It was June of 1957 and I had graduated from boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, north of Chicago. I was beginning a 30 day “leave” and had taken trains from Chicago to Wichita. After arriving in Wichita, I walked the block or two to the bus depot and caught a bus to my home town of Augusta, 17 miles to the east.

We arrived in Augusta and stopped at the Bus Depot which in actuality was McDuffy’s Service Station. Getting off the bus, I felt like I was in a strange new world. I’d only been gone about 3 months but everything felt different and I wasn’t sure why. I was wearing “dress blues” with the neckerchief and white sailor hat so I felt a little conspicuous. Boot camp was like a vacation for me but it had done its job which was to cut the apron strings and teach you to stand on your own two feet and live a disciplined and pride-filled life.

I got my sea bag out of the belly of the bus and waited to cross the street at the only stop light in town. As I crossed the street, I saw Clarence “Judy” Williams, our neighbor from two doors down, coming toward me. Judy was at least 6’3″ tall and was as nice as he was big. As we met, he shook my hand and grinned and told me how proud he was to see me in my sailor suit. I should tell you that during WWII, Judy had been a “Seabee’ (C.B.= Construction Battalion). We grade school kids knew what outfits all the local guys were in and considered them all to be heroes. The job of the Seabees was to build roads and landing strips where needed, often under fire. I remember one cartoon showing a Seabee driving a bulldozer with one hand and firing a machine gun with the other.

We walked the block to our homes, talking “Navy talk” all the way. As we got to Judy’s house, he dropped off but shook my hand and told me again how proud he was to see me in uniform. Now, after all that, I felt like a million bucks! I was home and comfortable and proud to be in the Navy.

I guess what I want you to draw from this is that a kind deed such as Judy performed can have an effect that will keep a person warm for a lifetime. It’s been over 57 years and thinking about it still makes me feel good.

Here’s a footnote:

Thinking about this story, I realized that I didn’t know how or why “Judy” Williams got his name. I sent an e-mail to his daughter, Joyce, who is a couple of years older than me but still going strong. Joyce has been a friend since we played kick-the-can some 65 or 70 years ago. Joyce’s response to my question is a good story in itself so I’ll copy it here.

“Hi Dave-

Now, about my Dad. Will be interested in hearing how he ends up in a missive to your grandkids. He was the youngest by 8 years of 8 children. They lived on a farm, and were very hard working, kids included. (They did things different in those days.) A traveling show (circus) came to a nearby town, and apparently the whole family went. At least my Dad and some of the older kids. And this was a rare event. There was a puppeteer there doing a “Punch and Judy” show. I can’t remember how old my dad was, but, not very and he was really impressed, and talked of nothing else for weeks after. Consequently, he became known as Punch and Judy, eventually shortened to Judy.

Now the strange part that I can’t explain. They lived in Indiana. My mom and dad met in Chicago, and later married. Everyone in Augusta called him Judy, and his family back home in Indiana called him Clarence til the day he died. And in later years, he preferred Clarence. Too late, everyone knew him as Judy.


Dave Thomas
January 9, 2015



Angels, Cats, and Hummingbirds

We live about 1 1/2 to 2 miles west of Miramar Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF). Miramar puts on an air show in October of each year and it’s now billed as the top air show in the country with this year’s attendance forecasted to be 700,000. The stars of the big show are the Blue Angels and their performances are amazing. We are lucky in that when they make a low pass at the Miramar runway it brings them straight down our main thoroughfare and we can see them from the front of the house or the patio

This year’s air show was to be held last weekend, October 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Last Tuesday, about 8:30 in the morning, the house starts shaking, the windows rattle, and the roaring noise is so loud you can’t hear the TV and Good Morning America! The Blue Angels are back in town and this time they are coming with seven FA-18’s and a giant C-130. The noise was deafening. Isabella, the cat, was going crazy as she rushed from one hiding place to the next trying to get away. As the planes made their low pass to say “hello” it was a reminder that Miramar was the home of the original Top Gun school and the place where the movie was made.

I really enjoy the Blue Angels but was concerned about Izzie, the cat. Wednesday and Thursday, as the Blue Angels practiced for their performance, she was running from one hiding place to the next and was totally freaked out. I tried to catch her and comfort her but wasn’t fast enough. Friday was the first day of the air show and the Blue Angels lifted off about 2:30 for their performance. When I heard the roar of their first pass coming at us, I jumped up and started calling Izzie. Apparently, she had put up with all she could stand. When I got to the bedroom, she dashed out from under the bed and ran to my feet and assumed the stance she takes when wanting to be picked up. I sat down on the bed and held her in my lap facing me. She sat with her front legs stiff as poles and stared me right in the eye. I started stroking her back and telling her over and over that it was going to be okay. To be “okay”, was a concept she had learned when we were dealing with the trash trucks. She had been going nuts when dealing with them and I told her over and over that she would be okay and finally she accepted the fact that the noise of the trucks wouldn’t hurt her and now she could care less.

We sat there as the Blue Angels went through their routine with me stroking Izzie’s back and telling her it was okay while she sat there all stiff-legged and stared at me and was ready to cut and run the second I flinched and acknowledged trouble. All of a sudden, the stiffness went out of her body and she seemed to relax as the Blue Angels finished their performance.

The next day, Saturday, at 2:30, here we go again. When I heard the roar coming, I jumped to my feet and went to find Izzie. She was in the bedroom again but this time she was stretched out full length and was sound asleep! I was amazed! I watched her as the planes made a couple more passes and the house shook and the windows rattled but she never moved a muscle. I know she was awake but she had conquered her fear. Sunday, the final day of the air show was good, too. Izzie went about her business without a second thought to the noise.

One of the best things about the Miramar Air Show has been the ability to get good pictures of the Blue Angels. On most of their runs they come in from the west so we can stand out on our patio and catch them coming in and snap pictures as they are coming right up the gut. We can also go out in our front yard and shoot them going away as they break into their fantastic routines like the star-burst pattern. Its fun either way but I prefer to catch them from the patio as they are coming “head on”.

I’ve gotten some good pictures in the past but this year things were different. I had a great camera but Kodak no longer supported the software and it didn’t work with Windows 7. I sold the camera on eBay and bought a lesser camera that I can carry in my shirt pocket.

The trees in our neighborhood have grown. Now, you can hear the Blue Angels coming but they crest the trees and you only have about 2 seconds to find them in the view finder and snap the shutter before they are gone. My eyesight has gotten worse and my reflexes are slower so I’m practically worthless. After 2 days of practice and 3 days of the air show, I didn’t have one decent picture. I gave up and went back to taking pictures of the humming birds as they came to visit our feeder. They are tiny little creatures and fast but they will hover and stay in one place long enough to get their picture.

Fortunately, Pat realized that I was failing in my assignment as an action photographer and she grabbed her i-phone and ran out into the front yard and got some Blue Angel pictures that she forwarded to my computer. Thanks to her, I’ve got a couple of pictures of the planes to go along with my humming birds.




Dave Thomas
October 7, 2014


Standing Up While Sittin’ Down

I was 20 years old and had just returned from Colorado where I had spent several months working as a roughneck in the oil fields. It’s hard work and it goes on for 8 or 16 hours a day and 7 days a week. The old saying is that it’s a job for mules but all the mules have been worked to death so now they are using men. I remember my first week on the job and coming back to the hotel every night and collapsing on the bed. One morning I woke up on the floor with a boot in my hand. That’s as far as I got with my undressing the night before. I got tougher every day and soon was able to work out at night with the set of weights I had been carrying around in the trunk of my car. After roughnecking for a few months I could work an 8 or 16 hour day and still lift weights afterward. I weighed my normal 158 pounds when I went to Colorado but I soon bulked up to 198 pounds and probably got a little too proud of myself. Needless to say, I was in terrific shape and didn’t worry about anything.

After getting back to Augusta that day, I waited around home for Mom to get off work at the Augusta Daily Gazette. We had supper together and then talked for a while. I decided to go down to the pool hall and see what was happening there. The pool hall was set up like most of them with a bar and a bunch of domino tables in the front. Then, there were 3 snooker tables and an 8-ball table to accommodate the pool shooters. As I stepped through the door, I could hear my Dad back at one of the snooker tables sounding off about something. When Dad was sober, he was a genial, mild-mannered man whom everyone liked. When he was drinking he became a mean, loud-mouthed, profane drunk that nobody wanted to be around.

I came on in, took a stool at the bar and ordered a glass of beer. When I got the beer, I swiveled around and leaned back against the bar and kept an eye on Dad. He was getting louder and more obnoxious and a couple of guys at the next snooker table were yelling back at him. All that did was egg him on and he was calling them everything but civilized people. I was kind of enjoying it because after listening to Dad for years I knew just how drunk he was. At this point, he was fried just enough to be hell-on- wheels. Those two guys at the next table, that I knew to be just a couple of loud mouths, wouldn’t stand a chance. Fortunately for them, they decided it wasn’t worth it and hung up their pool cues and left. 

There were two guys in their late 30’s, sitting at a domino table near me. They were tired of listening to Dad, too. They became more agitated as they were cussing Dad and finally one of them starts talking tough and says “god-dammit, I think I’ll go back there and whip that loud-mouthed old wolf!” I just turned my stool a little until I faced them square on, took a sip of my beer, and in my best cowboy drawl said “Shucks…the two of you can’t even whip his cub!” They didn’t want any and got up and left. I just finished my beer and went on home leaving Dad to take care of his own problems.

Dave Thomas
February 23, 2015


The Communicators

I once read that a cat will have the intelligence of a two to three year old child. I believe that. Both learn quickly and the first things they learn are those that are good for them. To guess what they are trying to talk about you can rule out politics, world affairs, and religion. In other words, it’s generally going to be me, me, me. I had two experiences the other day that were based on two little girls trying to entertain themselves.

Our great grand-daughter, Quetzal, will be 2 ½ years old this month. She has been using just one word at a time like “Mama” or “Dada” but recently decided to start putting several words together. However, instead of going from words to sentences she jumped from words to paragraphs. I admire her ambition but her vocabulary hasn’t grown fast enough to support it. Yesterday, I answered the phone and all I heard was a little girl speaking gibberish. I picked out the words “book” and maybe “school”. She stopped to take a breath and I jumped in with “Is this Quetzal?” She took off again with one of her excited word storms. I wasn’t picking up much but interrupted with “are you playing with your dog?” In a stroke of genius I had decided that I could identify her through her dog. She was chattering again so I interrupted again with my brilliant “what is your dog’s name?” Well, that really energized her and I was able to pick out the word “dog” but didn’t hear any name. About this time I’m starting to hear a more mature voice in the background. “Where’s your Mama” I said. “In the kitchen” she answered very distinctly. “Let me talk to her”, I say. In a few seconds I recognize Michelle’s voice as she says “hello”. “Your kid just called me” I said. Michelle recognized my voice and laughed. “I was busy in the kitchen and she got bored and said she was going to call somebody. I guess she wasn’t kidding” says Michelle. We talked a few minutes and hung up. I don’t see well enough to use a cell phone but Pat can do all that stuff. I asked her how a little girl who can’t read can call people on the phone. Pat explained that Quetzal had learned to turn on the phone and bring up the “Contacts” list by watching her parents. You can scroll through the list and by touching a name can bring up a profile page for that individual. If the owner of the phone has been diligent in putting together the profile, it will contain a picture of the individual. Quetzal recognizes all of us from the many Skype calls we have made so she just thumbs through the pictures until she finds someone she wants to talk to. Quetzal and her Grandpa Russ are pretty tight and I guess she was driving him nuts with her phone calls at work and any time of day. Michelle had to remove his picture from the phone so he could have some peace.

Isabella or Izzie the cat is our next communicator. I can certainly attest to the fact that cats are as smart as toddlers. They generally communicate in more subtle ways than kids and you have to be alert to their body language, the twitching of the ears and tail and their overall demeanor.

Izzie has decided that she is ready to talk. Like Quetzal, she’s not expanding from words to sentences. She’s jumping straight from words to paragraphs. She used to express herself with just one meow but now she cuts loose with a string of them and tells the whole story. It goes “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, and meow”. And, it’s just like listening to Quetzal in that I don’t understand a word she is saying.

The other day after I got the phone call from Quetzal, Izzie tried her new vocabulary on me. I should tell you how this incident developed. Pat was working in the kitchen and Izzie came in and sat down next to the sliding glass door to the patio. Izzie meowed once to say that she wanted to go outside. Being an “inside” cat and not to worldly regarding coyotes and fast-moving traffic we don’t let her out by herself. We have to put the harness on her and attach the leash and then be prepared to follow her as she explores. Pat was busy so she just told Izzie to “wait a minute”. Izzie gave her another “meow” and got the same response from Pat. Well, Izzie blew her top. Her ears went back, her eyes narrowed, and she read the riot act to Pat. It’s coming out like a machine gun…meow, meow, meow, meow, and meow. Then she got all stiff-legged and stomped out of the kitchen.

Meanwhile, I’m in at the computer, blissfully ignorant of what has transpired between Pat and Izzie. Izzie comes in and jumps up on the desk, walks up and turns to face me and cuts loose with some sad story and the words are coming a mile-a-minute, just like with Quetzal, only they are in “Cat” language and I don’t understand that any better than “Baby” talk. Meow, meow, meow, meow, and meow. I can see that she is terribly upset so reach my hand up to stroke her back. She dodges my hand and jumps down from the desk and huffily stomps toward the door. As she reaches the door she looks back over her shoulder at me which is always a signal that I should follow her. So, I get up out of my chair and take off after her. She leads me down the hall, looking over her shoulder a couple of times to make sure I’m following and then goes into the kitchen and over to the door to the patio. About this time Pat bursts out laughing and says “I wouldn’t do what she wanted so she chewed me out and stomped over to you and told on me. Then, she convinced you to get up and follow her to the door so you could take her out. You talk about a spoiled brat!”

Well, there you have it. Two young entities, still novices as communicators, but both thinking they are really laying down some words. I admire their efforts but can’t understand a thing they are saying.

Dave Thomas
March 30, 2014


Izzie 10: Who’s The Boss?

We have a swing on our patio and Pat and I try to be out there every day for at least an hour. We swing and hold hands, look at the blue sky, watch the hummingbirds, and talk or don’t talk. It’s terrific way to enjoy the day. We also take our cat, Isabella, out with us so she can watch the birds, look for lizards, take a nap in the sun, or do whatever makes her feel good. Since she is an “inside” cat, we put a harness on her and a 5 foot leash. We also have a “reel” with 15 or 20 feet of line on it that we attach to the leash so she can check out the whole area without us having to move.

Sometime back, we decided that Izzie might enjoy swinging so we put her between us on the swing. She didn’t care for that and immediately jumped down. A day or two later, Pat and Izzie went out while I was busy in the house and when Pat put Izzie in the swing with her she stayed. I joined them later and sat in a chair near them. We stuck to this routine for a few days. Izzie shared the swing with Pat and when she got tired of swinging she would jump down and I would move to the swing. This went on for some days or weeks and we all got along. One day, Izzie had jumped down and I had moved to the swing and was talking to Pat. Izzie was over on the other side of the patio.

Izzie 2-4-2013

What are you doing in my swing? 

When she looked around and saw me sitting next to Pat she immediately came over and sat down right in front of me and looked me in the eye. I knew from her attitude and the way she was staring that she was trying to communicate with me. I said, “What do you want?” She kept staring so I said, “Do you want to swing?” I stood up and she immediately dashed around me and jumped in the swing. Pat and I both laughed about the way Izzie got what she wanted. Over the next few days this seemed to happen more often. I thought it was interesting that she was able to let us know what she wanted so I thought that as a reward I would surrender the swing whenever she asked for it.

This arrangement was working pretty well when, all of a sudden Izzie started getting possessive with her spot in the swing. As soon as she saw me sitting next to Pat she would come over and challenge me. Yes, she was no longer being nice about it, she came with an attitude! She really liked swinging but we didn’t know if she was trying to protect her spot in the swing or if she objected to me sitting next to Pat. They are pretty tightly bonded because Pat takes a comb and grooms her every day. She thinks Pat is her mother.

It may be that Izzie is just protecting her territory as yesterday morning she was upset with both of us. We were out on the patio and Pat and Izzie were in the swing and I was in a chair. Izzie saw a lizard on the other side of the patio. She jumped down from the swing and walked over to the other side and sat down to wait for it to show itself again. I moved over to the swing and when Izzie saw me sit down, she immediately came back and let me know that she wanted in the swing. Pat and I both laughed and I moved to the chair. I figured that if she is smart enough to tell me what she wants then she should be rewarded and enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the family.

My chair

We need to talk! 

Izzie enjoyed the swing for a few minutes and jumped down again. This time she had noticed a spot of sun on the patio floor and she laid down in it and started taking a bath. I had moved over to the swing again and when Izzie looked up from her bath and saw me, she jumped up and trotted back. Pat and I laughed again and I relinquished the swing.

Again, we were enjoying our time outdoors and as Pat and I talked, she would reach over occasionally and stroke Izzie’s back. Izzie had her eyes closed and was happy to be swinging and getting petted. As always, she only lasted a few minutes and jumped down .This time, she went to the other side of the patio and found a nice, shady spot and stretched out full length for a nap. I moved from the chair to the swing. Izzie raised her 4 of 4 Who’s The Boss?

head and looked back over her shoulder and saw me and jumped to her feet and headed for me. Pat and I were laughing again as Izzie, for the third time, reclaimed her spot in the swing. This time, things were different. Izzie stood there in the swing and faced me and her ears went back and her eyebrows came down and she was looking daggers at me! After a few moments of glaring at me, she turned to Pat with her ears still back and her eyes hooded and started chewing her out for letting me sit in the swing! “Meow, meow, meow, meow!” What a performance! We have created a monster!


It’s okay, now.

Dave Thomas
April 15, 2015



Younger people are used to seeing the big Shepler’s Western Wear Store out by the Wichita airport. It’s really something to behold. If you need cowboy stuff, that is the place to get it. My first visit to Shepler’s was nowhere near as grand as what you see today.

Even an Augusta kid like me knew about Harry Shepler. Besides running his store, Mr. Shepler also sponsored rodeos and other western events. I was probably between 10 and 12 years old and that would put the time from 1946 to 1948. On a Saturday morning, I was with my great uncle, Dave Peebler at his home at 124 High Street. I was there to do yard work or whatever needed to be done. Uncle Dave said he needed to go to Shepler’s Wichita and invited me to ride along. I liked the idea and jumped in the car and we took off.

It’s been a lot of years since I have cruised around Wichita, but as I recall, Shepler’s was on Market Street, about 3 blocks north of Douglas. The business was located in a small store front that was completely filled with western gear. In the store, we walked to the back, where the counter was located and there was no one in sight. The door to the back room shop area was open and out came Harry Shepler. He and Uncle Dave shook hands and greeted each other. They told me that they were old acquaintances who didn’t get to see each other very often but caught up on things when they could. Uncle Dave introduced me to Mr. Shepler who invited me to go look around the store while they visited.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The place was filled with the wonderful smell of leather and there was cowboy stuff everywhere. I ran my hands over the floral carvings of the saddles and fondled the bridles and smelled them. I looked at the spurs and belt buckles and tried on a couple of cowboy hats. All this stuff fit right in with the cowboy movies I saw at the Isis Theater every Saturday afternoon. Mr. Shepler was indeed a lucky man!

I understand that the Shepler stores have prospered and can now be found in many cities. I’ll bet none of them smell as good as that first one.


Dave Thomas
December 16, 2015

Do It Right!

I was named after my great-uncle, Dave Peebler. He was born in 1893 and grew up on a farm. His parents were hard working people so the family always had enough of everything. But, times were tough and money was in short supply. As a result, everything was used and nothing was wasted. All belongings were cared for because replacements were not easy to get. Being frugal and conservative were necessary parts of life.

When I was in grade school I learned a lesson from Uncle Dave that I’ve never forgotten. Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel had picked up my sister and I and we were in the back seat of their car and going somewhere. We were traveling south on State Street, the main drag in our town. State Street was one of those pretty brick streets that caused your tires to hum as you rolled along. The north end of the street was all residential and at High Street you started down a hill that lasted for six blocks and then the street leveled out for about four blocks of business district.

We got a couple of blocks down the hill and came to a place where some city maintenance men were working. They had placed those sawhorse-type barricades around a hole that they were digging manually. They had removed the bricks from the surface of the street and piled them off to the side. A pile of dirt was beginning to grow as they worked with their shovels and pick axes. We all looked as we went past and wondered just what the problem was but continued on toward wherever we were going.

An hour or two later we were returning and drove past the site again. Now, it was raining and the men were gone. There were three shovels and two pick-axes, caked with mud, and hap-hazardly tossed on the dirt pile and left to rust. Uncle Dave saw this and started shaking his head. He passionately spat out “God damn a man that won’t take care of his tools!” The vehemence of his voice and words made a great impression on me and I have never forgotten it. Even today, if I have done a job and don’t want to put my tools away as I should because I’m in a hurry, or if I don’t want to clean them up, Uncle Dave’s words come back to me. I end up doing the job the right way because I don’t want the guilt that would come from not doing it properly.

Dave Thomas
December 26, 2013