It seems like part of my life has run parallel to the current happenings between the U.S. and North Korea.
That may sound odd or far-fetched, but follow my trail of experiences that ties in with my decision making of 1953 and current events between the U.S. and North Korea. That’s a time span of 66 years.
As my story unfolds I recall the enjoyment my two brothers and I always had if we went to the feed mill with our dad to have feed ground for the cattle, hogs, and chickens on our 80-acre farm.
The mill manager always gave us a sucker or some sort of treat when Dad would go into the feed mill office to pay the bill. In conversation the manager found out that I liked chickens.
Besides managing the feed mill, Ed Zahorik and his wife, Viola, owned and operated a chick hatchery in Cato in Manitowoc County. Mr. Zahorik asked if I’d like to work part time in his hatchery. Wow, I was stunned to be offered a job that I thought I would like, and of course my dad was willing to let one of his three boys earn some outside money.
The hatchery was a former bank building and the only bank evidence was the vault where Mr. Zahorik kept his business records, cash box, refreshments and items he used to perform some of his self-trained magic tricks. The main lobby was taken up with incubators and space to take in eggs from farmers or an area where baby chicks could be brought in for sales transactions.
Mr. Zahorik was a super salesman and a great boss who had a vast knowledge of poultry and the hatchery business. He used his initials to a great advantage in advertising by merely stating, E.Z. Hatchery, “Chicks That Are Easy To Raise.” When customers would come in to buy chicks, he would warm them up with an adult beverage he brought out from the vault and followed that with a wide range of magic, often involving the disappearance and reappearance of chicks he used in some of his acts. It was not unusual to see a pigeon flying around that may have escaped one of his magic tricks. Those preliminaries often set the stage for sales.
Besides removing the hatched chicks from the incubator, my task was also to clean the incubators of rotten eggs and hatched shells and then reset a new batch of eggs for the next cycle of hatching.
In a separate building that housed thousands of chicks, my job was to feed and water the birds and clean their manure from dropping pans. The odor or temperatures never bothered me as I liked the work. Stapling cardboard boxes together or working in the feed mill mixing poultry feed were other sideline tasks.
Another interesting aspect of the business was the need for someone to separate the cockerels from the pullet chicks. World War II had ended, but Japanese people were not readily accepted by the public that we dealt with. However, two Japanese men would come in late at night once a week to differentiate the chicks. They guaranteed 99 percent accuracy but the public never saw them perform their work.
In the years that I worked there along with occasional help from my two brothers and other guys our age, there is one incident I’d like to strike from our work experiences.
It seems that none of us fellows liked the owner of the neighboring gas station and car junk yard. One evening when we were cleaning incubators we had a few pails full of rotten eggs and we decided that we’d see who could throw the rotten eggs the farthest and possibly hit their mobile home, garage or junk cars. Apparently some eggs hit the mobile home, which alerted them, and when it came time to go home on our bikes, the bikes were gone. The next day we discovered the bikes in the neighbor’s garage and he would not give them back until all evidence of rotten eggs were removed. Lesson learned.
Then a few years later when I enrolled in ag education at Platteville State Teachers College and based upon my love for poultry and years of experience, as a student I was hired to manage the poultry department in my junior and senior year under the direction of Dr. Victor Nylin, dean of the agriculture department.
When the calendar turned to 1953, I was a senior in ag education and about this time of the year I received a phone call from Mr. Zahorik to see, if upon graduation, I’d be interested in managing a hatchery he considered buying.
It was decision time for me, but with the eventual military draft facing me upon graduation in June, I knew that managing a hatchery would not keep me out of military service, so I had to literally walk away from the opportunity that could have assured me of a livelihood that I would have really looked forward to.
I served my military commitment and upon discharge found out that Mr. Zahorik at a ripe old age had retired from the poultry business as neither of his two daughters or any other employee was interested in the established hatchery business.
In looking back, the Korean War was the obstacle that forced Mr. Zahorik and myself to make a decision that altered our lives.