A look at
Minonk's past

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Walking to Grade School

By Barth Weistart

The first year of school in the forties was a memorable time in a Minonk students life. We didn't get on buses to take us to school. We walked. It was the first time we were able to prove ourselves. First, our parents trusted us to do something on our own; then we had to cross a major highway (Route 51) looking out or cars and trucks; and finally we had to find the school (on time, I might add). There were many chances for adventure and fantasies.

After the first day when I was introduced to my teacher Mrs. Healy and a few subsequent days when I was accompanied to school by my older brother Jerry, I was left to find my own way. The adventure began. I left by our back door. Down the steps of our wooden porch, past our garden, and down our neighbor Jochum's backyard drive to the alley. Directly behind the Jochum's property lived the Lutjens. The short cut was up the Lutjen's walk and past their house. One always feels guilty trespassing on other peoples property, but it was a short cut. I could duck down as I passed their back door to ensure they didn't see me or if they were in their yard, I could take the long way around. In time, I realized they had to know someone cut through their yard from the prints in the newly fallen snow. They were good people in their tolerant attitude toward kids.

Across Oak Street were the railroad tracks. The Santa Fe switching tracks which tied into the Illinois Central Line were first. There were hardly ever any trains on this section of track to impede the trek to school. The first obstacle was near at hand. In between the switching tracks and the Illinois Central line was a low area from which dirt had been scooped to make the railroad bed. In wet weather this area was a bog but it had to be crossed. As careful as one might be, one would often end up at school with a shoe full of water. Once a plank "fell" from a train car and became a causeway across the bog. It was a great crossing as long as it lasted.

West of the Illinois Central tracks was another dug out area. Here the incline was steeper. It was at least three times higher than I was (in later years it must have filled in because it didn't seem as steep). One had to slide down the steep railroad embankment and then climb the embankment to the highway (Route 51). This was especially treacherous with snow on the ground. The snow would pile up against the railroad embankment and had to be transversed. I remember several times when the snow was up to my waist. Mom would suggest that I follow the plowed road but of course I couldn't because then I wouldn't have stories to tell.

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In the southwest corner of the dug out area near the top of the embankment leading to the Santa Fe tracks, someone had removed a section of dirt. This was the perfect site for a fort. Someone (probably Larry Bearss or Dishingers) had built a covering over the spot. This was the place for our WWII activities. We could hold off all kinds of invaders. At least until Patton relieved us or it was time for supper. This whole area has since been filled in and a medical clinic has been built over it.

The trail to school crossed Route 51 and proceeded west on 7th Street along the Santa Fe tracks to the depot. After school, this was the place we picked up The Streator Times Press papers for delivery to our customers. I felt that this was a place I knew. The station master, Mr. Stevenson, was stern but fair. In winter, having come 2 blocks and still having the same distance to go before reaching school, we would stop at the station and ask if we could warm up by the fire. I don't know if we stopped because it was cold or because I wanted to show my friends we had a place to warm up on the way to school. Mr. Stevenson would let us into the waiting room if it was quite cold, no passengers were in the waiting room, and we didn't have snow all over us that would melt and drip on the floor. If we didn't meet these standards, we were not allowed in to warm up.

Continuing west on 7th Street, we would cross Walnut to Lincoln. 7th continued as an alleyway past the Santa Fe Elevator. The Elevator was operating in the early 1940's but then came into disuse except for storage. On our way home from school in August, 1947, we noticed some men running in and out of the Elevator. One of the neighbors said the Elevator was on fire. Soon we heard the fire truck and siren. We were told to get at least a half block away to make room for the firemen. At that distance smoke coming out the top of the elevator was evident. I ran home to tell my mother who returned with me to a full fledged fire. We watched the fire burn caving the Elevator inward as it went. As it got dark, we started for home but the fire burned into the night. Next morning only smoldering ruins remained.

A connecting alley leading south took us right to the school. The alley was seldom used when we were walking to school. When a car did come down the alley we stepped out of the way and eyed it with suspicion.

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Going home after school was a horse of a different color. Time was not a concern so different routes could be taken. One route was east on 5th. At Fifth and Walnut, in the IOOF Building, was the Gardner Hatchery. Dave Gutherz pointed out that a girl from our class worked there. He thought her name was Susan. Now, you would have thought I knew the other seven kids in the class but it was first grade and I was just learning. I went into the Hatchery and asked her father if I could see Susan. She showed me some incubator chicks and we talked. Her father soon said Susan had work to get done so I left. I thought Susan was lucky and talented to have such an important job. I returned several times but Susan was generally busy and I was probably making a pest of myself. At Chestnut we would either head north past all the stores or cross Route 51 where the student patrol stopped the traffic for us. At Gregorich Store corner (5th and Oak), we turned north for home.

Another way home was east on 6th Street. In the northeast corner at Walnut was a corral, blacksmith shop, and stable. The corral was torn down shortly after I started school but it had played an important role in prior history. Two of my aunts, Katie and Lena Barth, would drive a buggy to Minonk from their farm eight miles west of town. The buggy was parked and the horse turned loose in the corral. Both girls would walk to High School for classes. Later my aunt Lela Barth and a neighbor Edna Sullivan would be driven to school by another neighbor Jessie Underwood. The horse belonged to the Sullivans and the buggy belonged to the Barth's. Jessie would keep the horse and buggy at his place during the week and would return them to their proper owners for the weekend. The corral was important to these people and I'm sure to many other farm families.

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Going north in the alley between Walnut and Chestnut one would come to the Leffers Building. On the right side of the building next to Youngs Chevrolet were rolls of fence wire which were a ready made climbing obstical for kids. We were warned many times to stay away from the pile. Over the years the pile of wire flattened. I'm not sure if the heat or humidity caused it's demise. Of course it could have been the generation of kids who followed us. On the other side of the Leffer's property next to Sweney's Gas Station was a drive that trucks could pass through to get a load of rocks, sand and other building materials. On the Chestnut side of the drive was a billboard that remained for many years with varying advertisements. Many were for tobacco products as Lucky Strikes, Red Man, Chesterfields, Beechnut, etc.

Whichever way we came home, it was always the same-across the Santa Fe tracks and down the alley between Locust and Oak north of 7th. In spring, the alley was wet and muddy and in winter, it was slippery. We should have worn boots more than we did because it seems we always had socks drying by the heat. The whole trip to grade school was only five blocks but for a first grader it was an adventure into the WORLD.