Jim McGuire shares memories

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Jim McGuire recollects childhood memories of growing up in Guttenberg during the nation's great drought and experiencing the celebration of the end of World War II. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Jim McGuire, son of Leon and Valeria McGuire, was born Aug. 29, 1936. He grew up approximately five miles north of Guttenberg, on what is now known as the Pattison farm, on the Great River Road with his brother, Jerry, and sister, Phyllis.

Childhood memories and school days

McGuire recollected his childhood. "I was born during the great drought. I went to St. Mary's School for seven years. I stayed in town with my grandparents during the school year. My brother and I did take a horse and buggy a couple of times, and left the horse in the stable by the school. He was older and could manage the horse.  Later on I switched to country school up Buck Creek, so I could help the folks on the farm," he said.

He laughed, "It was actually kind of comical – eight grades in one room with one teacher. Going from St. Mary's to country school was a lost cause."

McGuire recalled memories of the drought: "I remember the folks herding the cattle down to the Mississippi River to eat and drink on the islands and along the banks of the river." 

He described an average day on the farm. "When I was young I would gather up the eggs. My parents gave me an easy cow to milk. The chores became harder and more numerous as we aged. You didn't have much time to get in trouble. If you did beware!" he exclaimed.

The Christmas parade

McGuire thought back, "I remember Jim Eberhard and I each had a little Shetland pony. We rode our ponies to town and participated in the Christmas parade down River Park Drive. The parade ended at the municipal building and Santa Claus was there. It was a big deal. Dean Lamphier, who was the announcer for WMT, interviewed people and then broadcast it over WMT live."

Saturday night entertainment

He spoke of an active community. "Back in the day, if you came to Guttenberg on a Saturday night, River Park Drive, First and Second Street were bumper to bumper. The farmers would all come to town. Women did their weekly shopping and the kids would play in the park while the men sat in the tavern. The Princess Theater was in operation seven days a week – two shows a day. People stood in line down to Kuempel and Lake Hardware to get a ticket. Lakeside's parking lot was always full. The year of the big flood there were planks laid down so people could get inside to hear Lawrence Welk play. I guess they walked the plank!" he said with a laugh.     

Teenage years and adulthood

"Back when I was growing up we had Pioneer Wood Products, which was owned by Bill Kann. My first job was at Iowa Produce – the egg factory," he said

McGuire attended school until his freshman year. He thought back, "I started my freshman year at St. Mary's. I remember one cold and snowy day my mom was picking corn by hand. I thought of her cold and working so hard, and there I sat comfortable and warm in school. I decided I needed to quit school to help out on the farm – so I did."

"On my sixteenth birthday we came home from church and saw smoke. We lost most of the farm.We had a summer kitchen some 30 feet from where the house sat. We stayed there until we sold all the livestock. The summer kitchen had a stove for baking.  It was where the wives did the laundry with an old ringer washer. Nothing automatic. We set up beds and had heat from the stove. We had our selling-out sale the day before Thanksgiving. It was a terrible day," he shared.

McGuire began his tour of duty in the Navy in February of 1954 and earned his high school diploma through the USAFI course aboard ship. He proudly shared, "I passed all the tests the first time in three hours."

Looking back, McGuire said, "I met my wife at Lakeside. I spent the majority of my adult life in the insurance business. I started out as an adjuster and ended up as an agent. We had four children, three girls and one boy."

Milwaukee Railroad

McGuire shared an interesting story about the railroad: "The Milwaukee Railroad, in the 40's and 50's, had a depot in the vicinity of where the railroad equipment is parked today. Passengers departed and arrived at the depot along with the arrival of the daily mail. The only communication from conductor to conductor was a message that was secured to a string stretched between to slim wooden sticks resembling fingers. The conductor would grab it from his post in the caboose and pass the information on to the engineer." He added, "There was a water tower that set on the railroad property and was used to refill the reservoirs in the steam engines."

The end of WWII

He clearly recalled the community-wide celebration the day WWII ended. "The church bells rang and the whistles blew. People were celebrating all over town. Eventually the soldiers returned to the community — many of them with visible wounds," he commented.

Ben Dorweiller

McGuire admired Ben Dorweiler, who was a janitor at St. Mary's Church and school. In addition to his janitorial duties, Mr. Dorweiler also hauled the mail from the depot to the post office, which was located by Moxie's. He also dug graves for the two Catholic cemeteries by hand. "In the winter, after the frost had penetrated into the ground, Ben would shovel off the snow and start a fire using railroad ties and an assortment of other wood scraps. He would wait until the fire softened the ground before digging the grave with a pick and shovel. He was quite a man," he said with admiration. 

McGuire compiled a list of eight taverns, seven grocery stores, and seven gas stations that were in business simultaneously during his formative years.  He relived an era when you could see a movie for a quarter, and the local swimming pool was an area of the Mississippi River roped off at the east end of Haydn Street.

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