It was an icy and snowy February when Richard Thrift, then a 29-year-old officer for the D.C. metropolitan mounted police, went to the barn to get his horse, Dude, to report for work.
Less than four yards outside the barn, Dude slipped and fell on Thrift, crushing Thrift's ribs, which punctured his lung. When the developed tuberculosis shortly afterward, the police doctor gave Thrift six months to live. The officer retired on disability - receiving $50 a month.
That was in 1917, 62 years ago. Thrift, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday Tuesday, now receives $683 a month in retirement disability. He is the oldest retired D.C. metropolitan police officer.
After he was retired on disability. Thrift tried to get back on the police force, but failed. "He (Thrift) went until he was 55 years old (in 1942), but he never could pass the (physical) exam," said his daughter, Audrey Crown.
Unable to continue his police work, Thrift became to truck driver, insurance salesman, gas station operator, owner of an ice and coal hauling business and taxi driver. But, it is of his fiver years on the police force that he was the fondest memories.
"It ain't nothing like it is today," Thrift said as he sat on a couch in the far Southeast home that he bought in 1918. "No, my Lord, no. You ain't never locked up a young man hardly. If you did he was ruined. He couldn't do nothing. No, deed. If you caught him (committing a crime), you carried him home and he got a licking."
Born on a farm in Warsaw, Va., Thrift moved to Washington in 1909.He joined the police force in 1912 because he could make more money than he could as a streetcar operator. He was paid $75 a month as a police officer, $13 more than he earned on the streetcars.
"That was when you got three pounds of pork chops for a quarter," he said.
Thrift was first assigned to the old No. 8 precinct near the baseball park, where Walter Johnson played for the Washington Senators. Police officers during those days received free passes to the games, he said.
There were 731 police officers on the force in 1912, and the city's population was a little more than 343,000. Thrift said that the police mostly investigated disorderly conduct complaints, some bootlegging, a few shootings and assaults. "We didn't have no crime like it is today," he said.
Seldom did an officer use force when making an arrest, Thrift said. But once, he said, he arrested a man who wanted to get tough with him.
"When I went to get him the sergeant told me, 'Be very particular about him. He's an awful criminal. If he got a chance he'd kill you.' I think he was wanted for whipping his wife or something like that.
"I went to the door and called him by his name. It told him, 'I got a warrant for you. You'll have to go down to the police station. He says, 'Who's going to take me?' I said, 'I am.' I said, 'You know what this warrant calls for - dead or alive.' I reached out and got my pistol and kept it on him until we got to the station. (When I got him there), he says, 'Dern if I don't believe you would have shot me.' "
After brief assignments at the 8th and 11th precincts, Thrift was assigned to the White House in 1912 during the Taft administration. "I stood right at the door," he said. "Whenever (Mrs. Taft) wanted to go walking, she called for me. We would walk all over Northwest."
Thrift said it was on one of those walks that he told Mrs. Taft that the White House duty was "awful confined" for a young man. She suggested that he ask for a transfer to the mounted police unit, "so I could get out in the country." Within hours of that conversation, he became a mounted police officer and went home to Warsaw that evening to get his horse.
In those days, police officers had to provide their own horses and uniforms, Thrift said. They also were responsible for providing shelter and food for the horses.
Thrift said it was on a ride around the woods and fields of Anacostia that he met the woman who later became his wife (he was investigating a complaint that her neighbor's chickens were in her yard).
Then, on a cold, winter day in 1917, he had the accident that changed his career. Because the weather was so bad, Thrift had left his horse in the barn. But when he reported to work, the sergeant insisted that he get his horse. With his sergeant, Thrift went back and as he came out of the barn, the horse slipped on the ice and fell on Thrift.
The police doctor told Thrift that he had developed tuberculosis as a result of the accident. "During those days, tuberculosis was a death certificate," Thrift said. His wife was expecting their second child at that time.
The police doctor said he would live, at most, six months. But Thrift's private doctor put him on a special diet, told him to get plenty of sunshine, drink milk and rest.
Within a year, he was healthy again, but his efforts to return to the force were unsuccessful. So, he worked as a truck driver for a chemical plant, then as an insurance salesman. In the early 1920s, he opened an ice and coal hauling business. In 1930, he added a couple of service stations. "Gas was 11 cents a gallon then," he recalled.
In 1941, at the age of 54, he sold his businesses and become a taxi driver, when "you could ride from Anacostia to Georgetown for 50 cents." He drove a taxi for 18 years, retiring in 1959 when he was 72 years ago. "That's when I started bowling," he said proudly.
Today, he stays active by bowling, by doing volunteer and church work, "hauling" friends on errands in his car and keeping in touch with police officers. He attends a number of police functions during the year.
"He's a spry and very active man," said Deputy Police Chief Houston M. Bigelow.
Thrift said he is amazed at the changes in the police department, which has grown to 4,115 police officers and offers a starting salary of $14,558. He thinks the department has too many officials. "They got too many, entirely. One works against the other."
Does he regret that he was never reinstated on the police force? "No, I probably wouldn't have made as much money as I did when I was in business." CAPTION: Picture, Richard T. Thrift. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post