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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.

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.