Philadelphia Memories - Part IX
It's Really Hard To Lose A Pal: My very good friend Dennis Gartland passed away on June 26th, following a massive heart attack at age 70. He is survived by his loving wife, Sandy, as well as three wonderful sons and a granddaughter on whom he doted.
Dennis worked in the Plastics Department of Rohm & Haas Co. for many years. In addition to stints at the Bristol (PA) Plant and the home office in downtown Philadelphia, he was a plastics sales representative in New York, Connecticut, California and later served as district manager for the entire West Coast.
When R&H sold off its plastics assets, Dennis continued ... (more >>>)
Taking The Fifth: Phoenix has officially edged out Philadelphia to become the fifth biggest city in the U.S. The total population of the city is 1,615,017, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Overall, New York has the highest population among all cities in the U.S. with 8,537,673. Los Angeles is second (3,976,322), Chicago is third (2,704,958) and Houston is fourth (2,303,482)." Philly is now relegated to sixth place.
From the dawn of the 20th Century until the 1950s, Philadelphia was America's third-largest city. But, its once-mighty industrial base deserted the city, choosing the suburbs or other lower-cost states. When that happened, workers and their families followed. Additionally, many of those who continued to work in Philly sought the American dream of a single family home on a large, landscaped lot by moving to Delaware Valley suburbs outside the city limits. Today, the Delaware Valley (composed of several counties in Delaware, southern New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) has a population of just almost 6 million.
In the current Census Bureau update, Chicago was the only city among the nation's 20 largest to lose population in 2016; it lost nearly double the number of residents as the year before. (posted 6/12/17, permalink)
Book Review: 'Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol On The Rocks - A Tale Of Second Chances' by Bobby Rydell
While I was reading this autobiography, my wife had several friends over for a gathering. I mentioned the book and the almost universal reaction of these women (ages ranging from 68 to 80) was, "Bobby Who?"
I must say that I was shocked. Singer Bobby Rydell had a succession of top ten records in the early '60s, including 'Wild One' (Billboard #2), 'Volare' (#4) and 'Swingin' School' (#5). His 1963 recording, 'Wildwood Days', has become the anthem of the southern New Jersey shore. In all fairness, none of these ladies grew up on the east coast, so maybe that explains it.
In the 1950s, it was common for ... (more >>>)
Replacing Air: Although others had patented it previously, the first practical pneumatic tire was produced in 1888 by John Dunlop of Belfast Ireland. It was a hollow vulcanized rubber tube filled with air. Soon afterward, tires were constructed of rubber reinforced with cord and used a rubber inner tube to help prevent leaks.
Even in the 1920s, flat tires were a common occurrance because of rough roads and the fact that early cord-ply constructed tires were delicate and prone to punctures as were inner tubes. Flat tires were time consuming and, for business vehicles such as delivery trucks, time-wasting. If only there were a substitute for pressurized air.
Bettern-Air, the invention of a German chemist, was a vegetable compound which looked like rubber but was far more resilient. It was manufactured in 24-inch long logs, which are placed in tire casings under pressure. Bettern-Air minimized the number of flats and its spongy nature provided a smooth ride - like a pneumatic tire.
In this 1915 photo, related companies J.C.H. Galvanizing and Bettern-Air shared space at 1114 North Front Street, near the Delaware River in center-city Philadelphia:
By 1917, Bettern-Air Co., owned by Allen O. Hulshiser, had moved uptown to 1306-08 Callowhill St. J.C.H. Galvanizing stayed put and could be found at the same Front St. location as late as 1920. (posted 5/29/17, permalink)
Music Of My Life: Last week, I drove my '39 Plymouth coupe to the local library - returning two books and picking up a new one. The temperature was a pleasant 63 degrees under almost cloudless blue Southwest Washington skies. I got a decent view of snow-covered Mt. St. Helens and had a fun drive, playing old rock-n-roll through the speakers and enjoying the scenery.
The music I was playing was 'Crusin' '57' with WIBG's Joe Niagara hosting. At one point, he announced with all the hyper-excitement a good DJ can muster, ''Don't you forget it. Saturday night - that's the night - the hippest record hop in WIBG-land. It all happens at the Maternity BVM auditorium - 9320 Bustleton Avenue. I'll be there lookin' for you ... I wanna see your face in the place."
The record hop "with guest stars galore" was held at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish hall. Many Philadelphia area Catholic parishes held weekly dances to raise money. One other such place was Our Lady of Ransom parish on Roosevelt Boulevard. "I'm goin' to Ransom Saturday night," was an oft-heard phrase in late-1950s Northeast Philly.
Recently, I learned from the Northeast Times (a nice newspaper that once interviewed me) that Our Lady of Ransom will be merging into Resurrection parish. Once a vibrant Catholic parish - the church seats 1,250 people and is one of Northeast Philadelphia's largest-capacity churches - changing neighborhood demographics have reduced total weekend Mass attendance to only 400 people. Ransom's teenage dances are long gone but, if you stand at the site of the old auditorium and listen closely, you might hear some ghostly strains of music - probably 'Rockin' Robin' by the late Bobby Day.
Maternity BVM is still an active parish and even has an elementary school. (posted 5/29/17, permalink)
Looking At A Distant Past: This is a recently-discovered photo of my paternal great-grandmother, Kate, taken around 1895 in Cincinnati. She was in her mid-50s at the time and had emigrated from Western Ireland a couple of years earlier.
I had never seen a photo of her before. This one was smudged, cracked and quite yellowed but I fixed as much as I could in Photoshop. It's amazing that this 120+ year-old photo has survived at all. Kate has a nice smile.
I still haven't seen any photos of her husband, my great-grandfather. The couple had nine children, all of whom came to America.
Kate died in Philadelphia in 1908 and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA. (posted 4/5/17, permalink)
Commuting 1951-Style: I spent several years (1971-78) doing the smoggy daily round trip from my home in New Jersey to my job in downtown Philadelphia. Rush hour traffic was bumper-to-bumper and, apparently, it was no better twenty years earlier.
In this period Camden, NJ photo, posted on The Old Motor, there is lots to see.
In the foreground is a 1948 Chevrolet with fog lights, a 1951 Mercury two-door sedan and a 1950 Chevrolet convertible. Behind the Chevy and the Merc is a 1951 Pontiac Catalina hardtop. On the left side of the street is a sign: 'Last Stop for Cigarettes' (before you cross the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where cigarette taxes are higher) and a Pepsi logo with the slogan 'Why take less, when Pepsi's best!'
Until the 1960s, Pepsi was promoted as a value cola proposition, compared with Coke. In 1936 Pepsi introduced a 12-ounce bottle, for the same 5¢ price as a 6-ounce Coca-Cola.
An early Pepsi slogan was, 'Costs a nickel, tastes like a dime'. (The billboard shown above is on my model train layout.) An early radio jingle: "Pepsi Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that's a lot."
Down the block - on the other side of the street is another little store with a Breyer's ice cream sign with the company's characteristic green leaf logo. If you look closely, you can see a lot of litter on the sidewalk and curbside. Philly and its neighbor, Camden, were full of litter, even in the old days. Note also the mailbox, mounted on a concrete post by the curb. The mailbox itself was probably painted in the post office color of dark olive.
Many people lived in New Jersey, seeking more space and a reasonably-priced plot of land, escaping row home living in Philadelphia. But they kept their jobs in Philly and commuted daily to work. In the 1950s, Camden was a thriving, blue-collar industrial city. Sadly, it's a high-crime slum today. (posted 4/3/17, permalink)
Tool Archeology: My father-in-law owned a large wood-handled flat-blade screwdriver, a Yankee No. 90, made by North Brothers Manufacturing Company, a Philadelphia manufacturer of hand tools. This No. 90 has a blade width is 5/16 inches, shaft length is 5 inches and the overall length is 10.6 inches.
North Bros. was an American manufacturer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that specialized in the making of hand tools, small appliances and some specialized power tools. They were family-owned and operated for over ... (more >>>)
Haulin' Gas: Gulf Oil was established in Pittsburgh around the turn of the 20th Century and was the source for much of the Mellon family fortune. Gulf built its first Philadelphia refinery in 1905 at Girard Point in South Philly and was a well-known gasoline brand in the area. Grades were subregular Gulftane, Good Gulf regular, Gulf No-Nox Ethyl premium and later, Gulf Super Unleaded.
This O-gauge single-dome Gulf Oil Tank car, which I run occasionally on my Philly-themed model train layout, was made by Industrial Rail. I purchased it new in late 2001. According to the markings, it "carries" Gulf No-Nox Ethyl.
Car guys sometimes talk about fueling up with bad gas. I've experienced gasoline going bad when it gets too old but, in my 57+ years of purchasing gasoline for my cars, I've only gotten one bad load and it was from a Gulf station. My red '63 Volkswagen became hard to start, idled roughly and stumbled when accelerating. The next time I filled up - with non-Gulf gas - the problem went away.
The other strong memory I have of Gulf is when their Girard Point refinery caught fire in 1975. It was a horrendous blaze. Eight firefighters were killed, 14 more were injured and four Philadelphia fire trucks were destroyed. I remember a relatively young Andrea Mitchell (who was then a field reporter for KYW television - an NBC affiliate at the time) reporting on the blaze with the Penrose Avenue bridge - which spanned the refinery - in the background. In those days, Ms. Mitchell was not the glammed-up, blonde NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent you see on TV today. In the '70s, she had dark hair, a rough complexion and a New Yawk voice and attitude. Who would have guessed that she would eventually marry Alan Greenspan, who was once the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
As for Gulf Oil, the company merged with Standard Oil of California in 1985 and its stations were rebranded as Chevron. These days, for convenience, I usually gas up my cars at the nearby Chevron station in Washington state. (posted 3/6/17, permalink)
Tank You: Lionel Electric Trains has offered Sunoco tank cars since the 1930s. On the three-level train layout built by my dad in 1947, the middle level had a steam loco pulling a freight consist. One of the freight cars was a post-war, silver double-dome Sunoco tank car.
This three-dome plastic one, which I run occasionally on my present model train layout, was first introduced in 1953. I picked mine up at an area train swap meet in 2002 for $15. It is marked "built by Lionel."
Once known as Sun Oil Co., the Philadelphia-based refiner was best known for ... (more >>>)
Rocket 88: This mid-October 1956 photo of Fierstein Brothers Oldsmobile, a dealership in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, shows a one-make small new car dealer. Such establishments dotted major cities across the U.S. in the mid-20th Century.
Fierstein Brothers was located at 6000 Old York Road - the intersection of Old York Road and Champlost Avenue. In the photo, a 1955 Oldsmobile 88 Holiday coupe drives past the dealership. That model was one of 85,767 Olds 88 two-door coupes made in the 1955 model year. Prices began at $2,474 and the car was powered by the legendary Oldsmobile Rocket 88 V8 engine, which made 185 horsepower in standard form. More on the 1955 Oldsmobile can be found here.
Oldsmobile's powerful postwar overhead-valve V8 engine was praised in Jackie Brentson's 'Rocket 88' recording in 1951. Many music critics consider this recording to be the true first rock and roll song. 'Rocket 88' was about a car - a 1950 Oldsmobile 88 with a high-compression, overhead-valve Rocket V8 engine. The song is also notable because it featured Ike Turner on keyboards.
Trolley tracks seen in the photo are for Route 6 trolley which used to run to Willow Grove Amusement Park.
Most of these small auto dealers consolidated, merged or disappeared in the latter part of the 20th Century, although Fierstein was still around in the early 1990s. Auto brands consolidated, too; General Motors discontinued Oldsmobile in 2004. (posted 1/3/17, permalink)
Other Pages Of Interest
copyright 2017 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.
If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of giving me free cars to try and change my mind.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.