Steve Owens

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

This article was originally published at I Remember JFK: A Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot in 2007. I’m recycling it here because it’s appropriate for Miami History. –the webmaster

Growing up in small-town America Miami, Oklahoma in the 60’s was a rich experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was wonderful living in a community where everyone knew who you were, where you could go anywhere you wanted as long as you were home for supper, and where civic pride was tangibly real.

The city’s pride swelled to the breaking point in 1969, the year hometown boy Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy.

Steve Owens Day celebration, December 8, 1969. Click to enlarge

Owens was a kid that, of course, everyone in town knew. I never met the man myself, but his brother (named Bill, I believe) lived on my street, and Steve’s nephew Tony, who was my age, was a familiar face in the neighborhood gang. And my schoolteacher mom was quite proud of the fact that Steve was one of her students.

I’ve always stated that Miami was Steve’s home town, but I stand corrected. He was actually born in Gore, Oklahoma, and moved to Miami at an early age. While he was a young kid, OU was in the process of compiling an incredible 47 game winning streak. Any football-inclined youngster in Oklahoma dreamed of playing for the Sooners, and Steve was no exception.

In high school, Steve shined for the Wardogs. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush and gained over 4,000 yards in his four years. He caught recruiters’ attention, and happily signed for his favorite school.

But the coaches weren’t sure what to do with him. Owens was a bit of a paradox. He was a track star who was quite speedy, but he looked slow on the field. The Sooners considered making him a tight end. But in the end, they played him at running back his freshman season.

He didn’t play much, and didn’t dazzle when he did. But the next year, he ran for 813 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also scored a TD in OU’s Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Steve Owens Day article, December 9, 1969. Click to Enlarge

In his junior year, he gained 1,536 yards and started getting attention from the press. That year, O.J. Simpson blew away everyone else for the Heisman, but he called Owens and predicted he would win it the next year.

Owens shined in 1969. His team had problems, though, and lost four games. But Steve began putting together a string of 100-yard games the previous year that continued into his senior season. Once, during a shellacking of Colorado, Owens wanted to let up on the hapless Buffaloes. He was reported to have said “Let’s just fall on the ball and forget this 100-yard stuff. It’s not that important.” Offensive guard Bill Effstrom’s response to him was “It might not be important to you, but it’s sure important to us.”

Owens ran hard and picked up 112 yards. He ended up with 17 straight 100 yard games, a record that still stands.

When Owens won the Heisman that year, a small town became ecstatic. Unfortunately, I had moved away by then, so I missed out on the fun. But I was pleased to drive down Steve Owens Boulevard during a visit there a few years ago.

Nowadays, Owens is CEO at a big insurance agency in Oklahoma City. Life turned out well for the gentleman, I’m happy to say. So here’s to a small town boy who made good, and gave perennial bragging rights to everyone from Miami, Oklahoma.

Steve Owens in a Detroit Lions uniform, 1970

Miami’s Bridges

Everything Else

Ferry located at the “south part of town,” 1880’s

In the beginning, there was the ferry, and the ferry was located south of town, at the “southern edge” of Miami. The ferry preceded the town itself.

“Road workers” at fording spot near NW 3rd, circa 1900

According to resident Mary Booth, born in 1898, there was also a place to ford the river under favorable conditions in the vicinity of NW 3rd. The photo above depicts this location.

Ten years after the town was incorporated (1901), a toll bridge was completed, near the present-day bridge by Riverview Park. This ended the ferry’s run. Note two bridges visible in the photo below.

1913, toll bridge and Frisco bridge in background

The Frisco railroad to Afton was also completed that year, so Miami quickly had two bridges where it had none.

Frisco bridge across the Neosho, early 20th century

This original Frisco bridge was replaced in 1943 with a span which had no trusses. It continues to exist today, although it has had improvements over the years.

In 1916, the toll bridge was purchased by Ottawa county for $10,000, and you could now cross the Neosho south of town for free.

According to The History of Ottawa County, by Velma Nieberding, the bridge was disassembled around 1920-1921 and moved to Steppe’s Ford, west of Commerce. It was demolished there in 2016.

Concrete bridge at Riverview Park, circa 1960

The disassembly of that bridge is the logical time period for the building of the concrete bridge which was there through late 1967. That bridge had arches which were prone to catching driftwood and which had to be frequently cleaned. It was replaced with a higher span with less obstruction in 1967.

In 1934, construction began on a brand new bridge at SW 3rd. On September 22, 1935, it was opened to traffic. That bridge lasted until it was replaced in 1997.

The Route 66 bridge, circa 1940

C.M. Bartlett dedicating the new Highway 66 bridge, 1937

News-Record article and photo describing new Riverview Park bridge, November 1967. Four bridges are temporarily visible.

The concrete bridge depicted above was demolished shortly after the new one opened.

There’s one other bridge spanning the Neosho in Miami.

Building the M,O, and G bridge, 1912

The M O and G bridge, 2011

South of Riverview Park, around the river bend, stands the old M,O and G bridge. Originally built in 1912, it was abandoned some time in the 60’s. At presstime, it still stands.

There is now a concrete bridge at west Steve Owens Boulevard spanning the river. Thus, Miami now has two modern concrete bridges, one old railroad bridge in good repair, and one railroad bridge which has been abandoned.

Steve Gaines, Born in Miami

Everything Else

As of this publishing date, Wikipedia continues to insist that Steve Gaines was born in Seneca, Missouri. The clipping below from the Miami News-Record of September 15, 1949, should remove all doubt. This is the Miami Baptist Hospital admittance announcements. And Steve was born on September 14, 1949, of course. And note that his parents were already living on Circle Drive.

If anyone has the ability to edit the erroneous Wikipedia article, this clipping should provide conclusive proof. It can also be accessed at newspapers.com.

Miami’s Theaters

Miami Businesses

Miami has always had movie theaters, since it was 23 years old. The Dreamland opened at 12 South Main, where Security Bank now sits, in 1914. By 1919, it had been renamed the Grand.

In 1917, the Grand received some competition: the Glory B, which opened directly across the street (at the site of the present-day Jeannie’s). Both of these theaters had stages large enough to accommodate vaudeville acts and live bands.

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, January 6, 1928

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, September 7, 1927

Glory B ad, January 5, 1940

Ottawa and Coleman ads, January 4, 1946

Both theaters eventually came to be owned by Sarah Cardin Staton. A Staton owning a South Main business was a common situation in the twenties. The Grand lasted until 1928. It apparently never converted to sound, and the rival across the street announced it that year. In fact, the last Grand ad was placed in the News-Record the weekend before the Glory B debuted sound.

Vaudeville and Talkies at the Glory B, November 2, 1928

On April 18, 1929, the Coleman theater opened. The Coleman also had a vaudeville stage, and Miamians once again had their choice of two theaters to attend.

Coleman Theater writeup, January 20, 1929, the article mentions three obscure playhouses that Miami had in the past. Click to enlarge.

The article above is valuable because it mentions three obscure playhouses from Miami’s past: the Odeon, the Pastime, and the Airdome. The locations of all three have been lost to history.

January 20, 1933

The Glory B and the Coleman both survived the Great Depression, providing entertainment which was just barely affordable enough, combined with a nice air-conditioned place to escape dust bowl summer heat.

In 1945, Miami again had three theaters, when the Ottawa opened at the same location formerly occupied by the Grand.

Ottawa Theater’s first ad, April 4, 1945

The Ottawa from the beginning advertised itself as a second-run theater, and it did well. But in 1949, the theater scene in town would be shook up by the appearance of the drive-in theater. Click the link to read the history of Miami’s drive-ins.

Sometime after 1950 (1951 and 1952 are missing from my newspaper archives), the Glory B closed its doors. By 1953, the Miami Theater had opened there, complete with a gorgeous art deco marquee.

Artist’s depiction of the Miami Theater.

Miami’s theaters peaked in 1954. There were two drive-ins, the Sooner south of town and the Tri-State to the north, and three walk-ins, the Coleman, the Ottawa, and the Miami. The Sooner would close that year after a flood, promising to reopen but never doing so. The Ottawa would close the next year. The Miami would close in 1958. It would reopen for a few weeks in 1961.

Five Miami theater ads, June 11, 1954

Obviously, television was the culprit. As more and more Miami residences obtained the one-eyed monsters, theaters felt the pinch. By the time I came along in the 60’s, it was the Coleman and the former Tri-State, renamed the Sooner early in the decade.

The Tri-State’s site is covered by a Wal-Mart. But the Coleman lives on, in what is one of the greatest historical renovations ever done. The theater where I watched Mary Poppins, The Monkey’s Uncle, and Bonnie and Clyde (thanks, brother Bill, for exposing me to some great edgy entertainment, and making me the coolest kid in the third grade) is much more beautiful now than it was then. The decrepit balcony had already been closed off by the time I was attending there.

And of course, Miami has a modern multi-screen cineplex. So movie theaters have run continuously here since 1914. That’s impressive, because many communities Miami’s size have stopped supporting them.

George Mayer and Miami Stone

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

George Mayer was a self-made man. He was born in Rhineland, Missouri in 1915. He was fascinated with airplanes, and in the freewheeling days before FAA regulation, he was able to teach himself to fly. He was good at it, too, good enough to be hired as an instructor in 1941 at the Spartan School of Aviation. Mayer moved to Miami and would soon make a huge impact on not only the business community, but in the looks of structures in Miami and all over the US.

As Mayer would fly around, he was amazed at the mountains of chat all over Ottawa county. What potential for material there!

When the US entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Pacific theater.

In 1949, Mayer opened up a paint and wallpaper store in Miami. One day, while mixing paint, he had an epiphany: wouldn’t a custom colored building stone be quite a popular item? He set up some molds in his garage and started experimenting.

His first thought was towards the discarded chat left over from the mining industry. Virtually unlimited, and almost free. But it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t make strong enough blocks with the chat. The lead it contained would fortunately never be an issue with his new product.

You see, Mayer knew the biggest issue with manufactured stone: porosity. If water could get inside it and freeze, it would break. So Mayer strove for a ridiculously high 5,000 PSI product which would be impervious to water. And they were! Mayer’s quality control include a cycle test, where the stones were soaked in water for 24 hours, then frozen at -12 Fahrenheit for 24 hours, then thawed for 24 hours. This cycle continued for nine months.

If a stone could survive that, mere weather conditions would be a snap to overcome. Sure enough, not even a surface deterioration could be found by independent laboratories.

Miami News-Record article on George mayer and Miami Stone, 1955

He soon rented a building on the Truck Route to refine his concept. By 1955, Mayer had perfected his formula, had purchased a manufacturing site between the curves north of town, and was offering Miami Stone for sale. One of the first buildings in Miami to use it was the new dental clinic on 216 W Central. The first News-Record ad placed by Miami Stone in December, 1955 paid tribute to the new office.

Miami Stone pays homage to one of its first clients, Dr. Leon Lewis’s new office at 216 W Central. December 14, 1955

216 W Central in 2016, the Miami Stone is still in perfect shape

Besides being an inexpensive, durable, attractive building material, it had even more cachet: it looked Mid-Century Modern, the building style that was just beginning to take off across the country. Thus, Miami Stone was an instant success.

To say that Miami Stone was a brilliant design would be quite an understatement. Besides being as durable as can be imagined, its modular design leads to imaginative use. The blocks ranged in size from one to four and a half inches thick (eventually they maxed out at 3 1/2″). The sizes jumped by 1/2 inch, so use a 1/2″ mortar joint and you can create patterns with different block thicknesses.

Miami Stone yearbook ad, 1963

Miami Stone plant worker, date unknown

Miami Stone flyer, early 60’s

Miami Stone flyer, interior. Click to enlarge.

Miami Stone flyer, back cover

But Mayer didn’t stop there. He marketed Miami Stone as a franchise, and soon had locations all over the US making his stones.

By 1968, the MCM look was starting to slow down, and so was demand for the sleek building blocks. Unfazed, Mayer created another stone: the Rus-Tique Brik.

It looked like a brick, but was actually more durable, being manufactured to the same standards as Miami Stone. Mayer’s market from the get-go was franchises for this product. An entrepreneur could have a Rus-Tique facility up and running for $500,000. That’s 1/10 the cost of a clay brickmaking facility!

Rustique brick, currently available from a company in Slovakia

The response to Rus-Tique was even greater, and soon facilities were open in Europe and Australia.

In 1975, Mayer invented the Queen Air, a vented fireplace that kept the heat in the room, instead of sending it up the chimney. In 1979, he formed George Mayer Manufacturing Inc. to begin manufacturing them.  The Queen Air fireplace was a success, but not as big a success as the fireplace insert which could turn any fireplace into an efficient source of house heat. The insert was a monster hit, spawning many copycats, but most folks insisted on the original Queen Air.

Miami Stone’s longtime location, seen in the present day

By 1993, Mayer was looking to retire. He sold his businesses to outside interests. Sadly, they lacked his genius. Within five years, Miami Stone and Queen Air had vanished, and most Rustique franchises as well. But some have held on, and Mayer’s legacy continues.

His legacy also continues in dozens of structures all over Miami, and thousands more across the nation, which feature Miami Stone. And as the Mid Century Modern look has proven to be timeless, people are proudly leaving their 50-year-old and older Miami Stone installations right where they are.

George Mayer, who passed in 1998, would be happy, I’m sure.

The Anti-Horse Thief Association

Everything Else

In 1914, cars were a rarity. The well-to-do had them, most everyone else had horses. The horse was the sole means of transportation, and to lose it to a thief would mean great inconvenience. The police did what they could do, but many thieves went unapprehended. Thus, in 1914, a vigilante group formed in Miami called the Anti-Horse Thief Association. Incidentally, the first one was formed around 1859 in Ft. Scott, Kansas.

It was a secret society, for good reason: in addition to catching thieves and turning them over to the authorities, they would sometimes dispense their own form of justice, which would typically involve a rope in a tree. Keeping the membership secret would discourage retaliation from the thieves’ friends and family. Plus, if the thieves didn’t know who the members were, they wouldn’t avoid them.

Call for an anti-thief organization to stop thefts of mining equipment, January 16, 1927

As the years went by, the group performed fewer lynchings and became less secret. A May 1930 article in the News-Record gives minutes from a group meeting in Vinita where officers were elected and named. They would post signs on properties advertising rewards of 25 to 50 dollars for the arrest and conviction of thieves of any type of property. By 1947, the national group had changed their name to the Anti-Thief Association.

By the 50’s, the group had faded away nationwide. There are still scattered branches, but they have become social clubs, not vigilante groups. Nowadays, we have Neighborhood Watch programs to keep an eye out for wrongdoers. But step back to Miami’s early years, and there was a similar organization with a lot more teeth.

 

Mrs. Cottam’s First Grade Class, 1965

Everything Else

This set of photos rates its own post, not because of the class picture (which is amazing, IMHO), but because of the bonus on the back: the names of the students! Unfortunately, one name is missing: the girl between Cindy Tam and Kim Kissee. It’s Jamie Swank.

Mrs. Cottam’s first grade class, Nichols Elementary, 1965-66. Click to enlarge

Mrs. Cottam’s first grade class, Nichols Elementary, 1965-66, names of students. Click to enlarge.

Mushroom Horticulture, Circa 1932

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Miami currently has a thriving mushroom business, good news in times where any type of local manufacturing is becoming scarce in the US. But make no mistake: it’s not the first in the area to raise edible fungi.

Dick Wills’ Cardin mushroom farm, 1932

A grandson of Miami pioneer J.F. Robinson, Dick Wills envisioned a use for the inactive Anna Beaver mine in Cardin. Grow mushrooms! The temperature was perfect, the lack of light was perfect, and the humidity was just right.

Mushrooms weren’t Wills’ first choice. He tried growing various vegetables and flowers under artificial lighting first. He actually achieved some success with, strangely, tulips and rhubarb. But then he tried his hand at mushrooms, and the mine’s fate was set.

Popular Science article from May, 1933, telling about Dick Wills and his mine

Temperatures varied by two degrees year round in the mine. The humidity likewise remained fairly constant in certain areas. And there was already an elevator system in place, ready to go.

So Wills shipped in ten traincars full of compost material and went to work. Wills went with the dryer areas of the mine, since it was easier to add than remove moisture from the air. He strategically covered and uncovered test holes in the ceiling to provide just the right amount of ventilation.

Dick Wills wants horse manure! 1932

After much trial and error, he got the knack of setting out molded manure as a growing base and replacing it just as its nutrients were depleted. He hired a work force that eventually reached twenty, and was soon shipping 450 lbs. of top quality mushrooms a day to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Wills paid royalties to the Indian owners, just like the miners.

Dyer Bros. Grocery sells Dick Wills mushrooms, 1932

The last mention of Wills and his trade was made in the News-Record in April of 1934, when he spoke to a local businessmen’s group about mushroom farming. After that, the Wills name is only mentioned in the sense of his wife and social events. According to a recalled conversation by a local Miamian, he had to stop his operation because of a problem that they don’t have in Washington D.C.: a lack of horse manure.

The equine by-product provided the perfect base for growing, but Wills couldn’t get it in sufficient quantity to stay afloat. He attempted to create a contract with the army base at Ft. Sill, where horses were still being used for military purposes, but was unable to make it happen. Thus, he shut things down.

J-M Farms should have a photo of this fungal pioneer hanging in their office.

The Year Without a Fair

News Events

1957 was a wetter-than-normal year. The abundance of moisture contributed to a virulent outbreak of a scourge which caused half of Ottawa county to be quarantined, and which also caused the cancellation of the 1957 county fair.

Anthrax outbreak in Welch, July 22, 1957

The first indicator of trouble was an outbreak in Welch.

No anthrax in Ottawa county, says county agent. July 25, 1957

Local farmers were justifiably concerned, but the county agent assured them that “all is well!” just like the ROTC officer in Animal House. However, cases soon started appearing in western Ottawa county, and on August 2, this story was across the front page:

Anthrax quarantine in effect, August 2, 1957. Click to enlarge.

Dairy farmers were also affected by the quarantine.

Milk trucks stopped during 1957 anthrax quarantine. August 4.

The quarantine area missed most of Miami itself, but it did get as close as the fairgrounds. Therefore, a decision was made to cancel the fair and horse races.

1957 Ottawa county fair canceled due to anthrax quarantine

As the article points out, this was the only non-war cancellation of the event since it began in 1916.

By mid September, the epidemic had played itself out. About 1,000 head of livestock were lost in Craig, Mayes, and Ottawa counties. Most quarantines were lifted by September 17, although some farms remained isolated for several more weeks until every trace of infection was gone.

Thus ended a year made sadly unforgettable by those who remember it. And when terrorists attempted to release anthrax spores in 2001, some terrible memories must have been rekindled.

OK Plumbing: Getting There by Horse or by Motor

Miami Businesses

In 1912, Miami was nineteen years old. Main Street had recently begun to be paved, but other streets in town were dirt that turned to pure mud in a rain. Oklahoma, the state, had been in existence for five years. And OK Plumbing Company was born.

OK Plumbing wagon, circa 1912, with Lisle Torbert Sr.

Lisle Torbert and his father, William, set up shop at East Central, close to what would be known as the Cardin Building, Security Bank’s long-time home. They had a store with a section where the newest plumbing fixtures were displayed.

In 1913, two spinsters were scandalized by the appearance of one of those new-fangled flush toilets, right there for the whole world to see! When Torbert’s new wife refused to remove the offending fixture, the ladies took great pains to stay on the opposite side of the street.

In the 1919 city guide, OK Plumbing is listed at 104 North Main.

OK Plumbing display window, 1924

By 1927, they had moved to their location remembered by Miami baby boomers: 34 North Main. That address was shared by the Canteen, a news shop/snack bar/delivery service/bus station. They stayed there for the rest of their existence.

By 1929, OK Plumbing was well-enough established to land the job of plumbing the five story building being built for First National Bank. With a Depression on, it was welcome work. That winter, temperatures dropped to -25, but the plumbing held up during construction, and is still working fine. Indeed, buildings all over Miami have OK Plumbing-supplied pipes and fixtures.

Around 1964, Lisle Torbert Sr. passed away, and Junior took over. Lisle senior was active in the local Lions Club, and Lisle junior kept up the tradition. Both ended up 50+ year members, and Lisle senior’s wife managed the Lions Eye Bank for many years.

Mary Lee Torbert, Lisle senior’s granddaughter,  at North Main, next to the sign for Lion Torbert Park, late 50’s

The Torbert family was honored by the Lions when the park at 1802 NE E was dedicated in their honor in June, 1957. The park was actually named for Lisle senior. The park is still there, by the way.

OK Plumbing stayed at it until the late 90’s, when Lisle decided to retire. But it had an amazing run, beginning with a horse-drawn wagon, and ending close to the 21st century.