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Barry Schrader


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 19, 2011

Interviewing Sam Oltman is like finding the tip of an iceberg. What you see is only a small part of the man’s 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 Genoa’s junior high school. That’s where I learned how to make a table lamp out of an old bowling pin, and I made a gun rack for my father.
Last summer, I took photos of some of Sam’s 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
pistol he made as his wife Bessie looks on.

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.
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.
Sam’s 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 and interests.
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 friend’s 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 people’s 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.
What 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 about it.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115