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 Reminiscences

 by Howard E. Weller

 Boyhood Days

As I began to think about this story it made me wonder what I might say that would be interesting to people who have been everywhere and seen everything. However I know that if you could see these things through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy who hadn't been anywhere nor seen anything, you would be thrilled. Such a boy I was in 1906 when my father brought his family to southwest Kansas from our former home in Marshall County in northeast Kansas.

An aura of excitement seemed to completely surround us as we made our preparations to leave our old home. In so far as I was concerned we were going to a far country and out into the unknown. There was also the emotional strain of severing the ties that bound us there. My father and brother and I were to go in an immigrant car with Mr. Edwin Farris on whose land we were going to live. This was the place now occupied by the Tillmans and was formerly the home of Ben White, grandfather of Judy Roberts. Finally one cold March day our meager supply of furniture, six mules, a wagon, and some farm implements being loaded we boarded the car and were off. This was my first time in a box car. We had our bedding under an upside-down wagon box to help keep us warm. My brother, Eldon and I were entirely too excited to be cold for some time. We arrived in Kansas City before nightfall and were shuttled around the switch-yards most all night.

The sights around there were certainly something for two small boys to see. The street cars went right up over the railroad tracks and those cars would make an Oooo sound as they went on their way, sometimes right over us. There was always suspense a s we never could tell when we were going to be hit by a locomotive. One time after dark as an engine went by our car we heard one fellow say to another, “If you don't quit banging these cars around this way, I'm going to tell Doc on you.”

Mr. Farris reported that a brake man had approached him for a bribe to get us on our way at an earlier time. He didn't get anything from Mr. Farris for he was a man of considerable experience and also believed in hanging on to his money.

Two small boys finally became weary and crawled under their wagon box and went to sleep. The next morning when we awoke we were on our way, rolling along southwest. The boiled ham and homemade bread that mother sent along certainly hit the spot. Mothers are like that but we had to get along without her and our two sisters for a month. We arrived in Fowler about four o'clock in the afternoon of the third day and we immediately began unloading, setting up the wagon and loading it. One team of mules were harnessed and hitched up and we set out for our new home ten miles northwest of town. The house had four rooms; two sod and two frame. This was to be our home for the next few years.

Here we did things that helped to shape our lives. Some of these things perhaps we would like to forget and some we look back on with relish. Our relationships with the old timers of that day were generally happy ones, but the characteristics of the old timers were certainly varied.

Once when Mr. Farris wanted to go to Meade on business and the teams were all in the field he decided to start out walking and maybe pick up a ride along the way. So when he got several miles from home a man was driving out of his yard in a buggy and Mr. Farris ran to get closer and called out, “Say mister are you so heavy loaded that you couldn't take a passenger?” The man said “I am” and slapped his horse with the lines and took off down the road leaving the sorry hitchhiker behind.

In telling my father about it Mr. Farris said, “By jacks, Jake, it made me so mad that if I'd had a gun I'd have shot him.” Mr. Farris was a dynamic individual with pronounced likes and dislikes. Two of the things he disliked were kids and women. And two of the kids that he especially disliked were my brother and me. Somewhere along the line we hadn't been taught to love our enemies so it was just natural that we would heartily return his emotion for us. The poet said, “Give to the world the best that you have and the best will come back to you.” This also works in reverse.

One cold day my father and Mr. Farris were out hunting and my brother and I were at the house with time on our hands. Now, my brother was four years younger than me but he was a lot smarter. So he figured out how to hang a gallon bucket with water in it just at the top the door so that when the door was opened it would tilt the bucket and spill the water on some unhappy victim. Of course you can guess who we hoped would be the victim. After we set our trap we began to have misgivings. We felt reasonably sure that Mr. Farris would come in first but it was possible that our dad might come first. Not that we were afraid of the results if he did, for he was a wonderful sport. It was just that we didn't want our plans to fail. So with considerable foresight we put up another bucket at the bedroom door for we knew that Mr. Farris always took off his overcoat and went into the bedroom to hang it up as soon as he came in the house. There were two beds in the room and as soon as we saw the hunters coming we each got under a bed as a sort of an observation station. We were just bursting with excitement. Sure enough our dad went about some chores and Mr. Farris came in first. The first bucket failed to work it just pushed off the nail and fell to the floor. He uttered a few imprecations, took off his overcoat and came straight to the bedroom door. Now this was the sod end of the house and the door was a little low causing a man of average height to bow down slightly when entering. So everything worked perfectly. Just as he bent over the water poured down his neck.

Now I stated before that we were bursting but when this happened we really did and gave away our positions. As I said before Eldon was the smart one and figured things out but he quit too soon. He should have figured that we would be sitting ducks under those eds. As Mr. Farris whirled and ran for the water bucket we arrived at the same conclusion simultaneously, “Under the bed is no place to have a bucket of water thrown on you.” Now Eldon may have thought of it a little sooner than I but I do believe I was first out from under the bed. However we were saved from a drenching by a principle which only small boys can understand… "Don't ever go after a bucket of water until you have to." We had used all the water in the bucket to set our traps. As Mr. Farris seized the water bucket and dashed out the door on his way to the water barrel at the windmill we were close behind him until we got out the door and then we scattered and the immediate crisis was over.

The school term was nearly over at Western Jem School when we arrived in Meade County so we didn't get much schooling that term. For teachers over the years we had Pearl Sawyer, Neva Sawyer and Bessie Mahan Noble. These were interesting times. One evening Eldon and I lingered at the school grounds after school and went inside and threw the soft erasers against the wall and ceiling which made spots. The next morning Bessie made me get on a chair and wipe the spots off right in front of the whole school. Bessie was small but she had a lot of fire. So we didn't do that anymore. One of the nicest things in life is to receive a sincere heart felt compliment. Such a thing happened to us when Pearl Sawyer was teaching. She had the pupils write community items for the Fowler paper. Once when she was in Meade she met Mrs. Alice Bateman who told her they thought the “Western Jam” items were the most interesting thing in the paper. She said, “We always turn to them first.” 0ur teacher, of course, relayed the compliment to us and you may be sure we will always remember it. Mrs. Bateman was the mother of Mrs. Grace Painter. So the moral is “always say something nice to people when you can.”

Youngsters of today may wonder how kids had any fun in those days when there were no television, no movies, no cars, no money, and no neighbors very close. Well we had many ways. One was to hunt ground squirrels. One of the techniques was to lasso them. To do this you take a kite string and make a noose in one end about three inches around. When you see a ground squirrel go down his hole you place this noose around the hole and take the other end about 30 feet away and lie down hanging onto the string and watch or the squirrel to come up. When the ground squirrel comes up to see if you are gone, you give a yank on the string and with any luck he is yours. Hunting ground squirrels is about as exciting as hunting lions and a whole lot safer. We also had lots of fun playing  baseball. There were not many players so a small boy like me usually had a chance to play. We never played on Sunday but our daddy let us have Saturday afternoons off when there was a ball game. We sometimes played with the Elliott boys.

A day I recall real well we had been working all our mules all week so we didn't have any way to go to the game but walk. Now it was five and one-half miles to Chlumskys so we, Eldon and I, decided to walk to their place and ride the other two miles with them. It took us a little longer to walk that five and one-half miles than we reckoned so Chlumskys were gone when we got there. There was nothing to do but trudge on. We finally arrived. This game was to be played by the Elliott boys and the Artesion boys. The Shaw boys were a good part of the Artesion team with such other names as Foster, Hardaway and Mahan. They were all pretty good players. The Elliott team was composed of four Elliott boys Bud and Jethro Peoples, Frank Howell, Elmer Chlumsky and myself. Two things stick in my memory about this game. Sometime during the game I got on first base. I don't remember how but they surely must have walked me. While the next batter was up they got into a rhubarb at home plate. Time hadn't been called so I decided to just walk down to second. To this day I believe I'd have made it if I'd continued walking but after a step or two I started to run and the second baseman saw me and gave the alarm. George Shaw who was pitching turned and threw me out. The other thing that I remember was the score. It was astronomical. We scored 22 runs, only thing wrong with that was that the Artesion boys scored more than we did.

An early day story wouldn't be complete without a word about the weather. That first summer we broke out 150 acres of sod with two “footburners.” For seven weeks it rained every Saturday night so we could keep right on plowing. Forecasting the weather in those days was not an exact science. It was often said that nobody but a fool or a newcomer would forecast. I once heard Dr. Fee telling of a man who had been trying his hand at it. Now the Doc didn't call the man a fool, all he said was “everybody knows he is not a newcomer.” One time when I was in Meade a group of men on the street were discussing the prospects for rain and one of them became quite specific. His companions began razzing him a little bit. Finally he took off his hat and said, “Gentlemen if it don't rain within a week, the next time you come to town I'll buy you cigars.” I didn't know the man and didn't keep score on him so I don't know how it turned out. Even today our weathermen need a lot of luck in their forecasting.

I had already started working out some before we came to Meade County and as we were always in need of money I continued to do so, when not needed at home. Some of the folks I worked for were John Conrad, Henry Salmon, Will McCauley, Cliff Wetmore, Dell Wetmore, Jim Brock, Billy Merkle, Al Miller, Alec DesMarias, Fred Ellis, Walter Crissman and Charley Small. All of these men had an influence on my life in one way or another.

I also put in time with threshing machines. My first job with a thresher was as water monkey for Virge and Pete Latta. Other machines were Will Draper, Frank and Evan Howell, Edgar Johnson and Mr. Barnstutter.

Experience with the steam threshers were varied and interesting. Sometimes we had cook shacks and sometimes we ate with the farmers. Usually the eats were wonderful but you just might have bad luck once in a while.

One time we were threshing for a bachelor who was a notoriously poor cook. He had some biscuits that were simply impossible to eat. We had considerable machine trouble and were at his place for several days. So we were very happy when we finally were ready to pull away from his place to his brother's who was a married man. Things seemed to point to greener pastures, but low and behold, the bachelor put those same sinkers in a flour sack and took them to his brothers.

Another experience in vivid memory was one hot afternoon when I was working inside the separator repairing straw racks while the others were in the shade of the machine eating watermelon. I don't know for sure whether the water dripping off me was sweat or maybe my mouth watering at the thought of that watermelon just out of reach.

It's a peculiar thing how some little offhand remark can affect a fellow's appetite one way or another. Edgar Johnson told how a certain farmer's little boy who was out at the machine while it was stopped and making conservation said to the men, “We're going to have old crippy for supper tonight.” Needless to say there were some fellows whose appetites for chicken were below normal that night.

As stated earlier my first job with a threshing machine was as a water monkey. Now at first blush it would seem that hauling water for a steam engine wouldn't present any problems. I assure you such was not the case. In the first place being called a “monkey” was not quite like being designated chief engineer. Then where was the problem of getting the water. The engineer didn't like to use pond water because it would foam and adversely affect the operation of the engine. Another problem was getting close enough to the pond without getting stuck. Many times ponds were not available.

Most farmers were nice about sharing water to help their neighbors get their threshing done. Some were not so nice, but when we had a still spell and it came down to taking it away from their stock they had to draw the line. The farther away you had to go the less free they were with the water. If the engine got low on water before you could get back they would waste a little more steam by whistling for you. The horses that I used belonged to Mr. Virge Latta and it was his edict that this team w as not to be driven faster than a walk. I never could see any value in whistling for the water when the water monkey couldn't come any faster anyway. It was the custom to do so I guess.

One cool October morning I went early for a load of water at the Al Miller place, which as located one-half mile northeast of the southwest corner of 20-30-28. There was an artesian well pouring water into this tank so it was over-flowing most of the time. I climbed up on the wagon tank and dropped the hose down into the water. As it didn't land quite right I stepped down onto the wagon wheel to adjust it when my foot slipped and I splashed down on my back in the middle of that tank of water. The machine was less than two miles away and I knew that I would still be wet when I got back there, still I had to hurry and pump my tank of water and get back before the whistle if possible. I sure hated to face the kidding but there was no other way .

Another problem of the water monkey was taking care of his team. He had to be up earlier than most of the others. Then when the whistle blew and the machine stopped at mealtime the other hands could drop things and hurry to wash up. I had to feed and water my horses. It always seemed to me that the water monkey was looked on as the “chamber maid” of the threshing crew. All this and more for the grand sum of one dollar per day.

Covert Adventure

One time in the fall of 1907 there were five boys who had a great craving for adventure. Now I suppose that most boys at sometime or another have had a craving for adventure, but maybe all have not taken the steps to bring that adventure into their lives.

These five boys were not a gang in the ordinary sense of the word. They weren't even bad boys; at least not in their own sight. They loved their parents and were mostly obedient. It was just that their parents had not specifically forbidden certain actions; however, all five surely did know that they were doing wrong. I was the senior member of this quintet and my brother Eldon was the junior member. In between were the Hadlock boys, Bob and Mose plus Evart Hockett.

We had discussed the prospects of going hunting some night and having a sort of banquet around a campfire. We were all aware that our parents would veto any such plans if they knew of them. So it didn't take a lot of wisdom to see that any plans that were made must not be made public. This only added to the spice of the adventure.

It took some time and a lot of planning and I can't see how we ever kept our parents from getting wind of what was going on. Finally our plans were complete. We were to meet at the Crooked Creek bridge. It wasn't possible to set any specific time to meet since some might not be able to get away just when they wanted to. Eldon and I lived only slightly more than a mile from the bridge, the Hadlock boys some farther and Evart still farther. During the planning someone came up with the thought that we might not be able to get any game, so then where is your banquet? Actually we knew very well the odds against getting any meat in the dark night without any dog. So Evart said his folks had a quarter of beef and he would swipe a piece and bring it for emergency just in case we didn't get any game.

The Weller boys brought their shotgun along so that we could use it to start our campfire. We had read where people had done this when no matches were present. The way you do this is to get a nice dry bunch of grass together. Then stick the muzzle of the shotgun in it and fire away.

At long last we were all assembled at the bridge. This was what is called a covert operation, so there was a lot of secrecy all the way. I know that I had the constant feeling that we were being spied on. At the bridge the creek turned north and made a turn east then south a little before taking off in an easterly direction. In its northerly course from the bridge the creek would take us close to the Conrad home. At this time we were all agreed, even without consultation that we didn't want to be any closer to anybody’s house. We cut off that horseshoe bend by going north by east across an alfalfa field and picked up the stream bed again. Following the dry steam bed as it led in a general northeasterly direction we traversed perhaps half a mile when we called a halt. To go any farther would take us closer to someone else's house. This was something that we surely didn't want. It almost seemed that someone might hear our footsteps or our voice although we talked low. I don't remember who said what nor who did what but anyway I'm thankful that we had sense enough to select a bare spot in the bottom of the stream bed and that we had been taught safe gun handling, otherwise there might have been a tragedy. Soon the bunch of dry grass was ready and also some wood to get going while the grass was burning freely. We all looked forward to this time with a great deal of excitement. I don't remember for sure who fired the shotgun but it seems that it must have been me. So lets just say that it was I who did it. The thing I do remember was the results.

When the stillness of the dark night was broken by that shotgun blast it was the loudest boom that I ever heard. It seemed that everyone for miles around must have heard it and would all come to investigate. Eventually someone struck a match and lit the fire. We proceeded to prepare our banquet. I can only say that we were five very inexperienced chefs, much better at smoking meat than at grilling it. It seemed to me that my folks could have told what I had been doing by smelling my breath. Since the meat was not so very tasty we were not able to eat it all so Evart had to throw part of it away since if he took it home it might require some tall explaining. Certainly none of the others wanted to take it. Before long our thrilling adventure began to pall and we began to work our weary way homeward.

Surely this experience must have had some influence in the development of men. Bob and Mose have passed away long ago. They both grew up to be good citizens. I lost track of Evart before he became a man. We had many good times together but no more of this type of high adventure.

The Birthday Party

When I was 14 years old I had the unique experience of playing hooky from school with my mother's collaboration. Mother said to me, “I want you to pretend you are sick and stay home from school today.” The occasion was to plan for a surprise party f or my sister Elpha on her sixteenth birthday. We never had a telephone at that time. Some of the prospective guests could be reached by a neighbor's telephone half a mile away but others couldn't be. So it was the duty of the sick truant to go to their homes and invite them. As I look back now from the age of eighty-four it seems incredible that I walked sixteen miles that day and wasn't any worse off that evening when Elpha and Eldon came home from school. Of course there was the problem of keeping the secret and keeping other preparations hidden from a sixteen year old girl with a lively curiosity. How much surprised and how much thrilled she was by the party slips my memory, but it must have been considerable.

Mother was a good manger with a fertile imagination. Most of the girls present came to the party with a brother, there must have been fourteen or fifteen present. It is safe to say that some of them hoped to go home paired a little differently. A nice supper was served early in the evening. As a sort of an ice breaker Mother devised a system to make the boys fish for their partner for supper. She put the girls in one room and the boys in the other. Then she took a string or line and put one end in each room, chose a girl to hold onto the string then a boy or young man in the other room took hold and pulled. When the door opened he had his supper partner. Now it seemed that these fellows were a little slow in accepting their opportunities. Maybe they were afraid they might land their sister or fail to get the girl of their choice. Mother importuned this one and that one but they continued to hold back. You have heard the expression “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” With a bold ness I didn't feel I walked up and took the string and pulled and there was Jessie Conrad. Since the name may not mean anything to you now I must tell you about Jessie. She belonged to a prominent family. She was probably around nineteen years old. She was jolly, attractive and full of life and very likely disappointed at this time. She was also a good sport. At no time did she give me cause to think that she would rather have had someone else. I have always wondered if there might have been some young fellows in that group that wished that they were built so they could have kicked themselves for being so slow. Anyway that did start the ball rolling and we had a fine time at the coming out party of a wonderful sixteen year old.

 It should be noted the Jessie Conrad did not choose her life partner from among the fellows that were present that night.

 

 

 

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