Community memories...Joe Ihm shares memories of growing up in Guttenberg

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Local historian Joe Ihm shares memories of growing up in Guttenberg along the banks of the Mississippi River. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

On a recent warm summer day longtime resident Joe Ihm settled  into a comfortable chair on the porch of The Lockmaster's House Heritage Museum and shared his many memories of growing up in  Guttenberg. 

Breezy bottom 

Ihm started his recollection with this story. "I was in bed with my sleeper on, or at least that is what I always called it. Pat Nugent, an older boy that spent his summers with Ed and Ina Felder, knocked on my door. He wanted me to make the rounds with him to the local gas stations and car dealerships to gather used up inner tubes for our rubber guns," he said.

Ihm explained, "Our rubber guns were made from discarded peach boxes. First, we took the ends of the boxes and created a gun shape using a coping saw. Then we  attached a snapper clothespin to the gun shape. We cut strips of inner-tubing about an inch wide and tied knots on one end. We  hooked one end of the rubber over the barrel and connected the other to the clothespin. We would release the rubber by pressing down on the pin. The more knots you tied in the rubber the farther it flew." 

Rubber wars were played in the basement of the Diamond Jo Warehouse. "Local merchants stored their commodities that were unloaded from the boat in the Diamond Jo Warehouse. The cavernous space with petitioned off areas provided the perfect places to hide behind for our rubber wars," said Ihm. 

The enthusiastic young lad jumped out of bed and joined his friend on their crusade around town in search of discarded inner tubes. Ihm shared, "We walked  around town stopping at all the gas stations and car dealerships looking for ammunition. We stopped at the Ford garage. Irish Degnan's sister was the secretary for the dealership at the time. On our way home we ran into my mother as she was exiting the post office. She looked down at me, mostly my behind, and saw that my button-up seat flap was hanging down, exposing my bare bottom. I was old enough to hang around with the big kids but not smart enough to cover my hind end."

The drugstore window

Each Wednesday and Saturday night, businesses, restaurants and bars were open for business in Guttenberg. "The town was always hopping with musical groups, a popcorn wagon, and entertainment in the drugstore window. The entertainment in the store window varied from week to week. My mother came up with the bright idea that the flower girl from my uncle Bob's wedding (I was the ringbearer), and I should get dressed up and sing and dance in the drug store window," Ihm recalled unenthusiastically.

Turner Hall

Historic Turner Hall was located in the middle of town on the current hospital site. It was originally started by a gymnastic group from Germany. Ihm described, "They had steel rings, side horses and other gymnastic equipment. There was something going on there three nights a week. There were dances, and ball teams held their competitions there. My grandparents, Pete and Angelina Junk, held their 50th wedding anniversary at the venue." 

The ledgers from Turner Hall can be found at the Guttenberg Lockmaster's House Heritage Museum. They have been transcribed from their original old German text to English by Anni and the late Earl Meyer. "I will say this – they ordered a lot of beer," Ihm said with a chuckle. When Turner Hall was torn down it was replaced by a community playgroud. Ihm said, "I remember playing football there. Wally Reinitz went out for a pass and got hit by car," he exclaimed.

Sulfur drugs

Before penicillin was invented,   sulfur drugs were used to combat infections. Ihm shared, "Sulfur drugs were nasty. The symptoms the drugs caused were often worse than the ailment." Brain mastoids were very common during Ihm's early childhood years. Mastoids eventually became non-existent with the invention of penicillin. 

"One winter around Christmas time I became sick with a congestion that settled into a mastoid in my brain. My mother took me to Dr. Rhomberg. I was glad it wasn't Dr. Palmer. I was afraid of him! Dr. Rhomberg determined I needed surgery.  My parents took me to Dubuque. I remember when they wheeled me into surgery the nurse explained to me what was going to happen. I got scared and grabbed my mother's clothes and tore them. They quickly put the ether over my nose and mouth to quiet me down. I was in the hospital for two weeks following the surgery. After two weeks they got me out of bed and I tried to walk. I fell straight to the floor! I was so weak," he said. 

Swimming on the Mississippi

Swimming on the Mississippi River was an enjoyable summer pastime. "The end of the guide wall was our swimming hole. When Buzz Parker dove off the top, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared. He was a magnificent diver. He was long and lean cut through the water like an arrow. My friend Lloyd Sadewasser was fearless. He would run as fast as he could and jump off. We learned to swim above the locks because it was safer. Then we switched to below the lock chamber after we learned how to swim," Ihm boasted. 

Ihm concluded our conversation with the following summarized recollections: "I remember when Guttenberg had  a community tailor. One family made a living selling only hats. Mr. Tujetsch was the first one to ever freeze a candy bar, and the drugstore served cherry Cokes from their soda fountain that was located in the front of the store. Guttenberg was and still is a great place to live!"

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