The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
(DARVIL) FUN, HOBBIES AND PASTIMES
From the beginning of my memory we had dogs around, and they were my pals. One real fun pastime my brothers and I enjoyed together, was to walk into the uncultivated country of mesquite trees, cactus and brush that grew close to our farm in Glenbar, or into the willows and tamaracks of the sandy river bottom. A great variety of birds, animals and critters flourished there. With our nosy dog, we had no trouble brushing out cottontail, jackrabbits, big ground squirrels, little chipmunk-size ground squirrels -- the diminutive antelope squirrel -- skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, quail, snakes, lizards and insects. Occasionally, we even saw tracks of deer, mountain lions and bears that were crossing the valley from one mountain range to the other. The surrounding outdoors teemed with what a back-country boy would dream of. Besides the dogs, which were always our favorite pets, we also had a bunch of cats. Unlike the dogs, these stealthy animals hunted independently -- no such thing as taking a cat on a hunting foray, but we took great interest in seeing the variety of rodents and birds they captured, first to toy with and then devour.
In and around the varied terrain and vegetation of the river bottom, we played make-believe games. Sometimes we stripped off much of our clothes to play Indians. We built wikiups (Apache Indian style), hunted, fished, explored and even challenged the huge muddy waves of the torrent when the river rampaged in flood stage -- sport that had taken a few lives. The river bottom afforded a source of unending enjoyment, there seemed no end to all that we could do there, only fettered imagination limited us. Peculiar experiences occurred as we combed the wilds of that great playground of nature close and within easy walking distance of home. Throughout this history, interspersed here and there, you will read of our river bottom sagas and of the colorful Gila River itself.
Between the age of five and seven, with my three older brothers, we often stripped off clothes and played in the shallow river curren -- never a second thought about swimsuits. In the latter part of summer about a third of the years the river completely dried up on the surface, it left small and large, long, narrow pools. As the muddy pools evaporated and grew smaller, the trapped fish concentrated. We had great fun catching them with our hands. The river teemed with fish back in those days, and the stories are many about the locals with pitchforks and riggings reaping harvests of large carp. With our hands we caught catfish, some very big carp, the razorback bonytail and thousands of minnows. Such a wonderful playground for a young boy in the company of good older brothers. As river and canals dried up, predators entered their hay day. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks, weasels, hawks and buzzards, as well as several species of night birds printed the muddy edges, hintings of the night’s gorging orgy. We strung the catfish through gills onto a slender, willow branch to carry home to cook -- a welcome change of fare; the family appreciated the fresh delicacies. I remember thinking we were only doing the same things as Dad and his brothers had done as boys. Then my boys and their friends experienced the same country and many of the same adventures.
When crossing sand, gravel or rocks, we kept an eye peeled for the elusive smoky topaz, a grayish, semi-precious stone with pitted or smooth surface. Held in the hand, it appeared opaque black, but held toward the sun, the stone surprises one with its clear translucency. We prized them because they were rare, especially large ones -- a boy with a pouch of them was the envy of friends. Gem specimens were sought by jewelers who used them for ring settings. I always had in mind selling my topaz collection, hoping for a good price, and though I never managed it, I enjoyed the times I spent going through them holding each up to the light checking its clearness and hoping against unwanted blemishes and hair-line cracks that a few had. Lapidarists today seek them for the same purpose as the jewelers did, a hobby I never heard mentioned in my young days.
Living in that hot parched country, we welcomed water to play in. In Thatcher, we played in the Pima Canal, its origin, the Gila River just east of Thatcher. It irrigated a good part of towns farmland and passed through Central, then on through Pima and Glenbar doing the same. To actually swim instead of wading and splashing, we prized the canal more than the river. When the big head-gates were down, a long deep pool formed behind them providing an excellent swimming hole. However, after the river subsided following a sudden summer flood we could find some great newly-created holes. They were usually good until the next squall flooded the river reshaping its sandy course.
In those early years of youth (circa 1913 and forward) living in Thatcher and Glenbar, we’d never heard of a home with a swimming pool. If choosing to swim close to home, we headed for the Union Canal, a block south of main street that ran by the house in which Jo grew up and on past the Church pecan grove. The largest canal in the valley, we played in it most anywhere we wanted. It irrigated the Thatcher farmland, the lawns and gardens, and small orchards of the town residences. The canal averaged two and one-half feet in depth. One place known as Johnson’s Hole, just across the street from the Johnson house, had a big head-gate that backed the water up to an exceptional depth: deep enough to dive into. Mother used to quip that she raised her five boys at Johnson’s Hole.
The only swimming pool (30 miles away’ north of Pima), we reached with our old automobiles over the winding, washboard, trail-of-a-road. The place was way the other side of the river. Known as Indian Hot Springs, we looked forward to the bumpity trip about twice a year, which usually afforded the added experience of a flat tire or two. Supplied by a natural underground hot water source, we could swim there in the winter too. By the time we reached high school age, a pool at the Water Works in Safford was built, and a small but nice pool eventually built at Thatcher High. (Jon lounged away a summer lifeguard job there, about 1954.)
Around the same time in my checkered life, I got acquainted with what the local tricksters called the Badger Fight. Like most little towns, Thatcher had a bunch of young locals spending their spare time thinking up tricks and practical jokes to play on each other, and especially on newcomers -- the easy suckers.
For the badger fight trick, they had built a small wooden cage just large enough to hold a badger-size animal. For days they would talk about the coming event until the whole, young male population of town knew the fellows had found another victim for their seamy joke. They conscripted a big hound to fight the badger, and at the hour of the appointed day, all would gather behind the Big Six Mercantile to witness the bloody conflict.
During the time of preparation, anticipation ran high, and the honored new fellow in town got the privilege of jerking the badger out of its cage to do battle with the crouched and ready quivering hound straining at the leash end. Final moment at hand, close to the excited dog, the wide-eyed guest was handed the end of the long chain that disappeared through the door into the cage unmistakably attached to the badger. One boy would stealthily sidle up to the cage from behind, and at the instant he pulled the latch-bolt, he yelled, “Pull him out!” The excited newcomer gave the chain a mighty heave to jerk the badger into battle. Dismayed and embarrassed, he laid eyes on a huge thunder mug that bolted from the dark recess of the box, rolling toward him coming to a wobbly stop. Well, the straining hound pounced, then, stopped in consternation -- sniffing the pot he wrinkled his nose and backed away. The poor chain-jerker, nerves all ajitter, in total surprise stood motionless while the crowd launched itself into uproarious laughter -- much to his chagrin. The pranksters slapped their sides, some actually rolled on the ground to vent their mirth. (A thunder mug is a large, crock-like, porcelain pot kept under the bed for a potty. The outhouse stood out back in darkness, too far away to be convenient at night or in winter.) Witnessing it once as a youngster, I could never figure out why pulling a pot out of a box was so funny.
Arizona’s desert and plateau country, with its meteorological phenomena, is pelted with short but violent thunderstorms frequently turning into fierce hailstorms. The thick cover of hailstones would mound up against fences, trees, walls and other structures. We deemed the mounds a boon, for we could quickly gather it by the buckets-full for good purpose.
For many years ice was only available in 25 to 50 pound, or heavier blocks, delivered by the iceman a couple of times a week. If we wanted ice at other times, we had to make a special trip to the ice plant, too far and inconvenient to be worthwhile. (All too often, the result of a downpour with its melting hail lead to flash floods, and water would stand two feet deep, or more, in Thatcher’s streets.)
We cheered over hailstorms. If we needed bits of ice for cold drinks, we normally chipped pieces off the block in the icebox with the ice pick. No bags of crushed ice could be found when I was growing up. If we wanted a bag of crushed ice, we put a block of it in a tied burlap sack and beat it with a baseball bat or a 4x4. Ice cream was a fairly expensive treat for many of us. So when Mother Nature treated us with free buckets of hail, we immediately conjured thoughts of homemade ice cream without the bother of buying it or beating up on ice in a sack. We had free, fresh milk and condensed milk, and a mix for homemade ice cream was available at the little markets. With the hail packed into the ice cream freezer around the canister, we took turns cranking away knowing that shortly, delicious desert would soon bejeweled our bowls.
While living in Flagstaff (mentioned later in this history) we would break off ice cycles, hanging down as long as three feet from the eves of the roof. We crushed these to make freezer ice cream with one belonging to Edna and Dillon Lewis, close friends and neighbors. We also had access to free cream from the college dairy to make it creamier and smoother.
Our hometown basked in the sun at 2900-feet elevation, so we didn’t get much snow. We would experience two or three snow flurries during a three or four year period, but never enough to call a real snowstorm. What little came we loved to play in it, and it gave us a special treat: we would make “snow ice cream.” Clean snow mixed with cream or condensed (canned) milk and sugar, and a dash of vanilla extract gave us a delicious desert -- and, as much as we wanted to eat. I much preferred it mixed with canned milk. It seemed to give it more of a true store-bought ice cream flavor.
We youngsters not only found our own fun; but we had to make most of our own playthings and toys. We spent many happy hours making and playing with bottle horses. We preferred the regular-size beer bottles because they had more of a shoulder that kept the harness from slipping off -- a real frustration to bottle horse trainers. With pieces of felt, heavy cloth or light leather, we cut strips that we fashioned together for harnesses and the tugs that extended back from the harnessed bottles to hook to a little cart. Sometimes we only had a block of wood or a short cross section of a stout stick to hook up to and drag. We attached a leash to the bottle and pulled it along with its trailing load. We hooked up a brace (team of two), and trailed the hooked-up combinations through the sand, dirt and grass, over hills and around bushes. In our fertile imaginations we were real-life wagoneers, pioneering through the challenges of rough country. We were team and wagon owners busy with the task, on foot, leading the horses or driving them from the cart with reins in hand. Jo says that she and her younger brother, Rodney, played with bottle-horses in their big sandbox behind their house. You can’t imagine how much a brown, beer bottle looks like a bay horse -- if it’s harnessed up right.
We caught mice, taming them to the point we could handle them. The young ones were more tractable and tamed down quickly. I had never seen a white mouse or rat, much less a guinea pig, hamster or gerbil. Many years would pass before I saw my first albino rodents. We tried our hand at nurturing young jackrabbits and cottontail, but most soon died. I guess they couldn’t adjust to the food and quarters we provided, they were fragile little animals. Chipmunks and squirrels were different; they stayed in good shape with the food and quarters we gave them.
At about five years of age, with the help of my big brothers, I made my first flipper (sling shot). I cut a forked limb from a mesquite tree, and whittled it down to the correct size and shape. With scissors I cut two half-inch-wide bands of rubber from an old, red or black inner tube. (Several decades would pass before the advent of tubeless tires.) From the tongue of an old boot or shoe I cut the leather pad that held the rock. With string or thin strips of rubber cut from the inner tube, I attached the bands of rubber to the top of the forked ends; I attached the pad (or pouch), cut from leather footware, to the other ends of the bands. Cry Wolf! I had constructed a deadly weapon that should put fear of death into any and all the birds and rodents that dared get too close.
I had tagged along with brothers many times watching their success as they brought down quarry with flippers. I tried from time to time to use theirs, but couldn’t coordinate the instrument. I dreamed for years of being a successful hunter like them. I had been out with my dogs and helped them hunt and chase, but until I made my own first flipper, I didn’t really count myself a real hunter. I hunted and hunted and shot and shot a thousand times at birds and small animals without success. Nevertheless, early on, I took a fearsome toll on the likes of grasshoppers, stinkbugs and lizards. At that young age, doves were "real big game.” In time, I killed a few sparrows, but it took a couple of years before I brought down my first dove. From that point on, my skill with the flipper increased rapidly.
The flipper actually became a long-lived hobby with me; I hunted steadily with it even through my first years of marriage. It occasionally provided us some fine dove dinners. Mac, my oldest boy, had the same inclinations, and I occasionally used his flipper amazing him with my prowess. In Westminster, California, we had an orchard of many fruit trees loaded with fruit, and we also kept a hundred chickens, which meant spilled grain and mash scattered about. The sparrows, finches and doves flocked to our property where Mac, Jon and their friends had plenty of opportunity with their flippers.
Years later, Mac made fine
flippers of metal and surgical tubing for himself and his boys. I went
on evening rides with them several times, hunting the rabbit infested
orange groves of Corona. Mac had killed several cottontail and one
jackrabbit with his flipper. During a visit to Mac’s place in Corona,
Jon knocked a flying pigeon out of the air. We also had fun taking pot
shots at coots and ducks on nearby ponds. Would you believe that
hanging here on the wall by my desk is a memento of happy, by-gone
years -- a flipper I made about 20 years ago? (about 1980)
As a kid in Thatcher, I had a standing agreement with my Uncle Oscar and Aunt Roxy Sims who managed the little theater in town (before the day of the talkies). For every fourth dove plucked, cleaned and delivered, I’d get a free ticket to the movie. I guess that would qualify me as a professional hunter: one of my first, real profit taking jobs. I never let myself be in the situation of having to buy a ticket, because I made darned sure that I harvested enough doves to keep me at the movies.
The best flipper ammunition I found was the nub-ends of horseshoes. Whenever I passed the blacksmith shop, a couple of blocks west of our house, I stopped to search the ground around the front and even went inside the shop to pick them up. The blacksmith shoed a lot of horses, and in the process of fitting shoes to the hooves, he sheared off the overextending ends. Smaller hooves required removal of a long piece, too cumbersome to use. Many pieces were quite cubical, the perfect size to fit into the leather pad -- deadly ammo for birds and small game.
I enjoyed watching the blacksmith hard at work shoeing a horse. After checking for the correct width of shoe by superimposing it over the hoof, he marked the place to cut. Heated in the forge of glowing, red coals by puffing billows, with tongs he laid the shoe atop the anvil. The well-honed end of a stout cold-chisel placed on the marked spot, after a deft blow with the single-jack the super-heated, glowing cube tumbled to the ground. Highly prized because of the shape and lethal, sharp corners and edges, its weight gave it momentum unlike the best of rocks. I much preferred them for hunting.
There were three species of doves in the Gila Valley: the common mourning dove, the small ground dove that we called turtle doves and the most sought-after trophy of the three, the white wing, which was more abundant during certain times of the year. This fine-feathered delicacy weighed in at one quarter to one third again heavier than the ever-present mourning dove.
Example of the effectiveness of a leftover horseshoe end: On one hunting expedition, I managed to sneak under one of the skittish white wings armed with that best of projectiles. I pulled back on the flipper’s bands, aimed, and let’er fly. The horseshoe nub connected dead center on the breast breaking bone and severing flesh. It passed through three inches of bird, exiting its back.
Boxing was another sport I enjoyed during my first year of Junior College. We didn’t compete with other schools, it was just a physical education class offered to the interested. Coach Romney, who coached all other sports in the small school, matched us up, and we took turns sparring with each other. Analyzing each bout of three or four rounds, individually, he took us aside afterwards to praise our strong points and help us improve the weak ones.
After watching me, aside, he told me my reach exceeded the rest of my classmates, and I should use it to better advantage. I should use the jab often to set up combinations, and to especially time my punches so that fist met flesh more at the end of extension to deliver staggering impact. I asked him, “Well, how do I do that”. His simple explanation was that the optimum point fell just short of full extension, and that I would have to “think it” into my routine until it settled in as natural habit.
At a whopping five-feet-ten-inches weighing 135 pounds, I took his coaching seriously, and using mind over matter improved right along. There were about 22 of us in the class, and because of slow but sure self-schooling, using superior reach along with quickness, I was soon a formidable opponent. In pairing us off, Lyman Foster was designated my opponent. Hearing his plight, he moaned, “Oh no! Not old Darvil!” After talking to the coach, he was let off the hook. However, there were two in the class who really worried me. One was four inches taller, quick and had equal reach. The other, though shorter, was stoutly built with heavily muscled arms and driving power that quaked my 135-pound frame inside and out, stem to stern and head to toe. Considering my limitations I faired well against them all -- but I never looked forward to the dreadful battering dished out by those two.
I easily recall fearsome experiences, with mixed emotions that took place between the stove and the wood box. A number-3 washtub fit nicely into the 1 ½-foot space between mother’s cook stove and the old wood-box in the corner. That’s where it was found during the colder months, and that’s where, during many days of my childhood, I took my turn in that washtub. (The same galvanized necessity to which my mother clamped her hand-turned wringer and worked over the old scrub board leaning inside.) In an effort to keep us kids and a husband looking spiffy enough for Church, every Saturday it was brought into the house for its weekend double duty. It proved to be one of those happenings for which no kid ever clamored to be first.
At about four years old I remember the aged tub sprang another leak, and Dad decided it wouldn’t survive another solder job. The next day he came home with a brand new, shiny one with blue handles, hinged so they would hang down along the side, not sticking out always in the way as on the old one. Intrigued, I begged to be the first to use it. When told, “Since you are the first to ask, you can count on it,” the days crept along as slow as cold tar until Saturday.
Until seven years of age we weren’t trusted to bathe without some help. Our methods were too slipshod for the eagle eyes of our mother, even though warned that a poor job meant we would have to do it again, in the middle of the week. If we failed to pass inspection, zounds! That would be dreadful punishment. I preferred Dad to be the washer, not too particular about my neck and sensitive ears as Mom; he still did a good job.
Why a simple bath was always abhorrent to us kids, I don’t know. I remember bawling and resisting vigorously when called in from evening play on those distasteful days. Really the only chore for us kids was the water that had to be carried into the house, part of which went cold into the tub, and part into two huge pots on the stove. By the time the pots were hot, so also was the snug little space between the box and the stove: a warm and cozy corner.
Except in time of emergency, the water-hauling chore was repeated after each three had been aquatically chastened. I never did know for sure, but because there didn’t seem to be any routine as to who went first, I believe Mother and Dad purposely picked the cleanest ones, leaving the more soiled ones to further foul the precious warm water. Maybe that’s why I was always last.
I guess for the sake of olfactory comfort, it was a good thing we lived close to the Gila River and a large irrigation canal with their alluring, cool swimming holes. In them, we, in a sense, kept ourselves -- well sorta -- unsmelly during the hot, summer months -- even though the water was not warm, and we didn’t know what a bar of soap looked like, and the same under wear went back on after each swim. And even for all this cleanliness, still the old number-3 tub, during summer out in the warm, screened porch, expected us when Saturday came ‘round.
The old number-3 tub is one of the more solid memories of my childhood. I even have the hint of memories of splashing in it in the back yard on hot summer days when not much bigger than a toddler. To this day, I can still see its interior decorated with all colors of splotches from fruit mother had been putting-up in jars for the winter. I even played at helping to wash the fruit in preparation for peeling before they plopped into the cookpot -- big, red and yellow apples and peaches, plums and apricots.
The last time I remember seeing the familiar old vessel is where it hung on an outbuilding with other family heirlooms, long after we had left the farm. Edison’s electricity and modern inventions had usurped its utility. There it hung against the wall, old and dejected, mourning its lonely plight, the blue long gone from its handles, and though it exuded no more charm than a wet blanket hung on the line to dry, it tormented me with nostalgia.
Of electricity and appliances: I don’t remember the occasion of seeing my first light bulb or an electric light. We didn’t have electricity in our town until I was thirteen or fourteen. Just three or four miles away, in Safford, the County Seat, electric lights burned away, but I don’t know how long they had them there before the electricians strung lines three miles on down to Thatcher, finally delivering electricity to us.
Mother had been waiting anxiously for this to happen. She couldn’t think of anything nicer than to have a light in every room, flicked on with the pull of a string. Our rather large house had four bedrooms besides the parlor (a room always added in those days to larger homes) reserved as a room for conversation or reception of guests; kids were ordered to keep clear of it. Wiring a house of that size long after it had been built was quite a job. Fortunately for Mother, my older brother, Floyd, was employed at the time as an electrician with the Miami Copper Company in Miami. He took a week off work, came home and did the job. As much as a kid my size could, I helped him with the job. Since most of the work was in tight quarters in the attic, I came in real handy for him, being the skinny kid that I was. I could help him string wires to corners where no one else could crawl, and otherwise, I kept him supplied with requested materials and tools and skipped off on short errands. All-in-all it was a great experience, and I learn a few of the basics of wiring a house which came in handy later.
There were no wall switches or plug-in receptacles. Each socket and bulb hung on the end of a cord from the ceiling, just low enough so the average adult could reach it handily. Later on when electric appliances came into use I remember Orlando and I cut into the line on the ceiling in the living room and kitchen, ran lines over to the wall and down to where we fastened a receptacle.
Many of the houses, like those with flat roofs or very little working space in the attic had to be wired entirely on the inside. A pair of wires passed through white porcelain brackets that kept them apart and straight were tacked to the ceilings. Light cords were then attached and dropped from the ceiling wherever needed. We had plenty of attic space sparing us that mess.
I think the first appliance mother bought was a fan, a twelve-inch oscillating three-speed. Later on I installed a swamp cooler that proved to be great comfort for the living room and kitchen, but didn’t do much for the bedrooms. I don’t remember that an electric refrigerator or a telephone was ever installed in that grand, old house, and only a few years before we tore it down did mother have the comfort of a gas range. When the old wood burner finally came out I remember Orlando complaining about a warm snug place to sit, since the old wood-box went with the stove. And if we needed a telephone we ran down to the corner service station where we were welcome.
I harbor happy memories of trailing along with Grandpa Peter McBride. He kept many laying hens he’d raised from chicks. I remember him seeing me cower back as I tried gathering eggs from under an old, mean, pecking hen sitting on her clutch of eggs. Of course, she was a “setter” and had determined to hatch a brood. He told me to just grab her and throw her out of the nest and get the eggs, because he didn’t want any setters hatching chicks. (More to come of experiences with Grandpa McBride.)
At about seven years of age, I could set the smaller number #1 and number #2-sized steel-jaw, varmint traps. Yes, and I learned by trial and error to keep my fingers out of the way. I looked for the natural game trails left by the small animals passing from one dense bunch of cover to another. I set the traps with great care, just under the dirt and checked them daily -- usually more often -- ever hoping to find I’d been successful. I caught a few ground squirrels and cottontail rabbits, and I guess I was lucky not to catch a skunk. Of all the predators and varmints in the area, the skunks gave us the most problems. The poor dogs got the “worst end” of the deal too often, and because of it we suffered the pungent, lingering odor each time it happened. The worst depredation caused by skunks took place in the chicken coop. Any hen that chose to roost on the ground instead of up on the high roosting slats out of danger, we were apt to find dead the next morning. The tracks clearly disclosed the culprit. Curiously, I remember that each hen had its throat cut; no flesh had been eaten. This led us to believe that they killed them for the sole purpose of drinking the blood. Who knows?
As a little guy, I watched my big brother Floyd, six and a-half years my senior, put together a large, box-like, quail trap made entirely of slender, freshly-cut, trimmed, willow branches. He fashioned the trap by tying willow sticks together with twine and bailing wire. He designed it with funnels on all four sides that led into the box. Made of hundreds of green willow sticks, the trap weighed too much to carry. He had to attach a stout length of rope to its base so he could drag it out into the mesquites where he knew by numerous sightings and tracks, there were quail galore. I helped him drag it out and place it back in the shade under a big mesquite tree where he baited it with grain -- not far from where I had been setting my steel traps. He caught a lot of quail in it, and I loved going with him to bring home the supper.
Let me tell you about the choo-choo, the young train, the honk-honk and the airship:
The Choo-choo: Though I was born near the tracks in Glenbar -- north of them that is. Strange as it may seem, as a lad, I had never had the experience of riding a train. The train was part of my early childhood, but don’t remember thinking that some day I might ride on one. The only persons I knew that had were my Uncle Perle McBride and his wife Aunt Lavona. A couple of times a year they would ride over from Globe to visit our family. I looked upon Uncle Perle as a great and important man, because he was Dad’s brother and because he was a train engineer, a highly romantic position in my child’s mind.
Later on in Thatcher, we lived only a few long blocks from the depot where trains stopped most of the time, and I often frequented the station in hoping for a chance to wave to uncle Perle. As I had before, two or three times, I got to ride with him in the engine cab while he switched freight cars to send them on their correct route. For a nine-year-old, being with him, seeing and watching all, became a bright star in a young life.
At about 14, Ivan Huntsinger and I, just for something to do, because it happened to be great fun and bold adventure, would ride the freight train the three miles from Thatcher to Safford. If we thought we had been spotted by a brakie (brakeman), we would slip off when the train slowed enough as it approached the Safford station to not get caught, then we’d hide in the bushes until we decided all looked clear. All clear, we’d walk down to the highway and hitch a ride back to Thatcher. Perhaps, the biggest kick we got out of these adventures was the opportunity provided us to wave at the farmers and the working hands in the fields who, much to our satisfaction would always stop to stare and wave back as we sailed by. A good number of them we knew and they knew us.
We chose to hitchhike home even though a freight train was on the siding headed back to Thatcher. Once, we had learned the folly of it, for freight trains didn’t always stop in our little town. One took us sailing nine miles farther before managing to abandon ship. The ride proved to be a little long and the hitchhike back a bit more difficult. Even during that ride we were in luck, because the freight trains often didn’t stop at Pima either, and we could have ended up in Globe -- 75 miles down the line.
Now to the purpose of the choo choo story: One Day I boarded by snagging an oil car just as the train started to roll, intending to belly-up onto the board walkway that sided along the car’s long black tank. The train’s sudden start had me clawing for a better handhold. The walkway I clung to consisted of two 2 x 12 planks paralleling each other. My fingers just fit into the crack between them, and I heaved myself up at the very moment the space closed on eight fingers.
The forward strain of the moving car skewed the car and planks enough to cause the crack to close a fraction and every finger was trapped. I could feel the pressure that held me prisoner increase as the train gained speed, and I realized it was now or never -- if I was going to get free. I wriggled myself around to where my back was against the greasy tank. This maneuver naturally caused my arms to cross so that my left hand was by my right knee and the right by my left. Knowing I had no time to lose I took a big breath, braced myself and jerked with all my might. Relief swept over me for both hands came free. I slumped against the tank and said, “Thank you,” a dozen times. I knew exactly who I was saying it to, for I knew I had had some help. Though my fingers were not badly mashed, all eight left their share of skin and blood in that crack.
My mom didn’t know I was a freight train bum and that I had been risking life and limb in the dubious sport. You can imagine the kind of story I had to make up to explain eight scabby fingers. Whatever it was, it got me by, though I don’t remember the tail now. At that age I thought mothers better off not knowing everything. I’ve changed my mind about that a dozen times since. Anyway, knowing how to hop a freight came in handy during my college years, even assisting in my obtaining an education in more sophisticated subjects in a day when few students owned cars or could afford a train ticket.
A hectic and harrowing week was spent with my school buddy and long-time best friend, Gordon Stowell: During the summer after our graduation from the Jr. College in Thatcher, we were in Flagstaff, Arizona. We went there to apply for entrance and find part-time work for the fall semester at the Teacher’s College. Getting there had been no problem. Gordon’s sister and her husband had dropped us off on their way to visit Utah folks. So, purpose accomplished, there we were with no ready way home. It was in the middle of The Early Thirties during the Great Depression, and auto travel was sparse, yet the roadsides had a plethora of hitchhikers, but we decided to try the freight train. Hoboing would be a new experience and murderers and molesters were few and far between back then. Besides, we were agile, muscular, athletic boys.
What an experience to remember! (Really: one I’ve tried to forget.) We had the idea that if we could get on with no trouble in Flagstaff, we could secrete ourselves into a boxcar and stay put clear into Phoenix. What a rude awakening we had coming. We made the catch after the second try and entered a car with eight or ten others, most of whom we soon discovered were old-timers at the game and had ridden this route several times. I wouldn’t call them hobos, just victims of that terrible financial depression, who hoped the grass would be greener by way of a job on the other side of the hill. They coached us to just stay put at Williams, but when we pulled in at Ash Fork, it was a must to abandon the train before it stopped, and we should scramble into the brush and trees at the track’s edge. They warned us that Ash Fork had a “yard bull” that carried a club and a sidearm. (The word had spread, that a year ago he had shot a man who refused to stop when ordered.) Also, two deputies checked every car that didn’t have a locked door, while the bull strode atop the cars like the avenging angel, shouting epithets and brandishing his scepter as each train pulled away. If they catch you, we were cautioned, “you’ll spend the night in jail.” Our new-found friends’ assessment of jumping off in Ash Fork proved true to the smallest particular. Worse came to worse, we didn’t make it off at our first chance, and that old bull would have whacked me on the head if I hadn’t leaped off the ladder.
Since the scuttlebutt had it that another freight was not due until late the next morning. The elevation of 5200 feet made for more than just coolish nights. We scouted the little town for a place to lay our heads, and as luck would have it, while taking a shortcut across the high school yard, we noticed a school gymnasium’s back door stood ajar. The floor, as cold as it was hard, almost made me wish we had surrendered to the yard bull, which would have surely granted us a cot in a warmer room. But the gym did provide shelter from the cutting, brisk, icy breeze sweeping down from the nearby 8000-foot Picacho Buttes. With this scanty comfort we managed some sleep. Nevertheless, Gordon and I spent a miserable, cold and hungry night in Ash Fork.
Come morning I made a good catch. I stayed on the ladder out of sight until the train gained the speed that I thought the watchful bull would, of necessity, have dropped off by then. Still aboard though, when he saw my head pop up he immediately started my direction. I had a quick decision to make: I could still drop off with dubious safety, or I could play cat-n-mouse with him. I knew he couldn’t remain aboard much longer as the train gained speed quickly. He tried to home in on me from six cars behind, and I had about twenty ahead of me. I didn’t dare attempt to move too fast on those swaying cars, I figured he would have to get himself off before I ran out of cars and he could corner me. My calculations proved correct. He quit the game with some ten cars still ahead of me. I couldn’t tell if he carried a gun that morning, but he did nothing foolish.
While still on the ladder, I had seen Gordon jump off. A feeling of loneliness swept over me; I realized the remainder of my journey would be without a good and trusted friend.
The next stop: Kingman. There I saw that none of my nameless friends jumped from cars to run and hide, I surmised that another over-zealous yard cop would not harass us. Here I had time to find an open boxcar and joined my traveling friends again. Now, we sweltered in dismal, desert heat in the old, smelly car, so at Prescott, with a couple of others, I climbed to the top of the car for the night ride into Phoenix. The cheap cotton trousers I wore were not designed the rough travel required to endure rough freight train hospitality. Everywhere I sat, especially on the rough walking-planks atop the cars, took their toll on the seat of those poor pants. By the time I reached Phoenix, the seat was gone out of those blues, and white was showing through. It dawned on me that a college acquaintance I’d known in Thatcher, a couple of years older than I, worked at the J.C. Penny Store on Jefferson Street. At 7 a.m, with a new pair of dungarees in mind, I made my way to the place without being observed by too many gawkers. I still had a dollar and a half in my pocket, and, if such was needed, I suspected I could talk my friend into trusting me for the rest. Arriving at the store early, I waited with my back against the wall until opening time. Would you believe it? Old Lyle Hilton, my friend from Gila College days, came around the corner jingling a noisy ring of keys. Friday was his day to open up.
I had Lyle’s sympathy right off, and before the doors were opened for business, or another clerk came in, he had me decked out in a new pair of denim jeans. I had enough money left for breakfast, for the jeans cost me only 89 cents -- no sales tax either.
My thumb got me home that same day via U.S. 70. I learned Gordon had used the same method of travel all the way from Ash Fork and had arrived the day before. My! What guys had to do in the Olden Days for an education.
Seeing the first “travel buses”: In Thatcher, our home was located on the main Highway (I-60). Unpaved, it passed through the centers of all the little Mormon towns in the Gila Valley. As boys are want to do, we kept close tabs on the makes and models of automobiles passing through. Around 13, 1921 or 22, I began to pay extra attention to the passing traffic. We soon caught our first glimpse of a travel bus, and we marveled at its extreme length and many windows.
One day, a close friend, Winston Larson and I were visiting as we stood on the corner when one of these monsters snaked along the highway -- his first sight of such an extended coach. Open-mouthed, he stared at it awhile, then said, “Well, for my gosh, look at that! A young train!
Of course, I told the story to our friends, and Winston’s description of the curiosity was bantered about by hundreds who mentioned the analogy thousands of times for the next few years.
Within our one-horse town, Winston’s words soon proved prophetic, for the passenger service of the railroad reluctantly shared passengers with the travel bus -- “Greyhound” being the most common usurper.
Having wandered into the realm of transportation, temptation overcomes me, so I’ll delve into the antiquity of the automobile, which will expose a certain human antique having the nerve to talk about it. Yep, I was born before most auto wonders were even thought of. I had reached the age of five or six and still lived in Glenbar before I saw my first automobile. Though living on the farm, our house was only fifty yards from the highway -- we called it “the road” -- which continued on west through Globe and on to Phoenix. We were able to clearly see any vehicle that passed, and, I’m telling you, that small road was not built for automobiles. Unimproved and never graded, it had been brushed and scraped as smooth as a team and log-leveler could get it -- I mean it was primitive.
Loose soil was left just plain loose until the next rain came along to do the job. Until then, and during long spells between rains, it became a dust-bowl-of-a-trail. Maintenance was mostly unheard of. It took an act of congress to get a chuckhole filled up with anything that would stay longer than overnight.
I remember when I first began hearing the word, automobile, car, and now and then, horseless-carriage: some kind of outfit that would go without anything pulling it. Of course, at five years of age I had no concept of gasoline, an engine driven by it, or the development of power -- let alone, a steering wheel, a windshield or pneumatic tires. But such had been the topic of conversation around our house for some time, and like the rest of the family, I ached to see one of “them thar contraptions.”
The word came that the owner of an automobile in Globe was driving it to Safford, the town several miles east along the road from Glenbar. Excitement ran high in our country town, and in our home, and when dad confirmed questioning by older sons that, “Yes, he’ll have to pass through here to get to Safford.” Knowing the day, the calculating began as to just when that would be. Dad put an end to the wild guesses by reminding them that since Safford was one and a half hours from our place by team and buggy, it would pass through Glenbar the same day it would arrived in Safford, but maybe 45 minutes earlier than by buggy. Well, that didn’t help much because who knew what time it was expected to arrive in Safford. So Dad told us, “All we can do is watch for it next Saturday.”
That’s exactly what we did, but it turned out to be a more difficult job than anyone had imagined. We kids traipsed the fifty yards back and forth between the house and the road so many times, determined not to miss the sight of a speeding car, that our legs ached and our tongues hung out. About four o’clock, Dad joined us again at the roadside. He could see I was suffering from the heat and of a lowering sun shining smack-dab in my face and miserable thirst from dehydration. He insisted I go to the pump next to the house and get me a good drink of water, and splash some on my flushed face, then I could come right back.
He promised me I would be back in plenty of time to not miss the excitement-on-its-way. Protesting tearfully I did as told. While splashing on the water, I heard yells and screams coming from the road. The vehicle had been spotted—I was going to miss it! With face and shirt front dripping, I dashed around the house and down the lane, chased by old Tiny barking at my heels, he was excited by the yelling from the road and my lightning departure from the pump. When halfway there the speeding vehicle passed. I kid you not -- it must have been doing a good 25 to 30 miles an hour. I burst into tears, wails and sobbing as I reached the comfort of Dad’s trouser leg, joining in as well as able with my brothers in their moment of excitement.
Although I nursed a child’s disappointment for a while, I did get a good look at the car and driver and was highly impressed. The thing looked like what we high school kids later called a “stripped down jalopy” for what I saw in that one glance was a radiator, running boards, a couple of seats, and a big bedroll-like bundle tied on a narrow platform behind the seats. The driver impressed me most, for he wore some kind of a hood on his head and a huge pair of tight-fitting goggles over his eyes and half his face: whatever else it had, I failed to notice. The driver’s getup must have frightened me; it haunted me for several days. I clearly saw its owlish, monkey-like appearance when I’d close my eyes falling asleep.
From then on we’d see an auto pass every now and then, but nearly two years went by before I had the coveted dream of riding in one. That happened because my Uncle George Sims, mother’s brother, who lived in Globe at the time, bought a car that he referred to as a “Brush.” I think that was a suitable nickname because the thing was pretty handy at dodging the brush in the open desert. When Uncle George visited us that day, he gave each of us a ride with him to the store and back. About two years later, Dad bought a 1916 Model T Ford, and we joined the privileged few.
The first car I ever owned I bought in 1934 the year I started teaching in Solomonville. The Nash 400, as commonly called, a four cylinder four door sedan of approximately 1929 vintage and a pretty good old car, getting good gas mileage, even though it sipped too much oil. After several years we traded it for a new 1940, four door Plymouth sedan from the Robinson Curtis dealership. I paid $1,005 minus the $150 Nash trade value. In 1947, I traded that one for another new Plymouth, light blue four-door. In 1949, I bought a new, black, four-door Studebaker Land Cruiser sedan with the first overdrive I’d experienced. Just letting up on the accelerator for a moment would let it shift into overdrive in any gear. We bought the car after selling the laundry business in Wilmington, California, before we drove to Grand Junction, Colorado where my family and I spent the summer while I recruited students for Woodbury College of Los Angeles. Summer over, I didn’t continue with the College, and we returned to Arizona to again make our home in Thatcher.
In 1951, we sold the Studebaker to Glen West, the art instructor at the Jr. College, and purchased a more economical dark blue, 1946 Chevrolet from Red Malloy. That model sported the outside, adjustable visor. It provided us with faithful service until we bought a new, 1953 Ford, four-door sedan from the agency in Safford. It had great pep. Mac claims that few there were that could out drag him the length of the Safford, Gila River Bridge. Sporty red below, with a white top from the bottom of the windows on up, it was a fine car. In about 1950, I had already bought a short-bed step-side, 1947 Ford pickup for utility use. We used only it for the last nine months of Mac’s mission (which ended May of 57), for we had let the 53 Ford go to him to use in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he was called as district leader. We sold it in 1964 when we sold the grocery store. We kept the 53 Ford until mid 1959 and traded it in on a used 1957 or 58 Plymouth coup, the long, heavy, wide model with the finned rear fenders. Tan in color, it was the first air-conditioned car we’d owned. We kept it until sometime during the first year of my Senate tenure. That year, (1961) taking advantage of a legitimate favor curried me because of my position in State government, I was able to buy a new, loaded, American Motors Ambassador at a great price. We loved that luxurious sedan.
Looking back for a moment: in 1952, I helped Mac and Jon fix up Nettie’s (Jo’s mother), 1937 Chevrolet Coup. Earlier, she backed out of her driveway onto the highway, and a speeding car collided with her, damaging a fender and the front axle. After that frightening experience, she never drove again. The car sat unrepaired in the lot at the side of the garage for six years. The classic model had the rumble seat for two that folded out from the back. Mac and Jon became popular with the girls for a second reason. The girls loved going on dates with them when they drove it. We still had it in excellent running condition in late 57 when Mac returned from his mission and took up the rumble seat habit where he left off two and a-half years before. The girls still loved it -- I think it, more than him.
Since the above, we have purchased a new 1968 Plymouth sedan, a green 1977 Pontiac Bonneville, a 1983 white Ford Thunderbird coup and a 1988 white Chrysler New Yorker sedan which we have today (2000).
My first experience with a telephone came when I was about seven years old, still living in Glenbar where I was born. Under Sheriff Tom Alger, Dad had just become the deputy sheriff for our area -- the western end of the county. To keep in touch with the office and a few others of our neighbors who were able to afford the luxury of a telephone, he had one installed. The old, hardwood box-type hung there on the wall with its two bells mounted at the top, a crank on the right side and a little sloping shelf near the front bottom that provided a place to lean ones elbows while using it. Whenever Mother or Dad would allow me, I never missed the chance to turn the crank. I became an expert in sounding the long and short rings with it, nearly as true and plain as my parents and the two or three bigger kids who were allowed to use it now and then. If close neighbors were being called we could get them by cranking their numbers direct: using the number of long and short rings that had been assigned them. Otherwise one turn of the crank would connect to “Central” where a pleasant voice would say, “Number please.”
Everybody loved to use the telephone except Dad. It seemed that every time he got on the line with an important call a big red headed woodpecker would light on the pole a few yards out front and start his pecking routine. For some reason the noise or vibrations of the hammering beak entered the line delivering the rat-a-tat-tat into Dad’s ear. The pesky pecker would have to be frightened away before he could finish his conversation. One of the bigger boys would be called to throw rocks at the plucky critter. Jo and I got our first telephone in 1934, the first year I taught school in Solomonville.
It wasn’t until 1937, when we built the new house in Solomonville that Jo had anything to cook on but a wood-burning stove. There we installed a built-in electric range. A couple of years before that, when we were living in the old commercial building above the drugstore, we afforded an electric refrigerator.
Only six years after seeing my first automobile, an airplane came to the Gila Valley. Dad had been murdered two years earlier, and we lived in Thatcher then, on Main Street, in the old Christopher Layton home mother had purchased in 1918. The valley had been alerted that the plane was coming from Phoenix to Safford that morning, so I was camped on the front lawn shortly after sunup that historic day, determined that nothing would drag me away until the plane flew over, not even a raging thirst or the need to wash my face. Only one thing worried me at the time -- would the pilot fly it directly over our town? Maybe he’d follow the river a mile or so to the north or perhaps the railroad tracks south of us where my chances to spot him were nil. I had heard that pilots often used familiar landmarks instead of a compass -- I almost panicked at the thought.
Right on the money, he flew in low, straight over Main Street; I jumped on the 2 x 4 railing of the fence, waving frantically, hoping to be seen. I was sure my tactics had worked. The pilot leaned out the open cockpit and waved back. Whether it was to me or to just anybody, I never knew, but I took satisfaction in the fact that I could see no one else out waving, up or down the street. Old Cub, sensing my excitement and seeing and hearing the new oddity passing through the sky, began to bark frantically. I said, “Go get’im Cub.” He jumped the fence and chased his huge bird until it disappeared.
With just a fleeting glance I hardly recall what the plane looked like. I do remember it as mostly red and I thought beautiful. It had two spans of wings like the flying Jenny of World War I. I remember noticing the plainly visible landing gear, and I could see the blur of the propeller.
A year passed by before I approached near enough to an airplane to examine it closely. Except for color, the second one looked pretty much the same size and construction as the one a year ago. If I had ever heard what kind it was, it didn’t register. A “Barnstormer” had come to Thatcher where he had dickered with some of the farmers there who grew fields of alfalfa. Some of these fields, after a cutting, left short stubble: ideal landing spots for a small plane, and the field would not be injured if left to itself to revive and sprout again. Willis Daley had two or three fields that the pilot used most of the time. Whenever that plane circled the town a couple of times, people soon learned where to go if they wanted a ride. If free and close enough to walk, I would be there watching, envious of every well-off person that climbed into the plane, especially of any kids around my age. The fee was a whole silver dollar; I had never owned one in my entire life. I swore to myself that if this guy kept coming back, I’d have that dollar, and though it would be pennies and nickels hard come by, and a small fortune to me, I’d gladly spend it without compunction.
In three or four weeks with the help of my mother, a penny begged here and there and a few woefully solicited odd jobs, I had my money. Now I had only one worry, will the guy be back? Two weeks had passed since his last appearance, and I was beginning to chomp at the bit, and my pocket burned. One day I saw farmer Willis Daley in the post office and approached him on the subject. He didn’t know when, but was sure the plane would be back again. Then, sure enough, in a few days the plane made its telltale circles overhead.
I jogged at half-trot down Reay Lane. I felt a wave of embarrassment about handing the pilot my pocket full of nickels, as he always seemed in such a hurry to get passengers aboard. He’d probably resent having to take time to count the farthing hoard. But much to my relief he took the pile, hardly glanced at it, and shoved it into his pocket. As he strapped me in, he said, “You’ll have to sit on your hat,” he saw my puzzled look and grinned and added, “unless you want to chase it.”
Well, that was my first ride in an airplane, without a doubt the greatest thrill of my short, young life, and one of the greatest of my long, old life. Although I enjoy air travel and have used it to reach many exotic places across oceans and continents in this old world, a jumbo jet has yet to be built that imparted the thrill that that grasshopper-of-an-airplane gave me in ten minutes that summer day over the open fields of the Gila Valley in southeastern Arizona -- a trip that really took me nowhere.
Shortly after Dad had been elected sheriff and we moved to Safford, two of my big brothers bought a beebee-gun. Eight years old now and with permission from brothers and Mother and Dad, I could use it if I bought my own beebees. The big, old, red rooster that strutted around guarding his plumed harem of free-running hens tempted me beyond the endurance of a kid. When I popped him in the tail, he would leap with a squawk five feet into the air. I became an addict; I couldn’t resist it from then on when he came strutting into range. But Dad caught me at it and left me hang-headed after a good scolding and thorough explanation of the why-nots of such plinking. Also, he warned me that I would lose the privilege of the gun next time.
For a while I just watched and pondered the old, cocky crower, but alas, I couldn’t help it: I succumbed again to temptation. On one occasion, unknown to me, Dad had just stepped out onto the back step at the very moment that the bird was in mid-air-squawk. “Darvil, what did I tell you I’d do the next time you shot that rooster?” he said. I knew the beebee-gun was a goner for sure, and I stood there petrified as he walked toward me with purpose in his stride. He walked right by me and stopped at a small tree; he took out his pocket knife and opened a blade; he cut off a slender, limber branch; then with measured leisure, he trimmed off the twigs and leaves; he swished it, testing it through the air four times; the sound of the course whistle stung me to the bone; terrified, I froze and contemplated the impending consequence. He looked my direction and walked straight toward me.
About to burst, I began to cry, and bless her heart, Mother, watching from the window, stepped out of the door and called, “Frank! I think he’s learned his lesson well enough by now.” Wordlessly, Dad walked on toward me but stretched out a hand and said, “Give me the gun,” and growled, “you’ve lost it for now, and the next time you shoot that rooster, you’ll get a good whipping for sure.” Two weeks or more passed before I regained use of the coveted gun, and I made darn sure Dad wasn’t home and no one, and I mean no one, was watching the next times. Though I suffered some qualms of guilt, I did get even with that darned old chicken.
Sunday, June 23, 1996, in the Corona Del Mar Ward in Newport Beach, California, the teacher of our high priest group asked the class if anyone present was old enough to remember anything about World War I, the terrible four years that finally ended in 1918. The war when Kaiser Bill, predecessor of Adolph Hitler, thought his war machine so infallible that he could whip the world. Along with Brother Daken Broadhead, I raised my hand. Naturally, my elderly friend, then pushing ninety two, had many more memories of those awful four years that cost so many lives, including, though he never enlisted, the life of my father. Shot down by two of the war’s draft evaders: he had served less than one term as sheriff of Graham County in Arizona.
Only six years old when the war started, I do not remember much of its early years. I do have memories of the much talk of it, little of which I understood, and of the starving people in Europe where the war had devastated countries. I remember food drives and the women sewing clothes for the needy of those countries, especially for the little Country of Belgium. Dad, being sheriff knew when the troops would be coming through the county. He would take us to the Safford Depot to see them arrive in the freight trains, which often made a short stop or slowly crept through the town on their way for departure to war. I still see their young -- and it seemed to Mother -- hungry faces, as they crowded near and peered from the open doors of boxcars. Others, in good weather, would ride on open flatcars, as many as could, sitting along the edge with legs draped over the side. The rest sat and lounged among the stacks of equipment and gear scattered helter-skelter over the cars’ rough beds.
Mother didn’t like to go to the depot; she said it made her sad. In those days these newly conscripted soldiers were referred to as Doughboys, instead of GIs. (A doughboy is a boiled dumpling, perhaps a common part of their diet.) By the time the war ended, I was ten years old. It had been nine months since my father had been taken from us, and we were then living in Thatcher. How vividly I remember that momentous day of November 11, 1918. School had let out for lunch hour. Eight or ten of us kids were walking west from the school, which would put me at my house in another three minutes. We had just overtaken one of the lady schoolteachers, Daisy Curtis, my fourth grade teacher. At that moment, I spied W. W. Pace, a stalwart of the town, and at that time possibly the chairman of the school board. As we approached him he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, held up both arms for us to stop and excitedly said something to the effect: “I have an important message for you. I was in hopes I could get to the school before you were let out for lunch. School is canceled for the rest of the day -- the war has ended! We received the news just a few minutes ago. Germany has surrendered” The town went crazy.
A shout went up from our little group. I saw Miss Curtis dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes and bowed her head in silence. Since we were on Main Street, the town center, less than a couple of blocks away, I became conscious of noise and a babble of voices as others received the news. They came out of their houses and hugged neighbors. Grabbing hold of the excitement, I forgot my friends and raced for home where I blurted out the news to my mother who held little Frankie in her arms. Wondering about the racket outside, she’d just stepped out onto the porch. In another ten minutes the street had filled with shouting, dancing, laughing and crying people. Vehicles of all description appeared: Cars, Buggies, bicycles, tricycles, men on horseback: the din unbelievable. Anything men and women could find with which to make noise came out of storage that day. Dishpans and washtubs all took a beating, and in the middle of the banging, tooting and hollering, the school and church bells began to ring, and like a famous American poet has said: “While high overhead with wild increase, the great bell swung as never before, seemed as if ‘twould never cease. And every word its ardor flung, from off its jubilant iron tongue, was War! War! War!” But our bells were saying, “It’s over! Peace! Peace! Peace!”
I ran down to the corner where the largest crowd had gathered. There, Don Pace had just arrived with two large cowbells, and with one in each hand he succeeded in doubling the bedlam. For the rest of the day, and for many, far into the night -- happy, exuberant, unrestrained people went crazy.
The Armistice had been signed that day during the 11th minute past 11 o’clock, the 11th day the 11th month of the year.
(A huge stone, faced with a bronze plaque rests in front of the County Courthouse in Safford. It displays a great number of names of young men who sacrificed their lives in battle preserving our freedom. Few were the families of the Gila Valley that were not affected by the loss of a family member or a loved one.)
Up the desert hills from the Pima cemetery, at the foot of the mesa, a fellow by the name of Miller lived with two sons, and I believe a daughter was there part of the time. Because of the nearby spring, the area became known as Miller Springs. Miller had built a cabin there. I don’t remember of any crops or of a Mrs. Miller, so he may have been a prospector. The family had lived there for several years, and by the time the nation was well into World War I, the boys had matured and had gone to the east for a time. While there, they gained experience in aeronautics and construction of planes to the extent that when they returned to their spring, they took it upon themselves to build a plane.
They had in mind a craft that could make vertical takeoffs and landings, yet have power to propel itself forward. Any airplane in that era of time, even the simplest kind, was a curiosity, few people had seen one, and one had never yet flown to, or over the Valley. So you can imagine the excitement that grew as the news of such a project was rumored about the valley.
When word came out what the boys were up to, the Millers were bothered by a steady stream of curiosity seekers. Dad, either the sheriff of the county or a deputy at the time, reasoned that the rumors should be investigated. One day he put a couple of his boys in his Model T and drove out there to examine the contraption or put an end to the rumors. The curious thing was there all right. I remember that in addition to using industrial parts, they had scavenged common things, whatever they could find that would meet a particular need. For instance, they used buggy shaaves as the leading and trailing edges of the wings. (Shaaves attached directly to the front axle of a buggy. They curved up and extended along the side of a horse, and there, attach to its harness.) We saw the plane before the fuselage had been enclosed, so I could see a Ford Model T engine mounted forward of the cockpit area and two, additional, identical engines mounted under each wing with a vertical drive shaft that ran up through a hole in the wing to operate wooden, horizontal, vertical-lift propellers which would turn just above the wing.
As I recall, it took three to four years to complete. Dad had been killed in 1918 and the curious thing made its test flight sometime after. It did fly, but came to ground about 200 yards away from takeoff. Abandoned, it remained for people to pick apart for parts or souvenirs. One day, Floyd, Leonard and I walked up to the plane with tools that Floyd used removed a propeller because he wanted the nice ball bearings he was sure he would find inside. He was well rewarded and we remounted the propeller before we left. Several years later, I visited Uncle Clyde, Dad’s youngest brother. Attached to the wall of a storage shed he had mounted a propeller. I recognized it by its construction as being from the Miller plane, because, the outward feathered end of the prop had been split, and tin had been riveted in, to give it a leading edge of metal.
A point of interest: Marie Adams had been employed by Jo’s parents to help in the Phillips family home. Beloved of the family, after she was along in years, she married elderly Mr. Miller, a marriage that failed, and Miller moved away. Marie later married a man by the name of Bailey, moved to Idaho and there raised a fine family.
I love sugarcane. I don’t remember knowing a kid who didn’t. Sugarcane, that’s really a misnomer for the kind of cane grown around Thatcher. In my day they grew sorghum cane. Flavorful and almost as sweet as sugar cane, it wasn’t as hard as a broomstick like the sugar cane they grow in Hawaii, which took great dental prowess to masticate. Sorghum cane grew tall and slender with long sections between joints that were easy to peel with the teeth, requiring only a little extra pressure to chew. The tassel, when wide and full signaled that the juices were at their peak with sugar, and we kids knew the sign. Most farmers didn’t seem to mind kids helping themselves to a few stalks as long as they respected the field and didn’t tramp down plants. I don’t remember of ever being chased from a field. However, a spot a few yards inside it was the best place to hide.
Sorghum cane had two purposes on the farm (well, maybe three if you counted us kids). Some of it they ran through a set of steel rollers that squeezed out the juice. Cooked slightly, this juice thickened and became sorghum. Especially in the Southern States it became the staple syrup for such foods as cornpones and hot cakes, and I’m sure for many others. Sorghum is used by few households these days. I don’t think you would find it in many stores: too many fine syrups, jams and jellies have replaced it.
Cooked longer until it thickened to heavy brown syrup almost too thick to pour, it was then called molasses. It was used mostly for cooking. Mother used to make a molasses cake that we all thought super. I remember being sent with a glazed jug up the lane to Mortensens for a gallon of molasses. Brother Mort kept it stored in a small, cold cellar. The syrup was so thick and cold that it took nearly a half-hour to fill my jug from a spigot on a 20-gallon drum. One cold evening he struck several matches and held the flame near where the spigot screwed into the drum. The heat increased the flow slightly.
In our valley most of the cane ended up as silage. With a kind of combination chopper-blower machine, the farmer chopped it into small pieces and stored it in a silo, where it ferment for use as a rich, moist, cattle feed. When fall came and grasses went into hibernation, it served the purpose of getting the beafers and dairy stock through a hard winter. Cattle relished it, and its ready vitamin content helped increase milk production. Any other grass-like plant handy at the time, such as corn and maize, would be mixed with it. In those days, any good-sized farm was not considered complete without a silo in the barnyard. Those huge, round, concrete, monolithic structures rising to a height of forty feet or more, once dotted the landscape. Very few of them remain. I know of two. Those are twin towers on the old Hunt Banana Farm; they can be seen from the highway about where Church Street joins the highway as you leave Thatcher headed for Safford. Silage is still stored and used as a staple feed by the farmers and ranchers, so there must be a good reason why the concrete silo has disappeared. In recent years, with the availability of the right machinery, storage has gone below ground instead of high above. Diggers and bulldozers scrape out long, shallow pits wide enough for a wagon or truck to back into. Such pits are so much less expensive to build that the concrete silo became obsolete -- they’re so much handier and easier for the farmer to use.
Kids were welcome at silo-filling time. The silage needed packed tightly in the space afforded it, so three or four kids having great fun with the cascading silage being spewed from the blower served good purpose. A few barefoot 60-ponders saved the farmer from having to hire another hand. I considered it great sport; I think kids had more fun in those days. Now back to the sport of chewing cane. I use the word “sport” because often we would have contests to determine who could chew the most cane while we sat for two or three hours on the ground in the cane patch. You don’t eat cane; you chew it until the juice is gone, then spit out the dry wad. Contests were judged, not by the number of joints one consumed, but by the size of the pile of chewings we could build. Not wanting to take time to deposit the leftovers in a neat pile we’d just let it drop onto our legs and feet where we sat cross-legged. In three hours, with a trained jaw, one could cover himself to the waist: that was part of the fun -- to see who could make that final protruding knee disappear first.
Competing one day with my cousin, Raymond McBride, down at Glenbar in the Will Carter cane fields, and near the end of our agreed time, things came to a sudden and startling halt. No, Carter didn’t find us there. That wasn’t it at all. We had shooed away or killed a few big red ants that had come nosing around, but I guess one managed to get by us. Suddenly Raymond let out a whoop that waggled the tassels of the stalks. Chewings flew in every direction -- increasing the size of my pile -- as the punctured boy leaped skyward. Frantically, he clawed at the under-muscle of his upper leg, then quickly thrust his pants groundward exposing the big, red welt left by the savage ant. The game was over; I won that one fair and square by default. Raymond shelled out the three big pecans he had wagered and went home to nurse the injection -- and his pride.
Cane served another very good purpose. In the spring when the first ripened and school hadn’t yet let out for the summer, we would load our pockets with juicy sections to give to the girls at school -- the ones we liked the best. (Jo says the only way she got cane to chew, was making eyes at the boys.) Don’t remember that it ever got me anything but smiles and blushes, but it was fun and caused me to live with the hope that maybe one would tell another girl, who would then tell my favored one who might tell me that I was her bow.
The day the steam shovel came to Thatcher was exciting news, especially to the kids who had long heard about it but had never seen the prodigious work one of these monsters could do. A steam shovel coming to little old Thatcher? What fun it would be to watch such a famed, stupendous contraption work.
To the farmers of our little valley it forecast much more than that. Fortunes hung in the balance until it was proved whether the project these intrepid landowners had in mind would work. The powerful digging machine they had contracted for, at great expense, would scoop out a ditch some six-feet deep and four-feet wide down through the center of the town’s farming acreage, coming to an end at the river. Several smaller trenches would web the land, each draining into the larger, center trench. All trenches would then be laid with long sections of perforated, terra-cotta pipe, the whole becoming a huge drainage system for a tortured land.
I say tortured because a great deal of the level land in the Thatcher, Central and Pima, potential farming acreage, were white with alkali, a mixture of salts in the upper soil. Alkali-fouled ground is found in vast dry regions of the West where rainfall is insufficient to properly leach the land of growth-stunting salts that contaminate the soil to the point that it failed to support sufficient plant life including all crops.
At last the big day arrived. Most of the town gathered at the depot to see the mammoth machine unloaded from the flat car. What excitement! We kids, and a few men followed the lumbering monster as it made its way through town and down Reay Lane where about a mile north of town it would begin its monumental task. That afternoon it took its first bite of Thatcher soil; I didn’t intend to miss a thing. It had taken most of the day to get its engine started and ready to go to work. And there is when my first disappointment came. To my disgust, I watched them fill that “steam engine” -- with gasoline -- and reluctantly it dawned on me that it wasn’t the famous steam shovel that we had so excitedly anticipated, but powered with an ordinary gasoline engine and not steam. After the trauma of that first disappointment, our spirit of adventure returned, and we kids spent many hours watching with fascination, the prowess of our steam shovel.
We followed it through its triumphs and its failures: Welders and mechanics with torches and huge wrenches were forced to spend hours at repairs. We also shared in the rejoicing of farmers when all ran smoothly with fast progress. I don’t recall how long it took to complete the project, but I think more than a year. Neither am I able to name many of the farmers who frequented the work area, but I recall that W. W. Pace was there the first day and seemed to have some authority. Uncle Rud Phillips and Jo’s dad, David Phillips, were there, and I believe Roy Layton and James Porter.
Thatcher land no longer had a tortured look. The project proved a complete success. After a couple of good rains and a flooding irrigation, the white surface disappeared, leached, as it were, into the terra-cotta pipes that shunted it to the river. Gasoline shovel, vaseline shovel, call it what you may, it’ll always be a “steam shovel” to me.
As teenagers, my friends and I spent substantial time exploring the great outdoors. The river bottom country, the surrounding foothills and mesas, and the comely Graham Mountains beckoned us. On one occasion, Gordon Stowell, Brose Hanchett and I planned a week-long outing in the mountains. We packed a burro, and what it couldn’t carry we shouldered ourselves. From our homes in Thatcher we made our way through the next-door desert, up into the farther foothills, then on across the high mesas. Reaching the steeper trail, we followed it up to the site of the old, long-abandoned Jacobson Sawmill. Knowing that Clarson’s Sawmill was in operation another two miles up the trail, and cabins there would be occupied, we set up primitive housekeeping in an old cabin at the Jacobson place, known at the time as the Assy house. From there, we made forays out on trails to explore the ridges and canyons of the forest. We enjoyed a great outing together, and in addition to hiking the trails, we visited the Clarson Mill operation. We also found time to drop down into Frye Creek, a half-mile away, where we caught a few trout with our hands. They enhanced our otherwise austere meals.
Now is as good a time as any to tell about my first date: When still a kid I loved my first cousin, Pricilla Cluff. Her mother, Aunt Susie, a full sister to my mother, also lived in Thatcher. I had just turned twelve and had been ordained a Deacon, I think on my birthday. Soon after that, the new deacon’s advisor proposed a party to help get things organized and consolidated. Concerned about two boys whose parents had only recently discovered that they had not been attending Sunday morning priesthood meetings, he thought the party would help. Although, for another reason we boys agreed the party was a great idea.
In the planning session that Sunday, most deacons voted for having girls along. Each of us was to bring a girl partner, whether or not we called it a date didn’t matter. Well, I’d made eyes at several of the girls whose looks, in some special way or another had caught my attention, but of none could I really say, “She’s my girl.” I agonized about my situation until almost too late. My friends by this time were all boasting about whom they were going to bring. One even bragged that when Sabina heard about the coming event, she got bold and asked him to take her. Upon hearing this news I thought, “How lucky can you get.”
When I mentioned my cousin Pricilla to Mother, she sparkled up and said, “That’s just what I was thinking. I think that would be nice.”
Priscilla, very cooperative, understood my dilemma and didn’t seem to feel that she was the life-saving choice. She proved to be the ideal partner for a shy kid. We knew each other well enough, and each understood the temporary situation, that this couldn’t possibly be the beginning of a romance -- yes, kids at twelve do think about those things. No shyness existed between us, and as a result we turned out to be the life of the party. In the kissing game I didn’t even turn red in the face as did most of my friends. After that we were really special friends. It has been many years since I last saw Pricilla. If she happens to read this little blurb, let me say, “Hello sweet Cousin.”
Passing into my teenage years, I began to use a .22 rifle and a .410-guage shotgun. The expense of the cartridges, especially during the Great Depression years, prohibited most of us from plinking or target practicing much; for we had to make every shot count and bring home meat for the table to justify the cost. We hunted quail and cottontail for the dinner table and jackrabbits for a bounty of five cents paid by the county for each pair of ears we turned in at the courthouse
When about sixteen, Joe McClellan (Tillie Mortenson’s husband) gave me a World War I Springfield 30-40 Craig: a five-shot, bolt action Long Tom rifle. Two of them had been issued him on muster. Someone cut off eight to ten inches off the barrel and reset the front sight. Mac killed three deer with it during his late teenage years, and Jon has it now. It was my first big game rifle, I began using it soon after Joe’s generosity to a young and eager boy that couldn’t afford anything that expensive. I guess I still wouldn’t have done much deer and pig hunting if he hadn’t also given me a couple of hundred cartridges to go with the rifle.
The javelena (wild pig of the Southwest) is fun to hunt, a thrill to take one, but I have hunted much bigger game. One day I was hunting deer with Grant Hastings, the agriculture teacher who worked under me at the school. While hunting the Stocton Pass hills and ridges we separated, Grant working the side of the hill and up a sandy wash. I paralleled him on a somewhat brushless ridge directly across from him. About a hundred yards ahead of me, I spotted what I thought was a calf walking slowly down the ridge toward me. Then reality hit, “That can’t be a calf! It’s too small to be away from its mother.” I took a better look and it dawned on me that I was looking at a yearling black bear of brown color. At that moment, Grant, having just spotted the interloper, feared for my safety and yelled across to me, “Bear! Bear! Bear! Watch it Darvil, there’s a bear!”
I dared not answer him, for the bear, as yet, failed to detect me. It was open season for bear, and I wanted to get him. I had my dog, Darby, with me and because of high brush he hadn’t spotted the bear yet. I didn’t want him to see him, so I beckoned him over where we climbed a huge boulder. Close to the top I made Darby lie at my feet. I wanted the best shot I could get, and sure enough, as I peeked over the top I could clearly see the bear sort of ambling along toward me. I laid my sights on him and waited until he came within 50 feet. I squeezed the trigger, and the head-shot, squarely between the eyes, dropped him in his tracks without as much as a twitch of a muscle.
At the crack of the shot, old Darby leaped to his feet and ran down and around the boulder in the direction he’d seen me aiming. When he reached the bear, he stopped dead in his tracks. Keeping his distance he didn’t try to approach near enough for his usual sniff of the kill until he made two, cautious, closing circles.
Grant saw it all and soon stood at my side. We proceeded to relieve the unfortunate animal of everything he had inside him, lightening him considerably, yet still to heavy for one man to carry. We scouted around, found a stout yucca pole to which we tied his four paws and hauled him down to the car.
He sported a beautiful pelt in excellent condition. Grant thought it would be good experience for his agriculture class to undertake the tanning of the hide. However, the project took a bad turn, a couple of boys too anxious to get the job done, cut several holes in the hide during the tedious job of scraping it down.
With family, friends, neighbors and teachers, all anxious to try the taste of bear meat, the unusual meat didn’t last that long. Though some turned up their noses, I quite enjoyed the pork-like flavor but different from any other wild game I had eaten.
I drove out in the hills some fifteen miles from home to pick up Jo’s Uncle Wallace, a mining man and prospector. He had wanted to explore some old diggings of abandoned claims near the foot of Graham Mountain. I had driven him there the week before, so this trip was to pick him up and bring him home. Not actually planning to hunt, I did take my .22 semiautomatic Savage rifle along. I hadn’t seen anything to try for during the trip out, but we barely started back when a javelina boar (the wild Arizona peccary) suddenly jumped from the brush some fifty yards away running broadside to us. Although a little far for my small caliber rifle he presented a good target. My first shot hit him in the front leg, for I saw him begin favoring it as he ran on. I triggered three or four more quick shots before he disappeared into heavier brush. Knowing that I had hit him at least once, I gave chase. Well, he wasn’t in the brush, and there were so many other pig tracks around that he was impossible to track. After ten minutes or so with no encouraging results, I assumed he was still on the run and I shouldn’t spend any more time trying to find him. In my searching I had seen a couple of prospecting shafts, and suddenly I questioned if the wounded animal had taken refuge in one.
The large one had a horizontal trench leading to the entrance before the tunnel entered the slope of the hill. Rifle at my waist with a chambered shell, I jumped into the trench fifteen or twenty feet from the shaft entrance. (Later I found the shaft length to be about ten feet.) The second I hit the ground, a loud snort came from within, and though I could not see him, I could hear the animal charging toward me. As he exploded from the dark entrance into full light rushing me at full speed, I could almost feel those three-inch-long tusks slashing my legs. With the rifle still at waist-level, instinctive reflex pulled the trigger. The lucky shot caught him squarely between the eyes. He fell dead nearly at my feet. (A healthy javelina would never attack a man out in the open, but when wounded and cornered it’s a different game.)
It posed no easy task to drag that full-grown boar from the trench up onto level ground. In the open where I began to work, I examined him closely. He had four holes in him. If correct about the number of times I fired, I’d hit him with every shot. The first words I heard from Uncle Wallace when he finally found me, were, “Hope you’ve got a knife, ‘cause the meat won’t be any good if you don’t cut the musk bag out right now.” The musk gland, located mid-spine slightly behind his shoulders, if left too long after death, permeates the flesh giving it a musky half-spoiled taste. Of course, I quickly took Wallace’s advice, then skinned out the hindquarters and wrapped them in an old blanket from the trunk. Evidently I hadn’t removed the gland quite in time or else it’s typical for the meat of an old hog to have a faint taste of musk to it. Regardless, it tasted pretty good to me.
While I taught at Solomonville, I used my father-in-law’s old, 12-gauge, 1897 Remington, pump-action to hunt quail. Once, on a cold winter morning up in the hills during a light fall of sleet, I spotted a covey of them. When they saw me they bunched up together under a mesquite’s low hanging branches. I pulled up and shot; and from that one shot I gathered up 10 quail. Though I had killed five, six and seven birds with one shot, I never duplicated the 10-bird kill again.
On one deer hunt during the depression years, I sat high on a ridge located down-creek from Shannon Flats watching a clearing below. As dawn gradually shared its light with the shadowy canyon, I spotted three deer; but it was still too dark to see if they sported antlers. Anxiously, I waited as it steadily grew lighter. Finally, I made out a set of forked antlers on one, and with one shot I dropped him. As I made my way down the slope to bleed and gut him, out bounded a big buck. I quickly took care of the forked-horn and took off looking for him.
Unknown to me, another hunter had been watching the same three deer and saw me make the kill. When he saw me leave it there, he presumed I had killed a doe and left it there hidden. I saw no more of the big buck, so I returned and carried the forked-horn back to camp where I hung him, skinned him out, and left him to cool while I waited for my companions. About two hours later, up drove the game warden and a deputy sheriff with the hunter who had watched me make the kill. They had come to investigate the alleged illegal doe-kill. I showed them the hanging deer with its legal rack still attached. I knew both the warden and the deputy sheriff; and when they discovered that I was Frank McBride’s son, I enjoyed a warm visit with the two. They had known my Dad and the circumstances of his death and wanted to chat -- much to the discomfort of the hang-headed tattler.
Back in Thatcher after seven and a half years in California, my hunting opportunities increased considerably. Glenn Dowdle, husband of Jo’s sister, Jean, owns a nice ranch spread over State and Federal land in the famous Arivaipa Canyon. He and his brothers had inherited it form their mother. Glenn’s grandfather Dowdle had left it to Glenn’s mother. My boys and I had a standing invitation with him, his four-wheel-drive Jeep, a saddle horse and several square miles of the best deer and pig hunting in the State of Arizona. With Glenn’s savvy of the lay of the land, his huge, powerful binoculars and the sharpest eyes I ever knew, we enjoyed fine success during those wonderful times. Mac killed his first deer there, a heavy, nicely-antlered four-point blacktail mule deer (Western count). You must read Mac’s account of the kill, a college English class composition. In it you’ll learn the part I played in the drama. On Glenn’s ranch, we also hunted quail, small game and javelina -- but never for javelina successfully. During their season they were wise enough to make themselves scarce, but we generally saw plenty while hunting deer. Shooting them during deer season is illegal, but at that time, every cattleman in the country would quickly encourage you to do it anyway, because of the damage they caused the range. Though I killed only one javelin while purposely hunting them, I can’t say I was not a successful pig hunter, for I had killed four of them before my boys were old enough to hunt with me.
All of the higher hills and flat, hilly, desert or mountains around the valley provided us good deer hunting too. Mac and I left one afternoon for Stockton Pass, 35 miles south of Thatcher. Into the hunt hardly a half-hour, Mac heard me shoot twice. He changed his course of direction and made his way, carefully, around the big hill from where he believed my shots had come, thinking he might intercept a slippery, scared buck I’d missed. When he found me, I had just finished gutting a buck. I told him to wait and see what I had up the hill a ways. I had shot twice and killed two beautiful little bucks. They were cous whitetail deer (A Spanish name often pronounced by gringos as cooze, but properly as “cows.”) It is a diminutive whitetail race peculiar to southeast Arizona and most of the northern Mexico border shared by New Mexico and Texas too. They were much farther north than they usually ranged, and luck put them in my sights. One had four points in addition to brow tines and the other was a three-point. They sported the cutest miniature sets of antlers. Field dressed, the largest weighed no more than 45 pounds and the smaller, 35. Mac carried the small one down to the pickup under his arm, while I carried the other, with ease, draped across my shoulders.
During the same period, with the boys in high school, together we hunted cottontail rabbits as often as circumstances permitted. I still used the same old shot gun, but by then I had become considerably accurate with it. On one hunt, within a period of no more than 40 seconds, I scored on three rabbits. They just kept jumping out, and I just kept knocking them off.
On another trip with the boys, we were searching for a legendary, giant, petrified turtle rumored to be in the desert several miles east of Solomonville. We’d also taken our shotguns along to do some hunting. We never found the petrified turtle, but in our exploring we came upon an abandoned ranch site. There were a few small, old shacks, an old windmill and tank and a lot of debris laying around an otherwise clear open area. A larger wood frame building had been dozed down, and its remains were stacked in one big loose pile of ruined lumber about 40 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. I asked Mac, who wasn’t carrying his gun at the time, to climb up on top of the pile with me. Once there, we began to bounce up and down on the springy pile. We caused a lot of movement that made considerable noise. Soon, out flushed a cottontail that could stand it no longer, running straight away. Boom. He was in the bag. In a few seconds, out burst a second one, racing away at a different angle. Boom. Another one in the bag. We kept on bouncing, and after another several seconds, a third chanced his escape, and I got him too.
During the fall and winter of that year, 1952, I had quite a run on cottontail without missing a shot. I recall 19 in a row, but Mac insists it was 23. He does have an excellent memory.
All my life I’ve loved to hunt birds, small game and deer. After surgery, that for ever after caused one leg to swell, unhappily, it forced me to abandon the sport at about 60 years of age.
When still a kid in Thatcher, we boys played some competitive games to entertain ourselves, many that are now part of the past. One fun time-consumer we loved, was “hoop rolling.” We used a small light wheel or the rim of a tricycle, baby carriage or the metal hoop that held together the staves of the old wooden nail keg. We nailed or wired a short cross-piece to the end of a 1 x 2 or similar board. It looked much like a fragile hockey stick. With it, we guided the rolling rim, maneuvering it left or right, while we kept it going by deft pushes, while running along at the side. We became real experts in making it turn in any direction. The object of the game: out race our competition along a pre-determined course. Commonly, the course consisted of racing around a house or a few short blocks to downtown and back.
Any real boy in our day carried a pocketknife. We played a game with these indispensable blades called “Mumble Peg.” The object of the competition was to go through a series of distinct methods of tossing or throwing the knife so as to cause the blade to firmly stick in the ground. Soft moist soil was ideal.
Starting with the easiest method first, we worked on through a series of increasingly difficult ways: First off, on our knees we held the handle of the knife and simply threw the blade into the ground, as predetermined, perhaps five times. Usually, no one missed that round unless real unlucky. Second, standing, we held the blade and threw it one revolution sticking it into the ground, again, five times. Some failures weren’t uncommon. Third, again on knees, with closed fist up, we laid the knife across the junction between knuckles and palm with the blade facing out. We made a sweeping turn-of-the-wrist, throwing the blade into the soil, more difficult with a few more failures occurring. Fourth, standing again, with the blade held between thumb and finger, the knife was tossed up slightly turning opposite the normal way on its way to the ground to hopefully stick—much more difficult, and we expected several misses before finally completing a successful three. (Meanwhile, a competitor or competitors, might have fallen behind while another kept advancing on through the more difficult steps, much like playing jacks, in which one could be well advanced ahead of the others.) Fifth and last of the basic throws, standing with blade in hand, the hand held against the lip and under the nose, by the quick forward motion of your head, you sent the knife turning toward the ground. We could be stuck on this one for some time. There were many other varied and more difficult steps we added as wanted.
The grand finale of the game consisted of the winner, while holding the blade, driving a two-inch-long peg, the diameter of a pencil, into the ground with the handle of the knife. The number of hits was also pre-decided before the game, based upon the hardness of the ground. Sometimes the winner could drive it to where it leveled with the surface of the ground. Then, the losers, on hands and knees, had to pull it out with their teeth. At times, the looser had to root it out, getting his face all dirty and filling his teeth with muddy grit. What a kick: when you managed to be the winner.
Each school year marble season erupted into real serious business. Most of us had no interest in playing for funzies -- we played for keeps. I remember having a ten-pound lard bucket full of marbles at home. At first, I saved enough money to buy about a dozen marbles. As I improved in the game, I tossed my ever increasing winnings into the bucket. I’d leave for school with some thirty marbles and always return with more; for I gradually developed a fine-honed skill in the game. One could call me a ringer, because I did play better than all the others my age.
We scribed a circle in the dirt to begin playing the most common marble game. The greater the age, or the more contestants in the game, the bigger the circle. It might be two feet in diameter or five. Each gambler threw an equal number of marbles into the circle. We decided the number per person after saying in marble lingo, “How many up?” To determine who would go first, second, and third etc., we lagged (tossed) our taw (the slightly larger shooting marble) to a line drawn on the ground ten or twelve feet away. The closest lag to the line won the first shot at the marbles in the circle. With the taw in hand, in front of the cocked thump behind the middle finger, the marble rested on the curled index finger. We rested the knuckles of the hand outside the edge of the circle to shoot. Each time your taw knocked a marble out of the circle, and the taw stayed in the circle, the marble not only became yours to keep, but you earned the right for another shot. Whenever your taw ricocheted outside the circle, your turn was lost, and the next boy took his turn. Sometimes, a real good player could clean out every marble in the circle without giving the following boys a chance to ever shoot.
Of course, it was to my advantage to win the lag for the first shot, for I often could clean the ring. I so hate to brag, but some things are just true and need telling, and it’s not my fault, and I can’t help it. Within my age group, I stood out as one of the best, and when I grew older, very few wanted to play me. (Maybe flipper and marbles went hand in hand.) For me to be allowed to enter a game with others that knew they had a much lesser chance of winning, I was forced to accept a handicap. I often had to put many more marbles in the ring than the others. So after a short haggle we would come to terms as to how many extra I had to throw in the circle to allow me play.
We played the game of “Chasers” with marbles too, a contest between two persons. The first would throw his marble out onto the ground several feet ahead, the next would shoot at the other’s marble. Each had to be sure to shoot hard enough so that if he missed hitting the competitor’s marble, it would role far enough past, not giving the opponent too much advantage. Sometimes, the distance between shots was too far for a conventional shot, so the rules allowed a throw. Once one hit the other’s marble, it was pocketed and the looser had to come up with a second marble. If the chaser taw was a favorite, larger or prettier, the looser did not need to give it up, he could substitute any marble for it --- usually the ugliest one of his collection.
In grammar school, according to the season, we played the usual athletic sports. In basketball I was good enough during those years to earn a place on the school team. We visited other schools competing against them. We had inter-school track meets, and I usually earned a place as one of the three from our school to enter certain events. The 60 yard and 100 yard dashes, broad jump (long jump) and high jumping were my forte. In the meets, I usually placed at least third, though often second, but on occasions first. I wasn’t quite speedy enough to capture the blue ribbon too often. Of all the events I entered, I excelled most in the high jump. Usually I placed second, but captured a blue ribbon first place, more often in it than in the dashes and broad jump.
When a twelve-year-old, soccer was introduced to us in the valley. We didn’t play the other schools in soccer, we only played among ourselves. That was during recess and lunch breaks usually as members of a choose-up team. If not the captain doing the choosing, I was generally one of the first choices. Though I did enjoy it -- hardly a slouch at the game -- I never esteemed myself an excellent soccer player.
Softball was just another recess game, I usually played first base. Quite often, I ended up as a fielder, for I had an eye for catching the high, long flies well, and I had a good arm to quickly return the ball accurately to the infield. My classmates looked upon me as being as good as most, and the captains selected me early-on during choosing. In basketball we frequently competed with two conveniently close grammar schools, Central and Pima. At that age, I played the game with great success. My grammar school years proved to be good experience and training that prepared me for successful years in high school and college. At that time, we played the game man-to-man only, and once we took possession of the ball anyone could bring it down the court. I played forward most of the time, but sometimes center. As a dribbler, few of my cohorts eclipsed me. That ability helped fashion me into a versatile player. A slender build, coupled with exceptional agility enhanced my ability to score a high percentage of shots from any place on the floor. I could deliver the ball through the hoop from closely-guarded, unorthodox, peculiar, off-balance positions. Rising self esteem and confidence improved my playing even more.
At twelve years, the Boy Scouts became the big thing for us. We spent a lot of time at it. I became the patrol leader of the most famous scout patrol in Thatcher history. And I know seven others that would swear to that, but they’re dying off fast. (I just turned 91.) After a bit of deliberation, we unanimously decided to call ourselves the Jackass Patrol. As I record this, Jo remembers its fame too, for she piped up saying, “That’s right.” We rose to such heights of fame that the locals would come up to one or the other of us and ask, “Which Jackass are you?” Here, Jo adds another comment laced with perturbance, for it didn’t end with me as a youth. I continued on and became a scoutmaster and held other positions in scouting directorship as a young married man. She would always be jealous of anything that took me away from her. She still is. I guess she always will be. She just can’t help it, she’s sick in love with me. (Read additional details about scouting in section ? )
Bruce Lane McBride, my youngest brother, writes: “Let me tell you of two incidences about Darvil. I refer to them as ‘Root for Profit’ and ‘Flight of Angels.’ My activities in scouting afforded many interesting experiences. One time, Darvil was put in charge of the scout troop’s concession at a Pioneer Day celebration in Thatcher. We had been assigned the concession of selling ice cream and soda pop. Darvil decided to provide an extra attraction in the way of some homemade root beer. About two weeks ahead of time, we bottled 20 gallons, sealing it into grape juice bottles. By the 24th of July, it had built up terrific pressure due to yeast carbonation. At first it sold for 15 cents a quart-size bottle; but when the crowd discovered that it went wild after removing the cap, the demand shot up -- so did the price, 20 cents a bottle. Although the treat was quite tasty, very little was consumed. Both young and old, rushed to purchase the stuff. The sport of the day was to remove the cap, shake the bottle a little and squirt it at each other. This went on until the crowd exhausted the supply, and Darvil had realized a handsome profit for the scouts with his venture.
“Darvil was usually the main spring in some unusual activity and I, with gusto and pride, was very likely assisting him. On the same day as the root beer episode, we had rigged up a trolley ride. It consisted of a steel cable sloping down to ground level about 200 feet distant running from high up in a cottonwood tree. Billed as ‘The Angel’s Flight," the customer climbed a ladder to a platform in the tree, seated himself in the suspended seat hanging from a pulley on the cable and shoved off for a sizzling flight down. At the bottom, a special braking device affected a safe landing. Turned over to the scouts to operate, Darvil and I, by charging five cents a ride added another tidy sum to the treasury.”
FLUME, By Bruce Lane McBride, my youngest brother: At one time my brother, Orlando, was the scoutmaster. He took our troop on a three-night outing up to Oak Flat, at 8,000 feet elevation, in the west end of Mount Graham.
This section of the mountain was
traversed by an old flume, a steep waterway, which many years earlier
was used to float logs from the lumber mill at the top of the mountain
to the mill pond below. This V-shaped flat-bottomed structure, made
entirely of wood, originally passed over ridges and steep canyons for
four or five miles. In places the flat-bottomed trough was on trestles
only two or three feet high, while in other places, it was 60 or more
feet above the ground. The flume had long since been abandoned and over
the years had weakened. In fact, in many places it had fallen down.
Nevertheless, in the upper canyons, where we were hiking, rather
extensive sections of it remained in tact.
The second day in camp a group of scouts including, Grant Farley, Jimmy Jamison, Voris Foster and I, hiked two or three miles alongside the flume toward the top of the mountain to a point where it made an extremely steep decent into a canyon. Grant decided to try and slide a short distance down the flume. Before he knew it, he was picking up speed, headed toward a part that dropped almost straight down, a half-mile ahead. Frightened, he began grabbing at the sides to slow himself, and in desperation he finally threw himself out. His hands and legs were lacerated and filled with splinters, and much of his clothing was torn off. The ground where he landed was jaggedly rocky and covered with brush. When we got to him, he was bleeding in several places and pretty well bruised. We decided the other scouts would stay with him, while I went down the mountain to our camp for help. It seemed doubtful that Grant would be able to walk by himself.
So, down that steep slope I went, then up the other side of the canyon and down the next. The going was rough, but my only thought was to get to camp as soon as possible. So, up and down I continued on, crashing through brush, bounding over huge boulders, tumbling at times, but seldom slowing down. Truly an experience I’ll remember.
When I began to approach the bottom of the canyon, the slope was not quite as steep and I decided the going would be smoother inside the flat-bottomed flume. I climbed in and began running. All went well for a short distance, until the flume leveled off across the creek. At this point, I was about twelve feet above the ground, and suddenly the flume gave way and I plunged headlong into the creek bed. Lumber splintered and fell all around me, and when I looked back up the incline I had just traversed -- about two hundred yards of the flume came crashing down toward me. Luckily, I was at a safe distance as it tumbled to the ground.
I ran down the creek a little distance and then got into the flume again, but soon, another section collapsed and this time, I fell into the water. I picked my dripping self up and clambered to the top of the ridge, then, down its slope under about the same conditions as before. I finally stumbled into camp in complete exhaustion. So tired, wet, and breathless that I couldn’t talk, I passed out -- crumpling to the ground.
Orlando and the boys after a few minutes brought me around and I was able to tell them what had happened. Orlando immediately grabbed up a first aid kit and started up the mountain accompanied by Carl Jones, Grover Pease and some other scouts.
After a short time I was surprised to see the whole gang, including the injured Grant, trudging back into camp, and Grant was walking. Though at the time of the accident, it seemed a matter of life and death, he had not been injured nearly as much as we had at first supposed. My flight down the mountain, though courageous and filled with jeopardy, had been quite unnecessary. Later, everyone had a good laugh over the entire affair.
My brother, Darvil, was also on this outing, and I well remember him and some of the older scouts his age improvising shelter in a downpour of rain and trying to cook and serve meals from under it.
One day, on this same outing,
while we were playing some games in one of the meadows, one of the boys
hiding behind a fallen log suddenly discovered he was lying almost on
top of a rattlesnake. When he let out a yell it broke up the game, and
his narrow escape together with all the other dramas hastened the
decision to start for safer pastures -- like home. When we broke camp and
started back toward the automobiles, the whole group decided to chance
a section of the flume for an easier decent. But, the old flume wasn’t
through with us yet, for the structure collapsed and dumped a dozen
boys ingloriously into the creek below. The timbers splintered and came
raining down like jack straws. Severely shaken, the disheveled troop
felt fortunate indeed that no one was seriously injured. At this
juncture, Gene Mangum suggested to our leader that we should have a
prayer before going any further. Orlando offered it. Needles to say,
after that last episode, we took the hint and abandoned the
treacherous, old flume. We were positively happy to arrive home
without further mishap.
MY (Darvil) MEMORIES OF THE ACCOUNT: As Bruce mentioned, I was along on the trip too. I was one of the senior scouts assisting our brother Orlando, two years my senior. Oak flat was the place where Grandpa Peter McBride took his family on their annual trip high into the mountain to grow his potatoes and pumpkins during the summer.
Parents of the boys had driven us up to “the blackberry patch” from where we started the hike -- from the very place that Grandpa hauled the wagon -- where it awaited the returning family those many years ago. From there he and his family, with packed horses, started on foot up the five-mile trail.
Regarding the final mishap on the flume, I remember it well: The old flume that began its decent from the sawmill at Columbine had stretches still pretty much intact, though showing definite signs of deterioration. In some places it was very steep and in others it leveled out to run along ridges. It crossed from ridge to ridge on high trestles over canyons and arroyos, some running with water and others dry. The trail from the flat crisscrossed the flume, and it was obvious that it would just be easier, at times, to get into the flume to head down straightway instead of taking the circuitous trail route. That we did, and were somewhat separated walking along, but, perhaps in too much cadence, for the structure under our weight, and no doubt heavier from being soaked with considerable rain, began to collapse forward to the ground from about four feet high. Because of the degree of incline, when the span with a couple of us on it met the ground, the forward motion propelled it like a sled, and it slid on down another 15 feet. Startled, we crouched grabbing the sides and road it out as though in a giant sled. (As I recall, it had already happened once before.) But, just behind me, was a stretch spanning an arroyo about 25 or 30 feet in depth. After the sled ride, we looked back up the flume to see the long span with a dozen boys on it begin to sway. It collapsed down into the creek below. I saw the splintering trusses and cross-braces of the trestle flying about and bouncing in every direction, finally coming to rest in the bottom. A few boys were up above the collapsing part. They had quickly backed away from the gaping edge of danger and were all right. They would make their way down off the flume and over to us, later.
We ran back up to look down at the wreckage to check on the other boys. Soon we had accounted for every one except Douglas Jamison. I remembered he had been wearing a red cap. With sinking heart I spotted the cap half hidden in the dirt under a huge truss. Other lumber debris lay in a pile over it. In horror, I thought to my self, “Oh no, he’s under all that lumber and his head is crushed beneath that huge truss.” I scrambled down to look closer. Too my great relief, I found only his cap under it -- no head therein. Soon, someone yelled that he was up somewhere, and safe. Doug had taken quite a beating in his bout with the collapsing wreckage, the worst injury being a cracked rib. We continued on down, now avoiding the previously enticing flume, to the blackberry patch to meet the waiting parents.
THE FLUME MIRACLE: I heard Leonard tell of this incident several times, and of course, because of the drama and the trauma of it, anytime a certain four-year-old’s name was mentioned, the story was told again and again in our little valley. Only a few days ago, at this writing, Leonard, then 91, (1996) still with an excellent memory told me again how he fitted into the drama. He suggested that I write it for inclusion in this history.
Leonard, about seven years of age was at Oak Flat with Aunt Bessie, Dad’s youngest sister. He had been left with his young aunt, probably helping our aunt tend the younger kids in the camp while the adults were out hiking. I’m sure I was there also. Since Leonard was seven I would have been three. Granddad Peter and my Dad had built cabins there. They packed in, up to them, each summer to raise potatoes and pumpkins and escape the summer heat of the valley. The flat was about two miles below the logging operation higher up the mountain at Columbine. There, creak water diverted into the flume floated the rough-cut lumber and debarked logs down seven miles to the flume camp where the flume ended just above Pima.
The flume coursed across Oak Flat no more than 30 yards from Dad’s cabin. Leonard and Aunt Bessie were at the cabin when the phone rang. The call was a desperate plea from the operation at Columbine for help. Neil Gardner, a four-year-old had tumbled into the running water and was on his way down, moving along at a rapid clip. Aunt Bessie tore out of the cabin with Leonard on her heels. She got to the flume just in time to spot the boy coming. The flume entered the flat at such a steep incline that it forced the water and its load along at a fierce speed. Bessie grabbed hold of the boy’s clothing and it appeared she had saved him, but a large length of lumber from above caught up and rammed him, tearing him from her grasp, and on down the flume in the racing water went the frightened child.
The flume camp below had been alerted, and men were a waiting at the flume’s edge. They successfully snatched him out a few feet before her would have spilled onto dangerous ground where a following log could have easily crushed him. Though somewhat skinned, bruised and frightened, he wasn’t much worse for wear. About the incident, many times, we heard the remark, “It’s a good thing it wasn’t a man; he’d have never made it alive.”
My older brothers knew Neil Gardner well -- palled around with him some. I got to know him when we both enrolled at Gila College after his return from a mission. Tom Gardner, his father, was from Solomonville, from an area known as San Jose. Later I taught Neil’s brother in the Solomonville Elementary School, and knew the other two brothers and his sister. At the time of the incident, Tom and his family were staying at Columbine where he worked for the lumber company.
Part of our love for scouting sprang from a great and good man who loved the program with all his heart, and loved us, and we knew it -- he knew what he was doing. Harvey Mangum catered to us, spending great amounts of time. He was ready and willing to spend personal helping-time with us individually, and to take us, it seems, on any outing our hearts might desire. One overnighter I remember we were never allowed to cook with pots or pans. We cooked on a hot rock, in the dirt under the coals or over the open flame -- or went hungry. No packing along useless utensils.
Jo reminds me of her opinion of why he compelled us to be that kind of campers. She says: “They didn’t have any dishes in their own house. They had both worked hard to put his wife through school to become a teacher, and then he became a teacher too. They had sacrificed for what they had and were darling, generous, selfless, wonderful people; giving of their time in service to their own family and to many others. In their home, it seemed to me, that they never cleared their table, and that they used tin cans for cups and bowls. I don’t know what they used for spoons.” I know though, they compensated with good, long fingers.
Several years after the old flume was abandoned and no longer used to float rough lumber down to the valley from high up on Mount Graham at Columbine, a timber company became interested in opening up another operation in the Columbine area. The principals contracted with the State, the Forest Service and the private land owners to build a tramway to provide the same service, but with more efficiency than the old flume.
The operation consisted of a cable system with swing-like carriers that were suspended from the arms of a series of huge metal towers. The towers strategically located, held the cables that passed over ridges, canyons, creeks and arroyos from the head of Ash Creek Canyon at Columbine to the valley. Though we thought it quite a success, it lasted only a few years. The logs were “slabbed” (the bark with part of the wood was sawed off the four sides, leaving nearly square or rectangular lengths of lumber of varied sizes depending on the size of the tree). These were slung between two swings hanging from the cable. The system did not need power, for the weight of the loaded lumber headed down powered the returning cable with its empty swings back up hill. A massive braking system at the top of the tram kept runaway from occurring.
The empty carrier-swings returning to the top posed attractive temptation to many local boys and so began more high adventure for me. We gave in to the temptation, and hitched rides from the bottom. Of course, we risked being caught and reprimanded. Some canyons we passed over were huge and their depths went hundreds of feet below us. The one real problem we might encounter was to find ourselves stranded when mechanical trouble arose and the tramway stopped. One could find himself stranded high in midair for an hour or more or for even overnight, while problems were resolved. I rode it up part way and back on four occasions -- sometimes as far as four miles up before switching to a downward bound load of lumber. Though I knew of others being stranded, including my brother Bruce, who had the experience of riding a major portion of its length, good luck was always with me and my in-cahoots friends.
When a senior scout about 16 years of age, Harvey Mangum, still our scout master, made arrangements at the mill to load our packs, equipment and supplies on the tram’s carriers. We arrived at the flats above Pima at the tram’s end, near where the old flume had also ended (We referred to the place as “the old flume camp).” With help from mill employees, we loaded everything on the tram’s swings, thus carrying only bare essentials while hiking up the trail unburdened with heavy packs. We hiked up the trail for about 6 hours on the eight-mile trail to Columbine, found our stuff in a big pile; took it on our shoulders and hiked another mile to where we made camp. Naturally, we all would have liked to have grabbed onto a swing ourselves and enjoyed the seven-mile ride, which would have been a great adventure. After 10 days there in camp, again we loaded the gear onto the tram, and once more enjoy an easier hike down that rugged trail.
The tram had its inherent dangers, and though I only remember of three injury-mishaps, one worker, Leo Bond, was killed. The same age as my brother Orlando, they were very good friends. I knew him well too, and Virgil, Jo’s older brother was a good friend also. I remember that he called Orlando Tarzan because of certain ape-like maneuvers Lando had perfected in tree climbing, especially in our huge apricot tree where he swung from everything but a tail. Leo worked on the lower platform station located on the mesa where an abrupt turn made it necessary to transfer the heavy timbers to another section of line; there were two of these stations along its length, where two men worked to make the switch. At each station was a huge, horizontal pulley-wheel where the cable made its up and back trips. Sometimes the cable would slip within the deep groove of the wheel. Men kept a supply of old rags and bunting and such, to feed between the cable and the pulley groove to increase friction thus controlling slippage.
Leo Bond wore gloves with protective forearm extensions common to heavy work gloves. Tragically, while feeding rags under the cable, the glove’s extension suddenly became his death sentence. The back of the glove caught under the cable, and Leo, to the horror of his fellow worker was pulled into a space of less than a foot wide between the structural timbers and the pulley’s edge. It broke his neck killing him almost instantly and surely tore and mangled him. It was impossible to stop the turning of the wheel in time.
The day Leo was killed I was standing on the sidewalk across the street from the drug store in Thatcher. A fellow I recognized as being a tramway worker pulled up by me in a little truck, parking at the curb. I couldn’t help but see a bundle in the truck bed wrapped in blankets. It looked like a body too me, so I asked him, “What’s that?” He simply said, “That’s Leo Bond, he was killed this morning, and after we extracted his broken body from the machinery, they sent me down to deliver his body.” He questioned me about the store across the street, and I told him it was the drug store. He left me and crossed the street. In deep sorrow, I took a closer look at the wrapped body in the truck. I had been the first person of the general population to know of the accident and hear the story first hand.
Poetry, poetry: It’s just my luck to be devoted to an art that most of the time seems thankless—almost as bad as chairman of a town hall committee or a member of a rural school board. I have never written a poem for which I expected payment for effort (particularly money). Twenty dollars is the largest amount I ever received; and the ones, fives and tens added to that couldn’t add up to more than 60 lousy bucks. But when something does come back, regardless of the amount, it’s like the gift of the Magi. I still have in my possession the first check—five dollars—ever received from a publisher.
I speak not only of monetary value, but of the sense of fulfillment, a satisfaction of accomplishment through expression. I know no better way than poetry to obtain this kind of fulfillment. The only selfishness I see in the poet is the attention and accolades he may welcome and questionably merit.
As in my case, to recognize some as poets is paradox. Here I am, kinda big and country-looking and move around in a social gathering like a pig in a daisy patch, with a tone-deaf ear and no sense of time, yet, I can, if I try hard, turn out an acceptable verse. It takes guts to turn out lofty stuff that folks don’t believe could come out of you. But, to the heck with them, I do it for myself ‘cause I have to! It fills some kind of empty space inside, and if I ignore a good inspirational thought, the space gets larger.
I love to read good poetry. I guess I owe a big part of this to my grade-school teachers; that’s where I fell in love with Longfellow. That’s where I learned and can still recite verbatim poems like: The Village Blacksmith, Hiawatha, The Children’s Hour, Columbus, The Uprising of 1776 and many others. Then later the stirring sagas of Robert W. Service: The Cremation of Sam McGee, etc., and, good old Shakespeare. I still have the cherished copy my mother gave me on my 15th birthday -- his complete works. Between my wife and I, and at least one of our kids, Jon, we do not have fingers and toes enough to record the number of times we have recited Service’s poems in public. Six of them I still know by heart.
Though I did read incessantly and started writing crazy verse in the eighth grade, I knew nothing of metaphor and image, but somehow it turned out right. I think the following are some of the first lines I wrote:
Today our teacher wore a rose,
Stuck on with a pin.
But she had to be real careful,
‘Cause it might stick in her skin.
Valentine Curtis would kiss you.
Brose didn’t care for that,
‘Cause Valentine would squeeze so hard,
She was so big and fat.
In College, when the time came around to fill a requirement of original poetry for literature or English class, I was in demand. I helped many an uninspired spirit garner an “A” on his paper. One day Professor Clark handed me an eight-line verse and asked if I wrote it, and I had to answer yes. Then he said, “I thought you’d like to know that Jess Chandler got an “A” on it.
(If the right situation exists, poetry can be put to practical use. See the senate experience)
The new poetry scoffs at rhyme and even rhythm. In fact it seems to go to great lengths to avoid both. I guess I’m of the old school. To me they are both basic, and when Poe says of “The Bells,” “keeping time, time, time, in a sort of runic rhyme, ....,” in a way that you want to tap your foot to the words, is indeed beauty in verse.
Poetry doesn’t need to be inspirational or intellectual though both are desirable. That it entertains is sufficient for most of it. Whether it is good or poor, it should tickle the fancy.
What of inspiration? Shelly has said that when composition begins, inspiration is already on the wane, and that even the finest poetry is a feeble shadow of the original conception of the poet. I have noticed that by the time I put it down, the only inspiration was within myself, and I discover that I have failed miserably to reach the reader.
Despite this meticulous endeavor, if the final product inspires some—fine! If not, let us hope that it entertains, and whether it follows the modern vogue for free verse, or is of the old fashioned “sing-song” stripe, it really makes no difference.
LITERATURE—MY MOTHER’S INFLUENCE: My mother lived with firm determination that her children would be raised with the best education her humble means could afford, and she continually encouraged us in that direction. As a child I didn’t realize this, but I’m sure that even then she did things that she hoped would instill in us fervent desires to formally, as well as informally educate ourselves. As I look back I can’t see where the time, patience and energy to pursue all that she did came from. One of these treasured childhood memories is the evenings spent listening to literature she insisted we hear. I don’t remember Mother reading us bedtime stories. Usually, in the evening before bedtime she took time to read quality. Always, she looked for proper materials to suit our ages and she borrowed many books from kind neighbors and friends. I remember running errands to return books to neighbors. Often, she read to us from the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
I especially remember one book, quite a large volume that she read from each night over a period of time, a few pages each evening. For one story, she had no trouble gathering us around. “The Little Knight of the X bar-B,” held us entranced. It told the story of a little boy who lived on a large ranch a far distance from town or well traveled road. Being about my age, I easily identified with him. He had no friends his age; he was the only young person on the huge cattle ranch where he had only men with whom to associate. The rough cowboys who soon championed his cause made him the camp pet. In recent years I have tried to find the book but to no avail. The several libraries I have checked have never heard of it. I don’t remember the details of the story but the adventures of this young lad in a hard and harsh environment proved a fascinating tale to a boy of my nature and age.
Reading to us as she did, influenced me to read books on my own. I read everything I could get hold of. I read all of Mark Twain’s works, every western Zane Grey or Harold Bell Wright authored. In that day “The Western Short Story Magazine” was published monthly. We had no subscription, but I always managed to get hold of each copy one way or another. I generally read every story in it, especially those of Max Brand, a western author of the day.
Mother soon learned that giving me a book for Christmas or birthday was the best and easiest way to go. When about fifteen she gave me a volume of the “Complete Works of Shakespeare,” and I read every play. How long it took me, I don’t recall, perhaps a couple of years, but I read them all. The treasured volume with mother’s little note in it is still on my study bookshelf. Our English teacher in school had just introduced the classics: not for an intensive study, but only to help us become familiar with their contents. I’m sure that when I began coming home recounting stories of Shakespeare, it impressed Mother that I should have my own book.
As many do today, the male population in the Gila Valley wore Levis when appropriate. Not until after I was nearly grown do I remember other kinds of denims being available. Levis were introduced into the valley by the Mexican population, and for several years the Caucasians would not wear them; I suppose because of the stigma attached since they were so popular with the Mexican boys, because only they wore them then. We called them “chilies,” a local name that had been given the Mexicans because of their traditional diet of chile and beans. After a few years, however, the whites couldn’t resist those attractive lookin’ Levis. We never called them trousers, pants or Levis: it was always, “Bought me a new pair of chilies today.” as they were always called when we were growing up.
Most of the Mexican boys in our town were pretty good fellows. Many of them were my friends, and despite my having a little more than they did, I think they liked me. I often gave them little gifts of things I had that I knew they didn’t have. I used to go flipper hunting with them and often furnished good inner tube rubber for their flippers (slingshots). I didn’t hesitate to play marbles with them. They never tried to cheat like some white jerks I knew.
Most of them spoke fair English, though hardly as well as they do today. I had a little trouble with one boy my age named Alfredo. He had a mean streak I didn’t like, for he would often mistreat some of the younger boys. After one of these fracases the injured boy told me about it so I cornered Alfredo with the facts. I said to him that day, “Alfredo, if you don’t quit being mean to these younger boys, damn it! I’m gonna whip you good.” With that, Alfredo bristled, doubled up his fists and said, “What? You call (called) me a damit?