The Great Depression was a brutal experience for the U.S.  Many farmers couldn’t make interest payments and lost their farms.  The Lueder family was a bit more fortunate -while the situation was tight, it was not desperate.  Distant cousin and future daughter-in-law, Marion Bremer, taught in a local country school with tough conditions and poor pay.  The fox farm’s luxury product was limping along but provided some meager employment.  Son Gerald saved a few dollars and went on two very long trips with a friend at incredibly low cost.

contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl


wm & augusta fam illus.XLS


Click on image to enlarge




Economic conditions during the Great Depression were so severe that a primary concern among Federal level politicians was serious political unrest. At the time the remedies of Communism and Socialism were both comparatively new and both were attractive to many whose conditions were desperate. The situation held the prospects for social and political upheaval.

In agriculture the worst conditions prevailed in the Dust Bowl – the states in the Great Plains where agricultural practices coupled with drought resulted in an horrific level of destruction of the land. It was plowed, planted, and then blew away in vast, suffocating dust storms. In the South, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws fostered severe poverty resulting in economic conditions of subsistence.

The photos below from that time are representative of the severe plight endured by many.

Source – Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration Photos, click on image to enlarge.

In the urban areas there were bread lines.


Source –, Free soup – waiting for something to eat.


Farming in the upper Midwest fared better than that shown in the rural photos above. William and Augusta’s farm survived; there was plenty to eat, they were able to afford weddings and celebrations for daughters Cordelia (1930) and Viola (1931) and son Edgar (1931). At the same time there was very little money to spare and the farm barely made enough to pay the interest on the mortgage.


Source – family photos, L-R: Cordelia, 1930; Viola, 1931; Edgar, 1931, click on image to enlarge

These weddings must have put a considerable strain on William and Augusta’s sparse budget while at the same time giving them cause for rejoicing.


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Source – family photo, William and Augusta Lueder’s home

The Depression was a most trying time, and the Lueder home filled with family members who ordinarily would have been living independently as young adults.  At one time after the death of William and then the death of son Edgar’s wife, Alice in 1935 the home held Augusta, Edgar, his daughter Marcella, Viola, her husband Erwin Graese and their two eldest children Sylvia and Vivian, Gerald, Harold, and Elda.  In the early 1940s, Renata also moved in with her husband Erich and daughter Glenrose for a total of thirteen people.

Everyone lent a hand where possible with the labor required.  Times were tough, but at the same time, there was always plenty to eat, and a roof over their heads.

The farm barely made interest payments.  Augusta sought financial help after William’s death but was turned down.  Even so, they were far better off than those who are illustrated in the photos at the beginning of this post.

Edgar assumed responsibility for the farm, and, not surprisingly, developed an ulcer.

They were cash poor, but still rich in their relationships.  The family, extended family, church, and neighbors all formed a strong sense of community.


Grandchild Glenrose Klug was born to Renata and Erich in 1930.  In 1933, Viola and Cordelia both had baby girls, Sylvia and Ruth.  By that time, William was seriously ill, worn out, and Augusta was severely stricken with rheumatoid arthritis.

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Source – family photo, 1934, William and Augusta with daughters Cordelia and Viola, and their toddlers, Ruth and Sylvia.  William was 63 yrs old, and Augusta 60.  The image of William portrays no strength or vigor, rather, exhaustion.

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Source – family photo, Augusta with Sylvia.  Examine Augusta’s hands.  The rheumatoid arthritis was taking a severe toll.  The disease is an autoimmune malfunction and results in extreme pain and damage to joints and organs.  In her time there was no relief and no medication to combat the symptoms.  Still, in the photo above, the mother of seven is obviously taking great pleasure in her little grandchildren.  Much progress has been made in dealing with this disease.

Ollie 3 ring bndr img107 crp2.jpg

Source – family photo, Augusta’s ankles were terribly swollen and distorted.  She could barely fit into slippers.  At about this time she was using crutches to get around.

A little later – on their 35th wedding anniversary.

Source – family photo, November 5, 1934, click on image to enlarge

William died the next spring.


The carrot crop was mentioned in a previous post, but is worth repeating given that there was hope of making a few extra dollars in a very tough time.


Source – family photo, Family members harvesting carrots on Lueder’s farm  – October 18-21, 1932


Source – family photo – Working in the carrot field

L-R: “Pa” William, Erwin Graese, Edgar, Alice (Edgar’s wife) Cordelia, Elda, “Ma” Graese (Erwin’s mother), Viola Lueder Graese

This didn’t work very well at all – the labor was grossly excessive for the very small profit achieved.


Ollie 3 ring bndr img095.jpg

Source – family photo, about 1936

A new Model B John Deere tractor on the left with Harold Lueder. On the right, Edgar Lueder on a Model D John Deere that had been through a fire, was purchased at a very low cost and repaired and upgraded by brother Gerald Lueder.

The tractors typically required an oil change at 100 hours of operation. Edgar invariably changed the oil at 80 hours of operation which ensured that the engines remained in as-new condition. His rationale on this was that they simply could not afford any repairs.


Ollie 3 ring bndr img097.jpg

Source – family photo, late 1930s, – Erwin Graese (Viola Lueder’s husband) feeding foxes with his daughter, Sylvia, looking on.

Erwin bicycled to work at the fox farm in order to save the expense of driving a car.

Fig 112b Feeding Foxes at Cedarburg 1934_resize.jpg

Source – family photo, 1934 – feeding the foxes

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Source – family photo, Lueder’s cousin, Ed Nieman holding a silver fox at his local fox farm

hp 020313 11 Ed Nieman 6-31 sepia copy.jpgSource – family photo, Ed Nieman at right with his cousin, Cordelia (left of center) and Cordelia’s husband and in-laws visiting from the Niagara Falls area of New York.  Photo at Ed’s home in Mequon, Wisconsin, just south of Cedarburg

The Depression was bad.  Prices and demand for silver fox, a luxury fur, dropped like a rock.  Ed Nieman had worked hard and prospered in the business with his father, John, and their Fromm cousins in northern Wisconsin.  They managed to keep operations going during the Depression which was no small feat for a luxury product.  Ed and his father, John, and brother, Herb, provided employment for a number of people in the area with very modest wages.  Business was bad, a host of citizens had no work and no income whatsoever, and a modest income was better than nothing.


William and Augusta’s son-in-law, Renata’s husband Erich Heckendorf, was a carpenter.  Work was hard to come by.  Not much money was available for new construction.  Erich and Renata rented a home in Cedarburg, and when that was no longer available, moved in to the farmhouse with their daughter, Glenrose.  They could not afford to buy a small home.


Source – Glenrose Klug, family photo, Erich Heckendorf in the center


Marion Bremer was born in 1915 on a farm north of Cedarburg.  She was a descendant of the Johann & Eva Lüders immigrant family.  In 1916 she and her parents moved to Milwaukee from the Cedarburg area.  Marion became a schoolteacher during the Depression, taught in rural schools near Cedarburg for a number of years, then in suburban Milwaukee.  She married William and Augusta’s son, Harold Lueder, in 1945 and lived on the Lueder farm on Bridge Road.

The notes below are from a series of letters Marion wrote to the author at his request in 1996 when she was 81 years old and was remembering the experiences of her youth. 

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Source – Author’s photo, Marion Lueder in her 70s

The essence of the Depression experience

Marion:… worked hard, saved, and did without.  We had so few material things that we learned what really mattered.

Higher education – Teachers College

Marion: By going to summer school, and taking an extra credit – band – I graduated from North Division High School in Milwaukee in three years.  The class was large.  I didn’t really graduate as I needed two more credits in spring.  I’d gone to enroll at Teacher’s College, taking my class cards along, since I had no diploma.  A professor glanced through them, felt they were all right and I was admitted.

Teaching job – no luck – job search for anything, economizing with pennies

Marion: After graduation I applied for schools in the rural area of Ozaukee County mostly, but without success.  Times were very hard.  At that time we bought the Milwaukee Journal for the ads for work for $0.03 a copy but only on Thursdays as Mom felt it had the most ads that day.

House maid with a teacher’s certificate

Marion: I went around to try finding work as a house-helper or maid.  After studying the ads, Mom mapped out the routes for me.  She’d tell me where to go first, second etc. so that I could usually stop at 3 or 4 places on one streetcar ticket, which cost $0.07.  I was fired from a number of places but I learned.


Marion: Then at Easter time, Jaegers Bakery was introducing new bread.  A neighbor girl had applied there for a job.  The bakery called inviting the girl, Dorothy Dreist, to come to work but between her applying for a job there and the call from the bakery she had found other work.  So her Mom told my Mom about the opening and I went in Dorothy’s stead and got the job.  It was simple enough to put two slices of bread into a bag for a promotional package for the new bread and seal it.  Fortunately after that promotion time, I was one of two girls invited to stay on and I did.

Fun at Five Corners

Marion: It was during that time also that we often went to dances at Al Batzler’s at Five Corners on Saturday nights.  Music was a drum, accordion and violin or guitar.  No amplification was necessary.  It was fun.  All our aunts, uncles, cousins, were there.

We had to follow the rules:  Dance straight, dance with whomever asked you – no refusals.  Stay on the dance floor.  Don’t leave the building and go to a parked car.  Stay out of the hard bar!

If Dad felt rich – a soda for the girls

Marion: Then if our Dad felt flush (rich) he’d march Mom, Dorothea, and me to a place near the dance floor but away from the music and crowd, settle us in a booth and buy each of us a glass of soda.  After saying goodbye we’d rattle home in our Model T Ford and get up in time for church and Sunday School the next morning.

At last – a teaching job – $65 per month for eight months, a one room country school – Newburg

Marion:…my Dad still took me to apply for teaching positions and I was hired at St. Augustine on Hwy Y near Newburg for $65.00 per month for eight months {$3.00/day}.  At the bakery I earned $7.00 per week, which was more than the two or three dollars earned doing housework.  I remember buying my younger sister, Dorothea, and myself each a dress for $2.00.  They were blue and white checkered with big shawl collars.


Source – Library of Congress, 1915 Saukville Twnshp map, Ozaukee Co., Wisconsin

Brutal winter of 1936

Marion: The winter of 1936 was memorable. The snow overwhelmed the graders and blowers, and roads remained unplowed for an extended period.


Source – family photo, Bridge Rd in the winter of 1936. The traffic shown consists of farmers hauling their milk to the dairy over an unplowed road, either Bridge Street or Western Avenue. Most farmers still used horses as well as tractors.

Marion: “The winter of 1936 was the first year I taught.  The winter of 1936 was one of the worst in many years.  This was at St. Augustine’s near Newburg which was a drafty little stone schoolhouse with no insulation.  The inside walls were sometimes whitewashed but not painted.    There were no storm windows and the cold blew in through the cracks.

The first time I got home – probably attending a Teachers convention in Milwaukee, Mom made curtains for the windows from matched flour bags and the wind moved the curtains through the cracks.   You could write your name in dust on the windowsills, as this was the time of the dust storms on the Great Plains.  Later when it snowed, the dust often blanketed the snow.

I found a place to stay with Mr. And Mrs. Theodore Gall right across the road from the stone school.  The Gall house was very old.  It consisted of four rooms connected like an H with a place where an outdoor bake oven had been many years ago.  It was a good place for chilblains and frozen toes that ached terribly when they got warm at school in the middle of the afternoon.   I’d have to put my feet into the snow to relieve the burning and itching.

Lavish lodging – furnace and indoor plumbing

Marion: During the winter Mrs. Gall became ill and moved across the road, to Mr. And Mrs. Weiss.  That home was very lavish with a furnace and indoor plumbing.

Chopping wood for the school

Marion: There were many days that first year when there was no school.  There was too much snow and cold, roads weren’t open and the children couldn’t get to school.  Many times I went to the school anyway, sat with my feet close to the fire and read.   I learned to chop and carry in wood for the furnace and on those days my chief occupation was splitting wood and keeping the fire alive through the night. As time passed, I read every book in the little school library.

Sometimes when the children were at school an upper grade boy would help with such chores and also get water from the neighbor’s well.

Avoiding a frozen lunch

Marion: The lunch boxes had to be brought into the room so the lunches wouldn’t freeze.  As the weather became more severe I had the little ones bring old rag rugs to help keep the draft from blowing up onto their little cold feet.

When I got back to St. Augustine’s after Christmas break, I didn’t get away again from opening of school in January until my birthday in mid-March and then only as far as Cedarburg.  When the road was open, Mr. And Mrs. Weiss hurried to Newburg (4 mi.) or Cedarburg about (9-10 mi.) to stock up on groceries.

Opening the roads

Marion: After their barn chores were finished local young men helped Erwin Mueller (a cousin’s husband who worked for the township) to open the roads – a little extra cash in hard times.  One night several shoveled just so the snow plow could move.  The snow was so bad that on occasion they made only as much as 300 ft. a night.  Some places were so deep that they even shoveled the snow over the telephone wires.  I received a dollar Brownie camera for my birthday and took a picture, still have it someplace, of the Weiss mailbox with snow higher than the mail box.


Source – IAGenWeb, Wisconsin after the great blizzard of 1936

After Easter it warmed up and things were easier.  I got down to Cedarburg more frequently and it wasn’t long until the school year ended – before the end of May.  Once or twice I walked to Grandpa and Grandma Krohns farm.

Teacher’s tools – mousetraps and brooms

Marion: Standard equipment each Fall was three new mousetraps.  Sometimes when things were rather quiet during the day or after school the mice ventured into the room.  They seemed to come from cracks in the floor where the chimney met the floor.  Part of the teacher’s job also was to keep the floor swept.

The teaching routine – nine farm kids & their education

Marion: I had nine youngsters the first year.  The children with one exception were farm children.  The boys wore overalls.  When they got too small or worn, they were relegated to farm use and they bought a new pair.

We saluted the flag every morning.  I had to follow the course of study determined by the State Department of Education in Madison.  It was divided into odd and even years.  Certain math, reading selections and language poems, stories, etc. were for odd and even years.  Thus most of the classics, especially in reading and language were covered. There was very little if any disciplining to do.  Going to school was still a privilege.  The library was very small but we made good use of it.

I did my best but Mr. Beger the superintendent and Mr. Plagemann took a dim view of teachers coming from the Rural Department in Milwaukee.  They felt that graduation from the County Normal Schools had less theory, but more practical sense.  I did my best and finally won their approval.

In the spring of the year the county eighth graders went to a central location for their exams and later a countywide graduation.  The exams were usually held in Cedarburg or Port Washington.


  • 5550 MILES,
  • LODGING COST: $17.50,
  • GROCERIES: $12.24
  • AND TOTAL COST: $170.00!

William’s son, Gerald had earned money at the local Nieman fox farm, and also picked up income by going to the Hiawatha Fur Farms in Northern Michigan for the seasonal work of pelting the foxes.  Foxes from the Nieman operations in the Cedarburg/Mequon area were sent north to the colder climate to prime the fur.

Gerald, age 24, and his neighbor and good friend, Oscar Weichert, took a trip to Florida.  It was the middle of a brutal winter, and there wasn’t much additional work to be had.

They kept their expenses incredibly low:

0081 Gerald Lueder's Trip to Florida 1936_resize.jpg

Source all photos except as noted – Gerald Lueder album

68 days: lodging $17.50, groceries $12.24.  And, the car used an unbelievable nine gallons of oil – they added a quart of oil every 154 miles!

In 1934 Gerald had purchased a DeSoto Coupe, a well-built, well-engineered car, made by Chrysler Corporation and suitable for long journeys, cruising at 50 mph (top speed was 55 mph) on greatly improved roads. It was second hand, had been owned by a woman librarian in Milwaukee, had only 10,000 miles on the odometer, and cost $325, which he financed. Two months later he borrowed $200 from his friend, Werner Kasten, and repaid the financing company, which charged him $48 for the use of $325 for the two months, an 88% annualized interest rate! He repaid Werner promptly.

Gerald and neighbor and friend Oscar Weichert headed out to the south in January 1936 for an adventure and an escape from the ugly weather.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3578.jpg

Jan 13 1936 lunch 40 mi west of Tallahassee, Florida

The DeSoto in a speed run on Daytona Beach in Florida at 55 mph

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3581.jpg

Gerald, the DeSoto, and Daytona Beach.

Daytona Beach is very broad, nearly level and has very hard-packed sand. Auto speed records were regularly being set on this natural speedway in the 1930s, before the Salt Flats in Utah became accessible and popular for that purpose.

Fig 089 Weichert hits the Daytona Beach Fig 089 Feb 28, 1936.jpg

The DeSoto on Daytona Beach, Florida

Oscar Weichert was driving through shallow water at 55 mph, with Gerald photographing the fun. Two days later the car wouldn’t run due to salt induced corrosion and contamination of the electrical system

Lodging laundry and a washtub shower

Fig 090 MM Laundry.jpg

L-R: Robert Steger, Oscar Wiechert, Steger’s orange grove partner, and Gerald Lueder.

Two Cedarburg area bachelor farmers had a 40-acre orange grove at Haines City, Florida, and put the young travelers up for a few nights. The men are shown doing their laundry. The structure on the right with the washtub on top was the shower. Accommodations were rough but the price was right – free.

The entire trip was an extended, improvised camp-out with most food (e.g. large quantities of potatoes) packed wherever space could be found. The driver’s side running board was a storehouse, and all exits and entries had to be accomplished through the passenger side.

Bathing beauty cousins in Florida

Fig 091 MM BK Bathing Beauties 1936.jpg

Pearl Strege (L) and Lila Fromm (R)

The girls were Gerald’s second cousins, good friends, and grandchildren of Andrew and Emma Fromm

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3582.jpg

Gerald and Oscar in Florida

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3577.jpg

Pan-American Clipper – Flying Boat

Gerald was always singularly interested in anything mechanical. It was a thrill to see the huge Pan Am Clipper, a state-of-the-art giant flying boat.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3587.jpg

The Clipper taking off

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3584.jpg

Oscar at the North Carolina state line

For most rural folks in the 1930s a trip through many different states was virtually beyond imagining. One result was that the travelers photo albums often contained Stateline shots, evidence of the extent of their travels.

Compare the roads – 1920s to 1936 – incredible progress

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3585.jpg

En route through Pennsylvania to Western New York.

In a very short span of time the American road system had been vastly improved. Contrast this with the photo below from the early 1920s:


source – family photo, William and Augusta’s children, Renata and Edgar on the right.

Elda 3 ring bndr img074 crp1.jpg

Source – family photo, Lueder’s Chrysler Four in 1928 en route to Northern Michigan

Or, the vastly improved gravel road, US Hwy 2, taken by Lueders in their 1926 Chrysler on their 1928 trip to visit Augusta’s sister, Alvina, in Hermansville, Michigan.

Although it is gravel, road is an excellent all weather highway and a huge improvement over what had been.

Florida grapefruit and the extended family, Niagara Falls, NY

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3586.jpg

William and Augusta’s daughter Cordelia married Rev. John Pfohl in 1930. John came from a large German-American farm family eight miles east of Niagara Falls.  Gerald and Oscar included Niagara Falls in their trip and brought grapefruit to the Pfohls where they lodged.  The grapefruit were quite a special treat.

Photographic note: in order to avoid burnout in the negative a burlap bag was hung over the chandelier. Gerald’s photographs were taken with a Kodak box Brownie, very common and inexpensive camera from the 1930s.  It cost $2-3.00.  The negatives in the family archives are often remarkably good!



Source of all photos – Gerald Lueder album

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3593.jpg

Source – Gerald Lueder album

9,500 miles, 67 days, 17 states, Mexico, 7 national parks, & 5 national monuments

Gerald left no record of the costs associated with this trip of 9500 miles. It is safe to assume that it was incredibly cheap. A huge box was hung on to the rear of the DeSoto and the driver’s side running board was packed with necessities. Quite a lot of food was taken along.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3597.jpg

January 1937 starting the trip west – Gerald in the center holding his niece Ruth, with sister Cordelia and brother-in-law John in Leland Wisconsin.

Gerald stopped by to say hi to his sister in Leland, Wisconsin, at the beginning of the trip.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3594.jpg

Lockwood, Missouri, Lutheran cemetery, January 28, 1937

They stopped to visit Augusta’s uncle and Gerald’s great uncle, Herman Nieman, in Lockwood Missouri. The gravestone is that of the immigrant father of Herman, Joachim Niemann. Great-grandfather to Gerald.  Herman was the youngest brother of Gerald’s grandfather at Pioneer Orchards in Cedarburg, Johann Nieman (d. 1922).

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3589.jpg

Elk City, Oklahoma, January 30, 1937

Note the road.  The DeSoto is mud from head to foot, but the road is well constructed with the roadbed not giving way under the weight of car, a huge advance over the 1920s roadways.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3607.jpg

Santa Cruz, California

Visiting great uncle Carl Nieman and wife Emelia and family

Sights of the West with a two dollar Box Brownie

click on image to enlarge

A South Dakota dust storm, sleet storm, & blizzard


March 23, 1937 Watertown SD, a.m. dust storm followed by sleet storm followed by blizzard.  It was the worst SD storm in 10 years.  Note that the DeSoto had a windshield wiper only on the driver’s side

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3609.jpg

Heading back to Wisconsin, March 25, 1937 10 miles from nowhere.  Watertown SD.  Desoto breaking track – Pulling the DeSoto through a drift

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3608.jpg

Mar ’37.  Brookings Co., So. Dakota.  Gerald and the DeSoto in front.  60 cars and 200 people behind him.  Gerald had a wicked sense of humor.  He was leading the way, the highway was passable but largely obscured,and he had Pied Piper thoughts.  So, he decided to drive off the road and into a cornfield wondering if the herd would follow him and they all dutifully followed right behind.  He was still laughing at that 30 years later.

Note the wrap around the top part of the radiator grill in front of the DeSoto.  It was frequent practice to obstruct the airflow through the radiator in the dead of winter to raise the coolant temperature, and improve the heating inside the car for the driver and passenger.

WIS 1930S GERALD IMG3610.jpg

Home at the farm of neighbor and travelling companion, Oscar Weichert – 3″ clearance under running boards. 1937.  The driver’s side was packed with necessities and foodstuffs.  The driver had to get in and out of the car through the passenger side.


William and Augusta’s son Edgar marries Alice Heckendorf.  The courtship has a truly bizarre aspect, and a few years of happiness are followed by deep tragedy.

Many Germanic values were still extant in the local culture, but the language was disappearing and the culture was melding into the American pot.

Next week’s post is the conclusion of the tale.  It will be followed by an Epilogue and then a post of modern photos of the farm.




  1. “Mar ’37. Brookings Co., So. Dakota. Gerald and the DeSoto in front. 60 cars and 200 people behind him. Gerald had a wicked sense of humor. He was leading the way, the highway was passable but largely obscured,and he had Pied Piper thoughts. So, he decided to drive off the road and into a cornfield wondering if the herd would follow him and they all dutifully followed right behind. He was still laughing at that 30 years later.”


    Liked by 1 person

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