Jeff Manes: ‘Barney,’ 94, has worn many hats
August 31, 2012 10:54AM
Bernard Wornhoff, 94, is pictured with his son, Greg, in the latter’s Cedar Lake home. Wornhoff once worked on his parents’ farm, harvested ice from Cedar Lake, owned a gas station, a car-repair shop and drove a school bus. | Photo provided
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:01AM
“This (stock market) crash is not going to have much effect on business.”
— Arthur Reynolds, chairman of Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago, Oct. 24, 1929
Bernard Wornhoff was born in 1918; on Nov. 11 that year, World War I ended.
The next fall, the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in the infamous “Black Sox Scandal.”
In 1919, Dad could buy a new Studebaker for $675, and Mom could pick up a chuck roast for less than 30 cents per pound, a quart of milk for 15 cents and a pound of sugar for a dime.
When I interviewed Wornhoff, he was moving in with his son, Greg, who lives in the old Cook neighborhood, now part of Cedar Lake.
Wornhoff was married to Junella for 66 years; they raised four children.
At 94, the old-timer is a as sharp as the proverbial tack.
Barney, tell me about the town of Leroy during the Roarin’ ’20s.
“Actually, we lived in a rural area called Southeast Grove before the family moved to Leroy,” he said.
“It’s in Eagle Creek Township, east of Lowell. I went to three grades of school in Southeast Grove. There were only four or five kids in a class.
“Across the road was a cemetery; all the old-timers were buried there. The cemetery is there yet, but the school is gone.”
What was the name of the school?
“Center School on Range Line Road. Horses pulled our bus, which was a converted wagon. I went to Hebron High School for two years. At age 16, you could do anything a man could do; you went to work.”
Was your father a farmer?
“Yeah, I was one of six kids. I stayed home with Dad and Mom, working on the farm until I was about 24. It was hard work back in those days; everything was done manually. We bought our first tractor in the late ’40s.”
Life after farming?
“I bought a gas station in Leroy back in the early ’50s. A few years later, I opened up my garage-repair shop in Cook. It was a block building with a barrel roof on the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and 133rd Avenue.
“My house used to sit right there. They (tore) it down to build a CVS (pharmacy). My father-in-law, Adam Schafer, had that house built in 1913.”
How long did you operate the garage?
“Oh, 40-some years. I retired in the 1990s. I also drove a school bus for 32 years, until about 1991.”
Have you seen a few changes to the Cook-Cedar Lake area since the ’40s and ’50s?
“Oh, yeah. I used to go dancin’ at the old Midway Ballroom. Ron Coby used to direct the square dancing out at Midway. That was out on the water, and a lot of people were kinda leery because that floor would waver back and forth, but it never caved in.
“Roller skating was a big deal around here back then. I never was much of a roller skater, but my wife and her lady friends would frequent the rink often.”
This neighborhood where we’re sitting is really nice.
“The main section of this house and the main section of the house across the street were once owned by the railroad. Across the street was the conductor-station master’s house, and this was the section crew house when they had steam engines. They were moved here in the 1940s.”
Interesting; what about harvesting ice out of Cedar Lake?
“As a kid, I worked that job. They had a big saw that was pulled with horses. They would cut the ice into large chunks. Then, they would pull them through a channel and into the ice house with a conveyor.
“The ice was packed with sawdust. It would keep all the way into summer.”
Amazing. I bet that was exhaustive work.
“Oh, it was hard work. Those old bosses we had, they didn’t take pity on nobody. Herman Jebens was one of them; he was an old German and an iceman here. He was the one who sold the ice in the summertime.”
Barney, my memories don’t go back as far as yours, of course, but I recall a beer-and-wine joint in the late ’70s. It was on U.S. 41 in Cook. It was called Saco’s.
“Oh, gee, that was like a Wild West saloon.”
Yeah, through the grapevine, I’ve heard that my grandfather used to shoot craps in there when a fella named Harry Bixman ran the place during the 1940s.
Today, that establishment is known as Carlo’s Restaurant, Pizzeria & Sports Bar.
While sitting on the front porch with Barney and his son, Greg, Barney turned around in his lawn chair, pointed, and informed me that the front door of his son’s place recently was salvaged from his house at the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and 133rd.
At almost a century old, the handsomely crafted door, made in 1913, is quite a piece of work.
So is Barney Wornhoff.