Skip to content

“My Trip”: Helen Fuertges Hickey Memories

March 20, 2012

Helen Fuertges Hickey shared memories of her trip in the ‘Silver Streak’, which was Dorgan’s Model T Ford.  She made this trip in 1937 to see the Dionne Quintuplets in Canada. She shared these stories with her daughters, Rosemary (Hickey) Welch and Kathy (Hickey) Czarniewski.

A Little History: The Dionne Quintuplets were born May 28, 1934 to a humble farmer, Olivia Dionne and his wife Elzire, who already had 5 children. They lived in a rural area 3 miles from the small village of Callendar, Canada, 220 miles north of Toronto.

The Quints were all girls and the first set of quintuplets to survive birth. The babies were delivered by midwives and neighbors of Mrs. Dionne, with the local doctor, A.R. Dafoe, overseeing the births. The babies ranged in weight from 1 lb.10 oz. to 2 1/2 lbs. and were named Emile, Annette, Yvonne, Cecile, and Marie.

Shortly after their birth, the baby girls were made special wards of His Majesty the King until they reached the age of 18, as per Special Legislation of the Government of Ontario. A special facility that was a combination hospital and home known as the Dafoe Hospital was built for the babies on the opposite side of the road from their parents home.

It was from this Dafoe Hospital that the babies would make pubic appearances 2 times daily. The baby “show” was for one hour, at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The babies would come outside and play on the grounds and tourists were allowed to circulate, under police protection, thru the guarded horse-shoe play ground and watch the children play.

This was the destination of the 1937 trip that Helen Fuertges Hickey describes.

Helen Hickey: We went to Canada in 1937 for the purpose of seeing the Dionne Quintuplets (Helen was not sure of the date of their trip but it was after July 4th)

Q. Who went with you?

HH: Darlene and Margie Dorgan; the car really belonged to Darlene. Her father bought it for her birthday. Let’s see, the others were Ruby McDonald, Eleanor Butte, Clare Breen and me and that was 6.

HH: Well on a nice sunny summer afternoon, we started our adventure. We left Bradford somewhere around noon and drove to Lacon. When we got to Lacon, we got quite a shock as there was no bridge (to cross the IL River) and the river was rolling merrily along. So there were a bunch of people around the water’s edge and they had a little ferryboat, so we drove onto the ferry and crossed the river. When we got to the other side the car would not start. So, there we are with the car on the ferry and we were on land. They directed us to a mechanic who came and did something to the car to get it started so we drove the car off the ferryboat and we were on our way.

Our plans for our first stop were South Bend, Indiana as we wanted to see Notre Dame. So, we drove. I don’t know how far it was – it was a good substantial drive and I don’t think we could drive over 30-35 mph. When we got to South Bend, my cousin Tom Fuertges was doing some summer work there; so, he came out and met us and showed us all around the area of Notre Dame. But we could not get on campus because I think we all had on slacks, and we weren’t dressed properly. We did see the stadium. Then we got back in the car and headed for Detroit.

Well, by that time, we were getting hungry and we passed a schoolhouse, which was well kept and the school yard was mowed. We decided to stop for the night and we had a huge tarpaulin that we spread on the ground. It was big enough for each of us to have enough space to lie down on, and we fixed our supper.

Q. Was this your first night?

HH: Yes, this was our first night. When it got dark, we all went to bed-we slept well. No complaints and the next morning we had our canned grapefruit and bread and butter or something. Anyway, we had to repack our stuff. This was a big chore to pack and repack our stuff.

So we were on our way, and I guess we got to Detroit. I am not sure what time it was. Henry Ford was not there that day and we were disappointed because the prior group that had gone on the trip before had gotten to meet Henry Ford and visit with him. So we just talked to who was there and went on our way.

Q: What kind of clothes did you pack?

HH: I think I only had two pair of slacks and I brought along a dress I had made that had a skirt with a split that made it real full- it bounced when I walked. Also pajamas and we each brought a towel and washcloth, and a blanket. Each one of us put $25.00 in a kitty to take care of food and I think to cover gas. So that was $25.00 x 6 or $150.00. So I think I remember that lasted pretty well.

So the big question was ‘who was going to carry the money’ and everybody looked at each other and nobody wanted to do it. So it fell to me, and I carried it in my shoe. That was the only place we could think of. If I kept it in my purse and if I lost my purse or somebody stole it, all of our money would be gone. So that suited everybody to keep the money in my shoe and it wasn’t too painful.

Q: Who drove most of the time?

HH: Darlene drove the car and Clare was the only other rider that knew how to drive a Model T so Clare sat in the front seat, but I don’t remember how we divided up the rest of the passengers and where we sat in the car. Anyway, Clare was prepared to take over the car in an emergency (laughter).

Q: Was there a top on this car?

HH: The car had a top but we were fortunate that we didn’t have much rain. One day it rained a little bit so we all got out and put the top up. But the rain did not last very long and we took it off and that was the only time we had to use it.

Q: What did you guys do about showering or going to the bathroom? 

HH: We always stopped someplace we could get water.

Q: How about washing your hair?

HH: Well all of us had some kind of headscarf to cover our hair. I remember somewhere along the way, before we got to Canada, there were these great number of men working in a field off of the road and when they saw us coming, they all came over to the fence. They were all CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers and at that time in 1937, they were making hay or something. So we stopped and talked to them and they wanted to know all about us, where we were from, and where we were going. So that was fun.

Q: What did Grandpa Fuertges say about you going on this trip?

HH: As far as I know, he never said a word. I was twenty-one years old and working in the store. And I am surprised….(laugh) oh…when I think about it now (all of these girls traveling that way by themselves).

Q: What did John Hickey (Dad) think about you going on this trip?

HH: Well, John Hickey was lonesome and he promised me when I got back he would take me out to dinner so that is what we did.

Q: How often did you and John see each other? Was he in Peoria?

HH: Oh we saw each other once or twice a week. He was in Camp Grove Bank then. He and I both had jobs.

HH: So when we got to the Canadian border we had to stop and go thru inspection (laugh) but we didn’t have to take everything out of the car. And I remember there was a real good highway in Canada up to Callander.

Q: I found this nice map at home of your trip, and it shows this nice road from Toronto to Callendar that was 220 miles.

HH: I don’t think we stopped in Toronto, but we headed to Callendar and there were all kinds of tourists.

The Quints were housed in a big building because England took over the Quints, you know, and they had a big building for them to be housed in and they had this big yard that was all fenced in. And I think there was one time a day when the Quints were outside.

Q: I found this newspaper that you got as a souvenir of your trip. So you went in 1937- how old were the Quints?

HH: They were three years old and we went over to the fence and watched the Quints play. They were like any other three year olds, trying to climb over and all that sort of thing and they were just darling.

So after they closed that (show) we walked around and decided we wanted to see Dr. Dafoe. They told us he did not see any visitors, as he was very private with his life. We said we would go see his house anyway to see where he lived. We found his house and I don’t know who was brave enough to knock on the door, but he came to the door. I don’t know who our spokesperson was, but someone explained who we were, where we came from, why we came, and why we were interested. You know this (live quintuplet birth) was the biggest news in the whole world.

So Dr. Dafoe said he would give us something and he went into the house and came out with a picture of himself, already autographed. He gave us that and we thanked him. Ah..lets see, I don’t remember the name of the father.

Q: I see his name is Oliva Dionne.

HH: Yes that was the father’s name and he had a little booth so he sold his autograph for 25 cents, I guess. And we saw the house where the babies were born and all of this and that. The whole place was a dusty, grimy small town…a tiny little town.

But I remember before we got to Callendar, somebody along the way told us there were bandits on the highway holding up the tourists on their way to see the Quints. So when we got to the next town, we went to the police station and told them our trouble and asked them to give us any advice (laugh) to avoid the bandits, if we could. They said they didn’t have the ability to help us with that but said if we wanted to, we could spend the night at the police station. So they gave us rooms that were not being used by the police off duty. So we had a room and used the shower and I think that is when we washed our hair. So I put on that dress I brought and I think they gave us supper. We spent the night there and went on to Callander the next day.

Q: Who was the ringleader of the group?

HH: Darlene Dorgan was the boss. She was older than the rest of us. And her sister Marjorie, she was the one who never spoke.

Q: Was she like that even when she was young? 

HH: She was like that from the day she was born.

Q: I remember Margie from Dorgan’s Soda Fountain. Was she always kind of disagreeable?

HH: Oh yea, she would just make remarks. She didn’t really chat or talk to anybody, so we just put up with her. She called me granny because every night I would put a little bit of mentholatum in my nose so I could breathe; and after Marge saw me do that a couple of nights, she called me granny. And when we got back to Bradford and I went into Dorgan’s, Marge always said, “Hi Granny.”  Eleanor Butte was a little bit older. Ruby McDonald was 1-2 years older, and Clare and I were best friends. I was 21 as my birthday was in June, and Clare wasn’t quite 21. Her birthday is in October.

Q: Did you sleep on the tarpaulin every night?

HH: Except for the night we slept in the jail, I guess we did. 

Q: What did you generally eat?

HH: We had a little Coleman gas stove and I guess we heated stuff. One day we passed a cornfield so we checked it out and the corn was ripe and ready. We picked a whole bunch of corn and took it back to our campsite and lit the little stove and got the corn ready and we ran out of gas. So here we were with a whole bunch of sweet corn. I think we cut it off of the cob and I don’t remember what we did. I remember one night eating in a restaurant and we had sweet corn. We ate well, bread and peanut butter if nothing else. We had canned goods like baked beans and canned grapefruit. I don’t remember if we brought a lot of stuff to eat along the way. I think we stuck more with crackers and that sort of thing.

But we got along beautifully.  There were no arguments. We were just taking life in. So after we left the Quints we started back and somewhere along the way we ran into a parade. This by the way was the year that the Prince of Wales denounced the throne. I don’t know if this parade was in honor of him, or what, but it was beautiful with all of these bagpipes and full kilts and everything, so that was fun.

One of the girls, I probably shouldn’t put this in my spiel, but for lack of a better place to pack her box of Kotex, she took them out and laid them under the back seat, all flat out, which was fine. Except one day the car wouldn’t start and we got a hold of a mechanic or something and (laugh) he had to take out the back seat.  That is where the battery was.  And here are all of her Kotex. But we got through that ordeal, so that was funny.

We then went to Niagara Falls and I don’t know how long it took us to get there, but that was another big stop and we spent time there, taking pictures. The man that went over the Falls in a barrel, he was there, and we saw and talked to him.

Q: How long were you gone?

HH: We were gone two weeks. We came home from Niagara Falls and while we were driving across this nice highway, I think we were still in Canada, a car passed us and it was Mr. and Mrs. Marsh and Jane (from Bradford). They were tourists doing the same thing we were, so we stopped and talked with them. That is another thing I remember. There were probably other little things, I just can’t remember them all.

Q: What happened when you got home?

HH; When we got home I was not sunburned, but I was wind burned and I was as red as an Indian! I don’t think anyone got sunburned, and I don’t remember if everyone else was as wind burned as I was, but my mother about died and I think she was ready to disown me. I kind of worried about that for several years that it might do something to my skin, but it didn’t. But I think I was still real red when John took me to dinner, I can’t remember where we went to dinner. But I had a bath and dressed up and everything. He was happy to see me. I wore the dress that I had taken on the trip.

Q: Any other memories of the other girls on the trip?

HH: Well Marge Dorgan was younger than any of us. She was the baby of the family. And she didn’t talk too much.  She kind of grunted and when she did talk she said things real fast.

Q: Was the Model T a Dorgan Family car?

HH: The story is that Darlene had her heart set on a Model T and her dad was going to a sale and she thought he was going to buy her the car she wanted. When he came back, Darlene asked, “Where is the car?” And her dad said, “Well, so and so bought it.”  And Darlene said, “What do you mean so and so bought it? That was the car I wanted.” And, Mr. Dorgan said he didn’t really think she wanted it. So Darlene cried and carried on for a couple of days and Mr. Dorgan felt so bad that he went someplace and bought this Model T, which was not the exact original car Darlene had wanted, but it was a Model T just the same.

Q; Did anyone make sure the car was drivable?

HH: Oh sure, they had taken the car on other trips before and the car had been used. I think Clare had been on a trip before this one.

Q: I guess they figured out exactly how to pack this car-did it have a trunk?

HH: (laughter) Oh heavens no, these Model T’s did not have trunks. Those cars had a little fender on the side and had a compartment that opened out and you put your stuff in there and were able to lock it. The car was a five passenger sedan and even though there were 6 of us, I don’t remember where everyone sat. But with the top down, it was comfortable enough.

The show to see the babies was kind of pathetic. They were not raised by their parents, and they really did not know how to play or interact with other people and they had kind of a sad life.

It was a wonderful trip.



%d bloggers like this: