Sunday, August 5, 2012

1940 in Sutton

Let's take another look at a particular year in Sutton, this time 1940.

Ads from 1940 Sutton Newspapers

The 1940 census was released on April 2nd after being locked up for 72 years giving us a glimpse of who was doing what in our town. We also used the 1940 Sutton Register newspapers for a better image of the year.

Right off the bat, two things stand out. The country and especially our area were well on the way towards crawling out of the Great Depression. There is optimism in the tone of the newspaper articles. One newspaperman insisted that Nebraska was just one good crop away from recovery illustrating he saw weather as a bigger problem than economic and banking issues. Farm mortgage debt was 7 billion, the smallest figure in 20 years and down from over 9 ½ billion in prior decade. The record high was 11 billion in the early 20’s.

The other news that took up newspaper column space was the expanding war in Europe. Stories from the German side almost matched that of the English and the tone was much like a spectator of a sporting event. Writers seemed almost certain the US would not be dumb enough to get involved in another intra-European squabble.

Locally, florescent light was new at the Central Café. News reached town that local sports star Vic Kohler was wed in Hawaii during a bowl trip with his brother Morris and the rest of Oregon State football team. New license plates were red on blue drawing criticism that they would be better employed advertising for a carnival company.

Changing times threatened the K. C. & O rail line from Clay Center to Fairfield and the sixteen mile freight line from Sutton to Clay Center appeared doomed too.

Mystery birds appeared in yards, black, but not a blackbird, white bills, short tails and smaller than a robin. No one knew what it was.

The Sutton Register was $1.25 per year.

The county board of supervisors was Chairman Henry F. Tjarks, E. L. Smock, O. B. Percival, Fred Mock, Fred Kreil, John H. Schmer and Emil Hutline. Brothers-in-law Roy Oakley and Henry Vauck were in the midst of their long-running act as County Clerk and County Judge. Sheriff John J. Harr and Deputy Ralph Spencer policed the county.

There were a number of excuses to socialize: the Golden Rod Club, S. N. T. Club, Sutton Women’s Club, Fortnightly Club, P. E. O.’, J. U. T. and Fairview Club among others.

Prominent town boxers included Ray Roemmick, Allen Bender, Earl Plettner and Elmer Plettner.

But it is hard to beat the census for a cross-section of what people were doing and where. Sara Ebert was the enumerator for the census in the town of Sutton, Lee Lilliedahl counted noses in rural Sutton Township and my Dad, Clarence Johnson was the enumerator for School Creek Township. Yes, School Creek was the first thing I looked at when the census came online.

Let’s concentrate on businesses in Sutton. First, the gas stations stand out. William Ebert, Orville Levander, Alex McDonald, John A. Mathewson, Albert Hust, Herman Griess, George Reutzel, Chester Wesson, Adam Rasby, and William Wasson (gas station and café) all claimed to own or operate gas stations.

There were mechanics: Adolph Ekhardt, Reuben Wiard, Carl Unterseher, William Stertz plus Art Wach and LeRoy Cronin at the Ford garage,   

A fine figure of a vehicle - the 1940 Chevrolet
Four people, Gerald Nuss, Henry L. Rothrock, Ronald Spielman and pianist Helen Levander were listed as being with an orchestra.

Alexander Bauer and Ewald Nuss were bakers. (E.T.’s name was Ewald, didn’t know that.)      

Blacksmiths were William Steward and Fred Ehly. John Reifschneider called himself a junk dealer. Sibyl Jarrett was the librarian, of course.

Grocery stores were operated by Robert M. Figi, William Wieland and William Schmidt (also with dry goods).

Remember the produce stations? Floyd Sinner had one, John Eberhard listed himself as “cream tester” – that lasted a while. Emil Ochsner and son Milton ran a hatchery and developed an incubator as was done in Clay Center. (One of Emil’s is in the porch at the historic house.) Henry Haberman Jr. told the enumerator that he was a hired hand at a chicken ranch.

Henry Scheideman and Peter Scheierman were butchers; barbers Earl Atkins, Paul D. Welch and Goss Randall checked in and Frank Weston was a hardware merchant. 

Paul Ebert had a café, wife Nora was the cook and daughter Ursula was the waitress. Reuben Nuss was also a cook in a café.

Other merchants included: Earnest Jones, retail; Gottlieb Tesler, grocer; Fred Hanke, tailor shop; Albertis Lewis, jewelry store; and Carl Bruckner, variety store;

Herman V Nuss and Joseph Welch identified as Medical Doctors and Dr. Welch doubled as the mayor. Dentists were David J. Pope, Dwight Dulaigh, Herbert J. Ocshner and Gilbert Wieland. Dr. James S. Barbee had begun the long association of his name with Sutton veterinarian services. George Miller, Lee Lilliedahl and Theodore McKibben all plied the pharmacy trade.

Alfred Snedgren was superintendent of schools.

There were bankers: William and Nellie Hoerger, Edd and Walter Kirchefer while Samuel J. Carney listed his occupation as banker and his industry as hardware. Margaret Carney was “Editor – talking books.” (What was that?)

Lillian Phelps had her millinery shop, Jess Giffen managed a Ladies Ready-to-Wear shop as did Anna Bauer, Charles and Lila Gibson were manager and cashier at the Lyric Theater, Clarence Hurst was the bookkeeper at an implement dealer, Clair Nelson managed the bowling alley and Gottlieb Ehly was a cemetery sexton.

Five Sutton city residents listed rural mail carrier as their job: George Barnell, Olen Whitlcok, Wesley McDonald, George Schwab and Guy Swanson (our mailman on RR #2 northwest of town).

On Maltby Street we find sisters Anna, Martha and Selma Ebert, ladies this farm kid never knew, regrettably. Francis Lombardi was the priest. The hospital staff was Anna Stockham, manager; Maxine Johnson, trained nurse and Gracie Urbauer, practical nurse.

John Fuehrer was a painter and paper hanger but his son Edwin was trying his hand as a meat cutter at a grocery store – that worked out well. Fuehrer’s cheese spread is good today but who remembers his braunschweiger and his efforts to reverse engineer the Kraft product?

Tavern owners and bartenders Walter Green, Jacob Serr and Lucas Trebelhorn were serving that thirsty market. The insurance business was represented by John C. Grosshans, Martin Challburg (he had two dogs in the fifties, or were those ponies?) and Mrs. Mayme W. Clark was a hail and tornado insurance agent, really.

Herman Lorenzen sold Rawleigh products. Victor Kohler was the gymnasium janitor. This would have been between seasons of professional football in Boston and dad Otto was the undertaker. William Rickard and a few others identified with WPA road construction.

Emma Huffman was the supervisor, NYA Sewing Project. There were several young seamstresses learning that craft in Sutton in the Sewing Project. The National Youth Administration was a New Deal agency in the WPA from 1935 through 1943 and unlike the CCC, the NYA also served women. Lyndon Johnson once served as its Texas director.

John Helzer and others reported their occupation as “Book Repair, WPA Library Project.” Employees of this project repaired and re-conditioned tens of millions of books in school and public libraries in 45 states in another New Deal employment program.

This has not been an exhaustive list of Suttonites in business, professions and trades but a cross-section of those listed in the 1940 census. To calibrate the population, kids who were five in 1940 were in the high school graduating classes about 1953 and are approaching their 60th reunion, a lot of folks, to be sure. Many in the ’40 census carried on in the same or similar positions for decades and are well within the memories of many more of us.

We hope you enjoyed this look back at Sutton 72 years ago and at the people who were walking the streets, buying and selling in these store buildings and doing their part to prepare the town for us, today. The 2010 census will be released in January, 2082. What will that little kid in the stroller you saw today think about when she sees your name in that ancient 2010 census record?

This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about Sutton Life Magazine or for a subscription visit

No comments: