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 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.

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.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Flour Bluff: Odds and Ends

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history

As I dig through old records, faded news clippings, yearbooks, scrapbooks, and assorted secondary sources in search of any Flour Bluff history I can find, I sometimes stumble across odds and ends that evoke laughter, gasp, or shake my head.  I thought I’d share some of these little gems with all of you who love Flour Bluff.

  • John V. Singer, brother to Isaac Merrit Singer who developed the sewing machine by the same name, lived with his wife and seven Texas-born children on Padre Island.  He arrived in 1847, bought the old Santa Cruz Ranch from the Padre Jose’ Nicolas Balli’ estate.  When the Civil War broke out in 1865, the Singers were ordered to leave the island because of their Union sympathies.  They buried their collected treasure and lived for a time in Flour Bluff.  They did not, however, stay long enough to be considered the first true settlers of Flour Bluff.  That honor seems to go to the Hugo Ritter family arriving in 1890 and starting the first school in 1892.  (That makes Flour Bluff School 125 years old!)

  • On Wednesday, April 27, 1864, the Quad-City Times, a newspaper in Davenport, Iowa, ran a story by a man who, under the command of Captains Gray and Doolittle of the 20th Union Regiment, had landed on “Flour Bluffs, a point on the western side of the bay, and 12 miles distant from the town of Corpus Christi.  He describes what he saw on the night march:  “For the first three or four miles our road took us over succession of sand hills which were unrelieved by any green thing, except an occasional clump of cactus.  Leaving this barren waste, we crossed a tract of land still sandy, but covered with dwarf oaks that never grow more than three feet high, are very thick and difficult to walk through.”  (This sounds just like the brush I played in as a child!)

  • On Sunday, July 23, 1882, The Galveston Daily News ran a piece on the Kenedy Pasture.  The reporter wrote of how he saw six schooners off Flour Bluff Point loaded with fence posts for the ranch and described the Laguna Madre on that day:  “On the morning of the 5th, we hoisted sail and for three days we did not make more than three miles.  There was only about eighteen inches of water on the flats for a distance of six miles.”  He went on to report what it was like to wade through the shallow waters: “These flats, from Flour Bluff south for about sixteen miles, are covered with a thick coat of grass that grows under the water.  In many places it is ten to fifteen inches long and feels under foot as soft as velvet.  This grass, when torn out by the boats dragging over it, will sink to the bottom and there remain until it dies; then it will rise and float on the water until carried ashore, where it emits a very disagreeable odor–fully as offensive as that that arises from a slaughter-pen.  It is not considered unhealthy by the citizens along the coast.  These grass flats are a great feeding place for fish.”  (Ah, the smell you’ll never forget!)

Laguna Madre (Photo by SevenTwelve Photography)

  • On Monday, March 19, 1894, The Brownsville Herald, reported that Sea Island cotton could be ginned by the ordinary cotton gin, and that Mr. H. H. Page planted only a small patch of it at Flour Bluff as an experiment.  It yielded well, producing about 500 pounds from his crop.  (I have tried to grow a great many things in this Flour Bluff sand, but never did I ever consider growing cotton!)
  • On Thursday, June 27, 1895, The Galveston Daily News reported that 129 scholars attended the Flour Bluff and Laureles schools.  (Today, Flour Bluff ISD has over 5300 students!)

  • Evidently the Flour Bluff residents were very patriotic in 1896 and loved a good celebration, one that could have included the Ritter, Johnson, Roscher, Jeletich, Self, Graham, Roper, Stevens, and Watson families, if indeed they had settled in the area by then.  According to The Galveston Daily News, “The residents of the Flour Bluff neighborhood are making arrangements for a big barbecue to be given on the Fourth of July,”  (I wouldn’t mind seeing this happen again, perhaps at Parker Memorial Park where Flour Fest was held last weekend!)
  • On July 4, 1896, The Galveston Daily News ran an article out of Corpus Christi about “the immense vineyard at Flour Bluff.”  The Laguna Madre Horticultural Association “has attached widespread attention in this section, owing to its immense yield of grapes, and additional large sums of money would willingly be invested in the grape industry in that section if a more convenient means were afforded of getting the produce to market.”  This “more convenient means” meant the building of a road from Aberdeen to Flour Bluff “a distance of about ten miles, at a cost of $15,000.”  (Gee, if we could only build a road in Flour Bluff for that price today!)
  • In a January 15, 1899, a Houston Post correspondent learned “from a resident of the Flour Bluff neighborhood that a drove of about twenty wild javelinas attacked the house of Mr. C. L. Barnes of that neighborhood a couple of days since.  Mr. Barnes was absent from home at the time and the family seeing the brutes entering the yard, closed the house none too soon.  The watch dog, which was tied to a tree outside, was vanquished by the javelinas and badly ‘knocked out.’  The animals remained on the premises about an hour, when they disappeared in the chaparral and no trace has since been seen of them.”  (I saw their cousins just last week on my walk to the Oso by the water tower!)
  • In 1903, The Brownsville Herald reported on a pineapple farm in Flour Bluff owned by George G. Clough, an experiment that “should prove the success confidently anticipated.”  The Herald also reported on a suit brought against the federal government by a Mrs. Shaw for “damages for property taken by the federal troops during the Civil War, about forty years ago; the troops, it is claimed, taking down and carrying away to Flour Bluff a five-room house on the beach belonging to Mrs. Shaw.”  (Trying to grow something in this sand and the first of many battles between Flour Bluff residents and the government over personal property?  It sounds as if not much has changed.)
Photo courtesy of Carnivoraforum.com
  • On Friday, July 10, 1908, The Houston Post reported on yet another javelina attack in Flour Bluff.  It seems that John Finnegan, M. M. Dodson, and a party of eight friends “were hunting in a thicket near the mud bridge in the vicinity of Flour Bluff.”  They evidently came upon “a veritable nest containing about 500 javelinas (wild hogs) which took after them.  All the hunters emptied both barrels of their guns into the bunch of javelinas, which seemed to come from every direction, and killed about fifteen of the animals, and they made for the hunters, who fled to the nearest trees.”  Then, as the story was told, Mr. Finnegan crawled up a mesquite tree, dragging his gun after him.  The weapon was discharged, “tearing the thumb and part of the wrist of his left hand almost off, while twenty-eight of the shot lodged in the left side of his face.”  They had encountered and killed a Mexican lion the morning before.  The reporter ended the story with “It seems that wild game is plentiful in the vicinity of Flour Bluff.”  (We still see all kinds of wildlife on the Encinal Peninsula.  The coyotes have really been singing lately!)
  • The San Antonio Gazette ran an ad on October 17, 1908, for “The Real Estate Man” (aka Frank Allen) who was selling 20 to 40-acre tracts of land “down at Flour Bluff” stating “It is the most suitable and advantageously located land in the United States for the culture of citrus fruits and it is the earth for oranges, lemons, onion, cabbage, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, melons, and other vegetables.  Fine fishing and hunting and an ideal place for a home.”  (Flour Bluff is still an ideal place for a home.)
Bingham’s Drug Store on People’s Street
  • To end this little post on Halloween night, I’ll leave you with a rather gruesome story printed in The Houston Post on February 12, 1909.  “While walking along the beach near Flour Bluff, on the southern shores of Corpus Christi Bay last Sunday, O. K. Haas, a well-known farmer, saw something peculiar protruding from the ground near the water’s edge, and on investigation found it was the head of a human skeleton.  He attempted to pick the head up, and in doing so discovered that the entire skeleton was there.  The head part was solid, with the exception of a crack in the skull; the lower part of the face was covered with barnacles and the teeth were as good as though the man had died the day before.  The entire skeleton was in a fine state of preservation.  The head and some of the bones were brought to this city and are now on exhibition at the Bingham drug store.  Some believe that the skeleton is that of a man who was killed many years ago on the bay shore (judging from the cracked skull) and has been where it fell all these years.  Others believe the man died on the beach.  When found, the left hand was grown to the breast bone.”
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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.

A Visitor Named Celia

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history, Personal History
Celia Track
National Weather Service Map

In the summer of 1970, Marcella Campbell McEnulty Slough faced Celia, a horrific and most unwelcome visitor and the last major hurricane to make landfall on the middle Texas Coast. This is Marcella’s story – in her own words – of how she, her husband Ira, and their four children (Loretta, Terry, Jackie, and Joe) fared in the days leading up to and following Celia’s arrival.  She wrote this story and mailed it to all of her family and friends who wanted to know how everyone was doing after the storm. Mrs. Slough has lived in Flour Bluff since January 1969.

     On Friday, July 31, 1970, we were informed, via our friendly TV weatherman, that tropical depression #4 was 220 miles SSE of Cuba.  At that time, we hardly gave it any notice.  Saturday’s noon news announced it had intensified into a tropical storm.  We spent a normal Saturday with everyone going about their normal duties, and by the 10 p.m. news, she was a full-fledged hurricane named Celia with winds of 115 MPH, heading NNW towards the northern Texas Coast.  We were all saying, “It will never come our way.”  You know — it always happens to someone else, right?

     Ira had the duty at the Naval Hospital Pharmacy Sunday, so he took the car at 7:30 a.m. and went to work. We’d been to the Sunday obligation Mass on Saturday evening, so the rest of us slept late. Sunday was spent as any other except we pulled out our hurricane map and began to track the storm with a new position given every 2 hours on TV. Loretta worked on a rock picture in her room; Joe went next door to play pool with a friend, Terry and Jackie were busy trying to find out how to get registered with the Flour Bluff Recreation Center, while I spent the afternoon and evening trying to get caught up with correspondence. Channel 3 put out a hurricane watch Sunday afternoon, and we were told if Celia continued its present course, it would it the northern coast of Texas, and we would be on the backside of some of the wind and rain, so it was advisable to pick up all the loose items outside. I called Ira, and we agreed that it should be done right away.  Joe brought the trash barrels, tether ball pole, hoses, and anything else he could find loose into the garage. The youngest girls turned in at 9 p.m. with visions of a bowling trip, tour of the Navy Base, and a trip to the San Antonio Zoo with the Recreation Group on their minds. Loretta had a babysitting job until 10:30, and Joe and I watched the late movie.

Photo courtesy of Marcella Slough

     At 1 a.m. Monday, August 3rd, TV 3 announced a change in direction to WNW of our infamous lady “Celia” putting us under a hurricane warning and that they would continue to be on the air 24 hours a day for the next couple of days.  Little did they know that they would be off the air in 14 hours.  Ira was still on duty, so Loretta, Joe, and I watched the late show #2, #3, and #4, and by 7 a.m. we were all sure Celia was going to pay us an unwelcome visit.  We all began to busy ourselves taking care of the items on our hurricane check list.  Every jar, pitcher, water jug, container, and even the bathtub were filled with water because of the fear of water pollution.  We got out our portable radios and checked all the batteries and then made sure each of us had a working flashlight.  Loretta found all our candles, candle holders, and finally the Christ Candle.  We then took a short break and lit the Christ Candle with each of us asking God in our own way for help, courage, and safety.  Then we got back to our check list with Joe going to the end of the street to get a bucket of sand to use in case of fire.  Mr. Robertson, a neighbor, took out a few boards of our back fence to keep it from blowing down.  Ira got off work at noon and stopped to buy non-perishable food and ice and will the car tank with gasoline.  He brought home masking tape and taped our windows, and we opened the ones on the south side of the house to keep our house from becoming a vacuum.  These were all checkpoints on our list.

     Ira, Robbie, and Mr. VanPelt talked, and we all decided to ride out the storm in our homes while several of our neighbors had already packed and left for San Antonio.  The wind and rain began about 1?30 p.m. from the north.  Loretta put a plastic bag over our movie camera and took some pictures of our blowing palm tree.  By 2: 15 the aluminum stripping around my flower beds was beginning to pull out at the ends and wave around in the air like a snake, so Ira ran out and pulled it into the garage and secured the garage doors.  By 3 p.m. hurricane force winds were clocked at the Naval Air Station. Jackie Harlin called Loretta (he lives behind us), and she told him we were sending him our fence via the North Wind, and he said, “I’ll send it back later by way of the South Wind.” Our phone then went out.

     We all went from room to room checking on windows, etc.  Water began to pour in around all the windows and the front door.  We used all our towels, blankets, throw rugs, and bedspreads to try to soak it up before it got to our furniture.  As the wind at our house began to shift towards the west, it intensified, and we heard on the radio that it was clocked at the airport as sustained 120 MPH winds with gusts every 15 seconds as high as 161 MPH.  One of our storm rules was to listen to our radios or TV for advisories on safety precautions.  As the wind came around to the WSW at 3:40 p.m., we lost all electrical power, and so did all the radio, TV stations, and even police radios.  We were virtually cut off from any kind of communication.  Believe me, we were scared!  Then we saw our fence blow down and pieces of trees, wood, and our neighbors fiberglass green house go flying around the neighborhood. We tried to find any kind of radio station, and finally KINE from Kingsville, Tx., came through with Citizen Band operators from Corpus Christi telling them the furor that was happening everywhere.  This was one hurricane that touched everyone in some way — some only slightly and some losing all they had.

(Radio report from Eddie Truesdell, formerly of KSIX radio in Corpus Christi, TX.

     Corpus Christi had been prepared for a hurricane like Beulah or Carla had been, but Celia was quite unpredictable.  By 7 p.m. the winds had begun to die down here, and even though it was still raining, we all went outside to see the damage.  Two of our neighbors’ roofs were laying in their yards, so all got busy to mop up the water in their homes.  As our local newspaper wrote later, “A spirit of neighborly cooperation draped the city like Christmas tinsel.”  When darkness fell, and I do mean darkness, with no electricity in our entire city and no cars on the streets because of the curfew, we all knelt once more around our Christ Candle, which was our only light, and said prayers of thanks because we were all alive.  Then miraculously the phone rang, and it was my mother.  With so many lines down and long distance lines tied up everywhere — she had gotten through and it was so good to be able to tell someone we were all fine.  Finally, being completely exhausted, we all slept.

     Tuesday morning was a bright sunny one — but also hot and muggy.  We hardly had any water pressure.  There was no water pollution, but we were only getting a trickle of water so we used the water in the pitchers.  We still had no phone or electricity and still only KINE on the radio. Gasoline pumps run on electricity, so there weren’t any gas stations open.We were glad our car tank was full. Ira went to work. Everyone in the block was busy hanging out wet towels, blankets, rugs, putting out wet mattresses, and cleaning up debris. We cleaned out the girls’ room and put their rug on the driveway to dry.  The mosquitoes were out in full force. We were told by radio that it could be 2 weeks before we got electrical power, and I began to wish for a kerosene lamp and a good, old-fashioned wash board.

     Ira got off early, and we took a ride to see some of the damage and take a few pictures.  We passed 2 trailer courts where only one or two looked livable.  Mobile homes were upside down, and some had just exploded from pressure.  If I’d had any doubt about the destruction of Celia, one look at the new housing at the Naval Air Station stopped it.  Three hundred families were left homeless as over half of the $6 million development was demolished, and the rest was heavily damaged.  I said a small prayer of thanks once more that we hadn’t gotten base housing.  Every neighborhood from Flour Bluff to Calallen had shattered buildings, broken or uprooted trees, tall palms that were just snapped off, homes without roofs from small frame houses to $100,000 homes on the Bay Front.  The downtown streets, as the newspaper put it, looked as if there had been a snow storm from broken and shattered glass everywhere, sailboats and fishing boats were piled on top of each other, and our beautiful city in a shambles.  Even with all this destruction, there was an air of humor as people put up handwritten signs such as “Open House”, “Rummage Sale”, and one woman tacked a “Garage Sale” sign on her garage door — there was no house.  Also, there were flags flying from anything homeowners could fasten them to, which was very heartwarming.  Curfew was 7:30 p.m., so we came home, ate leftovers from our barely cool refrigerator, and turned in to try to sleep in a very hot, damp, and humid house.

Trailer park in Flour Bluff after Celia, photo by Marcella Slough
New housing on NAS after Celia, photo by Marcella Slough

     We arose Wednesday morning to find we had water pressure, and until then, we didn’t realize how great it was to take a long leisure shower. Other small things that we take for granted, such as an ice cube, were becoming quite important. KRYS was now broadcasting with a gasoline powered generator, and as soon as ice was brought into the city and the location was announced, hundreds of people were lined up to get a small block.  Comments were made that this was more like a war disaster than a hurricane. TV 3 was back on the air, but no one had any electrical power to watch.  No one really seemed to miss TV — the soap operas, cartoons, etc.– we had our ears tuned to radio listening to all announcements about how our town was being put back together.  We were advised to empty our refrigerators of all frozen food, so Loretta took our meat next door and cooked it, and what we couldn’t save we threw away. It seemed such a shame, but everyone around here had the same problem we had.  Families were eating better than they had in months as steaks and roasts were used up. Barbecue pits were fired up as several families in one block got together to share what they had.

     Thursday was spent very much like the day before.  Ira pulled duty, so being alone we got in one of those neighborhood get-togethers that seemed to be happening all over the city.  If you look long enough, you can find something good can come from a hurricane, such as bringing people together.  There just never seems time to get friendly with neighbors as long as there is TV and an air-conditioned house.

     Friday, August 7th, we regained our electricity.  We were very lucky because as I write this story (This is August 15th), some 40% of the city is still without power or phones.  The girls got their room back to normal pace, but as citizens of Corpus Christi, the Sparkling City by the Sea, it will be a long time before we see our city sparkle.  If Celia thought she had destroyed our city completely, she had forgotten one element — people.  Corpus Christi will be all right — it has people.

Marcella, Ira, and family

P.S.  I want to sincerely thank everyone who called to express their concern about us…those calls were really appreciated.  We were so cut off from the outside, and hearing a familiar voice certainly showed us that we were in a lot of people’s thoughts.  Thanks again!!!

 

From the editor:  This personal account reveals the heart and spirit of human beings, especially when they are under extreme circumstances.Through this telling, we are told how to prepare, how to treat one another, and how to make the best of a bad situation.  For those too young to remember or who did not live through Celia, the video below about the days following Celia’s visit will give credence to Mrs. Slough’s story.

This video was made by Central Power and Light, now AEP, after Celia came to visit.

The Hugo Ritter family who lived along Laguna Shores in 1919 rescued a boy who washed up during the 1919 storm.  Sadly, the boy died before he could give his name or his place of origin.  The following YouTube video posted by Ronald Jorgenson tells similar stories about another hurricane that devastated Corpus Christi.  You will recognize some much younger but familiar faces.

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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.