Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes were not all that common when I was a kid but that began to change in the ’50s. First Brother Bill went into the Army and for the first time in my lifetime, as far as I knew, someone actually flew in an airplane. It was a tail dragging DC-3 (C-47) and it landed and took off at the old Austin airport (two before the current one) on Airport Boulevard in Austin Texas. Later on leave, he came and went on a tricycle landing geared DC-4 (C-54) (I think anyway but I only remember two engines and the plane has four so…).

A common sound was the Dinky as it made the trip from Cameron (Milam County Seat) on the SAP railroad to Giddings (Lee County Seat). It was a steamer and had that characteristic sound of the engine and whistle and that whistle would be blown as he crossed what is now County Road near Hicks, Texas – a community across Highway 77 from where I grew up. In retrospect, it was a wonderful sound.

My earliest remembrances of things automotive are a late 1940’s Willis Jeep, a green Ford pickup with a rusted out bed, a ’49 Ford with a flathead V8 engine and overdrive and two tractors – one at 1950 or so Ford 8N ( I think) and a very similar 1947 Ford Ferguson.

I will go into each topic a bit more in the following.

Certainly we had airplanes fly over but usually they were high and small single engine planes. On two occasions that was not true. First was when I was quite young and I was in the front yard of the old house when an H-21 Shawnee Helicopter flew over the garden and fairly low to the ground – low enough that I could see people inside. The helicopter was also known as the “Flying Banana” for the shape of its fuselage. It was an ugly thing but so far as I know was the first operational dual rotor helicopter in the US Army. To this day, I could not tell you why it would have been in our neck of the woods other than Fort Hood was only about 60 air miles or so from home. I believe this was the first for real helicopter I had ever seen. It became the subject of much conversation the following week at school.

Second was an up close and personal view of a B-52.  In the 60’s, the Strategic Air Command had a train they would drive around the US and set up on a siding. The train was outfitted with equipment that allowed it to be used as an electronic target for the training of B-52 pilots. One such train was set up on a siding in Thrall, Texas when I was about 20 or so. I was at the old cistern at the new house setting up to burn trash; one of my chores as a kid. In the distance coming from the approximate direction of Rockdale ALCOA smelter I could see something smoking headed in my direction. It continued to come and got bigger and bigger as a B-52 passed over our house not more than 200 feet or so above the ground. Every number was plainly visible and I swear I could see rivets in the skin of the plane. I had no heard so much noise before as the eight jet engines on that plane made as it passed over the house. I have been around B-52’s since, having lived with them in Thailand, but no run in with them has ever been quite as impressive as that first awesome view of American air power at its best.

The only other mention I will make of airplanes is a list of those I parachuted out of: C-119, C-47, C6. C-141 and an H-34 Choctaw Helicopter. The latter was at RAF Greenham Common Air Base in Newbury, Berkshire, England but I do not recall if it was a US or British Helicopter. I was there in 1969 as part of the Flintlock series of exercises with the 10th Special Forces Group. There may have been others I have jumped.  Somewhere in the house is my jump log and it will give the date and time and aircraft that I leapt out of.

Besides all of the stuff that put me in various kinds of planes and helicopters, there was one assignment that actually allowed me to fly. In 1973-74 I was assigned as a Ground Liaison Officer from the 2nd Armored Division to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman AFB, NM – where Paige was born. I was able to fly in the back seat, mostly as a passenger in the F-4D, one of the hottest planes in the Air Force at the time although its days were clearly numbered. I worked out of the Wing Operations shop but flew with the 8th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Some coffee cups and a few pictures are all that remain of those times. I got about 50 hours total in the back seat including one live bomb run from Holloman to Nellis AFB, NV, hitting a inflight fuel tanker on each leg of the trip. Fun times.

My experience with trains is rather small. I remember riding the train when my Aunt Myra took me on the Dinky for a trip to Cameron and Back. The Dinky ran on the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway Co. (SAP) tracls and was a small railroad that ran from Cameron, Texas (Milam County Seat) to Giddings, Texas (adjacent Lee County Seat). It was part of a larger system but I never rode a train outside of that. I remember little about the ride.

My next train adventure was on a Texas A&M Corps Trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where our team would eventually get outscored (Aggies never lose, they just get outscored) by the LSU Tigers. Being part of the Texas Aggie Band, once we got to Baton Rouge, the work was just beginning because we had to offload all of the instruments, do the halftime drill and then load up again. Freshmen were the beasts of burden and cheap labor for the entire process. I don’t remember much about that trip except that we were in a Diesel locomotive, not a steamer.

I have uploaded a video taken by Sue McNiel Davenport (sister to my best friend growing up) of  Union Pacific 844 as it came through Milano and later it went on through Rockdale. If you listen to the sounds of the engine and the whistle, you will understand why those old steam locomotives held so much fascination for us kids.

Let me try to list those automobiles I have been around/driven, as close to in order as I can;

1948 Ford Pickup     1949 Ford     Early 50’s Willis Jeep     1955 Chevy Pickup     1957 Chevy Bel Air
1960 Renault Caravelle     Mid 60’s Ford LTD    Late 60’S Chevy Pickup                1967 Ford Galaxy 500 XL
1969 Ford Galaxy 500 XL              1971 Ford LTD Country Squire                          1972 Ford Thunderbird
1968 Ford Torino GT      1974 Ford Pinto Squire                  1963 MGB GT             1976 Volvo 244 DL
1968 VW Bug            196X VW Bus        1978 BW Bus        1984 Toyoto Pickup    1983 Volvo 244 DL
1986 Volvo 744 (Diesel)   1988 Volvo 744 Turbo (Gas)         198X Toyota Van       1996 Toyota Camry
1995 Toyota T100 Pickup     2002 Toyota Avalon   2005 Toyota Sienna     2005 Toyota Tacoma

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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Daily Life


Fear and Breast Feeding

Time magazine just released an issue that discussed breast-feeding and the time to wean a child.  Apparently there is a segment of the population that thinks it OK to breast feed for a long time – indicated by an issue cover picture of a child, nearly four years old, standing on a stool feeding away on his momma. My immediate though was that the picture will stay on the Internet forever and when this kid starts school, he is going to get  teased unmercifully if not get his butt kicked on a daily basis.

Time was, and about at that same age, if I were to whine or started acting a bit less than my age, Mother would threaten me with a Sugar Tit. She would take a small piece of cloth in put a teaspoon or so of sugar into the center of the cloth and then tie it up into to the shape of a modern pacifier and then tie a string long enough to go around a kid’s neck to the cloth. Memory fails but I remember her making one but I do not recall ever actually wearing it. All she needed do was threaten me with it and I knocked of the whining quickly. The idea of wearing that thing around my neck and keeping it in my mouth until the sugar was gone was unbearable, especially to a young child wanting to grow up. Your biggest fear was that if anyone saw you with it, you would be teased unmercifully and get your butt kicked the next day at school. For that reason, I don’t understand the Time magazine thing.

Maybe that was cruel and maybe it wasn’t but it was effective and I seem to be no worse for the wear because of it.

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Daily Life


Poor Man’s Insulated Bottle

As a kid, I was sometimes called on to go to the fields to hoe the weeds out of watermelons or peanuts; both of which the family grew in the 50’s and early 60’s before the market fell out of watermelons and the government reduced the peanut allotments for allowable acreage to near zero. The Texas sun in late morning was everything you can imagine and I burned through water though I did not carry a thermos bottle – what all insulated containers were called then for the company that made them. Thermos bottles tended to be very small inside and the inner portion of the bottle was glass in those days – very fragile glass – one reason you don’t find many serviceable bottles in antique stores today.

Having no clue that evaporation takes in heat from its surroundings thus cooling the immediate area, or any other physical law for that matter, my Mother solved the problem this way. Using as big a jar as possible (sometimes a small pickle jar or mayonnaise jar) Mother would attach several layers of burlap (toe sack cloth) around the bottle using twine and sack sewing needles (used to sew up toe sacks when peanuts were harvested). Toe sacks are named for the ear that results on each side of the sack after sewing the top up. Never assume that country folks cannot innovate or devise solutions when necessary; just like the rich guys.

Once sewn, the clean bottle was filled with water and ice and the burlap around the bottle was soaked in water.  As the water evaporated out of the burlap it maintained/cooled the contents of the bottle. The ice would stay frozen for at least two hours before the water started to warm up in the sun.  You did what you could to shade the bottle from the sun. I wish I had one of them or at least a picture but alas, being glass they did not last much longer than Thermos Bottles of the day.

This cooling principle is the same one that you saw in use in the 40’s when a canvas bag was tied in front of the radiators of cars.  The bag contained water and the canvas stayed wet though I always though them not very good for the purpose because the water would eventually leak out of the bag through the pores in the canvas. Thus you keep your water cool just by driving down the road. The bags also served a purpose of having water on hand should the car overheat – a frequent event with the Models A and T.

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Daily Life



The Geography of My Childhood

My view of the world was driven by how much of it I could see and of course that was affected by just how far I strayed from the back yard. The light area in the Google Map above (search for Hicks Texas) shows the part of the farm that Lea and I inherited but that represents only one-fourth of what Daddy had at the time. As I aged past 12, I roamed a lot farther away from this both North and South and to a smaller extent, West.

I grew up on an 800 acre farm/ranch in South Milam County (D Walker and J Smith Surveys) and that gave me plenty of room to roam – that plus all of the adjacent land where I knew the owners and they knew me. Thus in the winter I might be attempting to shoot a duck three places away from our own or fishing the same distance away – usually by myself but Mother loved to fish and I usually tagged along with her.

We were country people and Party Lines, Rural Mail Carriers and Electric Coops and community stores were part and parcel of our world.  On a telephone party line in the 50, there were 8 families on the line, four on each side.  A side would hear the ring for the other families, You had a short, long, long and a short and two short rings.  Ours was a long and a short. – Greenwood – 3624 (in my early days, all you had to dial was 3624, exchanges were not needed and before that you picked up the phone and “Central” answered). Of course you never said anything on the line you did not want the whole community to know and it was routine to hear another line pick up when you answered the phone. After all, three other families heard your phone ring.Image

Hobson Reat was our mail carrier and he drove a ’50 or so Jeep filled with all of his mail bags.One of the most pleasant memories I have is opening his canvas Jeep door and smelling the leather of the three or four bags of mail and parcels with him. No Stamp? No problem, put your letter in the mail box with a nickel and raise the flag and Hobson would take the letter, pull the stamp from his bag and post it for you. The Tanglewood Post Office is now closed but the building remains.

About five or so miles away lived a reclusive widow (Mrs Brickhouse). While we did not use the service as much as Mrs. Brickhouse, you could in those days put a grocery list and money in the mailbox and Hobson would bring it out to you the next day – easy for Hobson to pull off because the Tanglewood Post Office was in the back of Bobby Phillips’ grocery in Tanglewood (interestingly yesterday the USPS announced they were considering returning to community based PO’s just like we had in the 40’s.). Hobson was the only person we knew that Mrs. Brickhouse allowed to approach her house unchallenged. If cars kept moving along, she pretty much ignored them but rest assured she would meet you in the yard if you stopped.  If she knew you, it was a guarded but cordial meeting but if anything was suspicious she likely would have a rifle with her. On one occasion a neighbor kid, Johnny Tyler, were messing around on Allen’s Creek just below her house when she cooked off a round over their heads, letting them know that they were where they should not be.

Like everyone else, we were part of Bartlett Electric Coop for our electricity. Bartlett still provides the electricity on the North side of Allen’s Creek today and strangely enough, many years later in the 70’s when we moved to Fort Hood (Killeen, TX) the second time, we lived out near Stillhouse Reservoir in a rural subdivision and there was Bartlett Electric all over again. Fact is that as of this writing, Bartlett is still holding a $25 deposit for our wiring of that house. Our electricity typically would go out in bad storms because all electricity came in on pine poles and about anything could knock out the line or transformer. Lightning was a frequent cause. I admit though that looking back, I don’t think we lost it anymore than we do here in Northern Virginia. But if we did and if it was night, Mother kept coal oil (kerosene) lamps around the house that never failed to light.  The biggest unsportsman like urge I had as a kid old enough to pack a shotgun around was the urge to shoot dove lined up on either the telephone or electricity line. It would have been a pot shot but I was able to resist.

I don’t remember any form of heat other than butane open-flame heater in the living room. Our tanks were kept full by Maas Butane out of either Lexington or Giddings. I remember that they had butane storage tanks at the entrance to Possum Holler. Mother also had a wood burning stove in the kitchen that would do a good job of heating the place up. It would also burn your rear end if you backed up too close to it.

This pretty much sets the geographical picture of my childhood.


NOTE: The map was produced by Googling Hicks Texas, a now extinct settlement across the road from us and along the SAP Railroad. I still remember the sound of steam engines and their whistles running along the railroad which has now also disappeared. Here is its description from The Texas State Historical Association (

HICKS, TEXAS (Lee County). Hicks is three miles northwest of Tanglewood in far northwestern Lee County. The area was first settled in the 1860s, and by the mid-1880s a small community had begun to develop. A school was built there in 1887, and two years later, when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway came through, a townsite called Niles was laid out on land owned by the railroad. Around 1910 large lignite deposits were discovered near the townsite. The Rockdale Coal Company began operating a strip mine and opened a commissary to sell supplies to the miners. In 1911 the town received a post office called Hicks with R. L. Scarbrough as postmaster. The community’s population was reported at 150 in 1914, but it began to decline soon thereafter. In 1926 the town had an estimated fifty residents, and during the mid-1930s it had a small station and a few scattered dwellings. In the 1980s it was a dispersed rural community.

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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Family


Kids and Technology

At Sweetwater Tavern in Fairfax last Saturday, we were seated next to three generations of folks enjoying family night. Toward the end of our meal, a little boy, between 18 mo and two, began acting like the little boy that he was. His Dad pulled out an iPad and gave it to him. The kid unfolded it in a flash and with fingers flying set it up, opened up Netflix and picked a Thomas the Tank Engine look alike, started the movie and then adjusted the volumn – with no help! If watching the kid fearlessly charge into his future wasn’t enough, he was quiet as a church mouse in the process. I should have known this when Riss walked up to the VCR and set it up to play a movie when she was about the same age. Finding cartoons on the TV was not challenge for her either.

When our kids were little and we were trying to have a sit-down meal somewhere, the best that we could do for either Mere or Paige was to offer them a cracker from Lea’s purse or maybe a french fry. Rattles and maybe a key ring was the toy of the error and you endured your meal to the noise of the toy banging on any surface available while each child practiced their new found outdoor voice. Riss was easier because she would chew on a chicken nugget all day and keep quiet doing it.

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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Daily Life


Same Sex Marriage and What We Call It

My two bits on what will no doubt be another election year kerfuffle:  “I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do so.” G.W. Bush said that in 2004, going against his party platform.

I have to agree with W on this one because 1) marriage has been so well defined to me over the years 2) Domestic Partners deserve the same civil rights, rights of survivorship, medical decision making and all the rest that straights enjoy however civil rights, gay rights and marital rights all differ in my mind. Marriage means man and woman. Webster still defines it that way.

Come up with another symbolic word and I will support it and all the legal ramification of its establishment.

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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Politics and Government


Rhianna’s Big News

Rhianna is the latest committed member of the 2013 Women’s Soccer Class at Division I Marist College in Poughkeepsie. The Marist Red Foxes are the 2011 Women’s Soccer Champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. She has received both athletic and academic scholarship support and is pictured here with her brothers and in action, I will paraphrase her announcement with “Lookout NY, here she comes.” Needless to say, our family is quite proud of her.

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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Family


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