Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER III. TOWN BOY
We left the farm and moved to town in early 1935, just as I was turning thirteen. Moving to town meant a lot of changes in my life. Now I was a town boy, playing ball in a sand lot and riding around town on my bicycle with my friends to see what was going on.
We lived in a house on East Second Street for a couple of years, and then, in 1937, my parents started managing Elmer's greenhouse, and we lived in the big house that Elmer had built there. The greenhouse was at the edge of town, and for me it was the best of two worlds. I was out in the country with horses, and yet with my bicycle I was practically in town.
After graduating from high school in 1941, I worked for Cliff Jones in his grocery store and continued to pal around with my high school friends. It was a time between childhood and adulthood. I lived with my parents until the fall of 1942, when I was drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 20.
MOVING BACK TO TOWN
In September, 1934, my folks bought a house on two lots at 204 East Second in Caney from my father's brother Ben. They paid $129 for it at a public auction. My father bid on it, but then he gave up because he thought the price was getting too high. My mother made the winning bid. According to the abstract to the property, Ben had bought it for $900 in 1920.
I don't know whether the sale was held because Ben and Emma were getting divorced or because the bank forced it. Ben and his family had moved their dairy there when they had left their farm southeast of Tyro, but this time the cows and all the equipment were sold. Ben never prospered after the divorce. His role was set; he was the reprobate and the ne'er-do-well of the family.
Daddy had just got his $750 bonus for being a soldier in World War I. He got a dollar a day for the month he was in the army in the States and two dollars a day for the eleven months he was overseas. The $129 came from the bonus. Later, while we were at the greenhouse, my folks used about $135 of what remained to pay for my mother's appendicitis operation. As I recall, they still had about $400 of the bonds uncashed in 1946, when they used them to help me buy my farm.
We didn't move until after Christmas. That fall the government bought most of our cattle. They paid $18 for one cow, and $6 a head for about a dozen others. That was much more money than we could have gotten from anyone else. Cattle were worthless then. I remember Daddy selling a calf for a quarter once. A lot of people would just kill a calf when it was born, but daddy couldn't do that. That's why we had so many cattle. Many years later, Daddy told me that he had 27 cattle on that seven-acre pasture.
Just after Christmas, Daddy was in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, putting a boiler in a greenhouse for Elmer. He was there for about three weeks. That's when we moved. I suppose we would not have had to move until March 1, because farms were always rented in those days from March 1 to March 1. But my mother was fed up with living out there. Elmer furnished his hired man Earl Beck and his Model T to help Mother, Helen, and me move the household goods into town.
Daddy didn't have a job when we moved to town, and he had hardly any work for the next two years. I think we lived mostly on money from equipment and cattle that he sold after we moved. Yet our standard of living improved in some respects. We had electricity now, and my mother immediately bought a brand-new Faultless electric washing machine.
Daddy took all spring to move his farm equipment and all the boxes of things he had. He kept everything. But he did sell the big tractor and plow and threshing machine soon after he moved it to town. He must have sold his corn planter, too. Everything else I had when I started farming after World War II.
He moved about twelve cattle that he had left on the farm to his dad's place on the east side of town until the end of the winter. Eventually he sold all but one. He and Leo McClure were getting to be good friends then, and they hauled most of the cows down to the Dewey sale, a few every Thursday. They used a two-wheeled trailer with a stanchion in it. I don't know which of the two of them it belonged to. They liked going to sales. They didn't have anything else to do. They even took one of the cows to the Parsons stockyards. I think we got $25 for that one. Cattle must have been going up then. The one cow Daddy didn't sell he brought over and grazed on East Second Street. There were several vacant lots to the east of us, across the street between Phil Brooks and the Catholic Church and to the north. Daddy just kept the cow staked out.
Most of the cows Daddy left at his dad's place were milk cows. Daddy must have milked them in the morning, but Helen and I walked out to milk them every evening. We separated the milk with Daddy's separator on Grandpa's back porch, and then we had to carry the cream back home. Often, though, Francis Todd would pick up Helen and the cream. Probably they rode around a little extra on their way home. Anyway, they left me to walk. As I remember it, Francis was driving Truskett's stripped-down '28 Chevrolet then, but Helen claims he already had his own Model T. Truskett was the Chevrolet dealer in town, and Francis's dad was his mechanic.
We really raised good gardens there in town those two years. The garden had been the barnyard for Ben's dairy, and Daddy planted it from fencepost to fencepost. He raised a lot of turnips. We ate them every way they could be cooked. He made a little cave to bury them in, and we ate them way up into the winter.
We brought twenty-seven chickens in from the farm and kept them in a building behind the house. So we still had plenty of eggs. I remember Helen and me coming home from school when the folks were still at the sale and making ourselves egg sandwiches. We made them out of day-old bread.
It was Helen's job to buy day-old bread for 5¢ a loaf at the Shoemaker Bakery on Fourth Street on the mornings when it was sold. She had to keep the bundle of bread in her locker until she went home. That was at noon after we moved to town, but it had been all day when we lived on the farm. She bought not only for us but also for Grandma and Grandpa Shafer. They may have been rich, but they were also tight.
In the spring after we moved to town, Helen and I started working for Elmer at the greenhouse after school and on Saturdays. He paid me two and a half cents an hour, or a quarter a day. He paid Helen twice as much. One of my first jobs was to stack some wood that Elmer had bought. He had hired some young bucks just out of high school to cut about 100 rick of firewood, in 30 inch pieces, and they had just dumped it out along the fence. I made a stack as tall as I could reach and a couple hundred feet long, from the house about all the way to the barn. I was real proud of that stack of wood. I used some of the money I made at Elmer's to buy a bicycle. Daddy picked it up at the Dewey sale for $1.75.
The winter of 1935-36, Daddy and Leo paid $5 for an acre of standing timber - all blackjack oak - on the edge of the Sand Hills, the hills west of town, just the other side of the Little Caney River. They cut the trees down with crosscuts. On Saturdays they would take us boys, me and Leo's boys Harold and Junior, along to help trim. They cut the logs up with the buzz saw that Daddy had made from the Overland, and they hauled the wood to town in Leo's '31 Chevy truck. I remember Daddy and Leo patching a tire on that truck with bolts.
We sold what we could of the wood, but there were a lot of other people selling wood, too. I remember once when Mother's brother Forest and his wife Ruth were visiting from Wichita, and we didn't have much in the house to eat. The neighbor behind us had said something about buying some wood, so Daddy got up before everyone else and delivered half a rick to them for 50¢ so he could buy something for breakfast.
I think it was the spring of 1936 that my friends and I were riding around on our bicycles and we saw a big tent being set up at Fifth and Spring where the locker plant is now. They were putting in a roller skating rink. We hung around, and the guy asked if we knew anybody who wanted to work putting down the floor. We said yes and rushed home to tell our folks. Daddy and Leo went right over, and they got three days work at three dollars a day. That was big money. The manager was pleased with their work, and hired them again that fall to help take the floor up.
I worked down there for several weeks as a skate boy, helping people put their skates on. There was no pay, but I got to skate free. I learned to skate well and to enjoy it. I remember a girl who was a couple of years older than me but also skated well. We would skate together at the Saturday afternoon matinees. The other guys got to teasing me about it. I must have complained to Daddy, because I remember him saying, "That's what girls are for."
THE LIFE OF A TOWN BOY
One of my best friends during the years we lived on East Second was Vernon (Bud) Wells. He was an intellectual type. Together we learned a lot of things about electric motors. Our eighth grade general science book had directions for making an electric motor out of a dry cell battery and a V magnet from a Model T. Daddy called them planetary magnets. You fastened the magnet down and put a shaft through it. The shaft could be a nail or a rod with some type of bearings that would allow it to turn. At one end you slipped a copper cover on it; that was the armature. You put notched washers on the shaft and wrapped coated wire from the armature through the notches to the other end and back. When you ran an electric current through the wire, the magnet would cut the lines of force and make the shaft spin. Bud and I were probably the only ones who actually made one.
We also put an old Maytag gasoline motor on a little cart. It wasn't a modern gasoline motor with a magneto. You had to rig up your own battery and coil and get the timing right. I remember playing with the cart in front of Bud's house on first street. I still have it.
Bud's dad had a good job reading gauges at Cobb Station for Prairie Pipeline. Bud and I went to the same church. His sister Bonnie was a good friend of Helen's, and they were both over to our house a lot. He turned out to be an ace gunner in World War II. He went through 75 missions and still came out unscratched. He came and visited with me about 1966, when he was home from Illinois to visit his dad in the nursing home where my daughter Delores was working. I also saw him about 1975, when he came back to his mother's funeral. He worked for some big company and was well off.
Another good friend was Bob Dawson. He was in my class, and he lived right behind us, across the alley from the garden, on Third Street. We played together a lot. He had some boxing gloves, and we would get together in his barn and box. The nice thing was that he was little like me.
Bob and I practiced basketball a lot in our chicken yard, where I had a goal set up. On rainy Saturdays, we would go over to the Methodist Church basement on the other side of Third Street. The ceiling wasn't too high, but they had a goal, and there was a lot of basketball played down there.
The winter of 1936-37, I think it was, was real good for ice skating. The ponds were frozen for six weeks. Havana Lake was frozen so hard that Francis took Truskett's stripped-down Chevrolet out and pulled skaters around on it. My mother wouldn't stand for my going out to Havana Lake with those kids, but I skated on the creek, on Smelter Pond, and on a lot of farm ponds. There weren't so many farm ponds in those days, and I skated on just about all the ones close to town. I even got over to Ward's pond, just southwest of the house where I live now.
Once I was skating with Harold McClure on a pond on the Crawford place, and I decided to jump up and down on a spot where a hole had been cut and had frozen over again. I figured I would just crack the ice, but instead I went clear through up to my armpits. Fortunately, the hole wasn't big enough for my arms to go through. I got out and ran over to a pond on the Shafer place where Harold and I had built a fire, and I took off everything but my undershirt and got dried out. I never told my mother what happened.
Looking back, I'm a little surprised that my mother let me go out and skate like that. I suppose my father convinced her it was safe. Daddy liked to see me skate. My skates were ones he had had as a boy, and he would sharpen them up for me. They weren't shoe skates, of course, but I had an old pair of shoes, and I screwed the skates onto the shoes instead of just clamping them on. I also added an extra leather strap. I could stand up on tiptoes and get a fast start just as if I had shoe skates.
My Uncle Johnny Coltharp, Aunt Vivian's husband, was a Boy Scout master. He lived right next to us at the corner of Second and High, and he got me to sign up for the scouts. The scout troop, Troop 31, actually consisted of most of the kids I went to church with. The older ones were Charles and Chester Mattix and Leonard and Howard Coltharp. R.C. Mattix, Bud Wells, and Robert Raines were close to my age, and George Mattix was in my class.
Once all the scouts in town had a big Scoutarama out at Cobb Station. There was a big meeting and a big bonfire. M.L. Pearsall got an Eagle Scout badge. He was the only boy I ever saw get an Eagle Scout badge in Caney.
We also had a big get-together once in Coffeyville. A lot of scouts from the area came. One of the contests was to scale an eight-foot wall. Everybody had to get over. The bigger kids would run up and stand in front of it and hoist the smaller ones over and then jump over themselves. Uncle John built a wall for us to practice on in the alley between our place and his. We would practice there in the evening and then go swimming out at Smelter Pond.
Smelter Pond was a remnant of the zinc and lead smelter that had operated in Caney during the boom days. It was located out on McGee street, just north of where the new high school is now. The smelter closed in 1920, and in the 1930s the pond had beautiful clear water. It was private property. I think it belonged to the Connelly family. But all the kids went there to swim. Francis, who was a fine swimmer, taught me to swim at Smelter Pond. He pushed me out three or four feet where I couldn't touch bottom, and every time I tried to get to the side he would push me back, until I finally learned to swim well enough to get around him.
Another contest we had at Coffeyville was to start a fire with a two foot piece of pine 2"x4". The winner was the first team to boil a gallon of water. The older boys were our official team, but since there were plenty of 2"x4"s, our younger group was allowed to enter as a second team. We won. The other teams all had big roaring fires, but their wood burned up before the water boiled.
I finished the sixth grade at McKinley School the spring after we moved to town, and that fall I started the seventh grade at the Caney Junior-Senior High School. The High School was a beautiful brick building at Fourth and Main, across the street north of the Christian Church. It was built in 1915, and my mother went there for a couple of years. My wife and I and my two oldest children all finished high school there. Unfortunately, the building was torn down in the early 1970s. There is now a supermarket on the site.
That fall when I started in the seventh grade, Helen and I both used money we had made at Elmer's to buy our own clothes. I got my first waist pants. Before that I had always worn bib overalls to school and knickers to church. None of the other kids my age wore overalls, so I was glad to get out of them.
I remember well my seventh grade math teacher, Elizabeth Williams. When she walked past my desk, it would be "Richy," and a whack with her ruler on the back of my head. She had her own nickname for all of the kids. I never had my lesson. I don't know why. I could have done it easily enough, but there were always more interesting things to do. I suppose I thought I was doing all I was supposed to do just to go to school. That seemed to be all my parents expected.
Miss Williams liked me, but she flunked me, and that put me a year behind in math all through junior high. I also barely scraped by in English. I did well in general science and woodworking.
School was a struggle for me all the way through junior high. In the ninth grade, I talked a lot about quitting, but my parents wouldn't hear of it. Neither of them had finished high school themselves, but they really stressed the importance of it to us kids. Mother would say, "You're going to finish high school if you're a hundred years old."
I always thought the Caney schools were cliquish. There was an upper crust, a group of students who got good grades and ran all the activities and didn't even care to say hi if you weren't in their group. I didn't care. I associated with the kids I wanted to associate with.
I went out for basketball every year during junior high - the seventh through ninth grades. I was short, but I made the junior high varsity team when I was in the ninth grade. That was a real big deal. We got to go out of town to play - places like Neodesha, Cedar Vale, and Sedan. They were just small towns like Caney, but I had never travelled around like that before. My friend Bob Dawson only made the second team.
Early in the spring of 1937, two years after we had moved back to town, we moved out to run the greenhouse for Elmer.
Elmer had two greenhouses then, the one Daddy had built in Caney and one Elmer had bought during the Depression in Okmulgee. He had been involved in the greenhouse business in Okmulgee since 1927, and he had gotten a lot of the family involved with him. Lillian and Earl Williams, his sister and brother-in-law, ran a greenhouse for him there for five years. They did well for the first few years, and they even contracted to buy it from him at one point, but they lost it during the Depression. Later Elmer bought another greenhouse there. At one point he had George and Mrytle Shafer, his brother and sister-in-law, and Marie and George Beck, his daughter and son-in-law, all involved. He had a falling out with his brother George, and G.W. actually came down to bring George and Mrytle home. In the end, there were a lot of hard feelings. More often than not, that's what comes of business dealings between relatives. I remember things being a little cool at Christmastime at Grandma and Grandpa Shafer's during those years. Anyway, Elmer finally decided to go run the greenhouse in Okmulgee himself. So he offered my dad the house to live in and half the profits if he would run the greenhouse in Caney and keep it up in the shape it was in.
Elmer had built a beautiful large house in place of the little square house where I was born. It was the first modern house - the first one with indoor plumbing - I ever lived in. I had a real nice room, with windows clear across the south wall.
The greenhouse property consisted of six acres. The greenhouse itself and the attached house took up the whole frontage along East Third Street, and the property running from there back south to Mud Creek was two acres. Then there was a four acre field running to the west behind some houses along Third Street. The two plots together formed an L. Daddy also rented nine more acres that included that stretch of Mud Creek and land on the other side.
The folks hired Leo to help them at a dollar a day and dinner. The first year, they cleared about a dollar a day themselves. They did a little better in the following years. They also made a little renting the house on East Second - about four dollars a month when they had it rented.
I did the same things for Daddy in the greenhouse that I had been doing for Elmer. He told me he would pay me the same as Elmer was paying me then, 5¢ an hour. I worked pretty solidly there for the first couple of years, but later on I spent more time delivering newspapers. That paid a lot better.
The greenhouse land was all good creek-bottom soil, and it also had a lot of manure added to it. Before World War II, we didn't have sterilizers for the greenhouse soil. So we had to rotate it to control disease. We bought a lot of manure to use in the greenhouse, and what wasn't sold with plants eventually ended up in the soil outside. I took mountains of dirt out of the greenhouse with a wheelbarrow. I thought about that later when I was a soldier and Captain Russo asked me whether I had any experience moving dirt.
I got a lot of practice driving when I was moving dirt to and from the greenhouse with our Model A truck. To get dirt into the greenhouse we had to back up in a narrow spot between the greenhouse and the house, so I learned to back up real well.
Directly behind the greenhouse there was about an acre of irrigated garden. It was irrigated with overhead galvanized pipes. We called them skinner lines. There was one about every fifty feet. Behind that was a nice young peach orchard. There was a big asparagus patch on the corner of the four acres nearest the buildings - about half an acre. When I was younger, Elmer had a big strawberry patch on that four acres. Daddy always wanted to put strawberries in there again, but he never had enough manpower.
We used the irrigated garden mainly to raise early vegetables that Daddy sold to grocery stores in Caney, Coffeyville, and Independence. We raised early radishes, onions, carrots, and leaf lettuce. Later in the summer we raised tomatoes and cabbage. I raised hundreds of heads of cabbage there one year, but we couldn't sell very much of it.
Once when I had raised a lot of cantaloupes, my Grandpa Shafer came over. I ran to cut him a slice of one of my cantaloupes and asked him what he thought of it. "Fair to middlin," he said. It is a common phrase, and one I often use. That was the first time I remember hearing it.
One summer I raised some cowpeas in one of those irrigated sections. After they were dried, we hired a fellow named Keer to grind them with Howard Green's portable grinder. One-eyed Keer, we called him. Keer, Daddy, Leo, and I carried the dried cowpeas to the grinder with pitchforks one afternoon after school. I was in a hurry to get done so I could go to a junior high varsity game I was playing in. That would have been in the winter of 1937-38, when I was in the ninth grade. We got about 30 gunny sacks of feed for the milk cow.
THE NEW BICYCLE
I wrecked my bicycle on my way home for lunch in the fall of 1937. I was racing someone on a rough sidewalk just past the corner of Third and Vine. The front fork broke, and I fell on my face. I broke off a tooth and cut up my face. I still have the scars on my chin and the bridge of my nose. I never rode that bicycle again. Eventually I did get it fixed up, and I sold it to the Woods boys for $1.25.
I went without a bicycle for a couple of months, but I really got interested in the bicycle setting on Becky Thomas's porch at Third and Smith. Becky had spent $50 or $60 that fall for a new bicycle for Junior Thomas, her grandson. Junior was about my age. He lived in Copan with his mother, but Becky, who was a widow, wanted him to come stay with her, and she offered him a new bicycle if he would. Junior agreed, but after the first six weeks of school, he got so homesick he couldn't stand it. When he went home, she wouldn't let him take the bicycle with him. Everyone thought that was terrible, but the bicycle set there on Becky's porch until Christmas.
I had about $80 saved from my wages in the greenhouse, so I started talking to Becky about buying the bicycle. By Christmas vacation I had her talked down to $25, and I bought it. It was red and white, with double bars in the middle, struts in the front, and big steer-horn handle bars. It had battery-powered lights.
Working in the greenhouse gave me a lot of opportunity to talk with my dad. He and Leo and I worked together a lot. I would be carrying or straining dirt and sand while Daddy and Leo were taking or starting cuttings.
Daddy talked a lot about building a mechanical dirt grinder. We had to break up a lot of dirt for the plant beds, and he thought we should have a machine to do it, like a rock crusher or feed grinder. He even started to look for parts to build one.
I always asked Daddy a lot of questions about mechanics. Once I questioned him so much about how a car could go around a corner and have power and not skid that he got an old differential gear and had me tear it apart and told me what each part did and what it was called. I also remember him explaining to me how a truck's ruxle axle works. I think it was because of the things I learned talking to my dad that I did so well in the mechanics examination in the army.
Looking back, I realize that I never really questioned my father's authority or his role as a model for me. I had many role models as a young man, from Hopalong Cassidy to Leo McClure, but my dad was in a class by himself.
My father was easygoing, honest, and slow to anger. I never heard him say anything approaching a cuss word. I heard my mother say rougher things than I ever heard him say.
Daddy would say, "If you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything." And he pretty well lived by it. I'm not like that.
My mother really enjoyed working in the greenhouse. It took her a little while to get used to waiting on customers. Helen remembers the first time a customer came when Daddy wasn't there. Helen had to go wait on them, because Mother was too shy. She soon got over that.
Mother always tried to sell people what they wanted. In fact, she practiced that to a fault. There are a lot of people who can be sold something a little more than they are first thinking about. But Mother never sold anyone up.
Mother got so involved in the greenhouse that the cooking and a lot of the housework was left to Helen. When we had guests, it was really Helen who cooked for them.
There was a lot of conflict between Mother and Helen when we lived in the greenhouse. Mother was always after Helen about the work she should be doing, and she was always refusing to let Helen go out or objecting to the company she was keeping - especially Francis. Helen would fight back, too. I remember Helen standing on the stairs arguing with my parents upstairs in bed. Mother and Helen would be yelling, and Daddy would be saying, "Now Tempa, now Tempa."
I didn't have any problems like that. I was allowed to come and go as I pleased, and I wasn't expected to do any work in the house. I didn't even clean up my room. I just had a trail through it to my bed. I used to come home late at night, change my clothes downstairs, and go up and jump in bed in the dark. There was a famous time when I tried that and landed on the floor. Helen had cleaned up my room and moved the bed. I landed so hard that I woke everyone up.
Mother was sometimes discouraged by Daddy's lack of ambition. "The trouble with you is that you are just too easygoing, Harry," she would say. She could also run out of patience with his perfectionism. "If there is something to sell, Elmer throws some together and sells them. You make a perfect one, and by the time you're done, nobody wants to buy any." Yet there were times when she didn't speak so highly of her brother-in-law. "E.T. and the mighty dollar," she would say, referring to Elmer T.
Helen feels that Mother suffered a lot during those years from health problems. I never thought much about it, but she may have been in pain a lot of the time. She would sometimes get a pain in her side and go to bed for a several days. It wasn't until she was finally hospitalized for appendicitis, in 1939, that they found out what she was suffering from. By then her appendicitis was completely gone. There were just adhesions left. According to Helen, old Dr. Scimeca said he had heard of that happening but had never seen it before.
School got to be a lot more fun when I was a junior and a senior, mostly because I didn't have mathematics to struggle with. I took a lot of wood-working, which I enjoyed. I did well enough in physics, too. I didn't study much, but I had a pretty good understanding of mechanical things, so I got along. I got along in English when it was just a matter of vocabulary, but I would get lost when it was a matter of breaking sentences down into verbs and adjectives and so on.
I always wondered how some of those kids were so smart. I felt really stupid when I watched the kids who knew all those dates in American history. It was only in the Army and later that I realized that you really had to write things down and think them over to learn them well. Some things I could get just by hearing them once, and I thought everything should be that easy.
I never did care for gym, especially in high school. There was no organization or discipline. It was just a roughhouse. Mostly we just fought over a basketball for forty minutes. In the last semester of my senior year, I just started skipping it. It was during the last hour of the day, and there wasn't any credit for it anyway, so I just went home early. Three weeks before school was out, the superintendent found out. He called my mother and asked her if I was coming home early and whether she needed me. She said, yes he does come home and work, but no, I don't particularly need him to. So he called me in. He was a pretty nice old boy. He laid it all out for me. He said if I didn't want to go to gym class, I had to go to Miss Williams's study hall. So I went to study hall.
I started to go out for basketball when I was in high school, but I realized I didn't have a chance of making the team. From the seventh to tenth grades, I just didn't grow. In the ninth grade I had been able to make the junior high team in spite of my height, but in the tenth grade, with the high school players, I felt I was in with a bunch of giants. So I gave it up.
When I gave up basketball, I started thinking about a paper route. It was better money than working for my folks in the greenhouse. Bud Bridenstine, a tall kid who was two years behind me in school, wanted to go out for junior high basketball, so he gave me his Wichita Eagle route. The route covered the whole town, but there were only about 20 to 25 customers.
Helen's boyfriend Francis was the main Coffeyville Journal paperboy in town. He had 250 customers. He gave me a dollar a week to peddle 50 of them. It was a ten cent a week paper, and I think Francis got 5¢ of it. So he was giving me one dollar from the two and half he was making on those 50 customers.
A little later I got the Caney agency for the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. There were about 50 customers for it. It was also a ten cent a week paper, but they gave 7¢ for the delivery. I held on to that route for years, because it was a real good deal.
HELEN AND FRANCIS
Helen went with Francis Todd, Fritz as she called him, from the time we moved to town, but in those days you didn't get married and stay in high school, and there was never any question of Helen quitting school. She wanted to finish school, and my mother was determined that we would both finish school.
She was often in trouble for staying out later than she had permission to. She and Francis would usually get home on time, but then they would stay outside on the porch. I remember my mother saying to my father, "Harry, you go out and tell her to get in here." Daddy wouldn't do it.
When Helen did graduate from high school, in the spring of 1938, Francis still didn't have too much of a job; about all he had was his paper route. Helen wanted to go to Bartlesville Business School. She would have had to live down there, and she had a hard time getting our folks' permission. When the time came to enroll, Mother was gone to California to see her sisters and brother, and Daddy wouldn't give permission without talking to Mother. So Helen didn't get to go. Helen remembers her mother coming home and remarking to her, "I thought you'd be in school now." "That didn't set too well," Helen says. So Helen lived at home for a year and ran the office of a wrecking company up the street for $5 a week.
I remember getting into a few scraps with Helen about that time. She would get mad at me for using the cream off the top of the milk. I did it all the time, and our folks didn't seem to care, but Helen did. Once she caught me doing it while our folks were gone and she had a house full of friends there. She started beating on my arm. I just laughed at her, but she kept it up until it really hurt. I didn't dare hit her back. I would have been in real bad trouble if I had ever hit her.
I did tease her, though. Once I rode my horse Dan up in the backyard where her friends were and pretended I was going to let him run them down. Another time when the folks were gone and she had friends in the backyard, my teasing led to a bad accident. I got up in a tree that hung over the house and made noises. Looking back as she walked, trying to see where I was, she walked into a tub of broken glass and cut her leg badly.
By the fall of 1939, Francis had a better job. He was driving a Greyhound bus for Buford Hoke, who owned the run to Chanute and back. They set September 21, Helen's birthday, as the date for the wedding.
Unfortunately, Mother was in the hospital when the time for the wedding drew near. She was hospitalized for appendicitis, and she ended up staying in the hospital for six weeks. Helen was already mad because Mother had told her she couldn't have a big wedding, and when Francis got paid a week early, she decided she wasn't going to wait for Mother to get out of the hospital or anything else. She went and got Reverend McKinney and had him marry them right there in Mother's hospital room a week early, on September 14. Mother and Lyda Todd, Francis's mother, were the only witnesses. Daddy was supposed to come, but he didn't get there on time. He often wasn't in too much of a hurry.
When Hoke lost the franchise, Francis lost the job driving the bus. He was in and out of work during the next couple of years, and he and Helen often lived with us at the greenhouse. They were living at the greenhouse when Sharon was born, on August 5, 1940. They were living at Francis's folks' house when Nancy was born, on September 26, 1941.
In the winter or spring of 1939, when I was in the tenth grade, Daddy found a three-year old horse at a sale. I had always wanted a horse. I remember back in 1928 my folks had promised to buy me a pony, but then the Depression hit. Now I had some money of my own, and we thought I might be able to use a horse to garden the four acres behind the greenhouse. Daddy thought there wouldn't be any trouble breaking this one to work and ride. It cost me $50.
I thought a lot of that horse. Leo said, "Dan is a good horse name," so we named him Dan. Leo helped me saddle him, and we started to break him. Leo led him around with me on him, and then I rode him out across the field and back several times, on several different days. We thought we were doing real well. I had the feeling I could ride Dan anywhere I wanted to.
Then Robert Raines came to see me one day. I thought it was time to teach Dan to ride double. So we saddled him up, and we both got on and rode out across the field clear down across the creek. We were half way back when Robert leaned back and laid his hands on the horse's hips. He went to bucking. He had never bucked before. He jumped about three times, and the saddle cinch broke. Robert went flying off behind me and landed smack on his head. Fortunately, it was plowed ground. I lit right beside him, still sitting on the saddle.
That scared me off. But Harold decided he could ride him. We fixed the saddle up and got him on plowed ground again. I was going to hold and lead him, and Harold was going to get on him. As Harold stepped into the saddle, just as he threw his leg over the saddle, Dan reared up and whirled away from me. I fell down. He took to bucking, and Harold wasn't ready. He didn't last two jumps.
Then Jack Finney, who was about three years older than me, decided he could ride him. He came over and tried. Dan threw him three times, just as fast as he could get on. That horse had learned to buck fast.
Then George Finney, who was my age, decided he would ride him. He did ride him around the four-acre piece four or five times. He bucked a little, and George stayed on. Then he decided to run. The saddle had gotten a little loose by that time. I remember the horse turning a corner down by that old well, with George holding on right out on the side. Finally he had to jump off. He wouldn't get back on him then. I wasn't about to.
Finally, Junior Sullivan, a grandson of the Sanders, who lived out on the Porter place, said he would take him home and break him for me. He had a big old spotted horse that he rode down to our place one day after school. He took his saddle and bridle off the spotted horse and put them on Dan, and Dan wouldn't move a step. Junior had him buffaloed right from the start. Then he put the saddle back on his horse and led Dan home. I saw Dan a few weeks later, and he was already broke. The Sullivans kept him for about three months and rode and worked him.
I did love that horse. I rode him a lot in those three years before I went to the war.
While the Sullivans had Dan, I bought Bonnie from the Gowdys. I peddled papers down to their house on the north end of Wood Street, and I would see Gowdy working her there. Bonnie was three years old and as gentle as could be. Gowdy said she was broke to ride, too. I gave him $70 of hard-earned paper route money for her. One Saturday, I went and got her and rode her home. After dinner, I asked Leo to come out and see me ride my horse. I got on, and she went to bucking. She was too much of a workhorse to buck hard, but she went around in a circle, and when we came back to Leo, I asked him what kind of a run that was. He just laughed, and said, "That's bucking."
THE BAR-O BOYS
I led a busy life in high school. I might not get home from delivering papers until 6:30 in the evenings. My parents would still be working - they always had something to do in the greenhouse. So I would do the milking, and then I would eat some Griffins 40% Bran Flakes with pure cream on it. After that I would saddle Dan and ride up through the creek to Fifth Street and visit the Woods boys. There was a gate on the west end of the nine acres we rented that opened onto a dead end of Fifth Street. George Finney lived in a brick house on that dead end, and the Woods lived about six blocks further west, across the street from the city park.
Sometimes instead of taking Dan I would clean up a little and take my bicycle uptown to go to the show with my friends. We always went on Friday, because we got a double feature for the same price. There was a double feature on Saturday, too, but Gerald Woods worked at Jones's grocery on Saturday, and he couldn't go then.
The Woods boys were not as interested in horses as I was, so on the weekends, I spent more time with other friends, especially Harold McClure. Harold loved horses. Lee (Junior) Kirby also rode a lot with me. George Finney would ride with us, too. He had his own horse. Unfortunately, Harold was never around much in the summer. He usually spent most of the summer at his mother's parents, the Bears, at Jefferson, between Caney and Independence.
In the summer of 1939, we built a clubhouse on the other side of the creek. The Woods boys, Nylan Hugh Russell, Lee Kirby, George Finney, Carl Shafer, and I built a little building out of poles, with a few boards across the top. We used Dan and Bonnie to drag the poles from the other end of the nine acres. We also used a few pieces of tin from Mr. Finney's pig-pen. We made a hitching rail, and put a sign over the door that said "Bar-O Ranch." Hopalong Cassidy called his ranch the "Bar-20 Ranch." We left out the 2 so that we could call ours the bar-nothing ranch. One of us would ride up on a horse and tie him to the hitching rail. Then another one would run out, jump on, and ride around the woods.
In the winter, my friends and I would hang out on Sunday afternoons in the warm part of the greenhouse, where Daddy raised cuttings. I raised a lot of popcorn, and I sold it for 6¢ a pound, even to my friends, but on Sunday afternoons it was free. I would pop corn in lard on the gas stove in the back of the greenhouse there until I had about filled a bushel basket lined with newspaper. Then we would take the salt shaker and eat all we could and smoke cigarettes. That's where I learned to smoke. I guess I learned to smoke from the Woods boys. It was one thing I did that Harold didn't participate in.
I kept an eye out for my dad. He knew I was smoking, but I didn't want him to catch me. My folks pretty well left us alone on those Sunday afternoons. It was time off for them, too. They often played rook on Sunday afternoons with the McClures and their other friends.
Daddy never said much to me about my smoking, but my mother did complain. They never came down too hard on me, but now and then they came up with some scheme to buy me off. There would be something I would get if I quit smoking. I always got it anyway.
After about the ninth grade, my parents no longer insisted that I go to Sunday School, and I didn't go very much. I remember that when we lived on East Second Street I almost always went to Sunday School in the morning and then to what we called Sunday evening Endeavor and then to Sunday evening church. But I don't remember spending much time in church after we moved to the greenhouse. Except for Harold, I had a completely different group of friends then.
I graduated from high school in the spring of 1941. There were only 46 students in my class, but I became better acquainted with some of them while we were practicing for the graduation ceremony than I had during all the time we had been in school together.
One of the people who graduated with me was my cousin Lucille Scott. She was the humor editor for the yearbook. She was always full of fun - giggling and laughing.
Another fellow graduate, who figured in my life later, was Polly Bridenstine, Bud's older sister. She later married M.L. Pearsall, who was my boss in the post office for many years, and she and M.L. were always active in our church. She was the class queen - the girl that everyone thought was the prettiest. She was always courteous and cordial with me and with everyone else.
Another classmate I remember well was Fred Jack. He was a good friend, but he was tough. I remember him once telling me that he could be the heavyweight champion of the world if he wanted to, and I think he could have been. One time he and I were mad at each other, and we were going to fight by the entrance to the woodworking department on the east side of the high school. He came out and took one look at me and said, "Oh, ----," and walked away. He would have killed me.
Cecil Olds was another real good buddy. He lived on the state line, about four miles east of Caney. We took a lot of woodworking together. He did real good work.
In those days, the Senior Class had a "Sneak Day" towards the end of school. Our class went to Joplin and toured a leather factory and some other businesses. The school didn't provide buses for it. Everybody had to supply his own transportation. Cecil took his car, and Fred Jack, Warren Freeman, Don Oyler, and I went with him. On the way back, Fred and Don got drunk. I was just a kid, and I had never seen anyone drunk before. They both threw up. I think Don just passed out and stayed out, but Fred kept coming to, and he sang "San Antonio Rose" all the way home. It didn't make me ever want to drink.
It didn't seem like time to get down to a life's work when we graduated in the spring of 1941. There was a lot of talk about war, and we all suspected we were going to end up in it.
The draft had already started when I was a junior. At first they drafted guys just for a year, only unmarried 25-27 year olds, I think. About three weeks worth of those first draftees got out before the war started. After that the draft was for the duration.
The Superintendent of Schools in Caney at that time was Jas B. Hutton. He knew all the students, and I think he cared about all of them. Just before school was out, he told me he had been asked to recommend a graduating boy for a carrier job for Sears. I told him I wasn't interested. I wanted to be a cowboy.
Right after school was out, only about a week after graduation, I began a 10-week engineering course at Coffeyville College. It was on mechanical drawing, and I had done a lot of mechanical drawing in school. Perhaps I thought I might end up in Wichita making big money in an airplane factory. The draft wasn't getting that close to me yet, and there was a lot of talk about how much you could make in Wichita. I remember someone who was working in Wichita telling how good it was; they said you could go get a drink and make a quarter. I completed the course, but I had trouble with the mathematics, especially the logarithms and the powers. I wasn't too good with a slide rule, either. I did well with the physics, mechanics, electricity, and mechanical drawing. I did have a little trouble with the examination on mechanical drawing. The fellow set a block down and said, "Draw it as you see it." I couldn't believe he didn't want anything more than that, and I ended up making him mad by asking him to explain what he meant. That has often been my trouble in life - I always want to complicate things.
About the time the course was over, I heard that Cliff Jones wanted someone to work in his grocery store. Gerald Woods told me to go talk to him. He had only been in business in Caney for about a year. He had gone into business with only $2,500 capital. The store was called Jones Brothers Store. He had some brothers that had stores in some other towns around. That was why the established grocers weren't able to run him out. Usually they could keep new grocers out by refusing to buy from any wholesaler who sold to them. But the wholesalers couldn't boycott Cliff because he bought together with his brothers. My folks had been trading with him, but I had never been in his store, and I had never talked with him or seen him before. But he hired me. When my course was over, I went to work for him full-time at $9.50 per week, and he soon raised it to $10.50 and then to $12.50. That was for a 63 hour week. We worked from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, with an hour off for dinner, and from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays, with an hour off for dinner and another for supper.
Cliff and his wife were real good people to work for. If everyone were that good to work for, I would never have minded working for the other fellow. I only remember two times when he got after me. Once was when I busted a whole bunch of eggs I brought back from a farmer who I had delivered groceries and feed to. I had them loose in a basket, and I busted a couple of dozen when I hit a bump on Wood Street. Cliff said, "What's the matter? Was you going too fast?" He did sound disgusted with me, and that really hurt my feelings, because he had never got after me before. The other time was when I was sacking up 25 pounds of chicken scratch on the butcher scales, and the glass plate broke. That made Cliff mad, and he questioned me about why I did it and how I did it. That was during the war, and he didn't have any way to replace the glass plate. He had to fix up a pan that they used on the scales until after the war was over. It wasn't really my fault. We should have had other scales for feed, but we didn't.
I got a chauffeur's license, and I delivered groceries and feed for Cliff every day. We delivered twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, so there was a lot of driving to do. There wasn't any charge for delivery, but you had to have an order over a dollar.
I worked for Cliff for over a year, until I was drafted in October of 1942. Gerald Woods and I worked full-time for him, and Dale Woods and Junior Kirby helped us on Saturdays. The four of us went to shows and did a lot of other things together.
I had known Gerald Woods since the second grade, and we had been good friends for several years, but we became very close during the year we worked together for Cliff. He had a Model B Ford. I don't remember him driving it a lot, but I remember one Sunday afternoon ride past the High School. The back wheel came off and passed us. We were going east on Fourth when we saw this wheel go past us. It jumped the sidewalk and the retaining wall and rolled up the High School building. It wasn't until about when it got to the retaining wall that our rear end fell down and we realized that it was our wheel.
When I was finishing high school, I knew that I really wanted to work with cattle. I don't suppose I expected ever to be able to buy a farm, but I figured I could rent land and eventually build up a herd of cows. So I decided to get started.
I can still remember the name of the fellow who sold me the foundation cow for my herd. In the spring of 1941, I gave Bill Ray $10 for his Jersey cow's white-faced heifer calf. I got many heifer calves from her. The early ones were roans, from a roan bull that my dad bought during the war, and that was responsible for a roan strain that stayed in the herd for thirty years. Later that year, I paid $6 for a red heifer, but I never got a heifer calf from her. I also bought two bull calves that year, and I pastured all four of them on the Smotherman place, just west of Cobb Station.
I remember once when Harold McClure and I were out at the Smotherman place roping the calves to doctor them. Harold was on Dan, swinging a loop as he went around the corner of a garden, and the loop hooked on the corner post. Harold hollered "Whoa" and pulled back on the bridle to stop Dan, but Dan wasn't used to stopping very quickly, and Harold had tied the rope to the saddle horn. Dan came to the end of the rope, and it didn't break. I can still see Dan hanging straight out in the air, with Harold in the air ten feet ahead. Then Dan dropped on his side, six feet straight down. For a long time after that, all you had to do was say, "Whoa," and Dan would brake with all four feet.
When I was drafted, I sold the two bull calves, but Daddy took care of the heifers while I was away, and they became the foundation of my cowherd when I returned.
LEAVING THE GREENHOUSE
In 1942, Elmer decided to tear down his greenhouse in Okmulgee. He wasn't making any money from it, and the the house attached to it would sell better with the greenhouse gone than with it there. So he dismantled it, hired Francis to haul it back to Caney, and stored it in Grandpa Shafer's barn.
With Elmer taking over the greenhouse again, we moved back to East Second Street. I remember hearing Elmer and Daddy talking there at the back of the greenhouse when we were moving our things. While they were talking a laborer was loading dirt on a truck for Elmer. The fellow didn't know how to drive, and Elmer would have to drive the truck in for him after it was loaded. Elmer said, "Harry, there's work enough here for both of us." Daddy said, "How much?" Elmer said, "Three dollars a day." Daddy said, "The same as you're paying the guy you have to drive the truck in for?" Daddy wouldn't work for Elmer for three dollars a day.
Shortly after that, just before I was drafted, I heard from the Woods boys that their dad, Elmer Woods, had been hired by Cities Service. They must have told me in the evening, because I remember finding Daddy out in the garden early in the morning to tell him that Cities Service was hiring. The Cities Service boss at that time was Chauncey Smith, who Daddy knew from World War I. Daddy went down to look into getting on, and they hired him on the spot. He didn't even have time to go pack a lunch. He told us later that Jake Freisberg shared his lunch with him. Jake was a German immigrant. He had fought in the German army during World War I. Many people shunned Jake because he was German, but Daddy had always been friendly to him.
Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
back to top
home | c.v. | courses | books | articles | personal
|Site created by: Janet Shafer Designs www.janetshafer.com|