Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Russia Businesses - 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.

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

Ft. Loramie Main Street and Beyond Continued - 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.

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

Ft. Loramie Main Street and Beyond - 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.

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

Ralph Vogelsang Memories - 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.

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.

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