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1943: Diamond Club's William Mitchell talks about life before retirement

Bits By Betty
Lead Summary
Betty Mann, Rock County Historian

The following article is part of the Diamond Club Member group that began in the January 7, 1943, issue of the Rock County Star Herald. Members of this group consist of persons of age 75 and older.
The following appeared in The Rock County Herald on Sept. 2, 1943.
You can’t beat a life of retirement for a good time, according to William Mitchell, Luverne, who after four years of taking life easy, still has enough fun working with his tools and in his garden, to keep him from being lonesome to be “on the job.”
Mr. Mitchell retired in 1939 after having been employed for 53 years as railroad depot agent, telegraph operator and yardmaster in towns and cities throughout a big area in the Midwest. Now, when he tires of just loafing, he goes out to his workshop where he has a lathe and other woodworking tools, or he works in his garden. Being a city councilman, he also has certain duties to perform in connection with that office, so he certainly isn’t living a life of idleness, although it might be one of leisure.
Mr. Mitchell has had an interesting life, ever since he was a boy. Born in Fond de Lac, Wis., Sept. 3, 1868, the son of James Monroe and Mathilda Dusenberry Mitchell, he moved with them at the age of three to Winneisheik county, Iowa. The trip was made by ox-team and covered wagon, and he recalls ferrying across the Mississippi river at McGregor.
His first home was a log house. There were many snakes in the country at that time, and on many occasions his mother would carry him around while driving snakes through openings in the log floor.
“Wild! I’ll say that country was wild in those days,” Mr. Mitchell relates. “You could hear the wolves howl at night, and lots of times I heard the groundhogs and the skunks fight for possession of the living quarters under the house. I’d lie in bed and listen to them, half scared to death.”
His father borrowed money from his grandfather at 12 percent interest to buy the land on which they settled. At that time, the farm consisted of 80 acres of hard timber. Now it has been all cleared, and farm land.
He helped his father clear the land, and rattle snakes often hid in the brush piles which were numerous in the clearings. When the brush would be burned, the snakes crawl out, only to find men and boys waiting with pitchforks to kill them. Mr. Mitchell states that on several occasions while pitching bundles to his father on a grain stack that snakes would crawl out of the bundles. However, neither his father nor he was ever hurt.
After finishing the public school, he attended high school in Ossian, Iowa, and after that went to Upper Iowa University at Fayette, where he took a business course. He came home and worked on the farm, then decided he wanted to be a railroad man. He was given a chance to learn to be a telegraph operator, and then was given his first job at La Porte. His salary was $40 a month for a 16-hour day.
From that time until coming to Luverne in 1918, Mr. Mitchell was moved from one town to another. While he was employed at Dysart, Iowa, he became acquainted with Cora Brode, and they were married at her home in Benton county, Dec. 23, 1891.
He worked nights at Dysart for eight years. He reports that he sold many tickets to people from that area who were coming to southwestern Minnesota on home seeker’s excursions. In the spring, these same people would leave on immigrant trains for their new homes which had been arranged for the previous autumn.
He served at Morrison, Iowa, as a telegraph operator at the time a flood washed out a stretch of track between Morrison and Reinbeck, about five miles in length. He was on duty three days and three nights without relief, and as a result, he fell asleep on the job. The company found it out, and that ended his career in Morrison.
He served in a number of other towns and finally landed in Cedar Rapids. From there he came to Ellsworth in 1906, where he remained until going to Watertown in 1911. Ellsworth was a booming railroad town then, and Mr. Michell served as yardmaster, one of the toughest jobs in railroading. Considerable amount of livestock was shipped from Ellsworth at that time. He remembers one time a whole trainload of cattle was shipped from there to Liverpool, England.
He served in Watertown eight years and then came to Luverne, where he was station agent and operator until his retirement in 1939.
Looking back over his 53 years of service, he states, “Railroading really gives a person a good schooling. You learn how to know and how to take people — a matter of fact, you can learn to read their minds. I used to study people, and got so that I could tell what they were going to ask me before they ever spoke a word. The company would send “spies” around to check up on the employees, and I got so I could tell one the minute he began coming down the walk.”
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell became the parents of seven children, all except one of whom are living. They include Lawrence of Minneapolis; Gertrude, of Napa, Calif.; Harold, of Luverne; Dorothy (Mrs. Selmer Bly) Valley Springs; James, who is serving with the army in India and Delmer of Luverne. They have 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
He has one living sister, Mrs. Caroline Finney, Hattiesville, Maryland.
Mr. Mitchell is a member of the Methodist church, the Masonic Blue Lodge, the Commandery and Eastern Star.
He served three years as mayor of the city, and has been on the city council for four years.
He attributes his good health and age to just keeping busy, and having good habits. “I can’t remember that I’ve had a doctor more than once in my life,” he states.
In addition to woodworking, Mr. Mitchell also keeps bees as a hobby. “It’s not only interesting, but it’s profitable,” he declares.
         Donations to the Rock County Historical Society can be sent to the Rock County Historical Society, 312 E. Main Street, Luverne, MN 56156.
Mann welcomes correspondence sent to

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