By Norris Chambers

            During the big depression of the thirties there were many men with no jobs and time on their hands. That left time for games of all sorts.

            My brother had a service station and garage in the middle of the little clearing that called itself a town. There were several men who lived there and found themselves unemployed a big portion of the time. There were others who lived in the country and came in occasionally and added to the number of loafers in the town. The garage was one of the game areas. The building was large enough to accommodate several checker boards and domino tables.

Outdoor games were played behind the building if the weather permitted. The standard marble game was quite popular and was played with large rock-like marbles called “chalkies”.  Several men played the game, usually dividing into pairs and playing as partners. A square ring about five or six feet wide was drawn on the ground and each player placed a marble inside. The contestants then pitched a marble (the shooting marble was called a “taw”) at a line a few feet away and the two coming the closest to the line were allowed to shoot first. If one of the partners knocked a marble out of the ring he took the marble. The purpose of the game was to collect all of the marbles in the ring.  Each of the other players then took shots at the marbles. If the one shooting hit a marble he was allowed another shot. The taw was held in the hand and thumped with the thumb. The player stretched his hand as wide as possible from the marble being hit and the action was called a “span”. This was the distance he kept between his taw and the marble he was attempting to move. He could attempt to shoot the marble out of the ring and capture it.

Another popular marble game was called “holey rolley”.  Small holes were dug at the four corners of a square, as in the marble game, and another hole was dug about five or six feet from a side of the square, forming a “P”.  The first shooter was determined the same as in the marble game. The one coming closest to the taw line was entitled to the first shot. From a distance of about fifteen feet the player attempted to roll his taw into the first hole. If he succeeded he placed his taw a span away from the hole and tried for the closest hole of the square. If he didn’t roll into a hole his taw was left where it stopped and the next shooter tried. The object of the game was to go around the square by rolling into each hole and back to the start hole. The first one around won the game.  If the shooter hit an opponent’s marble he could move his marble a span length and knock the opposing marble out of the way and continue with another shot.

The most popular game was similar to horse shoes and was played with an old automobile jack. Opposing players took turns tossing rings at the jack and scored according to where they landed. If a ring looped over the top of the jack it was a ringer and counted 5 points. A hanger on the handle was 3 points, a leaner was one leaning against the target and counted 2 points and the closest rings to the base of the jack counted one point. The first player or team of players to reach a certain number of points won the game. Some of the regular players became really skilled. The old game of horseshoes was also played on a regular basis.

Sometimes targets were set up and contestants tried their skills with slingshots or 22 rifles.

Occasionally there were wrestling or boxing matches, foot races or jumping contests. I’ve even seen contestants find out who could spit the longest distance. There was a baseball field down below the hill that was often in use. It wasn’t a big million dollar stadium but consisted of a small back-stop made with two long posts and chicken wire and a few sand bags that served as bases.

There were also tricksters who delighted in providing laughs for those looking on and a little anger from those who were caught as the victim. A favorite prank was to dig a hole about ten inches deep and the same diameter and fill it about two thirds full of used motor oil. It was then covered with heavy cardboard and a light layer of dirt spread over it in such a manner that a person walking in the area would not see it and would step into the dirty oil. Those who saw it happen laughed out loud and this only made the victim angrier.

Was this sort of stuff fun? Most of the observers thought it was. Usually the victim or the loser of a game wasn’t overwhelmingly happy! Everybody has to have fun somewhere!

It was more fun to be the laugher than the one laughed at.