Remembering Ely in the 40s and 50s

We have received an email from Lloyd Duffe, a long-time Ely resident who now lives in Columbia, South America. He tells of growing up in Ely in the 1940s and 50s.

10-18-13 Letter from Lloyd Duffe who lived in Ely for many years.

Trying to recall and write about the past is good medicine at times and I should try to push myself a little harder in this regard. This bit of writing and recall made me think back to the 40´s and 50´s in Ely and some of the things that took place that I am sure are not recorded and there are all too few left that would remember this time.

One interesting one, is the Summer of 1944 when a large group of Mexican´s were working on the Rock Island railroad both North and South from Ely. A side track was built along the rail line behind Vavra Lumber where their bunk and mess cars were located. I am not sure of the exact number of workers, but think it was close to 50 including foremen and workers who ranged in age from 16 to high 60´s.  I delivered news papers to several supervisors there on Sundays, when I had the paper route in town for the Des Moines Register. I got to know several of the younger ones well. I helped several learn to dog paddle in two excellent swimming holes in Rogers and Hoosier creeks near town that Summer. I could not walk by either tavern on Saturday without someone in this group of workers buying me a soda or ice cream cone. It was quite a Summer for a 12 year old. Many evenings and especially on Saturday night, there was guitar music along Main Street, in front of Les Philips and Rusty´s Tavern.

Pay day and Saturday night had the younger ones having the telephone central operator call for taxies to take them to Cedar Rapids and the brighter lights. The older one´s were more prone to be satisfied with Main Street Ely and be able to take the majority of their pay back to their families. Early nylon shirts and trousers were already in mode that summer and the younger workers liked to splurge on some quite expensive and wild color combinations they would come back with from their trips to Cedar Rapids.

Another thing that really livened up the town was the Tuesday night once-a-week movie. I worked for the fellow who ran this traveling theater for the better part of two years. Unfortunately I do not recall his name. He had a route of small towns in the area, where he and his wife put on weekly movies. She ran a pop corn machine and the movies were held in the old Legion Hall. My job was to set up the benches and chairs, take them down and clean up the place the next day. In the Winter, I stoked the two pot belly stoves, that was the hall's only heat.

Movies were extremely popular even though the majority were Cowboy & Western. Especially when the intermission drawing got up to 25 or more dollars - that was a lot of money at the time! Anyone who ever attended a movie signed a guest book and a number was placed in a wooden draw box. Five dollars was added progressively each week. If the person's number that was drawn was not in attendance, the following week's drawing went up another five dollars. Let the prize get up to 30 or 40 dollars and there weren´t enough seats for all the people coming to the movie in the hopes of walking off with a big prize. Many wives from the countryside would also come to town on Tuesday evenings to shop at the Sladek grocery store.

The Odd Fellows Lodge was extremely active in the 40´s and 50´s and their meetings were always on Tuesday evenings. At one time, Ely was the 7th largest Lodge in the State with a larger membership than the population of the town. I personally was signed up at 18 years of age like almost everyone else of this age group in the community and surrounding countryside. Sixty-three years later there are less than 20 of us still left and meetings are no longer held on any regular basis. Those in the community try to get together for a luncheon once a year to renew old times. Dick Netolicky was in charge of this for years and I think Bud Lingel, now handles what is left of Lodge functions.

The last graduation class in Ely High School was in 1945. After that students from the immediate area attended surrounding schools at Solon, Shueyville, Mt. Vernon or Cedar Rapids Schools until Prairie Schools started the first High School classes about 1957.

During the late 40´s a big thing for the farm boys and even myself living in town, was the Putnam Pals 4H Club. Living on what was my parents acreage on Fuhrmeister Street, we had room for livestock and I raised Hereford baby beef cattle to show at the All Iowa Fair for 3 years. The club had two basketball teams for several years. The younger members had a few games with surrounding area 4H Clubs. In 1949 and 1950 the older member team was made up of some of us in High School and a couple players that had just graduated from school. Over this two year period we played anyone we could schedule a game with; other clubs, church league teams in Cedar Rapids, Legion Clubs against older players and an occasional High School team. Right now, I think the only two left from this group are Bernard Erenberger and myself. I always considered Bernie the best player on our team. He played a lot of basketball and baseball at old Wilson High in Cedar Rapids. Others that rounded out this team were Bob & Richard Netolicky, Vernon Erenberger and myself. We played 30 games during the Winters and Springs of 1949-50 winning 29 or them. The only loss was when Bernie was absent because Wilson High had a game the same night he was committed to.

As I seem prone to usually do, I have managed to rattle on considerably and it is more than time to close.
 - Lloyd Duffe

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