Augusta, Kansas: Part 7- 5th Avenue

Augusta, Kansas: Part 7-5th Avenue

We’ve just come south along the east side of the 500 block of State Street. That last building on the northeast corner of State and 5th presents it’s west elevation to State Street, but there is no entrance there. If you go around the corner, to the left, you will find the door there on 5th Avenue. That door opens onto a waiting room shared by Harry Lutz, M.D., on the west and James Alley, D.D.S., on the east side. Nettie Hamlett was the nurse for Dr. Lutz. Nan Alley ran the dental office for her husband, Jim. The Alleys had a couple of sons living in Wichita. Kirstie Alley, the actress of Cheers was supposed to be a relative, and I was told in later years, her brother managed a lumber yard in Augusta.

I don’t remember what was in the next space there on 5th. Maybe a dry cleaner or a barber shop.

The next significant building, on the corner, was the 5th Avenue Hotel. The design of the building didn’t conform to the “look” of the rest of the area. The hotel looked more like a lodge you would find up in the mountains. The hotel had a lunch room known as the 5th Avenue Tea Room. After graduating from high school, during the depression, my Mom worked at the Tea Room as a waitress and hostess.

Continue east, across School Street, and you will find the town’s first super market. Safeway came to town when I was probably 9 or 10. The store was managed by Roy Smith, a very busy man. He made time for a smile and a greeting for everyone coming into the store. Mr. and Mrs. Smith had a daughter, Sue, who was a friend and classmate of mine. Sue married another classmate, Steve Allison.

Across the street, on the SE corner of 5th and School Street, was Dunsford Funeral Home. Joe Dunsford and his wife were well known and well-liked in town. Their son, Dick, and his wife, Barbara, were well thought of also.

On the SW corner of 5th and School Street was the Post Office.

Going west from the Post Office, and across the alley, was the Peckham Insurance Agency.

Going West from State Street on 5th, go a block and a half and between Walnut Street and Oak Street was the Locker Plant, owned by Bob Fisher. Bob and his wife, Ruby, had a son, Woody, who married my cousin, Maxine Peebler, daughter of Dave and Rachel Peebler. To me, the best thing about the locker plant was the ground sausage that Bob made and sold.

Dave Thomas

01/17/2021

Augusta, Kansas: Part 6-500 Block, State Street, East Side

This has turned out to be an interesting exercise for me. I wanted to go through town and describe the businesses and their locations, but the important part was to be the people we met and remembered along the way. I’m looking at about a 15 year span of time, and I can’t always recall who was in what location first. It doesn’t really make any difference. The people themselves are the story. As a kid, I wandered in and out of every store in town and was never growled at and wasn’t refused access to any establishment.

Let’s get back on State Street and on the east side we will cross 6th and continue south.

The first building is the Penley Building, occupied by Penley Hardware. I first met Ernie Penley when I was pretty small. My Great-Uncle, Dave Peebler, was going to run some errands and invited me to tag along. He and Mr. Penley were good friends, and after buying what he needed, they visited while I looked around the store. Mr. Penley was deaf and used an ear trumpet to aid his hearing. I also met Mrs. Penley while visiting with my Aunt Rachel at the Penley home on Clark Street. For several years, local Elks Lodge 1462 met on the second floor, above Penley Hardware.

The next place was the P & G Bakery, operated by Harry Patterson and Bernie Govenius. The spelling may be wrong. It was pronounced “Go-vee-nus.” Besides selling baked goods, they had a soda fountain, booths, a peanut warming machine and display cases for pipe tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes. I used to check the alley behind the bakery in hopes of finding discarded cigar boxes. One that I found, a Mississippi Crooks box, I sold on e-bay to a collector just 15 years ago. The big draw at the bakery was what they called a “malt.” It was a soft ice cream dispensed from a machine into a cone. My favorites at the bakery counter were Long Toms (maple bars), apple fritters, and those delicious cream puffs. Several of the men’s relatives worked in the bakery. He didn’t work at the bakery, but I believe that Chuck Patterson, a cool guy who was 4 or 5 years older than me, was Harry’s nephew.

Next door was O’Brien’s Furniture. I never had a reason to go in there, but I recognized the O’Brien’s when I saw them. They had a son, Mike, who was several years older than me.

Between the Bakery and O’Brien’s there was a stairway that led up to some meeting rooms. I think Uncle Dave went up there for Odd Fellows, and Aunt Rachel went for Eastern Star and Soroptomist. I think they both ended up as 50 year members of their clubs.

Also upstairs was the dental office of Ralph Brandt, D.D.S. His wife, Helena, managed the office. Doc and Helena had two boys. Dolan was 4 years older than I was, and Kermit was 2 or 3 years younger. Dolan married my cousin, Joyce Wilson.

Next up was Western Auto & Supply. For me, this was like going to the candy store. Western Auto had bicycles, bicycle parts, tools, rods and reels, fishing lures, guns, and all the other stuff that boys get excited about. When I was 10, I was having trouble with the nuts on the front axle of my bike coming loose. My Dad didn’t have any tools except a pair of pliers, so with them, I deformed and chewed up those nuts pretty bad. I saved my money and went to Western Auto and bought a pair of Vise Grips that I still own to this day.

Next, I’m seeing Skaer Drugs. I don’t know anything about it, so I guess I was never there.

Next, I see Bowman’s Market, owned and run by Charles and Marguerite Bowman. They were super nice old people, and I’m sure that their grocery store was the busiest in town at that time.

Next is Fowler’s News Stand, run by John and Lucille Fowler. I was a regular customer, buying comics in the early years. As I grew older, I enjoyed Western Horseman, Popular Mechanics, Mechanics Illustrated, Popular Science, Hot Rod, and Motor Trend. I never felt like I had the money to buy more than two magazines a month, but I could usually find the others at the city library or at school. After we got into high school, a friend and classmate, Gena Hulvey, worked after school and evenings at the news stand. You weren’t supposed to just stand there and read the magazines, and good manners dictated that you just lightly peruse the magazine in order to make a decision about buying. If there were no other customers, Gena would let me read a little. One day at school, I saw her in the hall. She came over to me and said, “Stop by the store when you get a chance. We’ve got a new magazine that you will enjoy seeing.” I stopped by the news stand that evening. There were a couple people looking at magazines. When they left, Gena beckoned me to where she was standing beside a door. She opened the door to the utility closet, reached in and got a magazine which she handed to me. “Check this out,” she said, and I looked at what was a copy of the first issue of Playboy Magazine. As I thumbed through the pages, completely surprised, I said, “Are you actually going to sell this in the store?” She said, “Yes, but for now, we have to keep it in the closet.” Times change and evolution is the name of the game.

The next place was a photographic studio. The only name I can think of is “Breck’s.”

Next, we have the Cash Insurance Agency, operated by Clovis Cash. I knew Mr. and Mrs. Cash because their daughter, Carolyn, was a good friend of my sister.

Next is the Prairie State Bank. At one time it was managed by Mr. Haines and later by Noah Morris. Mr. Morris had a son, Maynard, who was a year younger than me. Another employee of the bank was Dixie Wismer. She and her husband, Ivan, lived across the street from me. They had a young daughter whose name I can’t remember.

Next was Stephenson’s Men’s Clothing. Paul Stephenson and his wife ran the place. When I got old enough to earn my own money, I bought a suit from Paul, and Mrs. Stephenson explained the magic of lay-away. They had a son named Dick who was a classmate of mine. In one of my seaplane stories, I told about bumping into Dick on the island of Guam, 7,000 miles from home.

Next was Hall’s Book Store, operated by Mamie Hall. That’s where we ordered our school books every year. Mamie also sold wallpaper and was the franchise for Pittsburgh Glass and Paint. My Mom worked for Mamie for a few years. She enjoyed the books, as she was an avid reader, and she also enjoyed framing pictures. She loved mechanical gadgets, too, so the paint shaker was right down her alley.

Next was the office of Lionel West. I don’t know what he did, Guess he was an investor. He always brought his St. Bernard, Major, to work with him. He never minded if you stopped in just to pet the dog. I think that later on, he and Mamie, next door, got married.

Next up was Allison’s Barber Shop. That’s where I got my haircuts until I was 20 years old and joined the Navy. Burl Allison, Sr. was joined by Burl, Jr., and they always had a busy shop. They were both talkers, and quite often men stopped in just to chew over the news of the day. Prior to joining his Dad in the Barber Shop, Burl Jr. was a letter carrier/mailman for the Post Office. More often than not, he could be seen standing and talking to a resident rather than moving down the street. That was Burl. I don’t intend this in a mean way. Burl loved to talk, and people enjoyed talking to him. He listened, asked questions, and really engaged in conversation. After retiring, Burl Jr. wrote a terrific book chronicling the history of Augusta. Each page is crammed with facts about the people and the businesses of the town. Burl Jr. and his wife, Lois, had a son, Stephen, who was a good friend and a classmate of mine. Steve married Sue Smith, another friend and classmate. Steve also had a younger brother, Mike, and a younger sister whose name I can’t remember.

Before Allison’s Barber Shop, I think I should have listed Oklahoma Tire & Supply Company. It was managed by John C. Calhoun. I knew the Calhoun’s because their daughter had married Jack Guest, a nephew of my great aunt, Rachel Peebler.

Next is Leben’s Jewelry. It was owned and operated by Ted and Archie Leben who I think originally came from El Dorado. I got acquainted with them because they would let me stand and watch as they worked on items at their work bench.

There is only one more building on the block, but the entrance for it is around the corner on 5th Avenue, so I’ll save it for the next story.

Dave Thomas

1/13/2021

Augusta, Kansas: Part 5-State Street, 500 Block West Side

Going south from 6th, the west side of State, we come to a small store front on the corner. It is occupied by a Mr. Cady and his weekly newspaper. I forget the name of the paper, but it is sometimes interesting to read. There are small news items and gossip and opinions. Mr. Cady has a full beard and is kind of a Santa Claus-looking guy. He sits up close to his front window and sets type by hand. He’s a nice old guy, and I generally stop by and say hello when going past.

The next space was open for years, because of a fire, I think.

Next, we have Weinshelbaum’s Appliances. Sorry about the spelling. Bob was a GE dealer and carried an assortment of household goods. His wife was in the shop most every day, and his two kids were there frequently also.

Next comes the Augusta Theater, a beautiful, well-kept place with murals on the walls. Next door to the south was the ISIS Theater which had a western motif. It showed westerns on Friday and Saturday nights. For a couple of years, I was the projectionist at the Augusta Theater and the Augusta Drive-In Theater. I enjoyed working for the Bisagno family. There were owners, Dave and Aline Bisagno and their son, Bob, and his wife, Norma. I covered the theaters in their own story, “Augusta Theaters.”

I’m a little hazy about the next space. About the time we entered high school, it became Graves Drugs, complete with soda fountain, booths, pharmacy, and the whole shebang. Prior to that, I think the space was occupied by Heckerman Variety Store. Heckermans was basically a dime store. They sold all kinds of toys and interesting stuff. Mr. Heckerman, I think his name was Leon, was always pleasant and didn’t mind having kids look around. I believe Mrs. Herckerman was in the store on most days, and they had a couple of kids who were there often when they weren’t in school.

Next, there might have been a dress shop. It wasn’t on my itinerary, so I don’t remember.

Probably next was Larsen’s Shoe Store, owned and operated by Russ and Sarah Larsen. I knew Russ pretty well. Our family had been living in the basement apartment of my great uncle and aunt, Dave and Rachel Peebler. We moved out just before my 5th birthday in August of 1941. The next tenants in the basement were the brothers, Russ and Ray Larsen. I got to know them before the war started, and, after they were drafted, they maintained the apartment, so I got to see them when they came home on furlough. In the shoe store, Russ had one of those x-ray machines that you stick your foot in and can see your shoe and the bones of your toes in order to check the fit. I guess they had that machine until the world decided that radiation wasn’t good for you.

Next, we have the pool hall, owned by Marvin Laubhan. In the front, on the left side was a bar, and on the right side were several domino tables. Then, there were about 4 snooker tables and an 8-ball table. Marvin tended the bar and kept everything in order. Draft beer was 10 cents a glass. One hot summer evening, John Luding and I had ridden the Skaer’s horses into town. There was an open parking space in front of the pool hall, so we rode into it and stopped at the curb. It was so hot that Marvin and some of his patrons were standing out in front of the pool hall in hope of catching an evening breeze. The pool hall had no air conditioning. Marvin, the owner/bartender was standing out front with the other guys. He took great pleasure in hassling people and trading zingers. As we came to a stop at the curb, Marvin says, ‘Real cowboys would be wearing 10-gallon hats.” I came right back with “a real pool hall would have an air conditioner.” That’s all it took to get the fun started. We were all throwing insults as fast as we could think of them. Finally, I said, “Marvin, John and I are going to ride on into your place, so you can draw us a glass of beer.” I urged my horse up onto the sidewalk and kept going until his head was in the door of the pool hall, and John was right behind me. Marvin yells, “Wait a minute!” Well, I had no intention of riding into the pool hall, but Marvin didn’t know it. If that horse had got spooked and went nuts, I’d still be paying for the damages. I let Marvin talk me out of riding inside, and we got things calmed down. It ended up that Johnny and I took turns holding the horses while the other guy went inside and had a beer.

Next was Cooper Drugs, a Rexall affiliate, owned and operated by John Cooper. Mr. Cooper’s wife, Eunice, was a good friend of my great-aunt, Rachel Peebler, and they had made a number of trips to New Mexico together. Mrs. Cooper had a fine collection of turquoise and silver jewelry, Navajo blankets, and pottery. Aunt Rachel was crazy about the black pottery of Maria Martinez. Cooper Drugs had a pharmacy, soda fountain, and booths.

Next, I believe I remember a small grocery store that was operated by an elderly couple named Round. Round’s Grocery.

Then, there was another dime store, McClellan’s Variety Store. It was a little more formal than Heckerman’s, but also had a lot of neat stuff for a kid to drool over stuff.

Next we have another drug store. Drain’s Drug’s. It was owned and operated by Jack Drain, a really nice guy. I remember that when I was a grade school kid, all the best looking high school girls hung out at Drain’s after school. I thought it to be a really nice place.

The last building on the west side of the street was the Brown Building. In earlier times it had housed Mr. Brown’s bank on the ground floor. When I became old enough to know what was happening, I think it was occupied by Lehr’s Restaurant, owned by Charles and Thelma Lehr. The Lehr’s had a son named Jerry who was several years older than I was. After the Lehrs moved their restaurant to the new building on West 7th Street, Art Ballinger and his wife, Mildred, started another restaurant at the corner location. I believe they operated a buffet-style place.

That’s it for the west side of the 500 block of State Street. This was the busiest part of town.

Dave Thomas

1/12/2021

Augusta, Kansas Part 3: State Street 600 Block East Side

We’ve walked down the west side of the 600 block, and I have nearly strained my brain. I’m looking back 70 or 75 years, and some things are getting a little fuzzy. I remember faces pretty well, but not first names. I may be missing some of the stores, too.

Let’s cross the street, go back to the stoplight at 7th Street, and proceed south again.

On the southeast corner of 7th and State is McDuffee’s Service Station. They had gas pumps, a couple of boys for car repair, and served as the bus station. The main bus line was Continental Trailways. The place was always busy with Mr. McDuffee always doing something, and Mrs. McDuffee running the desk inside. They always had a couple of employees, too. In the back of the building, there was an overhead garage door which, when opened, revealed a steep ramp down to a paved basement. If my pals and I happened to come by when the door was open, we would ride our bikes down the ramp. I’m telling you that was a real thrill because that ramp was steep. I only used the place as a bus depot once. In March of 1957, I enlisted in the Navy and went to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, outside of Chicago, for boot camp. After completing boot camp in June, I came home for a 30 day leave. I took a train from Chicago to Wichita. There weren’t any timely connections to Augusta, so I grabbed my sea bag and hiked a block to the bus despot and caught a bus for Augusta. When we arrived home, McDuffee’s was a sight for sore eyes.

Heading south, my memory is a little fuzzy about the next building. I seem to recollect that when the Scholfield-Hurst Motor Company first opened up, they used this building until their new facility at 6th and Walnut was ready. Later, Bud Miller and his son, Franklin, moved Miller Auto Parts from east 7th to here.

Next, we see the Frisco railroad tracks again. Then, the Frisco Depot. Then, again, we see the siding tracks.

Next is the outdoor portion of a lumber yard, and then the store-front part of the lumbar yard.

Next comes Augusta Hardware, owned by R.A. Blowey and another man whose name I can’t remember. Blowey had two sons. Harold was a year younger than me, and Richard was two years older than me. Richard went to the University of Kansas on a football scholarship and did alright for himself.

Next was Charlie Rawlings’ filling station. I believe he had a Mobil franchise. Charlie had a son, Stanley, who was 2 or 3 years older than me. Charlie stayed in this location for several years until he acquired the Pontiac dealership at 4th and State.

Dave Thomas

12/28/2

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

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

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

Mornings: Smells Great

After school let out at Augusta High School following our junior and senior years, John Luding and I worked for two or three weeks for Paul Slagle, a contract baler. When the alfalfa matured in May, Paul would go around to local farmers and bale the hay after it had been cut and raked. Paul would pick John and I up at our homes a little before 6:00am, and take us to whatever farm we were working that day. When we got out of the pick-up, and our feet hit the ground, it was like the fragrance of that fresh cut alfalfa enveloped us and everything in the vicinity. The scent was so overwhelming. Since that time, whenever we are driving through the Imperial Valley or any other alfalfa producing area, the smell takes me back to that time years ago. I love it.

Dave Thomas
3/5/2020

Uncle Dave’s Basement

Uncle Dave’s Basement

My great uncle, Dave Peebler, and his wife, Rachel, built their house at 124 High Street in 1923. It was a nice place with three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and a full basement downstairs that had 2 bedrooms and a bath as well as a bunch of free space. In the basement, was a gas range for cooking in one area, and a Maytag washer in another. The furnace, a part of the central heating system, was there as well. Part of the free space contained a workshop area and part of one wall was covered by floor to ceiling shelves for storage.

 

Over the years, I had many connections to the basement as well as the rest of the house. This story probably should start with my Mom. Mom’s mother died when Mom was only eight years old. Mom’s dad couldn’t care for her, so she was passed around to different family members until she was taken in by her Grandmother Minnie. Later, when she was in high school, she was taken in by Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel. I think that after her high school graduation, she stayed with them for a couple more years. After Mom married Dad, they lived in an apartment above a store downtown. This was during the depression, and Dad was doing what he could to find work and keep some money coming in. He wasn’t able to bring in enough to keep us going, so when I was about three years old, Mom, Dad, my sister, Sylvia, and I moved into Uncle Dave’s basement.

 

I only remember two things from this time period. The first was that I had violated two rules of the house and ended up getting hurt. The first rule was, “Don’t run with a pencil in your hand,” and the second was “Don’t try to hurry down the stairs.” I had gone upstairs to get a pencil and then ran through the house to the stairway. I fell down the stairs and jabbed myself in the middle of the forehead with the pencil. The worst part was that for the next few years when Mom or Aunt Rachel needed an example, they would point to my scar and say, “Here’s what happens when you don’t follow the rules.” The other thing I remember from the time we lived in the basement was that one day I realized that my Dad wasn’t around. I asked Mom and she said he couldn’t find work and so he had gone to Western Kansas. He was working in a store out there. Fifty years later, when I became interested in genealogy and family history, I found one of Dad’s uncles had a general store in Atwood in Rawlins County, Kansas.

 

Things got better in the summer of 1941 when Dad was hired by the local refinery. We moved out of the basement and into the house at 19 Cliff Drive. In a short time, two brothers, Ray and Russ Larsen, moved into the basement. In a few months, the war started, and the brothers were drafted. The last time I saw Ray while he was in a Class A uniform, he was wearing the stripes of a master sergeant. While the guys were in the Army, their clothes and their personal items were stored in one of the bedrooms. After the war, Ray lived in the basement for a year or two. I don’t know where Russ was, but a few years later he came back to town. He and his wife, Sarah, opened Larsen’s shoe store on the west side of State Street, across from the bank. In their store, they had one of those magic x-ray machines that you stick your foot in and see the bones of your toes and the outline of your shoe.

 

During World War II, almost everyone had a Victory Garden. The war had caused quite a shortage of food. The able-bodied men who would normally be raising crops on the farms had been drafted. Then, what crops were produced had to be processed and sent overseas to feed the thousands of men were sending over there.

 

Aunt Rachel and Uncle Dave had an acre or so out on Custer Lane, at the edge of town. They put in a large victory garden there and let my folks have a garden there also. When the green beans came in, Mom and Aunt Rachel decided to work together and can a lot of them. They set up the basement as their efficient green bean canning factory. I don’t know how the process works, but I know Mason jars, pressure cookers, and a stove are used. We heard Mom and Aunt Rachel talking about pressure cooker explosions being reported, and that they must be careful. Well, sure as heck, one of the jars exploded and green beans and glass went flying across the room. Sylvia had some bad luck as a piece of glass hit her in the forehead, and she was cut badly enough that she probably still has the scar. The rest of us and the basement were pretty well covered with green beans.

 

Another time, Mom and Aunt Rachel decided to make soap which was in short supply during the war. They acquired lye from someplace, and used it to make their own. After that, we had plenty of soap on hand.

 

After a fantastic cucumber harvest, they decided to make pickles. They had crocks all over the basement. They made dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, and relish. It was stored for the family. We were in pickle heaven.

 

We didn’t have a washing machine or a car after we moved to the house on Cliff Drive. On laundry day, Aunt Rachel would haul us up to her house. Sylvia and I were young, so we had to tag along. One day, I was so bored I asked Mom if I could help with the washing. She was wringing out a load and said I could help. After receiving instructions and warnings to be careful, I started feeding clothes into the wringer of the old Maytag machine, and it wasn’t long before the thing grabbed my fingers and pulled my hand clear into the wringer. I let out a yell, and Mom stopped the machine. She opened up the top and got my hand out. No broken bones- just another case of humiliation.

 

My next memory of the basement involved Uncle Dave’s guns. In one room, two guns were hanging. One was a double-barreled 10 gauge, and the other was an over-and-under with a .410 on top and a .22 on the bottom. I don’t know where Uncle Dave got them. He wasn’t a hunter.

 

I had traded for a .22 when I was 12 years old so I could start rabbit hunting. I also wanted to hunt ducks, so Uncle Dave let me borrow the 10 gauge whenever I wanted. I shot at some tin cans with the 10 gauge, and I’m telling you, the recoil was pretty nasty. I don’t think I ever shot a duck with it. That was probably a good thing for I hate the taste of duck meat.

 

Pat and I got married in 1957, soon after I joined the Navy. One of the perks of graduating in the top five of my class at Aviation Electronics school was that I got to pick my next duty station. So, California, here we come! We got to San Diego in 1958, and that has been home ever since. We soon had Russ, Doug, and Terri, and as they grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we tried to go back to Kansas every year or two.

 

Uncle Dave had always enjoyed estate sales and farm auctions. When he retired, he went to a lot more of them. If he found a good buy, it usually ended up in the basement. So, the basement was full of all kinds of odds and ends, and ready for the kids. Uncle Dave had always encouraged them to go downstairs and explore.

 

One of the main attractions was the black walnuts. There was a black walnut tree in the back yard, so Uncle Dave always had a keg or a bucket full of them. There was a work bench in the basement with a vise mounted on it. Using a nearby hammer, you could crack the nuts against the vise. There were always a couple of nut picks handy so you could dig out the meat.

 

Another favorite was the hand drill. We used to call it a “hurdy-gurdy.” There was an old wind-up Victrola phonograph with a stack of records that ranged from Perry Como to Turkey in the Straw. There were several whet stones. Uncle Dave prided himself on being able to put a keen edge on any kind of blade. Russ tested the blade of an axe, and cut his finger when barely touching it. There were several items that Uncle Dave built himself. There was a table saw that doubled as a work bench, a battery charger for his truck battery, a bit for a horse, and a hunting knife. There were old monkey wrenches and a 36 inch Stilson pipe wrench. There were drill bits for wood and metal, and taps for cutting threads. There was a stack of National Geographics in one corner. Who can throw away those beautiful pictures? There was a pair of World War I puttees. Who knows why? The basement was full of new things to learn and new nomenclature to use. For instance, in addition to the table saw, there was a bucksaw, a crosscut saw, a rip saw, a keyhole saw, and a coping saw. The kids learned a lot from Uncle Dave and his tools and junk. He often let the kids pick something from the basement to keep. Terri really liked an old saxophone she found, so she took it home and still has it. Doug remembers Uncle Dave calling them to come up from the basement for lunch which included what Uncle Dave called “Smearcase,” a name for cottage cheese derived from an old German term. The kids thought that was pretty funny.

 

Uncle Dave passed away first. A few years later, Aunt Rachel passed. Their daughter, Maxine (Peebler) Fisher came down from Denver and settled the estate. She sold the house and all of it’s contents to our friend, Keith Scholfield, a realtor in Augusta. Keith said it took several days and a lot of truckloads to clear out that basement.