Lefty Ulrickson

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Guy and Louie in the back yard at the Pink House

Louie had several jobs as a teenager. The one that interested me the most was the job working for the railroad. He started with the easy, physical tasks, eventually moving to hostler and watchman, driving steam engines at the end of the line.

I’ve always been fascinated by steam locomotives. As a six-year-old child I would disappear from the house now and then, found later by Mom or Grandma over in the rail yards watching trains being switched. I’ve already written about my time in the engine house and at the docks where they loaded coal, water and sand into the steam engines.

Louie had the misfortune of getting a job at the railroad near the end of the steam era. In the old days a steam engine needed service at least every one hundred miles. The new diesels, brought on-line in big numbers in the early fifties, could run hundreds of miles without refueling. The automobile and better highways ate into passenger traffic, meaning railroads had to shrink. With service, freight, and passenger traffic dropping, Jamestown would never be a hub of railroad activity again. The hundreds of employees shrank to almost nobody by the time I left town.

Louie was proud of having learned to drive a steam locomotive, even if it was just around the Y. If you’ve ever seen inside the cab of one of those machines you’d understand why he was proud.

Louie writes:

My first real job in Jamestown was with the North American Creamery managed by “Lefty” Ulrickson.

I was hired as a flunky, helping deliver pop, ice cream and beer to local businesses.

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Naval Language

WWII Navy

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!

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Home Made Roast Chicken

Louie's older brother. Perhaps they were cooking a chicken?

Louie’s older brother. Perhaps they were cooking a chicken?

I was a Boy Scout. My memories of scouting are discouraging at best. The first memory involves a little deception, and the second revolves around a camping trip to somewhere, possibly in Minnesota. Being a clueless kid, much like Louie in the attached letter, I had not been educated in the finer points of cooking. After setting up the tents, I went about cooking my hamburger for dinner. The concept of defrosting frozen food had not occurred to me before that date. Hilarity ensued.

Louie writes:

Back to when I was in my early teens.

There were about 7 or 8 families that had kids that hung out together and earned the name of “The Alley Rats”. I had the honor of being a member of this fine organization.

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