Virtue, dedication helped city man climb

Don McAlavy

This is the first of a series of stories told by Jack Winton and Engle Southard (Clovis High School class of 1951). The interviews were conducted a couple of months ago.
Both of their parents were hard-working people and both of the boys learned the work ethic:
“We were really good kids growing up,” Jack Winton said. “We didn’t know the difference. We just thought that’s the way you were supposed to be. We went to church. We obeyed all the rules. We were basically good citizens, although some of us were lax and lazy and didn’t apply ourselves to schoolwork and other things the way others did. However, Engle Southard, my best buddy, was just a paragon of virtue in that he studied, did his homework, never gave the teachers any problems. Never gave anybody any problems, which was unusual, and he was outstanding in high school in football, basketball and track.
“My parents moved from Oklahoma to Clovis in 1948. The first job I had when my family moved to Clovis in the summer of 1948 was setting pins for Frank Murray’s dad at the old bowling alley between First and Second street on Main. I got pretty good at that. There were no such things as automatic pin setters in those days. I got pretty good at it. I could do one lane really well, then I learned how to jump over and keep two lanes going. Then in a pinch, if we didn’t have enough setters, I could do three.
“On Sundays, Engle and I were the ushers at the Calvary Baptist Church. I lived next door to the minister, Rev. Virgil E. Hunton, and that’s why we started going to his church. It was a little bitty church. In fact, our sanctuary was an old Army barracks building that had been moved in and set up at Eighth and Davis Street. I worked at Montgomery Ward so I got a discount on the sport jackets Engle and I wore in church. At the time I was working for Wards for about 50 cents an hour, and was probably overpaid.
“At Montgomery Ward I started in the stock room. I was doing pretty good and even found a more efficient way to label price tags. I had been working there for a while when Pete Strickler, the store manager, decided to move me up. He came in to the stock room and asked ‘Would you like to go down on the sales floor and help Ed Overton in the shoe department?’ I said ‘Sure.’
“So I became a shoe salesman working two hours after school all week and 10 hours on Saturdays. Mr. Strickler and I got to be kind of buddies. One day he told me of the monthly sale circular that came in, in the thousands, which needed to be distributed and put in people’s screen doors all over town. He had been paying some young boys $50 to distribute them every month, but the boys were not doing a good job and Mr. Strickler found hundreds of the circulars in trash cans.
“So he asked me if I would be interested in the job. I sure was as I had an old car so I hired a couple of boys to walk while I drove. I hired Rex Faubian and John Dixon. Rex later became vice president at First Federal Savings and Loan and John went to work in the Fitzhugh Insurance Agency. I paid each of these boys $5 a day. It took two days to get the circulars out. I would make $30 because I was the contractor and had the car.
“Mr. Strickler came to me and said ‘Jack, you cannot imagine how much more response we are getting from these sales items since you took over the job.’ So we kept doing it for a year and a half.
“After that, Mr. Strickler threw all kinds of jobs my way. Once when there was a rail car of roofing sitting at their warehouse off of Prince Street south of the underpass, he called me. ‘This is killing me,’ he said. ‘I can’t get anybody to unload that car and we are paying demurage.’
“Demurage was a term applied to what the railroad charged if you kept their rail car tied up too long. So he asked me to do it and said he’d give me a bonus. So I got Engle, who was big and strong and athletic, to help me. We worked our butts off unloading that car. The shingles came in 90-pound packages and we didn’t have any unloading equipment then. And it was hot. We took each square of shingles off the car and walked it directly into the warehouse where we stacked it.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.