Thursday, December 31, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Six - The Automobile

In the early 1890s the Kokkonen family found their way from Finland to Ellis Island by boat and to Boston by rail. When they stepped off the train at the end of the line in Rockport, Police Chief John Sullivan used a few words of the Finn language to direct them to the kivihouse, the 'stone' house maintained for boarders by the Rockport Granite Company. The Kokkonens set out on foot, crossed the arched bridge, found countrymen and a room for the night at the Stone House just past Company headquarters on Granite Street. The next day Antti Kokkonen had a job at the Babson Farm Quarry on Halibut Point and a newly anglicized name, Andrew Peterson.

The Stone House, 1895
Photo courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Association
Andrew and Maria worked hard, saved money, bought land north of Pigeon Hill, built a house on Hillside Road. Andrew became his own boss developing small quarries or 'motions' on their property. They baptized their third son Kaarlo Kokkonen, born by tradition in the household sauna.

 In grade school Kaarlo became Karl, an adventurous lad who at age ten started working after school as a tool boy in the Babson Farm Quarry, scrambling up and down ladders with the men's drills for sharpening by the blacksmith. At age twelve he expanded his world riding with the groceries delivery wagon to the Rockport Granite Company stores. A trip as far as Bay View meant the extra treat of staying overnight with colorful companions in a quarry boarding house.

 On May 21, 1900, the year Karl was born, the Gloucester Daily Times editorialized about "The Coming Vehicle, Automobile versus Trolley." Karl experienced the paper's forecast that "these auto-coaches give promise to supply a long felt want and will in many instances take the place of barges and trolley cars. They ride easily, are fast and safe when under competent management, and the expense of running will not be very great." Along the way that "long felt want" led to a dream job for young Karl.
Karl Peterson at the wheel of a 1916 Cadillac Touring Car
Upwardly mobile, Karl landed a chauffeuring position at age sixteen with Mr. and Mrs. D. L. Page, summer residents on Point de Chene, Pigeon Cove.

At eighteen he came of age as a motorman with the Bay State Street Railway Company. His name was further anglicized to Carl.
Carl Peterson, trolley conductor, 1918
Carl's Union book
When the Cape Ann trolley system succumbed in 1920 to the versatile vehicles with internal combustion engines, Carl joined Morris Katz's Gloucester Auto Bus Company as a driver. The Times editorial had predicted the evolution in mass transit, too: " A style of automobile built after the fashion of a tallyho or an omnibus, will ultimately find favor with suburban and long distance passengers."
En route to Fitchburg, early 1920s
Carl was proud to drive a Gloucester Auto Bus carrying members of The Christian Endeavor from the Finnish Lutheran Church on Forest Street, Rockport to a conference of the Eastern District in Fitchburg. They left at 7:15 Saturday morning and arrived home at 9:30 Sunday evening, by way of Revere Beach.
Bus driver Carl with brother Axel
Carl's older brother Axel graduated from Suomi College in Michigan with a pastoral assignment to the Finnish community in Red Lodge, Montana. Carl offered to accompany him in 1923

Carl in his 1917 Model T Ford
They set out for the Far West on the unpaved interstate highways of the day. Carl discovered that  driving in reverse up the steepest mountain grades helped the gravity-feed system get gasoline to the engine.
Carl, cross-country traveler in Indiana 1923
Red Lodge was situated at the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.
Vehicles lined up at the entrance to Yellowstone
Carl found a Civil Service job as a 'gear-jammer' driving a tour bus in the Park. The canyon vistas were spectacular. Guard rails had yet to be installed on the switchback roads.
Carl at the wheel of a Park bus
As many as fifty buses would line up to take passengers on a four-day tour of the Park with overnights at hotels. They stopped at Paradise Peak, Artist's Point, the Voodoo lava flows and mineral springs "the color of a Heavenly Blue morning glory." Carl forever considered the geysers at Angel Terrace the most beautiful thing he ever looked at.

One-wheeler in the chromium mine
Occasionally he helped a local Finn man work his chromium mine.

Carl and Axel in Red Lodge
The young Easterners made a fine impression in Red Lodge, 1923-26. They captivated and married two of the prettiest young ladies in the Finnish community.

Axel and Helena, Carl and Lillian
When Axel received a posting back East in the fall of 1926, the four newlyweds came back across the country in Carl's Buick Special Touring Car. Carl sold for $80 the Ford he had  bought in Rockport for $30. He paid $50 for the Buick.
The 1924 Buick Special that brought them home
The couples camped along the way in a canvas tent. When hard rains turned the clay hard-pack to 'gumbo' they put chains on all four wheels.
Lil has her first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean
In the late Twenties Carl drove a delivery truck for Savinen's Bakery, next door to the Pigeon Cove Post Office. The Thirties found him delivering freight in metropolitan New York for American Express and the Swift Company. From 1941-45 worked on jet engine parts in Lynn at the General Electric plant. His son Fred recalls the weekend trips back to Pigeon Cove, Dad getting off work in the middle of the night, packing the family into their '41 Oldsmobile, setting off along the Rte 127 shore road, crossing The Cut bridge to Cape Ann, tucking the kids into bed at the homestead on Hillside Road.

Carl reminiscing with Barbara Erkkila, 1987
Says Fred, "He prided himself in being able to drive anything that had wheels. He loved being on the road."

With appreciation to the recollections and archives of Fred Peterson, including a taped interview between Carl and his grandson Wayne in 1976.

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