Hamilton County NEGenWeb Project

Rambling with Rex

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Table of Contents


When life takes you to the Fairgrounds, welcome visitors to your home!

Living on the edge of town beckons shy lad into door-to-door salesmanship


     To this day, I'm still not sure how this young Hamilton County farm lad of 10 became a city salesman.

     In country schools, I was so shy teachers told my mother that I needed lots of counseling to get me out a shell. Mom didn't tell me this until years later, like after serving 3 years in the Marine Corps, 6 years of working my way through college, and after being editor of 3 San Diego County newspapers.

     I must have been like the little kids I've seen hiding behind their mothers' long skirts. Say "Hello" to them and the kids disappear. My mother, Luella Delano Salmon, told me that I was that shy. Where do kids hide with today's fashions of mini-skirts, shorts, and tight-tight jeans? I've gone weeks without seeing any female in a dress other than older women in church. Boy, I pity the poor shy kids today trying to hide behind legs!

     OK, here is I am now in San Diego -- 780 full moons later - and I jumped on the No. 70 band wagon. Friends think that I'm kidding when I tell them that I was very shy and afraid to talk - let alone get up in front of a class. I got an A in deportment from 1st grade through high school, except from one teacher: Josephine Grosvenor at Aurora Hi. As a freshman I didn't have any other grades to brag about but I expected an A from her in deportment. All other teachers - before and after - had given me an A. But when asked why she game me a B, Miss Grosvenor said "nobody's perfect." The subject was closed and she turned away. I'm still surprised that I got up enough courage to ask her! (I learn that Deportment is now called Citizenship. Is that progress?)

     No teacher ever had to call me down for behavior, but they did have to pry words out of me. I'm told that I would just sit there scared to death and not say a word. Some teachers concluded that I was mentally inept. We shall not discuss that diagnosis any further though . . . and it won't be fodder for another yarn!

     OK, Rex, we get the idea that you were the original "Timmy Timid," but please get back to telling how you became a city salesman. In just a minute or so.

     In March 1948, my father, A F "Shorty" Salmon, was hired by Maurice Kremer to work on his farm. Dad only had two letters for his name - not initials with periods. He didn't have a front name nor a middle name, it was just A F Salmon. His mother, aunts, and cousins always called him A F. Even his sister, Agnes Salmon Derr at 95, still refers to him as A F. Their grandfather was Alexander Franklin Salmon, a Scottish immigrant who homesteaded 4 miles west Stockham in 1869.

     Let's get back to Maurice Kremer. I remember Maurice's big mail box reading "M. A. Kremer." Our two boxes were on the same stand, but four of ours would have fit in the Kremer box. With such a big mailbox, I concluded as a 10-year old that he must be an important man. Now, about 60 years later, I know he was an important man, what with being a two-term state senator and spearheading very important groundwater legislation and leading in state soil conservation, he was school board member and very active in the Gideons and the rural Pleasant View Mennonite Church. What was important to me was that he became teacher-leader of the Thursday night Giltner Bible Club where 50-60 kids would jam into houses to sing, pray, and hear a Bible lesson. Maurice was also God-Father to my Dad and me.

     So, where were the mailboxes? The answer has a lot to do with how I became a city salesman. The mailboxes were at the northeast corner of the Hamilton County Fairgrounds, on 8th Street at the corner with A Street. Maurice and Alice and their children Kenny, Bob, Ardys, and Beth lived almost a half mile west of the corner, at the farm where Alice grew up with her brother Glen, and their parents John and Katie Schrock Troyer. The original Troyer house was used for storage in the 1940s and as a garage for farm equipment when a new house was built closer to the road. Maurice parked his D2 Caterpillar inside a garage formed where a portion of the wall was removed on the southwest corner of the house. My father operated the Cat to level land for irrigation and he also used it to push 10-foot and higher drifts onto the courthouse lawn during the giant blizzard just before Christmas 1948.

     OK, back to the fairgrounds. The Hamilton County Fair ranks as the oldest statewide. It started in 1872 when the county seat was at Orville City on the banks of the Blue River north of Stockham. The courthouse and its courtyard were used for exhibits.

     So, why was the Salmon mailbox planted at the northeast corner of the fairgrounds with the big Kremer box? We lived on the fairgrounds in the tiny three bedroom house. Yep, it was home to the Salmons with children Steve, Rex, Pauline, Alvin, Danny, and Alfred. The two-story house, which was about 300 yards southwest from the entrance, had a hog-wire fence around it with a gate on the east and one on the south. (I would love to hear from others who lived on the fairgrounds and do you know of any photos of the house?)

     The east gate - the main entrance -- had very old cedar trees on each side, in fact they were the only trees we had for shade. The kitchen-dining area was in a lean-to on the west side of the house. I remember as a 10 year old, while home alone, pouring white gas into the cooking stove and then pumping up pressure and lighting the burners with matches. I can't imagine kids doing that today. White gas is almost odorless and very refined, but it's also very flammable.

     On the south side of the house, a chipped red-bricked path led past the slanted door of the storm cellar where mom stored her canned fruit and vegetables. Mom's garden was on the west side of the house. My young mind told me that the walk bricks were left over from bricking up the cellar. They were red and probably came from the Brickyard School site two miles south of Aurora on the KND - Kansas-Nebraska-Dakotas Highway 14. The school was Dist. 24 and where I first met Jimmy Anderson, who now is a dentist living in Aurora in the historic Farley-Steenburg home. He was a first grader. I had two teachers there, Pauline Guard Matthews in 1946, who was the sister of Lois Guard Condon, and Mrs. Harley Smith in 1949. Some of the students were Ardean Arndt, Kathleen and Carol Koop, Judy Kemper, and us 4 Salmons who made it worthwhile to reopen the school with an expanded population.

     The red bricks led to the south gate. Beyond that was an object of great importance and a wonder among wonders for this young lad. Wow, it was a giant outhouse. It had 6 thrones in little rooms with doors.

     Back on the farm, I was accustomed to the homemade-rough 2 holers. They were both usually cut or whittled the same size in one-inch boards which sometimes pinched you-know-where. The holes were the one-size-fits-all mode like today's hats, socks, gloves, and underwear. The holes were dangerous to little tykes, so strong arms were needed to keep 'em above board. Oh, boy, the aroma of the outhouse in the summertime contrasted greatly with the outhouse in the winter with the fresh air - but you about froze it off.

     Some farm neighbors had three holers, with a small hole in the middle for family-together times, I guess. These were usually the store-bought kind at Monkey Wards or Sears with concrete floors, contoured seats, fancy back rests, sculpted woodwork, and lacquered up to look real purty!! Yes, sir. "They've gone about as fur and they could go" before moving 'em indoors.

     I remember when I first learned that the outhouses were taken indoors in the big city. Man alive, what's the world coming to? Because of the aromas on the farm, you "planted" both the hog pen and the outhouse a "fir piece down away" from the house. I couldn't wait to see one - and I heard that it even had running water to carry "it" away and to wash up. I expected a half moon on the door, but no. My Aunt Agnes and Uncle Bus Derr moved to Grand Island from Giltner in 1947 and my thorough investigation gave the new-fangled indoor room two thumbs up. I found it nice being able to use the facility at night without getting my feet muddy, cold, or skinned up. I'd spend a few days in the Big City visiting my cousin Robert and then I'd be back at the farm using the 2-holer. What a letdown! On the farm for nighttime trips, there were a lot of frightening shadows 60 feet from the back door of the house. Plus, there was no yard light. Oh, lest we forget, in the winter we did have a 5-gallon "necessary" at the ready near the kids' bedrooms.

     How'd you become a salesman, Rex? Please, I'm getting there. Just button up those suspender straps on your overalls and hang tight for a spell!

     Our giant family outhouse had the word "Women" painted on a couple of sides, but we paid no heed to the writing until mid-August when the County Fair was upon us. Then Dad, the men visitors, and we lads had to walk to hill and yonder to another similar-looking building with two less letters on the painted sign. The "Wo" was gone but because of the distance from the house, it was "Woe, Me" when an emergency came up in the middle of the night. The "Men" building was different, what with fewer seats and a standing row. I was told it was a trough, but I was only familiar with hog troughs, so the name didn't make sense

     Around Fair Time, we boy people couldn't use the "Women" accommodation even at night because there were carnival people camping on the grounds. I was told they were Gypsies and that they wanted to steal little kids. The warning about Gypsies flashed into my mind at night while stealthfully weaving my way to the "Men" building. I don't know who told me about Gypsies, but it was real to me for many years. I avoided all shadows at fair time but made it both ways safely. I didn't need a change of pajamas, nor did I run into a Gypsy. Yep, I was safe on both accounts - I'm here to report, and the Gypsies were safe from me, also.

     To this day I wonder if they were really Gypsies, or who it was who warned me. It could have been the same Grandpa Tom Salmon who told me that the way to catch a bird was to put salt on its tail. I could never catch a bird because by the time I ran to the kitchen to get a salt shaker the bird was gone. I was a failure time after time. Come to think of it, my failure in bird catching could have harmed my psyche - that is, if farm boys are built with those - and the failure tied my tongue. I don't even know what I'd done if I had captured a bird.

     But cheer up Rex, you were a success at being a city salesman. Yes, but first there's a little more to tell about life on that big fairgrounds. - what with about 40 acres including the half-mile race track? When someone asks my parents where we lived, theyíd say on the fairgrounds. It was a great address and no further directions were needed. It was like asking the governor where he lived and heíd say across the street south of the Capitol. Same same!

     Our backyard was a playground that ran forever and I explored the territory many times while traipsing to investigate the buildings. Since horses on the farm had given way to horse-powered machines, the barns on the south end of the fair grounds werenít needed for the hayburners. I spent several weeks in the summer of 1948 watching Bud Plant dismantle the interiors of the buildings. Each of the many doors along both sides of the buildings had private stalls to hold the prize horses and the race horses. When Bud finished, I could walk from one end to the other in one big open area. Bud and I became friends and two years later, I helped him electrify the hired-handís house for DeRoy Wilson southeast of Giltner. I could wiggle in tiny spaces while getting the wires through the attic and down the enclosed walls. I learned a lot from Bud. This young lad was back on the farm again with a private 2 holer. That was in March 1950 and Dad was working for DeRoy and Wylda Wilson then. As a 12-year-old, I got to drive the tractor while combining wheat shocks and finally worked up enough courage to ask DeRoy for $3 a day, including morning and afternoon lunches. He even game me back pay. Dad, Steve, and I went home after a dayís work in the field and had to milk 2 cows, slop the hogs, gather eggs, and then eat supper. It was the same thing every day when harvest time was upon us. But harvest time is an exciting time on the farm because neighbors get together to help each other. Thereís always a lot of joking and laughter to make the hard work seem easier - plus the womenfolk came up with food that I still can taste!

     Back up, Rex, to the fairgrounds. I divided the year into times of war and peace. You see, peace time was about 49 weeks of the years when the fair wasnít running. The peace wasnít very exciting except when friends stopped in and Iíd lead them on tours of the fair buildings. I knew the territory like the back of my hand. On a farm, the barn was where the menfolk gathered to chat, or maybe it was at the shop, while the womenfolk gathered at the kitchen table - or maybe even sit in the parlor - a place where kids only got to peek in through the door. It had all kinds of prettys!

     Time of war was a time of action. Men would battle on the midway with the giant iron beams, turning them into a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, an Octopus, and bumper cars.

     Bulging muscles were on exhibit as the carnie workers struggled to piece the parts in the right order. As the trucks chugged past our house and raised clouds of dust, my mother would rush to get her washing off the line. Wash day was always on Mondays, but sheíd rinse some dish towels and diapers during the week.

     It amazed me that the big loads arriving on the trucks looked like piles of iron, but at night when all assembled and with the flashing lights and with the organ music playing, it was a magical place. The fairgrounds came alive and the living was good for this misplaced farm lad who spent 1948 living the dream of a lifetime.

     During this historic blizzard around Christmas 1948 the fairgrounds turned into a magical land looking like what I imagined the North Pole would be. The storm started as a rain, then turned to ice and then it snowed for days while the wind was whipping and the temp turned 20 below. I remember walking onto the roofs of the fairground buildings from snowdrift bridges, but thatís another story, Rex.

     OK, the activities at the fairgrounds started at least a week before the Fair Week when local crews would arrive to spruce up the grounds, make repairs to buildings, paint, and whatnot? Flattened-out rides on giant trucks would start pulling in, too. They didnít seem in any hurry to unload at first. They must have been catching up on sleep from the last fair. The whole atmosphere was like getting ready to get ready. Something great was going to happen and I didnít want to miss a thing. I remember my mother telling me not to get in the way. The excitement was like waiting for a mare to have twins.

     Fair Time was Big Time for this Little Lad of 10. After sleeping for a year, the fairgrounds came alive and there would be people everywhere. Cars would even be parked around our fence and up to our gates.

     Yes, it was like a dream come true. It was like joining the circus, or a carnival, and not leaving home. Iíd be out early in the morning to see the 4-H kids taking care of their animals and practice leading them in the show ring. Iíd see the carnival workers coming out of their trucks and trailers stretching, some standing in front of their truck mirror shaving. Yes, I became part of the carnival, mentally anyway, but I got to sleep at home in a nice soft bed, even if I had to sleep with my older brother Steve. When asleep, he was like a monkey with swinging arms and flailing legs. In fact I considered it training for the circus just trying to avoid him.

     From early morning to late at night during Fair Week, I was in paradise. How could it get any better for this young farm lad? You ask, how can Rex be a farm lad when he lives on the fairgrounds? Also, werenít you going to tell about being a city salesman? Iíll get to that soon. Just keep your clean britches on. Clip both suspenders. Again. Shut the door. You born in a barn? (Where did all that comes from?)

     During Fair Week, I would visit the sows to scratch their bellies, cluck at the chickens, pet the rabbits, and help currycomb the waves into the hides of the baby beefs. Iíd make eyes at the cows and moo at 'em to make 'em feel at home. Sometimes, Iíd bawl like a calf and the cows would usually answer. The part of the fair that I didnít cotton to was at the 4-H Building where girls displayed sewn garments. But the crafts and the bakery goodies sure caught my eye. I also loved flowers and plants and the produce in the round Horticulture Building.

     The Grandstand was my favorite haunt. It was the Taj Mahal of Hamilton County Fun. I remember rodeos with bucking broncos, trick horse riding, clowns, and dramatic plays on the stage across the track. One comedian told how to catch polar bears. He said to dig a hole in the snow, place peas around the opening, and then when the bear came early in the morning to take a pea, kick him in the hole. As a 10-year-old, I thought it was funny, but maybe you had to be there. I remember a trick-rope horse performing in front of the grandstand, and it seems like it was Monty Montana and his "hoss" Rex.

     At least having a horse named Rex was a vast improvement over knowing a dog named Rex. I canít let you get away without telling you this dog story: Well, a hundred years away from the fairgrounds, some new friends at this San Diego church invited me to dinner (at sunset time). I was sitting on a sofa talking to my host Jim when I heard his wife say, "Rex, get off that couch!" I looked puzzled and started to get up. Jim laughed and said, "Thatís all right, Rex. Sheís talking to our dog Rex." Here I was, one notch above the German shepherd. Jim was a Navy chief and a great fast-softball pitcher on the churchís team. Me? I was the right fielder who stood out there and prayed that the ball wouldnít come my way. My prayers were answered because I could never throw overhand. Iíd been drafted from the stands when the real player went AWOL. My other vast sports exploits will be another Rambling story.

     OK, Rex! Is it the time to reveal your salesmanship secrets as a pre-teen? Almost, but Iím bursting to tell you more about the Grandstand. At the east entrance in the middle, there were two eateries - one on each side - and oh, I can still smell the hamburgers cooking 60 years later as I ramble on. Yes, sir, it was food, fun, adventure, and excitement for this farm lad just months from the barnyard smells. Did I mention the great aroma of hamburgers? Yep, but first, remember ya gotta have the barnyard aroma before you can get the hamburger aroma. "You canít have one without the other" as the 1955 song goes. Rex, that song is about love and marriage, not aromas. Well, if the shoe slips, donít walk in it. As the farmer said to his city slicker cousin, "What smell? I just smell money."

     The fairís midway was indeed exciting, but sitting at the Grandstand counter and being tempted with a big hamburger loaded down with dill pickles and onions was the ultimate. It was like mixing in a little of the 4th of July with Christmas. It was a memory to last a lifetime and here Iím still slobbering on that hamburger over a half century later. The fabled Grandstand is now history, but its majestic stance lives on.

     Marion and Molly Bayne operated the food stand on the north side of the grandstand. They were former neighbors living on a Woodard farm southwest of Aurora, just north of Dist. 66 Fairview School (At Plainsman Museum now - thanks to the Huenefeld Family). Molly was also one of my Sunday School teachers at Prairie Gem Church. I tried to be helpful to the Baynes, but I was probably a pest in clearing the counters and trying to take orders at a busy time. (For weeks after the fair, Iíd dig out coins that fell in the cracks of the plank floor in the eateries. That was my after-fair fun.)

     During the fair, I did get a "job" with Burdette Palmberg selling pop in the grandstand. I donít remember if I got money or I drank up the profits. It was the first time Iíd tasted Nesbitt's orange soda. It came in a 12-oz tall clear bottle showing off the brilliant orange color, and I think it sold for 10 cents there. After the grandstand show was over, Burdette would toss bottles down to me that he gathered in the stands. I donít recall getting hurt while catching them or even breaking any bottles. Oh, boy, that pop and a hamburger gave me a lifetime of memories.

     OK, steady now, weíre ready for the young salesman to strut his stuff.

     Ready for the big secret? Donít ask this young farm lad of 10 what it takes to be a salesman. I had no idea what I was doing, but just the same, I sold out and got my big prize - with several products. My big lessons: Decide youíre going to do something, get up and get going, knock on doors, talk to people, and donít give up until you fulfilled your goal.

     But first, just a little more background here.

     When the folks moved to the fairgrounds, I attended the West Ward School in Aurora for portions of two grades. In the 5th grade I had Mazie Titman and for the 6th I had Betty Grosvenor for teacher. The janitor was Sammy Merritt, beloved by all the students. He used to let me clean erasers where it was warm in the boiler room while other kids were out playing in freezing weather. He died one day at noon at the east door of the school. The wind blew his hat off and he reached back to get it and fell over. We kids thought he was playing a trick on us, but he didnít move. We rushed to get the principal, Mrs. Eloe, and she took us away. School was dismissed for the day. Most of the kids went home for lunch, so there were very few who witnessed his death. It was a very sad time for me.

     How was city school compared to a one-room school? Overwhelming was too calm a word for this former country school boy, one who overnight had become a partial city boy. I was in class with city kids, but on weekends, evenings, and in the summer, I was back on the farm. Every evening my brother Steve and I would cross a couple of fences to the west of the fairgrounds and weíd be at the Kremers. I helped Kenny gather eggs in the two-story chicken house and put them in 30-dozen containers. The chicken house had four large bays with walls for nests, floor space for feed and water, and rows of roosts all along the back. Oh, boy, what aroma comes to mind when it was time to clean out the manure under the roosts. It seemed like pure ammonia, but the crops sure liked it to be spread on the fields. I remember holding my breath as I picked up each scoop full.

     Steve helped Bob with the cattle and hogs. I remember feeding ground soybean to the dairy cows in their stanchions. Iíd reach in for mouthfuls as I fed them. I sure loved it, but didnít know it wasn't fit for human consumption. Oh, well, what one little lad didnít know didnít seem to hurt him or stunt his growth.

     OK, salesman, what was your spiel?

     I learned that the important elements of salesmanship are product, determination, and location, or PDL. Letís just call it piddle for short. I piddled around and learned the hard way. I think that I found most items to sale in little attractive ads inside covers of comic books. I didnít have the dime for the comics, but was given some when they were falling apart.

     If youíre old enough to enjoy 5-cent Cokes from a trap-door vending machine, you know the ads. There were photos of a BB gun, bicycle, and assorted items with a headline saying "Win These." I found out that there's more "working" than "winning" involved. I was successful at selling the weekly Grit newspaper, garden and flower seeds, Clover Salve, and plaques with Biblical sayings. A couple of other items escape my brain trust. The postman, Robert Day, was my friend because he faithfully delivered all these business opportunities to our mailbox at the corner.

     Selling garden seeds in the bitter January and February weather turned out in my favor. You had to hit the garden types before they went to Shaneyfelt Produce to buy seeds - and you had to hit Ďem before the first robin arrived and spring was in the air. I about froze to death knocking on doors, but a few motherly types would invite this lad in for a cookie and some warm chocolate. I didn't even get that special treatment at home, so this was quite an adventure for me. I remember one little lady on 9th Street saying to her husband, "Dear, buy some seeds from this poor little boy. Invite him in, itís so cold." That was my type of woman - and that was before I knew what made women tick. Well, girls really. Women were a few years away for this chap.

     I became a newspaper boy by signing up with Grit out of Williamsport, Penn. It was a tabloid type of national newspaper with only good news. No bad news was printed. I started with 10 papers and worked until I got 75 weekly customers. They sold for a dime and I got half for my labors. I didnít have a bike, so my only expense was shoe leather and my folks footed that bill, so to speak. Grit is still being published in 2008, but when I sold it back in 1948, many older people said they remembered it as a kid when their parents bought it.

     The Biblical plaques were on dark purple cardboard, about 10 x12 inches. The sayings were surrounded by scroll and flowers, with beautifully colored twinkle-type of material. The words glistened as the sun hit them at different directions. I learned to show them in the sun to their best advantage . . . and mine - cashwise. They sold for 35 cents and I got to keep a dime. I remember selling some at Prairie Gem Church to members in the parking lot. I was careful not to take my merchandise into the church because I knew that Jesus told the money changers in the Jerusalem temple not to turn Godís house into a den of thieves. I didnít think I was a thief, but I didnít want to cross any boundaries. Thatís how a 10-year-old mind works, or at least mine did.

     The Clover salve was for chapped hands. It was a good seller at 25 cents and I got a dime. Part of my expense was to buy a 3-cent stamp to return the funds and a money order. I think the MO was a nickel, but may have been a dime.

     So, as a salesman, I learned to sell myself. I had to have confidence in my product and in my ability to make the presentation. I donít remember starting out with the famous negative words "You wouldnít want to buy some seeds would you?" No, I knocked and greeted them and told them that I had something they needed. Well, I found out soon that not everyone thought I had what they needed, but I wasnít discouraged. I sold everything I ordered. No, the folks didnít buy me out. I donít recall that they bought any seeds, but Iím sure they did. Having a package of radish seeds in hand in February is better than looking at the seed catalogues and wishing you had them. Dad was a big fan of radishes.

     As I look back 60 years, my days on the road (streets) as a salesman (boy) were very important. Little by little I gained confidence in selling myself as a journalist interviewing people of the world. I even got to interview Capt. Fuchida, who led the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. He said, "This time I bring a Bible instead of a bomb."

     So, thanks for sharing 1948 with me and what I did as a young lad living on the fairgrounds, and then striking out to tame the town as a salesman.

©: Rex L. Salmon 2007

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