In 1970 Orris Nauman, life-long resident of Oconto County, retired after 44 years of highway department service. He began when horse teams were still an important source of power for county road workers. He offers his memories in this Oconto County Reporter interview written by Paulette Kilmer.
LIFE TAKES A TURN
FOR ORRIE NAUMAN. By Paulette Kilmer
Note the "Holt" tractor used for highway work in the early first half of the 1900's. Also note that residents were living in original log cabins along Oconto County roadways (rear right) well into that century.
For Orris Nauman of 218 Center-st, Oconto, the road turned the end of August when he retired after 44 years of service with the Oconto county highway department.
Nauman began his career in 1926, taking care of county roads, Including state highway 37. "We patrolled over 30 miles, sweeping the roads, trimming the grass, hauling gravel and plowing them in the winter," he recalls.
Highway work has changed a lot since his first years with the department. When he begans the crew traveled with a boarding camp on wheels and a woman to do the cooking. The county provided tents and bunks for the men, but they had to pay for their meals, A work week was made up of six ten-hour days, the crew leaving early Monday morning and returning late Saturday.
In those days, draft horses pulled the equipment and the tractors and graders had steel wheels. The road crew, with its tractor, grader, gas wagon, oil wagon and six wagons for fill - would wind its way down highway 64, going four miles an hour at top speed, and crawling at one or two miles per hour. The train had to be unhooked at every corner. In one day the crew would get as far as Oconto Falls; the second day they would continue to Suring, where they would stop to buy groceries. It took them a week to get to Mountain. The roads were so narrow in some places that they had to cut down a tree to get through.
"After traveling from Klondike toward home all day, the crew would be lucky to reach Gus Sweeney's farm six miles away," the roadman recalls.
Orris says he has done a little bit of everything on county road work, including fighting fires. The snow plow was a second home to him for many years he says, and one time he plowed roads for 55 hours steady. Although in those days an operator had to crawl outside the cab and raise the wings of the plow with chains, he says he never found it cold enough to put on a pair of mittens.
He remembers that during the spring thaws roads were often so bad you couldn't get from Oconto to Pensaukee without getting stuck in mud at least once.
A native of Oconto, Gillett was Nauman's home base for 13 years. He returned to Oconto in 1961 to work on the county gas truck.
For the past few years, it has been his job to install the road signs throughout the county, a job he has enjoyed because, he says, you are never in the same place. But vandalism has been a big headache for the highway department with four or five signs stolen a week. About two days a week are spent just replacing pilfered signs.
Over all these years, there hasn't been too much time for Orrie to spend on hobbies. Now, however, he hopes to indulge in his favorite pastime of refinishing and reupholstering old furnature.
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