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


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


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


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