- More Texas Stories I Like To Tell My Friends: The Tales of Adventure and Intrigue Continue from the History of the Lone Star State by T. Lindsay Baker
T. Lindsay Baker, who teaches Texas history at Tarleton State University and is the director of one of Texas's best small museums, the W. L. Gordon Center for Industrial History at Thurber, is an institution among Texas historians on a par with the Alamo or the Texas State Historical Association itself. Several years ago at one of the Association's Annual Meetings a group of attendees discussed the possibility of proposing a session for the next meeting at which all of the speakers would tell stories about T. Lindsay Baker. There are a bunch of them, because Baker has held a number of distinguished museum positions and written scholarly books on everything from lighthouses to Polish immigrants to the Battle of Adobe Walls. He is also an unforgettable public speaker and storyteller.
In the book under review, Baker has taken off his coat, loosened his tie, put his feet up on his desk, and launched into a series of stories— anecdotes, really—about people and places in Texas. I suspect that he collected many of them while ranging around the state researching his other books. He has written several books about windmills and two about gangsters; the very first story in this book is about a man who stole a windmill. In fact, some of the stories are clearly derived from Baker's earlier works, including two from his Till Freedom Cried Out: Memories of Texas Slave Life (Texas A&M University Press, 1997). The lighthouse stories in chapter two must have been gathered while Baker was researching Lighthouses of Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 1991). However, none of them are stale. It is instructive to see how a good historian makes excellent use of what some might regard as sweepings from earlier research.
The stories are organized by the region of Texas within which they occur, and by county within each region. Each section is introduced with a pencil drawing of an old building in the region by Austin artist Don Collins, who is a worthy successor to Buck Schiwetz as a delineator of Texas architecture.
Baker's stories are short, pithy, and to the point. None occupy more [End Page 203] than two pages of text. Some are funny, some are poignant, and all are well-told. They are wide-ranging in both time and subject matter. Some, such as "A Whippin' from the Preacher," deal with mid-nineteenth century Texas; others, such as "The Man in the Green Boots," are about institutions that are still with us, in this case Fort Worth's Peters Hat Company. Many demonstrate Baker's remarkable research skills. "'Kaiser Bill' the Wolf" reveals not only the name of the wolf on the label on cans of Wolf Brand chili, but also the fact that in the 1920s the chili was distributed from its Corsicana factory in Model T Ford trucks with bodies shaped like chili cans and live wolves in cages on rear platforms. "Jim Farley's Big Hopper" traces the history of a four-foot-long tin grasshopper in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum to its 1892 origin as a mascot for a Kansas Knights of Pythias drill team. In "A Celebrity Among Sewage Plants," Baker brings his training as a historian of engineering to bear on the San Marcos sewage treatment plant, built in 1916, the first in the country to make use of the activated sludge method of sewage treatment.
Activated sludge sewage treatment is exactly the sort of thing that T. Lindsay Baker is at his best in explaining. The only thing missing is his distinctive dramatic diction, which can make the dullest story gripping. There are no dull stories in this book.