Stereoscope – November 2007
WWII Scrap Metal Drive By Susan Perry
(This is a longer article but worth the read!) This was the headline in the Holdrege Progress on July 17th, 1942. This was the first day of a challenge issued by the World Herald to all the counties in Nebraska. This was one time during World War II when all residents of Phelps County knew they were a part of the war effort. The county chairman, R.C. Brown organized for a county-wide campaign, hoping that Phelps County could be in contention for winning this contest. Loomis’s Commercial Club headed their committee and set up a scrap dump at Perry Lumber where scrap could be weighed and stored. The Farmers Elevator in Funk was designated the collection spot for the east part of the county. In Holdrege Brown began several facets to the successful drives. He approached implement dealer Nels Kronquest who volunteered his expertise and turned over his business and location for the dump in Holdrege. The street on East Avenue between Third and Fourth became piled high and wide with collected metal. Knowing that having a monetary incentive to bring in old metal would aid the results, Brown convinced the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and the Loomis Commercial Club to offer $10.00 a ton for heavy mixed iron, ” a price considerably higher than currently offered in the territory” so the ad in the Holdrege Progress read. The initial day of the drive was very disappointing, with only 6,050 pounds collected. The first customers were John B. Anderson, 8, and Philip Anderson, 3, who brought in 120 pounds of scrap in their little coaster wagon. That weekend seven scouts (Jimmie Sherman, Alden Erickson, Charles Luther, Bruce Johnson, Gne Johnson, Dennis McCafferty and Bruce Hendrickson) their scout leader, Art Easter and scrap committee man, Art Bendler, brought in over 11 thousand pounds, and Easter said scouts would collect from any one who called. In Loomis that first week, J. T. Ecklun and Dave Johnson, Loomis town marshal, were vying every day as to who would bring in the most metal and win the savings bond prize offered in a local contest. One day they collected over 80,000 pounds, bringing their total to 132,290 pounds. Back in Holdrege, Nels Kronquest found over 11 thousand pounds at his business, but said since he was on the committee, he would not be in competition for the prizes. In Funk, over 35 tons of metal was sorted and made ready for loading into rail cars. The 22 men working were rewarded by the delicious cake and coffee served by the ladies- a regular scrapping bee! As each day went by, more groups joined the search for scrap iron. Burlington Railroad enlisted their employees to scour their homes and premises, to urge friends and neighbors to do the same, and to seek out any and all old railroad equipment to add to the growing pile at Kronquests. The county agent, Russ Batie, appealed to every rural boy between the ages of 10 and 20 to “start collecting all the little pieces of metal around their farm homes.” Mrs. Roy B. Johnson urged all county women’s organizations to get into the scrap drive and compete for generous prizes offered in the statewide contest. She reported that chairmen of each township have been appointed and women are searching out their homes for every bit of brass, copper, aluminum, zinc, lead and rubber. In Bertrand, that request was taken to heart so the women were canvassing house to house. Even such small items as mismatched keys were being collected in all the towns, and barrels were placed on the corners of Fourth Avenue for collecting such small metal items. Each day bigger items added to the scrap pile… an old steel safe, the cannons from the Phelps County Court House, and the city fathers salvaged 80,000 pounds of scrap from the old city pumping equipment. The old Corliss engines, a huge steam boiler and accessory materials were loaded directly onto freight cars, bypassing the growing mass at Kronquests. The county sheriff, G. Royal Hanson, added old copper stills and a slot machine. Some of the old stills dated back to the prohibition era and the slot machine had been confiscated years earlier. All had been stored in the jail for years. The scrap Snoopers discovered an old furnace at the site of the old Orphans Home near Phelps Center. Only the small cap of the old water furnace was showing above the ground of the abandoned basement. It took much digging, some expertise from mechanics Dick Black and Lloyd Bush, and the tractor of Carl Johnson to tug, pull and finally extract the furnace out of the six-foot hole. Several tons were added to the scrap pile, and the home received the monetary proceeds from their “donation.” As gas supplies and tire wear were already a concern, farmers brought their accumulated scrap to Loomis and Holdrege on Saturday when they came to town to shop. Over 62,000 pounds came in over the weekend, and after the first week over 225,587 pounds were amassed. Each day articles were in the paper touting the campaign and each day’s result. The publisher of the Holdrege Citizen had donated a third of his newspaper’s front page to advertising each day. J. W. Titus of First National Bank had pledged to underwrite the costs of the scrap drive, and all assumed $500 would cover the costs. But in the second week of the drive, Brown and his committee realized that to recover the metal from the farms within the area, volunteers and trucks would need to be recruited to aid the farmers in the tear down and transporting of the scrap iron. At the time this call for assistance went out to the communities, both Holdrege and Loomis organized the ‘Snoopers.’ The chairman defined this group as “Phelps County’s newest and most exclusive service club.” They will meet every night at 6:30 at the Kronquest Implement Company and the organization won’t disband until the salvage metal campaign is over. A brilliant yellow badge will designate member of the “scrap” snooper organization and a brilliant red insignia will mark the even more exclusive membership, which will be known as the super-duper “scrap snoopers.” Three nights of volunteer service rated the yellow badge, and the red insignia was bestowed after eight nights of finding and recovering metal. An obvious sense of humor helped make a necessary task have a degree of fun attached to it! Every night of the second week of the drive, trucks and volunteers gathered at Kronquests and spread throughout the county. Many businesses donated their trucks, and most evenings at least 10 trucks and sometimes as many as 50 men appeared for duty. Brown spent most every day out scouting the gullies, pastures and farmsteads for metal, and making arrangements to get the equipment collected and transported. That first evening over 100,000 pounds was scheduled for pickup and each evening of the week reported similar results. In Loomis the Snoopers located a 50 year old molasses mill. It was recovered from the E. H. Edlund farm and added to the metal at Perry Lumber. The scrap drive ended in August after collecting over 2,000,000 pounds, and all but three carloads was sold to a Hastings firm. Roy Fulmer supervised others who graded all the metal. Volunteer workers then transported and loaded the metal into railroad cars for direct shipment to the steel mills. By the third week of August, fourteen carloads had left Holdrege and a carload of scrap a day was moving out of the rail yard. Brown stated that was about one-third of the total that would be shipped from here. About 15 to 20 men showed up each evening and worked from 7 to midnight, and the same process was occurring in Loomis and Funk. In October, Nebraska responded positively to a challenge from Kansas as to which state could collect the most scrap iron. An ad promoting this fall drive said, “Although Phelps County moved 1,800 tons of scrap in August, there is easily 500 tons left if each one does his part. Don’t let it be said that brave men died because you failed.” So Dick Brown and Nels Kronquest fired up their scrap committee, and again the Holdrege Chamber offered premium prices for scrap metal brought in. But this drive was highlighted by the students of HHS. They set a goal of collecting 1,000 pounds per student, and had over 400 pounds a piece by mining the city dump! The students offered to go get any metal, transport it to the scrap dump, anything to get the metal to the collection site. The farmer still received the money for the scrap iron; the kids got to add it to the total of pounds they collected. The culmination of the student’s efforts was a “Scrap Jubilee” which took place after Holdrege beat Curtis in a football game. The students snake-danced through the business district to the city auditorium where the king and queen of scrap were crowned with scrap crowns. Donnie Lindstrom and Ruth Silver, the royalty, had been carried to the festivities in an old tin lizzie chariot by six attendants, dressed in scrap costumes. Home room winners and costume winners were announced and recognized. A very fun and successful evening was celebrated as it was announced that the chosen goal of 1,000 pounds per student had been surpassed, and the per capita total stood at 1,443 pounds. A very small third drive was conducted in November, and as the results were scant, it was surmised that “the third Phelps County Scrap drive had scraped the very bottom of metal piles in this county.” As the last car was to be loaded, an appeal for 20 tons of heavy metal went out to fill the car. About this time a large blue pennant, the award of the war production board to those counties that exceeded their quotas on the collection of scrap metal, arrived. It was to “wave at the top of the Phelps county courthouse as a recognition of the patriotic spirit that spurred this county to do more than its share in the collection of scrap metal as well as other war efforts asked by the government.” P.S. All of this was featured in Life Magazine, so this small rural county made national headlines at this time in our history.