I was thinking about jobs. To be more specific, I was thinking about the availability of jobs for kids. When we were growing up, all kinds of jobs could be had. There were long term jobs and there were also jobs that lasted for a few hours. I remember sometimes having two or three jobs that would fill up the day and the evening.
As I thought about some of the different jobs I had as a young person, I realized that a number of them could be connected to the piece of real estate on West 7th Street occupied early on by the Augusta Skating Rink.
The Augusta Skating Rink was located on the north side of West Seventh Street about ½ block west of Walnut Street. It was an older, frame building, probably built in the early 1930’s but possibly before then. I suspect that it was one of those forms of recreation practiced during the Great Depression. There was very little money and my folks told me that when they were dating they had to look for free or cheap things to do. They went to the movies, went roller skating, and played miniature golf. Mom and Dad told me that Glen Lietzke (Ross Lietzke’s dad) owned a miniature golf course and they spent a lot of time there. Softball games were a free way to spend an evening and my Dad also pitched for one of the local teams.
The Augusta Skating Rink was owned and managed by a man named Ray Prigmore. My folks knew him well and I think he was actually a high school classmate of Dad’s. Ray lived across the street from the skating rink in a residential enclave containing several homes. The properties were laid out to form a large “U”. Ray’s house was the base of the ‘U”. His front door pointed north toward 7th Street and the back of his property adjoined the Frisco Railroad right-of-way on the south. The eastern leg of the “U” was formed by two small homes with their front doors pointing toward the west. The western leg of the “U” was formed by a duplex with front doors pointing to the east. The northernmost unit of the duplex was inhabited by the Moss family, their daughter, Cleta Moss, being a year ahead of me in school.
My first vague job connection to the skating rink property, is that when I was 13, I had a Wichita Beacon paper route. I delivered the Beacon to Ray Prigmore every afternoon. He was at the tail end of my route so frequently he would be waiting
on the porch for me. I think he wanted to read the news before going across the street for his evening’s work at the skating rink. He was a pleasant man and always asked how I was doing.
As I recall, the skating rink was open every night but Monday. There was a matinee every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The matinee was the time and place for young kids to skate. I don’t believe I was allowed to skate at night until I was 16 or 17. The skaters at night were older and a little too rough for young kids to hang out with.
As we got a little older, say 12 or 13, and became better skaters, Ray would let us be “Floor Manager” on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The Floor Manager was responsible for a couple of things. He wore a whistle around his neck and whenever a record finished playing he would blow the whistle and change the sign at the back of the rink. Most of the time, it said “All Skate” but periodically it would be changed to “Couples” or “Ladies Choice” or “Backwards” or one of the other selections. The Floor Manager’s other big responsibility was to watch for kids that were going too fast or were getting rowdy. Violators got the whistle and might be told to sit out a few rounds. (Now that I think about it, that whistle was used by a different kid each day and was never washed or sterilized. Yuk!) There wasn’t any money in the Floor Manager job. Seems like we may have skated for free that day and might have gotten a Coke.
Air conditioning wasn’t a common feature at that time so on warm nights all the windows of the rink were open. The music was loud so as to overcome the sounds of the roller skate wheels on the wooden floor. We lived a half block to the east, on Cliff Drive, and on summer nights with my bedroom windows open I fell asleep to the sounds of the music from the skating rink.
There is a large gap in my memory. It’s probably due to my having been abducted by Martians and then released at a later date. Or, like most teen-agers I most likely just had my head on backwards. I suddenly realized one day that the skating rink had been torn down and a new building was being erected in its place. Trenches for new footings had been dug and materials were stacked all over the place. One evening, my Dad, Al Thomas, said that he would be working on the new building and I could work for him if I wished.
There were two bricklayers or masons in town, my Dad, Al Thomas and Dolan Brandt. Dad liked working for homeowners, building fireplaces or adding a brick wainscoting or brick veneer to homes. Of course, he also laid concrete blocks, pumice blocks, or limestone. Most of the homes were still of lath and plaster construction rather than dry wall so Dad did plastering jobs as well. Dolan Brandt seemed to prefer doing commercial work so he put up a lot of shops and larger buildings. Dolan was nearly a relative of mine in that he was married to my cousin, Joyce Wilson.
I think Calvin Applegate was the General Contractor for the new building. I never can remember if it was Calvin or Oscar as I didn’t know either of them very well. Anyhow, the new building was to be made of concrete blocks and Applegate hired Dolan to do the work. Dolan then hired my Dad and that’s how I got involved. The official title for my position was “Block layer’s Helper” or simply “Helper”. My job was to mix the mud (mortar) and get it to the mortar board that each block layer worked from. Also, it was my job to get the concrete blocks to the work area and place them so they would be within reach of the mason. Remember, this was in the days before fork lifts, pallets, or trucks with lift gates. A flatbed truck would show up from Safford’s Lumber Yard loaded with concrete blocks and 70 lb. bags of mortar cement. The truck driver would get up on the truck bed and place the blocks or cement close to the edge where I could reach them. You can only carry 2 concrete blocks at a time so it would take a while to offload the truck and get the blocks stacked. Later, as needed, I would carry the blocks to the area the men were working. The ground was uneven, full of holes and piles of dirt and it was faster and more efficient to carry the blocks 2 at a time than to use a wheel barrow. I don’t know how many concrete blocks are in that building, but my fingerprints are on every one of them.
Seems like the next time I opened my eyes, the sign in front of that new building said “Lehr’s Restaurant”. I don’t really know the story of Charles and Thelma Lehr. It seems that they had been living in another town and when I was a little kid, had moved back to Augusta. They opened a restaurant in the Brown building at the corner of 5th and State. People always spoke well of the Lehrs and their restaurant. My folks seemed to know them well, like perhaps they had grown up together.
More time passed and it was the week after Christmas in 1956. Late in the evening, I was sitting in a booth at Lehr’s and drinking coffee with Glen Chalmers, John Luding, and I think the 4th guy was Jack Dornbusch. Glen had been roughnecking in Kansas and Oklahoma and I had been roughnecking up in eastern Colorado. We both decided it was time to get a little smarter and were planning to attend Butler County Junior College in El Dorado. As we discussed this, Jack Taylor came over and leaned against the booth and talked with us. Jack was the manager and chef at Lehr’s and he frequently was out on the floor visiting with his patrons. Jack mentioned that the guy who swept and mopped and cleaned up the place was leaving the next week to attend college in another city and asked if we knew anyone who might be interested in the job. I said that since I would be going to school I was really in need of a night job. We talked about it for a few minutes and made a deal right there.
So, I was the clean-up man, the janitor, the custodian or whatever you want to call it. I started at 9:00 PM and worked the back rooms until the restaurant closed at 10:00 PM. Then, I went up front and stacked the chairs on the tables and swept and mopped the floor. By the time I finished, the kitchen help had put everything away and cleaned the steam tables and I could clean up back there. Jack Taylor had high standards regarding cleanliness so my work was cut out for me.
I enjoyed my job at Lehr’s. The work had to be done well but it wasn’t hard. All the people that worked there were pleasant and fun to be around. After I had been there about a month, Jack approached me one night and asked if I would like to learn to be a “fry cook”. It sounded good to me so the next day I started working the evening shift in front of the grill. Jack worked right there with me and taught me how to blanche French fries, cook a steak to “rare” or “medium–well”, and how to plate-up a dinner. One of the most memorable lessons took place when some people ordered a salmon dinner. Jack took me down to the walk-in freezer in the basement. He went to one of the shelves and picked up a salmon that was about 3 foot long, even with the head cut off, and frozen stiff as a board. He placed it on the butcher block in the center of the freezer. Next, he picked up a butcher’s saw that looked like a giant hack saw and sawed off a couple of salmon steaks about 1″ thick.
After a few weeks of school and work, Chalmers and I had developed a routine that was working pretty well for us. We both got out of our last class at 2:00 PM and headed for downtown El Dorado and the Blue Goose Tavern. We would set up shop in one of the booths and order a pitcher of beer. For the next hour we would do our homework and suck up that pitcher of beer. Good as it sounds, we both seemed to be getting a little antsy about the situation. After more than two years working in the adult world it was hard to be comfortable in the juvenile atmosphere of the Junior College. One afternoon, I stopped at the courthouse and asked the lady at the Draft Board what my status was. She said I would be called up soon if I didn’t get a deferment of some kind. That was enough for me. I sold my car and joined the Navy.
May 15, 2017