Life and Times of the Light Crust Doughboys

June 11, 2001
Topeka Capital Journal

One day recently, Elaine White, without whom there would be no daily newspaper in Topeka, was reading, on her computer, the obituaries of notables from the day before. Knowing well my cultural tastes, she asked me if I ever had heard of the Light Crust Doughboys.

I said I had virtually grown up with them, and she went on to tell me Smokey Montgomery, their banjo player, had died in Dallas of leukemia at the age of 88. Then she asked me again if I really knew about them.

I said yes indeed, and to prove it I wore bold one verse of their theme song which they used to open and close their shows:

If you like us, think we’re fine.
Sit right down and drop a line
To the Light Crust Doughboys,
From the Burrus Mill.

There’s a lot of hillbilly music history, and politics featuring a one-time Kansan, in this story, so bear with me. Considering all the pleasure they gave me, the least I can do is offer a few words in their memory. Continue reading

O’Neill on Paige and the National Pastime

Topeka Daily Capital
May 14, 1958

Jackie Robinson’s recent uproar over when and how Negroes reached the major leagues brings to mind again the great number of Negro stars who came along too early to take advantage of the memorable day when Branch Rickey erased the color line.

One of those is John (Buck) O’Neill, who played with and saw the biggest names in baseball for 18 years. He was a star first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs for 17 of those years, and managed them for seven years. He now is a scout for the Chicago Cubs.

John (Buck) O’Neil

He had a lifetime batting average of .300 in the Negro major league and twice led the league in hitting with a mark of .350. He once was telling Sec Taylor of the Des Moines Register about life in the league, and the conversation went like this:

Is Satchel Paige the best pitcher Buck has seen? “I haven’t seen anyone better than old Satch,” O’Neill declared. “He was a competitor when he got in that ballpark. The trouble was to get him in it.

“Time meant nothing to him. He might go fishing just before an important game or he might get to the park gate, see you or anybody else and stand there and talk till after the game had started. Continue reading

Mother’s Day, Naming Rites and the Origin of Kurt

Topeka Daily Capital
May 10, 1959

Today is Mother’s Day, and the only thing to do is take a firm stand in favor of it. After all …

Mothers are nice and necessary, and not in that order, but they aren’t perfect. Granted, they probably try to be, particularly where their children are concerned, but it is in that area that they often are at their worst. Some mothers do to some children a thing that shouldn’t be done to a mangy dog.

I refer specifically to naming children, for which mothers are mostly responsible. Once in a while, I am told, the father has his way about naming the baby, but it is a rare occasion when the matter is handled with this efficiency and harmony.

Most mothers snarl and say, “if you want to name a baby dash have one!” Then they named their newborn without even considering Uncle Moneybags, who might have been properly impressed and looked upon the namesake as a possible heir.

Personally, I’m a 0 for 4 in naming my own, although I had a little say a little to say about #2. Continue reading

Just One More Time Around

Topeka Daily Capital
October 1960

The death of a man like Clark Gable makes you remember some of the entertaining moments he gave you, and others gave you. It makes you wish you could see and hear them again, even though you know you can’t, or at least probably never will.

Just once more , for example, I’d like to see Clark Gable on the witness stand, telling off the lawyer questioning him in “Boomtown.” And I’d go again to see him get poured on the bus in “It Happened One Night.”

There are a lot of things I’d like to see again … How about taking me back to the theater in Washington, D. C., and let me see the houselights dim and the footlights go up as the curtain parts and Glenn Miller’s band plays “Moonlight Serenade.” … Let me stay in the same place long enough to hear Tommy Dorsey play and introduce his new vocalist, Frank Sinatra …

I’d settle for just a flash of Carl Hubbell looking in from the mound and delivering a screwball… And of Pepper Martin stealing third, sliding in on his stomach …

And, please, give me one more triple dip of Black Walnut ice cream from Doc SnIder’s Drug Store …

Let me see once more my first pup, a Fox Terrier named Sparky, slip and skid on the slick linoleum of the kitchen in the house in Britton, Okla., after my mother says “Go get the dog’s can.” … Give me another evening in the backyard there, and an onion and tomato sandwich – on homemade bread …

Put me, just for a few minutes, back in the theater in New York so I can hear Robert Preston, The Music Man, sing about the “Trouble – Right Here in River City” and about “The Sadder But Wiser Girl,” … And let me hear the medicine man on Britton’s Main Street sell one more bottle of Tay-Jo Tonic …

Give me Eddie Crowder, faking to the fullback hiding the ball on his hip as he fades, and then passing for another Oklahoma touchdown … Take me back to 1952 and let me see the Sooners whip Kansas and lose to Notre Dame in the two best college football games I ever saw …

Sit me in a hotel room again with J. V. Sikes and Ears Whitworth and let me listen to them tell how they recruited football players for Georgia …

Once more, let me stand in line to be introduced to J Edgar Hoover … Let me look at the 1953 Kansas basketball team putting on the Porcupine Press , and let me interview Phog Allen when it’s over … Continue reading

Another Birthday to Forget to Remember

(Editor’s Note: The 100th anniversary of Dick Snider’s birth is March 20, 2021)

Topeka Capital-Journal
March 27, 1992

I had a birthday a week ago, on the first day of spring, as usual, but it went largely unnoticed. A few days before the date, I mentioned my birthday on the phone to two of my children, but to no avail. One of them said, “When is it?” and the other said, “When was it?” Neither sent a present.

Five heartless children have caused me to grow old and weary before my time. They make me remember what my mother used to say: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is the sting of an ungrateful child.” Of course, she wasn’t talking about me when she said it.

My wife, who knows me best and obviously thinks of me as a pillar of strength, gave me a card, along with a nice gift. But other than that, the only card I received from anywhere in the family came from my brother, and it wasn’t what you’d call a joyous greeting. Continue reading

Assignment Topeka: Great People and the Best Capital in Kansas

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 25 , 1995

The executive editor, who really is a very dear friend of mine, said a special edition was in the works, and he wanted me to write something nice about Topeka.

I gave him my most engaging grin and said, “Isn’t that a isn’t that request a little oxymoronic? You know, like ‘Army intelligence’ and ‘honest government’?

Doesn’t saying nice things about Topeka have the same ring to it?”

The executive editor, who really is as nice a fellow as you’d ever want to meet, wasn’t smiling. “This is not a request,” he said. “It is an order, and I won’t repeat it.”

He was glaring at me now, displaying the same cordiality he did when I referred to the “giant Goodrich plant North of Topeka” in a recent column.

In an ominous tone, he said, “I will only remind you that you are hanging on by the thinnest of threads here, so it behooves you to comply with this order promptly.”

Well, that being the case, plus the fact the executive editor really is one of my all-time favorite people, I will get right to it.

Let me begin by saying that, unlike many Topekans, I am here not by chance, but by choice. I wasn’t born here. I moved here of my own free will not just once, but twice. Continue reading

Bud Wilkinson: To a Very Rare Man

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 14, 1994

Last Wednesday night Jay Wilkinson called to say his dad, Bud, who made history as football coach at Oklahoma, was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the night. He didn’t. Next morning we heard on the radio he had died.

Later in the morning I tried to call Charlie Hoag to tell him about Bud, but I couldn’t reach him. It wasn’t until the five o’clock TV news that we heard there had been a wreck on the Turnpike and that Charlie’s wife, Salli, was killed and he was seriously injured. The day had provided a double dose of bad news.

Wilkinson and Hoag had closer ties than you might think. In the early 1950s, Bud was one of the best coaches in the country and Charlie was a superb running back at KU , as well as being a key member of a national championship basketball squad. Continue reading

Pondering Phelps Picketing Probe

Topeka Capital Journal
January 22, 1996

There are two investigations going on that are trying to determine who, if anyone, told city police not to arrest the Fred Phelps picketing gang. Actually, there are more than two probes, because I am conducting one of my own, and there may be other sleuth like me digging for the truth of this dastardly deed.

I have patterned my investigation after that of O.J .Simpson, who was trying to find the “real” murderer of his former wife and her friend, and also after the annual search for the WIBW Santa Claus.

What I am doing is asking people at random if they told the police to lay off Phelps and his troops.

So far, I haven’t turned up anything, but I figured that still leaves me with the two official inquiries.

Continue reading

Averting a National Fitness Crisis: A Story of Pluck on the Front Lines

Topeka Capital-Journal
Jan. 9, 1991

There is more bad news for would be war correspondents. It wasn’t enough that the prospective war zone bans booze and wanton women, so now the Pentagon says journalists must pass a physical fitness test before they will be accredited to cover the troops in Operation Desert Shield.

Several men and women already have been tested, and only a few men have failed. This is not surprising, since men are less inclined to take this sort of thing seriously. Those found wanting probably went to the test directly from a wholesome lunch of spicy chili, barbecued ribs, cheesecake and a few beers.

Some men aren’t meant to pass physical fitness tests, and this simple fact calls to mind the greatest fitness crisis in the country’s history. It occurred in February 1963, and I am proud to say I played a major role in resolving it.

The White House was occupied at the time by John F. Kennedy, and it probably was his Irish humor and his bent for playing a dirty trick on his portly press secretary, Pierre Salinger, that started the whole thing. Robert F Kennedy, the attorney general, got into it, and in the end it turned out to be funny to everybody but Salinger.

The story goes that President Kennedy somehow learned that Teddy Roosevelt, when he was president, had sent a letter to the commandant of the Marine Corps saying every Marine should be able to walk 50 miles amd that White House personnel probably should be able to do it, too. You can smell a plot being hatched here.

Continue reading

A Friend Recalls Alf Landon

Topeka Capital-Journal
October 16, 1987

In 1935, Gerry Barker was a junior at Ottawa University and Alf Landon was governor. On a night when Baker University played at Ottawa for the league basketball championship, Landon was in the stands. Ottawa won in the final seconds, and Barker was the star.

Later, Barker was just coming out of the shower when E. C. “Ernie” Quigley, who had refereed the game, came into the Ottawa dressing room and asked, “Where is that young man Barker?” Gerry stepped forward and Quigley said, “Hurry and get dressed. The governor wants to meet you.”

When they met, Landon congratulated him on the victory and on his efforts. Barker says today it was a high point of his career, and then some. It was the start of a long and enduring relationship.

In 1947, Barker went to work for radio station WREN, which had just been moved over from Lawrence. In 1952, Landon bought the station, and when he met the staff he looked at Gerry and asked, “Are you the Barker who played at Ottawa?”

Continue reading