The Moving East Texas Watermelon Heist of 1945

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did – submitted by Jack Strong

Editor’s Note:  This is a tall tale that my Uncle Jack shared recently at his 81st birthday party, ostensibly in the form of a family confession; however, his sly grin betrayed a clear lack of any genuine contrition. ;). 
In 1945, his big brother, my dad, was involved in WWII. Jack, however, was still a restless 15 year old boy back home who managed to get into some fairly harmless mischief, as country boys that age are prone to do.
After these childhood shenanigans, Uncle Jack went on to serve as a distinguished state senator, and he was also quite successful in his law practice and many business ventures.

Probably the dumbest thing that we ever did had to do with watermelons. We liked watermelons, as most boys did, but we didn’t like hot watermelons – we liked cold watermelons.

Watercolor of Melon in Field

There was a particular farmer who lived about three miles out of Carthage, Texas.  He was just next to the road there, and had what we believed to be the best watermelon patch in all of Panola County.  We found a place in the fence that was easy to get across, and we would just go get two watermelons.  We got two, not because we would eat them both, but because the man at the ice house had a deal that if we would bring him two hot ones he’d give us one cold one.

One night we went out there, and we had a flashlight so we could try to locate the two best watermelons. We were very careful – seriously – to not damage any of the vines or any of his crop.  We might have been thieves, but we were considerate thieves.

One watermelon in this patch has been poisoned!

We’d try very carefully to pick out the two best melons.  The farmer, weary of being robbed by us, had placed a note on the fence where we’d typically go through that said, “One watermelon in this patch has been poisoned.”  We knew he was bluffing. So, we imagined his surprise when the next day he discovered the word “one” scratched out so that it now read, “Two watermelons have been poisoned.”  After that, we got watermelons from him on various occasions without any trouble.

Eventually, though, we got lazier.   Trucks filled with watermelons would come through Carthage, and there were two pretty good restaurants there.  The truck drivers would stop at those restaurants to get coffee and something to eat.  It was very simple for us to drive up behind one of these big bobtail trucks and pick a couple of watermelons off the top.

Melon trucks gathered by an old country store in the 1940's

(Credit: Olathe Public Library & Johnson County Library)

They would be almost overflowing with watermelons.  Unfortunately, some of the other boys saw what we were doing, and they started doing it too, and that messed up our deal because the truckers realized they were losing watermelons there.  Two they wouldn’t miss.  Ten they would.  Our deal ran out when they quit stopping in Carthage.

1940 Dodge

1940 Dodge (Picture from autogallery.org.ru)

Well, we really wanted some watermelons one night.   It was Carl, Buddy Smith, and a girl named Earline Garner.  She and Carl dated some. We were in the 1940 model Dodge that daddy had.  The ’40 model Dodge had full running boards on either side. The bumpers were not integrated into the front and back of the car. They were just pieces of metal that were curved and stuck out on the front of the car.

We saw this truck starting toward Shreveport.  And we knew that it was heavily loaded, knew that when it got to the river hill – the steep hill immediately east of the Sabine River – that he’d have to slow down going up that hill.

Stack of Watermelons

So we struck upon this plan. I was driving. Carl got on the front bumper. Buddy got on the running board. Earline was in the back seat. Of course, all the windows were down. There was no air-conditioning at that point in time in cars. So at 15 years of age – I’d been driving five months, maybe – I drove up close enough behind the back of that big bobtail truck, that Carl, on the front bumper, could reach over the top of that fairly tall truck, and pick up a watermelon, and hand it back to Buddy on the running board, and he would hand it in to Earline on the back seat. We got two watermelons doing that.

If the engine of that truck had even coughed, the front of my car would have gone underneath the bed of the truck and Carl would have been cut half in two. But we got away with it.

Later on in the years, Carl and I talked about it, and we were both pretty frightened as to what we had done. Really probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I think Carl agreed with that.

Already Eaten Slice of Watermelon

2 thoughts on “The Moving East Texas Watermelon Heist of 1945

  1. Excellent!

    One of my brothers and two of his friends visited a local patch once too often late one night and found that the farmer had stationed himself in the second row of corn at that the back of the melon patch. One of them had just picked up a prime melon when the shotgun warning shot went off. “Feet don’t fail me now….” was the thought from all 3 boys and just about worked except for Ray, the last one to stoop to go through the barbed wire fence when the second shot of rock salt riddled up his back. To this day I think Ray still carries small welts on his back side. A tough way to learn that crime does not always pay … But, boys will be boys.

    • I grew up on river hill and have visited a few mellon patches in my day. And thank god we never thought of that approach . Surely we wouldn’t have , would we ? Nah , trucks were moving much faster in the 60′s. Enjoyed the story and the trip down memory lane .

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