In this third column, I am speaking to Mr. Sterling Rothrock up in Lehigh Township. Sterling is one of the most senior retirees of the Universal Atlas Cement Company. The hardy Pennsylvania Dutchman was born March 20, 1921.
The family resided in Kreidersville during the Great Depression. The home was heated with a kitchen stove and parlor heater. Coal was picked up along the tracks of the New Jersey Central railroad in Northampton. Some folks would crawl into the cars and throw coal on the ground. The railroad detectives would usually ignore the pilfering, realizing times were tough. Large cords of wood were also cut to keep the home fires burning.
"We only burned the parlor heater on weekends to save coal," Sterling recalls. "We looked for whatever work we could find.
"Potatoes were picked for farmers not for money, but simply for potatoes to cut. Potatoes were on the plate every day of the week. Almost everyone had a family garden.
"My brother Donald joined the Civilian Conservation Corp. They provided jobs for citizens between the ages of 18 and 25, reforestation, road construction, flood central and work in national parks. By 1941, 2 million youths were employed in the program. They received a dollar a day but were required to send $25 home to the family which was a great benefit during bleak times. Donald was sent to Texas to build roads."
Sterling spent much of the depression working on area farms. He did everything from plowing and mowing hay to husking corn by hand. At many farms, you were provided dinner and supper.
"I was told a farmer named Ernest Atherholt in Bethlehem needed help to husk 26 acres of corn so I drove down to the farm and lived and ate there until the harvest was completed," he recalls.
"My father, Arlo, worked at the Lawrence Cement Company in Northampton as a quarry shovel operator."
The Lawrence plant dated back to 1889. They adopted Dragon as their band name. Most of the residents of Northampton's first ward were employed there. By late 1939 the economy was improving and Sterling's father asked plant manager Louis Eisenhard if he would hire his son.
"I was hired to work with Mr. Eisenhard's two sons," Sterling remembers. "I was paid the most money I ever saw in my life – $55 for two weeks. 'Sticks' Weaver was the well-known laboratory foreman. I was trained to be a composition man."
While working on local farms, Sterling met a beautiful lady, Marguerite Gilbert.
" I asked her for a date," he remembers fondly. "She agreed, but her mother said her sister had to act as the chaperone. I had purchased a 1934 Plymouth coupe for $200. It needed quite a bit of loving care so my father overhauled it.
"We all sat in the front seat. On Friday nights we would go to see movies behind the closed Central Park in Allentown. They were free. Every time we were on a date, Florence was with us.
"Finally Marguerite's mother Mary said, 'It's time for you two to get married,' – Mom made the call.
"I went to squire Jake Kuhns, (today they are district magistrates) for a marriage license, then over to Coplay for a blood test.
"I told Marguerite, 'We are going up to Neffs to be married by Rev. Uffer.' I knocked at the door of the parsonage and told the Reverend, 'We want to get married now. He called his wife to complete the paperwork. We left as a happy newly married couple.
"That night I was back at work on the midnight shift at the Lawrence. The date was Dec. 6, 1941."
Did they have a honeymoon?
"No, we went down to the Colonial Theatre to see the movie 'Chocolate Soldier,' a musical with Nelson Eddy. My wife fell asleep during the movie."
Later, Sterling's daughters, Doris and Lorene, purchased a copy of the film to remember the past.
We'll be working 12-hour days in two weeks. Bring your lunch!