Janesville Enthusiast and Master Antique Collector
Story and Interview by Teresa Nguyen
My Uncle Earl instilled an appreciation of history in me, especially Janesville history...I started by collecting ice company tools, naturally, like my uncle.
It kind of goes hand in hand, the love for history and the collecting. it’s really cool to find stuff outside of Janesville, then I bring them home.
I’ve found things in Ohio, Michigan and online. Once I bought a beer label, Janesville made, all the way from Sweden! ~ Jim Schultz
I was born and raised in Janesville. I grew up on the east side near Creston Park. When we were kids, we played in the neighborhoods and we were outside every day, every night. We didn’t have the kind of technology kids have today, so we were out until dark, basically.
In winters, we’d go sledding and in summers, we’d play at the school yard playing baseball or whatever.
For grade school I went to Jefferson Elementary – the Jefferson Jaguars! Then, I attended Marshall Middle School, the “Old Marshall” downtown on Main Street. We used to sometimes ride our bikes from the Jefferson school area all the way downtown.
Other days, during the warmer months, I’d walk down to the ice house from Marshall, straight down Main Street.
City Ice Company
I spent a lot of time there and started helping out at the ice house when I was just a little kid. When you have a family business, your work in the business evolves from being a kid just helping out, to waiting on customers to bigger jobs.
I used to bag ice in these paper bags in the ice house. We’d pour ice into them and then staple the bags shut. Over time things evolved.
In middle school, I couldn’t drive yet, obviously, so I’d ride along with my Uncle Earl and my grandfather. I started doing more of the muscle work. We lifted ice or got the ice blocks and cut the blocks. We used to have block ice when I was a kid, but health laws have changed things, so you don’t see unbagged products like that anymore.
My brother Ed and I worked together. He was a year older and worked at the company from the time he was 18 until 2013, when City Ice Company closed. Ed was there quite a few years.
I worked there in summers and when I was on my vacation from my job at Blain Supply, plus every weekend and every holiday I worked at the ice company.
Ed and Jim Schultz in the
back of the ice truck - 1968
In 2018, Teresa Nguyen interviewed Jim's uncle, Earl Shultz, and wrote a story about Janesville's City Ice Company. Click here to read Earl's story and learn about City Ice Company, a longstanding, Janesville family business.
Jim delivering ice to the Rock County 4-H Fair as a teen
I filled in a lot and used to unload ice in the mornings, before I’d go to work at Blain Supply. Sometimes I’d go back to the ice company after work, too.
High School Involvement
I went to Craig High School and was involved a bit in sports. I enjoyed sports and was in wrestling and in gymnastics. But I didn’t do that all through high school and I was no superstar, being a smaller kid until I hit senior year.
My daughter is now an accomplished gymnast.
The rest of my time, I kept busy with work and I was active at Trinity Episcopal Church with the youth groups. I was involved there, all through acolytes and different things.
At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did go to UW Rock County for a semester, but got bored with that and needed to be moving and doing stuff. It just wasn’t for me.
I could have just stayed on at the ice house, in the family business. But, during my senior year, my grandfather told me that I should experience another kind of work and try different work places.
So, I dabbled in other things. I worked at Pizza Hut for a couple of years and became Assistant Manager there. After leaving there, I applied around town. I applied at Parker Pen, which was around the end of their time, so I didn’t get hired.
Blain Supply, Inc.
Then I applied at Blain Supply and landed a job there. I walked in on August 20th, 1984 and asked if they were hiring. They called Bob to the front and he said, “We are. Can you start tomorrow?”
And I said, “Sure.”
Then he said, “We start at 7, be there at 6:30.”
And that was it! It was a different way of hiring back then…based on a hand shake, you know? I’ve worked there ever since. And, I've never missed a day of work!
Throughout the years, I’ve worked a variety of positions. I’ve been in the receiving department, the shipping department, returned goods, which are products that are defective and returned to the vendors. I handled that for 15 years. Then, went to picking, when the place was computerized.
Eventually, I became a supervisor and a foreman. When you’re in a supervisory position, you get moved around once in a while, to become well rounded. Now I’m back in receiving. It’s my fourth time there.
Blain Supply corporate headquarters in Janesville, WI
So, I’ve kind of circled around and I'm running that area now. I have about 30 - 35 people in my department.
I enjoy seeing the company grow. The old regime was good, but there came a point, when Jane and Bob took it over, that there was a need to move into the new era, someone with vision to modernize and keep up with the times. Jane has kept that up on her own, since her brother Bob retired. She has a vision and insight to move the business forward in today’s world. Jane really has a good team to know how to make the company grow and be successful. They specialize in customer likes and needs. We want to be good at what we sell! Overall, the direction is very positive there.
The company is similar to the ice company, except on a bigger scale. I knew Jane Blain Gilbertson’s dad, Bert, and her Uncle Claude and had worked for them, as well. I’d also worked for Jane’s cousins, the Frisingers, on the side, doing lawn care and such.
I still do work on the side, doing lawn care and maintenance for Tom Jeffris. I like to keep busy.
Jim Schultz relaxing after getting the RCHS Carriage House decorated and ready for the 2017 Spirits in the Night fun. Jim was also a volunteer bartender for the event.
I’ve been on the board of the Rock County Historical Society for about six years now.
I’ve tried to help out with all the major events at RCHS, like the Tallman Arts Fest and the others, helping with the grounds or wherever I’m needed.
One of the most fun events was when I helped with Spirits in the Night, a Halloween, haunted themed tour at RCHS in both 2016 and 2017. I helped with the Spookeasy each of the years. It was great fun! That first year’s event in the Tallman House was pretty amazing. Everyone from the writers, the tech crew, to the actors to those who helped in the little Spookeasy, which was in the Frances Willard Schoolhouse…it was outstanding! I worked as bartender with Kevin Murray. It was pretty cold in the schoolhouse, but we had fun, anyway.
The second year, when we had the Spookeasy in the Carriage House, the decorating was a fun job and it was a great place for the public to come and catch their breath after the scary tour through the house. I enjoyed that experience and all the excitement of it. I miss that event.
Jim with a 1900 Fairbanks Morse coffee grinder - readying the Carriage House for the 2017 RCHS "Spirits in the Night" event.
The 2016 RCHS "Spirits in the Night" tour team. Cameron and Stephen Pickering, along with former ED Mike Reuter, created a spine-tingling ghost story tour through the Lincoln Tallman House.
A young ghost from the spooky 2016 "Spirits in the Night" tour in the Lincoln Tallman House
I’m also involved at Trinity Episcopal Church. It’s a lifelong thing. When we had the GIFTS Men’s Shelter there, I was involved with GIFTS. I’ve been on the vestry, their board, and involved with decision making at the church. And I’ve helped out with the grounds keeping, too. My mom & brother are also quite involved, the whole family has been involved in the church.
To read our story about Trinity Episcopal Church, click this button:
Antique Collecting has been my passion. My Uncle Earl instilled an appreciation of history in me, especially Janesville history. He was a history major and an accounting major. He used to take me to flea markets and collect ice company items.
I used to go all around town to the old businesses to deliver ice. So, I’d learn about these businesses and remember them. Local history is a big thing to me.
With collecting, it’s really cool to find stuff outside of Janesville, where people think those items are no big deal, then I bring them home.
Earl Schultz with some of his ice industry tool collections
I started by collecting ice company tools, naturally, like my uncle. He collects ice industry stuff. There are things we collect together. Sometimes it’s financially smart to split stuff, sometimes not. It depends on what it is. It can be kind of pricey.
It was about 15 years ago, when I started seeing myself as a collector, when things were beginning to add up.
Obviously, I collect more than just Janesville things. I have a thing for unique lamps and other stuff. It kind of goes hand in hand, the love for history and the collecting.
Some of my items are pretty rare and valuable. I’ve found things in Ohio, Michigan and online. Once I bought a beer label, Janesville made, all the way from Sweden! That’s probably the farthest something has come.
Beer related items are rare and really expensive, as well as signage. Beer labels, barrels and beer trays are hard to find and pricy. A lot of them don’t last through the years.
I have a Janesville Grocery sign, which is the biggest one. It’s 12 & ½ feet long!
There are other things that aren’t as big, but cool. For example, I have a Cozy Inn menu from 1943!
Jim and daughter, Madison, with the Janesville Grocery sign
I found it in a house I was helping to clean out. To me, that’s pretty cool because they’re still in business! Some of the menu items were only 20 cents or even $1.00.
Sometimes I buy something, then trade or sell it because I know its worth. Then I’ll use that money to purchase something else, like a Janesville item.
There are some favorites things. The Monterey Hotel sign is a favorite. Everyone has a soft spot for that place. I’m not ready to sell that one! It’s a special piece. It brings back memories of The Orleans room, high school prom or homecoming, and reminds me of delivering ice there to the basement. It means a lot to me.
I’ve built a lot of connections with other collectors. And you learn what they’re into, whether beer collections, or signs or whatever it is. That can work to your advantage, because sometimes you keep an eye out something that one of the other collectors would want. I know a guy from Menasha, one from Edgerton, from Freeport and a guy from Racine.
So, with our connections, we look for things from those particular towns for each other. That way, you have more people out looking for you.
Often you have to go out and do your own looking, but a lot of times I’ll get a message on my phone, “Hey, do you have one of these?” or “Are you interested in this?”
Eventually, in my retirement, it might be nice to get these things on display somewhere. The collection has to stay here in Janesville, though. It wouldn’t be right to disperse it out. That defeats the purpose. A lot of items are so rare - photos, labels and other things. I don’t have room to display it all!
Aside from collecting, my family and community involvement, my work keeps me the busiest, and I also do a lot of yard work and maintenance for others. I could probably stand to do more chores at my own house!
Some of Jim Schultz's Janesville Collection
(Click on a photo to enlarge)
Decking Out the House
We heard that our street was “Halloween Alley” when we moved here, so we thought, “Okay, we’re gonna’ have to decorate!” It evolved pretty quickly. I started finding stuff that was funeral related. One big sign I had was a mortuary sign, so that fit perfectly on my porch. It blossomed from there…a casket shows up and movie props from California, heads and stuff like that.
Jim and daughter, Madison, with the Turkey Farm sign
The Schultz home all ready for Christmas with unique décor
My wife enjoys it, too. I’m dabbling in a display for Thanksgiving, because I have a big turkey sign from the Township of Janesville. Christmas is big, too. For the 4th of July, I do some bunting and I have a large, 48-star flag, which we drape from the upstairs and it comes down the front of the house.
It’s fun to put some of my collections in the displays. Every year now, we have to stay on top of it!
I have two daughters, Meghan and Madison, plus four stepchildren with my wife, Debbie.
Meghan is a professional graphic artist, doing freelance work. She lives here in Janesville. Meghan graduated from Madison Area Technical College with honors in Graphic Design. She works for a variety of companies located anywhere, like on the west coast, creating logos for businesses. Some work is for Madison businesses, as well. On the side, she’s working at Bogey’s Burgers and Beer and her boyfriend, Marcus, is a musician with the local group, Gary the Band. In 2020 she won two Addy Awards! Meghan has her own graphic design business website: meghangriffin.com
Jim and his wife, Debbie
Jim with daughters, Meghan and Madison
Our daughter, Madison, was a Concordia University Wisconsin graduate in Biomedical Sciences. As an athlete on the Acrobatics and Tumbling team, she was a four-year letter winner! Maddie was also awarded the Team Leadership plaque and served as co-captain both her junior and senior years. She's currently attending Alverno College in the Accelerated Masters Program in Nursing. Then she will enter their Nurse Practitioner program. She also keeps busy working at the Janesville Country Club.
We have eight grandchildren on my wife’s side of the family. We keep quite busy with the group!
This is home. This is where I like to live. Not that I’d be opposed to living somewhere part time in retirement, but this is always home to me. I have connections here, to the church, with the neighborhood.
Our neighborhood, where I live, is a special area. It’s a good place. When we moved in here 10 years ago, there were hardly any kids in the block. Now we see kids on the block every day. It’s nice to see young families coming in here.
I certainly appreciate the past, of course. I’ve always been into Janesville history. But even now, there is history being created! We had Parker Pen and General Motors, who started small and grew to become successful and a big part of Janesville.
We had all these great companies, some of them gone, but now we’re building up other, newer great companies. If you look at businesses like Blain Supply, Prent and GoEx, these are companies that have their roots here, that have been important in the past, great successes, and now they’re growing!
An old Janesville Machine Company ad
If you look at Blain Supply, for example, they are 66 years old, started off right here in Janesville, just like Parker Pen, but now look at they’re expanding into a big Midwest company!
Every city goes through change. I remember a lot of the cool buildings downtown when I was a kid. I wish we could have saved them all. It was easier just to tear them down, rather than do restorations. They didn’t look at the architectural value. Today, communities are thinking more about saving these historical buildings. Now, they’re uncovering a lot of buildings, bringing them back, which is great!
Jim with a Big Red Parker Pen display item
Things Are Looking Up!
I’ve been to some cities where they’re revitalizing their downtowns. Plymouth, Michigan, is one example where they’ve redone the whole downtown. It’s so busy downtown on the weekends, it’s really cool.
When the interstate came through and Milton Avenue got built up in the 70’s, everyone pulled away from the downtown. And now, there’s a resurgence along Main and Milwaukee Streets. People want those smaller shops. Things are definitely looking up downtown today!
I go downtown to shop, to Carousel Consignments and antique shops, to Velvet & Tulle for my wife and daughter, and I like at Home Again. We hit all the eateries and enjoy going to Whiskey Ranch, Wissota Chophouse, drafthouse, Lark, O’Riley and Conway’s and The Bodacious Shops.
I still stop down to our City Ice Company. Friends like to stop down there and visit with us…it’s kind of a gathering place for friends.
The town square is looking so good. Recently, Jane and Mick put in the beautiful pedestrian bridge, which is great. The new roads are nearly done. It’s all going to help attract other businesses. Plus, there’s something going on down there all the time now! One of my classmates, Greg Hughes, just opened up Genisa Wine Bar.
There’s a lot of good stuff happening downtown. It’s definitely coming around!