July 25, 2016

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Building a history with prefab homes

Bill Roser Jr. | The Gazette

When Franklin Hasel came home from World War II, he didn’t beat his sword into a plowshare.

He traded the control stick of a P-51 Mustang fighter for a rubber hammer used to assemble innovative prefabricated homes as part of the post-war building boom.

Hasel was an 18-year-old senior at Liverpool High School when the war broke out.

Franklin Hasel, 89, displays the rubber mallet used to build the Lustron homes during the post-World War II housing boom. The exterior walls were steel panels that snapped together. A rubber hammer was used because a regular hammer would chip away at the enamel finish. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY BILL ROSER JR.)

He was having ice cream with some friends at Maude Hauck’s Soda Grille, at Center and Maple Streets — now a parking lot for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars — when the radio brought the chilling news of that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

“You couldn’t believe it!” Hasel said.

Fourteen months later, in February 1943, Hasel was drafted into the Army. After basic training at Fort Hayes in Columbus, he was sent to San Francisco in 1943, where he loaded bombs onto liberty ships.

Hasel wanted to do more. He and two buddies decided to join the Army Air Corps, which evolved after the war into the U.S. Air Force.

After more than a year of training, Hasel received his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant. He went on to Venice Army Airfield Base in Florida where he learned to fly the P-51 Mustang, considered by many aviation historians to be the top American fighter of the war.

But before Hasel could be shipped overseas, the second atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, bringing an end to the war.

With the war over, Hasel decided to leave active military service and return home to Ohio. He remained in the United States Air Force Reserve until 1961.

Hasel’s military career had taken him to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Ana, Calif., as well as Phoenix, Ariz., Vancouver, Wash., and Tallahassee. Fla.

But he was anxious to get back to Valley City.

“I just liked the country life,” he said.

Hasel’s father, Paul, owned a farm on Myrtle Hill, which were the site of the first Valley City Frog Jumping competitions, 1962-64.

Hasel had plenty to do when he got home.

The end of the war meant millions of GIs transformed into civilians anxious to start families. They would need homes — quickly.

The Lustron Corporation, of Columbus, built prefabricated homes to help alleviate the housing shortage. The exterior steel walls of the homes were steel panels with a baked-on enamel finish. The panels and all other necessary components that were needed to assemble the houses were delivered by truck to the building site.

It took about 45 days to construct the homes.

Hasel’s father was a carpenter. In 1948, father and son assembled two Lustron homes that still stand on West Park Boulevard in Medina.

This was the start of Hasel’s 65 years as a carpenter, working mostly as a subcontractor in Elyria and Lorain.

Hasel mostly worked on large commercial and industrial projects, such as bridges and factories.

“I stayed away from housing; I didn’t like that kind of work,” he said. “I preferred heavy construction.”

He also worked on new additions to Baldwin-Wallace College — now a university.

Hasel did build one more house — in 1952. It’s the one where he and his wife still live, on Myrtle Hill Road.

Hasel and his wife, Hazel, met in 1946 at a roller skating rink in Berea. The couple was married the next year. They have three children — two boys and a girl — four grandchildren and five great grandchildren. The three children are all graduates of Buckeye High School.

Asked the secret to a long, fulfilling life, Hasel answered, “Having a sense of humor goes a long way.”

He added, “You gotta keep busy. I’ve got a garage full of tools. Anything I want done, I do it by myself. And that keeps me going.”

Hasel said there was one more key to his formula for success.

“You’ve got to have a good person with you,” Hasel said of Hazel, his wife of 66 years. “I don’t have to look very far for someone for help.”

Contact reporter Bill Roser Jr. at areanews@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.