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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmastime Compared: Today (2010) vs. Yesterday (1943)

By William Weatherstone of The Diesel Gypsy

Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
There has been quite a change in Christmas activities since I was a kid. I will attempt to compare them here for those of you who are 60 years old or younger. Starting with 2010 and comparing it with the past.

BLUE BOX PICKUP (recycling materials)
Today we have special, powerful, multi-compartment diesel trucks with hydraulic load compressors who tour the streets picking up your used materials from the curbside.

1943: We had at that time what we called a sheeny man. (Original version of the blue box.) He was an old guy looking like a bum with an old rickety wagon pulled by a single, emaciated horse who cruised up and down the alleys behind the houses ringing a bell.

He would gather up old newspapers and metal as well as any useful (to him) articles not wanted any more. He was a one-horse scrap yard on wheels. (We found out years later that he had more wealth than we could ever have dreamed of having.)

Today we have diesel powered, cab-heated machines that blow the snow from the sidewalks and at the same time spread sand from a trailer being towed by the tractor. The roads have giant diesel trucks equipped with snow blowers or plows (depending on the severity of the storm) flying up and down the roads plowing and spreading sand or salt as they go. All taken for granted while spewing out smelly pollution.

1943: Sidewalks were cleared with a horse and walking driver guiding a V-shaped plow with the handles from a hand guided furrow summer plow. He would guide the horse up and down the streets as if he were planting crops but plowing the snow from the sidewalks.

The only pollution problem at this time would be if the horse farted at the driver.

In the winter, houses were usually fueled with a coal burning furnace. It was my job to shovel the ashes into buckets and take them out to the curbside where a dump truck would come by and pick them up the same as a garbage truck. They would then take and store them at the city garage yard and stockpiled.

When traction on the streets was necessary they would send a load out and while one man drove slowly a second man would be up on the load with a hand shovel throwing the ashes on the road. (No automatic sanders or such). True recycling.

I would take my sled (with steel runners) and run down the street, then throw myself onto the sled and glide for half a block. This time the ash truck had passed by and threw down some ashes while I was running full steam ahead.

I dropped down to the sled when it promptly stopped dead in its track (ashes spread for traction). My body went vertically upside down while my face became my feet and I slid (on my face) for about five or six feet. Fully scratched and bloody, I for the first time in my life truly saw stars, just like displayed in the comic books. Another lesson learned.

Today we usually go to the grocery store to buy our bread and milk. It was not all that long ago that these necessities were delivered to our door by delivery drivers whose vans were filled with a load of product and delivered individually to customers' homes in a regular delivery sequence.

They would park in front of one house and carry trays with milk or bread to three or four houses, then move on to the next location. Years ago at Christmas or even New Years Eve, the driver would be offered a little liquid cheer to get him through this longest day of the year – workwise.

1943: The bread or milk man at that time had an enclosed wagon pulled by a single horse. They would guide the horse to a location and park. In those days the parking brake consisted of a 30 pound steel weight with a strap going out to the horse’s bridal.

The weight was dropped on the ground while the driver delivered to two or three houses in one shot. If the horse decided to move on, the slack was taken up and the weight would pull the horses bridle into the curb stopping him.

Parking brake; no batteries required.

Christmas Eve was a late delivery for the milkman that year. Almost every customer offered him a glass of cheer as part of his Christmas bonus.

At this time we were the last call on his run. The horse was in the parking brake mode as old Tom staggered up to the house. He came in and sat down, had one drink and was heading home when he flaked out on the veranda.

My dad and a neighbor, who just happened to be at this same drink fest, picked Tom up and loaded him into the wagon. Dad lifted up the parking weight, set it inside the wagon and closed the doors. He yelled at the horse, “HOME BOY, BARN!”

Within 15 minutes the horse went right to the barn on his own, while in the meantime dad called ahead and they transported Tom home in one soggy piece.

The horses all knew their routes by heart and have saved rookie drivers from becoming embarrassingly lost more than once. Some drivers who have been on the same route with the same animal never bothered with the anchor weight. The horse would move ahead to the next stop on its own a few doors down the street and wait for the driver.

NOTE: Try that with your new, modern, electronic GPS devices and see how far it will take you on its own. Ha-ha.

Someone will always ask, Would you do it again? My response would be, “That era would be the best time for me.”

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


And everybody knew the mailman, and left him a Christmas card with a little thank you money enclosed.
Newsboys, remember them?
How about the guy who delivered groceries?
Sugar jar thank you coins...ah those were the days.
Thanks for the memories William.

William - Great story!

I grew up next to my grandparents farm, an hour and a quarter west of Boston. Today the former farm town is a mega-mansion suburb thanks to the MA Turnpike which has cut the driving time to 15 minutes.

In the late 30's and early 40's, mail was delivered twice a day in the 2 weeks before Christmas. Our driveway was plowed by a team of large work-horses, pulling a big 18 foot? triangular wooden plow; and my grandmother (snow permitting) would give us and neighborhood kids a hay ride on a large flat farm sleigh filled with hay, and pulled by the same team, on Christmas Eve. - Sandy

We called our junkman and woman "Charlie and Mary Polky-dot" because they always (?) wore polka-dotted clothing. The little kids were scared of them and their smelly horse-drawn buggy, but my parents always encouraged us to be kind and not jeer at them, as other kids did. "They're just poor, Honey."

City girl for life but some of your memories click, the ashes from coal furnaces in tenements made snow "yucky" but let traffic keep going..
Can't let this pass..your reference to the "sheeny" in New York and I am sure other cities was for "JEWS," I thought it was just passing phrase to you from where you came from, but short sentences later, comment on how much money they had accummulated from "junk" collection says it all..Makes me glad only us "oldsters" are reading this..it is how the neverending meanness gets passed on for generations...Mary l94l..

I too was shocked to see the phrase "sheeny man" in your story, along with the reference to how wealthy the junk man was.

It leaves an uncomfortable feeling, even if the author was unaware.

William - I think history is best told honestly, the 'way it was', and not the way we might like it to have been! - Sandy

as always you regurgitate memories as in real lfe some good some bad but you are right the good old days.they were simpler and yes a little ruffer on the outer edges. but still good to remember-every one was poor but we all made it--dont give up hope,old fender ken

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