Hello, my name is Orty Ortwein and this is my bookmobile blog! I just find bookmobiles really fascinating, and if you’re here, then so do you. I hope to update every week, with a new factual tale every time. Of course, I’ll keep you posted. Look around and let me know what you think! (Many thanks to the Bethlehem Public Library of Delmar, NY, for letting me use their photo in the banner).
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Source: The book is for sale
If you’ve been enjoying my blog, why not order the book? For a mere 11 dollars you can order Bookmobiles in America: An Illustrated history.
Last Monday was a great day for me, because I got to see what probably is the oldest continuously running bookmobile in the country, if not the world, the 1973 Gerstenslager of Waukegan Public Library. The driver, Joseph Kalinowski, has been driving the “Dinomobile” for 35 years. If his isn’t the longest still-running career of a bookmobile driver, it’s got to be close. The machine is so old as to have features you don’t see on many trucks anymore. These include roll up windows, an all-metal dash, wheels behind the driver. The truck also relies on hookups for power. The Dinomobile is a roving museum, a piece of history, the world’s last Gerstenslager!
John C. Gervase has always been passionate about trucks and helping humanity. For years he had used his skills as a trucker to assist organizations such as Feeding America and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Research taught him there was a direct link between poverty and education, a gap he decided to fill. After procuring over 1,500 books through a bookdrive sponsored by his church, he needed a way to distribute them. He was able to purchase a trailer from St. Louis, which they generously sold him for half the asking price. Big Rig Books was born.
Big Rig Books now routinely stops at schools, handing out books for free. The work is taxing but rewarding. As John himself says on his site, “I look forward to each and every day with joy and pleasure.”
The Indianapolis’ Books-to-People project of the 1970s reflected that decade’s trend of using mobile libraries to help offset social inequality. The federally-funded project began in the summer of 1971 as means to bring paperbacks to the disadvantaged. Using a vehicle known as the Go-Go-Van, the colorful car’s rounds included Goodwill Centers, doctor’s offices, bars, beauty and barber shops, daycare centers, and just about any other place people might gather. The Marion County Jail was also served. The van gave out the books for free and encouraged people to return them to one of the library’s local branches. The staff also had plenty of helpful pamphlets on hand. On top of this, the Books-to-People left deposit collections whose contents were not meant to be removed. These boxes included titles such as Name Your Baby and the Home Medical Encyclopedia. Each collection included a sign that said: “Books-to-People/Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library/ Mini Reading for You/ Please Leave it Here for the next Person to enjoy.”
The project was discontinued in 1980, some say as another casualty of the energy crisis.
It seems I mispoke when I said that Waukegan Public Library retired the last still-operating Gerstenslager in 2005 to aid Katrina victims. In fact, they have another that is still running. The Dinomobile is a 1973 Gerstenslager that serves exclusively elementary schools. According to Joseph Kalinowski, who has been driving her for the past 35 years, it has never needed a major part. This may make it the last Gerstenslager still running. If anybody knows of another, please let me know!
The last of the Gerstenslagers?