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Alfred's Story... Part I of II A Century of Memories

By Kathy Kahler
The Nebraska Signal

Editors note: When Kathy thinks of life that goes back to mid 1900's, she envisons horse and buggy, oil lamps and cans with rope to use as  telephones. She hears almost on a daily basis "kids these days, they don't know what hard work is." Perhaps that is true, but did you know what hard work was like? She was given the opportunity to sit down with Alfred Krupicka, I'm assuming the oldest resident in Fillmore County, being 103, along with his son David and his cousin Norris Bernasek. The following story is Alfred's memories he shared with his children as they grew up.
Imagine life with no paved roads, no interstate, no internet, no cell phones, no televisions, very little electricity, no heat, no plumbing, no fast food places, no hospitals and no Wal-Marts. It's hard to imagine your life that way. Some of us know what it was like to not have some of those luxuries and some of us will never know what life was like without any of them. The generation of people who lived life without these luxuries and lived through World War II, Prohibition, the Dust Storm, the Stock Market Fall are becoming fewer and fewer each day. If you have the chance to sit with an individual of this generation, I encourage you to do that. Perhaps we would appreciate our luxuries better, perhaps we would appreciate what this generation has done for us.     
When I was your age, I walked-up hill both ways in five feet of snow. When I was your age, you ate what you were given and you didn't complain about it. When I was five years old I was helping with the family farm. When I was 17 years old, I had a full time job and was providing for my family. These statements have been said for more than a century. We've all heard these sayings from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and perhaps great-great grandparents, depending on your age. These stories are a time of the past, but they did happen. At some point in time, the sayings will become memories for us, as the generations that lived this way are gone.
Alfred Krupicka of Fillmore County was born more than a century ago. He just may be the oldest living resident in the county. Alfred's children have probably heard most of these statements once or twice before. Born in May of 1915, Alfred was one of five children. They lived and grew up on a farmstead outside of Milligan with no electricity, no heat and no plumbing, although the farmstead did have a cistern next to their house, which was their main source of housing water. A cistern was common in 1915, it is a hole that is dug in the ground and used to store rainwater that ran off the house roof. The inside walls of a cistern were typically masonry to prevent water from seepage. Although cisterns provided the means to hold water, it did not give families water. During draught times, the cisterns didn't do a bit of good. The Krupicka's cistern was mostly used for washing, because they had a windmill and a pump jack which worked close to their house, they used to fetch drinking water. Not everyone had wells close to their homes, which is what a cistern was for.
In those days, families raised livestock and lived off the land for means of food. Gardens consisted of an abundance amount of potatoes, rye and wheat. Porage was a common breakfast in the Krupicka family. Chickens, cows and pigs were raised to feed the family.  Although animals provided meat, they were also used to pay the banks and property taxes. Alfred remembers a time in his early childhood when his father had to sell a calf for $10 dollars to pay the bank. Selling chicken eggs was also a means to earning money. Eggs went for $.06 a dozen and cream (they had taken off the top of the milk) was also income for their family. Mostly though, all food was canned to build the surplus. An icebox was used to keep food from spoiling, although not all families had them, but they did have cellars to store food in. Iceboxes were used as refrigerators and were around since the 1800's. An icebox was a box that held blocks of ice, in order to keep food cold. The downfall to an icebox is you didn't want to open it much so you could preserve your ice.
The time Alfred's father sold their calf for $10 to pay the bank is the same time his mother made lard and sugar sandwiches several days for Alfred to take to school for lunch. Alfred attended Primary School in 1921, when he was six years old. The Primary School was located in the country between Milligan and Tobias. He and his brother walked to school, following the railroad. At the time Alfred attended school, it was a one room classroom which housed multiple grades and they didn't have sports. The morning would start with the one teacher giving homework assignments to each class. The students would work on their homework as the teacher would teach each class, starting with the kindergartners.
Alfred finished school in the 10th grade, which was common for that era. During his time in "high school," Alfred attended the Milligan school. His class is the class that came up with the name Milligan Roosters, which was used for the Milligan school until they combined with Exeter in XXX, now known as the Exeter-Milligan Timberwolves. One time while Alfred was in the Milligan school, he was sent home sick. His teacher had thought Alfred had an illness, but he was actually out back of the schoolhouse smoking cigarettes. In that time, boys would take their guns to school and hide them down by the creek bed. After school they would wonder off  on their way home and hunt. Alfred didn't do that, but his cousin Norris did. Norris explained back then trap lines would be set hoping to catch a raccoon. For they paid well, at $15 a raccoon, although that was 20 years after Alfred started school.   
When Alfred graduated from school, he continued to help on his family's farm, pitching bundles. But it wasn't long before he got his first job, shucking corn. Alfred traveled to Fremont and North Bend in his Model A Demonstrator Convertible, which cost roughly $400. Cars in that era were typically black. To have a car that was multiple colors was a big deal. It was somewhat considered a sports car. Alfred's car  was black with maroon fenders. Alfred packed his belongings and made his long journey down dirt roads, all the way to Fremont. There he started working for a gentleman by the name of John Ray. He and other individuals would walk fields and pick corn. A horse and buggy would walk in front of them. The workers shucked the corn and threw them in the wagon. They would walk the rows and shuck for the entire day, making 1.5 cents for each bushel they had done. Alfred indicated he could do 50-60 bushels in a day. However, Alfred's boss saw how good of a job Alfred had been doing shucking the corn, he gave him two cents a bushel. In a days time, workers would earn $1-2 dollars per day. The job would last about a month, so Alfred would stay at his boss's house. "I was treated like family," says Alfred. He was invited to eat meals with the family, and even had a room in the attic. Alfred remembers one particular day working for John Ray, it had to have been in the late fall or winter time. One night while laying in bed, the roof caved in a bit due to the amount of snow. Alfred was covered in snow. The only thing that kept him somewhat warm was his feather quilt.
Feather mattresses and feather quilts, along with wood burning stoves and bedrooms in the attic were the means of warmth for families then. Women would butcher ducks and chickens, pluck them, including the feathers off the stem to make these quilts and mattresses. They were thick and warm.
When Alfred finished his jobs up north, he made his way back to Milligan and from there, Alfred became a jack of all trades. He had many jobs in his life time, including working at the circus, a salesman at Gambles in Fairbury, a car dealer in Milligan, trucker for Harringtons, gas station attendant for Mumbees, helped pave Highway 6, owner of a filling station, owner of Frosty Inn, worked for the Department of Roads, farmer, welder and later in life became an all-around handy man.
Prohibition started in 1920 and lasted until 1933. Sometime within this time frame and perhaps after Prohibition ended, Alfred and some buddies came across a still that was in a barn south of Milligan. They hid outside the entrance of the property in bushes and hid out where nobody would see them and watched truck after truck drive in with bags of sugar and corn mill. They knew what was going on and knew they would be shot had anyone seen them, after all, the mob was running this....a local mob that is. Rumor had it there were underground tunnels that led from the barn out into the pasture. They watched gallon after gallon of liquor being put into boxes and snuck out during the night.  Alfred said the boxes were put on airplanes to get the liquor out of Milligan. When the Feds finally caught on, they raided the still and people fled through these tunnels. Legendary rumors about this still involve mafia members such as Al Capone being involved, while others say it was a local mob. Mafia members such as Al Capone, or local mob members, either way, it was a big deal.
Sometime in the 1930's Alfred worked for the circus that was located in Geneva but was also a traveling circus. Alfred traveled with this circus clear to Iowa, catching nearby towns along the way. This circus had rides, put on shows and even had an elephant. The merry-go-round was located on the street where the Post Office is. Alfred mainly sold tickets, but he may have also worked on the rides. He would have been in his 20's at that time.

Look in next weeks edition for the remaining of Alfred's story.