News & Events
Discover Mid-America July 2007
Cooper, Kate and
Photo and story by Doug Bratcher
Around this old shop of mine is stored a lot of history from generations long past. Some items need no explanation and others need lots of creative talking to get a child or even an adult to visualize what an item carried, did or produced.
On one particular day I had finished replacing the many wooden pieces to an old washing machine. This washing machine stood on four legs that were part of a wooden tub. A reducing gear and shafts were mounted to the legs. Those parts were attached to flywheel for momentum.
Mounted to the top cover of the washer was a lever and rod that twirled the dasher back and forth and up and down inside the tub. A clothes wringer with handle was attached to one side.
My friend Pickel and I spent some time oiling and greasing all the parts so everything turned and swirled with a minimum of effort. When we finished, we decided even a child could operate this washing machine.
My grandson Cooper and his friend Kate were just the two perfect five-year olds to test our theory on. When they came through the door of my shop, I announced that I had something I wanted them to see. They were wide-eyed and asked what it was.
I explained it was a washing machine and pointed it out to them. Cooper took hold of the handle and started pushing and pulling until the flywheel began spinning and humming. Cooper thought it was “neat.”
I kept on giving them my history lesson, explaining how clothes were put in soap and water, and the machine operated back and forth to get the clothes clean. Cooper and Kate listened intently.
Cooper then turned to Kate and said, “Now let’s see if we can help Pa build a dryer to go with it!”
Doug Bratcher and his wife Jan own Bratcher Cooperage in Liberty, MO.
Discover Mid-America June 2007
Rocket book returns
In 1952, a science fiction writer named Phillip St. John wrote a novel titled Rocket Jockey. It was an award-winning novel in its day. It became popular in the children’s science fiction arena. My then brother-in-law to be was given this book by his mother in 1953, who inscribed and signed the inside cover.
The book was read a bit by him but in the mid-1960s it became a favorite of his daughter, my niece Victoria. She would read it regularly and when there wasn't time she would look at the pictures. I guess she would fantasize about being an intergalactic explorer or becoming a famous scientist.
Brother-in-law Paul was a policeman in Madison, WI. Having a roving eye and a job that attracted young women, his marriage to my sister eventually was in shambles. They divorced in 1967.
He retired from the police department, remarried and moved to the Los Angeles area taking the book with him. He died a few years later from cancer.
There was always a rift between wife number-two and my sister. My niece and nephews never got any keepsakes relating to their father. Victoria wanted a copy of the old Rocket Jockey book as an aid to remember some good times. She had moved to Colorado and her mom moved to Overland Park, KS.
In the following years, she had come across several copies in old bookstores and flea markets but they were way too expensive. One store was asking for $100 for the “rare” book. Most were in the $40-plus range. She was either in nursing school or on a new job but always on a very tight budget. She couldn't pay that much. Still, she was always on the hunt.
She ended up in Reno, NV working for an oncology department. My sister had remarried and moved to the West Coast. Her second husband of 18 years passed away. His body was shipped back to his hometown area and was to be buried in Kansas City, MO. Victoria took time off and flew in to console her mom. They laughed, cried, went to lunches and slummed in antique shops.
A neighboring community on the Kansas side of the metro area is called Olathe. There were some good little second-hand and antique malls to visit. They ended up at the Sentimental Journey Antique store. This was a large mall-type store with many booths to look at. Victoria still hunting, went to the bookshelves. At one booth, they were having a half price sale on the old books.
There it was! Rocket Jockey by Phillip St. John on the bottom row. She saw the $8 price tag and snatched it up, and held it to herself. She was gloating about the great bargain she had gotten. The book was in good condition. She opened it up and her eyes glazed over and then welled up with tears and emotion.
On the first page of the inside cover, written in familiar cursive was the inscription: “To my son Paul on your birthday in 1953.” It was signed by her grandmother.
The entire store was in tears that day and so am I five years later as I write this story.