Chapter 2 Section A
The following accounts of the days of my childhood are given as I remember them after these many years. I am sure important items have been omitted because I do not remember the details. I believe that what I have written is rather accurate, and I hope it will be of interest to the reader.
Naturally the "facts" about my actual birth are not anything I remember at all, but I'm sure they are accurate. According to my baby book, I was born at 3:50 PM, August 16, 1917, and weighed seven and one half pounds. I was born in the same farm house and exactly the same room where my Dad was born. Our home was on a farm five miles south of Hutchinson in Reno County, Kansas, near the community of Darlow.
The name on my birth certificate is "Glen Deal McMurry." Mom told me that Grandpa McMurry told the doctor to write "Glen" and that no one corrected the error. Mom intended to have it spelled "Glenn." For over seventy years my name has been spelled with two N's on all other official papers, so I'll finish the rest of my life spelling my name the way my Mom wanted it. Of course, my middle name, Deal, is my Mom's maiden name. That's as close as I came to having a hyphenated last name which seems to be an increasingly popular practice today.
I don't seem to have a baby picture of myself. In 1917 cameras weren't common place things. These two photos of me are the earliest I have. The first was no doubt taken by a professional. It might have been near my first birthday. The second was taken at about two and one-half years. I believe it was about then when Dad got his first camera. From that age on there seem to be lots of pictures. On the back of one picture Mom wrote that Dad was reading his camera book and he counted to 8 as the book said as he took the picture.
Kansas, The Wheat State
Perhaps I should just say a brief word about my native state of Kansas.
Most of Kansas is a plain. There are a few hills, especially in the
northeast part of the state. It has been known as an agricultural state
for most of its history. However, Wichita, Kansas, especially since World
War II, has been famous as a center for the building of airplanes. Nevertheless,
for years the best-known nicknames for my home state have been "The Wheat
State" or "The Breadbasket of the World" because of the many bushels of
hard winter wheat that are raised there. At one time Hutchinson claimed
to have the largest grain elevator in the world. Kansans will also brag
that they grow the finest hard winter wheat in the world! My family was
always proud to be Kansas farmers, even through the dust storms and the
I name Darlow as my birthplace because that was the town where we got our mail. It was a small town about four miles south and west of our farm. It was the right distance from Hutchinson to be a "watering" place for the Rock Island Railroad trains heading south. Therefore, it had a train station and a post office. When I was a child the town also had a grain elevator, blacksmith shop, merchandise store, and the very important telephone office. Telephones in the early days were rather simple arrangements if judged by modern times. The system consisted of a single wire stretched between the company and the ten to fifteen homes it served on each line. The ground wire for the system was just a rod driven into the ground at the location of each telephone. Those telephones worked, but like lots of early inventions, they had drawbacks. One big problem was noise on the line.
A bigger problem, which was a real hazard, was that the telephone wires attracted lightning. Electrical storms were rather frequent in our area, and everyone was warned to stay away from the telephone during such storms. I remember a number of times seeing sparks caused by lightning coming from our phone. Lightning can cause weird things to happen. I've heard of fire balls dropping from the telephone and rolling out into the room.
Rods tipped with copper, called lightning rods, were recommended as a possible way to prevent lightning from striking buildings. We had them on both the house and the barn. Many times I saw sparks feed out from their points during electrical storms. It was always a frightening experience.
Lightning rods were advertised widely. I well remember how salesmen at the state fair demonstrated their value in protecting buildings. Anyone watching their displays had to be impressed. I was, especially when they showed a live mouse get electrocuted in an unprotected house!
A great disadvantage to our phone system was the lack of privacy. Everyone had the opportunity to listen in on everyone else, and if one desired, join right in the conversation. Yes, the party-line system, as it was called, kept people posted on all the current news, both private and public.
I remember one story that went the rounds about the party line. One day a man, sensing that many housewives were listening to his conversation, said in a strong voice, "All right, you old biddies, you just as well hang up. I'm going to talk about bulls!" Clickety, clickety, click went the receivers! In those days "nice" women with impeccable modesty didn't listen to talk about such things as "bulls."
Emergencies requiring the entire community's help were announced by the phone companies in the small communities. Since fires were frequent in the surrounding area, such an alarm system was important. When a fire was discovered, the telephone operator was notified. The emergency signal was ten rings on all phones on the line. Sometimes neighboring phone companies were also notified and they rang all telephones on their lines with the same ten-ring signal. All able-bodied persons were expected to drop whatever they were doing, rush to the fire, and bring with them all the shovels and burlap bags they could find. Burlap bags soaked in water are an excellent way to smother a fire in a dry wheat field.
Barn fires were sometimes started by lightning, extreme summer heat, a carelessly tossed match, or, in one instance I remember, a little child playing with matches just to see them ablaze. That day by the time the cry went out "Fire, fire, the barn is burning!" it was too late to put out the fire. The barn burned to the ground. Later our neighbor's little son remorsefully confessed that he had been playing with matches and started the fire.
A barn or house fire is an awesome sight! People from miles around would always come to watch a good fire! Occasionally farm animals were killed in the barn fire, but people were usually spared. I do have one memory of a house fire in which a neighbor, Mrs. Annadown, died. I remember how I felt as I watched the burning house, knowing that Mrs. Annadown was burning up in it right before my eyes. Horror of horrors! The old party-line system, which had served fairly well to alert the community to emergencies, was never very satisfactory for private conversations. If you wanted to talk to someone on your line, you could just ring their ring by turning the handle around to get the proper number and combination of long and short rings. However, if you wanted to talk to anyone not on your line, say someone in Hutchinson, the following conversation took place after you rang one long ring.
"Darlow," the operator would respond when you rang.
"Hutchinson, please," you would say. Soon, if you were lucky and all the lines were working right, the Hutchinson operator would answer.
"Number, please," she would say. Usually in those days, the switchboard operators were women. I suppose they were thought to have hands better suited to plugging in and taking out the cords.
"1149W, please," the caller would say. Generally, in the larger phone systems, such as in the city of Hutchinson, four homes were on a given line and had the same four-figure number ending in one of four letters. I can't remember what the four letters were. I do know that two stood for one long ring and the other two stood for two short rings. The number "1149W" was my grandmother's and "W" meant one ring. She could hear the two short rings of the other person on her half of the four-party line. If she happened to pick up the receiver when any of the other three on her line were talking, she could hear them. The system did allow for some private lines, but they were more expensive, and most of the people I knew were on a four-party line.
By the early 40's most of the smaller towns around Hutchinson joined
that telephone system. Of course, one still had to tell the operator the
number of the person to whom you wished to speak. It was years later before
we had telephones with dials and could dial directly to people in our immediate
area. Of course, even more years went by before we could dial virtually
anyone in the United States.
Although our mail came to Darlow, our school and church were in the little town of Elmer to the east of us. When my grandparents lived in Elmer, it had a post office. It wasn't long, however, before the post office was closed and all mail was either routed from Hutchinson or Darlow.
The principal roads in the state were laid out in miles. However, the railroads cut across these mile sections wherever necessary to shorten the distances between towns. Often towns, such as Darlow and Elmer, were built somewhere along the railroads.
Elmer, just as was the case with Darlow, was the right distance from Hutchinson to be a "watering" place for the train engines. The Missouri Pacific Railroad was the rail line through Elmer running southeast toward Wichita.
In each community, by law, land was allocated for a school. At Elmer the school and the church, which was a Methodist Church, were built on adjoining plots. In addition to the church and school, Elmer had a number of homes, a store, blacksmith shop, grain elevator, and train station. Indeed it was a flourishing Kansas town in the late l890's and early 1900's. It was where the farmers, for miles around, hauled their grains and other produce in order to market them. However, by the time I came along, there were left only three or four old empty houses, the church, school, train station and the grain elevator.
As a child, I was always interested in watching the trains. As far as I was concerned, the train through Elmer went only from Hutchinson to Wichita and back again, stopping at Elmer and Haven on its way. Of course, I now know that it went much farther, but I would have difficulty even today identifying any other points on its routine run. I suppose a train buff could fill me in on the missing details.
As I mentioned above, the railroad tracks cut across the country, ignoring
the neat square miles laid out by our forefathers. They needed less rail
that way. Dad always told me that the shortest way to get is the way a
crow flies. The railroad track and that crow proved to me that I should
cut across the neighbors' fields to go to school. I had made paths that
I religiously walked on morning and night. Of course, I would break the
rule sometimes to see what might be interesting along the creek bottom.
Going to Town
Saturday morning in the late 1920's and early 1930's was usually the time for the entire McMurry family to go to town. "Going to town" meant, of course, loading the family into the Model-T and heading for Hutchinson, our nearest city. This is a good place to tell about that Model-T.
The Model-T wasn't new when Dad got it. It was a "second-hand" car, but no one cared about that. It was our family car, and now we didn't have to ride in the truck. Getting enough money together to buy it had been a problem for Mom and Dad. As I remember the cost was $80, which seemed like lots of money to us at the time. It was a black sedan, and we were quite proud of it.
"Gassing up," as it was called, was quite an operation. The gas tank was under the driver's seat. After opening the passenger-side door, and lifting the driver's seat out of the way, the gas cap could be taken off and the gas hose could be shoved into the tank.
We got our gas at Cruppers' Station, one half mile from our farm. At that time the gas stations in our farm area had no electric pumps. The driver of the gas truck had the laborious job of hand carrying the gas in five-gallon buckets to the main tank. It wasn't unusual to have one-hundred to two-hundred gallons of gas delivered in that way. During harvest or plowing season, more gas would be needed.
Most stations would have only one or two individual dispensers. At the top of each dispenser was a ten-gallon glass container, always round, which had one-gallon markings painted on it. The customary rubber hose with a spigot controlled the flow of gas to the car tank. Since the flow of gas was gravity controlled, and since the glass container was higher than eye level, you couldn't always be sure you were getting your money's worth. This was especially true if you wanted less than ten gallons. Just as today, an inspector would periodically check the accuracy of the markings on the ten-gallon containers.
We didn't have a gauge on our Model-T to indicate how much gas was in the tank so Dad would keep a small ruler available to stick into the tank opening to help him determine when he needed gas. While the tank was being filled, Dad had to hold his eye close to the hole and watch carefully to see how full the tank was getting. Although he must have breathed a few fumes that way, it was more of a disaster to let the tank overflow! When that happened, gas would run all over the car frame and onto the ground. Wow! What a fire hazard!
I must describe how Dad and Mom got into their seats. Dad was always the driver, and, of course, Mom was in the passenger seat. Since the brake lever was in the way if one tried to get in or out on the driver's side, most of the time Dad entered from the passenger side. To get into the car, Dad would fold the back of the passenger seat down, raise the seat up from the back, and then push it forward. Next he could crawl across and get into his seat. After that, he'd unfold the seat to its proper position and Mom would get in. Of course, the back seat was reserved for us kids. When I was small, Mom would sometimes hold me on her lap and I'd have a grandstand view, or, maybe just a good place to take a nap. Too bad that the law will no longer allow a child to be held on a comfortable lap during a ride in the car.
Before our road to town was paved, there was lots of sand on it. After a nice rain, the county crews would grade the road and it was OK. However, when the hot winds would loosen the sand, driving was dangerous. The Model-T wheels with their skinny tires didn't work too well in sand, that's for sure. If Dad had to contend with loose sand, he had to be careful to keep the front wheels from cramping, or we might find ourselves in the ditch.
The road to town wasn't paved until the late 20's. First they paved
from Cruppers' Corner north to Hutchinson. Later on the pavement was finished
south from Cruppers' Corner for several miles. Then, from our driveway
all the way into Hutchinson, we no longer had to worry about that sandy
road. How we enjoyed that pavement!
The City of Hutchinson
For a long time, Hutchinson, our closest city, was very near the geographical center of the United States. With the admission of Alaska and Hawaii, of course, that geographical center was changed. The city, incorporated in 1871, was named after it's founder, C.C. Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson was a Santa Fe agent and was instrumental in having that railroad go through his town. The railroad needed watering places along its route and the Arkansas River was a natural. Incidentally, that river isn't pronounced like the State of Arkansas. It's the Ar-kan'sas River.
Since Hutchinson was, and still is, the County Seat for Reno County, one of the main structures in town is the County Court House. Mr. Hutchinson was elected the Reno County representative in January, 1872. Although some maintained that the election was of "questionable legality," nevertheless, Mr. Hutchinson went to the capital at Topeka with a purpose. He wanted his town to be chosen as the County Seat, and he managed to rearrange the boundaries of several surrounding counties so that Hutchinson would be situated in the center of Reno County.
When I was a child, among the things the city was noted for were the railroads that crossed through it, the salt mines, the Kansas State Fair, the potash plant, the strawboard plant and the State Reformatory. I'm not sure about the potash and strawboard plants, but the other things are still there. For many years Huchinson has been known as "The Salt City." Surrounding the city are farms where poultry, dairy and beef cattle, hogs, corn, alfalfa, milo maize, and, above all, hard winter wheat are raised.
The city of Hutchinson is laid out in rectangular grids. Also, the streets are named in a very simplified way. Sherman Street is the central east and west street, and Main Street is the central north and south street. North of Sherman, the streets are numbered, First, Second, and so on. South of Sherman, they are letters of the alphabet, beginning with "A." I'm not sure just how far down the alphabet they go. The last I can remember is "G." East of Main, the streets have the names of trees, and west of Main, the names of presidents in order of their terms of office. The first is Washington, of course, but again I'm not sure just how far they go.
I don't know whether all that makes any difference to you, but who knows, someday you might drive through Hutchinson. If you do, you might also want to know that the Santa Fe Railroad cuts through town, east and west near Third Street. The depot was, and probably still is, near Main and 3rd Streets. In those days, the old steam trains roared through town.
In my files from an old issue of "The Hutchinson News" were these pictures showing how Hutchinson looked in 1888. Incidentally, "The Hutchinson News" has been the town's newspaper since the city was founded.
The Woolworth building and the Dillon delicatessen plant mentioned are also long gone from the scene.
Hutchinson is north of the Arkansas River. South of the river is the small town of South Hutchinson. It hasn't changed too much since I lived on the farm, except there are more houses there now, and the school and churches are now modern buildings. To my Dad and Mom, South Hutchinson was the place to get plow shares sharpened, get harnesses fixed, sell some of our farm products, buy feed and do other things that didn't call for crossing the Arkansas River bridge into Hutchinson.
To me it was always exciting to cross the Arkansas River bridge. The level of the river depended upon the amount of recent rain. Before the canal was constructed northwest of the city, the river would sometimes overflow and sweep across the city of Hutchinson with a roar. I have waded in water three or four feet deep on Main Street. I remember one time during a flood we were visiting my aunts. I decided to go across the street to the little grocery store to get some candy, and almost got sucked into a drainage intake. It was fun in that swirling water until I suddenly realized the danger I was in. We not only had floods, we also had long dry spells. During a dry season there would be so little water one could say the river didn't really "run," but was just still pools of water.
The pictures below were taken during the flood of 1929.
1st and Main Streets
2nd and Main Streets
Sante Fe Train Stalled
People on the Bridge between Hutchinson and South Hutchinson
Watching the Rising Water in the Arkansas River
5th and Main Streets
(Note the water tank which has been raised out of the ground)
After crossing the bridge, we'd go north on Main Street to Avenue "B." Mammel's Grocery Store was there, and it was usually our first stop. It was also the last stop as we started for home. There we sold our eggs and cream we had saved through the previous week, and we would then have money for shopping.
My memories are vivid of some of the stores along Main Street, especially Wileys, Pegues and Wright, Kress's, Woolworth, Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and Mammel's Grocery.
Usually, I went to shop with Mom and my sister, Helen. Junior, my older
brother, and my Dad usually went to the hardware, feed, machinery, and
other "men's" stores. All of the "men's" stores were exciting for me, too,
but most of the time I had to go with Mom. Junior was four years older
than I, and when we were children, those years made a big difference. Junior
was the "big" man and I was just a little boy. Frankly, he let me know
I always wanted to look for toys in the stores. The folks didn't have much money to spend on such things, but I enjoyed looking at them. I thought that was the name of the game! Once in a while Mom would give me a dime to buy a toy or a piece of candy.
One colored clay marble stored in a piece of hard marshmallow-type candy was attractive to me. It cost one penny! These marbles were always of the cheapest kind, of course. It was better when I could get a large bag of those colored clay "peewee" marbles. The "shooters" were always larger and made of glass. They were called "glassies." Usually a bag held only one or two of those. Most of the time a bag would cost more than I had. I'd just hope to get one for a gift.
The "Five and Dime" stores always had lots of cheap pewter molded toys. They weren't much good as they were soft and would melt by the heat of a match. They would also bend and break easily. There were always many kinds of soldiers and related war toys. I guess they were getting me ready for World War II at that time!
The more durable and more expensive toys were made of cast iron. There were cars, tractors, trains, fire wagons, people and animals of all sorts. They would break when dropped on the cement, however. Horses were my favorite. What fun it was to play with a team of glassy white or black horses drawing a neat little wagon.
Mechanical things were exciting to me. Even a "jack-in-the-box" was intriguing. For me, it wasn't enough just to watch it work. I wanted to know how it worked!
I'd always think, "Maybe I can improve the gadget that makes it work!"
The Money Movers
Early in my childhood I observed things around me intently, and some of the most interesting things to me in the stores were money movers.
My first example is the basket system. Many times I observed how the clerks in the stores operated it.
I would fantasize about riding in one of those baskets. I could have jumped upon the counter and gotten into that basket easily, I thought. Then that clerk could have raised me up! Wait! I think it would have been easier for me to get in at the top end. What fun that would have been rolling down that wire!
The technology for such a system didn't include electricity. It was entirely mechanical.
"Straight as a crow flies," was one of my Dad's favorite expressions. That was the principle used for the wires operating the baskets. From the main cashier's office on the upper floor, wires were stretched which sloped downward to a point above each clerk's station.
On each clerk's counter was a basket made of light wire designed to transport sales slips and money. It was about the size of a hand-carried shopping basket found in today's markets. A clerk, after completing a sale, would prepare the sales slip, take the customer's money, and place both in a basket.
Hanging from above, one on each side of the basket, were cords with wooden handles. The clerk, ready to transmit his materials, would pull the right cord raising the basket up to a strategic point above him. There was sort of a "doohickey" on the main cable, that, when it sensed the arrival of a basket, would stop it. Next came the hard part!
The cord on the basket's left side was attached to that doohickey. When the clerk grabbed the wooden handle and pulled hard on that cord it first compressed a strong spring. Then suddenly, at a particular moment, the spring was released, shoving the basket along the main wire upward to the cashier's office.
When the cashier was ready to return the basket to "home base," gravity did the rest of the job. What could be easier?
Can you imagine what happened when the basket "pull" wasn't yanked hard enough to get the basket to the top! Well, gravity would gradually bring the basket and its contents to a grinding stop, and then would cause the basket to fall back to its former position. Then the clerk must "jerk" that cord again. If, for some ungodly reason, it took several jerks to get that basket up to the cashier, the poor clerk would be embarrassed as he continued to yank on that handle. I noticed that most of the clerks assigned to that job were men. True, it took muscle to get the basket where it belonged on the first try. Many "dainty" ladies didn't have the strength to do that job. I guess that would be called sexist discrimination to-day!
Since this basket-type system had only one tight wire stretched from each clerk's station to the cashier, only one basket could be used at a time. It was a slow process. The "box" shuttle system, which is my next example, was quite a big improvement over the basket system.
I knew about two shuttle systems, the electrical/mechanical and the vacuum. To me the electrical/mechanical was the more interesting. I will describe it first the best I can.
Instead of a basket, this one had a flat metal box about five inches long, three inches wide, and one and a quarter inch deep. The top of the box was hinged so that it could be opened. The sales slips and money had to be pressed into it very tightly so the lid could be closed and snapped shut securely.
On each side of the box was a small flat piece of metal used to guide it along its way. On the bottom was a small pinching device used to clamp it onto an elastic cord which was the source of locomotion.
The endless elastic cord was threaded throughout the system and pulled along by an electric motor "thingamajig" in the cashier's room. I never saw it because it was out of my view. You are lucky or I would be trying to describe that, too.
I do know, however, that the motor and its cord were strong enough to pull many boxes continuously and flawlessly day after day.
The backbone of the system was a maze of metal rods suspended from the ceiling of the store with small, but strong, wires. Each shuttle box had to slide along on these small metal rods, up and down throughout the circular system, and skip all encoded stations until it got to its destination. After the cashier did his job, the change, if any, and the proper paper work were reloaded and the box was shuttled back.
Remember, it was an idiot system! It went around and around and that was it. There was no reversing of the power system. Leaving the cashier's station, the box had to go through the entire system until it got back home!
I know you will ask, "How did they program that shuttle to know how to select only its own route?" Frankly, I was never able to figure out that coding. I do know that things worked very well, and very fast!
The other system for moving the sales slips and money about was powered by vacuum. It was really a very simple system, consisting of a maze of pipes and cylindrical capsules.
The only things I could see were the two rather large pipes on the wall behind the clerk's station. They were connected together with an ingenious door system controlling the direction of the vacuum. Actually the two pipes I could see were part of a continuous pipe system going somewhere, I didn't know exactly where. What I did know was that the paper work and money were moved from clerk to cashier and back again in a capsule which was sucked through these pipes.
The capsule was cylindrical in shape, some eight inches long and about two and one half inches across. The end, or cap, could be unscrewed permitting sales slip and money to be inserted. When the cashier completed his job, he would push the capsule into his pipe. "Szzzuup!" That was the sound of the vacuum sucking it up. When the capsule got back, "Wham!" That was the sound of it coming out of the pipe and dropping into the padded box below.
What really happened was that at either station, the capsule was "sucked" to its next destination. You just interrupted the stream of air with the ingenious door system, by slipping that capsule into the line of air in the pipe.
Unique, right? It was sort of a mystery to me. The only thing I could see was, well, practically nothing! It was a waiting game!
I understood the whole thing better by comparing it to sucking water or air through a dry Kansas wheat straw. Or, if you are a city dude, sucking a fountain drink through a soda straw. In this case a capsule, containing money and sales slips, was sucked through a pipe encasement.
By the way, I want to diverge a little at this point to explain something about the anatomy of the wheat straw.
All wheat stems, when green, move the "staff of life" from roots to the head. What I am about to say applies to the very, very dead and well-dried plant. The stems can then be called straws.
After selecting a very nice fat long straw, remove the joints from the ends. There is no reason to get a knife or pair of scissors, just bite them off. Now you can either blow or suck water or air through the straw. Incidentally, the joint is where the leaves branch out, and you can't blow air through a joint!
Money movers, such as those described above, were replaced by hand-
operated cash registers, and then electrical ones. The computer systems
now used by stores couldn't have even been imagined when I was a child.
However, at that time, simple cash registers were a big improvement over
the money boxes used by some of the stores. Small stores didn't even have
locks on their money boxes. I even think those first cash registers might
have brought some customers into the store just to watch them work. I know
I always wanted to spend time in the stores where they were, and I certainly
wasn't what you could call a paying customer.
The Grocery Store
Even after a long tiring day in town, walking all over Hutchinson, we couldn't go home until we had stopped at the grocery store. There were always a few things we needed to tide us over before the next trip to town. Although Dad might go to town during the week for delivering milk, buying machinery repairs and picking up emergency foodstuffs, Saturday was the regular day for grocery shopping.
I have clear memories of the Mammel's grocery store. It was a typical mercantile store. The stock was displayed on the shelves behind the counters. Each clerk had his own pencil and a pack of sales tickets. Also the well-dressed clerk would wear an apron displaying the store's name in an artistic manner.
That pack of sales slips was interesting. A good clerk always had one available for the next customer he was going to help. Each pack had an original white sheet, a yellow sheet and a tissue-like sheet that stayed in the pack. In between the sheets were carbons. The more packs a clerk could use in a day, the better clerk he was considered to be.
Mom and Dad, or either, would select a good spot along the counter and find the clerk they wanted. Although they knew all the clerks in the store, they usually selected Mr. Mammel, if possible. He was the owner of the store. I don't know how long Dad and Mom had known the Mammel family, but, as far as I was concerned, it was forever! He was not only the owner, but also the general manager and record keeper. He might have had an accountant to help with the records, but in those days record keeping was much more simple than it is today with all the government regulations. It seemed that everyone in Hutchinson and on the surrounding farms knew "Vivian," or Mr. Mammel. His was one of the original "Pop and Mom" groceries.
After exchanging greetings, Mom and Dad told the clerk what they wanted and he carefully wrote everything on the sales slip. Next he went around in the store picking up the needed items and putting them on the folks' spot on the counter. This was not a help-yourself market. The clerks chose all the items from the shelves.
"Don't forget the baloney and cheese, Fred," Mom might say. "We have to make sandwiches for the kids' lunches." Dad would then go to the meat counter and tell the butcher what he wanted. The butcher would put a piece of white paper on the counter and select a long piece of baloney.
"How much do you want?" he would ask.
Dad usually bought about a pound as baloney would spoil if left in the icebox too long.
The butcher would clamp the baloney onto the cutter, and after asking how thick Dad wanted it sliced, would adjust the cutting blade. It was fun to watch him turn the crank and slice the baloney. When he thought he had cut about the right amount, he'd pick up the paper with the baloney on it and put it on his scales.
The butcher would pride himself on judging just the right amount for the customer. Then he could say, "How's that, exactly one pound! Anything else for you, today?"
"Yes, I need a wedge of Longhorn cheese," Dad might say. "About three pounds of it."
The ten-inch round of cheese would then be rolled onto the cutting board, and with a monstrous knife the butcher would cut a hunk he thought was the right size.
Sometimes if he cut too much he'd have to ask if Dad minded taking a little more and usually Dad would just say "That's fine. Wrap it up."
The butcher always marked the prices on each package with a red wax pencil, and Dad took them back to the original clerk to add to his sales slip.
The clerk would usually double check the list to be sure all prices were correct, and all items were in the pile. Before adding cash registers, or calculators appeared on the scene, all addition was done by hand. Then the clerk would ask whether the folks were paying cash or charging today's groceries. If Dad wanted to charge, he'd sign the sales slip. Otherwise the clerk would collect the money and take it to the cash register. Whether he charged or paid cash, the customer would be given the yellow sheet from the sales book. The clerk then had to put the white original slip on a sharp metal spike about six inches long, mounted on a block of wood or metal. His last responsibility was to find a box or boxes in which to put all the folks' purchases.
Mr. Mammel didn't have any type of "money mover" in his store. In fact, I never did see one in a grocery store in Hutchinson.
A passing thought! There was a time when the owners thought it was important
to have "scads" of clerks to serve the customers. Of course, that was before
all the goods were out in the open and customers could pick and choose.
Today it is too often hard to find a clerk just to get a question answered,
and when you are ready to pay, you usually must wait in line. However,
considering all the choices we have in our modern grocery stores, I guess
we shouldn't complain about anything.
Christmas Time in Town
Although going to town on Saturdays was usually a rather ordinary event, Christmas time was different. It definitely was NOT ordinary. For us kids especially, it was a happening! Just driving through the streets of Hutchinson was exciting!
The city began to take on the Christmas appearance just as Thanksgiving was over. As we drove up Main Street, we passed under strings of colored lights. These were attached to cables strung between light poles on each side of the street. In addition to the lights, there were wreaths, red and white bells, and holly and cedar greenery. Also, depending upon the creativity of the artisans and, of course, the money available, special decorations were hung from each light pole. Sometimes there were giant candles, about three feet high, attached to each side of the light poles. What a scene, not only for the kids, but for everyone!
Christmas trees? Yes, especially fir and pine trees. They were found both inside and outside the stores. They were covered with colorful decorations, artificial snow, streaming icicles and lights.
The larger department stores would have decorated windows. We would walk up and down the sidewalks to see the religious and animated storybook scenes. Stores with plenty of window space could have a sequence of such scenes. Of course, Santa Claus would be found in many of the stores. It never occurred to me how he could be in so many places at one time.
As soon as the technology was available, recorded Christmas music was provided, both inside and outside the stores. Of course, the Salvation Army always had the kettles and tinkling bells going.
I will have to write about Christmas at home at a later time.
The Convention Hall
I don't know when the convention hall was constructed in Hutchinson, but it caused lots of controversy. It was a very large building and the city fathers apparently had pondered for some time just where it should be built. Some smart promoter proposed covering Cow Creek with the building. Wouldn't that be a great way to utilize that practically worthless piece of real estate? Well, that's exactly what happened. The hall was built over Cow Creek, which was really a canal that had been made to handle run-off water from the Arkansas River during heavy rains. Even I, as a kid, couldn't understand the wisdom of placing a large building there.
Unfortunately, the engineers in charge of building Cow Creek had underestimated the amount of water that might flow through it. It wasn't even wide enough to handle the water during ordinary heavy rains, and, of course, during real flooding of the river, it was a disaster. To make things even worse, they didn't build the hall high enough above the water. At times rain storms would dump millions of gallons of water in a short span of time, causing the creek to flood the entire center of the city of Hutchinson. Naturally, the main floor of the Convention Hall was flooded at such a time. I remember at least twice when I witnessed such a flood.
Canal Under Convention Hall
The Flood Waters of 1929 are Threatening the Building
Hutchinson tried to make the best of that "white elephant," however. Between floods, they cleaned it up and "made do."
"Let's put down a floating floor so when the floodwater hits, the main floor will float like a tethered pontoon," was one suggestion. It took a near crook to promote such a project, but it was tried. What a sight! That lower floor of Convention Hall looked like a swimming pool with several hundred wooden seats bobbing in it.
In later years a diversion channel was constructed west of town that took care of the flood waters. After that the city was free of flood waters, and the Convention Hall was no longer in danger.
Some of my most memorable times in Convention Hall were the Billy Sunday Revivals. For many years Billy Sunday was the most famous preacher in the country.
I believe I was in the eighth grade when these were held. There was a week or two of nightly meetings. I don't remember exactly. I sold materials, such as song books and various pamphlets, to the people throughout the entire hall. Willis Locke was the man in charge of us kids who were his salesmen.
Harry D. Clarke was the director of music. To me he was a great singer and I was thrilled when he gave me an autographed picture of himself.
Billy Sunday was a very illustrious, hell-fire preacher. He pranced all over the stage and even jumped onto chairs as he preached. I'm not sure any of today's TV preachers, no matter how loud and animated they are, can hold a candle to the famous Billy Sunday.
Billy Sunday had been a prize fighter before his conversion. One of his favorite stories was about an experience he had with a drunk would-be robber. The fellow threatened him with, "Hand over your money or else!"
Billy Sunday decided he wasn't ready to die or hand over his money so he clobbered the guy, and went on his way. His conversation with God went like this, "Forgive me for what I did to that guy, God. I know Heaven is my home, but I'm not homesick."
There were always altar calls, such as in Billy Graham's meetings today. However, Billy Sunday's lasted longer, were repeated more often, and were given in a more urgent manner. I was impressed and felt that I should "go forward." I did! The counselors told those of us who "went forward" we must make a commitment that from now on we'd lead a good Christian life. They tried to find out what our sins were, so we could repent of them. The ten commandments were to be used as the standard by which we judged ourselves. They convinced me that I was a whopper of a sinner and must ask forgiveness for my secret sins. Actually, I couldn't really figure out just what my secret sins were.
I'm sure Billy Sunday did lots of good in turning people from wrong
living, although I'm not sure I agree with his hell-fire approach. However,
if he scared one criminal, one wife-beater or child abuser, one cruel or
immoral person, or one alcoholic whom we just called a "drunkard" in those
days, into changing his or her ways, I'm sure God looked upon him with
To me the most exciting trips our family made to Hutchinson were when the Barnum & Bailey circus came to town. I always got very excited when I saw the first billboards announcing the coming circus. They were big and colorful. There were pictures of the huge tent, the clowns and many animals. Imagine, a tiger jumping through a flaming hoop, an elephant standing on a small stand holding his trunk high, or a seal balancing a round ball on its nose.
I immediately began begging, "Please Dad, can we go to the circus?"
"Well, we'll have to think about it."
Dad was always 'thinking about' things. At that time in my life I didn't pay attention to the farming schedule and how much time it would take from his work day. And, I guess I thought money grew on trees ready to be plucked when needed. I didn't spend much time thinking about how much it would cost to go to the circus.
I didn't get a firm "Yes" about our going to the circus right away. I'm sure my Mom and Dad knew how much the circus meant to us kids, and I imagine they wanted to go also. Finally, they told us that we could plan on going. I suppose they had to be sure they had the necessary money. I realize now just how little money my parents were living on in those days.
The railroad tracks ran along the west edge of our farm and we could easily see the trains as they went by. The day before the circus performance, I kept a close watch out for the circus train.
Finally, in the late afternoon, I saw it coming. It was heading north very slowly towards town. What a thrilling moment!
The engine's smokestack was belching out black smoke as it rambled slowly along the tracks. The box cars were colorfully painted. The beautifully decorated wagons were perched end to end on long flat cars. Of course, we were too far away from the train to identify the various animals in their cages. All too soon the end of the train came with its red caboose.
"Mom, can we go watch them unload?" was my next plea.
"Dad's out in the north 80 plowing. I bet he's seen the train, too. He'll be in soon and we can talk about it," Mom replied.
Sure enough, early the next morning before dawn, Dad loaded us in our Model T sedan and headed towards town. When we got to the railroad crossing in the south part of town, we saw the circus cars on the side tracks. The workers were already busily unloading cars. They must have really gotten up early!
The horses were unloaded first and hitched to the wagons. Those heavy wagons with their steel-rimmed wheels made an weird sound on the brick streets. Some of the animals, such as elephants and camels were allowed to walk. Of course, the wilder animals were caged in wagons. I'm sure permits had been given to allow all the wagons and animals to use the streets to get to the fair grounds which were in the northern part of town.
We, along with many other sight-seers, followed the circus wagons and animals to the fair grounds. When we got there, we discovered other train loads had arrived before us and there were many people busy at their assigned jobs.
I enjoyed most watching the way they put up the big tent. The men had heavy sledgehammers to drive the many needed stakes into the ground. As soon as a stake was started, several guys began to pound on it, taking turns and keeping a perfect rhythm until it was in place. Then they moved to the next place where a stake was needed. It seemed to me there must have been a hundred stakes driven into the ground.
Next they used horses and elephants to help raise the great poles. There were ropes all over the place. Just where all those ropes were to be used, I couldn't imagine. Someway the ropes connected the tent top to the poles. Some of the elephants were trained to help pull and push at the right places to raise the poles which then raised the tent in place.
Even before the complete tent had been erected, equipment used in the show was being laid out, piece by piece.
In what seemed too short a time to me, Dad said, "We've seen all we have time for now. We must get home, do our chores and get breakfast. We'll come back in time for the big parade down main street later this morning."
Sure enough, we got back to town in time for that magnificent parade. It was headed by a band and ended with a steam calliope. There were clowns galore making fools of themselves. The less tame animals were in their cages on the elaborately decorated wagons. Beautifully dressed women road on the backs of some of the elephants and horses. Other circus performers strutted down the street in their colorful costumes. What a fantastic sight!
In the afternoon we headed for the big tent on the fair grounds. By then there were sideshows with their barkers, calling to people to come see the fat man, the snake charmer, and various other oddities. The folks said we had money only for our tickets for the main show so we walked on toward the main entrance of the circus tent.
"Come right on folks and see the greatest show in earth. How many tickets do you want? Five? Sure, here they are."
My folks couldn't afford the most expensive tickets, but the seats we had were fine with me.
Before the main show started, clowns were running around making fools of themselves. They did all kinds of funny tricks. I couldn't even keep up with all of them. There was too much to watch all at once.
Then the band entered, followed by a parade of animals and performers. After they marched all around the area a couple times, the animals and performers went out and the band took its place on one side of the tent.
Next the ring master appeared and announced, "La--dies a-n-d Gen- tle-men....!"
The band stopped and the audience quieted down as he continued to announce the first act of the show.
What bothered me was that I couldn't see everything at once. There was something exciting in all three rings. The center ring was supposed to be the most important one, but I couldn't tell the difference. They were all great!
The announcer was always yelling at us, trying to get our attention about something.
"Quiet, please! Watch the center ring for the one and only----."
Then he proceeded to describe the next "death-defying" act.
Of course the crowd quieted down.
All too soon the high wire acts, the acrobatic stunts and the various animal acts were over. I couldn't believe the end had come so soon.
During the show the folks had bought us cracker jacks and cotton candy. I got the cotton candy all over me as I tried to eat and still see all that was going on.
When the performance ended we left the tent and looked at some of the animals in cages outside. I didn't really want to get too close to those cages with the lions and tigers.
All the way home we discussed those daring circus acts. For days afterward
I played circus with my dog Rover and Diffy, my cat. I also erected a circus
tent in our east front room. More about that later.
THE KANSAS STATE FAIR
The Kansas State Fair has been held in Hutchinson each year in September for many years. Fair time is always a "fun-time" for everyone for miles around. Monday has always been "kids free" day. It is a state school holiday, and I am sure, as was true when I was a kid, everyone has a wonderful time!
I remember that there were always lost kids at the fair on that day. Announcements would be made over loud speakers naming the kids being hunted or kids that had been found and now their parents were being hunted.
One time I got lost from my folks in the Agriculture Building and it
was a traumatic moment. As with other kids in that predicament, tears were
involved. Can you imagine looking for your lost parents, especially when
you are little? The only thing you can see is a field of legs and bottoms
all around. Then, when someone discovers that you are lost, all eyes are
staring at you! To make matters worse, most of the faces seem ugly. After
what seemed like an eternity that day, my parents found me. Believe me,
until we went home that night, I stayed close to Mom and Dad.
The Capper Building
A typical day at the fair when I was small always started at the Capper Building. Mom would take us kids there to use the toilet. That building was named after a famous Kansas senator and newspaper publisher. I suppose he gave some or all of the money for it. Our family and many others I knew subscribed to his "Capper's Weekly" as long as I can remember. It seemed that everyone loved Senator Capper as he was elected to the United States Senate and stayed in office many years. The farmers seemed to think that he looked after their interests. People would say Senator Capper did this and Senator Capper did that. Of course, all that didn't mean anything to me as a kid. His namesake building was just a place to go to rest, go to the toilet, or to meet Mom after I had been allowed to wander around by myself for awhile.
Mom knew that by the time we kids had walked the length of the pike, one of us would be wanting to find a toilet so she'd take us there first. We would protest that we didn't need to go, but she was insistent.
"I'm not going to chase around trying to find a restore for you in this crowd after we get on the pike. At least try to go now."
Usually our attempts were without success because we were too excited.
There were so many fantastic things to be seen that we could hardly wait
to get going.
The pike was a long cement sidewalk flanked on both sides with all kinds of booths. The barkers in front of each would do their best to entice people to their attraction. They always looked tough to me and I tried to stay away from them.
"Here, little boy," one guy might say. "Take this ball and hit that padded doll. If you hit it, you could win one of those beautiful big "cupie" dolls.
I couldn't understand why anyone would waste his money throwing at the dolls. I seldom saw anyone knock one of them down. I decided the people who kept throwing away their money must be half crazy or maybe a little drunk. Of course, I didn't have any money to spend and Mom wasn't about to give me any for those games along the pike.
"Come on, kids. Let's keep on walking," she'd say.
What I wanted was cotton candy and a mug of ice cold apple cider. I did have a good chance of getting something like that. Usually, Mom would break down and buy some.
I remember a toy Mom bought for me one time. It was a little yellow bird on a stick. When I twirled it around, it seemed to be flying. Unfortunately, I had worn it out before I got home that day, and I had to bawl over my broken toy.
"It was only made of paper, Glenn. It wasn't supposed to last very long. Maybe you can get another one next year," she said, trying to console me.
When I was older, I would be allowed to head out by myself for awhile.
"Glenn," Mom would inform me, "meet me at the Capper Building at three o'clock, promptly. There are plenty of clocks around so you can know when to come. I don't want to have to wait on you."
Her plan was to go to the cow barn to see whether Dad had won any ribbons on his cows. He usually did.
"We'll meet Dad about four and then we'll have supper. Then, we'll all
go take in the show in front of the grandstand." Hot dog! Seeing the evening
performance was always the highlight of the fair. Not only would there
be great circus acts, the evening always ended with a terrific fireworks
display. All during fair week, we could hear the firecrackers and see the
exploding Roman candles from the farm. Of course, when we were really there,
it was very exciting to me.
When I was on my own, I always spent lots of my time wandering around among the carnival shows and rides. The money Mom gave me would allow me to ride the ferris wheel and maybe get into one show. It was tough selecting which show to see. There were always large canvas pictures at each attraction showing the fat man and woman, the tattooed man, the three-legged man, the Siamese twins, a person's head on a box and a zillion other things.
"Step right close, folks," one barker holding a microphone would yell out. "In a few minutes you are going to see the Great Rocco swallow this razor sharp sword. See it all, right here!"
I would squeeze through the crowd to get close to the stage for a good view.
Rocco would step out on the stage, and demonstrate that the sword was really sharp by cutting a piece of paper with it. Then he'd spread his feet far apart, arch his head back and hold the sword high over his head. Sure enough, he really was going to swallow that sword. It had to be some kind of trick, I thought.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very dangerous act and everyone must be perfectly quiet as the Great Rocco swallows his razor sharp sword," the barker would warn.
I was always held spellbound. For sure, I would be very still. I certainly didn't want to be the person that caused that guy to cut his throat.
Sure enough. The Great Rocco would slip that sword down his throat. Then, with hands wide open, he'd gingerly turn completely around, proving it was no trick.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is but a small sample of the things you will see when you enter this gate. There are even greater things to see inside," the barker would assure everyone.
I would be the first to buy a ticket. I couldn't wait to spend my money on that show. I actually saw a three-legged man kick a football with his third leg. Moving around the tent, I saw the frog man, the world's most tattooed man, the fattest man I'd ever seen, the snake charmer, and several other awe-inspiring acts.
When I came out of that show, I'd make the rounds, examining all the other painted canvases. There would be shows on an outside stage to entice people to buy a ticket and come inside. At one place I saw a person's head on a table. Really, that's all of the person I could see. I suppose it was some kind of mirror trick, but I could never really figure it out. I saw a man tie himself in knots. I saw jugglers. I saw both a two-headed snake and two-headed baby calf, and a man with a third arm on his chest.
Oh, yes. I saw the knife thrower, also. He threw knives at a woman, just missing her each time. Can you imagine allowing someone to throw knives at you? I couldn't, even if he never seemed to miss.
As far as I was concerned, the carnival at the fair was the most wonderful in the world. Of course, I'd have to be satisfied with watching from the outside after I had used all my money on one show.
It was always noisy around the carnival. Most of the rides were too much for me. I certainly didn't want to be thrown around like that. The way the people screamed on those rides made me wonder if they were really enjoying themselves.
About the only carnival ride I would go on was the ferris wheel, and
that was almost more than I could stand, especially when it started on
its downward way.
The Old Mill
There was one ride we never missed. When we kids were small, we'd go
as a family. The Old Mill was a ride that wasn't part of the traveling
carnival that came to our fair. It was a permanent fixture along the pike.
I believe it is probably still in operation each September. In front was
a large water wheel that actually moved the boats through the water. They
were propelled through winding channels in the dark. Along the way were
various scenes and scary noises. Things would jump out at you at unexpected
times. Although I rode it many times through the years, there was always
an element of suspense. One never knew just what new surprise might be
waiting around the next corner. During the ride screams could be heard
from riders in other boats, both in front of you and behind you. The ride
always seemed to end too soon and I would ask to go again. Unfortunately,
most of the time one ticket was all I was allowed to have, and I'd have
to be satisfied to look forward to next year.
No trip to the state fair was complete for me until I had looked at all the farm implements. There were always some new models on display. Through the years farmers could keep abreast of all the new developments by visiting the farm exhibits. I'd have to look at all of them in detail. The displays in which things, such as stationary engines, water pumps, and windmills, were operating were my first choice. Kids had to keep away from such machinery.
"You kids stay way back. We don't want anyone to get hurt," was a familiar command. I still got as close as possible. The closer the better for me.
If anything could move safely, it'd be running. One outfit always had a tractor going in circles. It had been running for so long it had gouged out a circle with its wheels. I never figured out just why they wanted to have that tractor go in circles all of the time.
When farm trucks became popular, many were on display. Everyone wanted to sit in the cab of a new truck regardless of its make.
The farmers were also invited to sit on the various farm implements to discover how comfortable the new style seats were. Good seats made operating equipment more attractive to a farmer. His "sitter" was a sensitive area and the manufacturers knew that fact and capitalized on the idea.
I could spend hundreds of words describing the implements I saw at the fair. I never could get done looking.
"Let's go, Glenn," Dad would always have to urge. "There are lots of
other things to see and it's getting late."
There were zillions of other exhibits to see in dozens of buildings all over the fair grounds. I saw prize breeds of about everything imaginable. I don't think I missed anything. I saw the most interesting pigeons with long feathers on their legs. I saw miniature chickens called Bantams.
"Look at those beautiful rabbits! They have such long ears. They drag the floor as they eat their food," I'd say to myself as I wandered through the rows of cages.
I saw all breeds of hogs, cows, horses, dogs and cats. All were well groomed and healthy. Chickens, goats, geese, ducks, you name it, they were at the fair competing for the winning ribbons.
One year there was a special exhibit from Texas of Longhorn cattle. They were much larger than ordinary cows, and their horns were nearly eight feet long.
"Look at those huge horses!" I mused. "And those little midget horses. They are so cute." Those little horses were for showing only. No one in his right mind would make one of those little horses work. I always thought how much fun it would be to have a team of them. I'd hitch them to my coaster wagon.
I must say a word about the hogs. I never saw such big animals. Some were solid white, some were black and some were red. As a matter of fact, I saw black-belted and spotted hogs as well.
How in the world did all those animals get that way? Noah must have had a whale of an ark to hold all the various kinds of animals raised in Kansas, let alone those from other parts of the world. I decided that Bible story must have been stretched all out of proportion or perhaps the writer was simply trying to symbolize something rather than be literal.
In the distance, I saw a guy in a clown suit climbing a ladder about a thousand feet high. Every ten feet or so he'd act as if his foot was slipping and I'd cringe, thinking he was going to fall.
I rushed through the crowd to see what was about to happen. Surely that clown wasn't going to jump from that high ladder? I can't even see a pool of water large enough for him to land in.
Well, that dumb clown not only got to top of that ladder, but he stood up on a little pedestal and again pretended he was losing his balance. As the crowd gathered, wondering if he was going to commit suicide, he spread his arms and dived straight down into a small tank of water. He hit that water with a splash, recovered himself and waved to the crowd as if he were president or some other important person.
In other buildings I saw people selling all kinds of gadgets like kitchen knives that were supposed to last forever. I didn't believe that for a minute.
All too soon it would be time to meet the folks, eat supper and see
the night grandstand show. By the time it was over I'd be worn out completely
and ready to go home. Through the year I'd dream of next year's fair and
all the wonderful new things that I might see there.
SCHOOL FIELD TRIPS
Miss Phyllis Obee was our Reno County Superintendent of Schools during the years I attended school at Elmer. Thinking back, I realize she must have been a terrific person, and one who was ahead of the time in her ideas about education. She had visions of experiences she wanted her students to have. These included trips to various industries. The school boards in the county apparently agreed with her ideas and permitted the teachers to schedule field trips to industries in and around the city of Hutchinson. For its size, it had many. School would be turned out for the day when such events were scheduled. The parents were recruited to go along as drivers and sponsors.
"Children," the teacher would announce, "next Friday we are going to visit the Reformatory. For you to be able to go on this trip, I must have your folks' permission."
Unless I was sick, I always went on those trips. Some of the Amish kids
didn't get to go. Their folks thought such experiences were too worldly.
The Kansas State Reformatory
It was customary for school children to be taken on a field trip to the Kansas State Reformatory at least twice during their eight years in grade school. I believe the purpose was to impress the kids so they would stay away from a life of crime.
The Kansas State Reformatory is located southeast of Hutchinson and just outside the city limits. At that time it had roughly 500 prisoners, young men about seventeen through twenty-one years of age. They were usually first offenders. Repeaters or those guilty of more vicious types of crimes were sent to other state prisons. Nevertheless, when the whistle was heard that signaled a prison escape, all in the area were afraid they might be confronted by one of the escapees. It really didn't matter whether or not he was a hardened criminal. Everyone knew that when a prisoner was trying to escape, his actions were unpredictable.
One night the county sheriff called Dad to inform him that a group of prisoners from the reformatory had escaped. Needing money to make a clean getaway, they had broken into one of the town banks, stolen a car and headed south of town. The sheriff didn't give Dad all the details, but said that a policeman driving by in an unmarked car had seen several guys sitting by the road near our driveway, and they believed them to be the escapees. They wanted Dad to walk out and ask if they needed help. The idea was to keep them there until the sheriff and his deputies could come back in full force and determine whether they were from the reformatory. They felt almost certain they were the escaped prisoners who had decided that if they just sat there instead of speeding down the highway, no one would suspect them. As I look back, it was a strange thing to ask a civilian to do, especially when they thought the robbers might be armed. Nevertheless, Dad did as they requested. Later he told us that when the sheriff and his deputies arrived, they jumped from their cars, shining bright flashlights in the guy's eyes. The run-aways, knowing they didn't have a chance, threw their guns in the nearby ditch and surrendered.
Mom and we kids were terrified while we waited for Dad to come back to the house. Thank goodness, everything worked out OK!
The reformatory had a model dairy farm and some of the inmates worked in it. Some did work in the fields where food for the cattle and vegetables for the inmates were grown. These fields were outside the reformatory walls, and only certain inmates were allowed to work in them. Such inmates were called "trusties." As long as they behaved themselves by following the prison rules and didn't try to escape, they would be allowed to do work outside and might even have their sentences shortened. Of course, there were always guards watching them while they worked.
Other prisoners were assigned to the various workshops inside the prison walls. The state's license plates were made at the reformatory, and one of the biggest shops was where wood products were produced. Cedar chests were the most important product from that shop. I suppose having school kids visit the reformatory and see all those cedar chests could have been a marketing gimmick, also. They made chests of all sizes. I still have a small one, the size you would use on your dresser for trinkets, that belonged to my sister Helen. When Darlene graduated from college, her Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Will gave her a large one, the kind that girls called their "hope chests."
When the teacher took us on the reformatory field trip, I know I was properly impressed with the idea that crime doesn't pay. One particular sight still sticks in my mind. There was a prisoner pounding away at a piece of rock. We were told that he had to break it into pieces small enough to go through a steel grate standing upright by him. Only when he had broken a prescribed amount was he allowed to have his meals. This form of punishment was called "being on the rock pile."
The reformatory was no boarding house with housemothers for sure. The
inmates where locked in their cells every night. I couldn't believe that
people could actually be herded around like cattle at the point of a gun.
Besides the state reformatory, I had the opportunity to visit many industries during my eight years at Elmer school, such as the strawboard factory, packing house, salt plant, bakery, pickle factory, grain elevator, flour mill and the candy factory.
I had been introduced to one characteristic of the strawboard factory on our trips to Burrton.
"What in the world is that smell?" I asked Dad on one such trip.
"That's the strawboard. You don't smell it every time," Dad said. "It just happens we are downwind today. Sometimes we don't smell it at all."
Dad was right. When the wind blew from the north, we held our noses. I hated that icky smell. I was to learn the real reason for that unwelcome air later.
When I visited that plant while on a field trip, I learned what I was smelling. It was Kansas wheat straw mixed with waste paper and hot water, cooking in large vats. This mixture was cooked until it had thickened enough to be spread out on a wide continuous belt. The belt passed through a drying oven. When the mixture got dry enough, it slipped easily from the belt and was trimmed and rolled onto large cores. This then could be made into various cardboard products. I particularly remember the dividers used in egg crates.
After I understood the process and learned about the things that were
made at the strawboard, I was better able to tolerate that awful smell.
The Packing House
I had often wondered what happened to the cows and pigs that were carted off when they were ready to go to market. I was soon to find out and what I found I didn't appreciate one danged bit.
Can you imagine a group of grade school kids watching a cow being killed, skinned and cut up? Can you further imagine that same group watching a hundred squealing hogs hanging by one leg on a chain conveyor waiting to have their throats cut with a long sharp knife?
"Children," the teacher reminded us. "Stay close together as we go through this room where they take care of hogs. The guide said the floor might be wet, so be very careful."
When the heavy door opened, the first thing I saw was those hogs in that very high terrible position. Blood was spewing from their throats to the floor below. I was absolutely horrified. To imagine the gruesome scene is one thing, but to witness that slaughter house scene was worse. The sights and sounds of that day have never been erased from my memory.
Sure, it was interesting to see them making wieners, steaks, bacon, loin chops and sausage, but it took years for me to accept the way those animals were slaughtered.
I have never visited another slaughter house, nor do I ever intend to
At that time Hutchinson was considered the "Salt Capitol of the Nation." It seems that the entire area for miles around had a thick layer of salt many feet under it. When it was discovered that Hutchinson "hit salt," it was as though gold had been discovered. Everyone wanted to get in on the action.
Carey Salt Mine in Hutchinson, where salt was mined like coal, and Morton Salt Plant in South Hutchinson, where salt was processed from liquid brine, made the area famous in a hurry. Land prices soared and buildings sprung up over night.
The boom didn't last, however. Within a few years, salt was easier to harvest elsewhere. The Great Salt Lake in Utah, however, supplied salt easier and much cheaper. Why dig it up or pump it out from the deep when it could be picked up from the ground?
The salt craze was over and many of the people who had rushed into town to get rich quick, left. Land prices fell. The multi-floor buildings in South Hutchinson that had sprung up overnight vanished.
However, Carey Salt Mine and Morton Salt Plant continued to operate on lesser scales, and continued to be viable businesses.
"When it Rains, it Pours," was the advertising slogan for Morton Salt. I can still see the little round cardboard box of salt with the picture of a little girl holding an umbrella over her head as the rain comes down. In recent years, I saw a box naming Chicago as the corporate office for the company. I'm not sure just what corporate arrangements have taken place through the years.
Carey Salt Mine specialized in rock salt. When we'd go on school field trips, each kid was given a little square block of salt. At the fair each year thousands of little blocks of salt were passed out. Every kid wanted one, and every adult that was willing to carry one around all day, was given one. I suppose they made a good advertising gimmick. Most of the farmers kept large blocks of Carey salt in the fields for their cattle to lick.
Today, the Carey Salt Mines of Hutchinson contain miles of valuable
storage vaults. Hollywood has shipped its valuable motion picture negatives
to Hutchinson and stored them deep in the mines. The temperature is constant
and the salt air keeps the film from deteriorating. There "The Wizard of
Oz" and other titles are preserved for future generations.
The Grain Elevator
Even though all the kids in my school knew what a grain elevator was and had probably been in one, a visit to the local grain elevator was on the teacher's list for a field trip. After all, we were in wheat country and every kid had to know all about how wheat was grown, stored, and distributed throughout the land. Grain elevators, small and great, sprung up along the railroad tracks. From the small elevators along the tracks in small towns, wheat was sent by the train load to larger elevators in Hutchinson. Hutchinson, at one time, boasted it had the largest grain elevator in the world. It is nearly a mile long and can receive, store, and unload wheat in quantities that stagger the mind. I'm not sure whether it's still the largest in the world. As always happens, someone somewhere builds something bigger than the guy before him.
Before our class went on the elevator field trip, I had never watched a railroad car full of wheat get dumped into the elevator. I had always supposed that lots of guys scooped it out as we did when we took our wheat to the local elevator. But, no! A monster of a machine picks up the railroad car and literally shakes the wheat out. What a scene that was to me!
Who could think of missing a field trip to one or more of those big
elevators? I couldn't and didn't!
The Flour Mill
Where there's wheat, there are elevators. Where there's elevators, there will usually be some flour mills nearby. It's like the begat stories in the Bible.
Hutchinson had, and, I suppose, still has, a very large flour mill. It was a must for a school field trip. The process was quite simple, I thought. All they had to do was grind the wheat until it was fine enough for flour. On the farm we ground our wheat to make breakfast food. Of course, it was much more coarse than flour.
The field trip to the flour mill opened my eyes. Yes, they ground wheat like Dad did, but I didn't know that it all had to be sifted and bleached. That mill was very noisy and full of wheat dust. There is dust in wheat elevators, also, but of a different kind. If one breathes too much of it, he can become ill or even die from lung disease; and that isn't the only danger. Wheat elevator dust can explode under some conditions, and certain safety precautions are to be followed at all times.
As we went through the mill, we saw the flour being sifted, sifted,
and sifted again. Then, it was bagged in paper sacks, white cloth bags
and, sometimes, even put into large train cars un-bagged. Watching the
moving and packaging processes made the flour mill field trip a fascinating
"Did you get your little loaf of bread?" would be heard as we returned home from the bakery field trip.
The hard winter wheat from the plains of Kansas makes very good bread. Hutchinson has a large bakery and it was always one of our field trips. The bakery was very interesting to me, and, besides, it always smelled good, an opposite from the smell of the strawboard or the slaughter house. One can always smell that wonderful odor of baking bread for blocks around.
I remember that bakery as a spotlessly clean place, where all the workers
were dressed in white. Hundreds of loaves of bread were baked, packaged
and shipped by truck and train from Hutchinson to stores in towns for miles
around. In addition to the breads of various kinds, there were also rolls
and pastries. I could stay around that bakery all day and not tire of the
good smells of hot bread.
The Pickle Factory
Hutchinson also had a pickle factory which we visited with our teacher. I know now it wasn't really a factory. They didn't actually make pickles! They processed them from cucumbers! What always amazed me was where they could find so many cucumbers of uniform size. They were separated into three sizes, little, medium and large, and put into large vats to soak in a brine for days. Of course the place had its own peculiar smell. Not too bad, but not as good as the bakery.
When the cucumbers were properly "pickled," they were placed in glass jars. These were packed in boxes and shipped to stores all over the country.
I still wonder where they got all those cucumbers? There must have been
some farmers around who raised cucumbers on a large scale. I'm sure they
didn't get them just from the gardens around town.
The Candy Factory
My Great Aunt Myrtle worked in the candy factory in Hutchinson. Although she would give me a little piece of candy once in a while, I had absolutely no idea how the chocolates, taffy, and other candies were made until we went on a school field trip to the plant.
"Look at the lemon drops!" I exclaimed. "There must be thousands and thousands of them."
I was truly flabbergasted as I watched how they molded lemon drops and various other hard candies. They also made all shapes and flavors of chocolate candy.
"Keep your hands out of the candy bin," we were warned. "You'll get a sample at the end of the field trip."
All the ladies had to have their hair completely covered while working with the candy. Looking around I spied my Great Aunt Myrtle dipping chocolates, and said "Hi" to her. Of course, she had to keep watching her business so didn't pay too much attention to me.
We were all hoping for a box of chocolates at the end of the trip, but
all we got was a small sack of lemon drops. Shucks, they could have done
better than that. After all the candy I saw that day, I figured they surely
could have afforded to give us more than a small bagful.