Some things change, some stay the same

Published 11:24 am Friday, April 13, 2012

Some time ago, a friend of the Herald stopped by to give us some old copies of the paper that he had found while cleaning out his attic. After sitting in an attic for decades, they spent another couple of months sitting on a shelf in my office. Rummaging around for something else, I found them again today and as I leafed through the yellowed pages was struck by how much things have changed in 70 years — and, in some ways, how much they’ve stayed the same.

The short story headlined, “Land, air hunt fails to locate champ hog,” was as interesting to me as it probably was to most Herald readers in August of 1947. Austin High School ag student Francis Miller had been taking the hog, along with some other animals, back to Hayward from the Freeborn County Fair; when he stopped to check the load, the end gate was open and the hog was gone.

Miller concluded that the animal was probably roaming a cornfield and planned to keep looking for the 225-pound chester white; he wanted to show it at the junior livestock show in St. Paul.

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A few years earlier, the front page had been consumed by news of Allied forces fighting in Italy, of Soviets pushing the Germans back at Kiev and Smolensk — and of plans for the postwar period. Already, only two years after the war began for the United States, the Allies were expecting victory in Europe.

It was a far cry from our more recent wars which, while less all-consuming, seem to go on forever.

In January 1948, county officials were explaining why valuations of personal property — used to calculate the tax individuals owed on household goods — had increased 20 percent. The reason? Values were “too low.” It was a succinct explanation, but probably no more satisfying to most people than this year’s re-assessment of commercial property values in the county is to modern business owners.

A January 1948 edition carried a long feature, without byline, recounting the experiences of an Austin driver’s education class. The story didn’t say so explicitly, but the implication was that O.F. Tramontine’s class for future drivers was a new thing. “The main value of the course will be realized when these students take the test to get their driver’s license,” he told the reporter. One of the students cranked the dual-control driver’s ed car up to 50 mph on the highway.

Meanwhile, the lead story of that day carried a story which labeled Austin’s fuel oil situation as desperate. Residents were hoping for a delivery of 5,000 gallons of heating oil to the city, and feared that without it as many as 200 homes would run their tanks dry and be without heat.

So urgent was the situation that officials asked people who still had oil in their tanks and who had old coal-fired heating units to donate them to those in need.

Oddly, the cause of the shortage wasn’t mentioned. Nor was Austin’s temperature, although the Herald did report that it was -17 in Rochester overnight.

Hard to imagine, in a day when we simply flip switches to get the temperature we desire, facing the prospect of a weekend without heat because of a failed delivery.

In a reminder of how things have changed, a 1953 story listed the building permits issued in Austin during September. The street names for the residential permits? Sutton Place, Elm, Allegheny, Sheldon, Medary, Clark, Taylor, Oakwood, Railway…. No 12th Ave. SE or 6th St. NW. Back in ’53, Austin hadn’t yet adopted its street-and-avenue quadrant system.

Although we tend to look back — particularly at the 1950s and 1960s — as times when things were good, a half hour looking at old papers was a reminder that we had plenty of problems (and plenty of joys) back then, too.