Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
June 28, 1995, Page 32
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
By Dee Zimmerman
As is the trend in the lives of many people, they leave the home community seeking their livelihood elsewhere. Such was the life of Emily Kalas who grew up in the farming community of Shortville. Her parents lived near the Andy Crockett farmstead, west of the Shortville Store.
Working in Illinois, Em met Ragnar (Swede) Mortenson and eventually they were married. They had two children, Bob and Gladys.
The desire to return to a rural setting brought Em, Swede and their family back to the Shortville community. The Shortville Store was for sale or lease as its owner, Tom Winters, was ready to retire. In October, 1932, Mortensons took over the lease on the store and moved into the living area attached to the store building. They leased the store for a few years and then bought the business.
Operating a general store includes a multitude of experiences as the family would learn through the years.
A general store is as the name implies, it has a variety of merchandise for its customers. There were hardware items such as nuts, bolts, wire, nails, salt blocks, some veterinarian supplies, and the farm related needs. The basic grocery items were stocked on shelves. Mortensons saw the barrel and keg bulk foods slowly transform to the pre-packed products. Hunter’s needs such as shells, etc. kept in stock. Some clothing such as gloves, mittens, and caps could be purchased there. As time progressed, gasoline pumps were installed near the building, as a convenience to the travelers and local trade.
Once a week, Swede drove their pickup truck to Eau Claire where he picked up merchandise from distributors to restock the retail. The family joined in with the work of unpacking and stocking shelves.
Each farmer had laying hens as part of the farm operation. Once a week eggs were taken to the store to be sold or traded in for groceries. The eggs were candled and graded in the back room after which a credit slip was given to the customer showing the amount of money to be paid.
Every spring those who liked eating smoked fish looked forward to being able to buy some at the store. When the rough fish started running in the creeks during the spring, a local resident, Henry Wallace, would land some. Wallace had designed and built a smoke house in which he smoked the prepared fish fillets, cured to the liking of many. Mortenson bought orders of the smoked fish to be resold at the Shortville store.
There was no electricity available to the store in the early 30’s. White gas burning lamps were the source of lighting. The only way to refrigerate perishable foods was be using blocks of ice. Ice was harvested at Lake Arbutus each winter as soon as sub zero temperatures froze a thickness suitable for cutting. An ice saw and tongs were used to cut, then load ice blocks onto sleds or trucks to be transported back to the store. The ice storage shed was built over a dug-out area behind the store. The blocks of ice were packed with an ample amount of sawdust around it, serving as an insulation to slow down the melting process during warmer summer temperatures. Ice was also sold to area customers.
A popular feature, in the store, was the candy counter – a favorite of all the kids. An assortment of candy was on display, minimum purchase – one penny. Many pondering moments were spent in front of that display case, deciding which to choose for the amount of pennies held in the little hand.
The 30’s wee hard times but dad and mom made an effort to give their kids a few pennies for treats. Years later, some of those kids returned as adults to visit the store and show their children that candy counter. They would relate the fond memories of buying candy as youngsters.
An unusual feature in the store and probably the only one in the country was the three stool bar. Customers could sit by the bar for a while to enjoy a cold glass of beer or pop. The store held a beer sale license for many years.
Tending the Shortville store required long days, sometimes. On the opening day of deer hunting season, Swede would set the alarm clock for an early hour. After the alarm went off, he was out of bed, getting ready for the day ahead. The store lights were turned on, the space heater was filled with wood and a fire started. The coffee pot was put on the stove, all in readiness for the deer hunters.
Between three and four a.m. Swede would see the first car lights coming from the east on Highway 73. Hunters would stop at the store needing a hunting license, rifle shells, maybe a pair of gloves or some candy bars. They knew Swede would have the store open for them to buy their hunting necessities.
Surprise winter snow storms made traveling roads suddenly impossible during the 30’s and 40’s. When cars became stalled on Highway 73 and within walking distance of the store, travelers went to the store for refuge. Mortensons had the second floor of the store furnished for such emergencies, being able to put-up their stranded guests until the roads were cleared of snow.
Mortensons were hospitable in helping their neighbors. Swede willingly picked up items for the shut-ins or busy farmers when he went to Neillsville. Visitors were often invited to sit at their dinner table to share food and conversation.
The rural mail carrier, Hans (John) Walk, delivered the route past the store in the 30’s. It was usually twelve noon as Walk stopped to deliver Mortensons mail. Often he was invited to be their guest for noon meal, an invitation he didn’t refuse especially during the rigors of winter weather. Walk started delivering mail with horse and buggy. When automobiles became available to the area, he purchased the first Ford sold in Neillsville to use delivering mail.
Swede and Em Mortenson experienced and saw many changes while in the general store business in Shortville.
The Shortville Store during the early 30’s
Front row, left to right: Jean, Gladys, and Bob Mortenson. Seated in back row; Sue Mortenson, Emily and Emily’s sisters, Abbie and Antonette. Standing by the door; Martin Mortenson, Swede’s brother; Swede standing by the car.
A 40’s view of the Shortville Community Store
Note: the gas pump that Swede is standing in front of, the style depicts the era.
“The Shortville Corner kids” with a pony on a summer day, 1935-1936: (Left to right): M. Halle, Gladys Mortenson, Jack Hagie, Gordon Hagie and Bob Mortenson. Notice the sign on the building advertising a big dance at the Riverside Ballroom – (located near the Opelt Bridge). Something of the Shortville Ball Park, Music by – the rest is illegible.
The Mortenson family took time out for a family photograph when son, Bob, came home on furlough during World War II. Left to right: Emily; daughter, Gladys; son, Bob; and Swede.
The store’s view in its late years, Aug. 1967, a sign on the side advertised Standard Oil Products.
(Other Shortville businesses to be featured in next weeks issue.)
(Photos and information courtesy of Carol Mortenson)
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