Getting Around

Dad knows my favorite way of getting around town is on my bike. He bought me a neon green light reflector jacket and always asks if I have my helmet.  I morn the day it goes into the basement for winter.   With two saddlebags, lights and a bell, I  go anywhere.  High heels don’t stop me — I don’t use my heels when I peddle.

He taught me how to ride when I was five.  He told me to climb on my red Schwinn and said that he would hold the back of the bike as I pumped. I did — he didn’t.  Thrilled with my little ride, I slowed down, pushed back on the brakes and set my feet on the ground.  I turned for his affirmation and he was standing 100 or so yards back where we had started, cheering.

When we were growing up, Dad always rode his bike to work.  When he was growing up, he got around town on streetcars.  –Debbie

It’s interesting to read about all the arguments over light rail going on right now.  When I grew up, that’s all we had was light rail.

There were streetcars everywhere.  The Joblanskis lived next door to us on Pierce.  They had adult children who worked. On Saturday I’d go over there and they’d give me their streetcar passes.  I don’t know if it was legal or not but I’d take them down to the corner of Concordia and Holton and I’d sell the passes for 10 cents each.  If someone didn’t buy it, it would cost them 10 cents each way — if they bought mine they’d save a dime. So I’d sell passes on Saturday night.

The streetcars came down Holton St. and they were just everywhere.  After Dolores and I got married they were on Oakland Ave. and they ended right there on Kenwood. They’d switch to a single track and the conductor would come out and raise the attachment that had been in the back of the car up to the power line. Then he’d go to what had been the front and pull down the power line attachment.  He’d take his controls out of what was now the back and put them on the other end and switch the whole thing around and drive it out.  They’d come out at the single track and jog over to the track going the other direction.

They had a change box that they’d move around from end to end but they finally had to drop that — I think because they were getting robbed.  But anyhow, street cars were all over, North Ave., Wisconsin Ave., everywhere.  The last line was Wells St.  That used to run across the valley where Miller Brewery is.  There was a wooden trestle they had built for the street cars and the cars would just shake back and forth as they went across that trestle because being just wood, it wasn’t perfect.

Then for out of town trips there was the interurban.  It was like a streetcar but it had plush seats and you could take that one north to Sheboygan or west to Watertown.  Somewhere along the line I had a job cutting grass out in Thiensville so I’d take the interurban.

I was on the golf team one semester.  There were 10 guys on it and I was number 10.  We’d take the interurban out to Brown Deer Park.  You could get anywhere on them.

From there they went to the trackless trollies.  They were like buses but they still had connection to the overhead power.  Eventually, we went to motorized buses and all the electric power was gone.  It was interesting because that was a good method of transportation and we had all these routes that were dedicated.  They tried to save them and make walkways out of them but they’re mostly gone now.  It’s too bad.  If we still had the right-of-ways, it would be easier to return to  light rail.

When it was announced that the last run of the streetcar was coming up I took you, Ed and John – Joan wasn’t born yet — down to Wells St.  We got on the streetcar and road around.  I wanted you all to have a chance to ride on the streetcar.

Anyhow, that’s the light rail of my childhood and early adulthood.”

Next post: A Love Story Begins


The Riverwest Coal Man

The coal man was a lot similar to the ice man — you’d have to order your coal, they’d carry it in on their shoulder.  Every house had a coal bin under a window in the basement.  The coal man would go to the window and there’ would be walls inside so the coal would be restrained and not go all over the basement.

The coal truck was interesting.  It had a mechanical system which would raise the bed of the truck to get the coal up to the height of the shoulder of the coal man.  So then he’d put on his shoulder pad and take his canvas bushel bag and fill it with coal.   He’d get just enough to fill the canvas bags.  He’d open a basement window and put a canvas protector around the window so he wouldn’t get the house all dirty.  Then he’d place a shoot into the coal bin. He’d get that set up then he’d dump the coal in so it would slide down into the coal bin.

On the inside, there was a hopper and you could take a coal shovel which had a large scoop on it and fill it up.  Originally, you’d throw a shovelful in the furnace but then we got real modern and got a stoker.  A stoker had a worm gear that went from the hopper into the furnace. So now you’d fill the hopper and the worm gear would feed the fire.


It’s a steel rod and it’s got metal that is like a spiral so as it turns it just keeps pushing the coal forward.  When we moved to Humboldt, we didn’t have a stoker.  You’d have to take a shovel-full of coal and throw it in.  First though, you’d have to open the furnace door and take the clinkers out.


The fire would burn and form into big clumps called clinkers.  You’d get some tongs and take the clinkers out and put them in the ash bin.  Now the ash bin, like we still have downstairs here, is a concrete wall which was there for the ashes and the clinkers.  It doesn’t come out like sifted ashes but comes out in big chunks. You’d break them up and use the tongs to get them out and put them in the ash bin.

When your Mom and I were newly married, our rent was…oh I don’t remember what our rent was, it wasn’t a lot.  I got a 25/mo credit each month if I’d take care of the furnace.  That was my job when we first got married while I was still in school.  I’d take care of the stoker and clean up the clinkers.  I got 10/mo for that.  From the back of our house on 4th St over to Green St, the two houses were very close.  It was a women’s house owned by a friend of our landlady.  Your Mom’s good friend Bennie lived there.  I got hired by our landlady to take care of their furnace too so I got 20 bucks/mo taking care of the two furnaces.

So 20/mo would be equivalent to what now, Dad?

Oh, I don’t know.  I could check it if I was still at the office.  We had a chart that showed the basic increase in cost of living starting starting at 1900. They’d get an index out of that so you could see what the changes were.  We could make estimates out of that.  If we had a job we had done in 1955 and now it’s 1975, say, we could look at the cost in 55 and use the multiplier to find the original cost by that.  It was a way to keep track of inflation.

Hmm…what would 20/week cover then….?

I think Mom made 120 a week or month, I don’t remember.  Oh honey, I wish you were here to tell me.

It must have been 120/month, Dad.  Dancers can live on 120/week today.