Today in mid-Missouri the first cutting of hay, maybe all the cuttings, get turned, literally, into big round bales, some wrapped in plastic. In Nebraska we made silage from the first cutting, a lot messier job, and pack it tight in a steaming earthen pit.
I don’t miss the work, but I do miss eating at Shorty’s.
For a kid working a silage crew in the first hot weeks of summer, there wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to. The wind through your hair as you rolled back and forth, field to pit, pit to field with the wagons loaded, empty, loaded, empty. If you worked the pile, the heady smell of fresh chopped hay, thick, unctuous, was sweet, until it wasn’t.
If luck held, there was dinner in town.
Not lunch. That was the afternoon sandwich provided by the house. Dinner was the noon meal at Bloomfield’s pool hall, officially the Stockman’s Tavern and Café. I never heard it called anything but Shorty’s.
Shorty Schmoldt started working the main street business in 1946, bought the place with Norman Bruegman in 1955, then bought out Bruegman in 1960. I have good memories of him: tough, friendly, with a heavy shock of white hair, mopping a counter, hoisting a barrel of coffee out from the kitchen.
With an ornamental antique bar, carried thirty miles by rail from Hartington in 1905, Shorty’s was grounded in the early 20th century, a foundation made all the more authentic by its menu. Uncle Herman wouldn’t eat anywhere else. When tempted with a quick hamburger or flash fried basket of tater tots across the street, Herman scoffed and said Shorty’s was the only place in town serving “a workin’ man’s meal.”
Not that you couldn’t get a burger at Shorty’s. But why would you?
The dinner plate came in three varieties (beef, pork, and a mystery rotation) and one size (more than you can eat). The third choice was usually German sausage and sauerkraut, but I remember rainbow trout leftover from a late Lenten season. Meat was trimmed with a baked potato, green beans and corn. Every time.
Each platter came with a side of two slices of white bread in wax paper with one pat of butter sandwiched between them. To drink there was coffee, water, or a can of Coke or Seven-Up. I ordered the soda and always got a red plastic tumbler with exactly one ice cube. And one ice cube only.
Some of the guys, like my uncle George, thought Shorty’s had the best coffee in the known universe. “Get ya enough of that bug juice to make your eyes float brown, get ya through the afternoon,” said my Uncle George. One of the ladies behind the counter was always adding more grounds to the boiling pot, eggshells included. (The eggshells kept the overcooked brew less bitter.)
Shorty sold the café in 1988, and I haven’t kept up enough to know what’s in the building today. Maybe somebody who knows will read this and leave a comment.
Meanwhile, I wonder if there’s a place like Shorty’s still out there, dishing up basic grub in planet sized proportions to workin’ men who eschew precooked fare, who long for a true dinner time meal laced with boiled coffee, warm soda, and white bread.
If so, save me a seat.