Jack Burris: Broadway Night Watchman

Jack Burris was the Broadway “door shaker” and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. After I shot a night assignment or sporting event, I’d have to go home to process and print the film. I’d rather stay up late than get up early, so I’d drive the photos back to The Missourian to keep from having to deliver them in the morning.

After that, I’d cruise the streets listening to police calls through my Tomkins Tunaverter, a little gray gizmo that lived between the car antenna and the AM radio. It converted the VHF FM police radio transmissions to AM broadcast frequencies so they’d play over the car radio. The only catch is that the Cape cops didn’t have but about three cars on the street at any one time, so there wasn’t a lot of radio traffic. You didn’t know whether the radio was quiet because the tubes had warmed up, causing the radio to drift off frequency, or if the Tunaverter had slipped off channel.

Jack carried a Motorola Brick

That’s where Jack would come in handy. He had been issued one of the first Motorola two-way radios that didn’t look like a lunch box. The HT-100, was better known as “The Brick” because it was about the same size and weight of one. I found one on the surplus market about 15 years later and had it converted to work on my newspaper’s frequency. I never picked it up without thinking of Jack.

Anyway, I’d pull up along the sidewalk and shoot the bull with him. After a decent interval, I’d say, “Jack, how about calling dispatch to give them a 10-4 check?” He’d do that, I’d fiddle with the radio dial and make sure I was back on frequency.

Jack was the first of many

I don’t know that Jack fed me any stories that made it into print. We mostly just passed the time talking about stuff of no consequence. If he told me what he had done before becoming a merchant night watchman, I don’t recall what it was. The only story I could find in The Missourian was an account of how he reported the Idan-Ha fire to beat patrolman James A. Crites in 1968. He knew Girlfriend Lila, who was working as cashier at the Rialto. I sort of liked the idea that he was keeping an eye out for her.

He taught me how to cultivate police and fire dispatchers working nightshifts. On slow nights, they welcomed a visitor who could speak their language and trade war stories. They’d pay me back by giving me a middle-of-the-night call if they thought something was going on that I’d be interested in. Even if I didn’t think it was worth running, I’d pull on my pants and head out to check on it, making sure I stopped by the station to thank them.

“Please expedite. We’re in excess of 105 mph”

I was passing the time with Andy, the Athens, Ohio, police dispatcher one night when a laconic voice came over the radio, “Athens 1 to Athens PD, run Ohio XYZ-123, please.” I told Andy that I could save him the trouble. “That’s my new car. I’m parked on the sidewalk in front of the station. John probably didn’t know that it’s mine.”

“Athens 1, Athens PD, please expedite. The driver just took off. We’re northbound on 50 in excess of 105 and he’s pulling away from me.”

If I had thought for a minute, I would have known that my Datsun couldn’t have hit 105 if it had been dropped off a cliff in a downdraft. Instead of processing that thought, though, I blasted out the front door where I spotted my new car and two cops in cruisers enjoying their joke.

Photo technical notes

I shot these photos under what you could call “available darkness,” because it sure didn’t pass for light. The film was so underexposed that I wouldn’t have even tried to make a print on photo paper. It’s amazing how much detail my Nikon Super Coolscan 8000 can find in something taken under miserable lighting conditions. The negative sleeve was dated May 23, 1967.

17 Replies to “Jack Burris: Broadway Night Watchman”

  1. Your story on Jack Burris was great. Did he have a son that attended Cape Central in the early 50’s? I seem to remember that name. Keep up the posts they also shake the tree’s(memories).

  2. When I saw the title I thought we were going to have something about Jack Burris from Cape Central in the 50s. I don’t know if the two were related but the Jack Burris I knew played professional baseball after graduation. He was a key member of the Cape Jets fast pitch softball team in the 50s and early 60s, during their heyday. Jack worked in the laboratory at the cement plant with my Dad. I couldn’t wait to visit the lab if I knew Jack was working so we could talk sports.

    Before your Jack Burris there was another night watchman, that rattled the doors in the 50s on Main Street. I think his name was Lee Albert, I am not sure about that, but I seem to remember he carried a nightstick with him for protection.

  3. I love the two photos. They seem to convey a sense of duty and a quiet, no-nonsense attitude about his work.

  4. I lived next door to Jack & Myrtle all my life, for a while he had a white German Shepperd dog that was with him on the job. The ball player you are talking about was his son Jack.

  5. There was also a night watchman named Jack Tucker who worked Main Street in the late 50s/early 60s. Troop 201 met at the corner of Spanish and Themis. After our meetings we used to yell obscenities down the alleyways until we got his attention and he would come around to shoo us away. We thought we were having great fun, he always took it in professional stride but probably wished our parents would hurry up and pick us up. We definately needed an attitude adjustment. I haven’t thought of him for years, what a nice guy, fun memories.

    1. Given the number of late night Main Street robberies, Mr. Tucker may not have been the best, but for carless 9th graders who spent their weekends playing cards and having a few drinks at the Teen Quarter Club (TQC) on Water Street,, his presence was appreciated by several parents. He often delivered fresh baked donuts at 3-4 o’clock.

  6. What happend to the baseball player Jack Burris? I lived on Broadway right next to KFVS and played baseball with the other Jack even when he lost his teeth. They were bouth good at the job they were doing.

  7. The night watchman in the wreck picture is my uncle Frank Rayburn. I agree with Jesse James the guy by the post looks to be Jim Lorberg

  8. Ken, I found this story via a search for info on Motorola HT100 radios. I’m a ham and my friend Bill Hampton was a ham too and from Cape G. I wonder if you knew him? It sounds like he was in the same business as you back in the day. Bill died a few years ago and will be missed by his friends and family here in GA. FYI here is a link to his obituary. Thought you might like to know.


    1. I not only knew Bill Hampton, but he shot our wedding 50 years ago this year. It’s been at least 30 years since I last saw him. I was working at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and he stopped by on his way back from picking up some parts from the Motorola plant in Boca Raton. He was quite the character.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *