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I remember some things about Pa too. These are my impressions of what happened in the time passed and no doubt suffer in accuracy. It is better to call these remembrances.
Pa was an electrician (industrial) and a machinist whose job was erecting giant generators, motors etc. at Allis Chalmers in West Allis. As years went on he “went on the road”. It meant more money and adventure, I suppose. He’d never admit it that, I’m sure. He erected generators in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Columbus, S.C., Niagara Falls, Sacramento, California, Indiana Harbor, Indiana in the Fox River Valley and I don’t know where else. Being the silent type, he’d have short answer to questions like “what was it like in California”? He’d say “well lots of trees and rocks, water and mountains”. Period. Because of the travel, he was away for a long as a month at a time and Ma had to carry on. She never said too much about how she managed but it must have been rough at times, especially with little kids around.
Pa was one of the first in the neighborhood to get the car bug. His first car was a tan second-hand Overland four-banger, 1918 vintage. It was a touring car, which meant putting up side curtains when it rained or got too breezy. These curtains were stored under the back seat, so when on the road and rain threatened everybody had to pile out and help put in a rod in each door and slip on the curtain and snap the fasteners. If the isinglass was cracked or broken, too bad. Whoever was nearby got the draft and/or wet.
Whenever on the road and Pa was driving, the car was quiet. That is, we kids were. There was so much wind and noise, talk was useless anyhow.
Ma called the car a “rudera”. What that is I don’t know. Probably a junker. Many people called their cars “the machine” or “the auto”. Finally it was just “car”.
The car had 34 or 36 inch tires and carried 70 pounds pressure. These were mounted on rims fastened with lugs on the wheels. Since tires and tubes were not what they are today, they went flat with regularity. To keep going, Pa had spare tubes and tires always ready. When [there was a] flat, it meant he’d have to remove the tire and rim unclench this rim, patch the tube reinsert it and pump up by hand to 70 pounds. He had a double action pump which was somewhat efficient. He pulled on the handle and the small tube would work and on the down stroke the big tube would operate. It was real work especially when it had to be done six or seven times between here and Green Bay.
That Overland had a big engine and Pa kept it in tune [once] each year, as most owners did. The fan belt was flat and after starting the ignition ran off a magneto exactly like the one in the garage [at 8447]. Pa was proud of the way his car ran.
Once, however he was out on his periodic tours of auto showrooms. We had stopped at a Willy’s dealer’s down town to view the new Whippet which had just come out. It was too small for Pa even with its tilting steering wheel so we left. On the way home there was a swishing noise up front which Pa wondered about but dismissed as a noise. When he checked things out at home he found there was no oil in the crankcase. Well, he tore the whole engine down and had the block rebored at a machine shop on Weil & Concordia [Streets]. The building is still there on the southeast corner. New pistons pins and bearings were fitted and the crankshaft reground. All this cost about $45 and raised all kind of cain when Ma heard about it. But Pa stood up under it and rebuilt the engine with my help. I handed him wrenches and things. I learned sizes and types the hard way. When he said “3/8” open end” his hand was out and ready. If I handed him a 1/2” you’d think my salvation depended on that 1/8” difference. It would would have been real hell had I handed him a monkey wrench. But I learned, the car got fixed, and Ma enjoyed riding again.
Soon after, Pa traded the car for an open, 7 passenger, 6 cylinder, 1923 Hudson. That was traded for a 1925 “closed” Hudson with only five seats. How we all fit in, I don’t know. I learned to drive in that old 1923 Hudson and got my license while I was in high school. No driver’s test, just 25 cents and a filled-in application blank at the [Milwaukee] Journal Building on State Street.
Lots of trips were made in that old black bus. Mostly on Sundays we went riding to Holy Hill or Port Washington or to visit farmer friends. But I remember we once visited Uncle Marcel and Aunt Anna in Laona, a long trip that needed preparing for — in detail. Pa spent weeks tinkering with that Hudson. He checked the brakes, greased everything, changed the oil in the engine transmission and differential. He regapped the plugs, set the timing and cleaned points, and made sure the battery and radiator were filled. Most of all he saw to it that he had half a machine shop in the trunk, hanging on the rear in case repairs were needed enroute. There were few gas stations around in those days and even gas was hard to find. Then too, he had 4 spare tires and 7 tubes with a patching kit, and 2 spare axles. And lucky he did because we had four flats before we hit Green Bay and another three by the time we reached Uncle’s place.
I remember two things about that trip. First, we were on a road being constructed. The road bed had been plowed and leveled but not surfaced and it was raining. It was my job to sit in the front seat between Ma & Pa (ordinarily a place of high honor) and work the manual crank on the windshield wiper. The car slipped and slid sideways in the mud and Ma was saying her rosary. Tension was high and the car really quiet. All spoke in whispers as Pa in deadly earnest took us through with not even a stall. The other event was that great feeling of speed that Pa brought on by going 72 miles per hour on a gravel road. Dust flew behind us in a tremendous cloud. The side curtains billowed out and Ma was having fits. Pa finally cooled it but it took some time before Ma talked to him. That was the highlight of the trip for me. The rest was anticlimactic.
To this day I remember the open road and the “north woods” which began just north of Pulaski. The winding and twisting thru trees and brush with an occasional farm house. As I travel old 32 today I can see parts of the old road curves to the side of the new wide concrete and asphalt highway.
Pulaski was a stop enroute. Here was the Franciscan Monastery and church where one of Ma’s friends was a Brother (Zakezewski), In Pulaski Pa got gas and checked the car while Ma brought out the lunch. She too had prepared for this trip with a big basket of goodies. There were sandwiches full of sausage and meat and bananas, oranges and apples and endless cookies . We bought milk from a grocery store up the block. That store was smallish and I recall it was not at ground level but higher up and reached by about six steps and a porch. Today that store would be quaint; then it was like most of the stores I knew at home.
When Ma packed that lunch she did all kinds of shopping. She was anxious about all kinds of things. I know now that she knew what she was about. There were no hamburger joints or stores around except restaurants in towns, and since we left at midnight, none of these were open as we burned through the towns. So had she not packed a big lunch we’d all be hungry and when you leave at midnight and arrive somewhere at 9:30 hunger is something to be reckoned with. One last thing. When the car was loaded up Ma & Pa went through a kind of check list and the last item mentioned was a hushed “Got the black one”? Years later I found out this meant a .32 revolver — loaded. There must have been something on the open road besides trees and shrubs. Whatever or whoever was out there never appeared and lucky for it. Pa was ready as always. Oddly enough I don’t remember the trip home.
In the “old days” before permanent anti-freeze, plowed roads and salting and garages, most car owners did their own repairing. It was usually in winter time that work was done.
When cold weather really set in, most drivers put their cars in the garage on blocks to wait spring. Until snow piled up some ventured out, but then engines were blanketed like horses to prevent freezing. Another trick was to frequently go out in the freeze and warm up the motor. However once the heavy weather set in most traffic disappeared from the road and highways. Farmers of course moved with horses and sleds.
Pa decided that the Overland needed work, so after the last run he blocked up the car, took the battery into the basement and drained the radiator. Then in that frigid tin garage he began to pull out the engine for removal to the basement. He beefed up the roof braces, installed a swatch [?] block and lifted that smelly greasy engine out and onto a skid of sorts. He dragged that mess, by himself, to the basement steps and horsed it down and set it up on blocks near his work bench. Most of the winter he diddled and tinkered pulled out parts, cleaned and reinstalled them. This entailed using kerosene for cleaning parts. The stink was awful and filled the basement and seeped upstairs too. Ma was furious. Her laundry was in another part of the basement and the stench of kerosene, gasoline and old grease when added to coal smoke from the boiler and dust of wood and coal put her into a sullen snit. She stood it all the while down to nearly the end.
By this time Pa’s work was almost finished. The engine was all clean and bright there on the blocks. Oil was in the pan and the battery connected to the starter. For fuel Pa had connected the gasoline to the house gas and the exhaust (no muffler) to a hose and into the boiler ash pit. He double checked the set up and then he fired her. The engine roared and barked then ran sweet and smooth but with a loud snarl that shook the house. Pa beamed and horsed a few more revs out of that motor then cut it back then up again. He became aware of Ma screaming at the top of her lungs and the basement steps. Ma was afraid to come down but Pa knew the test was over. When you could hear Ma above a roaring engine you had to suspect she was mad - damn mad. So as not to surrender too weakly, Pa diddled a bit with the carburetor then shut her down, satisfied with his winter’s work.
Come spring, and again Pa, by himself, pulled that engine up the cellar steps and over to the garage. There he lashed it up and shoehorned it into the car. I was helping him. He would mutter under his breath now and then — Pa didn’t cuss with the kids around — and finally the engine hung just right in the blocks and he began with the nuts and bolts. It was bitter cold in that tin garage and the metal was icy cold as were the tools. While he was under the car he’d holler for a wrench. I’d hand him one - the wrong one and he’d slide out in rage and grab the right one plus a few more and slide under again. He never slugged me, just talked to himself. The only heat in the garage was the lamp I held. I was so cold I could barely move and Pa was working with bare hands. Eventually Ma had raised hell with Pa for keeping me out so late and in the cold. He looked surprised. I’m sure he never noticed how cold it was or how frozen I was. I wasn’t embarrassed to leave him and grateful to get into the house and warmth again. It took me a week to thaw out. When the car was on the road and running sweet, Pa always told everybody we did it and I felt good.