We were in the 'big one' and I was only fourteen, not old enough to grasp the significance of it all.
Yes, we did have shortages of everything.
So on a normal summer day, after breakfast, out the door, collect the eggs, water the garden, play with the dogs and cats. Oh! What's this in the road in front of the house at 3114 Baseline? A women's purse! There was very little traffic at that time of day with gas rationing, old worn out cars and it was even difficult to get one brand new tire.
So I retrieved the purse, took it in the garage and examined the contents. There was a wallet with a lady's name in it. She lived on Wallace Drive, and money - about $25 - a small fortune in 1943. But most important, ration stamps for meat, gas, sugar, butter, etc. I put everything in the purse and took it to my hiding place in Mr. Philips' hay barn next 'door.'
Marty Livingston and I had a small room built of hay bales. 'Yes,' we did have a couple of Playboy magazines in there!
So, what to do? I got out my Red Ryder BB gun and went down to the creek by Long Road to hunt frogs, mice and 'spotzzies' but my guardian angel kept whispering in my ear to, "Do what Dr. Laura says, do the right thing."
I retrieved the purse, took it to my mother, and she called the lady. Right away she was at our house. She was so thankful, she gave me a reward of a couple dollars. But best of all, at that time the local paper gave "The Orchid of the Week" to some person who did something good. And it was me! And that's the way it was in 1943.
Yes! I have been retired 8 1/2 years. I never thought it could be this good. Fortunately, my health has been good, so I can do about anything I want. Also, with my pension and Social Security and some good luck, there are no money worries. It took about three years to get used to the idea that I didn't have to hustle up money. Most men like myself, think they will find a part time job when they retire. I thought about it and decided I didn't need to work or earn money. So, what to do? I decided to give away some of my time. This is called volunteering and I did. Big time! I thought I would fish almost every day - well that didn't last long. So after 60 some years with the rod and reel, I called it quits. Now I don't have the headache of a boat and motor, etc. So this gives me more time for things like what I have been doing right now.
The highlight of my retirement has been volunteering at the local school. This will be my seventh year as a volunteer teacher, four mornings a week in five classes. I am talking about 120 kids a year for seven years - that's about 800 kids and I have never had one give me a bit of trouble. They are very respectful to Mr. Kumlander. I prefer the second graders. They are 7 or 8 years old. When you are a volunteer, you can more or less pick what grade you want to volunteer teach. I probably could write a small book on teaching and some of the amusing things and stories they have told me. This is something you feel every day and I am not up to describing this feeling. It is something you have to do to know what it is to be in the academic world. I'm talking about the hugs and tears. Yes, I believe some of the girls have a crush on Mr. Kumlander and having no grandchildren within easy reach, it's nice to have 120 new ones every year.
I am the only teacher in the school who has lunch with three or four of my kids every day in the lunch room and, of course that is a privilege to have lunch with Mr. Kumlander. It is lots of fun for all. We do riddles, tell jokes and stories and they ask me many questions. I work one on one with the kids, teaching them how to count money, tell time and they tell me stories from home about their families. They also read their journals to me. We have had some real nice field trips. We go by bus, of course. On one trip I ended with three little girls on my lap. The real teacher got that situation straightened out real quick. On that same trip, one of the little girls fell asleep with her head in my lap. The other kids thought that was pretty funny. What I am trying to convey here is the close relationship that is built between the teachers and kids each year. Then they move on. We see them in the halls and lunch rooms the next year but they have moved on to new relationships. One of the benefits for me is having something to get up for in the morning - get breakfast - have a shower and a shave - dress up nice, even shirt and tie some days - and get out of the house and do something worthwhile. I find it is good for my self-esteem. I will be starting my 9th year this November 1999. That is the privilege of the volunteer. He can start or stop when he wants. Anyway, I have been too busy this year. So far I have never been late for school - 9 a.m. on the dot four mornings a week. It has been a great experience. The kids have taught me a lot.
So what else do I do with my time? My wife and I have been doing Meals on Wheels about 6 or 7 years and my clown work is mostly charity gigs. I also help out at the Red Cross blood bank. So, with taking care of my house, car and the house across the street and many other assorted odd jobs, it's hard to get a day off. I almost left out that some people in our little village call me the Mayor of Ferry Village. I am proud to say that with the help from the Town, I have been instrumental in making our village a better place to live. For example, at the end of our street, there was an old rusty barge on town property. I got it removed and landscaped and now we have a minipark with picnic tables and garbage cans and the stars and stripes flying. To commemorate the opening of the park, my helpers and I buried a time capsule
to be opened in ten years. I also had two large old derelict boats removed. So all and all the Village looks a lot better. I also worked closely with our highway department and have been able to get some streets paved and trees trimmed in our village. Another thing I almost forgot about - I am still involved in politics. I helped to get two judges elected last year. They have been my friends for the last thirty or forty years. This year I am helping our highway superintendent and town supervisor to get re-elected. Even though I didn't get elect highway superintendent, I still enjoy politics. Then there is bowling and writers work shop in the winter.
I regret writing this last paragraph and yet I am happy because this is the end of "MY LIFE." Fortunately not my real life!! So after about nine months of writing, typing, printing, binding, I hope I have written something worth reading. It has been fun and a great learning experience. So as they say in the Looney Toons-
"That's All, Folks."
I will have to go back in memory thirty-one years. I think the memory gets better after you become 65-years-old. As I said earlier, the house was very run down. The original owners had a big family and absolutely no maintenance. The cellar was a mess - paint all over the walls and lots of junk all over. The kitchen had linoleum on the walls, a small window overlooking the backyard, torn up counter tops, etc. Every room needed painting and decorating and outdoors needed lots of help, too. It was a real fixer upper and we did. I think the biggest was the paved driveway and the extra large finished garage where we have had many social and family gatherings. I usually have a garage sale very year - Tooki's Big Sale. One of my biggest luxuries of my retirement is my heated garage. There were the usual things like graduations, weddings, etc. The kids had friends over and it was a bus, happy place to live. Some of the highlights - decorating the porch for our daughter's wedding (see photo), Blizzard of '77,
the big one where our son became lost going only one block, adding the apartment, a stray horse and a goat in the backyard, my son and his buddy, Glen Greenwood, building my shed in the backyard and they did a great job on their own. One night that stands out in my memory, the astronauts went to the moon. We took the TV out in the backyard and watched the whole thing under a big moon. The man wasn't home! There were a few trips to the ER when our daughter fell off the horse. There was a time when our oldest son came back from California, flat broke and disenchanted. This house has seen many storms, wind, snow, rain, etc. But the big windstorm stands out - we lost power for five days in cold weather and many tree limbs down. So now we have our own generator that we have never used. One thing that I left out, most of the kids try to get home for Christmas. This year will be a little different. We both lost our mothers. We just had a little reunion of thirteen and room left over. So now it is a fine big house and I hope to spend many years here.
Where I lived had a great influence on my life. Let's start from the beginning - Alma Avenue and Foit's Beach cottage is where it all started and I have already written about that earlier. Then on to the farm house on Baseline Road. This house was in the family for over 30 years and has many memories, good and bad. I didn't live in it all those years but I guess you might say it was the Kumlander homestead. It was sold about 1970 for $8000. That isn't a typo - $8000 with over one acre of land. About this time of my life, I was married. So, rent an apartment and we did. This apartment was so small it didn't have a bathroom - only a pot in the closet. We used the landlady's bathroom downstairs. Our rent was $65 a month. We were DINK's at that time (double income - no kids). We only stayed there about one year. I can remember one incident that stands out. The house cat somehow got into our apartment and crapped all over the wall and our bed. That cat went through the screen door while it was closed and on the second floor.
The next apartment was on Staley Road, a nice two bedroom. I have some good and bad memories of this one. The good one first: My first wife's sister, Jackie, had just married and she and her husband spent many weekends with us and we did have lots of fun. My only bad memory - I was getting ready to go bowling, late as usual and I jumped into my loafers and started down the stairs. Whoops what's this? A big pain in one of my big toes. There was a wasp in the toe and he hit me about three times. I could barely get the shoe off before the swelling started. I didn't bowl that night. We were in this apartment about three years. My mother remarried and moved to Buffalo. That left the Baseline Road house empty, so we moved there for a couple of years. About this time of my life my good friend Marty Livingston went into the house building business. So one day he tells me there is a lot for sale next to his house for only $630. Someone had put a down payment on it and never followed through. It was the last lot of the Stamler farm and they wanted to close it out. So we scraped together some moola and were the owners of a lot on Stony Point Road, 90 ft. x 1/2 mile. /with even a creek in the back for $630 - no typo. All my friends, Paul B., Fred B., Marty L. and uncle George Fries were all building their houses within a quarter of a mile of each other, so what to do? Build a house. Marty said he would help and the other guys, too. So, get a mortgage. How much? $8000 - Wow! The money was given to us in three draws as the house went up. The payments were $80 a month. Yes, that's right. No typo! I was working at Bell Aircraft at that time. My wife had a job, too, so we could handle the $80 payment. Things were going along pretty good thanks to Marty and the connections he had. The cellar was in and the deck was on but things were getting tight. By this time we had three little kids, so what do do? Move into the basement - and we did. We had to have the walls up and the roof on for the next draw. My first wife's family saved the day. They were carpenters, even old grandpa. They came on a Friday night and would you believe when they left Sunday evening there was a roof on that house. I talked to people the following week and they couldn't believe what was done in one weekend. It was like an Amish barn razing. Eventually we moved upstairs after many months of very hard work.
The axe fell at Bell Aircraft and I was out of a job. Things went down hill. Eventually we lost our house and went our separate ways. There was a little profit to split but not enough to warrant all the hardship and hard work. I know. I lost 35 pounds, my first wife and kids. We did get back together for a short time and bought a small house, unfinished on Fix Road for $6000. Too much water had gone under the bridge and we broke up again for good. Let me say this: Being without a job and building a house from scratch puts a terrible strain on a marriage, especially with three small children.
I ended up with a small unfinished house on Fix Road. I didn't want to live there, so I rented it to Marty's brother, Jerry, and his wife, and he finished the house. My mother liked the little house after it was finished, so after a while she and her new husband moved there. My uncle Al, my boyhood brother, his wife and two kids took over the Baseline Road house and asked me if I would like to be their boarder. Yes, I did. I was single then and it was great to be with family during a difficult time in my life. Eventually Uncle Al and Aunt Donna died and so did my mother's husband. My mother moved back to the Baseline Road house. I sold the house on Fix Road and moved in with her. I lived there until I met my second wife. She owned a house in Tonawanda. She sold it and we bought the Cox Road house, where we live now. This house became the second Kumlander homestead for my second family. We paid about $14,000 for it and it took about $50,000 and thirty years to get it the way we want it. This house was in terrible condition when we bought it. Looking back, I can't believe we even bought it, except it is near "The Fishing club" and the river. We raised my second wife's children here and mine, too, sometimes. So this house is the home place that they gather at when this is possible. When the kids left us for bigger and better things, why not have an apartment upstairs. And we did for about 14 years. Overall, our tenants were great, especially the last one. He only stayed upstairs about two dozen times in 3 or 4 years. He had a girlfriend, and mostly we only saw him on rent day and he paid in cash. It was the easiest money we ever made. Eventually we really didn't need the money anymore. Now my wife has a very expensive sewing room and we have lots of room for the kids and their kids to come and visit. This house has been so important in my life, I have decided to devote a whole chapter to it. So bear with me and off we go.
More on the Cox Road homestead next week!
I have been a member for about 33 years. The original club was on the towpath, the Riverside section of Buffalo. The towpath was part of the Barge Canal. The clubs and houses along side of the canal were squatters. So, when the Niagara Thruway was built, they were kicked out. There was a vacant building on Grand Island that was for sale on the river, but it was condemned. The men who owned the original fishing club bought it and resurrected it. There was much hard labor that went into the rebuilding. Now after 35 years and many, many work parties and lots of moola and much dedication, we have a very nice club hosue. the only fishing club on the Niagara River and all paid for. We limit our membership to about 75 men. We once had a women's auxiliary that did great things for the club when we needed them, just to survive. The auxiliary went the way of many women's groups and it slowly disbanded. Somehow the men have managed on their own.
This building has lots of character. It was a speak easy during prohibition days. The Niagara River was one of the hot spots for smuggling booze and Chinamen, etc. If the smugglers were going to be caught, everything went over the side of the boat. The club house was built so a boat could come underneath and the floor had a trap door so the smugglers could unload its illegal cargo. The smugglers all carried guns and sometime they would lose a few Chinamen. They were a rough, tough gang. Yes, there was a mafia connection, too, I think, the Cleveland Road Gang. But that's another story. Ask me about it. I did see with my own eyes one of the smugglers' boats, called the Mischief and owned by the Fix brothers. It was a 30 ft. Chris Craft with a very big engine. I would guess you could carry about 30 cases of illegal whiskey and go about 70 mph - big speed at that time!
I visit the club almost every day. We swap fish stories, car stories, girl stories, boat stories and just about anything you could think of. It's a great place to relax on the back porch, overlooking the river. I don't fish anymore. I still enjoy being involved.
One bright, sunny afternoon I picked up a young lady with two kids. "Please take us to the zoo." No problem. When we arrived, the fare was about ten dollars. She opened her large purse that was stuffed with money crumbled up and gave me four fives and a couple dropped on the ground. She didn't bother picking them up. She left and of course, I picked them up. It sure made my day.
Another time I picked up a man about supper time. "Please take me to a certain Italian Restaurant." It was only about ten minutes away. He said he would be a little while, keep the meter running and go in and have something to eat - on him, but sit along. After about a half hour he gave me a sign and off we went for another ten minute ride. He paid the bill and gave me a $10 tip.
ON the flip side of the coin, 'jobs,' about once a week I had to pick up a very young girl on Stony Point Road and take her to her boyfriend's on Bedell Road. She paid me all in pennies - about $3 and no tip. That's about all on the taxi stories except to say the better you dress and the newer the cars, the better the tips.
So let's get back to my main lifetime job - the Grand Island Highway Department. Looking back, it was a wonderful job. No pressure, five minutes from home, no time clock. There were only eight or ten of us. It was almost like family. I started like everyone else as a laborer but soon was promoted to truck driver and equipment operator. My first truck was a 1950 Autocar. They were man killers compared to the ones they have today. At that time there were only three snow plow routes on the Island. So if there was a storm you had to stay with it, even if it took two or three days. The over time was great if you could stand the strain. We didn't have any replacements. I was on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for 30 years. So in the winter, you always kept ne eye on the weather and you knew about when the phone would ring. But in summer I could always plan on being home by 4:320 pm. and every weekend off.
Eventually we became unionized. I was the first president for the union that represented the highway, sewer, and water department. It made a big difference. Before I close on the jobs, I would like to say I feel very lucky to have had such a wonderful job for most of my life.
There isn't too much to write about these years. My second wife's kids bought most of my cars. They were in college and needed transport to and fro. So I didn't trade a car in anymore. We were able to pay cash now, and I hope I made some good deals. One of these was on a 1970 Chevy Nova. We went and looked. It was like new, only 3,000 miles. I asked the owner why he was selling it. Let me add here, the car was Tomato Red. His father had gone blind and gave him his Lincoln. So what to do? Sell the Nova. The car listed new for about $3700 and so I offered him $3000 cash, right now. I owned a Tomato Red 1970 Chevy 4-door Nova. When that car was waxed, it was one of the prettiest cars I have ever owned. I had a young man as a tenant (that's another story!) who loved the Tomato Red Nova. I sold it to him. So as you can see, I didn't trade cars anymore.
About that time I had another strange deal concerning cars. So here we go - 'Just the facts, mam.' My Mother had remarried for the second time. She lived with her husband in an old farmhouse on the Island. It had a large garage. Her husband was 'something else.' For example, when he retired, he told me he got$560. I asked, 'Is that per month?' No! Just one payment of $560. So you get the picture? Let me add here - he was very good to my mother. So why am I writing about Fred? (French River Freddie). A short time before he died, he had purchased a cute little Ford Thunderbird Coupe that was passed on to my Mother. I could have bought it cheaply, but it didn't fit my needs at that time. More facts - My mother moved to an apartment, and I ran a big garage sale for her. What does that have to do with cars? Here are the details.
I was driving a real nice Chevy Malibu, so I decided to sell both cars at the garage sale, and I did. The mailman came along and bought the Malibu, and some young guy bought the Thunderbird. Can you believe it - selling two nice cars at a garage sale? I was in my 50s by now, and we were more affluent by this time, going on a Florida vacation almost every year, so why not buy a travel van? One appeared at a gas station near where I worked, with a For Sale sign. So let's take a look. It was almost new. The man who owned it had ordered a stripped van and took a year to customize it with a gas stove, ice box, sink, handmade cupboards, a bed, and floor-to-ceiling carpeting. I won't go into all the details, but to give you some idea - he built a special rack for wine glasses to hang upside down. It was deluxe all the way. So I asked the man, 'Why are you selling it?' The facts, mam. He married a lady with six kids. The van was too small, of course. He had bought a big motor home and had to sell the van. If I remember right, I paid $8600. The travel van served us very well for 3-4 years. We took it to Florida several times, to Barabo, Wisconsin (Circus World), and many other vacations. By this time, I was doing clown work and did clown shows from the van. After 3-4 years, the van was getting ratty like all cars do, so I put a For Sale sign on it. It was a little harder to sell than most of my cars, but it went after a while. About this time, GM started building a very nice car called the Chevy Caprice. It was the top of the line - so why not? I broke my own rules and went to the Island Chevy dealer. They had one - a demo. So take it for a ride and show your wife. When I got back to the dealer, we did a little horse trading. Cars had really gone up in price by then. I think I gave him $12,000 COD. Yes, there is a little humor here. I had been going through a lucky streak about this time, winning raffles, 50/50 splits, etc. My neighbor, Wilma Greenwood, happened to be at my house when they delivered my new car. They took their dealer plates off and left. I had already paid for the car. So she 'oooed and aaahd,' and I told her I had won it at a raffle, and she believed me. She is a great one for coffee shops, and the next day she was telling everyone, 'you should see the car Ted won in a raffle.' So we had a little fun with that. I must say that she and her husband, Glen, had been more than good neighbors for 37 years. She and I went to high school and grade school together.
A little story that has nothing to do with cars. When Wilma turned 50 years old, she was working the counter in the post office. I had her birthday put in the local paper, so many people wished her a happy birthday and said, 'I didn't know you were 50.' She didn't talk to me for a whole week after she found out it was I who put it in the paper. Caprices
I had several and never traded one in. I tried to keep my cars in showroom condition. I would wash and vacuum them every week, whether they needed it or not, and did a wax job every six months. There is always someone that wants them. One of the Caprices, I think the one from the dealership, was a nice white one. We had taken this car to Florida a couple of times, and it was getting nearly three years old with some miles - I think almost 30,000, so it was about time for a new one. So clean it up, wax it up, spread the word around town. That Friday I was going to put it out front with a For Sale sign. Whoops - our mechanic from work, Randy Kaiser, called and said, 'Don't sell that car.' How much did I get? $10,000. He didn't even horse trade. He gave me a certified check the next day, and the car was gone. Hey! I Can't Walk
That weekend I looked in the paper. What's this! A one-year-old Caprice with all the toys. My secretary wife, Phyllis, did all the paperwork on these deals, and we went for a look-see. Yes - a one-year-old with 10,000 miles. So I asked, 'Why are you selling this car?' He told me he has a pick-up truck and a car. He only keeps them one year. So okay!! He showed me the bill of sale. The car listed for $21,200. I offered him $12,000 and he delivered it the next day COD.
That was my last Caprice. GM changed the body style to a very ugly car. I talked to many people and no one liked the new ones. Let me add here, in my opinion, the Chevy Caprice between about 1985 and 1990 was one of the best cars ever built. They were used by the millions - by police, towns, states, taxi cabs and, of course, the public. The Chevy Caprice was my all-time favorite. For some strange reason, GM, in their great wisdom, had a habit of stopping production on some of their best cars. A Caddy - Are You Kidding?
My last Caprice was getting ratty. It was a 1990 with about 40,000 miles. I liked the Caprices, so I decided to keep it, but I didn't want to drive a ratty-looking car. I had a reputation to uphold. About this time one of my friends, who is a member of the Grand Island Lions Club by the name of Tom DeCarlo, had a paint and body shop. He lived close by, so I took my ratty Caprice down one evening for an estimate to make it look like new. As he walked around my car with his clipboard and pencil, I noticed a beautiful, baby blue Caddy with a For Sale sign. This car was out of my class, but I looked it over anyway. Can't lose by looking, right? Finally Tom came over and asked me if I liked the Caddy. It was beautiful. He told me he had gone over the car and had it all ready for his wife. Unfortunately, she passed away. He said, 'Here's the keys; take it for a ride and show your wife.' I did. It was love at first site. A-More-A, like the song Dean Martin made popular. Can you have a love affair when you are almost seventy? Yes! When I took the car back to Tom's house, of course, he wanted to know if I liked the car. Of course. To make a long story short, I asked him, 'How much?' $12,000. I didn't know you could buy a beauty like that for $12,000. I wasn't up on Caddy prices, and the car was five years old. I said to him, 'How about $11,500?' He said, 'You just bought a Cadillac.' I couldn't believe my own ears - a Cadillac! I've had this car for about two years. She is in my garage now. The love affair faded by now. I would rather have a new Caprice with the old body style. So this ends my car stories. In my opinion, even though we complain about them all the time, cars are a modern miracle compared to what we had when I started driving 55 years ago. Also, the modern trucks that I made my living driving got a lot better in the 80s and 90s than the ones from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. I should know - I would guess I have driven over a million miles - See the USA in a Chevrolet!
What's more natural for a young, good- looking single guy than to have a real nice car? And I did. While I was in Boston (see a previous chapter), a certain car caught my eye. A black, 1948 Mercury convertible. It had dual spotlights, fender skirts, a lighted green bird for a hood ornament, green lights in the ashtrays, whitewalls, a white canvas top with a plaid boot to cover the top when it was down, and red leather upholstery. I mean THIS WAS IT!! So I started my search, and within a month, I found a twin of the one I described (see photo). I made an offer the guy couldn't refuse - $650 - and he took it. I kept my dream car for about three years. It was getting ratty and burning oil. One of my high school buddies loved the car. I didn't want to sell it to him, but I did and had to bug him for the $450. So don't sell a car to a friend - ever - unless he has the cash. To this day, even at car shows, I have yet to see what at that time was my dream car. I could go on and on with car stories, but I will limit it to a few. 1950
I was still hanging around at Phillip's Garage with the race car gang. Louie, of a previous chapter, moved to Florida and made a success with the oranges. So, Vince, the son, had taken over the business. He made part of his living buying wrecked cars and making them like new, and he did a great job. Vince was very tight with a buck. If he didn't have $10,000 in the bank, he got very, very nervous. This is when most people didn't have $1,000 in the bank. So one nice, sunny day I stopped by the garage to see what was cooking and if he had a good car to sell. And, yes, he did. A 1950 Chevy Bel Air hardtop convertible. He had just finished a new two-color paint job that was a beauty. But how much? He hemmed and hawed around, as usual, telling me how much he had in it. I said, 'How about $1,000?' He very reluctantly said, 'Okay.' I gave him a $20 deposit to hold it until I could get to the bank for a loan. The reason I am relating this story is because it is like the faces of the theater - sad and laughing. The next day one of Vince's customers came by the garage and fell in love with the car and offered Vince $1200. It broke Vince's heart to lose $200, but he kept his word. He had my $20 deposit. At that time $200 was big moola. 1948
I will back up here. My Dad did come out of the hospital for a short period of time. So, there was a need for a second car. He bought a new 1948 Chevy coupe. A short time later he went back to the hospital, and I inherited the CARE and UPKEEP of this cute little coupe. So, let's do something different. My buddies and I at Vince's garage came up with some good ideas. We found out that most of the 1948 trimming fit the 1948 Chevy. We went to the junk yard (yes, they knew us well at Jake's), and yes, he did have a wrecked 1948 Caddy. His son, Jackie, was one of our stock car racing buddies. He let us strip the wrecked Caddy - wheel covers, Caddy emblems, hood ornament and more. As it turned out, I ended up with the cutest look-alike Caddy coupe. It sure turned a lot of heads around the race tracks and hamburg joints - 'Is that really a Caddy???' they asked. 1957
By this time I was married. I will write about that later. I was driving a 1954, 4-door Chevy and still working at Bell Aircraft. The Chevy gave out one day after work. I did limp over to our Island Chevy dealer. At that time this dealership was really family to our Island. The owner, Carlton Alt, a Mason, made sure we had transportation, even if one couldn't pay right now. One great guy. So what did he have for me? Maybe a station wagon. The kids were coming by then. He had one that just came in yesterday. A 1955 Chevy Nomad station wagon. This was a real sharp wagon at that time, and I took it home that night, to my wife's great surprise. Many people asked me, 'Is it a car or a wagon?' To make a long story short, this particular model was only produced for six months in 1955 and became one of the most collectible cars ever produced by General Motors. After I pretty much wore it out, I took it back to the dealer to trade it in. His comment was, 'Put it in a barn for 20 years!' He was right. After they are restored, they are selling for $20,000 to $40,000. Of course I couldn't store it for 20 years, so that car is probably owned by some rich collector. 1970
Just Out Of The Box
Wow. Yes, it's brand new. Another station wagon. I ordered it with no radio, no automatic transmission, no power steering or brakes, but with a six-cylinder engine. You might say it was a stripped-down model for $2,000. Yes, that's right. The salesman who wrote the order advised me to put some toys on it. He said it wouldn't resell. I kept the car for two years and took very special care of it. It was clean as a whistle. At that time you could trade a good clean car in toward a new one for $1200 every two years. But remember, the salesman said I wouldn't be able to sell my car. As luck would have it, we had a single Mom friend who wanted my car. So what to do? Sell it! She gave me almost as much as I paid for it. So I ended up with another new station wagon that even had some toys on it for about $2200. Not bad! What did break my heart though, when I delivered the car to the single Mom, was the sight of these two ratty kids with sticky fingers and two big dogs all over the wagon. I saw the wagon a few months later, and it was a real mess.
I have to back up a few years now to 1944 through 1948. My playground at that time was the Sandy Beach Yacht Club, where I almost got my first kiss. Of course, there were many boats at the Yacht Club, mostly sail boats, mostly lightenings and comets. These are center board boats. What does this have to do with me? Okay! This single old lady (35) lived nearby and always needed help. She was very nice to look at. She kept a comet sailboat at the Yacht Club and let Marty Livingston and I use it. And we did. Yes! We were young and foolish. We would sail to Navy Island, just above Niagara Falls, and spend most of the day exploring this uninhabited Island. We didn't know at the time, but we were breaking the law. Navy Island is a Canadian island, and we were crossing the border each time we went there. When nature took over and we got hungry - Whoops! What's this? No wind! It was easy to sail to Navy Island - it was downstream. Getting back is another story. I guess we did. We are still here and didn't go over the Falls. Chinese proverb: When there is wind, sail upstream. Another Boat Story
When Marty and I got into duck hunting, we needed a small boat. So, being young and inventive, why not build one cheaply? And we did. We looked in our collection of sports magazines, and sure enough, there it was--plans for a small duck hunting boat. I mean very small. This little boat was only six feet long, made of the lathe boards and canvas, and many, many coats of paint. Guess What? It worked and we had fun building it. It was too small to have a name. It only weighed about forty pounds. I think we helped create the do-it-yourself generation. I became involved in racing boats later in life, so let's get back to after the Navy. As I said, I sold my "coming apart boat." A couple of years later, I began to get that fishing feeling many men get. I didn't have much money, so guess who had a cheap B & M? Marty! Out behind his barn. WOW! Needs lots of work, but work never scared me off. So let's look at the motor. A ten-horse Mercury. Oh! It's frozen up and won't turn over. So after some tinkering, we defrosted it (ask me how) and got it going. So I took the B & M home and started cleaning up the boat. There were many spiders, hornets, ants and all that kind of stuff. But what's this? The transom has lots of dry rot. I mean by the handful. So, what to do? Don't give up, of course. Do you remember those government jobs at Bell Aircraft? I made two aluminum plates to fit the transom, one on the outside and one for the inside. Filled the big holes with marine putty and screwed on the plates. Guess what? It worked! Except when I would gun the engine, the transom would move. So go easy and I did. I had that outfit for about three years. Chinese Proverb: Man who buy woodie, poke with ice pick first for dry rot.
After my dry-rot boat, I was into marriage, divorce and a new family. About this time one fine, sunny day, I happened to be by the ferry landing, near where I now live. I took a look around. There were two old ferry boats there, owned by the Fix brothers, that were ready for the scrap yard. I walked up the road a little. Here was this old building with a sign, Niagara River Fishing Club. One of the members asked me in for a beer. So, why not? He told me they were looking for new members. Would I be interested? Maybe. He showed me around the place, so why not? I did join but that will come later. The Last One
I began fishing with one of the members of the Club in his 18-foot inboard/outboard Starcraft. So this was more luxury than I ever had with B & M's, even a radio and plush seats and carpeting. I told him if he ever wants to sell this outfit, let me know. And he did - about a year later. I gave him $4000 and owned the best B & M I ever had. I was retired by then and made a new fishing partner at the Club, and we had many, many good days fishing. Then I lost my interest in fishing, so why keep a B & M? So sell it, and I did. Chinese Proverb: Man who owns a B & M spends a lot of moola - Yes!
Yes!! I have been around them my whole life. Starting with the old Knuckle Busters Motors and wooden boats. I have a few stories about B and M's. So let's start at the beginning. It was my father's boat, eventally passed on to me. This boat we had at Foit's Beach. It had a 12-1/2 horsepower Knuckle Buster motor (ask me about it). The boat was a beautiful varnished mahogany. Steering wheels in boats at that time were unheard of, but we had one. The motor weighed about 100 pounds. Eventually we had a 33 horsepower engine on the old Sea Hawk (the name of a movie with Errol Flynn that was popular at that time.)
We had the fastest boat in town. We could even pull a surfboard and a cut-down piece of plywood; it worked and we had fun. This boat had a unique problem. It was a well-built boat, but the tremendous 33 horsepower engine was too much for the boat; and it took quite a beating.
At that time wooden boats were built with oak ribs. Every year about six would break and had to be replaced. This was a winter job. I won't go into all the details. I will say, however, that the ribs had to be put in water and linseed oil and boiled till they were soft enough to bend to the shape of the hull. Then they were clamped in place and secured with brass screws. It became a ritual every winter. Then there was the sanding and varnishing, etc. To keep a nice boat, it took a lot of work, as you can imagine. The old Sea Hawk went the way of all wooden boats when the aluminum and fiberglass boats came on the market. You couldn't give the woodies away. I know. I had a 16-foot Lyman ready for the water. I sold it for $75 - that's right, $75! We brought the Sea Hawk along when we moved to the Island and got a few more years out of it. I kept it by a friend's house on the river at Sandy Beach. We didn't have a boat trailer, so, how could we get the boat to the river? We only had to go about a mile-and-a-half to the water. We built a skid, and we did it with 2x4s for runners. Needless to say, the 2x4s were only 1x2s by the time we got to the river! Let me add here this took place during World War II. You couldn't buy a boat trailer. The ones that had them, kept them. Maybe you are wondering if we had a license for this rig. Are you kidding? During the Big One, anything that worked was the answer.
One BM story I think is worth writing about. I mentioned we had a friend who lived on the river. His name was Ken Kinsey, a real nice guy. One sunny Sunday afternoon we were hanging out at his house. So let's have some fun. He had a 12-foot racing boat he used to paddle back and forth to his sailboat that was anchored out in front of his house. He said, "Why don't you guys try your 12-1/2 horsepower motor on the racing boat?" I am talking here about Marty Livingston and me. We did. Wow, did we go! We were flying! Whoops! I mean really flying. We weren't paying attention. A large boat came across in front of us and made a wake about 6 feet high. Yes, we hit that wake going about 35 or 40 mph, and we were airborne. The boat came down nose first, and we kept right on going through the air - about 30 feet. Maybe we should have had life jackets on. We weren't hurt, so we swam back to the boat. We bailed it out with our hats and started the motor so we could be on our way. Chinese Proverb: He who is airborne should hold on tight.
I have another amusing story that I think is worth telling. When I came home from the Navy, I resurrected a boat I had received for my 18th birthday. It had been stored winter and summer behind our chicken coop for three years. So you can imagine what condition it was in. It was a good quality boat, built out of cedar by a canoe company in Canada. They assembled these boats with copper nails, called clout nails, that were driven in and bent over. It worked very well. I got out the sander and started. I sanded like crazy. I was proud of my work. It looked great. I did have a ten-horsepower Mercury motor to go with it; but at that time I wasn't into B & M's, so I sold it for $1200, I think. I knew the man who bought it. There were so few people living on the Island then, so I would see him about once a month. When I saw him, I asked, "How's the boat going, Andy?" "Not good," he said. "It's coming all apart." What?? To make a long story short - I sanded too much and took the heads off the copper nails, so the boat was really coming apart. I think he had to renail the whole boat. Chinese proverb: He who sands too much has boat in pieces.
We were there when it first began - myself, Fred Bidell, Paul Bidell, and our main man, Vince Phillips, the current owner of Mr. Phillips Garage. (See photo.) We got together $50 and bought a beat up old Chevy coupe and cleaned it, painted it, and modified it for more horsepower. We were ready to go racing. At that time a race car was towed by a tow bar behind a regular car. No one had car trailers then. There were two places to race - one was a small paved quarter mile at Buffalo's Civic Stadium, later called the Rockpile. It was built by the WPA in about 1930. This was our home track. If there were conflicts or union problems, we would head for the Lockport fairgrounds, a half-mile dirt track. Today it is not possible to race the same car on dirt and asphalt, but at that time there was a saying, "You run what you brung." W-e did most every Saturday night throughout the summer of 1948. There were very few rules then. Any tires were okay. Sometimes they would only last a race or two before they would blow out. Top speed was about 65 mph., and there was a lot of pushing and shoving. I will relate a few stories from the beginning of stock car racing and NASCAR. You're On Your Roof
The Rockpile was the place for excitement. A small paved narrow quarter mile, it was originally built for baseball. The track was added later. So, as I said, it was a small track. Between each stock car race, the midget cars would race. Midgets were on their way out then. It made for a very fan-friendly track - there was lots of excitement. The place was almost full every Saturday night. At $2 a ticket, it made a big gate collection, and the car owners got 50% of the gate. So, the money paid for racing was pretty good.
The four heat races had about 12-15 cars, mostly coupes, but there were a few sedans. They were called stage coaches. The five top finishers went on to the feature race, and all non-winners ran in a consolation race. The top five in the consi made the feature (25 cars). Let me go back to the consi, the last-chance race. There usually were about 20 cars. The drivers put all they had in it to make the feature. It was not unusual to have three cars on their roofs, and the racing kept right on going. It was a riot. The race was stopped when a car went on its roof, and the driver got out. The ones on the roof were left on the track, and they were picked apart by the racing cars. The fans went wild. The feature race went a little better. The cars and drivers were a little better, but they also had many wrecks going for the big purse - $100 to the winner. It Won't Stick
Everybody in racing knows that if you can get the back wheels of the car to stick to the ground around turns, you are going to win races. So, what to do? We couldnt get our car to "stick." We tried better tires, new shocks, etc. but nothing seemed to work. The back end kept sliding out. There weren't any weight limits at that time. So, what to do? One of our gang had a brain storm: plug the holes in the trunk with rags, and pour in six inches of concrete. Yes, it did stick very well, but the extra weight slowed the car down too much. That car was beyond repair at that time. So, what to do? We found another car - about a 1937 Chevy sedan (stage coach) - and made a race car out of it - seats out and glass out (except the windshield). We gave it a new paint job and numbers all for about $100, and we were in business again. I never got to drive either car. One of the reasons involved one of our friends, Gordie Reed, who had been winning a few races and almost always finished in the top five and always had the best looking car. He was made an offer he couldn't refuse. Three guys from Canada were looking to buy a good race car. They offered him $1,000 cash, right now, and he took it. $1000 was a lot of moola in 1948. So we had him drive our new stage coach. They're On Fire
One of the things that sticks in my memory is the night of the big fire at the Rockpile. They were starting a special 50 lapper, the best cars starting up front. They qualified through time trials for starting position. The green flag fell to start the race. The first two cars hit and locked wheels and came to an abrupt stop. The next two cars hit them and jumped on top of the first two. And the same thing happened with the next four cars. So there were eight cars, some on top of the others, and they caught on fire (full gas tanks for a 50 lapper). All the drivers got out okay, but the fire was so big they had to call the city fire department to put it out.
Well!! High school graduation was over, and I had decided to go into the Navy. However, this was summertime - the good old summer when I was eighteen. My good friend, Fred Bidell ('41 Ford Coupe), Paul Bidell ('36 Ford) and by then my 1929 Model A. Ford had places to go and things to do. That required money. So, what to do? How about getting a job? I did. Marty Livingston and I worked for the Town of Grand Island Highway Department as summer help in 1946 and 1947. It only paid 32 cents an hour. I would like to tell you about some of the working conditions back then. The Highway Department only had two trucks, six farmers and two boys. Some of the work was still being done with horses. Sometimes one or two of the farmers would bring the horses to work, and each horse got 32 cents an hour. Marty and I were the only ones who could read or write very well, except for Mr. Yensan, the Highway Superintendent. Everything was done in slow motion. If it didn't get done today, we could do it tomorrow.
There wasn't a Highway Department building. The two dump trucks were kept in a shed by the Town Hall, and Mr. Yensan's barn is where we got together in the morning. He rented his barn to the town and used his old car to patrol the road and keep things moving, but not too fast. His office in the barn consisted of an old kitchen table, chairs and a chest of drawers that he found by the side of the road. He used the back of old envelopes to write down important things.
One of the benefits of the job came in between loads of stone or cold patch. If we were close to the river, we could get in a little swimming or pick wild strawberries or whatever. Maybe this will give you some idea of the work world I entered in 1946 and 1947. I hope I didn't confuse you too much on that flashback. So now we are up to 1948-1949. I didn't go back to the Highway Department. They were paying 45 cents an hour. Wow! I had five years of driving experience, and I was offered a job driving a truck for 75 cents an hour (big money). The job lasted through the summer of 1948, and I had a few memorable experiences.
<CENTER>I Am On My Tailgate </CENTER>
The first load I ever delivered was top soil to a cemetery. It was my first day on the job, and I was a little nervous. A man met me and showed me where to dump. So I pulled the tailgate lever and raised the body, and guess what? The whole truck went up and I was sitting on the tailgate. I was looking straight into the sky and was 12 feet off the ground. The cemetery man was laughing his head off, and I was scared stiff. I had pulled the tailgate handle but it didn't open. Luckily for me, the cemetery man had a highlift and got the front part of the truck back on the ground. When I got back to the truck yard, everyone had a good laugh at my expense. The boss, Elmer Webb, told me he forgot to warn me that the tailgate on that truck sometimes sticks shut and has to be popped open with a shovel. I always say something good comes from something bad. In my forty years of trucking, I always made sure the tailgate was open.
<CENTER>The Chain Drive Mack Truck </CENTER>
Here is another tale of how it was in 1948. The truck I was driving on this day was built around 1925. Hard tires, wooden steering wheel, no doors, no lights, mechanical breaks! Do you get the picture? One day we were short of trucks, and we had to put this beast on the road. It was usually used for the field work. Its top speed was about 30 mph. I had to deliver a load of something to Niagara Falls. I was stopped by a policeman. After checking my license, he walked around and looked the truck over really well. He said that this was the worst vehicle he ever saw on the road. I was to get the beast back to the Island and never come back to Niagara Falls with it. To my great surprise, he didn't give me a ticket. He said there were so many violations that he didn't have enough tickets with him. So, he let me go.
I did have one more job when the trucking season ended but before I entered the Navy. I worked for a land surveying company. They only had about six employees. My aunt, Evelyn Tank, ran the office. My uncle, Al Schoenle, did the field work. My mother made the maps and I helped in the field. I learned this job really fast - how to hold a pole or rod up straight and how to hold the dummy end of a chain (tape). This job carried me to the first of the year and kept a little jingle in my pocket. Then I was off to see the world through a porthole.
I always had three or four dogs around for hunting. Usually
beagles. I had a big doghouse by our outhouse - big enough for me to get in.
There always seemed to be a litter of puppies around. Sometimes I would crawl
in and play with the puppies. On several occasions I fell asleep in there.
After the beagles were gone, I got down to one good dog. I had other things
on my mind besides dogs. This special dog was called Shiner. She had one
black eye. She was a very loyal dog that had puppies on a regular basis. She
would get a piece of my clothing - usually a shirt - to have her puppies on.
On one occasion she had four puppies by two different males, a small one and
a large one (Yes, this does happen). The small pup came first, but she
couldn't pass the big one. I tried to help her but had no success. So, what
to do? Call the vet, of course, or shoot the dog. So I called the vet in
Tonawanda (no vet on Grand Island). With the dog in my arms, and a big puppy
half in and half out, I was lucky to have had a chauffeur. The vet got the
puppy out, dead of course. Then I got the bad news. The other big puppy had
to be taken out caesarean for $150 or else the dog had to be put down. So, of
course, we saved the dog and the puppy. About a month later Shiner ran into
the road after a cat, and you can guess the rest of the story.
The Bridge Over The Niagara
Sometimes in the evening, Marty Livingston and I would get
the idea to go to a movie in Niagara Falls. We had to choose - one of the
choices was to ride our bikes through Buckhorn Park and hide our bikes under
the Grand Island bridge and walk across. Since we were a bit loco, we walked
through the superstructure under the bridge at night, of course. I guess we
always made it. This bridge is only one mile from the Falls.
The other less dangerous way was to go by our old canoe.
This was okay, as there weren't many power boats out at this time of night.
One night after the movies, we uncovered our canoe that had been hidden in
the bushes and headed for home. About half way across we saw some strange
lights in our path, but we didn't worry. Alas, it was a lake freighter, about
100 feet long, with a 5-foot wake. I think our guardian angel helped us that
night for some strange reason - we didn't capsize and made it across safely.
Another Canoe Caper
We had another canoe caper around this time. One fine
Sunday afternoon at the beach, Miss Patty came, all dressed up. Remember her,
with the hot pants? Wow! Did she grow up! She started to hang around, like
girls do. We decided to go across the river to what is called the 'Little
River.' It is a slow moving stream with a lot of lily pads and about two feet
of black muck on the bottom, but it is a very safe place for canoeing. We are
paddling along enjoying the view (or Miss Patty, of course) in her cute,
white, linen, summer outfit. Alas! What's this? It's a power boat zipping
along at about 35 mph. He tipped us over and kept right on going, laughing
all the way.The water was only about three feet deep; and the black muck,
about two feet. So you can guess the mess we had, and again, we couldn't stop
laughing, except for Miss Patty. Marty and I got the canoe bailed out and
Patty unstuck from the black muck. We got her in the bottom of the canoe -
she was a real mess and as mad as a nice girl can get. We got her back to
Sandy Beach, but she had to walk about two blocks to get home. I guess she
must have been really embarrassed. She had muck in her hair, and she was only
sixteen, our disaster girl! Footnote: The Little River ran right past the
famous Love Canal, so that's probably where the black muck came from. I guess
maybe we are radioactive, but we're still here.
The Automatic 22 Rifle
This should have been in with the hunting and fishing
stories, but here I go. I was 17 or 18 and decided I should have a nice, new
22 rifle. What a gun! It held 18 bullets, and it was fully automatic. It was
great for shooting rats and all kinds of other things, like fish. In the
spring the creek behind our house was a place for Northern pike to spawn,
like the salmon. Usually the water was only six inches deep. The salmon ran
about five pounds each. We would stand in the middle of the creek and wait
for them to come. They came mostly two at a time, rubbing against each other
and laying eggs. It was so easy and so illegal. One shot between their heads
knocked them out. We filled our freezers and gave away plenty. One day will
always stick in my memory - Marty had a shotgun (4-12), Johnny had a pistol,
and I had a pitchfork. We took 35 fish that day. That adds up to around 175
pounds of nice, fresh fish. How is that for a fish story? It is true, but it
was so illegal and done out of season.
This make-shift tractor is very similar to the "hoopee" mentioned in the story.
He was one of a kind, very religious, I mean he lived it every day. Marty Livingston and I worked for him after school and Saturday and all summer. Never on Sunday - that was a day of rest. Our pay was about five or seven dollars a week and Louie had a very hard time getting that much together. He was a farmer, had a welding shop and car and truck repair. The only one on the Island. We had many interruptions. If we were working out in the fields, we had to come in and weld something or fix a tractor so the farmer could get his work done. He never made anyone wait. What patience!
I am doing a little background here because I learned more from Louie in four years, part time, than any time in my life. First and best, I learned to drive (at 13). Louie never bought anything new. He even built his own tractors and some for other people. It was war time - no new anything, cars, trucks, tractors and farm equipment. He would take an old car, take the body off - seats out and cut three feet out of the middle. Put it back together and a tractor was born. He called them Hoopees. These are the vehicles I learned to drive. I was shown how to start it - how to shift it - how to stop it - and told to take it out in the field and get used to it. A five minute lesson and I was on my way! I can't begin to describe some of the old worn out farm equipment we worked with. I will try to describe just one. THE BIG TRACTOR - It was twenty feet long - a truck frame and engine - two in line transmissions - a platform to stand on (no seat) and a steering wheel - the back wheels were about five feet high. It was almost a two-man job to run it. But it had lots of power. It was a real learning experience working for Louie. I learned to milk cows, make butter, mow hay, rake hay, load hay, cultivate corn, harvest potatoes, thrash wheat, and a hundred other things with old worn out equipment. Driving became automatic.
If we worked all day, lunch was a real treat. When Louie's wife called us in for lunch, we had a full course dinner, meat, potatoes, gravy and dessert. She really knew how to cook. All you could eat! They were poor but ate very well. Many of Louie's customers couldn't pay so they bartered food for the work or brought food to thank Louie for dropping everything to get their equipment repaired. Just a note - we were never allowed to use any bad language while we worked for Mr. Philips.
One fine day in August or September 1947, when the Grand Island clay becomes so dry and hard, (I mean you can't put a shovel in it) we reported to Louie on a Saturday morning. 'What's up today, Louie?' He had bought a two-story cider mill that was located about a mile and a half up the road. A very heavy and well built building. He had worked most of the week getting it ready to move. Yes, MOVE! So he took the big tractor and Marty and I took one of the hoopies and off we went through the fields to the cider mill. We met two men who had brought their trucks. We all went to work hooking up heavy chains to the 12 X 12 beams under the building and then to the trucks. Sure enough, they pulled that building through the fields at about one mile an hour. We had to cross one road, so Marty and I rode on top of the building to push up the telephone and electric wires. No problem. By noon, the baby was born, after much grunting and labor, the building was moved into place. Louie's wife and daughter ahd a special big lunch for the whole gang. After lunch I had to go out and look to make sure I didn't dream the whole thing.
Another one of our jobs was helping Louie fill his barn with hay. That was a lot of good, hard work. We also worked for other farmers during the haying season. But thrashing in the fall was quite an adventure. We would go from farm to farm, about ten men and two boys (we skipped school a lot). The bundles of grain were brought into the farmyard to the thrashing machine. The bundles were fed in one end of the machine. The grain came out the side and the straw was blown from a long shoot, where it landed is where the straw stack would be. It was a real trick to build a straw stack. The straw was very slippery and very dusty. Somehow, Marty and I always ended up building the straw stack. We would spit up black for about three days, but you never got a better shoe shine.
As I said before, there was no high school on our Island, so most of us were bussed to my Alma Mater, Tonawanda High (formerly called Kibler High School). I got on the bus at seven in the morning and got home at five, a long day for a young, tender boy of fourteen. The first two years of high school were kind of dull, but we still had our activities on the Island. I do remember the many parties at our house. My father worked at Niagara Mohawk and his co-workers and families were our social circle. They loved to play cards, trap shoot and generally have a good time, as you will see by the pictures.
At this time Grand Island didn't have any activities for young people. Marty Livingston and I put our heads together so we formed the First Organized Youth Group. We approached the school to have Saturday night dances in the school gym. Big Red Connor told us the school budget didn't have any funds for extra curricular activities. Alas! A local church gave us permission to use their basement if we had two adult chaperones. We were on our way. Marty was president, I, vice president, one of the girls, Betty Brennan, secretary. A note about Betty - her family was very well off. On her sixteenth birthday her father gave her a brand new Chevy convertible. We could hardly believe it. So Betty became our chauffeur. About 20 kids joined our club. The dues were $5.00 a year. We had a dance very Saturday night. Someone would bring a record player and most everybody brought snacks and pop. So everything was going honk-e-dory until Marty and I and Betty, being the Big Wheels, decided we would go Big Time and purchase a real jukebox. But where do you start? Let your fingers do the walking... the Yellow Pages, of course. We found a store that sold pinball machines, shuffle boards, juke boxes, etc. Our chauffeur was available the next Saturday, so off the Big Wheels went. When we go to the store, they had about six to show us. After much discussion (5 minutes) we bought a beautiful Wurlitzer 6000 to be delivered to the church the following week. We even paid cash - $150. We were given the keys for the volume and the coin box. WoW. We really felt like Big Wheels that day.
Junior Senior Years
In my junior year I became more confident. My best friend Marty and I made the swim team. This brought on some complications because swim practice after school made us miss our ride to the Island. The swim season lasted from September to December. After our practice was over, we walked to the River Road and got our thumbs out. We were very lucky we hooked up with a very nice man, Jim Braddell, who came at the right time with a bakery truck. He lived on the Island near our house and everything worked out okay. I wasn't that great as a swimmer. I didn't set any records but the competition and travel to other schools for meets were good. It opened my world and I made many new, good friends, some to this day. One regret, I didn't get a letter sweater - missed it by one point.
I was in my junior year of high school, that would be 1947. I had several part time jobs, so I had a little jingle in my pockets. I really became a cool cat. The Fonz didn't have anything on me. Clothes became important. The dress of the day - Levi's, the kind with the copper rivets and the legs turned up one turn. A clean white t-shirt and penny loafers with lots of confidence. But this cool cat had new, shiny silver dollars in his loafers. I'll bet the Fonz never had that! Yes, silver dollars will fit, with a little effort. And one more thing, a Tonawanda High School letter sweater. So what does a real cool cat need next? A car, of course, but how?? To my great good fortune two major events took place in "My Life." First, my uncle Al Schoenle (Junie) Moved back in with us part time while he attended school in Buffalo. He bought a Model A Ford for $75 and kept it at our house, the one at 3114 Baseline Road. He let me use it whenever he didn't want it, which was most of the time. My dream came true. The second miracle came about the same time one of my friends' (Paul Bidell) brother was discharged from the Navy. He bought a real sharp 1941 Ford Coupe. He was older than I but he could spot a real cool cat a mile away - me, of course! We hit it off like two peas in a pod (Fred Bidell). His brother also bought a real nice 1936 Ford Coupe and sometimes my father let me use our 1927 Chevy 4-door sedan. I was very lucky as far as cars were concerned. If I didn't have a car all the time, I could walk around Tonawanda after school. After all, I was on the 'A' swim team and not bad to look at. And I didn't have anything to do with those stinkies anymore. I actually had some dates. They even taught me how to kiss and hug. I even asked one girl to go steady. Can you believe she said no! I asked her why. She said you loved them all?? All kidding aside, I did have a wonderful and lovely steady girl in my senior year. I called her Suzy, not her real name. We did all the things that young high school kids do - football games, dances, movies, graduation parties, etc. Along about the end of our senior year, things were getting serious and I think she had marriage on her mind and asked me to go see a priest. Not being Catholic, this didn't sound very inviting and other girls starting looking pretty good, so we parted good friends and I still think of her when I hear certain songs by my favorite band at the time, Sammy Kaye, and the Swing and Sway Music.
This is where I grew up. I lived at 3114 Baseline Road but my second home was at 3504 Wallace Drive. Martin Livingston lived there and my adopted family - brothers Jerry, Ronnie (Alf), and Chuck, who was away in the Navy most of the time and my adopted sister, Joan that we teased way, way too much. Also, mom and pop Livingston.
I'm writing this column to let my readers know what it was like then. On the Baseline roadside there was Wagner's pasture and cornfield. He kept about 15 or 20 cows. We went over there when the apples were ripe. There were a few old apple trees in the pasture so we would climb up and have our fill of nice, ripe apples and worms and a few in the pockets for later. This was okay except the cows wanted some, too. They would form a ring around the tree so tight we couldn't get down, only if we walked on their back. That's hard to do and dangerous. So after smashing a few apples on their heads that they didn't even feel, the only solution was to throw lots of apples away from the tree. This would distract them and we could get away, if we ran like h---! And we did!!
Also, on the Baseline roadside up to Huth Road was a cornfield almost over to Greenway. I was new to the Island then and was amazed at the size of the corn stalks - like way over my head, maybe six or seven feet tall. So one night our gang got together and decided to have a corn roast. We could build a fire easy enough and steal butter and salt from the house. What we needed was fresh corn, not having any moola, we did what kids do - we raided the cornfield. What's this? Ears of corn over a foot long. We only needed one per kid but we picked some extra - why not? We had the whole field and it was dark out. We really didn't know how to roast corn. Someone said it should be soaked in water. That was okay for maybe five minutes - we were hungry. So into the fire until we thought it was done. It wasn't! But it was warm enough to melt butter. It was awful! I found out later it was cow corn used for silage but it was a good lesson and when our parents asked us what we did that night - oh nothing!!
Some of my readers have asked me if they really did make fur coats from skunk skins. And yes they did! My neighbor across the street, Maryan Traun, told me she had a chinchilla fur coat with a skunk skin collar. If she got it wet, there was a slight skunk odor.
Thank you for reading my column. If anyone has a question or correction, my telephone number is 773-2524 or stop me when you see me some place on our Island. In the future I hope to write many more columns about Sandy Beach and what took place there when I was growing up.
My friend Marty and I were always cooking up ideas to make some of that moola ($$). We were older now and our needs were also much bigger. I will let you use your imagination on this. As I said before, the big woods behind our house with the creek running through was our playground. On a summer day we were hunting around in the woods for some mischief. Alas, with our keen young ears we heard something buzzing. Ha - it's bees! We looked around - sure enough, a steady stream of bees was going into the top of a broken off tree. Where there are bees, there is honey. Where there is honey, there's money. But how to get the honey out of the tree. We figured about twenty gallons at a dollar a gallon and no investment, we wwre hot to trot. First mistake - you don't go in the woods in August. It's too hot and the mosquitos can drive you crazy, especially with a creek near by for breeding. They come in clouds for your hot, red blood. This endeavor should be saved for January or February when the bees are sleeping. But the pressing need for moola and not using our brains, we went after that honey like "gang busters." First we had to find some fine net curtains to sew on our hats to cover our faces. Also a scarf to cover our neck. Next, a heavy winter coat and pants and high woolen stockings to tuck our pants in. And last, a good thick pair of gloves. Now we were ready. We also needed clean containers to put the twenty gallons of honey in and a scoop to dip the honey out of the tree. Also a good sharp two-man saw, ha ha, to cut the tree down, firewood, matches, cool drinking water, and a sandwich or two for lunch. This was going to be an all day affair. We put all our things in two wheelbarrows and we were on our way.
HI HO HI HO - it's off to work we go.
Taking the wheelbarrow through the fields was easy, the loads were light. But when we reached the woods with the creek, our troubles started. We didn't get a very early start so the temperature was near 85 or 90. It was very difficult to push the wheelbarrows through the woods and across the creek. Swarms of mosquitoes were just waiting for our nice, fresh, hot blood. It is very difficult to swat mosquitos when you have both hands on the handles of a wheelbarrow. But we carried on, like young fools. Alas, we finally reached the 'bee tree.' By this time it was close to lunch time, so we sat in the shade and ate our lunch. Boy, the mosquitoes ate us! Not to worry! After our nice lunch with our bug company, we got to work. The tree with the honey in it was about ten feet tall. We figured we could saw half-way through it at the bottom and the bees wuld stay at the top. Big Mistake! They became curious and we sawed faster. Ah! We would fool them. It was time for our smokey fire. We got that going. It seemed to work pretty good for the bees, but we were in the smoke and heat. Not to worry! We sawed the tree almost through. It was ready to push over. At this time we thought we needed protection from the bees and those other winged beasts. So we dressed in our our winter clothes and even hip boots. When we pushed the tree over, it fell with a great thud in the dry creek bed. For some reason the bees became very upset and ready to attack. Not to worry! Our fire some how got inside the tree and set the wax on fire. So we had to saw again further up ahead of the fire. This tree was about 15 inches in diameter. By the time we got it sawed again, the fire had caught up to us and we were roasting and the bees were attacking. We ended up sawing the tree three times to stay ahead of the fire but it was a total loss. Panic set in, we couldn't stand the heat any more, so we striped to our skivies. the "ski-toes" like that! They got more blood than a day at the blood bank. We ran for home about a half mile. We collected our equipment the next day. It was a great experience - Don't go in the woods in August and Let The Bees Be!!
I ended my last column with "The Big Fish That Didn't get Away." I am still writing about the creek behind my house at 3114 Baseline Road. There were many that didn't get away. There was a ritual on the Island - the annual spawning run of the northern pike that most people called pickerel. I am not sure which is right. April was the best month. The water in the creek was usually about 6" deep and it was clear most of the time. We didn't use a fishing pole. We used a manure fork. It worked better than a pitch fork because it had four tines and they were closer together to spear or slip the fish out of the water.
These fish run about five pounds. They were usually rubbing against each other while they laid their eggs. What worked best was a 22 rifle. We would just shoot between them and the concussion knocked them out and in the bag they went. It was a great time of year to be in the woods - no mosquitoes yet. The trees were starting to get their leaves - the wild flowers were out - the fish were there and plenty of them. What more could a young boy want? There are two incidents that stand out in my memory. The first involves some of the boys who lived on Bedell Road near where the Mrkall family lived. They were caught by the 'gamee' - game warden with several of these fish and had to pay a fine of $37.50 for each fish. Yes, this activity was very, very illegal but everyone did it. I think all the gamee's were away fighting in the 'big one' (WW2).
The second incident involves two of my childhood friends, Marty Livingston and Johnny Staley. Incidently Marty L. and I became friends for life. Closer than many brothers and you will hear more about him in my future columns. As the story goes, it was a beautiful Saturday, no school of course. The creek was just right - clear and about six inches deep - perfect. Johnny had a 22 pistol. I had my new 22 rifle and Marty had a 4-10 shotgun. So let's go to the woods, where the creek ran through it. And we did! It happened to be one of those days when the fish were there and plenty of them. To make a long story short, as they say today - 'we had a ball!' Took forty fish at about five pounds each. That's two hundred pounds of fresh fish. We all filled our freezers and gave away all that was left. One thing I left out. There were too many to carry. We had to get the wheel barrow and make several trips from the woods to the house. This was an every year thing that I remember growing up on Grand Island until I went into the Navy in 1949.
Oh! Where to start? There were so many and all in Sandy Beach. The place was loaded with stinkies. At this stage of my life we never had enough 'moola.' That's what we called money in our slang language of that time. Of course the story involves Marty Livingston and myself. We were hardly ever apart more than 24 hours. Sometimes I lived at his house on Wallace Drive and sometimes he lived at my house on Baseline Road. One of our money making schemes was trapping skunks. A good black one could bring $6 but they were very rare. A black and white one - about $3 and a white one only $1. We didn't use our traps as much as our dogs. I had a little beagle and Marty had a big airedale. The skunks lived mostly in the driveway tiles by the road. We went after them mostly at night. My little beagle was small enough to go in after the stinkies and when the skunk came out the other end, Marty's airedale would grab him and a couple of good shakes and we had a dead skunk. Of course, both dogs got sprayed, many times, but they had a way of rubbing it off on the grass. We did trap a few. The Beach House Restaurant was one of our favorite places. It was good for one week. At that time it was a small delicatessen run by Tom and Mae Batsford. They were a real nice couple. I think from Scotland or England. I bet many old Islanders remember them. We would bring our prizes to Marty's house and hang them in a tree in the back yard so the smell would go away. Yes, the neighbors did complain sometimes but as I said in one of my other columns, it was a different way of life and the fur was needed for the war effort. So how did we turn our stinkies into 'moola?' We would wait for the man who delivered the evening paper. Yes, that's right. He was Art Kingston, a very wise and strange man. He was a real outdoorsman. I once saw him call a flock of ducks into his decoys without a duck call. Not many people can do that. When Art came with the paper, we would have our stinkies ready for him by the paper box. He always had a cheery greeting - 'Hi Boys' - what have you got for me today? He never got out of his Jeepster. There was a burlap bag tied on the back. We would hold up our prizes. He would look them over, one at a time. He was pretty fair. $3 for that black and white one. That white one is only $1 and so on. So maybe we made $10 on a good week. And it put some jingle in our pockets. And maybe a new pair of Levies with the copper rivets for $4. That was the dress code of that time - Levies and a nice white tee-shirt. Marty did get sprayed in the mouth once and we did get sent home from school a number of times and that's a long walk from Tonawanda High but the thumb worked good during the war years and it gave us a day to do more hunting and fishing. So that's the story about the stinkies.
One fine Sunday afternoon at the beach, here comes Miss Patty, all dressed up. Wow! Did she grow up. She started to hang around, like girls do. We decided to go across the river to what is called the "Little River." It is a slow moving stream with a lot of lily pads and about two feet of black muck on the bottom, but a very safe place for canoeing. We are paddlng along enjoying the view (of Miss Patty, of course) in her cute, white, linen summer outfit. Alas! What's this? It's a power boat zipping along about 35 mph. He tipped us over and kept right on going, laughing all the way. The water was only about two feet deep and the black muck about two feet deep. So you can guess the mess we had, and again, we couldn't stop laughing, except Miss Patty. Marty and I got the canoe bailed out and Patty unstuck from the black muck. We got her in the bottom of the canoe. She was a real mess and as mad as a nice girl can get. We got her back to Sandy Beach but she had to walk about two blocks to get back home. I guess she must have been really embarrassed. She even had muck in her hair and she was only sixteen, our disater girl!
Footnote: The Little River ran right past the famous Love Canal so probably that's where the black muck came from.
nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;It must be a coincidence that I am writing this little love story on Valentine's Day 1999. This story takes place at the Sandy Beach club dock, same place as the canoe caper, but a very different setting. It was on a beautiful night with a full moon, just a light breeze on the river and I was only 13. By this time Marty had Miss Patty Moyer for a steady girl and the girl with me was a real cutie named Joan. We all walked to the end of the dock. At this point Marty and Miss Patty went to one end of the 'T' docks, hand in hand. Joan and I, to the other end. I think Marty and Patty actually kissed. Joan and I talked. After a while we all headed for the shore, except Joan, so I asked Marty and Miss Patty what was troubling her. I was told she wanted to be kissed. I wasn't ready for this stuff - what would I do if I squeezed her too tight... I didn't even know where to put my hands. After a little while she came on shore, walked straight home and never said a word, but gave me a very dirty look. She didn't talk to me for at least a week. This is the story of my first kiss - almost!!
About this time girls sometimes looked pretty good (sometimes!). We were always curious about those little bumps in their sweaters but we were always too busy to look into it.We had hunting and fishing and catching mice that we kept in our coat pockets for target practice. When we had about a dozen, we would go to the little bridge over the creek and let them go one at a time. They made good target practice with our Red Rider BB guns. Yes, folks, that's the way it was in the good old days.
Excuse me, I got off the subject the of Miss Patty. She was every boy's dream girl, the looks, the hair, the body, the personality and for a short period of time she captured our hearts. I guess we found out about the meaning of the Italian word, 'Amoria' that was made popular by Dean Martin. (Like being struck by lightening!) Alas!! How can we get Miss Patty, who lived on a pedestal, and was untouchable, to notice lowlife like us, who lived in the woods and killed things. Ughhh! Then one day, I was stunned. She came right up to me and started a conversation. I started to sweat all over. A goddess talking to a mere mortal- but I didn't faint. She wanted to know why we spent so much time in our playgrounds (the woods) and what we did there. So with trembling tongue, I invited her to come with us the next afternoon. She said 'okay.' I couldn't believe my ears. She really would meet us at my house after school the very next day. This could have been 'Love In Bloom.' It was springtime, the flowers were blooming, everything was fresh and new. The creek in the woods was flowing at flood stage (2 feet). So off we went to the woods with a creek flowing through it with ice cold water.
We were having a grand time. Beautiful sunny day, love was in the air. Alas, we came to a place we had to cross the creek at flood state (2 feet) but Miss Patty didn't have boots on. So Marty and I put our hands together and made a seat. When she sat, we were touching the forbidden part. But being brave young men, we carried on like true gentlemen. She put her arms around our necks. Now we were in heaven. (Oh no!) About halfway across the creek, disaster struck. Marty and I started to giggle and get giddy. We started to slip and slide and you guessed it - we all went down in ice cold water. Marty was the first one to start laughing and I was close behind. We laughed so hard, we couldn't get up. We finally were able to get ourselves and Miss Patty to dry land. Our first great love affair was over. Miss Patty was highly insulted and never spoke to us again.
In my last column I wrote about Marty Livingston and I gathering up all the things we needed to hunt those big bull frogs in Buckhorn Island State Park - small boat - frog spear - burlap bag and a little more commonsense.
We had spent the night in Mr. Phillips hay barn, with the rats and the birds. So after a good breakfast at my house, we're ready and right by the creek at Long Road. It didn't take long to find frog #1. There were lots of them. We were told if you put a small piece of red cloth on the spear, it kind of hypnotizes them. And it worked! We were having a great time. So after a while we had a bag full - about 35. We ended up near where the creek entered the river, so Marty trotted to Long Road and brought out baby buggy trailer. We had everything in the little boat, put it on the baby buggy trailer and headed for my house on Baseline Road.
It was noon time by then and for all of our good work, my mother gave us a nice lunch. After lunch we took our prizes (frogs) out behind the outhouse. There was a wooden block that we used for removing chicken heads. So let's use it to remove the frogs back legs. And we did! We took the bodies back to the creek so the scavengers had a good feast and nothing went to waste.
My mother was an expert cook but had never prepared frogs legs. Why not do it the same as fish? She used crushed corn flakes before you could buy them in the store. She beat up several eggs, Yes!! We had plenty of eggs, having 25 hens. Dip the legs in the eggs, roll them in the crushed corn flakes and it worked just great. With 70 legs, we had quite a platter full. Marty's brother, Ronnie, we called him Alf, heard about our adventure and he showed up at supper time. Everything was ready when my father got home from work. Fresh frog legs and lots of them, fresh green salad from the garden, fresh creamy unpasteurized milk from Mr. Ziehm's farm on Long Road. Who could ask for anything more and yes!! Strawberries were ripe, so to top off our feast it was strawberry shortcake and fresh whipped cream. That's all I have to say about frogs and their legs. "Tooki"
I wrote in my column last week that my buddy Marty Livingston and I had made all preparations to hunt those bull frogs in the creek in Buckhorn State Park. Our little duck hunting boat, a 22 rifle, a box of 22 shorts, an old oar for a paddle and last, a burlap bag.
So off we go with lots of confidence and not much common sense. We put the boat on our homemade baby buggy trailer, put all our gear in the boat and we were off down Wallace Drive down Huth Road, on to Baseline to the bridge by Long Road. We had no worries about traffic, with gas rationing there were very few cars on the road.
So dump the boat in the creek and we're off. It didn't take long to find frog number one, paddle very close, take good aim, right between the eyes, we were so close, you couldn't miss. Pull the trigger, crack, hey what's this? The frog jumped in the water never to be seen again- dead or alive. We tried it again with two more frogs and got the same result. So, this isn't going to work. We put our heads together for plan two. Take all our gear back to Marty's house on Wallace Drive, go to the beach, get out our old canoe and back over to McFarland's Hardware. Whoops!! It was a windy day and we couldn't use the canoe. So hop on our bikes, head through the state park. There was a little path to get on the north bridge and to LaSalle and McFarland's Hardware. Yes!! They had frog spears. They were 29 cents each so we took two. The day was getting late, so let's stop and have a milk shake and a rest. Those frogs would be there tomorrow and we were 12 and 13. Maybe a pretty girl or two might walk by.
So back to the Island - find a long broom handle or a straight stick, put our frog spear on the end. That was pretty easy to do with a little whittling and a small nail.
We took all of our gear to my house near the Long Road Bridge so we could get an early start. Marty decided to stay at my house that night so we slept in Mr. Phillips' hay barn, next to my house. I let my mother know our plan for the next day. She said she would pick some fresh tomatoes, green peppers, radishes and make a big salad. Also, she would have the deep fryer ready so we could have a real feast outdoors. She was a great mom and loved a little adventure and a free supper. If all went well, everything would be ready when my dad came home from work. To be continued.
It was war time! Many things were rationed, including meat. During these years, I tried to add as much to the family pot as I could. In the fall and winter it was rabbits and pheasants and sometimes a duck or two. I was 14. I had my own 12 gauge shotgun. In the spring and summer there were fish to catch and I did. And lots of them!
Then, one day during the summer, I picked up a sports magazine that told about "frog legs." Yes!! They were good to eat. I don't mean those little peepers. There were bull frogs, 12 inches long and I knew where they were and lots of them - Buckhorn Island State Park.
So hop on my bike for a five-minute ride over to my good buddy's house on the north end of Wallace Drive. Marty Livingston, of course. We put our heads together and came up with a plan. I recently purchased a brand new 22 caliber rifle. We had our little duck hunting boat and we recently found an old baby buggy and had taken off the basket part and fastened on an old piece of plywood. Our little boat only weighed about 50 pounds so we had a nice little trailer of sorts. It worked just great. The only other thing we needed was a burlap bag and that was easy to find. We thought we were all set but some adult crashed our plan. You have to have a hunting license and there is a season and a limit on frogs.
Well!! All the "gamies" (conservation officers) were off to the war and we didn't think it was very illegal to hunt in a state park. And we were only kids and we only wanted a few frogs. One thing that did worry us a little, when you fire a 22 rifle, there was a loud crack and it might give us away. There were a couple of "squirrel chasers" (park police) around. So, go to the river at Sandy Beach, get out our old canoe, paddle over to McFarland's Hardware in LaSalle. Then get a box of 22 shorts. They only make the noise of a cap pistol. They were only 24 cents for a box of 25, Longs cost 26 cents and long rifles were 28 cents. So the next morning we are all set to bring home the bacon - no that was rationed. It's "Frogs Legs!"
When I moved to the Island, I attended Charlotte Sidway School, grades seven and eight. There wasn't a cafeteria but we could get a carton of milk for 3 cents. The drinking fountains had smelly undrinkable sulfur water. We were not allowed to wear sneakers in the gym, only stocking feet. This institution of higher learning was run by a red-headed lady, Miss Connor. We called her 'Big Red.' One of my memories is putting a live mouse in one of the teachers' desk drawer. She was about ten months pregnant. When she opened the drawer and the mouse jumped into her lap, she screamed so loud, we thought the baby was on the way. For this little prank Big Red took me into the hall and gave me six hard slaps across the face. I thought my head was coming off. It sure did hurt. This was part of the 'good old days!'
The boys in the seventh and eighth grades decided we would like to play football at lunch time. Being the spokesman for the group, I approached Big Red to see if the school could buy us a football. I was told there were no funds in the school budget for any sports equipment. This is how it was in 1942. If we wanted a ball, we could take up a collection and buy our own ball. We did - $12.95. We also bought a basketball. We played basketball and football the best way we could. There were about fifteen boys in the seventh