Contents © 2016 Harold Pfohl
EARLY 20TH CENTURY – PART 3 – JOHN’S WRETCHED MODEL T – OR – HOW A NEW YORK FARM BOY BECAME PART OF A WISCONSIN GERMAN-AMERICAN CLAN
John and Eleonore Pfohl lived on a farm 8 miles east of Niagara Falls, New York. They were members of the large community of German “Old Lutherans” who had emigrated to the United States in the late 1830s and in the 1840s. The community was insular and very conservative in its religion. Life was centered on the church. The leading figure in their life was their pastor who in this case was a grandson of the man who had led the emigration out of Germany more than half a century before.
Most of the children born into the community went to parochial school and the language of instruction was German. The dialect was heavily influenced by French and has been compared to Flemish. The ancestors of the people from the emigrant region (north of Berlin) had a very large number of French forebears, Huguenots, French Protestants who had fled France at a time of persecution and slaughter in the 1600s.
John and Eleonore had eight children at the time of the photo below, around 1918. They had a ninth in 1923. Their first language was German.
John Jr., the subject of this post, is the 14 year old boy standing second from the left.
Their parochial school.
John had ambition. He decided he too wanted to be a minister which was the highest calling that he could imagine. It was very unusual for anyone within their community to attend school beyond the eighth grade and John’s ambition was extraordinary.
He had graduated from the eight-grade parochial school but needed at least one year of high school in order to get into the college/seminary. After staying home on the farm for a year or two, he made the decision to pursue his dream. He attended the public high school eight miles away in Niagara Falls. A railroad bordered their farm. Every morning John flagged down a train which stopped, picked him up and transported him into Niagara.
The high school in Niagara Falls.
He entered Martin Luther seminary in Buffalo when he was 17 in 1921. It was a combination college and seminary, had one building, four professors, and one poor overworked woman who both kept house and cooked for the young men and the professors. The student dormitory was in the attic.
John as a student
We know a fair amount about his experiences since he began keeping a daily diary after entering the college/seminary. He wanted to record his extraordinary experience. It includes some entries that are dismaying, e.g.:
He had a problem with sore throats and decided to see a physician about it. He was prescribed a treatment of 10 tonsil x-rays after which they were supposed to have disappeared! Quacks have always existed and medicine has made some progress since then.
Living in Buffalo was a cultural awakening for him. He enjoyed ushering at the concert hall and one of the thrills of a lifetime for him was listening to a performance by one of the greatest violinists of all time, Fritz Kreisler. In addition to his facility in German and English, he learned Greek and Hebrew, and loved reading history.
Although he had considerable experience driving, John couldn’t afford a car while he was at the seminary. Others had autos and car trips were common outings for the young men. His diary records one pleasure trip of 100 miles that his fellow seminarians took:
“… Started out for Pennsylvania – Nanticoke. Having gone 100 miles they had a dozen flat tires already. Two new tires brought them back.”
Flat tires were an everyday occurrence. Tires were high pressure akin to today’s bicycle tires (but of much poorer quality) and the dirt roads were full of bits and pieces of metal, e.g., lost horse shoe nails. The writer’s father-in-law (born in 1905 in Minnesota) noted that Minnesota dirt roads were traveled by government trucks with powerful electromagnets on their bumpers which collected huge quantities of metal, hopefully reducing the frequency of flat tires.
John on the right. Note the road.
Another outing – again note the road.
WESTWARD HO! ABOARD THE MICHIGAN CENTRAL RR – INTERNSHIP IN DISTANT WISCONSIN
Completion of the requirements for becoming an ordained minister included serving as an intern at a church. He did this at a tiny country church near Random Lake, Wisconsin.
Source – David Rumsey Collection
January 30, 1928 – John headed 750 miles west to Wisconsin to serve as the pastor for a German Lutheran country church near the town of Random Lake, about 40 miles north of Milwaukee.
It is interesting to note the total travel time – 16 ½ hours. Total fare: $11.55. The 1920s were the heyday of train travel with excellent connections and on-time performance. One wonders if Amtrak would do as well today, nearly 90 years later.
The contrast between Buffalo and Random Lake was dramatic.
Buffalo – Labor Day parade, around 1900 -The population in 1930 was around 550,000. Source – Library of Congress.
Random Lake in 1909. Population in 1930 was 576 – Source – Russ Waters, Cedarburg
This wasn’t Buffalo.
A car had become a necessity. His cousin and fellow seminarian, Edgar Milleville, had been serving the Random Lake church just before John and owned a much used third hand Model T Ford. He handed that off to John. It should have been handed off to the junk yard.
AFTER A RELATIVELY SHORT PERIOD OF INTERNSHIP – JOHN WAS ORDAINED AS A MINISTER. HE RETURNED TO RANDOM LAKE TO SERVE THE CONGREGATION ON A PERMANENT BASIS
Three cousins in their graduation year – from seminary yearbook, the “Endeavor.” The family name was originally Pfühl and was changed by John, siblings and cousins to Pfohl early in the 20th Century.
His favorite professor delivered the sermon at John’s ordination as a minister. The rite took place at John’s home church in the country near Niagara Falls. Note the very Germanic interior.
The culmination of seven years in Buffalo at the Martin Luther Seminary and internship in Wisconsin
NOW – THE BEAST!
John’s first car – a third-hand Model T coupe, in his yard at Random Lake Wisconsin, early 1928
A LITANY OF AUTOMOTIVE WOE – MINISTER & MECHANIC – DIARY ENTRIES, FEBRUARY 2 – MARCH 4, 1928 – 31 DAYS OF MECHANICAL MISERY
John never, ever cursed or used foul language – never. BUT…if anything ever pushed him to the brink – it was this pile of intermittently mobile junk.
Below, a series of excerpts from his diary from early 1928 – the mechanical grief is so endless that it actually becomes laughable even while empathizing with the misery the young man experienced:
February 2, 1928 – “Fixed radiator leak. Leo Hoessel helped me with it.”
February 3, 1928 – “Had a flat tire.”
February 4, 1928 – “Had another flat tire. Fixed tire.”
February 5, 1928 – Cranked for over an hour from 10:30 – 11:30 trying to get the coupe started – finally.”
February 6, 1928 – “Was quite disgusted with the Ford coupe, because the starting was so hard. At the dinner table at Brusewitz (a neighbor) I was told, the timer might be to blame, so I cleaned it – but talk about a dirty timer, it surely was. Also gave the starter an adjustment, so that it works again. Fixed tire, and went to random Lake to get some tire tube repair.”
February 9, 1928 – “Then on the way to Random Lake again most of the steep hills the Ford would not make in high. Ran out of gas at my mailbox.”
February 10, 1928 – “Left their place at 9 PM. But had some time getting home the Ford was balky, smashed the glass in the left door.”
February 13, 1928 – “Otto Bruesewitz brought the new timer, put it on, and the old Ford acts like herself for a change. Went to Random Lake in no time, plenty of speed now.”
February 15, 1928 – “Fixed tire & inner tube. Radiator leaks again.”
February 16, 1928 – Left for home at seven was home around eight. Came home with fenders down on the tires – broken spring. The roads are terribly dug up, ruts as deep as 8 to 10 inches.”
February 20, 1928 – “Mr. Jerome Moll gave me a secondhand Ford spring for the front. Only one leaf unbroken in the spring when I came home from Cedarburg last Thursday.”
February 22nd 1928 – “Put in the spring on the front of the Ford replacing the broken one.”
February 23, 1928 – “Had the leak in the radiator soldered – $.25. Had some alcohol put in – $.95. But it boiled out before I got home. Let out what was left in the radiator and found the next morning it was one piece of ice.”
February 28, 1928 – “Had a blowout on front tire.”
March 4, 1928 – “Went down with coupe. Had alcohol in the radiator, so need not worry about the cold temperature that chilled the air.”
March 5, 1928 – “The Ford swung so much since I put the new spring, front, under that I was in danger of tipping over at times. I investigated the matter and found the clip which is holding it was loose. Tightened it.”
JOHN PAYS HIS COUSIN $35 FOR THE BEAST
John eventually scraped together the money to purchase the car from his cousin – $35.
April 13, 1928 – “Sent Edgar Milleville check of $35.50 for his coupe $35 for coupe, $3.00 for gloves, minus $2 which he owed me for ethics book.”
That he had the mechanical skills to do the various repairs must have been due to being raised on a farm and having to repair a variety of farm equipment as a boy.
A MODEL T HIGH PERFORMANCE RUN – MILWAUKEE TO RANDOM LAKE (and how his shirts were laundered)
July 17, 1928 – “Got up at 10 minutes after seven. Left Milwaukee at 20 after seven for Random Lake to teach school. Drove out in an hour and 10 minutes. A distance of 40 miles. (But it meant a boiling radiator).”
And then this: “Sent my shirts home to be laundered.” Sent them from Wisconsin to New York, home to rural Niagara Falls!
JOHN’S FAMILY SENDS SISTER MARTHA WEST TO HELP THE HOPELESS BACHELOR SURVIVE
John was not cut out to be a competent bachelor. Mechanic? yes. Preacher? yes. Bachelor? no way.
John was living out of cans and sending laundry 750 miles to his home in New York. Likely his mother came to the conclusion that this was nuts and that her son needed some serious help. The postal service was excellent, but…ye gawds! His competence at independent living was obviously limited. The solution was to send younger sister, Martha, 22 yrs. old, west to keep house and cook for him. It was an adventure for her, and a necessity for him. It worked.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE PULPIT – GERMAN-AMERICA IN TRANSITION
The young minister was fluent in both German and English. In 1928 his very Germanic congregation in Wisconsin still employed German as its first tongue. However, English was slowly moving in. His sermons and the church service were conducted four Sundays per month in German supplemented by one English service. Below are first page manuscripts of his sermons for Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928 – one in German and one in English.
Click to enlarge
In examining these two pages, it is evident that he had two different Biblical texts for his two sermons and that they were quite separate. The English sermon was not simply a translation of the German sermon – preparation of two sermons required considerable extra work.
John also served a small congregation in the nearby village of Waldo. Those services were usually in English.
A BLIND DATE WITH WILLIAM AND AUGUSTA LUEDER’S YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, CORDELIA – LIFE IN WISCONSIN GETS MORE INTERESTING
William and Augusta’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, 19 years old, 1929
Sunday, August 25, 1929 – Met Miss Cordelia Lueder, her sister & boyfriend at the home of Erich’s friend, went to Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Erich’s Chevrolet. Enjoyed the evening.
RATTLING OFF TO CEDARBURG TO LUEDER’S FARM – ROMANCE BECKONS
Source – David Rumsey Collection – 1924 Rand McNally Auto Trails map
John decided that he wanted to see that girl again, so, uninvited, he mounted his wretched steed and made it to Cedarburg – 24 miles with rattling somewhat the worse by the time he found Lueder’s farm.
He clanked, popped and wheezed into the driveway to a houseful of people. Erwin Graese, who was dating Cordelia’s sister, Viola, came out and asked John if he needed to take that thing to a garage.
But, success! John’s diary entry:
Sunday, September 8, 1929 – Took a chance at finding the Miss. Spent the evening with Miss C. Lueder, Cedarburg, Wis. Saw picture: “The Fall of Eve” at the Eureka (Port Washington).
It was Cordelia’s first “talkie”
Sept 8, Sunday – “In evening, Viola, Erwin, Rev. Pfohl and I were to show in Port Washington – heard talkies first time.”
Legend had it that his Model T transmission malfunctioned, that he was left with no forward gears and had to return 24 miles to Random Lake in reverse, driving backward. While his incredible difficulties with that car make this plausible, Cordelia vigorously denied it in later years.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS! DUMP THE JUNKER
John had vowed that when he met a girl that he really, really liked he would get a new car. He was smitten by Cordelia. The immediate consequence of which was the purchase of a brand-new Model A Ford.
John’s new Model A – his “Baby Lincoln”
Tuesday, September 24, 1929 – “Hot. Payed for the new Ford ($605.00 coach) Allowance for old car $125, Balance $480. Borrowed $380 from bank of Random Lake, Wis. Mr. F Broetzmann signed the note. Note bears 6% int. 46 miles the car had run, gasoline tank showed ¾ full. Wrote Miss C. Lueder a note, asking whether she would accept a visit.”
“Would you enjoy spending an evening together?”
“I would surely like to have you come over Sunday evening. I was both surprised and glad to receive your letter.”
Friday, September 27, 1929 – “A letter from Miss C. Lueder! An invitation to come to see her Sunday evening. The best letter that the box had for me in a long time. Wonder whether she thinks I have a new Ford and wants a ride in it or whether she would like to have me come to visit with her?”
September 1929 – on one of their first dates.
JOHN’S MODEL A STRATEGY WORKED!
A year later:
The wedding reception was held in William and Augusta’s Lueder’s home. A corner was specially decorated and reserved for the bride and groom.
click to enlarge
They lived happily ever after and spoke in German when they were mad at their kids.
NEXT – TRAVEL