Bob Mitchell: More digging done differently

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

After last week’s recalling installation of light poles on a new football field for the CHS Wildcats, and my visit to the Barry County Museum, there were bells ringing regarding another method once used before all of today’s earth-moving equipment arrived on the scene.

The museum part of this info came in the form of a photo of the former Smith home at the northwest corner of the public square. The photo brought back memories of 1937 when the Cassville Post Office was being constructed.

Most people in town at that time thought it was a terrible thing for the government to take the home of this family for their postal facility’s new location. Previously the mail delivery originated from space provided in the Community Building south, across Eighth Street.

Thoughts around town indicated that an outside the business area would be more desirable for the Post Office, and contribute to the growth of the town.

The Smith family included two children, Adell and Joe, both who were deeply connected with the downtown gang of that era. There were several sad faces the day the family departed this community.

Horse-drawn sled

My experience of watching the basement of the building coming into existence in 1937 was from the Ray House at Ninth and Townsend, with only the Ray Dingler home being the only obstacle in the line of view. By moving a few, it was possible for a lot of youthful observers to watch as horse or mule pulled slips (sometimes called sleds) took the dirt out in preparation for hand-mixed concrete being poured.

The slips consisted of what resembled a wheel borrow including the handles. Attached to a harness on the horse, a laborer would walk the device in an area being excavated, when it was full the slip would leave the digging area and deposit the dirt outside the area.

Machines took over once the dirt was out of the basement with trucks, and a few wagons hauled the dirt away. Some small part was used for small project fill dirt.

As simple as it might appear in those days, it was a far cry from the operating equipment of today.

In addition to this type digging, the same method was used in this particular era to make ponds on many farms in the area.

The project continued until the facility was completed in 1938, not many years before much more convenient equipment became available for construction. Maintenance projects have been the extent of work done on the Post Office. Interior spaces have remained about the same.

An early-day postmaster, that deeply resented being called postmistress, and who probably held the longest tenure in the post was Gladys Irwin Smith.

Despite the obvious growth of the community and surrounding area, the physical building that was constructed 84 years ago hasn’t changed. Rural routes have changed with folks now occupying small acreages.

The basement, once used for University of Missouri Extension Service offices, is now vacant after the government decided they no longer wanted to be in the landlord business, and the agency ended up in the Barry County Courthouse on the second floor, now reached by an elevator.

February soon to arrive

Just around the corner is the shortest month of the year, February, a time of the year that the late Joe Ellis and I always thought could have been eliminated and not missed by many. Naturally, there might have those who would have objected, but not many.

Our plan was to take the 28 or 29 days of the month and divide them with other periods of the year, giving preference to those more enjoyable periods in the spring, summer and fall.

There is one event during February that has been with us since 1887, not quite as old as the Cassville Democrat that was founded in 1871, and just observed a 150-year anniversary.

Will it see its shadow?

The myth or whatever you choose to label the process, says if that in six days on Feb. 2, the groundhog, a really useless animal that simply bores holes in pastures, sees his shadow when he exits his hole on this day, there will be six more weeks of winter ahead of us.

On the other hand, if it’s cloudy and there is no shadow, spring could arrive early and eager planters can get their hands in the dirt, So, it isn’t too early to get the garden machinery checked out, blades sharpened and possibly start the engines to make sure they run. Repair facilities will fill their schedules quickly.

Many gardeners who have gone against this Groundhog Day shadow myth have spent time back at the seed store or doing more tilling in their process of a second planting.

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.