Leon Shipman
Interview


Bradley Williams: Descriptive Essay of Interview with Leon Shipman

It was a beautiful, sunny, afternoon on February 13, 1999, when I headed towards Rush, Arkansas for my very first interview. I left Mtn. Home, Arkansas at approximately 1:00 o'clock. I was driving a teal, four door, 1994 Ford Escort with about 120,000 miles on it. I headed down Highway 62 west to Yellville. When I arrived in Yellville, around 1:40, I took a left on Highway 14 S towards Rush. I reached the gravel road that leads to Rush at about 1:55 where I turned left. I drove down the skinny road for about a mile when I realized I wasn't going the right way. What I really was supposed to do was drive past Rush road. Needless to say, I did a quick U turn, peeled out and headed back to Highway 14. Upset from my careless mistake, I whipped the brave little Escort off of the gravel road and back onto the highway.

Continuing my journey down the road, ever so alert, I sped by what looked like the Shipman home. There was a big tower behind it, but it didn't look blue like Mrs. Treva Stoops had described. Well, not thinking anything of it, I kept on going until my instincts finally told me differently. I thought, "That had to be the Shipmans." So, at that, I did another U turn. This time I was about a half a mile down the road at Benton Canoe rentals. Once again, I raced the other direction like a driver at the Daytona 500. With goose bumps on my arms, and perspiration dripping down my brow, I pulled into the Shipman drive-way. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. It was about 2:05 when I shut the modern day wagon off, and got out.

As Cindy and I were getting our necessary supplies, Mrs. Stoops came out and greeted us. I slowly walked to the front door, which had a rugged look to it. With my black "General Electronics" brand cassette recorder in my right hand, I visually took in my surroundings. I noticed that the house was aged, but had a relaxing, pleasant feeling. When I entered through the front door, Doretha Shipman gave me a warm, reassuring welcome. While I was casually wandering further into the house, I noticed books that could have easily come from the Mayflower. There were also several pictures of relatives that hung above an old, upright, black piano. As I progressed through the house looking for those brownies that Mrs. Shipman had previously offered me, I couldn't help but notice the worn wooden floor. It was such a good feeling to see how modern everything looked, yet made the past stand out in awe. I eventually made it to the kitchen and found recently made brownies, which had nuts. They were heavenly to say the least. While eating my delicious brownies, I looked at the antiques that surrounded the top of all the kitchen cabinets. After finishing my brownies, I quickly made it back to the living room to begin my interview.

Leon Shipman, Doretha Shipman, Treva Stoops, Cindy Long, and I all sat around a table that couldn't have been any bigger then three feet wide and four feet long. That table was built by Leon when he was in shop class during his high school years. The table had black legs and a worn, brown top made from a piece of wood that looked like it was scrap wood from Noah's Arc. It was a table like no other. I think everything I saw there was almost insignificant when compared to that table. Well over a half century old, it looked like everyone in the county had sat at it at least once. I'm sure if it could tell stories, it would never stop talking and probably sound just like Leon. I sat at that table for over two hours. When I got up and stretched out the twisted back, I headed for some more of those brownies. While eating another brownie, Doretha explained some of the antiques in her kitchen, particularly the butter mold. It was about six inches in length and was dusty with cobwebs on it. She also showed me a bright blue, clay milk jug. It weighed a great deal, but Doretha said it was excellent for keeping the milk cold. As the conversation progressed, we made our way back towards the living room.

While Treva was explaining to Cindy about her great-grandparents, I had the pleasure of hearing Doretha tell about her 500 member family that comes to the Marion County family reunion each summer. Then, she filled me in on some of the history behind the ancient figures hanging from her wall. Before leaving, Cindy got out her Samsung brand camera and got it ready for me to take some pictures. We cleared the table on which we had done the interview. Since, the table had so much history; I decided to take a picture of it. Then, I also took a picture of Leon sitting behind his marvelous table. After getting a few smiles and laughs from Leon, due to the fact he enjoyed being photographed; I packed up the camera and kept on chatting. After visiting for about a half hour longer, it was time to depart. Leon was just getting out of his chair with his cane in hand, while his great-grandchildren played in the back room. He was very happy to have such young visitors to see him who could appreciate his stories. I personally felt the pleasure was all mine. Making my way to the door, I felt really good about myself for extending a hand in the effort to preserve the past. Although, it was 4: 15 or so when we left, I felt as if I was and easily could have been there all day.

Interview

Treva: Anything about the schools and education? What it was like when you went to schools. In a one room school house.

Leon: Ya, I was... Of course I started school m'I'm four years older then Doretha... So I started school... at Frack (Freck)... And everyone was ------- all those people were la'a'wer'la related to me. And um, so um.. Verl, my oldest brother, ah had normally started school before I did. And he, so he had a girlfriend. And so when I started school, there was just one left that wasn't related to me. (Doretha laughs loudly) And that was Nellie and uh huh (laughing)

Doretha: Tell her whole name Nellie "Squirt"

Leon: The entire name was Nellie Stevens... but she had ah, she had, we had ah, everybody at Freck. Had a nickname. And Nellie's was "Squirt." Annelid "Squirt," Never called her Nellie Stevens. Coulter mother had died when she was a baby. And so her Grandma, had taken her her' mother had died and her sisters and brother stayed in Russellville and Nellie came to her grandma's in Freck. And her Ma', her grandma was ah Brightwell, so it was Na'ellie "Squirt" Brightwell. So, ah, everybody, she went with Nellie "Squirt" Brightwell. Hey now.

Bradley: So, what was your nickname?

Leon: Mine!?

Bradley: Uh huh

Leon: I' I don't really, I, I though', thought about that. I really do, I didn't, I don't remember!

Doretha: John Q. Adams which was the Leon: (Trying to interrupt Doretha) Was Superintendent when we went to school I, I, wait a minute woman, ya, ya. At Yellville and he called him ''Uncle Buck." And I don't know why.

Leon: I do!

Doretha: Oh (laughs)

Leon: Because he said look right at the ''Uncle Buck," ah, I'll think of her name in a minute. I told you yesterday his, Buchanan. "Uncle Buck" bak'Buchanan. I don't, he's a real short fellow. (Laughs) And for some reason (Don't Understand what he is saying) John Q. Adams ah, "Uncle Buck" So, that's what he called me.

Doretha: John Q. Adams (Whispering an explanation) Leon: Now his daughter builds... (Treva, Doretha, Leon, and Bradley are talking over each other trying to get the story straight.)

Bradley: Just Yellville? Was it Yellville Summit? (Everyone answered my question, but it was Yellville Summit. It was very confusing everyone talking over each other.)

Leon: Superintendent after I was started school at Yellville, but most of the kids that ah, but really I don't know what they ever called me, because everyone else I knew had a nickname. Well, no maybe (Don't Understand what he is saying) (Leon continues to ramble on in a much lower voice.) Lalton had a nickname and Powers and Warren Aliase was Kein Beard. What was that other? George Smith was ah Frock. The reason they called him Frock, he couldn't say, "smoke." And he said, "Give me a Frock." (Laughs coming from everyone sitting around the table.) I wanna, (Don't Understand what he is saying) kids started smoking without their parents consent when they were quite young and urn, so Gerald Smith since he couldn't say it, but he still wanted a smoke, so he said, "Give me a Frock." So that was his nickname. Uh.

Doretha: Now, you didn't. You, go ahead and tell about this romantic part about Nellie "Squirt" putting you up in this comer of the fire place thing.

Leon: O.K. (Leon coughs.) Now, one of the neighbors there in Freck. I wouldn't normally say who it was. Of course everybody at no ore people then wee there either new or had a suspicion of who they were. Anyhow, one of the local men got mad at somebody. I don't know who it was. And he burned the school house down.

Bradley: The school you were going to?

Leon: Yaw, where I was going, And D.F. Burns had the store, which was a half mile from the where the school house was burned down. And he volunteered; his mother and father had died. And he had the old home place right beside the store. He, he had the, ah, mercantle store and, and the grits mill. It was run by a one-lunger what they call lung', one-lunger ah lunger ah high edged engine had pulled a grinding rel. Anyhow, had those two buildings. Plus his mother and father old home place. He had ah, what they called duck', a dog trot through when', one here and over her dog trot in the middle and they had a side room at the back of one of them. They had three rooms and the dog trot (Squeaks) so he give it to the community, didn't loan it to the community. They took the center out of it. Dog trot out of it. Made one big long ah, buildin' room. And we used ah a kitchen part like if we had a play or something like that then the kids could go back and change and everything in it. But that's all we used it for (Don't Understand what he is saying) it was a one room even then. And they built a stage on one end and a fireplace was down on the other end and that's were we went to school. Now, what's she's talking about, this was ah about the last year when I went to Freck.

Bradley: How old were you, then?

Doretha: How old!?

Treva: How old were you!?

Leon: Well, let's see I was det and my father first sent us to Yellville when I was in the fifth grade. I guess, I don't know what it was.

Treva: So it must have been what? Second or third grade?

Leon: No, it was t he fifth grade.

Treva: Oh' fifth.

Doretha: Eleven?

Treva: Probably eleven

Leon: Ah, I don't think so.

Treva: Ten?

Leon: More like ten.

Treva: Ya.

Leon: Nine or ten. Anyhow, I didn't know my multiplication tables. And miss (Don't Understand what he is saying) was a teacher. Now mine, get this in you' your mind, I'm a kid 9 or 10 years old. It's reeled in the community that everyone that went to school was either my cousins or near close neighbor that l' played with already. The picked me up, put me on the bus and send me to Yellville, the city. Hey (Laughs) Now!

Doretha: That was probably one of the hardest things for the little country children, like he and I. You know to be consolidated to Yellville.

Leon: I was probably. Ah, probably six years old. I guess I was been probably five, because Verl was I guess six, no he was a five. I was four years old. The first time I ever seen Yellville I was four years old and the first time Verl, my oldest brother ever seen it. Now, he had learned to read off the wall paper in the house, that my dad and mother lived in. They had covered the walls with ah catalogs. Paper and newspapers, but mostly catalog paper, because they didn't have much newspapers.

Bradley: Like one of these catalogs here?

Leon: No!

Doretha: NOO! Catalogs see like Catalogs.

Leon: Sears Robuck and Maciward. Now.

Doretha: And ya know parts of them were takin' out to the out house, but you did save some of paint the house with.

Leon: Anyhow, when Verl would be looking at the pictures on the wall. Like the advertisements, like you could say that. CaCaClothing or something in the catalog. Then he would ask, "What is this?" And she would say, "C." Mother would say, "C." What's the next one? "A" So, he would learn to "spell." Spell! And then he also then learned to read before he went to school. He probably he learned to read when he was three or four years old. And then he went to school. Anyhow, of there were a lot of things you didn't read yet exactly right or know what it meant. But, my uncle was hauling a load of cotton on a warn, tired wagon into Yellville, they had loaded the bail, I mean the cotton thirty late night. They started the next morning really early, before daylight and he took Verl with him, and long with his cousin. And as it rolled into town. Came down wa' up through Berry Street and turned down by the old North Hotel and that was a Capea' there. It had a big sign on it. It said, "Dixie Capea'." And Verl looked at that and of course everything was new to him. And said, "D.I.X.I.E., Dixie. C.A.F.E. "Dixie Cafe." He said, "That's a Dixie Cafe." (Everyone laughs.) Anyhow, form then. The point I'm saying is... Even Yellville was a big place for me. And when Dad put us on a bus and sent us to down to school. There was about 400 people' ah children there. There was an upstairs down stairs and in the in the basement and it was very strange to me. I didn't know anybody. My mother, there was ah. There was ah eight or nine of us no, ten of us boys. No nine. (Coughs)... We were the first. Verl, me and Verl, and Ray were the first ones to go to school. And when we got there. Goin' there, we didn't have store-bought cloths. The only two... cloths we had (Coughs) ah had, had (Coughs) are what Dad had bought some, which were nickers. The reason he had bought em, Uncle Belly Angel was in the store one time, I had been ~ to Bruno. I been to, I go to school in Bruno also.

Doretha: Your school, that was your first school at Bruno.

Leon: No, second school.

Doretha: Second school.

Leon: And then, of course I had gone back to Freck. I didn't like Bruno either. But uh. (Laughs) Uncle Billy said now. He called my Dad and said, "Lewie I've got a real bargain for you on some cloths for the boys. Verl and I were about the same age and of course the same size. Two years is something like that. He said, "I got these nickers here they're corduroy." Had uh pants. Had a coat. All of them nice. And a pill' bill cap. And he said you know I don't remember what he sold them to Dad for, but he had this two pair. And he couldn't sell them to anybody else. Anyhow, he made em' cheap enough Dad bought em'. We didn't have no choice but buy em', where em'. But, I didn't like em', but Verl hated them with a purple passion. (Laughs) He was a 01' bill cow he would go to school in one instance. We got a devela' ah, ahh, I don't know what ah, I can't think of the name right now. Anyhow, had this thing goin' in school. Ah we'd take an empty shell of a .22 shell. Like ah, and put two match heads in it and crimp it together. Lay in on a something and hit it and it would explode. Make a pretty good size noise. I would be much loader then the .22 going off. So that was a habit, we ah I mean a thing that we had going. Of course the teacher didn't want it. He tried to stop it. So, anyhow, me and Verl ah dad had moved one time in a new place. And the man that had been there had their own model T truck. And he had to take some part and they had bearings in it.

Leon: Anyhow, ah, went back to when we went to school, ah, I didn't like school at Yellville, not at all. I didn't, I don't like it at Bruno. But, I excepted it at Yellville. And ah, one incident.

Doretha: You'll like them won't you? (Laughing while she jokingly asks)

Leon: One incident I remember quit well. Now, Hal Bums's daughter, youngest daughter was in my class at that time. And ah, Betty, Betty Bums.

Doretha: You might tell him who Hal Bums. He originally came and lives over around Freck. And then he had, he's the one who had the funeral home out here, at Yellville. Now his grandson has it. So, that is the Bums's' that we were talking about.

Leon: Ya, he was originally from Bruno. His father was, was ah originally from Freck. But, Hal was raised at Bruno. Anyhow, and off-course she was pretty nice dressed. A matter of fact, ah she and ah a closet friend was ah Don Mathews daughter which was Mathews was two, which was probably the two best dressed girls in school.

Doretha: And Mathews, Ma' Mean Mathews father ran the Echo lodge.

Leon: And ya, and his father before him.

Doretha: Yes, So that's a little more history for you.

Leon: Anyhow, back to my closing, (Laughs) I just had what my mother had made me. Because I didn't like the, I ah, I had long since abandoned those nickers. (Laughs) I couldn't stand them. But, she made my overalls for me, and made my shirt. Everything I wore, except maybe I got a new pair of shoes once a year. Was homemade, she made it. An uh, of-course I wa', when he, I playoff sick, I do anything to get off going to school. But occasionally I would have to go. When I did, when I did have to go, I would playoff sleep in class. (Laughs) I remember Miss Robinson said, somebody said, "Leon's asleep." She said, "Well, just let him sleep." (Laughs) She got the point (Don't Understand what he is saying). And Anyhow, I never had had my picture made before. And they had, they made the school pictures back then. The guy ah came around. Made all the pictures, everybody had their picture made. And then, they came in, gave it to the school. And Miss Rosel had ah Betty (Don't Understand what he is saying) handing' out the pictures to people. Had their names on em'! I never remember this (Laughs) And Betty came to this name, mine Leon Shipman. And so when she hand it to me she looked at me like you are the most pitiful looking person I've ever seen. Of- course she had one of those pictures, she took one of those pictures with her. I wish I had one of them. You've got one somewhere. Anyhow, (Squeaks) Ah, so I was play off sick. An uh, one year, that one year, I went, of-course I didn't pass. I didn't learn my multiplication tables or nothing else. Except how to avoid going to school. I learned that pretty good. An uh, then I went back to Freck.

Treva: But, you did graduate from Yellville?

Leon: Oh, ya.

Bradley: What year did you graduate?

Leon: Huh?

Bradley: What year did you graduate?

Leon: Ah, well, I never did play ball. I never did care anything about the ball team. I was strictly agriculture. I was ah the president of ah FF A and everything. But, ah I spent all my time that I could, all my spare time in the agriculture building.

Doretha: (Rubbing the table we were seated at) This table, that we're sitting at.

Leon: Ya, this in' (Pats the table) I, I sawed the lumber out of the trees. And ah, and Musk Oscarmorah, he was in my, my class.

Doretha: (Whispering help Leon with the rest of the story)

Leon: And I worked on building these tables. And we built this there in the agriculture. That's why when the other guys were, that played ball were out playing ball, and I was in the agriculture building. I spent; I just didn't spend an hour and a half in the agriculture building. I spent probably two and a half hours every day over at the agriculture building. Anyhow, I had 20. At mid-term when I was in the eleventh grade I had 21 credits. Ya, I took extra classes to get ah get em let get my diploma. I quite school. (Don't understand what he is saying) "Mr. Adams may I get my diploma?" And ah, I quit at mid-term and went to Kansas.

Doretha: This was during time of; war time and you' you worked in the.

Leon: I worked for the North American Bomb pa', building B25 bombers.

Bradley: What year was this? What year?

Leon: Ah, ah it started in '41 when I started with working with North American.

Bradley: And that's when you went up to?

Leon: Ya

Doretha: (Talking in the background)

Leon: No, I went up in, went up there in '39, but Christmas of '39 O.K.

Bradley: mm 'huh

(Doretha and Treva are having a conversation in the near background)

Leon: Because then, before they started. I'I didn't get to go, I went to school then. North American had a school that stated. And ah, in '40. And I went to that. And the when they opened the plant, I was one of the first ones that went in the plant. I was in armor- mint. And ah, we ah (Don't Understand what he is saying) and machine guns on the aircraft. Of course B25's just had ah had two torches. What they call the top torch and a bottom torch. And they had the side gunners. And ah that's where I' until I, I had a deferment. I had to get permission to volunteer in our Army.

Leon: I tried to get to go over seas, but they wouldn't let me. (Don't Understand what he is saying) we down there in Brazil. And we was teaching the Brazilians the use of our equipment, machine guns and parachutes and so forth. Any you know, Germany surrendered and that's where I was when Germany surrendered. (Don't Understand what he is saying) when they surrendered there, of course everything was falling apart, it didn't take long, Harry decided he was, to drop the atomic bomb on em' to end it all. Which it did.

Doretha: Harry Truman

Leon: Ya...

Doretha: But, he did have a little plane crash over in Brazil. (Talking about Leon) In the Japanese peanut field.

Leon: Ya, O.K. (A lot of noise in the background) (Leon coughs) Ya, I had a younger brother, as we grew up, all the WWI people that had a pension lived a little better out there in the country then we did. Because they had a steady income. Friends of my Uncles, some of them had a pension of $30 a month. Well, that's still a dollar a day. Every day.

Doretha: That was a lot of money.

Leon: Her grandpa built a basement in her father's house for 50 cents a day. And he worked 10 hours a day.

Doretha: Digging by hand with a shovel.

Leon: So, anyhow, we thought anyone who got a pension was a wonderful thing. We (they) had more money then anybody in the country. (Laughs) So, anyhow, while I was down there in Brazil, there was another guy with me that worked in armor-mint. And we got threw with our class for the day. And went on about to some other course. You know, like they would go so long for the armor-mint course and so long for ah engine and so long for ah sheet metal. Anyhow, so we got over with our course for the day and ah armor-mint. And Ashcroft and I were out walking around base. And walked down by these two WWI (Don't Understand what he is saying) planes. They had a cockpit in front that opened. Had no cover on em'. Open cockpit. With the wings top and bottom.

Bradley: Mm 'huh

Leon: And I said, "Boy Ashcroft, I sure would like to fly in one of those." (Ashcroft said,) "Ya, I would too." We were talking about them about that time we met these two Brazilian pilots. They got their parachutes on and everything. And walked right before us to the airplanes. And I said, "Hey you guys going up on the?" (Pilots) "Ya" (Leon) "I sure would like to go up in there sometime." (Pilot) "Well" This one guy says, "I don't ah, you can go with right now." I said, "Well, you go first Ashcroft." ''Nah No. He said "You go first." I went down and put on the pa' ah parachute and crawled in the back co' cockpit of the thing. We took off... We got up about tree top, everything doing pretty good (Don't Understand what he is saying) gaining a little elevation. Then all of a sudden the thing started messin'. They ah had, they didn't have a battery, awe (Leon pats the table trying to remember what was wrong with the plane) Anyhow, they didn't have a battery on ah (Don't Understand what he is saying) like a model T.

Doretha: Spark plugs!

Leon: No No, (Laughs) didn't have ah. Anyhow, the thing started messin'. That 01' pilot turned around and looked at me. Hey I'm not a pilot; I don't know the first thing of being a pilot. I just shrugged my shoulders like that (Laughs) hey I don't know what to do. About that time (Leon makes funny noises like the engine is dying) stopped, I mean just dead still. No, (Laughs) I look out on the side an all I could see coming up meet us was the top of a stone building. Made out of stone. And we were losing altitude pretty fast. But that old boy he held right on to it because it was a (Don't Understand what he is saying) plane, with two wings. And they don't like, you know. You' you can glide them in.

Bradley: Mm'huh

Leon: He was doing a good job. He cleared (Laughs) that metal building, I mean stone building by just about that much. (Leon uses his fingers spacing them about an inch to show how close they actually came to crashing into the stone building) I believe it was really close. Just a little bit ways longer, farther down, he hit the ground. But he had let it get the motor just a little bit too much pitch. And when they hit they hit the ground. Of course the motor went up like this. And it jumped. Probably five or six feet off the ground. And (Don't Understand what he is saying) before we hit the ground. But, by that time though, you just flopped on over. And I grabbed my safety belt, but the same time I threw the uh left hand on up as I was pulling on my safety belt and caught my fall. He, we, he had landed right in the place proud peanut patch. (Laughs) And there were Japs everywhere. I' I went crawling out of there just as flat as I could (Don't Understand what he is saying) knee (Don't Understand what he is saying) I got near as far -- I turned around and looked, and that 01' boy ah'ah pilot was just sitting there. Just sitting there like this whipping the dirt out of his eyes. (Laughs) He couldn't see a lick. (Laughs) He, he had pulled his hand down, you know, to catch his fall. He ah he just pulled his deal and fell flat and his head buried up in the dirt. (Laughs) So, I went running back over there and said, "Oh come on come on this thing is going to blow up." I grabbed him by the hands, pulled him out of the airplane. And we ah ran a little ways and it never did blow up.


Researched and Written by Bradley Williams on March 26, 1999.