Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The King's "Ford Special" Local Star from the 1920's.....

When Merv Dove, Barry Kettering, The Massaro brothers and Louis Tocheri were mere babies, car racing in Fort William was in its infancy too, and much had already been written and said about the famous King's "Ford Special" driven by Frank Colosimo.
Recent accolades go to Al and Sandra Cronk for completing the incredible restoration of the same one and only racing machine from the 1920's. They had spent almost half their lives accumulating the components and completing the restoration work, and the finished example stands as a tribute to them.

Photo titles - Here is the poster and a subsequent week write-up in the newspaper in 1924. Note the use of the words "Jupiter Pluvius" meaning a downpour!!
.....As age creeps up on all of us, it is difficult to reminisce about the 1920's unless you are 80 plus years old, but research, photos and memories help us bring up shades of the past that began an incredible era. The following is an excerpt from an article written for the Daily Times Journal during the late 1950's by Barry Craig titled "When Frank Colisimo was Tops" and "Car Racing in the 1920's. This was written during the era I call "Hot Rods and Jalopies":

.....The most interesting racing car that made its debut back in the 1920's was called King's "Ford Special". It was a silver-smooth speedster which tore up the track at speeds up to 101 miles per hour over a route where holes had to be filled with clay and cinders through the courtesy of the Fort William Street Railway. King's car was built by Art and Arnold King, and driven by Frank Colosimo, high flying speed demon who was practically unbeatable for seven years between 1925 and 1932.

Believers in doing things the correct way, Art King, 28 years old and brother Arnold, 16 years old laboriously built their pride and joy in the family chicken house at 64 Algonquin Street in Port Arthur. One wall had to be removed to get the car out. It was completed in 1924 following almost two years of dedicated stubbornness and $2,200. cold hard cash.

This first photo shows the car in action at the CLE as a clip from a film, and the second here is part of the mock-up during re-construction!
.....It was difficult getting sponsors, just like today, so the brothers formed the Twin City Motor Contest Association and rented the fairgrounds. In the day 3 to 4 thousand fans would cheer them on. Art's driving career began May 24, 1924 at Murillo and ended 20 minutes later. Regular races were run at Murillo when the Fort William track was in poor condition. At 80 miles per hour the back axle sheered a key and the car flipped three times and ended up on the stone wall that surrounded the track. Art drove his 1922 Chevrolet home with one arm and decided his brush with death was enough. If he hit the stone wall, things could have been more disastrous. Art, however would rebuild the car to be complete for the first race in 1925 at the fairgrounds track and the power plant could rev at 4200 RPM.
He had no driver so he called on Frank Colosimo. He compared Frank later on as having the personality of Louis Tocheri and the stature of Albert Massaro. Frank driving his former car the "Green Spear" had been "out of the money" in previous years. Fortunately for Art, Frank had become "King" of the local speed artists as well as the most controversial figure in the racing circles.
Frank would come to the track with a spotless starched white shirt that was black as coal by the end of the second race. He would also tempt fans to wager against him by flashing $10. bills in front of the grandstand.
There were 4000 fans at that Labour Day meet who witnessed a stirring race between Frank Colisimo and Ernie Boffa, cunning driver of the famed "Dreadnought". Frank and Ernie were avid competitors each fighting for top laurels and this day they had bet $200. on the outcome. Frank was leading by a healthy margin when his car nose-dived on the second turn and he become the first driver to fly 25 feet in the air and live to tell the story. Suffering from four broken ribs, he was taken to hospital, patched up, and came back to the meet to watch the rest of the afternoons proceedings. In the 1950's Art had related "Those were the days".

Here is Al and Sandra's 25 or so year labour of love as it was shown in the Duke Hunt Museum here at the Lakehead during this summer!
.....Those definitely were the days, and today I had the pleasure of meeting Al and Sandra Cronk. Russ Wanzuk had helped Al bring and set up the King's "Ford Special" from the newly done Duke Hunt Museum(formerly the Paipoonge Museum) to its winter home at the Thunder Bay Airport to be on display for all to see in its incredible restored splendour. By talking to Al, one could write at least a 500 page book on the restoration itself. Be sure to check it out at the airport the next time you are in Thunder Bay.

Thanks again to Al and Sandra for a job well done!!

Here is the Motor Meter on the King's Special...note it says "Fort William, Port Arthur, and Grain Port Motors Ltd". Grain Port Motors was on the corner of Leith Street and May Street, north/east corner in the 1920's. The story board displayed with the car is next and explains even more about the car. Finally, a photo of Al and Sandra, a wonderful couple, next to their own King's "Ford Special" taken today just after setting the car up at the Thunder Bay Airport.

Be sure to click on the photos(some twice) to enlarge them...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fort William and Port Arthur.....more old and new!

Fort William's first town hall 1892-1903 was actually located in front courtyard of the present city hall property. In those days it was a multi purpose building and also used for live theatre until the motion picture industry started in 1912. It was constantly being updated with newer plumbing and lighting through those years, however the structure burned down on Mar 6, 1903 devastating extremely important documents of the day, such as papers between the city and the Canadian Pacific Railway. The fire was a terrible blow to the community.
The generosity of sister city Port Arthur proved very helpful with the rebuilding of a new city hall which was completed only 2 years later in 1905. This was a much more decorative and ornate structure than the first.(The original photo of this building with the tower is shown in the top right corner.)
The tower of the new city hall was removed in the 1940's as the building had deteriorated somewhat by then. Many updates and renovations took place through the years and it stood as a testimony of strength until 1966. The current city hall building was built behind the old structure and was torn down when the new one was completed. In 1970 when Fort William and Port Arthur amalgamated, the newer building became Thunder Bay's one and only city hall. The new city hall was completely renovated last year in 2009 and is shown in the bottom left corner of the photo.

On November 11, 1916 after a number of name changes and ownerships, the Port Arthur "News Chronicle" came into existence. It was originally located on Lorne Street in Port Arthur for 39 years and in 1955 was moved into the former Customs Building which was built in 1914, shown above behind the Pagota. This location is Water and Red River Road(formerly Arthur Street). It continued there and in 1972, 2 years after the cities amalgamated the Port Arthur News Chronicle merged with the Fort William Times Journal to become the present day Thunder Bay "Chronicle Journal". The paper continued in this location until 1977 to 75 S. Cumberland Street and continues there to this day. The colour photo in the top corner shows the relatively new government building in its place. A Pagota story will be coming soon.

Ten acres of land was donated to the Parks and Cemetery Committee of 1902 by Catherine Vickers, with the stipulation that the park be a memoriam for her late husband John Joseph Vickers. In 1912, four large boulders were placed on the corners of the property and inscribed with the names John Vickers, Catherine Vickers, John McKellar and John McIntyre as a memorial of Catherine, her husband and their friends. The careers of these gentlemen were pivotal in the early years of the City of Fort William's development. Vickers Park remains one of the oldest parks in the former city of Fort William and the boulders are in place to this day.
No fewer than 8 people have claimed they are the mother and daughter in this photo, but in fact they are Verlie(child) and Sally Umpherson. Sally was a close friend of my mother and father in the 1930's and 1940's and still lives a healthy life to this day. I knew Verlie in high school and Sally's son Ken and his wife Sue are old friends of ours as well.

This first photo here shows a photo of Boulevard Lake from the bluffs extracted from a 1960 Ontario Travel brochure and the fall shot on the right was taken in the last couple of years. We are very fortunate to have wonderful scenery around our city as long as these parks and views are kept up and not forgotten by our city fathers.
Click on photos once or twice to enlarge!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

....More Merv Dove thanks to Merv's Nephew Randy Dove...circa 1953!

This is a continuation of Merv Dove photos from the previous post ...click here if you haven't seen the first post then come back... http://hotrodsandjalopies.blogspot.com/2010/07/merv-dove-gentleman-to-be-admired.html

This is Merv's first car. Above the back window is written "Brent Park Special". Merv says that he lived on Brent St.....so the name! Also on the side is written see Rothchild's for the Hudson Jet. Rothchild's was on the corner of Bay and Secord Street in Port Arthur. The next photo not too clear, but you can see all the extra bleachers that were set up in front of the old grandstand to accommodate hundreds more at the races....not too safe either, as jalopy jockeys were tearing down hundreds of feet of wooden fence on the backstretch and there is only a light chain-link fence here between the racers and the fans.

Merv's next car was totalled(geez, Merv, how many '33 and '34 Fords did you wreck...I'm already getting a sick feeling in my stomach...LOL). Please note that his next sponsor here is Leo's Service which was on Shuniah St. in Port Arthur. The first photo by itself and the second one here with a very young and dejected looking stock car jockey, Merv Dove.

This is none other than Merv's Sponsor Leo Dyson himself in full Texaco Service uniform. The next photo is a dead-on shot showing the front damage, all taken at Leo's on Shuniah Street.

Here is another photo of the good side of the car with Leo at the front, Merv to the right of him and the guy with the flat hat is one of Merv's pit crew Bruce Larson. In the next photo Merv is messing it up with a few other jockeys. Also note the little #2 model "A" pickup truck in the pit area. That is Tom Dow's hauler, painted exactly like his own jalopy. A story is forthcoming on Tom Dow.

Here are a few great shots of the #31 car from the Grandstand at the old CLE track. Just a reminder....this is the exact spot where the Golf Dome is today. The photo on the right is taken as the drivers pile into the pit area before the races. The #57 car here is before Barry Kettering used that number. This is Brent Hard's car.

The above was taken shortly after the one just before it, showing how the jockeys all lined up nice and neat in their individual pit spots...how many cars do you recognize? The #10 car in the last photo is Pappy Fowler's with "Darling's Service" prominently painted on the side. Darling's would later become Kettering's service station, and later yet would become "Ray Charles Texaco" in the '60's. Check out the little model "A" coupe pulling the #6 car with a V-bar. The popular "RO" sign with the gas pump below near the middle of the last photo is of course Riverlake Oil which was handled by McEwen fuels at the time. There is a story about Riverlake Oil back into my blog archives.
These pictures are full of great memories. Much thanks again to Randy Dove for loaning Hot Rods and Jalopies the photos to add to Merv's portfolio....and finally thanks to Merv for being himself and always a gentleman!
Be sure to click on each individual picture for full effect(some twice).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

GONE....Another Important Historic Building!!

Here we go again, but this time our city tore down an incredible historic building. It was actually dubbed, possibly the oldest standing structure in Fort William by a clipping found while researching this structure. The clipping is shown below and was published in our newspaper in 1985. The "Coo House" just down from the Fort William Gardens wasn't even as old as this one and its still here designated "historic". This one was built at least 122 years ago and by the photo(circa 1888) and the article, was originally located on Brodie Street approximately where the old Capitol Theatre building stands today. They even thought that its historic value was important enough in the 20th century to move it to the corner of Arthur and Brodie streets to its address of 240 Brodie and face it West.

This is one of two homes torn down(one at the corner of May and Arthur) and this historic structure and for what reason?? Why would the city(or whoever) remove this building?? Does anyone know?? They sure did it in a hurry so no historical club or so called bleeding hearts would try to save it, or would anyone even bother!
It would be nice to get rid of Victoriaville the same way...It doesn't have any historical value and it still stands dividing a MAIN street in two. I sure wouldn't stop that from happening!
Here is the article that was found in the Chronicle Journal published by our museum in 1985 with reference to the building in question. NEXT - Today!
Here is the empty property today with both buildings gone but specifically the beautiful Mansard roofed three-story 122plus year old historic building. All we can now say is "Oh Well, too late!"
Click on photos to enlarge!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Trip West in 1934....Not local photos but a local family!

We complain about a few potholes in our paved roads and getting a little dust on our prides of joy, but we never had to encounter anything like this in our travels....well not in my memory anyway.
My friend Bob Gill loaned me these next 6 incredible photos from 1934 showing his aunt and uncle Doris and Alfred McFarlane as well as his grandmother on a road trip from Fort William and Port Arthur west to a little place in southern Saskatchewan called Arcola. The best photos and stories are from our own family photo albums and this was obviously quite the trip.

Starting on a dry road on the ever-so-flat Canadian prairies in 1934...looks like just west of Winnipeg, it got a little greasy.....

Then it got REAL GREASY......, as Bob's uncle is trying to get the cars past each other. I guess a mud road would be OK if you didn't have to encounter any on-coming traffic.

Finally driving on by and on their way to Arcola.... Here's what Arcola's Main Street looked like in 1934.

Here's how Arcola looks today with a 2006 census population of a whopping 504 people(probably not that many more were there in 1934). Arcola's claim to fame was that it served as the location for the Allan King film feature of W.O. Mitchell's "Who Has Seen The Wind", and the town also has the distinction as being the place where Canadian author James Sinclair Ross wrote his 1941 novel "As For Me And My House". You can read about the film stated above by clicking here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076919/
The following two photos are also from Arcola but taken about 20 years earlier that Bob's pictures(1914 and 1915). I found these following two photos on the Arcola museum web page.

This one is titled "A. R. Carefoot's Garage 1914" and the last one is titled "Main Street Arcola 1915"
Thanks to Bob for the great photos and story. There are literally millions of stories out there like this, but the family connection to Fort William, Port Arthur and old cars make it a great piece. Hope you enjoyed this.
Click on photos to enlarge!

Beautiful Middle Falls near Fort William and Port Arthur(Thunder Bay) Ontario!

Another Provincial Blunder has taken place over the last number of years. It was the closing of Middle Falls Provincial Park, campground and picnic area. It is open as only hiking trails today but has grown over and fallen into disrepair due to the lack of funding by the Provincial Gov't. It used to be on the main highway 61 on route to the USA about 35 minutes from Thunder Bay, but when the new border crossing was constructed, the powers to be claimed that re-routing highway 61 hurt business. This park is only about 1/2 mile from the newer highway, and the fact that the government let it go into disrepair was the reason for it's demise.

This first photo from an Ontario travel brochure, taken in about 1960 shows the park in its heyday with a family enjoying a picnic there. There used to be a number of campsites, a gift shop, a swimming area and pool and many picnic tables, washroom and shower facilities. I have many fond memories of my own family spending many a Sunday afternoon there and also camping weekends when I was a child and when I was first married. The second photo shows the ever-flowing and beautiful Middle Falls taken a few weeks ago now almost forgotten by most of the population of Thunder Bay.

In the left photo you can see picnic tables and an outdoor fireplace to cook, and the right photo shows the walkway to the falls and a predominant highway 61 sign with a historical marker. These photos were taken in the late 1940's. Behind the family standing there, a pool and swimming area was also constructed(you can just see the edge of the kids pool) and off to the right was a gift shop and small restaurant. It is almost unrecognizable that any of this existed if you visit the park today.

Here are a couple of great before and after shots showing how it was in about 1950 and how it is so grown over and abandoned today. These photos were taking from approximately the same spot, coming down the hill before the park on the way home from the old Pigeon River border crossing.

Here you can see the remnants of the swimming pool that kids once enjoyed including myself. The photo to the right shows the plaque, the only thing the Ontario Government left on the property.

Here on the plaque is a little historical note and the areas I circled on the map show where Middle Falls is in relation to the newer Canada/US border crossing. On the American side they are building a very beautiful and completely new modern camping facility, typically showing up the Canadians. Shame on our Provincial Government and MPP's for letting this beautiful spot go to ruin. Lets tell our government officials to restore this park to its original beauty as it truly deserves so we can continue to enjoy it for years to come.
Click on most photos to enlarge!