Knuckle Down, Boys.

James B. Tippin, Jr., author of “Encouragement, Loyalty and Make-Do” shares his memory of “shooters”, “bankers” and the innovations the game of marbles experienced during the Great Depression. The marbles shown in the images are treasured keepsakes of the family.

Cigar Box with Marbles

Gambling Hit Florida County schools about 1936. It was the time that “Knuckle Down” came into fashion, a phrase yet used at half time, during television interviews football coaches from major schools.

Usually there was a grandpa or uncle who provided the prize, a cigar box. Ever so carefully a hole the exact size of a standard glass marble was cut in the top. Now one found a “banker,” a kid a year or so older whose pockets bulged with marbles. “I’ll give you six for three.” was the offer. In other words the banker invested three marbles if your box looked promising, knowing that by afternoon he would have a 100% return without effort or risk.

Winner Takes All

Now you were in business but you faced a chilling risk for the first few customers. The object was for the customer to attempt to drop from belt buckle height, a single marble through the whole in the top of your cigar box. If successful, the player was handed his or her marble and one more, maybe two as a “come on,” if you were really into the “game.” If the player missed, the marble became the property of the cigar box owner. Misses prevailed by a significant margin. The notoriety of this cigar box gang grew over night. When the bell for recess tolled all the little gamblers running down the hall with cigar boxes half full of loose marbles sounded like Derby day at Churchill Downs. Aha! “Sharp eye Spade”, the Principle, was troubled by this noise. Boxes were collected. Threats were made. We assumed “Sharp eye” used the boxes for his fishing tackle.

Grade School Gambling

The comparative peace of the game of marbles returned wherein a circle was drawn in the sand, marbles from each player were placed in the circle, and, in turn, players attempted to knock them out of the circle with their “shooter,” a favorite marble propelled by the thumb. Their hand could have only one knuckle touching the ground. Thus we have “knuckle down” as in, “I don’t know but we’ll sure have to ‘knuckle down’ in the second half!” In time, the game experienced certain escalation when some innovative sixth grader showed up with a “shooter” five times the size of a standard marble.

Crack shot, trained on hare, awarded military honors

James B. Tippin, the author of “Encouragement, Loyalty and Make-Do” recounts hunting for survival with his oldest brother in Vero Beach, Florida.

Tracking hare in the disced fields of Vero BeachIt was a time of Great Depression groaning. My father sold his technical reference books so that my older brother, with the aid of groups of Lutheran Farmers, could enter pre-seminary study in a small town in Missouri. He would often arrive back home for a visit following closely behind my completion of the discing of summer fire guards around Storm Grove, 160 acres of citrus trees. Lush green plant tid- bits would again be poking up where I had so recently disced, This was an overwhelming temptation to the large population of rabbits of that day. A platter of fried rabbit would well feed our family of six.

We had a 1926 model T truck. One of my other brothers had boosted the head lamps. Ultimately my seminary brother would raise the money to by a box of 22 caliber ammunition. The sun would set. I would crank the old model T Ford. My seminary brother would climb up in the back with a wired together, single-shot, 22 cal. rifle and away to the fire guard we would go. I would drive and brother would shoot over my head as the head lights reflected from the rabbits’ eyes. We made so much noise that the shooting distance would be twenty to thirty yards. Many a platter of rabbit came from these forays, happy relief from Great Depression fare. At that time I told my father ” in cleaning those rabbits, I several times, encountered fully intact bunnies, minus eyes.

No one had ever known that the eldest brother had been awarded the bronze star.

No one had ever known that the eldest brother had been awarded the bronze star.

WWII came down upon us all and my seminary brother enlisted in the navy. Soon he was a diesel engineer on a Destroyer Escort. They were part of the protection for convoys to North Africa, Italy and Sicily. My brother’s battle station was as a gunner on a 20mm deck gun. In one of the attacks from the air, in the Mediterranean, The Destroyer Escort was credited with shooting down two German JU 88 bombers.

Recently my brother, long retired from the ministry, died. His wife telephoned in an effort to learn if my brother had ever told me that he had been awarded the Bronze Star. She knew nothing about it. A veteran’s group had approached her to honor my brother for the bronze star award at the grave side services. I did not nor did any of the other living relatives.

I went back to walk that old fire guard. I couldn’t. It is full of houses and children’s laughter………….

Dad’s can of gold

This can of bronzing powders was transported to Florida nearly 100 years ago by the author's father.

This can of bronzing powder was transported to Florida nearly 100 years ago by the author’s father.

There was a can of silver colored powder and a can of very finely ground gold colored powder on a shelf in the barn where my Dad kept his sea chest of tools under lock and key. These had been acquired during his service in the “Emergency Fleet” throughout the world unpleasantness of 1917-18.

These powders were obviously intended to be mixed with some medium in order to produce metallic gold and silver paint. From experience I know that linseed oil was not the intended medium.

In first grade, during the 1934/35 school year, our class was chosen to present an operetta. My teacher made the mistake of assigning to me the part of the “Indian Chief.” My one line consisted of “Pale face mistress likes me best of ‘um bunch.” This alone should have alerted the Principal not to invite the school board. My mother attempted to piece together from burlap fertilizer sacks something that might pass for Indian clothing. My father accepted the high honor of decorating this ill-favored snarl. He resorted to great gobs of gold powder held together with Linseed oil.

The next morning I did notice that I left a patina of gold on the seat of the school bus. When time came to stand and move to the stage for the big show my small chair was attached permanently to my somewhat whiffy Indian Chief suit. The result was not pleasant.

In the second grade I applied the silver mix to a model plane cut and scraped from a hickory broom handle with a dull paring knife. It was placed on a table at the fair with a “Do not touch” warning.┬áBy the time I arrived at the fair to review my exhibit the area was covered with long ugly grey streaks of silver gray smears left by those who,having disregarding the no touch sign, searched for a surface on which to leave the gunk on their hands.

I never learned the truth, always convinced that ultimately the “gold” and “silver” would see the family through the Great Depression.