“Boy, *Willie is in a heap of trouble with the boss”, Gary told me when I walked into the funeral home office. “I sure hope he doesn’t get fired.”
In 1955 I was a 19 year old college student attending Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Since money was hard to come by in those days, I had to work after classes in order to meet expenses. I had been hired by the Oakley-Metcalf Funeral Home to live on premises and work as a general flunky. I was paid the awesome sum of $120 per month, plus my room. Seems very puny money today, but then it was a fairly decent job for a college student.
Oakley-Metcalf owned an emergency ambulance, affectionately known as the “hot shot”, a hearse, and a transfer ambulance. The transfer ambulance had been converted to hold a cot for non-emergency sick calls.
Besides myself, there was Gary, an older fellow, married, who lived in the apartment above the ambulance garage with his wife, Ruth. Then there was Willie. His job at the funeral home was to keep the grounds neat, dig the graves, set up and take down the funeral tent, keep the ambulances washed, and full of gas. Willie usually attended to these chores very well.
The particular week in question had been a very busy week, with several funeral services. On this particular day, there was an auto accident several miles out North Street in Nacogdoches. Skinny Garrison, our boss, jumped into the “hot shot” and headed out to the scene, red lights flashing and the siren blaring in response to the call for help. While he was still on North Street, the ambulance ran out of gas.
What a revolting development this turned out to be! He coasted into a service station and yelled for the attendant to put in $2.00 worth of gasoline as fast as possible. While doing this, his competitor, Cason-Monk Funeral Home, roared by in their emergency ambulance and thus got in the lead.
By the time Skinny Garrison reached the scene, Cason-Monk had already loaded up the deceased driver, and was headed back to the funeral home. Skinny ended up taking one slightly injured driver to the hospital. Back in 1955, it was more profitable to conduct a funeral than it was to transport an injured person to the hospital. Thus, one can see why our boss was so embarrassed, and thus angry at Willie.
“Well, Gary, I feel sorry for Willie. I hope the boss will remember all the things he has done right over the years”, I opined.
The boss gave Willie a “lecture” about his failure to keep the ambulances full of gas and not to let it happen again. I think Skinny knew that this incident was an honest mistake and that Willie was a good employee. So, nothing further was said bout “running out of gas”, and it never happened again while I was there.
Name changed to protect the guilty.
“OUT OF GAS”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, TX 75972
My father, Cecil Murphy, was elected the County Clerk of San Augustine County in 1937. I was born the year before, so I was a two-year old boy when my father began his political career.
During my school years I usually walked to town after classes and visited my Dad in the County Clerks’ office until the quitting hour of 5:00 pm. I learned to type on the old Royal and Underwood typewriters located in his office. Later on, I learned to type deeds and other official documents to be filed in the permanent records of his office.
Perhaps the most exciting and important task that Dad gave me was on election night. As I remember, back in the early days all elections were held in August, and run-off races held in October. Election nights were very exciting. My Dad was responsible for collecting all the official ballots as they were brought by the election officials of all voting places over the county.
I recall that a very large board was erected out on the square in a strategic location and a gentleman wrote in chalk all the candidates with little boxes for all the reporting stations. I am not sure just why, but Dad decided that I could handle a special item for him as the voting results were reported.
I recall that dad would take the numbers furnished to him and write them all on a sheet of paper. He would hand the paper to me and say, “Go take this to the man tallying the chalk board outside. These are the latest return totals.”
Feeling very important, I ran out side to the tallyman who was writing the latest vote count beside each candidate’s name. I had information that no one else knew, but who was waiting breathlessly for it to be posted. My
uncle, Ed Buckalew, who owned and operated the Edgewood Drive in Theater on Highway 96 south, wanted me to call him the election results so he could announce it to the movie goers. So, I would call him several times during the evening to keep him posted with the latest election results.
This lasted for several years, my delivering the official election numbers to be posted. I felt like an important “tallyman” during those years. As I grew older I decided I should be elsewhere that evening, doing something more exciting, like having a date with a pretty girl.
I note that the county still uses the outside tally board to keep the people informed. Today one can sit home and watch the latest returns on television. Thus the election night crowd has dwindled to just a few people, mostly the candidates and their families. Thus, the election night excitement along with a young boy serving as a tallyman is over. Another memory lost to the changing times. But, it was fun while it lasted.
Once I asked my dad why he retired early in the middle of his term of office. He told me that he sat down and calculated his income and discovered that between his County retirement, plus his Social Security, it was costing him $50.00 per month to work. It is difficult to argue with those statistics.
My Dad died at age 84, and I truly believe that there will never be a county clerk as good as he was.
By Neal Murphy
P.O. Box 511
San Augustine, Texas 75972-0511
The summer of 1956 was a rather relaxed one for me. I was between semesters at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and working for the Wyman Roberts Funeral Home in San Augustine, Texas. At twenty years of age, I had already worked for a funeral home in Nacogdoches, and an ambulance service in Waco when not attending classes. Although young, I did have considerable experience.
One warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, I was alone at the funeral home sitting on the front porch just watching traffic pass by. I saw two teenaged girls, whom I knew, drive by in a brand new 1956 Oldsmobile. We waved “hello” to each other, and I went back to my studying the people passing by.
About five minutes later, the emergency telephone rang. I answered it and a voice at the other end of the line said, “Get an ambulance out to the circle right away. There’s a bad car wreck just happened.” In 1956 the funeral home not only provided funerals for the deceased, it also provided emergency ambulance service, which was a very common practice.
I raced to the ambulance, which was parked in a garage behind the funeral home, and took off for the circle. The “circle” was the intersection of two major highways, State Highway 21 and U.S. Highway 96. The traffic engineers who designed this circle must have done it on a bad day. It never handled the merging traffic well as most drivers had no idea how to negotiate around it.
It was a short run to the circle, and I was there in approximately three minutes. Upon arrival, I saw a loaded log truck in the middle of the circle median. The trailer of large logs was on its side on top of the new Oldsmobile that had driven by the funeral home only minutes before. “This is going to be a bad one, I thought to myself as I stopped the ambulance facing south on US 96.
Exiting the ambulance and rushing up to the vehicles, I noted that the heavy load of logs had mashed the car almost flat from the middle of the car on back to the trunk. Miraculously, the two teen aged girls were not injured, but were trapped inside their vehicle. The doors were crushed and could not be opened. Fearing that the chains holding the load of logs might break and fall on all of us, I told the girls that we had to get out through the right front passenger window. Several of us managed to get them outside their vehicle, and both were not injured in any way.
I told the girls, “Get in the ambulance and I will drive you to the funeral home and you can call your parents from there.” So they got into the ambulance and I drove off with them. In the mean time, the driver’s mother, who owned the new Oldsmobile, had heard that her daughter had been involved in an accident. She got in her other car and rushed to the circle.
Upon her arrival at the scene, there were no girls there. She asked a policeman where he daughter was and he told her, “Oh, they have taken her to the funeral home.” She immediately fainted.
The boarding house on Wettermark street near the campus of Stephen F. Austin State College was the setting for many a juvenile prank during the fall of 1955. I was a freshman student at the Nacogdoches college living in the large, two-story house with eight other male students at the time. More time was invested in playing pranks on each other than in studying the expensive courses required for a degree.
Looking back on this year I am amazed that I passed any courses at all as so much time was spent playing dominoes or forty-two than anything else, except perhaps jokes and pranks on the other residents.
One of the residents was a young man from a small town near Tyler. He was somewhat socially inept, the perfect target for innocent harassment. One fall afternoon while *Jim was gone someone of our group devised the perfect practical joke which had Jim’s name all over it. After explaining the details of the prank to the rest of us, we all agreed. All the tools needed were as many alarm clocks as we could gather together, which was a total of five.
Most alarm clocks in those days were the wind-up kind not needing electricity to work. We entered Jim’s room and began carrying out our devious plot. We set each alarm clock to go off at thirty-minute intervals, beginning at two o’clock in the morning. Then we hid each one in places such as desk drawers, the closet, chest of drawers, and under his bed. Our plan completed, we all retreated to our own rooms and waited.
Jim returned home just in time for supper at the boarding house, an experience in itself. Around midnight we all retired for the night awaiting the results of our plan. At two o’clock I heard the muffled sound of an alarm clock in Jim’s room. Then the sounds of someone stumbling over furniture in the dark combined with a few choice words. Our scheme was working.
Things settled down for awhile as he evidently located the clock and turned it off. It would not be long before the second one would go off.
At the sound of the second alarm clock more choice words were heard as he searched out the location of this clock. This time he yelled out, “Who the hell is doing this to me?” I heard several voices from other rooms: “It wasn’t me.” “I didn’t do it.” “What clocks?” “Anybody hear any clocks?”
After the third clock chimed Jim finally got up and began an all-out search for the remaining clocks which he located. Seems I recall a couple of them being hurled at the wall. “This is not funny. I have a test tomorrow”, he whined. The boarding house was extremely quiet the rest of the night.
Poor Jim was a good-natured fellow and accepted our pranks as just a part of college boarding house culture. However, I recall that the next week several of us had our beds “short-sheeted” by a person or persons unknown. Tit for tat, an eye for an eye, sowing or reaping, giving and receiving - whatever one wants to call it, it was definitely in effect here.
I have often wondered what happened to Jim. He did not return to the boarding house the next year. It was suggested that he probably became a clock and watch repair man, considering his background and experience.
* name changed
“AN ALARMING SITUATION”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972