HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Keeping a Little Boy out of his Mama’s Hair
By BILLY MAHAFFEY
When I was growing up, lots of fine Lacoochee folks helped to keep me busy and out of my sick Mama’s hair. When I think back, I remember so many things. The Curry family were our next door neighbors. They had a farm between Lacoochee and Dade City where they raised vegetables. The family made extra money by selling their produce in Lacoochee. Mrs. Curry enlisted me to go door to door selling tomatoes to folks throughout the community. I collected the money for her, and in turn, she allowed me to keep a small amount for myself.
My Mama also helped me learn to be an entrepreneur by parching peanuts for me. I sold them to the mill workmen on Friday afternoons as they waited to collect their pay. Probably to make me feel important, Josh Groover’s office crew gave me a pay envelope with 10 to 15 cents in it, and I waited in line for my money just like the grownups!
Then there were all the wonderful mill people who let me tag along with them. Mr. McClamma was head of housing maintenance, and I often spent the day with him and his crew. When I got on the crew members’ nerves, one of them sent me from place to place throughout the mill for a “board stretcher.” Of course, they were sending me on a wild goose chase. There was no such thing, but looking for it kept me busy for a long time.
Mr. Joe Hull ran the crane putting logs in the mill. He took me under his wing and let me sit next to him on a board seat at the side of the crane. I was not the only boy who was given that privilege. Mr. Hull was a wonderful man who whistled all the time and was good to all of us. One thing is for sure, that was a different time. The safety standards of today would never allow a child to sit on an operating crane. How fortunate for me that I grew up when I did!
In addition to watching the crane, I spent a lot of time watching the sawyer work the big band saw. Bill Surls was the sawyer, and I sat on a bench on the second floor of the mill where I could see the carriage cut the logs. It was all fascinating to a little boy with time on his hands.
Captain Sanders from Dade City was in charge of the county convicts who came to Lacoochee to pave the streets. He let me hang out with him as he supervised the work. My Mama would pack a lunch for me to take or I would walk back home to eat. On Saturdays when our family went to Dade City, Captain Sanders would meet us and buy me a nickel’s worth of candy in the dime store.
An incident from my time with the convicts stands out in my mind. One day while I was out with them I sat down on a centipede which, of course, promptly stung me. As you can imagine, all hell broke loose. I started crying and carrying on something fierce. Luckily for me, one of the prisoners, in fact one of the worst offenders, as he was in shackles, came to my rescue. He promptly turned me over his knee, pulled down my pants, and applied tobacco juice to the sting. That relieved my pain, and things got back to normal. Can you imagine a child of today being sent out to spend the day with convicts?
My father also helped to keep me busy. I always said he was a frustrated railroad man. Cummer had its own train tracks and trains that operated to handle the logs coming into the mill from Cumpressco. On Saturday mornings when Mr. Sapp (whom my Daddy affectionately called “Sappo”), the switch engineer for the Cummer mill, went to Tampa for a doctor’s appointment, Daddy relieved him. On those days Daddy called me early in the morning saying, “Come on boy. You are going to fire for me.” Away we would go for a happy day running the train. My daddy switched the cars, lining them up as they needed to be. Of course, I never really fired for him. A young black man went with us, and he put the wood in the engine. I sat where the fireman normally sits and blew the whistle and rang the bell. It was a glorious day for a five year old as well as for his “frustrated railroad man” father.
Baseball was a big thing in Lacoochee. All of us enjoyed watching the Cummer Indians team play. Fortunately for me, the team took me on as their bat boy and kept me busy and feeling important. I am filled with nostalgia when I look at the picture of Jesse Stanley and the members of the Cummer semi-pro baseball team and find myself proudly sitting with them on the front row.
When I was a little older, Bill Andrews and I worked at the commissary. At that time, Mr. A. E. Wise was commissary superintendent, and Clifford Couey ran the store. Mr. Wise lived across the street from the Berkstresser family. Working in the commissary kept us busy, for we stocked shelves and packed bulk items into smaller packages. There is an article on the East Pasco Historical Society website about the “iron man,” James Hammond. I remember him well. I also remember that despite his size and strength, he still expected Bill and me to carry big bags of feed out to his vehicle for him!
As you can see, I was blessed with wonderful experiences in Lacoochee. The town was filled with kind people who cared for me and nurtured me. Thanks to them, my days were full of fun and happiness.