Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dull Knife, Dull Feller . . . Sharp Knife, Sharp Feller

I can’t remember when I first carried a folding knife in my pocket.  A good pocket knife was an essential tool for a farm kid in the forties and fifties.  It was used to cut the ties on fodder bundles and hay bales.  A sharp Case, Schrade or Barlow, and you were ready to skin a squirrel or clean a mess of Clear Creek bullheads. 

 
 

I was instructed in safety measures early on.  Such things as always cut away from your body, and don’t run with with the blade open.

 

At school we played Mumbley-peg during recess.  It was a gentler time.  No one questioned the right or reason to carry a pocket knife to school.  No one was ever hurt or threatened by a pocket knife at any of the rural schools I attended.

One of my most prized possessions during the fourth grade was a pair of high-topped lace-up boots equipped with a snap down knife pocket sewn on the side.  I wore them until they came apart from wear.

 

As a teenager while finishing high school, I worked at a feed mill on Saturdays grinding and mixing feed.  Most of the bags of grain and supplements we handled were one hundred pound size burlap bags.  They were tied or sewed with heavy cotton string.  To drop the contents into the hoppers the ties had to be cut.  Pocket knives were left laying on the scales or some other handy place ready for use on each bag dumped. 

One old timer I worked with never lacked for good old country humor and sayings.  He would pick my knife up and run his thumb across the dull edge, shake his head and say, “Dull knife, dull feller.”  Well, I did have trouble sawing through the larger cords.  I went to work on the knife with a sharpening stone.  I did not think much about it.  A few days later I turned around just in time to see him pick up the knife and run his thumb over it before I could warn him.  It must have bit him just a little.  Harry grinned and said, “Sharp knife, sharp feller.”

 

Today I carry an electrician’s knife in my pocket.  It has a large drop point blade and combination screwdriver burr reaming, lock open blade.  I also carry a pair of regular old slip joint farmer’s pliers in the plier pocket of my yard overalls.  Both tools are the handiest tools a man could carry.

These tools were made in America by craftsmen who knew what a good tool is.  When I am done with the knife and pliers, they will still be solid enough for another generation of handymen.

 
 

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Alma’s Fire Shovel

Alma Ewing was my first grade teacher at Highland school in Benkelman Township, Cheyenne County, Kansas during the 1945-46 term.  Highland closed down at the end of the school year.  The school house was sold and the small number of pupils shifted to other schools.  For the second grade I went to Mt. Zion, another one-room school, three or four miles east of our sod-walled home.  Alma taught there, too.  Sometimes I rode horseback, but most of the time the folks delivered me in the A-Model Ford.

My older brother Wayne had graduated from the eighth grade at Highland the year before I started and Alma had been his teacher, too.  He told me that she was a strict disciplinarian.  He claimed she used a fire shovel to administer spankings.  When things really got rough, so his story went, she stuck it in the stove to heat it first.

Fireshovel

This is similar to Alma’s fire shovel

I was young, but I had already caught on to my brother’s mischievous nature.  I didn’t set much store by his fire shovel tale.  That is, until one cold wintery day at Mt. Zion school.

This day the students were more fractious and noisy than usual.  Alma warned us several times to quiet down.  Soon the din would return to a low roar.

Finally she had enough.  Alma walked to the back corner of the room, removed the fire shovel from the coal bucket, opened the stove door, and placed the shovel in the fire box with the handle protruding out the door.  Silence fell over the room.  It seems the story had been told by others, also.  Alma had heard the story too!

The morning ground on in silence.  Finally the noon hour came.  We went out for recess and when we returned the shovel was back in the coal bucket.

Alma left her mark on me.  I’m happy to say that it wasn’t with a fire shovel.

Several years ago I was returning to Missouri along Interstate 70 from a vacation out west.  I learned that the Tri-State Threshers Association was having their annual get-together and steam engine show at Bird City in eastern Cheyenne County.  I turned north at Goodland and went about 40 miles to Bird City to visit the Association’s fairgrounds.  The steam engines were puffing and the whistles were sounding.  I was browsing the flea market, enjoying the displays including the Charles Lindbergh display.  Yes, there is Charles Lindbergh history in Cheyenne County, Kansas!  But that is another story in itself, for another time.

I stopped to look at the old schoolhouse display and realized I was looking at old Highland, District 66 school building.  After it had closed it had been sold to a service station owner who moved the building to St. Francis and used it for tire and automotive products storage.  The Threshers Association had obtained the school and restored it.

Highland School

Highland School in its new place

 

There it was complete with schoolmarm and class in session.

Highland School inside

A modern day schoolmarm pretends to teach class at the new school location during Tri-State Threshers Association’s annual get-together in Bird City, Kansas.

 

Highland school had traveled from its Buffalo Grass and sagebrush-covered hill on the western side to the flat land eastern side of Cheyenne County.  Alma Ewing would have been proud.

Walt at original Highland School site

Walt at original Highland School site – District 66 Cheyenne County, Kansas.

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Close Encounters With Creatures of the Crawling Kind

The grizzly bear, the black bear, the wolf, and finally the mountain lion left, first the Midwest and then the High Plains at about the same time that the so-called civilized man moved into those areas.  With those top of the food chain predators gone, you would think that the outdoor people would have nothing to fear.  Wrong!  Those of us raised on the land know differently.  There is one creature we walk in constant fear of.  A creature that the mere sight of causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand up and the skin to crawl.  I’m talking about snakes. The poisonous kind of snake!

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

On the high plains of Kansas and Nebraska where I spent the first ten years of my life, the most common reptiles of the snake kind were the colorful bullsnake- a harmless and beneficial rodent hunter, and the deadly diamondback rattlesnake.  Both types of snakes were common on the farm we lived on in Cheyenne County Kansas.

I had my most memorable encounter with a diamondback when I was about six years old…  We had a rogue cow that had learned that she could stick her head through the fence and push over a weak post.  Once done she had easy access to the adjoining corn or grain field.  Dad looked over west toward the field of young corn and saw the cow out.  He laid his posthole diggers, a shovel, a post and tamping tool across the back bumper of the old A-Model Ford.  I came running out of the house barefooted wanting to go along.  He agreed to let me go if I stayed in the car.   

Down the lane we went into the pasture.  The cow had been through the procedure so many times that she readily went back into the pasture with a little encouragement from a switch.  Dad unloaded his tools and set about changing out the broken post. 

I was an active kid, and I soon reneged on my promise to stay in the car.  First, I moved to the running board and in an attempt to keep my bare feet off the blazing hot bare ground, I started jumping from clump to clump of the short, curly, and soft buffalo grass.  About the third clump I heard the warning buzz of rattles and felt an old diamondback move under my bare foot.  I went ballistic, screaming and jumping as high as my young legs would carry me.  Dad came running around the car yelling, “Did it bite you?!”  Of course I wouldn’t stop hollering, and he jerked off my overalls looking for fang marks on my legs.  When he did not find the bite marks and I calmed down enough to tell him how it happened, he deduced I was not bitten.  The poor old rattler lost its head to the posthole diggers anyhow.  It had no doubt curled itself tightly around the clump of grass to take advantage of the sparse shade.  This fact probably kept it from striking and saved me from a bad experience.            

Here in the Ozarks we have many harmless snakes, the most prevalent being the black rat snake.  But the ones to give a wide birth are the timber rattler, the cottonmouth moccasin, and perhaps the most hard to spot and thus avoid is the copperhead.  

Snake stories, I have told one or two.  I could tell a dozen.

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