F. N. Wright, US



Memories of Mattoon (continued)


Horse Sweat On Leather

My paternal grandfather, “Dad” Kerans, trained horses. More specifically, harness racers. He did this up until he got cataracts so bad he was virtually blind. Surgery to remove them didn’t help because they didn’t have the technology to remove them back then as they do now.

He kept a tack room at the Coles County Fairgrounds which was within walking distance of his and “Mom” Kerans’ house in Charleston. I loved going there with him and watching him work the horses. Sometimes my Uncle Shorty, who lived with his parents, helped “Dad” Kerans when he had the day off from his regular job.

Hanging from the walls of the tack room was an assortment of bridles and other equipment used to train the horses. They smelled of horse sweat. As I got older “Dad” Kerans would let me clean out the stall that was home to the horse he was working with at the time.

First I would take a pitchfork and clean out the old straw and horse manure and put it in a wheelbarrow. For some reason I don’t remember where I deposited the waste but afterwards I would spread fresh straw on the dirt floor of the stall.

People who were never fortunate enough to spend as much time in this atmosphere as I was as a child often curl up their nose when I tell them that to this day I love the smell of horse sweat on leather, horse manure and fresh straw.



Left to right: (kneeling) Fred Wright (holding "Duke"), Dave Wells. Standing: Dick Shriver, Kenny Zike, Dave Nottingham.


The Rebels

I became fascinated with cars at the age of nine or ten. It began on a Sunday afternoon when one of my older cousins, Lowell Kerans, came by our house to show Dad the 40 Ford he had just bought. It was a model soon to become popular with custom car freaks and hot rodders and remains so to this day.

I got a job delivering papers when I was twelve and began saving for my first car. At the age of fourteen I secured a better paying job as a movie theater usher. Part of the job sometimes entailed “manning” the concession stand selling popcorn, candy and sodas.

One night while “manning” the stand I met an older kid named Dick Shriver. He had already graduated from MHS and had an “adult” job with CIPS.

Dick and I somehow became friends (he was a regular at the theater and always alone it seemed) and he not only had a cherry Pontiac hardtop but the most fantastic collection of 45 RPM records imaginable and turned me onto radio station WLAC, Nashville, Tn.

I soon introduced Dick to my best friend Dave Wells and two more of my friends; Kenny Zike and Dave Nottingham. The five of us often spent hours listening to Dick’s amazing collection of 45’s and cruising Broadway and 12th Street up to Gill’s Drive-In at the corner of 12th and Dewitt and back again in a continuous loop on Friday nights. It might have been Saturday nights or both.

Since that Sunday Lowell came by the house with his 40 Ford I had been reading every magazine I could get my hands on that had anything to do with cars. I had my friends reading them too and “the world” had also come to Mattoon by way of TV and movies like “Rebel without a Cause.”

Flat top haircuts, duck tails, flat tops with fenders (a flat top with duck tails) and the “James Dean” style haircut and others were becoming popular causing anguish among many parents. I was lucky because my parents were cool and didn’t worry about my hair styles.

Before long it seemed all teenagers were juvenile delinquents. The movie “Blackboard Jungle” helped fuel that fire. Car clubs were popping up all over the country and one of the popular car magazines published an article about one club who was trying to dispel this image. They would help motorists in distress and give them a card identifying their club. They asked the aided motorists to pass the word to their friends that they had been assisted by members of the club.

I shared this article with my friends and we decided to form our own club. And, even though we only had Dick’s Pontiac among the five of us, “The Rebels Car Club” was formed. Mattoon’s first car club with only one car among us!

We decided the red “James Dean” windbreaker from “Rebel without a Cause” would be our signature jacket though I don’t think there was ever a time we all wore our jacket at the same time. I know of only one picture of the five of us together and only Kenny is wearing his red windbreaker.

I designed a business-size card that basically stated: Rebels Car Club, Mattoon, Illinois. No logo that I recall. At the bottom of card was a three line statement: “You have been assisted by members of this club. All teenagers are not juvenile delinquents. Please share this with your friends.”
We then made it a point to help motorists in trouble when we could and hand the driver our card. After several “assists” the five of us discovered it was a rewarding experience.

Dave Nottingham would be the next member to get a car. A 49 Mercury. A “James Dean car”! I was next with a 1950 Pontiac and after throwing a rod through the block I bought a 51 Chevy with glass pack mufflers.

When I turned seventeen I enlisted in the Navy. Just before my nineteenth birthday I bought a customized 1950 Mercury from The House of Hardtops in El Cajon, California. “The Rebels Car Club” had all but ceased to exist by then.

Years later I would find myself a member of The Road Regents”, a motorcycle club that had started out as a car club about the same time “The Rebels” came into being. They converted to a motorcycle club the same year I bought my Mercury and three years before I would buy my first Harley.

I don’t know when Dave Wells and Kenny Zike finally got their first cars but it doesn’t matter. We were “The Rebels”.

…dedicated to the memories of Dave Wells and Kenny Zike, who would become the long time chief of Mattoon’s Fire department.




Memories of Mattoon

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