The Little Town That Almost Was: The Nicholson Story, Part III

Business, Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Human Interest, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Lisa and John Nicholson, 2018 (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     Cleta and John Orval Nicholson II took their baby boy home from Spohn Hospital on Shoreline to 338 Davis Drive in 1950 to live in the two-story house behind Nicholson’s Grocery with big sister Sally.  This little guy would take the name of his father and his grandfather, but he would come to be known simply as “Johno” to all.  He would later inherit the family business, which he saw as a blessing and a curse. Times were often hard, but with his work experience, a solid education from Flour Bluff School and Del Mar College, the mentorship of his grandfather and other small business owners, this enterprising young man and Lisa, his wife and business partner, took what had become a failing grocery store and turned it into the thriving, local landmark, Barton Street Pub.

Two-story house behind grocery store, ca. 1980s (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     Johno attended Flour Bluff School from first through twelfth grade.  “My sister Sally and I were somewhat well-known because of the store,” said Johno.  “Anybody who owned a business was well-known because the families traded with them, but I was a shy kid.”

     Johno remembers his first days in Flour Bluff School.  “There was a surge of kids at the beginning of my first-grade year, and the school was not ready for them,” he said.  “I started out in the old 1939 building with Mrs. Grace Malinowski, but within a few days, they shifted us all around, and I ended up in the newer wing of the building with Mrs. Clark.”

Mrs. Clark gives John Nicholson clay during class. (1957 Hornet Yearbook photo)

 

     One of his favorite teachers was Miss Willis.  “Everyone called her Miss Eunice,” he said.  “She was a country girl who taught second grade.  In her class, we churned butter and grew things, and she taught us to write cursive.  I was acting up one day in her class.  She came over to my chair and got me and led me back to her desk, which was behind us.  She put me on her lap and popped me one time.  Then, she made me stay on her lap while she kept teaching.  I was so embarrassed that I never acted up the rest of the year.  She was a treasure.  Everybody loved her.”

This is Miss Eunice Willis and her 2nd -grade class. John Nicholson is second from the right, front row, but who are the others?  Contact the editor if you can identify any of them. (1957 Hornet Yearbook photo)

 

     Miss Willis, like many Flour Bluff teachers, lived in the teacherages that Mr. Wranosky, school superintendent, had built for them.  “There were many others who lived in the houses on the school circle, too,” said Johno.  “Miss Arnold, Mr. Odom, B.J. Howard, the Wranoskys, and other teachers lived on school grounds.”

     “Mr. Wranosky was a good man,” said Johno.  “He cared about every kid in that school.  He made special arrangements for all the special education students.  He was a true educator and knew every kid by name.  When kids went to the cafeteria without any money, the cashier wrote their names down and sent them on to get their food, but the school never collected.  We had a lot of poor kids in Flour Bluff back then, and Mr. Wranosky made sure they got to eat.”

E. J. Wranosky, Superintendent of Flour Bluff Schools, ca. 1959 (1959 Hornet Yearbook photo)

     In 1967-68, his senior year, Johno was able to use the skills he acquired from working the family business and his education when Mr. Wranosky gave him a job as part of the Distributive Education (DE) Program. He went to school from 8:00 a.m. to noon and worked at Central Office from noon to 4:00 p.m. In the summertime, he worked six to eight hours each day. He started at 90 cents an hour but quickly earned a 35-cent raise.  “That was a lot of money to start and quite an honor to get a raise like that,” said Johno.

     “They started me in the print shop in the back,” he said.  “They liked me and the way I worked, so they moved me up to the front desk to help Mrs. Harris.  I answered the phone and transferred all calls. I received and distributed the mail.  I greeted all people who came in. I handled all the accounts payable, so I wrote the checks for the board members to sign.  I also wrote checks for the transportation department.  Once Jason Wranosky ordered a brand-new bus.  He came in from looking it over, handed me the bill, and told me to write a check for $10,000!  I had never written a check for that much, and I was shaking when I took it into Miss Arnold to sign!”

     When Johno’s father died in 1967, his mother took over the running of the grocery store.  “I worked at the school but still worked weekends helping my mother,” said Johno.  “The grocery business for us was not good at that time.  There were too many stores in Flour Bluff, and HEB opened up in 1964.  That took its toll on many of the smaller grocery stores. Frank Buhider, who owned Frank’s Foodland, was the first to close.”

Daddy John Nicholson stands in front of store in 1971 (Photo courtesy of Johno Nicholson)

     Nicholson’s Grocery would remain in business for a few more years.  During that time, Johno’s sister Sally married her high school sweetheart, moved away, and started her own life.  Johno attended Del Mar College where he studied computer programming.  “They taught us how they worked.  I took typing and keypunch, and I took accounting, which was very difficult.  They were preparing us to go out into the corporate world.  The principles and the concepts were valuable for the day-to-day running of any business,” said Johno.

     Nicholson’s Grocery was barely holding on when Lisa Proctor was hired to work there.  “Lisa came in 1972.  My mother passed away in 1973, and I took over the store full time,” said Johno.  “Before she passed, we were having a hard time, but it really went downhill after she died.  A lot of our customers owed us money from unpaid tabs, and we were borrowing money to keep it open.  Daddy John and I had to send letters letting people know that we could no longer extend them credit.  It was hard to cut folks off, but we couldn’t pay our own bills.  The grocery would come in, and we didn’t have the money to pay for them.  I was writing hot checks, and girl down at 1st National Bank would call me almost every morning for me to bring cash to cover the checks.  It cost me two dollars on each one.  That went on for a long time, and finally I just couldn’t cover them.  We didn’t re-stock the store.  We just started selling everything out that we had.”

     Johno went to work for other small business owners in Flour Bluff while Lisa and Daddy John continued to run the store.  “I went to work for Doug Turner as a welder’s helper.  I did the grinding, the painting, and the cutting to set him up to weld.  I took the money I earned with Doug and put it into the store to keep the doors open,” he said.

     In 1975, Johno heard about a lease available on Padre Island at the Nueces-Kleberg county line.  “It was 21 acres on the beach,” he said.  “Mrs. Oshaski had rented it and had a little store out there.  She had abandoned the store, so I called the Cadwallader Development Company in San Antonio; they owned the property.  They were tickled to give me the lease because at that time landowners were trying to establish ownership above the state on beach frontage.  Both were claiming ownership.  By leasing to me, they were kind of using me as a way to prove ownership.  I paid $120 a month.  I bought a portable building for $350 from Mr. McManus, and I bought Mrs. Oshaski’s building for $50.  He let me pay it out because I didn’t have any money.  We had it hauled over here to fix it up then borrowed Doug Turner’s wrecker truck to pull out to the beach and hooked up the electricity.  We even had a phone out there.”

     Johno and Lisa named the store Johno’s, got their beer license, and started selling beer, ice, soft drinks, cigarettes, and snacks.  “We were doing pretty well when a guy from the state contacted us and said we had to go to Austin.  That’s when they told us we were on their property.  I showed them my lease, but they didn’t care,” said Johno.  “They wanted us to move the building back 50 feet.  They said if we did that we could stay there until we died or blew away. So, we moved both buildings back.  We had the store in our building, and we leased the Oshaski building to a hippie who wanted to open a shell shop.  That didn’t work out, so we just kept it as a place to stay while we were out there.”

John Nicholson holds personalized car tag with name of beach store. (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     The sand was soft in front of the store at its new location.  Johno decided he needed to wet it down to keep the customers from getting stuck.  “I had heard that there was water just a few feet down,” Johno said.  “So, I bought a well point with a fine screen on it to drive into the ground.  I put it down seven feet and attached a little pump to it.  It was an endless supply of the sweetest water you’d ever want to drink, and I had plenty of water to sprinkle the sand to keep folks from getting stuck.”

     Tom Hale, who owned Ira’s at the entrance to Bob Hall Pier, set it up for Johno to get shark caught by the fishermen.  “We put in a tall pole with a wench on it, and we would hang the shark to attract people to come to see it with the hopes that they’d buy something, too.  All we had to do was give Tom the jaws from the shark,” said Johno.  “We kept water running on the shark the whole time because they didn’t last long.  When they got too stinky, we’d take them down and drag them to the shark burial grounds behind the bath house close to the pier.  The county would come along and cover the shark up with sand.”

Tourist posing with hammerhead shark hanging in front of Johno’s, ca. 1977 (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     Johno and Lisa managed to keep Nicholson’s Grocery open for a little bit longer.  “Lisa and I were dating, and we decided to convert the store into a bar.  We walled off what was left of the store and built a 1000 square foot bar on the other side.  Nicholson’s Grocery closed on December 5, 1975.  That was the day we got our beer license and opened our first bar, the Barnstormer.”

     “We did pretty well at the island store until the water came in really high in 1977,” said Johno.  “It destroyed our building, and that ended that.”

Next edition:  Read the final installment of the history of the Nicholson family to learn about this family of entrepreneurs who forged a path to success with some very unusual ventures.

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Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read stories from other longtime residents of Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from the Little Town That Almost Was, The Nicholson Story, Part II

Business, Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

     When John Orval Nicholson, Sr. (Daddy John) left New Mexico and followed his son, John Orval II (Nick), to Corpus Christi after the war, he bought a drug store at Six Points.  “That was his first venture in Corpus Christi,” said Daddy John’s grandson, John Orval III (Johno).  Nick owned a radio shop at Six Points.

     “Daddy John bought a house at 3544 Santa Fe in the beginning,” said Johno, “Then, he got wind of the causeway going in, and he bought a tourist court on this property we’re on right now.  After he bought it, he renamed it Nicholson’s Courts.”

     According to a Corpus Christi Caller-Times article from March 9, 1938, S. C. Ohlhausen of the Ohlhausen Dredging Co. at Galveston “made application with the War Department for a permit to dredge and construct an estimated half-million-dollar causeway from Flour Bluff across the Laguna Madre to the Gulf of Mexico on the south side of Corpus Christi Pass.”  Ohlhausen was hopeful that the project would be completed by August of 1939, but that didn’t happen. Not until 1947 would talk of the causeway start up again with a special meeting held by the County Commissioners Court to discuss construction of the causeway.  This time, it seemed the project would come to fruition.

     At that time, South Padre Island Drive was a rural route, dirt road that came to an end at the Laguna Madre.  Businesses and homes started to dot the short stretch of road in anticipation of the building of the causeway that would cross the Laguna Madre and allow motorists access to Padre Island.  Nicholson’s Grocery was born in 1948 in front of the tourist court.  Opening day for the little store was uneventful according to Daddy John’s grandson.

     “There wasn’t much of a community out here,” Johno said.  “The causeway wouldn’t open for almost another two years, but they did enough business to get by.  A lot of the property along Davis Drive had been purchased but not developed,” he added, listing A&H Sporting Goods, Dairy Queen, Sportsman’s Bait and Tackle, Buck’s Sporting Goods, Ed’s Bait and Tackle, and Byrd’s Café as some of the original businesses that would change their addresses many times over the years from Davis Drive to Island Drive and finally to South Padre Island Drive.

(Photo courtesy of John Nicholson III, ca. 1963)

     Johno and the new causeway were born in 1950.  “I was born at Spohn Hospital, and they brought me home to this property.  I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

     Motorists lined up to pay the $1.00 toll to cross the North Padre Island Causeway (later renamed the JFK Causeway).  Business was good, and Flour Bluff continued to grow.  Daddy John took an active role in making the community better – and not just for the businesses or tourists passing through.  The area was experiencing an extreme drought, which caused great concern for the people on the Encinal Peninsula.  A water line had been laid for Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, which also served other customers south of Corpus Christi, but not Flour Bluff.

     “In 1950, everybody out here – except for the base – was on water wells,” said Johno.  “We had a windmill, but it was difficult to provide water for the motel and the store.  Daddy John got together with some other Flour Bluff folks, including the Lion’s Club, to bring city water to Flour Bluff.”  According to a September 8, 1950, Caller-Times piece, Daddy John was elected president of the board, S. F. Hawley served as secretary, and W. F. Cutler, Jr., James E. Johnson, and V. K. Warlick served as directors.

     On May 8, 1960, the Caller-Times gave a brief history of how the water district that included Flour  Bluff and the part of Padre Island which is in Nueces County came to be.  The following is from that article:

     “In 1950, when the Padre Island Causeway came into being and triggered development on the island, Flour Bluff still was relying on wells for water.  In the summer of 1950, the wells nearly ran dry.  The Flour Bluff Lions Club spearheaded petitioning of the State Board of Water Engineers for creation of a water district which would buy water from the City of Corpus Christi and pipe it to customers at Flour Bluff and on the island.  This move, although heavily favored, had its dissenters and there was campaigning to be done – before the board of water engineers and in two elections at Flour Bluff.  One was on the ratification of the district’s creation, the other on a $700,000 bond issue to put the district in business.  The bond issue passed 153 to 19.”

     Bids from 15 companies arrived at the office of the Nueces County Water Control and Improvement District No. 2, located at 102 Davis Drive.  John Nicholson, Sr. told the Caller-Times, “We think it may take four to six months to complete the project and want the water supply available here by next summer.”

     “Daddy John added a twenty-foot by fifty-foot section to this building for a water office,” said Johno.  “He wanted to have a place for people to come pay bills and just to manage the water system.  The powers that be decided not to use it after he built it.  They used the building that sits at the end of Lakeside, what is now the cleaners.”

(Caller-Times photo)

     Sooner than Daddy John predicted, the first water pipe in the new Flour Bluff water system was laid. The pipe was delivered in February to the Center Addition just off Lexington Boulevard and was installed on March 28, 1951.  The whole project should have been finished by May, but according to an April 6, 1951, Caller-Times article, Daddy John reported a shortage of the 10-inch pipe as the reason for delay.  By July 1951, the water line tied Flour Bluff citizens to the city’s water supply.

     By June of 1953, a water tank had to be installed to increase the water supply for use by residents. The Caller-Times reported that on the morning of June 16, 1953, that only five pounds of pressure was coming out of the city line. “The Naval Air Station, with an underground reservoir situated between Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi, naturally cuts down the pressure,” said M.C. Jarrell, then head of the Water Control District.  He assured everyone he was not complaining about the use of water by the Navy but that he was concerned about fire danger in the area with such low water pressure.

     In his words, the Flour Bluff residents were “sitting ducks.”  Many people in the Humble Camp reported that they had been using well water again. In an effort to resolve the Flour Bluff water issues, Jarrell told the Caller-Times that a second water tank at Flour Bluff would be installed, with a booster pump added for use in emergencies.  This tower sat on the north side of Davis Drive (now Padre Island Drive) between Lakeside Drive and the Laguna Madre.  It saw its demise when the causeway bond was paid off and the county turned the roadway over to the state.  A new, multi-lane, wide highway went in, and the tank was in the way.  A new tower would later be built on Flour Bluff Drive.

(Caller-Times photo of second water tower in Flour Bluff, which is still in use today, ca. 1971)

     Though bringing water to Flour Bluff was perhaps the best thing Daddy John did for Flour Bluff, he was always concerned about education of the youth.  “He was an educator his entire life,” said Johno.   “It just seemed natural for him to serve as the president of the Nueces County School Board.” But, when the county schools became independent school districts, like Flour Bluff Independent School District did, Daddy John pushed to end the county board.  “He just didn’t think they were doing any good any more, so he voted to abolish it.”

     “The post office substation became available sometime in the fifties, and he added it to the store,” said Johno.  “Daddy John ran it first.  Then my daddy ran it for a while.  My mother, Cleta, took it after we hired a butcher for the grocery store.  Until then, she had been the butcher.  We kept it quite a few years until Mother died; then it moved to A&H.  At first, it was near the front of the store, but we moved it to the back thinking that somebody might buy something if they walked through the store.  I think they did more shoplifting than buying,” Johno said with a chuckle.

     “It wasn’t lucrative,” Johno said about running the post office.  “We made about $400 a month, and it was a lot of responsibility.  We had to buy a safe to put the stamps and money in at night when we’d close up.  We kept our money in there, also.  One time the auditors came in and found the extra money in the safe, and they were going to take it.  They said if our money was mixed in with theirs that it became theirs.  My daddy set them straight about that.”

     The business at 338 Davis Drive would continue as a grocery store for many more years.  Daddy John was around off and on.  His son Nick and daughter-in-law Cleta took over the running of the businesses until they passed 1967 and 1973 respectively. However, it was his grandson, Johno, who had spent his life learning the family business, who would be the one to fight the battle of saving the property.  The Nicholson entrepreneurial spirit would be his main weapon in that battle.

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Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read stories from other longtime residents of Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

 

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from the Little Town That Almost Was: The Nicholson Story, Part I

Business, Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.  This article first appeared in the Texas Shoreline News, August 3, 2018.  To read more about Flour Bluff history, visit TSN.

Nicholson’s Grocery when it was first built, September 1948 (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     In 1947, when John Orval Nicholson, called “Daddy John” by many, got wind of a new causeway going in that would connect the Encinal Peninsula to Padre Island, he bought a piece of property on what was then a dirt road, a dirt road that would eventually become a major highway.  A two-story house, built by a man from Kansas in the late 1930s, sat on the property and first carried the address of Route 4, Box 191, then 338 Davis Drive after 1950, followed by 338 Island Drive, and finally 10618 South Padre Island Drive. This address saw many changes along the way and is now the home to Barton Street Pub, which is owned by Nicholson’s grandson, John Orval Nicholson III.

     Around the house were small cottages that made up what was called a “tourist court.”  The house served as a home and as the office for the motel. According to John O. Nicholson III (Johno), the structures were substandard when his grandfather bought them.  “He remodeled all of it built units 1 and 2, which are now my workshop, and 10 and 11, which are now rentals.  They’re on slabs,” said Johno.  Daddy John sold that piece of the property in 1952, but his grandson bought it back in 1984.

     Unbelievably, the Kansas man who built the original buildings also built a storm cellar behind the house, something quite peculiar for a Flour Bluff residence. “The underground part of it is still there,” said Johno.  “The old man who owned the car wash bought that piece of the property, knocked the top off of it and just put dirt over it.  I still hit something every time I mow because it’s still sticking up.”

     “Daddy John lived in town, and the day he drove out here to look at the property, he got stuck in the sand,” his grandson said, chuckling.  Still, he did not let that deter him.  Daddy John knew that a causeway would bring lots of visitors with lots of money to spend, and he wanted to get ahead of the curve, so he built Nicholson’s Grocery in front of the two-story house in 1948, two years before the completion of the causeway. Several property owners along this rural route did the same because they, like Daddy John, could see that Flour Bluff would be the gateway to Padre Island.

The blue arrow indicates where Nicholson’s Grocery was located (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     “This whole strip was developing,” said Johno.  “A&H Sporting Goods, Dairy Queen, Ed’s Sporting Goods, Buck’s Sporting Goods.”  The Dairy Queen property, owned by the O’Donavitch family, sat on the west corner of Lakeside and Davis Drive.  Their house was on the east corner.  On the corner of what became Laguna Shores Road, Bernie Davis and her son Jim Coffman built A&H; it is now Wind and Wave.  Buck’s became the Plaza Motel. Ed’s sat where the vacant lot and driveway into HEB are today. All businesses along the dirt road thrived once the road was paved and became the primary entrance to North Padre Island.  Tourism became a major source of revenue for many of the people of Flour Bluff.

Island-bound cars in front of Nicholson’s Grocery wait in line to pay the $1.00 toll to cross over to the island, ca. 1955 (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     “My daddy had a radio shop in town.  He was a radio technician before there was tv,” said Johno.  “Daddy John enticed him to come out here after he married Mother and had my older sister, Sally.  He wanted my dad to run the store because he wanted to go do something else.  He built the store when he was 68.  When he turned 72, he moved to Benton, Arkansas, and bought a small farm/ranch to give him something to do.  My daddy took over the store.”

     Daddy John returned to Flour Bluff two years later in 1954 and built a home behind the store.  “He lived there, and Mama and Daddy continued to run the store,” recalls Johno.  “Then, he decided to go back to Arkansas.  He was 79.”

John Orval Nicholson, or Daddy John (Photo courtesy of John Nicholson)

     This man, who did not seem to let age get in the way of what he wanted to do, bought a trailer in 1959 from Red Morrow, a man who lived on Laguna Shores.  “Daddy John moved it next to the grocery store and started working on it,” said Johno, explaining that Morrow was building a house, which is why he sold the trailer to Daddy John.

     “Red went to the Flour Bluff lumber company, which was called Selby-Lankford then, to order the lumber,” said Johno.  (According to the Caller-Times, Selby-Lankford Lumber opened in 1951 on Lexington in Flour Bluff.  Later, John Pearson bought the company and re-named it Flour Bluff Lumber Company.)

     “The guys at the lumber company loaded the truck and headed out.  He (Morrow) followed them to the house in his 1954 Mercury.  A 2 X 12 came loose and went through the window and got him.  It took his eye out.  Of course, it knocked him out, and he veered off the road and hit a house. They took us to see the aftermath.  It was very tragic, but he lived.  He just lived with a glass eye after that.”

     “Daddy John fixed the trailer up and had it hauled to Arkansas.  He had bought 40 acres in Kirby,” recalls Johno, who was nine-years old at the time. “I went with him to follow the trailer up there.  The property had nothing on it except a few old-growth pine trees.  The next year, after school was out, I went up to visit, and he had a home built.”

     “At that time, the forest service offered to populate your property with pine trees if you signed an agreement not to cut them down for 20 years,” Johno said.  “He had 20,000 little pine trees planted in straight rows.  My job for the summer was to mow between the pines.  He kept the property for 9 years and lived there a month then down here a month. He drove with my grandmother, Daisy, sitting next to him.  She didn’t like all of that, but he did.  He told me, ‘I’ve got itchy feet.’ “

     The man with “itchy feet” didn’t always live in Flour Bluff.  “Daddy John was born in Indiana,” Johno said, “and he got his teaching certificate when he was 17.  He taught first grade up through twelfth in a one-room school house.  He said it didn’t pay very well, so he got a job as a mailman on a motorcycle.”

     Daddy John’s first wife, Nettie Tompkins, got sick and died in 1921, leaving him with a son, John Orval Nicholson II. At that time, Oklahoma and New Mexico had just become states, so he loaded up his son and headed for Oklahoma. “He started building houses and churches to help get the state going,” said Johno.  “He met and married Daisy in 1923 and moved on to New Mexico, where he started building homes and selling them,” Johno said.  “People would buy a home and pay him on time.  He was doing pretty well.”

     Daisy, Daddy John’s second wife and the grandmother Johno knew, was born in Santa Anna, Texas, a town named for the twin mountains located just north of the community, which were in turn named for Santa Anna, a Comanche chief, according to the Texas State Historical Association.  It was here that Daisy became a teacher.  She moved from Santa Anna to New Mexico where she homesteaded some land.  “She became fairly wealthy in terms of the time period,” said Johno.  “She and Daddy John built a home in New Mexico.  They were both pretty old by then.”

     John Orval II moved to Texas City, Texas, to work for a refinery.   “Somehow he ended up in Corpus Christi,” said Johno.  “He had taken a correspondence course to learn how to work on radios, and Daddy John followed him.  That’s how we wound up here.”

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read stories from other longtime residents of Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Don Crofton, Part I

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Personal History

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Don Crofton (Photo courtesy of Donald Crofton)

     Born in 1939, Don Crofton moved to Flour Bluff from Corpus Christi in 1946 because his dad, James Albinus Crofton, wanted to live in the country.  Don’s father was a former B-26 bomber crew chief in the army air corps who had taken a job at Dow Chemical, which is what brought him to Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana.  However, it was his job as a draftsman at NAS Corpus Christi that brought led him to Flour Bluff and introduced him to J.B. Duncan, a man whose family had helped settle the Encinal Peninsula. Duncan sold James Crofton an acre of land with a house on it on a sandy road called Flour Bluff Drive.  There, he moved his wife Louise and four of his ten children. The lot where the Crofton house stood is where the small gas plant near Murphy’s gas station is located today, just at the edge of what was then the Burton Dunn Ranch.

     In those days, people didn’t waste materials.  When the base dumped its left-over wood of all kinds – many times at Graham’s dump on Flour Bluff Drive – the civilian workers and the locals salvaged the materials and built their homes.  Such was the case with the Crofton home, which was built by Duncan using quarter-inch plywood from shipping crates off the base.  This attitude of making something out of nothing still exists in the Flour Bluff culture.  People on the Encinal Peninsula understood the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle long before it became a popular thing to say and do.  They did it out of necessity.

     “We didn’t realize we were poor,” said Crofton, the seventh of the ten kids.  “Our family took care of us and loved us.  What else could we want?”

     The house had no running water, so a shallow well was dug by hand.  “We hit water at 16 feet.  It was a reddish-brown color, and it tasted really bad,” recalls Crofton.  “My mom would ask people if they wanted some tea. To this day, I don’t drink water except out of fountains.”

Johnny Crofton stands looking at the Crofton house with the Tex-Mex railroad tracks and Flour Bluff Drive behind him.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

     Crofton recalls much about the property where he grew up.  “Our property was lower than the railroad tracks, so it flooded a lot.  We got a lot of rain back then,” said Crofton.  “We had trouble with rattlesnakes, too.  In one day we killed 26 of them, and one of them was in a mixing bowl in my mother’s kitchen!”

     When asked how he and his siblings and friends spent their days at home, Crofton said, “We played football, hunted a lot, chased javelina.  When we moved there, everything was brush except where our house, the chicken coop, and the well sat. Daddy had me, Tootsie, and George clearing the property.  It was so slow cutting that brush.”

One Thanksgiving, just after dinner when Don’s father lay down for his nap, the kids had the idea to burn the brush.  This was at a time when there was no fire department of any kind in Flour Bluff.  “We got it out and saved the cat, but George lost his shoes,” said Crofton, “Boy, was our dad mad!”

     After that, Crofton’s parents hired two old bachelors who drove the area in a Model T boom truck.  “They had two mules that they used to plow and harrow it.  We made a big pile of the roots and burned them,” said Crofton.  “These guys worked all over Flour Bluff clearing brush land.”

     “I heard tell of a place called Welcome Inn, a restaurant on the west side of Flour Bluff Drive at Graham Road, but I never saw it.  J.B. Duncan lived down by the Oso on Graham Road,” said Crofton.  “South of Graham was Tom Graham’s place.  He had a dump and a slaughter house on his property.  Far back on that property was the Hatley house where Charles Hatley grew up.”

     Bobby Kimbrell, long-time Flour Bluff resident, also recalls the Welcome Inn.  “It was owned by a fellow named De Gashe.  He was kin to the Buhiders,” said Kimbrell.  “Don is right about its location.  It sat on Graham Road and Flour Bluff Drive.”

     

The Crofton house located at 1406 Flour Bluff Drive well after Louise Crofton sold it: “Our daddy would have had a fit if he had seen our house looking like this,” said Crofton.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

 

     Crofton also remembers a house fire that took a house near his when he was about ten years old.  It was the home of Laura Dunn Burton, aunt of Greg Smith, current District 4 Councilman for Corpus Christi.  “They evidently had silver platters and pitchers and such on shelves above the windows.  The fire was so hot that it melted them.  I will never forget the melted silver running down the windows.”

     Smith said the house sat on the Burton Dunn Ranch, 52 acres near Don Crofton’s home.  “It was bought by Burton Dunn in 1919 to hold the cattle that came off of Padre Island,” said Smith.  He couldn’t recall how the house caught fire but said the long concrete porch was the only thing that remained after the fire.  “The cowboys who lived on the ranch tried to put it out but couldn’t.”

     Crofton, like so many Flour Bluff residents who lived on the peninsula in 1961, remembers what would become known as the most controversial election in Flour Bluff history.  It was the day that Flour Bluff residents voted to incorporate on the same day that the City of Corpus Christi voted to annex the area.

     “My father used to ask why we didn’t just incorporate the area from our house to Mud Bridge where there weren’t any streets, only houses. He said we didn’t really need to go into the city for anything anyway.  ‘We could call it Plum Nelly – plum outta Corpus and Nelly in Flour Bluff,’ Crofton recalled his father saying.  According to Don, the Flour Bluff sign was much farther inside the peninsula then.

     Don started school at North Beach Elementary and then went to David Hirsch Elementary before enrolling in Flour Bluff when he was in third grade.  On the first day of school in Flour Bluff, George, Johnny, Tootsie, and Don went to school on the bus.  “We used to walk to school and back every day, which was about two miles.  But, on our first day at Flour Bluff, we caught the bus.  Flour Bluff had two bus drivers then, Mr. Meeks and Don Barr,” said Crofton.  When the bus arrived at the school, George asked Don if it was the right place.  Don didn’t know so he asked the bus driver where they were.  When the bus driver told them it was grammar school, a term the boys had never heard, Don looked at George and said, “Oh, no, George, we’re in the wrong place.  Let’s go!”  That was just the start of Don’s days at Flour Bluff School where he excelled.

Charles B. Meeks (left) and Don G. Barr (right) were the “Hive Keepers” of Flour Bluff School, according to the 1947 Hornet yearbook.  (Photo from 1947 Hornet Yearbook)

     Ms. Carter was his teacher. “If you acted up, she’d grab your desk and shake it,” said Don.  “Of course, she used a ruler on our hands, too.  We never wrote in print either; everything had to be in cursive.  I remember that she had a picture of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod above the chalk board.”

Don is in the front row, third from the right.  The teacher pictured is Dorothy Arnold, though Miss Carter was his teacher in third grade.  (Photo courtesy of Don Crofton)

Second Grade page from 1946-47 Junior Hornet Yearbook, proof that the students were writing cursive well in second grade at Flour Bluff School.

     Flour Bluff School was not very big when started there, but it was a place he liked.  “We had Sticker Burr Stadium and Doty’s Beans,” Crofton said.  “We ate in a little wooden building next to the school.  Miss Doty cooked a pot of beans every day for the kids who didn’t have lunch or money for lunch.  We called them Doty’s Beans.  We also got a big spoon of peanut butter and a big spoon of black molasses with every meal.”

     Don would remain in Flour Bluff School until 1957 when he graduated second in his class behind Nora Jean Wright, the valedictorian.  Crofton received the title of salutatorian, which earned him a scholarship from the school. Jim Duncan, who came in at a very close third, received a duplicate scholarship.  Don would find himself back at the school many years later, this time on the other side of the teacher’s desk.

 

Clipping from Corpus Christi Caller Times

________________________________________________________________________________

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read more about the days gone by in Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from the Little Town That Almost Was: The Life and Times of Ralph and Rachel Krause (Part 2)

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history, Personal History

 

     To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Ralph and Rachel Krause

     Though Ralph Krause passed away on February 23, 2011, leaving behind his wife Rachel, five grown children (Carol, Ralph, Charles, David, and Deborah), and numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren, talking to his wife Rachel is like talking to Ralph.  She knows Ralph’s story perhaps even better than he did.  Working alongside her husband for nearly 30 years, the two of them built a place that most people of old Flour Bluff still remember fondly.  Pick-a-Rib and its owners were an integral part of Flour Bluff serving coffee, pastries, and barbecue sandwiches unique to the restaurant.  But, it didn’t start that way.

     When Ralph Krause opened Pick-a-Rib in Flour Bluff in 1949, the little community, not yet part of Corpus Christi and not incorporated, was growing quickly.  It was no longer the tiny rural community of the 1890s with a few families that farmed, raised dairy cattle, and fished.  The discovery of natural gas on the Incinal Peninsula in the thirties brought many oilfield workers and their families to the Humble Camp that sat where Marina Village Mobile Home Park is today.  Then, in 1940, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi was built bringing the largest population boom the sleepy little village would experience.  That’s when Ralph showed up.  Shortly after, the new causeway opened to Padre Island, and it changed everything in Flour Bluff.

     “Before the causeway opened in 1950,” Ralph told a Flour Bluff Sun reporter, “there was just a dirt road, just sand, from the corner where Lexington Boulevard went to the Navy base.  It led to nowhere.  Nicholson’s Grocery was down there for years, and that was about as far as it went.  And then they opened up the causeway and put a toll gate there.”

     “Davis Drive was a sand road until the causeway was built in 1950,” said John Nicholson, grandson of the original owner of Nicholson’s Grocery. “Our address at the store was 338 Davis Drive and was changed to Island Drive in 1964, then to SPID in 1967 or so.”  The road to the island would change Flour Bluff drastically, and businesses had to be ready for the flood of traffic that would soon pack the two-lane road.

(Corpus Christi Caller-Times photo, ca. 1940s)

       According to Rachel, the day of the opening of the causeway (July 4, 1950), Ralph made dozens of sandwiches and stood along the road out front of his restaurant, which sat on the north side of what is now South Padre Island Drive and tried to sell them.  “He didn’t sell a single one that he could remember,” she said laughing. “No one wanted to get out of that line of traffic to get a sandwich.”  Still that didn’t stop Ralph.  He kept building and developing over the next 30 years, creating a gathering place for the tired, the hungry, the lonely, and the gregarious.  Pick-a-Rib was the café where people of all walks of life came together to talk about the news of the day, catch up on the local sports and politics, and just spend time together.

     “When we started out, we didn’t have any money, so we got a small loan and went to a marble machine operator.  He handled marble machines – that’s what they called pinball machines back then – and juke boxes and through him, we were able to get our start,” Ralph was quoted as saying.  “Marble machines paid off then.  We got a percentage of the take, and this is what helped us get our business going.  If it hadn’t been for marble machines and the jukeboxes, the cigarette machines, and the draft beer, I don’t know if we would have made it or not.”

Pick-a-Rib, ca. 1970s (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

     Pick-a-Rib was the place that Congressman John Young frequented, as well as other state and local officials.   Luther Jones, before he became mayor of Corpus Christi regularly stopped in for a bite, as did Judge Bob Barnes, Justice of the Peace Johnny Roberts and Flour Bluff’s first constable, Jewell Ross.  And, it is said that Luther Jones ate there before he became the mayor of Corpus Christi.

     “His wife liked to eat lunch there, too,” recalled Rachel.  “There was even an article in Texas Monthly once that said, ‘If you want a good meal, go to Pick-a-Rib’.”

     Of course, the food was a major draw, too.  Krause started with a simple barbecue sandwich with onion, pickles, and jalapenos.  Then, they added to the menu and offered a full Mexican dinner on Wednesdays and a fish dinner on Fridays, each for the very reasonable price of $1.99 a plate.  “Those guys off the base would fill the place up for those specials,” said Rachel.

     

Ralph Krause, the beekeeper  (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

      Though Ralph was quite the busy entrepreneur, he made time for his family, his community, and even his hobbies.  Perhaps longtime friend John R. Meadows said it best in a letter he wrote to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times after Ralph passed away.

     “Recently an icon of Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi passed away.  It was my privilege to have known him and to have had a close friendship with Ralph Krause.  Ralph and his wife Rachel were the longtime owners and operators of the Pick-a-Rib restaurant in Flour Bluff.

     “Ralph spent many years offering his help to the community in many ways.  He had served on several boards and committees downtown, in Flour Bluff, as well as several years on the Flour Bluff ISD board.  He was a World War II disabled Army veteran.  He raised cattle in the San Patricio area, enjoyed painting and creating things with his hands, such as driftwood figures.  He also spent many years as a beekeeper, taught by Mr. Reid, another Flour Bluff icon.

     “Although having strong beliefs in many areas, his was always the voice of reason.  I believe that this was his greatest asset to the community.  When he and I had long discussions, he could always bring us back to the point of the discussion with sage advice and a vast amount of historical facts in the area under discussion.  Ralph was a humble, gracious gentleman.”

Painting by Ralph Krause  (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     Ralph Krause, a man of many interests and talents was seen as a candle of hope by many in his community, by his friends and family, and especially by his wife Rachel, his loving and loyal partner in work and life.  He taught his employees to be the best they could be by holding them accountable.  He set the example for others in the community about meeting the needs of the people.  Yes, Ralph Krause was a man who indeed could serve up a great meal or mouth-watering cinnamon roll, with some good advice on the side, but he will always be remembered as the man who owned Pick-a-Rib, the place where people came together to start their days and solve the problems of the day.

Ralph Krause, 2004  (Photo courtesy of Rachel Krause)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read more about the days gone by in Flour Bluff.  To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Butch Roper, Part II

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

 

     When Butch Roper was growing up in Flour Bluff, life was simpler in some ways and more difficult in others.  He recalls what it was like playing football in what the local kids called “Grass Bur Stadium,” the field where the boys went to battle in the name of their school.

     “In junior high, we had a really good team.  Our coach was Johnny Johnson, and he would take us to games in his car,” said Butch.  “Some of our guys were fast, real fast.  When other teams would ask us why we were so fast, we’d tell them it was because we lived in grass bur country and played barefoot, so we had to run fast to keep those burs from sticking in our feet,” Butch said with a grin.

     “I was the only person with shoes, but I didn’t have them long.  My daddy bought me a pair, and I tried to wear them in a game, but I just could not wear those things.  So, I took them off and put them on the sidelines and went back to playing barefoot.  When I went back to get them after the game, somebody had stolen the damned things!”

    At home, Butch was like lots of kids in the 1950s.  “We didn’t have a tv.  My grandparents had a Victrola that played those big heavy records, and we crank it and listen to that.  The first television I remember seeing was in the Humble Camp.  One or two of the families had one.  It was mostly just snow and static, but we thought that was the coolest thing.  There was only one station, but I don’t remember what we watched,” he said.  “Back then we just listened to the radio mostly.  My favorite radio show was ‘Lone Ranger.’  I listened to it all the time.  It was great!  There was a scary program called ‘Inner Sanctum.’  When it came on there was a creaking door, and it really scared me, but I listened to it anyway,” said Butch.

     Butch’s memories of his school days took him down many paths.  “I was in the first group of kids who went to HEB Camp in 1954.  I was fourteen.  We boys rolled a boulder down the hill that the camp wrote HEB on.  I went back again in high school as a counselor.  I was a fun counselor!” Butch said with a grin.

     Then Butch took on a serious look.  “I remember a boy named James McCutcheon coming to Flour Bluff. He came to school on a blue Navy bus, like all the kids from the base. It was 1957, and he was the first black kid in the school.  That poor guy caught it.  His dad was in the service, and he had to go to an all-white school with a bunch of country kids and fishermen’s kids who weren’t kind to him,” said Butch.  “And, he wasn’t like the rest of us who started in first grade and went all the way to twelfth grade together.  I felt bad for him.”

     Racial tensions ran high across the nation in those days, and they sometimes found their way into Flour Bluff and onto the basketball court.  “About a year after James came to the Bluff, we were playing West Oso, an all-black team, at our gym.  Back then a tie-ball meant a jump ball.  I had to jump against one of the West Oso kids, and he hit me right in the nose with his fist.  It bloodied my nose, and things started getting out of hand,” said Butch.  “Then, a little guy from West Oso went up for a layup, and one of the Bluff boys grabbed him and rammed him right into the stage.  The ref called the game over and sent everybody home.  It’s just the way it was then.”

Butch, like most kids, spent his days outdoors.  “We didn’t have air conditioning like today.  We had indoor plumbing in our new house, but baths were cold unless we heated water to pour in the tub,” said Butch.   “The Ritter house had a well, and it’s still right out back.  At one time there was a windmill, but it’s been gone a long time.  I can still hit water about thirty feet down when I drop a line into the well, but we don’t use it anymore.”

     Butch talked about the old two-story house where his grandparents lived and in which they had a post office.  “It wasn’t too far from where I lived.  All the Ritters lived near each other on Ritter land. Uncle Ben and Aunt Opal, Fred and Ellen Gallagher, and Harry and Alice Grim lived on the land.  Alice and Ellen are Ritters, and they ran the bait stand on the old Don Patricio Causeway before.  Uncle Ben Ritter helped build it,” said Butch.

Ritter girls at Don Patricio Causeway bait stand (Photo from Kathy Orrell collection)

     “By the time I was about 18, no one lived in the old house any longer.  One night my brother-in-law and I sneaked over there and went in the old place after it was moved to the end of Don Patricio Road,” he said.  “Somebody had broken into it and thrown all the old books and post cards all over, so we gathered up all we could carry and took them home.  If we had not gotten what we did, we’d have nothing from the place.  It wasn’t too long after that when someone got in there, started a fire, and burned it down.  I wish I had gone upstairs, but I was still too scared of that ghost!”

     The efforts of the two young men provided a glimpse into the past because of the books and memorabilia they saved.  Butch Roper has rare post cards with the Brighton postmark, a hat brought from Prussia by his great grandfather George Hugo Ritter, dozens of English and German books from the mid-1800s, family documents regarding personal and real property, and even a few textbooks from Flour Bluff Schools.  “I know some people call all this stuff junk, but I think it’s pretty neat,” said Butch.

 

Prussian hat worn by George Hugo Ritter, ca. 1845 (Butch Roper collection)

 

WWII Era documents (Butch Roper collection)

 

Flour Bluff Schools textbooks, early 1920s, with names of Nola Adams, Jessie Duncan, and Howard Duncan (Butch Roper collection)

 

     Butch has memories of the Roper side of his family, too.  “They were also in the dairy business.  My grandpa Simeon Ray Canfield Roper was a real cowboy.  I heard that they came from somewhere in West Texas and settled in Flour Bluff near the Ritters when they all lived where the base is now,” said Butch.  “At some point, he started his dairy business in Sandia, next to Knolle Farms.  I loved going to that general store to get candy.  At one time, Sandia – which means ‘watermelon’ – was a hopping little place.  The railroad went through it, and they shipped a lot of watermelon out of there.  But, he came back to Flour Bluff.”

Simeon Roper (Butch Roper collection)

 

     When Butch graduated from Flour Bluff, he didn’t have a car.  “We had a family car.  I didn’t get a car until my freshman year at the University of Corpus Christi.  My dad told me I could go to school or quit and go to work to get a car.  I quit and got a new car,” said Butch.  “I went to work at American Smelting and Refining Company on Up River Road.  We made zinc blocks that were shipped out by train.  I didn’t like that job because you had to mess with acid.  You could shake your clothes out, and they’d just fall apart.  I decided I wanted to go back to college, so I went to Del Mar for two years.  All I wanted to do was play basketball.  I didn’t want to study.  I played city league, AAU.  I even played for CP&L one year and Sun Tide another year.”

     Butch remembered another job for a completely different reason.  “When I was working for J. I. Haley Oil Field Services, they sent us down to Riviera.  We were putting in pipeline when we heard about John F. Kennedy getting killed.  Everybody was so upset.”

     Butch sometimes took part time work with his brother-in-law Bob Beauregard who was married to his younger sister Cheryl.  “I never commercial fished, but I fished for my brother-in-law, Bob,” said Butch.  “He had a whole fleet of shrimp boats.  One of them had a real tall mast on it.  That’s the one we took out when we heard that they were catching a lot of shrimp in Nueces Bay.  It’s really shallow and had a lot of oyster reefs.”

     “On these shrimp boats, there as a small net called a try-net.  It was dropped over the side to test the waters.  It you pulled it up, and it had quite a few shrimp, then that’s where you’d drop the big net.  It kept you from dragging around a big and wasting time when they’re weren’t any shrimp,” he said.

     “On that day in particular, the try-net got a crab trap caught in it.  I was the deckhand – as usual – so I was the one who had to untangle the net from the trap.  That’s what I was doing when BOOM! Something blew by my ear and into the water, making a little atomic bomb looking cloud,” Butch said.

 “I jumped and yelled at Bob, ‘What in the heck happened?’ Bob explained that he didn’t know what happened, but his marine radio was out and the mast was gone!” he said.

     “Then we saw it.  The mast of the boat had hit the power line that led to Portland,” said Butch.  “That’s when Bob got the bright idea to call CP&L and demand they pay for his marine radio.  So, when we got back, he got them on the phone.  When he told them what happened, the guy on the other end told him that they had been looking for the guy who knocked out all the power in Portland.  That’s when Bob hung up.”

     “It all happened so fast that we never got the chance to be scared, but looking back, we realized we were lucky to be alive.  All that electricity went down into the motor and burned everything up and then kicked the hatch up in the air.  I guess the fiberglass hull saved us from being electrocuted,” said Butch.  “This wasn’t long after Harry Grabowske got electrocuted pulling his boat down Laguna Shores.  He touched a power line, and it killed him.”

     Living in Flour Bluff has left Butch with many memories, some good, some not so good, and some just humorous.  He has fond memories of going to HEB Camp in Leakey just up the road from Garner State Park where the Humble Camp families went on vacation.  He is still in awe of going to Ouray, Colorado, on school buses with kids he’d spent his life with playing along the Laguna Madre and going to battle on the fields and in the gyms of South Texas.  And, like so many along the Coastal Bend, he remembers the hurricanes that came to visit.  “I wasn’t alive for the hurricanes of 1916, 1919, and 1933, but I remember my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents talking about them.  They didn’t even name them at that time,” said Butch.  “I do remember Carla in 1961, Beulah in 1967, Celia in 1970, Allen in 1980, and Harvey in 2017.  And, we’ve always bounced back.”

     In his later years, Butch has kept the past alive through his collection of memorabilia and his telling of stories.  When his body that had served him so well as a young man gave out, he took up art.  Just like his people who came before him, Butch is a survivor who still finds joy in living and in spending time with his wife Marge, his family, and his friends and in giving those who know him a tale to remember.

Original drawing by Butch Roper

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Be sure to pick up the next edition of Texas Shoreline News to read the story of Ralph and Rachel Krause, owners of Pick-a-Rib.  To share Butch’s story with others online or read other articles about Flour Bluff history, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

 

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Butch Roper, Part I

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history, Personal History

The Life and Times of James “Butch” Roper:  Part I

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Paper Trail News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.  These stories can be found in print in The Texas Shoreline News.

 

     James “Butch” Roper, born October 16, 1940, is a direct descendent of George Hugo Ritter, a German immigrant who settled Flour Bluff at the start of the Ropes Boom in 1890.  Ritter’s son, Erich George, born in 1893, married Myrtle Mae Watson, whose family was one of the first families in Flour Bluff, as well.  They had three children, one of whom was Alice Ritter, Butch’s mother. Alice married James “Mickey” Roper and had three children:  Deanna, Butch, and Cheryl.  Butch spent his boyhood days helping his grandfather, Erich George, with the chickens, the crops, and the cattle while his father worked for Humble Oil at the refinery on Graham Road.  Butch Roper thoroughly enjoys entertaining people with his memories of what it was like growing up in Flour Bluff.

The Roper children, ca. 1940s (Photo from Butch Roper collection)

     Butch’s earliest memory is of a ghost in his grandparents’ house that sat on Red Lake just south of Graham Road and west of Laguna Shores Road.

     “I was coming out of the field with my grandfather.  I fell out of the truck and broke my collarbone,” recalls Roper.  “Back then, they strapped you in a harness for a broken collarbone.  They put me in the upstairs room of that old two-story house.  I was scared to death!  The story was that there was a ghost in that house and that she walked the stairs at night.  There I was, a little kid strapped in that harness in a big old spooky house,” said Roper.

     “To make it even scarier, it was when they used to make everybody in Flour Bluff turn all their lights out at night so the German submarines wouldn’t see where we were,” he said.  “Every time those old stairs would creak, I’d think that ghost was coming to get me!” Roper laughed.

Flour Bluff Sun photo (1980s edition)

     “By the time I came along, the house was old and run down.  Originally, it was a really nice house, painted and everything.  It was built by a lady named Mrs. Shade, and she sold it to my grandfather.  Before that, they lived out where the Navy base is.  It was called the Grass Place,” said Roper.  “It had giant sand dunes and lots of grass.  When the Navy came in, they ran all those people out of there.  They said they were squatters and that they didn’t own the land they had been working all those years.”

     According to an October 22, 1941, Caller-Times article, Roper’s memory is correct.  The whole eviction process was a complicated matter, that sent the whole case to Judge James Allred’s court multiple times to decide who actually owned property and who didn’t.  The article states, “The sum of $229,402 remains on deposit in the registry of Federal Court here awaiting payment to land owners at Flour Bluff who were evicted when the government took over 2,050 acres in July 1940, for construction of the Naval Air Station.”

     Roper told of how most people in Flour Bluff at that time either lived at the Grass Place or far down Laguna Shores where the Vannoy family lived.  “Everything else was mostly brush except where people had cleared to build their houses,” said Roper.  “The Ritters owned everything from Laguna Shores to Waldron Road and from Graham to Don Patricio, which included Red Lake.  That lake was so salty that ducks never came to it.”  This includes the property where the “little refinery” sits on Graham Road.

      “They had a long-term lease with Humble Oil.  Since then, the lease has changed hands two or three times,” said Roper.

     “My dad worked at that refinery for 32 years.  First, we lived in the two-story Ritter home; then we moved over to the house that sat next to this one,” said Roper pointing over his shoulder.  “The pilings and the well are still there.  The house came from Sandia, where we had a dairy farm.  They moved it all the way out here and put it on Waldron Road.  At that time, Waldron was just a dirt trail until the Navy came in and improved the road and named it Waldron.”

     “My great grandfather had the contract to build roads in Flour Bluff.  They built them out of clay and oyster shell,” Butch recalls.  “Flour Bluff Drive was not a main road.  It was the road where we’d take our girlfriends to go parking because nobody else drove it.  The Roschers lived off that road back where the windmill still stands on Roscher Road and Caribbean.  They owned all that property.  I used to go with my grandfather to get-togethers at the Roscher place.  They were German, and he was German, so they visited all the time, but I don’t remember them speaking German to each other.”

     “My grandfather was pretty smart man,” said Roper as he explained how his grandfather was able to grow lots of vegetables in the poor Flour Bluff soil.  “He raised chickens to sell.  When he built the chicken pens, he made the floors out of wire.  When the chickens did their business, it would fall through the wire.  Then, we’d shovel up the droppings, put it in a little wagon, and take it out to the field to fertilize the crops.  It must have worked because he was a successful truck farmer.”

     Roper’s grandfather also ran cattle on the Encinal Peninsula.  “He leased land from people all over Flour Bluff for his cattle, the way Calvin Self does today,” Roper said.  “We’d take them to auction in Robstown to sell them.”

     Roper recalled how much he enjoyed being part of the Humble Camp when his dad worked at the refinery.  “My family spent a lot of time with the Humble Camp people.  It was kind of like a big family.  They had barbecues and square dances on the weekends.  The adults played Canasta or domino games like 42 and 84.  That was a grown-up thing.  The kids just played and got into a little mischief when the parents weren’t watching,” Roper said with a smile.

 

Humble Camp men (Photo courtesy of Butch Roper)

     “When we lived at Humble Camp down by the South Gate of NAS, we’d go to Hawley’s Drug Store.  It sat right outside the gate,” said Roper.  “When I was older, in the 1960s, a plane crashed right next to his place.  I was working part time for Moore Service on the base then fueling planes, and I had just filled that plane up.  It went up and straight back down, killing everybody in the plane when it burned up.”

Caller-Times photo, South Gate (ca. 1950s)

      Butch started school at Flour Bluff when he was seven.  “I went to school at the old school on Waldron and Purdue.  It was just a long hall with a gym,” recalls Butch.  “We started sports in that old gym.  Back then it was just reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Mr. Wranosky was the superintendent.  He was a task master.  He had the look about him that you didn’t want to mess with him,” he remembers.

Flour Bluff Superintendent Ernest J. Wranosky (FBHS Yearbook Photo)

     “Every year he went hunting in Colorado, and that’s when we started going to Ouray for our senior trip.  That was a big deal for a little flat-lander kid,” said Butch with a grin.  “I was friends with his son, Bud.  We played baseball together on the first baseball team Flour Bluff ever had. My best friend, Eddie Farrias, whose dad Lee worked the causeway toll booth, was our coach.   Jim Coffman and his mom Bernie Arnold, who owned A & H Sporting Goods sponsored our team.  I remember rolling into the little surrounding towns in their company truck.  On the side it said, ‘Another load of fresh bait.’  That got us a few laughs,” Butch said.  “If we played in Flour Bluff, we played on the field that was on Waldron where Whataburger sits now.”

Photo of first baseball team (Bernie Arnold collection)

     Butch remembers a great deal about school, especially sports.  He played all the sports, but really enjoyed basketball.  “We played basketball all the time.  Sometimes we played in the Humble Camp.  Sometimes we’d sneak into the gym at school.  Mr. Wranosky finally gave us a key because he said he was tired of us breaking into the gym,” Butch said.  “That’s how we got so good.  We were short, so we had to be good shooters.”

     According to a Caller-Times article when Butch was in high school, he averaged 15 to 16 points a game.  Coach Bud Gray was three inches taller than his tallest player.  Butch and his best friend Eddie were regular starters.  Reporter Jim McKone, author of the article, “Flour Bluff ‘Shorties’ Beat 14 of 19 Taller Foes,” wrote: “Short but fast, the Flour Bluff Hornets have several dangerous scorers.  They average three or four inches below six feet.  But 5-10 Butch Roper and 5-4 Eddie Farrias are accomplished shooters.”  All those times sneaking into the Flour Bluff gym evidently paid off.

     “There wasn’t much to do in Flour Bluff for a kid other than play sports.  We had a wreck hall in the Humble Camp where we had gatherings with our families.  Sometimes we went to the show on the base.  It was a dime to get in.  We hunted and fished, too,” Butch said.

     “We duck hunted all the time.  Granny would fix duck.  I didn’t like duck, but she had a way of cooking it to make it taste better,” said Butch.  “When we went duck hunting, we’d take our row boat and put in at the Humble docks.  Then, we’d row out into the water and build a blind out of Sweet Bay bush trees right on the boat, and we’d hunt out of the boat.  It worked great!”

     “I fished all the time with a fishing pole and usually fished with my grandfather.  We spent lots of time together – and caught lots of fish,” Butch said proudly.

Butch’s catch  (Photo from Butch Roper collection)

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read Part II of Butch Roper’s story.  To share his story with others online, visit https://texasshorelinenews.com/.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town that Almost Was: Life and Times of Bobbie Kimbrell, Part II

Flour Bluff, Front Page, History, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff in print, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Bobbie Kimbrell still lives in Flour Bluff (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     “It was a mass of oil wells back then,” Bobbie Kimbrell said, speaking of Flour Bluff in the late thirties and early forties.  “Right where SPID crosses Waldron.  That’s where most of the oil derricks were.  I was surprised HEB built where it did,” he said.

     “One of the wells right at the causeway blew out and burned for a long time.  When I was living on North Beach in 1941, it was still burning, and I could see the flare from all the way over there,” Kimbrell said.  He explained that the Navy had to help put it out because it was affecting the training of the pilots.  “The student pilots flew from Corpus Christi to San Antonio and back.  They didn’t even need their compass or anything.  They could see the light all the way from San Antonio.  It was killing their flying with instruments, so the Navy had the fire put out.”

      Bobbie Kimbrell is one of six children, four girls (Carmelita, twins Annette and Jeanette, and Virginia) and two boys (Acie and Bobbie), most of whom are gone. He speaks with a great deal of pride when talking about his younger sister Virginia, now 84, who worked for the Corpus Christi Fire Department under Chief John Carlisle.  “She did everything.  She served as dispatcher, made out the payroll, took care of insurance, and handled grievances.  The chief didn’t even have to be there,” he chuckled.

     After graduating Flour Bluff High School in 1947, Kimbrell continued his work as a commercial fisherman.  He even did some roughnecking.  In 1949, he went into the United States Army during the Korean Conflict.  Though he spent about 6 months in Okinawa, most of his training took place at Ft. Hood.  In 1951, he got out of the army and returned to fishing.  He met and married Helen Garcia in 1960.  “She was from San Benito, Texas, and was Rachel Krause’s aunt.  She was her aunt but was at least 20 years younger.  Rachel was married to Ralph Krause, who owned Pick-a-Rib in Flour Bluff,” said Kimbrell.

     Bobbie and Helen had three daughters, Rosemary Kimbrell Leatherwood, Edith Ella Kimbrell Stephenson, and Laura Lee Kimbrell Trueblood.  “I have lots of grandkids and even a few great grandkids,” said Kimbrell.  “All my girls still live in Corpus Christi.”  One has to wonder if Bobbie’s daughters knew just how tough their dad’s life had been trying to make a living as a commercial fisherman, something he did until 1999 when he was nearly 70 years old.

Photo courtesy of Bobbie Kimbrell

The following is a story written by Bobbie Kimbrell about a memory he has of fishing with his dad:

     It was the summer of 1944.  My dad and I lived in a little camp on the shoreline of the lagoon where Glenoak runs into Laguna Shores.  We would go rod and reel fishing nearly every morning.  We got up about an hour before the crack of dawn, had coffee, and ate breakfast.  Then we got in the 16-foot skiff and tried to make it to the Humble Channel before the sun came up.

     The night before we had used a minnow seine to catch about fifty shrimp, using the Coleman lantern for light.  As I rowed the boat, Dad stood in the stern and helped me along with the push pole.  We had a 50-hook trotline set out on a sand bar beside the channel, and we noticed in one section the main line was under water.  Dad picked it up, and there was a 5-foot alligator gar on it! We decided to leave it on until we finished fishing because it would have taken a long time to tie it down and release it. 

     We tied up to the 4 X 4 channel marker just as the sun was about an inch over the horizon of Padre Island.  We were on the east side of the channel so that our backs would be toward the sun.  After the sun was completely up, it was bright and red as blood with orange streaks above.  Dad said, “Turn around and look at the sun.  It’s going to be a hot one today.”

     We put a handful of the shrimp in a little bucket of water so that we wouldn’t have to get one out of the wooden bait box we had tied alongside.  Dad caught a nice trout on his first cast. It was about a 3-pounder.  While I strung it up on the stringer, Dad had already caught another trout and then started catching one nearly every cast.  It kept me busy just stringing them up.  Most of the trout were about 12 to 14 inches long.  Dad didn’t catch anything the next couple of casts, so he told me to start fishing and see if I could catch one.  One of the shrimp was nearly dead, so instead of hooking it through the head, I just wormed it on, threw it out, and caught one the first cast.

     The fishing had slowed down, but both of us would catch one every once in a while.  About that time, a wade fisherman waded out from the shore.  At that time, a lot of fishermen waded down beside the channel.  When the wade fisherman saw the trotline, he went over and picked up the main line.  When that alligator gar started flushing around, it scared the man so bad that he hollered for my dad to come and get him.  Dad told the man that the gar was hooked, so he didn’t have to worry about it, but the man was still scared and took off for the shoreline.  He got in his car and left.

     By that time, we had run out of shrimp, having caught about 30 trout.  So, Dad put on a small Dixie silver spoon and would catch one every once in a while.  I asked if I could put on a spoon, but he said, “No, your line is pretty weak, and if you hook one, you might lose the spoon.”  After a while, he said, “Go ahead and put that big No. 7 Johnson spoon on because I don’t ever use it anyway.”

     After a while, I hooked a sure ‘nough good one!  Its head came clear out of the water trying to throw the spoon loose.  With the sun shining into its open mouth, it was a brilliant, golden color.  It went back down and made a run for it as I burnt both thumbs a little trying to thumb it down since my reel didn’t have a drag on it.  After a while, I got it coming back toward the boat with Dad standing by with the dip net.  Just as Dad stooped over to net it, it just threw the hook and swam off right before our eyes.

     “Damn it!” Dad said.  “I bet that sow would have weighed 10 pounds!” 

     Later I got to thinking that at least I hadn’t lost the spoon, and I didn’t know if Dad would have lived it down if I had caught the biggest fish.  About that time where the channel ended into shallow water, the water started whirling up, and the fish whole end of the channel turned muddy.  Dad said, “Jerk those fish on the stringer back into the boat.  That might be a shark.”

     Whatever it was, we could see part of its back as it was nearing the boat.  I asked Dad if I should stomp on the bottom of the boat and scare it off.  Dad said, “Hell, no!  It might turn over the boat.” Anyway, it swam on off, much to our satisfaction.  We both got to thinking later on that it was a manatee because we saw no fins on it, and it was known that sometimes manatees come up the channels. 

     By then the wind had got up a little from the southeast, so we untied and hoisted the sail.  I steered as Dad gutted and gilled the trout.  We put the fish in a No. 2 washtub, took them up to the Nelson fish pick up station at the old Don Patricio Causeway and sold them.  We had 40 pounds at 15 cents per pound.

     Tom Nelson, the fish dealer, said, “Thanks for the fish.  Try to catch more tomorrow if you can because the housewives are buying all of them as soon as they come in.”  It was during WWII, and meat was rationed, so the housewives were substituting fish for meat. 

     I forgot to mention that we released the gar, and it swam off.  There was no other fish on the trotline that we had baited with 1-inch squares of baby crib rubber sheeting.

     When asked who the best fisherman was the he ever met, he did not say it was his dad. Kimbrell thought about it a bit and then answered.  “Talking through the years, it had to be Wally Grabowske.  He always caught the most.  Alvin Barta and Lacy Smith were right behind him though,” said Kimbrell.

     “Dad quit fishing and opened the Red Dot Bait Stand with Sherm Hawley. He made better money at the bait stand than he did fishing.  He sold it later to Freddy Edgeman, who had a promoter from San Antonio,” said Kimbrell.  He remembered the first bait stand being on the Intracoastal near where Snoopy’s sits today.  “The city demolished it, but I never knew why,” he said.  “Then it was moved to Humble Channel.  Edgeman ran it until he died.”

     Kimbrell recalled other bits of information about Flour Bluff and its people.

  • Gas wells were dug on Pita Island to power the Barney Davis plant.
  • The Curriers were the first Hispanic family he can remember in Flour Bluff. Their dad was the swing bridge operator, and they lived on Lakeside near the causeway.
  • Nicholson’s Grocery store was owned by John Nicholson and sat where Barton Street Pub is today.
  • Killian’s Grocery Store was on Waldron, north of what is now South Padre Island Drive. Constable Jewell Ross had a liquor store next to Killian’s.  (Note:  According to John Nicholson, grandson of the Nicholson Grocery owner and current owner of Barton Street Pub, “The constable’s office was located in the old building that now houses The Alibi lounge at 948 Waldron. Jewel Ross was the constable. There was a liquor store on the left side and the constable’s office on the right side. When not doing constable business, or when a liquor customer drove up, he was selling and operating Ross’s liquor store. If you look at the building, you can tell it was two units. This was in the 50’s.”)
  • Dunn’s Crossing was the shallow crossing of the lagoon where Yorktown runs into Laguna Shores. “I always thought there should be a historical marker there,” said Kimbrell.

     Bobbie Kimbrell still lives in Flour Bluff and can often be seen with his friends having coffee in Whataburger talking about the good ol’ days.  “I’ve been through some pretty scary fishing times.  If a storm blew in or an unexpected Norther hit, I sometimes thought I wouldn’t make it.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to read some of Bobbie Kimbrell’s articles about the history of Flour Bluff.  Past articles can be accessed at the website, as well.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Nueces County Pct. 2 Wall of Honor a “Labor of Love”

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history

 

Top: Mitchell Clark; Bottom L to R: Jerry Bouchér, Ronnie Polston, John R. Haynes, Jewell Ross (Photo by Shirley Thornton)

     On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, Nueces County Pct. 2 Constable Mitchell Clark unveiled the Wall of Honor, dedicated to all those elected to the office since the precincts inception in 1953.  It was an emotional day for many of the family members present at the ceremony for Jewell W. Ross (1953-1960), John R. Haynes (1961-1980), Ronnie Polston (1981-2001), Jerry Bouchér (2001-2016), and Mitchell Clark (2016-present).  Family members present included Kathy Ross Hooge, Janet Ross Trammell, Fran Polston, Michael and Anny Parks, Jodie and Joe Alley, Billy and Mary Polston, and Janie (Bouchér) Stobbs.  Constable Clark, who initiated the project, said, “The cost of this project was paid for through donations and didn’t cost the taxpayer one cent.”

Left to right:  Janet Ross Trammell, Rep. Todd Hunter, Ronnie Polston, Commissioner Jack Gonzales, Constable Mitchell Clark, Commissioners Mike Pusley and Brent Chesney, Janie (Bouchér) Stobbs, and Kathy Ross Hooge

Michael Parks, Mary Polston, Anny Parks, Ronnie Polston, Fran Polston, Jodie Alley, Billie Polston

     Seven months ago, Rachel Krane, Constable Senior Clerk, was charged with the task of doing the research for the project.  During that time, she made numerous trips to the library, searched newspaper articles, dug through county archives, and worked with local historians to get the information needed.  She was surprised to learn that better records had not been kept for elected officials.  Still, she persevered.  Krane’s work was instrumental in bringing the project to fruition.

 

Rachel Krane, Constable Senior Clerk

 

Jewell Ross

     In 1952, the Nueces County Commissioners Court shifted Pct. 8 from Driscoll to the area that extended south from Everhart Road, including the University of Corpus Christi on Ward Island, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, and all of Padre Island in Nueces County.  Jewell W. Ross was elected constable in November of 1952 and took office as the first constable of the new precinct on January 1, 1953.  His opponents were Joseph Henry, Fred Rhome, John O. Winters, William M. Bennett, and Walter Rogers.

     Ross quickly went to work building the department.  According to an August 19, 1053, Caller-Times article by Mary Gene Kelly, Ross started with a $4000 budget.  Soon after, he sought a salary of $3600 for himself and $6000 for his deputies along with a $100 a month car allowance.  He also requested office equipment that cost about $435.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times photo, ca. 1961

     In 1954, Ross and his deputies moved into the new $35,000 county building dedicated by County Judge John Young at a ceremony held on June 19, 1954.  Flour Bluff School Superintendent E. J. Wranosky served as the master of ceremonies.  The Rev. E. McCoy Bynum of Trinity Baptist Church gave the invocation.  In attendance were County Commissioners William McKenzie, Horace Caldwell, William J. Bryan, and John J. Sablatura.  The Spanish-style structure, located at the entrance of the Padre Island Causeway, housed offices of the justice of the peace and constable of Pct. 8.  It also had a courtroom, a two-cell jail, a large waiting room, janitor’s supply room, restrooms, and a parking area for 40 to 45 cars.  Along with the building, came a new patrol car and two full-time deputies.  Ross would serve as constable of Precinct 8 until his retirement in 1960.

Pct. 8 County Courthouse, ca. 1960s (Corpus Christi Caller-Times photo)

John R. Haynes

     The next election pitted A. Z. McIver against John R. Haynes.  McIver, who spent eight years with the Corpus Christi Police Department, resigned and began managing White Enterprises.  This Baltimore native came to Corpus Christi in 1950 after serving six years in the Navy in WWII.  Haynes, also a WWII veteran, was 38 at the time and operated Haynes Bonded Guard Service, serving the Port of Corpus Christi for ten years.  Haynes won the election and took office in January of 1961.  He would win against McIver again in 1964.

     In 1967, he was forced into battle against the county commissioners.  Commissioner Robert N. Barnes who led the charge to dissolve the Pct. 7 (Port Aransas) and Pct. 8 (Flour Bluff) constables’ offices.  Barnes knew he could not abolish the offices created by the Constitution of the State of Texas, so he moved to simply eliminate their salaries.  “Persons still could run for the constables’ offices,” Barnes told a Caller-Times reporter, “but they wouldn’t be paid anything.”

Corpus Christi Caller-Times photo, February 1969

     Haynes responded in the same article, “I’m going to take this as high as I can to hold my office.  The people out here gave me a vote of confidence that I was doing a good job.  They re-elected me with a good majority.  I don’t see how the commissioners court can cut an elected man’s salary off.”  Haynes would go on to serve the people of Pct. 8 until 1980, sometimes without any deputies, funding, or even an office.

Ronnie Polston

     In 1980, Jerry Bouchér, a young opponent who had served as Haynes’s deputy, defeated him in the Democratic primary.  However, Boucher would lose the bid for Pct. 8 constable to Republican Ronnie H. Polston, a Vietnam War veteran who was stationed at NAS CC in 1962.  Polston finished out his career in Corpus Christi in 1976 when he retired.  He went to work for the County Sheriff’s Department, working his way up from jailer to dispatch to patrol and finally to the Criminal Investigation Department.  Polston went on to become a sergeant in charge of the Civil Section.  It was at this time that he made the decision to run for constable.

Ronnie Polston outside old building on S. Padre Island Drive, early 1980s (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Polston)

     Polston had his work cut out for him when he took office.  He was faced with an aging building that needed lots of cleaning, repair, and painting.  The department vehicles were also in dire need of maintenance.  However, this did not keep Polston from focusing on the job he was elected to do, enforcing the law and tending to the requests of Judge John Cox, the justice of the peace.  “My goal was to improve everything at every level,” said Polston.  “Money was always an issue, and I just didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done.”  Polston spoke of how difficult it was to get the commissioners to understand that the needs of the Pct. 8 constable were different from those of other precincts.  “I needed a vehicle for the island.  I couldn’t get one because the commissioners thought they needed to be fair and give all the constables additional vehicles, which they couldn’t afford.”

     Polston has fond memories of his days as constable.  “I was always available to the public – even if I was at home.  My staff and I had a good relationship with the community,” Polston said.  He reminisced about how his deputies would volunteer to work the intersection at the school and how they dressed up at Halloween to do it.  “Oh, the kids and the parents loved it!” he said.  “We really enjoyed going to the schools and talking to the kids.  I’d show them things, give them books and stickers, and such, and I’d teach them what a constable does.”

Ronnie Polston on the job as constable, early 1980s (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Polston)

     “I never expected the building to be named for me,” said Polston of the new county building where the Wall of Honor is located, “but I was very honored.  I loved the Bluff and the job.  I thank them for all those wonderful years.  It was the highlight of my life.”

Jerry Bouchér stands next to Constable Ronnie Polston in this Pct. 8 photo provided by Janie Stobbs.

 Jerry Boucher

The next man to hold the office was Polston’s Chief Deputy, Jerry Boucher.  He graduated Flour Bluff High School in 1970 and went to work as a reserve deputy that same year.  “Jerry’s dad was a reserve officer for John Haynes, too” said Janie Stobbs, mother of Boucher.  “He couldn’t wait to go to work there.  He knew everybody.”

Jerry Bouchér, top row far right, stands behind John R. Haynes kneeling.  Bouchér’s father, Charles is front row second from left (Photo courtesy of Janie Stobbs)

     “On his own time and with his own money, he took every course at Del Mar on law enforcement and got every kind of training available to him.  He even taught classes there himself later in his career,” Stobbs said proudly of her son who passed away in 2016.  “He has five letters of recognition and appreciation from five different governors.”  Boucher served at Pct. 1 with Johnny Alaniz as Chief.

Stobbs’s collection of Bouchér’s training certificates and commendations fill two folders.  Boucher even held a ministerial license.  (Photo courtesy of Janie Stobbs)

     Bouchér, who also studied marine biology and geology at Del Mar, served the Flour Bluff community as the President of the Flour Bluff Civic League.  According to a Flour Bluff Sun article, Boucher also served on the Nueces County Employees Credit Union Board of Directors and served as a Red Cross instructor.  For a while, he even served as the justice of the peace.  Though he was a busy man who was connected to his community in many ways, Boucher believed that the constable should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a philosophy he shared with his predecessor.

Bouchér with mother, Janie Stobbs at swearing in ceremony with Judge Janice Stoner (Photo courtesy of Janie Stobbs)

 

     “If his men were working, he had them watching out for the kids at Flour Bluff School.  He and his men provided traffic control for the Flour Bluff homecoming parades.  Jerry even rode in the parade even though he hated being at the center of attention,” said Boucher’s mother.  “He always loved Flour Bluff and taking care of the people there.”

     Constable Jerry Charles Bouchér, born in Brownsville, in 1952, passed away on Thursday, October 13, 2016. “His heart was in the constable office,” said Stobbs.  “We always knew where he was headed and what he wanted.”

The Ronnie H. Polston County Building, as it looked after Bouchér’s passing.  The building bears the geographical location of Flour Bluff, Texas.

Mitchell Clark

     When Boucher passed away, his friend of 40 years, Mitchell Clark, was the next man to assume the role of Pct. 2 Constable.  Clark ran unopposed in the November 8, 2016, election and was to be sworn in January 1, 2017.  However, Boucher’s death in October prompted Judge Loyd Neal to appoint Clark to Bouchér’s remaining term.

     A graduate of King High School in Corpus Christi, Constable Clark went on to join the United States Marine Corps.  After receiving an honorable discharge, Clark returned to Corpus Christi where he enrolled in college and began his career as a deputy constable. He went to school full time and worked full time as a police officer in the Nueces County Constable operations serving in Precincts, 1, 2, and 8.  After graduating Law School and receiving his law license, Constable Clark began a long career as a trial attorney, working on cases across the United States but never forgetting his first love, law enforcement. Constable Clark remained working in the Constable operations on a non-paid basis while practicing law.

Constable Mitchell Clark in front of Ronnie H. Polston County Building in Flour Bluff

     According to the Nueces County website, “Constable Clark is committed to providing the citizens of Precinct 2 a safe environment in which to work and live by using technology, equipment and his highly trained officers and administrative staff.” Clark started “Walk with the Constable”, where he meets with the citizens in their neighborhoods, and “Talk with the Constable”, where the Constable uses various social media sights to communicate directly with the citizens in Precinct 2. These programs allow citizens to share concerns with the constable and discuss solutions to problems.  Clark is responsible for initiating the Wall of Honor to pay tribute to those who came before him.  He told a local television reporter that the Wall of Honor was “a labor of love.”

NOTE:  Be sure to visit Texas Shoreline News for more Flour Bluff history and current events.

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Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.

Tales from Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was: Life and Times of Bobbie Kimbrell, Part I

Flour Bluff, Human Interest, Local history

To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition will feature the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days.  You won’t want to miss any of these amazing stories.

Bobbie Kimbrell, December 2017

 

Life and Times of Bobbie Kimbrell, Part I

     Bobbie (not Robert) Kimbrell came to Flour Bluff in 1944.  Born July 11, 1930, in Clarksville, Texas, and later moving to Aransas Pass with his mother, he then joined his father in Flour Bluff to become a commercial fisherman, eking out a living in the Laguna Madre and surrounding waters until 1999 when he checked his trotlines for the last time.

     Bobbie’s father, Samuel Acie (Ace) Kimbrell as everyone called him, was a cement man.  “Ninth grade was the highest you could go in Comanche County then,” Bobbie said referring to his father’s shortened education. “In the early thirties, he met a surveyor who was passing through.  He taught my dad how to survey.  He started working for contractors who built culverts and small cement bridges.  That was when they first started building paved roads through Texas.” Bobbie explained that when a new job would come up, his dad would go out with the contractors and survey and find out what the job would cost.

 

Ace Kimbrell, ca. 1970s (Caller-Times photo)

     “If the contractor won the bid, my dad would work as a sub-contractor and use the tools and machinery of the contractor.  Then, he’d hire one or two of his brothers, and just two or three people would do the whole job,” said Bobbie.  Kimbrell said his dad hired two men of Mexican descent to do the cement finishing. “They could do whatever finish was needed on the cement and were known all over Texas as the best there was,” he added.

     At one point, Ace was doing work for Brown and Bellows, which became Brown and Root.  “They were doing construction on the base.  That’s how he got down here,” said Bobbie.  “After they finished the base, he went to work building landing craft boats in Rockport.  He built some crash boats, too, for sea planes.  About a year before the end of the war, they had built all the boats the Navy needed for the invasion.  There was no more work, so my dad started fishing. He spent most of his time off fishing with a rod and reel just about anywhere there was some water, but he didn’t know anything about commercial fishing.  He nearly starved to death to start with,” said Bobbie with a chuckle. “The other fisherman helped him make a go of it.”

     “Fishermen are the best people there are,” Ace once told Cliff Avery, Caller-Times reporter.  “And we get the cream of the crop,” he said of those who frequented the Red Dot Bait Stand.

     Bobbie agrees that most fishermen were very generous and would give a person the shirts off their backs and would even help them learn how to catch fish, but they would hardly ever tell where they made their catch, at least not the exact locations.  In an article he wrote for the Island Moon, Bobbie translated the language of the local fishermen in their references to their fishing spots:

  • Up toward the bulkheads (where Corpus Christi Bay meets the Laguna Madre)
  • Down below (south of Pita Island
  • Lower End (south of Baffin Bay or before Nine Mile Hole)
  • Graveyard (Nine Mile Hole, a place where fish suffocated in the hot, salty water in the summertime when the tide got so low the fish were trapped in the hold)
  • Fishing in the flats (in shallow water)
  • Fishing in the deep or on the Padre side (east side)
  • King Ranch side (west side or west shore)

     Bobbie describes Flour Bluff as a place where “there weren’t any roads really,” but there were “a lot of scrub oak with a few houses scattered around.”  He lived with his dad in a little camp at the edge of the water where Glenoak meets Laguna Shores today.  “We lived in a Model T van, like the ones the gypsies lived in that you saw in the circus,” recalled Bobbie.  “We didn’t have any electricity or running water.  We used a Coleman lantern and a Coleman stove.  We got our water from the school.  Somebody would fill a barrel and haul it to us in the back of a truck.  After we’d been living there about a year, a storm came and blew everything away.”

 

The Model T “van” pictured above in this Creative Commons photo was often called a “house car” or “camper,” a forerunner to motor homes and RVs, a common site in Flour Bluff today.

 

     Years later, after going through many storms and having Celia rip the roof of the Red Dot Bait Stand, Bobbie’s dad told a reporter, “You work for the hurricanes out here.  ‘Bout the time you get one paid off, another comes along.”

     When the Kimbrells were left homeless by the storm, one of the Duncans who lived a little south of Glenoak let the father and son move onto his land.  Bobbie remembers how then school superintendent and local businessman Sherm Hawley talked the officials at the base into giving them a pre-fab, 20’ x 20’ plywood building to use as a house.  “It had a wood floor, plywood sides, and a roof.  At that time, there were at least 4 or 5 of them on NAS Drive that some of the workers lived in.”

     Bobbie helped his dad fish while he was attending Flour Bluff School.  “Dad taught me to fish, but I only fished on weekends when I was going to school.  He wanted me to go to school and sometimes even made my games,” said Bobbie.  “He was trotline fishing in the daytime then and could make the games in the evenings.”

This Flour Bluff Hornet Yearbook has the picture right but dropped the ball on Bobbie’s name.

 

     “I played football for two years for Flour Bluff.  That was the second year we had a 12-man team,” said Bobbie.  “A guy named Meixner was our coach.  He was the only coach for the whole school.  I liked him.  Looking back, I don’t think he was a very good football coach, but he was one of the best basketball coaches Flour Bluff ever had.  His team usually won every tournament they played.”

Coach Meixner is top left; Bobbie Kimbrell is next to the end on the bottom row. (1945-1946 Hornet Yearbook photo)

     “Another teacher who was really good was Mr. Duncan.  He taught shop and mechanical drawing,” said Bobbie as he thought about his school.  “Mr. Wranosky took Mr. Hawley’s place as superintendent when I was in twelfth grade.  I liked him because he wasn’t overly strict,” he recalls.  “One time we were playing Ingleside in football, and I played end.  I made a real good block, and we got a touchdown.  Mr. Wranosky gave me fifty cents.  I guess you could say I was a paid player.”

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Be sure to pick up the next edition of The Texas Shoreline News to learn more about Bobbie Kimbrell’s life as a commercial fisherman and life in Flour Bluff.  Read through back editions for other Flour Bluff history articles.

The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past.  Please contact the editor at Shirley@texasshorelinenews.com to submit a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.

Please follow and like us:

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.  She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.