Small Town Memories

Exploring the history of SHENANGO VALLEY, PA, one story at a time.

Tag: Sunday drives

“Ridin’ Along in My Automobile”

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

After our long visit with Angel’s Casino, let’s move on to memories of the vehicles that transported us to Angel’s and those other teen hangouts of the 1950s-70s.

Chuck Berry’s song lyrics said it all when it came to teens with cars in the 1950s: Cruising the streets and listening to the radio without any real destination in mind. Except maybe riding up and down State Street in Sharon, PA, on a Saturday night to see and be seen.

The impact of the 1950s automobile culture on America is explained well on this Wikipedia page, but our own stories on the subject add personal details, re-connecting us to those times in a more visceral way.

Here’s an article written in 2013 by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960). For more about Irene, click here.

Automobiles: Early 1950s

In the early 1950s automobiles weren’t yet considered a necessity, only a luxury and a convenience. The Shenango Valley had dependable public bus service, trains ran to the larger cities, and people were accustomed to walking distances of one to two miles.

Probably less than half of Sharpsville’s families had cars. If there were roughly a thousand families in a population of five thousand there would have been less than five hundred cars in all of Sharpsville. They weren’t very dependable and most owners didn’t have any mechanical skills, including my dad. He could change a tire and that was about it.

The Family Car

sharpsville_image_plymouth2Our pre-WWII Plymouth was completely black with four doors, rounded fenders and running boards. It was parked in the alley behind the house during the summer and on the street in front in the winter months. I guess it was easier to shovel the snow away there.

I loved to sneak inside the car, sit in the driver’s seat and play with the knobs and buttons on the metal dashboard. I’d try to turn the huge steering wheel (with little success) and caress the round horn mound in its center, always longing to touch the three-masted sailing ship pictured inside. This car had a starter button to be pressed when the ignition was keyed on and I quickly determined that the button alone made the engine try to start. The first time I pressed it and the car lurched forward in the alley, I was so scared and certain to be caught that I jumped out, slammed the door and hid up in the maple tree for a half hour watching the back door for either parent looking to grab me.

Fun with Cars

Almost every Sunday, our family piled into our car and drove over the Shenango River bridge to my grandmother’s house near Brookfield, Ohio. Shortly after crossing the bridge, we entered farm country, so different from a steel town. Each week we passed the same large fields dotted with dairy cows munching grass and the same lovely barns standing in the distance. I knew every farmhouse along the way and stared at each one trying to feel inside for the stories that lived there. [My brother] Jack and I counted cows on our sides of the car; the winner had the most cows when we got to Grandma’s.

We took that Plymouth to the Hickory Drive-in movie theater one cold autumn night. At the end of the show, Dad realized we had a flat tire and opened the trunk to get out the jack, lug wrench, pump, and patch kit. Spare tires weren’t a common accessory. We all remained in our swaying seats while Dad jacked up the car, removed the tire, pried out the inner tube and patched the hole. It seemed hours went by. Occasionally we’d hear a cuss word but no one inside made a sound. I can still hear that pump going up and down, filling the repaired tube. Then the jerking and banging as he put the tire back on and tightened the lug nuts. When the jack was released and the car settled to the ground we all let out a deep breath and relaxed.

My brother and I sometimes played a “your car, my car” game while sitting on our front porch steps. We each took alternate cars as they drove by on Ridge Avenue, causing hoots of derision for old bangers and gloats of glee for newer shiny models. We particularly liked certain Studebakers because of the unusual look-a-like front and rear ends.

sharpsville_image_steering_knobTeenage boys started acquiring their own automobiles as soon as possible; having wheels was a big, big deal. Many boys left school before graduation and found employment at one of the mills. With a steady paycheck, they could buy a used car and they soon became experts at fixing any mechanical problem as well as customizing and “souping up” their vehicles. There was a great deal of status attached to owning a hot and fast car and made it easier to attract friends and girls. I remember one Sharon boy having what was called “a suicide knob” attached to his steering wheel [to facilitate single-hand steering before the advent of power steering].

— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013.

See Also:

BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

[Click on image to enlarge.]

“This is just like Germany!” was a phrase we often heard from my father as we took a Sunday drive through Buhl Farm in the 1950s.

My brothers and I just rolled our eyes at the repetition of our dad’s words, but I realize now, after having visited Germany in my later years, that the park indeed resembled the German landscape: clean, green, and manicured. And I also realize now that it hadn’t been very many years since my father had lived in Germany as a soldier during World War II. Serving in the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps, he had seen cities destroyed by bombs, but he also drove many times on the autobahn through pristine and verdant countryside.

At that time, the park was still young, having been in existence around 35 years. The idea for a park was born when Frank H. Buhl, with his steel industry earnings, began purchasing land in Hickory Township in the early 1900s. By 1914 Mr. Buhl, working closely with landscape professionals, oversaw the creation of a 300-acre recreational park for the local community. It was designed with a four-mile-long roadway that wound through the gently rolling wooded terrain, connecting all the features of the park, such as tennis courts, picnic pavilions, a golf course, an artificial lake and casino, a children’s playground, and an athletic field.

Besides detouring through the Park on Sunday drives, our family would sometimes select its beautiful setting as a background for photos on special occasions. The Kodachrome slides my father took of us are fading now, but there we were in our Sunday best on Easter Day 1956. Standing on the Park’s thick green grass, squinting in the bright springtime sunlight, are my grandmother, mother and me posing proudly in our pastel-colored Easter hats and dresses and my two younger brothers squirming in their Sunday suits. Another time, a friend of the family and camera hobbyist took over a dozen slides of me as a young girl in the flower garden that was named after Frank Buhl’s wife, Julia, and added to the park in her memory by her family and friends in 1936.

On summer days with little else to do, we kids often visited the Park, willing to walk or bike the almost two miles in the hot sun up the Seventh Street hill, because at the end of this trek were the wonders of a day spent at the Park on our own.

Entrance to Buhl Farm Park, 2019. [Photo by Mike Angel]

What freedom we enjoyed, exploring the woods, riding the ponies, swimming in the (cold!) aqua-colored waters of the pool, attempting to hit a ball at least once back and forth on the tennis court, or romping about in the flower garden! And we didn’t have to pay a dime to enjoy any of the Park’s many offerings!

I still remember the skunk cabbage that grew in a swampy area near the swimming pool (its large broad leaves had a putrid smell when crushed), the rough cement of the swimming pool, and the Casino with its changing rooms, showers, and a foot bath we walked through before entering the pool.

With the help of an endowment, continued contributions from the Buhl family and local citizens, and government grants, Buhl Farm Park, located at 715 Hazen Road, Hermitage, Pennsylvania, has been maintained, updated, and improved upon throughout its one hundred years of existence. In this way, the Park has existed to this day as a vibrant activity center for the community.

Source of historical information (accessed 30 June 2014):

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, 30 June 2014.

See Also:

BUHL PARK II: Clubs & Library
(includes a map of Buhl Park)