Interviewee: Ferd Troeger
Interviewer: Martha Cade
Date: February 24, 1989
C: I am interviewing Ferd Troeger at the home of his daughter, Betty Keig, 8825
N.W. 4th Place, in Gainesville, Florida. It is 9:00 a.m. on Friday, February 24,
1989. I am Martha Cade, and I am doing this interview as a project for our class
in oral history at the University of Florida. Mr. Troeger served in both World
Wars, was a farmer, politician, real estate agent, and teacher. He is now retired
and lives with his daughter in Gainesville, Florida. Mr. Troeger, first tell me what
your full name is.
T: Ferdinand Adam Troeger.
C: Is Troeger a German name?
T: Yes. It used to be T-R-O-G, with double dots over the 0 Tr6ger that would be,
see. Well, when my great-grandfather came to this country, they spelled it
T-R-O-G-E-R; they did not have any dots. So they found it Troger. He did not
want to be called Troger, rather he wanted to be called Troeger, so he put an E
in there to make it Troeger.
C: Oh, that is interesting. How did your parents come to give you a Spanish first
T: I cannot answer that question.
C: Do you know if you were named after anyone in particular?
T: I had heard the name, but I cannot tell you.
C: Where were you born?
T: Defiance County, Ohio.
C: What year was that?
C: What month?
T: March 5.
C: Were your parents originally from Defiance?
T: One was from Defiance. My mother was from a little village by the name of
Florida, southeast of Defiance, about ten miles down the Monongahela River.
C: How did they come to meet each other?
T: At a dance, as I understand.
C: In Defiance?
T: No, in Florida, [Ohio].
C: Tell me your parents' names.
T: Henry is all I know for my father. Henry Troeger is all he used. My mother's
name was Mary.
C: What was her maiden name?
T: I cannot answer that; she never used it that I know of.
C: Do you know if she also was from a German background?
T: Yes, Alsace-Lorrainian background. They had eight different accents. My father
used the Bavarian accent when he would say ewassnet, "I do not know," and
mother would say ewassnet or, in high German, ewich nicht. So I learned all
three of them, one as good as the other.
C: Did you speak only German in your household?
T: We spoke only German until I went to school.
C: So was it difficult to learn English?
T: Two sisters preceded me, and they had gone to an English school, so I got a few
ideas from them, but not enough. When I started school, my two sisters sat
together. They had double seats at that time. I sat right in front of them. Now,
we had two recitation seats up in front. When the teacher would call the class,
we would go up to the front. I did not know what they were saying, so my sisters
would give me a punch, and I would get up and walk up to the front with the rest
of them. I think they were 100 percent German people, and they did not
understand. We had a teacher by the name of Myrtle Oaks, and she had a big
chart with big pictures in it. It was a very nice book to learn from, but Cheryl said
we were not schooled in the English language. There was a picture of a spider
web, and on the side was a spider. As she pointed at the spider and ask, "What
is that?" everyone said, "Spider web." It really was the spider that she was
C: Why did your parents decide to settle in Defiance?
T: My grandfather lived there.
C: On your father's side?
T: Yes. Of course, my mother came from Florida. We were really about ten miles
out of town, but we were from Defiance.
C: Did you live in the town, or outside on a farm?
T: We lived on a farm.
C: Did you walk to school each day?
C: How far was it?
T: A little bit over a mile. We also walked to the church where I went to German
school. It was about a half a mile.
C: How often did you go to the German school?
T: For thirteen years. I learned to speak German better than I spoke English.
C: So did you go to English school in the morning and German school in the
T: No, I would go to German school three days of the week, then English school
two days of the week.
C: How many hours was that?
T: Well, I cannot tell you the hours. The English school started at eight in the
morning and went until four in the afternoon. We had an hour for lunch.
C: Did all the kids in the community go to both schools?
T: We had one family that was completely English; they could not speak German at
all. I remember that.
C: So you went to school five days a week total and had Saturday off?
T: That is right.
C: Did your family go to church every Sunday?
T: I do not think we ever missed.
C: What church did you go to?
T: St. Stephen's Lutheran Church.
C: Was that conducted in German also?
T: Yes, at that time. It changed.
C: When you were older?
C: How many kids were in your family?
T: There were seven children.
C: Could you tell me their names from oldest to youngest?
T: Elise, Emma, then I came along, then Etta, Carolyn, Reinholt, and Clara.
C: Did you all get along nicely, or did you fight and bicker?
T: Oh, we got along. I would say that we got along very well, except that I was the
C: You got into mischief?
T: When anything went wrong, everybody looked at me. For instance, my sister
Carolyn was very quiet. She talked very little at the table. Most of them would
talk normally, but she just sat there and turned her eyeballs and watched
everything that was going on. She very seldom said a word, but she knew what
was going on all the time.
C: Did she tattle on you when you did things?
T: Well, I do not know. It seemed they all tattled on me.
C: Did you really do all of those things that they said you did?
T: Well, if anything did happen, mother would ask, "Who did this?" Then they
would all turn their eyes on me. That is the way it was. Sometimes I did it, and
sometimes I did not.
C: Were your parents strict?
T: Yes, they were strict.
C: How did they punish you?
T: Mother had a little switch, and she used that on me several times. In fact, when
my brother came along he was six years younger than I one time she was
going to give him a switch. He yanked it away from her and ran, with her after
him. We had two evergreen trees in our front yard, and you could see through
them. They were clear to the ground. She tried to catch him. He would go one
way, and she would go the other. He would keep watching, and she could not
catch him. Finally she had to laugh, and she walked back in the house.
C: How much younger was your brother?
T: Six years.
C: Did you all play a lot together?
T: Not particularly, no. He had a different personality than I did. He was more like
my mother's side of the family, and I was like my father's side. We were entirely
different as far as ideas. He liked to tease the sisters, and I did not do much of
that. I just got into other mischief all the time.
C: What kind of farming did your family do?
T: The general farming of corn, wheat, oats, clover, sugar beets--that is about it.
C: Did the kids all have chores on the farm?
T: The girls did not do much on the farm. Once in awhile there was standing corn
that we husked. A couple of them would help maybe a little bit. But generally
they did not work in the field much. They worked in the garden.
C: Was that the family garden?
C: What did you and your brother do on the farm?
T: Well, we did different things because he was six years younger. We had a lot of
new ground. My grandfather divided the place. He gave my father more land
than he did his brother, my Uncle George. Uncle George did not want to clear
any land, so he had more of the clear land. My dad got more of the wood lands,
so he had to clear a lot of woods in order to get more fields. My brother and I
blasted a lot of stumps in that new ground. He was six years younger than I was,
and he would just go along. I would say he was no help, other than giving me
advice on how to do it.
C: How did you do it?
T: Naturally, the way you do it is you bore a hole under the stump in the center, and
then you put the fuse and the dynamite with a cap on it. Then you cut the fuse
long enough that you can get out of the way. Then we would light it and run
back and wait until it exploded. Then you go back and examine it to see if it
needed anything else.
C: Did you help with plowing the land after it was cleared?
T: Yes. I learned to farm more than any child in that section of the state, I think.
My dad worked me very hard.
C: Tell me about your daily routine, from the beginning until when you went to bed.
T: We got up in the morning. We had horses, cows, sheep, and pigs, and there
was always something to do with each one of them. Dad would get up earlier
and feed the hogs first. Then I would come along and clean out the stable. It
was the same with the cow stable. With the pigs I would carry slop to them, out
quite a ways in the back part of the barnyard. Mother took care of the chickens.
C: Was that all before school, first thing in the morning?
T: Yes, in the morning.
C: Did you get up before daylight?
T: Well, we usually got up pretty early, but I would not say before daylight. It
depended upon the season of the year, whether it was daylight or not.
C: After you took care of the livestock, did you have breakfast at home?
C: Then when you came home at four, did you have other chores?
T: Yes, I had to clean out the stable again. I had a lot of chores to do. I had to
clean out the horse stable and the cow stable and feed the horses, the cows, the
pigs, and the sheep. I did part of all of that.
C: Did you do that until supper time?
T: It was divided. I cannot tell you for sure.
C: But you studied at home at night?
T: Oh, yes. Mother was teaching me the German A-E-1-O-U and so on. I was a
slow student. She banged me on the side of the head one time because I did
not remember from one to the next. I remember that, I did not like it.
C: When did you blast stumps? Was that a weekend job?
T: That was not a weekend job. It was anytime it had to be done.
C: Did you have much free time as a child?
T: I think I took free time, more than a lot of boys did, because Dad was not
opposed to that at all. He was glad to see me getting into baseball and things
like that. No, he did not object to what I did in my free time. The first thing I ever
built was a cat house. The dog had a dog house, so why should a cat not have a
cat house? I must have been about four or five or six years old when I built a cat
house. The cat did not seem to appreciate it. He hardly ever went in it.
C: Did you eat well when you were growing up?
T: I think I did.
C: Did you have a lot of German meals?
T: I guess that is all we had. We had a big garden, and my mother canned an
awful lot of things. We had an orchard, so we canned cherries. A lot of
vegetables were canned. We did a lot on our own. We had to buy some, of
course, but most of it was furnished from our big garden.
C: Tell me about your weekends. Did you go into town on Saturday?
T: I do not think so, not in my younger days. I would go along anytime in the week
when Dad wanted to go, but that is all. I cannot tell you there was any special
time. Later on I went into town every Saturday night. I went to a drugstore
before I went home because the Toledo News would be delivered from Toledo to
the drugstore. I was married by that time. I would do my grocery shopping, and
then the last thing I would do before I went home was go to the drugstore and
buy a newspaper. I did not want to go home without the newspaper.
We got to be very good friends with the owner [of the drug store] and his wife.
He asked, "See these bottles up on there on that shelf?" Gallon glass jars they
were, with tablets of different colors. He said one time, "Do you know what that
is in each one of those? Aspirin. Doctors come in and buy so many white ones
and so many blue ones and so many red ones." That is the way they treated
people. I know one doctor who came and would say, "You take two of these" -
they would be white. This would be at four o'clock. Then at eight o'clock you
take two of these others. We did not know it was the same thing it was aspirin.
C: Did any certain color seem to work better?
T: I cannot answer that. I do not think so.
C: When you were a child, how did you get into town? Did you walk?
T: It was eight miles to town, and we drove a horse and buggy.
C: Did you drive yourself when you were little?
T: In my early years, my dad, of course, drove, but as time went on, I drove most of
the time. We had a horse by the name of Topsy; she was pretty hard to handle
at times. She was very stubborn; you could hardly tame her. Poor Top. She
would jerk her head away, so she was touchy in that respect. She was afraid of
the streetcar. We had a streetcar that ran from the city center over to the
Maumee River, and there was a park there. People would spend their Sundays
or their afternoons and take that streetcar to go to the park on the Maumee
River. Sometimes we would go out there, but not the family; the family never
went out there. Some of the boys would go swimming in the Maumee River.
C: When you were older, did you go into town by yourself with the horse and
T: Yes, but usually I went alone. My sisters were still there. They moved to Fort
Wayne with the family, and I was left alone on the farm.
C: How old were you then?
T: I was married at that time. Then I would drive alone. Before that, when they
wanted to go to town, they would rather see me drive that horse. She was so
scary that they could not handle her. Dad was a good horseman, and he knew
how to handle horses better than I did, but the girls did not. They would rather
have me drive than Dad. When we would come to the bridge and a streetcar
would come along by the middle of the bridge, she would want to jump into the
river. I was scared to death, but I would calm her down and get her by.
C: Did your sisters work hard on the farm doing the gardening, or did they have a lot
of free time?
T: No, I would not say they worked hard all of the time, but they were very
industrious. One sister sent for a book on how to make dresses, and the other
sister was a piano teacher. She drove all over the country. She drove Topsy out
to the homes and gave lessons to a lot of the kids. Piano teachers were scarce
in those days. But Emma was a good musician, so she taught piano for a long
time. When she wanted to go teaching, she would ask, "Will you hitch up Topsy
for me?" If I was working close to the road, I would come back to the stable and
hitch up her horse. She could not handle her to hitch her up; she could not get
her bridle on. It was hard to put her bridle on. She would just fight it.
C: Where did your sister learn to be a musician?
T: The preacher's daughter played the reed organ, and she took lessons from her.
That is the way she started.
C: What kind of music did she teach in the homes?
T: I do not know. She played anything that came along.
C: Did she teach vocal music? Singing?
T: She naturally later became the organist in church. She played there many years
as organist. My sister was a good natural musician, so it did not take much to
help her. I was janitor for a while. It had a wood furnace, and if it were zero
[degree] weather, I would have to get up at four o'clock in the morning and start
up the furnace. Then I would rush home to do some chores. Then I would come
back dressed for church and fire up the furnace until church time. It was an
awful job to heat that church with wood fire. Later they turned it into a coal
C: Tell me what your house was like on the farm.
T: Well, it was a two-story house. The main part was long ways facing the door,
and there was a side attachment to it. Then over here was the shorter part of
the house with a porch in front of this part. We had four rooms upstairs and one
bedroom downstairs. My mother and dad slept in the parlor, as they called it in
those days. And we had a kitchen. Later on Dad improved the kitchen part of it
by adding a summer kitchen to it for more room. They needed more room in the
summertime, and it was a great thing, anyway. It stretched out back of the rest
of the house.
My Uncle Bill, my mother's youngest brother, owned a hardware store. He had
about anything that there was. You could not get anything in Defiance, so we
would drive down to Florida, about ten miles, and he would have it. He would
say, "Here is what you want." In addition to that, when they built that house, he
put galvanized roofing on our kitchen. He could do just anything at that time.
Uncle Bill was a hard worker. My mother had another brother by the name of
Gackel, and they were all very hard workers. Another one, Louis, was hauling
gravel for the road; I think it was for his lane. He was trying to get a shovel of
gravel, and it caved in on him and knocked his head against the wheel on the
wagon. He died right there. Louis had the first auto we ever rode in. He had
money. All of them had money, except my mother.
C: When was that first car bought?
T: I do not know that.
C: He gave you all rides in it?
T: Yes. He had a big car, and he would open the back seat. You would crawl in
the back part. Then you closed that up so there was more room for people to sit.
C: When did your dad buy a car?
T: He did not buy a car until after I got married. I do not know whether he bought
the car or whether I did. We were both living there together at that time. He
tried to drive it a little bit, but I do not think he ever drove on the highway with a
car. I never knew of it.
C: Did he move to Fort Wayne with horse and wagon?
T: Oh, no. You know railroads run through the Wabash [River]. The Wabash runs
from Defiance to Fort Wayne, so they moved by train.
C: Tell me more about your education. What subjects did you study?
T: What we studied in German schools was mostly catechism and Lazy-Boo reader
and arithmetic. That is the main thing. And religion. In public school we studied
everything, like history, grammar, physiology, orthography, geography, and
writing. I do not know what else.
C: Did you enjoy school?
C: Did you enjoy most of your childhood?
C: Hard work and all?
T: Yes. I do not know firsthand, but I heard that some neighbors were talking
together and said, "That damn fellow is going to kill himself working." I worked
harder than any kid. My parents were much more lenient with me with handling
horses than any other kid in the neighborhood, because I trained horses and
handled them pretty well.
We bought a half-western horse once at a public sale. She was pretty wild, and I
was trying to break her. I was putting a buggy harness on her and got her on the
outside and got a buggy whip. Have you ever seen a buggy whip? Well, I tried
to start out, and she was not scared she was doggone mad! She reared up on
her hind legs, then she fell back and rolled and kicked, just like a western would.
She had all the harnesses off except the bridle. I said, "Hey, what is going on
here?" The other horses we had did not have that kind of a background. I
trained her to the bud, where she would listen to me.
We used one horse to plow corn. The corn would get too big for a double-row
plow, so we had to get in there with a smaller plow pulled by one horse to cut off
the weeds between the rows. The corn was big enough that she could just reach
and take a bite right by her mouth, that high. I would talk to her. I jerked that out
of her mouth and slapped her side of the face; I would say to her, "Florida, do
not do that!" She would not touch another that all day long. Can you imagine
C: You got along well.
T: We would drive in the barnyard and put up the lines, but she would not wait long
enough. She would want to walk off before the lines were up, so I gave her a
thrashing for that. I would say, "Florida, you wait!" I would explain it to her and
tell her not to do it ever again. "When I say whoa, I mean whoa!" When the
horses would be out in the barnyard all together, right around twelve one time, I
would walk through and say "whoa" to her, and she would stop right there in the
barnyard, just like that. Would you believe it?
When I would hitch her to the buggy, it was the damnedest thing to do. She was
still wild. She wanted to run faster than I wanted her to go. When she exceeded
a certain speed, she started to kick. Her feet would come up right in front of my
face, and how she would get her feet back in without kicking and breaking a
single tree, I do not know. She would kick at me, but I learned that when she
started to go a little faster, I could pull her down. I knew those heels were
waiting there for me. But it was fun.
One time I rode her to do something (I do not know what), and there was a brush
pile alongside of the highway. There was a little space between the brush pile
and our fence and the road. I was right in the middle between the two. I wanted
her to go around the back, between the fence and the brush pile, but she wanted
to go the other way. I pulled as hard as I could to get her around by the road.
Instead of minding me, she ran right up to the brush pile, at a high speed, and
stopped. The next thing I knew her nose was right in front of me. She had just
upset me. I sat there, and her face was right up to my face. That was the
quickest unloading that I ever had from a saddle.
C: How old were you at that time?
T: I was grown by that time, about sixteen or eighteen.
C: Did you go to high school?
C: How long was that? How many years?
T: Two years.
C: Did your sisters also go to high school?
T: Etta did.
C: Why did the other girls not go?
T: At that particular time, they were moving to Fort Wayne. The oldest one bought
a book on dressmaking, and she studied that and how to make a form. She got
to be an expert, and she would be invited by the neighbors. She would go to
their house and stay a couple of days and sew for the lady of the house.
When they moved to Fort Wayne, she took this form along to do the same thing
there. She saw an ad in the paper that a lady had a dressmaking shop and was
looking for a partner, so she went to see her. They made their terms and
agreed. So they both had a dressmaking shop that specialized in wedding
gowns. Anybody that wanted the best wedding gowns in town, that is where they
would go. She was a good seamstress.
Of course, Emma was a good musician. She played the organ. She got a job
with a Fort Wayne auto company where she was secretary. They handled
everything for commerce. She was the head bookkeeper, so she worked at that
for quite a while. Then she got married and moved to Galesburg, Illinois. She
married a guy that was a good Christian. He would try to organize choirs in both
churches. That was right down Emma's line, you know. They sang in both
choirs sometimes, and she played at one of those churches. When he died, she
quit playing. He died first, so she was devastated. She could not do much
C: Did he die young?
T: He must have been about sixty, sixty-five, something like that when he died.
Can you believe that they belonged to two churches and sang in both choirs at
C: Did Etta live at home with your parents? Did she ever marry?
T: No, she never married. It is hard to put this on the record, because it was a fact
that she had a boyfriend who was a Catholic, and he wanted her to become a
Catholic. They had different ideas; neither one could agree. He still wanted to
go with her, after he married a Catholic. It did not work with Etta; she was not
that type of a gal. So she never got married. But she was a good girl.
C: Did she live with your folks?
T: Yes. She worked with some legal concern. They had a number of clerks
working in the office. Whenever they could not find anything, they would say,
"Etta, would you get the file for this number?" She would walk over. She never
rushed. Carolyn was a girl that moved fast; Etta took her time. She would just
walk over and pick it out and give it to them. She knew what she was doing all
She was brilliant. Once she went to Columbus, Ohio for the state spelling
contest with the superintendent of schools. We were hoping that she could
make it, but I have forgotten the word that she missed. She was a good student.
C: Why did your parents move to Fort Wayne?
T: Like I said, Carolyn had a job. She finally worked for the Omega National Life
Insurance Company. She got promoted all of the time. She had two desks, and
she sat between the two. She had one assistant at one desk facing her and
another one at another desk facing her. She did a whale of a job. I guess she
was the only one who could take shorthand; at that time that she took shorthand.
She dressed in white the entire time that she worked there. When they got
through, they called her "doctor." She would go from one place to another to
write letters for them and all of that kind of thing. She was very gifted along that
C: Did she move to Fort Wayne first?
T: No, she moved with the family.
C: Did your parents have jobs in Fort Wayne?
C: They were retired by that time and lived in town?
T: That is right, on Main Street.
C: Do you remember what year it was that they moved?
T: No, I cannot tell you.
C: Was it before the war?
T: It must have been after the first war and before the second.
C: Tell me what you did after high school.
T: My dad did not want me to leave the farm. He did everything to keep me from it.
But they had this state examination that they offered called the Foxwell
Examination. One morning, Dad and I were out husking corn. He was in pretty
good humor that morning. I said to him, "Dad, if I pass the Foxwell Examination,
can I go to high school?" That was before high school. He said yes. Boy, that
did it. He could not break his word. Sure enough, I passed it. There were
thirteen subjects that we had the examination on. A friend of mine, Herman, sat
in the same seat; there were double seats for two people. I often sat with him
when I spent two days a week [at English school]. I would say, "Herman, what
do we have in physiology today?" and so forth on down the line. Every one of
them tested us.
Well, Herman, was notified to appear for examination for the first World War.
Richard Schatz, a distant cousin of mine, was also called, as was every other
young man I knew in the area except for a young boy named Herman
Steinmeyer. They were the wealthiest people in the area. They always had the
best machinery. They were always trading the old one to get a good refund on
that one and get a new one. He was the only boy that I knew that was turned
down. Why? Well, the story was that his father paid a thousand dollars to the
enlister to keep him out of the service. He had the wrong idea of himself. He got
to be so he was a roustabout. He got to drinking and all of that, and he died at a
young age. He died many years ago.
C: So, anyway, you went to high school for two years.
T: That is right. I went to Christen College for a teacher's training course, which did
me more good than anything I ever had, because folks from all over
northwestern Ohio came. They did not have a large enough school, so they had
to use the assembly room, which had a hundred seats in it. Sometimes they had
chairs in there, too, to make room for a few more. So they came from all
different books of various kinds different grammars, different physiologies, all
that. Every township had their own charge of books in those days. They had to
find a teacher from their own staff to teach that course. The college did not have
enough money to hire a man for that. They hired the preacher. He did not know
the grammar any better than I did not as good, I do not think.
Anyhow, what made it tough was that practically every grammar book was
different, and all they did was argue. I recognized the idea that to get along
better in life, you discuss things, but do not argue. The minute you start to
argue, then you should quit. So I quit. I would not participate in their arguments;
it was completely worthless. I learned that one thing: if a fellow disagrees with
you and does not want to hear the other side, then do not argue with him. If he
really did not want to discuss it, then I quit. I have done that the rest of my life. I
did it in the service, too.
C: How long were you in the teachers' college?
T: It was a summer course.
C: Just three months?
T: I do not know. I imagine so.
C: How old were you when you finished? About eighteen?
T: I really cannot tell you. Eighteen, nineteen, something like that. I do not know.
C: So after the teacher's college what did you do?
T: Well, I took the teacher's examination. There were thirteen different subjects on
the examination, different studies physiology and all that business. I was
smarter than my seat mate. He could copy off of me on an examination. I would
be on the left side, and he would get his head back like this. He had good eyes.
I never said anything. You cannot make friends like that; it does not work.
Another guy was Richard Schatz, a distant relative of mine.
We were all taken [for the draft] in that area, all of the young men, except
Herman Steinmeyer. So even when we marched down the street to get on the
train, one of my friends walked up along side of me. He was about ten years
younger. He was so sorry that he was too young and could not go along. That
was the First World War. He could have gotten in the Second World War if he
had really wanted to, but I do not think he wanted to very much. They do not
know what it is like. Anyhow, we got on the train and got down to Camp
Sherman. Then they put us at the 154th Brigade in order to get our records on
something so that they could locate us. It was a number. Then we were there
too long. They were getting us ready to go overseas. They had to change us to
the 18th Division.
C: Was that the army?
T: Yes, that was at Camp Sherman, Columbus, Ohio. They changed our division
there. Then we went overseas, and you can imagine what that was like. We
helped build a camp in England that was partly finished. They put us to work
after we got off our ship. The camp was on up the Thames River. Then they put
us to work carrying all kinds of beams and canvasses and everything. And being
new in the service, you try to do things right, but I noticed that as people were
walking back and forth, there were less and less folks coming along. I asked
myself, where is everybody? I thought, I see they are getting out of it. So I did
what I think everybody else did: I walked in between the tents and laid down.
The heck with that nonsense. If they do not have better control of what they are
doing, they are not doing their part. I thought, I am not going to walk around; I do
not want to carry army material.
Anyway, we got the notice that we were going south. It was not advertised.
Simply the lights were out; every light was out after midnight. We did not know
where we were going; they did not tell us where we were going. They marched
us to a boat and piled us in like sardines. We could not find a place to step at all
over the floor. We finally got over to Cherbourg, France. There they took us off.
We got across without getting hit.
C: Did you go into the army right after the teacher's college, after you graduated?
T: I get the two mixed up.
C: The two wars?
C: Well, let us go back a little ways. Was your family aware of all the tension in
Europe in the early 1900s?
T: Oh, yes.
C: What did you think when war was declared in 1914?
T: Oh, I do not know what to say. It was awful, that is what everybody thought.
C: Did you think that the United States might become involved at that time?
T: Well, we were involved at that time.
C: You were getting prepared just in case we went to fight?
T: Well, I will tell another story. They moved us then from Cherbourg to near the
line. Then I found out that there was a lot of destruction in war. A lot of buildings
were destroyed and everything. We got closer and closer. We finally got to the
bottom of a hill someplace, and one fellow on guard with one post had a
machine gun. He was watching for any airplane that might come along that
might want to bomb us. He was just protecting our group. We were not quite up
to the front yet. After a couple of days later, 1st Division came back from the
front. You should have seen them. I am telling you this because I had never
seen how terrible they look when they come from the front. All older people.
C: Was that the western front?
T: Yes, that was the western front. We were in the machine gun outfit, so we were
ready to go to take their place. They lost a lot of men. We were there where
they came back, out away from the fire. An officer would come along and look
you over and pick out the men they wanted to go to the front to fill their place. I
guess I waited about three days before I was selected. I did not know what they
would do with me. They put me in squad number one, the 3d Machine Gun
Battalion, 1st Division. Mr. James was my corporal. I was right beside of him.
Ritchie was next to me, then Slewis. Ritchie, I think, was a Polish boy. He was
about my height but much stronger and more solid than I was. He carried the
tripod, and Slewis would carry the machine gun.
When we would go out and get into battle, the corporal would get his IPS from
headquarters on what he should do. We would find a little hill, and he would tell
Ritchie to put the tripod a little on this side of that hill so they will not see it. He
would run out with his tripods, and they are heavy. You have seen them, have
you not? He would run out and throw it like this to open it up. The two centers
would go out, one here. I would come next, because I carried two machine gun
boxes of ammunition. Slewis would put the pin in the gun to fasten the machine
gun to the tripod, and then I came along. It was with the ammunition I had. The
men in back of us each had two boxes of ammunition. So that is the way we
worked. I had the best sergeant, I think, in the army. A straight man, good
voice, complete control of everything, always friendly to his troops but they
better behave themselves. He would always have a way to handle them. He
C: What was your rank?
T: I was a private first class.
C: Did it feel strange to be a German fighting against Germany?
T: Naturally, when you get into a place like that, everything is strange to you.
C: With your German background, did you have any second thoughts?
T: No. When we got into the German area and lived with the Germans, they liked
me especially because I could speak German to them.
C: Even though you were on the other side?
T: Yes. Some people went by the name of French. I think that was an assumed
name; I never thought that was their right name.
When we moved into Gaeroad, Germany, we were the head squad in our
regiment. They told us ahead they had places for us to stay "Four you in this
house," so we went upstairs. The husband was not there, but the lady was and
she was scared to death. There was one bed and four people. She said, "Sorry.
We have only this one bed. Somebody will have to sleep on the floor." We had
some straw ticks that we used. We were on the outside edge of the town, and
the mess hall was on the other end. The cooks were on the other edge of the
village. We had to walk an awful ways to get back and forth. We did not like that
so well, but we had that changed eventually.
Anyway, two buglers had been killed. A fellow by the name of [Carl] Self was
picked up first. He had played some kind of an instrument; I do not know what it
was. He was bugler number one. They went through the records and saw that I
had played in a band, so I was bugler number two. So one morning, the first call
I made, after playing a trombone and then trying to play a bugle, was pretty
tough. The officer who was in charge of the mule skinners that hauled the
machine guns was about a hundred. He felt sorry for me when I got through. He
said, "First call? First time?" I practiced and got along all right, by and by, as my
lips got tougher.
When I was living with these people, the lady would want to talk to me about how
I lived at home. She would ask a lot of questions. She felt so sorry for me that I
had to leave home to go over there and do that.
C: Was that your first time away from home?
T: No, I had worked in Toledo in an overland shop before that, and I had a room
there. But she asked me about my home and all that. We usually had to go to
the other end of the village to eat our supper, and when we came back there was
another bed in there. See, it was crazy what they did. I think they gave up their
own bed. They took the straw ticks just as sure as can be. She often would sit
down and ask me how we lived and what my wife was like. She felt so sorry for
me and was such a beautiful person. Whether she was German or anything
else, she was just a good person.
C: I did not realize that you had already been married. How long had you been
married when you went to war?
T: Oh, about two or three years; I do not remember for sure. I do not even know
what year I was married anymore. I am forgetting those things. That is what
scares me. I have been reading a lot of these things about Alzheimer's disease.
One-fourth of the people that die in old age die from Alzheimer's disease. You
can tell when they get forgetful.
C: But a lot of young people are forgetful, too. I do not think you have Alzheimer's.
You remember too much. Anyway, do you remember about what time of year it
was when you went to war? Was it June in 1917 or later?
T: Well, it was oats-cutting time. I cut oats one day, and the next day I went into
C: What time of the year is oats cutting?
T: That must have been in July, I suppose.
C: Did you go for training first, or were you shipped straight over?
T: They took us to Camp Sherman. We started in the 154th Brigade. That is
where we got branded. In other words, we got a number and an address of what
we belonged to. Then if they wanted to find anybody, they could look at their
records and find them. We were there for a week or more, something like that.
C: Did you go to another camp?
T: Yes, we would go from one camp to another. We left Cherbourg. We got on a
train. Those trains and cars were used so much they did not have a chance to
repair them. Some of them had flat wheels on them they were worn off. Every
time they would go around they would go bang, bang, bang, bang. You would be
in that car and not be able to talk to anybody because the noise was terrible.
There was a fellow from Cincinnati who would always have some comment to
make when something like that happened. When it finally stopped, he said,
"This is the thing I have to tell when I get home."
The next thing I saw, I thought, gee, that was funny. I saw one of the officers
shaving while the train was stopping. He was shaving in the open. He had his
mirror fixed on another railroad car lying on the next track. I said, that is the way
it goes; you have to shave like that. I gradually got into those things.
The trip from Thames over to Cherbourg was a terrible, terrible trip. We were
just packed in there like sardines. They just piled us in like wood. That is how
we got over there. A lot of us got the [Spanish] flu.
One day I was assigned to wait on the officers' table as their waiter. My nose
was running, and I had to be awfully careful that it did not run onto the food. I
had to watch that all the time. I was not really sick yet. I did not know I was
getting the flu. The next morning, I was awfully sick. I went on sick call. There
was a high fence, about six feet high. There were people lined up; there must
have been about eight ahead of me and I do not know how many in back of me.
I was hanging over the fence, like this, easy as could be. I said to this fellow in
front of me, "I cannot stand this very long." That was the last I knew for a couple
of days. They told me afterwards they took me to the YMCA and the hospital. A
friend of mine that I used to play baseball against from another section of the
country when we were younger took care of me there. I did not even know a
thing about it when they brought me back. I could not even remember being at
the YMCA. It was several days.
C: Tell me the order. Were you a machine gunner first, and then you became a
T: Yes. Both buglers were killed, so they had to get new ones. They went through
the records. They always have the records of what you did before you got into
the army. They went through the records and found Carl Self. They found his
name first, so they named him the first bugler. They looked some more and saw
that I played the trombone in the band, so I was number two.
C: Did they tell you at the time that the two buglers before you had been killed?
T: I knew what was going on.
C: Were you ever afraid you might be killed?
T: How would you feel when you feel the explosion of a big gun that always knocks
C: Not good. How did you keep up your morale?
T: It was pretty tough. I got the flu very bad, and it looked like I was going to die.
When it comes to the front, the people who support you and supply you with
ammunition have narrow-gauge railways. Do you know about them? They run
T: Why? Because the Germans will not be able to kill the whole railway system
with just a few shots. They could not hit as much when it is like this. I was
deathly sick, and freezing. The engine was right beside where we were
supposed to set up our tents. The train could not go any further because of the
railroad. They did not say so, but I knew what was the matter. I crawled right up
on the engine. I could not keep warm. I laid myself grease on everything on
the side where the steam was to try to keep warm.
A couple of guys saw what was going on and said, "We will take Troeger in our
tent." So we put three tents where two were ordinarily, so we had more cover
and bottom. Each soldier gets a half a tent. We had three half-tents with a good
bottom, and we had enough covers then. They put me in the middle. I had an
empty can of beans a big one and I took that along. I coughed all night long,
and it was about half full in the morning when I woke up. It broke up during the
C: So how long were you on sick leave that time?
T: I was not on sick leave.
C: You still had duties, even when you were sick?
T: The fact is that they do not care. If someone was sick, they said to leave them,
get rid of them, if that is the way they feel.
C: What time of year was that, do you know, that it was so cold?
T: I cannot tell you. That was about seventy years ago, and I cannot remember
C: Did you ever kill anyone that you knew of?
C: But you did use the machine gun?
C: How long were you a machine gunner before you became a bugler?
T: I stayed there until I became bugler. I do not know how long it was; I cannot
remember that. Things happen like this, and you never think about it. You just
do it, and that is it.
C: Were you a bugler for the rest of the war after you became bugler?
T: Yes, I stayed a bugler in the First World War. I was discharged as a bugler, I
guess. I know I was discharged.
C: Did you all sing any war songs?
T: Oh, yes. They had all kinds of songs, even about the cootiess." Know anything
C: Yes. Sing me your song.
T: They get into your seams, you know, even though in those days you had
leggings wrapped around [your ankles]. They would get in there, and you would
have to take them out. Especially in the seams of your pants, that is where the
cooties would be. When we had a chance, we would sit at campfire and pick
most of them off and stab them.
C: Do you remember the song about cooties?
T: I cannot remember.
C: Did you make some close friends during the war?
T: Oh, yes, everybody liked me. As the bugler, everybody got better acquainted
with me. I was a good horseman, too, and I got this horse. We moved from one
town to another quite often in Germany. One of the lieutenants and I would ride
around after the troops had left. We would ride all around the city to see what
property was left. I would ride with him, and it was his job to report anything.
The rest of the folks had marched on. They would be a couple of miles outside
of town, and we had to ride around them to get ahead of them. I wondered what
they would do now. I know how these guys are, and the guy that rides the horse.
I rode most of my life, and I am a good rider. I am saying that without much
bias. I really was. I did not hear a sound; I rode ahead and did not hear a
I had a good horse, too. I will tell you the sad part. Every horse got the mange -
that is the scabies so they had to do something about it. They filled a vat and
made it deep enough so that you could put a horse in there and it would cover
the whole horse. It had a sliding entrance and they would have to push them in
sometimes. Then they would slip down into that sulfur substance, and it would
cover the whole horse. He would come out on the other side, and they would
take the sticks and get the excess off of their skin. That worked out fine. My
horse was getting along fine. Then the veterinarian said, "Troeger, you know I
fixed up another batch of this sulfur material. Would you like to use it on your
horse?" We had moved to another village, so I said, "Yes, I think that is a good
idea." So he said, "Bring her over some evening."
Well, that was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. It was the hot summer
time, and it had evaporated and gotten strong. I was leading her. I did not ride
her, but I walked almost seven kilometers. When I was about halfway home, she
was so uneasy, and I thought, gee, what is the matter, anyway? I found out that
she suffered from this by the sulfur. I felt underneath, and her hair brushed out
like a brush instead of lying flat on her belly all the way down to the bottom. I
washed her at the tank. They had a big tank there that was eighteen or twenty
feet long, eight feet wide, and full of water. I washed her a long time, but I guess
not long enough.
The next morning I went out to get her to lead her to the water. She was stiff,
just like a board. She could not put one foot in front of the other. I do not know
how long it took me to get her out to the tank. I wanted to wash her some more
and have her get a drink. I worked and worked on her. I did not know whether
she was going to make it. One of the lieutenants said, "Troeger, if any
inspectors come along, do not let them see that horse." He was scared he might
get fired for something like that.
I kept after her, and she got well. She got to like me. She was the nicest horse
in the outfit. When we had an inspection, the lieutenant's assistant had to ride a
little to the left and about ten feet to the back. I just had to hold her like
everything. She wanted to get up there, too. She just pranced around and was
just full of life.
One time the lieutenant drove by when I had her. He drove by a shed built on
the side of a barn. That was the stall for my horse. I was there currying, and she
was so happy. Then he came by with his horse. The horses all know each other
isn't that strange? When he rode by, he asked, "How are you getting along,
Troeger?" I said, "Just fine!" She just reared up on her hind feet and whinnied.
She was just so tickled to see the other horse. I had some nice moments.
C: Did you ever hear from home while you were in Europe?
T: Oh, yes, I got letters all the time. But nobody seemed to be interested in my
letters to them. I had a lot of them saved in the trunks when I came over. I could
not take care of it. I left them in Fort Lauderdale.
C: Did you write home a lot?
T: As much as I could. Our mail was censored, you know.
C: By whom?
T: By headquarters. They had somebody to do it. I do not know who did it, but
they censored the mail.
C: So you could not tell particulars about where you were?
T: No, you would not dare to say that.
C: What were the things that you missed about home the most?
C: What were you doing when the end of the war was declared?
T: When was it ended?
C: In 1918.
T: That was a funny thing. When it ended for me, my dad was anxious for me to
come home and help with the farm. He put a request in by an important
politician, like a lot of other people did. All of these folks they wanted to come
home as of now. That is what happened to me. My father asked this guy for a
request to get me out. He got me out just about a week or two before the whole
group left and paraded in New York. I did not get a chance to even parade in
C: So what was your homecoming like? Did they make a fuss over you in
T: I do not believe so. I do not remember.
C: Was it hard to come home after all of the excitement of the war?
T: Well, I was hard to get along with. It really struck me that I could not get along
with people. Some of my friends tried to get me interested, but I was grouchy. I
was not accustomed to that. I did not want anyone to get in my way or cause me
any trouble. They actually tried to get me straightened out.
I was invited to a committee meeting. They needed people for something they
were working on in Defiance. One of them was the high school superintendent
at my township, a good friend of mine. I guess he is the one who invited me. I
walked in and looked to see the crowd. I was still not over my pessimistic
feeling. I walked in to see he was there. I did not know they had a cuspidor right
in the middle of the room. I stepped right in it. I do not know how that got there,
but it should not have been there in the first place. That is not good for the poor
C: What did you do when you got home? Did you go right back to farming?
T: I had to cut thistle. The field close to the house was full of thistle. I just worked
real hard for several days. See, you have to get those thistles' roots; you have to
cut them off with spade. I cut them off. I worked awfully hard to get rid of those
C: Is that what you wanted to be doing, or were you so disgruntled you did not know
what you wanted?
T: It had to be done. Some of these other guys would cut them off a little more.
C: Did your brother fight in World War I?
C: He was too young?
T: He went to school in Fort Wayne for six years studying for the ministry, and then
three years in Los Angeles.
C: But he was in school during the war?
T: He must have been.
C: Did you have any close friends killed or badly injured in World War I?
T: I knew one fellow who was killed. I think it was his grave that I saw, because
everything matched what I had read. He was shot in the back of the head,
through his helmet. That was on his grave. I think that is the guy.
C: Was the grave in Germany?
T: We drove the Germans out of France. The most exciting thing that happened to
the people that lived in this little town was when they found out the Americans
soldiers were coming through. Their men had been chased out and
disappeared. I imagine there were several hundred women on the sidewalks
greeting us, crying.
C: That was exciting. Did you feel that was everything was taken care of when the
war was over?
T: Yes, I thought we had them licked.
C: Problems were solved?
T: Well, I will tell you my experience. I was on post number two with another young
fellow about my size and age. We had our .45 automatics. We tried to chase all
the Germans back. But out of the clear-blue sky, a great big car you know how
the old cars were, the long car with the top back with five first-class soldiers (I
do not know what their rank was) that we had missed came along. I told them to
stop, and they went about one hundred feet more before they stopped. We were
just about ready to start firing--not to kill them, but to let them know. One of the
fellows came back and said, "We did not hear you." I think they heard us, but
they changed their minds. I had warned post number one to look out for them.
Of course, they would have stopped them, too, if there had been any trouble.
But how they had hid when they drove the Germans back! We never knew how
we passed them.
What the Germans were trying to do was reorganize after the war was over in a
hurry of course, on the other side. So we had to go over Hill 454 Berentena,
because that was the heart. We would have to go around these winding roads.
We had to go around these hills, and that was a job, going over these hills. Of
course, the men were not used to it. They sort of took their time climbing the hill.
Then the next ones come along, and then they got on the top and were way
[End of the interview]