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At one time, Homer Ramsey lived at the edge of town and had a farm pond that was a popular swimming hole for the boys living in Reevesville. The fact that his farm animals kept the water so muddy that after we got out our hair would dry stiff with mud, never caused us to give a thought as to any health problems that may arise. However, I do recall having more than my share of ear infections.
The pond was located about 1/8 mile behind the house. There was a dirt lane leading to the pond that passed through a hog pen and barn lot. There were two gates, blocking the lane that contained a really big sow. This momma had a fresh new litter of piglets of which she was very proud and protective. To prevent her from getting loose, the gates had to remain closed. To get to the pond we had to climb over one gate and run as fast as we could and then jump over the second gate.
Once we arrived at the pond, we stripped all of our clothes off and piled them on the bank and bailed in – stark naked. Therefore, the term “skinny dipping”, and, what a blast it was!
Time flies (really, it don’t exist”) to a bunch of kids splashing and treading cool muddy farm pond water. There were two ducks on the pond that would dive under, swim out of sight, and pop up in various places. We would swim around, trying to guess where they would pop up so we could catch one. All the while, hoping one didn’t get too close to any exposed areas of personal pride. Paying no attention to anyone else, I looked up and noticed my buddies were out of the water and running, with their clothes under their arms, toward the barn. I turned around and didn’t see anyone coming or any mad bulls coming, so I eased on over to the bank and climbed out. I HAD BEEN HAD! My (now, not such good) buddies had plotted against me and stole my clothes. They even took my one heeled pair of shoes.
So, there I stood, wearing nothing but a thin coat of dried pond mud. The barn lot now looked much bigger than before, so I lit out to try to catch up with my clothes. This time when I got to that dreaded gate, the rest of the guys had already gone through and there stood Big Momma, smack-dab in the middle, between the gates. Not only was she not happy, she had grown – at least, so it seemed. She now looked much bigger, “badder”, and faster than before. I climbed up on the gate and pondered my next move. The only other way around was through an open field and, being naked, that was not an option.
Looking back down, I noticed she seemed to be trying to figure out what a naked little kid was doing standing on her gate. Wasting no time, to take advantage of her confusion, I jumped over her back and hit the ground running. Thank God! This time she didn’t get any souvenirs.
Pausing to get my wind, I looked around but didn’t see a soul. Which, considering the plight I was in, may have been a good thing. I continued up the lane toward the house. I don’t recall for sure, but by this time, likely using more caution and less speed. Once reaching a shed in the back yard and staying out of sight, I could finally see my clothes. They were laying on the back step, just outside the kitchen. I gave a quick thought of going back and jumping into the hog pen. But, I think I finally lucked out, I don’t think Lucille or any of the girls were home. At least, I didn’t hear anyone laughing as I streaked by and made a quick grab and sprinted back to the shed.
This was not our last trip to the pond that summer. But none were ever as eventful and I learned to always keep an eye on my clothes. We spent a lot of time “skinny dipping” and often stopping to play in the barn loft. I can’t imagine why, but G.W., Tuffy and the rest of the gang and I always remained good friends.
During the early 1950’s, there remained a couple of families living near Reevesville that still relied on a team and wagon as their mode of transportation. The Glen & Bertha Wright family, I know, used mules to pull their wagon. Walter and Alma McGinnis, I think, used horses. This true account is about Walter’s team.
Every Saturday morning, Walter and Alma would bring eggs and
fresh milk to dad and moms store and sell or trade it for merchandise and
groceries. They would “tie up” behind the store and take the milk and eggs in
the back door. Just off to one side, there was a small room we called the
“cream room”. Here, mom would candle eggs to make sure they were fresh and she
had a centrifuge she used to determine the cream content of the milk. The more
cream, the higher the price paid for it. Now that I think about it, I wonder
how the milk was kept fresh until it made it to town. The can held about 10
gal, so they had to have collected it all week. Maybe they kept it cool by
storing it in their water well. I don’t recall it ever being rejected when dad
drove it, at the end of the day, to
One particular Saturday a small problem came about. Well, to me, it was a big problem. When Walter and Alma arrived, I was patrolling the back yard with my shiny new double barrel cork gun. It popped pretty loud but the range was somewhat limited by the short strings by which the corks stayed attached to the barrels. As soon as Walter spotted my weapon and me, he wasted no time in giving me a stern warning not to shoot it around his horses. Well, shortly after they had gone inside, I noticed a pesky horsefly on the hind end of one of his horses – an easy shot for a 5 year-old sharp shooter. Surely the horse would appreciate a little help. After all, his tail didn’t seem near as accurate as my aim. Walter was right, that team sure was spooky. Luckily for me, the cork was tied to the barrel or a loose cork would have been a sure give-away as to why the team and wagon were missing.
I don’t know if I got the fly or not. As soon as I fired, the team took off in one direction and I lit out in the other. (From here on, I don’t recall much, because at the time, as I was told about this years later, I was nowhere to be found.) Apparently, before anyone noticed the missing team, George Reeves had caught the run-a-ways in front of his house, across the tracks and on the way to the Bay Creek. He new where they had come from, so, he returned and retied them behind the store.
By this time, I had moved from hiding spot #1, which was under the front porch of our house. This is where my, now troublesome, popgun would later be found. I don’t know how much later, but it was sometime during the massive search, for me, that was underway. It seems, at some point, mom had discovered me missing and alerted dad and, soon, half of Reevesville was searching for me. Some walked the rows of corn in the field behind the store. Others checked the banks of the Bay Creek. Dad, fearing the worst, went to the coal chute. There was a large pit, on one side, where coal was dumped from hopper cars and a large auger transferred the coal up into the coaling tower so it could be loaded, as fuel, into a steam engine waiting on the tracks below. Either the coal chute or the Bay Creek would have likely meant the end of a young boys hunting days. As well as all the other little messes, in which, I have since been involved.
Finally, after hours of nonproductive searching, someone must have mentioned checking the house. Soon after someone located my gun, it was discovered that both the front and back doors of the house were locked from the inside. Dad had to take the hinges off the back door and then he found me sound asleep under my bed.
Getting scared out of my wits must have really been tiring, as I don’t recall any of the commotion that took place on that warm Saturday morning. Years later, when dad or mom told me about the day I went missing, I told them why I ran and hid – it was the first time they had thought about the connection to the run-a-way team. During the excitement, at the time, no one had even given it a thought.
One hot summer day in 1938, five lads in the small railroad village of Reevesville, Illinois ages about 14 to 16, decided to "hop a freight." They were bored with fishing or swimming in Bay Creek, and playing their own version of baseball....that of whacking bottle caps with a broomstick. None of them owned a baseball or bat, so the "home run" hit of this neat game was to lob the cap up on the roof of Jim Hard's General store. Even such an exciting sport as that had grown stale, so they were eager listeners when one of them suggested they just take a little ride on one of the many freight trains that stopped in the little town to take on water and coal. After all, sneaking into a boxcar when the train personnel were not looking shouldn't be so hard. Hobo's did it all the time. Just think! Maybe the train would go all the way to Bluford! What a great idea!
So Bud Choate , John Wendell Hard, James "Junior" Hard, "Joe Puddle", Troutt and the Hard's visiting cousin from Detroit, "Junior" Wolfe, somehow managed to climb aboard a car undetected.
This was a standard wood-floored boxcar with he doors left open, so our intrepid travelers found train travel just unalloyed bliss. What a treat! Just sitting there in the open door with their legs hanging out, enjoying the breeze watching the passing scene; countryside and little towns. Adventure!
Of course, it hadn't occurred to any of them to take along a fruit-jar of water, or an apple. So by the time they rolled into the Jefferson County town of Bluford, they were dying of thirst......and starving.....as adolescent boys always are.
Now, they had told that Detroit visitor they'd not dare ride on into the depot area, as the "railroad bulls" would spot them as "hobo's" and haul them off the jail. So they would jump off before the train stopped. What you did was....you just hit the ground running. Sure. Okay. So "city-boy" closed his eyes and jumped.....falling flat on his face in the cinders, of course. By the time he got his wind and sat up, blood was running down his face. Somebody had a handkerchief and mopped him up some. Then they set out to find water.
They spotted a small building...probably an office for brakemen, or whomever, and through the open door saw a water fountain off to the side of the a desk where a man was working. When he saw this motley crew heading, he jumped up, and shouted, "You G-D bums get out'a here. Now!" They got!
Figuring they'd had enough of Bluford, they set out to find a train that would take them back home. They came upon a Railroad worker and asked him which train would be headed for Reevesville. They must have found a sympathetic and kindly guy, because as they later thought about it, he could have pointed out a train that would be headed straight to Chicago!
So they were on their way home! However....all the freight cards on that train were closed up. Oh well, no problem, they would just ride on top. That oughta be fun. Just climb up that metal ladder on the end of the car (when nobody was looking) and sit up there in the breeze.
They negotiated a few short tunnels by quickly dropping face-down as the train slowly passed through, but when they arrived in Johnson County and had to ride through the big one at Tunnel Hill, that was another matter!
That one took a full five minutes and five boys were almost asphyxiated by the coal smoke and fumes before they finally emerged at the end with blackened faces and reddened eyes.
When a long last the train rolled into Reevesville, our fearless freight-hoppers jumped off, hoping to just nonchalantly join some other kids and pretend they'd been there all along. Only to discover, standing beside the track, the Hard brothers' kid sister, Mary Low, who said dryly, "Dad's waitin' for 'ya."
--Shirley Cummins Wolfe
Reevesville General Store
This Article was originally submitted by Dr. John Hard, former resident of Reevesville, and first appeared in the Johnson County Heritage Journal.
The store was of modern construction for Reevesville, being the only building in town made out of masonry. It had a brick front but the other three walls were made of hollow, brick colored tile. There were two large windows on the front separated by the front door. A second front door entered directly into the creamery.
At the rear of the store stood a rack on which hung the latest fashions in $1 dresses, and shelves filled with shoes, the most expensive of which were $5 a pair. Next to the shoes were men’s and boy’s overalls and finally, the shelves containing “dry goods”, which were bolts of dress fabrics, bleached and unbleached muslin, and rolls of “oilcloth” used to cover table tops and counters.
Separated from the shelves by a narrow aisle were three display counters with glass tops and fronts. The first of these contained men’s shirts and accessories such as socks, suspenders and belts. During the Christmas season, most of these items were piled together in one end of the case, using the remaining space for “Evening in Paris” gift sets.
The middle showcase contained ladies’ lingerie items but my memory is dimmed by the fact that I was never brave enough to sell anything in that case.
The third case contained all sorts of toiletries such as Ben Hur perfume at 10 cents a bottle and Brilliantine hair tonic. In the shelves behind this case, we kept the Kotex, dutifully wrapped in plain paper so that no one would know what it was. I know I never did understand what they were used for.
From the end of that counter to the front of the store was a 6-foot square section, which was the post office. Dad also kept a desk there where he would sit and do his paperwork. A small safe was under the post office counter and Dad kept money in it until a yeggs (safecracker) blew it up one night and stole what little cash was in it. There was one merchandisable item that was also kept in the post office beneath the counter – condoms. It was customary for those wishing to purchase them to go to the post office window and whisper through to Dad, “Jim, I’ll take a package of raincoats.”
Across from the center of the store was my favorite department, the candy case. Sitting on the top of the case were glass bins containing bulk candies; my mouth still waters thinking about the blocks of Hershey’s chocolates, peanut brittle, mixtures of hard candy and my favorite, chocolate drops. In the case below the bins were candy bars and chewing gum.
Behind the candy case were two long tables standing side-by-side which contained pots and pans, except during Christmas season, when they were put away in cardboard boxes and toys were displayed.
We only had two kinds of bread – Nickel and dime loaves.
At the front were shelves which contained the drugs including Lydia Pinkham’s Compound, Carter’s Little Liver Pills and aspirin: 10 cents for St. Joseph’s and 15 cents for Bayer. In front of these shelves stood a tobacco case filled with cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Brands unheard of today were common: Avalon, Twenty Grand and Duke were all 10 cents a pack. Camels, Chesterfields and Old Gold were 15 cents or two packs for a quarter. But Bins of Prince Albert from which men “rolled their own”, plugs of Days Work and twist of Red Ox were the big sellers.
On the main grocery shelves were stored canned beans, peas, and corn; canned peaches and pineapple; and gallon buckets of sorghum and Staley’s syrup. On the bottom shelf were laundry soaps – Oxygon and Rinso in powder and bars of P&G and OK.
In front of these shelves was a long wooden counter, which Dad had built. On the top of the counter stood a hand-turned coffee grinder, a set of scales, cash register and the McCaskey register in which all the charge accounts were kept. The little space remaining was for placing customer’s orders on as we filled them.
Beneath this counter was a series of bins containing coffee, dried beans and peas and sugar, both granulated and brown. These items were sold by scooping them into brown paper bags and weighing them. Sugar and dried beans were a nickel a pound and Peaberry coffee was 18 cents a pound.
The refrigerated meat case at the back of the store contained cheese, bologna, pimento loaf and braunschweiger (pronounced “brown swagger”). We usually had pork chops, round steak and slabs of bacon as well. Bottles of milk were stored in the bottom of the case. A coke box stood against a wall near the meat block. Along the floor behind the meat case were open boxes of salt pork, which required no refrigeration and I guess we thought no protection from dirt either.
Directly in front of the meat case was an open area, which during the winter contained a pot-bellied stove, and during all seasons three metal chairs and one or two empty nail kegs. The store was not only a trading post but also the social club for the men of Reevesville. During the day there were always two or three loafer gathered there, and every evening after supper, the area filled as the men gathered to talk sports, politics or whatever was the most current subject for debate.
A table radio always sat on the first counter and was used primarily to listen to Cardinals baseball games or championship boxing matches.
There was an unwritten rule that anyone audibly detected passing gas (for some unknown reason known in Reevesville as “wood-up”) had to buy Cokes for everyone in the store. Sometimes, when the store was crowded in the evenings and there were as many standees as those with seats, I think some of those standing would deliberately “wood-up” so that they could grab a seat when the others hurriedly sought fresh air.
In the storeroom there were two barrels, one containing motor oil which was hand pumped from the barrel into quart bottles. The other contained kerosene or coal oil. A hand crank was used to pump it into gallon cans. This also doubled as our first-aid station. In Reevesville, any time someone cut themselves, if they came to the store, we would take them to the back room, hold their bleeding wound under the spout and pump coal oil into it, letting the blood and coal oil go back into the barrel. This never seemed to affect the burning quality of the fuel.
The cream room was used solely for the purpose of testing the butterfat content of the cream farmers brought in to trade for groceries. When the large cream cans were filled, I took them to Vienna on Saturday evenings and sold the cream to a produce house there.
This description would not be complete without recalling the front porch. There was a slanting roof over the concrete slab representing the porch where two wooden benches were situated, one on each side of the front door. Most days, there would be a checker game going on there, usually with two old men sitting with the checkerboard on the bench between them. Such items as lawn mowers and wheelbarrows were also displayed on this porch until nightfall when they were taken into the cream room for safekeeping. A hand-pumped gasoline pump was located at the north edge of the porch with gasoline being sold for 18 cents a gallon.
|THE DEPOT AND THE TEA KETTLE|
by Stephen Nave Brannon
My happiest growing up times were spent in Reevesville with my grandparents Harry and Clara Nave, known to me as "Pappy" and "Nanny." I often visited for days at a time in the summer, spending untold hours at the Illinois Central depot where Pappy was agent and first trick operator and where I learned all about telegraphy, train orders, and how to set the double bladed semaphore "order board" in front of the depot.
I had one of my most memorable experiences the summer I was eight years old when, after careful instruction and lots of practice, Pappy sat me at the operator's table in the depot's bay window and invited me to put my hand to the telegraph key and send a message to the St. Louis Division Office in Carbondale. Naturally, I was thrilled and honored and more than a bit nervous. He wrote out the text of the message and placed it before me as I put my right hand on the telegraph key, flipped open the circuit, and tapped out CD CD CD RS, the "call" signals for the Division Office and for Reevesville. There was no answer. Evidently the CD operator was busy. A few minutes later I tried again and this time received the answer: I,I CD. I sent the message with as I recall just two mistakes which I duly corrected after sending _.._. which signaled a mistake. Surely the CD operator in Carbondale knew in a flash that it was not Harry Nave "on the wire," and I'm sure that Pappy explained afterwards about the eight year old hand on the key. And for me, what a feeling of accomplishment and having had a moment of participation in the adult world.
That was only one of the multitude of good memories of so many happy hours in my early years spent with Harry Nave there in the depot, watching the trains, meeting engineers, firemen, conductors and brakemen, and generally "drinking in" the pervasive atmosphere of steam era railroading in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The Nave's next door neighbors to the south, Frank and Freda Marberry, were also significant figures in my Reevesville boyhood. Frank was the engineer on the local freight train that ran daily except Sunday on the branch line from Reevesville through Renshaw, Brownfield, Homberg, Golconda and on to Rosiclare. The train, numbered 741 going down the branch and 746 returning to its nighttime resting place on the siding on the east side of the Reevesville coal chute next to the sand house, was usually pulled by small steam engines of the "Consolidation" class, usually either No. 764 or 792. Since those engines were so much smaller than the "main line" engines that thundered through town on their way between Fulton, Paducah and Bluford, one day a main line crew member enticed me to approach Frank as he sat in his engine cab in front of the depot and call up to him that his little branch line engine was a "tea kettle!" Frank took it with a good natured chuckle and laugh, obviously knowing from whence came the jibe. And it certainly didn't stop him from inviting me up into the engine cab to ride around the Reevesville yard when his train returned from Rosiclare. I would wait for him at the switch up at the "wye" north of the coal chute where the train had to stop in order to cross the main line and then reverse to back down to its siding to be in readiness for the next day's run. Raymond Belcher, the coal chute operator who refueled the local's engine and watched over it at night, was also very welcoming to a boy in love with trains, and I spent many a late afternoon hour sitting up in the cabs of engines 764 and 792 dreaming of being an engineer like Frank.
Frank and Freda's often visiting nephew Bobby Slack from Grantsburg and local co-conspirators G.W. and "Tuffy" Troutt were also mainstays of these Reevesville experiences, which remain so central to my growing up years. I relive those memories regularly and am so grateful that the Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society has published one volume of Harry Nave's "News from Reevesville" newspaper columns and is working on a second volume. I am also most fortunate to have possession of Clara Nave's daily diaries, copies of which I have also turned over to the Society, which also chronicle the people and events of village life during those years in Reevesville, the little town under the bluff which for me was, and remains, my closest contact with "heaven."
During the 1950’s
by Bruce Cummins
Although the metal “Pepsi” signs on each end of the front porch roof proclaimed the establishment as “Cummins General Merchandise”, most of Dad’s regular customers and the surrounding community knew and referred to the store merely as “Boots”.
Just prior to and during my early teens, I suspect the population of Reevesville had probably reached its peak, or may have even been well on its way of its decline. Around this time, I can recall the village as consisting of two churches, two restaurants, two stores, a school, a train depot, a coal chute and water towers, and only about forty houses.
Although remaining a small town, I can recall what seemed like a constant flurry of activity. Also, a trip through town on my bicycle would always find someone sitting on their front porch or under a shade tree willing to offer a friendly wave or conversation. (Unlike today with air conditioning and T.V., where one would have to have a good reason to intrude by knocking on a neighbor’s door.)
But, for now, let’s get back to “Boots” -- the small concrete block building that sat directly across the street from the grade school.
Most warm evenings would find a few local men relaxing (Loafin’) on the front porch, which was equipped with a couple of wooden rockers and two or three wooden milk crates (seats) provided to assure their comfort and to make them feel welcome. On the opposite end of the porch was an air compressor and a small vice mounted on the windowsill for anyone needing to make a “hot patch” repair to their deflated inner tube. Also, there was a single gas pump (29 cents /gal) with a second pump added later for dispensing premium leaded gas.
Just prior to entering the front screen door, customers would often pause to read the cardboard show bill, mounted directly to the right, to see what was playing at the Massac Theater or The El Capitan Drive-In (both located in Metropolis, not Reevesville). Eddie Clark operated both theaters and would send out a weekly show bill with two free tickets attached as payment for the advertising.
Stepping inside, to the left, was the Post Office. Mae Reeves was the Post Mistress for as far back as I can remember, with my sister, Joan Dowd, taking over after Mae retired and until it was later closed and removed from the store. My mother, Aline, would often fill in during their absence, which was likely due to illness, as I doubt vacations were considered during these earlier years.
Cleve Etheridge would deliver the mail from Vienna to Reevesville in his Dodge pickup truck, equipped with a homemade wood and canvas topper. Cleve would often sleep in his truck, under a shade tree, until it was time to take the outgoing mail back to Vienna at the end of the day. I don’t remember what he did in winter, unless he drove the extra trips back and forth to Vienna.
Everyone in town would come to the Post Office to get their mail six days a week. (Now looking back, this must not have set well with a few folks that would not otherwise set foot in the store.) A fair sized crowd would start gathering early, I suspect, so they could be the first, or among the first, to get their mail. Some would visit on the front porch, weather permitting. Others gathered inside, watching through the numbered glass windows of their mailbox, as if to guess what each piece of mail was, as it was placed into the box. The barred window was never opened until 9 AM sharp. At which time, the mail was handed out to those waiting. Waiting until nine sometimes made some patrons get upset, because, on slow days, when the mail was put up early, they felt it should be ok to hand it out early. (Rules were rules.)
Large shelves lined each side wall of the front room of the store – including the area behind the Post Office. In addition to a variety of groceries, the shelves were stocked with medicines, clothing and shoes. A variety of hardware, garden seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc., (thus the name “General Merchandise” - not merely a grocery store).
The Post Mistress remained on duty until the mail went out at 3 PM. During this time, if a customer needed an item from behind this area of the store, she would get it for them. Everyone seemed to respect “Uncle Sam’s” territory and even after the Post Office closed for the day, I never went behind the Post Office except to get something for a customer or to restock the shelves. If someone was late getting to the Post Office before it closed, they were out of luck and had to wait until the following day to get their mail.
Next to the Post Office was a double decker glass display case about 10 feet long. The bottom section contained a variety of candy bars and bubble gum. The top contained jewelry (no diamonds), pocketknives, flashlights and batteries, and more.
Next was a wooden counter about 12 feet long, filled with drawers full of items for sale. On top were displays of various items including bolts of material, which could be rolled out, measured and cut, to the ladies delight.
In the back left corner was Dad’s roll top desk and chair, where he did most of his bookwork and record keeping. Above the desk hung the “Regulator” ticking off the long hours he kept the store open. (Six AM to 10 PM six days a week, 8-10 AM Sunday, closed for church and family, or to watch Cardinal baseball games when televised, reopened 4-6 PM.) Hanging on each side of the clock were items for sale such as a double bit and single bit ax, weed hooks, etc. A couple of rifles and shotguns, for sale or trade, hung directly over the doorway to the back room.
Taking up the remainder of the back wall was the “meat department”, consisting of a long white sloped front meat display case and behind this was a table and various saws, hand and electric, and cleavers used to cut meat to the customers orders. (No pre-packaged meat here.) Whether the customer ordered a pound of lunchmeat or pork chops, the first slice was always held up for the customer to inspect and approve.
Milk and fresh eggs were kept in the lower section of the meat case. A small wooden box with two holes in the front and a light bulb inside was used to inspect the yolks of the eggs to assure their freshness. I think this process was referred to as “candled”. Cans of lard and other items covered most of the top of the meat case. Also, on top was an Aladdin lamp, sitting ready for one of the frequent power failures.
Now, as we turn and head back down the other wall and toward the front door, there was another long wooden counter. Under the counter were various sizes of paper sacks for bagging the customer’s orders. On one end of the counter was a partitioned wooden box for the keeping of credit books in alphabetical order, according to last names. Next on the counter are the scales, used to weigh and calculate the price of meat and other bulk purchases. Also, the ladies of the community occasionally used the scales to weigh their babies. A cigarette display rack sat atop of the scales with the black and chrome bake-o-lite cash register next to the scales. The center section of the counter was kept clear for conducting business and placing paper bags of filled orders. A wooden box of seasonal fruits and vegetable and a calculator sat at the opposite end of the counter.
Next in line is a large “Pepsi” drink box filled with several brands of soda, chilled in cold water. Finally, next to the front door, is the ice cream box. Not long after I was old enough to work in the store by myself, Dad stopped selling hand dipped ice cream. It seems I was dippin’ too big of dips for my buddies or I was eatin’ up the profit, myself. Darn the luck.
The shelves along the wall behind this row of equipment were stocked with canned goods and cereals. All of the counters, cabinets, drink boxes, etc., were placed about two feet from the wall shelves, thereby, creating a walkway behind them. This walkway allowed us to reach items off the shelves, as the customer requested. Otherwise, the customer rarely picked up their own merchandise, except for items such as bread and pastries and flour and sugar, which were kept on the two racks positioned in the center of the floor area.
Cased goods and drinks waiting to restock the shelves, along with large hardware items, bulk motor oil, antifreeze and kerosene were kept in the back room, which was nearly as large as the front. In addition to helping “run” the store, Mom, on Saturday, used a centrifuge and other equipment, in a smaller back room, to separate cream from fresh milk brought in by local farmers, to sell or trade.
Fifty and 100-pound bags of livestock feed were kept in the “feed room” in a separate building out back. One of my duties was to accompany the ladies to the feed room so they could pick out which bag of feed to buy, as each bag came in a different color, pattern or design and, after emptied, would next appear as a fashionable dress.
Also placed throughout the store were a couple of chairs and a few wooden milk crates to welcome anyone who wanted to shop in comfort or, as often was the case, sit and visit. It was rare that Dad would be in the store alone. With no T.V. at home, it was not uncommon for some local men to stop in after supper and stay until closing time. A checkerboard or pinochle deck was often used to while away the long cold winter evenings.
Before we complete this trip, I would like to mention a few of the regular (and irregular) customers and visitors that seem, in some way, to stand out in my memory:
First, Mr. Bacon – and his full long white beard. (I never knew his first name – just Mr. Bacon.)
Buck Stafford and Jim Bazor both came in nearly every afternoon at almost the same time, after a days work on the ICRR. Buck would sometimes buy a “lean” pork chop for fish bait and Dad would say he would rather eat the pork chop than the fish.
Carl and Gladys Day (Ma and Pa, as they were known). Ma once came in the store and belched loud and long enough to shame a mule and Dad said, “way to go Ma”.
Carl Craig. He was blind but walked to Reevesville every few days from Hound Ridge. He walked the “Golconda Line”. I’m still amazed how he kept from tripping on the cross ties, especially across the old iron bridge crossing the Bay Creek. I was told he could tell, anyone that may ask, exactly how many cross ties there were from his home to Reevesville.
During WWII, Bobcat Jones married a Philippine woman and brought her back to the Hound Ridge community. I don't recall her name but she and her children often walked the tracks of the Rosiclare Branch of the ICRR to shop at the store. She often carried a bag of groceries home, balanced on her head.
Will Wright would often sit on the front porch for hours tellin’ tales and spittin’ tobacco juice. He would pull his lips tight with two fingers, for distance I suppose, and a stream of brown juice would fly 10 or more feet, with a dribble or two always remaining to run down his chin. I recall one tale he told about a recent squirrel hunt: He said, “I went squirrel huntin’ this mornin’ and shot two ‘shoots’ at a squirrel. The first ‘shoot’ missed him and the second ‘shoot’ hit him in the same spot.
Glenn and Bertha Wright, and a wagon full of kids, would drive their team of mules to town each Saturday to do their weekly shopping.
Walter and Alma McGinnis would drive their team of horses to town to do their weekly shopping. Myself and a couple of buddies would sometimes wait in the woods beside the road and watch him stop and rest his team half way up the hill. (Wish we could have heard that they sat and talked about.)
Sot Johnson, and sometimes his brother, Jess, would stop in. If Sot ever had any money, it was usually loose change. He would buy a loaf of bread, first, and if he had any money left, he would buy some bologna (referred to as “dog” in Reevesville). Rarely having enough left for a pound or half pound, he would ask for 15 cents worth. Sot also liked to catch Dad gone and Mom running the store so he could con her out of some credit. This was against Dad’s strict orders, but Mom couldn’t say no. Sot didn’t have a credit book, so mom would write it on a small piece of paper and tape it to the scales.
Looking back, I can’t imagine how such a small country store could possibly stock enough to supply the needs of so many people. I suppose it was only possible because folks didn’t have as many needs back then.
I hope you enjoyed the trip. I’m glad I was there and I thank God for a hard working Christian Mom and Dad.
Sometime in the late 1950's, the rail industry was growing throughout the United States and small towns were booming. Located on the mainline of the Illinois Central Rail Road, Reevesville, Illinois was no exception. That was mostly due to the fact that Reevesville had a coaling tower, which locals always referred to as a “coal chute”. North and South bound steam engines would stop and take on coal and water and a local engine, used for switching and running daily trips to and from the florspar mines in Rosiclare, Illinois, was stationed there 24 hours a day.
Reevesville was also headquarters for a local work crew known as a section gang. This group of men was responsible for maintaining and improving the rails, switches, bridges, and other equipment for several miles in all directions. Always working in the open summer sun and blowing winter winds, one can only try to imagine the heat and cold they endured. These men were rugged and strong beyond belief. I personally recall some even carried two lunch boxes as one would not hold near enough food to maintain them for eight or more hours of vigorous work. Also, it was not uncommon to be called out for an emergency at any hour or any day of the week. Local residents often started their daily conversation about hearing the sound of the two cycle engined motor cars leaving town in the middle of the night and it was usually more common during inclement weather. Often, during heavy snows, several of the work crew would be called out to clean snow and ice from the switches. Sometimes they would have to walk a mile or more and then stay with the job until it would quit snowing and then walk back to town. It was a hard job and these were hard men.
One of the many of these “hard men” was Buck Stafford. Buck and his wife Georgia and children, Lee Roy, Dallas, Wimpy, and Barbara lived on the north edge of town, just below the cemetery hill. They were one of the last in the area to still be without electricity. I was about eight or ten years old at the time and close to the same age as Wimpy and Barb. We spent most days playing and/or in school together. I think Lee Roy had already set out on his own and no longer lived with the rest of the family.
One day Wimpy invited me to spend the night, and that turned out to be a whole new experience. One that is still very clear, that I will never forget. First off, the bedroom we slept in didn't have any heat. The only heat was from a wood or coal burning stove in the front room and a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. I don't recall getting the least bit cold while asleep but when we woke up the next morning, there was a fine dusting of snow on top of the bed. Apparently it had blown through the slat covered cracks in the walls but was no match for the down filled blanket that kept us warm. Even if I had been cold after first waking, the smell from the kitchen would have quickly caused me for to forget about any possible discomfort.
When we sat down at the table, my eyes must have looked like they were about to pop out of my head. Before me sat a breakfast the likes of I had never seen before and have never seen since. I will attempt to describe that delicious, unforgettable meal. All piping hot and fresh from the wood cook stove. There may have been something like sausage and grits there, too, but I was focused on the foods that were mostly suitable to my personal taste. First of all, there was a platter in the center with a pile of at least two dozen eggs, possibly more. Another platter consisting of a couple pounds of bacon. A big pan of milk gravy and a huge pile of homemade biscuits. Buck didn't have an ounce of fat on him, he was all muscle and I suppose Georgia sent him to work every morning with a breakfast like this and a full lunch bucket in his hand. No doubt, every morning the same hardy breakfast was being served at the tables of the other members of the Reevesville section gang. They were all tough, durable, and strong men of the I.C.
Another memorable event happened that morning that I hesitate to mention as it will confirm to everyone how gullible I was. But, since I was so young at the time, I will go ahead and tell you about it. Along with the above breakfast, we had a big glass of cold milk with ice chips in it. Dallas, being the prankster then that he is today, said “Ma, you need to turn the ice box down, the milk is freezing again”. It was quite some time in the future that it dawned on me that the ice was chipped from a block of ice, kept in the ice box, and that they didn't have electricity that would cause anything to freeze.
Thanks for the invite, Wimp. It was a doozy.