Ruby and Nelms; “Rube Nelson’s Country Corner,” Escondido, CA

While we lived in San Marcos Dad discovered a chiropractor, Dr. Eugene Nelms. The practitioner just liked being called “Nelms.” His office was in Escondido. But even after my family moved to National City and later to Bonita, Nelms was the man we’d to go to for getting “cracked” and “bent” back into shape.
The good Doctor was a character. He had a gruff, gravely voice–almost like Mel Blanc’s Yosemite Sam. He was a story teller. With a combination of less than sound proof walls, and the carrying quality of his distinctive voice, waitees often got an earful of adventure.

Photos taken June 1983
Nelms favorite topic was Rube Nelson, an Escondido icon who was the proprietor of what was then North County’s premier shopping destination Rube Nelson’s Fabulous Country Corner. Nelms must have considered Rube Nelson a rival.
“‘Poor Ol’ Rube,’ is what he likes to be called,” Nelms would say. “He prints those damn words on just about everything he owns…but there ain’t nothin poor about him! There he is in those worn out striped overalls, corn- pone hat, and cigar he picked up off the street somewhere–and he’s a gawd dang bank board member!”

“‘Poor Ol’ Rube….’ He just hates it when I call him “Ruby.” Whenever I see him at the Grape Festival or Harvest Parade riding his donkey I like to yell out ‘Hey Ruby is that you?’ He tries to ignore me.”

“‘No Nelms, that ain’t me, it must be somebody else.”

“It must be somebody ELSE! Well I don’t know who that SOMEBODY ELSE might be, Ruby. All I see is you and all I see is the Jack Ass! But I can’t tell WHO is riding WHO!”

The paths of “Ruby” and Nelms crossed when Pacific Bell assigned them the same phone number except for one numeral. Brought memorably together by the phone company, they both continually got calls, one for the other.

“I get the calls for Rube Nelson Pharmacy,” said Nelms. “Old blue haired women wanting to know if their prescriptions are ready. ‘Yeah lady your prescription is ready, plus any other dope you might want to snort, sniff, chew or stick where the sun don’t shine!'” Nelms liked to laugh at his own stories. A big “haw, Haw, HAW!” often followed.
“I like to kid Poor Ol’ Rube. ‘You know what Ruby? You have got a low class clientele. And I mean a LOW class clientele. By god, you sell more tins of lard and spam per square foot than any store in the good ol’ U.S. of A.'”

Rube Nelson’s Country Corner Market stood at the corner of Washington and Broadway. And as a matter of fact, in its day, this discount dynamo actually did boast the highest volume per square foot of any store in the United States. The roof was adorned with a king-size chicken, colt, cow and calf. Nelms liked to point out “Bull” was there too.

Front door patrons passed a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Inside were long lines of people at checkout stands, or strolling up and down the long aisles of goods. The place was almost a combination store-historic museum as dozens of objects of bygone eras adorned the walls and every inch of spare space.

He was a history buff and antique collector. Orange and Apple crates were between displays of antique printers and typewriters.

“Ruby,” as Nelms would say, “You’re nothing but a junk collector, I don’t care what fancy name you put on it.

“And if you’re going to tell me your life story again, let me just repeat it now, then you can just tell me if I left anything out…..

“You came to Escondido in 1927…you dug ditches for two bits an hour…they told you not to dig where the water lines were, but you did it any way….a big gusher went up. How many times you wanna tell that story now Ruby?

“Tell me one thing, Ruby. You’re one of the wealthiest men in Escondido. Why are you so cussin’ Cheap?”

(In telling these stories Nelms modulated two voices for the dialog).

“What do you mean by that now Nelms?”

“Well this is what I mean…I mean you got a broom standing at each one of your check out aisles. And by god, ‘buyer beware!’ You end up getting charged for a broom you don’t want; a broom and you never take home!.”

“Oh that’s not true now Nelms, you know that. What an old story! Besides with prices goin’ up, I’ve moved in high price mops to replace those brooms!!!!”

“I still say you are tight, Ruby, real tight”

“That’s not true now Nelms. I’m like Jack Benny. It’s not that I’m cheap…just conservative!”

“Well Ruby, you could afford a fancy vacation…why don’t you fly off to Europe somewhere?”

“Well Nelms, I’ve never had any desire to go to Europe because all those Europeans are after us American dollars.”

“You mean U.S. American dollars.”

“No, Nelms, I mean us American dollars because whenever they see us, they see dollar signs.”

“Well, by god Ruby, you got yourself a point there now don’t you.?”

“Well I sure do now Nelms!”

“Wah say, I do, I say, now Ruby!”


In the realm of nutrition, Nelms had one bit of advice. EAT CORN!

Over and over again patients were serenaded about the virtues of CORN!

“Corn is the FINEST FOOD. Indians ate CORN. They had the HEALTHIEST brown skin. The SHINIEST white teeth. The SMOOTHEST black hair. Yeah…YEAH CORN IS THE FINEST FOOD!”

Once in the waiting room, I noticed I hadn’t heard the corn lecture. I mentioned to someone else in the waiting room that the Doctor would normally have mentioned corn by then . He said “we’ll I’ll just have to ask Dr. Nelms if corn is good for me or not.”

Sure enough the scene played out. “Corn is a pretty good food isn’t it?”

“Why, by god, funny you should mention that. I was about to say Corn is the FINEST FOOD. You need to eat PLENTY of CORN! The Indians ate CORN. They had the HEALTHIEST brown skin. The SHINIEST white teeth. The SMOOTHEST black hair. Yeah..YEAH CORN IS THE FINEST FOOD!”

Rube Nelson’s Country Corner is long gone. Just another strip mall and parking lot now.

But the tradition of speaking about the virtues of Corn carried on. When I developed back troubles, I found an excellent Chiropractor in Santa Monica named Rex Taylor. I told him all about Nelms and his preaching the corn sermon. Rex loved the story. One time as I waited for my appointment, I could hear Rex in the next room telling one of his other clients. “….Speaking of diets there was a chiropractor in Escondido who was excited about CORN! He told all of his patients ‘corn is the FINEST food!’ You know the Indians ate corn don’t you?…”

I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.
  • Zack

    I too am a big believer in corn, by god. I get that fine corn from Trader Joe’s. Delicious! I was happy when a band named “Corn” came out. Some of their tunes weren’t quite to my liking, but I could tell they were corn-eatin’ boys. I hear they are working on a new stage show: Corn-A-Lot!

  • chrisbarton

    Dear Dan;
    I am 53 years old this year.

    My father Jack Cullen was Poor Ol’ Rube’s electric sign man, and I had the privilege of meeting Rube Nelson many times as a boy.

    My dad placed all of the figurines on the roof of the “Country Corner.”

    I was there the day that the Giant chicken was installed and I’m pretty sure that was the first fiberglass sculpture to find a home on Rube’s roof, sometime in the late sixties.

    In the following years, a number of other figures were added, as your photos show.
    All the neon around the building facade was made and installed by my father as was the large electric sign by the street.

    So, you have made me happy today, because I have often lamented that I did not take any photos of Rube’s Fabulous Country Corner before it was torn down.
    It is the sort of thing that is very hard to explain to people today. They don’t make’em like that anymore. And, even though, I’m sure I took it for granted when I was a kid, I felt very sad when it was destroyed.
    I knew, right then, that an era had passed and it should be held in reverence.

    Rube Nelson was a remarkable fellow and an example of the survival tenacity that made this country what it is.

    He drove a Model A Ford, well into the 1970’s and was loved and hated equally by many folks in the area.
    Yes, he always had that stogy in the corner of his mouth; even though I’m pretty sure he quit smoking them long before.

    My dad, who grew up during the depression, had a relationship with Rube that was very much old school.
    They would make a deal, write a check, and then wink at me, and everything those old men taught me has still served me well to this day.

    So, chickens on the roof may seem Kitschy to some, but the story is really about a way of living, an attitude about life.
    I see now that Mr. Nelson felt that he had a point to make and why not make it big?

    Those guys, Jack and Rube, were flamboyant, cantankerous, one of a kind and part of a whole world I will always miss.

    Thanks for taking the photos and giving this bit of history a nod.

  • Zack

    When I was a tyke, I marched in a parade in Escondido. Maybe it was the Harvest Parade. I carried a flag, probably the stars & stripes. As I recall, the route passed the Country Corner.

  • charis

    Rube was my great uncle. My grandpa, ran the meat department among other things at the store. He was “the butcher” (the Nelsons all had nicknames for the men), he was also a great businessman and a character to say the least! I love this story and the pics.

  • Daniel Soderberg

    Lady Liberty Lowered in San Marcos. Link to to the story.

    It’s an 11-foot (3.4 m) miniature Statue of Liberty (holding a Bible instead of a tablet) currently stands atop a 15-foot (4.6 m) pedestal outside the Liberty Recycling plant in San Marcos, California. The company was named after the statue, which has been moved throughout northern San Diego County for over 80 years, originating at Liberty Hotel in Leucadia in the 1920s.

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