07-25-2019 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal

What made me curious?

Why do I do what I do? Well, psychologists tell us that two things mostly influence us – heredity and environment! Both sides of my family gave me the curiosity gene, storytelling, and an interest in people… it’s all in there. So I like to believe it is part of my background. My mom’s family was homesteaders in a canyon out in Idaho, so she had an interesting childhood. She regaled us and later our children with stories of what they came to call Tales of the Old West. Her folks tried life in Texas, then Idaho, and finally Michigan where she met my dad. They did a lot of traveling after that… most of the battlefields of the Civil War and many other places of historical interest. Always talking to people, and we were part of that! My dad was born in the little frontier town of Rush Lake, Wisconsin. The year was 1886, the same year Emily Dickinson died. She was one of our most famous and fearless women poets. He was born just 10 years after the battle of the Little Bighorns and Gen. Custer’s untimely demise. This was also just five years after the famous gunfight in the O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp’s leap into history. When I was a little kid I followed my dad around everywhere, especially if he was going somewhere in the car. I loved to be on the wheels, and I guess he didn’t mind my being with him. So I heard all his stories and all the tales the old timers spun when they were talking. Lee Davis was Hartford’s only florist. He supplied flower arrangements for funerals, weddings, proms, and all kinds of parties. He also planted flowerbeds all around the area. Hartford’s Ely Park was part of his responsibility. There are two raised flowerbeds. Each year in springtime he so arranged plants in them that one spelled Hartford, the other spelled Ely Park. One warm spring day he was down there with his load of plants, and had stopped to talk with an old resident. The guy was looking at the business just west of the park… Smith Lumber Company. He said to my dad, “Looky there! Ed Smith is sitting out in front of the office in his new car and smoking a cigar. Nooooo… that couldn’t be Ed, he’s never been one to enjoy two things at the same time!” And that lumberyard office was one of the places my dad used to stop. They always had to sit and tell a few stories before he picked up the boards or whatever he was wanting. Ed Smith was a conservative old guy, as you can tell by the previous story about him. His son Johnny was also working there and the tales of old times flew about thick and fast. We also visited the gas stations and garages in turn, as he believed in patronizing the businesses of everyone who bought flowers from him. Of course, they told a lot of stories at the gas stations. When I was 5, I went with him to Bob Rankin’s Ford Garage. Located across the street from the park, it was a busy place. We walked out through the service area, a bee hive of activity. This was just before the market crashed and the Great Depression started. My dad was interested in buying one of those new Model A Fords. I noticed one mechanic whistling a tune. No it couldn’t be him… he had a pipe in his mouth. It was him, Pop Kime, and he’s the only man I ever knew who could smoke a pipe and whistle at the same time! Turned out to be the first time I ever met the guy whose son became my best friend. The Ford dealer, Bob Rankin, saw my dad come through, but he was with a customer at the time. Sensing a possible sale, he showed up thereafter at the greenhouses. My dad said yes, he was thinking of trading his Model T sedan in on a new one! They made a deal, and I was fascinated when he brought home the new car. For those of you who never looked over a Model T, the driver shifted gears with a series of three floor pedals. This new Model A had a clutch pedal and gearshift. I don’t remember how hard it was for my dad to learn the new configuration, but he somehow did it. I was fascinated to go with him and watch him shift gears. There was a little center console on the instrument panel, and had a speedometer that rolled around, showing how fast you were going. I can remember one day a friend of mine, Bill Galbreath, and I had been with him over to Watervliet. On the way back we were watching that speedometer as it rolled around. Bill said, “I’ll bet this car can’t go 70 miles an hour!” My dad just grinned and stepped down on the gas pedal! And while we watched, that dial spun around to 72!!! The Model A’s fenders were practically flapping! I’ll bet if my dad had known what financial hardships lay ahead, he would never have traded cars. But it served us well until 1935. By then we were coming out of the depression and my dad traded it in on a new Ford two-door. It was one of those newfangled V-8 engines and much faster than the old four-cylinder. Black in color (what else?) he only kept it two years and traded in on a new 1937 Ford. I wish I could go back and ask him why he didn’t keep it longer. The 1937 Ford was the one on which I learned to drive! My dad needed someone to deliver floral pieces, and he didn’t like to stop working to do it. All right with me!!! I was ready to start weaving some golden threads into the Great Tapestry of Life in our storybook town along the Paw Paw River!

This sweet photo of two girls with gladiolus… Do you know these young ladies? Contact North Berrien Historical Museum at 269-468-3330 or office@northberrienhistory.org, or stop by Tues-Fri 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. we would love to hear your stories. From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum 300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

Watervliet District