By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
Things have changed a lot in the past century. Just ask Herb Fenner and hell tell you. Herb celebrates his 100th birthday Friday.
Born in Sheboygan Falls, Wisc., the son of German immigrant parents, Herb has done and seen many things in his life. His father was a cheesemaker when he was a lad. The family, including his three sisters and one brother, lived in town within a block of the street trolley line.
His parents spoke German at home until sometime between World War I and II.
The farmers came into town every morning with their milk in horse-drawn wagons, Herb remembers. The cheese curds were pressed into cylinder shaped forms and the whey was pressed out. The whey was run through a separator to recover the cream for sale, while the residue was piped out of the plant and dumped raw into the nearby river.
Herbs first job, however, was in a gas station, Standard Oil of Indiana. Like many 15-year-old boys, he was fascinated by cars and machinery.
Our first car was a Ford with no electric lights or door on the drivers side. It was a 1910 model, Ill never forget it, he said.
Herbs father bought a dairy farm in Rice Lake, Wisc., and moved the family out into the country. They lived there for many years. His father continued to make cheese for his family. The family later sold the farm and returned to town and the cheese factory.
Herb worked at a variety of jobs in his career with much of it involving heavy equipment. He drove a road grader for the Wisconsin Highway Department as a young man and then helped the United States government build air fields during World War II. He drove dozers and other equipment in building the air bases, especially Wright Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio.
Herb said he didnt serve in the military. I was too young for one war and too old for the other one, he explained.
Air bases were a priority and the crew Herb supervised literally built the runways as the pilots in training were taking off from them.
It was pathetic to see some of those fellows just learning how to fly, Herb said. Theyd get out of the airplanes and have to sit down in the shade of the planes wings to collect themselves.
The crew often built runways next to ones in use, and when the equipment had to cross a runway they would post a flagger to watch for airplanes taking off and landing to prevent a collision.
One advantage to working on the air bases as a civilian was he could get gasoline and tires for his personal car. These things, and shoes, were among the scarce items rationed for civilian use so that the military had what they needed for the war effort.
After the war Herb continued to work in heavy equipment sales.
He said he often wined and dined his customers and the rich living and alcohol made an old man out of me. He relates that he would buy a new Chrysler car every two years and put 100,000 miles on it making his sales rounds.
He and his wife, Violet, moved to Portland and he started going to the gym regularly. He met up with people who were interested in nutrition. He stopped drinking alcohol and coffee and started drinking carrot juice and tree bark tea instead.
I took care of myself after I left Wisconsin, he said. He attributes his change in diet and lifestyle to his longevity. Too many people dont stay with it, though, he said.
Today, Herb walks nearly everywhere he needs to go. He walks down to Albertsons for his groceries from his apartment at Elkhorn Village, and he eats lunch at the Senior Center every day.
Herb doesnt drive anymore. I have no desire to drive under the conditions we have today, he explained. He relies on the transportation services of Community Connection for most of his needs.
Herbs wife, who is in her 70s, is not blessed with his good health, he said. She lives in Ontario to be near health care facilities and family and besides, She dont like this town much.
Herb said he liked Baker County when he first saw it in the 1970s. He bought a trailer after his retirement from equipment sales and the couple traveled a lot while they lived in Richland and Nyssa where his wifes family lives.
He also enjoyed hunting elk and deer in Idaho after his retirement.
He and Violet visit often and they talk over the telephone nearly everyday.
He said many of the changes he has seen over the past century have been made in the machinery we use. He talks in great detail about the different types of cable winches and hydraulics used in the equipment he used and sold.
He sees great changes in people and life in general.
Im working in my mind how Im going on from here, he said. Im not ready to quit just yet.
Elkhorn Village plans a reception in Herbs honor on his birthday. He was also honored Aug. 29 at the Senior Center as one of the birthday people for the month of August. He was, he said, the oldest one there.