Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
Every year during the late 1930s sometime in August, my parents took me to Columbus to buy school clothes. I really looked forward to those shopping trips because there was so much to see in Columbus.
We did most of our shopping at Lazarus Department Store. It opened at 10 a.m., but we usually got there before that because sometimes there were special sale offers for the first customers of the day.
Once inside the store, we headed for the boys department on the second floor. Shopping with my mother took some time because she wanted me to try on everything to make sure it fit.
Whenever I tried on a pair of corduroy knickers, the sales lady would have me walk back and forth several times so my mother could see how they looked. It was always pretty quiet in that department, and as I walked, you could hear the bzip … bzip … bzip, as the legs of the corduroy pants rubbed together. If you have ever worn a pair of corduroy knickers, you know exactly what I mean.
After we bought the shirts, pants, and sweaters I needed, it was time to look at shoes. We didn’t buy them at Lazarus. Instead, we headed east on Town Street a couple hundred yards or so to Gilberts Shoe Store. It was the largest shoe store in Columbus, and my dad said it had the best prices.
Gilberts was located in several old warehouse buildings in the heart of the market district, where trucks unloaded fresh produce for delivery to grocery stores. When we walked down the sidewalk, we had to weave in and out among the men who were unloading the trucks. Then after buying my shoes, we would buy some fresh fråuits and vegetables right off those trucks. You just couldn’t get fresher produce than that.
We then usually headed north on High Street. On the way, we would see several people selling things on the sidewalk. There was the “Lavender Lady” who sold packets of dried lavender petals. She was always there, maybe 50 feet or so from the corner of High and Town Streets. Then we might see another lady selling bouquets of flowers or homemade fudge. Or maybe we would see a man selling wristwatches or pocketknives. Jobs were scarce in the 1930s, and quite a few people made their living by selling things like that on the sidewalk.
But the things that fascinated me most in Columbus were the streetcars. Their tracks ran right down the center of the street. The rails were flush with the pavement, so cars could run right over them at intersections. The streetcars were powered by electricity from an overhead power line.
At the rear of each car there was a long flexible pole that connected the car to the power line above. Every now and then, the end of that pole might become unhooked from the wire. So the streetcar immediately stopped. When that happened, the driver had to get out and reconnect the pole with the power line. That wasn’t always easy.
The pole atop the car was flexible, and it had a rope attached near its top end. The driver would use the rope to reposition the pole. He would align the pole with the wire above and try to re-attach it. Sometimes it would be a quick fix. But other times it took quite a while, and the driver had to keep working, even if it was pouring down rain. I sometimes felt sorry for those guys.
I always wanted to ride on one of those streetcars. One line ran north on High Street, all the way to the Ohio State campus. That’s the line I wanted to ride on, but my parents were always too busy shopping to take me. So I never got to do it.
Of course, I’m old enough to do it by myself today, but the streetcar lines were taken out in the late 1940s. So I guess I’ll never get to ride on a streetcar.
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