A NIGHT OF FUN
By Norris Chambers
In the thirties there was a stretch of country of 150 square miles or more that was pretty well isolated from the surrounding areas. Of course this would not be unusual in some of the western bad lands, but in a part of the state that had just about every acre utilized, it represented a slight situation worthy of noticing. It wasn't desolate or uninhabited. It just wasn't served by any main roads. There were many inhabitants in that sandy stretch of relatively rich soil, post oaks, live oaks and thick shrubbery. Little 160 acre farms that provided a comfortable living for the families tending them were squeezed together, sometimes separated by a narrow lane, sometimes with a barbed wire fence and sometimes only by an impenetrable row of hedges.
I knew some of the people living around the edges that attended our school, and they were very nice kids. Many of those outside the area called them "sand lappers" but they were careful not to be heard by one of them. They were a tough bunch and using that term was considered the first lick in a fight.
Most of the region was not in our school district and they had a small one room wooden building about the middle of the area that served as a school, church and community center. I had heard of the building, but had never been there. In fact, I had not been anywhere inside the sandy area.
Clifton told me that he had heard they had a really good musical at the center every Saturday night and suggested that we might ought to check it out. It sounded like a very good idea to me, so we agreed to take my Model T strip-down and visit the function.
So, Saturday night we put on our better clothes and climbed on Old Henry, as I called the strip-down. Old Henry didn't have a body...just two old seats and a small wooden platform on the back. The frame had been cut down so that the differential connected directly to the transmission. There were no fenders, floor-boards or engine covers. There was no type of windshield - you just met the grasshoppers and bugs face on and hoped for the best.
We were a little late finishing the milking and getting started, and by the time we reached the sandy area it was getting dark. Clifton said that someone had told him a certain two rut road took you there, so we turned into it and proceeded in what we hoped was the right direction. After about a half mile of the sandy trip we got behind a wagon loaded with a family of adults and kids - mostly kids. There was no way to pass. We patiently chugged along behind them.
"Hey!" Clifton hollered above the chugging of Henry and the rattling of the wagon. "Is this the way to the musical?" At first there was no reply, but soon someone answered:
"Yep, just foller us. That's where we're heading." So for about twenty minutes we poked along, having to hold low peddle down a lot of the time to keep from running over them. We passed through two or three intersections where other little roads intersected. There was thick brush and low trees on both sides of the roads, trimmed back just enough to allow a wagon or automobile to progress. Clifton's patience was getting a little thin, and mine wasn't much better. If we could have turned around I would have suggested that we forget the idea. But there was no way, so we poked along behind the wagons, making every turn it did.
The little kids on the wagon got a lot of enjoyment out of their follower. I doubt if they had ever seen anything like Old Henry - few people had.
Eventually we emerged into a clearing in the brush. Off toward the center we could see
the white building. All around it and almost to the brush on every side there was collection of wagons, buggies and old automobiles. We would hear music coming from the direction of the school. The wagon in front of us pulled into the clearing to the right and stopped with half of the wagon into the undergrowth. Although it was getting pretty dark, I managed to find an opening to the left and because Henry was so short, I managed to work my way within fifty feet of the main activity.
The music was very good. The pews and chairs had been stacked outside. Inside the floor was covered by dancers. We tried to wiggle our way inside where we could see the musicians, but never made it. There just wasn't any room left for spectators.
We managed to get near an open window and could hear the fiddling and singing pretty well. Several men offered us a drink out of their jars or bottles. Since we didn't drink, we politely refused. One little old guy told us it was pretty good moonshine. "Not much lye in it," he said. And to prove it, he took a long, hard swallow.
We had listened for perhaps an hour when a big fight started. Two big guys started hitting each other, then began a wresting match and started rolling on the ground. Men and women began streaming out of the house and joined the crowd enclosing the fighters.
"Clifton," I said, "This would be a good time for us to go inside and see the musicians." He agreed, and since most of the insiders had come out to see the fight, we found our way to a corner where the music was originating. The music never stopped and soon the dancers and listeners were swarming back in. We were really enjoying ourselves. Clifton got friendly with one of the guitar players, and before long he was playing the guitar while the owner took a break. I even got to play a couple of tunes on the fiddle. We wondered how we could have been missing all this fun for so long.
Suddenly we heard a distant rumbling sound and saw a flash of light through the window. Those closest to the door and windows looked out. The rumbling and lightning came again. There was no doubt about it - rain was on the way. The music continued, but the thunder and lightning came closer. People were leaving as fast as they could get out. Between tunes I heard automobiles starting. The storm was intensifying. Looking out the window, I could see that the yard was emptying. There was still a pretty big bunch dancing. I could see Old Henry out there by himself. "Reckon we ought to go?" I asked Clifton. He said he didn't think it was necessary. We'd just get wet if it rained. That made good sense to me, so we stayed And it did rain. The room emptied pretty fast. Two of the musicians left.
Finally the rain slowed a little, and most of those who had stayed left. The musicians thought it would be a good time to go, so they blew out the lamps and we went out with the rest. The rain was slow but steady. I could see that we were going to get plenty wet before we got home. Of course Old Henry wouldn't start. The coil box and spark plug wires were soaked. I knew there was no way to get it started as long as it was raining. We ran back to the school and went inside. The rain continued.
I guessed it was about midnight when the rain stopped. We tried for a few minutes to crank the engine, but there was no way we could start without drying the ignition wires.
"We could put a little gasoline on the head and light it," Clifton suggested. We didn't have any kind of container. I held my hand under the drain and accumulated enough in the palm to sprinkle a few drops around the plugs and under the coil wires. On a Model T the coil box was mounted on top of the left side of the engine and very short wires connected to the four spark plugs. Clifton lighted it. We had a nice fire for a few moments and had to keep beating the wires with a brushy limb to keep them from burning. But it started without a problem, and we turned on the lights and climbed aboard.
The story should end here, but it was just starting. There must have been a dozen roads leaving the clearing and heading into the brush.
"Which one did we come in on?" I asked, as I drove along the edge of the lot. Clifton pointed to one and said he thought that was the one. I turned into the trail and we started chugging along. Pretty soon it became obvious to me that this was the wrong road. There was a fence on our left, and I was sure we had not had a fence when we came in. But we couldn't turn around. The road wasn't that wide, even for a strip-down. Suddenly I saw a gate blocking the road. About that time a real mean sounding dog started barking and running toward us. In the dim beam of the light I could see that he was just as mean looking as he sounded. Clifton stood up on the frame and held on to the back of the seat while kicking at the snarling face. I hit the reverse pedal and started backing.
The front wheel must have run over some portion of our enemy, for he ran yelping back through the fence. There was enough room on our side of the fence to back into and turn around, so we motored back to the school yard.
We were completely confused. It was dark and the headlights didn't give much light. Clifton thought we ought to head in the same direction from which we had come but I thought that direction was wrong. We compromised and took one between the directions we preferred. We twisted through the trees and brush for about ten minutes before we knew we were wrong. Another gate blocked the road. There wasn't a dog and we were grateful for that. Turning Henry wasn't easy. It would not have been possible with a regular car, but Henry's short wheel base gave us a foot or so for maneuvering, and we managed to turn back. About three more trials were failures. The next one brought us into someone's yard and a couple of barking dogs. These dogs were noisy, but not dangerous. Someone hollered from the house, "Who's there?"
"We've been to the school house," I replied, "and we can't find the road to get out to the main road."
A tall, slim guy came out of the door and came walked toward us. He wasn't wearing anything but his underwear. I killed the engine and turned off the lights. He told us we were going in the wrong direction. "There ain't no road this way," he declared. "Go back to the school and go north." I told him that I thought we were going north. Clifton said he thought we were going east.
"Just go back and take the north road for about five miles and you'll hit the main road." Then he changed the subject and commented that we had a nice rain. We agreed that we did. There was plenty of turning room, so we started up and turned around. As we were leaving I heard him comment on Old Henry. I think he liked it.
It wasn't quite as simple as it sounded. When we got back to the school we still couldn't agree on which way was north. Just as we were about to take pot luck on the other side of the building, the clouds drifted away and we saw the stars. No argument now. The little dipper and the big dipper and the north star showed us exactly where north was. But there were three roads going that direction. We took the center one.
It probably took us three or four miles to discover that this was not the right one. It ended at a house. Again we woke up a sand lapper and asked him how to get out. He wasn't quite as friendly as the first one, but he told us to go back to the school and take the road next to this one. He pointed to the right. I thanked him and commented that we had a nice rain. He didn't even grunt - just turned and walked back toward the house.
His directions were right. The next road eventually brought us to the main road on the north. But we had entered from the south, and we were fifteen miles farther from home.
When we chugged into our yard the sun was almost up. The eastern sky was red. I heard a cow bawl out in the lot.
"I'll go get the milk buckets and be right back," I told Clifton.
He answered, "Yeah, this is where we started last night." The moral to this story is, don't go into sand lapper territory on a rainy night unless you mark your trail plainly behind you.
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