by Chester H. Johhnson

Entry B33 from the History of Hooker County Nebraska
with permission of the Hooker County Historical Society

Remodeled Basement for Gift and Furniture
Department - Chester 'Chet' Johnson about 1952

An article from the Custer County Chief,
Broken Bow, Nebr. on the marriage of
Chester R. Johnson and Pearl Eivins.

Secret Wedding at the Bow Leaked Out a
Few Days Ago - 1927

Two of Mullen's prominent young people
slipped away from home and friends during
the early days of last month for a weekend
visit with relatives in Kansas and Custer
County and on the way home were quietly
married by Judge Holcomb at Broken Bow,
Nebr. The contracting parties were Mr.
Chester R. Johnson, who came to Mullen
from Kirwin, Kansas to accept a clerkship at
the Senk Merc. Co. store about a year ago,
and Miss Pearl L. Eivins, charming and
accomplished daughter of Mr. and Mrs. B.G.
Eivins of this city.

Arriving at Callaway, Nebr., the bride to be
stopped at the home of 2 sisters, as had been
previously planned, while Mr. Johnson con-
tinued on the trip to his Kansas home. On the
way home they were accompanied to Broken
Bow by one of the sisters and a nuptial know
made secure. It was not until last Friday that
the news of the wedding leaked out here, as
upon their arrival the bride went to the home
of her parents with the smiling countenance
that has characterized her happy young life,
and the groom went, as usual, to his boarding
place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C.E.
Butler. They had played their parts well, but
mention of the license being issued made in
one of the Custer Co. papers foiled their plan
of selfish amusement, and when quizzed for
an explanation they "fessed up". Their
marriage took place on Mar. 15, 1927.

Both have many friends here and are being
showered with well wishes for a life replete
with the blessings of good health and happi-
ness. The Tribune extends to Mr. and Mrs.
C.R. Johnson warm congratulations and we
are glad to learn that they are taking the
initiatory steps for housekeeping in a home
of their own in Mullen.

The wonderful article above was given to
me by my parents years ago when C.R. was
County Judge and found it in a collection of
old papers.

My earliest recollections of Mullen, Nebr.
and the Nebr. sandhills goes back to 1931 or
32 when Dad was working for Si and Myrtle
Senk. Just how Dad got this job and moved
to Mullen to live with the Charlie Butlers (all
the way from his birth place in Kirwin,
Kansas) I'll never know. Anyway Si and
Myrtle owned Senk Merc. which they ac-
quired from the Roseberry's. I believe they
built the building in 1910.

At the age of 4 I was selling penny candy
at the store and starting to learn the Merc.
business. Si and Myrtle had no children and
they took a liking to me so I pretty well could
no what ever I wanted, much to the em-
barrassment of my Dad. I not only could sell,
but even helped select the candy that was
brought into Mullen from Broken Bow and
Alliance, Nebr. for sale. At the time Dad took
over the store the name was changed to
Johnson Merc. Charlie Boyer (Clifford's
Dad) was maintenance man and janitor (I
also remember how he and his wife used to
make home made ice cream for different
occasions. They had the biggest ice cream
freezer in Mullen and it was a real treat when
they made it. Susie Bowers was the
bookkeeper . . . and a good one. She would
turn over in her grave if she knew how books
are kept today. lt seemed to me that she did
every procedure more than once . . . and
used a straight ink pen for permanent
records. If you had a charge account at that
time you will remember, everything pur-
chased was listed on a sales check, then Susie
would copy every item once again into a
general ledger. As I recall she made $ 175.00
per month.

Esther Gillespie ran the dry goods dept.,
Don and Ed Macke were 2 of Dad's favorite
employees as well as their other brothers and
wives. Their family headed by "Dad" Macke
had a dance band that could play on
Broadway today if they were all together.
Their music then is really in now . . . Several
times I played the piano and drums with
them upstairs over the store at dances. Over
the years there were so many great employees
at the store that I can't remember them all.
One very special to me was Mary Alice
Cleavenger (Elliot) that drove the delivery
pickup and . . . taught me to drive. She was
always great fun and I still love her dearly.
I thought it was great to do all the things at
the store and to meet all the wonderful folks
that would come in. Sometime in the early
`30's Mr. Senk became a Jehovah's Witness
and the store was sold to C.R. Johnson. I can
remember the day the transaction took place.
Dad arranged to borrow money from the
Vinton's to pay Si (I think $14,000.00). The
Vinton's were very, very special to the
Johnson's, always being invited to noon lunch
at the house when they were in Mullen and
of course if it were on Fri. we always had fish
as the Vintons were Roman Catholic and this
was a must . . . sometimes Mother had to do
some fast menu changing. Mr. Vinton had
honey bees and once a year we would have his
honey to sell at the store and a yearly
promotion of treating the community to
home made biscuits and honey.

As time went on my father developed the
mercantile business by extending credit in
large amounts to almost anyone and also by
having a good selection of merchandise, free
delivery service and giving away dishes, that
must still be in most ranch homes in the
sandhills. I remember he bought them from
some pottery company in Ohio and customers
would save their cash register receipts and
exchange them for these dishes. I think
customers at first were only to get the receipts
with cash purchases, but eventually when a
rancher paid his account he was able to
acquire his set of dishes too. As the mercan-
tile business grew I talked to Dad into
remodeling the building. We hired Frank
Fitzgerald, the best carpenter/contractor in
Mullen to do the work. He was great. He
could do anything. As most of you know a
stairway was built to the second floor and the
shoes and dry goods were moved up there,
then we opened a small furniture dept. in the
basement. Later on I purchased the furniture
business and operated it in what is now the
Macke Store building.

C.R. liked the cattle feed business and was
one of the top producers in sales in the state.
At one time I remember he sold over 250 rail
cars of cattle feed. Lloyd Ginkens, Sr. helped
run this dept., sometimes assisted by Rueben
Long. Both these men were true sandhill
characters and were always loved by the
Johnson family. Lloyd was always Santa
Claus at the Johnson Christmas Party. It was
around this time that we tasted the first dill
pickles made by Lloyd's wife, Sara. They
were the very best and over the years she
always remembered the family with a quart
or two. We sold coal which came in by rail.
The one person that would unload 30 tons,
by hand, at $2.00 per hour was Archie Palmer.
Another real sandhills pioneer that was
always ready to help when we had a heavy
task to be done. There were so many folks
that worked for my father over the years that
should be mentioned and thanked for making
the Johnson family successful, it would take
many pages to list all the names.

Almost every few weeks some organization
asked to hold a bake sale at the store and
displayed their goodies in the front windows.
One time that I remember was someone from
out north bringing in a cake . . . whose center
had fallen . . . Drastically! Having to make
do, this goodie baker pulled a can of fruit
cocktail from the shelf, opened and poured
on cake into the fallen area, Bingo, she had
a perfect cake with fruit cocktail topping.

In the front window even more often was
a real character and family friend, Stella
Eckels! She came down nearly every day to
see her friends and visit. She had many
fascinating tales and was always ready to tell
them. One time I remember, she could not get
her car into the forward gears so she backed
all the way from her home to the store. Stella
spent most holidays with the Johnson family
and always brought some small contribution
to the dinner. She was not a very good cook
. . . so mother forgot, many times, to serve
Stella's dish. She never noticed because she
was busy telling one of her many "Festus
Carrithers" stories. Stella attended medical
school in Chicago and always told about
someone there going to the railway station
and asking for a ticket to "Hell" and they
were sold one to Whitman, Nebr.

Another memory I recall was a train wreck
before Christmas one year, just east of the
Mullen depot. There was a rail car of Karo
syrup among the contents which I think
provided Mullen with free syrup for many

Sometime in the 1960's C.R. sold out to Ed
and Pauline Macke. They continued the
operation, minus the cattle feed dept., which
Dad continued to operate until my brother,
Bill, purchased it.

On Thanksgiving Day, I think, in the mid
70's there was a fire that destroyed the store
building. We never thought three foot thick
cement walls would crumble, but they did. Ed
and Pauline Macke reopened the business in
my old furniture store location and it contin-
ues operating by their son Dick and son-in-
law, Bob Rogers as partners in the business.

Today, the Johnson home still remains,
fully furnished ready for some new family to
move in. I remember the night my Dad
bought it from J.E. Lowe. It was considered
the "Nicest" home in town and J.E. would
never set a price on it so Dad went to
negotiate without even having an idea of the
selling price. He ended up paying $7,500.00
and the Lowe's "threw in" a very expensive
dining room suite and carpet. We were happy
to move from the small house where Ruth
Barnehey now lives, into the Lowe home.

The Johnsons are scattered, Chester H. in
Scottsdale, Arizona, Lola in Alliance, Bill in
Texas, Eleanor and Patricia in Denver and
Don in Omaha. We keep in touch by phone
on weekly basis and get-to-gethers yearly.
Sandhillers are always welcome in our homes
and our thanks and best wishes to all who
made life in Mullen and the sandhills so