A Short Story from a Small Iowa Town
The Pole Stretcher
By Tom Morrow
It was around 1952 … it was summer in Seymour and Boy Scout Troop 163 was preparing for a short camping trip. Mame Hart had bought her youngest son, Ronnie, an Army surplus eight-man tent. It was a marvel to behold. The problem was setting it up. The accompanying tent poles were too short. No poles, no tent.
Ronnie and I were in his backyard trying to solve this dilemma. We walked across the street to his Dad’s Conoco station for some help. Pearl Hart shook his head in a perplexing fashion, nodding toward oldest son and Ronnie’s older brother Jack Hart for help. Jack who was the town’s International Harvester dealer was standing nearby. Interestingly enough, he was in direct competition with his father-in-law, Wade “Sug” (for Sugar) Wright, who was the area’s John Deere dealer and owner of one of Southern Iowa’s largest hardware store.
The North Side of the Seymour, Iowa square
Jack studied our problem as serious as anyone in that situation could. He shook his head and then referred to “Sug” up at Wright’s Hardware. Jack said we needed a “pole stretcher” and the only one in town would be up at his father-in-law’s hardware store.
That sounded right to us.
Ronnie and I walked at a fast pace on the short trip to the town square and into the hardware store where “Sug” sat in his usual chair smoking a cigarette. He was noted for developing an extra-long ash which hung on the end of the smoking butt. We explained our predicament. “Sug” nodded, recognizing the problem.
“Ya know the last time I used it was down at my John Deere shop,” he grunted, flicking that long ash from his cigarette. “I think Simon has that pole stretcher.”
Ronnie and I sprinted out the door heading west to the John Deere shop.
It was one of those hot August afternoons with the sun slipping toward 4 o’clock. We wanted to get things set up before dark because the plan was to spend the night in that tent.
We found Simon Buck back at the rear of the shop working at pounding out dents from a wrecked 1947 Studebaker. When he bought that piece of junk, no one could believe Buck could save it. Anyone who had such thoughts didn’t know Buck. If anyone could solve our problem it would be this master of metal. He could fix or create anything that could be pounded or welded into shape. However, we didn’t know about how good he was at ‘stretching a pole.’
As we walked out the door, “Sug” yelled at us to be sure and ask Buck if he had any of that “Yellow Steam” left over from a recent paint job he was working on.
“Be sure and tell him I’m gonna need that steam by tomorrow.”
Few people knew Buck’s first name was Simon. Everyone knew him as Buck.
Buck had a slight speech impediment. It wasn’t a physical thing, it was just the way he learned to talk as a youngster. Best way to describe it was you’d swear he was a “Cajun” from the backwaters of the Louisiana swamps. He grew up in the hills of nearby Missouri. He once told me his assessment of the variety of television brands, which were beginning to be sold in Southern Iowa at that time.
“Day all gud, Tom. Some jest better den udders.”
We told Buck that “Sug” had sent us on our quest. We also mention the yellow steam. Buck shook his head as he was pounding out the Studebaker’s left front fender. He regretfully said all of the steam was gone, but the pole stretcher was still available, … but he didn’t have it.
“By dod I gave that to Earl Montieth up at the Post Office,” he grunted, not taking his eyes off the fender.
Ronnie and I were getting a little tired of running all over town, but we still had visions of being able to camp out that night. We pivoted and ran back up to the north side of the square. We found Earl sorting mail. It was Wednesday afternoon and the Seymour Herald was being put in post office boxes or readied for next day’s mail delivery.
Earl was one of Seymour’s famed jokers. There was very little in which he didn’t find humor. His laugh could be heard all over the square. But, on this day he held his urge to laugh. With a straight face he told us that he had used the pole stretcher last Saturday, then took it up to Paul “Curt” Curtis’ garage for a job waiting for it.
Ron and I looked at each other, but were undeterred. Curt acknowledged using the device, but Zell Park needed for a job at his Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. Back across the square we went, but our run had turned into a brisk walk.
Zell chuckled just a bit, then shook his head. He wasn’t sure whether Calvin Spurgeon, his body and fender man had finished with it.
We sensed we were getting close.
Just as we were about to go next door to where Calvin was pounding out a wrecked ‘50 Lincoln hard-top, my Uncle Bill Morrow drove up wearing a slight, but concerned smile.
He stopped us in our tracks.
“Fellas, there’s no such thing as a pole stretcher,” he chuckled, but with a serious smile.
Bill couldn’t stand to see Ronnie and I being run all over town. By then, most of the merchants around the square knew about the joke. Everyone had a good laugh…it would be a long time before our venture was forgotten. But that was Seymour for those of us growing up in the fifties. It was an idyllic time with a wonderful group of friends and neighbors – and merchants. Looking back at those years it was proof to us that it, indeed, it took a close-knit community to usher us into adulthood.