Journal-News, Wednesday, July 5, 2000
Interurban won 1930 race with plane
By Jim Blount
An airplane shouldn’t lose a race with an electric-powered interurban car, but it did in June 1930 when the recently-formed Cincinnati & Lake Erie showcased its new lightweight high-speed passenger cars. The land-air contest was just eight months after the 1929 stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression.
Ohio’s interurban network -- also called "the traction line" -- had been bleeding red ink for several years before the Depression. In the affluent 1920s, many people became former interurban passengers, opting, instead, to drive their own automobiles from city to city.
The first interurban reached Hamilton, Trenton and Middletown July 25, 1897, from Dayton. By 1903, two lines also extended south from Hamilton to Cincinnati -- one via Mount Healthy and College Hill, the other through Glendale, Wyoming and Hartwell.
Northbound, Butler County passengers could reach Dayton, Lima, Toledo and Detroit, and connections to other points in Ohio and the Midwest.
The C&LE organized Dec. 31, 1929, combining three older interurban lines that had encountered financial problems and declining ridership. The company operated 347 miles of interurban lines and 218 miles of bus routes. It also claimed "the longest, straight main electric interurban line in the world," highlighting its 220-mile link between Cincinnati and Toledo.
C&LE advertising in 1930 promised "better service, greater operating efficiencies and economies, and improved schedules."
The new owners ordered 20 new 44-foot cars from the Cincinnati Car Co. to replace aged equipment. Ten coaches had a baggage compartment in the rear. The other ten were described as deluxe coaches, including a lounge section. The C&LE said the new cars would "set a new standard for high speed, luxurious passenger service in America."
To the company’s advantage, only one person was required to operate the new vehicles, not two as on earlier cars.
To the public, C&LE executives emphasized the speed and comfort of the steel and aluminum cars -- designed to approach 100 miles an hour. They launched a traditional advertising campaign to win back riders. They also organized an unconventional promotional event -- the 48,300-pound interurban car against an open cockpit biplane.
The C&LE hired motion picture and still photographers to record the well-publicized event designed to show off the speed of the new 38-passenger cars, which came to be called "Red Devils" because of their dark maroon bodies with gold lettering.
The improbable race was set for July 7, 1930, over a straight, double-tracked course near Moraine between Dayton and Miamisburg. More than 100 newsmen accepted invitations to attend the preliminaries in Dayton and the main event.
For stability, the floor of the interurban car was weighted down with sand bags. All switches along the route were spiked in the proper position for safety.
Car 126 was chosen for the run against the biplane piloted by a Dayton man. Another new Red Devil, No. 127, was designated to follow No. 126. The trailing unit hauled newsreel photographers and writers who were recording the contest.
The new interurban car reached 97 miles an hour in besting the plane, but that wasn’t the end of the C&LE publicity campaign.
The show moved to C&LE’s Springfield-Columbus line with No. 122 challenging "an Indianapolis Speedway racing car" while the film whirled in car No. 123 that followed the action. The race car sped over the old National Road (U. S. 40) that paralleled the interurban track near Lafayette.
Again, the Red Devil won, this time attaining 92 mph.
The Red Devils, although popular with the public, couldn’t staunch the corporate bleeding. Because of frequent, unpredictable stops and traffic conditions, the cars had few chances to reach high speeds.
With ridership still falling, the C&LE went into receivership in 1932, but survived for nine years.
Service between Hamilton and Mount Healthy ended Jan. 7, 1939. The last car between Hamilton, Middletown and Dayton started its route May 13, 1939. The company’s last run, from Dayton to the C&LE car barn in Moraine, was Sept. 27, 1941.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 12, 2000
Old time amusements suggested to keep them on the farm in 1910
By Jim Blount
"We should make our home so attractive to our children that they can find no happier place than their family circle." That’s not advice to parents from a family counselor in 2000. That recommendation goes back almost a century.
What a 1910 Hamilton newspaper called "practical suggestions" were part of a speech before the Seven Mile Farmers Institute. The speaker’s topic was "Beauty and Comfort In and About the Farm House."
Evident between the lines of the report in the Republican-News was concern about young men and young women forsaking their rural agricultural roots for work in the factories, stores and offices of the cities. In many families, the migration also threatened the tradition of farm land being handed down from generation to generation.
"How many homes are made unpleasant to the children, and, as soon as they can help themselves, leave and seldom visit the old farm?" the speaker asked.
"You must make your homes so pleasant and attractive," he urged, "that your children are anxious to stay on the farm, but, if they must leave, are always ready to come home."
"Innocent amusement of all kind should be arranged for a circle of good boys and girls in the neighborhood in which you take an active part," he suggested. "Make them all feel at home."
Continuing, he said "why not introduce the old fashioned spelling bees, husking bees, singing clubs, taffy pulling, which always wound up with a fine lunch and a dance. No harm in dancing in your own home where the parties have been selected for their good character."
The recommended spelling bee and singing club require no explanation. But the other activities -- suggested so "farm life won’t seem so dull to the boys and girls," according to the 1910 article -- are not as familiar to present generations. Most were designed to ease the burden and monotony of necessary farm chores by transforming them into social occasions.
Here are descriptions gathered from several sources:
A taffy pull -- an indoor or outdoor event, depending on the season -- was conducted around or near a kettle in which a mixture rich in sugar or molasses was boiled down to a chewy, stick-to-your teeth candy. As the sweet ingredients cooled and thickened, the candy was stretched or pulled before strands were cut into bite-sized portions.
A quilting bee was usually confined to females. The cooperative activity -- revived in recent decades by living-history groups -- centered around one or more quilt frames in a home.
In some areas, a quilting bee was a common day-long late winter or early spring event -- often the first neighborhood social gathering since Christmas, and frequently held while the men and boys worked cooperatively in clearing fields. The work could be followed by the two groups coming together for a meal and perhaps a dance or singing session.
Apple peeling or apple paring was another chore turned into a late fall social event as the fruit was prepared for canning and cider presses. It could be a coed party, or a female activity conducted while males tended to late harvesting. One participant noted that they were "always followed by a dance when the work was done."
A husking bee, or corn husking, could vary in intensity from a purely sedate coed social activity to a high-energy, competitive event, according to the rules set by the host or those generally accepted in the area.
In one version, the ears of corn were distributed around a barn in two or more equal piles, depending on the number participating. Teams could include several people, or be limited to a couple. A signal started the race with the first team husking all the corn in its pile winning a prize or privilege.
Adding to the excitement was the possibility of discovering a red ear. Under one set of rules, a young man finding a red ear could kiss the girl of his choice. A participant described another variation. "When a lady found a red ear of corn, she was entitled to kisses from every gentleman present," she explained. "When a gentleman found one, he was entitled to kiss every lady present. After the corn was husked, a good supper was served, after which the old folks retired and the young spent the remainder of the evening dancing and playing games."
Another person recalling the husking bees said there were "lots of tears shed in private and some heartaches caused by the red ear of corn."
Not included in the account of the 1910 Seven Mile speech was mention of chaperones, possibly because until about 1920, it was assumed that several adults would be present at such social gatherings.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 19, 2000
Chem-Dyne gained national attention as hazardous waste dump during 1980s
By Jim Blount
What developed as a long-run national news story during the 1980s started innocently in Hamilton’s North End in the mid 1970s when a new company located in a 55-year-old factory.
The firm was supposed to be researching the conversion of industrial wastes into chemical fuel and fuel supplements, including antifreeze. But doubts soon erupted about the safety of operations in the factory built in 1919 by the Ford Motor Company and later occupied by Bendix Aviation and Ward Manufacturing at 500 Ford Boulevard (now Joe Nuxhall Boulevard).
Few people knew Chem-Dyne Corp. existed until April 24, 1976, when a railroad tank car on a siding began emitting strange fumes. Firemen poured water on the car for more than three days to cool the unknown contents.
That started a long series of verbal and legal battles between city officials and Chem-Dyne officers. It began with the city charging zoning and building code violations and the company claiming harassment. Later, the feuding engulfed the state and federal governments with Ohio leaders complaining that U. S. agencies weren’t responding or were delaying action against the company.
Caught in the middle were Hamiltonians residing in neighborhoods immediately east of the Chem-Dyne property. While enduring suspicious fumes, they feared for their health and safety.
In September 1976, the Ohio attorney general and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency entered the fray, charging Chem-Dyne with dumping industrial wastes into the Great Miami River and causing the death of more than a million fish.
By then it was evident that Chem-Dyne wasn’t involved in research and wasn’t finding new uses for unwanted chemicals. At best, it was stockpiling the industrial waste and endangering nearby Hamilton residents, and in the long term threatening the city’s water supply.
Public alarm intensified the afternoon of Aug. 25, 1979, when spectacular explosions and fire struck Chem-Dyne. Two employees and five firemen were injured when industrial solutions ignited. The blasts propelled waste-filled barrels and flames up to 100 feet in the air.
Dec. 19, 1979, the U. S. Department of Justice took action against Chem-Dyne, ordering the removal of chemical wastes and formation of a plan to remove and treat contaminated soil and water.
By Feb. 7, 1980, Chem-Dyne was in receivership while about 30,000 mysterious barrels remained on the 10-acre site. Nearly 300 companies had paid -- and trusted -- Chem-Dyne to dispose of their waste byproducts.
In October 1981, the U. S. EPA included the Hamilton site among the 114 worst hazardous waste dumps in the nation, making it eligible for cleanup under the recently-established federal Superfund program.
"Chem-Dyne, standing out from the multitude of toxic-waste dumps because of its extremely hazardous location and the magnitude of the cleanup task," said the Washington Post in 1982, "is nevertheless almost a case study of the difficulties associated with toxic wastes."
"Throughout Chem-Dyne’s operations," the Washington Post noted, "there was no legislation under which any of the authorities could force the dumping to cease."
In profiling the Chem-Dyne dilemma, the newspaper said "the law at that time said that activities on private property could be stopped only if they posed a direct danger to public health, and the danger had to be proved in court."
Another fire caused concern April 14, 1983, when the Chem-Dyne office was destroyed. The blaze, ruled arson, didn’t get closer than 400 feet to the nearest toxic barrels.
While the numerous drums and storage tanks continued to deteriorate and leak, National Geographic, in a 1985 issue, pinpointed Chem-Dyne when it spotlighted the nine high-priority hazardous waste sites in the nation.
Finally, the extensive government-directed cleanup of Chem-Dyne began Oct. 14, 1985, and continued until 1998. A few months earlier, a report estimated the cleanup cost would exceed $12 million.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 26, 2000
German teen ‘tagged’ for Hamilton
By Jim Blount
The "tagged" 16-year-old stepped from a southbound train, uncertain of his future, and hopeful that someone in or around the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad station would speak his language and help him find his new home in this land of promise and opportunity.
No one was there to meet the quiet teenager. He didn’t expect to be greeted that May evening in 1906 at the end of his long trip with a loose schedule. He walked hesitantly into the waiting room and found a seat on a bench in the depot on South Fifth Street.
The apprehensive young man -- described by a newspaper reporter as "wearing a typical German bell-shaped cap over a crop of crock-cut hair" -- had been alone since leaving his native Alsace-Loraine, a region often in contention between France and Germany.
After traveling by steamship to New York, he reached Hamilton on an Erie Railroad passenger train. (The Erie shared CH&D tracks between Dayton and Cincinnati in 1906.) Details of his ocean passage and rail journey -- including payment and ticketing -- weren’t reported.
He likely was one of the 12 million immigrants processed through Ellis Island in New York Harbor between 1892 and 1954.
His arrival in Hamilton wasn’t by chance or accident. Pinned to his shirt was a tag. It read "Hamilton, O." -- a message that enabled immigration and railroad personnel to guide him to his destination.
After about an hour, a friendly policeman approached the "tagged" young man. Officer Bill Stumpf knew enough German to start a conversation and offer assistance.
Eventually, the policeman determined that the immigrant was looking for an uncle who operated a restaurant on High Street in Hamilton. Stumpf knew the uncle and guided the new arrival to the eating establishment and the hospitality of relatives.
The next morning -- minus the Hamilton tag -- the young man started his new life. He was busy washing dishes in the uncle’s restaurant when a reporter checked on him.
Around town and Butler County, the newcomer found many people who spoke his native tongue, and several churches in a range of denominations, social organizations, singing societies and a weekly newspaper conducting their affairs in his familiar German language.
He would have encountered other residents who had immigrated in a similar manner, including some who had worn a hand-lettered tag to ease the traumatic transition.
Six years before his arrival, the 1900 census had counted 5,488 foreign-born people in Butler County, including 2,913 males and 2,575 females. That total was 15.6 percent of Butler County’s population of 35,279.
In Hamilton there 2,949 people born outside the U. S., including 1,534 males and 1,415 females. They represented 12.3 percent of Hamilton’s 23,914 inhabitants.
The Middletown total was 769 (375 males, 394 females), or 8.3 percent of the 9,215 people living in that community.
The 1900 census also recorded native white Americans who were children of one or more parents of foreign birth. The Butler County total was 15,606 (7,706 males, 7,900 females), or 44.2 percent.
City figures in the same category were: Hamilton, 12,377 (51.8 percent) with 6,242 males and 6,135 females; and Middletown, 4,025 (43.7 percent), including 1,056 males and 2,969 females.
An Internet site, describing those who arrived at Ellis Island, said immigrants came for a variety of reasons. "Most were fleeing religious persecution, political oppression and economic hardships." They endured "days and sometimes months aboard overcrowded ships, often traveling through hazardous weather" and surviving "substandard food and sanitation conditions."
According to recent estimates, more than 40 percent of Americans today can trace their family history to an ancestor who came to the U. S. through Ellis Island, now an immigration museum.
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