‘The Rockland Horror 3’ and the Model T

The next installment of The Rockland Horror series is set in 1917, early in the age of the automobile. 

That, of course, means Henry Ford’s iconic Model T. The Ford Motor Company  manufactured  the Model T between 1908 and 1927.

The Model T was mass-produced with simple specifications. The car originally came only in black, though a few other color choices were added in later model years.

The Model T was also quite affordable. The base price for a 1916 Model T Runabout was just $345, or $8,324.76 in 2021 dollars.  This was, obviously, much cheaper than just about any car manufactured for the U.S. market today.

But this simplicity came at a price. If the Model T was cheap (even by early 20th-century standards) it was also far more difficult to use than modern vehicles.

The Rockland Horror 3 (now in production) will be a horror novel, not a book about early automobiles. But the story does involve some car chase scenes, and I wanted to make these scenes reasonably authentic.

My maternal grandfather was born in 1921, and even he never owned a Model T. Driving the Model T is one of those experiences that has passed out of “living memory”, so to speak.

I therefore went to YouTube, where there were, indeed, a few videos about starting and driving the Model T. I’ve embedded two of them here.

You probably already know about the crank start. But even that isn’t the worst of it. To start a Model T, you had to arrange a series of switches and levers inside the car in the right combination. Then you had to “choke” the engine by priming it with gasoline, and then…

Let’s just say it’s complicated!

Winter wonderland, writing updates

As the above view from my front porch suggests, Ohio’s plunge into the Ice Age continues unabated.

This afternoon we had about three hours of ice pellets on top of last night’s snow. So…the snow that was already on the ground now has a thick, icy glaze.

I believe I’ve had about enough winter until the 2030s, thank you.

But as long as the power holds out, the writing continues.

At present I’m about halfway through Book Two of The Rockland Horror saga. You can preview Book One below. And remember: For the time being, at least, you can read it in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

I’m working on the first two books of another series as well, but I’ll provide more details on that later.

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is nicer there. But if you’re anywhere in the mainland United States, odds are that your weather is pretty bad, too. This has been a rough February, weather-wise.

1970s blizzard years

Those awful, wonderful winters from 1976 to 1978

This past week two consecutive winter storms dropped more than a foot of snow on Cincinnati. I managed to shovel two driveways, twice, without a.) throwing out my back, b.) re-repturing my 2005 hernia, or c.) having a heart attack. At my current age of fifty-two, I consider that a not unnoteworthy accomplishment.

The winter of 2020 to 2021 has been a rough one so far in Cincinnati, especially compared to the past three or four. Yet more snow is forecast to arrive later this week.

Of course, for American adults around my age—especially if they grew up east of the Mississippi—there are two childhood winters that stand out in memory: those are the back-to-back “blizzard winters” in the mid-1970s: the winter of 1976 to 1977, and the winter of 1977 to 1978.

The winter of 1976 to 1977

The winter of 1976 to 1977 was the winter of record-breaking, pipe-bursting, river-freezing cold. Here in Cincinnati, there were three straight days of record cold in January 1977, in which the temperature stayed below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.

The Ohio River froze solid—for the first time since 1958, and only the thirteenth time on record. In the Cincinnati media archives, there are photos of people walking across the Ohio River, and even driving across the ice that month. The freezing of the Ohio was quite a novelty, much talked about on the local news. One of my older friends has told me about driving his car across the Ohio River that winter on a dare. He was then nineteen years old, and he’s now in his sixties. So he obviously made it across.

January of 1977 was also a snowy one. Cincinnati had 30.3 inches of snow that year. (The usual figure for Cincinnati in January is six inches.)

Photo: Kenton County Library
Photo: Kenton County Library

The winter of 1977 to 1978

The following winter of 1977 to 1978 was just as bad, with almost as much cold, and even more snow. On January 25, 1978, one of the worst blizzards in U.S. history pummeled Cincinnati with almost seven inches of snow. There were already fourteen on the ground.

I remember the night of January 25, 1978 well. I played forward on our fourth-grade basketball team. That night we had a game at a rival Catholic school in the area, Guardian Angels. I remember walking outside at halftime with other members of my team. The air was not exceptionally cold yet by January standards. (It would soon plummet below zero degrees.) But there was a strange fog in the air. I think we all had the feeling that something momentous was imminent. On the way home from the game, the snow began. By morning, it was a whiteout.

Winter landscapes of the memory

At the age of eight or nine, one doesn’t have much life experience to draw upon. I could sense, though, that those two winters were worse than the handful of winters I could recall before. During those two winters, the outside air always seemed to be bitterly cold. Furnaces ran constantly. Fireplaces crackled nonstop. The ground was always snow-covered.

Many people are depressed by snow and cold weather, and winter in general. Not me. I will confess that some of my happiest childhood memories are winter ones, in fact.

I was particularly close to my maternal grandparents. During those blizzard years of the 1970s, they lived just down the street from us. When school was canceled due to inclement weather, I got to pass the day with my grandfather, who had recently retired. We spent a lot of time together in those years. I’m grateful for all the snow.

The cyclical nature of winter weather

It has been my observation that bad and mild winters tend to alternate in cycles. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, the winters were harsh, with record cold and snow.

The winter of 1981 to 1982 was cold. The Cincinnati Bengals went to the Super Bowl that year. On January 10, 1982, the Bengals won a key home game against the San Diego Chargers. The air temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on game day was minus nine degrees, with wind chills down to 35 below. That game has gone down in NFL history as the “Freezer Bowl”.

I was in the eighth grade in 1981-1982, and going through a (brief, in retrospect) rebellious adolescent phase. This included hanging out with an edgier crowd, and embracing a short-lived fascination with smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

Even in 1982, smoking and drinking weren’t acceptable pursuits for eighth graders. But hiding these illicit activities from adult authority figures was half the fun. I have many memories of shivering outside that bitter January, as I sipped a furtive drink of whiskey, or smoked a Marlboro. Even today, when I happen to smell someone else’s newly opened pack of cigarettes, or taste an alcoholic beverage, I’m transported back to that brutally cold winter of 1981 to 1982.

The last bad winter I remember from that larger cycle was the winter of 1983 to 1984. That winter brought record cold and snow to the entire United States, including Florida and Texas. As I recall, there was a lot of anxiety about the citrus crop that year, and skyrocketing prices of orange juice.

Over Christmas break in December 1983, my parents decided to embark on a rare family trip to Florida. When we reached Macon, Georgia, it was 4 degrees, with 23 degrees forecast for our destination in the Sunshine State. After spending a night shivering in a Macon hotel room with an inadequate heater, my parents decided to cut our losses. We headed home the next morning. We could freeze in Ohio for free, after all.

But the weather is no more constant than anything else in this world. That cycle of severe winters, from 1976 to 1984, transitioned into a milder pattern over subsequent years. The winters of 1984-1985 and 1985-1986 weren’t exactly balmy; but they weren’t severe, either. Throughout my last two years of high school, classes were rarely canceled due to weather. This was fine with me, because I generally enjoyed high school more than grade school.

And during my college years, spanning the winters of 1986 to 1987 through 1990 to 1991, the winters in Cincinnati were notably mild. I did not go away for college; I lived with my parents and commuted to two local schools. I did not miss a single class due to bad winter weather throughout my entire college career.

That mild cycle continued through the early 1990s, only to go the other way again in the middle of the decade. The winter of 1995 to 1996 was an especially bad one for the entire Midwest, resulting in a rare shutdown of the University of Cincinnati in January of ’96. By this time, I was a working adult in my mid-twenties.

The winter of 1995 to 1996 drew comparisons in the media to the blizzard winters of the mid-1970s. I remember scoffing when I heard this. Having been a kid during those fabled winters of the 1970s, I never took the comparison seriously.

But then, everything seems to happen on a larger scale when you’re a kid…even the weather.

Scary Christmases gone by

Krampus, Dickens, and what I saw on Christmas Eve, 1976

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Yes, I know this has been a lousy year. It’s almost over, though.

Christmas is generally a festive holiday, but there are some macabre Christmas traditions, too. And they didn’t necessarily begin with this very macabre year of 2020.

Consider, for example, the Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. This is one of my holiday favorites. Who can forget the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which reminds us of the Grim Reaper? Or, for that matter, Marley’s ghost?

Krampus and St. Nicholas

In some parts of Europe, Christmas includes the Krampus, a horned creature that incorporates both Christian and pre-Christian (pagan) traditions. In Germanic folklore, the Krampus works in conjunction with St. Nicholas, rewarding children who have been good, and punishing those who have been bad.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me on Christmas Eve many years ago…in 1976.

I was at my grandparents’ house in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. The family had just had our Christmas Eve dinner—Grandma’s turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. (My grandmother also used to prepare a festive gelatin salad made with raspberry Jell-O, diced nuts, sliced carrots, and Cool Whip. (I realize that might not sound very tasty, but it was.))

Anyway, I had just left the table for a call of nature. This took me to a hallway in another part of the house.

There in the semidarkness of the hallway, I saw the shadow of a small, gnomish creature. It was right there, within lunging distance of me, cast on the wall.

I was startled—though not necessarily in mortal terror. Being eight years old in 1976, I ran back into the dining room, and told the adults.

There was something in the hall!

They accompanied me back to the hallway where I’d seen the unusual shadow. Needless to say, it was gone.

But there had been something there. I know there was.

My grandparents lived in that house for the rest of their lives. I was close to my grandparents, and visited them often, well into my adult years.

I never saw anything there resembling that gnome shadow figure again. Nor did I ever see any other other strange phenomena in the house.

But I know that something made a brief visit there on Christmas Eve, 1976.

A bad elf, maybe? I don’t know. But like I said, I saw something.

Gen X-ers and the mall

The other day, quite on a whim, I shared the above photo for my personal Facebook tribe, which consists disproportionately of former high school and grade school classmates. (I am 52 years old, and I was recently reunited on Facebook with a fellow who sat behind me in our third grade classroom. But that’s another story for another time.)

The above is the entrance to Beechmont Mall, on the east side of Cincinnati, Ohio. Beechmont Mall was opened in 1969, the year after I was born; and the above photo is from circa 1973. Beechmont Mall was a fixture of my childhood and adolescent years. 

Beginning around 2000, Beechmont Mall was gradually dismantled, and replaced with an outdoor monstrosity now known as Anderson Towne Center. Twenty years later, what is left of Beechmont Mall would be virtually unrecognizable to a time traveler from 1970, 1980, or 1990. 

Beechmont Mall was a place of wonders. There were bookstores, a record shop, and several well-stocked department stores. During the holiday season, there were elaborate Christmas displays.

Anderson Towne Center’s main draw is a Kroger grocery store that vaguely resembles a state correctional facility. We used to hang out at Beechmont Mall. No one wants to hang out at Anderson Towne Center.

I posted the above photo in my personal Facebook feed without expecting too much reaction. To be honest, I’d realized that with last month’s election and all, I’d been posting too much partisan political content there. I wanted to lighten the tone a bit. 

I didn’t expect many reactions…maybe a like or two. But the photo got lots of likes. Almost immediately, my old friends and classmates began typing comments, detailing their fond memories of Beechmont Mall. 

I wasn’t the only person who missed Beechmont Mall. Not by a long shot, as it turned out.

If you didn’t grow up on the east side of Cincinnati between 1970 and 2000, Beechmont Mall and the above photo mean nothing to you. I get that. This is my nostalgia, not necessarily yours.

But beyond the little corner of America where I grew up, there was a Golden Age of the American mall, between roughly 1970 and 1999. This is evidenced in the films of the late 20th century. Consider the centrality of the mall used in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and other Reagan-era teen movies. 

The local mall was a place to people-watch and to be seen. It was a place to go to dinner with your parents. (But you didn’t want to be seen by any of your classmates on those outings, because going to dinner with one’s parents was just so uncool, no matter how much you loved them.) The mall was  a place to spend your grass-cutting or babysitting money on the latest album from Def Leppard or AC/DC. I bought many Stephen King novels at Beechmont Mall’s two bookstores, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

Many of us had our first jobs at the local mall, too. I worked for a time at the Woolworth at Beechmont Mall. This was a Woolworth store built on the original model, complete with a little diner inside the store. The Woolworth had a unique, mid-2oth century environment. It was a time capsule of sorts even in 1985.  I enjoyed working there. 

By the time we entered our early twenties and college/working life, the magic of the local mall had faded for most of us. But the mall was a good place to be a kid or a teenager in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s.

The American mall can’t be replaced by today’s impersonal outdoor shopping centers. Nor can it be replaced by Amazon, even with free 2-day shipping.

Opening mall scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Pre-holiday blahs, and a May duck

Taken in May

We are in that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ordinarily, this season is festive, but it doesn’t feel very festive this year. 

Many schools have already been closed until January, owing to coronavirus. Vaccines will be distributed later this month. For now, though, both deaths and hospitalizations continue to increase.

Political turmoil continues in the United States, and there are fresh questions about the integrity of last month’s general election. 

And to make matters even gloomier, this week a cold front descended on the eastern half of the United States. Over the space of a few days, temperatures plummeted. Here in Cincinnati, we had our first snow of the season.

I had thought about posting a photo of the first snow. But who wants to look at cold weather? 

So instead, here is a photo that I took on May 15 of this year—only a few weeks before the nationwide urban riots began. I was returning from a morning walk, and a wild duck was perambulating about my front lawn. 

When the weather and the news are gloomy, it’s always worthwhile to remember that better times are both behind us and ahead of us. Enjoy your day, faithful reader, and stay safe.

Thanksgiving, COVID, and ouija boards

As I mentioned in a previous post, I declined to attend a gathering with extended family on Thanksgiving Day.

Why? Because I’m an antisocial curmudgeon? (Well, maybe just a little.) Mostly, though, I declined to attend because I was concerned about COVID. I also didn’t want my 74-year-old father to attend, and he would have gone had I gone.

I’m in my early 50s and in excellent health. Unless you’re extremely young and extremely fit, I can probably outrun you. I can probably bench press more than you, too. I haven’t had so much as a cold in more than three years. I take no prescription meds. I don’t even have a regular physician.

I think I would be relatively resistant to COVID, as people go. That said, messing with communicable diseases that become global pandemics is a bit like playing with a ouija board. I don’t know what the outcome would be, but I don’t want to find out. I therefore declined to attend my customary Thanksgiving dinner with extended family.

Today I received a phone call from one of my relatives, and guess what? One of the Thanksgiving Day attendees has since tested positive for coronavirus. Now they all have to get tested, and quarantine. Hopefully none of them ends up seriously ill.

Speaking of my dad: His former business partner recently spent two weeks in the hospital with COVID. He’s sixty-five. So far as can be determined, he caught COVID from his twenty-something son, who still resides in his house.

The moral of the story? COVID is a real thing. It’s highly contagious. Take it seriously, folks. If all goes according to plan with the vaccine distribution, this can all be behind us in a few months. Until then, do what you need to do to keep yourself and others healthy. And don’t become a super-spreader.

Remember: messing with COVID is like playing with a ouija board. Maybe nothing will happen to you or anyone you love; but why take the chance?