Monday, June 20, 2022

Doyle Russell and the Hooey Stick

Doyle Russell liked magic tricks. He had little boxes with springs, strings, wires, and sliding drawers that he could pull out of his pocket and engage a stranger’s attention with his magic tricks as they stood at an auction or waited in line for a drivers license. I remember one trick in which he had three curved, flat pieces of wood, similar to boomerangs, that when aligned a certain way were the same length, but when Doyle said his magic incantation and pulled one of those pieces under his armpit to “stretch” it, lo and behold, it was longer than the other two. And, unbelievably, he could push it back under that arm and shrink it back up! Another was an elaborate set up using sheets hung over a doorway and shadows on the ceiling, a parlor trick. Over the years Doyle’s family would give him store-bought magic tricks for his birthday or Christmas and he would try them out, laugh a couple of times, then set them aside. He preferred those he made himself.


Sometime in the 1950s Doyle’s wife’s cousin, Tilford Barton, came to visit Frances and Doyle from his home in Oklahoma. Apparently, Til and Doyle were kindred spirits for Til brought with him his own favorite tricks and one of them was a “Hooey Stick”. (Other names for this Appalachian folk toy are Whimmydiddle, Gee Haa (horse commands for left and right), and Truth Stick.) This is a little wooden folk toy that is a simple round stick about five inches long, 1/8” diameter, with notches carved along the length of it with a small piece of wood nailed onto one end to create a sort-of helicopter blade or propeller. Holding the hooey stick in one hand and in the other a popsicle stick Til could make the propeller spin by rubbing that popsicle stick along the notches. The magic came in when Til could make the propeller spin clockwise then stop and spin counterclockwise at will.


Doyle was smitten. He loved that Hooey Stick and soon he was carving them by the dozens and collecting popsicle sticks to go with them. He kept several in his overall pockets, year 'round. And he added his “gift of gab” to his presentation in this way. If he met a family with a shy child he might show them the hooey stick and ask a few questions, such as “Hooey, if this little girl has blonde hair, spin to the left” and that’s what Hooey did. And the girl and her parents were impressed. The next question might be “Hooey, if Susie is wearing white shoes, spin to the right” and immediately without any seeming change in what Doyle was doing, the little blade spun to the right. And then he would say, “Hooey, if this little girl likes boys, spin to the left again”, and, of course, Hooey spun to the left. And that brought on the laughter, giggles and denials. Usually, Doyle would end up selling a Hooey stick to the parents for one dollar, but he didn’t explain just how to get Hooey to change directions. They had to try to figure that out themselves. With no internet, no Google, and no YouTube, those Hooey Sticks were probably tossed away after some frustrating attempts. Rather than explain the magic, I am inserting a YouTube link.

Doyle suffered a stroke when he was in his seventies. We received a phone call that he had been taken to the hospital. Bob and I didn’t know what to expect when we got there, didn’t know if his dad would be paralyzed or not, didn’t have any idea of the severity. When we walked into his room Doyle was perched on the corner of his hospital bed in that little gown that tied in the back, a nurse standing in front of him while he said, “Now Hooey…..”

Doyle created his own Hooey Stick style using multi-branched weeds, like tumbleweeds, which he carved with notches and nailed on the spinning pieces so that he could tell Hooey to spin two or three propellers one way while the other two or three spun the other direction. Over the forty-some years Doyle made and sold his Hooey sticks he took in hundreds of dollars selling them for one dollar each and somewhere along the way increased his price to two dollars.


A couple of weeks ago Doyle’s first cousin once removed, Liz Buness, visited us for the very first time. In telling her about her cousin Doyle we got out a few Hooey Sticks and demonstrated their magic, sending her home with her own. Doyle was an interesting man and we could have spent hours telling Liz about his life, but it seemed fitting to introduce her to Hooey Sticks and let her associate her cousin Doyle with his
Hooey magic.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Doyle John Russell (1965 - 2022) Forever Fifty-Seven

Doyle John Russell has died unexpectedly at age fifty-seven in Massachusetts. He was recently diagnosed with cancer and it overwhelmed him, took his life, leaving us, his family, reeling in shock and disbelief. I didn't know him well, but I loved him, that quiet boy with soulful eyes. He was my husband Robert Doyle Russell's nephew, son of Kenneth C. Russell, grandson of Doyle James Russell and his wife Frances Smith Russell. And he was a cousin to our son, Patrick John Russell, with whom he shared a love of music. They both played in bands and undoubtedly shared an interest in some of the same genres. And now he's gone.

Doyle and his older brother David often visited their grandparents in Colorado, and by often I mean about every other year. Kenneth lived in Massachusetts with his sons and we never did visit them there so my memories of Doyle are about those visits he made to Colorado when he was a child. Our photographs include a few his dad mailed to Colorado relatives as Doyle became a teenager, pursued his interest in music (he played base guitar), married and became a dad. An intellectual soul with a keen wit and shy smile, Doyle metaphorically "played rhythm guitar" behind his more boisterous, needy brother, but now he is the "lead singer in his band". If I can paraphrase The Righteous Brothers here, "If there's a rock 'n' roll Heaven, Doyle John Russell has just joined the Band".

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Coatney Family

Terri Mullens Coatney is my cousin, daughter of my mother's younger sister Barbara Nadean Smith Mullens. Terri recently sent me a link to a story about coal mines and miners and that led to a discussion about her in-laws, the Coatney family. 

Chris Coatney, Terri's husband, had an older brother, Douglas, who enjoyed genealogy, as do I. I found his family tree on, a well done compilation of vital records and family photographs. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2019 and Terri's and Chris's immediate families do not have access to that family tree so we decided a blog post with some family history might give ready access to the family. I like the way Terri told me their story, so here are her words.

"They came from Missouri. I had said Kentucky, I checked with Chris and remembered as soon as he told me, Missouri. Ok, Jimmy was Chris's dad, Chick was Jim's dad. Chris said his gr-granddad's name was James R. Coatney (Chick's dad). Chris actually knew him. Beyond that...he's not sure. 
James Leroy "Jim" Coatney is who moved the family to Washington, Daviess County, Indiana, in the 1920's. He had worked for the railroad in Monett, Barry County, Missouri, and when he first came to Indiana he opened a little mom and pop hamburger stand in an old piano box, lol! He would lift up the hinged "window" and customers would just walk up and order. This, of course, was before fast food places even existed. He was known as "Hamburger Jim" and that's what he called his business. Just selling hamburgers that were a secret recipe. He had lots of Catholic folks as customers. Back then, they always ate fish on Friday, so he started selling fish sandwiches, but only on Friday. They also were a secret family recipe. His business boomed like crazy. Originally across from a "parachute factory" over in Washington, pretty soon he moved the business to a little brick building on the highway there. 

His son Chick was in business with him. He bought a house next door so he could keep an eye on the business. As he got older Chick took over the operation.

Then Jim, Chris's dad, worked with his dad from the time he was old enough to help. It was Jim who eventually went out on his own and moved his family to Vincennes and opened up a place calling it Jim's Hot Fish. Chick continued the place in Washington for years.

As Chris grew up, he also worked in the fish stand. People loved the fish so much at Washington they started making them everyday. People would stand all the way around the block waiting to get their sandwiches! Jim did just as well in Vincennes. Eventually Chris and I took over the business. After many years we finally closed it. We still have people bugging us to open back up, lol!"
Thanks to the efforts of Doug Coatney, there are some really good family photo on his account and I'm including them here. You all, Coatney family, will know who they are better than I. 

Oh, yes, I've only talked of the Coatney men and the businesses they ran but we all know that there were Coatney women, too, who, no doubt, played a large roll in parenting and in the success of the businesses. James Arthur "Jimmy" Coatney was born 10 Sep 1932 in Washington, Indiana, and passed away 23 Jan of 2000. His wife Nancy Caroline Shake, born 4 Nov 1936, passed away in December of 1985 in Vincennes. I believe they had three children.
Jimmy's dad, Charles Richard "Chick" Coatney, was born 15 July 1912 at Monett, Barry, Missouri. He passed away 5 Mar 1977 in Washington, Indiana. His wife Hilda Marie McCord was born 17 Jan 1913 at Washington, Indiana and passed away there on 14 Oct 1982. I believe they had four children.
Chick's father, James Leroy "Jim" Coatney was born 16 Jan 1893 at Monett, Barry, Missouri and passed away 16 Mar 1964 at Washington, Indiana. His wife Della Talitha McKown was born 21 Jun 1894 at Mountain Grove, Wright, Missouri and passed away 3 Jul 1971 at Washington, Indiana. I believe they had five children.
James Leroy "Jim" Coatney's father was James Calvin Coatney born 24 Jun 1863 (during the Civil War) in Barry County, Missouri, and passed away 18 Jun 1940 in that same County. His wife Mary Meheen was born 6 Apr 1866 in Canada. She passed away 28 Jan 1913 at Monett, Barry, Missouri. I believe they had two childen.

The Coatney family came up to Missouri from Virginia and Tennessee in the early 1800s. One was in the Civil War for the North. Another worked for the railroad for many years. Several had their own businesses. The 1920 census shows that James Leroy Coatney was a car repairer and ten years later he owned a restaurant. Terri and I were wondering if any of the men ever worked in a coal mine. So far I have not found evidence of that but when times get tough men do what they have to do so I wouldn't rule that out.

We owe a debt of graditude to Douglas Gordon Coatney (1955-2019) for the good work he did gathering his family's history together and sharing it with the world on his Ancestry account. 

I will continue to research this family and when I get enough new information to make a second blog post interesting, I will post it here.