"TEN CENTS WORTH OF GAS PLEASE"
Ross Jamieson still wears the same helmet a few years
after this story c1960.
- by Ross Jamieson
How many of you remember that there was a gas station in East
City at the
corner of Armour Road and Douro Street? Speaking as a little kid that
grew up in Ashburnham in the shadow of Armour Hill and the Liftlock I
sure do. It once played a huge part in my childhood.
Back in the 1950's, when I was a boy, East City was my home.
What a place
it was! At the Bowl Ray Judd threw the ball so fast that it appeared to
leave a streak just like a shooting star. Honest - it did! The Turtle
pond below the London Street dam was so thick with suckers in the
springtime that, if you laid on your back, you couldn't sink more than a
few inches. I know - my friends and I tried it!
We also had Armour Hill and the Liftlock. Now there was a place
adventure. Adventure when we set off in packs of eight to ten kids to
bombard the cars with the teenagers necking in them. Fear when a volley
of pine cones brought the occupants out of their cars to chase us,
careening and stumbling in pitch darkness, down the hill towards the
Liftlock. The fear and adventure were, from time to time, replaced by
somber reflection when one of us was actually caught. The result was
often a bruising beating administered by some "car guy" from a 54
with purple sex lights on the dash.
We were sports crazy as kids. Harry Walsh senior used to build
a rink on
his property just a quick dash through Mrs Thompson's backyard from our
house. We used to call her "Old lady Thompson" because, whenever
us, she would shout at us through her back window. The little rink at the
Walsh's house was for the little kids and the big rink in Jamieson's yard
was for the big kids. Wayne "Weiner" Connelly, Tom Thurlby and Irv
Spencer were all Pete's players that boarded at the Grant's house. They
would show up every so often and take shots on us in net. The old goal
pads took some of the steam out of their shots but the rubber boots that
we wore on our feet afforded no protection at all. I remember fighting
back the tears because there was no way that I was going to let a Pete's
player see me cry. The code wouldn't permit it!
In the early fifties TV was still in its infancy and kids invented
own heroes. This story is partly about one of those characters. His name
was Rube - Rube Brady.
I don't know how it was that I first became aware of him. Perhaps
because I was a younger brother and my older siblings had pointed him out
to me. He lived somewhere near the park at the base of Armour Hill. It
was probably on one of our forays to the Liftlock that I first saw him.
Whatever it was, this man held a special status among us. My impression,
as a nine year old, was that Mr Brady was an old man. In truth, he was
probably in his early sixties. His head was perpetually topped by a
baseball cap, his shirt was always one of a number of local team sweaters
that he owned and he wore his pants high above his waist as many slightly
portly men do when their hips fall below the broad expanse of their waist
lines. When I would go down to Miller Bowl on Saturday night with my
brothers to watch Ronny Jay and "Moon" Wooten play lacrosse, Rube
would be there. When I would go to Orfuns football games under the lights
at Riverside park, Rube would be present. When I would go to the park at
the base of the hill, Mr Brady would be hitting out flies for the big kids
to catch. Seldom did we find ourselves at the Liftlock without seeing
Rube in the vicinity. Much of what I wanted to do or be connected with at
that time in my life seemed contiguous with this character. I wanted to
be part of the "Liftlock" gang but, as a little kid, I wasn't part
their inner circle. That would change.
It was a Friday morning. I know that because it was the same
day that I
found the dime on the ground outside of Starr's store on Rogers and
Hazlette Streets. I had made my way to Armour park and I noticed an
assembly of kids - the Liftlock gang - over by the swings. When I got
close enough to see what the attraction was I saw Rube. He had a duffel
bag over his shoulder and was just emptying its contents on to the grass.
The bag had real football helmets in it! Rube had somehow come up with
discards abandoned by the Orfuns men's team and he was about to hand them
out to the kids. He also had a can of gold paint to resurface the helmets
and restore their luster.
"We need some gas to thin this paint," he said, "Who's
got some money?"
No one responded. I reached into my pocket and felt the dime.
"I do sir!"
"Good lad! Run over to the gas station there and fetch
us a can of gas."
It was almost too heavy for me to carry back!
"Here it is Mr Brady."
"Well done kid - you get first choice of the helmets."
It came down over my eyes and, if I bent too far forward, it
off at my feet. I can still remember the smell of the leather, the
awkward way that it blocked my vision when I ran and, especially, how it
connected me with the man named Rube. It may not seem like much to you
but for a little kid that grew up in East City in the shadow of the
LIftlock it was huge! I was now part of the inner circle, a "Liftlock"
kid, and I couldn't have been more happy. The landmark that people came
from far and wide to visit was now firmly entrenched as a part of my
identity. Even today, when I drive down the Hunter Street hill and go
through the Liftlock tunnel, I can sometimes feel the same rush that I
did that day as a boy.
And what about that old helmet? Well - I gave it away when
I was well
into middle age to a little boy in my neighborhood who used to carry his
football past my house. I told him that the helmet had a name . I said,"This
old timer's named Rube."
The little boy smiled and ran up the street with that helmet
his eyes and a huge smile on his face.
By now I'm sure that you, the reader, can understand the grin
beaming on my face too. You see - I'm still a Liftlock kid - always will
be - just like old Rube Brady.
(Ed. Note: I too remember the day we painted those old leather
helmets with gasoline-thinned, bright, aluminium paint. Every
boy painted his own helmet, right there in the Ashburnham Park
field, trying to keep dirts and grass clippings from adhereing
to the paint, and trying, unsuccesfully, keep the paint off our
hands and clothes. We were just a rag tag bunch of guys, brought
together by a man with a big heart. He kept us out of trouble.
Ross's story brings back a picture of him struggling across Armour
Road hefting this heavy, one gallon can of paint, suspended between
his legs. As our team coalesced, our minds filled with images
of glory - football heroes to be! From the photo, it looks like
Ross later repainted that old helmet, to more resemble the design
that the pros used. - Dan Delong)
Now, a public request for Ross to write another wonderful
story about this picture:
Nichol's Park Summer Recreation Program Costume Parade Contestants:
Drew Smith, Anne Delong, Ross Jamieson