Patio Talk

During the summer months Pat and Izzie and I like to sit on the patio after supper until sundown. Isabella (Izzie), being an indoor cat wears a harness with a five-foot leash attached. We also have a reel for pets that is about fifteen feet long. We snap the reel onto the leash and Izzie has about twenty feet that she can move around in. While Izzie looks for lizards and wishes she could get to the two hummingbird feeders, Pat and I are sitting in the swing. We swing and hold hands and talk and keep an eye on Izzie. (I think there are about 10 stories about Izzie that you can find under the “Cats” category on the blog.)

I’m 81 now and Pat will be 80 next month. If you are wondering what old people talk about, its kids, grand-kids, great grand-kids, and “stuff”. I’ll give you some examples of the “stuff”.

We listen to the airplane noises. We are just a couple of miles west of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Facility. It’s a training base so some days are a constant stream of after-burners. When the Blue Angels are here for the annual air show we get blasted out of our seats and it scares the devil out of Izzie. We have no complaints though. This is where the world’s best pilots are trained and was the setting for the movie, Top Gun.

Besides the jets from Miramar, we sometimes hear small private planes coming out of Montgomery Field which is only 3 or 4 miles away. There is one small plane we hear every night about 6:15 as it climbs out and heads up the coast. We are guessing that it is either a flying lesson underway or a sight-seeing tour. We get a lot of helicopters, too. We live in what is called “The Golden Triangle”, an area that is bounded by freeways on 3 sides. Naturally, the freeways are patrolled by the traffic choppers from the TV news programs and by the police and the sheriff. All together, we hear a lot of aircraft noise when we are on the patio. The funny thing is, that it is not that bothersome but adds to the flavor of the patio experience.

I talked about my first ride in a small plane. It took place one Saturday morning in 1954 or 1955. I was driving back from Wichita. Normally, I worked at the garage on Saturdays from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM so I have no idea why I had been to Wichita. Anyhow, I was just leaving town, heading east on Kellogg, when I spotted a kid who was hitch-hiking. Back then, we frequently picked up hitch-hikers and this kid looked clean and intelligent and I was bigger than he was. I stopped and picked him up and as we headed for Augusta, he told me his story.

He said he was 23, was in the Air Force, and was stationed at McConnell AFB in Wichita. He went on to say that before joining the Air Force, he had earned a pilot’s license and he had just recently saved enough money to by an old airplane. The plane was an old single engine Taylorcraft and looked really beat up. However, he bought it for $700.00 and that made it look a lot better. He had parked his plane at the Augusta Airport because it was small and cheap and close enough for him to get to it easily. Also, Al Guy, the airport manager had promised to help him put a new skin on his airplane. This Taylorcraft was old enough that it had a canvas skin rather than a more modern skin of aluminum. The kid (I can’t remember his name) and Al Guy had re-skinned the plane and it looked good and was ready to fly.

At that time, the Augusta Airport was on the north end of town. It was at least a half section of land stretching from Ohio Street eastward to Custer Lane and north to the county road. The southwest corner of the property in later years became the site of Augusta’s first Wal-Mart. The interesting thing about it was that it was a multi-use property. Besides being the airport, it was the golf course and country club, the skeet shooting range, and the archery range.

I’m tired of saying “he” so I’ll call this kid “Joe”. I helped Joe push his plane out and he performed a pre-flight inspection of it. We climbed aboard, taxied out and took off. We flew around for an hour or so and Joe taught me how the controls worked and let me fly for a while. Joe told me that when we went in for a landing we would have to be careful as there might be golfers on the landing strip. The landing field was a wide grassy strip right down the middle of the golf course. Sure enough, as we came in, there were golfers crossing the fairway. Joe gunned

the engine to let them know we were coming and took the plane around for another try. The golfers cleared out and we touched down easily and rolled out across the grass. I enjoyed the ride and the experience and was happy that I had stopped to give the hitch-hiker a ride.

Pat said she had a story about her first ride in a small plane. She had just moved to El Dorado from Eureka and since she was 13 years old, that would make it about 1950. She was looking through the El Dorado Times and saw a notice that one of the local organizations was holding a fund raiser in just a couple of weeks. They would be giving rides in an airplane and charging just a penny a pound. Pat got all excited! The ride would cost just over a dollar and she had that much in her piggy bank. Of course, with the event being 2 weeks away she nearly drove her Mother crazy.

Pat and I had to take time to discuss the fare. A penny a pound isn’t much money. Pat pointed out that regular gasoline was selling for only 13 cents a gallon so a penny a pound would surely be a profitable venture. The price of gasoline really put things in perspective.

The big day finally arrived and Pat couldn’t have been more excited. The temporary air strip was a pasture on the outskirts of town. Pat’s Mom drove her out there and since there was no seating, stayed in the car to watch. She would be happy to experience the thrill of flight from ground level.

There were 2 planes giving rides that day and it was a good thing. When Pat got in line there were at least 40 people ahead of her. All of them were excited and a little nervous so they were all laughing and jabbering. The time passed quickly and Pat was soon climbing into a Piper Cub and anticipating the flight. The pilot gunned it and Pat was amazed at the speed with which they rolled across the bumpy pasture. Then, suddenly, they lifted off and left the bumps behind. She was elated as they gained altitude and she could see farther and farther. The cars and people below began to look like miniatures. It was a magic ride but it didn’t last long enough. They were soon back on the ground and everything looked normal again. Pat has retained her fascination with the elevated view. When we fly, she gets the window seat so she can look out.

Dave and Pat Thomas
October 11, 2017

Advertisements

Small Speck, Small World, Big Ocean

1

I’m going to mix an old story with an item from today’s news and see how it comes out. With a little luck, we’ll get something worth reading.

Back in the 1950’s, we had a men’s clothing store in Augusta, Kansas. It was owned and operated by Paul Stephenson as Stephenson’s Men’s Clothing. The store was located on the east side of the 500 block of State Street, nestled up against the Prairie State Bank, on its north and Mamie Hall’s book store on the south. Paul and his wife (only 60 years and I’ve forgotten her name) were in the store every day, well dressed and professional but friendly in demeanor. Their son, Dick, was a classmate of mine. Dick and I graduated in 1954 and I went to work and I think Dick headed for the University of Kansas. The following year, I was going to attend a wedding and needed a new suit. I went down to Stephenson’s and Paul fitted me with a new outfit and his wife set me up with a lay-away plan to pay for it. Those were the last dealings I had with the Stephenson family.

The Pacific island of Guam has been a big part of the news recently. Its the nearest U.S. Territory to North Korea and they are threatening to take a shot at it with their misguided missiles. Hopefully, sanity will prevail and Guam will remain intact. I faced a dilemma myself, on Guam, and will describe it to you later.

Guam is 7,000 miles from Augusta and if you look at a globe, its just a little speck in the big, blue Pacific Ocean. The island is 30 miles long and from 4 to 12 miles wide with a resulting total of 210 square miles. This makes it the largest island in Micronesia.

I enlisted in the Navy in March of 1957 and after attending Aviation Electronics School in Memphis had joined Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight (VP 48), a seaplane squadron, at NAS North Island, San Diego. In April of 1959, we were scheduled to deploy to NAS Iwakuni, Japan. I had mixed emotions about going. Our twin boys (the surprise of our lives) were just 6 months old. Pat was going to have to cope with raising the boys on very little money while I was gone. Two babies and no money makes for some hard days. I had taken the test for third class (E-4) but the results hadn’t come back yet. The only other way I could make more money was to get in a flight crew and draw flight pay. It was announced that there were 2 openings for aircrewmen and I was thrilled to hear it. As I recall, that would bring in another 90 bucks a month as hazardous duty pay. The only hitch was that to qualify, I must be able to send and receive 16 words per minute in Morse code. I only had a month to learn the code and pass the test because I would still have to attend Survival School before deployment

I passed the Morse code test and attended Survival School which took place partly on the beach and partly in the mountains. The trip to Japan was going to involve island hopping for several days. We would first fly to San Francisco and then, the next day, head west. We would be going to Honolulu, Hawaii, Kwajalein Atoll, Midway Island, Guam, and Iwakuni, Japan. We left and our trip went well until we got just past the halfway point between Kwajalein and Midway and lost an engine. We all went to our emergency stations and started preparing to ditch. I fired up the radar which had a range of 120 miles. The screen was blank! There wasn’t a ship, airplane, island, or even a reef in sight. Meanwhile, the navigator was making a “sunshot” and marking his charts so he would know exactly where we were. The co-pilot was talking to Midway Control and they immediately dispatched a Coast Guard S2F seaplane to meet us and escort us in (or radio our position if we went down). The pilot was busy getting us trimmed up to fly on a single engine. He thought we were a little heavy so he told the guys back aft to throw out some of the equipment. There is a procedure for this so the guys got rid of the stuff on the list. If that hadn’t been sufficient, our clothing and personal gear would have been among the next items out the hatch. I forget how many hours it was, but when I switched on the radar and found that S2F coming our way, we all cheered. We made it to Midway without incident and were there for almost a month waiting for a new engine to be shipped from the states.

We got our seaplane back together and headed for Apra Harbor, Guam. We had a good flight except one of the engine gauges was acting up. It was probably a casualty of the engine failure we had experienced but didn’t show up until we had racked up a few hours of flight. Apra Harbor had a seaplane ramp for the launching and retrieval of planes so we got the plane up on the concrete and parked it again. The Plane Captain (the senior aviation mechanic) ordered a new gauge which would be coming from the states, just as the engine had.

We spent the next few days enjoying Apra Harbor. The guys at the Coast Guard Station said we could use their snorkeling gear whenever we wished so we took advantage of the offer. Swimming in Apra Harbor was like swimming in a high-priced aquarium. The water was clear and only 8 or 10 feet deep where we were. You could look down and see beautiful coral formations on the bottom and there were things moving in time with the water that looked like flowers moving with a spring breeze. The fish were awesome! Every color and shape of tropical fish you ever saw in a pet store was there. There were also sea cucumbers and other strange things I had never read about and couldn’t name. The Coast Guard guys even told us that if we could spear an octopus we could take it to a store in town and trade it for a case of beer. One of the guys in our crew took this to heart and spent a lot of hours in the water before he finally speared an octopus. We had a van assigned to our crew. I was the only person with a Navy Driver’s License so I drove him into town. Surprisingly enough, he traded his catch for a case of beer.

The gauge finally arrived and we went over to the Navy Supply Depot and picked it up. The next morning, the mech’s were going to install the gauge and turn up the engines while the rest of us did our chores. The guys were needing razor blades, cigarettes, and other items so I said I would make a run to the Naval Exchange (PX to you Army folks) at Naval Air Station, Agana. I hurried up and checked out the radar and the other electronic gear I was responsible for and took off.

I must have arrived at the Navy Exchange at rush hour. There was a small crowd going through the main entrance and just as many coming out. I joined the throng and as we shuffled along toward the front door, I spotted the tan of an officer’s uniform coming at me. As the gap between us closed, I looked up and saw the gold bar of an ensign on the collar. Then, I saw his face…my God, its Dick Stephenson! We shook hands and moved out of the way of the throng so we could talk. Dick and I were going through the “small world” routine and “what are you doing here” and I had something else churning in the back of my mind. Do you remember that I said I had a dilemma on Guam? Well, this is it! When I look at Dick, I see a gangly kid riding a bicycle around the streets of Augusta. The last time I saw him, he still had peach fuzz on his cheeks. How can I salute this kid when we part company? If I didn’t salute and another officer noticed it, I could be reprimanded. Or, if Dick decided to make an issue of it the outcome would be bad. I wasn’t in the mood to be chewed out for some petty offense. While we were talking, my mind finally got the fact that the Navy had taught me that you salute the uniform, not the man. Dick and I finished talking and shook hands. I saluted and he returned it and we both lived through the event.

We took off bright and early the next morning. We were all relieved to think we might finally complete our trip. A few minutes after we were airborne, our Pilot and Plane Commander (PPC), George Surovik, got on the intercom and announced that we would do a little sight-seeing on the way. He said that he and the co-pilot and navigator had talked it over and had filed a flight plan that would take us over Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima is about 800 miles from Guam but wasn’t far off our track to Iwakuni. We were all anxious to see the infamous place that had cost so many lives. As we passed over the island, Mount Surabachi was still big, black, and as ugly as it had been in the newsreels when I was a kid during WWII. It’s amazing how many memories and how much sadness can be evoked by the sight of such a place.

We finally got there! Iwakuni is down toward the southern end of Japan and is located on the Inland Sea. We landed and taxied over to the seaplane ramp and snagged the buoy. While the boat was towing our wheels out to us, we could see our squadron gathering on the sea wall to welcome us. We got our wheels attached and were towed, tail-first, to the top of the ramp. One of our crew opened the rear hatch but before he could get the ladder mounted and start down, the guys on the ramp started handing up cans of ice cold beer. I took a few swigs and when my turn came, I started down the ladder. I got about half way down and was suddenly grabbed by what seemed like a dozen hands. I was carried to the seawall and tossed over it. I landed in the drink and started treading water. I noticed that I was the only guy that had been tossed in. I yelled up at the rotten guys that had done it and asked them, “What was that for?” “You made Third Class”, they shouted! Hot dog…another pay raise! Things are looking up!

Dave Thomas
August 24, 2017

 

Smile…

It was a sad day, last month, when Ringling Brothers announced that they were going out of business. What is life without the circus? The feeling of impending doom started last year when they said they were retiring the elephants. I have really had some mixed feelings about that. To me, the elephants are the circus. Sure, they’ve got the trapeze acts, the lion tamers, and the clowns, but what of it? It’s those giant-sized, majestic creatures with the wise old eyes that set the tone for everything else.

On the other hand, elephants shouldn’t have to live that kind of life. Most of the day they were chained to a stake in the ground and bored to death. They were only free long enough to go out and perform those demeaning little tricks. Not a good life for such a marvelous creature.

I know, that I shouldn’t discuss serious stuff. Well, here’s a remedy for that. As you may have guessed, I have a circus story.

The circus and the carnivals used to stop in Augusta, Kansas, our little town of 5,000 people. In the south end of town, there was a big lot behind the homes on the west side of the 500 block of Oak Street. It was a nice, level piece of property, bounded on the north by the Frisco Railroad tracks and on the south by the White Eagle Refinery. That was a good location but one year they changed the venue, y to get more space. I was probably between the ages of 14 and 16. That would put it between 1950 and 1952. Up in the north end of town there was a pasture that probably was within the city limits. It was bounded by Kelly Road on the south and Washington Lane on the west. I think the northern boundary was even with the entrance to Garvin Park. The circus people set up their tents and equipment up at the north end of the property.

If I remember correctly, the circus arrived via the Santa Fe Railroad. I believe it was the next day that they had a parade down State Street. For some reason, I was watching from a spot front of Schneider Brothers Grain and Feed Store as the elephants strolled past. The circus had put out a call for some boys to show up that first morning and clean up after the elephants. It’s a monumental job but someone must do it and I would have been honored. On that specified morning, we headed for the pasture and the super duper pooper scooper job. I think Gary

Casner was my partner in this adventure. Unfortunately, we got there too late and the jobs had been filled. Such is life.

That evening, we went back to the circus to see the show. We got there early and split up to look around. There was a side-show set up on the west side of the big top and there were posters advertising the usual attractions like the Bearded Lady and the Tatooed Man, and of course, the Exotic Dancer. There was a stage in front of the entrance to the tent and it was surrounded, about three deep, by men and high school boys. I had arrived during the time segment of the Exotic Dancer and she was on stage smiling and posing as the barker extolled her wares. According to the barker, once you paid your money and got inside the tent, you were going to see some spicy stuff. I wouldn’t be able to find out because the posted sign said, “No One Under the Age Of 18 Allowed Inside”. That was okay for it turned out that I saw an amusing show anyhow.

I knew most of the guys in the crowd. There were a couple of high school classmates, a couple of dads of classmates, businessmen from down town, and men that worked at the refinery. I was surprised to see one man that seemed to be hanging back a step or two behind the rest of the crowd. I knew this man well. He was a businessman that I saw whenever I went to town. He was a sharp dresser, always in a white shirt, tie, sport coat, and slacks. He was a talker, too, and always had a word for every man, woman, or kid he came across. That’s why I was surprised to see him standing by himself. There was no one to talk to.

I was watching this guy out of the corner of my eye when suddenly, I found out what was going on. His sport coat was unbuttoned and he would reach across with his left hand and pull the coat back, exposing the camera he had hanging around his neck! It was a small, flat camera, looking much like the digital cameras we have today. Once the camera was in the clear, he would reach up with his right hand and snap a picture and then let the coat fall closed. Whenever the woman would change her position or her pose, he would snap another picture. This went on throughout the barker’s spiel and the guy was so intent on what he was doing, he didn’t know I was watching. Thinking about it now, I don’t remember seeing him wind the camera to advance the film. I must not have been paying attention. I don’t believe we had the technology or the miniature batteries to support automatic film advancing.

I don’t know what the guy’s motivation was. Maybe he was in training to become a spy. Or, maybe he was taking pictures for an up-coming coffee table book about exotic dancers. Maybe he was just a pervert. All I know, is that I got a good chuckle from his covert performance.

Dave Thomas
June 30, 2017

 

West 7th Street

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 “mediumwell”, 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.

Dave Thomas
May 15, 2017

 

Breaking It In

I seem to have reached the age where everything reminds you of something. We were watching TV last night and a car commercial came on that showed a family accepting delivery of a new car. That’s a big event in the life of any family and certainly evokes happiness in all those involved. Unfortunately, I once witnessed the delivery of a new car that started out as a happy occasion but then turned to worms before once again becoming a happy time.

It was the fall of 1952 and I was a Junior in high school. I was lucky in that I was taking part in an occupational training program that allowed me to get out of school every day at 2:00 PM and go to work. I was working at Howard Motors, our local Chevrolet/Buick dealer. I was doing a little bit of everything…washing and waxing cars, lubricating them, undercoating, sweeping the shop, cleaning the restrooms, and waxing and buffing the showroom floor.

One day, a man named Harold came in and talked to one of the new-car salesmen. I knew Harold and knew that he was a successful farmer who lived a few miles south of town. You could drive past his place and everything always looked fresh and new. The house and barn always seemed to be newly painted, the yard was mowed, and the fences were tight and in good repair. What’s more, he was a very nice man.

Harold spent an hour or so with the new-car salesman, talking and then taking a test drive in a demonstrator. Then, they got the Used Car Manager to appraise his trade-in. I don’t remember what kind of car it was but do recall that it was several years old but looked well cared for. They made a deal that afternoon and Harold got in his trade-in and drove off.

A few days later Harold and his family came in to take delivery of their new car. They had purchased a new 1952 4-door Chevrolet sedan with automatic transmission. Chevrolet didn’t offer a V8 until 1955 so this was an in-line 6 cylinder engine. As I recall, the car was white with a gray top.

I finished cleaning the windows of the new car and was transferring tools and other items from one trunk to the other. Again, I was impressed with what a nice family they were. The parents were well dressed and the two kids looked like they had on their Sunday best and they were well mannered.

Bud, the salesman was busy giving last minute instructions on the importance of breaking in the engine correctly. At that particular time in automotive history, alloys and the machining process weren’t as good as they are today. After driving 100 miles, the oil pan and motor oil might contain some minute metal shavings that had been dislodged as the engine wore in. To combat this problem, the engines came from the factory filled with a “break-in” oil. It was said to be imperative that you change this oil after 100 miles of driving so that no errant metal shavings could damage the engine. New owners were also exhorted to drive carefully and at reduced speeds in order to give the piston rings an opportunity to seat properly and function as they should. These instructions for breaking in the engine were given in detail in the Owner’s Manual and were an important part of the salesman’s delivery spiel. Bud finished his instructions, ending with a final warning to take it slow and easy. Harold and the family waved and drove off. Another happy customer hitting the road.

Normal work continued and after a while I saw the Service Manager, Kenneth Markley, get in the wrecker and drive off. Kenny was back in less than an hour and pulled into the shop with Harold’s new ’52 Chevy hanging on the hook behind him. The car didn’t appear to be damaged as if in a wreck so we were curious to find out what had happened. We crowded around Kenny as he started telling the bad news. Harold and his family barely got back to the farm before the Power Glide transmission gave up completely. Driving carefully and not wanting to overtax that new engine, Harold had put the car in “Low” and driven 20 mph all the way home. By the time they got there, smoke was coming from under the car and it smelled as if the whole thing was burning up. Harold called the shop, told Bud what had happened, and probably felt like an idiot.

After hearing the story, the guys in the shop thought it was a dumb thing to have done. However, as they talked, they realized that none of them had felt real sure of themselves the first time they drove an automatic. The sales manager finally decided they may have been a bi overzealous in their warnings about driving too fast and harming the engine. He determined that the shop should pay for a new transmission.

The replacement transmission was ordered from Chevrolet and arrived in a couple of days. The Shop Foreman, Kenny Dickinson, jumped on the project and in a couple of hours had the car back in “new car” condition. Bud, the salesman, and the Sales Manager delivered the car to Harold’s home. They spent some time talking with Harold about the Power Glide transmission and the other new features of the car. Harold and his family appreciated the efforts of the Sales Department and the company and returned to feeling good about their new car.

2 Cream-Tops and 2 Red

I don’t think I have ever told you but one summer I was a milkman or, more correctly, a junior milkman. I was 11 and would be 12 in August so that makes it 1948. Boy, that sounds like a long time ago. This was in Augusta, Kansas, a small town of about 5,000 people. I think there were only 2 men delivering milk in town at that time. Charlie Fennell was the milkman for Meadow Gold milk and he is the one I worked for. I guess I had known Charlie all my life and he was almost a relative. I first knew him as Jane Guest’s boyfriend. During WWII, the Guests lived two doors south of us. The Mom, Martha “Mattie” (Wright) Guest was the sister of my great-aunt, Rachel (Wright) Peebler. During the war, Jane would always tell us when she got letters from Charlie. Of course, the ending of the war was a great relief for Jane and she and Charlie got married soon after he returned home.

The other milkman in town was Clare Patterson. Clare was a nice-looking man, probably in his forties at the time, and had a black patch over one eye. I don’t think I ever knew how he lost that eye but that patch made him look like an adventurous soul. Clare ran Patterson Dairy and as I recall, did all the delivering himself. As a side note, Clare had a sister named Lovey Patterson who married one of the Boucher men. I didn’t know her but always thought that “Lovey” was a neat name for a girl.

Charlie and Jane lived in the last block of Clark Street, on the south side of the street. Behind their home, Charlie had his milk house that could be entered from the alley. The milk house was a small, one room building. I can’t remember if it was an old Model T garage that had been converted, an old smoke-house that had been converted, or if it had been built specifically to be a milk house. At any rate, it was well insulated and had an air conditioner to keep it cold. The big truck from the Meadow Gold plant would come down the alley on a regular schedule and off-load Charlie’s stock.

As I recall, we started making deliveries at 6:00 AM. I enjoyed the morning walk to Charlie’s house. The sun was up but it was still cool and the air was fresh and sweet. It smelled especially good if I passed a yard that had just been mowed the day before.

Getting down to business, we delivered all the products that Meadow Gold offered. I don’t remember them all, but there was regular milk, homogenized milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk, cream, whipping cream, ice cream, and butter. Milk came in glass bottles back then. There were no waxed cartons or plastic jugs like we have now. The milk was in quart bottles and the cream came in pints. The bottles were sealed with a cardboard disc that had a pull-tab attached to it. I think the lettering on the cap or disc was a different color for the different products. A white cap was for regular milk which was also known as “cream-top”. In regular milk, the cream separated from the milk and rose to the top of the bottle so the top 2 or 3 inches of the neck was cream. A red cap was for homogenized milk. The milk and cream had been mixed or blended and the cream remained in suspension making the product a lot richer and more pleasing than plain old skim milk.

Charlie had a route book that served as a road map for the day. It had a page for every customer and gave all the necessary information about them including the days they wanted delivery and what their standard order was. As we drove down the street, Charlie would turn the page as we got to each house and sing out their order…”2 cream-top and 2 red” he might say. Or, it might be “1 red and 1 butter’. Whatever the call, I’d get the items and run for the front porch. Whatever empty bottles they had would be setting beside the front door and I would grab those empties and leave today’s order. As I learned the job we got a routine going and the route got a little smoother and a little faster. Charlie’s way of going was so quiet and steady it was easy to work for him.

Elderly people and crippled people were treated as such. Charlie personally took care of them.. Due to prior agreement he would let himself in and head for the kitchen. As he placed the fresh dairy products in the refrigerator and picked up the empties off the cabinet, he was chatting with the people, looking them over, and asking if they needed anything. Quite often, Charlie invited me to go in with him and say hello. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was learning lessons in respect and being mindful of the needs of others.

It was a good summer and I learned a lot about working and being a decent person. After the summer was over I went back t school and Charlie kept doing what he was doing. He was a regular guy with the work ethic and values of the time. Working for him was worth a lot more than the spending money I earned.

Dave Thomas
February 24, 2017

 

 

 

Prairie State Bank Robbery

We were recalling things from the time the kids were small and Pat reminded me of this story.

We had gone back to visit with friends and relatives in our home towns of Augusta and El Dorado, Kansas. In Augusta, we were staying with my great uncle and aunt, Dave and Rachel Peebler. Our twin boys, Russ and Doug, were probably between 2 ½ and 3 years old. That would put us in 1961. Aunt Rachel and Uncle Dave were always gracious hosts and fun to visit. Aunt Rachel was all excited about having an outing with just the boys and her so she could take them to town and show them off to her friends.

Aunt Rachel got all gussied up, jewelry included. The boys were all excited and Pat got them slicked up and they piled into Aunt Rachel’s car and she took off with them. She decided she would stop at the Prairie State Bank first and pulled into a parking place out front. I don’t know who she expected to see but I imagine that Roy Haines was still the bank’s president  and Noah Morris and Dixie Wisner and the other long-time employees were still there. I don’t know what happened to tip her off but as Rachel and the boys got to the door, she realized that the bank was being robbed. She whirled around and since she was holding hands with both boys, almost jerked them off their feet. She took off directly across the street and rushed through the front door of Larson’s shoe store. Russ Larson was an old friend and she yelled at him and told what was happening. He shooed them to the back of the store and then called the police. They waited for some time before leaving the store and making the rounds of Rachel’s friends. When they got home, all three were still wide-eyed and excited. They were all talking so fast it was hard to understand what had happened. We finally got the boys settled down and Aunt Rachel told the story with the boys chiming in with their comments as she talked.

I tried to authenticate this story by searching the Internet. I even found an abbreviated history of the Augusta Department of Public Safety but nothing mentioned this incident. After Pat and I discussed the story, we were talking with Doug on the phone and asked him if he remembered going to town with Aunt Rachel and seeing a bank robbery. He jumped right in by saying “Yes, and she rushed us across the street to the shoe store.” Doug will be 57 next month and remembers something that made a big impression on him when he was 3.

We just talked to Russ a few minutes ago. He remembers something happening but says that Aunt Rachel down-played it and he doesn’t know what it was. However, he says he does remember meeting a lot of people that day.

Dave Thomas
October 25, 2015