Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Summer of 1967

The summer of 1967 was a time of national turmoil, with the now rapidly escalating War, and the demonstrations against it, and the racial unrest which led to disturbances, and sometimes genuine riots – with the inevitable official violence in response – in cities large and small, across the country. And Aurora had its small-scale version, mild by comparison but complete with anger and fear and curfews.

During the time of the curfews, members of the Group would sometimes gather at someone’s apartment for dinner, or some such activity. As the evening wore on we would studiously ignore the time until it was too late. We would then be “forced” to spend the night, “camping out” on couches or on the floor, turning the inconvenience into an adventure. Then, before confronting the following day, we would extend the gathering by having breakfast together.

Meanwhile, the summer progressed. It was a very “group-centric” time for me; a time of very late nights, very early mornings, and very little sleep (when I was working). My immediate circle of friends – and its extensions (friends of group members) – passed up no opportunity to gather and have a good time.

A friend of mine that summer, a fellow reservist, and co-worker at the Montgomery Standard Oil gas station at which I briefly worked, mentioned one day that his parents had what I guess could be called a “summer house” on the south bank of the Fox River, just beyond Oswego, off of Route 34, opposite the dragstrip. Leaving the highway, a dirt road passed through about a half mile of cornfields and into a small cluster of houses along the river, secluded by trees, which on occasion might all be unoccupied.

It occurred to me, and my friend quickly agreed, that on such nights there could be no greater venue for a large party. A quick bit of inquiry on my friend’s part revealed an upcoming weekend when the entire community of houses would indeed be empty of anyone who might object to an evening to late night riverside party. And so I called one of the twin sisters, who were the unofficial group principles, to inform her of this new opportunity which had suddenly become available.

Some of the most memorable parties I have ever attended took place that summer and fall, on the riverbank, on the lawn, and in my friend’s summer house. More great times with the long-ago group, which I recall with great fondness. And still miss. And to top it off, I received credit for arranging all; something which, in no small measure, raised my status within the group.

So despite the escalating war, the increasing civil unrest, and my lack of steady employment, 1967 may well have been one of the best, and certainly the most carefree, summers of my adult life.

The Golf League

In the summer of 1970 I was hired as what amounted to a trainee in the Industrial Engineering Dept at Aurora’s Henry Pratt Company. About 8 months later, the spring of 1971 was drawing near and I was asked if I were interested in joining the company golf league. Despite having never played the game, I said “sure” and thus assumed the obligation to quickly learn enough so as not to make a complete fool of myself. At this, unfortunately, I was not successful. But at the end of the season I did receive a trophy.

Having made the commitment I immediately, and wisely, went to the family golf expert – Uncle Ray. My uncle was a very good golfer and was happy to encourage and coach me in the game which he so obviously loved. To begin, he took me to a sporting goods store where we selected golf clubs; a “Starter Set” consisting of a bag (with wheels and handle) and half the normal complement of clubs, all thankfully falling within my limited budget. We added a few packages of inexpensive golf balls, some tees, and a nifty pair of golf gloves, and I was in business.

We then proceeded to my first lesson, which was given on the loading dock of Simon’s Furniture Store, where Uncle Ray, an expert upholsterer, then worked. We started with the fundamental fundamentals; how to hold and swing each of the clubs, the circumstances in which the various clubs were used, and a stern lecture on the rules and etiquette of the game. He then sent me forth, with the instruction to practice, to do my best, and to return after my first league outing to go over what I had done wrong. This next lesson would turn out to be a much longer session.

So forth I went – on the following Thursday afternoon – pulling my clubs behind me to the first tee of the Fox Bend Country Club in Oswego. I was feeling comfortable that I could at least show a respectable result for my first effort, but at the end of my first nine holes on any golf course – having walked perhaps twice the length of the course chasing my errant ball hither and yon – I reported a score of 97*. This experience quickly brought me back to earth, and was also the topic of much enthusiastic conversation at the bar.

The following Thursday, I was back on the course paired with none other than my boss, Frank Fontana. In the proceeding week Frank had made one or two sly comments about the easy win that he was looking forward to on the next golf night. I, meanwhile, had visited my uncle for an extended session. I relayed to him my experiences, my frustrations, and my many questions. He patiently went through all of my issues, and added a few tips which now, having actually played a round, I might better understand.

After my initial performance I was of course awarded a huge handicap. This, coupled with my second week score of 58, blew poor Frank Fontana right off the course. This also was the topic of a much of conversation at the bar, as Frank would be in the hunt for the league championship, and this loss helped him not at all. The golf talk around the office was also much sweeter in the following week.

As I previously mentioned, I did receive a trophy at the end of the season Awards Dinner. After the first and second place trophies were awarded it was time for special recognitions. To my surprise I was called to receive my trophy; a figure of a golfer on a wooden base, twisted completely around, with his long driver, also wrapped tightly around – from his hands, across his back with the club head resting comfortably next to his ear. The plaque on the wooden base read simply “97 For Nine Holes”, and my name and the date.

Two years later, when I received the Second Place trophy – again with a lot of help from my handicap – my earlier award was still prominently on my desk at work.

    * This may have been a bit low. I lost count on a couple of holes.


A Road Trip to St Louis

In early June of 1967, Vern and I came up with an idea which became for a time, an annual event – a road trip to St. Louis. There were actually a couple of reasons for this long-weekend adventure. One, as the home of the Cardinals, bitter rivals of our beloved Cubs, the city was known to us, but neither of us had ever been there. And taking in a ballgame at Busch Stadium sounded like fun.

More importantly, St. Louis was in Missouri, where fireworks were not only legal, but commonplace and readily available. The principal reason for our trip therefore was to fill the car with as many fireworks as our resource’s permitted, and return with them to Aurora; to enjoy for ourselves, and to sell most of them to our friends (for an outrageous profit, as it turned out). Surprisingly, when we returned to Aurora we found that our list of friends had grown exponentially.

Driving about half way on Friday afternoon, we spent the first night in Springfield Illinois, and had an altogether outstanding evening at a local bar – actually a very large house converted for the purpose – with bars on two floors, music, go-go dancers, and lots of girls. We had a good time there, and later managed to convince a couple of the girls to climb the fence with us for a midnight swim in our motel’s otherwise closed pool.

Early (sort of) on Saturday morning we were up and off to St. Louis. We located Busch Stadium, and identified the ticket booths. We then scouted a place to stay for the night before setting about our primary mission. To no avail, it turned out. There were strict laws in St. Louis County as to when fireworks stands could open for the summer season. And we were a week early. After several inquiries we were told that the place to go was Arnold, Missouri in nearby Jefferson County. There we were directed to a local fireworks wholesaler where fireworks stand proprietors themselves purchased their stock.

We were greeted warmly, and asked, in perfunctory fashion, if we were opening a fireworks stand. We replied “yes”, but that we weren’t quite sure just what stock we should have. At this the clerk handed us a price sheet and led us to the warehouse. As we stood gaping at this pyrotechnic wonderland, we read the absurdly cheap prices. It was then that Vern pointed out the notation at the top of the page. “50% Discount For All Orders Over $300”.

This, we realized, meant that we could EACH purchase $300 of already dirt cheap fireworks for $150. In a flash, we grabbed a couple of carts and were up and down the aisles like kids on Christmas morning.

Our return to Aurora was a great success. We did use plenty of the stuff ourselves, sometimes performing aerial and sound “shows” in the old coal yard beyond the Office beer garden’s rear fence. We did this sometimes to drum up business, or often just for fun. Despite this “personal use”, we still managed to sell the bulk of our stock at “discount prices”.

We did remain true to our founding principle. We only sold to friends – or new acquaintances who appeared to be responsible adults – and despite numerous pleas, never to children.

We visited St. Louis each of the next several years, and no matter what other entertainments we found, we always made a beeline for Arnold, Missouri and returned home with a very full car.


Working (Briefly) at Barber-Greene

Not too long after the strike began at Thor, I presented myself to the personnel office at Barber-Greene Company on Highland Avenue in Aurora, and applied for a job. I filled out an application, passed some sort of brief initial screening, and was given a test – and an amazingly long time in which to complete it. I guess I did pretty well on the test, for I was quickly hustled into an office and given a real interview.

I explained myself, and my background, to the man behind the desk. He in turn was very complementary regarding my test performance and suggested that I might like working in an assembly area. Having seen the large interesting looking machinery that Barber-Greene produced, I thought this to be a fine idea. Alas, he told me there were no openings in an assembly area at the moment, but there was a slot in Department K, which he told me was “right next to the assembly areas”. As soon as there was an opening in an assembly department, he assured me, I would be transferred.

So I accepted the job and promised to show up at the same personnel office the next morning (Tuesday) at 8 AM. I did so, and filled out the appropriate paperwork. I was then led to the factory where I was introduced to the Department K supervisor.

A grand example of the archaic manufacturing methodology of the time, Barber-Greene produced component sub-assemblies of their various products, metal frames, tanks, large rotating drums, and the like. These were stored in an outside lot until an appropriate order was taken, and the components were required. In the interim, these assemblies were subject to the weather, and despite being painted would begin to rust. Also, they had been rather roughly constructed, and were covered with weld spatter, all of which of course needed to be removed prior to re-visiting the paint shop and moved to final assembly.

Upon meeting the supervisor, I was handed a wooden toolbox containing among other things, a pneumatic belt sander, a pneumatic hand grinder, chipping hammers, both pneumatic and hand, and other tools required by a member of the Department K crew. I was then pointed at a large sub-assembly and told to have at it.

Yes, Department K was near the assembly areas. It had to be for here were the employees who sanded off the rust, washed off the dirt, and chipped away the weld spatter from needed sub-assemblies.

This, it turned out, was not at all like the boring job running a milling machine. This was much worse. I worked the rest of the week sanding, and chipping, and sweating in the sun. Notwithstanding some evidence to the contrary, I was not averse to hard work, but the total mindlessness of these tasks was beyond my ability to tolerate. Each day seemed to be at least 12 hours long. When finally the weekend arrived, I discovered that there is no joy in the time off, as I spent virtually all of my time dreading a return to Department K.

So on Monday, when I did return, I found the supervisor and handed him back the toolbox, saying thanks for the opportunity, but I was moving on. After returning home, I spent that springtime afternoon walking the Fox River south along Route 25 from Boulder Hill to Oswego, and back again – playing Monkee’s songs in my head, and just relishing the freedom. It was a very cleansing afternoon.