The Big Trip of 1944, Part 1

This is about a vacation trip my family took just prior to my eighth birthday in 1944. We saw so many extraordinary things that made such an impression on me.

My Mom’s Dad, my Grandpa George F. Sicks, lived in Los Angeles. Mom’s 1st cousin, Ruby Mae (Peebler) Bernard lived in San Diego. Grandpa’s trip to come back to Kansas and get us and take us to L.A. had been scheduled for quite a while. The fact that Ruby was traveling at the same time may have been just a coincidence. She drove back with her baby son, Barney Jr. who was probably 6 months old. Ruby had come back to show off her baby and get her sister, Carol Jean, who lived in Wichita. Carol had three daughters, Vicki Sue, Carolyn Jo, and Carmen Jane. Vicki was the oldest but I doubt that she was more than 4 or 5. Carol, Vicki, and Carmen were going to San Diego for a visit with Ruby and then going on to Klamath Falls, Oregon to visit with our great-uncle, Virgil Peebler and his wife, Peggy. Carolyn Jo was going to stay with Peggy’s sister, Edith, and her husband, Ted. They would take Carolyn Jo to Klamath Falls to join the rest of the family.

Ruby was tall, good-looking, had red hair, and was brash. She was fun but you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth. Her husband, Barney, was in the Navy and was overseas in some war Zone. Carol was tall, good-looking, and had long blonde hair. I hadn’t thought about it before but Terri looks a lot like Carol Jean.

Grandpa and Ruby were both driving 1942 Pontiac, 4-doors, with the “torpedo” rear ends. Grandpa’s was black and Ruby’s was sky blue.


Mom, Dad, Sylvia, and I traveled with the rest of the group, in the two cars. We swapped cars now and then to keep from getting bored. Cars didn’t have air conditioners back then so it was impossible to keep cool. Most filling stations still had outhouses rather than tiled restrooms and quite often they were 4 or 5 holers in order to take care of crowds. Quite often, you had neighbors on either side as you tried to cope with the stench and the flies in the 100 degree heat.

What must have been our second night was spent in a motel in San Simon, Arizona. This was one of Grandpa’s favorite areas and he knew the people who owned the motel. (When I spent the summer with him in 1950, Grandpa owned 160 acres about 1 ½ miles west of town). When we were loading up to leave the next morning, Grandpa put a couple of boxes with chicken wire covering the ends, in the trunk. He opened one of them and reached in and lifted out a Gila monster and scared the devil out of me. He had already told us a number of stories about Gila monsters and how they bite down on you and won’t release their grip unless you cut their heads off. Grandpa said he had caught these two and was taking them to California. He said he was giving one to the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles and the other to the San Diego Zoo. He said he had provided critters of different types to both zoos in the past.
Gila Monster

Another thing I remember about San Simon is that when you leave town, driving west, you can look to the south, to the Chiricahua Mountains and see what is known as “Cochise’s Head.” When you are in the right area, and several mountain peaks are lined up correctly, you can see the profile of a man’s head as if he were lying on his back and looking up. Cochise is still there looking after his stronghold.

The next thing I remember (besides the stinking outhouses in the desert) is arrival in Yuma in the early afternoon. We were ready to eat some lunch and were looking for a place to stop. Remember, this was during the war and everything was rationed. We were looking for a café when we came to one which had the word “Butter” painted across the window in big, bright letters. Since we were all sick of eating the margarine which had become available during the war. We thought we were in for a treat. We got in, got settled, and ordered a meal. Everything was fine until we were served and Grandpa realized that the stuff in the butter dish wasn’t butter but was the hated margarine! First, he called the waitress over and explained the error to her. Well, she was sorry but margarine was all they had today. Her explanation wasn’t adequate and as Grandpa started getting up a full head of steam he demanded to speak to the owner of the place. When the owner came in from the kitchen where he presided over the grill, Grandpa tried to explain the error to him. He got the same response…”no butter today.” Grandpa was soon shouting at the top of his lungs about people that painted “Butter” on their windows to lure people into their place and then had the gall to serve them margarine. Grandpa felt that he had been tricked and cheated and he wasn’t going to stand for it. I remember a lot of noise and embarrassment but don’t remember how this was resolved. I don’t know if we went somewhere else or if the owner of the place somehow placated Grandpa.

We split up in Yuma with Ruby and Carol and the kids heading for San Diego and us heading for Los Angeles. Grandpa owned a home at 6151 Dennison Street in East Los Angeles. It was a nice neighborhood with Spanish-style houses and well kept yards full of flowers. I remember being amazed at the sight of streets lined with palm trees.

My Dad only had 2 weeks’ vacation but Mom and we kids were going to stay for 6 weeks. Grandpa set up a sight-seeing schedule that would allow Dad to see as much as could be crowded into his time period.

Dave Thomas

February 4, 1994; Revised and added pictures March 5, 2015.






Plan B

It was February or March of 1958. I was attending the Navy’s Aviation Electronics School in Millington, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis. Pat was working in the Accounting Department at the corporate headquarters of Kroger’s Grocery Stores.

It was a weekend and we decided to go across the river to Arkansas and explore a little. We got to the bridge over the Mississippi and the road ramped up, probably to get the bridge high enough to be above flood level. We crossed the river and were on the downhill straight-away that would take us into East Memphis, Arkansas. Way up ahead we could see something hopping up the shoulder toward us. As we got closer we could see that it was a dog! He was hopping on his front legs and was vertical, with his rear legs curled above his body. Apparently, his rear legs were injured and he had to come up with an alternative way to get around.

I don’t remember anything else about that day…only that courageous little dog getting on down the road. Both animals and humans find a way to cope.

Dave Thomas
December 17, 2014


Sam, The Desert Tortoise

ack in the mid-1960’s I had a man named John Grant working for me as an Assistant Foreman. One Monday morning John came in and handed me his letter of resignation and said he was moving to Colorado to work for his father-in-law. We talked about it for a few minutes and I wished him well. Then, he told me that one problem he hadn’t resolved yet was what to do with the desert tortoise named Sam that he had kept as a pet for several years. John was afraid that the extremely cold winters of Colorado might be too much for Sam. He suggested that I might like to adopt Sam and care for him. It sounded good to me so a few evenings later John brought him over to the house.

The desert tortoise inhabits the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. There are two species, one living east of the Colorado River in Arizona and Mexico and the other living west of the Colorado, basically in the Mojave Desert. They are considered to be endangered and if you run across one in the wild, it’s against the law to touch, bother, or harm them. There is a means for adopting those who have been rescued from unsafe conditions.

The desert tortoises live from 60 to 80 years. Mature male tortoises can be from 12 to 18 inches in length with females being somewhat smaller.

In these little stories I’ve been trying to shed some light on the thought processes of animals but in Sam’s case I’ve got to ‘fess up and tell you that I’m up against the wall. He ate, slept, pooped, and hibernated, and I can’t make any funny stories out of that. We turned him loose in the back yard where like a cow, he grazed and slept. We fed him lettuce every day and he really enjoyed that. For goodies or snacks, he seemed to enjoy things that were red. For instance, in our back yard we had 3 hibiscus bushes that were about 8 feet tall and were always full of blossoms. Two of the bushes were red and the other was white. If you picked a bunch of blossoms and put them in front of him, Sam would eat them all but he ate the red ones first.

Sam’s favorite snack was watermelon. He would eat every bit you gave him and when he was done, he would have red juice all over his jaw and face and he would sit there blinking his eyes with a satisfied look on his face. What a feast!

A desert tortoise hibernates through the winter. As the fall season moves in, temperatures drop and the days become shorter. This tells the desert tortoise it’s time to start looking for a place to hole up for the winter. They get sluggish and don’t move around as much though they may start crawling under things or digging holes. Taking John Grant’s advice, at this time we would pick Sam up and carry him into the house and put him in a dresser drawer. He would sleep there until spring when the days got warmer and longer. Then, we would either arbitrarily take him to the back yard to wake up or wait until we heard him moving around before taking him out. As I recall, Sam spent a couple of years in dresser drawers and a couple of years in a closet.

One day, Sam wasn’t in the yard. I checked every square inch and there were no burrows or holes that would have allowed him to escape. Sam had been turtle-napped! It was a shame. We had all enjoyed seeing him out there in the yard. He was docile and seemed to be content with life as he grazed his way through each day.

Desert Tortoise

Dave Thomas
September 23, 2014


And A Porcupine

For a short time (1 ½ days) I had a pet porcupine. I was 13, going on 14, when I spent the summer of 1950 in Safford, Arizona with my Grandpa, George Sicks. I had never seen a porcupine and all I knew about them is that when they got mad or scared they threw their quills at you and you ended up looking like a pin cushion. I figured them to be pretty mean animals.

Grandpa sold Allis-Chalmers farm equipment there in eastern Arizona. He spent a lot of time on the road calling on the farmers and ranchers in the area. One day, he said he would be going south to make some calls. I couldn’t go with him because he had hooked me up with a job on one of the big farms in the area. When Grandpa got home that night he told me about his trip. To get to the area where he wanted to make calls he went south out of Safford and after a few miles arrived at the Pinaleno Mountains. As the elevation increased he got up into the pine forest. As he went over the crest of a hill, he almost ran over a porcupine in the road. It was standing beside the body of another porcupine that had been hit by a car or truck.

Grandpa went about his business but when he returned in late afternoon the porcupine was still beside the body as if grieving over the loss of its companion. They may have been involved in a mating ritual or, as we learned later, this may have been a mother and baby as the babies stay with their mothers until they are about 6 months old. Grandpa pulled over, got out of his car, and walked back to the porcupine. It didn’t move. Being afraid that the animal would eventually be hit by a car, Grandpa picked it up and put it in his car and headed for home.

When he got to the house, Grandpa told me what had happened. He had a big cardboard box and some chicken wire and we used them to fashion a pen. We got a bowl of water and some vegetables from the house, put them in the pen, and we were ready for our guest.

Grandpa was good with animals and believed that touching was the best way to establish a bond and begin communicating with them. As he got the porcupine out of the car he began showing me how to stroke its back as he spoke quietly to it.

The quills normally lay flat and needless to say, you should always stroke “with the grain” unless you want to deal with quills sticking out of your hand. We put it in the pen and I spent the rest of the evening sitting beside it and talking to it and stroking it. I didn’t get any reaction at all until I started rubbing the bridge of its nose. Then, it started leaning into it a little. I knew the animal was unhappy and scared so it was gratifying to get any kind of response.

I didn’t have to work the next day so I just hung out with the porcupine. It didn’t eat or drink or move around in the pen. Besides the other trauma in its life it couldn’t get any peace now because some kid was checking on it every five minutes. I talked to Grandpa about the situation when he got home that afternoon. He said that he had been worried about the safety of the porcupine but shouldn’t have interfered. He said he should have left it to Mother Nature to take care of business and we would have to make it right.

The next morning, Grandpa put the porcupine in the car and said he would leave it where he had found it. That evening, he told me that the remains of the other porcupine were still where he had seen them last. He moved the body several yards off the road and then got the other porcupine from the car and placed it beside its former companion. We were both sorry that we couldn’t have done more.

For the record, porcupines don’t throw their quills. They are passive little animals but when forced to defend themselves, turn their back to the aggressor and “bristle”, causing their quills to stand up straight. If the adversary persists and gets too close they whack it with their tail. That’s when the pain comes in.

This is a sad memory but I am grateful for the things I learned.

Dave Thomas
October 21, 2014


Red Rose, Green Lizard

When Pat and I were living in Keller, Texas we had one of those free-standing swing sets on our patio. The thing had a canopy over it and was quite comfortable. One day we were out there watching the clouds drift past and watching the birds go about their business when we noticed that a couple of the little green lizards that lived in the back yard were running around on the fireplace chimney and the roses growing next to it. I went in and got my camera and sat back down in the swing to take a few shots. I wasn’t having any luck at getting a good picture so Pat said she wanted to try. I handed her the camera and she immediately got what I consider to be a great nature shot.

Red Rose-Green Lizard

When our grandson, David, received the picture he sent a reply saying that he had gone one better and had actually caught a lizard. Here’s the picture he sent.

Lizard Guy

Dave Thomas
October 17, 2014



Colored Chicks

Gene Scholfield and his Dad had a feed and grain store on the west side of the 400 block of State Street. I believe they called it Scholfield Hatchery. I remember that in the spring they would have brooders on the floor in the front room where you could look in from the sidewalk and see the chicks. Of course, you could go inside the store and see them too.

A brooder is a heated cage where baby chicks are raised. It keeps them warm and safe and together.

As Easter drew near, colored chicks were added to the brooder and the chicks were so cute all the little kids wanted one. Like bunny rabbits they were a big part of Easter. So, after a lot of tears and begging a lot of kids took one of those cute chicks home. The excitement lasted for a few days and then the chicks were neglected and succumbed. It’s doubtful that many lived through the holiday season.

Colored Chicks 1

I was thinking about the colored chicks this morning and got to wondering how they dyed them. It seemed like the simplest way would be to just dunk the chick in a bowl of food coloring and then let it hop around until it dried off. I went to the Internet and discovered that coloring chicks is not at all what you would think. Some might even call it creepy!

You’ve got your eggs in an incubator, so on the 13th day you remove an egg. You hold it with the pointed end up. Wipe the tip with alcohol to sterilize it. You’ve already loaded a syringe with the proper amount of vegetable dye (3% or less concentration). Measure down about one inch from the tip of the egg and make a hole. Inject the vegetable dye, Seal the hole with a small bandage and return the egg to the incubator. Now it’s just a question of waiting the allotted time and you will have cute little colored chicks all over the place.

Colored Chicks 2

Dave Thomas
January 2, 2014


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

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


This Is No Bull!

I’m still thinking about animals and their ability to figure things out. I learned early on that even bulls can solve problems and put 2 and 2 together when they have the motivation to do so.

I was 11 or 12 and had spent the night on the farm with my great-great uncle, Will Church, and Aunt Ella. I had breakfast and was in a pen currying Prince, the pinto pony I was going to ride later. Next to the pen I was in, was the corral. I say “corral” but it was sturdy enough to stop an Army tank. The fence poles were at least as big as railroad ties and the fencing itself was 3″ pipe. There were 2 sections of pipe strung between the posts. The lower one was maybe 2 feet above ground and the upper one was maybe 5 feet high. The land naturally fell away to the east toward a spring-fed creek that was 10 or 15 yards east of the fence. You could see that on the east side of the corral the dirt had washed out as a result of many years of run-off from the rains. The distance from the ground to the lower pipe at that point may have been more like 30 “or 36”.

So, there’s this super corral and standing right in the middle of it is Griffin, Uncle Will’s prize shorthorn bull. Griffin is just standing there and staring out into the adjoining pasture. The dairy herd had been milked and turned out and they were strung out in a line across the pasture as they headed for their favorite loafing spot.

I could hardly believe what I saw next. Old Griffin sidles up to that east fence where the wash-out is the greatest. He drops down on his front knees and lowers his body to the ground. Then he starts shoving with his hind legs and wiggling and twists and grunts and kicks until, all of a sudden, he is on the other side of the fence. He slid under it! He gets to his feet and takes off at a fast walk after that bunch of fine-looking cows that are just going over the hill. A little bit of thinking and planning will get you where you want to be.

Dave Thomas
August 19, 2014


Grandpa: To Bee…

Grandpa-To Bee Or Not To Bee

I think it was 1925 when they had a flood there in Augusta, Kansas that had the south end of town running-board deep. I remember my folks had pictures of Walnut Street in front of Grandpa’s house showing the old cars plowing through the water. Grandpa’s house, itself, was safe for it had been built with tall footings and the flood water only made it part way up the front steps.

Augusta was in a sensitive location. It had the Walnut River on the east and the Whitewater River on the west. After the flood the townspeople began talking about building a levee or dike that would protect the town on the east, south, and west sides. The higher ground on the north side was no problem. Grandpa, A.A. Thomas, was highly in favor of the protection offered by a dike and attended the City Council meetings where it was discussed. Of course, a project of this size and cost would require interaction with many county, state, and federal departments and agencies. Grandpa attended many meetings and as a homeowner and business owner (an addition to his home had been constructed to house a grocery store) he always put in his two cents worth.

If you were paying attention to him, you would have noticed that during any conversation regarding the levees or dikes, Grandpa would suggest that these ramparts should be protected from erosion and that the very best ground cover for this purpose was clover. Not many people realized that Grandpa was an entrepreneur with a new idea every minute. In this case, he hoped to set himself up as a beekeeper! He planned to place the hives at strategic places along the dikes and the bees could concentrate on the dikes and not waste time flying all over the county to collect the pollen. Thus, the bees could make more honey and Grandpa could prosper.

The dikes were eventually built but were sewn with prairie grass. Well, so much for that dream.

Dave Thomas
April 27, 2013