Small town’s history makes for a big book
BAM column: Lifelong farmer Dale Jones took on the role of book editor to preserve his community’s storied past in “The Chronicles of Bradley, Oklahoma Thru 1968.”
LINDSAY — Although a fierce blue and black dragon gleams on its golden cover, I’m more inclined to think of a phoenix when I look at the shiny new tome “The Chronicles of Bradley, Oklahoma Thru 1968.”
After all, the ashes of his old schoolhouse and the fire-hot dust of last summer’s drought prompted the unlikely transformation of my father, Dale Jones, into the creator of the recently released book.
Despite his fervent interest in history, I never imagined my dad, the lifelong farmer, would edit a historical volume. But on a recent Friday, he sat in the lobby of the First National Bank of nearby Lindsay with a black marker in his calloused hand as he participated in his first book signing, scrawling his name and reminiscing with a few of his fans and neighbors.
“The book, oh, I think it’s just marvelous. Dale has done a yeoman’s job on this, and had it not been for him, there would’ve never been any records or history of Bradley as he knew it back several years ago. I mean, he’s to be commended,” said fellow Bradley area denizen L.B. Hoyle.
“Had it not been for Dale doing this, it would have just fell by the wayside. No one would had never endeavored on that, and if it hadn’t have been a dry year farming, Dale wouldn’t have had time to do it,” he added with a laugh.
“Best thing that came out of the drought.”
Rather than dwelling on his crops burning up in the relentless triple-digit temperatures last summer, my dad decided to delve into the history of his dwindling hometown. Preserving that history had been on his mind since fall 2009, when he attended for his first time the annual reunion of the Bradley Alumni Association. Among that crowd of about 75 graybeards and grandmothers with whom he grew up, he was reminded that he will forever be the youngest of the Bradley Dragons. Now 61, he was the baby of the class of 1968, the last graduating class of Bradley High School.
At that 2009 reunion, he experienced a troubling realization: The keepers of his hometown’s history were getting older, while the community itself was becoming more and more a ghost town.
A year later, the abandoned Bradley schoolhouse, built in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration, burned out. The stately stone facade was left fragilely standing, but the inside was gutted by the fire. He realized then that soon no tangible sign would be left of the place where he made so many memories, unless someone in his generation created it.
My father partnered with our close friends Darrell and Gina Cable at Cable Printing Co. — publishers of the Lindsay News, where I got my first journalism gig in seventh grade as reporter for the Lindsay Middle School 4-H club — to create a true chronicle. Rather than relying on his and others’ recollections of Bradley and its school, he mined the archives of the Lindsay News, Chickasha Daily Express and even the long-closed Alex Tribune.
He made numerous research trips to the Oklahoma History Center, cajoled my sister into rekeying hundreds of newspaper articles and asked neighbors to write up and submit their family histories. For my part, I got to take a few photographs, help out with the acknowledgements and try my hand at sports journalism, interviewing my father and writing the nearly-lost story of the last game of the Bradley Dragons boys’ basketball team, which was shockingly upset on a snowy night in February 1968 in the Class C district championship.
For the book, my dad even got a local photographer to shoot the Bradley senior class panels, which still hang in the Bradley Community Center. Besides a smattering of houses, a few shuttered businesses, a relatively new playground and a post office that has been targeted for possible closure, the center is one of the few landmarks that remain in his hometown.
But the bustling past of the community and school is now carefully preserved in the nearly 700 pages of “The Chronicles of Bradley.”
“Bradley was a neat little town. Everyone kept their places just manicured back when I was about 12, 13 years old. Little white picket fences across the front of the places,” Hoyle recalled, pointing out of a photo in the book of himself at age 17, his foot jauntily propped on the running board of his dad’s 1941 Ford pickup.
“But if you wanted entertainment, most everybody came to Bradley on the weekend. … See, there was no law up there. Every weekend, it wasn’t anything to see two or three fights.”
“I get up in the mornings real early and sit there and read it and laugh and laugh and laugh about things I had forgotten,” Hoyle’s wife Inadean added.
For such a small town, the demand has been pretty impressive: Of the almost 400 copies he had printed and bound back in March, my dad has already sold 300, with many families buying four or five books. They are on display at Lindsay’s First National Bank and for sale at Cable Printing.
“Everybody is excited about having ‘The Chronicles of Bradley’ and looking to see where they’re mentioned in the book — good or bad,” said the bank’s assistant vice president/cashier Angie Stone. “It is great for the community.”