Alan Oberdeck Books


My Early Memories

On my 73 rd birthday someone, who shall remain nameless, asked me a very interesting question,
one which many of us have been asked by various family members and others. The big question
that was asked was: What do you remember from or about you youth. While lying awake at
night trying to bring on sleep I have been delving deep into the morass that is floating around in
my skull and out of the muck have emerged many memories. I have decided that beginning with
the earliest and the most momentous ones I probably should write them down.
My ethnic background is German (Deutsch) on both my mother’s and father’s side. Both
my mother’s father and mother were born in America. My father’s father was born in America
however his mother told stories of coming to America in a rough Atlantic crossing being seasick
for the whole way. My grandparents on both sides of the family were farmers and that was the
profession my father also chose. My folks had bought the farm where I was raised about three
years before I came along. I was born in February 1940 and I am not going to tell you I
remember any of it!
I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran Church. Some of my earliest memories are
from the balcony of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Edgerton, Rock County, Wisconsin,
These memories will appear, as close as I can make them, in chronological order.

The first memory was of how my family reacted and the turmoil that took place within
my little world. Even now that event stands out in my memory. Let me set the scene:
My parents were farmers and one of the crops they grew was leaf tobacco. The way it is
processed in Wisconsin is to grow it in the field until the leaves reach their best size, cut the stalk
at the root, string the stalks on lath, hang the lath in the tobacco shed until it is cured, then strip

the leaves from the stalks and take the stalks off the lath. The stripping process takes place in
what is called a “stripping house”. The stripping process usually takes place during the winter
months and in those days was usually a family affair. Because the removal of the leaves from
the stalks is a tedious operation where care is taken not to damage the leaves it was common
practice to have a radio tuned to a popular station playing while the stripping took place. As this
was a family endeavor both my mom and dad would be in the stripping house with me bundled
up helping wherever I could, or just kept in a chair out of the way. The traumatic event I
witnessed in the stripping room was an announcement over the radio. It was on December 7,
1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. I, a sixteen month old baby had no idea
what was said on the radio, or who said it! What I can’t forget is the memory of the response my
parents had, one of shock and disbelief!

My memories of my grandmother Oberdeck were from my very young age, probably
from when I was three years old. She had heart problems and passed away before the summer of
1943 when Carol was born.
To describe grandma Oberdeck from that early memory is difficult because of my size.
To me she looked tall and wide. I remember her face had a big smile and puffy cheeks. Her hair
was gray and puffed out in small curls all around her face. She wore a light blue ankle length
dress with a large white apron that came almost to the floor.
I remember being in the kitchen with her in their house in Edgerton. The kitchen was
painted a bright yellow and had a window above the sink. The sink was made of cast iron with a
white porcelain coating. It was probably four feet in length, eighteen inches wide with a back-
splash that was eighteen inches higher than the sink bowl. The water faucets for the sink came

through the back-splash above the sink bowl. The sink bowl was probably sixteen inches square
and about ten inches deep. Next to it on the left hand side was what was referred to as the drain
board (also a part of the casting) where one would place the washed dishes and use it as a work
surface to do other things. This sink was hung on the wall so the height of the drain board and
bowl was about forty inches from the floor. There was no skirt around the bottom of the casting
so if you placed a chair in front of it you could place your legs under the sink. If you looked
under the sink you could also see the drain pipe for the sink bowl.
Grandma was sitting on a stool in front of the sink peeling potatoes with the potato
peelings falling into the sink bowl and the peeled potatoes being placed on the drain-board. I
think I was sitting on her lap “helping” her with this task. Every now and then she would peel a
little of the peeled surface off the potato and give it to me to eat. I know we must have talked,
but all I remember is the warm comfortable feeling I had just being with her.

My Uncle Carl was an enlisted man in the U. S. Navy during WWII. He enlisted
sometime after Pearl Harbor. He had married my Aunt Florence sometime after Pearl Harbor.
Sometime after his enlistment he was sent to aircraft engine school in the East. Upon graduation
he was assigned to an aircraft carrier deployed out of San Diego, California. He was shipped
from the east coast to San Diego by troop train. He had to change trains in Chicago, Illinois with
about a four hour layover. My aunt’s sister Clara and her husband Frank lived in La Grange,
Illinois. This was before my sister was born. It was decided that our family, mom, dad, grandpa
Dallman, grandma Dallman and I would accompany my aunt to meet her husband at the train
station so they could spend some time together during his lay-over. The plan was to drive to La
Grange, meet my Aunt Clara, and then take the elevated rail, called the “El”, into Down Town

Chicago to Union Station. Two things about that trip stand out in my memory: The first was
while riding the El to Union Station. I believe I was being held by my father. We were standing
in the isle of the moving car when I saw my first black person. She was standing near us. My
father’s voice was very soft and stern as he said: “Don’t point, don’t ask and don’t stare!”
The second thing I remembered was at Union Station. We had met my uncle and he and
my aunt went off someplace to be alone. The rest of us were on a balcony overlooking the main
floor of the terminal. From where I was sitting I could see the wartime decorations above the
terminal floor. Strung on wires going across above the floor were many models of airplanes
flown in the war effort. Years later on a school trip by train to Chicago I walked into that same
station expecting to see all of those model airplanes hanging above me on those wires. It was a
great letdown to find them gone.

I was about three years old when my sister was born. I remember being driven to the
field where dad was combining grain. Dad had a 1940 John Deere model A tractor and was
pulling a John Deere combine. The combine got its power to run from a power-take-off shaft
located at the rear of the tractor placed a little above the place where the tong of the combine was
attached to the tractor hitch. To this shaft was attached another connected to the combine with
universal joints allowing the tractor to turn corners. When you combine a rectangular field, you
combine around the edges and gradually work your way to the center of the field. As you
proceed the rectangle gets smaller with each time you make a round of the field. Grandpa
Dallman stopped the car at the edge of the field and we got out. I could see the dad was close to
being done combining the field. Grampa took his hat off and waved it letting dad know that a
baby had been born. I watched as dad waved back, turned the tractor toward where we were and

everything stopped! He then left the tractor and began running toward where we were. That was
when dad learned that my sister was born. His combining for the day had stopped.
It was later when I learned that dad had broken the tractor. He had turned too short for
the universal joint on the drive shaft to the combine and in the process had stripped the gears to
the power-take-off shaft in the tractor. Somehow the tractor was towed four miles to Edgerton to
the implement dealer where the gears were to be replaced. It was either that night or the next,
when dad left to visit mother and my sister in the hospital, when I was left in the tractor shop
with the mechanics that were repairing the tractor. I was either under foot (in the way) or very
helpful for soon it was found that I could place my little hands in places the men could not which
led to my holding the nuts for bolts to reassemble the tractor. My distinct memories of that time
are of the darkness of the shop, the bare frosted light bulbs hanging on cords from the ceiling, the
warmth of the shop and the joy I felt in being able to do what the two men could not – hold and
start the nuts onto the bolts in the tight places inside the tractor.

It is Christmas, maybe Christmas Eve, at church. From my pew looking down from the
balcony the church lights cast a warm yellowish glow on the pews and the altar below. Dad sang
in the choir and mom and several aunts were in the pews holding my sister and me. It was the
warmth, the feeling of security, and the music that still comes up in my thoughts.

It was another Christmas Eve spent at church and I was older. The rationing brought
about by WWII was having an effect on the lives of everyone. Candy was not something we
were able to have very often. It was the end of the service and as we were being ushered out of
the church we were each given a little paper bag with a this coarse red ribbon tied around the top.

We were so excited to get home and open the special little bags. Inside we found peanuts in the
shell, some walnuts, an orange and some hard candy. It was our family tradition to open the
Christmas presents under the tree when we arrived home from church, but I have no recollection
of that that year.

As a young child I had the habit of wandering all over the farm. Now I wonder how
dangerous that would be in this day and age, but I was told that our dog Bingo was always by my
side and whenever my folks would question where I was they would look for the dog. I
remember once a man came to our farm and wanted to speak to my dad. I knew where in the
farm he was working and my mom told the man to follow me and I led him there.

Our farm grew crops and was also a dairy farm which meant that all of the pasture land
was surrounded by an electric fence. Most places dad would drive the tractor meant we would
have to go through an electric fence gate. Many times dad would take me with him on the John
Deere tractor when he would go up to the field to do something. Dad would sit on the seat and I
would stand on the platform between him and the steering wheel. This was a safe place as I
would be standing between his arms. The tractor had a hand clutch that could be operated from a
standing position from the platform in front of the steering wheel. Dad taught me how to push
the clutch to make the tractor go forward and how to pull back on the clutch to stop the tractor.
Whenever we would come to a gate dad would stop the tractor in front of the gate, get off the
tractor, open the gate and have me drive through and stop. He could then close the gate and get
back on the tractor. Driving the tractor was always exciting for me.

It was some time after my sister was born; I think she was maybe three months old, when
dad fell off the silo. It was in the fall and this was the time of the year that you harvest field corn
to make it into silage to feed the cattle all winter. Most of the corn grown in Southern Wisconsin
at that time was called 120 day corn. This meant that the corn needed a growing season of 120
days before the ears would be ripe enough to store as ear corn in a corn crib. For ear corn there
had to be 120 days from the time you planted it until the first killing frost. Much of the corn
grown on our farm took more than 120 days to ripen, but that didn’t matter because that corn was
grown to be silage corn. For silage corn it was better if the ears never ripened. To process silage
corn it was cut and bundled in the field by what was called a corn binder. These bundles were
then placed on a wagon and taken to a machine called a silo-filler. The silo-filler would chop the
stalks of corn and using a fan-like device blow the silage up through a pipe to the top of the silo
where it would fall to the bottom and eventually fill the silo to be stored to be fed to the cattle
during the winter months. The silo filler had to be set up each year at each silo in turn to fill the
silo with the chopped up corn silage. Dad and Grandpa, Oberdeck, were setting up the silo-filler
at what was called the little silo on our farm. The top of the silo was about forty-five feet from
the ground. On the outside of the silo where the pipe would go were rungs that allowed a man to
climb the silo on the outside as he was placing the pipe in place. The long pipe from the silo
filler to the top of the silo came in eight foot sections which had to be bolted together at the
bottom to make the pipe long enough to reach the top of the silo. As this ever lengthening pipe
was lifted up the side of the silo it had to be guided into place by the man on the rungs. The pipe
was almost in place and dad was at the top of the silo placing the final bolts to hold it in place.
When work like this was done, I was always underfoot, as they would say, therefore I
was standing next to Grandpa when dad yelled! The next thing I knew dad was kind of standing

beside Grandpa being hugged in his arms. The next thing dad was on the ground in pain. I was
sent to the house by Grandpa with strict instructions as to what to tell mom: “Dad was alright,
but he just fell off the silo.” I don’t remember the details of what happened next except that dad
spent several days in the hospital and was on crutches for a while. Later I learned he had landed
on his feet, had avoided landing on the silo-filler, which would have mangled him. Because he
landed on his feet he had “chipped” both ankles. After that it was never easy for him to walk
over ploughed or uneven ground.

Serious tractor driving began when I was five years old. It was summer of 1945. Both of
my grandparents were suffering from some various illnesses. My mother was unable to help and
there were no young men available to hire. After the mishap with the combine he had sold it and
reverted to using a grain binder and thrashing machine to harvest the oats. The oats needed to be
cut using the grain binder, but that was a two man job. One person had to drive the tractor while
the other had to run the grain binder. If the steel had been available there was a way to control
the binder from the tractor, but this was wartime and the steel could not be found. Dad told me I
could finally drive the tractor.
He loosened the clutch a little so I could fully engage and disengage it. He set up the
tractor and the grain binder at the edge of the field and drove the first round dropping the bundles
wherever and not always cutting the grain straw at the right height. Then he lined the tractor and
the binder up with the oats to be cut, placed the tractor transmission in first gear, placed the
throttle in the lowest setting, positioned me in front of the steering wheel, mounted the grain
binder and told me to drive. All I heard that morning was: “You are running over grain, you are
not taking enough cut and turn tighter around that corner!” By noon dad’s voice was horse but

my driving was getting better. After lunch he shifted the transmission into second gear. He and
I cut all the grain that year. It was at least another two or three years though before he let me go
out in the field after school and disc corn stalks by myself.

We had horses on the farm. The ones I remember were the team Dan and Duke. We also
had a white mare named Queen. My dad’s father was considered a good judge of horse flesh. In
his life he had made some very good horse trades. Dad was pretty good with horses too. My
memories of horses are ones of sore toes. I never got the knack of leading horses. I would stop
and the horse would take one step forward and land close enough to my toe to pinch it. For
several summers until we got rid of the horses I suffered all summer with sore toes. We used
horses to pull farm wagons and various other pieces of machinery. During the war we had two
teams that were used for most of the work around the farm. The tractor was usually used for
plowing, disking and pulling the manure spreader. Gasoline was rationed and horses used no gas
so they were the logical choice for most light work. The harnesses were made from leather and
over time and rough usage they would wear out. During the war even leather harnesses were in
short supply and basically unavailable. As the harnesses wore out we went from two sets of
harnesses to one set. Finally, after the war, dad just gave up on using horses and bought a small
tractor to do their jobs. Thus my problems with horses were ended

I believe it was 1947 when dad bought the fence post-hole digger. This was a machine
that attached to the back of the John Deere tractor. It had an auger which drilled holes in the
ground into which fence posts were “planted”. This auger was powered from the power take-off
shaft at the rear of the tractor. This shaft had two universal joints connected to it so that the

auger could be moved up and down to drill into the ground to make the post holes. The power
take-off shaft was unshielded and open as it turned to power the auger. By today’s standards it
was pretty crude, but in its time was a great labor saving device. The job we were doing with the
post-hole digger was to make a new fence line at the edge of the big woods to keep the cattle
either in or out of the woods at any given time. We were to build the fence and then plant a
natural barrier shrub called Multi-floral Rose. This shrub would then make such a dense natural
fence that the fence we were building would no longer be necessary.
On this day, Grandpa Dallman, dad and I were all in the field “planting” fence posts. We
were about one-third of the way along the fence line when the auger hit a rock. When this
happened the auger suddenly stopped although the power take-off shaft from the tractor was still
turning. This was an unexpected problem and was traced to a bolt in the shaft that acted as a
shear pin to protect the auger, the operator, and the tractor from damage if the auger were to
become jammed and unable to rotate. This safety feature was a surprise to dad and he had not
prepared for this with a supply of bolts to fix this problem.
Dad looked at the problem, and not wanting to stop what we were doing to take the time
to go back from the field to the barn and then to town to get a supply of bolts to solve this
unexpected problem, he improvised. He found a rod that was roughly the right diameter, but a
little too long for the hole it had to go through and bent one end so it wouldn’t fall out when the
power was applied and the auger was drilling the hole. We then resumed drilling post holes.
When the auger was turning the open shaft was turning. The faster the auger turned the faster we
could drill a post-hole. With this faster shaft speed the bent rod taking the place of the shear pin
was whipping around dangerously near where dad was operating the auger.

We probably drilled two post holes before dad got too close to that open shaft with the
rod whipping around when that dangerous rod caught the bottom of dads overall pant leg and
began to try to wrap his leg around that fast turning shaft. Dad yelled, Grandpa yelled, but was
behind the auger and was helpless to do anything. Dad tried to get loose, but his pant leg was
ripping and twisting around the power take-off shaft. I immediately jumped onto the tractor and
pulled the hand clutch stopping the shaft. Dad’s leg was bloody and his pant leg was ripped and
wound around the shaft, but other than that dad was all right.
We raised the auger, got on the tractor and headed for the house. It was several days
before we went to drill post holes again and when we were done with that fence line I don’t ever
remember ever using that machine again. I believe that it was after that when we went to using
steel fence posts and a hand operated fence post driver.

Dad liked to play soft ball, this is a game with the same rules as baseball but you use a
larger diameter ball and bat and the ball isn’t as hard as a baseball. The ball is also pitched
underhanded and comes across the plate much slower than with baseball. Dad played in a league
with other men from our area. Some of the friends from the Soft ball team lived in the little
village of Fulton. Fulton is located on a piece of land surrounded on three sides by the Yahara
River. This location was the perfect place build a dam on one side of the village, dig a mill race
from the high side of the lake the dam made to provide water power. A water powered electrical
generator was placed at the end of the mill race so the water passing through the turban flowed
back into the river downstream from the dam. This was done in the 1920’s and the surrounding
community had electric power. Two of dad’s friends, the Millard brothers, lived beside the mill
race. After a long hot day working in the fields, sometimes dad would go over to the Millard’s

and swim with them in the mill race. One hot summer evening, when I was probably seven or
eight years old, dad took me along to swim with him in the mill rece. It had been a hot day and
the water was warm, but it felt very refreshing. I was in the stream standing, on a tree root, in
the water with just my head just above the water. The water was probably eight feet deep at that
point. The next thing I remember was one of the Millard men pulling to the surface of the water
by my hair. I was sputtering and spitting water. Immediately I was lifted out of the water and
onto the grass. At that point dad decided we needed to go home. He never took me swimming

To start school in Wisconsin when I was young, you had to be six years old by a certain
date. My birthday fell in February and that missed the date, so I started school at age six in
1946. This was just after World War II had ended and the country was beginning to get over the
war. To give a little historical review, the war was between Allies, and a combination of other
countries that included Germany and the countries it conquered, Italy and Japan. The allies
consisted of The United States of America, The British Empire, France and China. The reason
that this was important was that during the war various ethnic groups of people such as the
Norwegians, the Swedish, the Finish, the Danish and the English were sometimes distrusting of
Americans of German and Japanese descent. Our family farm was located in what was then
called the Miller School District. I was the only student of parents of German descent in the
school district at that time. I started first grade not knowing that I was different than the rest of
the kids. I had no knowledge of the derogatory names people of German descent were called
behind their backs. I found out about Huns, Natzies and Krouts, and that I was one of them. I
fought back, but was not much of a fighter and my mother became very good at patching my

ripped clothes when I came home from school after I was picked on. The first half of the year I
didn’t have a coat or hat that hadn’t been ripped and patched. I probably brought some of the
derision upon myself as I was always very self confident and outgoing. I had to learn how to
avoid fights and stay out of the way.
This early experience

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