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Old Gays Mills

GAYS MILLS - The morning train wended its way up the valley. It was running a little late, which was not unusual. There had been some cattle on the track near Steuben and they needed to be herded aside, cowcatcher notwithstanding. Part of the fine print of the crew’s job description on the Kickapoo Valley Line was “clearing the track of stray cattle.”

Harlan wasn’t worried about the time though. He had an appointment in Gays Mills at 2 p.m. and the train should be there in plenty of time. It would give him a chance to look the town over a little bit before he met with the high school principal.

The train slowly made its way north, following the twisted river valley. It was never really able to get up a good head of steam with the tortured route the rails took and all the whistle stops along the way. Barnum, Petersburg, and Bell Center all had  someone waiting to get on the northbound passenger car of the train. The return trip down the valley later that day would be a slower trip, Harlan had heard. This day, Tuesday, June 15, 1937, was the day the stock train ran in the afternoon and it always took more time to load the four-legged passengers, the cattle, sheep, hogs and the occasional horses into the stock cars.

Harlan got off the train at the Gays Mills station right where the tracks crossed Main Street. He walked up and down the street and was impressed with the bustling farm town, snug between the surrounding hills.  There was a busy lumberyard, a movie theater, a couple grocery stores, a dry goods store, services stations, a solid looking brick bank, a hardware store, a farm equipment dealer, a Chevrolet dealer, a meat market and a cheese factory. Further on west, down at the dam on the Kickapoo River, was a hydroelectric plant on one side of the river and a water-powered feed and grist mill on the other bank—all signs of prosperity.

Harlan got to the high school a few minutes before 2 p.m. and felt welcomed by the friendly people he encountered there. They obviously knew why he was there, the sport coat and tie were a sure sign of someone looking for a job, in this case, Harlan’s first job. Harlan was shown into Principal Shepherd’s office and the two men had a relaxed two-way conversation, each asking and answering questions of the other. It was very low key and Harlan felt relieved.

Mr. Shepherd emphasized that with a small school such as this, the faculty would be expected to have other duties besides teaching. There were coaching assignments, class advisorships, school theater productions and musical performances. Teachers were encouraged to take part in community activities as well, to become part of the community. 

“We have a good school here but what really makes it special are the people in it, students and teachers alike,” Mr. Shepherd told Harlan. “We have a very supportive community that is active and involved in the school.” 

After a short pause, he added,  “And, I think you’ll fit right in.”

Harlan left Mr. Shepherd’s office with a job, a stack of books for his fall classes, a coaching assignment, an invitation to be on the village softball team, and a list of places in town to look at to rent.  

He looked forward to starting his new job in a few weeks and his new life in the charming community he had discovered.