by Jim Bulls
On the west Texas farm I moved from long ago, the crickets would chirp, the frogs croaked, and the roosters crowing woke us at the crack of dawn. Moving to Reedley brought a plethora of new sounds to listen for.
One hundred years ago, the bell in the clock tower at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church began sounding the time on the hour and half-hour; every hour and every day. Sometime in the teens, a fire whistle was added to the steel water tower. At high noon, Monday through Saturday, the whistle would blow a solitary blast announcing lunch time. In the 1930’s, the Methodist Episcopal Church began chiming out a hymn from the church bell tower on 12th & E Streets.
In the 1950’s I remember hearing the town whistle at noon, with the simultaneous striking of the clock, and then a familiar hymn tune like “The Old Rugged Cross” chiming out to remind you to say Grace before biting into the lunch special from Sun King, Punch & Judy’s, Arrowood’s Café or the Goody Good.
One of the most exciting sounds, and frightening too, was the same fire whistle going off to call the firemen to the station because of a fire. Living on the outskirts of town, we would scan the horizon for the orange glow to pinpoint where the fire was. Many a packing shed, Jackson’s Buick, Reedley Lumber, and the gym at Grant School all had major fires. For me, the saddest and most depressing fire, was when Main Hall of Reedley High School burned to the ground.
Throughout most of Reedley’s early history, when railroads were king, the sounds of bells, whistles, cars coupling and uncoupling made up a constant background all day and night long. Whistles from steam locomotives and the air horns of their diesel counterparts competed for sound time, along with the piercing sounds of the electric bells on railroad crossing wig-wags. Reedley produce left town on a regular basis, and rail freight from other parts of the country was brought in to supply our community businesses with goods.
Santa Fe and Southern Pacific both offered passenger service, with several stops each day. Reedley residents could take a train into Fresno or Visalia for shopping, or begin a transcontinental trip to the east coast.Sadly, as produce trucks, bus and auto travel became more popular, the clickety-clack of the railroad tracks fell silent. The last major Reedley business using train freight was Buchman Industries. Today a local railroad out of Exeter comes through town about twice a day. Occasionally, I hear cars changing in the early morning hours.
The chimes of the Methodist Church fell silent when termites and a stubborn building inspector condemned the old church building. The bell tower from St. Anthony’s only sounds the time during daylight hours or calls the faithful to mass. Now days you are more likely to hear the deep booming bass coming from a “low rider” cruising by in his custom Chevy, complete with vibrations and rattling windows.
On Thursday nights in the fall, you can hear the ‘Big Green Marching Machine’ practicing on the Reedley High School football field and the voice of the band director giving instructions to the band through his megaphone. Sometimes the night silence is broken by a chopping sound from the CHP helicopter, accompanied by searchlight shadows illuminating your bedroom, as they search for some misguided Reedleyite. There is still the sense of fright, when the siren goes off during the day or night, droning on and on while the volunteers muster to fight the fire. Add to this, the cacophony of sounds coming from our modern-day emergency vehicles, and it sometimes takes a while to get back to sleep.
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, you hear the first of the “show” roosters (formerly known as fighting cocks) crowing to greet the start of a new day–the Reedley way.