Pre-WWII Love Letters – Chapter 3

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Postcard of Shoshone Falls in Glenwood Springs, CO dated Sep 17, 1939 (1 cent stamp)

It has been quite a bit of time since my last post on this blog.  I must admit to being quite affected by the helicopter accident that claimed the lives of two Navy pilots on September 22, 2013 that I wrote about in my last post.  This accident hit too close to home….Although I did not know the young men whose lives were lost I am sure that my son did, and it could have so easily have been my son involved in such an accident.

However, I am back working on my “Walt & Gertie” project….the collection of pre-WWII letters that I found in a box of craft items that I bought at a yard sale years ago.  (See the post Pre-WWII Love Letters: The best yard-sale discovery I ever made! for background…..)

I have made some progress documenting and scanning all of the letters that were not dated.  Most of them were written when Walt was a student at the Colorado School of Mines.  I believe that he was a junior in the year 1938.

Today I began to document and scan the letters that were dated.  I am beginning with the year 1938.  The mystery deepens because these letters are dated beginning in March 1938 when Walt should have been finishing his junior year at the School of Mines.  But instead it seems he is working for the US Geological Survey in New Mexico on a job that lasts from March – April 1938.

His supervisor’s name is “Mr. Walker” but he also mentions the “big boss”  who is related to the job.  Walt is staying in a 3-room apartment at a “Cottage Camp” in Carlsbad, NM.  He is rooming with Mr. Walker, his wife and two young sons (Charles & Bob).  The Walkers are charging Walt $1/day for his room & board, but Walt is happy to pay it because if he rents a room on his own he will pay $36-$40 a month for room & board.  (In his words “Boy prices are high!”)   An excerpt from his letter dated March 6, 1938 says:

            If I got board and room some place else it would cost between $36 – 40 a month.  I told Mr. Walker that if my living with him was putting him out that I would find other accomadations.  He said that it wasn’t, and that if I could stand the kids I was more than welcome.  Because he is boarding & rooming me so cheaply I have been helping as much as possible.  Such as helping washing dishes, setting the table, etc.

At this point, I don’t know if Walt has dropped out of school and gotten a job instead, or if working for the US Geological Survey is perhaps some kind of internship.  I hope to be able to go up to Golden to the School of Mines Library sometime soon to see what else I can find out about Walt’s tenure there as a student.

In the meantime, I thought I would publish the letter that Walt wrote to Gertie on March 16, 1938.  It is particularly “newsy” and has some good material giving us a picture of his life at the time.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

(NOTE:  All punctuation and spelling are copied exactly as Walt wrote it.)

3-16-38

Dearest Gertie,

            What a screwy time I have had the last three days.  Monday we had a nice (?) high wind with a dust storm.  We couldn’t work so layed around the house.  I took the kids back + forth to school, and the rest of the time placed rags in the doors + windows.  Tuesday was fairly decent and nice and warm.  Just after we had started to work I nearly got rid of a years growth.  I was walking to the next point whistling and having a good time when I nearly stepped on a rattler.  I don’t know whether the snake was scared, but I sure left the ground.  I yelled to Mr. Walker, and then tried to kill the rattler.  I couldn’t kill him before he went in a hole.  He didn’t get me, didn’t even strike, but from now on I will sure watch my step.  We ran across another one about 40 ft from there in a sink hole.  He also got away from us.  I promise you that I will be careful and won’t go out of my way to meet them.

            Again today we didn’t work due to more dust in the air.  Mr. Walker transferred some of our traverse onto the main sheet while I worked on the truck.  During the past few days the boss has been feeling rather low due to the dirt in the air.  So far I haven’t been bothered by it, and don’t think I will.

            Monday I bought three airplane glider kits (5¢ each), and then made one over.  At least it will give me something to do on week ends.

            Tonight up until time to do the dishes I helped Charles with his arithmetic.  After the dishes were finished I started to write this letter (?).

            Keep this under your hat, but its really funny.  Mr. Walker has a farm back in Illinois.  About all he does during his spare moments is read the Sears & Roebuck Catalog.  His wife & I kid him every once in a while by asking him the price of some article.  He just laughs, and then quotes the price.

            We finally got two new tires + tubes for the truck so now we have a spare tire.  Thank gosh!  I didn’t like the prospects of walking 14-18 miles into town.

            I suppose we will spend the rest of our time in this same Cottage Camp.  The Rio Vista Cabins are all taken and paid for two weeks in advance.  Rio Vista has fridigaires while this place has a common ice block.  If there is an opening we may move, that is I hope we do. 

            I had a letter from Balvin and the pressure caused by final week must have warped his mind.  He wrote the darndest crazy things.  Sounded like a nut on a spree. 

            At the rate we are going this work should be finished about next year, but I think the last week or two in April will be a case of lay around + loaf.  We can’t turn in more than 12 sq miles per month.  So far we have 2 sq miles filled in and about 20 miles of control traverse run.  By the end of this month we could finish our part of the work. If we did that though it would be working ourselves out of a job.  So all I can do is let the boss worry about the situation.

            Well darling it is almost 9 P.M. so I will have to hit the hay as tomorrow is another day.  There is exactly 45 more days until I will be out of here.  Each day I draw a line through the day that just passed.  Just like a convict waiting to get out.  Sometimes I almost feel like one.  Please write when you have time as I wait for your letters with all my patience.  Remember I love you with all my heart.

With loads of love,

Walt

(Bunny Duck)

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Pre-WWII Love Letters – Chapter 2

Tuesday

 Dearest Gertie, 

            What a life, do we have to do some dumb things they call problems.  So far we have had five of them.  The first one was to walk 300 ft counting the number of steps and then find our average step.  Imagine about 50 fellows walking up and down in front of the frat house for about an hour.  Today we had a chain problem out on the baseball field.  Redmond went around talking about being a fugitive from a chain gang.  One of the fellows knows the prof. quit(e) well so the other day when he told us to go chain the road this guy pipes up with “why chain it it’ll stay there”.           

            Well honey I will have to close now and go get my lunch. The way things look now I won’t be able to come home until Saturday.

Love,
Walt

As this is only the second installment of my “Walt & Gertie” project, I am still working through documenting the letters and copying them.  I’ve learned a little bit about Walt in the process.

Here is some of what I have learned so far:

Walt was a student at the Colorado School of Mines and was a Junior in the year 1938.  He was also a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity the same year.  But so far I cannot find evidence that he graduated from the School of Mines the next year (1939).  It is possible that he might have transferred to another school, because in another letter to Gertie he mentions discussing the possibility of transferring with his father:

Monday evening

Dearest Gertie, 

            Well here it is the end of the first day.  We haven’t done much in the way of work today and from now on they say it gets easier.

            I told mom that your mother wanted you to go with them to dinner, and she said that she was sorry you couldn’t be with us.

            Sunday night when I was getting ready to go to bed Dad came up and started talking to me about school.  He said that next year I hadn’t better think of driving back and forth. He ask me how I came out in Chem.  I told him the straight facts and did I get a surprise when he asked if I wanted to take some other course. It ended by him telling me to inquire at Boulder and Ft. Collins about Mechanical Engineering.  This is rather hard to explain in a letter but I will tell you all about it in my next letter, or the next time I see you. I am coming in Wednesday night and if your home I will tell you then.  Please don’t mention this until I talk to you as there are some facts I don’t like to write in a letter. 

            I hope some of the board members don’t walk in tonight as some of the fellows are throwing a party and it might be embarrassing.  I don’t know what is going on, but I have an idea.

            Well honey I will have to close as it is getting late and I still have some work to do.

 Love,
Walt

I believe Walt was studying some kind of geology or surveying discipline at the School of Mines because he has mentioned having to make maps and of having to do some field work.  An excerpt from one letter says:

           Well here it is the end of the first day.  Today we had a problem in differential leveling which Redmond and I have just finished calculating.  I had to make a mistake in the field so we had to check it all over.


In the same letter, Walt tells Gertie about a good grade he got on a quiz….I thought it was funny:

            In our first lecture the prof gave us our quizzes back and was I surprised when I got a 96.  No fooling! Boy I made some good guesses.

I hope I discover more information about Walt & Gertie as I continue this project, and you can be sure I will share my discoveries here!

Pre-WWII Love Letters: The best yard-sale discovery I ever made!

1939 Hallmark Valentine's Day card

1939 Hallmark Valentine’s Day card

Dearest Gertie,

Just a few lines to let you know that I am always thinking of you. Honey, my work has stacked up so that I haven’t time to write a letter. Tomorrow I have two Quizzes so will have to do lots of studying tonight.

Sunday we went skiing as scheduled and ran into a snow storm. It snowed so hard that you couldn’t see where you were going, which made the driving difficult. I met Jay Nelson and Carl Ward up there and they looked like they were frozen.

If you come home this week end, and would care to go to the dance they are having one at school.

I had a talk with the Dean this afternoon, and will probably have to drop D.G. to keep from flunking it.

Well honey I will have to close and get some of my studies.

Love,

Walt

These words were written over 78 years ago by a smitten Walt to his sweetheart Gertie. The note was written on a small blank card and is not dated except for “Tuesday”. I’ve copied it exactly, including punctuation.

This card is part of a collection of letters that I (accidentally?) came into possession of some five or six years ago after a day of shopping at garage sales.

On this particular day my husband had agreed to come along. He enjoys the “hunt” as much as I do and I enjoy his company when he can spare the time to go with me. Usually I look for good books to add to my “books waiting to be read” box. Sometimes I find nice things for the house. One of the best bargains I ever found at a yard sale was four 3-pc sets of the Lennox Christmas china that match some sets that I already own. I also have been known to collect items for my “someday grandchildren” box…..such as nice little tea sets, Lincoln logs or wooden blocks, teddy bears, army men, etc. (If and when our grandchildren finally come, we’ll be ready!)

I remember it was towards the end of our yard-sale venture that day, because we were in the neighborhoods located across the busy main street that bordered our neighborhood. We stopped at a sale and both of us began browsing the “merchandise”. I came across a large box full of crafting odds & ends. Being an aspiring crafter (depending on whatever has my attention at the time) I began to dig through the box. My husband, not wanting to wait for me to pull out particular items that I might want, offered to buy the whole box for one price to which the owner of the sale agreed. My husband hefted the box into the car and we went home.

The box sat in the garage for a couple of days before I found the time to bring it into the house and begin to go through the contents. I don’t really remember at this point what else was in the box, but I do remember that at the bottom of the box was a smaller blue box. I lifted it out and opened it up, and found inside a collection of letters. I quickly scanned through them and realized these were old letters written before WWII from “Walt” to his sweetheart “Gertie”. Some of the letters were dated, and many were not. The dates ranged from 1935 – 1940….five years of letters written by Walt to Gertie.

I immediately showed the letters to my husband. We took the box of letters and drove back to the area where the yard sale was held the previous weekend. I was hoping that I might see a house with a pile of trash out by the curb waiting to be picked up which would help us pin-point exactly which house it was that held the yard sale. But as we drove around and around we could not remember which house it was where we bought the box of craft items, and we could not find any evidence of the yard sale in the neighborhood. We finally went home, still in possession of the letters. I stored the letters in my office, thinking that I would “someday” try to solve the mystery of Walt & Gertie.

Fast-forward these many years later. I have recently retired and now have lots of free time on my hands. So I retrieved the box of letters from their safe place and this week I have begun to read them. When Walt remembered to date the letters was a wonderful benefit because I can put them in order for continuity. But many of the letters are not dated so it is much harder to figure out where they go in the timeline of their story.

I am getting such a kick out of this project because it is fun to read Walt’s words in that day’s style/slang (“keeping my chin up”, “one of the fellows”, “give me some more dope about the dance”….) He signs some of the letters “Your Bunny Duck” which must have been Gertie’s pet name for Walt. Additionally, some of the letters were written on “stationery” from hotels around Colorado & New Mexico and the hotel stationery is so quaint and old-fashioned. The amenities they advertise on the top of the page make me laugh: “Rooms with and without bath rates” or “European Plan $1 up” (The Star Hotel in Glenwood Springs, CO); “Radio In Every Room”, “Fireproof” and “Artesian Water” (El Monte Hotel in Monta Vista Colorado.) (“Fireproof”??? That was an added bonus???) <smile>

Stay tuned for more installments of the love story of Walt & Gertie here in my blog! I’m looking forward to learning more about them…..I hope you are too!