Richard Gartee     Award Winning Novelist
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Skating on Skim Ice

The Life and Times of Richard Andrew Gartee

  • by Richard Gartee
  • Publisher: Lake & Emerald Publications
  • Paperback: 300 pp, 43 photos
  • Genres:
  • Biography
  • History / 20th Century
  • History / United States / State & Local / Midwest
  • ISBN:  978-0-9906768-2-9
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Reading this book in your book club? You may want to view a documentary of the boy’s camp and factory described in Chapter 11.



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Dick Gartee is a time traveler who has journeyed ninety-three years from the past—one day at a time.

►During the Great Depression, the only hockey puck in the neighborhood slides onto thin skim-ice and nine-year-old Dick heroically skates after it.

►When his father leaves his mother for another woman, plucky thirteen-year-old Dick takes a night job in a bakery to help make ends meet.

►At seventeen, with World War II raging, he enlists in the Navy and rises from gunner mate to payroll and disbursements. By age twenty, the Navy trusts him with two million dollars cash.

►In the post-war years, he teaches himself engineering, builds factories, and designs manufacturing production lines and industrial robots.

Elements of daily life that seemed ordinary to Dick are inconceivable to young people today. His biography provides context for key transformative eras of America’s recent past as Dick faces tribulations and joys with morality, humor, and humility.

Younger readers will be astonished to learn how people managed before smartphones while older generations will smile as they recall anecdotes their parents shared. But no matter your age, you will be charmed by Dick’s story, and maybe you will discover some things you didn’t already know.

Author's Note

Richard Andrew Gartee, known to friends and relatives as Dick Gartee, is the author's father. He was born in the Roaring Twenties, survived the Great Depression of the thirties, enlisted in World War II in the forties, and raised a family and learned engineering in the Fabulous Fifties. He watched men walk on the moon in the sixties, constructed factories in the seventies, designed robotics for manufacturers in the eighties, and served as a hospital chaplain in the twenty-first century.

His biography is more than the story of one man's trials and joys. It is a lens into life during transformative decades that altered America forever. Dick is among the dwindling few of his generation still alive. The eras he not only witnessed, but he also actively participated in inform the reader's understanding of the radical paradigm shift he has seen occur in nearly every aspect of our society: economics, agriculture, transportation, education, manufacturing, and communications, to name a few.

It is said that those who excel in mathematics and engineering are left-brained, while poets and artists are right-brained. In this book you will see that Dick uses both the analytical and artistic sides of his brain. In addition to his long industrial career in various engineering positions, he has crafted furniture, created oil paintings, and written songs and poems, fourteen of which are included in the appendix of the book.

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Excerpt from Skating on Skim Ice

Table of Contents



Chapter 1 New Year’s 2000

Chapter 2 Born on the River Raisin

Chapter 3 Crash of 1929

Chapter 4 Times Get Hard

Chapter 5 Life on South Custer Road

Chapter 6 A Pig for a Bike

Chapter 7 King School Years

Chapter 8 My World Collapses

Chapter 9 High School Years

Chapter 10 War

Chapter 11 Ford’s Camp for Boys

Chapter 12 Joining the Navy

Chapter 13 Aboard the War Admiral

Chapter 14 New Orleans

Chapter 15 In the Pacific

Chapter 16 Getting Home

Chapter 17 Racism

Chapter 18 Courting Eileen

Chapter 19 Early Married Life

Chapter 20 A Baby

Chapter 21 Baby Two and a Job in Tecumseh

Chapter 22 In-Laws

Chapter 23 Perpetual Crises

Chapter 24 Time Study

Chapter 25 Old Wounds and New Traditions

Chapter 26 Insert Scalpel, Open Heart

Chapter 27 Two Fast Rides

Chapter 28 Vacation Travels

Chapter 29 Promotion to Mechanical Engineering

Chapter 30 Impermanent Cure

Chapter 31 Learning What I Didn’t Know

Chapter 32 Somerset

Chapter 33 So Alone

Chapter 34 A Bellyful

Chapter 35 Buenos Días

Chapter 36 On My Own

Chapter 37 Thrice Wed

Chapter 38 Lord, Where Do I Go?

Chapter 39 Getting My First PC

Chapter 40 Trip of a Lifetime

Chapter 41 Sound of Music and Matterhorn

Chapter 42 Three Letters

Chapter 43 ’Til Death Does Part

Chapter 44 Wedding in a Hurricane

Chapter 45 Changing Churches

Chapter 46 Chaplaincy

Chapter 47 Answered Prayers


Author Notes

Plus 14 Poems by Dick Gartee

Chapter 1
New Year’s 2000

New Year’s Day 2000, the first day of a new century, the beginning of the next millennium. The twentieth century was over. Sunrise through our kitchen window filled the room with pale light. I started whistling a happy tune that dated back to my boyhood during the Great Depression.

I turned on the coffeemaker and it worked. Thank God! We still had electricity. For months, news stories had fretted about a problem they called “Y2K,” warning us that electric power grids and all manner of services managed by computers would fail January 1. Because early computers didn’t have much memory, programs stored dates with two-digit years—for example, “98” instead of “1998.” Once we reached the year 2000, the computer wouldn’t know if “00” meant 1900 or 2000. A hundred-year date error would cause big problems in nearly every computer system, the news had warned. Programmers for computer companies, utilities, government agencies, and businesses scrambled to update their systems. It must have worked.

I watched my coffee drip into the pot, reassured that we had not been thrown back into the Dark Ages as doomsayers had predicted. I poured a cup, sat down at the table, and waited for my wife to join me for breakfast. Taking a sip, I shook my head in wonder that I was still alive. In nine months, I’d celebrate my seventy-fifth birthday. When I was growing up, the oldest people around me seldom lived past seventy. I’d outlived my predecessors.

When I was a boy, the year 2000 seemed impossibly far in the future. Yet here it was. I’d seen rockets launch and men walk on the moon. Amazing stuff, because when I was a child, there were as many horse carriages as there were automobiles. In the rural communities where I grew up, a lot of people didn’t have cars. If they were going somewhere far, a friend or relative who owned a car drove them.

That morning, I drank hot coffee in a well-lit kitchen. Y2K hadn’t crashed the nation’s power grid. But during my childhood, a lot of farms didn’t have electricity; people used oil lamps, kerosene lanterns, or candles. And I’m not describing colonial times or pioneer days. I mean the twentieth century.

Many things we take for granted today were different when I was a boy. For example, grocery stores sold very few prepackaged goods. Flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal, and other staples were kept in big barrels. The grocer would place a paper bag on a scale and, using a scoop, fill it until it weighed the amount the customer had requested. Peanut butter came in a stoneware crock, and the oil would separate and rise to the top. The grocer stirred it with a big paddle until it was mixed and then filled a carton and weighed it. The carton was white cardboard with a wire handle, the type Chinese takeout comes in today.

Boys wore knickers, pants that came just below the knee. I was probably ten or eleven before I got out of knickers. Mine were heavy corduroy and sometimes too hot, but I didn’t mind if I could wear my high-top boots. These boots came almost up to my knee and had a pocket on one side with a jackknife inside. Oh, that was big stuff, don’t you know?

Back then, haircuts were done with hand clippers. If the guy moved the clippers too quickly, it would pull your hair instead of cutting it. My dad cut my hair for a long time, and when the clippers pulled, I’d instinctively yank away. He’d cuff me and say, “Sit still—can’t cut your hair if you wiggle.” Dad didn’t have to put up with that, though. He went to a barber and paid a quarter for a haircut. Barbers began to use electric clippers right after I started going, and I was glad of it.

Home entertainment and newscasts came via the radio during my childhood. Television stations didn’t start broadcasting until after World War II. Our radio was a Crosley table-top model with a big speaker on top. It was staticky, and to get a good signal, we’d have to turn the antenna in the direction of whichever station we wanted to hear. The type of programs we listened to every night aren’t broadcast on radio anymore—mysteries, comedies, Westerns, and dramas. Compelling stories with acted dialog and sound effects, but we had to visualize the action in our imaginations. In order to actually see the scenes, we had to go to the movies.

Back then, a night at the movies was really a full night’s entertainment. Theaters showed “double features,” two full-length movies preceded by a cartoon, a newsreel, and a serial, all for the price of one ticket. The majority of feature films were in black and white, and that remained true up through the 1950s.

For most people, travel of any distance was by train. Even small towns had spur lines and depots. The alternative was the bus. Cross-country trips by automobile were possible, but not popular. Although a portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, the freeways and interstate highways we have today weren’t built until the 1950s.

Commercial air travel had yet to take off. A few airlines formed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but the Great Depression, followed by World War II, stalled their development. It wasn’t until the 1950s that air travel as we know it today came to be. In contrast, personal flight was popular. There were grass airfields on farms everywhere, and even moderate-size cities, like Monroe, Michigan, had three airfields. A small single-engine plane could be purchased for little more than the price of a new car; flying lessons and a pilot’s license were easy to get.

In my kitchen on New Year’s Day, I poured another cup of coffee and slid a pan of sweet rolls into the oven. The aroma of warm cinnamon would soon wake my sleeping wife. She’d come into the kitchen and say, “What are you doing up so early?”

I’d explain that I’d been thinking about the different eras in which we had lived. I’d say, “Things we experienced in our life seem incomprehensible to kids born after 1940.”

“Even more so for our grandkids, born in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s,” she might add.

Those are whole other eras, I thought as I imagined this conversation. We were the last generation of single-income families with stay-at-home moms. Today, both parents have careers.


Since that New Year’s morning in 2000, almost two decades have passed. Technology today is as different from 1980s technology as 1950s technology was from technology in the 1920s, and I’ve seen it all. Think of me as a time traveler who has gone ninety-three years into the future—one day at a time.

The past? I can fly back decades at the speed of thought . . . usually.

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Video of Author Reading from Skating on Skim Ice



Video of Ford Camp & Bomber Plant Where Dick’s Mother Worked

This black-and-white documentary produced by Ford shows the Willow Run Farm Camp where Dick worked at age sixteen. The farm was subsequently cleared and the Willow Run bomber factory built on the land. Dick's mother worked at the factory during WWII.