505 Rigsby, San Antonio - the Whipple House

505 Rigsby, San Antonio – the Whipple House

Charlie and my Dad, John Whipple Sr., and I got to going on about the old Whipple house at 505 Rigsby in San Antonio.  He wrote the following and I always felt that not enough people saw it. So I’ll transfer it here. Charlie is such an excellent story teller. The background is that Charlie’s grandfather (and Terry and my great grandfather) Orva owned this house which was built from a Sears kit. Came on a KATY railroad car.  Here’s his comment from Feb. 22, 2007:

John (Sr.),

The picture you posted on Whippleworld certainly evoked memories of 505 Rigsby. I can’t really remember anymore exactly what it did look like. I don’t suppose anybody has a photo of the front of the house. I would guess not as it would have been difficult with the trees in the way. One thing I noticed. The house in the picture did not have an upstairs front porch. As I remember, the southeast bedroom had a door that opened to that porch.

I am sending a wordy description of 505, but I am sure you remember it in much better detail than I.

In addition, here are some bits and pieces that I remember:

We called grandmother “Baba”. At the time, she had a very active family and social life. As the eldest member of the Saunders family as well as the mother of Lester, Howard, Raymond, Mary, Mabel and Virginia there were always various family members and their children visiting at 505. Or, she was visiting them in New Braunfels, Wetmore, San Marcos, New Braunfels, Wimberley and (I think) San Saba. In addition, she was an active member in the Gold Star Mothers.

As I mentioned in the property description, the building in the back on the alley was in a state of disrepair. Uncle Ernest, Grandfather Orva’s younger brother came down from Jefferson where his home was and with the help of some carpenters repaired that building. He was a very nice older, white haired gentleman. To make a long story short, he and Baba got married! I remember sitting in the back of his car while he and Baba drove up to New Braunfels to visit aunt Mabel and her family where they lived at the headwaters of Comal Springs. I think I was about seven. They had a big circular pool about two or three feet deep and all of us little kids were pretending that we could swim while Dot kept an eye on us. She looked like a goddess in a swim suit and I think was a life guard at Landa Park. We also went out to Wetmore to visit the Saunders. Jimmy had accidently run over Tommy with the car, but did no harm other than leaving the imprint of the tire tread on Tommy’s chest! I had a metal measuring cup and had collected some small stones and other objects out in the pasture. I didn’t know what some of the things were. I asked Tommy and he said “dried goat droppings”.

Uncle Ernest had a daughter named Claudia, who I think was around 40. She had a daughter named Ethel Rae. They also came down for visits at 505. Baba and Uncle Ernest went to Jefferson and I think this went back and forth for a while because I can remember Baba talking about some of the hogs there dying, they thought from eating cottonseed meal. Anyway, this all seemed to transpire over a couple of years. Baba came back from Jefferson. Uncle Ernest had died in his sleep.

My dad and I drove up to Jefferson a few years later. The highway up there was a narrow two lane with no shoulder. Pines and live oaks with Spanish moss overhung the road. Swamp water at intervals came right up to the road where blacks were fishing with cane poles. Uncle Ernest’s place was out in the country at the end of a long curving driveway bordered by large trees. We sat out on the front porch while my dad talked to Claudia. I don’t know what they were talking about. I was interested in a burrowing wasp that kept coming and going out of a hole in the back of Claudia’s rocking chair.

Susan and I drove up to Jefferson a few years ago. The highway was wide and elevated with no overhanging trees or swamp water in sight. It was nothing like I remembered.

Bob and Lutie Peters lived in a one story house on the east side of 505 with their mother Madie, Baba’s youngest sister. Madie’s first husband, Mr. Peters, had died I think and she had remarried. His name was Floyd and was a railroad engineer. He was gone much of the time. They had a collie named “Honey Boy” who was one mean dog. I stuck my finger through the fence one time to pet him and he bit it. If he was in the house and you went up to the front screen door he would lunge at you. Consequently, I never went in their house.

Bob was quite a bit older than me so I never had any interaction with him except for the summers when he and Bubba Thomas who lived next door on the west side of 505 had their soda water stand. At the beginning of each summer they erected a framework of boards in Bubba’s front yard close to the street. They covered the top and sides with dead palm leaves to make a booth about 8 feet wide. They had one or two galvanized wash tubs which they filled up with ice from the iceman’s truck every morning. The soft drink route trucks would stop by and deliver Cokes, Dr. Pepper, Seven Up, Orange Crush, Root Beer, etc. The route men even furnished them metal signs. I hung out there a lot and was probably a nuisance. I seldom had a nickel and was always begging for a freebie (which they never gave me).

Lutie was only a few years older than me so I did get to play with her some. She had a huge collection of paper dolls. We did things like make pretend drinks from four-O’clock flowers and melted different colors of crayons together to make other colors.

In the summer, the ice cream man came by every day. He rode a three wheeled bike with the ice cream box between two wheels. As he rode he rang a bell on the handle bars. We could hear that bell blocks away. He had things like ice cream sandwiches, cups, Popsicles, Fudgicles, Most everything was a nickel except for a small Popsicle with no stick which was a penny.

This time period was toward the end of the Depression. Nobody had much money. An occasional man still came to the back door of 505 and Baba would make him a sandwich.
Bubba and his family moved and a new family, the Rainies, moved in. I am not kidding about this—on Saturday evenings the Rainies, Mr. Rainie, Mrs. Rainie, their two sons got in their car, I went with them twice, Mr. Rainie drove to a drive-in. He ordered a bottle of beer. Everybody sat there while he drank it. Then they drove home. That was their Saturday night on the town in old San Antonio!

Baba had an icebox on the back screen porch. When she needed ice she put a square cardboard sign in the window. Each corner of the sign had a different number like 50, 25, l0, and 5. If she wanted 25 pounds of ice she turned the card so that the number 25 was at the top. When the ice man came by he would see the sign and know that she wanted 25 pounds of ice. He would stop the truck which was a flat bed with three foot sides, pull a tarp off of the l00 pound cakes of ice, cut a 25 pound piece out of one of the cakes with an ice pick, pick up the piece with ice tongs and carry it around the east side of the house and put it in the icebox. Icemen I think wore khakis, leather aprons and bill caps. In the summer, the kids always congregated around the back of the truck to get chips of ice.

When we first lived at 505 there were still streetcar rails in the street although the streetcars no longer ran having been supplanted by busses. I watched them jackhammer up the steel rails about a year or two later, supposedly to be sold to Japan. The Rigsby bus cost a kid five cents, They could stop at any corner and went to downtown San Antonio. I don’t remember where one got off downtown, but to catch the bus back home it was across Commerce from Joskes where the bridge is with the concrete Indian statue holding a water fountain (that never worked). It is hard to believe now, but I took the bus many, many times to town, usually barefooted when I was only 7 or 8 years old and nobody thought a thing about it. One time I went to the Majestic to see Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and sat through five showings before my mother finally got an usher to round me up.

Frequently, on Saturdays, I walked about six blocks to the Highland neighborhood theater. As you know, you could walk in any time, see a class B drama, an oater, a short subject such as the Three Stooges, a Disney or Loony Tunes comedy, etc. and stay as long as you wanted. In addition, the Highland had an intermission with staged contests for kids such as who could eat the most watermelon in a short period of time, who could pick the most pennies out of bowls full of flour using only their mouths (contestants finished with flour coated faces—such fun!) And oh yes there would be a serial such as Dick Tracy vs. Spiderman. Each episode ended with the hero getting killed. But in the following weeks episode it turns out the hero wasn’t killed. I don’t remember how long serials lasted but I think at least over 20 episodes in as many weeks.

Once, maybe twice a year the organ grinder came by. You could hear the distinctive sound of the organ from blocks away. You rushed out of the house clutching a penny or maybe even a nickel or a dime and waited for him to come down the street. He stopped every time where a dozen or more kids had congregated . He usually stopped just past 505. He was a big Italian man with a big black full mustache. He carried the organ with the help of a strap around his neck. The organ had one leg which supported it when he stopped .While he walked, his monkey rode on top of the organ. The monkey wore a little pill box hat held in place with an elastic band under its chin, and a velvet vest. The kids formed a semi-circle and the monkey went to each kid holding out a coin, snatched the coin, deposited it in a tin cup and doffed his little pill box hat. It was a kick to feel that furry little hand grab your money! As the years went by the organ grinder announced “No pennies! Only nickels and dimes!” Inflation hurts organ grinders and monkeys too!

While living at 505 I witnessed two dust storms. I think the radio had warned when this was coming. It was red dust from Oklahoma. I could see the huge cloud approaching. After it was over everything in the house was coated with dust. One year there was a violent hailstorm. It started late in the afternoon. It got black outside and large hailstones came pelting down. Lightning was flashing. Window glass was breaking. My mother put a metal bucket over her head and ran outside to put the car away (we had an old car with a rumble seat at the time). I thought I would never see her again, but she came back in after about 30 minutes. The next morning hailstones were piled about 8 inches high in the corner of the upstairs front porch.

Well, that is about all I can remember of note about 505 Rigsby. Here are a few notes about Grandfather Orva that I have heard others say. He moved the family to Goliad because someone was touting making money by growing figs in that area. He rose up in bed one night and said to Grandmother, Dear we have lost the farm! She replied, Hush and go back to sleep. I have known that for weeks! There was also a saying, “If a man has both a profession and a trade, he will never be out of work.” I think this was attributed to Orva though it might have been Grandpa Saunders. Aunt Mary told me that he was the smartest man she ever knew, that he was like a walking encyclopedia. He could answer any question she ever asked. Yet, our cousin Mary Nell says that my dad told her mother that “somebody needs to tell him (Orva) what to do”.

I went with my dad one time to Oklahoma where we visited the site of the little house that Orva built on the claim he staked. We also visited the gravesite of the baby sister that died. For the most part Orva’s life as well as our great grandfather William’s remains largely shrouded in obscurity as no one seems to know much other than what is in my Dad’s “Letter To His Children” and uncle Howard’s letter at the back.

I do have a copy of Orva’s diary. I got a copy from Virginia Lee who has the original. If anyone wants a copy, I will be glad to make a copy from my copy. It covers a time period when he was in college and when he was homesteading in the Dakota territory. However, I guess I expected too much and was somewhat disappointed. Perhaps it takes a Teddy Roosevelt or a Mark Twain to write an interesting book about their experiences on the western frontier. To others it was just sort of everyday and humdrum.

As we know, Orva’s first wife, Rae, died along with their baby in childbirth. Their graves are in the San Marcos area. It is a case of someone else’s misfortune being our good fortune. This was the case with my other grandfather, also. So I am doubly lucky in life’s lottery. Someone said that Orva was crying out for Rae when he was dying with Sabra being right there. However, I do not know if that was the case because I think that when he died she was at a Gold Star Mothers convention in California.

I am in the dark as to what year it was when they left Goliad and came to San Antonio. Even if they lost the farm down there, they managed to buy a very nice large house for the times at 505 Rigsby. I have heard that they both taught school, but where and for how long I do not know.

Cousin Charlie Whipple

P.S. A few more thoughts about Orva as well as 505. Does anyone know when the house was built? If not, I guess I could look up the deed records. Also, it is a little strange to me that my dad, Lester, had so little to write about his dad. Did your dad have any stories to tell about Orva? In regard to losing the place in Goliad as well as the second place in Oklahoma, I can speculate that in those days financing could be as short as five years and then there was a big balloon payment to pay off the whole note which more often than not the borrower couldn’t meet.

In regard to the school episode in Gouldbusk, here is another story about Uncle Henry teaching there. My mother’s side of the family, the Edens, had a farm near Gouldbusk.
The town was named after an Englishman, Gould Busk who owned a huge ranch where Gouldbusk is located. To sell the ranch, he had some men pose as surveyors who drove stakes in a line through the ranch saying they were doing the work for a railroad that was going to be coming through there. My grandfather Edens fell for this along with others and bought a number of acres adjoining the fake railroad right of way. Back to the story about Uncle Henry which was told to me by my mother’s older sister. She said there were some notoriously bad kids at that school. In fact, there were two or three that in later years went to the penitentiary for murder. Henry knew about these kids. On his first morning in the school house he laid his revolver down on his desk in front of the class for everyone to see. Then he asked everyone to step outside to see him put on a shooting demonstration. No one gave Henry any trouble for the rest of the time he taught school out there!

There was a lot of lawlessness in that area in the early days. Coleman is about 30 miles from Gouldbusk. My uncle Ralph took the “Doodlebug” (a one car passenger train) from Coleman to Ballinger one afternoon. When he got there a railroad guard was walking down the track. The guard said, “Don’t go up to the café, that Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are eating up there.” Ralph said, “Aren’t you walking the wrong way? “ (kidding the guard that he should be going back toward the café to arrest them) The guard said “I don’t want to have anything to do with those two”. Anyway, Ralph walked up to the café, peaked through the window and there were Bonnie and Clyde sitting in the back corner where they could see anyone come in, with their guns propped against their table.

Bank robberies were common. In one episode, a gang held up the bank in Coleman. As they made off with the money, a posse was organized and caught up with the gang a few miles outside of town. I think there were about five men that were all shot and killed. The prominent family who owned the bank also owned the furniture store and the mortuary. After the men were “funeralized”, they were displayed in coffins in the furniture store show window!


Anyway, I thought that was awesome. Those stories are safe here now. I did find these photos of and in front of the house to show Charlie, clicking should make them enlarge. Terry I think Charlie said your Mom is in there. (ed. note: photos have been lost to the internet)

5 Responses to Written by Charlie Whipple

  • What a story! That house looks fabulous! And from a Sears kit, no less. Wow.

    Would the beautiful lady sitting on the porch be Terry’s mom? Or was she younger at the time of this picture? Looks kind of like the pictures I’ve seen of her…

  • John,

    I hope you don’t mind; I think I’m going to add a few tags, and create some new categories, and I’ll assign these notes to a “Whipple” category.

    For future retrieval…

  • That’s great.

    I’m not sure which is Dorothy Bell. Charlie, of course, recognized his sister and pointed her out. I think she was maybe a young teenager then. But bring your salt when you listen to me, I don’t know. 🙂

    Even though it’s such a terribly damaged photo and we have lots better, I posted this one back then because there was quite a guessing game about who some of the people are. Here’s a link to some more talk on this subject http://whippleworld.com/2007/02/13/missed-picture/

    Virginia Lee, Terry’s grandfather’s sister’s daughter, is another person you should invite. She, Charlie and my Dad and you could get amazing stories to archive on the Whipple/Saunders part of your project.

    However I can help, please let me know.

  • John, great! The more, the merrier!

    You can send them a link to the sign-up page: http://inforapenny.com/Contact_Family.html OR send me their emails and I’ll craft an invitation.

  • I sent the emails to your email address just now. 🙂

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Genealogical Tidbits

Owen Moore:
Gone away
Owin’ more
Than he could pay.

— Battersea, London, England