Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Pay Forward


This is a long rambling post but it has a point, community and kin.

 Located along US 40 in Moffat County, CO is the small town of Maybell, population 72. Best known for the official coldest temperature recorded in Colorado (-61 °) and the annual (COVID Years excepted) Great American Horse Drive, it is a prominent part of our paternal family history. 


Central to the town is the Maybell General Store. This was recently on Facebook.


With all the new updates at the Maybell Store, I think this would be a great time to share some notes written by Ole C. Barber with permission from the present day Barbers. I believe these notes were written in 1985.

Ole stated that one of the first buildings in any new town would be a General Store and so it was with Maybell. He couldn’t remember when the store was built but he saw a picture of the first automobile standing in front of the store - it was a 1904 model although he didn’t know what make it was. He saw the store in 1914, when he was around 5 years old. The following are Ole’s notes:

AB Kapple and family moved to Maybell somewhere around 1900, built the store on a corner lot facing the main road through town along with a house just north of the store. The store was 30 ft wide by 40 feet long . He planned a general store, knowing that the closest store was in Craig, 30 miles away and the only mode of travel in those days was by a team of horses or horseback. So he stocked everything from bachelor buttons to harnesses, including groceries.

It was always an interesting tour of the store, when I would get to go with the folks grocery shopping. When we first walked in, on the right sat a glass show case, stocked with cigars and chewing tobacco. Behind the tobacco case on a counter was a tobacco cutter. The chewing tobacco came in five pound boxes, lined with an oiled paper to keep it fresh. The plugs were about eight inches long and three inches wide and ¾’s inch thick. The cutter had a cast iron base with a knife attached to a long handle. The base was marked with lines to tell how much to cut off for a certain amount of money, such as 5, 10 or 15 cents worth. Roy and Ruth Barber ended up with the cutter.

On top of the glass case sat a cigar lighter in which almost every kid in town cut the end of their finger off - just a small slice mostly skin. It had an automatic knife which sat under a small hole in the top, intended to cut the small end of the cigar off. There was also an arm stuck up on the top that was hinged so when it was pulled out at the top, a spark would light a wick to light the cigar. Also when this arm was activated it would reset the knife under the small hole. The knife was spring loaded when a finger or cigar was inserted in the hole, the knife would automatically release consequently trimming the end of said finger or cigar. We kids most all had to try it once but being fast to learn, it usually took only one try to teach us.

Next to this was a case filled with candy. From the candy case there was a counter about 8 feet long with two rolls of wrapping paper. Customers didn’t help themselves at that time. You ordered what you wanted and the clerk set it out on the counter for you.

Next from the counter was a cheese case that looked like a butcher block. It had a high glass dome top. The cheese was about 16 inches in diameter and 8 inches high. A cheese knife was hinged on a pedestal in the center of the cheese. For a pound they knew just about how much of a wedge to cut. It was surprising how close they would come to the right amount that was ordered. Next sat the coffee mill. They didn’t sell ground coffee at that time, they only kept the beans and would grind whatever you ordered. This mill was real interesting to us kids. It sat on a stand about table height and was painted bright red with gold trim. There were two big wheels that worked like counter balances. Across the back of the store he had his harness and leather material, collars, hames, tug chains, bits, most always a side of harness leather. Starting back up the south side, He had shoes, shirts, overalls (Levis) and gloves. The gloves were mostly buckskin and there were two kinds. . . Hodkins and Russell, all better that what one can buy today. The buckskin gloves you buy today won’t begin to wear as long as those that Mr. Kapple stocked back then.

Next from the gloves were needs for the house wife, from needles to thread, buttons, knitting needles and about anything they would need including hair dye.

He also had a store room about 16 feet wide and the full length of the store where he kept groceries that weren’t put up on the shelves along with some farm machinery, walking plows, harrows and etc.

The World War and homestead rush seems to have happened all about the same time but I remember the homesteaders coming along between 1915 and 1916 and a lot more later. They could file on a piece of land and live on it a specified amount of time and if they did everything required of them, they could prove up and get a government deed to the land. So around 1917 to 1920 the town of Maybell grew up pretty fast. In 1917 Kapples sold their store to H. B. Pleasant, a brother of F. H. Pleasant who managed the First Federal Savings for many years.

Mr. Pleasant immediately rearranged the whole inside of the store to make it look more modern. He also built a frame house just north of the Kapple house , for his wife’s mother who needed to live close to them.

H. B. had been in the store business in Denver and had an altogether different idea on how to merchandise his wares. Once everything was rearranged in the store, I had never seen things displayed on tables. There was a lot of stock in the store, most of the small things such as knives, watches, wrenches and small tools had always been kept in cases but H. B. had some small tables made and displayed the dollar watches, pocket knives and a whole bunch of small things like that out where they would attract attention. I got out of school one evening and going home horseback I noticed Dad’s buggy down at the store, so decided to go down there and see what they were doing. I walked in and saw all those goodies on one of the tables right close to where I was. I saw a nice shiny Corouso dollar watch and just somehow it slipped off the table and into my pocket. I visited with the folks a bit and said I guessed I’d just go on home and start the chores. I walked out and untied my saddle horse and was in the act of getting on when I heard a gruff voice behind me. He said “Wait up a minute son . . I want to talk to you!” I looked around. H. B. Pleasant was a big man, but at that moment he looked about 10 times bigger than he really was. He said, “What do you want to do about that watch you have in your pocket?” I said “I don’t have any watch.” But he just said “O yes I think you do for I saw you take it!” He gave me a choice . . either give him a dollar or if I would rather he would put it on my dad’s account and that if those choices didn’t please me I could give it back to him and he would forget the whole affair. Well you can bet I wasn’t long finding it and handing it back to him, telling him how sorry I was. He said he knew I was sorry and that I was a very good boy but didn’t want me to get started doing things like that, for it would get me into some real trouble later if I kept it up. I can truthfully say I have never let anything slip off into my pocket since and was for sure he didn’t tell Dad. It was probably my best lesson in life!

Things started going downhill and some of the businesses in Maybell went broke. The dry farmers were trying to suffer it out until they could prove up and get a deed to their acres but Maybell slowed down a lot. Nobody had much money, just barely enough to buy groceries.

The Maybell Store has had several owners over the years and currently is owned by Joe and Mary Schminkey. They have made some fantastic changes to the store and are excited now to mention that they have a liquor license so will be selling beverages to your liking! Be sure to stop in and say HOWDY to these awesome folks!

My grandmother, Louise White, nee Ferrel lost her husband to cancer in 1935. At the time they had a truck farm in Wheatridge, CO, the current location of the Wheatridge Historical Society.

She moved to Maybell (family were in the area) and left her three youngest daughters at home while she worked, often away from town. One summer a daughter fell into a coma for several weeks.

My father, who was scratching out a living in the area, would stop in and check on his sisters. He found they were often out of food. He made arrangements for them to get food as needed from the Maybell General Store. One of my aunts told me, privately, had he not, they might not have survived!

Today the sister who was in a coma is a wealthy woman. Nearly 90, she still works at the family owned business in Portland, OR. One of her favorite great nephews is my autistic son in Seattle.

Some time back she asked me for his bank account. She wanted to give him some extra money monthly. When I said she didn’t need to do that, she flatly told me it was her money and she would spend it as she pleased!

“Yes, Aunt _____”.

Whatever her motivation, it occurred to me my father’s contribution to his siblings in need is now being carried on to his grandson. Payed forward, if you will.

The owners of the store didn’t need to agree to the arrangement. The security, if you will, was the word of a 15 year old. That is what I mean by community.


drjim said...

What a great story! The "Old West" was something most city folks have NO idea about, or even care to learn about. THEIR food comes from a Safeway, or Jewel-Osco, or Kroger, not from some messy, smelly, dirty, stinky, mud-encrusted FARM or Ranch, and their entire knowledge of the Old West comes from Little House on the Prairie, or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

When I was 10, I spent a summer up in Twin Falls, Idaho at a cousin's Horse Ranch. Even though I was pretty much a City Kid, I dove right into it. All the work cleaning stalls, feeding and grooming the horses, and general farm/ranch labor was rewarded by excellent food, and fishing, camping, and hunting trips.

Is that Sisty I see in one of the pix?

Old NFO said...

Yep, small communities were like that back in the day, not just up in your area... But the history is definitely interesting! Thanks!

Coffeypot said...

I wish we had communities like this now. My community, Riverside, was small but connected with the Cotton Mill (the Village) and Bolton, to the east. But many evenings were spent on someone's porch just talking. We don't do that anymore.

Greybeard said...

Our small village had a General Store. As population increased a bigger store was built six miles distant, but "economies of scale" meant prices were cheaper. The little store survived for a while selling last-minute needs. But the owner aged and became more and more infirm, and he eventually gave up the business.
What fond memories.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

The store stays alive in part because the closet chain store is 42 miles away. Also, liquor. For decades Maybell was "dry". Eventually the town ladies saw the light.

Maybe all the convenience stores now serve the same needs. Not the same thing, of course.

Thank you for those kind words. That is the one and only Sisty. Most of the people in that snap are relatives.

An honest storekeeper was a major asset in the small towns.

Old NFO said...

Always was WSF- My one uncle and two cousins ran stores in various towns/parishes in Louisiana. Honesty and credit worked wonders to keep customers coming back, even when the big boxes showed up.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

I still try to by locally from local businesses. I go into WalMart maybe three or four times a year.

Brig said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have some fond memories of the local hardware, a clothing store and a small meat/grocery that my father-in-law was part owner of. My husband's grandmother would call in her grocery order and who ever was headed to town would pickup, and just put it on the tab. Most everyone ran a monthly tab at all those places. Different times these days...

Well Seasoned Fool said...

People's reputation in the community was valued. Not so much, today.