From earning the nickname, “Kinks,” to writing a column in the Leon, Kan., newspaper and developing a fascination with airplanes, horses and building homes, resident Aliene Bolton has written a book documenting all of her childhood memories of growing up close to the Oklahoma border in the small town of Hooser, Kan.
The memoir, titled “A Hooser Girl,” was something Aliene’s grandson asked her to write 22 years ago, but she didn’t get serious about putting pen to paper until recently. Today, she’s looking forward to sharing her book with family and others. Enjoy the following stories from “A Hooser Girl.”
“Glimpses of the Past”
The Hooser boys soaped the rails in my Dad's day. He told how one or two boys would distract the store keeper at the front while others would go in the back and steal a bar of soap. Because the train always had the same number of cars, it was consistent where it stopped at the depot. So they knew just where to make the tracks slick. It must have been “great sport” to watch that big engine spin its wheels. Boys will have fun in any given era.
We had dirt streets. Didn’t every early cattle town have dirt streets? When it rained, they turned into mud. I did go barefoot all summer, most farm kids couldn’t wait to shed their shoes after the long, cold winters. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s affected Hooser as well.
Bugs in our drinking water: It happened when we would have a big rain and all the hand-dug wells would fill up to the top. We called them “wiggle tails,” tiny larvae. That stage would last a couple of days and we had to push them to one side to get a drink. Our drinking water was in a pail or bucket, filled by drawing up water from the well and kept handy. A long-handled dipper was left in the pail and the family all used the same dipper to drink from.
Our telephone was an oak wall-hung box about 8 inches wide, 4 inches deep, and 20 inches tall. There was a hand-turned crank on the right side, a receiver on the left side and the speaker at the end of an adjustable, up or down holder. The speaker looked similar to an elephant’s trunk! The phone had two bells in half-circle shapes of silver metal which had a striker about like an alarm clock. They were battery operated, but not like our batteries of today.
The people built their own lines. Some were simply attached to fence posts, then over the gates to fields or pastures. You were responsible to keep up maintenance along your property.
In order to tell when it was calling you, each family was coded with a combination of short and long rings. Our ring was one long ring, followed by two short rings. You controlled that by the crank on the side. We kids were not allowed to make calls, it was for adults, at least at my home! Long distance was expensive and used only for emergencies or death notices.
My mom and her sister, Aunt Edna, were on the same line, and devised a way to talk every day without alerting anyone else with a ring. They both listened on their battery-operated radios to the twelve-o'clock news on WIBW, Topeka. When that concluded, they would go to their telephone and say, “Hello, are you there?” They could catch up on family news without any of the other eight-or-so on the line being the wiser.
One time my mom wished she hadn't picked up on a call to Aunt Edna. It was to tell her Grandpa Harness, her father, had died. At that sad news, Mom hung up and hurried to her bedroom crying and telling Dad he would have to talk when they called her.
Living on a farm at the end of a half-mile lane with my husband Bill and three sons in the late 1950’s, we had a snow storm that blocked not only our lane, but every other road. After a few days of isolation and no school, I was needing some adult visiting! I lifted the receiver only to find it busy. Two neighbors, who were brothers I knew well, were talking. Yes, I knew better than to eavesdrop, but maybe I could tell if they were about through if I listened briefly. One of them had been ice fishing that morning and the telling of that story was more than I could resist. Yes, I forgot what I was doing and cackled right out loud just before I “came to” and quickly hung up the receiver. I always wondered if they knew my laugh as well as I knew their voices.
The first year (1957) we leased the Covert Farm, Gary Bolton, age 14, came to spend the summer with us and work for his Uncle Bill when needed. We were attending a wedding at church one evening, and Gary had chosen to stay at home since he didn't know them. The next morning, all were busily going about starting the day when a neighbor drove in and asked if our phone was off the hook. Sure enough, it was. They had heard voices and a rooster crowing, and knowing we had chickens gave us away. Someone had called while we were gone and Gary had hung the receiver crossways, having not turned on a light. What fun!
“Driving a school bus”
While working at Arnold & Harvey Grain & Feed Elevator in Leon, Kan., (1962 -1968) as a clerk/bookkeeper, I was asked if I would be interested in driving a school bus. The pay would be substantially better than the office job, which was part time except in planting and harvest seasons. I was able to do both jobs and enjoyed them both.
Driving a school bus was not a huge challenge for me after driving Bill’s two-ton farm truck and tractors, but it took some extra effort to learn the rules and regulations of operating doors, stop signs, etc. I had heard of “driving from the seat of your pants,” but truly, when you become proficient at handling all that space behind you, that saying is right on.
My first route was almost all country roads, which meant mud when it rained. The buses were all equipped with “governors,” which meant you couldn’t exceed the speed limit. It also meant no extra power to plow through mud. How I loathed “no power.” I also learned that new drivers were always started on this route. It had large farm families and all 12 years of students--yes even high schoolers.
One large family had a preschooler who would run out with the others, so he could wave at me. When they were all loaded on the bus, it always smelled of fried eggs the rest of the way!
Photo: In addition to the July 1940 photo of Aliene with her family's "kid horse" named Billy, we have a photo of Aliene today. In her story titled, “Billy,” Aliene writes:
“I got to ride Billy now in the pastures. Dad was always pretty near for a while. One time, I was sent to the southeast corner of the pasture to bring back any cattle I could find. It was pretty terrifying trying to get that little bunch headed in the right direction. All they wanted to do was run the wrong direction, mostly all directions! With much talking to Billy and tears flowing, we finally had them headed to the right gate. What relief to see Dad coming over the hill to help me and to see everyone again. Yes, I finally made a ‘cowgirl.’”