Company Interview

Interview with Mrs. Ervin Houchen on January 25, 1989, recorded by Connie King Osborne, Vice-President/Owner since 1977


The first words were, “ I worked in it for years!” I knew it was Mrs. Houchen, as she looked like her son, Tom. She was a delight—colorful in manner, dress and speech. She was dressed in a sweat shirt of Indian motif—a Bear made of ultra-suede.

The original bindery was build by Dr. Homer Houchen as a Drug Store and ice cream parlor. In the early days, they danced and skated upstairs on the oak floors.

Later he built a skating rink, and a dance hall next door to the East, but it burned down—maybe jealousy. “Had some big bands,I hear. Some of this is hearsay—this all happened before I got there.”

In answer to my questions, ‘How did you start the bindery?”

“I moved there, and taught school for two years. We were married in 1930. He (Ervin) worked for a music publisher and we traveled several years. Ervin and I moved back (to Utica) and bought the furniture store to the west and mortuary. We started the bindery in the original drug store. We were trying to find something to do. In those years before the war, I hired a girl to take care of the boys, Tom and Jack, and I worked in the bindery. I worked in the patching dept. and watched those girls.”

“Ervin’s aunt was a superintendent of schools and was interested in preserving books. This was before the depression. So we started with a glue pot and some scissors and paper cutters—stuff like that. All hard work. And we’d go from town to town and hire kids to help.”

“I don’t know when it started in his mind. The depression was fixing to hit. A pound of butter was 10cents; corn was 12 cents. It was tough. It wasn’t a-tol easy. No jobs. We were trying to find something to do. Hired a few kids and it snowballed and we got more business. Ervin was a salesman. Why he’d go out and get more business than we could think about handling.”

At the start of the war (World War ll) we leased the bindery to John Johnson in Lincoln. Ervin was a pilot and wanted to fly. Had a pleasure plane and rented space in a field. We stayed in Buffalo, NY until the end of the war and came back to Lincoln.”

“Ervin had so many ideas. His health never permitted him to do them all. We’d probably still be there now if Ervin hadn’t been sick. I thought I’d come back from Colorado and live in a trailer and Tom and I’d run it.”

“Now, our house had burned in Utica, so that is why we moved to Lincoln. So I came out in the summer and drove back and forth. It was hard. All the time he was on the road, I worked in the bindery. We ran it until we decided to move to Colorado, and Ervin did Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Tom did Nebraska. Tom went with his father to pick up books and worked in the bindery in the summers. Jack did not like it. I don’t know if Tom did, but his father made him. He didn’t like working in the plant. Finally he let Jack get another job in high school. Ervin brought a couple back from Buffalo (NY), and Ervin started one in Topeka. (a bindery) Wasn’t a good idea. It became American Bindery when they sold it. He (new owner) was a pusher—a hot shot. He had a lot of backing and his wife was with a family who had American Greeting Cards, maybe) He really went to town.” (This was maybe in the late Forties.)

With this, the reminiscing was over, and Mrs. Houchen had to get back to work. Actually, she got a phone call that her grandson and son had been in a minor traffic collision—End of Interview.

Connie King Osborne

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