by Jim Bulls
Lincoln is my favorite elementary school. Since I have shared many stories in Kings River Life, this may be a bit repetitious, but I owe more than just an education to the school district. Since both of my parents were teachers, it provided a roof over my family’s head, clothes on our backs and food on the table.
Lincoln School was a three story, brick building that was considered a two-and-a half story. The first floor classrooms were in a half-basement where the windows were a ground level. This is where the primary classrooms were.
Mrs. Shellenberg was my kindergarten teacher. She taught in the basement, along with Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Metty, and my mother. As you worked up in grade, you were able to reach the second floor, and the 5th and 6th grades were on the top floor. Out back, among the Chinaberry trees, were the restrooms. There was always a large mud puddle behind the restrooms. It would freeze over in the winter and we would run across the yard to see how far we could “skate” across the puddle.
Mrs. Shellenberg has small part in my becoming a gear head. One Saturday my mother dropped by the Shellenbergs for a visit. Their son Dean was working on his cut down 1928 or ’29 Model “A” Ford. There were fenders, running boards, a hood, four wheels, a motor and a roadster pickup body. He gave me a ride and I was hooked.
After I got out of kindergarten, I ate lunch and then walked over to my Dad’s classroom at Grant School or to my Aunt Geneva’s house on C Street. I would stop any play in Mike Shamoon’s old Hudson that was parked at the Junior High Service Station where he worked. At my aunt’s house I played in Marion Hanna’s old Buick. Both of these cars were built in the 1920s.
Mrs. Baker was my first grade teacher. She was a short lady and there were kids in our class that were taller than she was. She also had lived in Reedley since she was a child.
Second grade was taught by Mrs. Metty. She lived across the street from the head gates of the Alta Canal. In the second grade, my premature birth caught up with me and I had to repeat the grade, officially joining the Class of 1961.
Mrs. Tabler was the teacher most feared by students at Lincoln. When I was a first grader, I thought it would be funny to take my straw and blow bubbles in Kenny Parker’s milk. His big blue eyes teared up and ran down his freckled cheeks as he cried, “Jimmy Bulls spit in my milk!” Mrs. Tabler removed me from the lunchroom and sat me down to wait the wrath of Mr. Crousy the principal.
He took me into his office, marched me around his desk and opened the bottom drawer. Inside was a large leather belt coiled up like a snake. “Jimmy,” he said. “Do you see this?” “Yes sir.” “I never want to take that out of the drawer. Do you understand?” “Yes sir.” “You’re excused.” I left his office and ran as fast as I could to the restroom because I was about to wet my pants.
Gerald Baker, Mrs. Baker’s son, caught up with me in my second year of the second grade. One day while we were waiting for our parents after school, we decided to explore the girl’s restroom. In stealth mode, we worked our way through the Chinaberry trees making way to the door to the girl’s restroom. A voice from the first escape came bellowing down to us, “What are you boys doing? Get away from there!” It was the dreaded Mrs. Tabler—she always seemed to know just what kind of trouble we were contemplating.
About that time our family got a new car, well, it was new to us. A two-year-old Plymouth Special Deluxe. I was infatuated with the new car. One day, while waiting for my Mom after school, I had the hood open checking out the motor. That familiar voice rang out, “What do you think you are doing? Get away from that car!” Yep, it was Mrs. Tabler. I just couldn’t avoid her.
The new, earthquake proof school was not finished at year’s end, but would be ready for the new school year when I was entering third grade. I was really excited about moving into a new school. Unfortunately my third grade teacher broke her neck. Rather than hire a long-term
substitute, my class was divided into three and spread around the other third grade at Lincoln and the two third grades at Washington. Those kids with parents who taught at Lincoln were bused over to Washington, so their parents wouldn’t be accused of having special privileges.
It was this time at Washington that I met my nemesis, who would follow me around the rest of my school years. For whatever reason—I never did know why—he really disliked me. He continually picked on me during recess and lunch. It was hard to get away from him. I was really glad to get back to Lincoln for the fourth grade.
My fourth grade teacher was Helen Mae Conrad, who, like Mrs. Baker was a long-time Reedley resident. In fact her maiden name was Reed and she was the daughter of T.L. the founding father of Reedley–if I had only known then what I know now, what a wealth of history she could have shared with me.
Our big project in the fourth grade was to build replica of one of the California missions. Mrs. Conrad’s idea for constructing missions was to make miniature bricks using a penny matchbox for a mold. When Dad saw our progress, he went home and built a wooden mold that would make 20 bricks at a time. I think we used macaroni for the tile roof.
In the fifth grade, I had my very first male teacher, Mr. Van Hogan. The two of us were like oil and water and never did communicate. I think I might have been a test to see if he could make it out as a teacher. The majority of my weeks in the fifth grade were spent in after school detention; I would sneak off and hide in Dad’s car. Somehow I passed the fifth grade, probably because Mr. Van Hogan didn’t want me for two years in a row.
So here I was, looking forward to summer vacation but knowing that the dreaded Mrs. Tabler would be my sixth grade teacher. After arriving home from our annual summer pilgrimage to Texas and Oklahoma, we found a letter announcing who my teacher would be. There it was, in black and white. My sixth grade teacher would be Mr. Bulls!
My Dad was the valedictorian of his high school class and passed the Oklahoma Teacher’s Exam a week before he graduated from high school. His first teaching job was in a two-room school where he taught fifth through eighth grades, along with his sister who taught the primary classes. Some of the boys were bigger and older than he was. Any incidence of class disruption would mean a trip out behind the outhouse for an attitude adjustment. In a situation like that, the teacher had to have the upper hand or else there would have been no discipline in the classroom.
My Dad also had his youngest sister as a student. She had perfect attendance, but was suffering from love sickness—all day long she thought about Cecil Emery instead of her schoolwork, so he flunked her. She chose matrimony and moved to Reedley, sent job applications to my parents and the rest is history. Anyway, the point is that if you thought having my father for my teacher was going to be easy, you were wrong.
The first day of school he sat me down in the chair nearest the window, right next to a stack of geography books. The first time I wasn’t paying attention I found out why. Whap! Over the head with a geography book! I wasn’t the only one who received this treatment. I suppose we all received As in geography because it was beaten into our heads.
On one occasion a young man—it wasn’t me this time—was disrupting the classroom. Dad calmly continued erasing the blackboard then turned and with the expertise learned as a sand lot baseball pitcher, beaned the guy halfway across the room. There he sat, totally surprised, with a cloud of chalk dust over his head and chalk all over his face and shirt and the rest of the class laughing their heads off.
He rarely raised his voice and always was perfectly calm, even when meting out various forms of discipline. He wore a fedora hat and an overcoat when he was on yard duty during recess. The kids in the lower grades thought he was in the Mafia.
I have to say this, my Dad was a teacher at school but my father at home. Many of his students have told me that he was the best teacher they ever had in elementary school.
One of the best experiences I received at Lincoln School was the opportunity to meet children of many ethnic backgrounds. For example, if I had stayed in Texas, I never would have met anyone of Japanese descent. My fellow classmates were all born at relocation camps, but some older kids like Dennis Surabian remember when members of his class just “vanished” overnight—their desks were just empty the next day. The teachers and the principal didn’t say anything about where they were or where they had gone. When Dennis got home, he asked his father what had happened. Reluctantly his father explained about the war and the relocation camps.
Elementary school was a place to get to know many different kids and make some lifelong friendships and a lot of great memories. As I look back now, I realize how lucky I was to be in Reedley and attend Lincoln School.
Check out part 1 in this series on Reedley Schools here. For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure to check out our Hometown History section.