When I was a kid in the early 70's many of the fields and sand lots I played on were just starting to be developed. The woods and thick brush my friends and I built our forts in slowly started to disappear as new single family homes were constructed. In the late 1960's the southern end of Wildwood Crest still remained largely undeveloped. In fact we were one of only a few houses on our block back then... we didn't even have sidewalks other than what was directly in front of our home.
The woods I played in ran a block deep reaching into the meadows on the west side of New Jersey Avenue where wooden ties and railway ballast were all that remained of the train tracks that ran to the southern loop located right around the area of Two Mile Landing, an area we used to call "Devil's Ditch". In the early days of my childhood New Jersey Avenue ended at St. Louis Avenue, forcing traffic east onto my street and taking you past Crest Memorial School. New streets were soon cut in as well as upgrades to existing streets.
Back then there were no reflective plastic barrels with flashing yellow strobes to light the night and alert the public of road work in progress. Instead they used wooden barricades and an item that is "burned" into my memory... the classic steel smudge pot. When I was a kid I thought these were the coolest. They looked just like cartoon bombs - big black banged up dirty old soot laden rusty smudge pots... everything a little rascal with a wild imagination could want for. And just to sweeten the deal they had flames and black smoke pouring from their tops - and for a 10 year old boy it doesn't get any better than that.
I remember at the time thinking that they looked like the bombs in the board game Stratego (one of my favorite games my sisters and brother and I played regularly). These steel road torches filled with kerosene would burn through the night, and I admit on more than one occasion my friends and I bowled a few. But as if overnight the smudge pots seemed to vanish. Something so familiar to me in my youth had simply gone away. So often over the years I've thought about the smudge pots and of the twisted joy they brought me in my youth (I won't go into the graphic details of how many of my plastic green army men met their fate).
So as an adult, with nothing more than a scorched pair of Chuck Taylors as a memory, I sought to find one. From Public Works to Water Works I called to inquire only to hear the same story, it went something like this - "Smudge pot??? - what the hell's a smudge pot - ooohhhh those things - yeah I remember those - we discarded them years ago - they were outlawed you know... uuhhhh yeah, I know - thanks. And so it wouldn't be until I purchased my first computer in the year 2000 that my search would come to an end... or should I say it had just begun. I had heard about Ebay and was anxious to explore its vast inventory of "stuff". I was excited to find a number of vintage Smudge Pots for sale and surprised to find such a variety of shapes and sizes. Scrolling through the pages I quickly spotted the model I remembered... it was the Original Toledo Torch, manufactured by the Toledo Pressed Steel Company in where else... Toledo Ohio. With a slight dent or two and a hint of surface rust it had just the right amount abuse I was looking for. Needless to say I now have my smudge pot... and all is right with the world (I need counseling).

Copyright Ralph Grassi 2008