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From Dead Horses to a Recap Tire Monopoly: Part 2

Stories of ordinary families are what bring history to life. In this second of two guest posts, retired Dayton, Ohio, police sergeant Stephen C. Grismer tells how his family’s automobile business survived World War II when cars — and tires — were rationed. Steve serves as secretary-treasurer of the Dayton Police Historical Foundation. He has been a wonderful source of information for the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.

Thanks, Steve!

Part 2

by Stephen C. Grismer

 

Surviving the Great Depression was difficult enough but, because of the war effort, the production of automobiles ceased altogether in early 1942. The cars that did come out then were called “black-out models” because the parts that should have been chrome were painted black. Raw materials were limited. The impact on the competitive auto industry trickled down to car dealers, including those in the Motor Car District.

There was little income for Stomps Chevrolet except automobile servicing which, alone, would not have kept the business afloat. But then the U.S. Army Air Corps rented Stomps’ garage for storage, which was fortunate since it allowed the mortgage on the building to be paid.

Stomps had another competitive advantage. During times when rubber was at a premium, it had the ability to offer “recap” tires to its customers.

 

Recap tire work

Stomps’ general manager, Hank Grismer, had brought his brother, Adam, into the fold during the Great Depression. He founded the Grismer Tire Company, whose original business location was on the top floor of Stomps Chevrolet.

What made the business notable at the time was that it had the area’s only machine that could “recap,” or retread, worn tires. Retreading is the replacement of the tread casing on a spent tire. It preserved an otherwise usable tire. That may seem unremarkable now but at the time of the Great Depression and WWII rationing, it was a godsend for people needing tires.

Tire recap machine

During the war, there was a shortage of rubber that resulted in rationing of rubber products. At the time, a family could only own a total of five tires. There were local “tire rationing boards” that would certify new tires only for essential vehicles (public safety services like police, fire, etc.). The local boards would also have to certify the recapping of tires.

The Grismer Tire Company did not long remain with my great-uncle, Adam Grismer. Charles Marshall had been a silent partner and had greater interest in the tire business. Our family retelling has it that Marshall bought out Adam’s share due in part to the WWII business advantage of having the area’s only retreading machine. Although Grismer Tire later moved out of our family’s Chevrolet building, Charles Marshall retained the Grismer name, concerned that the customer base could drop away if the name of the company changed.

It has been 75 years since the start of WWII and the Marshall family still owns and successfully operates the Grismer Tire Company. There are over 20 Grismer tire centers throughout the Miami Valley today.

I have to believe that sometime during her early sleuthing days, Maggie Sullivan drove into Stomps Chevrolet so she could to buy a recap from Grismer Tire for her DeSoto.

 

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Music Helps Ohio City Face First Christmas of WWII

Imagine how hard it must have been for American families and communities to maintain any semblance of Christmas spirit in 1941. The Dec. 6 attack on Pearl Harbor had just thrust the previously divided country into World War II. Yet in Dayton, Ohio, two civic events lifted spirits as the city push determinedly on in that devastating holiday season.

kidchorus41

Members of the 1941 Inland Children’s Chorus in their spring concert earlier that year.  Used with permission of InlandChorus.com

Inland Children’s Chorus

Just two weeks after Pearl Harbor members of the Inland Children’s Chorus gave its annual Christmas concert. Chorus members were children ages 8-16 whose parents worked at the Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors Corporation.

The group was still fairly new. Inland hatched the idea and started sponsoring the chorus in 1936. According to www.inlandchorus.com which preserves the history of the chorus, the goal was to give children of employees “a musical education and training which they otherwise might not be able to obtain and to make a contribution to the cultural life of Inland employees and the community.” To that end, they presented two concerts each year, one in spring and one at Christmas. A Broadway theatrical designer was brought in to stage the performances.

“The photos and materials we have for 1941 are fairly thin, probably because of the dramatic events of that year,” says Jerry Alred, the retired professor who co-ordinates the site. You can, however, see the program from that year’s concert.

Want to touch the past? You can listen to those young chorus members actually singing one of the selections on that program, Silent Night. Recordings were usually made of each program, but because of the reasons cited by Prof. Alred, none was made of the 1941 Christmas concert. You’ll be hearing the one from the previous year. Most of the voices singing are those of children who also sang in 1941, since members of the chorus usually remained in it until they aged out.

Deeds Carillon

On Christmas Eve of 1941, Dayton residents got an unexpected gift of Christmas cheer. For the first time they heard music ring from the bells of a soaring new carillon built just south of downtown. The gift of Colonel and Mrs. Edward Deeds, the carillon and its 151-foot tower wouldn’t be completed until 1942. (The first official concert there took place on Easter Sunday of 1942.)

But on Dec. 24, 1941, when families knew sons and husbands and other loved ones would soon be leaving to fight on foreign shores, those bells of the new carillon lent what sweetness they could. The impromptu concert was even broadcast on one of the local radio stations, WHIO.

When originally built, the carillon had 23 bells, each inscribed with the name of a Deeds family member, living or dead. Today it has 57 bells and is the centerpiece of Carillon Historical Park, a large and constantly growing enterprise whose displays, buildings and vehicles showcase the entire sweep of Dayton history.

Readers of Maximum Moxie, the latest Maggie Sullivan mystery, can now imagine some of the sounds that cheered Maggie and the other residents of Mrs. Z’s after the story ended.

Thanks to the Inland Chorus alumni for permission to use photographs and music from their website. You’ll enjoy a visit there.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

box-set-artwork

 

World War II Icon Turns 75: The USO

One of the icons of World War II, and a presence in the live of American service men and women from then to now, turns 75 today – the USO. It was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw the need for an organization to boost morale and provide recreation to American G.I.’s. He also saw it as a way to build support on the homefront if and when the country went to war.

Roosevelt enlisted the help of Mary Ingraham, a long-time social reformer who from 1940-1946 served as president of the National Board of the YWCA. Her first task was uniting the work of half a dozen organizations under one umbrella. They were:

  • The Salvation Army
  • Young Men’s Christian Association
  • Young Women’t Christian Association
  • National Catholic Community Services
  • National Travelers Aid Association
  • National Jewish Welfare Board

jeep

The resulting organization, the USO, was incorporated in New York on February 4, 1941. Although chartered by Congress, it was not a government program, but a private organization supported by donations and staffed largely by volunteers.

What would the movies do without all those scenes of USO dances sparking wartime romances between young G.I.’s and local girls? But USO centers, some in barns or churches, also provided coffee and small snacks, showed movies and provided writing materials. Some even made childcare available for military wives.

In October of 1941, the year it was founded and just two months before Pearl Harbor, the first of the legendary shows associated with the name USO was produced.

Happy Birthday, USO. Thanks for the memories.

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