This is part 2 of what will be a three part article. If you haven’t read the first part, you can catch it here.
Let me take a moment from the stories and profile James at this time. First of all he was rarely called James and sometimes Jas which was a common shortened version of James. All called him Jim to my knowledge. Jim was smart and quick witted. He was very good with numbers, enjoyed a wide sense of humor, and could be playful. There wasn’t much he could not build, be it a rabbit hutch or a farm shed or com crib or pig crate. He had extensive tools which were frequently displaced by his sons. (Some how John and I managed to lose over twenty hammers on the farm much to our fathers amazement. We lost 12 hammers in one summer. Both of us have no idea what happened to them.) Jim possessed strong ethics and a moral sense although he rarely preached it. He was an excellent example for me.
He dearly loved my mother and rarely had arguments, at least in front of us. He could get angry but not often. He had a strong sense of the way life should be lived and in the old days felt obligated to mention it to someone who did not measure up. He was true to his philosophy of success all his life which was to work as hard as you can and success will follow. It never brought him the financial success he wanted and would change this philosophy to working smart and having an education. He was fascinated by the law and spent free time just sitting in court rooms and watching trials. His fine sense of justice may well have been honed there. He was never accusatory and had a strong sense of fair play. He did not appreciate those who cheated or were dishonest in getting what they wanted.
He rarely went to church although he viewed himself as a Christian. He was pretty independent in his own way. He was an excessive worrier which at times for him became almost pathological. He expressed that this worrying was his biggest curse but he could not help it. He was a moderate drinker and liked to drink from the top shelf, coke and 7 Crown seemed to be a favored drink.
He never laid a hand on us children, ever.
What follows now are some favorite stories about my father that impacted me and who I am as well as illuminate aspects and character of Jim FuIlmer.
The first story has to do with building a small barn in Westfield for my sister’s horses. Dad always hired someone to help and that person was frequently an older man named Charlie Rabbitt. He was a carpenter with few teeth, smoked a com cob pipe, and was a fascination to us kids. I do remember that my dad wanted to treat Charlie for a good days work but Charlie explained that, while he would like to, his wife expected him home. I remember dad saying to mother that Charlie was not wearing the pants in his family and maybe he should have a talk with him about being the head of the family. This was a common theme in those days and men did not hesitate to inform other men if they were too controlled by their wives. The other part of this story has to do with me and the profound ignorance of a 7 year old. Watching the building very closely and probably asking too many questions about it I wondered why the roof boards were longer on one side and quite short on the other side. With all seriousness on my fathers part, he explained that the lumber yard had sent the wrong sized boards for half of the roof and they would just have to make do with what was sent. Somehow this seemed like a completely valid explanation and I adopted it until I was near 30 years old, driving through Westfield and looking at the barn and wondering why he didn’t just send the short boards back. All of a sudden it dawned on me that my dad was not being sincere with me and that one half of the roof needed to be shorter to accommodate large sliding doors. I felt like an idiot for holding on to the understanding of a 7 year old for so long.
The next story has to do with breakfast which was very similar every morning. Mom tried to give us kids some variety and some of the time we cooperated. Dad, however, had pancakes and sausage almost every morning and they were our favorite as well. One morning on the farm we were sitting around the breakfast table, goofing around and were scolded by mom. We straightened around because dad would get involved if we ignored mom and we did not want that. While concentrating on behaving, a pancake zoomed across the table and hit John full on his face. We both sat stunned until we saw a flicker of a smile on dad’s face and the pancake battle began. I am sure John and I lost but we were so surprised that dad stepped out of character and started a food fight that I can recall the moment to this day 50 years later.
A similar story occurred when we first moved to the farm on Russell Flats. Exploring the 230 acres I found a old dump pit next to a pine grove my grandfather planted years before. I promptly claimed this land for my own and wrote out a deed for dad to sign. Now we needed a hut on it and John and I were trying to figure out how to build one. Sharing our problem with dad at a time when he was trying to get the farm up and running, he surprised us by suggesting we take one of the old chicken coops up on the hill, clean it out and use that. The idea was perfect except for one thing, we would have to take it apart and rebuild it. NO, said father. Lets put some log skids under the building and haul it up there with the tractor and he dropped everything and we did it. The “Hut” remained our treasure and when it finally collapsed a few years ago, John called to let me know. It was one of the most special things my father did for us.
Christmas is a time for giving and I never challenge that premise. Our Christmases were quite traditional and it was always noted when a card with three angels on it was placed on every tree. It was the only thing my father contributed and it belonged to his mother. One Christmas my father was frustrated at never having the money to get his children everything they wanted. This Christmas he decided to spend the money anyway and we got tons of toys and things. I do think it was everything we wanted. Now I know that doing this is not always a good idea but I felt wonderful as did my siblings. We still remember that Christmas to this day and appreciated the tremendous effort that dad put into it. We even remember what the gifts were to this day.
I have tried to reconstruct the course and times of Dad’s life and it has been harder than I thought it would be. I did find mention of him on a census list of 1920 and 1930. In 1930 he was listed as a 19 year old hired man on the Albert and Bertha Bartz farm in Springfield Township of Marquette County. According to notes that mom made, Jim moved to Fort Atkinson in 1935 and worked for Jule Marachowsky who apparently owned grocery stores and furniture stores. He began dating mom while she was at the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing. Details of just how they got started seeing each other are no longer clear to me or my siblings but her father’s farm was only a few hundred yards from the Old Frank Russell farm where dad was working. John remembers mom telling him that she met him during a double date, dad being with someone else. We all suspect that James and Anna Maude Hamilton probably had someone other than my father in mind for their only child and daughter. Nonetheless, they were married June 6th, 1936 in style and fashion with an elaborate reception on the Hamilton farm. They must have moved very soon to Fort Atkinson, WI where Jim’ s brother Harley lived.
Apparently he took over a Pure Oil service station in 1937 and had it for one year. This was the time of the nasty labor strikes in Fort Atkinson that involved goon squads. Strikers were often attacked on the picket lines by hired thugs or security men hired by the company they were striking against. The union responded by bringing in some very large and nasty tempered “goons” to walk the picket lines in place of the workers. Dad told me of one day when a dangerous gathering was taking place on the street where Dad had parked his car. A number of these “goons” were gathering and waiting for orders. Some were sitting on Dad’s car. He wanted to get his car out of there but didn’t want any trouble. One of the nastier looking individuals noticed him and asked what the problem was. He explained that he wanted to get his car out of there if he could. The fellow ordered everyone off his car and they made a gauntlet so he could get it out of there to safety. Dad said he could have kissed this fellow. The strikes ended the future in Fort and Jim and Ruth moved to Westfield to run a Phillips 66 station in 1938. Daughter Mary arrived in 1938.
W.W.II arrived in 1941 but Jim was exempted from service because of his rubber vulcanizing skills. In 1941 they moved to Watertown to work for Marachowsky and ran a service station in the area of the M&I Bank and David Paint store. He also was hired nights by the Technical school to help train machinists. He told me he knew very little about training machinists but knew slightly more than his students. Daughter Jean came along in 1942 and we are not sure but they must have moved back to Westfield in early 1944. Sister Mary was helpful here because she remembers being thrown out of the Watertown movie theater because she got so upset when Bambi’s mother was killed. She remembers mom and dad taking her immediately for ice cream to calm her down.
In Westfield they rented what we refer to as the Andrew Anderson’s house which was right across the highway from Jim’s new Pure Oil service station, known as the Parker Brothers station. Both buildings are still standing just south of the fairgrounds on Cty M. I arrived in late 1944 and brother John in late 1945. Around this time he was elected to the Westfield School Board and served in this capacity until the early 1950s. Mary remembers when he took a very strong stand supporting a teacher and against a family whose son had been disciplined and wanted the Board to fire Lulu Sanford, the teacher that we all have had. This time period was a difficult one for Westfield schools. Around 1950 we moved in town to a classic old house now owned by Ray Locke and while a garage has been added, the horse bam is still there. Dad leased a Standard Oil service station on the north end of old Hwy 51, across from Galligher Garage from Judd Clark. What was unique about this station is it had a picnic area and a small trout pond with hugh trout. I have run into a few people who used to travel through Westfield when they were kids with their parents and wanted to stop to see the trout. One time, or maybe more, someone stole all the trout during the night. My father just laughed as they were fed liver from the local meat market and probably tasted like nothing that was eatable. In 1956 we bought the Zuehlke farm which neighbored mom’s farm and moved during the summer. Later it was explained to us by mother that dad was under too much stress and was worrying too much and they bought the farm for a change of life.
Life on the farm generated many, many stories but let me share a couple. I was dating this cute girl Joanie who lived just down the hill from us. I was 16 and had my drivers license and after spending an evening with Joan I took a long time to say goodnight to impress upon her how much I liked her. If I had to be home by 10 PM then I left Joan’s at 9:59. To impress her parents with my maturity, I drove out of their driveway very carefully. Once on the road, I floored the gas pedal all the way up the hill and gently coasted down our driveway. One summer evening, convinced that my father could not possibly know what I was doing, he and John were sitting on the porch. I casually walked up and calmly sat down next to them. Silence! Then my father spoke evenly, “Say John, do you think that car can stand much more roaring up the hill like that?” It never dawned on me that of course he could hear me coming every time. Nothing more was said, it didn’t need to be.
A similar story had to do with John and myself running for the tractors whenever dad left for town or the mill. We would race the tractors all over the farm. We were confident that dad never knew. Years later around the thanksgiving table we began telling stories of our adventures on the farm. John and I shared our racing stories and proudly proclaimed no one every knew. “Oh, you damned fools, of course I knew. I would come home and walk down to check the cows and find the whole pasture torn up with tractor tracks. How could I not know?” John and I looked at each other acknowledging how stupid we were. The point was, dad never said anything or very little, letting us boys be boys.
One of those “you had to be there” stories began simply enough. Times were rough on the farm for dad. He was trying to farm when most small farms were going out of business. He would eventually have to give it up as well. Before that happened, however, the three of us were putting a window fabric over a broken window of a shed. Dad and John were inside, I was outside. All of us on a ladder. Dad told me to be careful as this fabric would tear easily and as we were struggling to get it into place, dad said to guide it a little but not to touch it with the stick I was using. I said “You mean like this?” I meant to tap lightly but the stick went right through and must have poked through right in dad’s face. I said “Ooops” but there was no noise from the inside. Instinctively I knew what that meant and I jumped off the ladder and was running full tilt as my father burst forth from the shed door with John behind him. We were laughing so hard we didn’t get far and collapsed on the lawn with my father playfully pummeling us. It was a great moment.