Land of Enchantment

We lived in Augusta, Butler County, Kansas. During World War II, Mom and Dad worked at the White Eagle (later, Mobil) Refinery. Mom was hired in 1942. She was hired as a replacement for one of the men who had been drafted. She was placed in the chemical lab, a job previously held only by men. Dad had started at the refinery prior to the beginning of the war. Jobs at the refinery were considered to be vital to the war effort so that and the fact that he was married and had two kids caused him to be deferred from the draft. He tried to enlist, but for the reasons given and the fact that he had rheumatic fever as a youth, he wasn’t allowed.

When our folks left for work in the morning, my sister, Sylvia, and I had to leave, too. We walked the block to the high school and then crossed the school grounds to State Street where we waited under the one street lamp to be picked up.  Those winter mornings were pitch black and sometimes there was a heavy fog that made it seem even more frightening. I was only six, and Sylvia was five, so we were easily spooked.

We would stand under the street lamp and wait. Cars would be coming down State Street on the way to the refinery. Sometimes a car would stop, and we would be offered a ride. I would say “thank you” and explain that Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel would be picking us up in a few minutes. Pretty soon, that big green Packard with Uncle Dave driving would stop for us. Then, Uncle Dave would drive to the refinery where he would stop and get out. Aunt Rachel would slide across to the driver’s seat, and take us to her home.

Their home was at 124 High Street, and they had it build in 1923. It was across from Garfield Elementary and Intermediate School which made it perfect for Aunt Rachel to babysit us before and after school.

You may be wondering why they didn’t pick us up at home. I’m wondering the same thing. It may have been that Cliff Drive was a narrow street ending in a cul-de-sac that was hard to turn around in. Or, it may have been that our folks wanted us to meet them in an easy pick-up spot and save them some effort. Aunt Rachel was probably baby-sitting for free anyhow.

Rachel Ana Wright married my great uncle, David S. Peebler, and they have been our closest relatives both by relationship and geographical proximity.

Aunt Rachel loved the Southwest, particularly New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” and she and her good friend, Eunice Cooper, took a number of trips to that area from the 1930’s to the start of WWII. They visited the pueblos in the south, Taos, Santa Fe, and everything clear up to Gallup.

Eunice was married to John Cooper, owner of Cooper Drugs. For the life of  me, I couldn’t remember where the Coopers lived as I prepared to write this story. I could see that 2-story purple brick house in my mind’s eye, but didn’t know where it was. I finally asked Keith Scholfield, and he reminded me that they lived on Santa Fe Street, next to the old hospital. Santa Fe Street! What could be more fitting?

Aunt Rachel and Eunice Cooper were forward-thinking ladies and ahead of their time. At a time when you didn’t see that many women driving or gallivanting around the country, they were doing a serious job of exploring the southwest. 

Eunice was a serious collector. She displayed her beautiful collection of Native American art in an alcove, located off the living room of her home on Santa Fe Street. The space looked like the area of a trading post used for the display of “old pawn.” There were squash blossom necklaces, concho belts, silver bracelets, Navajo rugs, pottery, and probably a lot of things I have forgotten. I was completely awe-struck when viewing all of it.

Aunt Rachel was a lot more conservative. She had some Navajo rugs, a Navajo saddle blanket, some baskets, and some pottery. Her favorite possessions, though, were the beautiful black pieces of pottery made by Maria Martinez. In the early 1900’s, Maria had figured out how her ancestors had made the black pottery and had perfected the technique.

When Aunt Rachel was baby-sitting us, she made sure we were entertained. We played Chinese checkers, Old Maid, and other games. The best times, though, were when she told about her travels. She would unfold the Navajo rugs and tell us where she got them and how they were made. She had a small tom-tom made from a hallowed out cottonwood branch with a skin stretched over it that she would demonstrate and then hand over to one of us. She told about the pueblos and how the people lived.

The best part was when she told about Maria and the making of the black pottery. She would pick up one of the bowls and as he told us how it was made, she would be rubbing her hands over that slick glaze almost as if she were caressing it. Then, she would hand it to one of us to enjoy while she picked up another. I think I learned to love and appreciate that black pottery as much as she did.

Of course, the beautiful vases and bowls that are now considered as Native American art were originally produced as common kitchenware utility items. Though Aunt Rachel love the black pottery, she felt that the items should be seen, used, and enjoyed around the house. She had a beautiful black wedding vase, unsigned, but purported to have been made by Maria, that she used as a door stop. Some bowls were used to store paper clips or candy or whatever else needed to be contained. Chips and scratches appeared on some items, but that was okay because they were doing a job while providing beauty and interest to the household.

My time in the Navy was mostly spent in San Diego, but Pat and the kids and I made regular trips back to Augusta to visit relatives and friends.  When visiting Aunt Rachel, we always talked about her New Mexico trips and the treasures she brought home.

Aunt Rachel passed away in the late 1980’s, but left a lot of vivid memories. A few months after her passing, her daughter, Maxine (Peebler) Fisher, and her husband, Woody, came to California from their home in Denver. It turned out that their motive was more than just a vacation. Maxine surprised me with a box containing all of that beautiful black pottery.

Dave Thomas

6/17/2021

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 4- 6th Avenue

We’ve arrived at 6th Avenue, and we’ll go west from State Street. Go a block to the northeast corner of 6th and Walnut, and you’ll find the dealership for International trucks and farm tractors. I don’t remember the name of the dealership.

Go across the street to the southeast corner of 6th and Walnut, and you will find the Scholfield Hurst Motor Company. It is a Ford dealership owned by Gene Scholfield and Jap Hurst. Gene and Erlene Scholfield had a son, Keith, who was a classmate of mine. Keith and I have been friends since we were four years old. Keith is still active in the local real estate market. Jap and Geneva Hurst had a son, Alan. Cliff Harding was the Service Manager at Scholfield-Hurst, and he also drove the company wrecker. Cliff had a son, Chuck, who was a year younger than Keith and I, and a daughter, Cherry, who was 3 or 4 years older. Ed Mehl worked in the body shop until he and Doug Sawtelle joined up and opened their own body shop.

Going east from State Street on 6th, on the north side of the street, we find Safford Lumber Yard. I didn’t have any need to visit them.

Across the street, on the south side, was the City Building. It contains city offices, the library, city clerk, Public Works, the police station, and the fire house. The police and fire stations were on the west end of the building, starting with a big garage to house the fire engine and a brush rig. Next to the overhead garage door was a regular entrance door. Just inside the door was a brass pole for the firemen to slide down when they were being called out. My friends and I would stop in once in a while to slide down the pole. No one ever seemed to mind. The only fire chief I remember was Bud Presnell. He had several kids, but the only one I remember is Claude. The only two police chiefs I recall are George Lietzke and Frank Bennington. Both of them would always wave and talk to a kid.

I remember two guys as Justice of the Peace. The first was Johnny Mercer, and the second was Tom Irwin. I only had to do business with Judge Tom Irwin once. That was after the cops picked us up for swimming in the city lake. Judge Irwin let us cool our heels in jail for an hour before giving us a stern lecture about swimming in the city’s water supply, and said there would be grave consequences if it happened again.

Dave Thomas

1/3/2021

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

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

Looking For Stories

In my mind’s eye, I was walking up and down Cliff Dr. in Augusta, Kansas where I grew up. I was looking for stories, but wasn’t having much luck. Cliff Drive is only a block long, and most of the time I was growing up, it was a cul-de-sac. You entered on the north end and it was paved about halfway down the block. Then it continued as dirt, rocks, and ruts until it almost made it to 7th St. The final few yards were a vacant lot. The city didn’t acquire it, pave it, and make it a through street until I was in Junior High School.

 

Our block-long street contained a dozen homes, a small Church of Christ, a catholic school, and a convent or nunnery or whatever it is where nuns live. The house at the north end was occupied by H.H. Robinson, the Superintendent of schools and his family.

 

Like most residential areas, our block had a fluid population with people moving in and out regularly.

 

As I said up front, in my mind’s eye I was walking up and down the street and looking for stories among the neighbor kids. Sorry, I didn’t find any stories, but did come up with an interesting fact. Out of the group of kids that lived on Cliff Dr. in the 1940’s and 1950’s, none of us live there now, but there are five of us that are alive and kicking and in our 80’s. They are: Gary Casner, Joyce Williams, Norma Gardner, Bobby Stanley, and me. Who would have thought that?!

Dave Thomas

September 3, 2020

Mornings: The Early Bird

In June of 1950, I was 13 years old and fixing to be 14 in August. My Grandpa, George F. Sicks had invited me to spend the summer with him in Arizona. Granddad was living in the town of Safford which is on the east side of the state.

I caught a bus and headed west. This was big stuff for a kid that had hardly been out of Augusta, Kansas. Grandpa’s second wife, Mina, went to Los Angeles to visit her sister for the summer. Before she left, she made me show her that I could cook a steak and fix potatoes and vegetables to go with it.

Grandpa was a farm equipment salesman with an Allis-Chalmers dealer. He called on the farms and ranches in the area sometimes. One Friday afternoon, Grandpa came home from work early and said that we were going to the farm. The farm was clear down in the southeast corner of the state, a couple of miles from the New Mexico border and just west of the town of San Simon. Simon is pronounced in the Spanish way, with a long “o.” You say it like the girl’s name, “Simone.”

We left Safford, heading south, and in a couple of hours were in southern Arizona. We merged with U.S. Highway 80 (now Interstate 10), and headed east. San Simon is in Chiricuhua County and is a part of the Sonoran Desert. You can see for miles across the desert country, clear up the Chiricahua Mountains. This is the land of Cochise and Geronimo, so you need to keep your eyes open.

The farm adjoins the highway on the south side, so you can see the whole place from the car. It is 120 acres of steaming hot desert with no tilled land or much of anything. There is a one room adobe house, and that’s about it. The redeeming feature is that there are two Artesian wells on the place- one hot and one cold. Granddad had fixed up the hot well so you could take a shower outside. He built a screen around it so you could have a little privacy from the people driving down the highway.

Granddad showed me around the place and we messed around for the rest of the evening. He called the place his “farm,” but I believe that it was what would now be considered as the equivalent of a “man-cave.” It was a place for him to putter around.

Granddad and I spent the evening out in the yard where it was pretty nice after the sun went down. When we went to bed, I lucked out and got the cot. A little after sunrise the next morning, I was awakened by a pecking noise. I sat up in bed, wondering what was going on. Grandpa, who had awakened also said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s my road-runner buddy telling me that it’s time for his breakfast.” We got up and got dressed and Grandpa went to a cabinet and got a sack of chicken feed. He said, “A year or so ago, Mina went to visit her sister in L.A., so I stayed down here for a month. After eating, I would throw the table scraps out in the yard because I knew some critter would eat them. It turned out that the roadrunner was the lucky creature that came. He enjoyed the food and depended on me to provide it. If I didn’t show up quick enough in the mornings, he figured out that he could peck on the window and get my attention. I guess he has remembered our routine since then.” Granddad took a cup of grain and threw it out into the yard. The roadrunner scurried around like a chicken in the barnyard intent on getting every last bite. It’s been 70 years now, and I still think of that roadrunner from time to time. Who knew that a bird could think or reason or remember anything?

Now, I don’t speak the roadrunner’s language, but I will try to express in English what the bird might have been thinking. Imagine that it is evening and that the roadrunner has been craising all day and comes by the farm in the evening. He thinks, “There is a car. The man must be here in the house. I like the man. He feeds me.” The next morning, the roadrunner is in the yard. “Where’s my breakfast? I’m hungry! The man must be in the house. Last year I figured out how to get his attention, so I know now how to get him. I’ll jump up on the window ledge and peck on the window. Yep, he’s getting up, so it won’t be long until breakfast.” Then, a little later, “That was delicious. Now that I don’t have to spend the morning foraging for food, I’m going to go down the road a piece and find that roadrunner chick and see if she wants to go jogging.”

Dave Thomas

4/30/2020

Mornings: Sedona

Step out the door of your motel at sun-up in Sedona, Arizona and feel your mouth drop open. When the sun hits those red rocks, it jars your senses. This must be the place that God and Mother Nature put in some overtime. As the sun strikes the multitude of facets on the side of the mountain, you see one brilliant shade of red after another.

The evenings are just as grand, but much more subtle. As the sun sets, the color of the mountains fades from bright red to shades of purple and then to grays and then to black. I don’t have words to describe the beauty of the area. Go see for yourself. It’s a magical place.

Dave Thomas
04/18/2020

Mornings: Company For Breakfast

Pat and I had gotten up just a few minutes before and were just sitting down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. We heard a noise outside, and Pat got up and opened the curtains. There was a donkey with his lips almost against the window. He must have been as startled as us because he cut loose with Hee-Haw, Hee Haw, and it was loud enough to shake the house! We recognized the donkey as the pet of the Noble family that lived several houses up the hill from us.

We had been visited by the donkey a couple of times before. We had a Shetland pony for the kids that we kept in a corral next to our back fence. In the previous visits, the donkey had come down the back fence-line, but, for some reason, this time he had come down the street. I had my jeans on and was wearing flip-flops or thongs or shower shoes or whatever you call them. I went out to the shed and got a lead rope and came back and snapped it onto the halter the donkey was wearing. I headed for the street to take him home, and he was well-mannered and led on a slack rein, walking beside my shoulder.

We got to the street and started up the hill but it was tough going for me. The asphalt streets in our development had been sealed a couple of days before, and a fine layer of sand had been spread on them. The footing wasn’t that good, and I kept scooping up sand with my flip-flops. I was relieved when we got up the hill to the Noble’s house. However, about this time, the donkey must have realized he was almost home and he snorted and whirled around and started running back down the hill. I dug in my heels and yelled “Whoa” as I held onto the end of the lead rope. It was a wasted effort! That donkey was going downhill as fast as he could go, and I was out on the end of that rope with my heels dug in and looking like a water skier on a slalom course. Our wild ride finally got us to the bottom of the hill and as we got to our house, I could see Pat in her pajamas and housecoat out in the front yard pointing at us and laughing like a crazy woman. The donkey stopped and I looked back up the hill, and here comes Noble, laughing. He was kind enough to say that he had seen the donkey escape but had to get dressed before he could come out. As you have read, I got no respect at all. It may have been caused by the donkey, but I made a complete ass of myself.

Dave Thomas
7/13/2014 originally
Reposted on 04/13/2020

Mornings: Daybreak

We recently had a rainy November morning. Any rainy morning in Southern California is a happening. I’m thinking now of a rainy morning that occurred many years ago, probably 1965 or 1966.

It was 6:00 am, and I had shaved, dressed, and had breakfast, and was ready to go out and feed the horse. The horse was a three-year-old bay filly named Sweetie. I know it sounds like a corny name, but she was so mellow, I couldn’t call her anything else. There was a gentle rain falling, so I pulled on my boots and windbreaker, grabbed a flashlight, and went out the back door. Sweetie was standing in her shed, looking out the door, and watching me cross the backyard. As I slipped through the fence, she came up and nuzzled my arm. (You can’t kid me. I know that your greeting is 25% that you are looking for companionship, and 75% that you want to be fed.)

We walked to the shed, and I entered the door on the storage side, and picked up an old coffee can and filled it with a couple of inches of sweet mix. I took the sweet mix into Sweetie’s side of the shed, and dumped it into the feed box. She went after it like a kid going for ice cream. I had to be careful in how much I gave her because the stuff could make her high as a kite- like a kid on a sugar high. I took the can back to the storage side, and I grabbed an armload of alfalfa and brought it back over and dumped it in the manger. Sweetie went after it right away, and I started stroking her neck and talking to her. As she munched on her hay, she moved a little and pressed her shoulder up against me.

It was warm and dry in the shed, and we were comfortable with each other, so I continued to stroke her neck and talk to her while she had her breakfast. After a few minutes of this pleasant interlude, I headed back to the house. Nothing big, just two beings sharing a moment before starting the day.

I exchanged my boots for dress shoes, and the windbreaker for a sport coat, kissed my wife, and left for work.

Dave Thomas

3/12/2020