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 Scheib Remembers


I lived over on 1721 Cleveland Avenue and went to Monroe School. I remember getting several whippings from the principal. He was a tough disciplinarian. As a kid, I rode a bike with my buddies over to the Home Ice Cream Plant at Ridge and Wimmer and getting a cone or an ice cream sandwich. There was a guy who made caskets on about 20th and Ridge. My dad, Milton, worked for Elliot Frog and Switch, bending rails. I went to a lot of dances and social activities, such as card playing at the German Hall. In the old days, the city stopped at 26th Street and everything beyond that was called the country. A set of streetcar tracks ran down the middle of State Street. Another line went down Illinois Avenue, past Monroe School and St. Joseph's, and had a turnaround at 29th and Louisiana. Jones Park was one of the most beautiful in America - especially the lighted fountain and lily pond.

I'm related to the famous Earl Scheib car paint man that Johnny Carson used to joke about. Earl was a California paint chemist who invented a new type of car finish called metallic flake paint. The Hollywood crowd loved his paint jobs because they sparkled like glitter. I went out there a couple of times and met him. He was a multi-millionaire when he died.

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When I was a young teen, I learned how to play the guitar. I bummed around with George Habermehl, Frankie Penelton and Mooney Hornback. Frankie wanted me to play in his band but I knew musicians didn't make much money so I always said no. We did come up with an interesting way to get money when we ran short. We would dress up in old clothes, put on a pair of sunglasses and carry a white cane. Then we would go over to downtown St. Louis and panhandle with a tin cup and a few pencils. You're not gonna believe this, but we usually made at least $30.00 a day doing that. We got arrested several times and finally quit when the state passed a law imposing a year in jail for anyone caught in the act.

When I graduated from Dupo High School, I went to work at the stock yards. I rode a horse and herded cattle from one pen to another. I remember seeing both cowboys and Indians who would come into town. They owned ranches out west and wanted to see what the operations were like at the stock yards. After a couple of years, I went to work for Swift and was there for 21 years until they closed the plant. They said it was just too old. A lot of horses came through the yards. I felt sorry for them because a lot were shipped to France where the people eat horse meat, and many were shipped to a slaughter house in Topeka where they were turned into Strongheart and Pard dog food.

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I knew the Washington Park area fairly well. Lee and Ed's dance hall was located on Forest Blvd., across from the VFW. It later became a grocery store. East St. Louis Bridge and Walworth Valve were there. During the war, the plant where Emerson Electric was located made tanks and machine guns. Just before the L&N tracks on the south side was Wynell Pipe Co. If you went past the tracks you were in an area known as Jackass Flats. It was a group of small houses and trailers on both sides of Forest Boulevard.

I was working at the yards when Kennedy campaigned there in 1960. The bosses made us clean the place extra special for his visit. We cut weeds and washed and painted things to spruce the plant up a bit. We even had to park our cars out of sight the day he arrived. I was standing at the main gate when he came. He shook a lot of hands and had a friendly smile.

I knew Buster Wortman fairly well because my wife worked for him as a cashier at the Paddock. I sat and drank beer with him at his place on numerous occasions. He frequently met with his henchmen there - guys like George Dowling, Sam Maggan, and a real mean guy by the name of J. P. Parnell. At the time, he was part-owner of one of the cab companies. If you wanted to play slot machines, they were in the basement of his establishment. A lot of people went to Buster for money if they wanted to open up a tavern or night club. He would loan them the money, and in return, he was allowed to put his juke boxes, pinball machines, vending machines and slot machines in the rear or in the basement. For all I know, he also got a percentage of the profits. There was a guy named Scottie who ran the Y-Club (on the wedge where Routes 40 and 3 merge). Buster helped get him started in the business. They must have got into it about something because one night he was found shot to death in his car at Joy's Night Club at 2900 St. Clair Avenue.

There was a string of taverns and clubs along Collinsville Road: the Horseshoe Lounge, the Mounds Club, the Diamondhead, the Red Hen and Red Rooster. Buster had some kind of financial stake in all of these - gambling, drinking, maybe even prostitution. The Hen and Rooster sat smack in the middle of the line that divided Madison and St. Clair County. Every time there was a raid, someone tipped them off, and they simply moved their operations to the other end of establishment and out of that county's jurisdiction. I was at a craps table one night when it got raided. I wasn't much good at poker, but I was lucky with dice. A photographer snapped a picture of the raid and I was in it. Fortunately, my back was to the camera. When my wife saw the photo she said "Gee, honey, there's a guy in this snap-shot who looks like your twin." She would have killed me if she would have figured it out. A police detective wrote a book about East St. Louis called "Sin City, U.S.A." in the early '50s. It was all about crooked politicians, hoodlums and chicanery that went on in old East St. Louis.

Click here to read about ESL's seedy past from "An Insider's View"

                                                                                    (Charlie Scheib (German) of Fairmont City)




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