“The Moment I Knew I Wanted to be a Writer”

I’ve been around some great writers and storytellers. Some days I can turn a sentence that makes me feel pretty good.

This weekend, though, I got to talk with and listen to Michael Wallis, a self-described “Son of Missouri,” who held an Altenburg audience spellbound Saturday night (except when my phone started reading out Wife Lila’s text message in the middle of his presentation).

In these days of LOLs and OMGs and 140-character Tweets, it’s refreshing to hear someone paint pictures of the mind using whole sentences.

Sitting next to Stan the Man

I was just going through the motions Friday night when he told how winning a Triple-A essay contest on being a patrol boy got him into the Cardinal dugout sitting next to Stan Musial on a night when Number 6 belted one out of the park with the Cards down 2, with two on and two out in the ninth. On the way home in an Augie Busch limo with his dad, there came that moment in the dark when he thought, “You know, this writing’s not so bad.”

When I got home, I listened to the digital recorder that had been stuffed in my pocket, then looked at some of the photos I had snapped off and thought, “maybe I can cobble something together out of this.” His words are definitely stronger than my photos, even if the audio is a little ragged in parts.

I scrabbled around for some old home movie footage of MY patrol boy days (I was Captain), a shot of Son Adam at the Cardinal stadium and some memorabilia from a 1949 Cardinal – Cubs game that might have been MY first pro ballgame to fill in some gaps.

Wallis has written 18 books, but my kids will probably know him better as the voice of Sheriff in the Disney-Pixar Cars series. He lived upstairs in the Last Chance / First Chance Tavern when he was a student at SEMO and is considering writing a novel about Cape.

You can find out more about Michael Wallis on his website.

Taming Swampeast Missouri

Keith Lewis had a story in The Missourian October 4 noting that work on the Little River Drainage District started 100 years ago. There was a good reason why old-timers refer to this area as Swampeast Missouri: a large portion of Southeast Missouri was nothing but nearly impenetrable swamps with names like the Dark Cypress, Old Field and Big Field.

This aerial photo was taken south and west of Delta and shows the old Whitewater River meandering through what once would have been swamp. Dad had a job to divert the river, essentially cutting off this channel years and years ago.

Miles and miles of farmland

Once the timber was logged off and the land cleared, it turned out to be incredibly rich for farming.

Cut trees when swamp froze over

I interviewed Wife Lila’s Uncle Ray Seyer a couple of years ago when he was 89. Ray remembers growing up in the Tillman community area and hearing stories from his dad about the old days. “Pop would ride a horse – no cars in those days – from Kelso down through Delta and most of the time the water was up to the horse’s belly.”

“When they started clearing that ground there – it was all wooded area – they couldn’t cut when that water was in there.. they’d wait until it froze over, then cut it above the ice and let it float out later.”

Video: Soft ground could swallow tractor

Ray told some stories I had heard from old-timers back when I was a kid. I’m hoping I can run across a tape recording I made of one of Mother’s friends describing putting 12″ x 12″ “mudshoes” on horses to keep them from sinking into the “sinky” muck.

Ray and Dad both said you’d better not stop once you started across the old swamp. Ray talked about a couple of guys who used to haul limestone out of there. Their Caterpillar-type tractor stalled out at the end of the workday and wouldn’t start. They decided to leave it until the morning. The next day, only two smokestacks were visible above the muck, he said.

Diversion Channel

The Big Ditch is one of the main ways to move water out of the basin into the Mississippi River. Here are some of the stories I’ve done about the Diversion Channel.

KFVS-TV Turns 58

I saw a posting on the KFVS-TV fan page that the television station went on the air Oct. 3, 1954. Actually, according to a letters received by the station, people were watching the test pattern days before the station went live with programming.

Brother Mark wasn’t there for the very first broadcast, but he worked a number of jobs there, including cameraman, in the mid-to-late 1960s.

KFVS-TV video about 58th birthday

Here’s is a video KFVS produced to mark the October 3 celebration.
KFVS12 News

Other stories about KFVS


I Only Borrow the Souls

One of the most rewarding things about doing this blog is the opportunity to connect readers with their pasts. I’ve been asked a lot of times over the years how to take pictures. Most of the times I dismiss the question by saying something like, “I walk in, draw a box around a tiny segment of time, then walk out.”

Or, I might paraphrase Bob Greene, a Chicago columnist, “I make people love me for 28 minutes, then I steal their souls.”

Doing this blog has taught me that I didn’t really ‘steal” the souls. I merely borrowed them for three, four or five decades. Now I’m returning them.

When I started circulating photos I had taken in Smelterville in the mid-60s, one of them made it into the hands of Fay Powders. It was her mother, and it was the only photograph she has of her. Watch the video to hear Fay talk about it.

Cheating death

When I ran the story about Lester Harris, a SW Bell repairman who would cheat death by dangling from a cable chair suspended over the Diversion channel (a cable that had probably been damaged by people shooting at it), family, friends and coworkers all shared stories about the man. He was also featured in a story about stock car racers at Arena Park.

I particularly like this one from Jennifer Adams: Lester Harris is my grandpa. I live next to him and when I came home today he was telling me all about this. He always told me stories of him working for Southwestern Bell but never saw pictures of it until today. Thanks for posting these pictures!!”

Lester’s daughter, Sandy Harris Lyke, sent this update September 24, “My Dad has been very ill this past year. He could use all the prayers people want to send his way.

“Great operator, greater father”

Judy Finley spotted her dad operating a crane in a story about construction projects at SEMO. I’m using that photo and quote in my Altenburg presentation.

When I shot pictures of the last days before The Palm Beach Post farmed out its award-winning production department, I wrote, “I’ve always believed that every worker should be able to show his or her kids and grandkids what they did for a living.”