Interview with Junior Harmon

(Photos at top: the photo on the left shows the Harmon Movers using 8 teams of horses to move a large building, circa early 1900s; picture in the middle shows Junior sitting on a large stone in front of the Liberty Center Sauerkraut Factory; and the picture on the right shows Junior moving a building up and over a bridge.)(See more photos)

Woodlawn Ave., Napoleon, OH

Interviewed July 22, 2014

Transcribed by Marlene Patterson

KEY
JH - Junior Harmon
MP - Marlene Patterson
EH - Elaine (Mrs. Junior) Harmon
RP - Russell Patterson

 

MP: Today is Tuesday, July 22, 2014 and I am interviewing Junior Harmon, the building mover.

MP: Junior can you tell us your name.

JH: My name is Junior Harmon.

MP: Now where does the Junior come from -  your dad?

JH: Yes, they had an awful time when I was in the service. They all wanted to call me Oscar which is my dad’s name.

MP: So your dad was Oscar.

JH: And my name is Junior.

MP: So your actual name is Junior and is that the name you go by on legal forms.

JH: Right.

EH: That is the only name he has is Junior.

RP: I remember your dad - Oscar.

MP: How did you get into this building moving business?

JH: I guess you could say I was born into it.

MP: Well do you suppose somebody years ago said they needed a building moved and your dad just said I know how to do it.

JH: My dad and his dad were in the building business.

MP: Do you mean your grandfather was in the business too.

JH: Yes my father Oscar and my grandfather Henry.

MP: Henry was your grandfather.

JH: I have that information in those papers.

MP: Do you remember what his first job was? How did they move these big buildings years ago.

JH: We didn’t have modern equipment that’s for sure. Of course we used horse power. We didn’t have the modern moving dollies. We used wooden rollers to roll it onto. It was very primitive.

MP: Like my father always told me that the house that he lived in came across the field a mile south.

RP: No that was Naomi.

MP: No I am thinking of the Riefers farmhouse. Would they have put it on wood boards like a sled and waited until the ground was frozen and used horses to drag it across the ground.

JH: Yes, years ago they had what they called a capstan

MP: What is that?

JH: Nowadays they call it a winch, the only thing nowadays it is in a horizontal position. Back in those days it was in a vertical position and you had to have a timber that stuck through this winch on top and there was a horse that walked around it and that would wind up the cable.

MP: Okay, then how would they get underneath these buildings.

JH: They had what they called jackscrews. It was a matter of digging a hole and sitting that jack in there underneath the house. There would be a bar that went through the head of that jack and when you pulled on that - that is what raised the house up.

MP: That is a good explanation. I can visualize this. Is this basically what you do nowadays.

JH: Oh no, this is all hydraulic now. It is a gasoline powered hydraulic pump that creates pressure that raises the jack up.

MP: It would be considerably easier now.

JH: Oh yes.

MP: That is interesting. I have often thought and wondered how did they moved buildings years ago.

JH: It is a lot different than it used to be.

MP: I am sure of that. I do know that at one time you lifted up an old Victorian home on West Washington Street. The owners put a new basement in. You totally lifted up the house. Was it up high enough so you could get under it to get your equipment in.

JH: We used a skid loader to get underneath the house. We dug out the dirt and the old foundation. We held the house up on blocks.

MP: I don’t believe there was even a window broken in the house.

EH: He always tells the ladies to sit a glass of water on the table and he won’t spill it.

MP: I can believe that.

JH: I probably shouldn’t say this but we got some work over in Bryan, Ohio from an auctioneer. It wasn’t him, but one of his friends. He went into the kitchen and set a glass of water on the table. He filled that glass so full that another drop would have spilled it. Well, my brother saw that and he went over and dumped the water out. When the day was over he went and refilled the glass with water. We never disturb the dishes in the cupboard.

MP: I would say you are a master at moving buildings.

JH: I don’t know about that.

RP: You are a master at driving that truck. When you moved the gazebo at the fairgrounds you lined your truck up and drove straight back. It was perfect.

MP: If you had missed your target you would have knocked over one of the posts.

EH: He had been over there at the fairgrounds on Sunday working. He measured. He does his homework.

MP: Before he even begins to move buildings.

JH: Did you see those paint marks on the grass by the gazebo?

RP: No.

JH: I went over to the fairgrounds and painted thin strips of paint on the grass so I would know where to go.

MP: That is great.

RP: You did a perfect job backing that truck up and stopping on the right spot.

MP: The volunteers have it almost finished. Not everything will be done for the start-up of the fair, but almost everything. That big finial on the top of the gazebo was rotted through.
A volunteer will be making a reproduction, which I believe is almost finished now. It is just a matter of getting it painted and set in place so it lasts another hundred years.

JH: It is just a matter of fastening the posts down and we will be taking that truck out of there Wednesday morning.

MP: It’s becoming a fixture over there.

JH: Right, it is.That house you were talking about is on the corner of Washington and Haley Avenue.

EH: There was a big fireplace in the basement.

JH: We have pictures you know.

EH: They are in some of those books you have down in your basement.

JH: I have a lot of books down there.

MP: I can just imagine you took photos of all of your jobs.

JH: Not all of them, but pretty much all of them.

MP: About what year did you start moving buildings? Probably when you were about 15 or 16?

JH: I graduated from high school in 1943.

MP: That would have been Napoleon right?

JH: Yes, then I was drafted into the Army.

MP: That would have been World War II.

JH: Right.

EH: He was drafted on March 24 in 1944. He has that all written down on paper.

MP: That will help tremendously. Where did you go to grade school?

JH: I started out in the old country school, just west of Napoleon.

MP: Do you remember the name of the school?

JH: It was the Davis school.

EH: The Davis country school walking to and from was approximately two miles each way in all kinds of weather.

JH: We were lucky if we got a ride to school.

MP: I sometimes had to walk home.

RP: Another thing when I went you never had “no school” if it had snowed real hard.

MP: Do you want this material you just showed me returned to you? 

EH: No, you can use what you need. I will just put them with your file. I had just written it up for his 85th birthday party. I gave each of his kids a copy.

JH: She did a good job.

EH: There is stuff in it they didn’t know.

MP: You know when you are gone they won’t know about it either unless you write it down. That is why you have to put this information down on paper.

MP: Can you name a person who significantly influenced your life and how? Maybe in your case your Grandfather, whose name was passed down to you.

JH: I really can’t say. Like I said, I just really grew into the building business. I moved one building.

MP: Did you have a dairy farm with cows?

JH: Back then we had like everybody else had, cows, chickens, and pigs,

MP: Any sheep?

JH: Yes we did. I helped on the farm just like everybody else did.

MP: Can you describe one of your favorite childhood toys, or games you played when you went to school.

JH: We used to play baseball or softball.

MP: That would have been the bigger softball right?

JH: Yes.

MP: It was nothing formal like the kids have today.

JH: Oh no.

EH: He said he was always working and couldn’t have made it to practice  after school anyways.

MP: All that work didn’t hurt you did it.

JH: I thought about it a lot of times. I thought it did at the time. (Junior laughs.)

MP: You probably thought you were being deprived of fun.

JH: No, I think that is one of the big problems today.

RP: I started working when I was in the eighth grade and started out helping my dad mop out the drug store.When I was a freshman I worked till eleven at night. We were open until
eleven.

MP: There actually isn’t a whole lot for kids to do nowadays.

JH:  Not really. You know legally you can’t hire these kids to work for you.

MP: That is another problem, you know it and I know it. Years ago some people may have abused their children by making them work too much.

RP: Work didn’t hurt them.

MP: Can you tell me about a family tradition your family may have had, and I am guessing you are going to say - moving buildings -.

JH: That is about it. I was born and raised on a farm, milked the cows, fed the chickens, doing whatever was necessary.

MP: Your Grandfather Harmon actually started the Harmon Building Movers Company business. Do you suppose someone asked him to move a building years ago and he liked doing that and that is how his business grew.

JH: Back then things were different.  You see I didn’t really know my grandfather too well. He passed away when I was real young. When he retired he moved to town and lived on Oakwood Street. I can’t tell you the number of the house but I can tell you where it was located at. My dad used to take me down there. I can remember him being in bed.

MP: He was probably sick.

JH: Yes he was.

EH: It was 1121 Oakwood Ave.

MP: That tells us where the house was. And now we know. Junior can you describe a typical meal you had when you were a child. And I can tell you that first on the list would have been mashed potatoes and gravy, and probably a beef roast. Probably a typical German meal. Did you eat a lot of chicken.

JH: You were right. We ate a lot of chicken too. Breakfast was ususally eggs and toast, and actually sometimes we had fried potatoes.

RP: People used to eat fried potatoes for breakfast.

MP: That was when people would go out in the fields and really worked hard.

JH: I can remember when I was in the service overseas we had fried potatoes. That was an experience all by itself.

MP: What do you remember as being the happiest moment in your childhood.

EH: You said that when you went to the Chicago Livestock Show was the highlight for you.

JH: That was when I was in high school. I had an agricultural teacher by the name of D. D. Shaw

MP: How do you spell his name - like shaw -

JH: Yes, it was SHAW. He took several of us boys to the Livestock Show.

MP: About how old were you, were you in high school at that time.

JH: Oh yes. I was probably a Sophomore when I went.

EH: It was an overnight trip to Chicago.

JH: We got to go through the stockyards. We got to go through the slaughterhouse where they kill the animals. I can remember that they told us that they didn’t waste anything and we even take care of the squeal.

MP: I can just imagine because I know now what they do with the animals.

JH: One thing that surprised me was how they start this process. They make the cattle walk up to the upper floor. And that is where they killed the cattle. They do these steers and as they do the processing they keep coming down and down. They waste no energy by making the animals do the work of getting to the upper floor.

MP: I wonder if they still do it that way.

JH: Probably not.

MP: They probably have something more modern and more cost-efficient.

JH: When they start the process they would run them through a chute and there was a colored boy that stood above viewing and he had a hammer in his hand and would hit the animal on its head.

MP: They would never get away with killing them that way nowadays.

JH: It was like a chute they went down through and would fall out on the floor and that is when they would begin the processing.

MP: It would be like butchering. Would your family do any butchering?

JH: Oh yes. We butchered hogs.  We always made the sausage.

MP We have some members of our family that still do that.

JH: That was always a long day for the farmers. I like the old fashioned bacon.

RP: We aren’t supposed to eat bacon, it’s not healthy.

JH: There are lots of things I shouldn’t eat, but I do anyway.

MP: Anything that tastes good we aren’t supposed to eat.

JH: I’ve lived this long why change now?

MP: Why change - right? My next question is name one event that shook up your life. Maybe being in the Army.

JH: That was a big change for me.

MP: It would undoubtedly have changed your life.

EH: The death of his first wife changed his life. They were up on a fishing trip and she died. They were hunting moose too when she died. She had an aneurysm and died right there suddenly. That was in 1979.

MP: You know that doesn’t sound like it was so very long ago, and yet it was.

JH: How long have we been married?

EH: Thirty-two years.We were married in 1982.

MP: Do you want to know how long we have been married, just take a guess.

EH: Well, he is Dorothy’s age. I will say sixty years.

MP: That is exact. This November it will be sixty years. Nowadays nobody stays married very long.

JH: When they get married there is no lifelong committment.

MP: Most of them don’t even bother to get married.

JH: That is a big mistake. You know these kids go to school, but do they actually learn anything.

MP: I don’t think they do anymore. Do you know that they don’t learn how to write anymore. The cursive writing is no longer being taught. They’ve taken that out of schools.
How will they sign legal papers?

EH: We get letters from these grandkids of ours and it is all printed. They know we don’t have a computer. That’s what I did at work. I ran a computer. When I retired I didn’t care if I ever had one. Junior isn’t a computer person. He figures everything out the old way. He is accurate too.

MP  Well I don’t think you should change Junior. He’s good just the way he is. I say he is a keeper.

RP: What tickles me when you go out here to WalMart or someplace else, these young kids can’t count the change back to you. If you spend say like 10.17 and you give them a 20.00 bill and 17 cents, they don’t know how much change to give you back.

JH: It just confuses them. When the electricity goes off they lose their prices. They can’t give you change.

RP: These kids never count the change back to you, they wad the money up and say “here”. That is the first thing Frank Shaff taught me in the drug store was how to count change.

MP: Well, we are not going to be able to change anything here. Well I think I am going to wrap this interview up.

Additional family information from Junior.

   My brother Harry Harmon donated the Log Cabin at the fairgrounds to the Henry County Historical Society in 1974. It was moved to the fairground site by Junior Harmon.  The old gazebo was moved from the north end of the fairgrounds and placed between the school building and this Log Cabin on the south east end of the fairgrounds in the summer of 2014. This is the gazebo that is spoken about in the above oral history. My grandfather Henry Harmon farmed an eighty acre farm located on the old Bryan Pike, now US Route 6. ( now Woodlawn Avenue in 2014 ). He started farming at this location after his marriage. It was at this location the Harmon Building Moving Business originated. Henry farmed and moved buildings when someone needed something moved. The moving business grew and when Oscar became old enough to work, he helped.

   After Oscar married, there was another house moved to the farm for him and his wife. Oscar carried on the farming and Henry continued to move buildings. Periodically Oscar would help with the moving. During the winter months he kept busy logging.

   In approximately 1909 Henry and his wife moved to 1121 Oakwood Avenue in Napoleon where he continued to carry on the business. He continued until his health began to fail and Oscar then started to help in the moving full time.

   After Henry’s death in 1935, Oscar moved into town and took over the business. In 1936 he purchased land at the west edge of Napoleon and erected buildings for the moving equipment and a year later built a house. This is the present location of the business.

   The moving technique has progressed from horses to farm tractors to trucks. When Henry started moving buildings, they were loaded on wooden beam and gum wood wheels pullled by teams of horses. Buildings were moved through fields and across ditches by a capstan, a wooden spool tyoe wench powered by a team of horses. Then Henry purchased a three wheeled tractor, Romly, for power. The equipment was moved from job to job first by horse and wagon, and then a straight truck.

   After Oscar took over the business, a steady change of equipment took place. Steel I-beams replaced wooden timber. Wooden wheels were replaced by hard rubber tires, then to eight pneumatic set of tires called dollies. These were designed by Oscar himself. These dollies were designed so the build was more manipulatable. At first, screw jacks were used to raise the building for loading, but now hydraulic jacks are used. A semi-tractor truck was purchased to pull the buildings. It was low geared, giving more power and ability to pull the building slow or fast. This truck also gave more complete control of the building because of the use of the truck’s brakes. To wench the buildings, a steel wench was purchased and mounted on the back of a truck chassis.

   Oscar’s sons worked with him periodically. Lawrence and Donald worked full time until their marriage, then went into farming. Floyd, Robert, and Junior continued the longest.

   In 1957 Junior bought the business after Oscar’s health prevented him from carrying on the business. Robert continued for several years, but Floyd continued working until his retirement. At the present time Gary, Junior’s son is associated with the business. Another son Greg works during summers and vacations. He is studying to prepare for a teaching career.

   The equipment has been improved and updated, adding some new trucks. Basically the process has been the same, only using different equipment to make the work easier and faster.

   So there have been four generations of Harmond Building Movers.

ITEMS OF INTEREST BY JUNIOR HARMON

written in recognition of Junior’s 85th birthday by Elaine Harmon

   85 years ago today a special and unique birth took place. Junior was born on October 29, 1925 at their home on Rt. 6, Napoleon--East of Norden’s Dairy Farm. He says there used to be a Rickenberg Saw Mill across the road.

   Anyway, Jr. is the youngest of 12 children born to Oscar & Lizzie Harmon. Six brothers -- Harry, Leo, Floyd, Lawrence, Donald, and Robert. Five sisters -- Mabel, Doris, Evelyn, Helen, and Hazel. Evelyn is now 98 and Hazel is 89  --only two living. Can’t you just imagine the attention he received as a small boy.

   He attended the Davis Country School, walking to and from school each day approximately 2 miles each way -- in all kinds of weather. When he was in the 6th grade --  12 years old he started at Npoleon, in the old Central School. His parents bought land in 1936 and built a home on Woodlawn Ave. in 1937. The family then moved into town. At that time Glenwood Ave. was a mud road, but Woodlawn was a stoned road.

     Juniors highlight of his school was an overnight trip to Chicago for a livestock exhibition. He took a Vo-Ag course in high school and had feeder steers, pigs, and a riding horse, which he frequently rode withhis friend Jr. Jennings and his horse. The saddle for his horse is still in the attic, among other things.

   Jr. was 17 when he graduated in 1943, and worked with his father in the moving business. He was drafted into the Army on March 24, 1944. He served in WWII in the Infantry 99th Division, 395 regiment, Co. C., in the European Theatre of Operations at Delrath, Germany and the Battle of the Bulge. He was overseas starting in Sept. 1944. He was wounded on March 5, 1945 in the right shoulder and ribs. He was operated on in a field hospital then transferred to a hospital in Paris, France. He later returned to action in Germany earning the Purple Heart and a Sgt. rating. He frequently mentions when its cold and snowy, spending over 30 days in field action without seeing the inside of a building. He says however, he never had a cold or sniffles during that time. He was in action when the regiment crossed the Rhine River. He still has some schrapnel in his arm. He served in Scotland, England, France, Belgium, and Germany.

   After the war was over he drove a transport truck for the Quarter Master Corp, hauling perishable food in refrigerated trailers, pipe for a gas line for Patton’s Army ( which he says was never used ) as the war was over. He also transported troops out of army depots to ports to travel home. It was on one of these trips in Brussels, Belgium where he followed the lead truck up over sidewalks, as there were streetcars traveling on the streets. Their impatience got them in trouble with the MP’s and all the caravan drivers who drove up on the sidewalks were demoted to PFCS. He was honorably discharged in 1946 and came back to Napoleon and joined his father in the moving business. He was discharged as a Corporal -- earned a European American Theatre ribbon, a Purple Heart Medal, Good Conduct Medal ( I wonder how  ), WW II Victory Medal, Rifleman Badge, and a Combat Infantry Badge.

   When I asked when he started working for his Father he replied, I think the day I was born.

   Junior says he never dated much in high school. Says he went to school --came home and worked each and every day. He was not active in sports or activities and not much has changed along those lines.

   About a year and a half after discharge he met Joan Sworden from Liberty Center -- dated about one and a half years and got married to Joan on August 20, 1949. Junior’s parents moved next door into a house they had moved in and Junior and Joan started their married life where we now live. Three children were born to them -- Gary in 1950, Gregg in 1953, and Darlene in 1958. In 1957 as Junior’s father was in ill health, Junior bought the moving busiess and home.

   On November 10, 1979, Joan died unexpectantly of an aneurysm while they were on a moose hunting trip in Geraldton, Ontario Canada. They had gone North with friends Leonard & Mary Etta Durham. Junior continued living on Woodlawn with daughter Darlene, as both boys had married.

   Junior was baptized and confirmed in the Methodist Church and has been a life member. He and Joan were both very active in the church. He still supports the church.

   On May 2, 1981 Junior and I met, although we had known each other before then. We were married on May 28, 1982 and after Junior being single for awhile and me being a single Mother for over seventeen years there were a lot of adjustments to be made by all. I learned a new way to fold towels -- how to mark and sort work socks, Yes girls, you number them when you buy them and the mating of them becomes easier. I learned the correct way to mow a lawn, although I had mowed for years. I learned to drive on stone driveways without moving the stones. Anyway the adjustments got made by both and we have been married for 28 years now. The marriage brought the union of two families together and Junior became stepfather to four more children -- Julie, Cindy, Lori, and Lee, and I became a stepmother to three more.

   Junior was made Honorary Grand Marshal for the Henry County Fair in 1997. He has moved many historic buildings at no charge, incuding the jail, log cabin in 1974, a railroad depot, and the old school house at the Henry County Fairgrounds. Junior is a life member of the DAV, VFW, and The American Legion here in Napoleon.  

   No matter where you would travel in the surrounding counties, Southern Michigan, and parts of Indiana, Junior and his employees have razed or moved houses, barns, and churches. They helped to load and unload condos in Toledo to float down the river and Lake Erie to Port Clinton. Junior and his workers have moved many buildings, including church school buildings, Edon Depot Building. They moved buildings into the Wolcott House Complex for the Maumee Valley Historical Society. The Box School house and buildings into the Sauder Museum Complex. Junior and workers also helped load and float down Lake Erie the condos from Toledo which were relocated to Catawba Island.

   No matter where you travel in the surrounding counties and South Michigan and parts of Indiana Junior and his employees have razed or moved houses, barns, and churces.
Since our marriage Junior has had shoulder surgery, both knees replaced and back surgery. He continues to have the serious effects of arthritis.

   Junior is still working in the moving business when there is work to do. He always says it’s not work when you enjoy what you do, and he says he has no immediate plans to retire.  So we wish Junior a Happy Birthday, this your 85th, and don’t regret growing older because it is a privilege denied to many.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

   March 24, 1944 Junior served in WWII in the 99th Infantry Division, 395 Regiment, Co. C. He served in the European Theatre of Operations at Delrath, Germany and the Battle of the Bulge. He was overseas starting in September of 1944. He was wounded on March 5, 1945 in the right shoulder and ribs. He was operated on in a field hospital, then transferred to a hospital in Paris, France. He later returned to action in Germany earning the Purple Heart and a Sergeant rating. He frequently mentions when it’s cold and snowy, spending over 30 days in field action, without seeing the inside of a building. He said however, he never had a cold or sniffles during the time he was in action. He was in action when his regiment crossed the Rhine River. He served in Scotland, England, France, Belgium, and Germany.

   After the war was over he drove transport trucks for the Quarter Master Corporal, hauling perishable food in refrigerated trailers, pipe for a gas line for Pattons Army (which he says was never used), because the war was over. He also transported troops out of Army depots to ports to travel home. He was honorably discharged in 1946 and came back to Napoleon and  joined his father in the moving business. In service he had earned a European American Theatre Ribbon with 3 bronze stars, a Purple Heart Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory, Medal, Rifleman badge, and a Combat Infantry Badge.

Junior is a Life member of the Napoleon DAV, the Napoleon VFW, and the Napoleon American Legion.