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I was 6 years old in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. My dad bought me a small rake, hoe and shovel and got me hooked on raising a small garden to go along with his vegetable garden. During the winter, we disconnected the refrigerator to save electricity and kept spoilable food in a window "icebox." You opened the window to put food in, and then closed the window to keep it cold. We didn't have freezers yet. I had three brothers, so we had a family of 6 to feed.
Dad owned a small electrical shop. He was a licensed electrician. He would wire houses and sell Crosley appliances and Haag washers in the shop. But people had no money. He'd wire a house and then he wasn't always able to collect for it. So, on summer afternoons, he and I would take the store truck and go up into the woods to cut firewood with a two-man saw (chain saws weren't invented yet). Then, we'd haul it home and throw it into the coal bin. One winter, we only had to buy one ton of coal.
In 1931, I was 8 years old and I decided I wanted to make some money by doing something after school, but there were no jobs. You had to make your own job. So, my Dad got me some magazines from a wholesaler. In those days, nobody could afford yearly subscriptions, so I went door-to-door to sell them. I still remember my spiel: "Do you want to buy a 'Literary Digest,' 'Radio Dial,' 'Liberty,' 'True Story,' 'Woman's Home Companion,' 'Collins' or 'American'?" I'd go every week to the same places and, eventually, I had a magazine route built up. Most of them cost only 5 cents, so I made half a cent on them. I saved my money and was able to buy most of my clothes.
My Brother, Ed, had a hobby of making crystal set radios, and later became very good at repairing regular radios. He was 7 years older than I was, so he set up shop in Dad's electrical store and did very well there. Ed was so good at repairing radios that he got to be known as the guy in Hamilton, OH, who, when he fixed your radio, it stayed fixed. Before that, Ed built up an evening newspaper route in the summer selling "Baseball Extras". In the winter, people got hooked on the "Cincinnati Times Star" and he had a full year route. My brother, Pat, 2 years younger than me, and I later inherited the route and worked at that.
While in high school, I had a country paper route. After school, I'd load the "Journal-News" on the back of my bicycle and take them up 3 hills (15 miles, round trip) and put them in people's mail boxes, rain or shine. When Pat started high school the next year, we split the route so we each had 7 ½ miles and each cleared 6 dollars per week.
After graduating from high school in 1941, I joined the NYA and learned to run a lathe. Then, I transferred to Patterson Field (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) and worked on airplanes. Later, I flew 43 combat missions in B-25s in the U.S. Army Air Corps in WWII.
We were always taught if you're last out of a room, turn out all the lights. Also, don't drive over the speed limit - it saves gas and prevents tickets. We also learned how to budget our money by putting it in several jars each month. Consequently, we never had to use a soup kitchen.
Story collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)