Category Archives: pcoml

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 12, Pedaling my ass.

Growing up, I always had a bike. Even as the “fat kid,” in retrospect, I was in amazingly good shape. I would ride for miles on beater bikes and I guess my dad decided I needed a nice one when he did a job wiring a commercial building in Ravenna that a bike shop was moving into. (It has since been a gym, grocery store, thrift shop and I believe it is a martial arts studio now. It’s in Blackhorse, near the buy here car lot.) as part of the payment for the job he got me a brand new bike. I had never had a really nice bike, let alone a brand new one, and the Huffy BMX Pro Thunder he got me was the most amazing bike to me. Bright yellow, blue tires (!!!) with proper pads in the proper places. It was this:

Many of the better off financially kids were quick to point out that it wasn’t a “proper” bmx bike like their Mongoose’s and other models, it had a coaster brake and no front brake and was too heavy for proper bmx riding. Did I mention that I was the fat kid? I had little interest in bmx, but absolutely loved the mobility and freedom my bikes afforded me. I would ride 5 miles around town or to Ravenna, or anywhere I wanted, often leaving in the morning and not returning until late in the day. No cell phone, no beeper, just told my parents where I was going, grabbed a couple of bucks for lunch and drinks and was on my way. Did you know that in the 80’s almost everywhere had a water fountain? That deputy sheriff’s would stop for a second to say hi and make sure your folks knew you were 10 miles from home and take your word that you were good on all counts? The freedom of the bicycle, and to be a free kid, was amazing. I never gave much thought to what that bike cost… In my 40’s now, I appreciate the cost of it to my father in having worked to get it… And though he’s gone some 7 years now, I hope he realized that he got his full value out of it as well as a huge return on his investment.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 11, …Down on the Farm.

My pap Ashcraft’s favorite chain restaurant, bar none, was Bob Evans. Pap was a hustler, selling at flea markets, changing inventory from season to season, and often traveling out of the state to resupply. Just one example, railroad policy involved changing the 6v lantern batteries in beacons, lanterns and train lamps very often, even if they had never been used. I believe it was monthly, but maybe even more frequently. The end result? Cases upon cases of basically brand new, top of the line, 6v lantern battens discarded monthly. My genius grandfather, former rail man, had an arrangement with the switching yard in Conway, PA, to dispose of the like new batteries monthly. The batteries had there own store room. Pap had his own key. Old batteries on the left, new on the right, never touch the new ones. A dozen in a box, dozens of boxes. It was not unusual for my grandfather to own several thousand 6v lantern batteries at a time. To the point that he would import lanterns from overseas by the case to sell at flea markets.

Which brings us back around to Bob Evans. Flea marketing is hard work and any day you are going to work hard you need a breakfast that will “stick to your ribs” since lunch may be late, or never. The best place to get that was Bob Evans. Why? Because my grandfather knew the Evans family and you supported friends. Pap knew everyone. And everyone knew him.

Pap had a way of setting his placemat. He would put a drop of honey or syrup at each upper corner and stick it to the counter. We almost always ate at the counter, the service was amazing and fast. We’d hit Bob Evan’s before daylight and be on the road as the sun was coming up to hustle the wares. Lanterns with free batteries for an amazing price… You can’t sell a used battery, pap would say. But you can give it away with a lantern or flashlight that is the same cost as everyone else sells them without a battery. Growing up I must have helped sell enough lanterns to light up a decent sized city. I was only able to help in the summer. Pap did it most of the year. You might recall that pap also sold Knapp shoes to guys on the railroad… At Conway, PA. Every trip anywhere had more than one purpose. My pap was a hard working man and set his own course. I miss him. I miss that he was unique but so like every other man of his era.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 10, Son of a blacksmith.

My father was a lifetime learner with many skills, a practical and intuitive engineer, he was also a competent electrician, mechanic, fabricator, as well as able to do basic carpentry. Over the course of his lifetime he wore many hats and designed many things from the small to the incredibly large. Be it a belt buckle or an overhead crane capable of lifting 100 tons, he could design and build it. The skill he enjoyed most, though, was blacksmithing.

Dad made many cool things as a blacksmith, from hand-made chains that were used in a movie to a candelabra that sat on a friend’s wedding altar, from belt buckles to broadaxes. He did his smithing to make money but it was also his therapy, hobby and fun. He would spend a couple of weeks every summer living in a tent and smithing at the Great Pennsic War, both as a crafter and a merchant. He loved beating Iron and creating with it.

As I sit in the house he and mom lived in I can almost hear the ringing of the hammer and anvil in his shop out back… Sadly, they are phantom and a memory of when the toughest guy I ever learned to love still walked the Earth.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 9, Railroads & Trains

My pap Ashcraft instilled what became a lifetime appreciation of trains and railroads of all sizes. Ironically, he could have hated them as he lost one of his legs in an occupational accident working as a brakeman on the Penn Central Railroad. He continued to love trains his whole life.

We would visit the switching yards at Mingo Junction, OH, Weirton, WV and Conway, PA many times as I was growing up. He had many reasons to go, first to visit former coworkers, but also as a salesman of Knapp Shoes. He sold thousands of pairs of high quality shoes and work boots to railroaders. “If your feet hurt your shoes, call me,” was prominently featured on his business card.

Pap’s love of trains wasn’t limited to full size ones. He had a very cool “O” and “HO” gauge model train setup that he could set up in his basement by hinging it down from a wall. We also took trips to see train displays at Buhl Planatarium, Oglebay Good Zoo and other model train shows around the region. Most of these are now, sadly, gone. I recently read that, after decades, Oglebay finally dismantled their fascinating train room.

Another part of every visit to oglebay was the joy of riding their narrow-gsuge train around the zoo.

I still enjoy trains, though not with the deep passion my grandfather had. But you’ll rarely hear me complain about the train whistles living 300 yards from a major rail line, or waiting for the train to pass. Trains, at different points in my life have entertained me, provided income for me and provided me with a way to work via light rail. Maybe someday I will build a model railroad. It’s in my blood.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 8, Fundamentals of Marksmanship, late 1970’s.

My grandfathers were both shooters, my dad’s father was an amateur competition trap shooter, trick shooter and marksman from his World War 2 service in the United States Marine Corps, my mother’s dad from growing up hunting in the hills of Smith County, West Virginia. As I spent a lot more time with my Pap Ashcraft, mom’s dad, he took on the task of teaching me to shoot and started a life long love of firearms.

The rifle above is a single shot, Stevens Junior Model 11. It is identical to the one that my pap taught me to shoot on and that I fired literally thousands of rounds through. It served several generations of our family only to go missing after his death. The rifle was older and field worn. It had many repairs over the years but it shot true. Simple, non adjustable iron sights, manual extraction and loading, and you clocked the hammer to fire it. The trigger was crisp and effortless and it just managed to hit exactly where you wanted out to over 100 yards. It was not unusual for me to toss a soup can out into the yard and then shoot it until it rolled down over the hill over 100 yards away. But, most often my target was a paper plate with a dot in middle that pap would set up at 50 or 100 feet away.

I would sit or stand on the back step and put round after round through that rifle. Usually 50 or 100 rounds at a session several times over each visit. Every hardware store and bait shop knew what I wanted when I showed up for miles around. Yes, they would sell live ammo to a 5, 7, 13 or whatever age boy… Kids didn’t do the stupid stuff with guns then they do now. Probably still was technically illegal, no one cared.

To this day if I had that rifle I could likely dispatch a soda can at 100 yards with it on the first shot. My pap taught me the gun, then gun taught me to shoot it the way it needed to be shot to put rounds on target. The tool was the tool, you adjusted to it.

My grandfather instilled in me what later became the 4 rules of firearms safety that are taught today:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
  2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

I seriously need to find another model 11. I own some of the most advanced firearms in the world but my heart longs for that old, beat up, well loved rifle. I hope whoever has it appreciates it.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 7, Girton’s Gas Staton, New Milford, OH.

Growing up in New Milford, Ohio, a fixture of our lives was the gas station located down the road. Girton’s was owned and ran by Russ and Betty Girton. Russ was a mechanic, Betty ran the store operations and they usually employed one or two clerks. Anything a young woman or man could want, and most things many adults did, could be had from Girton’s.

Girton’s was a full service operation with garage. “Ding ding” as you pulled a car in, or your bike if you hit the rubber line just right. Gas, checked the oil and tires and cleaned the windshield, all with a smile.

Inside, coolers filled with beer, wine, dairy goods and deli meat and cheese, ice cream and ice cream novelties… Shelves for basic pantry items, snacks, smokes, and… A huge candy counter.

We all ended up at Girton’s pretty much daily as kids for a soda or candy, or for air in our bike tires. As we hit the age of driving, we stopped for our gas and oil. Sadly, small independent gas stations were driven out of being profitable by the larger stations and chains.

I don’t remember exactly when it closed. I feel sad that I don’t because it’s closing was a bellwether of the charges of our entire world, in which the warm and local was displaced by the cold and corporate for profit.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 6. Gary’s Barber Shop.

Growing up I can always remember my pap wore his hair high and tight. Not a military cut but a buzz cut and, occasionally, a flat top. Thinking about my dermatology issues with seborrheic dermatitis and his itchy scalp I figure he wore it close for the same reason I do… Less hair, less oil, less itch and sunlight kills it.

Haircuts were done 27 times a year, every other week and an extra before Christmas. Haircuts were done by Gary at Gary’s Barber Shop in East Springfield, Ohio. It was a small building next to his house on Ohio 43 and you parked along the street and walked down the hill to the shop. I mean, you could walk down the driveway and around the house, but no one ever did. If you think of James Dean as Floyd the Barber, you understand Gary. He was the only person growing up I ever knew who had tattoos, he was a volunteer fireman and active in his church. His shop was every small barber shop in America. An impressive bar of barber tools, powders, after shaves and combs in blue alcohol. Newspaper articles and photos on the walls, a nickel pop machine that sold little glass bottles of Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (Leave the bottle, please.)

It wasn’t unusual to make the 45 minute drive to Gary’s only to find he wasn’t in. There was no phone in the shop and sometimes he had stuff to do or just went fishing and left a sign on the door. You waited or came back. No one minded. See, for more than a couple of generations of men, Gary was their first real haircut away from home, myself included. For many people he also gave them their final haircut. I distinctly remember that he made a trip to the funeral home to cut my grandfather’s hair one last time, and him being at the funeral. I’m sure that he did this for other’s, as well.

Gary is long dead, I’m sure. I haven’t been down by where his shop was in 20 years. I tried to find it on Google maps, but couldn’t. I honestly didn’t know him, and yet he was a friend of mine and anyone whose hair he cut… Strangers don’t come to your funeral.