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Limousine Week--Jumpseats in Checker Marathons

Three words, three fonts!Up until 1965, we were a one-car family, and Dad invariably drove the "Oldredford" to work. If we wanted to go shopping or to the doctor's office, or anywhere else during the business day, Mom called the Independent Radio Taxi Company and ordered up a cab to take us there.

Independent Radio Taxi operated a fleet of white-over-black Checker Marathons, with the firm name proudly hand-painted on the front door in three different fonts. (I've seen old photos from the era of Chevy sedans operated by Independent, but I only remember riding in Checkers.) Its major selling point was that its cabs were equipped with two-way radios, and could be dispatched to pick you up anywhere in the city on a moment's notice, with just one phone call to the firm's downtown office (RIverside 6-8844). There were other taxi operators in Youngstown, but I don't know if if any of them were up-to-date enough to have radios in their cabs; we always got our taxis from Independent.

The big Checker would appear in the driveway within five or ten minutes of Mom making the call--this was space-age efficiency at its finest!--and we would go out the front door and get in. The back seat of a Checker Marathon is a large space, and it's even larger when you are two or three years old. The cab had a two-way radio--just like an airplane!--and a fare meter with numbers that changed, and those were cool in their own right, but what really made it a great place for a kid was the fold-down jumpseats.


In the late 1920s, during the administration of the colofully corrupt Mayor Jimmy Walker, New York City established a regulatory agency (the Taxi Cab Commission, later called the Taxi & Limousine Commission) to govern the cab business. Early on, the Commission adopted regulations requiring that all taxis be purpose-built vehicles meeting certain specifications for capacity and interior volume, rather than consumer-grade sedans. These regulations were copied by many other major cities. As a consequence of that, there was enough of a market for regulatory-compliant taxi vehicles that it justified designing them to specification.

While mass-market carbuilders such as GM, Studebaker, and even Packard produced taxicab variations on their normal sedans, the most common cabs, at least in the bigger cities, were those built by Checker Motors. It's no coincidence that there was both a Checker Motors that built cabs and a Checker Taxi company that operated those cabs: both businesses were owned by Morris Markin, who also owned the "rival" Yellow Cab Company. (The story of how the Russian-born Mr. Markin managed to become the king of the American taxicab is too complex to go into here, but suffice it to say that it would make for a pretty good film noir epic, what with all the fisticuffs and firebombings.)

Introduced in 1956, the Checker Marathon had a flat floor, a high roofline, and a large rear bench seat wide enough for three full-sized adults. There was a huge amount of space between the back of the driver's seat and the back seat, and within that space there were two fold-down jumpseats, raising the total passenger capacity to five.

StowedEven with Mom and Grandma Gillespie (and, eventually, baby sister Mary Rose) in the cab with me, there was a nice area back there within which an energetic small boy could run around. The jumpseats were deployed by lifting them up and then flipping the seatback up, and they were light enough that I could do it all by myself. A Checker Marathon's jumpseat was the perfect perch from which to watch the driver, or watch the numbers on the fare meter spin around, or just look out the window.

Our usual downtown itinerary started with a visit to Dr. Randall's office overlooking Central Square, then shopping at Strouss' or McKelvey's department store, perhaps a quick visit to Dad's office, and finishing up with lunch at the Ringside Restaurant near the Erie depot. Independent Radio Taxi's dispatching office was in a storefront in the same block--still is today!--and if there wasn't a cab laying over on the street right there, one would be summoned quickly (by radio!) to take us home.

Our family's regular patronage of Independent Radio Taxi ended sometime in 1965 when we acquired the '64 Belvedere wagon and became a two-car family. The firm is still in business, still has the same phone number, and it appears from their website that they still paint their cars black with the same graphics on the door--but they're driving taxi-package Crown Victorias with no jumpseats these days.

I'll leave you with a couple of slideshows of downtown Youngstown circa 1964, compiled and posted to YouTube by Metro Monthly magazine.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The Checker publicity photos come from a collection posted to Flickr by user "Drivermatic."


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I grew up in Detroit and remember seeing a good number of Checker cabs. In one word, they were "utility". No frills, just built for durability and transportation. I vaguely remember seeing one at an auto show and sitting in it. Lots of space and the feeling of rigidity.

The first time I was in Las Vegas, we rode in a worn-out Checker cab to see Wayne Newton's midnight show. The back seat would fold down and allow access to the trunk; I'm not sure if that was a factory-installed feature or not.

But yes, they seem like a leftover '50s icon that never changed or went away. And that was the only time I've ever been in one. Maybe some day I'll get to experience the Checker again.

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