New Ulm man has run his own business since 1947
There aren’t many 97-year-old men still doing the hard work of running their own business for the past 70 years. Especially if it’s a job that requires cleaning out sewers, septic tanks, plugged field intake tiles or clogged culverts under roads.
But that is exactly what Arnie Schweiss, of New Ulm, continues to do ever since he started his business seven decades ago in 1947 in New Ulm.
“I started with a pail and a rope to clean out septic tanks,” Arnie recalled. “Then I had a hand pump with a 4-foot wooden handle that pumped into a tank on a trailer. After that I rigged up a milk machine to pump into a 500-gallon tank. I used that for quite a few years, but it was too slow, so I got a big vacuum pump and 1,500-gallon tank mounted on a two-ton truck,” he said.
The tough work has kept Arnie in good physical shape. “Hard work is good for you,” he stated. “I believe you can’t kill yourself working. It’s the best medicine there is.”
Growing up on a farm north of Fairfax in the ‘20s and ‘30s there was no shortage of work for a young Arnie to do to help his father Joe, even during the middle of the day when he went to country school.
“We lived so close to the school house that I always had to go home for lunch and then fill a trailer with oats so my dad could take it to town and grind into feed for our cattle,” Arnie said. “Then I’d go back to school, but I always missed playing ball with the other kids at noon,” he added.
At age 16 he finished school with an eighth-grade education in 1936. He got married in 1945 and was renting the farm from his parents ,who had moved to town. But Arnie and his dad disagreed on how to operate the farm and he decided to go work for a plumber in Redwood Falls.
“After a few years I was doing everything the owner was so I thought why not do it for myself? So, we moved to New Ulm and started my own plumbing business, where I’ve been ever since,” Arnie explained.
Raising a family of five children and running his business that included emergency calls sometimes seven days a week didn’t leave much time for recreation or hobbies. However, he did find time to take flying lessons in the 1950s, which Arnie said was a nice change for him to get away from the dirty work that his business required.
“Back then it took most beginners about eight hours of flying lessons before you could fly solo, but I was a slow learner I guess because it took me 12 hours,” he said. “But my instructor told me I still turned out to be a good pilot even though it took me five times to land the plane at the airport on my first solo flight,” he remembered.
Arnie said he flew about six years before he quit flying because he couldn’t afford the cost of $15 an hour airtime to rent a plane. Nevertheless, he had some fun when he did fly. “One time my instructor told me not to fly farther than 25 miles away from the airport and to be back before dark, so I decided to fly over to Gibbon to visit my brother-in-law.
“I showed off a little bit and landed in an alfalfa field, but when I got back to the airport, my instructor asked me how I got so much grass wrapped around the wheel struts. I said I’m sorry, but I had to go to the bathroom and that I was forced to land,” Arnie smiled.
Another time when flying he buzzed his plane under some telephone wires and then flew over the top of a farmer’s hog pen. Arnie said the farmer got under a tractor until he flew out of there. He never had a mishap while flying but decided maybe it was time to keep his feet on the ground.
His next hobby began about 20 years ago for which he has become well known as a collector of life-sized fiberglass statues of horses and other assorted animals displayed in his yard along the busy road of Broadway in New Ulm.
“I started out collecting old machinery,” Arnie said as a remembrance of his early years on the farm. “I had tractors, cultivators and corn planters, but my whole driveway was filled up, and they were getting rusty as the years went along, so except for one tractor and a six horse stationary gas engine I sold everything and got into the statues,” he noted.
Now he has four life-size horses, two colts, a pig, calf, doghouse with puppies, chicken coop with chicks and metal roosters, among other things. Most recently he added a wooden eagle carved by a chainsaw artist that sits atop a 20-foot-tall piece of tree trunk that he bought at the Brown County Fair this past summer.
“The fiberglass statues are built by a business in Buffalo, and they’re not cheap,” said Arnie.
Arnie puts the 100-pound horses out in the yard and stands them on 6-foot long , 3-foot wide iron pedestals.
“The iron is heavier than the horses so the wind doesn’t bother them,” he said. “They all look like new yet, although one horse got damaged in a hailstorm, and I had to do a little patching to repair it.”
He parks his old tractor in a shed during winter months, but his year-around animal display remains as it has become somewhat part of a tourist attraction in New Ulm. “A lot of people from all over have stopped to take photos…they just love it,” Arnie explained. He has a book with names of people who have stopped to ask questions and take a look. “I guess when you talk about New Ulm everybody knows where I live because I’m the guy where the horses are,” he laughed.
Arnie enjoys music too, and when his busy days are done, he likes to sit down and play his concertina in the evening. “Once I had five concertinas but I told people it takes a lot of brandy to play all of them all at one time,” he joked.
Arnie likes to visit his wife, Velma, almost every day in the nursing home, and he’s grateful that his good health has allowed him to continue doing what he enjoys.
“I love to work,” he said. “I won’t retire until I get a ride in that Cadillac with a door in the back end,” he chuckled. “I think I’ve lived a pretty good life, and when I die, I want to be wearing my boots,” he added.