ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
What the townspeople of Hillsboro see on a typical fall day is “just a man who collects junk,” weaving a riding lawn mower through the alleys of the city.
But what Gilbert “Gib” Kriegsman sees is an opportunity to keep busy during his retirement years, a hobby and a way to get some exercise.
And if he earns a little money, well that’s OK, too.
“I pick up iron pipes and machinery,” Kriegsman said. “People throw good stuff out.”
He said he also picks up tricycles and metal toy wagons to remodel and give away.
Seventy-five-year-old Kriegsman and his wife Dora, 65, rent a small home close enough to Hillsboro’s downtown to allow him to walk to the stores and get the necessities for his modest lifestyle.
Twilight years have arrived for Kriegsman but that hasn’t stopped him from remembering details of his past.
If someone takes the time to sit down and talk to him, he said he gladly shares his life-story.
Kriegsman was born in Elmo, Nov. 8, 1925.
“There ain’t no town there anymore,” he said.
An only child, Kriegsman remembers attending “the old Ashcraft School” and his teacher, Velma Zeek of Hope.
Kriegsman said he “walked two miles every day to school” and then made the return trip at the end of the school day.
He was encouraged to continue past the eighth grade, but “I just didn’t want to,” Kriegsman said. “I don’t like books, but I was good at spelling and arithmetic and all that.”
With eighth grade tucked under his belt, 13-year-old Kriegsman took on his first job, working at Meadowlark Dairy Farm, located northwest of Durham.
“It was all Guernsey cows and I milked 20 of them an hour by hand,” he said.
He would get up at 5 a.m. and work until after sundown.
His other farm chores included feeding and tending 300 head of sheep and 1,000 head of cattle.
Seven days a week Kriegsman rode horseback around the 2,000-plus acres of pasture.
He lived on the farm, cooked his own meals and remembers buying bologna and having fresh eggs for his staples.
“I got $5 a week,” he said. “I didn’t make no wages.”
After eight years on the dairy farm, Kriegsman ventured southwest of Durham to the Youk Ranch, owned by Dennis Youk’s father.
“They made me ride the pasture fence,” Kriegsman said.
“The first thing in the morning, I’d make that ride over the pasture. Then when I got back in, I had to go in the field and work with the tractor.”
Kriegsman and his mother lived in a house on the Youk farm. It was furnished but there was no electricity, and water came from a well deep within the bowels of a windmill.
“We just turned that windmill loose and let her go,” he said. “It cooled that milk. You could put about eight 10-gallon cans in there at one time.”
Kriegsman said he earned $20 a week at the Youk Ranch and worked there for eight years.
His next job with Rhodes construction lasted only three months.
Following his short career in construction, Kriegsman moved to Durham.
At that time, he was hired by the AMPI Dairy Plant in Hillsboro, a job that lasted 40 years.
“I dumped the milk,” Kriegsman said.
A conveyer belt would send 10-gallon milk cans his way and he would dump 300 cans an hour.
While working for the dairy plant, he was asked to go in to Wichita to be interviewed on KFDI radio station in 1957.
After 40 years, Kriegsman took an early retirement before the dairy plant closed.
“They gave me a gold ring,” he said, as one of his retirement gifts from the plant.
While he now owns several TVs, there isn’t a telephone in his home and he doesn’t own a car.
“I had three eye operations and that’s why they took my license away,” Kriegsman said. “I can’t drive (cars) but these old lawn tractors, I can drive.”
Kriegsman’s lawn mowers are on loan from a local handyman, but he does own the little trailer attached to one of the tractors.
He collects iron products around town and then cuts up the pipes with a hacksaw.
“(The pipes) ‘gotta be cut up in certain lengths,” said Kriegsman.
With the scrap metal in tow, Kriegsman makes regular stops at Foth’s Service Center in Hillsboro. Owner Lowell Foth said he gives Kriegsman $5 a trailer-load for his iron scraps.
“He just got in two loads this week,” Foth said.
For the iron to weigh enough to make it affordable for him, Foth fills junk cars with the iron scraps salvaged by Kriegsman.
Foth said he then takes them into Wichita to a scrap-metal operation. The effort means Foth makes a “little bit of money” for his two boys in college to have a little spending money.
“Iron prices are cheap, so I don’t get much,” Foth said.
With the scrap metal, Kriegsman makes a little money, too, and gives him a chance to visit with Foth when he drops his cache off.
“He’s a pretty good ole’ man,” Foth said. “He works hard.”
Foth said Kriegsman actually cleans up a bigger area of town than people realize.
What has become a good deal for the town is also “a good deal for him and a good deal for me,” Foth said.
Kriegsman and his wife are childless. He suffered a major stroke June 16.
“I fell down in this house twice and they finally got me in the car and they got me to the Hillsboro Medical Center,” he said. “They made tracks to get me in an ambulance to Wichita.
“They said I was dead.”
Three months ago, Kriegsman received a pacemaker at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita.
“Every three months they got to check it, then six months-then it’s a year,” Kriegsman said.
According to Kriegsman, his doctor wants him to walk for exercise as part of his recovery from the stroke.
“I walk every day,” he said. “I get up every morning at three o’clock and have breakfast.”
Then later in the morning, Kriegsman said he walks the same route in the neighboring area for four blocks.
“But I walk to McDonald’s, too, every once in a while,” he said.
Sitting on his back porch one hazy September day, Kriegsman recited a series of his favorite sayings to his captive audience: “Early to bed and early to rise, it makes you healthy, wealthy and wise; the early bird gets the worm; and a stitch in time will save nine.”