OVERLAND PARK - MID 1930s
by H. Holland "Dutch" Harpool
Let's go back 80 years or so to a small town called Overland Park, Kansas. It was a time when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. No one ever bet against the New York Yankees in the World Series. Lawrin, a race horse bred and raised in Johnson County, won the Kentucky Derby. Bette Davis won the Oscar for her role in "Jezebel." You could buy a brand new Willis Americar or a Chevrolet for about a thousand dollars.
At that time, you would have had a hard time finding a person in Kansas City, Missouri, who could tell you what streets and roads you should take to go across the state line to Overland Park. They might suggest that it would be simpler to climb aboard one of the inter-urban streetcars. No air conditioning, but for warmth in the winter a small, pot-bellied stove was set up in the center of the car. Kids loved it!
But if you insisted on getting some (probably half-right) instructions, you would start by driving to the Country Club Plaza. So let's play like you've made it through the Plaza and would cross the state line. On the hill to your right, there was a restaurant that specialized in wonderful fried chicken. On up the hill on your left would be a fenced area which was the fairway of a private golf course. Not much else.
Incidentally, you would be driving on a brick road that led into the town of Overland Park, Kansas. That road had been made by a brick-laying machine, but a man named James "Indian Jim" Cleveland Brown said he could lay bricks faster than a machine. A challenge was issued and, to just about everyone's amazement, he did lay bricks faster than the steam-powered machine! And singing as he did it!
After going through Mission, the brick road turned to your left and led the home stretch to Overland Park. After several years of new cars being made of increasing greater size, there wasn't room enough for two cars approaching each other to pass on the brick road. So, as they came face to face, each driver would pull over so his outside wheels would run on the dirt area next to the road.
If you were low on gas, you could get either Regular or Ethyl in Overland Park. Just about where Foster joins Santa Fe (on the spot where the statue of Overland Park's founder now stands), there was a tiny gas station owned and operated by a man named Thurman Files. One pump for Regular, one for Ethyl. Each pump had on its top a big glass tube that was marked off in gallons. When you told how many gallons you wanted, Mr. Files would hand pump the requested amount into the tubes, then let gravity carry it down a hose and into the gas tank of your car.
The Carter Grocery Store was diagonally across from the gas station. Inside there was a counter that ran the length of the small building. Standing behind it were shelves with canned soups, boxed matches, and other sundries. Mr. and/or Mrs. Carter would be behind the counter, ready to retrieve the requested items from the shelves and bring them to you. There was also a cash register, of course.
Near there was the Overland Park Fire Station, manned on
demand by men of the town. When the fire alarm was sounded, the volunteer firemen would learn its location by telephone and leave their work place or home and drive fast to the fire. Maybe 35 or 40 miles an hour!
Who would drive the fire truck was established on a rotation basis. I was told of one incident when the chosen driver forgot it was his turn. He drove his car to the location to meet the others, and his arrival must have been a very unhappy moment for all involved, especially so for the owners of the briskly flaming house.
Antioch was a dry, dusty dirt road in the summer. In the winter snow and the spring rain, it was gummy mud. Cars didn't drive on it; they slid and jackknifed on it. Especially in the long gully north of 77th Street. By the time of year it dried out, those tire tracks were so deep that a car would have to drive on the high side of them to keep from having the car's oil pan torn off.
I remember the pleasant scarcity of street lights, the awesome beauty of the star-crowded glistening night sky, the lakes with bull frogs croaking a deep and resonant call, the stifling dirty- brown clouds of swirling dust that would appear on the horizon and slowly roll down and onto the ground as they entered our house, riding my pony from our rented pasture at Antioch and (what is now) Shawnee Mission Parkway to 75th Street, then to Waldo where a blacksmith worked.
On that ride, if a car happened to come toward me (only one did, as I recall it) the driver and I would wave a sort of friendly traveler greeting. I remember seeing a farm wagon being drawn by horses of the proud Clydesdale type and hearing the echoing sound of their proud "march" across a plank bridge. I can still hear that sound.
So much is gone. Or, I guess maybe I should say, so much exists within my heart.