Robert C. Daniels

Author / Adjunct History Professor


Interview conducted as part of research for the writing of World War II in Mid-America

Tillie (Dykstra) Brotkouski  © Copyright 2005

Interview by Robert C. Daniels

Tillie (Dykstra) Brotkouski was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 1 December 2005 starting at 12:30 P.M.  The interview lasted 31.23 minutes.  At the time Tillie was eighty-three years old.  She came fully prepared with written notes.


What is your full name?  Same as what’s on…, Tillie Brotkouski.  That’s my full name.

How do you spell Brotkouski?  B R O T K O U S K I.

What was your maiden name?  Dykstra.

How do you spell that?  D Y K S T R A.

I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home.  Where were you born and when?  At home in the country, at Cambria, Wisconsin.  Four, twenty-two, twenty-two (22 April 1922).

Okay, and who were your parents?  Jense, J E N S E, and Nellie Dykstra.

How do you spell Nellie?  Nellie, N E L L I E.

And Jense is J E N…?  S E.

…S E, okay.  (Note: Jense is pronounced Yens.)   Do you have any brothers or sisters?  Yes, there were thirteen of us.  Well, really eleven, one was stillborn and the other one was…, died when she was a couple weeks old, so.  And now I have…, a brother died in ‘77 and then two sisters died just in the past ten years, so.  Lets see, that makes how many?  I have two half brothers that are left, one half brother is gone.  Then I’m the oldest of the next family.  Then there’s two sisters that are gone, and then another sister and three brothers and another sister.  Big family.  There were eleven of us kids.  We always figured eleven, but there really were thirteen.

Where did you go to school?  At, ah…, I went to the Ross School that was out in the country, Cambria.  And for awhile I went to the school in Friesland (Wisconsin).  And, of course, we were in South Dakota for a few months, so I only went there for a few months.  Came back and then I graduated from Ross School.  

It was a high school?  From the eighth grade.  I didn’t go to high school.

And did you attend college at all?  No, no high school or college, no.

What was growing up like for you?  Well, we had a big family and were always busy.  When I was old enough I went out and helped neighbors and everything work and so on, and I remember [I] milked cows and all of that, you know.  And, of course, we didn’t have a lot of cows to milk.  [I] worked out in the field picking up potatoes and things like that.

So what did your father do for a living?  Farmer.

Farmer.  Was it a big farm?  No.

No.  Eighty acres, I believe we had.

During the 1939 to 1941 timeframe, basically just before the war, what were you doing?  Well, that’s what I wrote down here (looking at and reading off of her notes).  In 1939 I went to California and worked.  I did house work on a dairy in California from 1939 until October 1940.  And then I came back because my dad was sick and they were going to move.  So I came back, and then I helped them for a while and when they moved and everything, and I did house work on a fox farm in Markesan (Wisconsin).  They had a farm at that time, they raised foxes.  And I worked there from November ‘40 till August ‘41.  And from there I went to the…, I worked in Portage (Wisconsin) at the hotel until from August ‘41 till March ‘42.  And then I was called to National Rivet.  I believe it was in March ‘42.  So that’s what I did.

By house work, what do you mean by that?  Well, cleaning and cooking and all that.

Okay.  Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked?  Do you remember first hearing that?  Let’s see, what year was that?

1941.  ‘41.  Well, I think I was at work.  No, wait a minute, I must have been working then in the hotel at Portage.

Do you remember what it was like hearing that?  Oh, I know it was terrible because, you know, when I worked in California there were a lot of Japanese around, and I was kind of afraid then, you know.  And I know one Sunday night I went with my brother and his wife to church, and I had to take the little one out because he was crying.  And I was walking up and down the street and here were Japanese right behind me and I was afraid, so.  That was kind of an experience (she laughs).

What were the thoughts and feelings of people around you about the United States being attacked?  Oh, I don’t know.  I just thought there’s gonna be war, you know.  I had lots of brothers and, of course, my husband—he wasn’t my husband then.  So I was kind of thinking about that, I guess.

Tell me what you did during the war.  I know you said you worked at the National Rivet Company.  Yes, I worked in that inspection room.  And then I was transferred to the hot patch department, and I worked in there for quite a long time until after the war.  And there…, I don’t know if you ever saw the hot patches?

No.  Well, they were like…, they had numbers.  They had…,  they were a piece of steel and they were crimped up, and inside that steel there was…, it looked like cardboard, but it was something…., and then it had some red stripes on it.  And they would…, and the hot patches were put…, the rubber…, the patches were put on that steel, and then inside was the cardboard.  And the…, I guess, when they lit that, then that would heat the patch and [then it would be] put it on the tire.

Oh, okay.  So they were tire patches for tires?  Yes.

For rubber tires?  That’s right.

But you said they had metal on them?  Yeah.  I don’t know, I never saved any of them, but there were different numbers too.  I think there were sixes, sevens, eights, and nines that I remember, maybe tens too.  They were bigger.  But, ah…, I remember them.  

I worked on a machine.  I had to go up about five steps on that machine.  And, ah…, someone would dump this box of the patches on my tray, or on my bench there—and I had two tracks—and I would have to put them down these two tracks.  They would go down tracks.  And there were two girls down below and, ah…, would pack ‘em up.  And they would be putting them in cellophane, like that, then.

Okay.  And what did you do with them on the machine?  I filled the…, I would put the patches in these two tracks that went down.  And then the tracks went down.  And the two girls down below, they packed them up.  And they were in cellophane wrappers.

And before this you said you inspected rivets?  Hmm, hmm.  Sitting at the table.

How many different sizes of rivets were there?  Do you remember?  Oh, so many.  I don’t know.  All lengths and the heads and everything.  There were so many different kinds.  At first it was mostly aluminum rivets, but then afterwards we got more steel and brass and a few copper too.  

But after I worked in the hot patch department, then the war ended, and so I was laid off.  And that was in 1946.  And then I was called back but I didn’t come back because my daughter was…, it was just before my daughter was gonna be born in ‘47.  So I didn’t come back then.  And then I went back to work again, I went back there in 1950, I went back there.  And I worked until May in ‘88.  So that was a long time ago.  So all together it was forty-two years.

What all did they manufacture at the rivet factory, at the National Rivet Factory, during the war?  Well, I think it was only rivets and hot patches that I know.

And it was mostly women that was working there?  Mostly…, a lot of men too on the machines to make the Rivets.

Where these older men or younger men?  All kinds.  But, you know, a lot of the young men were gone, so.  I know in my family I had two older brothers that were in, and two of my sisters, their husbands were in.  Of course, they weren’t married at that time.  So everybody was gone in our family.

Where did you live at the time?  An apartment here.  Well, first we stayed out here, out of town, in the edge of town.  And then we got an apartment on East Franklin Street and, ah, we lived in the apartment, my sister and I.  Then the other sister came to work too for a while.  And my dad also worked for a while, at the factory.

At the factory?  Yeah.

After the war, did men come back and take over the jobs again?  Yeah, yeah.  My brother-in-law, my sister that lived with me, that stayed with me, her boyfriend was in and came back and he went back to work there again.  And then he got to be foreman.

Do you remember…, I was told that they beefed up security at the rivet factory during the war.  Can you recall that, what that was like?  Yeah.  They had a…, they had a fence across…, let’s see, Jefferson Street.  It was this street between the office buildings and the other.  They had a fence across there.  No one could drive there and they had a guard, they always had a guard there.  And we had buttons with our picture and our number.  I remember a few times I forgot my button.  But then, you know, you have it under your collar and you’d just whip it up.  But he knew us so that was no problem.

Was he armed?  Was the guard armed?  I’m not sure.  I’m not sure.

Okay.  Was there just one guard?  No, I guess they had a couple.

I mean, at a time.  Just one guard?  Yes.

Where there guards walking around or just at the gate?  Just at the gate, I believe.  I don’t remember him walking around.

And the fence, what kind of fence was it?  Chain linked.

Chain linked.  Barbed wire at all?  No.  I don’t think so.

Okay.  What was it like for you when you heard that the war was over?  Oh, we were all celebrating.  We had a dance here on the street.  Victory dance.  I remember that night.

Did things change in Waupun during the war from before?  Well, you know, we had stamps, you know, for rationing.  Well, anyway, I don’t remember what we did in our apartment, if we had stamps or not.  I don’t remember that.  But I think when we lived with these people out here in the country, I think that my mother used to share her stamps probably with this woman, you know, because it was for sugar.  And I forgot what else.

Did you have a Victory Garden?  I don’t know.  I think they had a garden.  I’m sure my parents had a garden.  They always did.

When the military people came back, were they changed from when they went over?  I guess so.  My husband never, never got over it.  Never.  It was really terrible because he hit the beach at Normandy.  He was one of the only ones left in his whole outfit that got through the whole thing.  Said he never knew how he did it.  Then he went through France and he was wounded.  Went to England and was recuperated.  Recuperated in England and then he went back again to his outfit.

What was his name?  Steven.  Steve.

Did he grow up in Waupun?  No, he was from Markesan, originally.

Markesan?  Yeah.  But when we were first married we lived here.

When did you get married?  March 16, 1946.

And what did he do after the war?  Well, he worked at National Rivet for a while, and he worked at the shoe factories and different places.  Seems like all of a sudden people…, some people were laid off sometimes, you know.  And it always seemed like he got laid off, you know.  So then later on he worked at May Steel, later years.

Where is that at?  Mayville (Wisconsin).

What did he do at those jobs?  Was it a variety of things?   Well, yeah.  I forgot what it was he did?

Did Waupun change after the war?  Well, I don’t know.  Afterward I moved away too, you know.  Of course, I still worked here, so.  At least then we could get stockings and all that, because for awhile there we couldn’t even get nylons.  I remember we went all over.  Every time we heard they were gonna have nylons somewhere, we’d go, like to Beaver Dam or somewhere.  They had a line at Penny’s at one time, yeah.

Now, you moved to Fox Lake and you lived there?  We lived in Markesan at first.  And then…, when we first got married we lived here in town, and then we lived in Markesan.  And then…, now we live in Fox Lake.  I’ve been there for, oh, more than fifty years.

Did you have children?  One daughter.

One daughter.  Did she go into the military at all?  No.

No.  No.

Your husband was in the Army?  Yes.

Do you remember what outfit he was in?  Infantry.  Company M-28th Infantry, 8th Division.

And he fought, you said he fought at D-Day?  Yes.

Wow.  And your brothers?  What were they?  They were in, ah…, one was with the medics and the other one was in the Infantry, too.  And they were over in France.

France?  Yeah.  And my brothers-in-laws, both of them were over in there, too.

Your brothers-in-laws, they come from the Waupun area?  No, ah..., Arnold was from Markesan, and the other one was from…, well, Markesan too.

Is there anything else that you would like…, that you remember?  I don’t know…, I can’t think of anything. 

Oh, and then, in talking about the rivets, you know, I remember we used to screen out…, at first we had these tables that we used to just roll the rivets on our lap in red pans.  Well, then afterwards we had screens.  And these screens were about square like this (she indicates an approximate one and a half-foot square with her hands) and then you push the screen and screen out the big heads or the small heads and pick out the smashed ones and everything.  Then we also had tire studs for tires.  And I remember I worked on the conveyer then, and we had all of these little carbide tips.  And we had magnifying glasses.  And they came down the conveyer and we had to pick out the short ones and the long ones and so on, and that was hard on the eyes—very hard on the eyes.

Was that during the war or after?  After.

After?  Yeah, that was after.

You mentioned that you got an award.  The Rivet factory got an award.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?  That’s about all I remember of that, you know, we had that.  But I know everyone in that factory was called into that one room and we got the award.  So we all thought that was pretty nice.

Yeah.  I believe I had a pin at one time too, but I don’t think I got that anymore.

Do you remember any blackout drills?  Not really, no.  That I don’t remember.

Okay.  I can’t think of anytime that we had that here.  Maybe I forgot, I don’t know (she laughs).

Is there anything else you can think of that you would like to say or tell us?  Well, then…, and another thing, during the war, you know, they worked every day, seven days a week.  And I believe then for a while, for a while we worked like five days and had the sixth day off and then come back again.  So they worked everyday then.  That was just for awhile.

Do you have any idea how many people worked there?  A rough estimate?  Oh, I thought it was about three hundred, but I’m not sure.  But I think it was about that.  Maybe it was more.

Were they mostly men or mostly women, or half and half, or...?  Well, like I showed you this picture…, but then there were…, besides the women there I think there were about eighty, at least eighty in that picture.  But I think then there were quite a few in hot patches.  And I don’t remember how many were there.  But they had quite a few working there too.  So there were over a hundred women, I’m sure.  So I’m not sure about how many men.

Were they mostly from the Waupun area or did some drive long distances to come here?  Oh, they were from all over, like Kekoskee (Wisconsin) and all over they would come, so.  Beaver Dam, Fox Lake, Randolph and all over.

How did they get…, did they drive daily back and forth?  Or did they stay here or...?  For awhile they had…, oh, we called it the wiener bus.  It was a brown bus, it was kind of a long…, it was just like a car but it was long, you know, and it came from Beaver Dam, brought people from there.  I had forgotten about that.

What were your hours?  Do you remember?  During the war.  I think five minutes to 7 (o’clock) to five to 4 (o’clock).  But then sometimes they would have…, let’s see, I don’t know if it was in the rivets or the hot patches, we had some working nights sometimes.  Like two shifts.

And the supplies, when they came in and the rivets when out, did they come by train or truck or both?  Do you remember?  Well, I saw a lot of trucks there.  But the track goes right by there, so maybe they shipped some by train.

Yeah, I asked that because I remember the trains go right by there.  I was wondering if….  Yeah, they might have.  I don’t remember that.

Back then they had a…, didn’t they have a passenger train come through Waupun?  Yes, I took it a few times.

Did you?  Uh-huh.  I took it to Burnett to see my girl friend there.

Okay.  Well, is there anything else you can think of?  Oh, that first room we worked in, we had a floor lady.  But then afterward we went to this other room on the northeast corner—and that now is the tool room, I think—and then we didn’t have a floor lady anymore.

What did the floor lady do?  Well, she walked around and just kind of looked to see if everyone was working and so on.  If someone spent too much time in the washroom she would get them out.  And if we had a problem with a rivet, a question, she would take it and she would go to the foreman and ask him.  That’s what she’d do.

Did you have many breaks during the day?  Well, I don’t remember if we had.  Well, I think we could just go whenever we wanted too, go to the bathroom.  But afterward I know we had our breaks—so many minutes.

Were people allowed to smoke in there during the working hours?  I don’t believe so.  I’m not even sure about that, now.  I don’t remember any of the girls smoking.  But I think maybe the men had their smoke rooms.

Now, did the men and women work together or were they separate?  Well, they were mostly separate, you know, the men….  Of course, we had men in our room because they had to dump the rivets and do things like that, you know.  And afterward we got all kinds of machines, you know, like for counting rivets and everything.  Afterward I got to do packing…, I did packing.

The actual making of the rivets and the making of the patches, is that done by men or is that done by women, or by both?  Oh, men, men.

Men?  Yeah.  It would come in a roll of wire, and they would….  I think it had to be so that they had to have a certain length so that they got the rivets right, otherwise it would, I don’t know, be too short or too long or something.  It had to be a certain length so that they could get the head on right, so they had to do the right size.

Now, they didn’t make the wire there did they?  That came….  No, that was brought in, I think.  Yeah.

How did they package the rivets?  Were they in wooden boxes or paper cartoons or…?  Paper cartons.  And then I…, when I was packing then, I had a big box like this (she indicates with her hands a box about three-foot in diameter) and packed those small boxes in that box, and they would go out in a wood box.  But some went out in cartons and big cardboard boxes too.

Where did they…, during the war, where did they go to?  Do you know where they went to?  A lot of them went to Boeing.  We made a lot of Boeing rivets.  And I just don’t remember the other companies now.  But we used to know a lot of the names of the companies, you know.  I just can’t remember.  

That’s okay.  Getting too old, I guess (she laughs).  I thought, well, I just got to do this because I don’t think there are too many left that were there, you know, and I was there at that time.  I don’t think there are too many left.

Well, this is very interesting.  So I thought I just had to tell you that.  You can take this along if you want to (referring to her written notes).

Is there anything else you can think of?  I can’t think of anything.  I think I worked under three foremen in the inspection department and one in the patches.

Okay.  Well thank you very much.   That’s okay.  I hope I helped you a little.

Oh, you did, you did most definitely.


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