Featured

There Go the Beetles

IMG_0909
VW Beetle that has seen better days near Hermann, Mo.

Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and  Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.

Or, at least, where I grew older.  The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.

I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles.  My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias.  He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.

But they still sold like hotcakes.

Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans.  There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold.  Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip.  It is postmarked June 19, 1962:

IMG_0964

IMG_0966

My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk.  In the summer of 1962,  maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took.  We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus.  My brother and I each had our own row.  Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.

After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia.  It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300.  Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it.  The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine.  It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.

IMG_0963
A faded Picture of my 1964 VW Karmann Ghia taken in the Smoky Mountains Jan. 3, 1967

Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine.  The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear.  Maximum speed was around 80 mph.  To fill the gas tank required raising the hood.  In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for  under three bucks.  Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this?  A Studebaker?”

IMG_0971

IMG_0970
In the days before email I kept in touch with home via postcards & a 4 cent stamp. This postmark on this card is January 3, 1967

I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia.   It got 30 mpg and had AM radio.  It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned.  On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas.  I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck.  What more could an 18-year old ask?

I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968.  VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974.  They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s.  Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017.  And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.

vw think small
This 1959 VW ad was once recognized by Advertising Age as being the greatest ad of all time

In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia.  I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.

mustang
LOOK AT THOSE WHEELS!

Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker.  The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.

Maybe they’ll be back.  There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s.  Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro.  When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”

As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart:  “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”

Living History – “Ceres-iously” Cool

The Jefferson City News Tribune alerts readers about  Ceres’s descent from the Capitol dome

The ascent of Ceres to the Capitol dome

On October 29, 1924, a statue of the Roman goddess Ceres – goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility & motherly relationships – became the tallest object in Jefferson City, Mo.  Per an article in the missouritimes.com describing that endeavor 94 years ago, “crews tied a wench to a tree and hoisted her in three pieces using a pulley system to the top of the Capitol.”   For those sticklers regarding the use of the English language (like my brother who pointed out the incorrect word use), the proper word was “winch”.   

“I hope, in 1924, they tied a ‘winch’ to a tree as opposed to a ‘wench’ as the article states.  That was probably illegal even back then” noted my brother.  

Ceres making her original ascent in October of 1924

On November 15, 2018, Ceres was scheduled to be removed from the Capitol dome and transported to Chicago for a make-over.

I planned to be there on the historic occasion of Ceres return to earth from her perch overlooking beautiful Jefferson City.

The morning of November 15th, 2018, dawned clear and cold.  I donned warm clothing and made my way downtown under a bright blue sky.  Shortly before 9:30 am I filled a parking meter with enough quarters for the maximum 2 hours of parking and walked the two blocks to the steps of the Missouri Supreme Court building.  It was a perfect vantage point to watch the operation.  

In lieu of a “wench tied to a tree”, Workers in 2018 used a 550-ton crane to safely lower Ceres back to terra firma

When I arrived, I was so excited about witnessing history, I barely felt the cold.  After two hours, my cold feet began to compete with my excitement for my attention.  Though Ceres lift-off was originally planned for shortly after 10 am, technical difficulties forced a delay.

Shortly after 11 am, employees from Jimmy John’s came down the street passing out free sandwiches.  Thank you, Jimmy John’s!  My turkey sandwich was delicious.  Not wanting to sound ungrateful, next time please bring some free napkins as well to avoid the unappetizing sight of diners with frozen mayonnaise on their chin.

At 11:30 am, the time on my parking meter expired.  Should I risk missing the main event of Ceres being lowered by walking the four block round-trip to replenish my parking meter?  Purely for the sake of witnessing history, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and risk getting a parking ticket rather than possibly miss Ceres descent.

Good thing I did.

img_1694

At 11:45 am, following three sharp blasts from an air horn, Ceres was slowly lifted off the perch where she had rested for the past 94 years.

Within 15 minutes Ceres had been lowered to a roped-off area where she would recline on a flat-bed trailer for a couple of hours of public viewing.
Ceres at rest.


Ceres was originally created by New York sculptor Sherry Fry.  The statue is thought to be modeled after Audrey Munson.  Munson is sometimes referred to as “America’s first supermodel.”

Audrey Munson, the face atop the Missouri Capitol dome

After seeing the face of Ceres, it made me wonder who modeled for the Statue of Liberty, which came to the U.S. from France in 1886.

 

The stern face of the Statue of Liberty as it was being installed.

As near as I can tell, the face on the Statue of Liberty was modeled after the mother of the statue’s sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.   In my imagination, I can envision that face saying to a misbehaving Frederic Auguste Bartholdi as a child, “God help you if you ever do that again!”

Though probably not in the “supermodel” catagory, Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi’s son, Frederic, did her no favors in the portrayal of her face on the Statue of Liberty.  Instead of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . ” the face on the Statue of Liberty would seem to be saying something more like “If you get on my lawn again you are going to be sorry!”

Ceres is now safely in Chicago.  

Or at least as safe as an inanimate object can be in Chicago.

She will return, all gussied up and shiny, in about a year.  I plan to be there to watch her once again ascend to the tallest perch in Jefferson City where she will once more preside above the beehive of activity that is the Missouri State Capitol.

As I neared my truck to head home, I strained my eyes to see if Jefferson City’s parking enforcement division had deposited anything under my windshield wiper.  Though the meter was frantically flashing an alert that I had exceeded the two-hour time limit, my windshield was free of a parking ticket.

Thank you, Jefferson City.

It won’t happen again.  At least until next fall when I return to once again witness history as Ceres again ascends to the Top of the Capitol Dome.

I’ll try to remember to bring my own napkins.

Honestly, It’s Not For Everyone.

Nebraska State Line
Nebraska’s slogan when we visited in 2008.  It has been replaced (the slogan, Not Nebraska) twice since our 2008 visit.

The State of Nebraska recently made the news.  Nebraska Tourism officials paid a Colorado firm $450,000 to come up with a new State slogan.  They were discontented with their old slogan “VISIT NEBRASKA, VISIT NICE” after Nebraska came in dead last on a list of states tourists were interested in visiting.

They came up with . . . DRUM ROLL . . .

“Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

In these days when everything is over-hyped, I appreciate and admire honesty.

But my wife and I really enjoyed our visit to Nebraska, a great state to visit for people who love American history.

In 2008, my wife and I followed the Oregon Trail from Independence, Mo. to Oregon City, Oregon.  Night three found us in Hastings, Nebraska.  When we travel, I always try to negotiate to get the very best room rate possible when searching for a motel.  After the desk clerk in Hastings quoted me a price, I asked if that was the best she could do.

“Are you here for business or pleasure?” she asked.

“Pleasure” I responded.  “My wife and I are here on vacation.”

“SIR” the clerk responded without hesitation.  “NO ONE comes to Hastings for pleasure.”  I may have lied to an innkeeper a time or two in my life (nope, no pets) but this was not one of them.  She gave us the business rate anyway.

Though we traveled mainly off the beaten path, my wife and I enjoyed visiting the historic sites in southern and western Nebraska.  After leaving Missouri, Oregon Trail emigrants turned right at Gardner, Kansas and headed north to Nebraska.  In Nebraska, they turned left and followed the Platte River most of the way to Wyoming.  Along the way are some amazing historic sites, including (but not limited to) Fort Kearny, Chimney Rock, Ash Hollow, and Scott’s Bluff.   I had no idea western Nebraska was in the Mountain Time Zone before that trip.  (Possible new slogan: Nebraska – There is so much to see, it takes two time zones!)

Our first stop was in northeast Nebraska at Rock Creek Station, famous for being the site of James Butler “Bill” Hickok’s first gunfight.  On July 12, 1861, Rock Creek Station employee “Bill” Hickok took offense when local bully Dave McCanles proposed the nickname “Duck Bill” for Mr. Hickok.  That was a reference to Bill’s rather large nose and protruding lips.  Mr. McCanles also made ill-advised observations about Mr. Hickok’s “girlish build and feminine features.”  This peeved Mr. Hickok a great deal.  Mr. McCanles and two of his companions, James Woods and James Gordon, all died of wounds received in the ensuing gunfight.  There is no record of anyone else ever suggesting a derogatory nickname for Bill after that.

So, there’s that, Nebraska!

How about:

“Nebraska: We put the “Wild” in Wild Bill Hickok.”

Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok – What are you looking at, punk?

On July 21, 1865, Wild Bill had what is thought to be the nation’s first one-on-one quick draw gunfight.  It occurred on the public square in my home town of Springfield, Mo. after Wild Bill had a run of bad luck in poker. Though warned not to, Dave Tutt had the temerity to go out into the public square wearing a pocket watch he had won from Wild Bill in a poker game.  Mr. Tutt became an early resident of Springfield’s Maple Park cemetery as a result of his poor decision-making in that matter.

Seems Wild Bill never got over being a little touchy about being disrespected.

He could take a lesson from Nebraska.

He Never Met a Man He Didn’t Like

Will Rogers

On November 4, 1879, a man who would join Mark Twain to become one of the two people I most often quote was born in Indian territory near what is now Claremore, Oklahoma.  Not known as a dedicated student, William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers dad sent him to Kemper Military Academy in Boonville, Mo. as a teenager to help instill discipline in him.  Though he didn’t excel at Kemper either, he did go on to become Kemper’s most famous alum.  Will always downplayed his education and often claimed “all I know is what I read in the newspaper.”

A talented trick roper who appeared in wild west shows under the name “The Cherokee Kid”, Will soon learned that audiences enjoyed his off-the-cuff comments on current events as much as his roping.  One of Will’s favorite subjects was politics.  “I don’t make jokes” said Will.  “I just watch the government and report the facts.”  When Will had the opportunity to meet President Calvin Coolidge, nicknamed “Stoneface”, an associate bet Will he couldn’t make him laugh out loud.  The outcome wasn’t in doubt for long.  When Will was introduced to President Coolidge, he responded with “Pardon me?  I didn’t catch the name” causing even old stoneface to laugh out loud.

No matter how famous he became, Will clung to his Oklahoma heritage.  “I have been eating pretty regular and the reason I have is, I have stayed an old country boy.”

Will was a prolific writer.  In addition to his other accomplishments, Will wrote over 3000 newspaper columns.  Some of his favorite words when discussing current events were “cuckoo’, “baloney”, “hooey” and “applesauce”.  His philosophy on writing newspaper columns coincides with my philosophy on writing this blog: “When I write ‘em, I’m through with ‘em.  I’m not being paid reading wages.  You can always see too many things you wish you hadent said, and not enought that you ought.”  The spelling is Will’s.  Will once observed “When I first started out to write and misspelled a few words, people said I was plain ignorant. But when I got all the words wrong, they declared I was a humorist.”

Will Rogers & Wiley Post cropped
Will Rogers (L) & Wiley Post (R)

When I travel or I’m just out and about, I carry a small notebook to record details I might otherwise forget.  When Will traveled, he always carried a small portable typewriter.  Will died in a plane crash with one-eyed pilot Wiley Post on August 15, 1935 near Point Barrow, Alaska.  Though Will died in the crash, his typewriter survived.  The last word he ever typed was “death”.  It is rumored that the last words he ever spoke were “Wiley, I think you’ve got that patch over the wrong eye!”

Will once said, “When I die, my epitaph is going to read ‘I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like’.  I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”

You can visit Will’s grave, “I NEVER MET A MAN I DIDN’T LIKE” engraved on his tombstone, at the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Okla.  You can also visit the ranch where he was born not far from there at Oologah.  The typewriter that was recovered from the site where he and Wiley Post crashed is on display in the museum.

Happy 139th Birthday to Will Rogers, who once summed up his philosophy on humor as “Everything is funny as long as it’s happening to someone else.”

Will Rogers Museum
Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, OK

Happier Days at the El Governor Motel

In 2011, we had the pleasure of accompanying our son’s family on our grandkids very first extended roadtrip.

Destination: Walt Disney World in Orlando.

The second night of our trip found us on the Florida Panhandle.  We hoped we could find a room on the beach in Panama City so our grandkids could get their first taste of the amazing charm of sand & saltwater.  Alas, that dream was not to be fulfilled.  After checking with multiple hotels/motels on the beach, we were unable to overcome one or more of three hurdles:

  1. No vacancy
  2. A three-day minimum rental, or
  3. A cost out of our price range

Discouraged, we began to think it was not going to happen.

Then my wife made a fortuitous phone call to a place she found on the internet:  the El Governor Motel in Mexico Beach, Florida.  They had rooms available, there was no three-day minimum, and the cost was only slightly above our price range.

We reserved two rooms, sight unseen.

25 miles deeper along the Florida panhandle we pulled into the parking lot of the El Governor.  It is a large concrete structure right on the beach.

Image-1

The first level of the motel is a covered parking garage.  Think Motel 6 a couple hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico.

Yesterday morning, Mexico Beach was Ground Zero where Hurricane Michael roared ashore as a Category 4 hurricane.

In the 1948 Humphrey Bogart movie Key Largo, a gang of criminals commandeered a hotel on the Florida Keys just as a hurricane was approaching.  In one scene, a couple of  the criminals are discussing the hurricane.

Ralphie:   What happens in a hurricane?

Curly:  “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across land.”

We have fond memories of the Mexico Beach motel, the first place our first two grandkids got to spend extended time on the beach.

It wasn’t fancy, but, if you want a place right on the beach, it’s hard to get closer to the water than the El Governor Motel.

As we were leaving after our night on Mexico Beach, I suggested to my son that “El Governor” might be a bit too grand of a name.  “Maybe El Lieutenant Governor” I suggested.  My son thought El Mayor might be about right.

Nevertheless, it served us well and I have very fond memories of carrying my then one-year old granddaughter along the beach.

I hope the El Governor made it.

 

The Day the NBA Came to Springfield, Mo.

IMG_1254
Front Cover Featuring an autograph from Hall of Famer Bob Pettit

On October 7, 1963, something that would be unheard of today happened in Springfield, Mo.  And I, along with my friend, Ronnie Potter, was there.

The NBA World Champion Boston Celtics and the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks played an exhibition game in the Parkview High School gym in Springfield.  I still have the program from that game.

IMG_1255
The Back Page of the Progam which is autographed by Hall of Famer Cliff Hagen

The Celtics won 134-116 in front of a packed house.

By 1963, Celtic’s future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell had been named NBA MVP six times and had led the Boston Celtics to six World Championships.  The Hawks were led by 10-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Pettit.  The Celtics would go on to win another NBA Championship that year, while the Hawks were runners-up in the Western Division.

Can you imagine the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors coming to Springfield, Mo. and playing an exhibition game in a high school gym?

Me neither.  But things have changed a lot since 1963.

The highest salary Bill Russell ever made in the NBA was $100,000.   That equals about $600,000 adjusted for inflation today.  Stephen Curry of the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors will earn $37,157,154 for the upcoming season.  The average salary in the NBA is now $7.1 million per year.  One of my favorite quotes about players salaries came from Babe Ruth.  When a reporter asked him how it felt to make more money than the President of the United States, the Babe responded “I had a better year than him.”

The most memorable thing for me about attending that game in 1963 was not the game.  It was what happened after the game.  Programs in hand, Ronnie & I sneaked into  the Parkview Boy’s locker room where both teams were showering and getting dressed after the game.  Just walking around in there was memorable enough, but I took advantage of my good fortune by securing 20 autographs on my program from players in various stages of dress – or “undress” in some cases.  Five autographs on my program are from players who are now in the NBA Hall of Fame.

The memorable night did not end there.

IMG_1257

Ronnie’s dad picked us up after the game and before he dropped me off at home, I heard my very first Beatles song on the radio.  Later that month, the Beatles came to the attention of  variety show host Ed Sullivan when the plane he was on was delayed at London’s Heathrow Airport by screaming teens welcoming the Beatles.  On February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform five songs: “All My Loving”, “‘Til There Was You”,  “She Loves You”,  “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The music world was changed forever.

Something else that would be life-altering for teenage males was brewing in October of 1963 totally unbeknownst to Ronnie Potter and me.  When that game was played, there were already 16,732 American troops in a little known place in Southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam.   Five years later that number had grown to 536,100 American troops  in Vietnam.  Ronnie Potter joined the Marines.  He spent over a year in Vietnam, much of it in combat.

He survived, thankfully, though I’m sure he had some close calls.

Eleven months and two days after that game – on the very day I turned 16 – I got my driver’s license.

I have since survived 54+ years and a couple of million miles behind the wheel, thankfully, though I’ve had some close calls.  Occasionally my passengers from the 60’s still remind me.

And my autographed program from October 7, 1963, the one and only time the St. Louis Hawks and the Boston Celtics ever visited Springfield, Mo. has survived the last 55 years as well.

I wish I could say the same thing about my baseball card collection.

IMG_1256
Here is my record of first half scoring.  Basketball fans, especially old ones like me, should recognize quite a few stars from the 1963 Celtics and Hawks.

 

Men of a Certain Age

At a wedding reception I attended earlier this month, my wife and I found ourselves at a table with 6 other people. Three of them were men about my age, fellow Baby Boomers. All of us were draft age during the Vietnam War.

As we talked, the subject of the Draft Lottery came up. On December 1, 1969, the United States held the first Draft Lottery since World War II. 366 blue plastic capsules, each containing a day of the year, were placed in a large container and drawn out one at a time. The future course of life for many males born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950, depended on when the capsule containing their birthdate was drawn.

draft lottery drawing
These Blue Balls Delivered Bad News to Many

Without hesitation, each man at the table spouted their number. 316, 323, 325. Mine was 263. I thought my number was high but at that table I was the low man on the totem pole.

The draft lottery didn’t matter to me. I had already served in the Army National Guard for 3 years when the draft lottery took place. I owe that fortuitous decision to my parents. When I graduated from high school in 1966, the Vietnam War was starting to heat up. Not overly excited about starting college immediately, I informed my parents I planned to join the Army and go to Vietnam. Ah, nothing like being 18 years old and knowing everything.

Before I actually signed my name on the dotted line, my Dad suggested I consider joining the National Guard instead. It was a six-year commitment with six months active duty, and 5 1/2 years of Guard Drills one weekend each month and two weeks active duty every summer.

“You can go in for six months, see if you like it, and if you do you can tell them you want to stay on active duty and go to Vietnam. If you don’t like it, you can come home after six months and go to college” reasoned my Dad.

Somewhat incredibly, I took my parent’s advice. On December 10, 1966, I enlisted in the National Guard. On February 27, 1967, I boarded a bus in Springfield, Mo. bound for Columbus, Ga., home of Fort Benning. After spending 30 hours on a Greyhound Bus or in a Greyhound Bus station, I arrived at the United States Army Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga. There I would spend the next 9 weeks at Sand Hill learning to march, make a bunk to Army standards, learn to fire an M-1 rifle, and do a lot of push-ups.

IMG_1067
A Few Fellow members of Echo Company, First Battalion, First Brigade, aka “Trainees”

After Basic Training, I rode another bus to Fort Rucker, Alabama for training as a helicopter repairman. I was back home in time to start the Fall semester at Southwest Missouri State College, now known as Missouri State University. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was very happy to be walking the halls of college rather than the jungles of Vietnam.

Tonight, about 4 hours from when I am writing this, a good friend of mine whose life took a different turn will be boarding a plane bound for Washington, D.C. On December 1, 1969, his birthdate was the 43rd drawn, a sure ticket to the draft. He served 2 years, half of it in Germany, and came home to resume his life. Tonight he will join 104 other veterans on an Honor Flight. Tomorrow they will visit the War Memorials in Washington on a well-planned, very tight schedule that will deliver them back to Missouri before midnight tomorrow night.

My hat is off to Central Missouri Honor Flight, a worthy cause serving those who have served their Country.

Central Mo Honor Flight

The ultimate honor belongs to those who answered the call and sacrificed their lives. In Vietnam alone, 58,220 died, and thousands more were injured.

Thank you to all who have served.

If you want to see how you would have fared in the 1969 Draft Lottery, find your birthday on this chart. September 14 was the  first date drawn.  June 8th was the 366th number chosen. No one above 195 was drafted. The last draft call was December 7, 1972.

draft lottery