The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

Remembering Bob-Lo Island

It’s fall in the Detroit area and commercials run regularly advertising Cedar Point’s “HalloWeekends.” While Sandusky, Ohio may be the closest amusement part to Detroit these days, it was all about Bob-Lo Island in the 80’s.

Boblo Island Storage Building

My grade school had annual outings to the island. Though I didn’t especially enjoy the boat ride at the time (approx. 80 minutes), I would love another chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the boat. Each had either a dance floor, arcade or both, concessions and of course an amazing view of the Detroit River. The park itself was relatively small with a couple dozen rides ranging from bump’em cars to full-on rollercoaster thrill rides. I was never quite old enough to enjoy the park to the fullest and regret having been afraid of the best rides.

The Screamer

The Screamer

These days, the entire island returned to its residential roots, housing private homes, vacation property, and marina space. Who knows… in another 20 years rides may return and ferries could carry excited Detroiters to that little chunk of Canada (yep… it’s really part of Canada) to appreciate local amusements… though I doubt it.

Here’s some more Bob-Lo Island resources:

2 comments October 14th, 2009 by duane

You Know You’re From Detroit If…

Updated! Eileen let me know that this content is actually from her (rather excellent) site: Rather than duplicate some of the content, check it out and share your Detroit memories with her visitors! ( is regularly updated, so be sure to check back often!)

Add comment September 5th, 2009 by duane

A Trip (Back) To Toys R Us

Classic Toys R Us

A trip to Toys R Us was a reward for good behavior. It was somewhere we could spend our hard-earned allowance on a new GI Joe figure or some LEGO sets. It was also like being inside of a museum of awesome, where the wares were categorized by types: action figures, building toys (including LEGO), radio-controlled toys and slot-car tracks, educational toys, board games, electronic games, and eventually video games.

Today, Toys R Us stores are organized (mostly) by whatever commercial property the toys are related to: all of the Spiderman-related toys together (regardless of type: action figure, r/c car, or even LEGO), all of the Harry Potter stuff, all of the Hanna Montana stuff. Sadly, it just reinforces the commercialism that was once criticized (and even disallowed before the late-70’s) for children’s programming based on products.

I came across a great blog post that traces the history of Toys R Us design and architecture from the 70’s to today. I still remember Geoffrey the Giraffe’s face welcoming me to the store…

Geoffrey Toys R Us Entrance

2 comments July 9th, 2009 by duane

Detroit TV Flashback!

YouTube is a great way to go back in time find commercials and TV shows from the past (though I still can’t find any episodes of Kid Bits!). Here are a few for your viewing enjoyment:

If you can find a few more Detroit favorites from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s post a link in the comments!

2 comments March 30th, 2009 by duane

Made in Michigan (Food)

I grew up with a lot of great products made right here in Michigan… in fact many of them were made right in Detroit! Sadly, some of them are no longer native to our great state, but I’d like to share them anyway:

Available in a variety of flavors, Faygo is part of Michigan culture!

Available in a variety of flavors, Faygo is part of Michigan culture!

  • Faygo Pop – A delicious variety of flavored pop (or soda if you’re from other states). While some consider it to be a value brand, I still think Rock and Rye, Cola, and Frosh are some of the best tasting soft drinks on the planet.
  • Vernor’s Ginger Ale – I can’t believe I forgot this Detroit icon! (Thanks to “Mom” reminding me about it in the comments!) When my friend (Joey Ford) visited his grandparents each summer, his mom made sure he brought some Vernor’s Ginger Ale home to California with him. These days, Vernor’s is owned by the Dr. Pepper/Snapple folks and can be found in most states, but it’s real home is Detroit.
  • Better Made Snacks – Driving by the Better Made factory is torture. The smell of fresh potato chips is enough to drive you mad. During Halloween, it wasn’t uncommon to get a small bag of Better Made potato chips from many of the houses in or neighborhood. You can still get cases of chips from nearby distributors and even directly from Better Made themselves. Some people may think that fresh chips aren’t better than those shipped across the country… they’re wrong.
  • Stroh’s Beer – In 1999 Stroh Brewery was sold to the same folks as Miller/Pabst. Though they’re still an American beer brewer (unlike some more “regal” brands), Stroh’s is no longer made in Michigan. Stroh’s was definitely the brand of choice for the adults in my neighborhood during the 80’s. Block parties looked like television commercials for the stuff…
  • Stroh’s Ice Cream – Why would a brewery make ice cream?! One word – prohibition. When other breweries were going under, the Stroh family changed with the times and made some of the most creamy delicious ice cream on the planet… but they did have competition:
  • Sanders Confections – My grandmother worked for Grandpa Sanders (pronounced San-Ders, not Saun-ders… that always drove my grandma nuts) and there was nothing quite as close to heaven as a Sanders Hot Fudge Cream Puff Sundae. Today they’re still known for hot fudge and carmel ice cream toppings, but they’re chocolate is darn fine, too. Speaking of chocolate:
  • Morley Candy – The Morley Candy Company has since taken over the Sanders line of confections using the family’s original recipies. Once local rivals, Sanders and Morley are now one in the same. Our parents always filled our Easter baskets and Christmas stockings with goodies from Morley and Sanders.
  • Honeybaked Ham and Dearborn Brand – I love a great sandwich. Part of that is because my dad always made legendary sandwiches. Post-holiday leftovers often included ham sandwiches… man, I’m salivating just thinking about them. Honebaked became famous for their pre-applied glazing while Dearborn Brand has been making great sausage and seli products since the 1940’s.
  • Kellog’s – Battle Creek’s own Kellogg’s company defines cereal and wholesome breakfast options.

I’ll continue to collect more lists of other famous Michigan brands, foods, products, and celebrities. If you have suggestions or contributions, please leave a comment (below)!

4 comments March 9th, 2009 by duane

Devil’s Night

If you lived in (or near) the city of Detroit in the 80’s, you knew that the day before Halloween was a scary time. Though Devil’s Night was most notorious for setting abandoned homes on fire, it was a much more innocent event for the kids in our neighborhood. We weren’t allowed to stay out much past dusk, but we tried to squeeze in a game or two of “witch” (see the block party article for a description), followed by a few harmless pranks.

Usually, we would ring a neighbor’s doorbell, then run and hide in the bushes. Never the same house more than once and we were always called home for the evening before it was late. One time a rogue faction of kids decided to toss eggs at cars despite our protest. Those that chose not to participate watched the action with a mixture of fear and excitement from a safe distance. One driver pulled his car over, got out, and yelled at the rebels. They threw a few more eggs in his direction, but, luckily, none of them had good aim. The usual running and dodging through alleys and secret paths ensued and we all regrouped in Joe’s tree fort to trade stories. Though most of us didn’t throw any eggs, we enjoyed sharing in the excitement.

I remember a few years when (presumably) the “big kids” on the block soaped a few windows and egged cars in driveways, but this is all still pretty minor in retrospect. The next year we stood on guard with walkie-talkies linking our guard posts… theoretically… the models most of us purchased from Radio Shack really didn’t have enough range to cover the block. We walked up and down the block in groups of three of four in our denim jackets wielding flashlights. We really thought that we were the reason no more eggings happened… it was likely pure coincidence.

What’s not a coincidence is that Devil’s Night is gone. Former Mayor Dennis Archer started the Angel’s Night initiative in 1995 that organized community patrols and enforced a curfew for minors. The first year, incidences of arson plummeted… in fact, I can’t recall a single reported Devil’s Night-related fire.

Add comment November 4th, 2008 by duane

Hillcrest Bike Culture

Schwinn Stingray

Schwinn Stingray

We loved our bikes on Hillcrest (as most kids do). We could spend an entire day lapping the block over and over again. Most of the kids in the BRAT patrol had a BMX style bike, complete with pads covering all of the dangerous parts of the bike. My brother and I? We had the legendary Schwinn Stingray. The only complication? It wasn’t “cool” by the time we were aware of the concept of “being cool.” A yellow banana seat atop a metallic red frame might have cut it in the 70’s, but by the 80’s a banana seat would just get you chased by “the big kids.”

Christian (my brother) and I would try anything to make our curvy bikes more BMX-like: replacing the seat, different handle bar grips, pedals, tires… anything. Looking back though, I really loved that bike. It provided my first tastes of freedom, danger, and excitement… banana seat and all.

Eventually, most of us upgraded to multi-speed bikes. A few folks got 10-speed street bikes, but just about the time it was my turn to get a new bike, mountain bikes were becoming the new standard. They could take more abuse and looked a lot more like the BMX bikes that I longed for when I was younger, but they really never replaced the spot in my heart occupied by that old yellow and red Schwinn.

2 comments August 20th, 2008 by duane

Tiger Stadium Is No More

Today, the demolition of Tiger Stadium began. I’m no sports fan (apart from autosports), but I still feel the loss of this landmark… and part of my childhood.

Tiger Stadium demolition begins.

Tiger Stadium demolition begins.

Papa Thomas, my friend Joey’s grandfather, would sit on his front porch and listen to the Tigers game on his handheld AM radio. We would crowd around him and get the translation of “Ernie Harwell’s”: play-by-play (we didn’t know a lot about the sport at the time). Papa was a diehard fan. On the hot summer nights most of the neighborhood could be found outside, on a porch, in a pool, or in each other’s driveways talking. In 1984, most of that talk was about our soon to be champion Tigers. When Joey flew in for the summer from California he proudly wore his Tigers ballcap. He was the first person I knew to have a _fitted_ cap. Impressive. Tigers baseball was all I knew and Tiger Stadium was the Mecca of it all.

I went to my first ballgame at Tiger Stadium with my Dad and my cousin’s husband: Rich. I didn’t really know any of the players or what was going on. When everyone started cheering “Lou, Lou, Lou, Lou” for Lou Whittaker, I misheard them and joined in: “Boo, boo, boo, boo!” (I thought we were taunting the other team.) Rich and my Dad straightened that out pretty quickly. Rich tried to explain the scoresheet in the back of the program to me, but defaulted to just the simple score. The guy sitting in front of us figured out it was my first game and introduced himself as “Jose”… and told me that they start every game by singing to him: “Jose, can you see?…” I wonder how long he was saving that one… Rich passed away unexpectedly last year. I can count the number of times I visited Tiger Stadium on one hand. Yet, the only time I remember anything about was my first trip with Rich and my Dad.

Tiger Stadium had a genuine feel about it. I’ve only been to the new park (named after a bank that gave up on Michigan a few years ago…) two times. It’s big, impressive, and commercial. The view is a little better… even from the cheap seats… but it’s a sellout: designed to make families happy and sell watered-down beer and overpriced hotdogs.

Today we loose Tiger Stadium. We loose a legitimate part of Detroit history. We loose a landmark. One thing I (and many other Detroiters) will never loose are the memories of good times with our families and friends at Tiger Stadium.

~(Sorry if I seem to be rambling with this update… I’m a bit out of sorts thinking about the stadium…)~

Add comment July 9th, 2008 by duane

Bill Bonds Was A Movie Star (?!)

Growing up in Detroit, I knew that Bill Bonds was a local news legend. Little did I know that he had a cameo in the file “Escape From the Planet of the Apes.”

Add comment June 20th, 2008 by duane

What is Balduck Park?

“Balduck Park”: was the nearest public park to our neighborhood. During the summer, kites flew there and there was a “nature area (which we called “The Naych”) to hike and ride bikes, a hill provided some excitement and a few fields to play soccer, baseball, and football. My early memories of Balduck include an archery range, too, but I never had a chance to participate. Every 4th of July, the “big kids” would head over to the field at Balduck and launch the “good” fireworks into the sky. On the 5th, a group of us would pick over the scraps looking for cool shell casings and any remaining live fireworks. Usually, we would tape together the old casings of spent fireworks to resemble guns, swords, and rocket launchers.

The hill was a blast in the winter. We would go in small groups to sled down the hill. At one time, there were toboggan runs. They were great when iced over, but eventually grass grew in the cracks and they were removed. (Legend told of a little girl that wiped out on her sled and knocked all of her teeth out, but that was mostly local urban myth.)

Eventually, we outgrew playing war in the alleys and backyard bushes and moved to the Nature Area. We would have epic hunter/hunted battles. Days were spent building forts and traps throughout the single acre wooded lot. We mostly just sat there in our rigged-up base talking and eating lunch.

When were a little older (maybe between 12 and 16), we would venture to the Nature Area at night, dressed head to toe in military camouflage. Although it started as a chance to play “witch” (kind of like tag at night… more on that later) in the woods, it quickly evolved into “hey-let’s-scare-the-crap-out-of-drunk-highschool-kids.” Jocks and their prey would hang out at the picnic benches just outside of the Naych swigging on ill-gotten booze and ghetto-taxed beer. We found this practice despicable (at the time). So, what else was there to do other than shoot the drinks off of the table with BB guns and slingshots? Most of the time, this would send the offenders scattering, yelling all the way to their cars. (Balduck had a reputation as a dangerous place because a body was found behind the hill in the early 80’s.) Rarely, the letter-jacket wearing tough guys would venture into the woods to prove their manhood. Mistake.

By this point, the majority of us were 14, 15, and 16 years old. Some of us had a few years of high school wrestling experience and were in the best shape of our lives. The jocks would enter the Naych. 1 or 2 of the crew would then cover the entrance with a big branch of leaves. Then the biggest of the bunch would drop from the trees directly in front of them… dressed in full combat gear. Drunk and scared out of their minds, the Jocks would run back towards the entrance that no longer existed (once they figured it out and screamed “they’re trying to trap us… we’re going to die!”), freak out and turn around to run down a random path. At that point we usually uncovered the entrance and snuck around trying to find them without revealing our location. Awesome.

One time, however, they must have called the police, because Detroit’s finest showed up with a spotlight and some flashlights (on a night that we didn’t scare any drinkers). Although very scary, we managed to escape undetected. A huge rush, yes… but also pretty stupid. At around 6′ 2″ and 180 lbs, I might have looked pretty scary dressed in camo, to both a jock and the cops.

As we grew older and spent more time at school or driving around with our newly earned licenses, we visited Balduck less and less often. I still remember that place very fondly. Every time I look out my window at the woods around our house, I think “hey, that would be a great place to build a fort and play witch.” Someday, I might do just that.

10 comments July 6th, 2007 by duane

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