Welder Reflects on 93 Years in the Heartland

Burke, Allan. "Welder Reflects on 93 Years in the Heartland." Emmons County Record, 7 July 2005, 1-4.

Paul stands with some of the awards he received as an adjustor, agent and director of Northwest GF Mutual Insurance Company in Eureka.

Paul Welder, 93, of Linton has farmed with horses, lived without electricity and running water, shared a tiny home with 14 brothers and sisters, spoken German as his first language and attended school through the seventh grade. He has also traveled overseas, been an award-winning insurance agent and chaired the board of an insurance company.

He is the ninth of the 15 children born in 21 years to Paul Sr. and Catherine (Weigel) Welder, Germans who were born in Russia. The Welders farmed six miles east and one-half mile south of Zeeland. They were one mile from the South Dakota border, just north of Greenway, S.D., where they did their shopping and farm business.

Fifteen children

Paul’s brothers and sisters included Caroline (Conrad) Mattern (born in 1899, deceased), Glencross, S.D.; Barbara (John) Welk (1901, deceased) who farmed in the St. Aloysius community 12 miles east of Strasburg; Katie (Fred) Mattern (1903, deceased), Glencross; Mary (Gabriel) Welk (1904, deceased) who farmed near Barbara and John; Ben (Agnes Leibel) Welder (1905, deceased), Mobridge, S.D.; Lena (August) Schmaltz (1907, deceased), St. Aloysius community; Anton (Barbara Mitzel) Welder (1909, deceased); Joe (Helen Nolz) Welder (1910, deceased), Blue Earth, Minn.; Paul (Phyllis Wald, deceased) of Linton, who was born April 14, 1912; John (Stella) Welder (1913, deceased), Ephraim, Utah; Anna (Andy, deceased) Schatz (1915), who lives in Lodi, Calif.; Peter (Lillian Schatz) Welder (1916), Zeeland; Frank (Pearl) Welder (1918) who lives in Finlay; Mike (Barbara Zahn) Welder (1929, deceased) (Barbara lives in Mobridge), and Rose (John, deceased) Gabriel (1920), who lives in Bismarck.

Paul’s boyhood

Thirteen of the Welder children were living at home at the same time, and the house had two upstairs bedrooms. Ten of the kids slept in one big room with four double beds.

"For several years, my brothers Ben, Tony and Joe and I shared a bed," Paul said. "Two slept with their heads at the head of the bed, and two slept with their heads at the foot of the bed. That would probably be child abuse today, but we were a very happy family. That’s the way everybody lived in those days."

Paul said the family was not poor since his dad was the only son in his family, and Paul Sr. and his father both homesteaded and accumulated farm land.

The Welder children were kept busy with chores. The boys cleaned the barn and fed the cows and horses while the girls milked the cows, fed the chickens, geese, turkeys and calves and helped their mother in the house.

In the winter, the kids skated on a pond on the farm and went sledding. "We played a lot of checkers," Paul added.

The Welder children attended a one-room, country school that was a half-mile from the farm, and six of them were students there at the same time.

"We were many years from having electricity, so there were no lights in the school," Paul recalled. "We didn’t even have kerosene lamps at school. On the rare occasion when we had an evening program, the teacher would hang two lanterns."

He remembers singing, "Old Black Joe," in one of the programs. The students sat two per desk with the teacher at the front of the room at a desk. The school’s only teacher taught all eight grades and accomplished that by calling one class at a time to come forward and sit on benches around her desk. The other students stayed at their desks and studied for their time up front with the teacher. "With all the grades in one room, I listened to the older kids’ lessons and learned a lot," Paul said.

He said the school did not supply the books, so families would hand down the reading, geography, history and spelling books. "Tablets cost five cents, and pencils were a penny," Paul noted.

The family farm

Paul Welder Sr. homesteaded this farm between Zeeland and Greenway, S.D., and Paul Welder was born and raised there and farmed until 1960 when he went into the insurance business.

Before steam and later gasoline tractors were introduced, horses were the power on farms. Paul’s father was one of the leading work horse breeders in the region, raising Belgians and Perchons.

He bought his first Belgian stud in Eureka for $2,800 in 1919 and his Perchon stud in 1921 for $1,800. The Belgian sired 125 colts at $25 per colt in its first year, thus paying for itself. The Perchon paid for itself, too, but it died on Washington’s birthday during a raging blizzard in 1923.

"Dad had 12-14 mares," Paul explained. "He broke all of the colts before he sold them. Adult horses sold for $350 per head." He said the stud fee for breeding another farmer’s mare was $25 per head.

Paul said Belgian draft horses were the preferred choice of many farmers because they were good work horses but they had a tendency to be lazy. Perchons were lively and active and made excellent plow horses.

Young horses were trained by being hooked to a wagon with an older, trained horse.

"They were not hard to train, and Dad would tie the young horses behind a horse-drawn plow (four or five horses per plow) and let them pull a small drag," Paul said. "They pulled the drag and walked on plowed ground all day."

Paul’s dad usually trained six horses per year, although sometimes he trained as many as 10, and horse buyers would come from all over, riding in buggies and later cars.

"Every horse on our farm had a name, and Dad would not sell two of his black Perchons (Flurry and Queen) because he wanted to keep them to pull his sleigh," Paul said.

He noted that horses are smart, and they knew the personalities of the Welders who handled them on the farm.

"One time a buyer, who was a stranger to our horses, had to be rescued by my brother," Paul said.

The buyer was mouthing a horse (to check the teeth to determine the horse’s age) when the horse snorted and pawed the ground. A good buyer could tell a horse’s age by counting the rings in its teeth. Teeth that were ground down indicated the horse was over 10 years old. Paul said many horses were sold at farm auctions. The younger horses sold well, but the older horses (13-14 years old and up) didn’t sell well and usually were sold as canners.

"Horses and cattle were shipped out by rail from Greenway, and the Greenway stockyards handled a lot of cattle and horses," he said. In 1934, Paul’s dad bought 28 horses in Jamestown. There was no railroad connecting Jamestown and Zeeland, so Paul spent Jan. 13-15 walking with the horses. The horses were for Peter Ackerman, John Jahraus and the Welders.

"We had two wagons of hay and two horses on each wagon," Paul said.

A new House

Paul was 11 in 1923 when he helped his dad build a new house on their farm. He and his older brother, Joe, made four trips a day to Greenway with a horse-drawn wagon to get cement and lumber.

"We left at 6 a.m. and after our second trip we would change horses at noon," Paul said. "There were no roads then, so we went cross-country on a wagon trail for the three miles to and from Greenway." The new house brought the number of homes on the Welder farm to four. There was his grandparents’ (Benhard and Barbara Schumacher Welder) home, a summer kitchen, the old house and then the large, new structure.

Surviving the Depression

With the severe drought and low farm prices of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Paul drove to the West Coast in 1936, 1937 and 1938 to work on farms. Traveling with Paul on one or more of the trips were his brother, Joe, Andy Schatz, Mike Schatz, Henry Jahraus, Chris Ochsner and Al Leibel.

In the Stockton, Calif., area he thinned beans, picked cherries and helped harvest 2,200 acres of barley.

"I pulled the combine with a big Caterpillar tractor with tracks on the side and a wheel in front," Paul said.

Paul’s parents, Catherine Weigel (1878-1966) and Paul Welder Sr. (1876-1948) were married Oct. 1, 1898.

From California, he traveled to the Colfax, Wash., area to help with the wheat harvest. The combine was pulled by a 16-horse team. In the Yakima, Wash., area, he picked hops, which grow on vines. "We cut down the 7- to 8-foot vines and put the hops in baskets," he said. "We were paid five cents a pound, and I picked 150 pounds a day, which was good money."

The next harvest was apples near Cashmier and Chelan, Wash., and he picked 2,600 boxes, 153 boxes a day, for five cents a box. He joked, "I made more money than the Governor."

From Washington, he went to Montana where he had secured a three-year contract to harvest sugar beets.

He said a machine lifted the beets out of the ground, piled them on either size and leveled the dirt down the center of each row. The beets were topped and then shoveled into a truck.

"I was a topper, and I cooked for eight men," Paul said. "We were all single guys in our 20s, and we slept in haystacks in canvas bedrolls we had made."

After the topping was completed, Paul trucked the tops to farms where they were used as cattle feed.

"The tops have a lot of protein and are excellent cattle feed," he noted.


Harvest wheat in Montana are Paul on the binder and Andy Schatz on the Farmall F-12.

From 1939-42, Paul worked for the State Highway Department, and he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1942. However, he had ulcers so bad that he was not accepted.

"Three of my brothers, John, Pete and Frank, were drafted, so I went home to farm with my dad," Paul said.

He bought the first combine in the Zeeland area. It was a one-year-old, 10-foot, tractor-pulled International, and it cost $1,225. He bought his first tractor, an M with rubber tires, for $1,385.

"They threw in a barrel of oil with the tractor," he said.

By 1943, he was doing custom work for other farmers. He upgraded to a used 12-foot Baldwin combine that cost $1,860 and bought a Minneapolis Moline U for $1,680.

"I was paid $4 an acre for custom work, and, on a good day, I could straight-combine 100 acres," he said, adding that the farmer hauled the grain and furnished the gas.

Marriage to Phyllis

Paul and Phyllis posed for this portrait shortly before her death in 1984.

In the late 1930s, Paul met Phyllis Wald in 1940 at a dance in Zeeland. "For a dollar, you could take a girl to a dance. That included the ticket to get in, lunch, a couple of beers and Sen-Sen for your breath," Paul said. "And you had a dime in your pocket when you went home."

The dances they attended led to their marriage on Nov. 4, 1943, at St. John’s Catholic Church north of Zeeland. Her parents were the late Sebastian and Magdalena Wald, and she grew up with four brothers and three sisters.

Phyllis, who lived seven miles from Paul, grew up attending St. John’s while Paul attended St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Zeeland. The Welders had four children. James (Chris) Welder lives in Bonita Springs, Fla. Bernadette of Hastings, Minn., has two children, and her husband, Lionel Estenson, is deceased. Raymond (Anna Schatz) has two children and lives in Crystal Lake, Ill. Daniel (Jenny Schatz) lives in Bismarck, and his two daughters will be married this year.

A new Career

Paul farmed until 1960 when he became a full-time adjustor and insurance agent for the Northwest GF Mutual Insurance Company in Eureka. (GF stands for German Farmer).

"I was an adjustor for 22 years and an agent for 27 years," he said. He drove 85-90,000 miles a year to adjust claims in the Dakotas, starting out early in the morning and getting home late at night or the next day. On a given day, he might be in Scotland, S.D., in the morning and end up in Langdon, N.D., that afternoon.

"I traveled every back road and front road in the two states," Paul said. "You name the town, and I’ve been there at least once."

He served on the insurance company’s board of directors for 24 years and alternated with the other directors as chairman.

Paul picked over 150 boxes of apples a day for five cents a box when he worked in the Cashmier and Chelan, Wash., areas in the 1930s.
The Welder barn was nearly buried in the 1966 blizzard.
Always a snappy dresser, Paul is pictured on the Welder farm in a suite of clothes he bought at the Petrie Store in Linton.

World Traveler

In 1982, the Welders built a home in Linton and moved from the farm where Paul was born and raised.

Paul and Phyllis enjoyed traveling throughout the United States, often to insurance conventions in big cities. They were planning a trip to Hawaii in 1984 when Phyllis became ill and had open heart surgery. She died 31 days later.

Paul sold their home in 1994 and moved to Bismarck where he lived in an apartment until 1998.

"The traffic got to be too much for me, so I came back home to Linton," he said.

Paul continued to travel after Phyllis’s death. On his first overseas guided tour in 1994, he visited France, Germany, Holland, Italy (Rome), Sweden and Norway. In 1998 he toured Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and Czechlosavakia.

Later in 1998 and again in 2004, he made pilgrimages to Medjugorje, Bosnia, where the Blessed Virgin is said to have appeared to children on a mountain top.

Paul and Phyllis collected bells from nearly every state, and Paul has continued the collection an added bells from several foreign countries.

The tour group walked over rough terrain to get to the top of the mountain where a large Crucifix stands over a cemetery. On the Crucifix, Christ’s leg bleeds, and thousands of Catholics visit the site each year. A mother and daughter who hosted the group, walk barefooted to the shrine every Friday.

In 2004 at age 92, Paul was the first of the group to reach the mountain top. A much younger chaplain, who was their tour guide, couldn’t keep up with Paul.

Paul bought a long walking stick on the tour, and he decided the only way to bring it back home was to tell the airline people that he needed it to walk. He held it as he got onboard the plane, and the flight attendant helped him store it in the overhead compartment.

Devotion to Church

Paul said the biggest part of his life now is attending St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Linton. He drives to the daily Masses. He is also active in the Knights of Columbus and has attained the 4th Degree level, which is the organization’s highest.

"That’s as high as you can go without becoming Pope," he laughed. A few days ago, he bought a house that is one block from the church, and he will be moving from his rented house to his new home.

"I love to drive, but when it comes to the point that they won’t let me drive, I want to be able to walk to church," Paul said. He takes daily walks to keep in shape.

He drove to Zeeland for the recent St. Andrew’s Centennial and is noted for the driving skills he maintains in his 90s.

"There are three elderly people in Linton who shouldn’t be driving," Paul joked. "But I’m not one of them."

For Paul Welder, life has been interesting, diverse and is still fun after 93 years in the heartland.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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