In the late 1940s a tradition developed around a group of men who lived in Cleveland and worked for Thompson Products, which would become TRW.
Most of these men were World War II veterans; many were engineers, all were bright — and funny. They had seen the horrors of war, were glad to be home and building a good life in the county for which they had fought. Now it was time to have fun.
So every summer they rented a cottage or two on the east end of The Strip and spent two weeks terrorizing each other and the town.
They arrived in a Jeep, pulling a loaded bagged trailer with all their props, costumes, musical instruments and jolly paraphernalia. The men dressed in Li’l Abner costumes, or perhaps bathing suits from the Gay ’90s or whatever odd pieces they could assemble. They brought water guns and chased each other around the village, hiding behind trees and buildings as they battled it out with narrow steams of water.
The men brought an antique car that they drove down Lake Road; a big bazooka horn on the car drew attention to pranksters, dressed in clown costumes. Occasionally, someone on the car would pelt a business owner or stand with a water balloon, giving rise to retaliation the next time the car came down The Strip.
So it was that one summer the men over-engaged the Madsen Donut Shop crew, which convinced the owner and mayor, Pappy Madsen, to close down The Strip so an all-0ut water balloon battle could be waged. Working with the village police, Madsen gave the warriors 15 minutes of street time.
Madsen’s son, Karl Jr., was general of the Madsen army, which had the high-ground advantage – they set up their fort on the roof of the Madsen shop. The Thompson Products army advanced on the position, and Madsen’s returned fire with bucket after bucket full of aquatic ammunition. After 15 minutes of battle, a policeman blew his whistle and the hostilities ceased. The mayor called it a draw, the men retreated to their cottage to brag and drink Moscow Mules; traffic resumed.
“The great water balloon battles continued the next year and possibly even a third year, but my memory fades,” wrote Paul R. O. Connor, in a memoir dated Feb. 28, 2015. O’Connor was one of the Thompson Products men. “Then great fun crew from Cleveland disappeared. It could have been they were tired of their own shenanigans, they began to have families or maybe their wives simply said ‘that’s enough.’ It could have been all of these reasons. But we had a great time while it lasted.”
Paul O’Connor gave his address as 2206 DuFour Ave. #B, Redondo Beach, Calif. 90278-1415.