My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Month: February, 2013

Family Seats

Our family would go to local events at the county fairgrounds in Canton during the summer when the weather was warm. One of the events we attended were auto races. They were held on the same track used for horse racing during the county fairs. Admission was charged per car. Cars were able to park within about thirty feet of the flat track on the backstretch and corners. It was play time for all the children until the races started. Mom and Dad would perch on the front fenders to watch the races. Children old enough to get on the roof would get upper seats. Smaller children were delegated to the hood or close proximity to our parents. These races were a family adventure for young children. The people, sitting on the cars, and watching the races at night was a special family event.

The only barrier on the track was the railing installed for horse races. No such thing as guard rails or barriers designed for automobiles. The track surface was the same for automobiles as it was for the horse races. People were not allowed to stand at the railing when racing was in progress. The race cars were true low budget stock cars.

We witnessed a very bad accident at one of these races. An out of control race car tumbled through the railing and hit a car about four cars away from where we were parked. The car which got hit had a family sitting on it. People went flying into the air in all directions. Dirt and grass were flying everywhere. After the impact people were screaming and crying. We were too young to realize the tragedy we had just witnessed. We knew it was bad, but associated our fear more with the panic, screams, and crying rather than injuries. My recollection of this incident is very small compared to the recollection of the happy family times spent at similar events while growing up.

The racing was exciting……but not near as exciting as sitting on the roof to watch.

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First Bicycle

As children on a dirt road farm we didn’t have toys to ride. There was a very limited size of bicycles available. The bicycles were big, heavy, and tough. Many families with young children had too many priorities for their cash to spend money on things like bicycles. Many children received hand me down bicycles from older children or relatives. My birthday and my sister Sharon’s are only four days apart. We received our brand new bicycles at the same time as birthday presents. We were still pretty small and the bicycles were BIG. Sharon’s was a girls. Mine was a boys. We never anticipated receiving anything like brand new bicycles. They were a complete surprise.

Our house was elevated above the dirt road. It had several front steps to get to the floor level of the front porch. Our barn was on the opposite side of the dirt road about 100 feet down a gentle slope. We had no training wheels on our bikes. Mom and Dad would position the bicycles near the front porch where we could climb on. Once we were mounted they would gently push us off  (one at a time) down the sloping front yard and onto the gently sloping dirt road. We would hold our balance as long as possible before doing a semi-controlled crash into the brush along the road. Every evening after chores and supper the whole family went out front to watch us get launched and the subsequent crashes. We always got up, shook ourselves off, and pushed the heavy bicycle back to the porch for another trip. It was learn to ride or coast as far as possible, then crash. We learned to ride as a matter of survival for ourselves and the bicycles. It was a great adventure in our front yard.

We took our bicycles to our new home in Norfolk. There were lots of things to investigate within a fairly close distance to our house. We had the railroad roundhouse, a paper mill, and the Racquette river all in close proximity. On one excursion around the paper mill we found something interesting to look at. We jumped off our bicycles and left them laying on their sides. We were a long distance away when the brake lights flashed on a car near my bicycle. The noise of the mill made shouting a wasted effort. The car backed up and stopped on top of my bicycle. My friends bicycle didn’t get hit. When we got there the man had pulled ahead and was looking at what was left of the bicycle. He gave us a short reprimand, loaded my bicycle in his trunk, sent my friend home, and took me home.

Obviously, my dad wasn’t the least bit impressed. The man explained what happened and dad thanked him for getting me home with the bicycle. No whipping. Grounding didn’t exist in our household at that time. Apparently my parents felt the loss of my bicycle was punishment enough. Lesson learned.

The memory of receiving and learning to ride that new bike will last forever…….and the half mile ride home with it in the trunk was probably one of the longest trips this kid ever made.

Frosted

The winters in the north country of New York are known for their severe cold and miserable storms. They are also the host of some of the most beautiful scenes you can imagine. The serenity and calm of some of these winter scenes provide lifetime memories regardless of your age. Northern lights, full moons over snow covered landscapes, the cleanliness of a fresh new snowfall, and the intense silence of an extremely cold night are a few of these memories.

While walking to school on a clear, cold, sunny morning with my sister Sharon we encountered one of these memorable scenes. The night had been very cold and everything was covered with a deep frost. The trees, power lines, rural mail boxes, and cars all shimmered in the early morning sunlight. The snow crunched under our shoes as we walked. We had to cross a bridge on our way to school.

As we walked across the bridge all the railings and parts were reflecting the sun through the heavy frost which had accumulated during the night. While looking down at the mostly frozen river the frost on the railing looked good enough to eat. When my extended tongue attempted to lick the frost it immediately froze to the bridge rail. Every move made to get my tongue free caused the frozen area to get larger. What a sight it must have been to see this dumb school kid stuck to the bridge railing with his tongue. It sure wasn’t funny on my end of that tongue. It seemed like eternity, but eventually with the use of fingers from both hands, my tongue was peeled from the bridge rail. The frost and bridge railing kept a thin layer of skin from my tongue.

As we continued to school it was very painful to touch my tongue anywhere inside my mouth, swallow, or breathe with my mouth open. Even my saliva caused severe pain. The memory of the shining frost, the fear when getting stuck, and the several days of pain has prevented me from ever doing something that stupid again.

A lot of thought went in to whether this post should be included with my other adventures. The reason it’s here is because anyone born and raised in the north country winters has probably suffered something similar while growing up. Perhaps this post will bring some of the readers memories to the surface.

There is nothing as pretty and enticing as a frost covered piece of metal……….and nothing more stupid than touching it with your tongue.

Norfolk Roundhouse

Our family moved from the farm to a rented house in Norfolk during 1953. My dad continued working in the aluminum plants at Massena. The steady work provided better income than the small farm and the rotating shifts allowed ample time to pursue hunting, fishing, and other activities. The house was a single family row house in an area of 6 to 8 houses lined up on one side of the street. The street came to a dead end several hundred feet from our house. Across the road was a railroad track which ended at the entrance to a large industrial looking building at the end of the street. This building was a roundhouse used to repair and maintain the locomotives of the Norwood & St. Lawrence Railroad. (No, my memory isn’t that good. Google knew what railroad it was.)

Can you imagine what a change this was for children who had always lived on a rural farm? The huge locomotives came and went all times of the day and night. They moved slow on the spur to the roundhouse, but the huff & puff, squeeling, and clunking of these steam locomotives at close range was very thrilling. We would always run to the edge of the road to give the engineers and fireman a wave as they passed our house. We would watch from a distance as the engines entered the roundhouse, stopped on the turntable, got rotated into position, and drove into the roundhouse repair bays. It always fascinated us to see a huge steam engine rotating with the turntable.

Little did we realize how close to extinction these huge engines were. Trucks were becoming faster and more efficient at delivering cargo. The roads and highways were getting massive improvements nationwide. The new diesel powered locomotives were becoming an industry standard. How rewarding it is to know these steam engines were once an adventure in my life.

We adapted to living in town near the noisy steam locomotives……but the farm has always remained in our hearts.

Skunk in the Kitchen

Spring is a wonderful season when you’re a youngster on a farm. The snow is gone, things are turning green, and the warmth from mother nature does amazing things every where. Their is a great transformation. The animals come out of winter hibernation. It’s the time of year for baby animals and the new growth of all the fantastic trees, flowers, grasses, and plants which fill our surroundings.  If you live in a region of long hard winters, spring is something truly special. The gifts of spring remain with you forever.

One of my dads brothers, Uncle Jim, came to the house on a nice spring day with a surprise for all of us. He had the surprise in his jacket pocket  We eagerly followed him into the kitchen. The hand came out of his jacket pocket and in it was a very small baby skunk. He gently put it on the floor so we could all get close. The skunk was old enough to have it’s eyes open, but was very young. Jim picked it up on the dirt road coming to our farm. The black and white fur was as soft and clean as a baby kittens fur. The little skunk was not the least bit intimidated by the attention it received and was quite at home with us.

Mom soon had a small dish of milk on the floor and the little fellow had no problem accepting the cows milk. The skunk followed us around like a little domestic pet. It loved to be held, coddled, and petted. We frequently took it outside to do it’s duties and it loved being in the house with us. When the skunk wanted to rest it would find refuge behind the wood stove or some other furniture. This skunk stayed with us for several weeks and never gave any hint of what it would smell like as an adult. If you surprised or scared it, however, it would turn tail towards you and take the stance of an adult. We thought it was amusing.

Even adults who came to visit were impressed with our little skunk. All went well until a gathering of adults in our farm house kitchen. There were lots of kids, lots of warmth, and lots of beer. As the evening progressed, several of the adults were showing the effect of the beer. Everyone was having a great time, including our skunk. Uncle Jim took a small saucer plate and poured a few drops of beer in it for the skunk. Not everyone thought it was amusing, but the little skunk liked it. The skunk slurped it up, licked the plate, and Uncle Jim would give him a few more drops. After several servings Uncle Jim was stopped from giving the little skunk any more beer. The skunk went behind the warm kitchen stove and took a nap. The next day when we handled the little skunk, who was considerably bigger than when it arrived at our house, we could get a faint smell from our hands. Within a couple days it became clear that our little pet was maturing into a real skunk. Dad loaded it up, took it to the area of it’s original  home, and returned it to the wild. The skunk was a great adventure for our whole family.

As for Uncle Jim, he didn’t mean the little skunk any harm……and it’s doubtful he ever shared another beer with a real skunk.

The Jokes on Dad

My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman. He was often off early and home late in pursuit of game or fish. We had a good hound dog for deer and rabbit hunting. There were times when dad would come home with no dog and no jacket. If the dog got onto a deer that ran away in one direction instead of circling, she might not come back for a couple days. Dad would leave his jacket or wool shirt where he last saw her. Each day he would go to see if she returned, shake out the jacket or shirt if she hadn’t, and come back home. He knew she would come back, but not when. Hunting deer with dogs was legal at the time. The dogs never caught the deer, they only caused the deer to keep moving, and only one dog was used at a time. Most deer would run in a circle and a hunter who was familiar with the terrain could intercept the deer as it moved just fast enough to stay ahead of the baying dog. Hunters could recognize their dogs by sound and calculate the location and direction the deer would travel.

It was an early winter day with a few inches of snow on the ground and a light snow. Dad was off hunting deer for the day. The cow pastures across the road from the house were a mixture of snow and areas of bare grass. Like most youngsters, we frequently watched the snow coming down. The wood stove was maintaining a comfortable temperature and mom was busy in the kitchen. While glancing out the window a movement of something dark in the pasture caught my eye. A closer look revealed an extremely large whitetail buck cautiously crossing our cow pasture. The buck wasn’t running, just walking for a ways and then stopping to smell and listen for danger before walking again.

Mom came to the windows along with all of us kids to watch the deer. Maybe we were the reason the buck kept stopping to smell and listen. There was all kinds of noise and excitement in our living room. The buck was probably 200 feet from the house walking parallel between the road and the river beyond the pasture. We couldn’t wait for dad to get home so we could tell him about our adventure with the big buck. When he finally got home he was mobbed by all of us trying to tell him the story at the same time.

Poor dad took a lot of ribbing for not hunting on his front porch……and the buck had better sense than to return again.

Cars and Walleyes

Our family purchased a new car in 1952. Grandma was our babysitter while mom and dad went to pick up the car. New cars were few and far between in our world. Most farm families couldn’t purchase new cars because there were other priorities for the small amounts of cash they had. The sight of this magnificent, brand new, two tone green car, lots of chrome, and a beautiful interior has remained with me all my life.  My admiration for nice cars is as strong today as it was on that day in 1952.

The west branch of the St. Regis River bordered the farms of our family and also my grandparents. Lincoln Bridge crossed the river not far from home. It was a steel framed bridge with a wood plank deck which rattled and banged when a vehicle crossed it. The river under the bridge was wide and shallow except for a narrow channel running down one bank. Adjacent to the bridge was an old road which went to the river bottom. You could drive most of the way across the river on a rocky bar. The shallow water meandered through the rocks on it’s way downstream. When the car needed washing dad would load us in the car and head for the river bottom below Lincoln Bridge. We played in the rocks and the river while dad ,and sometimes mom, washed and rinsed the car with buckets of river water.

When the car was finished dad would open the trunk and pull out his fish pole. His favorite walleye hole was a couple hundred feet below the area where he washed the car. We would continue playing while dad went to see if any walleyes were interested in his favorite wooden plugs. Dad returning to the rocky bar with a 24 to 36 inch walleye was not uncommon. If he caught a walleye, the rest of the fish in the hole either vacated for safer waters or lost their appetites. The fishing was done for the day.

Life doesn’t offer many experiences which could compare to returning home in a shiny new washed car and a nice fresh walleye meal in the trunk…..all from the shadows of Lincoln Bridge.

Wreck at the Railroad Crossing

We lived in a rural area of small farms and large natural woodlands. Most families fished and hunted to provide additional food to the table. The hunting and fishing was much more of an honor system than administered by actual laws. We very seldom saw game wardens or state troopers. The law enforcement agencies were focused on people who sold what they hunted, used extremely illegal means, or in the case of deer, hunted at night. The majority of people who hunted and fished followed rules of the land passed down by their families etc. You didn’t over hunt or over fish. Each species of wildlife had times of the year when they were protected by unwritten rules. There were times when rules of the land and unwritten rules didn’t comply with the official state laws.

This memory starts with a ride to my uncles home in Norwood. On the back floor board of the car was a canvas tarp with a deer on top of it. The deer had been dressed out, but still had the head, hide, etc  attached. The deer was not visible unless you were close enough to the car to look in on the back seat and floor.

We were on a paved country road with little or no traffic. Ahead was a hill with a railroad crossing at the bottom. There was a considerable amount of activity at the railroad crossing as it came into our view. The road was not completely blocked, but to get through you had to weave between a tipped over dump truck and the rear of a railroad car. In the middle of them stood a State Trooper watching for traffic. The dump truck lost his brakes and couldn’t stop before he hit the train. There was gravel all over the place. My dad’s response was “Oh no, how in hell are we going to get by this?  Son, if that trooper sees that deer I’m going to jail. If we try to turn around down there they’ll know we’re up to something. Don’t you say a word to anyone.” As he slowly drove through he asked the trooper “Any body get hurt?”  The trooper replied “No, the truck just couldn’t stop and when he bounced off the train he tipped over”. Dad gave him a wave and off we drove.

This is one of those once in a lifetime adventures that will never be forgotten…..and dad didn’t go to jail.

Holmes Hill School

How great it was to be old enough to attend school. My sister Sharon was my chaperone on the first day and just getting to school was an adventure for me. The school was located where our dirt road intersected with the highway between Winthrop and Potsdam in the hamlet of Holmes Hill. We walked about a quarter of a mile and were joined by two of our neighbors children for the remaining mile or so. We walked at a leisurely pace and their was seldom any traffic on our road. Houses were few and far between. We weren’t encumbered by the fears and distractions of today’s children. We didn’t complain and we were completely at peace with our world.

Holmes Hill School consisted of a one room school, a mud room entry, and attached outhouses in separate rooms. A wood stove provided heat and there was no running water. The individual desks were lined up in rows for students of grades one through eight. The front of the room had a small library table on one side and the teachers desk on the other. Two large blackboards covered the front wall. The rear wall was mostly coat hooks and the entry door. Outside items consisted of a double swing set.

The name my memory associates with the teacher is Mrs Parr. She was very jovial, kept everyone in good order (or standing in a corner), and was more like a mom away from home. The only time she ever got truly upset was when one of us would do a full 360 while swinging. The older boys would have to get the seat thrown back over the top and return the swing to it’s original position. She did not think this was amusing, but it was a rite of passage for the younger boys. Actually, it was fun and the ride was well worth the time spent standing in a corner.

Little did we realize the one room schools and our ways of life would change forever in the near future. We were social, but we were individuals. We were independent, but we helped and respected everyone. We didn’t have many possessions, but we had many values. My time spent at Holmes Hill School will always be considered a great adventure. Oh, how it makes me wish my children and grand children could have experienced it.

Red Runt Cow

Of all the animals encountered on a small family dairy farm, the one which stands out in my early memories is the red runt cow. The red runt was an ayrshire (ash ear) cow with a severe “short cow syndrome” problem. This cow was the problem child of my dad’s dairy. These memories were retained as a result of my dad’s frequent rants about “that damned red runt”.

Most dairy cows and farm animals, much like people, are happy to go along with the crowd and follow the rules. When the barn doors open at milking time the cows will normally file in and go to their individual stanchions. This is the quickest way to your hay and grain during milking. Most cows stand relaxed during milking because it’s the best way to get rid of all that milk in their bag. When milking is complete most cows file out of the barn in an orderly progression and on to the pastures. Most cows are content living within the confined areas of their fences.

The red runt cow had nothing in common with the rest of the cows. In 1866 Samuel Copland described the ayrshire cattle in Scotland as “diminutive in size, ill fed, and bad milkers”. Perhaps this heritage had something to do with her attributes and being the smallest occupant of the barn probably didn’t help either. As children we were told time and again “stay away from that red runt”. She wasn’t really mean, you just never knew what she would do next. If there was a cow in the wrong stanchion it would be the red runt. If there was a cow shoving it’s way to get in or out of the barn instead of going with the flow it was the red runt. When you heard the milk bucket go bouncing (and the resultant swearing) it was the red runt who kicked it. When a cow was missing, guess who was outside the fence and couldn’t get to the barn?

The red runt cow never reached the level of fame achieved by runts like Wilbur (Charlotte’s Web) or Babe (the piglet hero), but her adventures are always going to be a part of my youthful memories. We’ve all had some runts in our lives, in one form or another.