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Go back in time with Captain StubbyGo back in time with Captain Stubby

We can't reflect on 175 years of Prairie Farmer history without remembering Captain Stubby, one of its most popular columnists and WLS performers.

Holly Spangler

October 25, 2016

5 Min Read

If you were an avid reader of Prairie Farmer anytime from 1965 until just a few years ago, there are two words that will take you right back — and likely make you smile: Captain Stubby.

Captain Stubby, also known as Tom Fouts off the pages and stages, penned the popular column “Captain Stubby Says,” which first appeared in the May 15, 1965, issue of the magazine, after Prairie Farmer editors watched him perform at a Farm Progress Show and asked him to write for the magazine.


Fouts was a longtime columnist for several Penton Agriculture magazines, including Prairie Farmer, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Ohio Farmer, The Farmer and Wallaces Farmer. He was a popular performer at country gatherings, entertaining huge crowds at the Farm Progress Show for 50 years. He and wife Lou were married for 63 years, up until his death in May 2004 of complications from a stroke.

"He loved Prairie Farmer and writing," notes his daughter, Connie Livingston, Chicago. After his stroke, Fouts was unable to speak, but he made typewriting motions to his family, indicating he wanted to do his column from his hospital bed, according to his daughter. His family assured Fouts that he'd already written his June and July columns. 

Born Nov. 24, 1918, Fouts grew up on a small farm near Galveston, Ind. He started in show business while he was in high school, organized a band in his 20s and landed a job at a small radio station in Danville, Ill., called WDAN. He later formed a country comedy group, Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers, which was a regular on the WLS National Barn Dance.

In the beginning


Fouts credited his mother with developing his talent, telling Prairie Farmer editors for the 150th sesquicentennial issue, “My mother could play the piano or sing, and she could take people with very little talent and make something out of it. When I was about 5 years old, she ran out of neighbors to pick on, and since she was bigger than I was, she said that I was going to start entertaining.

“I always sang comedy songs, and I liked doing it,” he added. He played the washboard in the early days, when his band entertained 4-H clubs and Grange meetings.

During World War II, Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers were drafted to entertain troops across the country and in the Pacific. Fouts recalled that one of the Navy’s first actions was to insure each performer’s musical instrument.

“When I handed them a washboard, they didn’t know how to react. That’s the only washboard that was ever insured for $1,000 by Lloyds of London,” he maintained.


After the war, Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers played New York City and Atlantic City’s Boardwalk, and stayed to perform in Greenwich Village for two years. From there, they moved up to the really big leagues: the WLS National Barn Dance, then owned by Prairie Farmer.

In no time, the Buccaneers were performing shows six days a week, plus personal appearances, plus Saturday night’s Barn Dance. By 1959, they were encouraged to try out TV. Their versatility landed them on several television shows. During that same era, Fouts often drank coffee in the studio cafeteria with Paul Harvey and Don McNeill, and became a writer for the Don McNeill Breakfast Club Show.

And while the Buccaneers quit performing regularly by 1960, they still got the band back together every year for the Farm Progress Show.

Fouts once reflected on how squeaky-clean their material had to be, back in the old days with WLS. “I think that was wonderful. We couldn’t even do songs like ‘Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette,’ or ‘Beer Barrel Polka.’ Don McNeill insisted on the same standards. I always figured that we were guests in people’s home, so we should act sensibly.”

Classic Captain Stubby

Captain Stubby columns remained a popular mainstay of both Prairie Farmer and Indiana Prairie Farmer for years after his death, when editors ran his timeless material as “Classic Captain Stubby.”

For a taste of the classic Captain humor, take a look at these jokes, pulled from one of his Prairie Farmer columns:

• I love August. That’s when the neighborhood kids finally run out of Fourth of July fireworks. For the past few weeks, my neighborhood has sounded like World War II.

• Pointer on etiquette: When couples walk on a public sidewalk, the man always walks on the outside. It’s just bad etiquette to walk between a woman and a store window.

• I talked to a man in Indianapolis last week who said he’s put two kids through college already: his doctor’s daughter and his dentist’s son.

• Today’s lawn-and-garden tip: The best time to mow your yard is right after your wife tells you to.

• If you’re on a cruise, here’s a tip: To prevent seasickness, avoid thinking about things that turn your stomach — like the heaving of the ship rolling on the waves, or the cost of the cruise.

• When a not-too-handsome farmer proposed marriage, he said, “I know I’m not much to look at.” The bride-to-be’s answer: “That’s alright, you’ll be in the field most of the time.”

• Inscription on the tombstone of a mailman: “Returned to Sender.”

• I’ll leave you with this: Despite jets and missiles, they still haven’t found anything that goes faster than a two-week vacation.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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