College, Children, Chickens, Combines, & Clothes
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Maurice Ehrlich, Richard Laubhan, L.J. Ehrlich,
Front of Asaph and Tillie Ehrlich Home, Follett, About 1942

College, Children, Chickens, Combines and Clothes
Maurice Ehrlich, Jan. 24, 2007
The 50's......The big transition decade.....I call it that because a large percentage of America's citizens found themselves starting fresh in their lives...The college campus' were filled with G.I.'s who didn't have a clue as to what the future held for them.  The G.I. bill provided books and tuition to millions of boys and girls who would not otherwise have gone to college.  In a sense, it was the tragic war that raised the middle class up a notch by providing the education that would fuel the rise of the middle class.  Anyone who thinks government does not have a roll in the well being of it's citizens ignored this phenomena.
I find myself as a student at West Texas State in the middle of that transition.  The campus is still under the influence of the returning servicemen.   Several of my best friends are older returning fact my first two roommates at Stafford Hall are ex G.I.s.  The men it seems who are the most celebrated on campus are ex G.I.s   My very good friend to this day, was a Purple Heart recipient, and the Student Body President.  I was a single man with plans to marry Bobbie Ann just as soon as she graduates High School....That event occurred in May 1951, and the next two years as newlyweds working and going to school, were two of the best years of our lives.
The 50's weather also was different.  There are some of us who depended on the weather for some of our income who realize this decade was drier on the plains than the dust bowl 30's.  That year, 1951 was monumental.....Bobbie and I had planned on marrying, and we were in a hurry.  We borrowed my brothers car, an Oldsmobile convertible, and headed to Clayton N.M....Ran into a bit of difficulty, it turns out I was underage, and had to wire home for permission from my parents....I mention the convertible and the weather because when you are living on the Plains, the weather is always a factor.  Returning from our honeymoon in Colorado Springs in a dust storm reminiscent of the 30's, we were covered with dust from blowing fields that penetrated the car for over an hour.  
It was that Summer of 51', that I had taken my bride to South Dakota to help Dad with the wheat harvest.....As Bobbie will testify was almost the end of our marriage....the living conditions were almost as primitive as they could possibly be;  no way to start a marriage.....But we survived, and moved into a house we rented from her Father, Bob Searcy, and began our new lives...teaching and making a home...We realized that my deferment to teach was for one year only, and no family was planned because of it.  We went through several deferments, and finally in 55', I am inducted into the Army in Amarillo, only to be rejected for physical problems.  Now the future is wide open, and plans for children and whatever comes next.  I remember thinking, now we can do whatever we want to.....what to do?
Well, they still need combine operators and tractor drivers for the Summer.  I can always supplement my school teaching salary with Summer farm work.  Bobbie and I had been spending our Summers living at Gene and Dort's, my brother and sister-in-laws house on the farm.....It was a funtime....We went to dances on the weekend, and entertained ourselves with card games and simple things that didn't cost much.....We were Chivalred one night when the locals jerked us out of bed and threw us in the water tank, which sounds a bit grotesque now, but was the custom then. 
Still the big question, how does one make a living?  In a rural farming community....if you don't produce, you don't need a banker very much....and the weather never stayed dry.... So, without hesitation, you did whatever seemed logical, and sometimes things that had no logic at all.  For example, we fixed a sheep tight fence so we could raise sheep....that did not work!  I went with a custom combine unit my uncle had put together to Kansas and Nebraska to harvest wheat.  It was on two successive Summers we cut wheat for the Price Brothers....they were 30 something year old twins, right down to their striped overalls, baseball caps, and GMC pickups.....Delmer and Delmont somehow were interested that a school teacher would be driving a combine.....and renamed me "The Professor".   Twenty years cousin was still cutting wheat for the Price boys, as they came to be called, and he said they were still asking about "The Professor" claim to Fame in Kansas.... 
1953 was graduation year from was a notorious decade in other ways as well.  My Dad, Asaph died while harvesting his South Dakota wheat crop.....And the drought had also created a calamity in the cattle market.....Cattle prices had sunk to half price in 6 months.....You might think a drought would cause a shortage, and prices would go up....Not creates dry range land, and ranchers are forced to sell their cattle because they cannot feed them.   We had a problem....Selling all of Dad's cattle would not bring nearly enough money to pay the notes and bills....what to do?
Well, brother Gene took on the task....he cut back the farming operation, and slowly began to repay the farm took him several years, and perhaps damaged his health, but he succeeded, and along the way came up with some new ideas.   He had one idea which he put into operation that would have worked except it was a business in the wrong place.....A rural newspaper.....the only problem was the merchants who needed the advertising service had little business from their drought stricken farm customers.  But he also had another idea that did work.....Caged laying hens....The concept of chickens laying eggs in cages had merit because the egg production and costs could be controlled so easily.  We figured that would be something we could do to supplement our incomes, and do it in our spare time.  Four years later, we were still in the egg business....myself more than Bobbie and I had moved to the farm west of town and built three caged layer houses, and had 1500 hens.  A single supermarket in Borger Texas paid a premium for all we could produce.
The Summer of 1955 was the best Summer of the 50's....we had a new baby....Mark Lee arrived right in the middle of it......and we knew for sure we were the luckiest couple in Texas.....Not much rain, not any crops....and, dust still a problem when the wind blew from the north or the south.  That Summer was a good one, but it didn't start that February day, the wind blew from the north, and it got so dark outside, we had to turn on the lights in our classroom at the High School.....By the time the 4:00 bell rang, everyone looked like racoons...the old windows in the building rattled and leaked, and the dust settled on our desks and in our was another reminder that Mother Nature was the master of the farming world.....but we did get a little rain, and raised a small wheat crop..the first in several years.
The drought persisted, and the government brought in men who tried to seed the clouds with different chemicals to cause them to release their moisture....The name Irving Krick comes to mind as one of the perpetrators of what I amounted to not much more than a sham....but it made the news, and sometimes it rained...but the drought breaker didn't come until 1957.  Bobbie's father Bob Searcy had started farming about 1950, just in time to get into the "wait until next year" farming business.  He had very little to show for his efforts....his bad timing was almost perfect.  When the rain did come, we were prepared....The three of us cut and harvested the whole 600 acres......I ran the combine, and Bobbie and her Father hauled it to town.....Over 12,000 bushels....When we tallied it up, the average yield was 23 bushels to the acre.....and it prompted my Uncle Jona to quip, "mark that on the wall, you will never do it again"....he was right.
Some people believe that everyone is a victim of their fate.....It was my fate one school lunch hour to be seated at Rips Royal Cafe beside the local dry goods merchant, Gene Crump.   Crump Dry Goods had been in Follett since the 20's, and it too had been a victim of the 50's drought.  At any rate, Gene asked if I would be interested in buying it.  The furthest thing from my mind.....a dry goods store.   But, why not?   A little conversation, and a chance meeting on the street with the banker convinced me it was a possibility.  It turns out that the banker, Mr. Murray and I had become associated at the Dale Carnegie course in Shattuck.....So, I asked him if he thought I could make it as a merchant in the dry goods business.  Fast forward....they loaned me part of the money, and Mr. Crump accepted my note for the balance.   Of course, I had a wife at home with a small child, and another on the way, and telling her was going to be tricky......So, I tricked her, I walked in and told her that we had bought Crump's Dry Goods Store, and I would be quitting my teaching job.....It is blurry for a time after that....I don't know for sure what happened.  However, help came from an unexpected source....Bobbie's Mother had retail in her blood....had worked as a clothing sales clerk for years in Denver, and she loved the idea....with her help and enthusiasm, we had it made.....Clothing would dominate our lives for the next 30 years.
The Family Mart Department Store opened in 1959, and sold to Calvin and Georgia Gillespie at the end of 1964.  It was a successful business that had increased it's earnings ten fold and doubled it size by expanding into the Follett National Bank....Things were was starting to prosper again, and the bank was going to expand into larger quarters......Wheat farming was profitable again as was the cattle business.....One observation....for the next 30 years, the most visible wheat truck is a 58' model Chevie......that is the year it began to change for the better.  We, the Ehrlich family that had started the 50's in college, married in 51', raised chickens in 53', added a child in 55', combined in 56, and started into the clothing business in 59', were leaving town to take a job selling wholesale clothes....
What's next.... Be Mine, Jimmy Buffet, and Jerry Lewis


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