Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Bohning Brothers Store
Larry Bohning left a voicemail on my phone recently, talking about preserving Harrold’s newspapers. He has the desire and passion to pursue the process and wanted to visit about how it could be done. I have been unsuccessful at this point in making contact with the right person at the Historical Society, but Larry’s call prompted me to open the Harrold Centennial Book again and read the Bohning family history Larry’s dad Jack wrote in 1986. Jack’s family came to Harrold between 1911 and 1914, operating stores at several locations, finally buying a building on the corner of the first block on Harrold’s mainstreet which served as a general store for the next seventy some years.
Jack’s memories of Harrold in the early days shed a lot of light on the town and everyday life. Transportation centered around horse drawn wagons, saddle horses and the trains which delivered merchandise for the store, picked up produce, cream, wool and other items the store was shipping, and provided transportation to Pierre and Miller twice a day. The freight trains hauled coal, lumber and cattle, stopping at the stockyards to load cattle trailed into town from the “Pocket” south of town to be shipped to market. Sometimes there would be fifty to sixty carloads of cattle loaded. The store bought cream, eggs, beef hides and wool from local farmers and ranchers, buying as many as seventy cases of eggs and fifty-five ten gallon cans of cream in one day during the depths of the Depression when money was scarce. Jack remembered one farmer bringing in a cream can and when they opened it found it full of sugar the family had been hoarding. Prohibition meant many families made their own home brew, and sales were strong for malt syrup, sold mainly in case lots! Moonshiners could be spotted when they came in and bought sugar in hundred pound bags, and would buy all the two gallon jugs they could haul.
The Depression was a terrible time for everyone financially and physically. Dust storms destroyed crops, crop land, and clouds of grasshoppers would devour what stunted crops did grow. The dust caused health problems for many people also. The cost of merchandise was low, with men’s workshirts selling for 49 cents, 50 lb. bags of flour or a pair of overalls at 98 cents, shoes for 2 – 3 dollars. Even at those prices many people struggled to survive. Jack doesn’t write about it in his history, but Bohnings store “floated” many people, extending credit to families for food and clothing, carrying them for years before they were able to pay. Some families never could repay their debt, and Jack never pressed them. The store survived the hard times with Jack saying with pride they only had to borrow $500 from the bank to meet their expenses once during those days.
I remember going to the store after school each day, sitting on the bottom shelf of clothing and watching cartoons on one of the two TVs in Harrold in the 1950s. Parents never had to wonder where their child was when the Lone Ranger was on. The store was a source of wonder for kids, especially at Christmas time when shelves were stocked with toys and Christmas items. We kids did most of our Christmas shopping at Bohnings and Parkie’s Drugstore, finding just the right gift for our parents and siblings.
I hope we can help preserve Harrold’s old newspapers and the stories they can tell. In the meantime, family histories like Jacks will give us glimpses into our past, and help us appreciate what it was like to live in the “good old days”. Thanks, Larry, for your call. We’ll get it done, for Harrold.