Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Doctor Wanted
Harry Martin stepped onto the depot platform in Harrold in 1908, just a few weeks after graduating from medical school at Chicago Northwestern College. The train ride was hot and dusty, and Harry was bored, not having a real destination in mind. He was traveling on the advice of doctors in Chicago that recommended he go “west” to regain his health. Harrold was certainly west of Chicago.
As he was walking around the depot, he noticed a sign on the bulletin board, “Doctor Wanted in Harrold”. Harry was interested. He took a walk down main street. The town was young and growing, the sound of hammering and sawing mixed with the smell of green lumber as businesses and shops were going up on both sides of the street. Three banks, two grocery stores, a lumberyard, blacksmith shop, telegraph office, drugstore, post office, barbershop, meat market, several general stores and three saloons filled the two blocks of Harrold’s main street. Harry was staying.
He purchased a small house on the main street and hung out his shingle. Before long he was fixing broken arms, stitching up cuts, delivering babies and becoming known as “Doc Martin.”
He married in 1912, had a daughter, lost his wife from sickness, married again to Florence, a clerk in one of the dry goods stores in town. They were inseparable, traveling in their Model A then later graduating to green Buicks, the standard doctor’s car of the time.
I remember Doc Martin as a gruff, heavyset man, who, if you looked closely, always had a faint smile on his face and a cigar in his mouth. My dad sent me down the street to Doc’s office for my first polio shot when I was about eight years old. Doc and Florence made a big deal out of telling me how brave I was to come by myself. I didn’t feel brave. It hurt. The candy bar and bottle of pop Florence gave me when we were done helped a lot.
Doc had bought several buildings on the main street after businesses failed during the thirties, and after remodeling them, brought new business to town. My dad was just out of the navy, and was looking for a job as a barber. Doc moved Dad into a building that was over the meat market. It promptly burned down. Dad called it quits and we moved to Colorado where Dad went to college then worked on the Evans Ranch in the shadow of Mt. Evans. When it was time for me to start school, we moved back to Harrold, this time living in an apartment behind the new barbershop. It was an old bank building and Doc put in the shop and a shower so the farmers and combiners could shower, for a price.
Summer nights on Harrold’s main street were pretty quiet except for Wednesday and Saturdays. Otherwise the wide street was my playground, a place to play hide and seek and ride my bike until Mom called me into bed. Every once in awhile Doc and Florence would drive up in front of the bar they owned and go in for a drink or two. I kept an eye on them through the window, and made sure I was close by when they were leaving. I would casually ride my bike past the door as they came out and they always stopped me for a little talk. When they finished, Doc would go back into the bar and come out with a candy bar and bottle of pop. He whispered loudly, “don’t let you mom see you eating that candy this time of night!” I never did.
My favorite story of Doc was the time he was north of town delivering a baby when a woman south of town also went into labor. She sent her teenaged son to town horseback to get Doc. When Florence told the teen Doc would come as soon as he got home, the boy rode home to find his mom had delivered by herself! When Doc go there, the mom was up and baking bread. He checked mom and baby over, satisfied they were fine, then sat down and ate a half of a loaf of fresh homemade bread, much to the mom’s chagrin. He didn’t charge for the call.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News