Recorded on January 11, 2013. Length: 27 Minutes.
JH: This is January 11, 2013 and welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome Jim Bauer who has lived and worked in Northbrook for many years. Actually, he was born in Techny. Jim, welcome.
JB: Thank you.
JH: To start, can you tell us what brought your parents to this area?
JB: After WW II my father came to Techny for work. Some of his friends in Missouri said they were hiring here so my father came to Techny and started working at Mission Gardens. That was where he worked nearly all his life. First he worked at the nursery and later at the farms.
JH: Did your mother work there as well?
JB: My mother was a maid and housekeeper in Glenview. She also came here for work and that is how my mom arrived at Techny.
JH: Did they meet at Techny?
JB: Yes they did. They met at a dance. There used to be a clubhouse on Willow Road and that is where they met.
JH: You were born at Techny?
JH: Where did you live at Techny?
JB: On the corner of Techny and Waukegan Road. There were three structures there. The old St. Norberts School, the Retreat House and the apartment. That is where I lived on the 3rd floor of the apartment.
JH: You said your dad worked at Mission Gardens. What was Mission Gardens?
JB: That was a nursery developed by Brother Charles and Brother Vincent. It grew flowers and trees and they sold to the public for income. And that was where my dad learned his trade as far as the planting, growing and care of trees.
JH: Brother Charles was very well known in the horticulture world.
JB: For his day lilies – the growing and crossbreeding of day lilies. He was an unbelievable person in the development of the day lilly.
JH: I believe there is also a Techny ArborVita.
JB: Brother Charles developed that plant too. I think the mother tree could still be there where the Crate & Barrel building now is; somewhere in the brush you might find the mother tree of the Techny ArborVita.
JH: Your dad worked there all of his working time and you said he worked at the farm as well.
JB: Yes, later when the nursery was shut down because of the economy, he finished out his career at the Techny Farm.
JH: Can you tell me a little bit about the Techny Farm?
JB: Basically the seminary was a self-contained community. The brothers and priests had their own wine, a vegetable garden and the farm where they produced eggs, chickens, pork, beef and milk. They made their own butter. It sustained the people at the Divine Word Seminary.
JH: Jim, this self-sustaining farm, what kind of crops did they grow?
JB: Basically they grew corn, wheat, alfalfa, oats. Basically to feed the livestock and the wheat they used to make their own bread.
JH: You lived all of your growing up years there on the farm?
JB: Yes, I did.
JH: Where did you go to school?
JB: Grade school, I went to St. Norberts. I went to Glenbrook North High School.
JH: Where was St. Norberts when you went there?
JB: It was at the location on Walters Avenue.
JH: Was it a new school when you went there?
JB: No, it had been there awhile.
JH: I know that as a school, St. Norberts is celebrating its 95th birthday this year. And you went to Glenbrook North. Did you work on the farm?
JB: Yes, I did. I worked on the farm in the summertime and after school. I started when I was about eight years old. Started driving tractor and from there it just kept going.
JH: You drove a tractor when you were eight years old. How did that happen?
JB: Yes, I did. Basically they needed someone when baling hay. Just had to drive the tractor straight and know how to start and stop and I filled the bill.
JH: What was it like growing up at Techny?
JB: It was great. Everything was wide open. You learned a lot being on the farm as far as animals, how to grow crops, how things are made. It’s hard to explain but it was a great experience.
JH: What was Northbrook like at that time?
JB: Northbrook was pretty wide open then. Basically beyond Western Avenue, it was empty, not much out there. When I was a small boy the circus used to come to town and set up where the old Sunset Foods was – that area was all open too so they could set up the tent in that vacant space.
JH: Were the houses now located behind the current Sunset Foods there at that time?
JB: I think they were but I can’t recall for certain.
JH: Did you hunt in town?
JB: Yes, I did.
JH: Where did you hunt?
JB: Basically, being so wide open I used to hunt rabbits, squirrels, duck and geese on the farm lands and nursery. We also could hunt on the west side of the railroad tracks. Behind Glenbrook North it was all open woodland. Then we had the Holy Ghost Convent Farm which was open land where we could hunt.
JH: You just mentioned the Convent – can you tell us about that?
JB: That was where young women used to come to become nuns. Like Techny they had their own farm with their own cattle and raised crops for their use.
JH: Where was the convent?
JB: On the corner of Willow and Waukegan Roads, southwest corner.
JH: Where was the farm?
JB: The farm was on the northeast corner of the intersection, where Kraft is now.
JH: Did you ever discover any graveyards over there?
JB: No, I did not.
JH: There is a graveyard at Kraft. I thought you might have found it when you were out wandering in the fields.
JB: I knew it was there but I didn’t seek it out.
JH: How long did you continue working at the farm?
JB: To my senior year in high school from my second or third grade.
JH: Do you know why they decided to cease farm operations?
JB: Basically the people that used to be on the farm: Martin, Leander Burkemper, Joe Swift, Elmer Elliott with the brothers that ran the farm were getting up in years. The younger generation at that time didn’t really want to get involved with farming any more. That’s when they decided to close the doors and call it quits.
JH: Do you know when that was?
JB: I think it was in the late 70s – 1978 or 1979 about.
JH: After you stopped farming, what did you do?
JB: Basically, when I was at Glenbrook North they had a building trades program where we would build a house in Charlemagne. We did that about 3 hours every day. That’s how I learned to become a carpenter, learned the trade. After high school then I went into the Washburn Trade School in Chicago for 18 months. After that you were on your own to find a job. I was looking around and saw ads for Charles E. Schwall in Northbrook. He hired me and I have been there ever since.
JH: So, you have worked for Schwall as they built lots of the houses here in town?
JB: Yes we have. Did a lot of remodeling – kitchens, garages.
JH: Let’s go back to Glenbrook for a minute. What was it like at Glenbrook North when you were there?
JB: Basically, I enjoyed high school back then. There were a lot of automotive and trades classes, not a lot of pressure on kids like it is now days. It was really enjoyable to go to school, meet friends and go to dances and sports.
JH: When you were a child and working on the farm after school, on weekends and in the summer, what else did you do as a kid for fun?
JB: Basically did a lot of fishing.
JH: Where did you go fishing?
JB: Basically, believe it or not, there were two ponds on the farms; we called it little mudhole and big mudhole. There was a small lake. I used to walk there with my fishing pole. It was off Willow Road where Harley Davidson is now. That was the big mudhole; little mudhole was where the landfill is now.
JH: Do you remember there being a golf course there?
JB: Just vaguely. I was still pretty young.
JH: Describe the Techny Farm and what it was like to grow up there. Did you work with the fathers and the brothers?
JB: Yes, I did. I worked with the brothers and Martin Burkemper and Leander Burkemper and Elmer Elliott and Joe Swift. Martin and Elmer Elliott handled the dairy while Leander and Joe Swift worked the fields but they all intertwined and helped each other out. They taught me all about planting and harvesting crops; care and feeding of animals, watching for signs of sickness. It was just great to be outside in the summer time and being out in the winter time hauling manure and good stuff.
JH: Have you carried on with any farming?
JB: I still do hay to this day. I have some property where I farm hay for horses and cattle. I still enjoy it and will do it until the very end.
JH: Do you sell your crops?
JB: Yes, I do.
JH: Where is the market today for the selling of hay?
JB: Basically, I sell to people who have horses, to horse farms. Those who raise race horses or show horses.
JH: Explain to me, if you can. What is the process for growing hay?
JB: Pick your field; plow it to turn the ground over, disc it to break up the ground, then plant the alfafa seed with fertilizer and drag it in the ground to work the seed in and hope for rain. You usually do not get a crop the first year. The second year if the weather allows you can get three or four cuttings. You try to make the first cutting about June 1st, one in July and one in August. If you are lucky you might get another cutting in September. You have a machine that is a hay bind, puts it in a roll where you let it sit and dry, then turn it over to dry again. Then you bale the hay and put it in a barn. You sell the product and do it all over next year.
JH: What is the difference between hay and straw?
JB: Straw is a bedding product from oats or wheat; it has no nutritive value. Hay is fed to animals. Sometimes on lawns, they put straw down to hold the moisture. They don’t use oat straw for that since it has weeds in it. They use wheat straw which has less weeds. Hay comes from alfalfa; straw from oats or wheat.
JH: What are your memories of the kind of wildlife there was in the area?
JB: There was red fox, in the fall the duck and geese would migrate through. We used to have snow and blue geese come through here but that is no longer true. Lots of rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, lots of pheasants in this area. There were deer, not as many as there are now with the white tail deer. It was just great to go out and observe the animals – a great experience.
JH: What about the birds?
JB: We had many. Every fall for about 10 years, snow owls would come in and roast in the blue spruce in Mission Gardens. Also used to see the screech owls and great horned owls. Believe it or not, one time I seen an albino crow. That is once in a lifetime to see an albino crow. I seen an albino squirrel once too.
JH: There was a time when we heard birds a lot; then there was a time which Rachel Carson called the silent spring when we didn’t hear birds much. Now we seem to be hearing more birds again. Did you hear lots of birds when you were growing up?
JB: There were robins, blackbirds, cardinals and finches. I think much of the habitat has been destroyed so we lost some of the birds.
JH: Can you identify birds by their song?
JB: Believe it or not, I can. By their calls I can recognize most species. Even with animals I can recognize the fox or woodchucks, squirrels and rabbits by the noises they make and their alarm signals.
JH: And that is the kind of education you get on a farm but not in school?
JB: Definitely on a farm.
JH: And through observation?
JB: Yes, through observation.
JH: Have you taken some of those observation skills and applied them to your carpentry skills? You have to be a skilled observer in carpentry, don’t you?
JB: Yes, you do. I learned to watch and listen. As an apprentice carpenter, I trained under some older workers who took time to teach me how to do things right; take your time and do it right and you end up with a good final product that will make your customer happy.
JH: That’s what you want – to make the customer happy. Anyone who wants to know the kind of quality Schwall builds can come to the Historical Society and see that on our deck or new front porch. It was put up by Schwall and Jim. Getting back to Techny and the fathers and the brothers. Was there a special kind of camaraderie there?
JB: Yes there was. Some of the brothers would hunt with me. We did a lot of fishing together. In the spring we would jump in the bus and run up to Wolf River in Wisconsin to fish for walleye. There were other trips when a bunch of us would go fishing. That was good times back then.
JH: Where did your parents shop? Did they come to Northbrook or go to Glenview?
JB: Basically Northbrook. As I recall there was an A&P Store. That’s where we used to shop. I think there was an A&P across from the Lorenz Garage and then it moved over to the area of the old Walgreens store. That’s where we did our shopping.
JH: Did your mom buy clothes or Northbrook or did she go downtown or did she make clothes?
JB: I think we used to go to Golf Mill to buy our clothes. Back then my mom made a lot of her own quilts. She was often sewing and patching the rips in my clothes.
JH: When you are outside that much, that would happen. Now you mentioned you have land; where is your land?
JB: My land is in Antioch, Illinois. It is 7 ½ acres.
JH: Do you remember how many acres the Techny Farm was?
JB: I know the nursery covered 90 acres and I believe the farm was about 240-260 acres.
JH: When you look at it now with houses and shopping centers, do you remember it back the way it used to be?
JB: Yes, I do, because I imagine back when I was a kid I was driving tractors right where all the buildings were and where new buildings and asphalt are now. I can remember exactly where the buildings were back when I was a kid, how it used to be.
JH: What do you think the brothers that started Techny would think about all that is on the land now?
JB: I know that Techny started in the late 1800s. I don’t think they could believe what they would see there now. How it is changed. How everything is changed in the area. The land then was wide open west of Western Avenue.
JH: What about when you got into Wheeling?
JB: Those were all vegetable farms then. It was wide open with farms. Quaker Oats used to have a big facility north of Hiway 60 on Hiway 21. We used to bring our hogs up there, just to mate.
JH: So as these cornfields have filled up with houses and people, what would you like people to know about the way it used to be?
JB: Basically, how beautiful it was to see all the cornfields, how open it was. They really missed the true picture of how beautiful it was around here.
JH: Jim, we are getting close to the end of our interview. Is there anything you want to tell us that I haven’t asked?
JB: Basically, how great it was growing up here at Techny and as a young child to have an opportunity to work on the farm and all the knowledge taught to me by the brothers and priests at Techny. It is was a great childhood. It is too bad any children nowadays can’t have a chance to live and work on a farm and know what it is to work hard.
JH: Thank you, Jim. You have a perspective about what it was like to grow up in Northbrook. Yours is a unique perspective about the history of our Village. Thank you so much for coming.
JB: Thank you for the opportunity.