Chapter 5 A Song for the Land Where the Sunflowers Bloom ...
Each summer through high school I worked on farms around Corbin and played softball at night. I really disliked driving a tractor for fieldwork! It was dirty and noisy, but mostly it was lonely and boring. To amuse myself I sang, I yodeled, and I played mind games, like learning to recite the alphabet backwards. Workdays often started by 6:00 a.m. That is to say that I was on the tractor in the field by 6:00 a.m. Usually we finished by 7:00 p.m., except perhaps in wheat harvest when we would work until dark. For those long days and hard work I earned $8/day plus my meals and a place to sleep. Each morning when I blew my nose it came out mostly mud. Because of my light complexion, I sunburn easily and did on a few occasions. With Mom's insistence and good sense I wore a straw hat and long sleeved shirts. After grade school I mostly wore jeans and don't remember ever driving a tractor in bib overalls. Dad wore overalls constantly for work, and I don't believe he ever wore blue jeans in his life. The farmers I remember best having worked for were the Orville Ginns, the Clifford Lungrens, and the Joe Nuliks (Kenneth's parents). Bess Ginn, Ruth Lungren, and Jennie Nulik were great cooks and knew how to feed a growing boy whose highlights of the day were lunch and supper.
I remember a few scary times doing farm work. Once while driving a tractor for Dale Rains in a very large field I turned to check my implement, and an airplane was headed straight for me at low altitude and very close. I ducked! The pilot was a friend of Dale's and thought it was him on the tractor. One time working for the Ginn's in a field just East of Corbin one of the front wheels of the International WD9 tractor fell off, and before I could stop I ran over it with a rear wheel with quite a jolt. Another time a bolt broke in the tractor seat, but luckily I had a good grip on the steering wheel, which kept me from falling off.
There were funny times, too! Joe Nulik had 2 old tractors, a Model L Case and a John Deere D, both made in the 30's. Whenever we moved from field to field we drove in 'road gear’ that for those old tractors wasn't much faster than a brisk walk. I drove the John Deere, which was just slightly faster than the Case. I often ribbed Joe that I could drive faster than he. On one particular trip to a field Joe started gaining on me and came up very close behind and waved and laughed. Later I discovered that on a downhill section he put his tractor in neutral and it rolled down faster than it would run in 'road gear'! Another time Joe and I were working a field together I looked up to see him off his tractor and chasing it while it ran in circles around him. Somehow he had fallen off and it got away from him. He never did explain what had happened, but he sure did cuss that old tractor.
There were foolish times as well. As a 4-H member I had taken tractor maintenance as a project, and safety was one topic we spent time with. As a driver I was pretty careful and knew the consequences of inattention. Once while working for Clifford Lungren I finished a field and was ready to leave in the pickup parked in the field for me. The pickup battery was dead and there were no jumper cables. I decided I could start the pickup by pulling it with the tractor. The process was tricky to say the least. I hooked the pickup to the tractor with a chain, put the pickup in neutral, and then started pulling it with the tractor across the field. Then I hopped off the tractor still in motion ran to the pickup, put it in gear and started the engine. Then with the pickup running in neutral and still being pulled by the tractor, I ran back to the tractor and slowed it to a stop with the pickup still running. With no accidents or death in the process, I was really proud!
That same field was the site of my most painful accident. I was refueling the tractor by pouring 5-gallon cans of gasoline into a funnel to the tank on the top of the tractor. A pickup was parked next to the tractor and I had one foot on the pickup and the other on the hood of the tractor. The tank overflowed and caused me to slide off between the tractor and pickup. On the way down I grabbed the funnel that then poured gasoline over the side of my head and into my ear. Gasoline in the ear is the sharpest, most intense pain I've experienced. I drove myself to the hospital, but nothing could be done but let it evaporate, which it did in a few hours.
As noted, my summer nights were spent playing softball. Mostly I played
second base and sometimes played fielder. My Corbin heroes were Bob Rice (also
second baseman) and Eldon Gracy. Kenneth Nulik played for a
Caldwell High School
In August '53 Mom and I enrolled me for
I thought that I would never forget the
A song for the land where the sunflowers bloom
Hail to our city, so fair
And three times three with a sis boom bah
For the high school whose colors we wear
For we are the students of the CHS
Sing we the tributes that our hearts confess
Ever we glory in her proud success
Hail to the blue and white forever
There were other verses as well, but they all go mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble.
In August 1953, I decided to play football.
The class I remember most that year was Algebra. I loved math and that year for the first time freshman were permitted to enroll in Algebra, even though there were also Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors in the class. Our instructor was the Superintendent of Schools, Clarence Martin, a bald-headed navy man. He was excellent - good teacher, good with discipline, great sense of humor. I credit him with stimulating my lifetime interest in mathematics at a formative time in my education. John and I did very well in that class and in all others as well.
There were no special girls in my life that year and I had no interest in finding one. That's not to say that I didn't have fun with the girls, but just that there was not one 'special' girl. High School was a wonderful experience, and I remember those years with great fondness. There were very few bad moments.
As I recall my classes that year were Algebra, English, General Science,
Physical Education, and Woodworking. I believe I got 4 A's and 1 C that year.
Woodworking was a bad experience! Our instructor was Richard Johnson, no
relation to our Richard Johnson. He was tough and I had no skills or experience
with woodworking. Besides sanding blocks, which I never did make correctly, I
made a set of ping-pong paddles for the
In the spring of '54 I went out for track, a sport where you don't try to hurt anyone. Our track coach was George Hutchens, who has retired to
As a freshman from Corbin, I was a 'nobody' in the class hierarchy, but by the following year I was established as a class comedian and elected vice-president of the sophomore class. Probably the biggest event for me that year was getting my own car. Dad was a heavy smoker, but he really felt strongly that it was not a good thing, so he promised me a car if I never smoked before age 16. I don't remember how old I was when he made that promise, but I was pretty young. He reminded me regularly of that promise, and it worked. To this day I've never used tobacco in any way, shape, or form - not even a puff. The idea of having my own car was motivational!
Calvin and Patsy Blue had a green two-tone 1946 Chevy 2-door sedan. One day
Patsy ran it out of oil and ruined the engine. That was my big break. Dad
bought the car for $100 and proceeded to rebuild the engine for another $100.
It was ugly as anything, but it was mine and it ran very well. It served me
faithfully through high school and beyond. When it had lived its life, Dad sold
the engine and the two of us took the rest apart for the bolts and scrap. We
then hauled the body to a trash dump southwest of the old Niebaum farm near the
Another purchase that year changed my life forever - eyeglasses! I found
that I had to sit near the front of the classroom to see what was written on
the board. Dad and Mom both wore glasses, so it seemed natural that I would
need them too. Mom took me to our eye doctor in
John Dillard was a football player. As a close friend
to John, it was difficult for me not to be involved in football.
The inexperienced players made up the 'B' team. I was on the 'B' team. I played halfback on offense and defensive back on defense. The first time I ever carried the ball in a game I was left halfback. The play was a handoff to me straight ahead through the line. I made it to the line of scrimmage, was flattened, and had to be helped off the field. But in the 'B' team games I gained some yardage and made a couple of touchdowns. I really got hooked on football or the brief moments of glory, I'm not sure which. The only time I ever got hurt was in tackling practice. Alfred Lowe was an all-state fullback. In practice one day the two of us were one-on-one. Unfortunately, I was the one he was on. He cracked two of my ribs and I missed a few games. I remember the pain as second only to gasoline in the ear. Our junior year football team was undefeated as we stretched the string to 3 years.
Winter of '55 was a busy fun time. I played a high school principal in the junior play, "A Dance with Our Miss Brooks" in early December. At one point in the play I was supposed to read some lines offstage. I missed my cue and the actors (Marilyn Lungren in particular) had to improvise. I was initially horrified, but with time it became a pretty funny incident.
I wasn't dating much by our junior year and John was in between romances, so
we talked about whom we should be dating. A great looking sophomore, Judy
Johnson, had been flirting with me in the high school hall between classes. On
one occasion she even squeezed my neck on the way downstairs. She recalls that
I was wearing a white dress shirt and jeans for boy’s quartet, which she says
first attracted her. After consultation with John, I decided to ask her to a
movie. On February 4, 1956 we had our first date - a Friday night movie at the
Ritz Theater in
As president of the junior class, I had responsibility for getting our class organized to plan the Junior-Senior banquet. By tradition the sophomores served the banquet, and the sophomore class selected Judy as one of the servers. She was my beautiful date for the evening. I took a flower corsage gift when I picked her up at her farm home.
Judy 1957 Judy and me 1956
I loved to sing and still do. Often on dates we'd play the car radio and I'd sing along with Elvis or Sam Cooke or the Platters or whomever. Judy seemed to like for me to sing to her, and I loved doing it. Sometimes we would harmonize on a duet. Our "special" song was "You Are My Special Angel", which I would sing to her:
1 You are my special angel
3 A smile from your lips
Sent from up above Brings the summer sunshine
The Lord smiled down on me A frown brings the pouring rain
And sent an angel to love. I feel your touch
Your warm embrace
2 You are my special angel And I'm in heaven again.
I'll have my special angel 4 (don't remember, but more of same)
Here to watch over me.
This car-singing ritual continues to this day. It used to drive our kids crazy, which made it even more fun.
By the spring
of '56 I was a pretty good track star by
Roger Whitten, me, John Dillard
In the summer of '56, Roger Whitten, John Dillard, and I visited the
By summer of '56 I was ready to try any kind of work that didn't involve
farming. Kenneth Nulik was a driller for an oil company. That meant he had
responsibility for a crew of men to drill for oil. He was working on a well at
On a Saturday night drive-in theater date with Judy, I took a big bite of hot dog and nearly screamed with a sharp pain in my jaw. My jaws were swollen and I told Judy I thought I had the mumps. She thought I was kidding for a while, but sure enough it was the mumps! Judy had never had them either, and waited several years until after Richard was born to get them. Early in the disease I didn't feel so bad and didn't stay in bed either - big mistake. The mumps moved from my jaw to my right testacle! Fortunately, it was only the right one or this epistle to my children and grandchildren might have been unnecessary. Poor little guy swelled to the size of an orange and turned purple. The pain was intense, and I had to sleep with a pillow between my legs. Trauma stimulates memory.
The doctor recommended that I not do heavy work for the rest of the summer,
so I took a job as an iceman in
In the fall of 1956 I turned 17 and began my senior year of high school.
Once again I played football, but this time had more success and occasionally
became hero of the moment. The local newspaper reported it this way: "It
isn't that the opposition can't catch
John Dillard Jerome Niebaum
Two football plays
stand out it my memory from that year. Once I took a handoff and ran about
70 yards for a touchdown, going as fast as my skinny little body would take
me, because I understood the consequences of getting caught. The next day
my Aunt Leona called her sister to report that I had made a "home run"
in the game the night before. My family never did really understand football
very well. The second play, which stands out, was a defensive play. I was
so light that it was difficult for me to tackle anyone, especially by myself.
I played defensive back, which meant that I was primarily there for pass defense.
On one running play in front of our team bench there were only me and the
guy with the ball running towards me. I heard Coach Hutchens say, "All
right Niebaum, he's all yours!" Never have more frightening words been
uttered to a struggling young football player, but they were inspiring as
well! The runner hesitated slightly just as I hit him full-force. It was not
a good tackle, it was a GREAT tackle! I hit him low at mid-section and kept
my feet driving forward. The impact pushed him back a couple of yards flat
on his back. It was hard to say who was the most surprised, the coach, or
me but it certainly was a shared surprise! In all of my football experience
it was a singular success. Now, nearly forty years later, I remember that
experience as if it were - important. Only a tie with
By our senior year John D. and I had taken all the math courses offered at
Judy and I dated regularly my senior year. I was falling in love; she was
falling in like. At the end of my junior year she wrote in my yearbook,
"Lots of luck to a swell guy!" In my senior year I was a little bit
more than a 'swell guy'. I tried to convince her we should go 'steady' (i.e.
date only each other). That also implied wearing my class ring around her neck
as a symbol of 'going steady'. She said 'no' repeatedly. After I had a date
with one of her classmates, she decided it was time to go steady. Her parents
were somewhat less excited about it than we were. We really enjoyed being
together and talking and laughing. We shared a love of movies, though Judy had
been movie-deprived as a child. We tried to make up for the movies she had
missed. Our drive-in theater, the Bi-State, was new and located just across the
In high school I never was a discipline problem for teachers, but I was a bit of a wise guy at times. Once it landed me in trouble with Superintendent, Clarence Martin. Our boy’s glee club (vocal chorus) had an evening performance and Mr. Martin was trying to keep order while our choir director, Maxine (Melka) Krenek, was busy with the girl’s chorus elsewhere. Mr. Martin was getting frustrated with all the noise and hubbub. At one point he said to all of us, "Sit down and shut up." To which I replied, "Yeah, he means it, too!" It drew a good laugh, but not from Mr. Martin. I had to sit in the audience for the evening performance. Everyone was shocked! Tough lessons generate memories.
From the time I had been in seventh grade it was clear to me that I wanted to be a math teacher. To reach that goal required a college education. Judy's brother, Morris, was a freshman at the University of Kansas (KU) my senior year, and living in Jolliffe scholarship hall. My family and I knew it would be very tough for us financially for me to attend college. The scholarship hall program at KU sounded very interesting to me. Men in the hall were responsible for cleaning, cooking, and all other household chores in exchange for a low monthly housing cost, so I applied and asked specifically for Jollife. Gratefully, I was selected and it solidified my decision to attend KU in the fall of 1957.
For high school graduation my parents gave me a 'word processor'! It was a
Royal portable typewriter that they ordered from the Corbin Hardware, which
Finace and Ralph Watts owned and operated. I remember helping pick out the
brand and style from a wholesale catalog they used, called the Blue Book. With
shipping and tax it was about $100, which was quite a sum at that time. With
that typewriter I developed important keyboard skills which have served me well
for nearly 40 years and which I use daily. The typewriter also gave me an edge
in college that students with their own personal computers are now
Though Judy and I continued to date regularly, by the end of my senior year we had decided to stop going 'steady', since I would be off to college in the fall. As I recall it was a mutual decision that I wasn't in favor of. By then her parents were treating me pretty much as a real person. I think they even liked me!
High school was a safe haven and a comfortable place for me. I did well
scholastically with little real effort. I had many friends and a lot of fun
activities. Graduation was both exhilarating and a little frightening. I was
confident in myself and over-confident in my abilities, a malady that still
persists. It did surprise me a bit when I was named salutatorian (number 2) in
my class. Sibyl Ingle beat me out! The tradition continued the following year
when Judy was salutatorian of her class. Our son, Richard, continued that
tradition in 1981 when he was salutatorian of his class. Daughter, Jerri Jeane,
broke the tradition by being valedictorian (number 1) in her class at
There are still many high school stories to tell, and I shall add them as
new events call them to memory. As I finish this writing of recollections of my
early history, Judy is on her way to