Thomas  Frisbie

The  Shelbyville  News
Saturday June 26, 1948
Page 3
By Ave Lewis
          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.
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.  At 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

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