Dime-Bank Odyssey

by Carl L. Biemiller)

Holiday Magazine
May 1946, Vol. 1, No. 3

The Curtis Publishing Company
Independence Square, Philadelphia 5, PA

Piggy Bank Ten Red Cents a Week Piggy Bank


Sometime after 3:58 on the morning of June seventeenth the lights of the westbound Trail Blazer will vanish into the warm morning darkness beyond Canton, Ohio. The slumbers of Joseph J. LaMonica, passenger agent, will take on a deeper peace as a harried subconscious relaxes for the first time in weeks.

Later the same day, however, a gnawing suspicion that something is missing will filter through the First National Bank. Then somebody will make the discovery that for the first time in ten years Account No. 77,395 in the name of the Kitty Kat Klub is closed.

Quite a few things will be different around Canton for the two weeks following the Trail Blazer’s departure in the predawn blackness of the seventeenth. Ten children, one of them speculating whether the promise of oranges from California is enough to offset daily music practice, will be sizing up a variety of grandmothers, aunts and family friends as caretakers. The Evangelical Church will be minus a Sunday-school superintendent, an assistant superintendent, a secretary, three teachers and two musicians, leaving Pastor L. H. Naumann with a personnel problem. The Crystal Park firehouse will be without its steady driver and best eater. Downtown, the customers of the V and Z market will be complaining to the V about the absence of the Z. But the people who set this chain of events in motion won’t be concerned. They are going on a trip—a vacation that has been saved for and planned for ten years. For them, six married couples in their middle and late thirties, a very special dream will have come true—not a spectacular dream because they are not spectacular people—simply the fulfillment of an earnest wish to see the country while they are still young enough to enjoy it.

Many people have similar desires and express them in many ways. Few, however, are like the Huffmans, Zagrays, Kinseys and Julians. It takes more than a standard brand of faith and persistence to build even a minor epic on a dime bank, to pinch a bit from five hundred and eighty-three pay checks over ten years while time plays all the familiar domestic patterns of sickness, babies, low incomes, job changes, depressions and better breaks.

In every quality but that basic faith, the couples of Canton are typical people. They live in small frame houses on quiet streets that are no different in Canton than they are in any industrial town, homes with paint-peeled exteriors, but warm, tight and neat where the living goes on. They worry about child sniffles, piano payments, clothes, dental braces and jobs like unsung millions everywhere. One of the husbands manages a food store. Another is a printing salesman. One is an advertising man. A city fireman, an industrial instructor and a steel-mill foreman complete the bread winning group. With one exception their incomes range between two and thee hundred dollars a month. That wasn’t always true. It wasn’t true, for instance, the night that the mutual fun-and-small-savings society later known as the Kitty Kat Klub was born. Back in January, 1935, the local industries were working on part-time schedules. The best sort of fun was the kind that didn’t cost anything, like putting a barbershop quartet together.

That’s what was going on in the home of Sydenham Lambert Huffman, Sam to his business friends, Lambert to Kitty Kats. The Zagrays were there, three brothers and their wives; Cliff and Annamay, Bill and Ida, Walt and Evelyn, Richard and Bernice Call were there too. And, of course, Lambert’s wife, Burdette.

The Zagray-Huffman quartet sang. And when the repertoire ran down, everybody popped corn and talked. Young married talk, full of wishes, plans and places to go. Someday they’d take a great trip together. Someday—for real.

Nobody is sure who made the suggestion that put a practical plan into operation. But before the fun broke up, every fellow in the group had laid a fifty-cent piece on the table and promised to save fifty cents per month per couple thereafter for the big trip.

It seemed like a joke. Fifty cents. With different people it might have been. But sticking to things is second nature with this group.

“We’re geared that way, I guess,” said Bill Zagray, fireman in Canton’s Company No. 7, and oldest of the three brothers who form the nucleus of the Kitty Kat Klub. Four years apart in ages, these brothers are real friends. They go to the same church, bowl together, play volleyball on the same team, fish, swim and clown around together. The golf they play is a horror of stratospheric scores. But it comes naturally. Old Pappy Zagray’s game is exotic. He carries his bag on his shoulder and keeps it there even when teeing off. Middle brother Walt is a schedule clerk for Republic Steel, and youngest brother Clifford is a partner in a food market. All are active church workers, as are their wives. Bill’s wife, Ida, Walt’s Evelyn, and Cliff’s Annamay get along well together, too, although their main interest is the children: Bill’s daughter, Walter’s two girls and Cliff’s son.

But the Zagrays comprise but half of the travel budgeters. The Julians, Verta and Kenny, joined the club back in 1939. The trip looked far away that year. Dick Call, one of the original Kats, died in the spring and his wife dropped out. The Julians were voted in with the proviso that Kenny would pay back dues as well as current assessments.

Comparative newcomers to the group are the Kinseys, Bill and Gladys. They’ve only been in a few years. Julian, the time-study man for Timken-Roller Bearing, has two daughters, while Kinsey, a printing salesman, has two sons.

Naturally, any group has its organizer, money man and catch-all adviser. If the Kitty Kat savings idea for travel could be pinned down, it would probably turn out to be Lambert Huffman’s. Huffman, a promising advertising man and one of the original Kats, is up to his ears in organizing the big trip right now. But he is having the time of his life.

“We’ve got about three thousand dollars in the account and endless confusion,” he explained. “For the last few months our get-togethers have been emergency meetings. What kind of clothes do we take to what places? Where do we want to go anyhow? How does it feel to travel by plane? Shall we go by train? What to do with the kids? How do we tip? Where do we stay? For six months now we’ve been trying to organize ourselves. About all we really know is that we are going, but here’s what we’ve done so far….”

In the first place the Kitty Kats have given everybody a job to do. Huffman is in charge of something called “meeting the public” and overseeing things in general.

Walt Zagray, who, with brother Bill, has never taken a legitimate train ride, is in charge of making schedules. A fact which Canton’s passenger agent, Joe LaMonica, has reason to rue.

One night in the midst of itinerary planning Walt reported that the railroad didn’t seem to be getting the idea quite right. He wanted tariffs to some national parks and LaMonica had patiently explained that they weren’t set yet. Huffman then remembered that he’d met a man named Robert Henry who was a vice-president of the American Association of Railroads. Why couldn’t he do something? Huffman wired. J. H. S. Winne, division passenger agent, came down to Canton and spent two hours with Huffman.

“You see what I mean?” moaned LaMonica. “And a guy that’s never been on a train outside the Canton tracks.”

Annamay Zagray, wife of the food-market owner, has been designated “head of the anti-homesick division.” She is in charge of communications, which in this case means the six long-distance telephone calls which will be made, one by each mother to her children, during the course of the fourteen-day trip. Kenny Julian, because he is “big and strong” is assigned baggage handling. Cliff Zagray is arranging hotel reservations. Gladys Kinsey, who was “somewhere” West once, is heading the sight-seeing department. Verta Julian, Burdette Huffman and Evelyn Zagray form something known as a forage committee,” duties not defined. Bill Zagray will continue to watch the treasury.

Ten Red Cents a Week

“We still need money,” he said. “Gee, I wish somebody would borrow from the fund. I only bite them ten percent interest each week. I even wish somebody would be delinquent in the dues. I sock ‘em a nickel a week for that.”

The Kitty Kat itinerary for the trip which begins June seventeenth was literally hewn from the souls of the members.

The fireworks went off the first night a schedule was proposed. It wasn’t like the first trip the Kats made long ago. Then, when the fifty-cents-a-month saving mounted to the grand total of forty dollars, the original Kats took the money and went romping off to Mammoth Cave by automobile. But this was the once-in-a-lifetime junket that had been ten years in the making.

“Let’s go just one place and do it right. We can only be away two weeks. I vote for Yellowstone National Park,” said Burdette Huffman.

“Not me,” chipped in Annamay Zagray. “Why shoot ten years’ savings on only one place? I want to see Los Angeles, San Francisco, the redwood trees, oranges. I want to set foot in the Pacific Ocean.”

“Yosemite,” said Verta Julian. “Mountain peace.”

“Grand Canyon,” argued Walt Zagray. “Maybe Pikes Peak. I never saw a real big mountain.”

“Keep me out of the cities,” begged Cliff. “I want to rest.”

“Show me Hollywood,” said Ida. “I want to go to a real studio and a radio broadcast. I want to ride on a glass-bottomed boat to Catalina Island.”

“I want lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco,” said Kenny Julian.

“I want to shop some big stores. I want breakfast in bed in a good hotel. I want a radio tenor to sing for me,” said Evelyn dreamily.

“Show me some firehouse equipment somewhere,” grinned Bill.

“And as your Sunday-school superintendent, I want to see some other churches, maybe the old missions,” said Lambert Huffman.

Maybe by some standards the trip finally scheduled isn’t a grand tour, but to people who will see things for the first time it’s impressive enough. It begins by boarding the Trail Blazer at 3:58 Monday the seventeenth. That train gets to Chicago at 9:55 the same morning, where the party will shop, go to a radio broadcast and ride around the city. That night at ten o’clock they’ll take the Scout, which will get them into Williams, Arizona, around seven Wednesday evening. After a day at the Grand Canyon they’ll leave the area for Los Angeles, arriving on Friday. They’ll have three whole days in L. A., and then they’ll move up to Yosemite for a two-day visit and, finally, a day in San Francisco. They’re not too sure just what it is they want to see in the places they’ll visit, nor even what they want to do. But they’ll get a lot of fun out of the little inexpensive things.

“I’ve heard about San Francisco’s cable cars all my life,” confided Bill Kinsey. “I can ride them for a nickel and it won’t cost me a cent to watch the fog roll in through the Golden Gate.”

“I know that a day at the Canyon isn’t enough to make any of the trail rides or anything,” said Walt Zagray. “I don’t want to ride a horse anyhow. I just want to see the thing. Just look at it. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“Maybe if we’re lucky we can visit a movie studio in Los Angeles,” revealed Kenny Julian. “Somebody told me that just watching the people out there is almost a show in itself. Maybe we’ll be amusing to somebody else too.”

So far, trip costs are pruned to the barest of bare bones. “It’s times like this I’m glad we’re all church folks,” grinned Huffman. “We don’t have any of the minor vices to run up expenses on us.” The Kats are figuring $254.11 per person broken down like this: Round trip, intermediate class, Canton to San Francisco, $126.05; lower berth in Pullman, $28.06; hotel for eight nights (one half of double room), $20.00; sight-seeing fares, $40.00; and meals $40.00.

“You know that’s awful thin, don’t you?” queried Bill Zagray. “Is it too thin? Can we do it?”

The Kats know better than to ask that question. They have the ten-year testimony of their own meeting minutes to prove that they can do almost anything, excerpts like this one: “Project: selling magazines for travel dues. Premium recpts. $2.50. Abandoned project.” Or this one: “Motion made at wiener frazzle at Bill’s to up dues to five dollars a month per couple. Carried.” Or this one: “Lambert borrowed dinner money. Interest on $4.00 for two weeks, eighty cents. Also mother owes a dollar.”

Yes, the Kats are going light, lighthearted. Not one of the women’s wardrobes, for instance, will have cost more than a hundred dollars. They are taking suits, sensible shoes for walking, and a couple of dark dresses for evening wear, sweaters and skirts and raincoats. The men are going equipped with sports shirts and slacks. “The stuff we have,” grinned Bill Kinsey.

What do they expect to get out of it after ten years of planning? They don’t answer that one quickly.

“I think,” said Ida Zagray slowly, “That maybe we’ll get a broader outlook on a lot of things. Certainly, it ought to make us better parents in the sense that maybe we’ll be a bit more interesting to our children.”

Evelyn Zagray, willing to add her savings for a silver service to the kitty for the trip, was hesitant too. “Life’s pretty short. I think we owe it to ourselves to build the best concept of our own country that we can, while we can. I’d hate to grow old thinking about America as lines on a road instead of a land of real trees, mountains and natural beauty.”

Lambert Huffman was direct. “I’m in the publicity business you know. I recognize triteness. But no man really grows unless he learns from first hand experience. I want travel in my background. To me the words see America first, are fine ones. And that’s what I intend to do.”

Bill Zagray looked beyond the creamed hamburger cooking on the firehouse stove, looked hard at the red-brick streets. “This town is home to me in many ways. I’m no smart guy. I get by, that’s all. But I know that sometimes the best way to learn to appreciate what you have is to get away from it for a new view.” He grinned. “Besides, I finally got a guy to swap days off with me. I have to go now.”

“We’re not big people,” reasoned Kenny Julian. “For all I know most of us have never left the Middle West except for quick car rides or short trips. Yes, one couple has seen Niagara Falls, another has been to Florida, but never have we gone anywhere glamorous together. We have a lot of fun together. I kind of want to see new sights with my friends. It makes that friendship richer.”

“There’s a lot of beauty in this work, the sort that not enough of us get even though there’s plenty to go round. I am going to look at it. No matter how much faith a man has, he can use more. I think I’ll get a better idea of the variety of God,” said Cliff Zagray, and brother Walt nodded agreement.

So that’s what they want out of a decade of dreaming, saving and sacrifice, the Zagrays, Huffmans, Kinseys, and Julians of Canton, Ohio. They built an odyssey. And they’ll cram a lifetime of memories into two weeks because they had the character to cram a piggy bank with a decade of small change.

If you have any comments about this article, please contact me at: eric@biemiller.com
The Harvest of Memories C.L. Biemiller's Home