Wagon Wheels North

In the summer of 1923, after the crops were laid by, and seven months before Buddy was born, Papa decided that we would make a covered-wagon trip up through Gainesville, Texas, and on into Oklahoma. The wagon was outfitted with groceries, clothing, bales of hay for the mules, and other necessities for the trip, and was covered with a white canvas stretched over arched supports to protect us from the sun and rain.

In the daylight hours, with Papa driving and Mama sitting beside him on the spring seat, and with the children riding on the bales of hay, we slowly rolled onward toward Oklahoma. At night, we camped along the roadside where Mama cooked over an open fire, and Papa and Mama and little Alice slept inside on the bales of hay, and Harry and Howard and Chester and I slept under the wagon.

One of the most memorable events of our trip occurred as we drove north, on Main Street, across Fort Worth. A streetcar had struck another covered wagon, completely demolishing one of the rear wheels. Several other covered wagons were stopped and waiting for the street to be cleared. Howard remembers that a policeman approached Papa and suggested that he could make better time if he would pull one block west and travel north on Houston Street, and cut back to North Main after he had passed the line of the wrecked streetcar and wagon.

I was five years old when we made that trip, and, today, 72 years later, many of the details are somewhat dim and fleeting in my mind, but I can clearly remember another event that transpired as we passed over an old and creaky wooden bridge that spanned the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma. Harry had a prized toy which consisted of a 15-to-18-inch rubber string with a rubber ball attached to one end and a wooden paddle attached to the other. As we crossed the river, Harry was enthusiastically paddling the ball when the string broke, the ball bounced a few times, fell into the river, and slowly disappeared from our sight amid the murky waters. Our tumultuous cries and screams of anguish caused Papa to stop the wagon and spend a few minutes in trying to restore normalcy, and in trying to console Harry in the wake of his demoralizing loss.

In all of these after-years, from 1923 to 1995, I have never again passed through Fort Worth, on North Main, without remembering that streetcar-wagon wreck. And I have never again crossed the Red River without remembering the tragedy of the little lost rubber ball as it disappeared among the troughs and waves of water.

Hal Upchurch, 1995

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