Stick horses moved farm boy’s imagination

Pettus Read

Pettus L. Read

Not long ago, I wrote about the selling of my family home. Of course, the house and attic held many memories, but who would have believed an old shed filled with a pile of my father’s tobacco sticks, which he used to raise tobacco, would revive memories for this not-so-young farm boy?

Those sticks were important on our farm years ago, and he guarded them like they were gold. The tobacco crop helped pay his children’s way through college and made Christmas a whole lot more enjoyable.

Stick ponies

Stock photo via; some rights reserved.

The brown dusty pieces of wood made me think about how some would make a really good stick horse for a kid. When I was small, Daddy's tobacco sticks were the “herd” where I would go to pick out a noble wooden steed. I’m talking about a farm kid’s stick horse and not one of those you buy at the Cracker Barrel after eating too many cornbread muffins, a horse with a stuffed head that makes a klippy klop sound when you squeeze its ear.

With that piece of wood and a grass string tied at the top for a bridle, I could take my imagination out West with Roy and Gene to fight outlaws and make the long cattle drives.

My stick horse, in my imagination, would be just as real and look just as good when we would ride off into the sunset along side Roy and Gene’s horses Trigger and Champion.

But it seems kids just don’t ride real stick horses anymore. In fact, they don’t even know who Roy and Gene are! I spoke the other night to a group of graduating seniors from high school and mentioned Roy Rogers in my talk. None of them knew who I was talking about and didn’t even know that Roy loved his horse so much he had it stuffed after it died.

My friend and former commissioner of agriculture, as well as radio and TV star, L. V. “Cotton” Ivy, often tells the story about riding his favorite stick horse to school. He tied it out front and when he came outside in the afternoon, some no-good horse thief had stolen it. Without his stick horse, he had to walk all the way home.

Cotton and I were born in the years of BWM (before Walmart), and your toys would be found wherever your imagination led you. Our heroes were real people. We had Roy Rogers on Trigger, Gene Autry on Champion, and the Lone Ranger on Silver. I guess what made them so real to me was that each one of those heroes was agriculturally connected. They rode real horses, drove cattle on the range, and worked in the great outdoors.

Never got to meet any of them in person, but in recent years have gotten to know Roy’s oldest daughter, Cheryl, who has told me a lot about Roy. It was good to learn he was just like what I thought he was.

Sometimes I do wonder about the future generation. Look at mine. We made pies from mud, horses from tobacco sticks, flying toys from June bugs, and swings from tires. We haven’t turned out too bad.

I just hope the next generation uses their imaginations in fun ways like we did. It sure makes life a whole lot easier, saves on batteries and is tremendously less expensive. Happy trails to you all.

Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. Contact him via e-mail to