They were the best of times, they were the worst of times. If one lived through them they weren't so bad. In fact, we had fun. But I believe we who lived during those years have a built-in frugality that will endure throughout our lives.
I graduated from Johnstown Catholic High School on June 12, 1933, and the next day I went downtown to hunt for a job.
While I was growing up, Dad worked for “Charley Bethlehem,” as the steelworkers called the mills, and that meant he would work a third of the time, be laid off a third and be on strike a third. I decided I'd get a job where I would work steadily. Where else but the daily newspaper? I recall going into the Johnstown Tribune, where! was greeted by a young woman in the front office. I asked where Publisher Walter Krebs' office was.
“First open door on the left, second floor,” she replied. And sure enough the door was open.
I had my plan of attack ready: “Mr. Krebs, do you need a good man?”
“We can always use good men, but right now I'm having trouble holding onto the good men I already have,” he countered. “However, if something comes up, I'll give you a call”
I was halfway out the door when I realized I hadn't given him my name nor the fact that I didn't have a phone. So I went back and took care of those discrepancies. Then I asked the important question:
“Mr. Krebs, would it be all right if I came in occasionally to check?”
He told me to come in as often as I liked.
That was his downfalL I came in every week for 16 weeks. I was really afraid to go in the 17th but I was downtown hunting work and bumped into him crossing Main and Franklin streets.
“Hey, Don, you didn't come in this week! I have a job for you,” was his good news.
I started on Oct. 12, 1933, in the stereotyping department, where I worked for the next 36 years. Stereotyping ended when the Tribune went to offset printing on Oct. 6, 1969. I never missed a payday for the entire 47 years. It was the best company in town. We had medjcal and life insurance. We weren't the highest paid but we were the most consistent workers in town.
Big bands and big names
The 1930s was the era of the big bands. Johnstown had its Auditorium, located on the left side of Main Street going east, across from Swank's Hardware. We also could go to the Sunset Ballroom near Carrolltown and the Oriental Ballroom in GaIlitzin. All the best of the big bands visited these dance halls as well as coming to the Nemo Theatre and the Majestic, both on Main Street.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHNSTOWN AREA HERITAGE ASSICIATIONIn August 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and an entourage of officals, including Pennsylvania Gov. George Earle,came to a ravaged Johnstown to assess the damage done by the St. Patrick's Day flood, and to pledge help for the city. A mass rally was held at Roxbury Park. Before departing, Roosevelt signed an order allocating $300,000 for flood control survey work. Riding with the president below is then-Johnstown Mayor Danny Shields.
I remember Eddy Duchin playing the Nemo. He walked on stage, played an arpeggio on the grand, got up and announced, “I will not play this piano. Get another one.”
And he walked off
We sat through another rerun of the movie and then, with a new piano, he gave a fine performance.
After the show, I was walking through the alley next to Kernel's Drugstore and there was Eddy sitting on the stoop of the back door of the Nemo. I asked if I could take his picture. He demurred, saying he needed a shave. I said I didn't mind and snapped the picture.
I belonged to the Germania Quartet Club, a local singing society with meeting rooms on Railroad Street It had a pool table and slot machines.
I vividly remember a day when I had 20 cents to my name and I played the nickel machine. I won $2.20 just enough to get me into the Auditorium, where the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra was playing.
The band used eight trombones in some of their arrangements and they almost blew the doors off. Wow, they were great. Bob Crosby was soloist and I asked Tommy Dorsey (these bandleaders were nice guys and they talked to anyone), “Do you have Bob Crosby because of his brother, Bing, or his voice?”
“It never hurts to have a friend in high places,” Tommy said, “but Bob does have a fine voice.”
He most certainly did.
Fred Waring was special
I greatly admired Fred Waring and his orchestra and chorus. I even attended three of his seminars at Shawnee on Delaware in Monroe County He was getting up in years, so I asked him why he continued to tour. His answer. “Applause.”
The Johnstown theaters were great. There was the beautiful State Theatre. It cost about $700,000 and was built by George Panagotacos in the later '20s. It was directly across the street from the Cambria Theatre, where they showed the Al G. Fields Minstrels and burlesque shows. I remember walking down Main Street on the opposite side, glancing surreptitiously at the pictures of the strlpteasers. Of course, back then - so I've been told, as I never attended them the burlesques has fine soloists, a chorus line of 12 to18 girls and three strippers. And it was really quality entertainment, not like today, as it has deteriorated to nudity and nothing more.
One rainy day
I can't forget the 1936 flood. We had gone to work as usual; however, it was raining. Suddenly we looked out the windows and the water was coming up the Tribune alley. One of the stereotypers, Sam Long, had just bought a new car and he parked it in the lot across from the alley. He watched, helplessly, as the water covered his new car.
There were at least 50 people stranded in the building and we made the best of our predicament We had a piano in the rec room on the second floor and I played all night. When I'd get up, Mr. Krebs would say, “Play Don,” and I'd play. This continued even as the water rose to within two inches of the second floor.
Mr. Krebs was worried about the Suppes boys, who had just gotten a shipment of new cars. He wondered if they had gotten them to the dealership's second floor.
I couldn't help but thlnk: What a man.
His own business going under water and he is thinking of others.
Unions find strength
Unionism was beginning to take hold in the '30s with the United Mine Workers more or less leading the way A 1937 steel strike was not a success, but it did pave the way for an eventual unionization in the '40s.
The day Amelia dropped in
A big day in Johnstown was the dedication of the Westmont Airport. It was held in 1929 and the guest of honor was Amelia Earhart A pilot I remember only as Larson did “loops” with a Ford Tri Motor They really weren't loops. He'd put the plane in a steep drlve, pull it up, up and up, and then it would just flop over. But it was thrilling just to see it happen. I had a ride in a Ford Tri Motor It cost two bucks and it was like riding an old traction company bus. Bumpy!
Welcome, Mr. President
It was in the '30s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to town. He and Johnstown Mayor Danny Shields rode in an open car around the city I remember that Danny out-showed the president. Onlookers had difficulty figuring out which one was the president and which one was the mayor
The fabulous thirties: The best of times. The very best of times!
Donald K Sabo Sr. of Brownstown retired as an offset pressman in 1980 after 47 years of service with The Tribune-Democrat. In the 1980s, he was known as The Old-timer, hosting “The Fantasy Ballroom” radio program that aired Saturday nights on what then was WJNL-AM
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