Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
August 25, 1999, Page 14
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
Childhood Memories of the ‘30s – Things We Did & Rules We Lived By
(As grandparents, our grandchildren may ask questions, such as: “If you didn’t have TV when you were a kid what did you do?” or, “Did you really walk three miles to school” or other questions pertaining to our childhood activities.
I’m sure many of us will agree that we had enjoyable childhoods with many fun experiences without a TV. We created fun things to do with our imaginations and ingenuity much of the time. The surroundings in which we lived differed somewhat from today’s settings which set the stage for various escapes. Kids in each neighborhood gathered to share some fun times.
Someone who has been a life-long resident of Neillsville recently shared some of her childhood memories reminiscent of the ‘30s era. D.Z.)
Every house, or neighbor’s house, had a hand pump set on a platform over a dug well conveniently located near the back door. The cast iron pump handle that seemed to weigh a ton when lofted up for the pumping action to draw up water from the well, rewarded our efforts with the best ever tasting water. The well water was preferred for drinking over the city water tapped into each household.
On hot summer days, kids cooled off by swimming in O’Neill Creek or the Little Eddy on Black River. The older boys used the Hewett Street Bridge railing as their diving board, jumping into the creek’s water below. Swimming trunks were last year’s jeans or bib overalls cut off at a comfortable length for the boys. Mothers would set out their laundry tubs on the lawns filled with water for kids to sit in and cool off.
A great exploring adventure was to be had by touring the Goose Creek tunnel. The tunnel started its underground route along the Grand Avenue and Fourth Street intersection, coming above ground again near Sixth Street, behind the present site of Bob and Caryl’s IGA. One by one, the kids would crawl through the Grand Avenue opening dropping down to the tunnel floor. Making their way toward the exit, there was a small opening at the top of the tunnel which was located in the Fullerton Lumber Yard, amongst the lumber storage sheds. Of course, the tunnel tours were made in early evening hours, after the businesses were closed for the day. As each kid climbed up into the lumberyard, they walked around looking over the yard’s sheds and contents, knowing they should only look. An unfamiliar squeak or noise would send the kids scurrying for the tunnel in retreat.
As there was no TV, which was nice – on summer evenings the neighbors gathered on porches to visit. The children were reminded that children were to be seen and not heard – in other words, they were not to listen or repeat the overheard exchange of gossip. Neighborhood kids gathered in the backyard to play games, like Moon Light – Star Bright, - Captain May I – Post Office – One potato - two potato – Last couple out, and many more.
Tibbetts Ice and Fuel Company had a house-to-house ice delivery service on summer days leaving customers large chunks of ice for their ice boxes. The kind delivery man would break off little chunks of ice, giving one to each of the kids who gathered around his truck. They would run to sit under the nearest shade tree and devour the cool treat.
The heat during the Dust Bowl days was terrible.
Those at home would lie on the floor in the living room in the hot afternoons. In the evening, dad would hose down the house, washing it with water to cool it off.
May 1st was May Day. Everyone made and decorated May baskets to be filled with spring flowers and candy. In the evening, they would secretly hang baskets on the door knobs of their friends’ houses. After hanging the basket, they would knock on the door, and then prepare to run away. The basket recipient would come out of the house in pursuit of the giver. If caught, the reward was a kiss or hug for the basket. A May Day celebration was also held at Schuster Park for the younger children. The children danced around a May pole, each hanging on to the end of long streamers attached to the pole. Each year, a queen of May was selected to reign for the year.
The dog pound was kept behind the Neillsville City Hall. Whenever a captured stray dog was placed in the pound, the kids would feel sorry for it, climb over the fence to open the gate and release the dog.
There were no school buses, everyone walked to and from school, even those students who lived three or more miles out in the country. All of the girls wore dresses to school. The high school boys wore dress-up shirts and pants, no jeans, to classes. Boys wearing caps or hats to school had to remove their headwear upon entering the building, just as they had been taught to do when entering any other house or business establishment.
The old school building at Fourth and Court Streets had a beautiful lawn. Supt. D. E. Peters did not allow anyone, and that meant anyone, to walk on it, and no one did. The sidewalks were used in walking to or from the building. The lawn in front of the high school also had a large bed of canna lilies planted by Mr. John Perkins, the Ag teacher, and that too was off-limits to one and all. The school building had two entrances, one to be used by the boys and one by the girls. If anyone went in through the wrong door, they lost conduct points. Kindergarten classes were held in the basement of the Neillsville Public Library. There was a large bell at the top of the school building. Tom Kelly was in charge of ringing the bell and would let the little children take turns helping him ring the bell before school started. Sometimes one of the kids would get overzealous by pulling the rope down too far and the bell would flip up on its top, getting caught in that position. Mr. Kelly then had to climb up into the tower to turn the bell in its downward position. If any student misbehaved in school, he or she would b e spanked with a ruler. Also, if you were punished for misbehaving in school, you knew better than to tell your parents about it, because you would be punished again by them.
The Fourth of July was greatly enjoyed by everyone. Each family bought their own fireworks – Sky rockets, pin wheels, fountains and at least one big firecracker that could blow a tin can higher than the houses. Families got together for picnics.
A special picnic treat was homemade ice cream. The moms prepared the ice cream custard. Some claimed the custard should be cooked first, so it would be creamier and others said that wasn’t necessary, each had their preference. The ice cream mixture was poured into the metal container, then set into the churning tub and it was usually dad’s job to turn the handle of the ice cream maker. The ice cream was frozen when the handle became difficult to turn. The top of the container was taken off and the dasher ws pulled out, then the kids could eat whatever ice cream was left on the dasher. The top was replaced on the container, covered with ice chips, with salt and left for awhile to become more set of frozen. Sometimes homemade caramel was prepared to pour over the dishes of ice cream. The hot caramel was also tasty when poured over a dish of fresh fallen snow.
The aroma of burning leaves filled the air in October. Yards were raked and the leaves were put into a large pile by each family. On a calm still night, the leaves were burned with flames reaching far above the leaves.
A daring adventure never to be revealed to any of the participants’ parents was walking the railroad trestle west of town. It was especially scary to walk the trestle in the spring of the year when the snow-thawing fun-off sent the rushing waters up and over the Black River banks. Walking across the trestle, you tried not to look at the water below as it could make you dizzy.
The hills of Neillsville added to the fun of roller skating in the summer and sledding in the winter. Almost every kid had clamp-on skates, the kind that wee clamped on to leather shoes. After some practice and when you felt you really knew how to roller skate well on the sidewalks, it was time to negotiate the Fourth Street hill. The skater would start from the Farmers Store corner on Hewett Street and skate down to Grand Avenue. If you made the run without falling, you were a full fledged roller skater.
Moms and dads warned their children about the danger of touching metal when out in the freezing weather. Several doubting Thomas’ lost skin from their tongues, left on the iron railing over the Goose Creek Tunnel opening at Grand Avenue.
The kids all got outdoors to build snow-forts in the winter. A fresh snowfall was the time to make snow angels, or play fox and goose on the untouched blanket of snow.
As soon as O’Neill Creek was well frozen over, it was time for ice skating. The wide area on the east side of Hewett Street Bridge made an ideal skating rink. Most of the time, kids took turns shoveling to remove the snow in the readiness for skating. There was no warming house bu that didn’t seem important.
Starting at First Street, three kids on a Flyer sled could ride down Clay Street, not stopping until they reached the County Garage. A running start gave them enough momentum to cross Highway 10 (Fifth Street) on to Sixth Street.
There were few cars driven on the streets in the winter. Most cars were kept in the garage, some set up on blocks ‘til warmer weather. Back then the cars had window shads that could be rolled up or down, like window shades in the houses. Driver’s licenses were 50 cents each. No driver’s test was required nor were there driver’s training classes. Some learned to drive out in an open field, no obstacles to run into.
Most families had a bicycle or two that the kids shared. The neat thing was to have a squirrel tail fastened to the end of the handlebars. The Schwinn bicycles came out with a headlight in the mid ‘30s. With very little or no traffic, bikes could be ridden on sidewalks, down the middle of the streets, even on Highway 10 with the greatest of ease.
The railroad depot was an interesting place to visit. Kids could watch the trains come in, then see the loading and unloading of rail cars. There was a stockyard near by with pens where cattle and hogs were held to be sold and shipped to market.
A little ways beyond the depot to the north, was the city dump. The dump was usually visited at night when the rats were out. The girls held the flashlights, beaming toward the garbage dump, while the boys shot at the rats with their BB guns. There were lots of targets because the ground seemed like it was moving with so many rats.
Another summer night activity was accompanying the family to band concerts held on the Courthouse lawn, once a week. Curiosity of what worship services were like at the Holy Rollers Church on the corner of Court and Fourth Streets, encouraged kids to peek into the windows from the outside. All went well until some adults noticed the window peekers.
Occasionally, children went to the movie theatre on Hewett Street. The boys sat on the left side up front and the girls sat on the right side. If someone was there on his or her birthday, the birthday party group could sit in the balcony and a birthday greeting with the guest’s name was flashed on the screen.
At that time, parents didn’t worry about their children as they went around the city. The only time they became concerned of the kids whereabouts was when a band of Gypsies came into the city. The Gypsies would camp in Schuster Park for a few days, and then kids were warned to kick or yell if a Gypsy tried to kidnap them. Adults were told to be cautious before answering a knock at their doors during their stay in town.
(The children of the ‘30s era, living in Neillsville, had fun-packed childhoods with many memories. Life was by no means dull. D.Z.)
Hewett Street, Neillsville looking to the south with the Merchant’s Hotel visible in the lower right hand corner, circa 1900. The streets weren’t surfaced and the boardwalks were in use. The O’Neill House is partially visible at the left with its balcony roof extended above the nearby tree. B. Dangers Store was on the corner of Seventh and Hewett Streets. (Photo Courtesy of the Webster Photo Collection)
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