My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Month: May, 2013

StillWater

My family rented a house from Lewis Grew in Merrill. His father lived nearby and had a gas station with Amoco gas. If you owned a Coleman lantern or cook stove Amoco was your gas of choice because it contained less lead than most other brands. We always had a can of gas just for our Colemans. There were big pastures behind the houses for about a quarter of a mile. The pastures were between the Owly Out Brook and a small ridge which ran northeast towards Panther Mountain. There was an old wood road which followed this ridge for a couple miles toward Panther Mountain. On the other side of the Owly Out Brook was a wood road which started at Supley’s gas station and ran about two miles northeast. This road terminated at some beaver dams on the brook at the edge of a large swamp. This area was called Stillwater. As teenagers, we hunted and fished all over the areas on both sides of the Owly Out Brook.

We converted an old horse shed into a camp near the Stillwater beaver dams. The camp could sleep four people. It wasn’t uncommon for us to attend a school dance on Friday night, catch the bus to Merrill, and hike into camp for the weekend. The road was barely passable with a four wheel drive. The only time we ever saw a vehicle was when old John Kaska would have somebody drive him in to see if Johnny Joe and Larry Joe were ok. They would drive by slow in a jeep, turn around at the beaver dam, and drive back out. They might wave at us, but never stopped to talk. We could hear them coming a mile away so the cigarettes and beer were out of sight. In the evenings we would evenly split all the kitchen stick matches for our poker games. If we tired of poker we played pinochle. Fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, and coffee always started our camp days.

In the winter Doug Begor got a wood stove out of their garage for camp. We put it on a toboggan and dragged it two miles through the snow at night. It took four of us several hours to get it to camp. We earned our heat.

We crossed a small creek on a log a few hundred feet from camp. My younger brother Preston was in camp with us on a very cold morning. We warned him to stay away from the creek. Sure enough, he fell off the log into the creek. His clothes froze so hard we had to carry him into camp because he couldn’t bend his legs. You’d a thought he had been gut shot. He spent a lot of the day drying his clothes by the stove. He was very fortunate we were close enough to assist him.

Myself, Jim Moulton, and Bob Bowden skipped school to do some camp repairs for hunting season in our senior year………..Buzz suspended us for three days.

Old School

It’s a shame all students can’t attend a school like Lyon Mountain was before the bureaucrats forced it into centralization. It wasn’t just a school. The school contributed countless services for the community and the residents. The school staff and many of the teachers lived in the community. We knew the teachers personally and professionally. Every student knew every teacher and the grade they taught. Most of the teachers knew the majority of the students and their parents. Staff, teachers, and students often interacted with each other away from school. The school was a community within itself. The town was too small for secrets. Everything that happened in school was known throughout the community and everything that happened in Lyon Mountain was known throughout the school. It wasn’t always perfect, but everybody was part of it.

Buzz Harrica ran the school in the years I attended. He was a man who earned, and received, respect. He expected every student, including his own children, to maintain discipline in his school. He expected the teachers and staff to treat the students with respect. He also bent over backwards to provide services to the community.

The school cafeteria was used for Fireman’s Bingo one evening each week. When the mine employees had a union meeting it was in the cafeteria. The school had movies on Sunday evenings for the public at very low prices. The school buses would run to Chateaugay Lake, Standish, and Chazy Lake to provide transportation to and from the movies. If there was a home basket ball game in the evening, the buses ran their routes for the games. The town library was provided space at the school. Everybody had a bathtub at home, but few homes had showers. The school showers were available for use by everyone when there were no activities at school.

We all know high school discipline has it’s short comings. Teen age students are going to test the rules. It wasn’t uncommon for Buzz to grab a problem student by the collar of their shirt and hold them suspended against a wall while explaining the virtues of discipline. He also used language they clearly understood. I never provoked Buzz into losing his temper, but had a couple of heart to heart conversations with him in his office. He always let you sweat for a while before calling you into his office. When you were seated in front of his desk, he threw his pack of camels at you and told you to have a smoke. He would then discuss the problem with you man to man. He was straight up about what he could accept and any discipline you were getting for your infractions. He would shake your hand and send you back to class. You got his message.

The Buzz Harrica’s of today don’t have time for community and students……………it takes all their time and resources to keep the schools funded.

 

Paintin’ Alcatraz

Mom’s brother Lerald and his wife Lee lived in Malone. During the summer of my sophomore year Uncle Lerald had a dry cleaning route for American Cleaners in Malone. He also had a carpet cleaning business. He gave me a part time job during the summer to help him with his work. Aunt Lee had at home work doing laundry and ironing for one of the large adirondack summer youth camps. Aunt Lee maintained their home, tended three young children, and ironed for hours every day. Lerald cleaned a lot of carpets in the evenings and on the weekends.

Uncle Lerald had a great personality. He could approach and converse with anyone. He loved to joke with people and had quite a knack for telling some notorious false stories about everything and anything. He also loved to drink beer, play his fiddle, and party. I was sixteen. He was fun to run around with. We would walk into a bar and he would order beer for both of us. He chattered non stop while the bartender served us, usually some big story about who I was and where I came from. His favorite story was when we worked on the paint crew at Alcatraz. Said we just couldn’t stand gray paint anymore, but it was a nice boat ride every day.

Working and running around with Uncle Lerald was non stop hilarious from dawn til dark. The American Cleaners route took us from Malone to Fort Covington, Bombay, Moira, Dickinson, Dickinson Center, West Bangor, Bangor, and back into Malone on Franklin Street. We hit most of the streets in every town and populated areas along the route. We would return cleaned items and pick up dirty items. Customers wanting items picked up would put a large card with a red “A” in their window.

We had a delivery in Fort Covington. Uncle Lerald told me not to laugh when meeting the lady. He said she would be wearing a dress and black tennis shoes with knee high stockings. This sounded like a typical Lerald exaggeration so I shrugged my shoulders and laughed it off. We hit the ladies driveway going much too fast. She was bent over cleaning some flower beds when Uncle Lerald entered the driveway, locked up the brakes, and slid to a stop five feet behind her. The dust was flying everywhere. I just knew she was going to kill him and wished I had a place to hide. She jumped forward, stood up, and asked Uncle Lerald if she scared him. She was dressed just like he said.

Lerald always claimed a family had a chimpanzee on a dirt road out of Dickinson Center. I’d always shake my head and laugh at him. Sure enough we were going by one day and he slammed on the brakes almost putting me into the windshield. The big chimpanzee was on top of their car hopping up and down. No exaggeration to this story.

Aunt Lee passed last year. Uncle Lerald still lives in Malone…………….it’s amazing Aunt Lee let him live this long.

ByGone Travel

During my teen age years in Merrill and Lyon Mountain very few families had two vehicles. Parents juggled their schedules and made ends meet with a single vehicle. Students in high school didn’t drive cars to school. We didn’t complain. We could walk or hitchhike anywhere we wanted to go.

People were generally friendly and often offered rides to anyone walking along a road or highway. If you were walking and stuck out your thumb to passing motorists it was easy to get a ride. When you live in a rural mountain community very few people would drive by you. The big problem was lack of anyone on the roads.

Most of my time was spent with friends in Lyon Mt. In the early evenings it was generally very easy to catch a ride from home up to Lyon Mt. We were always on the go like most teenagers. We seldom, if ever, watched television unless it was an evening at home with the family and something special was on. We played many card games such as pinocle and canasta. Parents often joined the teenagers in the games. My visits would end around ten o’clock. It wasn’t uncommon for me to walk home and never see a passing car. The walks were normally pretty uneventful as I walked the highway home. Once in a while a bobcat might screech in the area of the town dump and cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up. Just around the corner from home The Owly Out bar would have two or three late customers. I always looked forward to the neon lights at The Owly Out when walking home.

Once in a while we would pool our money and go bowling in Chateaugay about twelve miles to the north. Two or three of us would have no problem getting a ride before seven in the evening. We would hitchhike down, wait for an available lane, and bowl a few games. If we got onto Highway 374 by nine thirty the chances of a ride towards home were pretty good. It was easy to get from Chateaugay to the Hay House and the Half Way House bars. From there we could usually catch somebody headed to Bouchards on the lower lake. From Bouchards we could get close to home. If we had to walk a couple miles it was just part of our outing.

My parents expected us to be independent and find our own way……………it was part of becoming an adult.

The Mountain

The following is a quick look at the Adirondack Mountain area our family moved to in the summer of 1961.

Merrill, New York is a small hamlet located on Chateaugay Lake in the northeast Adirondack Mountains. Lyon Mountain, is a small village about four miles southeast of Merrill. It is surrounded by miles of forests in all directions. Lyon Mountain was an active mining town in the early 1960’s. The town had a long history of mining some of the highest grade iron ore in the country. The town had always been a company town. Owned lock, stock, and barrel by the various companies operating the mines. Many of the families in Lyon Mountain in the early 1960’s were second and third generations of miners. The mines were operated by Republic Steel Corp. The town was in a transition from wholly owned by the company, to individual private ownership. The increased costs of labor, goods, and services were too high to allow profitable operation of the town by the company.

The D&H railroad ran daily trains to haul the iron ore out of Lyon Mountain. The mine and mill produced the iron ore around the clock.

The company town had many facilities not normally found in towns with comparable populations. The company employed a doctor for the mine and the town. The school had grades kindergarten through twelve in one two story building. The school had a cafeteria. The combination gym/auditorium had auditorium style seating, projector room, stage, hardwood basketball court, and ticket booths. The school also had a large classroom shop,  library,  study hall,  band room, and shower facilities. The town had it’s own volunteer fire department and equipment, a baseball stadium with covered seating and a covered, elevated, band stand. For the few summer months, a fully staffed and maintained pool with change rooms was available for all the town residents. The company gas station was operating under private ownership and the company store was in the process of closing. The company hotel, beer garden, and cafe was no longer operating. The railroad no longer used the railroad depot, but the post office occupied part of it.

Lyon Mountain and the surrounding small hamlets were all one community. Everybody attended the same school and the majority of the people were employed by the mines. The mountains, lakes, forests, and friendly people made a great environment for a sixteen year old newcomer. It was a good place for more great adventures.

Mom’s Driver

The 1950’s and early 1960’s banks were local businesses who made money by providing services and loans to their customers. They were profitable, but all of their profits were realized from the banks assets and how they were managed. Checking accounts were charged simple fees and the majority of people kept good transaction records. If you were going to move a long distance or travel outside of your local area you required cash or certified cashier checks from your bank. Some areas used American Express travelers checks, but they weren’t readily accepted in many non metropolitan areas. It was common practice for a bank or business to verify your certified check before cashing them. My first ride down the Las Vegas Strip was a result of getting an out of state cashier check cashed. To get there we crossed over Hoover Dam.

Dad had not planned on going through Las Vegas on our trip from Tucson to Spokane. Dad’s cash was getting low and several businesses had declined to cash a cashier check. It was a week-end and they could not get verification on the check. A store manager in Kingman, AZ suggested Dad go north to Las Vegas where a casino could cash his check. The highway crossed Hoover Dam. If you have never stood on top of Hoover Dam, you can’t imagine the sheer magnificence of this concrete structure. It’s a privilege every American should experience in their lifetime. Las Vegas is another totally fabulous experience that is like no place else. The neon lights, casino’s, people, and atmosphere are fantastic. Our family had a wonderful adventure visiting Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. It took a couple stops, but Dad cashed his check. Off to Spokane.

Mom and Dad rented a house and enrolled us kids in school in northeast Spokane. Sharon and I walked two miles so we could save our public bus fare for other things. Dad was offered a job back in New York on the missile bases. Mom and Dad decided he would fly back to take the job. Mom and us kids would remain in Spokane until the end of the school year. It was mid March and we had missed several weeks of school.

I obtained my Washington Drivers License at fifteen in April. It was a full operators permit with no restrictions. When school was out we rented and packed a trailer, cleaned out the rental house, and I drove most of the way back to New York. I loved to drive, so the five day trip was a great adventure. The morning sun each day was wicked until about nine o’clock. We normally found a motel before dark. Mom did a fantastic job of making this trip across the country with five of us. I like to think we shared the burden with her. Dad and Mom rented a home in Merrill, NY as summer started and Dad worked steady.

Classroom hours were lacking in my sophomore year……………..there were no deficiencies in geography lessons or highway miles.

Rivers without Water

Our trip to Tucson took us through the high desert as we finished our second day. We had traveled through the vast expanses of sagebrush country up north. The Mojave Desert was completely different; barren, windy, and dry. The television show Death Valley came to mind as we passed near the old borax mines east of Mohave. We picked up Route 66 at Barstow and continued east. Dad and Mom decided to spend the night in Needles, CA where Route 66 crossed the Colorado River.

Dad checked us into a motel in Needles. As soon as the car parked in front of the unit, all five of us kids hit the ground running. Dad opened the door to our kitchenette motel room, walked half way through, turned around, and walked back out again. He told Mom to get us back in the car, returned the keys, and got his money refunded. As we drove away Dad explained when he entered the kitchen area cockroaches were running all over. He was not about to pay somebody to sleep with cockroaches. None of us kids had ever encountered cockroaches before, because we never lived in an environment to their liking. We ended up spending the night in Kingman, AZ.

We left Kingman on our third day and arrived in Tucson that afternoon. We passed through areas of the huge saguaro cactus and the ancient joshua trees. We were amazed how the saguaro’s could grow on a rocky mountainside with no water anywhere. It was very humorous for us to see signs for rivers and creeks. There wasn’t a drop of water in seven counties. The March weather was warmer than the normal summers where we came from. Phoenix was like an entirely different world. There were alfalfa fields, citrus orchards, and all kinds of crops being grown in the middle of the desert. Dad bought fresh picked oranges from a roadside vendor. We couldn’t believe how cheap and delicious they were.

Dad and Mom got a motel kitchenette in the Miracle Mile area of Tucson. This was where tourists stayed during the winter to enjoy Tucson’s warm weather. Our motel even had a swimming pool. We couldn’t believe people lived where they could use a swimming pool in February and March. We enjoyed a week in Tucson. It was great for all of us kids, but Dad didn’t get any employment in the area. At the end of a week Mom and Dad decided to return to Spokane.

Returning to Spokane was all right with me………………another three days in the car wasn’t.

X-15

Our family had been from New England to the Puget Sound, but never any further south than Chicago as we traveled back and forth across the states. We left The Dalles, Oregon enroute to Tucson, Arizona. There was an air of excitement because we were going to some very interesting places. Dad and Mom weren’t on vacation. They had themselves and five children to house, dress, and feed. Dad was headed to Tucson looking for full time employment, not to be a snowbird seeking sunshine. They also wanted to get us kids back in school. These trips were a lot more about getting there, than they were about seeing all the sights. Two adults, two teens, and three grade school kids jammed in a car all day isn’t always a great experience. The geography lesson is worth it’s weight in gold though.

We ended our first day in San Francisco. Dinner was at a real Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown. It was an enjoyable meal for me, however, this wasn’t the majority consensus among us kids. All in all, it was something never experienced before and a great opportunity. We arrived in San Francisco after dark. The bridges were still magnificent.

Our second day took us from the bay area inland to the San Joaquin Valley. The temperatures in the valley were warm enough to not require jackets. The snow topped Sierra Nevada Mountains were about forty miles east. We were driving thru miles and miles of every kind of row crop and field crops you can imagine with the snow capped mountains as a backdrop. The sky was clear blue forever. This was the last place in the world to have an adventure, but my keen eyes observed one. It was associated with the vapor trail of an airplane.

(Before moving forward with details of  this experience I decided to do some research. It took me about three minutes to confirm my memory was accurate.) The date was March 7 1961 and while riding in the back seat, on Highway 99, in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, I witnessed the launch of a X-15 rocket from a B-52. The X-15 dropped from under the wing. It looked like a part had fallen off the plane. The X-15 rocket ignited.  There was no doubt in my mind as to what it was. Dad had a chance to witness the rocket just prior to the end of the rocket burn. The X-15 was not visible as it completed it’s climb and glided back into Edwards Air Force Base. We had witnessed history, but as luck would have it, my future hero Chuck Yeagher wasn’t the pilot for this flight.

The X-15 sighting was a great adventure and a stroke of luck……………my choice of seat could have been on the other side of the car.

 

The Dalles

My sophomore year of high school started in Peru, NY and ended in Spokane, WA. Dad finished work on the Niagara Falls Project and we moved to Peru, NY. We lived in a rented mobile home on Lake Champlain while Dad worked on the missile bases in the Plattsburgh, NY area. The work slowed down in January. Dad and Mom decided to return to the Spokane, WA area. When we arrived in Spokane Dad was offered employment as an ironworker on The Dalles Dam in Oregon. The position was temporary, but Dad took the job hoping for long term work.

The Dalles is named for a stretch of rapids on the Columbia River about one hundred and ninety miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. From 1952 to 1957 The Dalles Dam was built. The rapids, along with historical Indian fishing areas, were submerged at the bottom of the reservoir.  The Columbia River was transformed to allow boat and barge traffic into central Washington State. The Columbia River gorge in the area of The Dalles is very scenic. The Dalles was a very nice small city. Myself and my sister Sharon had been out of school for three weeks traveling so we enrolled in the high school as soon as Dad started work.

The Dalles High School had a mix of local and construction family students. We registered and received assignment to all our classes from a friendly school staff. The school had a very friendly atmosphere and everybody was helpful. Their were many students at the school who drove very nice old cars with fender skirts and laker pipe exhausts. You didn’t see these types of cars at high schools in New York because of the hard winters.

Dad worked a very short time before the work at the dam was halted. Several people were headed to Tucson, AZ for a job that was just starting. Dad decided to go to Tucson. The next day Sharon and I went to school and spent the day checking out. We hadn’t been there long enough for anybody to miss us. Our new friends all wished us well. The next morning we were back on the road.

We liked The Dalles…………… we didn’t stay long enough to find anything wrong with it.

Pheasants Under Ice

We had about two feet of snow on the ground when a fairly warm winter storm came in from the Great Lakes to the west. The storm started off with about six inches of heavy snow. During the night the storm turned to rain. By morning the rain had turned to sleet. Everything was covered with a layer of clear ice about three eighths of an inch thick. When walking to the neighbors we used a footpath through some old abandoned orchards. Something caught my eye because it didn’t look natural. There was a hump in the snow under the ice. There was something sticking out of the sleet at the hump. I walked through the snow with the layer of ice on top. The object making the hump was a pheasant and the tail feathers were partially exposed through the ice. The tail feathers were coated with solid ice.

Apparently the pheasant snuggled down in the snow while the storm passed. The sleet froze right on over it and had it trapped. It’s anybody’s guess as to how long it could have survived if the ice around it didn’t melt. The pheasant had to have been really terrified during my approach as every step was breaking ice. The pheasant never flinched as it was retrieved from the snow and ice. All of the upper body and feathers were caked with ice. I slipped the half frozen bird into my jacket and headed home with it.The pheasant created quite a stir at home. We got the ice melted. We towel dried the pheasant and returned it to the old orchard. All the time we handled it, the pheasant barely stirred. It wasn’t in any hurry to get away when it was released, but flew away after a few minutes.

During the course of the day three pheasants were found, dried, and released within the old orchard. All were found iced into the snow and made a complete recovery. The pheasants under the ice were a once in a lifetime occurrence. They were just victims of the sleet storm.

We all encounter strange things in life…………….but very few people will ever encounter pheasants under ice.