Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER IX. A MAN IN HIS FORTIES
The early 1960s were a little rough. I had troubles in my post office job, and I had problems with my health. But gradually things got better. When I turned 40, in 1962, I found myself repeating a saying my mother had often used: "Life begins at 40."
TROUBLES IN THE POST OFFICE
I was first substitute in the post office from 1958 until 1966. It was a real good job when I first started. I worked six days a week. I didn't carry mail unless there was a real pinch, but I clerked at least two and a half days a week, and on the other days I delivered packages for two hours in the morning and tied out mail for two hours in the afternoon.
I got automobile money as well as wages when I delivered packages. I was depending on that money when I bought my new half-ton '59 Ford pickup in the fall of 1958. The payments were pretty steep.
Then, around the beginning of 1959, Pearsall cut my hours. He decided to give Roy Stephens, the second substitute, all the extra package work. I felt that wasn't fair. The first substitute had always gotten it before. For a while after that, there were two or three days a week when I only worked two hours a day, and it was hard to make those truck payments. But after about six months, Granny retired. Paul got the assistant post master job, Bus came in from the route to take Paul's clerk job, and Pearsall gave Bus's route to Stephens. Then I got the extra package work back.
I didn't get along too well with Pearsall for several years after he gave Stephens the extra package work. A lot of things came up. Once Pearsall was missing $5, and he questioned me so closely about it that I felt he was accusing me of taking it.
I thought hard about quitting then. I knew that Rupert Wakeland was interested in selling his grocery store at Fourth and Ridgeway, and I talked to him about terms. I got my mother to promise to lend me $8,000 to buy the building, and I talked to Bill Rogers at the Caney bank about lending me $14,000 to stock and operate it. I had to wait for a week or so for an answer from the bank. After a few days, I mentioned to Pearsall that I intended to quit because I felt he thought I had stolen the $5. He denied it vigorously. "If I had thought you had taken it, you wouldn't be here," he said. "That afternoon would have been the last hour you were here." Anna was in the bank a few days later, and Bill Rogers told her to tell me I could have the money. She and I talked it over, and we decided not to do it.
That wasn't the last time I thought about quitting. It was hard for me to give up the idea of being my own boss. I never wanted to take orders from the other guy. I figured I had had enough of that in the army to last me a lifetime. So over the years I often took up the idea of striking out on my own again, either buying a store or getting back into farming. But it never really made sense to give up the security of that paycheck.
I almost quit again in 1966, when Paul moved to California and the regular clerk job opened up again. I knew that Pearsall intended to give the job to Stephens, and I felt that was unfair. I had more seniority, and I was the clerk substitute. As it turned out, the clerks' union thought the same thing. Pearsall talked to his superiors in Wichita, and he found out that the union wouldn't allow him to pass me over without reason. He and I had a long talk about it. He told me he had to give me the job. I told him I was intending to quit. He said, "Quit or not, the job is yours if you want it."
I figured things would be real bad between us after that, but actually they improved. From then on, he always treated me fairly, and we got along reasonably well.
That promotion did change my feelings about unions. I had never thought much of unions. I thought workers shouldn't have any say in running a business. I still think that a man who runs his own business should have the say about who he hires, but I don't think that a hired manager should be allowed to treat people unfairly. He shouldn't be allowed to ignore their seniority and all the time they have invested in their job.
The Caney Post Office moved in 1968. For years, the post office had been located in the Canary building near the corner of Fourth and Main. Now we had our own building, at Fifth and Spring, just south of Toner's Ford dealership.
During the open house after we moved into the new building, Janet locked herself into the women's bathroom. We almost never got the door open. When we finally did, Harold Parker, who was one of the substitutes then, made fun of us. "You can't lock yourself in there," he said, and to prove it, he stepped inside and slammed the door shut on himself. He couldn't get out. Someone finally got him out with a screwdriver. Everyone except Harold thought it was real funny.
The higher-ups in the post office gave us a new building because we were doing so much more business. We had only sold about $22,000 worth of postage in 1960, and by the late sixties, we were selling over $1,000,000 worth. The fact was, though, that we didn't really need the building. The big increase was due to a local printing business, KOPCO, and their mailings didn't even go through the building.
KOPCO, Kansas Off-set Printing Company, was started around 1960 by the Georges, who owned the Caney Chronicle, and the Freisbergs, their in-laws. It was one of the first big off-set presses in the area, and it specialized in printing advertising flyers. They sacked up their own mailings. At first, a clerk did go down to weigh a few sacks, but later we let them tell us the number of flyers in each mailing. We would weigh a hundred fliers to find out how much each one weighed. When the mail was still going out by train, the post office had a contractor take the sacks down to the train station. Later, the sacks went out by semi. There was a period when they had to leave the sacks at the dock behind the post office, but in later years the semi picked them up from KOPCO's own dock.
The post office job didn't seem as interesting and important in the '60s as it had in the late '50s. With the advent of the zip code and UPS, the private parcel service, we lost our feeling of uniqueness. We no longer sorted the mail that went out of Caney. We just faced it up, tied it in bundles, threw it in sacks, and sent it to Wichita to be sorted. We didn't have nearly as much parcel post to deliver. Instead of a hundred sacks a day at Christmas, we would have fifteen to eighteen sacks. I came to feel that the post office was just a job.
Some of my health problems came to a head in the early 1960s. I finally got my ulcers treated, I lost the rest of my teeth, and I quit smoking.
Ulcers first bothered me in the fall of 1948, and I had problems with them on and off in the fall of the year when I worked at Continental Can. I was really sick for a week in the fall of 1953. After that they didn't bother me for a while. In fact, I remember being surprised at how good I felt when I was carrying mail in the fall of 1955. I did have a bout with the flu that first year at the post office, but aside from that I felt terrific for several years.
Then in the fall of 1962 or '63 I had a terrible problem with ulcers. They were so bad I couldn't eat. My weight got down to 116 pounds. I was in the Caney hospital for a week. Ever since then I have had to watch what I eat and take antacid medicine.
I suppose the ulcers had to do with tension from my job. Robert Moore, the Caney M.D. I went to after Mike Scimeca died, would say as much when I went to see him. "Pearsall is riding you pretty bad, is he?" he would say. But it never seemed that way to me. There were some days when things were unpleasant, but usually there wasn't any problem.
I always had a lot of cavities, and by the early '60s, I had lost so many of my teeth that I had problems eating. About 1962, I went to Dr. Marsh, a dentist in town, to talk about getting some partial plates made. After looking over the X-rays, he decided that I had so few good teeth left that I should have them all pulled. I went along, and since then I have had false teeth. False teeth are not the best thing to have happen to you, but in my case, they are a lot better than what I had before. Once you get over the soreness, they aren't that bad. I have always been happy with them. I can eat whatever I want, and I no longer have toothaches.
I didn't quit smoking because of my health. The main reason I quit was the disapproval I was getting from Glenn. He didn't say too much, but he made his attitude real clear. I always thought I should quit, and I quit several times over the years. I was always trying to cut down. I felt I should be the boss. That's what finally got to me. I tried to regulate my smoking, and I found out I couldn't. The only way I could be the boss was to quit altogether.
The bad part of quitting smoking is putting on weight. I got flabby right away, and I have struggled with being overweight ever since.
LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY
After I got my health problems under control, I began to feel that life was okay.
My mother used to say that life begins at forty. I am sure that aside from my being in the army, her forties were her best years. Daddy was working for Cities Service in those years, and life was more comfortable than it had been. Like her, I had good health and good finances in my forties. My whole family was healthy, and my children were doing well in school.
In 1964, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow from Oklahoma at the annual FFA banquet at the high school. I think he was the speaker's father. We talked about what we were doing. I told him I worked in the post office and had a farm where I raised cattle and wheat. He thought that was a very good combination. I remembered that conversation occasionally during the '60s, and I told myself that maybe I was doing things right. I made my post office wages keep the family and buy protein for the cattle in the winter. The larger checks I got when I sold cattle I would try to put into our savings. That seemed to work out well. The '60s were good cattle years.
We made a lot of changes in the house in the '60s. About 1960, I had Frank Thorton rebuild the foundation along the north side of the house. About 1962, we tore out a wall and enlarged the living room into what had been the parlor. About the same time, we put in storm windows and covered the clapboard siding with white asbestos shingles. We bought a new dining set from Ross Taylor, and other furniture for the dining room and kitchen.
We drove good cars in the '60s. About 1962 or so, we traded the '56 Chevy in for a big sleek white '60 Ford. On January 17, 1967, I traded it in for a new '67 Ford. That was the first new car I ever bought.
The FFA, or Future Farmers of America, was a big part of Glenn's high school years. The FFA is the extra-curricular organization that goes along with high school vocational agriculture classes. Glenn took vocational agriculture all four years in high school, from 1960 to 1964. His teacher was Ralph Field. Ralph is one of the finest men I have known, and Glenn thought he walked on water.
Ralph had started the vocational agriculture program in Caney in 1954, and he and his wife Virginia were active in our church. They attended the Clipper Class, our Sunday School class. He and Virginia had a boy and two girls, so Virginia and Anna saw each other a lot when they were working on things for the kids at the church. Anna used to drop by and have coffee with Virginia after she took our kids to school.
Glenn learned a lot from Ralph. He learned not only about farming, but also a lot about how to write, speak, and deal with people. Glenn was the president of the Caney FFA chapter when he was a senior.
Ralph took his FFA boys to judging and speech contests all over southeastern Kansas, and even to Manhattan, Kansas, and Miami, Oklahoma. Glenn was busy preparing for these contests and other FFA activities during all of his free periods and after school as well. He did well in many of the contests, especially the speech contests. He won the state speech contest in the spring of his senior year, 1964, and that fall he placed second in the national speech contest in Kansas City.
I encouraged Glenn to start a farming project at home as part of his FFA work, and when he was a sophomore I co-signed a note for a $1,000 so he could buy five Holstein heifers. He milked them for several years, and he raised grain and pasture for them. I helped him out with prairie hay and pasture, and since he was gone so much, I ended up doing a lot of his milking for him. When he was home, I would often help out a little and talk with him while he was doing his milking.
Glenn's grades were always good, and besides his FFA activities, he was always being selected to go somewhere for something else. In the summer of 1963, he spent six weeks on a scholarship to a program at Princeton University where he studied the Bill of Rights. He was selected on the basis of a test he took and an application he was invited to make.
I was glad to help with Glenn's cows, and I toyed with the idea of getting back into dairying with him. When he was a senior, I asked him if he would be interested in that. But he decided he wanted to go to college. He won a National Merit Scholarship to pay most of his way, and he was admitted to Princeton, Harvard, and Cornell. He decided to go to Princeton. I told him I would help. I ended up giving him $400 a year for four years.
Glenn hadn't really decided what he wanted to study when he went to Princeton. I told him that I thought the smartest thing to do was to become a lawyer. I always felt that lawyers were in a good position because they knew so much.
Glenn went to Princeton in the fall of 1964, and he graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1968. Then he spent a year teaching geometry in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. Then, after looking around for a job for a few months, he went back to graduate school.
I always enjoyed Glenn's visits home when he was in college and afterwards. We would argue about politics and religion, and he would tell me about things that he had learned. One visit would give me things to talk about at work for months.
Delores stuck with the Girl Scouts right through high school. She usually went to Girl Scout camps in the summers. Anna took her to a scout day camp northeast of Caney a couple of summers. Then one year she went to a three-day overnight camp down in the blackjack country of Oklahoma. When she was in high school, she was one of the first girl scouts in Caney to get the God and Country award.
Delores did well in school. She always had good grades, and she was even a National Merit Scholar finalist. That meant she was in the top one-half of one per cent of all the high school seniors in the country. Of course, she was always being compared to Glenn, who had done so well in school. Every time there was an article about her in the local newspaper, they would include the comment that she was Glenn's sister.
I think Delores was smarter than Glenn, but she didn't really do her very best in high school. She was a girl, and she was afraid the other girls would make fun of her. She had quite a bit of trouble as it was. There was one girl in her class, Janie Garrett, who she was always having trouble with. Janie was a lot bigger than Delores, and she was always after her. Elda Cooper, their scout leader, used to follow Delores to my mother's house after scouts, just to make sure Janie wouldn't jump her.
Delores wanted to be in vocational agriculture in high school. Every year at enrollment, she would sign up for it, and every year Ralph would come over to her as she stood in line and explain to her why girls were not allowed in. Now they are, of course.
The high school activity Delores was proudest of, I suppose, was her cheerleading. When she decided to go out for cheerleading, everyone told her she didn't have a chance because she was so soft-spoken. You couldn't hear what Delores said half the time. But she practiced her jumping the whole summer before her senior year, and she made believers of us all. You could hear her practicing on the front lawn from the back forty. She made the squad.
Delores was a careful person. She was a very slow and careful driver. She did run into the ditch with the truck once at the corner on the road north of the house. Somehow she managed to put a dent on the top of the hood. We never figured out how it got there.
Delores graduated from high school in 1966. My mother thought she should go to business school instead of going to college - I think she and Sharon really argued with her about it. But Delores wanted to go to the University of Kansas, at Lawrence, and I told her I would help her. As she remembers it, I was hesitant about doing it at first. She reminded me how much I had talked about the importance of education when she was little, and I told her I had been talking to Glenn; education was really important for boys. She said, "Well, you never said that." I don't remember that conversation, but I do know I gave her $500 a year for four years, and then I gave her another $500 when she was real short of money and needed it. That was more than I gave Glenn, but inflation made some difference, and she also didn't have a big scholarship like Glenn had. She really had to work to get through school. She graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1970.
Just before she started her second year at K.U., in the fall of 1967, Delores got married to another student, George Kugle. I think he was from Great Bend. He and his family all came down, and they had a big wedding in the Caney Christian Church. George was a nice enough fellow, but he and Delores only lived together for a couple of years. I guess they didn't have common goals worked out. I remember him telling me that he really liked to roof barns. Delores was more interested in academic things. When she started talking about graduate school and he started talking about having kids, they broke up.
Roy was in grade school in the '60s. He really liked to do things with me on the farm. Glenn hadn't been like that. I could get Glenn to help me, but he would rather stay in the house and read a book than follow me around the way I had followed my father around on the farm. Roy was always interested in what I was doing. He was always real interested when I was doing mechanical things.
Roy didn't do as well in school as the other kids. He worked at it, but he just didn't get it as easily. I remember once when I whipped him because his grade card wasn't good enough. That was a real mistake. That was the second of the two whippings that I regret giving my kids.
It seemed like Roy was always getting himself hurt when he was in grade school. When he was four years old, he fell out of the pickup truck on the way to kindergarden and broke his arm. He had a lot of fun with that cast. He says he could get away with anything with it. A few years later, he had to have stitches in his head when he fell off his bicycle on the rocks between the house and the barn. "Look, no hands."
Once Roy and Janet decided to put up a flag pole. They had made a flag by pasting broken pieces of safety glass to brown paper, and they wanted to get it into the air. So they took a seven or eight foot long board, nailed a pulley on the end of it, and stood it up in the air. They weren't old enough to dig much of a hole in the rocky ground around the house, so they just set it up out in the driveway and piled rocks around it. Then they tried to hoist the flag up with the pulley. The pulley fell on Roy's head, and he had to have stitches again.
Roy was in the Cub Scouts. Delores Catlett and Anna were den mothers for his den for a year or two. I had a lot of fun helping him make a pinewood car. We put a lot of care into putting the lead weights in just the right place. I think Roy enjoyed the Cub Scouts, but he didn't go on into the Boy Scouts.
We always tell about Roy's turtle collection. In 1965, Anna's mother gave Roy and Janet a pet rabbit for Easter. We fixed up an old wire cage for it, and they kept it in that cage for a year and a half. In the fall of 1966, it got out and the dog wallowed it to death. Then the kids had an empty cage. They decided to make a box turtle collection. That turned out to be easy. I think they had seventy turtles at one point. There have always been a lot of turtles on our place. Sometimes they eat half our tomatoes. Roy sure was keen on those turtles. He took care of them for a couple of years.
About 1967, I got it in my head to buy Roy a minibike. I had been seeing them around town, and I thought Roy would really enjoy one. I tried to buy a used one, but that didn't work out. Then I saw one over at Sears in Coffeyville. So I just decided to buy it. I came home one afternoon and said, "Let's go over to Sears and buy Roy a minibike." It cost $209. Nobody could believe it. I never did spend money like that.
Roy really enjoyed that bike. He wouldn't let us put it in the trunk on the way home. He held it in his lap in the back seat. He rode it around the farm for at least three years, and he learned a lot about engines working on it. I rode it around a little myself. I got a kick out of it.
Janet was the youngest of the family, and we did spoil her. She thought she was a princess. In fact, she was elected Little Miss Caney for the parade at the Caney Veterans' Day Celebration in 1962. The election was conducted by people putting pennies in boxes in the stores around town. Each store had its own candidate. Janet's Grandma Blundell found out how many pennies were in the competitors' boxes and put ten dollars' worth in Janet's. She also stuffed the box for her grandson Jay, one of Garold and Eleanor's boys. He was elected Little Mr. Caney.
In the fall of 1963, when Janet was in kindergarden, she broke her toe by kicking an oil can that the cultivator was setting on. Instead of using a cast, the doctor had us nail a board to the bottom of her shoe. We teased Janet about kicking cans for years after that.
One of our favorite stories about Janet has always been the one about her cornering a coyote when she was ten years old. It was on Thanksgiving Day in 1968. She found the coyote in the horse manger when she went down there to feed the dog. She came up to the house to tell us about the coyote, and then she went back and tried to pet it. It bit her, of course. The bite just broke the skin on her hand, but the coyote had to be tested for rabies. I killed it and took the carcass to the veterinarian so he could grind up some of its brain to feed to mice. We had a real mess, because I had shot it in the head. They told me I shouldn't have, but that was the way to kill it for sure.
That coyote bite got us in trouble with my mother. We didn't tell her about it because we didn't want her to worry. She was such a worrier. But Mae Wiggins, Sharon's mother-in-law, worked in the doctor's office, and she called Mother up and told her right away.
BILL AND SHARON
Sharon, my sister Helen's older daughter, came back to Caney to live with Mother in 1958. She worked at first as a secretary for Cities Service in Bartlesville. After a couple of years, she married Bill Wiggins. Bill was from Sedan, about twenty miles west of Caney, but he had moved to Caney with his family a few years before.
Bill and Sharon were frequent visitors to our house in the '60s. Sharon remained very close to my mother after she was married, and many of the family activities that we had done with Mother now included Bill and Sharon, too. They and Mother often came out to Sunday dinner after church. They also joined in the Christmas Eve celebration and gift exchange that we always had at Mother's house. Soon they had two children of their own, Steve and Kristi, who were also part of our activities.
Bill liked to hunt quail with dogs, and we hunted together a lot. Bob Sonneman, a local insurance salesman who was active in our church, also hunted with us. Sharon worked part-time as a secretary for Bob after she was married. Bob was a nice fellow, and I got to know him real well.
After I hunted with Bill and Bob and their dogs for a while, I wanted a dog of my own. About 1961, Bill found me a Brittany for $2. We called him Stubby. He was a good bird dog - a lot better, it turned out, than Bill's or Bob's. And he loved to hunt. He would hunt with anybody. Unfortunately, he learned to jump in cars so that he would be taken hunting. Around 1964, somebody let him jump in their car and drove away with him.
In 1966, Bill found me another Brittany, a one-year-old we named Duke. He wasn't such a great bird dog, but he was a wonderful family dog. The kids loved him. We kept him until he died of old age, in 1985.
GAROLD AND ELEANOR
Garold and Eleanor's family grew a lot in the early '60s. After Mark, Gaylene, and Clint, they had three more children, Jay, Gina, and Elton.
Garold still worked with me quite a bit in the early '60s. He worked for Glen Durrill at his grain elevator in those years, but he could always get off when the elevator wasn't busy, and I tried to pay him enough that he could afford to help me.
We had a terrifying accident in the hayfield about 1961 or '62. We had broken a belt on the Allis-Chalmers baler, and we were threading it back in. He laid his hand on the roller, and I saw it come through on the other side. He was so strong that he pulled it back out, and he tore a V of skin and flesh, down to the bone, from his wrist back to his knuckles. When I got back to him he was laying on the ground, buckled up in pain. I knew I could never lift him, but he finally let me help him into the pickup. We have a little hospital in Caney, but he insisted we go to Coffeyville, twenty miles away. I found out how fast that '59 pickup would go. Just 82 mph.
By the mid '60s, Garold didn't have much time to help me in the hayfield. He was busy building up his own construction business.
Garold and his brother Dick had started working at the local grain elevator when Bob Halligan had it leased in the mid '50s. Halligan spent most of his time at his downtown store, and Garold and Dick ran the elevator for him. After that, Glen Durrill bought the elevator. Durrill was there most of the time, but he made Garold the straw boss. Garold learned a lot about construction work in that job. Durrill had to rebuild the whole elevator after it burned down, and he built several more buildings after that.
By the mid '60s, Garold was doing elevator construction on the side. There was a lot of demand for the kind of work he could do. He installed a lot of elevator legs, and he installed a lot of platform scales for weighing trucks. Durrill was always glad to let him off when he didn't need him for construction or for keeping things going during the rush of harvest, because he could use cheaper help for everyday work. But he was so successful that in the late '60s he quit Durrill altogether to work on his own. He worked out of a big shop that he built on his farm. Those were prosperous times for Garold. He built a nice big new house.
I really believe Garold was the best friend I have ever had as an adult. He always wanted to do something for me. Whenever I showed up around his shop, he would start looking around the floors and walls for something to give to me. "Hey, Richard. Here's something I thought you might be able to use." All of Anna's family always called me Richard, because they had a Dick in their own family.
We never did take vacations. We couldn't afford to travel around the country before I worked in the post office, and it was years after we did have the money that I got to thinking of it as something I wanted to do.
When I started in the post office, I was entitled to two weeks vacation a year. I used it sparingly. You could carry 30 days over from one year to the next, and I always did. As a substitute, I didn't really have regular hours, and I was allowed to take the official vacation in pay. Even after I became a regular in 1966, I didn't use much of my official vacation to vacation. Usually I used most of it to put up hay in the summer, or to get something else done around the farm.
There was one trip I always wanted to make. I wanted to get up to Nebraska to visit my old army buddy Floyd Schwanebeck. We finally went in the early summer of 1963. We made it a two-day trip. We left Glenn at home to take care of the chores and his cows and sweet corn, and we left early enough in the morning to get there around noon. Then we came back the next evening. I enjoyed seeing Schwanebeck and his wife again. We hadn't seen them since their visit to us in 1949.
I was surprised by the farmland of central Nebraska. Schwanebeck had often told me about the half-mile long rows of corn, and I had imagined them flat and straight. They weren't like that at all. The land was very hilly, and the rows went just up and down the hills. "What keeps it from washing away?" I asked Schwanebeck. "It does," he said. "But it's thirty feet deep." Schwanebeck was a big operator. He raised as much as 400 acres of corn and a lot of alfalfa. He had a hundred Holsteins, counting all ages.
Our other big trip in the '60s was to Princeton for Glenn's graduation ceremony. We planned and saved for that trip for a couple of years. We were gone from home for nine days, the longest time I had away from home since I had returned from the Army. From Princeton we took a bus to New York, where we saw the sights: the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the subways, the United Nations, and Wall Street. We were at the church at the end of Wall Street the day after Robert Kennedy's funeral there. I also enjoyed seeing the entrance to Columbia University, since I had seen it on television so often.
We were really impressed by Glenn's graduation ceremony. I have always been a little more of a believer in tradition since then.
On the way back we stopped for a couple of days at Ralph and Virginia Field's house in West Lafayette, Indiana. Ralph was studying for his Ph.D. at Purdue then. That visit was a lot of fun, but just after we left there, Glenn ran our car off the road. The car had to be in the shop for a couple of days, so Anna, Delores, Janet, and I took the bus home, leaving Glenn and Roy to bring the car later.
Glenn was home at the time when Delores was about to finish at K.U., in the spring of 1970, and we all went up to Lawrence to see her. She showed us all around the campus. One of the most interesting spots was the computer center, where she worked.
I was a deacon in the First Christian Church for eleven years, from 1955 to 1967. The deacons pass the collection plates and the communion dishes up and down the aisles every Sunday. They also serve on the official board, the board of elders, deacons, and trustees.
I enjoyed serving on the board, but I was a bit of a rebel. I was always voting against things. It seems to me that most people don't examine things closely enough. They just vote for any proposal their leaders bring up. I think you should turn things over and look at the other side. But no one paid much attention to anything I said in those years. I was just a deacon, and the elders pretty well ran things. I always resented that.
In the spring of 1967, though, I got elected vice chairman of the board of the church. Herb Dean was the chairman then, and he took me under his wing and showed me how to do things to help him. I enjoyed that. Then that fall Herb got killed in an automobile accident. The church didn't have a board chairman.
We had a meeting of the board to decide what to do. A lot of people were ready to have an election for a new chairman. But Paul Lamb spoke up and said, "There's only one thing to do. We have a vice chairman, and this is what he's for. He's the chairman now." That was it. Nobody else could say much after that. I was the chairman. A little while later they had a special meeting and made me an elder, too.
Paul Lamb was from a Caney family. My dad had known him and had thought a lot of him. Paul made a career in the army, but he had a law degree before he went into the army, and he came back to Caney in the late '50s and started practicing law in Coffeyville. He was elected to the Kansas Senate for a term or two in the early '60s - he had Glenn come up to Topeka to be a page for a day or two in 1962 or '63. He was an elder, of course. I always had a lot of disagreements with him over church matters. After I had my say, he would always say, "I respect you for that, but I'm not going to vote that way." He always irritated me a little. He was a colonel, that's all, and I was a little belligerent towards him because he was a colonel. But he did stand up for me that day.
Being chairman was a big responsibility, and I thought a lot about how to handle it. I had a long talk about it with Ralph Field when we stopped at Purdue on the way back from Princeton in the spring of 1968. Ralph gave me a lot of pointers. He told me to take charge. I should set out my programs and proposals and assume they would be accepted. I should wait for the other guys on the board to set me back if they thought I was going too strong. People don't want things drug out, he told me, and they don't want to make decisions. When a program is brought up and no one speaks out to object to it, I should just say, "The chair recognizes this program and accepts it." That talk with Ralph helped me a lot.
I was chairman for the rest of that year, and I was re-elected twice. That made two and a half years in a row I was chairman. Those were good years for our church. We had good programs and good goals. Orley Hermon was our preacher, and he was a real good person to work with.
Warren Labadie was education chairman, and he had some good programs. One was an exchange program for sending young people to Mexico. We also started a local reconciliation program. That meant that we did a little to help send local kids to college. We gave $25 a month and some other extras, for example, to help send the Hockett boy to college. We were proud of him. He became a vocational agriculture teacher and came back to Caney to teach. We also helped Mary Ann Soles. We gave the Weber boy $400 because he was going to be a preacher. When he decided not to, his folks paid it back. My Uncle John Coltharp is still the only preacher our church ever produced.
We bought a new organ while I was chairman, and we also spent $6,000 to waterproof the basement. One of the things I was proudest of was getting Earl Hazel to be chairman of the building committee. He was real good for the job.
As chairman, I did support some things I would have raised objections to if I had still just been a deacon. It was my job to move things along, not to raise questions when no one else wanted to. I never spoke out if it looked like it was going to be unanimous.
If there was a disagreement, then I would speak up and ask questions. One thing I helped defeat was a proposal for us to contribute to a program the Kansas office of our church was pushing, the "pennies for words" program. The idea was to make slum kids in Kansas City readers by giving them pennies for every word they read. I suppose it was a good program, but I didn't take so broad a view at the time. It didn't appeal to me. I didn't think it was church work. I guess I just wasn't looking far enough ahead.
One thing that I worked real hard to defeat was the reorganization that the national office of our church wanted to put through. We are a congregation of the Disciples of Christ, and they have their national office in Indianapolis. The national office wanted the churches to agree to a reorganization that would take away the independence of the local churches. If you were a member of one Christian Church in the U.S., you would be member of any of them. We would even have had to accept as members people that hadn't been baptized by immersion. The buildings would belong to the national church, and the national office would send us preachers instead our choosing our own. Neal Lovell, who had been our preacher in the early '50s, was the preacher at Rollo, Missouri, then, and his church put out a resolution opposing the reorganization. The "Rollo Resolution" said we would support the national programs in the benevolent field, but we would not back the other ideas. I took Lovell's resolution to every board member in their home and talked to them. Everybody agreed that we should oppose the reorganization. So our church didn't go along. I don't know whether any of the other churches did or not.
Several people I knew got interested in amateur, or "ham," radio in the early '60s. M.L. Pearsall was the first to get a license, and then Paul Cochrane got involved. Bill Wiggins' dad, Bill Wiggins, Sr., had had a license from way back. I got interested from talking to all of them.
I probably put a thousand dollars into radios in the '60s. My best one was a three-band transceiver, an NCX-3. In its day, it was the Cadillac of transceivers. I still have the 400 watt amplifier I used with it. That was pretty big for those days. I set a pipe in the ground and built a folding mast to run my antennas down from. It was about 40 feet tall at first, but that seemed too dangerous with the electric lines, so I shortened it to about 25 feet.
You have to take two exams to get a ham license, a technical exam and a Morse code exam. The technical stuff was easy for me, but I had a hard time with the Morse code. I had to make one trip to Tulsa and two trips to Kansas City before I passed the Morse code exam. That was about 1961.
We were active as a group until about 1966. For a year or two, we even had a formal club that met once a month or so in the evenings. We met in M.L.'s garage a couple of times, and then we met in the basement of the old Washington School. Besides M.L., Bill, Paul, and me, Dave Hollofield and Bob Sonneman also got involved. I had known Dave ever since high school. He brought the Wheatley Valve Company's mail to the post office, and so we were always talking to him. Three Coffeyville guys also came over to our meetings. It was fun to see those guys after talking to them so much on the air. We called it "eyeballing."
Amateur radio operators are supposed to be concerned with communications during disasters, so our club made disaster plans. We even went together to buy a portable generator. We participated in the field days organized by the national amateur radio organization. We would set up our generator and see how many contacts we could make in 24 hours. We did it once out at our house. That was a big event for our household, because we didn't have overnight visitors very often.
We farmed a little in the '60s. I was busy enough helping Glenn with his cows during the early '60s, but after he left for college in '64, we raised a few pigs and kept some caged layers. In the late '60s, I even raised a little grain on shares. None of this farming made much money. Cattle are the only thing on the farm that has ever made much money for us.
The pigpen we had used in earlier years was gone by the '60s, but in 1967 I built a little fattening pen east of the barn. I fattened pigs in it for a year or two, and then I put some sows in what had been the milking parlor on the north side of the barn. We never used it for milking after Glenn left for college The sows were going to be Roy's and Janet's, but Janet wasn't very interested in helping with something that smelled that bad. She went off and played on the saddle while we were feeding them. So they turned out to be Roy's.
When we were building that pigpen east of the barn, Roy and I took the pickup down to Mud Creek below Jack's hairpin hill to pick up some old bridge planks the county had discarded. It was hot down below that hill, and I really knocked myself out. For a little while, I didn't think I was going to get out of there, but I crawled into the cab and sat there for a while, and I was finally able to drive home. Roy was too young to drive then, and he was really scared. I suppose I had a heat stroke. It was a month or two before I was really back in form.
We had caged layers for a couple of years. We put the cages in the horse manger and the runway to the barn. The chickens laid well in those cages, but there just wasn't enough difference between the cost of the feed and the money we could get for the eggs for it to be worthwhile. To make money with caged layers, you need to keep them by the thousand.
I farmed a little on shares in '67 and '68. In the spring of '67, I planted milo in a ten-acre field that George Boggs owned down on Sixth Street, just east of town. I bought a little Allis-Chalmers combine to harvest it. That fall, I put wheat in that field and in a couple of other small pieces. The yields weren't very good, and I didn't make much money. I never tried to raise grain again after that, but I always find it tempting when things get pretty in the spring. I've always said that I'm glad Glenn had a chance to lose money farming while he was in high school, so that he wouldn't be tempted to try it later.
I had a little trouble getting the hay put up in the mid '60s. Garold and Glenn were both too busy to help me, and Roy wasn't big enough to do too much yet. I had an especially hard time in the summer of '63. Glenn was between his junior and senior years in high school, and he was away to the summer program at Princeton. Anna and I got the hay baled, but we needed some help getting the bales into the barn. My arm was really hurting me that summer. I hired some high school kids to haul hay for a week, but they didn't get much done. I think they only got three wagon loads in all week. They finally did get the rest in on Saturday, when I was there to supervise.
The best part of farming in the '60s was our horses. I've always tried to keep a horse or two for rounding up the cows. Two or three people can get the cows up to the barn by foot, but it's more fun to use horses. I don't suppose the horses I kept were ever really worth their keep, especially when I kept them with the cows and they took the lion's share of the cattle cubes, but I do love horses.
For years, we used Bonnie for rounding up the cows. She was so gentle any kid could ride her. But she wasn't very fast in the later years. It got to the point that a cow could outrun her. Glenn was trying to chase a cow with her once, and he got so frustrated that he jumped off and chased the cow on foot. He admitted that he couldn't run as fast as the cow, but he claimed he could run a lot faster than Bonnie.
In the early '60s I decided to get another horse - one I could ride while Glenn rode Bonnie. I bought a lanky spotted pony from a fellow in town and had the Stitts boys break him for me, but they really only broke him to lead, and he never worked out very well. One day I took him down to the Dewey horse sale. I sold him and bought the beautiful palomino mare we called Sandy.
Sandy acted just as nice as you can imagine in the sale ring, but she wasn't as dependable as she seemed. The first Sunday I had her, I showed her off to my mother in the yard. She stepped through all her paces for a while, and then all of a sudden she got excited and started bucking. The worst part of her act was her insistence on running back to the barn. The fellow who trained her must have always run her home, and she was really stubborn about it.
Delores remembers when she wanted to take up riding Sandy. The first day she gave Sandy her head, and that mare just charged the barn. I told Delores she was out of control: "You have to show her who's boss." So Delores held the reins real tight the second day, and Sandy reared up on her hind legs. I was afraid she was going to go over backwards and fall on Delores, and I screamed for Delores to jump off. She was too scared stiff to do anything but hold on. Sandy finally came down on her feet, but that was all the horse riding Delores wanted. I made her ride Sandy one more time just so Sandy wouldn't be the winner, but she never rode her again after that.
I was able to handle Sandy pretty well myself, though, and Glenn and I spent a lot of time riding together.
Janet was the only one of my four kids that loved horses as much as I did. She remembers that I told her I had been waiting for a kid to come along who liked horses. She and I spent a lot of time with a strawberry roan quarterhorse that we named Strawberry. I bought him in 1967 from Victor Hollingsworth. Victor had come out to try to buy some hay from me that summer, and I ended up trading him $100 worth of hay for eight or ten sheets of used 8-foot corrugated tin, Strawberry, and $40 cash. Strawberry was a two-year old gelding. He was barely broke to lead with a bridle. Janet and I had to break him to ride.
Getting a saddle on Strawberry was a big deal for us. I was leery of just throwing it on, because I remembered how I had frightened Dan when I first threw a saddle on him. So we set a pulley up on top of the cow chute to lower the saddle gently on him. It worked out okay. The first time we did it, he didn't mind having the saddle put on, but he really spooked as we were leading him out and the stirrups hit the side of the chute. Ross Taylor happened to be there to see me about buying hay, and he helped us. We needed some help holding on to that horse. He was tearing around in a circle at the end of ten feet of rope. He must have gone around ten times. He didn't get away, and that was pretty much the breaking of him.
After that we didn't have too hard a time. At first, Janet would tie Strawberry to Bonnie's saddlehorn with a short rope, I would get up on Bonnie behind her, and then I would slip over onto Strawberry. That got him used to our being on him, and then we could mount him the ordinary way.
Janet really loved Strawberry. She rode him all the time. She would really run him. Elton would say, "That girl is going to get killed on that crazy horse. She only knows two speeds: stop and fast." After Bonnie died, in 1968, we used Sandy, the palomino, and Strawberry to round up the cattle. I would ride Sandy, and Janet would ride Strawberry.
About 1974, I sold Sandy and bought an Appaloosa. It seemed to be gentle, and Janet and I broke it. But we didn't ride it for about three months late that spring, and when Janet got on it again, it threw her. So I sold it.
We had Strawberry until the late seventies. He had a lot of trouble with his feet after Janet went to college, and it got so he was never in good enough shape to ride. So I finally sold him.
I have had several other horses in the last ten years. I have a little pony for the grandchildren to ride now. But I suppose I have rounded the cows up by foot more often than not since Strawberry.
About 1960 or '61, I noticed that the house at 114 East Fifth was for sale for $4,600, $600 down. Things were going up then, and the price seemed reasonable to me. Anna and I bought it, fixed it up, and rented it out for $40 a month. At first we had trouble collecting the rent. We discovered that some people will not pay. But then we found a good family who stayed there for five years. We had some others for shorter periods. It paid itself off in the end, but there were times when we couldn't collect enough rent to cover the payments.
We sold it for $4,000 about ten years later, $600 less than we had paid. The economy wasn't doing so well then. I sold it for payments of $40 per month plus 6% interest. I put the money in a special account just to keep it together. That's the secret of saving money. You can't accumulate money unless you bunch it up. If you get money in little pieces, you just put it in the pot, and it's gone in no time; but if you get it in big pieces, you'll think about a way of saving it or using it.
Later in the '60s, we bought another rental house at 311 East Third for $2,700. Bill and Sharon rented it for quite a while. Another family was there for five years. Neither of those two families ever missed a payment. I sold it for $3,500, $800 more than I paid for it. I did have some trouble with the buyers. I don't think they got it paid off until the early '70s.
I was real pleased with the money those houses made for us. Anna and I probably have $10,000 more in our savings than we would have had without them. Looking back, I wish we had gotten into rental property deeper than we did. It's a good way to make money if you have a wife who is willing to work and you are willing to work yourself. It's not easy work. You have to be willing to do things like get under a house and work on the plumbing.
At the time, I was scared of getting in too deep. You are always taking a risk with that kind of thing. The demand for rentals depends on the times. There are so many vacant houses in Caney now, I don't suppose you could do very well with rental property.
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