Interview with Louis Lorenz

This is an interview with Louis Lorenz and his wife Ruth Lorenz at 2805 South Ionia, Fort Smith Arkansas. It was taped on Sunday, Feb. 12, 1978. Lorenz moved to Fort Smith in 1904 at the age of 23. He worked in the wagon factory on Wheeler Avenue for a period of 25 years. He retired in 1974 at the age of 93 from the Lorenz and Vaughn Truck Body Shop. The interviewer, Missy Carroll, represented the Fort Smith Historical Society.

MC: Do you remember the date of your birth and where you were born?

L: I was born March 31, 1881.

MC: Where were you born?

L: In Nebes, Austria, a long way from here. It later became a part of Czechoslovakia.

MC: Who were your parents? What was your mother's name?

L: Josephine. I don't know her other name.

MC: What was your father's name?

L: His name was Joseph Lorenz.

MC: When did you all come to America?

L: I was nine years old when I came here.

MC: Where did you live when you first came here?

L: Burlington, Iowa.

MC: Do you remember anything about your parents?

L: Well, I lived with my mother and father for a few years.

MC: What did your father do?

L: He was a common laborer in a railroad shop.

MC: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

L: I had an older sister, Mary.

MC: Did she come to America with them?

L: No, she remained in Austria. I came over by myself. My father died. My mother and stepfather came over here some time before I came. They came first and then I followed; then my parents went back and I remained here with my Aunt Emma and my Uncle.

MC: What is your wife's maiden name?

L: Ruth Ann Hansberger.

MC: Where did you meet her? In Iowa or here in Fort Smith?

L: Here in Fort Smith. She is a Fort Smith girl. I roomed with her mother. That is how I met her. (Laughter)

MC: (to Mrs. Lorenz) And what was your mother's maiden name?

RHL: Margaret Unold.

MC: What was your father's first name?

RHL: John Hansberger.

MC: Do you know anything about your grandparents, their names? Any information you could give us on that?

RHL: My paternal grandmother was Cordelia Eunice Thurston Hansberger Cheney here in Fort Smith. Her son, Dave Cheney, was my uncle.

MC: (to Mrs. Lorenz) Your mother ran a boarding house? He lived at the boarding house and that is how you met?

RHL: Yes

MC: Where was the boarding house?

RHL: 1122 South Tenth Street, on the corner of 10th and H. The old house is still there.

MC: Tell me a little bit about your courtship.

RHL: We went together about three or four years. I was somewhat younger than he. We didn't marry until I was almost 20.

MC: How old was he?

RHL: He was about 29. We were married Oct. 19, 1910.

MC: (to Mrs. Lorenz) What are your children's names?

RHL: My daughter is Margaret Pachl, and my two sons are Florian Lorenz and Louis Lorenz.

MC: (back to Mr. Lorenz) Did you go to work for the wagon factory when you first moved here?

L: Yes.

MC: Tell me what you did. What was your job there?

L: I was welding wagon tires. Some days I would weld 100 wagon tires. That's a lot of wagon tires. The average wagon tire was an inch and a half wide and about a half inch thick. That heats a lot of iron. I couldn't do that every day. I wasn't man enough for that, but some days I welded 100 tires.

MC: You put the tire on after the spokes and everything was made. In other words, you made the outer rim. What was the process of welding? How was that done?

L: Fire heated with coal. Toward the last few years we welded it with gas. We got the tires hot with gas. The gas made a hotter fire than coal.

MC: Was there a seal or was there an open end where the edges met? Once that rim was put on did you fuse the ends?

L: The tires were finished before they put on the wheels. A wagon tire began with a straight piece of iron, then bent in a circle and the two ends heated to a white heat and fused together by hammering. The tire was then pressed on the wooden rim of the wheel and shrunk to fit the rim tightly by a tire-setter (a hydraulic machine).

MC: Did they teach you how to do the welding when you went to work for them or is this something you already knew how to do?

L: No, I came from the Burg Wagon factory in Iowa. I tried to work at every different kind of work they gave me. As time went on, I just picked it up. When you're around something all the time you eventually learn how.

MC: Where was this in Iowa? Burlington?

L: Burlington, Iowa.

MC: Did they send you to Fort Smith to work with this wagon factory here, or did you just come on your own?

L: I was looking for something to do. I heard there was a new factory in Fort Smith so I came here. I asked for a job and I got one.

RHL: There were a whole lot of men who came, but most of them returned to Burlington. About three stayed.

MC: Were you the only one that did welding on these wheels or were there several other men that worked with the welding?

L: I did it all.

MC: You were the only one that welded.

L: On tires, yes, but there were lots of welding on wagons, but I did tires.

MC: Where was this wagon factory?

L: It was on Wheeler Avenue. You know where Mill Creek is? It was about a couple of blocks south of where Mill Creek crossed Wheeler Avenue. It was a big place.

MC: What were the names of the wagons? Was there a certain brand name?

L: Fort Smith Wagons.

RHL: It was later the John Deere Wagon Company with headquarters in Moline, Ill. John Deere bought the factory after it was started and they made wagons here. First ones were Fort Smith Wagons.

MC: Do you know anything about Ingle Wagon? Did you make Ingle Wagons?

L: They were made on Ninth Street or Tenth. The Ingle didn't last long. The big people always put the little fella out of business. It's worse today. The little fella gets put out of business by the big fella because the big has more to work with. Competition is too big for the little fella compared to the big fella. The Ingle Wagon Company made good wagons but they were just a little place compared to the Fort Smith Wagon Company. Fort Smith Wagon Company was a big place. They worked about a hundred men there, so you know it was a big place. The men were paid in gold. This type of payment changed though because men complained of not getting the correct amount and also because of too many holdups. During World War I, they had an Army contract for fifty wagons per day.

MC: Was that wagon factory more than one building or were there several buildings? Was it one huge building?

L: It was three buildings. The main building was 100 feet wide and 400 feet long. There was a paint shop. The first building was where they manufactured stuff. That was where they made things out of wood and iron. They went from the main building to the paint shop, and there they got painted. The paint shop was 150 feet by 100 feet. From there they went to the shipping room or storage. They stored what they didn't sell right away. They had some made and they had to store them until they found some place to sell them.

MC: How did they ship a wagon? Did they hire somebody to drive it where it was needed or did they use a railroad?

L: Most of the time they shipped the wagons to different towns. The only way to ship wagons was either people would come right there and hook their horses to it and drive away with a team, or, if it was a big dealer, he would buy a whole carload of them.

MC: These dealers, were they mostly in Arkansas or did they go out into other states?

L: They went to other states after this factory got going good. At first, when anything starts, it is little. It has to grow big by experience. In other words, before you can get big markets, you have to market on a small scale. In slack market times, they would have the paint shop full and then they would get the shipping room and storage rooms full.

MC: Who owned the wagon factory?

L: I couldn't tell you that because several people owned the wagon factory. There were three, four, or five of them that said, "If we want a wagon factory, we'll just have to build one." So they got together and had one built. That wagon factory was a good building.

MC: How did you come to quit work at the wagon factory?

L: The automobiles finally put the wagon out of business. They quit selling wagons.

MC: What did you do after you left the wagon factory? Where did you work?

L: After I quit the wagon factory, in other words, the wagon factory quit me. They quit selling wagons so they had to lay off all the men. They didn't have anything for them to do. Of course, the wagons that were out had to be repaired so I started me a little shop on Towson Avenue.

MC: Do you remember the address?

L: I'm there yet. 509 Towson Avenue.

MC: You started a blacksmith shop there?

L: I built the building, that is, had it built. I'm not a bricklayer. Yes, I've had that all the time.

MC: How long did you stay in the blacksmith business there?

L: Still there.

MC: It is still there but they don't do blacksmithing anymore do they? That's gone into welding now.

L: Sister, there is going to be blacksmith business as long as this world lives. There is always something that has to be fixed that is made out of iron. When anything is made out of iron it is going to need some repair at sometime.

MC: They call it welding now though, don't they, instead of blacksmithing? Gone into welding.

L: No! Welding means when you take two pieces of iron and make one piece out of it. Say that this would be a piece of iron and that would be a piece of iron. Well, you make one piece out of them. (Demonstrated with his hands). You weld one half together with the other half until they are one. You weld them together in other words.

MC: Did you like working at the wagon factory?

L: I never worked at a place any better. That place was my life. I'd rather work there than work for myself. If I work for myself, if I don't make any money, I lose money. But to work for a company, if we don't make any money, the company loses it all.

MC: What is the first thing you remember about Fort Smith when you came here?

L: The first thing I remember was Texas Corner. You have probably heard about that. That was the toughest place in town. Talk about a tough place, that was it. After it got so bad the people finally got tired of it and they made the City Council do away with it. It was just drunks all the time, that's what it was. Fellas that had moved in here, they would drink whiskey and beer. That was a tough place until they closed it up. The buildings are still there. It was a tough place.

MC: When you worked at the wagon factory were there many houses around that area?

L: Not anywhere close, maybe a house here and there, maybe four or five blocks away from the wagon factory?

MC: Was the wagon yard close to the wagon factory? Do you remember anything about the old wagon yard?

L: The old wagon yard was on Towson Avenue. The factory was quite a ways out on Wheeler. Where I work now is close to that old wagon yard, Towson Avenue, the 500 block. They called it Hare's Wagon Yard.

MC: Can you tell me a little about it?

L: Well, there's not too much to tell you, but I'll tell you what I remember. In these days, there weren't any automobiles. I remember people would come to town in a team and wagon and they would go to the wagon yard. They would stay overnight there. There weren't a lot of wagon yards. They would water and feed the horses and there was a stall for the horses to sleep in. The next morning they would go to town and buy what they wanted and then go back home.

MC: Kind of like a motel.

L: Just about like it. Just like a motel.

MC: Were you ever in the old Opera House?

L: Yes.

MC: Can you tell me about that?

L: Yes. It was on Fifth Street. It was on Garrison Avenue and Fifth Street.

MC: What was it like inside?

L: I don't remember. The last I remember the building hadn't changed any but there weren't any shows there any more. They tore it down.

MC: When you went there, did you go in a horse and buggy?

L: What do you mean a horse and buggy? I'll tell you what it was.

MC: What?

L: Your feet!

MC: You mean you walked everywhere?

L: There wasn't any other way of going. If you wanted to get there, you walked there or you didn't go.

MC: You didn't have a horse?

L: Not until I got more prosperous. I finally got a horse and buggy, but it was a long time before I was able to buy a horse and buggy.

MC: How old were you when you got a horse and buggy? Do you remember?

L: I couldn't tell you that because now I'm an old man and I can't remember. I worked at the wagon company welding tires to make money. You don't do that (buy) when you are a boy. You have to be a man to do that. That's how it works.

MC: Can you tell me something about this old Red Onion Hotel?

L: Well, that was a fancy place in Fort Smith at the time, the Red Onion Hotel.

MC: Where was it? On Towson? Texas Road?

L: Yes! I don't really know anymore, but it was right on Towson.

MC: Is this where they had trouble where a man threw a brick and got fined ten dollars? There was an article in the paper about a little ruckus there. Do you remember anything about that trouble — a man threw the brick and it hit another fellow? He was fined ten dollars. Do you recall that?

L: It is hard for me to remember things. It's been too many years. The old brain doesn't work good any more.

MC: Could you tell us something about the old Garrison Avenue? Was that an old dirt street when you moved here?

L: Garrison Avenue, that was a good street.

MC: It wasn't bricked yet was it?

L: Not at first. Garrison Avenue was later paved with brick. Asphalt was put on years and years later. All the streets in town for years were all paved with brick. That was the only pavement they had. People used whatever they could get and brick was the only thing the had found up to that time for pavement. Before the streets were paved they were just dirt streets. They would get terribly muddy.

MC: Mr. Lorenz, we will finish for today. We sure thank you for your good memory and your help.

L: It didn't hurt a bit what you did to me.

MC: Thank you, Mr. Lorenz, on behalf of the Fort Smith Historical Society.

L: Glad to do it.


Interviewer: Missy Carroll
First Transcript: Missy Carroll
Tape Auditing: Phil Miller
Transcript Correction: Margaret Pachl
Editing: Missy Carroll
Final Transcript: Flo Cole
Indexing: Phil Miller
This newspaper advertisement for the Fort Smith Wagon Company, right, appeared in the Fort Smith Times Record, April 12, 1914, p. 7. Notice the illustration of the factory at the bottom of the ad.