Just Whistle


I grew up in Augusta, Kansas, a small town of 5,000. Our lives were regulated by the steam whistle at our local oil refinery. The refinery was originally called the White Eagle Refinery. Then, it became Socony-Vacuum Refinery and later, Socony-Mobil. The logo was the very distinctive Flying Red Horse.

The refinery was the main employer in our town and I guess the company wanted to make sure that there were no punctuality problems. They used the steam whistle to regulate the events of the day. Here’s the schedule as I remember it.

            7:00 AM You’d better be getting out of bed.
            7:50 AM You’d better be punched in, helmet on, and ready.
            8:00 AM Start work.
            12:00 PM Stop working and eat lunch.
            12:50 PM Stop eating and get ready for work.
            1:00 PM Go back to work.
            5:00 PM Quit work and go home.

The whistle was a pretty handy item. Back in the 1940’s few people had wrist watches. There were certainly no kids with a watch. The whistles could be heard all over town and at least a mile out into the country.

Dave Thomas
January 9, 2014

Seaplane Story 9: Chow

The electronics compartment is amidships in the P5M and has a section for a tiny galley. I guess the compartment was 8 or 10 feet long and had a hatch (door) on each end. There were racks on both sides, from floor to ceiling, that held all the electronic gear and the wiring harnesses. However, on the port side and at the rear of the compartment, was the galley. The space was about 3 foot wide and had a counter with a built in electrical cook top that as I recall had 2 burners. The counter top had a built-in receptacle and a small stainless steel coffee pot to plug into it. Every crew had replaced the coffee pot in their plane with a household pot capable of making 12 cups. The planes used 400 cycle AC power rather than the standard 60 cycles like in your home but the coffee pots worked ok. Beneath the counter was storage for metal plates, pots and pans and silverware. Above the counter and mounted on the bulkhead was a stainless steel water container that probably held 3 or 4 gallons and could be removed for filling.

On short hops of 2 to 5 or 6 hours the mess hall provided us with box lunches that were pretty good. On long training hops or patrols we were provided with a box of groceries that featured steaks, canned vegetables, bread and butter and whatever else was necessary to make a meal.

The coffee pot was always plugged in as soon as we were airborne and we drank coffee anytime we weren’t busy. The steaks were prepared at times that were convenient for most of us depending on what the mission was. A hot steak dinner and coffee were always welcome. We tried to rotate the kitchen duty so nobody got tired of it.

Dave Thomas March 13, 2012


V J Day

The Victory over Japan that ended World War II was announced August 15, 1945. I was just a couple of weeks shy of my 9th birthday but I remember the war vividly and remember V J Day. The war was part of our everyday lives…friends and neighbors going to war, some getting killed, rationing, black-outs, and horrible news broadcasts as the major battles were fought. Many people have shared their memories of those days so I’ll leave you to ponder their accounts. I’ll just share a few of the things that I remember about V J Day and the way things were.

We had supper with my Grandpa and Grandma Thomas at their house at 315 Walnut Street in Augusta. It was just a few blocks so Mom, Dad, Sylvia, and I had walked. There were some out-of-town relatives there but I don’t remember who they were. After supper, we kids were out on the front porch when the noise started up. We could hear car horns and people yelling and cheering and really carrying on. One of the adults came out and told us that the war with Japan was over and the boys would be coming home. Everyone was excited and we started yelling too.

My Dad came out of the house with a box of wooden kitchen matches and a pair of pliers. He said “We don’t have any fireworks but you kids can make some noise with these.” He then showed us how a kitchen match can make as much noise as a cap gun. If you recall, the tip, the striking part of the match, is a different color than the body. You line up the pliers in the same plane as the match stick and grasp the tip of the match with the pliers. While gently applying pressure you start to turn the pliers as if uncorking a bottle and the tip of the match will separate from the body. Maintaining a firm grip on the pliers, you strike the jaw of the pliers on the sidewalk and that causes the explosion. Pretty neat and as I said, it’s at least as loud as a cap gun. We kids took turns with the pliers until the entire box of matches was gone.

By this time it was dark and we could hear more noise coming from State Street which was a block over including a band that was playing full blast. Dad and Mom came out of the house and got us and we walked over to State Street and went up a block to the corner of 5th and State. The sidewalks were packed. The street was jammed too with cars, trucks, and tractors. One of the flat-bed trucks was carrying the Augusta High School Pep Band. I used to remember the names of all the band guys but now can only recall Corky Smith who played the drums. State Street was the main street in our town and was paved in brick. It ran north and south for maybe 1 ½ to 2 miles. The north end was on high ground and after maybe a half mile you came to High Street where it started going downhill and continued to slope all the way to the end. If you were going to “drag main street” you would drive up to High Street, make a U-turn, then cruise all the way south to 4th Street where you would make another U-turn and head back to High Street. Driving this mindless track used to occupy the kids for hours. High Street was in a residential area that continued south to 7th Street. The business district or “downtown” part of State Street went from 7th to 3rd St. On V J Day, all these cars, trucks, and tractors were making a big loop from High St. to 4th and back and making noise all the way.

That’s all a 9 year old kid can remember…the crowds, the noise, the joy, and the relief that the war was over.

Dave Thomas
October 11, 2014


The Old Barn

I have always liked old barns. When you see them quietly standing there now, they may not look as good or as strong as they once did but they have a resolute and stately quality about them. Their job is done but if needed, they would gladly step up to the mark. This story about the old barn is the only work of fiction I have attempted. I hope you see the barn as a giver and a worthy member of the community.

            Old Barn 1

The Old Barn

Hello! I seldom get visits from pretty young ladies like you. I’ll bet you are a city girl and have never met or talked to an old barn like me. What…you say you would like to take my picture? That’s an unusual request as I certainly don’t look my best now. I’m nearly one hundred years old and am missing some of my shingles and boards and have begun to lean a bit. No, I’ve never had a coat of paint. I hear that in some parts of the country they paint their barns but around here they just let us weather.

How was my early life? Oh, it was wonderful! Barns were a big part of life on the farm. In the early days if someone needed a barn, neighbors came from miles around to take part in a “barn raising”. Generally, the men built the barn, the women cooked a wonderful meal, and the kids got acquainted and played together. The community developed camaraderie and the barn was pretty much built in a day.

The hay mow or loft, which was the upper floor, was large enough to store several tons of hay for the winter. The hay of course fed the cattle and horses but it also insulated the barn and helped me provide shelter for the animals and for my people when they needed it.

They brought the milk cow in twice a day and milked her and when she had a calf, the birthing took place in one of my stalls where they knew both of them would be safe. The farmer had a beautiful team of draft horse that lived here also. They did all the heavy work here on the farm. It was my pleasure to give them a warm, dry home where they could rest and eat and get ready for the next day.

I also enjoyed the hens. There were a couple of them that just wouldn’t stay in the chicken coop. They’d come in here and lay their eggs in the mangers and even up in the hay mow sometimes. The farmer’s wife finally gave up on keeping those hens contained and made a regular trip out here every day to gather their eggs.

Sometimes the boys and girls got caught necking out here in the loft. The farmer would dress them down but he and his wife always chuckled about it later.

I also provided storage for the harnesses and for corn and grain and the many tools it takes to keep a farm going. There are many facets to farming and we tried to be prepared for them all.

Life was good and my people were happy. They didn’t have a lot of money but they always worked hard and as a result had plenty to eat and always had the things they needed.

What happened to me? Well, I don’t have anyone to care for me anymore. The kids all grew up and decided to get jobs in the city where they could get a steady paycheck and not have to work from dawn until dark. The farmer and his wife hung on because this was the life they loved but eventually they became old and feeble and died.

What was that? Oh, you snapped my picture. Well, when you look at it later remember that in spite of what you see, it’s been a good life for me.

What does the future hold? Well, I’ll keep standing here as long as I can. I miss my people and the laughter and the animals. I took good care of them all. It’s been wonderful and I’ll keep looking forward to the next sunrise until there are no more.

Dave Thomas
December 4, 2013


Tupelo, Mississippi

Yesterday a tornado struck Tupelo, Mississippi and seriously damaged the town and killed one person. It’s a small town and could probably be called a “farm town” as I don’t know that there is much in the way of industry there. You don’t hear much about the place so hearing it mentioned on the news was unexpected and it brought back a memory from fifty-six years ago.

I was in the Navy and attending Aviation Electronics “A” School in Memphis. Actually, I think the base was in the suburb of Millington and we had rented an upstairs apartment in a private home there. Pat was working in the accounting department of Kroger Grocery Stores in their corporate offices in Memphis. The building was located on the bank of the Mississippi River.

Pat and I had been adapting to one change after another. We had been married November 9, 1957 thanks to a 3-day weekend due to Veteran’s Day. At that time I was attending the Naval Aviation Prep School in Norman, Oklahoma, just south of Oklahoma City. (I have no idea why a Navy base was in the middle of Oklahoma.) Pat was working in the Accounting Department of Sears Roebuck at the Wichita, Kansas store. On Friday afternoon I got out of school and to conserve money hitch-hiked to Wichita. We got married the next morning and headed for Claremore, Oklahoma for an overnight honeymoon and a visit to the Will Rogers Memorial. Then, it was back to Wichita and on Monday evening Pat dropped me at the bus depot and I headed back to Norman and school and Pat would be back at Sears the next day.

The next week I graduated from the Aviation “P” School and was shipped to Memphis to the Aviation Electronics “A” School. Pat remained in Wichita, working at Sears while we figured out what we were going to do and accumulated a few bucks to do it with. In mid December I rented the apartment in Millington and Pat packed everything we owned into her1952 Chevrolet and drove to Memphis. One of Pat’s good friends rode to Memphis with her and then returned to Wichita on a bus.

Getting back to the story, it must have been in February or March because it was still cold and there weren’t any leaves on the trees and we decided to explore the area. Neither of us had been in Mississippi before so we headed south and enjoyed the ride.

After a time, we came to a large sign saying “Tupelo, Birthplace of Elvis Presley”. That seemed pretty cool and we were getting hungry so we decided to stop for lunch. We were still on the outskirts of town and spotted a restaurant among some trees at the side of the road. We went in and sat down at a table and waited for a waitress to come and take our orders. We talked and killed time and minutes went by and nobody showed. By this time, we had started looking around and at about the same time, we realized that all the other patrons were black and didn’t really look too friendly. About now, I’m thinking I’ve really got us into a jackpot and had better get ready to fight our way out.

Pat and I had come to Memphis totally naïve about segregation. In the 20 years I had lived in my home town we only had one black family and they had only lived there for a year or two. Pat’s home town had a few black families and as far as I know there wasn’t a lot of open bigotry. What this all boiled down to was that Pat and I were too innocent to handle the current situation well.

Getting back to our predicament, we all sat there and stared at each other for a few more minutes and then a man came out from the kitchen and suggested that Pat and I might be more comfortable somewhere else. We left and considered it a lesson learned.

Dave Thomas
April 29, 2014


What To Wear

Here’s a story that Pat witnessed and I enjoyed.

It was one of those Thursdays where a number of the Sears sales staff that had the day off had gathered at Mission Bay to water ski. It was noon and after a lot of skiing everyone was taking a lunch break. Two of the guys had their ski boats there that day and they had nosed their boats in and grounded them on the sand.

A car pulled up and parked and the man that gets out is a new guy, Jerry that is a salesman in the refrigerator department. He gets into the trunk of his car and brings out a water ski and tucks it under his arm as he walks over to the group. He looks pretty sharp as he approaches in his coat and tie. He says “Hi” and then says “I knew you guys were down here at the bay and though I had to work I didn’t want to miss out. I’m on my lunch hour and I would sure like to get one turn around the bay. Can I get one of you to give me a tow?” “Pat” Patitucci, the owner of one of the boats, says “Sure, I’ll give you a tow.”

Pat gets in his boat and fires it up and backs out into the water. Another guy gets the tow rope ready and prepares to “flag” for the ski run. Meanwhile, Jerry has taken off his coat and placed it carefully on the grass. Next, he takes off his shoes and socks, puts them next to his coat, and then rolls his pant legs up to his knees. He walks to the water’s edge, lays down his ski and places his foot in the cup. The flagman in the boat tosses the tow rope which he catches and then he gives Pat the sign to “Hit it!” Off they go! It looks kind of strange to see a fully dressed man making a circle of the bay.

One of the guys on shore knows Jerry pretty well and explains the situation to the rest of the group. It seems that both of Jerry’s parents were water skiers and he’s been skiing almost since he learned to walk. He wouldn’t be getting his clothes wet because he wasn’t going to fall.

Jerry finished a couple of circles of the bay and cast aside the tow rope and glided in. He got dressed, thanked everyone, jumped in his car and went back to work.

Dave and Pat Thomas
March 8, 2015


Wild Bill

When I was in grade school, my great uncle, Dave Peebler, and Aunt Rachel kept a few chickens in their back yard at 124 High Street. The flock included a young rooster they had named “Wild Bill” because he was so feisty. Wild Bill thought he was in charge of the back yard and if he caught you trespassing he would sneak up behind you and beat the devil out of you with his wings. He managed to get all of us more than once. One time he cornered me and beat me until my legs were sore before I could escape. Uncle Dave always thought it was hilarious when one of us got beat up.

One evening, we were having supper with Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel. We were part-way through the meal when Uncle Dave looked over at me and asked “How do you like that drumstick?” I replied that I thought it was really good. “Well,” he says “That’s old Wild Bill!” I was really taken aback. It had never occurred to me that the chickens in the back yard were anything but pets. Aunt Rachel chimed in and told us that she had been out in the yard, tending her flowers, and that no-good rooster had sneaked up on her and began beating her legs with his wings. She said, “That was the last straw and I grabbed him and wrung his neck!”

There were a couple of lessons to be learned here. The first one might be that “not all critters are destined to be pets.” Another might be that “if you are naughty or disrespectful, there may be dire consequences.”

Dave Thomas
December 19, 2014


Eagle Feather and White Fawn

  Eagle-White Fawn-car

Chief Eagle Feather, a full-blooded Cherokee, toured the country’s vaudeville circuit and was billed as “America’s premier Indian tap dancer.” The Chief, also known as Frank Bell, married our cousin, Myrtle Thomas. The story goes that after their marriage, she was adopted by the tribe and given the name “White Fawn.” She joined Eagle Feather in his adventures as he persued his vaudeville career.
Eagle & White Fawn

Dave Thomas
September 16, 2015

Pictures from cousin Dave Dunn.

Seaplane Story 7: Tender Operations

We were supposed to have flown to Sangley Point, in the Phillipines, to avoid a typhoon that was headed for our base at Iwakuni, Japan. An hour or so after we were airborne we lost an engine and were diverted to Buckner Bay, Okinawa where the seaplane tender, U.S.S. Pine Island, was  currently stationed. The Pine Island had returned from being out to sea for gunnery practice and was tied up at the pier. Our P5M-1 seaplane was to be lifted aboard the ship by the giant crane at the stern and we would have an engine replaced.

The ship’s crew came out in two utility boats (I forget the proper name for those boats) to where we were tied to a buoy and with a boat on each side of the plane maneuvered us to the stern of the ship (see picture 07a). Crew members removed inspection plates from the top of the wings and fuselage to expose the brackets to which the lifting bridle from the crane would be attached. They also attached some ropes that would trail off the wings and could be used by the deck crew to guide or stabilize the plane. One rope or line was placed along the top of the wing almost reaching from wing-tip to wing-tip. This was to be a safety line for those of us to grab in case of emergency. They asked for 4 volunteers to stand in strategic spots on top of the wings. If the plane should become unbalanced while being moved it would be our job to hold onto the safety line and move one way or the other until the plane regained equilibrium.

After the rigging and other preliminary work was done, we volunteers climbed up on the wings and were ready for the thrill of the day. I had worked the “angel board” in the oil fields so was used to working high. I figured that the giant crane would be jerky and that the plane would probably sway while we were in the air. However, the ride was smooth as silk! That crane operator really had the touch and it was a neat experience. I’ve got several pictures of planes being lifted and think only one or two of them showed men on the wings so I’m wondering what the difference is that requires a balancing team on one plane but not the next. I remember that it was overcast that day so maybe they were afraid there would be some wind. Who knows?

I think we were aboard the Pine Island for 3 days by the time we had changed the engine and run it for a few hours. That’s the only time I was aboard a ship during my 4 years in the Navy. The chow was great! I’ve never had a bad meal in a Navy mess hall.

It was a smooth trip back to Iwakuni and the typhoon had missed the base completely.

Dave Thomas
March 7, 2012, revised February 16, 2015

07a Pine Island

07b Aboard the Tender


Izzie 2: Driving Miss Izzie

Pat wanted to walk for exercise. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know any ladies in the neighborhood that would like to go along with her and it gets pretty boring to walk by yourself. Thinking about it, she remembered when we lived in Texas; she sometimes shopped in the upscale community of Southlake, and often saw women pushing their dogs around in doggie strollers. It sounded like the perfect solution. She could take Izzie for a ride and they would both have a good time.

Dave Thomas
May 19, 2012