In the last issue of “Tales and Trails” the programs featured were those by Mark Steinhausen, Beverly Becker Melichar and Alvina Deinert Shaw and Raymond Giles. This issue we are featuring the program presented by Irma Flickinger on August 24, 1999. Irma was an only child, and moved to Denton in 1917 with her parents Eldon and Frances Flickinger. See Birth announcement HERE.
Mr. Flickinger was a railroad man, having managed the stations at York, Cairo and Emerald before being transferred to Denton. Her mother, Frances Mastin, lived for many years in the house on West Denton road between Lancaster Ave and Cass Street. Irma passed away on Dec 23, 2003. This is her story. *Editor’s notes in ( ) for clarity.
How many of you remember the great fire? It happened in 1930. I think it was January when every building on the east side of the main street burned. It burned the blacksmith shop and the implement shop where they had kept machinery that they had for sale. It burned the lean-to shed on the back of that shop where J.R.C. Miller kept a barrel of coal oil for people like my mother who cooked with a coal oil stove. It burned the hardware store and the building the Burdick's (Earle and Flossie) were living in and the next to go was their building and the next was the bank.
The night of the fire we were asleep and my father was the station agent and we lived on the second floor of the depot. The telephone rang and I thought the railroad was calling him out to go to work but he didn’t hear the phone ring, so I got up and I got as far as the dining room window and looked out and saw that lean-to on the back of the implement shop on fire so I yelled “Fire” and my father thought the depot was on fire. His feet hit the floor and he yelled “Where, Where” and I said it was uptown. I got my clothes on faster than I had ever done in my life and by the time I got uptown the implement shop where the machinery was, was completely on fire and it had burned the blacksmith shop south of it and went on and burned the hardware store. Also the building where the Burdick's were living and the store they were running and the bank.
Mrs. Phipps (Mrs. Tillie Phipps) was the telephone operator and she spent the whole night calling people on the party lines to tell them that the town of Denton was on fire and everybody was there. They formed lines in the back of Burdick’s store and where they lived and as everyone walked through the house, they picked up something and carried it out the front door and dropped it in the street and went around to the back and went through again. I think that they got almost everything out of that store and Burdick’s house.
If you remember Clifford Clegg, he carried a heating stove out of Burdick’s house all by himself. The next morning he went up and tried to lift it and he couldn’t budge it. My father was helping move out the cook stove and they said, “We can’t save this because we can’t get it through the door, the partition between the kitchen and the living room”. My father said they simply had to break out the partition because it was going to burn anyway. So they got the cook stove out too. I think they got everything out.
There was one man on Peshek’s (Edward and Edith) barn. You remember when Peshek’s were there and were the mail carriers and they kept a team of horses in the barn. There was also a man on the roof of where they lived. They lived in what had been the hotel. Merle Stoneman was on the roof where Peshek’s lived. I remember that Merle was the oldest son of the section foreman. He was a genius. He graduated from high school at the age of 14 and graduated from college at age 17 and he was the superintendent of the school in Denton when he was just 19.
That was the first year he was the superintendent. The bank burned and the door on the vault got so hot that it warped and they had to hire a man with dynamite to get it open. And they moved the bank to a building across the street to the north that had originally been Dr. Skinner’s (Almeron and wife Mabel) waiting room and his Doctor office and he later moved his office to his house which is the house the Soucie's now live in. (House on NE corner of Cass and 2nd street)
The fire started in the little lean-to shed that was on the back of the implement building, which was the part that was on fire when I first saw it. There were rumors spreading around that it was spontaneous combustion but it was the middle of winter and it was cold and kerosene doesn’t spontaneous combust. That’s all I know about how it started.
There were people on the roofs of buildings and there were bucket brigades on Peshek’s house and barn and that was the only thing that kept them from burning. Actually the people carried every stick of furniture out of Peshek’s house and set it on the lawn and then when the fire died down they carried it all back in.
There were places to tie horses on both sides of the main street. On the west side of the street when we first moved here, Jim Shane had a store and what is now the pool hall, when I moved here, was a butcher shop run by Mr. Quinn (Michael and Mary) and the slaughter house was down where Cheese Creek runs into Haines Branch south of the depot. All the awful from the slaughter house flowed down Haines Branch and floated down back behind the depot. My father called it Stink Creek and I thought that was the name of the creek until I was in grammar school and my mother informed me it was Haines Branch Creek.
There were three grocery stores and Duteau’s had one and they had a son and Mrs. Duteau called him “Honey”. Honey Duteau started the Chevrolet agency in Lincoln. The other stores were Clegg’s and Shane’s had a store right across from the hardware store. Shane didn’t keep the store very long. He turned the building into a garage and did auto repair and he used to get the engines so tight after he fixed them that he had to hook them up to another car and pull them around town to start them.
The station signal pole with the signal arms in front of the depot was wood, square and hollow and when we first moved, there was no electricity and at night when the pole had to be lit, my father would light a lantern and pull it up with a pulley inside of that pole. In 1926 the town bought 2 Delco plants and they were stressed when it started to get dark and just about the time the three passenger trains came through about 6 to 6:30, the Delco plant would shut down.
Therefore there was no light at the signal pole. Now if my father did not have anything to do at his desk, he climbed the pole with his flashlight and held the flashlight behind the signal glass. But if he had something to do, Irma had to climb the pole. I didn’t stay up there long; it was only for a few minutes. So it was fun, I liked it.
My mother taught piano lessons and gave lessons to I think every kid in the neighborhood and some even from Lincoln. And of course, me. Every practice was a lesson for me. If I didn’t hit the note right, I heard about it. It wasn’t any fun. She taught until after I retired and the only reason she stopped was because her eyes failed and she couldn’t see the music. She said it wasn’t fair to the kids.
My mother finally decided I needed to take lessons from someone besides her and I took lessons from Floyd Robbins who was a teacher at the University and there was a passenger train that left Denton at ten minutes till four and a passenger train that left Lincoln at ten minutes after six. So I took the train to Lincoln for the lesson and then took the train home afterward. The teacher had to let me go a little bit early so I could catch the train to Lincoln and she always cut it just about as short as she could.
So I always ran, not taking the sidewalk, but cutting across the vacant lots and the grass to get to the train and the train would be coming around the bend west of Denton as I crossed the platform. My mother used to meet me there with my little purse and my music bag and I’d get on the train. The grade school at that time was right across east of the Denton house. When I started to school my mother didn’t take me, she sent me and the grade school that year was where the high school was later. And I didn’t know which school to go to and I started up the sidewalk to the school east of the Denton house and Elizabeth (Dovey) Sullivan met on the sidewalk and sent me to the right school house.
We came to Denton in August of 1917 when I was three years old. In 1926 the depot was renovated and completely rehabbed especially the upstairs part and a new foundation was put under it because before, it had rocked and rolled every time a train went through and every time there was a big wind, I almost got sea sick and to tell you the truth, I was scared. Across the street north of the bank was the post office, a two room building with one room being the post office and the other room was a barber shop. And the other building was Dr. Skinner’s office. The band stand was about a block north in the middle of the street.
I left Denton in 1937 and came back to live in 1973. There is quite a stretch when I don’t know much of what happened here. I don’t know if I want to tell you what I did all those years. I went out to western Nebraska and taught high school for three years. Then I got married. Do you remember Fred Petsch. He married Julia Green and I married their oldest son. (Donald)
Unfortunately it didn’t last very long. We were living in California and I went to work for Northrup Aircraft and I worked on the very first flying wing which was the forerunner of the B-12 bomber. I worked in the engineering department in the weight section and when that plane first flew, supposedly, they knew how much it weighed including the paint and the rivets. All I did was juggle figures. Then I went to Germany and worked for the Army. I was not in the Army; I was in the Civilian Department of the Army. I stayed there for 25 years. I have been to 70 countries and 49 states having missed Rhode Island. I wouldn’t have gotten to do all that if I hadn’t gotten a divorce.
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Denton Community Historical Society of Nebraska