Nickels for the Old Timers
By Norris Chambers
Papa cranked the Model T and Mama and I climbed in for the trip to Brownwood. An occasional trip to a larger town was necessary because the stores in the small towns that were closer didn’t have some of the merchandise that we needed. Sometimes there was business to be conducted that could only be taken care of at the court house. It took about an hour to drive the 25 miles over the unpaved roads.
We found a parking space across the street from the court house and separated for the shopping chore. Mama and Papa walked to various stores and made their purchases. When everything had been bought they drove by the stores and the clerks loaded the merchandise in the model T. I usually made my purchases at the big trick shop around the corner from where we were parked. The number and size of my packages depended on how much ‘possum hide money I had. I didn’t need help in handling the packages I was able to buy.
There were many odd items and tricks on exhibit in the enclosed counters and many of them I would have bought if I had been financially able. One item I definitely would have purchased was priced at $1.00 but that was more than I could pay. It looked like a nickel but there was a “head” on both sides. Another similar piece had a “tails” on each side. It was also priced at a dollar. I bought two packages of cigar, cigarette or pipe loads that would make a fearsome explosion when pushed into a smoking device and ignited – one for me and one for Clifton. I also purchased two assortments of stink balls. When the plastic seal was removed a foul smelling odor was released. I had seen them before and I knew that just one pill could empty a school room in a very short time. Clifton and I were too nice to use these, but they were good items for trading!
I gave Clifton his tricks and told him about many of the other interesting items that were offered for sale. He remarked that maybe we should hunt more possums, sell more hides and make more trips to the fun store. He was particularly interested in the nickels with the mixed up heads and tails. After we had discussed the items awhile it occurred to us that we might be able to make something like that. After all, it was just a matter of filing half of a nickel off and doing the same to thing to another one! Glue the filed backs together and you would have a $1.00 novelty for only ten cents!
We started the grinding derby by gluing the tails side of the nickel to a short wooden paddle. We used the paddle for easier maneuvering of the nickel. Our intention was to use the flat side of the old foot-powered grinder in the blacksmith shop until the half-way portion of the nickel was reached then finish with hand grinding on the axe hone. We prepared another nickel for the task and I started grinding off the tail side of the nickel while turning the grinder with the foot pedal. Clifton sat on a stool and held his against the other side of the big grind wheel.
Eventually we decided we had ground enough and began smoothing the ground surface of the coins with a fine grit hone used for producing a super-sharp axe blade. .
Clifton and I were not gamblers but when Jerry Hill invited anyone to match him for a nickel he thought Jerry should be taught a lesson and immediately accepted the challenge. “Flip it in the air and let it fall on the ground.” Clifton said and watched closely as the coin fell, rolled a few inches and tumbled over with the heads on top. He watched closely and immediately reached in his left pocket, removed the “heads” coin and flipped it in the air. He picked up the nickel he had won and thanked Jerry for the win. Jerry immediately called for another try and was accepted. Clifton won again with the altered coin. After two more games Jerry told Clifton that he was too lucky for him to play with and walked away. Clifton felt like he had discovered a gold mine.
Clifton told his dad how he had won so many tosses. We showed him the two nickels we had made. He looked them over carefully then said, “It’s a nice job but it’s against the law to deface a coin like you did. Not only that, but it’s dishonest. Get rid of them!” We thought about taking them apart and making legitimate nickels out of them but after thinking a little we decided that would also be against the law. Clifton had a brilliant idea. He would sell his lucky nickel to Jerry. Jerry had plenty of money and would be glad to get it.
Jerry gladly gave Clifton fifty cents for the coin and started at once to earn dishonest nickels. Clifton and I were watching when he was in the process of taking another victim’s pocket change. Everyone was shocked when Jerry’s coin hit the ground and broke into two halves. I don’t know what happened next since I immediately had business somewhere else and Clifton followed closely behind me.
This time Clifton was the winner and I lost two nickels. He thought that was funny! I wonder about his sense of humor.