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Reminisces

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Chapter Four
Roger Rasmussen Reminisces
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If
By Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you.
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run —
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And — which is more — you'll be a Man, my son!
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WHAT THE MIND CAN PERCEIVE, IT MIGHT BELIEVE
By Roger Rasmussen, The "old" re-tired Professor
emories, like ice cream, soon melt away unless they are nurtured periodically by
repetition. Without retelling or recalling old memories may begin to fade from our
memory bank. One of the problems with our memories is they can play games with each
other and with us. We may twist two old pleasurable thoughts together into one and thus
the original thoughts can be confused or lost. We can become mixed-up so to speak. I too,
do "remember things that never occurred or existed." In fact, I can remember them
perfectly; perfectly wrong.
So too do some of people who write in the memory sections of newspapers. While they
think they have their story right, those about whom they write have different memories and
differing versions. I've notice that some writers write about things that happened and yet
their age does not justify their memory of it happening. They were much too young, or not
old enough, to have lived when an event occurred to be able to first-hand recall the event.
It's hard to understand how a 50 year old person could remember the exact event that
happened 54 years ago. With a vivid imagination, or photographs and duplicated copies of
the event, a person might approximate an event, but they could not relive the event.
As an observer of the history of Altoona for the past 65 years, I've had my fill of small and
large events; major and minor may be a more accurate description. Many individuals
remember some of the events of the 1951 fire at the high school but in actual fact, fewer
than 40 people were present during most of the fire; fewer yet, during the first hour and
fewer yet days later. Events of this magnitude are often magnified beyond the imagination.
I was 15 years old at that time and I remember specifically that I walked from 10
th
Street
West along Bartlett Avenue to Division Street and looked-up at the old school with fire
coming from the roof and the upper windows. The trophy case which housed some 40 plus
memories of athletic achievements was aglow; golden hues, like angels wings, radiated
from the general assembly room. It was a sight to behold and my memory of that event
sticks like gorilla glue in my mind. Yet, I didn't live on 10
th
Street West until 1952. I lived on
1st Street East on land owned by my Grand-mother Eva Thurston-Glassbrenner. So how
M
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could I be wrong?
The mind is a marvelous machine- a computer in a sense- far greater than the best Cray
Computers ever built. Sometimes it seems to give me answers to questions I don't even
ask. More often it gives me questions to which I lack clear answers. As a teacher for more
than 40 years, I now have more answers and questions than I am able to handle. I recall
teaching a graduate class composed of some 20 students from Thailand, Cambodia, and
Vietnam. Among the members were several monks, a few college administrators and
teachers, yet mostly younger men and women who aspired to be college teachers. Much
wiser than their teacher, the monks had a habit of asking tough questions; most often
these questions centered on perception and misperception. How do we know what we see
is true? Could our eyes lie to the brain? Is it possible that what we see is not accurately
registered with the brain? Or, could the brain run amuck and not encode the visual or
verbal event accurately? Well, yes, I've learned some 20 years later, the brain is capable of
doing whatever it wants to do.
So too, as we consider the news in print, it is easy to be a poor reader and a poor visualizer. The
mind's eye perceives most of what is stored in the mind. My mentor and friend, Darrell Woodington,
a Railroader at heart, who influenced the lives of dozens of young men during the "wonder years" of
the 40's and 50's, said, "Just as the body has two eyes, the heart has one and the mind too. They are
capable of confusion and delusion. So as you read the Eau Claire Leader, or the WSJ, know too
that what you are reading may, or may not be, accurate or the truth. I too remember things that never
happened! Yes "my heart has a mind of its own" and, yes, "I recall accurately SOME of the events
of my youth"; however, there are some events that even Herb, Roger, and Dr. John may not
accurately recall. What does it mean to be human? We learn by and through our errors of perception
and visualization (I hope)! Who said, "You can't teach an old teacher anything new?" I stand
corrected! Thanks Darrell!
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Introduction to the History of Altoona’s Celebrities
By Roger Rasmussen
"Someone said it couldn't be done but he with a simple reply-I don't know and I don't care-but give
me a chance to try." At 73 and still trying, I have seen plenty of evidence that age is not a barrier to
success. Be that barrier, wealth, health, education, genes, family history or status, size, weight,
gender, race, nationality, home of origin, or birth order. Nothing, no nothing, can stand in the way
of success unless you decide to not try.
I was educated as a history, political science, sociology, psychology, geography, and economics
teacher. Through most of the past 45 years I have taught using the best information, technology and
techniques I could muster. Fortunately or unfortunately as it may be for the thousands of students I
encountered, I cross -fertilized the information from these subject areas to make learning more
interesting, meaningful and hopefully retained. A teacher's success is seldom known immediately;
tests are seldom more than immediate recall. The true test of success is more often measured years
later by the changes in human behavior and productivity resulting from your menial efforts
combined and enhanced by those significant others who added to, challenged, or changed that which
you taught. Add to this equation the behavioral and mental changes experienced by the learner during
those intervening years and it becomes questionable how valuable your contribution was in the total
scheme of events. Regardless, there are people places, events, experiences, and inherent human
changes that impact on one's perceptions of, understanding of, insights into, recall of, and evaluation
of these phenomena that paint the picture of your life during each of the various phases of growth-
child-youth-young adult-adult- and senior citizen. Reflecting on the past is colored by the events of
the present and so with a clearer mind today than a month ago, with sun shining brightly, with the
beautiful yellows of Fall gracing my office window, with the scenes of a dozen of my aging friends
and neighbors engaging in botchy ball, may I give you my movie of the history of the past 60 years of
Altoona as seen through the eyes of a high school teacher turned college professor/administrator who
for the past 45 years has engaged thousands of teachers, principals, superintendents and other
college faculty and administrator in dialog and dissention.
Altoona has been a bedroom community for most of my life. The larger Eau Claire community has
provided for most needs. In 1950 Altoona had three grocery stores that provided food, fuel,
clothing, and hardware; it also had three taverns, two full-service restaurants, and two full-service gas
stations.
The population was near 1300. Nearly 60 years later it is totally dependent on the larger Eau Claire
community. With a population of near 7,000 residents, Altoona has no grocery stores, four taverns,
two convenience gas stations, and two auto repair shops. Additionally we have one chiropractor
and one dentist. I don't recall Altoona ever having a medical doctor practicing within the city
limits. The railroad that once provided employment to hundreds of residents exists, barely. Of
course, a city is more than shops, stores, businesses, and personnel. My observation is that for many
years Altoona has been "asleep." Thus, the reference to a bedroom community.
I base part of my evaluation on the continued death of a business center. At best it is like an omelet as
compared to scrambled eggs. There is wholeness to an omelet! So too is there a wholeness to a
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community whether it be a village or a city. I see, finally, a vision of a new "Prairie development"
that would further separate the differing business locations and thus further segment the city. My
engagement with people from the Eau Claire area and the many friends I have brought to the Altoona
area seem to always result in the final comment, "yes, but Roger, where is the City of Altoona?"
"I've heard you talk for years about this youthful paradise you called 'Altoona', but I only see houses
no unity."
They and I must have myopic astigmatism of the left and right bilateral! Regardless of my concern
that the heart of the city has been missing for many years, and regardless of my concern that the
"Prairie development" is off the beaten pathway and that it destroyed my favorite blueberry patches,
and "lovers' lanes", and resulted in another distraction from rebuilding the deserted and shambled
downtown, I contend, "if you don't know where you're going, then any place will do”, or – “If you
don't know where you're going, then you're lost." Sometimes I think we are.
During my adult years I have lived in the following locations: Altoona, Eau Claire, Racine, Kenosha,
Milwaukee, West Allis, Bemidji, MN, White Bear Lake, MN, and North St. Paul, MN. Maplewood,
MN. Cave Creek, AZ, Phoenix, AZ., Croix Chapeau, France, and three military locations. I have
watched towns literarily die; I have watched rebirths, and I have watched abortions. It is possible to
destroy the essence of a town without destroying the buildings. Where is the heart - beat the soul of
a town?
In the past 60 years, since I have been a visitor not a permanent resident of Altoona, I have made a
monthly trek back to Altoona to visit my family. Always I spend an hour driving up and down the
streets and not just in "my old town" but in the shale pits of my youth, the hills, valleys and creeks,
the railroad tracks where I tried my best to walk a block without fall, at the I beach where I worked
part-time as a life guard, near the taverns of my youth, by the restaurants that no longer exist, at the
grocery stores where I worked and stole cookies, by the gas stations where I pumped gas into the
lucky owners of cars in the 1950's, and past the dozen or so homes where I baby-sat during my teen
years. At one time I counted more than 40 different kids I had baby-sat including Herb and several of
his siblings. I drove by the churches where my friends were confirmed by the old Lutheran Church
where I kissed my first girl-Nancy, by the woods in back of the old post office/Lobby's/Dairy Bar
where I climbed trees, played Tarzan with Gerald, Orville, La Vern, Gary, and Billy Gloede, or dug
forts to play cowboys and Indians.
My friend, I have walked every street, walked through every yard, been in most homes built before
1960, robbed almost every apple tree and garden, taken cookies from most stores without
permission, shoveled the snow or raked the yards of half of the older homes, and I have walked
every mile of every railroad track that existed in Altoona. I have been inside every church in
Altoona, including my home church Bethlehem Lutheran, and at one time some many years ago, I
had talked with more than a dozen former mayors including my great-uncle George Thurston who
single-handedly, and elected by a single vote, was able to rebuilt the Altoona schools after the 1951
fire. Just as a city government needs wise leadership .money, and direction, it needs an educated,
informed, and interested citizenry. The City Council cannot do it alone! You the citizens should not
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trust them enough to do it alone. Democracy requires active participation by all- not just the few.
My opening sentence is a call to action.
So too, your interest in your own governance ought to elicit an interest in your own history – that is
the history of Altoona. The essence of this book is the essence of your history- the history of
Altoona. Through our my eyes and through the lives of the many people, hundreds to be truthful,
who touch my life and Herb's life during our youth, may we take you behind the scenes and into the
lives of the people who made a difference yet seldom realized their impact nor did they ever ask for
reciprocity. You may find fault with what we wrote, who we wrote about, how we wrote it, and
our observations. If you find some humor laugh; if you find a tear falling-let it; and, if we touch a
primal cord in your heart or mind, we will feel this effort was worth it. For all of those who added
to our storehouse of experiences, to our special teachers, Sister I and Mary M, we thank you for
pushing us just beyond our complacency and encouraged us both to pursue higher levels of
education and worldly experiences. We are human and humane so we ask your forgiveness for faulty
memories, misspelled names, and inaccurate information. We tried ! Enjoy!"
Roger Rasmussen, Altoona High School -class of 1954;.....Senior Class-President
Retired Professor and Academic Dean; 2009 .....................Senior-Class-Citizen
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An Early History of Altoona, Wisconsin; A Work in Process
A Draft Term Paper by Roger Rasmussen (assisted by Ed Semisch)
Cir 1960-1963
On the east banks of the Eau Claire River and Lake Altoona, lies a small community which in 1887 was
distinguished by the title, "the smallest city in the United States."
This is the City of Altoona, population today, in 1962, of 2,050 — still small by modern standards and
not even qualifying as an urban community under the classifications of the United States Census Bureau.
Altoona's
western boundary line is shared by the much larger City of Eau Claire (population 39,000) but Altoona is not a
"suburb" of Eau Claire! The community is a proud and separate community, fiercely independent and
throughout her history steadfastly defying any thought of losing her entity and becoming absorbed as part of the
City of Eau Claire. Yet, she might have been. . . . .
Early County records refer to the original village site here as "East Eau Claire". Eau Claire surveyed and
platted the village in 1881. Altoona completely owes its existence to Eau Claire business interests. The early
East Eau Claire village was only four miles from the heart of the much larger Eau Claire community — as the
crow flies; but because of the very waters that contributed to Altoona's subsequent value and use, the community
was completely separated from its mother city. Otter Creek, now a part of Altoona, separated the east village to
the south and the Eau Claire River bordered, and cut off, the area to the west. To go to this east village, Eau
Claire officials and businessmen had to travel by a circuitous route around Otter Creek adding many miles to the
crow's four, and on dubiously acceptable roads. This separateness which was continued even after the "village of
East Eau Claire" became quickly populated was a main reason why the community became a city in its own
right.
Altoona exists because the railroad came to Eau Claire! To understand these developments, let us go
back into the history of West Central area of the State.
The Territory of Wisconsin was organized in the year 1836 and comprised the present states of
Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and parts of North Dakota and Michigan. This entire area, including what is now
Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, became a part of Crawford County in the original Wisconsin Territory.
In 1845, Chippewa County was set off from Crawford County, although the county government was not
wholly perfected until 1854. In the meantime, in 1848, the Territory of Wisconsin was admitted into the Union
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as a state, its area having been reduced from time to time since 1836 until it reached its present limits. Chippewa
County, as originally formed, was a vast area of land and included the counties which are now Eau Claire,
Buffalo, Pepin, Clark, Dunn, Barren, Burnett, Washburn, Sawyer, Gates, Rusk, and parts of Taylor and Price.
By the time Wisconsin became a state, the threat of Indians had been subdued. From 1825 on the
territorial government had engaged in a series of negotiations and peace treaties with various tribes, the
Chippewa and Winnebago in the West Central area, so that when the land was opened for settlement, except for
trifling quarrels mostly between those Indians that remained, any settlers moving in could expect a steady peace.
On
July 27, 1885, the county board of supervisors of Chippewa County divided the County into three
towns, the southernmost of these identical in area with the present Eau Claire Bounty and named Clearwater.
The next town north was set off as the Town of Chippewa Falls, and the northernmost town as the Town of
Eagle Point.
Up to this time the name "Eau Claire" had not appeared on any official records. Then two names began
appearing together: "Eau Claire" and "Clear-water", both referring to the same place. Quite plausibly, the
explanation for this double identity came about because of the book written by an English mapmaker, Jonathan
Carver, who in 1767
traversed the Chippewa River from its mouth northward and in this book mentions coming
upon "a river of clear water — eau claire" at the junction on the Chippewa. He briefly describes traveling on this
"clear water". For a long time this was the only written description of Wisconsin in the English language and it
was widely read both in England and in the United States.
Finally the name "Clearwater" was dropped from county records and only the name "Eau Claire" was
used. In 1855, the area of Eau Claire was set off as a legal county and the Village of Eau Claire, being the only
organized town government in the new county, was charged with the responsibility of performing the functions
of a county board until a county organization could be completed. The village undertook its responsibility
immediately and proceeded to canvass the county for officers. The first election took place on December 30,
1856.
The Eau Claire town board continued to perform the functions of a county board until a sufficient
number of towns should be formed to allow the supervisors of such towns to comprise a county board in the
usual manner. Immediately, on January 1, 1857, the newly elected Town Board of Eau Claire acting as a county
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board began setting off the area into townships. By April of that year three new towns along with Eau Claire
held their first county election. By November of the year, the Town Board of Eau Claire ceased to perform the
functions of the county board.
Eau Claire village was designated as the county seat. From here, organization of the area continued,
beginning in 1857 and continuing to 1882 when the county finally had divided the area into its present
townships.
The Town of Washington, where the City of Altoona is located, was designated in January
1868.
In the early records of county proceedings, the name of this township is glaringly absent. To understand
this, we must know something of the land itself.
Here was virtual flat wasteland comprised of sand, shale, Jack Pines, Sand Burrs, and Underbrush. This
was the poorest of land for farming purposes. Only the outermost edges of the township far removed from the
Eau Claire River and Otter Creek beds were rich soils. Only few farmers ventured to homestead on this barren
ground and those who did nurtured their land and sold shale to bolster their economy. One of the first settlers
here was Henry Thompson who came in 1854, but he took care to see that some of his land contained rich,
producing soil. Then, this township was
separated from easy access to Eau Claire, for bridges over the creek
were almost non-existent. The land was good for hunting of squirrels and small game and for fishing in the
adjacent waters.
Eau Claire, on the other side of Otter Creek, in 1868 was still a village, but a fast-growing community
with promise of greater and speedy growth for the fever of the railroad had fallen upon the area. It had more
than just "fallen"; it had taken over the community completely. The first settlers had come there in 1838, two
Vermonters who hunted on the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers and adjacent territories. They returned to
Vermont with glowing tales of the vast new country and the rich timberlands and returned shortly thereafter with
their families to settle. Easy access to rivers and a plentiful supply of trees for lumber attracted enterprising men
and in 1846 the first sawmill was established soon followed by a second sawmill in 1848. By the standards of
that period, these were "mammoth institutions." Lumbering continued to gradually increase but there was no
communication with the outside world except by water or private conveyance until 1850 when a mail route was
ordered by Congress to extend to Prairie du Chien. Shortly thereafter a post office was established in Eau Claire
village. This was an event of vast importance here because now there was communication established with the
outside world, and this gave great impetus to the village's progress.
Then rumors of the coming of a railroad through this area began and a boom to develop the territory
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was on. The rumor was not unfounded. In 1856, Congress passed an act donating all the alternate sections
of land embraced within certain parallels along the lines of
proposed railroads in trust to the State of
Wisconsin. Ten years was the time fixed within which such a
.
railway line was to be completed. The valley
had to be crossed at some point and speculators were everywhere on the alert to try to learn where this
particular point was to be. Eau Claire was a very likely place. Some of the wildest and most visionary
schemes ever generated in the minds of man owed their birth to this land grant and speculation here became
high pitched. Existing mills were repaired, remodeled and provided with the latest improved sawmill
machinery. Businessmen invested liberally in pine lands on the streams tributary to Eau Claire. General
stores, clothing stores, all variety of businesses and those rendering services began to move in or prepare to
move in. The population at this time was only 100, and the whole volume of capital invested here did not
exceed $20,000, but by 1856
the new village, proud of its position, began to show unmistakable signs of
prosperity. New settlers came and there was a general movement forward.
The County of Eau Claire was created; Eau Claire Village was selected as the county seat. Eau Claire
was selected as the point where the railroad line would pass through, and it came, finally in August, 1870. This
now directly connected the area with the east and the day when the first train whistle was heard here was made
"an occasion of such rejoicing as has never been equaled in Eau Claire."
Eau Claire was not yet a chartered city. Shortly following, in March 1872, the separate villages of Eau
Claire, Eau Claire village proper and North Eau Claire were incorporated as a city. East Eau Claire — four miles
removed and just an empty wasteland was not included in this charter.
With a railroad now running to Eau Claire and through this wasteland from Fall Creek to Eau
Claire, in 1874 a telegraph station was established in a location where Altoona now is
.
Then
in 1880,
railroad officials deemed it essential to locate a division point at some place equidistant between St. Paul
and Elroy. They were urged to make that point in Eau Claire, but this, the officials claimed, they could not
do as it would make the eastern division much longer than the western. Already, land had been purchased
at Fall Creek for this purpose and preliminary plans for repair shops and other buildings had been prepared
for this location, but citizens of Eau Claire realized that this would be detrimental their property. The
mayor, then W.F. Bailey, was urged, pressured into taking the matter up with the president of the road.
The latter agreed that if a suitable place having a half mile of level track could be located nearer to Eau
Claire, and if other conditions were suitable, then he and the railroad would consider a proposition to
locate the division more favorable to Eau Claire.
The railroad president, the company's engineer, and the mayor of Eau Claire went over the line on foot
between Eau Claire and Fall Creek, and after considerable investigation, the place where Altoona is now
located was found suitable. If an abundance of suitable water could be found and if the city of Eau Claire
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would grade the yard, the railroad president agreed to locate there. Water, good water, in great abundance was
found, Eau Claire paying for the well-drilling. The land was surveyed and platted as a village in September,
1881, and given the name East Eau Claire. Construction of railroad yards was commenced immediately and in a
short six months, by the following spring, the area was a bustling, hustling community. There were only two
houses in "East Eau Claire" when the Chicago, St. Raul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad selected it for a site
for its machine shops and roundhouse. By winter, at least a dozen habitations had been erected. Workers
flocked from everywhere, first those engaged in construction. Then as buildings were fit for use, men were
employed in innumerable jobs. Buildings erected included a roundhouse which, is a place for repairing and
sheltering locomotives while undergoing repair
,
a depot, an ice house to provide refrigeration for box cars, coal
sheds, offices, and ten pairs of switch tracks. These were constructed over a long period of time but an
opportunity for employment was always probable. Later a building and grounds to hold livestock was erected
and a saw mill.
The presence of the railroad attracted other industries and many smaller business enterprises. Hotels, at
one time five in operation, was a continuing enterprise. Eating houses, the first erected by the railroad company
itself, and soon others came into existence. Saloons or taverns, general stores selling a whole range of hardware
as well as food and clothing, livery stables, a blacksmith shop, shoe repair shops, a number of barber shops all
followed on the heels of the railroad. Houses were built; lumber for building was easily accessible. Railroad
employees moved their families here. The village quickly took on and steadily advanced in taking on the
functions of an urban area.
The railroad provided passenger service to Eau Claire. This was the Village's first connection with
the outside world. In 1883, a short two years after it came into existence, a post office was established here.
Though the village was referred to as East Eau Claire on the county record books, the name "Altoona" was
fast becoming applied to it. This name became synonymous with "railroad exchange" after the already-
famous Altoona, Pennsylvania railroad yards of the vast Pennsylvania Line
t
in the east. The nick-name
became common usage.
In 1887, Altoona applied for and was granted a city charter by the State Legislature. This was a day
of great jubilation. Here now this community, this RAILROAD community, was destined for greatness.
Nothing could hold it back! In April of that year, the first election for city officials was held. The mayor-
alderman from of government had been chosen and proper officials were elected. (At that time there were
two wards but since then, in 1922 with the development of city property on the other side of Otter Creek
towards Eau Claire in what is today known as Altoona Addition, another ward was designated.)
By 1900 Altoona's resident population reached the 800 mark.
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One of the first orders of business of the new City Council was the establishment of a volunteer fire
department, so important to the community in the era of kerosene and coal-burning stoves which heated the
homes. A one-room public school, under village auspices, had been started in 1862, a year after the village was
platted so large had the population become and
,
so important the concern of parents for the education of their
children. But now, with a City Council, plans were laid for better school buildings.
By 1892, the city built a three-room structure, each room containing three classes. In successive years,
because of the increase in the city's population, two additional buildings were used for classrooms from
kindergarten through eighth grade. In 1911 a new brick building was constructed housing all grades from
kindergarten through high school. Prior to this time, pupils wishing to go on to secondary school attended the
Washington Town High School. Enrollment increased; in 1912 an addition was added. Athletics was added to
the school curriculum, and high school basketball teams from Altoona, the "Railroaders" began a long and
distinctive record of high achievement in this intramural sport. In 1950, this brick structure was completely
destroyed in a Halloween night fire. School classes were held in rooms in the City Hall, churches, and empty
store buildings until the all of 1952
when the present modern combined elementary and high school building was
opened. Since that time, again because of increased enrollments, the school has been expanded three times, the
most recent completed in the fall of 1961. Today there are over 600 pupils enrolled in the combined grade and
high school.
Back in 1881, one of the first operations completed here, perhaps the first, was the digging of a
community city well. Townspeople would bring their pails or other containers and from a 90-foot well, they
secured water for their daily use and needs. Soon as homes were built, residents dug their own wells, dug their
own cesspools. In 1919 the city installed a water system to serve the entire community. The purity and taste of
this water, which is regularly tested, was judged the "second best water in the State of Wisconsin" and has
always been a distinction of the City. In 1929, the City dug a sewage system to accommodate the town,
continuing improvements through the years and then in 1953 erecting a new completely modern disposal plant
near Otter Creek.
By 1882, church services were held in the town, first in a wooden structure and available to any
denominational representative. The Baptist Church later moved to another structure conducting well-attended
mission services. The Methodist Church, first called the Union Church, was the first permanently established
church beginning in late 1886. The Episcopal Church soon followed holding services in their own building. In
1906, the Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) began services here, and in 1916, a Catholic Church —
St. Mary's — was erected. A Catholic parochial school also was opened the following year, holding eight grades
in one building. A high school was also opened but this was a private school. In later years, a large wood frame
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school building was constructed with residence quarters for students on the upper floors; the school, for quite a
number of years, became a private school for Catholic boys with pupils attending from six surrounding states.
Today, the Catholic school is again a local parochial school serving grades two to eight for local residents.
Early in Altoona's history, after passenger service was available by railroad, county roads were
constructed connecting the City with Eau Claire and other parts. The first roads were crude; but, stagecoach
service, providing more frequent conveyance than the railroad, was established between Altoona and Eau Claire.
In 1914, an interurban street car line was opened between the two cities, and in 1932 these conveyances were
replaced by buses.
Altoona had a weekly newspaper at one time, the first, the "Altoona Headlight" started in 1896. It
continued for many years. There was no paper for a time then the "Altoona Tribune" was published here for a
number of years, finally discontinuing in 1947. Since that time, the City has not enjoyed a local paper. The
morning and evening newspapers of the Eau Claire Press Company are in largest circulation here; in fact by
recent survey, about 92 per cent of the population subscribe to this newspaper.
In 1903, up until then, kerosene lamps were used for illumination, but that year gas light was made
available to the residents. In 1911 electricity came to the community. Telephone service was established early
in the 1900's.
Altoona began "greatly". It was a boom town, and for years through the early 1900's it enjoyed
prosperity and growth. Then as roads were constructed and as closer-quicker contact was established with the
neighboring big City of Eau Claire, people found a wider choice of products, found employment, were able to
secure a greater variety of services, more and more they patronized business places in Eau Claire. As the years
passed, it became more hazardous to open a business in Altoona for small businesses here had to compete with
the larger and more selective businesses in Eau Claire. Today there is but one large grocery store (and one
additional which has been there for years and does very little business). There is but one barber shop. A dentist
has an office here, but has only been here for three or four years. For a long time the business district — a
crossroads of four or five city blocks — was dilapidated and run-down in appearance. It appeared only the
town's three taverns were flourishing. Gradually through the years the railroad employed less and less men. The
coming of the diesel engines — the first in 1946 — brought a new era and less machinists and toolmen were
needed. Over the years, more and more of the town's residents were employed in jobs other than railroad-related.
Today perhaps less than a fourth, perhaps less than that, are railway employees. For many years Altoona was
virtually in a "slump".
But today there is a new spirit in this city! Perhaps the greatest
factor that implemented this spirit, and which may not be readily recognized by the citizens, was the fire in 1950
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which completely destroyed the school building. Here in one great catastrophe, the people were drawn together
in a crisis. A new structure was needed; it was imperative. The people were forced to think and plan, and in so
doing, new objectives in the light of modern methods, modern ways of education were considered. A fine new
building was
constructed. The new building attracted new residences. Then, because there was (and still is) much open land in
the city, a home construction firm cooperating with the city, undertook a huge home-building program. In the
past ten years, over fifty new homes have been constructed in Altoona. Three times since 1952 has the school
board been forced to expand the school.
In I960, the Lutheran Church constructed a new church building. The Methodist Church, some
years prior, remodeled and modernized its church structure. A new post office, an attractive building, has
been erected. Buildings in the few downtown blocks (including the taverns) have undergone remodeling,
painting, face-lifting.
A broad recreation program for boys has been undertaken, sponsored by an active Business
Men's League and for the past five or six years, a little league baseball team keeps youngsters actively
occupied.
The Woman's Club is active in promoting beautification of the city's park, neglected for so long
through all these years. An active Lion's Club, recently organized, promotes community projects. The city
is growing after a sleep
of
many years. There is much that needs to be done. There is no recreation
program for girls. Both Methodist and Lutheran churches are always in need of dedicated, alert leadership.
The city streets need improving; the city needs to completely overhaul its sewage system to take care of
water runoff and street puddles after storms. The curriculum of the grade and high school both need
broadening and expansion--Altoona could have one of the finest public schools in the state if men and
women with vision would explore the needs of today's children in the light of the expectations they will
face in adulthood.
The City is blessed with the nearness of one of the finest recreational areas in this part of the state — the
Altoona park and beach. This is a man-made lake, created by C.C.C. during the Roosevelt Administration
following the Great Depression. Fishing, boating, swimming, all the attractive aspects of summer recreation are
available here, and in the winter, the popular ice-fishing. At present a bridge about three miles away from
Altoona overpasses the railway tracks. This bridge will soon be rebuilt. The nearer this bridge could be brought
to the center of the town, the more it would contribute to the business interests of the town. Today, as in years
passed, Eau Claire residents and others use the wonderful facilities of this beach (including an excellent large
beach house equipped with cooking quarters and picnic benches). Visitors to the beach "pass through" Altoona.
There is no attraction to stop them.
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In the I960 Census, Altoona enjoyed a 35% increase in her population over the census of 1950. This
trend may well continue, as the City faces and becomes fully aware of its potentialities.
Comment by Roger in 2009
I can't recall the purpose for which I wrote this article. It was during my college
years and I think it was Dr. Blackorby's Wisconsin History course. I doubt that I
plagiarized the whole content, but the words seem beyond my writing ability at
that time in my life.
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The Brotherhood Association of Railroad Employees
By Roger Rasmussen
his picture (shown 2 pages forward) was taken around 1927-30 at a location
nearest the dead end of 1st St. West and Daniels Av. against the shale stone wall
below the high hill that eventually held the first municipal water tank. The signs are
of the annual summer picnic held by the Brotherhood Association of Railroad
Employees known as the B.A.R.E.. This association represented most of the
employees who worked for the railroad known as the CStPM&O Railroad a.k.a. the
CNW or the Omaha. The letters stand for the Chicago St. Paul, Minneapolis and
Omaha Railroad. Each summer, sometime during July, the Association would hold a
free summer picnic for the workers and their families. Games were played as
evidenced by the bats and balls, softball, and races were held too. Bingo was a
common activity. Most picnics were held at Lake Altoona Beach so families could
have their weekly bath, have fun, eat, drink, and win prizes. I recall in 1948 winning a
5 # paper bag of sugar. While walking up the hill from the beach to cross the railroad
tracks for home, I slipped on the wet path and punctured a hole in the paper bag. By
the time I reached home, most of the sugar was on the ground.
Note some specifics about the picture: Men and women alike were well dressed-
some with hats and suit coats plus ties. Children were neatly dressed too and well
mannered. They knew that ill manners would mean no candy at the end of the
activity. It is doubtful that cars were readily available and so in this picture most in
attendance walked to the site. When held at Lake Altoona most attendees would
walk across the railroad tracks by the Depot to the Roundhouse, between the Sand
House and Coal Shed down the path to the beach. Walking down was mildly easy;
the walk up, was difficult- and when wet, the dirt path was impassable. Given the
size of some of the men and women, this venture was difficult, even if the food and
drinks were free.
For certain the bald gentleman located in the fourth row (second to the right of the
first sign on the left side of the picture) is my Great Uncle Herman Heuer. I believe
the gentleman to his right is my Great Uncle John Thurston. The two younger
gentlemen in the back row (left side with hair parted in the middle) are the Jamieson
brothers. None of the adults would be alive today; some of the children would be in
their 80’S.
Note too, the lack of smiles on their faces. The depression was present and work was
unavailable. Men often rode the rails to bigger cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee or
Chicago to find work; they were anxious for work and without money were forced
to ride the rails- most often in box cars or hidden in coal cars with their deep
T
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hoppers. While poverty and hunger were ever-present they were proud people; yet
their faces revealed a sadness – even children knew and felt the pain of hunger.
Sternness and straightness of posture were common place. For the children, this may
have been the first time they were photographed. Notice the hill where rows were
staggered so as to include everyone. A good job of photography!
Notice too the cave-like background and the men hiding in the back bushes. While
attendance was limited to the employee and his family, as a youngster I attended too
even though my father Percy Rasmussen was not a full-time employee during my
youth – eventually working on the Section Crew, beginning full-time in 1950. I recall
saying I was the son of William Glassbrenner, my grandfather, if anyone asked me.
My Uncle Bill was two years older than I, but about the same size – skinny as a twig,
so I often used his name. Many of my friends attended too even though their fathers
worked elsewhere. Free food and candy could bring out the worst in a kid!
At Christmas the B.A. of R. E. had a party for all kids under age 13. No teenagers
were permitted. Each kid received a size 8 paper bag filled with hard candy, a popcorn
ball, an apple, and several suckers. I traded my apple and popcorn for a Hollaway
sucker. That sucker could last me all day. Cake was served along with cool-aid. Most
often we were dressed in our best clothes; dress pants, a white shirt, and a bow tie for
boys – girls always wore dresses or skirts.
The Association continued these two activities into the 1950's but with the advent
of unionism; engineers, conductors, and brakemen organized individual unions.
And, so, that's the way it was in Altoona during the first half of the 1900's. Thanks to
the B.A.R. E. our lives were not too bare.
Roger Rasmussen, Hostler's Helper for the CNW-1954
Photo of The Brotherhood Association of Railroad Employees is shown on the
next page.
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A Gift of Love from Laura
The following four photographs are enlargements of four quadrants of the large group BARE
photo. I sat down with Laura Semisch-Christy one summer day in 2009 and we went over this
photo. Laura identified many of the individuals in the photo and would often share the memories
that the photo was bringing to her mind as we went along. I took notes and made a numbering
key. The following photos represent my attempt to convey to you what Laura told me that day.
Laura noted that this photo was taken in about 1924 because she was born in 1920 and she felt
that she appeared to be about four years old in the photo and Arnold was about two. Look for
Laura in the fourth photo – she’s #1.
Jack Blackburn 2009
Numbered Detail of Lower Left Quadrant
56 ........... Mabel Stafford (Jack’s Wife, Jack is # 55) with a baby
(children named Florence and Sammy)
22 ........... Schilling (her sister is #15)
21 ........... Agnes Gorell
19 ........... Margaret Schilling-McKeith
8A & 9A...Carmens or Loken (see # 8 & 9)
7............. ? Beach
6................Janetta Heuer-Zachau
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Numbered Detail of Upper Left Quadrant
39....................Schilling
48....................Mrs. Leland
40....................Ella Schilling-Israel (her son’s name is Kerbell and he is in Laura’s grade)
41....................Mr. Wright
49....................Sires (also 3
rd
person to the right)
34....................Dorothy Beach (Wife of John Beach)
23....................Janetta’s Dad, Herman Heuer
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Numbered Detail of Upper Right Quadrant
42....................Yerm Thurston-Heuer (Janetta’s Mother)
43....................Gertrude Thurston-Heuer (Janetta’s Aunt)
50....................Mrs. Ben Swartz
51....................Mrs. Mary Deischel
52....................Mr. Saures
53....................Mrs. Saures (she played the accordion)
54....................Mr. Deischel (Norman’s Dad)
55....................Jack Stafford (his wife is # 56)
44....................Ben Schwartz
45....................“Grandpa” Albert Johnson – “Preacher” at the Methodist Church
46....................His wife Clara
47....................Mrs. Louis Bonie
28....................Hugh Connell (married to Amanda Fischer)
29....................?
27....................? Johnson
30....................Tony Wagner’s Mother
31....................Ludia Schelwitz
32....................Eva Glassbrenner
33....................Mrs. Askl
26....................O. D. Ask
25....................Adolph Heuer
24....................John Beach
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Numbered Detail of Lower Right Quadrant
8 & 9 ..............Carmens or Loken (see # 8A & 9A)
3......................Otto Semisch
4......................Harold Semisch
18....................George Wright
17....................John Aske
10....................Amanda-Fischer Connell
11....................Lavern Fischer
16....................Tony Wagner
12....................These 3 women are related – Olseth (son Olaf)
13....................These 3 women are related – Olseth or Butler (Son James?)
14....................These 3 women are related – Olseth or Butler (Son James?)
15....................Leland Schilling
1......................Laura Semisch
2......................Arnold Semisch
5......................Harriet Aske
36....................Norman Deischel (he is in one of my school pictures)
35....................Elvin Kluth (son of Mr. & Mrs. Albert Kluth)
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These kids were coming from the B.A.R.E. (Brotherhood of Railroad Employees)
Christmas Party hosted by the wives of CNW workers. This was Christmas 1947
and the kids are standing outside of the old Auditorium facing north with the Delos
McDonald home in the background. The look on their faces would not note the joy
that was to follow as they received their Christmas gift pack and treats.
Front Row:
?, Gloria Winrich, Donald Winrich, Georgia Juno and Tommy Juno.
Other Rows:
Bob Sires, Junior Gilligan, David Klohs, and to his right (with the hood) is Roger
Rasmussen. To the right of Roger are his sisters (JoAnn front and Yvonne back).
Ted Winrich, John Wagner, and Billy Gloede.
These sons, daughters and grandsons and daughters of railroad workers would add
their names to the ledger of youngsters who prospered during the good years of the
40's and 50's.
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The Altoona Veterans' Memorial
at
Forest Hill Cemetery in Eau Claire
By Roger Rasmussen
If necessity is the handmaiden of invention, that is if it takes some essential need to be
fulfilled before someone will conceive a way of fulfilling that need, then the need for a
veterans' memorial honoring the hundreds of men and women from Altoona who have
served their country and county in some form of military service was long over due as
we moved into the year 2000. While Y2K monopolized the minds and monies of too
many corporations and individuals in 1999, thoughts beyond a computer crash were
ever-present too.
Born as WW II was birthed, and maturing while young Altoona men were being sent off
to defeat the enemies of democracy, I knew the homes where soldiers once resided
since a small cloth flag with a golden star adorned either the front window or the door.
During the early 1940's teenagers walked the streets for entertainment or distraction; at
age 17 one was sufficiently old to enlist in one of the military branches. Few enlistees
were ever rejected. Altoona offered its fair share of young men who would sacrifice
their youth to keep the rest of us safe. It was no accident that I came to know well those
families who had lost sons to the war and those who still served; incidentally, I am
unaware of any women from Altoona having lost their lives in the war. The look in a
mother's eye told the story; yet, seldom did I ever hear a complaint.
Sometime during the early 1940's, approximately 1943-44, Altoona decided to honor
those who were serving and those who had previously served. A large billboard,
approximately 20 feet by 12 feet was built to the East of Emanuel's Store, now part of
the City Hall Parking Lot. Listed on the large billboard were the names, first and last, of
hundreds of soldiers from Altoona. As a youngster that empty lot was my playground;
football, kitten ball, ice skating, free outdoor movies, and plain loitering took place near
the Veterans' Memorial. Emanuel's was the largest grocery store and the post office
was across the street; thus, most residents passed by the memorial when shopping or
obtaining their mail. Mail delivery to homes was started in the 1950's - long after the
Memorial was built and then removed.
I don't know who decided to remove the Memorial. In the 1950's Kenny Harris had a
portable root beer stand on the exact location. I don't remember the year someone
decided to tear-down the Memorial or who gave the word. I was in high school and
walked by that Memorial most every day. I didn't see it removed nor do I remember
anyone complaining about its removal. Someone should have!
Sometime after my graduation from high school in 1954 a VFW Chapter was organized
in Altoona. I never belonged since I was never classified as a veteran of foreign wars
even though I served in the Army Medical Corp in France. I never complained that I
missed the Korean G.I. Bill by several months. I too never complained when I realized
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the Memorial was missing. Someone should have!
Death of someone significant often forces personal inspection and reflection on a former
life now quiet. After burying both parents, two siblings, and two aunts, within a few
years, one becomes more aware of life and death and the thin line that separates. The
loss of a too young a spouse or a child smashes your sense of reality and you realize
there are no monuments to large or beautiful that can replace those losses. While
visiting Forest Hill Cemetery to plant, water, prune or reflect – I realized an absence of
flags on some military graves. Missing too was a memorial honoring veterans from
Altoona. No monument existed any place in Altoona and of course Altoona had no
cemetery and the prospects of that were remote.
As I prepared to bury my spouse, the "handmaiden mentality" idea sprouted and I
realized the monument I was preparing for my family plot had a potential for serving
multiple purposes. From the center of my tombstone I would remove a section that
could be used to create a monument for Altoona's veterans. Inquiry with the City of Eau
Claire Parks and Recreation Department resulted in their approval to locate a veteran’s
memorial area near the West Entrance to the Cemetery. A monument, bench, flag and
plantings occupy the northwest corner of the entrance. No dedication ceremony with
cameras or press was held. With several family members present, I raised the flag,
planted trees, placed a park bench so visitors could sit and read the inscription on the
black marble stone from Denmark. I said a short prayer and read the inscription I
personally created in memory of all veterans, but especially for those who served from
Altoona. After some nine years the trees have withered, I've replaced the tattered flag
three times each year, the concrete bench replaced the metal one, and the once small
flag has been replaced by a 16 foot pole and larger flag.
It is quiet at the 20 by 30 foot memorial site on the west-side of Forest Hill Cemetery.
During my monthly visit these past nine years, I have notice several senior citizens sit
on the bench and reflect. Youngsters run and bike through-out the cemetery; they see
the monument but most lack an understanding of the significance it serves. We build
monuments to millionaires, baseball stars, movie stars, and politicians. Seldom do we
create lasting monuments to teachers, ministers, or those people who do the "dirty
work" that allow the rest of us to live the easy life. I am impressed with the roadside
monument on Interstate 90 near Osseo honoring a member of the State Highway Patrol
and the monument nearer Black River Falls honoring a highway worker. If you want to
see beautiful monuments and parks honoring soldiers, visit the Veterans' Memorial on
Hwy 10 near Neillsville, the Veterans’ Memorial in Mondovi, and the Memorial Park in
Winona, Minnesota. They have done it right!
Talk is cheap; action expensive – or so it seems. The Veterans' Memorial at Forest Hill
Cemetery is in Eau Claire. It cost nothing to create; the stone was donated as was the
inscription. The bench, flag pole and plantings were gifts too. The grass is periodically
cut and the site maintained by volunteers. New flags are gifted by family and friends.
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As a teenager growing-up in Altoona I recall Hugh Russell, a clerk at the
Emanuel/Kopplin Grocery Store for some 40 years, commenting on his Son who was an
ace pilot during WW II and the Korean War. Hugh said, "If you tell me how a city honors
its soldiers I'll tell you what the city stands for. If it won't stand-up for its soldiers, it will
fall for everything and anything." That thought has stuck in my mind for some 55 years.
Is it time for Altoona to stand-up and build a memorial to honor all soldiers who served
in peace and in war? What better location than at a city park or near City Hall. WW II
and the Korean War have been over for some 50 years and the City still awaits a
memorial. Bicycle and walking paths we have; how about less talk and more action!
Remember the old adage, "after all is said and done, more is said than done." Will that
be our legacy?
Roger Rasmussen.Pfc. U.S. Army, 1955-57
I was one of many young men and women who, during war or peace, volunteered for
the draft or enlisted to serve the cause of freedom.
For the mistreatment of people to continue good citizens needed to do nothing."
Silence and inaction are essential for the death of democracy.
As the Marine Corp ads convey, "We need a few good women and men"! I would add -
"to bring peace and wellness to a troubled world."
I was 18 years old when this picture was taken. We had just been awarded a plaque for
our success as a platoon at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri in June of 1955. The Korean
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War had ended six months earlier and the world was more peaceful. Most of the 300
men who had completed basic training had expected to be involved with maintaining
peace after the war. Most never went overseas. Lucky for me, I served in a French
Hospital for the remainder of my two years and saw the remains of WW II in the fields
around La Rochelle, France. Ten years after WW II the destructive remains were still
evident and a constant reminder to me that "due diligence" is essential if society is to
keep power seeking leaders from destroying civilization.
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Altoona's Veteran Memorial at Forest Hill Cemetery in Eau Claire – pictured is a
monument in memory of soldiers who served in peace and war-time from Altoona.
The inscription says it all.
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I am unaware of a memorial honoring Altoona residents who served their country.
I know of a plaque at Bethlehem Lutheran noting two names of church members who
served. I am aware of a wooden plaque at the City Hall with a few names noted, but I
am at a loss as to why the City of Altoona has not erected a memorial – given the 100's
of men and women who have served.
As I prepared a family headstone, I decided to use part of the imported stone for a
monument to be placed at the west entrance to Forest Hill Cemetery. My family and
Lifetime Memorials created this site with permission from the Eau Claire Parks and
Recreation Department, which manages the cemetery. It includes the memorial, a flag
pole, a sitting bench, flowers and shrubs.
Someday I hope a more elaborate memorial including the names of all who served,
similar to that in Mondovi, might be built in Altoona.
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Little Champs – 1932
By Roger Rasmussen
he 1932 Altoona Railroaders were crowned the "Little Champions" after
winning the State Championship for small schools. A child, brother, nephew, and
cousin of some of these team members would represent Altoona at Madison again
some 20 years later.
Pictured back row from left to right is Verlyn Anding, Bill Kersten (father of Don
Kersten –1952 picture), Ted Brown, Dale Sires, Art Nadler. Front row left to right
is Sam Gorell, John Stanley, Ken Sturz, Alton Sturz, and Waldemore Glassbrenner
(brother to Bill, cousin to Richard Thurston, and uncle to Charles Rasmussen – all
from the 1952 team).
Who says history doesn't repeat itself? Who says dreams don't come true? The 1932
team lost some games but they were never beaten! All of these team members are
now deceased, but like the 1952 team, for a few short weeks, they kindled a spirit that
continues to exist whenever an Altoona athletic team, boy or girl, football, wrestling,
hockey, or basketball takes center stage. This spirit may ebb and flow through the
years, but it is never far from the heart and mind of those who lived during these
times. Once a railroader, always!
T
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Most members of the 1932 team went to work on the railroad; they never lost their
spirit or their roots. Only one member of the 1952 team worked for the CNW his
whole career; times change, we must adapt to them. In 1932 more than half of the
adult male residents in Altoona worked on the CNW Railroad; in 1952 that number
had declined to less than 35 per cent. Today, fewer than two dozen residents work on
the CNW. From hundreds to a handful, from an all-railroad town to a commuter
suburb of Eau Claire – the population increased from 800 in 1932 to 1200 in 1952 and
in 2002 to about 7,000. What we lacked in numbers we compensated by our spirit. It
is not the years in your life, but rather the life in your years. Those were some mighty
good years. Onward Railroaders!
Pictured below are family members of the 1932 and 1952 teams wearing typical
railroader gear and waiting for the 2007 team to play in the sectional tournament.
Win some-lose some! You can't win if you don't try. But if you try and don't win,
don't cry!
RAILROADERS IN DISGUISE
Rasmussen Family: Bob in front; then Susan, JoAnn and Dorothy
Don't be fooled by their dress, their smiles, their age, or their enthusiasm for the
game of basketball; these oldies, this quartet of wannabes, are all decked-out for the
2006 regional, sectional, and Madison bound basketball tournaments. The son and
daughters, grandson and granddaughters, and nieces and nephew of a dozen former
railroad workers, with combined years of service on the CNW Railroad of more
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than 200 years, they eagerly await the game, pondering who will win, how the
current team compares to that of 1952, 54, 57, or 1963, wondering too whether
anyone will recognize them in their disguised railroad uniforms. These desperados,
these true railroaders, these senior citizens of the basketball court, these avid
basketball fans, these Altoona alumni, these followers of lost causes, old fire trucks
and squad cars, these believers in "outdoor movie theatres", these "pronto pup",
"ice cold drinkers of Rochester Root beer" at Harris' Root Beer Stand, these
frequenters of the "good life of the 1950-60's" and these guardians of Altoona past
– wait patiently for another Altoona basketball team to march unto victory. I give
you the "Rasmussen Quartet": Dorothy, Jo Ann, Susan and Robert. Never beaten;
but always amazed, bothered and bewildered – by the miracles of life. Brother would
you lend me a dime?
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The Dream Team is A Steam Engine: Lookout World Here We Come!
By Roger Rasmussen, Altoona
Historian Retired Professor/Dean
1952 was the year; the photograph (see next page) reveals a cheerful group of young men, railroaders
by name, fame, and birth. The excitement is a trip to the 1952 Wisconsin State Basketball
Tournament. As kids they played sandlot basketball at Sleepy Thurston's during the day and
Lampman's at night – thanks to the spot light from the CNW Railroad. Eight of the ten attended 12
years of school together. They would comprise the heart and soul of their teams from grades 6 -
12. From top right on the engine by the light is Charles Rasmussen (captain, all-district, regional,
state, and All-American). Moving left and down the steam engine is Dennis Weeks, Don Kersten,
Ron Babbit, William Glassbrenner (all-sectional and uncle to Charles), Richard Radiswitz, Glen
Shafer, Robert Thompson, Richard Thurston (all-sectional, cousin to Bill and Charles), Coach Tom
Lehman, and James Underwood. They did not bring home a trophy; however, "they cared enough
to give their very best."
The total school enrollments in each of the two schools that defeated Altoona exceeded the total
population of Altoona. We were proud of their victories and their successes. There is no record
noting that three members of the same family had ever made an all-sectional team the same year –
same tournament. Sleepy, Bill, and Chuck did! Charles Rasmussen held the life-time scoring record
for some 10 years, and some 57 years later still ranks as the second greatest scorer in Altoona history.
There is no record of a substitute player ever coming off the bench and making an all-sectional
team; William Glassbrenner did. His brother, Waldemore played on the Altoona team that went
to the Wisconsin State Tournament in 1932. Dreams do come true! Remember your dreams!
Footnote: One of the team members was able to convince the depot agent to have a train stationed
on a spur- track so this picture could be taken. Thanks to their classmate Karen, the agent (Mr. H)
obliged.
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Bruce Smith Drawings
By Roger Rasmussen
he following are two copied drawings of trains that were used on the CNW Railroad
before the advent of the diesel locomotive. To my best memory, these were drawn
from other drawings by Bruce Smith, a resident of Altoona during the 1950-60's for
certain, and perhaps into the 1970s. He left the CNW and took a position with another
railroad; I believe it was the Duluth and Mesabi Line. While a resident of Altoona, he
served as a senior- traveling engineer and his knowledge of railroads in general and the
CNW specifically was second only to Edward Semisch. Bruce knew trains while Edward
knew the happenings of events that occurred such as wrecks, odd situations, schedules,
etc.
I knew Bruce because his spare time was spent at the Shell Service Station located on
Spooner Avenue and 1
st
St. West. The owner was Glen Barton, but Billy Gloede and I
tended to the gas pumps and performed minor tire repairs and lube-oil-and filter
changes. Bruce was a brilliant man; in retrospect, he may have been the most
intelligent man I ever met. His grasp of mechanics, mathematics, physics, engineering,
both from the driving of a train and the functioning-operation of a train, exceed that of
any person I have met. While I'm uncertain if he attended college, his writing skills,
verbal communication skills, and his analytical skills exceeded that of most of my
colleagues who were university professors or industrial engineers; I have know more than
several hundred combined in these two categories.
I received these drawings but I am uncertain if they are copies of the originals or the
originals. They were a gift from my Uncle, William Glassbrenner, and he can't
remember if they were originals. Bill worked with Bruce for some 20 years. I knew
Bruce well, and I knew he possessed the mechanical skills to complete these drawings.
The first picture with 1878 printed on it is of The Cumberland and was built by the
Pittsburgh Locomotive Company for Jacob Humbird, a stockholder in the West
Wisconsin Railroad and originator of the North Wisconsin Railroad. This train was
destined for Bayfield Wisconsin. This 10 wheeler left Hudson Wisconsin in the 1870's
and served the West Wisconsin Line until it merged with the North Wisconsin Line in
1880.to form the Chicago, St. Paul, and Minneapolis Railroad Company, which
eventually became the C,St.P. M & O Railroad or the CNW – known as the Chicago and
Northwestern Railroad.
It is thought this train was involved in a major accident and was scrapped in the 1920's.
This train was the number 1 hauler of goods during the early decades of the 1900's.
This picture shows no number on the train, but it was known as No. 1 even though the
name Cumberland is shown. It was unusual for a train to have a name rather than a
number. Note the N. W Ry. Logo – Northern Wisconsin not Northwestern Railroad.
Note the smoke stack had a billow on top to spread the smoke and ashes so they did
not go directly into the engine compartment. While the compartment had glass type
windows, most engineers seldom closed them so as to allow fresh cool air to pass
through the hot compartment. Years later, when I worked on the railroad as a hostler's
helper, my job would have been to take the remaining hot or cold (dead) coals and
remove them from the firebox. This would entail using a small maul to break the
partially burned coals into smaller ashes which could then be grated from the firebox. To
generate steam to move the engine and boxcars required a heat level exceeding 212
degrees; thus, the engineer and firemen worked in a most inhospitable environment.
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Besides the heat, smoke, ashes, and soot, the working quarters would not meet OSHA
standards today.
As a young child I often wondered why the engineers and firemen seldom were friendly
toward each other when they were away from work. Even when they ate together at the
400 Club Restaurant they seldom talked; perhaps too much togetherness is not so good!
It is thought that Jacob Humbird was instrumental in the founding and development
of the Village of Humbird located some 40 miles south and east of Altoona, also
known as a railroad town.
Picture number 2, dated 1870, shows Train No. 10 – also named the DA Baldwin, after
the President of the West Wisconsin Railroad, was used to haul small pulls of less than
100 cars, but was later used as a switching engine. No. 10, along with No.'s 11, 12
and 14 were all delivered to the round house in 1881 at Eau Claire Wisconsin after the
merger of the West Wisconsin Railroad, The Northern Wisconsin, The St. Paul and
Sioux City Railroad and the CNW. Note the cow catcher at the front of the train, the
light just above it, and the billowed smoke stack just to the back of the light. Note too
the lack of weight support wheels two sets of two wheels rather than three sets of two
wheels when comparing the 1870 train with the 1878. This smaller train served shorter
service areas while the larger train was longer haul and may have been used to haul
iron ore and large timber from northern Wisconsin or northern Minnesota. The exact
whereabouts of this train is not known, but it is thought to be housed in a railroad
museum in Wisconsin.
The round house was located in Eau Claire because Altoona, then known as East Eau
Claire, had not yet developed into a railroad center. The Eau Claire Round House was
vacated and the larger Altoona Round House with 15 stalls, later enlarged to 21 stalls,
became the repair and replacement center for the CNW. In the early 2000's, the
Altoona Center was reduced to ashes to the consternation of many railroad buffs.
For additional information on steam engines, go to Google.com and type in "Steam
engines-Historical Society" and enter. For additional information on Bruce Smith, go to
"Duluth, Mesabi, and Iron Range Railroad", since he retired from there in the 1980's.
Thanks to Bruce Smith for passing these prints to William Glassbrenner for Roger
Rasmussen. More prints and information will be made available in future publications.
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FRANK BRESINA - THE MAN BEHIND THE COAL DUST
By Roger Rasmussen - CNW worker (1954)
rank Bresina was one of the mysterious men in my life because I never knew him; Frank was
covered with coal dust from his job as the manager of the coal shed. The shed was the refueling
station for the steam engines that moved the box cars on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad; the
Railroad was the heart of Altoona. Most of our fathers worked there. Frank's job was to unload the
coal from the freight cars that hauled coal from the mines to the railroad yards. There Frank would
open the bottom doors and let the coal drop into a hopper (a grated sieve) thence a conveyor belt
system would carry it to the storage container much like a water tank. When a train needed
refueling Frank would hop-atop the backend of the train, pull a chute down, pull a lever and...wow...
chunks of coal the size of a basketball would come sliding down into a storage area about 10' by 20'.
With that accomplished the train was ready for a 150 mile journey or simply switching of cars in the
main railroad yard.
Frank Bresina was a mysterious man because he was covered with black coal dust. Now, to a 6 year
old boy, seeing Frank walk through our yard from the "shed" to his house, across the street from
where I lived, was no great feat. However, I seldom saw him go to work in the morning; he started
work a might earlier than I arose. I saw him come home after a busy day; a busy day might include
unloading four coal cars, approximately 100 ton of coal into the coal shed. Then he might unload
that same amount into 10 trains during a typical day - about 10 ton per train. Of course, during this
process, with coal sliding down a chute or into the underground storage area, lots of coal dust could
be seen floating in the air. As you might guess, some of it fell on Franks clothing, hair, face, and
other body parts. After a steady day of this he would look like a black man. Thus, I thought Frank
was a black man – or in those days we called them negro.
Surprisingly, one morning I noticed Frank crossing our yard going across the railroad tracks to the
coal shed; he was white – clean as fresh fallen snow. My small mind said, "how can this black man
now be white?" It took me a few more times seeing Frank nice and clean before I asked my
neighbor, Glen-"Gibb" Gilbert- he was about 10 years older than I and so I thought this wise old man
would know something I didn't know; I believe he was 18 years old and a senior in high school. He
explained how the clean man in the morning got dirty during the day. Frank's son, Richard, was my
neighbor and best friend, and I spent lots of playtime in their yard; however, this was during the day
and so I never saw his Dad at home during the day. So I didn't know that Frank would wash the
coal dust off.
For a while this mysterious man seemed to have two suits of skin; black in the afternoon yet white
when he went to work during the morning. How could this guy change his skin so easily? I
wondered if I might too be able to pull this off. Years later, while sitting in a tavern in Altoona, I
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must have been all of 10 years of age, "Scorchy Green " had a chameleon, a lizard, that was able to
change its skin color to match that of the surroundings, a sort of camouflage, to protect itself. My
mind went back to Frank, and I thought, "gosh" the world is an odd place.
Why was Frank Bresina so important in my life? He created a situation, his black and white
demeanor, that forced me to look at the world in "black and white" terms. Not racial terms, but in
absolutes; some things were true and some things were not as they seemed. Mr. Bresina seldom said
much, sort of one of those "in family" traits; his sons were quiet too. When Frank spoke, it often was
"good afternoon" but seldom "good morning" since he was in a hurry to get to work. Frank was
quiet, but frankly speaking, adults seldom addressed kids in those days. His few words taught me
early that a person was more than what he said.
I learned in a few years that without Frank and his coal, nothing moved in the railroad yards. His job
was critical to the success of all the other workers on the railroad. No fuel, no movement! Too bad
Frank didn't realize his power position because he could have demanded much higher wages. This
gentle, simple, unassuming, quiet, huge man had an awesome power position far greater than my
Dad, Percy, who loaded ice into box cars so as to keep fruit, vegetables, and meat from spoiling;
however, that's another story, and Frank Bresina's job description, while not etched in marble, was
etched in my youthful mind using coal dust as the artist's medium. Coal- the fuel that moved a
nation in the early part of the 20
th
Century, now produces much of the energy that lights our homes.
Frank Bresina was my first contact with a coal miner; his black and white nature opened my
undeveloped mind to a world that doesn't exist today. Oh, to see those giant steam engines, to hear
the sorrowful cry of that whistle, to seem that old coal shed and Frank walking gently through my
yard with his black then white skin-what a picture to remember.
Frank Bresina -thanks! You never knew how important you were to my simple world in the
1940's. Whatever happened to our black and white, right and wrong, world? I'm too old to
change!
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DARRELL WOODINGTON-A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS AND REASONS
By Roger Rasmussen
esides my Father, Percy, Darrell Woodington was the most significant man in my life. He was
a significant other who opened my mind, heart and soul to a world I never anticipated and one
for which I was ill-prepared. Thank you "Pud" for making the difference. Darrell was an ordinary
guy with extraordinary insights, experiences, and ambitions; especially so, did he have ambitions
for young men in Altoona. He could be called the catalyst for career development. How so you
ask?
Darrell owned and operated Woodington's Gas Station. He was not a licensed teacher, yet
he taught more young men the "ins and outs" of car care better than most industrial education
teachers I've known. He was a master of his trade and he challenged most young men who hung
around the station to learn how to take care of cars; in the process he taught us how to take care of
ourselves too. His hands were seldom greasy or dirty, yet he was a grease monkey and a mechanic.
His clothes were never
dirty, yet I recall him working on a "creeper" and under dirty cars. Neatness and orderliness were
important in managing a station and he thought this would carry-over into everyday life. We
didn't just "hang" around the gas station, he expected everyone to learn how to…
Learning how to pump gas, remove and repair a tire, lubricate and change the oil on a car,
add air to tires, check the oil, fan belt, hoses, and other automobile accessories were part of the
hands-on school that he taught every day. Learning the names and uses of dozens of tools and the
parts and operation of the automobile would come in handy – so Darrell thought. Dozens of young
men each year, for more than the 10 years I was a constant observer and participant, learned by the
hands-on method. Not lots of talk – a simple explanation, several chances to demonstrate that you
knew how to – and then you were on your own. Perhaps a dozen young men standing around the
pot belly stove on a cold Saturday morning, bragging about the nite-before basketball game, and
Darrell would say, "Ok Roger it's your turn to pump the gas in Irv Hardies' car" or…. " Eddy
Schmidt, it’s time you learned how to lubricate and change the oil on Fid's car." Besides the skills
learned, you soon realized the importance of kindness toward the customer. Respect for people,
places, things, and especially pride in your hometown and school were constantly reiterated.
Most "gashouse gang members" understood the importance of "be a job big or small- do it well
or not at all."
The rite of passage at Darrell's Place depended on your age and whether or not you had a
brother who had belonged to the "gashouse gang." My rite of passage was to recite the names of
each of the states and their capitol. It took me three times to pass. While no membership cards
were given, you knew who belonged. No one was excluded who wanted just to hang; however, to
pump gas, and do other trivial tasks was not a chore given to "just anyone." I was 13 years of age
when I felt like I belonged. Darrell Woodington was my "father in absentia." For several years
my Dad worked out-of-town building the Holcomb Dam. I was quite independent and so I spent
most non-school days away from home; almost always at "the Station." November 1,1951 was a
"day of infamy." The night before, Friday, October 31, the Altoona Elementary/High School
burned completely. The fire was not extinguished until early on Saturday morning. I walked the
two miles into town and watched the school burn. By 8:00 a.m. I was cold and exhausted and so I
ran to Darrell's Place to get warm. Eating and sleeping were out of the question; we had lost our
"second home" – the school. Now Pud's Place would be my second home. By noon most of the
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"gang" were at Darrell's and the major discussion where would be now go to school? At Noon,
Leo Looby, owner of the Meat Market, walked over and talked to Darrell. A few minutes later,
Darrell called me to their conversation. Darrell said, "I told Leo that if he wanted the best worker
around to help him in the grocery store, you were it." From that day on, until I graduated from
high school, I had a job and I had money – two things most kids my age lacked. Thanks to Pud, my
first job became a stepping stone to other jobs. Since 1951, I have never been unemployed. Many
older "gang" members wanted that job; he chose me!
Years later, when I graduated from college as a teacher, Darrell, then School Board President,
wanted me to return to Altoona High School as a teacher and prospective principal. I asked Him,
"Why did you ever pick me for Leo's job "? His reply, "I knew you were hungry.–.you had a
passion for doing whatever you had to do, whether shoving snow, cutting grass, or raking." "Be a
job, great or small, do it well or not at all"?
Years later when I was in a position to hire a teacher, professor, or college administrator, my
first criteria beyond the legal licensure requirements was passion. Unless one has a burning desire
to do something beyond "good", I deferred to the one who had the passion. Darrell Woodington
was to become my mentor through two college degrees and my first several professional positions.
His advice served me well. He was like a second father to me and one of the "great men in my life."
At age 73 and counting, I still have that passion – that desire to strive for excellence. We could use
a "few good men like Darrell Woodington" today.
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Ed the Red EngineerA Most Unforgettable Character
By Roger Rasmussen
Edward Semisch was a character not easy to forget. Why so? First, his appearance
indicated a real lack of concern for what people saw or thought. He was his own worst
enemy because he was vulnerable and because he didn't care too much what people
thought of or about him; therefore, he was perceived as defenseless and in some ways
helpless.
Secondly, Ed was a character because of his demeanor. He walked with laziness
indicative of a bum- a hobo- one of Ed's colleagues of unemployed or underemployed
railroad vagabonds. Ed would have been a world class hobo because he admired
their free-living style; his living style. "Don't worry about tomorrow because
tomorrow might not come." Even if it did come, what difference would it really make
in the whole scheme of life? One way or the other Ed Semisch didn't much care what
tomorrow would bring because he would continue to do his own thing regardless.
Thirdly, Ed Semisch was a character because of his capacity to remember and recall
in detail most every historical event and person in Altoona from 1920 until his death
in the 1970's. He knew more useless and useful information than anyone I had ever
met. What was Ed's secret to a great mind? Most every day the Altoona taverns were
open, Ed would make a daily trek downtown to gossip and learn the news firsthand.
While at each of the three taverns, he might partake of the alcoholic drinks of
different patrons, without their consent. " Don't leave a drink unattended or it would
be gone." Of course, this resulted in some insults and conversation. Thence, without
too much fanfare, Ed would depart to the next bar and repeat these actions. Eventually
Ed would end his trek at one of the two restaurants before his final journey to the
Depot. At either the 400 Club Restaurant, or Mooney's Restaurant Ed would find the
Leader Telegram, Milwaukee Journal or one of the Twin Cities newspapers and read
it/them from cover- to -cover while printing notes on the news that involved the
railroad or people living in the area of Altoona. Patiently and diligently Ed would
meticulously print significant information. While writing he would memorize; I
suspect he had a photographic mind. His secret for a good memory – use all of your
senses; common being the most important.
Eventually, after some two-three hours of movement and writing, Ed would find
home; the CNW Depot. His home away from the farm home! There upon he would
engage as many as would listen in conversation about the railroad, workers, and
residents. This angular, overweight, coverall-wearing, somewhat sloppy, unshaven,
gangly haired creature created unwarranted fear in the hearts and minds of some
youngsters. Teenage girls would walk across the street to avoid Ed. Young guys
would tease him to see if he could remember their names, birthdates, or something
unusual about Altoona. For those who knew the real Ed Semisch he was a treat; a
treat because Ed was a reservoir of knowledge about the world. He was our World
Bank of information. Because most of us lacked access to TV and perhaps because we
were lazy readers of newspapers, it was easy to rely on Ed to tell us. We feasted on Ed's
vulnerability. He was most eager to tell us, even if we didn't want to hear.
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Some 45 years after I last saw Ed Semisch, I still consider him one of my mentors.
Thanks to Ed's encouragement I attended college and earned a few degrees. His grasp of
useful and practical knowledge encouraged me to become somewhat like him. While I
don't copy down the news, I have been a vociferous reader and listener of the news that
becomes the history of a town, vicinity, valley, or state; maybe even Altoona's History!
I referred to Edward Semisch as a hobo; most readers would equate mat to a bum. Ed
was not a bum of a guy. Like the town crier of earlier centuries, he was the master of
news; on a par with Jack Parr or Chet Huntley. I doubt that Ed finished 8
th
grade, for such
was not expected of a farmer such as Ed or his brother Julius. As a teacher for more than
45 years I have encountered thousands of colleagues and friends with advanced degrees,
so called "educated"; however, my friend and colleague Ed the Red Semisch still ranks
as smarter than most of them.
Finally, the one masterful quality possessed by this smart man was his dedication to
knowing more about the CNW Railroad than any living soul. While the computer has
made information gathering much easier, Ed Semisch took the time to read and record the
early history of the CNW and share it. He irregularly wrote a column in the Altoona
newspapers on local news, but he never failed to share the railroad news or local gossip
to the younger generation. He could remember the smallest details on every train, train
crash, most railroad workers, and he was seldom in error. Ed never actually worked on
the railroad; he was our local fanner- news commentator. However, he spent 70 years as
Mr. CNW riving, writing, and talking about life on the rails... A ledger and a legend of
our Altoona History and an engineer of my career, Ed remains one of the great characters
of my young life in Altoona. Thanks Mr. Ed!
Roger Rasmussen is an irregular purveyor of useless and useful information related to
characters who walked the streets and talked Toonerville talk during the 1940-50-60's,
and he was a contributor to the Altoona Star. Still teaching after 45 years, he continues to
foster interest in Altoona History. With his cousin Dr. John Thurston and friend Jack
Blackburn, they provide useless and useful insights on Altoona.
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I'VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAILROAD
By William Glassbrenner & Nephew Roger Rasmussen
Altoona Railroaders
s the words to the above song go, my grandfather worked for the
Northwestern Railroad for 30 years, my father William Glassbrenner Sr. for
40 years, my brother Waldemore for 35 years, and I for 43 years. If you added
my three uncles and my brother-in-law Percy, combined we've been
railroaders for more than 200 years. No members of my family now work on
the railroad.
By first job with the CSt.P M & O Railroad, now known as the Union Pacific,
was as a call-boy. Not a call-girl, but a call-boy; my job was to alert engineers,
brakeman, and conductors when they were scheduled to work by calling them
via phone but more often by walking to their home or where the roomed and
knocking on the door or yelling loud and clear. I waited for their response so I
knew they heard correctly; some had hearing problems, and some fell back to
sleep. However, for this story, I'll drop the call-boy job and relay the life of a
common laborer who worked at the roundhouse in Altoona after high school
graduation in 1952. My first full-time job began on June 25
th
of 1952. Most of
my buddies enlisted in the Korean War; I enlisted on the railroad.
I started fires! That is, I was responsible for getting the steam engines ready
for work by starting the fire to heat the water, to create the steam that would
move the 4,000 ton engine and the 100+ boxcars or Pullman cars (passenger
carriers) and I needed to start this fire a minimum of two hours before the train
was to be pushed or pulled (driven). Now starting a fire sounds simple; shovel
a hundred pounds of coal into a firebox (stove), soak some old cloth or paper
with kerosene, light the materials and throw it all into the firebox. Pray a blaze
would start so the water in the boiler would get hot enough to create steam
without exploding. Luck meant a quick start; bad-luck meant repeated
attempts-sometimes three to four tries. Prior to 1960, most food, lumber, ice,
and people traveled by rail not semis or air. America's means of
transportation was the railroad; America was fed by food moved by the steam
engine.
In an average eight hour shift, eight steam engines (called trains) might
needed to be fueled with coal, the boiler tank filled with water, and the sand
hopper filled with clean sugar sand. Sand was used to help move the train
during initial start, or to help brake a train during an emergency stop. Both
internal and external blowers (fans) might be used to encourage a blaze.
Poor quality, cheap, coal made the laborer's job difficult. Cold weather didn't
help. Hot weather and a hot firebox made for a sweaty job. Each engine had
to be inspected at the end of its run and repairs made before starting a new
run. At the end of a run, the hot coals would need to be extinguished and
flushed from the firebox; likewise, the pent-up steam would need to be
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released but not before the engine was placed in the roundhouse for
inspection and maintenance; safety was a must!
The work of a common laborer was demanding, tiring, and timing was
essential. As one small common worker, 5' 10" and 130 pounds, in the whole
chain of railroad workers, my first job with the Northwestern Railroad was
demanding and lasted just four years, yet it prepared me for new positions
that culminated in a 43 year career. Today there is no roundhouse, no steam
engines, and where once 200 men worked in Altoona maintaining a great fleet
of trains, now a few diesel engines and a dozen workers handle a fraction of
the train traffic that birthed a small town called Altoona into a growing city.
Where once 20 or more freight teams left the City each day today perhaps
five leave. Where once four to five passenger trains, including the 400,
carried travelers to unseen sights, there is silence. The 400 ceased passing
thru Altoona in the 1960's.
The giant steam engines were the workhorses for moving food and materials
to a growing nation. As youngsters in Altoona schools, we learned early the
song, "I've Been Working on the Railroad." Young men followed their
grandfathers, fathers, brothers and uncles by becoming railroad workers too. I
retired in 1995 after 43 years with the Northwestern (Union Pacific) Railroad.
My pension is a reminder of how lucky Altoona was to have such a rich
heritage; I was proud to be a part of the process that helped move the food,
supplies, returning veterans, and citizens during an era when the steam
engine was king of the rails. What a great ride and what a great life; I know, I
was a railroader!
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Which Am I?
I watched them tear a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho-heave-ho and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled,
the kind you'd hire if you had to build?"
The foreman laughed and said, "No. indeed!
unskilled labor is ail I need."
These men can wreck in a day or two,
What it would take a builder a year to do.
I asked myself as I went on my way,
"Which of these roles have I chosen to play?”
Am I a builder with a loving care,
who measures life with a rule and square?
Am I a builder with a plan,
who does the very best I can?
Or am | a wrecker who walks the town,
content with the job of tearing down?"
~Author Unknown
The source of this poem is unknown by the presenter. I believe it was typed on a manual typewriter
sometime in the 1930's by my Mother Alfreda Rasmussen from some source and later retyped by my Wife
Dixie using an IBM Selectric Typewriter. The essence of the poem – one way or the other; we are either
builders, wreckers, or users. One of our efforts in this publication is to help you become the first and the
last – not the middle With an emphasis on the first.
Roger Rasmussen, Constructionist.
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The Babysifter
By Roger Rasmussen
I did it for what seems forever, but there was a time that I couldn't do it because I was too
young, so mom and dad actually had to pay someone to sit with us when they went out on a
Friday's night. I can always remember waiting with anticipation to see who I would luck out with
as someone to be awed with my cuteness. But in all honesty, the first babysitter that we had that I
can remember was a guy, Roger Rassmussen . And that was for a very good reason, molla.
I recently helped out with a project that was devoted to the old Altoona High School that
burned down 58 years ago this weekend. I obtained a list of graduates and then took on the task of
calling them and trying to get input on their memories of the old school. I was surprised with one
memory that was from one of my first babysitters. She ran into me a couple days after the fire and
asked me what had happened. I then went into a recounting of dad coming into my room to tell
me we had to leave the comfort of our bedrooms because of the fear of a wind change and the
Babbington house catching fire. This requested story proved that Roger wasn't the first baby
sitter I had, but rather the first I remember.
I was not and still am not a real pro when it comes to words, so that is the explanation of
the title of this memory. When I was young my favorite activity was to help mom bake, bake
cookies, pies, cakes, and my favorite, doughnuts. And whenever there was a task involving sifting
of flower, THAT WAS MY JOB. So, being the not an expert on words person that I was, when
baby sitting was brought up, and I thought there would be some sifting involved, so babysifting it
was. I just thought I would throw that in, as later in life when mom would whip up a baked treat,
she would use my invented word and say let's do some babysifting.
So what made Roger so special that I can go back some 55 years plus to remember what a
great job he did? Let's just say that Roger understood the value of a nickel, and that fact is proven
by the story of where he came from, and where he has ended up. If he wasn't babysitting, he
would be working for Leo Lobby as a marketer or Darold Woodington as a prospective grease
monkey. But as he learned the trade he also learned the shortcuts, to make his job easier to
accomplish, using his brain as opposed to his brawn.
Mom tells me I was a handful when I was young. If I inherited her intelligence I also
inherited dad's propensity for raising hell and causing mischief. But Roger used my curiosity to
curb my enthusiasm, in other words, he bribed me.
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Dad had several war trophies from his Navy days in the Pacific, and one was what we
thought at the time very practical. In the early days of television, someone, somewhere, somehow
came up with the wild idea that if you were watching TV you had to have a TV light on top of the
set shining towards the wall that the back of the TV faced. I never did get the explanation of why
this was, but it was. When you turned on the TV you also turned on the light sitting atop the set.
Dad had constructed our TV light out of an oversized clam shell he had brought back from the
South Pacific. It was oval shaped and about the size of a small dinner plate. He had taken one
half that was the stand laying face down and then bolted on the other half on edge on top of the
laying down half. He then electrifies it with a bulb holder and cord, and that was our TV lamb as
long as dad was around and we were watching TV.
We were at Andy and Blanches having just returned from Washington State when Roger
was our sitter for the night. It didn't take him long to go into his "special" for the evening. If I
was to behave myself, and do everything that he requested, without the slight sight of an attitude,
there would be a reward for my efforts, to be collected the next morning, after I had jumped the
hardest huddle, going to bed. I would be able to collect that reward if I looked, if I looked...
.under the TV lamp.
So I broke all protocol, resisted all my temptations, and I think even smiled when I didn't
really feel like it. I was the model 5 year old, the kid they pictured in Life magazine; the I'm
going to go to Heaven Kid. And sure enough, good to his word, there under the TV light was a
big shinny nickel. And I think even Roger will admit that he didn't have a problem with me
afterwards, as long as the nickels held out.
But Roger was at the juncture in his life that he had bigger fish to fry then babysitting, so
after he left high school, new babysitters were in the cards. I can't remember any after Roger till
Diana Connell came to sit with us after mom and dad bought the Spooner Avenue house in
Altoona. I had always had this thing for blondes, so I think Dianna got my best attention and
behavior, and it didn't cost her a nickel. And at 61 years old, Dianna is still my babysitter. I guess
I can't say "my" sitter, as the last few years that we have went on vacation, Dianna has been kind
enough to come over and spend some times with our two cats Slinky and Stinky. She was a good
neighbor when we lived a couple of blocks apart in Altoona, and is still a good neighbor living a
coupfle of blocks apart in Eau Claire.
I hope Roger's head didn't get too big from all the nice things I said about him earlier, as
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he might not like what I am about to relate, the worse of all babysitters we ever had. I guess that is
unfair to say, or suggest that she wasn't a good baby sitter. It is what she did to us Saturday night
that came back to bite, or rather not allow to bite Sunday after dinner. What would you think of
someone that ate the whole half gallon of ice cream that had been planned for dessert after
Sunday's chicken dinner? She wasn't popular with us kids, and even so less popular with dad,
who had to run to the store to get a replacement of the ice cream. I can now state that it was
Rogers sister Dort that polished off our once a week treat. But all is forgiven, but Dort never sat
for us again after that.
We are now pushing my age to the limit and it wasn't long after Dorthy that I took over
the reigns of baby sitting. I was probably around 11 when I first sat, but dad tried me out with
other kids first. The Heidemann's lived next door to us, and they had an upstairs apartment, which
at the time was rented out by Bill and Tooty Glassbrenner. One Friday night Bill came over to see
if I could sit with their daughter Evetta, as the sitter they had set up petered out on them. I could
see the wheels turning in dads head, but after all, I was just a short jog away from help, and I
would probably fall asleep anyway, which I did. So I got my first babysitting job and must have
proved to dad that I had what it took. I did make some money, I did fall asleep, and I also found
one on Bill's girly magazines before I nodded off. Maybe that's why Bill never asked me back
again, the nap or maybe the grily magazine. Or maybe it was because I was busy taking care of
the Ruscin kids.
I did have one incident that I still wonder about till this day. You could say it was one of
those incidents that slipped through the crack. We had a dog, one of our first of many, and he
would eat just about anything that "fell" off the table. One the night we had liver he could barely
walk by the time we were all done "eating". One of the first nights that I baby sat I had made a
trip to Woolworth's with mom and somehow talked her into parting with .59 to buy a turtle. A
turtle is meant to live his or her life in a bowl with a rock and a plastic palm tree to be fed fly's
and worms. But I was a hands on kind of turtle owner, so I had to take the turtle out of his bowl
and put him on the floor. I put my arms in a circle to mark his boundary, but then, just like at
Bill's, I fell to sleep. When I woke up, Tommy the turtle had vanished, and I searched the house
high and low for him, with no results. But Hunts the Weiner dog just lay there with what I swear
was the same smile we saw on the nights we had liver.
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"All-Aboard" for Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Elroy, or Eau Claire
By Roger Rasmussen
William Glassbrenner Jr in 1936
Who would think this shy young child would become a CNW Railroad worker for some
30 plus years? Bill, as he is known, or Omar for those who know him well, began
working as a call-boy in his early teens, held a variety of positions in the round house
and eventually spent the bulk of his career as a clerk in the depot. While shy as a teen,
Bill learned early that the noisy life of a railroad worker, especially those working near
trains, required keen hearing and a loud voice. Following in the footsteps of his father,
Bill Sr., his brother, Waldemore, and several uncles, Bill became a loud-mouth; that is,
he learned early that he needed to shout to be heard. At age 75, he thinks he's still
working on the railroad. The thunder of a Big-H, , a blast of steam, the echoes of a
lonely train whistle in the distance, the slow methodical climb of a 100 car train pulled
by twin diesels, and you have life on the railroad. The railroad has died a slow quiet
death, but those aged 60 or more will recall, faintly I am sorry to say, when the life-
blood of Altoona was the sound of trains, whistles, steam, brakes, and men screaming
to the tops of their lungs- "all-aboard" for Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Elroy, or Eau
Claire. To be a part of that time was to be awakend at 2:00 a.m. with all of the noise
and fury of a railroad and the loud crash of two box cars meeting from opposite
directions at five miles per hour.
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