Ernie Chiles and the Rock of the Month Club

Cape Girardeau Central High School teacher Ernie Chiles with his ham radio equipment Oct. 1963

Ernie Chiles was a student teacher in my freshman biology class. He was a quiet guy who didn’t make much of an impression at the time.

Next year, though, he had been hired to teach Earth Science, which was generally considered a Mickey Mouse class that anybody could pass.

By the luck of the draw, Jim Stone, George Cauble and I ended up in his class and achieved some kind of critical mass. We started an informal competition with Ernie. Our goal was to ace every one of his tests and his was to create tests that nobody could ace.

THAT played havoc with the grading curve

Ernie Chiles - Ken Steinhoff - Jim Stone Oct 1963The three of us would meet at my house the night before the tests and we’d practically memorize the text book and class notes. Ernie, for his part, would dig into obscure points to try to trip us up. If we missed a question, we’d do even more research to prove that we were right. At the 20th Reunion, I was still disputing a question that Ernie had marked wrong.

Ernie was a pilot and a ham

Ernie, who wasn’t more than a handful of years older than us, was a ham radio operator and a pilot. Before long we were hanging out at his house, going flying and doing stuff that teachers today would be afraid to do with their students.

He was Mr. Chiles in class and around other students, but he was “Ernie” when we were together. He was the first teacher I knew who had a first name and the first one I connected with as as a person, not just someone who taught a class.

I became a newspaperman because of him

First Missourian picture 04-18-63One of our flying expeditions turned out to be a life-changer for me. You can read about how I became a newspaper photographer because of it.

Pam T can comment on one of her flights with Ernie after this is published. He laughs about it today, saying, “I can just see the headline you would have written if the icing on the wings had gotten any worse, “Teacher, Students Die in Crash.”

I corrected him. I’d have written “CHS Teacher Kills Students.”

Ernie Taught me how to drive

Of course,  I crashed in the first 150 yards. Here’s the whole, sad, story.

Rock of the Month Club

When Jim Stone and I came back for the 20th Reunion, we stopped by to see Ernie. After all the business of catching up was over, Ernie looked at us and said, “OK, guys the statute of limitations has surely run out by now. Fess up.”

Jim and I looked at each other and asked, “Fess up to what?”

“Come on, you guys. I figured someone would leak it by now, but you’ve done a good job of keeping a secret. Just confess it was you who did it.”

Not a clue

“We don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” I said.

Bulldozer in Mexico MO 1942“One night I woke up to hear a loud noise outside my house. The next morning, there was this huge boulder in my front yard with a sign, ‘Welcome to the Rock of the Month Club.’ I knew Ken’s dad was in the construction business and he’d have access to heavy equipment, so you two HAD to have been involved.”

I looked at Jim. He looked at me. “We’d be proud to admit to it, but this is the first we’ve ever heard of the story. We’re innocent.”

Somewhere there’s a Central High School student who is great at keeping a secret.

Anybody want to step up?

Ernie’s getting up in age and I’m sure he’d love to know the whole story before he “goes West,” as pilots call it.

Tomorrow we’ll show you what Ernie looks like today. He and I took a bike ride around Horseshoe Lake on Tuesday.

I drove.

He tightened his seat belt.

He remembers that first driving lesson.

UPDATE: Ernie and I still fly together.

Cape Girardeau’s Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge

I loved the old bridge, don’t get me wrong. Going across that puppy was a rite of passage when you got your driver’s license.

Having said that, the new bridge is beautiful. I’ll post more stuff when I can get home and find my pix of the old bridge, but here are some shots of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at night.

View from near the Themis floodgate

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken near Themis flood gate

For any photo geeks, the picture was taken with a Nikon D-40 DSLR using an ISO of 200 and an exposure of 5 seconds at f/6.3.

There was a barge working its way upstream (note the light streaks) and I was hoping he would shine his spotlight my way to make an interesting light streak. He was, however, more intent on finding channel markers along the east bank than improving my picture. Click on the image to bring up a larger version.

Views from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old bridge overlook

These two pictures were shot at about the same time. The only real difference is that I zoomed out to get both spans in the second picture.

I was hoping to pick up some light streaks from vehicles on the bridge, but traffic was light and there was a cold drizzle tricking down my neck. My working philosophy dictated that I wasn’t required to go hungry, get wet or lift heavy objects.

Why would I want to work any harder to produce a blog?

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Couple watching river flow by

Couple watching Mississippi River flow by Cape Girardeau

I was too lazy to set up the tripod for this picture, so I hand-held it at at about one second. That’s why the guy is a little blurry from movement.

Editor’s note

This is far from the final look of this site. The WordPress template that Son Matt picked is different than the one used by my other blog,, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve associated with dealing with a graphics-heavy one like this.

I’m going to be in Cape a few more days shooting new pictures to go along with old ones I’m sure are in the file. After that, I suspect it’ll take me at least a couple of months to get everything organized, scrutinized and digitized. (The only “ized” I haven’t figured out is the monetized one. Maybe I should draft some of the old Girardot and Tiger business staffers to go out and sell ads for me.)

My old earth science teacher, Ernie Chiles, and I are going for a bicycle ride Wednesday. Thursday I’m going over to the old Central High School to see what it looks like after being converted to a junior high school.