Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

November 7, 2001, Page 17

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 

Good Old Days 


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Clark County Press


November 1936


The Clark County Board, with all members present and Elmer Anderson as chairman, began its fall session on Tuesday.  They made an appropriation of $2,500 as the county’s share of the cost of a dam on Hay Creek in North Foster. This is the first step in the development of a recreational center in that area.


The First National Bank and the Neillsville Bank, of Neillsville, were selected as depositories for county funds until further action of the board.


The Town of Hixon filed a claim for $312.60 for 630 yards of gravel on PWA project which was charged by action of the board last year.  The matter was referred to the general claims committee.


A fund of $200 was voted for bee inspection.


This week, the Press has chosen Willard Gerhardt as one of our area’s outstanding farmers who lives along Pleasant Ridge.


Gerhardt lives on the 115 acre farm which he purchased from his father, William Gerhardt, five years after his marriage to Martha Wilding and is one of the most successful farmers of our community.


The Gerhardts have been married 26 years and have four children: Leone, who is a member of this year’s teacher training class; Glenn, who is a freshman at River Falls; Dale, a sophomore at the Neillsville High School and Calvin, attending Reed School on Pleasant Ridge.  One son, Clyde, died a number of years ago.  Willard Gerhardt has two brothers and one half-sister.


Gerhardt raises prize-winning Guernseys, Chester White hogs and has a fine flock of White Leghorn chickens.  He is a member of the Clark County Fair Association; is superintendent of the cattle exhibits at the county fair; is a member of the Farmers’ Union and is a director of the Pleasant Ridge Creamery.


Gerhardt is very interested in political issues and his opinions are considered worthwhile.


In the opinion of Gerhardt, Rural Electrification is a fine program and he is in favor of such a project.


Farm relief, according to Gerhardt, is very fine if used wisely. When absolutely necessary, aid should be given to a man, but 80 percent of the feed loans have not been necessary and have not been used for purposes for which they should have been.


“CCC camps,” says Gerhardt, “are a wonderful thing.  They keep the young men off the roads and keep them from loafing until better jobs can be opened up for them.”


Soil Conservation is another meritorious program.  Gerhardt believes that the prairies should be reseeded in part and through soil conservation, lands will be given an opportunity to rest.  Better and more crops can be produced from land given a rest, than from land which is cultivated year after year.


Gerhardt believes WPA and like projects are better than direct relief if the projects are worthwhile.


Without drought relief, some farmers would be ruined.  The project, if used wisely, would be splendid.  Because of such things, as drought, Gerhardt thinks that diversified farming is, on the whole, better than specialized farming.


Farming is a very worthwhile vocation, being as important as any other profession.  Gerhardt recommends farming as a vocation for anyone who has a liking for it.  You must like it to enjoy it.  It is the most independent of occupations.


Gerhardt likes music, likes to read and likes old-time programs on the radio.  He does not like jazz or sopranos.  He is very fond of the sport of baseball, dislikes football, but likes to go fishing and traveling.  He enjoys animals, especially dogs and cats.


Gerhardt is the kind of farmer to try to imitate.  Perhaps you cannot duplicate him, but you could try.


Clark County lost its fight to close the county owned land to deer hunters. The State Attorney General last week ruled that counties have no right to post lands entered under the forest crop law. The opinion holds that the state, in entering public lands under the forest crop law, receives no benefit from opening these areas to the public other than the privilege of hunting purposes.


Three refuges, however, have been established in Clark County in which it is illegal to hunt from Nov. 21 to 27, Clark County Clerk Calvin Mills announces.  These refuges are located as follows:


One is north of the Globe CCC camp, four sections being in Butler and four in North Foster.


One is south of the Globe CCC camp takes in part of 11 sections.


One is west and south of the “Y” in Hewettville takes in part of nine sections.


All of the refuges are surrounded by roads or fire lanes and no-hunting signs are posted every 500 feet.


Gene Clayton, Chicago, master of ceremonies and tap dancer with the Hal Lawrence floorshow, which has been entertaining at Keller’s Fireplace, west of Neillsville, was injured early Sunday night.  Clayton’s car crashed into the ditch on the “S” curve two miles from Neillsville, on Highway 10.  He was on his way back to work when the accident occurred.  Clayton states that he believes his car was sideswiped by another car, but says the accident occurred so unexpectedly, he is not sure what happened.  He was brought to the office of Dr. H. W. Housley where the physician took several stitches in Clayton’s head.  He also suffered injuries to his back, but is reported feeling much improved.  He is now being cared for at the Fireplace.


Ed Short and Ed Hagie of Shortville did a little real logging one day last week. They cut a big white oak tree which stood on the land of Mrs. Fanny Bue, the last remaining monarch of white oaks of that region.


Hagie bought the tree to saw up for timber stock to be used in his shop at Shortville.


There were three large logs in the trunk and these were hauled one at a time by Ed Short’s old team, one horse is 20 and the other is 21 years of age. They pulled the logs up a steep bank, from the place the tree was felled.


Just as a matter of curiosity, the men put the butt log, 16 feet long, on the hay scales and found that it weighed two tons, a pretty good load for an old team.


While it seemed too bad to fall the big tree, it was noticed that some limbs were dying and other signs of old age were setting in.  It was full ripe for the harvest.


One of the questions to come before the Clark County Board at this session is the redemption of the Fair Grounds.  The threat is that the land will be taken from the county.  The buildings alone represent an investment of $32,000 beside the 45 acres of good land.  It will require about $8,900 to clear up the mortgage now being foreclosed and there is other outstanding indebtedness.  It is estimated that this would be but a small addition to the taxes of the various precincts – running from less than $50 in poorer townships to about $500 for the city of Neillsville.  It seems particularly a crisis for the 4-H Club movement, for unless the Fair Grounds are rescued, the big 4-H Club buildings will go with it.


The Sunday morning, after Halloween night, the residents of Humbird awoke to find a small building about the size of a telephone booth, set up at the south end of Main Street.  There seemed to be some doubt among the folks there as to whether the new addition to the business section was a Halloween prank or a WPA project.


The edifice that was mysteriously placed in Humbird’s Main Street on Halloween night was not a WPA project.  The residents of Humbird definitely decided that all WPA structures of this kind are provided with bungalow roofs while the roof of this particular building is of a plain lean-to variety.  Archie Sparkes, chairman of the Town of Mentor, was the one who shouldered the task of moving the building.  Sparkes organized a moving bee on Monday, when they buzzed and tugged until the building was moved to a less congested area.


Twenty-five years ago today the Neillsville dam, which spans the O’Neill Creek, was completed.  Probably no dam was ever built under more discouraging, heart-breaking circumstances.  Within eight weeks, five unparalleled floods came crashing down to wreck days of work that had been started and was re-started after each flood of water.  The project began in an autumn that has never been equaled and probably never will be, in massive rainfalls.  Neillsville has an average, yearly rainfall of 31 inches.  In those eight weeks 19 inches of rain fell.


Shortly after the founding of Neillsville, came its first area dam.  The backwaters of O’Neill creek helped float down the logs while its power drove the gristmill machinery.  Its location was between the two bridges on O’Neill Creek.  In time, the industry ended and the dam served solely to provide ice for the city’s ice and brewing plants, owned respectively by James Paulus and Kurt Listeman.  Every November found a crew of the two businesses’ men busy at work for weeks, repairing the old but cleverly built timber dam.


The extraordinary rains, of 1911, swept away the 50-year-old logging dam, late that summer.  Recognizing the attractiveness and value of a fine body of water right in the heart of the city, the Neillsville City Council made a proposal to furnish the cement if Listeman and Paulus would construct a concrete dam on the O’Neill Creek.  The offer was accepted.


Due to the abnormally low temperatures prevailing here at times and the sudden pressure of vast masses of hard ice on the dam that follows untimely thaws, the type of dam that seemed most fitting was the kind set up in sub-Arctic lands.  These dams are formed from large boulders, each washed and placed wet, with no points of contact, upright face; straight sloping back to break up harmlessly, the overhanging ice masses rushing over the flooded top. There would be a wide apron to prevent under-washing, then an extra rich mixture of 1:2 on facing put in to prevent penetration of water with consequent dangerous freezing and rupture.  Special inlays of small sharp gravel to take up contraction and expansion would be used.


Eventually, a plan was in place for erecting just such a cold latitude dam.  It was well into September before the work started and every day was precious if the workers could beat winter.  A crew was sent out to the hills near the Mounds to dig and blast out boulders and bring them in, some weighing half a ton.  On September 11, seven men started the first shovels of earth flying out of the south bank of the creek, under the Hewett Street Bridge.  The soil was stripped down to the bedrock that laid two feet below, at the start and tapered down to about four feet halfway across.  Most of the time, it was work from six a.m. to six p.m. with half an hour off for dinner.  The second day, it began to rain and kept raining almost to the end of the project.  There were occasional interruptions when the rain changed to snow.  Everyone worked in water up to their knees.  The working conditions grew steadily worse as temperatures fell 10 to 15 degrees below normal.


As soon as 20 feet of granite base was bared, workers started pouring concrete – every bit mixed by hand.  Owing to the high water and cold, the dam was built only half of its height as they proceeded across the creek.  Soon, the first flood came; it swept away the many loads of sand piled at the site. The next loads of gravel and sand was piled near the railroad tracks, but a flood that came a week later, took most of that away.  It also washed away the forms that had been set and many of the workers tools were lost.


Halfway across the creek, they disappointingly found the granite ledge beginning to taper downward, which meant deeper digging and more concrete.  By the time they had excavated another 30 feet, the rock base had dropped down to seven feet below the surface water.  The concrete section, 90 feet across, was finished on October 5 at noon.  One hour later, a cloudburst struck Central Wisconsin.  By 7 p.m., the O’Neill Creek was running through the Korman wagon factory, flinging ten feet of mad waters over the trench of newly laid concrete.  At midnight, the waters of Black River had backed up the O’Neill Creek for almost two miles.  Six hours later, the combined waters took away the new $166,000 Dells Dam, then the million-dollar Hatfield Dam, then the Black River Falls Dam and every dam down to the Mississippi River.


That time, everything was lost that was needed to make the dam.  Later, a couple of the heavy steel wheelbarrows were found down near the old furniture factory site.  It took nearly a week to replace equipment needed to get started again and to rebuild the wrecked section.  Coming to the last 30 feet toward the north bank, the rock ledge took a nosedive straight down and disappeared.  The construction plan had suddenly changed to comply with a gravel base.  It was then necessary to build a substantial coffer dam too, as a protection from dangerous cave-ins.  The water was shunted through two gates, requiring hand-pumps to be kept going night and day to allow work to be carried on in that last trench. Then came flood number four.  That time the coffer dam was swept away and not one timber of it was left.  Another coffer dam was built and work started again.


The fifth and final flood came when one more day of work cold have completed the dam.  The workers toiled through the night in freezing temperatures, finishing the last gap. By the light of the electric arc over the bridge, the men were able to haul the last wheelbarrow of cement to be poured into the dam forms.


A solid rock-concrete dam, 120 feet long, 16 feet high with a base 14 feet wide in places – constructed by 12 men in 58 days!  Those men were: Frank Ayers, Irve, Paulus, Cornest, Ruddock, Dunne, Gall, Marden, Burnett, Hawkes, Listeman and the mightiest of all craftsmen, Ole Lundrud.


The total cost of the dam was $705, all going for labor.  The city had paid for the cost of the cement.


The O’Neill Creek dam was near the Hewett Street Bridge.  The first dam was used to power the O’Neill saw mill.  The backed-up water above the dam, when frozen over in the winter, provided a good ice-harvest.  (Photo courtesy of the Sontag Family Collection)




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