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Remembering my first big job working in Philadelphia

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This small-town New Jersey guy tackles the big city of Philadelphia. I always loved the country of Jersey at Wenonah and Pitman, and visited Philadelphia only at pre-Christmas and to visit my Aunt Rose and Uncle Malcolm on Christmas Day along with my mother and sister, Jeanne.

I loved the marvelous large window displays at the big department stores of Lit Brothers, Gimbles, Strawbridge, Boylan-Pearce and John Wannamaker where my Aunt Rose was a clerk and loved every moment.

I admit to not liking that big city until I had an opportunity after graduating from Glassboro High School to work at the Pennsylvania Railroad accounting office at 32nd and Market Streets in West Philly.

I was amazed at the size of the 14-story building, which provided 2,500 people jobs there.

I had planned to attend the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art after graduating from high school, but it was filled up when I wanted to attend. I loved art and I sometimes had double art classes in high school. I started drawing in the fifth grade at New Sharon School. I loved cars and trucks and often when I had some free time, I would draw Mack and GMC trucks which passed by our school house daily on Delsea Drive in New Sharon.

My stepfather worked there in the railroad office for many years until retirement. He helped me apply for a job in that building in July 1947.

I felt like I was almost in another world in Philly, after riding a Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines train from my home in either Pitman (about 18 miles) or Wenonah (about 13 miles) to Camden for either a ferry or a bridge train to cross the Delaware River, and board an El (elevated train) in Philly which also runs underground as a subway before going elevated for more places like the railroad office.

I liked riding the bridge train, but only if the weather was cold or rainy because I liked to ride the ferry standing outside and soaking in all the sounds and sights.

Either of these trips required stops at the railroad terminal in Camden, New Jersey. Luckily the Pennsylvania Railroad also was part-owner of the raiIroad train I was riding to and from Camden and I got a 100-trip ticket for $5. Wow, what a bargain!

When going shopping in Philly with my mother, we always chose the bridge train, and she always sat on the side away from the river because she didn’t want to tip over the train to fall into the river. She even leaned toward the bridge side to help in case the train started to fall. Mother always tried to encourage me to also sit on the bridge side, too, but I liked to look out over the river and it was exciting to look at the boats and ships below.

Another drawback for riding the ferry was the necessity to walk up a hill for two blocks on Market Street in order to gain entrance to the subway.

Oh, yes, about a month after starting work at the railroad office I learned the art school had an opening, but I had already bought some new clothes and was getting pretty well used to my new job, and my thinking was to stick with the job for a year before taking the offer at the art school.

But this plan didn’t work out, and I stayed with the railroad job, especially since I had bought my nifty cream-colored almost new ’49 Ford convertible in 1950 at the Mercury dealership in Pitman.

Oh, how I loved that car! It was displayed in the showroom and the two owners of that dealership gave me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. Although I was 21 years of age and probably exempt from the military draft because of my active National Guard service, if I were drafted, I would not have to make payments during that time.

It looked like my owning that dream convertible “was going down the drain” after my mother said she was not going to sign for me to own a car with a rag top.

I was flabbergasted by her decision, and decided that was the end of my convertible days, and I would just have to live with it.

Wrong! Just days after my visit with the Brown brothers, owners of the Mercury dealership, I had a phone call while at work in Philly at the railroad. It was one of the Brown brothers saying that he and his brother felt like I was a good, honest guy and they were going to sign for me to buy that convertible.

Oh, how happy I became! In fact, so much that I could have hugged that guy! And that car turned out to be one of the highlights of my life!

Bob Allen, publisher emeritus of The Wake Weekly, invites comments at 919-556-3059 or