Historic ladder finds new home in local store
By TIM MATAS
Special to Reflector-
CHAPMAN – A ladder quite possibly in use here prior to World War II in a hardware-furniture store which was retired a decade or so ago has been pressed into duty again, this time in Abilene, in The Other Jones Store.
“It was here in 1963 when we took over,” reports Jon Londeen, who along with his wife, Kay, operates Londeen’s Hardware store and Funeral Home in this relatively small north-central Kansas town.
Indeed, the ladder probably dates back to the 1930s or before.
Despite it’s limited population, Chapman, it is the home of a 4A school system, geographically one of the largest in the state and there is hardly anyone in a 50-mile radius who has not heard of Londeen’s hardware store or their famous motto: “If we don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.”
Towards the end of the 20th Century while remodeling, John Londeen decided he no longer needed the ladder, which at one time rolled on wheels horizontally along the aisles and at least once had to be reinforced with wires.
Aware that this writer was also a collector of antiques and odd items, Londeen offered the ladder, which was excitedly accepted.
Around that same time, Bob Kooser and his son, Staton, were embarking on a privately owned automobile lubrication and minor mechanical repair business in an historic building in Abilene.
They purchased a West First Street site that in 1886 was the South Side Carraige Works. Indeed, a picture of the employees from that establishment posed outside the structure is prominently displayed inside the Fastrack Lube Pro’s Inc. to this very day.
The building had been expanded over the years both to the west and to the south of the two-story main structure once used as the body shop for a local car dealer.
Bob and Staton set up their operation in the new part of the building with a rest room and a customer waiting room in the older portion. But that left a large room in the original building unoccupied.
It was then that Bob and Staton, along with this writer, gathered their various antiques and collectibles – along with any others they could find over the years and put them on display – with most of them also being offered for sale.
So within a day the Londeen ladder had a new home in an old building. Along with it were kerosene stoves, photos of people such as Frank Sinatra, Will Rogers, John Bulushi, a railroad bridge near Enterprise, sets of tools from the 1930s, a gas range from a home demolished to make room for the Indian Art Museum, leftovers from the body shop and about anything one could imagine including a traveling person bar purchased in 1958 and never used. The museum was not only open to customers but to anyone who wanted to visit. Occasionally an item was sold.
Because of the age of the ladder and its origin it was one of the highlights of Kooser’s museum.
Judy Jones, who was known to the Koosers has been in the antique business in Abilene for years, along with her sisters, Hope Hoffort and Mel Wood. They were always looking for old wooden ladders to resell.
But the third owners of the Londeen ladder did not want it sold to someone who would remove it from Dickinson County.
Recently, however; Judy Jones opened a new store, across the street from her existing antique shop.
The new store once housed yet another historic business, the Royer Clothery, a very popular place during the middle of the 20th Century.
Judy took down the false ceilings to allow the original ornamental metal to be seen and tried to make her new store look like a going establishment from the World War II and Korean War eras.
With that in mind she began a quest for period pieces for the walls and other areas in her new shop. Soon the idea of actually putting the Londeen ladder back into use or at least on display in a store where “it would feel more at home” sprang up.
An agreement with the Koosers regarding items in their museum which are sold is that since they provided the space and took care of building expenses they would receive a 20 percent commission. So, a financial value had to be established. The advice of many was gathered and books were consulted. Eventually Judy Jones came up with a price of $100 – based on the fact the ladder was staying within the county and would not be resold.
So the Koosers were paid their commission and the ladder moved where hopefully, it feels more at home.
The Other Jones Store is loaded with boxes, sporting items and display pieces from the middle part of the 20th Century and some of the items even date back to the 19th Century.
As for the merchandise, it is high quality new and nearly new items of clothing and accessories, many one-of-a kind or nearly unique items. Items range from a leather Harley-Davidson jacket to prom dresses to Husker, Wildcat and Jayhawk watches and rings.
The “loss” of the ladder has not affected Fast Track Lube Pros. Staton and Bob will still change oil, lubricate transmissions, sell and maintain tires and do minor repairs on cars and recreational vehicles.
As for the Londeens, Jon and Kay are now in their 50th year offering hardware items, furniture, appliances and funeral services.
And they still maintain, “If we don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.”
By contrast, The Other Jones Store, not quite so large has the motto, “If you want it we can probably find it for you.”
Judy goes out on hunts, as so do her sisters and other family members. In addition she has people who scout for her.
Judy’s advice for anyone wanting to spend a few interesting hours in the area is to follow the trail of the ladder.