Notes from an old reporter

IMG_3790IMG_3788IMG_3801Christmas has already arrived at 3159 W. 11th St. in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s the address for the house used in some of the filming of the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” The Bob Clark-directed, low-budget motion picture was released in only 600 theaters, and it flopped. But it became a holiday classic thanks to Turner Broadcasting, which began showing it on TNT or TBS during the holiday season. The house, located in a working-class neighborhood near downtown Cleveland, is now a tourist attraction, complete with a Christmas tree in the living room and a leg lamp in the living room window. Across the street is a museum with original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, plus some rare behind-the-scenes photos. There is also a large souvenir/gift shop. Visiting the house was on my bucket list, so my bride and I stopped there last April on our way to Connecticut to visit a son and grandson who live there. A Christmas Story House is open for tours seven days a week year round, except on major holidays. You can get more information at (216) 298-4919 or
The late Wayne Littell of Eldridge, who died in July, accomplished a lot in his lifetime. But I suspect most people didn’t realize he had been a disc jockey at one point. As I recall, Wayne had spun records in Maquoketa, not far from his Baldwin, Iowa, birthplace. I met him later, in the 1970s, when we were both part-time disc jockeys at the former KWNT, the Quad-Cities original country music station. A mechanical engineer, Wayne’s full-time job then was at Long Manufacturing.
When I am behind the wheel of my large SUV, my short arms are unable to reach the buttons on the ATM machine at Walcott Trust and Savings Bank. So I’ve been known to park on the street, walk to the ATM, do my transaction, then return to the car. That was my plan a few weeks ago, but I apparently put my card into the machine incorrectly, and it didn’t work. As I was standing there, probably looking perplexed, I heard a male voice on an outdoor speaker. It said something like this: “Hey, Phil. You can’t use that ATM. You are in a drive-through lane, and you don’t have a car!” Then there was laughter. It was my longtime friend, Daron Oberbroeckling, who works at the bank. Small towns are much like the “Cheers” TV show, where everybody knows your name.
It seems like all bad deeds are caught on video these days. Most everyone — with the exception of me — has a smart phone and shoots video when something is happening. In recent weeks a sheriff’s deputy lost his job for the tactics he used in removing a student from a classroom. She had been asked to leave by her teacher but would not comply. A school bus driver was put on suspension for roughing up a student who had been asked to sit down but also did not comply. While the deputy and bus driver may have used excessive force, the students were also in the wrong. My parents taught me at an early age to obey them, my grandparents, my teachers, police officers and other authority figures. I’m afraid that’s a lesson that isn’t being taught much anymore. I knew if I got into trouble outside the home, I’d be in more trouble when I returned home.
It is no wonder that awards programs on TV run so doggone long; they waste a lot of time on stupid stuff. That was true for the recent “CMA Awards” on ABC. The show opened with what said was “a weak opening video skit where the show attempted to marry country music with ‘Star Wars.’” Calling it weak is putting it nicely. Then co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley spent at least another 15 minutes unsuccessfully trying to be funny. They may have gone beyond that 15 minutes. I don’t know because we turned off the television at 7:20 as Paisley was dropping his bluejeans to reveal plaid boxer shorts. Who knows why. As my wife turned off the TV set, I was shouting at it, “Just present the awards!” I often talk to the radio or TV. When a news anchor gives his or her opinion on a particular story — in other words editorializes — I shout, “Just read the news.” When a disc jockey drones on and on, I shout, “Just play the music.” We watch a lot of PBS TV programs, and that saves a lot of shouting on my part.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted a a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


Happy Veterans Day, Captain

Philip Ingraham

Philip Ingraham


Here is a pre-Veterans Day salute to the Army officer for whom I was named, Capt. Philip Ingraham from Massachusetts, who went into the Army in 1942. He was killed in action in France in 1944. My dad, Harry Raymond (Ray) Roberts, served under Ingraham and had a great deal of respect for him. Following are some excerpts from my dad’s World War II memoirs regarding Ingraham, who is pictured here.
“At the end of Tennessee maneuvers, Capt. Philip Ingraham must have thought that we had been in the field so long that we needed something different. So we dressed up in our Class A uniforms and went to the city of Nashville. He had contacted the YWCA or some other girls’ organization and scheduled a dance for Company C members. All the girls lined up at the top of the stairs while the guys got in line at the foot of the stairs. As the girls came down the steps, each guy stepped forward and that was your dancing partner for the night. I don’t remember my partner’s name, but it was a fun evening. I have pictures in my Army album showing us at the dance. Every member of C Company was there, including all the officers.”
“Capt. Ingraham always went out of his way to show he cared for his men. Another incident that I remember in Tennessee was when Capt. Ingraham probably saved my neck. One day, our entire company was walking down an old dusty road in Tennessee and it was one of those terribly hot days. Along came a Jeep that was traveling too fast and, as our two columns pulled to side of the road, the Jeep was speeding between our columns. Just before the Jeep appeared, I had picked up a paper sack full of flour. It had probably been dropped by an airplane and had not broken. You see, during maneuvers airplanes would ‘bomb’ us with sacks of flour. Anyway, as I said, it was hot and dusty and this Jeep was showering us with dust. Here we were walking and two guys were riding and showing no concern for us. This I resented, so without hardly thinking, I threw that sack of flour at the Jeep and I hit the passenger. The Jeep stopped immediately as I had hit an officer in the leg. I figured I was in trouble, but thank goodness the officer was only a second lieutenant. First Lt. Ingraham came over and took care of the situation for me. In no uncertain terms, he ordered that second lieutenant to get out of there and now. It was just another time when Capt. (then First Lt.) Ingraham took care of his guys. It was such things as this that endeared him to his boys of Company C.”
“On July 4, 1944, one of our mortars was placed in the middle of the road. I was about 10 yards in front and to the right of it. Capt. Ingraham was a few feet in front of me. All of a sudden there was a terrific explosion in back of me. The captain asked, ‘What happened?’ I looked back and, where the mortar had been located, there was a big hole. I told him that a shell had hit the mortar. But later on we discovered that two guys with the mortar had placed it on a mine and, after firing it a couple times, the mortar’s base plate had sunk deeper and set off the mine. We lost two guys….On July 4, we formed a line and advanced across a wheat field for maybe 200 yards to get to the hedge rows on the other side. We had no problem until we got to the hedge rows. There they were. The Germans were waiting for us. Capt. Ingraham told me to take a couple runners and go to our left behind the hedge row, as we were out in the open. I didn’t know how far he wanted us to go, so I stopped and waved to him to see if we had gone far enough. He raised his hand, and I saw him go down. I believe that was when he was shot. As shells and hand grenades were coming along the hedge row and getting closer and closer, I decided that was not the place for me. So I started crawling toward the wheat field as I thought the field would be a safer place to be.”

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


LaSalle Canal Boat is inexpensive, relaxing

IMG_4756 IMG_4762 IMG_4772 IMG_4776 IMG_4784 IMG_4786When my wife rode on the mule-pulled LaSalle Canal Boat ( with the Plus 60 Travel Club earlier this year, I was under the weather and opted out of the trip. I was feeling better in late October wanted to ride the boat before it closed for the season at the end of October, so I reserved two seats online and we headed to LaSalle, Ill.

The LaSalle Canal Boat is a full-size replica of the 1800s canal boats that once carried passengers and cargo on the I&M Canal. The hand-dug, 96-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal, just 3 to 4 feet deep, extends from the Illinois River at LaSalle-Peru to Bridgeport, near Chicago. It connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Our 76-by-15-foot boat — built in 2008, and named Volunteer — is docked in downtown LaSalle, near Starved Rock State Park and the LaSalle Canal Boat and Lock 16 Visitor Center Café & Gift Shop, which offers dining, shopping, information, exhibits, lectures, afternoon teas and cultural programs.

The Visitor Center is also where tickets, even if reserved online, are picked up. They are a reasonable $14 each or just $12 for senior citizens. Kids ride free. A $2 service charge is added to each ticket for reserving seats online. All proceeds generated from the café, gift shop and ticket sales support the operations, mission and preservation of the I&M National Heritage Corridor.

The boat operates three times a day. It has an enclosed first deck and an open-air second deck. The mule, walking on a path on shore, pulls the boat with little effort by a rope one half-hour in one direction, then one half-hour in the other direction back to the dock. We were on the 11:30 a.m. ride with about a dozen other passengers. A tour guide provided lots of information both before and during the cruise.

Moe, a 1,600-pound, 28-year-old mule, pulled our ride. Moe was available for petting and photographs before and after the ride. Our tour guide also gave us marshmallows to feed him as a treat.

We found the LaSalle Canal Boat ride an inexpensive and relaxing way to spend some time.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


Fatal fire goes down in history

pinterestcomSarah Hayden’s recent North Scott Press column noting that the late Lester Schick, a former Davenport fire chief, was her grandfather plus her mention of the 1950 St. Elizabeth’s fire set me to thinking about and researching Davenport’s and Iowa’s deadliest fire. (Shown in the photo above from

The blaze took place on Jan. 7, 1950, in the St. Elizabeth Women’s Psychiatric Building of the former Mercy Hospital, now the site of Genesis Medical Center’s west campus. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that among healthcare facilities, it’s the third deadliest fire in U.S. history. Forty-one people died. Of those killed, 40 were mostly elderly mental patients, and one was an attendant.

The worst healthcare facility fire in history was at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio on May 15, 1929. It killed 125 people. Second worst was a fire at St. Anthony Hospital in Effingham, Ill., on April 4, 1949. Counting patients and staff, 74 people died.

A January 1950 NFPA report, volume 43, no. 3 of The Quarterly, detailed what happened that deadly January night in the St. Elizabeth building. The report goes into great detail describing the brick, wood joist building, which was a separate structure but administered as part of Mercy Hospital. It was a two-story building with much of the basement above ground. So, with its attic it appeared to be a four-story building.

The NFPA says the fire was discovered at an undetermined time prior to 2:06 a.m.

“There was one outside fire escape but access to it was blocked by barred windows,” said the report. It said a patient undergoing periodic treatment ignited the curtains in her room on the first floor in protest over being locked in the room, which was not normal treatment for that patient.

The fire quickly spread to the second floor and attic but also to the hallway when the patient broke the wired glass transom over her door and escaped through it and out the front entrance.

There were two attendants in the building at the time of the fire. One was sleeping, and one was awake. The attendant who was awake died in the fire. The other one escaped from the second floor via a center stairway.

The NFPA report said there were a couple of reasons for the large number of deaths. They were:
• The locked doors and the mental condition of patients who wanted to stay in their rooms or, once out of the building, wanted to return.
• The lack of a prearranged procedure for evacuation of the building in case of emergency.

It was possible to rescue only 25 of the 61 occupants. Two of those rescued died later. The report also noted that “only a very short space of time was available to the firemen to get patients out owing to the exceedingly rapid spread of fire through the old building.”

It said how much delay there may have been in discovering the fire and reporting it to the fire department may never be known. But it says the fact that the fire had gone to the upper floors when the department arrived is evidence there must have been a considerable delay in discovering the fire or in reporting it. “The alarm was telephoned to the fire department from the central switchboard in the main office in another building.”

When firefighters arrived, the main and second floor of the building were heavily involved, and rescue efforts were greatly handicapped by the barred windows. “Chopping the bars out of wood window frames necessarily took time and delayed rescue.”

The fire department was responsible for saving the lives of 19 of the 23 survivors, the NFPA concluded, “and did everything that was humanly possible, but in a building such as this, with the fire so far advanced upon their arrival, no fire department could be expected to prevent heavy loss of life.”

The report said a properly installed and maintained sprinkler system would have prevented the tragedy, and “over a period of about 25 years, fire department officials had repeatedly suggested automatic sprinklers, according to the chief.”

The report noted that there wasn’t an effective procedure for prompt discovery of the fire and calling the fire department. It also said locked doors and barred windows are necessary in certain types of mental institutions, but electric devices can be installed to release all locks simultaneously by the operation of the switch at a central point. In addition, “windows can be barred from the inside but with outside fastenings that can be quickly released by firemen on ladders.”


I’m sure there were many heroes at the fire that night, but one prominently recognized was a Davenport police patrolman named Richard Fee, 36. Though he did not want to talk about the fire in later years, Fee, who died Jan. 26, 2003, at the age of 89, wrote about his St. Elizabeth’s fire experience in a wire service article published soon after the fire.

“I was one of the first to reach the hospital when we got the alarm,” Fee wrote.

“Flames were shooting out of the windows on the second and third floors, and I could see more fire on the roof of the building. As the firemen put a ladder up, I grabbed an ax and climbed to the top of one of them. I chopped at the anchor bolts holding the bars across one of the windows. I thought those bars never would give way.

“Finally the bars dropped to the ground, and I smashed the pane with the helve of the ax. I saw a sight I guess I never will forget. Silhouetted against the flames were a group of patients. They weren’t screaming and didn’t seem excited much. They just looked bewildered. Sort of like animals who had something new happening to them and didn’t know just what to do.

“The flames were all around them by then. But thank God, they were docile and followed my orders willingly. I climbed in and took several by the hand and led them to the window. Firemen and other officers helped them down the ladder while I went as far as possible into the building to get more.”

Fee figured he had found about half a dozen patients and gotten them out the window.

“I didn’t have time to keep count. Those flames were hot. I could feel them searing my uniform, and my skin as I ducked among them. I was a little afraid the floors might give way but didn’t have much chance to think about it.

“Most of the patients I saw were older people. We managed to throw blankets around some of them, but for most the weather was so cold that they were going from one hell to another as they got out of the building.”

Fee wrote that when they got outside, the patients just stood round and looked at each other, “sort of unbelieving — as though they just couldn’t understand that anything like this could happen to them. There was very little screaming in the part of the building where I was, but I could hear terrible, terrible yells from other parts of the building.

“This was the worst thing I’ve even seen in the time I’ve been with the force. I hope I never see anything like it again.”

Thanks to improved building and fire codes, there are fewer chances of anyone seeing anything like that again.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 31, 2015 in Uncategorized


Remembering two landmarks

Hartman'sI will always remember two Quad-Cities landmarks that are no more. They are the long closed and recently demolished Dock restaurant on the Davenport levee, plagued over the years by floods and fires, and the Lodge Hotel & Conference Center, formerly Jumer’s Castle Lodge, in Bettendorf. It is also now closed.

When I was a youngster, I remember eating lunch with my dad in the 1950s at the riverfront restaurant near the roller dam. Then it was called Johnny Hartman’s (See the old postcard pictured above). Later it became the Dock, then the Rusty Pelican, then Pronger’s and, finally, the Dock again.

What I remember most about that experience with my dad isn’t the meal. It was being allowed to reach into a “treasure chest” full of toys and trinkets— like you’d find in a Cracker Jack box — near the front door as we left.

I was invited to choose an item. I no longer remember what treasure I selected, but I was thrilled at the time.

What perhaps was my next visit to the building was in about 1966 when its ballroom area known as the Draught House was a popular teen hangout. A local band known as the Night People provided the music, singing songs made popular by the Rolling Stones and others.

As a young married couple in the early 1970s, my wife Sherry and I would dine at the Dock on special occasions — when we could afford it. There was something magical about sitting at a white linen tablecloth-covered table near the picture window, watching Ol’ Man River flow by just feet away outside.

We ate at the Dock on Monday, May 1, 1972. I remember that date because the next day my wife gave birth to premature twin daughters. We lost Alisa when she was 2 days old. But her sister, Andrea, survived, to be joined in later years by three brothers.

The last time I ate at the Dock was likely Monday, June 27, 1977. I was the assistant personnel director for the 26-store Davenport Division of National Foods. I had lunch at the Dock with my boss, the personnel director, Pat Spurrier, after we had checked out the space formerly occupied by the Draught House for a future company presentation.

We were about finished dining when we heard a large boom. At first we thought a train had derailed nearby, but what we had actually heard was an explosion at International Multifoods, just east of us on River Drive.

I was affiliated on a part-time basis with the former KWNT Radio in Davenport and hurried to the scene. I phoned in some reports from a pay phone at a restaurant across the street from the blast. One was picked up and broadcast nationally by ABC Radio News.

The former Jumer’s Castle Lodge, a beautiful German-style hotel, restaurant and bar, now closed and with an uncertain future, is another place I well remember.

In the early 1970s, I supplemented our family income by working part-time as a security guard and private investigator. I started with Per Mar but two other local companies called, and I ended up working for all three of them at the same time.

One of the security firms had been hired by Jumer’s as the building neared completion to protect antiques that had been moved into the building, and the guard was required to carry a gun.

I agreed to work a few shifts and the owner of the security company obtained a gun permit for me. He told me to pick the gun up at his house before I went on duty.

“But I don’t know how to use it,” I told him.

“You don’t have to use it,” he replied. “You’re just required to carry it.”

So the first night I sat outside the front door with a holstered gun that I did not know how to use. At one point there was a noise that I traced to a garbage can. Looking inside, I saw a mouse crawling into and out of an empty pop can.

In later years, Sherry and I celebrated special occasions with dinner and the occasional Sunday brunch at Jumer’s or The Lodge. I have missed the Dock for a long time, and now I will also miss The Lodge.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This was submitted as a column to the North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


Goodbye Bud’s Skyline Inn and other random thoughts

skyline airplane marquee1There are many fine restaurants on both sides of the Mississippi.

Bud’s Skyline Inn, adjacent to the Moline airport, was one of our favorite places to eat. But the airport has bought the property and will tear the restaurant down to make room for some as yet unspecified future development.

I guess that is progress. But no matter what the airport puts there, I predict it will never top Bud’s, long known and loved for its aviation décor, great food and salad bar and friendly service.

Owner Bud Canfield, who is in his 70s and has owned the place for 30 years, is retiring. He deserves a rest. But the restaurant’s closing marks the end of a popular Quad-Cities icon, and that’s a shame.

We visited Bud’s the last Tuesday in September for a final meal there, and the place was packed. We waited in line for a table with about 50 other people who had the same idea.

We arrived at 5:40 and were finally seated at 7, but the wait was worth it. The food and service were both delightful as always.

I had a cup of cheeseburger chowder and a chicken dinner. My wife had a catfish dinner.

I don’t know what the airport will put on the property after it tears the restaurant down, but if they were smart they’d leave everything just as is, hire an experienced manager to replace the retiring Canfield and reopen Bud’s without changing a thing. Why reinvent the wheel?

I can’t imagine any new business of any kind on that property surpassing the success Bud’s Skyline Inn has achieved.

— My wife and I enjoy live, local theater and sometimes become fans of individual actors we often see on stage.

One of our favorites over the years was Michael Oberfield, who used his own name but, before that, the stage name Michael Kent for his performances in years past at Circa ‘21 in Rock Island.

Michael Oberfield died Sept. 28 at age 70 in Florida.

— I recently wrote in this space about Jeff and Kathy Fox, who, with their cat Ching, age 2 at the time, survived Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

You might recall that Ching escaped from the couple’s damaged house at one point after would-be animal rescuers, who had unsuccessfully searched for him, left the front door open when they departed. Ching was gone for weeks before finding his way back home.

I am sorry to report that just days after my column was printed, Ching died. My condolences to the Foxes.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, creative Enterprises. This piece will run as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa. the photo is courtesy of


Leave a comment

Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


I’m confused

I’m confused. (I know; that’s nothing new.) The daily paper today says gas prices are falling.

But yesterday morning (Oct. 5), as I filled my car with gas at the Walcott (Iowa) Casey’s, the price for gas with alcohol was $2.19 per gallon. At the same time that I was filling my car with $2.19 per gallon gas, a staff member was changing the price for it on the sign to $2.25 per gallon.

I then drove to north Davenport (Iowa) and made a point to look at the prices of every station I passed. Most were $2.19 per gallon and none were higher than that.

Gas prices may be falling, but perhaps Walcott Casey’s did not get the memo.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.