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Interview with Walter Dryja

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Dryja, Walter ; Caganek, Anna


Walter Dryja talks about his family's life, beginning with his father's emigration from Poland to Maryland, and then to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. He talks about his family life, working on different dairy farms, his long hours and grueling nature of his work, as well as the economic fluctuations in the production and sale of dairy products.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

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Broome County Oral History Project


32:49 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Walter Dryja

Interviewed by: Anna Caganek

Date of interview: 22 November 1977

Anna: I am Anna Caganek: the interviewer, talking to Walter Dryja of 22 Arthur Street, Binghamton, New York, on November 22, 1977. Walter, tell me about your life.
Walter: This is the biography of Walter Dryja, who was brought into this world the ninth day of December many moons ago by my dear mother, Sophie, and father, John Dryja, to this address: 525 Washington Ave, Glendale, Carnegie, PA. My father and mother came from the part of Poland that was occupied by Austria-Hungary, ruled at the time by Franz Josef. My mother had three girls and four boys, that was the size of my family. I was the youngest. My father came alone to Baltimore, Maryland, in the first part of the 19th century [sic], looking for work. He lived in Baltimore, Maryland, only a few weeks, he got word from his friends that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had better working conditions and more pay. He came to Pittsburgh, PA, got a job at the Bell Coal Company mining soft coal, earned money and saved until he had enough to send to his wife. So, she took the three children with her, and one died in Poland, and one daughter she left in Poland with a good friend because there was not enough money for a ticket on the ship. My father got settled in PA, later sent money to Poland to bring the daughter that was left with the friends in Poland. My father worked very hard mining coal, saved his earnings, which at that time was paid in gold, silver, nickel and copper—no paper money. Pay was two times a month, about $22, all depended how many tons of coal a person could load by hand shovel into the cars. My father saved enough money to purchase a building lot, hired a man to build a two-family home. While all this was going on, my father increased the size of his family by having three boys, one every two years, and I was the ‘last of the Mohicans.’ By now, my oldest sister was about age sixteen, she had a friend of a family as a boyfriend. They got married and moved to Chicago, Illinois, and they raised a family of seven girls and one boy. They made their home in Chicago. The next to the oldest sister was Mary, got a job in a pottery abelline factory in Carnegie, PA, and then she decided to go to Chicago to live with Veronica, the oldest sister. Nora, the youngest of the girls, got married, age twenty, Syracuse, NY, and married Peter Ryznar—he got a job in a shoe repair shop—and I, Walter, was born December 9th. I attended a Catholic Parochial school in Glendale, PA, with two of my brothers, Stanley and Joseph. John was the oldest of the four boys. He was born in Poland, he worked in the coal mines, later got in Superior Steel Company, Carnegie, PA. Stanley graduated from the eighth grade grammar school, got a job as a clerk in Hardy’s Drug Store in Carnegie, PA.
The first World War started, brother John quit his job at the steel company and volunteered into the Army, was trained as engineer and shipped to France. Stanley got typhoid fever and died at the age of sixteen in a Pittsburgh Hospital. About six months later, Father died and is buried in Glendale, PA, cemetery, next to Stanley, his son. I was about eleven years of age at that time, I watched or attended the neighbor's three cows during vacation for a dollar a week. At that time people were allowed to have cows in the villages and see milk to neighbors. There was no electric street lights, only gaslights. Each day, in the evening, a constable would come on foot with a small ladder and light the gaslights and in the morning come to put out the lights. All the homes and buildings had gaslights, no electricity, only streetcars were electric, and some of the automobiles were electric and gasoline and a few steam cars. People that were in a higher bracket owned horses and buggies, sleighs for local transportations.
After died, Mother sold the home in Glendale, came with Joseph, my brother, to Binghamton to live with my sister. They had moved from Syracuse a few years ago, which was in Johnson City, NY, before that it was Lestershire. Endicott Johnson Shoe Company was good to these workers, provided low-cost housing, gave bonuses, provided medical services, legal services, recreation and other benefits to their workers. When my mother and a brother, Joe, came, Joe was about sixteen years, got a job in Burbank Foundry, Binghamton, NY. I attended Catholic Parochial School. I was chosen to play in school in vaudeville plays. About six months, my mother died. I was twelve years old, and my sister and her husband, Peter Ryznar, worked in E.J. shoe factory company. They had a son and two daughters. I was older than they were but we grew up. I helped as much, as much as I could with the housework and made myself useful.
The first World War ended and my brother, John, that enlisted in the Army at Glendale, PA, at the start of the War, came to Binghamton and lived with us. Got work in E.J. shoe factory, he was restless, talked my sister and her husband, Peter, to purchase a dairy farm where the Broome County Airport is situated at the present time. He quit his E.J. shoe shop but Peter did not quit. I graduated from the eighth grade grammar school and we moved to the farm. My brother Joe stayed in the city, got work at E.J., and about two years of dairy farming, my brother John gave up farming, leaving me, age eighteen, on the farm, stranded on the farm. With my sister and her husband and three children children, no one wanted to work on the farm at that time, that's it.
On the north side of Prospect Street near border of Johnson City and Binghamton is the Town of Dickinson line. The contour of the land is the base of Mount Prospect, on top is the BOCES. This is where the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and school was started by Rev. Jolak. This land was purchased by two spinsters, Ann and Mary McNamara. They lived in a nice white farm homestead on Prospect Street, and it was lined with huge maple trees on both sides of the street in front of their home, the street looked like a tunnel with dirt road, mud in the spring and in the autumn of the year. A family by the name of Okonovsy had a bakery nearby on Glenwood Ave, Binghamton, NY. They migrated from Fulton, NY. They were Polish descent, had a large family. They baked the finest and most tastiest rye bread. They were friends of my brother-in-law, Peter, Mary, and my sister Nora. On Downs Ave., where the electric trolley had a franchise, came to a dead end at the boundary of Johnson City, Port Dickinson and Binghamton. A family of Polish descent by the name of Huzar, they also came from Fulton, NY, and friends of Peter purchased a creamery, which at that time the milk had to be delivered no later than six o'clock in the morning to the consumer because there were no refrigerators, only iceboxes, and the consumer wanted fresh milk on the breakfast tables, it so they could use it before going to work. This was the year of 1922—there was no truck deliveries, only horse and wagon, Spaulding Bakeries, Cutler Ice Co., and all creameries had stables to house the horses.
As I come back to where I started to tell you about, the Huzar family purchased a creamery from Mr. Lott on Downs Ave., Binghamton. I, Walter Dryja, was a very young boy after my mother died. I started to help Tom Huzar, who was the son of Mr. Huzar—he was about age sixteen—to load 12 quarts bottles to a case of milk in the wagon. About two a.m. in the morning, deliver the milk to the consumer, this was year of 1922. There was no under-the-railroad passes, we had to go over the railroad tracks. There were safety or stop gates to stop traffic across the tracks. When a passenger or freight train was coming, it happened one early morning, Tom and I were driving a gray mare horse and wagon with a load of milk across Jarvis Street, Binghamton, NY. We got halfway between the two railroad, the Erie and Lackawanna, the watchman at the tower lowered the stop gates, so we’re caught between the train and the train came roaring through. Tom jumped out of the wagon, grabbed the horse by the bridle, and I stayed in the wagon holding the reins. The horse reared up on his hind legs, picking Tom off the ground as the train went by. The tower watchman raised, raised the top gates. Tom got in the wagon and no one was hurt. We went about the business of delivering the milk. Do not ask me if I was scared, I was too naive to know any better. This and a few other less exciting incidents happened in my life.
After my dear mother went to meet her master—this also happened before I graduated from St. Stanislaus Kostka School and before I went to the farm to help my sister—on the farm Peter had about fourteen milk cows, a few heifers, calves and a sire, three horses which we used on the farm to work, also for transportation to deliver milk every morning to a creamery, about four miles each way, winter and summer, rain or shine. I recall when the snow was three or four feet deep on the ground, snowdrifts about six feet deep, even higher, on the way to the creamery with twenty cans of raw milk in forty quart cans on a big bobsleigh pulled by the team of horses that I was driving, the horse lost his footing on the hard snow-packed road and fell in the soft snow, deep, he could not reach the ground with his feet, I had to shovel him out out of the snowdrift and help him to get back on the hard snow-beaten path and proceed with the delivery of the load of milk, which I collected from some of the neighboring dairy farms. I got paid twenty cents for a hundred pounds of milk, which was about two pounds of milk to one quart of milk. This was supposed to be delivered to the creamery in Maine, NY, three miles away before nine o'clock every morning. Every day in the year, rain or shine. This happened sometime in the winter morning, I cannot recall in my memory the day or year as I was returning from the creamery. After I delivered the milk the sky was bright, the sun was shining, it gradually began to get dark, the roosters began to crow, this was about ten o'clock in the morning, this was the total eclipse of the sun. As we struggled on this farm to make a living, my brother in law, Peter Ryznar, owner of this 130-acre farm where Broome County Airport's north runway is laid and operated today, the year 1977. At the year 1922 it was dirt road, mud in the spring and fall of the year, and passable roads in the winter, big snowdrifts, the wind never stopped blowing. At Mt. Ettrick the air is clear and very cold in the winter, fifteen degrees colder at the top of Ettrick than it is in the city of Binghamton. On this farm there was no luxuries such as electric, indoor toilets or bathrooms, no heating system in the homes, except a huge cast-iron stove in the central part of the house to burn wood, which was dragged and hauled from the woods by horses during the autumn or winter seasons and cut into twelve- or fourteen-inch pieces so they would fit in the stove. The only running water was, as I can remember, is when we needed water in the house to take a bath or for cooking, and I would run to the well and pump it out of the well into a pail or bucket and run with it to the house, is what you can call—running water.
Anna: Did you ever melt the snow?
Walter: No, we never melted snow, only we used it for batteries in the truck and used it for washing—it was soft water we stored—it in an olden wooden barrel—fifty-gallon barrels, it saved soap—it was soft water. We had a small pond on the farm, stocked it with bullheads—fish in it. They grew fast because it was a lot of food such as frogs in the winter, the neighbors and I would cut the ice off this pond with large hand ice saws. We hauled these blocks of ice, from 175 to 125 pounds each, to our houses—ice houses packed in the sawdust. The sawdust around these outside walls, twelve to eighteen inches thick so the ice would not melt away in the summer. We used the ice to cool the milk we got from the cows at the evening milking, and it had to be cooled overnight so it would not sour before it was delivered to the creamery in the next morning. We also had a treat once in a while on Sunday, we made some homemade ice cream with a make-it-yourself kit—ice cream was made by cranking a handle like hell, until your throat went dry, and you would get homemade ice cream. What kind of a flavor would like, try and get it. We only have vanilla today while it lasts. Well my brother-in-law saved a few dollars working in EJ shoe factory in the summer, when the roads were passable he paid $20 a week to the neighbor had a 1924 Chevrolet four-cylinder car to drive Peter and the other neighbors to work in EJ shoe factory. In the winter when the roads got impassable, Peter got room and board in the city and only came to the farm Saturday and Sunday. I, Walter, had to hitch up the old dobbin and go for Peter and take him back to the city on Sunday after milking the cows. It was about eight miles one way by horse and sleigh. It took one-and-a-half hours one way. There was several instances I can remember after taking Peter to the city and return to the farm, half frozen, my hands and fingers were so numb that I could hardly unbuckle the harness from the horses. Peter purchased a Ford, a truck tractor, one of the horses got sick, we were told by the veterinarian to destroy or shoot the horse. Peter purchased a new one, Ford Model T truck, $195 at that time, which could not pull its own weight up a dirt road on a hill where we lived on the farm, this was in the autumn of the year. Barns were destroyed by fire, Peter sold all the cows and horses, and I stayed with Peter and helped with disposal of the cattle. Then I found a job on a farm on Route 12, near Greene, NY—the Golden Gurnsey farm, owned by lawyer John Marcey, who practiced law from the sixth floor of the Security Building in Binghamton, NY, and he resided in the winter on Davis Street in Binghamton, and summer at the farm he owned and had Mr. Tyler managing it for him.
Anna: Did you ever do anything to enjoy yourself?
Walter: Yes. Work from sunrise to sunset.
Anna: Did you ever go, go to Ross Park?
Walter: Never had time.

Streaming Audio

Date of Interview



Caganek, Anna


Dryja, Walter


32:49 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Dryja, Walter -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Dairy farmers -- Interviews; Immigrants -- Interviews; Binghamton (N.Y.); Coal mines and mining; Milk Delivery; Polish

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



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The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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