A young Stephen Farris in Navarro County Past.
By Stephen R. Farris
Special to the Navco Chronicle
This week’s history column is all about me. That’s right. Me!
Back in my softball days, the younger guys would always kid that I was around when the dinosaurs were still alive. Heck, I was only in my late 20s for goodness’s sake. But you know how some of the younger kids are when you’re the oldest one in the group.
I’m going to take you back to those younger years, when everything seemed so mysterious, yet innocent. So this week, I pose this question. When you were an adolescent, what did you dream about becoming when you got older?
For me, there were five choices, depending on what day it was. For one, I dreamt of being a race car driver. Mysteriously, I’ve never received a ticket for speeding (knock on wood), although I have been tailgated numerous times because of my expert and safe driving skills. Then there were times I dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. I did manage to try out for the Cincinatti Reds in the middle 80s. We now know how that worked out. Another dream was to be a crooner like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and those type of guys. It’s a good thing I decided to pursue other options, although I did sing in church choir and in acapella choir in high school. But neither of those panned out either, and my singing career hopes ended up in the shower (yes, literally in the shower.)
We’ve narrowed my dreams down to two. Since I grew up around a railroad family, I went through my share of train sets. I always dreamed of becoming an engineer one day, and I was kind of leaning towards the railroad as a career choice when I got out of high school. Unfortunately, deregulation hit the rail industry around 1980, and when I graduated, there weren’t a whole lot of railroad jobs to be had.
My number one dream as a profession, believe it or not, was to be a cowboy. Yes, a rootin’ tootin’, tabacky chewin’, six-gun shootin’, die with his boots on, bonafide Texas born and raised cowboy! I’d been practicing the role for years. I lived and breathed western movies. I was a big Rawhide fan, Wanted Dead or Alive fan (Steve McQueen was my hero), Deaf Valley Days, High Chapparral, Big Valley, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Cheyenne (Clint Walker) – “where will you be sleeping tonight.” It didn’t matter. Whatever westerns were on channel 39 throughout the day on Saturdays, you darn tootin’ (Gabby Hayes favorite saying) I’d be watching them.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “But you lived in town, not in the country.” Indeed I did, but when it comes to being an only child, there was this thing known as a vivid imagination. Something most kids have no clue about these days, but that’s entirely another subject.
From the time I was old enough to remember, I could usually be seen with a stick horse, a straw cowboy hat that my nanny made me when she worked at Adams Hats, and a pair of cap gun imitation six-shooters. The neighbor next door, Mr. Dee Hughes, owned some pasture land at the end of E. Max Ave., and had a few horses and cows on his property, so I got to ride once in a great while. I owned several bicycles during my youth, and would usually pretend that I was on a horse, galloping across the prairie, even though it would be Beaton Street. You could really pick up speed heading south of old man Barley’s Conoco Station at the dip. That was the fun part of being a kid and having a dream.
Little did I know there was much more to being a cowboy other than riding horses and chasing bad guys, and ending up with the girl in the end. No, there was this part called hard work.
As most of you can relate, my parental figures were either born a decade or two before the Great Depression, or half a decade afterwards. They were raised where you had to get up to milk and feed the cows at 4 a.m., then feed the other farm animals, gather up a few eggs for breakfast, then by 7 a.m. they were usually in the fields tending food crops, or picking cotton.
So, at an early age, I was introduced to digging and planting a garden. That was just the beginning for this “city” kid. Periodically, throughout my youth and early adulthood, I participated in quite a bit of “cowboy” life. I preferred jeans and pearl snap shirts over the latest fad clothing — still do – and in high school, I hung around with a few of the FFA (Future Farmers of Ameirca) crowd, and learned about dipping tobacco, and drinking more than one beer or two – not condoning either one if there are any kiddos reading my column. Just say no.
During my early adulthood I bought an old Ford pickup truck. My male parental figure, who was retired and obviously reliving his youth, decided to hit up a dairy farm near Emhouse for some fertilizer. You guys know where I’m headed with this. We threw a couple of shovels in the back and drove out that way. I never knew cows could emit so much waste. Needless to say, my truck bed was dragging, and so was I after we emptied out our haul back at his house. We ended up going through the process a couple of more times before he got too old to tend to his gardens.
In the early 90s, Mr. Hughes – by then – had sold the pasture land at the end of E. Max Ave., and a mobile home park was in place of the grazing cows and horses. Mr. Hughes also had land north of Corsicana, off a dirt road a couple of miles past Briar Creek. Since I was a maintenance engineer for Medical Arts Clinic, where his wife worked, and since he had known me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, he hired me to build a holding corral on his property.
During that time, I was also a single dad of two young boys, so I depended on my mom to watch them when I had side work. You might be asking why I just didn’t take them with me, so they could experience a little “ranch hand” life. Did I mention they were young? Oh yeah, their attention span would have made a month-long job turn into six months. Back to the assignment I was hired to do, this was one of the greatest moments (and memories) of my life. Building something you’ve never built gives one a great sense of accomplishment. That’s exactly what this project did for me. Confidence and accomplishment. Most of the corral still stands to this day, a little over 30 years later.
It was during the building of the corral that I fed my first herd of cows. Now that was an experience. Mr. Hughes was ill, so he asked if I’d feed the cows since I would be out there. I said yes. He told me what needed to be done, and when I finished working on the corral for the day, I jumped in the truck and drove further down into the pasture and stopped at an open shed that was filled with hay. The cows were kind of scattered out, but once I slammed the door to my truck and went inside the shed, they gathered in fast. And I mean, fast! At that moment, there were a few things that flashed before my eyes, but luckily, I managed to complete the task and survived – although it was touch and go there for a short while. I will never forget those memories, or the opportunity Mr. Hughes gave me (RIP).
My next closest encounter to the western life was when I became a reporter for the Corsicana Daily Sun, and later, with the Navarro County Times. I had the great opportunity to cover many years of Youth Expo events, and photograph the kids showing their hogs, steers, rabbits, and chickens. I always looked forward to those events. My last encounters of cowboy life was the many rodeos I had the opportunity to photograph. A rodeo photographer convinced me to get into the arena with him to shoot many of the events. That was exciting. I can’t tell you how many times I had to jump up on the fence, with camera in hand, to get out of the way of the horses during bareback events. A few brushed up against me from time-to-time. However, I opted not to be in the arena during the bull riding competitions. No sir, just couldn’t do it. That’s what the clowns are paid to do, which it an under paid profession if you ask me. And thanks to all of the rodeo clowns for what you do, you guys are awesome!
Well buckaroos, that about covers my dream of becoming a cowboy. I still watch a lot of old westerns thanks to the numerous streaming services, and read a lot of books on western history. Hope you’ve all enjoyed this trip down my “historic” memory lane, and remember kids, it doesn’t hurt to dream. Follow them if you can.