The Late Dick Hinson

The Late Dick Hinson

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Reminiscing: A Practical Application for Science

dick-hinson1Rerun from the December 13 2006 edition of the Jackson County Times

“For Sale”: Tree Stands, Automatic Feeding Stations, Shooting Tents, Shelled Corn, Ear Corn, Salt Blocks, and Game Cameras!”

If an old-time game warden could come back and see this advertisement, he would prepare to arrest every deer hunter in Jackson County. Nobody could convince him that it was now legal to bait the animals.

For many years into the 1950’s, a whitetail deer was rarely seen in this area. The breeding stock had been decimated by various parasites, disease, and almost finished off by a long term epidemic of screwflies. Most of the surviving animals stayed hidden in the remote river swamps, and were hunted by packs of deer hounds. However, even these “swamp-deer” were so few in number that the hunters would have probably helped the wardens jail anyone taking deer over bait! Everyone knew that passenger pigeons had become extinct, and they wondered if the whitetails were headed in the same direction.

Now we may as well admit that, up to this time, the occupation of “scientist” was not considered to affect the activities of everyday life in Jackson County. They kept to their own arcane world. Practical results of many long-term experiments were difficult to identify. This was about to see a dramatic change!

In the early 1950’s, residents around the county began noticing numbers of small planes. Most were piper cubs, flying in wide, slow circles. Inquiries revealed that these operations were a result of research science in action. Male screwflies, sterilized by radiation, were being released from the aircraft. A scientist had determined that the female fly mated only once. Coupled with the short life span of the insects, both would die before the next breeding cycle….At least, this was the theory from the secret world of the unidentified scientist…..

Back on the grounds of the cattlemen, farmers, and hunters in Jackson County this news was the topic of every conversation. There were legions of skeptics and various jokes. Not all, however. Some said that nothing else had worked, so “give it a chance, as crazy as it sounds.”

As they say, the rest is history. As time passed, it became evident that the screwflies were disappearing. Not only locally, but throughout the south, the scourge had been lifted. Cattlemen no longer had to locate and treat a newborn calf within a day or two after birth to save them. The fawns could now survive, and the deer herds began to recover. Their numbers were so small that it required almost a half-century to reach our present proximity to overpopulation.

A milestone was established. For the first time, the average citizen of Jackson County gained a respect and appreciation for the practical application of science! As we deal with current problems such as conserving the future quality of our water supply, this lesson should not be forgotten.

Reminiscing - Pebs Turkey Story

dick-hinson1Rerun from the December 6 2006 edition of the Jackson County Times.

The steam locomotive pulling the “Railway Wild West Show” puffed to a stop in Sneads. Circus roustabouts unloaded horses and covered wagons. Indians, cowboys, and an older man with a white beard waved to the crowd. The handbills advertised that “Buffalo Bill Cody” would present his astounding show the following afternoon. In Faraway Europe, World War I was starting.

As the show began the next day, a local teenage cowboy sat in the bleachers with his father. The family owned a large spread of land along the “Big River” east of Sneads. Virgin pine timber, a turpentine still, and a herd of half-wild cattle were included in their operations. The boy could be described as a young giant, lean, and 6 feet, 4 inches in height. He had grown up in the saddle.

After “Buffalo Bill” had driven the Indians away from chasing the pioneer wagons, it was time for the trick rider to perform. An assistant had dropped small cotton bags around the inner edge of the circus tent ring. The rider entered the arena at top speed. Leaning sideways from the saddle, he swept the bags from the ground as the horse dashed by. One by one, he did not miss….The spectators applauded the skills of both the rider and his horse. It was a good show.

The boy leaned over to his father and said. “I think I could do that.” On the way back home the boy made his plans. He currently had the best mustang cowhorse he had ever seen. Well trained for roping and bulldogging, the animal was strong and fast. In addition, he seemed to have a sixth sense of which direction a running calf was going to swerve. The rider was kept close to his target.

For weeks, he practiced grabbing objects from the ground. With his long arm, this was no problem. However, there was the main secret that he hadn’t yet shared with anyone. The young Pebble C. Stone intended to catch a wild turkey from horseback! Even an overconfident teenager knew that he had better keep quiet. He didn’t want to be known as the “village idiot” of Sneads. For more that fifty years, the eventual outcome was known only by the immediate family and employees.

Now, fast forward to the 1970’s. The teenage rider is now an elderly passenger in my Ford Bronco II. We were members of “Camp Seclusion” in Liberty County, and were returning from a River Styx fishing trip. We had known each other lifelong. Suddenly, a young wild turkey ran across the sandy road ahead of the vehicle. “When I was young,” He said, “I caught some turkeys about that size.” “What kind of trap did you use”, I asked… “No Traps,” He replied, “I caught them from horseback.” I continued to drive, thinking I might have misunderstood. “Peb” was known among all the club members as a “straight arrow.” He was respected as being a serious man, 100% truthful. Unlike some others, he told no “tall tales.” While he had a dry sense of humor, he would always end such remarks by saying, “Now I’m just joking.” That coment did not come. “Peb,” I said, Did you say you caught them from Horseback?” “I did,” he replied, “And I want you to understand I’m bragging on my horse!”

I’m not a turkey hunter, but over the years have seen quite a few. Without exception, they were alert, had great vision, and were as fast as greased lighting…. Now, I was about to hear about an adventure that had been kept quiet for over fifty years! “Tell me all about it,” I said….

He told me about the circus and the trick rider, followed by practice with his own mustang. He was satisfied. All he lacked was a wild turkey. Weeks passed into spring. One morning, as he was on his way to work the cattle, he noticed a large windfall pine. In falling, the tree had created a spacious cavity in the ground. He saw movement…a turkey hen was raising her brood in the protected area under the root system. Peb kept his distance from the nest and rode on. At suppertime that night, he told his parents that he was going to need an enclosed pen in the backyard. His mother agreed to have a turpentine still worker build the cage.

As the turkeys grew, Peb continued to ride by. The nest adjoined an open area of several acres, which was the feeding space for the flock. The birds did not associate the horse as a source of danger. At this point, some of my own experience kicked in: any wild creature almost disregards the rider. They concentrate on the horse, which they don’t fear nearly as much as a human. The dominant scent of the horse is also a major factor. Pioneer hunters knew this and used horses whenever possible. When seeking large game.

Peb was ready. Everything now hinged on one question: Would the mustang accept a running turkey as his target? Nobody had the answer.

On the appointed morning, he pulled a tight cinch on the girth strap, and rode along on his usual path. He knew the feeding timetable, and the young birds were spread out over the meadow. Seeing one turkey which had fed into an isolated area from the group, he reined the horse to point directly at the bird. The “catch” signal and his spurs were suddenly applied. The mustang leaped forward…to his amazement, the horse “locked in” on the running turkey just as though he was a fleeing calf! As the bird swerved to a straight path to gain speed, the little mustang passed alongside. Pebble swung his big hand to the ground. The rest is history. He straightened in the saddle with a struggling wild turkey caught by one wing! Bird #1 was deposited in the new pen. Peb’s mother was delighted…

On following days, turkeys #2, #3, and #4 were collected. It became apparent that the mother hen placed a higher priority on the sheltered den and adjacent food supply than the number of her brood. The young bird’s which had not been chased still had no fear of the horse. Their memory span did not extend from one day to the next. This was an ideal scenario for Peb Stone. He finally placed nine birds in the pen. His mother prepared and cooked the tender turkeys.

After finally telling about this long ago experience, Pebble could sometime be persuaded to tell the story again…

Occasionally, a listener not aware of the man’s reputation would say that he didn’t believe him…

Peb had the same remark each time: “If you don’t believe me, ask my mama!!” Hearing this and seeing that Peb Stone was obviously into his 80’s, the doubters decided that he had lost his mind. What they didn’t know is that he was born when his mother was sixteen. At this time, Mrs. Stone was close to 100, in good health and mentally sharp. Nobody ever had the nerve to contact her for verification of her son’s honesty!

The Flying Machine

dick-hinson1Rerun From February 14, 2007

It’s the early 1900’s. Imagine that you are alone in a remote small field in Jackson County. Without a sound, a strange machine comes down from the sky and careens to a crash landing. A figure resembling a human slowly emerges and looks toward you . . . finally, he calls out: “Where am I?” Shortly, you’ll understand the answer! This incident actually took happened in our county almost a century ago, and deserves to be documented.

The story begins in Dothan, where a young “daredevil” of the time had acquired the first airplane in this entire area. A friend of mine, the late Paul Anderson, was also a Dothan native. In later years, the then-elderly pilot shared this experience of his first “long-distance” flight with Anderson. The Alabama flier had been contacted by Marianna officials to bring the first “flying machine” in for a landing at the annual Jackson County Fair. This history-making event was slated to be the highlight of the week-long exhibitions. In those times, the fairs were held in the block now occupied by the former Marianna High School.

Now we must acknowledge that none of our citizens had ever seen an aircraft, and many others refused to believe that any man-made machine was capable of flight! In those pioneer days, there were legions of “non-believers”.

On the appointed afternoon, the crowd gathered at the fair. Horses, mules, and oxen were securely tied to the hitching racks. Meanwhile, the Dothan pilot checked his watch and cranked the small engine. He estimated an hour’s flight time to Marianna, and strapped into the exposed seat in front of the engine. All went well until he flew past the village of Campbellton. The engine began to sputter and eventually went out as he passed over the former location of Webbville. Spotting a small field carved out in the woodland, the pilot banked into a landing approach. Gliding down in silence, he braced for a rough landing.

Shaken and disoriented, he remained in his seat for a few minutes, trying to remember his bearings. Removing his leather helmet and goggles, he climbed out of the damaged craft and sees a man standing motionless and awe-struck across the field.

“Where Am I?” he called out. The old man shouted”

“Lord Jesus, you are back on EARTH! If I hadn’t seen you coming, I wouldn’t have known who you are!!... Then, he fell to his knees. . .

Meanwhile, at the fairgrounds the natives were getting restless. The officials had no way of knowing that the downed pilot of the ultra-light aircraft was trying to explain that he was not on a divine mission! It was the next day before the word filtered down to Marianna.

Another year would be required to bring the first plane in for a local landing! The pilot which made this attempt did not re-apply for the job . . .

Reminiscing The Last Donkey Baseball Game in Marianna

dick-hinson1What could be more fun and relaxing than attending an evening game of Donkey Baseball in the dismal Fall of 1936? The local newspaper offered free tickets to the top twenty readers who could submit the longest list of words using the fourteen letters in “Donkey Baseball”. The tickets were 50 cents, and dictionaries came off the shelf.

As it turned out, it would be like winning a ticket on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. However, bad surprises were almost guaranteed during the dark years of the Depression.

For the game, the high school football field had been converted to a baseball diamond. The field was located near the intersection of Guyton and Liddon Streets, adjacent to a present softball practice field. The Federal Works Progress Administration “(W.P.A.)” had built bleachers along the western side of the football field. This organization, created to provide depression-era jobs, was filled by willing workers who had little or no construction skills. The bleachers had a framework of iron girders with heavy pine planks bolted in seating rows. With a height of thirty feet, the spectator capacity was several hundred. Atop tall poles, electric lights had recently been installed. The “WPA” laborers had been busy.

As the name implies, normal baseball rules apply in “Donkey Baseball” with one comical exception: After a hit, all players must ride donkeys. The stubborn little animals have a mind of their own, and might run in any direction or refuse to move at all. On balance, it is a scenario of mass confusion and frustrated players. The crowd provides shouted advice with much laughter. The opposing teams were comprised of Rotary and Kiwanis Club members, all well known locally. The two organizations were sponsors of the game.

With the enthusiasm of a ten year old, I arrived early, clutching a winning ticket. Climbing to the top row, I didn’t intend to miss any of the action. As the bleachers filled, a group of about 10 or 12 senior boys stayed close together as they made their way up near my perch. Settling in shoulder to shoulder, they appeared to have their own agenda. Halfway through the game, they made their move. Locking arms, they began to throw their weight from side to side, swaying in unison. Weeks earlier, they had discovered that they could cause the empty structure to rock. Now, with the weight of the crowd, the sway would provide some “Added fun and excitement”. At first, there was no motion, but the big teenagers kept at their team effort.

As time passed, the first slight movement to the south could be detected, followed by a somewhat longer sway toward the north. As the momentum increased, the spectators suddenly became silent. There was no laughter. The teenage “rock team” sat motionless and frightened, but it was too late. “The die had been cast,” and the bleachers seemed to have acquired a life of their own. In the long final sway, the iron framework began to snap with the sounds of firing shotguns. The groaning structure balanced upright for an optimistic and short-lived few seconds. It then proceeded to crash toward Kelson Avenue like a giant house of playing cards! Some three hundred occupants were thrown about and under the debris.

Along the rear of the bleachers was a field of tall corn. Several top row occupants chose to take the 30 foot leap. One hapless customer misjudged his jump and landed on a group of terrified “substitute” donkeys which had been tied behind the bleachers. I stood balanced on a long loose plank which I planned to ride like a surfboard to a smooth landing somewhere below. That was a poor decision and I still carry the scar to remind me.

In the following confusion, the word was passed to carry the injured to Dr. Albert Baltzell’s small hospital on the corner of Russ and Lafayette streets. There, he would examine and dispatch the walking casualties to one of the other four physicians who opened their offices. They all worked through the night. There was a mix of lacerations, fractures and abrasions in addition to one or two permanent injuries. It was termed a miracle that there were no fatalities.

Bear in mind that medical expense insurance and benefits were unknown. All such expense was “out of pocket”, and in 1936 those pockets were almost empty. Now imagine how all this would play out in 2007. We could have a new contest to see who could compile the longest list of defendants and co-defendants. . . A personal injury attorney’s dream!!! For better or worse, the public reaction was almost unanimous, and a poignant reflection of the typical mindset of the times. It went like this: “It was simply a case of a teenage prank getting out of control. The accident was neither intended nor foreseen, and should therefore be forgiven.” When dust cleared and all was said and done, not a single complaint ever came from an occupant of the bleachers. The average person was accustomed to “hard luck” and unexpected setbacks.
Perhaps, some say, our residents were too accustomed to not complaining. There’s certainly nothing wrong with requiring standards for public safety. Nobody recalls where the bleacher builders went for their next job. They didn’t request a recommendation. . .

Well, that’s the way the evening went at “the last Donkey Baseball Game” a long time ago. . . I wonder why we never had another one?

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