He Asked Me to Tell about My First Sermon and Traveling with Royce Thomason
We met Dr. Rev. J. Royce Thomason some time in late 1952 or early 1953. He was recommended to us by our dear friends, the Percey Ryan family. Brother Royce was born and grew up on a dirt farm near Fredrick, Ok. I think he was called to preach at age 19 and began to hold revival meetings about that time.
In 1942, or there about, WWII had started and President Roosevelt put several names in a fish bowl and began to draw out the names one by one to start the draft of young American men for fighting in the war. The seventeenth name he drew was J. Royce Thomason.
Brother Royce, as everybody called him, was trying to keep the family farm together and help with their needs. He was the eldest of five children. His Dad had just died. His four younger siblings were all still in school. His Mother was not well and the Grand Mother who lived with them was sickly. He made an appeal to his Draft Board for a deferment, but was denied.
He shipped out to Europe where he worked as a medic under the command of Dr. Piggman, a surgeon from the Hospital in Hazard, KY. Brother Royce had great respect for the Doctor. Their Unit often had no Chaplin to serve the men or to preach on Sundays, so Brother Royce stepped up to fill the gap. He got acquainted with the Salvation Army Captain in the French town near where their Unit was working, and sometimes was asked to preach there, as well.
In the early and mid '50s Royce was in our area a lot. He gave a service / program in the Eldorado High School that summer were he invited the entire community, and many people came. He told of some war time experiences and of other travels through the world. Once he told me he had, by that time, been in 109 countries.
He was well known in the Burkburnett, Texas area. There was a military base there, maybe an Air Base. He often held services in a Church near by. When he started coming to the Eldorado, OK area, some of those service men came over with him or because of him. I remember TJ. and Norwood. There were several others whose names I don't remember any more. Several of them stayed with us on the farm when they came. Royce nearly always stayed with Uncle Lawton and Aunt Nina. They lived just a mile out of town.
It was at their house that he published his first, one page, "Voice in The Wilderness", news letter. He printed them on an old mimeograph machine he had. That news letter soon turned into a four page "magazine" and later sixteen pages.
In the summer of 1953, Brother Royce put up his Revival Tent in Eldorado. He could be "a one man band." He sang well, played his little portable pump organ, and preached an excellent message every time he opened his mouth. When he came to our town, Percy recommended that he ask Daddy to lead the singing. But Daddy really did not want to do that. One, there was a lot happening on the farm and he was the lead horse. Second, he had always sang base in the family quartet, he didn't want to try to lead the singing. Three, Royce was coming to preach the revival as an independent evangelist, though we had already started the Church of the Nazarene in town. But he did accept the challenge and switched to singing lead. There was good interest and the crowds were pretty good.
Ryan's had come, at least for the week-end. It was a 125 mile drive from their house to ours. We were always so glad when they came. At the close of the Tent Revival, Brother Royce was loading tent, chairs, hymn books and pump organ into his old school bus and heading for the long road to Vicco, KY for his next Tent Meeting. He had three teen age boys lined up to go help raise the tent and help with handing out hymnals, and whatever needed doing.
Albert Ryan was going and I so wanted to go. For whatever the reasons that I shouldn't go, my folks "finally" gave permission and I was in. From Eldorado in far southwest Oklahoma Royce drove the bus to McCloud, OK. There we picked up Larry McCloud. He was 14, Albert and I were both 15. Our next stop was a little north of Springfield, MO. We were there a couple nights with the Reeves family. Frank, their 19 year old son, was going with us. He owned and managed two gas stations, so was getting all his people lined up to fill the gap while he was away. During the wait, we guys filled gas tanks, washed wind shields, checked the motors for oil levels, and swept the drivers side floor. AND Frank's Mom was one of the greatest women and a fabulous cook.
On the road at night, we guys slept on piles of tent canvas in the bus. Brother Royce always slept on an old army cot set up on the ground beside the bus door. Every night along the way, we were all waiting for Brother Royce's story about his night's adventure. One morning he told us he knew there must be a military base near by, because during the night a couple of mosquito came and turned him over looking for his "dog tag". Another night we slept near a swampy place. Royce was awakened by an awful noise in the frog pond. When he went to investigate, he discovered two or three frogs trying to break another frog to ride. He told great stories. Some he had made up, but his true life adventures were better yet.
We took a break form the road to visit an early American grave site in Paduca. As we approached Bowling Green, Royce spotted a Revival Tent. It was about five o'clock. We stopped and the pastor was there. Royce made arrangements for us to stay the night, then we had supper nearby, cleaned up a bit and dressed to attend the revival service. That was a good break in our road routine. By that point we were following old Kentucky highway 80. Eighty goes the length of Kentucky and in those days there were no inner-states. It was a long, twisty road with more mountainous as we passed Sumerset and London. We slept that night in London.
Brother Royce was acquainted with a Free Methodist Pastor in London, Ky. They had us in for a wonderful breakfast before we left for our last day on the road until Revival time began. O my, those narrow twisting mountain roads. While we were still in Eldorado, OK, Bro. Royce found a sign painter to paint on the back door of the bus, "At the End of the Road, you'll meet God." On some of those eastern Kentucky mountain roads, we wondered if maybe our Road's End was about to come.
We drove through Hazard, stopped in Happy where one of Brother Royce's faithful supporters lived. His name was Gillmore, I don't remember his given name. After the war, when Brother Royce was traveling around in Europe, he had come to the near end of his journey. He came to a French town near the English Chanel. Because of his war time connections with the Salvation Army, he knew he could get a free bed there. He did, but the Captain was gone and they weren't serving breakfast. He had no more money. He needed a breakfast and money to cross the Chanel. As he was leaving the front door of the SA, a mail man came. He ask if a person named Royce Thomason might be there. Brother Royce took the letter that was offered. It was from his friend, Gillmore in Happy, Kentucky. The note inside said, "Brother Royce, I don't know where in the world you might be. But I do know that sometimes you might pass by the Salvation Army in G--- Town. I would send more but this $1.00 is all I have to my name. I really believe the Lord has prompted me to send it to you." Another time Bro. Royce might have been in a remote area of New Guinea and his shoe strings were broken. He had tied knots for the last time and some how he received a letter from the Brother Gillmore which enclosed only a short letter and a pair of shoe strings.
We passed out of Happy and around the bend in the highway we turned off the road, across the bridge and at the Post Office in Scudy made arrangements to pick-up our mail. Then came back across the bridge and wound on around the mountain to Vicco.
In Vicco, the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches were cooperating to sponsor the Tent Revival. The Presbyterians were without a pastor. They gave us permission to stay in their Manse, the guys, that is. Brother Royce stayed in the tent at night. The Manse was across a creek and up a very steep hill. We got there from the tent site by a swinging bridge.
As I remember, after the meetings had continued a few nights, Royce asked Larry and me, if we'd like to preach a sermon before he preached one of the nights, seeing we both had a call to preach? So he announced that on Monday night, I would bring a message. On Tuesday night, Larry brought his sermon. I don't remember what his scripture or title was. I do remember it was a very good, well prepared message.
I remember that I struggled for days over my message from Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." I had three or four points to make. I don't know how well I made them. It seemed that I must have gone on forever. When I finally sat down and looked at my watch, I had spoken a full five minutes. The only other thing I do remember was how ashamed I felt after I finished. Brother Royce gave his message after that and it was as good as usual.
Every day at noon, someone in the community had us over for a fabulous home cooked meal. One old lady had her daughter and a friend help serve the table. As we sat down, she apologized for the flies. She said they had not had any flies all summer, but that morning when she woke up, "the house was just filled with flies." And it was.
Another place we ate was up a holler. Only recently their road had come in. Before that, it was at least a three or four mile walk to their house. But we were able to drive right up to the bottom of the hill. Then we climbed up to the back entrance of the house. We stepped up onto a foot high stone, maybe two feet wide and three feet long. The front porch was on stilts ten or twelve feet in the air. The house was pretty large, square with four or six large rooms and high ceilings. The porch ran across the complete width of the front. A few years before we were there, the lady had been doing her summer canning of her garden produce. As she finished a caner full, she stacked her boxes of jars on the porch. One bright day, she dragged the ringer washer onto the porch and carried bucket after bucket of water from the well into the back door, heated it on the stove, then poured it into the washing machine. She carried out the baskets of clothes to wash, filled the first load and turned on the agitator. It wasn't long until she, with water and machine and canned goods suddenly felt the support posts of the porch let loose and they all rolled down the mountain together.
The rebuilt one was in place when we were there. It was made good and strong. The woman's husband had also been in the war. He told Brother Royce how scarred he was ridding a troop train through Oklahoma. He kept seeing what he thought were Indian smoke signals. He just knew they would be attacked almost any minute. What he didn't know, was the oil companies put up pipes near the sludge pits to burn off the excess gas escaping from the wells.
A young couple, Bill and Dorothy with his brother, Peanut, had us to their upstairs apartment for a noon meal. The young men operated a filling station and auto repair shop. Years later I learned they were Lilly's uncles, younger brothers of Pearl. We ate with a family named Campbell. Gillmore's were a sort of home base. And I know there were others that I can't recall at this distance.
Several times we went up the holler from Vicco to have a wonderful supper with Dr. and Mrs. Piggman and their three daughters. They were a wonderful family and had befriended Brother Royce since those days, early in WWII. When the meetings came to an end, it was time for us to fold up the tent, stow everything back in the old yellow bus and prepare for the long road home: back past Frank Reeves parents, McCloud, Oklahoma and Eldorado. I don't remember how Albert got home. Maybe Royce was headed that way, or... That was a wonderful time of new sights and great memories. After a year or two, Bro. Royce let me know that Frank had married Sarah Piggman, middle daughter of the Doctor. The last I heard, Sarah was a farm wife, raising feeder calves on bottles of milk.
Brother Royce had warned us from the start that Mrs. Piggman was a kind and loving woman. Before we leave on packing day, she will give you each one, a great big hug and a kiss. We all vowed that it would never happen. But according to prophecy, when leaving day arrived, Mrs. Piggman arrived out of the holler in her big, beautiful car. As we worked and talked and bid goodbyes to members of the Congregations, one by one, with unexpected suddenness, we had each been hugged and kissed by the wonderful Mrs. Piggman.