Reminiscences of a
The ’Lime Pit’
My father Jan (1.1.7) had completed a course in marine engineering in Amsterdam and after an apprenticeship with Werkspoor, (also known as World Services and Construction) he went to sea with “Maatschappij Nederland” as a marine engineer. This famed company’s home port was Amsterdam and sailed primarily to the then Dutch East Indies and the southern parts of Africa. He did that for approximately four years. The working conditions were poor. There was no air conditioning or labour protection service in those days. He told us that he once burned himself on his own clothes when he had to operate a sliding bolt which was situated between two red hot boilers.
Later when we asked him about his experiences and all the things he had seen, we usually got the short reply: “water and air”. But that was not the whole story. Once he got close to being shipwrecked when his ship hit a reef in the vicinity of Madagascar. After some inventive repairs like lowering some mattresses over the side, which were then sucked into the hole by the water pressure they managed to reach a port where the whole crew sought relief from the ordeal with drink and women.
As a result of those experiences and because he had met a nice girl in Amsterdam he decided to say farewell to life at sea and look for work ashore. Still he remained a technical man all his life, who could make all manner of things from simple materials and with simple tools. So he was able to help people who came to him with defective or incomplete articles or equipment.
One more story about his seaman’s days; on his trips to the Dutch East Indies he visited his brother, Cor (1.1.3), who was an officer in the Dutch East Indies Army and his wife Han (1.3.1). As it happened when a son was born, my father was the closed relative present at the time and as a result the boy was called Jan, after him. (188.8.131.52). As proud as he was over this event he was rather indignant that, when is nephew Jacob (184.108.40.206) was born on his birthday, (28th May), he was not called Jan. It was not yet my fathers turn.
OK, so he came ashore. As it turned out he was able to take over the business run by his cousin Kees (1.3.6) This business was a retailer in coal,(or as my father would refer to it when asked his profession; “a trader in prehistoric discoveries”.) building materials and household articles. This business had been purchased by their mutual grandfather, Cornelis Carel (1) in 1852 and after having been managed by his son CC (1.3) and grandson CC (1.3.6) was now, in about 1927, after 75 years, handed over to my father, who in due course handed it to his son Jan (220.127.116.11), who still runs it. This business was commonly referred to as the “Lime Pit” and after nearly 150 years and more then four generations was still in the possession of the descendants of “the Prophet”.
remember the old shop, at that time still in the Singel (Street). Behind the
counter were a few steps up to an “upper room”, which was the office.
Underneath was a storage cellar. There was no flush toilet, only a ‘box’,
slightly raised, with a hole in the top, over which lay a wooden lid with a
handle. Between the shop and the coal shed was a large sunken pit made from
stone in which quick lime was converted into slaked lime with water, which
resulted in the release of a lot of heat. You could buy both quick lime and
slaked lime. It was used by the farmers and country residents to white wash
The assistant in the shop was Albert van Dasseler, Dries Luigjes and Rikus van Boeien handled the stowing and the deliveries of the coal. They used a hand cart or push bike with a tray for the deliveries.
A nice connection with the past was a large stack of colour prints from a book for the Callenbach Publishing Firm; I remember sea views and ships. Was the book called “The life of a Sailor”?
A question frequently asked by the young people was: “Callenbach do you have any pictures?” Albert usually managed to find some.
In the coal shed there were different types of anthracite (seconds, thirds etc), egg shaped pressed coal, coking coal and briquettes in large compartments. There even was some peat (hard and soft), which was still sold in those days. For me as a little boy it was always interesting to watch when Martin van Essen came with his horse and cart to deliver the coal. A horse like that looked huge in the shed and it was quite an art to get the rig out again as there was hardly any room to turn around. The coal came from Limburg by rail to either the railway station or to the end of the rail track near the Town Hall where the railcars had to be emptied in a hurry as the demurrage charges were rather high.
was very unfortunate that the shop burned down in the middle of the war. After
more than one hundred years a timber beam in the old chimney had finally caught
fire. Father was ill and confined to bed. The council’s fire fighting cupboard
near the front of the building was empty and there was quite a bit of
combustible material in the shop such as sulphur. In short the fire was
As the supply of coal was dwindling, because of the war, there was enough room to build a temporary shop in the coal shed and a small warehouse behind it. Even in this time of shortage several supplier took pity on us and gave us some articles such paintbrushes, paint and sandpaper. We could not do a lot due to the lack of supplies.
My father used this extra free time to make tiny emergency stoves¹ and oil lamps (from a jam jar, a bike tire valve and a wick) for friends and acquaintances. Barter trade also became more common although my father would never succumb to the black market. Trading of a small bag of wheat or potatoes for some cleaning chemicals was acceptable. I also spent time travelling past the farms with some sandpaper to see if I could barter it for some food. I was proud if I came home with some wheat or apples.
of the most nerve wracking experiences during the war was when there was another
By that time there was quite a stream of people from the western parts of the Netherlands who were travelling east and north on their dilapidated pushbikes or carts in a desperate attempt to find food often trading priceless possessions. These people often travelled through Nijkerk. (The polders in the old Zuiderzee had not yet been created.) They were allowed to spend the night in the Community Hall. They could park their carts in the by now quite empty coal shed.³ On the morning of the raid in which the Germans picked up anybody who looked suitable for the forced labour gangs being sent to Germany, one of the travellers was warming himself by the stove in the temporary shop. My father, Dries Luigjes and I were also in the shop. The Germans came charging in, rifles at the ready. Dries managed to escape into the warehouse but the poor traveller got caught and he had to go with them. My father was not required. It has always amazed me how he was able to look unperturbed and continue with what he was doing. He was only 41 years old but did look older with his grey hair and the old pipe which was always between his lips. At lunch time it was the usual practice to close the shop as everybody went home to eat. Dries was still concerned that it was not yet safe to leave so it was decided to lock him in the shed. He was right because the Germans, or the “Huns” as we called them in those days, had noticed that they had missed somebody and returned.
When father and I returned after lunch the door handle had been shot away, but the Hun had injured himself on the damaged door. There was blood on the snow. But the bird had flown. While the Germans were busily trying to climb onto the roof at the front, Dries had managed, with the aid of a ladder, to escape through a window in the roof at the back of the shed. He found refuge with the clog maker Buenk, who lived next door, where he could hide between two walls.
After the war the supply of coal slowly returned to normal aided by some deliveries from the USA, which were not nearly as good as the anthracite from Limburg. They were chaotic times also as far as the supply of coal was concerned. There was a lot of ‘coupling sales’. If, for example, you wanted a load of good anthracite, you we required to also take a load of briquettes and it was your problem to quit them.
Later the ECCS (the European Community for Coal and Steel, the predecessor of the EEC and later the EU) came into the picture. They really made a muck of it. Good Dutch coal had to be exported and we got much inferior stuff from Eastern-Europe. However, with the arrival of natural gas the coal business was doomed, notwithstanding advertising campaigns (Cosy people burn coal) and the so called summer prices.
One more anecdote from that time. A customer decided to change supplier and ordered ten “mud” (I mud = 75kg) Dries did the delivery. He was shown the place where he had to put the coal. After nine mud the space was full so he went to ask where he should put the last mud. The customer was quite astonished. That space had always been able to contain 10 mud. You could sell coal by volume or by weight. When the pieces of coal where larger, the amount of weight one was able to get into a certain volume was reduced. By selling by weight you got more and that is what my father did.
Yes, the coal trade was a special trade. Those who want to know more about it should go and have a talk to my brother, who is still the proud owner of a trade diploma for the fuel business. In 1969 we were fortunate to have the festive opening of a new shop, with a nice dwelling above where my brother and his wife made their home.
emergency stoves were about the size of a top hat and were mainly used for
² The word used in Dutch is razzia. It was used to describe a sudden roundup of civilians by the Germans.
³ See also “Still a GP” by Dr HMJ Schreuder, who played a major roll in organising the reception of these people. Published by Bredewolde in Wezep.
story, written by Kees de Vries (18.104.22.168) was previously published in the family
magazine “The Prophet of the Velue” No 59 in the beginning of 2000.
Postscript: Jan de Vries (22.214.171.124) died in 2008. Now his son Kees (126.96.36.199.3) is owner of the business.