Were They Really The ‘Good ‘Ol Days?’
By Tom Morrow
In today’s fast-paced life, we older folk often long for the way things used to be. It was a slower paced time when we were growing up.
There’s no question that back in the forties, fifties and sixties life was more predictable. As a youngster, the only real worry I had was “the bomb” and “polio.” Other than that, life was pretty idyllic.
Consider this: in my part of the world (southern Iowa) TV was something you read about in the newspapers. We didn’t get a set until 1953, and then the only reliable output was a snowy screen. The nearest station was in Ames some 130 miles away. VHF signals (channels 2-13) were only reliable up to (maybe) 100 miles. Des Moines, the capital city didn’t have a station until 1956.
For us kids, radio and the movie theater were the only sources of entertainment. The movies were not “first-run” and radio had some really great programs to get your mind working. Kids listened to early morning news for school closures due to snow storms. We stays glued to the radio before trudging off to school, hoping for a day of freedom from classroom drudgery.
When you compare all of today’s technical and informational things against what little we had back when I was growing up, we’ve got it pretty good today. Back then, telephone party lines were commonplace, plenty of coal and coal oil for heating, but no air conditioning in the summer, and some of us had the luxury of an indoor toilet.
For cars, new tires were relatively expensive, although “re-treads” on used tires were available for about half the price of a new one. You had to watch where you drove because pot holes and the like could cause breaks in the tires. The new “tubeless” tires were especially prone to breaking. Inner-tube tires were pretty common up through the fifties and into the sixties. In high school had a job at a Conoco service station. Believe me when I say breaking a tire down off of a wheel was no easy feat.
Speaking of service, when a customer came in for gas, we had to wash his or her windshield, check the oil and tire pressure and, in the particular station where I worked, whisk-broom the floor mats. A lot of work for a few gallons of gasoline at .29 cents per, but the station owner didn’t care because I was working for him at .50 cents an hour while he stood by and smiled.
Long Before TV, after school and Saturday morning radio programming was for us kids. We rushed home from school to hear the latest adventures of “Straight Arrow,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” “Sky King,” and others. They were 15-minute serialized programs and every bit as exciting as those “soap operas” Mom had been listening just a couple of hours earlier. Some of these classics made the transition over to Saturday morning to join Roy, Gene, Hoppy, and Tex for expanded 30-minute segments. We were given special privileges if we became club members. We got secret decoder rings, but we had to eat two boxes of breakfast food and send the box tops along with a dime in to complete the transaction. The wait seemed like forever to arrive in the mail.
A number of those after-school radio programs such as “Sergeant Preston,’ “The Lone Ranger,” and “Sky King,” made it to Saturday mornings with expanded 30 minutes presentations.
More sophisticated programming such as “Dragnet,” “Johnny Dollar,” “Lux Playhouse,” “Sam Spade,” “The Whistler,” “Interactome,” “Bob Hope’s show,“Fibber McGee,” “Jack Benny,” and Groucho Marx’ “You Bet Your Life,” were top listening fare. We shared the night with Mom and Dad after news commentary by H.V. Kaltenborn.
Our youthful appetites for cowboy “shoot ‘em up” westerns on TV were somewhat satisfied with old (and, I mean really old) films from the ‘thirties starring the likes of Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, Harry Carey, Tom Mix, and early John Wayne as “Singing Sandy” or one of the “Three Mesquiteers.”
“Red Ryder” and the “Durango Kid” came to the Friday and Saturday night at the Lyric Theater. “Red” was played by “Wild Bill” Elliott. The “Durango Kid,” Charles Starrett always seemed to have his great white stallion close by in a cave for quick retrieval to chase the bad guys.
Alan “Rocky” Lane, and later Jim Bannon spoiled the “Red Ryder” image sometime later by replacing Elliott.
On a local note, in the nineties when he lived in Carlsbad, I got to know Dick Simmons, who played Sergeant Preston on TV after a long career in movies. Sadly, he died Jan. 11, 2003, of Alzheimer’s disease in an Oceanside residential home at age 89.
I guess we could say the “good ‘ol days” really were good to us. Today’s youth, however, would be bored out of their minds if saddled with such a primitive life.