I’ll be the first to admit that I was in for a big surprise the last time I visited downtown Ames.
Now, I’m not a stay-at-home, do-nothing kind of person. It’s just that I don’t have much reason to make the 35-mile trip to Ames any longer.
Usually, when Judy and I do make a stop in Ames, it’s to visit some racing friends. We’ll normally stop off at Wayne Larson’s Auto Shop and, of course, that’s way on the east side and near the Interstate highway.
So, I’ll have to admit I was completely taken aback when I recently journeyed through downtown Ames on the way to visiting relatives farther north in Hamilton County. It was almost as if I were seeing something new, something never-before-visited.
There was a time, but it’s been a long time in the past, when I traveled to Ames six days a week for a summer job. That was in 1961, the year I graduated high school from North Polk.
It was a wonderful summer job. I rode to work most days with my late mother Lela, who was then employed at the old Abe’s Grocery just west of the viaduct on Highway 69. Most days, our hours differed somewhat, but that didn’t matter. I’d walk up and down Main Street for a couple hours on her early days and some days I’d get off work, then have a couple hours to spend before she was ready for the drive back to Alleman.
I suppose “nepotism” crept into the hiring process for me. My mom’s great aunt was Sarah Alexander. Sarah’s daughter was Harriet Lewis and Harriet’s husband was long-time Carr employee Heman Lewis. It was through Heman that I got my job at Carr’s.
It’s a shame that Carr Hardware is no longer a part of the Ames business family. Years ago, the business moved to a new location north of town and eventually was taken over by another company.
Originally, though, Carr Hardware was an integral part of downtown Ames. The big business was located at the west end of Main Street, very near the old train depot.
Working at Carr’s, I learned how to wrap gifts … complete with precisely folded corners, even successfully adding ribbons and bows to the boxes of gifts. I mixed paint, adding just the right amount of color, I helped customers find products they sought and even learned the complex system of determining the store cost of each item and adding 10 percent to those I wished to buy for myself.
Lunch times became a daily adventure. I’d stop at various downtown eateries and dine on such delicacies as hamburgers and French fries. OK, so my dinner diet didn’t vary much.
After some searching, however, I discovered the ice cream bar at the old Woolworth’s (I think it was, anyway) Five & Dime. I’d never had a real homemade ice cream soda before. So, I ordered up a chocolate soda and watched it being made — ice cream, chocolate, some soda water, whipped cream and a cherry, with a straw pushed down one side. I discovered I could order a chocolate soda to go, and that became my lunch of choice for the rest of the summer. I’d get a chocolate soda to go, then I’d get some hot roasted peanuts and walk to the east end of Main Street, sit in the small park there and devour my lunch.
For me, working that summer at Carr Hardware was the best summer job I’d ever had. For one, several other summer employees were students at Iowa State and, from them, I learned things I might expect during my first year of college.
The best of my world during that summer of 1961, though, came on those Saturdays when my mother would work until early evening, giving me about six hours to kill. I brought my transistor radio with me. It fit perfectly into my shirt pocket.
I’d first walk to Abe’s and let my Mom know I was finished with work.
I’d then walk all afternoon, music blaring from the radio in my pocket. At times, my afternoon walks would begin downtown. I’d walk up and down Main Street a few times, then walk off in one direction or another, exploring parts of Ames I’d never seen before.
One of my favorite Saturday afternoon excursions, however, took me back to old Highway 30. I’d walk west, past the houses in Ames, past an open area that once separated Ames from the Iowa State campus, then to the campus itself. I’d walk past old Clyde Williams field and past all the Fraternity and Sorority houses, find Iowa State’s baseball field (yes, Iowa State had a baseball team in those days), and past the old fieldhouse.
I’d pause and think about the few Iowa State basketball games I’d seen there and when I passed the football field again, I’d think of the games I’d seen there — including one unforgettable game on the day I’d taken my ACT test. On that November Saturday in 1960, I’d driven to Ames by myself in an old gray truck from the Alleman Implement Company (where my dad worked).
Yes, that day I’d bought a “knot-hole” ticket … a $1 ticket to sit in the end zone. I watched as Iowa State beat Oklahoma 10-6 on Saturday afternoon. As I passed the small stadium, I could hear the loud cheers from fans as I re-lived that Saturday in Ames.
It was the last time Iowa Sate ever beat Oklahoma in Ames.
Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to be there when it happens again.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at Bhaglund13@msn.com.