My husband's family came to the United States, the land of opportunity, from Germany in 1912, which was during Ellis Island's peak years. The Dingler family consisted of father; mother; two daughters, ages 12 and 6; and twin sons, 9 years old. The father had learned the locksmith and machinist trades and was employed in a shop in Durlach, Baden. Descendants of the family do not know whether the parents were contemplating and intending to emigrate from Germany to far-off America.
However, an acquaintance of the family entertained a guest from Abilene, Kansas, who portrayed to her host family and the Dinglers a picture of opportunity and potential in the United States. Perhaps she described to these families the Swiss-German town of Enterprise, southeast of Abilene, with a flourishing flour mill and a large, progressive machine shop. Both industries were owned and managed by German-speaking Swiss immigrants.
It is believed the visitor encouraged both families to accompany her to America, which they did. She served as their escort and guide, since she could speak and understand both German and English.
In all probability there were mixed emotions as the two families prepared to leave kinfolk and friends, as well as familiar surroundings – likely never to return – to make a new life in a strange and unknown world. Good-byes were painful and difficult. Clothing, a few dishes, some personal items, and the family Bible were all the belongings they could carry with them. They traveled by train from Durlach to the departure port, Hamburg, where they boarded the ocean liner, President Grant.
One of the 9-year-old twins had a vivid memory of delicious fresh-baked bread rolls coming out of the oven and cooling near the deck. He and other children aboard helped themselves but were reprimanded by the ship's baker. After 11 days of viewing only sky and water, the sight of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor left an everlasting impression on these travelers. The ship docked the evening they arrived, but not until the following morning were the passengers permitted to disembark.
Ellis Island's huge Registry Room was the nation's primary reception depot for immigrants awaiting questioning by inspectors. These families were among the great majority of steerage passengers, and the New World was uncertain and unpredictable to them. After the group passed the Ellis Island scrutiny, they found their way to another room of the Registry Building, where they purchased railroad tickets for the long overland train ride to Abilene. The 6-year-old daughter recalled arriving in Abilene during the night. They stayed a week or so. The father got a job at the shops, and the family moved to the village of Enterprise.
About six months later the parents separated. The father and one twin returned to Germany. The mother, with full responsibility for providing for herself and the three children, remained in Enterprise. Money was a scarce commodity, and life was a lot of hard work, but as time passed the children assumed responsibilities.
The children attended school in Enterprise. Nine-year-old Herman recalled repeating the first grade because he couldn't speak English, but these children eventually did learn the language. The principal of the school was sympathetic toward the family and helped bridge their language barriers; he too could speak German. The children taught their mother the new words they learned at school. She too mastered the language by learning to read, write and speak it.
The young boy's first paying job was running errands and watering a local widow's horse for the tidy sum of 25 cents per week. This lad worked as a day laborer on a nearby farm for a few years, and as soon as his age allowed he began working as an apprentice at the shop that had hired his father for several months. Enterprise was this man's home for the remainder of his life, and he was an employee of the local "shops" for 50 years.
Helen C. Dingler
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.