During some of my visits with Dad, he would talk a lot about his growing up days in Guthrie OK. Although he seemed to have felt misunderstood, and went on to a different kind of life than his family’s, he still seemed to love to talk about how things were. He was a child in the Depression, a teenager during WW2, and in his young years traces of cowboy/outlaw days were still in evidence and fueled his boyhood imagination.
These are some notes I took a few years ago while we were having conversations about the old days.
Soda jerks had their own language. A 400 was a small chocolate milk, 5 cents. An 800 was a large = 10 cents. The chairs were called Coca Cola chairs, with a wire back wound into an ornate shape. After a dance or football game, all the high school kids would go in [to the soda fountain] pretty soon the kids would “whistle” their glasses, and then others would, until the pharmacist would come out and tell them not to.
On Expecting to Go to War
When Grandpa was teenaged you were pretty sure you’d go into the army and they all followed the war, particularly because everyone knew someone who was there.
On the Depression
People ranged from having some money to having no money. Lots of people kept their cash under the mattress. Frank (my grandfather) had a little stash. He didn’t trust the bank.
On Guthrie History
Guthrie had been the state capitol originally and the politicians loaded the books and the state seal and took them to Oklahoma City by night. Guthrie was settled in 1889 (just 41 years before Dad was born), people who were there earlier were called “Sooners”.
His mom would put up sheets over the windows and doors to keep the dust out. But the soil structure was such that the dust storms there did not bother the farms there. But out at Kingfisher where his uncle lived it was flat and sandy and the wind could blow. The farmers did straight-row farming no matter what the contour of the land was.
People in those days, in that community, knew where food came from. Kids would handle the cream separator. Even an 80 acre farm could be self-supporting–had their own meat, chickens, pigs (pigs were a cash crop, you’d butcher one and market the rest.) Frank had chickens. Aunt Nellie had turkeys, chickens, guineas and geese, out by Goodnight. (?)
The railroad went through Guthrie, the MK & T line.
There was no social safety net other than family. Everyone stayed in town. Farming took a lot of manpower, so families would share work. Farmers around there were wheat and oat farmers. Didn’t have combines, didn’t have tractors. These were not huge farms like in Kansas. More like 160 acres. A man with a threshing machine would come to a farm and all the neighbors would come with bundle wagons gathering wheat (?) and other neighbors with grain trucks. Some kids who were too young would take water around. Farm wives would come to the house at that farm to cook dinner. And that was the way it was done when Dad was a kid.
Dad’s father, Frank, got a combine when Dad was in Jr High. Dad drove the pickup to get the grain from the combine and take it to the storage bin. They got 20-40 bushels to the acre. Seed wheat.
Many people on the farm didn’t have battery radio. In town there were plug-in-the-wall radios. Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy, Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet were all so exciting they would cause nightmares. Terry and the Pirates took place in China. I Love a Mystery. There was a New Orleans jazz show and a radio program out of Chicago with real jazz. Kids shows ended around 7; then adult programming came on, like the Firestone Hour, Little Theater off Times Square and Arch Obeler (?).
Education was not job preparation but the goal was to become educated, literate. Shakespearean troupes would go from town to town. People would go to band concerts even if they didn’t have a kid in band. Partly because the band was good! The growth of radio cut down on traveling troupes.
They had a neighborhood grocery store two doors down, where you could get milk and meat. And they had an ice man.
The telephone number at the Motor Inn was 7. These were stem phones. An operator would come on and say, “Number, please”. There were also party lines. They’d use telegram/telegraph instead of long distance and the telegramboy rode a bike and had a flat cap.
People didn’t buy a car every three years, they used it until it wore out.
Every family would have their own fireworks and the boys would buy the loudest, most obnoxious ones. The big entertainments of the year were Senior Play and Junior Play.
There were War Bond drives. Some little entertainer would put on an exhibition of whip cracking. There were scrap metal drives, aluminum foil drives–the boy scouts would always be involved in these.
Until Dad was 10, nothing ever changed. Everything stayed the same. Advertising….[what? didn’t exist? stayed the same?] Then ’41 hit and it was a whole new era and things didn’t go back. Suddenly after the war there was such a demand for new stuff because everyone had made do for so long. Portable radios were popular. And then technology started to go to town. For example, the wire recorder. Most musicians had never heard themselves play before.
The tape recorder was invented by Germans who used it to “hide” Hitler from British intelligence.
The movie would be on a loop and run over and over and over and you could sit there all day. Saturday movies cost a dime, and you could sit there all day. The categories were “selected short subjects” “feature” “cartoon” “comedies” “newsreel” and “serial”. Gene Autry was big. He liked science fiction and western movies.
On Nicholson Family History
Mollie married Frank (my grandmother and grandfather) in ’26 and had Dad in ’30. He was their only child. She was a one-room school teacher, responsible for 8 grades. [Here she is depicted with her Grade 8 graduates in 1918. In case you can’t tell teacher from students, Mollie is the one in the center. Those are some mature looking 8th graders.]
This would be in the county around Guthrie. She talked about her students sometimes, especially Harold and Harry. She probably taught until marriage. Frank and Mollie had lived next door to each other. They probably didn’t marry for so long because Frank was conservative and possibly wanted to own the house before marrying. Dad says people didn’t marry early in those days.
The photo at left depicts the Nicholson homestead, circa 1900. The caption says that John, Frank, Nellie, Anna, Nettie, Mollie and James are depicted, from left to right. Mollie (red arrow) was the daughter of James and Nettie Nicholson, born in Dexter KS. Her siblings were named John, Burt, Frank, Nellie, Anna and Hazel. Hazel was not actually a daughter but was raised in the family as one. Burt and Hazel appear to not have made it into this photo.
Incidently, I cropped this photo, but the entire photo is fascinating. There are two horses hitched to a wagon to the right as well as another structure, smaller than the one behind the family, and possibly made of logs. Apparently the structure behind them is their home. There is a fine looking dog in front of James.
Hazel traveled by bus to come to my wedding. By that time my grandparents were all dead. Hazel had taken care of my grandma (Mollie) throughout the years she had Parkinson’s and a heart problem.
John, left, top row, (and far left in the homestead photo) died in the flu epidemic of 1917 when millions of people died. Burt (not shown) married Emma, and had a child named Marie, who married Chester (Chet) Snyder. They worked in the bank in Dexter KS. Mollie’s next brother, Frank, front row, bow tie, had a child named Hazel by his first wife. His second wife’s name was Mabel, to the left of him in the photo, apparently. (I remember visiting Mabel.) They went on to have Burrell, Darrell, Floyd, Ray, and Barbara. Frank had severe asthma and worked as a greenskeeper at a golf course. They were friends with John and Mary Schallenberg — a connection to my grandfather’s side. When Frank’s asthma got too bad, the sons and Hazel bought the 80 acre farm for them outside of Guthrie. Mostly Frank sat and sprayed asthma meds, wheezing and coughing. He worked as much as he could. Hazel may have had a teaching certificate.
Mollie’s sister Nellie married Frank Morgan and they had Jack (James), Doyle, Edna, Vontelle. Doyle had a farm but moved to town and became a mail carrier. Jack became a bookkeeper for the Chevrolet agency in Enid. Jack married Opal Ball and they adopted two children. The boy ended up in jail or something, Dad recalls. Doyle married Florene. Dad goes on to say that Doyle and Florene had Shirley and Caroline. Edna was an old maid schoolteacher until she married P.H. [I remember meeting P. H. for sure.] They had no children. Vontelle married Art Lamb. They had Glenda, Vonita, LaVerne, LeRoy, and Marjorie. Edna was the first woman in the family to get a college degree.
Mollie’s other two sisters, Anna and Hazel — right side of the above photo, Hazel in front and Anna middle row, lived together in the house at 705 E. Harrison. Their phone number was 855. Anna was never married. (The ring I used as an engagement ring came from her, via my mother. The sisters had bought it for Anna, since she missed out on getting an engagement ring the normal way.) She worked at Lintz Dept. Store and was in charge of the notions department.
Burrell’s first wife Genevieve had two children, a girl and a boy. The boy was Jerry. The girl was very beautiful. Burrell eventually married Florene. (Don’t know if this is the same Florene or not.) Burrell and Florene stayed in touch with me when the Hazel who took care of my grandmother became ill. They were very sweet. When Chris was born, they sent me a child’s book of prayers on behalf of Hazel.
Darrell married Flo or Ina Flo and they had Nancy. Barbara married Ralph. Floyd married Bunny (possibly Bernice.)
There was a relative in the family, Meredith Nicholson, who was an author. Dad’s mother alluded to him as a 32nd cousin, but he was out of favor with the family because he was a New Dealer and the Nicholsons were ardent Republicans. Meredith Nicholson wrote romantic adventure stories like House of a Thousand Candles and Rosalind at Redgate. He was an ambassador to some South or Central American country and had a street in Washington DC named after him.
On Schallenberg Family History
On the Schallenberg side, they came from Muelhausen (sp?) Germany in Thuringia–a province or section down by Austria. My dad’s grandparents on that side were Heinrich and Bertha (Anschuetz?). Heinrich was born in 1843 and died in 1916. Bertha died in 1915. Bertha was the second wife. The first wife bore Wilhelm and Anna and maybe others. The other siblings were Hans (later called John), Franz (later called Frank), Amalia, Emilia, and Albin, whose nickname was Beaner. (I recall Dad saying that Amalia and Emilia were called Mollie and Meelie.)
They all came to the US. Wilhelm came first to case out the place. Anna stayed in New York. They came over as adults around 1891. Dad believes his father was a baby or toddler when he came to the US. They first went to Alabama, and then to Iowa, and finally settled in Oklahoma, possibly in 91. Dad thought he had the deed to their homestead in a box. They built a sandstone house out of stone quarried on the property. They had a year-round spring and 160.88 acres. This was 2-3 years after OK was opened for homesteading. They raised garden vegetables and had a vineyard. At least one story has it that kegs were kept under straw during a hard freeze, the boys took straws and drank from the kegs. The non-alcoholic part had frozen, therefore the boys got drunk.
They took produce to Guthrie by horse and cart, 9 miles. This is the homestead where Dad took my brother and me fishing a few times when we went to visit our grandparents. It was off hiway 33 about 1.5-2 miles. Hans and Franz probably used American names when they went to school. They did not have German accents, according to Dad, but used funny grammatical constructions, such as “throw the cow over the fence an armload of hay”.)
They all got interested in photography quite early. Eastman popularized photography in 1890. They were on the forefront of this and liked gadgets. They may have been our nerdly forebears. Dad has quite a few old photographs and their interest may account for that.
Dad said his father (Frank–Franz) told him the reason Heinrich left Germany was because the Prussians were big and the Prussians were pressing young men into service. And possibly because of a bad bout of inflation.
Frank was in the quartermaster corps (had to do with trucks and supplying all the other branches, which in those days had to be done by truck.)
Wilhelm, according to family legend, was in the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, approximately 1908?
Hans (John) became a motorcycle cop in Tulsa. After that he ran steam things, he was a steam engineer.
In 1916 Heinrich died. The Schallenberg children who were still at home moved to 707 E. Harrison, to town. After the war, in 1918, they opened the Motor Inn. In a building which had been a livery stable. They concreted the floor. It was 1/2 block long, three lots wide–very large. It was at the corner of Cleveland and Wentz. Wentz was Hwy 77. Motor Inn was located where the grocery store is now. It became a Safeway. Sometime after WW2 Albin built the place on Division and lived in the apartment upstairs. (The place on Division refers to the gas station the family owned.)
On Wild West Characters
One of the early customers of the Motor Inn that Dad remembers meeting was a marshal from early times named Chris Madsen who turns up in Westerns. He was a natty dresser, a little short round man. He stored his car there, a Plymouth coupe, gray. He was in and out of there. He was not unmindful of his place in history. He was a U S Marshall for Guthrie when it was part of the Territory. The legend was that he was not a gunman, but when there was a disturbance or a fight, he would bend the gun barrel over someone’s head. He had been a mercenary, had fought in the Boer war.
Another character Dad remembered named Frank Eaton turned up on Gunsmoke. He was a blacksmith in Goodnight. At ’89 celebrations he would be introduced at the rodeo and would ride across, firing his gun in the air, holding the reins in his teeth. He would always come to town on horseback, leading a pack animal. Legend has it that he was known as Pistol Pete; and the story Dad remembers about Pistol Pete was that when he (PP–Frank Eaton) was 10 years old in Kansas, the raiders (Quantrell and all) raided the farm while young Frank was down fishing, he heard commotion and firing and went to investigate and saw the raiders in the process of killing his parents. So, at age 11 he strapped on guns and saddled up and hunted them down, one by one, and got them. Dad’s cousin had a book called Pistol Pete, an autobiography of Frank Eaton. He was the first one Dad ever saw dressed like an authentic cowboy. Dad spied him riding across Harrison, as he rode home from the library on his bike, around 41 or 42. Dad was terribly impressed. He had guns on.
Law was thin in the territory. There were only Indians and outlaws. So Dad’s dad would inform Dad of someone’s name using the phrase, “he goes by the name of…” and there were a lot of Smiths and Joneses.
Chisholm Trail was 10 miles west of Guthrie. Another trail was the Goodnight/Loving trail east of Guthrie. Named after men.
Forth Smith Arkansas was headquarters of the law administered by Judge Parker who was known as the hanging judge. Indian Territory and OK Territory and the Panhandle were no-mans-land where the real bad guys were.
There was a blacksmith in town at B&B Blacksmith named Jim Buckles. Dad doubts the name was from ancient lineage.
Also there was no political correctness about age. Example, Old Man Ryker. Next door lived Old Man Conner. Old Man Ryker and Frank shingled their house. Old Man Ryker had a farm and would do odd jobs for them. He built them a barn out on the old farm. Built the house next door (to the west) and rented it out.
John (getting back to siblings of my grandfather Frank) married a lady named Mary and had a daughter named Margaret who died at 17 or 18. John played clarinet. He was never a good family man. Wilhelm and Anna–not known if they married.
Amelia married Snead Sweat who was a career army man. They only had Warren. Mollie (Amalia?) married Albert Wagner. he was a highly skilled cabinetmaker, farmer and gadgeteer. They had a farm out in Western/Central Ok near Kingfisher and he had it fixed up with a wind generator so they had electricity and a windmill to pump water and a tank on the house so they could have running water. Most farms didn’t have those things even though in town you could have electricity and running water. During the duststorms the farm blew away so they moved to Ponca City where he worked as a cabinetmaker and they were ther as early as Dec 1941 because Dad was at their house the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. No children.
Uncle Albin dated Hazel for years but one day he turned up married to Bertha Van Bibber, which was a big jolt to the Nicholsons. They had two sons, Earl and Van. Bertha died of cancer of some sort. Earl and Van had families.
Albin built the Standard Station and they lived there. The people who were renting the farm saved enough to get their own farm and so Frank (my grandfather, Dad’s dad) started running the farm around the time that Dad was in junior high school. By the time Dad was 12, Frank, Mabel, Floyd and Barbara Nicholson had moved to a farm two miles outside Guthrie–an easy bike ride.
But when Dad was 11, WW2 started and raising food was important. On the Nicholson farm they reaised two acres of potatoes for the whole family, and when they were ready Dad would dig the potatos and store them in storm cellars. They would buy 200lbs of seed potatoes. Floyd would plow with horse drawn plough and Dad would drop pieces in the row. Dad would spray for bugs with water and arsenate of lead by mixing it in a bucket and shaking a wisk broom soaked in it over the plants. And everyone would dig potatoes. Mothe would tie the bags shut and they’d hoist them into the truck. And they built drying racks in the storm cellar at Anna and Hazel’s house. One of the nastier jobs was to go down and pull out rotten potatoes. Floyd and Dad would play pirates in the cellar with candles. The storm cellar was built by Hazel’s brothers.
Everybody had a garden. There was a big garden at Hazel’s house. Small garden at Dad’s house. Enormous garden at Frank Morgan’s house (married to Nellie Nicholson, Dad’s aunt.) Dad herded cattle on the Morgan farm one summer in 5th or 6th grace. He slept under trees. He also worked on the farm one summer. After that he got work in town so he wouldn’t have to work on the farm. He got a paper route. It was Route 8, about 9 miles long. Then he got a better route, Route 6, on the classy outskirts of town. Then he got a route in the main residential area. Then about that time the high school kid who had been route supervisor was drafted, and then dad got that job and carried Route 2, which included the hotel and library and businesses and apartments. He did that Mon-Fri, and early Sunday morning. On Saturday he was a boxboy at Safeway. Also stocked the shelves and did price changes and cleaned up in the evenings. They closed at 7, they’d clean up and then dad would change clothes and dash off and do a job with a jazz combo. All high school kids except the drummer and dad. They played at the country club and the dance club and the ballroom of the lone hotel. So Dad had 3 jobs the summer after 9th grade. That band kept going for a year. The band director moved on to a new job, and the good players graduated. So then Dad’s job was to collect dues at the dance club. So then Dad got to hear bands from OK City. The piano player won a contest.
Albin and Frank started out in partnership on the Standard Station but gradually sold out or something when Albin owned it alone.
Frank probably farmed until Dad got out of the army — the farm was jointly owned by all the Schallenberg children. Even when it was rented out to Basil Minor. They were good friends with Basil. Frank called him Base, and Basil’s wife he called Mrs. Minor. So Frank would encourage them with scientific farming ideas to help maximize production. He was always a member of the Farm Bureau and received Farm Journal and kept up with current trends. They had three mags that came to the house: American Legion Magazine, the Ladies Home Journal (Homely Ladies Journal, Dad called it) and the Farm Journal. Hazel took Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Better Homes and Gardens. Hazel worked for the county treasurer’s office until Dad was in 5th or 6th grade when the treasurer was voted out. Then she worked for Fairmont Creamery. When she was about ready to retire, they fired her to avoid paying benefits. So she worked for the library.
Being related by marriage in those days was the same as being related by blood. A Nicholson would get free car repairs and a Schallenberg would get produce.