This article was in today's Record Eagle. It's so nice that Julius can get out of his room occasionally. I hope he had a wonderful birthday. Julius lives across the hall from Mother at Concord Place. He helps her sort her daily newspaper and throws away all of the ads, etc. He has trouble with dry eyes, and he's very hard of hearing, but he's hanging in there. It's hard to believe that anybody is 5 years older than Mother!
Julius Petertyl shares life stories for his birthday
Julius Petertyl remembers when Traverse City had all the bells and whistles.
And he's telling people about them as he turns 103.
"There were churches ringing bells and factories with steam power whistling for starting time,” said Petertyl, who was born in Traverse City on Nov. 30, 1903, the year of the Wright brothers' first flight.
"There were school bells and fire drills and you could go on and on and on,” he said.
He shared his stories of a century-plus of local history with a reporter and later to about 100 people at a party hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Traverse City Monday. Sitting in his wheelchair at the front of the room, he spoke of memories both personal and of the city, including sawdust in the streets to soak up the mud, workers earning 16 cents per hour and a world champion Holstein cow at the Traverse City State Hospital barn.
"When the cow expired, they had a funeral service for the cow,” said Petertyl, who now lives in an assisted living home.
He teared up and had to stop when he spoke of meeting his late wife Dorothy on the golf course and the happy years that followed.
"I love my wife,” he said. "I talk to her every day.”
He recalled the fire whistle that would blow like a siren, which he imitated, and then a code to signify which sector the fire was in.
"When we were kids and heard that at night, it was scary,” he said.
The full-time firemen would take a horse-drawn wagon, pails and a ladder to the fire. Volunteers would leave their homes or jobs and run or ride a bicycle to the fire to help out.
"There were dry, cedar shingles on the roofs, so a spark on the roof starts a fire,” he said.
Petertyl's grandfather Victor Petertyl had come to Traverse City from Prague, Czechoslovakia, in the 1800s. He was a furniture- and cabinet-maker who sold his work at a shop on Front Street.
His father Albert owned the A.T. Petertyl Meat Market in the 500 block of South Union Street when Julius was born. That was before cars were mass-produced, so a horse-and-carriage was the most likely way to get around town. People took a train to go to Grand Rapids or Chicago.
"There were five or six horseshoeing shops in town,” he said.
Two of the town's wagon-, carriage- and sleigh-making shops were owned by Petertyls, cousins of Julius' father. The last name is best known locally because of Petertyl Drug & Gift Center on Front Street, which his brother started; it is no longer in the family.
When Julius was young, his family was one of the few in town who had a telephone, because his father owned a business. To place a call, they had to turn a crank, then tell the operator who they were calling.
In his spare time, he enjoyed making some of his own toys out of wood.
"We'd get wheels from the shops in town that repaired baby buggies and make a cart,” he said.
He also liked to fish the Boardman River off the Union Street bridge.
"You didn't need any fancy equipment,” he said, adding that he and his friends would cut a branch from a tree and tie a line and a hook to it.
The first car he owned, at about age 25, was a used 1919 Ford Roadster.
"It was not enclosed,” he said. That meant the driver and passengers were exposed to the elements.
Petertyl also remembers when snow on the sidewalks was plowed by horses and the city streets were not plowed at all.
"The milkman went through with his milk sleigh and made the first tracks,” he said. "We used to get some big snowstorms.”
In the 1970s, Petertyl helped document the histories of 460 homes and buildings in Traverse City's Central Neighborhood to help get it on the National Register of Historic Places.
"He was instrumental in pulling the Central Neighborhood together with a historic bent and getting it on the National Register,” said Carol Hale, who worked with him on the project.
He attended what is now Central Grade School on Seventh Street and later supervised bricklayers building the barn at Traverse City State Hospital in the 1930s and at Munson Medical Center in the 1950s.
He retired 43 years ago from Consumers Power.
Of course, one of the questioners at the party wanted to know how Petertyl has remained healthy and happy for 103 years.
"I just keep breathing,” he said, which was met with laughter and a standing ovation.
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