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Mockingbird Hill History

The Vernon Family




S. A. Vernon, farmer, is "mechanical minded." He can build anything from an old-fashoned "what-not" to a well drill. Proof of this is found on his farm ten miles east of Tuscola, on the rim of Jim Ned valley. There protected from winter winds by hill-mountains, his modest home is surrounded by beautiful shade trees.  On the east is a peach orchard loaded with fruit, while in front of the house, 160 young pecan trees landscape the sloping ground to the west.  Timber land cover a portion of his farm whle fertile soil in cultivation makes up the remainder.

But the diversification of his farm his cattle, horses, goats, turkeys, chickens, sorghum mill, garden and honey bees --- none of these holds Mr. Vernon's chief interest. That goes to his blacksmith shop. Here, during spare time he is usually found, studying some new mechanical device, or "fumbling" amidst the ten tons of scrap iron outside his shop for new material with which to build things.

  "Back in Humbolt, Tennessee, where I came from, " Mr. Vernon said, "practically all my people were skilled in the use of tools. I have three sons, Joseph, Roy and Guy, and they are interested in mechanics.  I guess it just runs in the family." "Home-Made" Machines

  The Vernon workshop would do justice to a good-sized town. Most of its equipment, made by the owner, is power-equipped. Outstanding among these are three machines al "home-made" affairs.

The first is a battery re-charger. The builders used an old Ford car to advantage in this construction. At first glance one notices the magneto coils and the tell-tale switchboard. Rather complicated, however, it sounds simple enough while Mr. Vernon is explaining the mechanism.  The native Tennessean expounded his theories in a mechanism convincing scholarly manner.

  He showed where it was connected to a gasoline engine and said it recharged the many batteries used on his farm. In the bus land-breaking season, batteries are used on the tractor for night plowing, for the threshing, on his trucks, the, radio and for other purposes.

  But perhaps the most valuable machine in the shop is a lathe "turn" iron.  Its material was also gathered from various scrap-heaps about the place. The purpose of this machine, it was explained, was to condition iron into any desired shape or size. For instance, a solid piece of iron is "turned" into a hollow pipe, then ground down to an "nth degree." It is also used for turning pulleys, shafts, and crank-shafts.

The lathe consists of parts from a discarded steam engine and an ol binder.  Visible also was a Model T Ford flywheel and the transmission from an automobile. Contributing to the construction was a Fordson

tractor, a cultivator and a sewing machine. The lathe proper has an 18-inch awing and is capable of accommodating a four-foot shaft.

  An "invention" by the Vernon boys was a press. A simple-looking device of 2 big gas pipes and a temper screw, it is capable of applying a four-ton pressure. Its chief purpose is removing "frozen" shafts on pulleys and stubborn set screws.

The Well Drill 100

  As he left the blacksmith shop, Mr. Vernon pointed to a machine which resembled a miniature oil well. "Here is a machine the boys and I made." he said. "It is a well drill and we are drilling our third well here and are now down to better than 150 feet. Over there are two other wells with windmills. I use them to irrigate the garden and orchard. This well here will be used to irrigate the peach orchard.  have 160 new trees.  I figure we'll strike water at 175 feet for that is the depths of the other wells.

  The well drill, explained the maker, was capable of penetrating a depth of 500 feet or more. Hard rock formation does not hinder drilling operations. 

  Mr. Vernon explained, "The drill is mounted on wheels which came of a traction steam engine. But the bed sills are made from oak logs raised here on my place. The 20-foot derrick is of railroad ties." The only substitution from a regulation well drill was the cable drum. The cable gears, clutch and shaft originally belonged to a gasoline tractor.

  A worn-out steam engine and a thresher separator donated parts for the remainder of the drill with the exception of the counter-shaft, for which two Fordson tractor crankshafts bolted together serve. The drill is powered by a huge steam engine.




  Mechanics, however, is not the only thing that the Vernon’s are interested in. As taxidermists, they are rather successful. In their collection isa rattlesnake and an armadillo. Both were mounted 20 years ago and are in a good state of preservation. The snake, when killed, measured 6 feet 2 and 1-2 inches, 11 inches in cercumference, and 6 1-2 inches around the head and had 14 rattlers. Some had been broken off.

Among the "keepsakes" in the Vernon home is a fruit jar filled with rattlers from snakes killed on the farm. There are rocks of various shape and size, ranging from Indian arrowheads to ancient formations, resembling petrified mesquite beans.

  Decoration the wall of one of the rooms in the home was a collection of guns. Chief among these was a muzzle-loading shotgun and a Winchester purchased in 1882.




  "Here is a gun made by one of my sons." Mr Vernon said. "He took rifle barrel and bored it out. For the stock, he used native walnut, but made the breech-stock from a piece of gas pipe. You can still see the threads. He then joined them together, with hammer and trigger and had, what he calls, a .410 gauge shotgun.'

On the farm is located a log cabin, one of the first, if not the first, constructed in Taylor county. of post-oak logs, it has pole rafers and is typical of the early pioneer home with the exception of the fireplace, which has been removed.

  Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Vernon came to Texas in 1870, but did not establish their present home until Feb. 12, 1912. Mr. Vernon's father, who made his home with his son, died two years ago at the age of 94.

Mr. Vernon's mother also lives there. On her last birthday, she was 96.

"Ramblin Rock-Hound"
Don Brenholtz

  Donald who went by a couple nicknames, “Ramblin’ Rock-hound” or “Donald Duck” was born on March 8, 1931 in Turnersville, Texas to the late Thomas “Severn” Brenholtz and Ollie Irene (Faris) Brenholtz. He moved to Abilene in the early 1950’s. He joined the United States Army 1952 and served until 1954. He was a radar and radio operator and drove heavy equipment. He was stationed stateside and abroad. He was a City Pickup and delivery driver for Merchants Motor Line for 22 years. His love for the great outdoors and nature led him purchasing land in Ovalo that he named the Mockingbird Hill Ranch. He purchased the propery from the Vernon's in 1979.  He was a member of the Central Texas Gem and Mineral Club. He loved traveling collecting Rocks, gems, our and creating beautiful jewelry. He was a Christian and enjoyed being a part of the Bluff Creek Cowboy Church at Drasco until his health no longer permitted him to attend. He will be remembered as a,“Character” he loved people and enjoyed getting a good laugh out of those around him. He never married or had children and was fiercely independent.

Don's Website

rockhound ranch (

downtown ovalo.jpeg

Ovalo, Texas 1910

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