Tales of the 7th Battalion 23

A Firefighter’s Spring

In Michigan, spring brings, not only flowers and blue birds, but base ball and horse racing. In the 7th Battalion there were many Firefighters who loved the Sport of Kings. We had horse owners, horse bettors, and guys who just enjoyed watching.

Charlie Robinson was one of those guys who loved the track. He was there almost every day when off duty. His betting routine was a bit different from the regular racing enthusiast. Charlie would pick his horse, buy his ticket, then go to the far end of the spectator viewing area at the rail next to the track. If you sat in the grand stand you could always pick up Charlie with a set of field glasses as he shook his arms and legs. He would be loosening up  as he waited for his horse at the top of the stretch.

As the horses rounded the turn and headed for home, Charlie would take of running next to them. Charlie was once an all-state fullback at Detroit's Southwestern High School  so his speed usually kept him up with his horse over the last two furlongs. Charlie would be sprinting and dodging through the crowd with his betting ticket held on high. He would be yelling at his horse and jumping over chairs and obstacles. Some days Charlie ran a better race than his horse. In his later years, as time started to slow Charlie down, I understand he would only run the last two hundred feet. He also refrained from running on ladies day because he was knocking over too many grandmas. Charlie was a rough tough Firefighter who made a day in the engine house a lot of fun. He didn’t win a lot at the track but Charlie was always a winner with his running mates.

The 7th Battalion also had a wide assortment of civilians who could best be described as Runyonese characters. One of them was John Dooney who was  one of Charlie’s bookies. This guy was even more of a character than Charlie. John had a wooden leg. When he  came into the Swallow Bar and Grill, a famous 7th Battalion meeting place, he would not allow a Firefighter to buy a drink. John was always loud and boisterous. He loved to go to Firemen’s retirement parties.  He would play cards and shoot dice and socialize with his friends. John would always succeed in embarrassing someone with his wooden leg. Because the leg didn’t fit properly it would make a sound like a water buffalo passing gas. John would then stare at the lady or guy sitting next to him and say indignantly, “ I beg your pardon. That was quite unmannerly madam."

John used to enjoy telling the story about the time he rolled his Chrysler over on the I-75 bridge. John was knocked unconscious in his smashed vehicle. Two young hippie looking kids were the first on the scene. The top of the car was smashed down and the only way out was through the rear window. The two long haired kids tugged and pulled on the leg of the bulky  unconscious bookie. With a sickening snap Dooney’s leg came off. When  7th Battalion companies arrived at the scene, one kid was throwing up and the other was sitting on the ground next to the leg crying that he pulled the man’s leg off. To the joy of the hippies, Dooney soon woke up, crawled out of the wreckage, and strapped his leg back on.

A colorful character, colorful times, and fond memories of the 7th Battalion in the good old days.  

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