David William Dietz
DIETZ, JOHNSON, SATER
Posted By: Linda Taylor (email)
Date: 9/15/2018 at 22:30:06
MEMORIES OF A CHILDHOOD IN ROCK RAPIDS, IOWA
By David William Dietz 14 September 2018
I was born on April 2 3, 1935 to Denver and Esther Dietz. They were newlyweds, and I was their first child. Diane was born five years later and Judy three years after that. My parents lived with her father, Eric, and her brother Bill. Eric had emigrated from Norway as a young man to seek a better life. He married Julia, a Norwegian-American whose family had emigrated from the same community. Eric and Julia moved to Rock Rapids, Iowa where he was employed as the foreman of the local work crew for the Rock Island Railroad.
Eric purchased two contingent lots near the northern edge of town. On that property he built a house, garage, storage shed and an outdoor toilet or outhouse. The house was two stories with a full attic and basement and a high pitched roof. Later, a flat roofed addition was added to the north side of the house, where the kitchen was located. The only plumbing at that time was a cold water faucet in the kitchen. Heat was provided by a coal burning stove located in the dining room between the front room and the kitchen. Later the coal burning stove was replaced by a heating oil burning stove and even later by central heat from a furnace located in the basement. There was a wood-burning cooking stove in the kitchen which was upgraded serval times to a modern electric stove. My bedroom was located on the second floor and was very cold during the winter. I slept during the winter under several heavy blankets and didnít waste time getting dressed in the morning. During the summer it could get very hot in the house. We would use an electric fan for some relief during the day and most evenings we would sit out on the front porch. It was nice talking to passersby, and I enjoyed chasing lightning bugs and catching them.
When I was six or seven a closet was converted into a bathroom. That was a huge upgrade in our lifestyle.
Getting our first car, an old used prewar Chevrolet, was the next big event in our lives. When I was born my fatherís job was to work as a clerk in a local drugstore. He also held two part-time jobs. When I was five or six he was able to get a job at the new oil pipeline terminal located on the western edge of town. That is why we were able to afford the indoor bathroom and a car.
Uncle Bill worked at various odd jobs around the town and of course Grandpa Eric was the foreman of the local crew for the railroad company. It was the Great Depression so life was difficult, but those jobs brought in enough income to keep food on the table.
Mom worked very hard keeping the house clean, cooking, doing the laundry and making sure our clothes were neat, clean and mended. She had to do the laundry by hand, using a manually operated ringer to squeeze out the water from the clothes. The clothes were hung out on outdoor clothes lines to dry. During the winter they would be brought into the house frozen hard.
Our primary recreation was listening to the radio. It was the golden age for radio and there were a number of really good shows. We did not get television until I was a junior in high school.
During my preschool years grandpa Eric was an important part of my life. When I was very young he liked to bounce me on this knee and sing songs in serval different languages. His favorite candy was the marshmallow circus candy peanuts. I very much enjoyed sharing with him and to this day those marshmallow peanuts are one of my favorite sweets. Grandpa was a good storyteller and I was enthralled listening to him.
One of my favorite memories was when he took me for a ride on a railroad hand car. His crew were pumping away and singing loudly as we moved down the track at a very high rate of speed.
Another vivid memory was when we were sitting around the dinner table during a terrific blizzard that was raging outdoors. We heard a tremendous crash. An Illinois Central train rammed into a Rock island train at an intersection near our home. Visibility was zero at that time. Grandpa had to put on his heavy winter gear and go out and take charge of the situation. It was a very difficult job under absolutely terrible conditions. He was a fairly old man at that time so Iím sure this situation took a heavy toll on him. Not long after that he retired from work and moved out to California to join family there. Uncle Bill also moved to find his fortune in California.
I really missed having him around.
During his high school days, Uncle Bill was a terrific football player and was the second person to be inducted later into the Rock Rapids high school Hall of Fame. He was a very popular man around town and he enjoyed taking me with him on serval occasions. We would stop at a tavern and Bill and would get a beer and I would be given a piece of candy or some ice cream.
Pets are always an important part of a familyís life. When I was a toddler we had a female cat and a male dog. One day the cat walked out with her new litter of kittens and never came back. When I was three or four years of age, Skipper died after eating some rat poison set out by a neighbor. I was grief stricken. Shortly after that my dad borrowed a car and we drove up to Sioux Falls to visit my uncle Pat and his family. Uncle Pat suggested that he, Dad and I should go down to the animal shelter to pick out a new pet. I believe that this was the plan all along. I was very excited and we very carefully checked out all of the dogs available in their separate cages. I picked out a beautiful puppy. The man in charge of the kennel told me that I had made a very good choice, but he was disappointed that I hadnít selected another particular puppy. That puppy was scheduled to be put down later that afternoon. I changed my mind to save that little puppy. He was an ugly dog, but was very grateful and excited to be selected. We named the dog Buster. When we got back home, I took him outside to play. Buster would run for about 10 yards and then jump into the air and do a complete turn. He repeated this maneuver serval times. Finally he was exhausted and we went back into the house. After he ate his dinner he fell asleep in my lap. Buster turned out to be a great dog. He was very protective of my sisters and would not let anyone approach the buggy they were being pushed in until he was assured that the other person was Okay. Over the years Iíve had a number of fine pets, but Buster still remains number one in my heart.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, propelling us into World War II, occurred when I was five years old. We were at war during my elementary school years. I remember running around the schoolyard at recess yelling ďbeep beep Iím a jeepĒ because Red Skelton, a radio comedian, said that on the air.
Many consumer items, such as sugar and tires, were rationed during the war. My parents had to take me to the elementary school one evening for me to be presented so that I could get my ration book. The clerk working at the table was our next-door neighbor, Florence Patton, but I had to be physically brought to the school because that was the rule.
This little town in the middle of the country contacted air raid drills once a month. This whole thing was silly but there was a strong psychological need to do something like this. The drills were always held at night. We had to turn off all of the lights and pull the shades. I got into trouble once when the air raid warden walking down the sidewalk by our house noticed light leaking around the edge of the shade in my bedroom window. I was using a flashlight to read a comic book. I remember being taken out into the countryside with a group of children to collect milkweed pods. The milkweed was used to make artificial silk for parachutes. We also collected tons of newspapers and cardboard that was carefully packed into boxcars parked on a railroad side track... Each week at school we would buy a stamp. The stamp would be pasted into a special book. When the book was full it would be turned in for a savings bond to help finance the war.
The country was very patriotic at that time and there was a great sense of unity. Near the end of the war an announcement was made about a shipment of nylon stockings to the local Pennyís department store. My mother sent me to the store with a note of what she wanted and some money. I was run over by a horde of frantic women. Finally a kind clerk saw me and took the note and money from me and returned with my motherís order.
After the war many veterans returned home. There was a great sense of optimism and pride. Thereafter, Memorial Day became a major event. The high school band would assemble at the courthouse and march with slow, mournful music to the bridge over the Rock River. The band would play the Navy hymn while an airplane would fly overhead and drop a wreath into the water. The band would march back to the courthouse with more lively music and then be transported to the cemetery. At the cemetery there would be a program. The program would include a firing squad shooting rounds in a salute followed by taps played on a bugle with another bugle in the distance answering in an echo. A seventh grade boy was selected every year to recite the Gettysburg Address. Tom Baron was chosen the year I was in 7th grade.
Our property fronted on N. 2nd Ave. across from the Marietta Hotel. The Marietta was considered to be a relatively up- scale hotel that was very popular with traveling salesmen. On the east side of the property was N. Boone St. and on the west side the Illinois Central railroad tracks. To the no there was another residence and beyond that the Rock Island railroad tracks. Fortunately, both railroads were branch lines so the traffic on them was not very heavy. On the closer Illinois Central railroad tracks we had only two trains going north and two trains going south each day.
During my early years the trains were powered by steam engines so they were very loud, exciting and sometimes a little scary. When trains were far away but approaching, you could put your ear on the rail and hear the sound being transmitted over a great distance. On several occasions I put coins on the rail before the train approached. The coins were transformed into very thin and very wide disks.
Early in the war a long troop train came slowly by heading to Sioux Falls. There was an Army Air Corps base there. I started waving to the soldiers and several of them pitched out dimes to me. I think I found a couple of them. Shortly after the war a local man who had become a fighter pilot during the war led his flight of Mustang fighter planes at a very low altitude down the length of the Illinois Central railroad tracks through Rock Rapids. I was outside at the time and had a very close and clear look. The sound was deafening and the ground shook. It was awesome.
The Rock River begins its journey near Pipestone, Minnesota and meanders south past Luverne and then across the state border into Lyon County, Iowa. It flows past Rock Rapids on its way to the Missouri River near Sioux City. There is a dam just above the rapids that the town is named after. Dick Flannery and I would seine for minnows at the base of the dam and use them for bait when we went fishing.
One summer we built a raft and deployed it on the pond above the dam. Just north of that pond the river splits and forms Scout Island. The east side of the island is connected to the mainland by a swinging foot bridge. The island is heavily wooded and was a great playground. On the west side of the island there was a swimming hole we called Bare Ass Beach. A rope tied to a sturdy tree branch allowed us to swing out over the river and then let go and plunge into the water.
Across from the swimming hole was an insulated ice storage building. During the dead of the winter ice would be harvested and transported up in to the building. The ice blocks would then be further insulated by saw dust. Nearly every home in the town had an icebox and the ice would be delivered to each house during the warmer months of the year.
Many of us enjoyed playing battle flag on Scout Island. Two teams would be formed and we would divide the island into two team territories. Both territories would have a flag with a small safe zone around it. If a player ventured into enemy territory and was touched by an opponent he became a prisoner and was taken to the home safe zone. If you were successful in getting to the other teams safe zone without being touched you could then bring a prisoner home. If there were no prisoners to rescue, you took possession of the other team's flag, winning the game.
Summer vacations were wonderful, but school was a very important component of life as well. We had one elementary school and a secondary school located about 4 or 5 blocks away. The elementary building was a two story structure with a large playing field adjacent. The fire escape from the second floor was a tubular chute. When we were in first grade, we were taken up to the second floor and forced to go down the fire escape chute. It was terrifying. After that it became great fun, and we looked forward to fire drills.
Back in that time we had a half day kindergarten. Our class was divided into a morning group and an afternoon group. Miss Hampe was our teacher, and she was a town legend. She had been there forever and was the kindergarten teacher for both of my parents. As we moved through Rock Rapids Elementary School, we had mostly good teachers and I believe that most of us enjoyed the experience.
During the summer the town headed a summer recreation program that was great. We played a number of sports and games, had an extensive craft program and went on interesting field trips. Rock Rapids did not have a public swimming pool yet at that time, so we were taken to Luverne to use their swimming pool each week during the summer swimming season. After a couple of hours at the pool we stopped at an ice cream store for treats before returning home.
Moving from elementary school up to the Rock Rapids Junior High was very exciting for most of the boys, since it meant that we could finally participate in competitive, organized sports. Unfortunately, the girls were not given the same privilege.
We had a very good basketball team, and we went undefeated for both our seventh and eighth grade years in the junior high. At Rock Rapids High School we did not enjoy very much success in football, but we did very well in basketball. In our senior year we won the Tri-State basketball championship going undefeated in conference play.
Our school was small enough that you could get involved in extra-curricular activities very easily. The pride of our school was the concert/ marching band. Because of our size we were considered a class C school for music competitions, but we chose to compete in class B. We competed very well in band, small ensemble and solo competitions.
Iowa had a small dedicated tax to support music programs in the schools. The school had the money to buy many instruments and lend them to students who could not otherwise afford them. I played and E flat clarinet, which was a very rare instrument. I felt that I was given a good school experience.
Teachers I had growing up:
1st grade: Miss Coal
Music: Mrs. Brynteson
Supt. of Schools: Mr Vogd
H. S. principal: Mr. Crawford
Football/Basketball coach: Leland Crew
Band director: Mr. White
Latin: Miss Henry
History: Mr. Lapley
Rock Rapids had a population of about 3,000 in the postwar period. Those were the ďsalad daysĒ for that community. The town was very prosperous at that time and was considered to be one of the more attractive communities in the area. The business district was very vibrant, especially for a community of that size. The business center had two department stores, a hardware store, a furniture store, two bakeries, two restaurants, an ice cream store, a menísí haberdashery and a womanís boutique clothing store, a couple of grocery stores, two drugstores, two taverns, several law offices, two banks, a movie theater and a newspaper office, as well as serval other businesses. One drugstore had a very nice soda fountain as well as a huge magazine and comic book section. The other had a very nice jewelry department as well as a home furnishings and gifts department. In addition, the town had a bowling alley, three car dealerships, two grain elevators and a farm implements center. North of town there was a golf course, gun club and an airport. There were eight Christian churches in Rock Rapids, representing a wide range of denominations. The Champlin Oil Company had a tank farm just west of town. It was the terminus of an oil pipeline that stretched north from Enid, Oklahoma.
Rock Rapids had its own city owned power plant, which was unusual for that part of the country. Although this was rock-ribbed Republican territory, no one saw the government owned enterprise as socialistic. The Town was blessed to have a large community center and an excellent Carnegie library. The library was only two blocks from our home, and I spent a lot of time there reading many of the magazines that were available.
Friday nights were special for the kids who lived in town. That was the night we went to the Rapids movie theater to see two western movies, a serial or two and a couple of cartoons. The only exception to that routine were for the night high school football games. When we were in elementary school at those games, we would run up and down a slope, knocking each over and playing King of the Hill.
Saturday night was the big shopping night. All of the stores were open and farm families from the surrounding area would come to town to shop. Actually, the women would do the shopping, the men would go to the taverns and the kids would go to the movie theater to see the shows that the town kids had seen the night before. A great time was had by all.
Rock Rapids was the county seat for Lyon County and had a grand limestone courthouse guarded by two huge lions at the front entrance. Rock Rapids was also the home of the Lyon County Fairgrounds, which were quite extensive. The county fair was the highlight of every summer.
The grandstand would have several nights of musical shows and several nights of horse racing on a dirt track. The horses pulled buggies and were either pacers or trotters. The horse barns were rather extensive and were the home base for a number of horse owners and trainers. It was fun to go to those horse barns and visit the horses.
It was enjoyable to tour the agricultural displays, but the real fun was the carnival midway. All of the sights and sounds and going on the rides were a pretty exciting experience for a small town boy.
The town was small enough that it was easy to roam its entirety on foot or bicycle. In those days boys would get together and organize touch football or half-court basketball games. We had a basketball hoop on our garage, so sometimes we played there. I got to be a pretty good long range shooter practicing at home.
Several times a group of us organized hikes out into the countryside, usually along the river. We would take food and utensils with us and cook a meal over a campfire.
For most of the year the boys in the town were model, up-standing citizens. The exception was Halloween night. There was a long tradition of evil deeds and misbehavior on that occasion, and we certainly lived up to that tradition. Bruce Brugmann, my closest childhood friend, and I were the leaders during our junior and senior years in high school. Our activities included diverting traffic from Highway 75 into Riverside Cemetery and moving boxcars to block streets in town.
My first job was to deliver Sioux City Journal newspapers. I did that every day of the week and I also delivered Des Moines Register newspapers on Sundays. Later I worked at a grocery store and after that at Guy Hutchinsonís Barbershop. Mondays through Fridays I came in to the barbershop after dinner and cleaned it, polished it up and got it ready for the next business day. On Saturdays I would work the entire day, sweeping the floor, getting items for the barbers and working as a shoeshine boy.
Several years before I was born, the Norwegian-American church that the family attended was dis-banded. The congregation split and went to three different churches- a conservative Lutheran church, a more liberal Lutheran church and the Methodist church. My parents chose to affiliate with the Methodist church. I went to Sunday school and was active in church activities. I attended church camp one summer and served as the president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship for one year.
The church building is an impressive edifice. A beautiful, purple-colored granite was used to construct the building. I have not seen that granite used any place else. The church has a large, round stained glass window, some beautiful artwork and a large pipe organ.
Many of my childhood memories center on family. We were generally a happy household. My dad was a hardworking man and a great husband and father. We all loved him very much. My dad would take me fishing, and we all enjoyed family picnics together. Mom would make a basket of fried chicken with all the fixings and maybe some watermelon.
Momís siblings were far away out in California, but Dadís siblings were mostly scattered throughout the Upper Midwest and not that far away. Grandmother Jesse Dietz lived in town. Her youngest son, Gilbert, lived with her.
We would have great Dietz family picnic reunions every summer, often at a state park on Lake Okoboji, which was about 50 miles east of Rock Rapids. An amusement park on that lake was a favorite destination. I especially liked the roller coaster and the bumper cars.
One summer I went to a Methodist church camp at the lake and another summer to a YMCA camp. Camp Foster was a great experience. Enough boys from Rock Rapids were able to fill up one cabin. Our cabin won every competition that week.
Another summer a group of us went to Camp Shetek, a Boy Scout camp in Minnesota. That was a blast as well.
We could not afford a family vacation until I was 10 years old. We spent a week in a cabin on Lake Okoboji. My favorite memory was going fishing with my father and a fishing guide.
Okoboji is a very special lake. It is one of the so-called True blue lakes in the world. The other two are Lake Como in Italy and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. World War II ended during that week, so we rushed home for one day to celebrate VJ Day (probably August 15, 1945) at the Lyon County Fairgrounds.
Our next vacation was a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the first time that we traveled any real distance. We had a wonderful time and took in many interesting sights.
The biggest family adventure was a vacation trip to California during the summer o 1952. That was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, probably the last time we would be able to do something like that as a family unit. We took off very early in the morning in our little Studebaker and made it all the way to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. This was before the Interstate Highway system was in place. The route over the Rockies and through the Intermountain West was fascinating. Our California destination was San Diego. We worked our way up the coast to San Francisco, visiting with family and taking in the usual tourist sights. We returned by way of Yosemite and Reno, Nevada. All in all, it was a grand excursion.
Looking back to my childhood, I realize it was a very special time, and I was truly blessed. I was born into a loving, caring family and grew up in a community that provided safety, security, and many rich and varied growth opportunities. It was a great time and place to be a boy growing into adulthood.
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