Leo Thornberry was a neighbor in Comanche County, Kansas, who lived approximately 2 1/2 miles south of Dad's place. He came from Medicine Lodge; I don't know where he was from before that. He bought the Hurndon place and moved there with his wife in the late 1930's. They had children but they were grown and gone by them.
He was always the type that reminded me of a stereotypical Arkansas hillbilly. He was slow of speech and slow of movement and, by that, some people tho't he was slow of mind. Those were the people who didn't know him. He would take the shirt off his back and give it to you if you needed it and he had one of the best comedic minds I have ever known.
He always planted and raised watermelons and, as boys will be boys, many a melon was stolen from him. Most of the kids were afraid of him because he wold watch his patch like a hawk and nearly always caught anyone getting in his patch, then he would fire his ever-present shotgun over their heads. Many kids tho't that he was shooting at them, but he was just shooting to watch them run. I really believe that he had more fun than the kids from the melon stealing.
One night after midnight three of us boys were returning to Wilmore from Sun City where we had been drinking beer. We decided to visit Leo's patch since there was no light in his house and we assumed they were in bed. His house was about 1/2 mile off the road and the melon patch was about half way to the house. I parked my car on the main road and we walked up and each got a melon, then started back to the car. When we got about 50 feet from the car, the starter started to turn over. Thank God I had taken my keys. the other two boys dropped their melons and ran. They walked all the way to Wilmore, which was about four miles. I can't remember who they were. I knew there was no use in running, I was caught. When I got to the car Leo was laughing so hard he could hardly talk. He and his wife had been sitting on the porch in the dark and he walked around us to the car intending to drive it to Wilmore and leave it. In just a few minutes, Grace, his wife, came up in their car. She was going to Wilmore to pick him up. That was a lesson well learned. Very few times in my lifetime since then have I stepped out of my car without the keys.
At left: Marie Trummel of Wilmore, Ks, with Wendel Ferrin's car, about 1946. Photograph by Wendel G. Ferrin.
Another time I was caught in his melon patch. I was dating Marie Trummel and I don't recall how it came about but Norma and Joan Bigbee, my cousins, Evelyn and Marie Trummel, cousins to each other, and I drove into Leo's patch thinking that he wasn't at home. The ground was very sandy and I got stuck trying to turn around. Luckily or unluckily, however you figured it, Leo was at home and came down with his Model A Ford truck to pull me out. When he came up to the car all the girls were in the back seat trying to hide their faces and Leo couldn't tell for sure who they all were, so he told me that he wouldn't be able to pull me out unless everyone in the car got out and pushed, which he knew and I knew wasn't necessary. Anyway, they all got out on the opposite side of the car from Leo and he walked around that car a few times chasing them in front of him into the lights of his truck before he pulled me out. I was going along with the joke and told the girls how mean he was and how I hoped that he hadn't recognized them.
The following week Evelyn (later to be Mrs. Louis Helm) was in town with her folks. At that time, when she went with her parents, she always drove. She was parked in front of the grocery story waiting for her folks when Leo saw her from up the street. He casually sauntered towards her car and when he got close she started the car and drove to the other end of the block. He chased her back and forth, up and down that street, for over an hour with his meanest scowl on his face. To make it even worse, he had told everyone in town what he was doing and everyone was watching. Evelyn was out of high school at the time, but I doubt if she ever trusted Leo Thornberry after that.
Another story that I heard about Leo concerned a traveling salesman who came to his house to sell Leo something that he didn't need and didn't want. The way I remember it was that it was a subscription to a magazine or newspaper. Leo was working in his shop and the salesman was one of those so-called "high pressure" salesmen. Leo told him right off that he wasn't interested. The salesman wouldn't take "No" for an answer and kept on getting between Leo and what he was doing. Leo took it as long as he tho't it took to be polite. The salesman was a small man and Leo was a large man. Leo simply picked him up by this coat collar and carried him outside and behind his workshop. There he set him down and went into an auctioneer's spiel about the value of a sulky plow and that he (Leo) would sell it to him at a bargain price for that day and that day only. He told the salesman what his price was and picked the plow up and started to put it on the front fender of the salesman's car. The salesman broke loose, jumped in his car and screamed: "Man, you're crazy!".
I don't believe that Leo would have ever told this story, but the salesman went up the road to Fay Smith's and wanted to know who his crazy neighbor was, then told Fay the whole story, which Leo later verified.
-- by Wendel Gene Ferrin, circa 1988.
Practical Jokes & Backfired Actions: A few stories from Comanche County, Kansas
Raccoons, Coyotes and Watermelons by Wendel Ferrin, 01 February 1990.
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