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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo This photograph is of Doris Lambeth as she posed for an advertisement some years ago.

Because I have spent most of my life as that of a city dweller, I now find that I have acquired the most compelling interest in the southwest Missouri Ozarks Region. I am fascinated with stories of the people who once called the area home, while my attention is drawn to those habits and lifestyles which strike me as exquisitely odd. Take, for example, the nonsensical story of the "Fuzzy Duck." A bird? you might ask; but, no, rather a place, a Noel, Mo., business.

Why in the world would anyone looking for a good time visit the small southwest Missouri Ozarks town of Noel? With a population of somewhere around 900, what could the town and surrounding area possibly have to offer? Well, there were the campgrounds scattered along the banks of Elk River and many flocked to Noel in the summer months to maneuver rafts and canoes along the shallow river's leisurely flowing waters.

The more high-spirited visitors might find Shadow Lake to their liking. The Main Street nightspot offered drinks, music and dancing. The music from Shadow Lake filled the air as tourists walked on the town's sidewalks peering into the large front windows of cafes and shops. But, if you were searching for something under the radar and if you wanted to place a maybe not so well thought-out wager, there was the "Fuzzy Duck."

In the year 1968, Larry Lambeth left his home in Carthage, Mo., and moved to Noel because that was a place where a job might be found; and find work he did. Larry went to work at the Diplomat Homes manufacturing facility. The plant located a mere three or so miles south of Noel was one of many mobile home manufacturing facilities in McDonald County. Guy Deaton and Jimmy Dooley owned the Diplomat business as well as two similar facilities, also located just south of Noel.

These makers of movable metal-clad homes employed hundreds of hardworking Ozarkians living in McDonald County. The manufactured homes were sold throughout the Midwest and business was brisk. The money from cashed paychecks put food on the tables of many and people living on the Ozark hillsides or within the peaceful valleys prospered. Life was good.

Larry and his wife Doris quickly adapted to the Ozark lifestyle and soon they considered Noel to be their home, a place where someday, God permitting, they would retire and spend the remainder of their days. The hours at the plant were demanding, but the people who contributed to the construction of the homes were honest, hardworking and friendly.

"Hey, Larry, you gonna stop by the Fuzzy Duck?"

"Larry," I said, "are you gonna go over to the Fuzzy Duck?"

Larry was deep in thought about projects at the plant and just a little bit about what time it might be.

"You talking to me, Kim?" "Yeah, I'm going over to the Fuzzy Duck. You wanna go?"

Now Larry knew just about every place in and around Noel, but the Fuzzy Duck? Well, that was a new one.

"What in tarnation are you talking about? I never heard of the, what did you call it, Fuzzy Duck?"

"You know," with a sly grin, Kim Kerry replied, "Landon and Boyd's gas station. There's a beer with my name on it over there."

Larry quickly glanced at his wristwatch. Sure enough, the afternoon had somehow slipped by without notice, and it was quitting time.

"Well, I guess I have time for one or two quick ones. I'll finish up here and meet you there in a few minutes."

Many of the folks working at Diplomat Homes spent time at the gas station, liquor store and garage. The plant had several accounts there and salesman used those accounts to fill their cars up with regular grade gasoline. The trucks which transported the completed homes also purchased fuel from Landon and Boyd, which significantly contributed to the small enterprise's bottom line.

Harmon sold the gasoline, checked air pressure in the tires of pickup trucks and operated the counter in the store. He would gladly sell folks snacks, soda-pop or beer, and not all customers opted to pay the amount displayed on the cash register. There were, after all, other options available.

"Let's roll the dice, double or nothing," was the challenge extended to Harmon by many customers.

Harmon was always up for those offers,

"Why not? Let me grab the dice."

Each party was allowed one roll of the dice and, when the spots on those Bakelite cubes were added up, the roll with the highest total was declared the winner. Some people paid nothing, while others had to open their wallets and produce twice the cash register's number.

Behind the gas pumps and the store itself sat the garage. It was separated from the main building by no more than a few feet but, once inside, it seemed nothing like the merchandise filled store. This small building had a concrete floor, one single lift and a wood-burning stove.

It was here that Frank Boyd repaired holes in old tires, mounted newly purchased tires and put new oil in old trucks. Some minor repairs were performed here but not on Saturday mornings. You see, Frank had one business-interrupting, yet relatively minor peculiarity. He was enamored with a Saturday morning cartoon: "The Pink Panther Show." In fact, it was widely known that any repair work needed on Saturdays would have to wait until late morning at best. Frank refused to miss even a minute of his favorite Saturday morning television show.

Larry left his office and parked on the gravel and dirt parking area alongside Harmon and Boyd's. As he walked through the front door and even before he threw a glance in Harmon's direction, Larry placed his order.

"How 'bout a beer?"

Now Harmon seemed to have an uncanny memory for each beer drinker's favorite brand.

"Sure thing, Kim Kerry told me to tell you he's in the garage. Oh yeah, Joe's cooking a hog out back."

A Fuzzy Duck regular, Joe, was notorious for digging a hole in the ground behind the garage which he later used for cooking a hog. Joe threw some old tires into that depression, set them ablaze and threw in a hog. Nobody seemed to fancy the scorched pork, but the consumption of a bevy of bottled beers seemed to help mask the burnt rubber flavor.

Larry wasn't interested in trying his luck with those house dice, so he paid for his refreshment and walked out of the store and into the garage. There, as was the custom, men were gathered around the wood-burning stove. It seemed as though each had a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

"Larry, come over here; this guy's trying to make his point, a six."

Kim waived his hand, motioning Larry to walk to the rear of the small building where several men had fallen to one, or two knees. The image could have easily been one imagined as several gathered in prayer but these men watched and cheered on the shooter, the man rattling the dice in that old cup.

As Larry walked the mere 10 or so feet, the door of the garage suddenly burst open.

"Hey fellas, this here will take your dad-gum minds off them dice."

The words came from a man, a large man, standing just inside the opened doorway.

Only one of the gamblers responded, "Hey shut that door."

The man in the doorway turned out to be Jeff -- a robust man with an even larger appetite for pranks, and no prank was off limits.

"Here you go," Jeff said as he tossed a red-covered stick of unknown origin onto the floor of the garage. The red stick had a fuse which hissed as it glowed ever closer to its end. "This here stick of dynamite oughta get your attention away from those old dice."

Jeff was a large man, but anticipating and getting the desired reaction, he stepped aside, and a wise decision that was. Larry would later estimate that in no more than 10 seconds, cash was scooped up from the floor, beer cans were dropped and the garage was emptied.

As the men ran from the building, one shouted, "Hey, wait just a minute, Jeff went inside."

A chorus of soft laughter changed to loud shouts and obscenities directed at the man who tossed the lit object. As the men filtered through the doorway and back into the garage, there stood Jeff and Harmon bent over laughing and slapping their knees.

"It was just an old flare," Jeff said, "but you fellas sure can move when you have to."

The two business partners, Harmon and Frank, seemed an unlikely pair. Harmon was outgoing and could be considered to be a people person while Frank was a quietly reserved soul and somewhat shy, but therein laid the basis for a successful relationship. Harmon handled the customers in the store while Frank performed automotive repairs and sold tires in the rear garage. The duo formed a perfectly symbiotic pair destined from the start to be successful.

Nobody knows why Kim Kerry chose to hang the name, "Fuzzy Duck," on the old place but even to this day and after the business has been closed for some 20-odd years, folks still fondly refer to the old place by that name.

Noel is like that. It's a place where names were long ago attached to favorite places and, even today, those are the names they're known by. For good fishing one will tell you to go to the "Low Water Bridge," a good place to swim might be the "Big Rock," and there once was a place where men shot craps called the "Fuzzy Duck."

The garage floor was a place where some lucky souls won hundreds and, yes, even thousands of dollars. However, those often unforgiving dice sometimes stole badly needed paychecks and sometimes even the titles to cars and trucks. Lady luck is often fickle and cruel, as many a gambler discovered.

Harmon hasn't strayed far from the old gas station. He now spends much of his elderly years watching his cows graze on his son, Raymond's grassy pasture located on the outskirts of Noel. Frank, however, left the garage and Missouri and relocated to Jay, Okla. The accumulation of so very many years caused some fond memories to be forgotten, but Frank sometimes, and very early on Saturday mornings, scrolled through the vast array of television programming selections searching for a showing of, "The Pink Panther Show."

Frank Boyd left this world on a hot July day in 2018.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Aluminum Houses And The Fuzzy Duck

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