It all started when I was about 10, putting together the pre-cut balsa models. These came in a box and cost 99 cents. The wings slid through a slot in the frame, and the plastic propeller was attached to a small hook under the nose via a rubber band. To make the plane fly, a person would wind up the propeller, thus tightening the rubber band. You would have to hold the propeller, aim the plan upward and give it a strong toss. Some flights were successful and some failed. I lost a number of my planes in trees-or the wings would be sheared off by the tree trunk.

By the time I was 12, I decided to go big time, so my buddies, George Warren and Art Solberg and I invested in a gasoline-powered plane. The plane and all of its parts, including a small gasoline engine, cost about $15-20. With the help of George’s dad, who had been a pilot during World War II, we built the plane.

The inaugural flight was set for the Holmes School playground on a Saturday morning in May. Mr. Warren filled the tank with gasoline, and soon the plane’s engine was humming. We were really excited as the plane took off smoothly and gained altitude. There were two stands of trees in the playground, and our aircraft smashed into the second one. Fortunately, there was no fire, but we couldn’t salvage anything.

We did not give up, though. George, Art and I saved our money and bought another plane, and with Mr. Warren’s help, we flew it successfully a number of times at Lindbergh (Greenfield) Park until one summer afternoon when it lost out to a tree branch and exploded.

This event cooled our passion for gasoline-powered planes, so we experimented with an electronically guided plane until it crashed into the yard of a house across the street from Holmes School. That ended all future flights and, yes, we ran.

We learned a great deal, we had a lot of fun, and we caused minimal damage, except to our egos. By the way, none of us pursued careers in the airline industry.

The Oak Park Club

In an earlier article, I mentioned that the Oak Park Club was the site of my failed attempts to be a ballroom dancer. To review, I attended Miss Pocock’s dance class from seventh grade through my freshman year in high school.

Since my family did not belong to the club, it was easy for me to stay away from the place. The memories of the dance classes were not forgotten. However, when I walked home from high school west on Ontario to Oak Park Avenue, I often saw cigarette smoke pouring out from under the canopy over the club’s front stairs. The Oak Park High Student Smoking Council could not “pinch” a smoker at that point because the Club was just outside of the non-smoking limits of the high school.

During the summer after my junior year of high school, I met a guy named Bob Ault, whose family belonged to the club. I often went with Bob to the club where he soundly beat me in both pool and ping pong. The summer after my senior year in high school, we started playing a game “invented” by Bob called “ping pong baseball,” although it didn’t really resemble baseball. The object to the game was to hit a ping pong ball above a mark on the wall to earn a point, and to win, a player had to get 21 points. The ball could be blocked with one’s body, smashed back for an attempted score or caught and immediately served to get a point. We would destroy five or six balls per game and maybe break a paddle or two. We brought our own equipment, but the game became too expensive, so we quit playing it after a month.

Bob and I and some other guys occasionally went to the bowling alley in the basement of the club where “BIG TONY” (6-feet-4, 275 pounds) terrorized the pin-setters by rolling the bowling balls so hard that he sent pins flying and caused the boys who were the pinsetters to dive for cover. Our occasional visits became rare visits, and at the end of our last summer before college, no visits. Thanks to “BIG TONY,” we were not very popular in the bowling alley and probably never missed.

During my high school years, two dances were held annually at the club. The Sleigh Bell Ball was held in December, and the Sweethearts’ Ball was held in February. The Sadie Hawkins Dance may have been held there, too. This turn-about dance was suggested by the cartoon series, Lil’Abner, where Sadie spent her time trying to snare Abner.

In essence, though, the Oak Park Club provided my buddies and I with recreational activities and fond memories we would not otherwise have had. The building that housed the club still stands on the southeast corner of Ontario Street and Oak Park Avenue, but it was converted to condominiums a number of years ago.

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