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Rambling with Rex

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Saturday Night Outdoor Movies "Reel" Fun at Giltner

No popcorn, but plenty of mosquitoes:

   Saturdays were magical days of Summer for this young farm lad in the 1940's.

   Somehow the farm work - whether it was shocking wheat, threshing, milking, or bucking alfalfa - seemed a little more exciting on Saturdays . . . and somehow the evening chores got done at a much faster pace.

   Yes, Sir, chore time on Saturdays was no time to dilly-dally about. I can still see "dilly-dally" rolling off my dad's lips. He repeated it often to me during the week. You see, I was an inquisitive lad who would stop to watch a spider spin a web, or observe a caterpillar crawl over my finger, or study the melodious call of a Western Meadowlark so I could imitate it.

   No, Sir, I wasn't just standing there doing nothing and I wasn't dilly-dallying -- no matter how it appeared to my father. To my thinking, the chores would always be there, but my little wild friends wouldn't. It was very important for me to watch and to learn about the world in the fields, pastures, and around our barnyard.

   But come Saturday afternoon chore time, Dad didn't have to say a word to me. I worked like two hungry hired hands to finish so I could get to the wash house for the Saturday night bath. The wash tub did double duty for us. We'd place the tub on the floor for baths, but come Monday morning the tub would be back on the stand by the wringer washer. But with fresh water!

   We all took our bath in the same water, so I tried to be at least No. 6 in line, especially ahead of Dad and Brother Steve. They'd be the dirtiest, especially when haying or when the corral was knee-deep in mud and fresh pancakes.

   Even after a day in the field in 1949, my father A F and Steve and I had 99 cows to feed and milk (Thank the Lord for two De Laval milkers) and 200 chicken to feed and water, plus 4 horses to care for, and we slopped about 50 hogs. Even with all our barnyard friends to care for, we finished the evening chores like clockwork.

   Yes, Saturday night was full of magic. True, the next day was Sunday, and it was a day off from field work while we worshiped at rural Prairie Gem United Brethren Church that Dad's grandparents help build. Sometimes in the summer we even have a noon potluck on the grounds. But Sunday or not, we still had morning and evening chores to do.

   Hey, back up the hayrack a moment here! What was the big Saturday night rush about in the summertime? Keep hold of the reins! We're getting there.

   Once we were all cleaned up and dressed in our best manners and hopefully in some patch-free overalls for the 5 boys, our family of 8 would pile in car with the younger one sitting on the laps of the older ones . . . and rush down to Giltner before it got dark.

   For Dad, it was an opportunity "to get out among 'em!" Many of my folks' friends would be in town and it was a great time of socializing. Dad's great grandparents - John and Nancy Hoffman Detamore - homesteaded at Giltner in the 1880s so we still had relatives there also.

   The men gathered around pick-ups to discuss the crops and the weather, and the women and older girls would tend the babies and do girl talk. They could talk and talk about things that were well beyond my imagination and understanding.

    Many a farmer's wife came to Giltner on Saturday nights to bring in her weekly cash crop of eggs and cream and sometimes she had some old hens to sell. Probably got 25 cents for a hen. Some of the hens had old-timer's symptoms and couldn't find their way back to the henhouse -- let alone remember to lay eggs. So, they were off to Crother's Grocery & Produce and a prospective customer's waiting noodle pot. My Mom's Aunt Nora and her husband Uncle Billy owned the grocery, which was next door to the Opera House at the north end of town, and across Commercial Street from the Giltner Power Plant and Ice Locker, which was operated by her Aunt Mable Ranard and her husband Uncle Oran. Nora, Mable, and Zora (my grandmother) were daughters of pioneers Sam and Lula Pitts, who came from Iowa, along with Lula's parents, Charles and Jane Hogg Burdick.

   With new cash in Mom's hand, she'd pinch pennies buying necessary supplies at Crother's Grocery. Our family didn't need much "boughten groceries" because we butchered a hog and a beef each year, plus the hens put eggs in the skillet for us and faithful cows filled the milk glasses. We also grew our own potatoes and Mom canned fruit and vegetables each summer, so not much else was needed, but Aunt Nora would always toss is extra goodies for us kiddos - as she called us.

   While Mom was busy at the grocery store, Dad would be filing up our black 1934 Chevrolet Sedan at Feldman's Service Station, just across the street north of the Giltner Post Office, which was managed by Stanley Wheeler. I always wanted to be in the car when dad filled up because of Billy Groelz, the attendant. He'd be smiling and chewing on Yucatan gum, or sometimes Black Jack, while checking the oil, air, and cleaning the windows. When he finished, he'd stick his head in and offer each of us a stick of gum. I considered him the most generous man in Giltner, and he never ran out of gum! Once the car was ship-shape for the return home later, Dad would then park the car so he and Mom could get a good view of the screen action which started soon after sundown.

   On Saturday nights, life for this farm boy took on new meaning. In the summer, I worked Monday through Friday, looking forward to the three hours in Giltner on Saturday night. Never able to stand dried mud on my fingers or under my nails, I considered myself to have arrived in life where I was destined to be whenever I dressed up in clean clothes and my hands were mud-free.

   But come Sunday morning I'd be back in the barn feeding and milking cows an hour and a half before Ol' Sol thought about getting up. By 8:30, the animals would all be fed and we could head to the house for our breakfast . . . and I could clean up and put on my Sunday Best . . . with clean fingernails again.

   So, here I am in clean clothes - washed in Mom's Maytag Ringer Washer powered by a one-cylinder gas engine - and I'm in Giltner on a Saturday night. I'd be running around with 3 or 4 boys seeing the sights and experiencing the wonders of the town life. I considered myself lucky to have a quarter to spend on this big weekly night out. We kids didn't get an allowance, but somehow we'd get change selling pop bottles for 2 cents each that we found walking along the roads. Sometimes, Grandpa Tom Salmon or Grandma Lizzie Detamore Salmon would give us money . . . just for being good-lookin' I guess.

   With the quarter, I would spend 5 cents either on a bottle of Pepsi or Royal Crown, which had 12 ounces, compared to 6 ounces for Coke. I'd buy some Rooshin' peanuts (Sunflower seeds but called Rooshin' because the local Russian immigrants would eat them like peanuts) for 5 cents, a giant Baby Ruth candy bar for 5 cents, and a Snickers candy bar. With the 5 cents left, I'd buy a vanilla cone for my mom, Luella, who would be sitting in the car with two of the youngest, Alfred and Danny. She would share it with them.

   The sun is down now and since this is Saturday night, the magic hour has arrived in full dress of night.

   Uncle Oran has his projector set up waiting, and suddenly, it's MOVIE TIME in Giltner. The merchants of Giltner sponsor the movies to draw trade to town. Stockham and other surrounding towns also had free movies. Uncle Oran or his son Bobby would show movies there on different nights of the week.

   As the cartoon comes on, our attention goes to a painted wood board screen standing in the back of the empty lot that used to have a business on it at the turn of the century. All of us younger kids plant ourselves on the freshly mowed weeds or on seats just in front of the screen for a good view. I have all my goodies at hand ready for the "party" to start. Many would sit on planks held up by tree stumps, but the old people - and mothers with tots - would sit in their cars pointed toward the screen. It was like a drive-in movie before they were invented later in big cities, like Grand Island.

   Nothing on the farm compared to this excitement. At home we only had an old hand-me-down radio with an antenna wired from the living room window to the top of the windmill. But if we couldn't afford batteries, we couldn't even get weather news, let alone music. Richer neighbors had wind-up Edisons, which played a cylinder disk, or a fancy new Victrola with thick one-sided 78 rpm records. They had music from around the world - even exciting marches and polkas.

   The Saturday Night movie always started with a cartoon. We cheered as the little animals came to life and entertained us. Of course, the films were in black and white only, so we had to mentally add the color of our choice to each one.

   Much to my happiness, the long movie would usually be a Western, often with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or Rex Allen. Sometimes, it would be The Three Stooges. Other times, there would be a kissing movie, so we boys found other things to do, like walking up and down the street feeding our faces as we talked and joked.

   Saturday night in Giltner for me was a combination social time, glorious snacks, friends, and an escape from the farm via the Hollywood movie.

   Giltner was in its heyday from 1900 to 1930. At the turn of the century, many merchants sported a variety of new fangled merchandise brought in the by railroad. Then as the days of horse and buggy waned, the automobile gave new meaning to the word mobile for the farm. They drove to the big towns to see the new sights and check out the stores there.

   Through the past 100 years, Giltner, as in many non-county seat villages, the variety of merchants disappeared. Giltner once had two banks, car dealer, furniture stores, hardwares, livery stables, a coffin company, drugstores, and drygoods merchants, undertaker, several grain elevators, cafes, groceries, jewelry shop, livery stables, wagon makers, drama groups, and saloons - to name a few.

   When an exciting Western movie was showing, this farm boy didn't really notice the mosquito bites. But by the time the free outdoor movie was over, I paid a big price in blood. But, come next Saturday night, I was right back there on the 'grass,' or on old wooden splintered benches if the ground were wet. As Gene Autry shot 15 rounds from his six-shooter without reloading, I was feeding a multitude of drilling insects.

   I saw my first moving picture in Giltner at the free Saturday night outdoor show. I don't remember the name but I came to love the Westerns best. The action was fast paced, the horses galloped for miles and never got lathered, the good guy always wore a white hat, and kissing was always motherly. None of that sick stuff like in love stories that brought tears to the womenfolk.

   I could always tell when the movie was over. It'd get quiet and the white hat would ride off into the sunset. Then it'd be time for this young farmer to return to the farm . . . and reality.

   Hey, we have to back up the hayrack again. Saturday was the big wind-up day on the farm, sort of a catch-up day for what didn't get finished during the week. If we were to be at the movie site at dusk, we had to work double time to get the chores done, get a bath, grab something to eat, and get to town on the dirt roads. If it had rained a couple of inches the day before, the road had ruts almost up to the running boards on the cars. The running board was about a foot wide, with rubber matting to steady the foot whether dry or wet, and about 8 feet long to cover both front and back doors. The board was originally wood and was really a board. Later on it was made of metal, but still covered with the rubber matting.

   The ruts, oh, yeah, the ruts were not straight, so while they helped keep a car on the road, the car couldn't be driven very fast because the shaking of the car zigzagging in the ruts would be enough to jar our brains. But the big problem with ruts demanded an answer to this: What to do when meeting a vehicle? It's almost impossible to get out of a rut, and the road is only so wide. When it's wet, it was easy to slip off into the ditch.

   Ruts slowed the anxious movie-goer, but even before you crank up Ol' Betsy to drive to town, equipment breakdown was always reserved for Saturdays. Whenever you hurried the most, breakdowns became common. Or the cattle, or horses, break out of the pasture or barnyard and you have to round up the beasts before the movie flicks on at the first real hint of darkness.

   The worst that could happen to a Saturday night was a rainstorm. It could rain any night of the week. That was OK, but it was big sin to stop or postpone a movie. I realized that often the crops really needed the rain, but it was almost the end of the world to have a Saturday night movie canceled. It wasn't as bad if we were able to get to town and the movie had to be stopped because of rain, but not being able to leave the farm after having to work hard the whole long hot week. Boy!

   Yep, as a young farm boy, I thought we lived life in the fast lane when I got to be in Giltner for the free Saturday Night Movie . . . and had a few coins to spend on eatin' delights and a big bottle of sodie -- as my grandma called it.

©: Rex L. Salmon 2006

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