Tales from before time, Part 1

Discussion in 'Blogs' started by ghrit, Aug 23, 2008.

  1. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    <o:smarttagtype namespaceuri="urn:schemas-microsoft-com<img src=" images="" smilies="" redface.gif="" border="0" alt="" title="Embarrassment" smilieid="2" class="inlineimg"></o:smarttagtype>Tales from before time (or from my past life, however you want to name it.) One of the things that irritated me about my father was his lack of interest in passing along stories of his youth. There were some as you'll see, but by no means enough, and he died three weeks short of his 90th before I could finish picking his brain. So here is an abridged version of what I intend that my sons should see, eventually.


    My father played a lot of solitaire over his life. He would NEVER play out a hand that had three of the same number come up on the up cards at the deal. Nor would he play if two pair showed up. He said, probably rightly, that the odds were so far against winning that it wasn’t worth the effort. To my mind, solitaire is to fill in time, so even if you can’t win, you get the practice. (And I won a few, triples showing on the deal.)

    Don, Ed, and I hung out quite a bit until Don moved to <st1:state w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Connecticut</st1:place></st1:state>. Don and I ran a trap line for a couple years while in 6<sup>th</sup> and 7<sup>th</sup> grade. We took muskrat out of Matawan Creek below both Lakes Matawan and Lefferts, and for a time above <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placetype w:st="on">Lake</st1:placetype> <st1:placename w:st="on">Lefferts</st1:placename></st1:place> in the swamp. At the time we started that operation, pelts were worth 6 or 7 dollars for the larger ones. I guess we trapped them out, as they started coming in smaller during our second year. There were quite a few folks making money trapping m’rats, and it was not just us cleaning out the creek. The creek was in tide water, so running the line had to coincide with low tide, which did not always jibe with school hours. More than once, we got to school late. No problems came of it, we were both pretty good about making up missed work on our own, no need to see the teachers for much background. At one point, we had 64 traps set. Didn’t always check all of them every day. A very good week netted 5 rats, and we were often skunked. That was pretty good money for a couple kids. Don got most of it to offset the cost of traps, but I got my share.

    One morning while running the lines, we came across a water logged row boat. Heavy sucker, but we conned Don’s mom into driving down and hauling the thing to his house in the station wagon. It stank, but we dried it out, cleaned it up, calked the seams and floated it on <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placetype w:st="on">Lake</st1:placetype> <st1:placename w:st="on">Matawan</st1:placename></st1:place>. I have no idea what happened to it after that, might have been in Ed’s care after Don left. (I don’t remember exactly when he left for <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Danbury</st1:place></st1:city>, but it had to have been at roughly age 15. Ed and I went to visit the following year by train, and Don had his driver’s license. Had to be 16 in CT at the time. I don’t remember how he came to have it for use, whether his or his parents, but it was an MG Magnette.)

    Basketball: Played a tremendous amount of pickup round ball with classmates and others. Not only at the school outside courts, but behind Borough Hall where there was a sort of playground. Both locations were within easy walking distance of home. I had a net at home, but the ground was a bit too rough for anything but standing shots. Mickey, up the street also had one on the gravel drive that was little better.

    Pizza, then. The first one I ever ate was at “Dutchy” Tourine’s restaurant up by the railroad station. Liked it then, and I still think it was if not still the best on the planet. Dutchy’s was still there in 04, but a bus had plowed into the front, they were closed when I went by. Dutchy’s family lived next door to Don, and we knew Frank (only kid.) He was three classes ahead of us if I remember right. Knowing the family did NOT help the pricing --

    “The <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Bell</st1:city></st1:place>” Pop found a bell somewhere, and mounted it above the backdoor to the house. When it was time for dinner (or another scheduled “event”) Mom would ring it. We usually knew it was coming, so remained close enough to the house to hear and get on home. Loud, it was, but not so loud that we could not avoid hearing it by being far enough away. Which happened now and then, resulting in missing the “event” (including dinner, if it came to that.)

    For a while after Pop got out of the Navy, we lived in a small house (rented) in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Laurence</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Harbor</st1:placetype></st1:place>. We were there until the house in Matawan became available. Mom’s Cocker Spaniel used to dig under the fence in back and go walkabout. He would not always come when called, so it precipitated a search. L and I were too young (3 and 4 or so) to participate, but we went along.

    The same dog bit me on the left elbow once while in LH. Seems I walked by too close while he was eating, and he took it as a threat to take the food away. Most of the time, he was pretty friendly, but obeyed only Mom and (sometimes) Pop.

    Not too long after Mom’s Cocker died (of some sort of paralysis) I bugged for a dog, thought it would be neat. So we got a mutt, black with a white bib. Now, that was one dumb dog, never did learn to come when called, and was not much fun to walk on a leash. Pulled no matter what you did, and if you took the leash off, he was gone. Never knew how long he’d be gone, but always found his way home, not necessarily in time for dinner. I think he was given up when the folks moved to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city> in 1960 and I was off to college.

    School was only half a mile from the house, the entire time I was in elementary and high schools. Thinking back, there may have been two or three times in the entire 13 years that we were driven up. I think maybe I didn’t take a bicycle more than a very few times either. Bike theft did happen. Fact is, I had my first full size (26”) bike stolen from where I left it in the marsh when Don and I were running the traps line. Worth note, I never had a two wheeler before that one, went straight from a tricycle to the full sized one.

    About 25 yards short of the school corner, the sidewalk was badly buckled from a huge tree root. Yellow jackets took up residence every year, and we had to cross the street to avoid stirring them up. Not fun, those buggers would chase you forever. One neighbor kid took off running one day, was stung a few times as they followed him into the schoolhouse.

    Yellow jackets bother me selectively, I think there is a genetic policy to find and sting me with great effect; I have about 4 hours to get some medical assistance. Aside that, I’ve been known to attract them unknowingly. One time I was watching a kid’s soccer match in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Midland</st1:place></st1:city> while leaning against a no parking sign. Idly bouncing off and on the post resulted in a sudden sting on the leg. Looking down, I could see right away that the nest at the base of the pole had been disturbed and them yellow buggers were swarming out, and setting parts of me in their sights. I lit a shuck, could have set a world record for a sprint, but it wasn’t enough. The nailed me 18 times while everyone was watching me hightail it across the field right thru the match. Took a trip to the ER on that one.

    That first bike was a used one that Pop acquired in the fall. He hid it in the cellar, or thought he did. I found it, figured out what was going on and never said a word until after it appeared under the Xmas tree that December, repainted in a hurry with a brush some evening after us kids sacked out. I guess I knew that they knew that I knew, but maintaining the secret was worth it for all of us.

    After it was stolen, I did without for about two years if I remember right. I got a 3 speed “English racer” for Xmas; a Universal make which I haven’t seen before or since. Now, that bike got a lot of use, went every where on it. When I got out of the Navy, I took it to Michigan Tech figuring to use it to classes. Bad plan, the hill was long and steep. I don’t remember what happened to it after that.

    Don and I used to double up on that bike, or on his if one or the other of us had a flat. Very common, flats, in those days. We got pretty good at switching off rider and passenger on the top bar, dropping one of us off and the other continuing home. Also got really proficient at tire repairs, spoke tuning, bearing greasing and the like of general maintenance of wheeled things.

    As good as we were at double riding, my bike became unstable above a certain speed with both of us on it. (One up, no problem.) There was a hill behind the school that went down to a bridge across the creek. We went down that way double once, had to walk home. Estimated speed of the crash was just about 30 mph. A few scrapes would be descriptive enough. A few repairs to the bike, and away we went again with scabs, three days later. But NOT down that hill.

    The winters frequently froze both lakes hard enough for ice skating, so long as you knew and avoided the areas where springs kept the ice thin. But not every year. Ed, Don and I found a couple 55 gallon drums one fall, and determined that it was possible to build a raft with them and some scrap wood. Accordingly, we turned these two barrels into what appeared a serviceable platform to go fishing from. The project was completed over the Christmas school holiday, and as needs must, it got tested two days after the 25<sup>th</sup> (more or less, I don’t remember.) <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placetype w:st="on">Lake</st1:placetype> <st1:placename w:st="on">Lefferts</st1:placename></st1:place> had not yet frozen, but it was trying. We shoved the contraption down the bank and into the drink. WOW!! It actually floated. So, with two boards for paddles, Ed steadied it while Don and I climbed on. Soon after we pushed away from the bank, the raft started oscillating port to starboard with vigor. Right after that, Don and I went for an impromptu swim in what we later reckoned as 33 degree water. Don was wet from the waist down, even with the water only knee deep. I think three hairs on the top of my head remained dry. So a hot bath at Ed’s house, and a dry clothes delivery by my Mom ended the day. Lesson learned: Stability is everything when it comes to rafts, and ballasting it down would not be the answer as Pop later explained to me.

    My father was fascinated by kites. As kids, he and my uncle built and flew them often, so I was told. My first kite experience was in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Laurence</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Harbor</st1:placetype></st1:place>. We assembled a couple or three five and dime kites and went down to the beach on <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Raritan</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Bay</st1:placetype></st1:place>, not very far from the house. It wasn’t summer as I remember, we had heavier clothes on than that. My kite would not stay in the air, and finally crashed in the water. End of the day for that fun. I’ve never had much luck with kites, nor with other flying machines. Sometime in early high school, I built a gas engine model plane. Crashed on its maiden flight. End of flying devices for me. (No great success with hand launched gliders and paper airplanes, either. Crashed LOTS of those.)

    One of Pop’s kite stories was of a 6 foot tall box kite he and Uncle Ozzie built and flew in Wyomissing Hills just across the street where he grew up. Smitten by a most excellent idea, they hung a red railway lantern on it and launched it after dark. Bear in mind that this was in the 1920’s and there were not a lot of flying machines flitting about in the dark. Longer story short, the sheriff got some calls about something strange going on over the hills, and paid a house call --.

    Winters were not too rough in Matawan from a snow standpoint, but now and then we would get a snow day. It fell to me to dig out the driveway with the old tried and true shovel after Pop managed to get the car out, turned around and off to work. Depending on the depth of course, this could take a couple hours, even just digging the tire tracks and a wider place to turn the car around in the back yard. Usually not a pleasant task at best, but worse by far if the tire tracks got hard and icy. We never did, nor do I think Pop ever get a blower later on when they moved to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city>. And his first power mower was in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city> as well. I was the chief operator of the push mower (reel type) and hand shears edger. Either that, or do without something more desirable (as in borrow the car in later years.)

    While we lived in Matawan, I dated a girl that suffered from very strict parents. She was not allowed to go to drive-ins, for example, even after her folks met the kid involved. They liked me well enough that she was at least allowed to ride with me to where ever we planned to go, so long as it wasn’t a drive-in. Longer story short, I found out later that all the movies we saw at the drive-in were actually seen in a theatre. (We have re-established contact, but that will be it. She is in the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Las Vegas</st1:city></st1:place> area, and I’m here.)

    After we moved to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city>, I still did the trip down to see her now and then when we were home from college. One winter night after starting the holiday break from school, I took off for the 60 mile ride down in a snow storm, managed to get there in one piece. We went out, I don’t remember where, not that it matters, and I took her home. Still snowing, and her father suggested that I stay over. I passed on that and hit the road. Well, about 5 minutes later, I realized that was a bad idea slithering all over the roads in the Renault. So I went to Ed’s, woke his parents (he wasn’t yet home from <st1:place w:st="on">Rutgers</st1:place>) and begged a place to sleep. I got the couch. Ah, ok, good for the night. NOT. That was the dog’s sleeping spot, and I lost the battle. The floor did me well enough, and the roads were plowed by morning.

    We were a single car family when I was growing up. That was the first car I participated in driving, bearing in mind that I could not come close to reaching the pedals, nor see over the dash. So, sitting in Pop’s lap, I got to steer it on some residential streets in <st1:place w:st="on">West Reading</st1:place> on a visit to Grandma’s house. In 1950, Pop bought a new Ford, which was replaced by a '53 Pontiac in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on"></st1:place></st1:city>' 56 or '57. I learned to drive in the <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Pontiac</st1:place></st1:city>, and it saw some back seat activity on a few, very few, occasions. The <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Pontiac</st1:place></st1:city> was replaced with a 59 Ford wagon somewhere along the line, and a ‘59 Nash Rambler was added to the stable as a second car. I think I have this all in order, but maybe not. Pop had a company car in those days, so at one point there were three cars around. I took the Rambler on a foray to Chambersburg PA one winter weekend to see (what else?) a girlfriend from HS that was at school there. The heater in that car was effective, but blew all the heat on the accelerator pedal foot. And the wipers were vacuum operated as well, making pulling the hills in PA a real chore in a snow storm. Which, of course, I hit on the way home. Foot was red as a beet, even stopping every few miles to clear the windshield while standing in snow.

    The Nash was replaced by a 57 Renault <st1:state w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Dauphine</st1:place></st1:state>. Four doors, it was. The fluids in that car required replenishment regularly, if it could leak it did. Sun roof leaked water and air, engine leaked oil and so did the tranny. I learned to double clutch on that car; it did not have enough snort to pull a hill I had to travel coming home from work. There was a traffic light at the top of the hill, and it was usual for it to be red, so slowing down was required, getting into first gear was too. No synchros, so the trick was to float the valves on acceleration, note the speed, and when slowing down, get to that speed and float the valves, pump the clutch thru neutral, and it would drop into gear neatly with no protest. We had that for maybe two years, but matters little. What did it in was rather strange. I was running up to see a roommate in Essex Fells from the house in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city>, when all of a sudden, it coughed and stopped. I had a look in the engine house, and all I could see was that the secondary wiring was bare copper. Not right, so climbed in, it started, and home I went, called Pop out and he agreed that it was time for a new harness. Got that replaced. The following week, I headed up to Tom’s place again and the same thing happened, at the same place. Eventually we figured out that the fuel pump discharge pipe was connected to the carb by a rubber hose that swung away from the steel pipe on hard left turns, sprayed gas over everything, and spark ignited. The fire burned off the insulation and went out. The car was gone right soonly after that.

    My first car was the 59 Ford wagon. 6 pin, 2 speed automatic. The engine was weak, and the tranny soft, neither one could hurt the other. I bought it from Pop in 64 when I was clear of Navy basic and was stationed at Windsor Locks for nuclear training. After I got picked up for staff, that car saw a lot of use, I kept a tool box in the back with the rear seat down. (Still have the box, it was Pop’s gun locker for many years; I am pretty sure some carpenter’s mate made it for him at the Philadelphia Navy Yard when he was stationed there at the end of the war.) As time wore on, the performance deteriorated, and it developed a knock. Eventually, it sorta gave up on the idea of running well, if at all. I had it diagnosed as main bearing failure, replaced the center main and went to really heavy oil to keep it running at all. Begged rides to work and all that, and went shopping for a new car. That resulted in the first new car I ever owned or even drove, the 66 Corvair. (There are pix of that around.) The delivery date for the ‘Vair slipped several times, and the Ford was going downhill fast. I was really concerned that I couldn’t trust it to go anywhere at all. Eventually, they called and said my car was in, and I could come get it. The Ford was a trade in and I had to deliver it. I climbed in and off I went to <st1:place w:st="on">West Springfield</st1:place> to get the keys. As I pulled into the lot, the Ford stopped, fortunately in a more or less convenient location. I went into the place, traded papers, got the keys and left quietly as the shop guy tried to start the Ford ---.

    Sometime when I was late Cub Scout or early Boy Scout, Pop decided that surf fishing along the <st1:state w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New Jersey</st1:place></st1:state> coast might be a good activity for us. He had been a couple times with friends, totally without success, but he liked the idea. So did I. The problem was, we had no appropriate gear. While he was making enough money to support the family at the time, there really wasn’t a lot left over for toys. So we built surf rods out of what at the time were traditional materials rather than what then was modern, up and coming fiberglass for poles. Traditional, in this case was <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Calcutta</st1:place></st1:city> bamboo. Those rods are both with me now, and except for when I was in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Singapore</st1:place></st1:country-region>, they have been. Mine was with me all along the way, Pop’s joined it when he left Summerville. It took over winter to get them put together, what with the careful wrapping of the line guides, fitting the tip top, and wrapping the butts and reel seats to accommodate preferences. Mine is in the original configuration. Pop later modified his with a removable butt that he created on a lathe while in Summerville. We bought inexpensive boat reels that we used many times both on the surf rods and boat rods that we also managed to acquire. Anyhow, all the dawns we experienced coming up over the Atlantic coast in several places from <st1:place w:st="on">Sandy Hook</st1:place> to Sea Bright and a few times south of there yielded not one fish. Zero. The boat rods did land a few fish.

    Going back even further, my first fishing rod was a bamboo stick with about 6 foot of monofilament fly line tied to the end and a hook with a bobber attached. I may have been around 7 years old. Took a couple sunfish here and there, just enough to get me interested in more fishing.

    I think it was when I was in the Navy at <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Windsor</st1:city></st1:place>, I took it into my head to build a fly rod, so I did. That is still in the fishing arsenal, I’ve taken a few fish with it. Fly casting is a learned art, and I never did too well. It is designed as a lake rod, not something you can use in a stream. Should be OK on a fairly broad river if there is nothing behind you to interfere with the casting and recovery.

    In among things saved and remembered, there is a genuine Army pup tent. Officially and formally, it is a pair of shelter halves. The idea was that infantry grunts were each issued one half. That way, a pair of grunts could buddy up and share a tent in the field. That practice is long gone, of course, but it is historical fact. Pop acquired both halves when he was at <st1:place w:st="on">West Point</st1:place> in Beast Barracks. Originally, the tent poles were sectioned so as to fold into about 1 foot length to fit in a field pack. Somewhen along the way, those broke, and Pop made solid lengths out of broom sticks, which are also around. The original pegs should be here as well, but I don’t know if all of them survived many uses by me in various scout camps. There is also a genuine Army green mosquito net that we rigged inside the tent on a number of occasions. These two halves don’t match up all that well, but the rain will not come in thru the top.

    My first camping experience was with Pop. We did an overnight near a place he knew could produce a fish or two. Turned out the place was jammed with fishermen the next morning. We didn’t, as I remember, have a lot of luck, but that was the first time with the bamboo pole, too. I scraped my knee on a rock somehow, and the scrape was literally covered with gnats eating up the scabs. With the injury, lack of fish, and mobs of guys wetting lines, we left for home later that day rather than stay for two nights as planned. Didn’t matter to me all that much, sleeping on the ground without a mattress was not my cuppa, and we made sleeping bags of folded blankets since we didn’t own bags.

    In amongst the stuff, there is an aluminum cook kit. It was Pop’s when he was in Scouts. I used it throughout out my scouting career and well beyond. An antique now, definitely not state of the art.

    Somewhere along the line, maybe when I was around 15, tennis became a fad. Tennis racquets were impossibly expensive for me to buy, and it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to get one for a present. Pop had one from when he was in college at <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Penn</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">State</st1:placetype></st1:place>, and somehow I managed to acquire it. It was in decent condition, other than the original gut strings were completely shot and the enamel finish was cracked rather badly. I scraped it down and refinished it, then paid a princely sum to have it restrung with decent materials. (Still have it, has to be well over 70 years old as this is written. Because it has been refinished, it isn’t worth much.) It is a Slazenger, a brand that still lives I think, but pending a looksee on the web, take my word for it. I don’t know if they still make racquets. Anyhow, the fad was fairly short lived among the "group" except for me and Joe, lasted about two years for us. Joe was a class ahead of me and played the drums, both in the school band and commercially; sang, too. Went to a couple of his shows, he was not going to take over from the Four Tops, but it was serviceable dance music. We played tennis quite a number of times, neither of us were really worth a hoot at the game, but it was exercise and gave us an excuse to explore various areas in search of courts and girls to meet. We also double dated more than a few times, fixing each other up with girls one of us knew, but the other didn’t. Lost track of him when I graduated and we moved to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city>. By then, he was working at the bank, had been for a year since he graduated, and still doing gigs here and there.

    When very small, we visited my mother’s parents in <st1:place w:st="on">West Reading</st1:place> fairly often. Down the street from their place there was (and still is) a museum. That held little interest, but there was a pond there that had ducks and swans in residence. G-ma would save bread that was getting long in the tooth, and we would take it down to the pond and feed the birds.

    About half way between the museum and the house, there was a swimming pool. When we stayed with the g-parents for any length of time (often enough several weeks) we got season passes. As it happened, swimming lessons were included. Never did learn to swim there, that was left for scout camp later on.

    G-pa W had a plot on the hospital grounds that was dedicated to what were then called “<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Victory</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Gardens</st1:placetype></st1:place>” that blossomed during WWII. He maintained the garden for several years after the war. Us kids “helped” with the gardening when we were there. Most fun pulling onions and carrots for the dinner salads.

    G-pa R also had a garden in the empty lot next door to their house. He was a bit more intense about gardening, but we usually had other things to do while there. Visits there were frequent enough, but we spent less time there. The two sets of grandparents homes were only some five miles or so apart, but the sets didn’t interact a whole lot.

    When the folks bought the house in Matawan in ’47, it had an apartment upstairs that was occupied by a retired teacher, Mrs. C. We lived downstairs until she moved out the following spring. L and I had the back room downstairs, Mom and Pop had the room just off the dining room. When she moved out, Pop gutted the upstairs kitchen and re-papered it, and I wound up in there. L got what was Mrs. C's bedroom, Mom and Pop got her living room. The room they used downstairs became a study/dayroom and the back room became the playroom for L and me. As time went on, all the rooms except the upstairs bath were stripped, papered and painted. I am not sure why that upper bath was never finished, but it remained unfinished (stripped of wall paper, but never re-done) until the move to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Madison</st1:place></st1:city>. Always suspected that there was a disagreement between Pop and Mom over what it should look like when completed.

    After P was born, my room upstairs became hers, and I moved into the back room downstairs. That transition took quite a while, P and L shared L’s room for a couple years.

    The study/day room also was used for sickies. Measles, mumps and chicken pox struck all of us. When any of us came down with something that prevented us from going to school, that was where we were incarcerated until we got better. No TV in those days, you see, so anyone kept in that room was seriously interested in getting well and out of there.

    When P was born, both L and I had chicken pox. “The Plan” had always been that when Mom went into labor, Pop would haul us over to <st1:place w:st="on">West Reading</st1:place> to stay with G-Pa and G-Ma. Since we were both diseased, the folks felt even more sure that we should be elsewhere until recovered and no longer contagious. So we were packed up and hauled off completely covered with spots. As usual, we stopped off at the Turnabout Diner in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Phillipsburg</st1:place></st1:city> for a potty stop and snack. I remember being stared at, and I’m sure Pop had some ‘splaining to do.

    It didn’t mean too much at the time, but in (I think) 1948, my mother’s cousin competed in the Olympics. He was an FBI agent and in those days, Olympic competitors trained on their own time in their own way. His sport was steeplechase basically running over hurdles, through water hazards and the like. The FBI (reluctantly, I’m lead to believe) gave him time off to attend the Olympics. He took gold in world record time. I’m not so sure that wasn’t the last year that steeplechase was an event, but in any case, he did not compete in the next Olympics that I know about. Horace Ashenfelter, I think he was one of quite a few kids in the farming family, a son of my grandmother’s brother.

    Another old timer, Mom’s Uncle Bert, had a farm that he was still running well into his 80s when I knew him in the 40s. I don’t remember where the farm was, but it was not too far from Horace’s family’s place on <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Ashenfelter Road</st1:address></st1:street>. In a manner of speaking, Bert’s was around the corner from there. Bert had two tractors. Neither of them ran, or at least I never saw it. He plowed and harvested with draft horses, bug suckers they were. Someplace in the picture files is a shot taken of L and me sitting on the back of one of those monsters with Bert off to one side. That shot was taken before P was born, so that puts it before ’47. That was the first time I ever sat a horse, and I do not remember ever being on another horse of any size at all above a pony. Very few of those, either.

    The first time I ever sat alone in the driver’s seat (that I remember) of any vehicle was on Bert’s farm. We visited during haying season at some point, I have no clue when. Bert and the hired hand were loading his old Dodge flat rack, an early duallie of the sort often used on farms in those days. The steering wheel seemed a mile wide, as it had to be for off and on road use as there was no power steering back then, not even on cars. The wheel had to provide leverage to steer. So he “invited” me to steer the truck while he and the hired hand loaded it with pitchforks. He put it in granny gear, pulled out the hand throttle to a suitable speed, aimed it down the row, and stepped off the running board. All I had to do was aim the thing while they pitched the hay on. It might have been moving at all of 2 miles per hour, if that. Things didn’t work out so well for me, the wheel kept jerking left and right, and since I might have been as old as 6 or 7, there was no way I was strong enough to keep it straight in the furrows and ruts. About 20 feet of that, and he could see that was a bad idea, so he set it up to his usual method, tied the wheel off and let it steer itself while both men loaded it up. I was relegated to the top of the pile in back to spread the hay as they pitched it up. Before the end of the row, I was buried. For every fork I moved, they pitched up three or four, laughing. Itchy would be an understatement.

    Bert and his wife lived in a stone farmhouse dating from a long time back, they had been there since I guess they were married. It had an indoor bathroom (added at some point, but the outhouse was still in service) and had electricity installed. Water was piped in from the well which also had a hand pump in service. Stone is cool in the summer and holds heat well in the winter. I don’t think we ever visited in the winter, so I can’t tell how they heated it. I’d guess coal.

    The house in West reading had a gravity furnace, meaning it depended on the fact that warm air rises, and cool air sinks. In this case, there were registers throughout the house with duct to carry warm air to where it was wanted; the top of the furnace looked like an octopus. Return air was through floor grates that allowed it to sink to the basement where the furnace took it in and heated it up again. The furnace was coal fired. G-pa was a pro at keeping the fire in the box “just right” for more or less comfy living. (But the air in that house in winter was terrifically dry, and the sulfur smell never went away.) Coal delivery was from trucks that had elevating dump beds set up for side delivery from bins in the boxes arranged crossways so they could unload several types and grades of coal. The trucks came to the curb beside the house on the <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Penn St.</st1:address></st1:street> side, and chutes were set up to deliver the coal through a basement window and then shunted to the right bins in the basement. Both bituminous and anthracite coal was used, bituminous in the mornings to bring the house up to temps quickly, and anthracite for overnight banking. Bituminous has a higher heating value and burns faster, anthracite burns longer and lower. More than once, I had the dubious pleasure of “helping” stoke and shake down the ashes. There was an art to that, one didn’t want to haul down still glowing embers as that meant some heat would be lost to the system, but too many ashes and clinkers would interfere with combustion air. Ashes went out to the alley once a week.

    There was a lake we fished now and then in northern <st1:state w:st="on">New Jersey</st1:state>, <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placetype w:st="on">Lake</st1:placetype> <st1:placename w:st="on">Swartswood</st1:placename></st1:place>. Lots of summer cabins there, the shoreline was essentially closed, but there were a couple boat liveries. The only motors allowed on the lake were those belonging to the Fish and Game department. We did see them, and were stopped for license checks on several occasions. Learned to row a straight line on that lake. Caught numerous pan fish, some small mouth bass, and pickerel left right and center. We camped there several times. Got my first hellgrammite bite there.

    Pop told stories about how he and his father and younger brother Ozzie went to Swartswood a number of times from <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Reading</st1:place></st1:city>. On one of those trips, G-pa injured himself somehow and Pop had to drive the Model T home at a very young age. Said it was a bit tricky coordinating shifts for three hours never having practiced at all previously. I don’t know what the injury was, but G-Pa had his leg amputated below the knee at age 18 from a shooting accident, so tho’ he could drive using three extremities, losing use of another must have made it impossible.

    Not long after we got married, I took my wife up to Swartswood well before the kids came along. She had never been camping before. Nor much in the way of fishing. Between the rowing, cooking, baiting hooks and so forth -- Well, I’ve had better camping trips.

    Speaking of fishing, one of the guys that worked with Pop owned a 7-1/2 horse outboard motor that he often hung on the back of a rental boat and went out into <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Raritan</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Bay</st1:placetype></st1:place> for whatever he could induce to bite. One time, he invited Pop and me to go along. As it happens, Pop’s father was visiting, so the four of us climbed in a 15 foot or so skiff and launched off the beach somewhere west of Atlantic Highlands. It was seriously foggy, visibility was limited to a few hundred yards at best. Probably not a good idea to go, but Bucky was experienced and pretty well skilled with small boats. We had a bucket full of bait, and it didn’t take too long to find a school of porgies that would eat anything in front of their noses, and we made sure they had plenty to eat. All four of us were hauling them in nearly as fast as we could rebait and wet the line. After a couple hours, we ran out of bait, and you can believe this or not, but Bucky had a red bandana which we hacked into strips and hung on the hooks. It worked very well for half an hour or so until the fog lifted, the sun came out and the fish stopped biting. We were by then out in the bay just beyond the end of the NAD Earle ammo pier, well into seagoing channels. I don’t remember the number of fish we caught, but there wasn’t much more than 3 inches of freeboard when we beached the boat coming in. I do remember there were 7 burlap sacks full of fish, and we were kicking them out of the way when we moved our feet, and we borrowed some bushel baskets from the boat livery to haul them home. (Bucky fished commercially as well as working at the plant, so he had customers.)

    Some years later, Bucky bought a 20 odd foot fishing boat, we went out once or twice with him, usually came home with a sack of bluefish.

    One night, the doorbell rang, it’s Bucky. He wants to know if we would like some lobster. Pop and Mom said something to the effect that sure, we’d take a couple. He says, well, come have a look and take your pick. So he opens the trunk of his car, and there are only two lobsters there. One was 13 lbs, the other was 35 lbs. We took the 13 pounder. Took three pots to cook it up, would not fit in the biggest one that Mom had. (Bucky ran some pots out of Rumson; these were taken there. The 35 pounder went into a lobster salad at some restaurant.)

    In NJ, you couldn’t hunt alone until you were old enough to get a license, and Pop was not a hunter at all. 14 was the age, if you took a hunter safety course, (which Don and I did) or you had to wait until 18. Our favorite hunting grounds was a farm about 5 miles from the house. During hunting season, we went out moderately often; I went by myself more often than with Don. To get there, we had to go right thru the middle of downtown. It took just about an hour to get the five miles behind us. All the times we walked thru downtown carrying guns, not once were we stopped for any reason. In fact, a number of us would meet now and then in front of Gittens soda shop on the way home, all armed. I can’t imagine that today. (I think the most at one time may have been 8 or so. Today, that would be an armed insurrection.) We never scored anything worth taking home, but managed to knock off some pests, ground hogs and feral cats for example. In reality, there wasn’t much game around, it was pretty heavily farmed. Rabbits and squirrels, for sure, but no deer. There was some bird hunting, but not in that area other than ducks, and that was an extra cost stamp, which was not in the budget.

    We didn’t recognize it until later, but marijuana grew wild in the area. By the time that became significant, I was long gone from that area, off to school and the service.

    Thus endeth Part 1. If I get motivated, I'll put up a Part 2.

    <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">
  2. NVBeav

    NVBeav Monkey+++

    I can't read the whole thing, of course, but I'm sure your children eventually will.

    Back in the "olden" days people would keep a diary. You've pricked a nerve that makes me think I should keep one. You're sort of filling in a "diary" with 20/20 hindsight, which is an excellent start.

    Since I was 44 before my daughter was born, she would probably appreciate something to read when I'm gone. I'd hate to leave her with no family history.

    God-speed with your project!
  3. Tracy

    Tracy Insatiably Curious Moderator Founding Member

    How did I miss the fact that you blog?

    Oh well, never mind that. Now I know and, after reading Part 1, I find that I'm eager to read more!

    Don't be surprised if you get a phone call in the near future, if I may. It helps me to "hear" your voice as you tell the story.

    Thank you for sharing! :cool:
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