Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Original "Dancing With the Star"

Clairton flyboy: original “Dancing With the Star”

Not exactly a love affair but: Donnabelle Mullenger probably never saw the steel mills and coke plants that belched soot, smoke, and quencher in Clairton, PA. She was born and raised on a farm near Denison, Iowa but moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She changed her name to Donna Reed and starred as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in the sappy holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Ed Skvarna has had a pretty wonderful life himself. He grew up in Clairton, half a country away from cornfields and flat land, inhaling all the dirty air until he joined the Army to fight the Germans. Two of his brothers, John and Leo also served. We’ve highlighted many Clairtonians and former residents of this fair city. This post features a young man who went off to war – WW-II, the Big One... it was in all the papers.

Higher Education – in a B-29: Ed graduated from Clairton High School in 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps, later to be renamed the Air Force. Like so many lads of the era he envisioned the romance of flight and signed up for flight school. He was rejected for pilot training because he was colorblind but selected to be a crew member and sent to Kansas for training as a right gunner on a B-29. Being up in a plane was not the only time Ed’s feet left the ground. One evening at the Wichita USO canteen he gathered up his courage and asked the pretty movie star Donna Reed for a dance. In another movie in which she starred as a nurse with John Wayne, the Duke declined her offer to dance. But Ed is from Clairton and he’s no dummy, so he made the move and asked for a dance. She accepted, and Ed was on cloud nine without his B-29. It was the first celebrity he’d ever met but she seemed so down-to-earth. The memory of that dance stuck with him as he finished his training and went off to fight in the skies above Asia.

Star-struck young G.I. writes: After Ed was sent to Asia he dropped Donna notes now and then from China, India, and the Marianas. In May of 1945, while Ed was based in the Marianas near Guam he received a letter back from the film star. It made him “jump with joy.” He had sent her snapshots of himself and told her of some of his adventures and of course, asked for a photo of her. Similar stories of American soldiers and celebrities are told by the men who return home from war. Some are believed with a wink, and others seem to be stretching the truth. But Ed’s was no brag, just fact.

The Donna Reed Letter Show: Donna Reed, often called "America’s Sweetheart” during the war, kept many of the letters – 341 of them to be exact, from Ed and other lonely U.S. servicemen from all over the world. Many, including Ed’s were simply addressed “Miss Donna Reed, Santa Monica, California.” She kept the letters in a shoebox, perhaps taking them out to read and reflect from time to time. Eventually though the shoebox was relegated to a trunk and stored in a garage at her Beverly Hills home, far from her Iowa roots and even farther from Ed Skvara’s hometown of Clairton. But ironically not so far from Ed who in 1950 had settled in Covina, CA, a Los Angeles suburb not too far from his wartime heartthrob. Both got on with their post-war lives, Ed as a schoolteacher and administrator and Donna as an actress, and that would have been the end of the story. Donna Reed died of pancreatic cancer in 1986 at the age of 64, more than 40 years after Donna and Ed had cut a rug on the dance floor and exchanged letters and photos. It would be another 23 years after her death before the letters were discovered.

Who knows what treasures lie in unopened trunks?: Last year Ms. Reed’s daughter, Mary Owens was rummaging through some of her mother’s old possessions and stumbled across the trunk, the shoebox, and the letters. She got in touch with an editor for the New York Times and the letters were highlighted in a Memorial Day story.

Talented actress and patriot: Donna Reed’s accomplishments included the roles opposite Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne as cited above, and her television show, “The Donna Reed Show,” in which she played Donna Stone. She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a prostitute in “From Here to Eternity.” Among her many other movie roles she played opposite Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Alan Ladd, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Charleton Heston, and Fred MacMurray. Her TV credits included the role of Ellie Ewing Farlow on Dallas.

Home safe and sound: After the war Ed returned home safely and used the G.I. Bill to earn a teaching degree in Industrial Arts from California State Teachers College in California, PA. He married and he and his wife moved to California (the state) in 1950. There he spent a career as a father of three and an educator – teacher and administrator in the El Monte School District. Ed Skrvana, bombardier, dancer with the stars, educator, and Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins.

Dr. Forgot

Clairton's Car History

My designated driver drove me to drink

Not a Honda among us: Many readers of this blog remember Clairton back in the days when men were men and women were glad of it and you were able to tell one from the other by their earrings, tattoos, or the way they zipped their jeans. So return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when there was no place in Clairton to purchase a new Acura, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Datsun, Hummer, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Lexus, Land Rover, Mazda, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Saab, Scion, Smart, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Volvo, or Cadillac. Well, ok, I’ll concede, Vauxhall was sold at Carroll Motors Pontiac for a short time during the 1950s.

Readers help me remember to See the USA in my Chevrolet: Reader Ed Gibson, Clairton lad with a wealthy healthy memory for modes of transportation helped me remember some of the cars that one was able to purchase new in Clairton in the 1940s, 50s and beyond. Let’s test your memory and see if you remember the dealerships and even some of the cars that were sold back in the days of the stick shift, suicide knob, chopping and channeling, the Western Auto store on Miller Avenue, and the Clairton Bears fan who would paint up his hearse with white shoe polish for football games.

Cars, boats, and other modes of transport: Ed Gibson is a Clairtonian and an admitted autophile, car junkie, and grease monkey. He currently runs Three Rivers Marine Surveys but spent many years providing for his family in the car business. In his current business he helps owners of new boats solve warranty issues but in his heart beats the engine of a 400 horsepower Dodge Hemi with dual four-barrel carbs. Ed has written articles about boats, water marine surveying, and water safety but he also knows the difference between an Olds Rocket 88 and a Ninety-eight. Ed is a certified scuba diver but was also a Clairton hot rod driver. My best guess would be that Ed’s dream car would be the Amphicar, manufactured by Industrie Werke Karlsruhe in West Germany (see photo above), but alas, never sold in Clairton. The cars listed below WERE sold new in Clairton. A thank you for the assist in the compilation of those cars and their dealers goes to Ed Gibson, Clairton boy.

Of grocery stores and Buicks: Many Clairtonians remember the Marracini markets in Wilson and “on the hill” at the Woodland and Worthington Avenue confluence, but what you may not remember is that the Marracini family also owned the Buick dealership in Blair. The Ford dealership in Wilson had several different owners over the years and one little dealership not to be overlooked was Page Wilcher Crosley near Mendelssohn Avenue and the Spur gas station. Don’t remember that one? Crosley was what today we might call a subcompact car manufactured in the U.S. by Crosley Motors from 1939 to 1952. Industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr, owned radio stations and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. He built a teeny (80” wheelbase, less than 1,000 lbs.)Convertible that got over 50 miles per gallon and cost about $250. He later added other models including sedans, wagons, and pickup trucks. But the Crosley went the way of the Edsel.

Moving on up with more extinct cars: Caddy-corner to the post office on St. Clair and Fifth Street was a pool hall. But before being a pool hall it was the Airport Kaiser-Frazer dealership. The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was incorporated in Nevada in 1945. Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser teamed up with auto man Joseph Frazer and tried to catch a wave of the post World War II boom. The Clairton dealership did ok, but the company went bust. Studebaker started building wagons for farmers, miners, and the military during the Civil War. Their car building exploits started in 1902 first with electric then gasoline powered cars. Winters Motors on St. Clair Avenue sold Studebakers until the car company began to lose money and partnered with Packard, which had been building luxury cars since 1899. And yes, Packard had a dealership in Clairton, Niklas Brothers on Woodland Avenue at the corner of Halcomb.

A dealership near the cemetery – a bad omen: Hudson Motors built cars from 1909 until 1954 when they merged with Nash-Kelvinator (the latter of refrigerator fame) to form AMC, or American Motors Corporation. The Hudson dealership in Clairton was on Worthington as Nikolich Motors, just up the street from the cemetery, and later to become Johnny’s Glass, operated by John Nikolich, son of dealership owner Nick. The third generation Nick Nickolich now operates a waste management business from the same property. The Hudson dealership was short lived but the American Motors Corporation continued selling Nash Ramblers and other AMC products at Ping Young Motors on Miller Avenue and Wylie, a block from the grade school. Across the street from Miller Avenue school Ed Zupancic opened Zupancic Lincoln Mercury in the mid 1950s. The opening was attended by no less a celebrity than Ed Sullivan whose Ed Sullivan Show was sponsored by the car company.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler: In addition to the aforementioned Ford dealership in Wilson and Zupancic Lincoln Mercury, Chrysler Corporation dealerships included Gregg Motors Chrysler on Park Avenue near Clairton High School, Mauro Desoto/Plymouth next to the Blue Bird Restaurant, and Jim Phillips Dodge on Worthington across from the Triangle and Reggie Desiderio memorial. General Motors dealerships included Carroll Motors Pontiac next door to Mauro Desoto/Plymouth, and down the street was Gumble Chevrolet where the Rite Aid Drug Store currently stands. Browns Oldsmobile sat at the bottom of St. Clair Avenue. The last dealer of mention, and ironically one of the few still selling cars in Clairton is Royak Motors which sold Willys Jeep products across the street from the post office. It is operated by Joe Royak, Jr. Willys came to prominence by winning a government contract to produce Jeeps during World War II. After the war they expanded their offerings to cars, trucks, and station wagons that became America’s first SUVs. The Jeep brand was eventually sold to Chrysler.

A review of Clairton circa 1950s: During its heyday Clairton had 16 car dealerships that offered every American car made except Cadillac. The two main streets include St. Clair Avenue, which was the location of the State Theater, at least three hotels, and six car dealerships, and Miller Avenue which had a school, two car dealerships, two movie theaters (Capital and Colonial), most of the business district, three service stations and a church. All this in a town that at its peak boasted fewer than 20,000 residents! In my next post I’ll focus on how some things have changed in Clairton in a half century.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Riding Around in my Automobile,” by Chuck Berry.

Dr. Forgot

Friday, May 29, 2009

Week on the Beach

ATTENTION INVESTORS AND GARDNERS: What goes down must come up

401K to 201K to #%&K: We are in the beginning of a recession – or is it a depression? Or are we in the middle – or closing in on the end? Remember the recession of the 1980s when the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be a train coming toward you? So many reports about the health of the economy. So many experts. Of course one sage once said that an ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure, so draw your own “expert conclusions. Moody’s Investment Services recently said that despite the burgeoning debt of the USA, we still retain the highest possible credit rating –“AAA.” That means that there seems to be a very good chance that the U.S will be able to pay off its debts eventually. AAA also means that if one of your car’s tires goes flat a guy will come out to change it, so that seems to be a good thing all the way around.

GM now stands for Government Motors: Remember the cry, “Save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again?” Well the same might be said for stock in General Motors as it has sunk below Bambi’s Daddy. That would be a buck. The wild ride, or parachuting of the GM stock began in 2000 when it climbed close to a Franklin per share (that’s a hundred bucks) but began to swan dive shortly thereafter. However it did a Mexican jumping bean dance for the next several years and finished above $ 40 per share in late 2007. But since then GM seems to have gone the way of roll up side windows and tumbled to a low of 85 cents. Now might be a good time to pick up some of the GM stock, especially if the adage at thee top of the blog holds true.

1,2,3,4 Will they confirm Sotomayor?: Supreme court nominee Sotomayor seems to have been both a needed selection and a brilliant move on the part of President Obama. Although we have looked askance at some of his recent decisions, this one seems to have been right on the money. Of course the nominee is a Latina woman but her credentials are impeccable. In every political decision there must be vetting and opposition – that is how the system works. But political pundits and talking heads from the other party seem to make themselves look ridiculous as they attack phantom issues in an effort to show some level of opposition. We predict that not only Judge Sotomayor be confirmed she will have a distinctive run as Supreme Court Justice.

Maps of Afghanistan are sandpaper: The national bird call in Afghanistan is “Duck.” US soldiers reported killing 34 insurgents in East Afghanistan yesterday. The president says our presence is needed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and many other stans in the neighborhood. Across the globe, the Nut Case of North Korea, Little Kim continues to rattle his bottle rockets scaring the Hell out of his neighbors. One must wonder, “Why are we the only ones upset enough over these world activities to send troops?” We currently have 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and it is reported that they are preparing for war if needed. Am I the only one who wonders why other superpowers don’t look after their own ‘hoods? Hello! China! Can you hear me? The little nut case poses more a problem to YOU and his Asian neighbors than to the US. Hello! Russia! I know you had the good sense to get out of Afghanistan with your tail between your legs but is this not closer to your neighborhood than to ours?

The future isn’t what it used to be: Future 1 - Football. Tom Brady throws a mean missile and is a Patriot. The New England quarterback’s future however will be determined by how well he recovers from that most dreaded of all football diseases, knee-monia. He missed the entire season last year after a devastating knee injury during the first game. After surgery an infection threatened to end his football career but Brady has a bunch of courage and has returned to practice with teammates. During his glory days he dated the most beautiful models in the world and made a little Brady, but during his rehab he married. Guess it was too hard to run around on one leg.

The future isn’t what it used to be: Future 2 - politics. Its as easy as ABC; All ‘Bout Chicago. Illinois guv Blogo saw the curtain falling on his career about the same time he was to appoint a replacement to finish the Senatorial term of the Barackster. But Babbling Blogo bamboozled Burris to be top banana among a backdrop of balderdash and bluster. A backlash resulted because some saw this as backhanded but Blogo would not budge and Burris would not back down. Burris bade Blogo goodbye and boogied to the badlands of DC faster than a bad check could become a bad debt. Blogo the half-baked bumpkin was left to battle the big boys in his own bailiwick. But unbeknownst to Burris, the FBI was in the basement and with a barrage of double talk they heard him barter and bequeath buckets of bucks to Blogo’s brother. Busted!

The future isn’t what it used to be: Future 3 – Sci Fi. Although we are surrounded by the wonders of technology more or less predicted by Jules Verne, Dick Tracy, and Star Trek, some shortcomings still exist. Namely, traffic free cities, pollution free environments and Jet Packs have yet to appear on the scene. The patent office does not yet need to close for those who imagine items of the future still have plenty to work on including teleporting (Beam me up, Scotty), clean renewable energy, and that doggone jet pack. Live long and prosper.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Flood of Tears and Dollars

A Tale of Two Cities – Clairton and Johnstown

It was the best of times, it is the worst of times: With apologies to Charles Dickens, let me tell you about my hometown; Clairton, PA. As you browse through past posts about Clairton you will see that it has a rich history. The area was originally settled by various Indian tribes, and then farmed under patents from the British and was later the site of the Whisky Rebellion. Industry began to creep in during the latter 19th century with a piano factory, a baling wire factory, a glass factory and other manufacturing plants. Since Clairton sits on the Monongahela River it was an attractive location for factories to receive their raw materials and ship their finished products using the nation’s original interstate highway system – the rivers of the area. In the early 20th century the steel industry discovered Clairton and surrounding communities and giant steel mills were built along the rivers. Clairton grew and thrived. Fortunes were made by a few and a good life was enjoyed by many as the mills paid the bulk of local taxes. The City of Clairton had state-of-the-art police and fire equipment and the schools generated first-generation Americans, African Americans, and Anglo Americans who went on to college and made their marks on the world. Many have been highlighted in earlier posts.

The Worst of times: With the decline of the steel industry Clairton began to not only lose jobs and its tax base from the mills, but many of those bright, promising young people who left for college and the military, opted to not return. As the older generation began to die off the hopelessness of a poor economy enticed younger ones with the usual sinister issues of substance abuse, crime, and more feelings of hopelessness. Downtown business closed and a thriving community that once boasted as many as 12 new car dealerships, three movie theaters, and some of the most elegant homes in the area began to crumble – literally. A few hearty souls continue to try to restore Clairton to some semblance of its former glory, but it has been a difficult task. But then there came a glimmer of hope!

Pennsylvania Turnpike Highway Route 43: Route 43 is often referred to as the Mon-Fayette Expressway although it is officially named the James J. Manderino Highway. It was named after the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who died in 1989. Route 43 is a 66 mile leg of the Pennsylvania Turnpike system that is designed to go from I-68 near Morgantown WVA to I-376 in Pittsburgh. The highway has been mostly completed up to Route 51 in Jefferson Hills near the edge of Clairton, but the funding for the last segment seems to have dried up. The reason that final leg is so important to Clairton residents is that once that it is completed, Clairton becomes attractive as a bedroom community to young professionals who work in Pittsburgh. The 20-30 minute commute will offer the low taxes and unbelievably low housing prices. Clairton is a place where a home can be purchased for less than the price of a car! Where might those funds have gone? Let’s look 85 miles to the east.

The Great Johnstown Flood: In a few days the village of Johnstown, PA, 85 miles east of Clairton, will mark the 120th anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood. That flood killed more than 2,000 people and caused $ 17 million in property damage. The more recent flood came as the result of a powerful politician by the name of John Murtha – but this time the area became awash in dollars rather than floodwaters. Murtha, a powerful Democrat from Johnstown decided his community needed an airport upgrade and did he ever get one! Using ten times the amount of money caused by damage from the Great Johnstown Flood, Murtha, known as “The King of earmarks” was able to upgrade the sleepy Cambria County airport – which was recently renamed the John Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Airport. (The sign in front of the airport shows the Murtha name much larger than the airport name)

A Study in Earmark Money: The Murtha airport is located about 2 hours by car, or 12 minutes by commercial jet from the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. If a Hertz car rental is needed at Murtha, one must phone the agent in Johnstown, who will deliver the keys. In the past decade the airport has received over $150 million including money for a $7 million control tower (staffed by FAA controllers of course), a $14 million hangar that mostly sits empty, and an $18 million reinforced runway that can accommodate any commercial plane that flies America’s skies.

A place to explore: At 10 a.m. on a recent morning, one of the busiest times at most airports, not a passenger could be found at Murtha. Sometime later four passengers wandered in and passed easily through the seven-person TSA security line en route to board one of the three daily flights – all to Washington D.C. Each passenger’s ticket price is subsidized with matching funds. An average of 20 people per day cost the government about $2,000 daily for those subsidies. A recent Washington Post article reported, “Inside the terminal on a recent weekday, four passengers lined up to board a flight, outnumbered by seven security staff members and supervisors, all suited up in gloves and uniforms to screen six pieces of luggage. For three hours that day, no commercial or private planes took off or landed. Three commercial flights leave the airport on weekdays, all bound for Dulles International Airport.” Oh, by the way, in case you wonder where some of your stimulus money is going, $800,000 of it went to pave a backup runway at Murtha’s airport.

Highways vs. Skyways: Rep. Murtha uses the airport frequently during his campaign jaunts between home and Washington. It must be important to him to have high tech radar, the type of which is usually only placed in international airports, inside the brand new state-of-the-art tower. He is a large man, so perhaps it is important to have a restaurant in that new terminal, a full contingent of security guards, supervisors, carousels and related luggage equipment. Communities such as Clairton and others along the proposed Route 43 continue to languish without funds for the completion of their highway. They come to the table in sackcloth and ashes and like the orphan Oliver Twist they beg for just a little more. Meanwhile, 85 miles away, some 20 passengers per day walk through a luxurious, fully staffed airport and select one of three nearly empty airliners with leather seats and full amenities that will take them to the Nation’s Capital. Johnstown got the pork. Clairton got the beans

A little blogging music Maestro.... “Pork and Beans” by Weezer.

Dr. Forgot

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Clairton - Your Vote Counts

Take a Risk: Winning = Happiness, Losing = Wisdom
Clairton Bits of Tid, Oddz ‘n Enz

Weekend Blaze of Glory: We spend many words on this blog reflecting on our hometown of Clairton. Today’s Clairton is much different than the one from the 1950s, 60s and even 70s. When once the mills and Coke Works paid nearly all the local taxes, now those entities are dead and dying. The city is in crisis and poverty issues that have plagued many other industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest are evident in Clairton. But Clairton has always had a cadre of fighters in its midst and that has not changed. Civic groups and churches will gather this weekend for Glory.

The Blaze of Glory crusade will include a choir competition, talent show, and exhibitors. We congratulate the fine people of Clairton and wish them well in their Crusade and the rebuilding of their city.

Part of nearly every boy’s life: Life for a boy growing up in Clairton during the prosperous post-WW-II days included a host of common activities. Four boys together comprised a singing group, six boys together meant a 3-on-3 pickup basketball game. Win and you played another team, lose and you were out. Eight boys together meant a 4 on 4 touch football game in the street. More than that meant group hanging out on the corner telling lies about sexual escapades or playing games such as kick the can (glorified hide-and-seek). But one boy alone would deliver newspapers.

Extra spending money: Since Clairton did not print a daily newspaper The Daily News was trucked each day from McKeesport, four miles to Clairton. Papers arrived in a rented garage in bundles of 50 and were counted and distributed to paperboys (rarely were there papergirls), and stores for resale. The typical paperboy made about $ 5.00 per week. Papers cost a nickel each and one and ¼ pennies was earned per paper. However, at age 14 I moved from paperboy to distributor when my father took over the Clairton distributorship. One slight problem was that I was but 14 years of age and the legal driving age was 16. But nobody seemed to notice or complain and I was the only 14-year old in Clairton who had his own wheels. The photo above shows the Willys Jeep station wagon that was used to distribute more than 2,000 papers each day throughout Clairton.

Today is Election Day in Clairton: Many communities including Clairton vote today for various offices including School Board. We are doing an abbreviated version of our post today to get it "to press" in time to encourage all Clairtonians who read this to get out and vote. If you do not vote, you have no right to complain about the politicians.

Summary: In Clairton City School District, Barbara A. Roberts is filed in both party primaries and Joseph A. Julian Jr. is filed as a Democrat in the First Ward. Candidates are unopposed in three other wards. Clairton Mayor Dominic Virgona withdrew from the race for re-election, leaving Deputy Mayor Richard L. Lattanzi, former councilman Dr. Thomas B. Meade and retired teacher and crime watch volunteer Lucille T. Herndon on the Democratic ballot. And finally, not a Clairton race exactly, but in Magisterial District 3-9 in Allegheny County, Deputy Sheriff Armand A. Martin, son of the late Magisterial District Judge Armand Martin, faces Luke Riley, Liberty's police chief and South Allegheny school board's president, on both party ballots.

A little blogging music Maestro.... “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who.

Dr. Forgot

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Clairton History

Clairton, Parks and Recreation

The impact of Clairton natives: Margaret Brown was born in the Wilson section of Clairton in August, 1914. She was from a multi-generational Clairton family. As a senior attending Clairton High School she dated the Clairton football hero and Notre Dame Athlete Ken Stilley. She even attended Ken’s prom at Notre Dame and the locals decided they’d make a lovely couple. But it was not to be. Ken Stilley married another Clairton gal and Margaret married Ken Norris. They had two Clairton children, Elizabeth and Robert. Margaret passed away in Florida last August at age 93. Her beloved husband passed away in 2004. Her daughter, Elizabeth Banzen was kind enough to share a photo of Margaret as a 16-year old, taken on the opening day of the Clairton swimming pool (front row left). See more about the Clairton pool and its opening below. Margaret Brown Norris, Clairton gal.

Of covered bridges and recreation: If you lived in Clairton you have driven along State Street through the area called “Peters Creek Bottoms.” On one side of State Street are the remnants of a still working mill that sits on the Monongahela River’s edge. Peters Creek empties into the river and during the 1940s, 50, and 60s, the smell of quencher would permeate the air so heavily that the kids would hold their breath and car windshields would become coated with the residue from the mill as cars crossed the bridge over Peters Creek. But have you ever given that bridge a second thought? Just an ordinary concrete bridge constructed in 1937 during the height of the Great Depression, one of thousands in the Keystone State built to allow smooth passage over water. It replaced an iron bridge that had stood for years. The iron bridge was built when engineers straightened the channel of Peters Creek from its normal winding route to allow for multiple railroad tracks. In the late 1800s that creek meandered past the first Clairton cemetery and was traversed by a covered wooden bridge. The Peters Creek Valley was the location for Clairton residents and neighbors to enjoy swimming, fishing, and recreation until it became a dumping ground for sewage, coal residue, and finally slag that created the bottoms that now exist.

A walk in the park – a swim in the pool: The City of Prayer might well have been called the City of Parks during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Blair Grove, McGogney and Reed Orchard, and Union Grove were located along the river – later to be supplanted by blast furnaces and mills. Central Park, replaced by the open hearth, had rides and a regular balloonist who would take off then leap from the balloon and open a parachute to return to earth. Mendelsshon Park at the end of Boundary Avenue included a dancing pavilion, merry-go-round and a Midway. But the crown jewel of area parks was the 137 acre City Park, which became Clairton Park as it is now known. Construction of the central feature of the park, the swimming pool, began in 1929 and the pool opened in time for the summer 1930 swim season. The 210 foot long by 130 foot wide pool had a baby pool at the shallow end that added another 15 feet. It cost $ 107,000 to build, no paltry sum, and held 1.3 million gallons of water. A large island in the shallow end and a smaller one in the deeper end were called the first and second floats, respectively. In addition to the 88 underwater lights there were towers, benches and life guard observation posts. The bathhouse of tapestry brick included a first aid station. The refreshment stand and stone pillars at the Walnut Street entrance were added later.

What a difference a century makes: One hundred years ago Clairton was a small village. The third high school class was about to graduate from Clairton High School. A new school that would accommodate more students would be built in a couple of decades to house grades 7-12 and the original high school building would become the Fifth Street Grade School, grades 1-6. Shaw Avenue School opened. Immigrants, mostly from southern and eastern European countries were flowing into the community to work in the mills. Ethnic communities would become defined as immigrants of Slavic descent would congregate in the area, those of Italian descent in another, African Americans in another, and those of Anglo heritage scattered throughout. By 1920 Walnut and Miller Avenue Elementary Schools had opened in an effort to school the burgeoning population. As the elementary children grew to be teens the city saw enrollment in Clairton High School triple. Many Clairtonians remember favorite and gifted teachers including music and art teachers such as Rutilio Rotili, Miss Jennie Mae Botdorf, and Miss Cora Pitcairn. Other outstanding faculty members included famed musician Ben E. Benack, English teacher Elizabeth Bayles who studied at University of London, and Latin teacher Emma Will.

The people and the industry: The people of Clairton have been highlighted in these blog posts as has the steel industry. U.S. Steel was incorporated in 1901 and capitalized at an unheard of $ 1.4 billion – the first billion dollar corporation. Attempts by the federal government in 1911 to break up U.S. Steel under antitrust laws failed. The corporation’s first president was Charles M. Schwab. U. S. Steel's production peaked at more than 35 million tons in 1953. Employment was greatest in 1943 with more than 340,000 employees. By 2000, however, it employed just 52,500 people. As the new century dawned Clairton was on life support. U.S. Steel announced a potential revival in late 2007 in the form of a $ 1 billion refurbishing of the Clairton works, but like so many other empty promises, the economy made that one fizzle.

The outlook for Clairton: Since the decline of the steel industry Clairton has followed suit. From a population high of 25,000 in the 1950s to an estimated 7,000 today the population and economy has contracted. Crime, poverty and unemployment are up. The school system struggles, and some say the future is bleak. But from chaos comes opportunity. The Community Economic Development Corporation of Clairton in conjunction with the Allegheny County Housing Authority and the state of Pennsylvania, recently completed construction of a single-family housing development to encourage people to own rather than rent. Taxes for nearly all homeowners have been reduced, and a new freeway that ends in Large is scheduled to continue on to Pittsburgh. Prospects for Clairton’s future look better today than a decade ago.

A little blogging music Maestro.... “A New Day” by Celine Dionne.

Dr. Forgot

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Putting up a Big Front

Real Christian – Fake Breasts

The Carrie Prejean Controversy: You can always tell when it has been a slow news week. Americans get bored so easily that their 24-hour cable news channels must find something new and titillating to keep their interest, sell products, and make money. It is the American way. Thus when the economy becomes boring, toss out a swine flu epidemic. When the epidemic – or even a pandemic proves to be more bull than swine, find another topic. Ah, a good Christian girl and beauty queen who stumbles through an answer to an unexpected question during the Miss USA pageant. BINGO! The religious right at least has their topic. She lost the pageant crown because she was a good Christian girl who believed marriage should be between two opposites in her country. That’s the way she was brought up and that is what she believes. End of story – NOT!

Star qualities for a good Christian girl: The fact that she answered a question that did not support gay marriage inoculated her against any other problems she might have in the eyes of some. Fake breasts? Yes, but good Christian fake breasts. Nude pictures of her on the internet? Well, so was Eve unclothed – we assume, for the internet does not reach back quite that far. Life ambition to be a Victoria Secret lingerie model? Marriage should be between a man and a woman. Lied about having taken pictures in the almost buff (topless)? Marriage should be between a man and woman. So how did she respond that way? The Devil made her almost do it. How did she resist the Devil’s question? God got inside her head. (These are her actual statements)

Let’s get this straight: Perez Hilton, a pageant judge asked the candidate a question. The question and her reply were as follows: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?"

Response: "I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman."

History repeats – more or less: About 40 years ago another beauty queen, one Anita Bryant of Oklahoma, came in third in the Miss America contest and went on to have a career as an orange salesman and anti-gay activist until the other side squeezed her orange sales. But the anti-gay part of this issue exists only in the hearts and minds of the anti-gay religious right wing. The issue is not about Ms. Prejean’s religious beliefs putting her in jeopardy of losing her tarnished California tiara, but the fact that she lied on her beauty contest application. She had indicated that no such photos of her had ever been taken. That was a lie. That alone should have caused her tiara to be stripped from her bleached blond hair and given to the non-liar who was next in line. Of course that did not happen.

Damn those Liberals in New York: The Donald of Trump, owner of the pageant, took a liberal stand and decided that the tiara should stay on the head of the bikini clad queen. Damn the topless shots full speed ahead. At least he’s consistent. When a former pageant winner sneaked out of the dorm to snort cocaine and party hearty, Sir Donald decreed that she should keep her crown as well. Fair is fair. Ah that Donald. He can trump any beauty contest he owns.

Did the Pageant set up the whole mess?: Let’s be up front about this silicone tissue issue. Did the good Christian girl win Miss California with the help of Miss Clairol and another company’s boobies? Well, we cannot verify whether or not the blonde hair came from being out there having fun in the warm California sun, but there is breaking news about her chest. A Miss California Pageant official confirmed previous reports that contestant Carrie Prejean received free breast implants, organized and paid for by the pageant weeks before the Miss USA competition. Keith Lewis, co-Director of the Miss California Pageant admitted to helping Prejean get the boob job to compete on the boob tube. He stated to a TV reporter, "We assisted when Carrie came to us and voiced the interest in having the procedure done. We want to put her in the best possible confidence in order to present herself in the best possible light on a national stage." That’s right, folks, Miss California asked Santa for something other than her two front teeth, and the boob fairy granted her wish. Wonder if she put the old ones under her pillow.

The Bottom Line: Who is being used and who is guilty of being the user in this case? Count 1: Carrie Prejean using the media to advance her career – GUILTY. Count 2: The Miss USA Pageant seducing a contestant into having fake breasts installed to uplift their ratings – GUILTY. Count 3: The Christian Right using Carrie Prejean to advance their cause despite the fact that she lied on her application, has taken some very un-Christian-like photos, and is attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in hopes of preparing for a career as a lingerie model – GUILTY. Count 4: Every TV viewer who does not turn this trash off when it is rerun over and over as legitimate news – GUILTY.

Prehistoric trivia: Back in the good old days there was a saying about gals who used enhancements: “Lipstick and rouge and powder and paint, make pretty girls look what they ain’t.” Today it must be updated – perhaps “Waxing and bleach and silicone boobs, Get pageant contestants on many youtubes.”

A little blogging music Maestro, “Angels of Deception,” by The The.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Final Exam and Local Guys

Sign on Pavlov’s house: Knock - Don’t Ring Bell

Today is Mothers Day: We wish a Happy Day to all mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, expectant mothers, adoptive mothers, and anybody else who qualifies even remotely for motherhood. This is a day to remember those special things about your Mom and to talk to her – even if she’s gone. As for me, I was born at a very early age and at home because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened. Both parents worked in the iron and steel business – my mother would iron, my father would steal. My how times have changed. As we were growing up, sailors were the only ones with tattoos. A popular one was “Mom” written across the muscle of the arm. Today the lexicon too frequently includes the word “mother” in a less than flattering sense and tattoos are everywhere. Athletes look like billboards and it is not uncommon for Mom to have a tatoo. But regardless if your Mom was Rosie the Riveter or Harriet the Housewife, remember to call her on this day – BUT NOT COLLECT!

This Clairton lad deserves plenty of ink: Joe Prince was the local insurance man when I was growing up in Clairton. He had a son, Ray who became interested in printing while still in high school. Paper and ink fascinated Ray Prince and before long he had his own business, Prince Printing on St. Clair Avenue. But Ray did more than business cards for local businessmen. His natural curiosity really changed the (type) face of the field over a half century. From his humble beginnings in the field Ray studied the problems and issues and devoted his career to helping other companies with their own productivity. His specialty is conducting Technical Plant Assessments then offering solutions for improvements. He’s done over 1,000 such assessments.

Oh, did we mention Ray is also a teacher? He has conducted nearly 800 lectures and seminars on every facet of the printing industry, from Troubleshooting to Error Prevention. And Ray is willing to share his expertise on the printed page as well. He writes a monthly column in the primary trade magazine, provides tips in the American Printer magazine, and is a regular contributor to printing-related blogs and web sites. He’s co-authored textbooks and written more than 200 articles. Ray is an award winning professional and leader in his field. He also gives back by sitting on scholarship boards. Ray is one of the most respected professionals in the field Graphic Arts. He’s come a long way from printing business cards in high school. Ray Prince, Clairton boy.

End of term – Semester History Exam: Okay boys and girls. Clear your desks. Get out your #2 Ticonderoga pencil and Clearfield pencil tablet. Your semester Final Exam is listed below. See how much you know about your old home town. NO PEEKING AT THE ANSWERS.

1. Clairton was incorporated as a third class city January 1, 1922. It included which boroughs?
a. Clairton
b. North Clairton
c. Wilson
d. All of the above

2. North Clairton’s other name was Blair.
a. True
b. False

3. Peter’s Creek was named for an Indian caled “Indian Peter.”
a. True
b. False

4. The Mendelssohn family erected one of the first factories in Clairton that made:
a. Car parts
b. Pianos
c. Frozen Yogurt
d. None of the above

5. Blair once touted a beach and amusement park.
a. True
b. False

6. The “Mill Mansion” at the top of Mitchell Avenue had how many rooms?
a. 20
b. 30
c. 40
d. 50

7. By 1947 what percentage of Clairton residents were foreign born?
a. 10
b. 15
c. 20
d. 25

8. The high and low populations of Clairton from 1922 to 2000 were (select two)
a. 8,000
b. 10,000
c. 15,000
d. 20,000
e. 30,000

9. Which family dairy delivered milk to Clairton residents
a. Snee
b. Heinrich
c. Kecks
d. All of the above

10. The original name for the Clairton High mascot was
a. Bears
b. Cobras
c. Cokeheads

Clairton boy minds his business: We never know what direction the winds of life will take us. Dave Harbst was one of the bus students who came to Clairton High School for the superb education offered – and because that is where he was zoned. After graduation he attended Washington and Jefferson and earned a degree in Spanish. He taught school and coached for a few years but left education to work in the oil business. After several years he got into the auto parts business, first with a store in Uniontown then adding another, and another and another until her had four. Twenty years later Dave sold the stores but stayed on as a consultant, while finally having time to enjoy his family. Dave and Ginny have two daughters – both educators. Dave Harbst, Clairton boy.

Time to say Goodbye: We don’t sing like Bocelli but we know his songs. The following is the answer key to your Final Exam. If you passed, you are REALLY a Clairtonian. Drop a comment if you have suggestions for the next exam.

1. D, 2. A, 3. A, 4. B, 5. A, 6. C, 7. B, 8. A&C 9. D 10. B

A little blogging music Maestro... “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tribute to A Hero

It’s Nice to be Important but more Important to be Nice

This Rickey Martin is not a Teen Singing Idol: Those of us in the “older than dirt” category lived in an era of the bullies, the nerds (although that word did not exist until Richie Cunningham used it on Happy Days), the jocks, and the oddballs. But there was also the kid that everybody looked up to. He stood up for the little guys against the bullies, did not tease the nerds, ran with the jocks, and did not make fun of the oddballs. That guy in my neighborhood was Richard Martin. He grew up on 9th Street in Clairton, PA, had two brothers and his Dad owned the L-M Bar. Richard was movie-star handsome and an excellent athlete. He could have played “Biff” in any Hollywood movie. He was tolerant, as an openly gay man lived a few houses away – not so unusual today but rare in the 1950s. To the Martin family, their neighbor was just another neighbor. So what does a guy like Richard do with his life?

Love, family, service: Richard fell in love and married Phyllis Slavick. They had three children and a passel of grandchildren. The marriage would end nearly thirty years later not because of divorce but due to the tragic death of Phyllis. Richard was fortunate enough to fall in love again and married another Clairton gal, Dorothy Poziviak-Hrbosky whose husband, prominent Clairtonian Jan Hrbrosky had also passed away. Richard and Dorothy’s marriage has been going strong for nearly a decade and a half.

Life of service: Richard always felt the need to give back. His was to be a life of service, which he found in the career of Allegheny County Police Officer. He began his career in the early 1960s as a mounted policeman – which called for him to demonstrate his horsemanship at the county fair by riding through fire rings. As a motorcycle officer he escorted the Beatles, U.S. presidents, and the Steeler Superbowl champs. He was so respected that when his son was born the local bishop gave him a commemorative Papal coin. Richard graduated to working Homicide and Narcotics, but after 20 years returned to the patrol duty he loved. During his patrol of South Park Richard was summoned by a couple who explained they were about to get married and asked if, as the procession passed, he would pull them over and write them a “ticket.” The young couple now has a rare wedding memory.

Hail to the Chief: After a quarter century as a “County Mountie” Richard retired and became the Chief of Police for his hometown of Clairton, after which he worked Security for the Bureau of Mines. An avid golfer, Richard was recently diagnosed with cancer. As I write this entry he lies in bed in the twilight of his life, surrounded by his loved ones – and there are many including his three dogs. A man who in life served his fellow man, will in death be reunited with other loved ones who await his return. Richard Martin, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Way We Were” by Barbara Streisand.

Editor's Note: Richard Martin passed away Tuesday night, May 12 at a hospice facility. May this fallen hero rest in peace.

Dr. Forgot

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Old and New Memories; Granny Busted

Bacteria is the only culture some people have

Clairton Culture: As cited in an earlier post, many sites include information of and about Clairton. One such site, Clairton Topix provides a forum that is rife with opinions about Clairton. As the forum topics moved toward reflections of good memories, I decided it was time to share with readers of the Clairton posts of this blog. We have not recognized the people whose memories have stimulated the items below because most posters to the blog do so under pseudonyms. That said see how many of these jog your memory:

Walnut Avenue School (see photo above)
The Corner Store (4th street)
Swimming Pool (Clairton park)
Fun loving KQV (audio 14)and 60's music
Weekends at the river (boating and swimming)
Rondinelli's Pizza
Pinball machines
Football - Bears/Panthers/Steelers
Community center (co-located with fire station)
Wilson Presbyterian Church
Delivering newspapers (Pittsburgh Press, Sun Tele, Daily News)
Cherry Bombs and Silver Salutes
Burgundy Benchwarmers
Rostraver Gardens ice skating
Pheasant and squirrel hunting
Eating chestnuts in the backyard
Catching nightcrawlers after a rain
Arrowhead hunting at the river

Classmates from Elrama, Pleasant Hills, W. Mifflin and Jefferson (before TJ)
Driving in the snow on 885
Train to Kennywood
Street football but also football in the cemetery on Worthington and Jacobs farm pasture at the end of waddell.

Walking down the woods and over the slagpile to get to Clairton park - before the Ravensburg bridge

Car dealerships - probably a dozen including Kaise, Frazer, and Hudson.
State, Capital, and Colonial movie theaters
Fifth Street Grade School
Walking to school

Les George’s Corner store at St. Clair and Worthington
Marracinni's not the one in Wilson
Hot Dog John's
Clairton Hardware
Murphy's 5& 10
Band marching from the school to the stadium
Hoops on the corner of Large Ave. & 6th Street
Midnight fries at the Blue Flame then all night bowling.

Cherry cola at the St. Clair Restaurant on Saturday afternoon.
The 5 & 10 office upstairs where they watched everyone like a hawk.
My blue suede coat from Cmarada's Dept. store on Miller Ave.
Being a Recrette (majorette and drummers too) at age 8.

Miller Ave and Fifth Street schools. We were told that a ghost named Maryjane lived in one of the bathrooms at Fifth Street school. Also told the principal had a paddle machine.

Playing carobs, baseball, kickball etc. in the summer at Worthington Ave. playground and never wanting to go inside.

Sledriding in the winter at Worthington playground and the alley in between 10th & 11th streets.

The seasonal parades in town. Halloween with the large talking pumpkin. Christmas with Santa, elves, CHS band and decorations as far as the eye could see up and down Miller and St. Clair.

Stitches candy store on Miller. Also Skips too. With all of the penny candy your heart desired.

The Honor Roll at the corner of Miller and St. Clair – across from the police station.

The rumor that our 7th grade English teacher moonlighted as an exotic dancer.
Good Friday, all of the stores in town were closed from 12-2.
Keenan field – baseball by day,” parking” by night.

The black soot that covered your car, porch furniture, etc. every morning when you woke up.

Toni's pizza after a football game
Ilkuvitz's store window that remained unchanged from 1948 until it closed in the 80s. Also had an X-ray machine that you put your feet into and looked to see how well they fit.

Swimming pool before it was remodeled.
Skyscraper cones for 10 cents at Isley's
Hearing tires spin on the "ash" during the winter.
Downstairs, at the Capital theater.
All meat burgers on Italian bread at Blue Bird(they still have them).
Duckpin bowling
The Wilton Hilton.

Sure, but what’s happened lately?: The Meadows Racetrack and Casino is the first to open in southwestern Pennsylvania. The state-of-the-art casino with 3,700 slot machines, an electronic table-games pit, premier restaurants with spectacular views of the gaming floor and the race track, includes a new racing grandstand, bowling center, simulcast area, and VIP super boxes. A loyal Meadows customer, Marjorie Harrigan of Clairton, Pa., joined Meadows officials in cutting a ceremonial ribbon to usher in the crowd. Two years ago, she was randomly chosen from the crowd to cut the ribbon to the temporary casino.

Granny is a lowdown lawbreaker: Ah the good old days of Clairton and surrounding communities. Churches played a big part in the culture. After every home football game First Presbyterian Church sponsored a very well attended “Canteen” dance. St. Clare’s had activities for the kids who went to Catholic School and Friday Fish Fry fundraisers. The churches were supported largely by donations and fundraisers, mostly in the form of food sales. Cakes, pies, and other foodstuffs were often prepared at home and brought to the church for sale. Little did anybody realize that they were aiding and abetting one of the longest ongoing crime sprees in Western Pennsylvania history.

State inspectors recently made their rounds to inspect church kitchens (dum-da-dum-dum). One eagle eye inspector, Friday, I think it was saw a pie that looked suspicious. The baker’s silver hair didn’t fool him and the inspector grilled the old gal who had grilled the food and soon discovered that perhaps Peter Piper had not picked a peck of pickled peppers, but in this palaver, home-baked pies for the palate that were perfidiously paraded for sale were being peddled illegally for $ 1.00 per slice Over at St. Cecilia’s in nearby Rochester Mary Pratte's coconut-cream pie, Louise Humbert's raisin pie and Marge Murtha's "farm apple" pie were immediately confiscated as contraband. Piegate had been uncovered at yet another church fundraiser.

No matter how you slice it, state inspectors would not give in. Cherry pies baked at home were the pits. Selling a homemade Pecan pie was nuts, and home-baked custard did not cut the mustard. The homemade pie and cookie caper shined a pilot light on an in-house underground dessert cellar seller. The Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture declined to make the nosey inspector available for comment. But it seems beauty lies not only within the eye, but the nose of the beholder. Where hungry parishioners smell a freshly baked pie, the Inspector smells a rat.

A little blogging music Maestro... Don McLean singing, “American Pie.”

Dr. Forgot

Of Lawbreakers and Trolleys

State of Affairs in Clairton

A different look at the old hometown: As regular readers are aware, one of my favorite topics for this blog is my old hometown of Clairton, PA. Once known as the “Coke Capital of the World,” the mills of Clairton created more coke, a crucial product in the production of steel, than any other place anywhere. At some point Clairton’s moniker changed to “City of Prayer.” Although my memories of Clairton are happy ones for the most part, reality dictates that, with apologies to Charles Dickens, even in the best of times it was the worst of times. Since the mills have for the most part gone away, things have deteriorated in the old hometown. Perhaps that is why I was moved by a newspaper article I read recently.

CLAIRTON TERRORIZED: Although we like to see the positive side, the headlines screamed about how the City has been at the mercy of thugs, murders and scofflaws. The article includes a double murder, a fatality that was the result of a fight, and a mysterious death of a security officer murdered in a church cellar. The article further mentions “...still another crime was charged up to that locality, in the murder of Tony Spanna, 31 years old, who was shot in the abdomen during a fight on Sunday.” Spanna had apparently been in a fight with John Sarael and a yet unidentified third person.

Another murder: a trail of blood led to the discovery of the body of Joseph Murray, 50, who had been drinking the night before with several unidentified men. He was employed at the Clairton Works.

In yet another example of brazen lawlessness burglars entered through a broken side window of a local business at 2 a.m. and made off with a 1,500 pound safe. The safe was hoisted up onto a window sill and using two empty beer kegs as skids, was dragged to the reception area. An exchange of gunfire between the thieves and the business owner may have led to the wounding of one of the suspects. The gang is believed to be the same group that recently blew up the safe in the Clairton post office and made off with $ 400.00.

Other notes from the police blotter include the robbery of John Robinson and Paul Sheehan on State Street, and two local ironworkers who were accosted at gunpoint. The ironworkers, however overpowered the bandits, and according to the report, relieved them of a bottle of whiskey before the would-be robbers escaped.

The above was based on a story was reprinted in the Mifflin Township Historical Society newsletter and was originally in the Homestead News-messenger January 27, 1903. The events happened 106 years ago.

Trolleys from long ago: My father's birthday was the easiest to remember: 12/13/14. My Mom was born a year later. Both were born in Clairton and as a youngster they would regale me with stories from their own childhood. There were stories about "foreign" kids and the struggles their ethnicity brought them from teachers at Clairton High School who felt they were polluting the gene pool. Also stories about the local mills, especially of the women of the workforce who had replaced their husbands and brothers who went to war. But one of my favorite stories was about the trolley. Like so many Clairton families during the Great Depression, my parents had little money. They had no cable TV (or any TV for that matter), no computer games, ipods, cell phones, or SUVs to help wile away the time so they found their own frugal methods of entertainment. My mother's family lived off State Street across from the Clairton Works mill gate. As a youngster she and a few peers would ride the trolley from State Street up St. Clair Avenue to its terminus at 7th Street, then back again. As long as they did not disembark they did not have to pay another fare to ride as long as they wished - up and down St. Clair Avenue.

Jim Hartman of the Mifflin Township Historical Society was kind enough to make me aware of several historical items of interest from their archives regarding Clairton. The following is an excerpt from their May 2003 newsletter. For further information you may visit the Mifflin Township Historical Society at 3000 Lebanon Church Road Suite 202 or visit their web page at

Clairton's Toonerville Trolley (reprinted with permission)

Do you complain about bus service in Clairton? Local transportation has not always rolled on balloon tires. In fact for a long time the only public travel facilities in the city were those provided by the Clairton Street Railway Company. With this name the only possible topic under discussion could be street cars. This is no news to the town’s oldsters to whom the railway company had become a fixed institution when it was finally liquidated in 1926.

The company, a branch of the Pittsburgh Street Railway Company, was organized in Clairton in 1902. A Clairton ordinance of August 15, 1904 authorized this route: “State Street at the borough line, State to St. Clair to 7th to Sloan; return via 7th to St. Clair to 5th to Waddell to Ridge to Park to Miller to St. Clair to State ending at the borough line.” At a stockholder’s meeting on May 13, 1905, Henry Clay Frick, president of Carnegie Steel paid $30,000 cash for the entire line. From 1905 to 1911 the line was operated under the control of Frick. Its main purpose was to carry men to work in the mill, and to carry passengers to and from trains at the railroad station at the bottom of St. Clair Ave. Since the line was so short, it was found that steelworkers would walk downhill to work but after the long, laborious shift were quite willing to pay for the uphill ride home. The traction firm had the foresight to see that some transportation was desperately needed here, and grabbed the chance, but in the inevitable march of progress they were forced out of business by a more versatile concern. This last occurred in 1926 when the Nixon Bus Line appeared and since it was able to spread service over a large area, the little four-wheeled street car was supplanted by busses.

The line consisted of exactly one mile of track running from the present location of Gumbel’s Garage [in 1947] on St. Clair Avenue to the old Crucible Hotel at the bottom of the hill, and didn’t require much space, as the company owned only two cars. Before St. Clair Avenue was paved, which was not too long ago, it was possible to see the brick covering over the unused street-car tracks. When the last superintendent, Edward Lewis, and the traction company made their departure from Clairton’s business life they left quite a respectable reputation as far as punctuality and good service were concerned. Making trips up and down the hill every 15 minutes regularly, meeting every train, and providing sure, on-time service for working men kept customers satisfied, and this can be easily understood (we can really appreciate this today). The fare was one nickel!

Although Clairton’s version of the Toonerville Trolley was on its toes in being on time, it had its share of accidents, most of which, it must be said, were very trivial. Two of these accidents recalled by one of the company’s motormen (all cars were operated by one man who served as combination motorman and conductor), Edward Kuntz, Jr.

One day in 1924 at 7:30 a.m. Joseph Adams was piloting the car up St. Clair Avenue when the vehicle skidded off the track just as it rounded the turn at the Columbia Hotel. To tell a story is much longer than it actually took for the mishap to occur, the motorman and passengers, after a wild five seconds, found themselves in what was then a stone quarry. Although no one was seriously injured one of the passengers was not less than Mayor W. B. Farnsworth.

At another time car and motorman apparently had expansive ideas long before company officials had. What happened is that when the trolley reached the bottom of the run, at the mill office, it kept right on going—which would not have been too bad if there had been a track there. The motorman this time was Charles Semack. The list of motormen, although far from complete, included Mr. Semack, T. Bateman, Mr. Evans, J. W. Gillingham, Charles Livingston, and Mr. Kunz. Mr. Kunz is now a city fireman [in 1947].

The went constantly up and down St. Clair Avenue day and night, in wintry chillers and July scorchers. Although a part not of the bright present or of the brighter future, the Clairton Street Railway company fills a huge gap of the city’s sentimental past.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, May 2, 2009

When Pigs (swine) Fly (flu)

A single death is a tragedy. The Media calls it a PANDEMIC

The Russians Are Coming… The Russians Are Coming: A comedy movie released in 1966 had a theme of a Soviet sub that that ran aground in New England after its Captain tried to get a glimpse of America. Residents of the harbor town panicked when they concluded it was the beginning of an invasion. Each year some 40,000 people in America die from the flu. Not any particular kind of flu, just the flu. 40,000. That is more than 100 deaths per day from the ordinary old everyday flu and all its cousins. ABC, NBC, and CBS do not lead off with stories about flu deaths. CNN, Fox and the other cable news channels don’t give it 24-hour coverage. We are not bombarded in the newspapers with people wearing masks and racing to return home from the land of tacos and tamales, and there is no talk in Congress about closing our borders. Flights are not cancelled and vice presidents do not appear on magazine TV shows saying that he advises his family members not to travel by plane, rail, subway, or in a car whose other occupants are strangers. Yet every day some 100 people die from the effects of the flu in the USA. Over 100 every day, 40,000 per year over and over.

What a difference a strain makes: The recent panic to hit the airwaves, ink print, and other media might be considered the remake of that movie renamed, “The Swine-flu is Coming, The Swine-flu is Coming.” To date there have been 111 cases of Swine-flu. That is just the number of SUSPECTED cases. Deaths in the US from swine flu? One. A 23 month-toddler who suffered from other illnesses was flown to a hospital in Houston and perished. Thus far, the score for the year is: All flu deaths this year to date: 12,000. Swine flu deaths this year to date: One. Although the regular flu “pandemic” possibility has resulted in zero precautions suggested by pundits or the World Health Organization, the following precautions have been taken for Swine flu:

Lock up your women and children – your menfolk too: More than 300 schools, most of which have had no symptoms have been closed for fear of contagion according to the US Education Department. The closed schools in 11 states provided sick-day vacations to more than 172,000 students. The number of students sent home exceeds the entire student population of Dallas or Detroit school districts. Initial reports of the Swine flu came from Mexico where there had been some 168 deaths attributed to the new strain – but none reported in the past 10 days. Thus anything Mexican-related has caused panic. In a suburban Detroit school district a student who had been to Mexico on spring break came down with flu symptoms. The entire school closed in a panic. Test results showed it was not Swine flu.

Better Safe than Sorry, Or Silly: Some other (over) reactions to the media blitz included: College Board Tests (SAT and AP) were cancelled at dozens of locations, a high school near Syracuse was closed for cleaning and disinfecting because one student reported flu-like symptoms, Slippery Rock University refused to allow 22 students to participate in regular graduation ceremonies because they had vacationed in Mexico, even though none had flu symptoms, University of Michigan suspended all travel to Mexico and urged students already there to return immediately, University of Delaware cancelled all baseball and softball road games. The Education Department strongly urges school closings when there is a confirmed or suspected case of a parent or sibling of a student and further urges unaffected schools and child-care facilities to “begin to prepare for the possibility” of closures. Could they be desperately seeking Susan – as in Swine flu Susan, cousin of Typhoid Mary?

Serious Impact of Swine Flu: The most recent comparison of the Swine-flu panic is with the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003 which resulted in 8,000 deaths in 29 countries. The economic impact in Asia was $ 18 billion including $ 15 billion in tourism. Tourist centers in the U.S., including Las Vegas, already hard hit by the economic crisis, fear a similar loss. If the Swine flu becomes pandemic, Vancouver, which will host the 2010 Olympics is concerned about what course of action they might take. Swine flu, officially named Flu H1N1 by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), is being cited by the WHO (World Health Organization) as possibly becoming a pandemic. Italy, Poland, Venezuela, and China have advised their citizens not to travel to the U.S. for fear of the illness.

Epidemic... Pandemic... huh?: Epidemic is defined as “a widespread outbreak of an infectious disease; many people are infected at the same time.” Pandemic is defined as an “epidemic over a wide geographical area.” Several countries around the world are reacting in an even more panicked mode than the U.S. China worked aggressively to track down people who may have been near a sick Mexican tourist, sealing 305 people inside a Hong Kong hotel where he stayed and hospitalizing 15 fellow passengers. The man developed a fever after arriving in the Chinese territory and was isolated in stable condition Saturday. No evidence of Swine flu was reported. In Mexico there have been no reported deaths from the Swine flu in several days and health officials there suggest the worst might be over.

Silly season of the Swine flu: Politicians and pundits have wasted little time spinning the Swine flu media blitz into opportunities to promote their cause. A congressman suggested that the infant who died from Swine flu (the only victim thus far in the U.S.) might have been an illegal immigrant. She wasn’t, but the very attempt to use this tragedy for political gain is despicable. A right-wing radio talk show host reportedly suggested that the president has spread the Swine flu as he recently returned from a trip to Mexico. The president had no flu symptoms. At this point it is too early to determine if the action surrounding the Swine flu was an overreaction and “Much Ado About Nothing,” or if sensible precautions were taken. But at this point the score in the U.S. remains: Death from flu this year 12,000. Deaths from Swine flu this year: 1.

A little blogging music Maestro... From Iron Maiden, “Fear of the Dark.”

Dr. Forgot