My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

Category: Lyon Mt.

Railroad Ride

New York State was hiring correction officers during the summer of 1967. It took me twenty minutes and a twenty dollar bill to get a job as a temporary officer at Green Haven Prison downstate near Poughkeepsie. A few months after starting at Green Haven Bobby Bowden came to work. We rented and shared a small kitchenette unit at Whaley Lake. Whaley Lake was located on a secondary road off of old Hwy 55. The area was similar to the lakes in the Adirondacks with summer homes, small lodges, and motels. Most of the units where we lived were occupied by correction officers from up north. There were a lot of people from up north working downstate.

The Bobby Bowden who showed up at Green Haven for work was considerably different from the Bobby Bowden who was my classmate five years ealier. He had just finished his military service. He loved to party, drink shots of tequila with salt and lime, and hang out at the local bars. Bobby had a clean little baby blue Ford Fairlane and was saving his money to buy a new Camaro. He normally drove like an old granny.

Bobby was on day shift and I was on swing shift from three to eleven. If the local bar on the old highway 55 was open I always stopped for a couple beers to unwind on the way home. Heading home on a summer night Bobby and about ten others were still going strong when I entered the bar. We stayed until the bartender turned out the lights. Bobby was backing out as I left the parking lot. When he didn’t show up at Whaley Lake I assumed their party moved elsewhere. Bobby came through the door a few hours later and looked like he had been drug through a knot hole. He was definitely distraught.

He had left the bar following me home. When he turned off the old highway onto our secondary road there was a double set of railroad tracks about two hundred feet ahead. Bobby completely missed the road and drove all the way across the two tracks. His car ended up just past the access road used for maintenance by the railroad. By the time he stopped the car was wasted. No body damage, but he left pieces of tires, wheels, oil pan, and frame all over the place. The wrecker had backed down the access road, loaded his car, and brought him home. He left all the pieces right there. No troopers, no visitors, no injuries.

Bobby quit drinking tequila…………….and bought a new Camaro RS two days later.


Potato Wine

My first couple months out of the Marine Corps was one big party. It was good to be home after four years. Many of my old friends were still around Lyon Mt. Several of us had fast cars, disposable income, and very few responsibilities. We knew everybody in seven counties, stayed constantly on the go, and enjoyed life. I bought a 1952 Ford panel truck so my Chevelle wouldn’t get all scratched up when driving narrow dirt roads to camps or fishing streams.  Nothing fancy. Just an old truck with a flathead V-8 for knocking around.

We had friends in Canada and frequently visited them at home. We found an old farmer in Ormstown, Que who made the best potato wine in the north country, maybe in the whole world. He bottled it in an assortment of clear glass bottles. The quart bottles always had about half an inch of pale white sediment laying in the bottom. When drinking the wine we would shake the bottle to mix the sediments and drink it all. This stuff was high test and very drinkable. None of us ever went blind, but occasionally we would get ferocious headaches.

Once in a while we would make the river run. If we started early in the day we would go to Saranac Lake, make the rounds, then hit every bar coming down Route 3 to the Town of Saranac. On one run Johnny Joe and myself took a friend to Lake Placid for work. We had the old panel truck and a couple quarts of potato wine. It was late afternoon when we got back into Riverview. We took the River Road and caught the old dirt cut-off between there and the Highbanks Road. At the top of the hill the old panel truck jumped the ruts, slid sideways, and got straightened out again. Johnny Joe bounced up and hit his head on the radio mounted in the center of the roof. He had a one inch cut bleeding pretty good. We scrounged up an old rag, poured a little potato wine on it, and he held it on his head. By the time we hit Standish he had a headache, but the bleeding had stopped. After a couple beers at Talberts he was all healed up.

John took a pretty good hit on the head……………… thanks to the potato wine, he wasn’t feeling any pain.

Snow Bound

While home on leave in the winter I drove my Mom’s 1962 Chevy Impala. Myself, Kenny Thompson, and several others headed out of Lyon Mountain for a night of live music, dancing, and partying at Brodies in Plattsburgh. It was snowing lightly as we left town, but no signs of any storm. We got to Plattsburgh and stayed at Brodies until the band played their there last set. It had been a good time with lots of drinks, laughter, and just enjoying life. You couldn’t party all night in Plattsburgh without catching a burger at the Orange Julius before heading home. It was the wee hours of morning as we headed home. There was about six inches of fresh snow in Plattsburgh with no wind. Just a pretty winter night.

When we hit Dannemora Mountain there was better than a foot of new snow and the plows had hit both lanes going up. Just as we broke over the top of the mountain the road wasn’t plowed on our side. There was a good sized berm of snow right across my lane where the snowplow turned around. I let off the gas, hit the berm, drifted to the right, and stopped in about two feet of snow on the right shoulder. We were stuck and high centered on the hard packed snow. The best we could do was wait for the snowplow. No use getting excited, they would be back before four thirty when the Lyon Mountain ladies went to work at the hospital. A couple of the girls weren’t too excited about our situation. They had never been stuck in the middle of the night a couple miles from nowhere.

The snow plow showed up a couple hours later. They were happy to pull us out as long as we hooked up the chain. They pulled us back onto the plowed road, joked about whether we could get home or not, and left. We knocked the snow off the grill, I put the car in gear, and the car followed the same tracks right into where we were originally stuck. The car never turned a bit. Oh well, the snowplow would be back because only half the road was plowed.  A half hour later the crew on the snowplow cracked up when they saw the car back in the same hole. We lifted the hood and found the front of the engine and the wheelwells packed with snow. The fan and power steering belt was off. We left the belt off, drove to the town supervisors shop at Chazy Lake, got the car inside, and used their tools to put the belt back on. We got everybody home before any lights were on.

We were never in any danger on Dannemora Mountain…………all the danger was in not getting home before the parents were up.

Pete’s Coins

When my school finished in Memphis my second leave in four months allowed me to spend some time at home. Assignments to Hawaii required two years duration and it wasn’t practical to pay for round trip travel from Hawaii to upstate New York on less than ninety dollars a month wages. Leave in the middle of winter wasn’t perfect, but it was time at home. One of the instructors from the base in Memphis was headed for his leave in Massachusetts. He owned an Oldsmobile station wagon. Two riders and myself  rode with him into New York State. We all shared expenses equally. My last leg was a flight from Albany to Plattsburgh.

When things were slow around Lyon Mountain one place to hang out was the American Legion. When Pete Pivetta was tending bar on a slow night he loved to do bar tricks and tell stories. He was pretty upset with me the first time he saw my military identification. I don’t recall how my age came up, but Pete was convinced my age was older than it actually was. He looked at my ID, frowned, and dropped it back on the bar. “You little bastard. How many years have you been drinking at my bar? And you’re only eighteen years old.” he said while shaking his finger at me. Then he showed me another bar trick.

Pete’s best bar trick was one he did with coins; a nickel and a penny. You could never catch him as his fingers worked the coins. It wasn’t magic, he was just good at doing the trick. Late one evening Pete showed me how the trick was accomplished. He made me promise not to let anyone know how the trick was performed. He gently placed the nickel heads up in my open palm. He made a few of his hand waves six inches above my hand, then gently picked up the nickel between his thumb and index finger. The nickel never was out of site and his hand was empty when he started. He held the nickel above my hand which now had a penny heads up in the same place the nickel was removed from. He gave me a little while to comprehend what I was seeing. He told me to look at the back of the penny. The penny looked like a nickel tails side on the back. Pete took the penny and slipped it into the back of the nickel. When the two pieces were together it looked exactly like a nickel. When apart it became a nickel and a penny. Pete never explained the origin of his nickel. Fifty years later I’ve never seen anything else like it.

The Pete Pivetta’s of this world are few and far between……………..just knowing one of them is a real great adventure.

Building PreFab’s

I worked with my Uncle Lerald building prefabricated garages during a high school summer. Lerald and a friend named Bob were both good carpenters. They needed a third person to help shaking out the building parts, keep them stocked with what they needed, and pass materials to them when working above the ground. They were fun to work with and I enjoyed learning how to form and place concrete, frame, and roof the garages. We would place the concrete slab, arrange delivery of the prefabricated garage, and come back several days after the concrete was placed to build the garage. The three of us could completely build a twenty four by twenty four foot garage in about 11 hours. All of the garages included entry doors, overhead doors, and shingled roof. It wasn’t an easy day, but saved making a return for a partial second day.

We had a few garages in Vermont around Winooski. We stayed at the Essex Hotel. The first night in town we hit the bar for a cold beer after dinner. Lerald and Bob sat on bar stools and ordered our drinks. I was standing behind and between them, hoping the bartender wouldn’t refuse to serve me. We were on our second beer and the bar had a good crowd. Out of nowhere a man walked up, took my arm, and directed me to a table. When we were seated he identified himself as the manager. He asked where I was from. I was waiting for him to tell me to get out of his bar. Instead, he explained you couldn’t stand at a bar in Vermont and drink beer. You must be seated. We talked for a few minutes, he bought me a beer, and Lerald and Bob didn’t even know I was gone from behind them.

We built a twenty four by twenty four in Champlain. We had about an hours work left when the owner came home. Lerald had just finished hanging the overhead door and was showing him his new garage. Bob and I were laying the last couple bundles of shingles to complete the roof. I hit a nail a glancing blow and it went flying. Stood another nail, tapped it easy to start it, and sent it flying with another off center hit. I set the third nail at the same spot, reared back with the hammer, and swung as hard as I could. The nail went this time. All the way through the plywood. Problem was, so did my hammer. I heard the clunk on the concrete floor as my hammer hit about ten feet behind Lerald and the new owner. There was a nice neat hole where the hammer went through. I crawled down and tried to look invisible when retrieving my hammer. Lerald never even flinched. Just continued his conversation with the owner like this happened all the time. The owner never did realize what had happened. We sure didn’t tell him.

Building garages was good experience for a teenager…………..and the lessons on Vermont laws helped too.

Welfare Cookies

This post is primarily about food, but a little history comes with the boxes and cans. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the elected officials in our country at all levels of government were very careful to protect their public images. Sales of influence, lobbyist transactions, and corporate money exchanges always took place out of the public’s view. The voters and the populace in general would never condone such actions. Our food was effected by these practices because of these back room dealings. The congress received lots of money and donations from the farm and dairy lobby. The congress couldn’t return government money directly to them, but they could buy huge amounts of their products at inflated prices with government money. The politicians called it a food bank. The food banks bought horrendous amounts of food to pay political debts. Some of  this food eventually got distributed to the military, schools, and for federal welfare programs. As crooked as the deal was, some of the food was excellent.

Many people in the areas around Lyon Mountain and Merrill, NY received welfare and/or food assistance each month. The families who didn’t get food assistance would often trade goods or foods with those who did. The brick welfare cheese came in a plain box. The processed cheese was a blend of popular cheeses. Everybody liked this cheese. It made great grilled cheese sandwiches and baked cheese dishes. You couldn’t buy this cheese in a grocery store. It was an upscale Velveeta.

The welfare peanut butter came in a large tin can. It would sometimes separate during shipment with the oil on top and the solids on the bottom. A vigorous stirring would restore its consistency. This peanut butter had a coarse texture compared to store bought processed peanut butters. The flavor of this peanut butter was in a class of it’s own. A warm piece of homemade bread with real butter and welfare peanut butter was one of my all time favorite foods. The peanut butter cans had a cookie recipe printed on them. The “welfare peanut butter cookies” were a staple in everybody’s house. Many people bake them regularly today. I doubt they are the exact same cookie without the welfare peanut butter, but still good. My senses can smell those cookies in a warm kitchen while I’m writing.

Other welfare foods included beef or pork canned in natural juices, instant non-fat milk, butter, and other foods. The meats weren’t bad. The butter was excellent.

I liked the beef and pork too……………never did get thirsty enough to drink the dry non-fat milk.

Spring Treats

The Adirondack winters are long and cold. We always had lots of winter activities inside and outside. We didn’t dwell on the weather, as teenagers you took what was available and made the best of it. Shoveling snow, hunting rabbits, ice skating, and sometimes skiing were all a way of staying active during the winter. We seldom missed a school basketball game or a Sunday movie in Lyon Mountain. Scraping windshields and riding a few miles in a cold car were just part of getting where you had to go. Getting through the winter was just one of the prices we paid to get to warmer weather.

There is nothing like the arrival of the spring thaws after several months of snow and freezing weather. The snow starts to disappear, water is running everywhere, the roads are full of potholes and frost heaves, and it’s warming up. Mother nature is working diligently to blossom with new growth and colors to replace the drab of late winter. She is also cultivating and growing the first crop of the new season. Soon the wild leeks will be showing their leaves through the remnants of the snow.

Wild leeks are part of the onion family. The bulbs are like small scallions, but the plants are leafy. The wild leeks are a high test version of garden onions. Sort of a cross match between onion and garlic. They are known as much for their after smell, as they are for their taste. It’s easy to locate the person who has been eating raw leeks. Nobody is within ten feet of them. Sometimes for days. The leeks are strong tasting, but not unpleasant to eat raw. It’s the isolation you have to endure afterwards that is unpleasant. The leeks are outstanding for cooking. Use them to replace the onion and garlic in your spaghetti, soups, chili, and omelettes. Chop them up and include them in your favorite fried dishes. People won’t smell you coming if you eat cooked leeks.

The wild leeks grow randomly in the wet areas of spring. My favorite spots for them were sloping hillsides close to the Owly Out brook. The old pastures were slowly becoming overgrown with small trees and brush. Many people had their favorite places for leeks. When digging the leeks it was important to be selective and leave many plants for the future. I would never dig all the leeks in one area. The small early leeks were the best. The older leeks would become punky and bitter tasting. When digging leeks, always use an open top box to carry them home. Don’t fret about a little dirt still clinging to them. Keep them moist and prepare them for cooking or eating as soon as possible. My leeks were saved in baby food jars of refrigerated water or chopped into portions and frozen. For spaghetti, the leeks would be frozen with equal portions of green pepper.

Leeks are called ramps in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains………. real leeks come from long cold winters near Lyon Mountain.


Full Moon Rides

My first trip across Chateaugay Lake on the ice was with Ernie Grew’s grandson Roddy. While skating ponds were common, we had never lived in a place where you could walk for miles on a frozen lake. We wore snowshoes and backpacks. Our destination was what Roddy referred to as Shatraw’s Camp. It was a hunting camp on the backside of the lake towards W mountain. There was no road access to the camp during the winter. You could snowshoe across the lake to the area we called seven chimney’s. We caught the road on the backside of the lake and followed it to camp. From the time we left the Merrill boathouse, until we returned two days later, we never saw a sign of any person. The snow was a couple feet deep and everything was pristine and quiet. It was also very cold and clear.

I never put a vehicle of my own or my families on the lake in the winter. That didn’t stop me from riding with others. There were several people who loved to get a vehicle on the lake ice at night when there was a full moon. The conditions had to be right. Obviously, the ice had to be thick enough to take the weight of a carload of people. The snow pack on the ice had to be fairly low so large expanses of ice would be bare of snow. If the ice had any more than a foot of snow over the whole lake, the drifts from the winds could be several feet deep. If a vehicle out on the lake got stuck, you were had. We usually drove onto the lake with all the lights off at the Merrill boathouse. From the boat house we would head towards the Island, but never go near it. We would go about half way between the Island and South Inlet, never getting close to shore. The full moon was better light than the headlights because there were no shadows.

It took a while to get up to a decent speed. If you let off the gas and cranked the steering wheel hard, the vehicle would do slow motion revolutions across the lake. When the vehicle stopped spinning we would orient our position before moving. If  clouds obscured the moon or the wind blew the snow, the only reference point from the lake was the lighting at the new shaft on Standish Road. Drifting and sliding around on the lake was a real joyride. You never moved unless you were sure of your bearings. You stayed in the center portions of the lake.

We didn’t dwell on air pockets in the ice…………….we were too busy enjoying the full moon and the ride.

Apple Pickin’

The Champlain Valley area just west of Plattsburgh was a great apple growing region. The hot days and cool nights of summer provided excellent growing conditions. The early frosts and warm fall days brought out brilliant colors and texture to the apples. The apple picking season helped a lot of families in Lyon Mountain.

The apple picking season around Plattsburgh was too short and the volume too small to attract the migrant workers who picked various crops for a living. This allowed the use of local area residents to pick the apples. Many people from Lyon Mountain picked apples to supplement income. Mothers who couldn’t work full time, people who wouldn’t work full time, young people without jobs, and students all picked apples during the short picking season. Many people returned to the same orchards for years on end. Students could get excused from school to pick apples for short durations.

If you didn’t pick many apples, you didn’t earn much money. If you didn’t show up early and on time at the orchard, there was always somebody to take your job. If you started early, stayed busy, and didn’t bruise your apples the money was good. The orchards were full of people who knew each other. The chatter, joking, and sometimes bickering made the day go by fast. We would leave town before daybreak in order to be ready to pick as soon as it was full daylight. My group averaged four or five students and three or four unemployed people who were out of school. We all rode in a 56 Ford pick-up. Three or four in the cab and the rest in the back.

We carried all kinds of lunches with us. We started picking early and stayed in the orchard until late afternoon. Our lunches were supplemented with apples, but they never lasted past eleven o clock. We would get counted out on our apples, pick up our days pay, and spend a portion of it on food going home. Sometimes we’d get a cold beer to wash down the food. It was all a great time and we got paid for it. Students could only pick for one week before returning to school. No one ever abused the privilege.

Apple season was notable because hunting season wasn’t far behind. The leaves were changing, the frosts were more frequent, and the winter skies were sneaking in.

We weren’t the best apple pickers………………but nobody in the orchards had as much fun as we did.

The Bridge

There wasn’t any public transportation within twenty five miles of Lyon Mountain. The teenagers and young adults who didn’t have cars had a pretty efficient method of getting to the Hollywood at the lake or the Skyliner in Malone. Single people who had cars very seldom left town on Friday or Saturday nights without a car full of people. The same held true when going to the Miners baseball games on Sunday. Nobody would go to a ball game with only a couple people in the car.

The bridge crossing the brook about halfway between the post office and the gas station was a common meeting spot. The bridge was centrally located to meet people from both ends of town. Anybody driving through town had to cross the bridge. The bridge wasn’t real close to any homes. You could see a good distance in either direction. For the teenagers who smoked it was easy to keep your cigarettes hidden from traffic and neighbors. The rock masonry side of the bridge was comfortable to sit on and the pipe pedestrian railing was good support if you were standing.

If you were hanging out with nothing planned, the bridge was the place to be. You wouldn’t sit on the bridge very long without company. If you wanted to get out of town on the weekend, the bridge was the place to catch a ride. If you drove a car and were going out of town you would drive the length of town going up, swing through Phillips Court, and head back down Sweden. If your car wasn’t full when you hit the bridge, you took as many people as possible. That’s just the way it was. The younger teenagers got their rides. When they started driving they offered rides to the kids who didn’t have cars.

If you came to Lyon Mountain from Merrill, Standish, or Chazy Lake it was easy to get back home if it wasn’t real late. Just hang out at the bridge. Somebody passing by would recognize you and give you a ride home. Everybody looked out for everybody. If you were driving a car and trying to find someone in town, go to the bridge. Somebody would know where they were. Such is life in a small remote town.

If things were quiet during the week we often filled a car and just rode around locally. If we could get several cars together we would play hide and seek with cars full of people. Every car load was like a little traveling circus. We would laugh so hard our sides would ache. It was a great bunch of young people just enjoying life.

Nobody could sneak by the bridge…………….and if you could have, somebody would have known where you were going.