Sign of spring
Along with bulletins concerning-groundhogs and northering robins,baseball-contract pictures such as that of the beaming St. Louis Cardinals onthe opposite page have long been infallible signs of spring. Latterly a newvernal index has been developing in Milwaukee: the announcement of advanceticket sales for Milwaukee Braves home games. Last week, on schedule, came thenews: baseball-happy Milwaukeeans have already ordered tickets amounting to800,000 paid admissions—more than the Cubs, Phillies, Redlegs, Pirates,Athletics or Senators were able to attract all last season.
There was afurious buzzing of anger and criticism through much of the South recently, andindeed through much of the country, when Football Coach Bowden Wyatt broke hiscontract with the University of Arkansas in order to become head coach at themore highly esteemed (football-wise) University of Tennessee. Wyatt had had afabulously successful year at Arkansas, guiding a team that many thought wouldfinish last in the Southwest Conference (and which actually did finish laststatistically in defense and offense) to the Southwest Conference championshipand into the Cotton Bowl. His followers in Arkansas showed their appreciationof Wyatt's coaching ability by raising $20,000 for him and his assistants andby giving him a new Cadillac. The university altered his five-year contractwith the necessary approval of the Arkansas legislature, and raised his salaryfrom $12,000 to $15,000. Shortly thereafter, despite raise, contract, Cadillacand several stout denials, Wyatt left Arkansas and went to Tennessee, just ashe had, two years earlier, left a 10-year contract at the University of Wyomingto go to Arkansas.
There was instantcriticism of his act in many quarters, though others condoned it. Arkansasitself, with certain notable exceptions ("I hope his Cadillac breaks downbefore he gets across the Arkansas line"), was not as critical generally asother states where a sense of outraged justice was perhaps more acute.
January 31, 1955
Nevertheless,disapproval of Wyatt's contract breaking was widespread, and when JackMitchell, brilliant young coach at the University of Wichita, quit his contract(a 10-year one, newly granted) and took his new car (a Buick—Wichita is not solarge a school as Arkansas) and left to take over Wyatt's post at Arkansas, thecriticism grew. College coaches in general, with Wyatt and Mitchell serving asthe particulars, were belabored in speech and print for their seeminglycarefree attitude toward written contracts. In Kansas, Wichita's PresidentHarry Corbin said, "I am thoroughly disappointed. I feel a littlenaive." In Little Rock, capital of Arkansas, the Arkansas state senateintroduced to them Senate Resolution No. 1, which was intended as officialcriticism and censure of Wyatt "for his act of faithlessness, disloyaltyand lack of consideration for the people of Arkansas."
At this point thewhole affair began to resemble a particularly preposterous opéra bouffe, whatwith college presidents and state legislatures involved so emotionally infootball matters. People seeing the name "Arkansas" in connection withthe farce recalled that this, after all, was Bazooka Bob Burns's state, thatthe storied Ozarks, home of comic strip hero Snuffy Smith, were in Arkansas,that a famous old joke book was entitled On a Slow Train Through Arkansaw.
But Arkansaspromptly rallied around and capably demonstrated that there are, despite allthe old and limping jokes, people in Arkansas who do not play the bazooka, talklike Snuffy Smith or act like back-country bumpkins. John Tyler Caldwell,president of the University of Arkansas, made this thoughtful and provocativeobservation on Wyatt's abrupt rejection of his contract:
"It isunfortunate that any contract can be treated as a one-way application. It-istrue, however, that the making of contracts with football coaches developed asa protection of the coach against the oftentimes extreme demands of fans andsupporters. Realistically, such contracts did not come into being as aprotection to the institutions and have never been so respected."
The Arkansaslegislature then effectively bottled up the censure resolution in committee andcounteracted its effect by passing other resolutions publicly praising BowdenWyatt and his team and pledging support to the new coach. A day or two later,in a somewhat more serious mood, the Arkansas House adopted House ResolutionNo. 6, which pointed out that "In recent years the original purposes of theUniversity of Arkansas have been deemphasized in the favor of certain manlyarts directed to the glorification of brawn and subtle mayhem" and extendedto the faculty of the university "sincere congratulations for having beenable to conduct classes, confer degrees and maintain some semblance of academicpurity in the face of competition for the aforementioned manly arts; and thefaculty further be commended for its attempts to adhere to the originalpurposes for which the university was founded in the face of astoundingdisparity of salaries between academic and athletic staffs."
Arkansas was backin business, Bowden Wyatt forgotten, football coaches' contracts properlyevaluated; football itself put in its proper place, and the people of the stateonce again as perky, cocky and alert as Arkansas' symbol, the fast-moving,far-ranging razorback hog.
The humpbackedblue catfish is the subject of more tall tales in Texas than cattle stampedesor Houston millionaires and last week the old humpback was threatening to setoff a new war between the states—the states of Tennessee and Texas, thatis.
By a coincidencethat could only happen where fishermen are involved, the main skirmishes of thewar are being fought in the counties of Hardin—Hardin County, Tenn., and HardinCounty, Texas.
In Hardin County,Tenn. the immediate occasion of conflict occurred when the prize money in acatfish contest, held just below Pickwick Dam at the Tennessee town ofSavannah, was raised to $350. That was all right, but then it was announcedthat what the Hardin County Boosters club, one of the prize donors, was reallyafter was a catfish weighing at least 100 pounds. This would be sent, said theBoosters, to L. G. McClean, a former Tennessean now in charge of the Fort WorthBotanical Gardens. Mr. McClean plans to exhibit it in a new aquarium and put asign up over the tank reading: "Larger than anything Texas cangrow."
Well, sir, thesewere fighting words in Texas and J. Cullen Browning, editor of the OrangeLeader, fired the first shot for the Lone Star fisherman. The first thing Mr.Browning called for was a definition of terms.
"When you saycatfish," he said, "what do you mean by catfish? Yellow catfish?Shucks, we catch yellow cats every day of the week, mostly 100 pounds,sometimes up to 120. We consider the yellow cats to be puny here in Texas. Theydon't put up a fight that amounts to much.
"But now ifyou're talking about the big humpbacked blue cats, why that's something elseagain. It almost takes two men to land one of those big old blues from theSabine River. Two Texans. I don't know how many Tennesseans the job wouldrequire."
Mr. Browningdescribed the humpbacked blue catfish as being the color of brand-new overalls."Carries a hump the size of a bison's," he said, "runs to six feetin length and packs 100 pounds of pure muscular dynamite." Then Mr.Browning carelessly tossed out the news that just the other day Albert Foddardfrom down-the-river Beaumont had landed one of the big blue cats. Required thehelp of another Texan. When the two men had driven the fish to town and had himweighed, the beast tipped the scales at 94 pounds. Says Mr. Browning:
"We know heweighed at least 100 pounds to begin with. Drying out on the way to town, helost a lot of weight. These cats shrink pretty fast. But even so, coming thesame week all this fuss started in Tennessee, we feel the honor of Texas hasbeen upheld."
Mr. Browningthought a minute and then added the clincher:
"Down here inTexas, when we catch a big fish we don't ship him off to a zoo. We eathim."
Interest insports cars is at a new peak these days but it is just as well for the pride ofmany a modern hot-rodder that he never has seen a Duesenberg perform. TheDuesenberg was the greatest American sports car and our greatest luxury car. Itwas the car a man bought when he felt too rich to be seen in a Cadillac. Butthe last of the Big Ds was built in 1937.
Ten years laterAugie Duesenberg thought for a while of hand-building some more of his famousModel Js (to sell at $25,000) but there wasn't much interest in the idea and hewent back to his farm at Camby, Ind. There, while the sports car fever rose,Augie raised turkeys and, once in a while, tinkered with an automobile engine.He died last week and all around the country people remembered him and hisolder brother Fred, killed 23 years ago in a highway accident, and the dayswhen Duesenbergs were winning the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix at LeMans. The latter victory was in 1921, the only time an American-built car everhas won a major European Grand Prix.
Augie was theobscure member of the Duesenberg fraternity, perhaps because his familyfollowed the German tradition that the eldest son shall be the boss, perhapsbecause he preferred to live with his head bent over an engine, his elbows deepin its vitals. But, for all that Fred was famous, Augie, working quietly in thefactory, was indispensable.
The brothers wereborn in Germany (Augie in 1879 and christened August) and came to this countryas boys. Their family settled on an Iowa farm, but when the brothers were oldenough to work they opened a bicycle shop in Rockford, Iowa. They went frombikes to motorcycles and then, in 1904, entered the automobile field in DesMoines, where they built the Mason automobile. Ten years later they had theirfirst racing car finish in the Indianapolis 500. It placed 10th. Driver: EddieRickenbacker.
Thereafter, for ascore of years, Duesenbergs starred at Indianapolis. Seven of the first 10places in 1922 were taken by Duesenbergs. Pete de Paolo was driving aDuesenberg when, in 1925, he roared around the brick oval at 101.13 mph andthus, before the biggest crowd (145,000) ever to attend an American sportingevent, surpassed the 100 mph mark for the first time at Indianapolis. Next daya New York Times editorial writer, presumably unaware of what was beingreported on the sports page, sniffed: "It was expected that the automobilewould eliminate the horse, but the price of horseflesh is higher thanever."
The price of aDuesenberg was even higher. Fred and Augie were interested solely in quality,not at all in pricing for a mass market, very little in making money. Fredturned down a $50,000 salary offered him by a big automobile manufacturer,though it was triple what he earned in his own company. The Duesenbergs had anamateur spirit toward their work. They just wanted to build the best carspossible. They were the first to put four-wheel hydraulic brakes on a car andif they had bothered to patent the device they would have earned a fortune. Butthe Duesenbergs seldom patented anything and are reported to have given theirfriendly competitor, the Stutz company, the blueprints for their 32-valve,double-overhead camshaft head. This unMacy-Gimbel gesture resulted in the StutzDV-32.
A Model JDuesenberg cost $8,500 for the chassis alone. Its engine gave 265 hp with twocarburetors and one of them, with compression ratio raised to 8 to 1, isreported to have delivered 390 horse. Long and husky, the chassis was thedelight of coachmakers, who put their finest effort into turning out bodiesworthy of the Duesenberg engine. Kings and movie queens and Mayor Jimmy Walkerof New York rode in elegant Duesenbergs.
Then along camethe Model SJ, regarded as the finest automobile ever made in America. It hadthe luxury of the Rolls Royce and the speed of a racing car. The SJ would dobetter than 100 mph in second gear, hit 130 in high and reach 100 in 17seconds. Chassis price: $11,750. Clark Gable bought one and so did GaryCooper.
But between 1921and 1937 only 650 Duesenbergs (Models A, J and SJ) were sold. The Auburn-Cordcompany had taken over the Duesenberg operation in 1926, keeping the brothers,of course. Sales were slow, even in 1929. The depression years were toomuch.
This week, TommyMilton, winner of the Indianapolis race in 1921 and 1923 and a driver for theDuesenbergs in many a race, paid tribute to his friend of 40 years:
"There neverwould have been a Duesenberg without Augie."
Without Augiethere will never be another. A few Duesenbergs survive here and there,cherished by their owners, and surviving also is a piece of dated slang, stillused to express the ultimate in admiration. When someone says "It's adoozy," he may well be harking back to the beloved "Duesies" whichonce raced the speedways and graced the boulevards.
Successful cardgames seldom are invented out of hand or are even traceable to their source.Instead, they evolve shyly in obscure corners of civilization—savages do notplay bridge—and then attain sudden popularity for reasons beyond the powers ofsociology to discover.
Thus it was withpoker, which seems to have originated among early French settlers of Louisiana.These pioneers combined a game of their own, poque, with another game, as-nas,taught them by Persian sailors. Mississippi river boatmen carried the gameupstream and mispronounced poque.
The onlysynthetically invented game to make any impression in this country was fivehundred, deliberately created in 1904 for the United States Playing CardCompany. It had its day, which waned, though there are those who say that itstill is played in and around Cincinnati.
A few years ago,just as the gin rummy madness was passing the crisis of its fevered career, aSouth American game called canasta slipped past quarantine and cluttered thecard tables of a million homes—maybe more. It required the purchase of twodecks and the card manufacturers loved it. It was followed by samba, whichneeded three decks, and the card manufacturers were prepared to love samba evenmore, except that it just didn't attract canasta's large following. There camea lull, during which most people went back to one-deck games like poker, bridgeand pinochle.
Since late lastsummer, however, there has been a groundswell of excitement among playing cardmen. In England people have been playing a really new card game, deliberatelyinvented, a pastime called calypso, which uses four decks. Two months after itwas introduced into England last September, 30,000 calypso sets—four decks to aset, remember—were sold, marking the end of austerity in Britain. Just asremarkable, during the two weeks before it was officially introduced in thiscountry, American playing card manufacturers had received orders from retailoutlets for close to 100,000 sets.
The transatlanticintroduction was made this month at the River Club in New York. There werecalypso singers and a brief, informative lecture on the game by itsobstetrician, Kenneth W. Konstam, star of the world champion English bridgeteam (SI, Jan. 24).
Calypso wasinvented out of the head of R. W. Willis, an executive of British OverseasAirways Corporation stationed in Trinidad, and was developed, revised andrefined by Konstam, who is General Manager of Thomas De La Rue & Company,Ltd., a London firm which prints playing cards, postage stamps and bank notes,all of which, he points out, require the very highest standards of printing. Apoorly printed playing card might as well be marked.
Konstam hasrepresented England at international bridge contests since 1937. He is also agolfer, good enough so that he got into the final 16 of the British amateur in1936, and has played court tennis, squash and cricket as well. His large,athletically developed hands are fine for shuffling four decks of cards atonce, but he doesn't think most people will have trouble with this phase ofcalypso.
"You canshuffle a set in sections and then mix the sections," he saidconfidently.
As for the gameitself, Konstam believes it offers advantages in being a trick-taking game anda partnership game, like bridge, though there are variations for two and threeplayers. Each player has his own personal trump, different from his partner's,and may take tricks against an opponent's lead either by playing a higher cardof the same suit or by trumping. Object of the game is to make calypsos, whichare sequences from the ace down to the deuce. The first calypso counts 500points, the second 750 and any made thereafter count 1,000.
"Anyone canlearn the game in five minutes," Konstam says.
An unrelentingpromotion program has been set in motion to put the game across. Konstam willmake appearances in St. Louis stores and is going to Miami to play bridge andpush calypso. There will be a calypso cocktail (two drinks and you lose yourmeter). Calypso music will be plugged on radio and TV and, in fact, there hasalready come up from the Caribbean a calypso song about calypso. "I LoveCalypso," it's called.
END OF ATELEVISED FIGHT
For ten hardrounds they've slugged
With mayhem as their mission.
And all the while I've drunk and
And I'm in worse condition.