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The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

Archive for the ‘Street Cars’ Category

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DEVELOPMENTS

I lived the first four years of my life in Sacramento. Of many memories, there are two that I believe contributed to the later “me”.

My God-parents lived nearby: they had a daughter somewhat older than I. Bobbie was probably about seven when I was three-going-on four. We all lived near William Land Park, at one corner of which was a cluster of large bushes. We kids could get in under those and assume no one could see us: it was the typical “hideout” kids like to make. But what we did in there, instigated by Bobbie, was examine each other’s private parts, and “do number one and do number two”! Bobbie would raid her bathroom for huge wads of toilet-paper (I wonder what her parents thought). I was the only boy in the group, so of course had that “handy little gadget” that made peeing much easier for me. But Bobbie and her girl-friends were not much interested in my little pee-pee. I, likewise, was not much interested in what they had between their legs: it seemed so UNfunctional!

I attribute these amusements to my lifelong interest in urination, and assume the beginnings of my lack of interest in females began here as well. The lack of any significant difference in how boys and girls defecate left me with far less interest in that function of the body.

The other memory from that time involves my maternal Grandmother who liked to take me out on Sunday afternoons to ride the C-street trolly line. Even then, the tracks were not in good shape, and the little single-truck Birney cars were notoriously rough-riding. Birney “Safety Cars” looked like this:

Single Truck Birney “Safety Car"

Single Truck Birney “Safety Car"

This little model shows how the car extended past the four-wheel truck, which meant that any little dip in the tracks was communicated to the car itself. But I loved to ride those bouncy little trollies! They were called “Safety Cars” because the door and brake controls had been cleverly incorporated into a single lever: the door could not be opened until the lever had moved past the “full stop” position of the brake. There was no way the doors could be opened if the car was moving. A Birney car can be seen in operation here during the filming of “The Changeling”.

I attribute my lifelong interest in trains and trams to these early experiences, even though our move out of Sacramento (and the death of both Grandmothers) put a stop to those Sunday excursions. I’ll have much more to say about trams and trains later in this blog.

CARMICHAEL

Dad moved us to Carmichael early in 1940: I had my fourth birthday there. Why we moved, I’m not sure. Both my parents were essentially “city-slickers” with no farming experience. Perhaps Dad saw WWII coming.

We had five acres, mostly planted in almonds, an old farm-house, a large, dilapidated garage and some barns. The first couple of years were devoted to rebuilding first the house, then the garage, and minor improvements to the milking-shed of the barn. Not yet in school, I was under-foot for much of this renovation work, and suppose my interest in old houses and handiwork in general stems from that experience.

My mother had taught for a few years, but when we moved to Carmichael, she devoted herself to her family while Dad was the bread-winner. Both took very good care of us (three boys — I was the “baby”). Dad taught in Sacramento, so was gone all day, but we had week-ends and summers together: yet even on a single salary we were considered fairly well off. Mom suffered from terrible migraine headaches, but between these took good care of us, and cooked all our meals. Any sort of restaurant of note was miles away in Sacramento, so dining “out” was rare!

Dad’s salary did get Mom some labor-saving devices: she had a fine Singer sewing-machine, of course, and she made a lot of our clothes. She also had an Iron-rite “mangle” — a machine for ironing clothes not unlike this one:

Iron-Rite “Mangle”

Iron-Rite “Mangle”

Making, washing, fixing, ironing and sewing buttons on all the clothes for three growing boys was nearly a full-time job, and I often found Mom seated at her ironer when I came in from play or home from school. I wore many hand-me-downs in those days: by the time I got through with them they were just rags.

Mom also had a Bendix washer, first of the front-loaders. It looked similar to this one. I could not find a photo of our model, which was less sophisticated and earlier than this 1947 model. Ours had a triangular base painted black, and a clunky arrangement of the lint-trap: if the clip holding it in place got snagged and pulled open accidently, it dumped the contents of the drum all over the floor of our back porch.

1947 Bendix Front Loader Washing Machine

While the Bendix was an improvement over the old tub-and-wringer setup, it did have several idiosyncrasies. One was that soap had to be added by hand at the proper time (so much for the “automatic” feature), and if too much was put in, the thing erupted in suds which poured out of the filler-spout down over everything. The porch floor got frequent cleaning because of this.

The other problem involved balance: the tub was rigidly attached to the frame, so if clothes got wadded up, when the spin-cycle began the machine would walk right across the floor, eventually pulling the power-cord out of its socket, or pulling one of the hoses loose (which resulted in water spraying everywhere).

The “cure” for the balance problem was to bolt the machine to a large block of concrete cast for this purpose. Even this was only partially successful: a severely  out of balance load would result in the whole block being lifted up and down, pounding the be-jesus out of the porch floor. It sounded like the house falling down, and always resulted in a mad rush to get the thing unplugged before it fell into the basement!

We had that washer for years. We even took it to Modesto when we moved there. By that time I was beginning to grow up, and I found riding that wobbling machine, the filler-spout jammed in my crotch, strangely exhilarating! But, I’m getting ahead of myself!

To be continued …

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Written by Bruce

December 12th, 2009 at 11:24 pm