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Charles W. Schnurr 1867-Oct. 1953


Posted By: Theresa Schnurr Tapper (email)
Date: 8/6/2005 at 12:30:58

New Hampton Tribune, Feb 12, 1953
by Helen M. Attleson

Farmer, carpenter, contractor, business man and serving for more than three decades in the capacity of peace officer, our Charley Schnurr, at age 85, is now in retirement -- but not inactivity.

The son of respected farmer Dan and Catherine Schnurr, Charles W. Schnurr was born Jul 27, 1867, in Scott county, Iowa. The family came to New Hampton when Charley was six years old and settled on the old home place about five miles southwest of New Hampton, in later years referred to as the Bellinger place.

Charley stayed on the farm until his early twenties, when he took up the work of carpenter. He built the barn on the home place and while plying his trade and later when contracting for himself, there are numerous other buildings throughout the county and city erected by Charley and his crew. To name but a few are the Boettcher, Krueger, Feeney, Ed Lampke and Delsing barns. On the latter place, now known as the Dave Hedenstrom farm, Charley also built the house.

BUILDS 5 HOUSES IN TOWN: Five houses in New Hampton, the Boyd school house and perhaps his biggest undertaking, the Ford garage, are other accomplishments in the nail, hammer and plank art, credited to Mr. Schnurr.

Wages were in the decidedly low bracket, Charlie's* men on his crew receiving $1 per day and himself, by furnishing tools and other necessary equipment, was able to drag down two bucks for a day's work. And a day's work meant just that. Many times there was a long horse and buggy drive involved and then, Charlie said, the men stayed with the task for 10 to 12 hours each day.

But for a young man all was not work. Fun was mixed in, filling square dance engagements. The little band of Schnurr, Ethan Wesp, Joe Wesp and Watt Pond was a much-sought musical four which provided music and livened things up in general in many a dance hall in the county. There were dates at Fredericksburg and in Tibbitt's hall, Sumner, and other places. Charlie was the official "caller." After a full day at the carpenter trade, and a long jaunt for an evening of merriment, it can readily be seen that the young Schnurr lad often hit the bed in the wee small hours.

After six and a half years erecting buildings, Charlie was persuaded by the late A. E. Bigelow to take a position in his lumber yard, which was being handled by the Bigelow sons, Date and Clyde. This establishment was in the location of the present day Eclipse Lumber Yard. Later Date sold his interests to Don Donovan and the firm name consequently became Bigelow & Donovan Lumber Yard.

ELECTED COUNTY SHERIFF: In 1902 Charley was elected to the office of Chickasaw County sheriff. During his regime two changes were brought about governing the post. The election law was revised from a yearly election to its present status of every two years. As a result of this measure Sheriff Schnurr had five years in the office. The other, and surely a sorely needed measure, put the office of sheriff on a salary basis, plus mileage, etc. When Schnurr first stepped into the sheriff's shoes and for about a year after, the job was strictly a free set-up.

Mr. Schnurr's deputy was a Nashuan, Loyal Johnson. Before Schnurr's term expired, however, he managed the office for a year and a half with no second man. When occasions arose that called for the sheriff's absence, S. E. Johnston was authorized to fill in until Charley returned to the office.

A span of chestnut bronchos and a rig the envy of the town was Charlie's mode of transportation. The buggy was purchased from Dr. Amos Babcock and had been specially made according to the doctor's personal specifications. "I paid $70 for the buggy and it was a deluxe job. Cost the doctor around $165 and that was a big price in those days," said Charley.

Schnurr quartered his horses in his brother Dan's livery stable. He paid $20 per month for their keep. In speaking of his pair of little speedsters, Charlie said, "They were dandies, but tempermental. I could do anything with them, but many a time when I hauled into a strange stable to rest the horses and have them fed, I was told to take care of my own danged team. But they were fast -- I've made Nashua in two hours more than once, good or bad roads," continued Mr. Schnurr.

LAWLER BANK ROBBERY: Knowing Charlie is considered as one of our best ex-sheriffs and a fine law enforcement officer in general, we prodded him up a bit to reach back into the recesses of his brilliant memory and tell us something of the happenings during his terms as sheriff, and here is one we acclaim as a first-class piece of sleuthing -- the Lawler bank robbery deal.

Seems like a local man with a shady reputation was instigator in importing a couple of thugs and they no sooner hit town until Charlie had a wary eye peeled in their direction. Undercover work of his own and a tip revealed they were planning to rob the post office. Somehow the would-be robbers got wind of a stake-out for them and decided not to go through with their nefarious scheme.

However, the strangers had managed to crash the blacksmith shop and among the missing items were a drill bit stock and other tools, the nature of which spelled burglary to Charlie.

Collaring the New Hampton man who had frequently been seen in the company of the out-of-towners, Charley wrung from him a plot to rob the Curran Bank at Lawler. Through intensive interrogation Schnurr learned the townsman was at the mercy of his pals. Back through the years, evidently their paths had crossed -- and for no good. Charley's informant admitted he was "scared to death" of the fellows.

CAREFULLY LAYED PLANS: Charley, laying his plans carefully, told the "squealer" to play his part as look-out as originally arranged and to "keep his mouth shut." That evening, early, Charlie and Max Walker (day marshal here) concealed themselves in a building adjoining the bank. The Lawler officer had been informed of the plans, but refused to join Charley and Max, saying he was needed on the street.

A dark night, rain started to fall as the officers kept their silent vigil. In due time a loud crash was heard and the bank window was shattered. Instead of flushing their quarry immediately, the sheriff was too smart for that. He was way out in front in figuring out their modus operandi, which was to break the window, wait a few minutes for all-clear going, grab their tools, which were hidden in a pile of lumber near the railroad tracks to the rear.

Just about the time entry was to be made, law and order himself, the Lawler officer, bungled the job by a holler of "hands up" to which the robbers replied with a sharp report from their guns. A string of empty box cars on the nearby railroad track complicated things for the officers, and the bandits made good their escape. Incidentally, in the melee the Lawler night watchman stuck his head around a dark corner at the wrong time and almost regretted it but for good, when Charley gave the terse command of "halt" backed up by his trusty shotgun. Only quick identification saved the Lawlerite's noodle.

APPREHENDS FUGITIVE: The robbers made good their escape, but not for long. The next day they were spotted on the highway south of town, having roosted in a barn out that way. Charley who was accompanied by Officer Jack O'Day, upon nearing the men, handed O'Day the reins, drew a bead with his shotgun on the fellows, who were so taken by surprise they didn't have time to draw their guns. O'Day quickly disarmed the men and they were brought to the New Hampton jail.

The culprits were loaded to the gills. Besides their revolvers, they were packing a pop bottle filled with nitro glycerines, fuses, caps, soap and a flashlight, all the essentials for a successful burglary heist were hidden on their person. Cautious Charley, wanting no truck with the explosives, cached them near the roadside until the men were safely behind bars.

The trial was quite an event. A defense attorney questioned the sheriff as to the contents of the pop bottle, intimating it was probably just sour pop. Charlie countered by saying he had used but one teaspoon of the "soup" in a crevice of a rock, ignited with fuse and cap and that the boulder was shot sky-high. (He had witnesses, too.) Charley casually remarked to the attorney, "Sour pop won't do that."

The men each drew five year sentences to the penitentiary for carrying concealed weapons and burglary tools. But for the bobble on the Lawler deal, a reward of $1,000 each, offered by the Northeast Iowa Bankers Association, would have been collected by the local officers.

Someone told us not long ago of the schoolhouse escapade, in whcih Schnurr bagged two more "wanteds." A tipster revealed two men were in the McFarland schoolhouse, east of town, and Charley decided they were a pair he had been looking for. Schnurr reverted to the old-time disguise technique and dressed in old overalls, smeared his face with dirt and walked the railroad tracks for a ways, eventually sneaking up to the little schoolhouse and surprising the men who were in the act of doing their morning chore of shaving. They were a sought-after duo and Charley soon had them basking in the confines of the hoosgow.

There are many, many more stories of Charlie's career. Suffice to say his record shows he did an excellent job. He was president of the Iowa Sheriff's Association and in recognition of his outstanding work was awarded a gold headed ebony walking cane by the Association.

BIG "FOUR" FORMED: After his sheriff's days, Charley worked for the International Harvester Company out of Dubuque for two years. Then he purchased the interest of Jack Courtney in the New Hampton Motor and Implement Co. The place was located at the site of the Firemen's theater and oldtimers remember the method of transporting the buggies from the upstairs to the ground. The vehicle was steadied down on a wooden plank. Sometimes as many as 100 buggies were housed upstairs.

With his interest in the above named business, the "big four" was formed, C. W. Schnurr, Nels Wesp, W. G. Shaffer and Alvie Shaffer.

Finding the place inadequate for their vast interests, the partners deemed it feasible to build a new place of business and here again Charley, with his knowledge of construction, was called upon to erect the building which today houses Mikkelson Motors. This building was built the same year as the old school house. Headstones and coping were a personal job of Schnurr's The place was erected by the day and in its original planning there was a partition, making two complete places of business. This has, of course, since been removed.

The "big four" broke up with Joe Blankenheim and Schnurr purchasing the holdings of the other partners. They dispensed of the big cars and carried on the implement business with the Ford agency. Wesp had the south part of the building and sold Buick cars.

An interesting side light on the Blankenheim-Schnurr combination is the fact that Charley sold the late Dr. Paul E. Gardner his first car in 1910.

The business flourished but after a time Mr. Schnurr sold his interests to Ray and the late Mark Blankenheim. The change came about as an offshoot of a long siege of illness suffered by Schnurr.

EXCELLENT POLICE OFFICER: About the year 1926 Mr. Schnurr came into the public eye again as an officer of the law. He was appointed by Mayor McIntyre as city marshal. In this capacity genial Charley is perhaps best known. Using plain horse sense, along with the edicts of the law, with a dash of good judgment thrown in, Charley gained the reputation of being ace-high as a city officer. A lifelong knowledge of the population and always applying a helpful, courteous manner, he endeared himself to the community. Many a stranger has had occasion to remember Charley's aid in helping find relatives, lodging and in other varied ways.

He helped in solving the parking zone problem for big trucks and other vehicles; his service was called upon when the traffic meters were put into effect; and last but not least, was his know-how in handling any tangle of traffic. Under his guidance, parades, funeral processions and the like moved in a smooth, unsnarled path. What is more, Charley could be depended upon to be in the right place at the right time.

Schnurr retired from the police force, of which organization he has been chief for many years, in 1951.

A lifelong Republican, Charlie has cast his vote in 16 presidential elections. We asked Charley (silly question) if he voted for president every time since reaching the eligible age, to which he replied, "I always vote at any election."

And speaking of exercising his franchise, Charlie chuckled when he recalled his first ballot. While still on the farm, their voting precinct was at Republic. Charley, after spending the morning husking corn, announced his intention of driving over to vote, saying his colts needed a little exercise. His father said he would join him, so the young man and his dad rode through a mire of sticky mud and back to cast their ballot. Upon their return home, Charley's mother remarked what a profitable trip it had been, one straight Republican vote and one, the same, for the Democrats. Charley said his dad was a Democrat until Cleveland's time and 2 cent corn was the vogue. "That's when dad said it was time to change politics," remarked Charley.

LOOKED LIKE TEDDY: To those who remember Charlie years ago the remark is often made that his resemblance to the late President Teddy Roosevelt was amazing. Mr. Schnurr sported the same cut of mustache and displayed a fine set of teeth as did he of rough rider fame. In fact one oldster said that he recalled that when Charley had his mustache shaved, no one knew him.

Charley and his fine wife, the former Theresa Peters, have been married so many years that wedding anniversaries just naturally come and go without much to-do. They were wed in St. Mary's church, of which both are members, Jan. 5, 1892, so just a few weeks ago their 61st marital mark slipped by. They are the parents of seven children, Arthur, Clarence, A.W. and Marie of New Hampton; Clem and Frank of Oelwein and Evelyn (Mrs. Lee Wallace) of Waterloo. One son, Walter, is deceased. There are 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Come Sunday or any other holiday it is the delight of Charley and Trace to gather around the dinner table with a family get-together. The piece de resistance, in all probability, will be the concoction of Chef Charley. For years, adept at the culinary art, he finds enjoyment over the stove, among the pots and pans, making the stuffing and roasting the bird to just the right mouth-watering turn. He uncorks a rare brand of different sausages and it is he who stomps the cabbage for the winter kraut barrel. Lest some one think the good lady of the house has time on her hands let it be known that besides caring for this or that grandchild, looking after all the household duties, last fall she found time to store away in cans some 350 quarts of delicious berries and vegetables.

LOVES THE SOIL: Until a few years ago, Charley, our Luther Burbank, wasn't content with just the home lot for garden purposes. Always some place he had an extra plot rented for his extensive vegetable raising.

Right about now, as the days begin to lengthen and the calendar indicates we are headed toward Spring, seed catalogues are getting a bit on the dog-eared side at the Schnurr manor. Seed houses even send Charlie samples for experimentation. As evidence of this that weird looking coiled thing called a New Guinea bean, displayed in the Economist-Tribune window last fall, was from the ground and hoe of Schnurr.

Charley and Trace Schnurr, who have always had time for other folks and who have throughout the years been a credit and joy to this community, rightly deserve the place they occupy in the hearts of folks of their home town, who somehow think they are just swell people.

*Charlie/Charley spelled both ways in article.


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