Nostalgic Notes

Published 5:14 am Thursday, May 15, 2008

By Staff
Former Atmore residents moved on to artistry
By Lowell McGill
As a young boy I always admired the talent of Ray Chambliss. He and I went through school together, but he moved on to Mobile after finishing school. I called his talent art, but he referred to it as lettering. In other words, not only could he draw and paint as well as any accomplished artist, but he could take the letters of the alphabet and design them into all shapes and forms. I often ask him how he was able to accomplish these feats and he simply remarked it only takes patience.
Well, this patience he possessed led him to his chosen profession of lettering. You see Ray, over a period of 40-50 years, lettered almost every fire engine in Mobile County. He told me that he would sometimes lie across the cab of the engine and in a backward manner he would letter the names, emblems, logos, etc. on the doors and hoods of the engines. It would sometimes take him weeks to completely letter one engine. Because his work was so professional he was called on by the city year after to year to keep the engines looking good with easy to read words and beautiful logos. He also lettered many commercial vehicles and billboards.
I thought about several other people that I had known and some I still know, who held patience as a prerequisite to their success and daily chores. Even Cary Powell, who I enjoyed talking with on many occasions, told me that patience was needed when he went fishing. Known for his many fishing trips, he and his wife and Ed and Lola Mason often went fishing in the St Johns River near Jacksonville. They always came home with great catches of fish.
Otis Alston, a former resident in his teens here, went on to become a textile engineer. He developed a process for cleaning and straightening raw cotton. His discovery was so significant that it was recognized as one of the most important discoveries in the textile field. He was recognized nationally for this revelation. But he always was quoted as having patience to reach this plateau.
Larry McGill, a cousin who lives in southern Illinois, wrote me about a man in his town, who through patience, had invented a system for using water as means of doubling fuel mileage. This man is a 72-year old retired engineer. It was something about h20 changing to hho, which is too deep for me to understand. He said the man also designed radar tracking for missiles on jet fighters. More information will be forthcoming on this story, according to Larry.
C. Williams, former Atmore Postmaster, often said he could hit a golf ball swinging from either the left side or the right side. I asked him one time how he developed this talent. Practice and patience, he said. He did, indeed, win several local tournaments over a period of years.
Eddie Staff Sr., in addition to owning and operating Gerlach Motors (Staff Chevrolet), was an accomplished wood working genius. He had an elaborate shop where he build furniture of all descriptions. He was heard to tell his friends on many occasions that patience was necessary to create his unique finished wood products.
Others who excelled in wood working were Willard Hicks and Willie Ramer. These two men were extremely crafty and as I sometimes watch them work in their workshops I saw first hand the patience they exemplified in their work.
Those women from Gees Bend, located across the river from Camden, told a TV interviewer they have a lot of patience when they work for days making those beautiful quilts. Their finished products are described as art in motion, Jack Sharpless, following his return from Mexico recently, patiently began making wooden toys for underprivileged Mexican children. Jack was one of the members of Brooks Memorial Church who, along with other Baptists groups, traveled to Mexico to build a frame home for a Mexican family last month. His wife, Betty, told me it was something he wanted to do. She said his heart was touched by those Mexican children who had few toys and play things that he wanted to something special for them.
Mr. Ralph Johnson, who lived near the Phillipsville Road southwest of Perdido, patiently constructed miniature trains, tracks and depots over a period of many years. His works were one of the main events at our spring and fall festivals.
Even my son, Mark, reflects patience (which I am totally positive comes from his mother) when he works in his workshop. He built much of the cabinetry in his home and all the kitchen cabinets in my home when we renovated my wife’s old home place. He may have topped it off this past year when he built a four wheel bike-car. You may have seen it in the Christmas parade last year.
I am sure there are many other local crafty people who credit patience in all their hobbies and business endeavors.
I have read many times in a well known book about the importance of patience. That book, of course is the Bible where patience is illustrated in Romans 8, verse 25.
When I worked in sports I often talked with Buddy Vickery. He was so proud, and rightly so, when his second son Bill was drafted out of high school to play professional baseball. His oldest son, Lou, who operates our local radio station, was all ready making a name for himself as an up and coming pitcher in double A and triple A baseball. Buddy said he always told his sons to have patience and the big breaks will come your way. Sure enough, he was right as both boys had great careers in professional baseball.
Speaking of baseball, and in an appropriate manner to conclude my column today, I’d like to tell you about our Senior Little League baseball team that participated in the inaugural Senior Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. in 1961.
The team, which was coached and managed by Sterlin Fancher, Frank Patrick and John Holland, captured the southern regional tournament in Tuskegee by downing Harlan, Ga. 2-1.
Following that tournament we boarded a chartered bus, partly paid for by donations of local residents and businesses, and traveled to Pennsylvania for the big event. Several other local citizens made the trip with us. We were housed at the Naval and Marine training center there near the ball park.
Unfortunately, we were knocked out of the tournament early following a loss to New Jersey. We had hoped to get into the finals because those games were televised.
Even though we did not win it was a great experience for all of us, especially those who played on the team.
Those players included Eddie Fancher, Claude Steele, Larry Troutman, Keith Russell, Ricky Webb, Leon Phillips, Rodney and William Blackburn, Robert Hughes, Todd Rodgers, John Wingard, Chuck Hagaman, Ronnie Headley, Preston Barnett, Wayne Lowerey, Buddy Sharpless and Wayne Godwin. (I hope I did not leave out anyone).
There was one sad note to that trip. As the bus was beginning to depart Atmore that morning someone stepped aboard and told us that a well known resident and businessman, Shelton Liker, has passed away. I remember someone on that bus uttering a prayer for him and all his family members. Some of Shelton’s close friends were on the bus that day.
That was one of many tournaments Atmore participated in back in those days. Our city was well known for its baseball teams. It was a memorable era for all of us.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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