News from the Gentlemen's Club with The Kansas Farmer - By Paul Nichol
In the long history of Brussels, I’m sure we have had our fair share of “characters”. But perhaps none is quite as notorious as Jack Thynne, “The Kansas Farmer”.
Born on the 3rd line of Morris in 1897, young Jack taught himself to fiddle at an early age. Never blessed with a fondness for manual labour, his natural affinity for music and entertainment were to serve him well for the next 70 years.
Starting out at local weddings and socials, Jack became a professional in the 1920s, travelling south of the border as part of the Guy Jester Entertainers. After the bust of 1929, Jack returned home to form his own cowboy band “the Clover Hullers”. But creative differences and the hard times of the 1930s forced the Clover Hullers to disband around 1933.
It was at this time that Jack Thynne assumed the persona of “The Kansas Farmer” and headed out on his own. Over the years, he developed a distinctive and popular offering of comic monologues, cross-fires and old-time fiddle tunes sawed away on his old violin purchased from the Eaton’s catalogue.
Through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the Kansas Farmer was in high demand, playing community fairs and medicine shows from Newfoundland to the Rockies with many a venture into the border states as well. Ironically, (or perhaps on purpose), the Kansas Farmer never once set foot in Kansas.
As much as Jack Thynne became renowned as an entertainer, for many people it will be in his later years that they remember him best. He gave up travelling in the mid-1960s and settled into his hometown of Brussels to retire. But his flamboyance could not be held back for long. Urged on by then-Editor Roy Kennedy, Jack began penning a weekly column for the Brussels Post that he called simply “the Gentlemen’s Club News Item”. Over the next few years, he spun controversies and tall tales that kept the town in stitches from week to week.
The Kansas Farmer’s articles contained a saucy mixture of community happenings, trumped-up scandals and outright lies about a host of local characters and their shortcomings. People often warned him he would get himself hung if he didn’t stop writing “stuff like that”. Well, he never got hung. But he did run into trouble once during an altercation with former Liberal MP Judy LaMarsh. Her lawyers threatened libel charges against Jack unless he agreed to retract his statement that of all the honourable members in the House, she had the “biggest seat in Parliament”.
But the loyal readers of the Brussels Post ate it up. With a spirit of good humour, it was said that the victims of Jack Thynne’s poison pen might have been angry when they were ridiculed in the paper. But they’d surely be just as angry if they weren’t.
In keeping with that sentiment, there are no apologies for the disparaging remarks made in these columns. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent. As time marches on, the politics fades into history, the wisecracks are long forgotten and many of the personalities even drift out of memory. But what will stand the test of time is the sense of a good-natured camaraderie shared amongst a cast of local players, all acting their parts in a community that Jack Thynne treasured and loved to portray.
This was his Brussels.
It is with great interest that I follow your reports on the long-standing and bitter rivalry between the Brussels Pussycats and the Walton Beer Drinkers. And with the World Series soon upon us, I think it my duty to explain thoroughly the game of baseball for those that really don’t understand the finer points. Having many hard ball years myself with the Browntown Bushwhackers, I feel fully qualified.
Now the main man, the judge, is called the umpire. He stands behind the catcher in black, why, I don’t know. Probably in mourning for his mother-in-law. Eyesight is very important in his job. He’s supposed to see the ball coming. Then again, I’ve often heard the crowd (actually half the crowd) say “He’s as blind as a bat” and “where’s your glasses?” “You couldn’t see a balloon!” etc. etc.
The fellow who throws the ball to the batter has a very important job. He walks into position like a king taking over the throne. With the right shoe, which is filled with studs or iron corks, he carefully digs a hole about a foot square and a foot deep while the crowd waits breathlessly. Then he takes the other foot and fills the hole full, levels it off, grabs the ball and starts swaying back and forth. This is called “winding up”. I suppose there’s some kind of hidden spring or battery that has to be discharged.
The pitcher then raises one foot, even with his belly, then the ball leaves his hand. The umpire calls “Strrriiiikkke”. Half the crowd cheers. The other half says “Aw ship!”. (Maybe it makes them seasick?)
Now a funny thing about baseball is that the pitcher’s name is always “Pitch”. “Good work, Pitch”. Go back to the farm Pitch.” And it must be hereditary. How many times I’ve heard someone say “Son of a Pitch” at a baseball game. Speaking of pitches, apparently, ball games are full of curves. But I’ve looked around for years and haven’t seen any of them that interested me.
Now, the last game I attended at the Homecoming, the umpire was pointing his fingers at the crowd with three fingers raised. I said to my pal Bill King, “what’s that all about?” He said it means “the batter’s got three balls”. Well after all these years of acquaintance, I thought Bill could have been a little more explicit.
I do have some expert suggestions to improve the game of baseball: flies seem to be an annoyance at any ball game. “Get that fly”. “Grab that fly.” It must be because the park is so close to the Maitland River. They should really use more insecticide before the games.
I also suggest they ban holes. Apparently so many batters have holes in their bats nowadays that it harms the integrity of the game.
If further information is required, I will be only too happy to inform you.
The Kansas Farmer.