Bob Mitchell: Commerce before satellites, computers

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

At least 60-plus years ago, which was before satellites and computers were in use every day, except maybe in some comic book features, commerce was carried to rural areas by traveling salesmen (very few women), who carried their large catalogs that might cover a world of merchandise. Rural areas relied on these salesmen to bring them information about new products or simply to place an order for the normal run of items.

Back then, Cassville had two hotels, which were frequently used by these traveling salesmen. These hotels seemed to be smack in the middle of most of their travel areas. Barry Hotel was on the west side of the square, and was operated by the Dillards, who had a handyman named Charley High. Harry Dillard in his day was one of the pillars of the Cassville community.

Just one block south of the square was the Irwin Hotel, which probably was best known for what came out of their kitchen. Owned by Ben and Lilly Irwin, their facility had hotel rooms and a very few cabin units for rent. Irwin Hotel would be the most crowded facility in town especially on Sundays when their Sunday dinners were served. This event attracted Sunday drivers from throughout the region to take their place around one of the Irwin tables.

The Irwins were the parents of longtime postmaster of Cassville, Gladys Smith, who handled postal operations out of the Cassville office strictly by the book. An Irwin granddaughter is Nancy Joslin England of Cassville.

Unique rule

There was a unique rule among those peddlers in those days; they would avoid a few days after Nov. 10 to put Cassville on their calling list. That was the opening of quail season in Missouri, and most local business people would be out of their businesses for a few days. Naturally, there might be a few professional people still around the square, but for the most part, the opportunity to have their dogs in the field to seek out the once plentiful bob whites was more important to most of those businessmen.

Both hotels of that era would follow the lead of the times and use their slack to make improvements to the kitchen and dining room or tend to other facility requirements. Each was quite well known for their personal touch and service to their customers.

Golden Harvest Club

The Cassville Chamber of Commerce was responsible in the 1950s for instigating the Golden Harvest Club, which was designed to serve senior citizens of the area. Les Alsworth was manager of the Chamber, and was the founder of the club. Another goal of the group was to be able to reach seniors with important issues concerning Cassville.

The group held monthly luncheon meetings, alternating between local food service establishments. With the Chamber often providing a program for member enlightenment until an issue concerning telephone service between Cassville and Shell Knob happened.

With the expansion of Missouri State Telephone, came toll service to Shell Knob and the surrounding area. The Chamber considered this a feature for business contact with the growing lake area. Conservatives in the Golden Harvest Club objected to their minor monthly billing for this service and instigated a petition drive to the Missouri Public Service Commission for a referendum opposing the service.

Those behind the removal of the service were strong in their efforts, while those who favored the connection probably went to sleep at the switch, and the conservative group won their issue.

Things aren’t the same

Remember the Brown Jersey Gloves of the past? They were inexpensive, not bundlesome and just right for many needs. They were often quite handy in the outdoors and could be worn under another pair of gloves for extra warmth. Well, in the first place, most of them on the market these days aren’t brown–they are black. And, they aren’t nearly the material that they once were, which leads one think of how a lot of the items are now smaller and cost more than they did in past years.

Off the spike

I’m looking forward to the arrival of professional basketball season this year, not necessarily to watch the sport, but to acknowledge this sport’s recognition of the National Anthem compared to just the opposite for professional football. Early presentations of basketball have shown great respect for the Star Spangled Banner, while football keeps their players in the dressing room during the pre-game presentation. I’ll give a big thumbs-up to the roundballers, and their league officials, for their Americanism respect.

Belatedly, the best fishing days in November according to the Almanac — for those who don’t let cold weather bother them — are Nov. 20 and 21 to pursue the bass in your favorite location. Lots of luck to you hardy souls. Tie into a big one for me.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.