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If you didn’t see the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” on PBS in September, you really missed a winner. We really enjoyed hearing the singers and the songs we have enjoyed over the years. Check the PBS programming and catch this show the next time it comes around.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I’ll have to admit that I was disappointed that they didn’t include two of my favorite songs. These two prize winners are: “If You See Me Getting Smaller, I’m Leavin’,” and “When I Get Done Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone.”

Dave Thomas
October 3, 2019

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Ringers, Leaners, and Bull’s-eyes

The city of Augusta, Kansas had a parcel of land that became a site for horseshoe pitching and an archery range. On West 7th Street, go about half a block west from Walnut Street, and on the north side, you will find a small, red brick building that is a pump house for the city’s water system. The parcel that the pump house sits on is a city block long. It runs from 7th Street to where the old high school tennis courts were located. It’s a green space, but I have never heard it named a park. One day, we noticed that a group of men had gathered just north of the pump house. Naturally, we had to check this out, and we soon learned that these men had formed a horseshoe pitching league, and were going to dig the pits. At the time, I knew most of the men, but, for the life of me, I can no longer recall all of their names. The one I do remember is Newt Dennett. Newt was the spark plug of the outfit, and he was heavily involved in the construction of the pits as well as organizing the tournaments after. Newt must have been self-employed. I think he sold insurance or real estate. He seemed to have plenty of time to help with the construction project and later spent a lot of time practicing the pitching of horseshoes. That was a lucky thing for us neighborhood kids as he taught us the rules and how to properly pitch horseshoes.

Like most kids, I apparently didn’t pay attention to the important stuff. I remember that there were four or five perfectly aligned pits with matching pits about 15 or 20 feet away. (I don’t know what the spec for the distance was.) The pits were exactly the same size. The target pegs were exactly vertical and in the same spot in every pit. Thinking about it now, I realize that there must have been a welded metal structure for each pit that was jig built to the exact dimension.

One weekend, a couple of the men drove a truck to another town and came back with a load of fine, gray clay. The clay was smooth and pure. They filled the pits with the clay, and it proved to be the perfect material for the job. Having been taught the proper way to pitch horseshoes, I wanted to get serious about the sport. I didn’t have money to buy a set of horseshoes, but I had a good collection of rusty old shoes I had found at farms around the area. They didn’t work. Real horseshoes aren’t much good for pitching.

The horseshoe fad lasted for a few years, and then fizzled out. There were quite a few tournaments, and the local guys had some good times.

Meanwhile, up toward the north end of the property, an archery group was busy with their hobby. They had a nice professionally- made target. It was made of straw placed into about a 4 foot diameter circle, and it was about 12 inches thick. It had a cover made of oil cloth with the bull’s-eye and circles stenciled on it. The target was hung on a big easel. IT was kept in a shed or locked box about 4 feet by 3 feet in size. The archers were good folks, and didn’t mind answering questions for a bunch of kids.

One day, the storage shed disappeared and we had no idea were the archery group had gone. A few weeks later, I was with my great uncle, Dave Peebler, who was visiting his rental property that was located at the northern most part of Custer Lane; it butted up against the golf course. I looked over and saw the archery club guys and their target. I went over, and the leader of the group recognized me and started telling me about their new location. He was a wiry little guy, friendly, and always ready to talk about archery with any kid that showed up. It turned out that they had moved to their new location under the cottonwoods at the extreme west end of the golf course because most of their members lived up in the north end of town. I was glad that they were happy in their new home.

It’s Not Easy

Today, I have to depart from my usual type of storytelling. We have a topic here that can no longer be denied.

A famous frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” That’s true, not only for frogs, but also for peas. People are always bad-rapping the pea and only because they have never learned how to properly prepare it. Nowadays, the pea is used more for its color than it is for its nutritional value. A cook or chef will plate up a pork chop or a chicken breast, add mashed potatoes and gravy, and then realize that what they have dished up really looks boring. So, to add a little color and excitement to the plate, they toss on a bunch of peas. It’s true, that they have added some color, but they have also added a component that is cold and dry and boring as hell. What a crumby way to treat a pea.

To properly prepare peas, open some canned peas or frozen peas, and put them in a pan. Add enough water to cover the peas well, and then do a good job of cooking them. When the peas are hot and well-cooked, ladle them into a side dish and make sure you add enough juice to cover them. Add a sliver of butter and some salt and pepper and you have a tasty dish that is ready to serve.  Eat the peas with a spoon so you get plenty of that delicious juice.  Bon Apetit!

That’s all I have to say about peas.

Dave Thomas

August 8, 2019

 

 

Houses on the Move

It’s always been a surprise to me to pull up to a stop sign, diligently look both ways, and see a house coming down the street at me. That always wakes me up. Houses are supposed to remain fixed, and not be coming at you. That kind of thing isn’t seen much anymore, but years ago was quite common. When towns were formed, the businessmen built their homes within walking distance of the main street. Later, as the towns grew, the citizens moved a little further out. The original homes, now much older, were torn down or, if in good condition, moved to a new location. The land had value though the homes themselves may have lost theirs. Sometimes the homes were sold and then moved, or if someone just wanted to develop the property, they might give the house away rather than suffer the expense of tearing it down. This is how house moving developed into a business, and it became quite popular after the 1930’s. I don’t know much about moving houses, but I can tell you a couple of stories.

 

My cousin, George P. Sicks, graduated from high school in Iola, Kansas during the days of the dust bowl and the Great Depression. There wasn’t much work in farming country for a young man at that time, so George looked for greener pastures. He hitchhiked to Los Angeles and walked the streets looking for work there. Finally, in the city of Long Beach, he hooked up with a man who moved houses. There was enough work to keep George busy most of the time. However, George wanted to do better for himself, so he continued to look for work. He finally found the perfect solution. He found an evening job building movie sets for one of the movie production companies. So, when there were houses to move, he did that during the daylight hours, and in the evenings, worked on the movie sets. He finally was making enough money to live comfortably without wondering where his next meal was coming from.

 

When I was growing up in Augusta, Kansas, we had one man who specialized in moving houses. His name was Boler Wilson. Boler was a quiet man with a set of shoulders that gave the impression that he could pull a house down the street by himself. Boler and Mrs. Wilson lived in the eleven hundred block of School Street, I think, the last house before 12th Street. Every now and then, as kids, we would spot Boler towing some house down the street. Aside from the trucks pulling the house, there were usually men on foot with long polls to push tree branches and telephone lines out of the way.

 

My dad, Al Thomas, was a brick layer and concrete block layer. Boler sometimes hired him to build a foundation for a home after it was moved to its new location. Normally, it was a concrete block job, and when I got older, I was able to work for Dad, mixing mud and carrying the concrete blocks.

That’s really all I know about the house-moving business. I’m still amazed by the memory of houses going down the street.

Dave Thomas

July 31, 2019

 

Money’s Pond

 

Augusta High School’s football field was known as Worl Field, named after a coach from the 1920’s. The school, built in the early 1920’s, and was located at the corner of State St. and Clark St. To find the football field, you went around the south end of the school and turned north to find the access road to the field. That road was located a few yards down the building and went downhill and to the west to reach the field.

 

The land bordering the road and football field on the north was occupied by a man named I.M. Money and his wife, both senior citizens. Mr. Money, by some called “Old Man Money,” was a nice old guy who farmed that land around him. Mrs. Money was a pleasant lady who was good to us kids. A few times, when we were cutting through their property on some expedition, she waved us to the house, and provided us with cookies.

 

The Money’s home was kind of in the middle of that adjoining land. Nearby, and not far from the road, was what we called “Money’s Pond.” I don’t remember if the pond was spring-fed, or if it was created by run-off. The pond was shallow, and its main inhabitants were crawdads. Also, this is where I learned to ice skate. Gary and Bill Casner, my neighbors on Cliff Dr., were usually with me. H.H.Robinson, the Superintendent of Schools, also a Cliff Dr. resident, was a frequent skater. Mr. Robinson, a man who enjoyed all sorts of physical activities, was a good skater and a good instructor. He taught us how to skate, how to play hockey, and how to just have a good time.

 

Gary and I had clamp-on skates. You know the kind; they had an ankle strap, and clamps on the front that were supposed to anchor to the soles of your shoes. Good luck with that! I don’t know where he got them, but Billie Bob Casner had shoe skates. Due to the shoe skates, and the fact that he was two years older than us, Bill was a much better skater.

 

Most often, we were skating in the evening after dark. We built a bonfire to provide light as well as warmth. Sometimes, there were as many as a half dozen other kids skating, but I can’t remember who they were. I just remember that we all had a good time.

Dave Thomas

March 21, 2019

 

Evolution

I was working in an electronics factory in the 1960’s. People looked the same in our plant as they did in most business places in America. The women in the front offices wore attractive dresses and tailored suits. The managers, supervisors, engineers, accountants, and other professional men all wore white shirts and neckties. They appeared to be in uniform. This was contradictory to what happens in nature where the males are brightly colored, and the females have a more subdued look in order to protect themselves and their young.

 

We had a manufacturing engineer named Bob Scholl that worked with us who was a pretty sharp dresser. He was always well-groomed and looked really good in his clothes. One morning, the door to the production area opened, and in walked Bob wearing a charcoal gray suit, pink shirt, and matching tie. The ladies in the assembly area were aghast, and the room went silent. After a moment, the comments started. “Look at Bob!” “What is he wearing?” “What does he think he’s doing?” “He can’t wear that!” “Do you think he’ll get fired?” It was as if the world had been turned upside down. No one could believe what they were seeing.

 

Bob went about his work that day, and, as usual, was seen in most of the departments of the factory. He was not fired, but his pink and gray outfit certainly caused some excitement.

 

It was like Bob had opened the floodgates, and the rainbow spilled out. We soon began seeing shirts of many shades of blue, green, yellow, and every other color. In our world, Bob was the Darwin of the spectrum.

Dave Thomas

January 18, 2019

George’s 86th birthday

Cousin George’s 86th Birthday

My cousin, George Phillip Sicks, had an 86th birthday party that is really worth talking about. It consisted of a boat trip to and from Catalina Island, lunch at a fine restaurant, checking out the local shops, touring the island, and just visiting with some nice people. George’s wife, Justine, and step-daughter, Kathy Kingsbury did an outstanding job of planning and organizing. They invited George’s kids, grand-kids, cousins, and friends. They came from the east coast, Missouri, and several places in California. I don’t know what the count was, but there must have been at least 30 people.

George and Justine lived in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, as we did. We were to catch the boat for Catalina at Long Beach harbor. Having previously lived in the Los Angeles area for many years, George and some of the others were quite familiar with Long Beach and were going to drive up and be there by the 7:30 AM boarding time. Pat and I didn’t know the area so well, so we drove up the evening before and got a motel room. The next morning, we were lined up on the pier and waiting for the 7:30 boarding call. As we waited, we visited with those around us and made the acquaintance of those we didn’t know. Along came Kathy and Justine, passing out blue baseball caps with”80SICKS” embroidered on the front. How clever and perfect is that for George’s 86th birthday? I thought that was special and almost 20 years later, I still have that ball cap.

We boarded the boat and found a good seat on the outside deck. We departed and settled in for the 22-mile trip across the channel to the town of Avalon on Catalina. The hydro-foil boats make the trip in about an hour. It was a beautiful day with a blue sky and small waves and we were hoping to see some flying fish. The flying fish visit the waters around Catalina for several months of the year. It is said that they can soar out of the water to a height of 30 feet and then glide for up to 2/4 mile. We saw a half dozen of them while crossing to the island. It takes you by surprise when they first get airborne and then you watch them in disbelief.

We soon arrived in Avalon and disembarked. We were told when and where to meet for lunch and were turned loose to wander around town and see the sights. I didn’t know anyone in this branch of the family but as Pat and I wandered around town and spotted the blue “80Sicks” ball caps, we would strike up a conversation with that new-found relative.

At the appointed time, we all met at the specified restaurant for lunch and George’s birthday party. It was interesting to be in a room full of relatives I hadn’t seen before. There was a lot of laughing and carrying on and George seemed to have a great time.

After lunch we were free again to wander around until about 4:00 o’clock when we would meet at the pier for the return trip to Long Beach. Pat and I took the tour of the island and got to see the herd of buffalo and the interesting views from up on top. It’s a fascinating place. About 4:00 o’clock we met back at the pier for the boat trip back to Long Beach. Pat and I had a wonderful day, and George had a jim-dandy 86th birthday party.

The reason I didnt know these relatives was that I just met George when he was 82, and I was 63. When we did finally meet, we really hit it off and visited many times. Pat and I moved to Texas for 7 years, and George and Justine flew down and visited us twice. The way I finally met George is interesting, and if youd like to know, please read my story Finding George P. Sicks.

Dave Thomas and Terri Gray
June 22, 2018