The unfortunate death of Sears & Co

Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card

Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.

They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall.  So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.

He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.

It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.

When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.

The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.

But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:

1. Vespas (and Allstates). The working class scooter. Not fancy, no amenities, rather plain in appearance. No class. Riders were pretty much ignored. They wore plain clothes (Photo 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Cushman Eagle (Photo 3). The roughneck’s ride. These were these guys that beat you up and took your lunch money. 4 cycle, suicide clutch putt-putts that sounded as mean as their owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
Department of Critical Care
UPMC

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