The gentleman, the stranger, seemed to be unusually lucky at the game of craps. The man shaking the pair of Bakelite butterscotch colored dice in his left hand seemed to be able to convince the inanimate objects to perform just as he instructed them to. ”C’mon give me a 7,” he spoke to the dice as he rolled the duo against the wall of the “Fuzzy Duck.” “A seven,” an onlooker and then loser angrily said. “How ‘bout an eleven?” the man whispered to the dice as he again rattled them in his closed hand; “Eleven,” another loser cried out.
Several successful points were made when one of the less fortunate gamblers spoke out. “Say, fella, where you from?” It was obvious to the locals that this stranger was not only extremely lucky, but someone not known to others standing and kneeling about on the service station’s garage floor. “I’m an Okie from Claremore,” the lucky gambler said with pride. Another winning toss of the dice prompted one of the men to grab the pair of dice. “Say, these aren’t our dice.”
One of the others, and one who had lost several dollars, grabbed the dice. After some examination, the man exclaimed, “Mister, you been cheating us poor Missouri boys. These here are loaded dice.” With that, the men gathered around the man from Claremore, relieved him of his winnings and roughly escorted him outside and rudely deposited him into his truck. “And don’t never show your face around here never again,” one man shouted as the truck from Oklahoma drove away.
In 1959 Harmon Landon and friend and mechanic, Frank Boyd believed the time had come to go into business together. There wasn’t much discussion about the type of business or location as those minor details had already been decided. The two would purchase the Rhoten’s Bargain Center.
Harmon knew the owners of the thriving enterprise very well as Orville and Eunice Rhoten were his wife, Margurette’s father and mother. After some discussion regarding the conditions of the sale, Harmon and Frank took over the ownership of the business. The only immediate change considered was an obvious one; what would the new business be called? Well, that decision proved to be an easy one. The new business would be called Landon and Boyd’s Bargain Center.
If one were to leave the small Ozark town of Noel, Missouri and travel south on the old highway 59 two-lane road motorists would pass Bluff Dweller’s Cave, the Red Barn Tavern and just prior to crossing the Missouri-Arkansas state line the motorist would see the Landon-Boyd service station and liquor store.
Three gas pumps, two dispensed regular grade gasoline while the other offered premium, rested in front of the building and rarely was there a time when they were not in use. When customers entered the store the sight of bottles and bottles of various brands of liquor greeted them. If a bottle of beer was more to their liking, several brands were available and the store offered for sale something to suit almost everyone’s tastes.
If one was to walk out of the building’s back door and pace off no more than ten short feet the building which housed a garage would be found. Inside the garage, tires were sold and mounted and repairs were made to cars and trucks. A lift raised cars and was used primarily for oil changes. These services, especially tire sales, contributed to the store’s bottom line and every little bit helped. It was the garage area of the business where locals gathered to talk, drink and shoot craps. The garage came to be known as the “Fuzzy Duck.”
Upon entering the garage, some were taken aback by the lack of expected car repair odors. The smell of grease, oil and gasoline was replaced by the odors of cigar and cigarette smoke. If one got near enough to the wood-burning potbelly stove and the cast iron pot resting atop it the subtle fragrance of stew could be detected; a mixture that seemed to change as passers-by dropped chunks of meat and vegetables into the small hot cauldron. Anyone brave enough, and with a strong enough stomach, was welcome to help themselves to the mixture of undescribed origin.
Landon and Boyd’s Bargain Center, at least on the outside, was much like other service station/liquor stores in the area. Customers could buy gasoline, a bottle of whiskey or a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. The rut-filled dirt roads created a constant need for tires and mechanic Frank Boyd was always glad to sell a set of “Double Eagle” tires. The business did, however, offer something unique; games of chance based on a roll of the dice.
Those regular customers with a sporting nature sometimes proposed an alternative to paying for that premium gas fill-up. “Say, Harmon, I’ll try my luck at ‘High Dice;’ double or nothing.” “I’ll take that chance,” Harmon replied. The customer rolled the two cubes; nine was the number of spots shown. Harmon then tossed the dice. “Ten,” Harmon called out. You owe me two times the price of that gas. That’ll be $11.00.” “Seems like I never win,” the man said as he took some wadded up paper bills from the pocket of his overalls.
The garage area, known as the “Fuzzy Duck,” although even to this day nobody knows why, was where the real action took place. It seemed like there were always men gathered there watching as the dice ricocheted off one of the walls. The lucky gamblers left with hundreds, and even thousands of dollars, while those with less luck left with empty pockets.
“Boys, I’m leaving lessen I give you scoundrels all my money. Marshal, there ought to be a law agin shooting dice,” the man said as he looked in the direction of the man wearing the brown wide-brimmed hat. “I say by God there is,” answered Floyd, Noel’s city marshal. “But this here garage ain’t in the city limits of Noel now is it?” When the marshal felt lucky he too could be heard calling for that hard eight as he rolled the pair of spotted dice against the wall.
Not everyone called out a bet on the possibility that the spots on the dice might make a point or even come up seven or eleven. “Five to two odds he doesn’t make his point; I’m giving five to two odds he doesn’t toss a six,” rang out a voice from the corner of the crowd of men. The man from Gravette, Arkansas found a unique way of fleecing the gamblers and at the end of the evening, he usually counted his winnings as he walked to his pick-up.
The man from Arkansas was shrewd and realized that the craps games created many more losers than winners. He did occasionally talk the city marshal into wagering on a game of high dice. The first roller would dare the second man to beat his point, and as for the stakes. Well, the loser had to buy the winner a cold beer.
Those not rolling the dice or betting on the outcome found ways to pass the time. On one occasion a bystander pulled the dangling cord on the overhead light plunging the garage into darkness. The lights were out for no more than a few seconds but when the darkness left, the light brought into view several pistols which had been removed from pockets and waistbands. “Don’t never touch that cord again,” one man said as he returned a pistol to his pocket. “Now, who’s the next shooter?”
Forty years passed, times changed and with those changes the store and garage were sold to Neal Sumers and Mutt Morgan. The crap games ended and the man from Claremore with the loaded dice was never again seen. Margurette passed away some years ago and is buried near her parents in Sulphur Springs’ Butler Creek Cemetery. Frank Boyd, now in the eighty-second year of his life, lives in Jay, Oklahoma. Harmon still lives in the area and if prodded he will tell you the story of the John Deere tractor he once bought following a night’s run of luck at the Fuzzy Duck.