Charles Finch shares memories of growing up in Guttenberg

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Charles Finch grew up in Guttenberg and spent his formative years learning the lumber business from the ground up. (Press photo by Austin Greve)

By Caroline Rosacker

Respected area businessman Charles Finch grew up in the lumber business. From a comfortable wicker chair in the sunroom of his home, the former Meuser Lumber Company owner shared his memories of growing up in Guttenberg. 

Childhood memories

Finch explained, "I was born in 1933 on this block, two houses up, where Clark Bolsinger lives. My grandparents lived next door. I have never lived elsewhere except when I was in the service in the 1950s." 

Finch described a mischievous childhood as he pointed across the street. He said, "The thing I remember growing up was that big shed. There was a big ridge of windows on both sides that had a hundred and fifty panes of glass. I shot out every one of them with my slingshot. Delbert Sadewasser and my father would shoo me home. I went on deliveries with every truck driver they had." 

In February the lumber yard employed 100 people to harvest ice. They went to Bussey Lake and scraped all the snow off the ice. Then they sawed the ice up into 100-pound chunks. Meuser's owned three ice houses. They packed the ice in sawdust. I helped deliver the ice and even had a route of my own on the island on Saturday mornings. They could hear me two blocks away as the scale banged back and forth," he shared. 

Education

Finch graduated from Gut-tenberg High School in 1951. He attended Coe College for one year, and spent three and a half years in the Navy, before returning home to Guttenberg to assist with the family business.  I went to work in the lumber yard. My dad wanted me to work in the office, but I wanted to learn the yard.  I hauled ready-mix and delivered coal. When it got cold my dad put me in the office. I worked with Duwane Duwe and Delos Sadewasser. My Great-Aunt Tillie was the bookkeeper. She taught me the ins-and-outs and the rights-and-wrongs. She was intelligent and had a lot of experience," he reminisced.

Meuser Lumber Company beginnings

"Back in my grandfather's day, Miners Creek came out right along River Park Drive. Zimmerman and Ives floated logs down the Mississippi River from Wisconsin to the sawmill in Guttenberg. The sawmill was at the mouth of Miners Creek," he recalled. 

"My grandfather scaled logs for Zimmerman and Ives. He walked  the logs and observed them and determined how many board feet in each. They liked my grandfather and sent him to Bayless Business College to learn bookkeeping. When he returned they built the big shed, which, when they sold out to Meuser Lumber Co., was used as a retail lumber yard," he explained. 

Rerouting Highway 52 

Charle's mother, Julia, was educated in Guttenberg, and met Finch's father, Harold, while he was a student at Iowa State. 

"The Iowa State Highway Commission wanted to bypass Guttenberg. The highway route was scheduled to go from the top of the south hill to Ceres Church." He related, "The leaders of the community were after the highway commission to have the road run through Guttenberg. They sent my father as lead surveyor of the crew. Bucky Harris was the linesman. Dad and Bucky came to Guttenberg, and surveyed the area coming down into Guttenberg and heading north back up the hill. Highway 52 was created," said Finch. 

"During that time my dad met my mother, and Bucky met Tillie. Bucky and I were really close – all my life. Tillie and Julia were always good friends," he shared.  "My dad and mom were married in 1929, and my sister Carol was born in June of 1930. I was born three years later. By that time my father joined my grandfather at the lumber yard," he recollected.

Naval experience

The 86-year-old, with a sharp memory, described his Naval experience. "I was drafted in the Army but enlisted in the Navy. My father was in the Navy in World War II back in the 40s in Oakland, Calif. I remember attending school in the military base for a portion of a year," he said.

Finch continued, "Joanne and I were married while I was in the Navy. We lived in an apartment in San Diego. I was stationed all over the Pacific while I was enlisted. I was discharged in 1956. I would never say I was cheated in my time with my experience in the Navy. On three separate occasions we went to the Alaskan Aleutian Islands."

Finch also experienced escorting ships to the Panama Canal.  He looked back saying, "The United States gave the wooden-hull minesweeper ships to other countries. Because of their limited fuel capacity, we escorted them to the Panama Canal."

Hydrogen bomb testing

"The last months of active duty we went to Pearl Harbor. We picked up three unusable Navy ships and pulled them to Bikini Island. There were at least 100 other ships already anchored there, so we were told to anchor our ships," he recalled. 

The Navy had plans for the ships. Finch told The Press, "We were finally told we would be part of the hydrogen bomb test. As a radioman I was always on the bridge when we were out to sea. They stationed me on the bridge and equipped me with dark glasses. I was in total darkness."

He went on to say, "One bomb was dropped and exploded at sea level and another at 2,000 feet above sea level. We never did find out what the purpose was for the test." 

Radioactive

He called to mind, "The very last bomb that was dropped, it was noted that the wind had changed. When the bomb exploded it sprayed radioactive water all over us. They moved us to the rear end of the ship. Geiger counters came out, and it was determined we were all radioactive. We had to strip down naked and were told to go down and shower. They threw our clothes overboard. Years later they called twice to ask if I had any problems." 

Next generation

Finch recalled when the white brick rental home, which still sits on the property, was the location of the original lumber company office. The current office, on River Park Drive, has been enlarged three times to accommodate the needs of the successful business. 

Charles and Joanne have built their spacious home right across the street from Meuser Lumber Company – close to Charles’ roots.

Joanne and Charles raised eight children, Cheri, Julie, John, Lori, Karen, Dan, David and Jayne. Finch laughed, “I got asked by my father more than once what the heck was going on!” 

In 2012, Joanne and Charles sold Meuser Lumber Company to their son, John. He proudly shared, “John is the fourth generation at the lumber yard and his son, Alex, is the fifth.”

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