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1963: Home of the Brave

Trained fleas, thieves and other news from 50 years ago in Lemon Grove.

1963: Home of the Brave 1963: Home of the Brave

News from the Aug. 8, 1963, edition of the Lemon Grove Review when the shank of summer bristled with prizes, pests, projects and perps.

Model A Meets Model A:  Lemon Grove postmaster Francis "Frenchy" Faucher and pal Joe Bennett won first prize at the Henry Ford Centennial at San Diego's El Cortez Hotel when they arrived in their Model A trucks and wowed the crowd.

Frenchy drove a 1929 Model A postal truck exactly like the one he drove as a neophyte postal worker in the 1930s. Joe drove a 1963 Model A Ford postal truck replete with shiny chrome grillework.

Quoth Frenchy, "In '29 the stock market crashed and me too, but not that Model A. You could buy it for around $380 and top speed was near 50 mph, but you were better off at 25."

As history shows, the Model A was an instant success with 2 million sold by mid-summer 1929. Today, a restored Model A sells on eBay for upwards of $40,000. As for Joe's 1963 version, it rates almost as high with vintage postal service fans. 

Fleet-Footed Fleas Find Fame:  Torp's International Flea Circus, starring Babette the Squirrel Flea garbed in a feathered skirt, intrigued the crowd at the Spring Valley Shopping Center. Babette's partner, Oz the Fox Flea, joined her on the tightrope as they hopped through a teensy wreath of flames en route to a miniature chariot race.

William Torp launched his trained flea act in England in the 1920s--but it was his son, John Torp, who toured the U.S. with his microscopic stars in the 1960s. He said squirrel and fox fleas lived longer than cat and dog fleas and were easier to train at his special flea farm.  

In the stuff-we-never-knew-department, evidently your average pet flea is a chump even when fed brain-boosting beef blood. But fox and squirrel fleas are on the Mt. Rushmore of insect virtuosity for their ability to play football, balance balls, drive tiny carts and dance the rumba. (We can't do any of that, although our cha cha isn't bad.)

Torp emphasized that his fleas weren't mere pests or cooties suitable only for spraying, but pedigreed performers at the peak of their powers. 

John Torp's sign read, "50 cents for new and different fleas--please, rare only."  This is because a crowd of moppets once brought their pets to the show and the fleas went wild.

"Babette nearly lost her mind," said Torp. And where would he look for that minuscule cerebrum, we pondered.

Fire Tower Rises:  The remodeled Lemon Grove Fire Station, Central at School Lane, got its 35-foot tower when carpenter Bev Hensell put the finishing touches on the roof. The tower had been assembled in sections in the parking lot, then hoisted into place by a crane by R. A. Weeks Construction. The tower was destined for hose drying and training -- zipping down the fire pole, something all thinking people have yearned to do.

Sunday School Succeeds:  Skyline Wesleyan Methodist Church in south Lemon Grove won its case in front of the Board of Supervisors and could expand Sunday School classrooms without a special use permit and a new sidewalk. 

At issue was the church's location on three converging streets (Skyline, Carlisle, Osage) with right-of-way issues and the zoning code.  But the church was in an R-3 and R-4 area and was home free.  The board ruled they could build a sidewalk "later when they needed it."

Dodge Dogged, Dinged:  Wade Doughty, El Cajon, was en route to work on route 94 when a German Shepherd ran into the travel lane.  Doughty slammed on his brakes, but hit the dog, plowed through two guard rails and landed upside down on Buena Vista in Lemon Grove.

Though not wearing the new-fangled seat belts, Doughty survived the crash with minor scratches.  The car was dented, but drivable.  The dog died.  Doughty said he survived by "rolling with the car as it overturned three times in space."  Whew.  Whoa.  Bow-Wow.

Learning's a Breeze on the Seven Seas:  The University of the Seven Seas signed up undergraduate and graduate students for a year's study aboard the MS Seven Seas, a European-Canadian liner modified as a floating university.

Mt. Miguel High School geography teacher, Donald Amundson, was on deck to instruct students while afloat and at ports in New York, Lisbon, Barcelona, Naples, Beirut, Alexandria, Bombay, Singapore, Hong Kong, Rangoon, Manila, Capetown, Honolulu and other ports of call.

The vessel was equipped with lounges, swimming pool, movie theatre, library, classrooms, labs and study halls, and quarters for some 700 students.  The "Semester at Sea" was launched in 1963 by the Institute for Shipboard Education and continues today.  No word on cost, but Google this terrific opportunity, dear readers.

Cravat Crook Cornered:  Six young men entered the Lemon Grove Highlander Haberdashery, Broadway, and loitered around the sport coats while one punk purloined plain and patterned cravats.  As they exited, the plucky clerk shouted, "Hand over those cravats!" and pushed the burglar alarm button.

As the alarm shrieked, five plunderers plunged into the alley while the clerk chased the cravat napper and hung on to his belt, all the while shouting, "Help!  Thieves!"

It was broad daylight on a busy Friday and Mrs. Arthur Penfold was doing her shopping.  Spotting the pair tussling on the sidewalk, she hauled off and slugged the cravatee with her handbag, then kicked him with her orthopedic oxfords.  As he panted prone on the pavement, the clerk sat on him while deputies arrived, two to push the perp into the patrol car and three to give chase down the alley.

Mrs. Penfold refused a monetary reward, but said she would accept a polka dot cravat for her husband and would be glad to launder and press one of the almost-purloined "as a souvenir."

The old pro, Max Goodwin, editor of the Review, knew a good crime story when he saw it.  His wrap-up:  "At least these bums had good taste.  But now they'll be wearing stripes."

The caveat, of course, sans cravat.

And so it went in a hot August week in the Big Lemon when the unusual, the original and the brave ruled.

About this column:  Compiled by Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, from newspapers archived at the H. Lee House Cultural Center.  Each week, we take a peek at the past with some news and advertising highlights from a randomly chosen edition of the Lemon Grove Review.  Ofield was awarded first place in 2013 and second place in 2012 in non-daily column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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