His day’s work begins when the sun goes down and ends when it comes up and
he’s walked enough miles to take him around the world at least twice. In a
nutshell that’s the story of Thomas Frisbie, local merchant policeman.
The Shelbyville News
Saturday June 26, 1948
By Ave Lewis
Seven nights a week for the past 16 years Tom—his wife doesn’t like the
nickname but that’s what all his customers call him—has started pounding the
pavement all over the downtown district at dusk, turning on lights in display
windows, checking door locks and peering in windows to see that nothing is
amiss, then as the town settles down for the night (on the surface at least)
retracing his steps to turn off show window lights and for routine checks.
His job is one to which merchants subscribe voluntarily and he’s paid
accordingly. And while he has full police authority he labels himself as
"mostly a watch dog over business establishments," and leaves the real
police work to the boys down at the city hall. And here he stated that on the
occasions he has had to call them on things gone wrong—such as discovering a
burglar attempting to enter a filling station and finding a couple of fires
which might have proved serious—they have co-operated immediately and been on
the scene within minutes.
Tom’s job came during the depression year of 1932.
For three and a half
years he had been superintendent of the Home Laundry, then operated by Bert
Andrews, and after this he operated a small dry cleaning establishment
behind his own home at 129 Howard street. It was while he was soliciting
business that he was approached by a committee of merchants in regard to
becoming a merchant policeman. And since that particular period was a lean one
so far as the cleaning profession was concerned it didn’t take too many days
to decide on a new career.
He was sworn in by the late John Thompson, then chief of police, and
his walking marathon began. For a while he wore a pedometer and found that it
registered 17 miles during a night’s work. For the past few years he has used
his car when possible but estimates that he still averages 55 miles per week
afoot. This total mileage doesn’t include trips for collection of his fees.
some establishments he’s paid weekly, at others bi-weekly and at still others
monthly or even by three months periods. So a rough estimate reveals that he
walked some 99, 008 miles during the past 16 years.
His customers number somewhere near the 200 mark and he makes five or six
visits to their places of business during the night. The first trip is to turn
on the lights and the second trek finds him checking on the number of times he’s
found stores et cetera unlocked, or even with keys hanging in the doors. And
invariably on calling the proprietor (in cases where he doesn’t have a key—his
key chain looks like a prison warden’s) they insist that he must be wrong, I’m
sure I locked that door." That’s before he reminds them that he’s
calling from their place of business.
He thinks his job is a fairly good barometer of the times.
When business is
good his customer roll is full but a minor slump can cause merchants to dispense
with his services. Too, in his nightly talks with business owners he can feel
the pulse of business by conversation trends.
Mr. Frisbie was born and reared on a farm near Boonville and farm life still
is his choice. He particularly likes livestock and for a while in his youth he
homesteaded in New Mexico with the idea of ranching. But he returned to Indiana
and in 1912 married Ravia Purdue, one of whose ancestors founded Purdue
University. They came to Shelbyville in 1924 from Lafayette where he had
operated a cleaning business. They were the parents of three children but have
lost two sons. Arthur died on Okinawa while serving with the U. S. Army
and Frank died in New York last year. Their daughter, Mrs. Joe Owens,
resides near Waldron.
A reversed working schedule doesn’t leave Mr. Frisbie much time for
"hobbies" or vacations. The only times he’s had off in the 16 years
were brief visits with his elderly mother who resides in Boonville. It’s hard
to find someone to walk 17 miles a night, he says.
Contributed by Barb Huff