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If you didn’t see the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” on PBS in September, you really missed a winner. We really enjoyed hearing the singers and the songs we have enjoyed over the years. Check the PBS programming and catch this show the next time it comes around.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I’ll have to admit that I was disappointed that they didn’t include two of my favorite songs. These two prize winners are: “If You See Me Getting Smaller, I’m Leavin’,” and “When I Get Done Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone.”

Dave Thomas
October 3, 2019

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Ringers, Leaners, and Bull’s-eyes

The city of Augusta, Kansas had a parcel of land that became a site for horseshoe pitching and an archery range. On West 7th Street, go about half a block west from Walnut Street, and on the north side, you will find a small, red brick building that is a pump house for the city’s water system. The parcel that the pump house sits on is a city block long. It runs from 7th Street to where the old high school tennis courts were located. It’s a green space, but I have never heard it named a park. One day, we noticed that a group of men had gathered just north of the pump house. Naturally, we had to check this out, and we soon learned that these men had formed a horseshoe pitching league, and were going to dig the pits. At the time, I knew most of the men, but, for the life of me, I can no longer recall all of their names. The one I do remember is Newt Dennett. Newt was the spark plug of the outfit, and he was heavily involved in the construction of the pits as well as organizing the tournaments after. Newt must have been self-employed. I think he sold insurance or real estate. He seemed to have plenty of time to help with the construction project and later spent a lot of time practicing the pitching of horseshoes. That was a lucky thing for us neighborhood kids as he taught us the rules and how to properly pitch horseshoes.

Like most kids, I apparently didn’t pay attention to the important stuff. I remember that there were four or five perfectly aligned pits with matching pits about 15 or 20 feet away. (I don’t know what the spec for the distance was.) The pits were exactly the same size. The target pegs were exactly vertical and in the same spot in every pit. Thinking about it now, I realize that there must have been a welded metal structure for each pit that was jig built to the exact dimension.

One weekend, a couple of the men drove a truck to another town and came back with a load of fine, gray clay. The clay was smooth and pure. They filled the pits with the clay, and it proved to be the perfect material for the job. Having been taught the proper way to pitch horseshoes, I wanted to get serious about the sport. I didn’t have money to buy a set of horseshoes, but I had a good collection of rusty old shoes I had found at farms around the area. They didn’t work. Real horseshoes aren’t much good for pitching.

The horseshoe fad lasted for a few years, and then fizzled out. There were quite a few tournaments, and the local guys had some good times.

Meanwhile, up toward the north end of the property, an archery group was busy with their hobby. They had a nice professionally- made target. It was made of straw placed into about a 4 foot diameter circle, and it was about 12 inches thick. It had a cover made of oil cloth with the bull’s-eye and circles stenciled on it. The target was hung on a big easel. IT was kept in a shed or locked box about 4 feet by 3 feet in size. The archers were good folks, and didn’t mind answering questions for a bunch of kids.

One day, the storage shed disappeared and we had no idea were the archery group had gone. A few weeks later, I was with my great uncle, Dave Peebler, who was visiting his rental property that was located at the northern most part of Custer Lane; it butted up against the golf course. I looked over and saw the archery club guys and their target. I went over, and the leader of the group recognized me and started telling me about their new location. He was a wiry little guy, friendly, and always ready to talk about archery with any kid that showed up. It turned out that they had moved to their new location under the cottonwoods at the extreme west end of the golf course because most of their members lived up in the north end of town. I was glad that they were happy in their new home.

Graveyard

It was one of those hot August afternoons in Augusta, Kansas. Jack Watson and I were on our bicycles and cutting through the Elmwood Cemetery. The cemetery was a great place to go riding as the street was level and smooth, and the large, old elm trees provided a canopy that shaded the entire area. As we rode, we noticed movement behind some of the monuments and as we got closer, we could see that it was a horse. We didn’t want to scare it, so we walked our bikes between the plots and headstones until we got close enough for a better look. We were both amazed and speechless at what we saw. Neither of us had ever seen a horse as swayback as this. He was so badly deformed it looked like some monster had chomped out a big piece of his back. Just looking at him, you could almost feel the pain he had suffered over the years. It was strange, but his condition didn’t seem to bother him now. He was as quiet and docile as could be.

We stood around and talked about his deformity and wondered what we could do to find his owner. Also, instead of referring to him as “horse,” we thought we should give him a name. Since we found him in the cemetery, “Graveyard” seemed like a fitting name. It also seemed perfect since he certainly looked like a bag of bones. Graveyard was wearing a halter, but we needed a lead rope in order to move him. We decided to take him to my house because there was a vacant lot across the alley from us. We thought we could picket him there while we looked for his owner. Jack’s house was the closest as he lived on Ohio Street, so he jumped on his bike and rode home to get some rope. He returned with a few feet of clothesline. Then he attached it to the halter, and we were in business. We left the cemetery going south on Ohio Street, and then turned west on Clark Street.

We hadn’t gotten too far down Clark Street before a man in a pick-up pulled along side us. We all stopped, and he got out of the truck and said, “Thanks for finding my horse!” He said the horse was a retiree that he was giving a home. We talked another minute, and the guy got back in his truck. He stuck his arm out the window, and we handed him the lead rope. As he drove off he said, “If you had left him alone, he would have come home by himself!” That possibility had never occurred to us.

 

This is not Graveyard- he looked a lot worse than this.

 

Dave Thomas

August 29, 2019

It’s Not Easy

Today, I have to depart from my usual type of storytelling. We have a topic here that can no longer be denied.

A famous frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” That’s true, not only for frogs, but also for peas. People are always bad-rapping the pea and only because they have never learned how to properly prepare it. Nowadays, the pea is used more for its color than it is for its nutritional value. A cook or chef will plate up a pork chop or a chicken breast, add mashed potatoes and gravy, and then realize that what they have dished up really looks boring. So, to add a little color and excitement to the plate, they toss on a bunch of peas. It’s true, that they have added some color, but they have also added a component that is cold and dry and boring as hell. What a crumby way to treat a pea.

To properly prepare peas, open some canned peas or frozen peas, and put them in a pan. Add enough water to cover the peas well, and then do a good job of cooking them. When the peas are hot and well-cooked, ladle them into a side dish and make sure you add enough juice to cover them. Add a sliver of butter and some salt and pepper and you have a tasty dish that is ready to serve.  Eat the peas with a spoon so you get plenty of that delicious juice.  Bon Apetit!

That’s all I have to say about peas.

Dave Thomas

August 8, 2019

 

 

Houses on the Move

It’s always been a surprise to me to pull up to a stop sign, diligently look both ways, and see a house coming down the street at me. That always wakes me up. Houses are supposed to remain fixed, and not be coming at you. That kind of thing isn’t seen much anymore, but years ago was quite common. When towns were formed, the businessmen built their homes within walking distance of the main street. Later, as the towns grew, the citizens moved a little further out. The original homes, now much older, were torn down or, if in good condition, moved to a new location. The land had value though the homes themselves may have lost theirs. Sometimes the homes were sold and then moved, or if someone just wanted to develop the property, they might give the house away rather than suffer the expense of tearing it down. This is how house moving developed into a business, and it became quite popular after the 1930’s. I don’t know much about moving houses, but I can tell you a couple of stories.

 

My cousin, George P. Sicks, graduated from high school in Iola, Kansas during the days of the dust bowl and the Great Depression. There wasn’t much work in farming country for a young man at that time, so George looked for greener pastures. He hitchhiked to Los Angeles and walked the streets looking for work there. Finally, in the city of Long Beach, he hooked up with a man who moved houses. There was enough work to keep George busy most of the time. However, George wanted to do better for himself, so he continued to look for work. He finally found the perfect solution. He found an evening job building movie sets for one of the movie production companies. So, when there were houses to move, he did that during the daylight hours, and in the evenings, worked on the movie sets. He finally was making enough money to live comfortably without wondering where his next meal was coming from.

 

When I was growing up in Augusta, Kansas, we had one man who specialized in moving houses. His name was Boler Wilson. Boler was a quiet man with a set of shoulders that gave the impression that he could pull a house down the street by himself. Boler and Mrs. Wilson lived in the eleven hundred block of School Street, I think, the last house before 12th Street. Every now and then, as kids, we would spot Boler towing some house down the street. Aside from the trucks pulling the house, there were usually men on foot with long polls to push tree branches and telephone lines out of the way.

 

My dad, Al Thomas, was a brick layer and concrete block layer. Boler sometimes hired him to build a foundation for a home after it was moved to its new location. Normally, it was a concrete block job, and when I got older, I was able to work for Dad, mixing mud and carrying the concrete blocks.

That’s really all I know about the house-moving business. I’m still amazed by the memory of houses going down the street.

Dave Thomas

July 31, 2019

 

Money’s Pond

 

Augusta High School’s football field was known as Worl Field, named after a coach from the 1920’s. The school, built in the early 1920’s, and was located at the corner of State St. and Clark St. To find the football field, you went around the south end of the school and turned north to find the access road to the field. That road was located a few yards down the building and went downhill and to the west to reach the field.

 

The land bordering the road and football field on the north was occupied by a man named I.M. Money and his wife, both senior citizens. Mr. Money, by some called “Old Man Money,” was a nice old guy who farmed that land around him. Mrs. Money was a pleasant lady who was good to us kids. A few times, when we were cutting through their property on some expedition, she waved us to the house, and provided us with cookies.

 

The Money’s home was kind of in the middle of that adjoining land. Nearby, and not far from the road, was what we called “Money’s Pond.” I don’t remember if the pond was spring-fed, or if it was created by run-off. The pond was shallow, and its main inhabitants were crawdads. Also, this is where I learned to ice skate. Gary and Bill Casner, my neighbors on Cliff Dr., were usually with me. H.H.Robinson, the Superintendent of Schools, also a Cliff Dr. resident, was a frequent skater. Mr. Robinson, a man who enjoyed all sorts of physical activities, was a good skater and a good instructor. He taught us how to skate, how to play hockey, and how to just have a good time.

 

Gary and I had clamp-on skates. You know the kind; they had an ankle strap, and clamps on the front that were supposed to anchor to the soles of your shoes. Good luck with that! I don’t know where he got them, but Billie Bob Casner had shoe skates. Due to the shoe skates, and the fact that he was two years older than us, Bill was a much better skater.

 

Most often, we were skating in the evening after dark. We built a bonfire to provide light as well as warmth. Sometimes, there were as many as a half dozen other kids skating, but I can’t remember who they were. I just remember that we all had a good time.

Dave Thomas

March 21, 2019

 

Evolution

I was working in an electronics factory in the 1960’s. People looked the same in our plant as they did in most business places in America. The women in the front offices wore attractive dresses and tailored suits. The managers, supervisors, engineers, accountants, and other professional men all wore white shirts and neckties. They appeared to be in uniform. This was contradictory to what happens in nature where the males are brightly colored, and the females have a more subdued look in order to protect themselves and their young.

 

We had a manufacturing engineer named Bob Scholl that worked with us who was a pretty sharp dresser. He was always well-groomed and looked really good in his clothes. One morning, the door to the production area opened, and in walked Bob wearing a charcoal gray suit, pink shirt, and matching tie. The ladies in the assembly area were aghast, and the room went silent. After a moment, the comments started. “Look at Bob!” “What is he wearing?” “What does he think he’s doing?” “He can’t wear that!” “Do you think he’ll get fired?” It was as if the world had been turned upside down. No one could believe what they were seeing.

 

Bob went about his work that day, and, as usual, was seen in most of the departments of the factory. He was not fired, but his pink and gray outfit certainly caused some excitement.

 

It was like Bob had opened the floodgates, and the rainbow spilled out. We soon began seeing shirts of many shades of blue, green, yellow, and every other color. In our world, Bob was the Darwin of the spectrum.

Dave Thomas

January 18, 2019