Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

September 16, 1998, Page 24

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 

IN THE Good Old Days


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Neillsville’s First Cars


As the 20th Century started in Clark County, along with the rest of the United States, transportation soon began going from horse and buggy to the motorized wheels of automobiles.  In some respects it was a painful transition.  The automobile was in its infancy and had many obstacles to overcome.  The roads were all right for horses and buggies, but not suited for auto-mobile travel.  So early motorists had various troubles to contend with.


Dick Kountz, of Neillsville, experienced the early days of automobiles, typical of that era.


Kountz found time to ride a bicycle in the early days.  He and his wife, Emma Bailey, who was formerly of Black River Falls previous to their marriage in 1872, often took bicycle trips around this part of the country.  One memorable trip which Kountz made by bicycle resulted in quite a task.  He journeyed to La Crosse, through Minnesota to St. Paul and back to Neillsville via Hudson and Eau Claire.  Traveling by bicycle was inexpensive.  He stayed at farmers’ homes at night and said he had difficulty making them take even a quarter for the food and lodging.  Usually, he had to give the money to one of the farmer’s kids.


When the automobiles first came to this area, a little later than 1900, Kountz was one of the first to purchase a vehicle.  Dr. Bradbury of Neillsville bought the first car and Kountz purchased the second car.  Deciding to buy a gasoline-fueled car for the amount of $1,200, in Milwaukee, Kountz had to drive it back home.  The automobile dealer agreed to send one of his employees with Kountz as far as Fond du Lac.  The first day of traveling, they got as far as Sheboygan Falls.  Kountz decided he knew enough about cars, after the first day, to drive on alone.  He told the expert accompanying him that he could return to Milwaukee the next morning.


Kountz was up early the next day, so as to get an early start home.  Back then, to start a car, it had to be cranked with a hand crank, so he began cranking.  Come supper time, he was still cranking without getting more than a half dozen explosions out of the motor.  Kountz decided he would rather have his $1,200 back.  Calling the dealer in Milwaukee, an agreement was made that Kountz would give up the car and get back all but $65 of the amount he had paid for it.


Kountz took the train home and found his wife to be very disturbed when she heard he had not bought a car.  After all, she had told all of her friends that her husband was driving back from Milwaukee with a new automobile.  To live up to his promise, Kountz went shopping and bought a steamer car.  A short time after the purchase, the steamer caught fire while on a trip past the front of the Tom Chadwick farm.  He and his wife were spinning along about 10 miles per hour when flames started appearing from the car and Mrs. Kountz jumped out to safety, so sit by the side of the road.


Her only comment was, “Let it burn up,” as Kountz frantically threw sand from the road onto the blaze without any appreciable effect.


The encounters of Kountz with his various cars would include three steamer models after the first attempt in having the gasoline model for one day.


At the beginning of the century, Clark County was still emphatically in the horse and buggy era.  Even the Press news-paper editor took note that “Alice Ring drives the cutest little span of Welsh ponies in Northern Wisconsin.”


Many of the accidents of the day originated from runaways and stable troubles with frightened horses.  A typical story of the times, as told in the Press: -- “Thornton Webster had a narrow escape from death Saturday.  He had gone into the stall to pet one of his father’s horses.  The animal became scared and began to paw and plunge frantically.  The little fellow was badly stunned, scratched and bruised before Webster could rescue him.  It is thought that his injuries, while serious, will not prove fatal.”  The boy’s father was owner of one of the principal stables of Neillsville.


There was another typical story: -- “Dr. John Conroy had an exciting time with a runaway horse Tuesday afternoon.  He was driving north on Hewett street.  In passing a farmer’s team on the hill near the Catholic Church his buggy was crowded into an electric light pole.  The farmer’s team had swerved and became unmanageable.  Conroy’s horse tore loose from the buggy and ran down the street.  Dr. Conroy was thrown over the dashboard but fortunately received no injuries other than a severe shaking up.  The buggy was broken up and the harness torn apart.”


This story about Dr. Conroy’s accident brings about an interesting fact about the horse.  That horse, though frightened, ran to its home stable, which was typical of the horses then.  The horses seemed to have a good sense of direction.  They knew which way was home.  Many a horse in the “horse and buggy days” delivered many a man in an inebriated condition safely home with no help of his master.  The modern automobile will not do the same.


Kountz liked to think of himself as a self-made man.  His father was a riverboat captain and died when his children were young.  As a boy, Kountz had little schooling.  He worked in stores, was a clerk for a time at a Black River Falls store, and later ran a little store in Humbird.  In 1874, he came to Neillsville and went into business with his brother, W. H. Kountz.  A disagreement between the brothers ended the business partnership and he returned to clerking.


Eventually, Kountz was elected justice of the peace, working to protect the community from the rough loggers of that day.  The loggers were given heavy jail sentences for being disorderly.


Kountz had to study some law to become a justice.  He like law, studied it earnestly and learned enough of it to be admitted to the bar.  He had also operated the electric light plant which was located on the north side of O’Neill Creek and along Hewett Street.


Neillsville’s First Platform Truck


The first platform truck to be used in Neillsville was brought here on Aug. 12, 1913, by A. Hauge & Son.  At that time Ed Hauge was in high school, but he drove the truck after school hours.  He remembered that the truck was often used for transporting athletic teams around the area.  At that time, there were no school buses, yet there were many school activities.  The big truck went the rounds, carrying the school and city teams to basketball, baseball and football games.


Hauge also recalled methods of earthmoving before motorized tractors and equipment.  In his early boyhood, his father was engaged in digging cellars for the growing Neillsville community.  At that time, excavation was done by what was called a slusher.  Made like a large shovel, it was at least one yard wide with the backside curving upward nearly a foot and had two short handles on each side at the back.  Each side on the front the shovel was designed for a hook-up to be pulled by a team of horses. 


To fill the slusher, the operator held the handles up just enough to make the implement dig into the earth.  When it was filled, the handles were let down and the slusher pulled along its bottom to the place of dumping.  At that point the operator lifted the handles up enough to make the implement dig into the hard earth and the pull of the team would pull it entirely over, leaving the soil and clearing the slusher.


The motorized earth excavating equipment of today enables such projects to be done faster and more efficiently.  Those of us in the senior age group would recognize a slusher if we were to see one.  The earth-moving slushers have become obsolete and probably only to be found in museums.


Neillsville’s First Movies


An announcement in the Republican Press: -- “Don’t miss the moving pictures at the Neillsville Opera House Tuesday evening, Feb. 5, 1901.  You will see the pictures that are shown in theaters in large cities and are exciting thousands of cheering people.  Remember, there is no magic lantern show.  They are all moving, life-like pictures, shown by Edison’s latest invention.  Admission will be 10 and 20 cents.  Reserved seat tickets may be purchased at Sniteman’s Drug Store.”


Another entertainment of those days was the playing of euchre.  A typical Press news item was: -- “Saturday evening, Mrs. Joe Morley entertained about 40 of her lady friends.  They played euchre with Mrs. R. J. McBride winning first prize and Mrs. W. J. Marsh took second prize.  Refreshments were served.”  In those days the card game of euchre was greatly played.  Many people thought the devil lurked when playing cards and would not participate in card playing.


In the turn of the century days, lectures were in vogue.  The spoken word had claim upon a greater proportion of the people’s leisure time and attention.  Lecturers traveled across the country stopping here and there, to give their speeches.  At one time, Rev. T. C. Hill delivered a lecture on “My Trip Across the Ocean” at the Presbyterian Church.


(Soon, we will come into the next century and what innumerable changes have taken place during the past 100 years! D.Z.)


This young couple seems to be checking their travel brochure in readiness for a journey.  The style of clothing dates back to the “Flapper Era” of 1920s.


A barber shop scene captured in Neillsville circa 1920.  Often barber shops were located in the basement level of main street buildings during that time.  In the early 30s, Otto Catlin first operated a barber shop in the Merchant’s Hotel basement.  Later, he moved to the southeast corner of Sixth and Hewett Streets, in the basement of the A& P Store.  He wore very thick glasses while cutting customer’s hair which made first-time customers dubious about his barbering abilities.  However, after the first hair cut, they became convinced that Catlin was a good barber.



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