Living the Life in Lansing, MI

Bruce and Duane in front of Lansing Power & Light building

Bruce and Duane, with Lansing Power and Light in the background. Mid-1930s

As we get into this blog, it’s important to set the scene. We all know of the Great Depression and how it affected our nation, but most of us only know what we’ve learned in history books.

What about Lansing, specifically? How did the Depression hit that city and what was it like for the Amos Boys to grow up there?

Back then, Lansing was steeped in the auto industry—an industry hit hard by the Depression, just as it’s been today. Most ordinary folks, like what our family would have been, worked in manufacturing plants related to this industry. So when hard times hit there, they also hit the people in our family.

I wonder if the Amos Boys knew then that they were living in exceptional times? What was it like?

Here’s what they have to say.

Jerry

“I’ve talked to a family friend who is older and remembers this. Lansing had some big auto manufacturers then—Motor Wheel and Reo, and they just gradually shut down. First Reo cut down to half time, then to 1-2 days a week, and sometimes they just shut down (Reo ended car production in 1936, but continued its truck line).

“There were several other factories in town where our relatives worked, like the Nash Kelvinator, Duo Therm and Fisher Body.

“People were scratching around, trying to survive. It seemed normal to us.”

Bruce

“We were just kids then, so we weren’t old enough to know all the problems. Our family was as poor as anyone else. Everyone was in the same boat.”

Duane

“One time, I remember Dad wasn’t working and Mom got a job going to people’s houses. She installed coke bottle openers for them with a hand drill. I remember we celebrated because she could work that job for a couple weeks.”

Coca Cola Girls

Coca Cola Girls. Gladys (the Amos Boys’ mother) is in lower left. 1930s

Listening to these guys is fun and full of laughs. I ask them a question, then sit back and let them go with their reminiscing. So far, there haven’t been any lulls. In fact, I get the feeling I could leave, get a drink and they wouldn’t even know I was gone. I can’t though, because I’m scrambling to keep up with my notes.

They keep talking about all these street addresses—Willow, Pine, Kalamazoo, Beech, Michigan, and on and on.

How many places did you live, I ask.

“We moved a lot,” says Jerry. “Seems like every year we were living at a different address. That was common for us. It was probably common for most families because they couldn’t keep up with the rent.”

And for as many places that they lived, there were as many jobs that their parents’ worked—gas station attendant; serviceman for Garlock Refrigeration; die maker for Reo; die maker for Ford in Detroit; salesman for airplane rides somewhere away from Lansing; alleyman for Spartan Bowling Alley; bookkeeper for Liberty Highway; clerk at Capitol City Electric Shop; and many more.

Apparently, back then you just went wherever there was work. And, according to the Amos Boys, kids were left pretty much to their own devices.

What do you think—by any chance did these guys take advantage of that?

Who are these guys - Bruce, Duane and Jerry?

Bruce, Duane and friend Sheldon Homer, at Beech Street house, 1930s

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9 thoughts on “Living the Life in Lansing, MI

  1. Did they take advantage of being left on their own? I imagine they did! How else would they have refined their ingenuity and resourcefulness?!!

  2. Hey – this is Vicki. REALLY enjoyed the story today and the pictures. What cuties our daddies/grandpa’s all were (and still are) in those pictures. The first thing that struck me though was the lack of safety in the pictures….things have changed so much! For instance, would we have let our kids stand that close to the river for a picture? OR there would probably be a fence there now. And, the pic on the front porch…ordinances would require a railing around it.

    Ron and I both volunteer at a local agency that works with low income people. The stories about moving from place to place and job to job is still happening for many families today. But our dad’s are correct, when everyone is living the same way you are, as kids it doesn’t really occur to you that you may be missing something. As long as your tummy is full and someone at home loves you, things are good.

  3. I read once that a person’s level of Contentedness isn’t related to how much he has but to how much his neighbors have.

    Di, I was going to ask you this when you did the blog about Great Grandma. Is there a way we could get the entire blog printed off into a book format? I was wondering if we could use a digital photo album company like Picaboo. It would be neat to have these family history blogs on my livingroom shelf. What are your thoughts on the best way to do that?

    • Good point on the neighbor theory, Bethany.

      As for your printing question, that’s one I’ve been asking too. I’ve researched companies such as Picaboo, but they either have a maximum page requirement or a huge cost. I think we’re going to go over that page maximum in comments alone:-)

      What about this, folks. Any ideas?

  4. I bet part of that resourcefulness included playing chicken on the railroad tracks and throwing knives at each other!! (Just some of the stories I’ve heard….)

  5. Pingback: A Love Story of a Different Kind | Those (Expletive) Amos Boys

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