Volume X, No. 4, Summer 1983
A VISIT WITH BILL HOFFMAN
Edited and photographed by Vickie Hooper
I was born in Buffalo, New York, in one of the cold water flats. A cold water flat is when there's no hot water and you have to go downstairs to the john. The john wasn't a two holer, but you had to pull a chain to flush the john. I'll never forget that flat.
When I was just four or five, my dad got me a pair of rabbits. The landlord would have had a fit if he knew we had them. My dad put them in the woodshed. The doggone rats killed the rabbits before I got there. There was no such thing as rat control in those days outside a few cats.
They say us old folks have a better memory of what happened forty or fifty years ago than what they had for breakfast, and I guess it's about right. I can remember right after World War I when the soldiers came home. What they did, they unloaded them from the railroad siding, and they marched them down the various streets. When the fellows got in front of their own home they dropped out.
Right after the war, when he was Food Administrator, Herbert Hoover stockpiled a lot of food at
about three miles from us. They sold it at cost after the war. I didn't understand it when I was a kid but realized it later. It was in the middle of the winter. My mother took a sled with a box on it and I rode in the box. I thought that was great. I rode there but I had to hike all that distance back because she had that sled loaded with canned goods.
When I was in the second grade I went to a German school for awhile and they taught German. I didn't learn too much. I learned more German from my Irish mother than I did at school.
My mother was born in Ireland. My father came over from Germany with my grandfather. He said Germany would always be a land of slaves and soldiers. He was right. I don't remember what year they came over, but my dad remembered he had a nickel for a long time which he had placed on the tracks when they wheeled Lincoln's body through Buffalo. So he was around when Lincoln was assassinated.
My father and mother met when they came over here. Going with an Irish girl, my father learned how to fight pretty good. She lived in an Irish neighborhood, and in them days a German going to visit an Irish girl was like some of those people around Chicago--a negro going to visit a white girl in the white part of the city. Anyhow that's how he learned how to fight. When he went in to visit her, he had to fight his way in, and he had to fight his way out. But they come to respect him.
They were prejudiced because he was German. In New Orleans when the first Germans came in to settle they tied them to a paddle wheel on one of the boats. There was that kind of bigotry against nationalities. It isn't just the color. I think the biggest sin of the human race is categorization. There's good and bad in all races, and when you start saying these are that, it's not good because there's a lot of good Germans and a lot of bad ones and a lot of good Irish and a lot of bad Irish.
My mother and father met when my dad ran a cigar stand in a hotel where my mother worked as a quick order cook. I think they had a good life together.
My parents lived in San Francisco for a short time. They were there during the earthquake of 1906. My mother was going into the hall as soon as things got shaking, but my dad held her back. A huge skylight in the hall fell down. She'd have been killed for sure. The building that they had lived in sunk into the ground. So they got out of town. They went out to Mission Delores in the suburbs of Frisco and stayed there. My brother was born out there and he was real small. They came back east because the doctors were so busy with the people that were injured in the earthquake that they wouldn't bother with a baby. They lived back east after that.
My dad started out as a teamster. He drove a team and got twelve dollars a week. He learned to
drive a truck. My mother threw a big celebration because he got his chaffeur's license. They were
rare those days. Getting a chaffeur's license then, was like getting a pilot's license a few years ago.
He got a big raise, too, from twelve dollars to twenty dollars. Them days they had a porcelain
button they had to wear. He was number two hundred and something in
the state of New York. That's pretty low. But can you imagine living on that? Not only that but they bought a house on that twenty dollars and there was three of us. But you didn't have a car or a TV and a lot of things that consume so much now.
Later my father became a stationary engineer. He worked for a while in apartment buildings in
Buffalo where all wealthy people lived. The cheapest apartment was twelve hundred dollars. In
them days that was an awful lot of money, so you know the people who lived there were well off.
He said you can always tell those people that are nouveaux riches--that's those that came into
money easy, married into it or had struck luck on the stock market. He said, "Those that are born
to wealth, it's just a common act to talk to them and they're so friendly, but those noveaux riches
look down their nose at everybody that don't have as much as they do.That's the difference in people."
He didn't have too much schooling. He always said he only went to third grade, but he taught me a lot of good lessons. He spoke German, French, English and about three Indian dialects. When he was living around Springville, New York, he had a lot of Indian friends. He had permission to go on the reservations and hunt. He related pretty well to Indians. An Indian knows whether a man is honest, and that was my dad's forte.
He was a smart man. He gave me a lot of good advise. He said there's always two measures of a man and that's how well he keeps his word and how well he holds his drinks. He lived by that.
I lived in Buffalo until I got married in my late thirties. I had two sons and two daughters. I lived in New York until the 1950s.
I was with the Navy in World War II, but I never got overseas. After the war I qualified as a power generating engineer, but I was into testing material as a postgrad subject. I took nondestructive testing materials and sonic testing of materials. I qualified for this at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, D.C. I was a civilian with the Navy Department as an inspector in quality control and contract representative. It was quite interesting. Then I transferred to Hermann.
I came in May, and I don't think there's any part in the country that's as pretty as Missouri when it's green in May. This place I live on now was for sale. The road was just a little, old gravel road. The trees were all grown together like a big arch when I bought it.
I enjoy living in Hermann. Hermann is about a hundred years old. It was settled by Germans in the late 1800s. A lot of them here until World War II spoke German. Incidentally, the kind of country these people came from was very much like where my dad came from because he said their farm was adjacent to the Black Forest and they were within view of the Rhine. They went to Philadelphia first because they wanted hilly country. They didn't like it there because the climate wasn't as good as here.
Then I got a transfer to Kansas City. And later a transfer to Denver where I had like a little dude ranch running out there. I started acquiring animals. I had about fifteen goats, ten sheep, a bunch of rabbits, chickens and about five hogs.
When I decided to come back to Missouri in 1963, I trucked all my animals back here. It took two trips. The first trip was the first part of February. I loaded up my hogs and my horses. I was coming through Kansas and this guy said, "What is this, a circus coming through?" We almost froze on that one trip, and we had seven flat tires.
Finally we got back and we had to make a second trip. That time I took my goats and my jackass.
I had two trucks. I had the horses in the truck with the rack and I had the goats and the jackass in
a trailer. Wouldn't you know the goats started kidding on the way back. We stopped in a motel. It
was so cold we had to bring them into the motel. We bought some baby bottles. I bet the guy in
the motel couldn't figure it out. It sounded like a little baby. They died anyhow because of the cold.
Bill Hoffman's home is surrounded by woods. We couldn't help but notice the chickens and goat out in the yard and the unusual complex of buildings--trailers, railroad car restaurant and an old school bus. The variety of animals also added to the place. Beyond the buildings, the view was beautiful. Cattails grew up through the water of the pond which was completely enclosed with pines.
I thought of clearing this forty acres at one time, but I wanted a place to go hunting. There was nothing here but the trees. I had the pond dug. It's about nine feet deep. Nobody knows where cattails come from. Somebody claims that ducks or birds carry the seed in, because there wasn't one cattail when I came. The deer knocked this tree down rubbing against it. Yesterday, I walked down here to the pond, and there was a buck and a doe. They just stuck their head from behind those trees. It was the prettiest sight. It looked like one of those pictures you see on calendars.
I always liked animals. I used to get mad at my folks because I couldn't get a Shetland pony and keep it in the back yard. Raising goats gives me something to do and it keeps me in a supply of milk.
I belong to the American Goat Association. Goats are getting more popular all the time. Do you know what the proper name of goat meat is? Chevon. If you go to Europe, the restaurants there have that item on the menu. I don't suppose you've ever ate it? Goat is so much like mutton. There's nothing nicer than lamb or goat stew. The main reason I like raising goats is that it keeps me a supply of milk. A lot of people get the wrong idea about goat's milk. You couldn't tell it from a cow's. The main difference is the fat globules are so small. It's like being homogenized. That's why it's so much healthier to drink. It's easier to digest. My youngest daughter was one of those picky kids who wouldn't gain and was so skinny. She picked up real nicely on goat milk.
When I got here, my goats started dying and I thought the change in climate was too much for them. One day I came around the corner of the barn, and there was the jackass standing over the goat biting the back of its neck. He had crushed a nerve on the goat's neck. The poor goat was laying there. It said "Baa" about three times and that was it. You would have never known the jackass had done anything. Out of fifteen goats I brought, I ended up with three. So I never liked that jackass after that.
I never trust a mule or a jack, anyhow. I had to keep my jack and the stallion separated all the time. One day the stallion jumped over the fence, tore the jack to ribbons. That little jack was just about skinned alive. So the little jack was vengeful. He'd try to get to the stallion. The poor old stallion died, and I had him buried in that open field. When I dragged the stallion through the field, the jack was in there. He ran after him and tried to bite the dead horse, still vengeful. We put the stallion in the hole and covered it over and the little jack was trampling back and forth. He wanted to get another rack at him. They have more sense than you realize.
This jack's name I've got now is Rebel. The reason I called him Rebel is when he brays, it sounds like a rebel yell. In the summer, his coat turns about the color of a Confederate coat, kind of a blue-gray. But he is mainly just nuisance value. We are going to have a change in weather because he's usually pretty good at predicting. Animals get rambunctious when the weather is going to change.
I have some chickens, mostly Rhode Island reds. They're going into the soup pot because they've stopped laying. I enjoy raising turtledoves, too.
I got my mobile restaurant when I was in Colorado. There was a fellow making custom made mobile restaurants. After I moved back to Missouri, I opened up the mobile restaurant over on highway 50 for awhile. When I shut that down, I went to work for some of the plants around here. I did about everything, driving gravel trucks, making tents or inspecting tents. I worked for the state hospital as shift engineer and got a promotion to power plant supervisor in Farmington. I got a job up in Washington, Missouri, as a supervisor of a sheltered workshop for the handicapped.
They explain that social security might go off after next year. If it does, I don't know what I'm going to do. Live on acorns and goat milk, I guess.
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