Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, August 11, 2006
C. .Do you have any information that might be helpful for the Historical Society?
F. Well, I can tell you of my lineage.
C. That would be interesting.
F. My great-grandfather’s name was August Pohlman and he was born in northern Germany, which was called Prussia and he came down to Berlin and married a girl from Hanover. Her name was Mons and I think her first name was Caroline. They came to United States from the port of Bremen, Germany, to New York, Cleveland and then Lorain, Ohio where they settled. They moved on into Defiance County When my Grandfather, Henry F. Pohlman, grew up he moved to Napoleon and started a butcher shop, which was my grandfather’s basic profession.
C. Where was your grandfather’s shop?
F.Some place in Napoleon, I’m not sure. Then he met Dora Schulte, who was from a substantial family in Napoleon Township, and married her. Her father had obtained a Section of land around Monroe Township in Malinta.
C. That’s a lot of land.
F. Yes and then when he died Dora Schulte got her portion of land and that’s how my Grandfather got started in farming here. He cleared the land. Of course that was Black Swamp and as he cleared it he grew cattle and built barns, and he went out of the butcher business into the farming and livestock. He met with a pioneer in this area called Jacob Brown and they became Brown & Pohlman, livestock buyers. They would go around and buy cattle; then over the weekend they’d hire high-school kids to help them They’d drive these cattle to Napoleon on the road. Of course the kids would come ahead and block the side roads so the cattle could come straight into town. They had a difficult time getting them across the bridge because of the vibration on the bridge. They would drive them thru town to the stockyards.
C. Where was your stockyard?
F. It was on the railroad approximately where the VFW is now on the Wabash RR, and they also had a place in Malinta where the Nickel Plate RR is now. That’s where they would weigh the cattle, pay for them and ship ’em out by rail, usually to Buffalo or New York.
C. Not to Chicago?
F. No. They’d go east-more population, less agriculture.
C. Of course that’s where the people were in those days.
F. That’s right. We were on the eastern edge of the corn belt and the people needed them there. My Grandfather bought several farms and we became one of the largest landowners in the area. My father, Henry G., came along and he took over . My grandfather died suddenly in the courthouse at Paulding, Ohio purchasing a farm in Paulding County.
C. Oh really-heart attack?
F. Yes. And what he was buying is now called the Auglaize Country Club.
C. Oh for heaven’s sake!
F. Route on 111 by the Power Dam. And so when they built the Power Dam-all that land has a lot of water. It’s beautiful land for a golf course but he was buying it for a dairy setup.
C. Did he own that land?
F. Yes. When he died he gave it to one of my father’s sisters. She kept it for a while and then my Dad and his brother Fred bought the sisters out and all their land and joined up for what they called “Pohlman Brothers.” They worked together 14 years and then they went their separate ways and did what they wanted to do. My Dad went into the livestock business-cattle buying-and Fred went his way. My grandfather died in 1932.
Then I came along. I came out of the Service in World War II and then went to Purdue University, graduating in 1948. Several years after I came home my father became ill and I took over the operation. He was still very active-a senior. I carried on with the farm and livestock operation until just recently when my eyes didn’t work well anymore and in 2003 I started renting this land out rather than farming it myself.
C. Did you miss it when you retired from it?
F. Oh yes, yes, but to be a good farmer you have to have good eyes but I was hiring a lot done and I couldn’t see some of the weeds etc. When you’re buying good cattle you need good eyes because you miss things. Your production goes down dramatically.
C. Did Charlie Bowman work with your cattle at all or . . .
F. No, he was competition but he was mostly a hog man but I, my father and grandfather liked cattle more. And we dropped the stockyards in Napoleon back in the ’40’s and we just kept the one in Malinta which is still there. I talked to different people about what to do with it. I offered it to the Malinta Historical Society and even the Nickel Plate Historical Society; they said it’s the only stockyards between Buffalo and St. Louis that is still intact. A few years ago they all came out and had kind of a get-together here.
Now, my father met my mother whose maiden name was Eldridge. She was at Purdue and her father was the first graduating engineer from Purdue . She took languages and she thought she’d like to come to Napoleon because she could teach French and she thought she’d like to teach French to the Napoleon French people. But once she got here she found out there were no French, they were all German so no one took her class. She had to go into English and Science which she then taught. She met my father and they were married in 1920 or 21, I’m not sure. Shortly after that my sister Mary Helen Roll was born and then I came along in 1925.
C. Oh, so she was older than you?
F. Yes, she was three years older. My mother was a co-founder of the Ladies’ Literary here in town and Napoleon Garden Club and she started a lot of those things At Purdue she was founder of a sorority called Kappa Alpha Theta at Purdue. She was quite accomplished.
F. I graduated from Purdue in 1948 and I took Agriculture Economics.
(Turned recorder off to rest.)
F. Well going back to my grandfather, Henry F. Pohlman who I was named after, he was on a lot of committees and several bank boards, and he was one of the ones that helped get the Carnegie Library started here in Napoleon and if you want to check on it his name is on the cornerstone of the old library building on Woodlawn. He was on several other boards-quite civic-minded. The old story goes that after he developed all this land he would get up about 4 o’clock in the morning and go the court house. Anyone that wanted to work that day-day labor-would be there and he’d pick ’em up and they’d go by horse and buggy all the way to Malinta. They’d work all day, then he’d bring ’em back by horse and buggy and they’d get back about 7 or 8, 9 o’clock.
C. How long would it take to go to Malinta?
F. It’s about 9 to 10 miles out there, so-1 to 2 hours. I remember some of the old people around here said they’d see him coming down the road here and if the buggy wasn’t full he’d take them along to school or wherever they were going. Finally he got an old Model T in the ’20 something. That’s way back in the teens and then after he was gone my father, Henry G. built up the cattle end of it. They had quite a few cattle. They’d have about 700 to 800 cattle at one time which was big for that day and age but not now because all the feeding is done in the western lots. There’s no more cattle feeding here, so we basically in the ’70’s and ’80’s started to go more on the crops. Finally in the ’90’s the cattle population in this area went to zero. We couldn’t compete against the freight rates bringing cattle in from the south and the west and the big lots would feed them and butcher them right out there-such as Con Agra-the big boys. We now have about four or five corporations which are controlling about 70% of the cattle. So that’s the story there, but at one time we brokered a lot of the cattle that went east. We’d handle the better quality cattle. I think at one time we brokered close to 10,000 cattle a year and that’s a lot of cattle. At that time they went out by rail. No, we didn’t do much in the hog business. Mr. Bowman did the hog dealing as I remember. No, we weren’t set up for hogs, just for cattle.
C. What railroad line?
F. Nickel Plate, but they didn’t want our business anymore either. It wasn’t profitable for them because you had to take cattle off every 36 hours, feed and water them. That was the law. They didn’t want to do that. Usually we could get them to Buffalo and then they had to take them out and water them and put them back on the next day. Finally they had to get’em all the way to the east coast but they didn’t like that. That’s when they discouraged it. That’s when we went into the trucking business.
C Where did you have your trucks?
F. In Malinta. We had several there, and we hired a lot too. There’s no more cattle. Our stockyards is just for an office, doing books and we’re mostly in grain right now. We ship the
C. Now you have to do a lot of mathematics.
F. Well basically I like to cash rent. Makes it easier for me and I’ve told these people that still call me, especially widows, people that have a little land and don’t know what to do with it. I tell them, “Just cash crop, don’t share-crop because that way you know what you’re dealing with. Let the farmer make some money too. Just let him do what he wants to do.
C. That’s probably wise because that way the farmer’s more interested.
F. That’s right. You gotta let the other guy make a profit too you know. And when I was at Purdue I had some very good professors. When I was there I joined this fraternity called Sigma Chi and they had a lot of–my friends became very successful around the United States.
C. How’d you happen to come back here?
F. I was offered a lot of nice jobs but my Dad said, “If you’ll come back I’ll start you out at $25.00 a week and I’ll give you a car and you can put your fanny under my dinner table.” (laughs) I was offered a lot more to go with Swift and Armour, some of the big companies but I decided to come back. And I guess I didn’t regret it. Most of those that went highballing it on the fast track were burned out or died.
C. That’s it: an awful lot of stress.
F. And that’s what I’d have to be into, the stressful part, so I’m still here. I married a local girl, I married Marilyn Jean and I lost her in the year 2000. at 74.
C. Did she have cancer?
F. Yes, and her mother died when Marilyn was five or six years old and she had three brothers and they all died of cancer. Could be a weakness through the genes.
C. Well you had a pretty long life together anyway.
F. Shortly after we were married she had a hysterectomy, which lost our chance for a family.
C. Now, what year were you married?
F. 1960. We had 40 years.
C. Where’d you go on your honeymoon?
F. Florida, like they all did. We drove down there.
C. Did you used to spend winters in Florida?
F. Sometimes, when I’d want to go on a vacation my Dad would want me to stay up here and work. He was from the old school, you know. (laughs) My Dad had a stroke in the late ’50’s and he kind of left everything up to me after that.
C. In a way that made it a little easier for you?
F. Yes. He’d do a little overseeing but he didn’t want to do the day-to-day work. The technology these days has passed me by because I can’t see well enough to use the computer.
C. Oh and now everything is done by computer.
F. Yes. Everything is set-global positioning and everything else in farming today. Every square foot, you know, they know how much fertilizer to put on and you can set these tractors and combines so you don’t even have to steer them. Everything is global positioning. Satellites do it for you now. But the equipment now-you’re talking about on a combine over $200,000 and at my age I wasn’t going to go into that. I would never get my money back.
C. Yeah. I think all farming equipment is overpriced. They are terribly expensive.
F. That’s right. The farmer has to either get real big or get along real small as a second occupation. There’s no in between anymore. A man who has a factory job or a small business might have a small farm that he could handle himself. If you’re going to make it your livelihood you gotta make it real big. The people I rent to right now are farming 4000 acres.
C. I know that the small farming is might hard. I have relatives having a hard time.
F. I can’t think of any more things. I’ve told you my father’s side and my mother’s side and I told you a little about myself.. My sister went East for several years. She did modeling for John Robert Powers and she came home. That eastern life wasn’t for her. They live a different lifestyle, if you know what I mean. She got to meet a lot of people like the Prince of Wales and people like that but they lived a fast life. She passed away in 1997 at 75. She had two daughters; one is married to a Doctor in La Guna Beach, CA. She worked for a big real estate corporation that manages property. And the older daughter lives in Indianapolis and she’s a housewife. But she did do some work for Purdue while she was in Lafayette in the placement department.
C. Well tell me about your childhood. You grew up on the farm?
F. No, in town here on Welsted St., two or three doors down from Dr. Stough’s office there.
C. What do you remember about that?
F. Oh I had a nice childhood. I played all the sports: basketball. I wasn’t strong enough to play football. I was skinny: one tackle and I’d come apart. So I played basketball. I thought I was pretty good but when I went to Purdue I thought, “I’m just going to go out for a team.” Of course that’s Big 10. So I put my gym stuff on and walked on. Boy, there were about 200 people out for the team! I think I handled the basketball once and the coach didn’t even see it. He got up on a chair and said, “Thanks for coming out, boys. I have the fifteen I want now.” And of course he already had them picked out. So that’s my experience playing Big 10 basketball.
C. Didn’t last long.
F. I thought I was tall but boy, when you get into Big 10 basketball . . .it’s not!!!
F. When I got out of high school the war (WWII) had started so they said “You go ahead and go to school and when we want you we’ll come and get you.” I got about a year, year and a half in before they called me. When they called me-I wasn’t going to volunteer–so they drafted me and so after my basic training they said, “Anybody have any experience in veterinary or medical?” I raised my hand because of my work in veterinary-you know, very little-but they put me in the Veterinary Corps which was attached to the Medical Corps at that time. Your food inspections and also sanitation in the mess halls and things like that. I took the job as quick as I could ’cause the rest of those guys-they were shipping them out to the Far East because at that time Germany was just about finished near the end of World War II. Anybody that knocks Harry Truman for dropping that bomb-he saved me and he saved 6 million troops or more troops.
C. I think so too. Old Harry Truman was a pretty good guy. They didn’t think much of him at the time.
F. They do now! Roosevelt got me into this mess and Harry Truman got me out. So I can’t say that I was in combat but I was in the war. And then I went back and finished at Purdue.
C. G.I. Bill helped you.
F. Yeah, so I got a free ride the rest of the way. So then I came home and you know the rest of the story. I stayed here on the farm and helped my father and developed this into the size it became. My mother died at the age of 99. She was living in the Lutheran Home at the time. She fell and broke a hip. That’s the kiss of death on old people you know.
C. Yeah, I know. My grandmother was the same way.
F. And she was very accomplished and she still had a good mind at 99.
C. I remember even going to the hospital-they thought you went to the hospital to die.
F. I still think that. I even hate to take my 6-month examination.
C. I think your mind is unusually good. Now tell me, when you were in high school were we in WWII at that time?
F. Yes, I graduated in 1943. I got a year in Purdue before they drafted me.
C. How do you think high school was different because of the war?
F. Oh, a lot different. You couldn’t do a lot of things. We didn’t have any gasoline. You couldn’t go places. There was nothing to look forward to back in the ’30’s and ’40’s except the Service. What else could you do? You knew you were going to go. We lost several out of our class of ’43.
C. The fellows must have had to go almost immediately.
F. The luck of the draw you know: where you took your basic, where they wanted you and what you took. I remember there were some Marines in my class. Most of them didn’t come back. That was tough duty.
C. Where did they go-to the Pacific?
F. Yes. Of course it was the middle of the war and they could see that the Pacific was gonna be the thing. The one in Europe, we were getting that job done and so my bunch mostly went to the Pacific. The earlier ones went to Europe, you know, the classes of ’42 and ’41.
C. You have a lovely house on Huddle Road.
F. Yes. The builder was an engineer but he built it really heavy with a lot of concrete. Paul Rogey was his name. He was related to the Lippencotts. He was an engineer and that’s how he got into this area because Lippencotts built the first plant over here.
C. Oh, and that became Campbell Soup.
F. Theirs was the standard brand before Campbells. Rogeys grew tired of it and moved to Florida. They had this house and they had one in northern Michigan and so we bought this house.
C. You were lucky to purchase it.
F. Yes. It’s been a nice house for us.
C. You’re close to the fairgrounds. Do you notice a big change when the Henry Co. Fair is going on?
F. Oh, they cut off Huddle Road but we don’t get much traffic down here like they used to here years back. They cut off this road so they can use the parking lot on the south side there.
C. When will they have that Fair parade?
F. Sunday. They’ll open tomorrow. (casual conversation) Well, Mrs. Wangrin is there anything else you want to ask me?
C. I would like to know your opinions about some things regarding the area’s development. How do you feel? Has it lived up to your expectations?
F. Well I think basically-this county is basically an agricultural county and I think a great proportion of income depends on agriculture. They’ve kept everything rather nice around here and kept Napoleon up to date. But some of these little towns around here, like Malinta are getting less because there’s no industry in those towns; a lot of people try to get out of town. A small city like Napoleon is going to cost people a lot, lot of money to survive because industry is demanding things, government is demanding more, like sewage, surface water.
C. Of course we have our own electric plant. We’re fortunate that way.
F. We’d be a lot higher if we were on Toledo Edison because it’s quite a bit higher, but the Coop at Malinta, Tri-County is a pretty nice outfit and their rates are cheaper than Napoleon. But you can’t jump from one to another.
F. We own part of those windmills in Bowling Green now too.
C. That’s a good move!
F. They talk about putting more of those up. That’s cheap electricity.
C. What’s the problem about that? I heard something about the EPA (Environmental Protection Assn.).
F. Oh, the EPA, they give is all trouble. When I was farming these young college people think that they’re do-gooders. That’s O.K. but a lot of it is just asinine. The farmers here in this county: if we didn’t have so much lineage or knowledge in our upbringing we’d be out of the farming business by now, but the old German farmers: their education is in their eyes, you know.
C. I know. See it to believe it.
F. Well I’ve been around this old planet for many years now and I still think that these farmers here are the best. Of course that’s just my opinion.
C. Y’know I interviewed Dwight Huddle and found out that the way they got all their acreage was he and Hazel made this rule. They’d had one disaster and they would never give up their land and they would not go too heavily in debt for it. But that’s what they were going to do if they got any money ahead.
F. Well that’s the way my grandfather was. The story goes that he’d come home some days and say, “Well I bought a farm today.” Of course that was back in the ’20’s you know. When times got tougher you could buy it cheaper so he put quite a bit of land together when he died in ’32.
C. That was just before the Depression , wasn’t it?
F. Yeah, it was right in the Depression and times were getting tough. He was on a lot of bank boards and times were getting tough and a lot of them worried him. At that time bank directors were a lot more liable than they are now. Anyway, when he died my father went up to the banks. We owed lots of money on this land. He said, “What do you want to do?” And they said, “Just keep on doing what you’re doing. We don’t want your land.” So he just kept farming. Luckily World War II came along and that got us out.
C. People think Franklin Delano (Roosevelt) got us out but I believe that it was World War II when we had to start producing more.
F. Hoover was smart but he wasn’t very practical and Roosevelt was a top-notch politician, you know-a B.S.er. My folks before that were all Democrats but when Roosevelt told us we had to kill so many pigs we had on the farm and all that stuff it turned my grandfather against him and we were all Republican after that.
C. I wonder if that’s why this county is predominantly Republican now?
F. Basically before that it was all democrat. This county was a Democratic county.
C. Well, the area has a lot of room for growth. Now one question that came to my mind is: How could they get all that water out of the swamp? Wasn’t it hard to do?
F. Well the story was that first of all they dug drainage ditches and that got the water started moving. Then there was a demand for timber. It was beautiful timber. They’d clear it, and every year they’d take a little more out and pull the stumps. But the big thing was the drainage ditches. That they decided they’d put tiles all across the fields and run them into the drainage ditches. This country is some of the flattest country in the whole world. When they got this water out of this highly productive land that’s when they really went to town. We had no hills to contend with, and we had highly productive land, the old swamp. The secret was you had to get the water off. That’s the reason you see so many drainage ditches along the roads and they all fall towards the Maumee River.
C. Well I interviewed an old fellow at the Lutheran Home who called himself “a ditcher.”
F. Yeah. A tile ditcher, Elmer Cohrs is what his name is. His father was Herman. He did a lot of ditching for us. That’s where they got the big wheel and put tile down in the ground.
C. How did they do it with a wheel?
F. It had claws on it and it went around, and he had levels on it to determine how much fall it had. Before that they’d pound stakes in the ground . All these stakes had a cross bar and that’s how they got the fall. You had to have fall to make the water move. Nowadays they’re really tiling close. The faster you get water off this ground the better off you are, you know. This ground is what they call top quality but it’s slow drainage.
C. Is it clay mostly?
F. Yeah. Just south of Napoleon here along 108 is probably some of the best ground in the world
And there’s one just as good near Liberty Center where it’s black sand-west of Liberty Center. I’ve never seen ground any better than that in this country. I can’t tell you what they call it but the bulk of land in this county is what they call ‘Hoytville” soil and it’s highly productive but you gotta keep the water off. The old sayings is “A dry year will scare you to death but a wet year will kill you.” because crops can’t grow when it’s too wet but in dry weather this clay ground still holds a lot of water.
C. That’s why, when we had a minor drouth last year I thought, “Oh, what will this do to the crops?” but I never heard a farmer complain and they’re the first to do that. (laughter)
F Us farmers, we know how to complain. (lauighs)
C. Going back to your great-grandfather do you have any knowledge of how they happened to come?
F. I don’t know. They came out of Bremen, Germany. They came into New York out of Ellis Island and they came in to Cleveland, then to Lorain and that’s where my grandfather was born. That’s older country than we are here but he decided to come into this virgin country. They came into Defiance County according to these papers. My grandfather was raised Catholic and when he met my grandmother, Dora Schulte, she was Lutheran and so he became a Lutheran and when my father married my mother she was a Presbyterian so he became Presbyterian and I’m a Presbyterian. That’s the story of my upbringing.
C. That Section that your great-grandfather got?
F. He got that from the original land grant. Jim Funkhouser was my lawyer. He said, “You ought to see the old abstract.” I’d say it was in the 1800’s and I was trying to figure out who the President was at that time. According to Jim I think it was the President who signed it, I think it was Grant, but I’m not sure. You ought to see that. This land right here where I live in Napoleon was originally owned by the Erie Canal people. I don’t know why that was but they owned it.
C. They must have thought that they were going to. . .
F. Do something here, but the canal was on the other side of the river when I was a kid, the north side of the river.
C. Why would they buy land over here?
F. I don’t know why they would but the land that this house sits on-I’m not sure who owned it then. This area was developed by Junior Snyder.
C. Oh I see. They did have a house on this road.
F. They developed it.
C. Oh, that’s a nice way to make money too, I suppose.
F. Yeah. On that side was Huddle property. The original Huddle farm was there. Remember when the Luzny boy married the Reese girl? I asked Dwight if I could buy it
C. I have another question about the original couple. They married in Germany and came over here from Germany.
F. Yeah and as I’ve heard-now I’ve never been up there but great-grandfather August Pohlman was accidentally killed and he was buried on St. Michael’s Ridge.
C. That’s a strange place.
F. Well in those times they only farmed the Ridges because they were high, you know. And that’s the reason all the Indian trails were on the Ridges. We have some of the Ridges going through our land and we call it where Lake Erie used to be. That’s where you find your Indian heads and artifacts.
C. Wasn’t there a Lake Whittlesea-now I’m talking way back-a great big lake that covered this area?
F. It probably did because they’ve got all these ridges and we’ve got one in our back yard (1500 Ft. back); it’s called Weaver’s Beach.
(end of tape)
F. You said you had another question to ask.
C. I don’t think we got this recorded but what I wanted to ask was about the sons of German families that were not the oldest sons. The oldest, as I understand it, inherited the property but was supposed to care for the rest of the family. Did you ever hear anything like that?
F. Yes, the younger ones had to go out and get a job, and that’s the reason a lot of them came here to this country because everything was wide open here, and this area really worked well for those of German lineage. Of course it was awfully buggy with mosquitoes and everything else till they got all this water off. But they were used to hard work and that’s the reason this big black swamp got cleared off and got ditches.
C. Do you think the climate was similar to Germany?
F. I think it was, that’s right. These were northern Germans. My family was from Hanover, Berlin and northern Prussia.
C. And that’s where they spoke what they call ‘low German’ wasn’t it?
F. Yeah. I’m not sure whether it was high German or low German.
C. What they spoke here was low German.
F. That’s where they came from then. Wasn’t high German the formal language which they used in the churchs and the like?
C. Yes. That was the formal. They really were dealing with three languages: their native, and it’s so different from what they were using in the churches.
F. What was your maiden name?
C. My name was Whiteley.
F. That sounds English.
C. It is. Now, we were talking about this Lake Whittlesea here many many years ago and you were telling about these ridges.
F. This was when Lake Erie gradually died down and it left these sand ridges. You can go across from north to south and you can go over them. You go across one and a few miles down the road you see another one. That’s where for thousands of years there wasn’t any movement of that water so these beaches would form.
C. Oh, I see.
F. We’re all glacial here, you know. But you go down to the southeastern part of the state it’s rugged down there. But Old Mother Nature made this baby flat around here.
C. Do you think that was because it was the bottom of a lake or don’t you know?
F. Yes, it was the bottom of a lake; this was Lake Erie at one time, and of course it was glaciers way before that.
C. Maybe the movement of the glacier is what made this land so flat.
F. Oh yeah, it leveled it off. We wouldn’t be any different than southern Ohio if it weren’t for the glaciers. As they settled down it made this topsoil. And that’s the reason our land up here is basically lime. It’s sweeter soil here from limestone.