Randy Barnhouse, a Kindred Spirit

Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse 10-08-2020

I’ve followed Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse’s musings on Facebook, and have even exchanged mail with him from time to time, but had never met him in the flesh.

When he posted that he’d be hawking his book, “Dear Samuel Clemens” Messages in a Bottle , on Main Street (with a $5 discount to “locals”), I figured it was time we hooked up.

“Want to make a deal?”

Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse 10-08-2020

I introduced myself, and said, “I think a might be able to slip by as a local, and I’d be happy to pay you $15 for your book, but I wondered if you’d like to trade for my Smelterville: A Community of Love.

We bumped elbows and the deal was sealed.

We share a love of the river

Randy has led a much more adventuresome life than I have. He’s been a treasure salvor,  an historian, a teacher, and a devotee of Mark Twain. I’ve just been a chronicler of other folks deeds and foibles.

Several years ago, the Mississippi gave Randy a tantalizing look at the bones of a boat exposed when the water went down.

He and the river have been playing hide and seek with the boat ever since.

I’m pretty sure the first contact I had with Randy was when he offered to share the location of the wreck if I would promise to keep the exact location secret.

I decided the best way for me to keep the secret was for me not to go see the site.

The Mississippi can be unforgiving to the careless. This isn’t Randy’s wreck, but it’s a barge that ran aground near Cape Rock in 2012.

We understand each other

Abandoned house – St Mary Mo c 1966

Randy was a diver with Mel Fisher, who helped recover gold and other items from the Atocha shipwreck off Key West. He and I speak the same language.

“After the initial phase of being allured by the gold and silver discoveries, I found the simple items from every day life just as unique in their own way. They spoke to me. Candlestick holders were fascinating to find. How many meals did they grace a table for and who appreciated the glow of the stick they held, and for what reason were they gathered around it? How much laughter, conversation and arguing had the the candlestick holders, with their fiery tube of wax and string been witness to?”

I walk around in old abandoned houses trying to pick up the vibes of those who lived there. The pride the first owners felt; marks on the door frames chronicling the growth of children; wondering what joys and sorrows were contained inside the walls. Sometimes those vibes hit me too hard.

When I looked through this open window of an old house in St. Mary, I had to wonder what did the owners take from those opened drawers, and why did the random beads, buttons and juice squeezer not make the cut when they closed the door the last time?

Letters to Mark Twain

The book is a series of letters Randy has written to Mark Twain: “each letter I write to you will be sealed in a bottle and tossed into the mighty Mississippi. There are no post offices in heaven or hell. Where we go, we never know until the last breath escapes our lungs. Maybe we disappear into inky oblivion from whence we came. Should your spirit dwell on the river, please read and respond in whatever manner a will-o’-wisp employs. I need your help while looking for your lost and discarded possessions.”

Searching for Mark Twain’s buried treasure

Randy has been using a metal detector to search for artifacts at Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal (with permission, I should note.

Sam, to investigate and excavate the soil where you and your family once lived, loved and walked is an intimate act, too. What will your candlestick holder be that shines light on your time there on Hill Street? A coin, ring, shoe buckle, tool or object that will be attributed to you? Knowing your affinity for buried treasure causes me, in my wildest imagination, to hope that you buried something there.”

Whenever I take someone new to see what’s left of Cairo, we stop here long enough for them to pry up a piece of blue tile from what used to be a large department store.

I hope they keep it as a memory of a town that is rapidly disappearing, and as a link to me. Probably, though, they’ll pull open a drawer some day, and say, “What the hell is this?” and pitch it in the trash.

I guess I can’t be surprised. On any given day, some of my best work ended up on the floor being peed on by a poodle.

Shameless plug

Randy was kind enough to say some nice words about my Smelterville book on his Facebook page, and that caused a lot of folks to wonder where they could find it.

Here’s the answer:

Annie Laurie’s Antique Store, 536 Broadway Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-339-1301, $20 in person.

Pastimes Antiques, 45 Main Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-332-8882. $20 in person.

Cape Girardeau County History Center, 102 S. High Street, Jackson, Mo., 63755; Phone 573-979-5170. $20 in person; $30 to cover shipping and handling if mailed.

 

Mole Trap

Mole trap 07-30-2015This wicked-looking device hanging in Mother’s basement came from HER parents’ backyard garage in Advance. I can remember seeing it and being fascinated by the grisly tool when I was a little kid.

The way it worked was you would look around your yard until you saw the raised portions of ground where the moles had created runs. You would cock the trap by pulling up on the handle at the top, which would compress the spring and raise the spikes.

After that, you would put the trap straddling the run with the big stakes on both sides, sticking it in the ground just far enough that the flat trigger at the top of the spike platform would rest across the raised dirt. The theory was that a mole passing through the run would jiggle the ground just enough to send the spikes plunging through him.

I never checked for success

I’m not sure we ever deployed the device with any serious intent to dispatch any moles, and I certainly never dug around to see if it had been successful if we had.

If you have a sadistic bent and moles in your yard, I’m pretty sure the trap ended up at Annie Laurie’s Antique Shop.

Wow! I just did a Google search for “mole trap” and came up with a whole bunch of more modern devices for dealing with the rodents. After looking at a couple of videos, I am more convinced than ever that ignorance is bliss. I’m glad I never checked for results.

A Model Hobby

USS United States models 09-23-2015Dad and I spent many a winter evening building plastic models of ships and planes. Well, to be more accurate, I sat at the table WATCHING Dad build plastic models of ships and planes.

He was a follow-the-directions kind of guy, so he would get frustrated when I skipped around and ended up having to take apart stuff that I had assembled out of order. Before long I would be relegated to applying decals and sorting parts.

One of our largest projects – at least in size – was The U.S.S. United States. It wasn’t the most complicated, but it lit up and it was about two feet long.

A memorial to my Grandfather

Ken Steinhoff and Roy WelchHere’s something about the model I never told anyone: when my grandfather, Roy Welch, died when I was 10, I wiped all the dust off the deck and vowed that I would only dust half of it in the future as a way of remembering the passage of time since I had lost him.

When I took it down from the attic to put in a box of stuff going to Annie Laurie’s Antiques, I looked for the dust demarcation, but 30 or 40 years had made it ALL dusty.

Despite that, I still remember my Roi Tan cigar-chomping grandfather. I guess I really didn’t need the U.S.S. United States to do that.

Nobody But Daddy Touches It

Steinhoff TV remote 09-25-2015When we bought our first Zenith TV set, the dealer offered to throw in a black ceramic panther with eyes that lit up for the top of the set. That must have been a standard promotion because I saw a score of them over the years.

Mother thought they looked tacky, so Dad traded it in for credit on an Alliance Antenna Rotor and antenna.

We kids were given strict instructions that “NOBODY but daddy touches it.”

It made satisfying noises

Turning the dial caused a motor at the top of the antenna mast to turn the big antenna to bring in the least worst signal of a distant station. It couldn’t turn all the way around or it would twist off the antenna wire, so you would run it all the way in one direction, then reverse it.

There was some kind of big relay or something hiding in the innards that caused a very satisfying CLUNK-CLUNK-CLUNK! as the rotor was turning. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t mess with it. Dad could have heard the thing all over the house.

That’s it on the left

Steinhoff home 1618 Kingsway Dr June 1970

If you look closely, you can see the antenna sticking above the roof on the left side of the house. If you click on the 1970ish photo to make it larger, you can see Brother Mark’s Sears Spyder bicycle with its fake leopard-skin banana seat in front of the porch.

I figured Laurie Evertt would tell us to toss the gizmo in the dumpster, but she put it in the Keep Pile. Turns out that ones in good condition are going for about 25 bucks on the Internet. (It’s even got the motor and a stub of antenna mast, although it hasn’t been turned on it years. Check it out at Annie Laurie’s Antiques on Broadway if your life has been empty without an Alliance Antenna Rotor.

Dad died in 1977, so I guess it’s OK for you to touch it. If you get hit by lightning, though, I guess the curse is still attached.