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Growing Up in Arlington in the 1940s and 1950s (Part 1 of 2)

Arlington had to be the most wonderful place on the face of the planet for a young boy to grow up in during and right after WWII. The decade of the ‘50s has to be the best times this town has ever seen or will ever see again.

My Early Years in Arlington

I first came to Arlington in 1943 or ’44; I don’t remember for sure which year it was. My dad was with the Marines in the South Pacific, and my mother had taken a job with the old North American Aviation plant in Grand Prairie. We lived out at Johnson Station, and I attended the third and fourth grades there in the old Johnson Station schoolhouse.

Coming from the Great Plains out around Lubbock, this was a great adventure since the landscape had completely changed, and there were actual trees and creeks with running water that had an abundance of crawdads that could be caught on a string with a piece of bacon or occasional fish that could be seen in the clean waters. You were free to roam the countryside and discover the pleasures of the Tate Springs swimming hole and the cable swing from the huge cottonwood tree out over the water. You could ride your bicycle all the way into Arlington and go to the Texan Theatre and see the first run movies of that time or go to the old Aggie Theatre to see Gene Autry, Sunset Carson, Bob Steele and various other cowboy heroes in the grade B westerns. A quarter would get you into the theatre with money left over for popcorn and a Coke. There was also Shorty’s barbershop with fifty cent haircuts, which is another bygone era. Now most haircuts cost more than $10.00. Outside of the natural worry over the safety of my father during the war years, these were two great years of my life that can never be duplicated by any youngster growing up in Arlington. Those days are long gone but thankfully not forgotten.

I attended John A. Kooken Elementary School from fourth grade through the seventh grade, as a lot of people here did. I won’t say that we had a bunch of advanced students during that period of time, but there were two brothers who drove dump trucks to school so they could start hauling gravel as soon as school was out. During these years some great and lasting friendships were made with the kids that I grew up with on Mesquite and Elm streets. To name a few, there was Richard Hemmele, better known as “Beetle,” Neil Tucker, Burke Beall, Larry DaVault, and Pete Murray, all of whom lived on the North Side. We grew up playing football in Hemmele’s yard or in the street. We chose sides, and if your best friend happened to be on the other team, all of a sudden he became your bitterest enemy, at least until the game was over. We all had skinned knees, torn pants, dirty faces, and bloody noses at one time or another. Even though this was a good time for the city of Arlington, in some respects Arlington was still a tough town, and we grew up tough, in particular on the North Side. We would fight anybody who walked, and if we couldn’t find anyone else, we would fight each other. In the fall of the year, Pete Murray, Bob Kirby (who was a Yankee transplant), and I hunted the field with our shotguns out around and north of where I-30 now runs, and over on the old Waggoner 3D property, hunting dove, quail, squirrels, rabbits, or sometimes anything else that had the misfortune to move. Larry DaVault and Pete Murray remain as two of my closest friends, but that real bonding came later during our high school years of 1949, ‘50 and ’51 when I and 27 other guys all became “brothers.”

The seventh and eighth grades from both South Side and Kooken were all moved to the high school in 1947. At that young but not-so-tender age, we were exposed to the likes of Tom Wright, Donald Lafayette Wright (better known as “Corky”), Walter Cash, George Parr, Gaither Heartley, and various other characters who went a long way in shaping who I have become today, for better or worse. These, among others, were my peers, who at times seemed to reach hero status. Thankfully, since then I have regained at least some of my senses!

The Beginning of the Making of a Championship Football Team

This is Texas, and high school football was “King” of high school sports then just as it is now, and 1949 through the school year of 1951-52 became “the golden years” of my youth. This was the “Age of the Colt” and the making of that fall 1951 state championship team actually started in 1949. Under the coaching of Bill Sheffield and Mayfield Workman, in 1949 we won the first district championship since 1939. We won nine games and tied two, losing on penetrations to the Garland Owls in the bi-district game. We lost some good people through graduation that year, notably two all-district tackles, Don Goodwin and Tom Hearndon, and an all-district guard, Marvin Wilson. We also lost Dan Reynolds, the other guard, and our center, Phil Ekholm, and Bob Stevenson, a scrappy little halfback.

In 1950 the Colts again won the district, winning ten games and losing none, with Ray “Slick” Glasgow at quarterback, Charley Marshall and Larry DaVault at the halfback positions, and Rusty Gunn at fullback. Eugene Pope and I were the ends, Van Norman and Larry Hufford were the tackles, Grover Cribbs and Jim Miers were the guards, and Pete Murray was at center. We entered the playoffs that year and defeated Newcastle in bi-district at Amon Carter Stadium, Olney in the regional playoffs, again at Amon Carter Stadium. We then went to Commerce to play Mt. Vernon in the quarterfinals, who we narrowly defeated, and then came the Kermit Yellow Jackets who we played in Abilene in the semi-finals. We lost that ball game, as you all know, and the squad members thought it was the end of the world. But coaches Sheffield and Workman knew that those of us returning would rise to fight again. Off of that ball team, we lost starters Charley Marshall, Van Norman, Eugene Pope, and Jim Miers, all good ball players.

A side note to this season that is worth mentioning is that it was the first year of the train trips between Terrell and Arlington to play the Tigers, who on that particular night, we beat pretty decisively and, believe me, as we found out the next year, they remembered. Along about the third quarter, we ran either a quick dive play or a fullback play over our right guard, Grover Cribbs. When the play was over, and everybody got up and started back to the huddle, we looked around and old number 75 was still on the ground. We gathered around him and could see he was not moving, and his eyes were rolled back in his head. It got kind of quiet in the stands, but all of a sudden you could hear the unmistakable voice of Grover’s mother, Pearl Cribbs, as clear as a bell, “Grover Lee Cribbs, you get up from there!” Old Grover must have heard her because I’ll swear I heard him say “Yes Ma’am,” as he got to his feet, shook like a big old bear and said, “I’m alright, let’s go.”