Poor Man’s Ham Salad

Mom used to make ham salad for a sandwich spread back in the 1960s. It’s what they call Poor Man’s Ham Salad because it used a chunk of bologna, not ham, that was ground up for the spread. We called it baloney, and looked forward to those tasty sandwiches in our school lunch boxes. It was much cheaper, but tasted exactly like ham spread.

Old-fashioned meat grinder (from pixabay)
  • Here’s the recipe:
  • an unsliced roll of Bologna
  • Miracle Whip (or salad dressing of your choice
  • Sweet Gherkins (or pickle relish)

The amount of each isn’t crucial. You needed a meat grinder. Ours fastened onto the kitchen counter. Grind up the hunk of Bologna in the meat grinder and the sweet pickles too. Mix enough salad dressing in to make it spread easily on the sandwiches. Done!

We never put boiled eggs in it but other people did. The boiled eggs were used another day for egg salad sandwiches. Our bread back then was often Rainbow brand or Sunbeam.

A Lunchbox Like Dad Had

Black lunch box on Etsy (seller: LeepsAntiques)

Fixing the School Lunches

With six children, packing the lunch boxes on a school day took teamwork. Someone would get the cookies and wrap them for each box. Another child would get the fruit (a banana, an apple, or some raisins). Someone else assembled the sandwiches, then cut them in half.

I was good at wrapping the sandwiches with the wax paper. Mom had taught me how to make the double fold where the edges came together, just like the butcher would wrap meat at the supermarket. Then I’d make a triangle at each end and fold that to the back.

We had those metal lunch boxes with colorful designs of our favorite television shows. I browsed around on Etsy which is a good place to find vintage items. Wow, some of these are for sale for over $100. I should have saved mine.

Vintage Lunch Boxes on Etsy

Did you have a rectangular metal lunch box like these?

Playing Games

Each Saturday, I try to find a vintage photo in our family album to match the one posted by the Sepia Saturday Challenge. This week, you see people playing a game with stately buildings in the background. I’m guessing that the game is badminton or tennis since it involves a net.

Tennis Players (1920s) Unknown Subjects and Location

Our family album yielded an old-time photo of young men playing croquet. The faces don’t seem to match any of our family members from that time, so all we know is the location which is Tyro, Kansas. You can read more about my efforts to identify this photo (on our family history blog – Then And Now)

Tyro friends playing croquet

Playing croquet in Tyro, Kansas, around 1910 or so.

You may be disappointed that there are no stately buildings in the background of my photo. Tyro boasted a multi-storied high school and a substantial church but neither of those were located near enough to the McGhee family backyard to show in the photo. Instead, you see what may be an elm tree and some open fields or garden area.

So now, I’ll gratuitously toss in a photo of the Kansas State Reform School. It is nowhere near Tyro, as it is located in Topeka, Kansas. It would have made a grand background for the croquet players though. The reason that I have this photo is I’m researching an ancestor who was sent to this school in 1889. He wasn’t a McGhee though and probably the boys sent to the reform school did not have much opportunity to play croquet.

Once I finish researching that story, I’ll post it on the Then And Now blog and put a link here. Then you’ll know the rest of the story.

KS State_Reform_School_1890_edward richards

Kansas State Reform School 1890

Quarantined on the Prairie

With the possibility of a worldwide pandemic starting to loom, my mind goes back to a story Mom wrote about her own experience with a feared disease.


I Passed the Eighth Grade

by Gail Lee Martin

When I was in the eighth grade the school year of 1937-38, I was sure I would never pass my eighth-grade exams. At that time my folks were living on the Phillips Petroleum Company’s Burkett lease in the middle of Greenwood County and I was attending the Allen District Number 7, a two-room, nine-month school. I was never more than just an average student, and always had trouble with Math, English, and Spelling. For me, Reading, Geography, and History were a breeze.

The schoolhouse was a brick building built over a basement. Very different than the school at Noler district that I had gone to for all the other six years. I also had another man teacher, Robert Knox, and really liked him, because he encouraged me to do better.

Just before Christmas my older sister, Melba, who was riding the bus to Hamilton for her senior year came down with scarlet fever. Mother immediately banished Daddy, my baby sister, Carol Jean and me to the wash house to keep us from catching the disease. There was a two-burner stove that Daddy cooked on and Daddy installed a small gas heater to heat up the small room. We slept on camp cots and thought it was fun.

The County Health Department posted a big red quarantined sign on both the front and back doors of our home. When we needed groceries, Daddy took a list down to the small country store and tacked it to a porch post. The grocery owner would look at the list and put our groceries out on the porch. When Daddy came by after his day job in the oilfield he picked up the groceries and took the list with him. Back home, Daddy left the food that Mother needed by the back door.

Wichita museum

Photo by Virginia Allain at Wichita Historical Museum

Then Christmas week came and the whole neighborhood woke up one night to see the grade school on fire. It was an awful sight. Out in the country, there were no fire departments or even a place to get enough water so the school burned completely down. The heating system burned coal and the supply of coal burned for several days. This fire also destroyed my belief that brick houses were safer from fire than the common wooden houses most people of that time and place lived in.

Allen School burns downAllen School burns down Fri, Jan 28, 1938 – Page 3 · The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

But the oil community rallied around and found an empty oilfield house just the east of our home. When school started again after the holiday, it was held in that small house. Since we were still under quarantine Mr. Knox would post my assignments on the porch post and after school was out for the day he would set on the porch and listen to me recite my classwork.

None of the rest of us came down with the disease. I believe with all my heart that was because of my mother’s cleaning habits and her strenuous disinfecting regime. Daddy was able to continue his job as he was an oilfield pumper so his work was isolated anyway.

Fumigating the house and everything in it was a hard job. But we all pitched in to do it properly. I remember I was given the job of holding our books over the stinking formaldehyde and flipping the pages back and forth. The County Health Department declared our home was safe and took down the big red quarantine signs.

I did pass my eighth-grade exams. Thank goodness, the exams were all in writing, but it had to be Robert Knox’s extra time and efforts that made it happen.

Further Notes:

  • This story was published in the first volume of The History of Greenwood County, Kansasin 1988 (page 107) and also in Gail Lee Martin’s memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas.
  • The Emporia Gazette reported that for the week ending December 18, 1937, a total of 160 new scarlet fever cases were reported in Kansas.
  • In nearby Coffey County, both the grade schools and the high school were closed for a 7-day period in November 1937. Football games were postponed, and they closed churches, revival meetings, and shows because of the spread of scarlet fever.
  • What kind of disinfecting products did Gail’s mother use? She mentions formaldehyde. Searching in newspapers of the time, I find Clorox in popular use for disinfecting.

Clorox advertisement - 1937Clorox advertisement – 1937 Fri, Jun 11, 1937 – Page 12 · The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

Grandma’s Grade Card

My mom, Gail Martin, was the family archivist and after her death, the boxes of family papers passed to me. Among the minutia that survived from one generation to the next were some grade cards from 1911 and 1912. My grandmother, Ruth Vining (later McGhee) seems to have been a diligent student at the Tyro, Kansas grade school.

 Tyro, Kansas – Report Card 1911

ruth vining 7th grade report card 

What They Studied

There were the usual subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history.  I was glad to see they studied drawing and music too. Orthography puzzled me. My sister said, “Surely it’s a form of orthology? An online dictionary says orthology – the art of correct grammar and correct use of words.”

A distant cousin who’s a teacher joined the discussion. Patricia Cummings Brown -“Orthography is the study of spelling. We just call it spelling now!

I said,  “OK, orthography sounds reasonable. I think it includes handwriting too.”

Patricia said, “No it is strictly spelling.”

It looks like Grandma Ruth excelled at orthography, as well as music, history, and geography. She was never tardy, but it looks like her deportment slipped in March from 100 down to 98.

Her teacher for the Eulalia Parks and the principal was Howard Hitchcock. The Parks family were prominent in early Tyro.

Tyro, Kansas – Report Card 1912

ruth vining 1912 grade card

Ruth Vining’s 1912 grade card from Tyro, Kansas school.

It looks like the school year started in September and ended April 26th. That gives the students four months off. That’s only 150 days of school instead of the 186 of modern-day schools. In farming communities, kids were probably needed at home to help.

I’m confused over the different ratings for being tardy and being punctual. Perhaps the first is for getting to school on time and the second is for completing the assigned work in class.

For the 7th grade, the principal, Howard Hitchcock taught the class.  This year, rather than general history, the students were taught Kansas history. Drawing and writing seemed to be Grandma Ruth’s less accomplished subjects. That seems odd, as later in life, she wrote short stories and even an entry in a screenplay contest where she won a prize.

I don’t have her 8th-grade report card or at least I haven’t found it in the box that I was exploring. The schools at that time had graduation ceremonies for completing the 8th grade. This photo, I suspect, is from that occasion.

scelian and ruth vining 1911 edited by kristy duggan

Ruth Vining with her older sister, Scelia.

Country School Memories

Memories of Attending a Country School – by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

I attended a two-room school for three years. That sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but Kansas in the 1950s and early 1960s hadn’t yet consolidated the rural schools. West Branch School, east of El Dorado, Kansas was a square brick building with a spacious basement and on the main floor, the two classrooms.


west branch school from real estate listing.png

West Branch School – rural Butler County, Kansas


Mrs. West taught the first four grades, where my younger sisters, Cindy and Karen attended. I was in the upper grades, taught by Mrs. Mildred Waltman. While I was in 6th grade, my sister Susan was in the 7th grade, and my brother, Owen was in 8th grade, all in the same room. Mrs. Waltman taught all three grades plus the 5th graders.

Those four grades shared one good-sized room. The blackboard covered one wall with some large maps on a roller above it. Classes took turns being instructed at the sturdy table placed in front of the blackboard. The teacher divided her time four ways, switching from math to English to geography and from one grade level to another.

When it wasn’t our grade’s turn at the front of the room, we worked at our desks on assigned work. If we finished our assignment, we could always listen in on the class being taught at the table or we could choose a book to read. The bookshelves ran all across the longest wall under the windows. Being an avid reader, I’d hasten to finish my class work so I’d have time to read.

At the end of the school year reading awards were given. Gold embossed seals, each representing five books read, almost completely covered the inside of my reading certificate in its royal blue fake-velvet cover.


It’s hard to imagine the workload for a teacher handling four grades at once, but Mrs. Waltman rose to the challenge. Each grade consisted of only two to four students, so essentially she customized the curriculum and we received individualized attention.

When West Branch students graduated from 8th grade, they took the bus into El Dorado Junior High to merge in with 400 students for 9th grade. The students from the country schools took placement tests and were assigned to math and English classes based on the results. I noticed that most of us ended up in the honors level classes.

The social adjustment of going from a small school to one so large was tough. Most of the town kids had attended grade schools together and had a two-year head start on Junior High when we arrived. The cliques and friendships formed over the years were not receptive to country kids. We felt like outsiders and I never overcame that feeling all through high school.

We missed the camaraderie of our cozy classroom and the freedom of the playground. In our country school, we knew everyone and they knew us. At recess, all ages from first grade through eighth grade played softball together or jumped rope or played running games. The school ground included a vintage merry-go-round that spun at dizzying speeds when the older boys pulled it round and round. You could sit on the splintery seat and grip the handrail or if you felt daring, you could stand on the seat and hold the upright pole. Sometimes centrifugal force took hold and your feet left the seat while you clung to the pole flying through the air.

When the weather was too bad, we could play in the basement of the school. I remember the 8th graders bringing a record player and we tried to learn the latest dances. This was just a few years before the Beatles took rock music by storm.

We rode the school bus to West Branch and brought our lunches in square metal lunch boxes. At our house fixing five lunches required an assembly line in the morning as we made sandwiches and packaged up homemade cookies. The school provided the square cartons of milk to go with our lunches. I think we had to bring “milk money” to pay for it, but I don’t remember how much it was.

Thank you, Mrs. Waltman, for making my years at a country school, ones that I remember so fondly.

(this has also been posted on the Our Echo website where people can share family stories)

The Abandoned School

Gail Lee Martin didn’t write many poems and often apologized for them. Here’s one she felt brave enough to post on the Our Echo website where she had so many friends.

Forgotten Heritage

Old abandoned school houses
left to rack and ruin.
windows broken, porches sagging,
surrounded with trash and tall weeds.

Built so long ago by our ancestors.
now no one cares that they once sheltered
the children of sturdy pioneers
who labored to learn from Mc Guffy readers.

We’ve flown to the moon,
talked across the seas and
can fly faster than sound and this
knowledge came from those humble beginnings.

All those old schoolhouses should be
shrines to our ancestors whose
thirst for knowledge of a better life
led us to fame and prosperity.

I wanted to find a picture that would match Gail’s poem. The one below was shared on Facebook by Mary Meyer. Here’s Mary’s description of it, “Breaks my heart to see the old stone school out on the Browning go up in flames due to a suspicious grass fire. Always hoped it could be restored.” Ross Clopton remembered that his dad went to school there.

A photo by Mary Meyer of a burned school near Madison Kansas.

Photo used with permission of Mary Meyer.

Gail’s Early WWII Memories

On December the 7th, we were all shocked when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Now World War II was not just looming, it was a reality. Rationing became a way of life; my friends older brothers were inducted into the army, navy or the air force. All eighteen-year-old males had to register for the draft. Everyone was worried. My friend, Clyde Martin’s brother Ralph, who had been working at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, enlisted in the air force.


Scrap metal and rubber collected during WWII for the war effort. (photo taken at WWII museum in NH by Virginia Allain)

Life struggled on as we all tried to be patriotic by saving scrap metal and grease. We went on scrap hunts to find unused and abandoned metal. Sugar, meat, oil, gasoline, and rubber went on the ration list. Families were issued ration booklets to keep everybody honest.

War slogans became my classmate’s secret passwords, “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT” and we interpreted that slogan to mean we did not need any more studies; we wanted to help win the war.


Christmas was very quiet that year. Packages of home baked goodies were mailed early to our relatives, friends, and neighbors in boot camp or overseas. No one went any place unnecessary because of the shortage of gasoline and tires. My family usually had relatives come to our home for Christmas for lots of good food, togetherness, and exchange of homemade gifts, but not the Christmas of 1941.


The spring semester dragged on and I managed somehow to get good enough grades to let me graduate. No one knows how worried I was about passing the 12th-grade exam. However, I must have known more than my teachers and I had every thought of. As long as I was not rushed or having to recite out loud I did well. This exam was a written test; anyway, I passed and attended baccalaureate ceremony and the graduation ceremony. Back in those days, we did not wear floor-length dresses except for fancy weddings. At least in the Midwest and in a county that was made up mostly of farmers and oil workers.

(emailed to daughter, Virginia, on Saturday, August 11, 2012)

Mom’s Favorite Teacher

The memory prompt was “Who was your favorite teacher? Why?”

Mom wrote, “Brownie Dillman, my first man teacher who taught us gymnastics during recess. He was tall and slim like my Daddy and dressed casually. In the winter he wore sweater vests or long-sleeved sweaters.”

Here are some of Gail's school friends performing acrobatics at Noller School in Greenwood County, Kansas. This would have been in the 1930s.

Here are some of Gail’s school friends performing acrobatics at Noller School in Greenwood County, Kansas. This would have been in the 1930s.

H is for Hamilton

After 3 years of Madison High School, Mom switched to Hamilton for her senior year. I think it was rather a lonely year for her. At Madison, she’d been dating Johnny Faylor. They double-dated with his friend, Clyde Martin.

It was with Johnny that she went to the prom, but later after high school, it was Clyde that she married. That marriage lasted 66 years.

Gail Lee McGhee in the prom dress that her mother made for her.

Gail Lee McGhee in the prom dress that her mother made for her.

She said she was lucky to graduate.

I asked my aunt, CJ, about the reason Mom went to Hamilton. She said, “We moved to Seeley Lease, where I began 2nd grade at the 2-room country school. Hamilton must have been the closest high school from that area.

When I asked for her insight into Mom’s activities at that time, she shared this, “Seems like it was at the Seeley Lease house where both Clyde and Johnny showed up the same evening. I was in awe of my big sister!

Gail took me about to stuff, to town for ice cream, and I remember one visit to a bookstore where I got to pick out a book. She also would go on walks with me to the little creek down the road, where we’d pick flowers, throw rocks in the water, and look for turtles.

1942 Hamilton KS high school graduates

Gail Lee McGhee is in the center, just under the words Hamilton Seniors.


We had no close neighbors, so no one to play with on a daily basis. Daddy would arrange with one of his co-workers to bring his little girl over to play with me now and then. I grew up rather solitary during that 4 or 5 years on the prairie! When we moved to the farm, in 6th grade, 2 school chums lived about half a mile away, so we played together a lot.

1938 kansas girls with pets

Here’s Carol with her older sisters, Melba and Gail.

G is for Girl Friend

Even after 75 years or more years had passed, Mom spoke fondly of her childhood friend, Dorothy Rose Laird. Noller was a small school in Greenwood County and the children lived with their families in company housing at the Phillips Petroleum Camp. All their fathers worked for Phillips.

Gail and her school friends standing by her daddy's new car.

Gail and her school friends standing by her daddy’s new car.

Looking through the vintage black and white photos from her childhood, I remember her telling me that Dorothy was one of the girls in this photo. The middle girl is my mom, Gail Lee McGhee. Which one was Dorothy?

Searching further, I found a school photo that solved the mystery. In the photo with the car, Dorothy is on the right, Gail is in the center and my sister is fairly sure Norma Jean Dowell is on the left.

Gail McGhee and Dorothy Rose Laird - 1933-34

Gail McGhee and Dorothy Rose Laird – 1930s

In case any descendants of these students are searching for them, I’ll list all their names here.

Noller School, District 21, Teterville, Greenwood County, Kansas (1933-1934)

Naomi McKinney, Pauline Ridgely, Buddy Palmer, Agnes Hawthorn (teacher), Dorothy McKinney, Melba McGhee, Gail McGhee, Dorothy Rose Laird, Norma Jean Dowell, Teddy Bernard, Donald Hindman, Roscoe Bernard, Kathryn Peterson.

Here's my mother's friend, Norma Jean Dowell, holding Mom's little sister, Carol Jean McGhee.  1935

Here’s my mother’s friend, Norma Jean Dowell, holding Mom’s little sister, Carol Jean McGhee. 1935