Classic Tales of Old Dorp: Train soot, no air conditioning among things we don’t miss

Larry Hart recalls things from the "old days" that he didn't miss in Classic Tales of Old Dorp.

The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart’s long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Readers know Hart loved writing about his favorite things from the “good old days” — ice cream men, trolley cars, traffic cops and neighborhood theaters among them. But Larry didn’t like everything about the first half of the 1900s, and mentions a few of them here. This column excerpt originally was published Feb. 21, 1984.

Things we don’t miss from the “good old days:”

— The old Western Gateway Bridge, scene of many accidents, although many as a result of driver carelessness. Dead Man’s Curve near the city end was the dumbest thing a bridge architect ever devised. Its replacement, the present Western Gateway, opened Dec. 19, 1973 — exactly 48 years to the day when the first bridge had its unveiling — and has been a big improvement.

— The summer heat indoors, especially where one worked long hours, before air-conditioning. Electric fans had little effect, but canvas awnings helped. Restaurants and theaters lost money during hot spells. People preferred to stay home and suffer.

— Trolley tracks in the middle of the street. Though the electric cars were a boon to this city when urban and interurban routes mushroomed some 80 years ago, the steel rails were treacherous for driving (especially when leaves, rain or snow fell) and street cleaning made more difficult. Little thoroughfares such as Schenectady Street off Albany Street suffered worst in this respect, although downtown State Street seemed wider and cleaner once the tracks were removed in the mid-’50s.

— Some unfeeling, inconsiderate practices even within our own school system in the 1930s, when times were tough for children who qualified for free skim milk were called by name at lunch time to pick up their freebies. Or when those who could not afford a dime to see a special program in the auditorium were left behind in the classroom. And the lack of good counseling services in those earlier days for high school students aspiring to higher education.

— The grime caused by the steam railroad engines as they passed through Schenectady. Nearby buildings were liberally sprinkled with soot or coal ash, which even filtered through window sills, and many a downtown pedestrian blinked from a cinder in the eye.

— The work of removing snow from one’s driveway and walks after a big storm. It took hours of backbreaking work shoveling a way through. Snow removal in the streets took time, too, as manual labor often was used, and side streets were impassable, sometimes for days.

We are aware of the disparity between the things we miss and don’t miss in this old town of ours. That’s a common ailment among people who can remember things as they were over a half century ago. Why is it that much of what we took for granted, even tolerated, so many years ago now is sorely missed?

Nostalgia’s rose-colored glasses, which turn everything into what seems to have been a utopian world, have done it again.

Categories: Life and Arts

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