Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lorain Bottle Collection – Part 2

Here's some more bottles from the collection of Jack Tiller. It's a pretty impressive collection with several rare and unusual items. (Click on each of the photos for a larger view.) The bottles, with their classic typography, are actually little works of art, each beautiful in their own way.

The Lorain Bottling Works bottle below is labeled KOEGLE PROP.

The KOEGLE is F. A. Koegle, the manager, as indicated in this 1915 Lorain City Directory listing.

This Coca-Cola Bottling Co. example (below) is interesting, because the company had the same address – 1138 Lexington Avenue – in the 1921-22 city directory as the Whistle Bottling Company (the former Lorain Bottling Co.).

1921 City Directory listing

Here's a really neat bottle labeled "Brownie" with an impish advertising mascot on it.

I'm guessing it's the same Brownie product, mentioned in the 1928 article (here), that the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company produced, using Hershey's cocoa and Borden's milk in flake form.

Here's a vintage Brownie advertising sign that I found on the internet showing the mascot as well as the bottle in action. The drink appears to have lasted all the way into the 2000's, but it's unclear if it is still being manufactured.

Getting back to Mr. Tiller's collection, here's one from the Riverside Bottling Works.

I couldn't find any information on Riverside in the city directories at the library, but Mr. Tiller says the company was located at 211 Fifth Avenue in 1907; after 1910, the address was 12th Street.

According to Mr. Tiller, this seltzer bottle (below) from the Lorain Bottling Company is very rare. (I really like Mr. Tiller's colorful backdrops for his bottles!)

Here's a closeup of his Devonian Mineral Water bottle.

According to the Lorain Public Library's online History of Lorain, mineral water was discovered in 1887 in Central Lorain. It also notes that the Devonian baths were opened that year, and that Mr. G. Hogan shipped his mineral water, bottled in Lorain, to locations in other states.

Lastly is this Acme Refreshment Company bottle. The company was located at 2406 Broadway, and J. J. O'Doherty was the President.

The company first appeared in the 1919 city directory. It continued to be listed until the 1929 directory, when its address was listed as vacant.


Special thanks to Jack Tiller for sharing these photos from his great bottle collection! It's a nice capsule history of some of Lorain's bottling heritage.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lorain Bottle Collection – Part 1

After my post about the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company a few weeks ago, I received a nice email from a gentleman named Jack Tiller. Mr. Tiller has a great collection of vintage Lorain bottles of which he is justifiably proud, and he graciously sent me several photos of some of his collection to share with my readers. One of the photos was of a Whistle bottle from Lorain.

Vintage Whistle Bottle (from Jack Tiller Collection)
I asked him (via email) how he came to collect bottles with a Lorain connection. "I grew up on 11th and Oberlin Ave.," he noted. "We would get pop from Sehers and T&J."

"As young kids, we would play by the Black River, and we would find these old bottles around. I began collecting them and have had some of these for many years." Mr. Tiller also mentioned that he has many dairy bottles and pharmacy bottles from Lorain.

Incidentally, the Whistle soda pop bottle in his collection is not from the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company (which had become the Forrest Distributing Company in the mid-1930's). It's from the Franklin Bottling & Distributing Corp.

Back of same bottle as above  (from Jack Tiller Collection)
The Franklin Bottling & Distributing Corp first appeared in the 1940 Lorain city directory. It was located at 1845 E. 28th Street. Its specialties, according to its 1945 city directory listing, were the aforementioned Whistle, as well as Grapette.

1947 City Directory ad
Around the mid-1950's, the company changed its name to Franklin-Sickles Bottling Co. to reflect a change in ownership and management.

1959 Lorain Phone Book ad
Around 1961, the company moved to 318 15th Street. (Its old location at 1845 E. 28th became the home of Fritz's Garage.) Unfortunately, the company disappeared from the city directory in 1964 as that address was listed as vacant.

Next: More vintage Lorain bottles

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nationwide Theatrical Agency

This eye-catching sign for Nationwide Theatrical Agency at 1629 Broadway has always intrigued me. In a gritty, working man's town like Lorain – where cars, ships and steel were manufactured – to me, this sign symbolized glamour and show business.

What went on in the agency's suite, I wondered? Was there a cigar-chomping agent sitting behind a desk, while a variety of acts auditioned in front of him, hoping to hit the big time? Did the agent promise the performer that someday they'd "play the Palace," only for them to find out that he meant the Lorain Palace?

It's kind of difficult finding out about the agency. Phone book ads for the agency first appeared in the 1965 Lorain directory. The 1966 ad advertised "entertainment for all occasions" including singers, dance teams, magicians, recording stars, novelty acts, comedians, accordionists, jugglers, ventriloquists, hypnotists, dance bands and combos.

The ad changed very little over the years. The 1979 version added "trained animal acts" and "country & western stars."

The ads for the agency continued to appear in the phone book for the next several decades. The last phone listing I could find in the books at the library was for 2004, and it's not in the current CenturyTel book either. So it looks like this little touch of Hollywood must have booked its last flea circus years ago.

Anyway, I'd love to know if anyone reading this blog knew anyone who was represented by Nationwide Theatrical Agency, or if they ever booked an act through them.

Even if the place is closed, it's still a great sign though.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dinner Bell Drive-in Sign

It's been a mild winter up here in Northern Ohio, and a few times during the last two months I had a bad case of Spring Fever.

Although the warm weather is still a few months away, it's nice to think of the fun associated with it. And for Lorain County residents, that might include a trip to one of our two vintage drive-ins – Dog 'n Suds (one of my favorite blog topics) and the Dinner Bell Drive-in.

Recently I found this article from the July 6, 1964 Lorain Journal, which tells the story behind the Dinner Bell Drive-in's original sign, and how it was manufactured by Swart Signs in Elyria. (Click on it for a closer look.) It sounds like the restaurant was pretty new at that point in time.

Although I've only eaten at the Dinner Bell Drive-in a few times over the years, I have to admire how long they've been in business and how loyal a clientele they must have. Whenever we pass it on the way to Midway Oh-Boy just down the street, there always seems to be a good crowd.

It's amazing how Lorain County has all these old-time drive-ins literally within a few minutes of each other.

Anyway, the Dinner Bell's sign has experienced some wear and tear over the years. The top part is newer, but it looks like the bottom half is still original, in this photo I shot last weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where was "Auntie" Ferguson's Cabin? - Part 2

Yesterday I concluded that "Auntie" Ferguson lived somewhere along that stretch of Globeville Road that extended out from the end of Dexter Street.

Backing up that conclusion is this listing (above) from the 1903 Lorain City Directory. (Click on it for a larger view.) It lists both "Mrs. Kitty Ferguson" as well as "David Ferguson" as living on Globeville Road. (You might remember from "Auntie" Ferguson's obituary that her son David lived with her.)

I was unable to find any other listing of "Auntie" Ferguson in the two available pre-1900 city directories. I did find a David Ferguson listed as a teamster in the 1912 directory, then living at 217 Florida Avenue. But after that, I could find no other possible listings of any of "Auntie's" children. So I'm afraid I hit a dead end in that regard.

"Auntie" Ferguson lived "beyond the gas works" according to one of her obituaries. The brick building for the former gas works is still there on E. 21st Street, next to the Access Road for the Henderson Bridge. (However, I'm not sure if the building dates back to "Auntie's" time or not – it might be a newer one.)

Here is what the building looks like today.

Looking east on E. 21st Street
And here is the "now" map showing the general area where Auntie's cabin was located, east of where the Access Road meets E. 21st Street.

2012 Map

And here is the full view looking east down E. 21st Street where it trails onto the grounds of Republic Steel. It's hard to believe that more than a hundred years ago, this was Globeville Road, leading to "Auntie" Ferguson's cabin.

And here's an aerial view, showing how this area relates to the whole steel mill complex. (Click on this and all of the graphics for a larger view.)

As time goes on, I'll keep my eyes open for any other information on "Auntie" Ferguson. (Thanks again to Dennis and Drew for their help!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where was "Auntie" Ferguson's Cabin? - Part 1

After posting the story of "Auntie" Ferguson last week, I thought it 'd be fun to try and figure out where her cabin was located.

The two obituaries provided some clues as to the cabin's location. The first one referred to her cabin "on Dexter Street," and said that it was "beyond the gas works." The second one stated that when the Lorain Street Railway ran its first car over the line, Mrs. Ferguson had them stop at her place, where she gave them lunch. So her cabin must have been near the tracks of the Lorain Street Railway.

As it turns out, this time I wasn't going to have to spend much time in the library researching this matter. My two great local history connections – archivist and historian Dennis Lamont and Drew Penfield – must have been reading my mind because they both emailed me parts of the same 1909 map with their thoughts about where the cabin might have been located.

As they both explained, Dexter Street was 21st Street. On the map you can see the Lorain Gas Works, which was located at the end of Dexter Street where it met Fulton Road. Where Dexter Street becomes dotted lines trailing off into the woods, the street is a remnant of the old Globeville Road. As Dennis explained, "Globeville Road meandered along the river bank down to Day's Dam. Globeville (named after the schooner Globe) was a shipbuilding site." And Drew added, "The Globeville Road was mostly obliterated by the steel mill."

So "Auntie" Ferguson's cabin was somewhere along that dotted line path, In Drew's map (below), the yellow highlighting marks the route of the electric railway that Dennis observed would have run "right by her front door."

Tomorrow: "Auntie" in the City Directory and what the area looks like today

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wilson's Camp - Then & Now

While doing some research at the Avon Lake Library last week, I happened to be thumbing through a battered photocopy of the 1941 Directory of Avon Lake Village and I saw an interesting full-page ad. It read:

Home Cooked Food
The Only State Approved Trailer Camp in Avon Lake
PHONE 35798
18 Miles from Cleveland Public Square on Route 2 & 6
Beach Privileges
AD. R. WILSON, Manager

Since trailer camps date back to the early days of auto travel, I figured wherever this place was, it must be long gone by now.
Elsewhere in the directory there were a few photos of some Avon Lake businesses. To my surprise, one of them was labeled "WILSON'S CAMP, AVON LAKE, OHIO."
Here's the photo. 

It looked only vaguely familiar to me, but if you're from Avon Lake, I'm sure you recognize it as the former Herb's On the Lake restaurant and the current Jake's on the Lake. (Jake's website has some nice vintage photographs of their building as well.)
Driving by there to grab my 'now' shot this past weekend, I circled it a few times. The huge, wide open lot behind it could have easily accommodated cabins, etc.
Here's my 'now' shot from last weekend. 
A Lorain Creamery ad in the same 1941 directory stated, "You will find us in your community at Wilson's Camp Stop 52 Lake Road."

Anyway, it's always nice to see a vintage roadside business still thriving on US 6.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are you in there, Honest Abe?

Just in time for Presidents' Day...

Here's an interesting article that ran on the front page of the February 12, 1935 Lorain Journal. (Click on it for a super-sized version you can read.) 

It's the story of a tinsmith named Charles L. Willey, who had the grisly task of cutting open President Lincoln's casket in 1901 to see if he was in there or not. According to his eyewitness account in the 1935 article, Willey was the last man to look upon Lincoln's face.

Believe it or not, Willey had performed this same duty before in 1887, when rumors that Lincoln's body had been stolen necessitated the opening of the coffin

I had heard about this when I was a kid, but never knew the whole story. And here's a link to an even more detailed (and gruesome) account that ran in Yankee magazine. It turns out that Lincoln's body was moved ten different times.

Kind of reminds me of one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies: The Trouble With Harry.

Thankfully, according to the Yankee magazine article, there have been no further concerns necessitating the unearthing of Lincoln's casket. The beloved, martyred president's body has been undisturbed to this day.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Collecting Old Dutch Beer Memorabilia

Vintage coaster from my collection
Since Old Dutch beer was brewed in Findlay, Ohio until March 1966, sometimes you can find old bottles, cartons or other memorabilia in Northern Ohio antique shops. I've picked up a few items over the years at Jeffrey's Antique Gallery in Findlay, Ohio.

Ebay is also a great place to find Old Dutch beer items. By the way, there was another Old Dutch beer brewed by the Eagle Brewing Co. in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania with its own distinctive look – so don't be confused. (The beer drinker on their label looks a little like Lord Plushbottom in the old Moon Mullins comic strip.)

Some Old Dutch beer collectibles from the Findlay, Ohio days have a strange look to them. That's because the Krantz Brewing Corp. merged with International Breweries Inc. of Detroit in 1957. After the merger, the label was redesigned for a while to reflect the new name of the brewery: IBI-Old Dutch Division. Sadly, the trademark German couple was reduced the size of a postage stamp on the label (below).

Label from the International Breweries days
But after the Findlay brewery was closed in 1966, the Old Dutch brand was sold to the Associated Brewing Company of Detroit. The brand would have several more owners after that, including Queen City Brewing and Pittsburg Brewing Company. At least the new owners brought back the classic Old Dutch label with the German couple.

Label from the Queen City Brewing Co. days
Items with the German couple – including signage, clocks and displays – are the most popular with collectors.

The story behind the image of the couple is kind of interesting. It was adapted from a painting titled "A Friend in Need," which depicted an elderly man threading a needle while a woman ate a bowl of soup. The legend in Findlay is that a local artist named Dr. A. H. Linaweaver remembered seeing the original in the Louvre, and created the Old Dutch trademark by adapting the painting from memory.

The couple has been on the label since 1907.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Memories of Old Dutch Beer

Vintage Old Dutch label from my collection
Mention Old Dutch beer to anyone under fifty and you'll probably get a blank stare in return. If you're lucky, they might vaguely remember it as the beer their grandparents drank.

From my collection
Heck, I once tried to talk about it with a guy at work over sixty and even he didn't remember it!

Well, believe it or not, Old Dutch used to be mighty popular around this area in the 1950's and, to a lesser degree, the 1960's. It was brewed at the Krantz Brewery in Findlay, Ohio for many years and was so well-known it even sponsored the Old Dutch Polka Revue on WEWS-TV in Cleveland.

While I was growing up in the 1960's, Old Dutch was the only beer I ever saw my parents drink. I was aware of the other brands: Budweiser, with those Clydesdales commercials; Miller High Life; Black Label. But Old Dutch is what my parents had with dinner once in a while, usually with something special like a steak.

I'm not sure why they were so loyal to Old Dutch. Maybe it was the fact that both of my parents had German blood in them, and they identified with the elderly German couple on the label.

Anyway, after my parents had poured their glasses, my brothers and I would jockey to drink the last few drops out of the empty bottle or can. It was then that I would study the label with its advertising slogan: THE GOOD BEER.

Now that's a nice, understated marketing statement. It's not the great beer; it's just the good beer.

From my personal collection
My parents were so loyal to Old Dutch that when they visited me at Ohio State in the late 1970's, they sometimes brought me a six-pack. I guess they felt better knowing what I was drinking.

One of my wise-guy roommates used to call it Old Ditch.

Anyway, when Old Dutch was no longer being produced, my parents finally moved on to other beers. But Old Dutch remains a symbol of the good old days to me.


The Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay features a nice display of Old Dutch beer and Krantz Brewery memorabilia.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lorain Whistle Bottling Company Part 2

Looking south across the tracks at where Lorain Whistle Bottling Co. was located at 1138 Lexington 

Sometime in the mid-1930's or so, the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company became The Forrest Distributing Company Inc. It remained at the 1138 Lexington Avenue address, but the Zurcher family was now joined by the Forrest family in the running of the company.

The 1937 city directory ad now described the company as 'wholesale distributors of the finest beers, ale and porter. The business would continue at that address right up into the early 1980's.
1958 Lorain Phone Book ad
Around 1983, the listing for 1138 Lexington Avenue changed to the RKK Distributing Company. By 1988, however, the Prie-Fit Machine Corp had taken over that address, and apparently that was the end of decades of bottling and beverage heritage at that location.

That area by the railroad tracks had really been a hotbed of bottling and beverage distribution in the old days. The William Seher Company, and later, the T. J. Bottling Company, had been located just up the street at 304 12th Street.

One of the beers pictured in the Forrest Distributing Company ad above is none other than the traditional Brady family beer of choice while I was growing up: Old Dutch.

Stop back here next time for a look at this beer that was our family favorite.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Lorain Whistle Bottling Company Part 1

1924 Lorain City Directory Ad

Did you ever hear of a soft drink called Whistle?

I didn't either, but apparently Whistle was pretty big at one time – and bottled right here in Lorain by the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company at 1138 Lexington Avenue near the railroad tracks.

The tagline for the orange-flavored soda was: Thirsty? Just WHISTLE!

An article in the October 10, 1928 Lorain Times-Herald told the story. The company was originally known as the Lorain Bottling Company and was started in Lorain around 1905 at the Lexington Avenue location. C. F. Zurcher was the head of the company.

The company later became one of the many plants that bottled the popular Whistle soft drink.

Other products bottled at the Lorain plant at that time included Vess Dry Ginger Ale, Double Eagle Ginger Beer, Delaware Punch and Buckeye Root Beer. The 'Vess' name came from the nickname of Sylvester "Vess" Jones, who was the founder of the soft drink company that owned Whistle and many other brands.

Another product bottled at the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company at that time – Brownie – was made from Hershey's cocoa and Borden's milk in flake form. It sounds an awful lot like Yoo-hoo, which also dates back to the 1920's.

The Times-Herald article also mentioned that the plant employed 16 men, and that it was busiest during the warm months of the year. Apparently the cool spring that year played havoc with the bottling plant's business.

Vess sodas – including Whistle – are still being produced today. Here is a link to the company that owns the brands, and here is their product lineup.

Next: Whatever happened to the Lorain Whistle Bottling Company?

Vintage die cut fan pull currently on Ebay
Special thanks to the ephemera website for the 1920 Whistle advertisement. It's a fascinating website with great stories triggered by paper items, including old letters, ads, photos, manuals, etc. Be sure to visit it and poke around!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meet "Auntie" Ferguson

"Auntie" Ferguson and her home on Dexter Street
Well, Black History Month is almost half over, so I'd better post this before I forget. It's the obituary of "Auntie" Ferguson from the front page of the Monday, April 11, 1904 Lorain Daily News.

What's that – you've never heard of her?

Well, it's time you met her. A former slave, she is remembered for her memorable encounter and friendship with Tom L. Johnson, the man who moved his steel mill to Lorain and changed the city forever.

I first saw her picture in the combination reprint of the Lorain, Ohio 1903 Souvenir and 1924 Tornado book at the Lorain Public Library. Under her photo (the same as shown above) the caption identified her as "our oldest resident." Unfortunately she wasn't mentioned anywhere else in the book. So, when I accidentally found her obituary late last year (while scrolling through microfilm at the library), I thought I would present it here.

It's a nice story about a real Lorain character that deserves to be told.


Mrs. Catherine Ferguson died Saturday evening at her home on Dexter Street. Mrs. Ferguson was well known as "Aunty" and was one of the most picturesque figures in Lorain. She was said to be the oldest citizen and her age has been put anywhere from 80 to 100 years. At the time of her death she was alone and unattended.

Her son, David, who lived with her in the little old cabin beyond the gas works, took dinner with her and went out and promised to return early. When he reached home about 6:30 o'clock he found his mother sitting in a chair dead.

Mrs. Ferguson came to this city shortly after the civil war. She had been a slave and brought her emancipation papers with her. These contained the records of her birth. The family has been burned out several times and these records were lost.

There is hardly any question but the old lady was over ninety years of age, and it is estimated by her friends that she had lived about 98 years. She herself said that she was only 81 years old. She leaves two sons, Robert, aged 59 years, and David, aged 42 years, both of whom live in this city.

Long before the great steel works were built, Auntie Ferguson moved into the little cabin near the site of the blast furnaces which she occupied until her death. Ten years ago when Tom L. Johnson and A. J. Moxham were riding horse back through the woods, they were met by Auntie Ferguson, who came out of her cabin and said: "You won't drive me off the old place, will you? I have lived here many years and have learned to love it."

The great millionaire's heart was touched by the appeal and taking her hand, he said:

"As long as you live, you shall have your home here, if you want it and no one shall harm your little home." He kept his word.

Up until a few months ago Auntie Ferguson made it a practice to walk down town every day and was apparently in excellent health for one so aged. About eight months ago she complained of having the rheumatism and this troubled her all winter. Recently she has had trouble with her lungs and it was partially through weakness caused by hemorrhages of the lungs that her death was caused.

The remains of the old woman were taken to Wickens' morgue, where they were prepared for burial. The funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock in the chapel. Rev. Love, of Batavia, New York, will have charge of the services. He was Mrs. Ferguson's former pastor in this city.


While at the Lorain Public Library this past Sunday, I looked up Auntie Ferguson's obituary in the other local paper from that time period, The Lorain Times-Herald. It includes some additional information and is a nice supplement to the other account.

Notable Character Who Had Seen Lorain Grow From Early Days and Had Entertained Great Man, Dead at Advanced Age.

"Auntie" Ferguson is dead. She died on Saturday afternoon while alone. Every old resident will regret to hear of her demise. She was a character of this city and one of its oldest residents. Having seen trouble in her younger days, she has had her reward here and was particularly happy at the growth of the city. She had an unusual interest in the steel plant and its prosperity meant much to her. She was one of the first to entertain Tom L. Johnson when he visited this city with A. J. Moxham for the starting of a steel mill here. They acquired her land for the steel plant and street railway, and when the papers were signed there was an understanding that she should keep her home as long as she lived and that she should never want. The two men who promoted the industry which is making Lorain, frequently visited her at her home.

When the Lorain Street Railway ran its first car over the line with the officials and their families in the car, Mrs. Ferguson had them stop at her place and they were given a substantial lunch. In her declining years she received visits from the officials of the various interests at the south part of the city.

Mrs. Catherine Ferguson was born in 1823 on the 25th of March, near Appomattox Court House, Va. She moved to Ohio in 1856, settled at Gallipolis and lived there until Grant was elected President. She then went to Oberlin, and came to this city a short time before the building of the C. L. & W. She had lived here ever since, her residence being near the present gas plant. There were born to her 12 children. Of these only three live. They are David and C. R. of this city, and Mrs. Louise Anderson of West Virginia.

Death was due to a hemorrhage. She suffered all winter from rheumatism, but of late had been feeling well. On Saturday her son David was with her. He went to the launch as did the other members of the family. Mr. Ferguson went to the house at 6:15 and found his mother dead in her old arm chair. She had been bleeding at the nose and mouth and she had been dead some time. She was well when left alone and had eaten a hearty dinner. The funeral will be held on Tuesday at 2 o'clock sun time. Rev. J. H. Love, an old friend of Mrs. Ferguson, will come from the southern part of the state to take charge of the services. The funeral will be held at Parkside chapel, where the remains now are.


The launch referred to in the second obituary was the launch on Saturday, April 9, 1904 of the steel steamer Augustus B. Wolvin, which the Times-Herald said was "the largest vessel in the world devoted entirely to the carrying of freight." It was launched at the Lorain yards of the American Shipbuilding Company at 12:57 o'clock. Its length was more than 560 feet and was "longer by sixty feet than any boat now plying the lakes."

Anyway, "Auntie" Ferguson's story is now online for future generations. Who knows? Maybe one of her descendants will find this someday and leave a comment.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kekic's Gas Station Then and Now

A few days ago I posted a few articles about Kekic's Gas Station in Avon Lake. The same day I got a nice email from Tony Tomanek, who grew up in Avon Lake and whose family owned and operated Ted's Place, the small business currently known as Close Quarters Pub (which is just a few doors down from where Kekic's was located).

Tony emailed me the great photo (above) of Kekic's gas station (circa 1930s), which came from the online Cleveland Memory Project (here) by way of the Avon Lake Public Library. It was part of a wonderful collection of photos donated by Barney Klement, who had been a building inspector for the city of Avon Lake.

Incidentally, this photo and many others are in the wonderful new Arcadia Publishing book on Avon Lake by local author Gerry Vogel. You can buy it here.

And here is the "now" version of the above scene, which I photographed last week on the way home from work. (I took Route 6 just to grab this shot before the predicted snow.) Like I said in my post, sadly, there is no indication that the small station and its well-known Spirit of St. Louis model plane sign were ever there.

I was surprised to see that at one time, Kekic's was a Sinclair station!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sinclair Gas Stations – Part 2

Dino the Sinclair Dinosaur from a 1959 newspaper ad in the Lorain Journal
A full-page ad in the Lorain Journal from July 18, 1959 gave a nice capsule history of the Sinclair brand of gas stations in Lorain County.

According to the ad, Mr. H. D. Murphy started out in the oil business in Lorain in 1922 with a bulk plant at West 14th Street. In 1945, he formed The Lake Erie Oil Company with one service station and a bulk plant located at the intersection of Route 254 and Pearl Road, by the railroad tracks. By 1959, there were 18 Sinclair service stations in Lorain County.

They were spread out far and wide in the late 1950's and early 1960's. On the east side of Lorain, there was Thomas Sinclair Service at E. Erie and Iowa (now the location for Whittguard Security & Patrol Services); Swanson's Sinclair Service and later, Clem's Sinclair Service at 717 E. Erie (now the location for Mr. Hero).

1960 Lorain Telephone book ad for Clem's Sinclair Service
1961 Lorain Telephone book ad for Clem's Sinclair Service showing new dinosaur marketing campaign

Out in Sheffield Lake at the corner of Abbe and E. Lake was Hal's Sinclair Service. 
1960 Lorain Phone Book ad for Hal's Sinclair Service
In Downtown Lorain at Broadway & 9th was Muzik Brothers Sinclair Service. Over on Reid at 17th Street was Whitey's Sinclair Service. And in South Lorain was Dick's Sinclair Service at Pearl and E. 29th Street.

There was also Bob & Bill's Sinclair Service at the corner of State Routes 58 and 113 in South Amherst, and Ray's Sinclair Service at State Route 254 and Elyria Avenue.

But it was only a matter of time before the Sinclair stations went extinct in Lorain County. According to this wiki entry, Sinclair was acquired by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in 1969. Thus many stations by the 1970's were selling ARCO gas. Some stations switched to a different brand around this time as well.

Out in Sheffield Lake, the Sinclair service station at Abbe and East Lake became Abbe Road Arco Service by 1975. The new brand of gas must not have caught on, because by 1978 the location became Donutville and then Fraam's Restaurant after that. Today it is the location for the Spin Spot internet cafe.

Although you can no longer find a Sinclair service station in Lorain County, there are more than 2,600 of them in 20 states in the Western and Midwestern United States (according to that Wiki entry). If you are ever motoring Out West, you can look for the sign of the green dinosaur and fill up with Dino (regular) or Dino Supreme (high-octane).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sinclair Gas Stations – Part 1

I saw this ad in a Lorain Journal from May 1961 on microfilm at the library last week, and it brought back memories of Sinclair gas stations. Remember them?

Courtesy Sinclair website
There used to be quite a few Sinclair service stations in the area. But in Ohio they eventually went the way of... well, the dinosaur. According to the company website, there are no Sinclair service stations in Ohio. They all seem to be out west for the most part.

I don't recall my family ever being a regular customer of Sinclair. We were more of a Sohio or Sunoco family, as those were the two stations nearest our house along with the PURE station at Meister and Oberlin. My Mom still prefers Sunoco.

I remember as a kid noticing the Sinclair stations in the area though, mainly because of the colorful dinosaur mascot – named Dino – on the signs. After all, all kids like dinosaurs. (In my case, he probably reminded me of Dino on The Flintstones.)

Some of the local Sinclair stations even had those inflatable dinosaurs hanging outside their building. What a great marketing gimmick.

The ad above shows kids sitting on the inflatable Dinos out in the water. I wonder if they really could support the weight of a kid back then?

I kind of doubt they could today.

Next: The local Sinclair stations

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kekic's Gas Station in Avon Lake

EVEN BEFORE Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in 1927 there was a Kekic-run service
station in Avon Lake. This "Spirit of St. Louis" model still flies over the business,
much to the amazement of Ted Kekic's brother-in-law Peter Vivovic.
Although my daily drive to work in Cleveland on I-90 these days is an unpleasant exercise in frustration, I didn't always start my day that way. For years, during the 1980's, I enjoyed a leisurely commute to Cleveland on Lake Road (U.S. Route 6) and took in all the sights from the window of an RTA bus.

One of those sights along the way was a tiny gas station right on the highway in Avon Lake, with a small replica of the famous Spirit of St. Louis mounted atop a pole. The gas station was a real throwback, and I used to wonder if the station had been there since Charles Lindbergh made his non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.

Many years after I had stopped taking the bus in favor of driving in on I-90, I happened to take Lake Road to work once for old-time's sake. To my shock, the little gas station and the well-known airplane was gone - and there was no evidence it was ever there.

That's why I was pleased to find this article (below) in the Lorain Journal from Sunday, October 6, 1968. It tells the whole story of the service station, the man who ran it and the iconic plane.

Thanks to the Morning Journal for allowing me to reproduce the article and accompanying photo with caption.

50 Years of Avon Lake History Bonus Gift at Kekic's Station
Staff Writer

LONG before Lindbergh made history with "The Spirit of St. Louis" a man named Kekic bought a new one-gallon gas pump and sold the juice that made cars go.

At the same time on his ten-acre grape farm in Avon Lake's easterly end, at 31917 Lake Road, he made another kind of juice for "old time foreigners (newly arrived immigrants) that bought it to make wine."

The first Kekic was Tade, father of the man you'll find there today. The son is still selling gas, but it's the conversation that's the best bargain of dealing with Ted Kekic.

AT 62, HE remembers years ago when Lake Road ended in a ditch. "Dad drove out along Detroit Road, back in 1917, to Bradley, cut down to Walker Road, to Lear and then north to Lake." In other words, to get across the road that wasn't, you drove a big circle to the south.

When the war ended in 1918, Lake Road was completed and that's when the Kekic Gulf Station got into business.

"We had a winery, you know, but Prohibition came along and we only sold the grape juice. The low allowed private citizens to make up to three barrels each, 150 gallons that was."

"So we sold gas too. I've still got the old one-gallon Bowser pump." Ted said with a bit of pride. "We use it now to pump kerosene."

What did he pump gasolines for in 1918? Cars.

Cars that were named the Essex, the Chevy (yep), the Maxwell, Chandler, Cleveland, Peerless and at least one Cadillac.

"The Cadillac belonged to old Leonard Haag. His son was the Fire Chief, y'know. Was fire chief m'self from 1928 to 1938. Used to keep the old fire engine out back of the gas station.

"But then they built the new fire station up on Center Road. Dad wasn't feelin too good, so I resigned. It was too far to go."

(Today it's about four minutes away by slow Camaro, Mercury Monterey, Lancer, Prancer or Vixen... whatever they call today's automobiles.)

TED KEKIC remembers when there was an old Lake Road Inn (down the road toward Bay Village) and Sophie Tucker played there, instead of some place that wouldn't come along for 40 more years... like the Desert Inn in Las Vegas or Miami's Fontainebleau. And he remembers a Guy named Lombardo that wasn't a hood from Chicago, but a band leader.

Things picked up with the grape juice business and gasoline pumps got to five-gallon size and ten-gallon... even though you still pumped'em by hand.

"The farm didn't have no water nor natural gas, but we got electric power from the old Lake Shore Electric Interurban line. The only problem was, every time a streetcar went by the old carbon lights would flicker..."

It beat watchin' out the window.

Ted Kekic never did get married. He just ran the gas station and (likely) did what he had to do with the family cow.

"We only had one. Just a family cow." But something big happened back in '27, the year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic to Paris.

KEKIC'S GULF gas station got a model of the "Spirit of St. Louis" (Lindbergh's plane) which is something of a shock to those who drive in from Cleveland the first time and see it sittin on top the pole out by the road... just like it did back in '27.

"Yep. It's been there ever since," said Peter Vivivc, 73, Ted's brother-in-law and retired railroader. "Quite a sight, ain't it?"

Peter pumps gas too, when he and Ted aren't sitting down with Fred Coleman, the attorney, and some other cronies, splittin' a verb or two over their favorite topics.

"Which are what?"

"Well... 1. Politics and religion."


"Well... We like to talk about the old times... and politics, and religion. And the old people that used to live here. And some that died or moved away..."

True enough.

EVERYONE in Avon Lake has seen the scene.

Usually it's a hot summer day and the chairs are propped against the front of the building that was a summer cottage before it was a gas station. And the men that sit there talk about the time when the road in front wasn't a road, and what was – wasn't paved. And they talk about the days when it took four and a half hours by horse and buggy to get from Avon Lake to Cleveland, like Peter said, "takin' the back roads..."

And some of them, Ted in particular, can remember when a gang came along and built the road...


Here's another small article that I found on the internet about Kekic's gas station and model plane. It's from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram of Thursday, September 20, 1973.

Rare relic of yesteryear still in the air in Avon Lake
By Monica B. Williams

AVON LAKE – The year was 1927, and Charles Lindbergh had just made his solo flight across the Atlantic to Paris.

Adulation of the shy aviator swept the country as quickly as the news spread that his plane, "The Spirit of St. Louis," had safely touched down at Orly.

The Coca-Cola Co. joined in the general enthusiasm and erected 150 models of Lindbergh's plane around Ohio.

THERE'S ONLY ONE of the planes left in the state, according to Ted Kekic, owner of Kekic's Gulf station at 31917 Lake Rd., Avon Lake, and that's the little orange plane perched atop a pole at his service station.

The sheet metal plane, with its small bent propeller and boxy fuselage, has served as a landmark for several generations of travelers along Lake Road, and Kekic has no intention of taking it down.

The "Stop 43" painted on the plane's side is a reminder that the station was a stop on the old Lake Shore Electric Railway.

"FOR YEARS, our only address was Stop 43." Kekic remembered. "We used to have a picnic grove here, and it was easy to find – everybody knew Stop 43."

For about 10 or 15 years after the plane was erected, Coca-Cola maintained the plane, Kekic said. Now Gulf sends a man out to do the lettering on the plane's side.

Kekic's station is a landmark itself. When it was built in 1918, motorists could stop and buy gasoline for their Model T's and Model A's from a one-gallon pump cranked by hand, Kekic recalled. Later used to pump kerosene, the vintage pump now stands in a back room of the station.