Sunday, January 23, 2011

Memories of Gilbert's Food Fair & Trains

April 19, 1951 Ad in Lorain Journal
I recently got an email from regular blog reader and pal Bill Latrany. Bill had read my series of posts that mentioned the Hafely Building, and this got him to thinking about Gilbert's Food Fair, which was located in that strip. (The above ad lists the Gilbert's store as one of many Food Fair locations.)
Bill's grandparents lived on Missouri Avenue, and thus he was well acquainted with Gilbert's. But Gilbert's is only the stepping-off point for Bill's reminisces of the fun he had with his grandfather enjoying the trains that passed behind the small grocery store. His email was such a well-written slice-of-life that, with his permission, I'll reproduce some of it right here.

Bill remembers: "My grandfather and I would walk to Gilbert's corner grocery store. Sometimes we would go to the park just to the 'east' of the mini-shopping center, but most often my grandfather and I would get a popcicle or pushup from Gilbert's, then go on up the slight incline to the railroad tracks and wait for a train." 
"I remember the old wooden boxcars and the old steam engine just at the time of switching from steam to diesel...and waving at both the engineer and the caboose keeper.  Seeing the trains approaching from around the bend, miles down the track, was excitement which triggered off a series of events. You first saw the engine light, heard the train whistle blowing for the crossings prior to reaching Missouri Avenue.  The lights on the crossing signal would be tripped and standing next to the gate you could hear the gears grinding away as the arm was lowering.  There was a long moment of silence until the engine came roaring down the track and blasting the horn, accompanied by a bell.  Watching the weight of the engine and the cars rolling along the track make the steel track itself appear to be doing pushups with each passing wheel."

"Wonderment would have me in a daze as I would wonder where those huge colorful boxcars were coming from, and where they were destined.  The old red wooden caboose was the end of the line of cars, and I often dreamed about what it would be like to sit in a lawn chair on the back platform of the caboose and see the countryside of Americana.  Hearing old Depression stories from my parents and grandparents, I would keep a watchful eye for hobo's hitching a ride under the boxcars and tanker cars, but never spotted one."

"After the train would pass, and the event being wrapped up with the grinding of the crossing gate drawn into an upright position, the blinking lights were once again put to sleep until another train came to pass.  Sometimes a double treat of several trains in succession would compliment the event, but that was rare.  I remember being halfway back to my grandparents home after watching a train, to hear the distant whistle of another 'choo choo' coming, and my 65-year-old grandfather and I would race back to the railroad crossing for yet another exciting moment.”

Bill does a great job of recreating the pleasure and excitement that he felt as a child, seeing a train up close with his grandfather. I hope Bill doesn't start up a nostalgia blog of his own!
I had to chuckle at his mention of watching for hoboes under the train. I used to watch for them all the time while I was growing up.  I saw one once – in the 1960's on a train as it rolled through the Oberlin Avenue crossing next to the Lorain Creamery.
Unfortunately, if this economy doesn't improve pretty soon, Bill and I will soon be able to do some serious hobo-spotting! Let's hope not!
Special thanks to Bill Latrany for his story.

Next: More Food Fair (& Eagle Market) Fun!


Anonymous said...

Brings back memories, Bill! I, however, was more about going into the store to purchase a cheap plastic doll to play with on my loonnnggg haul back to Milan with the folks. Some of my most vivid memories of Grandpa L. were of sneaking his Vick's cough drops when he wasn't looking. And remember that our great uncles (Charlie, Joe, & Bob) were train-hopping hobos too. Good story; thanks for sharing. :o)

Unknown said...

This brought article and ad brought by so many memories for me. I lived on "G" Street right behind Gilberts. Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert hired me for my first job at the age of 15. I can remember riding my bike to buy a loaf of bread and milk and using the money from pop bottles to buy bubble gum! Those were the days. The railroad tracks were behind my house. Lots of hobos back in the 1960's. Thank you for the memories. Carole Lloyd-Bailey Fort Myers, Florida

Wireless.Phil said...

I notice that ad is from April, 1951. I wasn't born until September of 1951.
Don't know if Dad was working at Thru-shovel or Fruehauf trailer then?