It’s Really Pretty Simple

I voluntarily wear shoes because they keep my feet warm and protect me from cuts and bruises.

I voluntarily wear gloves when pruning rose bushes because they protect me from the thorns.

I voluntarily wear a mask because there is a deadly virus out there that is killing people and that’s not the way I want to go out. I also voluntarily wear a mask because if I should be infected and am asymptomatic, I don’t want to inadvertently give the disease to my family and friends.

Common sense tells me these are good things to do.

Dave Thomas

7/20/2021

Swimming Holes

Our town, Augusta, Kansas, didn’t have a swimming pool when I was a little kid. A pool was finally constructed when I was in high school, probably about 1951. The pool was located at the northwest corner of Kelly Road and Dearborn. One memorable note was that the head lifeguard was John Hutter, the high school coach and algebra teacher. We weren’t without options before the pool was built. Let’s recall a few.

Not having a pool during our younger days, we made use of the natural water sources available to us with one exception. When I was 12, I got my first formal swimming lesson at the YMCA in Wichita. Some of the local mothers took a couple of carloads of boys to Wichita every day for a week or two of lessons. As I remember it, we swam every day in the nude until graduation day when our parents were invited to attend. I remember that on graduation day, one of the requirements was to dive off the edge of the pool, swim across, and get out on the other side. I had never dived and didn’t know about arching your back so you would surface. I dived in and went straight to the bottom. The next thing I knew, one of the lifeguards was hauling me to the surface. My mom was in attendance and must have been real proud of my performance.

There were a number of places near town where we could swim. Mom and Dad, who were both good swimmers, once took my sister, Sylvia, and I to Elm Creek for a swim. Elm Creek is west of town and runs into the Whitewater River just north of Highway 54. We went to an area about 200 yards from the Whitewater that was just deep enough for swimming, and the folks gave us some lessons.

Camp ROKI is 3 or 4 miles southeast of Augusta. The old Camp ROKI was actually a picnic area on the south side of the Little Walnut River and on the east side of the road. The place for swimming was where the low-water bridge crossed the river. It was shallow on the east side of the bridge, and you could drive a car off the bridge and into the water. During times of drought and water rationing, when we weren’t allowed to wash cars in town, we would go out to this low water bridge, drive into the river, and wash them. On the west side of the bridge was the swimming hole. The water was deeper on that side of the bridge because for years that’s where they dug out the river gravel for use on the roads. On the south side of the river, the road had been cut through a high bank. This high bank continued for some distance to the west. A few yards west of the road and on top of this high bank, was a really big tree. From the tree, someone had hung about a 1 ½ inch manila rope. You could swing way out from the bank and hit the water feet first, or you could flip yourself around and dive in head first. The water was deep enough to tolerate a dive. This was the best such set-up I’ve ever seen.

I wish I could tell you more about Camp ROKI. Maybe the Historical Society has something. My mom told me that the townspeople used to enjoy going there for picnics,, but I don’t know if it was a commercial enterprise that you had to pay for, or if it was just a nice place to go even though it had no amenities.

In my old age, I’m getting a little hazy on location, but I’ll give it a shot. Go East of Augusta on Highway 54 for 3 or 4 miles, and turn South on a country road (it may be Purity Springs or maybe the next one) and go 3 or 4 miles until you hit the Little Walnut River. The old low-water bridge has been replaced by a modern structure that is higher and should be above flood level. Camp ROKI was located east of the road and on the south side of the river.

I was told that in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, Dr. A. E. Bence, an orthopedic surgeon from Wichita, had purchased Camp ROKI as a weekend retreat. In the fall of 1952, Dr. Bence removed a bone growth from my left tibia.

Another swimming hole was at Dry Creek. Dry Creek was straight west on Highway 54 and about 1 ½ or 1 ¾ miles from the corner of 7th and State. There is a nice, modern bridge across the creek. Below the bridge and a few feet to the south, there is a concrete dam with a spillway in the center. The water runs over the spillway most of the year and creates a nice pool. The pool is not much bigger than a residential swimming pool, and is shaped like a bowl. On the south side, the edge comes up and forms a riffle so the water can flow out, but not with much force. It was a good place to swim and once, when fishing, I caught a 6 inch bullhead. We figured that people might be dumping their pets there because we saw a big goldfish and, another time, we saw one of those little “painted” turtles.

Santa Fe Lake was okay for picnics but the swimming didn’t amount to much. A few yards off shore, there was a raft that looked like it was made of railroad ties, and it was tethered to an anchor on the bottom. You could swim out to the raft and mess around, but that’s about all. There was nothing to jump off of or dive off of.

You couldn’t swim in the Walnut or Whitewater Rivers. They were stagnant and green most of the time and often had some oil waste floating on the top.

Approximately one mile east of Augusta and on the north side of Highway 54, there is a small pond called Holiday Lake. There was an attractive white house fronting the highway, and on the west side of it there was a dirt road or lane leading to the lake. You can also hike down the Frisco railroad tracks to get there. The lake is between the tracks and the highway. My memory fails me on who owned the house. The name may have been Behymer (bee-himer). Anyhow, the lake or, more accurately, the pond looked like it had started life as a quarry or gravel pit. We swam there a few times. Jack Watson and I went duck hunting there a couple of times. A flock of ducks actually flew in one morning. I think Jack got one, but I missed. It’s just as well. I hate the taste of duck.

I don’t want to forget Augusta City Lake. A bunch of us went for a swim one night, and it didn’t turn out well. I covered this in detail in another story. The gist of it was that the cops hauled us in, and the judge lectured us about the fact that swimming in the city’s water supply was a “no-no.”

That’s all I remember about swimming in those days. It was always a good time.

Dave Thomas

7/22/2021

Out of Control

I knew I was in trouble, but didn’t know if I was going to be thrown through a plate glass window or if my head would hit the floor and my teeth would be knocked out. This was my first try at operating one of those big floor buffers. I had grabbed the handles of that thing and hit the switch. I’m telling you, it turned me every which way but loose. I finally got the  thing stopped and stood up. I looked  around to see if anyone had noticed the fiasco. Of course, they had. Phil Harding, the Parts Manager, was laughing his head off. I looked over to the office and Betty Harrison, the pretty office girl, had  her hand over her mouth to hide the fact that she had been laughing. Humiliation was my middle name.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

All the drama and mayhem are actually part of a pretty simple story. This would have been September of 1953. I was a senior at Augusta High School and was in a work program that allowed me to leave school every day at 2:00 and go to a job.  My job was at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealer. I washed cars and greased them and was learning to do simple repairs. I didn’t have any great aspirations toward being a mechanic.  I just wanted a job.

September was the month for showing next year’s models, and was highly anticipated by car buffs and the public in general. To build the suspense and heighten the drama, the local sign painting artist, John Bourget, was hired to paint inviting signs  on the windows of the dealership. There were notices in the newspaper, too. Almost everything about  the new cars themselves was a big secret. When the auto transports delivered the cars, rather than unloading them in them in the street in front of the dealership, they were unloaded on a side street. Then they were spirited away and hidden until the appointed day.

Getting back to the front end of this story, we had received three 1954 Chevrolets for the showing day. I had washed and waxed them and stashed them in the old white building on the north side of the property. The building looked like it had started life as a stable, and it was large enough to store six cars.

The day before the big showing day, my boss, Kenneth Narkley, the service manager, told me to remove the current models from the showroom, and then buff the floor. I got the cars out of there, and prepped the floor. This was going to be my first experience with a buffer, but I didn’t give it much thought. I’d seen other guys use a buffer, and it looked easy. Now, we are back to the place where the machine went nuts. I feared for my life, and Phil and Betty couldn’t stop laughing. I stood there  with a stupid look on my face, trying to regain my composure and look cool. Phil didn’t rub it in. He came over and took hold of the buffer with one hand, and switched it on. He said, “To stay in one spot, hold the buffer parallel with the floor. To move, slightly tilt the buffer in the direction you want to go.” That’s all it took, and I became a qualified buffer operator that afternoon.

The next day, the show room and the cars looked great, and we had a lot of people in. My trauma and drama hadn’t kept us from business as usual. 

Dave Thomas

07/14/2021

1940 Chevrolet

The 1940 Chevrolet was a car with a much more stylish look. The 1939 models still had the roundish look that was so common in the 1930’s. The new look had some style. The running boards had disappeared, and the body had a more sleek and aerodynamic look.

On the inside, the most exciting change was that the shift lever had been moved from the floor to the steering column. You still had 3 forward gears and reverse, and it was a lot handier.

The shifting mechanism turned out to be the thing that gave the car a black eye. The engineers thought that shifting gears might be a problem, so they incorporated a vacuum assist. When the car was new, the shifter worked great. But, over time, it failed and you could hear the driver grinding gears from a block away.

In 1950, my Dad bought a 1940 model. It was in perfect condition, silver gray, and not a mark on it. By 1950, the vacuum assist for the transmission was going out. Dad could usually shift gears without making a noise, but it took all the finesse he could muster. Dad was an excellent driver and prided himself on his skill. He had driven a truck for a couple of years, hauling sand and gravel, so had a lot of miles under his belt. The shifting kept getting worse, and Dad, who hated working on cars, finally said “to hell with it,” and parked the thing in the back yard.

Meanwhile, I was working after school at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealer. The head mechanic was Kenny Dickenson, who had a 1940 Chevrolet, just like Dad’s, that he drove to work. I talked to Kenny about Dad’s car, and he said he would show me how to fix it just like new. The shop closed at 1:00pm on Saturday’s, so Kenny told me to get the car down there that weekend. I went home that night and asked my Dad if I could have the car if I fixed it. He agreed and gave me the keys.

Saturday morning, I drove the car to work, grinding the gears after every stop. Right after 1:00 P.M., I drove it into the garage and parked in Kenny’s stall. We jacked up the car and Kenny showed me how to remove the vacuum booster unit from the transmission. We cleaned the unit thoroughly and used the parts from a kit to re-build it. I forget what was in the kit. It was probably a gasket and a couple of “O” rings. After re-installing the unit and adjusting the mechanical shifting mechanism, we went for a test drive. The thing shifted like a new car. It was smooth as silk. Kenny Dickenson had made my day.

The car was working so well, I was afraid my Dad might want it back. However, he found a perfect 1942 Chevy, the last model produced after WWII started.

I enjoyed driving the car for a year of so and then traded it for a 1950 Ford.

Dave Thomas

7/8/2021

Bits of Music

At first, I thought the TV people were just trying to drive us nuts. They started putting wild music behind every commercial. Then, they started adding random noises. There were door bells, i phone vibrators, knocks on wood, and who knows what else. That’s when I realized they were trying to get our attention. But why? Were they just trying to wake us up? Did they know we had gone to sleep while watching their dull prime-time programs? It was really annoying, but I finally realized they were just trying to get us to buy the stuff being advertised.

Fortunately, the TV advertising guys realized that the wild music and noises were just irritating their potential customers. They started putting real music behind the commercials. Imagine my surprise when I started hearing some of the great old songs from the 1940’s and 1950’s. I heard “Accentuate the Positive,” “Sunny Side of the Street,” and “It’s a Good Day.” Then we got a little more current with the theme from Cheers and the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter- programs that were fun to watch. One advertiser presented a great piano rendition of California Dreaming, the song from the Mamas and the Poppas some years ago.

I’ve got to admit that I’m enjoying the commercials now, but I don’t know if I’ll ever buy anything.

Dave Thomas

6/24/2021

Land of Enchantment

We lived in Augusta, Butler County, Kansas. During World War II, Mom and Dad worked at the White Eagle (later, Mobil) Refinery. Mom was hired in 1942. She was hired as a replacement for one of the men who had been drafted. She was placed in the chemical lab, a job previously held only by men. Dad had started at the refinery prior to the beginning of the war. Jobs at the refinery were considered to be vital to the war effort so that and the fact that he was married and had two kids caused him to be deferred from the draft. He tried to enlist, but for the reasons given and the fact that he had rheumatic fever as a youth, he wasn’t allowed.

When our folks left for work in the morning, my sister, Sylvia, and I had to leave, too. We walked the block to the high school and then crossed the school grounds to State Street where we waited under the one street lamp to be picked up.  Those winter mornings were pitch black and sometimes there was a heavy fog that made it seem even more frightening. I was only six, and Sylvia was five, so we were easily spooked.

We would stand under the street lamp and wait. Cars would be coming down State Street on the way to the refinery. Sometimes a car would stop, and we would be offered a ride. I would say “thank you” and explain that Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel would be picking us up in a few minutes. Pretty soon, that big green Packard with Uncle Dave driving would stop for us. Then, Uncle Dave would drive to the refinery where he would stop and get out. Aunt Rachel would slide across to the driver’s seat, and take us to her home.

Their home was at 124 High Street, and they had it build in 1923. It was across from Garfield Elementary and Intermediate School which made it perfect for Aunt Rachel to babysit us before and after school.

You may be wondering why they didn’t pick us up at home. I’m wondering the same thing. It may have been that Cliff Drive was a narrow street ending in a cul-de-sac that was hard to turn around in. Or, it may have been that our folks wanted us to meet them in an easy pick-up spot and save them some effort. Aunt Rachel was probably baby-sitting for free anyhow.

Rachel Ana Wright married my great uncle, David S. Peebler, and they have been our closest relatives both by relationship and geographical proximity.

Aunt Rachel loved the Southwest, particularly New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” and she and her good friend, Eunice Cooper, took a number of trips to that area from the 1930’s to the start of WWII. They visited the pueblos in the south, Taos, Santa Fe, and everything clear up to Gallup.

Eunice was married to John Cooper, owner of Cooper Drugs. For the life of  me, I couldn’t remember where the Coopers lived as I prepared to write this story. I could see that 2-story purple brick house in my mind’s eye, but didn’t know where it was. I finally asked Keith Scholfield, and he reminded me that they lived on Santa Fe Street, next to the old hospital. Santa Fe Street! What could be more fitting?

Aunt Rachel and Eunice Cooper were forward-thinking ladies and ahead of their time. At a time when you didn’t see that many women driving or gallivanting around the country, they were doing a serious job of exploring the southwest. 

Eunice was a serious collector. She displayed her beautiful collection of Native American art in an alcove, located off the living room of her home on Santa Fe Street. The space looked like the area of a trading post used for the display of “old pawn.” There were squash blossom necklaces, concho belts, silver bracelets, Navajo rugs, pottery, and probably a lot of things I have forgotten. I was completely awe-struck when viewing all of it.

Aunt Rachel was a lot more conservative. She had some Navajo rugs, a Navajo saddle blanket, some baskets, and some pottery. Her favorite possessions, though, were the beautiful black pieces of pottery made by Maria Martinez. In the early 1900’s, Maria had figured out how her ancestors had made the black pottery and had perfected the technique.

When Aunt Rachel was baby-sitting us, she made sure we were entertained. We played Chinese checkers, Old Maid, and other games. The best times, though, were when she told about her travels. She would unfold the Navajo rugs and tell us where she got them and how they were made. She had a small tom-tom made from a hallowed out cottonwood branch with a skin stretched over it that she would demonstrate and then hand over to one of us. She told about the pueblos and how the people lived.

The best part was when she told about Maria and the making of the black pottery. She would pick up one of the bowls and as he told us how it was made, she would be rubbing her hands over that slick glaze almost as if she were caressing it. Then, she would hand it to one of us to enjoy while she picked up another. I think I learned to love and appreciate that black pottery as much as she did.

Of course, the beautiful vases and bowls that are now considered as Native American art were originally produced as common kitchenware utility items. Though Aunt Rachel love the black pottery, she felt that the items should be seen, used, and enjoyed around the house. She had a beautiful black wedding vase, unsigned, but purported to have been made by Maria, that she used as a door stop. Some bowls were used to store paper clips or candy or whatever else needed to be contained. Chips and scratches appeared on some items, but that was okay because they were doing a job while providing beauty and interest to the household.

My time in the Navy was mostly spent in San Diego, but Pat and the kids and I made regular trips back to Augusta to visit relatives and friends.  When visiting Aunt Rachel, we always talked about her New Mexico trips and the treasures she brought home.

Aunt Rachel passed away in the late 1980’s, but left a lot of vivid memories. A few months after her passing, her daughter, Maxine (Peebler) Fisher, and her husband, Woody, came to California from their home in Denver. It turned out that their motive was more than just a vacation. Maxine surprised me with a box containing all of that beautiful black pottery.

Dave Thomas

6/17/2021

Tuning In

Back in 1946 or 1947, there were not TV’s and certainly, no transistor radios you could buy for $9.99. That stuff was still 10 or 15 years or more in the future. Most homes had a radio, but it was generally a big, honking console. The radio provided the evening’s entertainment for a family. My friend and neighbor, Gary Casner, and I wanted radios that we could mess with ourselves without having to listen to the programs the family was interested in. Some good luck came our way in the form of a neighbor who was an engineer who worked for Western Electric in Wichita. Gary and I lived on Cliff Drive, and our neighbors, Romane and Ruth Zlomke, lived on 7th Street in the duplex that is half a block west of State Street, on the north side.

Romane was always working on his car or some other project, and one day when Gary and I came by, he said he would help us build a crystal set. We got all excited about that, and we were soon in the radio business.  Romane came up with most of the parts though I think Gary and I had to buy the crystals. I think Romane got the ear phones at an Army surplus store. The tuning coils we made ourselves, winding them on toilet paper rolls.

Building the crystal sets and then getting them to operate was a good project for us. Keeping the wire touching the right spot on the crystal was a delicate proposition, and keeping a little metal bead touching the tuning coil at just the right spot wasn’t easy either. We picked up a few stations we found, but one of them was probably that wild station out of Del Rio, Texas, that overpowered everything. It was a fun project and lasted as long as our attention spans at the time.

Dave Thomas

06/03/2021

From the Older Guy

Labels are getting to be too important, and they are getting out of whack. The first and foremost label you should apply to yourself is “American.” The next level would be a party affiliation such as Democrat, Republican, or whatever. If you need to go further in defining yourself, you can use liberal, conservative, or whatever feels good.

The problem, right now, is that the sub-classifications are taking priority. When considering a vote, instead of asking if this person or bill is good for America, we are asking if it is good for conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats.

What it boils down to is that we are wasting our time, energy, and resources on items that do not contribute to the common good. Let’s broaden our thinking.

Spell Check

Trump says he wants to make America great again. He probably means “grate,” as in the cover of a sewer pipe. This would be apropos of his plan to take us back to the dark ages by rolling back the rules and regulations that protect our health and well-being. Who needs clean water, clean air, the FDA, the CDC, the FAA, or OSHA?

Dave Thomas

05/20/2021

Don’t Quit Until It’s Over

Does the governor of Texas wear cowboy boots because he never learned to tie his shoes? He has got to be the dumbest bubba alive. He has lifted the mandate to wear masks. You could even be fined for wearing one.

We have killed over 580,000 Americans because we couldn’t stand up and stop this virus in its tracks. We couldn’t cover our pretty faces with a mask, couldn’t stay 6 feet apart, and couldn’t refrain from going to parties.

The governor could have said, “Folks, we are going to continue wearing these masks until the entire country goes 2 weeks without reporting a death from the virus. We are going to finish this!”

Finish the job. Don’t quit until we reach the end.

Dave Thomas

05/20/2021