Joe Noojin, well-known local piano player, Part II


  Last week, The Vagabond talked about the late Joe Noojin, a Gadsden native who had been a musician for many years. He is pretty famous across the U.S., and he finally wrote his biography. In reading Joe’s biography, one cannot help but chuckle or downright start to laugh! He continuously makes fun about his shortness (at 5’-6”) and is not shy to share all the craziness in his life. One learns that Joe is a character and is a real hoot in his own right. Never will there ever be another Joe Noojin, and The Vagabond must expose the world about him. Now, to continue for Joe in his own words:

Post World War II

“In January of 1946, I went to Birmingham for an interview for a job and wound up getting a job for Seagram’s Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. I went to Louisville. I had never been in a distillery. The cooker was on the second story. I opened up one of the lids one time and the steam just about burned my hand. But I didn’t like the job, so I got a call from a fellow named Dan Berry, who was in Meridian, Mississippi, at the time. He said, ‘My piano player’s leaving; I need a piano player, Joe, can you come down?’ He offered me more money than I was making in Louisville, so I went to Meridian and started playing piano at the Starlight Inn, which was a honky-tonk. Dan had a restaurant in the front and a bar behind. There were dice tables and one-armed bandits. On the left-hand side was a dance floor with a bandstand covered with chicken wire to keep the public from throwing bottles at the band.

“Dan Berry was a big, old, tall gaunt fellow with big, bulgy eyes and milk bottle glasses, but he played pretty good tenor, so I stayed there with them for about six or eight months. I then came home to Gadsden and got married. I met my wife on a blind date. Coleman Howard, a friend of mine, introduced me. We got married in June of 1946. I had to get a job, so I got a job with a traveling band traveling up the East Coast playing beach resorts. I soon found out that in traveling with a wife, the pay scale would not cover the expenses.

“Okay, one reason I’m short is that my mother was four-foot-eleven; my daddy was five-foot-seven. So, there you are.

“To continue in the early days, in Attalla, we had two cows and chickens. I raised Bantams and game chickens. We usually had three or four hogs a year and a garden; that way you could get your food. My cows were named Mule after a mule deer. The other cow was a Guernsey, and I called her Big Six. She had six boobs instead of four. In the wintertime, the cows would lie down in the barn in their own manure and the tail would get matted with manure.

“Going back to the Auburn experience, ROTC was required for my freshman year. I had two phases in the military. I had field artillery. The ROTC had a course called equitation, which is riding horses. I never did like horses anyway, but they brought in mustangs from Texas with U.S. stamped on their rear ends. We’d be in a line and we’d throw our saddle on and had to pull the bellyband down. One cold morning, I was pulling this bellyband down on this old horse real hard, and the thing reached around and bit me on the arm.

“Another time, we were on a cross-country ride. Some of the city boys had never been on horses before and they didn’t know how to stop them. The horses were real frisky. First thing you know, we’d see the horses ride by us, and the guy says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ The other instance it happened, we were riding in a riding pen in circles, and the officer said, ‘Gallop ho.’ So the horse picked up in his walking. 

“One particular time, I fell off the horse and fell right in the middle of that soft dirt. This officer walked over to me and says, ‘Noojin, I didn’t tell you to get off that horse.’ That really hacked me off.

“I was on the road traveling with the band, and me and my wife Betty came back and stayed and lived with Gamp and Momma May for a short period of time. I decided to go into the farm supply business. 

“I had $2,500 saved up, and Gamp had $2,500 saved up, so we went into the farm supply company and called it Noojin Farm Supply Company. We sold Purina feeds, baby chicks, baby ducks, baby turkeys, and seeds, and a little shelf hardware. We stayed in that for about two years and then moved to another larger building and put in more shelf hardware. 

“At that time, we had a fellow that came from the north from Iowa named Axel Bodholdt. He wanted to buy into the business, so we sold him a third interest for $50,000. We then bought a piece of land at Curtiston, just past the Number 2 Camp, about three or four acres of it. We built a retail hardware store there and a lumber shed.

“Of all the things – a saw mill, which was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. We also put in a dry kiln, which didn’t work too well. But our business was growing. 

“We had a railroad siding put in. We were buying West Coast lumber – Engleman spruce – as well as southern yellow pine lumber. 

“At a later date, we put in a truss shop, a truss press, a truss table and DeWalt saws. We had a plainer and a molder. We ran our own molding.

“In the meantime, I bought 20 acres of land across from the building supply place across Highway 11 from a man named R.E. Schraeder, an old man. The 20 acres used to be dairy farm pasture. I started building. Right after World War II, in 1947, you couldn’t get windows, you couldn’t get doors, you couldn’t get lumber, you couldn’t get any building material whatsoever. The first houses I built were no sewage; they had dry toilets. For the cheaper models, I’d put in what I called a one-hole, or a dry toilet. For the more expensive models, I put in a two-holer so mother and dad could talk over the business of the day while they were doing their duties.

“But the Lord was good to me, and I sold houses for years and years and years and sold lots and developed that whole area of Curtiston, which is something over 200 houses. 

“In the meantime, I got into the truss business, and tried to get started in the wall component business. The average redneck was the hardest person in the world to convince the infallibility of roof trusses. 

“I built my roof trusses out of two-by-fours with white spruce instead of yellow pine because they had smaller knots in them and wouldn’t break up as easily. It took me 15 years to break them into buying roof trusses.”

Check back next week as The Vagabond continues to talk about Joe Noojin.

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