Sam Damron had a drugstoreRhea Gonzales August 9, 2018 0 COMMENTS
By Alice Liles
Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on August 2, 2018. Damron Drug was a busy place when we moved to Muleshoe. If you grew up in Muleshoe, you know that. If you didn’t, read what follows and find out what you missed by not knowing Sam Damron and getting to frequent his store and his soda fountain.
One reason I will always remember Sam Damron is because he is the only other person in my life to ever call me “Alice Blue Gown,” inspired by the old song, I guess. The other person was my daddy. And Sam probably doesn’t even remember that, but when we were new to Muleshoe and I would go in his drugstore, that’s what many times greeted me from behind the counter where he did his work. It was always pleasant to hear and made me smile.
Old-timers in Muleshoe, however, will remember Sam and his father Joe because they owned and operated the Damron Rexall Drugstore for a family total of 67 years, and while they both were experienced pharmacists who cared about their customers, the soda fountain is what tends to be at the center of memories when Damron Drug is mentioned.
And why not? Getting a prescription filled or shopping for goods at a drugstore is pretty standard, everyday stuff. But meeting friends to socialize, gossip, and enjoy a hamburger and a malt, well, that’s what memories are made of. And every Damron drugstore always had a soda fountain, and I learned that over the years that included stores in two different locations with three different reincarnations.
I came across a story relating the time that Claude Riley was also in charge of oiling the floor at this location, the preferred method of cleaning wood floors at the time, and for some reason he used creosote dip instead of oil. No telling how long the fragrant scent of the creosote greeted customers when they entered the store.
The history of Damron Drug began when Joe and Robbie Damron moved to Muleshoe from Amarillo in 1932 to open the store. Children Joan, Sam, and Jayne grew up here, and it was Sam who eventually joined his dad as a pharmacist. Sam graduated from Muleshoe High School in 1942 and attended Baylor University on a tennis scholarship where he majored in pre-med. In 1943, however, he wanted to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. After basic training in San Diego, California, he was assigned to the base in Corpus Christi. Sam’s daughter, Druscilla, said that the commanding officer knew Sam had spent time behind a soda fountain and asked him if he wanted to “jerk” sodas for the remainder of his tour of duty, to which Sam responded that wasn’t the reason he joined the service, so off to the South Pacific he was sent. He was assigned to be a medic and had a stopover on his way to Papua, New Guinea, at the tiny island of Manus where the USS Mt. Hood, an ammunition ship, came to be docked illegally and incorrectly too close to neighboring ships; because it was loaded with ammunition, its presence created a safety hazard. The safety hazard became a reality when the ship exploded, killing all on board and damaging and destroying surrounded vessels. Sam was on land when the explosion happened, and the force of it knocked him down. His job as a medic kept him busy for several days, working twenty hours on and four hours off tending those wounded and dying from the explosion. Sometime after that, he served at a hospital in Papua where he contracted malaria.
Sam had been assigned to attend Officer’s Training School upon his return to the states and was stationed in New York City, but as the war was about over at this point, the OTS was cancelled and he came back to Texas by train to decide what to do next. Based on his time at Baylor, medical school would take another six years, but pharmacy school would only take two. Since Joe needed him at home, pharmacy school seemed the obvious choice. He completed his work at the University of Texas in Austin, graduated in 1948, married Elaine Jordan from Mason, Texas, later that year, and moved back to Muleshoe and the drugstore where he had grown up.
When Sam returned to Muleshoe, the store was still in its original location, so Sam was instrumental in the move to the final destination at 308 Main in 1953. Druscilla showed me a full page ad announcing the grand opening of the new store on October 30-31, 1953. Damron Rexall Drug presents a completely new drugstore for Muleshoe and West Texas, said the headline. Besides free ice cream for the kiddies and free coffee all day Saturday, $300 worth in valuable prizes were to be given away, and all you had to do was come register! A public phone booth and rest rooms were there for your convenience while you checked out the baby department, candy and cigar department, men’s toiletries, women’s toiletries and cosmetics, gifts, photographic supplies, and even livestock remedies for animal health. The ever-present and very popular soda fountain and food department was said to be equipped with all new modern equipment with the latest sanitary devices. In short, Sam and Joe wanted their modern drugstore to provide any and everything people in Muleshoe would want or need along with filling their prescription needs.
The soda fountain sort of has a history of its own, food and drinks originally being dispensed by Sam, maybe even Joe, and all those boys they hired along the way to serve customers. When the war took so many young men away from jobs at home, girls filled in at the soda fountain. When the war was over, the girls kept those jobs! Over time different women came to lease the fountain from Sam and ran it with their own personal style. That grand opening ad mentioned a Mrs. Synder as fountain manager with help from Juanita Busby. I think after her came Nina Flores, Linda Nowell, Felicia Green, and Tammy Flores Lueras. Edna Pearson and Ruby Green were famous for the pies they made for these fountain managers, with coconut and chocolate always favorites with customers. Tammy said Johnnie Ferris who worked with her came up with the Johnnie Melt, a hamburger dressed with a mixture of mayonnaise, tomato, grated cheese, onion, jalapeños, served on toast. During the war, by the way, when various staples were rationed, W.B. Wagnon had the grocery store down the street, and he always made sure that the drugstore had enough sugar to make the malts. The soda fountain was that important to the every day life of the town!
And life on that town’s main street was thriving in those days, so Damron Drug was a convenient place to eat lunch and take breaks. The high school kids were allowed off campus for lunch, and they would race to the drugstore for the food and the socializing. Even Alma Leal was said to enjoy hamburgers there, in spite of the good food her dad and mom were serving down the street! But the adults working downtown enjoyed eating and meeting friends there, too. Many times Elaine would come to the store and eat with Sam. Nelda Merriott dated her future husband while working at Damron’s. Carelean Hamilton and many secretaries took their coffee breaks there regularly.
Sam said he could remember when they used to keep the store open late on election days back in the 40s and 50s. A large chalk board would be set up outside across the street from the drugstore and election results were posted as they came in. People would gather downtown to see who was winning, wander into the drugstore to have a cup of coffee, a snack, visit, and talk politics.
Back in the early days, Muleshoe didn’t have a hospital, and the drugstore provided office space in the back for doctors to see patients. Drs. Matthews, L.P. Gibbs, D.D. Lancaster and L.T. Green were some of the doctors who treated patients at the drugstore. Joe would be called in to fill prescriptions for them, many times at night, sometimes making multiple trips.
Western Union service was available all those years at the drugstore. The Greyhound Bus Line made a stop at the back of the store for many years, finally cancelling service when bus travel dwindled to the point that it was not cost-effective to stop in Muleshoe and services like UPS and Fed-Ex took over shipping needs. previously handled by the bus.
One of the funny stories that we laughed about when I talked to Sam about the history of the store was the complementary trips the Behren Drug Company treated pharmacists to during the 50s up to the mid-80s. The trip he remembers most is the one to Monte Carlo in Monaco. Family members were allowed to enjoy the trips, and Sam’s sister Jayne and her husband Jim Reese, Sam’s mother, and others went on this one. Jim was quite the gambler, so everyone pooled their money and gave it to him in hopes of winning a jackpot of money; his game of choice was Baccarat. The plan paid off, and he won big. Bur before they could convert their winnings into U.S. dollars, Prince Rainer, the one who married Grace Kelly, decided to come to town, and when the prince comes to town, the banks close. No one in Sam’s group knew why, but close they did, which left the jackpot holders with all this money they couldn’t take home. A Moroccan who knew how these things worked, told them he would take them to a neighboring town in Italy and to a jeweler who would let them invest their money by buying jewelry, which could then pass customs. So they went, spent all the winnings on jewelry, and prepared to leave the country the next day. What they did was glom all the jewelry on Sam’s mother, engulfed her in her fur coat, sat her in her wheel chair, and then watched her sail through customs without a hitch, no inspection, no nothing! Obviously, they couldn’t get away with that today, but it worked then, and no harm was done. Sam laughed that no telling where all those pieces of jewelry are now.
The other story he and Druscilla enjoyed telling me was about the Playboy/Playgirl controversy. The store always had a magazine stand, and Playboy was always included. No one thought anything about it; Playboy was just a fact of life. Druscilla and her sister Dana always spent quiet time at the magazine rack reading comic books. Time passed, and in 1973 Playgirl magazine came out as an equal opportunity publication for women since men had enjoyed Playboy all these years. By this time, Joe was older and perhaps more aware, certainly more conservative and at some point, it just got the best of him. All those naked men just weren’t acceptable! So both magazines lost their spots in the rack. It was funny and typical of the times because no one seemed to think a thing about naked women in a magazine, but men? Well, that was just the last straw!
Sam had the honor of being appointed by Governor Dolph Briscoe to serve on the Texas State Board of Pharmacy from 1973 to 1979, also serving as president of the board in 1977. He had fun visiting local pharmacies and checking to see if he was the one who signed their licenses.
Sam was also instrumental in helping kids get into pharmacy school, which now takes five years to finish. Names you might recognize include his granddaughter Heather Hutton Long, James Cox, son of Ed and Carol Cox, great-niece Robin Short Miller, Gary Smith, son of John and Billie Joan Smith, and even dermatologist Dr. Mike Lehman of Lubbock who started out in pharmacy school before choosing dermatology.
By 1999 the time had come to sell the store. United Supermarkets was coming to Muleshoe with a pharmacy department, so Sam sold the pharmaceutical/prescription part of the store to them, even working there for a while, and kept the actual store open for a few months until everything else sold. In cleaning out the store, really old vintage drugs were found, tucked away and long forgotten. Most of those he gave to the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy. Druscilla arranged some of the drugs with old pictures of the store in a shadow box to keep. One of the pictures is of her sister Dana and her reading by the infamous magazine stand.
Not long after that, in 2002 Sam’s beloved Elaine passed away. In 2003, with recurring health issues, he moved to Lubbock to live in Brookdale-Grand Court where he has lived for the past fifteen years.
Sam felt honored that he was chosen to be one of the veterans making the West Texas Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. in 2016, along with Muleshoe veterans Marshall Cook and Kenneth Henry. He was also accompanied by his grandson Corley Hutton, which made the trip special as well.
Sam still keeps his pharmacist license up to date and hanging on the wall in his room and even filled in a few times in area drugstores after he sold Damron Drug. But at 94, he figures his prescription-filling days are over. But that’s okay. His days are filled with friends at Grand Court, family that lives close by, and telling stories while enjoying a cigar on the patio.
And he has plenty of stories to tell about a drugstore that was so much more than just a drugstore.
Thanks to Sam, Druscilla Damron Hutton, Tammy Lueras, Ruby Henderson, Linda Nowell, Van McCormick, Sonia Alarcon and United Supermarket for their help with this story.
Alice Blue Gown, by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney, 1919; from the Broadway Musical “Irene.”
To read more stories about Muleshoe, go to www.aliceliles.com