Commencing The Great Adventure, May 27, 1957
Leaving Denison Graduation Night
The closest thing that I have been able to liken to my feelings the night of May 27, 1957, as I walked from our commencement party at the K of C Hall to the old 1941 Chevy Coupe I was to leave my hometown in, is the way Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption felt as he was on the bus going to Mexico a free man. He was going somewhere and it didn’t much matter because it was going to be the adventure of his life and he was ready.
Walking with me to the old car was Jack Simmons who I had stayed with to finish out the year and graduate in Denison as my family had moved to Fort Worth in March. We had just finished discussing why my diploma read “ Edmond Lee Ellis” (still suspected of giving me the middle name are Sam Eldridge and Dale Gouge) and were now laughing about the carp grappling episode earlier in the afternoon at the little creek that was fed by the Denison Dam spillway which had overflowed due to the heavy rains. We had been waste deep in the rushing water grabbing carp as long as your arm and flinging them onto the bank.
On reaching the car, where my younger brother, Johnny, and mother, Eunice, waited, we stopped laughing … there was a moment of seriousness that came across our faces … we slapped each other on the shoulder (guys didn’t hug in Denison, Texas in 1957) saying something like “Well we’ll go back out to the creek in a week or so and catch some more carp.” I got behind the wheel, started the car (some anxious moments here as its starting was not a certainty) and drove off toward Fort Worth as Jack stood on the curb and waved until we were out of sight of each other. The out of sight lasted 30 years. We didn’t lay eyes on each other until 1987 at our 30th Class reunion, where we vowed we’d not do that again.
I was eager to get to Fort Worth and unleash my considerable skills acquired in 4 years of High School on the unsuspecting job market. I just knew that at last I was going to get a real job! For three summers I had only been able to find work at service stations in Denison for 35 to 50 cents an hour while my best friends, Jack Simmons, Stan Ballou, and E.W. Tucker were working real jobs at the Tie Plant for a $1 an hour! Get ready world here comes Edmond Ellis, 1957 Denison Senior High graduate!
At the height of my fantasy, the old 41 Chevy Coupe blew a tire … we, my mother, brother and I, spent the rest of the night alongside of the highway near McKinney and would have probably still been there now had not a kind man with a jack helped us get back on the road at daylight.
First Job After Graduation
Much to my surprise, I didn’t find a job in Fort Worth the first day. However; my surprise grew even more when I didn’t find one on the second day … or the third day either. In fact it took about a week! Then I got my first real job, full time … not just summer help … at Turner Brothers Service Station on Vaughn Blvd! I was elated … I was going to be earning more money than at anytime in my life ( my then resume consisted of a paper route and the summer service station jobs) a whole $40 per week for 72 hours per week. OK …. I could do the math … but I was then, as now, an optimist and chose to focus on the $40 per week not the hours.
Turner Brothers Service Station Vaughn Blvd,
Ft. Worth, Texas (Today)
Now Edmond Ellis, ’57 High School graduate, was one helluva service station attendant, fastest car washer, expert at oil changes and lubes, speedy oil checker, superb windshield washer, and highly efficient at sweeping out your floor boards … all with a smile. After two weeks the manager gave me a raise to $50 per week. Another week passed and I was raised to $55 per week Look out world here comes Ole Ed !!
With my career solidly moving along at a good pace it was time for me to buy into the “American Dream” … I traded the 41 Chevy Coupe in on a 1951 Pontiac Catalina hardtop convertible. It was the first time in my immediate family that anyone owned a car that was built within the same decade they were driving it. The payments were $10 per week.
The Great Migration
Shortly after arriving in Fort Worth, my father, Pat (not short for anything), had gone to Elkhart, Indiana to work with my uncle, Roy, in building the New York Central’s first electronic classification yards. So … after he had been at that job for about a month and I had been at the service station about a month he sent $50 with a note that he wanted us to all come to Elkhart, Indiana and live. I didn’t much want to leave Texas and was really dragging my feet until he called on the phone and said that there was a job for me building the railroad yard at $2.12 per hour …. I hung up the phone started packing the car !
On July 4, 1957, my mother, brother, dog Sandy and I headed north to Indiana with $50 in cash, a thankful of gas and car packed with everything we owned. If you can visualize the Jode family truck in Grapes of Wrath you got us!
On the way out of Texas we stopped in Denison … I wanted to tell Jack Simmons and Stan Ballou where I was headed … and show off my fine wheels. However that was not to be. Since it was the 4th of July they were elsewhere and we continued our journey to Indiana taking U.S. 69 out of Denison through Oklahoma.
We spent the first night on the road in Vinita, Oklahoma staying at a motel with a cafe attached that offered chicken fried steak as their top most expensive dinner. I had it! The next morning I had their biggest best breakfast too. There was a dent in the $50. The second night on the road we spent “on the road”.
During the second day of driving everything went smoothly and we saw lots of new towns as the highway went right through the downtown of all of them … including St. Louis. By nightfall we had just crossed into Indiana. We hadn’t gone very far after entering Indiana when the left rear tire blew out, probably from the heavy load in the car. Before I could bring the car to a stop the tire was completely chewed up. I needed a new tire. My thoughts were that we had a jack this time anyway and I can put the spare on and continue to Elkhart and then get another tire. Not so …. the load in the car was so heavy that I couldn’t raise the car high enough to change the tire without coming to the limit of the bumper jack where it promptly collapsed.
I looked back the way we had came and saw lights in the distance … it turned out to be about 3 miles … Indiana is flat and you can see a long way. There was nothing but pitch black ahead. Leaving my mother, brother, and dog, I started walking back toward the lights in the dark. Luckily the lights were from the last service station at the edge of Kentland, Indiana. I explained my predicament to the service station attendant who was getting ready to close. He said he would close the station take the service truck and we’d go back to the car and using his heavy axle jack … put the spare on.
On returning to the car; the service station attendant raised it and was about to place the spare on the wheel when found that the spare had a hole about the size of a quarter all the way through to the inner tube. Undaunted he said, “Not to worry … it will get us back to the station and I have a used tire and inner tube that will work on this car and I’ll put that on and put your spare (stretching the imagination) back in the car.”. So off we went to the station again.
On getting to the station, I remarked to the attendant, using the wisdom of an 18 year old DHS 1957 high school graduate, that I hoped it didn’t cost too much for the tire because all I had left out of $50 my father sent us to travel on was $10 and I needed to get more gas. The attendant said to fill up with gas and see how much that was and that he would check on the price of the tire and inner tube etc. I filled up the car with $3.50 in gas and the service station attendant figured out the cost of the tire and inner tube was $6.50. The Lord was smiling on Ole Ed that night !!
Shortly after getting back on the road and going through some small towns the car started to act funny … the automatic transmission wouldn’t shift. I pulled into a service station that was open and checked the transmission fluid … it was dry. My mother emptied her purse and my brother and I emptied our pockets looking for money. We managed to come up with another $3.50. I put in two 50 cent quarts of transmission fluid and continued on. I had at that point about 200 miles to go to get to Elkhart …. and had to repeat the two quarts of transmission fluid two more times.
Landing on A Wing and A Prayer
Reaching Elkhart, I spent the last 50 cents on 2 gallons of gas and drove to the address my father had given us. He was not there. He had moved to a bigger place for the family on Eagle Lake , which was just across the line in Michigan and proved to be more than a little hard to find. After about an hour of going here and going there in response to people’s directions to Eagle Lake; the car ran out of gas … it had gone about dry on transmission fluid too and we coasted into a little service station, stopping just short of the gas pump.
Well there we were, out of gas and out of cash. At that point I suggested to my mother that she ask the service station attendant if there was a mobile home park near by because I knew that my uncle Roy had a mobile home and that my father would probably be someplace close by. The service station attendant said, “There sure is … right over there on Eagle Lake!”. Eagle Lake turned out to be about half a mile from us. My mother found the phone number for the mobile home park office and called. When my mother inquired if they had any tenants by the name of Ellis the voice on the other end said, “We have a Roy Ellis.” My mother said, “Do they have a phone?” Well it turned out that they did and my mother called. My aunt Bonnie came over and bought us some gas and transmission fluid so we could limp over to the very small lake cottage my father had rented on the lake.
By this time it was about 9 AM on Saturday morning …. I was tired and went in to bed. I awoke late in the afternoon and began to move around some and decided to watch TV. I unpacked the TV from the car and put it inside the cottage …. however, there was no antenna. I made one from two wire coat hangers and a milk carton. My life in Indiana and southern Michigan (Michiana) had started. The only way was up I told myself ! Monday I will start my job on the railroad! God is good … you can get Gunsmoke here too!
The adventure started !!!
Class of 1957