Time to round up the whole county

As the threat of possible terrorist activity in America increased recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged citizens to be aware of what’s going on around them, watch out for potential threats and report suspicious activities.

He warned of a broad range of troublemakers who might threaten public safety – from groups of radical religious extremists to “disgruntled individuals.”

This is obviously well thought-out advice during these troubled times, but that last part has me a little worried.

Watching out for disgruntled individuals in someplace like Happy Jack, Ariz., might be a perfectly reasonable course of action. But keeping an eye on even half the disgruntled individuals in S’lano County – where men are men and women are mad as hell – would severely tax the combined resources of the FBI, CIA and Future Farmers of America.

Take a moment and just glance out the window, fellow Solanoan. Chances are you’ll see a half-dozen disgruntled people before breakfast.

(And if you don’t see any at all, then you’ll have something to be disgruntled about, right?)

Let’s face it, disgruntlement is an honorable and long-established way of life around here. The last happy-go-lucky idiot left S’lano County in 1951 after discovering there was no miniature golf course in Elmira. He’s currently working as a clown at a retirement village near Gilroy.

(Hey, this is righteous – I checked out the Gilroy Clown Registry…)

Disgruntlement in S’lano County may, in fact, have hit an all-time high during March thanks to the county’s ambitious new government center construction project in downtown Fairfield. Overnight it wiped out something like 30,000 convenient parking places around the courthouse and left a whole mess of already disgruntled people even more disgruntled.

Not that the county actually began doing anything with the old parking lots. No, they just fenced them off for two months in the event that sometime in the future they might actually start construction of something in the same general area.

Incoming lawyers, jurors and felons were vaguely directed to an empty lot somewhere near Union Avenue and Ohio Street. Unfortunately, many of them inadvertently turned into an empty lot at Union Avenue and Broadway where a precipitous driveway ripped the transaxles from their cars, which subsequently were towed away by an irascible property owner.

So, after being summoned to court, having their cars eviscerated and towed to an impound yard just west of Correctionville, Iowa, these already quite disgruntled Solanoans eventually got back on the road only to find that the price of regular gasoline had jumped to more than two bucks a gallon while they were paying off their towing fees.

Disgruntled? Hey, amigos, at this rate we’re going to have to round up the whole county just so the rest of the nation can feel relatively safe…

Originally published April 6, 2003

Where did all the croquet sets go?

The tiny Vermont community of Barnet is searching for missing pieces of its once-proud heritage, and you can help.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I help? I work all day rethreading camcrusher bolts in Elmira. I didn’t even fight in the Revolutionary War or anything…

No problem, amigos. The missing pieces of history that the folks in Barnet are searching for are finely crafted croquet sets that were painstakingly manufactured by artisans there more than 60 years ago. The town’s hardwood mallets, balls and wickets were once the toast of the croquet world.

According to Barnet Croquet Search Committee spokeswoman Elizabeth Dugger, the close-knit community of 1,500 was once home to a riverfront mill that made sturdy croquet sets from New England hardwoods.

“In its heyday, the mill made more than 40,000 elegant croquet sets each year and sold them to people around the world,” Dugger reported.

The factory, owned by the Roy Brothers, thrived from 1888 to 1938 when a disastrous flood and two fires finally brought end to Barnet’s premiere croquet set manufacturer.

The story, however, doesn’t end there.

“We’re a very small town and we don’t have many people or industry, but what we do have is our heritage and croquet is an important part of that heritage,” Dugger said.

In an attempt to bring the town’s heritage back to life – and have some fun, too – the people in Barnet launched their first memorial croquet tournament last summer. It was a resounding success and the second tournament has been scheduled for Aug. 4.

An important part of that event, Dugger said, will be a large map showing where all the existing Barnet croquet sets can be found around the world.

“The mystery we’d like to solve is, where did those croquet sets travel and who owns them today?”

Although the mill closed 64 years ago, Dugger and the search committee believe that there are still plenty of the premium hardwood croquet sets out there.

An initial inquiry, she said, brought responses from throughout Vermont as well as Oregon, Arkansas, Texas, Kansas and Mississippi.

Lovingly battered and nicked, old croquet sets have a habit of slipping into the shadows after a few seasons of enthusiastic use. They’re left behind in summer houses, recreation halls, dorm rooms and storage sheds.

“Some of them are in attics or at grandma’s house,” Dugger said. “It doesn’t matter what shape they’re in – a set that’s well worn and well loved is great to have because it shows it’s been enjoyed.”

And here’s where you come in.

If you’ve got an old croquet set that might have been manufactured by the Roy Brothers in Barnet prior to 1939, contact the Barnet Croquet Search Committee at P.O. Box 93, Barnet, VT., 05821 or e-mail them at fenyxrzn@kingcon.com .

(Note: If your set is labeled ‘Made in China 1999’ it probably isn’t a genuine Barnet croquet set.)

If your find is one of the originals, you’ll be helping Barnet revive its proud croquet heritage and will be included on the Barnet croquet map of honor to be unveiled during this year’s memorial tournament.

Hey, a win-win situation any way you look at it…

Originally published March 24, 2002