Frank Van Auken, November 16, 2012

Title

Frank Van Auken, November 16, 2012

Subject

Springfield, (N.Y.)
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)
1939 World's Fair
World War II
France
Boy Scouts
Germany
Fassett Road
Metalworking
Fracking
Ordnance
Natural Gas
The Revolution
Victory Boat
Springfield Fire Commission
Insurance

Description

Frank Van Auken is a life-time resident of East Springfield, New York. He was born in 1920 in the house in which he currently resides. He has lived there all his life except for the four years he served in the United States Army during World War II. Stationed both stateside and in the European theater, Mr. Van Auken belonged to several ordnance companies and saw no combat; however, he had significant encounters with French and German civilians in his time in Europe during the war and its immediate aftermath. He elected to return home after Germany’s surrender, embarking from Le Havre, France on a “Victory Ship” and arriving in New York City.
In the army, Mr. Van Auken learned the trades of metalworking and machinery repair, skills he made a career out of following his discharge. He opened a shop in the former barn next to his house. He completed many jobs and commissions for entrepreneurs and farmers in the surrounding area. He has been an active in the community, serving in administrative positions with the city’s fire department and now defunct regional insurance company.
Van Auken has a multitude of memories that range from his early life as a boy. He recounts working to support his family during the Great Depression and provides excellent historical information on Otsego County from the 1920s and onward. Being a member of what Tom Brokaw called “the Greatest Generation,” Van Auken’s military service stands out as an exceptional part of the interview. Particularly interesting is his discussion of interactions of the German and French populace with American troops.
Mr. Van Auken speaks clearly and understandably with some exceptions. In his speech he generally begins many sentences with “and” and “but.” I have included these in the transcript where they are required for comprehension. There are also moments where he mumbles words or concludes thoughts or statements with, “I don’t know,” I have included these, but they should not be considered as Van Auken not knowing his story or the matters he is discussing. They seem to indicate that he is uncertain about the validity of some of his opinions. There are also some colloquialisms used at different junctures in the interview.

Creator

Drew Ulrich

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2012-11-16

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg 28.8mB
audio/mpeg 28.8mB
audio/mpeg 28.8mB
audio/mpeg 737kB
image/jpeg 2.55mB

Language

en-US

Type

Oral History

Identifier

12-013

Coverage

Upstate New York
1920-2012
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Drew Ulrich

Interviewee

Frank Van Auken

Location

119 Fassett Road
East Springfield, NY

Transcription

"Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2012

FVA= Frank Van Auken
DU= Drew Ulrich

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

DU:

This is Drew Ulrich interviewing Mr. Frank Van Auken at his home, 119 Fassett Road, East Springfield, New York for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s “Community Stories Project” on Friday, November 16, 2012. Mr. Van Auken can you please describe for me what it was like growing up on this property?

FVA:
Well, I’d imagine it was about the same as any place… back in those days. That’s kind of a stumping question.

DU:
Well, just tell me about, you know, how it was growing up in this house you were born in? Tell me what that was like.

FVA:
Well I don’t know, I don’t know if got any way to really compare it to.

DU:
So what kind of chores did you do?

FVA:
Well, we had a few cows and we used to…well, my father milked them and I helped get the hay and the grain in. I used to help feed them and clean them.

DU:
So, they provided you a lot of milk, a lot of accessories?

FVA:
Well, they gave us all the milk. We used to make butter with it. We used to make cottage cheese or “Dutch cheese” as we called it back in those days. Today they call it “cottage cheese,” but it isn’t much of anything but garbage. We had our own gardens. We had our own orchards. We had own meat. We were more or less self-sufficient. This was during the “1929 Crash” there when there… that’s what I can’t, I can’t remember things too much. During Prohibition, not Prohibition. I was born during Prohibition too, but this was something to do with the Stock Market Crash when everything went to pieces back in those days. We got along, I think we got along very well. We didn’t have to go out on the street and sell apples or anything like that. You know what I mean? It was, I think I had a pretty good childhood compared to some. I look back onto it, we were provided for, we didn’t have to worry about food. Course when you are 10 or 15 years that’s about all you think about is food. Now I guess that’s about it.

DU:
So could you tell me about the process of making the cheese and the different dairy products?

FVA:
Well, I don’t know. My mother knew more about that than I did. The butter, we had a milk separator and the cream, we took the cream off. They checked that or she did till it was right. They had to sour somehow. Then we had a butter churn. What we call “a churn.” This is what we had, a lot of them had one that rolled over, but we had one with a “dasher” in it. We got it down to a certain coolness, put it in there and it wouldn’t take very long and there’d be butter in there. And you had buttermilk, regular buttermilk out of it. The cheese, that was made from skim milk. That soured, somehow they heated it on the stove. You had to have it just right or if you didn’t it would be too hard. The curds would be too hard. But they knew how to do it. If it did get too hard my grandmother she done something to it and she rolled it up into a ball like that. Oh, I’m gonna say four or five inches in diameter. And rubbed butter on the outside of it and put it up in what we called “the pantry,” laid it up on a shelf there. I never ate this stuff, it stunk like a son of gun, but they liked it.

DU:
So it was not for like commercial sale?

FVA:
Oh, no, no, no, we never sold any of that stuff.

DU:
Or gave it away?

FVA:
Well, if somebody wanted it. She sold the butter that was a sour cream butter. But you don’t buy that too much [anymore], it’s mostly this sweet cream butter. But, you don’t buy that, you can’t… well yeah I suppose you can get it some places as a specialty. It would be a specialty nowadays. But that’s about it.

DU:
Hmmm, so could you tell me about the history of this house that you lived in and grew up in as well?

FVA:
Well, I understand that it must of have been built, that part in there is post and beam, what they call “post and beam,” I’d imagine that was built in 1840, somewhere in there. It’s an old house, it’s a real old house. And then this here is frame that was built on a long time afterwards.

DU:
Did you or your father put on any additions to the house?

FVA:
No, no this was all before, before we moved in. No, this was all done. The only thing we’ve done is remodeled the inside of it. Fix it up. I’ve made it over. The pantry was over where the refrigerator is now. It wasn’t very big, maybe five by six. And there was a bedroom in there right where that part is. This was the partition, solid partition up here. And this side where we are, the cook stove was in there. They had the big cook stove where it kept you warm all winter long. It changed a lot since then, things have. No electricity.

DU:
Really, how was that? [What] was that like?

FVA:
No electricity until 1929, they come in and then they run the line in. We were about the first to get electricity because one of the fellas he was an electrician and he worked for this guy. They had a little pull with the electric company and they put that in. No, we had lamps. In the living room in there they had some kind of a lamp that had mantles in it, you know? Like “a mantle lantern”? And you get pretty good bright light with that, but out here they just had plain old kerosene lamps. Something like that. And they burnt wood in the stove that’s how they got the heat. They had to go up in the woods and cut up a whole lot of wood and come down and they’d have someone buzz it up for the right length they wanted. I got the job of splitting it! And I didn’t like that [laughs]. Some of it was pretty tough. We didn’t too much running around. I didn’t, I had to work. When I come home from school I had to go get things straightened out, get the cows straightened out. I didn’t play ball or stuff like that, that was for the “town-people” to do.

DU:
So what was it like when electricity was brought to this house, if you recall?

FVA:
Well, I think we had a light there, a lot different than this one, had another light there, two, three blubs in that thing. Yeah, I don’t know, it was different. We didn’t get a refrigerator till nineteen—, in the fifties I guess it was in there. I don’t know how they really kept stuff. I think they canned it all so it didn’t spoil.

DU:
Did they keep it in the pantry here?

FVA:
No, there’s a cellar down in there. What we called “a cellar.” That’s the basement, nowadays they call it a basement, but that was the cellar down there. And they had shelves down in there and they put all the stuff onto it. And they also picked the apples in the fall and that went down in a shelves or bins down in there and potatoes and all this rootstock was put down in there. And, it didn’t rot too much. If you knew how to take care of it, it wouldn’t spoil too fast. The canned goods never spoiled, but you get carrots, potatoes, and onions and that stuff and apples. Apples were hard to keep because if one started all the rest of them would go… after awhile. We started eating up the apples that were rotting and as a result we ate rotten apples all winter long. [Laughs] But they’d make them up in applesauce and pears, canned pears, canned cherries, canned plums, all that stuff was in cans. And that stayed good, wasn’t anything wrong with that. And they canned meat, they get a quarter beef, cut it all up in chunks, and put in two quart glass jars I guess it was, put it in a hot water bath and heat it all up, cook it in that, and snap the lid down. And it would stay all right. You never had anything go in that.

DU:
So could you tell me about your high school?

FVA:
Well, I went to right school down here in East Springfield. I went through high school. I haven’t been through college or anything, excepting the one of hard knocks and also the United States Army. When I first went down there all they had, well they had high school down there, but there was no gymnasium or anything else. They built that on. I sat there and watched them out of the window. I had good teachers, but [even if] you had good teachers you got to do some of it yourself. So I don’t know? It was okay, I got along alright, no trouble, no bullying like they have today. They have a little boxing match downstairs maybe but, they have gymnasiums now all made up and nice. When we played, we had to play in the cellar, around the furnaces. And they holler about asbestos, well hell everything was covered in asbestos in those days and the dust is flying all over. Oh boy, today you don’t want to get a bit of it or it will kill you. But I was in a lot of it for a long time. I didn’t die. Otherwise, they built that [the gym] in the 1930s, I guess it was somewhere around there. I graduated in 1939, yeah that was it. Then, I monkeyed around here and then they started a defense course over in Richfield and I went to that and next thing I knew they came up and they wanted me to go to Remington Arms to work. So I went down to the Remington Arms and I went to work there and that was a good deal, but Uncle Sam needed me so I done what they wanted me to do and I went in.

DU:
So I come from a military family. Could you describe for me how you felt when you were inducted or drafted into the armed forces?

FVA:
I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going or anything else. You from a military family? [DU: I am.] It was a good experience, let’s say, but I’m not a guy who likes to be told what to do. You know what I mean? And that in there that’s what they tell you to do. The chain of command is the chain of command, I always thought that was what it was. If you wanted anything you didn’t go to the captain and ask him. I had a Master Sergeant over me and that’s who I spoke to if I wanted something. I always got it. The [less] I had to do with the commissioned officers. To me that was the best thing [to do]. I didn’t want anything to do with them. I don’t know why I never thought very much of them.

DU:
Why was that?

FVA:
I don’t know, I just had that idea, I just had that idea. They were alright. Nothing wrong with them…I guess. Of course I don’t know whether they knew what they were doing. I don’t think Eisenhower knew what he was doing. But if it hadn’t been for the men on the frontline, Hitler would have had this outfit or the Germans would have it. That’s my opinion, [but] I don’t know. I’m not a very brilliant man.

DU:
So, could you tell me about some of your induction and the training you did?

FVA:
They inducted me up in Utica because I was working there in arms in the 4-0-9 in Ilion. And I was inducted in Utica. I guess you swore in or whatever it was, and then they sent me to Camp Upton on Long Island. And there we got all our uniforms and everything else and shots, and all this crap. And then they were supposed to have what is it—“Basic Training.” I never had any basic training. [DU: Really?] No, they sent me right straight from there to an ordnance company in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A few other people with me, half a dozen, they couldn’t believe it either. “You never had any basic training?” “No I don’t know anything about it.” So they put us in with a buck sergeant in charge of us and he done the drilling and all that stuff and told us what to do.

DU:
So, do you think they needed you so bad that they didn’t process you through basic training?

FVA:
I don’t know what they heck? I never did figure that out. I don’t know what the heck. There was an instrument man, an optical, and watch-makers, and another machinist. There was six of us that went right into that company. I don’t know why. I don’t think they could figure it out either. Well, at any rate, I was in there for, well they give me my six weeks so that I could march, pick my feet up. And then they sent me to Aberdeen, Maryland to the proving ground down there, and I took a three-month welding course. And while I was down there the company moved to Boston. Well, you can imagine it’s hotter than the blue blazes down there in Fayetteville, North Carolina. You come up in here and it’s about twenty below zero, it kind of gets your blood thinned out. One time I remember we were out on a three-day weekend bivouac, and it was so cold that in the morning when you got your breakfast the eggs would freeze in the pan before you could eat them. So, then I was in there for awhile and suddenly they come in and say “you’re going out on cadre.” You know what a cadre is? It’s where you establish a new company. Why? I don’t know. “You got to be a staff sergeant.” So, boom, I’m a staff sergeant, so they sent the whole cadre to Camp Phillips, Kansas, out on the prairie. That’s just west of Salina, and okay we stayed all winter long and I got frostbite and everything else. And they sent me after awhile to Springfield, Massachusetts, to the trade school there for machinist work so I was there for three months. I go out back out there again. Suddenly the old man says, “there’s a Colonel wants to see you up at headquarters.” Okay, what the heck am I do to? So I go up there and he says, “there’s a captain down in Fort Leonard Wood, he’s a-crying for people. You want to go down there?” I said, “I don’t care where I go!” About two weeks they kicked me down there, Fort Leonard Wood, that’s a nice place. I liked Fort Bragg because you go into Fayetteville in the Circle Bar there, you can refreshments. But then all of the sudden they sent me to Aberdeen, Maryland again for more training and then we came back. We were there a little while. [Then they told me,] “We’re going to give you training at Camp Hale, Colorado.” That’s where the Tenth Mountain Division was training up there, we were supposed to be backing up the Tenth Mountain [Division]. They give us all this clothing and stuff to stay out on the ground … well, you sleep in them. You put one layer one then put another on and another on and oh cripe. Suddenly “take that all back to the supply, supply sergeant, we aren’t going out there. We’re going to Europe.”

DU:
What was that feeling like?

FVA:
I didn’t care where they were going, didn’t make much difference so we packed up and went to Camp Shanks in New York. Stayed there maybe a few days and went down and got on a boat, a nice big boat. I guess they don’t call them boats they call them ships now. We went to Marseilles, France; we landed in Marseilles, France. That was a funny thing. We come through Gibraltar at night. On the British side. where Gibraltar is it was as dark as could be. Of course on the other side, I think it was in Algiers, lights are burning bright just as if there was nothing going on. So we landed in Marseilles, France. I think we got off that boat, cleaned it, and about three o’clock in the afternoon that thing pulled out. That didn’t stay there at all, and they bombed the port that night.

DU:
In Marseilles?

FVA:
The Germans bombed the port. So you can see why they left. They bombed it every night. I don’t know why they didn’t bomb us cause we were right out there in the open on a flat above the city. I don’t understand why they didn’t do that? Of course they done a lot things I can’t understand. We had to stay there for two or three weeks until the boats arrived with all our trucks and our equipment and everything. Then we started up the Rhone Valley for Luneville, France, that’s where we finally wound up. We get up the Rhone Valley a ways and here’s all this equipment laying alongside the road, the German equipment. They caught them in the front and in the back and then they went over them. [Laughing] They got rid of that bunch in a hurry. So we stayed all winter in Luneville and then the next spring probably say March, we went into Germany. We were in Germany when the war was over. I think we were barracked in an I.G. Farban place or something like that. Another funny thing, we come into a place, I don’t know if it makes much of a difference whether I talk about this or not. Switzerland was neutral, here’s a family in Germany, Swiss family, “don’t come near us we’re neutral! You can’t touch us, you can’t come in here!” I wonder if they were neutral then I heard later the Germans they knock the teeth out of the Jews and the gold out of the Jews and sent it to Switzerland and they melted it down for them. And they were feeding them ammunition during the war, but they were neutral. I don’t like this stuff. So that’s that. I come back home after awhile. You ever ride a forty and eight boxcar? They did that in World War I, you know? Forty men OR eight horses. So, that’s what I got into and come back to Le Havre, France and got on one of these “Victory Boats” and come back home. I didn’t know anything at that time if I did I’d have wonder how I got here. My gosh! It was in March, that North Atlantic is really rough. So that’s it!

DU:
Could you tell me about some of your friends while you were in the service?

FVA:
I didn’t… I had acquaintances. Friends? I never thought much about friends, that might have been for the infantry, but I wasn’t in long enough in one place long enough. I was in three [different] companies, so you didn’t make too many friends, if you did you forgot all about them. I’d often wonder where some of them went. What happened to them? This one company I was in, the first one, the 32nd Ordinance, they said that went to North Africa and I wondered if they got blown up in North Africa. I don’t know? This one that you were reading about, I guess you read about it in there, they were deactivated in Okinawa or some place way off in the Pacific. But you had friends for a little while, I say friends… acquaintances that you went out with and had a few beers and maybe had some spaghetti and meatballs and stuff like that with. But I didn’t, I didn’t get fast friends. I knew that I wouldn’t keep them very long. You know that I mean? What else you want to know?

DU:
Would you describe for me in a little more depth your company’s assignments, your company’s assignments and duties while you were in Europe?

FVA:
We were what they called a “heavy maintenance field army unit,” and we were assigned to the Seventh [START OF TRACK 2, 0:00] Army. We repaired trucks, tanks, scout cars, heavy artillery, light artillery, machine guns, rifles, whatever else they had… instruments. We done all that, all that work. If they came in that’s what we done. In the section I was in, an ordnance company has sections to it, automotive, artillery, small arms, instrument sections, supply sections. What I was in was what they called the “service section” where all the mechanics, the machinists, the welders, carpenters, leatherworkers. They were all in there and it was attached to “Headquarters Company.” So that’s the way that worked. But I’d done a great deal of automotive work, a lot of trucks. Automotive was the biggest section. While we were there, somebody wrecked one of the trucks. Come to find out I before we left for Germany. This one guy he wanted to go to Germany with us. Even brought his wife down to try, [but they said] “no, no, you aren’t going with us.” Come to find out he was a German spy. He was in there. They caught him afterwards. He was French, but he was a collaborator. We did take a Frenchman with us, Charlie, Charlie was alright, Charlie was a Frenchman. He didn’t like the Germans either.

DU:
Was he in the army or was he a translator?

FVA:
No, he was a civilian. We employed some civilians.

DU:
What was their role?

FVA:
Whatever we told them to do. Charlie was a cutter, oxy-settling. He was alright. When we were in Germany, we were going to box up to go to Japan. We were getting ready to go to Japan when the war was over. We had German civilians building the boxes for us to put our equipment in. We were getting ready, the train was ready and everything else. I had my number of days and I said “no more.” I went to Le Havre and got on that Victory Boat to come home.

DU:
So they let you go there rather than Japan?

FVA:
Yeah, I had enough points to get out.

DU:
Oh, I understand, they worked on a point system.

FVA:
It was on a point system back in those days. I think I had, I’m going to say one hundred and fourteen or something like that, just enough to get out. Yeah, it was all on a point system, so many days in there you get so many points for. If you are overseas, you get so many more points and all like that. So we got out. I got out.

DU:
How many did you need for a discharge?

FVA:
I can’t tell you that. I don’t know. Oh, for a discharge, you didn’t have any.

DU:
To go home, basically.

FVA:
To go home. I think I had enough. I don’t know if it was one-hundred fourteen or one-hundred twenty-four, something like that, points. That was an awful ride across the North Atlantic in that boat.

DU:
Tell me about that trip home.

FVA:
You know when I went over it was just as smooth as a mill pond. We come across that North Atlantic in one of those Victory Boats in March and that was just like a cork on the ocean. Like a cork. We were bouncing all over and it was rocking back and forth, up and down. Some of those people, they never got out of their bunks. We had a bunch of girls on it with us. They were over there entertaining, never went to see them, but they never got out of their bunks. Me? Didn’t seem to bother me. I liked to go up to the front and watch the waves. No, it really didn’t bother me. But that was rolling so that you feet would be in the water when it rolled and then it go back up again and must have been twenty to thirty feet to the water. I’m telling you, it’s a wonder we got home. I’ve thought about, but I didn’t think anything about it then. They didn’t have any stuff into them to keep them down. They didn’t have much ballast into them or anything. They were empty and they rolled around. But that North Atlantic, don’t go over that thing in March unless you got a boat the size of the Titanic and that’s at the bottom. I haven’t been on the ocean since.

DU:
So, did it take you to New York City, or where did it land?

FVA:
They deposited us in New York City at the port.

DU:
What was that reception like when you arrived there?

FVA:
Oh cripe, I don’t know. You got off the boat, got on a truck, and went over to Camp… what was that? Fort Dix. There was no parades, no parades, no parades whatsoever. They must have had parades for somebody, but as far as I’m concerned they just took us over there and processed us and took the clothes and give us a ticket to go home. That was it.

DU:
So after your discharge and this process, where did you go? Just come here?

FVA:
Yeah, I come home, I come home. I’ve been home ever since.

DU:
Tell me about how you felt upon being reunited with your parents and your sister?

FVA:
Oh, it was a good feeling I was glad to be back. I don’t know. As I say, it was an experience, but they were glad to see me and I was glad to be back here. So I started up a shop. After awhile I got married and then she died.

DU:
So, tell me about how you got your self started in your career. What were you seeking to do for a living?

FVA:
Well, machinist work, that’s all I knew. I didn’t want to do any farm work, I’ll tell you that, so I scrounged around and got some machine tools and set up a little shop down here. At that time there was a lot of farmers around here, a lot of them. They need something done every once in awhile. It was alright. Nowadays there’s only two or three farms and they’re big ones around here now, but there was a lot of them around, little farms maybe twenty, thirty cow dairies. Then was a few people who wanted things to do other than farm work. I was busy all the while.

DU:
So how’d the skills you learned in the army translate into your civilian career?

FVA:
They were very useful, very useful. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to do that if wasn’t for the things I learned in Aberdeen. I liked that type of work. You have to like your type of work if you want to get anywhere. But I didn’t like people telling me what to do. [Laughs]

DU:
Is that why you went into business for yourself?

FVA:
Yeah.

DU:
So what sort of jobs did you do for people of this area?

FVA:
You name it. Oh, I built stanchions for them, I mended their equipment, I made elevators for their hay elevators. I made grain elevators. I even mounted tanks on trucks for oil. I built hay trucks, put the big racks on the bottom, made the racks on to them. What else? I made a lot of, I don’t know if you notice them around here, these oil tanks that are set up for farmers to put gasoline and fuel oil in. I made a bunch of them. There’s a fellow down in Fort Plain, he had an oil business and he wanted tanks. And he’d buy the tanks and I’d get the angle iron and put them all up in the air five, six feet so they would gravity feed into the tanks. One fellow over here in Richfield, he was going into the oil business and he bought a bunch of trucks’ bodies and I had to mount the tanks onto them things so he could put them in. Also, one job I had was for what the heck is that express there? Not Federal Express, but the other one. I forget what it is now. They come in with a bunch of trucks and I had to cut them in two, just the frames, cut them in two and extend them, make them bigger. I done a lot of crap. Done a lot of things.

DU:
So what sort of competition did you have in your line of work?

FVA:
I didn’t have much. There was a few here and there. Maybe a welder in Cooperstown. A fellow in Richfield, but he didn’t do too much. He was getting out of it. But nowadays the farmers have all got their own machines, you know. They can “cob-house it together,” as they say, but I didn’t do that. I make sure. [Unclear] cut off the ends of plow shears—I don’t know if you know anything about plowing—and put new ends onto them for them. You could buy ends, you know about that long, cut them back and put them on or weld them on. Really crazy.

DU:
You were talking about the oil businesses getting started around here. I know there’s a lot of discussion regarding environmental issues like fracking. What are your thoughts on this matter?

FVA:
It don’t make much difference to me. I don’t expect to be around here when that stuff gets up here… if it ever does. There’s a lot of rumors, you know. Maybe they’ll drill around here. There’s gas around here. I don’t know. It’s in that “Marcellus Shale” district. They’ve drilled down there in Pennsylvania for years. You got oil wells out there. You had any trouble with them? Has it polluted your water? Of course, you get it from Lake Meade anyway. That’s all rain water. This water that I get are all from drilled wells. The Delta Dam down here, well that’s for New York City. They don’t tell you what the chemicals are in there, but evidently it must be some kind of radiation, radioactive, because they talk about radioactive.

DU:
From the natural gas?

FVA:
Well, I think it’s in the stuff that they put in to crack the rock. My gosh. All that is pumping water down in there, millions and millions of gallons, and this stuff is mixed in with the water and it’s supposed to break the rock up to let the gas out. They start about a thousand feet down and go on down maybe ten thousand feet. But to me it’s going to be quite a long time before that stuff seeps up through the rock. I don’t know. They won’t be up around the casing in there because they pour that full of concrete around the sides of that for about fifty, a hundred, two hundred feet. I know they’re all against it, a lot of them are against it. What gets me, is if they sell out to these birds, nine times out of ten, they’re not going to get much out of it because these oil companies have got that pretty well sewed up. It’s just like the Eskimos in Alaska. They give the oil companies rights to go across their land up there, and they were going to give them so much and all this and that. But the oil companies built a big building down in Washington, glass windows and everything else into it. They were talking to the Eskimos up in Alaska, how much they were getting out of it and some of them say “oh, we get about ten dollars a year out of it.” And, they got a wooden shack up there for their headquarters. Now that’s not right, I don’t think. I don’t think they live up to what they tell them. They’ve got good lawyers and they know how to ford a contract. You ever watch that show, The Men that Made America? You ever get a chance to watch any of that on t.v.? It was on the History Channel last night. It was about Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie [sold] out to Rockefeller for I think it was $800,000. Today it would be billions, something like that. That was when a dollar was worth a dollar.

DU:
So you don’t find that the companies preparing to do the fracking are very trustworthy?

FVA:
That’s what I hear… I don’t know, myself. I’m not… but there’s gas around here. I know that because it’s blown my hat off once. A fellow here just up on the hill here, he drilled a well up there back of one of his houses to get water. They went down six hundred feet and they didn’t get it, so he wants me to cut off the casing so he can put a cap onto it. Well, I went like that with a torch across the top and it blew my hat off. It was full of gas.

DU:
Full of gas? Like liquid gas?

FVA:
No, propane, well not propane, but natural gas, but once it blew that was all there was to it. You could go ahead and do what you wanted with it. But there’s gas around here, plenty of it. I don’t whether we would get any benefit? Maybe the farmers might get benefit out of it, so much a month, so much a year. Maybe if they have a good man reading the contract. The words are in the contract. You want to read the fine print, lots of it.

DU:
Tell me about your wife.

FVA:
She was a schoolteacher.

DU:
How’d you meet?

FVA:
Mutual friends, we met up here. Monkeyed around. Finally we decided to get married. She taught down in Averill Park that’s down back east of Troy. She came from Oswego, New York up on Lake Ontario. Her mother and father, they had a fruit farm up there. She was a very nice woman, very good woman, but she developed acute leukemia and that’s the end of you. If you’re over sixty years old, you aren’t going to get away from it. You’ve got six months and that’s all. Otherwise, she was alright. We never had an argument, never had an argument. It wasn’t an argument, but I went to work one morning, everything was fine, she was going to make an apple pie, we had apples out here. So I come home about ten o’clock, and boy she lit into me, holy Moses, she was going to divorce me, she wasn’t going to do any of this housework and she didn’t get married to do any of this and that and the other thing. I couldn’t even get a word in edge-wise. She was really wound up. So I says to her, “Well we’ll talk about this when I come back at noon.” So I come back at noon and she throws her arms around me and she says, “I’m awful sorry for that! I didn’t mean any of it!” I thought what in the heck did she have… Come to find out the pie crust wouldn’t roll out the way she wanted. She was mad as a hornet over that. Well, I said, “what the heck you do? Why didn’t you throw it out?!” [She said] “Well I don’t throw it out, once I start something I’m going to finish it!” That’s the only time… that wasn’t really a fight that was just a statement. Maybe that’s the way she felt. She never said anything more about it. Then she up and got this [leukemia] and that was the end. Been gone for over twenty some years.

DU:
Tell me about your wedding day and where you all lived. I assume you lived here after you got married?

FVA:
Yeah, we come back here. We had that in Oswego. We got married in a big Methodist Church up there. The old man really swung a soiree up there in a hotel. Gee, we must have had one hundred and fifty people, dinner. It must have cost him a little money. And then we finally went on a trip, we went up into Canada, cripe that must have been two weeks. Went in at Niagara Falls and come all the way across Canada and down to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, come back in. It was a nice trip, but I got tired. I had to stop because I couldn’t take it. I had to lay down for a day or two to straighten out. I don’t know why? I thought I could take everything, but I can’t. Now I can’t take anything, but that’s it. Got any other questions there?

DU:
Absolutely, I wanted to see what sort of community leadership roles have you had?

FVA:
I’m not too much up on politics. I was fire commissioner for awhile and they had an insurance company here and I was secretary and treasurer of that for awhile until they sold out. That’s about it.

DU:
Tell me about the responsibilities of those two positions.

FVA:
Well I was the secretary for the fire commission down here. [I] had to take the notes down and next meeting you told what they done and this and that and the other thing. We were mixed up with an insurance commission down here in Albany. They keep track of you, you know on that? They sent around an auditor every year to check it out. I didn’t like that. I had it alright, but maybe not had it in the right places, that’s all. He come from around Edmondson, somewhere in there. Every quarter you had to fill out this book form, cripe the darn thing was I’d say two feet by one foot, red, all this crap up the side of it. I wasn’t up to that. It was a fire insurance company. If anybody burned out or motors on things burned out, we just paid for it. There wasn’t anything great about it. That insurance outfit down there, I didn’t like them either. I suppose it’s got to be done. So we sold out to Mohawk-Minden Insurance and I guess they still got it. I don’t know who’s in it now anymore. It’s all gone, that’s quite awhile ago.

DU:
So was this farmers mainly that were involved in this insurance ring?

FVA:
Not necessarily, no, anybody that wanted to sign-up to pay a premium could. It wasn’t a very big premium. We weren’t into it to make a lot of money. We were in there just to help out the people.

DU:
So if their barn burned down or their house burned down [you would come to their aid?]

FVA:
Yeah, see we were reinsured. What they call “reinsured” with this reinsurance company they called Gilder. We were reinsured with them down there so they backed us up all the while, but it hit us if it was greater than a certain amount. I don’t know what that was? Motor or cooler for a milking [machine] or something like that. We just got them another a motor, that’s all they wanted, so they could go back to work. It wasn’t great.

DU:
So did you go out on fires as part of the fire department?

FVA:
No, no, I was one of the first people when they organized the fire company. I was in on that, but I never was a fireman. I went in to the fire commissioner. I didn’t mind monkeying around with that. They need younger people.

DU:
So what leadership role did you have as commissioner?

FVA:
Just as I said Secretary-Treasurer, Secretary, Secretary. We had a woman for a Treasurer. They had a president, but I never got into that…
[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00] Wasn’t much of anything anyway. I don’t know who’s in it now?

DU:
So, what’s a memory that really stands out in your mind, living in this house?

FVA:
Memory? Well, that’s a hard one. I don’t pay much attention to any of it. I remember the commemoration of the Fourth of July. They had a big parade, came up from Fort Plain, Canajoharie all the way down there up through here with horses and everything like back in 1776, you know? That was interesting. They come right down by down the road here. When I was a kid they used to call this the “Continental Road” right here in front of the house. And that goes across the road, the Continental’s over there and now this is Fassett Road. General James Clinton, he was supposed to have camped right out there, further into the barn there. My father and I have picked up buttons and money and stuff like that. Must have been some kind of a camp because he’s picked up cannonballs out there too. My niece has got one over there to West Exeter. He got two, I wasn’t around when he got them. He give one to another person down in Canajoharie. I don’t know where that went, but it was a ball about that big, heavy. Lot of history around here.

DU:
Did you ever find anything else about it, cannonball?

FVA:
No, nobody knows anything about it. Maybe they just dropped it off there beside the road. I don’t know where they went by, but we used to pick up quite a bit of junk from that period.

DU:
Could you maybe describe some more of it, please? You mentioned some money; so was it like pieces of eight?

FVA:
No, no, no it wasn’t anything valuable I don’t think. They were just copper pieces. I don’t know what they were for. And then there was company emblems, a few of them. I got a pocketbook full of it in there somewhere, but you can still pick up stuff out there. They come in there every once and awhile and go over it.

DU:
Have they showed you what they’ve found?

FVA:
Yeah.

DU:
What else have they found?

FVA:
Buttons, mostly buttons, maybe one of those coins. I don’t know what they were for. They were big things like that about an inch and a half in diameter. I think they were copper. They’re dark. I never cleaned them up because you don’t want to do that. You can go out there with a metal detector and pick stuff up.

DU:
So, do they take them to the museum when they’re done, or what do they do with them once they’ve found them?

FVA:
You mean the stuff?

DU:
Yes, the articles, the artifacts.

FVA:
Just threw them in a pocketbook and left them there. They never bothered with them much. You probably could find stuff out there [in the West], Sutter’s Mill in California. You can pick up gold out there. I never found any gold around here that’s the whole thing.

DU:
Backpedaling a little bit toward your military career, could you tell me about this spy that was seeking to join your outfit in Europe?

FVA:
He was in there, supposed to be a helper. I don’t know. I never paid much attention to it. They just said after we left that they found out that he was a spy. As I said, somebody wrecked a bunch of motors down in the motor pool. They figured maybe there was more than one of them in there. But that’s about all.

DU:
This was in Massachusetts?

FVA:
No, no, this was in Europe. The spy was in Europe. When we was in France in this place called Luneville. We were bivouacked in a chateau, which some Polish prince built years and years ago. Once in awhile we get a chance to go somewhere and look around. A person wants to know where he comes from he better go over there. You ever been to Holland?

DU:
Did you have experiences with captured German equipment and captured Germans themselves?

FVA:
No, we had nothing to do with captured Germans. We did have a German machine gun. We used to set it up in the office over there. That’s about all. I did bring back, I did get a German rifle. I brought that back, and I had a P-38 pistol. If you ever see them shooting the Jews in the back of the head that’s what they’re using is a P-38. So this is a brand new one, brand new one. I don’t know whether I’ll say this or not on that thing, but that thing is worth about $30,000… that gun. It’s a brand new one, never been shot, it’s got all the serial numbers right straight through onto it so they know. I didn’t want one, I brought it back. I had a Walter over there, a little .22, eight shot. Cripe, you could slip right into your pocket and no one would know anything about it. But what I wanted to get is a luger, one of those [unclear]. They wanted a lot of money for one of them. I paid sixty bucks for this thing. I gave it to my nephew because I don’t have a permit and he’s got permits for all that darn stuff. And he took it to some gun man somewhere and when they got all through, he says that gun’s worth about $30,000, but I don’t know whether it is or not. Next thing is to get it. They went through a town over there and took all the guns. Civilian guns, shotguns, all engraved, smashed them up. I don’t understand these people.

DU:
Who took the weapons?

FVA:
The United States Army. They sent us in to get them. We went into the houses and picked them up.

DU:
What was that like?

FVA:
That was in the middle of the night and they didn’t say too much. They were all in bed. I was in the division, coming back, and one night or one day they says “well you’re going out on a raid next day, tomorrow morning.” So okay, so we go out and we surround this town. And we go through it looking for, making sure they got their passes and all this crap. Of course one guy went up over the hill. They took a shot at him. I don’t know whether they got him or not. But I was in with one bunch, they were all in bed and one of the guys got out and he had a pipe laying there, a smoking pipe. I commented on how nice it was. He went into the other room and came out with a placard with all these nice beautiful pipes onto it and says “you want one?” And I says, “No, I wouldn’t take one of them.” No, no. They’d have me in the guard house, you know you didn’t steal! They’d figure it was stealing! But they were beautiful pipes. But I thought smashing those shotguns and stuff like that, smashing them over an anvil or something, break and bend them so they couldn’t use them, that wasn’t right. They weren’t going to use them on us or anything else. It was just sporting rifles.

DU:
And where did this take place?

FVA:
In Germany, in some… I don’t know. I don’t know what the names of the places were. I never paid any attention to it. We were up along the Rhine there, was in Munich, Augsburg. You heard of Frankenstein’s Castle, well Frankenstein’s Castle is up in there. Not anything, just an old, broken down dump. Nothing like “Bride of Frakenstein” or “Frankenstein,” that’s all a bunch of crap. But his name was Frankenstein. Nobody had been there for years and years. You go up through the Rhone Valley in France and you see all these buildings off on the hillsides. All nothing but stone sticking up. Years and years ago somebody lived there. You know I say if you want to know your history of yourself, you want to go there. You can see that, we don’t have anything around here, not even the Indians.

DU:
So what was Germany like after the surrender?

FVA:
All blown to pieces. There was no fighting or anything after the surrender. They had had enough. It was all blown up. Railroad engines blown right off the tracks right upside the banks. Buildings all shot to pieces. We went into a place to stay all night, didn’t think anything about it, and it got dark and then all you see is holes. The roof was full of them, I suppose from incendiaries done that. Hmm, haven’t talked about that in a long time. I don’t think much about it. Nobody wants to know anything about it anyway. There’s nobody around here, that’s here, that was in the army much. If they are they’re dead.

DU:
So on that note, you mentioned earlier a difference between the townfolk and in your experience, the people outside of Springfield so could you elaborate on the difference of that?

FVA:
What do you mean?

DU:
Like they had certain, they did certain activities that you didn’t do, they played sports?

FVA:
Yeah, that was when I was a kid, because I had to work. I didn’t have time to do that. My father [told] me when I went out to go to school, “you be back here at a certain time and you could do this and this and this,” because he was working somewhere and they had to have it done. Whereas the people, the townfolk, there wasn’t more than half a dozen of them down there anyway, they could go play ball, play basketball, and stuff like that. No, I didn’t have time for that, I’d probably be out making some money somewhere, you know?

DU:
But they did [play sports] because they were more well off?

FVA:
No, they didn’t have anything else to do. No.

DU:
They didn’t have farms or other responsibilities?

FVA:
No, they were right in town. They might have had a garden. The kids didn’t. They aren’t like these Amish around here. The kids do the work around them. No, they had time to do that, to play around. It’s alright.

DU:
Your father worked away from home?

FVA:
Yeah, he had quite a number of jobs. He was a carpenter.

DU:
What kind of buildings and structures would he make?

FVA:
Ohhhh, barns, stuff like that. And then maybe do some repair work. Then he worked on the road for the county for oil. But we always had the cows, three or four. Not many, just enough [for] existence.

DU:
He mainly took care of the cows?

FVA:
Yeah, most generally. I done quite a bit of work with them things. I didn’t like them, but I did it. [I did what I was] told, you know what I mean? I’d come in and clean out behind them and feed them and all this and that. He’d come in and milk them and check them over, but three or four cows isn’t very much to monkey with, don’t take too long. Have to hitch up the horse and take out the manure and spread the manure.

DU:
Spread the manure for the crops? What you were growing here?

FVA:
Yeah, and if you had too much you threw it out there anywhere because that deteriorated right in the ground anyway.

DU:
What sort of vegetables, what sort farming did you do on the property here?

FVA:
Ohhhhh, corn, potatoes, regular garden stuff, carrots and onions and peas, beans, cabbage, cauliflower. Not a lot, but enough to take care of yourself with. Didn’t sell it, didn’t sell it.

DU:
Well, is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask or anything you’d like to add Mr. Van Auken?

FVA:
I don’t think so. What time is it? I don’t know you’re the one who’s asking the questions.

DU:
Alright well…(inaudible)

FVA:
Is that good enough for you?

DU:
It’s great! I just thank you for this invaluable information on your life.

FVA:
Well, I don’t know how valuable it is?

DU:
Well it contributes so much to the history of this area.

FVA:
Well there’s a lot of history here. Springfield was burnt you know by Joseph Brant and the Indians.

DU:
I didn’t know about that. When was that? During the Revolution?

FVA:
Yeah, that book I was showing you there, it tells about the towns and it tells an awful lot about the towns. Little towns here and there, where they got their names, who settled them, and when they were settled and all that stuff. That’s very interesting, that’s along that railroad there. All the way to Lake Placid. You ever been up to Lake Placid?

DU:
I don’t believe I have.

FVA:
Ever heard of it?

DU:
Yes, I have.

FVA:
Good, that’s where they had the Olympic games one time in the winter.

DU:
Did you go to those?

FVA:
No, no, about the only thing I went to was the World’s Fair in New York City that was in 1937 [1939]. Something like that.

DU:
Oh, tell me about that experience, please.

FVA:
Oh, we went down, it was in the Boy Scouts, went down with a scout leader and three or four others of us. We stayed out on Long Island. You ever heard of Frank Buck?

DU:
Frank Buck? Can’t say that I have.

FVA:
Well, he was an animal trainer back in those days. “Frank Buck’s Jungle,” we stayed right across the road from that. We could hear the animals a-howling and growling all night long so we [went] out to the fair and looked that over. It was very interesting back in those days.

DU:
What all did you see at the fair?

FVA:
Golly, that’s a long time ago. They had exhibits for all these different companies. That’s a long time ago. I’ll show you something in here. What they called it was the “Trylon Perisphere.” This tells it, well, it says ’65. That’s what I brought back with me, one of them. I don’t know it’s just a memento, let’s say.

DU:
So did they have you doing activities as a Boy Scout at the World’s Fair?

FVA:
No, we just went down. Then when we was in the Boy Scouts we went down to Washington too, and they had a big jamboree down there, but no we didn’t do anything. But I don’t know, I kept it just as a memento of the fair.

DU:
So you also went in ’64?

FVA:
Evidently, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand that. I don’t think I ever went in ’64. Maybe I did. I thought it was earlier; ’64 is after when I come back from the army. Maybe I went down with someone for this. I know I went down with the Boy Scouts early. But I thought that thing would be something to keep f or a little while. Probably made in Japan. Everything is made in Japan.

DU:
Could you tell me about your experience in Boy Scouts? Your troop?

FVA:
Well, that’s a long time ago. It was started, we had a teacher down here and he started this Boy Scout troop, Troop 47 that’s down here. And he started that and we had ten or twelve in it because there weren’t a lot of them around here. Some of them didn’t care anything about it. Didn’t get into it at all. But we used to go to, oh, they’d have jamborees, they call them that. We was down to Cooperstown one time, I had to carry the flag. There was a boxer come in, James J. Braddock. He made this speech down there. He was up on the podium that was down on Doubleday Field, down there then. Yeah, I guess we had a parade. Yeah, they had at that time a Boy Scout camp down there along the lake.

DU:
What was it called?

FVA:
I don’t know. You know it’s up on Crumhorne Mountain now, up there. What do they call that up there? You know?

DU:
Don’t remember.

FVA:
I don’t either. But we could only be in there for a certain length in the summertime because the Girl Scouts were in there. But we used to go down in the wintertime and we’d have quite a time down there on that lake. That’s the only time I was ever in that Kingfisher Tower. That’s in the winter because we could get down there on the ice. Nice thing to go into, but heck we hardly ever slept when was down there in that camp in the wintertime. We were raising hell all the while.

DU:
Doing what exactly?

FVA:
We had a toboggan. We’d get way up on the hill and come right through the lake with that thing. That was fun. I say I worked, that was one time I got away from it, I didn’t work. The weekend or something like that. But he used to take us, see we didn’t have any cars or anything. He’d take us around, take us up to the Adirondacks. They had a jamboree one time, I remember that over in Mount Upton, off over towards the Catskills there. They had it in an armory over there. That’s the trouble I can’t remember anything. You should have given me one of those sheets with all the questions I might have been able to get it all ready for you.

DU:
So how has Springfield changed since you were a boy?

FVA:
Well, let’s see when I was a boy. When I was a boy there was a store down here and a hotel and they’re both gone. And, oh they had a funeral parlor, a funeral home down there. A lot of the farms are all gone. Lot of the people are all gone. The hotel down there run by a fella, they used to have “coon chases.” So they’d take a bag [and put a coon in it]. They had a coon, then they’d drag this bag up on the hill. And then go up there with their dogs and see who was the first one down there. They’d all go and have a few beers and start out again. Hear them damn dogs a-barking all the way down through. That was funny.

DU:
Who staged these coon chases you were talking about?

FVA:
The hotel man down here he’d get them half-cocked and then they’d start in on that. One time, this has got nothing to do with coon chases, the boys [on] Halloween. They used to have some really wild ones around here. Years ago, they got all this damn farm machinery from all [over], they must have worked half the night. And they had it all down in there. There was a corral-like in front of the hotel with a fence around it. They had it all in there. Although sometimes they’d have it up on top of the roof up there. [START OF TRACK 4, 0:00] Wagons, put a wagon up on the roof. Huh? It wasn’t much of a thing, but something different.

DU:
Well, thank you so much for your time.

FVA:
You’re sure that’s alright now?

DU:
Yeah, unless you have anything else?

FVA:
Probably when you get away from here I’ll think of a lot of things. I always do.

DU:
Well I’m just grateful for this chance and this is just priceless information you’ve given me."

Duration

30:00- Part I
30:00- Part II
30:00- Part III
0:46- Part IV

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Drew Ulrich, “Frank Van Auken, November 16, 2012,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 23, 2020, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/138.