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Wadsworth had a front seat for the Cold War

Jim Wadsworth

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Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

James Wadsworth enjoys the serenity of his apartment in North Charleroi. It's a far cry from the front seat he had for the Cold War in Soviet Union 60 years ago.

“You always had an apprehension that the Soviet Union would attack Europe,” said Wadsworth, who served in the Air Force in Germany from 1952 to 1956.

“They would have lost.”

Born in 1932, Wadsworth grew up on his uncle's farm just outside Charleroi, on Hazelkirk Road, now called Fremont Road in Fallowfield Township.

“During the Depression, we lived off the land,” Wadsworth said. “We canned all our food.”

In a root cellar, they buried potatoes, beets, carrots, canned peaches, green beans.

They picked berries and red raspberries to use to make jellies and pies.

“Dad made root beer and rationed it out to us,” Wadsworth said. “We weren't allowed to gobble it down.”

A 1950 graduate of Charleroi High School, Wadsworth worked at Lock Fold Paper Box company in Charleroi.

In 1952, he joined the Air Force. An honor student, he had the option of either going to Korea or to Air Reconnaissance in Europe. He chose the latter.

A member of a Martin B-57 Canberra crew, they flew a high-altitude plane, taking photos of the Soviet Union.

“We'd fly down that corridor and photograph everything the Soviets had,” Wadsworth said. “Those cameras we had could take photos of a golf ball a mile away.”

Wadsworth said they experienced only one alert, in 1954, when a couple of ammunition dumps exploded.

Military authorities initially thought the accident could have been a planned attack.

They did have a few close calls in the air, such as when they experienced a fuel leak over the Alps, and when they lost an engine flying over Berlin.

“ We were able to set it down,” Wadsworth said. “I thought we were going to hit a building in Berlin, but we didn't.”

There were perks to being a U.S. serviceman at the time.

“If you went to town in Germany in the Air Force at the time, you were like royalty because that was the only thing preserving them,” Wadsworth said.

After his time in the Air Force, Wadsworth worked as a draftsman for a couple of years, then for a Colorado Industrial plant.

“That's when I decided I wanted to get a job out of the office,” Wadsworth said. “So I started working as an appliance serviceman.”

Wadsworth worked for Montgomery Ward for eight months before leaving for better pay at Sears Roebuck.

He worked for the retailer from 1963 to 1973. He worked next for Highway Appliance Co.

Wadsworth then went into business for himself, operating Custom Care Appliance.

“Running my own business was hectic, very demanding,” Wadsworth said. “But I made enough money to raise a family.”

Wadsworth has a son, Boyd Brian Wadsworth, in Dunlevy, and a daughter, Jennifer Taylor in Murrysville as well as two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

After operating his own business, Wadsworth moved to Woodbridge, Va., where he worked as maintenance supervisor for a luxury apartment complex for 10 years. He then came back to the Valley to retire.

In retirement, Wadsworth makes model engines. The accomplished machinist enjoys the intricacy of the work.

“I tell my daughter ‘I may not get this engine done today, but it gives me something to do,'” Wadsworth said. “It's tedious work.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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