In the years leading up to my entry into
World War II, I was a dedicated roller skater.
In an earlier "Newark Memory" I recalled Vic Browns'
New Dreamland Arena, and spending the night of November 16, 1942
at the Frelinghuysen Avenue rink. It was the night before I reported
for induction into World War II.
On that November 16th night in 1942, as I skated on the New Dreamland
rink floor, about to go off to war the following morning, I couldn't
help but wonder whether I would ever be on those skates again, what
with the uncertainty of war.
As fate would have it, before the end of World War II, I did find
myself on those very same skates one more time, but not in Newark
-- rather on a wooden floor near the mouth of the Amazon River in
If you think this sounds like the start of a story, you guessed
right! This is the story:
As part of my duties in the Army Air Force, in 1944, I found myself
stationed at Val de Cans Field, a U. S. Army air base just outside
the city of Belem, the main port for the Amazon River in northeastern
Our air base was a refueling spot for American military aircraft
bound to and from the various war zones in Africa, the Middle East,
China, Burma, and India. Its address was APO 603.
As my earlier New Dreamland Arena memory states, before entering
military service, I had established a warm friendship with Vic Brown,
owner/operator of the New Dreamland Arena, and head of the RSROA
(Roller Skating Rink Operators of America).
In the course of my work at the Val de Cans air base, an abandoned
and unused airplane hangar, that had been occupied by the Germans
before the War, had been turned over to me to use for recreational
I came up with an idea, which I proceeded to carry out.
I convinced my superior officer that we should install a smooth
wooden roller skating surface on the concrete hangar floor. I told
the officer that I had a strong friendship with Vic Brown, a rink
operator in Newark, and that he had connections with other rink
operators throughout the United States. I said I was confident that
if we built the roller skating floor for the men of the base, that
I could get Brown and his fellow rink operators to contribute some
roller skates for it.
Putting the Idea into Reality
He like the idea, especially since we had a recreation fund, and
he saw an opportunity to put it to use in a creative manner.
I signed a contract with the carpenters union in the City of Belem
who supplied the labor. We had to agree to pay the prevailing daily
wage for skilled carpenters, 10 milreis (10,000 reis) which was
the U. S. equivalent of 50 cents.
We hired 50 skilled carpenters to build the floor for a total
cost of $25 a day in labor. The base agreed to furnish the floor
Getting Ready for Operation
As the skating floor was being erected, I did two things. First,
I wrote to Vic Brown, told him about our on-base skating rink --
possibly the first of its kind in South America -- and told him
how much it would mean for the morale of the airmen at the base.
Then, I wrote home to my parents at 29 Montgomery Street in Newark
and told them I would like to have my "Betty Lytle" Chicago
rink roller skates mailed to me in the metal carrying case that
Brown Sends Me Bad News
Vic Brown's answer came back first. He told me that the Chicago
Skate Company, that supplied all the roller skates and parts, was
totally in war work and that no skates or parts had been supplied
to roller rinks since the start of the War...that he had no replacements
for inoperable skates at his own rink, and that he couldn't spare
a single pair.
He said that other rink operators around the country were in the
same fix, and that he couldn't ask anyone else to donate roller
skates to us either, as they were all struggling to stay in business.
I had better luck with the request for my own roller skates. They
arrived in the mail just as the skating floor reached completion.
What I Did With My Own Skates
At a quiet time, when there was no one else around, I opened the
case, donned my skates, and took a quick spin around the newly completed
floor. It was as smooth as glass.
I then put the skates back in the case, relabeled the carry case
for a return trip to 29 Montgomery Street, Newark, and put it in
I couldn't allow any implication that I, a mere Army Air Force
corporal, had built a private roller skating rink for myself in
the middle of a war. I knew I had to get rid of the skates quickly.
What Happened to the Floor
Though built to be a skating floor, the installation was not a
total waste. We set up volley ball nets, we held basketball games
on the hangar floor, we staged a New Years Eve celebration in the
Hangar, and we even held carefully chaperoned dances on the floor
with busloads of young ladies and their minders bussed in from the
City of Belem.
That's the end of my story about my New Dreamland Arena roller
skates, and their round trip to the Amazon. I still have those skates
in the same metal case. Though untouched for more than half a century
and resting on a remote shelf in my backyard garage, the case carries
in it a treasury of joyful skating memories of my early years.