Local Area Logistics

 

When reading a story, it can often enhance the experience if you are familiar with, and can relate to the area mentioned in the stories.  Having this background info helps the reader to "get a feel" for what the participants had to deal with on a daily basis, and the things which molded the attitudes that influenced many people's actions. Much of what influenced or directed the evolutionary path of the CB hobby, in any given area, had a lot to do with the local culture, customs, as well as the density and diversity of the population.

The area, where the great majority of my CB hobby experiences occurred, and for which all the posted stories took place, was located in the central Montgomery County region of Pennsylvania (see map). The largest and closest "city-like" area is the borough of Norristown.  Situated somewhat in the center of Montgomery County, about 3 or 4 miles north of historic Valley Forge, the place where George Washington's army camped out in the winter of 1777-78. Sporting a population of about 30,000 people, Norristown is the largest "town" in the immediate area, and serves as the county seat for Montgomery County.  Surrounding Norristown are suburban communities known as "townships".  Norristown is an old town, and has its own long and interesting history, dating back to a time before this country was even founded.  It is also rumored that the local town government decided to retain the designation of "borough" rather than change it to "city", so as to claim bragging rights to the largest borough in the state, rather than being known as just another small city.  In the heyday of the industrial age, there were several bustling industries in Norristown situated mostly along the Schuylkill River (pronounced "Skool-kill"), which borders the borough to the south. There was even a Brewery, which started out as a locally owned establishment, and was eventually bought out by Schmidt's.  Between the activities at the brewery and those of the nearby Wonder Bread bakery, you could not drive through the center of town without smelling the yeast on any given day.  In the very early days, goods were shipped along the Schuylkill river (and the adjacent canal system) to the port of Philadelphia, about 16 miles away.  Later on, railroads would replace the river as the main transportation route. There is no shortage of railroad history here.  Many of the big players in the regional railroad empires from the early 20th century ran lines here in one form or another.  Many railroad buffs wax nostalgic over the old days and of the railroad and trolley lines which used to be prominent here.  There was also a large main street store front where many big name department stores lined up in a row to compete for the people's shopping dollars.  It was the center of commerce for most of the surrounding area.  In later years though,  the industries moved to other areas , the phenomenon of the shopping mall replaced the merchant district, and the post WWII exodus to the suburbs took most of the "money" out of the town itself.  The rise of the automobile and large trailer trucks drove a knife through the heart of all but the most hearty of the railroads.  Much of what Norristown had once been, slowly slipped into decline, along with the corresponding rise in those signs which typically accompany an urban area which is heading toward economic depression. There is still a small strip of professional legal offices in close proximity to the courthouse.  Likewise, there are medical offices which surround and support the local hospitals. There are also a few remaining nickel and dime stores along main street.  But it's a shadow of what it once was.  Most of the residents are blue collar workers,  there are ethnic and racially based subdivisions within the neighborhoods, and there is a growing area populated by the poor, which is accompanied by the typical run down homes and the stigma of rampant drugs and crime.  

Such sets the stage for the dynamics of the area in the 1970's.  Norristown is also close to several major highways including the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Pa. Turnpike (I-76, 276), U.S.-202, and U.S.-422. This made for a fair amount of transient radio ops on a daily basis, as well as a fairly extensive and diverse population of locals which, at times, strained the capacity of the 23 channel limit of the time. 

Most of my closest radio friends and I hailed from the more "lofty" suburban areas which surrounded Norristown proper.  Primarily, this included the townships of West and East Norriton, Whitpain, and Plymouth from west to east, and Upper Merion township flanking the south. In sharp contrast to the slow decline of Norristown,  the suburbs came into being starting from the early 1950's, and the growth exploded from there. These suburban areas were carved out of the once vast farm lands and small one horse town communities, which used to dot the rural landscape.  Now it is home to primarily single family homes situated on modest 1/2 to 3/4 acre lots,  a few small strip malls, apartment complexes, and some light commercial and professional offices.  Upper Merion Township is a notable exception, as it is also the home of the infamous King Of Prussia Mall which was, at one time, one of the top 5 largest shopping malls in the country.  Because of the higher cost of living in the suburbs, most of the residents there were on a somewhat higher rung on the socio-economic ladder.  Given the sharp disparity in socio-economic conditions, it was no wonder that there was a definite difference in culture and attitudes between the "Norristonians", and those of us from the 'burbs.  It's no surprise then, that these differences occasionally became the source of friction which would eventually manifest itself in the form of "culture clashes" over the air.

Topographically, the center of Norristown is one of the lowest points of elevation in the whole county. The elevation of the surrounding 'burbs increases somewhat proportionately, but there are also rolling ranges of hills of varying elevation (Typically less than 1000') which served to ring the whole area in a sort of "bowl". This limited much of the radio range of the locals to areas pretty much within the "bowl" itself. Those who were lucky enough to live along one of the many ridges of hills, did far better in overall range, than those of us who were nearer to the bottom.  The typical maximum daily range for the CB'ers in my local area was around 15-20 miles, though most of the people tended to congregate in clusters which were no more than 3-5 miles apart.

Today, the growth continues in the suburbs to the point of saturation in some areas. The amount of land which is zoned commercial has increased, with a corresponding sharp rise in traffic. That is one of the reasons which drove me to move even further west.  Norristown, for its part, is attempting to "re-invent" itself as well, and has razed many of the old factory buildings and run down homes and in their place are now more attractive centers for office and other professional commerce.

 

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