He’s Rich, He’s Got It Made
As kids growing up in old South Dakota we often-heard older people say, boy old man Thorpe sure is rich, he’s got it made. They would say this is about the number of the people in the northeast part of South Dakota.
After we lost our beautiful farm in the mid 1930’s we moved to a small town about twenty-five to thirty miles away, Briton it was a county seat. It had a good railroad through town and west of town about three to four miles another train came through each day. This was in the height of the bid depression. To make it worse there was about a seven-year period of very little rain and lots of tornadoes. You will all remember the dust storms when all the people were leaving Oklahoma, Texas, and all of the states in the mid west unemployment reached thirty percent or more. I remember dad getting a job on the State Highway Dept. for twenty-five cents per hour. Can you imagine that, but very few people had good jobs. Donna says her dad got $25 a week working as a druggist in Aberdeen. He was considered to have a really good job. Our little town of Britton had a big sign on the out skirts of town saying population 1600. Britton was a busy town we had 4 or 5 blacksmith shops, five or 6 big grain elevators, a big stock yard, 3 of 4 taverns, and a big pool hall with a big card room. I remember old man Parker setting up card tables any place he could fit them. A good share of the farmers smoked, that pool hall got so smoky we used to open the back door, and also go up the steps and open the front door. The Milwaukee train came to Britton each day it would unload its freight and go up into North Dakota as far as Cogswell, then return in the late afternoon. The train was always busy as kids, we would get on the boxcars or inside them if they were open and ride up North and come back in the afternoons. The trains were always full of hobos. They were just people looking for work, we used to talk to them all the time. Lots of people would say, stay away from hobos, they are bad people, Hogwash.
Britton had a little auction every Wednesday that really brought a lot of people into town. All the cafes and taverns were real full. Don’t ask me were they got all their money, as most people had VERY little.
We also had two big Creameries in town. The Kilker Bros. ran one. Ed Kilker was a real good man, I would work for him as much as I could. Ed always had a nice car. If theweather were nice on Saturday, he would have me wash and polish. I would always get .50 cents, and man I thought that was a lot of money. In the mid-west the winters were always cold and there was lots of snow. Summers were always hot and dry no air conditioners in those days; they did have large fans in most stores. There were tornadoes and dust storms, somedays the dust would get so bad you could hardly see the sun. All the lakes East of Britton would dry up except part of Clear Lake. There must have been five or six big lakes up in the hills East of Britton.
The first house we lived in after leaving the farm was a big two-story house so poorly built, in some places you could see right through the walls. Like most people, we heated will coal, one big stove in the living room, and the cookstove in the kitchen. In the summer the kitchen was really hot, I don’t know how Mother stood it. We did have running water in the house, but no bathroom, just a big outhouse in the back, good thing we had a good supply of Sears catalogs for toilet paper. We lived in that house a few years, then Dad bought this real small house for $300. It was a one-bedroom. He started building lean-tos on the house almost right away. We used old Lumber grain doors for floors, tarpaper for the outside walls and roof Dad and Mother always had one or two cows and hundreds of chickens. They had a big garden, we raised potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. Every night during the summer months Dad and Mother would work in their garden, they were always working at something. Mother would wash all our clothes by hand. Later in the 1 930s she did get an old washing machine. It was in the 30s I got a good job after school was out, for a big farmer, Joe Grupe. There were quite a few Grupes around, all had nice big farms. I started work early May. Id work six days a week for $2.00 a day plus room and board. I slept in a bunkhouse. I loved that farm, the food was always good and there was plenty to eat. After working three summers I had saved $300, boy was I rich. I always loved motorcycles. I had my eye on this one old Harley, it was always parked down by the Phillips 66 station. But my Dad and Mother needed that money to build onto the house, so no Harley for me. But I always enjoyed helping my parents.
It seemed like Mother was always pregnant, so each year Dad would have to build another room onto the house. By the time Mother quit having kids, there were ten of us. Our house had a lean-to on each side. I always had a part time job after school. One ofthe best jobs was working at Nelson’s shoe shop. I learned the trade of shoe repair and harness repairing. I used this in later in life. After World War two, jobs were really hard to get, so shoe repair came in handy. I also learned sign painting, this really came in handy. In 195 1, Donna and I moved to Seattle, I got a very good job, painting signs.
As a kid in school, I usually had a few cents in my pockets. One thing I always remember was those big-malted ice cream cones you could buy at the drug store. In the mid 1930s you could get a big cone for 5 cents, later on they raised it to 10 cent, but you got a double dipped cone. To this day I still love malted mike cones, the only place I can buy them is at Wendy’s. They are a dollar now, still a good buy.
Let’s go back to the rich people. One of the first men I heard had it made, he was rich. His name was Howard Dakin, he owned a large 3-story brick building, in the basement was the pool hall and card room, also a large barbershop. I worked there also. I polished shoes after school and on Saturdays. Shoeshines were 10 cents. When some big farmer would come in he would almost always give you a good tip. Seemed like every time I had some money saved up Dad and Mother would need it. So I never did buy a motorcycle till 1946. Howard Dakin always drove a beautiful car, in 1937 he bought this truly beautiful Roadster, cream color. I believe that car was the best in Britton. Howard always dressed well, always in suits. Whether Howard was really rich, I don’t know, but people said he was. When I saw his car, I always said that someday I would buy a car like that. Well now Donna and I have four cars one is a beautiful Jaguar we will keep this car forever. The others we might trade in someday. My VW Bug I also will never sell.
As kids we always said that the rich people always lived on the West Side of town, the rail roads split the town in two. The poor live in the south and the east. One of the richest if not the richest was Walter Thorp he owned the Thorp auto company they sold Chevy’s, Buick’s, and John Deer tractors, he was big. He had a large house in the northwest side of town. He also had a big farm east of Britton. Walter used to walk to work a lot, when he walked by the shoe shop I worked in, he would always wave, when he needed new heals or half soles on his shoes he would bring them into our store always a nice man to talk, very smart. I heard that he went to the university in Minnesota. When he died, I heard he left a lot of his money to the University. The Thorp farms were so large that they had there own auctions, people from all over the mid west would come tohis auctions. It would bring a lot of people to this part of the state. Yes, I would say Mr. Thorp was rich he had it made.
Most of the framers had large families and worked real hard, but very few were rich. Another man who had it made was Art Bonhan. He’s long gone. My dad said Art came to town on the train, he had no money but lots of brains and worked day and night, no forty-hour workweeks for him. Art seamed to be working every time you saw him. Art had a big grocery store with a large meat department. He had big farms north east of Britton he may have had farms elsewhere but I never heard of any. He raised beef, cattle, and hogs, which he would butcher and sell in his store. The profit had to be really good. I remember years ago when I was selling triumph motorcycles, I would buy parts direct from Big Parts Houses. Value Quick’s that sold for $5.85 each. I paid eighty-five cents each for them only one catch I had to buy in large quantities. But you can see the nice profit. Art also had a big café in Britton, in later years our mother worked there as a cook for one dollar per hour. Old Art would always tell his help at the café, when I die I will leave you girls plenty. When he died he left nothing to his mother and as far as I know nothing to anybody else. The rich devil may his soul burn in hell. He did have it made.
Rich just what does rich mean, theirs more in this world then just money. I know a wonderful man he had very little, worked hard all his life. When he died he left very little. But he was rich in many ways other then having a lot of money old Carl Wicker, most of the time he was lucky to have a few dollars in his pocket. Carl was a handy man, he could fix just about anything. During the time most other kids and I knew him he had a junkyard in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. He had a creamery; he bought farm products also old iron, copper, etc. He had all kinds of metals. As kids we would pick these metals up behind garages and on the city dump grounds. As kids we sold him this junk, he usually did not have all the money to pay us, he had a small book with all the kids names in it, he would say I owe you forty-five cents and on down the line to each of us kids. I will pay you when I sell the junk, he always paid us kids. Carl also had a tire business during the war years. Carl built his own tire molds. He could recap a tire, patch an old tire up so you could use it over and over again. I remember one time I saw an intertube say eighteen inches on one side and nineteen inches on the other. He would take pieces from other tubes to make one working tube. During the war years antifreeze was reallyhard to get. Old Carl made his own called Alaska this was a big flop, some farmers claimed Carl’s antifreeze wrecked their engines. He had many people mad at him, but most people got over it. Carl had too many good things going for him. Carl could play the piano and the organ really good. Mother always had an old pump organ. Whenever Carl would come to our house to fix something, he would drink mother’s coffee and play that old organ. Old Carl always smoked cigars, he was always seen lighting a cigar some said he lit more matches than cigars. During the start of the war I came to Seattle to work a few months before I went into the Navy. Cigars were real hard to buy. I had a chance to buy a whole box so I did and sent them to Carl. He never forgot that. Every time I would go back to Britton he would always thank me for those cigars. Old Carl was poor, but rich in many other ways. I would say in his own way he was rich and had it made.
All of us our rich if we believe in God and know Jesus as our savior. I know a lot of people who have very few material things. But there people are really rich, they believe in God and they try hard to live by his rules. They believe the bible and they keep watching for Jesus’ Second Coming, and he will come again so be ready.