Cold Weather – Warm Memories – Past and Yet To Come

For many of us, the weather over the last two weeks has been a bit “brisk” to say the least. I would imagine that many of you have had to dig out of considerable snowfall amounts and/or battle inhumane, freezing temperatures.

Quiet After the Storm 2-11-10

View of our frozen canal!!!!

It’s no different where I live. Here on the Eastern Shore, we have had to content with the same crazy weather. The temperature very early yesterday morning was -5°! That was WITHOUT the wind chill factor. If I just stayed in my house with the fire going and a hot cup of coffee, it wouldn’t have bothered me. However, as my luck would have it, that was the exact time that one of my dogs decided they needed to relieve themselves.

Bravely, I bundled myself up much like our mothers did when we were little. In lieu of the thermals I didn’t own, I kept on my flannel pajama bottoms and pulled my jeans over them. Next came a thick pair of socks that barely allowed me to pull my boots on. I pulled on a turtle neck and then focused on my outerwear. By this time, my poor dog’s eyes and legs were crossed as she looked at me pleadingly.

A few years ago, I attended a Halloween costume party and dressed as Ozzy Osborne. The costume included a very long black leather coat, down lined, that I found at Goodwill for $35.00. When the weather gets crazy cold, only in the dark of night or very early in the morning when everyone in the neighborhood is still sleeping, I’ll venture out of the house wearing that coat which is incredibly warm. I pulled on my Ozzy coat, my black ski mask, my faux fur aviator hat, complete with ear flaps and my insulated gloves and was at last ready to face the cold. I was happy and warm and my dogs were thoroughly relieved! So knowing that both of my daughters would be totally humiliated if they were present, I threw open the door and bravely tackled the skin numbing temperatures.

 I know we had similar days in Duquesne when we were young, but I don’t ever recall the temperature being so bone chilling! Perhaps it was because our bones were a lot younger back then and impervious to the frigid temperatures.

 This type of weather would have been perfect for creating “ice tracks” in Prune Alley, directly behind Holy Name Church, convent and school. Much to chagrin of the good sisters, the older boys at Holy Name were very adept at building awesome ice tracks that we would “foot ski” along on. We knew the very best incline was from about the middle of the back of the church down to start of the garage that sat behind the convent. Prime space! During freezing temperatures, we’d all toss handfuls of snow onto the track which would be packed down and ultimately ice up under the continuous slide of our shoes over its surface. We were masters of our craft. Quite honestly, I am surprised that ice track sliding never became an Olympic event!

 Well, it’s time to warm up a bit. Thanks to one of friends and readers, Eileen TOKAR Lilley, we have some very heartwarming memories and one potential event that would be so much fun. Eileen had sent me some wonderful family pictures to share with all of you, but the perfect opportunity had never risen to do so until now. Seeing them will certainly bring back some very warm memories of being a child in Duquesne and the backyard and neighborhood adventures we used to have. But first, I wanted to share a bit of current news that Eileen wanted to suggest. A few days ago, Eileen sent me the follow message and idea:



I don’t know if you are planning a trip to Duquesne, but I thought what an idea to try to bring some of the “Duquesne Hunky bloggers” together at the tribute dance for TL. If you could include my previous e-mail in your blog to get the word out, that would be great. Maybe they could even set up a reserved table or 2 or 20 for us bloggers. What fun!

tl 1

 tl 3

I think it would be SO much fun for us to get together for this event. I certainly am going to try to make it back home for this tribute. I hope some of you are able to come as well. If you are interested, please drop me an email at and let me know. I’ll keep you all updated on the interest level. Considering that on March 8 last year, the low temperature was 29°, it will be great to warm-up together while listening to the TL Sound once again. 

Now here’s a special treat for you. Eileen sent some wonderful photos to share with all of you. Fortunately, they were all taken when the weather was warm, bright and sunny, so they’ll instantly remind you of the warmer days to come. She also included captions for each of the pictures. If anyone else has pictures to share, I would love to be the vehicle to do so. You can scan and email them to me or send them to me and I promise to return them if you want me to. Your call. Now, grab a hot cup of coffee or any beverage of your choice and enjoy this little trip back to Duquesne. Location –Orchard Court – Off of Center Street!


Compare this picture to the one you have of the Crawford Mansion and you’ll see the twist in the middle branch of the tree to my right is what’s exactly on the picture. There’s one of the stone columns with the gate which are gone now.



Here’s the other stone column. Our house was the 2nd on the left on both this and the preceding picture. I’m standing on the far right of the front yard. There’s a hill behind me which slopes down to the front yard of the house next to ours. This picture was taken approx. 1952.


(Note from Jim – I superimposed the column that Eileen is referring to onto the picture of the Crawford Mansion. I’m convinced that it was certainly part of Duquesne’s history! Good going Eileen! Take a look for yourself.)

Compare to Mansion

(Note from Jim: To gain the perspective of where the majority of Eileen’s photos were taken, I pulled up a Google map to illustrate:)

Orchard Ct

The next three pictures are called “Steeltown Cowgirl.” You can see the mill in the background of #6. #7 is me standing on the edge of the middle of my front yard with the street behind me and seeing the house across the street. I’m facing our house. The last picture was taken in Kennywood to the left as you first walked in to Kiddieland. (Note from Jim – The pony doesn’t seem to be too thrilled with his “profession! Also, notice the politically incorrect little guy in the front yard in the 2nd picture. Times were so much more innocent then. )




I’m on the right. The girl on the left lived in the first house on the opposite side of the street, but only for a short time. I don’t remember her name. (Does anyone know her?) AT the far left is a wall that stops before the swimming pool. Could it have possibly been part of the Crawford’s Mansion or grounds?


This caption should read “I hope someone is watching us or we are going to roll down the hill to Kennywood!” This was taken at my Grandma’s house in West Mifflin on Glencairn, the street going up the hill out of the old back gate off of the parking lot at Kennywood. You can see part of the bathouse of the Kennywood swimming pool in the background. Can you imagine the view we had of the fireworks? This taken in 1950.


This is a photo of me standing in our front yard, ready for church. This was before the trees were cut down. My dad painted something on the tree to prevent disease, but their real killer was the utility company who had them all cut down.



For this picture, my dad was standing in our neighbor’s front yard to take it. Notice the wall is the same as the ones across the street and again, could have been part of the Crawford Mansion.


This is the first day of school as I began 4th grade in 1958 at Crawford Elementary. Mrs. McGowan is holding the door. Notice the segregation ? White girls in the middle, white boys to the far right, black girls to the far left and finally, black boys to the far right. That’s Vincent Kollar next to Mrs. McGowan.


 I hope you all enjoyed these photos as much as I did. Eileen’s surroundings evoked so many memories. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU EILEEN!!!! I hope you will consider sharing some of your own photos as well.

Don’t forget to think about the TL Tribute Dance in March!!

I thought I’d close this post with two screen shots of Center Street as it is today. Still as awesome as it was when we were kids.

Center Street View 1

 Center Street View 2















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29 Responses to Cold Weather – Warm Memories – Past and Yet To Come

  1. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Wow, Jim. Another great post. I recall Center Street very well. Sometime in the early 70’s the clutch on my VW breathed it’s last on that hill. It cost $49 to get it fixed at Mooney’s VW in McKeesport. All the money in the world at that time.

  2. Just found your blog. My mother and grandparents lived in Duquesne. The emigrated in 1926, he went to work in the mill and went to English classes the same week. They came from Germany but Eastern Europe but they were all the same; the came to find work and a better life for themselves and their families. The lived on Carl Street and the house is no longer there.
    My Irish ancestors worked in the mills and lived in Braddock, North Braddock and East Pittsburgh. It is the same thing over in those communities. I am surprised that no one has formed a Historical Society for the immigrants who worked along the banks of the Mon in the mills.

  3. Jack Schalk says:

    One of my life’s scary moments occurred at the top of Center St. I borrowed a friend’s beautiful white 1940 Ford coupe that he had restored and drove it home to show my Dad. My friend lived in McKeesport and in the process of taking it back, the brakes went out at the top of Center St. Luckily for all concerned, I had not yet made the turn downhill. I stopped the car up against a telephone pole at the very top. I don’t know if I would have ridden it out or not.

    • Lou Andriko says:

      Jack, I may not have you beat, but here’s MY story: In 1975, at 19, as a student at DU, I ‘bought’ my first car from my uncle, a 1963 Ford LTD convertible with over 120,000 miles. He gave me the car and I gave him $50 for the fire engine red paint job. Not long after, I was coming up Center Street and had just gotten over the 3rd dip when the engine just died and I began to roll backwards down the hill. Somehow, without power brakes, using the emergency foot brake, I managed to get stopped and just sat there, stunned. Then I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the gas tank sitting in the middle of the street at the first dip! The straps had both broken and the ‘Belgians’ had won another one! When the tow truck arrived, the driver had to call for another man to assist us. Did I mention that I had just gotten a fill up? The 25 gallon tank weighed about 150 pounds and without getting drenched, we were unable to lift it, let alone figure out where to put it.

      You can’t make this stuff up.

      • Jim says:

        Ok Lou, math has never one of my strengths, but how did you manage to be 19 in 1975?

      • Lou Andriko says:

        OOPS, I meant 1970…. besides, everything looks smaller in the rear view mirror!

      • Jim says:

        LOL! If have to be old, so do you Lou!

      • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

        Here’s another story, Lou, that’s not made up. I was in an accident in my blue CORVAIR in 1967 and several months after the car was repaired, it was making terrible noises and I told my dad it sounded like the engine was going to fall out (engines were in the back of the car) ((one of the most dangerous cars ever made)). I’m now driving over the McKeesport bridge to Duquesne to pick up the wedding veil that Mrs. Valiknac was making for me and hit a huge pothole about 3/4 of the way over. Started to slow down to make the 90 degree right turn, made the turn then stepped on the gas, but the car wouldn’t go. Pulled the car over off the road (this was before the houses were torn down on Duquesne Blvd) and into the dirt. Meanwhile, two men were across the street, walking home from the mill and stopped and watched what was transpiring. I got out of the car and lifted the hood??trunk?? (don’t know what I thought I was going to see or do about it)- – – AND THERE WAS NO ENGINE!!!! How did I make it this far from North Huntingdon, I thought??? You guessed it, IT WAS ON THE BRIDGE – and the two guys were bent over laughing and pointing to the bridge. They saw what happened and wanted to see the look on my face when I saw there was no engine. I wished I could have seen it!!! Well, the car was repaired again, and after the wedding took me and my husband to Charleston, SC – – towing a U-Haul with our belongings over the Blue Ridge Mountains! Needless to say, it caught fire several months later. Another Corvair bites the dust!

      • Jack Schalk says:

        Amen Lou, that would have been a chore getting that tank picked up.
        Duquesne streets were a lesson all to themselves. Stopping for the red lights on Kennedy Ave as a new driver, then getting started again when the light went green without killing the engine was a trial for a rookie.
        I did have one car that was made for this.
        I bought a used ’47 Studebaker in 1955 with standard shift, that had a hill holder incorporated into the clutch. Just let the clutch come up off the floor board and it would engage.
        I paid for this bit of magic with oil consumption. I had to buy it by the gallon.

  4. Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

    Great job again, Jim! I feel like a celebrity…now I know how Kim Kardashian feels. Lol Regarding Center St – my dad petitioned many times to have sidewalks put in for us kids to walk on to get to school. They finally did, but they were nothing like the cement sidewalks at the bottom of the hill that the Crawfords probably put in when the wall around the property was put in. They were asphalt but we really thought we had come up in the world. The walk on the street was trecherous enough in good weather, you can only imagine what it was like on snow and ice. I remember wearing snow pants and boots and my feet were still soaking wet by the time I got to school. We then had to change into regular shoes and dry our socks on the heating units in the classroom. The snow pants would be hung in the cloak room and may or may not be dry at lunchtime. Then there was the slide down the hill and back again after lunch. How did we do it? Standing at the top of that hill at six years old and looking down was pretty daunting. Also, we had to contend with the snowballs being thrown by the boys when we got to the top. Not just your ordinary run of the mill snowballs, but ones that had a rock in the middle to really feel the effect through your coat and snow pants! Also regarding Center St – as you, and your readers probably already know, Center St was in a chase scene in the movie “Striking Distance” with Bruce Willis and Sara Jessica Parker from 1993. You can call up the movie on Google and see the chase on the movie trailer. There were 4 or 5 cars racing down the hill and flying off the bumps. You can repeat the scenes by clicking on the appropriate time frame on the scroll line during the trailer. I’m surprised its not in more movies, the city could sure put the money to good use. Lastly, count me and my husband in for the TL tribute. Hope to see you there.

    • Jim says:

      Thank YOU Eileen for sharing those wonderful photos with us. I promise to get them back to you a.s.a.p.! – Jim

      • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

        If you are able to come to the TL tribute and if its cold enough (Lol), please wear the Ozzy Osborne coat! Lmao

    • Lou Andriko says:

      Eileen, I can relate to the walk up/down Center Street. The bus to Serra HS made a run from up near Jim’s Hot Dogs, down to the Annex fire hall, down Kennedy through the city then out the Blvd and across the Duq-Mck Bridge. As I lived on Maryland Ave, it was the devil’s choice, either up to the Annex or down to the bottom of Center St., so usually in the AM, it was down Crawford and Center to stand in the bitter cold/snow/rain, etc. More than once I’d be half way down and see the school bus fly thru the light and not wait for me; so back up the hill and beg a ride from Dad. From way back, I remember the homes and stores, etc.,( ie. waiting in front of Jimmy Pucci’s Magistrate office for the street car into Pgh) but this was in ’65-’67, everything along the Blvd had already been torn down and there wasn’t even a bus shelter.
      BTW – you might have known another Serra man, Johnny Wodyla (sp.?), about Jim’s age….he’s a few months YOUNGER than I. LOL

      • K. Miller says:

        Lou: Talk about a flashback! I knew Johnny Wodyla (sp?). I can’t believe you mentioned his name. Do you know if he is still in that area? I met Johnny in the late 60’s. Do you know anything about him? Karen

      • Lou Andriko says:

        I remember Johnny from my junior year at Serra, I think he was a freshman. We both caught the chartered bus to Serra at the bottom of Center St. Haven’t seen him since then. By senior year, I was carpooling with Dave Holko who lived up near Holy Trinity cemetery; he had a tiny MGB without a starter, had to push start it and catch it in 2nd gear.

      • Karen Miller says:

        Would love to hear where Johnny Wodyla is now. He seemed like a nice guy. He told me that he had a newspaper route somewhere, maybe McKeesport, and while he was riding the truck, he was shot.

  5. K. Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing these pictures. They bring back great memories. My Mom was born in a house on Oak Street, as you go up Center Street it was on the left, the second house in. She use to tell us about the Crawford Mansion. .

    • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

      Would love to hear about the mansion. You can e-mail if you’d like at

      • Karen Miller says:

        Eileen: I remember where your house was located. I knew a guy (not well), who lived on Orchard Court, his name was Paul or Paulie Baron (?), I know it started with a “B”, he was probably born between 1953 – 1955. Do you happen to know who I mean, if you mentioned his last name I would know it.
        Over the years the term “hunky” has become very endearing. My mom grew up not being fond of the term, she was probably teased at school. But my Grandma didn’t mind it, in the old country she said she went to “Hunky Tech” LOL. When I came upon this site I just laughed, I knew exactly what Jim meant.
        I was born in McKeesport Hosp., my parents moved to a suburb of Philly when the Fairless Works Steel Mill opened. If you read my earlier posts, you can figure out where my grandparents lived, I spend time each summer with them and my cousins in Duquesne and got to know many different people, this was back when you felt safe walking the streets. Great memories!
        To answer your question, I was surprised to hear the mansion existed. I have two aunts who remember it. I understand there was a fountain and/or a fish pond with a bench on the property that they passed as they crossed the property to get to the bottom of the hill to catch the bus. I guess the Crawfords allowed them to walk through the property. They also talked about an irrigation system on the property. My grandparents house had a balcony on the back where they could watch the happenings of the mansion below. My aunts are waiting for me to send the articles that were posted, I’m sure it will spark their memories.
        Eileen, did you go to DHS? If so when did you graduate?

    • Rita Sisley Gallo says:

      The second house on Oak St, on the left, belonged to my grandparents, the Salopeks?? It was 902 Oak St. The house has been torn down.

      • K. Miller says:

        My Mom was born in 1922. She was born in that house, with the help of a mid-wife. My grandparents probably rented it while they built their house at 1023 Oak Street, which was on the other side of the dead end on Oak Street off Center Street.

        Back in that time, there were about 6 houses on the other side of the dead end on Oak Street, I believe there was also a church. My Grandparents bought this land on the other side, next to the Crawford property. After the houses were built on Orchard Court, there was still lots of land left at the end of Orchard Court, at the dead end. This property ran up and over the hill. It was very private. He had wanted to buy more of the Crawford property to extend his house, but he did not know how to contact Mrs. Crawford.

        This land was mostly woods, but because it was forgotten and abandoned, it became very dense. There was fencing along the property lines, from when the mansion was there, but over the years it collapsed. Rita do you have any pictures of the house. I would love to have a picture of the house where she was born. Karen

    • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

      Hi Karen, I remember the Barron family who lived in the last house at the very end of Orchard Court. Their daughter Janice was a year or two older than me but I don’t remember Paulie. I graduated in 1967 from Norwin High School ( we moved in ’64 from Duquesne). I do remember most of the last names of the families who lived there but I never knew about the fountain or fish pond.

    • Rita Sisley Gallo says:

      I found the deed to my grandparents home on Oak St and it shows they purchased it April 30, 1919…it was sold to them by James McKeegan and was part of the Crawford Estate. This is the home that you were talking about that your mother was born in. I would love to know more about the home and if you could pass on any info I would appreciate it. Thank you so much. Rita

      • K. Miller says:

        I wish I had more information. My mom passed away in 1999. My Aunt called today and she said that my grandparents lived in that house before they bought the property at 1023 Oak Street. They were probably renting the house at that time. The last time I saw the house, many years ago, it had been abandoned and was covered with overgrown shrubs and vines, and eventually, I guess they knocked it down. If I find anything with the exact house number, I will let you know. I know if you were going up Center Street, it was on the left on Oak Street, the second house in. It would be facing you as you climbed Center Street.

      • K. Miller says:

        Rita: I just checked Google Maps and 902 Oak Street is the first house on the street, it still shows the house standing and it is in pretty good shape. You can see the property next door is overgrown and you can barely see the roof of the house. That is the one that my grandparents lived in. I don’t think it was 902, but the house next door. Karen

  6. Debbie Gavlik says:

    I went to Holy Name school with a little girl named Daria Betsch (?sp) who lived on Orchard Court. I remember going to a birthday party at her house. She wasn’t in school with me very long.

    • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

      I remember Mrs. Betsch and a son named Christopher. Mrs. Betsch made my wedding cake for my reception at the Slovak Club in Duquesne even though we had moved to North Huntingdon 4 years earlier. When we planned my wedding, the only date available at the Slovak Club around the time we wanted was on a Friday night. Unheard of to have a wedding on Friday back then, but we wanted the food at the Slovak Club, so we booked it and everyone understood when we told them why! (Chicken, stuffed cabbage, etc, lol)

  7. Joe Haver says:

    Orchard Court… My uncle owned a tavern at the bottom of Center St. Soboslay’s Cafe. Spent many Friday evening there eating home made deviled crabs and playing bumper pool. All went away with the new road. Remember how Thr trolleys had to,stop and ring a bell when the cars were parked to close to the tracks? A note from Sally Morini, there was a Morini’s market at the bottom of center, any relation? Thanks for the memories..

  8. sally morini says:

    Great photos and memories of sliding down the hill behind Holy Name, I remember that well., .

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