Two Rivers Man Writes Music Inspired By His Working Days


By Zac Schultz | September 22, 2016

FacebookTwitterEmail

Bill Walkner has spent the last five decades of his life living in the city of Two Rivers.  He’s retired now, but he was a working man.  He raised a family on his paycheck from the factory or the boatyard.  All the while, he played the guitar and wrote songs about life.  “It makes me feel good. It’s usually the first thing I do when I get up in the morning; I play something I’ve probably played a thousand times.”

Bill says he’s comfortable here.  “I don’t have no big ambitions or whatever.”

He got his first guitar in high school, when his older brother came home from college.  “He needed some money. So, I give him $30. So, that was my first guitar.  I remember just getting terribly bloody fingers from playing it.”

He started writing his own songs, filled with his observations on life.  He sings, “Sitting here making up tunes, making up melodies. Most might say I’m only wasting time. But music took the time to get to know me, help me sweep the cobwebs from my mind.”

After high school, Bill went to work at Hamilton Manufacturing, joining his father and two of his brothers at the massive factory along the river.  “Smart kids went away to school, you know. Us dumb kids, we went to work in the factory.”

Two Rivers was a humming factory town, and Bill had plenty of venues for his music.  “Just in this little area, there must have been a dozen different place where you could play live music, you know. Now there’s only one left.”

Over time, Hamilton shut down, and factory was torn down.  After a while, all that was left was the Hamilton smokestack, a symbol of industry visible for miles.  “I was kind of sentimental about the old place because I worked there and Pa worked there and stuff.”

The city held an event to celebrate the demolition of the stack, and Bill was asked to sing a song he had written about the factory, then he joined the crowd to watch the tower come down. “ I was sad to see it go, but once you realize that it’s just an old carcass of a building and there’s nothing going on there, you know, it has a ghostly appearance.”

Bill says writing a song about the factory is cathartic.  “I don’t go to a therapist; I just make up a goofy song.”

Whether goofy or serious, you can’t separate the songs from the songwriter.  “(It’s) sort of like a diary of your life.”

Zac Schultz

Zac Schultz is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who thinks three-minute stories and one-line bio descriptions are woefully brief.
FacebookTwitterEmail
2018-01-19T17:53:01+00:00Tags: , , , , , , |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.