January 18, 2012


Interviewed by: Mike Robinson

Interviewer’s note: Carolyn focuses on her early life in Troy and her extensive involvement with the Gillis Transportation Company’s lengthy service to Troy residents, businesses, and city government. Present during the interview assisting Carolyn and participating in the interview itself was her niece, Nancy Speck, of Chardon, Ohio. Additional information on the company business was extracted from an undated speech of Carolyn’s husband, the late Bill Gillis, entitled “Transportation”.

I was born in Troy on July 2, 1918 to Elmer and Ruth Croner. At the time of my birth, my parents lived on McKaig Avenue, although I have lived in and around Troy my entire life. My father owned a cement plant; I attended Troy schools and also Concord County School and graduated from Troy High School in 1936. At the time of my graduation, I lived at the corner of Mulberry and Main with my parents. The following year I married Bill Gillis, another Trojan, and we had one child.

Even before the marriage, I was involved with his Bill’s family’s transportation businesses. Bill’s great grandfather William grew up in Warren County and was a farmhand, but moved to Troy to go into the livery stable business, the only one in town prior to 1900. At one time, the business owned as many as 250 animals. We rented horses, buggies with horses and could even match white horses with white buggies, black with black, brown with brown or other color combinations. Mr. Gillis was very protective of his horses, never wanting them to work too hard and ALWAYS giving them a one-day rest between rentals. People could rent space and board for their horses in the stable, as well. (Interviewer’s note: For a more detailed description of the Gillis livery business in the early twentieth century, the reader is referred to another recording from 1968 by Olive Gillis describing the 1913 flood, in the archives of The Troy Historical Society.)

With the coming of the combustion engine and the automobile age, in 1917 my husband’s grandfather ceased operation of the Walnut Street livery stable by holding an auction consisting of 37 head of horses and all horse driven wagons used for funerals, coaches, surreys and other miscellaneous buggies. He leased his building to his sons Arthur and Alve who converted it to a garage. The Merkling twins, Louis and Emery, were their mechanics.

The Gillis garage furnished Ford Cars to Miami County for use in different divisions. The commissioner rented Jeffery sedans. During World War I, people rented cars, with or without drivers, to visit loved ones in the army camp at Chillocothe on weekends. The roads were so poor that they had many flats, so it was necessary to carry several spare tires. So back in those days there was a form of public transportation, but it was not called a taxi.

In the early 1920’s, the brothers sold their business to Will Shoup, who also purchased the building. He continued to rent cars and operate the garage. Later, Mr. Shoup sold the taxi part of the business to Ora and Dell McGalliard. They operated out of Joe Torback’s poolroom on East Main Street where Buckeye Travel is now. Soon the Curtis’s operated a taxi from their restaurant on East Main Street called the “Big City Cab”. The passengers sat in a closed cab, although the driver sat out in the open. I don’t know when it was discontinued.

The origins of the Gillis Taxi Company date to 1933 when Bill’s father, A.W. Gillis, rented cars to a Mr. Greenwood and Mr. Weihrach. They started the Dime Cab Company with an office on the second floor, Southwest corner of the public square, sharing the room with the Babb Sign Shop. From there they moved to South Market Street next to Tony Brunner’s Barber Shop. The Dime Cab was running the wheels off the cars, but unable to pay their rent, so in February 1934, A.W. Gillis took his cars back and became the operator of Gillis Taxi. His office was in a small corner of Baders Restaurant; Jacob Bader was Keith Bader’s grandfather. The first drivers were Johnny Ross, who was killed in Pearl Harbor, and Earnest Fawcett, who retired from Hobart Corporation and is now deceased. My husband Bill was in high school and drove after school and on weekends. The drivers were paid their commissions daily and there was no income tax or social security.

Our next office was on West Franklin at the rear of the Lollis Hotel, where we also operated the Greyhound Bus Station. We delivered groceries, laundry, beer, packages and people. I especially remember the rough snow storms of December 1935 and January 1936. Bob Weaver was making a grocery delivery to Clayton Bruckner’s farm when his taxi became stuck in a snowdrift in the lane. He started out on foot with the groceries and became exhausted. The cook had been watching for the food orders, found Bob and helped him into the house. Two days later we were able to get to the cab which had been completely covered with snow.

In the fall of 1936, we moved to the northwest corner of the Public Square and operated from there for the next thirty years. In 1938 we were the successful bidders for the first direct airmail route to Vandalia. This put us on the map, thanks to Algy Murphy. At the close of World War II, we ventured into the moving business and became the agent for Greyhound Van Lines. In 1946 we installed the first two-way radio cab service; with radios, we could provide faster service. It was the answer to a dispatcher’s dream! In 1956, we began operating school busses but discontinued that service in 1964.

Many interesting stories evolved from the operation of our transportation business.

Bill’s father had worked closely with the local undertakers; in fact, he thought he was one of them. One morning a good customer came to A.W., saying her husband had been killed in Indiana and she needed to go there and she had told Joe Irvin that she would call him to pick up the body. A.W. decided, after arriving with the customer in Indiana, that he could handle the whole affair, so he proceeded to get the body released and they all returned to Troy. The dead man was propped up in a corner of the back seat, fully dressed, with a hat on his head. Arriving in Troy, A.W. dropped off the customer at her residence, then stopped at home for lunch. Back to work now, he delivered the body to Joe Erwin, who couldn’t believe what he saw when they drove into the funeral home!

One morning when my sister-in-law Frances was dispatching, she noticed a cab leaving with an unfamiliar driver. She ran out and grabbed the passenger door and opened it, startling the thief. He jumped out and ran down the alley with Frances in hot pursuit. The men from Saunders Dairy joined in and chased the thief into the middle of the Miami River behind Daugherty’s Hardware. The police arrived and brought him to justice.

Bill started driving at an early age and soon thought he could do it all. During the early ‘30’s, the State of Ohio required that taxi, truck and all commercial drivers take a medical and written exam. The minimum age was eighteen, so Bill, being seventeen at the time, lied about it and had to continue lying about it. Later he went to Jean Massie, Deputy registrar and confessed. She said if her police chief father Red Smick had known of the deception, he would have thrown him in the “slammer”, but she quietly straightened out the problem, much to Bill’s relief.

In 1933 or 34, beer became legal. That started a new set of problems, and one bar introduced the fish bowl of beer for ten cents. Well, some of our customers loved them and they didn’t always have the taxi fare home. So after some time, A.W. took all the drivers over for lunch at this bar and they ate good. Then A.W. presented all the charge tickets on calls coming from this bar. He said, “add them up because we don’t work for nothing. After that, the bar always called for a customer and made sure that we got our money.

World War II brought on problems we had never had before. We tried to be honest and ask for the amount of gas we had always used but that was a mistake as business increased. We were losing our drivers as they went off to war and lady drivers came on the scene. Several time the ration board and mayor put us back on the streets with additional ration stamps. Lady cabbies were only to drive during the daylight hours by state law, but Frances and I plus lady cabbies all over Ohio soon got that law changed. Tires made from golden rod and other no good materials were a headache. New cars were no longer available and taxicabs do wear out. We used about any make car or parts we could get our hands on. Remember the Big Blizzard of 1950 on Thanksgiving weekend? The morning started out okay but as noon approached, it got worse and visibility got worse. We tried to operate until the downtown stores closed and we could get their employees home. Well, we had cabs stalled in snowdrifts all over town and our drivers staying in people’s homes. Nurses needed to change shifts and what a mess! We had one driver nicknamed “Lead” who with a regular Chevrolet cab managed to keep plugging away. He managed to get through the drifts getting necessities for people all that Saturday night. He certainly was the Mercy driver and cab”.

When the City Cab Company closed in March 1965, we tried to accommodate all of the town’s taxi customers. We found it was impossible to provide service with the zone rates that had been established, so on October 1, 1965, we closed our taxi business. We had started in the 1930’s charging ten-cent fares and when we discontinued service, the fare was fifty cents in a much bigger Troy. We take the responsibility for not fighting to keep the fares increasing as we had the city council to please and many retired people and children that depended on us.

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