The Carrollton Carpenter
Marion Walter Borlin
Marion Walter BORLIN was born in Woodville Township, Greene County, Illinois on 22 July 1891, the youngest of Henry and Mary’s eight children. Going through life as the youngest of a large family must have had many advantages … and disadvantages. His older brothers were between 8 and 19 years older and so his early years were probably spent mainly with his three sisters. They would have filled the role of live-in baby sitters and he could be their practice “baby”. Photo on right is a picture of Marion and his three sisters about 1895.
Being the youngest also probably meant that he was stuck with the family chores that no one else wanted to do. As an example, when the BORLINs had company, Marion always had the job of caring for the visitors’ horses. A regular visitor was Rev. CRAWFORD, who always sounded like he was delivering a “hellfire and brimstone” sermon, was grossly overweight, and didn’t particularly like children. When Rev. CRAWFORD arrived at the BORLIN farm, Marion knew he would be told to “clean and brush” the minister’s horse. Marion would always find the poor animal exhausted from carrying the “portly” minister on his travels. It would literally take the young boy hours to cool the animal down, brush out the sweat and mud, and make sure there was enough feed and water. Throughout his life, Marion was softhearted toward animals and to see someone like Rev. CRAWFORD regularly mistreating his horse was almost more than he could stand. Needless to say, the relationship between Marion and Rev. CRAWORD was less than congenial.
Standing L-R, Sophia BORLIN, Lucy BORLIN, Rosa BORLIN Seated, Marion BORLIN About 1895.
As a young child, Marion befriended a fish that lived in the farm pond next to the barn. He would regularly feed bread to the fish and treated it much like any other child would treat a pet. During one winter cold spell, Marion came down with a childhood disease and was so sick he could not leave his bed for more than a week. When he recovered enough to check on his pet fish, he found that the pond had frozen solid and the fish was dead. Later, as an adult in his 60s, Marion could still describe the sorrow and anger that he felt from having lost his beloved pet because no one had kept the pond from freezing.
When Marion was 13 he and his parents took the train to St. Louis to attend the 1904 Worlds Fair. This was his first major trip outside Greene County, Illinois and at the Fair he was able to witness some of the wonders of 20th Century technology. It was certainly the first time he had ever seen a building lighted by electricity instead of kerosene lanterns or candles.
Marion’s only souvenir of this trip was a ceramic piggy bank, which has now been in the family for over 100 years as well as a photo of Marion about the time of the World’s Fair.
1904 World's Fair Conch Shell Painting
1904 World's Fair Piggy Bank
Marion attended school through the 10th grade. He then continued to live with his parents, helping with work on the family farm. Three years later his brother Henry would marry and move to his own farm. That meant that Marion was the only son remaining at home to help with the farm work (an occupation that he never really wanted to pursue for the long term).
The 1910 census shows Marion, Rosa, and Sophia living at home, along with a hired hand, William WATSON. At some point around 1915, Marion acquired a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (reportedly the first one in Greene County). See below two pictures of Marion at some sort of public event, along with several other motorcyclists. The exact date of this picture is not known, but the sidecar shown became available in 1914.
The next point of record for Marion was in 1917, when he filled out his registration for the World War I draft. At that time he was working as a union loader for John BORGEUR in Woodford County, Illinois. Woodford County is between Peoria and Bloomington, Illinois. Given his interest in adventure and lack of any serious commitments, Marion decided to enlist in the US Army.
Marion BORLIN C1904
Marion BORLIN (Single Rider - center) C 1915
Marion BORLIN (Single Rider on right) C 1915
LIFE IN THE ARMY
Marion BORLIN's life in the Army was documented in hand-written letters saved by his parents during his World War I enlistment.
Private Marion BORLIN in Georgia, Jan 1918
Marion is standing in front of the tents where the men slept at Jefferson Barracks
Private Marion BORLIN in Georgia, Jan 1918
Marion’s introduction to Army life was on 12 December 1917 when he traveled by train from Carrollton to downtown St. Louis, Missouri, not knowing that it would be more than 16 months before he would return home. The next day he spent the morning deciding which area of the Army he would join and then passed the preliminary physical exam. On the third day he finally made it out to Jefferson Barracks in South St. Louis and truly started living in an Army environment.
Marion was aware that army censors would only permit letters home that were somewhat bland and did not contain sensitive information. It was clear that there were times when he had to struggle for something to fill the letters home and sometimes it was difficult to find a quiet spot to write, so the quality/quantity of food quickly became a topic that he would report on throughout his military career. On 23 December 1917 he was happy to report they had pie for dinner, so “I went in and ate twice.” On New Year’s Day 1918 he reported that uniforms had finally been distributed to his section.
Eleven days later he was part of the 12th Company, 2nd Motor Mechanics Regiment and began basic training in Camp Hancock near Augusta, Georgia.
About a month later, the 12th Company was dispatched for France. First, a train from Camp Hancock to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, followed by a few days of rest. On 1 March Marion reports: “I have been in the army two and a half months and haven’t fired a gun of any kind…We were given nine rounds of ammunition this evening for a 45 automatic but we haven’t got the automatic yet.” They actually left Camp Merritt at 3AM on 3 March, hiked to a train station, took the train to Hoboken, and boarded the USS Leviathan (converted German ship Vatterland).
They sailed the next morning, arriving in Liverpool, England eight days later. Then they spent a couple of nights in Southampton and were put on a boat to Le Havre, France. The next two weeks were spent on periods of drilling and marching (sometimes sleeping in barns or hay lofts), punctuated with several train rides between small French towns, riding in box or cattle cars. They finally ended up in a camp near the village of Nanterre (about 5 miles northwest of the city limits of Paris). In Marion’s words, “I wouldn’t take anything for the sights and experiences I have seen the last two weeks. ”Marion’s letters could not describe the military activities that were going on in France, but it is now clear that the 12th Company arrived in Le Havre just at the time that the Germans launched their “Spring Offensive”, a massive effort to defeat the British troops before 250,000 US troops could be brought into action.
The Germans employed massive artillery bombardment (on the first day of battle, more than one million shells were fired in just five hours), followed by rapidly mobile storm troopers. The Germans quickly advanced to within 75 miles of Paris. At that distance their Krupps cannons could easily launch huge shells that would land in Paris in just over 3 minutes. In his letters, Marion speaks of seeing the light and hearing the sounds of the “big guns” at night.
By July 1918, with the support of the US troops, the Germans would be driven back and suffer the loss of more than a million troops. The 12th Company would spend 9 months in Nanterre, repairing and testing military vehicles. Marion felt that Nazaire was “a splendid location”. The countryside was beautiful farmland, the locals were very friendly, the work was interesting and enjoyable, and Paris was just a brief train ride away.
Reading Marion’s letters it is easy to see that he thoroughly enjoyed his time in Nazaire and took every opportunity to tour the local sights. Later in his deployment he would describe the Nanterre/Paris area as his “old stomping grounds”.
On 11 November 1918, Germany surrendered and World War I was officially over! The troops were told there was no work that afternoon or the next day, so everyone jumped on the train to Paris – hanging off the side and sitting on top of the catcher.
In his words: “Everywhere flags were flying from windows and doors and everyone from babies to old folks were out waving and yelling. When we got to Paris everything was as warm with people hugging and kissing each other and singing in countless parades. I doubt very much if the like has ever been equaled in history. People who had had four years of war hanging on their heads and who had been night after night run out of their beds to refuge by the inhuman civilian air raids; so no wonder they were joyous. This is why I say that I don’t believe you folks back in the states can fully realize what the end of this war does mean."
With the end of the War, thoughts immediately turned to home and when the troops would be shipped back to the United States. Marion thought they would certainly be home for Christmas. He went to a photographer in Paris and had his picture taken as a memento for his folks (See Photos). The 12th Company had no idea that it would be more than 7 months before they finally boarded a ship for home. The tone of Marion’s letters would gradually reflect the frustration and anger at having to remain in France for no obvious reason. On 22 December 1918 Marion wrote that several days earlier they had broken camp and boarded a train “with full confidence that [we] were on our way home”. It took the train almost three days to cover about 270 miles and on 19 December they found themselves at a camp near Saint-Nazaire, on the southwestern coast of France (See Photo right).
Speaking of the new camp, Marion writes: “It rains continually and every one wears hip boots and rubber suits so I will be only too glad to get away from here.” The troops would spend their days marching, drilling, and hauling away old boxes, lumber, coal, cans, and everything imaginable. On 21 January Marion reports that there has now been 60 consecutive days of rain at Saint-Nazaire, but that it was not quite cold enough to freeze. On 28 January, Marion and 11 of his comrades were moved to Camp Meucon near Vannes (about 56 miles northwest of Saint-Nazaire) to repair camp trucks and touring cars. On 8 March, Marion received word that he could have a 14-day leave at Avignon. So, he and a buddy took off by train to Paris and then down to Marseilles, saw the Mediterranean Sea, and then trained back to Avignon, where they had a hotel room. Marion remarked that southern France was very beautiful. After the leave it was back to Vannes for more truck repairs. On 10 May Marion was moved back to Saint-Nazaire. Finally, on 3 June the 12th Company broke camp, marched 8 miles to the Saint-Nazaire docks, boarded the USS Amphion, and headed for Newport News, VA. (a 12 day voyage).
Sergeant Marion BORLIN was officially discharged from the Army on 3 July 1919 at Camp Grant, located on the southern outskirts of Rockford, Illinois
Private Marion BORLIN in Georgia, Jan 1918.
Route from Nanterre to Saint-Nazaire, France
AFTER THE WAR
After being discharged from the Army, Marion moved back to his parents’ farm in Woodville Township, Illinois. His father, Henry, was severely paralyzed from a stroke 7 years earlier and his mother was in her late 60’s and exhausted from trying to care for her husband. It seems safe to assume that much of the farm had been rented out to other farmers, since there had not been anyone around to work the fields or tend the cattle.
The 1920 census shows Marion living with his parents at the Borlin farm. Henry is listed as an “invalid”, Mary as a “farmer”, and Marion as a garage mechanic. Utilizing his wartime experience and expertise in repairing vehicles, Marion had opened a garage in Carrollton. The new business was located on Church Street just west of 5th Street. At this stage of the development of the automotive industry, the role of the garage mechanic was not simply to change oil, replace spark plugs, and rotate tires. A lack of industry standards and the absence of any parts distribution network by the automobile manufacturers forced the local garage to resolve any mechanical problem that might occur. If a part on an automobile broke, generally a new part would have to be created by hand, using the machining and welding skills of the mechanic. Traditionally a blacksmith could shoe horses and make parts for a wagon, but the internal combustion engine was a much more complicated and demanding animal, requiring a new set of skills to keep it running.
By 1922, Henry and Mary’s children convinced them to sell the farm and move into a more modern home in Carrollton. Henry would later die on 1 March 1923.
MARION TAKES A BRIDE
On 10 March 1924, at the age of 32, Marion married Martha Elizabeth PEGRAM (23), daughter of Nathaniel Harper and Nellie Jane VINYARD PEGRAM. A Justice of the Peace performed the ceremony in Jerseyville, Illinois. Fig 6-8 is a photo of the newly married couple. The photo to the right is of Marion and Martha BORLIN, C1924
The PEGRAM family could be traced back to the Virginia Colony in the late 17th Century. Subsequent generations of PEGRAMs relocated to several southern states and finally to Illinois. Nathaniel Harper PEGRAM, Jr. and Nellie Jane VINYARD were married on 13 March 1883 at the VINYARD home southwest of White Hall, Greene County, Illinois. The couple would eventually have 14 children. Nathaniel and Nellie owned a farm in Bluffdale Township, Greene County, Illinois (northwest of Carrollton). Martha Elizabeth PEGRAM (the couple’s 11th child) was born on 15 February 1901. Martha’s mother, Nellie, died on 24 September 1904 (after giving birth to stillborn twins). At the time of Nellie’s death, Nettie Pearl PEGRAM, the oldest child, was 20 years old. She quickly became the replacement mother for the remaining children. Four years later, Nathaniel tragically died from gastritis on 12 November 1908. At the young age of 7, Martha was an orphan! Nathaniel’s brother, Alvin, became the conservator for the estate and guardian for the children. The family farm was sold and the children moved into Carrollton, where the older children cared for the younger children. Martha attended Carrollton Grade School and later worked as a telephone operator for Illinois Bell Telephone, located on the south side of the Carrollton town square.
After their marriage, Marion and Martha lived in a rental house on the western side of Carrollton. It was here that they became good friends with a neighbor, Sid Simpson. Simpson would later be elected multiple times to the House of Representatives, representing the 20th Congressional District. Marion’s mother died on 31 May 1924, just 3 months after Marion and Martha’s marriage. Marion would purchase his parents’ house on Fifth Street and by the time they moved there, Martha would be pregnant with her first child. Mary Martha BORLIN was born in this house on 28 September 1925.
During the first few years of married life, all went well with the M W BORLIN Garage. Marion’s nephew, Warren BORLIN, hired on in 1927 as an apprentice and worked hard for 8 years to learn the skills of a mechanic. The 1930 census indicates that three of Martha’s sisters (Nettie, Beulah and Nellie) were living with Marion and Martha. Unfortunately the Great Depression began to significantly affect business during the 1930’s. It was also during this period that Martha developed a serious kidney problem. When local treatments were ineffective, she was transported to St. Louis by train and admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital. After extended treatment, she recovered and was able to return to normal life in Carrollton.
By 1935, Warren BORLIN had quit the garage and moved to Detroit. See photograph on right of Marion and his family in their back yard about 1936. For a number of years Marion was an active member of the volunteer fire department in Carrollton and at one point he supported the Red Cross by constructing the first baby incubator used at the Boyd Hospital in Carrollton. On 24 June 1937 a pot of molten metal exploded at the garage and burned Marion’s face and right eye. This injury, coupled with a poor economy and increased competition from car dealers, forced the decision to close the garage and pursue a different career. True to his word, every dollar owed to creditors was paid prior to the garage being shuttered.
Marion joined the carpenters’ union in Alton and spent the next 25 years commuting 60 to 100 miles a day round trip to construction jobs in and around that city. It would be easy to estimate that he logged nearly 300,000 miles during this period – sometimes on nearly bald tires because it was difficult to buy automobile tires during World War II. Fortunately, gasoline sold for just 20-35 cents per gallon. During that period he was involved in only one accident. One morning in the mid-50’s he was driving toward Alton before sunrise. He came over the crest of a hill south of Jerseyville and ran into a car stalled in the middle of the highway, breaking his right knee cap. That injury gave him pain for the rest of his life.
In 1956 Congressman Sid SIMPSON recommended Governor William STRATTON appoint Marion to a job as carpenter at Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton, Illinois. Marion held this position for 8 years, retiring in 1964.
On 19 August 1939, David Dee BORLIN was born at Our Savior’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois. At that time Mary Martha was nearly 14 and had grown up as an only child. Now, entering high school, she suddenly had a curly headed little brother! Photos below are of David and Mary about 1941. The lives of these two children will be described in following pages.
Mary Martha BORLIN Aged About 6 months
Marion, Martha, & Mary C 1936
David BORLIN C.1941
Mary and David BORLIN C.1941
Marion in the mid-50’s. The duck posing with Marion was the family pet, “Duck”.
Martha in the mid-60’s.
THE FINAL YEARS
Marion had experienced gum disease for much of his life, but about 1955 his dentist indicated that something more serious had developed in his mouth – cancer. He began to visit a plastic surgeon in St. Louis, who removed the growth and grafted skin from his hip onto his gums. Marion had smoked cigarettes for much of his life and was advised to stop immediately, which he did. During the next 10 years he had all of his teeth removed and underwent several additional gum surgeries, but eventually the cancer metastasized throughout his body. On 17 July 1967, he drove Martha to the grocery store after lunch and then laid down for his afternoon nap. During that nap his heart simply gave out and he died peacefully in his sleep. He was 5 days shy of being 76 years old. Dr. Frank MARSTON of Jacksonville officiated at the funeral and he was buried in the Carrollton City Cemetery.
Martha continued to live in the family house by herself, walking to the grocery or doctors’ offices when needed. On 12 May 1974 David drove from their home in Florissant, Missouri to Carrollton in order to bring his mother down for Jon BORLIN’s second birthday celebration. About 5 miles south of Jerseyville an intoxicated driver in a pickup truck crossed the center line, struck a gasoline tank truck in front of David and Martha, and then struck their car head-on. The impact of the collision was such that the engine was ejected from the pickup and landed on the highway. David’s car was knocked off the highway to the west and finally stopped short of a creek bed. David had been wearing a seat belt and survived the accident with scrapes and torn clothing. Martha had chosen not to wear the seat belt and was smashed under the dash board of the car. Her left arm was obviously broken and she was not responsive. She was initially taken by ambulance to the Jerseyville Hospital, then transferred to Alton Memorial Hospital, and finally to St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis. It was there that a neurologist determined that she had suffered a “catastrophic” stroke upon impact. She would remain in a nursing home the rest of her life and would never get out of a wheel chair. During those 7 years after the stroke, she learned to use her left hand somewhat and was able to paint some quite good pictures and to make Christmas tree ornaments. She lived to see her sixth grandchild born (Jeffrey Borlin) and loved to have him on her lap as she was wheeled around the nursing home. Martha died at the age of 80 on 2 August 1981 at St. John’s Hospital in Creve Coeur, Missouri as a result of congestive heart failure. She was buried next to Marion in the Carrollton City Cemetery. Rev. Raymond WORDEN officiated at the service.
OPINIONS AND FOOTNOTES
It should be pointed out that Marion served in the US Army during the infamous 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, which infected nearly one-third of the world’s population. This pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. Marion remarked in his letters that there were fortunately no signs of the flu in his company.
If Henry BORLIN could be described as a great example of an immigrant to the United States, Marion could just as well be described as a great example of a responsible and productive native-born citizen of that country. At different times in his life he was a responsible and supportive son to his parents, a dedicated and resourceful member of the armed forces during World War I, a caring and committed husband through 43 years of marriage, an involved and supportive father to two children, and a productive citizen of his community.
Marion BORLIN's life in the Army was documented in hand-written letters saved by his parents during his World War I enlistment. These 35 letters provide a first-person account of his activities and experiences between 13 December 1917 and 15 June 1919. To see and read these letters visit Marion BORLIN's World War One Letters or to see Marion BORLIN's World War One Victory Medal