Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brooklyn Bridge: 1907 & 1988

On my Google homepage I have a link to They have constantly changing vintage pictures in high definition. I can spend hours studying these wonderful images. Wednesday the 29th there was an image of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1907. That vantage point looked so familiar. Sure enough; doing a fast check of my pictures I uncovered a photo from October 1988 of Joe, Don, and Richard from our October excursion to the city. I was lost in the past before starting this entry rereading my journal archive of that trip. Looking back, it was one of those special, magic times where everything clicked. It was an excursion that could not have been planned out to be any more perfect. Memories of that time remind me how I’ve always tried to live life to the fullest and to try and keep on doing so.

Images: 1907 and 1988. Joe and I were under strict orders from Don to not act like tourists, and to try and just blend in. HA!!! That only made us act up worse!! I remember yelling, “Turn around and let me take your picture!” for this shot. Joe-left, Don-middle, Richard-right

The cold is slowly leaving us. Temperatures are warming up a bit, but rain is now also a factor. Hopefully I will get the first coat of paint onto the body of the San Francisco fire hydrant today. Yesterday I picked up some yellow artist oil to tint my white oil based paint. The hydrant base colour should be an off white almost bordering on a creamy yellow. The top will a light green.

The paint removal and priming was finished up last month. The old paint was so built up the raised lettering was undecipherable. My next trip out to San Francisco will have to entail research into the Risdon Iron Works. Some quick online work uncovered that Risdon was absorbed by another firm in 1910. There is no mention they actually manufactured hydrants or not. This hydrant could have been for just the Risdon works site. I’m hoping I can date it to being pre 1906 so I can say it was present for the earthquake and fire!

Speaking of San Francisco, I got an E-mail from Southwest with “want-to-get away” deals. You punch in how much you want to spend and where you want to go and “BINGO” the perfect destination is chosen. I chose $700.00 and one of my destinations was San Francisco listing the flights I usually use and the Travel Lodge on Market St I normally stay at. I’m so tempted to get-away!!!!

The internets came to my rescue again: a job I need to do is to flush out my tankless water heater. Vinegar is pumped thorough the heating coils to clean out the sediment and build up. I needed to get a submersible utility pump to be able to accomplish this chore. The initial pump cost is about half what a plumber would charge to do a flushing. Checking out the stock at Blowe’s, Homo Depot, and Sears on line I ended up finding the best deal through Amazon which included free shipping. It should be delivered next week. I have gotten so lazy; I hate the thought of shopping around store to store anymore.

Another needed article is some green velvet to recover the turntable of the latest “Cow”. (The Columbia Viva Tonal phonograph model 810) Columbia could not use felt as a turntable covering like every other manufacturer. No, they had to use velvet. Trying to match up the original green at local fabric and craft stores has been impossible. Some online sources have been located. It is just so hard to accurately match up the colour. The last time I hunted down a burgundy jacquard silk for a phonograph grill cloth, the delivered shade was light purple! I got the idea the other day to stain it with burgundy wine when I spraying extra strength cleaner onto the wine stains on my old sweatshirt. That might darken it up closer to the right shade. A box of Burgandy wine is on my shopping list for today! Even if it does not tone things out, I’ll still be able to drink it!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Never Say Never

You would think I have learned by now that you “Never say Never!” Back in the early 1990’s I purchased a Columbia model 800 Viva Tonal Graphophone. This machine was first manufactured in 1926 to compete with the wildly popular Victor Orthophonic Credenza. It was really a “cow”. That is the term my dealer friend Dennis coined to designate anything that was big and heavy!

The record and talking machine industry was in a very profitable, comfortable rut at the end of the Great War. Like GM and Ford of the 1970’s they had grown fat and lazy. The business recession of 1921 plus the emergence of Radio was a double whammy that nearly did the entire industry in. Reluctantly the major players had to turn to Western Electric and eventually pay them royalties to use the newly developed microphone and revamp their recording studios for electrically recorded records. It was a bitter pill for the companies to swallow.

This required a total redesign of the playback machines. Electrically recorded records blasted and generally did not sound good on old style machines. Special reproducers and horn designs gave a bass and depth to recordings that was eye-opening.

The Columbia Company was just getting reorganized after a bankruptcy when they introduced the Viva Tonal line of machines engineered for the new electric recordings. This is a rare line of machines to encounter today. I think it is safe to say from a collectors stand point that for every 30 Victor Orthophonics you see, you might encounter one Columbia Viva Tonal.

I was clearing out things to make room here at my Alabama house back in 2000and sold that “cow”. I was so glad to have room again. I said I’d never own another one.

Damn you Craigslist! It was around Thanksgiving I was trolling the internets for old phonographs. As fate would have it, I turned up a Columbia 810 on Craigslist in Chelsea, Alabama for a steal. It looked good from the pictures. I have a friend in Birmingham who would have been the perfect customer for this, but I misplaced his contact information. Got a hold of a friend in Mississippi and gave him the lead on the thing.

I was talking with Billy Sunday who was giving me a hard time for not jumping on that 810. "That is worth five times what he is asking" Billy kept saying. He sure knows how to get me going! After I hung up the phone I checked the Craigslist listings and it was still active!

Early Monday morning I was able to make phone contact with the seller after a couple E-mails. At 11:30 a.m. I was at his house sealing the deal. My Mississippi friend contacted the Birmingham collector who checked the machine over. He did not have any room for it. That is kind of what I thought. This collector has phonographs piled up like cordwood! The seller told me the Bham collector and I were the only ones to contact him in regards to the Graphophone. I was amazed nobody else bit……

We loaded that cow into the bed of my truck on some pads I had brought along. I forgot how heavy those damn things were, my back nearly slipped out “strong arming” the beast onto the tailgate.

The traffic was horrible on the 280 which took me to the 459. (That is pure Western New York to put “the” before you say route numbers!) I was home by 1:30 giving me plenty of time to get it off the truck, onto a dolly, and moved into the house.

The most serious flaw is a front foot that will have to be reconstructed. The rest of the machine is in pretty nice untouched shape. It should clean up well. The 810 was the deluxe model which had contrasting wood tones and polychrome decorations. The finish should rub out and overcoat nicely.

Just what I need another project. I could just do a fast redo of the tone arm, motor and reproducer and sell it at one of the phonograph shows….. but it is looking like it might be a “keeper” for a while……

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home Made Banana Bread

The temperatures are still cold but the sky is clear allowing the brilliant sun to shine through. That does a lot to raise my spirits. Stumpy was out all morning and is now asleep on the bed after finishing up his wet food treats. Daggy is buried under the covers. What a life those cats have!

One of my favourite haunts throughout the 1980’s was the complex of flea markets in Clarence, NY. The original first building was a long, low claustrophobic affair with dealer booths along the walls and center. “Aunt Mike” used to have a booth here. She was such a trip living and enjoying life to the fullest. She used to do “curb shopping” the night before garbage pick-up. She would make a good buck selling that stuff.

Aunt Mike, (standing) Aunt Martha seated at Renninger's Flea Market, Adamstown, PA fall of 1975.

There was a lady who had a booth just down from Aunt Mike who sold baked goods. She also sold these hats made out of cut up beer cans. The cans were cut up into panels, holes punched through and the panels were then crocheted together. Yes, people actually bought those horrible things!

This woman wore one of these hats and would announce in a loud monotone throughout the day: “Homemade banana bread”. I tried it once. That was enough!

Debbie gave me a bag of overripe bananas last night knowing that I would use them up. I was thinking back to those flea market days this morning as I made up a batch of banana bread. I found the best recipe on the You-tubes. (I love to use the plural as it drives some people crazy!)

Using mom’s old cake mixer and angel food cake pan had me remembering back to happy days growing up on Ontario St. My little Alabama kitchen was a happy place this morning….

Mom always cooled her angel food cakes on a beer bottle……

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Greetings:

Back in August 2004 my life was turned upside down when I transferred to the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, KY. It was a long involved story/move, but it was in my best interest to finish out my last 13 months till my retirement under 30 years and out at the Corvette Assembly facility.

I spent those 13 months doing the final assembly to transmissions and then installing finished transmissions to the Corvette chassis. One of my co-workers “Two Dollar Bill” had a tape deck and assortment of music he played incessantly.

This journal entry was written that December I was with Corvette. With so many of my Facebook friends being from my hometown Lockport, NY, I thought they might enjoy a trip to the past….

I'll Be Home for Christmas...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I know that I have written in the past about one of my co-workers “Two Dollar Bill” and his music. When returning to work after Thanksgiving, he brought in a special treat: His Christmas Music tapes. God save us! There was a time when I enjoyed hearing this seasonal music. In the American tradition of “if one is good then 100 is better”, he plays these tapes for hours. Some of the songs that I have grown to despise are:

1. White Christmas

2. Silver Bells

3. Winter Wonderland

4. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

5. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

6. Oh Holy Night

7. Ave Maria

Don’t get me wrong; these are all beautiful and great melodies. What has spoiled them forever in my mind is the cover versions done by “pop divas” and every washed up singer you can imagine. Daily I hear endless reruns of these same tunes; all done by different artists. I remember how Judy Garland sang the song “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in the movie Meet Me in Saint Louis. Now, I’m hearing some wretched woman screech, wail, and destroy this simple plaintive song with every musical embellishment known to mankind. It makes my “tits itch” just thinking about it.

The other day while trying to avoid listening to this racket I was thinking, “When did it all go wrong?” Unfortunately I could not pinpoint a date, but instead I was remembering when things were all right.

You have to go back in time to the mid 1960’s. In my hometown of Lockport, we always had snow for the Christmas holidays. The nearest shopping malls and plazas were in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. My dad hated driving so there was no chance for the family to go to those places. Lockport still had a thriving central business district. The stores would be open late at night for the shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seems lame now, but that used to be a real treat, to go shopping when it would be night.

I used to walk “downtown” by heading east on Ontario Street. This brought me to the Pine Street Bridge that crossed the Erie Canal. The railings on the bridge were all fancy scrolled ironwork of a past era. The sidewalks would be clear of snow, and the green iron scrollwork would trap the white snow making a stark contrast, even at night. After crossing this bridge I would be at the intersection on Main Street.

The “south side” of Main Street is where all the major stores were. J.J. Newberry, the five and dime where my aunt Margaret Louise worked in the 1930’s was almost to the corner and always a first stop. The merchandise was displayed on counters with glass dividers keeping everything organized. Heading east there was The Carl Company, a dry goods store that had a card table set up in the back selling toys for four cents each. They were tacky things but it still would be an adventure to find a treasure. The major department store was Williams Brothers. My great aunt Mary shopped here all the time. This was the most expensive store in town. Having a basement and four floors of merchandise there was a lot of area to cover when shopping here. A brass gated elevator shuttled passengers between floors. My sister’s best friend Candy had a job operating this elevator for a while. I used to love to pester her while she was working!

W.T.Grant would always be stop. There was basement, main floor and second floor. By the back stairs to the second floor there was a popcorn machine. If I put my hand in just right when nobody was looking I could wiggle my fingers and get some “free samples”. The toys and pets were in the basement. We would always get our goldfish and turtles here. It saddens me now to think of those poor turtles that were sold with flowers painted on their shells.

On the corner of Main and Locust Street is where a temporary shelter would be built for the Salvation Army. It always seemed there was an “old woman” shaking the brass bell out an elevated window above the collection bucket. Loudspeakers over the roof of this “hut” played the Christmas music. The decorations for downtown were garlands of green between the light poles across Main Street. In the center of each garland was a lighted star inside a circle. Hearing this music, feeling the cold and snow against my face outside, and then the welcome warmth when entering a store made Christmas shopping a real adventure. I knew I was witnessing something special experiencing all this as a child.

The next block headed east had O’Connor’s toy store. What a fantastic variety of toys they had for being such a small business. The Royal, an ice cream parlor was right by, but I was not allowed to go there. My dad said that is where the “hoods” hung out. My father thought that any teenager who smoked, had a leather jacket, or wore black shoes was a juvenile delinquent.

Further down the street was Noah’s Ark, an auto parts store that sold toys during the holidays. The toy catalogue from this store was always anxiously awaited. This was the place to go for Lionel trains, and accessories for your bicycle.

Across the street from here was Dan’s 88-Cent Store. Here I could always find a present for my mother. My tastes ran towards the knock-off Hummel figurines from Japan. Seeing them now all these years later, the quality was pretty good! I am still using a strainer that came from there!

Returning home, I would backtrack on Main Street. Instead of turning down Pine Street and back over the bridge there I would continue west. Kipps cigar store is where my comic books came from. This store was long and narrow. There was a huge assortment of comics to choose from along the west wall. I would try to peek at the Playboy magazines on the back wall without being seen. We used to always get yelled at for looking at forbidden merchandise. There was a “nut display” by the cash register. A revolving tray of greasy salted nuts under a light bulb. The owner was always behind the cash register. In giving change he always called me “Sonny Boy.”

The last stop would be at the corner of Cottage and Main. This was the location of The Crystal Ice Parlor. Opened in 1922, it still had all the original fixtures: including the owner. The booths were dark and mysterious at night. It was always a treat to have a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. Above each booth painted on the wall was picture. The scenes ranged from pastoral mountaintop scenes, to the Acropolis in Greece. I used to think that painting of the Acropolis was the most beautiful painting I the world! (Through a quirk of fate, I own this artwork! Another story!)

Now is the trek home. Walking across the “big bridge” (supposedly one of the widest bridges in the world) there is no protection from the wind. Huge snow banks are formed here from clearing the street. If the snow is packed hard enough it is more fun to walk on the snow banks than the walkway.

By the time I arrive home I’m cold and have had enough! In the kitchen there is an old cast iron floor grate over the heating duct. This is my favorite place to stand to warm my feet. Then mittens and gloves are put on the cast iron cover to dry out. (I still have this grate and it is in use. Sadly it has been many many years since mittens have been dried on it)

It is sad to think that I had to use the past tense for all the businesses and locations. Shopping habits change and these small stores could not compete against the bigger chains. What is worse: my hometown bought into the myth of “Urban Renewal.” This is a government program where old buildings were condemned and bought by the government to be redeveloped. The main shopping block where the major stores used to be was demolished in the mid 1970’s. A grassy field is all that remains some 30 years later. My generation was the last to experience what it was like to have a vibrant central business district.

I loathe shopping malls. The sanitized, programmed interiors, boring merchandise, and hordes of “mall rats” running around completely alienate me. Just down the road from me here in Bowling Green is the major Mall for the region. It even has a Dillards! Don’t count on seeing me there!

In a way I have to thank “Two Dollar Bill”. In trying to avoid his wretched music I dug up a lot of forgotten memories. Now I’ll be able to copy this entry and enclose it with some “special” Christmas cards to be sent home. That is what makes this time of year special for me. Sharing memories and being with family and friends. That makes me want to sing….I’ll be home for Christmas…………if only in my dreams.


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.