John and Josephine immigrated to Butler in 1891, bringing with them their three children Margaret, Joseph, and 3 month old John. They settled on the Plank Road which at that time was the main road to Pittsburgh. Grandma Zarnick collected the toll at the gate that was located in front of the Zarnick residence at 320 Roosevelt Blvd. The Zarnick family attended St. Peter's Church and school , which was the German Church for the Butler area. As the years went by and the family kept increasing to a grand total of 15 and my Father was John, who later married my Mother Mable Ann Duncan. There was a total of 9 Zarnick families residing on the Plank Road or the correct street name of Roosevelt Blvd., and this was not counting the number of married children residing in their parents home at this time, so you can see why they also called this Zarnick Blvd.
JOHN PATRICK ZARNICK & MABEL ANN DUNCAN ZARNICK 1891-1939 1901-1983
I am writing this so that you may understand some of the events that occurred on and the many historical changes that have taken place in the Butler Area over the years.
I was born to John & Mabel Zarnick on November 2, 1931, just after the start of the depression and I was the seventh of ten children. There was seven boys and three girls in our family and they were Richard, Marie, Howard, Danny, Bob, Jack, Tom, Nancy, Linda, and me, and we lived right next door to my Grandparents home who were also the owners of this house.
The Plank Road at that time was the center of many varied ethnic backgrounds consisting of Germans, Italians, Scotch, and Irish, and of course as the years went on the mixture of Heinz 57 varieties. Some of the families that we grew up with consisted of the Pernicano, Sgro, Gurner,Morabito, Benetti and Morando's.
When you came out of the house eating anything you had to yell no bits, no bites, no nothings or else you lost half of what you had. In those days there wasn't too much food that you didn't like and you learned that he who eats the fastest gets the mostest. The busiest place was Morando's Market which no longer exists due to the Route 8 expansion (It used to stand right across from where the Plank Road intersects Rt. #8-if you came down the Plank Road and went right through the intersection you would run right into the front porch of the old store.) This is where all the men of the area would gather and play cards (Brisque an old Italian game that has been handed down from generation to generation) for a nickel a game. I can remember the overflow crowds that moved the card games to the lower level that were occasionally raided by the local police which included Motorcycle Officers Tucker, Klinger, and Charley Miller. Miller later went on to become Chief of Police for both the City of Butler and later Butler Township.
There was a running feud between the softball team of the Plank Road and Root Hill (Thomas Ave. etc.) and the games where played at the field which is where Green Acres now stands. We used to sit in the large apple trees and throw at the umpires whenever they chose to make a call not to our liking which was just about all of the time. We would yell and cheer for Shorty Bole (who pitched for Root Hill) to throw one over the backstop which he often did), and the ball would roll down to Coal Street, which delayed the game for a time, because in those days you only had one ball to play with and if it was lost the game was over. If you went down over the hill to find the ball and got thirsty you could always stop at the spring and get a cold drink of water but you didn't dare open your mouth to wide as the lizards would jump down your throat, so we were told. I don 't remember of anybody strangling on a lizard.
We went up over Root Hill and through the woods to the lookout tower that was located on what is now Metzger Ave. and The Rockenstein Ave. area to play in the fields in that area. We then would proceed to the swamps that is now Meadow Wood to find baby crows. The crows would build nests in the tops of the dying trees and we were going to get a young crow and teach it to talk, just like the one that Huff's who lived on Grandview Blvd. had. Every time you went to Little Rock or the ballfield and you had to pass by Huff's house that old black crow would fly down and talk to you, and we thought that this was amazing. We were told that you had to have their tongues cut in order for them to talk and don't ask me where we would come up with enough money to do this if in fact we could catch one, which we never did.
In the summertime we ran the woods and played ball and swam at Little Rock, which in those days was a long ways from home. You had to go up over the hill through the ballfield and the Maple grove to Graham Terrace, and then out what is now Grandview Blvd. which in those times was an ash road that led to Norman Bredin's cow pasture which was also another ball field we used in those days. Cow dung was used for bases and Frisbee's long before Jack Bogut (a KDKA radio announcer) came on the scene. Norman would always remind us to close the gate so that the cows didn't get out. After you went through the cow pasture which also contained an old oil or gas well and is now Grandview housing development you went down over the hill past Morabito's coal mine shafts and which is now Litman Rd. and Greenview. You came to Little Rock which was a small stream that had been dammed to make a small place to swim, after all it was a couple of feet deep but thats plenty deep if your just a kid with a big imagination. This was the scene of many family picnics and outings of potato sandwiches on home made bread wrapped in newspaper, which was the main course for may of these outings.
Aunt Mid and her daughter Joann used to go on these picnics with us all of the time. There used to be little buildings along the hillside that was used to store dynamite for blasting in the mines and we would throw stones at these buildings and run like the wind because we thought that they would blow sky high. Mr. Morrabito would come home from working in the mine in the early afternoon and then three horse thieves would steal the horse and go for rides thruogh the maple grove. The horse thieves were Tony and Snooky Morarbito and myself, we always managed to get the horse back before Grandpa would wake from his afternoon siesta.
A big treat was when the ice man would deliver ice once a week for the ice boxes and you would put a card in the window with the different weights along the four sides 25, 50, 75, and 100 pounds and you turned the card with the weight you wanted on top, and place it in the window, and we would all gather around the ice truck when the iceman used his pick to cut the ice chunks would break off and he would give them to all of the kids.
We played in the fields below Rt. #8 and visited with the many people (nowadays they call them vagrants, but back then they were people that were just down on their luck with nothing to do.) who rode the freight from place to place and slept in little concrete lean to's. They drank sterno which is alcohol strained out of a waxy substance that is still used for keeping food warm for buffets. They got a little drunk and I can remember my brother Jack getting a quarter for helping Toughy Kid to get home. (I think he still has the quarter.) In this same area their used to be a dog pound and the police would gather up the dog's all week and then on Saturday they would shoot them or gas them if there were any dogs left, because we always managed to let them loose on Thursday or Friday. The Butler Packing was just across the tracks and we spent a lot of our time watching the many interesting things going on here such as riding the pigs to see who could stay on the longest and Chookie Benetti usually won. Judging was not based on smell. We watched them slaughter the cattle which wasn’t to pleasant. They would herd them into a chute and then hit them with a sledge hammer to knock them out before they butchered them. Not too appetizing.
My best friend lived across Rt. #8 in the field which is now the Tire Shop, he had a cardboard shack and his name was Tom Mack. I don't know where Tom came from and the color of his skin didn't make any difference in our friendship (back in those days he was a Negro). I remember on one occasion asking Mom if I could have my friend over to eat supper with us and when I told her who it was it didn't bother her one bit. I used to hurry home from school and rush to Tom's as he taught me how to whittle with a real knife and he would tell me stories. One day some whites beat Tom pretty badly and after that Tom just disappeared , probably the same way he got there by freight train which was the main means of transportation in those days. I never got to tell Tom good-by, and I am sure he wouldn't have left that way unless it was necessary. I do not call these whites that beat Tom people because they were just a bunch of animals and not worthy to be classed in the same category as human beings.
In the summer time we swam in the Connoquenessing Creek by Sam Mahan's building supplies, which is now Fullegraf Electric and the creek used to flow down through the West End of Butler before the Army Corp. of Engineers straightened out the flow of the creek to prevent flooding in the city. There was a very large stone at the bend in the creek where we swam and this was called Bare Ass Beach because in those days you just jumped out of your old overalls(not jeans in those days) and jumped in or you could swing on the rope tied under the train trestle and drop in. We also made rafts and would go up above the Shot Blast and float down to the swimming hole. We would walk the beams under the roadway of the viaduct to capture young pigeons and Chookie Benetti would take them home to raise and try to lure Joe Wiest's homing pigeons back into his pens. We would walk the rails and put our ears to the rail to listen for approaching trains so that we could put pennies on the track for the train to flatten out for us, and hoping we would not get caught for defacing Government property. We would also swim in the railroad water tank that was located across from Spangs, this is where the steam trains stopped to drop their ashes and take on water.
(Years later during the II World War my Mother, Sister, and Aunt's were the first women to work on the railroad cleaning up these ashes from the trains .) Just a short distance from the water tower was a train siding into Leedom & Worral where they used to bring in cars of watermelons and the men would unload them by hand. We were always there when the cars came in to watch and wait for someone to drop a watermelon and give it to us to eat, it's surprising how slippery those watermelons were when a bunch of hungry kids were present.
We all played ball in a field on Thomas Ave. (Root Hill) just across from the Andy Minto residence and every time that you hit a foul ball and it went down over the hill near there home they ran out and took the ball and that ended our game for that day. The next day we would ask Bobby Minto if he wanted to play ball and then we talked him into bringing out this new ball all wrapped with friction tape, and once we got up to the field we removed the tape and sure enough there was our ball. We left him finish the game but, we didn't give him back the ball and we went through this same routine throughout the summer. Years and years later when I got a job at the Armco I worked in the Open Hearth Department, and lo and behold who worked there but Andy Minto and I found out where he got the friction tape that was really hard to come by back in the old days. We also went out trick or treating and the main objective was to knock over outhouses (outdoor bathrooms), this was usually the time of the year that you dug a new hole and moved your outhouse and we would go the next day and help each other set them backup, unless you didn't like the people, and then they were on there own. The one outhouse I remember very clearly was Andy Minto's because when we tied the rope around the outhouse we pulled it over on its door and who do you think was in that crapper but good old taper Andy. Boy could he swear!
In the summer evenings we would all gather down at the end of the Plank Road at the back the Pennzoil of and play hide and seek on the roof of the building. Some of the other games we played was Kick Can, in which one person was it and the others hid and when you were caught you stayed by base hoping that someone would sneak in and kick the can and release everyone and the game started all over again. Another game we played was called Hot Ass and doesn't need much explanation on how this was played. We drew a large base on the street and also boundaries, the person that was it had to jump on one leg to try and tag the other players, if his second foot hit the ground for any reason everyone would whack him across the butt until he could get back to base. This is not a game where you learn to stand on your own two feet.
I can remember the roller skates we had that fit on to your shoes and how I used to go the A &P for Mom. The A &P was then located where the Artist have their shop near the corner of Main & Wayne Streets, and the old Red Head gas station was good for a few laps on your skates.( And to think that I am now one of the ones to comment on these kids with their skate boards-I later tried my kids boards and they work quite well.) Talking about skate boards and watching these kids jump with them is nothing like jumping curbs with the skates we had and when you went to land you found out that your skate had come off of your shoe. If you were lucky enough to find and old intertube you could cut gum bands to fit over the end of your shoe and the skates to hold them on. We also make rubber band guns out of the same thing, which was just a piece of wood and a wooden clothes pin and a nail for a trigger. The longer the piece of wood and the stretch to the rubber band the more hurt you got.
I especially remember how Mrs. Benetti would come out just as it was getting dark and call for Gerald (Chookie) to get home as it was time for bed and Chookie always listened to his Mother and went into the house and up to his bedroom and then proceeded to climb out the window and slide down off the roof and we finished our games. Chookie wasn't allowed by his Mother to have Comic Books in the house as they were trash, so he came to our house and read them.
Saturday night was bath time and you would get out the large wash tub, heat the water on the stove and get your weekly bath. No hot water tank and no hot running water-all water was heated on the stove for cooking and washing. We did have indoor plumbing which was a commode in the basement. The coal stove in the basement heated the house so in the winter time you didn't spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Talk about a close family we slept three in a bed which you couldn't even imagine today where everyone has to have their own room just not a bed. To this day some of the habits stay with you forever such as that now we have a queen size bed and I still sleep on the end of the bed and in the winter time Helen has a hard time getting any covers as I curl up on the end of them and won’t part with any. As I said we slept three in a bed and since there was seven boys that meant that it was odd man out and I still don’t know where we all slept.
The biggest event of the entire year was on Labor Day when we rode the streetcar to Alameda Park, and they gave you a strip of tickets that was good for rides on the Merry Go Round, the ponies, and ice cream sandwiches. We were up bright and early on this day as you had to walk to Zeigler Ave. to get the Street Car so that you could get a seat for the long ride to Alameda. Alameda Park was a great place to go for an outing as it had the Merry Go Round, and you tried to get on the outside row of the Merry Go Round because they had an arm of wood that stuck out with rings that rolled out as you pulled them and if you got the brass ring you would get another ride free. There was also a large building with a skating rink downstairs and a dance floor upstairs. It also had a large swimming pool with a large slide that was really fun to ride. A few years later the park was sold to the Nazarene Church and they really left the Park run down and later the County bought the property for what is now Alameda Park, but they sold the buildings to anyone who would take them down. My brother-in-law Gerry Karch bought some of the old Dance Hall and used it to build a house on the Hinchberger Road that my Mother lived in for years. The Street Car went from Zeigler down Center Ave. and over to Main Street and then down Main to Penn St. and out to the end of Penn Street to the turn around at the park. Most of the places the street car was not able to be turned so it was built with the Conductor's driving area on both ends of the car. When you came to the end of the line the Conductor would take a long pole and pull down the spring arm that rode on the car and swing it around from one end to the other. The spring arm rode against the electric line which was located over the Street cars and supported by poles on both sides of the streets. A few years later the buses came into use and the Street Cars became history. The Street Car was just going out as I came in but I remember all of the talk of the run to Evans City and Pittsburgh. I also remember the B&O coming into Butler at the railroad station that is just across the tracks from Wholesale Plumbing and we would watch the people getting off after a long trip from Pittsburgh. The Conductor would get off first and put down a wooden step for the passengers to step down from the train, and the mail people would push out a large wooden cart with a long handle on it and get the mail from the mail car. And just up the street was another passenger station for the B&LE that the special train would stop to pick up passengers for a trip to Conneaut Park, which is located in Meadville, Pa. There was a set of stairs at the far end of the bridge that went down to the train station.
I told you that my Grandmother owned the house where we lived and in the front yard was a big cherry tree with the biggest, sweetest cherries you ever ate and we weren't allowed to pick those cherries so we raided the tree at night with all of the kids in the neighborhood. I can remember my brother Tom sawing a limb off of the tree because he couldn't reach the cherries and my Grandmother just about had conniptions. (I don't know if that is the correct spelling , but it sure sounds right and I think it means she dirtied her drawers.)
The summer was a time of many wonderful events that filled our days and nights and one of these was the medicine show that would set up their tent on the corner of West Wayne and Chestnut Streets, where 4 Star Pizza is now located along with a Body Shop. They would stay for days and up to a week, and these medicine men would give their big spills about all of the sickness, and aches and pains that their medicine would take away. The people bought this cure all because of the contents, which were mostly alcohol, and they had plenty of their own people in the crowd buying to entice the crowd to buy. Another event we all waited with anticipation was the coming of the circus, which all the telephone poles had the large advertisements with the date of arrival on.
The circus would arrive in town usually the day before they were to have the show so that they had time to set up, and they arrived by rail at the B&LE siding on Monroe Street right behind Oesterlings Feed Store. Every kid (old and young) had to be down there at the railroad to watch them unload car after car of animals and equipment that was required for a very large circus. The elephants were used to do most of the heavy work and they also pulled the carts with the tigers and lions as they paraded down Jefferson Street and up pillow Street to the Isovitch farm grounds. The grounds covered everything West of what is now Hansen Ave on which now sits the Locker Room and the Tanglewood compound. At that time Hansen Ave was 10th Avenue and was just a little street that ran through this area and the street car tracks were still in the street at this time.
The circus would advertise for Men and Boys to work at the circus and they would pay you with a ticket to get into the circus if you could find the man in charge at the end of the work day. Nobody trusted the circus people and you always heard about someone running away to join the circus when they left town, which was usually some girl who fell in love with a circus worker. It was a glamorous life in those days with all of the excitement from day to day and the endless travel from city to city, quite a change from the dull life in Butler. The carnivals were also another means of entertainment but not as much as the circus, the carnival would set up for a weeks stay at the grounds on Pillow Street just in front of the Pullman Ball Field and what used to be Puntereri's Beer Distributor. Krogers built the building that is located next to the Puntereri building and they had a store there for quite a few years. The Evangelist would set up their tents on the same corner of Main & Wayne Streets and we would go down and look under the flaps and listen to these Preachers (or whatever) telling everyone that they were going to hell and everyone would be yelling Amen and then they passed the baskets for donations and the people gave more than what they should have given. What you see on Television we saw live and we would imitate those preachers for days after.
Baseball was a large event in Butler in those years with the New York Yankees Class D farm team here , and Whitey Ford pitching. We used to go down to field and try to get a foul ball or a home run ball, because if you gave the ball back they would let you into the game free, and you could also get in after the seventh inning when they quit sailing tickets. Most of the time we would just sit on the hill above Rt. #8 and watch and listen to the crowd noise, you could sure tell how the home team was doing. Later the Yankees left Butler and the Detroit Tigers took over the franchise for awhile, and Whitey Ford went on to bigger and better things as a left hand pitcher with the Yankees. Paul Foytack pitched for the Tiger farm team here in Butler and he to went on to become a 20 game winner for the Detroit Tigers. We always had a good time on the swinging bridge which is still located at the end of Diamond Street and was used quite heavily as a means to get across the Creek that ran through this area.
So much for the summer activities now lets talk about those good old days when the snow was up to your shoulders and you didn't see the ground from the first of November until April Ist. We would take our home made Bob Sled which usually held 6 to 8 people to the top of the Plank Road and ride down to the intersection of Route 8. We built Go-Devils which were like a ski with a seat and you steered by dragging one foot or the other depending on which way you wanted to turn. These were made of a wooden runner and wooden supports up to the seat, they later on manufactured these but we were a little before the time. We spent a lot of time outdoors playing in the snow along with my cousin Dale and Chookie, but he didn’t get out to often because of the snow on the roof. They only ashed the intersections in those days and you were on your own in between if you even had a car that would run in the winter. We made go devils and built jumps and had a good time even in the terrible winter. There used to be a street with an underpass right off of Coal Street that went down behind Spangs or you could make a turn and go down over the tracks to the West End, the underpass didn't get much snow in the winter so we would build up a path with snow and then we would take our sleds up over the hill to Thomas Ave. and if you could make the sharp 90 degree bend at the bottom you could ride down Coal Street and through the underpass and stop under the South Main Bridge. Seems like we did a lot of walking to get a short ride but it didn't cost anything. After school we would hurry home to listen to all of our favorite programs on KDKA radio which included the Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Inter sanctum, Fibber McGee & Molly, Jack Armstong, and Amos & Andy. (Which wouldn't even be allowed on the air in these times.)
All of the events I have told you about have taken place during the period from 1931 to 1939 and the next series of events begin with the period after the death of my Father on Oct. 30, 1939. Richard was 18 years of age at this time and was away at CC Camp working when my Dad died and he automatically became the head of the family with responsibilities from himself at 18 to Linda at 3 months. Rich gave up his life to help raise all of us and not once did I ever hear him complain and he was always there for any of us at any time. God bless him. I remember walking up by the Pennzoil with Jack and Dale came running down the street and said your Dad died, he couldn’t wait until we got home to find out. My Dad was buried on November 2nd which just happens to be my birthday and that is how I always remember my birthday.
Swimming holes in those days were many and far apart but we used many varied means of transportation to get to them. Dorwin Zarnick used to have an old Ford pickup that got us around by everyone pitching in their pennies and nickels to buy gas that cost up to 20 cents a gallon. We would drive to the top of the hill and then turn off the ignition and coast as far as you could before e kicking it into gear and driving up the next hill. (Gas mileage was terrific in those days.) Collecting scrap to sale for a little gas money started us off on swimming experience to Rockdale, which is out in Penn Township. My cousin Dallas Kresen was along on this trip with the whole gang in the back of the pickup and he was always bending the truth about his exploits as a life guard at the YMCA. (He was known to BS a little bit too!) Dorwin dropped us off at the swimming hole and went to look for scrap while we swam. Dallas was going to show us how to dive, so he asked me how deep the water was and I showed him how it came up to my shoulders which probably made the water from 2 to 3 feet deep at the most as I was just a little runt at that time. Well he took a big run and dove right in head first and he didn't come back up for a little while, and when he did he was holding his head very stiff and complained of hurting his neck. We told him we would go and find Dorwin to take us home but we didn't believe that he was telling the truth so we snuck around and watched him for awhile. In the meantime Dorwin came back and Dallas wanted to ride in the front seat which we finally agreed to and upon arriving home his Mother took him to the Butler Hospital for a check up.
At that time the Butler Hospital had a large set of steps up to the entrance which Dallas walked up to, and after the examination the Doctors could not believe that a person could survive a broken neck, ride in a pickup truck, and walk those steps and still live. Later when the war broke out and Dallas tried to enlist in the Marines they would not accept him, but he did get into the Navy. Another favorite swimming area was McBrides, located down Rt. #8 to the Renfrew road and then just about a half mile on the right was one of the major attractions of that time.
The old grape arbors out back was the gathering place for many smoke outs as we experimented with smoking dried grape leaves wrapped in newspaper and also the corn silk from the tassel of corn which grew in Grandma's garden.We awaited Spring when the farmer would come with his team of horses and plow right up to the back door. GrandmaandUncleHump(George) would plant the garden which we had no part of but Grandma would sale me a quart of tomato's for 10 cents after canning season.
My cousin Barbara Suchy would always visit for the summer and she was always at our house most of the time. Barbara was just like a sister to me and after Dad died Doss and Nick wanted to take me to live with them, of course my Aunts had ideas for just about all of my family but my Mother put a stop to that very quickly. My Grandmother would call me over and show me the Christmas presents she had bought for Jimmy, and David, and also for Charley. She said she couldn't buy us presents as there was too many kids, but I did appreciate her kindness for at least letting me see what new toys looked like. We didn't get many toys but we didn't have time for them or any use for them when God made trees, and fields and creeks- who needed toys.
About this time Tom the terror was getting into the act when he croaked all of my Grandmother's peeps and laid them out in a straight row, I told him he should of scattered them around and she would never know what happened to them. Another of Tom's escapades was setting the hillside, just across and up the street from us, on fire. I found Tom hiding under the bed and asked him what was the matter just as I heard the fire trucks with sirens blaring, coming up the street and he exclaimed that he was in big trouble this time, but things turned out all right and the grass came in very green in a short time.
We went to school at St. Peter's and to get there we had to walk, unheard of in these days-right. But we had two different routes depending on the time of year which are classified as warm and cold. The warm route took us down The Plank Rd. across Rt. #8 and down the steps at Morando's and down the back road under Rt. #8 viaduct past Spangs, where the big furnaces heated the forging to be turned down by the giant air hammers that shook the ground when they hit. Then we headed up Cliff St. and through what is now Keystone Tubular and across Cunningham St. at Koch's Hardware and up the alley to school. The cold route took us down the road to the intersection of Main and Brugh Ave. and along the front of Spangs which had wire mesh on the big windows along the street and all of the heat from the forge furnaces came out and you could run from one window to the next to keep warm. Just past Spangs we turned left and picked up the warm route to school.
One of my experiences that sticks with me from Catholic school was the day we took our lunches and went to my Aunt Mids to eat lunch and after lunch we played a little to long and were afraid to go back to school if we were late. So we decided to take the rest of the day off and play by the creek until it was time to go home, but someone saw us and reported to the school that we were playing hooky. The next day we were called into the Principal's office and she used a barber strap to get our confessions, I guess the confessional at church was out of order at that time. Another thing was that every grade I attended in the School I had to teach the Nuns that my name was Gene and not Eugene that's the reason I have large ears, from being pulled out of my seat, or that my hair doesn't stay down in the back so good. They also had a big stick and they played a game called Repeat After Me which I never was good at. Hey! if you could play Hot Ass what was a little stick across the knuckles, I wanted to tell the Nun about this game but I don't think she would care to play. If you went to school with a shirt with a collar you had to wear a tie and if you didn't they made a big paper one and you had to wear this all day, so we always had Mom buy shirts with no collars. The fashion of the day was Knickers and High Top shoes that came almost to your knees, with rawhide laces and a little pocket on the side and usually came with a pocket knife, that was the main reason we wanted those shoes.
In the summer we usually went barefoot most of the time or else we would wear tennis shoes with no socks, as they were to much bother, when the last one in at the swimming hole was it for the game of tag, so you only wore what was necessary, which was on old pair of cutoff overalls and not much else. We even ran through the woods barefoot and climbed every tree in the Maple Grove( that's where Guilford Park is now located), and this made pretty tough walking on the ash roads, or Red Dog , since only the main roads were paved or brick. I had a friend in grade school named David Isovitch and they had a large farm, and a large family, and they lived in the West End. On one occasion George brought the team of horses and we helped take away unwanted items from St. Peter's, and we thought it was great riding in the wagon through the streets of Butler. Later on David along with his brother Richard went hunting and Richard accidentally shot Dave and killed him, later Richard was serving in the Korean war and he was shot and killed.
Movie houses then include the Majestic on East Cunningham at McKean St. which is now a Doctor's o ffice, The Butler Theater, which was the best in town and is now Pittsburgh National Bank Drive-through o n Jefferson St., The Capitol on Main Street between Jefferson St. and New Castle Street, and the P enn Theater which is still operating on Main Street. I remember being at the Penn Theater the night of the f irst WISR radio broadcast, Butlers first radio station was big news back then. We went to the Capitol a nd Majestic theaters most of the time as they carried all of the serials and all of the B movies, which w e thought were the greatest in those days. Some of the favorites were the Lone Ranger, Flash G ordon, Hopalong Cassidy, Zoro, Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course Knute Rockne with everybody's f avorite Ronald Reagen, who should have stayed in the B movies he was better there than the acting job h e did as President years later. Another favorite of mine and Newt Gingrich(which I didn't find out until years later), was Boys Town with Spencer Tracy. The Majestic and Capitol used to have chance night and they would play a revised version of Bingo which they called lucky, and they would give prizes if you covered the numbers. The movies were ten cents for ages 12 and under and I went to the movies so often and lied my age, that's the reason I walk stooped over now. I remember going to the Movies with Jack, Bob, and Donald and we would always run up the alley from the Majestic and hide in the doorways to scare Donald. Donald is my cousin and at that time they lived behind the houses on the upper side of the Plank Rd., and we had him so scared that when we came up the Plank Rd. he would stand and yell until his Mother (Clara) would come down part way to walk him home. Some of the places we went by in our comings and goings were the back of the Nixon Hotel (the alley that is now Mellon Drive-thru , next to the Post Office) where we would agitate the Chinese cooks, whom we thought would chase us with big meat cleavers.
We would stop at Dixon's Pharmacy which was located in the corner of Main and Diamond in the Nixon Hotel for the biggest ice cream cones in town for 10 cents. Another good place to visit was Morrisons Candy Co. which was located in the alley behind the Cutaway Market., you always got free samples of the candy sticks that they were making. The Rainbow Restaurant was situated at the corner of Main & Wayne which is now the Post Office and right next to it on Wayne was a little diner that was later used for a used car lot. The Willard Hotel was located at this same intersection along with Butler County Motors on the other corner. The Nixon Hotel was the exclusive stopping place in Butler with its plush lobby and the Doorman, with his uniform and all the trimmings would come out to open the door for you to enter. We thought it was a big deal just to walk through the lobby and pretend that we were actually staying there, when we would get our hair cut from Mr. Thomas, who was one of the Barbers at the hotel along with Buc Haben.
We always worried that Mr. Thomas would spit tobacco juice on you when he was cutting your hair and he didn't have time to spit in the large brass cuspidors that were used in those days. I should tell you that Mr. Thomas was my brother Howard's Father-in Law and after my Dad died he would cut our hair as a favor to my Mother. Howard had run away and married Ailean Thomas about this time. The Park Hotel was not one the finer Hotels in Butler and was located across from the Nixon on the Diamond, this was the most rowdy place in Butler at the time.
The Hot Dog Shop was just getting started as was Herold's Dairy right next to the Butler Theater and then a few years later they moved To a drive -in right across the street from, what is now Nationwide, at the Corner of Main and Pearl. We would always go by the Chinese Laundry on East Jefferson just a few doors up from the Butler Theater and in the windows they would be ironing shirts and you could see all of the button on collars on the shelves. (In those days you saved on laundry by just changing collars.) We would always yell No tickee No Washy and keep on running because the Chinese always carried big meat cleavers with them, so we thought.
Charley Chan movies were always one of the favorites, they always proved how right your Father was and the son was stupid, and now I find this to be correct. Old Chinese saying --We Age Wisely.(not really a Chinese saying, I just made it up.)
Meanwhile, back on the Plank Road things were really moving along My sister Marie got Married to George Kresen and we serenaded them by banging on pots and pans and tied cans and junk to the back of the car to drag and make noise when they drove off. Most people didn't drive off because they didn't have cars to drive so they just stayed at home and enjoyed their overnight honeymoons and the next day was back to business. Mr. Benetti would get his Pontiac out of the garage that he kept in Yohe's garage and shine it up for his yearly trip clear up to Sligo and then back into the garage until next year.
While everyone was busy traveling around in their cars my brother Howard was forever fixing the flat tires on his wooden rimmed 1928 Dodge that he acquired. Howard always had a knack for using someone else's car to get around and he even hauled the Democrats to the polls to vote in cars furnished by the Republicans that he was getting paid to work for them. One of the longest trips that we ever took in those days was all the way to Saxonburg where e stopped for that famous Saxonburg Ice Cream, which was famous in those days long before Bologna.
Danny finished High School and wen to Butler Business School which was located on Main on the second floor of the Nixon Hotel, and after his schooling there he was employed by the Valvoline Oil Co. in East Butler. Dan rode to work with Mr. Dodds who lived out on Crisswell Road for a short period of time, until he was able to save enough money to buy his own car which was a brown 2 door Ford. We were really moving up in the world now that our Brother had a car but along came the war and changed things, such as the rationing of gas and food supplies. It wasn't long before Dan received a notice from his Uncle that he should get rid of his car and come and join him in fighting the Japs, Germans, and Italians. So off went Dan, Howard, Dallas, George, and Bob joined the Navy (he couldn't even swim and he still can't.) and when the Japs heard that he was on his way to Japan they surrendered. Jack joined the Navy right after the war and served in the battle of the Gulf of Mexico, he fought off sea sickness the whole way back to shore.
During the war we used to have practice air raids and the wardens would make you get off of the streets and into a building and if it was at night you had to turn off your lights or have black out curtains over your windows. We used to sneak out during these drills and hide from the Wardens and pretend that we were really being attacked and we killed all of the Japs and Germans left in the world.
My Mother was doing her part for the war effort by working on the B & O Railroad and then in the Shell Shop which was located at the Agway site on Pillow and Bantam Ave. This is the same street where the Bantam was located the home of the Jeep and the little Bantam cars that were years ahead of their time and not accepted until years later. The Bantam was located where Armco Plant 2 is now standing and the smoke stack used to have the letters BANTAM printed from the top to the bottom. While my Brother's were away my Mother was busy fighting another battle that started after my Dad had died. I told you that we lived in my Grandmother's house and she kept giving my Mother a hard time about living there and also my Aunt Dorothy Fleming wanted to move into that house. We finally moved from the Plank Road, when I was 13 years of age, and took up residence in the house my Mother bought in Homeacre. The house was located halfway between Homeacre School and the Duffy Rd. which is now Whitestown Village Apartment complex. Danny and Bob were still in the service when we moved and we didn't tell them the directions on how to get there, but they showed up anyhow. Danny was in Europe with General Patton's 3rd Army and he sent home many souvenirs which consisted of a complete German Officer uniform and a large German Flag , that was hung on the buildings. Jack and I was home from school when the package arrived and we opened it up and were so excited that we couldn't wait for Mom to get home, so I dressed in the uniform and Jack had on the steel German helmet and we stretched that German Flag clear across the front of the house as the bus that Mom was coming on went down the road, Boy, was she excited about the souvenirs, she yelled the whole way down from Homeacre School bus stop.
Mom worked hard to keep us all together, she worked at a little ice cream store at the point, and then she got a job at the VA Hospital in Housekeeping and from there she retired.
This is where my cowboy days began with Sterlings right out the road, you could rent horses by the hour and we rode quite a bit, and I would ride the horses right up to the back door and knock, and Mom would open the door and be shocked at a horse looking at her. I once wanted to ride a new horse that they had just bought and when they put the saddle on the guy didn't tighten up the back strap and when that horse took off bucking my rodeo debut was over before it got started. My riding expertise didn't go unnoticed though because our neighbor up the street Jim Gold would always buy horses and he would get me to ride them for him. Swimming was still a big item in those days and we used the Meridian Damn for this purpose, as it was the hot spot in those days for swimming , and attracted quite a crowd on hot days.
One day my friend Bob Hinton brought his pony Champ to the swimming hole and we had a great time diving off of the pony's back and everyone was having a great time until that pony let loose and all the horse turds floated to the top of the water and everybody decide to get out of the pool, we had the place all to ourselves.
Danny and Bob were at home about this time but we didn’t see too much of either one as they were busy with Dan chasing some girl by the name of Nelle Fitzpatrick and Bob was roller skating with Mary Lou Bethune. I think that Bob Tritch and Bob flipped a coin to see who got to skate with her and Bob lost.
Danny and Nelle got married and I had just got my drivers license, so I was the designated driver for the day.
Jim Gold owned a 1939 Chevrolet 2 door and we fixed it up so that you could go from the back seat into the trunk, and Drive-In movies were just starting to come into business over the disapproval of a lot of people. They claimed that they would cause wrecks and would be too noisy, as the movies then didn't have speakers for the cars and you just set with your windows down or you could set on the ground or benches and watch the movies. A lot of people would park along the road and watch the movies instead of paying to get in, because you paid for each person in your car at that time. I told you that we fixed Jim's car, and now I will explain why we did this, we piled 3 kids in the trunk, 2 under the back seat , 1 on the floor under a blanket that covered the front seat and draped down the back. Jim would drive the car into the movie and usually park in the last row or where there wasn't any cars near and then we would all pile out and watch the movie, sometimes we even paid for 2 people. The Skyway which was located next to Stirlings Stables and which is now Sterling Glen on Rt. #68, and this was the first Drive-In in Butler. Some of the favorite places since we had wheels to get around was Herold's Drive In , which had moved from the Butler Theater building to the corner of Main and East Pearl St., right across from Nationwide which is now a parking lot for Nationwide. Morgan's Drive In was located out Main St. North where the Chinese Gourmet is now located, and Fratto's had a drive in at the corner of Hansen Ave. and Pillow. St. for many years.
We would hurry home from school and eat supper, and rush up to the top of the field behind the Homeacre School and watch the Mail Plane come into to pick up the mail each evening. Talk about air mail we got to see the real thing and this is how it was done, a man from the Post Office would bring the mail in a leather bag and there was a long rope attached to the bag, this man would set up two poles and place the rope across from one pole to the other (the poles were 15 to 20 feet high), and place the bag in position on the ground. The Pilot would come across and get the signal from the man on the ground that everything was go, and then the Pilot would make a turn and come flying in and the hook on the plane would catch the rope and away went the air mail. Not much room to do that nowadays with all the houses, apartment, and water tower located just at the top of the hill on Acre Ave. We played a lot of baseball at different fields in the area and competed with teams from other areas. Wherever there was an open field we would make it into a ballfield, and as people moved in and built houses we just moved to another location.
I attended the Eighth grade at Lyndora School and we were bussed there from Homeacre, and on these buses were monitors to keep you in line-Mary Jane Slomers was the monitor on our bus and she turned me in because I told her to get lost. I was given detention at lunch time and was not allowed out on the playground, but Miss Shanor and Mr. Varhola came up with a brilliant solution to get me off of the hook. All I had to do was to perform in the Minute which was going to be held at the McQuistion School and if I didn't then I would have to stay in for the rest of the year (a lifetime). I agree to don my Satin Knickers, my white wig , high socks, and buckle shoes, and my partner was Joanne Lumley, others were Dorothy Stotish- Soule, Joe Mrochek, and about 8 couples of us did the honors for that enjoyable evening.
They sold pictures of this event, but I would not buy one, but Dorothy has one and I may try to get a copy to prove that here were other Gene's beside Kelly that could dance. After finishing school at Lyndora you had to take a city bus to get to the High School and all of the boys sat in the back of the bus, and one day upon arriving at the bus station which was located on Cunningham Street and is now the Tier Parking Garage, we all jumped out of the emergency door and took off for school. The next day our bus driver who's name was Bob Borcz questioned everyone about opening the emergency and no one would admit to doing it except me. Bob was quite a mean guy and everyone was afraid of him but after this episode we became very good friends and he wasn't as mean as he made everyone believe.
About this time a big change came over me as I started to notice that the girls weren't as bad to be around and in fact some of them were pretty good friends of mine. Most of the girls that I attended school with at Lyndora were in the band and it was at a Halloween parade that I met the girl of my dreams Helen Hrip. We became friends during school and would share lunches together and walk Main Street with other couples and my friend at that time was Dick Steighner (His Dad had a new Studebaker-one that you couldn't tell if it was coming or going and Dick got the car often.) We tried to impress the girls by jumping over the parking meters along Main Street, when I heard Dick yell for me to help him down as he had jumped a little short and the crotch of his pants caught on the meter and he couldn't get off, he snuck home to change pants and that was the end of jumping meters. One of our favorite places was Isaly's Dairy which was located on Main St. and was located between the Thrift Drug and Ralph's Shoe Store. Helen quit school in the 11th Grade, when her Mother had a heart attack and she had to take care of the house as her Father was dead and her sister Ann had to work to keep the home going. I didn't see her to much after this until Mary Jane Vidmar-Zulick asked me to give Helen a call since her Mother was feeling better she would like to get out of the house for awhile. So I called Helen and we went together the rest of my school years and we decided to get married and set the date for June 19th, which was just after school was over on the 6th or 7th of June. At the time we got married I didn't even have a job, so we lived with Helen's Mom and Sister Ann, I was 17 1/2 and Helen was 18 1/2 and everyone said it wouldn't last.
I later started driving truck for Fisher's Cleaners on East Cunningham St., at that time Dallas Kresen worked there also and he taught me the how to clean up in the cleaning business. His route was out of town and mine was in the city, and you went up and down the streets and look at the houses that had their Fisher Cleaning sign in the window, which meant that they had laundry to be picked up. The cleaning business was slow so I took a job at the Swan Taxi, driving 12 hour shifts from 6 to 6, and you did this 6 days a week and the money you took in was pooled together to figure your pay, which usually amounted to $45.00 a week plus you kept your own tips. I averaged about a 100 miles a day around Butler, and this way I usually made out on the tips. I used to have to pick up Mr. Klutinoty (the owner of the Hot Dog Shop) at 5:30 to take him to work, and as soon as he got in the cab he would roll the window down, regardless of the weather and hand you 35 cents for the Taxi fare from N. Washington St. to the Hot Dog Shop. You didn't leave the meter click over anymore or you had to pay the difference out of your own pocket, so this one cold morning I received the call to pick up Mr. Klutinoty and I rolled down all the windows and turned off the heat and proceeded to give Mr. Klutinoty a good ride to work. He got into the cab and I took off, and I remember him Blessing himself and saying with teeth chattering Boy its cold in here.
Another incident I had in my taxi driving experience was the day I picked up a guy in the West End and he wanted to go to Main Street but after he got in the cab and I had tripped the meter, he told me he didn't have any money but he would leave his top coat with me until the next day and then he would come in and pay to redeem his coat. The next day I see this guy walking down the street with a new top coat and his old coat hung at the Taxi Office until they closed up. I later was employed at the H. J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, and I hitch hiked a ride back and forth for about a year, and I never missed a days work or was late, but I put in a lot of hours along Rt. #8. There are a lot of funny experiences from that year of travel and one of these is the day that a Priest picked me up and gave me a ride, and as we drove a short distance he asked if I new how to drive as he had traveled some distance and was tired. I said yes, I would gladly drive for him and as soon as we got started down that road out came his prayer book and I don't know if he intended to pray or if it was my driving. I later got into Armco after many frustrating tries and this led to a greater stability in our family life. The size of our family increased over the years and we had many happy times camping and traveling with our trailer and later a motor home. We had Gene, Dave, Lori, John, and Kevin when we were into the trailer camping and you needed a mini-bike because everyone had one, as the kids convinced me. I didn't need much convincing, so we went looking for a mini-bike and we stopped at a bike shop that was located where the Chinese restaurant is now located on New Castle Rd. I had to try out the mini-bike and with all of the family watching I took it for a ride or was it that it took me for a ride, there was a hill about 8 foot high and a path up to the top and I went up the hill and when I got to the top the bike kept going up and there I was going down that path with the front wheel in the air and me gassing and chasing that bike. The kids really got a big laugh out of that and I in my embarrassment yelled everyone back in the car and home we went. The next day we went back and bought the mini-bike. We later sold the trailer as everyone was to big to go but to small to stay at home by themselves and we didn't get into camping until a few years later when Beth and Missy had arrived on the scene and we bought a motor home and traveled quite a bit.
As the kids got older and we got involved in politics, and at one function at the Holiday's Inn (now Days Inn) Dave met the son of Jimmy Carter and he asked if we would have his mother Rosalyn as a house guest during the Pennsylvania Primary election. She arrived by small plane at the Butler Graham airfield and Dave and I met her and her sons mother-in-law, who was her traveling companion, and brought her to our home. Just as we got in the house Jimmy Carter called to talk to Rosalyn and later to me to thank us for having them in our home. I didn't know it at the time but Jimmy had called earlier and Lori answered the phone and told her that this was Jimmy Carter and would like to talk to Rosalyn, and Lori, says to him "OK Uncle Bob stop the fooling around", and Mr. Carter explained that he was really not Uncle Bob. It was very cold and most of their clothes had been stolen in Boston so Lori lent a sweater and coat to Mrs. Carter to wear to the Armco main gate where we campaigned. I would introduce Rosalyn to most of the people going into or coming out of work as the next First Lady of the United States, and History proved me right. When there was a slow period and not to many people coming or going the bus pulled in and stopped to pick up the people going to town, so I took Rosalyn by the hand and ran and got on the bus and introduced her to the bus driver and the people on the bus. The Carters were very down to earth people and when she talked to Missy and Beth that evening and promised if they got into the Whitehouse that she would invite them to Washington, D.C., a promise that we didn't believe would ever happen. Upon winning the election we were invited to the Inauguration, the Parade, and a luncheon at the Whitehouse the day after the Inauguration, and Helen, Dave, and Aunt Jean, and myself went to the Ball and the parade and Inauguration. The next day Dave, Helen, and I had to go to the Army base in Washington, D. C. to go through security and board the buses to go to the luncheon, and it was exciting going down the street with police escorts right into the bottom level of the Whitehouse where the Diplomats entered. We had the run of the Whitehouse except for the upper living level, and Dave sat in the chair by the fireplace where a few of the Presidents gave their fireside chats to the American people. We received a plaque that states that a member of the Carter family had stayed at our home during the election campaign and then we proceeded upstairs to The East Room and the formal dining room where all of the goodies were set up and Shirley Temple Black greeted all of the people, and I kept looking at her and expecting her to go into a little song and dance routine, as she did in the many movies that I had seen years before. After the luncheon we filed down the hall to be met by Vice- President Walter Mondale and his Wife, and then a little further on standing between the flag of the United States on one side and the Presidential flag on the other was The President of the United States and his wife Rosalyn and we were introduced by a Major in the Marine Corps., and this was such an overwhelming sight that it left you speechless.
Two years went by and we had forgotten about the invitation for the girls to go to the Whitehouse, but we received an invitation to the Valentine Dance for Missy, Beth, Dave, Helen, and I to attend. I called Armco and asked for a few days off and when I told them where I was going they were only to happy to oblige in fact they gave me a large Iron Man statue to present to the President. We arrived in Washington, D. C. and Mrs. Carter's secretary called and we set up a visit for that afternoon but the President would not be able to attend as he had a very busy schedule. We met with Mrs. Carter and her daughter Amy, who was dressed in old torn jeans and had just come home from school, and as we were talking in Came the President and he greeted us like old time friends and asked how all the Zarnick's were doing. Beth had her camera along, which is not even allowed in the White House but they didn't bother us and she asked the President if she could take his picture and he permitted her to do so even though he was dressed to go jogging and his secret service agents were waiting. That evening we went back to the Whitehouse for the Dance and there was a Marine Band playing in the East Room of the Whitehouse. The President came down the line into the room and he told the girls that the Fond from Happy Day's (Henry Winkler) would be at the party and they could go upstairs and watch movies and have popcorn with Amy. Beth and Missy were the only kids at the dance and when The Fonz came in they were just as excited to meet him as they were the President of the USA. As we left the party the Fonz was leaving in his stretch limo and he put down the window and was yelling Missy, Missy, Missy. How many people get to even see a live President in their lifetime, and this is something we shall never forget.
I have fond memories of the old Plank Rd. and I know my Aunt Dorothy didn't enjoy living in the old homestead as she said that she could hear kids running and laughing through the house, probably her conscience playing tricks on her.
Well I just wanted you to know a few of the things that we did growing up long before TV and kids needing someplace to go or something to do. We made do with what we had and created from nothing the things we weren't fortunate enough to have. As long as you have love in the family and friends forever what more could you ask for. I hope that this gives you a better insight to some of the locations around the city of Butler.