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Bo's Stories, Page 10

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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The Summer Of ‘42’

 

            During World War II Hubert Jones and I became friends.  Hubert was a few years older than I was and lived about a mile and a half from us toward the Rusk County Line.  Hubert was from a very large family.  I believe his daddy was Tom Jones and his mother was Miss Alice.  I knew all of the family pretty well and went to school with the younger ones. 

            Hubert was 4 or 5 years older than I was and we were not friends like “good buddies” or anything like that, but how we came to spend time with one another arose because of need.  Hubert was the oldest of the Jones boys at home as I was the oldest of the Woods boys at home.  He needed someone to help him with farm work and I needed someone to help me.  They had a team and some farm equipment as we did.

            Mama wanted me to put in a “pea patch” in 1942, and Hubert wanted to put one in for his family too.  I don’t recall how we came to agree to swap work, but we did, and as a result, we both had good crops of peas.  I took our team and went over to the Jones place.  Using two teams, we plowed about five acres into beds, disked the beds and then using their riding planter, we planted the peas.

            When we finished there, we moved to our place and did the same.  Straight behind our house, just past the pecan trees, was our north field.  Just through the gate was a small rise to a level field of fairly good sandy loam soil.  I don’t remember why here, but I suspect Mama suggested this location.  It only took us a couple of days at each place to get the peas planted.

            I think these were late peas and it must have been May when we did this.  Anyway, I had the fishing “fever” pretty bad.  This is a chronic condition of mine that I’ve had since I can remember.  At times it gets pretty bad, and there is only one cure for it and that is -- go fishing.  Hubert and I cooked up a fishing trip to Martins Creek. 

            I loaded what little gear I had into our wagon and took off.  Mama always fixed up a grub sack with whatever she could round up for me to take.  I went by and got Hubert.  We took a wagon road from their house through the pasture, fields and woods, and came out just down the road from Mr. Chester Wyatt’s, on the road to Beckville from the County Line Road.  This is the road that  runs by the Sugarhill  Cemetery. 

            We went into Taylor’s pasture through a gate right across the road from Mr. Chester Wyatt’s house.  The Taylor place was very large, and I guess it must have been a mile or more, by the old wagon road winding through the pasture, to the creek.  We got to the creek, and set up camp under some big trees right on the creek bank.  The Taylors had cleared their land of all the trees and brush except right along the creek.

            This was an easy place to fish compared to Waller Bridge, because you could get to the creek nearly any place you wanted.  It was also a little closer to home.  We got busy putting out set hooks as soon as we got to the creek.  I have no recollection of what we used for bait, but I expect it was our usual, earthworms.   By dark, we had finished putting out hooks and had a bite of supper.

            Our usual program was to wait about two hours after dark and “run” the hooks”.  That is, we went along the creek and checked each hook.  Hopefully taking off some fish, and putting fresh bait on.  The great thrill of this kind of fishing is seeing, or hearing one of the poles jerking or maybe splashing in the water.  Every two hours through the night, we would check them again.  Usually we could run our line of hooks in about an hour, would go back to camp and wait an hour and start over.  If it took two hours to run the line, then you would immediately start over.

            If we got too tired in the wee hours, it was permissible to lie down and take a nap, but we seldom did this.  Oft times we didn’t even take a bedroll.  Usually our only source of light was the infamous kerosene lantern.   This particular light source bore no resemblance to the pressurized fuel lights with mantles that are used now.  It had a small kerosene reservoir into which was screwed the very same kind of wick assembly used in the old kerosene lamps.  There was a small knob that raised and lowered the wick to control the size of the flame.

            There was a glass globe surrounding the flame.  The globe assembly was vented at the top and bottom to provide air to the wick.  There was a small lever with which to raise the globe and temporarily expose the wick for lighting with a match.  There was a large bail for carrying the lantern.  The big problem with this light was keeping the globe clean.  With the wick turned down low there was not much light.  If you turned the wick higher, so you could see, the flame would smoke and blacken the globe with soot.  On a real dark night, the lantern was of some help.  With moonlight or bright starlight, it was frequently better to turn the lantern off (turn the wick down low and blow the flame out) and use the natural light.

            On this night, all went well in the early evening, but then both of us began to itch.  We were scratching at whatever was biting us, and we looked as best we could with the lantern light, but we couldn’t see anything.  We were absolutely miserable.  Along about three or four in the morning it got so bad that we decided to go home.  I don’t remember, but I suppose we took our hooks up before we left.

            About half way through the woods from Mr. Chester Wyatts to the Jones place, the “coupling pole” on the wagon broke.  One minute we were sitting up on the wagon and the next minute we were dumped into the road. 

            Wagons are, basically, in three sections.  The front section consists of the front axle and wheels, a tongue, a double-tree and two single-trees to which the team is hooked via the trace chains and a swiveling bolster on top.  The rear section consists of the rear axle and wheels with a fixed bolster on top.  These two sections are connected together with a stout timber known as the “coupling” pole.  The third part is the wagon box that rests on the two bolsters.

            The coupling pole has holes drilled in it and pins inserted to hold the wagon together.  On our wagon the pole had worn over time and weakened at one of the holes and it snapped in half.  When that happened, the team kept going and pulled the front section out from under the box.  The front end of the box, where we were sitting, fell to the ground and dumped us out.  Luckily, we were not badly hurt. 

            There we were, eaten up by some kind of invisible vermin.  Had been up for twenty-four hours without sleep, and now were bruised and skinned up.  I was still two or three miles from home, and on foot.  There was nothing to do but leave the wagon there and walk home, which we did.  I, of course, had the team to tend to.

            It was well after daylight when I got home, and of course Mama was up and we soon discovered that I was covered with tiny ticks.  These were the first “seed” ticks that I had ever seen.  I had them all over me, and they were well dug in.  Mama had me take a bath in kerosene, which probably got rid of the ones still crawling on me, but it didn’t get rid of the others.  I was in bed three or four days with a fever, I think brought on by the ticks.

            I still always look out for those tiny ticks and hate to get into them.  You never just get two or three, but frequently a hundred or more at a time.  They quickly bury themselves in your skin and itch like crazy.

            Let me tell you, I was in no hurry to go back to Martins creek for some more seed ticks.  Just as well, because my peas were up and looking good, but badly in need of cultivating.  To do that I decided the best bet was to use Ray’s “Go-Devil”.

            What in the world is a Go-Devil?  Well, I don’t know where that name came from, but I guess it was probably the trademark of a cultivator that I will describe for you.  I don’t know, either, where Ray got the thing.  Maybe it was something that Daddy had and was just lying there rusting away or maybe Ray found it some place else.

            I remember him working on it in 1941, the last year he farmed before going into the Navy just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Go-Devil was mounted on two skids or runners about two feet apart.  Ray used two 2” x 12” boards about six feet long for the skids.  A metal frame was mounted above these skids and bolted to them. 

There was a metal seat on top of this frame for the operator to sit on.  At the rear there were two gangs of small disks.  Each of these was mounted on a thick steel rod (sticking straight out the back, which could be rotated.  There were also two pivot points on the bracket that held these rods.  One, so that the disk gangs could be raised and lowered via an adjustable handle by the operator’s seat, and two, so the gangs could be adjusted closer or farther from the row.

            By rotating the rod the disks were attached to (flipping the disks over), you could either throw dirt away from the plants or you could throw dirt to the plants.  This adjustment was decided on and made before beginning to plow.  Then when you started, you could lower the disks to the desired level with the lever.  I had never used this plow, and I don’t think Ray got to use it either.  I guess he finished up work on it in the fall and then left before ever using it.

            Anyway, I opted to try using it and it just worked beautifully.  I seldom had anything go so smoothly for me on the first try.  It was rigged to be pulled by a team.  It was not heavy and could have been pulled by a single animal, but since it straddled the row, this would not do.  The peas were two or three inches tall so I adjusted the disks to throw dirt away from them.

            In farming this is called “barring off”.  I had done it before using a turning plow (this is a single moldboard plow that throws dirt to the right only.  No.  They don’t make one that throws dirt to the left.  At least I never heard of one).  With the turning plow, you go down one side of the row, throwing dirt away from the plants, and then come back down the other side doing the same.  This leaves the plants on a strip of elevated soil (“bar”) with a furrow on either side.  The value of this is two-fold.  First it cuts most all the weeds and grass away from the seedlings and second, it aerates the soil in the root zone of the plants.

            Well the Go-Devil did the barring-off in just one pass.  One of the disk gangs threw dirt away from the plants on one side and the other gang on the other side.  When I got finished the field looked great, and you could almost see the peas growing.  About a week or ten days later, after the peas had doubled in size, I rotated the disks to throw dirt to the row and went back over the field of peas.  This time I rolled dirt right in around the peas, covering the smaller weeds and grass in between the pea plants.  This dirt gave support to the still spindly pea plants.  I repeated this plowing about two weeks later, and then called them “laid-by” which meant no more plowing of this crop.

            My pea patch just did really well.  Made more peas than we knew what to do with.  Mama was so proud of them and that made me proud too.  I don’t ever remember using the Go-Devil again, and have no idea what happened to it, but it was a really nice cultivator.  It was low to the ground and could not be used on plants more that about a foot high.  Where in the devil did the “Go-Devil” go? Devil if I know!

            Hubert Jones went into the Navy a year or so later.  He had to have surgery while in San Diego and they messed him up.  It was the practice in the Navy then to give spinal anesthesia for some types of surgery.  I expect they accidentally injured Hubert by improper insertion of the needle into the spinal cord.  They discharged him and sent him home after about six months.  His right leg jerked constantly.  We went to the creek once on horseback after he got home.  I remember his leg jerking as we rode along.  He got some better as time went by, but I don’t suppose he ever got over that injury.  He should have been compensated, but I doubt if he was.

 

“The Driving Lesson”

 

            At one time Grandpa Woods and Mammy lived in the little house just up the road from us.  Mr. Lee Waits owned this place but Grandpa lived there and farmed it for a couple of years or more.  I don’t know when they moved there, but were there when Daddy died (1933), and the following year too, I believe.  Grandpa was born in 1858, so he was 75 in 1933.  Uncle Jim told me that Grandpa made several bales of cotton that year, farming with a team of mules.  I can remember hearing Grandpa yelling at his mules when he was plowing.  Of course he talked “nice”.

            I guess in 1934 it was that Uncle Frank and his family came in from West Texas where they had been living and stayed a time at Grandpa’s.  They brought with them some rabbits in cages and I had never seen anything like that (I asked Ruthie if she remembered the rabbits and she said she did).  Some of these rabbits were white, some black, some black and white.  All I had ever seen were the ones my brothers had killed and they were all the same gray/tan with white undersides.

            Uncle Frank had an old roadster of some kind.  I remember it was an open car (probably had a top that could be raised), and Uncle Frank wanted to teach Grandpa how to drive.  Somehow I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to be there and got to ride along in the car.  I guess Harmond and I, and maybe Ray, was in the back seat and Uncle Frank in the front with Grandpa at the wheel.  You have to understand that cars were somewhat complicated to operate in those days.  You had to do several different things simultaneously in a coordinated manner to make them go smoothly.

            In this case it was anything but smooth.  We were jerking and jumping and going all over the road, and even cleaned out a couple of ditches, with Grandpa all the while carrying on a heated tirade against the car.  We went down the lane toward the Kelly place.  At some point they stopped the car and Uncle Frank drove back to the house.  So far as I know, Grandpa never tried to drive another car.  He and Uncle Frank were both in a bad mood, and Harmond did something that Uncle Frank didn’t like.

            Grandpa kept a horsewhip hanging on a hook on the back porch.  He used this whip to emphasize points he made to his team of mules.  Uncle Frank grabbed the horsewhip off the hook and took off after Harmond.  They went around the house two or three times with Uncle Frank popping the whip at Harmond’s heels every time he hit the ground.  I don’t think he ever hit him, but he scared him bad.  He scared me bad.  Those are the only memories I have of when Grandpa lived on the hill up the road from us.

            They moved that winter (1934) to the farm by Brooks School (the Elmer Belew house), and Benny Boy Waits and his wife Jaunita (Higgingbotham) moved into the little house on the hill.  Grandpa farmed the Belew place in 1935 and 1936.  They were living there when Mammy died on Thursday, September 3, 1936.

            My cousin J.K.Williams was there when Mammy died.  He recently told me of this incident.  He said Mammy had received some kind of check from the government while she was too ill to endorse it, and after she died they held a pen in her hand and made her mark on the check.  Mr. L.D. Mangham, who was a Notary Public, certified it as being her mark so Grandpa could cash the check.

            There were some large pine trees in the yard of the Belew house.  While Mammy was bad sick, I remember we were there when Uncle Frank Smith and my Aunt Mattie (Daddy’s sister - Auntie, we called her) and their two kids came.  John Woods Smith, my cousin, is three years older than I am and we climbed up into one of the pine trees.  It seems to me that we were way up high and kind of hidden in the boughs.  John Woods was nine and I six years old.  He had a cigarette that he lit up and he insisted that I join him, which I did.  This is the first memory I have of smoking a cigarette.

 

“Lost In the Woods”

 

            I had run all over the Sugar Hill country.  I knew where all the ponds, creeks, huckleberry bushes, persimmon trees, Muscadine grape vines, mulberry trees and other good stuff could be found.  I knew most of the damp rich soil spots where one could always dig some big juicy earthworms for fish bait.  And, where the better squirrel den trees were located

            I once found a buzzard nest with young feather-less buzzards in it.  I took all the kids I knew to look at the baby buzzards.  My feet were almost as tough as shoe leather and I could run through thick patches of grass burrs without any serious damage.  But added to all of this, I also was sick a lot.  Mainly earaches, but other stuff too. 

            When I had a fever, I would hallucinate some.  I tried to describe the feeling to Mama, but was not able to.  It was kind of like having a dream, and afterwards being almost able to recall the details, but not quite.  This happened to me many times over the years, but I finally grew out of it.  It was a strange feeling and scary too.  It would fill me with dread, but after I awoke it was gone.  After I started to school, I read about the “Grim Reaper” (“Death”), and wondered if he had come for me and that was that ephemeral presence that I felt and feared.

            Once when I had been sick with a fever, some man came to the house looking for some loggers, and wanted to know if we knew where they were working.  As it happened, I knew exactly where they were working.  It was way back near the northwest corner of our place, but I knew he would never find them, so I agreed to take him back there.  I was feeling some better, and thought I would be up to doing that.

            The details are kind of fuzzy as to how we got to where the loggers were, but we found them with no problem.  I left him and started back home, but somehow, I went the wrong way.  I walked, and walked before realizing that I had gone the wrong way.  If you have never been lost, then you cannot imagine the feeling that you have.  The whole world is somehow out of focus.  Nothing looks right to you, and you can come into ordinarily familiar circumstances and they will appear to be foreign.

            On this day I walked until I came to the edge of the timber, and I looked out upon a large pasture that I was quite sure I had never before seen before in my life.  In reality, I had seen it a good many times, for it was “Benny Boy” Waits place.  But by this time a mild panic had set in, and when that happens you lose your ability to think straight and reason things out.  I had reached that state.  I did not know north from south and I could not see one feature in the landscape that seemed the least bit familiar. 

            I wanted to run as fast as I could (this actually happens to most people who are completely and utterly lost) until I found something familiar.  But somehow I kept grip enough to overcome the urge to run.  I somehow felt I should turn to my right and continue walking, which I did.  After a little while I went back into the timber, but still nothing was familiar. 

            I had just about decided to change directions again when I heard guineas (guinea fowl) talking and recognized the sound.  I veered slightly toward the sound and in a minute I came out in a clearing and could see the back yard of a house.  This place did not look at all familiar to me, but I felt if I could see the front of the house, I might recognize it.  I skirted the house place and got around toward the front, but before I got a look at the front of the house, I looked back to my right and I could see our house across the pastures.  I was at the Dobbins place.

            I was so relieved at knowing where I was, that I sailed across the pastures until I was home.  It’s been written,“home is where the heart is”, and I do believe that is true, but home for me was also where Mama and my brothers and sisters were  -- (of course that is why my heart was there).

            I know Lloyd has been lost a time or two in the river bottom, so he would understand what I mean about the feeling of panic that one has.  I have been lost a few times since those days, but never that close to home.

            A brief story here about my brother James and brother-in-law Mournice Jones.  When James first came home from Hawaii near the end of WW II, he and Mournice went squirrel hunting.  They were walking and might have had a squirrel dog.  I don’t know.  But, they got lost.  James was kind of turned around and lost his direction (this is easy to do on overcast days).  They came out on a small country road that James didn’t recognize.  There was a house down the road a ways and James didn’t recognize it either.  He didn’t want anyone he knew to know he was lost, so he got Mournice to go up to the house to find out where they were.

            They were both dressed in Army fatigues.  Mournice went up to the house and called out and a woman came out.  She saw Mournice in the Army clothes and thought he was her nephew or some other relative home from the war and came running out and gave him a hug.  This was according to James, but I think Mournice denied the hug.  Anyway, they found out where they were and headed for home.

            I expect most of you have been turned around and temporarily lost.  This happens a lot when you are driving in strange areas.  You will never appreciate what being truly lost means --- until you are out in the country, walking, in a strange place with nightfall near and you without any idea about any direction except up and down and you aren’t too sure about them.

 

“More On Cars”

 

            We first made a timid step out of the “horse and buggy” (in our case the mule and wagon) age, when Lloyd came home from college to teach school and bought a car.  I use the term “car” loosely, for it was not much of one.  If my memory serves me, it was a 1928 Chevrolet (Lloyd says it was a ‘26’, ‘27’, ‘28’being assembled with parts from those three models).  We pushed that thing up and down the hills around our place.  In fact, I think we pushed it further than we ever rode in it.  But still, it was quite a step up.

            It wasn’t long before he got a pickup that he equipped with bench seats in the back and a cover over it.  I think he made the cover by erecting a frame and covering it with canvas.  This was a school bus and sure beat walking.  I have no idea how much he got for this “bus” service, but suppose he was paid a small stipend by the school board.   One of Lloyd’s vehicles burned, and I believe it was this one.  Whichever, I remember they refurbished the vehicle and, when I close my eyes, I can still smell the new paint that was used on it (this was probably the first paint that I had ever smelled).

            One time Patsy and I were walking from Brooks School toward home when someone came by in a car and offered us a ride.  This was an unusual occurrence since there were not many cars running up and down the roads as there are now.  I have no recollection of who these people were, but in the mile or so that I rode in the back seat of the car, I got carsick.  I was glad to get out of there.

            One of Lloyd’s cars had a bad fuel pump on it.  Fuel pumps in those days gave a lot of problems.  The synthetic rubber, neoprene, which is used in oil and gasoline service today, had not yet been invented, or if it had it was not yet being used in fuel pumps.  With this car, on level ground, the pump put up enough pressure to push gasoline up to the carburetor, but when going up a steep hill it did not.  There were two approaches to take.  If the hill was a short one, then picking up speed before you got to it so you could coast up and over it worked fine.  If it was a very long one, then the best bet was to back up the hill.  I don’t know how long this was a problem, but I do remember doing it a time or two when I was in the car.

            Once when I was in the car with Lloyd and James, the car quit over at the crossroads at the west foot of the Joe Williams hill.  They decided to siphon some gasoline out of the car to prime the carburetor.  I will never forget this.  James pushed the siphon hose into the tank and sucked on it.  I guess the gasoline came up quicker than he expected and he got some in his mouth and then in his face.  He must have got some down his throat, because he gagged, turned red in the face and really scared me.

            Luckily, he didn’t get much if any into his lungs, because it can be deadly.  People don’t realize how dangerous it is to siphon gasoline by mouth.  Mr. Ed Jones let one of his boys, (about my age and around 10 or 12 at the time) siphon some gasoline and he sucked some into his lungs and died.  Those two incidents always made me very careful where gasoline was concerned.

            The very first time that I ever drove a vehicle by myself was at Mr. Roy Gentry’s place.  There was an old flatbed truck there.  I don’t think Mr. Roy owned the truck, but he used it.  The time I speak of was in the spring and Mr. Roy was in the throes of planting his crop, and was in bad need of some help.  His boys were a little too young to be of much use, and I was too for that matter, but he had me drive the old truck along the edge of the field for him as he put out fertilizer that he got from the truck.  The truck ran real well, and I didn’t have to shift, as I was just puttering along the edge of the field.  Still, it was a big thrill for me.

            Uncle Frank Woods always liked big showy cars.  After WW II started, he moved his family to Houston and he got a pretty good job, I think with Brown and Root.  As his job status improved, so did the cars he drove.  They used to come up and always came by for a visit.  He was like a kid with a new toy and most always took me for a ride in his car.

            One time when Uncle Frank came, it had been raining and the roads were pretty bad.  I suppose he ran at the Joe Williams hill.  If you didn’t, then when you got up near the top of the steepest part, you would lose traction on the slick red clay surface.  That part of the hill ended just about the road (really a wagon road) to the Jimmerson place.  Well it was after dark and when Uncle Frank got past the slickest part of the hill I suppose he relaxed, and he slid off into the ditch on the north side of the road.

            Of course there was no getting out without help, so they left the car and walked on to our house.  The next morning we went up there and Odie Williams got their team of mules and tried to pull the car out, but it wouldn’t come.  Their footing was so bad in the mud that they just couldn’t get a good pull at it.

            Mr. Charlie Bridges came by in his car.  He had a 1938 or 1939 Ford sedan.  He told Uncle Frank that he thought he could pull him out of the ditch.  Mr. Charlie had a long chain that he hooked onto the car, which allowed him to get his car onto solid ground.  Sure enough, he pulled Uncle Frank’s car right out of the ditch.  Uncle Frank was really tickled until he asked Mr. Charlie what he owed him.  Mr. Charlie said $4.00 and Uncle Frank looked like he had swallowed something and it went down the wrong way.

            He paid the $4.00 dollars, but I doubt if he ever got over it.  But, that was the way Mr. Charlie was.  He drew a pension from the Army from WW I service (I heard he never got closer to combat than Oklahoma), loaned some money at what I was told were usurer rates, and didn’t do much of anything for nothing. 

I always enjoyed Uncle Frank bringing his family for a visit.  I loved Ruthie, and I liked Aunt Shadie a lot.  Vera was in the Army in those days and I didn’t see much of her.

            Brakes on cars, back then, were very unreliable.  I’ve been told that Chrysler held the patent on hydraulic brakes, and theirs were good.  Other cars though had mechanical brakes.  These worked much like the emergency brakes today.  When you pushed on the brake pedal, cables operated the brake shoes.  That was a very inefficient braking system.  As a consequence, people had to “gear” their cars down.  That is, you had to shift from high to second to begin slowing down, and then from second to first to slow down further.  This was fine if you had plenty of time and warning before needing to stop.

            I remember Uncle Jim Woods had an old car with absolutely no brakes.  In addition to that, he couldn’t hear thunder, so when he began gearing down, he almost always clashed the gears.  It was an experience riding with him.

            When I was very little, someone down the road from us had a large car that a small boy drove by on occasion.  I guess I once knew who he was, but I don’t have a clue now.  I bet my brothers and sisters know who that was.

            On cars then, the transmission was located just under the front floor of the car.  Shifting gears was accomplished via a lever sticking up out of the floor called the “gear shift”.  This lever moved the gears back and forth inside the transmission gear-case, and meshed gears according to which position you put it in.  I believe there was a spring that held it in the proper position.

            Somebody had a Model A Ford that would not stay in gear.  I believe it was Mr. Odie Williams.   He had to hold it in place when he was in reverse, first or second, but to hold it in third (where it was most of the time when driving), he had whittled out a stick and cut a notch in one end of it.  He slipped the notch over the lever, just below the knob on top, and then placed the other end in one of the recessed gauges on the dashboard.  This worked very well.  People had to make do with what they had.

            My kids get aggravated with me on occasion, because I’m always trying to make do, instead of just spending money to do it the easy way.

“The School Bus”

 

            Except for my brother, Lloyd, Mr. Gray Waldrop is the first School Bus driver that I remember.  Mr. Gray was a fine, well-respected man.  He went out of his way to be kind and generous to everyone.  As was the custom then, Mr. Gray owned his own school bus and drove it under contract with the school district. 

            The school bus then was just a wooden box fastened onto a truck chassis.  The box was made almost entirely of wood, with small windows that could be raised and lowered for ventilation when needed (of course there was no air conditioner, but there was a heater), but you know, I don’t remember ever being too hot or too cold on the bus.

            Benches were installed along each outside wall and then two benches were installed, back-to-back down the center of the bus.  The center benches ended about three feet from the back of the bus.  This was to allow kids from each side of the bus access to the emergency door in the center at the rear of the bus.  The bus roof, which was flat, was probably about five feet high.  Adults and taller kids had to stoop to walk down the aisles

            After I started to school in Carthage (in the ninth grade), we frequently stopped at Fairplay in the mornings, and always stopped in the afternoon.  All of the kids would storm off the bus and go into the store.  At that time it was usually Mr. Hugh (Mutt) Browning’s store that we frequented. 

            I remember one day when I didn’t have any money, I went in and got a candy bar (a nickel bar) unnoticed with all the other kids milling around, and went out without paying for it.  I was old enough to know better, and my conscience never let up until I was able to go the next day and confess to Miss Jaunita (Mrs. Hugh Browning) and give her the money for the candy bar.  I never again took anything (on purpose) without paying for it.

            After Mr. Gray gave up driving the bus, his brother-in-law, Mr. Obie Pellham took it over.  He drove the bus my last couple of years in school.  Mr. Obie was not the driver that Mr. Gray was, nor did the kids like him as well, but he was a good man.  Mr. Obie had a lot of trouble navigating the bad roads and we got stuck a lot.

            Of course when we got stuck, sometimes all the kids would have to get off the bus, and always the larger boys had to get out and push.  I’ve gone to school a good many times with my shoes and sometimes my clothes wet and muddy.   I remember once, I slipped in the mud and to keep from falling, I staggered over directly behind the rear wheels on the bus.  This was not the place to be, because when the driver gave the bus the gas, the wheels would spin and throw a stream of mud and water to the rear.  I was covered with red mud from my feet to the top of my head.

            I remember a couple of times when the small creeks were over the road, when I waded water ahead of the bus to see if the bridge was still there before the bus would try to cross.  These were small wooden bridges with no super-structure so were not visible at all when covered with water.

            Mr. Obie had so much trouble navigating the Joe William hill, that he refused to try it for quite a spell one year and I had to walk over to Mr. Ben Weir’s house to catch the bus.  This didn’t hurt me one bit, but I didn’t like it and I fussed at Mr. Obie about it to no avail.  There for quite a long time, when you could kick up dust on the hill, he refused to go past Mr. Ben’s house.  I finally reported this to the School Superintendent and that got him going again, but we were never on good terms after that.

            Mr. Obie was always imagining things were wrong with the bus.  He would hear a noise and stop the bus along the road and get out to look.  I don’t remember us ever having a mechanical failure.  One time some of us boys came up with a scheme to trick him.  We got one of those real large firecrackers and tied a string around it.

            The plan was to light the fuse on the firecracker and quickly push it out through a hole in the back door (where there had been a lock).  Several of us boys were ganged up back there (this was not unusual), and we had everything ready.  We had not practiced the actual procedure we had devised and as frequently happens it did not go according to plan.

            I don’t remember who was to do what, but one boy lit the fuse, and another was to push the firecracker out the hole.  The string got caught on something and the firecracker fell, not out through the hole, but to the floor of the bus.  When this happened there was a sudden exodus of kids from that area just before the firecracker exploded. 

            With the loud bang (no one was injured), Mr. Obie slammed on the brakes, pulled off the road, jumped out and ran around the bus a couple of times trying to figure out what had happened.  In a little bit he got back on the bus, and must have noticed the cloud of smoke still inside the back of the bus, but didn’t say anything.  We went on to school, and he never did say anything to me about that incident though he did find out what had happened from some of the other kids.  He reported it to the School Principal (my cousin Andrew Woods) and some of us got called in and scolded about it.

            Mr. Gray Waldrop and Mr. Obie Pellham both lived by Waldrop Cemetery.  They, at various times, took different routes in picking up the kids.   Suffice it to say that it was a winding, roundabout way over some rough and sometimes very bad roads.  I estimate the distance over the dirt country roads at 15 to 20 miles and then 10 or 12 miles from Fairplay to Carthage.  The 25 or 30 mile trip would take about an hour each morning and another in the afternoon.  On that old bouncing rough bus it was not an enjoyable ride.

            In the winter the bus came by our house a good while before daylight and didn’t get home until nearly dark.  The school days were longer then than they are now.  I believe we were in school from 7:30 to 4:00 with a 30 minute lunch break.

 

“Slides”

 

            I bet most of you thought sleds were used only in snow.  Well that was not the case when I was growing up, but I expect it might be now.

            I don’t know where the custom of using sleds (we called them slides) on the farm came from, but it was a very good thing.  Most of the farm sleds that I ever saw were of the same design, although in different sizes.  There were two runners (or skids, usually 2” by 6” to 2 x12”) boards six or eight feet in length.  These were spaced the desired distance apart and a floor was attached.  Usually 1” x 12” boards were used to make sideboards around the floor so you could haul things without them falling off.

            The runners at the front were cut at an angle to keep them from digging into the ground.  At the front end of the runners something was attached to which a team or a single animal could be hooked to pull the thing.  For the larger sleds, a doubletree and two single trees were attached.  A doubletree is a wooden pivot bar attached to the object to be pulled.  A singletree is attached to a hook on each end of the doubletree.  Then a horse or mule is hooked via trace chains to hooks on each end of each singletree.

            If you hooked an animal directly to each side of the object being pulled, they would be jerking you from side to side as one pulled and then the other.  With the doubletree and the singletrees and their pivot points, it doesn’t matter which of the animals is pulling, the force is always centered on the object being pulled.

While I am explaining that, I might as well explain the harness for the horses or mules.  First there is a bridle (made from leather).  The bridle consists of a strap that runs from one side of a metal bit, (the bit fits into the horse’s mouth) up alongside and over the head behind the ears and down the other side to connect to the other side of the bit.  Usually there are two straps across the head from the vertical straps.  One of these is above the eyes and the other is across the nose.  Reins are attached to another ring on each end of the bit.  When the reins are pulled, the bit rolls in the horse’s mouth (it is not straight) and causes some discomfort.  This alerts the animal that you wish it to do something different.

            A padded collar slips around the horse’s neck.  This collar is somewhat oval and opens via a strap at the top.  The collar is slipped onto the neck and then the strap is secured at the top.  The collar must be sized and fitted so that it will fit snugly around the neck and rest on the swell of the shoulders and chest.  The collar is wide on the back and formed to transfer pressure to those well-padded muscles.  At the front of the collar is a rounded roll and a groove into which the hames (one on each side) are placed.  The hames are made of wood and metal strips, and are attached by a strap at the top and then after placing onto the collar, are fastened by a similar strap at the bottom.

            There is a chain (trace chain) attached to the hame on each side that is then hooked to the singletree.  When the animal pulls, it is pulling with its shoulders.  There are all kinds of harness rigs with straps running across the animal’s backs and under their bellies with the trace chains fastened to them.  Some rigs have a strap (a martingale) from the bridle that runs between the forelegs and attaches to these other straps.

            Our harness was simple, with a single strap across the back and none under the belly.  The reins from the bridle passed through a ring attached to the hame on each side.  This harness could be quickly placed onto or removed from an animal.  With an average animal in reasonably good condition, the work force generated was equal to, what else? One (1) horsepower.

            Back to the slides.  These things were extremely useful around the farm.  They were easily pulled even when loaded, if the soil was firm, and they were easier to load and unload than a wagon.  We hauled fertilizer and seed to the field when fertilizing and planting, hauled watermelons and other produce in from the field, and even hauled firewood on our slide.

              Slides ran extremely well on grass.  When on grass the bottoms of the skids would become polished and very shiny and slick from the juice from the grass and weeds.  I would frequently gallop our horse John when I had him hooked to our slide.  That made for an exciting ride.  Being so close to the ground it seemed as if we were really flying.

            .

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