Early Automobiles – A Bit Of Trivia

Photo WG2 smallHi, Winnie Griggs here.  In case you haven’t heard yet, I have a new book out this month.  It’s book three of my Texas Grooms series and is titled A Family For Christmas. (And I’ll be doing a giveawy, read on to the end for details!)

One of the things I have to figure out when I start a new book is what occupations my characters will have.  Usually it comes to me pretty quick, because it is part of who my characters are.  That was the same way it happened with this book.  Problem was, the occupations my two characters ended up with were ones I had to do more-than-normal research on.  And there was no changing things.  Once a character tells you who they are, then that’s who they are.  Period.

My heroine Eve opened a candy store and tea shop.  The research I did for that was fun (and fattening!).  I discussed some of that research back when I was in the middle of it (in case you missed that post, here’s the link: CANDY STORE POST).

Today I want to discuss the hero, Chance.  Chance comes from a prestigious family that is not only wealthy but  prominent in politics and society.  Only he didn’t quite fit in and was the black sheep of the family.  He’s hiding some secrets, of course, but mostly he prefers to work with his hands rather than in an office.  It’s been a year and a half since he left Philadelpia for Texas and in that time he’s opened a repair shop for mechanical items such as sewing machines and washing machines.  He’s also got his hands on a motor carriage, a definite oddity for this town in this time period.

As part of my research on early automobiles I stumbled on quite a few trivia type tidbits of automotive history and I thought I’d share some of those with you all today.

  • Flat asphalt roads were originally conceived for cyclists, not motorists as most people assume
  • The first cars didn’t have steering wheels. Instead drivers steered with a lever or tiller.  (Sort of like today’s joystick on game consoles!)
  • The first automobile related death occurred in Britain in 1896.  A 44-year old mother of two stepped off a curb and was hit by a passing motor car. She died from head injuries.
  • The driver was only doing just 4mph. The coroner ruled it an accidental death, and stated  “I trust that this sort of nonsense will never happen again.”.
  • In 1898, the New York City Police Department used bicycles to pursue speeding motorists.
  • The first official speeding violation in the US to be cited was committed by a taxi driver in New York City in 1899.  The driver was going 12 mph in an 8mph zone (I have no idea how they knew this before radar??).  He was arrested (by a policeman on a bicycle) and sent to jail, but he did not actually receive a ticket.  The first paper ticket was actually issued to an Ohio man in 1904, who coincidentally was also traveling 12 mph.  The Ohio man did no jail time.
  • In 1916, 55 percent of the cars in the entire world were none other than Model T Fords.  That kind of market domination has never been achieved by any other company since.
  • Women were every bit as fascinated by automobiles as men.  By 1923, women had been given credit for inventing over 170 automobile related items.  An electric engine starter and a carburetor two of the items on that list.

A few other fun items:

  • Most car horns in American vehicles beep in the key of F
  • The Peanuts characters made their first animated appearance in a 1957 Ford Fairlane commercial
  • According to a survey, 90% of car owners admit to singing while behind the wheel.  Between you and me, I think the other 10% were lying.
  • Cars are the most recycled consumer item in the world.

So there you have it.  Did any of this info surprise you?  Do you have any personal experience with or knowledge of vintage cars?


And now for the giveaway.  In honor of this being release month, I’m giving away a copy of A Family For Christmas to one person who leaves a comment.

15 AFFC thumbnailAn Unexpected Gift 

Eve Pickering knows what it’s like to be judged for your past. So she’s not about to leave the orphaned boy she’s befriended alone in this unfamiliar Texas town. Since Chance Dawson’s offer of shelter is the only way to look after Leo, Eve is determined they’ll have a warm, welcoming home for the holidays.

Chance came from the big city to make it on his own despite a painful secret. But Eve’s strength is giving him a confidence he never expected—and a new direction for his dream. With a little Christmas blessing, he’ll dare to win her heart—and make their family one for a lifetime.




And here’s a bonus giveaway that I’m only listing here.  Based on the facts above, I made a boo-boo in one scene of my book.  The first person to catch it and contact me, before the end of the month, will win a special prize!



The First Female Detective


Cover Photo


She’s a Pinkerton detective; he’s got more aliases

than can be found in Boot Hill. 

Neither have a clue about love–Gunpowder Tea


After reading about Kate Warne, the first known female detective, the idea for my new book Gunpowder Tea popped into my head.  I just knew I had to write about a heroine who was a Pinkerton detective.katewarne


Kate Warne worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency from 1856 to her death in 1868. Since women were not allowed to join the police department until 1890, the firm’s founder Allan Pinkerton was well ahead of his time in hiring her.  Originally, he thought she was applying for a secretary job, but she convinced him to hire her as a detective.

To a pickpocket the world is at his fingertips.–Gunpowder Tea 

 Quick to see the advantage of female detectives, he put her in charge of the Pinkerton Female Detective Bureau. Formed in 1860 the purpose of the female division was to ‘worm out secrets’ by means unavailable to male detectives.  She also managed the Pinkerton Washington department during the war.

 Little is known about Kate’s early life. She was supposedly a widow when Allan Pinkerton hired her, which may or may not be true.   Her job was often to elicit sympathy and therefore confessions from the criminal element, and widowhood might have been part of her charade.

 For a job that supposedly doesn’t pay,

crime has no lack of employees. –Gunpowder Tea

  A master of disguise, Kate could change her accent as readily as she could change her appearance and her “Southern Belle” disguise helped save President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s life.  After verifying a plot to assassinate him, Kate wrapped Lincoln in a shawl and passed him off as her invalid brother, thus assuring his safety as he traveled by train to Washington D.C.  Kate never slept the whole time Lincoln was in her charge. This may or may not have been the inspiration behind the Pinkerton logo: We never sleep. 

  Suspicion ain’t proof unless you’re married.–Gunpowder Tea


 Since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out Pinkerton records little is known about those early days. What is known is that Kate caused trouble between Allen and his brother Robert.  The two argued over Kate’s expenses, which Robert thought were excessive.  He didn’t think it right for the company to pay for his brother’s “sordid affair.”   

 Stealing another man’s wife is a serious crime,

second only to horse rustlin’. –Gunpowder Tea

There’s no question that Allen cared deeply for Kate, but biographers are split on whether there was an actual affair.  What’s not in question is Kate’s reputation as an excellent detective; her trailblazing efforts helped the Pinkerton Detective Agency rise to fame–and inspired me to write a book!


Exquistely intriguing” –Publishers Weekly Starred Review for Gunpowder Tea!

Order from your favorite bookstore or click cover to order on line Gunpowdertea1

A Shave, Hair Cut…And How About Surgery While You're Here


Ever wonder why the barber poles are red, white, and blue?


(Hint: only a small part of it is that they’re patriotic)


But the white and red colors indicated barbers in days past filled in as doctors and dentists. Barber poles actually descended from medieval times when barbers performed surgical procedures such as bloodletting. Patrons held a firm grip on a wooden pole that often had a brass basin at the top that contained leeches. Barbers hung both clean and bloodstained bandages outside their shops where they would twirl in the breeze.


Thus, those bandages came to represent the red and white stripes on the barber pole. Then in the U.S. later on, a blue stripe was added to show the American colors.


A barber-surgeon often had mundane tasks such as picking lice from a person’s head, extracting teeth, and of course, blood-letting.


Now, can you imagine for a minute how clean those shops must’ve been? Not! I shudder to think about a barber cutting someone’s hair with blood-stained hands. Or worse, performing surgery with hair on his clothes. Lord help! No wonder so many people died back then. Infection must’ve run rampant.


In the old days the pole had a crank that wound it. Electric ones have a switch.


The cast iron models weighed around 125 pounds. They’re much

lighter today.


The William Marvy Company in St. Paul, Minnesota is one company that still makes these. They opened up for business in 1950. They number each pole they make. And they’ve produced over 82,000. They’re proud to say that No. 75,000 built in 1997 is hanging in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Though business sharply declined over time due to electric razors and trimmers, they still employ 14 workers and are owned by third-generation Marvys.


The barber pole is such an outstanding and recognizable symbol. Today we know it only as a place to get your hair cut.


Thank goodness real doctors do the surgery now!


Do you have any opinions on the subject? I”d love to hear them.

Pam Hillman: That's a Cowboy


I write cowboys, mostly set in the late 19th century, but cowboys aren’t limited to the late 1800s during the grand cattle drives along the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The cowboy image is bigger, bolder, and more widespread than that. He’s become an icon that transcends time periods.


He’s strong. He’s brave. He’s hardworking. He loves God, country, his horse, his dog, and his girl. Possibly in that order. To most of us raised on John Wayne movies and Louis L’Amour novels, a cowboy is no longer just a lean, mean, hard-working machine who rides the range herding cattle. He is…


…the firefighter who enters a burning building and cries when he fails to rescue a terrified child.


…the brave soldier on the foreign battlefield who fights for God and country…and the picture tucked in his shirt pocket.


…the construction worker toting boards and hammering nails, climbing ladders, fighting for that paycheck so he can pay his grandfather’s hospital bill.

…the roughneck who spreads his steel-toed boots wide and swaggers along the deck of a floating oil rig to keep this country in fuel, separated from his wife and babies for weeks at a time.


…the police officer pinned down by a crazed gunman and waiting for the chance to end the madness so he can rescue those held hostage.


…the lineman who works long blistering days in the blazing sun or through winters so cold he can barely think straight, to bring light and heat to the woman who holds him close at night.


…and, yes, he’s the weathered rancher, and the farmer, who battles the elements and long hours to raise cattle and grow grain to bring food to his table, and to this great nation.


Some of these men might not have ever wrangled a cow, they might not have ever thrown a leg over a horse, but they have the heart and soul of a cowboy, that deep-seated determination to provide, protect, and defend what’s theirs. No matter the cost.

 Now that’s a cowboy!!


I’m giving away one copy of “Claiming Mariah” in e-format to one lucky commenter.


Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel. www.pamhillman.com




Pam is thrilled to announce the release of her second novel,

Claiming Mariah


To celebrate, Pam is giving away two eReaders

(choice of Kindle Wi-Fi, 6″ Display, or Nook Simple Touch)

Two Winners: One on facebook. One through Pam’s Newsletter.

Facebook Drawing for Kindle/Nook

Pam’s Newsletter


Registering both places is not required but will double your chances of winning. Also keep in mind that you will receive updates more often being connected on facebook than through the newsletter. Just sayin’

Contest runs from January 1st until March 31st, 2013.


And….that’s not all! There will be prizes offered randomly throughout the tour.


Click here to View Current Giveaways!

(3 Pewter Bookmarks from Deirdre’s Handmade Jewelry PLUS 40% off coupon at Deirdre’s online store. Click link to register and for coupon code)



March 8th: Nora St. Laurent



March 11th:


Click for a Complete List of Stops Along the Tour



Celia Yeary ~ ROUGHNECKS, ROUSTABOUTS, AND RAGTOWNS – The Early Texas Oilfields



I’ve always been interested in the oil industry, since my daddy worked for an oil company, and our family of five roamed all over Texas, following the oil fields. At an early age, I learned the terms “roughnecks, roustabouts, wildcatters, pumpers, and oil camps. We lived in weird places, moving twice a year until I was ten and got a permanent home.

For almost a hundred years, the discovery of oil led millions of American families just like mine to work in the oilfields. It was a way of passage from rural farm life to urban industrial society. The main lure was economic opportunity. Texans, as well as citizens from other states, faced the hazards and challenges of a new life because they saw the promise of a better one for themselves and for their children.

When I began writing The Cameron Sisters series, my hero Dalton King became a wildcatter, a man with a dream and vision of striking oil (Book I-Texas Promise). He’d heard of Spindletop at Beaumont, Texas in 1901,and that ushered in the modern era of drilling. On ranch land he owned southeast of Austin, he took a chance and drilled. Dalton was married to Jo Cameron, and together they founded an empire.

Dalton’s foreman was savvy Sam Deleon, a loner wandering the West, looking for work. I was so intrigued with his character I wrote Book II-Texas True, about Jo’s younger sister True Cameron. She fell in love with Sam, and wow, they have quite a story! Sam proved to be less than honest with his new bride, but through many trials and tribulations, they do find their HEA.

In the early chapters of the book, True packs up and moves from her upscale home in Austin to live in the oilfield ragtown that provided homes for the families of the roughnecks. Sam, as foreman, becomes furious with his new bride and orders her to return home, but she is determined to live there during the summer as the other women do.

I created the tent city by researching early oil camps, specifically to learn how the tents were constructed. “They built a wooden platform and a four foot high wall all around. Then they added the canvas tent and fastened it just below the top of the wall. Then they’d screen it in to keep out flies and mosquitoes. At night, they’d roll the canvas up so the breeze would blow through.”

No doubt, many of you, the readers, have similar stories about growing up around oil wells. I’d love to give eBook/pdf copies of these books to two visitors—winner’s choice. Thank you for stopping by to visit today! 


Blurb for Texas Promise:

After two years, Jo Cameron King’s life as a widow abruptly ends when her husband returns home to Austin. Unable to understand her angry and bitter husband, she accepts a call to travel to the New Mexico Territory to meet her dying birth father whom she knows nothing about. Her plan to escape her husband goes awry when he demands to travel with her.

Dalton King, believing lies his Texas Ranger partner tells him about Jo, seethes with hatred toward his wife. Now he must protect Jo from his partner’s twisted mind, while sorting out the truth. Jo’s bravery and loyalty convince him she’s innocent. But can they regain the love and respect they once shared?


Blurb for Texas True:

At a Governor’s Ball in Austin, Texas, True Lee Cameron meets suave Sam Deleon. Before the night is out, she transforms from the coddled and protected younger sister to a woman in love. Reality crashes down when she accidentally learns he has deceived her. Daring to disobey him, she follows Sam to the oilfields and determines to live wherever he does. Has she made a mistake? Will she give up and return home where she can make her own rules?

When Sam Deleon meets the gorgeous young woman his mother has chosen for him, he fears falling in love, because he knows nothing about love. In order to carry out his mother’s plan, he marries True and moves her to his mother’s home, intending to visit enough to set the plan in motion. When True fails to obey him, he faces the possibility of losing her, thereby losing his inheritance and the family property.

Sam and True attempt a reconciliation and compromise. Together, they now face a nemesis, someone who determines to thwart every action they take, endangering not only their lives, but also those whom they love.



Nellie Bly, Journalist

The crusading journalist known as Nellie Bly was a real-life heroine in every sense of the word.  Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864, she was the third child of a wealthy Pennsylvania judge and his second wife.  She was raised in comfort until the age of six, when her father died.  Unfortunately he left no will providing for his second family.  Elizabeth’s mother and her five children were thrown into poverty.

In desperation, her mother married an alcoholic who abused her. When she later filed for divorce, Elizabeth testified at the trial.  At fifteen, Elizabeth entered normal school, hoping to become a teacher and support her mother.  But with her family so poor, she was only able to attend one semester.  She then moved to Pittsburgh with her mother.  For seven years she helped run a boarding house, taking other work when she could find it.  She dreamed of becoming a writer.

That dream came true when she read a series of columns in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, from a popular writer who wrote that women belonged at home doing domestic tasks and called the working woman “a monstrosity.”  Elizabeth’s spirited rebuttal about the plight of women and girls who had to work so impressed the paper that they hired her and gave her the pen name “Nellie Bly” after the Stephen Foster song.  Her first story was about poor working girls.   Her second called for a reform of the state’s divorce laws.  The paper, however, wanted to confine her to the women’s page, writing about social events and fashion.  Bly convinced the editors to let her be a foreign correspondent in Mexico, where she sent back stories about the lives of the Mexican people.  On her return, however, she was again confined to the women’s page.  That was too much.  Nellie quit and struck out for New York.

After knocking on doors for six months, she talked her way into the office of the New York World.  The editor, possibly to brush her off, challenged her to write a story about the patients housed in a New York mental institution.  Impersonating a mad person, Nellie came back from Blackwell’s island ten days later with stories of beatings, ice cold baths and forced meals that included rancid butter.  Her story stirred the public and politicians and brought money and needed reforms to the institution.  At the age of 23, Nellie Bly had begun to pioneer a new kind of investigative journalism.

In the years that followed, she exposed corruption and injustice, always taking the side of the downtrodden.  Her fame also opened the doors of the rich and famous, and she profiled many celebrities of her time.  The peak of her fame came when she took a whirlwind trip around the world in 1889 to beat Phileas Fogg, the fictional hero of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”  Traveling by ship, train and Burro, she made it back to New York in a little over 72 days, cheered by huge crowds.

At the age of 30 Nellie Bly married a 70-year-old industrialist named Robert Seaman.  After his death ten years later she ran his business until it went bankrupt.  Then she turned back to reporting.  Picking up where she left off, she championed worthy causes, including finding homes for abandoned children.  She died from pneumonia in 1922, at the age of 57, after a life that would rival any work of fiction.

Nellie is one of my favorite real-life heroines.  Do you have your own favorites?

Green Ranching

I’m always intrigued by new ways of using technology to improve farming, and with the latest buzz being about sustainability and environmental responsibility, I did a little research into some new trends. What I found was pretty interesting, and I’m still learning and trying to understand some of it (a scientist I am not).  I’m pretty intrigued by two ideas and interestingly enough they are on different ends of the spectrum – one is taking ranching into the future, and the other is returning to grassroots ideas.

So cool idea #1 – Have you ever heard the saying “Making honey out of dog #$*&”? Now you can make electricity from refuse – specifically manure. Manure makes gas, which is then converted into electricity. Methane never smelled so good. If you take a look at this ranch’s site, you’ll see how they use the manure from their cows to create enough electricity to completely power their own operation – and then some.  There’s been a lot of development in this area over the last few years; I hope other Canadian operations will soon follow suit! 

As Spring Creek puts it: When you work with a live inventory that keeps eating and growing everyday, challenges are a fact of life; they also present a heap of opportunity.  Case in point, cattle produce manure; crop production results in organic waste…It simply makes sense to renew the resources that sustain our family and community – today and well into the future.

I’m guessing this is a pretty expensive venture to set up, and yes there are manufacturing considerations for fuel cells etc. but one would hope there would also be grants available to assist. What a renewable resource! Everybody poops! Holy Cow!

The other cool idea is one I came across researching some areas in Southern Alberta. I found one particular operation that’s kickin’ it old skool when it  comes to methods. The OH Ranch takes conservation very seriously – through a Heritage Rangeland Designation and Conservation Easements. What does that mean? I’m going to snag the explanation from the OH Ranch Site:

For the OH Ranch, the public grazing land portions of the Longview and Pekisko sections of the ranch are now designated as heritage rangeland. The heritage rangeland designation helps protect about 10,200 acres (41.28 square kilometers) of public land that has consistently been ranched under grazing leases by the OH Ranch. The designation helps preserve a way of life through the continuation of traditional ranching practices that have stewarded and managed sensitive native prairies in southern Alberta for generations.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a private landowner and a qualified land trust which limits the amount and type of development that can occur on a property. Easements are negotiated to preserve the natural character of the land, and its ecological integrity, scenic values and/or scientific and educational potential. The OH Ranch is working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Southern Alberta Land Trust Society on conservation easements for their Longview and Pekisko ranch lands, and with Ducks Unlimited on easements for he Dorothy and Bassano ranch lands. The easements will be registered against the land title, ensuring that current and future owners manage he land according to terms of the easements.

The other term you’ll see here is “traditional ranching practices”. Since its inception in 1883, the OH Ranch has always operated using traditional methods. Today, cowboys continue to ride the range, moving cattle and doctoring sick animals in the open field by roping from horseback. While the ranch owns trucks and other equipment, horses are still the primary mode of transportation on the ranch and continue to be used for such tasks as packing fencing supplies, minerals and salt and protein blocks. The OH Ranch is one of the few large cattle outfits in North America which continues to be operated utilizing historic methods.

It’s really interesting to see ranchers come up with new ways of preserving the environment and staying sustainable in an economic climate that is anything but farmer-friendly.

Say Cabbage!

 Stories that Inspire…


Margaret Brownley



Sage advice for photographers from…


A Vision of Lucy

(Available for preorder)     


  • When photographing stampeding cattle, charging bulls or blazing   shoot-outs, use a fast shutter speed

  • Brides, take pity on your photographer.  Matthew S. Brady and his helpers were able to record the entire War Between the States with little more than 1100 photographs.  Half that number should satisfy most brides.

  • Doctors, do not look at the camera like it’s a patient needing help through death’s door.  Such a pose will speak ill of you, and it won’t do much for your practice, either. 

  • A man imagines himself more handsome than his photograph; a woman believes herself more homely.

  • While posing for a photograph spinsters should avoid looking desperate or deprived.  A serene smile will show that your circumstances are by choice and not for lack of beauty or character.


I loved writing about old time photography and have nothing but awe for the brave souls who first took camera in hand.  It wasn’t just men who battled unwieldy equipment and exploding chemicals in the name of art.  Women were also photographers and a few even made a name for themselves.  It was these early female photographers who  gave me the inspiration for the heroine of my book, Lucy Fairbanks. 


Cameras and Babies: an Odd Combination

 Since female occupations were not listed on the census until 1870, it’s hard to know how many professional women photographers existed in America before that time. We do know, however, that some, like Julia Shannon of San Francisco, owned their own studios as early as 1850.  Julia took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. No one appeared to be shocked when male barbers and blacksmiths offered photographs with their other services. 


Women had an advantage over male photographers, who were often confounded by female dress. This explains why one photographer advertised in 1861 for an assistant, “Who Understands the Hairdressing Business.”  Women also had a few tricks up their leg of mutton sleeves—or rather their skirts.  Elizabeth Withington invented a “dark thick dress skirt” to use as a developing tent when she traveled.   


Those cheerless faces in early photographs were partly due to vices that held heads still for long periods of time, but that wasn’t the only reason.  A tightly controlled mouth was once considered a thing of beauty.  In her essay “Why We say ‘Cheese’: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography,” Christina Kotchemidova, an Assistant Professor in Mass Communication at Spring Hill College, wrote that photography was once the domain of the rich. Smiles were worn only by peasants, children and drunks.  She then goes on to explain that fast shutter speed, dental care and cultural changes began a process of “mouth liberalization.”


Photographers used all sorts of devices to hold a client’s interest.  One even had a trained monkey. Another photographer had a canary that sang on command.  Mechanical birds were a favorite gimmick and “Watch the birdie” became a familiar refrain in studios across the country.


                                                        What Will it Be?        Prunes or Cabbage?

Magazines and newspaper ran ample advice for posing.  An 1877 edition of The Chicago Inter-Ocean advised women with large mouths to say the word “Flip,” although one photographer preferred the word “Prunes.” If a small mouth was the problem the word “Cabbage” would make it appear larger. And, yes, some photographers really did give children laudanum or chloroform to keep them still.


Not everyone was enamored with cameras.  One dog owner put up a sign warning “photographers and other tramps to stay away” after his dog had an unfortunate run-in with a tripod.


Did photography have a bearing on the suffragette movement?  Indeed, it did, but it appeared to be more of a detriment than a help.  The photographs of militant suffragettes or women dressed in bloomers did more harm than good,  If you think America was tough on suffragettes, think again. The women’s rights movement was considered the biggest threat to the British Empire.  According to the National Archives the votes-for-women movement became the first “terrorist” organization subjected to secret surveillance photography in the world. 


Photography has come a long way since those early daguerreotype days.  One can only imagine what the brave souls of yesteryear would think of today’s “aim and click” cameras.  Now days you can’t even drive down the street without having your picture taken. But as Miss Gertrude Hasslebrink in A Vision of Lucy would say, “Never leave the house unless you’re ready for your close up.”


Meet the Ladies of Rocky Creek

                                      A Lady Like Sarah                                             



Suitor for Jenny


A Vision of Lucy


Writers and Ranchers

You know how sometimes you realize something and wonder why you never really saw it before? That happened to me last week. I was doing a little research for my new book, piecing together my hero’s past, and I had just finished a week of admin. A whole week. And that’s when it hit me. I have something in common with the ranchers I write about – more than the love of the outdoors and wide-open skies.

Is that a skeptical brow I see arched in my direction? I know. Our professions couldn’t be more different, right? I sit on my butt in front of a computer all day. A rancher spends most of his day outside, in the fields and barns. I make things up, farmers are faced with reality every moment and deal with the here and now.  Farmers are physically tough; I have a real ongoing issue with Writer’s Butt, and it ain’t pretty.

But we have a lot in common too. We’re in the business of producing goods, and if we don’t pay close attention to quality, our market dries up and we don’t get paid. And guess what. There’s not a writer or farmer I know who punches a clock. We do what has to get done when it has to get done.

More than that, though, is the change to our professions brought on by technology. Farmers aren’t just farmers and writers aren’t just writers. We are business people. There is more to being an author than writing the book. There’s more to being a farmer than milking the cow or harvesting the wheat.

Farmers need to be up to speed with developments – water management, land management, economics, livestock management, genetic developments, and dear Lord yes, finances.  I don’t think a lot of people out there realize what goes into the jug of milk they buy, the tray of steak or the bag of apples they pick up at the grocery store. 

Writers need to know the market, they need to promote themselves and keep pace with developments in the industry. The days are gone where you could write a book, send it off to your publisher and trust the rest.  I spend a good portion of my time reading up on the changes in the industry, figuring out where to spend my promotional dollars, doing paperwork, developing relationships with readers, and yes, writing new books. Because writing is my business.

It was really cool to make the parallel, and it happened when I was looking at some of the programs offered at Olds College in Alberta. The term “simple farmer” gets my goat. There is nothing simple about farming and the men and women who do it – and let’s face it, not many farmers are getting rich at it – are savvy and dedicated.

Just like a writer should be.

And just another reason why I love writing modern westerns.

You can check out my latest “innovative” cowboy in Honeymoon with the Rancher, featuring an Argentine Gaucho who uses his smarts to keep the family estancia going as a guest ranch. It’s out in the UK this month and will be in the US and Canada  in May.  And you can always catch up with my at my site, www.donnaalward.com !

That’s One Hairy Profession


 More Love and Laughter in the Old West…




One of the characters in my book A SUITOR FOR JENNY is Kip Barrel, the town barber.  The poor man wanted to be an opera singer in the worst possible way but he was unable to overcome his stage fright. After a disastrous debut in a New Orleans opera house he decides to return home to the family cattle ranch, a prospect he dreads.  Fate intervenes and while riding through Rocky Creek his horse suddenly dies, forcing him to stay in town.  He eventually opens up his own barber shop.


 “I dreamed of being the Barber of Seville,” he laments.  “Instead, I’m the barber of Rocky Creek.”


Of course, he hasn’t given up singing completely. A cowboy wanting a haircut and shave at Barrel’s shop also gets an earful of Rossini.  Not bad for a few nickels.



Not all barbers provided entertainment with their shaving cream, but most did offer a little something extra. Some even gave out free mugs of beer and cigars.  In some towns barbershops offered a full menu of grooming choices. For fifty cents, a saddle worn stranger could get a bath, shave, haircut, boot shine,  his mustache waxed and pants pressed. He could also learn who was hiring, where to go for room and board and maybe even find some female companionship


Barbers have a long history dating all the way back to cavemen when whiskers were tackled with clam shells and flint.  People have been battling over locks since ancient times.  Whatever style one generation frowned upon the next generation was likely to embrace.


In the early 1800s clean-shaven faces were the rage. Hairy chins were deemed “a disgusting insult to refined society” if worn by anyone other than artists, writers or pioneers. Anyone sporting a beard might have found himself at the mercy of jeering townsmen as one hapless man in Massachusetts found out.  


This all changed during the California gold rush.  Beards were then grown as much for safety as convenience.  Few mastered the art of shaving with a straight edge razor and beards were the sun-screen of the day.  Whiskers also protected against frost bite.  


By the time the Civil War broke out  beards were favored even by easterners.  Eleven year old Grace Bedell wrote to president nominee Abraham Lincoln telling him that if he wanted to be elected president he best grow a beard.  “All the ladies like whiskers,” she wrote, “and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”  Lincoln wisely took her advice.


It wasn’t until the 1890s that the clean-shaven chin was once again king. President Benjamin Harrison has the distinction of being the last president to sport a beard.


Women Take up the Razor


The first female barber was Madam Gardonis who worked in Galveston, Texas during the 1860s.  Frank Leslies Illustrated magazine described her as “the first woman who has successfully invaded this particular masculine profession.”  


Petticoat barbers weren’t the norm but more and more women entered the profession in the late 1800s.  An article in the San Francisco Examiner in 1896 had this to say: “Women’s latest audacity has been to lay hands on man’s most sacred implements—the razor and strop—and to shave him right to his very face.”


One woman interviewed for the article was asked if she was nervous when she first shaved a man.  She replied, “I don’t know which was trembling hardest, the man or I.” She went on to say that if she could have chloroformed the man she would have gladly done so, just so he wouldn’t look so scared.


What’s with the Barber Pole? 


We can’t talk about barbers without mentioning that all familiar red and white barber pole.  Barbering was more than a hairy business.  From the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th century barbers performed many medical duties including bloodletting, dentistry and bone setting.


The barber pole served triple duty in those early days.  After being pre-wound with bandages ready for surgery the poles were then hung outside the door to encourage business. During surgery, patients clutched at the poles (probably while yelling in pain). Later imitation posts were painted red and white to represent bandages used before and after bloodletting.




 The early 1900s brought many changes to the profession both good and bad.  Barber licensing laws were passed and states began to upgrade certification requirements. Then, too, the safety razor made home shaving a breeze.  The depression years took a heavy toll on barbers, but women saved the day when the “bob” became the rage. What better place to get the boyish trim than a barbershop?  Of course not every barber welcomed female clients, but those that did thrived—at least as long as the style lasted.


One thing that hasn’t changed is the battle over hair between generations.  It wasn’t that long ago that Disneyland refused entry to hairy hippies, and it seems like only yesterday that my husband greeted our kids with “When are you going to get a haircut?”


Now that my children are grown the battles over hair continue–with children of their own.   History repeats.


That’s it folks, the long and the short of it. Anyone with a hairy tale to share?     


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