February 2010

Ben Scharfstein recently provided me with a précis of his family’s business that once operated in East Tennessee before eventually being acquired by another company.

Ben is a fan of the History/Heritage page that appears in the paper each Monday. “I am sending you a brief history of Stein-Way Clothing Company,” said Ben, “which was a major manufacturer during the 1950s and 60s.”

Ben explained that his dad, Phil, and his brothers, Irving, George and Moe, moved their Scranton, PA factory to Erwin in 1939. They manufactured men and boys’ trousers at the time. At the outbreak of World War II, their productions lines became devoted almost exclusively to the military effort. 

After the conflict ended, the family decided to close their factory in Erwin and pursue other professions. Phil went into the real estate business and began building warehouses at 707-713 W. Walnut Street near the location of the present day Firehouse Restaurant. Things changed when the Korean War broke out in 1950. Impressively, the Defense Department asked Phil and his brothers to return to the business and start making trousers for the war effort again. They complied with the military’s request.

According to Ben: “Many of the first employees in the Johnson City Stein-Way Company came from the Erwin plant. Dad and his brothers never thought of their employees in the traditional sense but as valued members of one ‘big family.’ I remember Christmas parties at the National Guard Armory, handing out turkeys and hams to employees, Dutch treat lunches at the plant where everybody brought something to eat and share and sponsoring Stein-Way sports teams. When times were tough, Dad would take contracts at or below cost so that he minimized lay-offs for his ‘family.’ Several members of my mother’s relations worked and managed various departments of Stein-Way, including Joe Wood, W.W. and Bertha Gouge and Blake and Ben Gouge.” 

Phil bought out his brothers’ portion of the business in the early 1960’s. By then, Stein-Way had increased its production base to include civilian and military trousers of varied types including jeans, military dress and combat fatigues. The elder Scharfstein passed away in 1965 resulting in the business baton being passed to Ben; his mother; and cousin, Blake Gouge, who continued to concentrate on fulfilling military needs during the Vietnam War. Amazingly, at the peak of the war, the company employed over 500 people and produced more than 6500 pairs of trousers for the military each day. Walnut Street became a congested roadway with a steady flow of tractor-trailers to and from the manufacturing plant.

“In the early 1970s,” said Ben, “we built a new 50,000 square-foot facility on a 10-acre tract on Rolling Hills Drive that Dad had purchased several years previously. After the Vietnam War ended, the Defense Department drastically reduced its contracts with us, causing us to secure jeans and trousers from name brand companies to stay busy. Unfortunately, many of these companies relocated overseas to reduce their costs and we decided that it was the right time to sell out to a larger company.  Around 1973-74, we sold our business to Levi Strauss and Company. They produced quality jeans and apparel lines for many years at the Rolling Hills facility until they too moved overseas.”

Ben reflected on his family’s business: “I still think about those hardworking, loyal and very special people whom I was privileged to grow up and work with in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Many of them are no longer with us, but they will always be part of the Stein-Way Clothing Company family.”  

Read more

In 1989, area resident, Bill Reece, shared with Press writer, Tom Hodge, a 1921 combined Johnson City and Elizabethton telephone directory issued by the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company. A city directory from that era shows the business was located at 116.5 E. Market Street.

Tom noted that a person could have called everyone in Elizabethton in about an hour because the register contained only 41 names. Phone number “1” belonged to E.C. Alexander. The listing for Johnson City was somewhat longer with just over four pages of names, addresses and phone numbers. The first listee, residence and phone number was A.H. Abernathy, Buffalo Street, “207”; the last one was F. Zulante, Eighth Avenue, “56”. The Fire Department could be reached at “400” and the Police Department at “57.” Unlike today’s fully automated system, the caller had to deal with an operator to make a phone call. She would open with her familiar “number please.”

The directory contained a page on “How Do You Use the Telephone?” It showed two ways to use the device – a right and a wrong one. The correct procedure revealed a man holding the earpiece to his ear and leaning forward to talk into an upright phone. The incorrect position had the same man leaning back in his chair, cradling the telephone in front of him. The instructions said, ”When you place your lips close to the transmitter and speak clearly and distinctly in an even tone of voice, the operator can hear you plainly and understand the number you request. When you are inattentive and speak ‘at’ the telephone instead of ‘into’ it, the operator is liable to misunderstand your order and the called party cannot hear you distinctly. This makes the operator’s work more arduous and creates unnecessary difficulties for all parties concerned.”

The book advertised that a customer could have a phone with either individual or party line service for a $3.50 installation charge. Under “Rules and Regulations,” the directory declared, “The use of a subscriber’s telephone is limited to the subscriber, his family or employees in his interest.” That surprising strict requirement implies that a neighbor or friend could not use the family’s telephone for any reason – casual or emergency. Imagine that. The directory further warned that unauthorized agents were offering telephone aids to the phone company’s customers. It cautioned subscribers against the purchase of such illegal devices and warned them that their use was strictly prohibited.

The directory contained considerable advertising including Free Service Tire Company that purchased an ad on the front cover touting its Kelly Springfield Racine and Firestone tires. J.A. Vines, president of The Peoples Bank, boasted of resources of more than $300,000 at its location at Spring and Tipton streets. Unaka & City National Bank and City Savings & Trust Company, in what later became the Hamilton Bank building, had much larger resources – $5 million.

Tennessee National Bank, located on Spring Street in the Elk Building (later site of the Sevier Theatre), had nearly $2 million in resources after just five months subsequent to opening for business. The directors were S.C. Williams, C.E. Cargille, Adam B. Crouch, George T. Wofford, J.E. Brading, J.A. Summers, H.G. Morrison, Evan S. Rees, B.W. Horner, Hammond Prosser, T.F. Dooley, L.R. Driver and Lee F. Miller.

Thanks to Bill and Tom, we are treated to another reflective glimpse into the nostalgic world of yesteryear. 

Read more

On July 19, 1959, I received a letter from the president of the Science Hill High School Key Club, a student all male organization sponsored by the city’s Kiwanis Club, inviting me to join this group.  

The Key Club was under the strong guidance of the school’s PMST (Professor of Military Science and Tactics), Captain John Culpepper. Student officers during my junior year were Johnny Starnes (pres.), Guy Wilson (v.p.), Eddie Broyles (sec.) and Eddie Washburn (treas.). Our club sweetheart was Betty Gale Young. Senior year officers were Bill Wood (pres.), Kip Carr (v.p.), Butch Tysinger (sec.), and Howard Cothran (treas). The club sweetheart was Carol Ann Greene.

Initially, we met once a month at the Broadway Court Restaurant on North Roan. Later, we briefly switched to the Derby Grill on West Market and finally settled down at Dinty Moore’s Restaurant on E. Market. Our club’s mission somewhat mirrored that of our parent club; we were a service club interested in promoting our high school.

Each month, the Kiwanis Club invited a Key Clubber to attend its meeting at the John Sevier Hotel, which was a quick dash across Roan Street. I vividly recall the meeting I attended mainly because the guest speaker was the colorful Fire Chief L.L. Geisler, who delivered a brief message promoting “Fire Prevention Week,” which began that week. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle gave a brief write-up about it the next day. 

Capt. Robert Wilson showed a film entitled, “Before They Happen,” depicting the efforts to prevent and minimize fires. Howard White, club president, praised Chief Geisler for his long record of service noting that Johnson City had less fire loss than any city in the nation. Guests were then introduced that included Dr. Fred McCune of Johnson City, Dick Owen of the Training School Key Club and myself.

According to a 1934 school newspaper article, the first Key Club at Science Hill was formed in 1933 with H.A. Lee and Roy Bigelow serving as school advisors. Student officers that year were Joe Jamison (pres.), Phil Carr (v.p.), Bill Willien (recording sec.), Leonard Bevis (corresponding sec.) and Carl Marshall (treas.).

The organization had three stated objectives: foster vocational guidance, train members in correct parliamentary procedure and have fellowship. Club organizers sent out questionnaires to 15 high schools all over the country where similar clubs existed. Feedback was used to help prepare the club’s Constitution and outline club activities.

A 1949 newspaper article suggests that the Key Club was dropped sometime between 1935 and 1948, most likely during the war years when so many male students entered military service. The 1949 clipping speaks of the Kiwanis Club organizing a Key Club at SHHS that year. The committee, headed by Sam Grogg and assisted by Steve Lacy, Joe Cox, Ed Wright and John McKell, met frequently with Principal Howard McCorkle to establish the club. 

Charter members were Darrell Mullins (pres.); Tommy Coleman (v.p.); Charles Day (sec.); Selbert Marks (treas.); Glenn Stroup; Robert Moffatt; Leddy Alan Ottinger; Robert Lee Spencer; George Crisp, Jr.; Jimmy Seehorn, Jr.; Ambers Wilson, Jr.; Charles Fredrick Stamm; Jim R. Green; James Roland Berry; Reuben Treadway; Clarence Willard Sapp; Bob McFall; and Jim Overbay. To celebrate the occasion, a joint dinner meeting was held with Kiwanis Club members, Key Clubbers and their parents.

Sadly, school officials tell me that the Key Club ceased operation again several years ago. Perhaps this laudable organization will spring forth a third time to benefit future generations of high school students, both male and female. 

Read more

Today is Saturday, August 17, 1929 and we need to do some grocery shopping. Our first order of business is to examine the Johnson City Chronicle to see if there are any specials being advertised in the local grocery stores.

We are frugal people so we are willing to walk or drive all over town in order to save a few pennies on our purchases. We don’t know it but the Great Depression is just around the corner. Although there are 103 mostly “mom and pop” retail grocery stores within the posted limits of Johnson City, most do not advertise in the newspaper. Their bargains are generally posted on their store windows.

Given that we plan to buy numerous provisions, we take our family’s 1929 Model AA Ford pickup along because of all the additional space in its bed. We drive to downtown Johnson City and park near the Arcade building in the 200 block of W. Market. Five of the stores we will be visiting are located in that general vicinity, allowing us to return to the truck and drop off our purchases after every visit.

We begin our shopping spree with Miller Grocery Co. at 124 W. Market and McClure and purchase four items from their store: 12 packages of Post Toasties ($.25/3 pkgs.), a 2-pound can of Maxwell House coffee ($.49/lb., $.20/lb. cheaper than Sanka), 2 large cans of Carnation milk ($.10/can) and a 12-oz. Bottle of Vermont-Maid maple syrup ($.29).

Our next stop is Jamison’s Chain Grocery Store at 130 W. Market. At this location, we buy six items: a 4-pound picnic ham (pork shoulder, $.20/lb.), 4 packages of Brown Rice Flakes (Comet Brand, $.25), two pounds of Armour’s corn beef ($.19/lb.), a large box of Duz detergent ($.20), a quart jar of pickled pigs feet (Black Hawk Brand, boneless, $.45) and two quarts of Welch’s grape juice ($.55/qt.).

We exit Jamison’s and enter Lay Packing Co. next door at 132 W. Market. We tell the meat cutter to give us three pounds of Cloverleaf cured ham ($.28/lb), one pound of Cloverleaf skin-off sliced bacon ($.33/lb), five pounds of Family beef steak ($.25/lb.), two pounds of veal chops ($.25/lb.), one pound of Cloverleaf bag sausage ($.30/lb.) and two pounds of Mutton Roast ($.26/lb.).

We next visit Piggly Wiggly two doors west at 136 W. Market where we buy three cans of Campbell’s tomato soup ($.25), three bars of Lux toilet soap ($.25), a pound of Brookfield creamery butter ($.45/lb.), a 5-lb. fryer ($.33/lb.) and a pound of Compound lard ($.125/lb.). We have two more stops to make.

Our next business is The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, known succinctly as the A&P located three doors west at 142 W. Market (other locations at 206 N. Roan, 109 Buffalo and 408 S. Roan). Our list shows four needed items: a loaf of Grandmother’s bread (15 oz. Pullman loaf, $.07), three cans of Norwegian sardines ($.25), two packages of Shredded Wheat ($.19) and a large watermelon ($.55), which the grocer plugs for us to taste. It is delicious.

We will drive to our sixth and final store. We hop in the truck, motor west on Market, turn right onto Boone, bear right onto King and travel to the end of the block at Roan.

When we arrive at the E.W. Brown Cash Store at 200 N. Roan and King, we are greeted by Eugene Brown the owner. This business is known as “The Store with the Yellow Front.” They sell E.L. McCleod meats and are agents for Mrs. R.L. Tranum’s homemade cakes. Our final purchase consists of two 16-oz jars of raspberry jam ($.25), a 10-pound bag of Irish potatoes ($.25), three pounds of Kentucky Wonder green beans ($.25) and 24 pounds of Brown’s Special flour ($.91).

Our Saturday grocery-shopping mission is now complete. Our purchases totaled $14.86 and we did it without a credit card, debit card or check. We used cold, hard cash. Bon appetite and bon voyage.  

Read more