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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Aerial Tour of the Roscoe Wind Farm

My brother David owns a Cessna 140 airplane, which he keeps at Avenger Field, and last week he took me on a plane ride around the county—or at least the part that includes Roscoe, Sweetwater, and the surrounding area.  I got a good look at the Roscoe Wind Farm, and, since I had my video camera with me, I also took some video shots of the wind turbines and of Roscoe, the results of which are presented in the YouTube video above. 

To get the full page view, click on the little box with the four outward pointing arrows at the bottom right of the screen.  When done, hit the Esc button to return to The Roscoe Hard Times.



The Plowboys had a mixed bag in basketball this past week, winning one and losing one.  Last Friday they got humbled in Stamford 86-36.  Stamford (19-3 overall and 4-0 in district) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.  The score at the end of the first quarter was 17-5 and at halftime 47-13.  Caden Smith led the Plowboys with 17, and Cody Graham had 8.

Then last night in a home game, the Plowboys downed Munday 54-46.  The two teams were neck and neck the entire first quarter.  Neither side ever led by more than two, and the score  at the end of the quarter was 14-14.  However, in the second quarter, the Plowboys got the upper hand and never relinquished it again for the rest of the game.  The halftime score was 27-18, and at the end of three quarters it was 44-34.  Caden Smith was the Plowboys’ high scorer with 20 while Cody Graham and Devan Cole both had 13.  Kyer Urbanzyck had 24 for Munday. 

The Plowgirls had another rough week, losing to the Stamford girls 42-28 and to Munday 46-38. 

The Plowboys are now 12-9 overall and 3-2 in district play, while the Plowgirls are 8-16 and 1-5.  On Friday they both play Haskell in Haskell, and next Tuesday, they’ll be back at home against Rotan.  



Caden Smith, recently named the Most Valuable Player in District 7A-II, has now also made the Abilene Reporter-News’ All-Big Country Super Team, comprised of players from schools of all classes.  Noting that he made 309 tackles this season, the Reporter-News placed him on the first team as a defensive lineman.  Smith plans to play college ball for Texas A&M.  


The Roscoe Fire Department was once again called to help put out a fire near Highland, this latest one on Friday.  The Sweetwater and Maryneal Fire Departments were also involved in extinguishing the blaze, which burned about thirty acres.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Down Memory Lane: Remembering Roscoe's Domino Parlors

A hot game of dominoes at Boxcar Slim's domino parlor in 1979.  Left to right are Boxcar Slim, Charlie Gray, Mr. McHenry, and Chubby Johnson.
Life is always changing, and for all the new things that come into our lives, there is always something else that is leaving, never to return.  So many things that were once common are now nothing more than distant memories, and in a generation or so, they will become so completely forgotten that it will be as though they never existed.  And one of those long gone aspects of life in Roscoe is the domino parlor.
Domino parlors were the exclusive domain of men, and, although there were no signs in them anywhere that said “No Women Allowed,” everyone—men, women, and children—understood perfectly well that they weren’t.  Women were often even reluctant to come to the door to get their husbands, instead sending the kids to go in and fetch their fathers.  In all the countless hours I spent in domino parlors, I can’t ever remember a single women coming into one anytime for any reason.  At most, they might stand at the door and wait for their husband to get up and come out to find out what they wanted.  

Even so, it’s not that men did anything particularly unusual or masculine in them, because they didn’t.  It was just that whatever went on in them was done entirely without the interference, influence, or participation of females, and because of that, there was a kind of male relaxation possible there not achievable anywhere else in town, unless maybe it was somewhere like Chubby & Mac’s filling station when there were no women around.

In the domino parlors, you could cuss, fart, smoke cigarettes and flip the ashes in the floor, chew tobacco and spit in the spittoons (or, in some cases, empty three-pound Folger’s coffee cans), and say things and tell jokes that the normal run of upstanding Roscoe woman would have considered improper if not scandalous.  But such things didn’t bother the men in the domino parlors.  In fact, if anything, they enjoyed them because it meant that they were in a zone where the rules they had to follow at home, in church, and other more civilized venues didn’t apply.  In fact, I expect one of the big reasons that domino parlors were looked upon with such favor by the men was that they were a refuge from the expectations found around the churches and more respectable establishments of the community.  

The domino parlors in Roscoe were always in those old, high-ceilinged buildings with wooden plank floors.  There would be a number of square wooden tables in the place with wood or cane-bottom chairs and brass spittoons or coffee cans on the floor next to them for convenient spitting.  On the tables were sets of dominoes and those little abacus-looking counters, little round beads on rows of wires that were used for keeping score.  

The game played was always the one known as “matching ends,” where you scored by getting the dots on the ends to add up to multiples of five, and by counting up your opponents’ remaining points if you “dominoed,” or were the first one to finish playing all your dominoes.  Each little bead on the counter was worth five points, and there were five rows with ten beads to a row, that is to say, 250 total points for a game.  You had to have four men to play a proper game because you always played partners with the person sitting across from you.  

If you and your partner won the game, not only did you get bragging rights, at least temporarily, but you also got to play for free.  The losers had to pay the establishment a nickel apiece for the privilege of playing the game.  That wasn’t so bad, though, because it meant you could play for a couple of hours or more for a quarter, and, if you were hot, you might even get out without paying a cent.   

Of course, beating the old men was not an easy thing to do.  There is a real science to playing dominoes, and the old men had decades of experience to draw on.  The good ones could tell what you had in your hand after just a couple of rounds and, if they had a halfway decent hand, could block you from playing your last two or three dominoes.   You also had to be careful how you played because they would expect you to know what it meant if they played a certain domino in response to one the opponent played.

But men didn’t go to the domino parlor just to play dominoes.  They also went there to find out what was going on around town, who’d bought a new tractor, who’d been arrested, who’d been getting drunk, and so on.  Women always had the reputation of being gossips in the beauty shops, but, if the truth were known, they probably weren’t gossiping any more than their husbands were in the domino parlors.  

When someone mentions domino parlors, the first one that always pops into my mind is the one Boxcar Slim used to run.  It was on the north side of Broadway, across the street from the Steak House and Russell Haney’s Tailor Shop and a couple of doors to the west of the Pool Hall.  In an earlier time, it had been Check Farmer’s Barber Shop, but by the early sixties, it was Boxcar Slim’s domino parlor.  Slim lived there.  In the back behind a cloth curtain there was a single bed not much bigger than a cot, and I don’t guess he ever took a shower, probably just washing his face and hands in the little lavatory that was in the restroom.  Old men, usually retirees, would start showing up for games in the mornings, and the games would go on for the rest of the day.  

But the best place in town to play dominoes was not at Boxcar Slim’s, but at the Pool Hall.  The Roscoe Pool Hall, the one run by John Smyrl and later by Orville Faught with the assistance of his sons Billy and Buryl, had the unique benefit of being a pool hall and a domino parlor all in one.  On one side of the establishment there was a row of pool tables running all the way from the front to the back, about eight in all, with the two in the front being full-sized snooker tables.  And on the other side were a half-dozen or more domino tables.  So, when you went in the front door, there were pool tables to your right and domino tables to your left.  

It’s hard to imagine with Roscoe the way it is today, but I can remember times in the fifties, especially on Saturdays in the fall when the town was full of Mexican braceros who’d come to Roscoe to pull cotton, that there wouldn’t be an empty pool table in the place, and, on the other side, there would be several tables full of men playing dominoes while others sat and watched, often sitting backwards in their cane-bottom chairs with their legs straddling the back of the chair.  

As bizarre as it may sound, there was something warm and cozy about being in the pool hall on a cold winter’s night with people like Walter and Lawrence Sims, Billy and Buryl Faught (who also ran a shoe-shine operation on the side), Dewey “Catfish” Chapman, Lewis Snyder, Chubby Johnson, Charlie Gray, Snuffy Jones, and other old men who used to hang out there.  It’s sometimes hard for me to realize that I’m as old now as they were then, and there are times when I’d appreciate the privilege of going back and playing a game or two of dominoes with them like we used to do.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Plowboys Lose District Opener 37-36

The Roscoe Plowboys suffered their second close home defeat in a row by losing to the Haskell Indians 37-36 at the Roscoe High School gym last night.  They lost their previous game to Albany when a Lion player sank a 3-pointer at the final buzzer to pull out a 46-45 victory.  Trailing by a point against Haskell, the Plowboys called time out and set up a play that would have won them the game, but the Plowboy guard missed the layup, and time ran out.  This defeat hurt even more because it was the district opener for both teams and leaves the Plowboys 0-1 in district play.

The game started well for Roscoe as the Plowboys jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but Haskell came roaring back with three unanswered baskets, and the game was nip and tuck for the rest of the way with first one team and then the other taking the lead.  The Plowboys led at halftime 16-15.

Caden Smith was the Plowboys’ high scorer with 14 points while Cody Graham had 9.  For Haskell, Myers had 13, and Bird and Llewellyn had 8 each.  The Plowboys’ next game is on Friday at Rotan.  Their next home game is next Tuesday, January 18, against Hamlin.  Both are district games. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Tribute to Malcolm Hammack

Malcolm Hammack, about 14, in front of the old City Hall with the back of the old Firestone store in the background.

As the Christmas holidays draw to a close and the New Year begins, football is always in the air—or should I say ‘on the air’?—with an endless supply of bowl games.  On New Year’s Day, Texas Tech beat Northwestern 45-38 in the TicketCity bowl in Dallas, while TCU beat Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl. On Friday, the Texas Aggies will play LSU in the Cotton Bowl, and on Monday Oregon will play Auburn for the BCS National Championship.  And if all that is not enough football for you, the NFL playoffs begin in earnest this weekend with two games on Saturday and two more on Sunday.  What better time then to remember perhaps the best football player ever to come out of Roscoe?

The Plowboys have had many football stars over the years—I hesitate to name them for fear of leaving someone out—but none more prominent than Malcolm Hammack (known professionally as Mal), the only ex-Plowboy who has ever enjoyed an extended career in the NFL.  Not only did he start twelve years for the Cardinals, he was also a college standout for the Florida Gators and a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. 

Always known here as Malcolm, he was born in Roscoe on June 19, 1933, to Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hammack and lived here until graduating from Roscoe High in 1951.  His father worked for many years on the track gang of the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific Railway, and the family home was on 302 Bois d’Arc Street. 

As a boy growing up in Roscoe, Malcolm was a member of the Boys Club, going on Boys Club trips and playing softball on Boys Club teams.  While in high school, he was the top pitcher for the 1951 Boys Club State Championship softball team as well as a star running back for the Roscoe Plowboys. 

After graduating from Roscoe High, he played for the Arlington State Junior College Rebels, where he was good enough to attract the attention of Florida coach Bob Woodruff, who offered him a scholarship to transfer to Florida.  He played the next two years as a running back for the Florida Gators and was a second-team all Southeast Conference selection in 1954, his senior year. 

He was then selected by the Chicago Cardinals as the 26th overall pick in the 1955 NFL draft and stayed with the Cardinals for his entire 12-year pro career, moving with them to St. Louis in 1960.  He was a starter at fullback and played in the same backfield as Ollie Matson and John David Crow.  Known for his versatility, he also played linebacker when called upon and was the special-teams captain, returning kickoffs and punts.

In 1958 he returned to the University of Florida in the off-season to finish his bachelor’s degree.  After retiring from football in 1966, he remained in St. Louis, where he was a sales representative for a shoe company and a color announcer on radio broadcasts of the Cardinals’ football games.  He died on July 19, 2004, at the age of 71. 

I can still remember watching television in the Boys Club hall with other boys when the Cardinals played and the cheers we gave when he made a good play.  He was “our” football player, and we all felt a sense of pride when the announcers had something good to say about him, which they often did. 

During the years he was playing in the NFL, he often came back to Roscoe to see his parents, and, when he did, he usually dropped by the Roscoe Times office to see George Parks and visit for a while.  I worked there at the time and was flattered that he always remembered me by name and took the time to say something to us kids while he was there. 

In short, he was a heck of a football player, a good role model, and an all-around nice guy.  May we have more like him!   


Here are links to a couple of articles I found on the Internet that mention him in specific games.  For a 1960 write-up of an Eagles-Cardinals game, click here, and for an article about a 1964 Cardinals-Cowboys game, click here.

Tonto Coleman, another well-known football player from Roscoe, was a star running back in college for Abilene Christian and later became its coach for seven years before going on to coach as an assistant at Florida and Georgia Tech.  He then became the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) from 1966-72.  In 1966, Sports Illustrated wrote a tribute to him with an article you can read by clicking here.

Malcolm Hammack, standing on far left in back, with other Roscoe boys where the bank now stands, in the late 1940s.

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