Forthcoming Contrivance……..#33 (the 50’s)

Shone Ave raceway

  The morning bus ride to Frick Junior High was crowded and hurried and didn’t coincide with Gary’s conception of a placid morning  journey and the start of his school day.  He rode his bike one morning only to confirm that the downhill ride to Frick was satisfactory, but having to walk the bike up 73rd avenue on the way home was way too time consuming.  Giving his morning bus ride more thought, the solution became obvious, it would entail some adjustment to his morning routine  but also would involve a person who dwelled in an autonomous world, set in his ways  and not easily moved to change.  In essence his solution was conceivable, the only question was asking the question.  Giving some thought to having a host of reasons for asking, but deciding to be straightforward and just ask, hopefully a straightforward answer would be given.  It was done, the question asked,  the answer given, tomorrow morning would introduce a new morning presence,  from now on Gary would no longer have to deal with the morning public transportation, his Dad would drop him off at school on the way to work.

Paul Pierre

The young man’s new arrival time at school was 7:30 a.m., the elder Willson depositing his son  on the 64th Ave side of the school.   Gary discovering that the administration office door was unlocked at 7:30 and Mr. Tabor,  a P.E. instructor opened the gym at 7:45 a.m..   He soon found arriving at school early has its advantages, if necessary he could seat himself in the office and finish uncompleted homework assignments, or most likely fare to the gym,  requisition a ball and participate in before school sports activity.  This introduction to the school day was definitely an improvement,  discovering a former Burckhalter Elementary classmate, Paul Pierre also arrived early seating himself in the office, the two often comparing homework assignment results.  On occasion his friend Hank Ball would follow suit and he too would arrive early, the two organizing a before school touch football game with other early arrivals.  This new arrangement bringing Gary to rethink his morning assessment of Junior High.

Playland at the beach

Main Gate at Travis Air Force Base

Ferris Wheel at the State Fair

The Tribune paper route pretty much limited after school activity, Gary striving to complete his delivery by 5:00 or 5:30 at the latest.  Each month the Tribune offered incentives for acquiring new subscriptions,  those  carriers who succeeded in acquiring new subscribers were awarded points toward prizes and often excursions to exciting destinations.  Gary succeeding to visit to the museum of natural history, aquarium at San Francisco’s  Golden  Gate Park,  Playland at the Beach, Travis Air Force Base and many other locations traveling with other city carriers.   On one occasion the three friends, Hank, Don and  Gary  with several other buses filled with Tribune carriers having qualified for a trip to the California State Fair in Sacramento.  The three having a memorable moment on the ferris-wheel ride when caught targeting the people below with their Pea Shooters, the concessionaire taking them to task and sternly warning them he would  have them expelled if they continued,  the Pea Shooters remaining in their pockets for the remainder of the fair.

Roller Coaster on the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz

One summer month Scotty the district manager posted an unbelievable trip, but it also  requiring a much  higher number of points, meaning new subscriptions.  The excursion was to go by train to the Boardwalk On the Beach at Santa Cruz.  The trip included tickets to all the concessions and an off shore ride on the inboard powered speed boat, plus a meal and snack on the train, Gary knowing from past Tribune trips the meal would be a sack-lunch.   An all out effort to qualify was enacted with door to door solicitation, Scotty supplying transportation for a group of the boys to other Oakland neighborhoods in the evening hours.  Gary found the concerned effort paying dividends, qualifying for the trip, but soon  discovering that with the  good news was the  bad news.  The good news being he qualified, but the bad news,  he was the only one from the LW district to achieve a trip.  His dad dropping him off on a Saturday morning at the Southern Pacific substation at 73rd and San Leandro Blvd.  He could tell by the switch engine type locomotive and the number of cars that in all likelihood this wasn’t a normal scheduled train.  This was his first time on a regular train, having made many trips on the A train across the Bay Bridge, he was looking forward to the ride itself and a new experience.  From his window  he immediately discovered that the passing view revealed the slighted areas of town adjacent to the tracks, but once entering the terrain of the Santa Cruz mountains the scene changed.  Gary was surprised that the train actually stopped on Beach Street adjacent to the Boardwalk, he and the trainload of other Tribune carriers disembarking. The solitary youth not knowing anyone else deciding to go it alone, spending a somewhat doldrums day, the rides not quite as exciting when by oneself.  Having brought his swim trunks, he had a rude awakening when diving into the boardwalk pool, it was salt water, deciding if he wanted to swim in salt water he had the whole pacific ocean before him.  Another disappointment was the speed boat ride, advertised as a once in a lifetime thrill ride, the boat was small able to seat six all putting on bulky life jackets. Boarding from the pier the ride paralleled the boardwalk darting  close to the outlying breakers but maintaining a distance from the beach.  The smell of gasoline and oil from the automotive type motor permeated the boat and Gary deciding the only thrill was the spray when the pilot gave it full throttle when making made turn.  The late afternoon train ride back to Oakland was hot, for some reason either the air conditioning was turned off or maybe the aged Pullman cars didn’t have it, Gary deciding even alone the trip it provided another accomplishment.

The boys all starting with a basic design

Some of the steep hills surrounding the neighborhood like 82nd and 73rd Ave. were such that you had to walked your bicycle up.   Shone Ave., the steep street that coursed up the hill by Gary and Don Bryant’s house was steep,  most riders found it unattainable walking their bike, but like all young people to prove a point Gary managed to pedal his way up using the side to side switch-back method.   When  Life Magazine published a story about 50,000 people attending the soap box derby in Akron Ohio,  it fueled an idea in the young man’s head.  With  2×4’s, a 1×12 board,  wooden boxes,  two twelve-inch  wheels and two of  his sisters roller skates,  he had the material for a down hill coaster laid out before him.  With a design anchored in his head,  he proceeded to assemble his coaster,  a name preferred over a Soap Box Derby designation.  Don and Hank followed with their own downhill transporter, but with far less inventiveness.   Their coaster was basic and simple, consisting  of a board ,  front and rear 2×4’s for mounting the wheels.   The rear wheels fixed and the front ones fasten to a 2×4 with a bolt in the center that swiveled  by using  your feet and a rope.   Gary was more innovative by necessity, he mounted a box in front  and a seat with a back,  that was well braced to support him. At one time he added vertical braces and a plywood roof,  but that was too much and he removed it in favor of a more sporty look . Gary never  won a race,  the reason,  Hank and Don had four wheels which was decidedly faster than  having two fixed rear wheels and roller skates providing the steering.  He couldn’t match their speed, but they couldn’t achieve his antics.  When navigating a turn, the skates would slide sideways sending the coaster into a sliding hazardous looking turn and providing a much more convivial ride.  Hanks residence was on Sterling Drive, the first house past the intersecting downhill Shone Avenue, the starting point of the racing endeavor.  The coasters providing a dangerous but enjoyable ride, the boys ignoring that they didn’t have a means for stopping,  giving no thought to the possibility of automotive traffic, but retaining the knowledge,  there was never any traffic on their neighborhood streets.

The engagement with the coaster was short-lived,  Gary being satisfied with the accomplishment.   He reasoned:  somethings in life can appear equate and mundane but if you behold a search,  the find may prevail as a promontory achievement.


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