Sunday, March 30, 2014

Byersdale Tough

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

I don’t know if this story is about “Harper” or “Mutzie”. In my head, I’ve got the two of them mixed up. They were older boys, born before The War.

Anyway, I don’t want to confuse you so let’s pretend it’s about Mutzie. If I’m wrong, correct me. (This is how I do things – I just give it my best guess and let the chips fly.)

In the fifties, people worried a lot about “juvenile delinquency”. There wasn’t much else to worry about. Mutzie wasn’t actually a juvenile delinquent; he just looked the part.

He was big and strong and always wore a tee shirt and had a pack of Winston’s rolled up in his sleeve. He had long, straight brown hair combed back in a ducktail. When he wasn’t smoking a cigarette, he was chewing on a toothpick.

He had a way of looking mean and tough – not like some crybaby from the movies – I mean Byersdale tough.

He had a nice car with white wall tires and skirts. It was robin’s egg blue and cream. He always kept it immaculately clean and polished. It had everything but a good muffler. He liked it that way. We always knew when Mutzie was coming down the hill.

One day my brother and his friend Steve let us in on a secret – someone had put sugar in Mutzie’s gas tank, causing the engine to seize. (They were quick to add they hadn’t done it.)

My sister and her friend Marlene asked me if I wanted to take a walk up over the hill to the playground. Sure, I loved to play on the see-saws. I was about seven years old.

Way up on top of Anthony Wayne Drive the three of us ran into Mutzie. He was working on his car. The engine was on the sidewalk in about fifty pieces. There was grease on his white tee shirt. His shiny brown hair was mussed.

All of a sudden he crossed the street and came toward us menacingly. He pointed his finger at me. “You’re the little bastard that sugared my tank, aren’t you?”

Marlene placed herself between Mutzie and me.

“That little boy is seven years old. What kind of an idiot are you? Have you any idea what you’re saying?”

Marlene proceeded to give Mutzie her lip. I forget most of what she said but that’s OK. I couldn’t print it here anyway.

Mutzie backed off. We continued our walk. I was still shaky. I think I was scared for three days afterward.

I think Marlene was the one who was “Byersdale tough”.

The Crib

The crib was put away in the attic after my little brother outgrew it and moved into the bed in the hall. It didn’t come out again until eight years later. It looked like any other crib – it was painted white.

The mattress was just thick enough and the springs were just strong enough. One side was adjustable – you could lower it to change a diaper and then raise it back up so the toddler wouldn’t fall out onto the floor.

I think it had two strings of wooden beads impaled on steel rods on the adjustable side. A child could find delight spinning them and moving them up and down. They may have been painted with bright primary colors but I don’t think they were – I just remember the shiny white paint (or was it a maple varnish).

My earliest memory ever is of being exiled from my parents’ bedside when my new brother came home from the hospital. It was time to move out of the crib and into a hostile world.

For my brother and me, it was the beginning of a rivalry.

The Sea of Legs

We were inside the big tent erected on top of the softball diamond in Byers’ Field. It was lit with strings of bare incandescent light bulbs. There were tables here and there with things to buy. Was this part of a carnival, or was it a flea market or rummage sale? I think it was part of a carnival. There were at least fifty people inside the tent, maybe even a hundred. It was a big tent.

I was about three years old. I held my mother’s hand as she guided me through a sea of legs, mostly the female kind.

My mother let go of me to look at something on one of the tables. I had to keep moving or I would be trampled.

Panic set in. Where was Mom?

I saw a pair of navy blue slacks. I felt relieved. I reached out and tugged on the slacks.

I looked up. It was a complete stranger.

Those first furry mammals that looked up into the face of a tyrannosaurus rex must have had a similar scare.

Freak show! That settles it - it must have been a carnival.

The Clover Farm Store

There was a neighborhood grocery where the Laundromat now stands across Dearborn at the north end of Watson Street. It was once the AM Byers’ company store but that was before I was born. I remember it as the Clover Farm Store.

Residents of Byersdale could run a tab there until payday. We kids went there for soda pop or penny candy or for a loaf of bread and lunch meat. The store was turned into a laundry after the Isaly store opened just down the street and ran it out of business.

We didn’t appreciate it at the time, of course, but that was probably our first brush with “the creative destruction of capitalism”.

There was a lady there called “Binger”. There also was a Mrs. Overholt. I don’t know if “Binger” was a last name or a nickname.

Anyway, Binger was nice to us kids, especially my brother, who was cute and had curly hair. One day at the dinner table my brother stunned everyone by announcing, “When I grow up I want to be a store lady like Binger.”

Ouch! He should have phrased that a little differently. The teasing and ridicule began and has not let up to this day. At our family reunions, someone will always ask him if he has become a store lady yet.

He has learned to deal with it – “No, I haven’t grown up yet.”

Good retort, bro. I haven’t grown up yet either.


Once or twice in the evening each summer, Mom would take us for walks down across Duss Avenue to the road in Byers’ Field where all the sixteen-year-olds practiced their driving. That road leads into another road and pretty soon we came to the AM Byers Company railroad siding. At that time of day there was never a train idling on the siding to block us.

Once we crossed the siding, we could see the Ohio River. We stood at the top of a high bluff that loomed over the Pennsy tracks and the ruins of Old Lock Number 4.

Once in a while there were coal barges tied up along the lock wall. They were interesting but not half as interesting as the trains. We had come to see the trains.

There was a wooden staircase that the carpenters at the Byers plant had built so that workers could go down to service the pump house that stood on the river bank with its foot in the water. (Maybe the water was cold and it didn’t want to plunge all the way in.)

We sat on top of the steps and took in the view. After a bit a train would come along. Sometimes there were two at once, one headed north and the other headed toward Pittsburgh.

Watching the trains was like a geography class. All those place names written on the sides of the boxcars. Even a small boy realized what a big country it was.

“What’s that train way across on the other side of the river?”

“That’s the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. The ones in the steel plant are the Aliquippa and Southern. The four tracks on this side of the river are the Pennsylvania.”

“The Pennsylvania is the best, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Bobby, it’s the best of all.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Child Labor

Microsoft Word

by Robert Giles

I sell the morning papers sir my name is Jimmy Brown ... Everybody knows that I'm the newsboy of the town

From the song “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy”*

“Well, if it isn’t Jimmy Brown, the newsboy. Anyone got a dollar?”

On top of the hill in Byersdale lived a family that loved hillbilly music. I delivered their paper. When I rang the bell to collect, they always had the phonograph going – Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Carter Family.

The paper route was handed down through my family. My sister was the first of us to deliver the Sun-Telegraph. No one called her “Jimmy Brown”. Mr. Shimrak over at the Isaly store used to tease her by calling her “Abe Lincoln”.

It took a certain amount of “grit” or “gumption” for a young girl to manage a paper route in 1956. My sister had more than her share of those qualities.

Mr. Shimrak must have been impressed. He gave Linda a job in his store, the first of a succession of Giles kids to clerk for the Shimraks. The clerkship at Isaly’s became a family tradition, just like delivering the newspaper.

I learned the newspaper delivery business helping my older brothers. My turn came when I was twelve or thirteen.

If I remember correctly, the “Sun-Telly” was an afternoon paper like the “Press”. About the time I inherited the route, it was bought out by the “Post-Gazette”, a morning paper, and became for a short while the “Post-Gazette & Sun-Telegraph”. This was too much of a mouth-full, and soon the “Sun-Telegraph” name was history.

One thing did not change – the “Post-Gazette” was and always would be a morning paper. I had to learn to get up every morning by 5:30 am.

I’m not sure now how it came about but we also delivered the “Press” on Sunday mornings.

I slept in a bedroom with three other brothers. So as not to wake up everyone, my mother would set the alarm clock in her room and come and rouse me. After a while I got into an “early to bed and early to rise” routine and did not need an alarm clock.

I had a knack for being able to sleep through all the inevitable horseplay that arises when four young boys are confined to a small room.

Once I was shaken awake by two older brothers.

“Bobby, you slept in. Mr. McBroom left your papers on the front porch a long time ago. You better get up.”

In a panic, I got dressed and ran down the steps and out onto the front porch. Where were the papers? The porch was empty.

I came back inside and glanced at the clock. It was one o’clock in the morning. Mr. McBroom wasn’t due for another four hours.

Another time my brothers put my hand in a bucket of water while I was in a deep sleep. They wanted to test something one of them had read – that the water would induce in the subject a need to get up and urinate.

I did not disappoint them. On my way back from the bathroom, I heard the sound of brotherly laughter.

The economics of the newspaper delivery business were not good. I suppose that is the reason that children got the job. The newspaper girl or boy got maybe a fraction of a cent on each weekday delivery – several cents on the more costly Sunday edition.

I was old enough to do the math. I had around fifty customers so I made about $3.75 per week – about $30.00 in today’s dollars - provided I could collect all the money I was owed. If I failed to collect from just one customer, my profits were reduced by the entire amount I didn’t collect, or a little more than 25 percent. I had to pay the route man whether I collected from all my customers or not.

Of course back then the word “deadbeat” wasn’t in my vocabulary. I was as naive as any other kid in his early teens. Adults were intimidating. If they said they didn’t have a dollar in the house and couldn’t pay me, who was I to argue?

I had a collection card for every customer. There were little squares with dates on them that you tore off and gave a customer when he paid. (The receipt system was later supplanted by an even more unsatisfactory way of keeping accounts – punch cards. The customer had a card, the paperboy another. The boy punched both cards to acknowledge payment.)

Imagine how eager people were to keep their punch card on hand for the paperboy - not very. If they couldn’t find a dollar, they certainly couldn’t find a punch card.

Some people went for a month or two without paying. “Mr. Cooper, you owe me $8.00.”

“What, that can’t be!”

“Well, here is your collection card and you can see I haven’t punched it for eight weeks.”

He would then argue that I had forgotten to punch the card. (Or maybe I had glued the chads back in the holes.) With someone like that, my only recourse was to cease delivery, refuse service.

I had much more luck collecting from the wives. There were some exceptions, but most had scruples about taking advantage of children.

One lady I won’t name had me pick up a carton of Pall Malls at Isaly’s on collection day. She always gave me a dime for my trouble and let me look at her tropical fish tanks while she scrounged for the cigarette money.

People would see me lugging the Pall Malls and ask me when I was going to switch to a filtered brand.

Once in a while a customer would pay me with the pennies he had emptied from his pockets and collected in a mason jar. He didn’t like to carry small change but it was OK to pay the paperboy by the pound.

We've got to keep those pennies in circulation.

I carried the papers in a standard canvas newsboy bag with the Post-Gazette logo. Fifty papers were pretty heavy for a twelve-year-old. The shoulder strap bit into my clavicle. I had to walk with my weight shifted to the side away from the sack with one hand underneath the bag to give it support. I didn’t start up the steep Byersdale hillside until I had lightened the load by first delivering to customers on the bottom streets.

The Sunday papers were even heavier. Mr. McBroom didn’t have enough space in his station wagon for all of them so he delivered the “funnies” and the weekly magazines and supplements Saturday night. The rest of the sections came Sunday morning.

I had to sit and put together the two sections before delivery. One of my brothers helped with the Sunday delivery until I got older and stronger.

I found that most of the dogs in Byersdale had some private resentment against the exercise of a free press. With them I was about as popular as the mailman. You had to watch out for those little terriers that came out of nowhere when a customer opened the door.

“He didn’t bite you, did he? He never bites.  Ronnie, get back inside … That will only hurt for a little while.”

Way back of the hill was Short Street, the last street before you came to the woods. Short Street was notable for the smell of raw sewage and the large hound that was tied in one of the yards. Every delivery to that neighborhood was an assault on my nose and ears. There he was – the “Hound of the Baskervilles”, baying himself hoarse and straining at his chain. 

All that stood between me and death by dog bite was a frail ribbon of rope. I walked a little faster.

Neither snow, sleet, rain nor hail kept me from my appointed rounds. A new snow was fresh and lovely at six o’clock in the morning. The other stuff I was not so keen on. A downpour could strike pretty suddenly.

There were newly-weds starting out in a small house on Essex Avenue. The Mrs. was quite pretty – I was beginning to appreciate that sort of thing. I arrived at the door in a thunderstorm, wet to the bone, to collect.

“Look at you, you’re soaked - where’s your umbrella?”

She invited me in and gave me some towels to dry off. I protested that I would get her sofa all wet but she insisted that I sit down while she made me a cup of hot tea.

Her husband and I chatted a bit. The tea was ready. We all had a cup while we talked about where I lived and went to school.

The rain had slackened, but they loaned me an umbrella to carry, just in case. Off I went.

I can’t remember their names but I do remember that act of kindness, over fifty years later.

Was it worth my while to deliver the newspaper? I had to miss out on several camping trips when I couldn’t get someone to take my route for me. I had to go to bed early and wake up early. I had to work about twelve hours per week. I made just over thirty cents an hour ($2.40 today).

On the other hand, I had money to buy clothes and snacks and presents on Christmas. That was better than nothing.

There was a sort of tacit agreement in our house. Dad would feed us and keep a roof over our heads but we had to do our share. He never gave us a nickel to spend. I always thought he was free of guile but now I see a man with a plan. If his purpose was to teach us to stand on our own two feet, he succeeded. 

I never stopped to weigh the pros and cons and reason it all out – mostly I did it because my brothers did it, it was expected of me, and it was a good feeling to have a little money to jingle in my pocket.

On collection day, I often stopped at the little grocery at the top of Anthony Wayne Drive and plunked down my own coin for a dime bag of Snyder’s potato chips and a bottle of ginger beer. I sat on Mrs. Batch’s wooden steps and sipped and ate and studied the sumac berries that grew on the opposite side of the road. Soon the existential gloom would lift and I would descend the hill toward home. 

After four years, I sold my route for $25.00 to another Byersdale “Bobby”.

I had turned sixteen. I went and got myself a work “permit”. I was old enough to make real money.

* If you need something to lift your own existential gloom, don’t have a beer and chips – listen to Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s version of “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy”. It has enough bounce to levitate you up near the ceiling. I couldn’t find it on YouTube but there are other versions of the song there. (The Flatt and Scruggs version is disappointingly slow.)

Turn up the volume. If it turns out you just can’t stand bluegrass, you may have to try a different color.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ambridge by air

Central Ambridge,
aerial view,
source unknown
click on photo for larger view

I've been unable to find the original source of the above aerial photo of Ambridge. It was posted on the Facebook page "AMBRIDGE MEMORIES WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER" (not affiliated with this blog) without the source being identified, and, originally, without the grid, which was added later to help with the identification of the buildings and features in the photo. My observation: it's much easier to identify buildings from the front; not so easy when you're looking at the rear or roof of a building.

The date of the photo is also unknown but is prior to 1960 since the old State Theatre is still standing in the photo. In addition, in the photo, Ohio River Boulevard ends at 8th Street.* According to the Daily Citizen, January 30, 1959, the bid for the Ohio River Boulevard (Route 88) extension from 8th Street to Baden had just been awarded, so work had not yet started.

To help orient you: in the photo, west is at the top. The left (south) side goes almost to 6th Street, the right (north) side goes to 9th Street, the bottom (east side) shows the area between Glenwood Avenue and the Ambridge High School grounds.

The photo shows:

  • Ohio River, A-1 to J-3

  • 7th Street, A-6 to E-4
  • 8th Street (Rt. 88), A-7 to J-4
  • 9th Street, G-7 to J-6
  • Glenwood Avenue, A-6 to H-8
  • Melrose Avenue, D-5 to J-8
  • Merchant Street, A-4 to J-6
  • Ohio River Boulevard (Rt. 88), A-2 to J-4

  • Ambridge High School ball field ?, A-8 to C-8
  • Ambridge High School track ?, C-8 to E-8
  • Ambridge Hotel, 8th and Merchant Streets, G-5
  • Ambridge Recreation Center/Second Ward School, Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street, G-4
  • Ambridge Theatre building, 7th Street and Merchant Street, C-5 to D-5
  • American Bridge Company, A-1 to F-3
  • Caplan's Wholesale Grocery, 798 Merchant Street, E-5
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance church, 901 Merchant Street, J-6
  • Economy Electric Supply (currently), 817 Merchant Street, G-6; At time photo was taken, the building may have been one of the car dealerships that were in that location.
  • First United Methodist church, 7th Street and Maplewood Avenue, D-4
  • Iron City Distributing, 8th Street and Glenwood Avenue, D-6
  • Park Road School, 749 Park Road, G-4
  • Polish Falcons, 529 8th Street, A-7
  • Polish National Alliance (PNA/ZNP), 405 8th Street, D-6
  • Second Ward School/Ambridge Recreation Center, Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street, G-4
  • State Theatre, 749 Merchant Street, E-5
  • St. Veronica church, 8th Street and Glenwood Avenue, C-6
  • St. Veronica convent, 7th Street and Melrose Avenue, B-5
  • St. Veronica rectory, 700 block Glenwood Avenue, B-6
  • St. Veronica School, 710 Melrose Avenue, C-5 and 6
  • St. Vladimir church, 9th Street and Melrose Avenue, H-7
  • Twin Trailer Sales, 8th Street and Latimer Avenue**, J-5
  • United Dairy, 897 Melrose AvenueF and G-6 and 7
  • United Presbyterian, 823 Maplewood Avenue, J-5
  • Wall and Sons feed store, 507 Eighth Street, D-6 and 7
  • Zion Lutheran Church,*** Park Road, H-4

* Prior to being re-numbered as Route 65, Ohio River Boulevard, which then ended at 8th Street, was designated Route 88. Then Route 88 turned east on 8th Street to Duss Avenue and continued north on Duss Avenue to Baden.

** Renamed Kennedy Drive in December, 1963.

*** Based on old insurance maps of the area, I am convinced that the white building shown directly to the north of Park Road School is the old Zion Lutheran Church which faced Park Road. It was razed when the new church was built in the 1950s. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bowling dux at Ambridge Alleys

Stettler Motor Company building,
entrance to second floor Ambridge Alleys at far end,
Bridger yearbook, 1968

There were other towns that had a bowling alley. There were other towns that had a Cadillac dealership. There may have been other towns that had both a bowling alley and a Cadillac dealership. But I'd be surprised to learn that any town other than Ambridge had a bowling alley above a Cadillac dealership.

The Cadillac dealership was Stettler Motors at 916 Merchant Street; the alleys were Ambridge Alleys at 914 Merchant Street, owned in the '50s and '60s by Duke Larnish and George Maletic. 

When I was young, my grandparents would sometimes take me bowling at Ambridge Alleys. I only remember duckpins*--"dux" in the sports pages--although at some point, tenpin lanes were added; however, we always bowled duckpins.

To bowl, you entered a door on the south end of the Stettler Motors building (in the above photo, the door isn't visible, but it's at the far end of the building under the small, dark sign), and then climbed stairs to the building's second floor.

From the moment you entered the door, you could hear the loud crack of wooden pins being hit by bowling balls, then clattering as the pins hit the wooden floor.

And, from the moment you entered the door, you could smell the smoke of many cigarettes. When you got upstairs, you could smell ashes from the many ash trays too. In the '50s and '60's, so many people smoked just about everywhere except, possibly, in church during services. 

At the top of the stairs was a counter where you paid for your games and the alley rented bowling shoes and sold snacks and smokes. My grandparents would buy me a bottle of pop. My favorites to buy there were Squirt and "chocolate pop," otherwise known as Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, but never called that by anyone I knew.

In those days, lanes didn't have automatic scoring. I was good at math, learned how to keep score, and enjoyed doing it. [Update: April 13, 2014: But keeping score at Ambridge Alleys was easier than at most duckpin lanes because at Ambridge, duckpin bowlers only bowled two balls per frame, just like tenpins.**]

Bowling duckpins at Ambridge Alleys,
Bridger yearbook, 1953

Ambridge Alleys didn't have automatic pin-setting machines either. Instead, they had pinboys, boys as young as pre-teens, working for five or 10 cents a game (or per hour, depending on who is relating the story of their pinboy stint) who set up the pins and sent bowled balls back to bowlers.

While waiting for a bowler to roll the ball, the pinboy scrunched up on a ledge above and to the side of the pit area behind the pins. After the ball hit the duckpins, the pinboy would jump into the pit and step on a pedal which would lift a pin into the bottoms of any still-standing duckpins to hold them in place. He'd put the ball onto the ball return track so it would roll back to the bowler and cleared off any duckpins that had been knocked-down. Then the pinboy would release the pedal and jump back onto his seat.

Once the frame was over, the pinboy would then setup all ten pins for the next bowler.

Being a pinboy could be hazardous what with flying pins--which is why the scrunching was necessary--and balls that came rolling down the alley before the pinboy had returned to his perch, sometimes accidentally because the bowler was inept or inattentive, and sometimes not accidentally by a bowler who thought hitting the pinboy with a ball and pins would be amusing.

I don't know when the Ambridge Alleys closed. I believe it was still open in the late '60s when I went away to college. If you know, please leave a comment.

The Stettler Motors building is still standing. The lower floors have been subdivided and occupied by businesses. Here's what the building looked like last year. The door to enter the stairway to the bowling alley would have been at the right side of the photo.

Former Stettler Motors building,
914-916 Merchant Street, Ambridge
June 23, 2013

* In case you're not familiar with duckpin bowling, it's similar to tenpin bowling, but with lighter balls that are smaller and have no finger-holes, and squat pins that are shorter and lighter than in tenpins. You'd think that duckpin's shorter, lighter pins would be easier to knock down than the bigger, heavier tenpins, but in fact, it's harder. To compensate for the greater difficulty, the scoring in duckpins allows three balls per frame, but even with the additional ball, the final scores in games are typically lower than in tenpins.

Duckpins were/are bowled in only a few areas of the country, Pennsylvania being one of them. By coincidence, the Baltimore area where I've lived for over 40 years also has duckpin alleys, although fewer of them now than there were when I first moved to the area in 1971.

** My mother, an avid bowler who still bowls at age 87, confirmed that duckpin bowlers only bowled two balls per frame at the Ambridge Alleys. She said that the two ball per frame was also the rule for duckpins at Beaver Valley Bowl in Rochester. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Northern Lights: Fintex Clothes

"This is Northern Lights Shoppers City, opening tomorrow for business,"
Beaver Valley Times, October 31, 1956

This post takes care of some unfinished business from last year.

On November 1, 2013, I posted a list of the first stores to open in the new, not-yet-completed "Northern Lights Shoppers City" on November 1, 1956. Later, a reader who had lived above, and worked at, Northern Lights, said she'd never heard of two stores on that list: The Farm & Garden Patch and Fintex Clothes.

I posted a blog article about The Farm & Garden Patch on December 21
and said I'd post about Fintex "later." This is that "later," although it's being written much "later" than I originally thought "later" would be.

While "Fintex" may sound more like a brand of non-stick surfaces for frying pans, it was a chain of men's clothing stores.* The photo of Northern Lights above shows Fintex--its the store with the dark sign. It appears to me to be in the center strip of the shopping center and to the left of Penney's.

Here's another, later, photo of Fintex that gives a closer view of the store:

Fintex Men's Clothing store,
Northern Lights Shoppers City,
Beaver Valley Times, June 12, 1957

Apparently, Fintex's display windows were a big deal. The text under the photo says:
Customers actually can browse at Fintex Clothing Store in Northern Lights Shoppers City with a feeling they are inside the store. The display windows have been designed in a U-shape, giving the store plenty of room to display its popular line of men's clothing.
Here's the Fintex ad announcing the opening of "the 5th Great Fintex Store in the Pittsburgh Area" in Northern Lights:

Fintex Clothes ad,
announcing opening of Northern Lights store,
Beaver Valley Times, October 31, 1956

A coat sale ad from December 1956:

Fintex Clothes coat sale ad,
Beaver Valley Times, December 14, 1956

An ad from June 1957, when more stores opened, and Northern Lights held its big Grand Opening celebration. An article in the Northern Lights Grand Opening advertising section of the Beaver Valley Times, "Suits, Topcoats Best at Fintex," focused on how busy the store was, drawing customers from a wide area.

Fintex ad,
Beaver Valley Times, June 12, 1957

A Fintex Christmas sale ad, December 1957:

Fintex Christmas gifts ad,
Beaver Valley Times, December 13, 1957

I haven't yet found out when the Northern Lights Fintex closed, but it was still open in November 1960:

Fintex "2-pant suits" ad,
Beaver County Times, November 3, 1960

* Fintex of London is a very old company selling fine cloth for men's suiting that eventually expanded across the globe. Fintex stood for "fine texture."  I don't know for certain, but given the unusual name, the Northern Lights Fintex may have been affiliated with Fintex of London.

A Catcher in the Raw

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

It’s no wonder I became the catcher on my Little League team. One thing I could do well was catch a ball.

The list of baseball skills is not long – catching, hitting, throwing, running, and spitting.

That last item on the list has to do with mental alertness – spitting concentrates the mind and keeps a player “in the game”.  Do you suppose chewing gum does the same thing? Spitting and chewing are as integral to baseball as the shape of the field.

My manager, Bill, was an all-star spitter. He didn’t chew gum, just tobacco. He could work up a plug in nothing flat and hit a fly (not a fly ball, the insect) from six feet away. I’ve seen him do it.

I wasn’t allowed to chew tobacco. I bought Bazooka Joes from the concession stand. My spit was the color of Pepto-Bismol. I tried to be a bad-ass spitter like Bill, but my wads were never of major league caliber.

(I did chuckle at the little comics that were wrapped around the Bazooka gum – maybe I was just too green to be a good spitter.)

My hitting was as poor as my spit and I had an average arm and speed. There you have it – the complete reality check.

I am finally man enough to confess that I was no Roberto Clemente, although you would never catch “The Great One” spitting, or for that matter, chewing gum. His mind was always concentrated.

Back when I was nine or ten, baseball was my world. In January 1959, the Pirates had acquired Harvey Haddix, Don Hoak, and Smoky Burgess**. Finally the Pirates were a contender. In 1959,they finished in fourth place (remember there were eight teams in each league back then - fourth place was good). The following year they were World Champions.

My brother and I practiced all the time playing German Ball and Bird Dog. I got to be very good with a glove, even though my ambition was to be a pitcher like Vernon Law.

That year (1960) my manager handed me a package. What was this, a present? The season hadn’t even started yet.

“You’re my catcher, Bobby. Wear that – it’ll protect the family jewels."

I could see what Bill was talking about when I unwrapped my “present” – a hard plastic triangle with foam-rubber cushioning and tiny vents.

Oh boy, I get to wear a nut cup plus all the other “tools of ignorance”* - a mask, a chest protector, shin guards, and a big old catcher’s mitt. (And I get to wear my hat backwards.)

I came to be thankful for all that protection. I don’t know how many times a foul tip bounced off my mask or chest protector or an errant ball got between my legs. About the only thing that wasn’t safe was my throwing hand. You had to let the ball hit your glove first and then quickly secure it with your bare hand – in other words, keep your throwing hand the heck out of the way until the last instant.

In my second game, I felt a sharp pain and noticed right away that my little finger was dangling funny. Bill came out of the dugout to examine it. Bill’s diagnosis was as dead- on-target as his spit – he grabbed my pinky and gave it a pull. The joint popped right into place.

I crouched behind the hitter in my accustomed place and the game was once again, as they say, afoot.

Joey was our pitcher and he is the reason why our team was Little League champions for two years in a row. But Joey could be as vain and temperamental as an opera star.

Somehow Joey had it in his noggin that he was a major leaguer. He wanted me to signal the pitches – one finger was for a fast ball, two was for a curve, three was for a fork ball, four was for a change up. I forget what five fingers meant.

Joey was a big strong kid and all he needed was the one pitch that, in actuality, was the only one in his arsenal – a mean, hard fast ball from the mound, only forty feet from the plate. Everyone knew that we little kids couldn’t get the bat around on a fast ball. The easiest way to win was not to walk or hit anyone.

Very few kids could hit with power – the only power hitter that I knew had gotten too old for Little League the previous year (and there were rumors that he was too old even then – something about his birth certificate being altered).

I came from a large family and I knew how to get along with crazy people – I decided to “humor” Joey - join him in his fantasy.  I signaled for a fork ball.

What the hell – he’s shaking me off – he’s going to throw what he wants to anyway!

Why am I the only one who sees that ninety percent of life is plain ridiculous? I’m not talking just about now – I’m talking about when I was ten, eleven, twelve.  Maybe the sense of proportion gene is on the same chromosome as the catching a baseball gene.

I went on signaling for various pitches and Joey kept on striking out batters with his fast ball that whole season and the next.

Joey threw away his pitching arm by age fourteen but he did become a pretty good basketball player.

For me, the next level was Pony League. Baden didn’t have a Pony League back then. My Dad took me down to Anthony Wayne School to sign up for Ambridge’s league.

The man said, “Sorry, son, you’re too late. The signups were last week.”

The boys in my neighborhood pooled our money and bought catcher’s equipment so that we could play real hardball against the top of the hill and other teams. Once again I donned the “tools of ignorance”. 

I haven’t played baseball for about thirty years. In a year or two, my grandsons will be old enough. I can’t wait.

*The tools of ignorance is a nickname for a catcher's protective equipment ... the usage was meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.  Source: Baseball -

** For Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, John Powers and Frank Thomas

Monday, March 3, 2014

An additional assortment of Ambridge ads March 1954

Here are more Ambridge ads from the Beaver Valley Times, March 1954.

ABC Drive-in Theater ad,
double feature
"Carbine Williams" and "Roman Holiday"
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

Ambridge Chamber of Commerce "Easter Parade of Values" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 25, 1954

Davidson's spring coat ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 10, 1954

Economy Furniture gas range ad
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

Katcher's spring sale ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 24, 1954

Krauss diamond bridal set ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 12,  1954

Kroger ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

Melody Ballroom polka party ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

G.C. Murphy Co., "Toiletries for Easter" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 25, 1954

John N. Minteer "Dutch auction" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 4, 1954

O&H "Vakuum Seal'd" Meat Loaves ad,
sold in Ambridge at Kristufek Market and Pat's Market,
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

Pearl Fashion Shoppe suit ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

Ross Plumbing and Heating ad,
Beaver Valley Times,  March 5, 1954

Sears "Coldspot Spacemaster" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 3, 1954

Sestile Hotel "Vin Vincent and his orchestra" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 24, 1954

Sportman's Bar and Lounge,
"Gigantic Spaghetti Dinner" ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 1, 1954

Steiner's curtain ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

Stewart Hardware,
Scotts seed ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 24, 1954

Wall's spring planting ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 24, 1954

Wilson Furniture Co.,
"modern" furniture ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 12, 1954

Sunday, March 2, 2014

An assortment of Ambridge ads March 1954

A nostalgic and sometimes amusing look back at some ads from the Beaver Valley Times, March 1954. To see the address of a business, consult The Ambridge List of Lists.

In no particular order, although it turned out alphabetical:

A & P ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1965

The Almo men's store "cat" suits ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

Anderson's Homemade Candies Easter ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 11, 1954

The Byersdale Hotel ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

Fishers spring clothing ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

Isaly's Lenten season foods ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 3, 1954

Jackson's Shoe Stores stiletto heels ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1954

Magura men's store Suit Club ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 5, 1965

National Store Pre-Easter Sale ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 4, 1954

Pat's Market ad,
Beaver Valley Times, March 4, 1954