Another Old Timer Tale

from "Sod Houses & Dirty Thirties"


     There are a lot of similarities among many of the stories in this book that Sheri sent in, but here's one that is unique.  It could never happen today.


Elephant Interlude

Francis Stevens, Smith Center, KS, born 1904


     In 1918 my father in Smith Center, KS got a 1913 Model T, converted from a touring car to a topless light truck.  He took excellent care of it.  Yet he never learned to drive and I was the only operator in the family.  So when in June 1923 my sister and I decided to drive the 90 miles to visit our elder sister in Ada, KS we were on our own.  I was 19 and my sister was 13.

     Road traffic was light as there were no all-weather roads in our county and road conditions depended on the amount of moisture and whether the farmer that was supposed to drag his section of the road had been out and over it or not.  Highway routes were marked with painted rings on the telephone poles and the highway itself usually consisted of one fairly good track, with another not so good to use in the event of meeting someone.  It was sufficient, as speeds were limited to the 30-35 mph cruising speed.

     We started our trip at 8 am expecting to use about four hours for the trip.  It was of course necessary to stop about every 30 miles for a quart of oil for the Model T.  We drove south from Smith Center to the Solomon Valley Highway, following it to Downs where we picked up the Midland trail going East through Beloit.  From Beloit southeast through Simpson we drove over new cement paved highway for 12 miles that to us was a dream.  It was the first paved highway that either of us had ever seen.  At Simpson we were back to the dirt roads again and we had 20 miles of township road before reaching Ada.

     About 10 miles south of Simpson large hills showed up.  There was little traffic and the road was a single rack with the grader ditches about 15 feet apart.  The Ford was grinding along in low gear about 8 mph on the steepest of grades when we came to a right angle turn in the road.  The steep bank on our right limited our straight ahead vision and suddenly as we made this turn the road was blocked by the swaying bulk of the world’s largest elephant (which was our sudden opinion)!

     My sister screeched and grabbed me around the neck.  I stomped on the brake pedal without easing up on the low gear and the engine died with a grunt.  It was suddenly and deafeningly quiet.

     I think I must have been paralyzed for a few minutes from the shock of seeing a perfectly comfortable and calm elephant standing in the middle of the single track.  Neither a house nor an individual was in sight.  The only sound louder than our breathing was the gurgle of the boiling radiator.  The Ford was stopped about 10 feet from the roadblock, radiator steaming.  I was unable to think of anything to do, which was probably a good thing.

     The elephant was the calmest of the crew and stood swaying from side to side with his trunk making inquisitive snuffles at a tuft of grass, first on one side of the track and then on the other.  He made one tentative sniffle at the radiator but hesitated about a couple feet from it and back to sampling grass. 

     We were both so scared our teeth couldn’t rattle.  It seemed like hours but was probably seconds before I could think of anything to do.  I could back up but the racket of starting the engine might start a chain reaction; besides, a Model T on a curving narrow road couldn’t back up very fast.  There was not enough room to turn around.  So we sat.

     A particularly large clump of blue stem on the steep bank attracted his attention for a moment and as he took one step to the left to reach it I stepped on the starter.  The engine “took” the first time and we were away, wide open in low gear, down in the grader ditch, back in the track and as fast up the grade as the Ford would go in low gear.  A glance back and the old boy was looking at us with what I thought was a twinkle in his eye.

     When we were about a mile past the scene of the excitement, a man on horseback appeared coming down a country lane.  He had one leg over the saddle horn rolling a cigarette, the horse walking slowly.  The rider did not appear to be native to the country and we decided that the rider must be the escort for our late acquaintance and a little behind in his escorting.

     On our arrival at Ada, our questions were all answered.  The day before a small elephant circus showed in Ada and had some financial difficulty.  Their next stop was Simpson and there was no direct rail line from Ada.  So they walked the elephant across a short cut of 20 miles to save the freight cost.



The 1953 Freshman Football Team


     Ginny's 9th grade scrapbook had this newspaper clipping.  The same photo was used in the 1954 Junior High Lights where it is smaller and not as clear.  This shows 23 of us but the school paper says 37 signed up.  (There were a couple of Hedrick-inspired bone-shaking drills that might have discouraged a few.)  We had all of 14 days of practice before the first game!  But then, at this stage a game was just a practice session more fun than usual. 


Sept. 24, Abilene there.  We won, 28 to 12.

Sept. 29, McPherson here.  We won again, 49 to 6.

Oct. 4, Clay Center there.  We lost 26-0.

Oct. 6, Manhattan there.  We lost, 13 to 6.

Oct. 20, McPherson, there.  We won, 30 to 0.

Oct. 27, Hutchinson, there.  I couldn't find the result.

Nov. 3, Junction City, here.  I couldn't find the result.


So our record was 3-2-0-2 (win-loss-tie-unknown).  Does that add up to a winning, but confusing, season?



     I don't see any jersey number below 50.  I don't know if that means anything or not.  Roger Wolford and I both wore number 69 while Erwin Brown and Jim Eads both had 59.  It probably meant no more then than it does now.

     We'd already had a whole year of experience behind us from 8th grade.  When we were in 7th grade, organized sports didn't start till 9th grade, so we missed out in 7th grade.  At the start of our 8th grade, the rule was changed so sports could start in 7th grade, one year too late for us. 


        Just for Fun


     Things happen that you just can't make up.  Just for fun, here's a tale from 90 years ago that I believe because no one would have ever made up.


     Almost as hard to believe is that our 9th grade football team got its group picture in the Salina Journal.  Of course the Journal was a local paper and would naturally run lots of local items, but here they went to quite a bit of trouble to get this team of no consequence nicely posed with names given in their proper sequence.  It captured a bit of history and preserved it in an archive, a much better service than the photo could have served at the moment it was published.

     I've spent more than enough time with old Journals to appreciate the record that an archive of a local newspaper creates through the decades.  The past is brought back to the present through old newspapers.