Category Archives: Newspaper

Delta County museum holds heritage of area

COOPER, Texas – Sitting by itself a few blocks from the downtown square, the old Texas Midland Railroad depot has been a Delta County landmark since its construction in 1913.

Passenger and freight trains once roared past the stately building several times daily, but the last iron horse thundered by more than 50 years ago. Today, the street is quiet. People drive by the station in their automobiles, barely pausing to take notice. Even the long, shiny railroad tracks that once trembled with excitement as a distant train neared town are long gone.

Likewise forgotten is the 4P Brand cannery that filled the building’s alcoves soon after the depot closed in the years before World War II. Workers turned out canned chicken that gave soldiers overseas a taste of home. But that enterprise, like many others dependent on the war effort, wound down with peace.

“After the war was over, the owner, Mr. (Harry) Patterson, didn’t know what to do with the building,” said O.T. Preas, a lifelong Cooper resident and a director of the museum. Mr. Preas, an octogenarian, still recalls roller skating near the depot some 70-odd years ago on the only navigable stretch of cement in town. He said it was after the cannery closed that the idea of using the building for a library or a museum arose. For a time, he said, the old depot was used for both. Eventually the library moved into new quarters, leaving the fledgling museum room to grow and expand.

This year, the Delta County Patterson Memorial Museum turned 25. To hear Mr. Preas tell it, its collection is still something of a library – a library of the lives of the men, women and children connected with the small county nestled between two forks of the Sulphur River.

“Our goal is to eventually get something from every family in this county,” Mr. Preas said. Because of Cooper’s small size, he says, the museum must rely on donations of time and artifacts from local people. As a result, its doors open only on Saturdays from April to October from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for specially-arranged weekday tours.

“We get quite a few people that come through here, though,” Mr. Preas said. “Mostly, they’re people from around here who come in to look for their family’s name, or maybe some of their old things. It brings back a lot of memories. We get little kids who look for pictures of their grandpa, and want to see how things used to be.”

Each room of the deceptively large collection, in fact, takes visitors back to a different time. “A lot of stuff is even before my time,” Mr. Preas said, “and I’ve been here 80 years.” In the main room of the museum, near the front entrance, are the personal effects of hundreds of Delta County citizens. Old, fading black-and-white pictures take up the entire front wall, while display cases filled with ancient quilts, dolls, knitting needles, cuff links and antique razors stretch across another.

The floor is covered with a patchwork maze of donated rugs and carpets from local houses, and furniture from the 1800s and early 1900s fills the room’s center. In a nearby room, the remains from an old doctor’s office remind passersby of the luxuries of modern-day medicine. Filling the hallways are musty trunks decorated with stickers from Wesley College and East Texas State Teacher’s College – the forerunner to East Texas State University.

Old telephones hang on the wall overhead, with labels and descriptive tags protruding from even the smallest historical items. “East Texas State actually got its start here in Cooper,” Mr. Preas said, pointing to a small black-and-white picture hung high on one wall of the main room. “That was the first building of the school. It stood down on First Street, about three or four blocks from here. Well, it burned down, and Commerce said that they would help build it, Cooper didn’t have the money for it.”

In another room stands the remains of a switchboard from a rural phone office. As Mr. Preas moves slowly through the building, he pauses every now and then to point out a wooden ice chest – the predecessor to the modern refrigerator, a potbellied stove, or maybe a large, wooden whiskey keg that served time at the last legal distillery in the county untold years ago.

“We haven’t ever bought a thing here,” he said. “We’re kind of proud of this place, though.” Near the rear of the museum, Mr. Preas flipped the lights to the exhibit’s largest room – the garage. Housed in the dusty room are three different vehicles that once plied the roads of Cooper. Taking up the most space is a 1928 American LaFrance fire engine, bought brand-new by the Cooper Volunteer Fire Department and used faithfully until its retirement in 1946.

A 1948 Plymouth fills one corner, with a horse-drawn buggy sitting just a few feet away. “We used to have an old hearse in here, too, but someone took it for a while,” Mr. Preas said. In another room, the front desk from a post office is filled with old postcards and letters, some with postmarks that date as far back as 1890. In other corners, there are tools and leather horse tack, rusting lanterns, license plates and Confederate money shrouded in protective plastic.

The printing press from the Cooper Review takes up the majority of another room, while chipped and rounded bricks from the now-paved Cooper square sit idly on a shelf. “We’re always looking for more stuff to put in here,” Mr. Preas said. jingling the keys to the front door. “We’ll take just about anything.

“Just give us a ring anytime – we’ll come on down and open the doors for you.”

Distributed by The Associated Press
Copyright 1993 The Dallas Morning News Company

Woodcarver creates Western wonders

SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas – For 77 years, James Day has built many beautiful things. As an architectural engineer, he’s responsible for office buildings, hospitals and colleges from coast to coast. He can look up at some immense constructions of glass and steel and say that he was part of it all, way back when.

Mr. Day, as it turns out, also can whittle a pretty mean stick.

“James L. Day, Western Woodcarver” reads the nameplate proudly displayed on bookshelves in his home in Sulphur Springs. On every side of the nameplate lie his proudest possessions. “This one here,” he says, pointing to an expertly carved wood replica of Frederic Remington’s bronze Outlaw. “It’s just like Remington’s last sculpture. All his stuff is copyrighted, so I couldn’t make it identical, you see. I just turned the horse’s head a little bit.”

On the next shelf over, there is a carving of a man roping a calf. The rider and the hors!e, connected only by the man’s foot in the stirrup and his hand on the saddle horn as he dismounts to tie the calf’s legs, were crafted out of the same block of wood. The calf appears to be running ahead, connected by a long, thin, leather lasso. “That’s all one piece,” Mr. Day said, smiling. “People will look at that and tell me I’m lying, but I’m not. The only thing connecting them is the hand and the foot of the cowboy.”

The wooden display case, occupying an entire wall of his modest living room, is a veritable Western panorama. Bull rider Donny Gay, being tossed off a bucking bull, looks as if he’s in midair. “That’s also one piece of wood,” Mr. Day says quietly. On the shelf above, a wooden rodeo clown dodges the horns of a furious, albeit wooden, charging bull. A mounted Indian, riding bareback, stands sentinel on a top shelf. Lions, bears, Longhorns and bird dogs stand silently on another shelf, while a barrel racer, hair flowing out fro! m under her hat, rounds a barrel in an unseen rodeo.

“These are the only sculptures ever to be shown at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I had them up there a couple years ago. These are all my personal collection, though. None of these are for sale.” Over on the piano, on the other side of the room, sits another sculpture. This one, somehow, is a bit different.

“A man here in town offered me six figures for that,” Mr. Day said, as calmly as if he were discussing the weather. The sculpture – a good 3 or 4 feet long – is a stagecoach. Four running horses, a driver, a man riding shotgun and two bandits with drawn pistols inside rob two frightened passengers. Everything on it, in it and around it was carved by hand. The trunks and bags on top of the stagecoach, the passengers, the guns, and even the harness and chains connecting the horses were all carved over the course of five years, he said.

“The chains alone took me 10 hours apiece, just for a couple of inches.” The doors on the coach even have tiny wooden hinges that actually work. The stagecoach is part of an entire Western scene. The Indians over on the bookshelf were even designed to be overlooking the whole scene from high atop a hill, he said. “As I went, I just kept adding more stuff to the scene,” Mr. Day said. “I would carve some, and then someone would say, ‘Why don’t you add some passengers?’ So I did.

“Then someone would ask, ‘Why don’t you add some Indians?’ So I added them, too,” he said. “The whole project started when I saw a little stagecoach carving at a mall in Houston. It was pretty crude, so I told the salesman that if I couldn’t carve one any better than that by myself, then I’d quit. So he said, ‘Why don’t you?’ Well, I didn’t want to put my foot in my mouth, so I did.”

Someday soon, the piece will sit permanently in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. “I could sell it for a lot of money I guess, but who would see it? A rich man and a bunch of his friends. I’d rather get half of the money and have about a million people a year see it in the museum,” he said.

Enjoyment. That, says Mr. Day, is the reason he does it. That’s what first drew him to his other hobby, as well – music. He played the guitar, but a shop accident left one finger stiff, and he shifted to the dulcimer. “I can use just one finger on these,” he said, laughing. A flat, stringed instrument that is strummed like a guitar, dulcimers have been popular folk instruments for many years. He makes those by hand, too.

“It takes me about two weeks to make these. I work on them when I can,” he said, strumming a note or two on the professional-quality instruments. “In fact, I have the only three Irish folk dulcimers in Texas. There are only four in the U.S., and I have three of them. I make them out in the garage,” Mr. Day said, humming a tune as he played along.

“This is a lost art. I enjoy it. I just get started, and I don’t want to quit,’ he said. “If I do this all the time, then I don’t think about what’s wrong with me.”

Distributed by Associated Press
Copyright 1992 The Dallas Morning News Company

Guitar manufacturer keeping slow tempo and old standards

SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas – John Kinsey, David Hallmark and Bob Casey are partners in a joint business venture to make what might have helped some country singers gain their fame.

Their shop is not very big, and they don’t produce many products, but they are immensely proud of what they do – carry on the legacy of guitar maker Stuart Mossman.

Friends, partners and musicians themselves, the owners of Mossman Guitars turn out from six to eight professional-quality handmade guitars a month, “depending on the weather and how we feel,” Mr. Kinsey said, smiling. They bought the business in 1989 and moved it to a converted dairy barn a year ago. “Actually, it takes about 40 hours of work per guitar before they’re ready,” he said. “We usually work on them in batches of five to seven at a time.”

This, says Mr. Casey, who carves the guitar necks by hand, takes up about 90 to 95 percent of their business.

“We make five basic models,” Mr. Kinsey said. “That takes up most of our time, but sometimes, like now for instance, we’ll get swamped with a bunch of custom orders.” Since most all of their guitars are constructed in basically the same way, Mr. Kinsey said, “custom” usually means fancy.

“People are basically looking for three things in a guitar: They want something that’s aesthetically pleasing, an instrument that sounds good and something that nobody else has. “So a lot of times, that means using alternate, or exotic, woods and fancy inlays,” Mr. Kinsey said. In some of their custom models, they’ve used exotics such as Brazilian rosewood, Honduran mahogany and other woods from Africa and Hawaii.

“People just want theirs to be different, I guess. There’s really only so much variation in building one of these,” he said, holding a custom guitar still in the construction state, “so we’re looking for a marketing edge as well.” Fortunately, by simply keeping the Mossman name, they may have all the edge they need. “Mossman guitars have some serious dyed-in-the-wool fans from back in the old days,” Mr. Kinsey said, referring to the 5,000 or so Mossman guitars made by Mr. Mossman himself up until about 1978.

“They’re real popular with bluegrass and country musicians,” he said. “For example, Emmylou Harris has a few Mossmans, John Denver used some of our custom-made guitars, Ray Wiley Hubbard has a bright red one we made … There are a few others. We really don’t need to advertise, because we sell everything we make.

“In this business, at least in our case, that’s the key,” Mr. Kinsey said. “We don’t want to build more guitars simply because we have the facilities and the capability. We’ll only do it if we can keep the quality. The Mossman name is synonymous with quality. We’re all over 50 or so, so this is what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives. It was really a conscious decision for us. We have the time and the discipline to do it, so we’re going to keep the quality, even if it means less quantity.”

A basic Mossman guitar, or at least the top of the instrument, usually starts life as a spruce tree. The wood is split into the proper thickness and cut into the desired shape. “Then we’ll inlay the design around the middle,’ Mr. Kinsey said. “We’ll decide which design we want, depending on the model we’re making, and put it in first. Then we’ll cut the hole in the middle.

“The making of a guitar takes basically three different processes,” he said, pointing around the tidy shop to the different work areas. “Making the body, carving the neck and making the fret boards.” Around the open work area, there are guitars in all three of these various stages. There are pearl-inlaid fingerboards on one table, guitar backs on another and guitar sides drying on a shelf after being heated and bent. The front room serves as the office and “finishing room,” or the last place the guitars go! before being sent out to dealers and buyers. Here, they receive a final tightening and buffing before they go, and, of course, a good strumming.

“David’s our test pilot before we send ’em off,” Mr. Kinsey said, tuning his own guitar as David strums lightly on a newly finished model. “Bob here is the real picker out of the bunch. Chet Atkins could still probably teach him something but not much.” A few minutes later, after all the tuning and joking is done, the three businessmen, guitar makers and friends do what brought them into this business in the first place. Sitting on stools and benches in a loose circle in an old dairy barn, they play.

As the sun comes up outside the window, and the strains of their music floats across the fields during their impromptu break, one less guitar gets made. There’s no hurry, though. There’s always tomorrow.

Distributed by The Associated Press
Copyright 1992 The Dallas Morning News Company