The Road Atlases

A trip down memory lane — and to Niagara Falls — with the adventurous Atlas family

Let’s take a trip upstate today with retired orthodontist Eugene E. Atlas. Atlas, who now lives in Monroe Township, N.J., has contributed a number of warm, witty articles to the Advance over the years and it’s clear that his sense of humor is as sharp as ever.

We’ve heard that he could get his patients to laugh even while he worked on them.

He’s not only going to take us way upstate — all the way to Niagara Falls — but he’s going to take us quite a way back in time. But let him tell it:

“The directions from Staten Island were simple, ‘Go right up Broadway from South Ferry until you get to Albany, turn left and go until you get to Buffalo and then ask for Niagara Falls.’

“Road maps in 1924 were pitifully inadequate. First, there were no superhighways. Going from Staten Island to Niagara Falls was a matter of going from town to town, at least 30 towns altogether. In each town we had to ask directions to the next town. Instructions generally sounded like this:

“‘You can’t miss it. Just go three blocks down Main Street, turn left at the bank, two blocks to the schoolhouse, then right for about four miles past the granary…'”

In the 1920s, auto ownership was rare but since the family dry goods store in Mariners Harbor was doing well, Dr. Atlas says, his father decided to buy a car.

“Pop could not drive and had no interest in driving,” he continues. “His oldest son, Ted, destined to become a physician, would drive the car.”

Dr. Theodore Atlas practiced in Tompkinsville and St. George for 55 years before retiring in 1985. After his death in 1993 at the age of 88, his son, the boxing trainer Teddy Atlas, established the Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which supports community sports programs in a variety of ways.

But back to the car. It was a deep brown Durant, the largest available second-hand car. It could accommodate eight people thanks to two folding seats in the back. The name may not be familiar today but it was William Crapo Durantwho founded General Motors in 1908 and hired Louis Chevrolet to design the car whose name lived on.

“It was a real touring car with a top that folded down behind the back seat,” Dr. Atlas reports. “Equipment included six separate side curtains with isinglass windows that could easily be attached in case of rain. The windshieldwas hinged at the bottom so that it could be flattened down on the hood for fast driving and a sportier look.

“Pop sat proudly next to Ted as Ted, after brief instructions from the dealer, nervously drove the car home from the showroom. Ted promptly knocked down the gate of the newly rented garage.”

Eugene, 14, was not permitted to drive but he studied his older brother’s moves and one day “borrowed” the keys and went for a ride with two friends. Although she wasn’t in favor of buying the car, Mrs. Atlas, a pragmatist, according to her son, decided to make the best of it.

“This would be her opportunity to fulfill an old dream of seeing Niagara Falls but now she would see it with her three sons, driving there in her new car,” Dr. Atlas says. “And she would do it this very summer.

“Pop was delighted and completely agreeable to Mom going off like this for 10 days in the summer, leaving him alone in the family store.

“Mom was never good about careful preparations or worrying about minor inconveniences. She decided we would camp out for the three days it would take us to get to Niagara Falls. She was depending on my experience of camping out four times with the Boy Scouts.

“We filled the back of the car with oilcloths to be used as ground sheets, plenty of blankets for all of us and boxes of dishes, flatware and food. There still being room in the back of that huge car, Mom invited my cousin Arnold, one year older than me, to come along.

“We sailed across New York Bay on the Staten Island Ferry and bravely headed north on Broadway through Manhattan. Ted drove stiff and nervous at the wheel. Mom sat next to Ted, erect and proud, hands folded on her lap, con