Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cheap Hamburgers and Walking the Tracks


One of the things people talk about is how much things cost throughout their lives. There was a McDonald's across the street from our neighborhood. Burgers were 29 cents, cheeseburgers were 39 cents, and milkshakes were 40 cents. For a dollar I could buy two burgers and a milkshake. I would skip the fries because the milkshake was a much better choice in my opinion. Back then they didn't use milkshake machines and they would really make them. 

One fine day in the late 1970s, Mark Emory and I went and bought 10 burgers each. Afterward we decided that all of the burgers would give us a lot of energy for a long walk so we took off walking the tracks but instead of our normal walk we headed up the old Reading RR towards Pennsylvania. We got to the crossing at route 100 near the intersection with route 92 and realized it was getting really late. We decided to start walking back on route 100. We got down to the next railroad crossing and decided to get back on the tracks. As dusk fell we realized were were still a long way off and would be soon walking the tracks in darkness. Mark wanted to jog but I was not in as good a shape and could not keep up and also I was more fearful of my footing and afraid to twist an ankle or fall. We ended up walking the last couple of miles in total darkness because it was a moonless night and the trees blocked any ambient light from reaching us. This is a prime case of wanderlust colliding with reality and I learned a lesson about planning. 

Fishing at Banning Park


One of the great things I loved as a kid in the 1970s was mom taking us to Banning Park to go fishing. There were two ponds at Banning Park and I honestly don't think I ever caught a fish in either one. The big attraction was the both ponds were right next to the train tracks. My mom would sit in a chair and read, she loved to read. Chris and I would fish using either bread or worms as bait, sometimes we would try to use lures. The fish just didn't bite but it was always fun to hang out with Chris and mom and watch the trains roll by. Sometimes Aunt Pat and my cousin George, Georgie back then but don't call him that now, would come too. By listening for the distant rumble, I could tell the difference between the passenger and freight trains well before I could see them. The trains were pulled by the mighty electric locomotives called the GG-1. They were iconic in American industrial design, some of the freight trains were pulled by the E-44 types which I did not like as much. Since the parking lots were gravel there was also a lot of stone skipping. I remember counting how many skips we would get, the key to this was finding the proper rock and getting a low angle on the throw. I will always remember those days at Banning Park as wonderful.

Hot Wheels and Matchbox

Hot Wheels and Matchbox were often the focus of all things fun as a kid. They were the gateway to my own little world. They were collected and accessories were purchased. All kids needed fire trucks, police cars, and construction equipment. Those were the most important ones to own. Next you needed a bunch of regular cars so they could have accidents for the emergency equipment to respond to. You had to have really fast cars for the police to chase and you needed construction equipment for those times in nice weather when you played outside in the dirt. There were also the carry cases for the fleet of cars. We could take the cars out to the baseball diamond and make all sorts of tracks in the infield sand. Sometimes we would leave big ruts at the end of our construction. I'm sure the softball players liked those in the evening when they took over.

I also had pieces of plywood that I drew roads on, laid our parking lots, and drew in important buildings like fire stations. One days when I was indoors the plywood was brought out from under my bed and became my instant world to play on. My love of playing in these invented little worlds eventually transformed into my model train layouts.

One of the kids up the street was Raymond Trabbold, or Raymie as we called him. Raymie was maybe 5-5 years older than me. I looked up to him as a big brother and he used to get down on the floor and play Matchbox with Chris and I. He helped us plan and draw out the roads on the plywood and playing with him was always a lot of fun. As he got into his teens he did more things with kids his own age and we drifted apart. By the time I was in my teens he moved away and I never saw him again. I found out he died as a young adult. It made me sad and I never asked anyone what happened to him because I knew it was a sad thing to bring up.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Eating Bugs in Botswana

Don Richard and I spend about 9-10 days in Africa in search of some of the last remaining operating steam locomotives hauling freight in regular service. One of the stops was Slibe Phikwe, Botswana where there was a large copper mining and smelting operation operating by a large company called Bamangwato Concessions Ltd (BCL). BCL exclusively used steam locomotives to move the massive amounts of copper ore from the mine to the smelter. The place was off the beaten path and most train enthusiasts didn't bother to go there. Don and I have never been ordinary train enthusiast or ordinary guys. 

To get there we traveled from Zimbabwe where we visited Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park plus saw steam locomotives near both places. We traveled by train from Hwange to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and spent the night in the Rainbow Hotel. While in Bulawayo we visited the Bulawayo Railway Museum which was nice but in need of money for upkeep. Actually, most of Zimbabwe needed money for upkeep. 

After our time in Bulawayo we traveled by train to Francistown, Botswana with a border crossing near Plumtree. The train ride was awesome and there was an ancient wooden twin dinning car with a coal-fired stove. During the ride we went to the dinning car and a man came around with a pitcher of water and wash basin. He was dressed nicely and has a white towel slung over his forearm. After we washed up we were fed a chicken stew meal that we ate without utensils. We tore off bits of bread and pinched the chicken stew in the bread and ate with our fingers. The meal was really good and it was amazing to eat a meal cooked on a coal-fired stove in a wooden dinning car in 2010. We crossed the border near Plumtree, the border agents came through the train and checked our passports. The woman repeatedly asked me about my cam-air-ah. I kept telling her I didn't know what she was talking about, finally she held her hand up to her face and made motion of taking a picture and said it again. Oh... a camera... I replied. The always check things that might be of value at the border and we had to do the same. 

In Francistown we made our way to the bus station and got a bus to Slibe Phikwe. It was a long way for a bus ride but the bus was comfortable and they had music videos on the television. Watching the African scenery roll by was amazing and the trip went quickly. In Slibe Phikwe we checked into a local hotel and the owner asked us where we were from. The normal answer is Philadelphia because nobody in the world has heard of Wilmington, Delaware. He asked where as he knew the area. We told him Wilmington and he said he knew Wilmington. He had family living in the Pike Creek area. What a small world.

So we got to see and ride the steam locomotives at Slibe Phikwe. The man there who was in charge simply liked the steam engines. Everything else about the facility was modern and up-to-date. They could have owned newer locomotives for sure. After we finished with the steam locomotives it was time to make our way to Johannesburg, South Africa. The bus routes were not direct and involved two days of traveling by bus. Think of going from point A to B by way of the two sides of a triangle instead of the hypotenuse. The shortest route had a road but no bus service. We decided to hitchhike. We had tried our hand at it in Zimbabwe and did fine. 

The owner of the hotel told us where the road out of town had a place where hitchhikers could get picked up. We got dropped off there and waited. Soon enough a man in a station wagon picked us up and agreed to take us to Martin's Drift for a small amount of money. It seemed he made his living running the road and providing transportation services for small amounts of money. Martin's Drift was about 2 hours away by car and we picked up and dropped off various people along the way. We got out at the border control point and started walking. When we walked to the border control station the man there greeted us and asked us about our car. We told him we hitchhiked and he was shocked. He said he never saw white people come through the border on foot. He had a bowl of nuts on the counter and said they were good and to try some. I did and was eating a handful when Don says, "dude, these things have eyes." Yes, I was eating a handful of dried bugs, they were not really bad and by that moment I was committed so I finished them. Don passed on them and we got stamped out of Botswana. 

Next, we then made a short walk down the road between the two countries passing a long line of cars and trucks jammed up waiting to get through. We crossed a bridge over the Limpopo River and then to the South African passport station where we were stamped in. Next we walked down the road a bit and started hitch hiking again and this time we were not picked up quickly. We began to worry a little because we were at a place called Martin's Drift and nobody in the world knew where we were and it was a long way to Johannesburg and there was no way to get there other than hitching. After a while a big double trailer truck pulled over and picked us up. We thanked the driver and he said he just had to pick us up because he never saw white guys hitchhiking at Martin's Drift. He also said he was driving alone for two weeks picking up uranium ore in The Congo and was happy to have some company.

We rode with him for a most of the day listening to stories about truck driving in Africa. Including being attacked in The Congo and hiding in the jungle until being picked up by the army and thrown in jail. His wife thought he was dead because he was missing for over a month. The trucking company somehow found out he was there and got him out of jail. We passed other trucks and he knew all of the drivers. We passed a spot where a truck hit a free-range cow and crashed badly killing the driver. This made Don very nervous and he stayed awake keeping an eye out for livestock. We listened to classic rock on the radio while we talked and the hours passed by quickly. He was driving right near the airport and we got dropped off along an exit and walked up the hill to a hotel and got a room. Wanderlust flows in my veins and this day was worth writing down. 

Hurricane Gloria

In late September of 1985 Hurricane Gloria was making its way up the eastern seaboard. Raymond and I knew it was coming and we decided that it would be cool to go see it first hand. Now anyone knows the best place to see a hurricane up close and personal is near the water. Now the Wilmington area is not exactly like the Florida Keys or the Barrier Islands found along the coast. The best place we could think of was the war at old New Castle. At this time we were both out of school, over 18, but still living at home and very much had to keep the wishes of our parents in mind.

I was the only one with wheels, which at the time, was a 1973 Dodge Van that my dad passed along to me during the summer. The van was broken down when he gave it to me. I had to do a brake job on it and repair a broken distributor. I figured these out with some advice from the auto parts guys and my own mechanical talent.

We each told our mom we were going to be at the others house when in fact we were out storm chasing. Gloria was not a particularly powerful storm but it was the only one we had. A decent hurricane only comes along only once every handful of years and this was a first as mobile, adventurous, slightly stupid, young adults. We had to be out in the middle of it.

The water at old New Castle was not really that impressive and there were not giant waves, no trees bending over, or anything like you see on the news when they show big hurricanes. What we did find was miserable weather and a TV news crew from the local cable TV news. They came right over and wanted to interview us and we were more than happy to be interviewed. It was the classic, who are the idiots out in the hurricane segment and we were the idiots. We did make it onto the news which we hadn't even considered to be an option. The water at New Castle was just exciting and did not feel dangerous so we hopped into the van and drove over to Riverview Park in Pennsville, NJ.

At Riverview the wind was pushing the water a lot harder and the rain was being driven as well. It seemed more like a hurricane. Of course it was too messy outside to do much of anything but we sat in the van watching the water and talking. The big mistake was shutting the motor off. When it was time to go the whole thing was soaked and would not start. I knew we had a limited battery to crank the starter so we called on the CB radio to see we could get some help. It came in the form of a town police officer who looked at us like we were a couple idiots. Of course we were.

He drove Raymond to the local auto parts store where he bought some starting fluid. A quick shot of that and the motor started right up and we were on our way. Raymond told me about riding with the police officer as we drove away. He said the officer didn't say much but did say "that was pretty stupid" to which Raymond replied "yes sir." Later on there was more pretty stupid to deal with when our mom's saw us on the news.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Walking the Train Tracks

One of the best things about Canby Park was the train tracks that divided Canby Park from Canby Park West. Kids from my neighborhood used to walk those all the time. If you walked toward Wilmington you would end up in the city and there was all sorts of cool stuff to see there. The area that is now the waterfront with the Blue Rocks Stadium was an old WWII shipyard. There were a lot of old abandoned buildings down there complete with WWII era posters and signs. One of the buildings was the old powerhouse which was the one I liked the best.

Walking to Wilmington on the tracks also meant walking to West Yard. There were always trains to be seen and I always loved trains. One time I walked to the railroad yard where they stored the MU car trains that served the Wilmington commuters. I was poking around in these cars when an Amtrak Police officer showed up. he knew someone was there but was alone. We played cat and mouse and he shined his flashlight around and walked up and down between the cars. I dodged from one to another and hid here and there until he left. I then crossed the tracks and ventured back to my tracks and walked back home. It was scary and exciting but I never did that again.

Walking the other way lead to Elsmere Junction and the B&O railroad mainline between Philadelphia and Baltimore. This was not very useful because those trains ran fast and I knew those places were a long way. I once spoke to a crew that offered to take me for a ride to Pot (Potomac) Yard but I declined because I knew I would be a long way from home and would get in trouble for being gone so long. Another time a crew accused me of stoning the engine and the police came. They police were on the other side of the tracks and the train was blocking the way. I took off running and was long gone in a flash. I didn't stone the engine but I didn't want to deal wit the police.

Some of the train crews were nice and would stop and let us ride with them. This sort of thing never happens anymore. In fact most parents would never let a 12-year old wander like I could back then. I think most teens would prefer to stay home and fool around with some electronic device anyway and those types of experiences are just a thing of the past.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Boothwyn

From the time when I was a little kid I have gone to the Booth Corner's Farmer's Market. Some call it Booth Corner's, some just say Boothwyn, and other just say they are going "up to the sale." It is all the same. My dad always called it Boothwyn but a lot of other people just called it "the sale." Now the term "the sale" more or less refers to Brigg's Auction that is across the street and held every Friday night. But Boothwyn or "the sale" means both.

When I first went with my dad as a kid the place was old and had dirt floors. It was a throwback to the old days, sometime in the 1970s the place caught fire and burned down. When it was rebuilt it was done with concrete floors and better lighting. It also was rebuilt with air-conditioning which the old place didn't have.

The farmer's market was an awesome place to go. We would walk around and it was a buffet for the senses. The smells, the sounds the sights were all great. The farmers market at Hares Corner in New Castle was closer but not as good. The big attraction at Boothwyn was there were not one, but two model train stores. In the main farmer's market was a booth occupied by a place called Trains 99 and across the street in the building occipied by Briggs Auction was Cheap George's Trains. George passed on and it became E&T Trains which moved over to the farmer's market building when Briggs kicked out all of their non-auction vendors.

In the 1980s I would often ride up with Dave Jensen. Dave was a character and a major influence on my teen years. He was a couple of years older than me and always had a car, which I never had until around the age of 20. We would ride up in Dave's car and walk the farmer's market, buy whatever fresh food appealed that particular night, and check out the model train stores. Actually the food part was mostly about me because Dave only ate French Fries. Back to the model railroad stuff, Trains 99 was discount trains and mostly focused on Lionel trains but sometimes would have other stuff. Cheap George dealt strictly in used trains and each week it was a bit of an adventure to see what he had to offer. To this day I like to visit E&T to see what they have. My best purchase ever was a Bachmann China DF-11 for $30, one of the best deals I've gotten on model trains.

Dave and I would check out the auction after making our rounds. Often there would be nothing of interest and we would leave and go out to route 202 where there was a mini golf course and riving range nearby. Next to the mini golf place was an ice cream store. We would play mini golf, drive a bunch of golf balls at the driving range, and eat ice cream. At the driving range we would try to hit the jeep that was outfitted with a ball scooper upper and sometimes we would turn around and hit the golf balls across route 202. We would wrap the night up by about 10PM and be home by 11. It was a great, innocent way to spend a Friday night. Always fun, we'd look at girls, and Dave would always drive really fast on the back roads. Sometimes near Thompson's Bridge we would stop and drink water from a spring alongside of the road. The pipe at the spring has been long removed but I will always remember that we could stop and drink fresh spring water from the hillside. That is one of the things that is forever gone.

Even today, I enjoy riding up to Boothwyn, the food is still good, Trains 99 is long gone, but E&T still carried the torch for Cheap George, the auction is still neat to check out but there is hardly ever anything I care about, and I like to ride fast on the back roads. I like to smell the fresh roasted peanuts, I like to walk amongst the people, and I like remembering the days gone by.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Th Last Circus and Other Circus Stories

On May 21, 2017 Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus put on their last show. For 146 years they entertained people throughout America. A few months earlier we saw them in Philadelphia. Tonight we're watching the reply of the last show on the internet. People who like trains are especially fond of the circus because the circus traveled by train up until the very last show. In my life there were two great traveling shows, the James E. Strates Show which was a giant traveling carnival and Ringling Brothers which actually used two trains, one for the Red Unit and the other was the Blue Unit. I had the pleasure of seeing all of these trains and as a person who loves trains, I can say this is the most rare and best train of all to see.

My first encounter with one was in the 1970s when I saw the Strates Show train rumble through on the tracks behind Canby Park. Those tracks were called the Market Street Branch. The line connected the B&O Railroad to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Wilmington and was only used by short trains that traded freight cars between the two railroads. The appearance of the carnival train there was just amazing. It was really long and there were many passenger cars with folks hanging out the windows. My imagination raced thinking about all of the places they get to see, all of the miles on the rails, and the adventure that life must have been.

I saw the Strates Shows train pretty regularly because it came to Wilmington annually and also played at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. No experience was ever so personal as when it slowly rolled through on my trains behind Canby Park. In 1984 I graduated high school in early June and about the very time the Strates Shows were playing at the old Cinema 141 Drive-in Theater at Prices Corner. At the time anyone could walk or ride a bicycle through the access road at the rail yard. I was there watching the who carnival unload and struck up a conversation with one of the foreman who was also watching to make sure nobody screwed up. I told him it seemed like an awesome lifestyle and how I thought about riding the rails with the carnival. He offered me a job and said I could start right away. He said I would have to report to the office and fill out paperwork, work the show, then be prepared to travel and leave town.

One of my childhood fantasies was right there before me. There were a multitude of problems with this notion of leaving town on the carnival train. I just finished trade school and was ready to set off to be a power plant engineer, I loved the Wilmington & Western RR, and I never lived anywhere but my house in Canby Park. So there I was with the chance to let wanderlust take me away and I flinched, I backed down. I passed up on the job and stayed the course. I knew there were no boilers with the carnival and it was a hard life. I knew getting married, having kids, and buying a house were also not going to happen if I became a carney.

I saw the circus and carnival trains on and off for the next three decades. Each time was always exciting but none was ever as exciting as the time one rolled through Canby Park. I always envied the men and women riding onboard and I saw the circus a few times and went to the carnival too.

As of this moment the Strates Shows still sends its equipment around by rail but he passenger cars have been gone for a few years. Ringling Brothers is dead and the train has already been auctioned off with the various cars leaving from the final show to their new owners. One of my Facebook friends, Jason Sobczynski, bought the pie car and has plans to preserve it. A friend and former Wilmington & Western volunteer, Heywood "Woody" Massara, started his railroading at the W&W in the 1960, got a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and wound up working for Ringling Brothers as a train master in charge of one of the trains as it traveled the country. Woody has been retired for years but he still knows a lot of the people there. He is taking it very hard.

I see the passing of the circus as another big change in my life, something I experienced and people in the future probably wont. There are a lot of things piling up in my life, penny candy, playing in the neighborhood as a small child, riding in the car without seat belts, riding a bicycle without a helmet, and many others. Some of the changes are good for sure, others bring a bit of sadness. The passing of the circus is one of those for sure.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Visiting the Yellow River in China

One of the few things most westerner know about China is the Yellow River. Most probably can't find it on the map but it is it one of the rivers, like the Nile or the Amazon, that people have heard of at least sometime in their life. In 2005 when visiting the steam railway in Pingdinshan with Ken Arnold and Don Richard we found ourselves in Zhengzhou which is a huge crossroads in China. Sort of China's Chicago. One of the geographic features is the Yellow River is just to the north of town. There is an location along the river called the Yellow River Scenic area. Zhengzhou is noted in history as the location where the advance of the Japanese Army was halted in 1938 due to a massive flood created by the Chinese Army. The Chinese have always been masters of canals, bridges, and walls. One of the things that was in place at that time was a well-developed system of dikes to control the Yellow River and enable it to be used for trade. The Japanese Army was to the north and Zhengzhou was on the south bank. As I mentioned it was sort of the crossroad of China. Their Chicago. The loss of Zhengzhou would have been devastating to the Chinese. 

As the Japanese Army advanced the Chinese destroyed critical dikes causing a monstrous flood that destroyed a giant swath of farmland and villages. Millions of people lost everything and upwards of a million people died. No time in history has a government killed so many of its own people to win a battle. 

Heading of to see this scenic and historic spot was found a cab and tried to explain to the driver what we wanted with charades and no functional Chinese. We were actually pretty good at doing this and have seen much of China this way. The driver made some calls and got an English-speaking man on the phone. It was some member of his extended family. He informed us that the driver had been up all night driving and was finishing his shift and if we wait he would come pick us up. We said sure and asked how much. He told us not to worry. About 30 minutes later "Tom" showed up in his black Honda sedan. He took us to the Yellow River and we enjoyed great conversation with him and gained a lot of insight into the area from him. 

After visiting the Yellow River he wanted to take us to see his city. He was obviously very proud of it. He took us to lunch at a nice restaurant and insisted on paying he bill. He asked us what we might like to do and we said we were interested in souvenirs and he took us to an antique market. It was a really neat place but I didn't really want anything because of my desire to travel light and not own a lot of stuff. Kenny found a neat old vase. Tom informed us it was a genuine Ming Dynasty antique. I was a little puzzled when Kenny bought it. As we finished out day with Tom we thanked him and parted ways. I noticed Kenny didn't have his vase. He left it in Tom's car as a gift thinking this would be the only way to do something for him to thank him for his kindness. 

We did keep in touch with Tom by email and a number of years later he let us now he would be in Philadelphia on business. Tom was in the business of back packs and hand bags. His company manufactured and sold them around the world. We met up with him in Philadelphia and took a tour of the some of the historic areas including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Nearby was a Chinese man standing on the corner with a sign and a loudspeaker protesting in Chinese. Tom heard it and we asked what he was saying. We could tell he was uncomfortable and he just said it was not good things being said. As we were parting ways he went into his stuff and pulled out Kenny's vase and said that he had been holding on to it to give back to him. 

People might say the Chinese treat American business unfair, they might complain about the lack of fair elections, human rights, or whatever else China is up to but there are really good people in China. It is a place filled with culture differences that scare most but fascinate some. It is a place the is very safe and filled with people who are kind. I have been to China five times for periods of up to 3 weeks, at this point I might not ever go back because there is still large swaths of the world I need to see. But  even with that being said, there is always something calling me back. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How I got into Roller Derby


I spent about 8 season as a referee for women's roller derby. I have always liked skating from my youth skating at Elsmere Roller Rink. I got away from skating in my teens sometime and when I was 26 and single (after Kathy walked out on me) I wanted to get myself over the relationship. I saw a pair of rollerblades on sale at K-Mart and bought them. Our street, Calburn Court, was a one-block long cul-de-sac with little traffic. I strapped on the roller blades and started slowly skating up and down the street. It did not take long before I was cruising along pretty well. 

I have found that whenever I'm down in the dumps going back to something from my past was always a good pick me up. I think it is because at my core there are a few activities that make me truly happy; playing with trains, roller skating, and riding my bicycle. 

From then on I have always done some sort of skating. For many years it was both roller blades and ice skates. I owned a set of each and used them regularly and could skate pretty well on either. One night I was at Christiana Skating Center and I saw all of the people leaving with luggage and skate bags. I asked what was up and a girl told me they just finished roller derby. I remembered roller derby from my childhood and told her that was cool. She said they needed refs and I should come out and give it a try. 

At the time I had a girlfriend named Diane Horan. She was living with me and our relationship was failing. Before she moved in we had the best times. We went places and did things and every minute was fun. When she moved in she wanted some things done around the house. I gladly did them because I wanted it to feel like home for her. As time went on she became obsessed with making everything in the house perfect. This was a huge task and I am indeed handy and can do most anything with some tools and my hands, but I did not have the drive for perfection. Good enough was well above living in a ramshackle house but way below perfection. Diane became so obsessed she was pushing me to my limit. During the summer when I was off work she stated that she expect me to work 30 hours per week on home improvements. It was out of control. 

I have always been a learner. During this time I tried taking harmonica lessons and Spanish lessons and Diane told me I was wasting my time. She didn't want me doing anything unless she was in charge and it was productive to her standard. She was also obsessed with sleep and going to bed early. She would not stay up past 9PM to do anything with me. 

This was the case when I met the roller derby people. I was at the rink myself getting in some skating time. They told me practice was Monday and Thursday from 9-11PM and I figured what the hell. She would be sleeping anyway, so I signed up. It turned out to be fun and I stuck with it. As time drug on Diane and I had more and more difficulties until one time she demanded I order Danny to paint the upstairs and I refused. That was the straw that broke the camel's back and she broke up with me. Roller derby probably didn't help either. What a terrible waste of my energy it was trying to satisfy Diane. She is probably never going to find happiness because she is always searching for perfection and too worried about everything. I am glad she is out of my life. I feel I have found a balance between good enough and everything else in the world. 

The Wilmington PD Darkroom

My interest in photography and the darkroom was driven on two fronts. First was using the darkroom at the Boy's Club and second was the darkroom at the Wilmington Police Department. My dad would take me into the police department sometimes and I would get the run of the place. The turnkey area, the radio room, the darkroom, and the offices. The radio room had a teletype machine and the radio room operator would let me send messages to other places for things like time checks and to respond if there was a incoming message. That was all fun stuff but the big fun thing was the darkroom. There was a steady stream of mugshots to develop and print but the most fun thing was the fingerprints. Yes, fingerprints. Before the days of computers they used to take a closeup photo of a crime scene fingerprint and then one of a file fingerprint and blow them both up to 8x10 or 11x14 and then compare them by eye. This really fascinated me. I felt like Colombo, I was helping solve a crime. I never knew exactly what the crime was but my imagination always had me thinking it was the crime of the century, a bank robbery or something like that.

It was this time in the darkroom at the WPD along with the Boy's Club that really drove my interest in photography.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Mounted Patrol

In the 1970s my dad was a sergeant in the Wilmington Police Department mounted patrol. I used to get to go to the stables with him from time to time. It was such a great time. I got to help! Sometimes I would give the horses food or water or lead them around if then needed to be tended to. I even got to drive the old meter maid Cushman three-wheeled cart that they used as a utility truck at the stables. Sometimes I got to ride the horse around the training ring, not very often but once in a while I got to. I remember the horses had cool names life Fan Jet and Boots. It was an awesome place to spend time as a kid. I remember once the farrier was there working and a horse reared up. He grabbed the lead the the horse pulled him into the air. He placed his boots into the horse's chest and rode the horse back down and pulled had until the horse settled down. I was amazed and scared. It was just another day's work for him.

One time I was on my way to church with mom and we saw a mounted patrol helmet hanging on a tree. We stopped and looked all around and could not see an officer nor a horse. I collected the helmet and we put it in the car to return it to the stables. We went there after church and sure enough they knew it was missing. We have no idea where the horse and officer were but the officer got in trouble for he lost helmet. I think a day off. Whenever I see a mounted patrolman I always remember those days hanging out at the stables with my dad and tending to the horses.

Playing Tag at St. Hedwigs

In elementary school, everyday at recess, the big deal was playing tag. Linden Street would get blocked off and we would have the block between the school and church to play. Tag was the thing to do. There was water department access cover, sort of like a manhole cover but smaller and square, near the corner in the center of the street and another further down the block that were the bases. Running from one to the other and being chased was so much fun, it was the main exercise we got at St Hedwigs. The main players were; Mark Emory, Robert Joswick, Mark Ivanitch, Paul Rydel, Eugene "Mooch" LaRouche, Jeffrey Hall, Charles Needles, Mark McGrellis, Raymond Brittingham, and myself. There might be others but I'm glad I can remember those names at this moment in 2017.

I remember looking down Linden Street to the south and often saw trains rolling by on the elevated track through Wilmington. We also would hear the factory whistle at the nearby NVF Company. I look back on those days and think about how much has changed. Kids sit around looking at their phones now, factory whistles are a thing of the past, but somewhere in some city a train still rolls through and some kid is watching it and dreaming about riding a train to some faraway place. Or at least I still hope that one thing still holds true.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Following Directions - Mr. Kuska

In 10th grade I entered Delcastle and was pretty excited to be in the power plant shop. My teacher was Mr. Reinhold Kuska, a German-born man who came to America as a child after WWII. He took power plant technology in a vo-tech high school in New Jersey, did a stint in the Navy, and worked in industry running the power plant at a RCA record factory for a while and was hired as the power plant teacher at Delcastle when the school opened.

On one of the first days, he gave us an assignment and I completed it but did not complete the heading the way he instructed. Mr. K was very specific about everything and his assignments consisted of a very specific heading with your name on the left, assignment number in the center, and date on the right. Each question had to be copied word for word from the book, we then had to skip a line, and write out the answer in complete sentences. He handed it back and told me to do it over. I protested and he replied, "if I don't teach you anything else, I'm going to teach you to follow instructions." I didn't like it but I did the assignment over and got a good grade.

I also looked into getting a new shop, my old buddy from kindergarten and St. Hedwig's, Mark Emory, was in appliance repair and I thought about switching. I asked my guidance counselor, Louis Fidance, about switching. Now guidance counselors did not want us switching shops. Fidance, it turned out, knew my dad and at some point gave me a photo of him working as lifeguard at Prices Run pool. Fisance was also a war hero from WWII. Anyway, he talked me into sticking with power plant and it ended up being a good choice.

I got on board with Mr. Kuska's methods and soon realized he was one of the smartest men I would come to know. He would often talk to me about life things like a father. He would stand next to me and put his arm around my shoulder and explain things a teenager thought like me thought I knew but really didn't. Before the movie Karate Kid featured Mr. Miyagi  teaching wax on/wax off, Mr. Kuska taught me the importance of following instructions. Mr. Kuska was my own Mr. Miyagi.

Mr. Kuska not only taught me about power plants, he taught me about life. He impacted my life in a big way.

Racism, High School, and the Murder of John Lennon

The first week of December 1980 was a turbulent time at Christiana High School. Forced desegregation of schools in New Castle County was still sinking in and the mostly white kids from the suburbs were not warming up to the minority kids form the city being bussed out to suburban schools like Christiana. Bussing was about in its 3rd year and there were often fights and incidents of racism. Being a white kid from the city it was different for me because I grew up with blacks and hispanics. My best friend up till then was Johnny Freeman who was an African-American kid that lived down the street and I also had various Hispanic friends at the Boy's Club. Later on at Delcastle, I became best friends with Jose "Joey" Adorno who lived on West 7th Street in Wilmington. A person's race never mattered to me as long as the person was a good person.

To give you an idea of the way things were. In my social studies class with Mrs. Murphy, we covered slavery and during discussion the kid who sat behind me raised his hand and said he agreed with it. He went on to say the black people are inferior and should be slaves. He told us that the south will rise again and make everything right again. I was horrified and dumbfounded. The class was mixed and I can't imagine how the black kids must have felt. If this big dummy behind me wasn't one of the biggest kids in the class, perhaps someone would have attacked him right there. Mrs. Murphy sent him out of class and we didn't see him for a few days. At some later date he left school for a long time and returned telling us something happened and he had a hole in his lung. I'm not sure what the truth was but I'm guessing he is probably still a racist today.

Throughout that week there were huge tensions and even on my bus some of the white kids would taunt the black kids. It was awful. The first week of December ended for us on Friday, December 5, 1980. On that Friday there was talk of a riot going all through the school. The police started arriving throughout the morning and by lunchtime there was 50 officers throughout the school. The day ended without a major incident.

That weekend we all received phone calls explaining that school would be closed on Monday and then the remainder of the week we would come in by grade, 9th on Tuesday, 10th, on Wednesday, etc... When I woke up Tuesday, December 9th, I learned from my mom that John Lennon was murdered the night before. By 9th grade I knew enough about John Lennon to know his message was peace, love, and everyone getting along. My 9th grade brain knew there was a sort of weirdness that my school was closed for and entire week because people could not get along and the one man who probably stood for peace and love more than any other was murdered while I slept the night before. I put it this way because language arts was my weak point and I don't think I fully understood the concept of irony.

The purpose of this single day of school was to provide us all with intensive sensitivity training complete with skits put on by many of our teachers. I remember the skits were acted out as real life and they all had something to do with racial issues and discrimination. I remember the culmination of one was one of my teachers, Miss. Pennington, getting into a verbal altercation with another teacher and calling her the "N Word." I think it really showed kids how they looked and it changed the way the students viewed racism.

Being a city kid who grew up at the Boy's Club probably gave me a much different perspective than the Newark kids who mostly attended Christiana High School. Nevertheless, the skits made an impact on me and for the most part my classmates. The remainder of the year was free of the cloud of racism as far as I could tell.

The remainder of that week I listed to a lot of John Lennon songs on the radio and watched spot after spot on the news trying to learn and understand more about the man, his music, and his message. The local all-talk station from Philadelphia, WWDB, dropped all of its talk programming and played nothing but John Lennon/Beatles music for 24 hours straight. The news was filled with people gathering to mourn the loss of John Lennon, and the students at Christiana High School gained a little more respect for humanity.


Nana and Hoy's 5 & 10

When I was a kid there was a 5&10 cent store on Union Street south of Lancaster Ave. called Hoy's. They had all sorts of things including an aquarium section. It was a short hike so it was not close enough that we would walk there all the time. We used to see the older ladies from the neighborhood walking there or to Community Pharmacy on the corner of Lancaster and Union pulling their fold up carts. For us kids it was a short walk with some change to buy one or two things. If we were lucky we would have a quarter, but having just 10-15 cents was well worth it.

When Nana would come to visit she liked to walk up to Hoy's. By this time in her life she was living with my Uncle John and Aunt Lois in Wilmington Manor Gardens and the setting was purely suburban. They lived on the first block off of US Route 13 and it was much different from the city setting she lived in for much of her life. I know Nana enjoyed her mother-in-law suite in their house and she really enjoyed being with my cousins Teri and Barbara Susan. The two of them became so close to Nana because of it. We used to love going over to visit.

So back to Wilmington, the big treat was Nana really liked walking us up to the 5&10 and treating us to a couple of small things. Normally it would be a little bit of candy and maybe some toy like a top or yo-yo. Yes, kids did play with those for real back then. We also used to play with jacks and the wooden paddles with a ball and string. I'll always remember that Hoy's was a long rectangular shaped store and the more grown up things were in the front section and there was a slight slope in the middle of the store and the toys and more hardware like things were in the rear. Along the right hand wall were the aquariums that help the gold fish and little baby turtles. We did get fish and turtles at least once. I think Nana's walks to Hoy's with us were based on a combination of missing the opportunity to walk in the city and more importantly a chance to spend time with her grandchildren. It was a treasured activity of my youth.

There was a 5 & 10 called Wassam's in Elsmere but it was not as nice of a walk and probably not as safe as the walk was along Kirkwood Highway. I think Wassam's may have been a little bigger but lacked the aquarium section.

The time was a much simpler one back then. There is still a Hoy's 5 & 10 somewhere in New Jersey but now the Dollar Store has taken the place of the 5 & 10.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mobile Auto Parts

In 1985 I owned a blue 1972 Dodge Dart, it was a sweet car. Low miles, all original with A/C and a nice black vinyl roof. It was probably near the end of the line for cars that had a bench seat in the front. The car drove well and I really enjoyed it. One day I was driving on Route 13 in New Castle, turning into Pep Boys and a woman who was behind me darted onto the shoulder and tried to pass me on the right as I was turning. She slammed right into the passenger side door and spun my car about 90 degrees. The old Dodge was built tough and other than the passenger door being bent there was no other damage.

She was at fault and got a ticket for passing on the shoulder. Her driving was so reckless that a man stopped and told the policeman that he did not witness the accident but she was weaving in and out of traffic and passing on the shoulder miles back. She outright lied and said I was in the middle lane and she was forced off to the shoulder because I just shot over across two lanes. This did not hold up with the policeman.

With no real damage I continued to drive the car thinking I just would not open the dented in door. It turns out that I decided to try it and the door actually worked. I was fine driving a dented car. One day I was on my way to my job at the Wilmington & Western RR and a Dodge Dart pulled up behind me beeping the horn and flashing his lights. I pulled off and got out and the other guy got out and explained to me that he noticed my dented door and wanted to help. He opened his truck and there inside was a door that was the exact color blue. He wanted $20 or 30 dollars for it and I just happened to have enough money in my pocket. I gave him the cash and we transferred the door to my trunk. We shook hands and both of us drove off.

It turns out he was some sort of relation to my best friend, Raymond Harrington. The guys family owned a hub cap place on Newport Gap Pike in the vicinity of the railroad crossing in Marshallton. That business is long gone. Back in those days there were a few places around that dealt in hub caps. Cars all had them and upgrading hubcaps was one of the ways you could accessories your car. Fast forward a decade later in the late 1990s. I was driving down the road past the hub cap place which was on it last legs. They had a 1960 Studebaker Lark Wagon sitting outside with a for sale sign. It was $3,000 and looked really cool. I had enough money in my bank account so I bought it. It  was the same guy! The way paths cross in life is sometimes really strange. I kept it for about 10 years and it was a fun car to own. I'll write more about it another time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Becks Pond


In the early and mid 1970s our next door neighbors were Vera Sutton and her sister Eva Currinder.  They were very old. They had a nice old 1955 Chevy that then never really drove. They asked dad to drive the car once in a while to keep in running. The trip of choice was down to Becks Pond. It was way out in the country. Riding in the old car was such a treat and going to Becks Pond was always fun. Riding in the old car was so much different than anything today The cars rode differently and the widows were wide open and the air moved through differently than today's cars. We would ride down through Christiana on old Route 7 and then to Old Baltimore Pike. We'd turn at Fix's Corner where there was a little old store. Sometimes we'd stop and get a treat there. Backs Pond had a small man-made beach and once you got out a little off the beach the bottom was all mud. It was a great place on a hot summer day. Eva died first and a few years later Vera died.

Lewes, De -- Summer of 1976 Part 3 -- Sunburn

In the summer of 1976 we spent two weeks at a rented summer house in Lewes. We were a block from the bay and enjoyed a lot of time in the water. Mom and dad bought Chris and I these rafts. They were just long enough for our body to fit on top and our legs could hang over into the water. We spent hours and hours floating around paddling with our arms. We both got really badly sunburned on our backs and backs of our legs. Our fronts and faces were fine, it was the worst thing because we could not site or lay on our backs. Chris always had more fair skin than me and he burned much worse. He earned a trip to the emergency room. We both blistered but Chris was much worse. During the time we were down we mostly hung out in the beach house and watched tv and I even read some books. It really sucked.  After about 4 days it was mostly better and we were able to resume our beach activities. I don't think that sunscreen was widely available back then. I never really recall seeing or hearing about it until the 1980s.

Pinball at Albert's Store

Across Union Street from Prospect Road was Albert's Store. It was run by a woman called Regina. Once I could cross the street on my own my mom used to send me over there daily to buy he cigarettes. I don't remember the price but they were less than $1 and she would give me either $1 or $2 and I could have the change. This allowed me to buy some candy. Candy started at a penny for single pieces of various candies to 25 cents for a brand-named candy bar like a Three Musketeers or Hershey bar. At some point they got a pinball machine and then all of my extra money went toward pinball. The pinball caught on and soon they had several machines and the neighborhood kids would hang out and play pinball. I didn't have enough money from change from my mom to play as often as I wanted to the next thing was to hit up dad. Dad always had a pocket full of change and with a minimal amount of pestering he would cough up a few quarters. This went on for some time but eventually I got tired of the same machines and stopped going for pinball.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sister Mary Honorata


In 5th grade I had a nun named Sister Mary Honorata. She was older and very strict, as the old Catholic School nun were. She was very strict with not only our work but how we turned in our papers. I have never had great handwriting and she was always making me redo my work. One time she gave me a detention for my handwriting. I don't know what that was going to solve. My dad came in and spoke to her about it and I think I got out of it. I never heard of anyone else getting a detention for handwriting. Later in the winter she fell on some ice and was injured and eventually retired. The kids in class used to call her Sister Hotrod. I know she meant well but he style just didn't work well for me. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fraim's Boys Club - The Boys Club of Wilmington

Growing up in Canby Park was awesome. Aside from the park and woods, we were right across the street from the Boy's Club. It was official the Clarence Fraim Boy's Club. Fraim was a dairy man who left some sum of money to the club. Fraim's was built in the late 1960s and was like new when I started going at the age of six. It had a woodshop, art room, games rooms, a dark room, large gym, small gym, indoor pool, and a "radio station" that played music throughout the club.

I learned so much there at the club. Let me start with the wood shop. It was well equipped and the story is that much of the equipment was donated by the DuPont Company. The man in charge was named Chet. He was probably retired from some other job. He knew his stuff and had a whole progression of projects. We started with a small simple project and as completed each one we learned to use all of the various tools. It did not take long for me to learn everything in the shop. I absolutely loved the wood shop. Later Chet retired and Mr. Zawicki took over. He did not have the structure as rigid ad Chet and it was more of a place to hang out and chat with less emphasis on learning all of the tools. The stuff I learned there combined with the various skills I picked up fooling around with my model trains really laid the foundation for me to be able to do most anything. Mr. Zawicki had a daughter called Norma that I liked and used to talk to all the time.

We had a radio station that played music through the speakers around the club. The man who ran it was called Ziggy. Ziggy had long hair and was sort of a hippie. He must have had some sort of experience with this sort of thing. We had two turntables and microphones and sat at a broadcasting dest that felt like we were on the air to the world. We even had a light up "on the air" sign. We played all kids of music and would read news from the paper. I remember once reading some bit of news and saying "it is quarter past the hour and I don't know what the hour is." The station call sign was WFBC for Fraim's Boys Club. It was a great experience.

We also had a darkroom that was another fun place. Taking pictures was fun but developing and printing pictures seemed like doing magic. Of course it was all in black and white. I learned all of the chemistry and soon became proficient in the various steps. At various times in my life I wanted to be a photographer but there was always too many other things to do. The guy who ran the photo club was named Roger Wormer. He was a strange one. He would sneak cigarettes in the darkroom because it had a ventilation system and he could. The kids all thought has was pretty cool. There were two other kids who came to the dark room a lot. David Ortiz who later became a car salesman and a boy named Ralph that I can't remember his last name. I was able to do more photography in middle school and high school and then built my own darkroom that I played with on and off until the early 2000s when digital just took over to the point that I gave it up.

The club also had an art room that was run by a woman named Mrs. Green. She ran it pretty well like Chet did the woodshop. Instead of a progression of independent projects, Mrs. Green used to have dedicated times for the various types of art. Some times were set aside for ceramics, drawing, painting, and other crafty things like making gymp keychains. I liked the art room but not nearly as much as the wood shop or dark room.

Next was the games room. There were full-size pool tables, bumper pool, ping pong, chess, checkers, and shuffleboard. I learned all of these games and loved planing all of them. I found a pool cue at the thrift store and it had a case and came apart into two pieces. We would have to sit and three chairs and play winners. After a game finished the loser left and the 1st seat got tot play, the second and third seats each moved over and the third seat became open. Each pool table had these three seats and there were three games rooms for different age groups. Each room had two pool tables and a bumper pool table plus one or two ping pong tables. When I got to play I would unzip my case and pull out the cue stick and screw the two halves together. I felt like Minnesota Fats getting ready to play for the big money. I also had my own ping pong paddle which was nothing special, it was exactly the same as the ones in the game rom but it was mine. I also learned chess which was the game I liked the most. Chess stuck with my my entire life and I became the chess teacher at Delcastle shortly after I started teaching. The man who ran the games room was Jim Logollo, he was friend with my dad and was an all around great guy. He knew kids and how to entertain us, keep us in line, and teach us life lessons at the same time. He ended up becoming the manager of the entire club later on. I used him as a reference when I first entered the workforce.

There was also a TV room in the back of the games rooms and sometimes we would just hang out and watch cartoons, wrestling, roller derby, or sports. This was before VCRs and DVDs so we could only watch whatever was on. Phillies games were always big and the TV room often was packed if the Phillies were on.

The club also had a library that was run by Mr. McLain. It was not nearly as fun as the wood shop or darkroom but I did spend some time there. You could get help with homework and there were things like writing contests and story time. There were also board games in the library where Mr. McLain could keep and eye on them so all of the pieces would not get lost.

The large gym was scheduled for different activities and different sports at various times. There were things like mini-basketball league where we made up teams and played each other on a weekly basis. Mini-basketball used lower backboards and nets that were hung on the full-sized ones. There was also flag football, floor hockey, dodgeball, and kickball. There were also times when there was open gym and we would play pickup games of basketball. The gym also had a full-sized trampoline in the side room. This was one of the coolest things in the world. We would bounce so high, do summersaults, and tricks. It did not last long because of insurance issues but it was amazing while it laster. The man who ran the gym was John French. Frenchy, was we called him, was awesome. He was the nicest guy and was so good with us kids. He never made anyone feel bad about not doing a good job, we all get like champions with Frenchy.

The small gym was used for special things like Judo lessons and obstacle course contests. I took judo lessons and really like that too. The judo instructor was a man named Stan Green, he was a Wilmington policeman. He ran a tight class and emphasized discipline. We went to several tournaments including one at Andrews Air Force Base. I never really got good at Judo but it was a good experience. One time as a teen when I was into model trains I brought over a bunch of trains and set them up for the kids there in the small gym.

The club had a wonderful indoor pool. It had a deep end with a low and high dive. They had swimming lessons and you kept progressing as you learned more. As you progressed you earned different cards based upon the level. The lowest was tadpole, then minnow, guppy, shark, and swordfish. I might have missed one or two. I went through the entire progression and this funneled you into the swim team which was called the Delaware Dolphins. You could also take junior lifeguard classes which I did as well. Each level had you doing more difficult things. One of the top ones including jumping in with jeans and a sweatshirt and taking them off filling them with air and making them into flotation. There was also the survival float and treading water for 30 minute or maybe an hour in the deep end while they taught lower level kids in the shallow end. The pool was run by Ms. Marilyn. I don't really have much to say about her personally because of the nature of the pool we didn't really interact like with the other adults in the club.

The club also had a science room that didn't last too long into the 1970s. I remember cages and pens for small animals that we could help care for during certain times. It was interesting but it was not open a lot and was phased out.

The outside areas were used in the summer for whiffle ball, kick ball, and tennis. Once the warm weather came I did not really spend much time at the club because the woods and railroad tracks where way more fun. It was a great big world and I wanted to take it all in.

My time at the Boys Club was just amazing. I learned so much and did so much. It really forged a big part of who I became. The folks who worked there each taught me in such a way that I didn't even know that lessons were taking place. In adulthood I started making annual donations to the Boys Club through the United Way. I have given thousands of dollars over the years. When I drive by I always remember my times there and look back on those days as some of the best of my childhood.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Sister Mary Procla

I don't know if I spelled her name correctly. She was my first grade teacher. She was small, old, and smelled funny. My two biggest memories of first grade both occurred with the start of the school year. In kindergarten I learned how to do the pledge to the flag. I was proud of how well I could do it, I remembered all of the words and knew which hand to put over my heart. In fact during kindergarten or the summer after my dad stopped by firehouse Station No. 6 on Union Street and I showed off my pledging to the flag to the chief there. He complimented me and reward me with an American flag the used to hang on the flagpole at the firehouse. I was so proud.

Fast forward to the first day of first grade. I was so excited. I could not wait to do the pledge to the flag in real school. When we got started Sister Procla stopped us and informed us that we were to not put our hands over our heart but rather had us hold out right arm up toward the flat at an angle. Just like the Germans did hail Hitler during World War II. I was dumbfounded but went along with the program.

The next thing that happened was even more surprising, it happened when I said hello to my buddy Mark Emory from kindergarten. No sooner than I said hello I was whacked by Sister Procla and the suddenness of the smack startled me and I started to cry. She then told me talking was not permitted and I cried more, I cried louder and she eventually hugged me and patted my back to comfort me. I still remember that her habit felt and smelled weird. I stopped crying and the school day got underway.

When I got home I explained to my parents the new way to pledge to the flag. I'm not sure if they called the school of if it was other parents, but the next day we we instructed to do it the regular way. So there is first grade in a nutshell. The main two things I remember happened in the first hour of the first day.

Puppet Shows

When I was around 6 or 7 years old I became interested in puppets and wanted to do a puppet show. My grandfather was always there to support his grandchildren. Pop Pop, as we called him, found an old upright cabinet television set and gutted it and made it into a puppet theater for me. I made hand puppets out of socks and pieces of cloth, buttons, and other things around the house. I can't remember if he wanted to join in or if I volunteered him against his will but my brother Chris was in on it as well. We had the whole thing set up with a little curtain that could open and close and we thought up little stories for the puppets. After everything was ready it was time for mom and dad to sit through the show. I'm not sure how many we made them sit through but it probably did not last too long before we moved on to the next big thing.

The was one more little related story that for a talent show at the Boy Club I got Chris to be a ventriloquist dummy and I was the ventriloquist. We put together a little act with jokes and stories with the help of mom. She used makeup to give Chris the appearance of a dummy with freckles and lines where the jaw was supposed to move. The talent show was modeled after the "Gong Show" which was very popular at the time. We did not get the gong but I don't think we won anything either. It was a lot of fun.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Canby Park

Canby Park was a neat place to grow up. We had a park with all of the park things like swings, monkey bars, and see-saws. There was a blackball court and a baseball diamond. The best part however was the woods. The woods had everything a kid could want, trees to climb, train tracks to walk, a great creek, and places with neat names like Indian Rock, the Lions Cage, and Bear Canyon. We lived in the woods during the summer. We would leave in the morning and be gone all day. We built a number of forts. One was an amazing treehouse that was built between four trees in close proximity. It eventually was two stories and had a floor carpeted with rugs found in the trash. The county parks department tore down the treehouse after a while.

We had a number of Tarzan swings on limbs that hung out over hillsides. Because of the falling elevation of the hillside and the arc of the swing we would swing out to dangerous heights. It was something our parents would probably knothole allowed if they saw. I know I would have stopped any small child from swinging out so high. It was just crazy.

We also had an underground fort that was really not much fun. It was a hand dug hole that we built a roof over and covered with leaves and dirt. It was unto build but we really didn't dig down deep enough to make it comfortable. But for a little while we felt like Hogan's Heroes with out secret entrance and underground fort.

There was also the county storm sewer system. We could slip into the storm sewers and walk for a long way underground. The storm sewer eventually connected to the sanitary sewer but there was a separation between the two. We knew the sanitary sewer had poop and stayed out. The place where they connected allowed the sanitary sewer to overflow into the storm system and the local creek during times of heavy rain. We never were down in the storm sewer during those times. The storm sewer dumped into the creek through a place called the Lions Cage. It was a large cement cage that we found our way into. No cage could keep the Canby Park kids out!

Bear Canyon was some sort of man-made hole that had a giant rock near the top and steep walls. Not too steep but steep enough that you would be able to speed down one side on your bicycle and zoom up the other side.

The train tracks ran right through Canby Park woods and they were perfect. There were two tracks, one was the Reading RR and hardly ever used, the other was the B&O's Market Street Branch and saw a train each way daily. A very slow train that was could easily hear coming. Our tracks were perfect. Sometimes if the train was long enough and we were near a curve where the crew could not see us we would hop the train and ride for a little while. Super dangerous and I would never allow a child to do this but it was a different time.

Indian Rocks was a place in the Little Mill Creek that ran through the woods where there were a lot of big rock that the water flowed over. Some said one of them looked like an Indian. We used to like to go in the fast-running water to cool off in the summer. There were also slow parts of the creek where we could fish and catch crayfish, mud-suckers, catfish, and ells. My childhood in the Canby Park wood was the idyllic carefree time of childhood innocence. I'll write more about Canby Park.

It was those childhood days I tried to share with my own children when I took them to various creeks to catch fish, hike in the woods, and walk on the train tracks. Someday I would like to do the same with grandchildren.

Jim Timmons

When I worked at the chemical plant in Newport there was an older guy there who I was introduced to that was also a train enthusiast. Jim Timmons was a PRR fan, electrical engineer, and friend. Jim loved railroading, his father worked for the PRR as station agent at Rehoboth, Lewes, Ellendale, and probably a few others. Jim used to tell me stories about riding the engine cab of the PRR D-16 locomotives on various branch lines of the Del-Mar-Va. He remembered long passenger trains running along the spine of the peninsula going to meet the ferry for Norfolk.

Jim went into the Army during WWII. He He earned a Combat Infantryman Badge and a Bronze Star for his service in Europe during WWII but rarely ever talked about the war. He was very modest about his medals and when pressed he talked about how cold it was during the Battle of the Bulge and how the real
heroes never made it home. He was with General Patton's advance all through Europe and saw a lot of things people don't like to talk about. Jim's feet froze during the Battle of the Bulge and he hated cold weather for the rest of his life. He told me stories of how he would pop out of a hiding place and shoot a tank with a tan busting rocket. I can't image doing such a thing.

Jim was a great electrical engineer who went to school on the G.I. Bill after WWII. He worked for many years at the AMOCO plant in New Castle. On day in the 1970s the plant has a massive explosion. I remember playing out in the park with my brother Chris and we heard a massive boom off in the distance. That is the magnitude of the explosion. Jim was no there and was safe but lost his job as the place was destroyed enough that the folks at AMOCO decided not to rebuild. Jim ended up working for an engineering company and was assigned to handle projects at Ciba-Geigy for a number of years. I used to really enjoy getting to see him and talk trains. He lived in Todd Estates, Newark and was married to Carol.

Sometimes on the weekends we would meet up and go rail fanning. In 1991 when the Queen Annes Railroad (short lived tourist train) started up in Lewes I was working for them and took Jim for a ride in the locomotive. It was the first time in 50 years that Jim got to ride the cab of a steam train on the Lewes branch. I know he really loved it. After he retired and I left Ciba, we fell out of touch and only crossed paths once in a while.

James Alton Timmons - June 8, 1926 - October 11, 2007. Thank you for your service.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

My First Concert

The first concert I ever saw was Jerry Lee Lewis. He played at Delaware Park in about 1977. My mom won the tickets on one of the AM radio stations. She loved listening to the radio and seemed to always be trying to win something. He played on a portable stage and played his big hits like Great Balls of Fire and when the set was done a tractor pulled the portable stage right off the race track with I'm and his band on it. We didn't stay for the horse races but I fell in love with seeing live music.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lewes, De in the Summer of 1976 Part 2

One of the things about our vacations at Lewes was my dad's friend and co-wored Marty McMahon and his family would also rent a place in Lewes across the street from us. They had 4 kids, from oldest to youngest; Michael, Jimmy, John, and Teri. We would do all sorts of things with the McMahon kids. Lewes was on the bay so it did not have the best beach but it wasn't bad. One of the characteristics of the beach was a sandbar just offshore. You would be able to wade out to about chest deep and then it would start getting shallow again to ankle deep. We would go out on the sandbar and sometime play football or a game called "smear the queer" where everyone tries to tackle whomever has the ball. We also hung out with the McMahon kids in the evening and had bonfires on the beach or sometimes would play cards in the beach house. There was also other kid stuff like looking for hermit crabs, toads, and other assorted small creatures.

Marty McMahon and my dad were both Marines and joined the Wilmington PD together and lived on the Prospect Road in Canby Park. They moved away to Champain Ave in Richardson Park pretty early but I still remember them on the block.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My First Model Train

I had fallen in love with trains when I rode the Wilmington & Western RR in kindergarten. By 2nd grade I was on the lookout for trains anytime we rode in the car. I knew what railroad operated on which tracks and the difference between electric and diesel trains. One of the things that happens in the 2nd grade in Catholic school was your First Holy Communion. This is a big deal and once you do it there is  big party, people give you presents. When I realized that a number of people gave me money, I knew what I wanted to spend it on. Model trains! I got mom to take me to hobby store and we bought a Tyco HO model train set. It has the classic Santa Fe warbonnet F-7 locomotive, a Hershey's chocolate boxcar, a green Western Maryland flatcar with multi-colored bulldozers, a green Burlington Northern boxcar, and a caboose. It was the coolest train in the world and it was all mine. Ran it like crazy.

It was no long before I want more. I wanted engines and switch tracks, sidings, and freight cars. I was able to save bits of money here and there and soon I was on my way to a model railroad empire. My next train was the Tyco Spirit of 76 train. By 1975 bicentennial fever was raging throughout the country and the Spirit of 76 train was the most important one to own. My next one was a Tyco Chattanooga Choo Choo which was powered by the tender. The engine was just pushed around, it was a huge disappointment. It did not last long.

I continued to add to my collection and had a platform set up I the basement. Then my Pop Pop found a second hand pre-moulded over and under platform with a tunnel. It was a dream come true but it was not long before I wanted to expand and the pre-formed one had to go because there was just not enough real estate. It was not long before I was building a layout. Between what I learned at woodshop at the boy's club and what I figured out on my own I was able to build and wire the layout. Pretty much my entire foundation of electricity came from fooling around with model trains. I was completely self taught and able to transfer what I learned to all things electric. I did take formal classes later on in life but nothing taught me more than model trains.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Little about Mom


My mom, Phyllis Antoinette Falkowski Gears, was the most incredible woman, I'm sure a lot of people say the same. Born in January 14, 1940, she was only 57 when she passed on September 1, 1997. She was way too young. I have missed her very single day since. She attended St. Hedwigs for primary school and St. Elizabeth for high school. She graduated in 1957, she used to tell me stories about the great school dances at St. E's. She said Bill Hailey and the Comets used to play there sometimes. She said she had a scarf or handkerchief from Hailey for many years.

The fact that she was my mother was pretty incredible. When she was 18 she contracted polio and was treated at the Pellport Hospital where she recovered. She married my dad in 1960 and they tried to start a family but my mom was not able to carry a baby. For the next few years she became pregnant five times and had lost all five babies. On December 4, 1962 she prematurely gave birth to a daughter, Kelly Ann Gears, who only lived for a few hours. My parents continued to try to have a child but after the 5th time my mother was told that further attempts would only put her life in danger.

In 1966 they adopted me through Catholic Social Services. I was born on June 29th and they picked me up about 3 months later. My birth mother was a 17 year-old girl named Kathryn Hall of New Castle, Delaware. She was sent away to St. Vincent's Home for Unwed Mothers on 59th and Woodland Ave in Philadelphia where I was born. I have always thought it was interesting that I was adopted back to the Wilmington area. 

My bother Christopher Kevin Gears was adopted in 1969 and we were both raised with the knowledge of being adopted. We both always knew, there was never a big moment when we became aware of being adopted. 

My mom was the kindest and most loving woman. She was honest and dedicated to her family. We were never once treated any different than a child born to her naturally. 

She worked with her brother, my Uncle Tony Falkowski, for many years. he operated a furniture restoration business called Old Wooden Furniture, in Wilmington. They stripped, sanded, repaired, and refinished antique wooden furniture like nobody else in Wilmington. They did some big amazing jobs like the organ for Longwood Gardens and the boardroom furniture for the Dupont Company. They also did a lot of high-end antique furniture for the who's who of Delaware and nearby Pennsylvania. My mom did a lot of the furniture stripping and my Uncle Tony and another guy did the repair and finishing.

On August 23, 1983 while working on stripping paint at my Uncle Tony's house a spark from an electrical outlet ignited the stripper and caught my mom on fire. She was burned badly and was in the hospital for a month or so. While in the hospital I had to run the house on my own. I applied for welfare and food stamps, she still had to sign the papers but I did all of the footwork, and did the shopping and got my brother and I started for the new school year. She recovered and eventually got out of the furniture stopping job and started a clerical job at Rollins Truck Leasing.

My mom loved her siblings. They were always very close and I spent countless holidays visiting with everyone, usually at my grandparents house. I often remember Sunday mornings after church at St. Hedwigs being spent there with the smell of kielbasa cooking and the Polish music radio show playing on the AM radio show on WDEL.

After my parents divorced my mom dated on guy named Jimmy who was a bum. She met him at Parents without Partners. I didn't like one thing about him. He didn't last long and I was glad to see him go. After Jimmy was gone she met a guy named Willard Spencer, or simple Will. Will was a great man, I learned a lot from him and he encouraged me on all fronts. Will was also divorced and Will would come over and visit mom every day and went home to his house on weeknights. On weekends he would often sleep over. By this time I was a teenager and out of the house so much I never even noticed.

Will worked at the Newport Chemical Plant, Dupont at the time but would become Ciba-Geigy. He was my "in" to get a job that launched my into adulthood. Mom was very independent and didn't want to get married again after my dad. She dated Will until she died but they never moved in together and never married. Will always took really good care of her. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Miss Marsha Traveled

When you entered 4th grade at St. Hedwigs school you started to change classes. They called it being departmental. One of the teachers was Miss Marsha, I don't actually remember what she taught but she was young and worldly and told us about traveling around the world. We called he Miss Marsha because she told us her last name was too hard to pronounce. Now remember we're talking about a Polish school with lots of people with names that contained four consonants in a row with lots of difficult sounds. I wonder now, what was her last name? One time she brought in her passport and we all got to look it over. I remember seeing the stamps from various countries and my imagination wandered. I was already a little obsessed with trains and wanting to travel. The thought of faraway places and getting stamps in the little blue book was so fascinating. I knew I wanted a passport and to travel like Miss Marsha.

The Great Elsmere Bulldozer Rampage

North Dupont Road is generally a quiet place. The small town of Elsmere does not make the national news often, but it did in 1961. Former El...