By Josh Brown
TROY — Chuck Gabringer didn’t intend to write a book with the Troy Bruins in it.
“The original premise for the book was for it to be about only the Dayton Gems,” said the Dayton area native who grew up watching Gems hockey. “I was in the Walgreen’s here in Troy, oddly enough, and I saw a book by Arcadia Publishing. I thought why not, so I called them and told them my idea for a book. They said they didn’t do books about only one team, only rarely, so I changed the scope of the book.
“I knew I had to go back, start at the beginning of hockey in the area and work my way forward.”
And that beginning is the Troy Bruins and Hobart Arena.
So Gabringer, a Dayton hockey historian whose own oldest brother chose the name of the Gems’ franchise in the 1960s, went through the task of compiling a comprehensive look at the sport in the area throughout the years entitled “Hockey in Dayton: Images in Sports,” detailing the exploits of the Bruins in Troy as well as the Dayton Gems and Bombers. And, from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Gabringer will be holding a book signing event at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library.
“We’ll be showing off some of the original pictures used in the books, telling stories, we’ll have a question-and-answer period with Bill Murphy, a former Bruins player who still lives in Troy, and I’ll probably show some of the pictures that didn’t make it into the book,” Gabringer said. “I had a total of 16 or 17 thousand pictures, and I had to boil it down to 189 or 190.
“I already knew about the Gems from when I was younger, and I watched the Bombers as an adult. Learning about the Troy Bruins and procuring the materials took the greatest amount of effort. Fortunately, I was able to track down Bill, as well as Ken Siler from Hobart Arena, Pat Kennedy from the Troy Historical Society and Bob Steck. They were all enormous helps to me.”
An interest in hockey came naturally for Gabringer. After all, his oldest brother Jim — Gabringer is the youngest of five siblings — won the local contest to choose the name for Dayton’s hockey franchise in 1964.
“That was the springboard,” he said. “He won season tickets, and from then on my parents were season ticket holders, Jim was a season ticket holder and so was I. I grew up on the Gems from the start. By the time I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was going to games with my family all the time, and the night before Thanksgiving in particular was a family tradition.
“We were all paperboys in our area of Huber Heights where we grew up, and a number of the Gems players lived in the neighborhoods we delivered to. We delivered their papers. We’d also play hockey in the streets, using old muffler pipes and chicken wire for twine to make our own nets. It was a whole neighborhood thing, not just a family thing.”
So in 1994, Gabringer began his project to compile the history of the Gems.
“At Wright State, Lefty McFadden had donated season-by-season scrapbooks for the Gems, so I recorded every game — its score, its attendance, everything. Then I started calling former players — my brother had named the team, so there was my way in the door right there. I interviewed about a dozen players and officials, had a crate full of stuff and just knew I had to do something with it.”
So when he talked to Arcadia Publishing and broadened the scope of the project, he had a ready-made beginning with the city of Troy.
“Actually, Hobart Arena made a natural starting point,” Gabringer said. “We’re talking 50-60 years worth of hockey history, and that was the first arena in the area. In an area that’s always been more rabid for football, basketball and baseball, hockey has had a pretty good run here. Not too long after the Bruins took flight in the ’50s, there were youth programs to develop players.
“For a city of its size in the ’50s to have an arena of that quality? The town really took to hockey. And even today, the town is still hockey-savvy, and it continues to renovate the 65-year-old arena. It’s a great rink, and people like going there. It hearkens back to the old hockey barns from the sport’s early days.”
And Tuesday night at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library, Gabringer and Murphy will be letting people in on even more of that history.
“I want to do some question-and-answer things with him, because he has some really interesting stories,” Gabringer said. “People are used to hockey the way it is today, but in those days it was completely different. Everything from the equipment to the arenas to the style of play — even how they got to games was different. Teams ride the bus or planes from game to game now — back then, they car pooled together.”
After compiling everything he needed, though, Gabringer still had to tell the story.
“Between the donations from players and scrapbooks and the research that Patrick Kennedy helped me with — I was in looking at the microfilm all the time, basically repeating what I’d done with the Gems — I was able to piece it all together,” he said. “I had a basic knowledge of the IHL already, so it all just fell into place. It was just a lot of work. But 1950s hockey is really interesting, and I have a lot of things that ended up on the cutting room floor. Maybe I can use some of it for a next project.”
Gabringer’s current project, “Hockey in Dayton: Images in Sports,” is currently available from Arcadia Publishing for $21.99. He will be at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday signing copies of the book.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.