Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Rick K. Remembers: Military Surplus

Back on April 3, I did a post about the Ohio National Guard Armory on Grove Avenue that included a photo of the old personnel carrier tank parked out in front. Its fighting days over, and no longer needed by the army, the tank has enjoyed a peaceful retirement for decades.

But what about normal-sized military surplus? How and why did all that stuff end up in stores like Cane’s Surplus on Broadway?

Regular blog contributor Rick Kurish has the answer.

In a recent email, Rick wrote, "Have you ever considered a blog series on the military surplus bonanza which existed at the end of World War II?

"As the war was coming to an end, the federal government realized that they would have to deal with a huge surplus of military material. To deal with this, the government created the War Assets Administration, and charged it with liquidating the surplus.

"In its approximately five year lifetime, from about 1946 to about 1950, the War Assets Administration managed to auction off 32 billion dollars of surplus military material, which would be over 300 billion in todays dollars! The result was that military surplus stores, which had first appeared after the first World War, sprung up in cities all over the country.

"Virtually every city of a certain size had at least one store. Many of your blog readers are probably familiar with Cane’s in Lorain, Dave’s in Oberlin, and also Federal and Elyria Surplus Center, both in Elyria.

"The range of military equipment that these stores sold was amazing — especially to a young boy. Probably every family in the 1946 – 1960 time frame had some items that had at one time been military surplus.

"As a young kid in the 1950s, I camped out in the backyard sleeping on my army surplus folding cot, while being kept warm by my army surplus blankets.

"I have attached a few sample ads from the 1946 to 1950 time frame to give an idea of what was available.”

Here are Rick’s ads from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. The first three are for the Federal Store at 307 Broad Street.
Here a couple more, for Elyria Surplus Center.

Rick noted, "The surplus was so large that the surplus spilled over to regular retail establishments. I have ads of surplus army air force watches sold in jewelry stores, army surplus bunk beds sold in furniture stores, surplus radios sold in electronics stores, surplus rubber boats sold in sporting goods stores, and even army ammunition boxes and army air force goggles sold in five & dime stores.”

Here are some of the ads that Rick is referring to.

"The stuff was everywhere,” observed Rick. "I’ll bet many of your readers have fond memories of this “Golden Age” of military surplus.”

Rick shared a few of his own personal memories.

"My dad was an electrician and often worked outdoors in cold weather,” he noted. "He purchased some of his cold weather work clothes at Cane’s in Lorain. He spent a portion of his World War II service in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska so he knew what cold weather was, and he purchased a lot of army surplus gloves, socks, long underwear, etc. at Cane’s over the years.

"I remember going with him at times when I was about 8 years old and bugging him to buy me things. I remember one time trying to get him to buy me a gas mask, and finally settled for a compass. The compass had more features than an eight year kid knew what to do with — but at least I always knew which way was north.
"I remember at about the same time, a friend of mine who lived down the street became the envy of the kids in the neighborhood when he acquired a surplus hand held periscope. It was supposedly used by tank crews to enable them to observe the area without exposing themselves to enemy fire by climbing out of the hatch on the tank. We had great fun for a while using the periscope to peek over and around things without being observed.

"Ahh, it was great to be a kid in the 1950s, even though we didn’t have the internet and video games!”

Special thanks as usual to Rick for sharing his research and well-written memories.

Like Rick, I enjoyed poking around in Cane’s during and after my high school days; I was sorry when the business finally closed and Downtown Lorain lost yet another mainstay. Later, Dave’s Army Navy store was the only reason I ever drove to Oberlin; unfortunately, Dave’s closed in 2010.


Anonymous said...

Hey, don't forget about Whitey's....Last open store was in Berea. They also had
a store in Medina, off the square & a store in Elyria on the west end of Broad St.
Nothing like the smell of old canvas on a Saturday morning circa the mid-Seventies!!

Anonymous said...

I can remember shopping at Downtown Lorain stores in the 60's with my Mom and on rare occasions stopping in Cane's. That was one of the few stores I didn't mind much cool stuff for a young kid like me to look at. I loved wandering the aisles while my Mom bought whatever she needed. Who knew later on while working at the Journal in the 80's I'd end up being their ad rep. Herb Cane the owner and Freddie Cane his daughter were great to work with. That was the place for Levi's and Converse. Thanks Rick! Todd

Matt Weisman said...

Dan, this brought back great memories this morning reading about the old Army Surplus Stores. I remember all the army surplus stores in Elyria when I was a boy. All of us Boy Scouts used it a lot for camping gear and cooking items. Still have some of those tough wool blankets. Don’t think they ever wore out. It was like going into a magical place when we were boys and going through all the neat stuff. Last one I was in, I think as Medina on the square years ago.

Anonymous said...

My family would frequent Cane's. Mr. and Mrs. Cane were so nice. More recently there is still Glen's Surplus in Shelby OH, I think on Mohican street for a fun road trip. Rae

Dan Brady said...

Sounds like fun, Rae! I know where Shelby is, Central Ohio is the ancestral home of the Bradys, post-Civil War!

Anonymous said...

"My family would frequent Cane's. Mr. and Mrs. Cane were so nice. More recently there is still Glen's Surplus in Shelby OH, I think on Mohican street for a fun road trip. Rae"

Right-On!! Glen's is for sure a destination spot!! Also in Shelby is the Sportsman's
Den, north of town.

Dennis Thompson said...

Galco Army Store is still in business at 4004 E 71st St in Cleveland, although it is mostly non military clothing. And I agree on Glen's, it is huge with a wide variety of industrial surplus and lawn tractor parts.

That El-A-Co ad reminded me of that great electronics store in Elyria. I worked with Jim Ely who's family ran it. And yes, that is Elyria's founding family!

Dennis Thompson

Anonymous said...

There was also an abundant supply of magazines listing war surplus items including Jeeps and Cushman scooters and not very expensive at all! Many of my 'Rebel Rouser' friends including myself rode Cushmans. After all we were 14 years old and in need of transportation right? With a drivers test for a license in South Amherst we were good to go!

Wireless.Phil said...

All the surplus Mil gear is on line now, don't know of many stores left.
Still use my old wool-blend blanket, at least I think it's wool-blend.