"Our Friends on the Acres"
Robert F. Hecker
In addition to qualifying as one of the oldest farm owners in Allamakee county, the subject of this sketch - Robert F. Hecker - is the oldest active business man in Postville. For 65 years, Mr. Hecker has been in business in Postville. He appears hale and hearty today at the age of 88 years, taking an active interest in all business affairs.
He was born in Baden, Germany, November 16, 1851, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Hecker. When he was two years old, his father passed away. Mr. Hecker and his mother lived in Germany for the next eight years, then on April 4, 1861, they left their native land, crossing the Atlantic ocean in a sailboat.
"It took us 30 days to cross the ocean," Mr. Hecker explained. "I can remember many interesting incidents in regard to that voyage as I was 9 1/2 years old at the time. It may seem unusual to you when I explain that before they allowed us to board the boat we had to show the authorities that we had enough food to last throughout the entire trip. As there were 350 passengers, you can imagine how much food was brought aboard. It was all stored in the hold of the ship. When it was time to eat, enough food for a meal was taken from the supply of each individual. Everyone did his own cooking, so you can imagine the confusion. To make matters worse, all of the cooking was done in a little kitchen about 8X12 ft. in size. When the food was cooked, each family or group would eat on their trunks in the main room of the ship. There weren't any staterooms in those days; just one big room like a barn."
"Two rows of double-deck beds were located in the center of the room and one row of double-deck beds on each side of the room," he continued. "We made it to New York in 30 days which was considered fast time. Before we docked, we ran into a storm which shook the entire ship. My mother told me about it afterwards as I slept through it all. I can remember that some days when the wind died down, the ship would almost stand still. On other days, when the wind was strong we would make good time." After arriving in this country they lived with Mrs. Hecker's brother, John Geider, in Brooklyn, New York. It was here that Mr. Hecker continued his studies by attending a German school.
"I didn't know which school to attend, but my uncle solved the problem by saying to my mother, 'Send him to a German school - the English will come by itself.'" So Mr. Hecker attended school for another full year. Then he came to Iowa with his mother. They lived a year with Mrs. Hecker's aunt, then when his mother remarried, he moved to her home. As they lived on a farm it was here that he obtained his early farming experience. At that time he began learing the wagon-making trade and worked 1 1/2 years in Lansing. "Then I began to travel," Mr. Hecker stated, "I went to Dubuque where I worked for three or four months at the wagon trade. From Dubuque I crossed the river to Jamestown, Wis., staying only three or four months. From Jamestown I went to Davenport and worked at the same trade until spring. Times were really bad that year, so I went back to Lansing."
Mr. Hecker stayed at Lansing only until fall, coming to Postville in 1875, where he went into partnership with a blacksmith, Jacob Meyer. Mr. Hecker took care of the wagon making and this partnership lasted for seven years, until Mr. Meyer bought out Mr. Hecker's interest in the business.
On January 6, 1876, Mr. Hecker was married to Miss Mary Hupp. Five children were born to their union, two of whom have passed away. Two sons are living in Postville; they are R.M. Hecker and Joe Hecker. A daughter (Josephine) Mrs. Lowell H. Moody, lives at Excelsior, Minn. Mrs. Hecker passed away 14 years ago.
For a short time Mr. Hecker operated a blacksmith shop and wagon shop in a building adjacent to his home. In 1887 the Jacob Meyer shop burned to the ground and Mr. Hecker decided to move back to the business section of town. He purchased two lots from Alfred Stiles and later on bought two adjoining lots from John Schmidt, giving his a frontage of 100 feet. A wagon shop was erected and until only a few years ago it was in operation. During those years he made spring wagons, buggies, sleighs, etc. and in later years started repairing automobiles.
Mr. Hecker and his sons entered the automobile business in 1913 when that industry was in its infancy and have continued as dealers here since - a record held by no other automobile firm in this city. With his sons he now operates a service station and garage business. R.M. Hecker devotes his attention to the business in town, while Joe Hecker oversees the farm, which is located three miles north of Postville. Although Mr. Hecker does not definitely remember when he purchased the farm, he believes it was about 50 years ago. He first purchased 30 acres of land, paying only $500 for the entire property. From time to time he purchased adjoining land until his holdings included 420 acres. He disposed of 60 acres and today the farm covers 360 acres.
To show how the price of land has fluctuated down through the years, Mr. Hecker explained one deal in connection with the farm. "I bough 40 acres of timberland," he said, "paying $63 an acre. After the trees had been cut down, the brush cleared away and the stumps grubbed out, the land was plowed. I traded six acres of it away, retaining ownership of 34 acres. A short time later I sold those 34 acres to a neighbor for $6,600."
Merlin Martie and Raymond Lantz are working the Hecker farm today. It is one of the better farms in this vicinity and consequently is avaluable property. Mr. Hecker has about 40 cows today, five horses, and raised about 150 hogs last year.
~Postville Herald, March 27, 1940
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