Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Irvin Meyer was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 15 March 2006 starting at 12:45 P.M. The interview lasted 30.55 minutes. At the time Irving was eighty-four years old and very articulate. Mr. Jim Laird of the Waupun Historical Society sat in on and assisted with Irving’s interview. Irving passed away on 6 February 2007.
What is your full name? Irving Henry Meyer.
And Meyer is spelled M E Y…. M E Y E R.
Okay. 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? Well, I don’t know for sure. Richfield, Wisconsin, I think maybe at home.
What was the name of the town? Richfield.
Richfield. Okay, and what date was that? May 9th, 1922.
Who were your parents? Ah, Irving Charley…, Charles Meyer and Ann Menz or Meyer, you know.
Her maiden name was…? Menz.
Can you spell that, please? M E N Z.
M E N Z, okay. What did your father do for a living? Worked on a railroad.
Ah, Okay. What railroad? Ah, Milwaukee Railroad. The one that used to go through this town.
Do you have any brothers and sisters? No, none.
So you’re the only child? Uh-huh (he nods yes).
Where did you go to school? Well, nine years, let’s say, Woodland (Wisconsin) Grade School, and one year in Mayville High School. Three years in Berlin (Wisconsin) where I graduated.
When did you graduate from high school? What year? 1940.
Did you attend college? No.
What was it like for you growing up? Pardon?
What was it like growing up? Fine, I guess, like any small child. Actually it was a small town. I was raised in Woodland, Wisconsin. There was only three of us my age (he laughs).
Wow. So you grew up in town? Yeah. In Woodland, yeah. Uh-huh.
And you lived through the Depression? Part of it, yes.
Was it rough? I didn’t notice so much. Of course, I was on the more or less the tail end of it, I guess. Not really, but when I realized…. But, ah, I know my dad had to have an operation at that time…, appendicitis. And one in a million you live, and he lived. But then the little bit of savings I had put away we had to use for the operation. That was before we had insurance. About 1930.
Was he still employed with the railroad during the Depression? Yes.
So you guys were better off than I image a lot of people who didn’t have anything? Oh, yeah, I didn’t notice anything different and no suffering.
Did your mother work? No.
During the 1939, 1941 timeframe, what were you doing? I know you were still in high school until 1940. Just before the war, what were you doing? I started working at the railroad. I was a railroad telegrapher.
Telegrapher? Telegrapher, yeah. Obsolete now.
That was for the same railroad? For Milwaukee Railroad? Yes, it was the northern division. See, we started off as extra until we got time in till we find attrition and finally got a different job.
Okay. What did a telegrapher do? Well, a little of everything. Kept the books, you know. Of course, they had training orders for the train. Took care of express, Western Union, and messages, and railroad messages.
Wow. See, those days didn’t have computers.
Yeah. It was all…, most of it was all handled by telegraph.
So did you actually do the telegraph? You knew Morse Code? Yes.
They taught you that? No, I was taught by myself, yeah.
Oh, okay. In fact I was…, it took about seven to eight months just lying at home. My folks got sick of that (he laughs). They said I was gonna go to school…, Chillicothe, Missouri. But like on Friday—I was gonna leave Monday—Friday he called—the chief dispatcher—told me he had a job [for me] to go to. In fact the first job was here, the second trick.
Okay, wow. Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? Yeah. I was at some friends of my folks. It came over the radio.
Do you remember what time of day it came over? Well, during…, I would say about noon? I don’t know for sure.
Okay, and what were your thoughts and feelings about when you heard that? Well, being only nineteen years old, you know, I didn’t have that much….
Do you remember what other people were saying? Well, if you want to go a little further back before that…, I also took tickets, you know, at the counter for the train. And the reason I already volunteered was I got sick of mothers, the other mothers coming asking me, “Aren’t you old enough to go into the service” (He laughs)? So about after a hundred thousand of those, finally, like a darned fool, [I] volunteered.
Okay, so you volunteered to go in then? When was that? 1943. I think it should be on that list there.
Okay, and you joined the Navy? Uh-huh (he nods). Well, first of all I went to boot camp, then radio school, because, see, in the service they had an International Code, a little bit different than the Morse. So I was to Farragate, Idaho, for about four months.
Okay. Up until the time you joined the Navy, you were working with the railroad still? Yeah, uh-huh, I only had started.
Now, they didn’t draft you because you were working on the railroad? No, I was working for Milwaukee Railroad. I would have gotten another one but I…, like I said, I was being foolish. I refused it (he laughs).
So you were given a deferment because you worked for the railroad? Yes.
Okay. Do you remember what month in 1943 that you joined? Well, I think it was about, ah…, oh, boy…, it should be in that there, that paper. It was like November.
Why did you choose the navy? Well, they more or less chose it for me (he laughs).
So you just went down to join…? Yeah, yeah. They go through my records…, working on the railroad and telegraphy.
Okay. So after boot camp and after school did you actually become a radioman? Yes.
And after radioman school, where did you go then? Well, it’s a long story in a way. First of all after you got through with radio school you usually got a leave of absence, you know, three weeks. They couldn’t give it to us. So then, instead, they made us go to Treasure Island (California) and copy, ah…, like orders, you know…, what do you call…? not the…, ah…, that business where you make…, no. What do you call that, Jim (talking to Jim Larid)? Bill of ladings…, for about three months.
Did you get stationed on board a ship? Uh-huh, Lafayette.
Lafayette. What kind of ship was that? It was one of those Liberty Ships.
Okay, Liberty Ship. It was terrible.
Was it? What was so bad about it? Well, first of all it was fine until we got beyond the gate (meaning the Golden Gate Bridge). Then ninety-five percent of over a thousand people got sick, me included. There is nothing worse than getting sick on a metal ship. Ooooh! Besides that there, the metal and people not making it to the bathroom.
I’ll bet. How long were you on the Liberty Ship? Twenty-eight days. Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom (he indicates a zig-zag pattern with his hand).
So you were a crew member onboard? Nope. I was being transferred. We went to the Admiralties (Islands), thirty degrees from the equator.
The Admiralty Islands? Uh-huh. There was three of them.
(Jim Laird): Now, were you able to go up on deck and that sort of thing? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.
(Jim Laird): Anytime, or with so many people on the ship did they have regulations? We didn’t have any regulations that I remember. Just keep on going…, they didn’t…, we were allowed to go on [the deck of] the ship. In fact that’s where I learned to play Pinochle, because you’d go up on top and that’s how I learned to play Pinochle.
What time of year was this? I think it was, ah…, I think about June.
That was 1943? Uh-huh.
What rank were you? At the end of it or at that time?
At the end of it is fine. Radioman 3rd class.
3rd class, okay. We were at the Admiralties about two months hauling boxes of radio equipment. This…, next thing they all go over here (indicating moving boxes from one side to the other with his hands). Back and forth (he laughs). Then we got another attack transport that took us over to Leyte (Island in the Philippines), Camp Logan. We copied messages there for about a month. Then they flew us to Manila (the capital city of the Philippine Islands) to the polo grounds. I was there the rest of the time.
So you weren’t really stationed onboard a ship? Nope. Dry land sailor (he smiles).
Okay. Well, if you got sea sick, that’s a good place to be. Yeah (he laughs).
And while you were in the Philippines, you were actually working on radios? Oh, yes.
Sending messages and stuff? Yes…, oh, we couldn’t…, we only could copy. We could not transmit. We only copied messages coming in.
Okay, so only received, you didn’t send any? Yeah, and they were all messages. But then they had the name, four letter names of each ship or wherever. So we didn’t know what we were copying. They where just four letter words…, continuous.
And who did you give these too? Oh…, nobody. We just copied them and the messenger takes ‘em and deciphers ‘em, who they were for, if they were for us. There were very few language…, there were some language ones.
So, basically, you just received messages and made copies of them and handed them off to people to decipher, and they did the deciphering? Yeah.
That’s how you lasted out the war, the rest of the war? Yeah.
When did you get to Manila? Do you remember what year, what date, what month? No, I don’t really…, I don’t really remember. It must have been about, ah…, I’d say the end of June. Like I said, we were in Camp Logan first, on Leyte. But that was just for a little while. A few days more or less.
So that would be May, June 1944? Huh?
1944 you think? Yeah. That’d be close enough.
Okay. Where did you live there? Did you live in tents, or…? Yeah, one of those tin…, ah…, what do you call those barracks?
Quonset? Like a Quonset hut? Quonset hut, yeah.
Did you see any Japanese while you were over there? Not that I know of. I didn’t get any…, I didn’t get any fighting.
I was wondering if by the time you got there, they were already gone or the fighting portion was gone. Well, they were secure, but I doubt there were any Japanese running around. In fact, I didn’t even get out of the camp.
Really? Okay, and what was it like when you heard that the war was over with? Well, we were thankful and glad to be going home. That type of a….
When you came home…, when did you come home? Right after the war was over with? Well, yeah…, depending what points you gathered, days over, length of time, you know. We got back I think in March sometime. We had to go back home, then go back again to be…, huh….
Discharged? Discharged, yeah.
So you come back in March of 1946, I image. Uh-huh.
Okay, and where did you go to get discharged? Down to Chicago? Yeah.
Great Lakes, Illinois? Uh-huh.
Did you come back on a Liberty Ship? Yeah. I think it was called MacArthur. I don’t know.
Okay, but it was actually, it was a Liberty Ship? Yes.
Was it as rough sailing as the trip over? No. First of all it was straight, you know, going back. Didn’t take as long.
When you got back here was the area different? Was Waupun area…, was the area different from when you left? Well, at the time when I left I was living with my folks in Beaver Dam. No, at that time it was about the same. Not like it is now. Now, Beaver Dam got so much bigger. And Waupun is going down hill (he smiles).
Okay. What did you do after the war? Went back to the (Milwaukee) Railroad.
You worked, you retired from the Railroad? Uh-huh.
Wow. How many years did you work there? For the Railroad, over forty-two years.
Wow. What all did you do on the Railroad? Well, it was the same job as before, being an agent and telegrapher and the different things that they did.
Okay. Did you get married? Yes.
And who did you marry? Ah, Jean Harlab.
Can you spell her last name, please? H A R L A B.
And when did you get married? In 1948.
Did you have any kids? Three.
Three. And boys or girls? Two boys and a girl.
Did any of them serve in the military? No.
No. Did you have any grandchildren? Yeah, I got, ah…, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Wow. Do they all live in the area? Well, yeah. Well, one family lives in Waupun. The other lives in Jefferson (Wisconsin). And I got a boy up north.
Okay. (Speaking to Jim Laird) Do you have any questions, Jim?
(Jim Laird): Yeah, I have several, actually. Did you work on the Railroad here in town? Yeah, well, yes. The first job I had was here.
(Jim Laird): Out of curiosity, do you by any chance remember how many passenger trains went through town per day? Well, there’d be just four.
(Jim Laird): Four? Yes. See, in the morning, then they’d go back and forth.
(Jim Laird): You are saying that in the morning…. Yeah, in the morning one went…, ah…, then they’d come back at night.
[Author]: They’d go to Milwaukee from here? Uh-huh.
[Author]: Where would they go in the other direction? Well, they went through to Ripon, then they had to back up and go to Berlin. Then they had a bus that went to Fond du Lac. And I think they had one that went to Mayville. See, at that time they had those Hiawatha buses…, transport.
(Jim Laird): And how many passenger trains? Well, I may have been wrong. We had…, at that time we had 31, 35, and 36 and….
(Jim Laird): So there is quite a bit of train traffic? Well, yeah, we didn’t…, yeah, yeah.
(Jim Laird): You know, the thing that is remarkable and that has changed so much is that so much of the transportation into town and out of town was done by train. Uh-huh.
(Jim Laird): And as I understand that the military, when they came home on leave, would be coming in by train and that sort of thing. Now, you talked about being a telegrapher, very often in the movies and things I see that people received the notices of the loses of their children in the war by the telegraph? Ah, yes. I got quite a few of those messages that they had to deliver to the parents.
(Jim Laird): You’d actually then transcribe it off the line, convert it to English, and then deliver it? Well, there wasn’t…, they were…, Western Union we got…, they send Western Union to them, to the parents…, it was our own language…, it wasn’t….
(Jim Laird): Western Union was a different office? They were together. I mean, we were both Western Union, Express Mail, and the Railroad.
(Jim Laird): Well, they just announce what, a month ago, Western Union announced that they were no longer going to be sending messages. I don’t know if you picked up on that, but they are only going to be doing money transfers. Yeah, right, I saw that.
(Jim Laird): So now that…, well the trains were such an important part of the transportation of everything. We had a question here (speaking to the author), we were interviewing the woman that worked at Shaler, and I believe you asked her if the rivets and the things that went from Shaler went from bus or went by train, and she was unsure. Would you (speaking to Irving) be aware of whether or not the rivets from National Rivet went by train? Ah, not too many that I remember. When I was here it was mostly, ah, truck. This was a real small order.
(Jim Laird): Now when you were with the train in town, what was the bulk of the material that went in and out? By the time I was getting here—it was the most carloads first of all—the Railroads were trying to get rid of the LCL.
(Jim Laird): LCL? Less than cargo. In fact, they did get rid of it, just like they got rid of passengers. See, when those trains…, also they handled express, they had a little extra caboose on the…, caboose…, an extra car. There was a Post Office, express office, and, ah, coach.
(Jim Laird): See, I’d forgotten that the…, a lot of the mail actually transferred by train, also. Oh, yeah.
(Jim Laird): And was it the type of thing we often saw where there would be men standing in the car sorting the mail as they went from city to city? I suppose. From what we saw—they only stopped a few minutes, you know—it was already bagged you know, from the Post Office. They had two or three bags. We just switched them around. Same way getting the mail. There was a mail man that met the train every time it was due in. Then he’d come down with his pickup and get the mail and haul it up to the Post Office.
(Jim Laird): Now, did you get free passes for wherever you wanted to go on the train since you were an employee? Yeah, yeah. You could have, I never took advantage of it very much.
(Jim Laird): You and Jean both? Yeah, we could have, yeah.
(Jim Laird): In reading and talking to some of the older people and things, they talked about being in like high school, and when it came time to play a game in the city the ball team would actually go on the train. Oh really?
(Jim Laird): Yeah, which is kind of interesting. I’ve never heard of that type of thing. And one of the interesting things—if you ever want to see it I know we have a copy I believe at the museum and I think there is one down town at the library—and in 1929 here in Waupun they had a gigantic music festival, and there’s a motion picture of that at the, as I said at the museum and at the library. And it starts out with the trains coming into the station. And the kids getting off of the train to come into this, this music contest for the city. But see, when I got out of the, ah, service, the first time…, I, um, I had, ah…, depending upon your seniority, and I had a chance to be the Berlin operator or Cambrian agent, and I took the Cambrian agent. And I was there about, ah, thirteen years.
[Author]: When did you move to Waupun? 19…, ah…, 1964.
And why did you move to Waupun? Because it was done by seniority. In those days when they discontinued a depot they’d combine it with another one. And at that time I was in Cambria and they discontinued the one in Pardeeville (Wisconsin) and combined it with Cambria. But the order seniority got the job, and he bumped me off.
Oh, so they transferred you here then? Well, I had to go looking for a job (he laughs).
Oh. I was at Winneconne (Wisconsin) for one week, then I went on down to Markesan, who[se agent] was sick at the time. And I was there for about a year, and he passed away and I got that job. Then I bid on Fox Lake, and I had that for about a year. Then I came to Waupun, and was here about 9 years. And I thought Waupun is going downhill so I bid on Beaver Dam, which was not a bad mistake. It was much better.
Well, when you came back from the Navy, was your job waiting for you or did you have to apply again? No, we had the rights to…, not the same job. Like I said, I had to bid in.
But, it was sort of waiting for you then? Yeah, in a way yes.
Okay. Did you join the VFW or the Legion? The VFW later on, yeah.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us that you can think off? That was pretty thorough…, no.
Okay. I guess we’re done. I greatly appreciate you coming out, talking and giving us the interview. Thank you.
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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