Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER V. GETTING STARTED
When I returned from World War II in December, 1945, I was ready to start my life in earnest. I was nearly 24 years old, and I knew what I wanted to do. Within a few months of my return to Caney, I was married. Within a few more months, I was working on my own farm.
When I got home, I moved in with my parents at Cotton Valley. My sister Helen and her two daughters, Sharon and Nancy, were already staying there.
Cotton Valley was in Oklahoma, on Cotton Creek about seven miles south of Caney. My parents had moved to Cotton Valley late in 1943, when Cities Service assigned my father to read pipeline pressure meters there. It was a small unincorporated community, consisting of the Cotton Valley School, Fred Zeigenfuss's farm house, the Cities Service measuring station, and three houses for Cities Service workers. Cities Service had three men working there, one for each of three eight-hour shifts, and they provided each of them with an unfurnished two-bedroom house. The three families had to pay some rent, but it wasn't very much, and they got natural gas very cheaply.
My Grandpa Shafer died the week I got home. The day I got home Daddy told me that I should go see him at Uncle George's right away if I wanted to see him again. I did, but it was already too late to talk to him. He wasn't conscious of very much. I was a pall bearer at his funeral.
My dad had a 1937 Chevrolet car and a 1936 Chevrolet pickup truck. He had gotten the pickup and fixed it up because he was able to get tires for a pickup but not for a car. Since he didn't need to drive to work, I could use his car to drive to Caney and visit with old friends. I also spent quite a bit of time visiting with him at the gauging station.
I thought at first that I would take up some of the social life that I had had before the war, but things were different now. I went to one basketball game, but I knew hardly any of the players. No one there was my age, and I even seemed to be dressed differently than everyone else. Going to church was similar. I went with my folks the first two or three Sundays, but then I stopped going. There was no one else there my age.
More soldiers were getting home every day. I remember the return of Dale Woods, Wiley Ralph Scott, Harold McClure, Lee Kirby, and George Finney. I saw a little of my old friends, but we didn't seem to have as much to do together as we had had before the war. Some of them were interested in song, drink, and parties at the state line, and others, like me, were intent on getting on with our lives.
I first met Anna Mayfield when she came into Cliff Jones's store with her mother in the spring of 1941. Her mother and stepfather, Irene and Elton Blundell, moved to Caney in early 1941, but Anna was staying in Arkansas City to finish her freshman year in high school there. I had waited on Irene before, but I had not known that she had a daughter. Anna recalls that I grabbed the groceries and carried them out to their car. Irene told Anna that I had never done that before.
I remember seeing Anna again when I delivered groceries to her folks' house, when they were living in the north part of Caney, near the railroad tracks. We had our first date when I was home on my first furlough, in July of 1943. I walked her home from a movie at the Gregg Theatre, in downtown Caney. At that time, her folks were living at the Boulanger place, a farm northwest of Caney, but Anna was staying on North State Street, where she was caring for an elderly woman. After that we corresponded all through the war. When I got home, I knew I wanted to marry her.
Anna graduated from Caney High School in the spring of 1944, while I was in England waiting for D-Day. She was the prettiest girl in her class - a 5'3" redhead. It could have been on fire and wouldn't have been any redder.
I visited Anna and her family at the Boulanger place the first day I was home from the army.
For Christmas I gave Anna a manicure set that I bought for ten dollars at Baker Drugs. Ten dollars was a lot of money then. Faye Marie Boles, who later married Jack Morris, was the clerk who sold it to me. I had known Jack as a cousin of Junior Kirby's and as a fellow clerk at Cliff Jones's store.
Anna and I must have gotten engaged in early January. Anna was working then in a cafe on Fourth Street in Caney, a few doors east of Cliff 's store, where the Fourth Street Bar was located in later years. It was called the American Cafe, or Bells' Cafe, because it was run by the Bells. After I had been back in Caney for about three weeks, about the first of the year, I went back to work in Cliff's store. I ran the meat case and stocked shelves. Anna quit the cafe and went to work there, too, mostly stocking shelves.
We set the wedding for February 17, a week after Anna's twenty-first birthday. We got a day off from Cliff's around the first of February, and we went to Independence to get the marriage license. I remember Pearl Steele, who lived just north of the Blundells out at the Boulanger place and was probably Irene's best friend, kidding us about getting the license so far ahead of time. I suppose it was unusual in Pearl's time for couples to wait once they had their license. I know my parents got the license the same day they were married.
My dad said, "I would just as soon you didn't get married and made some money, but if you want to get married, you better get married."
A few weeks before the wedding, Anna asked me for some money to finish buying some silverware. Silver had been hard to get during the war, and when she found some at Leech's Jewelry, she made a down payment on it. She needed $40 to finish paying for it. I was shocked. That sounded like a lot of money to me. I wasn't used to spending money on things like that. We used that silverware every day for many years.
The wedding was out at the Boulanger place. Anna wore a white dress that she had bought when she was working in Wichita. The only people there were the preacher and our families. On Anna's side, there was her immediate family, Irene, Elton, Dick, and Garold. My parents were there with my sister Helen and the two girls, Sharon and Nancy.
The preacher was Reverend W.B. McKinney. Mr. McKinney had married my parents in 1919, and he had married my sister Helen in my mother's hospital room in 1939. He had been the Christian Church minister when he married my folks, and he was still the minister in 1923, when they finished the building they have now. He finally gave up the job because of his nerves, back in the 1920s, I think. After that he ran his little upholstery shop on Spring Street, north of Halligan's Feed Store. He also performed weddings and preached funerals. I always thought of him as the preacher everybody got to do those things. I don't remember whether I paid him $5 or $10 for the wedding. I do remember that I went to get him and then took him back home.
We didn't have anything like a honeymoon. We moved into the house my folks owned on East Second Street that day. We had been working evenings to fix it up. For an automobile, we had the old Chevy pickup my dad had fixed up.
BUYING THE FARM
Cliff would have liked me to continue working for him. In fact he wanted me to start a store in Havana for him. But I wanted to farm. I wanted the independence. I didn't want to work for anyone else. I loved working with animals, especially cattle. I knew that I never would be wealthy enough to be a rancher, but I figured I could get started farming. I had the money I had saved during the war, and my dad had taken care of the livestock that I had already accumulated before the war. My cattle were at Cotton Valley. The Cities Service property there included 50 acres of pasture, which the three families shared. Daddy had nine head of cattle there, six of them mine. My two horses, Bonnie and Dan, were being pastured at Everett Purdue's. I was anxious to find a farm of my own to put them on.
I had saved $2,300 while I was in the army, and it was now in the Caney Valley National Bank. I had only been getting $13 a month when I first went into the army, but that was up to $66 a month by the time I went overseas. Most of the time I had $50 or $60 sent home directly out of my paycheck. I didn't spend much overseas, and besides the money sent home directly, I saved up an extra $100 to send home a few times. Then at the end I got $300 mustering-out pay.
I considered using my money to get into the custom hay baling business. I signed up at Proudlove's Implement in Copan to buy a new pickup baler that would have cost over $2,000. I always enjoyed baling hay, and I figured that I could do well enough in custom baling to be in a better position to buy land in a few years. But I didn't get the baler. There were only a few available, a lot of people wanted them, and the implement dealers preferred to sell to their established customers.
While Anna and I were working for Cliff, we were looking around for a place to buy. We looked at several places with my folks. One of them was the Crawford place, the forty-acre farm next to the Shafer place. I even tried to buy the Shafer place itself. Another place we looked at was about a mile north of Smelter Hill, on the west side of the road. It was 80 acres with an eight room house.
Then we heard that Alf and May Sanders, who were old friends of my folks from the time my folks farmed the Shafer place, were looking to sell their place. My folks went out one evening and talked to them about it, and worked out the terms of a deal. Then they came home and told me what they had worked out, and Anna and I went and looked it over.
We decided to buy it. The price was $6,300, $6,000 for 173 acres of land, and $300 for the crops that were in.
We bought it together with my folks. We put up $1,700, they put up $1,700, and Sanders carried the other $2,900. The idea was that we would own and farm the place together. We drove about ten head of cattle up from Cotton Valley, ours and theirs. They would come up from Cotton Valley to help with the work whenever they had a chance. Only my folks actually signed the contract. The place was in their names alone for years. They paid off their half of the $2,900 in 18 months.
We officially took possession of the property on April 15, 1946. The Sanders had an auction that day to get rid of most of their equipment and livestock. I bought a wagon, a hayrack, an ensilage cutter, some pigs, a milk cow, and Alf's two work horses, Queen and Beauty.
I paid $53 each for Queen and Beauty. They were real workhorses - big, black, and pretty. Queen weighed 2,050 pounds, and Beauty weighed 1,850 pounds. Sanders had let me cultivate corn with them for a couple of weeks before the sale, and I had enjoyed working with them. I had worked Dan and Bonnie a little before the war, but they were not real work horses. They were a lot lighter.
I also bought the collars for Queen and Beauty. I gave $8 each for them. That was cheap. They were good heavy leather collars. I still have them. I didn't buy the harness. While we were waiting to get possession of the place, I had repaired an old set of harness my dad had bought new when he started farming in 1924. It wasn't in good shape, but I enjoyed the leather work.
After the sale, the Sanders moved to the Hub Roe place, thirteen acres with a little house that they owned to the northwest. We let them leave two milk cows on our place until they got a barn built there, and they came up to milk them every day. They enjoyed visiting with us. Sometimes Alf would even come out in the field to see how I was doing. I remember May, the day after we moved in, saying that she had thought about coming over that night and scratching on our window to scare us. She thought we would be jumpy about being out in the country.
We saw a lot of the Sanders for some years after that. Alf died after six or seven years, but May lived there most of the time until the late '50s or early '60s.
The property consisted of 120 acres in Kansas and a 53 acre hay meadow just inside Oklahoma. A little less than half of the 120 acres was cropland. The rest was pasture, land too steep or rocky to farm. The hay meadow was virgin prairie. It was good land, but it had never been plowed.
The house was like most houses - white clapboard with cedar shingles. It had been built in two parts. The original part, which had been moved there in the late 1800s, consisted of just two rooms, the kitchen and dining room. The second part, which had been added on later to the west side, towards the road, had two stories, with one bedroom and a living room or parlor downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. There were three porches. We called the porch on the west the front porch because it led into the parlor, but no one ever came in that way. The north and south porches led directly into the kitchen and dining room.
There was a large barn north of the house. It consisted of two parts - the wood barn on the west and the tin barn on the east. The wood barn, which dated back to the early part of the century, was conventionally built. It was supposed to be painted red, but there wasn't much paint left on it. It had a hayloft upstairs and grain bins and a horse manger downstairs. A milk parlor with a concrete floor had been added as a lean-to on the north. The tin barn, which Sanders had added in the '30s, had been built with used but solid materials - yellow pine beams and corrugated steel for the roofing and siding. It consisted of a large cow manger with a hayloft above.
In addition to the house and the barn, the homestead had a garage with a lean-to chicken house east of the house, an old shed and a brooder house south of the garage, a pigpen east of the barn, and a thirty-foot silo that hadn't been used for years.
I thought I would be able to get electricity on the place, and I didn't want to move Anna out there until we got it. So we continued to live in town, even after I quit working for Cliff and started to put my time into farming the place. Anna was pregnant, and she soon quit working at the store, too.
One day I came back from the field and found Anna and her mother papering the house. Irene was an old hand at papering. In another day or two they had a bed moved out there, together with an old coal-oil stove that Irene had. So we were moved in.
We didn't have much furniture in the house at first. We didn't even have rugs or linoleums. But everything was clean. There were no kids to mess it up. The house seemed comfortable enough that first summer.
I couldn't get the electricity people interested in doing anything for us, and the Sanders had dug up their butane tank and taken it with them, but propane, which didn't have to be buried because it wouldn't freeze like butane, came out about that time. So we replaced the coal-oil stove with a little two-burner hot plate attached to a portable propane bottle outside the window. We used coal-oil lamps for light in the evenings.
Alf planned on taking up his old telephone line and moving it. So I bought some new telephone wire. Then he found another line and telephone somewhere, and he offered to sell us the telephone in the house and the existing line. That was convenient, so we gave him $20 for it. That left me with that roll of new telephone wire, which I used for odd jobs for years. I still have some of it.
We were on the same party line the old Shafer place had been on when I had lived there as a kid. The number was still 1012F. The old Shafer place was still on it; the Hilliards lived there. So was the old Jack place, where John Jackson lived, the Hub Roe place, where the Sanders moved to, the Andy Jack place, where Ray Jack lived, and Wink Edwards's place, east of the old Jack place. Each family had to pay $1.12 a month. As the new folks, we were unanimously nominated to be the agent, the folks who collected from everybody and paid the telephone company. The Hilliards had been the agent, but they wanted to get rid of the job.
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