Woodworking: Blunt, colorful reporting captured historical timesAfter 150 years of turning out a newspaper every week, my hometown paper, the Whitehall Times is no more, having been merged into the Trempealeau County Times by its new publisher, an outfit down by Madison.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
After 150 years of turning out a newspaper every week, my hometown paper, the Whitehall Times is no more, having been merged into the Trempealeau County Times by its new publisher, an outfit down by Madison.
The Times had its moments over the years.
Historian Merle Curti chose Whitehall as the focus of his landmark book, “The Making of an American Community” because the Times files were complete and its reportage was more dependable than other weeklies in the region.
And there was its most famous editor, Dan Camp, whom historians often compare to Mark Twain.
There was also Edwin Goodpaster, who even made news in Time magazine, when Ed left that august journal and bought the Times.
Ed told the Time magazine reporter that he wanted his kids to get out of Washington D.C. to “some normal town where they could know the garbage hauler’s kids.”
Ed hired me to be his columnist at $5 per week (my first job in journalism) and, God knows why, awards began piling up for the little paper.
The Whitehall Times editors always let readers know where they stood. There was no waffling.
One of my favorite editorials appeared a century ago: “Next week is election. Vote. Vote right. Vote Republican.”
And so I’m glad that the new Trempealeau County Times quotes in full passages from earlier issues.
A few weeks ago the following appeared from the Dec. 16 issue of 1886:
“Mr. D. Wood has the contract for building the new wooden bridge over the Trempealeau north of Whitehall. The cost is to be $550, which includes the putting in of a central pier. The letting of the job to this gentleman is an assurance that the work will be well done, and that when the bridge is completed it will be one that will not sway off its foundation and shut up like a pewter jackknife with the first gentle summer zephyr.”
That Dan Camp could really write. A gentle summer zephyr indeed.
D. Wood was my great grandpa. I never knew him, but I’m certain he winced when he read that passage.
His neighbor C.C. Crane built an earlier bridge and it did fold like a pewter jackknife, the first time a gentle breeze wafted across its innards.
Furthermore, C.C. Crane’s granddaughter married D. Wood’s oldest son.
Like every pioneer D. Wood had his problems. When the price of oats fell, lots of Yankees moved on to the great plain states where they made up the deficit with sheer volume.
D. Wood stayed on and shifted gears. He began baling hay and sending it on the new railroad to Chicago to feed the city’s streetcar horses.
I still have his stationery: “D. Wood Dealer in Baled Hay; Ten Tons Guaranteed in Every Carload.”
I also have an ancient photo of a mile-long parade of hay wagons stringing north on Main Street heading for D. Wood’s baler next to the Green Bay & Western tracks.
But even that venture was fraught with difficulty, according to that same 1886 issue:
“Owners of cattle are cautioned against allowing them in the streets. Stock roaming in the vicinity of the hay company’s barns is declared a public nuisance. Unless cattle are restrained they will be taken care of by the proprietors and the owners made to pay damages. In short, shut up your stock.”
One of the hay companies belonged to D. Wood.
The other baler turns out to be another of D. Wood’s neighbors, B.F. Wing.
According to the Times, competition between the two was hot and heavy as D. and B.F. paced up and down the muddy street trying to convince farmers to sell their hay to them.
By all accounts, D. Wood was a stubborn adversary. My grandfather remembered an argument at the dinner table.
D. and his oldest son Archie, a graduate of Gale University in nearby Galesville, arguing about the meaning of a word.
A dictionary was brought to the table. Archie had the proper definition.
His father’s response: “Webster was wrong.”
Fortunately, that episode didn’t make it into the old Whitehall Times.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.