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Consumer Reports

Small town Dull lives up to its name | (KRT) DULL, Ohio - Hold the jokes, then, about the town named Dull, because Clark has heard `em all. Heck, he's probably told `em all.

"I tell everybody, `Hey, we had a big holdup here,'" Clark says. "Yep - a clothespin held up the underwear."

Clark is a big, friendly man with a steadily decreasing amount of white hair and a steadily increasing amount of stories. He loves to talk about the town's unusual name, which can be traced to its founder, James Martin Dull, a merchant who staked a claim here in 1879. Dull ran what Clark calls a "huckster wagon," one of those if-we-don't-have-it-you-don't-need-it stores that serviced rural populations B.W. (Before Wal-Mart).

A century ago, Clark has heard tell, Dull was hopping. "This used to be a thriving place," he insists. "Not any more. It's all gone now."


These days, even calling Dull a town is unduly generous, since it lost its township status - and its post office - a quarter-century ago, Clark says.

Nowadays it's down to five houses, one of which is home to Clark and his wife of 45 years, Shirley. They raised four kids in the cheerful, freewheeling hodgepodge of a structure, upon which Clark has added personal touches over the years: a back porch here, a shed there, a big rock in the front yard, a couple of railroad signs left over from when the last train made its last run through Dull.

Americans love to romanticize small towns, getting all misty-eyed about front porches and forgotten values, reciting dialogue from "Andy Griffith" and dog-earing pages of "Winesburg, Ohio" and singing along with Alan Jackson songs. But the fact is, it takes a certain kind of person to live in what might charitably be called the middle of nowhere, facing a formidably long drive to fetch groceries or see movies or visit friends.

It takes someone like Clark, who has lived in Dull since 1962, when he arrived here after military service in the Korean War. He was born and raised in Logan, W.Va., but he could not wait to get those mountains behind him. "I made up my mind I wasn't going to go down in no coal mine. So I went in the Air Force."

Duty done, he signed up as a guard at the Lima Correctional Institute and worked in law enforcement for a lot of happy years, including stints tracking escaped prisoners. Asked if the danger ever rattled him, Clark shrugs. "I'd go out and get `em. Didn't bother me none. I'd bring `em back in a box or in handcuffs. Their choice."

And to the obvious question - "Is Dull dull?" - Clark has a ready answer. "I like it this way. If I want to go out and holler in the field, I can. This is just how I like it."

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Besides, he has the world at his fingertips: cable TV, ham and CB radios, and a scanner tuned to the local police and fire department frequencies. "I get stuff from all over the world," he says. His garage - meticulously well-organized despite its massive contents - is filled with the low, steady mutter of squad calls, broken up by squawks of static. Clark seems right at home amid the chaos.

"You get it in your blood," he says. "I'm just curious to know what's going on." Keeping him company are a pair of ducks named Quicker and Quacker, two lumbering, amiable dogs named Ebony and Tojo, and Missy, the Siamese cat and proud survivor of a wicked run-in with a lawn mower.

Clark, though, does more than sit around monitoring misfortunes and keeping tabs on his slow-moving menagerie. He maintains a trunkful of history books, the kind with gold-edged pages and covers with fancy calligraphic script, such as "History of Van Wert County" (1906). Dull's past lives forever in the musty books, its one-time link to larger cities preserved in the stolid prose: "Standard Oil Co. have their cq pumping station located here, where all the oil produced in the Ohio City oil field is processed," runs an entry. "From here it is pumped into lines laid down from Lima to Chicago."


Clark also possesses yearbooks from Exline High School, which used to be the local high school until it dissolved in a merger with Ohio City High School in the late 1920s. The books are sprinkled with the earnest faces of various Dull cousins, including, from the class of 1927, Agnes Dull (treasurer and class historian) and Allen Dull, nicknamed "Skinny," who played basketball and baseball. Dulls still live in the area, Clark says, and some are trying to organize a Dull family reunion.

If anybody tries to make fun of Dull, Clark has a retort: Dull actually predates Ohio City, Ohio, its near neighbor, and Ohio City was the site of the "First Successful Automobile Built Here by John W. Lambert in 1891," according to a sign planted proudly at the city limits. So if you disrespect Dull, then you are also disrespecting a town that was cheek by jowl with a vital part of the transportation history of the United States. Frankly, such small-mindedness reflects more on you than it does on Dull.

"You hear about Dayton and the airplanes and all of that," Clark says. "Well, this is more important. It was before."


Still, he knows, people forget history. They have their own lives to live, jobs to do, places to be. Asked how frequently cars go by, Clark says, "Not often."

To each his own, Clark believes. "I got some brothers in California. They have the fast life. They think I'm crazy."

Over in Van Wert, Ohio, at the county courthouse, Nancy Dixon has to think a minute when asked about Dull. "It's a few houses in the southwest part of the county," says Dixon, who has served as county auditor since 1973. Asked if she ever finds Van Wert dull - that's dull as in "dull," not dull as in "Dull" - Dixon says no. "But I'm not a person who gets bored. Maybe somebody else would."

Does she gets many inquires about Dull?

"You're the first one that's ever asked me about it," she says.

Fame, anyway, isn't all that it's cracked up to be. A while back a writer came by to interview Clark about living in Dull, for a book the writer was putting together about quaintly named towns. Clark and his wife were polite and accommodating, even sitting for a picture that appears in "Passing Gas: And Other Towns Along the American Highway" (2003).

Trouble is, Clark is misidentified as "Billy" in the book.

"All my friends," he says ruefully, "have taken to calling me `Billy Bob.'"

But he can take the ribbing. In Dull, after all, you can't get too riled up about much of anything, Clark says. It's so peaceful, you'd swear you could hear the corn tassels gossiping about each other, every time the wind blows.

Clark looks around, smiles and gives the town the best recommendation any place can ever receive, a four-star rave.

"It's home," he says.

And Dull's future?

"It's coming back."

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© 2003, Chicago Tribune Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services