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Memories » Growing Up in Petrolia in the 1920's & '30's

Growing Up in Petrolia in the 1920's & '30's

Sender Ben Bitz
Posted On 2011-03-08
Year 1920's
Memoir Growing up in Petrolia: My father, Manuel, worked at a Petrolia service station (then called filling station) owned by Bud Young, who also owned the Petrolia movie theater. Since Dad was mechanically talented, he operated the projector. Movies were shown twice in the middle of the week and on Saturday night. They were usually continued movies. A player piano provided entertainment before the movies started. (These player pianos are now seen in museums or antique stores.) The piano had two rollers which held the paper with holes. The piano's mechanism had two foot pedals, usually powered by volunteers who gained free admission. Our whole family was allowed to attend for free.

At our home we had a garden, cows, chicken, and hogs. So, it was nearly like a farm. I drove the cow to a pasture we rented for $1 a month located about ½ mile east. From there I walked better than ½ mile to school. Dad bought a cold storage building located by the railroad tracks. John Bachman moved it about 6 or 7 blocks on sills with wooden rollers. The walls were insulated with asbestos, which would make a person itch.

About 1928, Dad got a new Chevy. We also had a Model T Ford. These early cars did not have electric starters and I usually hand cranked the Model T in the mornings. I was very careful in cranking it because sometimes it got into motion before I was seated.

Sometimes my Mom, Katerina, would take us to Byers to visit our grandparents. The road to Byers was a good gravel road but was not too straight. The speed limit was about 30mph and several times if a car passed us it would throw loose gravel. Mom didn’t like that and would speed up and pass them. One time when we planned to go to Byers, Dad left the Ford for us to drive to the station where we would get in the Chevy. The well had a 2” pipe upright in front to protect it. When everyone was seated I cranked the engine but Mom forgot and instead of reverse she went forward bouncing off the pipe, which killed the engine. I told Mom to let me drive, but she said I was too young. I cranked the Model T again with the same results. She sat there for for a while before we tried again, this time with success.

Most of the roads back then were dirt and during bad weather the ruts got deep. Usually if we met a car, each driver would help get each car out of the ruts so the trips could continue. Most cars had a spare tire but if you had more than one flat, you would have to use the patching tools and a hand air pump.

Dad taught me to drive and I worked on Saturdays at the station with him. I don’t remember much about that except I would drive to the Lone Star Gas Plant south of town to wash cars; usually I was rewarded with a soda pop.

Most everyone in Petrolia had a garden which helped feed their family. Across the street our neighbor had a good tall fence and occasionally our chickens got into his garden and could not find their way out when he chased them. After he caught the chickens he would throw them over the fence. Mom always said he wrung their neck. Anyway, the survival rate was not good.

Our garden fence was built with cedar posts. One incident I remember quite well was the time Victor, our neighbor boy, and I got some bark and made smokes. We took soft sheets from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in the outdoor john (outhouse) that was located near the ally, about as far from the house as possible. What we made were more like cigars. I guess in getting the matches to light these smokes Mom was alerted by the odor or smoke. I don’t remember if we were in the barn or behind the barn when she found us. She said we would have to answer to Dad when he got home. We were in bed when he got home but that didn’t seem to make any difference. He used the razor strap on us, telling us it was not for smoking but for the danger it presented to the barn.

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