May 1, 2012

Elwin Holland: Heuvelton, New York



NOTE: This article was first published in the Gouverneur, New York, newspaper, the Tribune Press, in recognition of Elwin’s 90th birthday, May 2, 2010. Some changes have been made to update it, and pictures have been added.

Elwin Holland was born May 2, 1920, in his family’s Maple Ridge Road farmhouse.

<—Elwin at age3

On May 2, 2010, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. he celebrated his 90th birthday at an open house at the AMVETS Post #1997 in Heuvelton, New York. Friends were asked to share their reminiscences to this event.

Holland was the fourth of ten children born to the late Edwin P. and Gertrude Stevenson Holland. His surviving siblings are Marjorie Dier, Edwards; Grace Londraville, Watertown, and Monte Holland, Laurel Mountain Borough, Pennsylvania. His late siblings are Ardis Bigelow, Lynn Holland, Fern O’Brien, Alton Holland, Worth Holland and Joyce Odell.

Holland’s first memory is standing in his high chair at age 3, watching a fire in a tenant house on the farm.

Holland and his only first-grade classmate, two of 35 students at a District 11 one-room schoolhouse, failed the grade because they lacked adequate attention. Holland continued his elementary education in a District 12 one-room schoolhouse.

As a child, Holland was “sweet” on a little girl, Vaughn Burnett. During Ring Around the Rosie he kissed her instead of falling down. He did “lots of dating” as a teenager. At age 16 his romantic bent turned into brotherly rivalry.

“There was a young girl named Harriet,” he said. “I wanted to bid on her box lunch, but Lynn, who knew this, kept bidding against me. He won, because he had more money than I did.”

After his 1938 Dekalb High School graduation Holland took over Lynn Holland’s milk-hauling job.  In the summer of 1939 he and Alton Holland studied automobile mechanics at George Hall Trade School, where Holland also took welding classes.

Sanford Fire Equipment Corporation in Syracuse hired him to weld booster tanks for 50 cents an hour. He quit this job to work on his father’s farm, where he made slings to put hay in the mow.

“Making the sling was my idea, not Papa’s,” Holland said, explaining that two slings were placed on a hay wagon, one on the bare wagon deck and the second over a half-wagon load. When the wagon was fully loaded, a tractor pulled a rope, raising a sling to a special car along the peak of the barn. The car took the sling back into the hay mow.

“Other farms had to use a hay fork to put hay in the mow,” Holland said.

Holland next worked at New York Air Brake in Watertown. They needed stainless steel welders. Although he wasn’t trained for that, he received a test plate to weld.

“I did it right away and got the job,” Holland said. “They were paying 80 cents but I got $1.00.”

Because the 20-year old headed a night-shift team of five welders working on Army tanks, the Army deferred him twice. When he was drafted a company inspector asked “why a ‘man who could weld like this’ was being taken into the service.”

Holland began his basic training at Camp Claiborne, LA, on September 19, 1943, receiving training as a truck driver.

“I was in a spot where a piece of steel was broken,” he said. “Whoever was in charge said it needed to be welded. I volunteered and fixed the machine.”

The Army made Holland a pipeline welder and assigned him to the 789 EPD (Engineering Petroleum Distribution) Company.

Holland was transported to India on the troop carrier USS Butner. In Malanchi he was assigned to Pumping Station No. 5.

He worked on two different pipeline jobs. The first was a new pipeline extending a half mile into a bay, where ships unloaded 100-octane gasoline used for airplane fuel.

Near the end of the war, Holland was reassigned to Chittagong, India, to work on replacing just over a mile of pipeline on the Harding Railroad Bridge over the Ganges River.

“It was dangerous. The locomotives that the Indians used burned coal. They were afraid a spark would ignite gasoline leaking from the couplings. The welded replacement line was half finished when the war ended.”

While in India he built a gasoline-operated washing machine using parts from the salvage yard.

“He welded the tank,” Dier said. “They probably had to wring the clothes by hand.”

Holland was very good about writing and sending gifts to everybody, said Londraville. He sent her a black fountain gold-capped fountain pen, Monte Holland a metal fifty year calendar and Dier some jewelry.

Before his 1946 discharge, he sent his mother some tea.

“He couldn’t send undeveloped film home from India, so he’d hide it in the tea,” Dier said.

Before going overseas, Holland had converted all his money except a one dollar bill into Indian currency. He carried this bill throughout his service, wrote on it “this bill followed me around the world,” and presented it to his mother when he returned home. The bill was found among his mother’s things after her death.

Back home, Holland worked at the General Electric appliance plant in Syracuse. He returned to the family farm, purchasing it in 1948, and did plumbing and furnace jobs in the community.

“One of the first things I did was to build a fire escape on the James Maloy American Legion Post #65 building in Gouverneur. It needed to be done quickly, prior to the Christmas holidays. They had all the fire escape parts. I welded it together on site.”

Elwin Holland poses in front of the fire escape he welded together at the James Maloy American Legion Post #65 building in Gouverneur. (Photo by Beatrice Bressette)

In 1943, Holland met Dorothy Hoeft of Syracuse at a party in that city. Both were on blind dates. They became friends, but went their own way until they met again in 1946. He married “his Dot” on July 12, 1947. Their son, Ronald Holland, was born at Governeur Hospital on August 5, 1948. 

“Dot” Holland and Elwin Holland pose for a picture with their young son, Ronald Holland, (from  family collection)

Holland stored milk in milk cans set in water vats in a milk house. In 1957, amidst talk about requiring dairy farms to install bulk milk tanks, Holland decided “it was a good time to get out of the farming business.” He held a farm auction and built the Heuvelton home where he still lives.

Holland continued doing plumbing, heating and carpentry work until 1963, when he inspected a construction project for the Heuvelton School District. In 1964 he began inspecting dormitory construction projects for New York State. In 1968 he started 21 years of work with the New York Office of General Service as a senior superintendent of construction. It required a lot of time away from home—he traveled to Rome, Johnstown, and Oneonta. In Watertown he worked on the state office building project before becoming the engineer in charge of state inspections in St. Lawrence County. He retired in 1989 when it reached the point that he “couldn’t handle the work because they were building prisons and it was beyond what I could do.”
In 1958 Holland built a camp at Trout Lake, where he spent many happy times with Dot, who died in 1995, and Ronald, who died in 2006.


His grandson, Christopher, lives in Texas with his wife and son, born December 2011.

Elwin ate a lot of meals at the Donut King Restaurant in Ogdensburg,

Elwin Holland enjoys time visiting with his son, the late Ronald Holland, at the Donut King Restaurant in Ogdensburg in an undated photo.  (from family collection):



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