Back a long time ago when we were kids and people used to visit each other at night us kids would sit and listen to them tell stories about stuff they used to do and laugh at different things that had happened. Most of the conversations were about stuff that had or was happening at the time but occasionally one of them would get off on some old tale about a particular funny happening that they’d ether been a part of or maybe just watched. Such was this story.
Although I don’t remember the exact date or even what the occasion Poly got off into telling a story that is now a part of history long forgotten by all except those of us who were present when he’d get into a "story telling mood" as he did that day. I think he was a young boy when he saw this and his rendition kept us all laughing for quite awhile as he did the voice and gyrations as he related the story.
I suppose it was during the Fair, or perhaps some other holiday that this story unfolded. Of course back then, and even when we were kids many years later, any day could become a holiday if the right occasion came along. From time to time there would be some traveling circus, or tent show suddenly appear in town and for a few days there would be lots of talk and excitement about the upcoming event and "are you going" would be included in most conversations. A lot of this excitement I suppose, was out of sheer boredom but a good bit of it was out of curiosity about whatever, some total stranger was going to do. Didn’t take much excitement to stir people back then and usually anything new got lots of attention. Still sort of that way in my home town and isn’t that wonderful.
On this occasion there was an upcoming event and I imagine it was happening on Saturday because Poly was in town. Could have been on some other day of the week because according to him "playing hooky" was about his best subject in school. Practiced it a lot according to him.
The advertisement, or "Handbills" as they were called was about a feller named Dare Devil Dimeshine and all the stuff he was going to do. "Come see a man being drug behind a speeding automobile in a death defying act right before your eyes" the old handbill probably read. It went on about how Dare Devil Dimeshine would be pulled down the street behind an automobile at a "death deifying speed" and do all sorts of other stunts that were so dangerous that nobody in their right mind would even consider doing them.
The highlight of this show was that they even had some sort of old airplane that would be used in the show and I imagine Dare Devil did something on the wings of this plane. However the main attraction this machine offered was that the handbill touted that they were going to take a chicken, probably a White Leghorn or maybe a Dominique, (country folks called them dominickers) up in the air with some money tied to its leg and once at a certain height the bird would be released and whoever caught the chicken would get the money. Easy road to riches in the mind of a small boy I guess!
Now, the name Dare Devil Dimeshine, alone was enough to get Poly interested and throwing in a "money covered chicken" was just "icing on the cake!" As the day approached I imagine his excitement grew nearly as much as ours did hearing about this wonderful event many years later.
On the day of the show everybody lined up along Main street to see this man being drug, probably to death, behind the car. Of course, back then the streets were dirt with only an occasional bump appearing, usually shortly after the passing of a horse.
Anyway, after a while the announcer had everyone in almost a state of frenzy! I imagine he was trying to sell something. On some sort of signal here came the old car with Dare Devil Dimeshine tied to the bumper dragging along behind in the dust. His only protection according to the billing was that he would be tied to an old cowhide to keep from causing damage to the roadway. I’m telling you, this boy was tough!
Well, according to Poly, Dare Devil was quite a snappy looking feller. He was a tall "drink of water" as I remember Poly saying, and quite a dresser, and I’m sure being a new feller in town quite a novelty and such a feller must have drawn quite a lot of attention. Didn’t get many "famous" people like him back then.
And the few new folks that did show up in town usually weren’t here to get drug down main street behind the old car and around the courthouse a time or two. From what I remember about San Saba though, I’m almost sure such wouldn’t have hurt some of them, and it sure would have been a good way to meet a lot of the local people and make some easy money.
Thinking back, and knowing some of the families that were living in this community back then, when we were kids, there were several who wouldn’t have needed the cowhide cause they were just plain tough by nature. Times back then made them like that.
Anyway, as advertised Dimeshine came down the street, dragging along behind the old car and around the courthouse and after awhile they stopped and he got up, dusty but otherwise pretty much unscathed.
I don’t know what it cost to witness such a sight but couldn’t have been much or nobody would have been able to come. (Poly left out the part about buying a ticket which might have been because he didn’t buy one.)
Of course, they may have been paid by a sponsor who made some sort of shoe polish or something like that. Back then it cost about a dime to get a shine for those who could afford it, so the polish company may have sponsored the show to sell the shoe polish and the actor just took a stage name of Dare Devil DimeShine. Who knows and Poly didn‘t say however in my mind as a small kid I always associated this guy with a dime shoe shine. I’ll leave this part of the story to your imagination just as Poly left it to mine.
Anyway according to Poly who was telling this story to an audience of us very receptive kids, after witnessing this early stunt man being drug down the street, the audience was led by the announcer to the flying part of the show almost like a bunch of rats following the Pied Piper.
Now Poly didn’t say where this airplane had landed but it had to be someplace close by. I guess it could have been someplace around the Fair Grounds North of town but he didn’t tell us that detail. He did say that everybody gathered at the airplane, and I imagine this was the first airplane Poly ever saw but of course, he wasn‘t alone. Back then there wasn’t many airplanes anywhere and fewer that ever came to or even flew over San Saba.
Now as discussed earlier, this part of the show, and the part most everyone was interested in involved the chicken with the money tied to it’s leg. Although I have long forgotten how much money it was that Poly said would be tied to this bird it probably wasn’t much by today’s standards but it was a heap back then. People gathered around to watch them tie the money to this birds leg as promised by the announcer.
Once everyone got there the "chicken" turned out to be a guinea hen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this bird, guinea’s are a bunch wilder than chickens or the ones I ever saw were. They can fly really good and make more racket than a room full of first graders.
After awhile, and much fanfare by the announcer, they finally got the money tied to the leg of this "so called Chicken" and Dare Devil, the pilot and the guinea got into the small plane and after someone spun the propeller awhile the old engine finally caught and the small airplane rolled to the place of departure. With a loud roar the small plane rolled across the bumpy ground until it reached whatever speed it took to get off the ground and took off. (of course, if they’d turned that guinea hen loose, she could have been plumb out of sight in half the time it took this machine to get going but since she was part of the show the ride went with stardom).
The announcer on the ground was the focus of Poly’s attention during this part of the story. In his most nasal voice Poly would announce the flight of this small airplane. He‘d point to the sky with his hat and suddenly become the announcer as he‘d say, "He’s now at 500 feet, I can tell by the sound of the motor" he’d say, and then "He’s now at 700 feet, I can tell by the sound of the motor" and so forth until he’d gotten to a couple of thousand feet (by the sound of the motor of course) and at that point the guinea hen was suppose to be released.
Now imagine thirty or forty kids, a bunch of parents and no telling who else that might be listening to this announcer telling about "a bunch" of money that was attached to the right leg of this bird and all you had to do was watch where it landed, catch the bird and you had the money. What a sure fire road to wealth. Why, I almost get excited thinking about it now.
Of course Poly, by this time, nearly had us kids watching the sky expecting this old guinea to come floating by, as he told the story. He went into a lot of detail, pointing to the sky, while waving his hat as he demonstrated how the small plane circled and the hype the announcer discussed as he explained how someone in this crowd was going to soon be richer just by finding that bird. Couldn’t hardly lose.
Now after awhile Poly, who was enjoying telling this story as much as we were listening to it finally got to the point of releasing the bird.
He said that all of a sudden there was a black dot seen coming out of the airplane but instead of falling like he was suppose to "that danged" Guinea hen locked her wings and so far as Poly knew never landed! He allowed if she did it was in some other county because nobody he‘d ever heard of "around San Saba" ever found that bird.
He did say that he often wondered if they really had money tied to that guinea’s leg but since nobody ever found it who could say for sure. Brother Dimeshine did have quite a bit of time alone with this bird while he was sitting in the front seat, as the old airplane gained speed and altitude and the money could have somehow come untied and off the leg of this bird, but being a trusting sort we’ll assume it stayed in place.
Seems like there aren’t many traveling shows like that anymore and for sure with the advent of pavements I doubt if many people would opt to be drug behind a car. I am saddened that I missed some of these wonderful early forms of entertainment.
Heck, by the time we were kids we had to settle for such things as Henry Hanes Tent Picture Show which left a lot to the imagination but entertained us, along with an occasional traveling circus that might happen to break down in San Saba and put on a show.
All these were exciting to us kids but not near as exciting as hearing Uncle Poly tell about the antics of Dare Devil Dimeshine. Thanks for the memories..
Mike Millican, June 2010