Interview with Ed Peper
CHARLOTTE WANGRIN, INTERVIEWER
EP: I wasn't born in Holgate, but my parents lived there and I lived there all my life until I graduated from high school. And then I went off to college and I came back and I was there during all the summers while I was in college. And then I went in the army.
CW: And were you in World War II?
EP: No, I was in the Korean War.
CW: O, yeah because you were too young for World War II.
EP: Yeah, and... but then I was gone while I was in the army, so I was gone for a couple years and then I came back after that and then I continued to live in Holgate while I was in law school, at least the early part of my law school. Cause I got married then, oh, just before my senior year in law school, so... Ok, so anyway, my thoughts go back my relocations, back to the days when I was in Holgate and the railroad was a big thing in Holgate. My dad was in the lumber business and the lumber business was right on the south side of the railroad.
CW: Oh, yeah
CW: So, do they still have the lumber yard?
EP: Yea the lumber yard is still there. The Wisers own it there. But my dad... And my grandfather was one of the originators of the lumber yard. I can't remember just what year. And he lived right beside the lumber yard. He was a German immigrant and he came over here and chopped down trees around the Henry County area and took it in and had a saw mill originally. And so it advanced beyond a saw mill. The old saw mill was still there when I was a kid. We used to play around that old building. And the lumber yard was on both sides of Lee Avenue. And Lee Avenue, to the north side of Lee Avenue was the railroad. And then to the south was the school house and what have you was beyond Lee Avenue down to the south. But, the buildings on the north side of the Lee Avenue, the lumber yard buildings. When that burnt down, and the firemen in their effort to fight the fire put their hoses across the railroad and train went through and seized the hoses and that was the end of the water supply and everything burnt down on the south side of the railroad. So, they were trying to fight the fire but their legitirts weren't real good there. They should of, but they were probably desperate to get some water over there. But, anyway, I worked at that lumber yard a lot, cause during the war, during World War 2, the only people that were left around to do a lot of the jobs were young boys and old men. And everybody in between those two categories was in the service. And so I worked for my dad at the railroad, not at the railroad, but the lumber yard. Used to sell coal over there, too, and I used to unload the big coal cars.
CW: Oh, that's dirty work
EP: Oh, filthy, filthy dirty work.
CW: My oldest son did that for the city, Napoleon.
EP: Oh, yuck
CW: He'd come home, just black.
EP: Yup, that's what I did. I'd come home black. My mother would make me wash and clean up with a bucket of hot water she'd bring outside. I couldn't get in the house unti I cleaned up outside first, and breathe that dust, and it'd be in your nostrils and your throat and sometimes you'd still be coughing up that dirt two days after you got done unloading the coal. But, anyway, I worked over there a lot and I worked in the St. Mary packing company. It was a canning plant that was on the west end of town. That came, oh, about during the war time. Because it was occupied but originally was an old tile mill. They made tile for field tile. Mitchell family had that and they...
CW: What did they produce during that time?
EP: Tomatoes. They canned tomatoes, and the early June peas that they canned, oh boy, tomatoes. Seems like maybe something else but those are the only two things I can remember. But I sure spent a lot of hours and days working out there, too. I wasn't hardly old enough, but I was big enough. So I got a job out there. And I remember during the war, too, the German prisoners that were confined and held at Defiance at the old CC camp up at Defiance, and that would be on the east side of Defiance about were the old hospital was, not the current hospital, but the one that is on East Second Street, back in that area where the CC camp was at. And during WWII, umm German prisoners were brought over here from wherever they were captured and kept here and they'd come over here every morning and they would work in the canning plant. So they'd be, usally go over and get a truck and load on. About a truck load is a big truck with a bed in the back and a rack around it and they'd get on there stand there and hang on to the side of the rack and ride over to the canning plant in that thing. Work all day and come back at night. There was always a guard there or some armored person that was there to guard them, and so I worked there quite a bit at the canning plant.
CW: Were they pretty decent people?
EP: Yeah, they were. They were. I don't know if there were. Hardly any of them spoke any English. So they were pretty close and limited to themselves. Because of the communication obstacle there. There were a number of people, the older individuals who worked at the canning plant, that could speak German. And so there was some communication between the older people and the German prisoners. But there wasn't a whole lot of fraternization between the prisoners and the people working there, except that you know whatever it took to tell them to work here work there. And do this or do that, and they just did some labor tasks like filing boxes or doing something that wasn't very skilled involved in the labor that they performed.
CW: They couldn't let them put the tomatoes in the can or anything?
EP: No, No they worked in the warehouse usually. Piled up the boxes or something of that nature. And maybe shovel coal over to where it was put into the boiler or something like that, but it was an interesting experience. I worked all over that plant, did a lot of things and had a lot of interesting experiences there and worked for Dad and worked at the, there is a state of Ohio part of experimental farm on the south edge of town that was out on 108 if you went south, and it was on the south edge of town on the east side of 108. We used to work out there.
CW: Was it near where that dance hall used to be?
EP: It was just about across the road from that. A Swiss garden was the dance hall. Yup, that was on the west side of the road and the experimental farm was on the east side of the road. They were just about opposite of each other. And there was a lot of labor there pulling corn we really didn't have any chemicals to kill weeds yet. You had to go out with a hoe and pull those weeds out. So we did that and oh there were little plots experimental plots so there wasn't very big fields of green, just a lot of little plots. As a matter of fact a lot of those plots had a row of soy beans or corn. There were a lot of plots like that, small plots, and they put a good variety of seed in this plot and harvest it to see what it would produce.
CW: Didn't big companies used to have farms or something? Because my kids used to go out, they'd leave early in the morning, go to work on corn, food corn.
EP: Detasseling corn I bet
CW: Oh yeah
EP: Yup, I did that too. Did it for a company known as Moss- McGrawn? Seed corning? Over there in Holgate. And I did a lot of detasseling on that, too.
CW: What do you take the tassel off the tops of the corn?
EP: That's right. You actually had in the rows of corn, you had what they called a male and female rows in there. A male row is where you would leave the tassel on and the pollen. From that it would then pollinate all the female rows. So, there would be a row of the male with the tassel on it and pollen on it. Then you would have four rows where you would detassel. You would take them off, then you would have another so-called male row were the tassel would be left on. So it was one male row for four female rows, then one male and four females, and that's the way in went across the field.
CW: And why would they need to chop those tassels off?
EP: Well, so they wouldn't be pollinated, because the male row would be planted with the corn that you wanted to use. The pollination on that you make a certain type of corn. So you had different corn in the male rows and pollinate the females, and then you would get a hybrid then between the two. Build bigger and better ears of corn that way by using that hybrid system like that. So we would get down there, go down the road and pull those the tassels off those four female rows.
CW: That was pretty hard work, too, I believe?
EP: Oh, it was, it was hard because you got in the corn field and it was hot in there and there wasn't any air because the corn stalks were up high, so there was no air moving. It was warm and the leaves on the corn were kind of sharp so you usually had to wear a long sleeve shirt so you didn't get all scratched up and that, and maybe in the morning they would be full of dew and you would be wet because of the dew in the air.
CW: What did you use to cut them up?
EP: Pulled them.
CW: Oh you just pulled them?
EP: Just reach up and pulled it out.
CW: And then do you put it in a bag or something?
EP: Throw it on the ground. Yeah. But you had to get it before it started pollinization. Before it would spread so and they didn't all come out at the same time. So you had to go back again and again in the same field and do them over and over. Because they didn't all tassel out at the same time. So, it was kind of a short period of time which you did that but [name] and Joseph McGoclin were the two guys who owned that company. They operated it and they would get us kids to do it, we would never harvest any, we just did the detasseling, but we did a lot of that detasseling and I know at the end of the season then when it was all done. They would take all of us detasseling boys, take us over to Independence Dam Park and we would always have a picnic over there. So, yeah there would always be a gang of us, a big gang of kids that worked there. I can't remember if we had girls or if there was all boys. I was going to say there were some girls but I think they were all boys. Later on, I think my girls detasseled but I think we were all boys when we did it. So….
CW: Yeah they had different attitudes about what they'd let girls do in those days.
EP: Yeah, yeah, you know, I can also remember the trains that went through. There was steam engines. Diesels didn't come until after World War II. And up through that time, matter of fact, a little while after World War II, I think that diesel engines really became common. But before that there were, oh, coal fired steam engines, and to this day I can still hear those steam whistles blowing. Oh, you know you can hear them. They would be a mile or two when the air was calm, especially at night you could hear them whistling way off in the distance. Where every little crossroad they would come through there. I don't think there is anything in the world like a steam engine. Just huffing and puffing and the steam flying and smoke blowing off in huge clouds and clattering away. And it was an enormous big machine that…
CW: It would be exciting for a small boy, but I guess you weren't so small.
EP: Oh yeah, and but they'd going flying through there a pretty good speed because it was a straight stretch through there. I remember at night it was always exciting to go over to the railroad that was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. It went from Chicago to Washington D.C.
CW: Was that the one that went through Deshler?
EP: Yes, Hamler, Deshler, Defiance to the west. Of course there is still a lot of train traffic on that, but it's all diesel now. But at night when the passenger trains would go through it was always in the evening, I don't know, maybe 7:30 - 8:00 o'clock. I used to know exactly when these trains went through, but there was the, um, thinking the one was the Columbian, that was the second one, and I'm having trouble thinking of the first train. Something 'limited', anyway, those trains would go through there and it was always kind of exciting to stand along the railroad track and watch it go by. Because it just went flying by, you know, maybe 70- 75 miles an hour. It would just fly through town.
CW: Oh that's really fast.
EP: Oh yeah, they were fast.
EP: We did, we used to put pennies on. And then sometimes we'd kind of put an obstacle piece of cardboard up there because the penny usually would have gotten hit and went flying and we would have to look and look and look to find it. And we put a piece of cardboard up there thinking that the penny would fly off and hit the cardboard and fall down and then we'd be able to find it easy, but that didn't always work either. But, yeah, we put a lot of pennies on there; they really flatten them out. But if the train was going fast your penny could really go flying. And, um, you know I can't think of that name of that limited, that train, gee, I got to, I know that. But anyway they would go by and we would watch them, look in the windows and see the passengers. And it was always kind of fun to see if they were in the dining car or if they were in the club car you know.
CW: I remember doing that watching, and then there was always, who was it? It was at the end of this train they had a flag.
EP: Yeah that was the conductor back there. They had a flag to signal to the engineer up in front.
CW: Yeah and they always had this little, it looked like porch at the end of the train.
EP: Yeah, on the caboose.
CW: Caboose, yeah.
EP: Yeah there's a little heat stand out there and somehow he'd signal him whether they were to go ahead or back up or whatever that flag, depending on how he'd wave that flag I guess they were able comprehend the signal and...
CW: I was just talking to Louisa Strock. Her father was editor of the paper at Liberty Center and every night when they got the paper, not every night but once a week I guess. When they got the paper all ready he would take it up to the railroad tracks I believe on a two wheel cart, it would be taken up to the railroad tracks and then with some kind of signal the engineer knew he had to stop and pick up those papers and away they'd go. But I thought, why would they be going on the train? I never got that straight. I should have asked her, I guess.
EP: Yeah, I don't know where the Liberty papers go on the train, unless it went into Toledo and then came out from Toledo to somewhere. I don't know.
CW: Maybe it went in there, you know, they published it there in Liberty Center
EP: I would have imagined they would, maybe it came to Napoleon.
EP: Because that used to be the main way to get from Napoleon to Liberty and other towns.
CW: Oh, really?
EP: Sure was.
CW: Or maybe it came through the post office in Napoleon. Maybe they didn't have a post office in Liberty.
EP: Yeah, it might have. You know, when I got to be a little older, I don't know, maybe in my 20's or something, and we would be out hanging out on a Saturday night. One of the things for excitement before we would turn in for the night would be to go up to what was called the tower there by the railroad. Now the tower, there was a telegrapher in there and if there were messages to be sent by telegrapher back and forth to Deshler or Hamler, you know every little town had a tower.
CW: You mean it was really up high?
EP: Well, it was a building that was up maybe the equivalent of three stories or something like that. So they could look up and down and it would sit right beside the track and he would also send messages. He would be a telegrapher, but also he would run the switches. So if there was a train coming from Deshler, for example, and there was also one coming that had to go around it or do something, why then he could then, there were big levers up there he pulled and he would side track one of those trains and stop it on the side track. And then some other train that was faster or maybe a passenger train would zip on by. But we grew up there and there was a fellow named Denver Union? That was one of telegraphers up there and when I say telegrapher they communicate with like Deshler, Halmer, Defiance and whatever these guys communicate back and forth by the telegraph. And also I think they not only could pull these levers and move switchs back and forth, but you are opening and closing switches. But I think also there were lights out along the track where they pulled a lever and that light would revolve. And if it turned, I don't know, I think those were oil lights of some kind. I don't think they were electric. I don't believe. And they were red and green so if we had somebody that had to slow down or stop, why you would pull a lever and that thing would turn so the engineer in the train knew that he was supposed to get over and slow down and they would put him on the side track.
CW: Was that being, say, some passenger would be waiting, could they pull the lever for that?
EP: Well, they could if they stopped because there were some trains that would be locals that would stop at every place along the line where they had a passenger to get on. There wasn't too many trains that did that but there was one that went through Holgate every morning at about, oh, 10 o' clock or so, going west. It would go to Chicago from there. Probably started out in Washington D.C. and stopped at about every little place along the line, so if they had freight or what have you they could stop there. And there was another way they communicate with the engineer on the train -- they had a big stick. It would go out kind of in a bow or a fork on the end. And if they had a message to give to the engineer they would tie a string across there and there would be a message on an envelope or something on this string. And when the train was coming the guy on the tower would go out and stand on the ground and he would hold this big long pole up and the engineer would put his arm out and his arm would go through this forked area and the string would just pull loose and be on his arm and the message would come in there and then he'd open up his message and read his message.
CW: You think the string would go flying somewhere?
EP: Well it was kind of a great big loop.
CW: Oh, so as long as he got his arm through there he had it.
EP: Yeah, as he moved past and got his arm in there and passed it, it would release off this pole and so it was a well designed way to communicate.
CW: I think I have seen that in a movie.
EP: Well, that was the way. Because they didn't have any telephones or radios or anything of that nature. You had to write a little note and give it to him and he'd sit by because he would be going by maybe 50 miles an hour, and put his arm out. And mail was thrown off, too, on the run. They had mail cars and they had a little place there that opened up the side of the door on the side of the car and they would throw the mail bags out and then there was a guy who would pick them up and take them down to the post office. And there would be your mail in your post office box. Sort it out down there and put it in. And then they would pick up mail on the run too on a similar thing were you took a mail bag down and there was a device down by the track, a big pole that went up, and you would tie that mail bag at the top and bottom so it was just sticking out there by the track. It was secured at the top and bottom by this pole type device. And then they had an arm that came out from the mail car kind of a steel arm that stuck out at an angle and when the rail car went by it would catch the mail bag and pull it off from this device along the side of the track and they'd put it in the mail car real quick and on they would go. They never slowed down. Pick the mail up on the run and throw it out. Every now and then something went wrong and either the mail bag would break or something and letters would be all over up and down the track. And somebody would have to go down there and gather them all up and hope you would find them all. But that was not unheard of that the mail bag got run over by the train or something. And you would have a calamity at the mail delivery, but all and all it worked pretty well. But the railroads were a big part of the economy in these little towns, and when I say big part, it's because it took a lot of maintenance. And back over by my dad's lumber yard is where the maintenance building was at, and the maintenance crews worked out of there and went out everyday to straighten the track or raise the track or do something. But they worked...
CW: Oh, yeah they used to have these little hand cars. They'd push to go up and down the rails.
EP: Yup, that's right. There would be a crew on them that would go down and maybe they would have to go 2 or 3 miles down the line some place to raise the track or...
CW: Um, that reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you about the lumber. I heard a historian talk about the black swamp area. Holgate had black swamp area around there, I guess. And he said there were just a few kinds of trees that could grow with their feet wet. And Sycamore was one of them; I don't know what other kind was. I wonder if that would affect the lumber that was coming in to the lumber yard.
EP: Most of the lumber, oak was another one that grew well. I got a poster out here I'll show you. It's out in my waiting room. But way back before my time when my grandfather first came to this country, I think they probably harvested in the woods around here all kinds of lumber. And then ran it through the saw mill and made boards and beams for barns and what have you. And ash, I think, there was a lot of that around here. But when I worked there, most of the lumber that we got in was not local. There was some, every now and then we would have some, but most of it came in from the northwest and from the south.
CW: From Michigan?
EP: No, no. From way out west, like Washington or Oregon. Out in the mountainous areas. And then in the south there was yellow Pine. We used to have a lot of yellow pine, and the yellow pine was a real hard and strong wood but it was slivery stuff to work with and it wasn't good to work with because it was heavy too. It wasn't as heavy as oak but it was a heavier wood to handle and we had a lot of yellow pine. And later on, fir became more popular and that was the end of the yellow pine. Which never made me mad. But we would get in a loaded cargo of yellow pine and it was heavy to handle and not only heavy, but there was tar that came out of it. Your hands would get sticky. The pine tar came out of it and it was sticky and just slivers in your hands. Your hands would be full of slivers and we handled that. So, I was never sorry to see the yellow pine disappear. And the fir was much lighter weight and you never had the pine tar coming out of it and it wasn't full of slivers.
CW: Now that Holgate Lumber Company, didn't that move to Napoleon eventually?
CW: It always stayed there?
EP: Always stayed there and has always been in the same location. Been a hundred and seven years. That thing was over a hundred years old when my brother was still working there. Then finally sold it to the Wisers and they are still in the same location, some of the same buildings are still there, buildings that I worked in and piled lumber up and I used to tar the roof and some of the buildings over there. I don't know if they ever did the roof up there now, but I used to crawl up there about every summer and tar that roof.
CW: How would you do that? Did you have to, like, smear with a brush?
EP: Yeah, with a big brush.
CW: Like a broom?
EP: Well it was a big wide brush, you know, like a wallpaper brush. Wasn't quiet that wide but it had long bristles in it, probably 3 or 4 inches long, and a big long handle. I did it standing up; I didn't get down on my knees or anything to do it. I could do it standing up, but you had to keep moving and little by little you had kind of a latter to lay down on so could keep your footing and not fall off. And I did that again and again and again, year after year. That was a hot job.
CW: Oh I'll bet, really hot.
EP: My dad's partner was a man by the name of Ed Brugul. And dad and Ed were in business together for a long, long time. But Ed used to tell me, "It's never good to put the tar on the roof except at a time when you didn't know what was running the fastest -- the tar off the hot roof or the sweat off of me."
CW: That's probably true.
EP: When you got to that point that you couldn't tell the difference, why it was time to put it on there. You had to tar it so it ran down all the little nail holes and cracks and filled them up and sealed it off. So, it was water proof.
CW: Yeah, a lot of jobs weren't very comfy in those days.
EP: No, you didn't make a lot of money at it either. It was a low paying
job. You know I talked about the trains. Another thing I will mention
about that. On the B&O of course there was a north/south train that
went through, and there was a Nickel-plate, too, and we called it the nickel-plate.
It was just a little plain freiight that went from Toledo to Grand Rapids,
and it goes through McClure and Malinta, Holgate, New Bavaria, Pleasant
Bend, and Darth Creek and down to Delta. So I think that was about it.
They went south in the morning... No,
no, no, it went north in the morning. And then back south at night, and
I think it would get down to Delphos and it would just stay there wherever
it went south it would just stay there. And what I remember mainly is it
stayed there to the next morning then they would turn it around and head
back again. But they had two passenger cars on the back end of that train
and these passenger cars, they would go on and go to Toledo. And you could shop for
the day if you wanted to. I don't know if you would have a big long day
of shopping, but you could do it and some people did that. I don't know,
I think it was a dime or something to ride it. It was pretty cheap anyway.
But now the story that I always . . . I've told this different times and always enjoyed. Cary Laub had a clothing store in Holgate for years and years. He bought the clothing store from my Dad and he told this story. There was a lady by the name of Jenny Meyer, an elderly lady. She lived down around the corner about a block from where we lived and her daughter was about the age of my parents, but anyway Cary Laub told this story about Jenny Meyers going to Toledo one day on this Nickel Plate Road and she boarded and sat down. She no more got in her seat in one of these two passenger cars that were on the tail end of all these box cars that were on the train, and she said, "Oh my golly, I forgot my umbrella." The conductor said, "Oh go home and get it. We'll wait for you." (laughs) But Cary Laub always told that as a funny story from back in the '30s I guess. She probably only had a couple blocks to go to get it and come back. I don't know if she went to get it but it makes a good story.
But anyway the movie was a big part of our life in Holgate. First of all I was a young fellow during the Depression. About the only place we would go was to see my grandparents at Waterloo, Indiana. After church on Sunday we'd go up there, spend an hour and come home in the evening. Once in a Blue Moon we'd go to Toledo. During the war we didn't have any gasoline so you stayed at home then, too, so entertainment was right there in Holgate. That was it and you entertained yourself or we'd go to the movie. I remember they had a movie in the middle of the week. I guess it was on Tuesday night and if we'd get a ticket from one of the merchants by going in and shopping there you could take that ticket and a nickel would get you into the movie on Tuesday night. Saturday night it was 25 cents to go to the movie.
CW: Did they have a movie house in Holgate?
EP: Yeah. It was right downtown. The back end of the movie house opened right on the railroad so you know it was on the railroad. And you know in the summertime when it was hot there was a door back there along the side of the building because it was on an alley, and there was an alley that crossed it. But anyway they'd open up that door back there on the alley and they had a big fan that would blow the air around in there a bit. It would cool off the patrons. There wasn't any air conditioning of course. The thing is that somebody had to close that door if a train came by 'cause it would be so noisy that you couldn't hear what was going on in the speaking voices of the movie. So the whistle would tip you off that there was a train coming maybe a mile away or so. I remember there was a fellow at work there. His name was Bud Kesselmeyer -- we called him 'Bud' -- he worked there. I don't know whether he took tickets or what have you, but if he heard a train coming one of his jobs was to run back there and shut that door and get it shut quick so the noise didn't interrupt the movie and his name was really Donald Kesselmeyer. He had a brother that was in my class. He had three younger brothers at least and maybe a couple sisters, but he was killed during World II and his name is over here in the memorial. He was in a bomber crew, flew on bombing missions and the plane was shot down and killed him. He was buried in Belgium or someplace and I know one of his brothers went there to the grave. But, anyway, I remember him well working in the movie and closing the door when the train came. He'd make a dash down the alley, get back there and shut those doors and if he didn't get there we were probably grumbling because we couldn't hear what was going on. He'd get the door closed and that would help keep the noise out reasonably well. But trains were a big thing, bringing freight in, bringing in the mail, takin' it out and it was a part of all the communities that it went through.
CW: Especially Deshler, wasn't it. There were so many tracks in that town.
EP: Right, especially that east-west one that I'm talking about, and they had a north-south one too. I think there were more employees to maintain those than to go east and west in Deshler.
CW: Now I talked to Grace Howe and she said that at Grelton the merchants would get together and they would rent a movie every week and they'd show it outside. The folks would bring a blanket along, put it on the ground and watch that movie there for no charge. Did they have anything like that in Holgate?
EP: No, we had a movie house but they did in Hamler and they did in New Bavaria. Sometimes we'd ride our bicycles down to New Bavaria. They had a projector and we'd have to wait till they would start. Sometimes in summer it didn't get dark till 8 or so but it was interesting because they'd put a big screen up in the street someplace and you could watch it from either side. The screen was kind of transparent so you could gather on either side of the movie. The only thing is if you got on the back side of it the show would be backwards. But unless they had a sign or something that didn't make any difference. We didn't do it very often because the movie got out late for riding our bicycles back.
CW: When a car would come...
EP: That's right. I did it already but... it'd be all right if somebody took you down in a car, but, yeah, they used to have those but it was kind of a scheme that the merchants would promote because it brought a lot of people into town so they could get groceries or go into the tavern or whatever, so it generated some business for them. They could do some shopping and watch a movie.
CW: Life was a lot different then.
EP: Yes, it was and it was an exciting movie. Of course all those were El Cheapo type of movies. Of course there was always Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Those were always big type movies and it was kind of exciting to watch them.
CW: Silent movies were before that time weren't they?
EP: Yeah, before that, at least the time I'm talking about. It was movies, the 'talkies' that they had with music or speaking or both, what have you.
CW: Well now I would like to give you a little more time to think about this because I think you know quite a bit about this Camp Latty that used to be here? I know this was before your time but I think it would be quite helpful to get that recorded.
EP: Yes, I can give you some information on that.
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