Augusta, Kansas, Part 2: State Street, 600 Block West Side

I always enjoyed going to town. There was always neat stuff to see in the stores, most of which I could only dream about because our family didn’t have any money. I liked and enjoyed the people, too. I knew most of them, either through my folks or my Aunt Rachel and Uncle Dave.

I thought I would walk down the street and tell you about the stores and the people in them as I went. It’s been 64 years since I left Augusta and came to California, so I’ve forgotten some of the names and the exact store locations.

State Street is the main drag, and it’s probably a mile long and about ¾ of it is paved with brick. The main cross street is 7th Street, running from east to west. It’s also U.S. Highway 54. The intersection of State and 7th was, for many years, the location of the town’s only stop light.

We’ll start at the stop light and walk south on the west side of the street. On the corner is a Standard Oil gas station. I forget who I first knew to be in there. The name might have been “Ruggles.” It was later taken over by the Shryock family. The one I knew best was Bob. He was always friendly when I wanted to air up my bike tires. Next came the Green Spot Café. It was owned by a man whose last name was Londeen. He was a good friend of my parents. They may have gone to school together. The café was a tiny place with just a few stools and a couple of small tables. The specialty of the house was veal cutlets, so that’s what we always had. The next business down was a gas station. I think the building was yellow. The Portico cast a nice shadow and cooled the concrete driveway which was welcome if you were barefoot on a hot summer day. The next business was Martin Brothers Motor Company, a Dodge/Plymouth dealership. The brothers were quite often standing in front of the store and hoping to make the next sale. Next was the railroad tracks, running across State Street from east to west. This was the mainline track of the Frisco Railroad. I remember that before we were old enough to drive, Jack Watson and I sometimes took the train to Wichita. It must not have cost much. Next to the tracks was a giant water tank on stilts that was used to fill the old steam engines. On the other side of the water tank was a siding track that serviced Schneider Brothers Grainery and Safford Lumber Yard, across the street. Schneider Brothers Grainery was next to the siding. I forget the first names of the brothers. One was slim and the other was stocky. This was a good place to get a handful of wheat to chew on. The next business was Parks Motors. It was run by Dan Parks and his wife, Fanny. The head sales guy was Jake Cauthron. I think he was Dan’s brother-in-law. This was a Chrysler dealership. Next was the Renfrow Hotel. I think this was mostly a residential hotel. I believe that Bertha “Bert” Shore, columnist and co-owner of the Augusta Daily Gazette, lived here. Next was a store I was never in. I think it was inhabited by the electric company. The next building, the last one on the block, was the Moyle Building. It was originally a three story building, but a tornado (1930?) took the top off of it. Now, the second story is apartments, and the ground floor is occupied by Burgess Grocery. Ralph Burgess was a fair-sized man. What hair he had was red. His wife, who worked part-time at the store was a red head also. Their daughter, who was 4 or 5 years older than me, had the reddest hair I’ve ever seen. Ralph was really good with kids and well-liked. I remember standing in line in his store during World War II. The first time, my mom had sent me to the store because there was to be bread available that day. I was thrilled to be trusted to stand in line with the grown-ups and wait for the delivery of the rationed bread. The second time I stood in line was for Double Bubble Bubble Gum. It was a rare treat during the war. Each kid was allowed one piece.

This concludes the west side of the 600 block of State Street.

(Thanks to Jack Parker for the picture!)

Dave Thomas

12/21/2020

Just Wondering

If a person openly ridicules the wearing of a face mask, scoffs at social distancing, and insists on attending a political rally or a bar or party and becomes infected with the Covid19 virus, and said person passes the virus on to parents, siblings, grandparents, or friends and one of them dies, should said person be tried for first degree murder, or do we have to settle for second degree murder?

Dave Thomas

12/12/2020

What?

What is all of this “white bean” stuff? I’ve eaten beans periodically all my life. Though they were white in color, they were “NAVY BEANS.” I don’t know what the facts are, but, as a kid,I was told that they were called “navy beans” because that’s what the Navy regularly fed the sailors. Who had the audacity to change the name from “navy beans” to “white beans?” And, what’s happening with pinto beans? Are they now being called “brown beans?”

 

Dave Thomas

12/11/2020

Augusta, Kansas-Part One: The Town

Approaching our town on US Highway 54, it was easy to spot the sign. Big block letters announced “AUGUSTA” and the next line said “City of 5,000 Friends.” Even as grade school kids, we thought the Chamber of Commerce had lost their marbles on that one. There is no doubt, though, that it was a great place to grow up after World War II and into the 1950’s. It was pretty much a Leave It to Beaver existence. I know that a lot of people write about the place they grew up in and the stories are sometimes sweet enough to give you diabetes. It’s true, though, that a lot of the stories tell of times that were so much different from today that they should be passed on.

The sign I mentioned earlier was probably fabricated and painted by Johnny Bourget. He was our local sign painter. A very creative and talented man, he could create a sign for anything. John was also kept busy by the shopkeepers, painting shop windows with sale prices and holiday decorations. That window stuff was all painted backwards and done with amazing skill. And he was never too busy to give a kid a smile and an explanation of what he was doing.

The most important thing about a town, of course, is its people. I’ve written about some of them. I started writing short little stories a few years ago in hopes of entertaining my kids and grandkids. There are about 200 stories now that I have posted on my blog: crittersandcats.com. After you get on my website, scroll down a little, and you will find categories. They are: Birds, Cats, Horses, Kids, Life, Small Town, etc. Small Town is the category that contains most of the stories that take place in Augusta, though there are a few stories under other headings that would apply.

The town is located in south central Kansas, about 45 miles from the Oklahoma state line to the south. The town is 15 miles east of Wichita where the land is pretty flat. You have to go another 20 or 30 miles east of Augusta before you get to the beginnings of the Flint Hills.

 

The town is also located between two rivers, the Whitewater on the west, and the Walnut on the east. There was said to be an Indian encampment or village on the banks of the Walnut, just a few hundred yards from where the south end of State Street is located now. I don’t know how many hours Jack Watson and I spent looking for arrowheads and artifacts there. The Lietzkes owned the first property south of the old steel bridge and Ross Lietzke told me that he had found arrowheads after plowing.

 

The first home in town, a log cabin, was erected in 1868 by C.N. James. He and his wife, Augusta, also operated a general store and post office on the premises. You may have noticed that James named the town after his wife.

The log cabin is still standing in the 300 block of State Street. The house now serves as Augusta’s Historical Museum. I first visited the museum when I was of grade school age. My great uncle, Dave Peebler, took me there. Uncle Dave had donated some items to the museum and wanted me to see them and the other exhibits. In recent years, the ladies who serve as directors and the Museum Board have kept the place fresh and relevant.

It gives me pleasure to think that some of my family members may have been among the earliest visitors to Augusta and the C.N. James General Store/Post Office. My Great Great Grandparents had been farming near Junction City, Kansas, but decided it was time for a change. They loaded all their belongings into a wagon, gathered up their sons, hitched up the team, and headed south. Their journey ended in Butler County where they homesteaded in Little Walnut Township, just southeast of Augusta. On February 16th, 1871, David and Susan’s daughter was born there in Little Walnut Township. They named her Minnie Belle, and she became my great-grandmother, Minnie Belle (Church) Peebler.

Going downtown was always fun. Besides all the neat stuff to look at, I knew the people in almost every store, and they knew me. I like to keep these stories short, so I’m going to end this one for now, but in future parts, I will take a mental walk down State Street and will describe the people and stories I visit on the way.

Dave Thomas

12/7/2020

Buttermilk

I need some buttermilk. I was sitting here at the desk, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, the word “Buttermilk” started flashing through my brain. I love buttermilk, but now that I think of it, it’s probably been a couple of years since I’ve had a glass of that wonderful, tangy stuff. It’s just not something that you think about that often. You can’t use it on cereal or anything else much, so nobody keeps it in the fridge. However, though you may not believe it, I actually have a buttermilk story.

 

One summer evening, Johnny Luding and I had gone out to Bill and Charlene Skaer’s farm. They had two saddle horses that were getting barn sour and ornery and needed to be ridden. Their daughter, Dolores, our classmate, had gone away to college, and their son, Stanley, was still a student at Augusta High and as a result, the horses weren’t being ridden and were getting fat and sassy. Bill told us we could come out and ride whenever we wished.

 

Our first ride was on a Sunday morning. There had been an early morning shower, and the barnyard was muddy. John saddled up and climbed aboard and was just sitting there watching me. I saddled up and got aboard and thought I was ready to ride. All of a sudden, I felt that horse’s muscles bunch up and he started to pitch. I got myself ready for a wild ride, but, thanks to the mud, his hooves slipped and he started to go down. He caught himself and regained his balance. By this time, he was both mad and frustrated. He wanted to buck, but the slippery mud wouldn’t let him. He was so snorting mad he started making little stiff-legged jumps all around the barnyard. It must have looked funny because Johnny was laughing so hard he was about to bust a gut. The horse and I both survived that one with no damage.

 

Anyhow, let’s get back to the Saturday evening we were talking about earlier. John and I had a good ride and cleaned up the horses and put them away. We decided to head for town and get a hamburger. As we headed for the car, we ran into Randy, Bill’s farm hand. Randy was 21 and a drifter, staying for a few weeks at one farm before moving to the next. Bill said he was a hard worker, and John and I got along with him. Randy had finished his day and was cleaned up, and we invited him to go with us. We went to the Seventh Avenue Café and were looking forward to one of their good hamburgers. When the waitress came, we all ordered hamburgers, and Randy ordered a glass of buttermilk. John and I liked the stuff, so we ordered the same. The waitress returned with the three glasses, and our eyes were immediately drawn to Randy. His conduct was almost ritualistic. He started by very carefully sprinkling salt on the surface of the buttermilk. Then, he took his spoon and carefully stirred in the salt. Five times clockwise and then five turns counter-clockwise. Then, he held the spoon vertically in front of his mouth. He extended his tongue and gave one lick to the inside of the spoon. Then he rotated the spoon and gave one lick to the outside. Next, he rotated the handle and licked it where it joined the ladle. It was all done very precisely and you could see that he wasn’t going to waste a drop. I looked at John who was rolling his eyes, and I said, “Boy, Randy, you must really like your buttermilk.” Randy then explained to us that when he was growing up on the farm, his mother would go to the well-house and get ice-cold buttermilk for the whole family. It was a special treat and just thinking of it always made him feel good because it’s part of a memory of his mom and his family. That explained it well enough for us. I could really use a glass right now myself.

Dave Thomas

11/19/2020

Jeff’s Story

Our grandson, Jeff Thomas, who did a couple of hitches in the Coast Guard posted a story on Facebook this Veteran’s Day. This was such a neat story, I asked him if it would be alright to post it on this blog. He agreed, so here it is!

Happy Veteran’s Day! This year I decided I would share a sea story from Coast Guard Station Golden Gate. This picture was taken from the north tower of the bridge and was submitted to the local paper. I was at the helm and we were picking up a kayaker in distress. This was one of the craziest days on the water I experienced during my entire tour there. It was Super Bowl Sunday, but also a historic day for a different reason. Queen Mary II was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and it was the largest ship ever to come into San Francisco. You would think with a Super Bowl on, there wouldn’t be such a turnout. We were completely wrong, it was insane. If you’re really bored you can YouTube it and see how many freaks didn’t watch football that Super Bowl Sunday. The QM2 had to sail in during the ebb tide because the clearance was so tight under the bridge. The bay was the busiest I had ever seen it, I would argue more traffic than fleet week. This kayaker was caught in a 6 knot ebb current in Sausalito then flipped. With the strong ebb, the afternoon wind, and the wake from all the traffic it was like a messy river rapid and she couldn’t flip back over. She was swept passed the bridge to the west and we were heading full speed from Chrissy Field against the flow of traffic because a Ro-Ro (cargo ship for cars) was outbound in the lanes and heading right for her. If you aren’t aware, a ship that size cannot make any significant change of course, especially given the circumstances that day. We had to get on Channel 16 to let the captain know we were going to be within 100 yards of his bow while he was making about 15 knots directly at us. We got on scene and instantly swooped her out, then immediately had to get out of the way. Lucky for her ya boy Jeffrey is a straight gangster boat operator and got her first pass. It was so close that we kept her in the recess deck to wait until the large wake passed by before she was helped up. Aside from shivering and embarrassment, she was fine. We never saw a minute of the Super Bowl that day, tough duty for a Coastie haha

Credit: Jeff Thomas for the story

Dave Thomas

11/12/2020

Let’s Be Accurate

If I remember correctly, the Southland Corporation launched the 7-11 stores in the late 1960’s. The TV commercials were all about the convenience. Opening at 7:00am would make it easy for the commuter to grab a cup of coffee before heading out. Staying open until 11:00pm would make it easy for people to grab bread, milk, cereal, or cat food if they didn’t want to go to the supermarket. Things appear to have changed. I was listening to a commercial this morning and the spokesman ended by saying “Always Open.” This contradicts the name of the store. Maybe they should change their name to “24/7.”

 

Dave Thomas

10/29/2020

Drafting and Drifting

Drafting has always fascinated me. The ability to create a picture that is so well detailed and dimensioned that it can be used to produce parts or structures is a great gift.

 

Entering 9th grade, my freshman year in high school, I enrolled in Mechanical Drawing. I spent three years learning how to be a mechanical draftsman and enjoyed the challenge. We might be handed a piston or a connecting rod or a fuel pump, and be told to produce an accurate representation of it. Interesting stuff.

 

My senior year, I decided to switch over to architectural drawing and learn how houses are built.

 

Our lone drafting teacher was H. H. Robinson. Mr. Robinson had come to Augusta High School when my folks had been students in the late 1920’s. Now, the only classes he taught were the drafting classes. His main job now was as superintendent of schools. He still enjoyed the drafting classes and always circled the room, going from drafting table to drafting table, overseeing the work and offering suggestions. He could be quite critical of lettering and dimensioning. He figured that a drawing was worthless if you couldn’t read the title block or dimensions. As a result, he gave a lettering test every week. I worked hard at both the drafting and the lettering and got good grades. However, I realized that mine was the work of a good technician, and that I had no artistic ability.

 

We were neighbors of the Robinsons. We moved to our Cliff Drive address a few days before my 5th birthday, and a couple of weeks before I started kindergarten. So, by the time I was a senior in high school, Mr. Robinson and I knew each other pretty well. He taught me to ice skate and skip rope like a boxer, and probably taught me a few things about being a decent human being.

 

We had come to the starting point of the last six weeks of my senior year. We students of the Architectural Drafting class were supposed to pick a final project. The home design magazines carried pictures of named home designs complete with floor plans. Our assignment was to choose one of those designs and create the elevations and construction details that would constitute a complete set of plans to build that house.

 

Mr. Robinson, with clipboard in hand, was going from drafting table to drafting table consulting with each student and then writing down the name of the design they had chosen. I had other ideas. Being a member of that sub-species known as “Teenaged Boys,” I had often heard the exclamation “Wow, she’s built like a brick shithouse!” Never having seen one of these facilities, I had wondered what it would look like. So, when Mr. Robinson stepped up to my drafting table with his clipboard, I said “Brick Outhouse.” He didn’t smile or blink, but simply wrote it down and moved on to the next table.

 

The project developed smoothly. Mr. Robinson dropped by each day with sound construction tips, but never with a grin or comment. For added comfort, I included a wall heater and a TV shelf with a small TV set. This was really forward looking for me in 1954 as my folks didn’t have a TV set until 1957. I finished the plans and got a good grade. FYI- it was a neat looking structure, but in no way compared with the girls formerly cited.

 

After graduation, I was working at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealership and trying to figure out what I was going to do next. One Saturday evening I stopped in at the P & G Bakery for a cup of coffee and ran into Frank Edward Thompson. Frank Edward had been one year ahead of me, and I knew that upon graduation he had gone to work for one of the oil companies in Wichita. We got to talking jobs, and Frank said that he had become a cartographer and was drawing maps. He knew I had taken the drafting classes and wondered if I might be interested because his company was hiring. He said he would be working overtime the next Saturday and that he would show me around if I came over.

 

On Saturdays, the garage was only open from 8:00am until 1:00 pm. At 1 o’clock that Saturday, I went home and cleaned up, and then drove to Wichita. I found Frank’s work place, and he greeted me and showed me around. When I saw the work he was doing on those oil field maps, I was amazed. Where my drawings looked technical and stiff and boring, his drawings looked vibrant and artsy and alive. I realized then that I could never excel as a draftsman or a cartographer. I thanked Frank for the tour and went home.

 

Dave Thomas

10/27/2020

Choose The Lemonade

We got to San Diego and I went to North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado to check in at Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight (VP 48). I introduced myself to the personnel guy and he surprised me by saying, “You’ve got the highest test scores in the squadron.”(In boot camp, recruits are given a battery of tests that will later determine job placement.)  I was quite taken aback as I hadn’t thought of it as being a big deal. Of course, my records had been shipped to the squadron ahead of me so they knew all about me. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I knew it was going to be like the kid on the playground that’s different… everyone wants to try him on for size. We went ahead and took care of the personnel business, and the guy took me to the electronics shop and introduced my new boss, the Chief that ran the shop. Over the next few days, I was settling in and learning the things I needed to know. Then, one morning, the chief called me into his office and told me that I had been assigned to mess duty for 90 days. I couldn’t believe it! Everyone knows that only the screw-ups are assigned to mess duty or KP (kitchen police) as the Army calls it. “I don’t even eat in the mess hall. I’m married and draw $30.00 a month for “Commuted Rations” which means I buy my own groceries. My record is clean and there’s no reason for me to be penalized or punished.” The chief told me that these assignments are made by the Leading Chief, and I would have to take it up with him. I had just been handed a bag of lemons.
The Leading Chief is the senior enlisted man in the outfit. His word is law, and he has almost as much power as the Commanding Officer. In our case, the Leading Chief of VP48 was Big John Honchurak. I had only been in the squadron for a few days, but I already understood that nobody wanted a confrontation with Big John. Big John was 6’3”or 6’4” and probably weighed 220 or 230. He was lean and a tough-looking son-of-a-bitch. I went to Big John’s office to make my case. He listened carefully to what I had to say and then told me to report to the Mess Hall Monday morning. I think I was just handed another bag of lemons.
I reported to the Mess Hall Monday morning at 6:00AM as instructed. There were several of us new guys, and the first task was to give us our assignments. I watched as other guys were given different jobs in the galley (kitchen) and around the Mess Hall. Then, I was told that I would be working in the head (restroom). Again, a job for a goof off! What the hell? I didn’t get it. It’s looking like another bag of lemons.
I thought about it and decided there was no reason to pout. If that was the job they had for me then that’s what I would do. I knew I was a “working fool” and could out-work anyone so I might as well give it my best shot.
The head was large. I don’t remember exactly, but it probably had 6 or 8 stools, 3 or 4 urinals, and 3 or 4 sinks. It had just barely been cleaned for quite some time. I spent two full days scrubbing it from top to bottom. The civilian maintenance workers kept everything functioning well so it was just a matter of getting rid of the accumulated grime. All the porcelain was polished until it gleamed. The brass and stainless steel parts were shiny, and the walls and mirrors were spotless. The third morning I only had to spend an hour or so tidying up and I was done. I decided that with everything looking so good I may as well go out and have a smoke. I was leaning up against the building and enjoying my break and I looked up and saw the head cook coming toward me. The Head Cook is like the Leading Chief in that he’s got the power. This guy was a stocky Italian named Rocky, and he also looked like a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. I figured he was going to give me hell for being out there and smoking rather than working. But, when Rocky started talking, that’s when the lemons started turning into lemonade.
Rocky told me I had done a good job and that the place probably hadn’t looked so good in years. Then he asked me if I’d like to work with the cooks and have cook’s liberty. Liberty is time off and cooks liberty was based on a duty schedule called “5-2.” I don’t remember the details, but you worked two days and then took 5 days off, and the following week, you did the just opposite. You worked 5 days with 2 days off. Rocky went on to tell me that I would start at 5:00AM and get off when everything was done in the early afternoon. He told me I would work with the cooks until it was time to serve, and then I would become a “Line Supplier” and keep the steam tables supplied in the chow line. It sounded great to me and I said so. He welcomed me to the job and said he’d see me in the morning. That was the beginning of one of the best summers I ever had.
The job was good, but the time off was wonderful. Pat and I were new to Coronado and new to California so each day was an adventure. We didn’t have any money but that didn’t keep us from going to the beach and the library and walking in downtown Coronado. A couple of times we came up with the money to ride the ferry across the bay to San Diego. We splurged and bought a Scrabble game and had tournaments that lasted all day. Pat would put on a pot of beans in the slow cooker, and we’d get wrapped up in our Scrabble game and forget everything until we smelled the beans burning. Pat was pregnant and would crave things. She particularly missed ice cream, so she made her own. Some powdered milk, sugar, and vanilla mixed in an ice tray and put in the freezer compartment fixed her right up. Sometimes she would stick popsicle sticks in the tray and make ice cream bars.
Toward the last month of Mess Duty, we were able to move from our apartment near downtown and the library to Navy housing. The Navy housing project was located on San Diego Bay near the Coronado Golf Course.  A few days after we had moved in, one of our neighbors had been transferred and was moving out. He had an inflatable life boat that he didn’t have room for, so he gave it to me. Pat and I spent a lot of time rowing around in the bay and really enjoyed it. One day we rowed down along the golf course and since the water was only about a foot deep, we saw a bunch of golf balls. We paddled around and picked up enough to fill a bucket. Later, I took them over to the Pro Shop and sold them.
After I had been on mess duty for a while, I happened to see the personnel guy from our squadron. He told me that the reason i was assigned to mess duty was that the Leading Chief figured that a person with such high test scores must be a prima donna, a panty-waist, or a sissy and wouldn’t know how to work. He was sending me to mess duty to get me straightened out. Big John’s attitude changed after he heard that I was one of the hardest working guys in the galley and had earned a job with the cook’s liberty. His change of heart was proven a couple of months later when we were surprised by the birth of our twin boys. Pat had uremic poisoning and was supposed to stay in bed, so I had to put in for emergency leave to take care of all of them. Big John had those papers pushed right through and had me out the gate in nothing flat.
If you’re handed a bag of lemons, don’t fret. Just turn them into lemonade.
Dave Thomas
August 20, 2020