January 2008

I recall a delightful Saturday morning children’s program over WJHL radio from about 1951 to 1953 titled “The Adventures of Princess Pet.” The sponsor was Pet Dairy Products, a Johnson City based business that began operation in 1929 at 106 S. Boone Street. The company produced 111 delightful 15-minute episodes.

I attribute my attraction for the radio series to my fondness for Brown Mules, vanilla ice cream bars coated with chocolate, and Brown Bears, solid chocolate ice milk bars. Both were produced on a splinterless wooden stick. I favored the stubborn hybrid work animal over the shaggy carnivorous mammal but eagerly wolfed down both. The frozen delights each cost a nickel – half of my weekly allowance. 

In addition to the weekly radio programs, the company published two 36-page, eight-chapter, color/b&w booklets titled “The Adventures of Princess Pet,” Volumes 1 and 2. Each volume contained a list of the “Royal Commands of Princess Pet” to her youthful listening audience, offering one per month such as always tell the truth, bring home a good report card, keep your room neat, look both ways before crossing a street; and regularly attend Sunday School.

An introductory page presented a short synopsis of the plot: “This is the story of some of the strange and wonderful things that happen in the beautiful Kingdom of Prince Pet in the Land of the Ice Cream Star. Nearby lies the Black Forest, a wicked, wicked place. The ruler of the forest is the Wicked Duke, who many years ago placed a curse upon the forest because Princess Pet’s mother, the Queen, refused to become his bride. If even the tiniest shadow of Black Forest falls upon you, you become enchanted.”

The most dazzling sketch in Vol. 1 was a full color page offering a panoramic view of Ice Cream Star. The text offered a colorful description of the frozen fantasyland: “Layers of soft, filmy clouds floated and sparkled in the warm sunlight. Everywhere around them were lakes of rich, fresh cream, rivers of bubbling chocolate and mound after mound of cherries, nuts, pineapples, peaches, coconuts and strawberries.”

The tiny elf-like workers, dressed in bright jackets, were “hustling and working everywhere – churning and turning, hopping and chopping, icing and slicing – making delicious Pet Ice Cream.”

Vol. 1 concluded in a “they lived happily ever after” fashion: “From high up in the sky over the castle, the Ice Cream Star looked down and smiled a special smile, for it was plain to see, Goodness would live forever in the Kingdom of Princess Pet.” Storylines from the series include “A Dragon Has Been Slain,” “Ice Cream Star Seeks Yellow Forest,” “Evil Duke Plans to Get the Golden Thread,” “Pet Brown Mule and Pet Brown Bear are Hiding” and “The Princess Dreams of Prince Gallant.”

The plot for Volume 2 entails Brown Bear and Brown Mule helping Princess Pet when some evil characters try to harm her. On one page, her majesty bestows membership in her Regal Court upon a little boy.

Youngsters like me eagerly tuned their Bakelite radios to the next broadcast each Saturday morning, at the sound of the clanging bottles, to follow the antics of Ms. Pet and her fantasized court. Situations always seemed to turn out right for the good guys and wrong for the evil ones, a condition all children fervently demanded.

If you have even a hint of memory of this long-ago radio program, please drop me a note and share it with me. 

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I received a note from Robert Walden who has lived in the same house for 41 years in Asbury community in the west part of town. He listed several families who had also resided there for many years: the Rouths, Sneyds, Livingstons, Hensons, Harrisons, Tiptons, Wards and McCurrys.

“Everyone knew one another,” said Robert. “Neighborhood boys and girls played at each other’s houses. We'd all assemble at the Sneyds to play softball because they had a big, flat yard. Sometimes, several of us boys might go over to Buddy Callahan's house for a game of football.” Walden said he attended grade school at Asbury School located on Indian Ridge Road from the 2nd through the 7thgrades, Jonesborough Middle School for the 8th and then David Crockett High School. He and his neighbors walked to Asbury School where they caught a county bus to the high school.

“Growing up back then was different from today,” said Robert. “My buddies and I rode our bicycles almost everywhere we went. Between ages 10 and 12, I had a newspaper route delivering the afternoon edition of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. After coming home from school, I grabbed a snack, changed clothes and climbed back on my bicycle to deliver papers. Sometimes my mother allowed me to load my bike into the trunk of our car and then drove me to Griffith Motors at West Market Street and Indian Ridge Road to pick up my newspapers. Griffith Motors had a big metal overhang sign out front which was perfect for protecting my papers from inclement weather. Sometimes my friends rode along to help me on my route. If we'd happened to get there before the newspapers arrived in the afternoon, we'd kill time by riding along the sidewalk over to the Jiffy Market or maybe stop by the Biff Burger.”

Robert’s paper route included Indian Ridge Road and all side streets. It also took in Skyline Drive from Knob Creek back to the opposite end where it intersected with Indian Ridge and Sunset Drive. Robert added: “I'm sure many folks remember the old wooden bridge that led into and out of the Asbury community. Sunset Drive came out through the woods from Mahoney's, up by the Royal Oil Co. and ended at the bridge. It was torn down in the spring of 1984.

“A metal plate attached to the bridge,” he said, “showed when it was built, but I cannot recall the date. A friend of mine, Kim Guinn, and I took some photos of the old structure and where Crawford's Store was once located. The Family Drive-In movie theater sat where today is part of the Johnson City Medical Center. One of my good friends, Brad Teague, owned the Arco service station that was situated where McDonald's is located today. The spot now occupied by Food City Shopping Center and the Boy's and Girl's Club was where a circus sometimes came to town. They erected a big tent there. Several of us participated in youth sports at the Boy's Club, as it was called then. I also played Little League Baseball at Kiwanis Park.”

Robert indicated that they didn't just ride their bicycles down around the West Market Street area; they even rode them all the way out to the Johnson City Mall to enjoy its air conditioned amenities.

The Asbury community resident concluded his remarks by saying that the History/ Heritage page in the Johnson City Press each week gives newcomers to the area the opportunity of seeing what yesteryear was like in this region. He indicated that he loved Johnson City as a kid while growing up and still loves living here today.  

I received a note from Robert Walden who has lived in the same house for 41 years in Asbury community in the west part of town. He listed several families who had also resided there for many years: the Rouths, Sneyds, Livingstons, Hensons, Harrisons, Tiptons, Wards and McCurrys.

“Everyone knew one another,” said Robert. “Neighborhood boys and girls played at each other’s houses. We'd all assemble at the Sneyds to play softball because they had a big, flat yard. Sometimes, several of us boys might go over to Buddy Callahan's house for a game of football.”

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My two previous J.J. Page Carnival articles prompted a note from Mrs. Shelby Davis: “My family once lived in the white house at the northwest corner of Watauga and Love Street. We moved there in 1946 when I was nine years old and lived there five years. The Page family house was diagonally behind ours on Highland. A spare lot adjoined our two houses.”

This relocation was shortly after Mr. Page died and about the time Mrs. Page took over the reins of the carnival from her husband during its waning four years. “Our house,” said Shelby, “overlooked three large white wooden storage buildings to the south between Love Street and the railroad tracks that served for years as the five-month winter headquarters for the Page Carnival. The Johnson City Foundry was adjacent to it to the west.”

Shelby said the east building on the Watauga Street side was the largest of the three and had two stories with the upper floor resembling a barn loft. The other two structures were smaller and occupied one floor. All three showed signs of deterioration. “The buildings had likely become a storage area for relics from the carnival’s glory days,” said Shelby. “There were things crammed everywhere in them, including a fairly large quantity of fabric, likely used to make decorations for the carnival. I also recall some old trucks parked around the property.

“Apparently, nothing of value was saved at this site because the Pages never locked the doors and no one was around to guard it. Since my brother and I were nosey,” quipped Shelby, “we often went over to the buildings to see what we could find. The middle building contained a lion locked up in a cage; I remember his large mane. There was also a bear chained and locked to a stake outside the east building along the left side. He wore a path around that stake as he went around and around it trying to escape.

“The west building had some laughing hyenas in cages and monkeys with long chains attached to stakes. Sometimes guests staying at our house would be startled late at night by strange animal sounds. Mom always warned us not to go around the bear because he was not inside a cage. The lion was caged so I guess she did not worry too much about him. These were the only animals I recall being stored there.”

Shelby recalled that a man came daily to feed the animals. She said he threw large chunks of meat into the lion’s cage. She and her brother hardly every saw anyone in the buildings except this person and occasionally some street people taking refuge there. The animals appeared to be reasonably cared for and fed, but she felt sorry for them because they apparently were unwanted remnants of the carnival days. They stayed confined on the property.

Shelby said that some of the more unusual items they found probably came from freak sideshows. There were numerous bizarre specimens contained in glass jars. The young pair once encountered what they believed to be Siamese twins inside of a wooden box. They were joined at their shoulders. Later, she became convinced that they were dummies made to look authentic. It was real enough looking to keep them away from it.

Dorothy Page Samier, Daughter of the Pages at Fountain Square, 1920s

Shelby concluded: “When we moved away from there in 1951, the three buildings were still standing but the animals had been removed by then.” When Shelby drives by that area today, she sees beyond a duck pond and an empty field and visualizes in her mind the electrifying J.J. Page Carnival. (Note: That area has since been cleared for ETSU student housing.)

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Janelle Walker Warden, former area resident, shared memories of growing up in the Gray and Sulphur Springs community where her family lived from the early part of the century.

Over time, the Walker family operated several grocery stores in nearby Sulphur Springs run by J.W. Walker, Bob Walker, Maynard Walker and Herbert Walker, Janelle’s father. The competition included Lige Adams, Sid Martin, Boyd Gray, Frank Pitts and Tom Slagle.

According to Janelle: “Tuesday was the day that my dad went to Johnson City to get supplies for our first country store and to trade butter, eggs and whatever he could get. He drove his store truck around Sulphur Springs, Gray and Harmony to pick up grocery lists from residents, after which he filled their orders and delivered groceries to their homes.

“Before Daddy went off on his store route, he always got some crackers and put brown sugar and cheese on them. Yummy, what a treat that was.   

“We lived in the back of the store in an area comprised of two bedrooms and a long kitchen leading to a back porch. Out in the back yard were the outhouse and a shed.  We routinely cleaned the store floor with some type of oily material. I recall the men sitting around the store listening to Joe Lewis fights on the radio.”  

Janelle said that her father attended the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, leaving his wife and young daughter behind with only $30 to run the store: “Daddy grew up on a farm on Douglas Shed Road on land acquired in 1870 from the Bacon family. He and Mother lived in the store at Sulphur Springs until about 1936.  

“As a young child, I pushed myself in a stroller up to the store’s olive shelf and helped myself to a jar. I loved olives and the juice. When I was learning to read, I read aloud in the store with customers around. It is no wonder that I later became a librarian.” 

The grocer’s daughter vaguely recalled gas pumps out front under an extended porch roof. She said her father sold gasoline there during the food and gas rationing years of World War II. She never dreamed that this would become a history-making event.

“I lived in the store when I started first grade,” said Janelle. “The school bus stopped there and several children got on for the ride to school.  Daddy would not open the store on Sunday. We had to go out on Sunday afternoons after church because people would come by wanting to buy something. 

“Daddy and Uncle Shim operated the second store that Tom Slagle later owned. It was located on Bacon Road across from Payne Meat Company. Years later, Ben McCracken, while still a teenager, drove the grocery store truck on Saturdays to pick up orders for people around Gray and Harmony.

“One of my favorite memories is dipping ice cream at our second store for the crowd who stopped by after activities at Sulphur Springs High School.  Today when I eat a cone of it, I think about the time when I learned to dip it and a smile always comes over my face. That was when cones cost a dime or a quarter.

 “Our second store had an upstairs where the McCracken and Uncle Bob and Trixie Walker families lived when they ran the store.  In the back was an icehouse that I later used for playing school with my cousins and neighboring children. I still have the ice tongs that we used for picking up ice as well as the scoop for dipping into the sugar barrel.

Janelle reflected on her life growing up in Sulphur Springs with these pining words: “It brings tears mixed with smiles. Our land, homes, furniture, utensils, recreation and work were all a part of making me what I am today.”  

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Bobby Harrell delights in discussing his four years of after-school work experience at the John Sevier Hotel that began in 1949 when he was 13. His father, Iss and uncles, Henry Street and Earl Harrell also worked there. Street was maintenance supervisor.

“I worked weekdays from 4-9 p.m., said Bobby, “operating the hotel’s freight elevator at the northwest loading dock. Sometimes I worked on weekends in the housekeeping department cleaning windows and wallpaper, flipping mattresses and performing other assorted jobs. My family lived on W. Walnut Street. I rode a city bus to the downtown station and walked along the train depot to the hotel. At night, I caught the bus back home. It cost ten cents to ride. In its heyday, the hotel stayed full, especially being so close to the train depot.  I got frequent calls for service from maintenance workers, waiters delivering food to people’s rooms and others.”

The rooms at the John Sevier had private bathrooms and steam heat in every room via radiators. Although there was no central air conditioning system, guests could request that a window unit be installed in their room for an added fee. Iss assisted Henry in all maintenance of the hotel and worked in the boiler room in the basement in cold weather months keeping the stoker going to supply heat to the building. Bobby recalled that the cellar had an old fashioned telephone with a receiver attached with a cord.  

The basement was smaller than the upper floors, being located primarily under the kitchen and dining room. Since the hotel was built over five springs, pumps had to run continually to prevent flooding. One area was used for processing live chickens. A man, known as “Pop” Conley, performed this work at a large stainless steel workplace. The dressed birds were then placed in several large walk-in coolers. Meat arrived by the half and quarter sections. Transfers were routinely made from the basement coolers to one upstairs in the kitchen. The chef, whose first name was Norman, served as meat cutter.

“Another area downstairs,” said Bobby, “was where they made ice cubes. They filled metal cylinders with water and placed them in brine water. After the ice froze, workers used a large power table saw to cut large sheets of ice several times producing slightly larger than normal ice cubes. “The ballroom and dining room were very popular and in continuous use. The kitchen had a large stainless steel dishwasher. The large ballroom had a number of chandeliers, massive curtains and hardwood floors.

“Sometimes on Sundays, I worked as busboy, assisting waiters by carrying large trays of food to people’s table. The daily restaurant menu was printed each day at the first floor northwest desk. The typesetter inserted letters by hand into the machine and manually cranked out paper copies. It looked like a miniature version of an old printing press. After the chef prepared the menu for the next day, a man came to the food storage area in the basement with a four-wheeled buggy and returned with enough food for use in the kitchen the next day.”

Bobby remembered the hotel supervisor: “Monroe McArthur was the big boss when I worked there; we called him Mr. Mac. K.D. Hurley was assistant manager. Mac was a good fellow. He walked around all day singing the same little song, ‘Day Dee Day, Day Dee Day, Day Dee Day.’ Mr. Mac owned two automobiles, a 1950 Cadillac and an older Lincoln. He kept both parked on the Market Street (south) side of the hotel in reserved spots. Obie Belton was his personal chauffer and usually drove for him. Occasionally, Mac drove the car himself. Those were the days when automobiles had straight shift and a clutch. He would push the gas pedal to the floorboard and the clutch just about to the floorboard and ease out of the parking space with the motor flying and the car barely moving.”   

Bobby recalls taking an inebriated painter on the elevator to the 8thfloor to paint some windows using a portable outside scaffold. He reported the man’s impaired condition to his uncle who, in turn, hastily went to the room where he was working. Henry found the worker with a window open and ready to attach his scaffold to the window. He was promptly escorted downstairs in spite of his insistence that he was not intoxicated. Outside scaffolds were attached to the inside of the windows, providing abstemious painters a safe way to access the outside of windows. Washing windows was done inside the room without the need of a scaffold. Since there were 250 windows in the building, cleaning was a never-ending chore.

A small laundry, located on the 10thfloor, handled the restaurant’s washing needs, but towels, washcloths and bed linen from rooms were picked up and washed by Johnson City Steam Laundry at 200 S. Boone.

Unlike today, where businesses have installers come in and replace large sections of carpet, one man replaced it in rooms and other areas almost on a constant basis. Salesmen, referred to as “sample men,” often came to the hotel with large quantities of clothes for public display. Bobby took them on the freight elevator to the display room. Bobby recalled when a man climbed the hotel from the Roan Street (east) side of the building in the late 1940s by carefully and methodically walking on and holding onto bricks. Such stunts were popular in that era.

Bobby said that, excluding one high school reunion that he attended at the John Sevier Hotel, he has never been back in the building. He cherishes the memories of his work experience at the old hotel. 

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