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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

These thoughts will include some of my earliest memories and memories of being told of things that took place before I was born. My parents were high school sweethearts in the years about 1914 – 1917. Of course transportation was mostly horse and buggy in those times, so those students from the farms fortunate enough to attend high school lived in rooms rented in town. Thirty years later during my own high school years, things hadn’t changed all that much. We no longer depended on horse and buggy, but still only had one school bus my Freshman year, and only two or three by the time I graduated in 1948. All other students not served by a bus had to have their own transportation or stay in town. There were few all weather roads, plus WWII stopped the manufacture of any new vehicles from 1942 through 1946. Thus, we still had many farm students residing in town through the school week.

My Dad was allowed to attend High School by contributing financially by working his way through school. There was public education, but the cost of food, and room rent was met by holding a job with the Mount Ayr newspaper. Among his duties was meeting various trains upon arrival to interview those coming and leaving and reporting for the paper. If my sister Jean happens to read this, perhaps she can correct me or add knowledge of my parents’ high school years.

Our country entered WWI in 1917, and Dad entered the Army and served until the end of the war at the end of 1918. They were married and lived in Des Moines until after my sister Anne was born in 1920. During the period in Des Moines, I remember being told that he worked for the Flynn Dairy which was located perhaps 4 to 5 miles from their home on the east side. In order to survive financially, he walked the distance to and from work daily in order to save street car fare. Again, Jean help me out here. I believe they returned to Ringgold County in the early 1920’s and lived on a farm near Delphos, IA. Apparently, Dad had visions of sometime becoming an independent businessman, and leaned toward owning a greenhouse (I remember seeing blue prints or plans for the construction of such) or by investing and learning all he could about a new technology, which would result in the hatching of chicken eggs by means other than the accepted method of letting the hen sit on the eggs for a three week period. A farmer, or later a business person, could buy an incubator and replace the hen who then could just concern herself with just providing the eggs.

He learned about a company in Springfield, Ohio called the Buckeye Incubator Co. which he felt had made the most progress in developing and selling the new technology. After repeated efforts to contact the company about possible employment and being totally ignored, he decided to hitch hike, (hardly any highways or cross country traffic at that time), ride by train either as a passenger or otherwise, or walk to Springfield in order to confront the company and convince them he was to be their next employee. (Shades of that remind me of Steve and Julie’s decision to go to Houston and work for Texas Instruments) Arriving in Springfield, Ohio unannounced, I believe they thought they could get rid of him by offering him a territory as a salesman in the Ozarks of Missouri. Somehow he saved enough to buy a car, I suppose a Model T or something. Of course there were few roads in the rural Ozarks (mostly just trails) and most farmers had never heard of an incubator and couldn’t afford one if they had. (Jean, do you remember the name of the man from Buckeye Inc. who became a lifelong friend and mentor to Dad and visited from time to time?) At some point, Dad purchased an incubator for himself and Mother, and began the Prentis Hatchery, probably about 1924. He would continue his now improving sales in the Missouri Ozarks and by then, southern Iowa as well, and Mother would oversee the hatchery operation, first, at their farm home, and later when they would open a retail hatchery in Mount Ayr. Sister Anne, was joined first by my brother, Richard in 1922, and my sister Jean in 1926, who I’m appealing to for help. Julie, check the birth dates, I’m sure I’m not totally right. Then I arrived in 1930, and by then the hatchery business was beginning to prosper in spite of the Depression. All before, about 1933, is hearsay for me. However, Dad continued to be a relatively successful salesmen well into the 30’s and Mom became a successful business woman, somewhat a rarity for that period with the help of the older children. Eventually, other Prentis Hatcheries were established in Leon, IA. and Bedford, Iowa.

The thing I remember most as a child was the joyful Friday evenings in which Dad would come home for the weekend. He would enter the house and state that he was sure he had dropped some change as he was getting out of the car. I would run to find a penny or two or sometimes a nickel or even a dime. More than likely the dimes had indeed really been unintentionally dropped as a dime was quite valuable for those days.:-) The other memory of his sales career was that almost every year there was a wreck in which he suffered injuries. As a result, I can remember many different cars in my early years, including Chevy’s, Ford’s, Studebaker’s, etc. and the fact that Dad suffered with a bad back requiring hospitalization at the VA Hospital in Des Moines, and the use of many braces, etc., throughout his life.

In addition to the annual wrecks while traveling, there was another, which will always be referred to as “the wreck” involving the entire family. Jean will know the exact year; however, I believe I would have been only about three. Our family had traveled to Bedford for business and to visit friends and celebrate the Fourth of July. The hour was late and I was sound asleep in the back seat between Anne and Richard. No seat belts then. Jean was between Dad and Mom in the front. We collided at a relatively high speed with a car that had been abandoned without lights sitting on the roadway. The highway was a gravel road. There were no paved roads in Ringgold County outside of town until I was 9 years old in 1939. In town, we had a few brick streets and a paved street that led to and through the most upscale section of town known as Sheldon Heights. There were no highway speed limits then or until well into the 1950’s in Iowa. As I grew up I could never understand why you couldn’t see a car sitting in the road at night until I hit a 1200 pound cow that had been previously hit and was struggling on the road at night in 1999. Then I understood how it was possible. Anyway, “the wreck” had serious consequences as Jean was thrown through the windshield and was near death for a period. Mother also suffered head injuries and suffered a permanent knot on her forehead until about 25 or 30 years later when she had it surgically removed. Jean has carried leg scars and marks since. The only real memory I have was being awakened by the crash and being unhurt, and asking Anne if we were still at the Fourth of July Fireworks. Then, the following days being kept informed of the condition of Mother and Jean. The rest I believe, had only minor injuries.

The first hatchery in Mount Ayr was one block north of the town square between a feed, coal and ice business operated by my uncle and a blacksmith shop. Behind the hatchery was a huge sand pile owned by a nearby lumber yard. All of these surroundings provided immense places of interest for a youngster after being old enough to go to the hatchery when there was no one at home to care for me. And it was great fun, when I was allowed to sleep nights at the hatchery, with my brother who at about age 13 to 15 was the night man. He would provide a 25 pound bag of chicken feed for me to use as a pillow. Before my birth, that building also provided the family living quarters in a loft at the rear of the building for a while. I think Jean remembers having lived in ten houses including the hatchery quarters by the time she was ten years old (or was that Anne?). By 1938, Dad had left the sales job to concentrate on the growing business. The only problem was, he had a new interest. Politics. He successfully ran for State Representative and began a 22 year career in both the Iowa House of Representatives and Iowa Senate as an elected official, followed by 6 years as a public servant, having been appointed to the Iowa Tax Commission. At one time, he was urged to run for Lieutenant Governor, but decided that he was financially unable and it would not be fair to his family. Anyway, he was still required to be gone for long periods and the business still required my Mother to handle the reins of the business.

The hatchery business was and probably still is a business requiring large amounts of manual labor. The early incubators required the most attention, and unfortunately never wore out and were mostly retained until the final days of the hatchery. However newer, more advanced machines were added through the years which were more efficient. The eggs had to be kept at a constant steady temperature (97 to 99 degrees) and had to be “turned” every three hours in order to give them uniform exposure to the heat and to exercise the embryo within the shell. The eggs were in trays of about 120 or so and merely were tilted in opposite directions each three hours. The whole operation only took about 20 minutes, and then the “turner” could go back to bed. There was always a fear of a power failure or a machine malfunction, and there were warning bells that loudly (scared the h— out of you) let you know if there was a problem during the night.

Thus, that was the need for a night man. Some time around 1940, the business outgrew the facilities and a building was rented on the east side of the square in Mount Ayr which provided for expansion. After Anne and Richard graduated from high school and left for college, and later Dick’s employment in Wash. D.C. and then the army after the beginning of WWII, more duties were to be assumed by the remaining children. As I was approaching the Junior High age, it was expected that I would become the “night man” and would sleep at the hatchery on the square until 1944, and later in the new hatchery building built next to the family home across from the Mount Ayr schools, until my own graduation from high school and subsequent leaving.

I don’t mean to minimize the contribution of my Father to the development and growth of the business. If ever there was a workaholic, he was one, but the importance of Mom maintaining and managing the business in his absence with the help of my brother and sisters, and myself should never be overlooked. Of course we had other important employees through the years that also were most valuable.

As mentioned, the business required lots of manual labor. A liaison had to be maintained with flock owner farmers who provided the eggs under the supervision of the hatchery. Flocks were vaccinated and tested on a regular basis by hatchery personnel. Then the farmer brought the eggs produced by his flock to the hatchery where the eggs would be sorted and “trayed” usually on a Sat. and Wed. The eggs would then be placed in the incubators early Sun. and Thurs. morning. Careful records were maintained on each tray. The trays stayed in the incubator for 18 days at which time the eggs were removed and placed in a larger hatching tray for the last 3 days in a separate incubator. Then on the 21st day when the incubator was opened, one would be greeted with yeep, yeep, peep, peep, and hundreds of baby chickens in the process of freeing themselves from the shell.

Hatching day twice a week were the really busy days. The trained chick sexors would arrive to determine whether the chicks were pullets or cockerels. The pullets were sold for egg laying and the cockerels were sold for Sunday dinner. Most chick sexors were of Japanese descent and during the war years, even though they were American citizens, they would arrive and leave at night. We brought them food as they would not be welcome at restaurants. It was unfortunate, but the country was so paranoid. Other days we were immersed in preparation, making cardboard boxes in which to deliver the chickens to the customer, cleaning up all the equipment after the hatch, etc. Also many times the customer would wish the chickens to be a few days old, so that required maintaining batteries of baby chickens to be fed and watered. There was a supplemental and very important feed business for all kinds of livestock, and the sale of equipment necessary for raising poultry. In addition, Dad added a farm for raising turkeys. My experience as “night man” during the hatching season (Jan. to June), qualified me to be the night man to sleep with the turkeys in a bunk house on the range (July to Christmas). There, I was a combination guard, and did morning chores before going to school. I was of high school age with a drivers license by the time I was asked to sleep with the turkeys.

To bring this to a conclusion, the hatchery was one of the first in the state of Iowa, after which followed a period of many years where nearly every town had a hatchery or certainly at least one in every county. I recall that in advertising, the Prentis Hatchery hatched and sold 250,000 chickens annually. As all things change, that too changed. Gradually there became factory farms with their own hatching facilities, and the poultry business as a part of every farm came to an end. Prentis Hatchery, as well as being one of the first in the state, was also one of the last to close in the state. After Dad’s retirement, Richard became the owner operator and hatching chickens ended probably in the mid-seventies. For awhile the business continued after Richard’s retirement as a feed and farm supply store until its closing during a prolonged recession in the eighties.

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