Friday, February 26, 2016

Old Time Hockey!

My senior year at Tremper High School is quite memorable for a number of reasons. Coming to mind are my various adventures while working at Burger King, my inebriated excursion down the railroad tracks and Kenosha Flyers hockey games. The Burger King escapades and the hapless trip on the tracks have been previously chronicled; so today I thought that I would share some of my memories of the Kenosha Flyers and the Continental Hockey League.

I’m not quite sure why the guys I hung around with starting going to Kenosha Flyer games back in 1974, but I am glad that we did. Our motley group included my brother Mike, Glenn Evenson, Keith Panasewicz, Bill Nicoll, Dave Proeber, Curt Vergenz, Doug Becker and myself. It was at these Flyer games where I met Leon Rosko which was instrumental in getting me involved announcing softball games at historic Finney’s West.

First a little history about the Flyers and the CHL:

The Continental Hockey League was a semi-pro hockey league that was in existence from 1972 until 1986. The league had humble beginnings. It began as almost a recreational league in Chicago and was made up of former youth league players. Initially, the players were not paid, but over time, the talent in the league improved.

The mid to late ‘70s were a time of relative stability for the CHL. A core group of teams – Chicago Wildcats, Chicago Wildcats, Peoria Blades, Kenosha Flyers, and Springfield Kings were the mainstays of the league. Other teams such as Madison Blues, Pekin Stars and Rockton Wheels also came and went. But the teams were relatively stable and the players were the same from year to year.

There were several occasions where teams temporarily moved or disbanded. One season the Kenosha Flyers had to play in Zion because the Kenosha Ice arena was not available. The Chicago Cardinals disbanded because a lack of availability. When this happened, most of them went to play for Kenosha.

Some of the team’s rinks were less than desirable. The Logan Ice Dome in Peoria had a ceiling that was held up with air pressure. To make things even more interesting, there was only one shower for both the home and visiting teams!

Some of the more memorable players from the various non-Kenosha teams included: Chicago Cardinals – Ted Kaminski. Madison Blues - Phil Caruso, Cal Harris, Dan Corns and Clarke Blizzard. Chicago Wildcats – Sam Saltzman, Warren Munson, Jerry Kurth, Jim Krein and Bill Possehl. Peoria Blades – Ric Olson and brother Mike Olson.

That inaugural year of attending Kenosha Flyer games was special for many reasons, the biggest being the team winning the Walmar Cup, the CHL’s version of the Stanley Cup. This a list of the more noteworthy players from that team:

1974-1975 Kenosha Flyers
Reg Fleming
Pat O’Shea
Les Day
Jim Allen
Brian Glenwright
Lou Grassi
Mike Bednarik
Gene Stoney
Alfie Morrison
Paul Kelly
Jim McClellan
Paul Buck
Bruce Garber
Doug Glendenning
Chuck Kennedy
Steve Anderson
Don Walsh, owner

There are so many vivid recollections from, not only that championship year, but from many other “events” involving the Kenosha Flyers. It should be noted, that while they weren’t a part of that championship team, homegrown talents like Bob Arneson, Rich Rosko, Gene Rosko, and Joe Rosko played for the Flyers.

The 1974-1975 season was the first year we started following the Flyers. Besides my brother, Doug and Curt, the rest of us were all seniors in high school. Typically, the games were on Saturday night with an occasional Sunday afternoon tilt. Admission was only a couple of bucks, so we attended pretty much all of the home games.

Our group was usually located at the very top of Kenosha Ice Arena, just to the right of center ice. My brother and I were both artistic so we made several large posters that we attached to the wall of the arena right above us. Like the NHL Philadelphia Flyers, the team colors were black and orange, so that was the basic palette for our signage.

Two of the posters immediately come to mind – “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Alfie’s Army.” The first was for goaltender Paul Kelly. He rented an apartment in Kenosha, worked at the arena’s pro shop, and even attended the same church that I did. We got to know Kelly pretty well. In fact, Glenn and I even traveled with him for a road game in Peoria.

The second poster honored winger Alfie Morrison. He was older, good-sized, had jet-black hair, and wore black horn-rimmed glasses when he played. He was a decent player, but not too physical. That is until the playoffs started. Talk about kicking it up a notch! Morrison became a beast, destroying anyone who stood in his way.

Sometime after the holidays, it was announced that that the Flyers were forming a fan club. The club would meet at various watering holes after designated home games and dues would be collected. The fact that the players would be attending these get-togethers made it a no-brainer…we had to join the Kenosha Flyers Fan Club!

I can even remember some of the “administrators” of the fan club. The president was Floyd Hart. “Big” Mike Soens and his wife, Juanita also served as officers, although I’m not sure what their titles were. I do know that Juanita had a thing for Gene Stoney. Stoney was a defenseman that also served as coach of the Flyers. Stoney was American Indian, tough as a pit bull, a bit crazy and was rumored to bring a gun with him on road trips to Peoria. And Juanita loved him. A lot.

Because a majority of the players were from northern Illinois and the Chicago area, it was decided that the first fan club meeting would be at the Quonset Hut on Grand Avenue in Waukegan. This way it would be on the way home for most of the team. The Quonset Hut was a tavern that served pizza and Italian sandwiches.

It sounded good to us.

Yes indeed, it sounded good to us because we were going to get to hang out with the Kenosha Flyer players after the game. Another reason that it sounded so good to us was because it was going to be at the Quonset Hut, a tavern that served pizza and BEER! Hey, I know we weren’t “legal” yet, being only 16 or 17, but we enjoyed an occasional cold one whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Needless to say, four or five of us made the 30-minute trip south on Green Bay Road for the inaugural Kenosha Flyers Fan Club. We paid our dues, listened to Floyd Hart pontificate about the purpose of the club, and sat in awe of being in the presence of the players we had just cheered for.

Then came the pièce de résistance. After ordering a pizza, the waitress asked us what we would like to drink. Being the largest member of our group, I put as much as bass as I could in my voice, and belted out, “Give us a pitcher of Pabst.” And it worked! The server nodded her head and left to get our pizza and beer. This fan club was great!

Well, for a short while it was.

After a short time, Hart and his cohorts decided to move the meetings to Sullivan’s, a Kenosha saloon located right around the corner from the Ice Arena on Highway 50. We weren’t quite sure why they made the switch, but as long as we could get beer, what did we care? Besides we didn’t have to drive to Illinois.

Then we found out why the fan club chose to move the meetings to Sullivan’s. For a nominal fee, the bar would put out a buffet for the club and players to enjoy. Well, the fee wasn’t so “nominal.” Being high school kids with limited financial resources, we questioned the amount. We were told that the price had to cover the cost of the Flyer players; they ate for free.

Suddenly we weren’t so star-struck with these guys. As a group we decided to drop out of the official Kenosha Flyers Fan Club. We didn’t have a secret crush on Gene Stoney like Juanita Soens did. They could buy their own grub. We were content to “admire” them from the top of the bleachers in the arena. Besides, we were resourceful; we knew plenty of places to pick up a cold one after the game.

I miss those days. Oh well. Until next time…from the booth.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Chapter Two – Splish Splash I Need A Bath

My nearly 17 years of employment at 2700 31st Place Pike River, Wisconsin has provided me with an abundance of thought-provoking tales. Some are fascinating, while others are a bit humorous, but most will leave you shaking your head. Like what Kraus Inc. did to me.

Not only did it provide me with numerous stories, it also hung a nickname on me that would stay with me long after I completed my sentence there. That’s right, forty years later; people still refer to me as “Splash.” Here is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on how I acquired this unique sobriquet.

Just remember, Kraus Inc. is responsible.

It was a sultry June day at Koos Inc. I had been working there a week or two, I still learning the ropes. 40-pound bags of Ortho finest 28-4-8 were the fertilizer du jour. My job was to stack these bright orange bags off a conveyor belt onto a pallet in a specific pattern. The finished pallet of bags would weigh a ton.

2000 gloriously heavy pounds.

By the way, did I mention that this ton of fun would be completed in less than 5 minutes? Please don’t feel too sorry for me, I had a partner stacking with me at the end of that miserable conveyor belt. Barring any difficulties, it would spit out 12 to 15 tons of chemical lawn food every hour.

Every hot, sticky hour.

There were two other guys at the other end of that godforsaken conveyor belt. They filled and sealed the bags. It was also their responsibility to keep track of how many bags and pallets we put out.

We had been working for about an hour and it was beginning to become more humid and muggy. The sweltering atmosphere must have been what woke our supervisor, Louie Henderson, up from his nap. Rubbing his eyes, he stumbled over to our area and asked for our “count.”

Vaughn Tidwell, the bagger, made up an amount and Louie staggered away satisfied. After he was out of earshot, Henry Ludwig, the sealer, slapped Vaughn on the back of the head and told him to make up a proper tally sheet, complete with all of our names.

Vaughn quickly scribbled down his name and Henry’s as bagger and sealer. He then looked up from the sheet and stared at my stacking partner and me. It should be noted that Vaughn had a bit of a problem. It was called heroin. He didn’t know who we were. He was lucky he remembered his own name. So he improvised and gave us nicknames.

That’s when the nickname “Splash” was conceived. My actual name, Peter Vertucci, wasn’t even considered. Never let it be said that drug altered minds can’t perform well under pressure.

Still peering intently, he wrote down “Slim” for my partner. That actually made sense, Rex Bebow, “Slim’s” actual name, was about 6’5” and weighed about 150 pounds. I wondered what Vaughn would put down for me. I was a shade over 6 feet tall and quite a bit more than 150 pounds.

Okay, a whole lot more.

Vaughn gawked at me a little longer, whispered something to Henry and then broke into a huge grin of rotting teeth. He then proudly announced, “You’re Splash” and wrote it on the sheet.

Mopping my moist brow, I boldly asked, “Splash?” Henry promptly spoke up and said that it was because I was sweating so profusely there was sweat splashing all around me. Feeling a tad clammy and maybe even sticky, I was in no position to argue. I was officially christened Splash. The name has stuck with me ever since.

Splish splash I need a bath.

Maybe it was fitting that I was dubbed “Splash” when I started at Kraus Inc. It was sort of like being assigned a number when you start your prison sentence.

Next time…from the booth.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chapter One - My First Labor Day

It’s funny the things you think about when you have some time on your hands. Faced with early retirement, that’s what exactly I had. Time. And plenty of it. All this extra time that was thrust upon me made me think about a multitude of things. Like, who am I and where am I going? The first part was fairly easy – I was Pete Vertucci from Pike River, Wisconsin. I had lived in the small Midwest city that was located on the western shore of Lake Michigan all my life. The rest of that question is a little trickier. Where am I going? Hmm…

Eventually my considerable head began to ache as I considered the possibilities. Frustrated, I decided that it would be much simpler to think about where I had been and what I had accomplished so far. Being single and without children, most of my notable past involved the places that I had worked. During the years of my adult life, I was employed in at least a half dozen different occupations. Some of those jobs were enjoyable, while others were dreadful. However, there was one that stood head and shoulders above all the others for a variety of reasons. That would be Kraus Inc., my first adult job.

Traditionally, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. My inaugural Labor Day was the second Monday in June 1975. It was four short days after I graduated from Simmons High School. This was my first official grown-up job. I had worked at Marc’s Big Boy and McDonald’s while I was in school, but those were high school jobs. This was a real job. Thanks to my folk’s good friend, Nadia Bebow I had a job as a laborer at the infamous Kraus Inc. fertilizer plant. She worked in the office and told me to stop in if I wanted a job. She told me to ask for the plant manager, Frederick Neubauer.

So that’s what I did. On my last day of school my buddy, Kevin Pankowicz, and me jumped in my yellow ’70 Rebel and took off in search of Kraus Inc. I had no idea where this place was, just an address – 2700 31th Place. After driving around the near north side of Pike River for about 45 minutes we finally stumbled upon the fertilizer plant. It was located just a few blocks south of the Big Spot drive-in, a local hamburger joint that emitted delicious odors that filled the air for blocks in all directions.

Unfortunately the appetizing smell was overpowered by an odoriferous stench that grew in intensity the closer we got to Kraus Inc. plant. To say it was unpleasant would be an understatement. When I pulled up to the small office adjacent to large dilapidated plant, I asked Kevin if he wanted to come in with me. With his t-shirt pulled up over his nose, he grunted, “Hell no.” and added, “Roll your window up.” I muttered a less than enthusiastic “thanks” and quickly made my way into the brick building.

When I approached the chest-high counter, a short white-haired man greeted me. I told him that I was looking for Frederick Neubauer. He grinned and replied, “That’s me, but call me Fred. Nadia said you were coming.” As I nervously filled out the application, Fred treated me to a continuous diet of corny jokes. When I finished, he took the papers, shook my hand and told me to be there at 7:00 the next morning. Whoa! I quickly told him that tomorrow was my graduation day. He paused for a second and said, “Okay, be here Friday morning.” Not sure of what I was getting into, I negotiated a starting date of the following Monday, June 9, 1975. My first Labor Day.

This was a bona fide, real-life job where I went to work each morning five days a week and received a paycheck for $91.18 each and every Friday afternoon.

The amount of $91.18 was after taxes were taken out. My gross pay was $120.00 for forty hours. Insert your own joke here.

Hey, I said it was a real-life job, I didn’t say it paid a lot. For my $3.00 an hour I got to lift 40-pound bags of fertilizer in a hot, sloppy plant with slippery mud covered floors. In the winter we were treated to 50-pound bags of ice melter in a building that had no heat whatsoever. Although we were freezing, at least the floors weren’t muddy. Now they were covered with a toxic dust that you inhaled all day long.

Did I mention that Kraus Inc. featured no running water? Most guys simply stepped to the nearest open dock door to relieve themselves. Otherwise, if you wanted to use an actual restroom you had to maneuver through the entire plant, walk down a long flight of stairs and go across the yard to the “Jap Shack”.

The “Jap Shack” was nothing more than an old storage shed with a few beat-up lockers, a couple of picnic tables, a number of rats and a toilet with a sink. This venerable structure received its colorful name because it allegedly imprisoned Japanese war prisoners during World War II.

Don’t ask me, I just worked there.

And so did a multitude of fascinating characters. People like Vaughn Tidwell, Dead Man, Bone Head, Slim Bebow, Rock Engen, Travon Wilson and Ratzo Grabowski. Each one possessed unique characteristics. They obviously had to, with monikers like those. They all left a lasting impression on yours truly. Maybe “scar” would be more accurate.

But none like the legendary Augie Schultz. I could easily write a story about Augie each day for a month. This ornery “old” German was well known in every drinking establishment between here and Meadow Lake. I say old because he was about 36 and I was only eighteen years old at the time.

The only problem about sharing stories about Augie is that it would take so long to clean up the language. With Augie, cursing was an art form. He made Dice Clay, Earl Weaver and other high-profile foul mouths look like choirboys. Let me give you an example.

Because of his propensity for filthy phraseology, he was often asked to “watch his mouth”. One classic moment was when a burnout named Sparky challenged Augie that he couldn’t go the whole day without cursing. Augie’s response? Cover your ears mother.

“Fuck you, you stupid motherfuckin’ cocksucker.”

That was one of the things that I learned on my first Labor Day. How not to talk! Kraus Inc. made me realize why my sainted parents, Ernesto and Margaret Vertucci, had been drilling that stuff into my head throughout my childhood. Now I was experiencing why in my first real-life job.

On that first Labor Day, I honestly considered making a run for it during first break. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had. Do I regret not quitting Kraus Inc. on my first Labor Day?

It doesn’t really matter because I ended up working there over sixteen years. Things could have definitely been different. Maybe better, perhaps not. Who knows? One thing that I am sure of, staying at Kraus Inc. on my first Labor Day was only the beginning of a strange journey. A journey that soon became a sentence. An unusual and often grueling sentence.

Until next time…from the booth.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh, My Papa

“Joyful the sound, the word goes around.
From father to son to son...”

 That is the photo and those are the words that I have used in my blog for the past five Father’s Days. Each time it is to honor the most beautiful man I have ever known. Today is the sixth anniversary of when my Dad left us. I have thought about him each and every day.

Dad and his sister Helen making their First Holy Communion

Dad’s faith was always the most important thing in his life. I so dearly miss our praying together daily. We would do the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet and a prayer to St. Peregrine each morning. I keep his Rosary next to my bed. I plan on using it during Lent. Thank you, Dad.

Dad in his Army uniform

He bravely served our country in World II from age 19 to 21. People like my Dad are the reason for his generation being referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” He never intended to be a hero, but he was. Thank you, Dad.

Dad at work with a big smile on his face

He’s smiling because he loved providing and caring for his family. I don’t remember ever hearing him complain about going to work, no matter how tired or sick he was. Thank you, Dad.

Dad with his family celebrating my birthday in 2009

It was the very last time that ever happened. He loved his family more than anything on this earth. We were truly blessed to have him as a part of our lives for as long as we did. I only wish it could have been longer. Thank you, Dad.

Oh, my Papa, to me he was so wonderful
Oh, my Papa, to me he was so good
No one could be, so gentle and so lovable
Oh, my Papa, he always understood.

Gone are the days when he could take me on his knee
And with a smile he'd change my tears to laughter.

Oh, my Papa, so funny, so adorable
Always the clown so funny in his way
Oh, my Papa, to me he was so wonderful.

Deep in my heart I miss him so today.

Thank you, Dad.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Until next time…from the booth.