Bucktown Then and Now – What A Ride! Part I

by Van Young

Part One of What A Ride!

Close to 80 years ago, my mother, brother, and I arrived on a cold March evening at Buchanan’s railroad station. We expected that Dad or a cab would be available but….no one but the three of us! With suitcases and bags in hand, we made our way down Days Avenue to the hotel. It had a pay telephone booth and we could hear Mom telling Dad we HAD arrived! Ten years later, I left Buchanan after graduation from BHS and headed for New Orleans but gave that up within three months, and headed back “home” to Buchanan. 

From March 1942 til January 1955, I arrived in Buchanan as a six year-old child and left a young man. Those years in Buchanan, or Bucktown, provided some of the best years of my life! Like a lot of other “new” folks in town in 1942, we were there because Dad, at 33, thought he could serve the war effort best by making army truck axles at Clark Equipment. Mom worked there for a couple of years as well. Clarence (also known by his friends as Nature Boy) and I would take a warm meal to Dad and he would  crawl out the window to sit with us. Across the road, a huge collection of trailers were being used by black workers only. The whites were in portable homes on Red Bud. We thought we had left that prejudice behind in Missouri but in the ‘40’s we saw it everywhere. My classmate, Turner Bobbitt, the only male black in our class, and I attended a movie at the Hollywood theater. He was told to sit in the balcony and I had to sit downstairs.  The last I heard of Turner, he had a huge, beautiful home on a mountain top. He also owned one of the most successful construction companies in California. 

Our family had spent most of the 30’s on a farm in Cotton Plant, Missouri, with no electricity.  Buchanan was aglow with lights. Once our folks were paid by the factory, they bought a radio, we listened it on til bedtime. I recall hearing about the Bataan Death March on the news and that was when I realized how barbaric war could be. In the evenings, the four of us would gather around the radio for special programs. Gabriel Heater and Walter Winchell kept us posted on the war. About once a week, we walked to downtown to the Hollywood Theatre.  It cost Dad around 64 cents for all four of us: 12 cents each for Clarence and me and 20 cents for each of the folks. The theatre always had a film showing what was going on at the war front. Popcorn cost five cents! We noted that our school teachers were taking tickets to enhance their teachers’ pay! 

The theatre owner, Don Roe Pears, had served in both WW1 and WW2, and served as a Michigan politician. He was one of the first movie owners who showed “the facts” about baby-making with a show for the gals and then the same show for the guys! We always looked forward to the news reels, usually on Sunday and Monday.  In the middle of the week, Don scheduled “special” programs. Most of the time it involved big bands, my first encounter with jazz! It wasn’t until the early ‘50’s that folks took a chance on a television. At a store three about  four stores west of the theatre, Batchelors Appliance store. Folks would gather on the sidewalk looking at the tv in the window. The TV was very snowy at that time but we were still attracted.

My brother and I made the most of the great teachers we had at the high school. He became especially attracted to the sports and eventually he wrote up the games for the Berrien County Record. After serving in the army later, he was a full-time sports reporter for several newspapers. He was a close friend of Coach Ray Steffin, our basketball coach. When Coach Steffen moved to Kalamazoo to coach at K-College, he knew Clarence was very active in Indiana with covering basketball, especially colleges on Coach Steffin’s list. We also had a first class football coach in Lester Miller. BHS was in a conference called the “Big Four.” The other schools were far larger than ours; however, Lester’s team won first place for three straight years!

Buchanan moved its sporting area to be nearer the high school: Victory Field. The high school football team used one area. We had a baseball field as well as a softball field. Clarence and I would play baseball in a league in the late afternoon and then we’d move to the softball field. Some businesses had teams in one league, and in addition to the high school baseball team, a group of high school guys who played at both Victory Field and “on the road.” There was also a church league! It was a busy, busy field during the summer. We also had leagues for basketball. I remember having to guard Coach Ray Steffen and I do remember his elbows!

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our first issue of September.

*The Buchanan Chronicle wishes to provide a venue for guest writers to be showcased. We may edit but only for typos, language, or length; as we desire to present submissions as received.*

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