I greatly enjoy comments from friends and other readers - if you are inspired to leave a message, you may contact me directly or click on the word COMMENTS at the end of a blog entry.

Ben Online - typing, reading & reacting

Monday, May 9, 2011


Unlike my last essay, this story does not go back 35 years but it did happen some years ago. The location was First United Methodist Church in Houston.

In early January of this year my daughter Rachel said that I should watch the 11 am service of FUMC because James Butcher was singing a solo. James grew up in Tomball, living with his brother and mother at his grandparents’ just a few blocks from our house. They attended my church. He attended the Tomball schools and sang in the choir. He married my cousin’s granddaughter. Over the years I heard him sing occasionally. On this particular January Sunday his solo was impressive, and I’m sorry I forget the name of the song. The organist was also impressive. During the sermon my mind wandered, as it sometimes does. I thought about the last time that I had visited this church.


In that Saturday’s Houston Post there had been an article saying that on the following afternoon an organ concert would feature the pipe organ that had been rebuilt and enlarged after a fire the year before. My wife and I had planned to drive to Houston to visit my sister-in-law’s husband who was a patient at St. Joseph, which is close to FUMC. We parked on the street close to the overhead walkway and visited Bill, the last time we saw him alive. We returned to my pickup, which we had taken since one of the girls needed our car. When I started the truck there was a loud “pop” and I said to my wife, “Muffler blew out.” As I started forward I heard a dragging sound and looking under the truck saw that the broken muffler was dragging on the street. I had a few tools and a drop cloth with me but had nothing to tie the muffler to the frame. Looking around I spotted a wooden power pole with the ground wire loose, probably cut by a lawn mower. I cut off enough wire to tie up the muffler, using the drop cloth. When we got to First Methodist, I cleaned up in the restroom.

We found seats in the third row since I wanted to be close enough to see the organist’s feet when he played a favorite of mine, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” Just before the program started a lady came and sat right in front of me. When the organist played that number the lady also wanted to watch his feet. She moved her head from side to side so quickly that her piled-up hair (I first thought she had a pet animal sitting on her head) came loose and flew from side to side, blocking some of my view.

The concert was great. (The organ still sounds great today.) What was the sermon about? I don’t remember.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Several years ago I was standing by the receiving door behind the TEAM resale shop. I check every week or two for things that I can repair, restore or salvage for future use. A lady in a late model pickup truck came up the alley, backed up to the door, jumped out of the truck and asked if we wanted her patio table. I nodded in the affirmative. I could see 4 legs sticking up, one of which was about 8 inches shorter. She continued saying that she had paid a premium for the wrought iron table and chairs and now part of a leg was missing.

By this time the man who worked Receiving came, unhooked the tailgate of the truck, and I helped him set the table on some boxes. He then went to get a tax credit form. The woman continued talking. As we unloaded the table, not wrought iron but steel with an expanded metal top, I noticed the smell of urine on the short leg. When the lady paused to catch her breath I asked if she had a dog and she said yes. A house dog? Again, she said yes. I then told her what had happened to her table leg. When she let her dog out to “potty” he immediately looked for a place that smelled of urine and urinated there. Urine contains salt and the salt from frequent urinations caused the mild steel to rust away. I told her when she got a new table to ask her vet or pet supply store for suggestions. She took her receipt and without thanking me for the advice, roared off.

I took the table to my workshop, cleaned the area, made a new leg from scrap metal, painted it black to match, took it back to the resale shop and several weeks later noticed it had been sold. I was pleased that I had kept the table in use, had raised money for TEAM to help people in need, and that I was not a tobacco-spitting country hick but someone that has some skills to help the environment and make Tomball a slightly better place to live.

Monday, November 1, 2010

House Numbers in Tomball

Walking to my mailbox on the street I see the number “732” in large black letters. Glancing east I see the number 730. Then looking to the west I notice my neighbor’s box no. is 736. What happened to 734?

For more information I called our local historian, Lessie Upchurch. Before Tomball was established, mail was delivered by horse and buggy from the post office in Hufsmith. In 1908 or 1910 a post office was established in Tomball. Two early postmasters were Otto Hegar and Dr. Trichel – they shared the job, and the post office was in Dr. Trichel’s drug store. When I moved to Tomball in 1952 the post office was located in a brick building on the northeast corner of Main and North Elm, and Floyd Rose was Postmaster. Mail came by a train we called “dinkey” or “doodlebug.” It came twice a day. It was possible for me to order a part from Houston in the morning (they had twice a day delivery in the business section) and receive it that afternoon.

The city was soon large enough for home delivery but we had no house or business numbers. In the mid 1950s, maybe early 1960s, the recently organized Lion’s Club was looking for a community project. They undertook to number every house and business and furnish and install all of the numbers. I think the workers included Wesley Darnell, Joe Mahan and Monty Willis. Our carrier was Gordon Neal. He delivered all of the mail for many years on foot. Later households had to install a mailbox on the street and delivery to businesses was discontinued. The numbering of homes and businesses was turned over to the city and numbers were issued with building permits. My street, James, was cut through Teddy Vought’s cornfield. It runs from Alma to Pine 3 ½ blocks. They started counting from the railroad. Building on our street, the 7th block started from both the east and the west. My neighbor has 1 ½ lots and this gave me number 732. Development also started from the west, and when the block was fully developed the number 734 was not used.

First we had mail delivered to our door. If there was a package, Gordon rang the doorbell. Now the post office wants to discontinue delivery on Saturday. That’s progress?

How Do They Do That?

Recently I went to Wal-Mart to get refills for my pen. Glancing over I noticed a small stapler in a blister-pack. I like the small-size stapler, it takes up less space on my cluttered desk and most of my stapling is 2-3-4 sheets of paper. For more pages I use the larger American-made staples. It was a bright orange color that caught my eye. Then I noticed the price, $1.82 plus tax. I thought that might be a mistake, but there were 6 or 8 on the peg at that price. The pack included a box of 1,000 staples. The brand was “Swingline.” I splurged and bought the stapler.

The next time I worked at TEAM, I opened the package, which sometimes is a challenge. Sometimes the ladies that I work with bring me their blister packs to open.

The top and bottom were orange and the base was gray. Front to back was 2 ½ inches and height was 2 inches. There were five separate metal pieces plus the spring and the 1,000 staples, two pieces of cardboard printed in colors and the clear plastic container, all for $1.82 and tax.

I visualized the stapler being made from one of my previous cars or trucks. The vehicle might have been taken to the Houston Ship Channel area, crushed and put into a cargo ship which sailed through the Panama Canal and then to China, was loaded on a train and taken to a smelter furnace. The metal was then rolled into large rolls and shipped to the Swingline factory. There it was rolled thinner, punched into its five parts and nickel-plated. The spring was made from a spool of wire, tempered, plated and formed. The plastic may have been made from soybeans raised by my relatives in Nebraska. The cardboard may have been made from the newspapers and cardboard I take to the church recycle bin. The ink may have been made at one of the Channel industries. After assembly the staplers were boxed, put into a large container, placed on a railroad flatcar, taken to the seaport, and put on a container ship going to the West Coast. Here the container was placed on a train going to Bentonville, Arkansas, unloaded and placed in a truck going to Tomball, unloaded and placed on the peg at Wal-Mart, all for $1.82 and tax.

How do they do that?

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I have always been fascinated by anything that moved, trying to understand how it was made and how it worked. I saw my first electric fan when I was maybe 5 years old. We were visiting my mother's parents on the farm near Brenham. On Sunday we went to church in Brenham and after church we visited my grandmother's youngest sister, my mother's Aunt Emma, in the hospital. Years later I learned she had had a cancerous breast removed (she lived another 40 years). There were several patients in the room and near the window was a small oscillating electric fan. Mother cautioned me not to get too close but I was fascinated by the fact that while blowing air the fan would swing to one side and then to the other side. When we got home I looked in the Sears & Roebuck catalog and saw an Emerson Electric just like the one in the hospital.

After Evelyn and I married we lived on Magnolia Street. The only other house on our block belonged to Roy and Carolyn Hohl. One evening we went to their home for a church meeting. This was before air-conditioning and the room became warm so Carolyn brought in a small fan. I recognized it immediately as an Emerson. Someone had put hardware cloth in front and behind the blades to make it childproof (they had 4 children).

Some years later, driving past the Hohl‘s driveway, I spotted the fan with the trash to be picked up by the city. This was a classic and I couldn't bear to see it tossed into the garbage truck. I took a stick, pushed it through the wire mesh and spun the blade. It turned freely. I took it to my workshop, replaced the cord, put oil in the cup, turned on the switch and it ran. I turned another knob and the fan oscillated. For years it has sat on my work bench and when I work in my shop and am hot, I turn on the Emerson.

I recently asked Carolyn about the fan and she has no memory of owning it but said she will ask her children. Jean Alexander at the Tomball museum recognized it as a classic and would like to place it in the Griffin House.

I recently removed the wire cage, took the fan apart, cleaned everything and it runs like new. How old is it? I cannot find any markings. It looks like a fan that Roy or Carolyn's parents gave to them used when Roy III was born. Maybe it's 75 years old. They don't make them like that anymore. Maybe I'll give it to the museum - I have several other fans in my shop.


On Friday the 12th my wife Priscilla celebrated her 80th birthday. She was given flowers and candy and three of the girls took us out to eat. She got a number of cards and her older brother by almost 4 years sent the following note.

“80 years ago today my dad took me to Grandma's to spend the day. In the late afternoon he returned to take me home. Arriving home, he took me to my parents’ bedroom and showed me a new baby girl. Nothing was said about where she came from, only that it was my new sister. Then my dad took me to the backyard and gave me an orange to eat. It was the first orange that I had ever seen or tasted.”


Some months ago I wrote an article about the TDC (Texas Department of Corrections), saying that my daughter was their "guest" for 5 years. She maintained a good record and was paroled after serving approximately one third of her term.

During her time there Rachel moved from Harris County-Houston to Dayton to Huntsville to Gatesville to Texarkana to Bridgeport, from where she was paroled. On her last day she was taken to Fort Worth, given money for a bus ticket to Conroe and sent on her way. Our eldest daughter met the bus and brought Rachel to our home, where she will stay until her house is restored after having been vandalized.

She came here the 10th of February and the next day I took her to Houston to meet her parole officer. On the way home we stopped at the drivers license office and it was so crowded Rachel could not get in the door. Her license had expired and she knew she would have to "start over." A Texan without a car is like a cowboy without a horse.

I suggested she call the telephone number on the back of her old license. It took days to get the call answered and be told what was needed to reapply. She had lost her Social Security card but knew the number and thought she had everything else needed. I suggested going to Conroe. "Your uncle Harvey was helped immediately in Conroe," I told her. On the day a friend had planned to take her to Conroe, Rachel called me at work at TEAM and said the friend had car trouble and could I take her to Conroe. I told our director that I needed to leave and in about 3 minutes we were on our way.

Rachel had directions and a computer map so we found the DPS office without any problem. We drove through the lot. It was full so we circled the block and tried again. I spotted a car backing out but another car was waiting for that space. I saw a handicapped space, pulled in and hung my wife's handicapped card on the mirror. (I didn't want to be towed from the DPS lot.) In about 30 minutes Rachel came back and said we had to go to the courthouse for a new birth certificate and to the Social Security office for a new card. She had directions for both places.

At the courthouse I found a handicapped spot and pulled in. My daughter said I needed to go inside with her because there would be a charge to pay. I got out of the car and manifested a bad limp until I turned the corner from where I had parked.

Outside the birth certificate office an official was sitting. I asked about a restroom and he pointed down the hall. I started walking in that direction and he called me back, indicating a container in which I put my keys and a device to walk through. Never before have I had to go through a metal detector just to pee.

When I returned the clerk was waiting for $24 for a document that was the same as the one Rachel had, only on colored paper. (For $24 they could have framed it.) Then we headed to the Social Security office across town, where at least there was parking. The clerk said Rachel would need a drivers license to get a new card and Rachel explained that she needed the Social Security card to get a license. This clerk gave her a letter stating she had applied for a card.

Back we went to the DPS office. When Rachel worked her way to the front of the line, the clerk told her it was too late for the day and she should come back Monday morning. On the way home we stopped to renew her auto insurance but they would not take my charge card - cash or check only.

The following Wednesday Rachel went to Hempstead and was told they would not accept the letter from the Conroe SS office. Hempstead DPS suggested she return to the Conroe DPS office. On Thursday Rachel’s friend had business in Humble so she went with him, taking her paperwork and planning to visit the DPS in Humble.

However on the way to Humble, thinking she would likely be rejected again, she asked her friend to make a stop in Conroe. There she paid the license fee, took and passed the written exam. Noting that the friend's truck might not pass the physical exam she made an appointment to take the driving test the following morning, asking another friend with a newer truck to take her to Conroe for the third time. Not having driven any vehicle for almost two years, she was pleased to pass the driving test and get a temporary license. As soon as she gets an official license with her picture she can get a new SS card.

PS the Conroe office told her the Hempstead office should have accepted her paperwork.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How Can We Live Without the White Pages?

We spent Christmas with our daughter and her family in San Antonio. She is my wife’s youngest daughter but she has been my stepdaughter for over 30 years so I will refer to her as our daughter. She and her husband and their 4 children live in a lovely new home in an older part of San Antonio. It is very close to Fort Sam Houston where I was inducted into the Army in May 1944. Occasionally one can hear gunfire and on a still evening hear “Taps.“

I had not been to San Antonio for a number of years and not seen the house before. I have or had cousins living there but have not contacted them since working on my mother’s family history about 15 years ago. During my Christmas visit I thought about my 4 cousins and asked our precocious 4th grade granddaughter for a telephone directory, the white pages. I could tell by her puzzled expression that she did not know what I was talking about. Let me ask my dad, she said, and went to the patio where her father and several other male relatives were cooling their hands with brown “longnecks.”

She returned, went down the hall and returned with a laptop. As she opened the computer she said her dad said that they had no phone books and she should look in the computer. I was amazed that her fingers moved so quickly over the keyboard. She asked me to spell the relatives’ name as she typed “Wikipedia.” As she moved her fingers, boxes appeared and moved and finally she said she couldn’t find anything. Her aunt had watched this and asked me for the full name of several cousins and jotted them on a small pad. The next morning she gave me one address listing 4 names but no telephone number.

This got me to thinking, are we becoming a nation without White Pages telephone books? How are we going to find where people live? What are we going to use to prop open the door while we move things? What are we going to set pot plants on that may leak a little? What are we going to put in a high chair so a toddler can reach his food? What are we going to put under a table when only 3 legs touch the floor? What are campers going to take along for toilet paper? (Well, maybe that last one is longer ago.) The list goes on. We are becoming a nation of people who don’t want to be bothered.

If I remember correctly my first telephone number after moving to Tomball was “196.” When SW Bell bought the Tomball telephone company my number became 5-1962. Later SW5-1962, then 281-351-1962.

My name has appeared in the Greater Houston White Pages for about 50 years and I want it to stay there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Paul in his letter to the Church in Jerusalem wrote, "Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them." He had put people in prison and had himself been in prison, but one wonders how he would have felt about the Texas Department of Corrections (hereafter referred to as TDC).

Texas has the second largest prison system in the US, consisting of more than 110 prisons holding over 160,000 inmates. This does not include jails that hold additional persons awaiting trial or serving short sentences.

Until recently my experience with Texas prisons was limited. When I was about 7 years old, we visited an uncle who was a prison guard in Huntsville. He took the job so that his two older children could attend the local college, which at that time I think was called Sam Houston Normal. He took my dad, my brother and me to see "Old Sparky" (Texas' electric chair). I don't recall seeing anything else. When my boys were in high school their church group did the musical "Godspell" at the Harris County Jail. I remember the strange feeling that I had while sitting with an audience of prisoners.

But my experience has broadened. Two Saturdays ago I visited Texas' Plane State Jail. It is a female prison named to honor a former warden in the TDC, Lucille Plane. It is located close to Dayton, Texas, next to a prison for men. It was designed for a smaller population but now houses approximately 2,000 non-violent females. I was there to visit my daughter, who made the unwise decision to sell drugs. Judges in Texas do not look kindly on drug dealers, while in California they may get a slap on the wrist.

Visiting a prisoner is not a simple matter. Maybe that is why St. Paul suggested, "remembering them." First the prisoner, after 30 days of good behavior, turns in a list of 10 people for approval. I assume TDC runs these names through their computer. Visitation is for 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Only 2 adults and up to 4 children are permitted.

Our oldest daughter Pam volunteered to take me. She talked to a friend of my daughter's who had already visited, made several phone calls to check on other information and printed out a map from her computer. We left at 6:30 a.m. to drive the 60+ miles to the prison. There seemed to be 200 traffic lights on the 60 miles, but I'm sure there were not really that many. Upon arriving at the entrance our car was searched - hood, trunk, glove box, etc. We then drove to the parking area. I noticed that all the choice spots had names stenciled on the concrete bumpers. We then walked to join the two lines of visitors waiting to get in. Two signs, one on each side of the entrance, were made from boards approximately 24 x 18 inches. The boards were hinged to another board so that, folded flat, they had these words: REGULAR on the left and CONTACT on the right, burned into the wood with letters about 3/4 inch wide and 6 inches tall.

We got in the long line behind the Contact sign. The Regular sign had only 3 or 4 persons waiting. Pam explained that the people in our line could actually touch and hug the prisoners, while those in the regular line sit separated by a glass partition and talk with handsets like in the movies. In about 45 minutes we had worked our way to the head of the line. When allowed in we removed our coats and shoes, put our money (quarters in a plastic bag) in a container on a small table and stood like scarecrows while we were frisked and checked with a metal detector. Before using the metal detector, the guard asked if I had a pacemaker. Pam was searched by a female guard. We then moved to a desk, gave our drivers license, and the name and ID number of the prisoner we were visiting. This was checked on a computer and we were then given a number for the table we were to sit at in a large assembly room. The tables were about the size of card tables, with two chairs on one side and a numbered chair for the prisoner facing us. Children had to stand or be held. The room had approximately 48 tables. The prisoner had to remain seated, but we could hug when she arrived and when she left after two hours. There were snack and drink machines for our quarters. As the room filled, it became difficult to carry on a conversation due to the noise. The guard gave us a 5 minute notice when our visit time was used up.

The man behind us in the waiting line said TDC seems to do everything to discourage visitation, because visitation makes more work for them.

There were many small children in the visitor room, even babies brought in by fathers and grandmothers. I was surprised how young most of the prisoners looked. My daughter said most were "hard drug" users. Children of prisoners are 6 to 8 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers.

The men's prison, which had a sign identifying it as Hightower, appears to be a more permanent structure of two stories. The women's building has metal walls and roof. The office area is air conditioned but the rest of the building has attic fans. Between the two facilities is a field. My daughter said the field crew had been planting cabbage.

Their personal laundry is placed in mesh bags to be washed. They wear white pants and shirts and white tennis shoes. My daughter is an electrician's helper, and she wears coveralls and work boots for work 5 days a week. All mail is censored, both in and out. There is a commissary where items can be purchased at certain times. Outside church groups conduct services in the chapel, and some education opportunities are available.

All her life my daughter has had a problem getting up in the morning. She said I would be proud of her early rising these days - she goes to work at 6 a.m.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Recently while looking for something on our cluttered kitchen counter, I spotted two small bottles of maple syrup from Cracker Barrel. I have no idea how long they have been hiding there, but I moved them to the front where they were visible.

Yesterday morning I had time and made some pancakes. The two small bottles were not enough so I got a plastic squeeze bottle with a pop-up cap from the pantry. The red pop-up was stuck but finally opened, and when I closed it, I noticed syrup oozing from the closed cap. My thoughts flashed back about 75 years.

Every farm family had a syrup pitcher, glass with a large glass handle, large enough for a farmer’s large fingers to grasp and hold the pitcher. It had a spring-loaded top that was opened with the thumb. A drop of syrup always remained on the lip, and after being used several times the drop would move down and the pitcher would stick on the table. Then my sister would be told to go to the kitchen to remove the sticky syrup with a wet dish rag.

Once my brother and I were playing at the neighbors’ house and their boy, after pouring his syrup, simply licked the drop of syrup before it had time to run down. The next morning my brother did the same thing. He did not get a spanking but a lecture from both parents.

I put the squeeze bottle back into the pantry without licking the top.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Raymond A Moody, Jr., MD/PhD - book review and personal postscripts

This book was originally published in 1975 and has had several revisions including the one I read, issued in 2000. Over 13 million copies have been sold. Dr. Moody, an MD/psychologist, heard many reports of "near death" from his patients. He started collecting the stories and published them. Later he studied the death beliefs of other cultures, from ancient Greeks to Tibetan writings. After obtaining a PhD he developed a way to induce "out of body" experiences without the trauma of sickness or an accident. He has published 7 books.


While reading this book, I suddenly remembered an "out of body" experience that happened more than 70 years ago. I don't think I ever told anyone of this, not even my first wife, who was indirectly involved. We were living in the large farmhouse, not the smaller house where I was born, so I may have been 11 or 12 years old. I was sleeping with my older brother. (I usually slept on a cot in the hall but that night we had visitors, a family with 3 children. Their two boys slept on a pallet in the hall and their daughter, later to become my first wife and mother of my children, slept on my usual cot.)

All at once during the night a large tube or pipe, spiral-wrapped like BX cable, appeared at the window screen. It was large enough for my body to enter, and bright on the inside with a bright light at the far end. It slanted up at about a 45 degree angle in a northerly direction.

Just as I was entering the pipe my mother touched me and asked, "Why are you crying?" I had a bad case of heat rash on my chest and stomach and had scratched my body until it was bleeding. My crying woke her. She covered me with cornstarch and that stopped the itching. It was not exactly a near-death experience but is still very vivid in my memory.


To go from childhood to my cynical present state of mind, I will share another story, originally told by my uncle. He was visiting his brother, who had a blacksmith shop in Cost, Texas (east of San Antonio). Standing outside the shop he overheard two old men sitting on the "whittling bench." Across the street was a vacant lot where a revival preacher had put up a tent and held two-a-day services. The preacher had just finished his altar call and the song leader was singing, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be."

"What do you think of that?", one old man asked the other. The second man shifted his chew of tobacco to the other side of his mouth, spit out a stream of tobacco juice, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and answered "He's gonna wake up one morning and find out he's dead'er than hell."

Sunday, December 7, 2008


On this blog I previously made several observations about the Kennedy Assassination including one saying he was not killed by a bullet fired from the 6th floor of the Book Depository building.

On November 16, 2008 the Discovery Channel showed the results of a test. A Lincoln convertible similar to the death car was used, and actors played the roles of the 6 occupants of the car. From a home movie they knew the exact spot on the street where the fatal shot hit the president. The Dallas police halted all traffic. A professional shooter sighted through a scope from 4 locations and determined that the Book Depository was the only location from which the bullet could have come. Then the team went to Australia, where a company constructed a plastic head that would shatter like a human skull. It was covered with plastic skin and filled with plastic similar to brain tissue. In the desert in California they placed the mannequin in a box the size of the inside of the car. A marksman was elevated the height and distance from the box of the 6th floor window. A fan was placed in front to simulate the speed of the car and a bullet similar to the death bullet was used. The impact caused the same destruction of the skull and the scattering of bone and brain matter was similar to what two men saw when they examined the car at the hospital.

The Discovery Channel program did not discuss several things. Were there three or four shots fired? From where came the bullet that hit Kennedy in the throat? From where was the bullet fired that hit Gov. Connally? Was the rifle planted on the 6th floor the gun that fired the three or four bullets? Why was so much evidence destroyed? About 30% of the public believed the assassination was a conspiracy.

On the next night PBS did a 90 minute discussion of the assassination. They added nothing new and said that Oswald acted alone.

Monday, November 17, 2008


When we moved to 732 James Street in Tomball, there was a birdhouse behind the garage. The previous owner had cages and nests for his pigeons. They were racing pigeons but I guess they also have to be homing pigeons to complete a race. For a race he would take them some distance from home and release them, noting the exact time and their number from a leg band. The pigeons would then fly home, tripping a clock wire as they entered their cage. Their miles traveled divided by their hours would give the MPH flown. Not all birds return. Some are shot by hunters, some are killed by hawks, and some are confused by radio and microwave signals and never find their way home.

This reminded me of a story about a tomcat that had a similar ability. AF Simpson – only his wife called him Austin, everyone else called him Bull – owned this cat. Bull was employed by Humble, now called Exxon, and was also a builder, building some of the better homes in Tomball. I occasionally did the electrical and air conditioning on these homes. He also served for some years on the city council and was a councilman part of the time that I was mayor of Tomball. That is where I heard this story. Bull worked three days in the Tomball oilfield and two days in the Conroe field. He checked the oil production of the wells and had at both places a small 6 x 8 building called a “dog house.”

The family had a large tomcat and since the children were grown the cat was banished to the garage. Every morning the cat did what all cats do, walk in the wet grass and then jump on the hood of Bull’s pickup, leaving muddy tracks. Bull would throw the cat down, which the cat thought was a game, and the next morning the cat would be waiting to do it again.

One day Bull had an evil thought while wiping the tracks from his truck. The next day he took the cat along to Conroe. He placed some food under the edge of the dog house and while the cat was napping drove away. In his rear mirror he saw the cat running after him but speeding up he soon lost sight of the cat. Five days later when he returned to the Conroe field he looked for the cat but did not see him.

Several months later, returning home from a visit on Sunday afternoon, Bull and his wife saw, sleeping on the hood of his truck, the tomcat. He seemed to hold no grudge against Bull. Stretching when Bull approached, he started purring and licking his hand. Bull stroked him and gently placed him back on the hood of his truck and said, “You rascal, you can live here the rest of your life and sleep on the truck any time you like.” Bull could not explain how the cat made the 30 miles from the oilfield, crossing a 6 lane freeway and the San Jacinto River, crossing FM roads 1488, 2978 and 2920, and finding the house in Tomball.

I Shook Hands with the Man Who Shook Hands with Mikhail Gorbachev

I grew up in a rural German-speaking community. We shook hands, but it was often the “dead fish” shake, never a grabbing of the elbow. Hugging in public was rare and in some families never practiced. In the Army I saluted when required but never shook hands. In the last several weeks of WWII we had a large number of German soldiers surrender to our unit, mostly teenage boys or elderly men, late recruits to Hitler’s army. They always wanted to shake hands, which I refused, remembering that just weeks before they had been shooting at us.

I can remember when I felt uncomfortable being hugged and hugging in public was not common. Times have changed. Now our church has a time of greeting during the service and I notice a lot of hugs being exchanged. Maybe handshaking is no longer done, but I can recall one particular incident.

One evening in about 1990-1991 my wife announced, after reading a letter from her sister-in-law, that on a certain day her brother and his wife were flying back from vacation in Mexico and had a 4-hour layover at Houston Intercontinental Airport. I was to meet their plane and take them to lunch. Their plane was on time and after hugs we took the underground trolley to the food area. Beverly said Eugene could not shake hands with me because he had not washed his right hand since the previous evening. After we ordered lunch Eugene told the story.

They had noticed in their hotel lobby that there seemed to be a large number of men in dark suits, most with radios in one ear, that looked like Russians. On their last evening at the hotel Eugene spotted a man who seemed to be in charge and asked if the group was Russian. In broken English the man said Mikhail Gorbachev was in Mexico to meet with the Mexican president and that they were occupying the top floor of the hotel. Eugene said he admired that Mr. Gorbachev was trying to bring about cooperation between Russia and the US and he would like to personally thank him and shake his hand. The guard, after consulting with someone, said Eugene should stand beside him and hold out his hand when the elevator doors opened.

In a short time the guards, standing in rows about 6 feet apart, made a passage from the elevator to the door of the hotel, and Eugene stood where directed. When the elevator opened, Eugene thinks he said “I’m Eugene Bartels from Nebraska and I want to thank you for working for peace.” Mr. Gorbachev shook his hand and said in good English, “Thank you, I know where Nebraska is in the United States.”

Eugene remembers that Gorbachev was taller than he expected and that the birthmark on his forehead was hardly visible. I don’t know when Eugene washed his right hand.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


My wife and I enjoy watching "Globe Trekker" on PBS. I do wish however they wouldn't play the background music so loud and that the "trekkers" spoke more like Texans. My favorite trekker is Megan McCormick. I would like to claim her for a daughter.

Recently she made two trips to China. The first trip was up the Yangtze River to the city where all the clay soldiers and horses are buried. Megan's second trip was 5 days in Beijing, where the Olympics were held. On the previous trip she visited a silk factory. Huge baskets of silk cocoons were placed on a table, sorted according to color, then placed in hot water to kill the silkworms and make it easier to unravel the silk thread.

When I was in first grade I had a quart mason jar with two silkworms inside eating mulberry leaves. I remember taking them to show-and-tell. My father brought them home, maybe from Houston. The worms were white and about 1/2 inch long when I got them. It was my job to supply them with mulberry leaves. We had no mulberry tree - they produce mulberries, which birds love to eat. Mother did not want mulberry poop on her clean laundry hanging on the line. I walked to my grandparents' house, about a mile away, to get the leaves.

When the worms were about an inch long they spun a cocoon completely around themselves. I lost interest but some weeks later my sister reported a hole in one end of a cocoon and a bug with wings inside the jar. Maybe they weren't real silkworms but it was a learning experience for a small boy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


This story is not about my home church, Rose Hill Methodist, but a similar church with which I am familiar. The couple, friends of mine for over 70 years, will be referred to as Mr. and Mrs. C. They so enjoyed telling me this story that I wanted to share it with you.

Mr. and Mrs. C had a son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren living about three hours north of their home, and they planned to visit them this particular Sunday. The couple got up earlier than usual, did their chores and drove to meet the children at their church. They arrived shortly after the service had started and found a place to sit close to the front.

Mr. C was soon lulled to sleep by the hum of the air conditioner and the "swish-swish" of the ceiling fans. Mrs. C sat with her hands folded in her lap, holding her rather large black purse. Rural ladies don't change purses with the season, only when the old purse is worn out. Mrs. C's purse had several compartments--the larger one probably contained her billfold, checkbook, several pens and pencils, scratch pad, grocery list and several receipts, dry cleaning tickets, coupons for groceries, compact, mirror, lipstick, aspirin, several bottles of medicine for her husband, charge cards, drivers license, an unmailed letter, a book of stamps, a button from her husband's coat sleeve, a small kit with needles and thread, rubber bands, paper clips, safety pins, loose change, a package of flower seeds and other items. (Men, if you don't believe this--investigate your wife's purse when she isn't looking.)

Mrs. C had napped on the drive up and looked around as she listened to the service. Behind the pulpit was a picture of Christ praying in the garden. On the Communion table were two arrangements of fresh flowers. There were also fresh flowers on the organ and piano, not flower shop flowers but flowers that had been cut that morning by work-hardened hands. The men seated around Mrs. C had sunburned faces and necks but white foreheads that had been protected by a cap or hat, and the ladies had tanned shoulders from working and not from lounging around a swimming pool.

When the pastor had finished his sermon, the ushers came forward to take up the offering. Mrs. C opened her purse a little so no one could see inside it, but she could not remove the billfold so she opened it all the way...
Across the aisle about 20 feet from Mrs. C sat some of my relatives--let's call the boy Lad. He had brought to church, without his mother's knowledge, a toy snake. You know the kind--about 12 inches long, green, with a wire running through the snake permitting it to be shaped to look alive. Lad had previously shaped it to look like it was ready for attack. He now bent about one inch of the tail at a right angle.

As his mother was looking into her purse, he spun the snake faster and faster--and then, "Oops!" it happened. The snake slipped out of his hand, arched over the aisle, and fell into Mrs. C's purse just as she pulled out her billfold. She jumped up, let out a scream that woke her husband and everyone else that was sleeping, and threw her purse over her right shoulder. The purse turned over, scattering its contents over about three pews of worshippers. The ushers hesitated, and some people thought Mrs. C had had a seizure.

To be helpful, the young people started gathering up the scattered contents of the purse--and soon laughter spread through the church. The service was effectively over. The minister walked to the door to greet the people, and the organ and piano played the postlude.

I imagine that Lad ate his next two meals standing up.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


While my son Dave's family was in Tomball at Easter I suggested we visit the Kleb Woods farmhouse and nature preserve. It is located not far from my birthplace in Rose Hill.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the weather was appreciated by Dave's family, who had left their home in Michigan in a snowstorm. Instead of first checking in at the visitor's center we walked directly to the old farmhouse. I remembered visiting there as a child with my parents. After peering through the windows - the house was locked since we had not asked a volunteer to open it for us - we walked back to the visitor's center and looked at the collectibles there, including a Kleb baptismal certificate signed by one of my uncles.

Elmer Kleb, the last family resident at the Kleb farm and a great-grandson of the original owner, "marched to a different drummer." His mother's nickname for him was "Lumpy," spoken with a German accent. I believe he quit school around the 4th grade and rarely left the property. However he seemed to have an easier life than his sister Myrtle, who I believe was institutionalized several times and later committed suicide.

After inheriting the farm, Elmer stopped growing or harvesting anything but let the place go back to nature, enjoying the birds, bees, natural flora and fauna. He also had a relaxed attitude toward taxes and never paid them. Eventually a judge, realizing the property was worth more than its back taxes, appointed an attorney to manage Elmer's affairs. The farm was turned into a nature preserve by Harris County and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and a trust fund was established to take care of Elmer's needs. Elmer continued living on the property until he died in 1999, at the age of 90.

Kleb Woods today has many features including picnic areas, camp sites, a walking trail, and an educational garden.

As an adult I also visited the Kleb place, when Elmer contacted me about fixing his refrigerator. The house was so full of newspapers, boxes and other items that I could barely make my way to the kitchen. Eventually Elmer could no longer navigate through the piles and, rather than get rid of anything, he moved into a shed outside the main house. Although he had electricity when I fixed his refrigerator he gave up that and phone service, and later heat and running water.

Whoever unearthed the interesting items, including vintage Coke bottles, tools and jewelry on display at the visitor's center, must have had a lengthy project in sorting those treasures out of the junk. My daughter Sarah suggested that maybe the house should have been left full of clutter and displayed as a museum to hoarding. Keeping worthless items for too many years may be more of a national problem than people not paying their taxes.


Kelsey is the youngest daughter of my oldest daughter Pam, and Kelsey is no less accomplished than her two older sisters. Under Ben's Links at the right-hand side of this blog you can read about her softball scholarship to UT Arlington. She is also an excellent basketball player and honor student. I had a rare chance to talk to Kayla in detail on Easter Sunday and got many updates on her activities including her April trip to Geneva, Switzerland.

Kelsey is one of 18 high school journalists from the U.S. who won a competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation to visit the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, by a magnitude of 7, and will start running later this year. It is 27 kilometers in circumference, located 100 meters underground and spans the border between Switzerland and France. Physicists and other scientists from the US and around the world will use the data from LHC particle collisions to learn more about the basic forces that have shaped our universe. Among the mysteries they hope to solve are the origin of mass and the existence of black holes.

Education is a major part of the LHC effort, and it is hoped that the excitement of the LHC will inspire more young people to study science. Kelseya will be accompanied by a teacher and other students from Dobie High School in Houston.


Several years ago my wife's family was gathering for Christmas at her youngest daughter's home on Lake Buchanan at Burnet. We arrived several days before the 24th and had some time to ourselves. One afternoon my wife's daughter and husband were busy and a niece took their four children to a local park to play. My wife and I had taken enough reading material to occupy us, but by mid-afternoon I felt the need to stretch and do some walking.

The water in the lake was very low and there was no activity within sight. I noticed the four-car garage open and walked over to look. Besides the usual things found in a garage I noticed a number of pieces of good furniture, which I later learned belonged to our son-in-law's mother. She had closed her house and moved to a small apartment in Houston, making it necessary to leave some pieces of furniture in her son's garage. On top of a chest of drawers was a 1973 set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a single hardcover book. I rubbed off the dust and saw it was a copy of a James Herriot book, All Things Bright and Beautiful, published in 1973. I wondered if this was the source of the TV series by the same name that ran on our PBS station Channel 8. I remembered watching some of the TV shows years ago on our 17" black-and-white TV. I think they appeared on Sunday afternoon.

Looking at pages randomly, I realized immediately that these were the same stories, some of which I remembered reading in a magazine such as Reader's Digest. I found out later that this was the first of a series of books telling of the author's experiences as a veterinarian in northern England. The original series of four books took their titles from a poem (hymn lyrics) by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895): "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all." The stories from these four books have also been recombined in separate volumes about cats and dogs.

I asked permission to borrow the book and took it to the guest bedroom where we were staying for the holiday. After a glance at the contents I immediately started reading. By Christmas Day I had finished the book, which brought back memories of small and large animals I have known. One story in particular, in Chapter 22, helped me to recall an experience that I had with cats. Mrs. Bond in the Herriot story took in stray cats. Dr. Herriot's description of the odor he encountered when he entered her house for the first time immediately took me back to the early 1970s.

I leaned the book against my chest, closed my eyes, and could sense the smell that overwhelmed me that day. At the time I was still selling and servicing Frigidaire appliances and air conditioners, and the company had just issued a recall on their refrigerator icemakers. A woman from Pinehurst that I'll call Mrs. C.L. (Cat Lover) called to say her icemaker was not working properly, and I assured her it would be replaced at no cost. We agreed on an appointment time and she gave me directions to her home. From the outside, her house was a typical 3/2 home on a tree-shaded lot, but when she opened the door the odor took my breath away. It was a combination of dirty litter boxes, fecal matter on the floor, in the corners and under furniture, plus the smell of tomcats that had not been castrated. By taking only shallow breaths I made it through the living room, the dining room, and into the kitchen. Cats were everywhere: on the refrigerator, on the counter, on the back of the stove, and when I opened the freezer door, more came running. The icemaker was held in place with two screws, which I quickly removed. I unplugged the electrical connection and slid out the icemaker, all while holding my breath. I put the old icemaker in the sink to let it drip, then opened the window over the sink and took several deep breaths while I unpacked the new unit. As I turned back to the freezer, Mrs. C.L. rushed in, slammed down the window and said, "Honey, if you are hot, take off your shirt. I can't let my babies get chilled." I quickly finished the job, hoping I wouldn't have to throw up, and let myself out the back door. Her neighbor later told me that Mrs. C.L. kept over 90 cats in that house.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

POISON IVY & POISON OAK REVISITED (a springtime story)

(Excerpt from my book, Growing Up in Rose Hill)

I cannot tell one poison leaf from the other, but I know they both cause itching and make small blisters. One summer Sunday when I was eight or nine, my aunt called and said my cousin Elwood was at their house and we should come over and play with him. My brother was not at home, so I walked alone to my aunt’s house to play with Elwood.

Elwood was one of my city cousins, and things to do are limited when playing with someone wearing leather shoes, long stockings and “knicker” pants. He showed me the official Scout pocket knife that he had gotten that weekend. It had several blades, a screwdriver, an awl, a bottle opener, and I think even a secret compartment. Elwood had not used it yet, so I suggested going to the pine tree at the corner of the field. Walking past the tree earlier on my way to my aunt’s house I had noticed some vines growing up the trunk and I thought they should be cut. We walked back to the tree, cut each vine at ground level, pulled it loose from the bark, and reaching as high as we could, cut it again and threw the cut pieces over the fence into the field. When we had cut all of the vines we walked back to my aunt’s house, washed in the watering trough, and made our appearance just in time for the afternoon meal. No one asked where we had been.

The next afternoon my aunt called and said Elwood had been taken to the doctor with a bad case of poison oak/ivy. By this time I had small blisters on my hands that I treated with kerosene, our usual home remedy. My aunt bought some calamine lotion that dried up the blisters.

I had other minor attacks while still living with my parents but always controlled it with the pink lotion. However, in the next century my luck “ran out.”

Around the first of March in 2000 my oldest daughter Pam was already mowing the back yard when I came home, so I got the edger and edged the front and back yard. In the back there were some berry vines and other vines coming from the flower bed that tangled my edger. I took a garbage bag, got pruning shears and started to remove all of these vines by cutting them into about 16-inch lengths and dropping them into the bag. This effort helped to remove my guilt of letting someone else mow the yard.

Several days later I noticed small blisters, which rapidly became larger, on my right hand and both arms. (I had used a glove on my left hand for the berry vines.) It looked like poison oak or something similar. I started treating myself with calamine ointment and then calamine lotion and in about 10 days it started to dry up. I didn’t miss any meals but it kept me from volunteering at the hospital one week and I had to be careful hugging the grandchildren.

(If you look closely at this photo of me with my grandson Adam, both of us posing in our Handyman t-shirts, you can see calamine lotion on my right hand.)

About a week later my wife Priscilla asked when I planned to pull all the weeds in that bed and I said never. She then said that I should get two day laborers to clean the bed and I said that I would not ask anyone else to go in there and planned to spray the bed with weed killer. She objected to the weed killer idea. The following Saturday, she worked all afternoon pulling weeds in other parts of the yard, and again on Sunday afternoon while I was watching the basketball finals.

On Tuesday she came home before dark and pulled more weeds. When she came into the house she stood between me and the baseball game (the Astros were playing in their new ballpark on TV) and said that her brother had told her I should get someone to clean the rest of the beds. (How her brother in Nebraska got into this I don’t know.)

On Thursday (I don’t like to rush into things) I went to the local day-labor hiring hall. The laborers, understandably eager for paid work, rushed toward me like a bunch of cows running to a farmer’s truck with salt cubes on the back. I held up two fingers, meaning two workers, and seven fingers, meaning $7 per hour. Two guys got into my truck and when we came home I gave them each a pair of gloves, pruning shears and garbage bags, pointed to the area Priscilla had already cleared and then pointed to the east and west fences, 100 feet apart, and made a get-to-work motion. They got on their knees and started pulling and cutting. When they had several bags full I lifted them into the wheelbarrow, very carefully touching the bags only with my fingers and the palms of my hands, and hauled them to the front yard for the trash truck. (What I realized several days later was that when the bags were heavy I brushed them on the front of my pants while putting them in and taking them out of the wheelbarrow.) In between I busied myself with trimming trees, tying the branches into bundles and taking them to the street, mowing the back yard, smashing cans and taking a load to the recycle place, giving my workers ice water and each a large slice of banana nut bread, buying each of us a hamburger (Burger King had a special, 99 cents each), getting a haircut and hauling bags of the workers’ cuttings to the street. When the workers were finished I paid them $50 apiece, drove them back to the hiring hall and then came home and took a shower.

Saturday while driving to Fort Worth I noticed that the top of my right thumb was itching and by the time I got there small blisters were appearing. I thought I could live with this but when I went to bed I noticed some itching on that part of my body immediately behind the zipper on my pants. Examination showed patches of small blisters – but again, I didn’t panic, because I had a doctor appointment Monday for my annual checkup. Sunday I went to both services with my son Tim, a church organist, and stayed in town for his recital that afternoon. I didn’t scratch my private area in public but I was tempted.

Monday my doctor looked at the blisters on my hands and said that doesn’t look too bad. I asked if he wanted to see the worst area and he said no, my nurse will give you a shot that will take about 24 hours to give relief. The shot helped – most of the itching soon improved and no blisters got large enough to drain and break.

I did not drive by the hiring hall for quite some time afterward, fearing that my truck might be recognized. I have also avoided the flower bed. If forced to go near it again I will have a blowtorch in my left hand and a spray bottle of weed killer in my right.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Most of us between the ages of 60 to 80 can remember where we were when we heard that Kennedy had been shot. I had gone to Houston for supplies and was standing at the counter at Warren Electric when someone came from the office behind the counter and said, "The President has been shot." He added that Gov. Connelly was in the same car and had also been shot, then commented, "Too bad they did not hit LBJ."

I had no radio in my truck and when I got to the next store Mrs. Wilder said the gunman had also killed a policeman and had been captured in a movie theater. That evening the news on our 17" black & white TV gave a lot of conflicting information. Sunday after church as I was walking to my car, a man sitting in his car in the parking lot called out, "Oswald has been shot and killed." That evening the chief of police of Dallas and the district attorney, a college roommate of Gov. Connelly, announced that the case was closed, that Oswald had acted alone.

Many people were not satisfied with that report, so 5 days later Pres. Johnson appointed a "blue ribbon" commission to investigate the killings, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Court and made up of 2 senators, 2 congressmen, former head of the CIA Allen Dulles and former World Bank President John J. McCloy. The commission met 51 times. Except for Warren it was poorly attended by the members--the majority missed most of the sessions. Staff lawyers conducted most of the meetings. They questioned 551 witnesses and the paperwork filled 26 books. Some of the more sensitive material was placed in the government archives and will not be opened until 2039. Their report said that Oswald acted alone and that there was no conspiracy. I could sleep well, thinking that the Warren Commission had done their work.

Years later two of my sons-in-law, one a big game hunter/guide, the other a competitive shot, said it was impossible for Oswald to fire 3 shots in the available time. I thought to myself, the Warren Commission said he could and he did.

Last summer, finding myself out of reading material at one of our daughter's houses, I picked up a book about the Kennedy assassination, "The Texas Connection," by Craig I. Zirbel, published in 1991. I was fascinated.

Over 100 books have been written about the assassination, and I have only read three. I have come to these conclusions:

I. There was a conspiracy.
II. Oswald did not fire a shot at Kennedy.
III. Oswald was standing on the steps, watching the motorcade.
IV. The shots did not come from the 6th floor window but from behind a fence on the grassy knoll.
V. Oswald did not kill the policeman.
VI. The gun and 3 empty shells were planted and found by the Dallas P.D. on the 6th floor.
VII. Jack Ruby was involved in the conspiracy, as were the Chief of Police and the District Attorney and FBI.

If you are still around in 2039 when the records are opened, you will still not know who planned the assassination. The Warren Commission was told what results to end up with and interviewed only those people who could help them get those results. Most of their questions were leading questions.

So I was wrong in my assumption for 45 years... and now in my senior years, I have to worry about who and why did the dirty deed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Recently while shopping for groceries I noticed that I had written margarine on the list. In the refrigerator case were many choices, but rarely the word "margarine." The brand I chose had in very small letters, "1/3 less fat than margarine." This made me wonder what we were actually eating.

Growing up on the farm we always had butter. Each year in spring there was a two or three week period when a weed we called bitterweed bloomed. The cows craved its flowers but they made the milk so bitter we could only drink it if we added lots of cocoa. The cream was so bitter we could not eat it or sell the butter made from it. When Mother added cream to the dogs' food, they turned up their noses and walked away. Only the hogs seemed not to mind. During bitterweed season, Mother would buy margarine. It came in 1 pound blocks and the package included a small tablet for coloring. Mixing in the color was a lot of work and we usually did not bother. The dairy industry got Congress to pass a bill requiring all margarine to be sold without yellow coloring, which is why the yellow came separately. I don't know when the law was repealed but I think it was during WW II.

During the Depression we usually had butter on our homemade bread. A lot of the kids had in their school lunches homemade bread smeared with lard and sprinkled with sugar or leftover breakfast biscuits with bacon drippings on one side and syrup on the other (actually not bad).

My daughter said that Google had a lot to say about both butter and margarine. I checked--it did.

Margarine was developed by Hippolyte Mege-Mouries in 1869 at the request of Napoleon II, who wanted a butter substitute for his soldiers. In 1871 he sold the "knowhow" to the Dutch firm Jurgens, now part of Unilever. In the beginning margarine was largely animal fat. Now it is largely vegetable oil.

"Butter," the Greek word for cow cheese, has been available since nomads started milking camels and water buffalo--cows came much later. A goat was carefully skinned, the openings except for the left foreleg sewn shut, and milk placed in this skin container. The motion of the camel walking churned the milk, making the first butter. It is still made this way in some areas.

As cows were developed in northern Europe, butter and cheese production developed along with them. It later came to the U.S.

In the ancient peat bogs of northern Europe and England, containers of butter have been found (as well as human remains). The peat bogs provided an antiseptic, acidic environment that preserved the butter.

It takes 25 pounds of milk to make a pound of butter, depending on the butterfat of the milk. In Philadelphia markets butter was first sold by the pound.

(I had planned to add more, but I think this story is long enough.)

A SMALL GIRL IN ALSACE: from Recollections of WW II, winter of 1944

I have decided to include on my blog a few samples from my World War II memoirs, which was shared with family but not published in book form. The Small Girl In Alsace and Bartending stories were two of the most commented-on stories from my WW II writing.

After staying in the bombed out factory in Bischwiller we moved to a school house about 5 miles away in a town identified by published WW II writer John Barton as Herrlisheim. The windows were intact and he remembers it had a stove. I don’t remember a stove but I remember it for not having water for the WC. There was an outhouse in the school yard without doors. I suppose they had been stolen for firewood. One could sit and watch everyone passing on the street. The fighting had moved across the Rhine River about 4 miles to the east and even though artillery shells occasionally fell into town and one could hear gunfire at all times, the civilians were coming out of their cellars to look for supplies and to relieve “cellar fever.” Children pulling toddlers in wagons or sleds or helping adults move about, adults carrying bags to gather firewood or barter for food.

One morning while sitting in the outhouse I noticed a small girl come to the gate, look around and then come into the school yard and start to swing. I don’t remember there being anything else on which to play. After finishing I walked over to the swing set and said good day (there is no German expression for hello). She smiled and answered good day. I asked her name and she gave me her name but I don’t remember what she said. I asked where she lived and she pointed down the street 4 or 5 houses. I asked if she attended the school and she said she had until the shooting started. I asked what class she was in and she said first. I said there is no water in the school and she said I know. During all this time she was slowly swinging back and forth and I noticed that several children had gathered at the gate but did not come in. I asked if I could come to her house for hot water to wash and shave and she ran out of the yard, down the street to her house. In a few minutes she came back and said her mother said it would take ten minutes to heat the water. I asked her to wait and I went inside and asked if anyone else wanted to go along. Someone suggested that it might be a trap but four or five guys went with me.

As we approached her house she ran ahead and opened the door for us. Her mother was surprised to see all of us as it was a one room apartment. She had a brass boiler on the small stove and had laid out a towel and wash cloth and a small piece of soap. I told her we had our own towels and washcloths and soap. We had also taken some coffee and sugar and canned milk and immediately she started water for coffee. Besides the stove the room had a bed, a table and two chairs, a kitchen sink with a small cabinet above and below, and in a closet a WC. Sitting on the window ledge was a Christmas tree about 18 inches high with a few decorations. I think they keep their trees up 12 days. We put hot water into our helmets and rolled up our sleeves and started washing and shaving. The mother asked to see my soap and she called her girl over to smell the soap. I asked why none of the other children played with her daughter. Her face turned red and turning her head so that no one else could see it, she lifted her head scarf and showed that her head was shaved. She said the Free French had shaved her head because a German officer had lived with her and did not let their children play with her daughter. I asked about the girl’s father and she shrugged her shoulders and said they had not heard from him, he was dead or in Russian prison. By this time all of the guys had fallen in love with the girl and asked me what she was saying and the girl asked me what they were saying. She showed her Christmas present, which was a homemade doll. When the coffee was ready the mother served it in china cups, also bringing out a small piece of Christmas cake to go with the coffee. We left our coffee, sugar and milk and soap. Some of the guys gave her some cigarettes which she could barter and everyone emptied their pockets of gum and candy. It was time to go and both the mother and daughter said tearful goodbyes.

Early the next morning we left and I never came back to the town again. I wonder what happened to the family but soon forgot about the girl and did not remember until I started writing about WW2.

BARTENDING: from Recollections of WW II

One holiday, it might have been July 4 or Infantry Day in June, Sgt. Luckie told me to be ready for bartender duties that evening at the 274th Officers Club. I was selected because I didn’t drink. I told him I had no idea what a bartender was supposed to do and he said I would be told how to mix drinks and to wear a necktie. Two of us were given the privilege of serving and we were given a jeep to go the several miles down and across the Rhine to this former country club for the German upper class.

When we got there we were given directions on how to mix the drinks. We were given white aprons and shown how to wash the glasses, which were bussed by POWs. Beer was served in steins. I was in a bad mood when I started and got madder as the long evening progressed. I put a beer pitcher under the counter and when the drink glasses came back with some liquid in the glass I poured it into a beer pitcher under the counter. My coworker asked why and I said, “Wait.” When the pitcher was about half full and an officer that I knew and did not like or who I thought had a bad attitude ordered a drink, I put a little from the pitcher into his glass. Also as our rags to wipe the counter became soggy, I squeezed them into the pitcher. My buddy joined in this, adding to the pitcher and pointing out officers that he didn’t like and keeping glasses under the counter on the ready. As the evening progressed and some of the officers became more intoxicated, we would fill their glasses with more recycled drinks. We worked most of the night without food and when we got home we went to the kitchen and the cooks gave us an early breakfast.

This was really two bartending jobs, my first and last.


In another puzzling example from my service work, I had to struggle my way through the problem with a larger audience watching.

When I moved to Tomball, Klein Feed Store stood next to the grocery store, where the entrance door to TEAM’s resale shop is now located. Later they built a feed store behind the TEAM building, facing Cherry Street. Most feed came in 100 pound sacks. As more dairies and cage houses moved into the area they bought feed in bulk.

Klein’s built a feed mill east of the railroad and south of 2920. I don’t know who built the mill and did the electrical, but it was very well done. The mill was managed by George Klein. When the warranty expired, they started calling me for electrical problems. Most were minor like blown fuses or tripped overloads. One day after the mill had been in operation for maybe 5 years, Mr. Klein called, just as I sat down for my noon meal: “My mixer is not running and the chickens are running out of feed.” I asked if he had pushed the reset and checked if the mixer was hanging on something. He answered yes to both questions.

I left my lunch and drove to the mill. Everything was shut down and everyone was standing around the mixer, which was in the northeast corner of the building. I first checked the fuses, which were good. There was a ladder leaning on the mixer next to the motor. I asked one of the men to go up and try turning the mixer by pulling on the belts. George said they had already done that, but I was stalling for time. The mixer was full but could be turned. When the man came down I pushed the reset and then the start. There was nothing else running and I could hear the motor hum.

I turned off the power, which was 460 volts, 3 phase, meaning the motor needs 3 wires to run. I opened the motor contactor to check for burned wires and/or contacts. Everything at a feed mill is full of dust, and George had a compressor that I used to blow the dust out of the contactor can. The contacts were used but still looked good. Then I noticed lying in the bottom of the can one wire not hooked to anything. Where it was supposed to be fastened the screw was tight. The insulation had not been stripped from the end of the wire as it would have been if previously attached, and the wire had not been cut or broken. The box and the wire inside were covered with ¾ inch of dust.

I climbed the ladder to look at the nameplate. Again I was stalling for time. How could the motor have run all these years on two wires? And a bigger concern, if I hooked up the third wire and the motor burned, it would mean several thousand dollars out of my pocket.

I removed the other wires, turned on the power, pushed start and checked the voltage where I had removed the wires. Then I turned off the power, connected all 3 wires, closed the contactor box, turned on the power, and pushed start. The motor started and ran, pulling the amperage listed on the nameplate. To my knowledge the motor was still running when the mill was eventually shut down.

A motor running a big feed mixer cannot run on two wires. I wish I had taken a picture of the third wire lying in the bottom of the box. Maybe my memory is playing a trick on me.


In my years of service work there were several instances when I could not explain why something worked or did not work. Unfortunately I did not take pictures or document any of these instances.

Once I was called to a ranch on Huffmeister Road to service the central heating in the owner’s house. The ranch foreman explained the problem, showed me the equipment and I shortly had it working. He then almost apologetically asked if I would check the hot water in his house. His wife had told him for a week that she had no hot water at the kitchen sink.

I followed him into his kitchen. He introduced his wife and she said that starting about a week ago, she could no longer get hot water at the sink. It was a small kitchen and the hot water heater stood at the end of the drainboard, about 6 feet from the sink. The hot water pipe was fastened to the wall under the cabinet and ran through the end of the cabinet. On top of the heater was a cardboard box with the necessary fittings. They had never been installed. All that was missing was about 3 feet of pipe. It appeared the plumber left the fittings and planned to return with the pipe.

I asked if the water heater had been replaced recently, and they said that during the 10 years they had lived in the house the heater had not been replaced. I did not try to convince them that there had never been hot water at the sink. I said I would return with the proper fitting and the lady said that would be fine, she was always at home. When I went back and installed the missing pipe, the lady was very appreciative that she would no longer have to carry hot water from the bathroom.

Another story has to do with electrical, not plumbing. We did not have electricity on our farm until after WW II. While I was still overseas in the Army of Occupation, Houston Lighting & Power extended the power line past our farm. My dad contracted with Mr. Hirsch from Klein to wire the house and extend service to the barn, the well, the chicken houses and to the brooder house. After I came home I added some plugs and lights and ran power to the 3-car garage and shop that I built.

Several years after I moved to Tomball, Mother called and said they were getting a delivery of 200 baby chicks and could not make the lights in the brooder house work. I went out and checked where the wires entered the brooder house and found no power. Everything at the barn and chicken house still worked. All the wires came from a pole in the middle of the yard. I turned off the power, put my ladder against the pole and climbed up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. One of the two wires to the brooder house had never been connected—the insulation was still intact at the wire’s end. There was no evidence that anything had been broken, shaken loose or otherwise removed. I climbed down, got a short piece of wire, went back up and connected the two wires together. When I turned on the power everything in the brooder house worked.

I cannot explain how they had lights in the brooder house for 10 years with the wire not connected.


Occasionally I hear someone say they were injured by a hospital bed. I once was hit on my nose while repairing a bed and I had several other interesting experiences with hospital beds.

One day while working at Tomball Regional Medical Center, I was paged to come to a certain room “stat.” Nurses had just removed a patient from a bed shaped like the letter V. The patient said all at once the head of the bed and the knee part came up and were squeezing him. He pushed his nurse call button and also yelled “Help.” A nurse came immediately, unplugged the bed and called for additional help and a stretcher. They were able to remove him from the bed without further injury. We took the bed to our workshop and discovered the inside of the control box was wet. Further checking determined the problem was caused by urine. His nurse said the patient had recently used the urinal, but she was trying to get his IV working so she hung the urinal on the footboard. She walked to the supply room to get some supplies and while there she heard him call for help. We found the urinal on the floor when we moved the bed. I called the factory and also filed a written complaint. We “waterproofed” all of the control boxes on our existing beds but we never heard back from the factory. Such malfunctions make one wonder how we ever got a man on the moon.

When our hospital added rooms to grow from 70 beds to 140 beds, Administration decided to make the new rooms look like nice motel rooms, with headboards, footboards, bedside tables and chairs. Head and footboards were to be stained hardwood to match the other furnishings. When the 70 new beds arrived we were told the head and footboards would be shipped directly from a furniture factory, I believe in North Carolina. Since the patient rooms were not yet finished we left the beds in the corridors. As each room was completed and inspected we placed a bed in that room. When the head and footboards arrived I sent two men to install them. In a short time they returned and said the headboards were fine but the footboards were backward: the finished side was facing the mattress and the back was facing out. I called the bed factory and was highly insulted by what they said about our intelligence. I insisted there was a problem and they finally said they would send someone but if it was my mistake, we would have to pay for a service call. I agreed.

Within several days, two young men with three-piece suits and briefcases flew in from St. Louis and came to our administrator’s office. They let him know what incompetent people he had working at his hospital. I had not told him about the problem, thinking I could solve it myself, so this was his first time hearing about it. When he called me to his office, I said I would show the men the problem.

We walked to a room where a new bed had the headboard in place and the footboard leaning against the wall. One of the men grabbed the footboard and slammed it into place with the good side out. Words cannot describe the look the two men gave me. I walked over to the bed and asked, “How will we install the IV poles, the traction equipment and the other equipment, now that you have covered up the holes where they are inserted?” The man who had slammed the footboard down picked it up, reversed it, looked at the holes, and said they would send us 70 new footboards.

In about a week a truck from the furniture factory came with the new footboards. I asked the driver to let me open a box before they were unloaded. You have already guessed it – the footboards were still backwards. I took one and asked the driver to go with me to look at the beds. He understood immediately and left with his 70 wrong footboards. In several weeks the correct footboards arrived.

The factory did not want the bad boards returned, and it seemed a shame to burn them so I took them to my shop. Over the years I have used the wood from about 20, but if you need some hardwood I have about 50 boards left in the back of my shop.


On a recent morning as I was backing my van into the street I saw the Western Waste garbage truck at my neighbor’s. I waited until they had picked up my single bag of trash. The truck did not stop, only slowed as the one man in the back tossed the bag into the hopper and then jogged to the next stop, where there were several bags. Because of the incoming traffic I followed the truck for a block and a half. Only when crossing the next street did the helper step up on the truck, a step of over two feet. During his time on the truck the helper pushed a button compacting the trash in the hopper and pushing it into the truck, making room for the next bags.

Recently Immigration made an early morning raid at the Western Waste yard in Houston, picking up a large number of workers. A spokesperson assured the TV reporter that despite the raid, everyone’s garbage would be picked up before dark.

I’m interested in garbage trucks. They are huge, efficient machines that make the collection of garbage less labor-intensive. There is a type of truck that needs only one person to operate it, a driver that uses equipment to pick up the container, empty it into the truck and return the container to the curbside.

I am the only adult that I know who has worked on a garbage truck—although it was for only a short time and over 30 years ago.

When I moved to Tomball in 1951 the city had about 600 residents. Each person and business took care of their own trash and garbage. There were several independent haulers. One that I remember, I think his name was Curtis, walked up and down the street, going into business places, carrying a large bag of bananas. He offered one to everyone he met. He didn’t ask for hauling jobs but made himself available.

In about 1957 Humble closed their oil camp and the population of Tomball almost doubled. The oil company people were used to having garbage picked up and let the mayor and city council know it was expected. I have learned that nothing motivates a city government like suggestions from the voters. A contractor was hired and garbage pickup was started. There were complaints about the open truck so a used garbage truck was purchased. A number of homes still had a gas-fired burning barrel in the backyard and did not want garbage pickup. An ordinance had to be passed prohibiting burning barrels.

When I was elected mayor there were still problems. The old truck failed so we bought a new one. We used the Harris County Landfill next to the Salem Lutheran Cemetery. Those inside the fence did not complain but the families and neighbors complained, so we bought land for our own landfill, purchased a bulldozer and hired a part-time operator. Dogs turned over the garbage cans so we passed a dog ordinance.

The two workers on the back of the garbage truck complained about the heavy cans. One afternoon I decided to work the back of the truck and investigate for myself. The driver J.H. “Tiny” Dubose picked me up at City Hall. We worked both sides of the street. Some garbage containers were 30 gallon galvanized cans. Others were small barrels and one was a section of 24” high pressure gas line with handles welded on the side. I was young and used to doing heavy lifting, moving appliances, but some of the cans I could not empty into the truck. If the trash did not come out easily we had to bump the cans, which brought on more complaints.

When the truck was full and unloaded at the landfill I asked Tiny to take me back to City Hall. As I eased my tired self into my truck I thought there must be a better way. After much discussion at several Council meetings we voted to start using paper bags, over the objection of two Council members. This eliminated injuries to workers on the back of the truck.

The requirements for operating a landfill continually become harder to comply with. Several years ago the city got out of the garbage business and signed a contract with Western Waste. We now use biodegradable plastic bags.

Ben the Cook

Ben the Cook
Action shot from the 1970s



I recently made Tuna Helper, following the instructions on the box and adding margine, milk, etc. Priscilla and I had generous portions for lunch. When she asked about my recipe, I pointed to the kitchen table where the box was sitting...and only then noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting next to the empty box.

Well, we enjoyed our macaroni & cheese lunch and already have the tuna on hand to make another box of Helper.


I watched the TV news show "The Eyes of Texas" for years. When in the mid 1980s they announced the publication of a Texas cookbook I wrote down my grandmother's honey cookie recipe. I asked Priscilla to type it, and she mailed it along with several of her personal favorites.

When the book was published Priscilla's recipes were not included but mine was, with a special mention in the cookbook's introduction. I was invited to the signing in Houston, where I got all three of the main Eyes of Texas contributors to sign the front and while standing in line got a number of contributing cooks to sign their recipe pages.

Some might consider the description "somewhat chewy" an understatement. For those who are dentally impaired, I recommend soaking a cookie in milk or hot coffee before trying to chew it. The good news is, these cookies will keep indefinitely.

Eyes of Texas Cookbook introduction:
My great-grandparents August and Caroline Weiss operated the first cotton gin operated by steam, near Salem in Washington County, Texas. They were among the first German settlers in that area. Money was scarce; however, they always had bees and native pecans...consequently, this recipe was a favorite.

1 1/2 pints honey, warmed
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough flour for a very stiff dough

Mix all ingredients well. Roll dough out on a floured board and cut with a cookie cutter, or drop the dough in a greased pan and flatten with a floured glass. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, with edges slightly darker. These cookies will be somewhat chewy.

Ben's Bio

I was born in Rose Hill, Texas in 1925 and at age 18 drafted into the Army. After my discharge I settled in Tomball, which although a small town had more opportunities than Rose Hill. I ran my own appliance installation and repair business for many years and in 1977 accepted a position as Plant Engineer and Director of Maintenance at Tomball Regional Hospital, where I worked until retirement in the late 1980s. In the 1970s I served two years on Tomball’s City Council, was elected mayor and served for six years during which major streets were paved and guttered, utility lines were extended, and a new jail and city hall were built. After retirement from the hospital I spent time on a genealogy project that included two trips to Germany to visit relatives and look up archival records. I have also gotten into writing, chronicling my WW II experiences and authoring Growing Up in Rose Hill, published by private press and sold as a fund-raiser for the Tomball Community Museum Center, where I have served as a volunteer, trustee and Chairman. I am still involved with the Tomball hospital as a weekly volunteer and serve as General Manager of Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (TEAM), a church-sponsored operation that provides food and other assistance to area families. I continue to be involved in writing about my childhood and personal interests, and I still enjoy woodworking and other handyman projects. My wife and I still live in Tomball and are not far from most of our 8 surviving children and 14 grandchildren.