First jobs and disappointments

Eric writes:



After graduation from High School and getting back from California, I went to work for the Denver Public Library as a custodian. I worked as a floater for a while until a position opened for a full time custodian at the Bear Valley Branch Library. I did that for four years. While working there I learned to juggle and ride a unicycle. Since I was not going to college, my mother decided I needed to learn a trade and taught me to do furniture upholstery.

In 1979, I moved back to Jamestown, North Dakota, where I was born. I went to work for the North Dakota Farmers Union as a custodian and started my own business as an upholsterer. Eventually, I quit working at the NDFU to devote my full time to the upholstery business. I also became a volunteer fire fighter for the Jamestown Fire Department. That was a lot of fun.

When the economy went bad in North Dakota, I had to quit my business and went to work for Dodgson Furniture and Appliance as a deliveryman and did some upholstery work there. I was also still with the fire department. Eventually, I got laid off and we moved to Helena, Montana because there was no work to be found in Jamestown. I am really glad I was able to take care of Grandma Fanny for her last years.

I applied and tested for a position with the Helena Fire Department. I placed 4th out of 150 applicants. The first three were hired. I was promised the next position that came open. In the mean time, I got a job working for Montana State Prison as an Industries Shop Supervisor. There, I taught inmates furniture manufacturing and upholstery. I also became a volunteer fire fighter for the East Helena Volunteer Fire Department. I also started doing community service work at that time. I became an Advanced First Aid and CPR instructor for the Red Cross.

We stayed in Helena for two years. A position never did open up at the Fire Department. The stress finally got to me at the prison so I had to quit.

— Eric H

Lake Williams Horses

Abandoned Lumberyard in Lake Williams ND

Abandoned lumberyard in Lake Williams ND

My brothers and I took several trips together in the late eighties and early nineties. The memories we built on those trips are among my most valued. On one of the trips we stopped to visit our Uncle Henry. Henry was an eccentric old man, and my favorite uncle. While we were visiting him this time, he took us on a tour of the country side. The five of us piled into his big GM sedan and hit the road; gravel roads, driving well over the limit, taking his half out of the middle.

Suddenly he hits the brakes and stops in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Pettibone and Woodworth. He throws open the door and jumps out, saying “Here’s the town of Marstonmoor.” We look quizzically at each other, wonder if it’s OK to park in the middle of the road, climb out and look around. There’s nothing there. Well, there’s grass and the road.

Henry says “Look over there … see that cement sticking out of the grass?” We crane our necks for a better view, realize the railroad tracks (abandoned?) are just a few feet beyond, and yes, indeed! There is an old concrete foundation there. Overgrown, crumbled, and not all that big to start with.

Henry gave us a quick history of the town. It was a railroad invention, they had to have stations every couple of miles along the rail line to support farmers who had only horse and wagon to deliver milk and cream to the railroad. Towns grew up around some of the stations, but not around others. This town was not one where dreamers succeeded.

Lake Williams fared a little better, there are still houses and buildings around where the rail station used to be. Not much else remains. Uncle Henry owned one of the old buildings in town. He used it to store his collection of cars and things. He wasn’t a car collector like my friends in the AACA, Henry just never bothered to ever sell a car. Ever. His place was just down the block from the lumberyard in the picture.

In this letter, Grace recounts the dreams of a rancher who thought he could get rich on fancy horses in Kidder County. That plan just didn’t work. Neither did my grand father’s plan of raising Herefords on the north forty. Not much remains in that area these days. If you listen to the wind and stare at the prairie grass long enough you can almost hear and see dreams floating by.

They’re gone now.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

Summer always seemed hot + long + the cool water in Lake Williams was a nice place to swim and fish and boat. Sometimes we would have a picnic there under the trees.

Continue reading

A New Life

1957 Sweet Adelines quartet - The Humbugs - Lucy is 2nd from right

1957 Sweet Adelines quartet – The Humbugs – Lucy is 2nd from right

Most of us start a new life at least once, and usually several times in a lifetime. The big choices seem to be voluntary. Who to marry, where to go to college, which new job to take, where to live. Making those decisions affects the arc of a life dramatically. Some of the choices aren’t voluntary, they’re forced on us. The day Lucy got the call from St. Luke’s hospital forced a big change in her life, and in Judy’s life. Lucy’s last letter described that day.

Once Lucy internalized that major event she faced hundreds of decisions that a woman of the mid-1950s usually didn’t have to handle. Those decisions were hard enough, but she was facing them alone; the love of her life was gone. As I read Lucy’s letter I try to imagine what that was like. Even with the friends and family around to help, from here it looks pretty lonely.

The good news is that Lucy was already involved in Sweet Adelines, a women’s barbershop chorus. That group grounded her, gave her so many friends and opportunities for years. When I met Lucy she was deep into Sweet Adelines, and so much of the benefit came from the quartet Betty suggested.

Lucy writes:

Here I was, a mother, a daughter and a $1000.00 life insurance policy I didn’t even know Ken had. No job – only helping Lizell work on a car auction sale – snack bar – not much to go on but still didn’t seem to worry about a lot.

Continue reading


Zee Ka Tow, Jamestown ND

William Krivobok – Modern Problems – JHS 1968

You know by now that I love reading. Most years I’m thick into books, with a lengthy “to-read” list, and a couple of books on the shelf being read. Not that many years ago I finally phased out of my magazine reading period. One day I was in a money-saving mood and added up what I was spending every year for magazines. Hundreds of dollars. Every day of the year the mail carrier would deliver a couple of magazines. I struggled to keep up, but it was wonderful. There was always something new in Newsweek, something to learn in Science News, and tips on the business world in Business Week. The pictures in National Geographic were wonderful, and that was the last print magazine to come to the house in my name.

Back in Jamestown High School all students took Civics in their junior year. Mr Krivobok taught us everything we needed to know about the US Constitution, voting, how congress works, and how to keep up with all the political happenings in the world. You know how there are some teachers you love? The ones who teach you lessons that stick for a lifetime, that show you how even a low-life like me can succeed and be happy in this world. I’ve had several of them, Ms Bowen, Ms Frances, Mr Schnell. Krivobok is not on my favorites list. Maybe some of my high school buddies can shed some light on this, but I just didn’t like him. Continue reading

California Sunburn

Eric writes:



After graduation from High School, Rick White and I took a two-week trip to the west coast to visit his family in Huntington Beach. That was quite the trip.

On the night of graduation, JoAnn and I and all our friends stayed out all night. We went up to Lookout Point Park to watch the sun come up. JoAnn and I talked all night about what we wanted to do with our lives now that we had graduated. We had no clue.

After taking JoAnn home, I went home. Rick came by and picked me up in his 1967 Camaro Rally Sport for our drive to California. It was a fun car. But every time I drove it, the engine would just quit after about an hour. Then Rick would take over and it would be fine. Strange.

It was a 24-hour drive to LA. Taking turns sleeping and driving, we did a straight through drive. When we got to the house, I was introduced to all Rick’s brothers and sisters (10 kids in the family). I was then given the car keys and Rick’s sister had a shopping list. We were off to the grocery store.

I was informed that there are “no guests here, everyone has a job” and I was assigned mine, too.

One morning I felt like going for a walk. I was gone for an hour or two just walking around. When I got back everyone else had gone to the beach. So I went out to the pool in the back yard and was enjoying swimming alone. I guess Rick’s Mom felt sorry for me. So she called a girl on the next block and asked if she would take me to the beach.

It turned out she was a girl that Rick’s brother had been trying to get a date with for quite some time. (She was VERY good looking). We went to the beach and swam and talked for a couple hours. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I also got the worst sunburn of my life.

That night we all packed up and drove to Disney Land to play. I wore blue jeans and it almost killed me. For the next few days. Rick’s little sister would sneak up behind me and slap me where I was burned. I don’t know if she liked seeing me in pain or what. But it hurt plenty.

— Eric H

Whistle while you garden

Jamestown ND 1954

Guy gardening

What a garden that was. The Pink House, as we called it, was on a lot along the river, on a short side street, along the alley. When I look at the city plat it’s clear that they had some trouble figuring out how to do that lot, ending up with about the same space that over a half dozen houses occupied across the alley. That left us room for a huge garden, just beyond the rabbit house.

Mom, Dad, and Grandma grew several kinds of vegetables in the garden, and I did love to help. The photo shows me pulling weeds, which I still enjoy doing today. My favorite vegetable in the garden was the kohlrabi. I’d pick one from the garden, pull off the leaves, and eat it right there in the back yard. Nobody I know likes them, so I haven’t tasted one in years.

Louie writes:

When we lived at 455 3rd street in Jamestown, we had a garden in which we raised some good vegetables.

Guy could take you through the garden after it started to come up and tell you the name of every vegie there. He was only about 3 years old then – but – if he was missing – the first place you looked for him was in the cucumber patch – he would eat them things right off the stem.

What I wanted to tell you about was one year the potatoes had some real big vines and that was a fair indication that under them there should be some big spuds. Continue reading

Naval Language


Jim (c) and two friends early in the war.

On first reading the title of this letter from Jim my thoughts went to cussing sailors. Then I thought, “Wait a minute! Jim wasn’t much of a cusser.” What’s the deal with this letter?

Jim tells the story of what he learned in Navy boot camp in 1941, a couple of months before World War II erupted into the American consciousness. In his own indomitable (one of his favorite words) way he relates boot camp not to the normal deprivations and indignities, but to the new words he had to learn. Naval Language.

Within the first paragraph  I was ready to learn new words for all sorts of things. Not this time. He learned his lesson well. On the surface, this letter is a lengthy list of definitions and new terms he learned in boot camp. He missed one term that I clearly remember him using after my first month at NDSU. I had moved in and had lived in the dorm for a couple of weeks before he had Air Guard drill in Fargo. He told me that he was eager to see my “quarters.” I couldn’t figure that out. I didn’t have a coin collection that amounted to anything. The few coins I had were mostly pennies. Why would he want to see my quarters? Oh. Naval Language for the place you slept.

All of the other terms Jim describes were quite familiar to me. Over the years he used every one of them many times. He was only one of thousands of WWII veterans that brought new language back to the states. Until reading this letter I didn’t know how much he really learned in boot camp.

Jim writes:

Boot camp or recruit training is a profound shock to most recruits because the navy begins its job of building men by destroying the identity they brought with them. Their heads are shaved. They are assigned numbers. The drill instructor is their Mother, Father, their God!

Continue reading

The Jamestown Post Office

Post Office and Court House, Jamestown, ND

Post Office and Court House, Jamestown, ND

The Jamestown ND Post Office is a big and beautiful old building. When I was in school, the post office took the main floor, the court rooms were upstairs. I never got upstairs, but driving past the post office these days brings up some pleasant memories. Maybe not quite pleasant, because the ones I’m thinking of today are of some stressful times.

Do you remember my story about taking lessons from the National Radio Institute to learn television repair? That involved a few dealings with the mail man. Money must have been important to me then, because that story and the next few stories all involve schemes to make money. Those damned ads in the back of comic books drew me in. One involved selling advertising trinkets to local merchants. Reading the ad made the process look so easy. Every little business needs to advertise, and these little matchbooks would sell themselves. That and a nickel would buy a cup of coffee at White Drug in downtown Jamestown. Not that an eleven year old kid drank much coffee. What did I know?

Undeterred, I picked up the little package at the post office and started my career in advertising. The kit included several sample matchbook covers and a catalog of other things business owners could use to increase their business. The package didn’t include the more expensive items, like coffee cups or pencils. I decided to specialize in matchbook covers. Everyone smoked in those days, so that would be an easy sell, eh? Continue reading

Making Sausage

Eric writes:



My first real job when I was in High School was working at Temptee Brand Steak Company in Arvada, Colorado. My job was to mix spices for the meats, prepare whole beef livers for thin slicing and cleaning of the plant after the days’ operations. I did that for almost three years. It was a pretty good job. My school schedule was pretty free because I would take summer school classes to get ahead. So, my senior year, I only had classes until noon. Then I would go to work in the afternoon and get home by six in the evening. Those were the days. I had lots of money to spend and no responsibilities other than school.

When I was in High School, I would never get my school homework done in the evening. So I would wake up at 5:00 AM. My mom would give me a ride to school. I would get there at six o’clock just as the outside doors were being unlocked. I would go up to the library and turn on the lights. I would sit there and study until class started about 8:00 AM. Seems like a strange study habit, but it worked for me. I got almost straight A’s in high school.

— Eric H

The Race Horse and Piano

Grace with the schoolteaher's horse.

Grace with the schoolteacher’s horse.

I’m going to focus on the musical “talent” Grace focused on in this letter. The horse makes a good story, and her sister Esther has a wonderful story about another horse they owned on the farm by the name of Topsy.

One important difference between my life as a child and my life now as a parent and grand parent is the presence of music. As Grace writes in this letter, she wasn’t much of a singer. There wasn’t much music in the household. She passed that missing music trait down to me as a total and complete lack of musical ability. I like to tell people the only musical instrument I’ve mastered is a CD player.

In the seventh grade all the kids in our junior high school class had to take part in at least one music class. Mine was the “Glee Club,” which I loved. We had a lot of fun learning old favorites. Every now and then I catch myself singing the Caisson Song, or the Happy Wanderer. Try and get that ear worm out of your head now. I’ll wait.

To get into the Glee Club, each of us had to spend a few minutes with the director to figure out which part we could sing. I failed miserably. He played a scale and all I had to do was sing along. I thought he was going down the scale. I was wrong.

Not long after that I got the music bug and tried to learn, but the raw talent just wasn’t there. I’ve had to console myself with the ability to play a CD or Pandora. We have a beautiful old piano played by the grand kids, and Judy’s Irish band practices in the living room regularly. There’s almost always some sort of music happening here.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Grace writes:

Dear ones,

The year I was in sixth grade two very exciting things happened. The lady who had been teaching our school needed a place to store her piano and board her horse. What kind of a deal Mama made with her I don’t know but we had the horse several years and then had her colt to keep. Continue reading