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March 19, 2005

A history lesson about the PDJ and Richard Schultz

There was an interesting feature story by Dawn Marks in The Oklahoman the other day about the fabled rock barn in Eastern Noble County, originally owned by Richard Schultz, the late Red Rock banker who was famous in his own right. There's too much story about all this to even think about covering it in one column, but I'm going to assume you read or heard about the story in the Oklahoma City newspaper when it first appeared, and for this column's purpose we will deal with another aspect.

In the late 1940s, The Perry Daily Journal was essentially unable to use photographs because, as a small daily, it had no equipment for making zinc etchings, which at the time were about the only way photo illustrations could be made. I was the frustrated managing editor of this paper and my good friend and boss, Milo Watson, was publisher. We had to send pictures to the Cunningham family in Stillwater, who operated a zinc engraving facility. Bob Cunningham, one of the owners, also collected historic photographs of this area and became an authority on the history of the Cherokee Outlet in the process. He was a good friend and an able craftsman. He wrote the Noble County history book, Perry, Pride of the Prairie, which served well as a resource work for many years. I am told that Bob is now deceased, but again, that's another story.

In the spring of the year I am writing about, some six decades ago, one of those vicious Oklahoma wind storms passed through this county and the Schultz rock barn was hit. It was built of sandstone from the Schultz farms, and the old building already was in use regularly for architectural seminars at Oklahoma State University and for square dancers who needed a lot of room to do-si-do. The wind peeled the roof off the barn and caused some other damage, but the unique building was essentially unharmed. Milo and I had just bought a new Polaroid camera for The Journal, and we had made arrangements with the Blackwell newspaper to process our photos on the newly invented Fairchild plastic engraver. That device was coming into wide general use at small papers all over the country. We thought we were on the cutting edge.

So I took the Polaroid early one morning, headed for the barn with intentions of taking a picture of the barn and Cowboy Neal, the Schultz foreman, and then going on to Blackwell before heading back to Perry with the plastic Fairchild for that day's paper. It was to have been a dramatic introduction to the new technology for us and for our readers. As fate would have it, Blackwell had some storm damage, too, and the paper's engraving equipment was not working. Milo and I conferred on the telephone and he decided to hold the deadline a while in hopes that some kind of Schultz barn picture could be used. To bring this to a close, the Blackwell engraving system was restored, I got the engraving and headed back to Perry. Milo had the makeup men hold a small space on page one for the marvelous Schultz barn storm photo, and our readers expressed their appreciation the next day. That's my most vivid memory of the old barn, and I wish the present owners good luck with their mission of placing it on the national register of historic sites.