LON

I've always thought that I didn't know much about my
grandfather. We seldom saw one another, and Dad talked very
little about his family. Here is what I remember.
He was born in a log cabin on a farm near Freeport,
Pennsylvania in the early 1850's, before the Civil War. His
father's name was William. I don't know his mother's name.
Freeport in those days was a busy port on the Allegheny River
where paddlewheel steamboats carried coal, farm products, and
passengers between Pittsburgh and northwest Pennsylvania.
The oldest of eleven children, Granddad was given the
unusual name Alonzo. Everybody called him "Lon". If he had a
middle name, I never heard it.

Lon and his brothers grew up helping their father, William,
work the farm. When the family outgrew the log cabin, they
built a two story brick house, which still stands, near the road
that runs from Freeport to Ford City. A big hay barn and several
sheds were built not far from the house.

In 1859 oil was discovered near Titusville, Pennsylvania,
about 70 miles north of Freeport. The prospect of making more
money in oil than he could ever make farming lured Lon north to
the oil fields. He bought a tank wagon and took it with a team of
farm horses to Titusville, where he hauled oil from the wells to
the railroad for. shipment.

Although the oil venture was profitable, Lon wanted more
from life than driving a tank wagon, so he moved to Washington,
Pennsylvania, forty miles south of Pittsburgh, where there was
an opportunity to go into the livery business.

After a few years, when his livery was well established,
Lon married a young woman who also "hailed" from Freeport.
never learned how they met or when they married, but I do
know that their first child, a boy whom they named William Blair,
was born June 1, 1894. Blair was my father.

When Blair was five years old, his mother died in child
birth, leaving him an only child. His father then employed a
cousin from Freeport, Annie Sloan, to keep house and take care
of the boy. Every summer, Annie would take Blair to Freeport to
stay with relatives, most of whom were farmers.

Within a few years, the Renshaw Livery Stable grew to
forty horses plus numerous buggies, coaches, carriages, wagons,
and even a hearse. In addition to renting horses to ride and draw
vehicles, the livery provided taxi and parcel delivery services for
the city of Washington.

Young Blair went to his father's stables daily after school,
and often would make deliveries. One of his tasks was collecting
the day's receipts from local commercial establishments and
delivering the money to the banks. Dad claimed he did this with
no thought of being robbed, and indeed never was.

One of my father's fondest memories of his growing years
was when Buffalo Bill's wild west show to came to Washington.
The famous showman kept his horses at Granddad's livery and
allowed young Blair to ride his special horse. One of Dad's
prized possessions was a photo of himself as a boy sitting on
Buffalo Bill's white horse.

There is every reason to believe that my grandfather
would have enjoyed a comfortable, even prosperous, life if it
had not been for one thing -- the advent of the automobile.
As I got the story, Lon was one of those who believed that
four wheeled machines would never replace the horse. This is
understandable for a man who lived with horses every day of his
life. However, one must say that he was a better horseman than
businessman. Lon was in an ideal position to enter the fledgling
automobile business, but never did. In only a few years, cars
and trucks took over, and liveries became as obsolete as the
proverbial buggy whip.

Although it was never stated in my presence, it was clear
that Granddad's losses were severe, as he moved to a row house
in a run-down part of Pittsburgh. This is where he lived when I
first remember him, sometime in the early 1930's. At some
point, I don't know when, he had remarried, and was obviously
struggling financially. Several times my dad took me along on
visits to his father, to whom he would pass money as we were
leaving.

After Lon's second wife died, he came to live with us in
East McKeesport. Mother fixed up her sewing room, on the
second floor, as his bedroom. It was big enough only for a single
bed, chair and small bureau. At first, Granddad ate with us, but
after several weeks we began to take his meals to him in his
room. Dad said it was so Granddad wouldn't have to climb the
stairs, but I suspected otherwise. Two things of great importance
to Dad were manners and appearance, and Granddad didn't fare
well on either score. Well into his eighties at that point, he
always wore bibbed overalls, smelled of tobacco, slurped his
soup, dunked donuts in his coffee, belched and, worst of all,
sometimes swore.

Record snows hit western Pennsylvania the winter of
1936. I remember helping Granddad shovel shoulder-high snow
from the sidewalks. That spring we went to see the
devastating floods in Pittsburgh and the mill towns that line the
Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.

The same winter, Granddad set the house on fire.
Evidently he hadn't completely shut off the gas stove in his room
because when he lit a match in the morning, probably to light
his corn-cob pipe, there was an awful explosion. I remember
jumping out of bed and running behind my dad to Granddad's
room. Dad quickly opened the door, and there sat Granddad on
his bed, dazed, with the window blown out and the curtains on
fire. It was a miracle that the old fellow didn't die of
asphyxiation or burn up. All he suffered was the loss of what
little hair he had left on his head, it being either blown off in the
explosion or singed in the flames.

As I recall, it was several months later that Dad came home
from work one day and went straight to Granddad's room. He
was in there quite a while, then came to my room where I was
building a model airplane. Dad said, "I have something to tell
you about Granddad -- he died this afternoon".

After the men from Louis Feit's funeral home carried
Granddad's body out, under a white sheet, we removed the
living room sof~ to make a place for the coffin. For the next
couple days, while the body was laid out, I was too scared to go
near the living room. After the minister conducted a brief
service at our house, Dad alone went away with the hearse to
Washington, where his father was buried.

Many years later, Dad, then well into his seventies, made a
trip back to Washington. The next time we saw one another (at
the time I was living in California and he in Pennsylvania) Dad
revealed that had gone to Washington to take care something
that had been bothering him for a long time.

It happened that when his father died, Dad wanted him to
be buried next to his mother. Unfortunately, the grave next to
hers was not available, so Granddad was buried at another site.
At the time Dad asked the cemetery manager to let him know if
the grave next to his mother's ever became available. After
some thirty years, Dad was notified that the site he desired had
become available. Within days he went to Washington to arrange
to have his father's grave moved next to where his mother was
buried more than seventy years before.

To complete the matter, Dad ordered a single gravestone
bearing both his father's and his mother's names. His conscience
was clear.

*******

P.S. for Annabel: Your great-great grandfather's sister Adda
married a man from Freeport who owned three steamboats. One
of these was named The Anna Belle.

William Blair Renshaw, Jr. November 16, 2006.