A blast from the past

Unearthed mystery safe appears to have belong to colorful blasting expert ‘Dynamite Bill’
Review story and photos by
Emmitt B. Feldner

PLYMOUTH – It turned out to be a last memento of the infamous Dynamite Bill.

City officials Friday opened a mysterious safe unearthed earlier this month near Stayer Junior Park behind Mill Street, cutting the doors off to learn what was inside.

Although there was no money or other valuables in the five-foot tall safe, there were a number of artifacts and items indicating it had belonged to George G. “Dynamite Bill” Gardner, a demolition expert and one of the city’s most colorful characters in the mid-1900s.

Gardner died at age 79 in 1966 and his obituary said he “packed a thousand and one adventures into his life as an explosives expert.”

A number of small items were found in the Herring-Hall-Marvin safe, manufactured in Hamilton, Ohio.

Among them were the remnants of business card for “Dynamite Bill” Gardner, a bank card from Citizens Bank for George Gardner and a World War I era railroad ticket from Waldo to Random Lake.

Also discovered was a weathered ledger book that included charges for dropping a silo on a local farm, removing a stump on another and blasting out concrete at a third location in the county.

All of those were specialties of Gardner during his four-decade plus career as a demolition expert.

As The Review stated in a story on his passing, “Gardner’s skill at blasting out the defined target without disturbing nearby areas was unexcelled.”

Perhaps the best-known story about Gardner in the area was his work at the Prange’s department store on Sheboygan’s Eighth Street.

“His work,” The Review noted, “found him dynamiting out a basement area and leaving the china department on the other side of the wall undamaged.

“Dynamite Bill’s proud comment always was, ‘I didn’t crack a cup,’” the story continued. “In fact his work was so well managed that customers in the store were unaware that dynamiting was going on in the area.”

The area Gardner cleared became the original Prange Way basement bargain store.

Gardner, born in Door County in 1887, got into what became his lifelong profession as a ‘powder monkey’ in a stone quarry at the age of 12.

He served as a demolition expert with the 42nd Division – the Rainbow Division – in World War I.

The Review story related that Gardner was part of a crew assigned to demolish a Marne River bridge to halt a menacing German advance on Paris.

“Gardner laid down the sticks perfectly and when the detonating charge went off the bridge was reduced to a heap of rubble in the river,” the story said.

“The Germans were stopped cold and quickly fresh American troops took to the offensive, crossed the river on pontoon bridges and pushed the Germans into retreat at the battle of Belleau Woods.”

After his discharge in 1919, he returned to Sheboygan County, operating taverns at Waldo and Elkhart Lake before moving to Plymouth and taking up demolition work full-time.

“He blasted everything from rocks for farmers in Sheboygan County, to basements for homes at Charlesburg in Fond du Lac County and a water raceway to run water from the Fox River through a generator station at Kaukauna without disturbing machinery within the plant,” his obituary noted.

Gardner worked out of a former cheese factory building near the intersection of Mill Street and Eastern Avenue – not far from where the buried safe was discovered.

Dynamite Bill finally stopped blasting in the late 1950s, when he reached his 70s. His ‘office’ on Mill Street – marked by a plain sign that read “Dynamite Bill” - was destroyed by a fire in the late 1960s, Plymouth Historical Society President Dan Buckman recalled.

Helping to provide a time frame for the safe were several local store receipts (Gambles, Plymouth Beer Depot and more) from the early 1960s and a 1964 Plymouth phone book promotional cover.

City officials were undecided Friday on what they would do with the reclaimed doorless safe and the table full of recovered items, which are temporarily housed at City Hall.






A SAFE UNEARTHED by a city Public Works Department crew earlier this month in Stayer Junior Park was opened Friday at City Hall before an interested audience. City Administrator Brian Yerges (right) checked out the safe after city workers cut open the doors, then examined some of the contents (cover) along with Kathy Halloran and Plymouth Historical Society Director Dan Buckmann. The items recovered indicated that it once belonged to George “Dynamite Bill” Gardner, a blasting and demolition expert who worked in the county and around the state from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Among the recovered items were (top to bottom, far right) a portion of one of Gardner’s business cards, a Citizens Bank check signature card, one of Gardner’s business registers, a Security Bank wallet, a World War I-era train ticket from Random Lake to Waldo (Gardner was a World War I veteran) and a pocket watch. A SAFE UNEARTHED by a city Public Works Department crew earlier this month in Stayer Junior Park was opened Friday at City Hall before an interested audience. City Administrator Brian Yerges (right) checked out the safe after city workers cut open the doors, then examined some of the contents (cover) along with Kathy Halloran and Plymouth Historical Society Director Dan Buckmann. The items recovered indicated that it once belonged to George “Dynamite Bill” Gardner, a blasting and demolition expert who worked in the county and around the state from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Among the recovered items were (top to bottom, far right) a portion of one of Gardner’s business cards, a Citizens Bank check signature card, one of Gardner’s business registers, a Security Bank wallet, a World War I-era train ticket from Random Lake to Waldo (Gardner was a World War I veteran) and a pocket watch.

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