COOLIDGE & TEHUACANA
Interviewed by Logan Wilson
July 9, 2014
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson and today is the ninth day of July, 2014. I’m interviewing Mr. Jim Meredith at his home close to Dawson, Texas. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past project. I’d like to thank Mr. Meredith for his time and for his contribution to our project. The next sound you will hear will be that of Mr. Meredith. (moves microphone closer to Meredith)
MEREDITH: I was born in 1929, the year before the Depression really got going, I guess you’d say, and I remember those years after about four quite well. My family was in the farming business and we lived in Coolidge, but we farmed about seven miles north of Coolidge over in Navarro County. But the reason we ended up in Coolidge was, back in those days, they didn’t have the school buses. They didn’t have roads to lead into town other than dirt roads, so at first—there were ten of us kids and the first few kids, he would rent a room in town and let the kids stay there and go to school. Well, finally, they decided it’d be cheaper just to have a house in Coolidge. That’s where we lived and I started remembering things going on, which at about four years of age—we lived in a house about a half block from the main street of Coolidge. At that time, there was four main blocks and every building in town was full, people there, and every Saturday the town would just be loaded with wagons. The ones that I remember that always fascinated me was the family there that came to town about four miles from town in an oxcart. First time I’d ever seen an oxcart, and that was kind of an interesting thing, seeing these people, you know, basically kids be riding in the cart and then the father would be leading the oxen to town. But that was a fascinating thing. Being that close to downtown and being the youngest of ten, my mother didn’t go much for supervision. She kind of just let me wander in and out.
I was really blessed because I was raised basically by the people in Coolidge. Some of the best training I got was starting out begging. I’d start making my rounds about ten o’clock in the morning and I’d hit people up for pennies, mainly. Of course, penny was a big deal in those days because you could get a Butterfinger or a Babe Ruth in a penny- style size and, you know, you couldn’t ask for much more than that. Anyway, I got to knowing how people gave in the community. I had the penny-givers, and I knew some people that would give nickels and I knew some that’d give a dime. My favorite uncle was my drinking uncle. He gave quarters and, boy, I really thought the world of him because a quarter was really some big money back in those days. But anyway, I got used to going in and out of these stores and I learned a lot about business. I think that’s where my sales training started, was being able to go around and ask people for money and what have you.
Luckily, down the line, I started running into all sorts of opportunities for a young guy. When I was about thirteen years old, we had a grocery store there in town, a Mr. Lewis(??) who had been a school principal at one time. I didn’t know anything about you don’t chew gum when you’re talking to customers. We [my family] never had a telephone and we used to take orders over the telephone for a bill of groceries, and, first thing I knew, he trusted me in his pickup truck to deliver the groceries that I’d taken the order for. That kind of education you just don’t get in public schools and what have you. One of the funniest things, he trusted me so much that he had me come to work early on Saturday morning, thirty minutes before the store opened, and he told me how to wash the wienies and the bologna in a vinegar water to get that white, mildew look out of it(??). And he knew that I didn’t mind getting up early in the morning (laughs) and washing the sausages and the wienies, things like that. I was just blessed by getting to know the people in the community and the outlying areas and talking on the telephone, learning how to read scales. They didn’t have any of those automatic scales then. And then you—adding machines, I got to use those. I didn’t know I was learning all this stuff.
Well, rocked along, I had another lucky break that happened to me during these Depression years where money was kind of scarce. Coolidge was a pretty prosperous town during the Depression years. Everybody talked about the hard times and things, but some of the best farmland in the country was right around Coolidge, especially with cotton farming. We had three gins in the town that ran day and night during the ginning season. One of the things I remember from that was we used to have a—what we called a cotton storage area, is where they took the cotton from the gins that had been baled and they had a public—I mean—what am I trying to say? He was a—I guess you’d call it a city official. The guy was the official weigher of cotton. He got elected to that job and I thought, boy, this was a neat job. He got to go out and he cut the bales and he got a sample of cotton, put it in the wrapper, and he put the number that was on the tag in the sample. These samples, I found out, went up to the cotton buyers and then they took these samples to Dallas, which Dallas was the cotton center of the country, I guess, at that time. I learned a lot about the cotton industry just from visiting there and was fascinated.
The cotton went from there to—who would ever thought they’d had this big platform in Coolidge next to the railroad station? And that was—you know, in the kids’ eyes, I remember, it was a gigantic place. Well, they’d bring this cotton there and they’d store it, and as the trains came through, they’d load up this cotton. I got to watch them load the cotton on the trains. Every once in a while, I’d take a few hours off from school, sort of just make sure they was running that place right(??). (laughs) I was a grammar school kid at the time, but I was learning about the cotton industry, which I really didn’t care much [for] from the picking and cotton chopping, but just the business part of it fascinated me.
The other thing that I can still remember is the first time I ever saw a car unloaded off of a train car. That was quite an experience then. Opened that boxcar up and there were four shiny new automobiles. I remember I was down there watching them unload it one day, and about three weeks later, my dad bought that car, 1937, for $700, man. So I had an experience in that car from way back.
Well, so much for the cotton patch and the economy at that time. I’m not too much of a liberal, but thank goodness for the government coming through because my dad was a pretty good-size farmer and he wouldn’t have made it through those years if it hadn’t been [for] some of those government programs. One of the programs that stuck with me through the years as my folks never did give me any money to do anything with, but we got what they called cotton stamps. It was just like a postage stamp. I think it was either two bits or fifty cents it was worth. They gave me the book, says, Go down and buy you a white shirt to wear to church. Man, I thought that was the neatest deal in the world. You had this nice government stamp for two bits or fifty cents, and just give it to the guy and he gives you the white shirt. That was part of the cotton program during the—but it was programs like that that I wouldn’t believe in today at all, but I know that’s what kept farming going during the Depression years.
That passed on and things didn’t start to change till about 1940. That’s when the shadows of World War II were starting to appear and you started seeing some of the people bailing out at that time, leaving the small towns and going to the big cities. Aircraft factories started up, the shipyards down in Houston started up, and you couldn’t blame the people for leaving, especially marginal-type farmers, because, you know, they’d borrow everything they could to stick around and they just didn’t ever see the light, so they got out. But really, I didn’t see a lot of repossessions of farmland like I know that happened in the Dust Bowl up in Oklahoma where people just lost everything and had to head for California. Luckily, the people in my part of the country headed for Houston and Dallas and Fort Worth and aircraft industry.
I got a lucky break in about 1939. I used to come by the feedstore where we bought feed and asked a guy there if he had any work, you know, I could do there, and a lot of time he’d have some sweeping up I could do. It was a lot better than chopping cotton: sweeping out the feedstore and things like that. One day I came by and asked if he had any work, and he said, “No, but Jim, I got some onion plants that are about to go bad. Why don’t you take those home and see if you can—with your mother figure out some way to get them planted? I just hate to see them go to waste.” He gave me a big old load of onion plants already turning brown he thought was about gone. I took them home and my mother saw those things and she got nearly excited as I’ve ever seen her: “He gave those to you?!” And we had always—my dad would buy a cow that had a big bag and what he’d try to do is put that second calf on that cow and raise two calves off of it, which was pretty good deal. We had a garden spot there and about a twelve-acre pasture right on the edge of town. Well, we had an old horse and a breaking plow, and this lot where we kept these calves was about an acre in size. I didn’t understand at the time, but that was just all fertilizer was on the top of that field. And I had an old horse there named Dan, headed a breaking plow, and I went out there and, man, that plow just went through that fertilizer just as soft and easy. Now, my mother taught me how to chop the top of the row down so we could get four lines of onions through(??).
So I planted all those onions in that fertilizer, and few weeks later—this was like in February or something—the manager of the feedstore said, “What happened to those onions, Jim?” I said, “I can’t believe it. They’re popping out of the ground, they’re growing so fast and they’re so close together!” And he says, “Is that right?” and he came out and looked at my acre onion patch. He said, “Oh my goodness!” He told me how to cut the bottoms off and the tops off, and he gave me some feed sacks and loaded them up. He says, “Soon as I have a truck going down to Houston, I’ll take them.” I didn’t know anything about onion economics, but I did what they called beat the market. The onions from the Valley hadn’t even started coming in yet. He came back with a check for over $300 for them. Now, you’re talking about a rich kid in 1939. With $300, you were somebody!
My next enterprise was I bought thirteen calves, dairy calves they called them. Old Holstein calves were pretty big stout calves to start with, but they’d bred these to big Brahman bulls. I bought thirteen of them, brought them home. One jumped out of the trailer, so I had twelve. And then—that was in the forties—the government came along, put a control price on beef and really screwed the market up. But I raised those twelve calves with an RC Cola bottle full of Purina starter mix. I held each one of those calves, and I guess it was just like weight training in most schools because I had to hold that calf and hold that RC Cola bottle and put that twelve ounces of that Purina feed down them. First thing I know, I’ve got them up to about four hundred and something pounds, and I sold those calves off. All of a sudden, now I got around $900 between my two enterprises. Boy, I thought I was really in high cotton with all of that money.
Well, times got tough for farmers again because at the start of the war, you couldn’t get anybody to do farmwork, chopping cotton or picking cotton. Especially with us farming seven miles out of town, it was pretty hard. And my dad confiscated my money. What really made me mad, the banker went along with it. I know why he wanted it: he wanted some payments. My dad never mentioned that to me again or said it was wrong or anything. It just happened. I think he did tell me one time that he furnished the land and all this stuff, and really, it wasn’t all my money anyway. But that wasn’t a very good— that’s probably when we (laughs) quit getting along with each other. We were two hard- headed businesspeople.
But anyway, came along in the—the brother-in-laws I had were all guys who—Coolidge had a CC camp [Civilian Conservation Corps] there during the thirties. I had those five sisters and three of them married old boys out of the CC camp. Of course, when the war came along, they hightailed it to Houston, got a job in the shipyards down there. I thought, Well, I’m—I believe it was the summer I was—I was thirteen when school was out. My sophomore year, I believe. They said you had to be sixteen to get any kind of a job down at Houston, so I got to checking around and I found out, heck, all you got to do to get a birth certificate is go down at the courthouse there in Groesbeck, and for a quarter, they’d give you this form to fill out. Or you gave it to them when you came back. I don’t remember which it was. Then you had the doctor at liberty/that delivered you(??) to sign it, so it showed that I was sixteen.
So, man, I took off to the big city and went down to Houston. Got a job in a shop that was connected with the shipyard. It was a machine shop. I got in there, and being an old country boy like I was, some of those city guys was fascinated by me. I will never forget an old-timer name of Jack Hawkins. He’d lost a son during the war there and he took a shine to me. He was one of those old machinists that knew everything about being a machinist. He was fascinated, me being a country kid and had guts enough to get out and try to get a job at that age. So he started teaching me all about machine shop. I ran—he started on the basic machines like drill presses and cutting machines and then got me over on the—not just—an engine lathe was a simple lathe, and they’d just come out with a turret lathe, and he taught me how to run that thing and change all the parts on it and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was getting an education that you just can’t get off the streets anywheres else.
Well, I love sports, so I came back home when school started that fall. That’s when my folks told me they were moving to the country and what was I going to do? I said, “I’m not going to the country.” We had a smokehouse in the back of this house in Coolidge, and I just said, “I’m going to stay in the smokehouse.” You know, wasn’t bad because the toilet was outside to start with, so I didn’t need a toilet. I had running water just ten yards—a hydrant out in the open yard there. So I had running water and had toilet facilities there. I was doing okay in the smokehouse. I really got to know the people, and I kind of knew them all on account of my begging days, who was good for this and good for that.
But one of the things that I got to be famous for locally was a sandwich called Meredith’s chili burger. I’d stand—everybody kind of congregated around one of the local restaurants around there, and this guy that was the manager of the restaurant knew that I was kind of hungry. When it started to slow down, he’d get a hamburger bun, punch a hole in it, put a spoonful of chili, and just hand it to me. (laughs) I’m sure he saved my life with those chili burgers that I had there. But the other thing that—people who’d see me standing around, they’d say, Meredith, you want to go home and eat with me? And I’d say yeah, so I probably ate lunch or dinner with more people in Coolidge than anybody before or after. During the football season and basketball season, I was fed pretty well, but I wasn’t good at baseball, so I didn’t get—(laughs) didn’t do as well in spring of the year off of sponging off the people out there. But it was a good experience, living in the smokehouse.
So the next year—I went back to the shipyards that second summer. Again, I don’t know why I was gutsy enough that I went back down there and went to this machine shop and told them I was a first-class machinist. And they said, “Well, you’re going to have to take some tests and so forth to prove that you’re a first-class machinist.” I went out there and they gave me a simple blueprint anybody could have read, and I chucked(??) up the lathe and was running it. All of a sudden, I’m making $1.35 an hour, which is the same thing my brother-in-laws were making (laughs) as first-class welders at that time. And they said, They’re paying you—(laughs) they got mad on account of I was making that kind of money as a kid fourteen years [old]. I did turn fifteen. My birthday is in July.
But anyway, I came back to Coolidge and that was the start of my junior year then. Couldn’t find a place to stay or anything. The smokehouse deal had gone because my family had sold that building, that house. I had a sister that had a barn there. She had two kids and they didn’t have but two bedrooms. They were already loaded. She said, “You can sleep in the barn down there if you want to, and you can come up to the house and use the shower.” So I lived in a barn during that football season. I got a little tired of that and I came back out in the country with my family and went to school at Dawson, which the school was eight miles away. We didn’t have dirt roads or anything—I mean, didn’t have anything but dirt roads then. They did have some old army trucks they were using as school buses, but mud was so bad they could hardly run half the time. So I stayed in good shape walking to school a lot, that eight miles back and forth. I can still remember track season that year. I ran track and the coach says, “Man, you (laughs) don’t need any exercise. You’re getting enough just going back and forth at home every day!” and so forth. I guess I had my weight way down, and all of a sudden I realized I was as fast as a jackrabbit. Well, it was all that exercise of walking back and forth to home.
My senior year, I worked around that summer and lucked out again. I got me a job with a—they just started building farm-to-market roads in Central Texas then, and I got a job working on the road and learned something about building bridges and things. Back in those days, they didn’t hire a cement mixer to come out. You mixed the cement on the job. The buckets they put the cement in, they didn’t have rubber tires on, had cultivator wheels, and you had to push that thing. Boy, you could build up some stomach muscles like you wouldn’t believe, pushing those things around. The only other thing that I ever found that was tougher than picking cotton is using a rat tail to tie steel with. You’re working about six inches off the ground and you’re tying that steel and you’re bent over all day. That’s tough work, and I always had a lot of respect for construction workers after that.
Well, that summer, I went back to senior year in high school there at Coolidge. I told the superintendent and the coach, I said, “I don’t know whether I’ll be able to come back to school. I don’t have a place to stay or anything.” They said, We’ll give you a room up at the schoolhouse. So I had the privilege of having one of the dressing rooms off the stage in Coolidge High School. And you talking about first class, I had a choice of all the furniture out of the—off the stage in the schoolhouse, which meant I had a fancy bedroom suite, so to speak, back there. It was really living. I’d jump up early in the morning and run. All we had was cold water at the school, so I had a good cold water shower every morning. That really perked you up, you know, to be a good student through the day. (laughs) By then, they had started having lunchrooms in the schools.
Oh, I’d like to mention, prior to that, one of the houses we lived in before we left town was a little over a mile from school, and me and my sister and my brother used to walk that mile, come home for lunch. We got the timing down for about fifteen minutes to get home, eat lunch, and that fifteen minutes to get back. That kept you in pretty good shape, too.
The one that I never could understand, my sister was a skipper. I didn’t know—people don’t skip anymore, and I wondered how did she develop that skill. She didn’t run to school. She skipped to school, and she could move along pretty good with that. I think that’s a lost art. (laughs) I haven’t heard of anybody doing any skipping to school—[but I have heard of] skipping school. But she was—that was fascinating to me about the skipping.
That senior year in high school was a really interesting year. Living in the schoolhouse, I got to, again, visit with a lot of people. People were concerned about me and they was, you know, wanting me to do this and do that. I had the teaching of everybody in town. They kind of helped raise me. Also, I was really involved with the Boy Scouts at that time. I had been a counselor for the Heart of Texas Council, been exposed to a lot of things through the Boy Scouts at a very unusual level.
After my senior year in high school, well, I went down to the University of Texas and all the GIs were back then. That was spring of ’47. I signed up for—I think it was an English and a history class. First class I went to was four hundred and something students in the thing, and I graduated with a class of thirteen. You know, I just couldn’t believe it. It was just too much for an old country boy to handle that. So, after three days, I left the University of Texas. I’d paid the tuition, which wasn’t much, and had found me a job at a service station. I thought, I’m going to make it. But I couldn’t take it and I left.
So I had a feeling I needed to join the army or something or other for a job, and I thought, Well, I’ll go by up at Tehuacana, Texas, there, where Westminster College was. Went by there and I visited some of my buddies there working and going to school. They said, Hey, Meredith, you don’t have to have any money to go to school here! You just sign up and they’ll start you an account and they’ll pay you fifteen cents an hour working on the campus here.” So I thought, That sounds like a good deal. My worldly possessions at that time was a pair of Levi’s and a T-shirt and a pair of tennis shoes I probably had gotten from the athletic department at the high school. That was the way I started out in college.
I was just thinking about how lucky I was that I ran into a writer back in about the sixth grade who was one of the best sportswriters, I guess, that ever came down the pike. I felt that way. His name was Jinx Tucker and he wrote for the Waco newspaper. I started reading his sports page because he covered Central Texas very well: small schools, big schools, colleges, and what have you. I got interested in reading newspapers from the sports page. First thing I knew, I was reading the rest of the paper because Waco paper wasn’t the biggest paper in the world. I got in—that summer when I started at Westminster, one of my classes was government, and I was in with a bunch of kids that I thought was a lot of smarter than I was because they were from bigger towns and all that stuff. One day, the dean called me in after a few weeks. He says, “Meredith, where’d you learn all this about government and so forth?” It never had crossed my mind but what is happening was, I was reading that whole paper after a while. I knew all about what was going on down at Austin at the state capital, and I was reading about what was going on in Washington and the world. For a freshman in college, that’s—you know, you’re something else if you know that much about government because I know a lot of people that are senior citizens now that don’t know that much about government. But anyway, I got to thinking, Well, I’m not as dumb as I thought I was. I can probably do a lot of things. That was another benefit I got out of starting at Westminster College.
That summer rolled along pretty uneventful. It was a nine-week course and I got nine hours out of it. I picked up a catalogue from Sam Houston State University. I got to looking at that thing, and I said, “Hey, here’s what I want to major in, is ag[ricultural] education.” So I was smart enough to figure that I could take all the prerequisite courses there at Tehuacana that would transfer, and then I could take all the ag courses. Well, not knowing there was a famous football coach from Waco High School, name of Paul Tyson, who was a premed student in college and then he taught biology at Waco there while he was coaching, and I took biology under him. We had three regular classes of two hours, and then we had the lab—no, three one-hour classes and then the lab class was two hours. So I had five hours of lecture from him for thirty-six weeks. Didn’t realize what all this was amounting to, but when I got down to Sam Houston majoring in agriculture, all of a sudden I knew the answer to lots of questions. The other kids are— Where’d you find that out? And I got to thinking, Hey, that’s all out of that biology class I had. So I lucked out again on education.
In the fall of that year at Westminster, I didn’t have any money or anything. I was telling you about what kind of clothing I had. A friend of mine said, “Meredith, I know where you can make two and a half dollars in two hours, and they’ll give you two suits of khakis and a dress winter uniform. If you’ll join the Texas National Guard.” I thought, Two and a half dollars? Man, I couldn’t get down there to sign up fast enough. Well, I got in there and had a bunch of old sergeants out of the World War II that was in the National Guard. The company commander said, “I need somebody to instruct next week.” Nobody’d volunteer and so forth and I said, “I’ll teach that class.” I got the manual, I studied, and I gave the class. First thing I knew, he’d promoted me up to a big sergeant there, eighteen-year-old kid. They had all those old NCOs [non-commissioned officers], big sergeants with ribbons and stripes on. Now I’m down there teaching them (laughs) to be a soldier.
Came spring that year, one of my mentors was a man named Otto Brotherton. He was a company commander of the National Guard outfit and had been in World War II. He’d come back and that’s the reason he ended up being the company commander. He says, “Meredith, what are you going to do this summer?” I said, “Oh, I’ll find me a job around here somewhere.” He said, “Why don’t you go to an army school?” “Army school? What kind of school?” “Here’s a catalogue. Pick you out some kind of school that you’d enjoy going to.” Well, having never left Central Texas, I got to looking at that thing and here was a class on weapons at Aberdeen, Maryland. I thought, Man, that sounds interesting. Believe I’ll try for that. So I signed up, got accepted, and it’s just hard to believe, an old country boy, all of a sudden, the government’s giving you a bunch of food tickets worth—I think they cost over—you could buy up to a dollar and a quarter worth of food off one of those tickets they gave you. Of course, they bought a Pullman train [ticket] for me to go into Aberdeen, Maryland.
It’s kind of a strange thing happened, which changed my life, was we had an old boy name of [Olin Earl] “Tiger” Teague, as a congressman from our district down here in Central Texas.
WILSON: (speaking at same time) I remember him.
MEREDITH: He’d stop by this little country store in the way the politicians used to work there. They’d come by and they’d buy everybody a nickel soda pop and ask for their vote. It’s easy enough to go in the store(??). He said, “If any of you ever need any help in Washington, just give me a call.” Well, I was on that train coming into Washington, DC. I was going to get there about eight o’clock in the morning. I went back to get this duffel bag with all this military equipment I got, my uniforms and everything, and it’s gone! There I am. Boy, I’m responsible for all this stuff. I was supposed to take care of it. Man, I was really scared to death, you know, what was going to happen to me for losing my equipment.
So I get off at the train station there in Washington, DC, and I’m sitting there, wondering what I’d do, and I noticed they had a little MP [military police] station there in the lobby. I went over and I said, “Hey, Sarge!” He never did look up. He was drinking his coffee and eating a donut and reading the paper. I said, “Somebody stole my duffel bag or something.” He said, “Sign your name there and leave it on a note there,” and didn’t get any action, really, out of him. I go back and I’m sitting there and I said, “Old Tiger Teague said if I ever needed any help in Washington, give him a call.” So I get over on the telephone and I call Tiger Teague’s office. Of course, he wasn’t there on Saturday, but the young lady took my name and things and said, “We’ll get right on it, Sarge, and see if we can’t help you out.”
About thirty minutes, I get a page over the paging system there at the railroad station, said, “Sergeant Meredith, report to the MP station.” So I roll over there. Well, the game’s changed now. Here’s that little MP major there at the desk and he said, “Hey, Sarge! I understand you’ve got a problem! We’re going to take care of it! Don’t you worry about a thing!” (laughs) So I get on the train—I mean—yeah, I had to ride the train on up to Aberdeen, Maryland, which is not very far out of Washington, DC. I get up there and, you know, on Saturday all the government employees are gone. I get up there and they said, “You’re supposed to go over to the quartermaster supply,” when I reported in. I go over there and they got this quartermaster supply deal opened up. Usually if you got a pair of—need a pair of thirteens, they say, “Thirteens, here.” They had a guy there checking my foot to make sure that thirteen work in it(??). And they had a seamstress. Usually it takes you a long time to get all your patches and your stripes sewn on. They’d brought a seamstress in, even, sewing my stripes on (laughs) and all this kind of stuff for me. I said, “Boy, that phone call really worked out well.”
Well, Monday morning, I went out for this formation and they called out, said, “Sergeant Meredith, report to the supply room soon as this meeting is over—or this formation.” So I go over there and they said, “Sarge, got good news for you. They found your duffel bag. Your duffel bag’s here.” During the interim, they’ve given me a full GI clothing allowance, which [is] five suits of khakis and another pair of—oh, a pair of slippers, which they never did supply to National Guardsmen. They gave me a pair of slippers and five suits of khakis and I said, “All this stuff that I’ve got that they gave me—you know, am I supposed to turn this back in?” “Oh, no! Sarge, that’s all yours! You keep—” (laughs) So I got more clothes than anybody in the army, I guess, (laughs) with all the patches and things sewn on it.
I didn’t know anything about political influence, but evidently they’d penciled on my records “PI,” and things started happening to me in the army and the National Guard that just doesn’t happen to anybody else. (Wilson laughs) Just that simple “PI” put on my records did that. I know one time they had a write-up in the paper for a color guard deal for the post, which is quite an honor to be the post honor guard. And there I go down and I try out for this thing and nobody knows I’m in the National Guard. First thing you know, they accept me in it, and I was in it about a month and they found out this guy’s a National Guardsman. He can’t have anything but regular army being on the honor guard, so they took that job away from me. But anyway, I got to enjoy that for about a month.
That was an unbelievable education I got out of that summer. I’d studied history enough that I knew all about the history on the East Coast. Every weekend I’d hit the—you could ride a train then, get anywhere in a short time. I started every Saturday morning or Friday night. If we didn’t have a formation Saturday morning, you could leave the post on Friday night. I’d head for—all the way from Washington, DC, up to Boston visiting historical spots. You know, I didn’t know anything about the musical business in New York, but hey, I learned that I could get in real cheap, so I went to all the shows in New York City. I attended the Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston and I went to all the battlefields, the Statue of Liberty. Took me awhile to realize out of that three months that summer, I got a great education on history and how great this country is and so forth from that. I’ll always be thankful for it because it was some of the best education a young man could ever get.
Well, I got back down to Sam Houston then, and it was kind of an uneventful period then, except I still remember my registration with the student activity fee cost me $14.50. I’d made enough in that summer with my sergeant’s pay that I paid off Westminster, all that I owed them on my bill, because you couldn’t transfer your hours till you got your bill cleared, and that [$]14.50 registration. That was a pretty good buy then.
I didn’t know exactly how I was going to put things together financially at that time, but I thought, I’ve been lucky so far and things have worked out. Well, they had the prison rodeos [Texas Prison Rodeos] back then. Every fall down there, it went every Sunday in October. I found out that (phone rings) the concession business always needed—maybe she’ll pick it up. The concession business was—always (phone rings) had openings, on their stand. And so I went over and sure enough, I got to sell Coca-Colas out of a bucket. (his wife answers phone in other room) You’d sell it and you’d have to knock the cap off of it and give it back to the person. Sold for ten cents, then you got a—two and a half cents was your commission on it. Looking back now, 25 percent commission, why, that was a pretty good commission.
Rocked along and this old boy that had the concessions there saw that I was a pretty good salesperson. I, you know, did a lot of talking selling stuff, and he said, “I want to make you a stand manager.” Well, you have about ten guys working out of that stand, and you basically sell them the soda pop and then I got an override off of that. I started understanding the business of sales at that time. One of the things I didn’t know I had the skill for was—if somebody stole from you, it came out of my pocket. I don’t know why I thought I was such a good judge of people, but I’d say, “He’s the one who’s stealing from me,” and I’d say, “Hey, you don’t come back next Sunday.” Sure enough, next Sunday wouldn’t be any money missing. I must have called that shot several times during my days down there.
Again, I got to looking around and I thought, There’s got to be a better way of doing this than selling these Cokes out of a bucket. I got to looking: Hey, look at that ice cream bar over there. The size of that thing, pays the same commission, sells for the same thing.
Only thing was you had to have a big old insulated box to carry that ice cream around in. I got to thinking, Guy could sell that ice cream fast enough, he wouldn’t need that big box and he could carry more boxes up there and make more money faster. Well, I was usually wearing Levi’s working out there, and the old boy that had the concessions route, he kind of noticed me having a hard time pulling all that money out of those jeans. He thought, Man, how is he getting all of that money together? (laughs) He started following me, seeing how I operated, and then he made me put a sign on my cap, says “Ten cents.” Because what I was getting a lot of was tips, supposedly, you know, out of the thing.
One of the things I learned on mob psychology—that was another thing I learned out of working those concession stands. I got so good at it that it was just unbelievable the money I could make out of that. But selling the ice cream, I did that the last two Sundays that year, my first year down there. I’d carry those boxes with ice cream, and when I’d start feeling them being soft, I knew I had to start moving faster because they were starting to melt. Well, a lot of families came to the prison rodeo. You know, I’d look around, I’d see a family with several kids, and when that ice cream started getting soft, I just started giving it to them. But I made sure there was plenty of people behind me who saw that I was giving that ice cream away. And then I’d go, come back with all the ice cream I could haul and I’d just start passing it out. First thing you know, money started passing back to me and somebody said, “Hey, I got some change.” I’d give them the change back. I couldn’t believe the money I made (laughs) out of that.
The old boy, he had the concessions at Rice Institute and down at the University of Texas, and I was—my senior year, I was the president of the ag club and president of Jackson Hall, big boys’ dormitory there, and I’d call meetings on Friday nights. Said, “I’m going to have a truck out here tomorrow and I want you guys to get”—he gave me something like—I don’t remember now—five dollars a head for every guy I could get to come—go sell concession items. So, again, I was making pretty good money out of that thing. And I—you know, mob psychology, a lot of people don’t understand that. The only place you get that kind of training is in someplace like that. Paid off for me dearly in the military in later years, learning my mob psychology from working with the people out in the cotton patches and what have you and the concession business in college and what have you.
I finally—I graduated in the summer of ’50. I’d taught school a half semester as an ag teacher, and I saw that the pay wasn’t the greatest thing in the world. Was a good job at the time. I couldn’t get a contract signed because everybody thought I was going to be going to the Korean War in 1950, because it looked like they was going to be calling up everybody there for a while. So I went up to Fort Worth and applied for a job at Convair. Had a friend went with me and he was a college graduate. I went through a lot of testing and what have you. About a week, I heard back from them. They said, “Come back, we want to give you a job.” So I went back up to Fort Worth to Convair. They said you have to have your set of tools with you. I didn’t have any tools, so I came by the family farm, got me a tow sack, put a square in there and a hammer and two or three other tools, and that was the luckiest break I ever had because when I walked into that Convair plant with my toolbox, everybody got such a kick out of that. (laughs) I got to know a whole bunch of people the first day that most people don’t get to know. Well, they put me in a research center back there. First thing that happened to me that week, that first paycheck I got, I went—we went somewhere after work. And, you know, when you’re young, you don’t care if anybody’s seeing your pay stub or not. This kid was with me that was working out there and had graduated from North Texas [State University]. He [said,] “Man, look what they’re paying you!” (laughs) I didn’t know what was a good salary or what, hadn’t been negotiated. And what they had done, they’d given me credit for my machine shop experience, and then I love shop, so while I was at Sam Houston, I took three shop courses. They put all that together and that’s what they based my pay on.
Well, they sent me into this research center—and I didn’t know what a research center was and (laughs) I don’t think they really knew either—with my tow sack full of tools and I was working in there. One day, the foreman came in with a box, and it was about a yard high and about twelve-inch square. He says, “This is fiberglass. The air force is interested in trying to make aircraft parts out of fiberglass.” He said, “We want you to see what you can do with it.” I got the box out. It had a little sheet in there, about—do this and this with fiberglass. I knew they were starting to make motorboats out of fiberglass there in Fort Worth, so I went out to a fiberglass plant or two around there and asked them a bunch of questions. I came back and I told them, I said, “I need a cooking oven.” He says, “Cooking oven. What do you need a cooking oven for?” I talked him into building a platform that was heated and then we put a cover for it on wheels that we’d push over and we could put some parts and things on this thing to cook off.
That was the first time I learned anything about expense account. The air force came in one day and wanted to see what I was doing back there in this research thing on fiberglass. They invited me to go to lunch, so I went to lunch when I was used to punching the clock and thought that was the whole ballgame. Well, I went to lunch and kept sitting there, and went to a pretty nice place there in Fort Worth to eat lunch. Finally, this major in the air force says, “Aren’t you going to pick up the tab?” And I said, “I don’t have any money to pay that.” (laughs) So the major paid the bill. I got back to the plant and I get a call and it’s from the comptroller. “Comptroller. What’s a comptroller?” “He wants—you need to report to the comptroller.” So I go down to see the comptroller and he tells me, he said, “Now, you got to understand, the air force is our customer, and if we get a chance to entertain them or anything, you know, we need to spend the money.” I said, “Nobody told me and I didn’t have any money, anyway. I couldn’t have entertained them.” He said, “If you get an invite like that, you come draw some money and so forth, and we’ll give you the money.” So that was my first experience with (laughs) an expense account. I started learning about that.
First thing I know, I’ve got—at work—but I applied for a patent or two that I came up with. Got the things patented, these products I came up with, but, well, I didn’t realize that I’d signed a deal with Convair. I went to work for them. If I invented anything, so forth, they got all the rights to it and what have [you]—which is the only way to do it. But me at that age, coming up with a patent product or two, was just unbelievable. Again, I just lucked out and got into a good situation.
Well, I’d signed up to go to Army OCS [Officer Candidate School] through the National Guard. The auditors came through, says, report for duty, so and so forth, Camp Chaffee [Maneuver Training Center], Arkansas. I go up to the front offices at Convair and said, “I’ve got to leave. I’ve got to go.” “Oh, you don’t need to leave. We’ll get in—let’s get with the air force and talk to”—and air force came in and they said, “What you going to do in the army?” I said, “I signed up to go to OCS, so, you know, they’ve got a nice deal all set up to go.” “Oh, we’ll give you a direct commission! Anything! You just stay and work on this project!” Like a dummy, I thought, I was already signed up for this, and I went on to the army and the infantry OCS.
I graduated from OCS and that’s when things changed. I lost my political influence with those enlisted records. (laughs) They didn’t have it on my officer’s record. First thing I know, I’m on an airplane going to the Korean War as a young second lieutenant. There I didn’t think that I was—you know, I was just another second lieutenant in the infantry. Got over there and the first night I reported in on the line up there to our company that I was assigned to. I never was much of a drinking guy, but they boarded in this orderly room(??) and the guy there said, “Well, there’s—all the NCOs and officers are down there at this particular bunker about two hundred yards down the way there, and they’re having a going-away gathering for one of the guys going home tomorrow.” So I go down there and I was just going to be one of the regular Joes. I got me a canteen cupful of snow and poured a little gin in there. I was pretty well relaxed, and here comes the company commander. People all called him Mighty Mouse. He was a regular army, Puerto Rican guy, and didn’t have much of a sense of humor. He came in and I hit him on the back and I say, “Hello, Captain, I’m your new lieutenant!” (laughs) That was just like hitting him with a cattle prod. So when I went to bed that night, I dug my hole out in the snow and put my sleeping bag down in it. First thing in the morning, he’s out there kicking the heck out of me: “Get up! You’re getting out of here!”
So I get myself together and start walking down the mountain to the battalion headquarters and I get to thinking. That cool air hit me. I said, “I got to start soldiering. I’m probably in trouble.” And I knew how to soldier, so I went down and reported to the battalion commander and I clicked my old heels—I know you could have heard them halfway across Korea—and popped him a big salute. He says, “You know what’s wrong with you?” I said, “No sir.” He says, “You’ve got too many college rah-rah spirits. That’s what that company needs, is somebody with some spirit. You go back up there and do a job.” I said, “I’ll go, Colonel, but I don’t think he (laughs) wants me.” So I go back up and he sees me coming. He said, “What are you doing back up here?” He gets on what they called a EE-8 telephone and he called headquarters(??): “Thought you was getting rid of this guy for me!” I guess he told him, says, “You need someone with a little spirit.” He said, “Well, I’ll fix you. I’ll give you that first platoon down there.”
This first platoon was—they had quite a reputation. They’d gotten rid of the last two second lieutenants they got pretty fast. Well, I got to be a hero and didn’t know it because I’d gotten in this little argument and discussion with the company commander that nobody liked. The old sergeant down there was a World War II sergeant. He says, “Lieutenant, I like your get-up-and-go. I’ll just run this thing till I think you can handle it.” I said, “You got yourself a job, Sarge.” That bunch of guys turned out—that platoon of guys, they would do anything in the world for me and things worked out smooth.
I got to be the executive officer of that company in a few months, and word got out that the company commander I had was going to be promoted to a battalion job. He came to me and he said, “Meredith,” he says, “if you’ll go with me to my new job”—he said, “I know I’ll be promoted out of it pretty soon,” which was a heavy weapons company. He says, “You’ll be the company commander of a heavy weapons company.” And so I said okay. I went with him. Sure enough, a month later, I was the company commander. That was quite a jump from a cotton patch at seventeen; to twenty-three, I was a company commander of a heavy weapons company with all this equipment. What made all the difference to be operating that thing was that school that the army sent me to in the National Guard, that weapons school where I learned all the—it was about weapons that most people never get a chance to get that kind of training.
That rocked along real well for me, and one day the old—I came up with a program. In the daytime, you didn’t have anything to do. At night, you had to be on duty. They were waiting for the enemy to come through or something or another. So I thought, We don’t have anything to do but just laying around here. I’m going to get the guys out and we’re going to rehearse to the rear of what we going to do at night and get some training in. So I started this program, and one day this intelligence officer comes running: “Where’s your lesson plan?” “Lesson plan? I thought all this stuff [up]. I don’t have a lesson plan.” “The general’s coming. You got to have a lesson”—I said, “If you want a lesson plan, you can make one out (laughs) because I haven’t got time. I’m busy.” So the old general came down and he was observing what I was doing, and after it came time for a break, they said, “The general wants to talk to you.” I go and I snap to the general and he says, “You must have been a schoolteacher or something back in civilian life.” And I said, “Yes sir, I was.” He says, “You just handled this class real well.” He said, “It’s such a good program you got going here. Would you come back to division headquarters and set that up for the whole division?” I said, “Whatever the general wants.” (laughs) And he said, “When could you come back?” I said, “Anytime now.” He said, “Why don’t you get your gear and you can go back with me.” And what was funny that day at lunch, well, all these colonels and things jockeying positions to sit with the general and he kind of shoved them aside. He said, “I want the lieutenant to sit (laughs) here with me.” That changed things for me in the military again. That just—I don’t know how I was so lucky then.
One of the strange things when I was a company commander that happened to me—well, this original bunch that I had kind of spread around, the word got out that this—pretty good guy, this lieutenant. A lot of these West Pointers and things that wanted to court- martial everybody for not doing the things right and so forth. I just couldn’t see—guy hadn’t slept in twenty-four hours, and he goes to sleep on duty or something. How in the world can he stay awake with nothing to do? But anyway, I worked—I wasn’t court- martialing a bunch of people and we were getting jobs done. So the army sent out a lieutenant colonel psychiatrist from Pentagon in Washington. Everybody said, He’s coming to check your brain, man. (laughs) But they made a study of how I could motivate people and so forth, and it was all from the concessions business, working in the cotton patch with the type of people who we had picking cotton and chopping cotton and so forth like that. I understood basic people, where for guys—let’s say he goes to West Point, he never has a chance to be around uneducated people. At West Point when you say, “Right face,” boy, everybody snaps to. In the army, you say, “Right face,” and everybody got to think about it a lot (laughs) before they make the movement and so forth. You just got to learn to take those kind of things in, and I did figure it out.
So after my tour was over with the Korean War, well, I came back to the States and I joined a reserve unit. First thing I do, I get in trouble with the Pentagon. I had a little trouble with the—at that time, all the restaurants in Dallas weren’t integrated yet. I mean, black people couldn’t come in. I had this unit and they sent a couple of guys over there that were colored. I didn’t know how to handle getting them fed, so I asked this one guy that had some colored people. He said, “Old Joe’s restaurant down there will take them in and feed them.” I didn’t think anything about it because the others had been doing it that way. I sent them all over there for lunch, and these two come back and they were plants from the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. They just wanted to get a good old Texas boy and get him in a trap. They came back from lunch and they says, Captain, we need to talk to you. I said, “What about?” They said, “We went over to that restaurant and they wanted us to eat in that back of that restaurant on an old meat block.” I made the wrong statement again. I said, “Where did you expect to eat over there?” “We’re in the army. We got to be treated better than this.” But anyway, Pentagon got ahold of me that afternoon and they were really fixing to hang me out to dry. Luckily again, the old colonel I had was a heck of a nice guy and was involved with some big-time politicians in Dallas. On Monday morning, they went to bat for me in Washington, DC, and got this thing all straightened out up there again. You know, you got to know the right people in the right places. That passed over.
At the end of the Korean War, I was a company commander. This kid I had down there named Corporal Blocher(??), he fired into the Chinese army and it was about to start the whole war up again. What was funny—the communication back in the States, you could hardly ever, you know, get a line back to the States or anything. Well, about thirty minutes after that happened, the Pentagon was talking to me. “Who’s that? What’s going on there?” And I said, “This corporal I had down there on the 105[mm] recoilless rifle said he saw the Chinese coming and he fired into them over there.” They told me, “Oh gosh. You’re going to start the whole battle, the fighting, over,” and all that kind of stuff. So that was another black mark I had (laughs) with the Pentagon, I guess.
I joined this reserve unit in Dallas—well, in Denver. It was a construction battalion. I’d had a little bit of construction experience and knew about figuring jobs and laying out work and all that kind of stuff. They gave us a mission. Our battalion was to go up to a little town called Thermopolis, Wyoming, and build a charitable hospital up there. I got up there and there was a lot of the guys belonged to the unit that were lawyers and accountants and things like—they were dodging Vietnam War by being in a reserve unit. I talked to these guys as they’re going to work in this little town. We sent them to trade school where they learned how to lay brick and put in electrical wiring and all that stuff. I talked them into—first thing I did, the little doctor that ran the hospital, I said, “You know, we got to get these guys in the mood for working. I can get the steaks from the military, but if you would get them a keg of beer or something like that to get them in a good mood and things, I think we can really get some work done.” So that old doc opened up his house over there, and we took a tour through the hospital and showed them all these kids and things. I talked those guys not only into working eight hours a day but ten hours a day. I said, “There’s nothing else to do in Thermopolis, Wyoming, and so you might as well—”
First thing I know, here comes the old general from Salt Lake City, flies in there and comes over. We got all these colonels and things around and he comes over to me. I’ve lost my commission this time because I didn’t keep up my correspondence work. He says, “Sarge, how you getting all this done?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m just assigning people and trying to get things done.” Because I’d been the executive officer in the engineer battalion and I knew how the thing was supposed to operate, and I was filling in the blanks for all these guys that really hadn’t had any experience. And he said, “Well, what’s going to happen here: your unit’ll be leaving in two weeks and we’ll have another company come in.” What we’re doing are having one company come in two weeks, and by the summer we’d get in about eight weeks of building. I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “Would you come up—if I send my plane over to Denver to pick you up on Saturday and you stayed till Sunday or Monday morning and I’ll fly you back to Denver to get this orientation deal that you kind of went through?” So there again, I’m in with the general and getting the (laughs) army plane supplied to me. I’m a master sergeant at that time or something or other, you know.
So I finally get out, get my twenty years in and back home again, and one day I get a call from the Pentagon about two years after I’d been out. They said, “You still have a uniform?” I said, “Yeah.” I don’t know. You know, usually two years would kill anything in the government. He said, “We’ve figured it out that you were the one responsible for getting that charitable hospital built up in Wyoming. We want to give you a medal for it. And so they had a big battalion deal there at Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver. Then it wasn’t long after that that I get a call from the governor of Colorado. He says, “Can you come down to the state legislature next week?” I said, “What for?” “Well, we’re going to make you soldier of the year, and Denver Post is going to bestow a medal on you for getting that hospital built and your service in the military.” I’m not looking for all this stuff. It just comes falling out of the skies on me again and just—I can’t believe all these things happened to me.
Well, I was living in Denver at that time and we moved over to Michigan. Everybody thought, Man, you got to be crazy, moving to Michigan from Denver, Colorado. Went over to Michigan and, lo, I had as—that was as great [an] experience as a guy could ever had. First guy I got to know real well was an old doctor who was raised in Muleshoe, Texas, up there that taught Dr. [Michael] DeBakey all he knew about open-heart surgery. When I was traveling through the West and I had some time to kill or something to do, instead of sitting around a hotel or something, I’d go out and visit all the old forts and things like that in the West, so I got to be kind of an expert on the forts of the West and so forth. So this doctor, he says, “Meredith, I’ll pick you up at six this afternoon. We’re going to a meeting.” I said okay. So I’m dressed in a suit and the doctor’s in his big suit. We go in. Of course, everybody thinks I’m a doctor because I’m coming in (laughs) with him. Get up there and this is about like going in the Limestone [County] Historical Society. This is a historical bunch of the West. I come in and I’m just going to the meeting with him, and all of a sudden, he gets up and introduces me as an expert (laughs) on forts of the West. These are all PhDs and all that kind of stuff. Gosh, I just started explaining it to them. I visited this fort and the so-and-so that happened here. I was over at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, and you could see where the Mormons had left with their two-wheel wagons. They’d left tracks going through. Been so many of them going West they left ruts in the rocks and things. Little stuff like that and they were just eating it up. I just thought—I was just killing time was all I was doing out West. I wasn’t into any research or anything else, you know, but I made a lot of friends out of that bunch.
One of the ones I got a kick out of at a gathering one night to—we never did belong to a country club at any time during the thing(??), but first thing I knew, we were getting invited to special occasions around Michigan there. Finally, one day, this gal, she was— her husband was—well, he was a manager at one of the big plants. I forgot which one it was. She says, “You know why we invite y’all to everything?” I said no. She says, “Everybody else is connected with the automobile industry and you’re not. We’re just glad to hear [about] (laughs) something other than automobiles for a change.” So that was amazing, the people we met in the Michigan area. That was a great bunch of people.
And then things started changing in our industry there, and I could see the handwriting on the wall that I wanted to get back to Texas. I had presented a program, and sure enough they transferred me back to Texas after making all these rounds all over the United States. I think it cost them about [$]35,000 and we were on—in the company, we were on some hard times then because we’d gone through a buyout and a merger and so forth.
Came back to Texas and I got to say that I always wanted to be a rancher. I’d bought this farm over in Hill County back in ’58, and then I started leasing a lot of land down there, running cattle, and I came down every Tuesday for five years down here.
That was about the same time I got really interested in Westminster coming back down here, and that was in ’81, when we came back. By 1900(??) [ed. note: most likely he means 1990 or 2000] I was elected president of the ex-student association at Westminster [Westminster College Ex-Student Association]. I got to digging into this thing, and I don’t know. I didn’t know really that many people back in this part of the country then, but I started going to the meetings, and first thing I know they’re making me president. And we had all the—of course, (noise in background, possibly an alarm or clock striking the hour) our exes were dying off pretty fast. I guess at that particular board meeting where I was made president, I guess within two years there was probably about six of those board members had passed on that were older people. I told them—they thought— at that time, we had about $80,000, I guess. I told them—you know, they wanted to— well, why don’t we just give the money to some charitable organization or something?
And I said, “I’m still young. I’ll pledge to you guys that I’ll try to get that tower put back on that building at Westminster.” They listened to me and basically made me a permanent president. I don’t think that’s along with Robert’s Rules of Order or anything, but I made a pledge to them that I—
Oh, and we got into the scholarship program. That was one that I came up with it. I said, “One of the things we’re involved with is a lot of educators and things, and I’d like for us to be doing something along the way as we raise this money trying to get the tower on.” And I said, “Why don’t we take”—like right now we’re getting several thousand dollars of interest off our money. I said, “Why don’t we set up a scholarship program?” Well, they wanted to put somebody somebody in as a—heading the scholarship to select people. I said, “Hey, let’s simplify this thing. When I went to college, I needed money and I’d go over to the scholarship program and ask them if I could—and they’d look at my grades and says, ‘Your grades are not good enough,’ you know. Hey, I was probably a B-minus student.” I said, “A B-minus student needs money about as bad as a guy making A’s. (laughs) I never had a chance to get any scholarship money.” So I said, “What I want to do is just keep it as simple as possible.” At that time, our membership dues was fifteen dollars, and I think I got them to raise it to twenty, and that would allow a person to submit a name for a scholarship. Everybody’s there. That would make kind of a deal of our gathering and so forth, is drawing the names for the scholarship. It’s gone over pretty—we’ve given nearly $40,000 away since we started this program several years ago.
It’s kept a good bit of interest then because we added to the name, Westminster Ex- Student Association and Friends [Westminster College Ex-Student and Friends Association] because we’re dependent on friends for growth because all of our people are dying off. I remember one year at our meeting, we announced that thirty-some people had passed on that particular year and so forth. So we knew we had to get some growth somewhere. A lot of the people that won scholarships and things, their kinfolks have joined up and all that kind of stuff, which really helped the thing along. We get some unusual gifts occasionally, you know, just for gifts. Now we’ve got it—this last month we ended up—we gave one scholarship last month, and we’re at $151,000 right now.
So it’s—I still think the good Lord’s going to come through some way and that tower’s going to go back on there. I don’t know how it’s going to happen or what, but I have the faith that it’ll happen because it’s too good a program and the building has so much significance. It’s registered with the—what is that?—the American Historical Society or something or other as one of the best examples of an educational building in the whole country and especially the state of Texas, and it shouldn’t die. We’ve got some problems with the people that are running the thing. They make a little money, but they can’t do the improvements to keep it going and so forth. So one of my desires—and hope—that somebody will see the significance of the building and have it come along to where it should be. It would mean so much for Central Texas, Limestone County, to have something that significant that is recognized by people and who want to see it, because the engineering in the thing is just tremendous. The stone that’s in it was mined right there on the hill. And the thickness of the walls, eighteen inches of stone. Where the bell tower would go, the engineers have figured it out from that eighteen inches of that bell tower deal going up. We don’t have to put any structure below the four-story building that’s there. We can put it right on top of that with just four major bolts on the thing and go on up.
I’ve worked with this one firm that I think is—what I would like to see happen is this firm is—they design towers all over the United States, specialize in that field, and some of the examples here in Texas is the county courthouse in Belton. They built that and the one down at Cameron, Texas, the courthouse there, and the big tower on the Catholic church, downtown Dallas, they built. I’m impressed with the—what they recommend is the type of materials that go into it would be materials that would last as long as that limestone is there. And the limestone, I’ve had engineers look at it, and it’s not regular limestone because regular limestone will wear. But this particular limestone there has granite in it, and they’ve told me it’s good for another hundred years.
But in closing, I’d like to say that this has been a good run of trying to get the old building back, and I hope whoever hears this story will get to thinking, well, that probably is a good program and something ought to happen with it. And I believe I will close with that.
WILSON: Well, that’s—we agree with you.
MEREDITH: Is that kind of what you were looking for?
WILSON: We hope that is the case, too. Let me conclude by asking you a question. Mr. Meredith, if you had one piece of advice to give our young people today, what would it be?
MEREDITH: One of the things I think that most youngsters—and I’ve talked to a lot of classes and things—is they don’t realize the significance of dress and things like tattoos and beards and things like that. Young folks ought to stay away from all that stuff. One of the significant things I thought of at—I heard this story one time about this young man that applied for a job, and it’s going to be working in a construction job where you’d be out the end of shovel and so forth. He went to work—or went for the application—or went to apply for the job with a necktie on, and sure enough they hired him. About a year later, there was—you know, he was doing a good job working out there and came time to—they needed to promote somebody in the office and this guy says, “Hey, that kid came to work with a necktie on when he came to work. He’d probably be a good inside man.” (Wilson laughs) I’ve always thought that was such a simple way of saying that little basic things mean a lot if you’ll hang in there with them. It’ll pay off for you down the line and so forth.
WILSON: Well, that sounds like good advice. I hope some people hear that and heed it. Again, I want to thank you myself and for Limestone County and the Limestone County Historical Commission, for your time and your contribution. Thank you much, sir.
end of interview