“The Depot—The Busiest Place in Town”

The settling of a new area is a restless time.  People are constantly coming and going.  Some just stop to see whether they would like to settle in the area.  Some stop to stay for a year or so and then move on.  Almost all traveling was done by train, so all the newcomers stopped at the depot, and those who left departed from the depot.  Every day there was a large gathering of people at the depot whenever a train came in.  Everyone who didn’t have something more urgent to do was there.  Those early days were an exciting time for the town, and what happened at the depot was important news.

“Julia Oltmann recalls that when her stepfather, “Poppy” Reints was editor of the paper, he would go to the depot to get his news.  He didn’t have a car and didn’t need it to get news—at the depot he would see and hear everything important that happened.

“Clarence Isebrands and Charlie Meester recall the same identical incidents, but one happened at George and the other at Matlock.  They are typical of the variety of happenings that took place at the depot.  One day while some boys were at the depot they looked down the track and saw a man and two bears walking toward the town.  They were trained bears, walking beside the man without leash or chain.  Word soon spread through town, and as soon as a crowd gathered he put on quite a show for the people, then passed his hat for whatever they would give him.  Why did they walk the railroad track rather than the road?  Because the only roads then were dirt roads, and when it rained or the snow melted, the mud was so deep it was impossible to walk on them.  After his show, the man trudged down the track to the next town with his bears.

The railroad track was used as a walking path for other people too.  George Martens remembers that his father, in one day, walked by way of the railroad tracks all the way from their home southeast of George to Rock Rapids and back, to get binder repairs.

Mrs. Bill Vagts recalls that her father Dick Habbinga walked the tracks to Sibley.  After he purchased his land he had too go there to have certain legal matters taken care of as there was no courthouse yet in Rock Rapids.  He rode horseback to Ashton and took a train to Sibley.  When walking back to the train in Sibley, he stopped to watch a man who was demonstrating the use of dog-power in a treadmill.  This proved so interesting that he missed his train.  Then there was only one thing to do.  He walked back to Ashton on the railroad tracks, got on his horse, and went home.

“It was said Ude Uden walked all the way to Sioux Falls and back on the tracks more than once.

Helen (Isebrands) Mak recalls the groups of adults and children who walked southeast on the tracks for a little less than a mile to a large frozen pond to ice skate—a favorite winter sport.

Important decisions were often made at the depot.  Mrs. Maggie (Buisker) Willemssen recalls that in the 1890’s her family, the D.J. Buiskers decided to move from Ellsworth, Minnesota, to Kansas, where Mr. Buisker was to work for a man he had met in Ellsworth.  To get there they had to leave by train from George.  Their meager belongings were hauled to the depot here, and while they were waiting for the train, the usual crowd of people began congregating.  Someone asked where they were going and the answer was Kansas .  Then came an avalanche of advice—“Don’t go there…it’s always dry…they’ve had nothing but crop failures…it’s too hot!”  Well, the Buiskers didn’t know much about Kansas , and Mrs. Buisker didn’t especially want to leave.  If all that they heard was true, they’d better stay.  A bachelor who lived in the west part of town offered to let them stay in his house with him until they found a home for themselves.  This is what they did.

The train not only carried people, but also transported goods, and mail order houses did aa booming business in those days.  Much interest and curiosity was aroused at the depot as freight was unloaded.  Who is getting that new couch?  Wonder what’s in that big box addressed to my neighbor?  The dray line was busy those days hauling things from the depot to all over town.

The depot was a place where lifelong friendships often began.  When Mrs. Samke Klinkenborg, followed by her eight youngest children, stepped off the train for the first time in a new land, she expected to see her oldest son Evert waiting for her—but he had been detained and was not there.  Unable to speak a word of English and with eight children dependent on her, she was overwhelmed and broke into tears.  H.J. Behrends, sensing her plight, spoke to her in German, assured her that everything would be all right, and even took her for a cup of tea.  Needless to say, Evert soon came, but Mrs. Klinkenborg and her family never forgot Mr. Behrends’ kindness, and he was always a special friend of the family.

And, oh yes, many love affairs started there too.  Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the depot were something special.  Saturday was the day the country folks came to town to shop.  The teen-agers who came along soon congregated at the depot.  On Sunday afternoons, when the older folks went visiting, taking the younger ones along, the older teen-agers would go to the depot “to see the train in.”  Aletha (Marshall) Creglow remembers how the girls came, dolled up in their Sunday best, and the boys in their newest pants, to meet the other young people there.  The depot was the gathering place for these young folks—always, of course, “to see the train in.”  Those who remember it smile and say, ‘The depot… that was quite a place!’

Written by Esther Casjens
Transcribed by Roseanna Zehner

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