Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Early Recollections of Roo-Shee - Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories

Blog about fond memories of growing up in Midwestern Ohio during the 50’s & 60’s.

My Early Recollections of Roo-Shee

Last week’s blog described how I met my wife at Crystal Ball, but in reality, our likely first encounter was years earlier. My uncle and aunt lived in Russia and right across the street from them lived my wife’s grandparents. During the summer months, as a child, she would frequently stay at her grandparent’s place in town rather than out on the farm. As shared in last week’s blog, my wife-to-be was and still is best friends with my cousin. So it’s very likely we might have connected at a much younger age during one of our family visits to see my uncle and aunt and their family. Also, as a cheerleader, she was definitely on my radar screen during junior high and high school, but that’s already been written about in this blog.

My uncle and aunt had daughters about the same age as my sisters, but only a baby son. As a result, I was pretty much on my own during our visits, so that gave me an opportunity to explore Roo-shee. Not a block away was the railroad tracks, and at the sound of a train approaching, I’d run down to the tracks arriving just as the beast sped past shaking the ground and causing a wind rush that almost knocked me over. What a thrill!

After the train went by, I’d invariably roam around the grain mill adjacent to the tracks, and then head downtown to check out my uncle's factory that made garage doors. Even though both were closed during our weekend visits, there was always something stacked outside that would intrigue me. My uncle's company not only made garage doors, but also sold automatic garage door openers, a device that was new to me since our garage on the farm didn’t even have a door! My uncle had one installed on his garage attached to the house, so I’d play with the remote and watch the door go up and down with just the press of a button. I would test the range of the remote, moving farther and farther way from the door and at different angles until it wouldn’t activate. Then I would open and shut the door from inside to observe the mechanism lift then close the door. Amazing stuff for a budding engineer.

Another Russia memory is riding with Dad through town after picking up baby chicks at Weaver’s outside of Versailles early each spring. I would ride in the back next to the boxes of peeps as we called them, making sure they were ok. We would unload the chicks and put them in the brooder house with heat lamps, water and feed, where they were kept until grown, at which time the hens were moved to the chicken coop to lay eggs and the roosters could run wild around the farm until they met their eventual demise as our family’s chicken dinner. Occasionally, a rooster would find it’s way into the chicken coop and cause some havoc, so that culprit naturally became the next meal. Dad might have done it on purpose to give the ole boy some pleasure before chopping off its head!

Our family attended several weddings at St. Remy’s Hall and since it seemed the whole town was invited to such affairs, most likely my wife-to-be was probably also there. Back then, it was a tradition that cigars were handed out at weddings, so one of my older cousin’s got one and we went behind my uncle’s factory next to the hall to light it up and pass it around. Wow, was that a mistake, as I got totally sick and had to sleep it off in the back of the car the entire evening. My parents never found out, but to this day, I’ll have nothing to do with tobacco - that first episode fixed me for life.

From a very early age until today, Roo-Shee has held a special place in my heart. The highlight came in 1972 when we were married in St. Remy’s church and our reception was at the Hall, but this time with no cigars!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Memorable Weekend Blind Date, Crystal Ball and Hydroplane Racing - Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories

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.

Memorable Weekend - Blind Date, Crystal Ball and Hydroplane Racing

Typhoon Joolie E-396 © Phil Kunz

It was 1968, near the end of my freshman year in college, just a week before our fraternity pledge class was to be initiated. Traditionally, the pledge class “kidnaps” an upper class-man for the weekend and takes a road trip. Our “victim” was the fraternity brother who nicknamed all of us pledges after bars in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Our nickname for him was Amos and he had a hydroplane named Typhoon Joolie, pictured above, which he was to race that Sunday on Grand Lake St. Mary’s; so off our pledge class went to see the race and do some partying. We called ourselves the Famous Amos Racing Team (FART). Before Sunday’s race, we stayed at the New City Hotel in Minster, owned by my uncle and aunt. I convinced my sister, who was in nurses training at St. E’s in Dayton, to arrange blind dates for all of us. Off we and our blind dates went to Crystal Ball in Frenchtown on Saturday night before the race, where local legendary band, the Bumblebees, were playing. The older brother of a high school classmate was in the band.

To better set the scene, recognize that our fraternity, Theta Xi, was nicknamed Theta Zoo around campus; the photo below gives you some indication of why. For more about this motley crew, click on this previous blog post.

Theta Zoo: Duke, Otis, Eli, Ozzie, Lerczak & Jackie, all nicknamed
after Amos’s favorite Buffalo NY bars back in the 60’s. 
One of
the bars, 
Duke’s, is still in business.

As might be expected, the blind dates did not go well. The Bumblebees had a tradition of playing Green Onions as their closing song, but that night we missed it, because our dates had enough of us. We left early, dropped off our dates and the guys adjourned to Bud’s Place across the street from our hotel to drown our sorrows and share the ghastly escapades! To this day, whenever I run into any of those girls, now ladies, who were one of the blind dates, we relive that forgetful night and share some laughs. And my sister will probably never forgive me!

Crystal Ball had quite a history, believe it or not, originally as chicken coop across the street from the Baltes family restaurant. The Baltes’ had two kids, Earl and Jimmie, who had makeshift band instruments they played in the coop, scaring the heck out of the chickens. They eventually became the Melody Makers, a legendary band that played many local parties and weddings. Read more about Earl Baltes and his passion for bands at this blog post. According to this 2005 Daily Standard article about Jimmie Baltes, in the 40’s, the chicken coop was converted into the famous dance hall, eventually hosting such popular groups as Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Kaye, Tommy Dorsey & Guy Lombardo. According to the article, Guy Lombardo and his band were booked for a gig at the Crystal Ballroom, thinking it was some fancy dance hall near a larger Ohio city. When they arrived to find the place located between two corn fields, they were miffed, but when 1500 showed up for the show, all went much better than expected. And how coincidental is this; Guy Lombardo also raced hydroplanes!

On Sunday afternoon, we finally make it out to Grand Lake St. Marys for the big hydroplane race, and low and behold, in the very first heat, Typhoon Joolie hits a wave the wrong way, the wooden hull cracks wide open and the boat sinks! Famous Amos was ok, but his FART racing team was devastated. However, the story has a happy ending, as the boat was eventually restored to race again. In fact, according to a hydroplane racing blog, it’s still in sailable condition somewhere around Buffalo, NY. Hydroplane racing continues to this day every summer on Lake St. Marys as evidenced by this 2013 YourTube video.

Speaking of happy endings, Crystal Ball happens to be where I first met my wife a few years later! She was sitting with her friend, my cousin from Russia, while the Bumblebees were taking a break, so I went over to say hi and be introduced to the cute brown-eyed brunette. Soon the band started up, and I asked her to dance, but she turned me down, always insisting it was likely because she didn’t want to leave my cousin stranded. But I think it had more to do with that Theta Zoo thing again, as she (fortunately) doesn’t even remember that first introduction! Fast forward a year or so later, I had graduated from college and cleaned up my act when we thankfully reconnected again and since that moment, have been living happily ever after.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Elementary School - Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories

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.

Elementary School

Sixty two years ago, I started first grade and my teacher was Marie Quinlin, pictured above from her Ft. Loramie Wall of Fame photo. Believe it or not, she was also my Dad’s first grade teacher 35 years earlier! Miss Quinlin was an educator for so long (62 years) that for some families, three generations were taught by her. Other than parents, she was likely the most important influence on literally everyone around Ft. Loramie for almost two thirds of a century. She never married, dedicating her life to her students, church and community.

Incidentally, with me in that first grade class was Linda, the mother of Fish Report creator, Craig Fiessinger. We will be celebrating the 50th reunion of our high school graduation next month, but unfortunately I can’t attend due to an out-of-town family wedding that same weekend. So this blog is for all my classmates whom I’ll miss seeing.

Back in the early ’50’s, there was no kindergarten, so all 42 of us in the class were attending school for the first time, and Miss Quinlin taught amazingly well for that size of class, giving each us her personal attention. It was the first year for the new wing of the school (now demolished) that housed grades 1-6. I distinctly recall the elevated sandbox right in the first grade class room and the Lincoln log cabin and the clay figure of Lincoln chopping wood that I created in the sandbox on Lincoln’s birthday. Playing triangle as part of 1st grade band was also a highlight, even though I really wanted to bang the drums. A not-so-pleasant memory was of a fellow first grader who got sick after lunch one day and as he was rushing to the restroom holding his hand over his mouth, sprayed vomit all over a row of desks, including mine. Yuck!

Before starting first grade, my Mother had fortunately taught me the alphabet and some arithmetic, which gave me a jump start. She was a stickler for penmanship, especially for the cursive style, as was Miss Quinlin. But somewhere along the line, my cursive skills have been lost. For the most part, I print everything now and my signature is essentially illegible. Mom & Miss Quinlin would not be happy.

The year was 1954, the last year that the class size was that large, as the following year there were two first grade teachers. For second grade, our teacher, Miss Stang, was new to the school, having just graduated from college, so we went from the oldest, most experienced teacher to the other extreme, but never had a second thought about it. She was also my sister’s teacher the following year and exposed her to art, which my sister has been passionate about ever since. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Dillahay, the wife of the school superintendent. She was the toughest teacher I ever had, a real disciplinarian, who administered my first, no doubt well-deserved, spanking by someone other than my parents! After a dreadful year under Mrs. Dillahay’s iron fist, thankfully a kinder and gentler Miss Bolling taught 4th grade, a split class with the fifth graders. I appreciated those kind of classes in order to pick up what she was teaching to the upper class or read a book about some sports hero from the bookmobile. 5th & 6th grades were also split classes, taught by Mr. Moore, our first male teacher. Because he coached basketball, next to Miss Quinlin, he was my favorite elementary teacher. 

As a group, these teachers were passionate educators dedicated to their students. They provided a solid instructional curriculum (and some unwanted discipline) that served me well later in junior high, high school and college. For that I’m very grateful.

Monday, September 12, 2016

My return to Eldora Speedway 10 years later...

Mother Nature gave us mud and a rainbow at Eldora 10 years ago

It was 2006 since the last time I visited Eldora Speedway, the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Dirt Track". That summer I went out in June for their 2nd Annual Prelude to the Dream, the all-star dirt late model race that included the boys from NASCAR. A persistent rain that evening postponed the event until a date in September. So, I came back again a few months later and watched Tony Stewart win the 30 lap feature at the track he had purchased from legendary promoter Earl Baltes just two years previous.

A tribute to Earl & Berneice Baltes now greets fans in the Speedway

My return to Eldora this past Friday for the World 100 was a much different experience. I journeyed to Rossburg with my co-workers from Superior Aluminum Products for a company outing to watch a car we help sponsor. A couple of our employees are members of the race team, so we were going to get an up-close look from the pits and inside the track. Before all that, however, we first enjoyed a pre-race meal inside the fabled Eldora Ballroom located just outside the track, The decor inside the ballroom looked and smelled like memories from the past. As our group ate and socialized together, I couldn't help but imagine Earl Baltes, Tony Stewart and all the famous drivers that were once inside these same walls.

My co-workers with our racecar driver Rusty Schlenk (bottom row, 2nd from right)

After dinner we traveled to Eldora's infield through the famous "Love Tunnel", a passageway that goes underneath the track and puts you in the restricted pit area. What goes on down there is almost as amazing as the race itself in my opinion. Race teams were crawling under cars and hustling in every direction in an organized chaos. I quickly learned that standing in their road taking pictures with my camera was a dangerous idea. The sight of all the hard work that happens is well worth a pit pass though. 

My apologies to the drivers for the stupid photographer from Fish Report

Outside the track we watched hot laps, qualifying, heat races and features. We were showered with dirt from the racing, a little rain from some passing weather, and some more dirt from more racing. I loved it and it was as much fun as you can have at the world's greatest dirt track. Hopefully, I won't wait 10 more years to return!

This is Friday Night Lights for race fans

I was saddened to hear late Saturday night about the death of driver Shane Unger from a multi-car crash during a heat race at Eldora the night after my visit. As one of my family members in the racing community expressed to me in a text afterward... "Always disheartening to hear of that news, but the racing world carries with it risks. They do it for the love of the sport."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Copeland’s Summer Job - Dave’s Midwestern Ohio Memories

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.

Copeland’s Summer Job

College kids are heading back to school and leaving their summer jobs, which brought to mind my first non-farm summer job at Copeland’s in Sidney, now part of Emerson Electric. They make compressors for home and commercial air conditioning units. It was the summer of 1966, just after graduating from high school, and my job was sweeper in the valve plate line. The part is pictured below, which had many holes that had to be drilled and chamfered, creating plenty of metal chips for me to sweep. 

Soon I got to know all the operators on the line and by asking questions and observing them, learned all the jobs in the department, which was consistently running behind the rest of the factory causing a valve plate shortage. So the foreman called together the 15 or so workers in the department and asked for ideas to increase production. One of the operators felt the scrap rates were too high contributing to the losses while another operator suggested tag relief, which meant that instead of shutting the line down for a break twice a shift, the operators would get relieved by someone for their breaks, thus keeping the line running. Since I was the only person in the department not tied to a specific machine, I volunteered to analyze the scrap and do the relieving, but would need a extra half hour of overtime before and after the shift to catch up on my sweeping duties. The foreman agreed to give the suggestions a try. Soon it became obvious that one of the positions on the line was the bottleneck and not coincidentally also the source of most of the scrap. The work was re-balanced, the scrap rates came down and valve plate production caught up, plus I earned a few extra buck from the OT. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson from that foreman to create a team environment and to solicit ideas from employees, an approach that I replicated many times during my 33 years in the auto industry.

But it did backfire once during a coop rotation in Human Resources, where as a student at General Motors Institute, I would go to school for a quarter, then work the next quarter at a GM plant in Dayton. My job was testing potential new employees for hourly line jobs. One of the test takers was a star running back for the UD Flyers who had just “graduated”. Well, he flunked the test, but I passed him anyway (probably the same way he got through UD) and he was hired. After returning from school the next quarter, I was assigned as production foreman, and you guessed it, the star running back was in my department. So I was the unfortunate recipient of my earlier misjudgment to wrongly allow the running back to be hired, as he was the most unmanageable employee in the department. No amount of employee involvement worked with this dude.

Fortunately, there was a two week summer shutdown about that time, so I was reassigned to the area of the plant that dealt with warranty returns as a huge backlog of returned parts had accumulated. Surprisingly, there was no structured way of sharing the tear-down analysis results with the Engineering and Quality departments so they could change the design or process to prevent future defects from getting into customers vehicles. Fortunately, an older coop student I knew, who worked in Engineering, was interested in getting the warranty return tear-down analysis results, so thanks to his ingenuity, my hard work and our teamwork, the backlog was cleared, the data was provided to the right people and the problems were being prevented. This experience yielded another valuable lesson applied many times during my career to assure cross communication and timely feedback took place to identify and resolve problems quickly and effectively.

That work experience eventually lead to coop jobs in Engineering and Manufacturing, fields in which I subsequently spent most of my career at General Motors for 6 years and then Ford for 27 years. My final position before retiring was Director of Ford's Global Quality, which took every bit of my skill and experience to muster. The concepts learned during my first jobs described above, coupled with my experiences on the family farm posted in earlier blogs, thankfully provided a solid foundation to meet the challenges presented during my subsequent career progression.

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