The Sod of Kansas

When I first started kicking, I lived in a “soddy” —a sod house.  I have a picture of my mother there, and I was with her, but they didn’t know at that time whether I was a boy or a girl.  Then our new frame house was finished, and we moved into it.  A few weeks after the move, I was born on October 3, 1902…Our home was on a farm three miles southeast of Quinter, in the high plains of western Kansas…
And so began the life of Ralph Waldo McBurney as related in his autobiography, My First 100 Years, published by Leathers Publishing in 2004, and re-published on audio CD by AudioBookMan in 2007—Waldo’s life story, in his own words, and in his own voice.
I won’t spoil the story by telling you about his life. He wrote and read a book that will tell you that, and besides, I couldn’t recount it nearly as well as the one who lived it. And I won’t tell you about his faith, philosophy, or accomplishments. His writings capture such facts and relate them adequately. What I will tell you about is the extraordinary man I was privileged to meet and who shared the most precious of commodities—his time.
I arrived in Quinter after two letters and one phone call. I offered a proposal, he asked a few intelligent questions, I answered them, and my offer was accepted. As promised, Waldo called to invite me to Quinter when he was ready.  From those few exchanges, I knew I was dealing with an old-style businessman—the kind who is happy only if all parties are served well in a transaction.
His letters were in legible longhand, and his phone voice was strong. Words were carefully chosen, truthful, serious. If I had not known beforehand, I never would have believed that my correspondent was 104 years of age. At our first in-person meeting, we adopted a work schedule that I nearly objected to as overly ambitious, but there was work to be done, and Waldo had obligations other than entertaining this youngster for too long. I remember chuckling at the thought of negotiating for the sequel, My Second 100 Years, but I didn’t think I’d live long enough to publish it.
We worked closely for four and one-half days—long enough to note some similarities and grow fond of one another despite the half-century age difference. He treated me like family, and introduced me to his town as though I was a son come home to visit after a long voyage. Taking leave was difficult, and was only accomplished by the promise of an event to celebrate the release of our audio book collaboration a few months hence.  To my delight, his family suggested a combination book release/birthday party near the beginning of October when Waldo would turn 105 years of age.
The party and the book were successes. When Waldo the businessman totaled up the sales for Waldo the author, he confided to me that he had worried about the potential of my idea, and then he paid me the highest compliment I could have received by saying that I had taught him something. But that was part of Waldo’s success—never stop learning.
I went numb when I read the words, “Sad to let you know of Waldo’s passing at 9:00 PM tonight, July 8, 2009.”
Waldo returns to the sod of the high plains of western Kansas. The sod he watered with his sweat and fertilized with his footsteps may hold his remains, but it cannot hold him. Today, Heaven’s band has a new harmonica player, and Waldo has a centuries worth of accumulated stories to tell.
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How To Mislead History

Cartography was not my forte, so I doubt that I could find it again, but it tells my storied past and still holds what I held dear.
Confederate money, a fireman’s badge earned, and wire cables—useless bundles on their way to be used again, providing sustenance through their journey.
Some future hiker, an anthropologist perhaps, or a fortune seeker with a metal detector, might pass by this mountainside resting place, dig beneath the black stone marker, and make assumptions that are not true.
They will reassemble a fiction about a firefighter from the 1860s, who, for the cause, breached the dividing line, pushed his way into northern Pennsylvania for wire to win their war.
They will craft a teary end wherein the hero buried his valuables lest they be stolen at his capture, and his war was lost for the want of wire, and he was never heard from again.
It was not my intent to mislead; I’m sure I hardly understood the concept.
Perhaps essential clues were missing—the bubble gum scent long gone from the play money, and the Maxwell House blue was rusted away.
It is the time capsule of an eight-year old.
My worldly treasures in a coffee can.
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The Power of a Smile and a Single Word

My Saturday morning list of errands usually takes me to Moon Valley Cleaners, where I trade this week’s stains (and a bit of cash) for last week’s wardrobe,  which should now be stain-free. I found them years ago when I ran out of clean clothes, and got tired of hearing, "You’re a smart guy. You can figure out how the washing machine works."  HA! I was even smarter than that! Bill and Susie are happy to do my laundry–well, most of it.
And so it was that I presented myself at their counter this morning to make our weekly trade.  Standing next to me was a woman set to make her own trade. Just seeing her there reaffirmed my choice. I’ll bet she knows how to work a washing machine, yet she comes here to have it done. I knew this was a very smart woman.
They brought my pressed shirts and pants and hung them on the rack so that they were between me and my smart fellow customer. I gave over the money, and the attendant disappeared to make change. While he was gone, I casually looked over the shirt hanging on the outside of the bundle to make sure the stains were gone. It had been a spaghetti day when I wore it last. The smart woman looked at the shirt, too, and then turned to me, flashed the largest smile I’d seen all week and said, "Snappy!"
The world seemed to move in slow motion, and I was transported back to high school and the day a girl I didn’t know stopped me in the hall to tell me I had beautiful eyes. I remember my reply as if it was yesterday. As I was picking up my dropped books I said, "Herfel snork baraaak gleep!"  I never saw that girl again.  This time it would be different. I’m not a pimply-faced teenager, I’m a seasoned, well-spoken gentleman, and I  am capable of saying something profound.  I was horrified to hear the words that tumbled out of my face. "This ole thing?"
Her smile was still there, and I saw in it the smile of a dear friend, now departed, and whom I miss terribly. The likeness was uncanny, and "Snappy" is a word she would have used comfortably.  I realized I had been given a great gift, and my spirit has soared all day because of a smile and a single word.
My transaction was complete, and I grabbed my bundle of clothes, stuffed my change in my pocket, smiled and said, "See ya."
"See ya," she said.
I hope I do.
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More From the E-Mail Bag

Hello Terry,
I am very interested in the history of recordings made in the Phoenix  area and particularly in the recording studios and engineers.
I wondered if I could speak with you about your personal role in that history.

From my research of Phoenix recording studios, you seem to be one of the original guys offering that type of a service.

I would like to ask you in general about your experiences. I teach recording production at Glendale Community College. Would you consider
giving a guest lecture sometime during the spring semester? It would be a pleasure to have you come down and speak to the class.

It would be great to meet you and have you share some of your experience.

Thank you.
David Nichols


Dear David,

Original?  LOL! Now, I feel as old as I am!

If you plan to write a book, or other compendium, I’d be happy to speak with you at length about the portion of recording history to which I might have contributed. However, I have nothing relevant to pass on to your students. They wouldn’t understand the critical measures we had to employ to make things sparkle in the analog world. It would waste their time to hear about re-biasing a recorder for each new roll of tape,  the hazards of editing tape with a magnetized razor blade, rewind time, and tape-spill. In fact, the whole concept of analog might be foreign to them, and I fear a public display of emotion when I think about the unique odor of the various tape stocks–I shudder to think what I’d exchange just to crack open and smell a new roll of 3M-250, again. No, their time would be better spent hearing from someone working in today’s world of cyber-storage and digital content delivery.

I was a media manufacturer, mostly, making  25 to 50,000 audio cassettes a month–a diversion I was forced into by the industrial clientele who sought my services. Now, since the demise of the cassette, I busy myself producing and publishing audio books. For the time being, they are delivered on CDs, but downloading of recorded books has become the fastest growing segment of the publishing business, threatening to swipe my meager profit once again. 

There was a time when buggy whips were in demand. I don’t remember it personally, but I’ve heard stories about the streets running brim-full with horse excrement. I’m not sure what the whip makers did to sustain themselves with the advent of the automobile. Perhaps they drilled for oil. Not a bad idea even today!

Terry W. Lessig, 

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Notable Passings

  Bobby Fisher 1943-2008      Chess Master, Recluse, Genius, Madman. In 1972, Fisher earned the reputation of America’s most powerful chess player by defeating Russian champion Boris Spassky. He would later renounce his citizenship, and died in self-imposed exile in Iceland. There’s a fine line between genius and madness. He crossed it.

  Suzanne Pleshette 1937-2008     Rare beauty, husky voice, and superb comedic timing defined her. Probably best known for her role as Bob Newhart’s wife on The Bob Newhart Show, she was actually married to Tom Poston, who died in 2007.

One you might have missed.

  Allan Melvin 1923-2008     Melvin provided the voices of such popular characters as Hanna Barbera’s Magilla Gorilla, H.R. Pufnstuf, Chucky on Foofur, and Sgt. Snorkle on Beetle Bailey. He also played Archie Bunker’s neighbor, Barney, on All in the Family, and had memorable roles in other live-action series such as Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C., and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

And, closer to home

   Leslee Ann Unser  an associate of mine for more than a decade. Leslee was an artist. She designed my web site, book covers, logos, and more. With exemplary courage, she battled cancer, and greeted every day with a smile that could light up a room.  Leslee leaves a gigantic void in a wide circle of friends. The full impact has yet to hit me; I loved her like a sister, and she was far too young to leave.


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From The E-mail Bag

Dear Mr. Lessig, 
     My name is Roland Temme, owner of TMCO in Lincoln, NE, a manufacturing company that started in business because of Wendell Tallakson.  Now, I’m watching TV and there is some advice given to "google" in your name to see what might be said about you.  Well, for whatever reason, I’m not sure, but I decided to "google" Magnefax.  To my surprise, I find the blogs written by you about "Beating the Expansive".
     "WOW!" as Dennis would remark, this is incredible, amazing, and to read this on the first day of the New Year,–You made my year already.  What an interesting, well written story, and most importantly a tribute to a very special person.  It brought back to life for me the history of our company.  By the time I finished reading, I must tell you all of the wonderful memories came back to life.  To pay tribute to someone 13 years later–"WOW"! 
     Well, today our company has over 150 employees, and on the 1st Monday of the New Year, I promised to give a presentation to all our managers about "Relationships".  Your blogs tell the story!  Expansive Bob vs. Humble Dennis!  He would be delighted to think you thought he was the delivery man.  I can hear him laughing. 
     Wendell asked me if there was any way to drop all the pinch rollers at once.  I went to work and came up with the lever and cam system.  Dennis often told me how impressive and well this worked.  Dennis told lots of people about us and we got business from New York to Los Angeles and Canada to Texas.  That’s the way Dennis was,–he was always wanting to be of help above and beyond expectation.  Dennis gave me a Purchase Order of such volume that allowed me to buy the first really big expense CNC machine tool. 
     We did business (thanks to Dennis or Wendell) with Capitol Records who produced the real expensive type of recording equipment you described.  We made the capstan rollers for 1/2" and 1" wide tape.  Dennis brought in a "loop bin" and we developed it for the cassette machine.  If you still have an old cassette machine and want to sell it, I would be interested to put one in our company museum.  I made a donation to Back to the Bible and have an early 1/4" reel machine.
     Well, the next time you are traveling through Lincoln, be sure to stop in.  I would love to meet you.  Thanks again for writing the blogs that touched my heart about Dennis and Magnefax.  Happy New Year too!  
                                                                                        Best Regards,  Roland Temme
Roland Temme
507 J Street
Lincoln NE 68508
Phone 402-476-0013
Fax     402-742-2234
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How To Have a Healthier Retirement

I once knew a news reporter who had worked hard at his craft for forty years and was set to retire. At his retirement party, someone asked him what he planned to do. He said, “For the first year I am going to sit in a rocking chair. After that, I might begin to rock.” We laughed, but he was serious, and three months later, we gathered again at his funeral.


Contrast him with Waldo McBurney of Quinter, Kansas who, at 65 years of age, became even more active. Not only did McBurney refuse to retire from his work, he added another physical activity that he continued into his nineties—track and field competition in which he won numerous gold medals and set records, some that have not yet been broken.


Clearly, activity creates a sense of purpose in the mind, and at the same time, keeps the body in good physical condition.


Today, at 105 years of age, he still tends bee colonies and processes hundreds of pounds of honey. He drives or walks—depending on the weather—from his home to the post office and then to his business office six days a week.


If you want to be able to enjoy longevity and productivity like he does, study him! And studying Waldo McBurney just became easier because he has written and recorded his life story in our new audio book, “My First 100 Years!” According to the Audio Publishers Association, McBurney holds another record—the oldest person to narrate their audio autobiography.


With wit and wisdom, he chronicles his childhood and early life, college years at Kansas State University where he earned a degree in horticulture in 1927, his working life as an entrepreneur, manager, and laborer, and the role that faith, family, exercise, and nutrition play in his positive attitude toward life. In fact, he covers 21 areas of life that need balance and attention if longevity is to be yours. But at the same time, Waldo is quick to point out that while it has worked for him, your mileage may vary. “Lifestyle is more important than genetics,” he says. “We don’t get to choose our parents, but we can choose how we live and what we eat.”


So if you’ve been wondering what to give a recent retiree, or need a gift for anyone in that age group, Waldo McBurney’s book could help add years to their lives. Free shipping from AudioBookMan.

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