By Rick Houser –
I have said before that I’m a baby boomer and grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. Near the end of the 50’s, I was a witness to my family moving up in status as we were the first home on Fruit Ridge to have a brick bar barbeque grill. At that time grills weren’t readily for sale in Felicity or Moscow or anywhere, so if you wanted to grill outside a person had to build their own grill. That is exactly what my Dad did.
I have no idea where or why Dad decided to take on building a grill but I’m certain my Mom was all for it, probably the status reason as much as anything, but she did learn how to grill outside and learned to like it. The best reason I can come up with for how they ever got the idea was from the television shows like “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Leave it to Beaver”. On those shows the families would sometimes gather around a grill for a family meal and they made the event to look very cool. Dad saw a grill similar to the one he built in the Ripley Park, except it was built from stone. Every year in August the Patrick side of my Mom’s family held the annual reunion there and we always made certain we got the use of that grill.
I’m not real sure where Dad got the bricks to build with but he pulled in one evening with a pickup truck full. The next day after Ben and I got to take all the bricks out and stack them a good 150 feet from the house, near an apple tree and close to the road. (Dad was always letting Ben and I have privileges like this.) He then went to J.W. Smith Lumber in Felicity and got a lot of sand, gravel and cement mix. When he got home, he pulled out by the bricks and unloaded next to the bricks and covered it all with a tarp to keep it dry.
The next day Dad, armed with a drawing he had made of the grill he wanted to construct laid out on a piece of paper, along with myself, Ben, and even our hired hand Web turned out to begin construction. (Web was off that day but he was just as curious as the rest of us so he told Dad he would just watch.)
The first day Dad built a foundation form and poured the foundation and then covered all the materials up as we were done for that day. The next day however was different as Dad used his plumb bob and laid the lines to lay the bricks so they would be straight. As Ben and I mixed the cement for Dad he laid the bricks and I did my best at observing and staying out of Dad’s way. When he was in deep concentration, he could have a short fuse and I wanted none of that.
Dad stopped about noon and he said he needed to go to Gib Sipples’ shop over in Pt. Isabel and he asked me if I wanted to go along. He already knew the answer to that. Gibb was a fix-it man who could fix or make just about anything and he was fascinating to me. I guess that was my reward for staying out of his way that morning. Dad asked Gibb if he could make grilling racks for a grill he was building. Gibb said, “No problem.” Dad said, “Now Gibb, they have to be sturdy,” and Gibb replied, “They will be all you will need.”
When he had finished cutting the iron into parts of the racks and welded them together, he had made two grilling racks that weighed easily 50 pounds each. Dad could have easily run a full grown cow onto those two racks.
The third day Dad poured the top of the grill and the counter tops for each side of the grilling area and then laid the chimney. This gave us the complete look and I think we spent a long, long time admiring the work. My Mom came out and studied it over and declared it sturdy. My sister Peg even came out and declared it very pretty and declared that it made the front yard look so much better. Before I go any further I have to explain that my Dad was a man who never took on a project as a lark or just for fun. He enjoyed himself but expected the project to deliver as intended, a true man with a German background. After Dad explained that the grill would have to let the mortar cure to a finish that was solid for two days so the plans for the cook out began.
Mom prepared hamburgers and went to the store and bought hot dogs. This was a treat for those days and Mom also prepared potato salad and green beans and corn on the cob. When the day arrived and all the preparations were coming to the point of “let’s eat”, Dad poured some charcoal and drowned it in lighter fluid as easy start charcoal hadn’t been invented yet. He then struck a match and flipped it into the grill, resulting in a flash of fire. Then and only then did we all learn that there was a flaw in the grill. The chimney wouldn’t draw the smoke up and away from the grill and this was more than a small mistake or minor miscalculation. As the flames increased we could see Dad’s pride shrinking by the minute.
Just when I thought we were heading to a bad end, Dad turned and headed to the building where he kept his electrical supplies and returned with a street light lamp cover, three sections of conduit, and some tools. Quickly Dad attached the conduit to the inverted lamp cover and made a three-legged mini grill. He also had a oven grill tray to put on top. He poured in some charcoal and lighter fluid and at that instant we had a grill for our meal to be prepared on. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t look very strong, but it served the purpose. When Dad was asked about the brick grill, he just shrugged his shoulders and said he would work on it tomorrow.
Dad did look at it the next day and many times after that. It never did work right as far as I can remember. Whenever we wanted to grill out, we would lug everything out to the grill but next to the big handsome brick grill stood the one made out of a street light cover and we cooked on it. Even when a project of his failed like this one did, Dad would always find another way.
By the way we were still the first to have a big fancy brick grill on Fruit Ridge Road. It was true that it didn’t work well but as my sister Peg said, “It sure made our front yard look very classy.”
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.