Jaywalking: A hometown team for the ages

  • This is the 1950 Millers Falls Company fast-pitch softball team from Greenfield that went unbeaten in the Park League. Pictured from left to right in the front row are Fran Sulda, Kibbie Cole, Bob Cuff, Frank Galvis and Joe Galvis. Middle row, Bob Newton, Chat Sak, John Okulecz, Ed Cadran and Angelo Moshen. Back row, John Perrotta, Ray Couture, Ted Crouse and manager Rip Metaxas. contributed photo

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tom Newton stopped at the farm stand late last summer with a binder that has now been sitting on my desk for nearly a year. Colored blue-green, it looks well worn and gives off a vibe that it might smell like moth balls and must like anything that’s been sitting in an attic or basement for years. But that’s not the case.

One thing is unmistakable. The contents are old. In fact, the contents are nearly 70 years old. Inside is a collection of pictures and newspaper clippings highlighting the 1950 Millers Falls Company fast-pitch men’s softball team, which won the Park League championship that season and rattled off 27 straight wins.

The binder was put together by Newton’s father, Bob, many years ago. Tom Newton had reached out to me, curious if it was something I might want to take a look at and perhaps do a story on. I did but was already focusing on the fall season when we met at the farm. The folder remained secure on my work desk, but even though not out of sight, I forgot about it for a few months. I remember seeing it during the winter, but that was no time to talk about softball, so I put the story on hold, finally beginning to work on the history of both the company and the team in June.

Any good history lesson begins at the origin, which means the birth of the company itself, something I turned to the website www.oldtoolheaven.com, which gives a detailed history of the mill.

The Millers Falls Company actually began in 1863 when two employees of the Greenfield Tool Company got the idea to build wringers for squeezing water out of laundry. The employees — Levi Gunn and Charles Amidon — began their own company and were later joined by successful lumberman Henry Pratt, who urged the two men to move their company to a place along the Millers River named Grout’s Corner, which at that time was little more than an inn and a few houses. The reason for the relocation was because of a 70-foot drop in the river that provided the company with the water power it needed to stay competitive in a growing industry. The Millers Falls Manufacturing Company opened in 1868, and four years later changed to the Millers Falls Company. The town of Grout’s Corner actually wound up taking the name of the mill situated in it and at some point became Millers Falls.

The company expanded over the years and began selling a wide variety of tools. When the Great Depression hit, it had a major effect on small companies, including several local ones. That spurred Millers Falls Company to merge with Greenfield-based Goodell-Pratt Company, another tool manufacturer, and the main office of the Millers Falls Company moved into the Goodell-Pratt Mill, which was located on Wells Street in Greenfield and, after leaving town in the Seventies, was renovated into what is now the Mill House Apartments.

The company changed ownership in 1962, selling to Ingersoll-Rand, but by then the company was facing problems. After World War II ended, the company had a chance to buy new, updated equipment for pennies on the dollar due to surpluses built up during wartime. The president at that time, Phillip Rogers, balked at the opportunity because he did not like government interference in private business.

Unfortunately, the Millers Falls Company’s competitors took advantage of the liquidation and updated their own equipment, and slowly the Millers Falls Company suffered problems with its equipment.

In 1982, the owners sold the business to a New Jersey-based company, which changed the official name to the Millers Falls Tool Co. and was based in Alpha, N.J. According to a Wikipedia search, the trademark has belonged to Hangzhou Great Star Industrial Co. of Hangzhou, China, since 2002.

During the height of business, the Millers Falls Company employed hundreds of local people. Numbers I was able to find said that shortly after the Great Depression ended, the Greenfield factory had 400 employees. Those numbers grew during World War II, and in 1950, the company was thriving.

I was unable to find out any information pertaining to how long the Park League lasted, but it was a fast-pitch softball league featuring several local businesses and clubs. The 1950 Park League featured six teams, Millers Falls Company, Scoble’s, Moose, Eagles, Knights of Columbus and Recorder-Gazette.

The Millers Falls Company roster featured the following men: Fran Sulda, Kibby Cole, Bob Cuff, Frank Galvis, Joe Galvis, Bob Newton, Chet Sak, John Okulecz, Ed Cadran, Angelo Moschen, John Perrotta, Ray Couture, Bill Borthwick, Ted Crouse and manager Rip Metaxas.

Millers Falls opened the 1950 season behind a three-hitter from Couture as the team beat the Eagles, 10-0. Sak followed that up with a two-hit shutout as Millers beat Moose, 6-0. The fourth game of the season set Millers against Scoble’s Service Station, which had the best offense in the league, but Sak helped pitch Millers to a 6-5 win.

The wins kept coming for Millers Falls. The Park League season was split in two halves, and Millers Falls beat Scoble’s, 5-1, in the final game of the first half of the season to win the first half with a 10-0 record. Millers Falls continued to pile up the wins in the eight-game second half of the season, again sweeping the league with an 8-0 record.

After beating Eagles Club, 7-6, in the final game of the season, Fran Sulda accepted the championship trophy from Lou Bush, who was representing the Park Department.

Millers Falls moved into the Western Massachusetts Softball Tournament on a 21-game regular-season winning streak (having also won some independent games) and the team won six straight games to run the streak to 27 and move into the semifinals. The winning streak finally came to an end when Easthampton handed the Toolmen a 4-3 loss. Easthampton scored four times in the fifth inning, and the newspaper said, “the loss ended one of the finest sustained periods of ball by any softball team in the area.”

The season may have been over, but the story has lived on in Newton’s folder, which continues to stand the test of time.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.