Chapter 1 - New Jersey
During the Fall of 1984 Peggy and I took a trip back to Boston to visit her relatives for a week and then drive down to Washington, D.C. to sight-see that area for a second week. On the way to Washington on the New Jersey turnpike I noticed that we could go west of our route at Newark, New Jersey to State #512 and go by my folks old house in Gillette. This house was the beginning memories for me as I really don't remember anything about their first house and chicken farm Stockton, N.J. That first home was called Kalorama Poultry Farm. I found this name on a 1921 letter head that Nettie had written to Ewald Wegner's folks in Wisconsin The letterhead was "Kalorama Poultry Farm".
The town of Stockton is just north of Trenton, where Marilyn and I were born. I on the morning of January 5th, 1921. Marilyn on the September 25, 1922. For some reason I think I remember going down the stairs in this old Stockton house when we were getting ready to move to Gillette. Maybe it was from seeing some old photos. I know this was the start of their chicken raising business. I guess the reason that they decided to move to Gillette was to get closer to the Newark, New York markets and the Gillette house and land were better suited for raising chickens. Gillette, New Jersey was a small town of no more than 75 people on a main road that went north to Newark and towards Trenton to the south. The next town to the south of Gillette was Stirling and I went to school there until my family left for California in 1928. Towns north and east towards Newark were first, Berkeley Hts, New Providence and then Summit which was the largest town near to Gillette.
I remember the Gillette house as a large two story frame house with a full basement which was full of chicken incubators and a huge coal furnace and coal bin for hot water and steam heat. The third floor attic was large enough for living area rooms. Mother's (Nettie's father and mother Adams) came from Massachusetts to live with Nettie and Ewald about 1926 while their combined restaurant and home was being built on the front edge of the Gillette property facing onto the main north-south highway. When we moved to California in 1928 they put log rollers under the restaurant and moved it to the farm just south.This farm belonged to the Rystead's. After the restaurant was finished and the Adams had moved into it, I remember grandma Adams making me bread, butter and mustard sandwiches for afternoon snacks. I also remember taking used pop bottles that were in the wooden cases under the restaurant, waiting to be picked up by the soda-pop distributor, I collected the orange pop that was left in the "used" bottles for enough to get a free drink. Gross huh! I remember that my dad didn't like grandpa and grandma Adams. My mother got a lot of "static" from Ewald about her folks living with us and their building of the restaurant on his property.
Looking back nowI think times were kind of rough for the Adams financially at this time even though this was suppose to be the good times before the Depression (1929). When I was living in Gillette the front lawn in front of the Gillette house seemed enormous to me then (I was probably about four foot tall) but revisiting in 1984 as an adult it didn't seem near as large. My dad who had been totally blinded at the age of 19 in WWIin France by a explosion just in front of his machine gun position. He said it could have been either a German or an American shell exploding in front of two man position. When he was back in the States, he and other blinded veterans entered the Evergreen Hospital near Baltimore, Maryland, the training center for war blinded conducted under the auspices of the Veterans Bureau. He completed a course in poultry husbandry. During this schooling, all of the blinded students were presented with gold braille watches by Queen Wilhimena of the Netherlands. I think my mother, Nettie Adams was a secretary or an assistant to a Professor Graham who taught some of the poultry classes. Somehow they met and were married in 1919/1920.
|The Gillette house
I was born Jan 5, 1921 and Marilyn, my sister was born in Sept 25, 1922. My Gillette bed room was on the second floor on the SW corner of the house. I remember the creaking and popping steam radiator in my bedroom. The folks land was about 5 acres in a pie shape piece of land with the wide part on the highway and the back edge or point ended on a swamp. On the far side of the swamp was a railroad track. The rail traffic was fairly heavy as I remember lots of trains passing night and day. Itwas quite soggy near the swamp and I can only remember being there once and that was in the winter when it was frozen over. Marilyn, an older neighbor boy and I were starting to walk on the swamp ice when we heard this noise under our feet that sounded like a train passing under the ice. The older neighbor boy knew it was the ice cracking so we rapidly removed ourselves.
Near our home there were a lot of small hills so we were able to use our sleds to slide down these slopes. For summer there was a large tree to the south side of the house and the folks has tied at car tire with a rope to a branch and this was our swing. We could sit inside the tire or climb up on top to swing. In front of our house was a large sign with a red arrow on it. The arrow had a bar across the middle. This was the emblem of Ewald's 32'nd infantry division when he went to France and the folks used this emblem for their business trade mark. They sold poultry only from the house. This amounted to about seven hundred chickens in the spring at an average of more than a dollar a piece. Also an average of ten to fifteen dozen eggs, probably for a week, were sold at thedoor. They could have sold more. The first year in Gillette they made $1500 clear.
They raised only Rhode Island Reds,having about 500 chickens at any given time. The hatching was done down in the basement and there were at least 4 big (5'x5') incubators for hatching chickens. Ewald would turn these eggs daily by hand for the 21 days of incubation. In back of the house, to the west there was one large chicken house with three rooms and a garage for the folks car. There were also at least 3 individual chicken or brooder houses back of this main chicken house. They were about 12 feetsquare and were on wooden runners and could be moved to different locations. These chicken houses (brooder houses) all had to be heated in the winter, especially when there were small chicks. Coal stoves were used for heating in the winter. Dad could take care of these coal stoves, knowing when he had shaken all the ashes from the fire by passing hishand over the ash pan and judging from the heat in it whether he has reached the live coals. Also he counted the larger chickens every few nights more skillfully than a sighted person. He accomplishes this by waiting until the chickens had gone to roost and then running his hands over them. His delicate sense of touch told him how many birds there were without shoving each one off the perch. The birds remain quite undisturbed during this process. The folks sold both live and dressed chickens and fresh eggs. I saw egg buyers from Newark testing the eggs by knocking a small hole in the end of an egg and drinking/eating it raw. Maybe that's why to this day I don't eat egg whites (I do like yolks if they're hard cooked).
Thinking back now I realize how much work this chicken business must have been for my mother with a blind husband. But Ewald was busy with his chores, feeding and carrying for the chickens. He could catch and kill the chickens and pluck the feathers. This involved dipping the killed chicken into a pail of boiling hot water for about a minute then into a cold bucket to stop the cooking. Then he would pluck the feathers.
Also he could get around the house as if he could see and he always knew what Marilyn and I were up to. One thing we soon learned was not to leave doors and cupboards partly open. He was well able to cope with his blindness and had little sympathy for other blind persons who complained about their problems. Mother was always his eyes and treated him like a king. She did all the book keeping for the chicken business and continued the book keeping in California with their "second mortgage" business. My mother was the greatest cook. We ate a variety of tasty things. Hearing from the folks friends in later years, I think she would qualify as a gourmet cook.
We had a little stream south of the house and she use to pick watercress there. Also I remember crocks in the basement with raisins and dandelion blossoms floating on top. This was during the time that dandelion blossoms were plentiful. This became "prohibition" dandelion wine. They also made Hires extract root beer. There were not any bad times financially for our family. We grew-up in our early years in this rural setting. This period was just before the "Depression" and stock market collapse of 1929. Our only accident was probably during the summer of1927. I was playing with kids across the highway from our house. We were running back and forth across the road. Marilyn, 5 years old was chasing after us and crossing the road too. There was a downhill slope and a curve in the road approaching our house from the north that made it hard for drivers to see ahead. On one of her trips back and forth she was hit by a car. Luckily she only got a broken leg (could have been arm). Anyway she was wearing a cast for a while. My worst time was that I had to go to the hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids out.
We had a big Airedale named "Rusty" and sadly he was hit by a car on one of his night forages during 1927. I went to school from kindergarten to second grade riding the bus south to Sterling. I remember working with small numbered squares learning to count in kindergarten. I remember; Note:I was 5 years old, doing these number exercises with a "cute" girl in this class. We had a 1925\1926 Dodge touring sedan with side curtains. My mother was an excellent driver and we went on many one day trips. They had some good friends in New Brunswick, N.J., Frank and Rose Shammy. He was a blinded war Vet also and had a massage business there. When they visited us in Gillette and later in California, Rose did a lot of the cooking. The Shammys were from Lebanon and we had wonderful tasting things like grape leaves stuffed with lamb and rice and all kinds of zucchini dishes. Another blind friend of my folks that I'll never forget was Henry Bitters. He was totally blinded in WWI and had lost both hands mid-way between his elbows and hands. The Bitters visited the folks periodically and even a couple of times in California. Ewald's WWI machine gun partner lived in Upper Sandusky, Ohio and they visited occasionally. I think their name was O'Connell. While we lived in New Jersey, our family took a train trip to Whitewater, Wisconsin to visit Dad's family, Herman and Anna Wegner. Grandpa Herman was born in Northern Germany in 1850 and emigrated to Wisconson as a young man. I remember they lived in a home in the town of Whitewater. I went with Grandpa Herman Wegner out to their out of town farm to help him plant pieces of potatoes. I remember that each piece must have at least one eye and this had to be planted eyes up. Ewald's brothers Alvin, Oscar, Earl, others ? plus sister Guertrude and her husband Irving Huth all lived near by. Ewald was born in Jamestown?, but later moved to Whitewater where he went to High School. The damp and cold winters of New Jersey didn't agree with my dad who was also mustard gassed in WWI.
He continually caught colds and the flu. The doctor told him that he should move to dryer and warmer weather in Arizona or California. They put the house and business up for sale in 1928. I think they got about $30,000 for every thing. At the time they thought this was a monetary loss for them, but it turned out to be a financial break as they sold just before property and everything else dropped in value due to the 1929 stock market crash. We left Gillette near the end of my second grade year (early summer) with mother driving their Willys Knight sedan and headed for Anaheim, California. We stopped at White water to see Grandpa and Grandma Wegner. This was to be the last time I saw any of my Grandparents.