[Transcript of interview with Tommy Clair, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

Recorded as part of the Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  Today’s date is March 2, 2010.  At the moment I am interviewing Tommy Clair, a local businessman and native of the Ash Grove area. 

Q:        Tommy, we are going to begin our conversation today with, why don’t you go back to your family’s settlement in Ash Grove area and just talk your way through up until the depression era and then I will ask you some questions.

A:         Well, the story passed down through my grandfather, Orville Sewell, who was coming from Kentucky and his wagon caught on fire at Luck, (not sure of name of town) Missouri.  They made their home and a store in Luck, Missouri.  He was the first Methodist preacher in Greene County and was there in Luck, Missouri from 1832 until 1856 then they moved to Pearl, Missouri and opened a general store at Pearl and from 1832 to the present date there have been a Sewell or Clair or somebody in the family as a merchant from 1831 to the present date. 

Q:        Including yourself?

A:         Including myself for the last 40 years.

Q:        First of all tell me where Luck, Missouri is.

A:         Luck, Missouri is exactly 4 ½ miles west of Walnut Grove on BB where you go past JJ highway and turn back right and go south about a mile and a half, that is Luck, Missouri. 

Q:        Is there anything in Luck, Missouri today?

A:         There is only a house left.

Q:        If your ancestors settled in Luck, Missouri because of a fire, do you know where they were going?

A:         Everybody was telling everybody you’ve got to go West.  So when they went through Kentucky they were settled at, they said they spent four months until the weather was better out of St. Louis headed this way here, and nobody would share grease and stuff, you had to have your own provisions.  Once your ride got caught on fire, nobody really had a perfect route to go because this was 1832.  They were following Daniel Boone, Nathan Boone because they were headed on the Springfield route.

Q:        Okay, you talk about the fire a little bit.  Why don’t you tell our listeners what might have caused the fire.

A:         The fire was really, didn’t really know it was catching on fire.  What happens to the bearings on the axel, they run dry and you don’t smell it because you were smelling the oxen or mules, I don’t know which one they had, but by the time you would catch it on fire, the axel was gone but of course someone could make another axel but it would take a couple more days to get it done and put it back in there.  By the time they got done they decided they liked this area and they decided to make a home site here.  That is what happened to a lot of people.  They were heading west and didn’t exactly know where they were headed and a lot of times their wagons broke down or they had a horse die or they couldn’t ____ no longer or some family member would die so that would be where they made their homestead by accident.

Q:        By accident – I agree with that.  Tell me about Pearl, Missouri.  This family center apparently moved from Luck to Pearl.

A:         Well Pearl, Missouri came in effect after 1856. They knew they were going to be putting a railroad in and there was going to be the Frisco high line railroad or whatever you want to call it right now, and they were going to go to Walnut Grove.    They had some land there and they actually was in between Walnut Grove and Willard.  There was a community there and they had a general store there.  It was a very busy store up until about 1947 when it closed. 

Q:        And that general store was a family store?

A:         It was a family store. 

Q:        Would that have been your grandfather?

A:         It would have been part of my great-grandfather and his wife but in 1947 they moved to the Ash Grove area and started a dairy farm.  My aunt still lives there and they had an auction there in 1965 and auctioned everything off.

Q:        Well, Tommy, I know that you are not of the age to have any recollections of the depression but do you have any memories or stories that passed down through your grandparents or your parents?

A:         Well, I remember them talking about how everything had to come from the farm.  They couldn’t buy anything.  I do remember and I have a picture of my family when they went to the Ozark Empire Fair and the whole town would load up in a big truck.  They would camp there because it took two days to get there.  That was the highlight of the year.  The things I remember about the homestead was there was one truck going up the hill once a week carrying one stone and they could hardly pull the hill.  It was only like a 32 foot semi but they couldn’t pull the hill.  You would hear them shift down to granny…

Q:        What was the cause of not being able to pull the hill?  Was it the equipment or road conditions?

A:         It was a hill and the speed limit wasn’t that high, we are talking about in the 50’s or 60’s and what they had on there would probably weigh oh 40,000 pounds on a 32 and the truck wouldn’t hardly pull up there.  Once he got on the highway he was okay but it was a pretty big hill but they couldn’t get more than one stone and one stone a week is all they took up.  _______about 1965 or 1964 but in the 50’s and early 60’s that is all they took up.

Q:        Well, let’s talk a little bit about industry in and around Ash Grove, the things that come to my mind are the Ash Grove Lime Co. and Phoenix Quarry in particular.  Also, in some of your recollections about the railroad, you know you see signs around town today and Ash Grove is kind of known to be a railroad town back years ago, so why don’t you talk a little bit about those things?

A:         Well, of course we grew up where the _____railroad was, where the depot was  and what we had was a steam engine shop and they got water from us at a pump and then went on to Clinton where they ended up – that is where our place is at.  But the railroad company I can remember ___ back in 1970 with a couple of derailments and stuff, and everybody just swarm to pick up fruits and vegetables and stuff.  And in 1972 I ___________________ with my___________ and stuff back before_____equipment all the time.

Q:        I have heard stories that they used to keep an extra engine here in Ash Grove.  Remember what that was about?

A:         I don’t remember that, that was before my time. 

Q:        I know it was.

A:         I really didn’t come to Ash Grove until 1964 because I stayed on the farm until then.  I didn’t have a driver’s license so we stayed home.  Sometimes on a Saturday we got to go to the movies up here or go to the skating rink but I don’t remember that part there.  I remember the train and stuff, how busy the town was.  I know in 1965 there were seven gas stations, three grocery stores, we had everything in Ash Grove that we needed. 

Q:        I have asked almost everybody I have interviewed today about recollections of Main Street.  What type of business and what memories do you have of Main Street.

A:         My number one memory was of the ice cream parlor.  We would go over from the Davis’ ice cream parlor and go across and look at Rozell’s equipment that they had and _________ and would sit on one of the new tractors.  ______tractors in the 1930s and 1940s.  They had some brand new tractors and new equipment and hydraulic equipment, you know _________.  We had boat factories here and other kinds of factories that have come and gone. 

Q:        You said you moved to Ash Grove in 1964.

A:         1962

Q:        1962. What was downtown like in 1962?

A:         Well we had a movie theatre.  We had two doctors and stuff.  We had clothing stores. We had a men’s clothing store and a women’s clothing store on the south side.  We had a hardware store and three grocery stores in town and an excellent hardware store, lots of gas stations.  Walter Justice had a Plymouth dealership down there on 160. We had Black Chevrolet and had_______ and so forth.

Q:        How often would you go to Springfield in the 60’s.

A:         I didn’t go to Springfield until I was 16.  Never did.

Q:        Big trip for you.

A:         Well, it was a long trip.

Q:        You and I have talked in the past about the quarry, the Phoenix Quarry.  Why don’t you talk about that for a little bit.

A:         Well the Phoenix Quarry I remember when they would cut a big stone out.  After that they closed it down and it grew up really terrible.  The people would use the quarry as a dump, they put trash in there, they would steal cars and drive them off in there.  They drove a brand new car off and dumped it in the river.  They found stolen vehicles out there and it just grew up.  ________ marble company it was in their possession at that time but they didn’t do any maintenance to the land or anything else.  They didn’t lease it out or anything until ________ got a hold of it and cleaned it all up. 

Q:        What time was that?

A:         Oh, around 1980 or 1985.

Q:        What stories have you heard about its heyday when things were going…

A:         You hear a lot of different stories about it but don’t know if they are all true.  Of course one of them that I don’t know is true or not but I have heard people say that Bonnie Parker went to school there for a short time and we did know her uncle and aunt did work there and her mother just lived a short distance from there.  But in the heyday we had a black school, white school, at Phoenix.  It had its own grocery store and everybody would use script money.

Q:        That is what I heard, they got paid in script.

A:         It was a little town between Ash Grove and Walnut Grove and just a town by itself and everybody was busy for many years and if I remember right, it started in 1888 or 1889 and it was very popular until after World War II when it started slowing down.

Q:        So it probably closed post World War II or somewhere in there.  Do you know exactly when?

A:         I don’t know exactly, I would have to call ____ and talk to them but they would know the date but I don’t remember.  It closed down in small bits and pieces from then on.  They still had machinery there.  I remember as a boy going over there and looking at the machinery and chain cables and wondering what ______ and so forth.

Q:        Well we are near the end of our interview but I want to ask you one final question.  Do you have any curious tales of the Ash Grove area, fact or fiction?

A:         Well, there is always those ghost tales and ghost stories about people getting run over because of the railroad track.  And we did know several people that ran over.  I remember as a boy we would tape ___ on the track and how people would paint on it and so forth.  And there were always ghost stories about how people would walk down the track at night and so it was a scary tale and so forth.  But I know my daughter lives in Morrisville and my other daughter lives in _____ and they can still hear ____ from Ash Grove because of the valleys.  _______20 miles a way, big impact.

Q:        One last question, describe one story about a Sunday on the farm for you as a little kid.

A:         A little kid on the farm, well….

Q:        What kind of mischief would you get into?

A:         Well, my brother was older and he got to school to everything else I would stay home and milk and I would gather all the eggs and stuff and I was jealous because he got everything including new clothes.  I never got a new pair of shoes or clothes until I was 16. I wore hand-me-downs.  My brother would _________ right on top of his head and act like it was an accident you know.  He would hit me with a baseball bat and ____ my head in.  So that was really fun and I got even with him and dropped a bale of hay on his head.  But it was fun.  We didn’t really had any other kids to play with.  We made our own toys, riding a stick pony and stuff.  We didn’t have any electronic games.  Like I said my brother would go to school and I was the second child and a lot of times the second child doesn’t get as much attention as the first child and get left out of a lot of stuff.

Q:        Where did you go to grade school?

A:         Ash Grove.  I graduated from the eighth grade before they tore it down.  We got pictures of it and everything else and Mrs. Corbin thought was 6’6” but she really wasn’t.

_______ she would hit us with a yard stick and after I grew up and knew her she was a sweet lady but I was scared to death of her until I was 30 years old.

Q:        Well Tommy this concludes our interview.  I appreciate your time and information.

[Transcript of interview with Tommy Clair, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]