Column: Bringing back those overlooked occupations of another era

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 22, 2002

Not long ago I received an interesting nostalgia nudge while reading the October 2002 issue of the magazine, Reminisce Extra. Clancy Strock, the magazine’s contributing editor, had an article based on the title of, &uot;Jobs of the Past We May Never See Again.&uot;

One of the jobs he listed from the past was iceman. The local iceman had a regular daily route and delivered big blocks of natural ice to homes and even businesses. These blocks of frozen water were cut out of the area lakes during the winter and intended for use in iceboxes during the rest of the year. The electric refrigerator made the iceman’s job obsolete, especially right after World War II.

Another job Strock mentioned was that of the man who delivered coal to homes and businesses. Natural gas, propane, and really efficient 24/7 heating systems has resulted in the demise of the coal delivery man and even the coal-selling firms.

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Another occupation mentioned in this article was movie theater usher. This was the young person who courteously led the way down the aisle, sometimes using a flashlight beam pointed to the floor, to guide patrons to their seats in a darkened theater. One of the minus factors with this job came when the usher had to deal with somewhat unruly and/or noisy patrons, usually bored teenagers tired of looking at a really bad film.

One interesting comment Strock had in his article was, &uot;Ushering was a great job for a teenager. You earned money, wore a snazzy uniform, and got to see the movie free.&uot;

Now, with the multi-screen theaters there’s no one to guide the patrons to the proper part of the place. And after the desired destination (screen) is located, then it’s good luck finding a place to sit in a sometimes dark theater room.

Another now nearly forgotten job from the past involving a uniform was that of the Western Union messenger. This was the person who delivered telegrams to the recipients. All too often those telegrams had messages with bad news, like a death in the family somewhere else in the nation. As a result, those Western Union messengers in their black boots and dark uniforms were about as popular as truant officers and bill collectors.

Come to think of it, maybe a future column could be developed on the subject of Western Union and what has happened to this once important firm of the past.

While we’re on the subject of jobs of another era and uniforms, let’s not forget the service station attendant, the &uot;king of the driveway.&uot; This lucky person wore a uniform featuring the oil company’s color scheme and emblem. It was his job in good or bad weather to go to the vehicles as soon as they parked next to the gasoline pumps (or island). Then he filled the gas tanks, cleaned the windshields, checked the oil and radiator under the hood, and even checked the tires. In most situations, he collected the money or credit cards from the vehicle owners, went inside to the cash register, and came back with the change or credit card receipts. The motorist actually didn’t have to get out of the vehicle at all. All this was to be done by the attendant with a smile and a friendly thank you, according to the oil company’s manual and advertised protocol.

Today, we deal with pump your own gasoline (or diesel), clean your own windshield, check your own oil and radiator, and pay at the pump or go inside the station to pay the cashier. It’s obvious that those cashiers aren’t quite the equal of the full-service driveway attendants of several decades ago.

There are still more occupations I could mention, so this column theme is going to continue on to next Friday. And just as a hint for what’s coming up, one of those occupations of the past really had its ups and downs.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.