For more info on these families contact Lynda Booker.

Bill Steffey of Maquoketa celebrated his 100 birthday Sunday, Jan. 11. He was born at Buttsville, Iowa on Jan. 11, 1881.

A party in honor of the occasion was held at Crestridge, Inc., where Bill has been a resident for the past four years.

Bill was in the tiling business in Maquoketa until the late 1940's when he retired.

He has three children. Joe and Eli, both of Maquoketa and Claretta Sworm of Lost Angeles, Calif.

He also has two living sisters, Jessie Varney of Clinton and Bessie Burket of Camanche.

Bill received a letter of congratulations form President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter.

Maquoketa Sentinel Press, Maquoketa, Iowa, January 1981


Maquoketa Sentinel Press, Maquoketa, Iowa, Saturday, January 23, 1982

Covered Wagons, The Winter of '06, At 101, Bill Steffey Has Seen A Lot

by: Leanne Lundt

101 years of living, a person can stroe away a lot of stories.

Bill Steffey, a Maquoketa resident who turned 101 on Jan. 11, took time last week to relate a few of his memories.

Steffey vividly recalled his trip, when he was a youngster of 14 to stake out a claim with his parents and uncle in the Oaklahoma Strip when it opened to white settlers in the late 1800's.

The family loaded their goods in a covered wagon for the trip he said.

On the way to Oklahoma, Steffey said they had to camp at locations that had water and wood.

You'd camp along the road in those days, he said. There weren't any super highways like we have now.

Because all the homesteaders needed water and wood, they tended to congretate near the same spot.

We got down to Sac City, Mo., "Steffey related, and were camping on thsi 40-acre tract behind a persimmon grove were their was lots of water. On that tract, there was hardly a place to put our wagon because so many people were camping there.

"Every damn one of them was coming back from Oklahoma," he said. They were disappointed and told us there was no use for us to go to Oklahoma.

And they said, "If you've got 50 cent in your pocket, turn around and go back to Iowa.

When asked about his family's reaction after they were told by the other homesteaders to go back home Steffey said, wouldn't you be disappointed if you'd spent practically alll your money you had to get there?

Steffey said they had to stay in Missouri seven years before they could earn enough money to leave the state and return to Iowa.

One of the ways Steffey said he helped his family earn that money was by cutting cord wood for 50 cents a day.

Of course, he said those were the days when you could go to town on Saturday with $3 in your pocket and have enough money to buy groceries than you possibly could carry. Steffey recalled how his family lived in the wagon during the time they were in Missouri. There was a stove in the wagon to keep the family warm.

If quaters inside the wagon seemed a little tight, then whoever felt cramped could go outside, he said.

When Steffey family finally made it back to Iowa in 1902, they came back in two covered wagons instead of one, he said.

Steffey recalled, "I was pretty good with horses." He said he enjoyed working with horses and offered a piece of advice based on his experience with the animals.

"You remember, he said, "A horse knows you as quick as you known the horse." Steffey said he had a horse once that would run away at the drop of a hat for anyone else.

But Steffey said he could leave the horse's reins loose, tell the animal to stay there, while he went on an errand, and "that horse would be there when I got back."

Steffey said he liked to see how much work he could get done in one day using the animals.

For instance, if you were using a walking plow and working with a good team of horses, he said, "You'd done a damn good job if you got three acres plowed."

At three acres a day, it took awhile to get a crop in during the spring season of the year.

However Steffey recalled that an average size for a farm when he was younger was about 40 acres. Of that, 10 to 20 acres would be in corn, 10 acres in hgay and four to five acres in oats.

Of all the jobs Steffey had said he held over the years, he said he enjoyed farming the most. But farming was by no means the only job he ever worked at.

Other jobs ranged from providing wood for teh Hurstville lime kilns to helping build road beds for railroads to tiling land.

Steffey said he worked about three years at the lime kilns after he married.

Every winter he said they went to Green Island area and cut cord wood from the river bottom to be burned in the kilns. Steffey said horses hauled the wood out of the timber areas by bobsled.

The wood was hauled to the railroad, the rail cars were loaded and the wood was shipped to Hustville by train.

During the summer months, Steffey said he and his father-in-law haudled lime and wood at the kiln site.

Steffey also worked for many years as a tiler in the area. One of his proudest accomplishments was the drainage of 80 acres south of Maquoketa which is referred to as Phillip's Pond.

The area is now farmland, he said. Engineers from, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin said it couldn't be done, he said, "but we drained it."

Another construction project Steffey worked on was the Milwaukee railroad from Delmar to Center Junction. Steffey said he helped build the roadbed before the track was laid.

He recalled it took huge crews of men to build the railroads. Of course, he noted it took 15 to 16 people then to do what one person using machinery can do today.

Railroads were a way of life in the early 1900s, Steffey said, remembering the two railroads that came through Maquoketa.

The depot for the Northwestern Line was on the northwest edge of town, he recalled, while the Milwaukee was located along East Platt Street.

In those days the trains were full, and Steffey said he often took a train to Clinton; Cedar Rapids, or Davenport.

The Northwestern line went to Anamosa and Clinton while the Milwaukee Road went from Maquoketa to Davenport and Dubuque, he said.

One train usually would leave in the morning and make a return trip at night, he explained.

And this, one of the worst years on record for bad weather, reminded Steffey of another year when Maquoketa was blanketed with heavy snow.

The year was 1906, and Steffey said there were 47 days when a person couldn't travel up Main Street because there was so much snow.

Steffey should remember. He was hired by the city to remove the snow from the streets. The job was a little tougher in those days without front-end loaders or snow blowers.

Steffey said he had to load the snow by hand and haul it off with his team and wagon.

In the time Steffey has been in the Maquoketa area, he has seen landmarks come and go.

When he arrived in Maquoketa in 1904, there was a gas plant in the community where he said they produced gas used to operate cook stoves.

And Steffey said he could remember when the coal-fired generating plant located at Platt and Clark Streets, produced power for the community.

The tower for that plant was destroyed last month.

Then there was Pinhook-Dam, which was located northwest of Maquoketa, Steffey said. He said he could remember it, and recalled when it washed out.

The Community had gotten heavy rains, and workers couldn't open the gates to the dam, he said. Too much water built up behind it, he said, and it washed out.

Steffey, who was born in Buttsville, Iowa, today is a Crestridge Nursing Home resident. He has three children, Joe of Maquoketa, Claretta Sworm of California, and Eli, also of Crestridge.

He also has two sisters still living. They are Jessie Varney of Clinton and Bessie. Burket of Camanche.