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James R. Stout

Cool Water from a Tin Dipper

            The nearest highway to me is about 4 miles from my house. It’s actually the nearest paved road as well. It’s a Farm to Market road. Its handle is FM 230 and it isn’t a long road. It totals about 29 miles. It goes from Lovelady, Texas to Trinity, Texas. There’s a much more direct route, State Highway 19, but there was a reason FM 230 was built. About 16 miles west of Lovelady is a rather infamous State Prison known as the Eastham Unit. It’s a work farm as well and it first opened in 1917. It gets its notoriety for a couple of main reasons. First, it’s been known as one of the toughest prisons in Texas. Tough is another word for hard time. But perhaps one of the main reasons it is notorious is due to its most notorious prisoner. That would be Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Clyde was about 20-years-old when he was sent to the prison. It was not a good time for him. Due to treatment that he received at the hands of other prisoners and some not-so nice prison guards he became a hardened criminal.

            During the time that Clyde was there the road to the prison was a dirt wagon track. Oh, cars and trucks used the road, but it was about what you would think it was. It was muddy and rutted during the rainy months and dusty and dry the rest of the time. My grandparent’s farm is/was about 13 miles away from the prison. As the crow flies it was closer. Perhaps about 8 or 9 miles. There wasn’t much reason to go down that road back then other than there was a small town called Weldon which at one time was quite prosperous. But Lovelady was closer and had more to offer as well as the train went through and Old Highway 45, later renamed 19 when Interstate 45 came into being. My grandparents talked about the time Clyde was part of a prison break. By the time Bonnie and Clyde were at their worst, reports of their murders and robberies were big news on the radio.

            It wasn’t until 1945 that FM 230 first came into being. The initial 3.5 miles were from Lovelady going west. Over the next 15 years the highway was built piecemeal until it was finished in 1960. For my grandparent’s those first 3.5 miles were a great aid. That portion extended to just past the county road that my grandparents used to go home. It made life much easier for them. Hauling cotton to the Co-Op Gin in Lovelady was much easier as well as buying groceries, banking, fuel, and even a candy store that is now famous and relocated to Galveston. When the highway department was building that first section, they hit an artesian spring. To this day there is a large tank (that’s what we call ponds here in East Texas!) that is fed by that spring.

            My grandfather was always interested in such things as that and he had to go check it out. A water sample was taken and sent over to Texas A&M for testing. The results were that the water was very pure and absolutely safe to drink. It was also cold. In those days there was no such thing as bottled water on every corner. Well, Grandpa used to like to stop and get a cool drink of water where a spigot and some piping had been built to give the road crews a place to get cool water. As a small child I would go to town with my grandparents and Grandpa always stopped in the heat (no A/C in that old truck) to get a good drink of that cool water. I have memories of being in Grandpa’s 1955 Chevrolet pick-up truck and stopping. It wasn’t fenced in those days and the landowner was more than happy to allow neighbors to stop by. Grandpa carried an old tin dipper in the truck, and I remember well drinking that cool water from the dipper while sitting on Grandpa’s lap. I was about 5 or so.

            Such simple things were the best parts of staying at the farm with my grandparents. About 4 years later an oil company came in and asked if they could do some “sounding” on Grandpa’s farm. When they did, they struck an artesian well right there on the farm. Grandpa was like a kid in a candy store. He installed the pipes and a spigot just like that other one and was so proud to have that well. The tank that is there now and is fed by the spring is the clearest water on the property. About 10 years ago my uncle had the pipes replaced and a new spigot installed. You can still get water there if you want to.

            We need the earth to grow our food. We need air to breathe and to provide power. We need fire to cook and to stay warm. But perhaps we need water most. They say our bodies are made up of about 60% water. Nothing tastes better than water when you are thirsty. I’m reminded of the old Sons of The Pioneers song, “Cool Water”. Grandpa sure liked cool water and so do I. The night sky gives us a view of the Big and Little Dipper. Well, for me, the biggest dipper ever was the tin dipper that I drank out of while sitting on Grandpa’s lap.

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