Double 8

Philadelphia, PA    1973-1975

Before I begin this story I have to tell you something about my father. I said this about him in his eulogy. With my dad, anything worth doing was worth overdoing. Now, that didn’t apply to anything negative like booze or drugs or anything. My pop was a pretty straight shooter but what I meant by that statement was, he went big on anything he liked.

I mean, BIG.

I’ll give you an example. I think this was back in the ’90s. When my older sister’s son was little he spent a lot of time with his grandpop. (My father) He loved playing with toy trains with my dad, and of course, my father was a huge toy train collector. He had tons of toy trains. Lionel trains were his favorite.

He set up a little ring of track on the floor in a corner of the attic. This way they could go up there and run the trains and watch them go round and round. I’m sure this delighted my nephew. But when I saw it I said to my father, “Isn’t this just the beginning, dad?”

“What do you mean?”

“This is how it starts.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Aren’t you going to start building this little ring of track out bigger and bigger until it’s gigantic?”

“No. It’s for the boy.”

I even joked that he’d build a train layout so large that it would run the entire length of the attic. It would be an enormous museum-quality setup, with multiple lines and trains running on it, villages, buildings, cars, people, and whatever else he could turn it into.

 

Cut to a year or so later, and he did just that. It was the biggest train layout I’d ever seen. A giant wooden platform was constructed three feet off the floor. Multiple trains running on several different tracks. Lights, switches, several transformers to run it, whole villages and towns built throughout. It was absolutely brilliant.

If you went into someone’s house and went up in their attic and saw something like this, you’d say, “Who the hell built all of this?”

So, you get the picture. He liked to take something and go big with it. It was massive and beautiful. My father loved it. He once said, “My toy train layout. It’s the only world I can truly control.”

LAWNDALE

Let’s jump back to Christmas, 1972. We were celebrating the holidays just like always and it was great. We all got plenty of toys and everybody was happy. It was probably the happiest day of the year in my house growing up.

My dad knew a younger couple he was friends with that he knew from the bank where he worked. They were cool people and we all liked them. They were around a lot and were interesting, fun people.

They gave the family a present that year. Or, maybe it was for me. Maybe they gave something to each of my sisters but I didn’t notice. Because the present they gave was a little racing set.

Aurora made plastic models and HO slot car race tracks.

No one I ever knew in the 60s and 70s dressed like this in real life to play. (And who are those little guys driving the cars?)

I knew the name Aurora because I liked building little models when I was a kid. Aurora and Monogram made the best models, but Aurora had this line of slot cars and racing sets they manufactured. This was a fantastic toy.

In the box is enough track to make the double eight configuration, two controllers, and two cars. One was a little red Mustang that was okay, and an old tan Lincoln that looked like it was modeled after a car from the 40s. I liked the idea of a racing set and playing with little cars but these two they gave you in the set were kind of lame. But… it was so you would go out and buy more of the cooler cars they made.

Weekend Mornings with Slot Cars: Throwback Thursday

That’s a yellow late 60s Corvette. They didn’t give you that car. I can’t even find a picture on google of the old Lincoln the set came with. (I love how it says: The Double 8 is the most exciting road racing set in the WORLD!)

Here’s what the controllers looked like. You turned the wheel to the right to accelerate and left to slow down. There was a little switch on the right to change directions, and a brak button on the left which killed power to the car and it would stop short. It was so intense sometimes the little steering wheels would end up breaking from the sheer pressure of the hands upon them. Thrilling racing action! (lol)

In our basement, we had a pool table. We also had two boards that made a ping pong table you could place on top of it. So my dad set up the small race track on the ping pong table. He wired it all up and it was cool to race the little cars around the track. But my dad being the man he was, got interested in this little pastime. Not just for us kids, but for the adults.

He went out to the local Kiddie City and hobby shops in the area and started researching how he could expand the layout.

I don’t know how long it took, but probably only a few months into the Spring of 1973, and the little racing set was rapidly becoming larger.

I liked it because I could have some of the boys in the neighborhood over and we would play for hours down in that basement with the racing set. The raceway kept getting bigger and better.

From that one little gift, my dad turned it into an incredibly fun racing track. At one point he made a layout that was four lanes wide, with four controllers, and electric lap counters. He and my mom would be down there entertaining their friends, having drinks, and having these epic auto races while we kids were asleep in bed. I’m talking 100 lap marathon races that went on for a long time. Some people would be racing cars and others would act as spotters if a car fell off the track during the race. It was like Indianapolis down there.

My dad and his friend were famous for whipping out a “secret car” that no one had seen before just to make the racing more thrilling!

Dad even went out and bought a record album that was just the soundtrack from different real races around the world. Like Grand Prix and Le Mans! This way when they were racing the sounds in the background made it seem even more real. It was great!

Check this out!

Then the cars started. The Batmobile. The Green Hornet’s car (Black Beauty) A few Corvettes, Ferraris, Cheatahs, etc. In no time we had over 40 cars. All different colors, and even fleets of all the same model. (Like real racing teams!) I feel like at one point we had at least one of every car that Aurora made for slot car racing.

Yep, dad always went big and it was glorious.

Everybody had their favorite car, and mine was a white Mako Shark. I loved it because it looked like a Corvette Stingray and that was my favorite car in real life back then.

Boxed 1960s White Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark Aurora Slot Car - TPNC

My dad was always bringing home new cars and cool accessories for the layout. The coolest thing ever was something called a Hop-Up Kit.

Inside this little box was equal to finding the Ark of the Covenant to me and the boys. For under a dollar you could soup up your car to make it not only faster, but handle better on the track.

Better pick up shoes and brushes to generate better power current into the motor, Bigger crown gears to make the wheels turn more revolutions per minute, fatter tires, bigger rims, and cool decals to dress up your cars. This little box of goodies changed the whole game. We had a few of these on hand at all times. My friend RJ and I would soup up our cars and beat everybody else’s cars.

I never bought any of this stuff. My dad just kept finding more cars, curves, controllers kept bringing them home. It was a toy that kept on giving and kept all of our friends entertained for hours. (My sisters and their friends too!)

Here’s my friends RJ McMeans and Wayne Kachelries going head to head, while my middle sister and I keep our eyes peeled in case a car goes flying off the track. (Look at that 8-foot straightaway!!!)

That curve you see closest to the camera is called a Daytona Curve. It was banked so you could go around it faster without crashing. We later added a Monza curb beside it. This was an amazing racing layout!

I’ll never forget all of the hours of fun we spent as kids in that basement at 312 Magee St. It was nice and cool down there and just a fun rec room for us growing up.

Later as teenagers, we’d play ping pong and shoot pool down there while listening to all of our records on my dad’s stereo. (The GOOD stereo!)

Even now, at almost 60 years old, I’d still love to play with a racing set like this!

I think a lot of people would agree with me.

Way better than video games!

Final Note: My youngest sister read this article and sent me the following photo. Apparently she saved 3 of her little slot cars all of this time and still has them! Amazing!!!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Base Camp

This was the only photo I could find online of what our little tents looked like, but you get the idea.

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

One of the things we used to like to do was to make tents in our backyard. This was accomplished by finding some large sheets and old blankets.

Back then many people had a washer in their basement but not a dryer. My mom would hang our clothes to dry on lines strung across the front of the basement, and in nicer weather, she’d hang them on the line in the backyard.

The clotheslines were always up in the backyard in the warmer months. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of fabricating our little tent out there. We located a few old raggedy sheets and blankets and went to work. We hung the edge of one sheet to the clothesline and clipped it in place with clothespins. Then we did the same thing on the other side with another sheet. Now with both securely fastened to the overhead line, we spread them out and drove broken wooden clothespins into the corners on the sheets into the ground. Once tacked down securely we had ourselves a tent. We spread a couple of blankets on the grass on the tent floor, and we were good to go.

Like the forts, we used to build back the tracks and in the woods nearby, I think we just liked having our little places to hideaway. Kids like getting into little shelters and dens. I think it’s almost instinctual for humans to find and build shelters.

I brought out a transistor radio and we were all set. We just hung out in there, listening to the radio and smoking cigarettes.

My friend Michael and I asked our moms if we could sleep out there all night. The yard was fenced in, but anybody could come along and open it at any time. But the idea of sleeping outside all night intrigued us.

When you’re a kid you always have guidelines put forth by your parents regarding the clock. You always had to be home at a certain time for dinner, and if you were out at night you had to be in by the time the streetlights came on.

But this was an opportunity to not go inside that night. We would be free when the whole neighborhood was inside their homes asleep in bed. We’d be outside all night and didn’t have to go to bed if we didn’t want to. We could stay up all night if we wanted to.

Everybody enjoyed listening to the radio back then. Especially the two rock stations in Philly. WYSP 94 and WMMR 93.3. FM was king and other than having an older sibling it was the only way we found new music back then. I think anyone from that era can attest to the fact that they found their favorite bands and songs on FM radio on one of the aforementioned radio stations.

But kids and teens mostly listen to the radio during the day. What sort of music was played on those stations late at night? Well, whatever the overnight DJ wanted to play. So we discovered some new music that night but one struck us a little harder than any of the others.

The late-night DJ had said they were going to play an entire album by a band called Pink Floyd. We had only heard the song, “Money” on the radio. We didn’t know much else about the band. But now we were going to hear the whole Dark Side of the Moon album at midnight.

It was really quiet at night being outside, and frankly, it was a little spooky. Just the sound of crickets chirping and the occasional bark from some lonesome canine in the distance.

The DJ started the record at midnight and we were amped to hear some Floyd. If you’ve ever heard that record, and I’m assuming you have, it starts very quietly. So we turned up the radio to hear the song a bit better. It starts to build and build until it’s that rotating metallic sound and then that scream happens.

Well, that completely caught us off guard and terrified us. We were already spooked by the general vibe of the night and our imaginations were running a bit wild. But then the song settles down into the song, “Breathe” and we chilled out. It turned out to be an amazing experience even though neither of us had ever smoked marijuana and wouldn’t even try it for another year or so.

We were out there for hours through the night and really couldn’t and didn’t want to fall asleep. It was just fun to be up and doing what we wanted with zero parents or rules.

But then we heard some strange noises coming from the east. It sounded like something crunching or being broken, and it appeared to be coming from somewhere up the block from us. Then we heard some voices. We put our sneakers on and went to investigate. By now it was around 4 am.

We quietly exited the tent and opened the gate. We crept down the driveway and out to the street. It was eerie to be standing out on the sidewalk in front of my house at this hour. The whole neighborhood was as quiet as a morgue.

We heard the noise again and started to walk up the block towards Oakley Street. By the time we got up there, we saw the fire department had arrived and it looked like the Zerbach’s garage was on fire. They were putting it out and I wondered why I never heard any sirens. But I figured they addressed the problem and didn’t want to wake the whole neighborhood.

The authorities were really surprised to see a couple of boys out there at that hour of the night. We told them we had been sleeping in a tent out in my backyard, heard the commotion, and came to check it out. We told the firemen what we had heard but I don’t think we were much help. (When I think about this now, I’m glad we weren’t blamed for whatever happened!)

We eventually went back to our tent and laid down inside, talking about the events of the night. We never found out what or who caused the fire but it was the topic of conversation around the neighborhood for about a week after that.

I don’t think we ever slept the entire night. Mike went home at daybreak and I went into my house too. (My mom left the backdoor unlocked in case we bailed during the night and I wanted to come in.)

My mother was awake and in the kitchen. I told her what had happened and she asked me if I wanted to go up to my room and sleep. That was exactly what I wanted to do because I was exhausted from staying up all night.

We pitched a few more tents like that through the Spring and even made one in Mike’s neighbor’s yard one night. (We couldn’t do it in his yard because they had a big above ground pool) His neighbor Mr. Hersch was nice enough to let us camp in his yard for the night.

I went to Wildwood for the Summer and we didn’t make any more tents in the yard anymore after that, but I’m glad we had the experience.

Just stuff you do as a kid that’s all part of experiencing life.

 

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Brussel Sprouts

Philadelphia, PA – the Late 60s

When I was a kid I was a picky eater. I liked certain things but most of the stuff my mom served at dinner I didn’t find appetizing. My mom hated to cook but made my sisters and me three square meals a day for over 20 years.

She used to say, “I’d rather clean endless dirty dishes rather than have to cook.” But she always made sure we had a hot balanced meal every single night for dinner.

I liked breakfast and lunch as a kid. What kid wouldn’t like to eat Cap’n Crunch, toast, bacon, and orange juice every morning? I think that’s why to this day, breakfast is my absolute favorite meal of the day. Everything else is to simply quell the pangs of hunger in my stomach for the rest of the day.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I didn’t ever get this empty feeling in my stomach every few hours I’d never work.”

Someone once said to me, “I live to eat, but it seems like you just eat to live.” She was right. I love my daily breakfast, but other than that, food to me is simply fuel. It’s just something I have to get out of the way to continue my day. It almost feels like an interruption.

I have an acute sense of smell and taste and can enjoy the taste of many foods, but I only require a simple boring diet. If I could just take a pill and be full, I’d be fine. I think there’s too much focus on food in our culture anyway. All those endless dumb pictures on social media of what everybody is out drinking and eating. We get it. You like to go to restaurants and have somebody cook for you. You do it all the time. You probably have a lot of revolving debt.

Check it out:

10 world hunger facts you need to know

Anyway, the one food I hated as a kid was Brussel sprouts. Now, as I said my mom hated to cook. her role as wife, mother, cleaning lady and the overall servant was placed upon her when she married my dad. If you hate doing something, you’re never going to be any good at it. That’s a simple fact of life. People are good at things they like, right?

My mother had a few favorite dishes. She loved sweet potatoes, lima beans and I suppose Brussel sprouts.

I hated Brussel sprouts. That gross sauce on them. The leaves on the outer portion of the sprout, and the hard yellow interior. All gross to me. And the taste? Ecch!

So on one particular evening, I just couldn’t eat any more of these awful things. So I came up with a plan. I would create a distraction at the table, do a quick sleight of hand, and get one of those Brussell sprouts off my plate, into a napkin, and my pocket.

I got at least 4 off my plate without being caught that evening. I thought this was a great plan and would attempt to pull this move every time they were served from now on.

But like many of my plans back then, I was good at closing the sale, but not maintaining the account after I closed the deal. Where I usually failed was in the aftermath of the deed. There was no follow-up. I’ve pocketed the sprouts, got them in my pocket, had my dessert, and was away from the table.

What I should have done is go upstairs and flush them down the toilet to destroy the evidence. But for some stupid reason, I just shoved the napkins into some plastic cups I had in my room and forgot about them.

This poor follow-up had already failed during one of my other heists. So, a day or so later when my mom was collecting laundry or stripping the bedsheets she must have noticed the wadded-up napkins in the 7-Eleven Superhero cups in my room. She discovered my Brussel sprouts crime and thwarted my plan for any future campaigns.

I didn’t get in trouble for the act. I think my parents and sisters found it funny. My middle sister still laughs about it today.

But, to be honest, I’ve had Brussel sprouts prepared well in a fine restaurant as an adult, and you know what? They’re pretty good! I’ve also begun buying bags of frozen petite Brussel sprouts and I sautee them in a pan with some seasoning. They’re a wonderful, chewy, satisfying vegetable full of nutrients.

Let the master describe my feels towards some foods as a kid. Enjoy!

 

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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Home for Christmas

I’m going to begin this piece with a few funny bits I remember from a couple of late-night TV hosts.

“I was driving through LA the other day and I saw an adult book store with a sign on the door. The sign read: Open all day, Christmas day.

“Does anybody ever wake up Christmas morning and say to themselves, ‘I’d love to look at some filthy magazines today. I wonder if anything’s open?” – Jay Leno

“Remember when you first got your Christmas tree home? Don’t put the screws on the stand into the tree too tight. Put a little sugar in the water, and keep it hydrated. Then… the day after Christmas… “Get that fire trap outta here!” – Jay Leno

Okay, last one.

“What does Christmas look like at my house? I’ll tell ya. I get up really early, I get really drunk, knock the tree over, and start a small electrical fire.” – David Letterman

I love those bits!

 

Philadelphia, PA – 1930s

The Christmas season was always a magical time growing up in our house. When my father was a kid he loved Christmas and this carried on throughout his life. He was the architect of the best Christmases any kid could imagine.

But when he was a kid I suspect his Christmases weren’t all that bright. His father was sort of disconnected from his family. Although an honorable man of principles, he was more interested in his work and hanging at the bar with his buddies. Not a drunk, but enjoyed drinking and adult fun instead of spending time with his wife and two sons.

At Christmas, he would hand his wife money and tell her to get the boys whatever they wanted. Not a lot of money, but enough to get maybe a couple of sets of toy trains and some other various trinkets. he just wasn’t that into family or Christmas.

His son on the other hand who would eventually become a father to me and my three sisters was determined to change all of that.

Philadelphia, PA – 1950s

My parents were married for 5 years before any of the kids appeared in their lives. They made a big deal about Christmas. (There is even a home movie somewhere that he shot of them preparing and celebrating Christmas together. We should probably have those videos converted to digital files so they can live online forever.) I remember in this one home movie he shot it was my mom pulling boxes of decorations and goodies out from under a bed.  He edited it so it looked like she was pulling an endless amount of stuff from under the bed. I liked how he didn’t simply document the Christmas season he made a fun little movie about it with his wife.

Philadelphia, PA – 1960s-Present

One of my earliest memories of Christmas was my sisters and I as little kids standing at the top of the steps in our pajamas. My mom would give the signal and we’d all slowly descend the steps carrying our stockings. What you couldn’t see was my father filming the whole thing in 8mm. He had a rack of really bright lights set up so he could get a quality shot. (All of the cameras and film were low lux back then)

Here we all come down the stairs squinting because the lights were so incredibly light. It was like something out of the film Close Encounters! We’d walk across the living room and try in earnest to get up on our tiptoes to hang our stockings over the fireplace on the mantle. We’d all smile and wave still squinting like mad. My mother would be holding my youngest sister in her arms and hang her little stocking for her.

This went on for years. My dad loved to document all the holidays with his trusty movie camera. I don’t think any of the other kids in the neighborhood have the massive catalog of films that my family has about family events.

(That’s me in 1966)

One of the main components of the Christmas season was putting the toy trains up. My father had a wooden platform in the basement with tracks nailed to it. He would gather some old orange crates out of the garage and set them up in the corner of the living room. The platform would sit upon it and then the Christmas tree would be placed on it in the corner.

Then he’d bring up a couple of his model trains and we’d play with them and run them around the platform. He had little houses, cars, and people to complete the village. It was great because you only got to play with these specific toys the month before Christmas. So it was a cool pre-holiday treat. My sisters and I would run the trains and play for hours with these little people in their town in the days leading up to the big day.

Christmas carols and holiday music would play throughout the house, relatives would visit and usually, my grandmom would come and stay for the week leading up to Christmas. They would give her my room and I’d sleep on a cot in my sister’s room. This was fine because this way the kids were all together as Christmas approached and we could all talk about it. What we had on our lists, stuff we hoped we’d get, and just vibe with the season.

My mother would bake these glorious butter cookies from a recipe she found in a magazine. To this day they are my favorite cookies on earth. Thankfully my middle sister has been able to replicate that recipe and make cookies that look and taste exactly like mom used to make. I love them. each year she gives me a Tupperware container full of them and it takes me three months to slowly consume them all.

I remember as we got a little older we’d help my mom make the cookies. I think my older sister would help my mother mix the batter, my middle sister would roll them out, I would cut them into shapes and my baby sister would decorate them with sprinkles. I know my youngest sister is going to read this but I’m going to say it anyway. Once when she was maybe 2 years old I remember her standing on the chair at the end of the table and decorating the cookies and she suddenly sneezed.

“Good job! You just decorated the cookies!”

“Ewww!”

Poor kid. She was just a baby and didn’t even know what she did! That story still circulates the table at annual holiday gatherings.

As usual, I was a disaster in school. So my dad had taken it upon himself to sort of home school me during the early 70s. I still went to school, but he would give me books and make me read them and then test me on the subjects. It was torture for me back then, but I learned so much about so many aspects of the world that many of my peers don’t know even to this day. He even would assign me poetry to memorize and recite to him after I’d learn it. You’d think verse would be a little easier for me to memorize word for word but try to read, and understand, The Tyger by William Blake!

One Christmas one of his assignments was for me to read and memorize “A Vist from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, and I did it! I memorized the whole thing and recited it word for word for him. Even though this felt like some sort of extended punishment from my everyday life, it wasn’t. He was exposing me to great literary works and building the neurons in my brain for better recall. He knew I had a good mind, he just didn’t want me to waste it.

Anyway, Christmas was always a magical time in our home each year. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. My middle sister and I would conspire to figure out ways to sneak downstairs early Christmas morning with a flashlight and take a look at what Santa had left for us. This was always met with inquiries from my other sister, “Well, what did you see down there?”

My father and sisters and I would trim the tree and my mom would sit in her chair and direct us as to where each ornament should go. My grandmom would be there giggling and sipping eggnog.

When some of us were old enough to realize the truth about Santa Claus we took it upon themselves to do something my father referred to as “rooting”. This was when one of the kids would look under the pool table or in a closet for potential future Christmas presents. My dad quickly caught on to this practice and make sure everything was gift-wrapped immediately upon acquisition of the gift.

Once he even stuck a little postcard between the door of a closet and the molding near the upper hinge of the door. If anyone opened the door, the card would fall and he would know some little elf was “rooting”. So he would simply move the presents to another secret location.

Watching all the great Christmas shows on TV only added to the excitement of the season. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is coming to town were all wonderful, just to name a few!

Christmas morning would finally arrive and we’d all head downstairs to see the bounty of gifts that old St. Nick had dropped off. Each child had a designated area for their presents around the living room. Each kid went to their spot and started to rip into the wrapping paper. My parents would sit back, sip their coffee, and just smile.

You had to take a break after the main presents and stop and eat breakfast before ripping into your stocking. There were more goodies in each one of those! Sometimes something wonderful, like a watch or a piece of jewelry for the girls.

What set my parents apart from many families is, they shopped for Christmas all year round. So they never had to stress about the hustle and bustle associated with any last-minute shopping issues. They were done and wrapped months before Christmas day ever arrived. They were so organized and such great planners.

Thanks to my mom and dad every Christmas was unique and incredible in its own right. There were always some special gifts that you really wanted and some unexpected delights that appeared each year. This family tradition continued on into our twenties down the shore in Wildwood, NJ when we moved there in 1979.

Christmas was bigger and better than ever. He had not one but two completely decorated trees in the house. One downstairs in the dining room and the other one upstairs in the front window of the house. The trees always had to be Fraser firs because they were the bushiest and smelliest trees money could buy. (No dropped needles on the floor!)

My father would have mini lights running along the ceiling down the hallway just to keep the Christmas vibe going throughout the house.

It would be a couple of days before Christmas and he’d suddenly make this statement each year. “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve… of Christmas Eve.”

This became part of our mythology through the years and someone would always say, about a week before Christmas… “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve of Christmas Eve!”

Yea…we’re a Christmas crazy family.

We would exchange gifts between the kids and my parents on Christmas eve. I don’t remember when this started, but it added to the holiday energy because you got that extra night of opening presents even before the main Christmas day event! We would stack them on a card table in the living room and sometimes one of the kids would be sniffing around them wondering what was in them.

My mom put up a sign and rested a whiffle ball bat against the table. The sign stated that if you were caught touching the presents on the table you’d get “the bat”. (This was all in fun, but we had that thing there every year)

Even though by then my dad was into his 60s, he’d be sitting on the sofa next to me with his finger under the wrapping paper on one of his gifts. “Is it my turn yet?” he’d exclaim. He loved Christmas so much!

My first sister picked up the torch of the Christmas spirit in the 90s. She still hosts a holiday party every December at her house and it’s wonderful! The food is great and the company is always amazing. I remember going to her house back in the 90s and my parents were still alive and there could be a few uncles and aunts there, and the rest of us. They were the oldest people in the room. The senior members of our tribe. But as time has passed, I looked around the room and saw my daughter and all the nephews and nieces, and now my sisters and I are the old people in the room!

Time slips away so fast.

This is another one of those instances where it’s difficult to put into words what our Christmases were really like. It was more of a feeling.

You just had to be there.

My mother and father have been gone for many years, but Christmas continues to live on in the hearts of my sisters and me. My first sister has continued to have her annual holiday party every year for decades and we are all so grateful for her.

Here we all are now!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Breakfast Cereal – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – 1960s-1970s

Frosted Flakes: These were great. Tony the Tiger as their spokesperson always yelling They’re GRRRReat! Can’t beat him as a pitchman.

Froot Loops: Those colored fruity Cheerios. (They all tasted the same to me)Toucan Sam telling us about how his Nose, Knows that this is a delicious cereal and we should eat it every day.

Apple Jacks: Just another variety of Fruit Loops. But didn’t these have some sort of crystalized dark bits on them or am I thinking of something else? I liked these just the same.

Rice Krispies: Three little chefs named Snap, Crackle, and Pop represent this brand. Remember how if you put your ear to the bowl to listen for that sound? Just little puffs absorbing the milk made that sound. It was more like a hissing sound to me.

Cocoa Krispies: Same thing except with a chocolatey taste added.

Lucky Charms: A sustaining classic. I had these once as a kid and liked them. But I think my dad put the kibosh on this cereal early on. Just more sugary crap! So we didn’t really eat this cereal as a kid. But I would never turn it down if ever offered this as a snack. But here’s the thing. Because the marshmallow stars, moon, hearts, and clovers were large, (The size of m&ms) the dish was very sugary. So if you ate the cereal by itself, it was sure plain and boring. (Like original Cheerios) But who didn’t love the little Leprechaun? Everybody was always trying to steal his Luck Charms to no avail.

Trix: This cereal began as these tiny hollow balls that were different colors like fruit loops. They eventually changed their shape in later years. Maybe the balls became too expensive to make anymore. But How can we forget that screwy rabbit that was always trying to get the cereal away from the kids in the commercial? “Silly Rabbit! Trix are for kids!”

Alpha-Bits: I liked these. A cereal takes on the alphabet soup theme. They tasted just like Honey Comb to me. I used to try to make bad words out of the letters in my cereal bowl. Nothing like starting your day with a nice bowl of Alpha-Bits where you see the word Sh*t floating in there. Kids!

Super Sugar Crisps: These were good but got soggy quickly. Wasn’t the mascot a bear in a striped sweater who acted cool all the time? Did he sing like Bing Crosby or something? Bizarre.

Sugar Smacks: I think this was similar to sugar crisps but were represented by a frog maybe?

Sugar Pops or Corn Pops: This is a good cereal that I like to eat to this day. But aren’t they the same?

Cap’n Crunch: This guy is the CEO of breakfast cereals. I loved these crunchy little squares. They didn’t get soggy, and I could eat bowls of this fine cereal. He was cool, because he had a crew, and there was even a bad pirate in the commercials I think. John La Foote? Lafite? Not sure. But a damn fine cereal and one of my all-time favorites.

King Vitamin: Just when you think they can’t make a cereal that’s better than Cap’n Crunch, they make this cereal. It was exactly the same product as CC, but they were in the shape of little crowns. (They looked more like little gears to me) But, they were crunchier and sweeter than CC. So this became my favorite cereal in the early 70s. I remember the song. “King Vitamin! Have breakfast with the king!”

Franken Berry, Count Chocula, and Boo Berry: Again… flavored Cheerios. Strawberry, Chocolate, and I’m assuming Blueberry. I loved Franken Berry cereal. It was another one of my all-time favorites. I wasn’t a fan of real strawberries but I liked this cereal. I consumed tons of it back in the 70s. One of my favorite things to do was have it as a snack too. My mom would pour it into a bowl and I would eat it dry. But there was a method to my madness. I would first consume all of the cereal and leave all of the tiny marshmallows at the bottom of the bowl. I would then gather them all up in my hands and form them into one big ball with my fingers. It would be a little bigger than a golf ball. I would then proceed to eat it. It was like a ball of candy at the end of your snack. A fitting, sugary dessert to top off your day. I remember the characters referring to the marshmallows in the cereal as “Sweeties” which I thought was weird because it was obvious what they were. They later referred to the sweeties as marshmallows. (Probably got a call from my dad)

I never had Count Cocula, but my friend Wayne used to eat it religiously. He said the only thing was, it turned the milk nearly black at the end and that just seemed gross. Boo Berry? he came late to the game and I never had that one either. Nobody cares about Boo Berry. He’s just a ghost.

Honey Comb: “Come to the Honey Comb hideout. Gonna eat and gonna play. Gonna live in the Honey Comb Hideout! Eatin’ Honey Comb every day!” That was the jingle from the commercial. It would be my dream in life to live in the Honeycomb hideout and eat honeycomb every day, sir. I like this cereal. It was big. Bigger than it probably is now. each bit was bigger than a quarter. It looked like a little beehive and those holes held the milk. Delicious. But that wasn’t the best part of this great cereal.

On the back of each box, they had somehow through the miracle of modern 70s technology managed to press a record on the back of the box. yes, my friends. When you were done eating all of the cereal, you could cut the record off the back of the box and it would actually play on your record player. The first ones were Archie songs but the later ones were by The Monkees! I played the song Mary, Mary by the Monkees so many times once my mother told me if she heard that song one more time she was going to strangle me.

The best part was, I never waited to finish the box of cereal. We would be home from the market and I would convince my mom to dump out the cereal into jars so I could get at that record on the back of the box TODAY!

Thanks for always letting me do that, Mom.

Freakies: This was actually a really tasty cereal. It was O-shaped and sort of tasted like a cross between Cap’n Crunch and Apple Jacks I think. I liked it and in each box, you got a different little Freaky character from the commercial. They were just little plastic figures that were like army men. Boss Moss was green. He was the leader obviously. Grumble was orange and always miserable like Oscar from Sesame Street. I think there was a girl freaky as well. They were cute little creatures and I liked the cereal. I remember we kept getting Grumbles over and over. At one point it was like… “Ahh… another Grumble. (Just pitches him into the trash)

Quisp and Quake: I love this one. I only ate Quisp as a kid. The cereal was shaped like little bowls. (flying saucers) Quisp was a little cartoon alien dude, and Quake was a burly man. In the commercials, they were always trying to prove who was the better cereal. It was a cute marketing campaign. Create a completion between the two brands. But here’s the thing we all knew even as kids. Quisp and Quake tasted exactly the same. They were just different shapes. Who were these clowns fooling? Not us kids!

I remember once they decided to have the two characters compete in a race from Long Island New York to Lompoc California. This was to settle who was the better cereal. I followed this competition very closely on TV commercials and the backs of the cereal boxes. Here’s the thing. Neither of them ever made it or completed the race. Quisp was left on the market and Quake disappeared from store shelves. It was bizarre.

Kix: I think I had this cereal once in the late 70s or early 80s. Just another cereal that tasted like puffed balls of Cap’n Crunch. They really only had a few recipes for cereal back then I guess. Just change the shape and the marketing campaign and you got yourself a brand new cereal. Bu the one thing that really stands out in my mind was the jingle on the commercials. I would be watching TV with my friend, and it would come on.  The little kid would start the song, “Kids like Kix for what Kix has got!” and then the mom would finish the line, “Mom’s like Kix for what Kix has not”. (this meant kids liked the taste, and moms liked that it was low in sugar) But when my vile little friends and I would hear this little diddy we’d always change the lyrics to something dirty. I won’t repeat it here, because Google Adsense will probably suspend the advertising on my site. But you get the idea. See what you can come up with…

Oh’s: My favorite cereal of the 80s. I loved this cereal. I should probably see if they still make it. Again. Cap’n Crunch-shaped O’s with some sort of sugary substance in the hole. Loved these crunchy morsels. Great cereal!

Fruity Pebbles: This is just fruit-flavored rice crispies.

Here are some links to some further reading on this subject:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breakfast_cereals

https://clickamericana.com/topics/food-drink/40-favorite-breakfast-cereals-1967

https://www.metv.com/lists/lost-breakfast-cereals-of-the-1960s-and-1970s

https://delishably.com/breakfast/Breakfast-Cereal-Favorites-of-Yesteryear

The 50 Greatest  Breakfast Cereal Prizes of all time:

https://www.mrbreakfast.com/list.asp?id=6

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 3 – Family Vacation

Wildwood Crest, New Jersey – 1960’s

A few years before my parents owned the summer place in North Wildwood, we stayed at a motel called the Villa Nova in Wildwood Crest. They would take a room each summer for 3 days in June, and 3 more in September. There was a restaurant next door to the motel called The Captain’s Table. To me, that was a cool exotic nautical-themed place. Even though we were only a two-hour drive from our home in Philadelphia, going to the shore was traveling to come exotic locale back then.

The world was a bigger package than our little neighborhood in Lawndale.

Wildwood Mid-Century Modern Motels & Hotels | RoadsideArchitecture.com

Villa Nova Motel, Wildwood Crest, NJ - Booking.com

Wildwood, NJ was an amazing wondrous place. We all loved it. I remember I’d be watching TV as a kid and a commercial would come on for Dorney Park. I’d say to my dad, “That place looks fun, why don’t we ever go there?”

“Because that place is a junkyard, son.” my dad would say. (Back then the place was a dump. Nothing like what it is today.

We’d always go to the beach as a family in the morning. It wasn’t as hot then, and not as crowded. By the time lunchtime rolled around we were back at the motel.

I was never a fan of the beach too much when I was little. Big waves, crabs, and deep water were things I didn’t want any part of.  There is old home movie footage of me as a toddler walking back towards the car because I hated the sand.

I remember once I was working on sandcastles with my dad and the backs of my legs got really sunburned. It really hurt and my mom applied some vaseline to take out the sting and soothe the burn. But the best part was when everybody else went back to the beach or the pool in the afternoon, I got to stay behind in the air-conditioned room to lie on the couch and watch TV. (Which is what I preferred to do anyway.)

I think even back then they had cable TV down there, so there were channels and shows I’d never seen before which I found facinating.

But by the time dusk arrived we were all dressed and ready to go to the boardwalk. It was the mid to late 1960s and we’d actually get dressed up nice to go to the boardwalk. Mom and the sisters in dresses, and dad and I in button-down shirts and slacks. It was a different time, but as a family my parents always dressed us up to go anywhere. “I don’t want you all looking like a bunch of slumgullians,” my mother would say.

Wildwood always had the best boardwalk in New Jersey.

Each summer evening, the American dream was played out along the boardwalk’s more than 70,000 wooden planks. Classic rides and old-fashioned amusements stood toe-to-toe with 20st-century innovation and excitement. Five amusement piers boasted more rides than Disneyland, complete with world-class rollercoasters, beachfront waterparks, family-friendly attractions, and cutting-edge thrill rides. In addition, a seemingly endless array of restaurants and shops offer everything from classic boardwalk fare like funnel cakes and homemade fudge to seafood specials, gourmet pizza, and contemporary casual beach fare.

As I said, back then it was like traveling to an exotic wonderland.

The idea of a boardwalk originated when a railroad conductor, Alexander Boardman, got tired of cleaning beach sand from his trains. He suggested constructing a wooden walkway for seaside strolls. Atlantic City dedicated the first boardwalk in 1870. Thirty years later, the City of Wildwood laid its first boardwalk directly on the sand along Atlantic Avenue, from Oak Avenue to Maple Avenue, just 150 yards long.

The world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk is home to a dazzling display of lights, colors, sounds, and smells that awe the senses and offer an unsurpassed level of excitement and energy. As it has for over 100 years, the boardwalk stands as a living, thriving, pulsating celebration of the American imagination.

Hunt’s Pier was pretty much our go-to stop on the boardwalk. It had the best family-oriented rides, and theme park attractions. I’ve gathered a few pieces here to give you an idea of what they had on that concrete pier back then. They’re at the end of this post. Some great videos!

My dad would go on any ride they had. My sister April was fearless, and my sister Janice would go on any ride my dad was willing to venture upon. My mother and I both don’t like heights, things that can make us dizzy, or move too quickly. But there was something for everyone at Hunt’s Pier. I think that’s what set them apart from the other amusement piers. They had the twirly ‘up in the air rides’, and the like, but also had stuff the kids could go on. (Or the scaredy cats)

They had a little classic wooden rollercoaster, called The Flyer. I remember my mom telling me that the ride only lasted 1 minute long. My father and sister Janice would go on that, and also my dad’s favorite ride, the airships.  They were these cool two-seater little jets that went around and around but then you could go high up in the air as the ride spun. (You can see it in this old ad)

That is a lovely glimpse into the past, right?

As I said, I didn’t like rides like that, but one time my dad kind of forced me to go on it with him. He told me it was a wonderful experience. He loved that ride so much. He knew if I went on it with him I’d love it too. I yielded to his wishes and went on it. “Look at that incredible view of the whole boardwalk” he would say as the ride went higher and higher. I would agree with him how great it was, but my eyes were tightly closed the entire ride, so I couldn’t really describe to you here what it was like at all. I just know I was terrified. There are those of us who are brave enough to venture forth in this life and take risks, and those of us who are hard-wired for self-preservation. The same goes for deep water and food for that matter. I spent most of my days growing up trying not to be nauseous or dizzy.

But I loved the boardwalk and Hunt’s Pier. My favorite was the Pirate Ship. The SKUA was built in 1962 and was amazing. A lot of people didn’t know that it actually was built on a hydraulic system that allowed it to rock back and forth while you were walking through it. It was so cool. You walked through it and there were all of these neat pirate-related things inside of it. Galley, and floor effects that would make skeleton hands pop out of a box in front of you, a mirror maze, and even a tilted room, that was insane. It really felt like you were on a big boat out in the sea. You could even go out on the deck and see the whole pier and boardwalk. Not scary at all. Just a really awesome Disneyland-like experience. Thinking back, my favorite part of that attraction was the dungeon. The song, 15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum, played on a loop in the background. It was really bizarre. It looked like a torture chamber. All animatronic characters that moved. There was this one character in the corner of the room. It was a blonde woman chained to a wall. The only thing she did was breathe. So when she moved you could see her robotic chest heaving through her ripped dress. Strangely erotic, but I was too young to know why I loved her, but I just did. Even as a child I loved the female form.

If a ride wasn’t too wild I would definitely try it. I liked the Whacky Shack and the Keystone Kops. You rode in little cars through them on a track and banged through doors and they had animatronic attractions inside. Based on amusement rides now, it was all very primitive, but we loved it all just the same. Some kids like the wild rides that go fast and high but don’t like rides that had primal scares in them. I had a high tolerance for visually scary rides and always liked horror movies. We all have different fears as children and they all manifest in unique ways.

The Golden Nugget Mine ride was probably the most awesome ride on the pier back then. It was a dark ride, which is sort of an enclosed rollercoaster with cool animatronic attractions inside. It was amazing. Depending on how I was feeling I might go on it.  I loved the southwestern desert, gold prospector theme, but it was a three-story ride that had two hills in it. I liked it because it had so many neat things in it, which were groundbreaking for the time. But that ride wouldn’t come into play until a decade later in my life.

Overall just lovely memories from our childhood. We would sometimes venture down to Sportland Pier and my dad and the girls would go on the Supersonic rollercoaster. Or up to Marine Pier, (Later called: Mariner’s Landing) to ride the Wild Mouse. They were both new German-built steel coasters that would be predecessors of what was to come for all rollercoasters. But like everything else, I wanted nothing to do with any of that stuff. Too afraid I’d throw up on it. I liked the dark ride called The Monster’s Den. It was a spooky ride without any hills or dips. If I remember correctly, you could ride, or walk through the attraction.

I was just happy to be there among all of that visual and audio excitement. It was like nothing else I’d ever seen before. I think my dad may have thought if I didn’t experience all of the things he knew were awesome, I’d somehow be missing out on something. He wanted to offer us all of the joy he felt. But if you don’t have any interest in doing something, there isn’t a loss. You’ll find fun doing something else. I didn’t want to feel the fearful rush of a thrill ride, I’d rather move through an attraction at my own pace and experience different feelings. Something I could control and manage.

It was really a wonderful time for our family. The classic 1960’s experience of piling the kids into the car and taking them to the seashore for a few days in the summer. Escape the heat and pollution of the city, and breathe that sweet sea air. Days frolicking on the beach and building drippy castles in the sand. Watching as the tide rolled in and the ocean once again reclaiming its property.

These fun times continued each summer through the late ’60s and into the ’70s when my dad bought a house at the shore and we got to stay down there all summer.

Hunt’s Pier already loomed large in our collective legend, but the real fun for me would come many years later. 

Take a stroll down memory lane with me and check out these links:

10 Rides You Miss From Hunt’s Pier

And as always, here’s a little song to close out this chapter.

Special thanks to Joe Doyle for his video work

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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Toy Boat

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

Toy boat.

Say it out loud three times fast.

Not that easy right?

When we were kids, we had toys. We all had plenty of toys. But we also liked to build things. We had access to our father’s toolboxes. If you could get your hands on a hammer and some nails, you could build something.

We’d find bits of wood in the trash and back the lot at the end of our street. We’d cut them with saws and nail them together to make little boats. They were only about a foot long in length.

Mine was made out of bits of old paneling that I cut and stacked to make the hull, and some smaller pieces to make a little cabin on top. I even nailed a little plastic army man to the deck. Every boat needs a captain!

My friend Michael made something similar but he attached a piece of styrofoam to the bottom of the hull of his boat. This made his ship what he described as “unsinkable.” Genius!

Designing and building boats in my basement was only the beginning of the fun. You came up with your own ideas and made it up as you went along. Gluing or nailing whatever you could find to make a little boat that you hoped would float. The cool thing was, we had these two big old washtubs in the front of our basement next to the washer. I’m assuming they were there to clean clothes maybe before people had washing machines?

We would fill them with water and place our finished works into the water to see if they’d float. If things looked weird or didn’t seem buoyant enough, we’d make the necessary modifications to our ships until they did.

We weren’t sitting in front of a television set. There was no such thing as video games. They weren’t invented yet. We built things with our hands. Created our own little toys and then engineered them to float. We had both read that it didn’t matter what the boat weighed, as long as it weighed less than the space it filled in any given body of water. Then it would float. It’s just science. Yea, we were a sharp couple of little boys!

We’d take our boats back the lot and across the railroad tracks into Cheltenham. We’d cross the ball fields and head off into the woods.

That led us down to Tookany Creek. We walked north along the footpath. We wanted to get as far upstream as we could so that once we launched our boats we could follow them all the way down the creek. We decided that we’d see how far and how long they would last on the journey down the “river.”

There was a footbridge that went across the creek, and we figured we’d release them just above there. It was probably the best place to start because the water was calm and we could see how they did before the creek really got going.

Tookany Creek Park, Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania

We’d place our boats in the water and off they’d go. We walked along the path and watch them float downstream. Normally, that would be the experience. Build the boats, launch them into a body of water, and watch them do what boats do.

But we were young boys. We crave action and adventure. To let these boats just float along was boring. How do we remedy this situation? We could just continue talking, laughing, and walking along the path to see where they went. Or, we could throw rocks at them to make it like a sea battle.

The latter seemed like such a better idea.

We didn’t go crazy and try to destroy them, but we simply pelted them so it appeared that our ships were under siege. Now we had a show!

The idea to throw rocks at the boats didn’t come from enjoying the notion of destroying things. Sometimes the boats would get stuck on big stones or broken branches in the water. So we sort of had to free our boats with what limited tools we had on hand.

But after a while, it was just fun to bomb the hell out of them. They were pretty sturdy and we knew they could withstand a beating. It’s not like these were expensive, elegant ships gifted to us by our parents. They were manufactured out of bits of trash. If they got destroyed, we’d have the opportunity to make more.

We were always taught to take care of our toys and put them away when we were finished playing with them. But we made these toys out of junk. If we chose to massacre our boats, by god we were going to do it.

But all the while we’re laughing and talking. Sometimes singing songs we knew from the radio. Light my Fire, Hotel California, or American Pie. I think the favorite song I would always hear Michael sing was Michael Row Your Boat. I wasn’t familiar with the song, but he would sometimes just hum it. Or sing it to himself when he was working on something.

Just simple things.

A pair of lone warriors separated briefly from our tribe, out on an explore. Walking along the path by the creek under the canopy of trees in the forest. The golden rays of sunshine shone down through the foliage. Breathing in the fresh air. Hearing the birds chirp and woodland creatures scurry about as the creek bubbled and sang along with our joy.

By tossing rocks at our boats we were improving our hand and eye coordination. This was a solid activity for a couple of boys on a warm afternoon. You don’t realize it at the time, but you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in the world.

We’d follow them along the creek and toss rocks at them occasionally for thrills or to free them from a snag. It was a fun way to spend the day. Life was slower back then. There’s something to be said about time running slowly when you’re a kid. Everything takes forever when you’re young. You’re always so impatient and waiting for things to happen. Waiting for Halloween, Christmas, or the last day of school to come.

Don’t you wish you appreciated how slowly time moved when you were a child now? Wouldn’t you like those sort of pleasurable moments in your adult life now to move at a slower pace? I think we all would as we watch the years roll by with great rapidity as we age. These simple childhood memories are to be cherished. To be wrapped up in our memories forever. Because that’s all we have. You could lose everything you own, and any memories you have from your youth still belong to you forever. You can’t say that about many things in our lives now. Even we are on a finite run on this planet. But I hope that by writing these stories they can live beyond my existence on the internet and in my books forever. Because tomorrow belongs to our sons and daughters, and their kids. Tomorrow’s a place for them. Sadly, it’s a place we can never go.

The best part of watching your boats float down the creek was knowing what was coming a bit farther “downriver.” After the rapids and much air fire from us, the creek would become calm. There was a section about 50 feet long that was like green glass. Just the occasional splash from a minnow or an insect.

Beyond the calm was the waterfall. It was the only place where you could see a waterfall. But it wasn’t like the traditional kind where it’s massive and dangerous. It was only about three feet high. But, it would still be a formidable opponent to a couple of little wooden boats.

We’d wait in anticipation to see what was going to happen next. We’d stake out the best spot to watch our boats go over the falls. Would they be destroyed in the pounding brine? Would they vanish forever beneath the waves into the abyss? These were all pressing questions running through our young minds.

There would be that moment just before they went over and we’d yell and shout with delight. “Here we go!”

The boats would tumble over the falls and what would happen was anybody’s guess. The boats would roll around at the bottom where the falling water struck the creek. We would be sure at this point we’d never see our little ships again. But somehow they would suddenly pop back up and right themselves. We would cheer as if we somehow had a part in their survival!

We followed them further down the creek. Under the Levick Street bridge and beyond.

We had gone so far that we didn’t realize that we had somehow stumbled upon the base of the Melrose Country Club. We were all the way down by the creek bank, but we could see the giant hills covered with the fine green grass of the golf course. We had only seen it in the winter when it was covered in snow, but we knew where we were.

TTF welcomes the Bike Coalition to the Tacony Creek Park Trail! - TTF Watershed

We could see our boats had come to rest on the bank. We were about to climb down retrieve them when a security guard rolled up on a golf cart. He asked us what we were doing there, and we told him our toy boats had drifted all the way down there. He told us we were trespassing on private property and that we had to leave.

“Can we just get our boats?”

“No. This is private property and you’re both trespassing and you’re going to get in a lot of trouble if you don’t get out of here now.”

“But…”

“Git!”

So we turned and walked away, north of the golf course. When we got to Levick Street we trudged up the steep hill and made it to the top. We weren’t happy about what had happened and didn’t think we’d done anything wrong. We didn’t go to Melrose with the intention of trespassing or destroying property or anything. We just stumbled upon it. It just didn’t seem fair. This was a sad ending to what began as a fun-filled day of adventure.

Our boats weren’t lost to the creek. We had been banished!

We followed Hasbrook Avenue back to our neighborhood.

As we approached Michael’s house, we saw his father was outside mowing the lawn. Mike immediately told him what had happened. Jim Mitchell Sr. listened intently as Mike and I explained our plight. He nodded as he put on his mirrored aviator sunglasses.

“Let’s take a little ride in the car, boys.”

Within minutes, we pulled up to the edge of the country club. Mr. Mitchell stepped from the car with us following him not far behind.

The same guard rolled up on his golf cart and stopped us.

“Hey… you can’t…”

I watched as his face suddenly changed from authority to apprehension as Micheal’s father approached him.

Mr. Mitchell was a Police Officer with the Philadelphia Highway Patrol. He was not a man to be trifled with.

“Let them get their boats.”

“Yea, but…”

“What did I just say?”

The guard looked down at the ground and back again. He then sheepishly waved us on never taking his eyes from the officer in his presence.

Even I felt the man’s fear.

We scampered down the hill and retrieved our little boats from the creek bank. We didn’t even see the security guard on the way back to the car.

It had been quite a day.

When all else fails. Go get your father. He’ll know what to do. He’s a grown-up.

But it helps if your dad’s a cop.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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Back The Tracks – Part 5 – Refrigerator Box

This story doesn’t begin back the tracks but it sort of ends there.

When I was a kid, like most boys I liked to play with matches. Boys are always carrying all kinds of things in their pockets. But having a pack of matches was something you weren’t supposed to have. It’s not a toy and shouldn’t ever be played with. Hence the attraction. Matches could quietly sit in your pocket safe and sound. If they got wet they were useless, but if you took one out and struck it, you instantly had a fire. It was an ancient attraction and a feeling of power all in that tiny little cardboard packet.

https://matchpro.org/Anatomy.html

They were a common household item used for lighting cigarettes, cigars, birthday candles, and gas ovens. We all knew where they were in our homes but were forbidden to touch them. But we always took them anyway. If we were in one of our forts we could always have a little fire like we were camping. It was cool to build little fires and then add bits of wood to it and that would sustain it for several hours. We weren’t bothering anyone and it was light and warmth out in the woods.

As I’ve said before, we had tons of toys. Christmas was always a bounty each year. But if we were ever walking down the street, and saw an old refrigerator box in the trash, it was not only fair game, it was a toy that lasted all day long. So, most boxes you found were open on one end. That’s obviously how they removed the fridge.

The box was first laid down in the yard, and you’d get in it. We never went near an actual fridge in the trash because we’d heard the stories. Old refrigerator doors locked from the outside and could not be opened from the inside, so we heard horror stories of how some kid thought it was a spaceship, got inside, and suffocated because once inside, it was sealed and he died in there. That message was clear to every kid I knew. The kid gets locked in a fridge and eats his own leg to survive and other childhood myths.

They actually passed a law that if you were throwing out a refrigerator you had to remove the door, so no kid could kill himself in it. But the box it came in was pure joy. First of all, we’ve all seen boxes, but a refrigerator box is enormous when you’re 4 feet tall.

DIY: Cardboard Box Playhouse - Project Nursery

We’d get in it, the other kids would help stand it up, and then you’d push it over. But after a while, we’d get bored of banging the box around and the bottom would come loose. Now you had a big cardboard cylinder. That would become a tank. Two or three kids would get inside and you’d roll it down the street like a tank tread. We would even put it at the top of our driveway with us in it and it would roll down the hill and we’d all tumble over each other laughing our heads off.

Here’s a shot of my friends, Michael and RJ making use of a refrigerator box for commerce!

A couple of years later I got into magic. Not only did I like doing magic tricks I liked trying to invent my own tricks. I would get books out of the library about famous magicians and their tricks.

So my friend RJ and I found a refrigerator box and decided to make it into a magic trick. We stood it on its end in my garage. Open-end on the ground. We cut a door in the front and a door in the back. I took an old towel and thumbtacked it over the door in the inside back of the box. Our theory was, we send one kid into the box in front of an audience in my garage. We close the door, say abracadabra and when we open it, he’d be gone. Of course, he would have slipped out the back and the trick is so obvious and dumb, but we just had fun constructing and painting it.

Of course, we were out there playing with matches as usual. I had some masking tape on a roll. I pulled off a three-foot piece and taped the end to a wooden shelf in the back of our garage. I lit the bottom end of it, and it burned beautifully. The glue in the adhesive worked as an accelerant. I did this a few times and it was cool to watch it burn straight up very quickly and then go out in a puff of smoke.

We realized our magic disappearing box trick was lame and no one would fall for it, so we decided to add an element of danger to the trick. What if after the kid went inside, we had strips of masking tape hanging around the front and sides of the box that would be lit on fire to distract the audience while the kid exited the back of the box. Yea, this was a great idea. Great to a bunch of 10-year-old morons!

We knew from our previous experiments with the burning tape and the shelf that once it reached the top end it would go out. But that worked when the tape was attached to a heavy wooden object. Not a flammable cardboard box. But we didn’t think of this part.

So RJ goes into the box for us to test out our new exciting trick. He closes the front door and I light all the pieces of masking tape hanging from the box. They burn like mad and it looked amazing as RJ exits the back of the box. Now, remember we’re in my garage. The garage roof is made of wood. Instead of the tape burning to meet its end, it starts to burn the actual box. Thank goodness RJ was already out of the box. He comes around the front to help me put it out. We’re hitting it with whatever we can to snuff out the flames, but it’s just not working. The fire’s getting bigger. We start panicking and don’t know what to do at this point.

So I made the executive decision to grab the bottom of the burning magic box and drag it out of the garage. If anyone had caught us doing what we did that day, I would have been grounded for a year for nearly burning down our family garage.

I run down the driveway dragging the flaming box behind me. The wind and velocity of me running at full speed down the middle of my street is really giving the fire the oxygen it needs to turn into an inferno. I was like a little comet as I ran on the black asphalt. I hoped I wouldn’t end up a falling star.

I actually made it cross Hasbrook avenue and dragged the flaming husk into the vacant lot. The flames were nearly reaching my hands as I dropped it in the middle of the lot and kept running. I turned left onto Newtown Avenue and another hard left onto Gilliam street and back up Hasbrook to Magee street where I lived.

My friend RJ is laughing his butt of and tells me it’s the most exciting and funniest thing he’s ever seen. So much for our foray into Vegas-style magic, but the weird thing was, either no one saw us do it, or nobody decided to say anything. Because there was zero fallout from any parents or neighbors after that incident.

Just another day on Magee Street.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Cycles of Life

Philadelphia, PA – Late 60s – Early 70’s

The first childhood vehicle I ever had was a little metal pedal car. I don’t remember much about it, but I had heard from my father that I didn’t like it. It was a beautiful little car.  Odd, you’d think I would love something like that but he told me I didn’t have much interest in being inside it.

Pin on A Few of My Favorite Things!

The next was a little kid’s bicycle. It was a red Schwinn Pixie boys bike with training wheels. My father liked Schwinn bicycles. I can’t blame him. Schwinn made bikes that were durable and virtually indestructible. I remember them being heavy bicycles when many were lighter in weight back then. I don’t even think you could put air in the tires of the Pixie. They were solid rubber.

Schwinn Pixie kids bike. | Kids bike, Schwinn, Bike

I loved that little bike. My older sister had a blue Schwinn bike but I can’t remember the name of it. It may have been called a Bantam. The cooler girl’s bike made by Schwinn was the sportier, Lil Chick.

VINTAGE 1977 CHICAGO Built Schwinn Bantam Convertible 20" Girls/Boys Bicycle Org - $125.00 | PicClick

All the while my little sister rode around on a tricycle.

I was happy on my little Pixie bike, but one begins to notice some of the other kids in the neighborhood beginning to ride bikes without training wheels. It was a natural progression for all children to want to grow up and have more freedom. But there’s always the fear factor of trying new things.

My father would be out in front of our house with us teaching us how to ride without training wheels. It became an ongoing story in our family’s history of my dad teaching me how to ride. He knew that once I got it I’d be fine and that it was all a matter of confidence, speed, and balance. But the story was that he’d be running along, holding onto the back of my seat and me being terrified.

“Dad! I’m going to fall!”

“I’m not going to let you fall. I’m your father!”

It’s funny now, but I remember thinking back then, “I get that, dad, but what if you trip and fall? It could happen. Then I’ll careen into the bushes!”

I suppose it was just my early anxiety about doing anything different or new, but he kept at it. Me nearly in tears, pedaling like my life depended upon it, and him holding on and running behind me.

But then one day… off I went. Like magic. I pedaled and kept the bike going, thinking my dad was still holding on to the back of my seat and thinking how is he doing this? But when I hit the brakes and stopped, I turned around and he was thirty feet behind me standing on the sidewalk, hands in the air, smiling ear to ear.

They say, ‘it’s as easy as riding a bike’, and it’s true. It is easy. Once you can do it, you never forget it. You simply feel your center, maintain your balance, and move forward. I think that principle can be applied throughout your life.

Learning to ride a bike is your first step to independent freedom away from your parents.

Mid 70s

Eventually, my older sister got a bigger girl’s bike. It was green. It was a solid conservative ladies’ bicycle. It was classy, just like her.

So my parents gave me her old blue girl’s bike. But at the local bike shop, they bought a bar for it that ran from the seat to the handlebars so that it was now distinguished as a ‘boys bike’. Funny how you had to add something to a bicycle to give it a gender. But it originally was based on design, structure, and stability. The only reason girls’ bikes didn’t have it was because many years ago, women’s bicycles were designed without a bar to accommodate their long dresses.

So with the bar, it was now a boy’s bike. But based on some of the newer designs in bicycles I was seeing around the neighborhood, I wanted to trick out this blue Schwinn Bantam.

My friends and I had become literal whizzes when it came to bicycle mechanics. With a set of tools, we could completely take a bike apart and put it back together again. So I wanted to take this former girl’s bike and ‘Frankenstein’ it into something cool. The first thing I did was spray paint it gloss black.

My mother took me down to Morie’s Cycle Shop on Rising Sun Avenue, just beyond Levick street. I remember the bike shop always had a distinctive smell. It was that fresh vulcanized rubber smell. Our sense of smell is our most primitive sense, and the memories it provides are always extremely vivid. If I walked in that place today it would take me right back to that day.

It may have been my birthday. My mom let me pick out a black banana seat with silver sparkles, a tall sissy bar, big fancy handlebars, and a fat rear tire that was called a slick. I also found an old bike in the trash and sawed off the forks in the front and added them to my bike to create a look that resembled a chopper.

chopper is a type of custom motorcycle that emerged in California in the late 1950s. The chopper is perhaps the most extreme of all custom styles, often using radically modified steering angles and lengthened forks for a stretched-out appearance. They can be built from an original motorcycle that is modified (“chopped”) or built from scratch. Some of the characteristic features of choppers are long front ends with extended forks often coupled with an increased rake angle, hardtail frames (frames without rear suspension), very tall “ape hanger” or very short “drag” handlebars, lengthened or stretched frames, and larger than stock front wheels. The “sissy bar”, a set of tubes that connect the rear fender with the frame, and which are often extended several feet high, is a signature feature on many choppers.

sissy bar also called a “sister bar” or “passenger backrest” is an addition to the rear of a bicycle or motorcycle that allows the rider or passenger to recline against it while riding. Alternatively, it can serve as an anchor point or support for mounting luggage or equipment that’s not part of the bike.

Perhaps the best-known choppers are the two customized Harley-Davidsons, the “Captain America” and “Billy Bike”, seen in the 1969 film Easy Rider.

So, it went from this…

VINTAGE 1977 CHICAGO Built Schwinn Bantam Convertible 20" Girls/Boys Bicycle Org - $125.00 | PicClick

To something like this…

VINTAGE 70'S CHOPPER 20" Muscle Bike Banana Seat Bicycle ! Beautiful Purple! - $175.50 | PicClick

There I am on the actual bike!

Except my sissy bar was tall and rose three feet off the seat, so you could lean back on it and pop wheelies. If you didn’t have a back fender when you rode through a puddle, you got a line of wet mud up the back of your shirt!

So, now the bike was cool. What was better than speeding down the street and then suddenly slamming on the breaks and hearing your back wheel scream as you left a long skid mark on the asphalt?

Another thing we used to do that all boys had done probably since the 50s was to clip a playing card or a baseball card to the back frame with a clothespin. The card protruded into the back spokes of the wheel. This way, when you rode along, the card flicking against the spokes at high speed would create the sound of a motor. It was cool for a while but the clothespins always broke or the card wore out, and it just became a pain to keep putting a new one back on your bike. It sounded too thin anyway and I wasn’t much of a fan. Also, if anybody can do it… it stops being cool.

So we came up with a better idea. If you could get your hands on a balloon, like the kind they gave out at Weiss’s Kiddie Shop, you could make something better.

You blow the balloon up, but only partially. You push the air inside toward the center of the balloon. This way, there’s still plenty of uninflated balloon on each end. You tie each end to the back frame of your bike so that the inflated part of the balloon is facing towards the spokes of your back wheel. You can do this same process with a regular round balloon, but if you can get a long balloon, it’s a little more durable for the beating it’s about to take.

Make Your Bike Roar Like a Motorcycle : 5 Steps - Instructables

It blows away the sound a little baseball card clipped to your frame sounds. A balloon sounds like the real deal. Me pulling up on my chopper bike, with a balloon hitting the back spokes is amazing. It’s about as close as you can get to the sound of a real motorcycle. I kid you not.

Check it out!

How great is that? Totally badass. Even on a little kid’s bike! When we all rode up with balloons in our spokes on our choppers, it was like being Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. We went from a group of boys on their bikes to a full-fledged, motorcycle gang.

I’m telling you, back in the 70s life was way more fun out in the real world than sitting around today in your house playing a bunch of video games.

We even formed a little bicycle gang called The Raiders. I think this inspired my sister and her friends to start a girl cycle gang called The Jewel Thieves. (If I’m wrong about this, my sister is free to correct me.)

Another thing we loved doing was going on what we called journeys. We would ride our bikes really far from our homes. Miles and miles away from our neighborhood. It was amazing to have that first taste of absolute freedom from your block and your parents. We were a little group of outlaws traveling to parts unknown.

The euphoria of the sudden drop at the top of Martins Mill Road. That long black ribbon that was the steepest hill in town. Like some dark dragon, you had to conquer. You wanted to feel the excitement and speed as you descended that incredible slope. But the fear rode right along with you, knowing that if you weren’t ready to hit the breaks in a split second, it could end in tragedy. All of this energy coursing through your body as cars sped by alongside you, all the way down.

You knew that if you returned home on this same road, the climb would be nearly insurmountable. It became steeper the higher you climbed. Your young heart pounding, your lungs burning as your legs pushed on. You could see the top. But could you make it?

You couldn’t give up in front of your friends and get off and walk your bike back up the hill. You had to show everyone you were strong enough to make it. A simple right of passage.

We would mostly follow roads that led west into Cheltenham and Burholme Park. I loved going on bicycle journeys. You could go anywhere you wanted back then and your parents had no idea where you were. As long as you appeared again at your home before dinner, you were fine.

No internet. No GPS. No cell phones. Nothing. Just you and the road. No leash. No helmets or pads of any kind were worn by any child in the neighborhood.

Which in hindsight, would probably have been a good idea back then based on the way we rode.

Evel Knievel was a national treasure back in the 70s and we all loved him. He was a guy who would get on his motorcycle and do these crazy jumps over cars. He was a mad daredevil who had broken every bone in his body.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evel_Knievel

So being a bunch of 12-year-old boys we were compelled to emulate him on our bikes. Not jumping over cars, but we would set up these little ramps with planks of wood and stacked bricks. We would speed up to the ramp and fly off it. Thinking back on it now, it wasn’t that bad, but we were always crashing on our bikes.

70's bike jump ramp inspired by Evel Knievel | Bike, Bmx, Bmx bikes

Not us, but you get the point.

Ramps made out of two stacked pieces of wood...the kid whose Dad was least likely to throw it out was the one who… | Free range parenting, Childhood, Funny pictures

Not wearing any safety gear, there were plenty of injuries. Kids were always crashing their bikes because we were on them all of the time. We would go everywhere on them. You had no money so it was your only means of transportation away from your parents. Plus, if you decide to start trying stunts there are sure to be some banged-up kids.

But we never lost anybody. None of us ever got hit by a car or anything. The only injury I can remember was on a bike I owned in I think 6th or 7th grade. It was a beautiful brand new red ten-speed that was all the rage as we got a little older.

 

I loved that bike and rode it everywhere. One afternoon I was stupidly racing another boy down Rising Sun avenue and my tire got stuck in the trolley track. I went flying face-first to the asphalt and cobblestones. My glasses broke, and the left side of my face was really torn up. I remember getting up off the ground and just feeling the searing pain in my face.

Amazingly, a man stopped in his car, put my bike in his trunk, and drove me home from the accident. It was a miracle of kindness. I can’t remember his face or his car. My mother was shocked at how bad my face looked. She said she never even got the man’s name to thank him. Just a kind-hearted person who did the right thing. (So whoever you are sir… Thank you!)

My left eyebrow had several large X-shaped cuts, and my whole cheek had road rash. I’m surprised my injuries weren’t worse. My left eye was black and blue and swollen shut. It looked like someone had beaten my face really badly. My mom kept me home for a few days, but I recovered. I wish I had a picture of how bad it looked but I don’t think any exist.

But, other than that, we always enjoyed our bikes. I remember even when I was later married in the 90s, we’d be at the shore in Avalon. I’d get up early and rent a bicycle and just ride around town. All the way down to Stone Harbor and back. It was a welcome early morning repose away from my wife and my inlaws.

Even into his 80s, my father always loved riding his bike. He told me he just loved hopping on it and sailing along down the street to run his errands.

There’s something about just jumping on your bike and taking a ride. In a car, it all moves too fast and it’s like watching a movie. It’s as if it’s all happening on TV through the windshield.

But on your bike… you’re always in the movie.

That youthful freedom. The wind in your face as you made your way to your next destination.

A talent once learned as a child that could never be lost.

Unlike our youth.

Always fleeting with each turn of the pedals beneath our feet.

 

Tune in this Thursday for the next installment of, Back The Tracks – Part 5 – Refrigerator Box!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Mister Grocer’s

Philadelphia, PA – 1970

One chilly night I was in the VW minibus with my dad and my older sister. He decided to stop at a local convenience store on the way home on Rising Sun Avenue.

The shop was called Mister Grocers and it was an early convenience store. These types of stores would giveaway to later giants like 7-Eleven and Wawa. (Back then Wawa was a dairy farm. Incidentally, Wawa is the native American word for goose.)

I don’t remember why we stopped there but maybe he needed to pick up some cold cuts. My sister and I wandered around the store while he did what he had to do.

I came upon a rotating display rack full of little toys. The ones that caught my eye were these toy cars on little cards. I was checking them all out and they were really cute little cars. So for some reason unknown to me to this day, I stuck one in the pocket of my red baseball jacket.

It was the first time I had ever stolen anything. I don’t even know why I did it. I had plenty of little cars at home. It was almost as if this other power took over and compelled me to shoplift. It was definitely a compulsion. I think this may be a common thing in children that they eventually grow out of.

I remember sitting in the car on the way home and saying how I felt cold so I kept my hands stuffed in the pockets of my jacket. There was no reason for me to say that but I obviously wasn’t a good thief.

We made it home and I went up to my room to get ready for bed. I closed my bedroom door and took out the little car. I ripped open the package and looked at the toy. It was yellow, and not a color car I would have ever wanted, so maybe it was just the thrill of nicking it from the store. I have no idea. I placed the little car in a box among some other stuff in my room that sat on my radiator.

Gama Toys - Wikipedia

I went into the bathroom and got cleaned up for bed, and then headed back to my room. My mother was standing there holding the car and the ripped open package. Did I simply throw the package into the wicker wastebasket in my room? That’s very sloppy. I don’t remember. My room was full of all sorts of toys. How did my mom find this one thing that I just clipped tonight? ESP? I’ve never been able to solve this mystery.

The next thing I know, I’m sitting on the toilet seat and both of my parents are grilling me about where I got this little car. I lied and told them my friend Dave Archut gave it to me. Was this some kind of go-to lie I would use going forward? Probably not if it didn’t work.

It didn’t.

After a few minutes of intense interrogation, I cracked and told them that the package was already ripped in the store and I just took the little car from Mister Grocers.

It would have been awesome had it ended there with a stern scolding. But no… that would not be the order of the day. My mother and father left the room for a moment while I sat there having an anxiety attack on the toilet in my pajamas like a prisoner in the Gulag.

My mother returns with my jacket and slippers. It’s bedtime. We’re going in the wrong direction, mom. But apparently, we were going in the right direction. My father marched me downstairs and took me back out to the minibus and put me in it. I’m shivering as he proceeded to drive us back to Mister Grocers.

I’m terrified and nearly go into paralysis as we pull into the parking lot and there are two police cars parked there.

philadelphia police vehicles from 1969 | Police cars, Old police cars, Philadelphia

I see that, and I’m practically filling my pants in fear. My father tells me to go in with him and what I need to say to the clerk. We get out of the van and head into the store. I can’t believe the cops are on the case of the stolen car already! This is a serious offense. I’m in deep trouble. Grand theft auto? Juvenile Hall? Hard time?

My dad places the car in the ripped-open package in my hands. We walk up to the counter to the clerk behind the counter.

“Go ahead, son.”

“Sir, I took this. It doesn’t belong to me, and I’m sorry.”

Then my father tells me to go stand over there. Of course, I complied because there was no alternative but to obey. I was caught. Nabbed. No longer on the lam. My days of thievery were officially over.

He spoke with the man for a few minutes, and then we left. I don’t remember the conversation in the car on the way home, but I felt really bad but relieved I didn’t have to go with the police.

We never really spoke of it again, but it was a lesson well learned. My days of shoplifting and thinking I could get away with it had begun and ended on the same day.

Philadelphia, PA – 1978

I was 16 years old and shooting pool in my basement with a few of my buddies one evening. I’m sure my buddy Michael Mitchell was there, but I can’t remember who else. Maybe my friend from school Hugh Deissinger. (Yea, we had a pool table) I remember by then, my dad was working at a bank at the shore now and only came home on the weekends. Life was good, and it was a typical Friday night. My dad was cool with us listening to our records on his stereo, and the sounds of Aerosmith, Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, The Cars, ELO, and Peter Frampton filled the air.

My pop had an old wooden desk in the corner where he used to write out the bills and do his thing. That desk and its contents were completely off-limits to us kids because it was all dad/work stuff inside. We had no business touching anything in that desk. I remember going over to it to look for a pen or pencil to write something down that we were talking about.

I pulled open one of the drawers and there was the little toy car from my childhood crimewave days. I pulled it out and held it in my hands for the first time since the night I stole it. Did I have a moment of nostalgic wonder? No, I felt only revulsion for the object because of what it represented.

I told my friends the whole story that I just told you, and they all laughed. I felt better about the whole thing. My dad had paid for it that night back in 1970 to make things right. He righted my wrong with Mister Grocers but never let me have the stolen toy as part of my punishment. I get that, and it was the right thing to do. I didn’t deserve the spoils of my wicked handiwork.

He later told me that when we pulled up to the convenience store that night to return the stolen property, the police cars were there by pure chance. Just a couple of Philly’s finest grabbing a donut and a cup of coffee on the night shift. But he never said anything about it to me to further drive home his point. You steal stuff, the cops can come and haul you off to jail.

Well played, dad. Well played.

But what became of the little toy car?

That night that I accidentally found it and told the guys about it, was to be its final appearance. I took it from its package and placed it on the pool table. We then proceeded to blast billiard balls into it until it was smashed to bits.

I never said anything else about it and my dad never asked. I’m sure by then he’d forgotten about the little car in the drawer, but I’m sure not the incident.

Don’t take things that don’t belong to you!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

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