Bob's memories of growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana

(highlighted topics are on this page)

Places I've Lived

Courtland Avenue Greenwood Avenue Ossian, Indiana 1026 Third St Greenwood Avenue 1929 Third Street
  1925 Courtland Avenue 629 Putnam Street Entrepreneurs Drug-Store & Bee Supplies Turkey Lake Grandma Stearns & Great Grandpa

Early Memories

First Love The Altekruse farm Turkey Lake Chicago World's Fair Meeting Jean The 1937 Trip East
NorthSide HS Jean Marriage Early Working Life Mark Purdue and Graduate school Dave's Arrival
Education, School & Teaching   Flying Learning to Fly at Smith Field War, University and Flight Instructing The Navy Experience  

1929 Third Street (top of ‘hungry hill’)

On moving to 1929 Third street, parents having ‘purchased’ the house– we explored the new neighborhood, I remember Eddie Schaper telling me about what girls looked like naked (he has sisters–used a tennis ball with art work to demonstrate). Eddie and I also scrounged the curbs for old tobacco bags and cigarette stubs, which we emptied into the bag to roll our own cigarettes—such budding delinquents!
We lived near the railroad-with only about three houses from ours to tracks, this leading to further misadventures; among these were urinating on the pot flare lights the railroad workers put out to see if we could put them out. This was at the time of depression’s beginnings and we seemed to have a rather steady succession of hoboes stopping by; Mom was often willing to give them some beans, bread and perhaps a hot dog and coffee. Among these wanderers likely would be considered our grandpa Whitehurst, who stopped by maybe a couple of times a year–but never stayed long and never even came into the house if I remember well. We think my Mom did not like him much and it was probably mutual. We often wondered if his peculiarities have not carried over in the genes of some successors to the line!

I also came close to catastrophe one winter there when Dad came home from hunting with a 22 rifle and propped it on the wall in the kitchen. Being curious, I remember trying to look down the barrel, fooling with the gun and putting it back in the corner–where I managed to pull the trigger–and sure enough it went off–and the bullet shot through the upstairs bathroom where my Mother was! Needless to say, a couple of lessons were learned there. Luckily I did not do in one of us.

This was also a time of exploring the world of girls; the two Knapp sisters lived just two doors down and the rumor was that Harriet would pull down her pants and show it to the boys for a penny; for a nickel we could feel it. I never had the loot so my sex education would have to wait. I do remember getting Eileen Foor on the ground with some other neighbor boys and trying to get a peek at something under her clothes–but it was not to be as she ran home, told her Mom and we were all duly punished. Sadly, Eileen was killed by a bread truck in front of her house, another very difficult time for adults and the Foor family. Mac, the father, later moved NW of Ft. Wayne and raised Gladiolas and did well I think in that venture.

In winter, we would walk across thee railroad tracks with our ice skates to skate on the two ponds at the Bass estate (later was used as a Catholic girl’s school , St. Francis college I think). It was a great place to skate, there would often be a fire so we could get warm and we built many fond memories of the place.

This was the very early 30's and we walked to school, at least one and a half miles to Franklin school, but other kids in the area also walked and it was unknown to get a ride to school, regardless of the weather. I remember talk of politics, Hoover and Roosevelt and the beginnings of the WPA and other projects.

In the summertime, we would look forward to the ice man with his wagon coming up the hill to sell ice to folks to keep food from going bad in summer. It was an open back wagon and was covered with a large canvas to keep ice from melting so much. Whenever he took his tongs and took a 50 or so pound chunk of ice into any house, we would rush out to steal chips off the back of his wagon.....and of course he would catch us, warn us, etc. but we seemed always ready to try again. We came to realize his viewpoint after trying to make chips where there were none existing and being lectured. This, mixed with ball games and hide and seek and putting cans on our feet to clomp down the street or alley were common games.

First Love

Also, I well remember my first heavy duty love, Delores Walters, our second grade teacher who I thought was perfect. Jean also remembers our third grade teacher, Mabel Fry, whose temper sometimes went awry and one day she came into the room, picked up a chair, slammed it on the desk and broke it—do not remember why–supposedly someone was talking. About this time I remember also being one of the last to be still standing when spelling bees were regular affairs in our class......never did really win, but was always in the short-list as it would now be called......this apparently gave rise to my self perception of being a not-quite winner, though often I was in something like an advanced group. I used to think that going to church fed my interest in language and learning new words as there were often many I did not understand while sitting through boring church services. Outstanding among my memories of church however are two items: Dad was a scout leader of some sort so at an early age I was allowed to hang out around the edges of scouting, though not old enough to become a member at First Christian Church, corner of Jefferson and Fairfield in downtown Ft. Wayne (church now long gone-replaced by service station about 1950's). At that time kitty cornered from the church was a Firestone station and they gave away colored funny papers sometimes on Sundays (about two or three pages)–so we would hurry after church to see if we could get these–a highlight of the day. As a result of being associated with the scout troop at the church, I sometimes got to go to Big Island camp, a scout camp northwest of town about 25 miles on a nice lake. In winter, sometimes there was camping where there was a kind of drafty small barn with a wood stove for heat where I would go with scouts on a weekend......talk about cold! It was my first experience with walking on ice across the lake when it was freezing and hearing the loud ‘kerwhump’ as ice froze more solidly. I once also fell through a two-layer formation of ice at Turkey lake and went in up to my knees; walking back to the cottage was brisk with pant legs frozen. It took a couple of hours near the stove to get warm.

Dad was always up for getting together with his old war buddies, among them was the Shambaughs, with Bob, Max and Gene, another three boy family. We used to have picnics and ball games and nice get- togethers. Bob got rheumatic fever, played violin, while Max played French horn in NS high school band with me. Last I saw Max was right after he signed up for the air force. After wartime, he took over Roscoe’s plumbing business and made it big in Indiana as a large scale contractor after returning from Purdue.

The Altekruse farm

Another memorable ‘freeby’ we often sought out was at the O’day gas station down the road from grampa Altekruse’s farm on northwest side of Ft. Wayne. In spring, they would give out free kites and needless to say we were there with our hands out. This, accompanied by several of our 33 cousins would make for nice times and great memories of being on the farm. Cousins Neal and Kenny flew planes from the top of the windmill, a thrill for me.

The kitchen on the farm was mostly remembered for the long table that would appear, sometimes it seems holding as many as three dozen for dinner—all made in the wood fired large stove in the kitchen where bread and large sugar cookies were baked, roasts made and water heated. Grampa A’s rocking chair sat next to the stove where I remember him snoozing after lunch and a hard morning’s work, toothpick sticking out of his mouth as he slept away.

We would help churn butter and in summer turn the ice cream freezer to make fresh strawberry or peach ice cream. The summer kitchen, just behind the house and next to the windmill that pumped water also had a running set of pools inside to keep butter, milk and other foods cool in summer as water poured onto the place where such items were kept. As we stepped down from the long back porch where butter was churned, steps led to the old outhouse where there was an outdated Sears catalog and I remember looking down at the big brown frozen pile as I found my way to the inevitable place in the mornings in winter. Next to the outhouse or near it was the smokehouse where hams and bacon were cured with salt and sugar and smoke. The smoky smell lingered forever near there and maybe it was that habit that folks sometimes follow today by burning a match as they leave the bathroom?

We were sometimes allowed to help churn the butter, watching till the yellow pieces formed, then finally grandma would bring a bowl and shape a nice bowl full to keep in the summer house. Occasionally one can still find an old oak bucket churn for sale in an antique shop with the wooden disc to move the cream up and down till whipped butter arrives. Sunday afternoons were always special on the farm, with aunts, uncles and cousins playing; the side yard, surrounded by large cedars provided a nice place for croquet games that sometimes went on for hours. We would at times help make fresh strawberry or peach ice cream in the old hand-cranked freezer, packed with ice and salt after the mix of cream, sugar and maybe cooked egg yolks or the special custard stuff was put in–then finally the strawberries or peaches. There were two eternities involved in making the ice cream–first, the work as the crank got harder and harder to turn (seemingly forever before it was ready)—then, after it was stiff enough, another eternity was involved in letting it set till an adult decreed it was finally ready to serve–but oh was that ever worth the wait.....sometimes we would be also served gramma’s big sugar cookies along with the ice cream, a true double-treat.

Also, a memorable part of wintertime on the farm was the cold bedrooms upstairs, but there were warm featherbeds and down and feather comforters that would guarantee warmth once set in bed. Upstairs, we could also sort of spy on the old folks by going to the register, which was nothing more than a hole in the floor that let some heat up from downstairs–but we could–if we were very quiet– listen to what the adults were saying down below as well as see a bit through the register,.....needless to say when it was cold we did not listen long.

Days on the farm, especially in summer were always fun. Once Dad made a large Coyne kite, about four or five feet high and with strong cord we went to the field across from the farm and flew it. I remember being pulled off the ground with it and was soon to recognize it was about a three person venture to fly it. The orchard and barn were also places of attraction, though sliding down the haystack in back of barn was frowned upon by gramps, he was always good natured about it as he told us not to do that. We would also sometimes get to go up into the hay mow and throw down hay for the cows and horses. Sometimes Uncle John would let me drive the team of horses to try my hand at plowing—a job I found mostly way beyond my physical and technical abilities. We did, however think John must have been one of the true strong men of the world as he impressed us with his prowess. John was also the first in the area to electrify the lights in the house in his area. He was a gadgateer and knew about electricity and lots of other mechanical things. We could also run the cream separator–a hand cranked one with lots of gears that whined and separated the cream once we helped milk the cows—no machines here and at that time only lanterns to light the way in early mornings. John also had a thoroughly modern car, a 1928 model T Ford, which he sometimes let me drive in the barnyard. What fun, opening the throttle on the steering column, adjusting the spark-retard-or advance timer and pushing in the center pedal, the grinding sound being that of going in reverse.

Max A is still at this writing (03) considering doing some kind of rendering (he is a perfectionist-terrific artist) of the old Altekruse farm -we have discussed this but no result yet as he is very busy caring for Alzheimer’s victim-wife Cathy (who died at home in early spring of 2004). Cousins Neal and Kenny A. used to make model planes and climb to top of water-pump windmill to fly them–while I admired and envied them. Also, cousin Max sometimes allowed me to come to his house where under the stairs he had a small space where he made model planes.....they were all very good craftsmen and I was poor at that but did enjoy being there to take in the process—and also while there do remember getting ‘high’ on airplane glue though did not apply the label to myself. Max still has a wonderful collection of models at his house near Milford, Mich. He has made through the years. Also, Max, me and his Dad (Uncle Bill) clipped a coupon from the FT.Wayne News Sentinel to get a discount on plane ride at Smith Field–about 1937–in a visiting ‘tin goose’–Ford Tri motor plane....it was the first time I think for all of us to go aloft. I was of course already hooked on the notion of flying and was the one to later fly for eight years. I think the ride cost us one dollar, the coupon saving us 50 cents each.

Back to 1929 West Third ST: We lived across the tracks from Bass estate, a large old stone mansion with two ponds on it where we were allowed to skate in winter. We thought this was super and it was in fact a very nice place to spend a winter’s day.

About this time Dad brought home bike for the three of us, a unique bike in that it had a bevel (worm) gear drive connected to a shaft that turned the back wheel; no brake except pressure on pedals, but we thought it was very cool! Also, there were clip on roller skates and music came at this time to be important. Dad took me to Elkhart, Indiana where his cousin Elsie lived; we stayed ovenite with her and went to the E.K. Blessing factory where Dad bought a b flat baritone horn, which I lugged around for the next 11 years. One catastrophe occurred when I thoughtlessly came home with my horn and must have found something pressing to do, leaving it in the driveway where Dad ran partly over the bell with the car............shame, disgust, humiliation and all that went with that ensued.

Another memory about music occurred at holiday times when Jim, Marsh and I and Ross Cater (who also played trumpet)–would go out caroling and collect goodies and cash from folks in the neighborhood. Once I remember going into the Spring St. tavern and a sloppy-sentimental drunk gave us a half dollar..........needless to say we felt really- really rich and lucky–though since I have pondered the meaning of it all for the participants of the scene. At Christmas time doing this we always had candy, oranges, cookies, etc. In addition, folks in the area knew us as hucksters of Dad’s remedies, salve for burns, furniture polish and tooth paste among others. Dad said he knew a couple of old Indians who gave him recipes for natural things to make.

Turkey Lake

By the end of the 20's, I remember Mom and Dad taking us up to Turkey Lake, across lake from Stroh Indiana, a developer was giving away some lake lots and other prizes to entice people to build cottages there. Lots were also being sold, Mom won some dishes and a necklace, we got balloons or trinkets of some sort, but they decided to buy a lake lot anyway. A large cement plant was on the shore by Stroh and a store in town. Dad made a rowboat and we would swim/row across lake then hike through pastures to get to town. In early 30's, Dad decided we would build a cottage. He had paid $15 for the lot, one dollar down, rest on easy payments. On Friday afternoons after he was off work at the GE, he would hook up an old utility trailer he had rigged up, go to Roethle bros. Lot on north side on Wells. St. where he would buy used lumber, pipes, etc. and load up trailer and we’d go on up to lake sometimes for weekends. Dad hired Wade Strasser, from whom we also bought eggs when going to lake as he lived near cottage, to bring his horse and scoop to dig out basement in side of hill for foundation and lower floor of cottage, finally painted yellow and called canary cottage. It had a wood stove and small kitchen in basement, no running water (we brought it by pail up from well near beach on lake)–and a kind of chemical toilet in back of house. Dad also rigged up a pole vault place and horseshoes in back so playtime was at times observed. Also, we had ample time for wandering in the woods, sometimes finding berries, sassafras root (which we also sold in neighborhood back home) plus many fine imaginative outdoor adventures. Dad also built with Marsh a nice small model sailboat (I still have picture), so all in all, a time of nice adventures which most in our neighborhood did not have in those times. As cottage got to be more like finished, guests appeared and we soon had lots of company. Upstairs was one pretty good sized room with a wire stretched down middle of room both ways so when curtain material was hung on the wires, there were four bedrooms–but not a lot of privacy, especially if the wind blew the separating curtains at inopportune times. The cottage was kept till about end of WWII, when Dad finally sold it as we were all doing other things by that time. I think he sold it for $1500.

By early 30's, the depression was taking its toll, banks closing (I lost $11.22 in a school banking account and have never forgotten–or really gotten over it!!!) I remember arguments at home over budgeting and spending and not spending, etc. Music lessons were cut among other things and finally it was announced that even though the bank would accept just the interest on the mortgage–my parents decided to let the house go back to the bank.....house was worth little at that time and money was very scarce.

1925 Courtland Avenue

Early in 1933 we had moved into 1925 Courtland , across from Bob Vachon and his family. A rental, basic amenities and cold in winter. Bob V and I became friends, it was a new and more upscale neighborhood compared to Third street, but still mostly working class. Bob V and I still keep in touch, he lives at Crooked lake in summertime, winters in Florida,(2003).
About this time we were also involved in a musical group the three of us brothers (whose idea?) Or Dad concocted. We would dress as sort of bums (not hard to do in 30's)-and play some music as an opener, then I would play like I had been drinking from a small booze bottle in my hip pocket–at some point, Marsh would grab the bottle, pour some in my hands and light it –it was some kind of alcohol, which burned cool for a bit)–object was to make people laugh.....but we never hit the big time with this act!

On Cortland Ave. we picked cherries and sold them in summer around 10 or15 cents. There was some sort of conflict with neighbors to South across alley–the Chandler boys—we all wound up in court though I am not sure what the real problem was; I remember the judge telling us all to go home and act decently and not to come back with such small matters........so I think we all left the Chandlers alone and vice versa as I remember. Jim broke his arm in the alley behind John Rosseau’s house, falling from a tree from which he was swinging; I remember running down alley after he fell while swinging on tree, his arm at a peculiar angle where it had broken, trying to hold it so as to not injure him more–flying home to get help. He was soon on the way to repair once more.

Bob Vachon and his ‘date’ Jean Pfeiffer (later Jean W), me and Eileen Roth (my date) walked to North Side High school to see a Sigmund Romberg operetta.(perhaps student prince)....not sure which......but seemed pretty normal all of it in retrospect. I became more interested in cars–but always airplanes were lurking in the background— often making unartistic sketches of planes in my school notebooks when I should have been doing other things.

It was about this time that I got my first real job, working for Bob Vachon’s father at his hardwood lumber yard on Spring St. After school everyday I would be there to answer the phone in the office and on Saturdays, Bob, his Dad and I would take his flat bed old Ford truck out to places where he had bought trees, and we would either take them to the mill or pick up lumber from the sawmill and haul to his lumber yard and unload. For a skinny 13 year old it was very heavy-duty work for 50 cents a week! It was always an adventure however and in the 30's a half buck was not a small amount for a kid to have.

We were walking to Franklin school from Courtland Ave. but it was not so far as from 3rd Street previously and we had made new friends. At this time, communism was a big bogey and one of our classmates, Dean Kreachbaum was said to have communist meetings at his house–his Dad being said to be one of the mysterious commies. No one knew exactly what this all meant, but it did contain an aura of mystery and we knew it was not good! In the meantime, Dad thought Eleanor Roosevelt was running (ruining to him) things in Washington and that J.E.Hoover was doing a fine job of protecting us from the nasty commies trying to take over America. Only much later did I come to understand things very very differently from Dad; in fact, in grad school at Purdue U. in about 1960 I played a practical joke on Dad that had not nice reverberations: I came across in the grad room or somewhere on campus an ad for some kind of socialist gathering–to which I had no affiliation or interest (I merely wanted to get a PhD and get a job); I mailed it to Dad with a message asking for money to help our ‘cell’ get organized on campus. Little did I realize at the time he might take it all too seriously as he was always something of a practical joker himself—but! Although Dad never said anything about it – Mom said Dad could not eat or sleep well for several days!

Back to Franklin school in mid 30's. I remember trading lunch things with others in the gym where we had lunch..........also, we would bring gliders and planes we had made and one memory is of one or two girls admiring my planes (must be love)—it was nice to be noticed.

The Chicago World’s Fair

Jim, Marshall and I were all excited to hear the news that in the summer of 1933 we were going to make a trip to the World’s fair in Chicago (actual trip to be in summer of 1934). We saved our pennies, Dad got the old 1929 Chevy in order and when he collected his meager vacation money we headed off on highway 30 for big adventure. We camped along highway 30 somewhere near Valparaiso, Ind. going to the big city. In Chicago, we rented a spot on the south side of the city, just to south of the large fair area, where we pitched the tent. The area was just a parking lot mostly covered with gravel, but it was near the action and that was what we liked about it. My big desire was to be able to ride the gas powered kind of go carts at the fair.

We were at the fair for about three days I think and I remember being in line to get freebies of Heinz pickles and other sample goodies and being extremely curious on passing Sally Rand’s tent where the show was and trying to be there when she came out for the pitch to sell tickets. ...and I remember seeing Sally Rand (outside of her place where she performed)—and wondered what the big boys got to see if they paid to go inside. The fair was a real futuristic fairy and future- land and more than we had hoped to experience.

One of the highlights for me was the rare opportunity to drive a gas powered small race car around the track......I did it once, obviously wanted more but costs prevented that; at least I had the experience. Besides, most of my school peers were not even so lucky as to get to see the spectacle of the fair–which saw the introduction of the V-8 engine in Fords that year.

It was an era of budding modern automobiles, bigger and more expensive fancy ones (trend still seems operative today)–and in 1937 Bob Vachon’s Dad bought a new Ford V8 for about $650. Once I went to Crooked Lake with Bob and his Dad and he showed us how the V8 would go sixty in second gear! Talk about performance.