Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

Russia Businesses

After last week’s blog about my memories of Ft. Loramie businesses back in the 50’s and 60’s, my wife who grew up in Russia, and her mother, who still lives there, shared some of their stories of Russia’s businesses. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, four cafes existed in town, one of which was ran by my wife’s great grandfather Felix Francis, pictured below circa 1950 with his wife Anna and their nine children.

Top Row L-R: Delbert (DJ), Glen, Leo (Legs), Wilmer, Tom, Earl (Alfie)
Bottom Row L-R: Gertrude (Armstrong), Jeanette (Scofield), Felix, Anna, Freda (Daugherty)

One might ask how 4 cafes survived in a small town like Russia. Well, legend has it that the cafes offered more than food and a cup of coffee. The railroad line running through town not only brought in customers who were riding the train, but also provided ready access to illegal booze that was being discreetly served by the cafes. Apparently, the federal “revenuers”, government agents responsible for enforcing laws against illegal distilling or bootlegging of alcohol, tended to concentrate their efforts on communities larger than Russia.

And during this period, Felix and Anna’s children also worked in the cafe, with daughter Gertrude even meeting her eventual husband, Ora Armstrong, who was a regular train passenger. With the tough economic times and the very competitive cafe environment in town, the family members quickly learned the basics of business, which eventually lead each to successful careers owning their own businesses. For example, this article tells the story about the two youngest brothers, Tom and my uncle Leo, who married my dad’s sister Mary. My favorite part of the article is where the brothers flipped a coin during tough times to determine who kept Francis Mfg. the joint business they had started. My uncle lost so he was left to start up another, Francis Products, making garage doors, a very successful enterprise pictured below before being sold to Clopay Corporation in 1969. Meanwhile, Glen Francis and sister Jeanette’s husband Bob Scofield, partnered in the furniture business while Wilmer and Alfie owned the local Chevrolet dealership in Russia.

One of the other cafes in town was Shep’s Place, owned by Alfred Simon and his son Harold, both pictured below. Harold also established Shep’s Golden Lantern, a top notch restaurant in Russia, that was later sold to Hogenkamp Funeral Home which held Harold’s viewing after his death on Christmas day, 2011 at age 86.

Other proprietors in town while my wife was growing up included Peltier’s Garage (pictured below), the local IGA ran by the Forthofer and Seger families (among others over the years), Monnin’s Garage, Russia Equity Exchange, better known as the Elevator, Hank Sonderman, the town blacksmith, and barber, Cy Paulus, Cy also sold shoes out of his shop and was a good friend of my wife’s father Delbert, Jr., nicknamed Doc, who served as the local mailman for many years before partnering with his sister Rita and brother-in-law Ralph, to run their father DJ’s building products business. The photo on the right shows L-R Doc, Ralph and DJ demonstrating the strength of one of their storm doors. The business is called Francis-Schulze Company, which is now operated by my wife’s younger brothers and other family members, currently the third generation to run the company.

Russia is a thriving town with many privately owned businesses that actively support a wonderful community pictured below having great schools, outstanding parks & recreational facilities, splendid library, senior center housed in Wilmer and Alfie’s old Chevy dealership and magnificent St. Remy church. ROO-shee is a true gem. And to top it off, it’s home to the Fish Report!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

Ft. Loramie - Main Street and Beyond - Continued

After last week’s blog about some of Ft. Loramie’s shops, my brother reminded me of several others, so of course talking about them with him brought back even more memories.

Recall this series of blogs started when Fish Report shared an article about Vogelsang’s restaurant closing. Adjacent to Vogelsang’s was the Ft. Loramie Mill and across the street was Seger’s restaurant in the old Loramie hotel building. Both are depicted in the above painting by Catherine Wolken, curator of the Ft. Loramie Historical Association for many years. The Mill was operated by John Siegel, the father of a classmate of mine and the restaurant was owned by Henry and Rita Seger, Henry and his brothers Carl and Fred were triplets and hard to tell apart.

A little south of Vogelsang’s and next to the mill sat the local welding shop ran by Julie Henke. He was a master with the welder, having fixed countless broken implement parts (many I broke myself!) saving Dad (and my allowance) many dollars. He was especially good at re-welding broken basketball rims that couldn’t withstand slam dunks - actually that’s not quite the truth as the rim in our barn was right in the path of fully loaded hay wagons that invariably got too close and broke the rim.

Further south was the doctor’s office staffed by a wonderful family doctor by the name of William Schoer. Although I dreaded the annual physicals required to compete in school sports, he was mainly responsible for our family longevity, with my mother and father both living to 88 and 94 respectively under his care, plus me and my siblings still hanging in there as well; knock on wood.

A little bit further down on the opposite side of Main Street along the Miami-Erie canal was the sawmill owned by Gus Wise. What a place that was to see those big logs get sawn into smooth planks ready for some construction project. Dad always was building or re-building something on the farm that would require lumber, and sometime he would have an oak or walnut tree cut down in our woods that the sawmill would turn into the needed lumber.

Heading further south, you’d come to the Gulf Gas Station operated by Clem Ruhencamp, who with his son Don, also provided ditching and escalating services locally. See a recent blog for that story. They had an ice house with huge blocks of ice stored in a small building out back that was the coolest place in town during the hot summer months. Speaking of gas stations, Fleet Wing Gas Company was just outside of town and owned by Elmer Schafer. He bought the one-truck business in 1950 from my eventual father-in-law when he went off to serve in the Korean War. That first truck was a lot smaller than the monster below.

On the outskirts of town was Ft. Loramie Cast Stone Products ran by Harry Wendlin. They made all kinds of concrete pieces; known especially for their decorative cast concrete art displayed out front of the business. Directly across the street was Al’s Place, a bar and restaurant ran by Harry’s son, Al Wendeln. It was the happening place on Wednesday evenings back in the 60’s. The place would be wall-to-wall with partiers celebrating hump day, with the refreshments flowing and the rock music playing in the juke box at full volume.

Just south of Al’s was Tony’s Service, which I had forgotten about but was reminded when this eBay offering surfaced for a box of wooden matches from the ’40’s or ’50’s advertising an Indian Motorcycle presumably sold by Tony's. Didn’t know we had a motorcycle dealer in town!

All the local business people described in my last two blogs were skilled entrepreneurs who knew how to effectively serve their customers and operate their business. Observing them in action as a kid growing up around Ft. Loramie had a very positive and early impact on my business training and experience, for which I’m very grateful.

The Historical Association has commemorated many of these businesses by displaying the quilt shown in the photo below. Their website also has many other photos of local business and their owners.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

Ft. Loramie - Main Street and Beyond

Last week’s blog entry about Ralph Vogelsang got me thinking about all the various proprietors of Ft. Loramie business establishments along Main street and beyond. As a kid, I enjoyed going with Dad when he had to get livestock feed at one of the local mills. While the grain he brought to the mill was being ground into feed, Dad would invariably run errands at the various shops along Main street pictured in the above aerial photo looking north from on top of the Loramie Mill, owned by John Siegel. My favorite place to stop was the Romie Sporting Goods & Shoe Repair shop, run by Al Romie. While Dad would have Al fix a pair of worn work shoes, I would check out all the new baseball gloves, bats, balls and bikes, so I’d know exactly what to ask Santa for Christmas.

After leaving Romie’s, we might stop at the Ft. Loramie Furniture store ran by Dad’s brother Frank and his brother-in-law Jerry Slonkosky. My uncle Frank always called me Dividend (rather than David). It wasn’t until years later that I discovered what the heck the nickname meant!

Next, we would sometimes head for Albers Hardware and Lumber store, owned by Bill and John Albers. Dad’s nickname for John was Johnny Circle Saw because of his quick, screeching voice that sounded like a saw cutting through lumber. I miss those good old fashioned hardware stores like Albers. The big box stores aren’t the same.

Next to Albers was Morrie Frey’s barber shop, who also doubled as the town cop. His shop was located on Elm street near St. Michael’s church and across from the Fire Department. One time when Dad was getting a haircut, the fire siren blew and Morrie and to leave in the middle of the cut for the fire. The engine would roar out of the station, with all the volunteers in close pursuit behind the truck. The Ft. Loramie Appliances store as also located nearby, owned by Leo Goubeaux, another volunteer fireman pictured below.

Occasionally, Dad would have to go the Bank, where I loved looking into the big vault and was impressed with the bank manager, whose name escapes me, all dressed up in his pin stripe suit and vest. But I do recall the friendly teller, Joan Wappelhorst, as she was an older sister to a classmate of mine.

Willman’s department store, ran by brothers Joe and Frank Willman, two old timers who owned the large building on the right along Main Street in the photo below. They had a nice selection of assorted candy bars and bubble gum in the back, and also Topp’s baseball cards. About all I remember about the rest of the store is the old wooden floors creaked to high heaven, especially on the second floor, where I always had a fear of falling through.

And no visit to town would be complete without going into Busse’s meat market for some of their world famous sausage. The owners were Lud and Alvin Busse, two brothers who were as different as night and day. Lud looked like and talked like Casey Stengel, while Alvin bore a strong resemblance to Babe Ruth, at least in my young imagination enamored with baseball. 

It was always interesting going into the men’s wear shop ran by Joe Turner, a tall guy who was a star Loramie basketball player in the early days of the team. Joe was a great supporter of local sports and a true, dapper gentleman. Another good basketball player in town was Carl Borchers, who ran the Dairy King next door to Turners, but Dad never wanted to stop there. Darn! But Mom loved the place and took us there many times, especially after little league games.

Gaier’s Garage and a Sohio gas station on the north end of town were owned by respectively by Gus Gaier and Phil (Aloys) Ernst, who was Dad’s uncle and God father. The sons of Gus and Phil were all characters, with the Gaier boys as the town hot rodders and Tom Ernst the town comedian. The station was the hang out for all the retirees from around town to be entertain by Tom. The stories told at that place over the years could be fodder for a really interesting book. In fact, the Ft Loramie Historical Association has just such a book for sale on their website entitled Ft. Loramie - Main Street and Beyond. The photos with this blog came from their website as well.

But no trip to town was complete without a visit to Borchers' grocery store, as Mom always seemed to need something for a recipe she was making for supper that night. Bill and Bus Borchers were the proprietors, whom I wrote about in this blog last fall.

The owners of all these local shops were memorable characters whom Dad and I enjoyed being around and hearing their stories. It was through sharing many of these memories that the Fish Report asked me a year ago to begin posting to their Blog. It’s been fun, and the feedback’s been great, so look for more stories in the future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

Ralph Vogelsang Memories

The recent Fish Report article from the Sidney Daily News about Vogelsang’s restaurant closing brought back many memories about the place and growing up in a small town like Ft. Loramie, where you know all the shop proprietors by name and they knew you. The SDN article included a photo of owner Ralph Volgelsang (shown right), whom I recall vividly, as he happened to be the father of my sister’s good friend, Helen. But that’s not the only reason Ralph sticks in my memory. One summer, I had the opportunity to work for Don Ruhenkamp Ditching & Escavating, and for lunch every day we’d go to Vogelsang’s to enjoy their $1.00 hot plate special. But there was one day I missed going wth the crew, as earlier that morning while digging out a basement at a home in Newport, we had an incident that kept me occupied during lunch.

My job was to drive the dump truck loaded with dirt from the basement to a low area adjacent to the woods behind Newport church where the dirt was dumped. Before we started digging, Don mentioned that there was a septic tank in the back yard of the home that should be avoided. Needless to say, his words of warning were forgotten as the morning progressed, because I drove right over it with a full load and suddenly felt a sinking feeling while finding myself looking up in the sky through the truck’s front window as the rear wheels broke through and sank into the septic tank, dumping half the load of dirt into the tank.

Don had a great sense of humor, as once the truck was lifted out of the septic tank with the help of his back hoe and found to have no damage, he laughed about it, but told me to clean the dirt out the septic tank while the rest of the crew headed to Vogelsang’s for lunch. On the way back, Don picked up a new septic tank lid from Harry Wendelin at Cast Stone Products north of Ft. Loramie. When the crew arrived back from lunch, I had the tank cleared of dirt and the pieces of the broken lid removed so the new lid could be installed as the odor from the tank and me was getting to be rather ominous. I stunk so bad, Don hosed me down right on the spot. And he never did deduct the cost of the lid from my pay! But for the rest of the summer, good ole’ Ralph Vogelsang called me Honey Dipper whenever I’d show up for lunch each day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tactical Skills Development - Our Review

Learning the fundamentals of shooting a handgun takes lots of practice, but the payoff is well worth it 

I'll compare the beginning of my experience on the shooting range this past weekend to the first time I ever played a game of little league baseball. As a 5-year old 1st-grader I didn't know what I was doing, I was extremely nervous, and the older kids made things that much tougher. Those same feelings were rekindled when I showed up at Tactical Skills Development (TSD) in Russia for a Defensive Shooting Skills class last Sunday from 1:00-5:00 PM. There I was, a 44-year old rookie who had only fired a pistol once before, and that was years ago during some unsupervised target shooting with a friend. To say I was a little nervous on Sunday would be an understatement. I could have blamed the early sweat on my forehead and hands on the hot sun that day, but the drumbeat coming from my heart was likely the real culprit. I was also in training with just one other student, a guy from Dayton named Tom Holthaus. During pre-class introductions I mentioned his last name was common here in Shelby County. Tom admitted he'd heard that before, but didn't know of any relatives he had in our area. I quickly discovered he was an experienced shooter, which to my dismay made me wonder if the next four hours were going to seem like eight.

Our class was led by TSD owner and lead instructor Chris Timmerman. Assisting Chris was his older brother Nick Timmerman. Both guys were very welcoming, and started off with some initial background on their personal lives and their experience with handguns. My immediate impression of Chris and Nick was extreme professionalism with a constant emphasis on safety. It was a theme that would continue throughout the entire afternoon. Before we hit the range Chris explained what we would be doing and he talked about his four rules of gun safety:
  • #1 Treat all weapons as if they are loaded
  • #2 Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you've made the conscious decision to shoot
  • #3 Never point your muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy
  • #4 Always be sure of your target, it's foreground and background

A roped handgun can't fire bullets
Next, I got to choose a rented handgun from TSD and I picked a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. I also rented a holster, three magazines with pouches, and purchased all my ammunition from TSD. I did bring my own safety glasses and hearing protection, which is required and very important as well. My classmate Tom, being an experienced shooter, brought all his own equipment. Chris and Nick explained that all the handguns would be "roped" until we were ready to start shooting. A roped handgun means that a cord or wire is placed through the gun barrel and extends out of the handle. This prevents the gun from being loaded and gives everyone a peace of mind when demonstrations are taking place.

After some instructions about stance, grip, locating your target and some more about safety, it was time to shoot for real. I'll go back to my little league baseball analogy. Firing that first bullet was like stepping into the batter's box for the first time and taking my first swing. The butterflies in my stomach were definitely churning! We practiced single shots and multiple shots, single targets and multiple targets. We worked on getting the gun out of our holster (the draw). We were taught reloads and how to clear a malfunction. Tom and I were also put under a little stress, as Chris held a buzzer behind our head and timed our speed while shooting metal plates after the buzzer sounded. Both instructors emphasized an accurate shot first and speed second. We finished our practice on the range with a final speed drill that required we gradually back away from our target taking multiple shots until we reached a distance of 55 feet. I was thrilled when I didn't miss a single shot.

TSD owner and lead instructor Chris Timmerman added a little stress during a drill which tested my accuracy and speed

After four hours of training I be lying if I said I wasn't wore out. However, I was amazed how those initial butterflies in my stomach gradually went away. When I started the day I was basically scared of handguns. By the end of class I understood handguns, respected them, and felt comfortable using one. We practiced some serious stuff while learning to protect myself and my family in a worst case scenario. I had fun as well. Chris and Nick chatted after class how they attend competitive shooting events that allow them to also have fun and keep their skills sharp. Both instructors complimented me on my progress during the day and explained how learning the fundamentals is the first step. They encouraged me to practice those fundamentals to get really good. I also need to purchase some equipment. Practice, equipment, fundamentals, fun.... Kind of sounds like little league baseball.

To learn more about Tactical Skills Development and the many different classes they offer, check out their website here or their Facebook page here
Chris and Nick are first class professionals and made my experience one I'll never forget

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

Our First House

As newlyweds in the early ’70’s, my wife and I were both working and for the first time in our lives, had enough money to enjoy travel and dining out on a regular basis. But that meant we weren’t saving anything, so after a year or so of the high life, we decided to begin saving for our first house. We vowed to cut our expenses, so at my wife’s urging, we created the budget shown below (click to enlarge).

After a year, we had saved $7,671, enough for a down payment on our first house, a 2 bedroom bungalow for $35,000 that needed lots of TLC. So on weekends and evenings after work, rather than traveling or eating out, we remodeled our new home top to bottom, inside and out. The place was gutted as shown in the kitchen photo below. All the old wallpaper was stripped, cracked plaster (no drywall) was repaired, creaky floors silenced, old carpet and linoleum removed, walls and exterior repainted, new kitchen cabinets and appliances added, bath redone, tub reglazed, etc. etc. Fortunately, the home was close enough to work that I could walk, so we only needed one car. That savings allowed us to gradually purchase some new furniture as well. which meant we finally got rid of our Mediterranean-style furniture with all the red upholstery and dark wood. Ugly, but believe it or not, it was the style way back when!

One Sunday afternoon, before actually closing on the home and moving in, we made arrangements with the sellers to check out the place in order to better prepare for the planned remodeling. While inside, through a back window, I spotted two older men talking to each other near our back yard, so I took the opportunity to go outside and introduce myself to our new neighbors. Apparently, their first impression of me was not good, as they were like curmudgeons trying to outdo each other at not being very friendly to this new kid on the block. That is until my wife eventually came out to also meet them, and suddenly they became all gushy saying “Welcome to the neighborhood; great to meet you”. Obviously my wife made a much better first impression than me! From that day on, they were wonderful friends and neighbors, whom we stayed connected with through the years, always sharing and laughing about their curmudgeon transformation.

We enjoyed that first house for three years, at which time we accepted a promotional opportunity and transferred out-of-state to Indiana. So our first home was reluctantly put on the market after all the blood, sweat and tears we put into the place. But it paid off, as it sold in less than a week for $55,000, a nice gain on our original investment that provided a good down payment on a newer and larger colonial-style house that needed little work. It’s a good thing, because shortly thereafter, my wife became pregnant, so the only work required on the new home was to decorate a nursery, which was a labor of love (pun intended!). We were living the American Dream, while enjoying every minute in our pursuit of happiness; a state of mind that continues to this day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories from the 50’s & 60’s

A Series of Guest Blogs by an out-of-state Fish Report reader originally from this area about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

More Slo-Pitch Softball Memories

Following up on last week’s column about slo-pitch softball, my playing days are long gone, but until about age 40, I played over 100 softball games a year, primarily in the Ford industrial league where I worked. We had a pretty good team (photo above - I’m the tall guy in the back row without a hat) naturally nicknamed the Mustangs. We won the league title a number of times, and subsequently represented Ford in the world industrial tournament at various venues around the county at the end of the season. Our team traveled to places like Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania for these tournaments. Best we did was second place one year. Our problem was we had too much fun at night between games of the tournaments. I recall a party song we’d sing with this sample verse: Hey la di la di la di, hey la di la di lo, I used to date a girl named Ruth, now you know how I lost my tooth. Hey la di la di lo. We’d ad-lib verses on the fly, and they would get funnier and funnier as the night went on into the wee hours. Fortunately we'd block an entire wing of the hotel, so no one complained (much). One of the guys fell asleep during the partying, so someone placed a famous Maryland soft shell crab on his stomach to craw around. To this day, his is still nicknamed Crab-Man!

Outfield was my initial position, but as I got older and slower, I moved to first base, then pitcher and finally catcher. As pitcher, rather than charge the batter, Ralph Fleckenstein’s tactic as described in last week’s blog, I would back-pedal, literally to 2nd base after each pitch, which gave us 5 infielders to field ground balls. After a few years of that, I finished my softball career by moving to catcher. It was the year when aluminum bats first came out without the rubber plugs at each end. The plugs were coming out causing injuries, so they were outlawed. As a catcher I would keep an eye on the bats each batter used and if they got a hit that scored a run with one of the old bats, I would appeal to the umpire, who would call the batter out and rescind the score. I had a record number of putouts by a catcher that year!

Our apartment complex also had a team that I played for. They were sponsored by a nearby restaurant called Van’s Coney Island, and the uniforms had hotdogs emblazoned on the back; so you can guess our nickname around the league. But we won the title and the sponsor treated us to all the coney dogs we could eat after the championship game. A good friend played for a team sponsored by Stroh’s brewery, and literally they were given 4 cases of beer for every game, 2 for his team and 2 for the team they were playing. Everyone loved playing Stroh’s for obvious reasons, even though they were really good and beat us mercifully.

So over my softball career, trophies for the various achievements our teams had accomplished started to accumulate, to the point where my wife decided they had to go. The trophies were disassembled and used to make participation awards for one of my son’s t-ball baseball teams. Philosophically I was against participation trophies, having earned every one of mine the hard way; by winning. But this made my son and his team happy, plus it represented a more attractive solution than simply trashing them. And my wife was pleased to have cleared out the old trophies from the closet to make room for more of her shoes and clothes in case they ever come back in style!