An Ode to My 92nd Birthday and Episodes
of My Marvelous Life in the VPI Corps of Cadets.

by Carroll M. Shuler, Class of 1928


As I arrived at my 92nd. birthday, I find that I am not dreaming of great plans to be accomplished, nor do I expect the year ahead to be better than the last, when we know that the Ball and Chain of old age has been welded in place by Father Time, however, we give thanks that our accomplishments over the years have been on the positive side.

First I have my parents to thank for my wonderful boyhood days. We lived in a small industrial city in Ohio, known as Coshocton, and my father was an Electrical Engineer, in charge of the big electrical plant. Another important item to me was that our next door neighbor was Judge Glenn with his large family; one son James was my age, and we were like twins, always together.

At age eleven years and three months, the above good life came to a sudden end. The Chio Power Co. had closed the electric plant and converted to a transformer station. My father was offered better paying positions, but he decided to return to Stanley, Va. to take care of his mother and father. The move put me in the sixth grade, in what was known as the Stanley High School. My high school education was almost a total disaster, however, in my senior year, I decided that I should go to an engineering college. After lots of talk, VPI came out on top, so I sent for a catalog. I found that a Stanley High School Diploma would not admit me, so with a number of friends and quick work, I entered the Luray High School for a short time, but time enough to receive their Diploma which was accredited.

Having never been away from home by myself, I started to think, and I saw myself as a Babe-in-the-Woods. Suddenly big posters appeared on the walls of our US Postoffice, saying in big letters CMTC Citizen Military Training Corps. It was for one month with all expenses paid. This was my chance to break away from home and be trained to be a smart RAT at VPI. I decided on Fort Belvoir, and to put icing on the cake, our Company Commander was (1922) Captain Lucius D. Clay, who later became one of our outstanding Generals. In between drill practice and other army engineer training, Captain Clay would bring us together under the shade of a big tree, have us seated on the ground, and talk to this group of young boys. He tried to inspire us to make something of our lives. HE noted that we had volunteered and we should have genuine interest in improving ourselves and not consider this month as a big picnic. To me it was one wonderful month, and I was ready to start my trip to VPI, I was ready to start marching with the Corps of Cadets.

A few weeks after returning from Fort Belvior, I boarded the Norfolk & Western passenger train for Christiansburg, and then a transfer to the Huckleberry, for the short run to Blacksburg. We arrived at 9:00pm., and it was dark as a black cat. The few people that were on the train, disappeared into the night. As I walked down the station walkway with my one little suitcase, there was a tall man standing near the station door. He came to me and said, have you ever been here before, and I said no. I told him that I would be in the freshman class, and I said I do not know which way to go from here. He said we live near the station and have a bed that you can use tonight. They gave me a late lunch and a good breakfast after an excellent nights rest. They also told me where to go to get registered and assigned to my room. As I walked to the college campus, I thought, how lucky can you get. After many more experiences in my life, I decided I should not use the work luck, but say, thank you my Lord.

As I arrived on campus, I found that I should avoid the Barracks area. The first thing I heard was, RAT help me carry this trunk up to the third floor, so after that job was done, I said to myself, RAT, get yourself out of this area till meal time. I was assigned to a fourth floor room, E division, F company, and there I met my two roommates, Willis Corbell and Arthur Fairer, both from Norfolk, Va. Arthur had just completed four years at Augusta Military Academy, and Arthur thought he had everything going his way, but in his second year he flunked out and was not able to get back in.

I was a complete stranger in Blacksburg. September 1922 did not provide a single student from Page County for me to talk with. When the first Sunday arrived, I marched to the Baptist Church with that group. After church it was time for lunch at Pop Owen's dining hall, and as I returned to my room on the fourth floor of "F" Company, a Junior on the second floor stopped me and handed me a duffel bag, and said, Rat, go to the College Orchard and bring back a bushel of apples. It was a day with bright sunshine, and as I wandered around in the orchard that had been picked clean, I became homesick. I had thoughts about packing up and heading to Stanley. This was my first and last time of ever being homesick. I found six or eight apples, and as I returned to my room, I found the door open where I had received the duffel bag, and no one was present, so I pitched the bag on a bed, and disappeared to my room. The Junior had failed to ask my name, however, when Retreat Formation time arrived, here he was in formation, he walked by all the Rats, but failed to recognize me. I looked him right in the eye as he went by. After that every time I saw him, I thought about those six apples.

To me our freshman year was super interesting. I soon found my self at home with the RAT System and then it was interesting to see the things happen. There was a RAT by the name of Sam S. Obenshain in "F" Company. The Sophomores learned he was farm boy, so of an evening after supper they would have Sam call the cows, and he could do a good job, but after first exams, the word got out that Sam had the highest grades in the entire freshman class. What a change that made, no more Cow Calling for Sam. They could not face Mr. Steinmetz.

There was another custom that all freshman were involved in, however, the class of '26 was the last to be involved. Each Saturday night until Christmas vacation time, and near midnight, a stick of dynamite would explode some where near the barracks, which was a signal to the Sophomores to start visiting all Freshman in their beds and rub lampblack all over their face, and a short time later they would return to dump us out of our beds. I was soon able to land on the floor on all fours, like a cat. The next morning we found the hot water shut off the showers, and we marched to the mess hall with black faces. On return to the quadrangle, we found our class numeral (26) painted on the side walk, and we had to get it off before we were free to take a shower.

To back up and look at the important side of VPI, and my thinking has not changed in all these years. I saw 1000 good looking men who were dressed in the Blue and Grey, with the only difference being in size and shape. I was impressed by the Democratic atmosphere that prevailed during all that time I spent at VPI, I had the pleasure of associating with many that became the important men in future years. The table in the dining room that I was assigned to my RAT year had three seniors who were very interesting men. They were Harvey W. Anderson, Marvin Cawley and Pete Waldrop. The always made the meal time interesting for RAT Shuler.

The YMCA furnished a Movie to entertain the Corps of Cadets each Tuesday night immediately after the evening meal. The large auditorium was upstairs over the Owens dining hall. It was a stampede at that big stairway. I can not remember exactly how the seating was arranged, but there was enough seats for the entire Corps. This was in the days of silent movies. The Collegians, Cadet Orchestra, furnished music before the show started and during each changing of the reels. You would have to be present to appreciate the Corps reaction to one and all the shows that were presented. The lower the rating, the more fun they had making comments and wisecracks out loud enough for all to hear. They were especially good with Love Scenes. This was another small item in the good life at VPI.

"Pop" Owens, a big fat Irishman, headed the food services during all my days at Tech, and it is my opinion that he did an excellent job furnishing good meals for the 1000 cadets. He used students as waiters, which furnished good part-time jobs. HE had so many applications, you were lucky to work during one term per session. I was able to work during one term my junior year and one term my senior year. It was interesting and a good experience. I remember one evening when we had everything ready and most of us went out front to watch the corps march in. "Pop" made the remark that he would like to have a family like that. A cadet near me said "Pop" why would you want such a large family. His answer was, "think of the fun I would have getting them." All that heard him, let out a big laugh.

I had heard a lot of talking about the Annual Snow Battle. I do not know what year was its beginning nor do I know when it ended, all I know is that I should not have been there. When the first big snow arrived, it happened. All the Sophomores were in one long line on the drill field, and opposite was the long line of Freshmen. After waiting a short time, the command to charge was given. Snow balls were flying and then body contact. I was met by a cadet that flipped me in the air like a rag doll. He was a big member of the Wrestling Team, as I found out later. He then smothered me in the snow. When he let me go, he tackled another RAT. I decided it was time for me to run for the Quadrangle. You can see a picture of the deal in the 1923 Bugle, page 395.

To finish out the year, I want to tell of the night that the Sophomore Banquet was held. We RATS had to leave Town, so it was decided that all would walk to the closed but historic Yellow Sulphur Springs. No arrangements had been made for our comfort. A cold night in the Sahara Desert would have been as comfortable, however, I think we all had a big time and a night to be remembered. I noticed a place where people had been carving their names, so I proceeded to carve my name with the date and address, and for the first time, seventy two years later, I have been told by two separate parties, that they visited Yellow Sulphur Springs and saw my name carved there.

On our return to the Quadrangle, there was an amazing sight for us to behold. A large size farm wagon was on top of Building No. 1. The Class of '25 was being educated as engineers real fast.

I missed out on life as a Sophomore by working with my father in his Machine Shop for a few months, and then I attended William & Mary for two terms. Then a full Summer School at VPI put me in position to be in the Junior Class. Sam Obenshain also worked as a Mail Carrier the year after being a Freshman, and we were able to be room mates for our Senior Year. I had been able to shake off most of my ill-preparedness for college and with an early promotion to sergeant, I was encouraged to work harder to secure a degree. The ROTC department was interesting, and I looked forward to my return to Fort Belvior.

Our six weeks at Belvior gave us many unusual circumstances. After several weeks at the ROTC camp, and early one morning, we received word that the day would be spent at the Pistol Range, about a mile from out barracks, and that we would march to and from it. We were lined up outside the barracks when a truck arrived with all the paraphernalia we needed for the day. The first thing they did was to issue the Colt 45's with belt and holster, and without loaded magazines. In short time we were at the Range. It seemed to be the ideal place as it had a hill three fourths of the way around the firing area. It had many types of moving targets.

The army officers lined us in a line facing the targets, and issued us the loaded magazines, but said, do not load the pistol until told to do so. They used plenty of time explaining all the features of the Colt automatic and why the army had selected it. Then they told us that stationary targets would be the first part of the training. The order to load the gun and lock it, was given with instructions to keep the gun pointed straight ahead at all times when not firing. The officer was still talking when BANG went one of the guns. A cadet had shot himself in the foot. I was glad he was not a VPI cadet. For a while I thought all of us would be sent back to our barracks, however, it was the end of our trouble at the Range.

I had lots of fun the several days we were firing pistols, and I came away with an Expert Pistol Medal, which I wore on my uniform at TECH all my Senior Year. The year after graduation, my pistol shooting was still sharp. There was an uninvited squirrel that was chewing on items in my father's machine shop. In the shop there was a loaded German Lugar which I went for, and as I came out the door, the gasoline delivery truck arrived. The driver said what are you doing with that gun? about to shoot a pesky critter, so I took aim and bang, the squirrel fell at his feet. He told people in Luray that Harry Shuler's boy could go squirrel hunting with a pistol. That was the last time I fired a gun of any type in my life.

I won only one athletic contest in my life, and that was at Belvoir. One Saturday a number of athletic events were scheduled, and I signed up for the Obstacle Race, and I won first place for VPI. I shall never understand how I did it, for there was a dozen big University ROTC units there. This was a big help to my ego. When the starter gun signaled, I felt free as a deer to run and jump. The last item was a 12 foot high wall to get over. There was a few ropes, three to four feet long, hanging over the wall, and one jump with hand over hand on the rope brought me to the top of the wall. I remember looking back from the top, and I saw that I had a big lead. I hit the ground on the run to the finish line. The next problem was getting my breath back to normal.

There was two ROTC Units that mixed and had fun together, VPI and VMI. Some of the students from other Universities called the Hell Raisers, and living up to our title, we almost got ourselves in the Brig. One day we were on a maneuver where we had to penetrate a smoke screen that was established by regular troops. We were able to snuff out some of the smoke canisters and bring them back to the barracks. One night near the end of our ROTC training, we organized to smoke out Harvard, Yale and John Hopkins. At 2:00am, we planted the ignited canister in their barracks and vanished like a thief in the night. That put an end to peace and quiet for that night. I well remembered standing at attention by my bed while officers made a search for evidence. We were glad that all the evidence had gone up in smoke.

The final episode at Belvior was unusual. We marched from Belvior to Woodbridge to camp out over night. All necessary field equipment came with us, and we encamped on the property of a retired army Colonel, who lived on a low hill facing our parade grounds. As I recall, his home was five to six hundred yards to the west of us, and he came out on his porch to watch our ceremony. All was set and the signal was given to fire the cannon. How a live shell got in that cannon was never determined. As good fortune was with us, the projectile missed the Colonel and his home, but landed in his garden and exploded close to the house. What an embarrassing situation for the Belvior Officers. It required a lot of apologizing. Thus the six weeks of ROTC training came to an end.

It was at Belvior that new friendships were established. It is no trouble to remember three VPI men that gave me real pleasure to have close contact with. They are Conan W. Vaughan, Jr., VE "Buck" Miles, and Giles Sydnor. On week-ends Conan Vaughan and I went sightseeing together. We covered the area.

Professor William Henry Rasche, known for many years as Bosco. VPI 1896-1898 and MIT 1899-1900. Professor of Mechanism and Descriptive Geometry. Publisher of Text Books on both subjects.

As an Engineering Freshman, I was assigned to Bosco's class on Engineering Drawing. I had heard many stories on how rough and tough he was, but he seemed to like me and I liked him, so there was no problem. Each day he would say in no uncertain words, the order in which to make a drawing, "Pencil the sketch, put on the dimensions, and last, do the cross sectioning." One day, before he appearing in class, a short freshman by the name of Pat Williams from Winchester, VA jumped on top of a table and proceeded to mock Bosco on his routine about how to make a drawing. Just at that moment Bosco appearing in the door, but he stopped till Pat was through with his tirade, and then he came in with a big grin on his face. He looked the class over and then said, "Do I sound like that?"

Bosco's Sophomore Descriptive Geometry course was one of the best, but difficult to pass. There was only two of us in the 1922 graduating class of Stanley High School, and in September of 1924 I was persuaded by the other member to go to William & Mary and room with him. Several days after arriving at W&M. I realized I should return to VPI, however I stayed two terms. That year W&M had the Term system, the same as VPI. I was able to select all courses that would give me credit at Tech, and Descriptive Geometry was one of them. I was able to solve all the problems and go beyond the assignment by making models of the problem with cardboard and strings. This was a new idea to the Professor and he liked it very much. The result was a grade of 99 on the course. When I arrived back at Tech I knew I would have to face Bosco with my report card, so after thinking it over I decided to change the figure to 90. When Bosco looked at the card, he then took a long look at me and said, "You think you are real good." I said, my record here at Tech does not say that, and I walked away. That was the last time I had any connection with Professor Rasche.

I liked the story he told about his trip back to MIT. He had been teaching Kinematics at Tech for a long time and he used the textbook he had written. He decided it would be a good idea to see what was new in teaching the subject, so he returned to MIT. On his first day to the class he was the first on there, which gave him the opportunity to talk with the professor, and his first question was, what textbook are you using? The answer was: a book written by a Professor Rasche, who teaches at a small college down in Virginia. Without saying a word, Bosco walked out and was on his way back to the small college in VA. I wonder if Professor Rasche was appreciated at Tech as he should have been. The only professor without a degree. With his outstanding ability, I think VPI should have conferred a degree while he was an active teacher.

On returning to VPI, for my Senior year, there was two items that pleased me very much. First, Sam Obenshain and I became room mates, and second, I was commissioned a Lieutenant for "F" Company. It was a pleasure to wear a Senior Cape, and time flew by without any difficulties. The Obenshain friendship has stood the test of time and is alive to this day. Sam is one year younger than I am. After receiving his Doctor's Degree from Ames Iowa, he returned to VPI to become Head of the Agronomy Department, and also a big land owner on Prices Fork Road.

My first employment was Commandant of Cadets at the Charlotte Hall Military Academy, Charlotte Hall, Maryland. I was married on the 24th of July 1929, which was just after the session at Charlotte Hall, and on the 22nd. of August 1929, I started on a Mechanical Engineering position for the Federal Government. Thirty one years at the US Naval Research Laboratory, I retired, and from then till now, there has never been a dull moment.

I attended fifty five Home-comings and all of the Old Guard Reunions except the last two. I am thankful that I missed one that had the Flood in the Donaldson Brown Hotel.

To close, I wish to say that VPI-VA TECH was an important part in my Charmed Life of CH92 years. "As Lawrence Welk said in his Wonderful Autobiography, God has had His arms about him, in all his trials and accomplishments", and I can say this is true for me.

I am sorry that I have not been able to contribute a large amount to the University as my friends have. My wife and I have rebuilt four Landmark Churches and what is left goes to the children, however, I did contribute to the Century Club for sixteen years and also the Hokie Club. Also my cousin Charles W. Rector built and contributed to the Rector Field House.

The Last Episode of My Student Days at VPI - VA Tech

In June 1927, I lacked two credits of graduating at Va Tech, with a BS Degree in Engineering so I stayed for the first term of summer school to get the two credits. With this accomplished, I was ready to return to Stanley VA, which had been home base since July 1914. The distance was just under 200 miles to the north. I was all set to get on the Norfolk and Western Passenger Train for Stanley, when two student friends from Charlottesville, VA persuaded me to ride with them in their Collegiate Model "T" Ford to Waynesboro and take the train from there, which was about half way to Stanley. The Model "T" was a blaze of colors and there was no windshield or top. Back of the front seat they had it packed with suit-cases standing on end, but there was room for me to get my feet and legs in and sit down. I had a hat and rain-coat which protected me from the wind. I soon found that this stripped-down Tin Lizzie could get going like a Greyhound.

When we arrived in Lexington, VA, the left front wheel bearings went out, but just as this happened, we were passing an auto parts store. It seemed strange that they were open at 2:00 am. When we left VA TECH, the boys did not tell me that they expected to stop at several places along the way. I went to the auto parts store and they had the parts we needed, and in thirty minutes we were on our way. The next trouble was a heavy fog that had developed over that part of the State. I was able to get on my back and cover with my raincoat. I was sound asleep in a very few minutes, having no apprehension of what was soon to happen. We were half way between Staunton and Waynesboro, and running at top speed for that Model " T ", disregarding the dense fog. I was told later that the driver saw an object moving in our direction and on our side of the highway. He steered as far right as possible, but lacked a few inches of having enough room to pass. On contact, that Model " T " leaped into the air and came down bottom up. It landed perpendicular to the highway and with the back of the body against a strong wire fence. The suit-cases standing on end, held me on the seat while flying through the air, otherwise I would have been forced against the back of the front seat. I found myself in this rude awakening, flat on my back in the side-ditch, however, I say that the Lord had provided a cushion for me, the ditch at this point only, was filled beautiful white sand, and I left an imprint of my body, more than six inches deep. Not a scratch or broken bone. I was halfway under the car, but I had several inches clearance where the door crossed my body. Another strange part of this is that being sound asleep and on my back, it seems that I should have landed face down, but on my back was much better. I was able to wiggle in the sand and extricate myself and stand up to see a number of people looking on, however, before I got off my back, I heard the up front boys say, "My Lord, what has happened to Shuler." I replied, I am OK, but I should have said, Praise the Lord, we are alive! I ran out and asked for help to raise the side of the car to free the two others. They were banged up, but able to walk away. The Sheriff arrived just after we were on our feet. He said, I cannot believe what I see. In a wreck like this, I would expect to see three dead people. Where the car had wheels, only the hubs were left. The wooden spokes and rims with tires on them were all over the area.

The other car that was involved, was a four door sedan, also a Model " T ". The impact had driven it to the other side of the highway, knocking out most all the glass. A man and woman that were too old to be driving in that fog, were in the car, and the woman received a severe cut on here right arm. She was rushed to the Staunton Hospital.

I found my suitcase about thirty five feet down the side ditch, which was deep and rocky. The suit-case never looked the same after that ruff treatment. I did not see any sand below the spot where I landed, when I was looking for my suit-case. The Lord can provide, and has done so for my ninety two years.

I was able to hitch-hike a ride to Waynesboro, and they delivered me to the railroad station. As I purchased my ticket to Stanley, I started shaking like I had the Palsy. I started into a shock condition, so I decided to walk on a path along the railroad tracks. It was evidently the proper thing to do, and in fifteen to twenty minutes I was over the shock spell, which was a few minutes before train time. I do not remember of ever telling my father or mother about this Model " T " ride that could have been my last. If you read your Bible, you will not that the Lord's watchcare is spoken of many times, and it can be present for you and I.

--Carroll R. Shuler, April 23, 1995


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