LUM and ABNER
AS THE HOME FOLKS KNOW THEM
A RAMBLING REPORTER GOES SIGHTSEEING IN
Pine Ridge, Arkansas, Where Most of the Original Characters Used in Lum and Abner Radio Programs Still Live Much as They Do in the Pine Ridge of the Air
LUM AND ABNER NOW IN THE MOVIES
By G. C. KONKLER
PINE RIDGE, Ark.-“Howdy, Everybody:” well, here we are, just as millions of radio listeners throughout America have heard the announcer say: “Down in Pine Ridge for another visit with L-U-M a-n-d A-B-N-E-R.”
But inquiry of a man, sauntering down the street, as to the whereabouts of Lum Edwards and Abner Peabody brought a stare of astonishment as the fellow replied: “Gosh, hain’t you hear-ed bout them? They left these parts years ago to go way off sommers to prattle bout the rest of us over one of them thar radio contraptions. You better go over to the store and talk to Dick. He’s the ‘ficial greeter ’round here since so many folks bin comin pesterin.”
So to the famed Dick Huddleston, even as Lum and Abner, for ad-vice on Pine Ridge affairs. We learn that Pine Ridge is one of the new towns in Arkansas, despite the fact that it has been firmly established in radioland for several years.
Meet Dick Huddleston.
“The pioneer trading post here was named Waters after the man on whose farm the first post office was located.” And so Dick explains why the name of the century-old village was changed to Pine Ridge.
“Of course, after the boys (Lum and Abner) gave us so much publicity we received many letters asking if there really was a Pine Ridge. Then I thought it might be a good idea to change the name of our town to Pine Ridge. It would be treating the boys right since they had brought this section to public notice.”
Changed to Pine Ridge.
“We sent a petition to our Congressman, signed by all the character used in the Lum and Abner programs and fifty others around here, asking the Post Office Department to change our town’s name to Pine Ridge; telling them to inform Mr. Farley that if our request was refused he would be e-rested by Grandpappy Spears for neglect of duty and that Lum, our justice of the peace, would sure ‘pour it on him’ in court.” That evidently had its effect for the change of name was granted.
Dick Huddleston is 57 years old, good looking, big and strong, clean shaven, carries himself well and is an interesting talker. His voice sounds much like you hear it over your radio. In fact, when we assure you that Lum and Abner portray him to a “T” there isn’t much more to be said.
Dick Huddleston, Old Friend.
Standing around the old box stove in Dick’s store, just as Lum and Abner have pictured it to their countless listeners, we asked the genial country storekeeper why they chose his store for their programs. “Abner’s father had been like a Daddy to me. He was in the wholesale grocery business up at Mena when I first started in business here years ago, and he always carried me through the hard times.
“Lum’s father was superintendent of a big lumber mill near here before the days of high powered cars and good roads, and boarded with us. Chet Lauck (Lum) used to come out with his father to the mill, and Tuffy Goff (Abner) called on me for some time representing his father’s wholesale house. All of us naturally got pretty well acquainted. When the boys went on the air a country store was needed so of course we were glad to help out.
To Mountains for Ideas.
“After securing their first contract on a general hookup they come out here and spend days at a time visiting around the pioneer folks. The old timers are against any progressive move so I would introduce the boys as Government agents checking up local sentiment for and against good roads. That would bring on hot arguments and helped Lum and Abner get a line on the queer sayings of these people.”
“Dick’s Gurl,” Ethel, often mentioned on the early programs, Huddleston recalled, “would write to the boys once a week relating the happenings around the store that might help.
If an unusually striking remark was made at a dance, party, pie supper or here at the store, someone would say, “that’s a good one,” and when the neighbors crowded around our radio a few evenings later they would have the unique experience of hearing that same expression come to them over the air.”
Huddleston says that business comes to a standstill in Pine Ridge every evening while Lum and Abner are on. The mountain folks enjoy the Lum and Abner programs because they speak a language they can understand.
Lum and Abner have a following all over the country because they speak the universal dialect of rural people and their dialogue and expressions are not extremely overdone. The dialogue and psychology is essentially the same in all hill sections of the United States, thus their act has hosts of fans in the metropolitan areas because many of the people there have come from the country districts.
Dick said that as there wasn’t anybody much around the store he would lock up and show the reporter the sights so we were soon off for a day among Lum and Abner’s friends and neighbors around Pine Ridge.
Meeting Real Characters.
“Howdy, Dick. Come in,” greeted Grandpappy Spears as we approached; and glancing around his typical mountain cabin, talked on. “I’m pretty well to do though lots of people don’t know it.” Asked by Huddleston where he got what he had to eat, he replied, “that’s an unfair question. No, I never get very far from home. Go up to Mena pretty seldom, kinda jump the place–got some notes up thar at the bank.”
Tall, thin and bent, the old fellow sports a scraggly mustache, talks in a high, cracked voice and always has an old black pipe in his mouth. When he speaks his eyes sparkle, and one readily sees why he was chosen as a leading character in the famous back-mountain program.
Mose Moots’ barber shop is catty-cornered across from Dick Huddleston’s store like you saw it pictured in Lum and Abner’s Almanac. The Pine Ridge barber said he had run a barber shop and grocery here for forty years, and was still holding his own. Said he started with $15 and still had about that much. Mose didn’t charge for his shaving by the head like most barbers–he shaves by the hour. Some time ago he began buying cream from the farmers so needing more room for cream testing apparatus and cans, he moved his barber chair over to the front porch of his home where he now does barbering.
Ezra Seestrunk has nine children and no telling how many grandchildren. Says he, “I’d have to take a day or two off to count ’em. And, Dick, don’t forget to tell the man that my brother was postmaster here for 28 years before you took it over.” “Do you still cling to the old ways of doing things, Uncle Ezra?” Huddleston inquired. “Some, Dick, we make our own soap; the old woman quilts, knits stockings and socks and does a little spinning.”
Cedric Draws Crowds.
Cedric Wehunt is a big good natured boy who until the outbreak of the war lived with his mother in a little house by the side of a dusty road. Tourists often visit the home so they can afterwards boast to their friends that they met Cedric Weehunt in person. Cedric is in the army now and is in reality taking orders from his “Uncle Sam” instead of from Lum and Abner.
Cedric has made personal appearances at fairs, theatres and other amusement spots in thirty-two states from coast to coast to satisfy the curiosity of those who wanted a glimpse of the Jot ’em Down Store delivery boy.
Dick Runs Fishing Lodge Too.
The famous cross-roads merchant prince stopped at his store frequently during the day, making sure he wasn’t losing any sales. We must see his fishing and boating lodge down the river, right at the mouth of Hole-in-the-Ground Creek and a short way off Highway 88 to make it nice and seclusy.
And on the way out there, passed the “Pine Bark Lumber Company’s” dinky sawmill, run by Snake Hogan.
At the foot of the hill where we turned off the main highway, according to spry, witting and eighty-six-year-old Uncle Dow Wilhite, “That used to be a bear waller and deer crossing thar in the early days. One time we had a bear fighting the dogs acomin’ and agoin’. I said, ‘make them dogs git back and I’ll ride him home, and punch him with a stick to make him go.’ But when the time come I had to back out somehow, so I said, “why anybody could ride him that wants to, but who the hell wants to.’ Wolves, panther and wild hogs were plentiful in those days.
“Hot Springs was just a hole in the ground with water bilin’ out first time I saw hit. I says to the boys, ‘Let’s git out of here quick; hell’s less than half a mile ‘down the road.'”
Leaving Uncle Dow and his bear waller we tramped up hill and down over the first road cut through the county, in the days when it was twelve miles from one neighbor’s house to another. Pointing across an open space, Dick said: “right there’s where old man Sims lived. Legend has it that he would leave home after building the morning fire and would be back in time for breakfast with ore from which he melted lead for his rifle bullets.”
“I believed that story strong enough to hunt fir hit,” remarked Uncle Dow. “Some folks around here mighty nigh lost their crops lookin’ fir old man Sims’ lead mine.”
Down the trail, edging steep embankments along the river, around briar patches and vine-matted wilderness; little gorges and waterfalls to the river below; all very picturesque and beautiful.
A broad, mile long eddy, up and down the river, free from rushing waters, offers boating and fishing. And the romantic-minded will delight in telling the folks back home that they idled along the Ouachita river near Pine Ridge in a boat named Lum and Abner, Squire Skimp, Cedric Weehunt, or Grandpappy Spears.
Back to the business center of Pine Ridge where we meet Dick’s Gurl, in overalls and jumper jacket, painting road signs for guiding tourists to the fishing lodge.
Seeing Dick’s Store.
And now for a look inside Dick Huddleston’s store. He sells about everything from lamp wicks and wash kettles to ladies’ suits, mule jewelry and plow points.
In a dusty showcase back by the big stove one sees a large photo of Lum and Abner in make-up as they looked when they first broadcasted from Hot Springs, early in their radio career, autographed: “To Our Good Friend, Dick. Sincerely yours, Lum and Abner.” Tubs of eggs blockaded the aisles. A scrawny cat wanders in at the open door and Dick reaches into the cheese crate for scraps for his kitty.
Across the front of the store a more modern glass display case, three feet high, is filled with Lum and Abner souvenirs–cob pipes, calendars, pottery, more photographs of the famous radio team, pictures of Dick Huddleston’s store and other Pine Ridge views.
Pine Ridge Modernizes
But the old Pine Ridge portrayed by Lum and Abner is slowly passing. Filling stations replace hitchracks, new white buildings crowd out weather-beaten old stores and homes. The visitors’ register at Dick’s store shows a weekly average of 300 Lum and Abner fans from all over the nation visit Pine Ridge. Modern concrete bridges are outdating the footlog, the swinging bridge and the winding creek bed crossings. Even the speech and the quaint ways of the settlers will change with the coming of the world beyond the mountains.
The land of Lum and Abner centers around Pine Ridge where these two country storekeepers are supposed to run the Jot ’em Down General Store in neighborly competition with their good friend and advisor, Dick Huddleston, who actually conducts a crossroads store in the real Pine Ridge. The surrounding country, including Cherry Hill, Oden, Norman, Mt. Ida and Mena, referred to as the “County Seat” get frequent mention. Grandpappy Spears, Squire Skimp, Cedric Weehunt, Evaleener and other characters on the Lum and Abner programs are just plain mountain folks whom Lum and Abner have introduced to the world at large.
Their First Broadcast.
Lum (Chet Lauck) and Abner (Tuffy Goff) sons of Mena business men, grew up, getting educations, but showing little aptitude in applying their learning in the businesses of their fathers. They preferred to indulge in the fads of youth, specializing in amateur music, art and home talent plays. But it was never suspected around town in those days that either showed signs of real genius. Then one day when the Lions Club met at the Elks Home it was announced that Chet and Tuffy had gone to Hot Springs for a tryout in radio and a loud speaker was installed in the Elks auditorium so homefolks could hear the boys broadcast. At the close the program they walked downstairs, appearing before the startled Lions Club members. They had simply connected a mike upstairs and the Hot Springs tryout was a hoax.
Then, as homefolks will, everybody was enthusiastic about the little sketch and urged the boys to sure enough seek a tryout. That wasn’t hard to arrange as KTHS was giving time on Sunday afternoons to promising amateurs. The outcome was that Lum and Abner was soon a regular weekly feature over there.
Talent Quickly Recognized.
And now let the Mena Star, the “County Seat newspaper” on Lum and Abner programs, tell the story:
“From obscurity to national recognition and a contract with the National Broadcasting Company in the brief space of eleven broadcasts is the unique record of one of KTHS radio features–Lum and Abner.”
Five years of hustling, triumphs intermingled with a period where they returned home out of a contract, it was whispered that maybe they were through, found the boys under contract with Horlick’s Malted Milk. They reached a new high in their work that year when they broadcast a special program from the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock, dedicating the changing of the name of Waters, Ark., where Dick Huddleston’s store is located, to Pine Ridge. On that day the Mena Star stated, “thousands pay honor to Lum and Abner for it’s Lum and Abner Day in Arkansas.” They were photographed with the governor, greeted at the Albert Pike hotel by Harvey Couch, chairman of the board, Kansas City Southern Railway, and hundreds of their boyhood friends.” Thus had two Mena boys brought about the change of the name of an Arkansas village.
Arkansas Shows Appreciation.
Before the turn of another year, according to the Star, “Lum and Abner join Arkansas colony in Hollywood and with Bob Burns and Dick Powell, make a quartet of Arkansas boys named among the ten most popular radio entertainers of 1936. About that time, “Over 100 ‘Jot ’em Down’ stores have been granted permission to use that name for their businesses,” and “The old fashioned wall phone party lines are now known as Lum and Abner lines by telephone linemen and engineers because the boys use that type of phone so much on their show.”
By 1938 the “County Seat newspaper” was saying, “The sages of Pine Ridge made their bow over 40 radio stations today starting on contract with General Foods.” During Christmas holidays they were guest artists at KTHS in Hot Springs, where, just a few years before they had appeared as two country boys asking for a tryout.
Lum and Abner usually return each summer to the old home for visiting and fishing purposes. Despite their experiences out in the world and much traveling in far places, they like nothing better than to get started back to their boyhood haunts. Polk county and Arkansas has shown high regard for them in many ways. The highway leading to Pine Ridge has been designated as the Lum and Abner Highway; the General Assembly of Arkansas passed a resolution honoring these two sons of Arkansas who have served their state well in bringing it renown and heralding its wonders to a listening world. Mena folks have advertised Lum and Abner on local car license tags, on postcards, souvenirs, on billboards on highways entering Mena and much general literature informs the world that Mena is the home of Lum and Abner.
Lum and Abner in Movies
While radio was the first love of Lum and Abner and the medium by which they became nationally appreciated as entertainers, now they have turned to the silver screen, making it possible for the movie going public to see the mythical Pine Ridge of the air.
Word began to trickle back home that the boys might get into movies. Then there came the night when Lum and Abner called up everybody on the party line bidding them goodbye. As the Star says, “The final program was full of pathos as the two comedians with tearful voices discussed the closing of the Jot ’em Down store preparatory to making a picture.”
The time was set for the Mena showing of “Dreaming Out Loud,” and on August 23 when “The Southern Belle,” the Kansas City Southern’s first streamlined train, rolled into Mena on its initial trip who should step off but Abner Peabody who was welcomed home by 1500 old time friends and neighbors, holding the crowd together in friendly greeting thirty minutes after the crack new train had sped on its maiden journey to the Gulf city of New Orleans. A few days later Lum arrived just in time to make his personal appearance along with Abner at their home town theatre, the Lyric, during the first showing of their “Dreaming Out Loud.”
Their second picture, “The Bashful Bachelor,” was released in May, 1942, and was another success. One year later, their third movie, “Two Weeks to Live,” was released and once again Lum and Abner scored a box-office hit.
Rolled up in Lum and Abner’s success are all the ingredients that have made America and its hundreds of Pine Ridges worthy of the admiration of the world–ambition, work, sincerity, persistence and achievement together with the encouragement and applauses of hordes of friends and admirers. As long as the homely preachments of the sages of Pine Ridge warm the hearts, renew faith and courage and arouse ambitions of radio and movie audiences, there is hope for the survival of the good old American way they portray.