DWRB on Moped_crop

Eagle columnist D.R. Bahlman's father, Prof. D.W.R. Bahlman, poses on his Moped in front of the bank on Spring Street, circa 1975. He put more than 11,000 miles on the scooter, driving it around town and to and from his favorite lunch spot: Howard Johnson's on Route 2.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Tacked to a door frame just inside an enclosed porch here is a metal frame that holds a thermometer. It’s a promotional gift bestowed upon the previous owner of our house by Thomas McMahon & Son, a local heating fuel and automobile dealer.

The company was founded as a livery stable in 1850 and is no longer in business. The McMahon family sold the heating oil operation in the late 1990s and the auto dealership in 1986.

I consult the thermometer daily, compensating for its sheltered location by subtracting five degrees from winter readings and adding five to summer measurements. I’ve found it to be invariably accurate. It also brings back memories of cars (Chevrolets) bought over many years by my family, notably my late mother.

In my youth, I remember being intrigued by the McMahon showroom, then located on the eastern side of Spring Street on the ground floor of an office block. A few new cars were always on display, and my wonder at the latest automotive design features — fins and chrome in those days — was coupled with curiosity as to how cars got to and from the showroom floor. I got the answer in later years: a loading dock and easily moveable office furniture and fixtures.

I figured that the floor had been reinforced to bear the weight of the cars, but McMahon’s never had to hold a bargain basement sale, so my guess was borne out by non-events. The dealership moved to Main Street (to the current location of Aubuchon Hardware) in later years, removing a stop from my near-daily Spring Street tours.

There was plenty more to see.

On the west side of Spring Street, near the Main Street intersection, was Walden’s Drug Store, now Goff’s Sporting Goods. The store was dark, cool and quiet. Black and white tile decorated the floor, there was a lunch counter and an old-fashioned telephone booth. It could have been a set for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I found the place restful.

Just down the street on the same side as Walden’s was the Gym Lunch, the site of the regular gatherings of the Panthers, a not-at-all secret society comprised of representatives of town and gown (Williams College). My late father was a member and enjoyed hobnobbing with various town officials, notably the chief of police and a selectman or two.

A white “campaign button” emblazoned with a black outline of a panther’s head identified members of the group.

The Williams Co-op, for years the only local source of Levi jeans, was a door or two south of the Gym Lunch. The co-op’s owner, Jack Henderson, once confessed to my father his bewilderment at the popularity of Levis – a far cry from the neatly pressed khakis preferred by an earlier generation of Williams students – and his elation at the sales figures. Henderson added that he could easily bear a lot more such confusion.

Magazines of all stripes, newspapers, tobacco products, candy and typewriter repair services were available at Bemis Store, a narrow, dimly lit place presided over by Claude, a relative of the owner. In between customers, Claude would make a magnifying glass-assisted appraisal of coins spread out on the glass counter. If he ever came across a valuable rarity, he kept it to himself, a strategy that I came to appreciate in later life.

My first visit to Bemis’ was educational. I had just turned 6. I accompanied my father, who was picking up a typewriter he’d left for cleaning. He paid with a check, and Claude handed him back $10. I was astonished that cash could be obtained by simply handing over a piece of paper, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

Luckily, I asked Dad first. That’s when I learned about checking accounts. My disappointment has never entirely faded away.

D.R. “Dusty” Bahlman may be reached at notesandfootnotes39@gmail.com or 413-441-4278.