MEMOIRS OF WILLIAM E. PLUMERT
GROWING UP IN HUDSONVILLE.
In 1941 my father paid $4,600.00 for a 34 acre farm on the south west corner of Van Buren St. and 36th Av.. Itís boundaries were Park Av., the west side homes west lot lines. Barker St., the south side homes south lot lines, Lawndale Av., the east side homes east lot lines, to a point about 300 feet from Van Buren St., where it went east to 36th Av.. There was a barn with a cement block silo, a couple of small buildings and a two story house which is still there.
The land was all tillable except for about 3 acres of low area along Van Buren St., between Park Av. and Lawndale Av.. That area was suitable only for pasture and a crop of "cattails" each summer.
Up until this time the corner of Van Buren and 36th Av. (then called Barnaby Rd.), was known as "Vande Buntes corner". He man who had owned our farm was Bessel Vande Bunte. His brother Jacob owned the farm across the road on the north west corner. He in turn had sold some land just to the west of his house, to his sons Herman and Clide, who had a produce cold storage business there. Thus the term "Vande Buntes corner".
One unusually wet spring the low cattail growing area in our pasture, flooded to a pond about two acres in size. It was over two feet deep in places. All that water had to be good for something I thought, so I decided to make a raft. Using three 55 gallon drums, some 2x4ís to hold them togather, flat boards for a seat and back rest, a pole to push with and I was in business! What a lot of fun I had floating around on our own private pond.
Although the water was great for me, it was trouble in the neighborhood. South of our house where Curtis St. from the west now meets 36th Av., the water table was so high that water covered the road, As cars went through the water they would fling some of the dirt from the bottom of puddle, under their fenders and carry it away. Gradually the water got so deep that the cars would go to each side of the puddle to avoid it. That made the road twice as wide at that spot.
While the street had this water hole, the people all around the area were busy pumping water out of thier basements. My father did not apreciate the big pond in our pasture, but the water across the road and in the basement, was something that had to be taken care of. It was discovered that something had been done about this problem before. At the very north west corner of the farm, a ditch had been dug to the low spot in the pasture. The water was supposed to flow in the ditch, through a culvert under the road, into the ditch on the north side of Van Buren St., then west and eventually into the creek in muck area. None of this functional though, because the house owner on the north side of the street, had filled in the ditch, so his lawn would be level all the way to the street. Other property owners to his west had also filled the ditch in, making it unable to drain the big pond in our field.
The water problem was resolved when my father sought the help of a influential muck farmer, Tom Bosgraaf, who got the county drain commissioner involved. A drain tile was put in all the way from 36th Av., and Curtis St., across the low area of the farm to the north west corner, then west along Van Buren St. to somewhere near 40th Av.. That drain tile remained until the farm was develped and regular city street storm drains were installed. I am sure most of the home owners between the nursing home and Park Av. Are not aware, that in the mid-forties, a boy floated his raft over the very land their houses are now built on !
Since our farm was right on the edge of the Village, there was an occasional unusual sight we would notice about our cows. As the public high school band would be practis-
ing marching and playing for the tulip time parade, they would sometimes go west down Van Buren St., right next to our cow pasture. The cows would hear this and even if they were way on the south side of the pasture (a couple of blocks away), they would come running up to the road. Their tails would be up and they would run and hop around just like they really enjoyed this. I couldnít help but wonder if God put an appreciation for music in their ears, just as he has ours.
Also a surprise to many would be that an oil drilling company once put down a test well in their neighborhood. It was done just south of Hughes Park, north of Grant St. around 1942 or 43. It had the typical derrick and platform around the well head. Next to it was a sludge pit about 10 by 20 feet, filled with a gooey mixture of black oil and water that they had pumped up. The well must not have been considered a strike though, because they pulled up the pipe, took down the derrick and left.
The Pere Marquette railroad was an attraction to me. I used to be able to stand on the back porch of our house and see the trains from there. But for a closer look I would watch the steam engines switching the box cars on the siding that serviced the Box and basket Co., Farmers Co-op and the pickle factory. It was so interesting and almost scary to be only 10 or 15 feet away from those monstrous hissing steam engines.
Another place I liked to watch them was by the railroad depot, near the corner of Balsam Dr. and Van Buren St. There was a long side track there that went east of the Village. Usually around 4:30 in the afternoon there would be a west bound freight waiting there for another train to pass. When they got the green light to proceed, the conductor who had walked up from the caboose, would throw the switch to get back on the track. Since there was a slight grade there, the engineer would have to give the steam engine as much throttle as he could, without making the wheels lose their grip on the track. But once in a while they would start to spin, then as quickly as possible he would have to pull back on the throttle. The sight of those huge wheels with all that weight, spinning on the tracks was hard to believe could happen. It just fascinated me. But not only the sight of this was amazing, but the steady chug-chug-chug of the smoke stack, would suddenly change into a very rapid chug, chug, chug as the wheels spun. This could be heard all over the Village. After the engineer would get the spinning wheels slowed down, the train would continue to move by us. This being war time, we could get a close look at the military equipment on the flat cars. Tanks, jeeps, trucks, artillery guns and that sort of thing. After the train cleared the switch point, the conductor would again throw the track
switch lever. Then he would have to run to catch up to the caboose. Once up there he would take his lantern, reach out with it, swinging it up and down as a signal to the engineer at the front of the train, to open the throttle and speed up. After the train had passed, the next big attraction was to look at the track where the wheels had spun. You could actually see the spot where it happened, because there would be several feet where a thin layer of the track had melted, from the heat generated by the slipping wheels.
In 1942 the state highway department was in the process of making M21 into a divided 4 lane highway. Since in certain places the roadway, both east and west of the village, was prone to be under water in bad spring thaw or rainy situations, the new east bound lanes were to be elevated higher. This meant a lot of fill would be needed. Some of the source for that was from the north west corner of the Ted Curtis farm,. That area is south of Allen St., east of 36th Av. to near School Av., consisting of about 20 acres. A maintenance building was built near the corner of 36th Av. and Allen St... Us boys liked to watch the big crane dig the sandy dirt and put it into the dump trucks. Most of the trucks were Fords and Chevrolets, with just a single axle under the dump box. When they were loaded, their under powered engines would strain to get through the sandy routes to the road. Several miles to the east of Hudsonville, on the north side of M21, between Port Sheldon St. and 18th Av., the highway department had another sand source, There what is now 18th Av.., they built a huge wooden trestle, for the dump trucks to go above the railroad tracks and M21, thus not being held up by trains or highway traffic as they hauled sand to the new roadbed. The whole road project was put on hold during the 2nd world war and was finished after it ended.
One of the things the village did for the war effort, was to have a community scrap metal drive. It was all gathered on a big pile, in the parking lot behind the public grade school. Everyone was encouraged to make a thorough combing of their property and buildings, for things that could be contributed. Probably what today would be valuable was donated by Myron Conklin, an old open top model "T" Ford. During recess us boys would check the pile for interesting things. Others would stand on the running boards of the old Ford, rocking it as hard as they could.
Something else collected for the war effort were thistle weed pods. They would be used in life preserver jackets. Some person connected with this project came to our school and gave us kids a Ďpepí talk, how we might even help to save some sailor from drowning if his ship was torpedoed. We were shown a sample of an weed pod, to make sure everyone would know what to look for out in the fields,
Another village event during the war was to practice for an air raid. There was no such thing as a civil defence siren to alert us. The only siren in the village was mounted on the fire engine and that was hand cranked type, barely heard for more than two blocks. The test was at night, at a certain time all the lights were to be off, no cars were to be driven. As I remember, looking to the east and south from the corner of Van Buren St. and 36th Av., those roads were pretty well blacked out.
A newspaper route was also a part of my growing up in Hudsonville and the route was the whole Village! The paper was the Star and Alliance, published bi-weekly in Grandville. Another boy, Gene Vander Molen, shared the job with me. The papers were dropped off next to the Hudsonville Hardware Store, at the corner of Van Buren St. and Balsam Dr. They all had to be folded and then delivered to each house in town. This was done after school, one afternoon every other week. We really had to hustle on our bicycles to get the job done and still be home on time for supper.
Many people recall the tornado of 1956, but not so well known was another likely small one in 1959. This went through the south east part of town. One evening a very strong wind came up. It made a loud shrill noise as it rushed around the corners of our house located on New Holland St., east of 32nd Av. (In 40 years of living there we have never heard a wind like that again). The next morning going north on 32nd St., I noticed the tool shed type building west of the big barn on the Dale Curtis farm had blown down, although the large barn was untouched. This is about where Hudsonville High School swimming pool is now. Further along 32nd Av., on the east side, slightly north of where Allen St. joins it behind the house (5248) of Gilbert Waite, were the remains of his garage. The mini twister had demolished it, but left the house undamaged. The next evidence of the storm was on Hudson St., the south side, where the small tornado dipped down between two houses. The older house on the east which Tom Edson had moved from 32nd Av. , was being rented by the parents of my wife. The new house (3074), on the west belonged to Carl Andre. The damage was done to his east garage wall, which had been pulled loose from the foundation and protruded out about Ĺ foot. Apparently the tail of the funnel was closer to his garage than the house to the east, which showed no harm whatsoever. Skipping along in a north-east direction the last place hit was at the Edson Meat Packing Plant, located in the triangle north of Van Buren St. and south of M21. There they had a building where they kept a tractor trailer cattle truck and 4 or 5 refrigerated type meat delivery trucks. The storm came along the north west corner of that building, pulling out most of the west cement block wall and a part of the north west corner. The blocks fell to the outside as if a vacuum pulled them, or the air pressure inside the building pushed them. The remainder of the building was intact. The storm throughout itís course moved in a fairly straight line, from south west to north east.
Recently (May 2000), phone calls were made and cassette taped, talking to people whose buildings were involved, or who lived in close proximity to the path of the storm. Even though it has been 40 years, many of them verified and remembered the damage done to at least one of the buildings mentioned. The most remembered spot was Edson truck garage. It being white, the knocked out wall made a sharp contrast with the rest of the building. Then too it had high visibility from M21 with drivers going east from the traffic light. Most also agreed that this probably was a small tornado, slightly aloft and coming close to or touching ground in places. The fact that buildings were unharmed very close to damaged or destroyed ones, seems to rule out that this was a straight line wind. I nor anyone talked to though saw the theorized funnel cloud.
There was one other evidence I remember of the storm. Before New Holland St. was opened up between 32nd Av. and 36th Av., there was a hedge row of small trees and bushes on the line seperating the Miedema farm from the Decator farm. After the storm, from the top of the hill on New Holland St., in front of our house and looking west, you could see that some of the trees were tipped out of place about half way down the hedge row. When I walked to the area I saw the trees were leaning different ways in a spot about 12 to 15 feet wide. It seemed likely that was where the mini tornado crossed over the hedge row, before it got to the Curtis farm building. In a phone conversation with Dale Decator, a son of the farm owner, he could not confirm this for me though.
William E. Plumert
Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 25 January 2007