MY MUSINGS ABOUT EARLY-DAY NEDERLAND
By W. T.Block
Mr. Ludwig, Officers and Members of Nederland Rotary Club, ladies and gentlemen: I'm grateful to you for inviting me to be with you here today. I think most of us are just recovering from the Nederland festival just ended, which always reminds me of the special cultural heritage, which this city enjoys. Although my period of residence in Nederland now totals 62 years, I know that that is considerably less than some of you who may have been born here.
I intend to avoid any serious historical discussion here today, but I would like to remind you that Nederland is rapidly approaching its centennial birthday. In fact the railroad along Twin City was built in 1895, and the railroad in back of the airport connected Beaumont to Sabine Pass in 1860.
Although I have a Port Neches class ring and a Nederland diploma, I still cannot call myself a native 'Nederlander. Nevertheless, Nederland was my mother's home, who arrived here in 1906, as well as of my father's first wife, Dora Koelemay Block, who came here in 1898 with some of the earliest Dutch contingents. My father, who was born in Port Neches in 1870, had a brother and two sisters living in Nederland by 1900, and seven brother-in-laws, including George Rienstra and Sebe R. Carter, from his marriage to Dora Koelemay. And my mother had four brothers and two sisters who arrived here with her in 1906. As a result, I spent half of my childhood years over here anyway, usually extracting milk on my uncle's dairy farm the old-fashioned way. So Nederland was well known to me long before I moved here.
Speaking of dairies, most Nederland residents have heard of our city's early dominance of the rice industry in these parts. My father and uncle began farming rice east of the KCS railroad track as early as 1895. In 1902, they also owned the King Mercantile Company in the 1100 block of Boston Avenue, which specialized in rice farm machinery. In fact, mementoes of that era remained here long after I moved here from Port Neches in 1935. There was up until about the year 1940 the remnants of the old abandoned rice canal system that was evident to everyone's regret all over Nederland, and those old rice canals were located on the rights-of-way of the present-day fresh water canals which still pass through Nederland.
Before World War II, South 12th Street through South 17th Street each dead-ended in the 400 block, up against an abandoned rice canal fence. Gage Street angles off Nederland Avenue because its western border was another abandoned rice canal fence. And from the site of Pat Riley's Funeral Home west to about the 3200 block of Avenue H, that street's northern boundary was another abandoned rice canal fence.
After the passing of the rice-growing era, Nederland then became dominant in Jefferson County as a dairying center. Some time ago, Rayford Guzardo told me at the feed store that he once stopped long enough to count up all the dairy farms within 2 or 3 miles of Nederland during the 1930s, and he counted 36 dairy farms. And I can readily believe that. Most local residents of today, however, never knew that two of Jefferson County's most prominent and influential dairies were located within our corporate city limits. Before 1920, the John Koelemay dairy, located at the corner of 27th and Canal Streets, produced about 250 gallons of milk daily, and two or three Koelemay trucks delivered milk door to door in Beaumont and Port Arthur for 25 years. Mr. Koelemay also owned about 20 acres of the finest and most productive satsuma orange trees until his orchard froze down about 1939.
Perhaps many of you still recall the Walling Jersey Farm and its milk production facilities on both Avenue H and Highway 365. What most of you won't recall was Walling's predecessor, Lohman Brothers dairy on Avenue H. For many years, they operated an experimental dairy, using a herd of about 100 registered and highly-inbred Guernsey milk cows. Those cattle stayed entirely inside the dairy barn and milking was performed three times daily, including at midnight. Every ounce of feed and every ounce of milk production was carefully weighed and tabulated, and that in an age before computers. Many of the thoroughbred cows gave up to 13 gallons of milk daily, and the only time I ever visited inside their dairy barns, I witnessed some cows wearing "cattle brassieres," make-shift tow sack affairs that were tied across the animals' backs to help hold the poor cows' heavy utters up. About 1939, Lohman Brothers lost interest in dairying since they also owned a ranch at Winnie and Port Arthur's Home Laundry, and they promptly sold out to Walling Jersey Farm. Mr. Walling quickly got rid of the Guernsey cattle herd, which was actually an experimental herd.
That dairying age also encompassed almost all activities at my mother's home at 836 Detroit. We brought 5 or 6 milk cows from Port Neches to Nederland when my mother moved here in 1935. We owned at that time five vacant lots, but we also staked out our cows with cattle chains on all the neighboring vacant property. We milked about 18 or 20 gallons daily, which my younger brother and I delivered around town on bicycles. During the 1930's, whatever clothes that one wore in the cow barn or corn field at 8:00 o'clock A. M. was the same overalls that one wore to school. And my brother Otis is still waiting around after nearly 60 years to get the remaining licks of a whipping he was promised by one of his teachers.
At that time we mixed cottonseed meal with rice bran and other ingredients in our feed room, and if any of you have ever encountered cottonseed meal closely, you know that it is ground about five time finer than wheat flour. And too, its knack for penetrating clothing and pockets, and everything else is unbelievable. Otis was about 12 at that time and in the sixth grade. His music teacher, Miss Sigler, was about 4 feet, ten inches tall, and she had a paddle twice as long as she was tall, that could double as a boat oar. One day she caught Otis throwing spit balls, and she invited him up to her desk to sample the effects of that paddle. She swung that boat oar back a ways, and walloped his behind for one lick with all the force and expertise that she could muster. And when that paddle struck Otis' back pockets, a fine and solid fog of cottonseed meal began rising upward toward the ceiling. At first Miss Sigler began to choke; and then she began to cry, and then she sat down, crossed her arms, lowered her head and began to bawl. And Otis, sensing that the whipping had come to an abrupt halt, calmly walked back to his seat. And Miss Sigler, sensing that Otis' back pockets were always filled with cottonseed meal, never risked a second attempt at his behind.
Another story that my mother and uncles used to tell me occurred in 1906 when Deputy Sheriff Smokey Six-pack was Nederland's "law west of the Neches." I prefer to keep Smokey's real name anonymous in case one of his descendents is still living around here. Smokey wore every stitch of clothing that a brave Texas cow poke was supposed to wear back in those days - a ten gallon hat, boots and spurs, bandana, and two pearl-handled 45's laced or tied down at the knees. In 1906, Boston Avenue had three saloons, Freeman's, Steiner's, and Peek's, and whenever a bartender heard a tinkling sound outside, like cow bells, it was always Smokey's big silver spurs gliding unevenly across the board sidewalks.
In that year, Nederland also had two classes of saloon patrons, the roustabouts from the Spindletop oil field, who lived at the Orange Hotel, and the cowhands from the McFaddin "Lazy O" Ranch, the headquarters and bunk houses of which were located on the present-day Dupont plant entrance road. One evening a cow poke was waving his six gun in Steiner's Saloon, and Smokey came thundering in to tell the cowboy either to turn in his gun or leave town. Instead, the cowhand invited Smokey out on dusty Boston Avenue to exchange a few bullets. Smokey declined, however, noting he was still on duty, but promised to meet the McFaddin cowboy the next day at "high noon down at the Double Bridges" and they would shoot it out.
Now the name "Double Bridges" also goes back to the rice canal days. The present Unocal plant road was formerly the main rice canal from the river, the steep levees of which were leveled about 1922 to form a road bed. About 100 yards north of present-day Highway 366, the main canal from the river divided into its East Fork and West Fork, and the bridges over each fork, where the Beaumont to Port Neches dirt road crossed over them, became known as the "Double Bridges."
On the day of the shoot-out, there was a steady stream of Nederland's Dutch immigrants and other curious spectators, some on horseback, others in wagons, hacks, gigs, and buggies, headed across the railroad tracks at Helena Street, bound for the "O. K." - that is, the shoot-out at the Double Bridges. At quarter to twelve, the McFaddin cowhand came riding down the K. C. S. railroad tracks for his rendezvoux with death, but although the crowd waited around until 12:30 P. M. that day, Dep. Sheriff Smokey Six-pack never showed up. In fact, it was about five years before Smokey ever got up enough courage to show his face in Nederland again.
In 1933, legalized beer returned to America after 14 years of Prohibition, and around 1937-1938, Nederland was enduring growing pains, during which time about four "honkytonks" opened up between Nederland Avenue and Elgin Street. I recall the old "Lookout Cafe," which never closed its doors during 24 hours of each day, and it was located in the middle of the 200 block of North Twin City. There was one building on the corner between the "Lookout" and Nederland Pharmacy, and that was Albert Riensta's Texaco Service Station. There was another particularly obnoxious honkytonk, the Shamrock Inn, located in Central Gardens at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and North Twin City.
So obnoxious were the two places that six or eight women of the night were in residence at each to cater to the sailor trade. And for about three years, a taxi loaded or unloaded its cargo of Beaumont and Port Arthur sailors every ten minutes, for apparently the night life of Nederland was much more enticing to them. In those days, I, Tom Housenfluck, and a few other paper boys rolled our Enterprise papers ever morning at 2:00 A. M. at Albert's Texaco Station, and the number of nude people cavorting about in the area in back of the "Lookout" around 2:00 A. M. could hardly be described to a mixed audience.
Suddenly about 1938, some unknown 'torch' began setting those places ablaze. The Lookout, the Shamrock, and the other two honkytonks all went up in smoke and cinders just a few months apart. And God bless him! Nederland's torch, whoever he was, performed a needed, although thoroughly illegal, service or benefit of the greatest magnitude. He was never identified, and I don't think that most people wanted to see him go to prison.
By the way, Bill Doornbos, Albert and Dick Rienstra, Boots Bodemuller and many other early Nederlanders, never got to go "trick or treating" back in those days before 1935, and if you see any of them who are still alive before next Halloween, be sure and put a stick of candy in his pocket. And as a result, Halloween pranks took a different turn and sometimes ended up in expensive vandalism. The usual fare for teenage boys was the turning over of wooden bridges over ditches, or the up-ending of an outhouse or two, which sometimes required more muscle-flexing than teenagers cared for. I recall what was perhaps the worst case of vandalism that ever occurred in Nederland because several of us paper boys happened to be right across the street, rolling our papers.
In the middle 1930's, Nederland Pharmacy had overhead wooden canopies as wide as the sidewalk underneath, held in place by 1" by ten foot bolts. On the Twin City side, there was one set of double doors and six doors, hinged together which telescoped back to the wall. Most of that has since been replaced by brick. About 1:00 A. M. of Halloween, 1936, about a dozen high school boys, all driving Mod. A Fords and pulling trailors, began dumping tow sacks filled with tin cans and refuse in front of every door, even up on top of the canopies. They must have hauled for about 4 or 5 hours from a city dump located up near Sun Oil Company, and they also pulled three or four old car bodies onto the sidewalk to block all entrances. We hurried over our routes because we knew that Doc Gunter, the pharmacist, would arrive at six o'clock to open up for business. Now Doc Gunter possessed a fine stock of sailor obscenities fully as comprehensive as a marine drill sergeant, every one of which he expressed loudly and vigorously as he paced from door to door. The pharmacy owner, who was Dr. Fred Roach's father, had to hire trucks and drivers, who finally got most of the mess cleaned up and hauled away about noon of that date.
Speaking of Nederland Pharmacy, I recall another incident there when I was a carhop about 1936. Back in the Model-A Ford days, cars stopped at the curb and we carried food and drinks out on a tray that hooked on to the car window. The druggist handed me six live fryers in a crate and told me to go back in the alley and "ring their necks." Now I had always heard of 'ringing a chicken's neck,' and it seemed some one was always threatening to "ring my neck," but I really knew nothing about that fine art. I took all six chickens' heads in my right hand and swung and swung and swung, but their heads just wouldn't come off. I had actually choked them all to death. I finally had to get an axe and cut off their heads. And having never tried that feat again, I don't know any more about ringing chicken necks now than I did then.
Another Halloween prank I'm almost reluctant to mention because it occurred long before I was born, and perhaps some one else may know the details better than I do. It seems that in World War I days or before, the K. C. S. Railroad depot in Nederland owned an old rice wagon left over from the days before the rice mill was built, when rice had to be shipped elsewhere in sacks to be milled. Some local merchants, however, continued to use the wagon while unloading box cars of livestock feed, lumber, etc. In those days the railroad also kept a stock of long iron rails and crossties stacked alongside of the depot. One Halloween morning, everyone woke up to find the huge rice wagon resting with ease on top of the depot. Obviously, some local vandals had lain railroad iron in a slanting position up to the roof, and then built a bridge of cross ties before pulling the rice wagon up with a truck, or something. After the rice wagon was on top, the vandals carefully dismantled the bridge and restacked each rail and crosstie neatly back in place. The rice wagon remained there for several months until the K. C. S. railroad sent a rail flatcar with a lalrge crane or derrick on it to lift the wagon off. Needless to say, the railroad hauled the wagon away - 'mucho pronto!'
I've ranted randomly about a host of occurrences of yesteryear, all with no permanent historical importance or value whatsoever. Nevertheless, I hope something informative, or perhaps even humorous, may have struck a chord or even tickled your funnybone. Again, I'm most grateful for this invitation to be here. The Nederland Rotary Club has for many years been a wonderful local tradition, it seems for about as many years as I've been alive, but I'm sure it's of somewhat less age since I'll soon be 77. And I also wish your club and each of you many more productive years during the decades which lie ahead. Again I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you and thank you immensely!