Country Editor's Boy, p.24Hal Borland
School ended the last week in May, and we had a few days of complete freedom, when Little Doc and I went out to Crystal Springs and to the waterholes along the river on the Rumming ranch and dogpaddled enough to say we had been swimming. Then Doc Buck arrived and we got involved in his tests. But we knew Little Doc was going to work in the drug store that summer and I was going to work at the News office at least a part of the summer. I hoped to find some job before school started that would toughen me up for football, my last year of it in high school. But just now we were drafted into the Chautauqua organization, to help set up the tent and then to help the crewman supervise sports and games for the younger boys.
The crew and equipment arrived on a Sunday, on the early afternoon passenger train from the east. We were at the depot to meet them. The superintendent, who would be in charge of the programs, we had been notified, would be Albert Sorenson, who was taking an advanced degree at the University of Nebraska. The crewman, in charge of tent and equipment, would be Eddy Logan, who had just finished his freshman year at Creighton University in Omaha.
The train pulled in and only two people got off, the tall thin one who introduced himself as Al Sorenson, and the stocky younger one who said he was Eddy Logan and then dashed down the platform to where the trainmen were rolling and tumbling bales and bundles of equipment out of the baggage car. There were three tons of it, in all, and the trainmen fumed and swore at anyone who had the gall to ask them to handle three tons of excess baggage. Eddy Logan ignored the complaints and checked the bales, bundles and big black trunks as they were unloaded, finally insisting that one bale of canvas was still missing when the trainmen said it was all there. He insisted until they found it, though the train was almost fifteen minutes late as it finally got under way again toward Denver.
Ora Groves was there with his truck, and we helped load the gear, get it all moved to the Chautauqua grounds, the vacant halfblock back of the Congregational church, where Eddy Logan had each bundle and bale put exactly where he wanted it. Then he got a gray wall tent out of one trunk, we helped set it up, and he and Mr. Sorenson went in, with their suitcases, and changed from their travel clothes to work clothes. That tent was to be their bedroom.
The next hour was one of the best demonstrations of how to get a complicated job done with ignorant volunteer labor that I ever saw. Mr. Sorenson said at the start that Eddy Logan was the boss of that job, and Eddy organized the volunteers in six crews, set them all to work, coordinated them, and never raised his voice. I decided that afternoon that if I ever was in a position of responsibility I wanted to be a boss like Eddy Logan.
He chose the site for the big tent, got a tape from one of his big black trunks, drove marker stakes for the center poles, measured off three guy stakes for each center pole, set crews to driving stakes, showed two other crews how to drive spikes in the end of four-by-four quarter poles and two-by-four wall poles. The local committee had been asked to provide two thirty-foot telephone poles, four-by-fours for quarter poles, two-by-fours for wall poles, planks for the platform stage, and timbers for its foundation. All this material had to be moved to the places where it would be needed.
Typical of Eddy’s method was the way he taught the stake crew to drive stakes. Every one of the volunteers for this job was a big husky man, Big Ed Schlote the biggest of them all. Eddy Logan was about my height and didn’t weigh a pound over 140. But he took a sixteen-pound maul, handed one just like it to Big Ed, and said, “Want to put down a couple of guy stakes with me?” Big Ed grinned, swung the maul as though it were a croquet mallet, and said, “Sure.” Eddy tapped a four-foot guy stake to start it, nodded to Big Ed, swung the maul, brought it down squarely and drove the stake four inches, caught the rebound, and started his second swing as Big Ed came down with a terrific blow that hit the stake head off-center, glanced, spun the maul in his hands, and almost jerked him off his feet. Eddy’s second blow landed an instant later, drove the stake another four inches.
Eddy stopped, looked at Big Ed’s right hand, where blood oozed from beneath two fingernails, the flesh pulled loose by the twist of the maul handle. Big Ed flushed, wiped his fingers on his overalls, said, “All right, let’s go.” But Eddy said, “Take it easy. Let the hammer do the work. And don’t grip so tight. Like this,” and he swung again, deliberately let the maul fall of its own weight, merely guiding it, struck the stake squarely, and drove it another three inches. “See?” Big Ed nodded, and they started again, and they put that guy stake down within a foot of the ground with another dozen blows, nicely alternated between them. Big Ed learned, and so did all the others; and the guy stakes were driven as fast as Eddy measured and set them out. That’s the way he worked, and everyone there was eager to help, to do whatever he suggested.
The wall poles and quarter poles were finished. The two center poles were lugged into place, ready to rig and raise. Eddy had holes bored for the ring bolts, attached the blocks, put the bail rings in place, tied the guy ropes, and checked them twice. Then he assigned two men to each guy, got the huskies to start the center poles, one at a time, get them off the ground while the men at the guys steadied them, then hoisted them on up. Both poles up, he clove-hitched the guys, tightened them, and doubled the hitches. Then he had the crews distribute the sections of the brown tent top, showed how to lace them, starting at the center and not walking on the canvas. He laced the two peaks to the bail rings. He had the stake crews drive enough wall stakes to anchor the tent when it was hoisted. Then he took two men with him and crawled under the canvas to one center pole and hoisted that peak halfway up. They moved to the other pole and hoisted the other peak. Then they took the peaks on up to their proper height, and suddenly there was a tent, a big brown tent with two peaks, covering an area twice as big as all of Seal’s Hall.
After that the wall stakes had to be driven, the wall ropes tightened, the wall poles set in place and the quarter poles, which hoisted the tent into a series of lesser peaks all the way around. And finally, that afternoon, Eddy Logan chose a select crew to help him trim the set of the center poles, tighten the guys till they almost hummed, snug the wall ropes, and finish the job. The big top was taut as a drumhead. By then it was almost six o’clock. We helped Eddy move the bedroom tent up close to the big top, and he thanked us all and said, “Tomorrow we’ll set up the platform and the seats, so better bring your hammers. We’ve got a lot done this afternoon.”
W. E. Hall had come to watch the final hour of work, and he invited Mr. Sorenson and Eddy Logan to his house for supper. But Mr. Sorenson said, “Thanks, but can’t we make it tomorrow? We’re too dirty to be fit company anywhere tonight. And I might add, we’re a little tired, too. Right, Eddy?” And Eddy said, “I am.” So they went down to the café across the street from the hotel and sat at the counter, like farm hands, and ate hamburger, which was just about then starting to be called Salisbury steak, and fried potatoes and canned peas and custard pie. And went back to their gray wall tent and made up their beds, on folding canvas cots, and washed in water carried from the pump at the church, and went to bed, too tired to bother with the gasoline lamp they had.
The next day was easy, really. The platform stage was made of planks laid across a cribbing of timbers. Folding chairs were brought from the church and from the Odd Fellows’ Hall, and wooden benches were built to supplement them and make room for more than three hundred people in the tent. The curtains were hung for the dressing rooms. A piano was brought from the church and Mr. Knies spent two hours tuning it after it was moved. And Eddy Logan and I hung lines of Chautauqua banners across Main Street, from rooftop to rooftop, twenty lines of them, and made the street almost as gay as Fourth of July. It was during that job that I got to know Eddy well enough to ask questions, because he was skittish about high places. He let me do the roof climbing and admitted that he got dizzy if he was more than ten feet off the ground.
Eddy told me about the circuit, how it was organized, where it went, about his job. In addition to bei
And he told me about the crews and their schedule and circuit. There were seven crews and tents. Each one spent five days in a town, then had two days to move and get set up. When a crew moved it leapfrogged all the other crews, and every day a crew was moving. The talent—the singers and musicians and lecturers—went from one town to the next every day, usually late at night or in the morning, and put on two programs a day, one in the afternoon, the other at night. The talent had one day off every week. The circuit we were on started in western Nebraska, swung down into Kansas, through Flagler, on to Simla, then to Florence, down near Canon City, on over to the Western Slope, back through the northeastern corner of the state, across the northern tier of Nebraska, and ended in Iowa at the end of August.
That day, on the early afternoon train, the Junior Girl arrived, the third member of the crew. Her name was Doris Carter, she was a junior at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, she was blonde and tall and skinny, and not at all pretty. But she was so pleasant and so pleased with life that you couldn’t help liking her. Eddie Logan called her Sis, said she was like a sister to everyone on the circuit. Her job was to organize a morning story hour and play games with the little children, those up to about eight years old. There were seven Junior Girls on the circuit, but the company rotated them so that none of them was with any one crew more than a week at a time. Sis Carter was to stay with the Clarence Smiths while she was in Flagler. We took her up there, and before the afternoon was out she had enlisted four high school girls as helpers and had gone all over town and, like the pied piper of Hamelin, won the heart of every little boy and girl in sight.
The next morning, opening day of Chautauqua, practically every youngster in town was at the big brown tent. Miss Carter and her helpers took charge of the young ones. Eddy Logan, Little Doc and I had twenty-two boys on our hands. Eddy took charge, divided them into two teams, and we started off with a baseball game, Little Doc managing one team, I the other, and Eddy umpiring. After they had played four or five long innings we switched to track and field events, keeping the two squads as competing teams. It was like trying to manage two tribes of wild young Indians, but we did it. We gradually wore them down and ran them ragged. By noon, when we sent them home for dinner, they were dragging their feet. So were Little Doc and I, but Eddy laughed at us. “How would you like to do this five days a week all summer, and spend the other two days tearing down, moving, and setting up the tent?”
We dragged home, ate, and were back for the afternoon program, where we could at least sit down. On the ground, if nowhere else. Flagler was jammed. The hitch racks on Main Street were full; teams and wagons, buggies, even trucks were parked there. And there were wagons or buggies on almost every vacant lot in town, and family picnic dinners. By one-thirty the big tent was jammed, every seat taken. By two o’clock, when the program was to begin, people were standing all around the tent.
The opening day talent, a lecturer and an instrumental quartet, had arrived on the early morning train and been quartered at the hotel. The musicians were to put on a full program in the afternoon and that evening would give a kind of overture before the lecture, the topic of which was “The Challenge of Today.”
Clarence Smith, who was chairman of the Chautauqua Committee, opened the program. He made his remarks brief. He welcomed everyone, said he was glad to see so many people present, that he was sure that everyone knew what Chautauqua meant to a town, thanked everyone who had helped the committee bring Chautauqua to Flagler, and said, “Now I am going to turn things over to the talented young man who will be in charge of this platform and the whole of Chautauqua here for the rest of this week. Albert Sorenson.”
Mr. Sorenson stalked onto the stage, all good will and joviality. He thanked Mr. Smith, thanked the audience for its welcome to him, then said, “I always like to open our first program with a word from the church. Will Reverend Moore please come to the platform?”
Adna Moore, the preacher who had been in charge of the Congregational church since the first of the year, was conveniently near the front and seated on the aisle. He went to the platform, a distinguished-looking elderly man with a head of iron-gray hair and twinkling eyes. Of Scottish blood, he spoke at times with a faint burr. After many years in urban pulpits in the East and South, he had come to Flagler to get back to the simplicity of village life, since he had grown up as a small-town boy. He was the best preacher Flagler had ever had. Now he looked out over this Chautauqua audience and smiled, and he said, “This Chautauqua week is certain to be a tremendous success. It has to be, for it opens this afternoon with the McLeods, and that’s verrra, verrra nice.” He rolled the r’s magnificently. And when the ripple of chuckles had died he said, “And now I would speak a few words more solemnly…. Bless this gathering, dear Lord. Give thy benediction to these programs we are about to hear. Give us grace, and add thy inspiration to those who come to instruct and entertain us. We ask it in thy name, the name of God. Amen.” And he left the platform.
Mr. Sorenson, who had stood with bowed head, waited for the slight rustle to subside in the audience, then said that it was a great privilege to be in Flagler, “with all you good people,” and he wanted everyone to meet his two assistants. He summoned Doris Carter and Eddy Logan from the wings, introduced them by name, they took their bows and applause, and Mr. Sorenson said, “We have a musical treat to start our week, an afternoon of musical enjoyment. This evening we have more music, and in addition we will have food for thought and inspiration, a lecture by the distinguished Dr. Philip L. Masterson. This evening I will tell you about tomorrow’s programs. But right now it is time to get started with Chautauqua—your Chautauqua!… Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Musical McLeods!”
Four people, two men and two women, came hurrying onstage, beaming, the men in white jackets, the women in fluffy white dresses. The older man, who had a trumpet in his hand, said, “May I introduce our company?” He bowed to the pianist, a middle-aged blonde. “My wife, Jean Ramsey McLeod, who was practically born at the piano…. Mary McPherson”—and he bowed to the other, younger woman—“who is a McLeod by birth”—he turned to the other man, a beetle-browed, dark-haired man with a trombone—“and Jock McPherson, related to Mary McPherson by marriage, so to say, he being her husband.” Mary had taken her seat at the set of drums and traps, a female drummer, no less. “And I,” said the older man with the trumpet, “am the McLeod. Sandy McLeod…. Now we know each other.”
All in their places, Sandy McLeod signaled with his left hand, put the trumpet to his lips, and they struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It brought the audience to their feet, and before the instruments were halfway through the first verse voices took up the words. The tent rang with the national anthem, on through the first verse and through a second. And when the music had stopped and the audience was in the seats again Sandy McLeod said, “Thank you.” And a moment later they began their afternoon program with “The Little Gray Home in the West,” played with a trombone solo the second time through, and with Sandy himself singing the third time through.
Chautauqua had begun. The Musical McLeods gave us a little of everything that afternoon, including a fully costumed imitation of Harry Lauder singing “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’.” And that evening they played numbers from light opera before the distinguished Dr. Masterson delivered his sonorous words on “The Challenge of Today.”
The second day brought a six-person light opera company, which put on a program of vocal music in the afternoon and in the evening played a condensed version of Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller. For
We had just sat down at the table and Mother was passing the meat. Father gave me that look and asked, “How is it going at Chautauqua these mornings, son?”
“All right, I guess.”
“You like what you’re doing?”
“Well, yes. Of course I do.”
Father nodded and glanced at Mother, who was frowning in question. She evidently didn’t know, any more than I did, what he was leading up to.
“Would you like to be doing it again next summer?” Father asked me.
“Well, I suppose so, if we have Chautauqua again. We will, won’t we?”
“I mean all summer. Not here, but on the Chautauqua circuit.”
“Will!” Mother exclaimed. “You don’t mean—”
“Yep, that’s what I mean. Dick Hovey is in town. I’ve told you about Dick. He was in Council Bluffs when we were in Omaha. Well, he’s one of the officers of Standard Chautauqua now, Circuit Manager. He came down to the office to see me, and we got to talking, and—well, the upshot was that if you want to have a job as crewman with Standard Chautauqua next summer, it probably can be done.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was dumbfounded. I thought how everybody liked Eddy Logan, even the talent, and how he was getting around, seeing the world, meeting people. I thought of myself as another Eddy Logan, and yet as still being me. I was tongue-tied.
Country Editor's Boy by Hal Borland / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes