Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER X. A MAN IN HIS FIFTIES
The 1970s, my fifties, were a time of maturity. I was a leader in my church, I was making and saving good money, and my children were moving out into the world and prospering.
There were trying moments. After I started carrying mail on the rural route, my job was sometimes hard on me physically. My mother died in the spring of 1974, and I had bypass surgery that summer. But all in all, the '70s were good years for me.
I stepped down from the chairmanship of the church board in 1970, but I remained very active. After being chairman, I always felt that I was one of the leaders of the church.
Herb Sheldon was the teacher of our Sunday School class, the Clipper Class, when I was board chairman, and about that time he got me to substituting for him when he was out of town. After a while, I became the teacher myself. I did that for about ten years. After that I alternated with Warren Labadie, who had quit teaching a grade school class after many, many years. We alternated until a year or two after I retired, when I had a minor stroke. Then Iris Cavender took my place. She's a terrific Sunday School teacher.
At the end of the '70s, I spent another two years as chairman of the board. That was when Kenneth Hull was our preacher. He was a young fellow. I liked him, but he wasn't as much of a pusher and organizer as Orley had been. He was just learning. I enjoyed that second turn at being chairman, although I don't think we accomplished as much as we did the first time.
In 1970, I left the regular clerk position in the post office and went out on the rural route. I was a rural carrier for about eleven years, until I retired in early 1982.
In the '50s, when I started working in the post office, Caney had two rural routes. Route 1 was north and east of town, and Route 2 was south and west of town, mostly in Oklahoma. But in the mid '60s, the bulk of Route 2 was turned over to the Copan, Oklahoma, office, and after that we only had Route 1. I guess somebody in Oklahoma had a lot of political clout just then.
In my early days in the post office, the rural mail carriers' jobs looked real attractive to me. The pay was good, you didn't have to rub shoulders with a boss all the time, and you didn't have to work much more than half a day. But by the time I had the opportunity to take the job, I knew how hard the winter roads were on the carriers. And in 1970, just before I took the job, the Post Office was turned into a sort of a corporation, and the post master and rural carrier jobs became regular jobs instead of political appointments.
When the rural carrier opening came up, there was also an opening for the supervisory job. That was the job I really wanted then, and I felt I had worked my way up to it, since I was the regular clerk. But Pearsall decided to give the supervisory job to Harold Parker. He said that I made too many little errors - my accounting was always off by 15 or 20¢.
I stewed quite a bit about not getting the supervisory job. I remember telling Herb Sheldon, a longtime elder in the church who I often talked to, about my feelings. Herb said, "Let me go talk to him, Dick." I said, "No, he's the boss. He's the one making the decisions."
I delivered mail six days a week. I went to work at 7:00 in the morning, and I was usually out on the route by about 9:00. It would take me an hour or two to case the mail, and I wasn't supposed to start before 8:40. I drove 83 miles and delivered mail to 300 stops. There were over 1,000 people that lived at those 300 stops. On a good, dry day, I would get done about 12:30 in the afternoon. I usually ate lunch after I was done.
Wind and cold did not make much difference, but when the roads were muddy or icy, it took me a lot longer. There were days when I didn't finish until 5:00.
The rural carrier job did have its benefits. The pay was still good. Actually, I only got a $300 a year jump in pay at first, because I got cut down from the top grade to the fifth grade in seniority when I moved from the clerks' union to the carriers' union. But I got back up to the top grade in two and a half years.
There were also benefits left over from the history of the job. Rural mail service had been a real boon to many people, and the older people still had a sense of appreciation for that. Many people on the route gave me little presents for Christmas - a jar of candy or a plate of fudge. Many people still thought it was a political job. They thought you had an inside track, so they didn't ride you so hard. Some people were nasty, of course, but you got the feeling that a lot of people held you in high esteem.
A few years after I became the rural carrier, we finally got our mail box moved up to our house. All those years before it had been down by the driveway to the Hub Roe place. Our own mailbox was pretty early on my route. I usually got there about 9:30.
Getting off so early in the afternoon was nice, but I found that I was usually too tired to do the things I would like to have done around the farm. I usually took a nap after lunch. Often I would then go back to town and spend some time chatting with Mother until the kids got to her house after school. Later, after she died and Roy got started in his shop downtown, I would spend the afternoons working with him.
The rural mail carrier delivers the mail in his own car, so I had to have a car in good shape. I got 12¢ a mile when I started in 1970, which was just about what it took. I was getting 22¢ when I retired in 1982. That was how much gas and car prices had gone up.
Before I went out on the mail route, we really only had one dependable car - the '67 Ford I had bought new. It only had about 20,000 miles on it. Anna used it to take the kids to school, and I drove my old '59 Ford pickup to work. Now we needed two dependable automobiles. The day I went out on the route, I arranged to buy a new blue six-cylinder '71 Ford pickup. I figured Anna could use it, and I would use the '67 Ford on the route.
I put 25,000 miles on that '67 Ford the first year. Then I traded it in for a new '71 Ford Maverick. That was a mistake. That Maverick was worth less that the '67 Ford the day I drove it home. I drove the Maverick for 18 months, and during that time I had to put two transmissions in it. Then I traded it in for a '74 Maverick. The '74 models were bigger, with better engines - 302 cubic inch engines. I drove the '74 Maverick for 250,000 miles before I finally slid it off a sheet of ice into a ditch in 1980. In the six years I had it, I put in three motors and five transmissions, and I overhauled the front end twice. It was in pretty good shape when I wrecked it.
By that time I was thinking about retiring, and I didn't want to buy another new car. So I started using a Ford LTD we had bought in 1977. It was a big car, and Anna was tired of driving it. It lasted until about six weeks before I retired, and I finished up with the blue pickup.
GOOD CATTLE PRICES AND INTEREST RATES
I did real well financially in the 1970s. Cattle prices were good, my wages were excellent, and on top of that we started getting real good interest rates. Most people, local people and people talking on television, thought those rates were terrible. But since we had managed to save some money, we thought they were a good thing. The money we had put away was growing pretty fast. It looked to me like things were great. We were even able to save with Roy and Janet in school.
Mother died in the spring of 1974. She hadn't looked too good that winter, and early in the spring she overexerted herself trying to get her potatoes planted. She ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. She was conscious and able to visit with me in the hospital room, but later that same evening she had a second heart attack and died.
I missed Mother. After she died, I realized how much I had depended on talking things over with her. One thing I could always count on her for was knowing about people's backgrounds. Whenever I couldn't remember something about someone's family connections, I would ask her. For many years after she died, whenever I tried to remember how people around Caney were related, I would say to myself, "I'll ask Mother. She would know." Then I would remember that she was dead. All that was gone.
I think she was ready to die. She wasn't afraid.
She left behind a surprising amount of money. She had inherited some money from her sister Evelyn in the early 1960s, and she had saved and invested the money from the farm. Helen and I had $20,000 to divide. I bought Helen's share of the house on East Second for $1,250. I still own it. Roy and his wife Ruth lived there for several years. Keeping it rented is not really worth the trouble, and I have often thought about selling, but I have never got a good enough offer to bring myself to part with it.
The summer after my mother died, just as I was starting to hay, I developed very high blood pressure. I was in the Caney Hospital for ten days. Then they sent me to Bartlesville for tests. It turned out that one of my kidneys was only three-fourths as large as the other. I wasn't getting enough blood to the kidneys. They recommended bypass surgery to get more blood there. I had the surgery and spent 14 weeks recuperating.
Glenn came back from Princeton that summer, and he and Roy put the hay up for me. I watched them with binoculars from my bedroom window for a while, and towards the end I managed to get out to supervise. That was the summer Glenn turned the little Case too sharp and broke off the front wheels. Roy welded the shaft back together.
I recovered from the surgery completely, but apparently it didn't help my kidneys much. I still have high blood pressure.
Roy got real interested in rocks and geology when he was in junior high and high school. Lloyd Cooper, who went to our church, had always been interested in rocks and rock polishing, but he couldn't get any of his own boys interested. So he got Roy involved. He showed Roy how to polish rocks and put them in jewelry. Roy really liked that. He and I built a little rock polisher, and everywhere we went we would collect rocks for him. I still have a tie clasp he made for me.
Roy was still pretty light when he was in high school, but he was tough, and he held his own against the bigger guys pretty well.
Though he got involved with pigs and helped a lot with the caged layers, Roy didn't go into vocational agriculture at school. I think he wanted to, but the first year he had a problem scheduling the class. There was an earth class he wanted to take. He could still have worked things out, except that there was another class that he couldn't take at a certain time because the kids in band had priority. When Ralph Field heard about that, he really got mad. If Ralph had been there things would have been different, but by then he had gone to Purdue. A fellow named Gary Parli had the job then. I don't think Roy liked Parli too much.
Roy graduated from high school in 1973. During his senior year, the old high school building was closed, and the students were moved to a new building, on the old smelter property, north of town on what is now U.S. Highway 75. The old high school building, at Fourth and Main, had been allowed to run down for years and finally had to be abandoned. There is a supermarket and a big parking lot there now. We park there when we go to church across the street.
The old high school building was built in 1914. It was a solid old building, and a lot of people have a lot of memories of it. Its being gone is a real loss to the community. My mother, Anna, I, and all our children went there. Glenn is the only one of us who still has a piece of it. When it was being torn down, I went down and bought one of the blackboards from the top floor for him.
For two years after high school, Roy lived at home while he worked for Garold and went to school in Coffeyville. There's a trade school and a junior college there, and Roy took mechanics classes at the trade school and college classes at the junior college. He did real well. He got As in his English and business classes - a lot better grades than he had gotten in high school. That was really good for him.
Roy was a natural mechanic, and I encouraged him in what he was doing. He specialized in automatic transmissions. I paid the tuition for him at Coffeyville, $400 a year.
Roy enjoyed working with Garold. In the early '70s, Garold's construction business was booming. He had a crew doing work for farmers and elevators all around eastern Kansas and Oklahoma. Farm prices were really good then. A lot of grain was being handled, and a lot of feeding operations were being built. Garold specialized in installing elevator legs, setting scales, and putting up custom-made grain tanks. He also laid a lot of concrete. He built big steel forms and used them to manufacture reinforced concrete feeding floor slats for hog operations. During the winter of 1973-74, Roy and Garold's son Jay worked three afternoons a week making those slats. The other two afternoons, Roy worked in Garold's shop. During the summer of '74, he went on the road with Garold. The winter after that he mostly helped Garold keep his trucks and equipment working.
By the late '70s, after Roy quit working for him, Garold had a crew of eight or ten people working full-time. He built his own big hydraulic jacks for putting up giant corrugated steel grain tanks - tanks sixty to a hundred feet high. He was one of the few people around who could put those big tanks up for a reasonable price.
When Roy finished at Coffeyville, in 1975, I wanted him to go on to Pittsburgh and study more mechanics there, but he was already building up a business of his own working on people's transmissions in our shop south of the house. Garold encouraged him to open his own shop in Caney, and I told him I would help him.
We found an old service station for sale at Fifth and High. The owners wanted $4,000 for it. Anna and I put up a $2,000 down payment, and I cosigned a note with Roy at the bank for the other $2,000. The one stall in the building was not enough, so we decided to add three more. We laid out a 30'x26' floor area, and Garold ran the concrete for us as cheaply as he could.
Working with Garold running that floor was a revealing experience. I had worked with Garold for years, and we had always had a good time. He had always been real easygoing. He was a different person when he was running his own crew. It was hurry and hustle. He barked orders. You were supposed to hustle in a run.
After we got the floor down, Roy hired Buck Sanders, one of Alf and May Sanders' boys, to lay the concrete block walls. Then Garold showed us how to build pipe-reinforced trusses to support the roof. Roy bought the pipe from Dick, and we welded it with my arc welder. Garold brought his winch truck and lifted the trusses into place. Then we attached 2"x6" cross-boards and nailed corrugated roofing to them.
Roy already had plenty of business at that point. He would work on cars in the morning, and we would work on the building together after I got off the mail route in the afternoon. Sometimes I would have to drag him away from a car he was working on to get him to help me.
Roy was able to pay for most of the building costs out of what he was making at the garage. Anna and I paid the rest, about $2,000. That made $4,000 that we spent altogether helping him get into business. We just gave him that $4,000. We figured that was fair, since we had helped the other children a lot more with their college.
After the building was finished, I continued to come by in the afternoons and do what I could to help Roy. I have always enjoyed mechanics, and I learned a lot from Roy.
Roy worked in the shop and lived at home for two years, from 1975 to 1977. He pretty well got his debt paid off.
In 1977, Roy married Ruth Gulick, his high school sweetheart. They rented Mother's house at 204 East Second from us. Ruth worked at the local nursing home, and Roy continued to run his shop. They did quite well the first few years.
About 1980, though, when the economy was poor, Roy got discouraged and decided to sell the shop. He had a little slump in business, and he was discouraged having to do everything himself. He was his own parts manager and accountant, and having to do everything made it hard for him to handle any volume. It was especially discouraging to have so many customers who wouldn't pay their bills.
After he sold his shop, Roy worked for a dealership in Bartlesville for a few months, and then for Bill Toner's Ford dealership here in Caney for two years. Finally he went to work for the Ford dealer in Independence. He enjoys the work there. Everyone agrees he is their best mechanic by far.
Janet was as well liked in junior high and high school as she had been as a baby. She was very active in our church, and she was the class salutatorian when she graduated in 1976.
Janet has always loved photography. She got involved in some photography competitions in high school, and she was a photographer for her yearbook. She was also real interested in biology and French in high school.
She was the only one of our kids who had a car to drive to school. When Roy was in mechanics school, I paid $100 for a old white '67 Ford for him to work on. Anna drove it for a while, but then it got so Janet was driving it most of the time. She always had some activity to drive to. She worked after school as the church secretary for several years, and after she typed up the church bulletin, she had to drive it out to KOPCO to get it printed.
While she was still in high school, Janet decided she was interested in forestry. We thought about sending her to a school out of state. I think she could have gotten into Duke in North Carolina or Colorado State at Fort Collins. But we couldn't afford the tuition. So she ended up going to Kansas State in Manhattan for her first two years and then transferring to the University of Missouri at Columbia. At that time, Missouri had an exchange agreement with Kansas that allowed Kansas students to complete the forestry program at Columbia without paying out-of-state tuition.
I was really shocked by how expensive it was to send Janet to school. I guess we got off easy with Glenn and Delores. The scholarship people didn't expect too much from us, because we still had two younger children to take care of. I think they also didn't look at your assets in those days - just at your income. When Janet came along, there weren't any other kids at home, and they looked at how much our land was worth - land prices were really high in the late '70s - and at how much money we had in the bank. There was no way Janet could get a scholarship. I remember her college cost us $3,000 just for the first year. That was about as much as we had spent for all of Glenn and Delores's college put together.
Janet had to struggle for a spot in the Forest Service when she got out of college, but she did become a forester. The summer after her first year of college, she managed to get a summer job collecting camping fees for the Corps of Engineers at the Elk City Reservoir up by Independence. With that experience, she was able to get jobs with the Forest Service in Northern Idaho the following two summers. And while she was in her last year of college, she had an intern-type job with the Forest Service in St. Paul, Minnesota.
She graduated from Columbia in May, 1981. Anna and I went over to see her graduation. Roy and Ruth and their son Garold also came. She was near the top of her class in the Forestry Department. After graduation, she worked in training positions for the Forest Service in St. Paul, Iowa, and in northern Minnesota. She finally got a permanent Forest Service job in West Virginia.
Glenn thought he was going to be drafted when he came back from the Peace Corps in 1969, but he failed his draft physical, and he went to San Francisco to look for a job. He didn't find what he wanted, so he went back to graduate school in mathematical statistics. He went to Berkeley for part of a year, to Harvard for a year, and then back to Princeton. He finished his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1973. Then he worked as an assistant professor in the Statistics Department there. He got married in 1970, and he and his wife Terry were often back to visit - just about every Christmas and every summer.
In 1976, Glenn and Terry moved back to Kansas. They thought it would be a good place to start a family. Their first son, Ricky, was born in 1978. Ricky was his nickname. They named him Richard Glenn Shafer, after me. That was quite a surprise.
Glenn got a job teaching at the University of Kansas, at Lawrence, where Delores had gone to college. Lawrence is about 160 miles north of Caney, and we got into the habit of going up to visit them every few months. That was really something for us. We had never been accustomed to making regular four-hour car trips. Glenn and Terry lived in a house in the country north of Lawrence, and I would try to help him out with his repair projects whenever I went up.
Delores graduated from college in 1970, but she couldn't get much of a job with her degree in anthropology. She went to Hawaii for a few months, but the only work she could get there was waiting on tables. After that, she went to Houston, Texas, where she worked on a computer for an insurance company for a couple of years. Then she moved to Rochester, New York, where she worked and went to school.
We didn't see her for several years, until 1973, when she came through Caney on her way to Long Beach, California, where she planned to study for a masters degree in psychology. She had a '65 Chevrolet loaded down with her stuff. It had a broken rocker arm stand. Roy pulled the head off the motor, and Garold welded the stand. Delores was real nervous about having her little brother work on her car. She says he did it for the cost of the parts and a lunch, which was every bit of what she could afford.
In 1976, she came through again, going the other way. She had finished her masters degree at Long Beach, and she was headed for the University of Delaware to work on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She was driving a Volvo. Roy had never seen a Volvo before, so he jumped at the chance to tune it up for her.
The next time we saw her, she had finished her Ph.D. and was headed back to California to work as an intern in a V.A. hospital. That must have been 1979 or '80. This time she was driving a Pinto. It ran fine. Steve Greenwood, her boyfriend, was with her. He was a real nice fellow. They are still together.
I never approved of Delores's living with Steve without being married, but I am proud of what she has done with herself. She is a clinical psychologist for Ventura County in California now. She has worked hard to get where she is.
In 1973, we got interested in camping. All our friends went camping in those days, and it was about the only way we could afford to go anywhere. We bought a camper shell for our blue pickup that spring, and in June, Anna, Roy, Janet, and I took a camping vacation to the Grand Canyon. Janet had just finished the ninth grade, and Roy had just graduated from high school. We were gone for nine days. It was a lot of fun.
We stopped at Dodge City to see Boot Hill the first day, and then we drove on to the foothills of the Rockies. We camped at Lamar, Colorado, the first night. We thought we were seeing the mountains at Lamar, but it turned out that those were just hills. Anna had seen the mountains before, but I never really had. I had only been through them at night on a troop train.
The next morning after camping at Lamar, we headed up into the real mountains. For a long time we didn't realize that we were going up as much of a grade as we were. The truck just didn't seem to be running the way it should. We had to stay in second gear, and we could only go about 40 mph. Finally we got out and tried to reset the timing. Then we looked behind us and saw how steep the grade was. We also had to admit that we had been passing everyone else. Of course, most of them were pulling heavier loads.
We crossed the continental divide that day. The kids got a big kick out of that. There were ten-foot snow drifts in June. We made it to the Mesa Verde National Park that night.
We camped every night. All four of us slept in the camper shell, on foam mattresses Anna had sewn up. We had built little bunks out of plywood over the wheel wells. We had a little camping stove and an ice chest.
The Grand Canyon was really something to see. Much bigger than I had expected. On the way we kept seeing gorges that we thought were big. The real thing was unbelievable.
The four corners, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet, was another highlight of the trip. There wasn't really much to it, but the kids really enjoyed it. We also saw the Painted Desert. On the way home we stopped to see some relatives in Oklahoma. We saw a lot in those nine days.
The next summer, 1974, we went to Missouri. George Beck came by the house after Mother's funeral in April of that year, and he and his wife Marie, my Uncle Elmer's oldest girl, got to talking about Branson and Silver Dollar City. We had been thinking about making the trip to see it, and they told us we really should. They gave us all the details on how to do it, and they insisted that we should visit them in Neosho on the way. So we did. Janet went with us. It really was a lot of fun. We did it again the very next year, and Roy and Janet both went with us.
Those trips helped us get better acquainted with George and Marie, and we have visited back and forth with them a lot in the years since. We have gone back to the Branson area at least five or six times, and the Becks have been over to see us frequently.
After Janet graduated from high school in 1976, Anna and I went camping by ourselves for several years.
In the summer of 1977, we drove to visit my sister Helen and her family in Corpus Christi, Texas. Helen took us to see Mexico. We camped in eastern Oklahoma on the way, and we stopped at Bud and Phyllis Bridenstine's house in Dallas on the way back.
Another summer we went out to south central Kansas and drove all around the area where Anna had grown up. We looked for the farmhouses she had lived in and the little country schools she had attended. She had lived near Anthony, near Harper, and at three different places around Arkansas City. At least two of the farmhouses were still standing. Before coming home, we drove north to see Castle Rock and the Great Smoky River valley near the Colorado border. On the way back, we stopped at Glenn's house in Lawrence.
One fall, about 1978 or '79, we spent a few days camping down in Oklahoma. We saw the Batfish, a World War II submarine, in Muskogee, and then we headed over to the lakes. It was late in the year, and I remember our being the only campers at a big public campground on a lake in Jay, Oklahoma. People kept driving through all night, and somebody, I suppose the deputy sheriff, even shone a flashlight on us. That wasn't much fun. I decided I had camped enough. After that, we stayed in motels when we traveled. That was okay with Anna if I was willing to pay for it.
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