It seems as though it is sometimes hard to understand why a person has earned a particular nickname. I often find that people of ordinary height are sometimes called “Shorty”. Someone of modest proportions may, for some reason, be referred to as “Pudge”. “Red” may be a nickname for an obvious brunette. But for anyone who knew Noel, Missouri resident Dale Mckim there was only one appropriate nickname, and one which he preferred to be called by; “Speedy”.
As the end of 1983 approached, winter had fully engulfed the quiet town. Many of the small Ozark town’s inhabitants enjoyed the quiet cold winter months as the hordes of summertime tourists who flocked to the banks of the Elk River and set up tents and chairs were nowhere to be seen. However, for Speedy, winter was a season of lessened opportunities for sales as there were fewer potential customers.
Speedy was born in Fairland, Oklahoma but spent most of his life in Noel. At 67 years of age he still deserved his well-earned nickname. Speedy spent most of his time walking at a rapid pace on Main Street as he said “hello” to people he knew, and he knew everyone in town. Speedy’s distinctive walk could be recognized from a block away. That quick stride with a forward leaning posture was unmistakable.
All the merchants knew Speedy and anticipated his almost daily visits. Speedy wanted old, outdated merchandise that might be discarded by the store owners. But the item needed to be small, after all, Speedy’s warehouse was a small bag or the pockets of his pants, his showroom was the sidewalks of Main Street Noel and his clientele was anyone walking by. Some local merchants marveled at his ingenuity and gift of gab, and called Speedy the best salesman they ever knew.
The sidewalk salesman was however considered odd in many ways. He would almost invariably refuse to accept rides in cars and trucks from those he knew. When asked if he wanted a ride he frequently, without breaking stride, replied: “No thanks, I’m in a hurry”. Although it appeared his life was more random than purposeful, Speedy’s mind was always scheming, planning and developing his next business opportunity. Today we hear terms like business model and profit forecasting being bantered about but to Speedy it was just business as usual. He was adroit at pandering candy bars on the sidewalks of Main Street to customers unable to resist his enticing sales pitch.
There was however some concern regarding Speedy’s grasp on reality and his occasional bizarre behavior. He was often seen carrying one, and only one, broken walkie-talkie. He talked into the device, but to whom? The old broken radio obviously was not functioning. When in close enough proximity to hear the one-sided conversation Speedy could be overheard referring to the nonexistent party as “Mr. President”. Speedy would respond to unasked questions by saying; “Yes, Mr. President”. Although this was very strange behavior, the townspeople accepted it with very little apprehension. After all, it was common knowledge that quite a few local residents exhibited odd and quirky behavior.
Speedy lived in a small rental cabin on Mill Street near the banks of Elk River. The cabin’s interior was sparsely decorated with simply a bed and chair. A few dishes and glasses rested near the sink and only a few pieces of kitchen utensils were ever needed. The cabin was merely a nighttime resting place for Speedy. He was, however, fanatical regarding the cleanliness of his home, both inside and out.
His method of cleaning, however, caught the attention of many. Speedy was known to spray water over every inch of the cabin’s interior with the aid of an ordinary garden hose. Although the winter of 1983 had been an exceptionally cold one, Speedy didn’t stray from his cleaning regimen and on a cold January Sunday afternoon, the first day of 1984, cleaning day arrived.
Speedy gathered up the garden hose as he had done many times before but a turn of the faucet produced no water. He turned the handle back and forth several times but still nothing flowed from the hose. He tried the faucet above the kitchen sink, but again, there was no water. But, Speedy was, to say the least, resourceful and it was merely a short walk down to the frozen river where water flowed under the ice.
Speedy, carrying a bucket and wearing his new boots, carefully walked down the icy slope to the frozen river. The air was cold and still and the smoke rising from nearby chimneys spread the scent of wood smoldering in fireplaces throughout the town and along the banks of the river. He cautiously walked across the frozen water to a spot where he could see moving water beneath the ice. Of course that meant the ice was thin there, and it was dangerous so he had to be careful.
As he kicked at the ice to get access to the water below, the smooth soles of the boots slipped and Speedy fell onto and through the ice. He struggled but the water was too cold, and the ice surrounding the break too fragile and slippery to grasp onto. Some children standing on a hill overlooking the river screamed for help as they watched Speedy struggle, then sink into the freezing river. One of the frenzied onlookers ran for help, but when determined rescuers arrived it was too late. The best salesman in Noel, Dale McKim, known to everyone as Speedy, died at 4:45 p.m. on New Year’s Day 1984 and the nickname he so deservedly earned, perished with him.