Have Drill, Will Travel



Before Zane Grey began creating legends of the American West, he was a hard-throwing Penn dental student named Pearl. By Samuel Hughes

Consider the plight of our fictional hero, Ken Ward, a freshman at an Eastern university suspiciously similar to Penn in the 1890s:

He has already started a near-riot for refusing to give up his seat in a lecture hall to a sophomore. Worse, the sophomore he slugged to start the melee turned out to be not only class president but captain of the varsity baseball team, which Ward had been hoping to join.

Now he is a marked man, and on a cold winter afternoon, he hurries from class and finds himself face-to-face with a tall, bronze-haired sophomore.

“Boys, here’s that slugging Freshie!” yelled the Soph. “We’ve got him now.”

Ward takes off, pursued by a dozen bloodthirsty sophomores. He turns first toward the university’s “magnificent club-house” (a dead ringer for Houston Hall), but finally heads for College Hall—which turns out to be crawling with the enemy.

Ken was heavy and fast on his feet, and with fear lending him wings he made a run through College Hall that would have been a delight to the football coach … He knocked them right and left, and many a surprised Soph he tumbled over.

Fleeing the building, his tormentors hot on his trail, he runs toward a distant avenue and finally clambers up a high, icy stairway that leads up to the sidewalk. Enter Fate, in the form of two boys carrying a bushel basket of potatoes. A “daring inspiration” flashes through our hero’s mind, and he grabs the basket from the boys. What follows sounds like something out of a pulp-fiction Western, transplanted to an Eastern university:

The bronze-headed Soph was half-way up the steps. His followers, twelve or more, were climbing after him. Then a line of others stretched all the way to College Hall.

With a grim certainty of his mastery of the situation Ken threw a huge potato at his leading pursuer. Fair and square on the bronze head it struck with a sharp crack. Like a tenpin the Soph went down … Deliberately Ken fired the heavy missiles. They struck with sodden thuds against the bodies of the struggling sophomores … Then two more started up abreast. The first Ken hit over the eye with a very small potato, which popped like an explosive bullet and flew into bits … Ken landed on the second fellow in the pit of the stomach with a very large potato. There was a sound as of a suddenly struck bass-drum. The Soph crumpled up over the railing, slid down, and fell among his comrades, effectually blocking the stairway …

“Dodge, you Indian!” yelled Ken, as he threw. And seldom it was that dodging was of any use.

—From The Young Pitcher, by Zane Grey D1896 Hon’17.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/27/04

Dentist of the Purple Sage
By Samuel Hughes
Illustration by David Hollenbach

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