After the races one afternoon an elderly gentleman showed up with a Tennessee Walking Horse, and he put the horse into its easy-running walk on the half-mile track. It got dark, but they kept on walking around and around. The show started, and no matter what class was in progress on the straightaway they ambled right on through and continued their way around the complete circuit. By great good luck they arrived in front of the grandstand at the proper time for their own class and merged with the other Walking Horses. They won fifth place, to the delight of the crowd, which had followed their travels. I remember it was a white horse.
We showed well into the fall that year, and I commuted miles back and forth after school to be able to appear in one class. Mrs. Anderson read the maps while I drove through the clinging ground mists of autumn, running over in my mind the probable morning quiz questions. We got lost quite often.
The following season Mr. Anderson bought a four-horse van and a walk-trot mare named Mary Jane Peavine, and he hired a driver-groom, a student named Barney Barn-grove, who had owned and shown his own horses before he left for college. We also took on Lynn Kuehne, a 15-year-old St. Louisan who owned Gloria Dare, another walk-trot mare. My Lady Lightfoot was back in commission, and I had acquired a Dalmatian bitch named Delilah, who caused more trouble than the four horses put together.
So, with van full, we headed for Pinckneyville to begin our season. One of the real pleasures of arriving at the first fair is stall-hopping with old friends. Nancy was there, of course, with a new two-horse trailer, a new walk-trot mare named Blythe Spirit, Flight Command and Jim the lay preacher. There was Earl Jones, a student undertaker, who had two jumpers. One was named Cap and the other Rigor Mortis, whose spirit matched his name. There were the Logston girls from Shawneetown, who went to Stephens College in the winter and showed horses all summer; Esther Williams from Carmi, Ill., who once berated a judge and was later thrown out of a ladies' class by that same official on the grounds that anyone who knew those words was no lady; and Lil Jenkins and her sister Alice. Lil was a lady jockey. Her sister, who was quite tall, always wore a hoof pick dangling from her belt.
That summer our stops included Golconda, and if there was a basement to the leaky roof, Golconda was it. The grounds were situated in a hollow where not a breath of air ventured, and it was as hot as only a river town can be. Horses were dying all around us. A parsimonious management had not even provided electricity in the tents. Barney brought the van around and rigged up a system that worked off the battery, which was hard on the truck but gave us some illumination.
Harrisburg, by comparison, was the Elysian Fields. There were shed stalls, the temperature had dropped and spirits were high. Don Harris and Ruth Kauffman were stabled next to Nancy and me along the row, so to cut expenses the female contingent took a room in town while the boys stayed on the grounds. We let the boys use the room in the daytime for showers, and this conjured up dire suspicions in the mind of the landlady, who took to lurking in the hallway around the clock.
Since we had no matinees, there was ample time for chores. One afternoon, with plenty to do, the boys decided to go to town for ice cream and a movie instead. Ruth pointed out a fine-harness buggy that needed cleaning, and I rubbed a finger in a meaningful way over a saddle. Barney, Don and Don Gibbons withdrew into conference, then ambled purposefully into the Harris van. Ruth was summoned and disappeared, and then I was called. Two minutes after I had entered I was neatly tied hand and foot and stretched out in the straw alongside Ruth. Nancy soon joined us. The boys disappeared in Anderson's van. Our furious yells finally caught the ears of Jim and another helper who had been watching the races. After a consultation, however, they decided they didn't want to be involved and left us to fend for ourselves. Eventually we got loose and were busily cleaning tack when the Anderson van lurched through the gate. But we had plotted revenge.
That night, when the fairgrounds had settled and the boys were sure to be sleeping, we returned, creeping in via a loose board Ruth had discovered in one of the stalls. Each of us carried a full pail of water, and targets and timing had been coordinated. The operation went like clockwork. After dousing our persecutors, we melted back into the night and drove to town laughing gleefully. We were especially pleased to note that it had turned quite cold.
But there was little laughter on the ride between Harrisburg and Mount Carmel. This was a somewhat longer haul than usual, and I was settled comfortably in the cab with Barney and Delilah, admiring the fence posts overgrown with honeysuckle when a terrible commotion broke loose in the van. It was not just the occasional kick of a restless horse but a barrage of explosions against the metal walls. We pulled off the road, and Barney boosted me into the back of the truck, hoping I could calm the trouble maker, who turned out to be Mary Jane Peavine. She had been riding peacefully all summer but now had gone berserk, and the other horses were uneasy. Baron kicked sporadically, which was normal for him, but Mary Jane was literally climbing the walls. I tried distracting her with her hay bag and oats, but it was like offering an elephant a juicy mouse. Remembering the old adage about the mule—if you want to get his attention, first knock him down—I hit her with a broom, but that didn't help. By this time the other horses were past the uneasy stage; they were plain scared, and so was I. Finally I got a twitch on her nose, and there we stood the rest of that endless ride. When we led her off the track at Mount Carmel, she had a knee as big as a cantaloupe and her career was ended.
Baron had broken a shoe in half, which was serious, because he wore a type with a special trailer. There was no blacksmith on the grounds, naturally, so I found a hammer, pulled off the two pieces and went into town in search of a welder. After I explained my predicament at the town's only garage, the welder was pulled off the car on which he was working. He shook his head in a bemused fashion, and repaired the shoe. Back at the grounds, I found Mr. Margenthaler, a retired coal miner who could do anything with his hands, and he nailed the patched shoe back in place.