They got bored standing around waiting for the cannon to cool down between firings at the Fort Scott National Historic Site, so Ralph Carlson and James “Red” Stradley started bringing their musical instruments and playing to pass the time.

They got bored standing around waiting for the cannon to cool down between firings at the  Fort Scott National Historic Site, so Ralph Carlson and James “Red” Stradley started bringing their musical instruments and playing to pass the time.

Now the two, known as Fuss and Feathers, perform frequently at the historic site and were featured Friday at the school field day in Cato.

“We were volunteers on the cannon crew at the old fort, and regulations are that when the cannon is fired, you must wait at least an hour before you can fire it again,” Carlson explained. “After we’d performed for a while, they told us that anybody could fire a cannon and they’d rather we just played our music. It was about 1970 that we started doing this.”
Stradley said that the two chose the name Fuss and Feathers after Gen. Winfield Scott, for whom Fort Scott is named. Scott, who was on active duty as a general longer than any other man in U.S. history, got the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” because he was a stickler for details and fond of gaudy uniforms.

The two, both of Fort Scott, were both formerly in U.S. Naval aviation. Stradley was primarily involved in air/sea rescue, and Carlson was an aviator, which he very much enjoyed.

“After I passed all the certification tests, I told somebody that I couldn’t believe they would actually pay people to fly those planes,” he said.

Now Carlson, who has been active in numerous community causes in Fort Scott, operates Preferred Home Living, Inc., which provides services for senior citizens and those with disabilities.

“We have a grant writer, and if somebody can get a grant, we’ll help them find a contractor,” he said. “We deal with the people who fall through the cracks. I’ve got a back list now of three wheelchair ramps to put in.”

“He’s recycled one ramp at nine different locations,” Stradley said.

Stradley is chaplain for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1165 in Fort Scott, and wore a Union chaplain’s uniform on Friday.

“They wore their cross on their sleeves, not their shoulders,” he said.

On Mondays Stradley visits veterans in nursing homes, and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays he’s a volunteer at Fort Scott Mercy Medical Center.

He also conducts funerals, frequently at the U.S. National Cemetery, Fort Scott.

“I average about two funerals a week,” Stradley said. “I have one on Monday, somebody from Springfield is being brought in. The National Cemetery at Fort Scott is still open and will take people from other places. We even had one from Alaska. You have to set priorities, and I make the funerals my No. 1 priority, because that’s the last go-round for that person.”

All of this, and the performing with Carlson, keep him busy.

“I ought to get a regular job so I could have some time off,” Stradley said.

He plays fiddle and harmonica, and has been known to rattle bones as well.

Carlson said he started his music by playing violin in third grade at Eugene Ware School, Fort Scott, then moved on to learn piano and guitar.

“There were six boys and a girl in my family, and everybody played something,” Carlson said. “I think they would have kicked you out if you couldn’t play something.”

They enjoy performing for youngsters as well as adults.

“For several years we’ve gone to Lakeside Elementary School in Pittsburg on their history day,” Carlson said. “They’re a treat to play for.”

“On Jan. 29, the Kansas birthday, we go to the schools in Fort Scott,” Stradley said.

Fuss and Feathers closed the sessions at Cato Friday with Stradley reciting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, then leading the youngsters in singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“I just had to stop singing during that,” Carlson said. “Hearing all those fourth graders singing the ‘Battle Hymn’ was very special.”

Fuss and Feathers will be back today for the annual Cato fall tour, which will start with music at the Cato Christian Church around 9 a.m. A program will follow at the Cato School, with a wiener roast around noon. Those attending should bring their own wieners and beverages. The day will conclude with a hay ride around 1:30 p.m. to historic cemeteries in the Cato area.