Buffalo in the ’40s: the Ford Buffalo Assembly Plant

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the wake of World War II, there was a nearly five-year period where no American passenger cars were being built. As the war effort gave way to renewed consumerism, Buffalo’s Ford Assembly Plant saw its first postwar car roll off the line in September 1946.

Buffalo News acrhives

Buffalo News archives

The plant was built on Fuhrmann Boulevard in 1930 to replace Ford’s facility on Main Street in Buffalo. Six hundred thousand Model T Fords were built in the building known now as the Tri-Main Center and shipped off on the adjacent New York Central Beltline railway.

Ford Plant, 1920. Now the Tri-Main Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ford Plant, 1920. Now the Tri-Main Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

About 1,400 workers lost their jobs when Ford closed the Buffalo Assembly Plant in 1958. It was replaced by a new facility in Lorain, Ohio.

Ford’s nearby stamping plant remains in operation to this day, having turned out body parts for many different cars through the years, including the then-new Ford Escort, shown here in 1980 with Mayor James D. Griffin behind the wheel.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo in the ’30s: Nearly a blizzard on Main Street

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Snow-covered streetcars, buses, cars and pedestrians share the 400 block of Main Street with Hengerer’s, Shea’s Century theater and Buffalo Savings Bank’s gold dome in this shot from 77 years ago.

Buffalo News archives

On Jan. 30, 1939, Buffalo was dealt a surprise 8.5 inches of snow. Two people died as a result of the storm — both as they drudged through the weather on downtown sidewalks. The fact that news accounts mention that the weather event was not an official blizzard, leads one to believe the storm was wicked enough to use the shorthand of “blizzard” whether it strictly fit the meteorological definition or not.

Ten years without the I-190 tolls

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Ah Black Rock and Ogden, we hardly knew ye. The new year will mark a decade since the City of Buffalo had toll booths at its northern (Black Rock) and southern (Ogden) borders along the I-190.

For generations of Buffalonians, it was a bit of a sport to toss the quarter, and later two quarters, into the EXACT CHANGE baskets at the now demolished 190 toll booths.

The tolls were supposed to come down in when the highway was paid for in the late 80’s– but to the outrage of WNYers, you had to pay a toll to get to downtown Buffalo. The outrage built to a crescendo in 2006 when the toll booths were removed.

For some tollbooth memories we dip into the Buffalo Stories archives for these shots.

dannythruway(1)

Its WKBW-TV Channel 7’s zany weatherman Danny Neaverth standing at the Ogden Tolls sometime in the early to mid 80’s.

dannythruway(2)

This story was all about how fast people could drive through the “Exact Change” booths, and still get the coins into the basket.

dannythruway(3)

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

What Van Miller meant to me

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I’ve been grappling with what to say about Van Miller.

Steve and Van
Steve and Van, 2007

You don’t need a biography– Everyone knows, or at least confidently suspects, that he was the greatest broadcaster and entertainer to ever make a career in Buffalo.

Most people also know that he was a great story teller. I spent about 20 hours with Van after he retired from TV, recording all his stories getting ready to write a book that never happened. I still have those studio quality tapes– But maybe another day.

For me, when I think about Van, the Bills and the broadcasting– well, that’s only the half of it– as he used to say after two quarters of football.

I generally like to write about a person and their accomplishments and what they maybe should mean to you from a historical perspective. I just can’t with Van.

What I’m about to write is as much about me as it is Van, because I just don’t know how else to say any of this without making it personal.

That is to say (to stick an Ottoism in a Van piece), for as talented and amazing Van was as a personality— he was was never satisfied until he squeezed out every last bit of himself for every single person who watched and listened during his five decades in broadcasting.

I was 16 or so when I was working at WBEN and Van Miller became my friend. Really. My pal. I was working on the Bills broadcasts on the radio for a while before I became “The Game Day Producer” of the radio play-by-play. Van liked people who liked him, and I sure did like him.

steve cichon_van_miller
Van and Steve, Channel 4 sports office, 1998

He’d come down from the TV end of 2077 Elmwood Avenue and hang out with some mix of Chris Parker, Randy Bushover, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney and me in the WBEN Radio sports office, and those few minutes were always the highlight of each of our days.

Van knew that, and he liked it. Lived off it, I think. He knew the power he had in “just being himself” among people, and smiling and having a good time. And telling mildly off color jokes. And whispering swear words.

One of my occasional jobs back in those days was recording the religious and public affairs shows that would playback at 5 or 6am on Sunday mornings.

One day, with me at the controls and several Protestant ministers on the other side of the glass, Van came in, holding a pen and a reporters’ notebook, looking very serious. He importantly scrawled something on a sheet, ripped it off with a flourish, folded it and left it just out of my reach as he walked away quickly.

I rolled the chair back, opened the note and read:

Stevie, Those Protestants don’t know shit about bingo. -Van

He didn’t didn’t harbor any ill-will towards those men of God, he just wanted to make me laugh. At any cost. And I did. I’m also pretty sure that he was hoping that one of them would ask afterwards, “Ooh! What did Van Miller want! It looked very important!”

This was the highlight of my career up until that point, and still remains in the top 5. If my career ended that day, I’d have the story of the great Van Miller giving me a note mentioning shit and bingo. I loved it. And he knew it.

Van wasn’t just like this with me, he was like this with literally everyone he encountered. He loved that people loved him, and he loved them right back. He loved making tiny bits of trouble that he could always smooth out if it came to it, and he loved making personal connections with people. All kinds of people.

Every person.

My grandpa was a ticket taker at The Aud, and Van used to come through his door. He always said Van was the nicest VIP who’d walk through in his fur coat. He was generally beloved by all the technicians at Channel 4– no small feat for a one of “the big stars.” He treated the floor guys in the studio the same way he treated all the hundreds of athletes he’d dealt with over 50 years– with a friendly smile and with respect.

When I was working with Van at Channel 4, there was a severely handicapped guy named Stewart who used to call the sports office everyday with the same question… “What’s in sports today?”

I tried to be nice, but sometimes in the throes of deadlines and scripts to write and packages to edit and highlights to cut, it was easy for any of us to be short with Stewart– especially since no matter what we said, he’d mutter, “ok” and hang up the phone.

When Van picked up the phone, he did a fully embellished sportscast for good ol’Stewart.

“Well let me tell you,” he’d shout, in more of his Bills gameday voice than his Channel 4 voice, “The boys were practicing down at Sabreland today, and Wow! Did Pat LaFontaine’s knee look great— I think he’s getting ready to come back by the time the team skates in Hartford on Saturday. The Bills brought in three free agent linebackers today– trying to put the squeeze on negoatiations with Cornelius Bennett today… and a pair of hoemruns for Donnie Baseball today— Don Mattingly 3 for 3 as the Yankees destroyed the Red Sox 7 to 3. Rain stopped play at the Mercedes open… Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg will pick up their tied match right there tomorrow.”

He’d usually end the call with some silly rhyme or play on words or pun– something so bad he wouldn’t use it on the air.

“But I tell you what— the thunder clang won’t stop Chang… he looked like dynamite today— I’m predicting he wins the tournament handily.”

This was really almost daily. We’d all be laughing, Van smiling, and Stewart getting a daily dose of sports news. I don’t think anyone missed Van when he retired from TV more than Stewart.

Van loved being Van, and loved that other people loved him being Van. I learned that from him. Have fun being who you are– and enjoy other people enjoying it.

I owe a lot to Van Miller. I owe those memories, I owe much of my early career. I would have never been plugged in as the Bills Football producer on WBEN or hired as a producer at Channel 4 at the age of 19 without the backing of my Uncle Van.

And needless to say, Van Miller saying my name 427 or so times every week during Bills games in the ’90s made me a rock star at in high school. It made me a rock star in my family. No one was really clear on what I did at the radio station, but it sounded like Van Miller personally appreciated it– so it must be great!

I was special to Van– because everyone was special to Van. It’s a great gift Uncle Van gave to thousands of “nieces” and “nephews” through the years…

I think all of our lives have lost something with him gone. Despite the fact that I spend a lot of time celebrating institutions and people of the past– I am very rarely personally stirred by nostalgia. I find the past and how it relates to the present and future infinitely interesting, and even when I miss something, I rarely yearn for it.

But with that said, from inside my bones, I yearn for Van at one o’clock on crisp fall Sundays. I really love Murph– but the fact that it’s not Van has made it pretty easy to fall a bit away from Bills fandom as the team has declined. So much of what I loved about the Bills and football was the intangible greatness that Van brought to the play-by-play.

Tears are welling in my eyes thinking this could be the team… this could be the year.

Because I’m a Bills fan, I have no idea how great a Superbowl win feels. I do know, however, that it will never feel quite as good as it would with Van’s voice box popping out of his throat telling us the long wait is over.

wivb50th54

 

Where did the wonderful 33 daffodils come from?

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Daffodils along the Kensington Expressway and Youngmann Highway are one of those things that make our City of Buffalo great.

daffodils2
I scared my wife pulling over abruptly on the 33 to get these photos on a beautiful spring day. April 18, 2015.

Of course, as Buffalonians, our usually dark and cold winters trigger a primal yearning and desire for warmth and springtime. Winter can leave our souls and psyches wounded to the point where we really aren’t even able to fully grasp what May will do to our dulled senses.

The drawn-out beginning of spring helps us slowly power up our appreciation for things outside the man-made walls of home, work, and car.

No matter how many times we’ve experienced Buffalo springs after Buffalo winters, we still count dozens of childlike moments– overcome with sudden joy– when, seemingly out of no where, the glow of the sun warms our face or the smell of a spring rain fills our nostrils.

Where there were just black and gray piles of salt-caked snow and ice– suddenly dots of yellow first appear along the 33 and 290, first few and far between.

Within a week, we’re again overcome by the vibrant and varied yellows of the flower that’s even more special to me as it was my Grandma Coyle’s favorite.

The beautiful, fleeting, first sign of spring brings smiles to hundreds of thousands of motorists every year, but where did they come from? Didn’t they just seem to appear and spread over the last decade or so?

Well, yes. In 1999, Erie County Legislator Judy Fisher gave money to The Green Fund,  through which City Director of Support Services Jim Pavel bought 50,000 bulbs and organized a mass planting by volunteers young and old. The number of bulbs bought and planted doubled the next year, and had totaled 1 million by 2004.

From 2000 to 2004, Lamar Advertising was also in the bulb-planting game. The folks who own many of Buffalo’s billboards and most of the billboards along the Kensington– spent $600,000 planting 2.7 million daffodil bulbs.

Sixteen years later, those roughly 4 million bulbs have split and spread. Now countless millions of yellow blooms remind us, as we drudge along the expressway, that spring is here– and that maybe it’s a good time to roll down the window and enjoy the fresh air.

If the wind is blowing just right as you cruise along the 33 close to downtown, maybe you’ll catch a whiff of Cheerios as you enjoy the sun-kissed daffodils. Welcome to Buffalo.

daffodils1

1960s Buffalo in Glorious Color

By Steve Cichon |steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

eBay user soon2bexpat has a treasure trove of more than 300 vintage color slides posted for sale today, and many of them are from Buffalo and Western New York.

Glorious, full-color glimpses of the way life used to be around here, mostly from the late 1950s through the early 70s.

Many are labelled as from Buffalo, but many more are apparently snapshots of day-to-day life on the Niagara Frontier in a bygone era.

All of the “certain” and a good number of the “safe to assume” Buffalo images follow. As of print time, many of these remain for sale from soon2bexpat  if you are interested.

If you can help better identify any of the people or places in any of these images, please drop me an email: steve@buffalostories.com

IMG_2626One of several shots taken in various Buffalo basement bars… Genesee and Iroquois lights hang on the wall on this one, pointing to a pretty clear Buffalo connection.

IMG_2624A similar-but-different bar features cans of Buffalo-brewed Stein’s beer stacked.

IMG_2616Beers in the basement.

IMG_2609Church hall? VFW? One thing is sure, that’s Buffalo’s own Simon Pure beer in the can to the left.

IMG_2606The only thing more Buffalo than sitting in the garage drinking a beer, is sitting in the garage drinking a beer while your friend plays the accordion. Extra points for white belt and argyle socks with shorts.

IMG_2627This could be a Polish-American wedding anywhere given the accordion player, but since the slides were mostly from Buffalo, I’ll guess that we can claim this one, too.

IMG_2604This one looks like a more honest-to-goodness gin mill, with at least four Iroquois signs on the wall.

IMG_2620I don’t know if her name is Mabel, but she quite clearly likes her Black Label.

 

IMG_2625There were several Purina mills and elevators in Western New Yoek, including one in The Valley. Can’t say for sure if this is one of them or not.

IMG_2611Again, it’s likely a Buffalo image, but I can’t say for sure. I can say it’s a Lehigh Valley snow plow…
IMG_2623UB playing at Rotary Field on Bailey Avenue. That’s the VA Hospital in the background.

IMG_2622

 

IMG_2612The Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks at Memorial Auditorium. Number 3 for the Sabres is Mike Robitaille.

 

 

IMG_2613This Sabres line is the French Connection– Rick Martin, Gil Perreault, and Rick Martin. The defenseman, number 2, is Tim Horton.

 

IMG_2614It’s a New York plate, so Buffalo is a good guess. It’s a great car either way.

 

IMG_2615A different New York plate– a different great car. This could be any one of a dozen neighborhoods in Cheektowaga.

 

IMG_2617The Daughters of Charity were responsible for the operation of Sisters’ Hospital. It appears that they are in a ballroom at the Statler Hilton.

 

IMG_2618The Isle View has been a Tonawanda landmark since Prohibition, and still is to this day– Doesn’t look too much different, either.

IMG_2610Wanda & Stephanie– Buffalo’s famous Mother/Daughter polka duo, were known as “America’s Polka Sweethearts.”

IMG_2608Random scene: Could be WNY or not…

IMG_2602Location not clear, but could be a lake boat…

IMG_2607Burger Basket, Sweeney & Payne in North Tonawanda. Home of the 39¢ Mr. Big.

IMG_2599Buffalo trucking concern.

IMG_2598Fire at Ann’s Restaurant. Almost certainly in Western New York with the Rich’s Ice Cream sign… There was an Ann’s Restaurant at the corner of Main and Virginia– it’s now a parking lot. Could be this place…

IMG_2605A possible Western New York storefront…

IMG_2597A ship docking in Toronto…

IMG_2594Buffalo Airport

IMG_2596Parade on Niagara Square

 

IMG_2621Firemen’s parade, downtown Buffalo

 

IMG_2619

A cardinal sits among bishops in a City of Buffalo (CHESTER KOWAL, MAYOR) parade shelter

IMG_2600A Buffalo Police captain, as priests look on…

IMG_2601A parade in front of Lakeshore Tire…

IMG_2585St. Patrick’s Day on Main Street in Buffalo in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

 

IMG_2587 IMG_2588 IMG_2589 IMG_2590

If you can provide any more information on any of these photos, feel free to email me: steve@buffalostories.com.

 

 

Dontcha just miss a good ol’fashioned milk machine?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

milkmachine

This is a scene that played itself out over and over on streets all over Buffalo for much of the 20th century.

It was tough to walk a block or two without hitting a neighborhood tavern or a milk machine.

Though far fewer in number, of course there are still neighborhood gin mills, but the milk machines have gone away.

The machines began popping up in the city in the mid-1950’s. By the mid-1990s, the milk machines were all but extinct, with the last ones gone just after 2000.

The one I remember more than any other was next to B-kwik on Seneca Street, across from St. Teresa’s.  The milk machine stood outside against what was the back wall of B-kwik– That spot was built out and is now Tim Hortons.

Although Grandma Coyle, who lived a block away on Hayden Street, had milk delivered from the milk man, occasionally she’d still have me go buy more from the milk machine. Grandma Cichon, who lived further down Seneca, would send me to Fay’s in the old Twin Fair Plaza to buy milk. It was cheaper there, but i can also remember having to take back a carton or two because it was expired.

Fill ‘er up, Buffalo– 1960’s style

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Six or seven years ago, The Buffalo Broadcasters threw out a bunch of 16mm newsfilm that had begun to degrade and could no longer be played. I garbage picked it, and pulled apart the reels to look for the good frames here and there.

I scanned a few of them in… Here are a couple of late 1960s Buffalo area gas stations from a reel labelled simply “GAS.”

Buffalo Gas Stations (1)

Buffalo Gas Stations (2)

 

There was no brick oven pizza, flat screen TVs, or lattes at these gas stations. You got gasoline, maybe some oil, from a guy with a workingman’s filth under his nails. You paid at the pump when you gave him five bucks and told him to fill’er up and keep the change.

It’s different now. Not better, not worse– a mix of the two, for sure. It’s more fitting to just say “different.”

There is plenty more of this “garbage film,” and in some a bunch of cases, even a few seconds of good video was pulled from it. In a few cases, the grisly look of the film that was tossed was no indication that it actually played back well.

The more to come sign is up, here.

The Wiping Willow Winter: Muddy Dogs Make Prayers For Snow

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

willowsitsMaybe you hear it in my voice. As a journalist, I’m supposed to, and do, tackle my assignments without prejudice and with a willingness to hear both sides.I hope you haven’t heard it, but over the last few months, I just haven’t been able to hide my disgust. As I read the weather forecast.

I’m not a skier or a snowmobiler, so I really don’t mind the lack of snow. And since I don’t play pond hockey, the fact that the lake didn’t freeze causes me no real alarm (except that typical Buffalo expectation that we’ll all be under 37 feet of snow on April Fools Day.)

Really, I love the warmth and sunshine maybe even more than the average guy. But this year, nothing ruins my day like seeing a high temperature of 43 or 39. Above freezing. Well above freezing. There’s no snow to melt, but the ground does get soft. 

There really hasn’t been much of a winter at all, which is why the winter of 2011-12 will forever be remembered in the Cichon house as the “Winter of the Muddy Paws.”

If you are a dog owner, how can you be excited to hear that its 30 today, but tomorrow we could hit 38? Can you really feel the difference between 30 and 38? Even if you can, good luck enjoying those “warmer temperatures,” since in my house a quick 25 seconds outside in the backyard can equal up to 5 minutes of paw, leg, and belly cleaning.

Willow is good. She sits and will even hand you a paw to be cleaned; very regal for an SPCA mutt. But if you’ve just about finished wiping, and a squirrel pops his head over the fence…. forget it.

I really don’t want to be one of those people who finds something to complain about everything, and I’m generally not that way. Even about our usually mundane winter tasks like scraping of windshields and snowblowing the driveway. No problem. But these dirty paws, five, six or thirteen times a day, sometimes just to do the quick run out and come in for a treat.

It’s affecting my marriage and showing my flaws. So far deep into the spare bathroom towels, I’m not sure whether I’m about to pluck a “good towel” from the linen closet or not. And saints preserve us if there’s an unexpected muddy paw and I reach for the good dish towel.

Even as a lifelong Buffalonian, I don’t know that the weather’s ever had such a lousy effect on me. Another month of snow? No problem. I have furry hats to keep me warm. There is no kind of head gear to get you through muddy paws.

willow in the mud

About now is the point in my rant when someone will mention that they saw these cute little booties for dogs’ paws, so that you can put them on when they go out, and take them off when they come back in. These were obviou sly designed either by someone who has never been around a dog, or by someone who hates dog owners. Willow would, and rightly so, go out in the muddiest part of the yard and roll around in it, covering herself in mud trying to get those booties off her paws. Her paws would stay clean, but the rest of her would be caked in mud.

At this point, if taking out the ice boom means spring is here, for the sake of my mental well-being, I hope the solid-ground-part of spring is around the corner really fast. To think it could be another two months of picking mud covered grass bits from between the toes of this animal could actually have me hoping for a blizzard. I’m losing grip with reality on this.

I really wish I could be one of the proud Buffalonians who can think only of Mr. Softee trucks and shorts when we hit 42 degrees in February, and most winters I’m with ya. But this year, that excitement is marred by the same mark as my kitchen floor: a big muddy paw print.