I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Visiting with a man of many skills
By Barry Schrader.................................April
He was raised on a farm in Mayfield Township and later
moved to a rural, three-acre home north of Sycamore where he
currently resides. That was in 1957, two years after he and Bessie
were married. He had attended the Brush Point School through
the first eight grades, then went on to graduate from Sycamore
High School in 1951.
Interviewing Sam Oltman is like finding the tip of an iceberg.
What you see is only a small part of the mans life, but
there is so much more to the story.
Sam and his
wife, Bessie, have been fixtures at the Genoa Pioneer Day since
it started. He always displays his woodcarving handiwork at the
annual event. I admire people who are good at such crafts because
the extent of my woodworking skill was a shop class taught by
Glen Davenport at Genoas junior high school. Thats
where I learned how to make a table lamp out of an old bowling
pin, and I made a gun rack for my father.
summer, I took photos of some of Sams carvings and thought
someday I would get back to talk with him about his hobby. This
month, I finally made contact, and we spent part of an afternoon
at his kitchen table.
Sam Oltman displays a black powder
made as his wife Bessie looks on.
But it was back in junior
high that he carved his first pistol. It was a simple toy gun
with a hole all the way through the barrel, so you could fill
your mouth with soybeans and blow them out the front.
trade was tool-and-die making, and he worked for Wurlitzer, then
Merrill Jensen Tool & Die and Driv-Lok in Sycamore for most
of his adult life. But I found out he had many other talents
He has been riding motorcycles
since 1949 and has owned three Harleys, then a 600 cc BMW and
now a 6-cylinder 1832cc Honda Rune. His daughter, Diane, and
grandson, Derrick, also ride, and they enjoy excursions to such
destinations as White Pines Forest State Park. He has taken his
bike bush riding with several friends around the
countryside. He has also been part of a friends motorcycle
pit crew at several tracks, but said he never raced himself.
His skill as a machinist has brought him lots of
side jobs during his lifetime, including repairing motorcycles
for seven different shops in the area. He has also been a gunsmith,
even adjusting the trigger pull for police officers pistols.
He is proud of a black powder .40-caliber flintlock, similar
to a Kentucky rifle, that he made and used while a member of
an international muzzleloaders club based in Friendship, Ind.
Asked if there was anything else he tinkered with,
he showed me a gold pocket watch and explained he was also into
clocks and watches, having a side workroom in his machine shop
where he fixes other peoples antique time pieces, repairing
anything from a watch to cuckoos and grandfather clocks.
Following him outside to get a tour of his workshop,
I also got to see his fully-restored 1955 Thunderbird from the
first year that that classic sports car was made. He found it
near Kingston in terrible shape some 35 years ago. He spent two
years rebuilding it, and he is proud of the trophy from the Dairy
Dog car show he won last year.
I happened to mention
my hobby of antique letterpress printing, and he said he once
repaired a hand platen press for Jimmy Jarvis when he and Howard
Newquist ran Kingsbury Printing in Sycamore.
a coincidence. I bought the old Chandler & Price press from
Newquist four years ago, and it now stands in my garage. In case
I ever need a part fixed or replaced, I now know who to go see
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115