Ancestors, Legends & Time
ATA stood for Anti-Theft Association
“Pieces of String Too Short to Save” is a book written by Webb City R-7 Hall of Famer Bob Chancellor, Class of ’54. It is a wonderful book of memories including those of Bob’s youth, family life, and his career as a foreign correspondent.
One of the memories that caught my eye was about the Lions Club’s goat. Bob gave me permission to tell of his “goat” experience. By the way, you can purchase Bob’s book, “Pieces of String Too Short to Save” on Amazon.com.
Bob writes… This is a story from my youth, which I wrote as a short article, but then never had published. It is true. It was prompted one day, about 1992, when I read an ad in the Springfield newspaper that reminded me of this youthful adventure.
The antique dealer’s ad in the newspaper brought it all back. “For Sale. A saddle mounted on a metal spring, on wheels, with goat horns attached, from Southwest Missouri. We believe this was used in some sort of lodge or club as a ritual, but know nothing more about it, $250.” Indeed. It was known as “the goat,” and I met it on a spring evening during my senior year in high school
The word had been going around school for a couple of weeks about this great new club, or lodge, several of the guys had joined.
Members of the football team had been the first to join the club known as ATA. They always set the style. When I expressed an interest, my level-headed and practical father discouraged it. “There is nothing to it, it is only an excuse for an initiation, and it is a bunch of older men. It’s not for kids.”
He did not need to say more. The next Thursday evenings, while I was hanging out at the drug store, the recruiters for ATA came by and soon two friends and I were on our way toward the inner circle.
The ATA Lodge Hall was about five miles out of town, an old white-frame building at a country crossroads. It looked as if it had been there a long time. So did some of the members.
ATA stood for “Anti-Theft Association.” It was explained to us prospective new members that once it had been the “Anti Horse-Theft Association,” but it had recognized modern times. We were assured that for our $3 annual dues, we would be joining a group of community minded leaders dedicated to the prevention of theft and other crime.
In addition to a membership card, each new member would receive an “ATA window decal,” the mere presence of which was enough to deter any car thief.
“Your fellow members will go to any length to apprehend the thief who dares to take your car,” we were told.
“The initiation was a mere formality,” they said. We attended a ten-minute lecture on the philosophy of ATA and the prevention of crime.
That was a piece of cake for a fairly good student who paid attention. Time for a quiz on what we had learned. One by one, we faced this last hurdle prior to full membership. “Did you bring any valuables with you?” our instructor asked. “No.”
“Are you sure?” The active members looked on attentively. “No, nothing but this Timex wristwatch”
“But what about these family jewels?” the interrogator asked, popping his hand into my crotch.
“He lied. He lied. Unacceptable,” the membership cried in unison. Someone suggested, “Make him ride the goat. The goat. The goat.”
At this point, a contraption was rolled into the room. It was a saddle mounted on a metal spring, with goat horns attached. My punishment for lying, it was explained, was to ride on the metal goat while it was being bounced by my mentors. No one mentioned the blindfold until I confidently climbed aboard.
Even blindfolded, it was not a difficult ordeal. The bouncing was rough, but not severe. Until someone turned on the transformer from a Model `A Ford, which was attached to a battery, which was wired to metal studs in the saddle, and in the hand grips alongside the goat’s head. Then, the punishment for my “lie” began to feel severe, even shocking.
The ride on the goat lasted only a few minutes, and once it stopped, I was welcomed into the fold of the ATA. I even benefited from being the first, since I got to watch my fellow initiates fail the test and ride the goat. It was all in good fun and fellowship.
The initiation was followed by a formal business meeting. We were all sitting in chairs arranged around the periphery of the room. It looked like it had once been a Masonic meeting hall. We were steeped in fellowship and enjoying our first really adult club meeting when the discussion took on a serious tone.
The new treasurer reported to the membership that the books he had inherited from Edgar Nealy were not in balance. In fact, there was a shortage of several thousand dollars.
Now, I knew Edgar Nealy. He was one of the few adults in the room that I did know. I played baseball with his son, Eddie, who was an earlier member of ATA. Edgar was a strange, quiet man, heavy-set, 6’4 or so, a farmer who lived in town and made his meager living running a herd of cows on the outskirts. He may have been strange, distant, a loner, but not a thief. He was even a neighbor and a member of our church.
Not Edgar, not a thief. There were others among the gathering who agreed. The discussion became heated. Did Edgar purloin several thousand dollars from the Anti Theft Association, or did he not?
Eventually Edgar got up and stormed out of the hall. “No one calls me a thief,” he shouted on his way to the door. Several of his supporters stormed out in support of him, including Eddie – I was appalled. Here I had gone through the rigors of an initiation, and had been admitted to the inner council of an adult, responsible and respected organization, only to have it begin to crumble on my first night. “Do my loyalties to the Nealy family, to Eddie, require me to leave also or should I stay with my new lodge brothers?” I stayed.
The business discussion moved on, to what I don’t remember. But the buzz continued in the room about Edgar. It had only been continuing for a few minutes when the doors burst open, and Edgar came running back into the lodge hall, shouting and cursing, “You X##X#, you should not accuse me of being a thief. I won’t take that.”
His angry outburst was accompanied by the biggest handgun I had ever seen, a long barrel .38, which Edgar waved around the room, pointing at various people, but mostly at the innocent newcomers among us, instead of his accusers.
“You ##&X#XX,” he yelled, as he began pulling the trigger. Bang! Bang! Bang! Half a dozen shots rang out in the stunned hall. We, new members were directly in the line of fire. Was I to die merely for attending a club that my father considered a bunch of foolishness?
Only then did the assemblage begin to laugh. The shots, of course, were blanks. Old weird Edgar had been shooting up ATA Lodge initiations for years. The second, and final, phase of the initiation was ended. The meeting ended.
I never went back to an ATA meeting. I wasn’t really interested in crime prevention. Besides, I didn’t even have a car to safeguard from theft. And graduation was looming. Also, there were no more guys in my class to initiate.
But I remember the goat. And I wonder if the antique dealer ever found out what ritual it was used for.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Chancellor passed away Sept. 27, 2017. He wrote his own obituary, which appeared in the Webb City Sentinel. Send a message to email@example.com if you want a digital copy to read.
A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.