BUILDING ONE OF THE FIRST RURAL SCHOOLS
When I finished the month with M. L. Stewart, I went to work for John Tyrrell, as tender for him. He was an expert brick-layer and could shove more plaster on a wall in a day than any other man I ever knew. He was so cranky and particular about the preparation of mortar he used as a girl is about the way her hat sits on her head. He built the brick school house east of Waverly, near the well-known Baskins farm, It was one of the first rural school houses built in the county. It was built in June and July, 1856, and so far as I know was the first one built in the country. John laid every brick in it, and I mixed all the mortar and carried it and all the brick. He was a glutton for work, and would not tolerate talk during working hours. At first we worked together without a word being spoken all day on the job, except as to matters relating to the material I handled for him. After some weeks we got to know each other, and became the closest of friends, which friendship lasted as long as he lived. When the war came, he enlisted in the 28th Iowa Infantry. The last time I saw him was at Alexandria , La., where he was very sick in a field hospital. I heard of his being sick, hunted him out and found him a total Wreck. We visited as long as I could stay with him, and I lef t him with the full belief that I should never see him again, which proved to be a fact. I could do no more than sympathize with him. I joshed him and recited our experiences while working together. It was a sad parting of two devoted friends.
During the time we were building the school house, we boarded at the home of Father Nicholas Tyrrell, who lived in the stone house a half mile west of the site of the school house. It was then I first became acquainted with the grand old man, Father Tyrrell, and my admiration for him was almost an idolatrous one. He was a giant in stature of brain, a man of broad ideas and wide experience among men. He had travelled all over the world and was a master work man as .a brick and stone mason. To me his relating of experiences among master mechanics on many great works was like reading a first-class novel. His rich Irish brogue was enchanting, as he sandwiched in anecdotes and comments upon great men he ·had come in contact with.
He was a keen critic of all lines of practical stone, brick and mortar work. He was more devoted to speculative Masonry, at that time in his life, than he was to operative. He often advised me to become a 'member of the fraternity. He was active and persistent in his efforts to have a lodge established in Waverly, in which he succeeded, and in token of the respect in which his brethren held him, the lodge was named "Tyrrell,'' and the number given "116,'' which remains to this day. I may add here that three years after I first knew him, I became a member of the fraternity, and in 1871, when he laid down the burden of a long and useful life, at his request I officiated at his burial and rendered the full ritualistic services at his grave on the same farm where I first met and became acquainted with him.
John Wesley Ward was the school director and had the official oversight of the building of the school house I have mentioned. Ward lived only a few rods east of the site of the work, and deemed it his duty to inspect the brick, mortar, contractor, and mortar jacky about a dozen times a day. His frequent meddling interfered with the progress of the work, and kept John about half mad most of the time. It was apparent that an explosion would happen if Ward persisted in meddling with the work. John's temper was of the Irish brand, quick and fiery, and he declared that if Wesley Ward persisted in bothering him, he would drop a brick on his head. Very soon after this threat, Wesley appeared one morning to inspect the brick Lorenz Selbig was delivering from his yard on top of the hill east of the court house. He found a few with chipped corners, and was sorting them out and casting them in a heap as condemned material. While engaged in this work he kept up a continuous stream of commands not to use any of the brick that he had cast aside. John was on a scaffold about six feet high. He stopped work and said, "Ward, you are an infernal nuisance about this job and I want you to stay away from here." Ward replied, "I am an officer, and it is my duty to watch you and see that you put good brick in the walls, and I'll do my duty." John asked him to show him a defective brick, and Ward carried a brick with a broken corner and handed it up to John, that he might see the defect. Tyrrell took the brick and explained that such a one laid in the inner course was as good as a perfect one, at which Ward declared he would have none such in the wall. As he grew earnest he walked up so he stood beneath the scaffold; the brick slipped from John's hand and landed on Ward's head. He had a straw hat on his head, and the brick cut a hole in it and glanced off to his shoulder. As it went it peeled his nose so the blood flowed freely. He was in a furious passion and declared John intended to brain him so he could use the broken brick. No sort of explanation or apology would satisfy the school director, and he declared he would convene the board of directors and. dismiss the contractor. He went away after a while and the work proceeded. In the afternoon N. M. Smith and Eugene Higgins, the other directors, with Ward came to look the situation over. They examined the brick and Nels Smith told Ward everything was all right, and thus the trouble ended. Ward rarely came about the building afterwards. Joe and Ab Baskins, who lived nearby and were as full of mischief as two good-natured fellows could be, and special friends of John, egged Ward on to maintain the honor and majesty of his office, if he had to "lick" Tyrrell. Joe told Ward, "If you don't show your authority as an officer, you can't be elected again." But all their nagging could not arouse him into further action. He was a character, and was noted for his slovenliness. Joe Baskins, speaking of him, said, "John Wesley Ward is one of the most careful and cautious men I ever knew; he has been deliberating for six month whether it would be good for his health to take a bath." And Joe said that, so far as he knew, John Wesley never took the chance of being made sick by a bath.
Last updated 10/1/2015
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