EDITOR'S NOTE: A former Sullivan and Charleston resident, Jerry Ginther writes a column the first Tuesday of each month in the JG-TC with his remembrances of years gone by in Charleston, Sullivan and the area.
One of my favorite places to hang out as a preteen and during my early teen years was the Coles County fairgrounds. Several horse owners, whom I had come to know, stabled their pleasure horses in one of the barns located there and attended them each day. Loving horses the way most boys do, there were very few days that I did not make the trip out there on my bicycle.
Visiting with the owners was always interesting, and I would be disappointed should I arrive to find they had already been there, finished their chores and departed. One of my favorite owners to spend time with was Identa Moler. She stabled two horses near the front entrance of the barn. Colonel was a gentle, saddle-bred gelding standing about 17 hands high and used to train students who were learning the English style of riding and horsemanship. The other was a smaller horse, a mare, named Beauchamp’s Copper Luster. For some reason I thought that to be an impressive name for a horse. As a matter of fact, I still think so.
Being a young boy and living in Charleston in the late ‘50s was a pleasant experience for me. The schools and teachers were great, and the community was as friendly as any I can remember. Adults took the time to teach and mentor kids and that concept made a lasting impression on me. That statement is quite a generalization of course, so, let me be more specific by mentioning just a few individuals who helped shape my perception.
Mr. Miller, I think his first name was Bill, was an A.I. technician who bred cattle artificially for the Illinois Breeding Co-op. On occasion he would take his son and me with him to the farms where he performed this service. Nearly 15 years later I would be performing the same service for Curtiss Breeding Service located in Cary, IL. Certainly, I did not learn much about the procedure as a boy on those few occasions, but had I not had those experiences, I would never have known such an occupation existed. When the job became available and was offered to me by another company I knew what it was and had seen it done. To my knowledge, Mr. Miller was never aware that the time he spent with me on his job played a significant role in my acquiring the same job on a part-time basis later in life. I worked that job for several years as a supplement to my full-time employment of telegraph operator and train dispatcher.
Miss Moler taught me a few things about handling horses and caring for their feet. Colonel was always employed for these teaching sessions. His feet were larger than a dinner plate and weighed more than I. I remember well the struggle of holding a hoof with one hand and using the tool to clean the inside with the other. She taught me that holding his hoof between my knees made the job less of a struggle.
At that time, the mayor of Charleston kept his hackney ponies there, and Dr. Buckner, a veterinarian, stabled a Shetland pony in the same barn. As a matter of fact, I had one of the most exciting rides of my life on that pony. Be it known that I did stay on longer than the rodeo time requirement of eight seconds, albeit, not a professional looking ride. I don’t actually know the exact amount of time I was aboard, but it seemed like an eternity before someone caught that bucking pony and freed my grip on the saddle horn.
On a couple of occasions I was privileged to assist the good doctor in his duties by being in the right place when he needed another hand. Of course, I was always looking for an opportunity to be of service, which I figured secured my continued visiting privileges. I did pick up a paying job now and then, usually cleaning stalls. That supplemented my paper route income, but I would have done it free of charge just to be there. It was all part of the fun and adventure of being a boy living in Charleston.