For anybody who ever spent a few days in Coaldale back in the 60’s, 50’s, or even before that time, this salutation should remind them of a little old gray-haired man driving a 1950 Mercury around town and calling out this greeting to any person he happened to pass. As a pre-teen in Coaldale during the 1950’s most of the members of the previous generation were just nameless “old folks” to me, but Phil Domin was quite unique.
Phil loved driving that car and loved greeting friends and strangers alike on the streets of the town. We were never quite sure just where Phil was going as he drove. Perhaps his mission was just to see the townsfolk and make sure all was well in the borough. If he were alive today I could see Phil as the “greeter” for the local WalMart. His enthusiasm was infectious. Even if one were having a really bad day, it was almost impossible to fail to respond to his salutation. Phil slowed down almost to a stop along the street, made sure to make eye contact, and then waited for your response. We kids grew to love responding with another “helloooo there” right back at him. Sometimes when Phil may have missed seeing us on the street, we would shout it out for Phil first, and of course he always acknowledged us.
What I most remember about Phil occurred in the summer of 1959. My school buddy, Angelo Paul (aka “Pete”) and I were out behind his house on Railroad Street, just a few houses away from where Phil lived with his brother’s family. His brother, Mike owed a mechanic’s garage and was always working on cars out back along Railroad Street. Railroad Street has pretty much disappeared now, but even back in the 50’s it was just a little dirt road paralleling Panther Creek and the LC&N tracks. Angelo and I sat near the tracks and tossed stones into the creek. We were bored and at a point in life when we didn’t know whether to act grownup or like kids. Phil came over to us and asked if we wanted a job. Of course a source of income was a wonderful idea, and the job probably could have been anything.
Phil pointed us toward an old broken down car sitting out back near their garage and said, “I want you boys to take that car apart”! We looked at each other, then at Phil, in total disbelief. “I’ll pay you each $10 if you’ll do it”. I finally said to Phil at we had no idea what makes a car work and the chances of getting it back to it’s original condition were quite slim. Phil responded by saying that he wasn’t concerned about getting it back together. He just wanted it taken apart!
We rolled the car onto a makeshift ramp that the Domins built alongside the road, and Phil came back with an assortment of wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers and told us to have at it. For the remainder of that day we were all over that car with the tools, as Phil sat back with a smile on his face, and watched. Pete and I were covered in grease and dirt as we called it a day, but assured Phil that we would be back next morning to continue. My mother nearly fainted when she saw me walk in, and after telling my parents the story about Phil and his car, I’m sure my father made a phone call to the Domin household to be sure it was legitimate.
Next morning we were back at work with the oldest clothes our mothers could find and there also was Phil. As we pulled out all these mysterious parts from under the hood, Phil explained what it was and what it did. After a few days of this, we were down to the chassis and Phil said he thought the mission was accomplished. I came home that evening dirtier than I ever had been in 13 years, but smiling with the satisfaction that I had my very own hard earned $10 bill in my pocket and better yet, the right to brag, I TOOK APART A CAR!
The years went by, and my interest in auto mechanics grew. I recall once at about age 15 buying a used radio at Hazle Auto Parts in Hazleton and convincing my folks that I could install it in dad’s 1955 Mercury, which he had purchased years earlier without a radio. “If you want to go somewhere, you drive. If you want to listen to the radio, you stay home” Despite that attitude, my mom told me it was ok to do the installation after I reminded her that years earlier I TOOK APART A CAR! After a full day under the dashboard, I finally crawled out as evening fell and the sounds of WARM in Scranton came from the speaker.
Jumping ahead to the late 70’s, I was now married with children and living in Maryland. Memories of Phil Domin had faded, but my 1969 Mustang developed severe engine problems. One Saturday morning my four-year-old daughter ran into the house screaming, “daddy took the car apart”! The engine lay in about a hundred pieces in the driveway but I assured my skeptical family not to worry because I TOOK APART A CAR …once… a long time ago. Days later, thanks to Phil’s inspiration and the knowledge provided from Chilton’s Auto Repair book on how to actually reassemble the car, it was back on the road again as good as new.
What brought me to this current recollection of Phil Domin wasn’t automotive-related because I’ve long since given up on figuring out what all those mysterious thingamajigs are under a modern car hood. I’ve been working on my family ancestry via the Internet and one of the marvelous things available is the census data going back to the first census in 1790 up to the 1930 census. Years ago the federal government decided to make all census data available to the public after 72 years have passed from the date it was taken. I suspect that timeframe was chosen because it was the average age of death at that time and the government figured dead people couldn’t complain about invasion of privacy. They provide photocopies of the actual forms used by the census taker as they traveled from house to house in the town. The data has been indexed to make the search much easier, but one nice feature in scanning the actual form is that you can see the people that lived on a certain street sequentially as the census taker made his way along that street. Although this was 16 years before I was alive, the 1930 census was fascinating because most of the townsfolk stayed in the same house for generations, so it was like me walking down the street and stopping to say “helloooo there” to each family.
As I “walked” along Water Street in Coaldale I found the Domin family.
In 1930 there were actually 29 “Domin” names just in Coaldale. Phil was 37 years old then, single, and living at 37 East Water Street with his parents Michael and Susan. Also living there were his brother Michael (the mechanic) and his wife Victoria and their children John, Michael, and Susan. Michael, Phil’s brother, was 8 years younger than Phil and was married at age 22 to Victoria, who was Lithuanian. Phil was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated with his parents in 1896. He worked in the mines and was a veteran of World War 1. All of this came from just a few lines on the census form!
I doubt many people in Coaldale knew that much about Phil’s life, and with the exception of the Domin descendants, really care. It is the same way with the research into my family’s history, however I feel that if I don’t get all I can about the family now, my descendants will be wishing I had. If I could spend just a few hours with my grandparents and great grandparents, I would be able to get answers to about a hundred questions that have haunted me since beginning this research. For instance, I found a great uncle named James that nobody in the family ever knew, or at least wanted to talk about. The website I have been using is Ancestry.com; however there are several others out there that provide many research venues and also a family tree chart, complete with options for comments, pictures, and even video clips to be installed.
“Seeing” Phil Domin again was a very enjoyable side trip along my way through the ancestry. Unfortunately Phil died in 1966. This was gleaned from Social Security records that are also public domain once you are deceased. I never took the time to tell him what an impact, subtle though it was, he had upon me. But it is one of those memories that make me proud to be a Coal Cracker. One final thought that ran through my mind as I recalled this story concerns a work van I no longer use. It has many mechanical problems and has been replaced with a new vehicle. Nonetheless it still sits in my driveway awaiting its final destination. There are several young lads in the neighborhood who seem to be habitually bored and looking for something to do. Perhaps loaning them my wrenches and asking if they ever took apart a car would make for a few days of enjoyment for all of us.