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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lifestyle Changes in the Fifties: ACs and TVs

A happy 1950s housewife with air conditioning. (Photo from Internet)
Two technological advances that changed life in the 1950s were air conditioners and television. When I was a kid growing up in Roscoe, very few people had air conditioners. Houses were hot places during the hot summers, and after our family had eaten supper, we went outside to catch the evening breezes, and our neighbors did the same. We lived across the street from the Bowens, old people who sat in chairs on their porch and always waved when we came out. We kids ran around and played while our parents sat in lawn chairs and talked. Many people went for walks in the evening. When they came by our yard, they would always greet my parents and sometimes stop to talk for a few minutes before continuing on their way. When it got dark, we’d go back inside and often listen to the radio programs while our parents did things with their eyes and hands, such as my mother knitting or crocheting, or my daddy fixing something or other. At other times, they read newspapers or magazines and talked to us kids.

On hot summer nights—and there were plenty of those in the drought years of the early fifties—we kids slept under the stars out in the back yard. We had a roll-away bed and cot that we kept in the garage and brought out at bedtime. My younger brother and I slept on the roll-away bed, and my older brother on the cot. It was much cooler outside at night and actually got chilly in the early mornings. At some point during the night, we would get under the cover, which we’d ignored when we went to bed. Our dogs, sometimes we had one and sometimes two, had learned not to bother us while we were sleeping, but our cats—we usually had about three—came around at times during the night for naps on the bed with us.

Me and my brother David in the back yard, about 1953.
My brothers and I wore as few clothes as possible during the summer. We didn’t wear shirts and ran around barefooted except on Sunday mornings, when we went to Sunday school and church. We slept in our briefs, and in the mornings when we woke up, we slipped on a pair of shorts and were ready for the day, often not going into the house until our mother called us in for breakfast. I generally brushed my teeth only once or twice a week, and only then when prompted, and the same was true for combing my hair. Since kids ran around loose in those days, we were often awakened by one of our friends who was already up and had come around to play or ride bicycles.

When I was about nine years old, my dad bought an evaporative cooler and put it in one of the north windows in the living room so it would be in the shade on hot summer days. These early air conditioners, also known as “swamp coolers” with “squirrel cages” worked by evaporating the water that dripped down through the shredded wood pads lining the walls of the air conditioner box and blowing the resulting cool air into the house. In order to save on electricity, my mother turned it on only when the temperature reached 100° outside. She would close all the living room windows and doors so that it cooled off just that room. We kids could go in there only if we sat in front of the air conditioner to cool off. No toys or running around were allowed, so we usually didn’t stay in there long before going back outside.

Over time, though, air conditioners came to be used more and more, especially when the compressor types got cheap enough to buy and run. The result was that people didn’t sit out as much in the evenings and so did less visiting with neighbors and passersby—or enjoying the sky with its sunset and coming of the stars.

Happiness is a TV set in the living room. (Photo from Internet)
Television had much the same effect. Although TV was becoming common in the cities as early as 1949 or 1950, it was unknown in west Texas because there were no broadcast stations in the area until KRBC-TV began in late 1953.  The first television set in Roscoe was at Medlock’s Furniture store, which also had them for sale. It was placed in one of the show windows and turned on, and in the evenings a crowd would gather on the sidewalk outside to watch this wondrous new invention. People often stood there for an hour or more watching programs like “I Love Lucy” or “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason.

At first TV sets were too expensive for most people to afford, costing about $500, which was more like $5000 in today’s money. They had small black and white screens and came in a large console with many tubes in the back that had to be replaced when they burned out. They also required a large TV antenna on the roof of the house, so it was easy to see who had TVs and who didn’t.  Although the knob on the set had settings for twelve normal channels and one UV, the only channel available in this area was channel 9, KRBC-TV. It didn’t really matter to anyone, though. TV was such a novelty that most people would watch whatever was on. Broadcasting started in the morning at six or six-thirty and closed at ten-thirty at night. If you got up in the morning before broadcasting began, you would sometimes sit and watch the test pattern until it did. In the evenings, you didn’t turn the TV off until you listened to the national anthem while watching a waving flag and fighter jets fly in formation.

One of the first TVs in town was in the Boys Club hall. It had comparatively excellent reception because its antenna was placed atop a telephone pole behind the hall and was larger and a lot higher than the ones on houses. On Saturday afternoons in the summer, the baseball “Game of the Week” was broadcast, and old men would come around and sit in the metal lawn chairs placed in a semi-circle before the TV. Along with the kids, a dozen people or more might be there watching and commenting on the game, no matter which teams were playing. And during the World Series, the crowds were even larger, and we all basked in the wonder that such a thing was even possible and we could watch it for free.

Watching television when there was only one channel—or even later when KPAR-TV, channel 12, began broadcasting in 1956—was a shared community experience even for those who were watching in their homes. Not only was the entire family gathered around the television, but the next day at school or work, one of the main topics of conversation would be the programs that had been on TV the night before since everyone was watching the same ones.  Favorites were "Gunsmoke,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Life of Riley,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Dragnet,” “Wrestling from Chicago,” and others. On Saturday mornings, kids could watch “Howdy Doody,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Superman,” “Lassie,” “The Little Rascals,” and “Mr. Wizard.”

There was also a lot of local programming with many shows emanating from the studios in Abilene. One of these was “The Slim Willet Show,” brought to you by Western Chevrolet. Slim Willet was an Abilene disc jockey who was also a country singer. He became famous with two hits, “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” and “Tool Pusher from Snyder.” Every week he would tell jokes, sing a couple of songs with his band, and showcase local talent. Another local show was “On the Farm” with Harry Holt, who always talked about area farming and ranching conditions.  Another was “Cooking with Virginia,” which came on in the mornings. Virginia also occasionally showcased local talent and once invited the Roscoe Boys Club trampoline team to be on her show. As one of its performers, I felt very privileged to see first-hand what the TV studio looked like and how the shows were made. Later on, when KPAR-TV had their studios outside Sweetwater, we also performed on a March of Dimes Telethon and got to see what their studio was like.

As in other small towns all over Texas, television killed the local movie theaters. I don’t remember when the Joy Theater finally closed its doors, but it was only two or three years after the TV broadcasts began. The drive-in theaters, such as the Midway, between Roscoe and Sweetwater, hung on longer than that, but eventually, they too closed down for lack of customers. Television also had the effect of keeping people inside their own homes in the evenings, and, as more channels became available in the 1960s, this effect became even more pronounced. Even community social gatherings like church or the baseball games saw attendances steadily fall as time went on.  In the early and mid fifties, pro football games were available only on the radio because they were played on Sundays and were therefore considered somewhat scandalous for being on the Sabbath. I think it was 1958 before they regularly played on television in west Texas and also in many other places. However, after Texas got the Dallas Cowboys in 1960, that all changed, and preachers soon learned to have the morning service over by twelve o’clock in the fall so people could get home in time to watch the Cowboys game.

In short, air conditioning and television were both rightfully hailed in the fifties as great technological innovations that improved people’s lives, but in doing so they also diminished the social life of the community and, over time, increased the isolation of families from their neighbors and from nature itself.


Wind Turbines on the Roscoe Wind Farm.
Another article on the wind energy of our area appeared in the international media on Monday. This time the publisher is The Guardian, a major London-based newspaper with a large online presence. The inspiration for the article seems to be the recent one by Alex Daugherty of the McClatchy news service (“Rick Perry turned Texas into a wind powerhouse by getting out of the way,” December 16, 2016) reported on in the Hard Times on December 28.

Like that earlier article, this one is more political than environmental, with the focus being on the apparent anomaly of major wind-energy development in a Republican state rather than a green-leaning Democratic one. Another common feature of both articles is the interviewing of Sweetwater energy lawyer Rod Wetsel. Perhaps it is this latter similarity along with the extensive interviewing of Greg Wortham, Sweetwater’s former mayor, that leads the article in another new direction, namely that of referring to Sweetwater as the Wind Capital of the World, unlike previous international articles and features whose focus is clearly on Roscoe and the Roscoe Wind Farm.

We will forgive The Guardian this minor error. After all, they were getting their information from a couple of guys from Sweetwater, and they did mention a couple of nice things about that “little speck on the map called Roscoe.” You can access the article by clicking here.



Matthew Buckley has been named as a third-team tackle on the Texas Sports Writers Association’s 2A All-State Team. Brayden Beal received honorable mention as quarterback, and Francisco Garcia received honorable mention as running back.



Spring is in the air, and the Plowboys and Plowgirls will compete in their first track meet of the year on Friday at the Long Sleeve Relays in Hamlin.

RCHS 2017 Track & Field Schedule:

Feb. 24             Long Sleeve Relays                   Hamlin
Mar.  2             Tiger Relays                                Anson
Mar. 10            Blackland Divide Relays           Roscoe
Mar. 18            Piper Relays                                Hamlin
Mar. 23            Badger Relays                            Merkel
Mar. 31            Cottonwood Relays                   Roby
Apr.  6              District Meet                              Albany
Apr. 12             Area Meet @ McMurry            Abilene
May 11-13        State Meet                                  Austin

Roscoe Junior High 2017 Track & Field Schedule

Feb. 27             Tiger Relays                              Anson
Mar.  7             Blackland Divide Relays         Roscoe
Mar. 21            Badger Relays                           Merkel
Mar. 30            Cottonwood Relays                 Roby
Apr.  8              District Meet                             Roscoe



The Plowboys placed second in the power lifting meet held in Sweetwater last Thursday, losing out to Snyder, who finished first. Here are the Plowboy power lifters who placed:

Name                                 Place              Weight Class
Francisco Garcia                 1                         165
Matt Buckley                       3                         275
Joel Guia                              4                         242
Parker Payne                       4                         198
Andrew Deleon                   4                         123
Adrian Lomas                      5                         181
Tait Fullwood                      5                         165
Jetli Hobdy                          6                         123



Yesterday's sunset under clear skies.
For a change, this past week’s weather has been pretty consistent—and nice. It has felt like we should be in March instead of February with clear skies, gentle breezes, and a string of afternoons in the seventies. The last five days have all been that way with the high coming yesterday afternoon at 76°F. Lows for the past five days have been in the forties and fifties with the highest on Sunday at 54° and the lowest yesterday morning’s 42°. The fruit trees think it’s spring with apricot and peach trees already blooming. They may be sorry they did, though, if the old adage is true about thunder in January bringing a freeze in April.

Today and tomorrow should be even warmer than the last five days. Today’s forecast is for a high of 86° and for tomorrow a high of 84°, so don’t be surprised if you have to turn on the AC. However, a cold front will move through on Friday cooling the high down to 68° and the low to 36°. Saturday’s high is projected to be only 59°, but then on Sunday it will warm up to 74° and be back in the eighties on Monday and Tuesday. There is no rain in the forecast.

Randall Smith reports an unusual weather oddity occurring yesterday morning. He had frost on the ground but couldn’t find a thermometer with the mercury under 40°. I’m not sure how this could happen, but apparently it did. West Texas weather never ceases to amaze.



Funeral services for Sharon Sue Schneider Nault, 70, were held on Monday, February 20, at Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home in Abilene. Burial followed at Shep Cemetery in Shep. She passed away last Wednesday, February 15, in Abilene.

Sharon was born on September 1, 1946, in Abilene to the late Edward C. and Lemma Tharpe Nichols Schneider. She lived in Roscoe and attended schools there until graduating from Roscoe High School in 1964. She then graduated from Abilene Christian University in 1968 with a BS in Education. She met her future husband, David Lloyd Nault in Anchorage, Alaska, while at her sister Edwina's wedding. He was the Best Man and she was the Maid of Honor. They married on October 3, 1970, in Roscoe and returned to Alaska where they lived first in Kodiak, then Hanes, and then Ketchikan. They also lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. They returned to Texas in 1982, first living in Spring and then moving to Shep in 1993.

Sharon taught physical education and English in Texas and Alaska but she found her calling later with a career working in the State Vocational Rehabilitation Program. She assisted people with disabilities to return to work and found it very rewarding. She retired in 2010. She was a member of the Church of Christ and taught Children's Bible Class all of her adult life.

Preceding her in death were her husband, David L. Nault; her sister, Edwina Schneider Roswell and husband, Tim; her parents; and her nephew, Ross Roswell. Survivors include two sons, Scott D. Nault and wife, Cynthia, of Abilene, and J. Lee Nault and wife, Alecia, of Herndon, Virginia; one sister, Denise Schneider Sprott and husband, David, of Belton; three granddaughters, Cayelyn, Casey, and Lynne Nault; three grandsons, Cole, Caden, and Jericho Nault; six nieces and nephews; and numerous great-nieces and nephews.

You may view and sign the guestbook at



Graveside services for Betty Geraldine Cooper Ellis, 85, of Dallas will be conducted by McCoy Funeral Home at the Roscoe Cemetery this Saturday, February 25, at 11:00am with Dr. Bob Monk officiating. She passed away on February 18.

Betty was born on February 19, 1931, to J.B. and Ellie Mae Cooper, Sr., of Roscoe. She was raised in the First United Methodist Church of Roscoe and was very active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. After graduating from Roscoe High School in 1948, she continued her education as a Home Economics major at Southern Methodist University. During her time at SMU, Betty was an active member of Gamma Phi Beta. She met the love of her life James Richard Ellis while at SMU. They married May 31, 1952, at Perkins Chapel, being the first to marry in the "new" chapel. James worked as a lawyer and Betty as a secretary for Sun Oil Company as they started their married life together. Betty was the proud mother of Robert and Richard. She enjoyed being part of the United Methodist Women's Circle at Highland Park Methodist Church as well as volunteering for the Dallas Community Chest Trust Fund. She was a faithful child of God, loving wife, mother and grandmother. She was a friend to many.

Betty was preceded in death by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Cooper, Sr.; husband, James Richard Ellis; brother, J.B. Cooper, Jr.; sister, Martha Eloise Cooper Reed; and cousins, Bill and Kathryn Birdwell.

Survivors include sister-in-law, Mava Cooper; sons, Robert Brian Ellis of Dallas and Richard Mark Ellis of Temple; daughter-in-law, Catherine McClane Ellis; granddaughters, Kaitlyn Michelle Ellis of Temple,  Ashley Marie Ellis of College Station, and Lauren Nicole Ellis of Temple; nieces, Cheryl Johnnie, Alicyn Mayes, Stacia Jameson, Sue Cannon, and Eileen Hilliard; and cousin, Jim Birdwell.

Flowers may be delivered to McCoy Funeral Home or in lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the First United Methodist Church of Roscoe.

A memorial service will be in Dallas at 10am on March 25, 2017 at Cox Chapel, Highland Park United Methodist Church. For the memorial service flowers may be sent to the church or in lieu of flowers donations can be made to the church.



  1. Interesting to think about how life must have been in the 50s. As a kid in Roscoe in the late 70s I still remember getting up too early on Saturday mornings waiting for programming to begin. I also remember Harry Holt still having a segment on farming/ranching and even then wondering why they would put something so boring on TV. Now I see it put into context it makes more sense.

  2. The TV at the Boys Club was indeed popular as you have mentioned. One of our favorite pasttimes was to switch channels even though it was normal to only get channels 9 and 12. Sometimes though we picked up far-away exotic stations like WGN in Chicago, WWL in New Orleans and one night we were treated to a crystal-clear picture and commentary from Havana, Cuba. Since it was all in Spanish, we contented ourselves with the nice pictures. The atmospheric conditions had to be just right for these to have been picked up in Roscoe, Texas. Conversely, we hardly ever picked up Midland or Lubbock stations. I feel sure one of the first color TVs was at the Boys Club but our neighbors the Dobbins had one a little earlier. I can still remember our going over to see the programs in color. Sometimes there were several of the neighborhood boys sitting there watching.


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