March 27, 2021 – West Bend, Wi – Dave Bohn was born just a few months after the stock market crash; he grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930’s on a farm just south of West Bend on Highway P. In addition to having dairy cows and growing grain, his parents raised chickens and sold eggs. Here is a story Dave wrote about a trip he took to Chicago with his brother Tom when he was about 10 years old.
Back in the early 1940’s, the Cooley Bros Farm Implement dealer, who sold International Harvester farm equipment in the West Bend area, were taking their local farm customers on a trip to Chicago for a trade show that displayed the International Harvester farm equipment to Midwest farmers.
Dad did some business with them, but we had an Oliver tractor, so I know he didn’t buy the tractor from them because Cooley Bros only dealt in International Harvester. He probably did buy a hay loader, or maybe a manure spreader, or corn planter. My dad did have some International Harvester equipment, just not the tractor.
Click HERE for historic photos from International Harvester.
Dad thought my brother Tom and I should go to see all the new machinery on the market. I think I was about 10 or 11 years old and my brother was probably 12 or 13 years old.
I don’t think we were any older because the US had not entered WWII yet.
Click HERE to look at West Bend’s Industrial Railway Hub (circa1950)
Early one Saturday morning, the two of us boys, who had never traveled before, went to the train station in West Bend and boarded the train with a small group of area farmers. There were probably 5 or 6 farmers from the area that went with us.
My brother, Tom, remembers that a friend of my dad’s, Lester Nehrbass, went along and was to keep an eye on us. Lester was our milkman, who picked up our milk each day and lived two farms away from us, so he knew us pretty well.
I don’t recall that Lester went along, but it probably is accurate, as it would be hard to imagine my parents letting us travel on our own at that age. Prior to this trip, the furthest from home we had ever been was to Berlin, Wisconsin, which was where my mom’s family lived and then, we traveled by car with our parents.
We had never been on a train before and never been to Chicago. I remember the train stopped several times on the way to pick up passengers. I’m sure my brother and I just sat in our seats the entire train ride because we were scared to be on our own. Speaking for myself, this trip was frightening! Going to the big city of Chicago was earthshaking for two young West Bend farm boys. With only the two of us, how would we ever find our way back?
Once we arrived in Chicago, there were more people moving around than I thought were in the entire world. We tried to stay near the people who we were with on the train trip. We looked around some, but always stayed in sight of someone we knew. We ate in a restaurant for the first time in our lives.
After checking out the new farm machinery, we did go to the museum. I think it was the Field Museum. We may have followed someone we knew over to the museum. We saw the bones of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.
All these things and all the action of a big city was beyond belief for us. We had occasionally gone to downtown Milwaukee to buy clothes for me because my mom couldn’t find clothes in West Bend, as I was kind of a fat kid, but Chicago was unreal for Tom and me. Two young boys off the farm, far from home and all alone.
Somehow, we did make it back to the train station at the end of the day. We probably followed someone, but when I think back on it, those farmers from West Bend probably needed someone to watch over them too, as this was probably a big trip for them as well. The day did come to an end and we boarded the train for the three-hour train trip back home, thinking of all the excitement of the day, but glad to be back home again with our mom and dad.