The Wilcox Family
by Lawrance (Larry) Wilcox
In September 1935 Bill and Merle (Weber) Wilcox moved from Medicine Park, Oklahoma to Russett with their nine month old son, Lawrance. It was in the dark days of the depression and work was hard to find. Bill was earning what little money he could as a floor bouncer at a dance hall in Medicine Park. Bill heard that a farmer/rancher named Fred A. Chapman in Johnston county was hiring farm workers. Bill had cowboyed on a ranch near Cache, Oklahoma and felt he was qualified for the job. Bill and Merle had no transportation of their own so Merle's father drove them and their meager possessions to Russett in his Model A Ford Pickup.
Bill started to work for Mr. Chapman as a mule skinner. Mr. Chapman furnished his hired hands with housing and paid them $1.00 a day. The job required at least 10 hours a day six days a week although many times the day was "Sun to Sun" (from sun up to sun down).
Mr. Chapman had bought some old boxcars from the railroad and used them as storage buildings. One of them was converted to living quarters and that is where Bill and Merle lived for at least a year.
The following year in 1936 their second son Thomas was born in that boxcar on June 19. Times were hard and Mr. Chapman had no money to pay his hired hands. He would barter farm produce with a wholesale grocery in Ardmore for goods that he sold at his "company" store. Instead of money, he paid his hired hands with chits that they could redeem at the company store. These chits were jokingly called "Bean Orders" by the hired hands.
Much of the work done by Bill in the early days was draining lakes and ponds of stagnated water referred to in Carrie Jester's history on this website. This work was done with mules and a device called a Fresno Scraper or "Fresno" as the hands called it. It was hard work but maybe a step up from a pick and shovel. (click to enlarge)
Later Bill and Merle moved to a house with a windmill. This is the house that Ike Hall lived in for many years. However, Bill and Mr. Chapman had a "Fallen Out" and Bill quit and the Wilcox family moved to Lawton where their first daughter Helen was born. After a year in Lawton, the Wilcox family moved back to Russett on the Chapman farm. This time they lived in the east end of the old Randolph depot that Chapman had moved to Russett.
By this time Bill had advanced from being a mule skinner to driving a truck. Although he did many other jobs for Mr. Chapman, he felt his occupation was a truck driver. After a few months the Wilcox family moved to the "Doggett place" near the Roland Cumbie family. From there they moved to larger house near the Russett Church. It was there that they lived for many years and raised their family. Here is an old photo of the place long after it was abandoned. It was here that their second daughter Louise was born and later Billy Charles Wilcox joined them.
Bill and Merle lived here for many years until Bill had another "fallen out" with Mr. Chapman. They then moved to Gene Autry and from there to their retirement home on a ranch near Bee, Oklahoma. Both Bill and Merle are buried in the Bee Cemetery.
The Wilcox's never owned their own vehicle until the early '50s. Bill was allowed by Mr. Chapman to drive company trucks to and from work and to town to go shopping. Part of the deal was that Bill was to take to town other Chapman employees that had no means of transportation. So, on Saturday evening, Bill would take whatever truck he had been driving and go around the community picking up families to take them to town to do their weekly shopping. Sometimes the truck had been hauling cattle and although it had been shoveled out, it wasn't a very nice place to ride. There were many a cold nights riding in the winter to either Madill or Tishomingo.
Saturday nights were very special. The kids got fifteen cents to spend. Ten cents for the movie and five cents for popcorn. Merle would always buy a pound or so of sliced bologna and a loaf of "light" bread. When we got home we had bologna sandwiches and "sweet milk" while listening to the Grand Ole Opera on the battery radio. We thought life couldn't get any better.
The reason for the battery radio was that the Rural Electric Authority (REA) didn't show up and provide electricity to most homes until the early fifties. What was interesting about the battery radio is as the non-rechargeable battery got weaker and weaker the volume had to be turned up until all were sitting up with our ears almost touching the radio. We would also ration the battery by selecting only the most important programs to listen to.
On occasion there was a need to go to Ardmore. The transportation available was what was called the "Mail Hack". I forget his name, I believe he was referred to as Mr. Ed owned a pickup truck on which he had built what we would now call a pickup cap. He ran the "Star Route", hauling mail from post offices starting in eastern Johnston county to Ardmore. He built board benches around the inside to the pickup cap. He would pickup people going to and from Ardmore charging them a nominal fee. We would sit on the board bench seats around mail sacks in the center of the pickup bed. Going to Ardmore was a real treat. They had real department stores. One of the interesting ones was the Daubes dry goods store. Here they had a conveyer system to move money to and from the floor to cashiers in the mezzanine as a form of "separation of duties".
The following is a humorous article that appeared in the Johnston County Capital Democrat sometime in the 1950s about the "Bull Hauler" Bill Wilcox and his wife. This was trucking back before Interstates when semi-trailer trucks weren't as efficient as today's 18-wheelers. It took a real "trucker" to haul that cargo around hairpin curves and up steep hills at a crawling pace in "compound" gear and then racing down the other side with less than the best brakes to make the next hill. There are many trucker stories told about losing brakes. This story has another angle.
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