Jesse Veach and John Fendrich

Recorded October 13, 2008 Archived October 13, 2008 39:42 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY004599


John Fendrich interviews Jesse Veach, a student in a class that he teaches at Common Place.

Subject Log / Time Code

Jesse talks about his background: Living on a farm in Charleston, IL, walking a long distance to school and leaving school to help his parents at home.
Jesse remembers working on the Nickel Plate railroad as a gandy dancer and then becoming a welder’s assistant.
Jesse talks about working as a heavy equipment operator, driving transport trucks around the country. He also remembers working at Caterpillar Inc. in East Peoria.
Jesse talks about his family: How he met his first wife and his daughter.
Jesse gives advice to other based on his own life experience: “Be honest to yourself and work hard.” Jesse and John also talk about how they first met - at Common Place.


  • Jesse Veach
  • John Fendrich

Recording Location

MobileBooth West

Partnership Type



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00:07 My name is Jesse Leach age 76 and today's date is October 13th and 1908. Mm. Mm.

00:23 Hope locations Peoria, Illinois relations to the friendship.

00:35 And my name is John fendrich. My age is 73 today's date is again, October 13th, 2008. We're in Peoria, Illinois and relationship with Jesse is as a friend.

00:51 Okay, so tell me Jessie.

00:55 Where were you born born in Charleston, Illinois at Coles County house Barn at home and

01:07 What they tell you about your home birth, and that's at the weather was kind of cold at day and they had to wrap me up in a blanket and lay me on their love and or the kitchen stove which is on the Move wood burners.

01:24 So how many were you the first kid or what? No, I was the second one and line. Okay, right. Now I'm the oldest I have three brothers already has passed away and I have one sister was handed me that passed away.

01:45 And I learned out in the country and I walk to school about two and a half miles each way every day for one room school. I mean I made ketchup to the just a bit with your family. You said I guess I counted so far five. Will you have five brothers and sisters as I was twelve of us all together 12? Okay. Alright and you're the oldest I'm the oldest living one. Okay, was there one before you yeah, that's why I'm before me. She's the one that's passed away. Okay? Okay. She died from an accident. Okay, was that as during her childhood or are young age Jackson Square you whether mobile coal stoves backfired and Carter clothes on fire.

02:45 Purple death. Yeah, I guess.

02:49 So you were you born then home? You were born on a farm or we at Charleston so your father was a farmer. Yeah. Okay, and your mother was a housewife and what were their names and other name was Beulah Irene didn't mean to interrupt you there and we started getting into where you were going to school and things like that. And so what did they were they born where they from Charleston area?

03:34 Then let's see. What do we do? We talk maybe a little bit about your school days. What was school like for you? It was one of those things for you. A lot of plan if you could and it was from the first grade through the 8th grade in one school. So they are the older kids help. The other ones do the school work. Okay. Where was the school located out in the country and Coles County? Okay. How far were you from Charleston by miles of 5 miles is the country School home in SoHo, Miami

04:26 So do you recall your teacher from that one school?

04:31 So, how long did you go there? Did you go through all E-Trade when I went to the 7th grade? Okay, okay.

04:39 And then I says I was the older one had to help the family and I worked on the bar. So it's 11:11 behind you when you were born was just in the middle of the depression depression and a lot of ham and beans and cornbread. We grew our own vegetables and we had our own own meat.

05:22 After work. We always burchard 3 hours in the fall of the year and Brett your steer a lot of Christmas time. So do you recall a little bit? What a typical day was when you were a kid? Yeah, you had to get up and

05:43 Power up the kitchen stove get it ready and go out and do the chores and the milking and feeding the Hogs. What time would you be doing that? I always got up at like 4:00 in the morning start doing my farm work then go to school at 8 after eating breakfast then come back and do the same to hers over that night. Okay. How long were the school days back then? I went from 8 till like 4

06:17 And I will always had and we always burnt wood. So on the weekend, we always had to cut wood and stack it keep the house warm for her to get the wood all the all the timber. I don't understand this on the property was it so you had quite a bit of Timber on the problem and how big of a farm was it it was 80 acres and what your girl went group corn and beans and plus I work with horses, so I had to carry them or did you have any Machinery on that farm back in the day when I was young? We just had horses.

07:02 And so how many horses did you have only had six six horses. Yeah, we had like

07:16 And then we had a big Orchard. I always had applesauce and all kinds of vegetables that way to fruit.

07:29 Never mind later in life.

07:35 After doing all that got me a job working on the railroad and he'll play trails and dry spikes on. How old were you when you started your railroad job?

07:51 1818 okay, so you kind of stayed at the farm and you got up and did all those things went to school from about 4 at 8 to 4 or something like that. Approximately how far was the school from the farm two and a half miles? How'd you get there walk two and a half miles each way each way regardless of whether rain snow or what so is there a whole troop of you with the whole group hours and the neighbor kids?

08:34 What were some of your memories of those walks to school clear up some of the memories and wintertime was Brave red bitterly cold and

08:46 Luckily, sometimes the snow have a Crest on it and you can walk kind of car across the field some cut off a few extra steps.

08:58 But outside of that they're always hard to do. So you have one teacher at that school. Yeah, one teacher one teacher and how many grades you said 8th grade sacred. So they took their one teacher took care of all the grades in one-room schoolhouse anything that stands out on your mind. If you could call from those kinds of school days. Sometimes I always got there a little bit early and build a fire in the big round stove. They had there in the school and always had a great big huge chalkboard the back at you done all your writing on and feel bad you had to stand in the corner. They had a special.

09:51 What that done stew or something like that? Yeah. I called him done schools. I don't know what they stools. I mean, I don't know what

10:01 Wizard a male teacher or female teacher in the first year. We had a female and then later in life. We had a male teacher. Okay. And you said you went through 7th grade. Was there any particular reason that you stopped at the 7th grade or did you say that earlier you just add to that they needed you at home or yeah. Yeah, and I was needed at home and and horse when you get bigger back them days and you done more work on the same as a Hired Hand. So how was your health of your parents all that my parents?

10:45 Back, then wasn't too bad. But I don't later in life. They and they both passed away with a diabetic but they come home and take charge of the family. They were y'all on charger. But yeah, they are still do just needed your help at home. Yeah.

11:05 So did you get to go to school again after that. The time or no? I just more less picked up on stuff and I've talked a few courses like reading. I would place a lot of the line by the lot of my stuff of self pot.

11:27 How do you say from over there? How are the years? Yeah, cuz your mother into teaching at all or no, not really.

11:39 So, let's see. You had kind of an adventurous grade school times. You had a lot of responsibilities to take care of home. Plus you went to school.

11:55 So, let's see. That was the whole reason. I was maybe what you're twelve or thirteen by the time you got 7th grade. Yeah, I like that something like that. So then you just kind of became a full-time and at home via from when to when about 17 or 18 used to do real work for the railroad 18. Okay. What what what motivated you to decide to go work for the railroad pass away made more money, you make more money now and you made it a point at $0.25 an hour for the first time. It was $3 an hour at home.

12:55 World, did you work at in the call? The Nickel Plate say I'm not accepting any more. Do you know where the transformed into did it transform into any kind of railroad Norfolk Western? Okay. Okay is a Norfolk and Western still around Chicago runs down through the Virginia's.

13:26 So, how did you get that job through my dad had some friends that he talked to you and I got the job here is that

13:36 Man, I know that was for you to lay down the rails and you drove the spikes by hand. So you were called what in labor. Well, they call them Gandy Dancer need answers. So what's a Gandy Dancer that's where you can drive the swags and then you have to use a shovel to put the the rock or grab whatever you want to do underneath the railroad ties to keep moving in place. I make a make a bed. So you work as a team or did you work yourself know I worked as a team. We always had supervisor and I don't remember you seeing them not a little cars go one cylinder engines. I wrote them down the tracks. Haha. That's what I called him as a kid. There's a little bit. Cars you could hear him going down a lot of time.

14:36 Going to get out to the job. Did you have some of those hand ones two or three or not. So, where did you work on that job? Was it around Charleston? I worked at Charleston and all different towns from East St. Louis. We went up to

15:03 Little small town up in Indiana man later on in life is they had two jobs.

15:14 Come open.

15:16 Cancel a bid on them. And if you got the time and can get it you got the job as an individual or is it that's an end of ritual started out there was up and beyond your job as a as a Gandy Dancer. Yeah, I'll be on there be a heavy equipment operator and then I worked as a welder's helper.

15:46 For a while. Okay, that's when I got to travel from Chicago to Buffalo, New York. Okay. Okay, you're moving along now a little bit. So, how long did you work as a Gandy Dancer strictly as an Indian maybe for years for years. So now you're up to it, maybe 21 22 years old twenty something like that. And was it for years before you got this job is a welder's assistant. Yeah. I have two or three years somewhere in there. I don't remember exactly but in the late 50s when everything got shut down there's a lot of people that had to

16:39 29 almost 30 years got laid off and we're out so I got laid off from that. Oh, okay. So let me think a little bit in time. You said you were born in 1932 32. So now we're up to wedding around late 40s 50s. We talkin about the late 40s and 50s when I when I was working on the railroad. Okay. I kind of got that. I know you've talked to me first say about your family and things you're married, right? All right, I got one daughter and I have one granddaughter. Okay, and the bed you met your wife yet at this time or not. I didn't meet her to 660.

17:39 60 South Allen. Okay. So what the down the railroad men to the picture of little bit so we will postpone that for a little bit so you got to start trial on a little bit not only around Charleston but down to East st. Louis and then up to Chicago and eventually out the Buffalo is already out there what you were saying as a as a welder's assistant. Will you still working doing railroad jobs or doing other stuff? I was just now working as a systems on the railroad that was

18:21 Winter time job in the summer I run heavy equipment.

18:28 But I did that for a short time. Okay? Okay. Now how did you make these trips as you make these trips on the railroad? Yeah. I met him on the railroad. They give us a pass long as I wrote on their rail. I had a free pass okay, but I could ride the other rails, but they can't pay.

18:53 No, 75% of it. Okay. So what took you out to Buffalo was it just the fact in the railroad had some work for you out there? Is that ass? That's how I got out the Buffalo working on the railroad crossing the job.

19:07 Turkey different areas and then you said you begin to get into doing some work with heavy equipment. Yeah. Oh that was sweat driver and Operator Operator of a crawler tractor. Okay. What's a crawler tractor? That's the ones that the Caterpillar tractor makes now? Okay. Okay the ones that I could see what you're calling about. What do you call those those?

19:38 Wheels with a run-on, they just track lacks Jeff the tracks at the rec. Contractor's, you know, so they were operated operated machines caterpillar at that time. You know, they was kind of horror. They were Caterpillar tractors and what kind of work did you do with the one you were heavy equipment Riverside building railroads went from 40 cars to 120 Carson on rail, so they had to

20:16 Turn the meat the Apple off on these sightings. So we had to extend the tracks.

20:23 What do you mean extend the tracks only hold so many cars and then we had all of them and make them so they are for you can get a hundred and twenty car or okay, so it was just like a you make the sighting longer working yet have more capacity for more cars. Yeah, things like that. So you would use the heavy equipment to set the foundations real melted grades not all that. Did you use a of equipment ever to move things from the Cars to other no just for construction reconstruction of these sightings since I like that.

21:03 So

21:12 Interested

21:15 Did you have any good laughs and other funny things have happened but

21:24 All right all hands.

21:29 I can't think of any of you make any friends during that time that you for life. I haven't the most times already gone passed away or is there somewhere else? I haven't seen any of them are okay. So that's another time and another group of people that got a lost track of yeah.

21:52 Okay. Okay. Now what we're getting into the maybe the late 50s or the middle 50. Do you serve in the service during the war? No, I did not. Okay, okay.

22:05 Did you just your choice or do you were just too busy rejected rejected? I was rejected so you didn't have to serve in the service know so that's how you got into the heavy equipment and I've told you that I think it's told me before it's for me to talk to other times that you eventually ended up working with caterpillar. Did you did that grow out of that heavy equipment work or what? No, I just worked on a caterpillar.

22:46 Before I retired and 91. Okay, how many years did you work at caterpillar in 68? Okay. Well, we're a little head about you. Maybe. We'll keep that on hold for a little bit will move forward. So what did you do in this time? Did you begin to do so exclusively a heavy equipment operating heavy equipment little bit then for a year and a half hour. So there I drove transport truck across country. So you call sometimes how heavy equipment. Okay, like four wheelers. Oh boy. Okay. Now when you say your drove tractor trucks is act like I'm thinking modern days. Yeah, they are in Asia except of course a little bit.

23:45 Different capabilities and little bit different kind of Highways. So I think during that time then it is now we're together States interstates. The only Interstate was saying Turnpike across Northern Indiana, Pennsylvania going into Philadelphia the prison today I-80 maybe is that he wasn't there now. I know there was at the kind of the predecessor of the roads that you and you only place you had Turnpike was in Pennsylvania. And the rest. I was just a two-lane Highway 4 starting build a few four-lane. So who do you work for when you started driving trucks cross-country? I just drove for an independent guy. Okay. I just an independent truck.

24:45 How many how big a fleet of trucks did hear they only had like two trucks hauling shelled corn for the elevators? Where is your home base? Where you home base now in Buffalo or whatever after driving trucks? I was back in Charleston home. Okay. Okay, so you kind of headed back where you at? Where you at with your family or were you just on your own? I was just on loan. Okay, I was before my married time. Even you. Okay, so but you still were in touch with your family during this time yet?

25:28 So you say you called all kinds of stuff tractors and heavy equipment and you did a cross-country a little bit of cross-country. When you say cross country. Did you go all the way to New York to Los Angeles or things are and I didn't go to Los Angeles, but I'll run from Arizona to New York. Okay to South Texas. So is that the old apartment 66 that you would take been on roller 66 from Chicago to St. Louis long before it was our four-lane Highway. They had like three miles a four-lane run Dwight. That was only for Lane. That was Dwight, Illinois, Dwight, Illinois.

26:21 Which is now 54 if so, where in Arizona would you go to Phoenix? And you start in New York New York City or hold out of Philadelphia a lot of times. So you did that for about a year. Yeah, maybe a little longer by the year to buy a year-and-a-half. I'm like, okay. Did you have another occupation after that. After driving the tracks? I have worked at caterpillar. Are you starting caterpillar? Yeah that was in Illinois Peoria in East Peoria. Okay, so that is where you'll be glad to get a Peoria connection, right?

27:21 Foundry okay on second shift. How'd you get that job? I just applied for it. You want it or you getting them? I started out the caterpillar and I working second shift and getting $4.28 an hour has for sure. So they are the buildings in East Peoria where you were working The Foundry is are those buildings still around the other The Foundry still around it's a fortune shop now or they forged track links for for all the tractors on the tracks. Okay. And what kind of work did you do there again? I start out at

28:13 Really I start out to sweep the floor and I wanted on that for an hour and then I get me a raise $0.10 raised start taking course or just saying baked. That's what to put inside to make the the Halo stuff inside the year engine blocks you and your hats that little course. You're making me when I don't know, but then I have to be back and watch the cast iron is poured.

28:50 Attacking bumping that saying go back to us and again and I'm Falls right out. That's how they get the insights. Hope your house and blocks and engine Spokane and I knew you were doing that. So just to help make the course, but I've watched them to send me a line and so and then later and date. I got a different job, which I start in writing.

29:23 Forklift trucks still run around and lower running overhead. Crane run. Big magnet. Sometimes Halo hot iron.

29:38 And

29:41 He'll last the last job was in that end with an iron with a big crane 48,000 lb of liquid.

29:52 And take it over in the Ford in whether the time going rate for T800. Yes. It is. Didn't bother you maybe to the 60s or maybe the late sixties and maybe even Beyond tell me about how you met your wife.

30:24 Well my first wife I met her out and just a casual date and I got married first time. I was I was in 67. So I was 35 years old or I got married the first time. So yeah, you're a mature guy, right? I don't know what life is all about by that time. Did you?

30:56 So you say your first wife what happened to her or what? Do you want to talk about that or not. Well, she's a mother and my daughter. So yeah, she's a very very poor health now she's got cancer so

31:18 Did you meet her in Peoria or no? I met her done done and Charleston okay with so she is she was from the Charleston area to know what else you from a little town called Alden. They are not where they have the white squirrels. I don't know where you tell me about why it's a small town and they got a little too many college sir, and it is and I've got white squirrels. I don't know what

31:55 What causes it but are the albino or is it?

32:07 So, what do you remember about meeting your first wife? How did you how did you meet mutual friends?

32:15 And you had one daughter with her and yeah, okay.

32:19 So how long were you married married to 12 13 years with her? Okay, okay.

32:30 Did you have problems or what? I don't know what you want to talk about problems and couldn't play work things out and you know, you lit up. All right.

32:46 So that's pretty that's pretty working into the modern-day, I guess.

32:54 Okay, and so you have a daughter and your daughter still alive? Yeah, she ain't your first wife is still alive. Yeah, it's not into good health not to go to hell. Is she is she in Charleston area or knowledge. She lives at glassford Glasford and my daughter lives in Glasford and she teaches school out at the Illini Bluffs High School your daughter married a girl. Okay. So you got a granddaughter that way and granddaughter that way. Okay, and then use you say first wife so you must have another wife remarried later on in life. Okay. How old were you when you remarried with you think you said you got married the first time about 35 so number?

33:45 Aunt Mary the bet in the date Riverside, you're probably what 50 years old but at least and how long you been married there, are you been up? I've been hearing that cuz we've been married to

34:05 Plenty

34:08 28 years. Okay. So you worked out problems better there. I guess you learned that if your wife is about your age 2 or not. She same age they made so I don't think you have more children are three stepchildren. Okay. So when did you start living in this area? I'm talking about him. When I 67 when I start work. So you've been how have you always lived at the same place in this area or no? I lived in Pekin while and then 11 glassford.

34:57 Moster

35:03 14 of 14 years

35:08 Well, let's see. Maybe we ought to try to get the summarized a little bit. Do you have any thoughts about your life as far as how you might advise other people to approach your life, you know critically maybe people that are younger than you or people that struggle cuz you certainly show him that you went through a lot of struggles. You not the not being able to complete much school the on the 7th grade and having to adapt to a lot of different jobs that you really weren't prepared to do but that you seem to step in and take over and learn what to do and advance and be able to get a good job. And now you're what a caterpillar retiree and caterpillar retirees. I know do well also

35:57 So do you have do you have some perspective that you have on as you've lived your life and how people things that you might say to others that are trying to struggle and get Bayern tough times be honest with yourself and Stickman work hard.

36:17 And things will accomplish somewhere down the line.

36:24 Sounds like a good good philosophy. And how did you get to meet me? Maybe we can talk about that after a few minutes. McCallum place? Okay, and commonplace is is a local Peoria Community organization that tries to do a variety of things. I really try to do a lot. Don't say they trap provide some food for people and they try to provide some education experiences and they try to help families that are struggling with young children all kinds of things. They've got a pretty full plate, but that's where we met. We are part of an adult education class. We have a recall reading Sanford glass that we read.

37:15 Books together right? Yep, you feel like that experience. Oh, yeah a lot.

37:23 How does it help you? Help me in my reading better? You're okay and

37:30 Understanding things

37:35 So you don't feel bad that you wasn't doing this now that you're about 77 years old before when we talked a little bit that you said that you have you gotten a GED at any time. No, I have not got any. Yeah, but I've been working at a little a little out of time. I say right and they be attended any college or anything. So in order to ICC was that part of the GED program at least a quarter of a mile or less of reading class and a math class.

38:21 How they compared to the commonplace classes a little harder, but I got far enough along. We're doing the fractions that kind of stuff.

38:39 Why did I think it would just say you lived a pretty exam for the area? Like I can say that I don't know too many people that have had to put up with the sorts of things that you've had to put up with and I certainly admire and congratulate you the get through all those struggles with the minimum education and a lot of just depending upon yourself from being able to pick up and do things and find out what needed to be done and got it done and you got promoted and you've got even better jobs and and all those kinds of things. So I think it's quite an accomplishment quite a life and I hope other people get some motivation and and some good feelings and possibly finding out about your life. Just don't get discouraged and lay down and quit keep on trying something else that works better for you.

39:38 Good enough good enough. Thank you. Josie and enjoyed our