THE MEMOIRS OF MARION J. RIENSTRA
Typescript of M. J. Rienstra, Attorney-at-Law, June, 1991
These are my recollections of Nederland. The K. C. S. Railroad was already there when I came. My arrival was by the only means that had not changed since time began - I arrived there on January 1, 1915, via the stork.
My recollections of early Nederland may be vague in some spots. When my recollection is vague I will attempt to so identify it, however, this is not to say that some things that I might set forth herein as the gospel truth may be wholly erroneous.
I can remember little of Nederland before my parents decided to move to Arkansas in 1918. The attraction in Arkansas was that my mother's father and step-mother lived there at a town named Ink. We moved to a farm near Mena, Arkansas, which was seven hills away from my grandparents who bore the name of Ballast. Grandpa Ballast and his wife were early settlers in Nederland. My grandfather was reported to have built the Andrew Johnson house (formerly at 303 Fifteenth Street), that for years stood at the head of Main Street. This house was torn down in the late 1950s, and Boston Avenue was then extended to where Central Middle School is located on Seventeenth Street.
My recollections of Arkansas are faint. However, I do remember my mother crying, perhaps frequently. It did not take her long to get tired of the woods and hills, and her wishes were to return to the flat land of Nederland, Texas. After about eighteen months, Papa decided to move back to Nederland. He got on the Kansas City Southern, went back to Nederland, and bought back the same farm that he had sold to C. L. Freeman when our family left Nederland. The farm consisted of approximately 140 acres, located at the most easterly end of what is now Helena Street, near the tank farm, and the farm would have been divided by a street sometimes called Rienstra Road or Street, the same being the cut-off to the Pure Oil (now Unocal) Refinery. Neither the refinery, nor the tank farm, nor any other improvements were there at the time, the nearest refinery in 1918 being Texaco at Port Neches.
The family had not been in Nederland long after returning from Arkansas until the major part of our farm was purchased by a lawyer in Beaumont by the name of George Anderson, who was acting for Humphrey Oil Company. Humphrey later became Pure oil, and the refinery was built as a Pure Oil Company refinery.
The construction of the refinery commenced in 1922. Four bunk houses were built near the KCS railroad tracks, with a kitchen and bathhouse in the center, as I recall. My family (the Dan J. Rienstra) family were in the dairy business, and we sold milk to the bunk houses, which housed people who were working on the refinery's construction. In those days, motels did not exist, at least not in Nederland. If you wanted someone to work for you, you had to provide them with housing. This was true not only with workers at the refinery, but also with school teachers and other people who might have been in Nederland at the time only on a temporary basis. I do not recall how long the bunk houses remained, but I do recall that the best biscuits I had ever tasted up until that time were made right there in the bakery or kitchen of the bunk houses.
I have no recollection of when I first milked a cow. It seems that I was born with the capability. There were three brothers older than I was, and milking cows was an inherited chore which, to my mind, had no beginning and ended only when I left to go to college. We milked the cows in hot or cold weather - cooled the milk slightly - put it in quart bottles and delivered it from a Model T Ford twice a day. This was raw milk, real milk, expensive milk, 10 cents a quart, except in winter when we sometimes raised it to 12 cents a quart because we had to feed the cows more in winter.
I do not recall about the rest of Nederland, but we had no gas or electric sltove. There was a wood stove in the kitchen and a box heater in the dining room. We had running water only if one of us boys would run for it, and that was seldom. On a cold night, we would take a hot brick, wrapped in a towel, to bed with us. The great part of this life was that we knew no better. We did not miss television or radio because we didn't know about television or radio (radio broadcasting, invented in 1918, came to Nederland in 1923, and television in 1952). The sewer system of Nederland consisted of outhouses and maybe some septic tanks right up in town. Later, as Nederland grew some, some entrepreneur bought a barrel-like wagon, employed a driver, and the waste from the outhouse would be emptied into this wagon and discarded somehow. I never knew how. (Ed.'s Note: The "scavenger wagon" operated from Port Neches, and the waste was disposed of in the Neches River.)
The Nederland, which I knew as a boy, delivering milk in this great city, was bounded on the west by the "interurban right-of-way," or interurban line; on the south by what is now Nederland Avenue; on the east by the tank farm, and on north by Helena Street or the Humphrey Heights Addition. The center of town was Fred Roach's Drug Store (Nederland Pharmacy), which was right across from the KCS Depot, which in turn was right across from Koelemay Grain Company. Across the track and across the side from the Koelemay Grain Company (now Setzer Supply), there was the two-story E. P. Delong Garage and Service Station, with a hand pump in front where you could see the gas in the glass tank and you could pump either five or ten gallons, but no more.
Across from Delong's Garage and Service Station, Mr. John Ware at one time constructed a building which housed the Post Office. Mr. Ware was the postmaster, and if I'm not mistaken, there was also a drug store and grocery store in the same building. Mr. Delong lived next door to his garage on Main Street, now Boston, and down the street a ways was the C. E. Gibson home on the corner. Then farther down Main Street was the George Willis home, and toward Nederland Avenue were the Horace Lemeur and Mrs. Wilma Devries' homes, both of them two-story houses. Many of these were my good milk customers.
But let me return to my home place - the two-story house - the last one on Helena Street. I remember a rather large barn directly east of the house and a smaller building facing directly on Helena Street, which we called the slaughter house. The name of the slaughter house was obtained from the fact that at one time, I believe, it had been located downtown, or nearer to downtown, and was used for butchering cattle, hogs, etc. The old barn directly east of the house was in terrible shape, as I remember, and was later torn down and replaced by a shed-type barn, built nearer to our house, and the slaughter house was moved to adjoin this shed-type barn. We had a great big feed box in the slaugther house, with a small door leading into the shed where we milked the cows. This barn had a concrete floor, which we thought was great for the time.
We had horses named Nellie and Albert. I built a sled and moved a considerable amount of rocks and broken-up concrete from the bunk house locations, after the bunk houses were torn down, and poured the foundation for a milk house which was only thirty or forty feet from the back of our house, and directly east of the house.
Then there was the "old kitchen." This was what was left of the house that Papa and Mama had lived in prior to my arrival on the scene. They had taken a portion of the old house and moved it to form the back part of the house in which I was born. The front of the "new" house was of new construction and was two stories high. The old kitchen was used as a henhouse and for storage, and later a garage shed was attached to it. All of this was the extent of the improvements on our home property except, of course, for the outhouse, which I will not go into at this time since we now have inside plumbing.
We had no street signs, no stop signs, no city government, and no TV. Radio was a very new thing around 1925. I heard my first radio sound on a crystal set rigged up by my brother John. Later I heard the sound again at the C. Doornbos residence out of the big horn. (Ed.'s Note: The loud speaker was not invented until 1926. The first primitive radios of the mid-1920s used only a large head phone, to which was attached a metal "horn" for amplification, sometimes straight, as in the old RCA-Victrola and dog commercial, and sometimes curved.)
Cattle were kept in the Sun Oil Company pasture, and when they were dipped, we would usually follow with our herd to the dipping vat on the location, where C. O. Wilson Middle School now stands. The entertainment of the day was chautauqua, and tent revivals were a form of entertainment for some. It was a place to go. The interurban line was the western boundary of built-up Nederland, and the location of the old Nederland High School (where the YMCA is now located) was about the most southerly extremity of the city. Toward the north, it was Helena Street, to the railroad, and then out to Cottage Grove. The easterly boundary was the tank farm or more correctly, what is now Ninth Street.
We went to school at the old Langham School and the annex in back of it. School football was in its infancy and basketball was on an open court. That was nederland as I first knew it, and it was good because we knew nothing better.
Nederland grew. A new high school was built from which I graduated in 1932. Those were the depression years so I stayed out of school two years. One year immediately after graduation from high school, and one year after finishing two years at Lamar College. Then on to law school from which I graduated in 1939. I was fortunate in having a place to go - with my brother in Beaumont, who had preceded me and Assistant United States District Attorney when I finished law school. My salary was $75 a month. I was later appointed United States Commissioner by Judge Randolph Bryant of the Eastern District of Texas, in which capacity I served until I left to go into the Navy in December, 1941, immediately after Pearl Harbor. I was turned down as an officer candidate because of an overbite. I enlisted as a store keeper third-class; and later to store keeper, second class, then to ensign in Naval Intelligence, where I served for a little more than six months in Hawaii. Everyone under thirty wasn't ordered to sea. I was transferred to armed guard duty and was sent to San Diego, California for training in gunnery practice and armed guard duty. I was assigned to ships that went to Hawaii, Seattle, Philippines, and Calcutta in India.
My last trip was to Okinawa, where I was sitting on a ship when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. That bomb and the one that followed on Nagasaki saved my life, as we were in a great armada ready to invade Japan.
I came home through San Francisco - went to visit my sister in Newark, Ohio, where I met Betty Hook, whose father was with Pure Oil Company when it first started in Nederland. Betty was born in Beaumont - Hotel Dieu - by reason of which fact she was a native Texas and eligible to marry a native Texan. Together we had five children, among them identical twin boys. All are doing well and call or visit on Mother's Day and Father's Day, as well as Christmas and New Year. We have eight grandchildren and expect more. At seventy-six years I am still practicing law. We recently added 900 feet to our home on West Caldwood Drive in Beaumont, where we raised five children so that they and their children can all come home to rest. The total is now twenty and we look forward to tomorrow.------signed:
//Marion J. Rienstra.