Highland News Leader

Cigar maker created special stogie named for his WWI draft number

Roland Harris
Roland Harris

This week, we will cover Aug. 2 through Sept. 30, 1917, in Highland. But first, I want to remind you about our first Saturday of the month open house this Saturday, Nov. 4 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Highland Home Museum, 1600 Walnut St. The museum is also open by appointment, at your own schedule. Call me at 618-654-5005 or 618-303-0082. to set up an appointment.

Also, a little later, we’ll talk “bridge.”

But now, let’s look back, again, at Highland a century ago.

H.H. Wirz, formerly of Highland, had his cigar factory in Greenville, where he hand rolled his cigars. He started making a new cigar, which he called “675” to honor his 1917 draft number. Wirz put a red, white and blue band on them. I have a Wirz metal cigar tin and a small hammer, with one sharp end, to open wooden cigar boxes.

A side note: These items were given to me by Melvin Wirz, my former partner in Tibbetts & Co. I have given these two Wirz items to the Highland Home Museum in Melvin’s name and his number in the museum is 540, if you want to look them up. Melvin Wirz was an assistant to our head tinner, Newton Wildi. Newton Wildi died Dec. 25, 1950, and Melvin became head tinner. Melvin Wirz, on July 1953, started his own business, Wirz Sheet Metal Shop, at 508 Broadway, purchasing the Edward Clementz Apple Shed, remodeling and enlarging the building. When Melvin retired, he sold to Langhauser Sheet Metal, now at 120 Matter Drive in Highland. Bill Stieb’s purchased the 506 and 508 Broadway building and adjoining lot from Langhauser, when the business moved to Matter Drive. Bill has sold the west lot to Dean Grapperhaus for his apartment unit. Stieb has retained the Wirz building and turned it into a four-apartment unit — the one to the east has “All In 4 You” Home Health Care.

Now, back to 1917.

Christian Koch sold an 80 acre farm 2  1/2 miles east of Highland to Albert Ambuehl for “a consideration of $162.50 per acre,” the News Leader reported. Actually, that was an astronautical price in 1917. The Pfister farm of 70.5 acres was sold in 1917 for $135 per acre to Frank X. Voegele

Henry Bellm Sr., who was farming north of Highland, threshed an average of 44 bushels of wheat on a 19-acre tract. With the prevailing price of wheat at $2.45 per bushel, the harvest brought him $107.80 per acre.

The first of the 1917 drafted boys had left Highland. They were Albert Federer, Leo Ryan and Jacob Landert Jr. Meanwhile, Fulbert Beck, who was with the regular Army in France, was promoted to orderly and received a pay raise.

Miss Gertie Klein and Gilbert Loyet entered the employee of the East End Mercantile Co. store.

Mrs. Kuno Streiff became the owner of the O-Spot Lunch Room on the south side of the Square.

Lund- Mauldin Shoe Co. of Highland voluntarily increased wages of their employees 10 percent throughout the entire plant at Broadway and Washington Street.

Stocker Gravel & Construction Co. of Highland was the successful bidder and received the contract to build a concrete bridge across Buckeye Branch, just east of the Trenton Road. The bid was $2,195.

Joseph Wick, a soda manufacturer, presented the Highland Leader newspaper workers with a case of his soda.

The Rev. William Pietsch was appointed pastor of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Pierron, following the death of their former pastor, the Rev. Becker.


Now, a change to “bridge” — the card game.

I have been asked many times about the game of bridge, “Did you play bridge with your parents?”

The answer is, “No.”

I started playing bridge in 1945, and I still love the game.

I was introduced to the game while I was in the Army. In January 1945, our first stop after we sailed from San Francisco, Calif., was Neumia, New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific, centered north above New Zealand and Australia.

I had been at Fort Sill, Okla., just over a year, first as a recruit for 16 weeks, then Cadre School for 16 more weeks and was made a corporal. I taught calisthenics in the morning and how to fire the 105mm Howitzer with the field artillery in the afternoon. Then I was made a sergeant and continued teaching for another 16 weeks. We took these 400-plus recruits by train to Fort Ord, Calif. They had additional training, as we were all going as replacements to different divisions that were located in the South Pacific.

My maiden voyage was on the former Dutch liner, Boschfontein that had been converted into a U.S. Navy troop carrier. It met us in San Francisco harbor on Dec. 31, 1944. What a “great” place to spend New Year’s Eve, tied up to a dock and no shore leaves.

Thirty days later, we arrived in Neumea, New Caledonia, where some of us met our new 97th Field Artillery Battalion, which had been a 75mm mule-pack artillery unit on Guadalcanal, and they had been in the center of the battle. Those who were killed, wounded and returning veterans were being replaced by some of our men. We were their replacements and were teaching them how to use the new, 105mm Howitzer and the half-track trucks, that we had brought along with us. We were supposed to be there for a month of intensive training on our new equipment, but it turned out to be just over two months.

While we were waiting to go to Leyte Island, in the Philippines, our 1st Sgt. Wheeler and three other sergeants were playing bridge, and I was watching them. A couple of nights later, Sgt. Wheeler said, “Roland, you are going to be our fifth player, so sit in and learn the game. We will need a fifth player, as one of us will probably be in the chow line all of the time.”

They gave me the “Culbertson Bridge Book” that fit into my shirt pocket, and two days later I was playing bridge. We played for 31 straight days on our ship to the Philippines, as we had nothing else to do. We didn’t lose a dime.

The new troop and equipment carrier ship, the USS General W. C. Langfitt was our ship for the next 31 days, as we were in a convey of about 35 ships, air craft carriers, plus submarines for additional protection, on our way to the Philippines. The General had all of our Howitzer equipment and half-track trucks on deck and below deck. The General was built to hold 4,000 men, plus equipment, but the it was carrying 8,000 troops instead. We found we would be on deck from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We found that another soldier was sleeping in our hammock during the day and we at night, as we had two times more troops aboard than what the ship would sleep. The sergeant was right, we needed five players to play bridge, as one of us was always in the chow line, so the other four were playing bridge.

After a month aboard ship, with nothing to do but play bridge, we arrived at Leyte Bay in the Philippines.

After we landed, there was a lot to do. We traveled and fought clear to the west side of the island, near the seaport of Ormoc. But between the fighting, we did get in a few games of bridge.

If you are interested in playing bridge, give me a call at 618-654-5005 or 618-303-0082.