Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chapter 59 Company Man

Presiding over company retirement and anniversary dinners was a duty I did not mind at all. It was a pleasure to celebrate these special events with our employees. Sometimes, however, it put a strain on the schedule. clip_image001One time I had done this at Hallettsville, a town that is half way between San Antonio and Houston. After all the celebration, I started home at about 11 PM. It was about 140 miles to home and I had the Commercial District manager with me. Bill Nix and I were both sleepy and the deal was he would keep me awake and talk a lot. About 1 AM we cut off the pavement at Pearsall, Texas and started down a country gravel road to Batesville and Uvalde.

Well, Bill was sound asleep and snoring with his head back and mouth wide open. There was a lot of noise, but he was definitely not talking to me. We had not seen a single car for almost an hour. I was having a real tough time staying awake, holding my head out the window and slapping my face as Bill continued to snore louder and louder. I finally had enough. I reached back to my high school days when we would try to swap ends in our Model A on the gravel parking lot. I stood on the brake and threw the car into a sideways slide on the gravel with my horn blaring without letup. Bill came up with both arms flaying the air and gasping, “what, where, what’s happening?” I said that I had to dodge a deer and he needed to help me watch the road. The rest of the way into Uvalde, Bill sat over there looking like a big owl sitting in a tree with both eyes wide open and chattering like a magpie.

clip_image001[5]Union grievances and problems at the offices around the district had pretty well subsided about this tine but a few would flare up from time to time. One was an on-going problem in the operating room at Eagle Pass. The operators kept insisting the plant man was deliberately setting the thermostat in the operating room so they would suffer from the heat or the cold. He had a lock and a cover over the thermostat so no one could change it. I had made several trips to Eagle Pass to discuss this problem with the plant stewards and the local union rep but it persisted. Then the complaints just completely stopped.

The next trip to Eagle Pass I inquired of the union rep about the problem and she informed me that, at her insistence, the Plant man unlocked the thermostat and took the protective case off so they could adjust the thermostat to whatever was comfortable for the operators. I made a point to find the plant man and thank him for solving this big problem. He winked at me and motioned me to come with him. We went behind the switchboard and he uncovered a panel and there was a new thermostat. He said, “This one is wired up and working, I cut the wires to the one in the operating room.” Problem solved!!

Photo of Hallettsville road found here.

Photo of telephone operators found here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chapter 58 Rocky Mountain High

In 1954 we decided to take a little vacation and go to Colorado to cool off and see Charlotte’s brother and his family in Denver. Charlotte had to call a locksmith to make a key for the house. We had lived there for several years without locking the house when we left. We never took our keys out of the car when we went to the store or down town. I would park at my office and leave the keys in the car all day. No cars were ever stolen and no house was burglarized. Times have changed haven’t they?

We had a 1953 Pontiac sedan and, of course, no air conditioning. I had bought the best thing available at that time and it was a window cooler. It was a round cylinder contraption that fit in the window of the car. The cylinder had excelsior inside and a reservoir of water. When you pulled on the rope, it would rotate the cylinder through the water at the bottom of the tank. The front of the cooler was open so when you drove down the road the hot air would enter the front, pass through the wet excelsior, and emerge a little cooler as it entered the car.

We were to leave that morning at 7 AM and as usual we did not make the EDT. At about ten that morning we were finally ready to leave. I had packed half the house in the car and Charlotte was worried about her two babies, as it clip_image001[5]was hot and so was I. When we had gotten out on the highway and had enough wind to let the cooler work I explained to Charlotte how the cooler worked. I told her to pull on the cord and the cool air would start to come through. She tentatively pulled on the cord and nothing happened because she was not pulling hard enough to rotate the cylinder. I told her-several times-that she had to pull harder.  She was holding 12 month old Tom with one hand and pulling the cord with the other. After giving increasingly expressive instructions to “pull harder”, I watched as she really gave it a jerk. Of course, it did rotate-but by pulling so hard it emptied the water reservoir on Charlotte and Tom. Tom was crying and Charlotte was wet and furious, and that was the way we started our vacation.

We spent the first night in Amarillo and early the next morning weclip_image001[9]stopped at the Canadian river to fix our breakfast. I got our Coleman stove out and Charlotte fixed us bacon and eggs there by the river. We drove on to Denver that day. After a nice visit we left for Mt Evans. Mt Evans had the highest automobile road in the country at that time, 14,560 feet, as I remember. The last four or five thousand feet was a narrow gravel road with no guardrail. The boys could look out the side window straight down for thousands of feet. When we met another car it would crowd us over to the edge and Charlotte and the boys were all ready to turn around but there was no way to do that. Then we met a big motor grader, it was on the side next to the mountain and we were on the cliff edge. The boys dropped to the floor in the back and Charlotte was beside herself. We barely squeezed by.

clip_image002Because of the altitude the car kept stalling. I would start it and race the engine and we would lurch ahead for a few hundred feet before it stalled again. About this time we came up behind two elderly ladies in their car that was barely moving before it stalled again and again. We finally got to the top, and it was quite a view as well as a relief that we had finally made it all the way up. On the way up I noticed the people coming down, over next to the mountain away from the edge, were laughing and smiling. On the way down we too were laughing and smiling too but I noticed the people we met who were next to the unguarded edge had clinched teeth and grim looks on their faces. On the way up we probably looked as grim as any of them. The way back down was uneventful but the boys talked about their experience for years

Photo of 1953 Pontiac sedan found here.

Photo of stone age car cooler found here.

Amazing photo of the Canadian River by Wyman Meinzer found here.

Photo of the road up Mt. Evans found here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chapter 57 Tree Hugger

clip_image002My Mother had been living in an apartment in Alamo Heights and wanted to live in the country. I encouraged her to build a home at the farm and she did. All the rock for her house was quarried from our place. She got a dog she named Pody and she dearly loved living out there.

She was an environmentalist and very politically liberal. I have always been a conservative and more to the right politically so we did not discuss politics too much, She was committed to her causes and one story about her activism is worth telling. The farm was on a road called “The Scenic Loop”.  For many years, people would drive out of San Antonio on a Sunday and make the Scenic Loop to enjoy the trees, the creeks and the wildlife. When the county decided the road needed to be straight through without all the bends and curves, Mom and others protested to no avail. The morning the big bulldozer was unloaded to begin work, the operator found this lady standing in front of the first tree to be dozed. It was my Mom. The dozclip_image001er operator pleaded with her but she would not move. The county commissioner came out and pleaded with her but she would not move. They all went back to San Antonio and had more meetings and the final upshot of the deal is they cancelled the plan to bulldoze the trees and scenic loop is still a beautiful winding road to this day.

We grew clover at the farm, and I had a deal with a Bee Keeper from Nebraska who would bring a big truckload of beehives to our farm each year. He would leave them for the winter. The bees would help with the pollination of the clover, and he would always leave a few gallons of honey when he picked up the bees in the spring. One fall day, I was painting Mom’s garage on a six-foot ladder. Mom’s dog, Pody was curled up near me sound asleep. Our Nebraska beekeeper arrives about this time with a big truckload of beehives with a net over the entire load. Our road wound through the Oak trees and he was waving to me when one of the limbs snagged the net and tore it down the side. Bees came swarming out by the thousands, and they were all over Pody and me. Some got down inside my clip_image002[5]skivy shirt and stung me. Pody was yelping so I guess she was getting stung too. I jumped off the top of the ladder, and headed for the back door of Mom’s house. It must have been a  funny picture as Pody and I fought each other trying to get through that door at the same time. Once inside there were bees everywhere. Mom had an evaporative cooler that had water running down the excelsior sides of it. The bees were mad because he had not stopped to water them, and they were frantic for water. When they covered the outside of that cooler the fan would suck them into the house. I felt bad about it, and the poor beekeeper was out there until two or three in the morning with smokers trying to get his bees back into the hives. He lost a lot of bees that night.

I used to enjoy plowing at the farm at Leon Springs. I loved the smell of the newly turned earth. One hot Saturday afternoon I was plowing the front field and had been plowing since early that morning. I only had a few more passes down the middle of the field and I would be through. Each time I made a round a lady Field Lark who had a nest in the middle of the field would put on her show to try and get me away from her nest. She would flop along the ground witclip_image001[4]h one wing dragging behind her and as I passed and moved on down the field she would return to her nest and settle down on it again. On my final pass she was right in the path I had to plow and as I approached she was frantic as she flopped along the ground giving me the broken wing show. When I got to about six feet from her I just could not bring myself to plow though her nest so I whipped the tractor around the nest and got back to plowing about six feet away. I watched the nest for the next few weeks and sure enough she hatched out three little ones. My Sudan crop came up all around her before she and her brood left the nest.

Photo of Scenic Loop found here.

Photo of lark found here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chapter 56 Cadillac Utility Vehicle

In the 50’s we had a terrible drought. It lasted for seven years, and put a lot of ranchers and farmers out of business. All of the water wells around me had gone dry, but my well went all the way down into the Edwards Aquifer, and I had water. I went around to my neighbors, and told them to come to my well if they needed water. Sometimes you would see two or three pickups with 55 gallon barrels in the back up by my well. There were no rural water systems so they were getting water not only for their animals but for household use as well.

clip_image001One afternoon I was working on my fence and here comes a brand new big Cadillac pulling up beside me. Well, bless pat if it wasn’t old Charlie.

“Hi Charlie, get out and rest yourself. I need a little supervision here.”

Charlie got out and sat on the tail gate of my pickup cutting himself a fresh chew of tobacco.

I asked him, “Where did you get that Cadillac?”

“I done bought it. I always wanted me a big Cadillac so I went in to the store and told them I wanted the biggest Cadillac they had.”

Pause a moment to imagine that scene. Charlie walks in to the dealer in his oil soaked, dirty, old hat, plaid shirt with the elbow out, and run-over dirty boots. What did the salesman think? Well, they showed Charlie a big red four door. Charlie took it and they probably fainted when he paid for it with a roll of $100 bills that he dug out of his pocket with a rubber band around them. Cadillac’s sold for $2700 to $4900 in 1950.

About that time in my rumination, I saw something moving in the back seat of Charlie’s Cadillac.

Me: “Whatcha got in the back seat Charlie?”

Charlie: “Them’s sheeps”.

Me: “What are you doing with ‘sheeps’ in the back seat of your new Cadillac?”

Charlie: “Takin’ ‘em to the vet.”

Me: “Oh, I see.”

Charlie had been coming over to get water at my well for a while. Country people are real proud, and I mean that in the good sense of the word. They will give you anything you need, and never expect anything in return, but they hate to ask for anything. Charlie was shuffling around, and seemed to be at a loss for words. He turned aside and spit out some tobacco juice, took a breath and said;

“I want to thank you for the water”

I replied, “Charlie you are most welcome, and you know my gate is unlocked, you come over and get all the water you want anytime you need it.”

Charlie stood their a little while longer and then said, “George, you are a good neighbor.”“

“Thank you Charlie, I’m proud to be your neighbor.”

Charlie was embarrassed. That was a little too much emotion to be expressed.clip_image001[7]

“I got to git. Adios.”

“Adios, Charlie, take care.”

With that Charlie left driving down my lane toward the highway in his new Cadillac with a bunch of “sheeps” in the back seat.

Photo of 1955 Cadillac sedan found here.

Photo of sheep found here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chapter 55 Going to the Dogs

Old Charlie was a man who managed a ranch that joined us to the south and he was quite a character. For some time, all the ranchers in the area had been having trouble with a pack of wild dogs. The dogs would run together and if they found a new born calf, or a lamb or kid goat they would kill it. They were not killing to eat, just to kill. Almost every day someone else would report another animal killed. The ranchers wanted to shoot them but there were some animal lovers that lived around there who put up a hue and cry against that. Suddenly, we did not hear of the dogs during the month of March. That was strange, because it had been the talk of the community.

A short time later, I was back at Charlie’s to say “Hi.” He lived in an old, run-down house in a little valley. When I pulled up in my pickup Charlie said, “Come over, sit down, and take a load off.”

I pulled up an old wood box beside Charlie, who as usual had a big chew of tobacco that looked like a tennis ball in his cheek. He sat in front of his little house a lot, always with his trusty shotgun beside him. We talked about the weather, when it was going to rain again, the cattle market, and so on until I commented on our gang of trouble makers.

“You know, Charlie, I haven’t seen anything of that pack of wild dogs for some time. I wonder if they have moved on to some other place”.

Charlie replies, “You ain’t gonna see them no more.”

“Really, how come?”

Charlie said, “Them dogs came running through here a while back and everyone of them dogs wasn’t watching where they was a-going and ran plum into a bunch of stumps and killed themselves.”

“Well I declare.”