It was a sad day, last month, when Ringling Brothers announced that they were going out of business. What is life without the circus? The feeling of impending doom started last year when they said they were retiring the elephants. I have really had some mixed feelings about that. To me, the elephants are the circus. Sure, they’ve got the trapeze acts, the lion tamers, and the clowns, but what of it? It’s those giant-sized, majestic creatures with the wise old eyes that set the tone for everything else.

On the other hand, elephants shouldn’t have to live that kind of life. Most of the day they were chained to a stake in the ground and bored to death. They were only free long enough to go out and perform those demeaning little tricks. Not a good life for such a marvelous creature.

I know, that I shouldn’t discuss serious stuff. Well, here’s a remedy for that. As you may have guessed, I have a circus story.

The circus and the carnivals used to stop in Augusta, Kansas, our little town of 5,000 people. In the south end of town, there was a big lot behind the homes on the west side of the 500 block of Oak Street. It was a nice, level piece of property, bounded on the north by the Frisco Railroad tracks and on the south by the White Eagle Refinery. That was a good location but one year they changed the venue, y to get more space. I was probably between the ages of 14 and 16. That would put it between 1950 and 1952. Up in the north end of town there was a pasture that probably was within the city limits. It was bounded by Kelly Road on the south and Washington Lane on the west. I think the northern boundary was even with the entrance to Garvin Park. The circus people set up their tents and equipment up at the north end of the property.

If I remember correctly, the circus arrived via the Santa Fe Railroad. I believe it was the next day that they had a parade down State Street. For some reason, I was watching from a spot front of Schneider Brothers Grain and Feed Store as the elephants strolled past. The circus had put out a call for some boys to show up that first morning and clean up after the elephants. It’s a monumental job but someone must do it and I would have been honored. On that specified morning, we headed for the pasture and the super duper pooper scooper job. I think Gary

Casner was my partner in this adventure. Unfortunately, we got there too late and the jobs had been filled. Such is life.

That evening, we went back to the circus to see the show. We got there early and split up to look around. There was a side-show set up on the west side of the big top and there were posters advertising the usual attractions like the Bearded Lady and the Tatooed Man, and of course, the Exotic Dancer. There was a stage in front of the entrance to the tent and it was surrounded, about three deep, by men and high school boys. I had arrived during the time segment of the Exotic Dancer and she was on stage smiling and posing as the barker extolled her wares. According to the barker, once you paid your money and got inside the tent, you were going to see some spicy stuff. I wouldn’t be able to find out because the posted sign said, “No One Under the Age Of 18 Allowed Inside”. That was okay for it turned out that I saw an amusing show anyhow.

I knew most of the guys in the crowd. There were a couple of high school classmates, a couple of dads of classmates, businessmen from down town, and men that worked at the refinery. I was surprised to see one man that seemed to be hanging back a step or two behind the rest of the crowd. I knew this man well. He was a businessman that I saw whenever I went to town. He was a sharp dresser, always in a white shirt, tie, sport coat, and slacks. He was a talker, too, and always had a word for every man, woman, or kid he came across. That’s why I was surprised to see him standing by himself. There was no one to talk to.

I was watching this guy out of the corner of my eye when suddenly, I found out what was going on. His sport coat was unbuttoned and he would reach across with his left hand and pull the coat back, exposing the camera he had hanging around his neck! It was a small, flat camera, looking much like the digital cameras we have today. Once the camera was in the clear, he would reach up with his right hand and snap a picture and then let the coat fall closed. Whenever the woman would change her position or her pose, he would snap another picture. This went on throughout the barker’s spiel and the guy was so intent on what he was doing, he didn’t know I was watching. Thinking about it now, I don’t remember seeing him wind the camera to advance the film. I must not have been paying attention. I don’t believe we had the technology or the miniature batteries to support automatic film advancing.

I don’t know what the guy’s motivation was. Maybe he was in training to become a spy. Or, maybe he was taking pictures for an up-coming coffee table book about exotic dancers. Maybe he was just a pervert. All I know, is that I got a good chuckle from his covert performance.

Dave Thomas
June 30, 2017


Critters With Tools

Our son, Russ, was fascinated by the welding processes. He was interested in arc welding, gas welding, heli-arc, Mig, Tig, and the complete spectrum of methods for joining metals. He took all the classes that were available and by the time he graduated was becoming an accomplished welder. After high school, he worked a job building bumpers for off-road vehicles. He continued working welding jobs and sharpening his skills with an eye to getting into the union. When he was about 19, he hired on with a company that had a contract in Indio, California. The contract was for fabrication of a conveyor system for a sand and gravel company.

If you should ask anyone about Indio, they will tell you that it is hot! Indio is located 130 miles east of Los Angeles where the Colorado and Mojave deserts come together. The record high temperature for January is 97 degrees and for December, it is 98 degrees. Record highs for the rest of the months vary from 100 to 125 degrees.

I like stories about animals and their ability to think and reason and am especially intrigued by stories of animals that have learned to use tools.

Russ was working over in Indio at the hottest part of the year. They were building a conveyor system for a sand and gravel company. They were building this conveyor in sections and ended up fabricating nearly a mile of it. The man Russ was working for had rented the property next to the sand and gravel company so they wouldn’t have to transport the finished sections of conveyor too far to set them up. The rented property looked like it had been an RV park. A good portion of it was paved, with asphalt streets and pads. There was a small building that looked it had served as an office. This was a real plus as it was a safe place for Russ and the other guys to lock up their tools at night. Also, one side of the building had an awning that provided a shady area for the guys to eat lunch.

While eating lunch one day, Russ noticed that there were several small lizards living in the area. They were small, probably no more than 4″ long and were black, with a yellow stripe on each side. Russ was entertained by watching them forage for bugs and whatever else was a part of their diet. One problem, of course, was

that they needed to cover a lot of ground to find enough food to sustain them. Those areas that were covered by black-top were so hot you could fry an egg on them. Necessity being the mother of invention, the lizards had found a way to cross the asphalt without getting fried themselves. When a little lizard guy wanted to cross the tarmac, it would locate a small twig approximately the same length as itself. Next, it would pick up the twig with its mouth and take off running across the black-top. When the heat became unbearable, it would drop the stick and climb up on top of it. When its feet had cooled off sufficiently, it would jump down, pick up the stick in its mouth again, and run like the devil. By repeating this drill a few times, the lizard could safely reach its destination. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Life is hard! All living things face challenges every day. The ability to think and reason makes it possible to solve problems and survive.

Dave and Russ Thomas
June 23, 2017


Rambo Rides Again!

In the story “MS. Rambo And The Fox” I told you about two of MS. Rambo’s escapades. To re-cap a little for you, she was a little thing, probably half Siamese because she had that trim build and I doubt that she weighed as much as eight pounds. She was just a young cat when her people, our neighbors up the hill, moved out and left her. For the next few months we saw her going from house to house, mooching a meal wherever she could. Pat always left some food and water on our patio for her. One dark and rainy evening we heard a terrible howling outside our front door. We opened it to discover that Ms. Rambo had decided to move in with us and to prove her good intentions and display her good manners, she had a live rat in her mouth as a hostess gift. Pat dried her off and I finally caught the rat, which she had dropped, and we began our coexistence. Pat and I petted Rambo and played with her and she became a delightful pet.IT turned out though, that Rambo pretty much hated everyone but Pat and I. When our grown kids were at the house, they kept a wary eye on her and hoped they wouldn’t be attacked.

At the time of Rambo’s next major performance, we were living in a gated community of 110 homes known as Avocado Estates. It was a great place for people and their animals. There were three avocado groves (free pickin’s for homeowners), an Olympic-size pool, club house, tennis courts, a fishing pond, and a hiking trail. We lived there for 11 years and enjoyed every minute of it. We only left because retirement was on the horizon and we wanted to downsize and simplify our lives.

The tract was built on a couple of the steepest residential hills I have ever seen. This meant that most of the homes were split level. Our home was on a corner lot, having a street running across the front or east side and a street running down the south side. That street on the south side was the steepest hill in the development and crested at our corner. Our lot was so steep that if you looked at our house from the front, it appeared as a single story. If you looked at the house from the back, it looked like a three-story structure. The redwood deck, outside the main floor was the same height as a normal second story. The redwood deck ran the full width of the house and had a standard 36″ high railing.

One beautiful day, Pat and I were sitting on the back deck. Ms. Rambo was seated, on her haunches, on the railing at the south side of the deck. We were busy, talking, and not paying much attention to Rambo. She was busy, bathing, and enjoying the sun. All of a sudden, Rambo jumped to her feet and went into her “high alert” stance. Naturally, we were curious to know what was going on and jumped to our feet, too. We all looked out to the south and saw a neighbor walking down the middle of the street as his dog wandered ahead of him. This guy never had his dog on a leash but let it wander through every yard it came to and was probably relieving himself at each one though it was hard to catch him at it.

The dog made it over into our yard and was going from bush to bush and smelling everything. We could see that Rambo was itching to go after this mutt. She was strung up tighter than a guitar string. “This intruder needs to be punished!” The dog kept coming until he was nearly below us. All of a sudden, Rambo jumped! Pat and I leaned forward to see what was happening. The area directly behind the house was fenced off and there was a gate almost directly under the deck. Rambo went flying through the air and landed on the top of a 4″ x 4″ gate post. She bounced off on to the back of that rotten dog. The dog jumped straight into the air and then took off running, yelping at every step. Rambo had her claws in deep and looked like a regular jockey looks when they are hunkered down and the horse is running flat out. The dog’s owner was yelling and flapping his arms and trying to get them to stop but there was no stopping Rambo. She was making a “money ride” today.

A while later Ms. Rambo came prancing home. Maybe it was just our imaginations, but we thought she had a big smile on her face and was acting mighty proud. Well, we were mighty proud, too.

Dave Thomas
June 16, 2017