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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?