Volume Forty-Four

No. 3



l. R. Johnson & Son

A Business Built by An Old-fashioned Entrepreneur


Many Batavians recall Leonard R. (better known as "Lenny") Johnson as the proprietor of the company that for many years hauled their garbage and trash. He also had an excavating and demolition business. This  story, based on Elliott Lundberg's and Bill Hall's March 25, 2003, interview of his son, Melvin ("Butch") and Butch's wife, Veta, shows a fascinating way of life that by today has largely disappeared. It is also a portrait of a unique individual.

Lenny Johnson was born in Indiana in 1909 and moved with his family to Illinois in 1921 after a boiler backfired on hisvol_44_16.jpg father, a fireman on the railroad. There was no workmen's compensation in those days so Lenny, who was only 12, and his sister had to quit school and go to work.

Lenny began at Payne's Hardware in Geneva. He moved to Batavia in 1928, the year that he married Lillian Stark, and began working for the Batavia Dairy Company. He used a horse on his route until about the start of World War II. Although he held other part-time jobs and began his own business in 1945, he kept his job at the dairy until 1949.

As his son Butch says, "My dad always said that the Batavia Dairy company was a good place to work because he always had a job. He didn't make a lot of money, but he did have steady work.

"When World War II started, the dairy got him an exemption because he worked with what was considered a necessary product and had worked there many years. He said that whenever a contract came up, most of the help wanted a higher wage and less commission but he was for 100% commission because then you could work harder to get more business and make more money.

"He always got along real well with Melvin Kraft, one of the three partners who owned the dairy; in fact, my dad always said that's who they named me after -- but I don't think they did me any favor when they named me Melvin. My dad didn't always get along with Frank Pierson, another partner, but he got along better with him than he did with the third partner, Phil Ekman.

Frank used to work with the men more than Melvin and Phil did -- he would work on the routes when he was needed. I remember when my dad died Frank came down to the funeral home and stayed around and talked to a lot of people; when he went home that night, he died in his sleep."

According to his son, Lenny was a workaholic. "During the Second World War, he worked at the Batavia Body Company for half a shift from six in the evening until ten; then it was his turn to be at the Batavia Dairy to load at four in the morning. And besides, he had trucks and guys working for him in the business he had started. "He went into business originally when a couple of aldermen in town wanted him to buy a truck and pick up the rubbish in town. That started about 1945.

I think Phil Becker was one of the aldermen. When he started, he had a couple of trucks. You had to separate your garbage back in those vol_44_17.jpgdays, and a lot of the farms fed garbage to hogs. Most of the rubbish they hauled to an old dump up on what is now Fabyan Parkway.

Back in those days you had to separate the ashes from the bottles and cans since everyone had coal furnaces. They picked up rubbish on different days depending on what it was. We had trucks that picked up the rubbish from 1945 until I sold that part of the business in 1985. The excavating business started about 1949. "Back at the end on the Second World War," Butch continued, "my dad had an old truck, and he wanted to buy a new one. He went to an International Truck dealer, and the dealer laughed at him -- they weren't taking orders for any new trucks.

Then he went to a Studebaker truck dealer in Aurora and saw that they had two new trucks in there. He talked to the dealer and was told that they were for the Heitkotter Fuel Oil Company in Aurora but that he didn't know whether they wanted them both. So Lenny called them up, and they said they would sell one of them so he bought it. My dad bought quite a few of them until about 1950 when he started to buy trucks from Norm Anderson who had a GMC dealership on the corner of Prairie and Webster.

My dad knew Norm Anderson's family so he continued buying the same kind of trucks from him. Funny thing -- later on my sister married Bill Shanahan whose uncle was Joe Heitkotter, the owner of the fuel company.

"All my dad did was work. My mom would get mad when they went on vacation, supposedly for a week they'd be gone about three days, and my dad had to get back here to check on things. Because he grew up in the Depression, he used to be pretty tight about fixing stuff. He'd spend hours trying to fix something that I thought he might as well throw away and buy another. We'd save the better of the used parts of the construction equipment because we thought that someone, some day, might need them. He just kept the parts piled up in the yard on South River Street. After he passed away, we hauled load after load of used parts to the junk yard."

Butch recalls that his father moved into the house at 329 East Wilson Street when he bought it in 1939, and lived there until his death in 1978. When he first moved to Batavia, he lived in a house on Forest Avenue that belonged the Augie Maier, the former postmaster. Then he moved to a house on East Wilson that belonged to the Feldotts. "That house," Butch said, "had about a 100 foot lot. He used to keep his trucks there sometimes, but the neighbors squawked about it all the time. He also used to keep them along the railroad tracks right behind where the park is now. Later he rented space in Norm Anderson's garage.

He bought the property we have now on South River Streetin 1951 and moved his stuff there. We built this building in 1989. "On Pine Street there is a small lake that my dad bought from Ollie Wolcott. We took gravel out of there and made that lake bigger than it had been. We never owned a dump, but we used to dump stuff at a property on River Street that Dr. Lysne owned. We also used a dump down on the end of Prairie Street."

Elliott Lundberg, who was then at the Batavia National Bank, recalled, "Lenny Johnson was very independent. Walter Johnson, president of the bank, had known him for years. Lenny would come in and say he had bought a truck or some other piece of equipment for so much money and that he wanted to borrow that amount. That's all there was to it.

Sometimes he would come in and say he had written a check for a truck and would tell us to make sure it cleared when it came in, which we did -- he'd catch up with it later. "He would never complete a financial statement for the bank, and he borrowed a lot of money. The examiners complained every time they came in, and we'd tell Lenny we needed one. Then one day he came in and said he needed a financial statement, so we made one up for him -- and for ourselves. He furnished the information, which wasn't complete but  it satisfied the examiners. After that he'd come in every so often and want a copy of that financial statement."

Butch resumed, "My dad owned a bunch of little parcels of land. He owned a little piece of property on Harrison Street off Carlisle Road -that's where Veta and I built our first house. I think he bought that property from Dewey Carlisle way back in the early 1950s; he had bought it to take off black dirt. Then he bought some lots on Lathem Street, also to take off black dirt. He bought some parcels and traded for others -- he had parcels all over. When he died, we sold all of them -- I think back to what we got for them and what they're worth now." Butch said that he started working for his father when he was about 12 years old. "It's basically the only job I ever had. Dad had me driving a truck on the job when I was so small that I had to hold myself ahead on the steering wheel to reach the pedals. I started running machines for my dad when I was 15 years old. By then I had a driver's license, but I wasn't old enough to get a license to drive a truck. My dad, though, used to ha\' me move machines all the time. The was a cop in town, O.T. Benson, who was the only one who used to bother me. I'd move a machine, and O.T. would see me and give me a ticket, whlch my dad would take to the Justice of the peace, Bill Spencer, and pay.

One time I was moving machines down at the gravel pit that we owned, and O.T. saw me. He got so mad because my dad kept paying my fines that he took the keys out of the truck and I had to walk all the way back to my dad's house." Interestingly, as Veta remembered, Lenny had one outside interest -horses. He had been training to be a veterinarian, but just before he finished, the law was changed to require a four year college degree. Still, though, he had an interest in horses. At one time, she recalled, Lenny had several horses. "In fact," Butch joined in, "we still have things that show that my dad had a horse that raced on the ice in Wisconsin. The horse had spikes on the shoes, and he held the record for many years for the half mile race. "He used to keep his horses down at the end of Prairie Street in buildings that used to be the the Standard Dairy.

Skirmont used to own those buildings. At one time he had two race horses -- sulky horses. And then he had another couple of riding horses, as well as a quarter horse. He used to keep a couple of ponies in a shed behind the house on East Wilson Street, along with chickens and rabbits that the neighbors always squawked about. He had to keep locks on the doors of the cages -- he said that he didn't mind raising them but didn't like somebody else taking them." Asked how it was working for his father, Butch said, "I think my son and I have a better working relationship than my father and I had. My father thought that you had to work from sunup to sundown seven days a week. I got out of working seven days a week by not coming home on Saturday night. When Veta and I got married, we were still working seven days a week. "I was not actually a part of the company, I was salaried. Although I was the only son, I was never a legal partner

until my father got sick. Then he realized he should be doing something different. I had two sisters. Under his will, I became the owner of 52% of the business, but it took two years to settle my dad's estate. Things were pretty tough at that time, but we got it all worked out.

"The first two years of the 1980s were tough. Business was slow, and you couldn't borrow any money because of the interest rates -- interest payments would have been higher than the profits. So we went quite a while without buying any equipment. But overall business has been pretty good since I took over." Butch said that they have done quite a bit of demolition work over the years. "We took down the Brown house north of the Congregational Church -- a large old house. We took down the the old Seymour Wolcott house on the Avenue between Union and Walnut streets. We tore down the Four Kings Restaurant building located where Bank One is now on the Avenue and the 7-11 building next door on the corner of the Avenue and Main Street. "I sold the garbage business to Acorn Disposal Company in 1985, which sold it to Waste Management five years later. There are very few small disposal companies left.

At the time we had it, it was a good cash flow business, but the big companies were moving in, putting too much pressure on the small operators. I had a fellow named Gene Jones working for me he had worked for the disposal company for thirty years. When we were selling that business, I told him that he could still work for us, which he did until his death four or five years ago. "The business now is all excavation and demolitions. I do all the figuring of jobs, but I never go out on them anymore. My son is out on the job; he runs the jobs and arranges the work for the five employees we now have. We only have two trucks now besides those we use for moving equipment. We hire more trucks when we need them. "It has been a good business over the years,"

Butch concluded. "None of the family ever got rich, but we all made a decent living."



Ruth Burnham --Veteran, Wife, Mother and Volunteer (Part 2)

The last issue carried Part 1 of Ruth Burnham's story based on interviews with Elliott Lundberg, Bill Wood and Bill Hall and the beginning of her memoir A View from the Shore, which tells about her World War II service as a Navy WAVE. This

issue concludes her story in two sections: "Life on the 8.8. Finance," which continuesthe story told in her memoir; and "Then Civilian Life -- and Batavia," which shehas written especially for us, including a tribute both to her husband Joe, who at hisdeath was Chairman and CEO of Marshall Field & Co., and to the community that became such an important part of their lives.

Life on the S.S. Finance

The Barrington sojourn [a short leave after receiving my commission] did wonders for my morale. Stepping vol_44_19.jpg

off the train in full dress, I was welcomed like a hero. My proud family escorted this first native female in Navy uniform to our cozy home where in the front window hung a seNice flag with a single blue star. This star would multiply later when brothers volunteered; but right now it was ME! Family support diminished my jitters and in a few days I was ready for Part II of my adventure: WAVES recruiting in Kansas and Missour Confidence was building. With my worldly possessions packed in two suitcases -- matched, riped and monogrammed -- I departed for Kansas City. Checking into the President Hotel I readied for my "report for duty" the next day.

My shoulder bag was flush with cash. The first Ensign paycheck seemed enormous

to this Depression chick, and in celebration of making it this far I tipped the coffee shop waitress a generous 50 cents for a smile with toast and coffee. Shoes were polished, seams straightened and serge uniform brushed clean as I marched into the Finance Building, Baltimore Avenue, Kansas City, MO. I smiled with composure -- hoping to exude confidence for my new assignment -- as I located the Captain's cabin. Lt. Commander Young was Captain of the SS Finance -- our vertical dry-dock ship. He was always ready with a big smile and rolled cigarettes during all conversations. A veteran of WW I, he was as gentle as the Executive Officer (ReseNe) Lt. Veum was firm. As a team they kept an even keel. As I was presented to Lt. Veum he announced after a hearty welcome that I was scheduled to accompany him on a recruiting trip to Parsons, Kansas, the next day. Two WACs would be traveling with us. look out, Parsons -- we're after your young women! Public speaking was a dread of mine, but once I developed a pattern and framed it with War Department urgency, applications flowed.

A recruiting trip combined appearances at seNice clubs -- usually male -- and short visits to school career-day sessions. In 1943 these opportunities were rare, but our office would travel the states of Missouri and Kansas and eventually set up satellite facilities for a two to three week term. We had quotas to meet. Back in Kansas City, the S.S. Finance was busy. The Navy Department had secured several floors for different activities -- male officer procurement, WAVEs recruiting, lady Marine and SPARs (Coast Guard) recruiting and a well equipped SICK BAY for the processing of applicants as well as monitoring the health of all of us "on board." The WAVEs floor was heavy with files and typewriters. WAVE yeomen -- fresh from civilian jobs -- manned the equipment and hoped for some excitement in the new life. Navy etiquette was obseNed at all times, and officers (two of us) were addressed by rank and name whereas the yeomen were called by their last name alone. This truly bothered me as I was 10 years younger - and greener -- than these gals and ignorant of office procedure, but with a smile and a wink we preseNed dignity. In public, however, Navy Regulations were practiced respectfully.

Very little mingling invited. Kansas City was flooded with military. A hub of the Midwest, it hosted military training schools, air stations, communication centers, and USO centers for after-hours. local patriotic parades now included military women as flag bearers. Parades gave recruiting a boost. Weeks rolled into months, and schedules became routine. Occasion- Joe and Ruth Burnham on their wedding day ally our Captain would gather his troops for an update on the war outside and a boost for our morale. New Years Day 1944 is a memory keeper for me. Stacked around the double

stairwell on the upper deck of S.S. Finance, the 100 or so Navy crew had responded to "all hands on deck at 900 hours." Captain Young felt that it was time to acquaint us with a portion of Navy Regulations -- forgetting that our concentration might be limited following a night of revelry. Facing one another around the well, we avoided eye contact and feigned interest. Suddenly the Captain stumbled on the word PUSILLANIMOUS (ADJECTIVE: Ignobly lacking in courage, chickenhearted, cowardly, craven, dastardly, faint-hearted, lily-livered, unmanly. Slang: chicken, gutless, yellow, yellow bellied. See FEAR.) and we all gasped. Eyes teared and shoulders jiggled as we tried to maintain composure. Give us an A! I've never heard the word since. So much for Navy Regs. While Navy assignments became routine, my personal life was in an uproar. A fortuneteller at the Egyptian Tea Room predicted that I would meet a fellow in uniform and eventually marry him. A rather safe bet in these days -and she was right.

A shared box of fudge from home connected two uniformed Ensigns, and in six months we were married. Special permission was required to don a wedding dress, but it was back into uniform for our honeymoon. Fulfilling diverse Navy assignments demanded adjustments, but we managed. Ensign Joe was headquartered across the Kaw River as Aide to the Admiral of the Naval Air Primary Training Command. While he flew from east to west inspecting stations, I rode the rails of my hot states -- recruiting, recruiting. Between special assignments we were "at home" in the lovely plaza of Kansas City. One year later I was "honorably discharged for family reasons" (guess what?) and a transfer found us back in Illinois. My two years in the Navy was a life changer for me. I would heartily support a program of two years national service for all young people. Embracing a cause-- making a difference -- gives a perpetual spark to one's life journey. It is a privilege that transcends retirement. Then Civilian Life -- and Batavia Joe's transfer to Glenview Naval Air Station was an unexpected opportunity for our family. It meant "back home" for me, where extended family would join in welcoming our first-born, Bruce. When the war work was completed, Joe accepted a job at Marshall Field & Co. -- to him the most amazing retail establishment imaginable. Busy Chicago was a stretch from his tiny hometown of Berryville, Arkansas, but he was ready.


Hired to assist the Operating Division in maintaining and improving the inner workings of the vast company, he was elated. It was the challenge he craved. Palatine produced the first subdivision of small postwar homes -mainly for veterans -- and we settled in for ten years. A growing family, now four sons, and a bulging community prompted us to seekalarger home in_ar:nore rural area. With alongingfor tQe Fo,£ Valley we ventured down Route 59 and in 24 hours surveyed the tricities, selected Batavia, fell in love with 433 Main Street and signed a contract. Realtor Jack Allen assisted us, introducing us to the historic two story, four bedroom, wood-sided house -- on a corner -after we requested a one story brick ranch, and not on a corner!

Thanks to Jack, this purchase promoted a life-long passion in everything antique. Our four sons -- Bruce, Steve, Philip and Greg -- navigated the District 101 school system and thrived in the caring community. Occasionally they would chant, "There's nothing to do in this town," but driving privilege and the tri-city excitement eased this. What a location, and what a beautiful town! The children could walk everywhere -- school, church, library, Quarry, haircuts, drugstore and the Twin Elms. Very little chauffeuring. The east-west drive to Chicago was daily sport for Joe, and connected his favorite destinations -- Main Street and MF & Co. Life in the house-of-little-men hummed on, but snapped to attention when a baby sister arrived. Ann Merrifield expanded the focus of their family, and with the first born now in college, added several happy chapters to the parenting years. Squeezed between the demands of vocation and family, Joe and I enjoyed a growing appreciation of the town we called "home."

We had met in military service and shared a need to be involved in community service. Growing Batavia provided a fertile field, and soon we adopted a number of causes. I've never known anyone who really loved his work as much as Joe did, and he died at such an early age, 57, just when he had become chairman of the Board and CEO of Field's. He was looking forward to working with the President and enjoying a last five or six years with the firm before retirement. We had gone on a trip -- I think we were gone three weeks. It was a wonderful trip, with no business attachedto it. This was pure pleasure, more Scotland than anything else. We met the Hamiltons, who had been there before we arrived. Only two days after our return, Joe unexpectedly died. His suddendeath at age 57 shattered a storybook life, but his legacy will stretchthrough generations. A true "people person" with a slight southern twang, heshared his truisms with all who crossed his paths.

A glimpse of his granite stonein West Side Cemetery reveals a quote which he often showered on a friendlytradesman as he completed a lengthy repair at our old house: "Remember, you'rejust here for the experience." With a shared chuckle it was understood that regardless,the bill would soon be in the mail!A nurturing community, Batavia has provided a comforting environment for theBurnham family, past and present -- and we are grateful.

Photograp of a Summer

Carol Smith's "A Summer to Remember" appeared in the April, 2003, issue. A 1961 Batavia High School graduate, Carol now lives on Fox Lake in Ingleside, Illinois.

It was the summer of 1957. July was the month. The weather was usual, hot and humid. This was the way it was back in my hometown in the Midwest. The expressways soon would connect the nation, crisscrossing through farmland in the direction of the cities. My small town was forty miles west of Chicago, now a suburb, but then it was just part of the flat landscape of the country. This was the time I was fast approaching the defining moments that truly change a little girl into a woman. These experiences of growing up don't occur over night, but are measured out slowly in moments; the sum equals the butterfly emerging from her cocoon. It's a shame that this time isn't captured into photo albums so it could be truly enoyed later when it isn't the emotional concern of an emerging teen.

It was the same summer that Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand were also waiting to start high school, as I was that summer. Elvis was fast approaching the status of king. The Big Booper, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly were beginning their careers that would be immortalized years later in the song "American Pie" with the line "the day the music died." In a few months Sputnik would be launched to the fears of our country. vol_44_22.jpgMcCarthyism was alive and well in Washington, with the accusations,

"You are a Communist." Ricky Nelson was watched on the Sylvania television, with its halo light, putting his dinner dishes in a dishwasher.

McDonalds was starting to build their empire of drive-in restaurants in the

Chicago area. Hamburgers were 15 cents and french fries a dime. Their red and white buildings were viewed with curiosity by all ages.


Pat Boone was encouraging us to wear white bucks while Elvis was pushing Blue Suede Shoes. Poodle skirts held out with crinoline slips, starched so stiffly they would leave your legs looking as if a cat had attacked and scratched your calves. Bermuda shorts were an important part of your wardrobe, along with Capri pants, bobbie sox and saddle shoes. The ever popular blue jeans were causing headaches for the principals in high schools. Truly the defining image of the 1950's was the robin's egg blue and white, 1957 Chevy Capri convertible.

This was the motor symbol all teenaged boys wanted to drive. Denny King was the only one in my school to be so fortunate. Girls would swoon as he drove slowly by, sporting the perfect flat top haircut. The clean cut all American boy look, only tainted by the cigarette pack folded up in the sleeve of his white tee shirt. The "hoods" were fast closing in on our perfect 1950s life.

Their long hair slicked back into a DA's, short for duck's ass -- those words weren't spoken then or at least not in front of adults. Even Ricky Nelson's flattop was growing longer sides that were being slicked back. He started to sing on the "Ozzie and Harriet Show," although he didn't move like Elvis. I still remember that night when Elvis appeared on the "Ed Sullivan's Show of Shows." The censors would only allow Elvis to be shown from the waist up.

"Vulgar" was the word my mother used when explaining the body movements of Elvis when he sang, "Jail House Rock" and "Blue Suede Shoes." The softer side of Elvis was exposed with the release of "Love Me Tender," on a 45 record. I finally got a hi-fidelity record player and with every chance, I went to Olmsted's Appliance Store, across the street from the high school, to buy a record. After checking the "Top Forty List," I would purchase a new experience for my ears to learn about the changing world for 99 cents.

American Bandstand was a must every afternoon. I had no idea how old Dick Clark was, or even how old he is now. Justine Carelli was my idol. I wasn't quite sure where Philly was, but if I could have, I would be there. Watch Carol Anderson Smith Confirmation in 1957 with aunt and uncle Ruth and Pete Larson the kids dance was how we all learned how to act as teenagers. The straight skirts and the white tucked in blouses became the new uniform for school that fall. The high school I would attend the next fall had a welcome freshmen street dance on a Friday night in that July.

I worked all day making my long blonde hair look just right. This was before curling irons or even hot rollers, so it was more of an art form back then. The Marilyn Monroe look was what I was looking to achieve and in my mind I succeeded. I met my friend Janet at the cornerof Wilson and Prairie, around seven, and together we walked past Holy Cross Catholic Church, down the hill where the stores lined the street, across the two bridges over the Fox River and finally up the hill past the high school.


We then walked across the Avenue to the area where the carnivals were held every summer. That was the magic spot where the street dance would unfold. I had waited years to be old enoughto attend this mystical event. A folding table held the record player and numerous 45 records.

An extension cord came from Johnson Funeral Home that brought the electricity to the music. The excitement I felt probably could have produced the current if only they plugged into me.

Next to the table were metal tubs filled with ice and coca cola bottles. They were slightly green and for a dime we could purchase one of these elixirs. Meeting many of my friends as they arrived, grouping into the usual circles of boys and girls divided only by ages, squeals could be heard from the girls' side as the music would change from one idol to another. People danced -jitterbug was the dance of choice - but the box step was the dance done to the ballads. The dance was taught in eighth grade dance class.

Everyone attended dance class, so we all had proper instructions. Then it happened; Les Bex came across the street and asked me to dance. I had that magical feeling flow through me, leaving me waiting to exhale. Composing myself I took his hand and off we walked together, to the middle of the street. Then he put his arms ( around me, not the way we were taught in dance class, but how a young man puts his arms around a pretty young woman.)

The music started, yes, it was Elvis singing, "Love me Tender". My feet danced and my heart pumped at an extremely last beat, but my mind did make this event a permanent snap shot that I keep in my "forever" photo album. I can't remember anything else that night, after that moment. That was forty-five years ago and much has changed across the world, but as a romantic, I hope that this snapshot can be repeated every summer for girls all over the world, as this moment was and still remains one of the defining moments of my emerging from my cocoon.

Batavia, the town where I grew up has changed and the high school I attended was torn down two years ago, but the memories are there forever. I don't want to return to that time as now I probably could see all the flaws about that night. I'm going to leave that sepcial night alone and just enjoy my memories.


The Golden Age of Radio

Carl Harleen

In previous issues, we have included reminiscences of growing up in Batavia that Carl Harleen, who now lives in Pied­mont, California, has sent to his cousin, Bert Johnson. This story is particularly evocative for those of us who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, but we believe that all of our readers will enjoy it.

For our family, the golden age of radio began in 1927 when we bought our first set. The radio was in the par-lor off the living room, "the little room," with a writing desk, glass faced book cases, and two Morris chairs. The name of the radio has since slipped my memory, but its appearance is indelibly etched: simply constructed with a black bakelite faceplate holding six dials. The three large dials set the number of kilohertzes necessary to receive a station while the three small dials powered the five vacuum tubes regulating the volume. As an indica-tion of tube life, the top was conve-niently hinged to assist in easy replacement. 10.jpg

As a seven year old boy, I was end-lessly fascinated by the stuff inside - insulation free, square aluminum rods running parallel to each other, only turning at right angles for an electrical connection to the tubes or controls -- that made the magic of radio come to life. If the bare rods crossed in close proximity, they occasionally arced, adding to the mystery and excitement of radio.

Alongside the radio, on the same table, sat a two foot high "goose-neck" speaker -- not a bookshelf speaker like you might find today. The large speaker horn today would only be found in an antique shop. It worked well for most stations, but for those

far-off transmitters a pair of more efficient earphones were used. If you pulled in a distant station, you could request a card confirming that you did indeed reach Cincinnati or Minneapolis. To receive the radio signal, an an-tenna wire 60 to 100 feet in length had to be strung. Ours started on the roof peak and spanned all the way to a pole at the back end of our property. A dedicated ground wire was also required, and it ran from the radio set to a six foot copper rod driven into the ground. Modern M batteries would not have begun to meet the power requirements of the set.

Two Type B 44 1/2 volt batteries, each weighing approximately ten pounds, were required and sat on a shelf under the radio. Providing additional power was an automobile Type A battery, which due to its corrosive nature had to be stored in the basement next to a battery charger. When the packaging on a 1927 radio said, "Batteries not in-cluded," the warning really meant it. Although it entailed a lot of work, setting up the radio was a task we rel-ished for it provided our family with a world of entertainment previously unavailable. When finally hooked up, we enjoyed all the entertainment the fledgling network of stations provided. In the close community of Batavia, visiting relatives was a constant source of inexpensive pleasure. Most evenings, it seemed, we'd all end up sitting around a radio listening to a favorite program. Our family was at the Hubbards' home one night, and Jim and Paul introduced me to a new program called "Amos and Andy."

A very popular show, we'd all wait for the announcer, Bill Hay, to open the show with, "Here they are!" Then we'd listen in anticipation for the catch phrases, "Ow Wah, Ow Wah, Ow Wah" and "Buzz me Miss Blue," that signaled the perplexing predicament around which the show was built. It wasn't just comedic entertain-ment that the house radio provided; world events would be reported in real time. One morning our whole family crawled from the warmth of our beds at 4 a.m. to hear the transatlantic broadcast of King Edward announcing the previously unthinkable: he was abdicating his throne to marry the commoner Wallis Simpson. The pulsing radio waves ebbed and flowed, adding to the experience of listening to the event unfold a continent away. As the popularity of radio exploded, so did the manufacturing of radio sets. A wildly popular model was the inexpensive crystal set. It provided the additional enjoyment of assembly. We could now make our own magic, and most every boy in the neighborhood owned one. Bart Snow, a classmate, had a set that was self-contained in the headphone, and he claimed he could receive a station by just clipping the antenna wire on the cast iron portion of his school desk at the Blaine Street School.

Most of us used more conventional antennas, and hours, for our radio listening. Because crystal sets were not as powerful as table top radios, Chicago stations could be faint at times. Local stations like those in Mooseheart did come in loud and clear. James J. Davis was the director of Mooseheart, and his influence at the station was reflected in the call letter that bore his initials, WJJD. The big draw on WJJD was "Mystery Theater," sponsored by Chicago's Wilson Meat Packing Co. The show's simple premise, Flo Gardner and Charlie Perkins attempt-ing to catch the villain Sir Hubert Askerton, provided a source of end-less speculation for my friends and me. Norm Peterson, Bert Johnson, Jim Haley and other crystal set devotees would get together after broadcasts to compare reception quality and speculate on the fate of the show's characters. As we learned more about the crystal sets, we made modifications to enhance reception quality. Chapin Plummer, my next door neighbor, and I turned them into a house-to-house intercom.

Chapin's bedroom window faced mine, and we found that by our stringing wires between my crystal set and his headphones, he not only could listen to my radio but also could communicate back and forth if I set the dial between stations. I fondly recall many nights when I'd hear his mother call up to his bedroom, "Chapin, have you put those earphones down like I told you. Now get to sleep, you've got school in the morning." There was a time that the crystal set took a more central role in our family. In 1928 Herbert Hoover was running on the Republican ticket against AI Smith, and our family radio began to malfunction just before the conven-tion. I found that my crystal set did a great job of picking up the broadcast station and brought it into our living room. The only problem was that there were four of us, my dad, two sisters and myself, who hoped to listen -- and only one set of earphones. I was able to round up three more pairs and "pig tail" them together so that by lying around the set like spokes on a wheel, we were all able to listen to proceedings and didn't miss a word. The bond created with my child-hood friends as we fiddled and compared notes about our crystal sets has lasted a lifetime.

The pleasure of assembling a crystal set was shown to be timeless when Norm Peterson sent one to me so that I could relive the pleasure with my grandson Alex seventy years after I assembled my own back in Batavia. The only problem was that, memory being what it is, I swear the old crystal sets worked better when I was a kid! Unlike today where most radio is listened to in cars, it was a shared ex-perience in the twenties and thirties. Radio was a big part of our lives, and as you'd stroll on warm summer eve-nings you could listen to the same station emanating from each house on the block and not miss a word. Radio was a time for family and friends. Henning and Blanche Johnson lived next door, and one evening as my dad and I pulled night crawlers from the ground, they asked if we wanted to listen to the champi-onship fight between Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey. It was 1932, I was then twelve, and it was the first fight I ever heard on a radio broadcast.

Though Sharkey won, the announcer painted a clear picture that it came at a mighty price. Sharkey was a bloody mess. Boxing matches were a staple of radio in the thirties, and a favorite show of mine was "The Life of James J. Braddock," the heavyweight champion in 1935. I'd rush home from school to listen to him tell his life story in 15 minute episodes. I remember the jingle of Tasty Yeast, the program's sponsor: "Eating yeast this handy, dandy, candy way." Braddock's program was followed by episodes of "Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy." This program was sponsored by Wheaties, whose slo-gan was, "Won't you try Wheaties, the best breakfast food in the land." The fact that almost everyone who listened to these programs seventy years ago can still remember the jingle is testament to the effectiveness of advertising. Batavians were well acquainted with Campana's Italian Balm, as well.

The radio show it sponsored was called "First Nighter, the Little Theater off Times Square." It originated in Chicago in 1929 with Don Ameche and June Meredith as the leading actors. The Ward family lived across the street from us, and Mrs. Florence Ward's typewriter could be heard day after day through the open window on their second floor as she created an-other script for the First Nighter pro-gram. We now have all the new means of communication -- the computer, tele-vision, wireless phones, fax machines --competing with radio, but radio still has an important place in our lives after eighty years of broadcasting.

Store-Held Holiday Joys

Sheila Tierney Stroup

We have previously included stories that Sheila Stroup, BHS Class of 1961 and a regular columnist for the New Orleans Times Picayune, has written for that paper about her early life in Batavia. With her permission and that of the newspaper, we are including this timely story about the Fourth of July that was first published in 1991.

For my family the Fourth of July always started early. We opened the store at 8 o'clock, when the sun hung low in the summer sky and most of the children were still in bed. Boxes of hamburger and hot dog buns sat outside the front door waiting for us. Delivered a few minutes earlier. they were so fresh the insides of their cellophane wrappers were clouded by vapor, and the sweet doughy smell of them filled the morning air. My father owned a grocery store, and the Fourth of July was our Biggest Day of the Year. He said it in capital letters. While everyone else was lighting charcoal or playing baseball in dusty lots or packing picnic baskets with chicken and potato salad, my brother and sister and I took turns making change in the concrete-block building that was my father's world. Dad spent the whole day there. When my mother brought him a sandwich in the afternoon, he'd slip off to the back room for a few minutes to read about the Chicago Cubs in the Sun- Times.

But soon he'd be walking the aisles again, talking to the customers and getting ice-cold watermelons out of the walk-in re-frigerator in the back. I started working in the store when I was 10 and quit when I left home for good. The place looms in my memory, omnipresent, bigger than life. I can still picture where everything was -- canned butter beans on the bottom shelf of the first aisle, Copenhagen snuff behind the counter and little silver squares of yeast in the dairy case. I can still hear the clattery sound of grocery carts going down the wooden floor while Jack Brickhouse did the playby-play of a Cubs game in the background. Dad's father died young, leaving him to be the man of the family when he was barely a teen-ager. His mother had come from I reland to be a seamstress when she was 16, and people in the small town he grew up in called him and his sisters "shanty Irish." That bothered him but it never held him back. All my father ever wanted to be was a grocer.

When he went in the service during World War II, he asked to be put in supplies, but the Navy made him a radio man. When he got out, he sold crackers, then tea. Finally, one St. Patrick's Day, he sank everything -money, time, energy, dreams -- into Tierney's Hi-Way Food Mart. Dad had one enduring prejudice. He hated chain stores. They undersold him, but didn't offer charge accounts, free delivery or a sympathetic ear like he did. For us, going to a chain store was more sinful than hanging out with Lutherans on Sunday. I saw my Uncle John come out of the local A&P carrying a brown paper sack once. I never mentioned it. The chains closed on holidays, so we got everybody's business on the Fourth. Dad reveled in the endless stream of customers - knobby-kneed men in Bermuda shorts who came from the subdivision across the highway and perfectly tanned women who drove up in fancy cars. We'd close up at 6 and hurry home to light a few boxes of sparklers.

Then, when it was almost dark, we'd walk to the football field where the whole town gathered for the volunteer fire department's "Annual Spectacular Fireworks Display." For two hours we sat in the grass, breathing in the punk-laced air, listening to the hiss of Roman candles, and going "Ohhhhh" each time a batch of skyrockets lit up the summer night. The finale was always the same -- a breath-taking American flag spanned the end zone and exploded in a flurry of red and white stripes and stars that were pinwheels of light against iridescent blue, It wasn't a bad way to spend the Fourth.

Dreams of Yesteryear

York McCormick

The following story given to us by Bert Johnson was included in a book­let prepared at the time of the BHS Class of 1936's 50th Reunion in 1986.

I sometimes sink into a recliner soft sofa, down, down, and close my eyes to dream of longed-for yesterdays. Once more, I dream of a young man, a teen, almost grown, swimming up through the cool, green crystal clear water of our old home town Quarry. Bubbles rise ahead of me to disappear into the shimmering surface. I swim slowly upward, reluctant to enter the real world above.

I finally break the surface and look around at the shore as it was a half cen-tury or more ago. Saw the flowering water plants along the edge, sheltering and hiding God's small creatures as they busily served the purpose for which they existed. Diminutive turtles peeked above the surface to look for food or danger. Tiny water snakes undulated effortlessly like small Loch Ness monsters, heading from one shore to the other. 11.jpg

Over at the shallow end of the quarry small children jumped and splashed for the joy of being in the water and their excitement in life. Midway was the little toboggan that when ridden properly would often reach the shore on the other side. It wasn't often used -- it cost a quarter an hour to rent.

Next to the toboggan a bridge floating on barrels crossed the quarry from one side to the other. Life guards sat on the boards in the center where they could see the water and monitor and discipline errant children and teens.

At the east end of the bridge and next to it was the moss covered, timber built diving tower from which one could endlessly jump or dive. A cannon ball from the top was just great. On the tower a game of tag, although forbidden, was an exciting pastime. But best of all was the quarry raft, floating on barrels anchored in the center of the deep end. Old time girl friends and boy friends gathered there like young seals to sun themselves and casually talk about life, and the future. Plans were made there, but mostly drowsy dreaming was done. What we were, what we wanted to be, what we would do today, tomorrow, and in the distant future.

Somehow, and miraculously, we developed our own identities. We came to know ourselves, develop our sense of values, and gain the cour-age to dive off the high board into the unknown. I would visit once again the old Quarry. Follow the dirt lane that dropped down swiftly to the water, then wound around up to the street again, but I am reluctant. Much has changed in life, and I suspect that much has changed at the old swimming hole. Perhaps if I were to see the new, I might not be able to re-member and dream about and love the old.

Batavia Baseball's Golden Era


The following story appeared in The Batavia Herald, May 1949, un­der the heading "Batavia Banter by the 'old paragrapher.'''

The death of Thomas E. Kelleher recalled a period in Batavia's history when baseball reigned supreme in local sports and Batavia boasted teams that played and beat the best in northern Illinois. Football had not arrived as a popular sport, basketball was played only in the larger cities where gymnasiums were available. Baseball was THE sport and every town had a team that was given fe­verish support by its citizens. "Tom" Kelleher was a star in those early days of this century, in the days when he, the late Frank Hopkins, Michael Sullivan and former Mayor Thomas were players on a team that hired the best to be found in the entire area. "Tom" was a star and the idol of all Batavia youngsters. Batavia home games were played on the "flats," located about a mile south of Batavia along the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin tracks.

Here permanent bleachers and a covered grandstand provided seats for several thousand fans. The field was almost directly across the river from the present Batavia Quarry swimming pool; the the west bank of the river was lined on Sunday afternoons with fans who saved both the admission price and the long walk across the bridge to the field. Kelleher played left field on the team. A long ball to left field occasionally dropped into the river for a home run, and it was not unusual for Kelleher to wade out into the river to catch a ball that was destined for four bases.

His fielding was about perfect, and had he chosen to make baseball a career, he was easily big league material. "Tom" Kelleher's death removes another link in our connection with an interesting and thrilling past. It also removes from our midst a genial, lovable and public spirited citizen, one of our finest Batavians. He will be remembered as long as baseball lore is handed from one generation to the next as one of our great baseball players.

Ed. note: Kelleher's obituary, which Marilyn Robinson gave us along with the story, tells us that he was born April 12, 1885. He was superintendent of the D.R. Sperry Co. plant in North Aurora for 30 years prior to his death.

What's New At The Museum?

Carla Hill

May was a busy month at the mu seum. We had over 500 Batavia school children visit the museum as part of the third grade Batavia history unit. Winter has once again put together a wonderful exhitit based on the doctors and dentists who have practiced in Batavia over the years. We even have Doctor Simon's medical bag on display.  If you have time, you should stop in and see this very interesting display.


 The museum has an intern this summer Julia Spalding, who is attending college in Colorado, is working on in dexing our collections and is also helping to develop a, "Museum in a Box" program that we will offer to Batavia schools.


We will once again be sponsoring a baseball game between the Batavia Police Department and the West Chicago Police Department at Cougar Stadium. This event will take place on Sunday, July 20, starting at 12:30 p.m. All donations at the gate will benefit the museums. We are also sponsoring an Arts and Crafts show and a Flea Market for Windmill City Fest.


We will be making several improvements at the museum over the summer. The Gazebo will receive some repairs and a fresh coat of paint, and a railing will be installed on the North side of the Gustafson Research Center roof; and the planters will finally be planted. 


We are continuing work on the railroad exhibit. The large format photograph has been installed and looks great, and the new "Station Master" mannequin has arrived! We owe a special thank you to Bea Hodson for a second donation for the purchase of the mannequin. With her donations the cost of the mannequin has been covered completely.


For those of you who do not know Bea, her husband Chuck was the last live Station Master for our building. Our depot will celebrate it's 150th gram that we will offer to Batavia Birthday in 2004. Chris and I will be working on a Birthday Celebration that will take place next summer.


We are also planning to dedicate the new railroad display at the same time. Our volunteers are being honored with a trip to Princeton on June 26. Our volunteers are very important to the operation of the museum. We are always looking for new volunteers at the museum, especially for Mondays at the Gustafson Research - Center.


If you are interested in volun-  tee ring give us a call at 406-5274 --  you'll do yourselves, as well as us, a favor.