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NOLON McCAMEY

 

STORY BY DANNY McCAMEY - DECEMBER 1999

 



Nolon (not Nolan) was born at home at the farm house back before there was electricity or running water in Harmon, Arkansas and had eight brothers and sisters.  Harmon was/is a small farm community located in Washington County, Arkansas - in the Ozark mountains in the northwest corner of Arkansas, near the state borders of Oklahoma and Missouri (and not far from Kansas).

 

Strawberries, grapes, beans and apples were the main products on the farm, along with a few cattle and chickens.  My Grandfather, William Franklin McCamey, operated an "apple squeezer" for the farm and neighbors.  The end product was sent first by horse and trailer and later by truck to nearby Rogers, Arkansas for use in making vinegar or cider.

 

With seven brothers and sisters, it could have been a struggle to be noticed in the family, but this was not a problem for Dad.  Everyone had to work hard, but a terrific sense of humor prevailed for all the family.  I suspect that Dad probably worked as hard, if not harder than the others, but joined in all the "skylarking" that the brothers and sisters got up to.

 

The Harmon school was located on a hill above the local country general store.  Dad finished the six grades that were taught and then went another year in "advanced study".

 

After leaving school at age 13, he took his first job in Texas washing dishes in a small cafe.  His pay was a bed to sleep on and the café's leftovers for his food - no money.  The job didn't last long.  At age 16, he was back home helping haul farm produce to markets.

 

At 16, Dad got a terrible toothache.  His father took him to the Dentist in Missouri but went to the wrong Dentist (or the nearest thing to a Doctor, Dentist or Vet - I hate to guess), had ALL his teeth pulled out, cut out his wisdom teeth,, and with bleeding gums continued the trip home. He had to sit upright all night because of the bleeding.

 

Also at 16, Dad used a "slip" and mule to help scoop out dirt and rocks to help clear the ground for the foundation for the new Harmon Methodist church.

 

A couple of years later, Dad had a car, probably a 1928 Model T Ford, pitch black hair, a terrific and sometimes mischievous smile, personality and all the confidence in the world.  He had selected SUE and started courting.   Being a bit of a character, he probably wasn't the first choice of Guy and Sally Baker of nearby Elm Springs, Arkansas as a partner for their daughter.  He would drive back and forth past Sue's place which was between Elm Springs and Tontitown, Arkansas.  Apparently it got to the point that Sue (a bit of a character herself) would slide down in the front seat just so her parents could not see her whenever Dad would purposely drive by Guy and Sally's place

                                                                                     

Of course they got married - I would not be writing this if they didn't.  They moved into a vacant house on the E. B. Crain place between Harmon and White Oak, Arkansas.  Their job was to work the farm, take care of the chickens and all the other things involved on the farm

 

Around 1938 - 1939, Nolon borrowed $200 from a Johnny Mayes, a neighbor, and bought stock for the local store, called Harmon Grocery and Produce.  They moved to a white house about 200 yards away and, guess what - I was born in January, 1940.  I don't think electricity had come yet to the country part of Arkansas.  The store had groceries, cattle and chicken feed, and hand operated gas pumps outside.  The hours were horrific - closed only on Sunday, starting at daylight and closing whenever everyone finally left, sometimes up to 10 at night.  The store was always the meeting place in the community.  Including Dad's brothers, two to six men would arrive at the store each night after supper and discuss/solve the community or world's problems.  I can remember Dad actually closing the store early one night, rushing home to listen to a Joe Lewis fight on the radio and then returning to reopen the store that night - I would guess at about 9 p.m.

 

In 1941, World War 2 started for the U.S.A.  Dad and Mom (and me) moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Dad had a job.  Luin Clark, a neighbour, ran the store while we lived in Tulsa.

 

Dad worked for Spartan Aircraft in Tulsa.  Spartan Aircraft was at the Tulsa airport and built fighter planes for the Air force.  I remember a P-38 being  mentioned.  It was square looking - the wings and cockpit in a line in front with two "bodies" going back behind the engines and the twin tails connected to each other at the back.  Dad took up golf while in Tulsa and had to quit after a rivet went through his hand at Spartan.  I remember the wooden golf shafts!  He met J. Paul Getty at Spartan one day when Getty walked through the airplane factory as the manager.

 

My brother Larry was born in February 1943 but died in December, 1944.  Mom and I immediately moved back to Arkansas and stayed at Mom's parents' while Dad finished up with Spartan.

 

Leaving Spartan meant Dad had to go for an Army physical, which I understand he passed.  He was waiting to be "called up" when the announcement came that the WAR WAS OVER.  So, after building planes for the war for several years, Dad did not have to go to war.

 

Back to the store in Harmon in 1945.  Electricity had come to Arkansas.  The coal oil lamp went out.  The coal stove went out.  Refrigerators and electric light and heat came in.  Ice plants, which had been a thriving business for years, started on the decline.  The store had cold pop (drinks), milk, meats, etc.   The store was still the social center for the community, along with the Methodist Church.  Each Fourth of July, the store would have unsold fireworks and many in the community would arrive to see and hear the fireworks.  The front porch of the store was the polling place for all elections.  The nightly meeting of the men was the daily meeting of the elders in the community.   There were opinions given on every subject.  Stray dogs were run out of town.  Advice was given to all that "strayed away from the right."  Fishing trips were arranged.  Credit at the store might be arranged in modest amounts.  I remember getting into trouble with Dad over me giving 50 cents credit for gas to the community drunk.  Dad would bring in, with the truck, products for sale at the store.  A load of coal, or a load of watermelons, chicken feed from the train line at Seligman, Missouri, etc.

 

Special comment - the community elders had a disagreement with the country Mayor (?) over the grading of the country roads.  It got to the point that the county would not grade the dirt roads at Harmon.  So the men bought a used road grader and took turns grading the roads.  I remember Uncle Clyde "being in his element" riding up top in the road grader.

 

Music and family gatherings went together.  Each Christmas, Thanksgiving or when visiting relatives were in town, there would be the big dinner for all.  Uncle Roy with the banjo, Uncle Dude with the fiddle, Uncle Ervin with the guitar (now I know he is cousin Ervin) , Harold McNeely singing and singing and more singing.  Dad would occasionally play the guitar, I remember him playing and singing "She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes" from way back in the Tulsa days.

 

The white house faced a hill on one side and a dry creek bed on the other.  The creek bed flooded in heavy rains until substantial bulldozer work in the mid 1950's deepened and widened the bed and huge retaining mounds of dirt were added.  The hill was almost straight up for about 75 feet.  The house had a well just outside the back door.  When  indoor plumbing became available, the rear of the house was extended to become a kitchen and dining area plus a "new bathroom with shower."  The well was in the center of the kitchen and was built up to the height of the kitchen counters.   I recall hearing that lightning hit the metal fence behind the kitchen and knocked Mom out while standing in the kitchen.

                                    

After returning from Tulsa to the store, Dad decided there was a need for an additional venture.  A bulldozer cut away the side of the hill (now it was really straight up) and made room for about four trucks and trailers to park.  As he sold chicken feed to farmers he knew which ones were growing chickens for sale.  He would buy the chickens (sometimes after providing credit for the feed he sold them), pay labor to catch the chickens and put them in coops (cages) and then drive (or hire a truck driver) the live chickens to the big cities - I remember Chicago and Omaha.  They would stop on the way, hang feed trays onto the cages and feed the chickens a mixture of water and mashed chicken feed.  I don't really know how much of the weight of the chicken was water when they reached Chicago or Omaha.  I doubt if Dad lost money.

 

The flat bed with chicken coops soon gave way to the flat bed with chicken batteries built on them.  The feeding trays would slide out to the center where they were filled out of a barrel of the water and mash.  The batteries and trays could be cleaned into the center aisle in the trailer-a source of part time work for some.

 

The chicken business evolved, as does all other business.  Larger companies started taking over.  Processing plants in the area were also part of the "integrated" poultry industry.  The long distance hauling of live chickens stopped.  The poultry companies went from the laying hen all the way to the frozen dinner (Tysons, Campbell's soup, Petersons, etc.) - again, the question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg."

 

Dad and Mom were told not to expect any more children, so my brother Don as born in November, 1947.  About this time the family of Dad's brother Garland (who died on the farm in 1941) decided to move to California.  Dad bought the four room house that was on about 20 acres and was part of his father's original property.  Dad added three rooms on the back, bricked the outside of the house and the four of us moved in.  In later years Dad bought the other 20 acres of the original McCamey property which included the house he was born in (by this time the house was very worn out and later was torn down.)

 

After trying several times in the 1950's to sell the store, he finally sold it in 1960.

 

But, back to the brick house in 1947, I got sidetracked for a bit…..the store, the farm, Don was born, family fishing trips to Canada, lots of local fishing, in De Queen, etc..

 

In 1955, Mr. Jeff Brown of Brown's Feeds in Springdale Arkansas and Mr. Bernie Hill of Brown's Hatchery in De Queen, Arkansas encouraged Dad to move to De Queen which was in the Southwest corner of Arkansas.  Dad's responsibility was to develop the "traffic" in chickens from the grower to the processing plant.  Again, this included trucking, labor for catching chickens, contact with the growers, etc. etc.  I understand it went very well, but Dad and Mom wanted to return to Harmon after one year, and guess what, my sister Suzanne was born in 1957.

 

The trucks for hauling chickens were sold.  Dad made an agreement with Peterson Industries in Decatur, Arkansas to deliver bulk chicken feed to their grower's in Dad's area.  He had up to three bulk feed trucks at times over the period up to the early sixties (I was one of the drivers part time).  Dad's agreement with Peterson's was for so many dollars per weight of chicken feed delivered but it developed that Petersons would settle up with Dad on the behalf of the grower.  Dad would then settle with the grower and, of course, deduct whatever the grower would owe Dad.

 

During these years, Dad built chicken houses over the combined 40 acres, after removing a grape vineyard and fruit orchards.  At the same time he had about 40 beef cattle on the farm.  The chicken houses held 80,000 chickens.  As the growth period reduced from over ten weeks at the beginning to about seven weeks, he would average five to six batches of 80,000 each per year - a total of 400,000 chickens or 800,000 chicken legs per year!

 

In the early sixties, Dad took a position with Peterson's to represent Peterson's with the growers, where he stayed until retirement in the 1970's.  He was responsible for 2,000,000 chickens at any one time.  He traveled all over Northwest Arkansas making good friends at Peterson's and also representatives of other poultry companies in the Northwest Arkansas area.  It was very common to find representatives from several companies having lunch or coffee together at some remote café.

 

Each year from the time I as very young, Dad would take the family for holidays.  We went to Canada fishing for many years, usually with the Willis and Lorene Shaw family of Springdale.   The Shaws were (are) close friends since their teenage days.  Other times we saw the California Redwoods, Old Faithful, and a big pile of relatives in California.

 

By the 1970's both Don and I were living in Australia.  Dad and Mom flew out to visit several times, stopping in places like Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Tahiti.

 

In the 1970's Dad purchased another 20 adjoining acres and in 1978 they built their first new house from scratch on these acres and sold the other original 40 acres.