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"The Wisconsin Years," from
My First Eighty Years (and then some!) 
Lyle Arthur Seefeld

Copyright Ralph L. Seefeld and Carol Howman. This book may not be reproduced or copied
in any manner without the written consent of Ralph L. Seefeld 

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Chapter 16: Paper Mill Office (1924-1926)

When I started working at the paper mill office the mill was in the process of being rebuilt.  It had been built in 1920 to manufacture paper for Montgomery Ward catalogs.  In 1923, it was bought by a group of paper mill men from Wausau and Mosinee, and converted to the manufacture of Kraft paper such as is used to make brown paper bags.

The mill employed about two hundred people, and, as timekeeper, my job was to keep track of the number of hours each employee worked, his rate of pay, and where he worked.  Every mill employee (except the supervisors) "punched" a time card when he came to work and again when  he left.  Each time card was a record of each worker's comings and goings for two weeks and, with his rate of pay, was what I used to compute the amount to put on his paycheck.  So every two weeks I prepared the pay checks (someone else signed them!) and became paymaster.  For each two week pay period I also prepared what in this computer age would be called a "spreadsheet" but which we called the "payroll distribution."  It was simply a large sheet of paper with columns of figures detailing the various parts of the company operation and the labor costs charged to them.  With this information, management could tell at a glance what it cost to run every part of each department.

In addition to the office manager, Oscar Duus, the office personnel included Sven B. Bugge, plant manager, Ravn Tillisch, his assistant, a Swedish draftsman named Sverre Strom, and three girls: Mabel Moe, Loyola LeMay, and Margaret "Midge" Kaphaem.  And there, working part time as office boy and part time as a mill hand in the finishing room, was Dale Wiley!  (The finishing room was where the paper was cut to size and prepared for shipment.)

By present day standards,  this 1924 paper mill office was practically prehistoric.  Each girl had a typewriter (strictly manual, of course) but the only other office machine I remember is a Burroughs (I think) adding machine with about a hundred keys and a hand-operated lever on one side.  In the basement there was a blueprint machine which I was called upon to use now and then.  It consisted mainly of a tall vertical glass cylinder, at least two feet in diameter, with a powerful arc lamp in the center.  On the outside, a canvas curtain was so arranged that it could be wrapped tightly around the glass.  Making a blueprint is a simple photographic process, very much like contact printing.  However, instead of printing a negative to make a positive, one starts with a positive (drawn on translucent tracing paper or cloth) and prints a negative with white lines on a blue background.  The tracing to be copied is placed, ink side up, on the sensitized surface of a piece of blueprint paper of the same size.  This sandwich is placed on the cylinder, with the tracing side next to the glass, and the canvas cover is stretched tightly around it.  The arc lamp is now turned on for what seems to be an awfully long time.  (That means I don't remember how long!)  Now the papers are removed, and the print is placed in a shallow tray of just plain water.  And as you watch, the surface of the paper turns that familiar blueprint blue; every where, that is, except where the ink lines on the tracing kept the light from striking the paper.  When the developing stops, the print is removed from the water and allowed to dry.  All of this, by the way, is done in subdued light; no darkroom is necessary.  Well, now, that's probably a lot more than you wanted to know about blueprints!

One of my minor tasks at the paper mill office was to change the charts in the night watchman's "clock." The mill employed two night watchmen, who, at this time were men named Tom May and Fred Liberty.  They worked alternating shifts, from four in the afternoon to midnight and from midnight to eight in the morning.  They walked a prescribed route around and through the mill, looking for prowlers and keeping their eyes open for anything else unusual.  To make sure they walked their entire route, they were required to carry a "clock", which was actually a small clock-driven chart recorder.  The chart, about five inches in diameter, turned once in twenty-four hours.  Located at strategic points along the watchmen's route were a dozen or more securely fastened "keys".  When the watchman reached one of the keys, he plugged it into his clock, which printed a number on the chart to record the time he had been there.  As I said, it was my job to put a new chart in this clock every morning, so I got well acquainted with the watchmen.

By the spring of 1925 I figured I had saved enough to buy a car. (A used one, of course!)  So Herman, Otto and I went to Merrill by train, and visited used car lots.  I bought a 1923 Model T Ford "touring car,"  which had only the windshield and a collapsible fabric top to keep out the weather.  The engine was rather noisy, so we overhauled it, putting in new valves, connecting rod bearings and piston rings.  Then, with the car all ship-shape, we decided to take a trip north to test it out.  My cousin Alfred Manthei came up from Alma Center and went with us.  So, on the fourth of July, 1925, the four of us drove up to Ashland and around Chequamegon Bay to Bayfield.  We spent that night at a camp ground near Bayfield, and slept (or attempted to) in a sort of half-tent that was fastened to the side of the car.  Some time between midnight and morning a thick fog came in from the lake and sat on our "camp" until after sunrise.  I don't think I have ever experienced a more miserable Fourth of July night!

The newly overhauled car ran nicely now, and I drove it to work and back, dropping Herman and Otto off at the gravel pit in "Frenchtown" where they worked.  Then in the fall of 1925, because I didn't have a place to store the car over winter, and because I wanted an enclosed car anyway, I ordered a new 1926 coupe, to be delivered the next spring, but traded in the touring car that fall.  So the next spring I took delivery of my first new car!  It came with several "accessories" which were not standard equipment and cost extra, including a speedometer, driven by a gear on a front wheel, and a vacuum operated windshield wiper.  A little later I added a gasoline gage, a Bosch distributor ignition system, and a Motometer, which was just a special radiator cap with a red thermometer mounted in it, to warn the driver of engine overheating.

In the meantime the paper mill office was being reorganized.  Irene Carney, a new office manager was brought in, leaving Oscar Duus with only his duties as purchasing agent.  And, then, probably because I was doing my timekeeping job so easily, she started giving me extra work.  At first it was one of the company's account books, "accounts payable" I think. And after I had that under control, she added "accounts receivable."

So now I was doing so much desk work that I started having headaches. Just about that time, the mill's managers brought in an optometrist who checked the vision of every employee.  I remember sitting there, reading his eye chart and stumbling over a letter or two.  So he prescribed a pair of glasses to be worn while doing desk work.

In an earlier paragraph I told you about the night watchmen.  There was a wooden bench just outside the back door of the office, where these watchmen would sit waiting for their shift to start, or to rest between rounds. In our many trips between the office and the mill, Dale and I walked right by this bench, and got to know the watchmen quite well, especially Fred Liberty, who had lived in the Bellingham area, and told us many great stories about the mild Puget Sound climate.  And all my extra work, and the headaches it caused, and the annual "nine months of winter" which we had in northern Wisconsin made the west coast seem more and more tempting.

At first I think we did a lot of wishful thinking, but soon it became serious, and before long we had talked ourselves into planning an extended camping trip through the West, with the possibility of finding work and settling down somewhere on the coast, preferably in Oregon.  Then about the first of August Dale and I turned in our resignations, to take effect the last of the month.  To take my place, Irene Carney, the office manager, hired two young fellows from the Antigo area, Ralph Pennings to do the timekeeping, and Ed Kulas to do the bookkeeping!

So at work during that August I was busy acquainting these new hires with their duties, while away from work Dale and I prepared for our trip.  I bought a seven by seven foot wall tent, two wood and canvas folding army cots, some blankets, two Boy Scout cooking kits and a Kodak folding camera. Dale bought a similar camera, and took along a 22 caliber rifle he had bought from Charlie Wilber.  For the car, we took a dozen or so quart cans of oil and a spare set of three transmission bands which came in very handy in Yellowstone Park.  All this gear fit very nicely in the "turtle-back" trunk of the car, so the shelf behind the seat was normally empty except for two cameras and some maps.  Oh, yes! I left those close-up glasses at home!

I don't know how our families felt about this adventure, and they probably thought we were young and foolish, but I didn't hear any serious objections.  After all, our parents had all come to Tomahawk from somewhere else, perhaps for similar reasons.  And I, of course, was twenty-one and legally independent, but Dale didn't have his eighteenth birthday until October of that year, while we were somewhere in the West, and then he didn't even tell me about it!  We made arrangements to stop at several post offices along the way to pick up any mail sent there in care of general delivery.  I think one such place was Twin Falls, Idaho, and I know one was Astoria, Oregon.