Freddie Trenkler, War Refugee

Comic skater, Austrian Freddie Trenkler, a cast member in the Sonja Henie Ice Shows, drew countless laughs, and more than a few gasps with his slapstick and death-defying style. This young man, only 27 years old, his identity concealed behind grease paint and rags, ironically shared much in common with his vagabond alter ego.

It was early in the Second World War, and the German war machine blazed across Europe; blitzkrieg overwhelming the Low Countries and France. Freddie’s homeland had fallen much earlier–Nazi occupation of Austria bloodlessly completed in 1938 (think “Sound of Music”). It appears that the Jewish Trenkler had escaped to America, tragically leaving his family to suffer a calamitous fate.

The investigation of papers, pictures, letters, and other mementoes I used in writing River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight, revealed that many of the talented skaters who performed in the Henie productions arrived in America desperate war refugees, who had escaped certain death at the hands of the Nazi’s.

Enjoy this clip of Henie, Trenkler, and the company of ice skaters, (one of whom is Helen Thompson, a subject in both books). However, keep in mind the desperation and harrowing narrative that Trenkler and many others carried to the ice.




Independent Book Stores!

Calling all readers!! April 29th is Independent Book Store Day! Hurry down to Rediscovered Books in Boise, and get your copy of River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Take a picture holding the book!!

In Salt Lake City check out Wellers Bookworks in Trolley Square, and Aunties in Spokane! 

Support indie book writers and sellers. 

Books are boss!

Goody Goody


In the memoir, “River of January,” Helen, a beautiful and talented dancer, set sail in 1936 to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She eagerly  looked forward to a two week performance at the famed Copacabana Hotel, with an additional two week option to play in Buenos Aires.

On her sheet music for the number, Goody Goody–one of the many songs prepared for this engagement–Helen penciled in her dance steps among the musical notes and rests.

No film survives of Helen Thompson’s April, 1936 performances in South America, but I found this little gem from the same year. (Personal point . . . I think Helen was a better dancer than the girl in this clip).

Happy Friday.



Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January and River of January: Figure Eight and on

The Pitch

Long rows of rectangular tables, draped and decorated, filled the hall. Cellophane covered baskets, revealing festive gifts sat inches apart, attracting hopeful bids from the browsers wandering about the silent auction. Attendees seemed to understand the drill, strolling from basket to basket, pen in hand, increasing the previous bid. And the purpose behind this auction? The IEA Children’s Fund; a statewide account to help Idaho kids with food, clothing, supplies, shoes, and any other need disadvantaged students face.

I squeezed in between colorful, refugee-sewn bags and wallets, and a boxed WiFi yoga program, complete with a mat and ready-to-use internet software. My books sat displayed below eye level, requiring some adjustments to attract possible buyers.

Both “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight” are rich with archival images. However, space limitations left the usual eye catchers tucked in a satchel, under my chair. Though dismayed at first, I remembered that the books have photo galleries inside, and my tactic instantly shifted. “Are you a reader?” I begin. And what’s cool about teachers is that 99.9% told me ‘yes.’ (Of course they are, we teachers are the champions of literacy.) Then I whipped out the photos in book one.

I begin . . . “River of January is a true story, a memoir, that I have written in a novelized style. Here is my main charter, a pilot, who won an air race in 1933. Here he is receiving the winning trophy from actress Helen Hayes at the premier of her newest movie, Night Flight co-starring Clark Gable.” (The listener looks mildly interested. I go on.)



The girl in the middle, laughing, was his girlfriend, she was a pilot too. On the left is Amelia Earhart, the president of the female flying group called The 99’s.”  (I hear an audible WOW. We’re getting somewhere.)


“And this girl is the other main character, and she was a show girl, dancer, and actress. The picture is a clip from a 1931 movie she appeared in called Women of All Nations. Not much of a film, but she had a closeup. Oh, that’s Bela Lugosi in the turban.” (Now I hear a ‘that’s amazing.’)


“Yeah,” I agree. “And it’s only the first book. In book two, he ships out to the Pacific, and she becomes a professional ice skater in a Sonja Henie Ice Show.”


(I reach for the second book, “Figure Eight.”). Here he is with the head of Eastern Airlines, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. You know, the WWI flying ace?” Now they want to know the price, and would I take a debit card?


“Would you like me to sign the books?” They would. And I thank the purchaser, and ask for feedback on Amazon.

What is nice is that all teachers share an innate sense of wonder. My natural fascination with the story easily connected to like-minded listeners among the professional educators circling that hall.

And that’s my pitch. I let the two main characters sell the memoir because they were nothing short of amazing.

Plus I , too, happily made a donation for each book sold to the IEA Children’s Fund.


Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at, or on Amazon.




Words of Honor


Union General, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in a 1901 interview for a Boston newspaper, shared his recollections of the Confederate Army’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.  Tasked by General Ulysses S. Grant with the formal 1865 surrender of Rebel arms and military gear, Chamberlain described that April day in remarkably vivid detail, despite the passage of over 30 years.

“At a distance of possibly twelve feet from our line, the Confederates halted and turned face towards us. Their lines were formed with the greatest care, with every officer in his appointed position, and thereupon began the formality of surrender.

“Bayonets were affixed to muskets, arms stacked, and cartridge boxes unslung and hung upon the stacks. Then, slowly and with a reluctance that was appealingly pathetic, the torn and tattered battleflags were either leaned against the stacks or laid upon the ground. The emotion of the conquered soldiery was really sad to witness. Some of the men who had carried and followed those ragged standards through the four long years of strife, rushed, regardless of all discipline, from the ranks, bent about their old flags, and pressed them to their lips with burning tears.

“And it can well be imagined, too, that there was no lack of emotion on our side, but the Union men were held steady in their lines, without the least show of demonstration by word or by motion. There was, though, a twitching of the muscles of their faces, and, be it said, their battle-bronzed cheeks were not altogether dry. Our men felt the import of the occasion, and realized fully how they would have been affected if defeat and surrender had been their lot after such a fearful struggle.
. . . “But, as I was saying, every token of armed hostility having been laid aside, and the men having given their words of honor that they would never serve again against the flag, they were free to go whither they would and as best they could. In the meantime our army had been supplying them with rations. On the next morning, however, the morning of the 13th, we could see the men, singly or in squads, making their way slowly into the distance, in whichever direction was nearest home, and by nightfall we were left there at Appomattox Courthouse lonesome and alone.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Also available on

Tell Me a Story


Drawing inferences; the ability to examine evidence and attach meaning, was the bedrock of my history classes. Believe it or not, forming conclusions from documents isn’t intuitive for everyone, and more often than not, an acquired assessment skill.

Context is huge . . . the medium, (photo, painting, film clip, political poster, diary entry, news story) allows a document to fit into a broader story. And that same critical thinking skill is what I had to use in my books, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.”

Please examine the following images from the archive and make them fit into a narrative.

Happy Friday




Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight. Visit her website at or order on

Christmas in Algeria, 1932

Dearest Mother,
I have read your letter and I want you to know that Miss has given us that warning already. We never go out alone. Earl Leslie and the other boys keep a close eye on us. There, that should relieve your concern.
North Africa is very strange, but I like it here. Una bought a guidebook and we have, as a group, toured Tunis and Algiers on foot. The buildings are a mix of the past here. The book calls the style “Ottoman-French. I guess that means both Middle Eastern and European.
Every morning we wake up to a public call to prayer. The people are mostly Muslim and the calls are part of their customs. I think it sounds soothing—usually the sound of the caller lulls me back to sleep. Curious, isn’t it?
The heat here is dry, and the sun blinding white. We stroll through the narrow streets (in groups) where the sun can’t reach us, making for darker, cooler shade. Nameless women veiled from head to toe pull their children along dressed all in white. It’s such an exotic world.
Silly as this sounds, I tried to buy you Christmas gifts in the market, but found nothing. You’ll have to settle for a telegram, because this is a Muslim country and they don’t celebrate Christmas. And, Mother, please have a happy Christmas.
We girls have all decided to do our own gift exchange and sing Christmas carols. We’ve hung paper chains on a palm tree in the lobby of the Algiers Hotel! The hotel managers gave us permission.
Merry Christmas Mother. I love you and Eileen very much. The young man I mentioned is not serious. His name is Elie, (Jewish, I know) and he has kindly showed us all around tourist sites.

River of January, page 165-166.

Indie writer, Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Available at and on