by L.T. Hadley
Mar 08, 2012
In his poem “Lincoln, a Man of the People,” Edwin Markham wrote, “When the Norn Mother saw the whirlwind hour approaching…she made a man to meet the mortal need.” This could be said of many pioneer men and women settlers. They did with vigor what their hands found to do. One man of this order was Paul R. Simms, known as P.R. Many stories and historical accounts of Moore include him and his accomplishments. The remarkable thing about him was that he never considered himself remarkable, just an ordinary man who saw something that needed to be done…and did it.
Before the 1910 fire that devastated the north side of Main Street, P.R. had bought town lots, constructed a wood frame building and opened the town’s first barber shop on the south side of Main. He later rebuilt it into a two-story block building. He had a barber shop/jewelry store in one side and rented out the other side for business and the top floor as rooms for itinerates. When the north side of Main burned, he rebuilt Lester Dyer’s Pharmacy on the south with a fire-resistant building of concrete blocks that he made on the site with a steel frame he invented. There are still several older homes in Moore with foundations of these unique concrete blocks.
P.R. served a term on the town board in 1921 and was the second railroad station-master, after going to Kansas to learn Morse Code. He was also appointed town marshal for a time. In 1931, he resigned to become the town’s first fire chief, a position he held as a volunteer until 1940, when he was placed on partial pay.
He was appointed during this time to house and maintain the city’s primitive fire engine. He kept it at his home on S.W. 1st. During the 1930s, he moved his barber/jewelry shop to West Main with an open bay next to it to house the old chemical fire unit to the joy and delight of all the little boys in town who hung around, hoping there would be a fire so they could see the engine go out. In 1963, a full-time fire department was organized. He retired the old chemical cart several years before and replaced it with a modified Model-T truck equipped with fire-fighting gear. He also retired.
When telephones came to Moore, P.R. worked as a lineman, climbing the poles to bring phone lines into Moore homes. He set up a telephone office in his dining room and his wife, Clara, operated the switchboard. When a fire call came in, P.R. would rush out to fire the shots, grab the fire engine and race to the fire.
No one remembers whether P.R. was a licensed watchmaker or not, but he was a gifted repairman and could fix anything. Most of the time, he was the only barber in town, so was busy. Little girls who were taken for a haircut were treated to Dutch boy bobs, no matter how much they begged, and they usually ended up in tears; but little boys loved the burr haircuts P.R. gave.
As late as 1955, P.R. was still actively building cabinets and room extensions. When he was no longer able to do the strenuous work, he willingly went to give instructions to a homeowner who was attempting some needed carpentry work. Unwilling and unable to be idle, he began to paint. Like everything he did, he was a fairly passable artist.
P.R. Simms was just an ordinary man, doing the same things ordinary men do. His contemporaries probably didn’t consciously think about it, but they sensed there was a man of integrity and honor in their midst, a man who could be depended on to give the last full measure of service.