August 5 – Happy Birthday Marvin Miller

marvinMILLERThe controversy continues regarding whether the Marvin Miller who served as the brilliant head of the Major League Baseball Players Association deserves to be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. There would be no doubt however, that the Marvin Miller who owned and managed Miller’s Mens’ and Boy’s Store belonged in the Downtown Amsterdam, NY Merchants’ Hall of Fame, if in fact there actually was a Downtown Amsterdam, NY Merchants’ Hall of Fame.

Today’s birthday celebrant was born on August 5, 1916. The Miller Manufacturing Co. was started just a year before that by his father, Harry Miller. The company made all sorts of uniforms; occupational, scouting, fraternal organizations, etc. In 1934, Marvin Miller’s dad moved his company to Amsterdam, locating it in the upper floors of 68 East Main Street and opened a retail store on the building’s ground floor. It was one of the first discount stores in the entire area.

Marvin was involved in the business’s operation for just about his entire life, and made it his full time career after serving in WWII as a Lieutenant in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. He formally became head of the company in 1962, when Harry Miller passed away. While a team of seamstresses was busy making all kinds of uniforms upstairs, the first floor store sold men’s and boys’ dress slacks, shorts and shoes, casual wear, sportswear, work clothes and work shoes, underwear and a large stock of cigars, cigarettes and tobaccos. The uniforms Miller’s manufactured were sold by mail throughout the country. I can also remember going in there to buy my Cub Scout uniform when I was a kid and the gym suits we had to wear as students at Junior and Senior High.

It really was a neat business model, perfectly suited for Amsterdam with its large pool of talented seamstreses who got their starts in the knitting mills that used to operate in the city. Marvin Miller ran it skillfully. For year’s, his biggest competitor for the Rug City’s male apparel market was the more stylish and expensive Mortan’s. Miller wisely focused his inventory and promotional strategy on the middle class segment of the market which ate up his high quality at low prices theme.

His veteran retail crew was a huge reason why the store became one of Amsterdam’s most popular. It was headed by the indomitable Howard Busseno who used to wait on about five customers at once without making any of them wait. The guy was amazing. He’d run the gauntlet with a pile of clothes in his hands and slung over his shoulders, throwing correctly sized pants at each customer and yelling at you to try them on as he speeded by.

Marvin Miller made a couple of moves to different downtown sites during the four decades the business operated in the City proper. But when the downtown Mall came, Miller headed north to Route 30, where he constructed his own sharply designed strip mall called Miller’s Plaza, just about opposite the entrance to McKay Rd. Following tradition, he included a second floor that housed his uniform manufacturing operation. Mr. Miller passed away in 1993 at the age of 77. The retail store is closed but can anyone tell me if Miller Manufacturing Company is still in operation?

He shares his August 5th Birthday with this pioneer of science education in Amsterdam’s public schools!

 

August 4 – Happy Birthday Edward Kopik

kopikThe next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself for whatever reason, you might want to think about the life of former Amsterdam resident Edward Kopik, Jr. Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant  wasn’t born in the Rug City. He was instead a native of Herkimer. His Dad, Edward Kopik Sr. was a US Army Veteran of WWII who had married Amsterdam native Edna Zupkivic in July of 1946. The new Mrs. Kopik had also served her country in WWII as a member of the Women’s Army Corp. After their honeymoon, the couple resided in Herkimer, where Ed Sr. was employed at the Remington Arms plant in nearby Ilion, NY. Edward Jr. was their first born on August 4, 1948. They then had a daughter they named Linda.

Just after Christmas in 1956, Edward Kopik Sr. died suddenly at the age of 48. With no other relatives in Herkimer, Edna took her two children and returned to Amsterdam, where young Edward attended St. Joseph’s School and then Wilbur Lynch High School. The now fatherless boy got involved in scouting for a while but I could not find evidence that he was involved in sports, music or drama activities during his early years. It looks as if he enlisted in the US Marine Corps just a week after he turned 18 years of age, on August 11, 1964, without first graduating from Lynch. Perhaps he was determined to follow his parents example by serving his country during wartime. At the time he signed up, America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict was about to be expanded exponentially, and after completing four weeks of special jungle warfare training, it was clear that Kopik was about to find himself in the thick of the inevitable fighting.

After spending a thirty-day leave back home in Amsterdam, this brave young man said good-bye to his mom and sister and was shipped out with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and stationed at the Da Nang Air Base in February of 1966. Just four months later, on June 1, 1966, Kopik was on patrol near Da Nang when he encountered an explosive device. Pfc. Kopik suffered multiple fragmentation wounds to both his legs and arms and these injuries proved fatal. He became the third Amsterdam resident to make the supreme sacrifice in Vietnam. His body was returned to Amsterdam for burial in St. Casmir’s Cemetery. This young hero lost his dad at the age of eight and his own life at the age of eighteen. We honor his memory on what would have been Edward Kopik’s 71st birthday. May he now be at total peace in a better place.

 

August 3 – Happy Birthday Herbert T Singer

Herbert T. Singer was the youngest son of a former Big Apple postal clerk named Abraham Singer. In 1898, before there was a Zip Code, Abraham put a small printing press in the back room of his New York City apartment and began producing packs of “practice cards” for his co-workers who sorted the mail that trains used to carry around the country back then. These cards displayed the name of the post office on one side and the railroad and county location of that post office on the reverse side. Abraham Singer ended up moving to Amsterdam in 1909, where he continued both his career as a postal clerk and his practice card business in a small barn located behind 339 Division Street. He also started taking on more and more commercial printing work. By 1914 he needed more room so he purchased a former broom factory on the corner of Liberty and Forbes Street in the same building that until just recently served as the Central Administration headquarters of the Greater Amsterdam School District.

In 1919, Abraham’s two oldest sons, B. Barrett and Everett joined their father’s business and moved the company into the sale of advertising specialties. Simply put, an ad specialty is any product used for any purpose that also includes a printed advertising message. Calendars, appointment books and pens are each traditional examples of ad specialty products. They are typically handed out free to customers and prospects and each time they are used by those individuals, the ad printed on the product is seen again and again.

In 1927, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog Celebrant, the youngest of the three Singer brothers, would also join the company. A decade later, Abraham died and the three brothers formed a partnership that would propel Amsterdam Printing and Litho on a path of growth that would evolve the family’s business into one of the largest Ad Specialty company’s in the world.

They were pioneers and expert practitioners in the field of direct mail, using the US Postal Service to deliver their promotional mailings to hundreds of thousands of prospects around the country. The company’s direct mail kept the Amsterdam Post Office busy and profitable for decades.

In 1960, the firm that started in the tiny back room of a Manhattan apartment was moved into a modern, one-floor combined office, manufacturing and warehouse facility measuring 120,000 square feet that was located on Wallins Corners Rd. From that one “practice card,” the company’s product list would expand to thousands of products and its customer list would reach into the millions.

Herbert Singer was also very involved in the Amsterdam Community. He served on the Amsterdam School Board and was very active in the Sir William Johnson Council of scouting. He was one of the founders of Amsterdam Community Chest, the pre-curser of the United Way. He helped the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps get started and was just the third Amsterdamian in history to achieve the highest degree of Masonry.

His first wife Lillian Miller, a native of Ballston Spa, died in 1935, when she was just 24 years old. He then married Ruth Sack, a native of Pennsylvania. He had two sons and a daughter. The oldest of them, his son Robert, would eventually become president of the family business. Herbert died in 1993, at the age of 87.

After Herbert passed away, the Singer family sold the business to Taylor Corporation, one of the largest privately held companies in the US, which is based in Minnesota. Fortunately, Taylor has decided to not just keep but also expand Amsterdam Printing & Litho’s presence in Amsterdam and it remains one of our community’s largest employers.

 

 

July 31 – Happy Birthday Samuel Wallin

Samuel Wallin was one of the most significant and accomplished citizens in the history of Amsterdam, NY. He was born on July 31, 1856 in the city of Easton, Pennsylvania. His father was a native of England who had been trained in carpet manufacturing, which explains how he and his family ended up in Amsterdam, NY, working in the Sanford carpet mills by 1864.

As a youngster, Samuel attended Amsterdam Academy but while still a boy, he got himself an entry level job in the Sanford mills, earning fifty cents a day. He fell in love with the place and the rug-making process and he would remain involved with it the rest of his life.

Because he had started so young and at the very bottom rung of Sanford’s  corporate ladder, he held just about every job possible on his climb up it. By the time he was thirty in 1886, he was ready to form a rug making company of his own. Well not exactly his own. Three of his coworkers at Sanford were ready to take the leap with him and each of the four possessed knowledge of a different area of the business.

David Crouse was a dyer. John Howgate’s specialty was the finishing room. William McCleary’s expertise was the drum room and Wallin himself was a designer. The four didn’t have much money between them but they managed to scrape together just enough cash to start the firm, McCleary, Wallin and Howgate in a small factory next to the Mohawk River on Amsterdam’s South Side. Their goal was to specialize in narrow runner rugs, no wider than 30 inches in length. The company started with nine employees and struggled mightily before turning the corner to profitability. When Howgate died in 1902, the firm’s name was changed to McCleary Wallin and Crouse. After fire destroyed their small South Side factory, they relocated to Amsterdam’s Rockton area and began expanding their product line and their operations. By the time WWI began, the company’s payroll had reached 2,000 employees.

While being one of the masterminds behind this amazing growth, Wallin became deeply involved in all aspects of life in Amsterdam. A staunch Republican, he served as an Amsterdam alderman and was elected Mayor of the city in 1900, serving a two-year term. It was during his administration that the Rockton area was formally annexed into the city. He later ran for Congress in 1914 and won a two-year term, choosing not to seek reelection in 1916.

He joined Amsterdam’s First Methodist Episcopal Church, when he was just 15 years old and became a pillar of that congregation. After achieving career success Wallin told his Pastor that whenever he came across a family in Amsterdam in need of money for food, clothing or shelter to provide it and send him the bill. As one might expect, Wallin was on the Boards of several local banks and organizations. His marriage to the former Margaret Faulds of Amsterdam was solid and long lasting. Though their coupling produced no children, they adopted a son and took in a niece of Mrs. Wallin who was treated like a daughter.

Just after completing his term in Congress in 1916, Wallin began experiencing dizzy spells and headaches. By August of the following year, they had become more serious. He went to New York City to consult with some of the very best neurological specialists in the World who told Wallin there was nothing they could do. He returned to his home at 163 Locust Avenue to spend his final days. The end came there on the evening of December 1, 1917. He left the bulk of his estate to his wife and in 1920, McCleary Wallin & Crouse merged with the Shuttleworth Brothers Company to form Mohawk Carpet Mills, Inc.

 

July 30 – Happy Birthday Gus Triandos

triandos2It it wasn’t for Yogi Berra, the most popular player in Rugmaker history probably never would have played for Amsterdam. Let me explain.

Yogi Berra became the full-time starting catcher for the New York Yankees in 1949 and remained in that position for a total of 12 seasons. He would become one of the top five catchers in baseball history, winning three MVP Awards and helping the Bronx Bombers win 10 Pennants and 7 World Series during his time as their starting receiver. But what he also did was create a stockpile of talented catching prospects in the Yankees’ farm system and today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was one of them.

The Yankees signed Gus Triandos, a strapping Greek-American native of San Francisco, in 1948 when he was just 17 years old and before they knew Berra would become their behind-the-plate superstar. They assigned the youngster to their C-level club in Twin Falls, Idaho where Triandos smashed 18 home runs and averaged .323 in his first-ever season of professional ball. The next year he did even better, belting 26 home runs with a .307 average and showing great skill behind the plate. That got him pushed up to the A level of the Yankees’ farm system, where he started the 1950 season in Binghamton. That’s where he ran into the “Berra factor.” Two other catching prospects ended up on that year’s Binghamton roster, Lou Berberet and Hank Foiles and both would end up averaging over .300 that season. So when Triandos averaged just .048 in his first eight games with the club, instead of being patient with their young prospect, the organization demoted him back to C ball and gave him a bus ticket to Amsterdam.

He spent the balance of that 1950 season playing for the Rugmakers. He hit an amazing .363 and smashed 11 home runs in that half-season and impressed every baseball-lovng fan in Amsterdam with his shotgun arm and powerful swing. He also impressed the ladies of the Rug City.The 6′3″Triandos had Hollywood good looks and was built like a Greek God. The Recorder sports reporters covering the team nicknamed him “Gorgeous Gus”and the team’s female fans were disappointed that as a catcher, big Gus had to cover his handsome face with that big old catcher’s mask most of the time he was on the field. To top it all off, Triandos had a kind heart too. He was known to visit sick kids in both Amsterdam hospitals and was always willing to sign autographs. In addition to being the top vote getter on that year’s Can Am All Star team, Triandos ran away with that year’s “Most Popular Rugmaker” fan poll.

The only weakness Triandos had on a baseball field was his lack of fleetness afoot. Simply put, the guy was considered one of the slowest runners in Major League history. Despite that handicap, his strong hitting and outstanding defensive ability were clear indications that this guy would some day be a starting catcher on a big league team. But with Berra squatting behind the plate in the Bronx, it wouldn’t be for the Yankees.

New York brought Triandos up a first time in mid-August of the 1953 season. Casey Stengel got the then 22-year-old prospect into 18 games down the stretch and he hit his first and only home run as a Yankee. But he averaged just .157 and when the season was over so was his Yankee career, pretty much. He spent almost the entire ’54 season with the Yanks’ Double A club in Birmingham and that November, was included in a historic 17-player transaction with the Orioles that brought Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Yankees.

It was the big break Triandos’ career needed. He was actually the starting first baseman on the 1955 Baltimore team and Hal Smith started behind the plate. He took over the starting catcher’s job during the 1956 season and remained in that role for the next seven years. He quickly established his reputation as one of the league’s best all-around receivers. He made three straight AL All Star teams and his 30-home runs in 1958 tied Berra’s record for most HRs by a catcher in a season. Though he was still obscured by the Yankee great’s shadow, he became a huge fan favorite in Baltimore, where they named a street after him.

Triandos gained lots of notoriety and sympathy for having to catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s fluttering knuckleball during the Hall-of-Famer’s four-plus seasons as an Oriole. Baltimore manager, Paul Richards designed and had made an over-sized catcher’s mitt to assist Triandos with the task. Though Wilhelm had some of his best big league seasons pitching to Triandos, including his only no-hitter, big Gus often said that catching the hurler’s signature pitch was the worst part of his career.

In 1962, Triandos was traded to the Detroit Tigers and a year later, Detroit sent him and pitcher Jim Bunning to the Phillies. It was there that he caught his second career no-hitter, when Bunning accomplished the feat in June of 1964 against the Mets. But Triandos had stopped hitting during his final few seasons in Baltimore and never again regained his stroke. He retired after the 1965 season and returned to his native California, where he started a mail delivery business. He died in his sleep, from heart failure in March of 2013 at the age of 82.

 

July 27 – Happy Birthday Gerald Barnell

barnell321Parents don’t let your babies grow up without pushing them to at least try to play a musical instrument. There really are a whole bunch of reasons why every kid should do so and none of them have anything to do with becoming a professional musician. Studies have shown that folks who play get smarter, build confidence, and become more disciplined and creative at the same time. Plus most kids who play instruments have so much fun doing so. I played the trumpet when I was a kid and you don’t ever forget the great feeling you get when you’ve learned how to play your first popular song (mine was Moon River) or performed in your first school concert with all your classmates or marched onto the football field up at Lynch and watched the crowd cheer you as loudly as they do a home team touchdown.

The other thing that happens as you’re learning how to play is that you develop a whole new level of respect and appreciation for music and for great musicians. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the late great Michael Pallotta play his trumpet. I was in grade school playing in the elementary school band and our director had us up at the Lynch auditorium to practice for a concert. The amazing AHS Stage Band had just finished practicing and Pallotta was packing up his trumpet when we walked on stage. Our director asked him if he’d play something. I didn’t know the name of the song he played or even if it was a song but I do remember the incredibly beautiful sounds he made with that horn and because I was trying to play the same instrument I had so much more appreciation for the talent and the practice and the physical skills what he was doing represented.

The instrumental program in Amsterdam schools has churned out plenty of success stories and fortunately, I didn’t have to look very far to come up with a couple of case histories. My own brother Matt is one of Amsterdam’s all-time great pianists. He will tell you it was his third grade music teacher who pushed him to take those ivory keys seriously and he’s made his living doing so ever since. My youngest daughter Marissa received a welcome bunch of scholarship money to play her Oboe for Syracuse University’s symphony orchestra. The memory of listening to her play that incredibly difficult instrument alone on stage during her senior year at ‘Cuse still brings tears to my eyes.

My other three kids also played an instrument as students in the Amsterdam school district. My girls were much more serious about doing so than my two boys were. But take it from me, a guy who took trumpet lessons from fifth grade to tenth and then completely lost interest, the experience and the memories and the friendships and lessons learned during all those years sitting in front of a black metal music stand were an important part of my life and something I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do.

Which is why I and thousands upon thousands of Amsterdam’s student musicians past and present owe today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant a huge debt of gratitude.

Gerald Barnell was the “Godfather” of the Greater Amsterdam School District’s instrumental program. He was born on Amsterdam’s South Side on July 27, 1909, one of nine children  raised by Albino and Carmella Barnell (shortened from Baranello). His dad ran a grocery store on Florida Avenue. His father’s family was filled with musicians and young Gerald’s uncles put together a musical group called Barnell’s Concert Orchestra, which became this area’s most popular musical entertainment for a generation.Barnell played violin in his uncle’s ensembles.

He attended public schools growing up and graduated from Amsterdam High in the Class of 1929. He then went to Ithaca College and earned a bachelor’s degree. He got his first teaching job at Cazenovia Seminary. A year later in 1934, he was hired by his hometown school district as a music teacher.

Over the course of the next four decades, as an instructor and later, district director of instrumental music, he started and/or directed every instrumental performance group that ever played a note on an Amsterdam public school stage. These included all junior and senior high school bands and orchestras. It was Barnell who first turned the Amsterdam High School Marching Band into one of this community’s most prized possessions. It was also his idea to form a Majorettes squad and to have the young ladies in that group perform their now famous Rockettes’ kick line to the tune of “Lullaby of Birdland.” He also became a key force in the Montgomery County Music Teachers Association and helped organize the very first Montgomery County Music Festival, which brought the best student musicians from every high school in the county together for virtuoso performances.

Barnell remained a very busy music man even when he wasn’t working at his day job. He completed additional graduate studies at the State University of New York at Albany, Syracuse University, Indiana University, Columbia University and the Julliard School of Music. He formed his own Union Orchestra and continued his family’s long tradition of providing musical entertainment at events and venues throughout the area. When WCSS came on the air in 1947, Barnell hosted a radio talent show called “Youth on Parade.” He also was co-host of that AM station’s first Italian music show. In addition, he gave private lessons to hundreds. Even after he retired, he continued to teach music education courses to future music teachers at Albany’s St. Rose College.

He married Antionette Morini in 1940. She was part of the Morini Coal & Oil family from Amsterdam’s South Side and she was a talented singer, dancer and actress. The couple frequently performed together locally. They had one son, Gerald Jr.

Gerald Barnell died on September 27, 1998 at the age of 89. Few made more important or longer lasting contributions to Amsterdam’s quality of life.

(The man most consider to be the founder of Amsterdam, NY also celebrated a July 27 birthday.)

 

July 26 – Happy Birthday Bob Noto

Bob and his son Bobby at Father-Son game in Cooperstown a few years ago.
Bob and his son Bobby at Father-Son game in Cooperstown a few years ago.

Bob Noto played football and baseball for Brian Mee during his Amsterdam high school days back in the early 1970’s and then went to college with a plan. He intended to return to Amsterdam one day to teach, coach and eventually become the AHS Athletic Director. He would bulls-eye all three.

My oldest son Matt played on the JV football team Bob coached at Amsterdam High School in the early 1990’s. The way he handled those boys really impressed me. He wasn’t a screamer or a rah-rah type of personality, but he was an excellent communicator. He told his players what he expected from them, he prepared them well and he never lost his patience when they struggled. My son loved playing for him.

It was Frank Derrico, the Hall-of-Fame AHS Football Coach who gave Bobby his start in the AHS football program. Noto gives him and Mee much of the credit for how he shaped his own coaching philosophy. But it was his longtime partnership with Derrico’s successor, Pat Liverio for which Noto is best known. Liverio made Noto the Rugged Rams offensive coordinator and gave him complete autonomy in that role. It turned out to be one of the most productive partnerships in AHS sports history.

In the year 2000, Noto took over the AHS AD’s role on a part-time basis while still teaching physical education full time and maintaining his coaching job too. His part-time salary as AD saved district taxpayers thousands of dollars during the decade he held that position and Bobby somehow managed to maintain his sanity and his marriage to Cindy while doing three jobs at the same time. Before retiring in 2012, he capped of his career by spending four seasons as head coach of the AHS Varsity Baseball team.

Even though he’s retired, Bob continues to contribute to the school and community he loves. The AHS Hall of Fame was Bob’s idea and he served as the first Chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee until 2019. His hard work and leadership helped get the fledgling organization off to a solid start. He also serves on the coaching staff of AHS Varsity baseball coach Robbie Hisert.

Bob grew up in the same neighborhood as I did and his parents were classic Amsterdam West Enders. His Mom Mary was the go-to hair dresser where we lived and his Dad Lou Noto, a guy who worked two jobs and still had time to devote thousands of hours to help organize, manage and coach Amsterdam’s Wee Men’s Baseball over the years. Bobby’s older brother Lou Jr. was also a talented football player and later a highly admired coach at AHS. He and his lovely wife Cindy are the proud parents of three children and if you ask Bob what the biggest thrill of his career has been he would not hesitate in telling you it was the opportunity to coach both of his daughters, Elizabeth and Lisa and his son, former AHS all-league QB Bobby Noto.

Bobby is also a passionate fan of New York Giant football and New York Yankee baseball. He just may hold the record for most lifetime hits by a Yankee Fantasy Camp attendee!

 

July 22 – Happy Birthday Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller with one of the Colorado Wrangler's female singers.
Dusty Miller with one of the Colorado Wrangler’s female singers.

The first time I ever laid eyes on Dusty Miller was in the very early 1970’s. I had a job after school pumping gas at a West Main Street service station and a car pulled in one evening after dinner with two guys dressed like cowboys in the front seat. When the driver told me to “fill it up” I’m sure I was about ready to ask him if he wanted me to water the horses too, when just then my boss came out of the station and yelled Hi Dusty! That’s all I needed to hear and I knew instantly that I was waiting on Amsterdam’s most famous cowboy, Dusty Miller.

Of course he wasn’t really a cowboy and his real name wasn’t even Dusty Miller but for over fifty years, Elmer Rossi was the Rug City version of Roy Rogers, the singing Cowboy. Of course Elmer did not shoot a gun, do rope tricks, own a famous horse like Trigger, or star on his own TV show but as Dusty Miller, he did have his own musical group called the Colorado Wranglers and he did perform in the Grand Ol Opry and he did have his own highly rated (in Amsterdam) radio show on WCSS. And for many of those years his was one of the most in-demand, live country & western musical acts not just in Amsterdam but also the Capital District, northern New York State and Vermont.

A few years later, when I was bartending at Ralph’s on Amsterdam’s Market Street, Dusty’s band played an extended run of weekends there and I got to know this very nice man pretty well. He really did put together a solid career in the very tough music business and he had personally met just about every big name C&W artist of his generation.

Elmer was born in Amsterdam on July 22, 1910 to John and Zoe Mahue Rossi. When he wasn’t playing with his band he held day jobs with Finkle Distributors and Iannotti’s Vending. After retiring from his last full-time day job he became a driver for John Tag’s Pharmacy in Amsterdam. He and his wife Marion raised two daughters and two sons. Dusty remained active right up to the end. His last radio show on WCSS aired in January of 1997. The next month, then Amsterdam Mayor John Duchessi proclaimed February 3rd “Dusty Miller Day” in the city. He died at his 10 Jackson Street home on Monday March 3, 1997 at the age of 86.

July 21 – National Junk Food Day salute to Amsterdam

2487815735_e9c101e288July 21 is National Junk Food Day. I’ve always equated junk food with fast food franchises which got me thinking about all of the fast food joints Amsterdam has seen come and go in my lifetime. I guess the first fast food franchise to locate in Amsterdam was the White Tower hamburger restaurant that used to be located on the northwest corner of Church and Main Streets. Their hamburgers cost just five cents each but that was back when Rug City working stiffs were still dreaming of earning a buck an hour some day. The first White Tower Restaurant opened in Milwaukee in 1926. The only one still operating is located in Toledo, OH.

Who remembers when the Mike’s Submarine shop opened up on the corner of Market and Main? It was among the first six or seven locations in the chain started by Albany entrepreneur Stanley “Mike” Uzdavinis. My family used to eat subs for dinner back then about twice a month and I’ll always remember that a Mike’s Sub was the very first time I ever had shredded lettuce and oil added to a sandwich.

I believe Carrol’s Hamburger’s was the next fast food franchise to come to our area and also the first one to locate on what is now known as the Route 30 Miracle Mile north of the city. Carrol’s fifteen cent hamburgers and fifteen cent bags of french fries destroyed any hope I had of developing healthy eating habits as a teenager. My first Carrol’s hamburger was the first time I ever ate a hamburger with tiny diced-up grilled onions, mustard and a pickle added to my usual topping preference of ketchup.

I think Red Barn was next. This truly was one of the great fast food franchises in local history. They served burgers, chicken and fish entrees and even featured a fresh salad bar. Their “Barnbuster” was one of the first oversized burgers on the market.  Do you remember “Hamburger Hungry”? The Amsterdam location was located at the entrance of the Route 30 plaza where the original Pricechopper Supermarket was located. It closed in the late 1980s. I fell in culinary love with Red Barn’s “Whaler”” fish sandwich. Speaking of fish, we can’t forget Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips, which stood where Liberty Fresh Market was  located.

McDonald’s of course became this town’s dominant fast food destination as soon as it opened its doors on Market Street sometime in 1975. This McAmsterdam has always been a very well-run “Golden Arches” franchise, which explains why the lines of cars for their drive-in window are as long as ever.

I believe Kentucky Fried Chicken opened about the same time as McDonalds as it became regrettably more and more fashionable to destroy Market Hill residential properties in the name of progress. Everybody loves to eat fried chicken but nobody likes to make it at home. Why? Because it is a humungous, labor-filled prep and clean-up effort, not to mention what the hell do you do with the used oil afterward. That question became moot when the white bearded colonel joined Ronald McDonald on Amsterdam’s Market Street. Despite a terrible location filled with a lack of parking spaces and neighborly disputes, the Colonel’s secret recipe kept the place open for four decades. And now that it is gone, that building has quickly become a Market St. eyesore.

When the downtown mall opened it added Mister B’s, Orange Julius and a Pizza Hut to our urban landscape. By then, the Carrol’s location on Route 30 had become a Burger King and remember when the new KMart store opened it also had a Little Caesar’s?

And what about Dominoes foray into the Rug City? How could a chain pizza joint that originally topped their pizza with sausage droppings that looked as if they came directly out of a puppy dog possibly compete with the legendary tomato-pie makers of Amsterdam? They delivered! And when Domino’s opened their Market Street branch that ugly little Ford Pinto with their ugly sign on top could be seen cruising slowly up and down every side street in every neighborhood of our community, looking for a customer’s street number.

Though Mike’s is long gone we can now get our subs from Subway and for a while we even had a Quizno’s. We also once had a Hardee’s, which was converted into this area’s second McDonald’s before closing, getting demolished and becoming a new Hoffman’s Car Wash. Now we have a Taco Bell, Wendy’s, three Dunkin Donuts, Moe’s, Menche’s Yogurt, and Panera’s. Recovery Room is a chain as is Ruby Tuesday’s but both have upscale menus compared to the “order off the wall” offerings all of the above meal purveyors featured. A while back it was reported that Sonics was coming here but they never did and now I’m hearing Five Guys Burgers & Fries may be heading to Amsterdam. I promise you this, if that turns out to be the case and Five Guys fresh cut fries end up being just five minutes away from my front door, the belt I have on now will no longer be functional three months after their grand opening… on second thought, better make that two months.

 

 

This Amsterdam native helped get Neil Armstrong to the Moon!

Angelo DiBlasi, circa 1954

Today (July 20, 2019) is the 50th anniversary of Man’s first steps on the moon. Amsterdam’s best known connection to what many consider to be the greatest technical achievement in history was the late Rocco Petrone, who was the Launch Director for the mission that made Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” possible. But there was a second Amsterdam native who played an integral role in getting the Apollo 11 astronauts to their celestial destination a half-century ago. His name is Angelo DiBlasi. DiBlasi was born in Amsterdam on May 8, 1927 in our City’s West End. He was raised on West Main Street with his brother Frank and sisters Armida and Jean. He graduated from Wilbur Lynch High School in 1944 and immediately went to work in the Bigelow-Sanford rug mills.

He was drafted into the US Army the following year just after Germany surrendered to end WWII in Europe but before Japan had followed suit. By the time he had completed his training stateside the War was over so he was stationed in Berlin with the occupation forces for the next eighteen months. When he was discharged, he returned to his job in the rug mill until a letter arrived from Uncle Sam telling him if he didn’t use his GI college benefit within the next year he would forfeit it. He immediately enrolled at Siena and studied Physics. His plan was to become a nuclear engineer and get a job at the GE sight in West Milton where a nuclear reactor was being constructed at the time. But by the time he graduated from college in 1955 however, the missile race between the US and Russia was reaching full throttle and there was a pressing need for engineers in the burgeoning aerospace industry. DiBlasi had six job offers by the time he got his Siena diploma and the West End native decided to head west to California to accept an engineering position with North American Aviation Corp. which was about to be sold to Rockwell International and renamed Rocketdyne.

DiBlasi did not move out west alone. In 1954 he had married Gilda Sansalone, the daughter of the proprietors of one of the most popular neighborhood grocery stores in Amsterdam history. The young couple ended up buying a house in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles in a neighborhood filled with aerospace industry employees.

Rocketdyne’s F-1 Engine

Rocketdyne assigned DiBlasi to the F1 Engine project as a development engineer. At the time, the F-1 was about to become the most powerful engine ever built by man, capable of generating 1.5 million pounds of thrust. The Amsterdam native was responsible for writing test programs for the engine and then analyzing the results of those tests and making modifications to eliminate discovered flaws and bugs. The success of the Apollo program depended on the ability of five Rocketdyne F-1 engines to deliver the 7.5 million pounds of thrust necessary to propel the 5,000 ton Saturn V rocket and capsule during the first three minutes of its flight to the moon.

Early testing of the engine showed a propensity for the F-1 to experience serious combustion instability problems. DiBlasi was one of the team of engineers who helped analyze and solve that problem. I had the privilege of personally speaking to DiBlasi  two days ago by phone to ask him about his role in the historic Apollo 11 flight.

He told me he was confident that the F-1 engines were up to the task because they had been so well tested in both simulations and earlier Apollo flights. Still, he said there were millions of moving parts and so many complex systems involved in the mission that like everyone else, he felt a deep sense of relief and a huge amount of pride when Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the lunar surface. He told me that up until that mission, money had not been a problem when it came to advancing this country’s space program. Everyone from the US Presidents on down were firmly transfixed on beating the Russians to the Moon. In 1961, President Kennedy had promised the country that an American would walk on the Moon before the end of that decade. In a 1999 interview in the LA Times commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, DiBlasi told the reporter “Everyone was dedicated to fulfilling Kennedy’s promise, There was a real spirit of interaction on the part of the government, the company, the contractors–it was just a great thing to be part of.”

Amsterdam natives Angelo and Gilda DiBlasi

DiBlasi had seen secret films of Russia’s attempts to launch rockets that could get their cosmonauts to the Moon. Most ended in catastrophic failure because the Soviet engineers could not replicate the power of the F-1. So instead of creating a rocket with just five engines, the Russians were forced to try and integrate 16 of their most powerful engines into their design and just couldn’t get it to work.

But it seemed as if no sooner had the ticker tape parade in New York City honoring the Apollo 11 Astronauts ended, that the Federal Government’s flow of money to the space program began to decrease. In that same 1999 LA Times article, DiBlasi explained how at Rocketdyne, engineers worked around the same desks in groups of four and beginning in 1970, he watched as his three desk mates were laid off one by one.

As bad as that makes you feel for his co-workers, it also signaled to me just how good an engineer DiBlasi must have been. He remained at the company for 34 years, retiring in 1988. He and Gilda raised a family of three children, two daughters and a son.

My Dad and Angelo DiBlasi grew up together on the same block and were good friends. I grew up and became very good friends with several of Angelo and Gilda’s nephews and nieces. I thought of these relationships as I was talking to this amazing 92-year-old Amsterdam native the other day about his brilliant aerospace career. We didn’t just talk about that career. Angelo also reminisced about his days in Amsterdam. We talked about Joe Mason, the barber who cut both our hair, Isabel’s restaurant, our old neighborhood and our families. He told me how back when he first moved to California he used to attend gatherings of former Amsterdamians who had also moved to the “Golden State”. The reunions were organized by the late John Fedullo, another former Amsterdam barber and over 200 one-time Rug City residents used to show up!

How special is it that two guys from Amsterdam, Rocco Petrone and Angelo DiBlasi played key roles in making Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind possible fifty years ago? As far as I’m concerned, very special indeed.”