’Neill Creek bottoms while on his way home one chilly night and was missing for two hours. More recently, in 1947, he stepped into an open coal chute in the sidewalk and fractured two ribs. He was not hospitalized.

Longs to be on His Way - now Pete’s main thought is to get out of the hospital and take up where he left off as much as possible. He praises the Neillsville hospital and its staff. "They take fine care of me, and have someone to stay with me every night," he told The Press.

His main worry is where the money is going to come from to pay for the care he’s getting. In recent years his pension has been raised to $42.50 a month, but that amount of money doesn’t go very far these days.

Besides his niece in Neillsville and his brother in Montana, Pete has only two relatives - both sisters, One, an older sister, is Mrs. Annah Marx of La Crosse. The other Mrs. August Meisner lived near Viroqua. Pete never married.

One thing is certain, Pete is well on his way to recovery and Neillsville residents won’t be too surprised if next summer, some how, Peter Heinz is making his rounds as usual.

 

 


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