I was fortunate enough to have Howard Hudson as a Journalism teacher for a year and a half. I was even more fortunate to be the editor of the “Chat Pile” school newspaper. The following article is partially a result of that association.
I was born near Eucha, OK, in 1944. After my father got home from the war, we moved to Picher in 1946, on South Emily Street. Then, in the summer of 1949, we moved to Cardin. We lived on the highway, just south of the curve. Archie Alexander’s filling station was just across the street to our north. Across the highway to the west was the railroad track. That put us on the main route to the Central Mill from the north. You want to talk about dust? When it was windy, we got dust in our refrigerator. Weekday afternoons, when the miners set off their end-of-day charges, the whole house vibrated, floating what dust there was. We are talking raw, ore laden rocks, covered with dust in open rail cars and trucks, running all the time. I have trouble with how bad they say it is today! In 1955, we moved to a “shotgun” house a half block north of Earl Hutchin’s store. We lived there until it burned to the ground in 1961.
As kids, we walked the railroad tracks, looking for lead to shoot in our home made “beanie flippers”. Inadvertent exposure my foot, we went looking for it!!!! We ate it, we drank it, breathed it, went swimming in it, and yes, we even rolled in it! In this story, I am using the terms “we” and “kids” to mean more than one person, sometimes up to two dozen or so. In most cases, I was involved. By not mentioning any specific names, I give you the option of either bragging about doing it, or you can deny having any part in it. My mother died last fall, so I can reveal all.
My memory isn’t what it was before my stroke, but I’m going to try to get something started here. Comments are not only welcome, they are encouraged! There were three social levels in Cardin. The “haves”, the “think they haves”, and the rest of us, with some blurring in between. As kids, we weren’t smart enough to realize where we belonged, and that ignorance WAS bliss. Most of us had no idea what “discrimination” was. We didn’t realize how bad off we were. The good thing about growing up poor is that it tends to make you more self-sufficient and better prepares you for the real world. We made our own fun, like waiting on the drugstore porch for a car to come by. Then, bouncing a tin can across the highway and yelling “you’ve lost a hubcap”. If the car slowed, you ran like the wind. The best sliding board in town was the fire escape on the east side of the grade school. It sure was fun to ride a bike down a chat pile, but having to push it to the top made it a break even event.
The little chat pile behind the grade school was one of our favorite playgrounds summer and winter. It was the absolute best place to fly a kite. When it snowed enough, we would all gather there. Then, we would parade up and down the pile until we had sled trails packed. The home made sleds weren’t the most fun, because they were heavy to pull back up, but the kids with store-bought sleds usually shared after the first hour or so. The small cliffs on the east side of that pile were perfect for jumping off of. They were just high enough to make it scary, and not high enough to be really dangerous. Probably the most dangerous thing we did was go down into the cave-in over at Douthat, just east of the church that is no longer there. You could see a mining tunnel from the top, and the sides of the cave-in sloped enough to go down to it. After you went back east in that tunnel about a quarter mile, skirting a shaft, there was an under ground cave-in that led on down to the lower level. From there, you could go west far enough that you could hear the tour guides at the Nancy Jane Mine tour. (See "Nancy Jane" on Cardin Misc. page) We were smart enough to not let them know we were there.
The Beaver pond was the town swimming hole, but you had to wind through a weedy field to get there. It was later replaced by “Clear Pond” which you could drive to. The older boys always built diving boards at the swimming holes. The Skelton out at Douthat had the clearest water around, but that was quite a walk just to go swimming. One of the things we did that wasn’t too smart was play war with B-B guns. My brother Walter still had a B-B embedded in the palm of his hand when he died a couple of years ago.
The easiest way to make a little cash was to take my wagon up and down the highway collecting bottles. We covered the area from Potter’s Station ( near what is today called the Douthat road) to where Picher Main Street meets 69 highway. We got two cents for pop bottles, and a nickel for long neck beer and milk bottles. A harder way was to clean used bricks at Ben’s new and used lumber yard. We cleaned the mortar off with a hatchet. It’s a wonder nobody ever lost a finger doing that! Of course, if you had a power mower (lots didn’t), you could always get a lawn to mow in the summer. In the winter, we trapped muskrats in the mill ponds, skinned them, and sold the pelts. Of course, huntin’ and fishin’ put nearly free food on the table.
A lot of us went barefoot all summer, and hated to put shoes on to go somewhere, including school. The worst part of that was when the county came around and sprayed whatever that black, nasty, sticky stuff was on the streets. It probably was used oil, tar, PCB’s, and various other kinds of toxic waste. Anyway, when they sprayed that stuff, we had to gather loose gravel and throw it across the street until we made a path of gravel that we could walk on. If you got that stuff on you, it took gasoline (leaded) to get it off.
In the early ‘50s, Cardin had three grocery stores. I can almost remember a fourth beside the post office. The one in the middle of town was owned by Earl Hutchins. The one at the intersection of String Town Road and the highway was owned by Virgil Turner. The meat counter was a mini deli. You could buy lunchmeat and cheese by the slice, and tell them how thick to slice it. They would also make you a sandwich. There were two lumber yards, the one east of Turner’s store was Sanders Brothers and the one down the street was Orville Benschoter’s New and Used. I don’t remember who ran the grocery on the west end of town by the railroad tracks, but the Skeltons ran The Cozy Café right beside it. Next door was Richard Gregory’s dad with a shoe repair shop. Can’t you just imagine getting your shoes repaired now days? The next block held Jess and John J. Hale’s used car lot. (I once bought a ’41 Chevy coupe for $20)
The next block was the heart of town. Albert VonMoss owned the Variety Store and lived in the back of it. Boy, talk about variety! He would open a box of shotgun shells and sell you as few as one at a time. (I told you we were poor) He also had a comic book room with used comics which he would trade two for one, or you could buy them outright. Next to that was a large building that once had a grocery in the front half, the Post Office was in front, and the Water Works in the back. The Postmistress was Velma Becker. Hap Masters and son Richard owned the Water Works. At the northeast corner of that building was a “cement pond”. It was about twelve feet square, and about five or six feet deep. We were allowed to join Richard swimming in that pool sometimes. That’s where I learned to swim, with the aid of a life preserver. It also had a lot of perch in it, and they liked to nibble on little boys, providing some excitement. Across the highway, Ethel Lawrence was a Justice of the Peace, and that’s where everybody paid their speeding fines. Her son, Johnny got diabetes and had to give himself insulin shots in the stomach. That pretty much made him a hero in our eyes. East of her house was the drug store, owned by Art Walkenshaw, and later by Ralph Leslie (son Lawrence Ralph). Across from the drug store was Oscar Janow’s barber shop. East, across the street from the barber shop, was Hutchin’s Grocery. Just East of Ben’s Lumber was the town beer joint.
Other businesses in town were the sulphate plant (don’t really know what they did there), Bitco that made and sharpened drill bits for the mines, and the Eagle Picher offices and repair shop. Of course, the grade school, part of which is still standing.
Very few homes in Cardin at that time had indoor bathrooms. Most only had a cold water kitchen. (I told you we were poor) Even the grade school had outdoor johns. Halloween always meant “tumping” over the outdoor johns and the trash burners.
I can remember three theaters in Picher, the Roxy, the Plaza, and the Star. I also remember Welch’s Drug Store on Main. Mostly because Sam and Nona were friends of my father’s, but Picher’s someone else’s story.
I remember being taken, at age six, to Doctor Richie’s in Picher, just south of the bank on Connell Ave. I well remember him saying that there wasn’t a chance that I had Polio. I remember not being able to get out of bed by myself the next morning. Then we went to Commerce and Doctor Jacoby said I DID have it! Next stop, Miami Baptist, where they performed a spinal tap!!! Nobody that has ever had one can forget how they feel. Polio was confirmed, and we were sent to Tulsa Hillcrest. Upon arrival, guess what? Yep! Another spinal tap! Fifteen weeks later, I was able to return home. I wasn’t “crippled”, but my co-ordination was affected enough that I was never any good at sports. For a seven year old Chat Rat, that’s crippled!! If you weren’t a jock, you weren’t squat! Guess where that put me. I also remember (wish I didn’t) two mothers in Cardin asking me not to play with their sons. I’m not sure whether it was because I was an undesirable playmate, or because I had had Polio!
Mabel Richardson was everyone’s “Mom”. She and her kids lived behind the drug store, and their house was “Grand Central” for many years. Jim, Hook, Deloris, Johnny, and Tom covered a lot of age groups. The clothes line in their back yard upset many a kid after dark and the sewer ditch caused many a stinky foot.
We played many a game of kick the can and spottem in Fred VonMoss’ back yard in the summer. I remember when my grandmother still used her ice box. Not refrigerator, ICE BOX! I can also remember the ice man had a horse drawn ice wagon, and he would give us kids chips of ice. We always had a man with a team of horses come and plow our garden in the spring
Nadine Sooter brought a dump truck to town and rounded up kids in it to go to the drive in theater in Miami on “carload night”.
Now, after all these years of not thinking about my childhood, I can look back and see the social levels that were defined by financial status. Most of us were poor, with working parents, so we had the run of the town in the summer. We were the majority, so we didn’t notice it so much then. It still amazes me that we all survived.
If I have miss-spelled anyone’s name, I am sorry, but it HAS been more than forty years!
Thank you, Howard Hudson, for teaching me Journalism, and I hope I don’t embarrass you too much with this report!!!