"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 17: Model "T" Trip West - And Back (1926)
[By agreement most of this chapter has been omitted, because it deals with events outside of Wisconsin.]
The car was the 1926 Ford Model T coupe I had bought that spring, having traded in the 1923 touring car I had bought the year before. I had made a few modifications to this car, including a Bosch distributor ignition system, replacing the old Ford-designed "timer." I had added a speedometer, driven by a gear and flexible shaft attached to one of the front wheels. And there was a non-standard gasoline gauge on the dash, and a vacuum-driven windshield wiper on the driver's side. Oh, yes, we can't forget the Motometer. This was simply a thermometer, filled with red liquid, mounted in a special radiator cap so the driver could tell if the engine was overheating. This was one of the first Fords to have easily replaceable transmission "bands" of which there were three, "low", "reverse", and "brake." These bands wore out rather rapidly, so we took along a spare set of three.
Before we left home we had decided on several cities along our proposed route where letters could be sent for us in care of general delivery. One of those places was Astoria, so that is where we headed next. We drove north in the Willamette valley, then through Oregon City and Portland. There we took the Columbia River highway to Astoria. On the way we stopped at the little town of St. Helens, where a pulp and paper mill was being built. They weren't hiring, though, so we went on. A few miles farther down the river, we came to the little town of Rainier, where there was a ferry across the Columbia to Longview. (The Lewis and Clark Bridge wasn't built until 1930.) Longview was a sawmill town, but unique in that the lumber company seemed to own the entire town. The developers had put in paved streets and sidewalks over a large area, anticipating rapid growth, but as we drove around we saw many, many blocks of empty lots. Then we ferried back across the river and continued westward on the winding Columbia River Highway.
In Astoria, we found a place to camp on the shore of Young's Bay. At a gas station we learned a little about the history of Astoria. Just four years earlier, a fire had destroyed virtually all of the downtown business district, which had been built over the water on wooden platforms supported by wooden pilings. When we were there much of the area had been rebuilt in the form of a huge concrete platform supported by concrete pillars. Not all of the buildings had been rebuilt, however, so there was a lot of empty space in downtown Astoria. While we were there, we discovered a place where workmen were building the Astoria Column. After exploring Astoria a bit, we found the post office and they handed us a letter addressed to me. We had wanted to explore the coast south of Astoria, so we drove down to Seaside. And it was here that I opened and read my letter. It was from Dale's sister Joyce, asking me to tell Dale that his mother had passed away in October. Words wouldn't come, so I just handed him the letter and let him read it for himself.
When we had both recovered enough to discuss plans, it was clear that Dale had to decide whether to continue looking for work in the West, or go back home to help his family as much as he could there. He decided to go back, so we left Astoria, drove back through Portland to Oregon City, where we set up camp on the banks of the Willamette River. We were running short of funds, so we wrote home asking for enough money to get us back to Wisconsin. While we were waiting, Dale put up his rifle for security while we ran up a bill for the bread and sardines which made up our diet until the telegram came with the money we needed. By this time it was so late in the year that most of the mountain roads were closed, so we made plans to take a southern route, around the winter, so to speak.
We drove into Tomahawk late in the afternoon of December 21 and were welcomed back by our families. My parents had moved back into town that fall while I was away, and were now occupying the entire house, now that Grandmother Seefeld was no longer there. That meant that I now had a room of my own!
Dale and I had gotten along so well on our trip and shared so many things that I suppose it was natural for us to spend many evenings together at his house, listening for distant stations on the Wiley radio. Dale's brothers and sisters were all there, of course, and in the course of these evenings I came to know them better and liked them all. Before too long it became evident that Joyce and I enjoyed each other's company especially well, and soon these evening visits were with her and not Dale, who seemed to find interests and activities elsewhere.
In the spring of 1927, the folks decided they had lived without electricity long enough, so they had the house wired. So now the kerosene lamps were used only on the farm, where they never had electric power as long as they lived there.
Also in the spring of 1927 I became acquainted with a man named Olson who was building an airplane in a big empty building on Railroad Street which, I think, had once been a shoe factory. He was building a biplane, and when it was finished he flew it for a time in the Tomahawk area. I don't know where he came from, or what happened to him or his plane, because I left Tomahawk in June, and lost track. I do know that "Ole" was with Dale, a couple of the Marquardt boys and myself in either Kaminsky's or Rouman's when the radio news told us that Lindbergh had landed in Paris after his famous solo flight across the Atlantic.
And it was in the spring of 1927 (too early, it turned out) that Dale and I were dispatched to West Allis (Wisconsin) to drive back Dale's father's truck, which he had left there on his way back from a job-finding trip to Florida. We went to Milwaukee by train, boarded the right streetcar, rode to the end of the line, and after about a half-mile hike, found Dales' Aunt Rettie Scrivner's place, where the truck was. Rettie Scrivner was actually Dale's great-aunt, having married George Scrivner, who was Dale's grandmother's brother. We gassed up the Wiley truck and headed north. Everything went just fine until we got north of Wausau, where the road became terribly muddy. We got stuck once, and had a farmer pull us out of the mud, but when we got stuck a second time, late in the evening, we gave up, left the truck and hiked to Merrill, where we stayed over night in the Badger Hotel and then took the morning train to Tomahawk. I still don't know how that truck got back to Tomahawk!
Early in May, 1927, Joyce and I decided we were engaged, and I began to think seriously about finding a job. My two cousins, Herman and Otto Schmelter had gone down to Milwaukee and found jobs, and it looked as though I should try to do the same. So it was arranged that I would go to Milwaukee, and stay with them where they boarded while I looked for work. More about Milwaukee in the next chapter.