Monday, September 26, 2016

The End of the Line

I want to show you an old photo of some people from Oshkosh. The photo isn’t dated. I suspect it was taken in the 1940s. It's an informal shot showing five men and an old, horse-drawn beer wagon. The people are casually arranged, looking away from the camera. The simplicity is deceiving. Layer upon layer of Oshkosh’s brewing history is represented here. Have a look...

Let’s identify these folks. From left to right we have three men standing. They are Earl Horn, Arthur Schwalm and Lorenz “Shorty” Kuenzl. Seated on the wagon with his hands on the reins is John Pahlow. I haven't been able to identify the larger man seated next to Pahlow. If anyone recognizes him, please let me know in the comment section.

What’s striking about the picture from our vantage point is the unintended irony. For this event, whatever that may have been, they were paying homage to Oshkosh’s brewing past. But what they were celebrating was coming to an end.

John Pahlow had an early taste of the approaching decline.

The horse-drawn beer roll was a prop. When this picture was taken, beer was being hauled around town in trucks. But Pahlow wasn’t exactly play acting for this photo. He knew how to drive those horses and the wagon they pulled.

Born in 1882, Pahlow had been a teamster for the Oshkosh Brewing Company beginning about 1909. He continued delivering beer by horse and wagon until Prohibition began in 1920. After that, he worked for an ice company. His work there would also be made redundant by technology.

By the 1940s Pahlow’s drayman skills were obsolete. From time to time, though, he still climbed into the driver’s seat to steer the OBC wagon during parades and other special events.

Here’s another shot of Pahlow at the helm an OBC beer roll near the corner of 8th and Nebraska streets in Oshkosh. This is from June 1944.

Back to that photo at the very top. The three men standing there, Horn, Schwalm and Kuenzl, couldn’t have possibly known that, like Pahlow, they would also come to embody the end of an era. The three of them would be the last in a long, uninterrupted line of Oshkosh brewing families.

Earl Horn was born in Oshkosh in 1892. He was the grandson of August Horn, co-founder of Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. Earl Horn began working at Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1911 as the brewery’s bookkeeper. At the time of this picture, he was vice-president and secretary of OBC.

Arthur Schwalm was born in Oshkosh in 1885. His grandfather was Leonhardt Schwalm, who immigrated to America in 1851 and became one of Oshkosh’s pioneer brewers. Arthur Schwalm entered the family trade in 1912 as superintendent of the OBC bottling plant. He was named president of the company in January 1942.

Lorenz “Shorty” Kuenzl was born in 1900 in Beloit, but lived nearly all his life in Oshkosh. His grandfather was Lorenz Kuenzl, who established the Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave. in Oshkosh in 1875. Shorty Kuenzl began working full time for OBC at the close of Prohibition in 1933. At the time of the picture above he was the brewery’s treasurer and sales director.

The legacy these three men inherited ended with them. In 1961, majority interest of OBC was sold to David Uihlein of Milwaukee.

Arthur Schwalm, died two months prior to the announcement of the sale. The Schwalm family and Earl Horn sold their stake in the company to Uihlein. Shorty Kuenzl was the lone holdout. He maintained his OBC stock until the brewery closed in 1971.

I wonder what Horn and Kuenzl made of all this in their later years. Earl Horn died in 1979. Shorty Kuenzl passed in 1986. Both had remained in Oshkosh. They were here to witness the painful dissolution of the brewery their predecessors had dedicated their lives to.

This is what I’d really like to know: in the 1970s, did Earl Horn or Shorty Kuenzl ever visit the massive brewery on Doty Street as it withered into ruin? Or would that have been too terrible for either of them to witness? After all these years, it is still a hard thing to look at. Here it is, see for yourself…

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