When yours truly was growing up in and around Ponoka in the roaring 1950s, 60s and 70s, I was fortunate to meet some great people and one of those was the very congenial Mr. Allan James. While he and his wife were bringing up their family he worked around the community for many people, but what he was also very well known for was his amazing ability of searching back into our colourful history and relating stories and anecdotes about some of the prominent gentlemen, entrepreneurs, athletes, businessmen, and some real genuine community characters. This week I am pleased to pass on some of his delightful and colourful gleanings … which he humorously called ‘The Facts You Should Know.”
Mr. Farnham the local barber was a great old man to know. As well as cutting lots of hair he also measured the land and laid out the first race track in Ponoka and his wife was famous for her angel food cakes.
George Field clerked more local auction sales than anyone, and with his large black purse suspended from his shoulder he also went around and collected on the spot as well. In 1922 George took over the Neff Garage, from where he sold the popular Chevrolet 490 and sleek Baby Grand vehicles as well as the ultra-fancy McLaughlin Buicks. He later added the sales of International Harvester farm machinery to his thriving business, which he operated for over 20 years and employed many local people.
John Bures was an avid horseshoe player and operated one of Ponoka’s first Livery Barns. He and his wife, who was one of our community’s first piano teachers, were blessed with two sons, Anton the school teacher and ball player and little Mike the local “pool shark” who also loved baseball.
Dave Morgan will go down in history as one of Ponoka’s largest and most powerful men, played on the infamous Fat’s Ball team and was one of the first owners of the Royal Hotel. His partner Mike Brady was so small, but between them all they would perform for the whole town one and all.
Joe Prochaski and his trusty teams of horses built many of our early Ponoka district roads; Bill Ferguson kept most of the books around town; Dan Morrow was our most famous early poet; Whitecotton sold a lot of stuff; and Walter Gee farmed and “harvested” tons of gravel by the train load from his pit just west of town.
Dave Jones was a very energetic gentleman, serving as one of Ponoka’s first policeman, electrician, handy-man, and caretaker of the outdoor hockey rink. Percy Griffin was also a popular “man about town” working as a storekeeper and rancher while being an avid football player and politician on the side; and then there was Don Innes, who probably climbed more local telephone poles than any other small man in that era and got paid the least for his time.
Percy Odell was one of the Ponoka district’s earliest ‘inventors’, and once built a small tractor out of an Austin car and then drove it back and forth to work each day at 8 miles an hour with no plates; and then there was the infamous ‘Wrecker Johnson’ who went out and purchased a Model T from Tom Hickmore, cut the motor in half, patched and welded the block, mounted a drive pulley and attached a governor, and presto, he had one of the first 2 cylinder Ford power plants for his busy Ponoka shop!
Allan James boldly nominated Dempsey Morris as the sportsman of the year in that era from Ponoka and districts. For many years his interests and talents included boxing, wrestling, weight lifting, soccer, baseball, hockey, billiards, trap shooting, big game hunting, and of course the ladies.
Avid Ponoka businessman, entrepreneur, and hunter ‘Bird’ Headley sure bagged a lot of birds, but Ed Dittberner bagged all the ducks because he was closer to the sky, and jovial Harry Dittberner was the district sharpshooter as well as a real “wheeler dealer” when it came to selling cars and trucks. Fritz Bachor could butcher more meat than the whole town could eat, and little Tom Dick, who tried to teach yours truly, started his long career at the Asker School, finished up at the Ponoka High School, and was known to use “the strap” if we stayed too long during noon hour at the local pool hall or swimming hole.
Around town Mike Green was likely the best dressed man you had ever seen, Bud Horn lifted more car hoods (with care) than any other mechanic anywhere, Henry Taylor could fix anything that you could break, and local butcher and town councillor Angus MacLeod attended more hockey games than Helge Svenson, and was also a scout for the Boston Bruins.
George Bowker likely sold enough lumber to build the whole town up to the 1950s, as well as enough coal to keep all the home fires burning, and built and operated one of central Alberta’s finest funeral homes and a business that faithfully served our town and county for many decades.
In order to stay in the good graces of the ladies Allan James closed out this particular story in the Ponoka Panorama History Book by graciously declaring that wherever there is a real successful man there is a remarkable woman that has helped along the way. Each and every day these amazing companions and mothers would also faithfully and strictly serve and attend to the very large families that they were inclined to raise in those good old days. Of course there were so many more of these early families and individuals who helped to lay the foundations and assure the steady successes and progress of our great town and county for well over a century. Hopefully that just gives me more opportunities to keep on finding a whole lot more great pictures and stories to put together for the Ponoka News Reflections and Remember When weekly features.