Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hop on Board

by Connie Cortright

We recently saw the movie "Public Enemies" when I was doing research for my John Dillinger blog post. When the gangsters made their great escape in cars fleeing from the police, they always seemed to have someone hanging onto the outside of the car shooting at the police as the car sped away. How could he hang on the outside of the car while it was moving without falling under the vehicle?

The answer was running boards. Most cars manufactured before 1940 had running boards built onto them. Extending the length of the car between the wheel wells, they were originally built as a step to assist a person into the car. In those days, autos had to be built with a higher clearance to keep the chassis from being damaged by the poorly constructed roads. Women especially needed the step up to get into the car because of their tight skirts.

Gangsters found these useful as platforms to stand on when the car was making a get-away.  This was often depicted in old-time movies from that era. Thugs, who were riding on this ledge, were also known to have thrown bombs at businesses as a way to pay back the owner who wouldn't give in to the blackmail of the mob.

Running boards also could be used to add to the capacity of passengers that were able to ride in, or should I say on, a car at one time. I wouldn't want to try this stunt, however.

Dare devils found them useful when trying to show off to the women standing nearby. A person could stand securely on the six to eight inch platform and hold on to the car through an open window. Of course, with any speed, the security of the running board was lost completely.

Since owning a car in the 1920s was a sign of economic stature, people were often seen standing or sitting on their running boards posing for pictures. This photo would be seen as a status symbol and often young couples had their picture taken in front of the new car.

Today most cars don't have running boards attached to them anymore. However, trucks and some SUV's still have them when they are built higher off the ground.

Running boards aren't an important part of our lives like they used to be in the 20s or 30s. When life was simpler in the "good old days", many memories were made around these small but significant platforms attached to cars.

Do you have a memory to share about running boards on a car?

Information taken from "Cars' Running Boards Were for Daredevils" by Joe Tronzo from the Beaver County Times February 13, 1997.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Was Your Father a Jerk?

by Connie Cortright

Now hold on! I'm not trying to insult anyone's ancestors. I'm merely asking if in the 20s or 30s your grandfather/great-grandfather had a job as a soda jerk in his younger years.

Being a jerk had a much different connotation back then. A soda jerk was a person who worked at a soda fountain maybe at a dime store, drug store, or even ice cream parlor.

Soda jerks ended up with this nickname because of the jerking motion that they had to constantly use to pump soda water into the concoction they were creating. These were the days before soft drinks were sold in cans, so the soda jerks would serve coca-cola and other soft drinks by adding soda water to a soft drink flavoring. The flavored syrup was poured into the glass with the soda water added on top. It was then stirred and served to patrons.

Ice cream sodas were another specialty of soda jerks. They were made by pouring flavored syrup into a tall glass followed by a few pumps of soda water and then a couple scoops of ice cream. More soda water was added to fill up the glass. Soda jerks were the creators of wonderful tasting ice cream sodas, such as black cows (root beer and ice cream).

Soda jerks were also known to make chocolate malts, shakes and other ice cream delicacies. The better the jerk, the more unusual were his invented creations. He could combine anything he could think of to make a new delicious drink.  I'm sure soda jerks in small towns were very popular with the young people in the area.

Jerking the soda water pump
 During the 20s the soda fountain was a place for people to gather in the community, taking the place of the local bar during Prohibition. The ice cream parlors became the hub for all the town gossip to be discussed, or friends to gather after a hard day of work. They often served hamburgers or other sandwiches to go along with the ice cream sodas.

Soda jerks can possibly be equated to high school students working at McDonald's today.
Slinging a scoop of vanilla for an ice cream soda
It was a low paying job that a young person might do for several years, but usually not a life-time occupation. They often got their reputation by concocting unusual combinations for sodas-cherry cokes for example-or performing unusual feats with the ingredients used in the ice cream soda. All in the name of fun.

I would be proud to know that my grandfather was a soda jerk back then. Sounds like a fun job to have.

Information was taken from WiseGeek- Soda Jerks

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

We Missed an Important Day!

by Connie Cortright

With all our rushing around we did last month, we missed celebrating National Fruit Cocktail Day on May 13th. Now that this has been brought to your attention, we should stop to remember this important event. Seriously??

To put in an alcoholic drink?
I never heard of a day to celebrate fruit cocktail, but as long as I heard about this important day, it's time to check out the history of this salad. Fruit cocktail is just another name for fruit salad, but most people think of the canned style fruit cocktail when those words are used.

Fruit cocktail was originally created "as a way to make use of fruit scraps when bruised or damaged fruits could not be used in canning" according to a Del Monte website. In 1893 a California fruit canner J.C. Ainsley put these pieces of fruit together in a can with sweetened syrup and called it fruit salad.

It's quite a mystery how these cans of fruit became known as fruit cocktail. It is speculated that the new moniker came about in 1902 when "Mrs. Rorer's New Cookbook" mentioned this product in a less than positive light: "In these latter days, many American cooks make a mixture of fruit, sugar and alcohol and serve them as 'salad.' These are not salads... they are heavy and rather unwholesome, and will never take the place of a salad. I prefer to call them fruit cocktails and serve them as a first course at a luncheon or a twelve o'clock breakfast."

Of course, the cans of fruit cocktail today do not contain alcohol, but at one time this type of salad must have, or Mrs. Rorer wouldn't have described them as such. In any case, the name fruit cocktail has stuck with the cans of fruit to this day. The contents of the cans are even regulated by the USDA, specifying the percentages of pears, grapes, cherries, peaches and pineapples that go in every can, but I won't bore you with that information.

The city of Sunnyvale, California will always remember May 13th at the Sunnyvale Industrial Park. They have a water tower in the shape of a can of fruit cocktail that was originally built by the Libby, McNeil and Libby cannery in 1906. The World's Largest Can of Fruit Cocktail still stands proud and tall to this day.

Personally, I was never really fond of fruit cocktail. All the fruit in the can somehow tasted the same when I ate it. (Maybe I should add a bit of gin or vodka to the fruit.) Give me a fresh fruit salad any day over a can of fruit cocktail. Sorry, Sunnyvale! Who agrees with me on this?

 Information taken from Fruit Cocktail: A reverie

Now aren't you glad I told you this useless tidbit of knowledge?