The Silver Bridge Collapse

A man wearing a police hat and uniform stands near the edge of the roadway where the Silver Bridge collapsed. He looks out onto the Ohio River, where a floating crane is working.

The book "Ten Ohio Disasters: Stories of Tragety and Courage that Should Not Be Forgotten" by Neil Zurcher.

Book Excerpt

From Ten Ohio Disasters, by Neil Zurcher

It was a Christmastime nightmare.

December 15, 1967, just ten days until Christmas. It was early evening, and the streets in this small Southern Ohio community were crowded. Families were Christmas shopping, and it was also the end of the workday, so many people were headed home.

Kanauga, Ohio, is just a dot on the map. A tiny, unincorporated community outside the county seat of Gallipolis that sits on the bank of the Ohio River, across from Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

A 1,750-foot-long bridge carried people and material across the deep waters of the Ohio River between the two states. It was called the Silver Bridge because of its paint job. Built in 1928, it was a unique eye-bar chain suspension bridge, strung from towers on both sides of the river. It soared 102 feet above the river’s surface.

The span had been built to carry US Route 35 across the river.

That evening it was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the bridge as cars and trucks hurried home from work or a day of Christmas shopping.

Then, at about 5 p.m., the unthinkable happened.

Charlene Foster, who lived in Kanauga on the edge of the river, in sight of the bridge, told the Gallipolis Daily Tribune that she was preparing dinner in the kitchen of her home when her two sons suddenly screamed, “Mommy! Mommy! The bridge is in the water.” She looked toward the bridge, and “It was just like a snake slithering down into the water. It seemed to go down in slow-motion.”

Ann Davis, who worked in a beverage store near the bridge, was watching the heavy traffic cross the bridge when she heard a large boom. She told the Plain Dealer that it sounded like a sonic boom, and then “the bridge started to crumple and sink like a set of dominoes falling. Cars were being crushed like toys in the girders.”

It took just twenty seconds for the entire bridge to fall into the river.

Cecil Newell, 24, worked as an orderly at Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis. The Plain Dealer reported that he was on the West Virginia side of the river, headed for work and only two car-lengths from getting on the bridge when the structure collapsed in front of him. “The car started vibrating, there was an awful noise, I went out and looked. There were all kinds of cars floating, then everything was so quiet, like nothing had happened, but I knew I had seen it. People were down there in the water.”

Charlene Clark Wood of Gallipolis had just finished the day working at a hair salon. She was pregnant and tired. She had driven across the bridge to check on her parents who lived in Point Pleasant and was now heading back home to Ohio. She was driving her brand new 1967 Pontiac. She told the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch, “As I was approaching the bridge when the light changed. When it went to green, I started over the bridge and there was a terrible shaking of the bridge.” Wood said, “My father was a riverboat captain and had talked about barges hitting the bridge and the pier. So when I heard that sound, I automatically put my car in reverse. By the time I got my car stopped, mine was on the very edge of where the bridge broke off.”

The bridge surface she had been on just seconds before was gone. Only her quick action had saved her life. Wood recalls seeing wires dangling, and she remembered a state patrol officer, Rudy Odell, and a volunteer, later identified as Robert Rimmey, coming to her car and walking her off the bridge. “You could hear people screaming,” she said. “It was terrible. By the time I went to the end of the bridge, I had gone into shock.”

A smashed and twisted car lies on its side amid twisted metal parts of a bridge.
Cars and trucks were trapped by falling steel girders at each end of the bridge as it collapsed. (Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol)

Ruth Fout, co-author of the book The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967 and administrative assistant at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center, recalls that a few cars did not fall into the water but were trapped on what was left of the bridge by tons of falling steel girders. “Melvin and Margaret Mae Cantrell, along with their friend, Cecil Clyde Counts, were headed for town when the bridge fell. Mrs. Cantrell was driving. A steel beam crashed onto their car, pinning it to the bridge. Melvin Cantrell, who was in the front passenger seat, and Cecil Counts, who was in the back seat, were both killed. Rescue workers were able to pull Margaret Cantrell from the wreckage. She survived.”

It was just a few minutes before police, fire, and other rescue workers started arriving on both sides of the river. But there was little they could do. Many vehicles had sunk beneath the waters, and others were tangled in tons of twisted steel that had collapsed on top of the vehicles in the river. Several small boats were launched to search for survivors.

One of the first pulled from the icy river waters was 24-year-old Howard Boggs of Bidwell, Ohio. He and his wife, 18-year-old Marjorie, and their 17-month-old daughter, had just started across the bridge when it collapsed. “That old bridge was bouncing up and down like it always does,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Then, all of a sudden everything was falling down. My feet touched the damned bottom of the river. I don’t know how I came up. I must have blacked out again, because the next thing I knew I was hanging onto this barrel.” He sobbed, “I just hope to God that Marjorie and the baby got out OK.”

Local law enforcement officials had no idea of just how many cars and trucks had plunged into the river. They estimated the loss could go as high as 100. The Ohio River at that point is about 30 to 70 feet deep, and there are strong currents.

One of the first reporters on the scene was 20-year-old Rondal “Ron” Akers for WCMI radio, the CBS affiliate in Huntington, West Virginia. He recalls that there were no police barricades, and he was able to pull right up to the edge of where the bridge used to be on the Point Pleasant side of the river. He was “gobsmacked” by the sight before him. “When the bridge collapsed, it twisted upon itself and the cars were tangled in the superstructure of the bridge,” he said. “It was kind of like wringing out a cloth. There was a car that was squished down so it looked like it was two feet across.”

William Edmondson, 38, of North Carolina, told the Cincinnati Enquirer he was driving a large tractor-trailer across the bridge when the bridge suddenly collapsed. “Traffic was bumper-to-bumper, about three feet apart. It was backed up from a red light on the Ohio side. I was in the right lane, going north, the bridge came loose on the right side first, the side I was on. The bridge rolled over . . . . I felt it settling down. It was like an elevator, but fast. . . . It felt like rock when we hit the water. My truck was on its right side, and it instantly filled with water, although the windows were up. I thought I was a goner. I didn’t think it was possible I could get out of the vehicle, but then the door tore off on my side and I floated out. I started floating towards the surface and then I started paddling.”

Edmondson swam to a roll of rubber fabric, cargo from his truck, and held on until a boat reached him. He had been in the frigid waters for about ten minutes.

William M. Needham, 27, also of North Carolina, had a similar brush with death. He told the Gallipolis Daily Tribune that when his truck crashed into the river, it “sank like a rock. We went all the way to the bottom. The windows were up. I held my breath, I reached for the handle of the window, but I couldn’t find it. I was able to get my fingers in a small crack at the top of the window. I pulled the window down that way and got out.” Needham swam to the surface and was picked up by rescuers. “I wanted to make it home for Christmas,” he said from his hospital bed. “But, I’m happy to just be alive. I’m a very lucky man.”

Not so lucky was his driving partner and alternate driver, R. E. Towe, who was asleep in the cab when the span fell and was now among the missing. His body would later be found.

Paul Scott, 52, of Middleport, was another who survived the crash into the river. He recalls that he and fellow passenger Frederick “Dean” Miller of Gallipolis were riding in a car driven by James Pullen of Middleport. They had reached the high middle of the bridge, and Scott was looking out the window when “the bridge began shaking.” Then, the side of the bridge they were on collapsed. “I remember it going down,” Scott said, “but I don’t remember how I got out. The next thing I knew, I was struggling towards the surface in the cold water. It seemed like forever before I was rescued by a boat.”

Pullen and Mitchell did not make it out of the sunken car.

Radio reporter Ron Akers was interviewing a Point Pleasant police officer at the edge of the bridge. ”It was incredibly cold that night,” he recalls. “All I had on was a sports coat. I tell you, it was cold. Suddenly he [the officer] stopped and said, ‘Listen. Listen.’ There was a male voice calling for help. We couldn’t see him. I don’t know if they ever found him.”

Only a concrete structure remains of one span of the Silver Bridge. In front of it is a pile of twisted metal bridge parts, cars and trucks, and other debris. Behind it is the Ohio River.
The access road to the bridge also proved to be a trap for many cars and trucks as the bridge went tumbling into the river. (Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol)

No barge-mounted heavy cranes were immediately available to use as rescue equipment. Portable cranes brought to the river’s edge were just not powerful enough to lift heavy, water-filled cars to the surface.

A large tow truck tried to pull a car out of the water near the bridge, but the weight was too great, and the tow truck ripped the steering mechanism and wheels off the car.

By the time darkness fell, hundreds of people had gathered on the banks of the river. Coast Guard boats had joined the volunteers in private boats searching the dark waters. Dozens of volunteer divers were arriving.

Tim Jameson, 26, a gas station attendant in Point Pleasant, put on his diving gear and went shivering onto the dark river water among the twisted steel beams. But he had to stop because it was too dangerous to go further in the dark. He could see two people trapped in a car under a beam. The car was crushed; the couple pinned inside were dead.

“You can see them, if you duck down, a man and a woman,” he told the Plain Dealer. “I’d give anything to go in there and get them out, not because it would help them any, but it’s, well, it’s proper. A human being deserves something better than that even if it’s dead. I’m going home now and tomorrow morning at dawn I’m going to come back here and get down there and get some of these people out. It’s the least I can do. I may have friends down there. I don’t know.”

The Gallipolis Daily Tribune reported that, as of midnight on that terrible day, there were so far a total of four known dead and at least eleven survivors who were patients at Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis. Across the river in Pleasant Valley Hospital were six survivors. Rescue workers were still struggling to determine just how many people had been on the bridge when it collapsed and how many of those people were still missing.

Automobiles and trucks lined up along the riverbanks so their headlights could help illuminate the dark river waters. Floodlights were mounted to trees and to some of the bridge wreckage to give rescue workers light to work by. Local phone service was overwhelmed as lines were jammed by hundreds of people frantically calling loved ones to learn if they were safe. Police were trying to compile lists of people whom anxious relatives and friends thought might have been on the bridge when it went down.

As the night went on, authorities realized that anyone still in the water was probably dead, either from the fall into the river or by drowning. Even if they survived and somehow reached the surface, unless rescued immediately they probably would have perished within an hour from hypothermia in the cold river.

All night long, radio reporter Ron Akers huddled whenever he could in a phone booth near the bridge to keep warm and to file reports with his radio station in Huntington, which in turn forwarded his reports to the CBS network.

By dawn, the search and rescue operation had ended. Now, it became a recovery mission.

One span of the Silver Bridge stands behind the remains of the other span, which is mostly submerged in the Ohio River.
Pieces of twisted steel can be seen in the Ohio River, marking the spot where the Silver Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River on December 15, 1967, killing forty-six people. (Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol)

The United States Army Corps of Engineers arrived with five barge-mounted cranes.

Professional divers were arriving with their equipment. However, when the divers donned their bulky suits and helmets, attached to air hoses, and entered the river, they were hampered by the swift current and the fact that recent heavy rains had swollen the river and made the water too murky to see anything.

After surfacing from one dive, Max Ray, a deep-sea diver from New Orleans, told the Plain Dealer, “It’s hairy and dangerous down there. You’ve got to worry about metal falling on you. I dropped through that mess, and it started to slide. It’s so shaky, I could move those beams with my hand. You can’t see your hand on the faceplate of your mask.”

Nevertheless, Ray and his fellow divers, joined by some scuba divers, made repeated dives into the darkness of the river, using their hands to feel for wrecked cars and victims.

By Sunday morning, divers had located several cars and trucks underwater and were able to attach cables to the wreckage, enabling the barge cranes to pull them out of the river.

A crane on a barge being pushed by a small tugboat floats on the Ohio River next to the remains of the Silver Bridge.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brought in barge-mounted cranes to bring up submerged cars and trucks that were tangled in steel girders of the wreckage of the downed bridge in the river bottom. (Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol)

It was a slow process. By the end of the day, they had recovered eight bodies.

Most of the people still missing were assumed to be in the river. People like Lee “Doc” Otto Sanders, who drove the local taxi. Sanders was not supposed to be working that evening, but when another driver called off, Sanders took a passenger, Ronald Gene Moore, who wanted to go to Point Pleasant. The two were on the bridge when it collapsed.

Thomas Allen Cantrell (no relation to Melvin Cantrell, also killed on the bridge) was a newspaper delivery man. He intended to quit his job that day and had plans to go to California and become a cartoonist. He had made his last run to deliver papers to Point Pleasant and was on his way back to Gallipolis to drop off his keys when the bridge fell.

A good deed apparently cost Ronald Robert Sims his life. He left work late from his job as a designer at the Goodyear plant in order to give Bobby Head a ride home. They were on the bridge when it went down.

The list of missing persons contained names of men, women, and children—in some cases, several members of the same family.

State trooper Rudy Odell had been assigned the terrible job of tagging each victim pulled from the water before the body was taken to a temporary morgue.

The grief felt by each of the families and loved ones of the victims is beyond anyone’s ability to describe or understand. And the effects would be long lasting. In some cases, the family breadwinner had perished, forcing many families to face hardship in the months and years to come.

The recovery of the bodies was painfully slow. It would be almost six months after the collapse of the bridge when the last known body was recovered, found by fishermen downriver. It was finally determined that forty-six people had been killed in the tragedy.

Two victims were never recovered.

According to Ruth Fout, Catherine Lucille Byus was ten years old and riding with her two-month-old sister, Kimberly, and their mother, Hilda. All three were killed. The bodies of Hilda and baby Kimberly were found downriver several weeks after the collapse of the bridge. Catherine’s body was never found.

Maxine Turner of Point Pleasant was riding with her husband, Victor. They had just gone to Gallipolis to pick up her niece and were headed back home when the tragedy occurred. The bodies of her husband and niece were recovered, but Maxine’s was never found.

Within hours of the bridge collapse, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into its cause. Along with the cars and trucks recovered from the river, divers and cranes brought up the tangled steel that was once the bridge. Investigators used a field nearby to loosely reassemble the bridge in their search for clues.

After nearly three and half years of investigation, the board finally released its findings in April 1971. The cause, the report said, was “a cleavage fracture in the lower limb of the eye of eyebar 330 at joint C13N of the north eyebar suspension chain in the Ohio side span. The fracture was caused by the development of a critical size flaw over the 40-year life of the structure as the result of the joint action of stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue.”

The report also stated that the corroded part that fractured and caused the collapse was in a place impossible to see unless the bridge had been dismantled.

A new bridge, the Silver Memorial Bridge, was built about a mile south of the original location, between Gallipolis and Henderson, West Virginia. It was opened to traffic exactly two years to the day the original bridge fell, December 15, 1969.

The new bridge, unlike the failed Silver Bridge, is a cantilever-styled crossing—meaning support is required on only one side of each cantilever—which is considered a much safer bridge for heavy traffic.

The Silver Bridge disaster also brought about new federal laws regarding inspections and, perhaps most important, load limits for bridges. (There were no load limits in 1967.)

A couple of bright spots appeared during my research of this terrible tragedy.

On December 30th, 1967, just fifteen days after the fall of the bridge—fifteen days after Paul A. Scott was riding in a car that sank to the bottom of the Ohio River, killing two of his companions—Scott, with his arm still bandaged from his ordeal, walked his daughter, Carol, down the aisle at her wedding.

And remember Charlene Clark Wood, the quick-thinking pregnant woman who saved her own life by driving in reverse on the falling bridge? Just four months later, in April 1968, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

Radio reporter Ron Akers of WCMI left broadcasting to become a member of the Ohio state patrol. Then after six years of that, he decided to become a doctor. So he went back to school and eventually became Dr. Rondal Akers. He practiced in Cleveland, Tennessee, until his retirement.

Today, at the end of Sixth Street in Point Pleasant, where the approach to the Silver Bridge once stood, there is a brickwork memorial with forty-six names. Forty-six people who, on December 15, 1967, crossed the Silver Bridge into eternity.

Top photo: An unidentified Ohio State Highway patrol trooper stands at what was once the roadway onto the Silver Bridge that connected Ohio and West Virginia. (Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol)

Murder, Center Stage – Excerpt

Murder, Center Stage: Misadventures of a Clandestine Critic, a novella by Bob Abelman

Murder, Center Stage: Misadventures of a Clandestine Critic, a novella by Bob Abelman

Book Excerpt

From Murder, Center Stage, by Bob Abelman

Chapter 1

The rough draft first paragraph of Gwen’s review of the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was typed out on her computer just before she left her near west side efficiency apartment for downtown Cleveland’s Hedley Theatre. It read:

All of us deserve to die. So sings the homicidal [or deranged, perhaps unhinged] title character in Sweeney Todd, which reinforces the pitch-black theme that drives this remarkably angry, bleak, and brilliant musical. Set in grimy [or grungy or decaying] 19th century London, we find the barber avenging his wrongful imprisonment and the senseless destruction of his fledgling family by whittling away at his clueless clientele and turning the fruits of his labor into meat pies to be sold in the shop below.

The paragraph was to be revised and the review fleshed out with astute observations, carefully honed opinions, and clever writing upon her return from the sold-out opening night show. It would then be posted in time for tomorrow morning’s deadline and published in the next issue of the Chronicle. Instead, it was recovered from Gwen’s laptop by the police.

The notepad she used while watching the North Coast Theater production was no doubt filled with insightful reflections about this evening’s performance—the acting choices, the rendering of Sweeney’s decrepit Fleet Street dwelling, and the goth-inspired costuming. Very little was legible because of the blood.

Chapter 2: Doing a Plimpton

Gwen had been warned about the hazards of the job.

An intense, accomplished, and overachieving sophomore at a local Jesuit college, she easily made the short list for the intern position at the newspaper that had hired me as its theater critic. As we toured the artificially bright and authentically busy newsroom on the way to an interview with Mark, the managing assistant editor of the Chronicle and my boss—me completely fabricating a running, rambling narrative about how things operate around here and Gwen diligently writing down everything—I clued her in on the perils that awaited her in a life dedicated to arts journalism.

“It’s not all fame, fun, and fortune,” I told her. “Taking notes with a pen in a small spiral notebook in a darkened theater is a high-risk enterprise not for the faint of heart. I’m a seasoned professional, yet most of my note-taking ends up on the right thigh of my pants. I’ve taken to wearing light tan khakis to the theater to best facilitate the late-night transcriptions.” She jotted this down, missing the pad she held and leaving a blue trail of words on the palm of her hand. Bonus points for a working sense of humor.

“There’s also the loss of a normal social life when all your Friday and Saturday nights are spent at a theater.” Her blank expression and lack of response suggested that “normal” for her meant “nonexistent,” which was an ideal lifestyle choice for a highly overworked intern.

“Overnight deadlines can be quite stressful,” I added, although I knew from having read her lengthy resume and impressive letters of recommendation that tight turnaround was more of an enticement than a deterrent for a chronic go-getter like her.

“And there’s the very real likelihood of making enemies within the arts community when the job requires a very public critique of their work, which influences their professional reputations and impacts their livelihoods.” When she said that this was the “price a critic pays for being a referee of the muses,” we skipped the interview and I welcomed her to the paper.

Gwen and I shook on it, and some of the blue ink from her sweaty palm transferred to mine.

“Well, I suppose that’s better than spitting on our hands to seal the deal,” I said.

“I guess we’re pen pals,” she countered.

Since then, over the past six months, Gwen has served as a reliable proofreader, all-purpose gofer, and occasional beat reporter.

I have been with the Chronicle for about twenty years, reviewing the dozens of regional playhouses, classic repertory companies, and national tours that make up the thriving Cleveland theater scene. But prior to my life as a theater critic, I had been a professional actor. I quickly realized that the name Asher Kaufman would be better placed in the byline of a show’s review than in the dramatis personae of its playbill. I got work, but almost always in small supporting roles in plays penned by Schwartzes, Bernsteins, and Simons. I once asked a casting agent what it would take for someone who looked like me—short, solid, and alluringly Ashkenazi—to land a romantic lead in something other than a play chronicling the Jewish diaspora or taking place during the Holocaust. She said, “the unexpected comeback of radio drama.”

And so I left the stage, just not the theater.

But I recently dusted off my acting skills and landed a small role in North Coast Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It so that I could write about the experience. The professional theater company is a partnership organization that shares production costs and performances with another theater, so As You Like It was rehearsed and opened in Cleveland before moving to the Taos Shakespeare Festival in New Mexico for an additional three-week run.

The idea that I write a series of articles about what takes place on the other side of the proscenium arch came from my boss, Mark. The man is straight out of central casting from the classic 1928 stage comedy The Front Page, where characters are fast-talking, hard-boiled, big-city newshounds who somehow come across as appealing and approachable. Like them, he wears suspenders, as if the news cycle was so unrelenting that there was no time to strap on a belt. There’s no explanation for his bow tie.

He called our clandestine operation “doing a Plimpton,” noting that it was named after the American journalist who, in 1963, attended the preseason training camp of the Detroit Lions of the National Football League under the pretense of being a backup quarterback. Plimpton also wrote about sparring boxing champion Archie Moore, who, at the time, had a record of 171-22-9, earned largely by having great defense and a strong chin. Neither was required when he met the journalist in the ring, who was an intellectual heavyweight but pugilistic lightweight. Plimpton, a glutton for punishment, also wrote about absorbing slap shots as an ice hockey goalie with the Boston Bruins.

Treading the boards seemed so much saner and safer, so I thought I’d give it a go.

The As You Like It experience was, in a word, terrifying. I found myself struggling to memorize Elizabethan prose, wrestling with iambic pentameter, and failing to keep pace with the very same classically trained, passive-aggressive North Coast Theater company members whom I had brutally panned in the past. Prior to this, the only Shakespeare I’ve ever performed professionally was The Taming of the Shrew, but only after Cole Porter had transformed it into the lovable musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Mark was ecstatic about the interest my painful and very public attempt at experiential journalism sparked among the paper’s readers and advertisers. And he was delighted to have my awkward opening night attempt at Shakespeare-speak reviewed by Gwen, who was starting to find her voice as a journalist at my expense.

He was still supportive when the company offered to cast me in its next production, Stephen Sondheim’s challenging musical Sweeney Todd. This was a North Coast Theater decision clearly based on the publicity I offer a production by writing about it and not necessarily what I bring to the stage as a performer in an ensemble role. Famous theater practitioner Michael Chekhov, a nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov and a student of performance guru Konstantin Stanislavski, once said that “an actor has to burn inside with an outer ease” to win over an audience. These days, I tend to embrace the advice of the Hippocratic oath in my acting: “First, do no harm.”

Sweeney Todd’s dense and difficult lyrics, demanding vocal range, and enigmatic melodies meant more engaging backstage stories chronicling my terror, and playing a small role would suffice for our purposes. After all, Plimpton got only five snaps during his short time as a backup quarterback for the Lions, stood for only five minutes in the crease for the Bruins, and sparred only three rounds with Archie Moore.

Of course, the driven and ever-opportunistic Gwen—who has a 4.1 GPA at her Jesuit college, is co-editor of her campus newspaper, and serves as captain of her school’s épée fencing and debate clubs—once again jumped at the chance to get a running byline in the paper during my absence for Sweeney’s rehearsals and run in Taos, and she was more than happy to review the show during opening night when it returned to Cleveland a few weeks later.

I often joked that, if there were such a thing as competitive prayer at her school, Gwen would be its record holder. She often joked that, if I ever got hit by a meteor from space or, less probably, if The New York Times came a-calling for my services, she would be happy to make my column her own.

Tape It Up and Play: Doug Dieken

Doug Dieken with cast on his broken right arm

Vintage Browns: A Warm Look Back at the Cleveland Browns of the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and More, a book by Terry Pluto

Book Excerpt

From Vintage Browns, by Terry Pluto

If you listen to Doug Dieken, you begin to think his entire career could be summed up with these words: “Better to be lucky than good.”

The good-natured Dieken tends to make you think that belongs on his tombstone.

Lucky? Of course Dieken was blessed by fate at certain key points in his life. That’s true of many successful people.

But that doesn’t tell you much about Dieken. This self-effacing man has a relentless spirit. Part of his career is due to a willingness to show up consistently with a good attitude. And it’s a willingness to adapt to change without much complaining.

Consider when Dieken was drafted by the Browns . . .

Those words might surprise some people who listen to Dieken broadcast Browns games on radio with Jim Donovan. Even some Browns players over the years had no idea Dieken wore an orange helmet for 14 years. Or that he still has the NFL record for consecutive starts by a left tackle—194.

Or that he still has a hard time figuring out how that happened.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be a tackle,” said Dieken. “I didn’t even know I had that consecutive game record until a guy at Cleveland Clinic told me when I was there for my brother’s heart surgery. The guy there looked me up on his phone and told me about it.”

We’ll get to that story and some others in a moment. But first, a few things to know.

The 72-year-old Dieken is an engaging storyteller, but also a good listener. He is a caring man with very little ego. He’s been doing Browns games on the radio since 1985, missing only two. In many ways, Dieken has been like the national anthem for the Browns ever since opening day of the 1971 season—he’s part of every game.

* * *

The year was 1971, long before the NFL draft was a media event.

“On draft day, I was sitting at home waiting for a team to call,” said Dieken. “I was watching TV. Not the draft. It wasn’t on back then. My mother was upstairs with her bridge club.”

This was in Streator, Illinois, where Dieken grew up. The town of about 13,000 is about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

“The phone rang. I picked it up,” said Dieken.

“This is Nick Skorich, head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” said the man on the line. “We just drafted you in the sixth round as an offensive tackle.”

Dieken paused for a second, wondering if they had the right guy. He’d never played tackle at Illinois. He was the team’s leading receiver for three years as a tight end.

“Any chance I could play tight end?” Dieken asked Skorich.

“We’ll see when you get here,” said the coach.

That was the end of the conversation.

Dieken went upstairs to tell his bridge-playing mother about being drafted by the Browns.

“That’s nice,” she said.

Then she looked back at the ladies and said, “Three clubs.”

* * *

Dieken was 6-foot-5 in high school, a star basketball player and baseball pitcher. His town was small, without much youth football. He didn’t play the sport when he was young. Dieken had a brother who was 6-foot-8. He assumed he’d grow to be at least that tall, and basketball would be his ticket to college.

“The high school basketball coach said he wanted me to get in shape in the fall before basketball started,” said Dieken. “He wanted me to run cross country or play football.”

“That’s an easy decision,” Dieken told the coach. “Football.” He wanted no part of running miles and miles in cross country.

While his family didn’t own a farm, his father managed them.

“He gave me all the lousy jobs he could find like baling hay,” said Dieken. “He wanted to see if I could work hard. My mother’s family was in the grain commodity market.”

Along with agriculture, Streator “was the glass container capital of the world back then,” according to Dieken. His parents were graduates of the University of Illinois, so Dieken expected to go to college. This is Midwest small town. While the movie “Hoosiers” was set in rural Indiana, the landscape and the sense of place reflects where Dieken was raised.

When you head out of town, the fields are flat. The sunsets are gorgeous, as the reds and yellows burst across the big sky of the plains.

It was not a place where you grew up thinking about playing pro football. The NFL seemed to be a million galaxies away—even for a very good high school athlete.

And Dieken was indeed very good.

By his junior season, Dieken surprised himself by being an All-State wide receiver. In basketball, he led his team by averaging 12.6 points and 9.5 rebounds.

“But I shot about 35% from the foul line,” said Dieken.

Actually, it was 47%.

In his final baseball game of his senior year, he threw a no-hitter.

“And I lost, 1-0,” he said, laughing.

The accidental football player ended up being a two-time All-State selection. He was recruited by Big Ten schools and picked Illinois, the university his parents had attended.

* * *

When Dieken arrived at Illinois, he never saw what was coming.

“The basketball and football coaches were fired because of a scandal having to do with a slush fund,” said Dieken. “The NCAA said I didn’t have to honor my commitment. I could go anywhere, but I stayed. Jim Valek was the new coach, the poor guy. None of us knew how bad it would be.”

Dieken’s team had records of 1-9 and 0-10 in his first two seasons. Back then, freshmen didn’t play varsity football. The team was 2-4 in Dieken’s senior year and some boosters and members of the athletic department wanted to fire Valek.

“We were playing Ohio State,” said Dieken. “I had heard they wanted to fire Coach (Valek) after the game. We lost (48-29). After the game, Woody Hayes said, ‘That coach they want to fire—they ought to fire me, because that guy out-coached me.’ ”

After the game, the team was informed that Valek was being fired. Dieken asked all the coaches to leave the room.

“Hey guys,” Dieken told his teammates. “If Coach isn’t here on Monday, I’m not going to be here. Anybody want to go with me?”

The players raised their hands. The team sent a letter to the athletic department saying they either keep Valek or the players would refuse to play next week.

“They had an emergency meeting and rehired him for the rest of the season,” said Dieken. “Back then, they didn’t fire coaches in the middle of the season. It wasn’t right.”

Valek was rehired. The team finished 3-7.

This story says something about Dieken, who generally is a go-along, get-along guy. He has a sense of right-and-wrong. When something was flat-out wrong, the man from the Midwest was willing to stand up and say it—and challenge others to follow.

He did that when playing with the Browns, demanding better play and harder work from some of his fellow offensive lineman.

As Dieken talked about his college football days, he mentioned Tim McCarthy, a walk-on football player who was a soccer player. On March 31, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot. Dieken saw McCarthy’s picture flashed on the television set.

“He was the Secret Service guy who took a bullet for the president,” said Dieken. “He was one of about 30 of us in that first football class. I think there were only five left by the time we graduated.”

* * *

After his draft-day conversation with Skorich in 1971, Dieken was still trying to figure out why they wanted him to play tackle. As far as he knew, only one NFL scout ever showed up at an Illinois practice.

“It was Lou Groza,” said Dieken. “I never talked to him. We knew who he was (a former Browns player). But that was it.”

Dieken played in the Blue-Gray all-star game and the Senior Bowl, two senior showcases. Dieken was a first-team All-Big Ten tight end, and was in that position in both postseason games. Future Browns coach Sam Rutigliano coached the receivers in the Senior Bowl.

Rutigliano must have had some influence on the play calling.

“They didn’t throw a pass to a tight end all day, everything was to the receivers,” laughed Dieken.

The Browns still picked him, the 142nd selection, in the 1971 draft.

“I showed up at the old Fleming Field at Case Western (Reserve University) for rookie camp,” said Dieken. “They handed me jersey No. 73 and pointed me toward the offensive line.”

The message was clear: 73 was a number for a lineman. (Years later it would be the number of Browns star left tackle Joe Thomas.)

* * *

Dieken’s first contract had a $5,000 bonus. The salary was $16,000 (not guaranteed) with a chance to earn another $6,000 in incentives if he played more.

When he was measured, he remembered to stand as tall as possible. A scout at the Senior Bowl had told him that if he measured at least 6-foot-5, it could be worth an extra 500 bucks. He came in at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds.

He signed his contract. He spent the night at the old Hollenden House hotel in downtown Cleveland with the other rookies. The next day he met owner Art Modell and some coaches at Municipal Stadium. When it was over, a member of the front office was supposed to drive Dieken to the airport. Instead, he dropped Dieken off at the Terminal Tower.

“He told me to take the train going west,” said Dieken. “When it ends, get off—that’s the airport.”

Not exactly a coddled rookie.

“I saw only one NFL game in my life before I got to the Browns,” he said. “It actually was the Browns. They were playing the Bears at Wrigley Field.”

Dieken has one distinct memory from that game.

“Dick Butkus was playing linebacker for the Bears,” he said. “He hit (Browns running back) Ron Johnson and I thought he killed Johnson.”

A few years later, Dieken met Johnson and mentioned the hit.

“I thought he killed you.”

“So did I,” said Johnson.

* * *

When Dieken joined the Browns, they put him at left tackle—behind veteran Dick Schafrath. Late in training camp, he was told to go see Skorich. The coach explained they were putting him on waivers with the idea of eventually having him on the “taxi squad,” or practice squad as it’s known today.

Dieken was confused. It sounded as if he was being cut. Then he received word he was claimed by Miami. It turned out one of Miami’s assistant coaches was Monte Clark, a former Browns lineman. He called current Browns lineman Gene Hickerson, who praised Dieken.

The Browns scrambled, pulling back the waivers. He ended up making the team.

Why all the roster manipulation? The Browns were trying to keep third-round pick Paul Staroba on the team. Just imagine if the Browns had let Dieken go—to protect an all-Big Ten receiver from Michigan whose NFL career consisted of 10 games and two receptions.

But at this point, Dieken was a sixth-rounder learning a new position in the NFL. He was mostly on special teams early in his rookie season. Then right tackle Bob McKay became injured.

“I went in, and I’d never played right tackle in my life,” said Dieken. “I played maybe three quarters at left tackle in the preseason games. No tackle in college.”

Dieken survived. When McKay healed, Dieken returned to the bench. But a few games later, an angry Skorich benched veterans Jim Houston, Gary Collins and Schafrath. In his book, “Heart of a Mule,” Schafrath said he learned of the changes in The Plain Dealer. He was in his 13th NFL season and his body was falling apart.

Dieken became the starting left tackle on Nov. 21, 1971. He stayed there until Dec. 16, 1984, never missing a start.

“The biggest adjustment was pass blocking,” he said. “But then I figured out it was like blocking out your man in basketball. Instead of keeping your body between the man and the rim, it was keeping your body between the man and the quarterback. You square him up. Footwork is the key.”

Then Dieken explained that one part of the way he played the position was wrong.

“If you play left tackle, your left hand is on the ground and your left leg is back,” he said. “But I played with my right hand in the dirt, the right leg back. It was backwards.”

Early in his career, no one bothered to change him. Later on, he played for Howard Mudd—considered one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history.

“Why didn’t you change me?” Dieken asked Mudd.

“You’re playing it well,” Mudd said. “No need.”

* * *

When talking to Dieken, the conversation becomes like a winding country road with a few side trips. For example, Dieken explained he never used an agent when talking contract.

“It’s almost like salaries were slotted back then,” said Dieken. “You know what starting offensive linemen made, and that was about what you’d get.”

Dieken played 14 seasons, doing all his own contracts. His highest salary was $250,000.

“If nothing else, I saved a lot in agent fees,” he said.

Dieken said some of the guys on the team once asked him how he negotiated with Modell.

“It’s easy,” said Dieken.

He knelt down and said, “Please Art, please play me!”

Dieken laughed.

“That was my strategy—begging,” he said.

* * *

Early in his career, Dieken’s teammates would tell him, “We never should have traded Eppie Barney.”


“Eppie Barney,” said Dieken. “The Browns traded him to the Bears for the draft pick they used on me.”

Eppie Barney was from Cleveland and had played at Collinwood High and Iowa State. He was a third-round pick by the Browns in 1967. The receiver played only 26 games in the NFL, catching 19 passes.

Dieken loves to tell this type of story, going for laughs at his own expense.

* * *

How do you play 194 games in a row at left tackle in the NFL? You don’t just play hurt, you play injured. You play when you know you should sit. If you’re Dieken, you play through the pain because you remember something your father said.

“What life gives you, you handle it,” said Dieken. “Life gave me left tackle.”

Dieken was not about to let it go. In the middle of his second season, something was wrong with his right knee. He went to see the team doctor.

“You need surgery,” Dieken was told. “You tore a cartilage. You can have the operation and miss the rest of the season. Or you can tape it up and play.”

He taped it up and played. Surgery after the season.

Then right before the opening game of his third season, something was wrong with his other knee.

“You tore the cartilage,” he was told. “You can have surgery and miss the season, or you can tape it up and play.”

Same story, different knee. He taped it up and played. Surgery after the season. There were three knee surgeries in his career. And broken hands. Broken thumbs. Torn tendons, strained ligaments. He played wearing a cast on a fractured arm.

“I had a concussion or two,” he said. “Maybe four or six. Hard to know.”

He played.

“That’s what you did back then,” said Dieken.

By the end of the 1984 season, he knew his body couldn’t take it anymore. He retired. Since then, he’s had both knees replaced. Both hips replaced. A degenerative disk in his back.

Dieken laughed. He knows the litany of injuries and all the pain is not funny, but what else can you do? But he did what he always did.

He played.

* * *

In 1984, Dieken knew his career was about over. Browns radio broadcaster Gib Shanley asked him what he planned to do next. “I have no idea,” was the response.

“Why don’t you get into this business?” Shanley asked. Then, Shanley opened the door in a couple of ways. First he sold the Browns and the radio station on Dieken’s on-air potential. Then Shanley left for a job on the West Coast.

In 1985, the Browns had Jim Mueller and Nev Chandler alternating as play-by-play men, with Dieken doing color commentary. The next season, they paired Chandler and Dieken. Dieken has been on the radio ever since. His partners were Chandler and Casey Coleman until the team left for Baltimore after the 1995 season. Chandler and Coleman both died of cancer.

He was teamed up with Donovan when the team returned in 1999.

“Sometimes, it’s more about timing than talent,” said Dieken.

He was thinking about high school, how basketball turned into football. About the NFL, how he was dropped into the left tackle spot.

“I played next to two great guards—Gene Hickerson and later Robert Jackson,” said Dieken. “That’s what I mean about timing. Those guys really helped me.”

Then broadcasting. As he had at left tackle, in radio he started at the pro level with zero experience. But that is at the heart of Dieken—the power of showing up. Doing the right thing, day after day, decade after decade.

“My father once told me that there will always be guys with more talent than you,” said Dieken. “But you can outwork them.”

After Dieken was drafted by the Browns, Charles Dieken told his son he’d give Dieken $100 if he ever made the Pro Bowl. It finally happened in his 10th pro season. Dieken called his dad, reminding him about the $100.

“That’s good,” said Charles Dieken. “Think you can do it again?”

Charles Dieken did not believe in handing out compliments—or money—frivolously.

Then Dieken told one more story.

“My brother Paul was in the Special Olympics and he loved it,” said Dieken. “That got me interested in it.”

Over the years, he’s helped raise about $250,000 for the organization.

“One day, my brother won four ribbons and medals,” said Dieken. “He got in the car, held them up to me and said, ‘How do you like that, Hot Shot!’”

Dieken laughed as he told the story, one that says so much about him and his late brother.

Photo: Richard T. Conway / The Plain Dealer. Used with permission of The Plain Dealer.

I Want to Hold Your Hand

My Ticket to Ride, by Janice Mitchell

Book Excerpt

From My Ticket to Ride, by Janice Mitchell

It was Christmas break, 1963, and I sat in the kitchen trying to stay awake while writing a homework essay. Homework during break just wasn’t fair, but it had to be done. I turned on the large portable orange and white radio that was my lifeline to the outer world, pointed the telescoping chrome antenna toward the window, and turned the dial to 1420 WHK.

Some of the popular songs on Cleveland radio that week were “Since I Fell for You” by Lenny Welch, “Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, and “I’m Leaving It Up to You” by Dale and Grace. Pretty tame. The liveliest song going was “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, a song that kids weren’t supposed to listen to because some adults thought it was suggestive. I didn’t even know what suggestive meant. The radio stations played it, and we danced away.

Instead of working on my essay, I tapped the sharpened tip of my yellow No. 2 pencil to the beat of “There I’ve Said it Again” by Bobby Vinton. I had nothing against Bobby Vinton, but the tune was kind of boring. Then “Popsicles and Icicles” by The Murmaids: I’d heard it about a million times. I glanced down at the few sentences I’d written and stared out the kitchen window at the dark-gray, winter Cleveland sky. The wind whistled through the trees, and, as usual, it was cold and snowing.

“Dominique” by the Singing Nun came on. She sang it in French, so I didn’t know what she was saying, but she had a sweet voice and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar, which was cool for a nun. Even though teens couldn’t dance to it, the song was in the number-one spot on the Billboard Top 10. As an Irish Catholic girl who went to a Catholic girls’ high school with nuns as teachers, I had to love this song or risk going straight to hell upon death—or maybe even sooner. All the nuns went wild, so to speak, over this accomplishment by one of their own. I heard a nun or two humming the tune as they passed by in the school hallway, amid the normal nuns-wearing-habits sounds, the jingling of keys, rosaries, and crucifixes.

I turned the dial from WHK to KYW. A new disc jockey, Jerry G, had just arrived at KYW from Chicago. Chicago—the big city I knew of only because that’s where my mother went with her boyfriend after abandoning her three children and husband. I didn’t hold that against Chicago, though. Maybe, I hoped, this new disc jockey brought some records with him that we hadn’t yet heard in Cleveland.

Jerry G was on, announcing a new group with a one-word name. Beagles? I didn’t hear the name clearly. Then, a sound I’d never heard before. The guitar chords and harmony electrified me. I jumped up from my kitchen chair, grabbed the radio with both hands, and held it close, straining to hear every note, every word.

The song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

After the song finished, Jerry G announced the group’s name again: “And that was the Beatles . . .” He described them as a new singing sensation from England.

I almost knocked my chair over as I lunged for the yellow telephone on the kitchen wall. I grabbed the receiver and called the station. Busy. I redialed. Busy again. I must have dialed the number a dozen times hoping to speak to Jerry G and ask him to play the Beatles song again, but I couldn’t get through. Every kid in Cleveland must have been calling.

The Beatles! I wanted to hold their hands too, and right then. The words presented such a simple, yet powerful, request. I needed someone to hold my hand. I’d never experienced that feeling before. I couldn’t think of anyone who had held my hand with love, ever. Holding someone’s hand meant they thought you were worthwhile, that they cared about you. It meant that they were telling you everything was going to be okay, that you were not alone in the world.

My heart wanted that.

I had to see what the Beatles looked like. I wanted to learn everything about them—as soon as possible. Now, aside from seeing Jesus in heaven, I had something to live for.

Winter for a Cleveland TV News Reporter

Paul Orlousky standing in front of the Cleveland sign at Edgewater Park.

Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter by Paul Orlousky

Book Excerpt

From Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked, by Paul Orlousky

Winter is an interesting time of year to be a TV news reporter out on the streets of Northeast Ohio. My least favorite live-shot assignment of all time was going out to stand by the side of the road to tell people it was snowing. But sometimes a story with a winter angle turned out to be a winner. Here are a couple of stories from winters past …

Bad Weather

TV news loves bad weather. I laughed one time when I was the lead story on a bad snowstorm. The message to viewers from our weather people was, “Don’t even think about going out. Stay in your home.” That was followed by the anchor saying, “We sent Paul Orlousky on a three-state tour to survey what is going on . . .” Wait, what?

On the way to Cleveland Hopkins airport, cameraman Tom Livingston and I shot some video of local bad weather. We landed in Cincinnati, where the airport is located across the Ohio River in Kentucky, and shot some video of bad weather there. Two states down! Next it was on to Huntington, West Virginia, which was hardest hit. As the plane was approaching the airport and we were just about to land, the engines suddenly revved and we climbed back into the sky. The pilot came on the intercom. “We’re going to come around again. There was a snowplow on the runway.” I looked at Tom and asked, “Don’t they have radios at this place?” We landed and got our story. But the assignment desk hadn’t checked the flight schedule. There was no return flight. They had to send a charter plane to get us. It arrived and we made it back to Cleveland just in time for the 11 p.m. news.

A Christmas Story

It was just a routine story to cover at WEWS. Not a lot of fanfare had been made about it. A movie was being made on downtown’s Public Square. It was a bit unusual at the time, as not many movies were shot in Cleveland in the early 1980s.

The last big one had been The Deer Hunter, in the mid-1970s, which used exteriors of St. Theodosius Cathedral in the Tremont neighborhood. (Much of that movie was shot in Pittsburgh, with a shot or two filmed in Youngstown.) In 1977, interiors of the penthouse at a building then known as the Chesterfield, on East 12th Street near Chester Avenue, were used for a scene in The Gathering featuring actor Ed Asner. The movie-making scene in Cleveland had been dry since then.

The new movie being filmed in Cleveland was A Christmas Story, adapted from a book by Jean Shepherd. Yes, the same movie that is now a classic holiday ritual for so many.

The movie company made a deal with the City of Cleveland to purchase late 1930s- era Christmas decorations for Public Square if the city would agree to keep the decorations displayed until movie filming was done in February. The city quickly said yes, as the decorations from past years had outlived their usefulness.

Christmas came and went, and the movie crew moved in that January. My assignment was to cover a big parade scene that was to be shot at night. It is the scene where Ralphie looks into a store window display and falls in love with the idea of getting an “Official Red Ryder Carbine Action Two Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle” for Christmas.

It hadn’t been a particularly cold winter in Cleveland, so the snow you see in the movie was heavily augmented with soap bubbles as a kind of filler. Many locals who owned vintage cars from that era were involved. Modern phone booths were covered by postwar-looking bus stops. A gospel choir from a historic Black Cleveland church is the one singing in the parade. All went well. (I have seen old tapes of my coverage from that night; I was about thirty and looked like a child myself with my excitement.)

A day or two later, I went inside the Higbee department store to interview Peter Billingsley, the actor in the role of Ralphie. It was Higbee’s store window that Ralphie was looking into on the corner of Euclid and Ontario when he obsessed on the Red Ryder BB gun. Between two escalators was the Santa Mountain made famous in the movie. The place where Ralphie at first couldn’t spit it out, then while being tossed down the slide on the mountain by an elf, stops and asks Santa for the Red Ryder. The spot where Santa listens and says, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” (By the way, that Santa Mountain elf who sits the kids on Santa’s lap is from Cleveland. And yes, I have a leg lamp!)

At the top of Santa Mountain, I interviewed Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie. I always kind of dreaded doing kid interviews; but he was particularly good. Over the years, I have met many of, and even worked with one of, the children waiting in line to see Santa in the movie. They were local extras. Most were young and don’t have a lot of memories of the filming. Elisa Olgin, whom I worked with at WOIO, remembers that Billingsley was “very nice” and that they had a great place to hang out between scenes. She said, “Even had pinball machines and stuff like that, that Peter liked.”

The movie didn’t do much at the box office. Years later, though, the TBS television network picked it up for its now-annual Christmas Eve and Day marathon, which made it into a classic.

Some of the actors from the movie returned to Cleveland over the years to sign autographs and make appearances. My favorite was Zack Ward, who played bully Scut Farkus. In the first return appearance by the cast, I did a story about it. I had to think of a creative way to “tease” ahead to the story, which would air later in the news broadcast after the first commercial break or two. I had Zack put his arm around my neck from behind, kind of a choke hold. He did that Scut Farkus growl, and I said, “All these years later, and he’s still a bully, I’ll explain.” He was a good sport to play along with us.

Photo by Marty DeChant.

Don’t Trust Donny Osmond on Live TV with a Magic Marker

Donnie Osmond writes on Paul Orlousky's face with a marker while standing in front of a weather map.

Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter by Paul Orlousky

Book Excerpt

From Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked, by Paul Orlousky

I was working in Binghamton, New York and had sent out dozens of resumes and videotapes of my work. I had received dozens of rejection letters and returned tapes. When WYTV in Youngstown, Ohio offered me a job, I jumped at it. It was not a great station, but it was a bigger television market. A bonus was that it was close to Cleveland. I was an avid Browns fan. (And despite the pain over all these years, I remain one!)

Youngstown, at the time I arrived there, was mob-infested. For a news guy, that meant it was a great place to learn how to cover a city where you could get some dirt under your fingernails. Problem was, I was the weekend anchor and was only on the streets three days a week. I never got my nails that dirty, but did see a lot from that anchor chair.

There was a huge underworld culture in Youngstown at the time. It was right out in the open. It was almost like the movie Goodfellas. People talked with reverence about “Briar Hill Jimmy,” the Carabbias, the Strollo Brothers, and Joey Naples. There was a bar and drive-through beverage store close to the TV station, almost out the back door. You could go there to buy beer, pop, and all the usual stuff. You could also go there and play football parlay sheets from your car. In Youngstown, parlays also included high school games. On Tuesday you’d go back and collect if you won.

WYTV aired Monday Night Football. If games were in Pittsburgh or Cleveland and didn’t sell out, the Youngstown market was blacked out and the TV station couldn’t carry the game—which made viewers irate. One Monday night during a blackout, a guy who had been drinking came knocking on the station door, complaining. We didn’t want any trouble and he wasn’t drunk, just pissed off. We said, OK, come on into the newsroom and watch. We could get the game from ABC; but we couldn’t broadcast it. He watched, thanked us, and left. I am sure we had a viewer for life.

That situation gave the photographers an idea. An illegal but ingenious one. On the next blackout night, they cooked up a deal with the bar we backed up to. They ran a cable from the TV station to the bar. The bar then plugged the network football feed into their TVs. They made a fortune because it was the only place in town that had the game. It was on the QT, but all the “goodfellas” in town knew about it. The payoff for the cameraman was a free bar tab for a week or two.

Watch What You Drive to Lordstown

A big employer in the Mahoning Valley at the time was the Lordstown General Motors Plant. Thousands worked there. The UAW was king. It was notorious for a contentious relationship with GM. In the union hall parking lot, there were two parking areas. One was close to the building, with a sign announcing that only American-made cars were welcome there. The other, farther away across a small bridge over a creek, was for anyone driving a foreign car.

Only one of our news vehicles was a foreign make. I don’t know how WYTV’s station management ever decided to buy it. It was probably a trade-out with one of our advertisers. It wasn’t a great move to take that foreign car to a press conference at the union hall. When the crew came out, all four tires were flat. They didn’t just leak air. Knife punctures took care of that. Message received. I believe the station bought only American cars after that. They certainly didn’t take that foreign car anywhere near Lordstown again.

Donny Osmond

In 1980, just before I moved to Cleveland, I was the co-anchor of the nightly news. One night, the weatherperson was off and we had an opportunity for an unusual replacement. Donny Osmond, “America’s Sweetheart” at the time, was in town to promote an upcoming concert given by his family. Arrangements were made to have him come in and do a guest weather segment. I knew a bit about weather and had done the weather in a pinch in the past, so I would lead Donny through it.

The weather segment came, and my co-anchor threw it over to me. I introduced Donny and announced him as our guest weatherman. In those days, weather graphics were created on a large erasable board showing an outline of the United States. Weather fronts and other information were drawn on the board with a marker by the weather person.

Donny had the marker and started by drawing a big sun over Utah, where his family is from. Good start. He noted that a front had passed us by and that the all-day rain in Youngstown had stopped. I told him he was doing great. Then he moved farther east on the map, and closer to me; then, unexpectedly, he reached over and started drawing the weather on my face!

I was caught flat-footed, dumbfounded. It was unplanned and I was completely unprepared! What was I supposed to do? This was America’s Sweetheart; I certainly couldn’t punch him. Pushing him away would look awkward; I was at least a foot taller than he was. So I just stood there, going along with it. To this day, I wish I had done something—anything—else.