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Life Story Of Wilhelm Durtschi

History of Wilhelm "William" Durtschi, from birth to his sixty-seventh year, Written by Gloria Durtschi, of incidents told by him.

Copyright 2006 by the Durtschi Family


        William Durtschi was born June 12, 1898, the twelfth child of Friedrich and Elisabeth Von Kaenel Durtschi, at Faulensee, Switzerland. Although he was only five years old when his family immigrated to America, he remembers a few things about Switzerland. He remembers wearing an apron, and when the walnuts were ripe on a large tree near his home, he would gather the ones the wind had blown down and run home with them in his apron.
        When his mother died, he recalls walking in the funeral procession as it went to the mound at the cemetery. He was four years old at the time.
        Before immigrating to America, William’s family was honored at a farewell party in the home of his Uncle Edward in a neighboring town. Edward Durtschi was his father’s brother, and he brought his family to America a short time later. The one thing that impressed five-year old Will (as he was later called), was the song that the whole group sang, “When There’s Love at Home.”
        All of Friedrich Durtschi’s family came to Utah in l904, except Elise who remained to finish her contract, and Ernest, who had come to Utah the year before.
        One day, while crossing on the ship, Will got lost. He was found playing in the ship’s storehouse. A steward soon chased him up the stairs to the deck. Here, his oldest brother, Fred, was looking for him and Will was happy to run into his brother’s arms.
        The family arrived at Midway, Utah, on May 4, l904. His father rented a house in town and also some farm land a little way out. After two or three years he bought a farm with a small house on it. It was located about two miles south of town on a road called Stringtown. From here Will walked to school until he graduated from the eighth grade. Sometimes the snow was over a foot deep, making the walk to school difficult. He did well in all subjects but Grammar, and this seemed to be a stickler for him. One day a professor from the east came to his sixth grade class, and began telling each child what they were best adapted to do by examining the shape of their heads. He told Will that he definitely was a builder, and all the students decided that when they grew up Will could build their houses.
        Will found it hard to concentrate on the history lesson and take notes at the same time. One day the teacher noticed this and after reading the history lesson decided to make an example of Will so he asked him to tell the class what he had read. The lesson was about London, and Will related the story almost word for word. When about half way through, the teacher shook his head and said, “Well, the turtle won the race again.” He never bothered Will about notes again.
        In 1910, Will’s older brother, Adolph, who was a carpenter in Salt Lake City, came and supervised the building of a new home on the farm. It was the first white brick home in the whole Heber Valley, and was a very nice home for those days. After Lena and Elise were married the housekeeping was left up to father and brother, John. John was elected because he was much smaller than the rest of the boys. Apparently a childhood disease or high fever retarded John’s growth. He was normal in every way except for his size. John’s given name was Albert, and he was born 24 June, 1885.
        At one time Will’s father hired a woman to keep house, and there was some talk of a marriage between them, but she had accused Will of not washing his face and hands clean, (and probably rightly so) making the towels dirty. One day she chased him through the yard rubbed the towel in his face until the skin almost came off. His father decided that this friction would not do, so he finally asked the woman to find another job.
        His father never remarried, and since he was getting older he sold his farm to his son, Ernest, and lived with him. His father got along well with Ernest’s wife, and was happy there until Ernest’s wife died in February, 1920. Then he went to live with his daughter, Lena, at Midview, Duchesne County, Utah. He lived with them on the farm for many years, and when the family retired from farming and moved to Salt Lake City, he remained with them until his death. Lena’s husband, Alma, treated him like his own father.
        When Will’s father sold the farm to Ernest in 1915, Will being the youngest of the children, and too young to look after himself, was sent to live with his sister, Lena, at Midview. He stayed here a year. In the summer of 1916, he decided to go to Driggs, Idaho, where Uncle Edward was located with his family.
        He got a job with the forest service planting pine seedlings in the forests east and south of Driggs. He worked here during the summer and in the fall he went to Logan to school at the Utah State Agricultural College, with his cousin, Fred. He took auto engineering, machine shop, and forging (blacksmithing). He liked these subjects and did well in them. The teacher of “forging” told him he was a natural blacksmith and wanted him to come back the following year, but Will did not go back; however, in 1921, Will took a course at the Hemphill Auto School at Salt Lake City and received a diploma in auto engineering.
        During his teen age years he was like a lot of other teenagers, taking many things for granted. If he ran out of money or a job, he went to stay with his sister, Lena, for a few months at a time. He was always treated as though he were there son, and except for the exemplary teachings of his father he felt he owed what he was, religiously or otherwise, to the kind teachings of his sister, Lena and her husband, Alma.
        During World War I, Will wanted to enlist in the Air Corps as a pilot but he was told that they had more pilots than they had planes so he waited and shortly before his draft number was called the Armistice was signed.
        In the latter part of 1918, all during 1919, and the first half of 1920, he drove trucks for his brother, Alfred who was in the bee business near Myton, Utah. He hauled supplies to most of the stores in Myton from Price, the nearest railroad, ,which was ninety miles away. He also hauled honey, alfalfa seed, and some livestock from Myton to Price. In June of 1920, the engineers and firemen on the railroad went on strike and six of them bought trucks on the installment plan and started to haul in competition with Alfred. They cut their price thirty-five cents per hundred pounds. There were no paved or black-topped roads, and these roads had just begun to be good after the spring rains. These men overloaded their trucks and of course made a little money, even with their cut. The merchants at Myton told Will they were satisfied with his service but that he would have to haul for the same price as the railroaders. Will realized that by taking it all year around, bad roads and all, he really couldn’t make much so he quit and went to Salt Lake City. He learned the next fall, that the truck dealers got their trucks back, total wrecks, and that the six railroaders went broke.
        When he got to Salt Lake, he got a job at the freight yards, and after a few months took the Hemphill auto course previously mentioned. After finishing the course he tried to get a job in the city garages but everywhere he went they wanted to know how much experience he had, so Will decided the diploma wasn’t worth much.
        He then got a job with Harris Dairy, driving a large truck and trailer to Draper, about twenty miles south of Salt Lake City. Here he picked up the milk produced in that part of the valley and hauled it to Salt Lake City. He drove a truck for this dairy for over four years until 1925, when he quit and went to work for his brother, Ernest, who was contracting the building of homes and other buildings. That winter they built a schoolhouse at Keetley, near Heber City.
        On October 14, 1924, William was married to Margaret Rohrbach, whom he had met in February 1920, when his brother, Adolf, died with the influenza. It was the year of the great epidemic of this “flu”. Adolf had married Margaret’s sister, Adele, three months before his death. Margaret had come to Utah in December of 1919 from Switzerland.
        Besides working for his brother Ernest, he also worked for other building contractors from 1925, to July 16, 1928. On this day he was working as a carpenter on a large building on Main Street in Salt Lake, when the Chief of Police’s chauffeur drove up and asked to see William Durtschi. He said that the chief wanted to see him. The next day, July 17, 1928, he went to work as a police officer in Salt Lake City. In those days there wasn’t much work in the building trades, and especially during the winter months. He and Margaret decided that he should get a steady job, even if it was less money per month, so he had put in his application at the police department, and also at the post office for a mail carrier. The police job came through first. During two of the winters between 1925 and 1928, Will was out of work for long periods of time and Margaret had to work doing housework, and washing dishes in restaurants to keep food on their table, so they were both happy at the prospects of a “steady job”.
        The first two years on the Police Department William walked a beat; walked down alleys checking the rear doors of business houses. He spent a few months chasing “boot-1eggers”. In 1930 the city began making the pedestrians walk with the traffic semaphores at intersections and he was placed on the down town traffic detail. He was stationed at Third South and Main, and Second South and Main, for the first year, and then he was stationed on Third South, between Main and State Street for nine years. He took care of the traffic in that block, and during the rush hours he directed the traffic on the crosswalk in the middle of the block.
        In April of 1940, the City Police Department inaugurated twenty-four hour ambulance service to take care of emergencies, and he was placed on this detail. He drove Number 1 ambulance for the next sixteen years. He was then placed on the downtown traffic again, riding a three-wheeled motorcycle. After a few months he was eligible for retirement and on October 1, 1957, after nearly thirty years of service he retired from the Police Department. Unable to live on the small police pension he went to work for the Surety Life Insurance Co. at 1935 S. Main. He did maintenance work in the company’s new six story building. He serviced 24 air conditioning units throughout the building, did repair work, and some janitor work. He retired from this job January 1, l964. He is now kept busy looking after his home and yard, and spends some time helping Gladys, his daughter, with her home and yard. (Gladys is a widow, having lost her husband March 9, 1960, two days after giving birth to their fifth child.)
        Shortly after Will and Margaret were married they rented several different places to live in and soon decided to put their rent money toward purchasing a small home of their own. In March, 1928 they purchased a small three room house at 2513 Green St. It was small but Will planned to add more rooms later himself. After Will had been a police officer about a year, Margaret’s parents expressed a desire to come and live with them as they were now getting along in years, and needed someone to look after them. His brother Adolf’s widow (Adele) also needed a room for herself. So after talking it over, they decided to purchase a vacant lot next door at 2507 Green St. and here they built a lovely two-story, eight-room house. Now everyone had plenty of room and both of Margaret’s parents lived with them until their death. Adele still has her room there and is enjoying good health.
        Will and Margaret were the parents of two children, Ralph and Gladys. Margaret has had three major operations, so she has had her share of hardships but is feeling fairly well most of the time.
        Two incidents happened in Will’s life that strengthened his testimony and made an impression upon him. He related these that others might benefit by his experiences. Many of us get into foolish habits even though we may know better. When Will was fourteen years old, he and his pal, the neighbor boy each had a single shot twenty-two rifle. They were lever action and you had to pull the hammer back before the gun could be fired. The two boys had gotten into the foolish habit of putting match heads between the hammer and the breach block and shooting at each other. They had no caps in those days but the match heads sounded about as loud. One day they went rabbit hunting, as they did quite often, and when they were on their way home, they unloaded the guns and began their foolish horseplay with the match heads. Will pointed his gun at his pal and his pal pointed his gun at Will. Just as Will was going to pull the trigger, something said, “Don’t shoot! The gun is loaded.” He put the gun down and opened it. There was the live bullet in the barrel. If this “still small voice” hadn’t spoken, and if Will hadn’t listened the boy would have surely been killed. Will was an expert shot, even at this age. He had inherited this from his father who was a sharpshooter in the Swiss Amy. His father had a remarkable talent for judging distances, as evidenced one day when he saw a crane standing a long way off. The group wagered that his father couldn’t hit it. Will’s father carefully judged the distance with his forty-one caliber Swiss Army rifle and fired. The crane fell dead, and when they measured the distance it was three hundred meters, which is slightly over three hundred yards. Will’s father had a cabinet making shop and he also made furniture. Once a year when his rifle club had a shooting match, they always gave a piece of his furniture for first prize. Will’s father always came home with it.
        The family tells a story about Will when he was about five years old. He apparently wanted to help his father and so he broke several eggs into his father’s glue and stirred it up. It turned out to be quite a mess.
        Since Will’s experience with the gun he has always taught his children and grandchildren the correct way to use a gun. He never hesitates in pointing out the dangers, and never allows them to point even a toy gun at each other. This early experience had taught him a vital lesson.
        When Will was a full grown man, and as he said, “Should have known better”, he was sawing a two by eight timber out of the ceiling of a building with a portable electric saw. He was standing on the top of a step ladder that was somewhat short and so he had to stretch himself to reach the work. When each timber was cut he retracted the heavy saw with his right hand, and in order not to throw himself off balance he would catch the saw on the bottom with his left hand. This was a foolish habit but of course the saw had a safety guard that covered the blade as soon as the saw was pulled out of the timber. All went well for a time and he cut many timbers this way but after a few hours of this, he retracted the saw and went to catch the bottom with his left hand when he felt the blade cut the palm of his left hand. He jerked his hand away and clenched his fist. He dropped the saw and jumped off the ladder. He knew his hand was cut and expected to see blood flow from the clenched fist. He looked at it but saw no blood. Then he slowly opened his fist and there was not even a scratch on his palm. He examined the saw and the blade was freely exposed. The guard had not closed at all as it was so full of pitch it had stuck the guard wide open.
        The older Will becomes the more he is convinced that if it were not for the warning influence of the Holy Ghost each of these two incidents would have been disastrous and this is his testimony: He feels that he merited this blessing from the righteous living of his parents.
        In Switzerland Will’s name was spelled Wilhelm but since corning to America they have spelled it William. He doesn’t recall when the change took place but on his father’s citizen papers his name is spelled William. He was fifteen years old when his father received these papers. He being a minor automatically became a citizen when his father did.
        Will and Margaret have always been active in the church, and were more than willing to give of their tithes and offerings. His police job took him away on Sunday’s so he was unable to fill some positions in the ward, but has always done what he could. He is now (June, 1965) High Priest Group Leader in the Nibley Park Ward and has been kept more than busy with the new Genealogy program of the Church. He and Margaret can always be found doing something for their children and also for their grandchildren. They now have eleven grandchildren who are always eager to “stay with grandma”. She always fixes the things they like to eat and lets them sleep in if they want to.
        Their daughter, Gladys, is a member of the editorial board for The Primary Children’s Friend magazine, and Ralph, their son is the Bishop of the Rose Park Sixth Ward.


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Page Updated: 22 Aug 06