You probably want to know a lot more about Papa and the Desloge family.
I wish I knew more to tell you. I spent many boyhood hours exploring the
woods, fields and rivers of what I know were once Indian lands. Of course
then I rarely thought about Missouri's earliest peoples. I wish they had
somehow had the means and had taken the time to record vignettes of their
daily life. We find arrowheads in the fields around our place now, after
a good rain, and I often wonder what their life was really like. And I wish
my ancestors who settled at Potosi and Desloge, Missouri, had written down
some stories of their lives. I remember my grandfather only as an old man
with a white beard who needed crutches.
Back row, left to right: John, Sophie, Josephine, Lucie, Jules. Front row left to right: Jane, Clara, Firmin, Frank, Zoe, Louise, c. 1870.
When I was about seven, Papa decided to introduce me to ancestral history. It begin with a family of ten in France. In 1822 Firmin Rene Desloge embarked on a long and arduous trip up the Mississippi. Before Firmin Rene reached his uncle's doorstep in Ste Genevieve, I, becoming drowsy and bored, asked, "Papa, weren't there any Indian fights and Daniel Boone adventures?" Scratching his head and shuffling through a pile of old letters, he finally said, "Oh yes, here's one!" John Mc Ilvaine, whose daughter married Firmin Rene Desloge, had been chased by Indians. He jumped in the river and hid under a raft. "What happened then," I asked breathlessly. "John Mc Ilvaine hid under a raft until the Indians left." "And then what?" "It was time for spring planting and your ancestor spent the rest of his life farming and gave his daughter Cynthian away in marriage to Firmin Rene Desloge in 1832." "Aw, heck." My fascination abruptly took a nosedive from which it never fully recovered.
I am grateful to my relative Lucie Furstenberg Huger whose research has breathed life into the early Desloges. With her permission, I draw from her account.
Firmin Rene Desloge came to America for a livelihood. His father, Joseph Desloge, like many others in France, suffered great losses from the Revolution. He was able to earn a small salary as a tax collector in Paimboeuf, but he never made more than just enough to take care of his family. It was necessary to try to find a suitable business for each of his sons so that they could make their own way. Madame Desloge, nee' Marie Angelique Rozier, had a brother, Ferdinand, who had settled in Ste Genevieve, Missouri, and was doing very well in the mercantile business. The name Rozier is in evidence in Ste Genevieve to this day. She wrote to him from Nantes in 1815, asking that he employ her third son, Firmin Rene.
Finally it was arranged for young Firmin to come to America. After five months at sea, Firmin Rene Desloge, 19, arrived at New Orleans. He continued his trip by boat up the Mississippi River to Ste Genevieve, where he was met by his uncle. After six months, Uncle Ferdinand furnished Firmin with a store of his own and gave him a partner, a Mr. Daly, who had much business experience and who, it was thought, could advise the young Desloge. Firmin wrote to his mother in July, 1824, telling her of the country and that he lived in Potosi. But Daly and Firmin did not click. They decided in November of 1824 to dissolve the partnership, Firmin buying all the property and continuing the business with Mr. Daly as clerk. In 1826 "Firmin Desloge and Co." was established at Potosi, Firmin going into business with his uncle on half-shares.
One of my Father's favorite stories (perhaps apocryphal) was how Firmin, after setting up the small store, hired a clerk who was much more interested in tramping in the woods looking for birds than tending the store. In exasperation, Firmin fired him. And he liked to say, "We never saw John James Audubon again."
For more than a decade Firmin and his cousin, Francois Rozier, worked in partnership, but in February of 1842, this was dissolved. Francois relinquished his share in the business and returned to Ste Genevieve. During the years 1830-31 Firmin began dabbling in mining. He built a furnace for smelting ore in November, 1831.
Firmin's mother was concerned for his happiness. She slyly made suggestions in her letters about his loneliness and hinted at his thinking about getting married. He was well-established in his business, however, before he eventually took this step. He married Cynthian Mc Ilvaine, the namesake of my own Cindy, on June 21, 1832. They had twelve children including my grandfather, Firmin Vincent Desloge.
My line goes from my father, Joseph Desloge Sr. to Firmin Vincent Desloge, my grandfather, to Firmin Rene Desloge, my great-grandfather.
Grandfather Firmin Desloge got his start in lead mining at Potosi, Missouri toward the end of the 19th century. I remember visiting the site of his first operation in the 1950's and seeing his hand-dug pits and the deeply rutted wagon tracks. It was a humbling experience. He willed us four grandchildren his original 47 acres which we later donated to Washington County. We named it Firmin Desloge Park and dedicated it to the mining families in the area.
Although I was not as impressed by grandfathers and great-grandfathers as much as I should have been, I was very impressed with Papa. He was a major influence in my life, and I loved him very much.
Papa was an outdoors man.
Papa was much in the public eye. He has been variously called an industrialist
/ philanthropist / conservationist / historic preservationist / sportsman.
These descriptions come vividly to life in many scrapbooks and photograph
albums found at home. Here we see Papa, dashing young World War I second
lieutenant in the French army; generous spirit helping any number of civic
organizations; affectionate father spending lots of time with his children;
adventurer shooting the rapids. Papa took us down the Colorado river in
cataract boats. Nowadays anyone can make the descent in a rubber boat, but
it was more scary then. A Colorado newspaper headline from those days reads,
"Plane To Search Grand Canyon For Desloge Family." They thought
we were lost. But how could anyone get lost? The river only goes one way.
On camping trips, Papa became a different person, insisting everyone call him "Joe" and washing the dishes on the campouts. On one of our first trips, Papa was prepared to embark in his business suit and tie. When I pointed out that he'd be out of place, he quickly changed to camping clothes. (In these days everyone but the janitor wore suits and ties at the airport.) On the river, he was one of the boys. A beloved Colorado "river rat," known as Willie, died on one of Papa's trips. Papa and the guide buried him in his mile-deep canyon home. Papa never talked about it: I discovered it by accident.
The albums also provide an account of my father's long association with St. Louis University. He was a 1909 graduate of St. Louis University High, summa cum laude. Although he was involved in the founding of the Benedictine St. Louis Priory, his loyalty to St. Louis University Jesuits was firmly established in 1930 when he was instrumental in fulfilling his father's wish for a bequest to build Firmin Desloge Hospital. It was for this and other benefactions that my father was given the University's 1949 Fleur de Lis award.
Papa received many medals throughout his life. They include academic honors, awards for civic service, and recognitions of bravery during World War I.
The Fleur de Lis was not the first award Papa received. During World War I, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for bravery near the town of Vouziers. In addition he was a Papal Chamberlain and he received the Legion of Honor.
Daddy, a 2nd Lieutenant in the French Army was instrumental in saving the village of Vouzier. He stood by his soixant quinze ("seventy five millimeter" artillery piece) while others fled.
Always an entrepreneur, my father founded four firms: Minerva Oil Company (miners of zinc and fluorspar), Killark Electric Manufacturing Company, Louisiana Manufacturing Company and Atlas Manufacturing Company. As a conservationist, he donated 2,400 acres in Reynold County, Mo., which became known as Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park; he also gave Sunset Park to the city of Florissant. His children, honoring his long-standing wish to donate Pelican Island to nature lovers, arranged for St. Louis County to buy the 2,100 acre Pelican Island, which was partially tied up in trust. After haggling with the lawyer, we were able to talk him into selling the Island to St. Louis County at $91, a price way below market, to be preserved as a park.
Prior to his service in World War I, Papa graduated as an electrical engineer, with honors, in 1912 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1922 he married mother, Anne Kennett Farrar. They became the parents of four children: myself, Anne, Bernard, and Zoe. My brother and sisters each distinguished themselves in various ways, but this is my story. I'll let them tell theirs. Mother died early in 1934. After many years of courtship, Papa married the former Marie Saalfrank in 1953.
It seemed to us that Papa chaired everything. He served as chairman of the United Charities (predecessor of the United Way). He was also president of the Academy of Science, president of the Missouri Historical Society, and on the boards of the Lewis and Clark Trail Commission, the William Clark Society, and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association. His interests were seemingly boundless.
Of Papa, the historian, it was said, "He was a walking encyclopedia of historical information, quoting dates and events with ease and amazing accuracy." Papa was responsible for the restoration of the Holy Family Church in Cahokia, and he helped in the restoration of the Old Cathedral in St. Louis and the old St. Ferdinand's Church in Florissant. By the early 1960's, Old St. Ferdinand's Church had served its purpose some thought. "Progress" had come to Florissant, and few wanted to be reminded of its humble past. Papa and Rosemary Davidson were heartbroken to learn that the Archdiocese had decided the church should be razed. They acted quickly to form "Friends of Old St. Ferdinand." Many friends still continue to work to save the old building. St. Ferdinand's time has not yet come.
St. Ferdinand's Church was later to be the setting for major celebrations in the life of the Desloge family. My sister Anne was married in St. Ferdinand's in a stylish wedding in 1949. My sister Zoe married there similarly in 1951. I remember it well for another reason. It had a fifty-hole outhouse with private stalls! This wooden structure was magnificently situated slightly off center from the present parking lot. How could I forget! One time when I misbehaved during the service, my father dragged me from our front pew to the outhouse where I got a spanking. Papa then escorted me, still crying, back to our front pew, making clear to me that my being in church was no protection from getting a spanking. As I recall, on that occasion I had tried to take my jacket off, since it was a sweltering day. But the rule was that a "gentleman" never takes off his jacket. Before air conditioning, a jacket was your "social indicator." Nowadays you can hardly find a man in a suit. But then, even in the dog days of summer, you were expected to simmer and suffer, fully suited. The ladies had it a little better, with their dresses and cardboard hand fans, thoughtfully provided by the local funeral home. Father Trentman, however, preferred that the ladies wear dresses with long sleeves. Old timers will recall that while men might sweat, ladies only perspired.
After World War II, "progress" finally arrived at St. Ferdinand's in the form of two pedestal fans. Placed at the communion rail, their "airplane propeller" blades blew air directly at the congregation. They were so noisy that they had to be shut off during the reading of the Gospel and the Sermon. The rest of the time the noise didn't matter, since nobody understood Latin anyway. No matter what the weather, though, Papa felt he had to keep up appearances. Most of the farmers in the congregation had not gone past eighth grade, if that far, and about the only parishioners who were college graduates besides Papa were architect Harry Hellmuth and grand dame Sarah Polk. College was rarely "wasted" on females in those days.
Me, Papa, and Barney with our Irish Wolfhound, Dennis O'Toole.
Papa loved Vouzier. He named it after the French village close to his heart.
Papa had some funny stories of his youth. He was raised in the Park Plaza Hotel by his elderly retired parents Firmin Vincent and Lydia Davis Desloge who sent him to a military gradeschool. Child labor was common in those days, so when in his uniform, Papa was often mistaken for a bellboy. When going to or from school, he was always rushed through the lobby as if he were on an important errand. Otherwise he would be asked to bring drinks to thirsty guests. Compensating, I suppose, for his hotel upbringing, Papa built a home outside Florissant, then a small historic French town. He named his home "Vouzier" after the French village he helped to save from the fire of the advancing Germans. Vouzier was a grand home, a little too grand for his kids. Barney and I always wished we could live like "normal people." But we loved the river, the country side, and the colorful people. One of our favorites was Charlie Rogers.
Charlie Rogers (who helped my re-entry into civilian life) was a gregarious
bachelor in his seventies. He lived alone on Douglas Road north of Florissant
near the Missouri River. Owning a car never crossed Charlie's mind. "Yes,
indeedy!" -- his favorite expression -- was the strongest language
he would use. He considered himself an honest man and would never curse.
Charlie went into "business" with his best friend, Henry Clay. This "business" was in the center of Pelican Island, a wilderness in the middle of the Missouri River. The nature of the "business" was never made clear, and I never pressed him about it. One cold night in the dead of winter, Charlie and Henry had an argument, and Charlie cranked up his boat and left. When Henry didn't return to the mainland that night, Charlie got worried and again cranked up his 1920 Ford-engine-powered scow and went searching for him on the island. Eventually he found Henry barely conscious beside his beached boat. The engine was dead. Charlie built a fire, revived his friend with hot coffee, and never mentioned the argument again.
Later I found out that their "business" was making whiskey --"moonshine." Shortly after World War II, my father made an exhausting horseback ride search of Pelican Island. He found Charlie's cabin and the remains of an old still, abandoned after the repeal of Prohibition.
Charlie just couldn't grasp the 20th century. Once my father asked Charlie to house sit for us when we went on vacation. A lot of new appliances were unknown to him. We introduced him to a newfangled gadget, called a "telly fone," which he didn't like. It was just too intimidating. To show him how it worked, we kids dialed a number and held out the receiver to Charlie. He looked at us blankly. "What do I do with it?" We told him, "Say 'hello.'" He finally took the receiver, and holding it at arm's length, stuttered, "HHH ... Hel ... Hel ... Hello?" It gave us smart-aleck kids a laugh. And then there were the electric lights. My father must have really impressed him with their expense. When we came back from vacation, the house was completely dark. Going in the dark, we called and called for Charlie. Slowly he came down the stairway with a coal oil lantern in hand. He didn't want to "waste electricity," he explained.
Northern lumberjacks bunked in quarters like these.
Charlie's only trip was to the "Great North Woods" as a "sawyer,"
for which he was to receive $2 a day, plus chow -- but only after he started
sawing, of course. Heaving a broadaxe and pulling on a two-man hand saw
were pretty hard on little Charlie. But the unheated, unlit barracks didn't
bother him at all.
Once in a while Charlie and I went hunting on Pelican Island. He would bring his old hammer double-barreled shotgun, which he shot better than I did with Papa's fancy, semi-automatic. He'd regale me with tales of the muzzle-loading shooting of his youth. He was also a fine country fiddler and would tell me how he'd ride into Baden on somebody's hay wagon to play at "real" square dances. Shortly before he died, he gave me his old fiddle, which I still have. He said his fingers were too stiff to play anymore, so it was mine. It was an emotional experience: with tears in my eyes, I accepted his old fiddle in its coffin case.
One long, hot summer in the late 1930's when I was twelve, I decided I wanted a motor boat to use on the Missouri River. My father said I'd have to build it myself, and I should have Charlie Rogers help me. Charlie was a good carpenter, and with the collapse of his moonshine business, he had fallen on harder times than usual. People had a lot more time than money; most were beginning to think that was the natural order of things. So Charlie and I set to work. I found the remains of an old boat hull for $10. For an engine, Mr. Greenlough, whose farm was located across from the Carr Post Office (where the Hazelwood Jr. High School now stands), gave me an old Star automobile. We'd been advised to use a Star engine, because, unlike the Ford engine, it was pressure lubricated. Soon we were building a true fisherman's boat. It took a lot more sweat than cash. The work was hard, and I was not above cussing. Charlie was aghast. When I let fly a "damn," he looked at me with the greatest reproach. He would not dream of uttering a foul word. After three weeks of hard work, we launched the old bath tub. Then came payday once the boat proved seaworthy. Charlie went to my father and said he reckoned the work came to about $17.88. "Well now, Charlie," said Papa, "let's just make it an even $20." I can never forget the look of amazement on Charlie's face as Papa counted out the bills. Cousin George Desloge Watlow (president of Watlow Electric, retired) and I took my boat to the shantytown- Hooverville-hobo-jungle, just below Alton Dam. (Now this place is a beautiful, popular park.) George's bag was stolen, and the old Star engine caught fire. But all this just added to our adventure!
During World War II Charlie bought about $200 worth of war bonds. As a result, the government promptly cut off his relief payments. My father raised a ruckus: Here's this little old man scraping together enough to buy war bonds. He'd been told it was the patriotic thing to do -- and this is the thanks he gets! Papa shamed them into reinstating Charlie's "relief payments." Papa later had him admitted to Desloge Hospital for an operation that saved his life. One cold night in 1946, Old Charlie died peacefully in his sleep and went straight to heaven. Well, maybe he spent a short time in purgatory for making that moonshine whiskey. His little frame house stood vacant for years until some bored kids burned it down. A real shame, because today it would be preserved as a time capsule of life in the early 1900's. A part of me died with the decease of Charlie's house. Around his old wood-burning kitchen stove, coffee gurgling in his well-worn pot, was where lonely old Charlie regaled me with his life stories. Yes, Charlie need and empathatic and an interested ear. Don't we all?
Papa and I attended his lonely July 17, 1946 burial in Florissant's old St. Ferdinand Cemetary off Graham Road. I recently visited his unmarked grave. Probate records reveal: checking account $134, savings $300, and war bonds $200. Total estate = $634. He didn't even own his "Little House by the Side of the Road, where he became the friend of man."
I'm glad my book gives old Charlie the little immortality that his unmarked grave does not. I consider these pages in my book to be his grave marker.
My contemporary Lee Behlmann, the self described "old tire salesman" was buried across the road 49 years later.
If someday while hunting on Pelican Island you encounter 3 ghostly figures, one carrying his old double barreled hammer shotgun, another his father's fancy semi-automatic, and another his golf clubs, don't be afraid; it's just us!
Our parents, like good parents at that time, gave their children castor
oil for regular clean outs. My stomach still pains when I think of those
nights of wailing and upchucking. Thumbsucking horrified them -- it caused
buck teeth, you know. To stop us, they employed the most ingenious strategies.
For naps and at night, "Little" Zoe was strapped into anti-sucking
gloves. Barney and I had Tabasco sauce applied to our thumbs. The greatest
indignity was suffered by Sister Anne. When caught, she had to wear a dress
of burlap. The "sack dress" strategy worked best of all.
Our parents loved to shock their city friends. They would take us kids swimming in the Missouri River -- including 3-year-old Zoe. City folk were convinced the river was full of quicksand and deadly whirlpools; they couldn't understand our parents' allowing us to go in it. And too, things were livened up a bit when, after a long barefoot summer, our parents decided we didn't need any shoes for school! We reveled in the attention this got us. But on went the shoes, when word got back to our parents that the Community School mothers were taking up a collection to buy shoes for the "poor" country children.
Papa took us on many family outings on the river and its islands. When
we went camping on the river, we went upstream so that if our cantankerous
motorboat broke down, we could always drift home. With our guns, jalopies,
and boats, Barney and I were always into something. Arthur Hoskins called
us modern day Tom Sawyers. Let me tell one on Barney. He was an excellent
shot. His fondness for duck hunting got him in trouble in the then St. Peters-Dardeen
Wilderness. Dock club owners planted rice on their man-made ponds to lure
migrating ducks into range of their shotguns. Barney and a friend became
poachers and, thus, the objects of an all-out manhunt by the caretakers.
Barney decided the only way to avoid apprehension was to hide in the icy
water. His friend resisted the idea, so Barney, in soggy clothes, chased
him, trying to force him under, when the caretakers descended on them. Barney
almost died, not from the cold, but from having his beloved gun confiscated!
I particularly remember being scared when my contemporary --"little John Harney" -- got stuck in the quicksand. It was a relief to see young, handsome, Carl Tiemann, Papa's supervisor, decked out like Indiana Jones in riding britches, lace-up boots and hat, dashing to the rescue.
Brother Barney's first fish, c. 1932
With Mother leading the pack on a July day of 1932, the four children went fishing on an old dike on Pelican Island. Carl Tiemann made fishing poles for all of us, even little Zoe. We all chose worms from Carl's tin can, and upon Carl's order cast our lines and sat down to wait quietly. Being the oldest, I assumed that naturally I would catch the first (and probably only) fish. I was sure of it. Suddenly, a fishing pole started quivering and --to my horror -- it wasn't mine! The impossible happened -- it was Barney's! Barney's fish. He explained, triumphantly, that he had chosen the biggest, fattest worm. And to make it worse, Mommy said to Papa, "Joe, we must get a picture of Barney's first fish!" My response was "I don't like fishing anyway..."
It was an episode with a little porcupine that taught me that I don't
like hunting either. In 1939, Papa fanned Barney and my enthusiasm for our
auto trip to the "wild" west by promising part of the trip would
include a mountain lion hunt. The first order of business for us was to
get "properly" armed. Papa let us off at a pawn shop to buy the
guns: he knew two chubby little boys could get better prices than he. He
then breezed in his well-tailored business suit saying, "Well, boys
have you priced the guns yet?" We didn't do too badly: two lever action
Winchesters .44-40 and a .25-35 for $10 and $15. It was our first business
Papa located an isolated rancher in New Mexico whose only possessions seemed to be a broken down truck and a string of horses. The rancher told us that during the summer the mountains lions were inaccessible, but Papa just winked and asked him to saddle the horses and we'd hunt anyway. Barney and I, guns fully loaded, could hardly wait. Late afternoon, boredom was setting in when finally our guide spotted a target in a tree. We quickly dismounted to begin blazing away in what I imagined was a heroic manner. Soon a bloody little porcupine dropped out of the tree breathing its last breath.The dying little animal had never hurt nor even threatened me. My hunting instincts suddenly turned to compassion. Reading my thoughts the wrangler said, "Now that you've done this to it, you must put it out of its misery." My love for guns continues, but I'll leave the killing to others. (I prefer my meat in saran wrap or between a bun.)
While Barney and I were riding rough style with guns, Anne and Zoe turned to more refined activities. Zoe became a "wunderkind" on horseback, winning a roomful of trophies. "Queen" Anne, a horsewoman in her own right, became renown for her stately sidesaddle jumping. That feat would scare the daylights out of me.
One evening, when I was 9, Papa and I were walking in the woods when
without warning he said: "Joey, pretty soon you will be a grown man.
You'll get a car and get married." "I don't want to get married,
but I sure want a car," I replied. Papa said that driving home from
work he saw a little 1924 Ford for sale.
I was excited, but a bit apprehensive. I knew cars were powerful. I'll never forget when I saw (at least to my 6-year old eyes) a man about to be crushed to death by one. Carl Tiemann, his old Ford just polished to a glistening ebony was dressed in his best for a date with his future wife, Laura. He gave the crank a pull, and the engine suddenly roared to life. But because the Model T's never had a complete neutral, especially when cold, the old Ford relentlessly advanced and pinned Carl against the wall. He screamed for me, "Help, Joey, Joey, shut off the engine!" But I had no idea how. At the last minute Carl squeezed into the small space between the radiator and the front wheels. He climbed out over the hood and shut off the engine. I had nightmares for a week. Nonetheless, I was still excited by Papa's idea.
Early next morning (Saturday) Papa, Martin Albers (who could make anything run) and I set out for a lone farmhouse at New Halls Ferry Road where West Florissant Road now joins it. (Although buried under a mile of concrete, I can still mark the spot within one foot!) There it stood magnificently in a cluttered shed, not having been run for over a year. After pumping up the tires all we had to do was start it! Martin cranked and cranked and cranked; but he only got a pop. He suggested we tow it. Papa hooked it behind his big Packard and took off like a shot with me standing in the dust. Suddenly I heard the most beautiful music I ever heard. The unmuffled engine roared to life. Papa handed the farmer a $10.00 bill. He told Martin to drive his Packard while he went in my Model T Ford. I headed for the passenger side but Papa grabbed me and put a surprised little boy behind the steering wheel. Since my feet wouldn't reach the pedals, Papa braced me on my never-to-be-forgotten drive home. Thus began my illustrious career as an automobile driver. (P.S., I didn't marry until I was forty!)
Of course, I bragged to all my classmates. The teachers couldn't believe I had a real automobile. Papa had invited my class and teachers for a day in what was then the country. All the kids couldn't wait for me to take them for a ride. One little problem: I was given to temper tantrums and had just had one in which I cut my tires with a butcher knife. (During the tantrums, I always destroyed what I cherished most.) All Papa said, upon hearing this was, "Any little boy that cut his own tires is too young to have an automobile." I'll never forget the day my car (and my manhood) were towed off.
Then the fateful day of the class outing arrived. My mother, seeing my humiliation, promised to lie for me. She pointed to a family car saying it was my car. I, too, lied saying I very, very seldom drove it and only with a grownup and unfortunately no grown up was available. The teachers couldn't get over what a fine car I had, but couldn't understand why I didn't drive it.
Eventually my brother Barney got his Model T Ford, for which my father paid an extravagant $15.00. This may have been because Barney's Ford had a newfangled device, a downdraft carburetor, instead of the standard updraft carburetor of that era. The downdraft carburetor was not practical until the invention of the fuel pump in the early 1930's. With our unmuffled engines we raced around the sparsely settled farmland surrounding Cross Keys at full-throttle --30 miles per hour! Barney always won, and master mechanic Martin Albers attributed it to the newfangled downdraft carburetor.
We old lovers of the most beautiful car ever built have the last laugh:
I still have my beautiful Model T, bought in the I930's, in my garage. I finally graduated to a "real" car, a 1928 Ford Model A, cost $25.00.
Here's one that didn't "bite the dust." Our "hero," the author, (April, 1993) with this beauty, a 1923 Model T Ford bought in the mid-depression for $5.00. Master mechanic Bud Worditz succeeded in keeping this Ford from going to model T heaven. Note the four ignition coils atop the four cylinders. Henry must have had the right idea as many of today's cars have an ignition coil for each cylinder. Present owner is my son Jay.
Joe Kroessel sure embarrassed me one time. I asked him to work on my $10 1924 Ford. After two full days work in his garage he submitted a bill for $31.50 to my father. It was a full half month's wages! How could I ever forget the amount? My parents were shocked and warned me that I'd better learn to handle money. It was the talk of the community, and I was the laughing stock, which was far worse than the disciplining I received from my parents.
My next automotive misadventure (never mind my other misadventures) was when I destroyed the engine of Papa's touring car. It wasn't my fault that the updraft carburetor sucked water into the engine. Well, perhaps I shouldn't have been driving his touring car through the pools on the flood plain. The overhaul cost a full $40. It had Papa's crew standing around talking in whispers.
Picture a summer evening at an isolated gas station and garage at a lonely
country crossroads; the place seemed to snuggle into the folds of the flowing
fields that surrounded it. This was Cross Keys, Missouri, in about 1938;
I was about 13.
Joe Kroessel's gas station looked something like this.
Way off in the darkness, I could see the faint glow of a pair of headlights
moving toward us. Joe Kroesel, the station owner, stopped what he was doing
and drawled, "That must be a real old Ford (pre-1920) without a battery
tryin' to run its headlights off magneto. Don't see them things around much,
not no more."
When it finally arrived, an old farmer dressed in rags eased himself out. What impressed me most was his happiness; he seemed so completely at peace with himself and his lot in life. He went to his reward many years ago, but I'll never forget the lesson he taught me: happiness comes from within, not from possessions.
I suppose I had developed quite a reputation as an "enfant terrible."
They called me "Bad Boy Joey," and in retrospect, I think it was
with good reason. Like the time I broke Elmer's windshield. Elmer was one
of Papa's valued employees. One day in a tantrum, I threw a rock through
Elmer's windshield. He promptly reported me to my parents. They decided
I would pay for it from my allowance of 5 cents a week for shining our shoes
nightly. I'll never forget the fateful day when my Mother gave my brothers
and two sisters their 5 cents. When my turn came she held "my"
nickel aloft saying "this nickel is for Elmer's windshield." I
didn't like that very much.
My mother warned me of the dangers of matches and gasoline. Naturally, I had to test this out. At our sand pile behind our tool shed, Barney and I began the "experiment." The fire started nicely, but I decided it was burning too slowly and needed more gasoline. Suddenly, my gasoline-soaked hand was ablaze! Barney became a hero by pushing me into the sand and smothering the flames. I guess my mother was right after all.
I certainly was reckless. Writing this I can look out of my window and see the field with haystacks and remember a scene from the mid-1930's. I kept driving my jalopy at full throttle into the haystack, backing up and going full throttle again. The impact was exhilarating. The hay went flying, but it was a soft buffer and cushioned the impact so I didn't get hurt. But the fieldhands feared I would set the haystack on fire. They didn't tell my father because even more they feared losing their $2 per day job.
Of course an Enfant Terrible was bound to have school misadventures too, like the time I ran a boy's pants up the flagpole. (We called it "pantsing," and I thought it great fun. My problem was I was bored. To this day my contemporaries remind me of the time I set a wastebasket on fire, and of my dictionary incident. One afternoon the teacher ordered her class to all come forward to the large Webster's unabridged dictionary. My face blanched.I knew what was coming and held back. Opening the expensive volume, she demanded that the boy who had been tearing out the pages please raise his hand. The class immediately turned around and stared at me. Guess who raised his hand! I continued this style, and finally even got kicked out of Madam Cassan's dance class. My misadventures got so bad my Father almost asked the coach to administer my spankings. Papa explained that his hand was getting sore!
Thank God all this happened in the mid 1930's. No telling what my evil little mind would have thought up had I been an eighth grader in the 1990's.
In the "good old days" it took a whole field crew to harvest wheat. Today, a combine "combines" the mowing, threshing, haying, and bagging. Even the big steam traction engine and the blacksmith were laid off. Senator John Danforth said, "No one works harder than the american farmer. However, he is a victim of his own efficiency."
I always wanted to be a cowboy. About the age of 12 I had a chance to try my ambition. Papa sent me off to an exclusive boys camp at an unheard of remote wilderness place in New Mexico, called Los Alamos. (Those Washington bureaucrats really had nerve by deciding to build "the bomb" there!) We boys spent the summer on horse pack trips imagining we were real cowboys. Wrangler Ted Mathers, was our hero, even carrying a real pistol. He was quick to explain that the barrel was worn out so it wouldn't shoot straight. When I got older I suspected he said this to save face were he ever to be challenged to prove his shooting skill.
We tough Los Alamos cowboys loved sitting around the camp fire at night and singing cowboy songs. I had learned early in life that I appreciated "good" music. I was about 7 when in my mother's room I heard a wonderful song come over our $9.97 radio. She let out with a scream at such uncultured music (Hillybilly or Cowboy) filling her room. My reply: "Mommie don't turn that off, I love it." Barney, also a lover of good music, would wake up about 4 a.m. -- about the time the chickens and the farmers got up -- to turn on the radio.
The ads, repeated incessantly, almost drove us crazy as they were drilled into our memory. We endured them for the music that intervened. One ad was for Dr. Brinkley's male rejuvenation treatment. Dr. Brinkley? Yes, he really did exist. He had his own radio station in Kansas, until the FCC closed it down for misleading advertising. But that didn't faze him. He descended upon the dusty border town of Villa Cuna, Mexico, and constructed a transmitter so powerful it would have been outlawed in the states.
For a time his practice was most successful. But eventually his patients began to sue, and sue, and sue. It drove him to his grave. He's buried in a small town near his Kansas clinic. His extortions for male "rejuvenation," using billygoat "glands," was memorialized in a cartoon in the Kansas City Star.
"For all you nice folk way out there in radio land, Dr. Brinkley is calling from Villa Cuna Mexico with a special message for men. Dr. Brinkley has a special offer, especially for men past 40. He recommends a colonic irrigation. If that don't produce the desired result, he will make an implant from a genuine pedigree Talmadge Billygoat. If that won't put you there and keep you there, nothing will."
Here's a poem I feel appropriate, The Touch of the Master's Hand
Then came the songs, like "Great Grand Dad"
Then there was the Diamond Man from Del Rio, Texas. For many years he advertised his limited supply of diamonds, selling for $2.99. And the makers of Colorback Hair Tonic gave a special offer: a large 16 oz bottle for only 98 cents. The ad went something like this:
"If you use Colorback on your comb every day, the color of your hair will return so gradually that even your best friends won't notice. One fine gentlemen used Colorback faithfully and looked so youthful that he was even able to get a job as a night watchman."
Then came more songs.
I loved these songs so much that I learned to play them on my banjo and guitar so I could sing at my leisure. Other people loved them too. Shortly before Carl Tiemann died, I played Stephen Foster's "Nelly Gray" for him. With tears in his eyes, he asked, "Joe, whatever happened to those fine old songs they used to play when we were young?" They are still here to those who love them.
Stephen Foster, famous 19th century songwriter, responsible for such classics as My Old Kentucky Home, Oh Suzanna, Way Down Upon the Swanee River, and Old Black Joe, died in a flop-house with 27 cents in his pocket.
I learned at Los Alamos that being a cowboy was not all glamour: the work was too hard and the pay too low. So, I had to settle for second best -- to sing cowboy songs. But even then the songs I liked were old and being forgotten. I have done my piece at keeping some of them alive by recording them on a cassette tape. See my ad below.
It was becoming clear that more than just the songs of my last years of boyhood were becoming extinct. Cowboys too were biting the dust. They were soon to be replaced by a new hero for little boys: the soldier. The world was going to war. And I would be in it.
Regain lost manhood with Doc Brinkley's cure using parts from old billy goats! "Two old farmers were standing by a fence in bib overalls and straw hats. One said, 'and it cost me one hundred dollars!' The evesdropping Billygoat replied, 'but look what it cost me!'