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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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America’s WWII Blackout Cars

by M. Ruth Myers

While working on my current Maggie Sullivan mystery, I wanted to make sure when World War II blackouts went into effect in the United States, especially in Dayton, Ohio, where the series takes place. After all, private eyes wouldn’t be private eyes if they didn’t do a great deal of creeping around at night!

What will be book #6 in the series takes place in the spring of 1942. Despite nationwide fear of air attacks, however, local historian Curt Dalton writes in his book Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II, that the city’s first total blackout wouldn’t take place until a year later, on May 27, 1943.

Ah, but here’s where researching historical fiction yields countless collateral dabs of information that can enrich a story — and make the creative process just plain fun!

Note the lack of shiny surfaces on this WW2 “blackout car”.

Although buildings and streetlights weren’t blacked out until 1943, vehicles were. I’m not talking about extinguishing headlights and taillights. I’m talking about creating what a whimsical turn of mind could view as the 1940s version of stealth technology. Applied to cars.

Just a few weeks before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, production of new 1942-model cars had begun. It screeched to a halt as the US government almost immediately classified chromium as a strategic material since it was needed in the manufacture of stainless steel and necessary to the war effort. The nation’s auto manufacturers were ordered to eliminate “brightwork”, the chrome and stainless trim on cars, within one month. They would have to end production of passenger cars altogether in two months in order to switch to production of military trucks and ambulances, tanks, and aircraft engines.

The few thousand new cars produced in the weeks between when the supply of shiny parts ran out and early February of 1942 when US passenger car production ended entirely are known as “blackout specials”. Normally shiny parts were painted black, gray, olive drab or similar dark color. In some cases the trim was a color that looked attractive with the car’s background color, a decidedly unflamboyant relative to today’s pin stripes and detailing. Surviving cars, and even photographs, are rare.

The same flat, non-reflective painted trim was used on military vehicles as well.

What color do you think Eli and Calvin at Wheeler’s garage paint the trim on Maggie’s 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.

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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!

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Pearl Harbor Attack Brings War to an Ohio City – Part II: Immediate Response

by
M. Ruth Myers

The speed with which the city of Dayton, Ohio, responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunning, especially when contrasted with the slow pace of communications detailed in Part I. The extent to which the city was prepared to step onto a war footing was equally amazing.

Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, Dayton, Ohio

Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, Dayton, Ohio

Police

Within hours of receiving initial word of the attack, the city’s entire police had been mobilized. All vacations were canceled. Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner activated a plan which he and a few other members of his command had worked on quietly for more than a year. During that time, two members of his detective bureau had been assigned anti-sabotage investigation duties and had been in constant contact with the FBI. Now, almost immediately, police patrolled to protect the city’s numerous manufacturing and research facilities.

I was able to show the outer results of that planning in Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, which is set in Dayton. What I couldn’t show was the wealth of activity going on behind the scenes that was unknown to my detective and other characters.

Military

Just outside the city lay Wright Field and Patterson Field, military installations vital to operations of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Wright Field was headquarters of the Materiel Division, the branch of the Air Corps which developed new aircraft, equipment and accessories. Nearby Patterson Field was the center for Air Corps aviation logistics, maintenance and supply. They, too, had been making secret preparations, which now went into effect.

At word from Washington, both airfields put aerial defenses in place and added ground reinforcements to boost security. Armed aircraft were stationed at both bases. All civilian planes were grounded. All military leaves were cancelled until further notice.

Civilian

A Home Defense Auxiliary already had been established. It now was called into service. This force consisted of 100 members of the American Legion and V.F.W. They were organized under four commanders who held a rank equivalent to those of police sergeants. Other civilian groups organized quickly.

By Dec. 9, less than 48 hours from first word of the attack, the city’s Volunteer Defense Office issued a public appeal for 200 women to train as nurses aides. Both married and single women were welcome. Training classes would be held for six weeks Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-12 a.m. Volunteer office help also was needed from 7-9 p.m., and would work in the lobby of the Municipal Building.

Also on Dec. 9, the Citizens Protective Committee appealed to all owners of motor vehicles to register, giving name, address and phone number. They could be pressed into service in the event a forced evacuation of the city was needed.

As I sat reading the long-ago newspaper announcements of those initiatives, I found myself wondering over and over: How many cities, faced with a similar catastrophe today, could match that kind of speed and efficiency?

— Book of the Week —

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Pearl Harbor Attack Brings War to an Ohio City – Part I: Communications

by M. Ruth Myers

shattered Christmas ornament

 

Most accounts of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged America into World War II focus on actions at the distant naval base itself, or give passing mention to the fact that those on the home front heard the news on their radios on a Sunday afternoon.

The home front part in particular has always struck me as distressingly incomplete.

In Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, I wanted to give a more detailed, close-up view of what occurred in one city (Dayton, Ohio) in the hours immediately following initial word of the attack. It was, after all, the Christmas season. Children were stringing popcorn and making paper chains to decorate the tree for Santa’s visit. Women were baking. It was the last ordinary day in what would be a very long time.

To appreciate how news of the Pearl Harbor attack shattered that day, imagine the sudden horror and uncertainty of 9/11 — but without modern communications.

  •  Teletype was the swiftest way to send information.
  •  Home radios were becoming more common, but were still a bit of a luxury in middle class homes.
  •  Only two radio networks broadcast nationally, and only one of those broadcast news on Sundays.
  •  Images of breaking news in distant places would, if you were lucky, appear in your local paper half a day later.
  •  Telephoning relatives in another city, let alone another state, required waiting while operators connected one exchange to another (and another, and another) when there was room on the line.
Pearl Harbor radiogram

From commander in chief of naval operations in the Pacific

For some, the effect of the first, brief radio bulletin about the attack was immediate and tragic. In Berkeley, California, Sidney Arthur Higgins, who had worked on construction of the Panama Canal and served as an Army captain in World War I, was listening. When he heard the news, he shouted to his wife to come listen. By the time she got there, he was having a heart attack. He died less than a month later on Jan. 2, 1942.

But how people reacted, and the speed and variations in how the news reached them, varied considerably.

At the time, the United States had just two national broadcast networks. One, NBC, split its programming into two feeds but had no Sunday newscasts. The other, CBS, had a regularly scheduled news program, “The World Today”, that was about to begin when news of the attack started arriving on wire service teletype shortly before 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. CBS was therefore able to shift from scheduled news to that of the attack, and to provide steady coverage as fresh details came in.

Dayton, where the Maggie Sullivan mysteries are set, was like many other cities. It didn’t have a CBS station. It got only a branch of NBC. There a program featuring Sammy Kaye’s orchestra was just ending, and a scholarly discussion, “The Chicago Roundtable” about to begin, when wire-service machines clattered out news of the Pearl Harbor attack. NBC was able to cut the start of the Roundtable program to provide news bulletins – but then it returned to regular programming. Interrupting programs with commercial sponsors required permission from the sponsor executives, so the network was largely limited to providing updates during breaks.

That’s how it was for the rest of the day. Distant horror, with occasional details trickling in.

Only the following day, when Dayton papers carried photographs of the attack, could residents picture the scope of what had befallen them. Only through maps printed there did many readers begin to understand where the distant U.S. base that had been the target of the attack was located.

In contrast to the era’s slow communication, however, Dayton’s emergency preparedness, even by today’s standards, was amazing.  Activation of a plan to move the city to a wartime footing began within hours of receiving news about the attack.

(Next week – Part II: Immediate Response)

— Here’s the Deal —

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It’s practically a return to the dime novels of the 1940s!  This new Crime Cafe box set gets you nine full-length mystery and crime novels by nine different for just 99c. (Okay, technically that’s 11 cents each, but consider inflation.)  Authors include Austin Camacho, Donna Fletcher Crow and others, including yours truly.   Editor is New York Times best-selling novelist Debbi Mack, host of Crime Cafe.

Mystery Set in Ohio Captures America’s Entry into WW2

by M. Ruth Myers

Maximum Moxie, shiny new addition to the mystery series featuring the 1940s detective with great legs, Maggie Sullivan, has just landed in digital bookstores.  This fifth book in the series opens when the private eye takes on a new case days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provides an unusual portrait of a mainland city left dazed but resolute.

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The Story:

Days before the Pearl Harbor attack plunges the U.S. into World War II, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find a missing engineer in Dayton, Ohio. Has Gil Tremain been kidnaped, or has he turned traitor — to his employer and maybe his country?

As Maggie pieces together his last movements, she finds there are secrets the man’s ex-wife and his employers don’t want uncovered. Maggie herself is attacked and an innocent witness is murdered. The ruthlessness of her opponent — or opponents — becomes even clearer when there’s an attempt to abduct Tremain’s young daughter. Still more chilling, Maggie’s investigation suddenly attracts the attention of a local crime kingpin.

The attack on Pearl Harbor presses every cop in the city into service protecting manufacturing and research facilities. Stunned by the knowledge their nation will soon be at war, even fearful the mainland itself will be bombed, people cling to family and friends. Schedules and routines shatter. Amid the disruption, alone and aware she can’t count on help from the police, Maggie races to save a man who has now become a liability to his captors.

Maximum Moxie, fifth book in the author’s popular Maggie Sullivan mysteries series, gives readers fast-paced twists and turns along with a rare and vividly painted closeup view of a watershed event in 20th century American history.

Top Books, Movies and New Delights of 1940 America

GirlReading

by M. Ruth Myers

Since my mystery series is set in the 1940s, I accumulate lots of research that can’t fit in the books, but is fun nonetheless.  Enjoy a little time-traveling with these snippets on books, movies and new additions to everyday life that ordinary people were enjoying in 1940.

Books

An official bestseller list didn’t come into being until 1945. Books whose popularity would have put them in the running for that label in 1940 included How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley, Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Another contender was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Academy Awards

Best picture award went to Rebecca, based on the wonderful gothic romance by Daphne du Maurier. (Alfred Hitchcock directed.) Jimmy Stewart was named best actor for his role in The Philadelphia Story. Best actress honors went to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle.

New Daily Pleasures

In May of 1940, nylon stockings went on sale to the general public, following their introduction late the previous year at the World’s Fair. Dupont, the chemical company that developed nylon, decided not to trademark the name in hopes the word “nylon” would become synonymous with hoisery.
Bugs Bunny made his screen debut in 1940, as did Woody Woodpecker, but my favorite innovation of 1940, hands down, was the arrival of soft-serve ice cream. Dairy Queen opened its first outlet in Joliet, Illinois.

 

— Here’s the Deal —

Sham7-28-lt2

 

Shamus in a Skirt, Maggie Sullivan Mystery #4, is 99c now through 8/29.  Hey, it just happens to be set in 1940,  as the war in Europe crosses the Atlantic to draw Ohio private eye Maggie into a case of murder and jewels slipping in and out of the safe at an upscale hotel.   Amazon   Apple   Nook   Kobo

Problems Facing America’s Working Women in WW2

Today I’m a guest of author Suzanne Adair on Relevant History, where I describe some of the lesser known hardships faced by American women who flooded into the workplace during World War II. These went beyond scarcity of hosiery and unavailability of new girdles. (If you can imagine not wearing a girdle being a hardship.)

US Army poster of civilian workers

US Army poster of civilian workers

Stop by. There’s a book giveaway. While you’re there, have a look at Suzanne’s historical mysteries, including her Michael Stoddard series featuring a young redcoat officer during the American Revolution.

Horses, Votes for Women … and Lipstick

When the pace of change, especially in technology, makes you dizzy, consider  changes American women went through from the eve of World War I to the eve of World War II. A few of those changes become “accidental characters” in the mystery Don’t Dare a Dame, when a private eye in Ohio is hired to learn the fate of a man who vanished before she was born.

The detective is Maggie Sullivan, and she’s hired for this particular case in the fall of 1939. The disappearance — and suspected murder — she investigates took place during the chaos of the great 1913 flood. In the interval between, these changes occurred:

flapper

Transportation – In the spring of 1913 apart from a few motorcycles, the Dayton police department owned a single motorized vehicle, a “utilitarian wagon”. By the fall of 1939, the department had a fleet of patrol cars and two ambulances. Most transportation, for civilians and law enforcement alike, depended on horses.

In the flood’s aftermath, a young patrolman named Rudolph F. Wurstner was put in charge of moving some 1,400 horse carcases out of the city for disposal. Left unattended, they could spread cholera and typhoid fever. By 1922, Rudy Wurstner had become the city’s chief of police, a position he would hold until 1949.

Communication – In 1913, America had no radio stations. When telephone lines went down, terrified Dayton residents had no way to communicate with each other. When the Gamewell system of police call boxes succumbed as well, face-to-face communication was all that remained, and rumors spread.

The country’s first commercial station would air in 1920, and Dayton’s first station in 1921. By 1937 national radio networks had been established, allowing Americans to hear President FDR’s first fireside chat in 1933, and his announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Votes for Women – In 1913 these were still a dream for America’s women. In 1920 they became a reality. In 1922 one woman was serving in the U.S. Senate. By 1923, four were serving in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Lipstick – In 1913 the use of “lip rouge” by respectable women was still frowned on by many. If it was used, it had to be applied with a brush or fingertip. It came in small pots or paper tubes — no pushing it up and down. The range of colors was limited, mostly red, redder and dark red. In 1915, lipstick in a metal tube came to market. The stick of color inside was raised by raising a nub of metal in the side of the tube. During the 1920s, swivel tubes appeared, and in the 1930s manufacturers began to create a variety of shades of lipstick.

Of all these advantages enjoyed by women, lipstick was the one which would suffer the most negative impact from World War II.

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Private eye Maggie Sullivan risks her detective license, and life, to solve a quarter-century old murder.

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A County Nurse of the WW2 Era

Before World War II plunged countless American women into factory jobs and vacancies left by men who had gone to fight, the two careers most open to women were teaching and nursing.  They required professional training, and women who underwent it were looked up to in their communities.

Today, author Anna Castle shares the story of her grandmother Saima (pronounced like “sigh”), a Greatest Generation woman who enjoyed a long career as a county nurse.  Other photos of Saima and two nursing student friends appear on the Share Stories page.

by Anna Castle

Saima Lydia Johnson was born on the farm in 1907, the newest member of a small Finnish farming community near Brocket, North Dakota. Her father had homesteaded there along with some dozen villagers from northern Sweden. His name was Johanni Perälä, changed to Johnson at Ellis Island. (That explains why my great-grandfathers on both sides had the same name. The Norwegian ‘Johnson’ never told anyone his original name.) Her mother was also a Finnish immigrant named Hana Uusitalo.

Saima taught grade school in Brocket for several years after she finished high school. Then she applied for a scholarship to the nursing school at St. Michaels Catholic Hospital in Grand Forks and was accepted. She worked in the ‘cook shack’ all summer cooking for the men in the fields and saved money to buy a new coat and shoes and a ticket to Grand Forks on the train.

Saima and two other nursing students work in the Cook Shack.

Saima and two other nursing students work in the Cook Shack.

“I think she must have been a wonderful nurse,” my mother, Carmen, said.  “I would often meet one of the nuns or people she had taken care of and they would praise her. My dad meanwhile, considered it a disgrace that his wife would leave the home to work. At first he expected meals on time and everything to be the same. Later he sort of ignored her career but at least didn’t criticize.”

Saima was appointed public health nurse of Grand Forks County and worked for some years there before retirement. She kept the county clean, visited the schools to inspect for lice, worked with the doctors at the end of the TB struggle before penicillin.

She married Emilio Acosta, originally of Puerto Rico. Emilio served in both world wars and went to the University of Missouri on a VA scholarship. He earned a Ph.D. in Spanish and got a job as a professor of Spanish at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. He and Saima had three children.

The couple are buried in the Finnish cemetery near Brocket, where Acosta is the only non-Finnish name.  His headstone is distinguished by the tiny flag of a veteran. We don’t have flags to commemorate county nurses, although their service was every bit as important to the health of this great country.

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Anna Castle writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas, mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and PhD Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at www.annacastle.com.

 

~ HERE’S THE DEAL ~

My novel The Whiskey Tide is free through March 27 on Amazon.  In the 1920’s, three sheltered sisters from a proper New England family smuggle liquor from Canada to support their family after their father’s death and a relative’s treachery leave them penniless.

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