Continuing recollections of Dora farm life in the 1950s
Editor’s note: Sections of these 1950s Dora-area reminiscences by former Ozark County resident Martin Capages Jr. are reprinted in the Ozark County Times as space allows. Capages, a Ph.D. University of Missouri-Rolla graduate and the retired former owner of ARIS Engineering in Ozark, attended seventh, eighth and ninth grades in Dora. He can be contacted at 2638 E. Wildwood Road, Springfield, MO 65804; 417-883-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This week’s section picks up after the Capages family returned to their Dora farm in February 1958 after a few months living near family members in Millington, Tennessee.
The return to Windell Hall’s eighth grade class
It was as if I had never left. Now I was an eighth-grader in Windell Hall’s seventh- and eighth-grade class. Windell had his hands full with one kid in particular. I’ll call him Jamie. One time he grabbed Jamie by both collars and held him up against the wall to get his attention. He got it. I think it was a “failure to communicate” situation since Jamie would turn out to be a good kid.
There were some cute seventh grade girls. Geraldine Hambelton and Claudia Johnson come to mind. But they were too young for eighth grade boys at the time.
It was softball season again, and I was still making good grades. Unfortunately, the grades were too good. At eighth-grade graduation, I would be valedictorian, and Windell had plans. He handed me a full page of single-spaced text to memorize. The one memorable phrase in the speech was the German phrase “Auf Wiedersehen,” or “till we meet again.” I struggled with that until I changed my crib sheet to “off veederzane.”
To me, it went off went off without a hitch. But Dad would sometimes smile about the speech as though he had some secret. You see, during the first part of my speech, a young girl started walking down the aisle. I think it was one of my classmates, Dottie Dobbs. From the podium, I waved at her and told her to sit down. She sat down immediately in the lap of a stranger two rows in front of her dad. The audience laughed when she jumped up and ran back to her seat next to her dad. My dad said I had “command presence” but needed to work on giving clearer instructions. Very funny.
In early summer, I would ride my bike over to Bob Barlow’s house. His family car had a great radio, and we would listen to Elvis and Paul Anka. But then there was also “Purple People Eater.” We knew every line. Bob’s mom would eventually be my freshman English teacher. She was one smart lady.
There was a little café in Dora just north after the curve past Bob Barlow’s. I remember seeing my first 1958 Chevy Impala parked in front of that café. It was black with a red interior and had twin radio antennas on the rear fenders. The car had dual headlights, the first of its kind, I think. I remember the sounds of “Old Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson and “Many a Tear Has to Fall” by Jim Reeves that came floating out of the café.
Another schoolmate of mine, Kenny Kutter, lived across the street from the café. But it was his older sister, Karen, who caught all our attention. She was gorgeous. The older guys just fluttered around her.
I get wheels
Dad’s work at the Sears repair shop in Springfield had advantages. For one thing, Dad brought home a better lawn mower. Then he got the idea to use the old mower’s engine to motorize my bicycle.
He started working on it every night when he got home. At Sears, he ordered a large pulley that fastened to the rear wheel. Then he mounted the Craftsman two-stroke engine to the frame and brazed an idler pulley to the seat tube. The crazy contraption ran great. No starter cord to pull. I would just start pedaling, and the now-motorized bike would come to life. I loved that old two-stroke. It would even run on “white gas” from Paul Roy’s station, which was much cheaper.
The downside was that the exhaust pipe was very short and would blow hot exhaust on my left inner thigh. I solved that problem when I found a used, chrome-plated P-trap left over from the kitchen remodeling. It slipped over the engine exhaust and directed the exhaust to the rear. It looked as though it was made for it.
At first, I controlled the speed with a string attached to the throttle bell crank. Later, I used an old 10-speed bike’s brake lever to control the throttle. It came from the Sears junk pile, of course.
For my birthday, I got a battery-operated front headlight. The motorbike was complete, and I rode it everywhere. One day I was filling the little engine’s gas tank at Roy’s Store when Kelley Martin drove up in his family’s pickup. He asked to take the bike for a spin. I agreed, with some trepidation.
He rode it up and down the gravel road just fine. Kelly said it was a “remarkable invention” but needed a backseat for his girlfriend. He would have needed three backseats at the time, as I recall.
When I left the station that day I stopped at the Birdsongs’ place. Jerry was in trouble because he had flipped the family Pontiac into the ditch on the curve of CC Highway just before their house. His dad was furious with him, and he was grounded.
A couple of weeks later, I slid my motorbike off the road at the same place when my headlight stopped working. Nothing damaged but my pride. And you don’t get grounded if no one knows about it.
(To be continued.)