New Albin News Articles
* Old Times
Times Well-Remembered in New Albin
Story and Photos by John Maynard, Tribune Staff Writer
Besides the slow, rhythmic buzz from Meyers sawmill, the first thing that strikes one about New Albin is the crumpled, single-engine Cessna resting on the lot of New Albin Auto Sales. The plane is not for sale. Its being held for Roger Moore of Milwaukee, formerly of New Albin, who is still recuperating from an accident. Moore crashed the plane about a month ago trying to take off from a corn field on his parents farm. He was visiting them for the weekend. "He hit a bunch of trees by the barn. Brought him right down," said Wilbur Mark, New Albin town marshal for 15 years. Hes retired and is New Albins honorary tour guide.
Wilbur Mark gives a tour and commentary on New Albin from the driver's seat of his truck.
"l know everything and everybody in New Albin," Mark said. From the cabin of his pickup truck, Marks tour of the town of 644 persons located between the ridges of the Winnebago Valley and the marshes of the Mississippi River about 25 miles south of La Crosse starts with a question. "Just what do you want to know about New Albin?" Before the momentary lapse of silence grows into an embarrassing one, Mark answers his own question.
"Theres lots to know about New Albin. Well go over to the filling station and say hello to the mayor. He always has a lot to say about New Albin," Mark said. He steered his truck towards Sires Oil Co., whose proprietor, Raymond Sires, has been mayor for "32 consecutive years." A bulky, swarthy man with jet black hair streaked with gray, Sires is camera shy during even numbered years. "No photographs," he said. "Im not politicking this year." Sires said his town is clean and pays its bills. "We have 643 of the best people in the world. Im the 644th. I dont classify myself with them," Sires kidded to a small group gathered in the stations office. "But we dont have any 3 crooked politicians here. And when we built our new city hall in 69, we didnt go a penny in debt. We had the cash in the bank," Sires said.
Mark said the local claim to fame in New Albin is the "famous iron post." The four-fort, 600-pound cast iron post, erected in 1849, is one of many original markers found along the Iowa-Minnesota border. As Mark was careful to explain, Iowa and New Albin area on the left of the marker, and Minnesota is to the right. "We had to cement her in because some kids tried to drag her off once. But they didnt get very far," Mark said.
Another historical marker, so to speak, is the New Albin City Meat Market. Edgar and Shirley Wuenneke have been chopping, mixing and smoking baloney there for 21 years, or, as Edgar put it, "for too long." "I got into this business by marrying a butchers daughter," Edgar said. "Thats a good excuse, isnt it?" Before Edgar and Shirley got into the business, Shirleys father made the baloney, and before him, his father stared the baloney business. Altogether, boloney has been coming out of the City Meat Market for 85 years, Shirley said. Edgar said they used to make three batches of baloney every week. Now they make two. "It all depends on how many strangers and fishermen come through," Edgar said. Shirley said their son, Alan, has been working with them, but wouldnt say whether he planned to continue the business. "I guess thats his decision to make," she said.
After a cup of coffee at Charlottes East Side Bar, one of three taverns in town where just about everyone stops sometime during the day for coffee or a homemade roll or both, Mark said it was time to pay a visit to the towns seat of knowledge. Actually, its more a bench of knowledge in the park next to the railroad station. The bench is currently chaired by four members, with senior member Jim Hammel, 84, the groups spokesman. Charlie Colsch, Kenneth Moore and Marce Kelly are his able assistants. "This is where the knowledge is," said Kelly.
New Albin's wisemen sit on their bench of knowledge.
From left to right are Charlie Colsch, 76; Kenneth Moore, 68; Jim Hammel, 84; and Marce Kelly, 68.
Hammel, who bragged that he still has his "natural teeth and hair," said that railroad men used to call New Albin "Little Chicago." "As boys, we used to get hired for a day to ride up to Eitzen or Dorchester to help drive cattle to New Albin," Hammel said. "Theyd get more livestock out of this little town than they would from anywhere else on the Chicago line. Theyd ship 600 carloads out of here easily," he said. Hammel told how New Albin got its name. The account also appears in the Ace Telephone Co.s New Albin phone book.
In 1872, a group of boys were celebrating the Fourth of July by jumping over a bonfire. One boy unfortunately stumbled into the fire. His pockets were full of gun powder. He was submerged in a tub of molasses to "salve" his burns, but to no avail. He later died. The group of families in the area voted to name the town Albin, in memory of the boy. "But the folks found out later there already was a town in Iowa called Albin, so they named it New Albin instead," Hammel said.
Hammel said there used to be a dance every week at the High Chaparall, a tavern and nine room hotel."They didnt have a cash register, so they just threw all the money into an old bathtub," Hammel said. Built in 1880, the High Chaparall still stands. But it has since closed its sleeping rooms and installed a cash register. Herb, "a native New Albinian with a home in Arizona," and Ella Mae Schwenker , now run the High Chaparall. "This is the headquarters for all hunters, fishermen and other liars," Schwenker said.
Taking a coffee break at the High Chaparall was Earl Mitchell, New Albins chief of police. "Im also the night patrolman and day cop," said the 29-year- old Mitchell. Mitchell said that aside from high school kids occasionally adjusting a stop sign that halts traffic on Highway 26, theres not much trouble in New Albin. "Most of my duties are traffic. Therere not too many big arrests," Mitchell said.
New Albin Chief of Police Earl Mitchell
Also in the High Chaparall for coffee was John Crowley. For Crowley and his partner, Craig Wiemerslage, it was a special day. It was the first fishing trip since last spring for New Albins only two commercial fishermen. They cant fish in the summer because the warm temperatures rot their catch before they can get it to market in Lansing, about 12 miles from New Albin, Crowley said. Crowley and Wiemerslage have their own holes where they drag for fish. Other commercial fishermen, mostly from Lansing, have their favorite fishing holes, too. "Its just a thing the fishermen work out on their own. Therere no contracts or anything like that. Just gentlemens agreements," Crowley said. With their fleet of four boats, two of which are in tow, they drag a 900-foot seine weighted down with punctured beer cans across the Mississippi River for catfish and bullheads. "The trick is not to let the currents or wind bring the seine together," Crowley said. Hes been fishing for 20 years.
John Crowley pulls in his catch to see what he's got.
Across the street from the High Chaparall is the Stumble Inn, owned by 21-year-old Dale "Frog" Mauss. "The Stumble is the tavern for the younger kids in town," Mauss said. "Were the only place in town with a Foosball table." Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of New Albins younger residents, Mauss likes living in New Albin. "You cant beat the fishing and the hunting. And Id much rather be doing that than working any day," Mauss said. "The kids who say they dont like New Albin should leave. Then maybe theyd realize what they had here and wouldnt bad mouth it like they do. "You couldnt drag me away from this place with 10 mules." Mauss said.
~La Crosse Tribune, La Crosse, WI, October 15, 1978
~contributed by Errin Wilker
Tat Sires, mayor of New Albin, says the border city has to depend on itself because it's far away from the political center of the state. Sires stands in front of the town's latest controversy, whether to tear down the original 1895 town hall, or preserve it for history.
TOWN LIKES LIFE ON THE EDGE
Article and photo by Donna Lee Olson, Gazette Eastern Iowa reporter
NEW ALBIN -- The last little town in the northeast corner of Iowa is New Albin. But please don't say it that way to the town's mayor, Tat Sires. "No, you've got that in the revierse. We're the first town in Iowa". Tat, 72, drawls as he leans back in his chair. The air conditioning's on in his office, and it's cutting the heat pushing up the Mississippi River valley and blanketing this Allamakee County town of 609. To the mayor it may be Iowa's first town. But for some, living on the edge of the state is like living in a political twilight zone, according [to] City Clerk Henry Becker, who often travels down to Des Moines to remind them that this borderline city needs state funding, too.
Take a short stroll north and west of Tat's Main Street office and you're in Minnesota. Drive around the hills to nearby Eitzen and you're meandering back and forth over the state line. To the east of New Albin is the Mississippi River and the state of Wisconsin on the other bank.
Folks in the New Albin cemetery don't have to worry about where they rest. They're just inside the Iowa state line which hasn't changed since 1849. That's the year Captain Thomas Jefferson Lee planted the post located across from the Iowa city's water treatment plant. On one side of the silver pylon is the latitude and longitude, another says "Iowa" and a third side, "Minesota," misspelled with just one "n," to the chagrin of the northern neighbors.
Everyone in the Iowa town knows about their historic marker and the state line. But at the East Side Tavern, there's still a little debate over who comes from where. Dick Kubitz, a local dairy farmer, works on a beer at the tavern counter while he explains the mix up. "I live in Minnesota and I have an Iowa address. I have a Minnesota driver's license and an Iowa telephone number," he says. "And I go to the doctor in Wisconsin." The 55-year-old man votes in Minnesota yet prefers arguing New Albin, Iowa, politics. "I say I'm from New Albin," Kubitz says. "But when you get down to legal, I say I'm from Rural Route 1, Houston County, Minnesota."
Area citizens insist they take the state line confusion in stride. After all, neighbors are neighbors and they wave at you the same on either side of the line. Sometimes, it's more fun not to let on where you're from. Iowan Eleanor Freilinger, 55, tells about the television crew who drove a half hour last winter from La Crosse, Wis., to New Albin to do a story about the Iowa caucuses. The crew swept through the tavern and the cafe next door, talking to local customers who were happy to be interviewed. Satisfied, the crew left with their story about how Iowans feel about politics. "Most of the people they interviewed," Eleanor said, "were from Minnesota."
At the East Side Cafe, owner Jerry Plagge hears Minnesota and Iowa jokes passed between tables over coffee. But everyone gets along, anyway. "People within 20 miles of the area are all the same," he said. The people, Plagge described, are mostly "farmers or kick-back types, living from one day to the next." If they have time to kick back and dock their fishing boats up and down the Mississippi River, they might have to buy fishing licenses from two or three states. That's one of several hassles that comes with living on the border, said Henry Becker.
Licenses are a minor problem compared to business people and those who work across the line. A tri-state operator might have to fill out tax forms in triple triplicate. It's that three state cross-over of lifestyle, Becker explains, that holds back some state funding. Legislators in Des Moines fear that some projects might be used by the local New Albin-Minnesota people rather than strictly Iowa residents. "You feel like you're in No Man's Land because no one wants to claim you," Becker complains. "Iowa likes its taxes, but the city doesn't get services." But in one way, Becker, Mayor Sires and others like the idea that they are the farthest Iowa city in the state -- about 300 miles -- away from the state Capital. "Out of sight, out of mind" they say of governmental pressures.
To survive, people along Iowa's first frontier use the pioneer tactics of fending for themselves. New streets were laid a few years ago, and they are all paid off without a bond issue or a loan. A combination city hall, fire station and library was built in the late 1960s in the same way. There's no funeral home or meeting hall in town, so the New Albin's Savings Bank built a "Town House and Chapel" for its city. For only $10 rent a night, people can hold a wake service or a senior citizen's party or a baby shower.
Ask Tat Sires why the town in the corner pocket seems to hold its own in services, and he talks about teamwork. "We have no educated people in our group" on the council, he says, "But we have sound reasoning." Tat's been in New Albin politics for 42 years, split between councilman and mayor. Ask him any question and his answers are down to the year and transaction. "We're not exactly a 100 percent Iowa town. We own five acres in Minnesota," he says and his grin widens. The five acres, bought in 1953, were used as a town dump for a time. A "sanitary landfill" corrects Tat.
He can tell you other things, like names and dates and where the Iowa border starts and stops on the ridge of hill crowding the town. But who in New Albin really things about boundaries or who lives where on a hot summer day in the first little town in Iowa? "There's no difference in my language," Tat says. "To me the state line is an imaginary line. You can see it if you wish."
~undated (mid-late 1980's) Cedar Rapids Gazette clipping
~contributed by Errin Wilker
One Little Nuclear Plant
Doesn't Bother This Little Town
By John McCormick
New Albin, Iowa -- Dick Gaynor is one happy little bureaucrat whenever his job yanks him out of Des Moines and brings him here to Iowa's most northeastern community. "It's a nice town. They're nice people, too," says Gaynor. "I was raised up in Fayette, Iowa, so when I'm in New Albin, we all talk with the same accent. They don't get awfully worried when they see me coming." That is not a luxury Dick Gaynor always enjoys during his travels. He is 55 and carries the weighty title of nuclear civil protection planner for the Iowa Office of Disaster Services. Some people see Gaynor coming and figure that a cloud of radioactivity must be right on his heels. In fact, what brings people like Dick Gaynor to places like New Albin is the possibility that somebody else's cloud of radioactivity might come calling.
Gaynor spends much of his time fretting about the 160,000 Iowans who live within 10 miles of the nuclear power plants at Cordova, llinois, on the Mississippi River; at Ft. Calhoun, Nebraska, on the Missouri River, and at Palo, Iowa, northwest of Cedar Rapids. Last January, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission insisted that local and state officials across the nation upgrade their plans for evacuating people living inside those 10-mile-radius circles, which are called Emergency Planning Zones. That has meant lots of headaches for Gaynor, who must worry about getting great gobs of people from here to there. But the place least likely to worry him is New Albin, a sublime little place resting between the Mississippi River and a lush, green bluff. New Albin, age 87, is not part of those three big Emergency Planning Zones that blanket parts of Iowa. In fact, New Albin is geographically remote from almost everything else in Iowa. Only a few marshes and the river channel separate the town from Wisconsin on the east, and on the north, the city limits also mark the Iowa-Minnesota state line. But New Albin does sit just downstream from the Genoa Boiling Water Reactor, a nuclear power plant operated in Genoa, Wisconsin, by the Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.
The 13-year-old Genoa plant ranks as America's smallest commercial reactor. It has a generating capacity of 50 megawatts; other reactors now being built elsewhere in the U.S. range in capacity up to 1,300 megawatts. Genoa's plant is considered so tiny by the NRC that its Emergency Planning Zone is required to extend only five miles in every direction. This five-mile zone includes less than one square mile of Iowa. But New Albin sits in that less-than-one-square-mile plot of ground. So the forces of local, county and state government have been gathering here to hash out the details of a brand-new evacuation plan. It would move all of New Albin's residents 11 miles south to safety at Lansing, Iowa, in the event of big problems at Genoa.
Folks take things like this rather calmly in the far reaches of northeast Iowa. No muss, no fuss. About the only thing that hasn't yet been settled is the question of who'll bring along the checker board and the euchre deck if Genoa's reactor goes haywire. "This is kind of an old-time, one-horse town," says New Albin Mayor Raymond "Tat" Sires, an oil distributor. "We're a team. If we ever have to pick up and go to Lansing, we'll just go ahead and do it." Tat Sires is 64. He was a New Albin councilman from 1947 to 1968, and he's been mayor ever since. Tat says the local electorate figures that "we shouldn't change officials every couple of years. We put a man in office and let him die there." Tat also says people have become aware of things nuclear since last year's big-time accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. But the threat of radioactive holocaust doesn't occupy the top spot on his agenda.
"About 10 years ago, we practiced an evacuation of the town for some reason or other. Took us about an hour and a half. We've got a darned good fire department to handle things like that." Tat figures New Albin could handle a real evaluation as easily as it handled its garbage crisis in the 1950's. New Albin needed a place to put its dump back then. So the city bought four acres up in Minnesota and dumped to its heart's delight. Minnesota eventually said no thanks, so now New Albin's trash is hauled to a landfill over in Wisconsin. "We're great for hauling our garbage out of state," Mayor Sires says.
"We just handle all our problems as they come up. Take this evacuation plan. It's really no great amount of trouble." Tat's friend, Floyd Pottratz, says he agrees with that assessment. Floyd lives in New Albin, he's a former county supervisor, and since May 1 he's been Allamakee County's disaster services director. "After our first meeting about all this, we could have evacuated right on the spot," says Floyd, also 64. "Up here, we're all one happy family." Floyd Pottratz wrote up an account of that first meeting for the Waukon Republican-Standard newspaper. He mentioned that folks around here might have to move on down to the schools at Lansing in the event of a disaster at Genoa. And, to allay any fears of unneighborliness, he noted that "Ted Millard, mayor of Lansing, could not attend because of previous commitments, but assured those present that his office would make every effort to make a stay pleasant while hosting."
Folks who can't drive to Lansing would travel in school buses, says Floyd. Firefighters would go door-to-door making sure no one was left behind. And the county sheriff will mind things in New Albin by sealing off the town to keep out the looters. Lansing's Mayor Millard says that what he knows of the plan sounds fine to him, too. He guesses that most of the crowd from New Albin probably would be housed by their friends or relatives if they had to move into Lansing. "I'm essentially a foreigner in this area," says Millard, 63. "I've only been up here for 13 years. But everybody here gets along pretty well." If it sounds as though New Albin and Lansing are almost looking forward to an actual evacuation, Tat Sires will remind you that this is serious business. But one of his councilmen, 60-year-old Walt Breeser, tends to disagree. "I'm going to stay right here in New Albin," says Breeser. "If they leave me a couple quarts of good whisky, I'll be just fine."
Walt doesn't put much stock in all this talk about radioactivity. "Besides," he says with a grin, "If anybody actually had to live in a Lansing gymnasium with all their fellow townspeople for a few days, they'd probably wish the atomic power would come and get them." Over at the High Chaparall, owner Herb Schwenker, 57, represents the middle ground in all of this. Schwenker has heard little talk of the evacuation plan from customers in his place of business, which he describes as "an old farmer's bar, headquarters for hunters, fishermen and other liars." "When your time's up, your time's up," says Schwenker. "Personally, I don't worry too much about all of this. Instead, we ought to be concerned about gettin' the younger generation off all this damn dope. I bet if you asked a thousand people here whether there's a nuclear plant across the river, half of them wouldn't even know." Herb might be right, but he'd have to import 356 people to get the thousand to win his bet. New Albin's population is just 644. That, in turn, is about half of Lansing's.
Back in Des Moines, Dick Gaynor and his colleagues at the Office of Disaster Services are thankful that somebody -- anybody -- can retain a semblance of good humor when the emotion-packed subject of evacuation gets mentioned. "Usually I get a little laugh when I tell folks they have to plan to house their pets somewhere if something happens, and that's about it," Gaynor says. "But up in New Albin, people just aren't terribly worried about living in a nuclear risk zone." Does Gaynor know whether New Albin's evacuation plan will include provisions for a checker board and a euchre deck? "I hope so," he says. "What else would people do with their time? "Well," he says, "I'm sure the taverns in Lansing would be happy to stay open."
Still, says Gaynor, Mayor Sires is correct when he calls the evacuation plan serious business. It is Gaynor's fondest hope that New Albin avoids whatever it is that an accident at Genoa could offer. But the precautions continue. On Wednesday morning, Tat Sires and Floyd Pottratz are scheduled to attend an emergency planning session at Genoa. Representatives of other communities in the power plant's risk zone also will attend. But no one in the room will be as calm as Tat and Floyd. That's the way they are, and that's the way New Albin wants them to be.
~Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa, June 1980
~contributed by Errin Wilker
Plans for Evacuation
Being that New Albin is within a five mile radius of the Nuclear Power Plant at Genoa, WI, we are in the danger area in the event of a nuclear leak. Not only is it compulsory, but it necessitates the need for a plan to evacuate to avoid a possible disaster.
Mr. Dick Gaynor from the Disaster Service office in Des Moines spent two days in the community assisting local officials and others who will be needed and who will be responsible implementing the program. The planned evacuation is to the Lansing schools.
A meeting was held in the New Albin City Hall, with the following attending: Raymond Sires, New Albin Mayor; Neil Becker, County Sheriff; John Beisker, County Board of Supervisors; William Ament, Social Services; Raymond Whalen, Salvation Army; David Breitbach, Soil Conservation Commission; Gary Thomas, in charge of bus transportation; Dick Gaynor, State Disaster Service; Floyd Pottratz, Disaster Service Director; Robert Dresselhaus, fire chief; Cleon Sires, fire department; Raymond Whalen, fire department. Ted Millard, Mayor of Lansing, regretfully could not attend because of previous commitments, but assured us that his office would make every effort to make our stay pleasant while hosting our ordeal. Duane Fuhrman, school superintendent, was most cooperative and informed us the school board had passed a resolution authorizing the use of the buses, school buildings and facilities. There is always a three month supply of commodities that would be available.
The fire department will have the most difficult assignment, accounting for everyone in the community and only because of their numbers and their dedication will it be carried out efficiently. The community is very proud of the fire department, who they can depend on in any emergency.
The County Sheriff will also play a responsible role in safeguarding your belongings from looting by sealing off the town. Mayor Raymond Sires will determine when the need is for an evacuation and in his absence Mayor Pro-Tem Connie Mauss will take over, followed by as many of the City Council members as are available for a quick decision.
We want to thank all who attended our meeting. Their concern and assurances of support is greatly appreciated. It is great to live in a county where people help people.
Floyd J. Pottratz
Director, Disaster Services
~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, IA, 28 May 1980
~contributed by Errin Wilker
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