Another Aspect of Midwestern Life


| October/November 1988


Route 1, Box 63, Avoca, IA 51521

Steam engines, gas and kerosene tractors, and old gas engines were NOT all there was to farming in the Midwestern states. Although we now have a great fascination with these items, some attention should also be brought to the small town. Had it not been for the town of 600 to 1000 population, the farming industry could not have survived.

I was born near one of these small towns, Irving, Kansas. At the time I was growing up, it sported 640 people. Irving was comprised of a general store, two gas stations (as they were called back then), a post office, billiard parlor, and a parts place called Midland Parts and Bearings. Of course, there were other small businesses such as barber shop, blacksmith, tavern, etc. The parts house also sold International Harvester tractors. I recall those beautiful red Farmalls. It was substantiated that they sold bearings all across the U.S.A. and Canada.

The business that I was most attached to was the General Store, which was called, 'Thomson's Store'. A very simple name, but was indeed quite adequate. It had been started by Mr. Frank Thomson. At the time of my growing up, it was managed by his two sons, John and Reginald. Not only food stuffs were sold here, one could buy furniture and clothing. Of course I was more interested in the candy counter. These people had been friends of my family many, many years.

I recall Mr. John calling me the afternoon after my mother's funeral. He offered his sympathy and went on to reminisce. He said he could recall the day my parents had married. It seems they had taken 'the passenger train' to the county seat to be married. These were the good old days, both the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific's tracks were yet on each side of town (I remember the big steam trains, as well as 'the passenger', as a small boy.) He went on to say, after a day of shopping in the 'big city' (the county seat had probably a population of 1500 around 1910) they had again ridden the train to Irving. They ended up at Thomson's Store. 'Emil brought his young bride in and said to pick out what she needed. My, Lizzie was so young, she hardly knew what to buy in order to start housekeeping!' He went on to say: 'We fixed them up with a table, 6 chairs, a bed, dresser and a night stand, also a glass door kitchen cabinet. I believe the whole sum total was around $75.00!'

A business that farmers could not survive without was the grain elevator. I remember the 'Irving Elevator Company'. During my time it was managed by Paul Smercheck, who had been born and raised just across the road from our farm, 6 miles southwest of town.