All Hail the Return of Nonat!

Friends, do you suffer from boils?  carbuncles?  furuncles?  ingrown toenails?  embedded shards of glass?  chapped lips?  Then I have good news for you!

A recent issue of our Colfax County Press contained a startling advertisement – the return, after 60 long years, of the once-popular Czech healing salve called Nonat.

How many of you remember this miracle potion?  It was comprised of those well known medicinal ingredients – camphor, zine sulfate, and pure gum turpentine.  The active ingredients were combined with wax into a hard stick (cylindrical, I think), wrapped in a paper tube, and packaged in a little rectangular cardboard box:


(I remember our box being a dark green color, but that may have been because it was so old and discolored.)  Nonat was manufactured between 1914 and the early 1950s, when the Czech grandmother who made it passed away.

I suspect that few farmers’ medicine cabinets were without it.  Nonat was a type of drawing salve – a drawing salve is an ointment that can be used to treat a variety of skin inflammations. The ointment “draws out” problems such as infections, ingrown toenails, wood splinters, glass shards, and insect poison.   Anyone who worked outside a lot was likely to experience any and all of these insults.

We used Nonat sparingly, mainly to remove deeply embedded splinters, ones that were resistant to Mom’s probing with a needle.  A wooden match would be struck, and the flame used to melt a bit of the hard, waxy ointment.  The molten wax was dripped on the site of the wound, and covered with a Band-Aid.  A day or two or three later, the skin around the area would soften, swell a bit, and the splinter (and any associated infection) would miraculously emerge.  The pungent smell of camphor and turpentine assured you that the healing process was in full gear!

In our house, the name of this miraculous salve was pronounced “NO-nahth” – as if it was a Czech word.  I always assumed that it was because many English words we spoke had a Czech spin to the pronunciation.  But it turns out that Nonat is a Czech word, after a fashion.  Quoting from the Nonat website ( ):

“Nonat has its beginning in what is now the Czech Republic.  The formula was brought to this county in 1899, by a lady who  obtained it from a Doctor over there. She settled in Ohio and then in California where it was last produced and marketed in the 1950’s.  It had a definite market amongst East Europeans. 

The name Nonat was an intriguing name as the lady was of Catholic faith, and had a devotion to St. Anthony and is a jumble of the word Anton.

Father Leiblinger fondly remembers watching his grandmother make the salve many times over the years. She had many distributors throughout the United States, especially among Czech settlements. Father believes that the last time the salve was actually made was in the early ‘50s, just before Rose Miller passed away.”

I always wondered what happened to the little, half-used stick of Nonat that my parents kept on the shelf, and have often looked for it in country stores over the years, to no avail. Now comes the announcement that a new, improved Nonat is available once again, by mail or wherever fine products are sold.  It is made into a softer composition (no more dripping hot wax onto an injury) and now includes antiseptic and antibacterial ingredients as well.

Nonat is dead.  Long live the new, improved Nonat!


Posted in 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s | 4 Comments

A Toast to the Workers!

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.  – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I hope all of you are blessed with good, honest work and will have a fun and relaxing weekend.  In commemoration of Labor Day, I offer a pictorial tribute to some of the workers who built Our Town.

Butchers (Bohumil Beran Meat Market) ….

Bohumil Beran - Beran Meat Market (Stop Inn Cafe)

Farmers (a Brabec clan)….

Brabecs July 1941 a

Power Plant Operators  (City Hall Boiler Room, 1918)….

City Hall Boiler Room 1918


Clarkson Mill 1898

Lumber Dealers  (Crowell Lumber and Grain, 1899)…

Crowell Lumber & Grain Co 1899

Bankers (Farmers State Bank)….

Farmers State Bank 1

Meat Packers (Ferenc Slaughterhouse)…

Ferenc Slaughter House

Implement Dealers….


Livery Stable Operators (Gus Koza Livery Barn)….


Carriage Makers (both horseless and otherwise)…


Auto Dealers and Stunt Drivers….

IMG_0014Fajman Motor Co., Clarkson, advertised that Pre-War Prices are Beaten! A new Overland New Series Touring Car was listed at $595. The Overland is of sterling dependability and is an exceptionally good investment.   Other prices include: Chassis, f.o.b. Toledo, $485. Touring, f.o.b. Toledo, $595. Roadster, f.o.b. Toledo $595, Coupe, f.o.b. Toledo, $850. Sedan, f.o.b. Toledo, $895. (Colfax County Press, September 21, 1921)


Newspaper publishers…



Hoteliers (The Noh Hotel)….






Truck Drivers  (John Sousek’s Transport)…

Sousek Trucking


Saloon Keepers…






Hardware Store Owners (J.R. Vitek Hardware Store)….

J R Vitek Hardware Store


Mailmen (John Roether, rural mail carrier)…

John P Roether 1909


Furniture Store Owners (Joseph V. Fajman Furniture Store)….

Joseph V Fajman Furniture Store


General Merchandisers (Julius Wacha General Merchandise)….

Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store



Moon's Ranch


Ditch Diggers (sewer system construction, 1927)…

Sewer System Construction 1927


Construction Workers (grain silo construction, 1919)…

Silo Construction 1919

God give me work, till my life shall end
And life, till my work is done.

- Winifred Holtby

Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s | 10 Comments

Skeletons in the Shoe Store

Last week I posted a picture of a mysterious-looking wooden box and asked if anyone could guess its purpose and location.  It can now be revealed that the box is a…

Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope (ca. 1930-1955)



If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember that this was the “scientific” way to get a good fit on your new, stiff, leather shoes.  Nowadays, they are relegated to museums of medical curiosities.  What follows is a great description and pictures of this Infernal Machine, courtesy of Paul Frame of Oak Ridge Associated Universities (

Basic Description

The shoe fitting fluoroscope was a common fixture in shoe stores during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. A typical unit, like the Adrian machine shown here, consisted of a vertical wooden cabinet with an opening near the bottom into which the feet were placed. When you looked through one of the three viewing ports on the top of the cabinet (e.g., one for the child being fitted, one for the child’s parent, and the third for the shoe salesman or saleswoman), you would see a fluorescent image of the bones of the feet and the outline of the shoes.

According to Williams (1949), the machines generally employed a 50 kv x-ray tube operating at 3 to 8 milliamps. When you put your feet in a shoe fitting fluoroscope, you were effectively standing on top of the x-ray tube. The only “shielding” between your feet and the tube was a one mm thick aluminum filter. Some units allowed the operator to select one of three different intensities: the highest intensity for men, the middle one for women and the lowest for children.

shoeKIDS 001

Most units also had a push button timer that could be set to a desired exposure time, e.g., 5 to 45 seconds.  The most common setting was 20 seconds.


The Origin of the Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope

X-rays images of feet inside shoes and boots had been produced for a variety of reasons long before the invention of the shoe fitting fluoroscope.  Who actually invented the device is something of an open question  –   it is possible that it was invented independently by more than one individual.

There is a story to the effect that the first shoe-fitting fluoroscope was built in Milwaukee sometime around 1924 by Clarence Karrer who worked for his father, a dealer in surgical supplies and x-ray equipment. After selling several such units to shoe manufacturers and retailers, Karrer was asked by the Radiological Society of North America and some radiologists to stop because it “lowered the dignity of the profession of radiology.” Karrer complied, but another of his father’s employees quit the company and patented the device.  This “history” of the shoe fitting fluoroscope comes from a letter written by Peter Valaer in 1978. In the letter, Valaer recounts how he had a chance meeting with Karrer who told him the story.

There might be elements of truth here, but Valaer’s account is hard to reconcile with the information found in Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope  (Duffin and Hayter, 2000). The latter has to be considered the best historical account of the shoe fitting fluoroscope.


Although Duffin and Hayter are somewhat noncommittal, it is hard to read their article without concluding that Dr. Jacob Lowe, a Boston physician, has the strongest claim to the title, “inventor of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope.”  Lowe created his first fluoroscopic device for x-raying feet during World War I. By eliminating the need for his patients to remove their boots, the device sped up the processing of the large number of injured military personnel who were seeking his help. After the war he modified the device for shoe-fitting and showed it for the first time at a shoe retailer’s convention in Boston in 1920. Although he had applied for a patent in February, 1919, it wasn’t granted until January 1927.  Lowe assigned the patent to the Adrian Company of Milwaukee. The following is taken from an article on page 249 of the January 1, 1921 issue of the Boot and Shoe Recorder  (kindly provided by Michelle Cadoree Bradley):

“Foot-O-Scope to be at Milwaukee.  Will be part of Model Shoe Store Equipment. A New England device, the Foot-o-Scope, invented and perfected by J.J. Lowe of Boston, is to be part of the Model Shoe Store equipment at the Milwaukee convention of the N.S.R.A. This device, by means of its x-ray attachment, makes it possible to see the bones of the foot inside the shoe and shows clearly any deformation  or misplacement of the bony structure.”

At more or less the same time, a similar device known as the Pedoscope was invented in Great Britain. The patent for the Pedoscope (No. 248,085) was applied for in 1924 and granted in 1926. Nevertheless, in 1925 the Pedoscope Company claimed that their device had been “in continuous daily use throughout the British empire for five years.” (London Times, Dec. 31, 1925).


Contrast the preceding with the following quotes from Syl Adrian that appeared in the January 13, 1966 issue of the Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) Commonwealth Reporter:

“Mathew [Syl's brother] got the idea for the x-ray machine.” Adrian recalls. “His son had infantile paralysis, and he saw a need for fitting shoes by X-ray. We built them in Milwaukee. At that time I was working on automatic pianos and phonographs in Fond du Lac, and I’d also work on the X-ray machines in Milwaukee. We sold about one X-ray machine a month for about $850 to $950.”  Later Syl, now nearing 72, moved the X-ray machine plant to Fond du Lac with the idea of starting a company here. But he sold out his interests, getting $25,000 from the Weyenberg firm. This wasn’t pure profit however since investments in the patent had cost him close to $15,000. Mathew retained his interest in the machine.”

The X-ray Shoe Fitter Corporation of Milwaukee Wisconsin, which made the Adrian and Simplex lines, and the Pedoscope Company of St. Albans in the U.K, were the two largest manufacturers of shoe fitting fluoroscopes. In the early 1950’s, estimates placed the number of operating units in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada at 10,000, 3,000 and 1,000 respectively.

The earliest reference that I have found to the use of the shoe fitting fluoroscope outside of the United States is the following story from the Manitoba Free Press dated January 2, 1922:

“New X-Ray Device. Holiday shoppers in London now stop at Baber’s Ltd., a retail shoe store in Oxford street to see how his or her foot appears inside the shoe and if it is really a true-fitting shoe. This up-to-date shop has installed an X-ray apparatus by which shadow pictures of the foot are made upon plates and the customer has the satisfaction of seeing whether or not the shoe pinches the foot.”

I assume that “plates” refers to a fluorescent screen rather than a photographic plate. The next oldest reference I have found is an ad in the August 8, 1922 issue of the Appleton Post-Crescent that states that “One of the Famous Adrian X-Ray Shoe Fitters” will be in the Novelty Boot Shop during Convention Week.


Safety Concerns and the Legislative Response

In 1946, the American Standards Association established a “safe standard or tolerance dose,” that the feet receive no more than 2 Roentgens (R) per 5 second exposure. Children were not to receive more than 12 such exposures in a single year. The State of New York adopted similar requirements in 1948, and other states and major cities began to follow suit. As a result, the manufacturers of shoe fitting fluoroscopes became concerned that their products would have to meet a myriad of standards that varied from location to location, and they asked the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) to recommend a uniform set of standards. The ACGIH did so and issued their guidance in 1950, an event that allowed the manufacturers to advertise that they met the ACGIH standards.

By the early 1950s, a number of professional organizations had issued warnings about the continued use of shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, e.g., the ACGIH,  American College of Surgeons, New York Academy of Medicine and theA merican College of Radiology. At the same time, the District of Columbia issued regulations that shoe fitting fluoroscopes could only be operated by a licensed physiotherapist. A few years later, Massachusetts passed regulations requiring that the machines be operated by a licensed physician.  In 1957 the State of Pennsylvania became the first jurisdiction to ban the use of shoe fitting fluoroscopes. By 1960, these events, plus pressure from insurance companies, had led to the demise of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope, at least in the U.S. In the end, the shoe stores were probably just as glad to be rid of the things  – at least one survey had indicated that the machines were perceived by shoe salesmen a sales gimmick rather than a useful tool.

Attempts to impose regulatory restrictions on the use of shoe fitting fluoroscopes seem to have been limited to the United States.  Despite considerable effort, Jacalyn Duffin and Charles Hayter, authors of the aforementioned “Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope,” could not find any Canadian or British legislative action pertaining to these devices. In fact, Duffin and Hayter noted that these machines continued to be used in Canada and the UK , albeit to a limited extent, at least until 1970.

Radiation Exposures

While the exposure rates associated with these machines varied considerably, the measurements reported by various authors are reasonably consistent.

According to Moeller (1996), measurements performed during the late 1940s indicated that the doses to the feet ranged from 7 to 14 R for a 20 second exposure.  Doses to the pelvis ranged from 30 to 170 mrem. He also noted that surveys at the time indicated that more than 60 percent of inspected machines exceeded the American Standards Association recommendation of 2 R to the feet per five second exposure.

According to Duffin and Hayter (2000), a 1948 survey of x-ray machines in Detroit indicated that the exposure rates at the position of the feet ranged from 16 to 75 R/min.

Measurements performed by Williams (1949) ranged from 0.5 to 5.8 R/second to the feet. He also reported exposure rates that were above 100 mR/hr at a distance of ten feet from the front of the unit.

Bavley (1950) reported measurements of  1 to 175 mR/hr (60 mR/hr average) at a height of 18 inches above the floor and 9 inches away from the sides of the machine. The exposure rates 5 feet in front of the machine and 18 inches above the floor were as high as 65 to 160 mR/hr (average: 114 mR/hr)

Despite these relatively high exposures, there were no reported injuries to shoe store customers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the operators of these machines. Many shoe salespersons put their hands into the x-ray beam to squeeze the shoe during the fitting. As a result, one saleswoman who had operated a shoe fitting fluoroscope 10 to 20 times each day over a ten year period developed dermatitis of the hands. One of the more serious injuries linked to the operation of these machines involved a shoe model who received such a serious radiation burn that her leg had to be amputated (Bavley 1950).

Fluor cartoon

Excerpts from Installation Directions:

“Before putting the tube in the X-ray Machine, place the machine in the most desirable location. . . . We would suggest that you center the machine in the store so that it will be equally accessible from any point. Of course, it should face the ladies’ and children’s departments by virtue of the heavier sales in these departments.”

“At some time or other a customer may request an examination of the foot without the shoe for diagnosing a bone condition. We suggest that you refer this work to the professional man, and advise your customer to have an X-ray laboratory or doctor whose office is equipped with X-ray, make this inspection.’

Text of Magazine/Newspaper advertisement (ca. late 1940s);

“They’ll Need Their Feet All Through Life.

Guard their foot health carefully through correctly fitted shoes. To help ensure better fit, leading shoe stores use the ADRIAN X-Ray Machine. Whether the shoe clerk is an “old timer” with 20 or more years of fitting experience or a “Saturday extra” who has been on the job only a few weeks, ADRIAN X-Ray Machines help him give your child the most accurate fitting possible.

The ADRIAN fluoroscopic x-ray picture illustrated above clearly shows correct or incorrect fit in an instant. Shoes that are too short or too long, too wide or too narrow, or even too pointed, are immediately indicated in an easily viewed instantaneous picture. You SEE your child’s foot IN THE SHOE.

The new Adrian “Special” shown here is the latest development in fluoroscopic X-Ray shoe fitting equipment. Built in full compliance with American Standards Association requirements as well as all other applicable government specifications, the new Adrian has met rigid requirements and has been awarded the Parent’s Magazine Seal of Commendation. The new ADRIAN can be found in better retail shoe and department stores everywhere. Ask for fitting by ADRIAN .  .  .  it will assure you of foot health and comfort.  And remember, SHOES THAT FIT WELL –  LAST LONGER!”

Text for Radio Commercial

Every parent will want to hear this important news!  Now, at last, you can be certain that your children’s foot health is not being jeopardized by improperly fitting shoes. STORE NAME is now featuring the new ADRIAN Special Fluoroscopic Shoe Fitting machine that gives you visual proof in a second that your children’s shoes fit. The ADRIAN Special Shoe Fitting machine has been awarded the famous PARENT’S MAGAZINE Seal of Commendation . . .a symbol of safety and quality to millions of parents all over America.  If your children need new shoes, don’t buy their shoes blindly.  Come in today, let us show you the new, scientific method of shoe fitting that careful parents prefer. STORE NAME invites all of you to visit us today for an interesting demonstration. We know that once you buy shoes that are scientifically fitted, you will shop at STORE NAME all of the time.


Bavley, H. Shoe-fitting with x-ray. National Safety News 62 (3):33, 107-111; 1950.

Directions for Installing and Operating the Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitter. No date.

Duffin, J.,  Hayter, C.R.R. Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope. Isis , 91 (2):260-282; 2000.

Fredrick, W.G., Smith, R.G. Fifty Years of Progress: 1940-1990 X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine: 1948. Am. Ind. Hyg. Quart. 9 (4): 89-93; 1948.

Hempelmann, L.H. Potential Dangers in the Uncontrolled Use of Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscopes. :335-336. New Eng. J. Med. Sept. 1, 1949.

Lowe, J.J.  Method and Means for Visually Determining the Fit of Footwear. U.S. Patent No. 1,614,988. 1927.

Moeller, D.W. A Historical Note – The Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope. HPS Newsletter. June 1996:6-8.

Valaer, P. Letter to Dr. Lemay. Dec. 28 1978.

Williams, C.R. Radiation Exposures from the Use of Shoe-fitting Fluoroscopes. New Eng. J. Med. Sept. 1, 1949:333-335.


Part 2 of the quiz was “How far did you have to travel to use one of these devices?”  I don’t suppose that Clarkson ever had one, but I have a  vague memory of seeing one in Schuyler in the early 1950s, in that shoe store that was located between the Dime Store and Bryan’s Drug Store.  Both Elaine Dvorak and I remember a fluoroscope in the Poll Parrot Shoe Store in Columbus, and Phyllis remembers seeing one at the Buster Brown store in Norfolk.

We had 3 winners this time!  Congratulations to Ele Loseke, Doris Prazak, and Rollie/Elaine Dvorak!  So glad that you survived the experience!  For your prize, you’ll each be entered in a drawing to receive a brand new Brannock Device – an equally old but much safer way to get a good fit on your shoes.

Unless someone hits you on the head with it.


Posted in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s | 1 Comment

Gimme an A! Gimme an O!

Clarkson Museum G_20080628_08a

This week’s entry is an interesting photo in your Clarkson Historical Museum.  Can you guess what is going on?

Does it depict the aftermath of a free watermelon feed during the old Harvest Festivals?  NO!

Is it an emergency hospital set up to treat the victims of a stampede when $50 was given out by the Clarkson merchants at 9 PM Saturday night?  NO!

Are these casualties from the riot that broke out when somebody prematurely yelled “BINGO!!!” at the Bishop Neumann School the night there was a $500 pot?  ALE, NE!

As near as I can make out, it is photograph of a Blood Drive at Clarkson’s City Hall.  It does a great job of showing all the steps in the process, from intake to blood typing to donating a unit of blood to post-donation recovery over a soft drink and cookie.  Although I might guess from the style of the mens’ overalls that this photo was taken in the early 1950s, it doesn’t look very much different from what goes on today.

This is a digital photo of an  paper print made from a b&w negative, so some detail was lost at every step.  Nevertheless, I got out the ole’ magnifying glass to see if I could recognize anybody.  I can’t, but maybe you can find yourself or a friend in these pictures.

Odds are that most of the nurses in the photo were from out of town.  I don’t know where the blood bank was located in those days – Columbus?  Look at the nurses’ white shoes and starched white uniforms.  The hats seem to differ a bit among the nurses – some have a dark ribbon across the front, others not.  Some have a Red Cross on the front, others not. Did these differences denote different ranks or organizations?

Update:  Ele Loseke says that the nurse at the bottom of the picture below, looking at the camera, is Polly Polansky.  Polly was the grade school nurse for many years, and a determined collector of newspapers for recycling.  The nurse on the far right of the picture is Evelyn Blecha, the wife of Milo Blecha.  Milo Blecha was a war hero (B17 pilot in Europe), as well as a much-admired coach and science teacher at CHS.

Clarkson Museum G_20080628_08b

In the picture below showing donors giving up their pint, they all seem to be wearing blood pressure cuffs (sphygmomanometers).  Did blood pressure used to be monitored throughout the procedure, or did they just use these things to push more blood into the arm?

Update:  Ele thinks she sees Leo Sixta in the picture below.

Clarkson Museum G_20080628_08c

In the picture below, potential donors are having their blood typed/tested, and are being asked whatever questions were asked back then.  Probably “How are you feeling today?” Can you imagine how quick the interviews might have been before the blood banks had to concern themselves with HIV/AIDS, multiple strains of hepatitis, and the ease of foreign travels to malaria- and yellow-fever infested areas?

Clarkson Museum G_20080628_08e

The fellow being interviewed by the nurse of the left bears a passing resemblance to my Dad, Jerome Cada.  Although he would have almost certainly shown up at this blood drive, I doubt it is him simply because he always changed out of his overalls before he went into town.

Dad was a big believer in donating blood, and he cycled back an forth between the Clarkson and Schuyler blood drives as often as they would let him.  In addition, he had an uncommon blood type that was not in great supply in the bank, so he would get calls in the middle of the night to come to the Schuyler Hospital to give an emergency transfusion to someone.  On at least one occasion, they asked him to pick up his brother Bo, who also had that rare blood type, on the way into town.  Ha.  I remember Dad coming home with a 15-gallon donor pin, and he donated blood for many years after that.

All those stainless steel containers on the table (probably holding gauze and cotton balls) remind me of Doc O’Neal’s office.  In preparation for a shot or some medical procedure, he’d pull the lid off the container with a little metallic ring, pull out some cotton, and press it down on the plastic lid of a brown glass jar with rubbing alcohol a couple of times to moisten the cotton.  Sterilize the area and you’re ready for major surgery.

And finally, the blowup below shows people waiting to donate and perhaps, in the back corner, relaxing for a few minutes after donating their pint of blood.  All in all, it’s a busy scene for a little town.  Nebraskans are known all over as volunteers and givers – this picture gives good evidence of that.

Update:  Ele suggests that the picture below shows Joe Toman (mid-front), looks like a Vacha next to him and Vrby in suit and tie, and the lady in back facing us looks like Mrs. Jonas (Ben Jonas’ mother).

Clarkson Museum G_20080628_08d

And while we’re on a medical topic, who can tell me what the device below is?  And how far from Clarkson did you have to travel to use it?  Winners will be announced (along with the unsettling answers) next week.  Good luck!


Posted in 1940s, 1950s | 6 Comments

The End of the Good Times?

1918 Clarkson Nebraska

A while back Vickie Obermaier, a descendant of Clarkson’s Kudrna clan, sent me this interesting portrait of a haymaking crew taking a break from their labors.  Mugging for the camera, they stand stock-still in their poses (only the blurred horses’ heads betray the long shutter speeds of the old camera).  Two of the farmers are holding stoneware crocks of… lemonade?  All sorts of little details can be made out from this old photo – steel-wheeled hayracks, fly nets on the draft horse harnesses, some sort of row crop in the background.

Seven wagons bulging with hay, it is a picture of agricultural prosperity – the Promise of the New World.  This was a major reason many came to America in the first place – work hard and get rich.  There is little doubt that the men were enjoying their brief rest before pushing on to the painstaking (and dusty) task of constructing haystacks.  And there is no doubt that they are unaware that the prosperity to which they have been accustomed was about to come to a sudden end.  These happy farmers were on the verge of a two-decade long period of hard times.

Threshing Grain

The 20 years between 1899 and 1919, when many of our immigrant ancestors were getting established in Nebraska, are generally considered to be a time of prosperity for Midwestern farmers.  The protracted drought and nationwide financial panic that began in 1893 had ended by the end of decade, and both crop yields and crop prices began to climb.  Although the wheat yield was no greater in Nebraska than it had been in Europe (both ranged from 12-22 bushels per acre at that time), there was SO MUCH LAND.  The availability of large areas of fertile land (e.g., via the Homestead Act), improvements in agricultural equipment, the introduction of hard winter wheat, and the extension of the railroads (which helped our farmers reach world markets) all pushed farming into high gear.  The price of corn tripled and wheat more than doubled between 1910 and 1918.  With huge domestic and overseas markets, the wealth of many Clarkson-area farmers was limited only by how much wheat they could thresh and how much corn they could pick by hand.


The Village of Clarkson prospered along with its farmers.  By 1898 a large grain mill and elevator had been built along the railroad tracks.  A 64,000 gallon water tower was constructed in 1904 and a rudimentary telephone system in 1905.  Twenty five new homes were built in Clarkson in 1905 alone.

Clarkson Mill 1898

By 1911, Clarkson had grown into a tidy little town nestled in the hills of Eastern Nebraska, with lots of well-kept wood frame houses and brick commercial buildings, and plans for the new brick high school (dedicated in 1913).

Clarkson 1911a

The booming farm economy supported the manufacture and sale of agricultural equipment.



By 1918, the date of the picture at the beginning of this story, the Farmers Union Co-Op Supply Co. had begun construction of a grain elevator along the railroad tracks to further facilitate the shipment of area farmers’ wheat to the World.


And in 1918, the World was hungry. The First World War had devastated food production in Europe, and American farmers stepped in to fill the empty stomachs.  Before 1914, Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy (our allies) had depended heavily on other European countries, as well as Australia, Argentina, Canada, and the U.S. for much of their food supplies.  When many of these trade channels were disrupted in 1914, European demand for American farm products soon exceeded the supply, and prices skyrocketed.  The price of corn paid to Nebraskans increased from $0.99/100 lbs in 1913 to $2.58/100 lbs in 1919.  The price of livestock and livestock products jumped almost as fast.  In the five years before 1914, American farmers were paid an average of 90 cents a bushel for their wheat.  As Allied purchasing agents began bidding against one another and speculators jumped in to take advantage of the situation, the average price rose to more than $2 a bushel in 1918.  The net income of U.S. farmers, after paying for supplies, rent, taxes, and interest on their loans and mortgages, increased 120 percent from 1914 to 1919 (the net income of the non-farming population increased 75 percent during those years).

monthly_value 1913-1918

With the end of the First World War in November 1918, the need to feed large armies decreased, and European farmers were able to return to their shellhole-ridden farms to feed their own people.   By 1920, European agriculture was returning to normal, pre-war trade had been re-established, and European nations had borrowed so much money from the U.S. that they no longer had money to buy food from U.S. farmers.  This led to a collapse in demand and a collapse in farm prices.

Corn dropped from a 1918 high of $2.58/100 lbs to $0.79/100 lbs in 1922.  Expressed another way, corn brought 52 cents a bushel in 1921, a 60 percent drop in two years.  The price of wheat in 1923 was less than half of the 1919 peak.

Imagine the dismay of area farmers who had borrowed large sums of money to buy more land during the war years.  Almost overnight, they were squeezed by receiving low prices for what they produced and paying heavy fixed charges – taxes and interest on loans and mortgages.

Although prices for farm products recovered somewhat after 1923, farmers in general did not share in the prosperity of the rest of the Nation during the Roaring Twenties.  The graph below suggests that after a brief uptick in wheat prices in 1925, the value of farm crops dropped relentlessly until 1932.  Corn dropped from $1.58/100 lbs. to $0.44/100lbs in those same years.

And we all know what happened in the 1930s – beginning in 1931, Nebraska suffered a 10-year drought that was one of the worst on record.  Low prices coupled with low production.  If the left fist doesn’t get you, then the right one will.


And once again, a World War increased the demand for U.S. farm products, and beginning in 1940 prices rebounded.  The price of wheat rose from about $0.70/bushel in 1940 to over $1.90/bushel by the end of 1946, as American grain helped feed starving multitudes and became a significant component of foreign aid after World War II.

monthly_value 1940-46

Clarkson-area farmers finally saw profitable years return in the 1940s, the 1950s (despite another drought between 1952 and 1957), and many years thereafter.

Windrower July 57


Cutting Silage Aug 1956

harvesting sorghum 3 oct 71

harvesting sorghum 2 oct 71 big

My point is that the Great Depression, which was such a terrible, defining experience for the entire United States, lasted 10 years longer for Nebraska farmers than it did for many others.  Those who were well-established on their farms, relatively free of debt, and good at tightening their belts were able to make it through the bad times between 1921 and 1941.  Late arrivers, those who expanded their farms at inflated, wartime prices, and those with large debts and mortgages, struggled and sometimes lost everything.  This was a greater problem in the Rocky Mountain West and the Dust Bowl areas of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Kansas than in the eastern Great Plains; settlement of eastern Nebraska was essentially complete before World War I, and farmers had learned to be cautious about the climate.  But the conjunction of low prices and low yields certainly caused hardships in Our Town.  Banks and businesses folded.  Farmers who engaged in back-breaking labor every day of the year counted their profits in the double digits (or none at all).  Most were able to hang on through two decades of lean years.

I suppose that’s why the people of Clarkson are so resilient and unshakable.


[Disclaimer:  The more I look at this picture at the top of this post, the more I think that the men may be standing on shocks of wheat, heading for a thresher, rather than on hay on its way to a haystack or hay barn.  I consulted the authorities:  Marvin Podany suggested that the men may have been standing on bundles of oats, because the picture shows too many racks of grain to be taken to a threshing machine at one time (apparently bundles of oats were stacked and treated differently from wheat).  Kerry Bahns thinks it looks like wheat stubble. Perhaps some member of the Future Farmers of America, Class of 1920 or so, can settle the question.]


Anonymous. Shall I Take Up Farming?  What Are The Lessons From The Last War?  Constructing a Postwar World – The G.I. Roundtable Series in Context.

Cerman, M. 2008.  Rural Economy and Society.  Chapter 3 in A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Europe. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Gould, B.W.  2013.  Understanding Dairy Markets.  Online database.

Hayes, M., C. Knutson, and Q.S. Hu. 2005.  Multiple-Year Droughts in Nebraska.  NebGuide G1551.  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Jones, L.A. and D. Durand. 1954.  Great Plains and Mountain States.  Chapter 2 in Mortgage Lending Experience in Agriculture. Princeton University Press.

Montgomery, G. 1953.  Wheat price policy in the United States.

Posted in 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s | 2 Comments

Red Devil Football – A View from the Sidelines

As a spectator to all these games, I witnessed a lot of frantic, physical action.  Backfield in motion, holding, illegal use of hands, deflected passes… and that was just in the parking lot after the games!  For Part 4 of the CHS football trilogy, we return to the words of Dale Gentzler, businessman and booster, to get the perspective of the avid football fan:

Football was new for Clarkson in 1956 under Head Coach Francis ‘Kooch’ Dostal. Although that 11-man sport was new to many Clarkson folks, it didn’t take long to catch on. It took some larnin’ though. I vividly remember some of the first games when the pep club was yelling “let’s go north,” and the team was going south, or didn’t even have the ball. At the beginning of the first season, there was a “get acquainted night” where people who didn’t know anything about football could come and get an explanation of the rules. They even demonstrated the various important parts and the safety qualities of the football uniform, right down to the athletic supporters.

Oh, we were athletic supporters alright. We had some good years and we had some bad years. We supported through thick and thin.

I remember one particular ‘thin.’  Have you ever heard about a spectator getting a 15-yard penalty in football?  It was during the final days of Pilger High School, when they had a really good team, starring David Goeller, who later went on to star at Nebraska. Leroy Ernst was the head coach for the Red Devils and I drove the team bus that year.  There was a goodly number of Devil fans along the east sideline wire and we were getting trounced pretty good. On one particular play Goeller made a long run, was tackled out of bounds near our goal line, but not across it. The official signaled a touchdown and we went ballistic! I shouted at the ref, “open your  #@$&*!# eyes!” and I called him by name, because I knew him and “never did like that guy.” The hankie went down just like that and I disappeared down the sidelines, meeting Coach Ernst en route, who was coming to see what the penalty was about. I said “I dunno” and kept on movin’ away from the scene of the accident. Ruth O’Neal and Eldora Gentlzer were left standing there to face the ref, declaring their innocence—- and I was long gone. They called a fifteen yard penalty on the crowd (me, only they didn’t know it was me) and assessed it on the ensuing kickoff.  We did score in the next few minutes but that didn’t ease my embarrassment much. I was like Bill Clinton, not sorry that I did it– just sorry I got caught. Fortunately we lost by a lot of points, so it wasn’t instrumental in the outcome. The sad part was that, being the bus driver, I had to own up to my actions when we got back on the bus.


I’m also reminded of a football game at St. Edward. We arrived and there was only one light pole for the entire field. Encouraged by old man “Schnapps,” who rode with us, the Clarkson contingent stood at attention and lit matches for the kickoff. Somehow St. Ed decided we were getting a little rowdier than necessary during the game, so the city cop came to our side of the field, which only made things worse. We never left him alone. Irwin Kluthe asked him if he wanted to make something out of it. Alan Dusatko let him know that he was an “attorney at law” and Buster Miller got in his face to make a point. The cop, who just happened to be the father of Case, the football star for St. Edward, endured it for a minute, then he waggled his finger at Frank, and said “Now, look here, Buster!” The whole Clarkson crowd just broke up, realizing that the cop didn’t know it was a real “Buster” he was talking to. Laughing didn’t help matters.  We didn’t go to jail, but we were guilty of doing things our kids would get in trouble for. They sure make good memories, though.

Home football games were fun, too, and there was always a crowd. Our two girls got their love for the sport very early, partly because of their parents’ enthusiasm for Clarkson Red Devil football. During a game, if someone would take off downfield on a long run, I’d grab an arm and away we’d go. Their feet would barely touch the ground.

In summary, the pep club eventually got the hang of it. And that was the only fifteen yard penalty I’ve ever heard called on the sideline. Oh well, I’m famous for something.


My zeal for small town athletics got me in trouble more than once. When we were in business at Clarkson Sundries I would often design window displays to boost the Devils on to victory that particular week.  One time I was so proud of my innovative mind, when I built a grave in the window, with the following epitaph; “Here lies St. Francis dead on the level, victim of the Clarkson Red Devil.” Clever?  Father Kubesh didn’t think so. Promoting a devil’s victory over a saint was carrying team spirit a bit far, I was told. It was a learning experience— I didn’t do anything like that, ever again.

-        Dale Gentzler

And so ends our story of the first decade of Clarkson High School football, 1956-1966. The spirited players are now old men, and can only dream of the speed and stamina they had as 17-year-olds. And the Red Devil teams are gone, part of history.  So put your cheeseburger and Coca Cola down, put your hands together, and join in our fight song (Sung to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”…)


When the Devils, go marching in,

When the Devils go marching in,

Oh, I’d love to be in that number,

When the Devils go marching in!

 devil 2

Thanks for reading our modest effort.  If you are interested in printing out the entire 4-part story, click on this link:

Red Devil Football 1956-1966

Posted in 1950s, 1960s | 1 Comment

Red Devil Football – The Mid-1960s

Moving up a few years, Darrell Podany (Class of 1967) recalls the CHS football teams of the mid-60s.  While they may not have been the most successful Red Devil teams to take the field, they were indisputably the smartest and best looking….

Mostly I remember two-a-days.  Practices were long and hard and it was always hot.  Fortunately we had frequent rest breaks and plenty of chances to replenish our dehydrated bodies with water and fluids.  Also the coaches expressed real concern for the well-being of players, especially underclassmen.  They were constantly checking to be sure everyone was ok.  Oh, wait…you meant Clarkson High football, right?  That would be different.

Team 66 A

Team 66 B

Remember the blizzard game against Howells when we were seniors in ’66?   Never been so wet and cold.   Six inches of ice, snow, and slush covered the field at the start of the game and it kept on coming down.  We were tied at the half.  Could barely see the lights for the driving snow.  At the start of the second half we had the whimpering bobkitties backed up to their own goal line with 4th and a mile.   Then suddenly the ref stepped in and said “game’s over boys!”  As I recall everyone on our side said ‘phooey’!  Or something like that.


Memories indelibly etched in mind include the team being suited up and lining up wordlessly to get on the bus for the trip to the field.   The only sounds, the scraping of cleats on concrete and snapping up of chin straps.

I recall playing beneath a huge orange October full moon, the crisp cool air, the grassy scent of the newly mown field (had plenty of opportunity to examine the field in detail since my face was often being pushed deeply into it).   The anguish of missed blocks and tackles and scoring opportunities.  Occasionally plays worked as designed, though, and it was cause for celebration.   I was privileged to play with some pretty good players.  Foremost in my recollection was Roger Arnold…he was just a bulldozer with a giant heart.  Roger loved the game and it was an honor just to have suited up with the guy.  As I recall we lost more games than we won, but as the adage goes, the outcome was somehow less significant than the journey.  In the Deed the Glory.

Schedule 66


After games on the way back Coach would counsel players to “don’t get your daubers down”, if we lost and “take your gear home and get it ‘worshed'”.    Red Devil Moms were the ones who actually ‘worshed’ our gear, and I am still trying to figure out exactly what a ‘dauber’ is.  But he was a good coach so I took him at his word.

After the games we headed downtown to Beanies for the obligatory pep rally and soda, washing away painful memories or reliving glorious victories in an endless torrent of Coca Cola and French fries.  And pursued additional scoring opportunities (albeit unsuccessfully) with the attractive, charming and all-too-virtuous members of the CHS pep club. 

Cheerleaders 66

Pep 66

Pep 66 B

Keep up the good work, remember the Devils*, and don’t get your dauber down.

 Darrell Podany

*Remember the Titans – best football movie ever.

Posted in 1960s | Leave a comment