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The small world of Leo Ludwig

80-year-old has spent life on same 30 acres in San Martin where
he was born
Except for the time he was away during World War II, Leo
Ludewig, 80, has spent his life on 30 acres at the corner of
Monterey Road and California Avenue in San Martin, where four
generations of his family have earned a living from the soil.
80-year-old has spent life on same 30 acres in San Martin where he was born

Except for the time he was away during World War II, Leo Ludewig, 80, has spent his life on 30 acres at the corner of Monterey Road and California Avenue in San Martin, where four generations of his family have earned a living from the soil.

“I’ve seen and done a lot, but this has always been home,” said Ludewig, who was delivered by a midwife on June 1, 1922, at the family home on the property.

While the unincorporated community today remains relatively undeveloped, houses were fewer and further between when his grandfather, father and mother bought the property two years before his birth.

An oak, smack dab in the middle of the intersection of San Martin Avenue and Monterey Highway, remained there until the road was widened in the 1930’s, Ludewig said.

The Ludewigs first earned a living from prunes, perhaps the crop for which the Santa Clara Valley is best known. Then about 25 years ago, they planted half the acreage in Christmas trees. On part of the remaining land, son Ken and his wife, Lynn, have established a rural recreation center, including a miniature railroad and a pumpkin patch, which changes themes to morph into Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That miniature train has been a real puller to get people to stop,” Ludewig said.

The original Ludewig home of the 1920s was a 12×24-foot structure with a living room and a bedroom. Cooking was done outside, and an outhouse stood nearby. As the family grew, another bedroom, kitchen and inside bathroom were added.

Ludewig’s son, Steve, has renovated part of the original house, incorporating it into his home on California Avenue.

As a child, Leo Ludewig remembers his grandfather hitching old Dobbin to the wagon for a trip to Kick’s Market for supplies. The market has changed names since, but remains in the building where the San Martin Market operates today.

The Depression years were lean, he recalls.

“We’d have mush for breakfast and sometimes eggs. Then there were always the chickens for supper,” Ludewig said.

Father Hans, a bookkeeper for a construction company, sometimes didn’t work for months between jobs. His mother, Emma, would make fruit candy, which she bartered for gasoline or car repair, he recalled.

With the railroad just across Monterey Highway, hobos would show up frequently, hoping to chop some wood in exchange for a meal, Ludewig remembers.

In later years, Emma Ludewig erected a fruit stand fronting on Monterey Highway. Hollywood celebrities sometimes stopped there as they traveled between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Ludewig said.

The only well-known person he could recall by name was baseball great Joe DiMaggio.

As a young teen Ludewig worked as a plumber’s helper for 35-cents an hour. Then at 16 he conned his way into the National Guard, becoming a member of Company B in Gilroy.

“I was still in high school, but I lied about my age. It was typical, everyone did it,” said Ludewig, who attended Guard meetings once a week.

“We were paid $1 per meeting. I remember that after three months I received my first check – for $12,” Ludewig said.

Around the same time, Ludewig indulged his passion for cars, shelling out $5 for a mid-1920s Model T, which he drove to Live Oak High School, where he graduated in 1940.

Ludewig enrolled at San Jose State College – as it was known then – but the advent of World War II cut short his stay on campus. Members of the National Guard’s Company B were mobilized and sent to San Luis Obispo for basic training.

Only months into training, Ludewig learned that his father, who as a young man had worked in the quicksilver mines at New Idria and Almaden, had died.

“He went early. They didn’t worry about the effect of fumes in those days,” Ludewig said.

Released from military service on a hardship discharge obtained by his mother, Ludewig returned to the San Martin ranch. When he wasn’t need at home, he worked for the Division of Forestry in Hollister.

When his country needed him more than his mother did, Ludewig was recalled to military service in December 1943. Since all his Company B buddies from Gilroy had shipped out to the Pacific, Ludewig was trained as an amphibious engineer in Texas and Florida before being sent in 1944 to England, where he was trained in intelligence work in preparation for D-Day.

On June 6, Ludewig went ashore at Omaha Beach in Normandy.

“Things were pretty hectic that morning,” Ludewig said.

The Sixth Engineer Special Brigade, to which he was assigned, remained on the beachhead for several months. Among its duties was to keep tabs on German troops on Jersey and Guernsey islands just off shore.

After the brigade eventually moved into the interior of France, Ludewig was sidelined with high blood pressure. He spent about six months in a hospital before returning in 1945 to the U.S. where he was discharged in San Diego.

Things were going well enough at the ranch that Ludewig returned to his job at the Division of Forestry. A year later, he found a job with the Santa Clara County parks and recreation department at Mt. Madonna Park. He eventually got a job at the county assessor’s office, where he spent 20 years, rising to senior appraiser.

“As an appraiser for the assessor’s office I would bother the farmers, asking how many cows and how many chickens they had. That information was part of the assessment as well as the size of the lot and the quality of the home,” Ludewig said.

Ludewig learned enough about real estate to know that property was a good investment. Over the years, Ludewig acquired a broker’s license and a dozen rental properties. He still dabbles in real estate, but spends most of his time cultivating 15 acres of Sierra redwood, Douglas fir, incense cedar and Monterey pine at the family’s cut-your-own-tree lot.

The slower pace allows Ludewig time to reminisce and philosophize.

“Being young was fun, but being old isn’t bad. It’s part of the game,” Ludewig said.