Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Rather than dwell on the latest Trumpism; I thought that today, February 23, would be great to reminisce briefly about my long long ago child years.
Before WW II, the fuel of choice in the northeast was Anthracite, or “Hard Coal”, from the Pennsylvania mines. The railroads that serviced those mine fields also used anthracite for their locomotives. Its characteristics required a larger fire box then needed in the engines that burned bituminous,” soft”, coal . Almost all fireboxes were hand stoked. Most of the locomotives on the Central RR of NJ, and many on the Erie, Lehigh Valley, and the Lackawanna were referred to as “camel backs”. They were so named because the engineer’s cab was either on top or straddling the oversize boiler.
There were four railroad stations in Plainfield, Clinton Ave, Grant Ave, Plainfield Station, and Netherwood, all about a mile apart. Not only were they stops for the commuter trains for New York but along with the Dunellen and Fanwood stations were used by people traveling to work in the factories. The Grant Ave. and Netherwood stops were heavily used by commuters to New York... The trip terminated at the ferry terminal in Jersey City where they transferred to a ferry for Cortland Street or 23rd Street in the City. Those going to Newark would transfer at Elizabethport Junction- The site of the Singer Sewing Machine factory- to one of the trains from the shore that terminated in Newark instead of going to the Jersey City Ferry terminal.
The railroad also carried the Baltimore and Ohio as well as the Reading RR trains from a junction near Bound Brook to the Jersey City Terminal. It was possible to take the train directly from Plainfield to Chicago or St. Louis. The CJRR also ran a train via Phillipsburg to Harrisburg as well as Scranton and Williamsport PA.
The other method of local public transportation was of course the trolley lines. Besides the Public Service line which ran from Bound Brook to Newark, there were two main local lines; The 4th Street line from Beyond Clinton Ave to join the Public Service line at Watchung Ave and terminated its run downtown, and another line I remember running down Somerset Street in North Plainfield, then via the 4th St. route from Front Street to Arlington Ave, down Randolph to Park and past the Hospital.
In the early 20s, the family pet was an overly-protective Airedale.  One day, while we were eating breakfast, Agnes, one of the two Jamaican sisters who lived with us and worked as general housekeepers and nannies, remarked that there must be a fire in the neighborhood since “the fire brigade” was outside.
 In those days, the house’s steam heat system used a manually stoked anthracite coal burning furnace. Apparently, sparks from the furnace had caused the roof shingles to catch fire. 
The dog would not let the firemen into the house.  Fortunately, the fire was quickly extinguished with only minimal damage. However, the roof shingles were replaced with hard fireproof asbestos shingles. Which Fifty years later when the house was sold those shingles were still in perfect shape? Shortly after the end of WW II, a conversion oil burner replaced the coal firebox and grates,
Another time my mother had that dog in the car when it had mechanical trouble. The dog would not permit the mechanic to approach the car.
Our next dog was a people and child freindly mongrel. During the late 20s early 30s, Rex would often lie in the middle of West 4th street on the street car tracks. Ultimately- the trolley was replaced by buses and there were more automobiles, so he learned not to lie in the street. Rex was a wanderer and I am sure the local canine Don Juan. For years when we were in the Adirondacks, he would disappear for a few days, once just before we were leaving to come home. He did not reappear until just before we loaded the car. Unfortunately, he also had several losing encounters with skunks and twice with porcupines. It was a terrible job freeing him of the needles. Those in his jaw could be cut close to the skin and the barbed end pushed out through the inside of his mouth.
In the twenties automobile traffic was very light. After a heavy enough snow, our father would hitch our sleds behind his car and tow us slowly around several blocks. In the early 20s when there were so few cars that this seemed safe.
I recall during the late 20s and early 30s, after a heavy snowfall, all the West Enders kids would go to Greenbrook Park where there was a good steep hill for sleighing. The Flexible Flyer was a favorite.  If you laid stomach down facing forward you steered by moving the bar that warped the runners by hand. The younger kids sat on the sled usually in front of an older person who used his feet to move the steering bar. There was of course no brake, so you used your feet for drag or fell off at the end of the run.   Regrettably, there were several trees on the hill.
Both Greenbrook and Cedar Brook Parks had ponds which when frozen were used for Ice skating. There were also public tennis courts in Cedar Brook Park (asphalt surfaced) and two clay courts at the corner of Monroe and Sherman Avenues. 
Into the late thirties, the West End was not fully developed despite a post WW1 boom. There were still many open fields where we could play baseball and football. I was a klutz, therefore one of the last to be chosen. Automatically I became the right fielder or a lineman. I had many friends, although only three or four were Jewish, and there was no racial or religious ethnic discrimination in my peer group
Automobile traffic was not a problem, and we were a bicycle riding society. We were not reluctant to ride our bikes out to Hadley Airport, which was about five miles away. By the late 20s, Hadley was no longer the terminus for the airmail. The large commercial Newark airport had replaced it. However, many private planes, including an autogiro and a metal tri-motor Ford plane that the Bell Labs used for an airborne laboratory, continued to be based there. The Red Lobster is on the site of that hanger.
In New Market, between South Clinton Ave and New Brunswick Rd, there was a ½-mile dirt track for auto racing. We would sometimes ride out to it and climb a tree to watch the races. Closer to home, in South Plainfield, there was a “harness horse track”. Nearby was a roadhouse that was rumored to be a Mafia hangout and a speakeasy.

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