By Syd Carr
My youth was spent in an entirely different world than we now know. The small country town of Crane, Mo. was actually located on the edge of the Ozark Mountains. The mountains are said to be some of the oldest in the United States. They are not mountains as we know them in the west. They are actually big Damn hills, separated by deep valleys. They were heavily forested in those days and composed mostly of granite and limestone. The entire area was dotted with cold clear springs, creeks, rivers, and lakes.
In the '20s and '30s, this was a backward, hillbilly area. To the north was Springfield, largest city in the area. To the south, the real Ozark country. To go deep into the area was to move back in time, outhouses, fire places, dirt floors, tar paper insulation, no in-house water, farm animals in the yard (and sometimes in the house), all these were norms for many parts of the Ozarks.
In those days, Crane had a population of 1005. Fifty years later it was 1050. Talk about controlled growth! We had a few paved streets but the majority was dirt and the main street area had sidewalks. The city had one of everything, one theater, grocery store, clothing store, feed store, undertaker, etc. We did have 2 doctors and one dentist, a weekly newspaper and one lawyer.
Crane had been a railroad roundhouse town meaning that it was a maintenance depot for the Missouri Pacific RR. The roundhouse had closed and the facilities move to Cotter, Ark left Crane with no 'industrial base'. Agriculture was the main source of income for the area. The closest thing we had to manufacturing was the local ice plant and tomato canning factory. It was a bare, poor country but heaven to a young lad with a dog and an old shotgun.
Game was plentiful as was fish. Rabbits, squirrels, possum, raccoons all provided food and fur. At this time there was a good market for fox, raccoon, skunk and possum hides. Sears-Roebuck was one of the big buyers. Trapping was a full time occupation for some in the area and a sideline for many. Two brothers I went to school with were constantly being sent home because they smelled a bit rank from running their traps. They specialized in skunks. The streams and lakes were loaded with fish in those days. Bass, Catfish, Blue Gill, Crappie (known locally as Goggle-eye), Suckers and smaller trash fish augmented much of the local diet. Even craw-dads (Cray fish) filled many a bowl. Trot Lining, seining, pole or rod fishing, gigging, and an occasional stick of dynamite kept the larder stocked.
The greatest fishing time for me was a float trip with Dad. These trips were very popular on the James and White Rivers. A flat boat was used- these boats were flat bottomed, squared ended, wooden boats, from 12 to 20 ft. long with a 4-5 ft. beam. Loaded with supplies, 2, 3, or 4 people to a boat, we would put in the river and just float for 2 to 4 days. We would drift with the current and fish the likely spots. At night we pulled up on the shore and made camp. There were no "No Trespassing" signs in those days. We usually picked a spot near a spring to camp. If a cornfield happened to be nearby, fresh corn was very tasty cooked over the campfire. Generally, enough minnows were seined to bait a trot line. This was a line reaching across the river with a dangling hook every 2 ft. or so. The line was baited and strung while supper was being fixed. Periodically, we would pull the boat across, holding the trot line and relieving it of any fish foolish enough to get caught. The adults sat around the campfire often consuming the evening's supply of strong spirits. For us kids, it was heaven- camped on the river bank, a roaring camp fire, bellys full of camp food, and listening to the men-folks tell lies and getting an early exposure to 'dirty jokes'. At the end of the float at a pre-arranged point, someone would be there to pick us and the boat(s) up for the trip back home.
Tired, dirty, ate up with mosquito bites, we returned full of the memories of a great adventure. Occasionally, these floats would be a family affair- 2,3, or 4 boats with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all going. The best tho was boys and their dads. An unequaled experience and a wonderful memory.
When the Carrs migrated to Missouri in 1848, they settled in the James River area near what is now Cape Fair. As the family grew, they spread out up and down the river, all of them farming for a living. The river bottom country was the best farming land in the area as the rest of it was hilly ground, covered with rocks and timber. Dad was probably the first of the Silas Carr family to leave the river bottoms and move to the 'city'.
Typical of the family was Uncle Arthur. He lived on James River near Buttermilk Springs. Arthur, Julia, and my cousins, Roxie, Dixie, Lexie, and Billy Jack lived in a cabin made of squared logs and chinked with concrete. It had a combination living room and kitchen, a small bedroom and a loft where all the kids slept. This I remember well- when I went down there for a summer visit, we all slept in the loft on cornshuck mattresses. There was usually 3 or 4 of us to a bed and when one moved, the rattle of the cornshucks was enough to wake us all. To that, add a rain storm on the tin roof immediately over our heads and some sleepless nights was not uncommon.
The river was almost like a road. To get to Arthur's by road was a long drive to get down to the bridge and back up to the farm. It was a comparatively short drive to the other side of the river so we would drive there, park and "hallou" Arthur and he would bring the boat across and pick us up. As I recall, it saved about a 40 mile drive.
Arthur farmed, raised almost all his own food (some of which was cooked in a pot in the fireplace), and cut cedar posts. Julia made most of their clothes, they had no electricity or running water and was a very happy family. They were a loving group and I always enjoyed my summer visits with them.
At Crane, we had a creek. It was spring fed and always cold. There were numerous swimming holes in the area but the one at the railroad bridge was our favorite. It was about 40 ft. wide and 8-10 ft. deep. There was a diving board on the bank and a handy tree root to climb out on. Well I remember that root. It was about 6 inches in diameter and came out of the bank and back in, making a handhold to pull ourselves up on. One fine day I came up the creek on the opposite side, undressed and swam across. I reached up, grabbed the root and also grabbed a water moccasin who was sunning himself on said root. He bit me and nearly scared me to death. I had him and he had me but fortunately he was a plain water moccasin and not a 'cotton mouth'. I did hold him long enough to see that I had not been bitten by a highly poisonous species of the water moccasin. The common variety had lots of small teeth but no fangs so all I ended up with was a mild infection, soon healed up.
The 'old swimming hole' was a popular place all summer. It was about a mile from town and was not frequented by the members of the fair sex so it was considered somewhat unmanly to even wear anything resembling a bathing suit. The fact that it was almost under the railroad bridge and a couple of passenger trains went by every day was of no consideration. As a matter of fact, they were often "mooned" altho we didn't know the meaning of that word then. We often heard about it tho when a member of the local citizenry happened to be on the train.
Probably half the houses in town had no electricity, inside water, or inside toilet facilities but we were not completely isolated. We had a moving picture theater and that was no small thing. We were the only town of our size in the area that had one. I watched my first movie (silent) there and eventually ended up as a sweeper and selling popcorn for the privilege of seeing all the movies free.
In the years that I was there, the schedule never varied. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday was 'first run' nights- adult 25 cents, kids a dime (kids were always a dime). Wednesday and Thursday was B grade drama, mysteries, adventure, etc. 15 cents. But the big nights came on Friday and Saturday. Drum roll---Cowboy movies and a serial with the Saturday matinee. On those days Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Hop-Along-Cassidy and other heroes rode the danger trail on the silver screen. All this sojourn in the Wild West for only a dime! On a hot date, you could take her to the movies, share a 5 cent bag of popcorn, and have a coke at the drugstore fountain for the magnificent sum of 35 cents.
Saturday was the shopping day for the farmers in the area. Many of them drove to town either in a buggy or a wagon and team but the most of them stayed for the Saturday night cowboy movie. Movies were still a new thing here in the late 20s and early 30s and many of the people really took them serious. It wasn't at all unusual to hear a member of the audience shout, "Look out Buck, He's behind the tree". The advent of the singing cowboys really left many of us kinda cold until we finally got used to the toned down action and increased romance. Progress was inevitable but those old cowboy movies were great fun.
Baseball: Even there in the hinterlands we had baseball. All the small towns had a catch-as-catch can ball team. Every Sunday afternoon during the summer, there was a game somewhere. The players were local boys in their teens and twenties and if the same crew showed up for every game, it was a surprise.
The games were held at the town ball field that usually doubled as a cow pasture during the week. This created a hazard and often lead to hilarious results. I remember Dad riding onto the ball field on the running board of a friend's car; while the car was still rolling, Dad gracefully stepped off, squarely into a fresh, green cow-pile. Since they were very slippery when green, down he went, sliding thru the pile, leaving most of it on his white pants. The comments he made concerning the cow and the owners ancestry were definitely not suitable for tender young ears.
There were no grandstands and most of the fields, including ours, didn't even have seats. The games were fun tho. Friendly insults and ridicule was common. They sometimes led to fisticuffs but they were always friendly fights and soon forgotten. No admissions were charged at the games. There were no uniforms and each player furnished his own glove. The bats and balls were provided by donations from the local merchants and the umpires were volunteers often from the crowd. I remember games in which the umpire felt he was being unfairly discussed by the spectators and just walked off. Some other brave soul would step forward and the game would go on. We did enjoy our baseball!
Our grade school games were somewhat different. We had no inter-mural play and just played a 'work-up' game during noon and recess. In these games three batters batted till one had three turns or made an out. When finished, the batter moved to the outfield and everyone moved up a position thus bringing up a new batter. The school furnished only a softball and bat (usually one of each) and the ball was the old type with the outside seams. We all had gloves and it was a mark of summer to clip your glove to the belt or overalls, thus indicating the readiness for a ball game.
The cheapest gloves were made of a rubber cloth combination, just a bit bigger than a work glove. Of course they only cost a quarter and seldom lasted the summer. Proud indeed was the player with a real leather glove, properly endorsed by on of the hero's of the day, such as Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. They were well guarded and maintained because a really good glove could cost as much as $5.00! The balls fell in two categories also, the cheap and the good. A good leather ball cost a dollar and with care lasted at least one summer. The 'cheapie' cost a dime. It was wrapped with woolen string around a cork core and covered with an oilcloth-like material which began deteriorating with the first hit. A few good smacks and it would start assuming an oblate shape which changed with each hit. Landing and bouncing around on the dirt playing fields would start the cover peeling off. The next step would be the stitches coming loose and the cover coming loose. Now the ball would fly thru the air shedding pieces of oilcloth and a loose end of the cover flapping and eventually departing company with the ball. Then, we would wrap the ball with electrical friction tape and get a few more hits out of it. They were never long hits because the ball was so soft by this time that it could be squeezed into whatever shape you wanted. When the tape finally shed off, the ball would be flying thru the air with string unraveling and trailing behind it. This was the end altho many of these balls lived on. I would take the remains home to my Grandmother and she would rewind the woolen yarn and work it into crocheted rugs.
Grade School: Each class had one room (8 grades), bare dirt playground, and out-door toilets. I was one of the 2 or 3 smartest kids in my grade but never applied myself; was generally regarded as the class comic and bad boy.
High School: Finally had inside toilets! Each class averaged about 15 students. Skipped half my freshman year and took sophomore subjects, biology and algebra. Once found a rabbit in the schoolyard. Killed it with a rock and put in one of the female teacher's mailbox. Didn't make many points with that move. Altho I didn't finish high school, I graduated from Crane High by correspondence course in 1947. I also attended Woodrow Wilson Junior High in Pasadena, Ca. and Dinuba High in Dinuba, Ca. Variety is the spice of life???
There are many memories of things long past: Pie suppers and box lunch suppers, usually to raise money for a country school or church. These were great social occasions- all the young swains would vie for their sweethearts offering by bidding more than they could probably afford. Friendships and romances were made and lost, often for a mere 25 cents. Winding the Maypole was an annual school event on May Day and friends, girl friends and teachers were often honored by a home-made paper basket of flowers left on their porch that night. Horse shoe and marble tournaments always drew a crowd. Soaped windows and tipped over outhouses was they Ozark version of 'trick or treat'- never any treats but lots of tricks. Home-made foods are a part of the memories. Hominy made using wood ashes; soap using lye leached from ashes and cooked with fat; home cured bacon and ham; canned foods including mincemeat with real meat in it; dried foods and vegetables buried in the ground for the winter. Little was wasted because times were hard and frugality was the name of the game.
I do not have the talent to effectively capture the essence and feel
of living in the Ozarks in those days. There is nothing to compare
it to now-days. The freedom, the innocence, the love of the area
is indefinable. Among my memories are odors. The clean fresh smell of the
woods mixed with the faint odor of decaying plant growth; the creeks and
rivers had their own odors as did the towns. I think the one I remember
most was the pervasive odor of poverty. It could not be duplicated or defined.
I don't even know what caused it- it was just the odor of poverty and tho
it varied slightly, it was always present among us poor folks- an indefinable
part of the Ozarks in the depression days. Hopefully, we will never smell