Ridin’ The Ol’ Step Van

Are people who are scared of Father Christmas Claustrophobic?

Today is a big day because it’s the annual Christmas Play at the Bollinger Candlelight Dinner Theater in Claremont and we are taking 80 of our family and friends to see “A Perfect Christmas”.  We arrive at 11:00 AM for a delightful, and filling, brunch followed at 12:30 by a unique Christmas Musical, always different.  This is our 30th year of going and we started two years after the theater started…quite a run!

Christmas Memory #9 – The Ol’ Step Van

Dad worked in a dime store…OK, he was the general manager of a chain of dime stores started in the 1930’s called Ralph’s 5, 10, and 25 cent stores.  In the mid 1950’s, they had about eight stores as I recall…not big but also not small. 

Ralph david Lebowitz was the owner and dad was his right-hand man and probably best friend.  Ralph was a great man but not very mechanical…driving a stick shift was a challenge so Dad got the driving jobs…which Dad loved!

They had a central warehouse on Pico Blvd that had a basement and upstairs to store the stock for the right stores and of course needed a truck to deliver to the stores.  There was no parking readily available for the truck at the Pico store so Dad volunteered to drive to truck to/from home everyday…only about three or four miles from the warehouse.  So, our family was living in high-cotton…we had a company “car”…OK, truck!

A big truck was not needed and a small truck/station wagon would be too small so they decided on a “step van”.   These where quite popular in the 1950’s with new businesses popping up everywhere!

“Multi-stop trucks” (also known as walk-in delivery or step vans) are a type of light-duty and medium-duty truck created for local deliveries to residences and businesses. They are designed to be driven either sitting down or standing up, and often provide easy access between the driver and goods, hence the name “Walk-In Delivery” van.   It was the forerunner of the UPS and FedEx delivery trucks of today!

Well, at Christmas time sales at the stores was always wild and the warehouse would get calls about “running out of this and that” so we would fill the orders as best we could and go delivering.  Friday night, two trips on Saturday and even on Sundays.  The van was filled from top to bottom and sometimes the cab was loaded leaving me a precious few inches to tuck myself in!

Some of the stores were in the Valley…Van Nuys and Chattsworth…and we would drive this over-stuffed step-van loaded with Christmas goodies over Laurel Canyon Drive which in those days was two lanes of very twisty road going from the LA Basin to the San Fernando Valley. We are talking hair-pin curves!

I remember vividly riding atop the motor (see the pictures below) and having to bring a blanket to sit on because the engine was hot.  We careened through the canyon to get to the stores many times during a week.  Sometimes, Dad would come home at 5:00 PM with the truck loaded and we would grab a bite to eat and off we would go…it was like Santa delivering goodies but in a step van!  Without the Ho-Ho-Ho!

Coming home that ol’ van was so noisy…no boxes to muffle the sounds of the tin-can noises created as the air rushed by the thin steel siding.  We were riding in an echo chamber…we tried to drown out the noise with the low quality AM radio but it was always on the blink (before the days of transistors).

I should tell you than one day, we decided to cut down the tree in the parkway…it was a horrible tree.  Dad and I dug and dug and ran water into the hole hoping to loosen the roots.  Dad had this great idea, why not tie a chain to the ol’ step van and putt eh tree out.  Well, we did and the only thing we succeeded in doing was ripping the bunper off the back of the step van!

We rode the wild west in the ol’ step-van!
The flat spot was mine right over the engine as I admired how dad could maneuver this vehicle through the canyon roads! He mastered the manual transmission making it fly!

Did You Know? The Laurel Canyon Freeway was to have been a north-south freeway in Central Los Angeles and its suburbs. It derived its name from Laurel Canyon, the proposed route by which the freeway would traverse the Santa Monica Mountains. 

However, the emerging popularity of Laurel Canyon as a movie star enclave in the 1960s ultimately doomed the project. The only portion of the freeway that was built was a small section of La Cienega Boulevard through the Baldwin Hills district of southwestern Los Angeles.

I grew up next to La Cienega and always wondered why it was made so large through the Baldwin Hills and stp[[ed near our house.  I just discovered why writing this blog today!

OK… we now be off for the 45 minute ride to Claremont.  We had Nancy, Carri, and Greg with us and there was Zero traffic…OMG, we are going to arrive right on time!  We had a super time gabbing about a myriad of topics during out freeway adventure.

Our “immediate and wonderful family”

Mrs. Santa is holding Remington, our latest GREAT grandson.  Either side of the Claus’ are the grandparents… us and the Vallari’s who are Amy’s Mom & Dad.

Back row is Grandson Nick, Son-In-Law Bob , Son-In-Law Pete, Pete’s bride Lisa, Son-In-Law Mitch, Daughter-In-Law Amy, Son Joe, Grandson Zack, Grand Daughter-In-Law? Becca, Grandson Connor, Connor’s better half! Kerrick, and (Son-In-Law) Franklyn.

Middle row left-to-right is Daughter Michele, Paul, Sue, Santa, Mrs. Santa with Remington, Amy’s parents Michele & Tony, and Daughter Robin.

Front row are grandsons Theo and Charlie, great grand-daughter Lllly, and grandson Alex!

The only ones missing are the New Hampshire gang… Daughter Colleen, Son-In-Law Mark, Grandson Jon, Graddaughter-in=Law Sarah, Granddaughter Cassie with Great Grandson Callan and Great Grand Daughter Logann plus Granddaughter Jackie.

Then we have the gaggle… other other friends.  Some of them had to leave early and missed the picture as it is Christmas time and days are busy!

We are a crowd!
The stars of the get together!!! Alex, Lilly, and Charlie!

We headed home about 4:00 PM and rested for a few minutes before going tot he GG Elks for dancing and chatting.  We met up with the Branders and visited wit them for a while. W We decided we had had a long day so we departed about 9:30 PM and came home to watch a Christmas movie.

We watched “Holiday Breakup”.

A young couple breaks up and faces the prospect of the holidays turning into one long pity party. Their solution: pretend they’re still together.

We then watched a sitcom before crashing at 11:00 PM.  Too pooped to pop!  I looked at the Christmas Play pictures but decided it was too late to do anything to them!

About Paul

Just an old retired guy trying to finish out my last years on this planet. I lost my best friend and wife in early 2020. I was blessed again by reconnecting with Dr. Mary Côté, a long-time friend. Mary and I got married July 28th, 2021, and are enjoying life together and plan to spend the rest of our lives being a blessing to our friends and family.
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