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Articles & Local History > Bob Johnson Remembers Thomas, IL



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My wife and I were born in 1943 and we both figure we are in the age group that saw some of the tail-end of the good old days.

I was born and raised on a farm just east of a little town named Thomas, IL. Now, if you have a very good map, you can still find it. The current population is 24! Thinking back, I believe the population was around 42 when I was a young boy.

My grandfather owned four farms, that bordered each other. I can remember going to the timber on one farm and e\helping him pick berries. He noticed me eating more than I was putting in the pails and told me to try to put more in the pail than in mouth as my aunt needed them for pies and jam. My Aunt, who is 93 years old now, stayed with my grandfather and helped raise her four brothers, as my grandmother had passed away when my father was 13 years old, my grandmother was only 48 years old when she died. My dad was the same age when he passed away was 20 years old by then.

I moved away when I was 17 years of age, but only about 25 miles to the north. I started working in a steel mill when I was 20. That was sure different than farm life. My wife and I would visit my  uncle, who took over the farm my grandfather lived on, as my grandfather died a year after my dad passed away. Sometimes we would just drive around the farms where I was raised and I would tell my wife some of the things that went on when I was a kid growing up there.

I always wanted to, someday, move back to that area. Finally after about 28 years, my wife and I bought an old farm house, right in the town of Thomas and moved back home. My wife was born and raised in a town of 10,000 people, so I was a little concerned that she might have trouble adjusting to "living in the sticks" as people say, but she loves it and said she didn't ever want to move again.

In 1988 I started holding a Thomas Town Reunion. Anyone that lives there at the present or past was welcome to come. The first year 277 people came; in 1992 we had 120 people. I have learned a lot  by listening to the older folks reminiscing about the booming days of the little town called Thomas.

At one time, there was a  creamery, a one-lane bowling alley and pool hall, 2 grocery stores, a big dance all, a car dealer, a hardware store, a barber shop and lock repair store combined, a central telephone switchboard which was located in one of the houses, an ice-house, a town hall, a blacksmith shop and a country school house a half mile from town.

Now, all that is left is an automatic telephone building (dial phones only!), an outside pay phone and nine houses, one of which is beyond repair.

Some of the things I can remember is the old wall telephones (I still have my grandfather's phone). One grocery store was still in business and I can remember going in with my mother and looking at the big bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling. The other grocery store was converted to a house, which is still being lived in. My grandfather owned this store for a while and I have the large two-wheeled coffee grinder, a tobacco plug cutter and an egg crate that they used to use there. I barely remember the huge dance hall, I was eight years old when they tore it down. After hearing some of the stories about the dances, I can see why they did away with it. We used to go tot he old outside movies that were held in the same area, after the dance hall was gone. The barber shop and lock repair was just an empty old building that is now gone. I can remember the old telephone switch board that was located in different houses, in fact, I now own the old switch board that went out of business in 1964. I bought it at an auction this year and it is in our house, but not hooked up. Someday  I want  to have a museum of Thomas town articles (I could probably put them in an old outhouse and still have room to tend to business!) the blacksmith shop was still in business. I used to have the blacksmith weld my bicycle when it broke. He would usually charge a nickel. I remember him getting an electric welder, but he just couldn't get good at using it. He welded by bike and it would break before I got very far and he would finally braze it and it would hold.

Now, for the school house - This was a one-room school with all eight grades in the one room until 1949. That year they added a room and had three grades in each room. The seventh and eighth grades went to Manlius then, which was fifteen miles away. They even put in rest rooms for the kids! This just happened to be the year I started school. I guess they figured one room wasn't big enough for me!

I learned a lot in that little country school house. It was later converted into a regular house. This is one of the biggest mistakes that this country has done - shutting down the small country schools, but that is another story in itself.

When my wife and I sold our house in Rock Falls, IL, a lot of people couldn't figure out why we would sell a nice brick house, close to the Rock River with an in-ground swimming pool, a basket ball court, two cement patios, two redwood decks and more. We just tell them that we moved back home!

There are a lot more memories and maybe someday I will write again.

Thank you for your time,

Bob Johnson
RRI, Box 171
Tampico, IL  61283


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