Bill Towler's Concord
(b. June 13, 1897)
Bill Towler's health had seriously deteriorated when the oral history program began and he died shortly before the pictorial display in June 1978 of the photos and memories of Concord life in the earlier part of the century, at the Concord Free Public Library, some of whose pictures he had contributed. The memories in this transcription are taken from comments he had made concerning an earlier exhibit of his pictures at the Concord Free Public Library and which accompanied his photos. For many years a taxi driver in town and. in his retirement days, in charge of the information booth, he was for many visitors the first person they would meet and speak to upon arriving in Concord.
While I was still in school, I was about 11, I sold newspapers on the trains. From Concord in the morning, I used to take the 5:45 train with my newspapers, and go into Boston, come out to Waltham, back into Boston, come back out to Concord, and then to school. After school, I'd take the 4:14 train from here and do the same thing again. Then I got promoted so that I could sell candy, gum and cigarettes. I quit school in the 8th grade, and come September, I kicked myself and cried seeing the kids go back to school.
Then I got a job carrying the mail at 15. 1 had a big cart with two wheels; it had a handle on it and I had to push it like a banana wagon. Mr. Neeley who ran the wagon shop made it for nothing for me. It used to be when I went up the street, I knew everyone. I could go to any house and knock on doors and walk in. I'd sit down for a glass of milk and a story, and I'd tell them what was going on downtown.
When I was 15 years of age I used to wind the clock at the depot. I stopped when I was 19 because the contract ran out. I didn't know any more about a contract then than I knew about flying a zeppelin.
I started carrying the mail for Mr. Hunt, who was the station agent. At that time there was Mr. Hunt, two telegraph operators, the baggage master, a freight agent and myself carrying mail back and forth. The express office, when I was a kid was down there in the old bank building and was called the American Express and the National Express - they were two separate units. I can remember seeing where the Express building is and where Sam's gas station is, was beautiful, beautiful maple tress all around there.
I carried the money when I carried the mail. The mail clerk on the train gave me the bag of money and I had to sign for it, then when I brought it over to the post office the clerk had to sign for it. Then he would call the bank and. Roger Allen would come over to the post office with a key and. he'd sign. He'd open up that lock and take the money out of the bag and put the lock back on.
The shopkeepers had a book and your father's name was written in it. When my father got paid on Saturday he would go to the store and pay his bill, but during the week you could still buy things, you didn't have to pay for them right then and there. Rather you wrote into the book what you bought and then at the end of the week you would pay for them.
All of the stores around here had a horse and wagon and they went around to all the houses way out on the distant roads and took orders for the groceries. The next day they would put up those orders and the following day they would deliver them at no extra charge.
There were two watering troughs, one up at the corner of Sudbury Road and Thoreau Street and one at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Main Street, just as you go across the track.
The trolley cars were a big thing when I was a kid. You could take a trolley car from here to West Concord for a nickel, go to Maynard for a dime, transfers included. School children came on the trolley from other towns to go to the high school here in Concord. Bedford and Carlisle had no high schools, they even came down from Dunstable - all the way down on the Concord railroad.
Back then you saw all these pot belly stoves and you'd see several men in there sitting around with their legs-crossed smoking a pipe or a cigar. We'd go down to the Mill Brook and find whiskey bottles and sell them to the drugstores. We'd get 2 or 3 cents per bottle, then we'd go over to Towle and Kent's and buy 2 or 3 cents worth of broken cookies, then we'd sit down beside the curb and eat them. We had lots of fun. When you went into Snow's Drugstore, on the right hand side was the soda fountain and the same for Richardson's. We used to get a thing called a fizz, that was ground ice with strawberry and raspberry syrup.
Right here in Concord we had the biggest robbery there was ever in the U.S. right up until the Brinks robbery right here in our own bank in 1875. Langton Moore came over from Sudbury on a pair of white horses and a fancy wagon and said, "I want your loot!"'
There was only one bank in this area - you had to come from all over - Maynard, Acton, Boxboro, Littleton, Bedford, even Lexington, Lincoln, Westford, Sudbury - and when you think of people driving from there over to here with a bag of money - you wouldn't hear of it today. Stores in Maynard would put their money in a bag with a lock on it and they'd give it to the motorman on the trolley. He 'd stop in front of the bank, and one of the staff of the bank would come out and meet him and take the money out of the bag and put the lock back on.
They used to grow peaches, pears, apples, plums, a lot of grapes were raised around here when I was a kid. Up at Bridge's yard and Monroe's yard, a lot of us kids would go over there and steal the grapes and the apples too. Up on Nashawtuc Hill, you'd be walking up the hill and any kid could lean right over and grab the apples.
(In 1916 at the age of 19, Bill Towler started driving a Model T taxi.) I have more friends that were kids, than anyone in the United States. I used to carry all the kids in my taxi. If I had the Concord Academy girls for passengers, a chaperone had to go along with them.
I delivered every telegram except two that's on the World War II monument. I knew every boy that was on that stone, every one of them. I was drafted but I was lucky I didn't get called. I knew every one that was.
I've had so much fun - honestly. And people say to me, "Bill, how'd you ever do all this?"' And I've really done nothing but what you could do, anybody could.