A History of STRUM
by Roy Matson

A most important trade in early agricultural community was that of blacksmithing. Today
the joining of metals has been speeded and simplified by use of either gas or electricity, but
not too long ago the man who could forge iron stood alone as a master craftsman. Back
when communication and transportation were not as today, when parts service was
practically unknown and most every breakdown required a forging job, the blacksmith was
an important man in a community and he is yet today.

Through these past hundred years this area has been fortunate in having not only one but
several such men. All were schooled in their important trade, all were hardworking,
ambitious fellows who attracted much traffic to this trade center.

First to set up shop was Per Bonkerud who had learned his trade in Norway and came
here about 1880. His place of business was located on Woodland Drive a couple of
hundred feet east of the cemetery. When his restlessness caused him to move, Chris Berg
(Finstad0 became the next operator about two years later. Finstad was alone at his trade
until Even Peterson erected a shop north of the Strum Manufacturing Company building
location soon after Strum moved across the river. Peterson’s shop was later purchased by
Halvor Sheffield, a short, husky man who had learned the trade in the old country. He
went back for a short time and was spelled by Lennie Larson. Later Sheffield returned,
operated the business several years and sold to machinist Albert Thompson. The latter
gave excellent service for several years.

Jewel Berge purchased Thompson’s interest in 1948, erected a new building and
organized the Strum Mfg. Company where products included bale forks, freight truck
accessories, shop exhaust systems, vacuum machine parts and dozens of other parts.
Elmer Lewis is a long time employee.

While this one shop had good operators and changed hands several times, another
blacksmith was operating a shop on Birch Street, a block west of Main Street in the
business district. Hellick Knutson had learned his trade at Blair and Independence and
erected the building in 1903 and carried on a business for 44 years. Besides the regular
trade he was also a manufacturer of wagons and sleighs, the latter having unique features
greatly appreciated by users.

From this information one can realize that Strum was well served in this important trade.
Forging iron, plow share sharpening, shoeing horses and repair of all kinds were everyday
tasks for these men. It was, and is, a rugged trade and always demanded physical strength
and durability. A story came to light about an extremely powerful man employed by
Knutson at one time. Andrew Sheffield was his name. The other part of the tale concerns a
mule who, while being shoed, had developed a habit of shifting a good part of her weight
on to the smith. Andrew disliked this very much and, it is told, one time when “Topsy”
went into her act, Sheffield took a deep breath and threw the mule on her back, held and
completed the job while she was in that position. Try that sometime!

1880 Statistics

Whether the following information was collected as part of the 1880 census is unknown
but it became available as result of about 40 years in collecting interesting notes about
Trempealeau County.

Vocations and Professional People Census in 1880:

Farm Operators 2213
Renters 443
Hired men (farm) 1263
Clergyman 20
Dr. or Dentist 14
Lawyers 15
Barbers 2
Hotel or cafe 18
Teachers 81
Gen merchants 20
Saloons 20
Grocers 13
Hardwares 9
Dry goods 17
Bankers 2
Lumber 3
Insurance 4
Mercantile clerks 52
Livery 9
Mail carriers 3
Carpenters 65
Masons 6
Saw Mills 6
Blacksmiths 47