- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

COLEMAN, Texas (AP) - There’s an old expression that journalism is the first draft of history.

For Ralph Terry, it’s literally true.

The Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/2ky6xoi ) reports Terry, a longtime photographer and Coleman County historian, recently released his latest book, “Looking Backwards Volume 2: History and Photographs of Coleman County, Texas 1940-1980.” It is a companion to his first volume released in 2008.

“What I had planned for that first book was a coffee table book,” Terry said. “There are a lot of bigger pictures with captions. At that time, I couldn’t do a complete history, so to speak.”

That 116-page book features beautiful duotone pictures reproduced from Coleman’s past. Terry had bought the archive of an old local photographer with files going back to 1947, as well as other material to work from.

“This first volume was more of a lifetime fulfillment,” he said. “Whereas the second book covers 1940-1980 and is a sequel, it’s more of a history book because it’s more complete.”

With that archive, as well as photographs people would bring him, Terry used them as a template for building his second book.

“I started doing this from the viewpoint of that I’ve got all these pictures and I’m going to use maybe 500 of them and make a 300-page book with pretty big pictures,” he said.

Unfortunately that idea ran aground on a common problem with old photographs - poor documentation. At least a third of those pictures had no accompanying information. No names, no places, or no description at all.

“So I changed my methodology around and started going through the newspapers,” he said.

Terry said he has in storage hard copies of every issue that can be found produced by both Coleman newspapers. As you might imagine, between that, his historic photography file, and his own personal 43 year-old archive, that’s a lot of stuff.

“I went through all my files, all my pictures and pulled out everything that was not a portrait, and I was able to match the pictures to the newspaper account,” he said.

The project has been five years in the making, with Terry working on it full-time for the last two years.

“From 1900, the newspapers here are our history,” he said. “So in a sense, this is an abstract of the Coleman newspapers from 1940-1980. They went out and gathered the news.”

The Coleman Chronicle & Democrat-Voice has been one newspaper since the 1980s. Terry pens a regular history column for them, some of which he incorporated into his book.

As he compiled the volume, the purpose of it changed somewhat. Terry’s latest work weighs in at a hefty 672 pages, costing $53.29 with tax. The pictures are still there, but Terry traded text blocks for duotones; the images are smaller to allow for more information but there are more of them, too. Terry culled 5,000 images down to 2,800.

If the first volume was a work of visual history, the second is a book of written history.

“To me, it’s more of a memory book,” he explained. “It helps people that lived in this era to remember things.

“Because people’s memories are flawed, there’s very little, if anything, in that book that’s been taken from people’s memories. It was all from published sources.”

That’s not just newspapers, but phone books, city directories, school yearbooks and other printed records.

“I just don’t trust people’s memories,” Terry confessed. “Because a lot of times, you’ve got two people at the same event with two different stories.”

A large index at the back of the book will assist in resolving those diverging stories. But it’s unfair to ask Terry about something he might have researched in the book, there’s over half a million words in there.

“The best way to answer that question is to use the book,” he said, with a laugh. “This is what I tell people when they ask me a specific question. They expect me to fire an answer off the top of my head.”

Still, some do stand out and if you get him talking about one thing, it will spark a memory of another. Like this tidbit about Coleman’s football field.

“Hubbard Field was built in 1936, it was one of the first lighted fields in this part of Texas,” Terry said. “The school owned the land and said, ‘We’ll build it here and you rodeo association people, if y’all build the bleachers, we’ll share it.’”

Theoretically, it seemed like a good idea, but not for everyone.

“That was fine until about 1946 or ‘47 when Bob Russ was the high school football coach here,” Terry recalled. “He said, ‘You rodeo people have to get off our field because you’re tearing it up, you’re causing the kids to get hurt stepping in ruts.’”

After that, the rodeo moved south to where it is today.

Then there is the story of Minnie Flippen. She went north to learn how to fly at an air school, bought an airplane, and then flew it back to Coleman.

Or the story of the drive-in theater that showed XXX-rated movies until it was shut down in 1979. Terry said storms had already battered one of the wing-like supporting walls that came off the screen, knocking that part down.

“You’d think it was divine intervention, or something,” he said with a chuckle.

Terry said this will likely be the last history book of this type from him. If he ever does another, it will feature more personal work from his life as a photographer.

“My goal has always been to share information with people out there, you never know what people need,” he said. “You put as much as you can out there, so maybe it’ll help a small percentage of them find what they’re looking for.”


Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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