Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Variety Glass’

Riding the Rails – A Father’s Day Story

Rudy WencekHobo Rule No. 1: Decide your own life. Don’t let another person rule you.

Young boys thoughts often turn to adventure when they have nothing else to occupy their mind. Such was the case with my dad, Rudy, when he was a young teenager.

   His parents had died when he was but a young child so he lived with his sister and her family. At a very young age, he began working at Cambridge Glass Company and took pleasure in seeing the sand turned into beautiful glass objects.

   However, there were days when the glass company was not busy. Sometimes workers would sit outside and pitch pennies while waiting to see if there was a job for them that day.

   On days when there was no work, Dad often hopped on a train as it slowed down for the crossing near the glass plant. How he enjoyed the freedom to explore as he rode those trains from New York City to Chicago and all the places in between.

   This happy-go-lucky train hopper often told of the friendly people he met in his travels and the other ‘hobos’ who were riding the rails. They always shared their food, clothes and sometimes their cigarettes.

   Picture Dad in his ‘hunky cap’, gray work shirt and pants, and maybe a few dollars in his pocket. Perhaps he stopped in a hobo jungle to share a can of beans or mulligan stew with other wanderers. Life was simple on the rails so not much was needed.

   It’s interesting to know that in 1915 there were a million hobos in The United States. By 1930 when Dad was riding the rails, that number had increased to over two million.

   There were many ways of hopping on a train. They might find an empty boxcar, hop on between cars, grab a railing and climb to the top, or even ride under the train. These young and vigorous men had plenty of nerve.

   Clicking his fingers, Dad often said, “If I hadn’t met Kate, I would probably have ridden those trains all the way to the Pacific Ocean.” But marriage and full-time employment at Cambridge Glass Company stopped his riding the rails

   While Dad never rode the rails again, he still enjoyed driving anywhere Mom would go. Sunday drives always took us on adventures in every direction. Perhaps Dad set the stage for my being a gypsy.

This story was in our local newspaper as part of our Rainy Day Writers tribute to Father’s Day. It is a true story of his early life that my Dad liked to share with his grandsons. Dad went on to be co-owner of a local glass company, Variety Glass, so the glass industry played a large role in his life.

Variety – The Spice of Dad’s Life

Making glass was “in his blood”. Those words described my dad, Rudy Wencek, as working with glass intrigued him. That passion is the basis for my Father’s Day tribute to Dad and Variety Glass in Cambridge, Ohio. Dreams do come true.

Dad working at Variety Glass

Dad working at Variety Glass

At the age of twelve, Rudy quit school and went to work as a “carrying-in boy” at Cambridge Glass Company. As the years passed, Rudy performed a variety of jobs there from pressing to the skilled art of blowing delicate pieces. The only thing he knew well centered around making glass, while his wife, Kate, raised chickens on the farm.

Rudy never even considered doing anything else until the day in 1959 when the Cambridge Glass plant closed – this time for good. What would he do now?

As luck would have it, Rudy was good friends with Tom Mosser, another glassmaker whose family had a hand in operating Cambridge Glass. Rudy and Tom purchased some of the original Cambridge Glass molds for use in producing laboratory and pharmaceutical glass for doctors and science labs, plus a variety of other items.

Where should they start the business? How about in Kate’s chicken house near Indian Camp. While Kate didn’t mind giving up her chicken house, two things worried her.

First, the large propane tank needed to fire the furnace could explode. Second, taking out a loan frightened her as she watched every penny. But Rudy told her, “It takes money to make money.” Therefore, late in 1959, Variety Glass got its start – in our former chicken house.

Dad in front of future Variety Glass

Dad in front of future Variety Glass

Rudy and Tom worked long hours on their new business. Tom enjoyed making business connections to purchase supplies and generate sales. Rudy got to follow his love of being in charge of making the glass products, always working closely with the other employees, nearly all being former Cambridge Glass craftsmen.

Officers of Variety Glass: Mary Martha Mitchell, president; Tom Mosser, vice-president, Rudy Wencek, treasurer

Officers of Variety Glass were: Mary Martha Mitchell, president; Tom Mosser, vice-president, and Rudy Wencek, treasurer

The following year, a late night explosion caused a fire that stopped their dream. But Rudy and Tom were not giving up. They contacted former Cambridge Glass president, Mary Martha Mitchell, asking for her leadership expertise. Between the three partners, they discovered the empty street car barn on Second Street and began refurbishing it to meet their needs.

With the added room for growth, items were added to their production list with glass products being sent worldwide. Surprising though it may seem, some of their laboratory glass was used by NASA and the Atomic Research Center in Los Alamos.

But fate seemed to delay the three of them again, as once more fire caused extensive damage to Variety Glass in 1966. Mary Martha Mitchell kept the company going from her kitchen table office by notifying customers of the circumstances and encouraging them to wait until production started once again.

Today Variety Glass is still in operation on Second Street although none of the three originators are around to oversee its production.

Variety Glass in old trolley barn

Variety Glass in old trolley barn

Due to health problems, Rudy found it necessary to retire from Variety Glass in 1966, but he never lost his passion for making glass. He told his grandsons how proud it made him feel to see sand and a few special ingredients turn into beautiful glass objects, thus Rudy’s long-ago CB handle of “Sandman”. The sparkle in his eyes when he talked about making glass reflected his passion.

Dad’s cheerful, caring attitude provided a life-long example to follow. He was the best dad imaginable!

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