Pap: Manila Police Station or Hike Shoe Factory? – Manila, Philippines c. 1946/1947

It’s been far too long since I last posted some of my grandfather’s photographs of his service in the United States’ draft army and the time he spent in Manila, Philippines during the interim between World War II and the Korean War. In honor of Veteran’s Day today, I think it’s time to get back to sharing more of the wonderful historical photographs that my pap took during his travels. He was fortunate enough not to have to serve during war, but he still witnessed its horrific aftermath. It’s amazing and heartbreaking how much damage and loss you can still see in these pictures more than a year after the city was destroyed in the month-long Battle of Manila (February 3 – March 3, 1945), the climax of Japan’s three-year military occupation of the Philippines during World War II. If you’d like to find out how my pap ended up in the Philippines in the first place, I suggest first reading the biography I’ve written about my pap (Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.) and then checking out the photographs that I’ve previously posted by searching under the “maternal grandfather” tag or by clicking here before continuing with more recent posts.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._1946-47_Manila, Philippines_21Moving on, here we have yet another photograph from the city of Manila which shows the utter destruction that happened to the city when American forces came to liberate the country during World War II. Japan attacked the Philippines the same day they bombed Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941 – and took over Manila almost a month later. I’ve touched upon the Battle of Manila in previous posts. Many people were interned and massacred and many of the city’s cultural, governmental and civic buildings were decimated by bombing and shellfire.

Part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to get back to this genealogical project is I am not 100% sure of the identify of this building. The ruins below could be of what’s referred to as the New Manila Police Station or they could possibly be of the Hike Shoe Factory.

What I do know, according to some of the online research I’ve done and some information from a source, is that both buildings were located at opposite corners at the intersection of Isaac Peral Street (now United Nations Avenue) and San Marcelino Street.   During the Battle of Manila, both the new police station and the three-story shoe factory along with other nearby buildings (i.e. the Manila Club, Santa Teresita College and San Pablo Church), were part of a Japanese stronghold in that section of the the city, with the police station as the focal point of the resistance. The American forces (1st Battalion of the 129th Infantry) eventually accessed the building, demolished it with artillery and tank fire and assumed control of the ruins. It took about eight full days to clear the Japanese from these buildings.

The Hike Shoe Factory was also destroyed in this battle.  Apparently the “hike shoe” was a type of shoe worn by soldiers in the United States Navy, I’m assuming this was a type of high grade, modern hiking boot.  Apparently it was made by the United States Shoe Co. that had a factory in Manila.

So which building is it? Was this the new police station after it was destroyed in the Battle of Manila? My reliable source John Tewell has identified this building as such. However, another picture of what’s also supposedly the new police station doesn’t resemble the building my pap captured on film. According to Wikipedia, the Manila Police Department transferred their headquarters in 1949 into a new building constructed using money from the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1948, so was this building instead the destroyed shoe factory before being rebuilt for the new and current police headquarters? There appears to be another building in the background – is the the Manila Club? If so, that would suggest this is the shoe factory as the club was reportedly located just north of the factory. I have seen maps that place the police station at both the northwest and northeast corners of the intersection. I have so many questions! If anybody can help me definitively identify this building and at which corner of the intersection it sits, I would very much appreciate it!



What I’ve been up to…

Greetings friends! I can’t believe it’s May already and we are a third of the way through 2014. Where has the time gone?!

I’ve managed to stay quite busy over the last few months, once I thawed out from this monstrous winter.  Still, I have many more projects planned and even more ideas swirling around in my head… and not enough time! When I’m not able to sit down and write a full-fledged blog post about my endeavors, I try to stay active on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – please follow me there, too!

Ligonier Swinging BridgeI’ve tried to stay active in the Ligonier community by attending some recent events, such as the Ligonier Ice Fest and Bob Stutzman’s talk on his new book, Images of Rail: The Ligonier Valley Rail Road. I’ve also written several feature stories for the Latrobe Bulletin, in addition to covering regular local government meetings.  Reporting for the newspaper has given me amazing opportunities to meet new folks, visit new places and learn about what’s going on in the Ligonier Valley. I’ve talked to many kind and extraordinary people while on assignment.  I often wonder if our paths would cross if I weren’t a writer.  Have a read:

Ligonier Theatre #02Plaque fundraiser to keep screen lit at historic Ligonier Theatre
-April 19-20, 2014
Kid-centric season planned at Fort Ligonier
-April 7, 2014
LWA seeks teens for summer program
-April 1, 2014

New Ligonier Valley Trail signs connect town, townshipLigonier Valley Trail Sign
-March 22-23, 2014
Ligonier Coffee House celebrates 10th season
-March 15-16, 2014
Valley Youth Network in 20th year helping Ligonier teens
-March 8-9, 2014


Dave and I took advantage of a lovely Easter respite to follow history along the roads of western Pennsylvania. We are very blessed to live in this region as history is truly in our backyard.  You know I love following my now-beloved Lincoln Highway, so we obviously ended up there, but we also followed an earlier road also significant to American history – the National Road, the country’s first federally funded highway, which originally connected the east coast to the Ohio River and generally followed much of the Braddock Road. Today, US Route 40 follows the road’s general alignment, so we basically headed east from Uniontown towards Maryland and stopped at several attractions along the way. Check out some of my pictures:

Fort NecessityMt. Washington TavernTollhouse in Addison, PA

National Road Mile MarkerBraddock Road RemnantBraddock's Grave

Music is also a big part of my life. I’ve been rehearsing with the Penn-Trafford Community Band and had the honor of playing flute for an Easter vigil at St. John de la Salle in Delmont, PA.   More exciting news: Dave has also been hard at work with one of his two bands, Bad Boy Blues Band.Bad Boy Blues Band #01  This spring, the Greensburg-based group released Temptation’s Coming, its first album of original music. It’s a unique mix of various styles, including modern blues and rockabilly. Dave produced and mixed the album. Check out the band’s website to find out when and where they’ll be playing this year.  You can purchase their album online via iTunes or CD Baby or at a show near you.  Please come out and support local musicians!

Peter Guibert Trek DrumsticksDave and I also met up with Yankee Drummer Jim Smith, who you may remember replicated Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the Gettysburg sesquicentennial last year, along with friend Ray Zimmerman, trek coordinator Len DeCarlo, and Peter Guibert’s original drum.  Check out my posts on their remarkable 200-mile journey here and here for more background.  I purchased one pair of the 250 pairs of drumsticks that Jim used along his trek – proceeds of which will fund a future monument honoring military musicians.  All 250 pairs were crafted from the wood harvested from pin oak and white oak trees certified to have stood during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863.  I am so honored to have played some small part in Jim and Ray’s historic journey, which is another point in a more than 150-year-old story that started with the Civil War, continued with veterans Peter Guibert and John Conroy, was commemorated by Jim and Ray and hopefully will be continued with the erection of a permanent monument. Again, what remarkable people I get to meet through my writing. If you’d like to purchase a pair of drumsticks, please contact me for more information.

I’m also gearing up to start some new Ligonier Valley Vignettes marketing and explore some other writing opportunities. I’ve also been extremely involved with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and their programming and fundraising events and it’s been wonderful (and crazy).  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2013Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for following me here over the past year. I really appreciate everyone’s support and friendship. The holidays are here, the year is winding down and it’s time for some reflection on this past year before making plans and goals for the next one.

2013 was an eventful year for me with the release of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, but I continued to work with the Latrobe Bulletin throughout the year by not only covering monthly meetings but also writing some features on happenings in the Ligonier Valley.  I was really pleased to be able to cover some great local stories this year.  I learned so much more about the Lincoln Highway than I ever knew before after meeting a traveling songstress (now friend) who passed through Ligonier during the road’s centennial. I heard stories of hope and healing from local veterans who traveled down through the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Ligonier townspeople of all ages accomplished extraordinary things this year, from charitable work in a third-world country to jumping rope through New York City on live television.  I also covered some recent holiday-themed events in town that hopefully sparked fond memories and reminded us all of the true reason for the season. Please enjoy!

“Vintage Christmas in Ligonier” display lights up library
-December 6, 2013
Ligonier churches to host 2nd annual “Christmas Story and Nativity Display”
-November 30 – December 1, 2013
Ligonier jump rope team in Macy’s Parade
-November 23-24, 2013
Local vets share stories of healing from Grand Canyon trip

-November 9-10, 2013
LV Library to celebrate dinosaur’s 10th birthday
-October 16, 2013
Grand Canyon rafting trip helps wounded vets heal
-October 7, 2013
Ligonier missionaries spread ministry in Nicaragua
-August 5, 2013
Lincoln Highway songstress celebrates road’s centennial
-May 1, 2013
Ligonier trail bridge for Mill Creek arrives
-March 15, 2013

My Veteran: Private First Class Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.

This Veterans Day, I’d once again like to say thank you to all of the veterans who have served and are still serving our country. In the past I’ve had the privilege of researching several Pennsylvania veterans’ lives for various articles I’ve written and I’ve gotten to talk to members of these veterans’ families as well as several surviving veterans. It’s been a pleasure to learn about these veterans’ lives as well as gain more understanding and appreciation for the military itself.

My pap: Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.

My pap: Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.

This year, I’m re-posting an updated biography I wrote two years ago about a living veteran I know personally: my grandfather, Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr. For a while I had been posting pictures from Pap’s time in the service until life got pretty busy. I hope to get back to posting some more pictures from his service because they are a fascinating look into American history as well as my family’s history.


Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr. was the seventh child born to parents Josephine Pasko and Louis Piotrowski on November 16, 1927 in Liberty Borough, Pennsylvania. The family eventually moved to 13th Street in the Third Ward section of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. After the Great St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 hit the Pittsburgh area, the Piotrowski family decided to move again, this time to the Christy Park district of McKeesport where Tom grew up with his seven brothers and sisters: Stanley, Victoria (Ploszay), John, Eleanor (Sharik), Caroline (Pzywarty), Sophie (Bondi) and Louis.

After graduating from McKeesport Area Vocational Technical High in 1945, Tom was drafted into active service with the Army of the United States (the draft force of the U.S. Army) on February 13, 1946. Although Private First Class Thomas Piotrowski’s service only lasted 14 1/2 months (eight months, 26 days continental service and 5 months, 28 days foreign service), he traveled across the country and across the Pacific within that amount of time.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._4-16-1946_Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD_02

A picture of “Tommy” taken at Aberdeen Proving Ground on April 16, 1946.

Tom left his job as a meat cutter at Cudhy Packing Company on Ring Gold Street in McKeesport to complete his basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. Aberdeen Proving Ground is the army’s oldest active proving ground, or weapons testing area, and where, according to Tom, the army tested the weapons for World War II before they moved out west for testing.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._April 1946_Bivouac at AP Hill, VA_01

Taken sometime in April 1946 at Fort A.P. Hill this photograph shows Tom (right) and fellow serviceman on a “bivouac” excursion at the end of their basic training. Grammie’s caption: “Boy! Do I like white.”

At the end of his basic training, Tom went to Fort A.P. Hill, located near Bowling Green, Virginia, to complete “bivouac” or camping training. His Separation Qualification Record from the Army of the United States says his military occupation assignment as a Basic Soldier (#521) lasted two months; based on this information and dates on the back of some of his pictures from Aberdeen, I would estimate his basic training primarily occurred from March to April, 1946.

Ordnance Corps Regimental Insignia

Tom was in the 336th Ordnance Depot Company, which he remembers was characterized by a “flaming bomb” insignia. The U.S. Army Ordnance Corps is a sustainment branch dealing with the army’s combat power. After his basic training, Tom went to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland where he attended service schools for both cook (eight weeks) and mess sergeant (four weeks). According to Tom, a mess sergeant was the person responsible for supervising the kitchen; he ordered the food and fuel for the stoves, kept track of schedules and kept attendance.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._June 1946_Fort Meade, MD_01

In this photograph, taken sometime in June 1946, Tom is standing outside of the School For Bakers & Cooks at Fort Meade.

During this time, Tom learned how to cook for soldiers in the regular mess hall (“family style”), the consolidated mess hall (for hundreds of soldiers), the commissioned officers’ mess hall and the stockade. According to a list of mailing addresses kept by his future wife, it appears he returned to Aberdeen Proving Grounds after attending these service schools. His time at Fort Meade probably spanned May through August of 1946.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._Aug-Sept 1946_Ferry from Camp Stoneman, CA to San Francisco_01

We believe this picture was taken on the ferry from Camp Stoneman to San Francisco, CA, probably in late August or early September of 1946.

After a two-week leave, Tom boarded a train in Pittsburgh and traveled across country, stopping in Chicago along the way. His destination was Camp Stoneman, a U.S. Army military facility located in Pittsburg, California. From Pittsburgh to Pittsburg!  Camp Stoneman was was the largest West Coast troop staging area for deploying troops to the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II and the Korean War. After a brief stay at Camp Stoneman, Tom traveled to San Francisco via ferry where he boarded the naval transport USS General H. W. Butner and departed for the Western Pacific Theater of Operations (WPTO) in Manila, Philippines on September 9, 1946.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._September 1946_USS General H.W. Butner to Manila, Phillippines_02

Here’s Tom en route to Manila, Philippines via the USS General H.W. Butner.

While traveling through the South Pacific, the USS General H. W. Butner made stops in Hawaii, Kwajalein Atoll, Guam, and Samar, Philippines before arriving at Manila, Philippines on October 15, 1946. The United States has used Kwajalein Atoll for military purposes since 1944, including establishing it as the main support site for Operation Crossroads, a weapons-testing program designed to test the effects of nuclear weapons on naval ships conducted at nearby Bikini Atoll in 1946. While passing by Kwajalein Atoll, Tom saw several of the surviving target ships brought back and anchored in the lagoon.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._1947_Manilla, Philipines

I like this picture taken with “Red,” who Tom (left) remembers was the head cook at Manila.

While stationed in downtown Manila for four months (his foreign service is listed as lasting five months and 28 days to be exact), Tom served as a cook at the regular mess hall. His highest military occupational specialty is listed as Mess Sergeant (#824), although he doesn’t recall serving in that capacity. According to his Separation Qualification Record, “As Mess Sergeant on troop train supervised five cooks preparing and serving meals to transients. Estimated amount of food needed and drew rations from depot. Supervised preparation of meals on train. Made out rations report and collected meal money from officers.”

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._1947_Manila, Philippines_03

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.

It appears that during his time in Manila he attained the rank of Private First Class and received one stripe, as his honorable discharge papers give December 4, 1946 as the date of that rank.

Tom was discharged and sent home after the World War II draft expired in 1947. He chose not to enlist in the army. He left Manila via army transport on the General W.F. Hase on February 18, 1947 and arrived back in the United States on March 6, 1947. His date of separation was April 9, 1947 at Fort Dix, a separation center located outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski_Honorable Discharge (Front)According to his honorable discharge paperwork, he was awarded the Army of Occupation Medal/World War II Victory Medal for serving in an occupied country after World War II. However, he says he never received this medal. He did, however, bring home a wonderful collection of photographs taken during his time in the service.

After he returned to his home on 27th Street, on February 27, 1948

Dot and Tommy at Rainbow Gardens in McKeesport, PA.  Grammie wrote the following under this photography in her album: "Tommy and I (Lovers). Ain't Love Grand. These Days Shall Never Be Forgotten. Loves Wounderful. [sic]"

Dot and Tommy at Rainbow Gardens in McKeesport, PA. Grammie wrote the following under this photograph in her album: “Tommy and I (Lovers). Ain’t Love Grand. These Days Shall Never Be Forgotten. Loves Wounderful. [sic]”

Tom married Dorothy Frances Kolodziej, a Christy Park girl from the next street over (26th Street) who finally let him catch her.  A cute story: His honorable discharge papers from the Army of the United States mention “3 days lost under AW 107.” The reason for this was that he slipped home for a weekend from his basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in March 1946 in order to visit Grammie and his friend forgot to sign him back in! After first living with Tom’s sister Victoria and her husband, in 1955 the couple moved into a newly built house on 31st Street in McKeesport. They had three children – Carol Ann (my mom), Tom Jr. and Frank.

Tom got a job at the U.S. Steel National Tube Works, an iron pipe manufacturing company in McKeesport, working his way up from a laborer to senior physical tester in a physical lab. After my grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer earlier that year, he took an early retirement in September 1984 at the age of 56, when the steel plants in the area began consolidating and shutting down.


Although he may not be as spry has he used to be, my Pap is still plugging along today. I remember Mom bringing my sister and me to visit him often while growing up. I remember walks with Pap down along the old railroad tracks in McKeesport, me balancing on the rails like a tightrope walker. Sometime we would stop to get a twist cone at the soft-serve ice cream stand at the bottom of 31st Street. When we wanted to jump rope, Pap would tie one end of the clothes line to the vintage lamp post in the back yard and turn the other end for us. There were always sticks of sidewalk chalk hidden in the big plastic container on the back porch, next to the jump rope.

I remember many summer vacations to Myrtle Beach with my family and Pap, who shared the driving responsibility until his eyesight started to worsen. He had started the summer tradition of beach vacations with his wife, children and extended family many years ago, camping out on the beach. Pap always got up in the early morning hours to walk the beach. Despite my best intentions, I usually rolled over in the roll-away bed to catch some more winks, but sometimes I got up and joined him. I wish we could still do that today.

Today, Pap still enjoys cooking and has been an avid gardener for many years. He’s definitely seen a lot of changes in McKeesport and in the world over those decades. You can check out some of the wonderful historical photographs my pap took during his service that I’ve already posted by searching under the “maternal grandfather” tag or clicking here.

Pap: Thank you for your service and for being there for me while growing up!

Huzzah! “Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Hits Fort Days!

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Compared to the madness that descended upon the valley during the annual Fort Ligonier Days festival this past weekend, Ligonier sure looked like a ghost town when I drove up to cover back-to-back meetings in the township on Tuesday night.

Despite the rain on Friday, I had a fantastic time promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes all weekend at the 54th annual Fort Ligonier Days, which took place October 11-13, 2013.  It was a long and tiring weekend, but such a worthwhile experience.

The three-day event, which was first held in 1960, commemorates the Battle of Fort Ligonier (also known as the Battle of Loyalhanna), which occurred on October 12, 1758. The French and their Indian allies attacked the Post at Loyalhanna on this date, in retaliation for an earlier reconnaissance mission gone awry, but the fort was successfully defended. In fact, the garrison, which was later renamed Fort Ligonier, was never taken by the enemy during its eight years of active service (1758-1766). After the battle, in November, the Forbes Campaign continued the final 50 miles towards what’s now Pittsburgh to take usurp control of the Forks of the Ohio from the French during the French and Indian War.  The French fled, leaving the charred ruins of Fort Duquesne for the British to claim and build a new fort upon: Fort Pitt. The rest, as they say, is history.

I can’t thank Cokie and Richard Lindsey enough for hosting me at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, where I signed books and helped to sell candy, chocolate and various other goodies and souvenirs. Without Cokie’s support I don’t think I would have had the success that I had at Fort Ligonier Days. The sweet shop sold a good number of books and I got to meet and talk with some really nice people who stopped by to check out Ligonier Valley Vignettes. I really appreciated everyone’s hospitality and I’m looking forward to future events there!

One of the cool things about talking to the people that took the time to stop and chat with me was that I learned about everyone’s personal connection to Ligonier. I learned from one gentleman, John Pollock, that his grandfather, John Svitlik, was identified as one of the coal miners in the picture of Old Colony mine and coke works that appears on the cover of my book. Doug Leichliter told me about his grandfather, Lee Riley, who was originally affiliated with the Connellsville Coal and Coke Company, but later got involved at the Fort Palmer works, thanks to his brother, Otto Gay.  Riley was also a member of the iron and coal police. Leichliter also mentioned that his great-uncle, Craig Graham, was a stone mason who primarily worked with field stone to create structures like barn bridges, fences and retaining walls and was responsible for some of the stonework at Idlewild Park. I also talked to a woman about the Marker Dairy Farm in Ligonier, which I think she and her husband (I think their names were Libby and Harry Marker) sold to the Western PA Conservancy about seven years ago. The farm had been in the Marker family since the 1700s!

Thank you also to my friends and family who came to visit me over the weekend!  My little sister Michele and her husband Derrick stopped by my table on Sunday, as did my friends Ashley and Steve. Tina and Rick, who completely immersed themselves in the festival for three days, came to entertain and feed me. Janet and Linda from the Ligonier Valley Library visited with some information on the library’s dinosaur for a feature I was working on (I was multi-tasking as usual!). Bob Stutzman from the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association brought his copy of my book for me to sign (I’ll be returning the favor once his new book is released early next year). Thanks for your support!

As a reward for fighting the Fort Ligonier Days traffic (both vehicle and foot) to visit me, I took Dave to Fort Ligonier to watch an artillery demonstration and battle reenactment and also see George Washington’s handwritten Remarks in person. I think the history behind the festival often gets lost in the maze of food, craft booths and entertainment that absorbs the town and people forget what they are there to celebrate. (Hello? There’s a reason why Fort Days is held around October 12 every year!). I felt it was important that we honor the history of Ligonier by visiting the fort and participating in some of the events they had over the weekend. I also wanted to introduce Dave to a few of my friends at the fort.  He really enjoyed seeing the fort for the first time (and watching the guns and cannons explode!) and we plan to return when there’s not a million people around.

I sold and signed books, followed a two-hour parade, ate not-so-healthy food, watched (and heard!) cannons explode, spent time with people I love, danced, saw beautiful fireworks and celebrated history.  Plus, I took off work on Friday. All-in-all, not a bad weekend! Here’s a collage of pictures from my Fort Ligonier Days weekend:

WWI Casualties William Tosh & Benjamin Byers Part of Ligonier Valley Library Collection

You never know when you are going to stumble across a piece of history or when one is going to come walking through your door.

While I was visiting the Pennsylvania Room this week, Shirley Iscrupe shared with me a recent donation of World War I memorabilia related to two soldiers with whom I am familiar.

One of the vignettes that I included in Ligonier Valley Vignettes tells the stories of these two young men who left their homes in Ligonier Valley to fight in World War I but sadly didn’t come back alive.

Private First Class Benjamin Byers and Private William Tosh were the first two soldiers from the Ligonier Valley to be killed during World War I. Byers and Tosh both served in the 110th Pennsylvania Regiment, which was deployed to France in the spring of 1918, near the Western Front with Germany.

Both soldiers tragically died on the same day: July 30, 1918. Private Tosh, only 18 years old, was killed when German forces blew up the 110th Regiment headquarters located in the French village of Courmont, where he was working as a telephone operator. The 29-year-old Byers was shot and killed on the battlefield during an attack against the German army at Sergy Hill.

The American Legion Byers-Tosh Post 267 was named after them when it was established in 1927.

Ligonier resident Mary Lou Mitchell, who is William Tosh’s niece, donated the following materials to the Pennsylvania Room: two memorial cards from William Tosh’s funeral; the program of the 1921 Memorial Day unveiling of the World War I Honor Roll tablet at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and admittance card; and Westmoreland County’s Casualty List for World War I, 1917-1918.

Both Byers and Tosh are listed in the honor roll program and the casualty list.

The honor roll program and card were owned by Mitchell’s mother, Bessie Hoon, who survived the horrific 1912 wreck between freight and passenger trains on a blind curve along the Mill Creek branch of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road.  She fully recovered and went on to teach in the Ligonier Valley District for many years. Hoon and Tosh were brother and sister.

Thanks to Mitchell’s donation, these historic materials are now part of the permanent collection at the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room.  The Pennsylvania Room is an incredible resource for local history and contains information about the numerous veterans and casualties from the Ligonier Valley, including Privates Byers and Tosh, who participated in the wars that shaped American history.

“When the Whistle Blows, Come Home,” by Jim Ramsey

“When the Whistle Blows, Come Home”
The Sounds of My Home Town: Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Valley Voices – August 2013

Written by Jim Ramsey
Transcribed and edited by Jennifer Sopko
Pictures courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library

Ligonier's old wooden town hall was located at the corner of North Fairfield Street and Bank Alley. The stone building that replaced it is now the Ligonier Borough police station. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

Ligonier’s old wooden town hall was located at the corner of North Fairfield Street and Bank Alley. The stone building that replaced it is now the Ligonier Borough police station. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

I was born and grew to adulthood in my home town of Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Many of my memories, primarily from the 1930s through the period of my youth, are the sounds I remember of my home town. I lived on West Vincent Street with my parents and an older brother. This was not very far from the Diamond, the old town hall, the grade school and the old wooden high school next to it. I remember the old wooden town hall that housed one fire truck, the two jail cells and a meeting room on the second floor. In the winter, vagrants (bums) were allowed to sleep in the jail overnight. It burned beyond repair when a gas fired space heater ignited a wall. It was replaced in the mid 1930s with the cut stone building that stands there today.

I could run, without stopping, in a minute from home to any of these places.  I just needed a good start and a leap from our back porch. From home I could hear the bell toll the time on the town clock, the evening curfew bell from the town hall, the bells from each of the seven churches in town, the bell at the Bethlen Orphanage, the church on the hill northwest of town, plus the singular lonesome wail of the fire siren, which except at noon on Saturday, meant someone needed help.

Eighty years have passed, yet I now well recall their sounds along with many others. I wish to tell you of these. They are part of many fond memories of my hometown.

This is a 1938 bird's eye view of Ligonier looking east. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

This is a 1938 bird’s eye view of Ligonier looking east. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

Sounds of summer, sounds of night.  On a warm, calm, clear summer night, too warm to be in the house, I would quietly sit on our front porch. It was dark. It was quiet. Facing north I would stare out into the horizon and see the fiery red glow in the sky: the reflection of the 100-plus coke ovens at Marietta, Wilpen and Fort Palmer that were about five miles away.

On these quiet, clear and still nights I would raise my eyes above this wondrous sight to the sky above and see hundreds, even thousands, of bright clear twinkling stars shining from one horizon to another. There were few people out, and those that were, they were very likely doing the same as me: sitting on the porch enjoying the peace, the quiet and the beauty of the night.

But there was more than just what I saw with my eyes on those summer nights.  My memory is full of the special sounds that accompanied these visions.  I remember hearing and knowing the precise in-step sound of the clicking of the Newton sisters’ high-heeled shoes coming along the sidewalk. Usually on Wednesday nights, coming home from prayer meeting about 9:00, they always walked at the same speed in perfect step with each tap of the shoe heel striking the pavement in lock step just like a trained military marching unit. They never missed a step or clicked a heel out of time. When I heard this precise “tap, tap, tap” coming along the sidewalk toward my house I knew who was coming just by the sound.

Just over one block west and down the street from my home the Ligonier Valley Railroad tracks crossed West Vincent Street. Four sets of tracks crossed here as this was the area where cars and engines were moved to assemble the coal trains from Wilpen and Fort Palmer mines prior to running them to Latrobe to connect with the Pennsylvania RailRoad. Nearly all the freight carried on the Ligonier Valley Rail Road was coal or coke.

I spent lots of time around the railroad yard.  It was a thrill for a young boy to be around the big steam engines and the coal cars they pulled. From the daytime I learned to recognize the sounds of each of these and relate it to their number. My brother and I would sit on our porch and identify which engine was making the sounds we could hear.  If we didn’t agree we would run from our house to the railroad and verify the number.

Number 14 had a whistle that was deeper tone than the others, sort of like a big old coon dog on the trail. The bell on 14 was of medium tone but a little flat and tolled a little faster than 16 or 18.

The sound of 16 was like a strong flute with a little piccolo squeal at the top, almost like two different whistles blowing at the same time. The engineers seemed to give shorter blasts on 16 than the other engines. I still wonder why? The Number 16 bell was the beauty of the bells. It was a happy bell with a smile. Its tone was crisp and clear.  As Engine Number 16, with the bell ringing slowly, crossed Vincent Street the sound would resonate from house to house as it moved up Vincent Street to our house. The sound seemed to stay in my ears and I know it was coming from Engine 16. I can close my eyes today and hear the smile of the bell.

This picture of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road's Engine Number 18 is dated September 24, 1932. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

This picture of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road’s Engine Number 18 is dated September 24, 1932. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

Oh yes, I remember well the sound of the whistle on Engine Number 18. The sound seemed to warble a little, like there was something fluttering around inside. Maybe there was because in the cold of winter the tone got higher, the sound less voluminous and the warble slowed. I don’t know why it changed but I could pick it out.  Although it looked to be the same size as the others, the bell had a deep, melodious tone.

Sitting on the porch when Number 18 crossed Vincent Street with its bell ringing just made you stop and quietly, almost prayerfully, listen to its smooth velvety sound. Engine Number 17 didn’t seem to get as much running time as its three brothers. Why, I don’t know, but perhaps it is because it didn’t have a voice I could relate to and put into my memory bank.

As I ponder the sounds of the many bells in my hometown I realize now that I could identify each by its unique sound, not just by the direction from which it came.

The bell on the little white church on the corner of Walnut and Bunger in a way sounded like the church it belonged to. It was small in size and sound but clear as it beckoned its members to come.

This postcard shows St. James Lutheran Church, located on West Main Street in Ligonier. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

This postcard shows St. James Lutheran Church, located on West Main Street in Ligonier. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

One of the oldest bells in town rang from the tower of the St. James Lutheran Church on the crest of the hill on West Main Street. In my youth I tolled this bell many times. Its sound I liked and it carried well over the town.  Most of all, I considered the sound to be slow and prayerful.

The bell I recall more than others was the school bell. This got me moving every school day for eleven years. It was located in the belfry on top of the three-story yellow brick grade school at the southwest corner of Market and Church Streets, across Market Street from Darr’s hardware store and Mellon Bank.

This postcard shows Ligonier's yellow brick grade school in 1914. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

This postcard shows Ligonier’s yellow brick grade school in 1914. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Room, Ligonier Valley Library)

The school bell seemed to be the loudest and most commanding bell in town. Each morning there was the first bell which gave kids about fifteen minutes to be in school. The second bell gave about three or four minutes. Except when there was snow or ice I could wait for the second bell then run out the back door of my house, run all the way to school and be there in time for roll call.

In the 1930s most high school football games were played Saturday afternoon. It was a tradition that if Ligonier won team members would ring the school bell when they returned to town. Otherwise many would not have learned of the victory until they received Monday’s Latrobe Bulletin.

Ligonier in the 1930s was a pretty safe town for a boy to grow up in. On Saturdays I could jump on my bike and visit kids pretty much all over town. It was not unusual for me to eat breakfast and head out before 10:00AM. I was free, so to speak, but not quite. As I headed out the door, mother always said “Remember, when the whistle blows, come home.” This was the law. When the fire whistle blew at noon every Saturday, I had to be home within five to ten minutes. Her saying, “When the whistle blows, come home” still remains in my memory. It has taken on a different meaning. My father told me as I was leaving home to join the United States Navy, “You can take the boy out of Ligonier but you can’t take Ligonier out of the boy.” For over 40 years I worked and lived in four states and traveled to 26 countries. Upon retirement more than 20 years ago, I could hear the whistle blowing calling me home just as my mother had told me, “When the whistle blows, come home.”

About the Valley Voice: Jim Ramsey

Jim RamseyJim Ramsey hasn’t lived in Ligonier, PA for many years, but the sights and sounds of growing up in the valley remain lodged in his memory, as constant and friendly companions.

Jim spent his childhood in this town. He was born on July 19, 1927, in the living room of his parents’ house located at 211 West Vincent Street in Ligonier Borough.

He graduated from Ligonier Valley High School and in 1945 enlisted in the U.S. Navy, towards the end of World War II. He didn’t see any action from the Sampson Naval Training Station in New York, where he spent his year and a half long service, but he did get to guard German prisoners that were sent to this basic training camp.

Jim’s more than 40-year career in the tungsten-carbine industry took him from western Pennsylvania to all over the world. While living in Wilkinsburg, PA, he worked in management at a building supply company in Braddock, PA until 1953. In the succeeding years he also spent time in Connecticut, Philadelphia and Nashville, Tennessee. He returned to Latrobe, PA in 1965 and worked at Kennametal until 1976. Around 1980 he began to travel internationally during the last ten years of his career before retiring.

In 1949, Jim married a local Ligonier girl, Katheryn Ruth Hamill, with whom he had three daughters. In addition, he now has five grandchildren. Today Jim and Katheryn live in Lawson Heights in Unity Township.

“I’ve had a fun life and a good life,” Jim says.

Enthusiastic about sharing the stories and memories of his childhood in Ligonier, which have stayed with him throughout his 86 years, Jim has so kindly shared his story of the sounds that played an important part in his life.