The Reno Rippers
- Or, the perils of candy store ownership in Claflin, Kansas
There was a small penny candy store on the west side of Main Street in Claflin, Kansas during the early to mid 1950s. Back then Claflin’s population was around 900 souls, and the business district consisted of about two square blocks, not counting the enterprises along Kansas Highway 4 on the south edge of town. The candy store was only about a block and a half from the school, and over lunch hours, kids did a lot of business there. Besides penny candy, you could get ice cream and soft drinks there as well. The store itself was long and narrow with the counter running along the south wall. There were no chairs or tables. You made your purchases and left.
Promptly leaving the candy store with your goods was a smart idea. The proprietor was a grouchy old bastard named Renus Jordan whose face resembled that of Popeye the Sailor Man. He had a foul disposition and continuously barked at his customers, 90% of whom were probably school kids from Claflin’s elementary, junior high and high schools. Since Renus had a monopoly on penny candy sales in Claflin, he figured he could be rude to his customers. Or maybe he just couldn’t help it.
Popeye or Renus Jordan? Take away the pipe and hat and you have Renus.
The conversation during a candy purchase might go something like this:
Renus-“What do you want, kid?”
Kid-“I’m not sure Mr. Jordan. Can I have a minute to decide?”
R-“Make it quick, kid. I have other customers waiting.”
K-“I think I’ll have three Mary Janes, a box of Black Crows, and five candy cigarettes…no, make that three candy cigarettes.”
R-“Make up your mind, kid. I haven’t got all day.”
K-“Three candy cigarettes.”
R-“That’ll be 11 cents plus a penny tax.”
K-“Here’s fifteen cents.”
R-“Here’s your change. Now get the hell out of here.”
This was the treatment most kids who shopped at Renus’ store got. Most of the grade school kids were intimidated by him, but as we proceeded to junior high and high school we decided that we weren’t going to leave Renus’ abuse unanswered. As you know from reading previous TINS tales of Claflin, you don’t screw with the boys from CHS. We would trade barbs with him in a heartbeat, and the more we did it, the madder he got.
My brother Mark, who was a freshman at CHS when I was a senior, and a couple of his buddies devised a planned campaign against Renus. I believe that this happened during my senior year. They formed a club called “The Reno Rippers”. Their mission was to give Renus Jordan as much grief as possible. They even designed and built plywood medallions. They cut about a 3” diameter circle out of quarter inch plywood and drew a caricature of Renus on the front with the words “THE RENO RIPPERS” along the perimeter. On the back of the medallion they glued a penny to symbolize Renus’ ubiquitous “…and a penny tax”. The other members of The Reno Rippers were Paul Kukula (of GOC tower fame) and Jim “Hunk” DeLong, both sophomores at the time, and maybe a few others. Memory fails me.
Their operations against Renus involved wise-assed remarks to his badgering, running into his store and throwing gratuitous insults at him, throwing objects into the store and running away, and just generalized mischief in and around his establishment. One time they bought an ice cream cone, ate it and returned the empty cone with the remark, “Much obliged for the little vase.” Renus went crazy with that one. Jerry Weber, who may or may not have been a Reno Ripper, ran into the store and yelled at Renus…”You ass! You ass! You suck ass!”, and then ran out of the store. This was the kind of tactics they used. To great effect I might add. Renus threw temper tantrums when the Reno Rippers struck.
Sometime during my later high school years Renus closed his small store and opened a bigger place a block south on Main Street. Besides candy he now sold weapons, ammunition and fishing gear, and hunting and fishing licenses. This move didn’t foil the Reno Rippers. It just gave them a bigger store in which to spread mischief.
So now you know the story about how the boys of CHS fought back against a foul tempered old bastard who had the candy monopoly in Claflin. Renus deserved every bit of grief he got. Most of us threw the crap right back at him, but it took my brother and his buds to organize and fight a pitched battle against the candy bully. The Reno Rippers will stand along side other great Kansas outlaws such as the Dalton Gang, John Wesley Hardin, Billy Brooks, Henry Newton Brown, and the Doolin Gang. Maybe.
Dirck Praeger sends