January 17, 2003
Some recent columns have led several readers to their own recollections of events from the recent past. The death of Homer Thompson, the barbecue king, on Christmas Eve, 1961, was the basis for one Northwest Corner a few days ago. It also reminded David Payne, now a retired Ditch Witch engineer, of his close association with Mr. Thompson more than forty years ago. David writes:
"I did a significant part of my growing up under the influence of Mr. Thompson's B-B-Q. We lived about two hundred feet to the west of the restaurant and every day of my life during that time, we had the aroma of his food drifting across our yard. I can't really say whether that experience contributed to my taste for B-B-Q or if I built up an immunity to the stuff. I do really like B-B-Q, though.
"...On that fateful (1961) Christmas Eve, I was asleep, in our living room because I had relinquished my bedroom to my brother and his family who were visiting for the holidays. I was awakened by the gunshot but did not become aware of what it was until the next day. I knew Homer personally and that night we all experienced a great loss. Besides his son Donnie, Homer had a crew who raced GoKarts and I also raced. I even drove for him for a short time. I did well with my own Kart in the 'affordable' class of Kart racing but Homer had Karts for all classes, a total of seven I believe.
"My Kart ran around forty miles per hour and he wanted me to try out in the top brackets that ran around one hundred miles per hour! I practiced on one that had three engines and then raced it but never won a trophy in those classes. I would eventually 'lose it' on a turn and go skittering out across the grass and lose my place in the race. During one of the practice sessions, Homer came up to me after a run and complimented me on my driving and said he had been clocking me with his stop watch and that I was averaging 105 mph on the straight-away! I always wondered how accurate his timing methods were but I could tell I was going way faster than I ever, had before.
"Homer had a mechanic (DeBord?) who would build, rework and tune the engines and his Karts won many, many trophies. I once asked Homer why he painted his engines a different color every week and he said, 'It makes people come up and ask me what's different about my engines.' He said he enjoyed talking to people and that was a good way to start a conversation. It worked. One weekend I witnessed one of his engines go ballistic while screaming down the straightaway. It sprayed parts high into the sky. The next week the same engine was back in the race with a big Bandaid appropriately stuck over the freshly welded patch in the crankcase.
"...The clock from Thompson's Barbecue now hangs in the Kumback and Craig Kemnitz has a lot of memorabilia from the restaurant. I don't know what happened to all the GoKart trophies that lined the walls of the restaurant in the 1960s. The stuff that Craig has was given to him by Homer's son, Donald."
Many thanks to Dave Payne for his interesting recollection of another facet of Homer Thompson's life.
Perry’s popular dining place, the Homer Thompson Bar-B-Q, is shown in this file photo, taken before the death of Mr. Thompson on Christmas Eve in 191. The business was at the intersection of Eleventh street and the old U.S. Highway 64 route on the south side of town. (From the Fred G. Beer photo collection.)