Me and My Uncle: On Main Street Wellsville With Gabby Hayes

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Being nineteen in Wellsville in 1957 was not what Bill Hendrick was planning on. He had taken a job in Rochester after high school graduation at the Delco Corporation, making a great wage of $2.10 per hour. Starting a new chapter in life, working in the big city, and getting out of your hometown is something many Wellsville High School graduates can relate to.

Tragedy had struck in 1956, when Hendrick’s brother was killed a car crash and his family was devastated. He quit his job at Delco and moved back to Wellsville. Because of the loss of his brother, he moved back into the family home to help his grieving parents. Loblaws Grocery was hiring at $1/hour and he took the job as a stock and delivery boy. It wasn’t that long ago when most households had the weekly grocery order delivered to the home. Young men ran groceries all over town from a half dozen different grocers in the village.

“We had a Market Basket, an A & P, the Acme, Loblaws, and Scoville & Brown. I’m probably missing one or two. They all had older kids doing deliveries all over the village,” recalls Hendrick.

Of course they all crossed paths and had their own very efficient ‘social networking’ to spread the word on exciting events and gossip. When something or someone interesting hit Wellsville, Hendrick and his contemporaries were the first to find out.

“Gabby Hayes is in town!!” That was a common highlight of young people living in Wellsville during the late fifties and early sixties. According to our main source, Gabby would show up downtown regularly and always loved to walk Main Street. As soon as the movie star would be spotted, the news would spread through the grocery stores and side streets at nearly the same speed as does today with the aid of “smartphones.”

“We’d know if he was in town pretty quickly because he’d always wear an all white cowboy suite and cowboy hat. He was very distinguished, wore very nice clothes, was very well spoken,” Hendrick remembers fondly.

“When Hayes came to visit Wellsville he almost always came from Portville where he stayed with his cousin. He’d drive over for the day and walk around town.”

Hayes loved to walk downtown Wellsville and embraced all who wanted to chat, especially kids who were on the cutting edge of technology: Motion pictures. He would hang out at DeBarbieri Sporting Goods, the current site of the Southern Tier Home Medical Inc., across the street from the Fassett Greenspace.

Whenever Hendrick would just happen to pattern his grocery deliveries around meeting up with Gabby, he learned new things about Hayes. There weren’t requests for autographs, no one wanted to take pictures, you could just walk down Main Street with a movie star who had a national television show. “The Gabby Hayes Show,” was on ABC and sponsored by Quaker Oats in 1956.

“He’d tell me all about his life: Growing up in Stannards, in the house at the “T” from Rt. 248 that always gets crashed into. His brother was Morrison Hayes, who the Wellsville American Legion Post 702 is dedicated, and was someone he talked about a lot,” Hendrick remembered.

Hayes told Hendrick, and surely others who were interested, his life and times prior to becoming a movie star, a rarely told and epic tale of fortunes gained and fortunes lost.

“Gabby left home and ran away at a very young age and joined Vaudeville. He made a fortune and was one of the richest actors in the country. He had a house on Long Island, the early Hamptons, until the stock market crashed and he lost everything, well except his talent,” Uncle Bill remembered, as if he and Gabby had just talked.

By the time Gabby and a young Bill Hendrick met on the streets of Wellsville, Gabby had long been a classic sidekick in the boom of cowboy movies. Hayes appeared in films with actors like William Boyd, aka “Hopalong Cassidy,” Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy,” and then in several films with the king of cowboy flicks, John Wayne. The picture that captions this story is Wayne with Gabby, in the movie “Blue Steel.”

Hendrick remembers this everyday part of life in Wellsville NY until about 1963 when Hendrick took a full time job at Worthington(Dresser-Rand) and Gabby retired to California where he died in Burbank, California in 1969.


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