The Bunkhouse Boys — The First Bunk

Hoisington, KS -1975

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High School graduation in 1974 was definitely the launching pad for adulthood in my case. It was a year of many significant changes.

My father found a small town weekly newspaper in central Kansas who would give him what he had wanted for a long time.

The Hoisington Dispatch was owned by a newspaper company in Russell, KS about 30 miles away. That was enough distance to be comfortable and Dad would have autonomy.

Small town newspapers are mostly gone now, but at one time, every small town (no matter how small) had their own paper. It was a romanticized concept … the small town editor who was a sort of statesman. The newspaper business used to be called “The Fourth Estate.”

According to
“Because the press has often played a significant role in shaping the course of politics, and viewed as an important force in government, it has been referred to as the fourth estate in relation to the other three traditional estates of the church, the nobility and the townsmen, or commoners. In 1841, Thomas Carlyle used the term to describe the reporters’ gallery in the English Parliament as a “Fourth Estate more important” than the other three estates represented there. The importance of the press in a representative democracy is twofold: it informs the citizenry and also serves as a feedback loop between the government and voters.”

The large newspapers were instrumental in everything from grooming politicians to starting wars (As William Randolph Hearst allegedly did in the Spanish-American War).

My maternal grandfather, Thomas Bartley, was a one-man newspaper editor/reporter in tiny Almena, KS in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, and Dad worked on the Norton Daily Telegram after he got back from the Korean War before moving to St. Joseph for The Stockyards Journal.

He was eager to go and he wanted to take the whole family. His vision was of all members staffing the Hoisington paper and his first son, Craig, eventually taking the reins when he retired.

Craig was willing and ready to go. He had no real ties to St. Joseph and it sounded like a good move for him.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to go. And that caused family problems.

In my junior year I had started going steady with a girl a year younger than me. By the time I graduated, we were what you would call “serious.” Our plan was to wait until she graduated and then get married.

I couldn’t leave with my family. I planned to stay in Wathena, get a job and work to earn money until we could get married.

My family pleaded with me. They tried all the strategies you try with little children — begging, threatening, shaming.  But I was now a man — 18 years old, graduated from high school and in the job market. That was a real major adjustment for everybody.

So I stayed firm and finally the family took off for Hoisington, 300 miles from Wathena.

We kept in touch, of course, but it was more of an uncomfortable truce. I had constant pressure to go ahead and get married and then move my new wife out to Hoisington and join the newspaper.

Of course things weren’t that simple.  She wanted to stay in Wathena and be near her widowed mother.  And when we had children, we couldn’t deprive grandma of coddling the babies.  We would stay in Wathena.

I even got a call from my beloved paternal grandmother who was really disappointed that I had “divorced my family.”

It wasn’t a happy time. I was never happy about Wathena and I wasn’t accepted.  I wasn’t born there and was always an outsider.  Most of the people were related (through large Catholic families who intermarried) and none were intellectual or artistic.  I wore my hair long and had whiskers and was a musician, for goodness sakes!

I worked a job I didn’t like, always thinking I’d move into something better eventually, and my girlfriend finished high school and turned 18.

We set the wedding (in Wathena, of course), and my family came back. In fact, I was surprised at my extended family coming in for the wedding — aunts, uncles and cousins.

Skipping over some non-relevant details, things were not all bliss, and the marriage didn’t last too long. I swallowed my pride and told my parents I would come to Hoisington and join the family business. There was nothing left any more for me in Wathena.

Speaking of The Bunkhouse Boys (which I’m supposed to be doing), this was the turning point

Now that I was with the family, Craig and I were making music again. I got to Hoisington in July of 1975.

It was good to be with my brothers again, and over the past couple of years, Bart had been picking up the guitar and learning at an accelerated rate. He was still in high school, but unlike most kids his age, he discovered an interest in blues roots music.

I wasn’t very good company. After ending my marriage and any plans I had made for my future, I wasn’t really interested in going out. Craig liked to go to the local bars and hang out, and he especially liked a spot over in Great Bend, a ten minute drive down the highway, called The Ozone.

It was a funky place, a former Gulf filling station that had been converted to a bar. The sign was modified to say “Gulp” and the garage area was now a dance floor and stage.

Craig would try to talk me into going out with him to see a band and try to get back in circulation but I stayed home. Craig was really getting into CB radios (and he always went overboard in everything he did. He had set up a base station in the breakfast nook of our parents’ home and erected a huge antenna on a windmill frame out in the yard.

I would usually sit at the radio in the evening, listening to the chatter and occasionally saying hello to somebody. But mostly I just moped and read. When Craig would come home, he would tell me about where he’d been and if he’d seen a band. He was trying to inspire me … and it would take a while before I went along with him.

This was also a period of songwriting and Craig and I played together frequently learning new songs from The Eagles, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Flying Burrito Brothers and Grateful Dead.

He was determined by now to be an over-the-road truck driver. He had a romanticized version of the modern day cowboys in 18 wheelers roaming across the country. America had gotten truck driving and CB radio fever, and there were tv programs and hit songs about the culture.

One band was Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who did rockabilly and old country-western truck driving songs. They were the hip, young types who had a psychedelic version of the truck driving western, and one of their signature songs was “Lost In The Ozone Again.” I think that is where the Ozone tavern got its name.

After a while, Craig convinced me to go out to the Ozone with him and see a band. The musicians were local, including the drummer who was from Hoisington. He said the band was great, but the drummer was unbelievable. He had long red hair which streamed around him as he whaled the drums and cymbals.

Craig had gone to talk to the band during a break and found out the drummer was Ron Bailey and he was from Hoisington. He wanted us to get Ron to play with us.

I said, that’s nice, but he’s got a band.

But Craig said he was agreeable to jamming with us. Craig was a charmer, and I didn’t doubt that at all. And it sounded like fun, jamming with a drummer.

He took me over to the Ozone the next weekend and Ron was playing. I know the Foster brothers were the nucleus of the band, but I don’t remember the band’s name. I might have been The Foster Brothers.

Ron was certainly impressive. Craig introduced us at the break and Ron said he thought it would be cool to get together in the next week and see what happened. I was starting to get excited.

When the appointed day arrived, we had our equipment set up in the basement. There was an outside door, a cellar door with a few steps going down, and the drums could be loaded in easily from the driveway.

I don’t remember why I was the last to arrive — maybe I was still finishing dinner. But when I walked down the stairs and into the basement, I saw Ron sitting at his drum kit, Craig standing there with his bass, and — to my surprise — Bart with his guitar around his neck.

I got my guitar out, plugged it in … and that’s how it all started.