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"Running a Beet Puller Before the Prisoners of War"

Robert Stieben

December, 1994
Interviewer: Arlene Ahlbrandt

During the WWII years Robert Stieben's father farmed about 80 acres, two and a half miles south of Wellington on what is now I-25. He remembers some rationing on the farm and being most impacted by gasoline and tire rationing. "We had plenty of shoe stamps being frugal people." Besides, his grandfather had a last and knew how to half-sole shoes. Meat was also rationed, but on the farm they could butcher their own meat.

Robert was in high school in the war years and recalls scrap drives when groups like the 4-H clubs would gather up unwanted iron around the farms. He remembers also that his father used German prisoners from the camp west of Greeley in the spring for thinning crops and in the fall for harvest. Because the groups were large, "you had to be ready for them". Before dawn he and a neighbor would use a "beet puller" and start the beet harvest so that when his father brought the prisoners, work was ready for them. The beets had to be gathered into windrows. Then the area between the windrows was smoothed out, the beets were topped by hand, thrown into a clearing, and finally loaded by hand onto wagons. The prisoners brought their own food and the farmers were instructed not to feed them; but the Stieben family did. Robert's grandfather was retired and lived in town, but spoke German. He served as the interpreter and supervised the prisoners. Such arrangements were common "where the farmer was of German-Russian ancestry where there was someone in the family that could communicate with them, and it really helped." Stieben recalls the guards as being "nonchalant" and "complacent" about doing anything except seeing the prisoners didn't escape, so his grandpa was a great help in solving any problems or disputes.

Steiben had three uncles that served during the war. Two were injured seriously. One lost a leg and one was burned badly, but "I'm glad they returned home alive anyway."

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