Winnebago County’s Gold Stars of WWI

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

April 6, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the United States of America officially entering World War I. The US was hardly prepared to fight a war in 1917. When war was declared, there were only 208,000 men in its standing army–80,000 of them were part of the national guard. Additionally, weapons and munitions were in short supply. Soon the American factories shifted to wartime production. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917 to bolster the US Military through a draft, which proved to be largely successful.  Nearly 2.7 million young men were conscripted into the army and about 300,000 volunteered.[1]

Out of the nearly 4.7 million men who served during World War I, the United States suffered over 116,000* casualties at the conclusion of the war.[2] Winnebago County sent off quiet a few of its sons  to fight in the trenches and on the seas, and some of them paid the ultimate price. Their names are forever immortalized on 4 bronze plaques that hung on the front of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh.

When I read the names, I had this realization that these men were more than just names on a plaque, or number on a casualty list. They were people who lived and worked in our local communities, and they have a story. I think that is what fascinates me the most. Who were they, what did they do before the war, and what propelled them into the first global conflict of the 20th century? I am going to attempt, hopefully with the help of others, to learn and share the stories of theses soldiers from Winnebago County who lost their lives in World War I.

While doing some reading on the subject, I stumbled into the movement to build a monument in Washington D.C. to honor our WWI vets. I was surprised to find out that we don’t have a monument there already! I included a video from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission‘s website about their efforts to memorialize the servicemen of World War I in Washington D.C. I encourage you to see what this organization is doing to preserve our veterans’ history. 

*over 53,000 casualties were battle related, and over 63,000 were non battle related
[1] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/fall/military-service-in-world-war-one.html
[2] https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf 

Archival Organization Project

Cataloging Work Station

Cataloging Work Station

I’ve been a board member of the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society here in Oshkosh for the last three years. We have an awesome facility in the old John Morgan house. The Morgans were the founders of one of the reputable sash and door factories back in Oshkosh’s heyday of the lumber industry. Our society inherited the house in the 1980s from a generous donor, and it has been restored since then. We are fortunate to have such a nice facility to be able to house a diverse collection of books, photographs, and documents.

When I joined the board of directors back in 2013, I took on the big project of archiving our decent-sized collections of photographs, books, and assorted documents. We have a great variety of items that have been donated over the years. We are also contacted on a regular basis for new items people want to donate.  I’ve put a plan in motion to organize, catalog, and make them accessible to people.

In 2015, I applied for the Wisconsin Historical Society’s annual mini-grantwhich is to help fund preservation projects at affiliate organizations. They award up to $700, and the organization applying must match the amount being asked for. My request was for $565, which we were awarded, and with the matching funds gave us a total of $1,130 to spend for preservation. We purchased the following items for our archives with the money we were given:

  • Shelving
  • Archival Boxes for Storage  (Gaylord Archival)
  • 2 TB External Hard Drive Storage ( backup for scanned photos/records)
  • Media Upgrade for PastPerfect Museum Software ( adding photographs to computer catalog)

Due to a massive restoration project from water damage in another part of the house in 2015, the archival project was put on hold for most of last year. Now that the restoration is complete, I have been able to get back to it. I have started by taking all of the items we received in 2015 and 2016 and started cataloging them into our computer database. After those are in, I will go back and start examining everything we have gotten in the past and organize it. It’s important we document the donor information as well.

When you work with a lot of old photographs...you start seeing yourself in them

When you work with a lot of old photographs…you start seeing yourself in them

I earned my undergraduate degree in history from UW Oshkosh, and I have decided to get some hands-on experience rather than going on for a higher degree. I’ve taken an online training course through the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) on the basics of archiving. There are also a lot of great resources online to help us out. It would be great to have a professional come in and volunteer!

Once organized and in the computer catalog, I would like to put together a plan in which we can make this more accessible to our members and the general public. We do not have a specific space laid out for researchers to come in and use our resources, which is the purpose of collecting and preserving the material. I envision one of our rooms being arranged so people can come in and scan documents and photographs or come in and use our library collection.

Morgan Library

Morgan Library

This summer my good friend and fellow board member Patti and I worked on cataloging the library collection. We finished that up before the end of summer–over 300 books in the library. Of course, our society needs all the help we can get with preservation projects like this. I encourage you to contact our society, if you are in the area, and get involved with this cataloging project. It is actually a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s hard to focus and keep working because you can’t help but examine the stuff you are cataloging.

You can email the society at WinnebagoHistoricalSociety@gmail.com and say that you want to help the Collections Committee catalog.

TIMELESS

 (Timeless Trailer from Television Promo)

Molly and I were really excited for fall television programming to begin again. The days are short, the nights are cool, and there is nothing better than curling up on the couch for some TV after a hard day at work. Besides Survivor on CBS, we now have another new favorite that we are getting into. Timeless premiered on NBC earlier this month, and Molly and I are enjoying it. We hope this one will stick around for couple of seasons.

The story is of a top-secret time machine development program that is hijacked by Garcia Flynn, the criminal mastermind of the story. Flynn goes back in time to rewrite history, but we are not sure what he plans to change yet or why. The US government recruits time machine engineer Rufus Carlin, soldier Wyatt Logan, and historian Lucy Preston to track Flynn down in a backup, prototype time machine. So far the characters have gone back to 1937 to interfere with the Hindenburg explosion, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and 1962 Las Vegas, Nevada to an atomic test site. Each character has a connection to Flynn’s plan, and each time history has been tweaked and has formed an alternate present–GREAT SCOTT! When will their travels take them next?!

I was hooked when I saw the previews. It’s nice to see something different on the program list–not just another talent, zombie, vampire, doctor, or reality show. Granted, some of the facts may be a bit twisted to make it more appealing. Nonetheless, it is a great way to get people thinking about the past. Maybe someone will see an episode and go online or a library to learn more. I know I am already doing that! In the last episode when the trio traveled back to the 1960s Las Vegas they witnessed mushroom clouds from atom bomb tests being conducted 80 miles away. I had no idea that atomic tests were being conducted right outside of Las Vegas, and that it was a site-seeing attraction for people. It blows my mind, no pun intended, that these deadly weapons were being tested that close to a tourist attraction.

I like where the show is going. It has the potential to give history a cool, new look and get viewers interested in learning more about the people and events that have shaped the world we live in. Although time travel is not possible, yet, a story like this makes us reflect on the “what ifs” in the past and how our world could have turned out differently. If you have time on a Monday night, make a big bowl of popcorn and curl up on the couch for an hour of this thrilling drama with a historical twist.

What are your thoughts about the new show? If you could go back in time, when would you want to go or who would you like to meet? What events would you try to change even if it meant an uncertain change in the future?

 

Winnebago County Courthouses-Part 2

Courthouse circa 1865 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse circa 1865 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

In a previous post I wrote about the establishment of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and the construction of the county’s first courthouse. That first courthouse was a simple, two-story structure constructed in 1849. That building was outgrown shortly after completion, and county officials began discussing a plan to build a new facility.

According to one account, court was no longer held in the little courthouse after a new brick building for offices and record storage was built in 1854. Instead, court was held in various halls in Oshkosh that were available. Records were transported back and forth from the county office depending on where the session of court was held in the city. It was not a very practical system, and the citizen’s of Winnebago County clamored for a respectable building to hold court in.[1]

The county approved to build a new courthouse in 1859 and work commenced that year. The new courthouse was completed in late 1860 for a sum of $21,000. It was constructed in Greek Revival style using Cream City brick and stone and had a large dome at its center. The building’s dimensions were 60’ x 100’ and had three floors. The ground floor held the county’s prisoners in one half and the sheriff’s residence in the other. The other floors were used as offices and a courtroom. The people of Winnebago County finally had a proper courthouse that they were proud of.[2]

After 12 years of use, county leaders decided on some exterior modifications to the building’s features. In 1872, the courthouse was transformed from its Greek Revival appearance to a Second Empire look. A tower replaced the large dome at the center of the building. The cornice was replaced with a mansard roofline that added a fourth floor to the building. The transformation cost an estimated $8,300.[3]

Three years later the county approved a $21,000 addition to the east side of the main structure. In 1875, the prominent Oshkosh architect William Waters worked with county officials and designed a 41’x50’ addition. The new wing created more jail space on the ground floor for male prisoners. The 2nd floor gave the building much-needed storage for a growing record collection and work space for county offices. The 3rd floor, or garret, held large water tanks that collected rainwater from the roof used for, as one Oshkosh paper said, “keeping the jail purified.”[4]

Courthouse in the aftermath of the fire on April 28, 1875. Cour

Courthouse in the aftermath of the fire on April 28, 1875 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

On April 28, 1875, Oshkosh experienced one of its most devastating fires in the city’s history. Around 1 o’clock on that dry, blustery day a fire broke out at the Morgan Brothers Mill sparked by embers from another factory’s smokestacks. In a matter of minutes, a raging inferno engulfed a large portion of the central city of Oshkosh, and the county courthouse lay directly in the fire’s path. Fearing the worse, county officials evacuated records from the building, but Sheriff Ebenezer Stevens, on the other hand, worked heroically to save the courthouse from burning to the ground. He recruited nearby people to form a bucket brigade and hoisted water to the building’s roof. Although the building caught fire a few times, the crew was able to successfully extinguish the fires that started. The fire raged on, but the courthouse was saved.[5]

Courthouse with east and west additions (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

Courthouse with east and west additions–wing with prominent stone foundation and small ground floor windows (to left) is the eastern section of the courthouse constructed in 1875 (Courtesy of Dan Radig)

 

Room was in short supply in the building again by 1884, so the county consulted with architect William Waters to plan an addition to the west portion of the courthouse. The addition, similar in size to the one ten years earlier, had a ground floor and two additional stories above. The ground floor had a residence for the sheriff. The first floor had fire-proof vaults for county records as well as a county courtroom, while the second floor had jury rooms. The project was finished in September 1885 and came in just under budget at $9,187.03.[6]

ch1903

Property with courthouse and new jail positioning

The jail facilities in the basement were no longer sufficient by 1899, and state officials recommended the county upgrade its jail facilities. County leaders went back and forth on whether to remodel the jail or build a new facility. It chose to build a facility and budgeted $25,000 for a new jail complex and sheriff residence. This was built on an adjoining lot to the southeast that was purchased specifically to build the new jail on. Although issues plagued the timely completion of the new jail, it was officially finished and prisoners moved in December 1900.[7]

The county courthouse in its final years

The county courthouse in its final years

By 1925, the courthouse was over 60-years-old and needed to be replaced entirely. County officials explored locations and costs to build a new courthouse and jail facility. It took ten years for the project to take shape, but I will save that for part 3 of the story. The new courthouse was completed in 1938 at its new location on the northwest corner of Jackson Street and Algoma Boulevard. With no use for the former building, the county accepted an offer from the City of Oshkosh to buy the property and buildings for $8,000. The transaction was finalized in January 1939, and the city took control of the property. A few months later, the county’s second courthouse was razed as part of a W.P.A. project to make room for additional parking. [8]

I’ve really enjoyed learning about this building. There are a lot of other little stories I would like to post about in the future–like the story of the cupola bell or the cornerstone contents during its razing! I was amazed to learn how this building’s outside appearance changed. Today the Court Tower Apartments occupies the lots where this magnificent building used to stand. It must have been amazing to see this once beautiful civil structure in person. They don’t build them like this anymore…


[1] David A. Langkau and Richard J. Harney, Index: History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin by Richard J. Harney, 1880, (Oshkosh: 1880), 123-124.
[2] Biographical and statistical history of the city of Oshkosh, Winnebago Co., Wisconsin: its early history, progress, and present condition, (Oshkosh: Finney & Davis, 1867), 69.
[3] Oshkosh Weekly Northwestern, January 8, 1880.
[4] David Groth and Patti Pata, A compilation of articles pertaining to the work of architect William Waters, (Oshkosh: Winnebago County Historical Society, 2002), 291-292
[5] James I Metz, Oshkosh aflame!: traumas and triumphs of its sawdust citizens: a history, (Oshkosh: Polemics Press, 1999), 69-70
[6] David Groth and Patti Pata, A compilation of articles pertaining to the work of architect William Waters, (Oshkosh: Winnebago County Historical Society, 2002), 293-298.
[7] Winnebago County (Wis.). 1900. Proceedings. Oshkosh, Wis: The Board. https://www.co.winnebago.wi.us/sites/default/files/countyclerk/oldminutes/Winnebago%20County%20Board%20Proceedings%20November%201900-March%201901.pdf
[8] Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 24, 1939.

Sunday Evening Reflections

Fall is here again, and soon winter will bring snow. Colder weather means more time to sit down and write–or at least that is my plan. It has been a busy but short summer here at the Frederick house. Molly and I have had quite a few weddings to go to this year, and Molly even stood up in one. We saved up and went to Las Vegas for our 3rd anniversary which was a fun experience. There were few weekends spent in the North Woods and a couple on the farm with our families. Dad, Adam, Dan and I finally made it to the Orange Spectacular to see a great collection of Allis-Chalmers tractors. Summer was fun, but Molly and I are happy for things to slow down as the seasons change.

I’ve been at my job with the county just over a year, and I am enjoying it. Working for the county is a phenomenal opportunity for me. I’m learning so many new skills that are so valuable in making me a better employee and more well-rounded person. My supervisor is also utilizing my skills as a researcher to assist with historical preservation work at our county courthouse. We have managed to track down and retrieve an original light fixture that will be going back up in the building soon.

I am still pursuing my dream career of working in a historical institution. In the mean time, I have been very active in my community through volunteer work. I am still involved with the Winnebago County Historical & Archaeological Society after 3 years of serving on the board of directors. This month I will have been the vice president of the society for one year. In addition to my historical society work,  I have assisted the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau with its Historic Oshkosh tourism program that has been recently launched. Last month I was appointed onto the Oshkosh Landmarks Commission and am ecstatic for the work they do in historic preservation.

Molly and I continue to make our home in Oshkosh along with our two little Dachshunds, Theodore an Franklin. The boys, as we call them, enjoy our little place in town. Although, I am trying to convince Molly that they would enjoy the wide open area of the country. We’ve made a few improvements to our home this past year, and we are always planning on what we can do next. I suppose in a few years there will be little ones running around the house, but we have quite a few things to get in order before that day.

I enjoy the transition to fall. The vast sea of oranges, yellows, reds, and browns that the trees display. It is also nice to crack the windows during the day and curl up with a blanket on the cool nights.  I wish I had the same optimism for winter. Nonetheless, It feels good to sit down and put ideas to blog post once again. I hope you, my followers, will continue to read what this young historian has to write about.

 

Allis-Chalmers Betatron Lab

 

H20

Every now and then I learn something new about Allis-Chalmers. One of those new tidbits I have recently discovered is the betatron lab the company had at the West Allis Works. Last year I had the opportunity to step inside this old testing lab and see some of the equipment left behind. The machine was essentially a giant X-ray used to inspect for imperfections in the large components made in the foundry. This was housed in a small concrete lab on the factory grounds.

A site was chosen on a bluff on the northeast side of the complex where the foundry dumped waste sand. It was close enough for equipment to be hauled in by rail and truck but also far enough away to avoid interference from ground vibrations caused by factory presses and hammers. The building was finished and operational in September of 1952 and cost $342,000. The company said that the cost of the betatron lab was recouped in less than a year from savings earned from inspecting equipment for quality and precision.

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The walls of the “L” shaped x-ray bay were constructed with steel reinforced concrete walls that were 6 feet thick and 20 feet high. Approximately 1000 cubic yards of concrete were used. The bay had a 25-ton bridge crane that moved components into position and then reloaded them on trailers or rail cars. The 22 million volt betatron hung suspended from a 7.5-ton bridge crane that allowed the unit to be moved around the entire work space. It could raised 20 feet above the floor, rotated 360 degrees around and tilted 170 degrees. In addition to the testing bay, the building had several other rooms for the testing processes. The control room housed the equipment that operated the giant x-ray behind the thick concrete walls. There was also a darkroom and viewing room that processed the film. Other areas included the electrical equipment room, storage, offices and wash rooms.

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Safety was one of the major components that went into designing and building the lab. The thick concrete structure shielded workers inside and out from the radiation exposure. Safety switches and warning devices were put in place to protect technicians from accidental exposure. After testing was completed, workers tested the lab with radiation meters to ensure no radiation escaped from the bay.

Allis-Chalmers made other betatron units for medical use in cancer treatment. Just another fine example of the sophisticated products the great Milwaukee manufacturer had a hand in.

Last Off Line

IMG_2127

There are certain objects you can own that give you bragging rights in a community of enthusiasts. Maybe you have a rare painting signed by the artist or a campaign poster signed by a beloved U.S. president. In the Allis-Chalmers tractor community there are a few tractors that come with bragging rights: A prototype tractor,  a first or last tractor of a production run, or one of the very early tractors–before they were orange! One tractor that I consider to be a shrine is the Allis-Chalmers 6070, but more specifically the model 6070 with serial number 1972. This tractor is the same mechanically as any other 6070 that rolled down the line at the West Allis Works that was assembled, started, and tested by workers of UAW Local 248. What sets this particular tractor apart from others is its mark in that company’s history. No other tractor came after it, because on December 6, 1985, that tractor closed the book on 71 years of Allis-Chalmers tractors.

The tractor, until just recently, was part of the Don Fenetti Allis-Chalmers collection in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Don was a truck driver and hauled tractors out of the West Allis Works. His connections with the company led him to acquire this astounding piece of history. Don passed away in 2009 and left this massive collection behind. I was fortunate to have been able to get a tour (twice) from one of his nephews. It was an Allis-Chalmers paradise. Don took very good care of his tractors, and he had them all restored and in tip-top shape. I had always heard of this collection, but Menomonie is a few hours drive from where I live. This past year I learned that his collection was going to be auctioned off, so I knew I had limited time to see this 6070.

My wife and I were heading to Minneapolis for a wedding, and I called ahead to see if I could arrange to see the tractor. I called the farm–no answer. So I left a message hoping I could arrange to see this tractor. A few days went by and I didn’t hear anything. We went to Minneapolis to the wedding and I still had heard nothing. Finally, around the time the dance started my phone rang and it was one of Don’s nephews. He said that he would be more than happy to show me the tractors. I was overjoyed. I would finally be able to see this tractor collection that had the holy grail of all AC tractors. We stopped in the next day on our way home. Nothing prepared me for what was in those sheds. These were some of the sharpest looking AC tractors that I have ever laid eyes on.

We made our way through the long line of tractors. Finally, I saw the tractor I had always read about…the last one. It was right there in front of me. This was the tractor in the photos from the plant that day where factory workers posed for a photo with their last piece of work, and where two men shook hands at the back of the tractor as it continued down the line with a large sign that read, “That’s All Folks, The End.” The original slow-moving vehicle sign was still perched on the back with the inscription “Last Off Line Hold 12/6” still as dark and bold as the day it left the factory. In the tractor world, the authenticity of a tractors age is told by the serial number. In this case, the number is proof that this is in fact the last AC 6070 and the last tractor made. There is no doubt about it! The name “Deutz-Allis 6070” on the hoods reminds us enthusiasts of the 1984 buyout by German tractor maker Deutz-Fahr. If one where to peel that sticker back, the name “ALLIS-CHALMERS ” would be revealed. Not only did I get to see this machine, I got to sit in it! It was one of those bucket list items I could now cross off of my list. I was so thankful that I got to see it, and wished my dad and brother could have been there. I told my tour guide the story of how my dad, brother and I got interested in AC tractors. He said I was welcome to come back with them for a tour.

IMG_2121

 

Fast forward a month and I was on my way to the 25th annual Orange Spectacular in Hutchinson, Minnesota for the BIGGEST Allis-Chalmers show in the United States. It had been a few years since our last trip there, but Dad, Adam, Dan (my father-in-law) and I were on our way to the show. On our way home after an incredible weekend, we stopped by the farm again for a tour. The guys were impressed. We had taken in a lot of orange tractors the previous day, but this was above and beyond. They were as amazed as I was the first time I saw all of them. Then we came to the 6070 again. It sent chills down my spine again. It made me think about the guys that built these things for a living. What was going through their minds as they built this tractor? It was essentially their pink slip moving down the assembly line. How could a company so big that made so many different things (tractors was just a fraction of what they made) go bankrupt?! I was glad to see it again and take it in. I think I appreciated it a bit more with the guys with me.

The Fenetti Auction closed today, and all of these tractors went for high dollars–as I figured they would. The 6070 went for a sum of $46,000 which is nearly double of what the machine priced at brand new. I am not sure who got it, but I am sure they bleed as much orange as Don Fenetti did. I think all the people in the AC community are holding their breath hoping it is going to a good home. I know it will. Seeing that particular tractor will be one of those memories that I will look back on with a big grin and cherish.