by Everett Arthur Niemela
Each generation claims to have lived through the most exciting time in history as they look back upon the years of their youth. This gives me the privilege to look back upon my growing years and young adulthood in such a manner. We who were born in the early nineteen twenties went from a horse and wagon era to a time of jet airplanes. That was my experience while growing up in a rural area of Western Pennsylvania.
Chapter 1 - Long Branch
I was born in Long Branch on January 27, 1922. Roscoe has always been recorded as my birth place on official documents. My family's mailing address was Box 342, Roscoe, Pennsylvania. Roscoe is a small town beside the Monongahela River in Washington County. Long Branch is a rural area in the hills about a mile from the river. The river can be seen in the distance from the hill where Mount Tabor Church is located. The old family farm is located about one quarter of a mile from the church. It was at Mount Tabor Methodist Church that I had some of my first contacts outside of our large family unit. I was sent to Mount Tabor for Sunday school because my parents' church, the Finnish Lutheran Church in Monessen, was too far away. Travel in those days was by horse and buggy to Roscoe, where a trolley car or a train could be boarded to get to other towns. A trip to Monessen, which is only about eight miles from Roscoe, would have meant walking more than a mile to town. I would have ridden the trolley car to Charleroi. At Charleroi, I would have boarded a bus to cross the river to Monessen. In Monessen, it was a long climb up the hill to the Finnish Church. This difficulty can explain my lack of contact with the church in Monessen.
Most of my older brothers and sisters attended confirmation school at the Finnish Church in the summertime when they were teenagers. They stayed at my mother's cousin's house on Chestnut Street. Mrs. Rihimaki, Mother's cousin, was a Bastubacka. In the early days, Bible study was done in the Finnish language. This study gave the older family members a chance to learn to read Finnish. The younger members of the family did not have this opportunity.
At Mount Tabor I learned about death in a very real way. In the summertime I would watch men dig graves for the dead. From a distance I would watch the burial of the deceased. One of the most sad scenes was the funeral of two teenage brothers who drowned in the river at Roscoe. In the paupers' section, hobos and unknown people would be buried in a plain pine box without ceremony. In the early thirties, men would catch rides on freight trains. They would travel the country looking for work. Many who died in their travels were not identified. One that was identified and brought home for burial was my brother Oliver's brother-in-law, Charles Matson. Charley died from injuries that he received when he fell under the wheels of a freight train.
The territory around our small thirty-seven acre farm had some natural sights that brought people from town on Sunday afternoons. The waterfalls on the Riggs' farm were the major attraction. In the spring, large groups would walk down past our house to the falls to pick wild flowers and view the falls in a deep wild gorge. This was a place to take cold showers, too, if you thought no one was around.
The giant rock in the woods above the Riggs' house was another attraction. I remember my first visit to the giant rock. Coming upon this big, black object the size of a house in the middle of the woods was rather scary for a young boy. The giant rock had many names and messages chiseled into its top. Another rock that was unusual was the Piano Rock on the Pringle farm. It got its name from its shape, and it was also loaded with engravings. There must have been many people who carried a chisel and hammer to these rocks to display their talent.
The Piano Rock was on the short-cut to the Jackman Elementary School. This route to school cut across field and woods. It cut off at least one half mile from the usual one and a half mile walk to school. One of the dangers along this route was Irvin Worrels' bull. I never did like that animal. When I saw it I stayed near the fence.
Jackman was a two room country school. When I was in first grade Hilda Mills was my teacher. She taught the first four grades. Haidus Crow taught grades five through eight. The only thing that stands out in my mind about first grade was the time Mr. Crow kept all the boys in after school. He wanted to find out who had dirtied the outdoor toilet (privy). No one confessed, but at 5 o'clock we were all rescued by Mr. Davis, the school board president. Mr. Crow's contract was not renewed for the following year. Teachers had no tenure in those days. My sister Eva was hired to teach grades five through eight the next year. She had just received a two-year teaching degree from California Normal School. At nineteen she began teaching students not much younger than herself. At first there were some jealousies in this farming community that a girl from an immigrant family got the teaching job. Things did work out, however, and she taught many years at Jackman.
Eva was the pioneer in education in our family. She was the first to graduate from high school as well as to attend college. Henry, who was crippled from birth, did get a business school education at Douglas Business School in downtown Charleroi. He was not able to walk the hill to go to Charleroi High School. He made use of his business training many years later at age fifty when he was elected tax collector of Speers Borough. While living in Long Branch he did serve as borough secretary. It was a non-paying job. Henry was the one who corresponded with relatives in Finland and Canada. I remember him sitting at his typewriter while Mother would dictate letters to her relatives in Finnish. He had a keen mind and a very good memory.
The other older family members, Oliver, Charles, and Elizabeth went to work after graduating from elementary school. It was a matter of necessity to do so. Everyone worked together to contribute to the family. Oliver went to work in the mines and with Pittsburgh Steel. Charles also went to work in the steel mill. Through years of hard work he became a general foreman. At age sixteen, my brother John started his working career with Pittsburgh Steel. His first job was the back-breaking work of chipping defects out of steel bars with an air gun. It is no wonder that he lost much of his hearing. Oliver left the family and got married when I was about seven years old. He married Helen Matson, a second generation Finnish girl from Fayette City.
When Eva started college my father didn't think it was wise to spend money on educating a girl, but Mother and the family always seemed to be able to scrape enough money together for each semester's fees and the train fare. It paid off when Eva got her job at Jackman. Her contract called for one hundred dollars a month for eight months. Out of that she had to pay for janitorial services. A seventh or eighth grade boy had to be paid for carrying the coal for the stove, sweeping the floors each day, oiling the floor once a month, and raising the flag on the pole outside. Oiling the floors with kerosene was necessary because of the mud carried in from the dirt roads and playground. I grew into the janitor's job when I went to Eva's room. She was supposed to pay me five dollars a month, but somehow I usually ended up with two dollars. As the Depression grew worse, Eva's salary was cut to ninety dollars a month, and the school year was cut to seven months because there wasn't any tax money.
California became a four year teachers' college in the early thirties. Ida and Elsa got their degrees there. Years later, Eva finished her four year program. When Ida graduated she went to teach at the Jackman school, and Eva moved to the other school in Long Branch, the one room Howe School.
One day when I was in third grade, I was staying in after school for Miss Mills to get some work completed. I became very anxious when I heard the whistle of the steam engine tractor pulling the bailing machine along the road toward the school. No way was I going to miss the parade of the steam engine, bailing machine, and the water wagon pulled by two big horses. I knew my priorities, so I laid the paper on the front desk, and I was off to watch the hissing engine and ride the water wagon to the next farm on its route. The next day Miss Mills did not agree with my priorities. I had a little extra work to do. Today, sixty years later, I still believe I made the right decision. That was the best way to spend a beautiful September afternoon. I still go to see those old steam engines puff their smoke and hear them blow their whistle at a convention of steam engine hobbyists every fall.
September was always the second trip around for the large Eclipse steam engine. In August the Crow family would start from Lover with their threshing machine, and they would stop at all the farms that needed oats or wheat to be threshed. It was a cooperative venture among the farmers. Many men were needed to do the job. Men were needed to feed the sheaths into the machine; others bagged the grain as it came out, and usually there were two men arranging the straw into a stack as it came out the other end. The straw stacking was a dusty and itchy job.
Mr. Crow and his sons ran the machinery. They had to line up the thresher with the large, clumsy steam engine so that the huge belt would run straight. Someone had to feed coal into the engine to keep the fire going, and water was needed to make the steam. The youngest Crow boy drove the water wagon. John Cox and I would ride with him to the nearest creek to get water. The water wagon had a large tank with a hand operated pump. It was hard work pumping the water from the creek. The water was brought back and pumped into the engine to make steam. The farmers paid the Crow family a fee for every bushel threshed. The farmers supplied the coal and water for the engine and the oats for the water wagon team.
The women cooked the dinner for everyone present. Dinner for farmers was twelve o'clock noon. The evening meal was supper. There seemed to be competition among the women to see who could cook the best dinner. Even today you can occasionally hear about a large family-style dinner referred to as a thresherman's dinner.
When I was in first grade my brother John was in eighth grade. In that first year at Jackman school there were times when John would have to carry me through some of the deep snow drifts that had accumulated during the night. Morning before school was a busy time at our house. Mother and Father would rise at about five o'clock. Mother had to get the old coal stove started. Beside the stove was a bucket of coal and a bundle of firewood. As I got older, it was my responsibility to make sure that the coal bucket was full and the firewood was in place every evening. When the supply of firewood became low, I would put the harness on our horse Dutch and head for the woods dragging a large chain. Dried trees and limbs were bundled together and dragged back to the house to be sawed into firewood.
As the stove heated the kitchen, Mother would start the chore of packing lunches for her children. There were six or more lunches to be packed. The younger ones would be going to school and the older ones would be going to work. Sandwiches for the lunches consisted of bologna from Donavan's grocery store, jelly with homemade bread, homemade pie or cake, and homegrown apples from the barrels in the basement. When lunch meat was not available, egg or chicken sandwiches were made. Eggs and chicken meat were always available since we raised over two hundred chickens every year. The eggs were traded for groceries at Donavan's store in Roscoe. Residents of Roscoe went to Donavan's for fresh eggs. Refrigeration was still a problem in those days.
My lunch at school seemed to be one of the better ones. One boy had only a jelly sandwich on homemade bread. The jelly came from blackberries picked in the summer, and free government flour supplied the bread. Another boy had only smearcase with homemade bread. Smearcase was a type of Slovak yogurt. Those sandwiches never varied. The only government assistance in those days of the Great Depression was free flour. Our family did not get free flour because we always had a large flock of chickens, a very good orchard, one or two milk cows, and plenty of home-canned fruits and vegetables.
Father made money in the summer by selling berries, apples, tomatoes, and corn from his horse and buggy in Roscoe. Older family members seemed to always have some type of work. Most of it was part-time and paid less than two dollars a day during the Depression. The steel mills didn't get back to working full-time until the late thirties. Father had worked in the coal mines until the late twenties, but with the shortage of work in the thirties, he concentrated his time on farming and peddling the farm produce. I would sometimes go with him to help with the horse as he sold produce.
Over the years we had a variety of horses. Some were very spirited while others were old nags. One horse that required a second person was Bess. She was very nervous and spirited. It was my job to help keep her calm and to prevent her from running away with the buggy while my father was busy. We always stopped at Donavan's grocery store before going home. The store was located on the main street in Roscoe with the railroad tracks running beside the street. Bess was terrified by trains. One time I was tending to Bess while my father was in the store. I heard a train in the distance as it was coming through Elco. I couldn't leave to get my father because Bess had heard the train, also. She began to quiver and prance as the train approached. I was only about twelve years old at the time and no match for a wild horse. My father finally heard the train and came running out of the store. He held her tight and covered her eyes as the big steam engine train went rumbling by. That was a real close call.
I have many memories of growing up on the farm. Every summer I got a new pair of tennis shoes, but much of the summer was spent barefooted. I had two pairs of overalls. One pair was worn while the other was in the wash. Wash day was every Monday. When I was very young we had a wash shed, but the washing equipment was moved into the basement when an addition to the house was built. The equipment in the wash room included an old coal stove to heat the water, a hand-operated washing machine, wash boards with wooden and galvanized tubs, and a hand-operated clothes ringer. The clothes were boiled in a copper boiler on the stove. Next, they were scrubbed on the wash board with Octagon soap. The clothes were then rinsed in a wooden tub and then run through the hand-ringer. Finally, the clothes were hung out to dry. Sometimes in cold weather the clothes would freeze on the clothes line. I still remember the line of frozen long johns that looked like men standing at attention.
Berry picking season was a busy time for everyone. Wild blackberries grew on large portions of our farm. Everyone was up at daybreak. After breakfast everyone except Henry and Mother went out with a large bucket and a coffee can made into a picking bucket. A wire handle was put on the can so it could hang around the neck with a belt. This design left two hands free for picking. The men picked in the hollow where the berries were large, and the bushes were hard to penetrate. The girls picked berries on the hill where the bushes were smaller. The berries were brought home where most were put into quart baskets, while others were left in the buckets. Father would load up the buggy with apples, corn, tomatoes, and berries. He was off to town to sell the produce. The quarts of berries sold for ten cents while the large buckets of berries sold for one dollar. Any berries that were not sold were canned or made into jelly by Mother. She also made a berry syrup that was good when poured over cooked rice.
The family garden near the house was always a source of vegetables to be used by the family. Many of the tomatoes were sold in Roscoe by my father. The tomatoes were not my favorite food. This dislike probably was because I had to plant, hoe, and water the plants. It was not until recent years that I have started to eat tomatoes. My father would plant the seeds deep in a cold frame, that was covered with glass windows, early in the spring. The soil was enriched with chicken manure. Solar energy and water helped to establish strong plants. The plants were set out in the garden as early as possible. When there was a danger of frost, we made tents of newspaper to cover the plants. It was a race to get ripe tomatoes in June when the prices were five to seven dollars a bushel. By August the prices were down to one dollar a bushel. Donavan's store traded many of the tomatoes for groceries.
During my first twelve years the main source of light at our farmhouse was oil lamps. The care of the oil lamps was the responsibility of my sisters. The wicks had to be trimmed, the glass chimneys cleaned, and the bases had to be filled with kerosene. The kerosene was kept outside in a fifty gallon oil drum with a valve on it. A small one gallon can was filled from this main supply, and it was kept in the house to service the lamps. It was not until 1934 that electricity came to our rural area. My brother Charles had taken a correspondence course in electricity so he wired our house and many others in Long Branch. Chuck, who was fourteen years older than I, was the inventor in the family. After we got electricity in our house he ran an electric line to the barn and the chicken house. In order to keep up the production of eggs in the winter, when the days were short, he made a gadget that turned the lights on at five o'clock in the morning in the hen house. To accomplish this he took the bell out of an old alarm clock, and then he soldered a rod to the bell winding mechanism. He tied the light switch string to the end of the rod. At five o'clock in the morning when the alarm went off the rod would kick over and turn on the light. The chickens would then jump off their roosts and start eating. They would then head to the nests to lay eggs. This helped to keep up egg production in the winter when eggs were more expensive. This was important because the eggs were traded for groceries. I remember checking the eggs and packing them in a wooden crate so they could be taken to the store safely.
Until the late 1930's the house was heated by a coal stove in the kitchen, an upright coal stove in the dining room, and a fireplace in the parlor. There was also a coal stove in the laundry area in the new section of the basement. Wood was sometimes used in all these stoves. There were times when my father would light the laundry stove for a special purpose. He would wait until the fire settled down, and there were only red coals left. On these coals he placed small herring fish that had been stored in a small wooden barrel full of salt brine. We would take the fish from the hot coals and scrape off the ash residue. They were then placed on a piece of Finnish rye bread. This made a good lunch. The fish and the bread were supplied by the Finnish baker in Monessen. He imported the small barrels of fish from Northern Europe. The laundry stove was also used to heat water into which butchered chickens were plunged so the feathers could be plucked.
The larger and original section of the basement of the farmhouse was used as a storage area. The floor was dirt, and a tall person had trouble walking upright. One wall was lined with large wooden barrels that were standing upright with the tops open. This is where the fall crop of apples was stored. Each apple was wrapped in newspaper to prevent decay. This method of storage provided the family with apples for lunches, applesauce, and apple pies until the following April. There was another smaller wooden barrel in the basement. It had both ends in place, and it had a spigot in one end. This was the blackberry wine barrel. Sometimes elderberries were used to make the wine. Nearby was the wine press. Every summer Father would press some berries into wine. The main use of the wine was medicinal. I remember the treatment for a chest cold. It was a mustard plaster on the chest and a cup of heated blackberry wine. It may not have cured the cold, but it made a person feel better.
In the corner of the basement was a small area that was dug nearly two feet deep. It was lined with bricks, and it usually had a block of ice in the bottom. This is where the perishable foods were stored. The ice came from the icehouse in Roscoe. This was our refrigerator during the depression years in the 1930's.
In the late nineteen thirties my brother Charles installed a coal furnace in the basement so we could have central heating. First one end of the basement had to be dug one foot deeper. I remember having to dig the hard clay soil and hauling it out of the basement with a wheelbarrow. That same wheelbarrow is still in my possession.
Originally there was a hand pump in the kitchen to draw water from the cistern. After we had gotten electricity Chuck installed an electric pump and tank in the basement. We could now get water by just turning a knob at the kitchen sink. Water still had to be heated on the kitchen stove. By 1940 he had installed a commode in the basement. Up until this time our only choice was to go to the outdoor privy. We did not linger there very long in the winter. When the cistern water level got low in the dry seasons I would hitch the horse to a cart with a fifty gallon barrel on it. The barrel was filled with water down at the spring. I would then park the the cart next to the cistern, and the water was bailed out into the storage area. Our drinking water was carried in buckets from the spring and placed on the sink in the kitchen.
Another hobby that Chuck had was photography. He made a small dark room in the basement where he developed his film. The camera he used was an old box camera.
Except for the Tillie Cummings property, the farms that surrounded our land were owned by people who were related. The women were all Hazelbakers. Mrs. Riggs, Mrs. Worrel, and Grandma Pringle were sisters. Our farm was originally owned by the Hazelbaker family. My father bought it in an auction sale in 1920. Our nearest neighbors were the Cox family. Mrs. Dora Bell Cox was Mrs. Pringle's daughter. The Cox family lived in a house that was built on two acres of the Pringle farm. Mr. Cox worked in a chemical plant across the Monongahela River in Newell. His old Durant automobile had the letters D.B.C. on the door in honor of his wife Dora Bell. He spent many evenings working on that old car so he could take Dora Bell on a Sunday drive. When I was very young Mr. Cox tried to form a marching band. He played a trombone along with his oldest son Jim. Another son played the trumpet, while another son also played an instrument. My brother Charles played a French horn, and my brother Oliver played the drums. We had an old baritone horn in the house. I was not old enough to remember all the details, but I believe my brother Henry was learning to play it. My sisters always chuckled about the sounds that came from that organization that was referred to as Coxies Band. My brother Charles became good enough to play his horn in the Fayette City Community Band and the Finnish Louhi Band in Monessen. The Louhi Band was an excellent concert band. They had recorded music in New York, and they had traveled to Finland. Charles was not a member of the band when these events took place.
My nearest playing companion was John Cox, who was two years older than me. He was not always a good influence. His attitude sometimes got him into trouble with my sister Eva who taught us in grades five through eight at the Jackman School in Long Branch.
The Pringle family that lived on a hill overlooking our house consisted of two old bachelors, two old maids, and Grandma Pringle. Two married sons lived in Roscoe, and Dora Bell was married to Mr. Cox. It was not uncommon for them to watch our family with binoculars from their lofty perch. Their privy with the door open was good place to sit and watch. Apparently they did not realize that we knew that they were watching us. It was always a family joke when we knew that the we were being watched. Elgie Pringle served as a private in World War I, and he was the family hero. In contrast, his brother Bill seemed to be the outcast of the family. He eventually died of cancer in the late nineteen thirties. One of my memories of Grandma Pringle happened when I was very young. I was visiting her with my oldest sister Elizabeth. I never liked butter on my jelly bread. Grandma was trying to be nice to me when she served me a jelly sandwich that include a layer of butter. Since I was a meek little boy I obediently ate the thing. Apparently, it was not too bad because I started to use butter with my jelly bread after my experience with Grandma Pringle.
Other foods that I disliked were sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk. My other dislike was tomatoes. Of all those childhood yukey foods, I still will not eat sour cream and buttermilk.
The Worrel family lived on the far side of our property. Their house was reached by going around the hill through our hay fields or by following the old road on the perimeter of our farm. It was one half mile to one mile depending on the route that was taken. The two farms were separated by an old rail fence. Although it was old, it was well built. When I look at replicas of rail fences at some historical sights, it disturbs me that so many of them are not constructed properly. The Worrel family originally consisted of old Mr. and Mrs. Worrel, their son, Irwin, and daughter, Cora. My faded memories of old Mr. Worrel was seeing him tending the family garden while on his knees. He must have been plagued with arthritis. High on the outside wall of the springhouse was the name Squire Worrel. He had been a justice of peace. The night that he died our cocker spaniel mongel dog, named Browny, raised his nose to the sky and howled like a wolf. He had never done that before. My parents thought that was a bad omen. The next day we found out that Mr. Worrel had died. I believe that Mr. Worrel was old enough to have lived through the Civil War era. I never knew Cora Worrel because she had been sent to Dixmont State Mental Hospital with mental problems. There were some rumors that she had been raped and that led to her problems.
Mrs. Worrel was a wiry old lady. I got to know her through a chore that I had to do. Cows do not produce milk one month every year. This is before they have a new calf. When our cow would go dry, my mother would send me to the Worrel farm each day with a two quart milk bucket to get a new supply of milk. I would visit with Mrs. Worrel in her antique filled house. Her old oil lamps that hung on the wall fascinated me. She would take me out to the springhouse to get the milk to fill my container. I would pay her ten cents a quart, and then I would be on my way home. At eleven o'clock every morning she would ring the large farm bell so her son Irwin would know it was time to leave his work in the fields and come home for lunch. The noontime meal was known as dinner, and the evening meal was known as supper.
Irwin was a hard working man who who took good care of the farm while his mother was alive. He had never married. When I knew him best he was in his early forties, and he was the quiet bachelor type. Some years after his mother died, Irwin began to drink heavily. It was rumored that he was meeting a married woman out in the woods. Eventually he began to neglect the farm, and then he lost it. Apparently he needed the strong guidance of his stern mother. The rest of the details I do not know because I joined the Army Air Corp, and when I came back my family had moved to Speers Hill.
Mrs. Riggs lived alone on a farm across the valley from our orchard and hay fields. Her two sons were married and lived in town. There was no farming being done on the property. I did not know Mrs. Riggs because I had no reason to visit her.
One summer day my father and my brother John were working in the field across the valley from the Riggs farm. I had been sent to town on an errand. They heard a shot gun discharged in the woods across the valley. A dog screamed in pain and that was followed by another gun shot. They knew that our dogs, Bonzo and Teddy, had left left home that morning. When the dogs were free together they would run off to hunt. They would not go alone. When we met for lunch I was told what had happened. Bonzo had come home alone. He was older and wiser, and he was also gun shy. The sight of a gun made him cower. Once before he came home weary and sick with a small caliber bullet hole through the underside of his body. He recovered fully. After lunch I went down to the end of our orchard where I could observe who would be coming out of the Riggs woods. Soon I saw Vernon Riggs come down to his mother's house carrying a gun. That evening when my brother Charles came home from work he was angry at what had happened. So when he saw Vernon Riggs coming up the road on his way home to Roscoe he stopped him. He asked Vernon why he shot our dog. Vernon denied that he had done the shooting. After a violent argument Vernon Riggs never used that route home again.
A year or two after the electric line came to to our house the West Penn Power Company wanted to run a power line through our farm to the Riggs farm. Instead of following a route along the road they wanted to run a direct line through our orchard and best fields. My father was vehemently opposed to that route. I remember an argument in front of our house that included two West Penn engineers, my father, and my brother Henry. The engineers said were they going to go through our property using the power of eminent domain, and they could not be stopped. They probably thought that they could convince this immigrant man with a foreign accent that they could do as they pleased. They did not know the resolve of my father. He stated that no West Penn Power Company truck or power line would ever cross his property. During this impass I spoke up. This fourteen year old boy quietly asked the engineers if it was possible to run a residental line on the lower part of a high power line that had wooden poles. They said it could be done. I told them such a line runs through the Riggs property to Allenport. The engineers looked at each other in silence and left. The Riggs electricity came along the route I had suggested. The existing right of way was already clear and the poles were in place. They needed to install only two additional poles to complete the job.
Shortly after we received electricity we were also able to get a telephone. Our telephone was on a ten party line. We could hear the rings of five telephones on the line. Our ring was one long and two short. Others had two short rings or any other variety of rings. There was no dial on the telephone. You had to contact the operator to make a call. When the operator was completing an incoming call she had to know how many rings and the length of the rings to give each patron. News began to travel fast in Long Branch. When you received a call you would know that others would be listening. When one of our family members called home from town and we wanted the conversation to be private we sometimes used the Finnish language. As soon as that happened you could hear the click of phones that were hanging up.
When the family moved to Long Branch, the Ku Klux Klan was still active there. When I was small I remember my father telling us that the Klan was burning a cross on a distant hill. My sister Helen, who is six years older than me, said that she remembered a cross burning on the Pringle farm overlooking our house. She said it was frightening for a small child. There were no black people to intimidate, but foreign speaking families had started to move into the area. The Klan tried to enforce the Pennsylvania blue laws that made Sunday a day of rest. Our family started to be accepted sooner than other immigrant families because we were Protestant, and our family started to attend the Mount Tabor Methodist Church.
At Mount Tabor, the Herron family members were the pillars of the church. Brothers Jim and Henry Herron made sure that the church operated efficiently. It was Jim who had me light the coal furnace in the basement on Sunday mornings when I was a teenager. That lasted only one or two years. Jim and Lizzi lived on a farm near the church with Lizzi's brother Louie Young. Louie worked the farm while his brother-in-law Jim worked in the steel mill at Allenport. Louie never attended church, and he isolated himself. I was told that he thought the radio was the work of the devil.
Mount Tabor church had a Sunday school picnic on the Philips' farm in August of each year. I received my annual allowance of 25 cents to spend at the picnic. I would buy a bottle of soda pop, an ice cream cone, and a hot dog. Each item cost a nickel. At dusk, a bonfire was started. We roasted weiners and marshmallows on the end of a long, sharpened twig. There were two swings hung in two large trees by the men of the church for this affair. There was a small swing for small children and a larger swing for the big children. There were all kinds of games and races for children, too. One of the races I remember was where a child had to run while standing in a feed sack. It was quite difficult to take quick, tiny steps while holding up the sack. At the end of the day when we were all tired, I remember going home in groups walking down the dusty road.
I remember a church party at our house were Jim Herron organized a game that was called Ships a Sailing. A person would toss a pillow to someone and say, Ships a sailing! The other person would ask, Whats it loaded with? The answer had to be something that started with the first letter of that persons name. When you could not think of anything you were out the game.
We had an old piano in our parlor. We got it through the urging of my sister Helen. My sisters got together and bought it so Helen could take lessons. She played well enough to be the hymn accompanist at Mount Tabor Church. I remember Helen's first experience with music. It was when she ordered a toy clarinet with playing instructions from a magazine.
Each of the dogs we had on the farm had a different personality. When I was very young we had a dog named Blackie. His fur matched his name. I do not remember much about him except that he once broke loose dragging his chain. He was found about two weeks later in the cornfield with the chain tangled around a corn stock. He was near death, but he recovered.
The next dog was Browny. Browny was part cocker spaniel with flowing brown hair. He had many of the traits of a spaniel such as the love of water. The pools of water in the creek were a special attraction to him. When he became old he was missing for several days. He came home and laid down in the front yard and died. During his illness he apparently wanted to be alone in the woods, but he still wanted to die at home.
Teddy was a blond, long-haired collie dog with a kind disposition. Although Bonzo taught him to hunt he did not have Bonzo's determined nature. Teddy was born in a hollow log between our farm and the Worrel farm. The mother of the litter was a wild dog. She was shot by someone, but I do not recall who did it. The litter was divided among various families.
We chose Teddy who was the least attractive one. He turned out to be the the most attractive one when he matured. If left free with Bonzo, they would go out into the woods for the whole day. One of them had to be tied so the other one would stay at home. Our mistake of letting them loose together was fatal to Teddy when he was shot by Vernon Riggs. Thus, Teddy suffered the same fate as his mother. Bonzo and Teddy were the dogs of my pre-teen and early teenage years. The dogs that came afterward were not very impressive. They were strays that adopted us instead of us picking them. Itchybum was typical of this group. He was a nondescript white mongrel that seemed to have an itchy skin. One day when I went to town I saw him sitting on the steps in front of the bank. I scolded him and sent him home. Perhaps he had grown up in town before he adopted us, and he had gone back to look over the situation.
Early spring was the time to collect sweet water from maple trees. This was done mostly by young boys so they could drink the sugar water. The late winter ritual of drilling maple trees became mine when I became old enough to use an auger bit. Besides drilling a hole into the tree, a spout had to be made so the liquid could be directed into a jar. I made two different kinds of spouts. One was cut from a Prince Albert smoking tobacco can. The metal was formed into a V shape, and it was driven into the bark below the hole. The other type, which was probably oldest type, was made from an elderberry bush stem. The stem was cut into a piece about five inches long. It was then split down the middle, and the pith in the center was cleaned out. This formed a channel in the wood stem. One end was sharpened and driven into the bark below the hole.
Every season had its special ritual. In the fall it was gathering walnuts and hickory nuts. The hulls had to be crushed with a mallet and peeled off by hand. The nuts would then be laid out on a low shed roof to dry. At the end of this procedure the hands would be stained brown, and it took several weeks for it to wear off.
During my pre-teen and early teenage years, I usually went to the Roscoe Theater on Saturday afternoons. This was the day for class B movies and a cowboy movie serial that took weeks to complete. The price was 10 cents. Occasionally I would go on a Friday night with John Abbott. I remember the walk home in the dark that proved to be scary at times. We walked through a pasture field that had many large rocks. One night one of the rocks seemed to move! It turned out not to be a rock, but a cow that was lying down. We always avoided going through Mount Tabor Cemetery. It seemed to be less frightening to circle around it.
Farmers used an old method to make lime. This was the earth-covered lime kiln. I remember the one my father and brothers made. Limestone was blasted out of the hillside, and then it was hauled to a location nearby were the kiln was made. Since my father was an experienced miner he knew how to get the limestone from the quarry by using blasting powder. To begin building the kiln eight large logs were cut. A cross design was made with the logs. Two logs were laid side by side about two feet apart with them pointing to the center from four different directions. The idea was to have four fresh air vents and an open center acting as a chimney. Wood was piled over the entire area with the base log vents left open to the center. Coal was also added on top of the wood. Limestone rocks were piled on top of this combustible material. With the center left open to form a chimney, dirt was piled over the entire structure. A fire was started in each vent hole. After the fire started inside the mound it was left to smolder and burn for about two weeks. The limestone rocks were cooked and reduced to powdered limestone. This residue was then hauled by horse and wagon to be spread on the fields.
Growing up on the farm I learned how to be a blacksmith and farrier. We had all the equipment a blacksmith would use. Our forge was a Sears and Roebuck mail order model. It had a blower fan that was driven by a hand crank. When I was little it was my duty to keep the anthracite coal burning very hot by cranking the blower handle. Other equipment included several hand made tongs and an anvil. A container of water was nearby to help temper chisels and to quench horseshoes. I learned how to handle hot metal and to shoe horses by watching my father and older brothers. There was a special knife for cleaning and trimming horses hooves. A large rasp was used for the final filing and shaping. Some horses were docile and did not object to to the trimming of their hooves and the fitting of shoes, but others objected violently. One horse that objected was Bess. She was so wild that we had to put a tweezer on her lip to control her. By squeezing the lip it was easier to control her nervous reactions. I was still young at this time, and my brother Charles was our main farrier. One time while Chuck was doing the actual work and the rest of us were trying to keep Bess calm she kicked loose from his grasp. He had just driven a horseshoe nail through the shoe and the hoof, and he did not have time to turn over the sharp point of the nail. The nail cut open his entire finger. It bled profusely. The finger was wrapped tightly in a rag. As he was turning white from shock he was taken to the doctor by Jim Cox to have the finger stitched. The shoes on the horses were changed twice a year. There were winter shoes, and there were summer shoes. The winter shoes had sharp pointed cleats while the summer shoes had flat cleats. New shoes were ordered from either the Sears or the Montgomery Ward catalog. They had to be heated and bent to fit the the horse's hoof. Sometimes my father would make cleats and forge them on to old shoes. When I was about fifteen I started to do the actual shoeing myself. By the time that I was sixteen or seventeen I became the main farrier with my father assisting. We had a large placid horse name Dutch at this time. He did not object to getting new shoes. At the present time I still think that I could shoe a horse, adjust a harness to fit properly, and to work with a horse. Those things are not forgotten.
My father taught us to repair our own shoes. He had a metal stand with many sizes of shoe lasts that would fit on its top. There was always a sheet of leather from which soles could be cut. We also had a supply of shoe repair nails of various sizes. Shoes had to last a long time during the depression years of the nineteen thirties.
My father continued to use a horse and buggy for transportation into town during the nineteen thirties. In contrast, my brothers experimented with old cars. In the late nineteen twenties, my brother Oliver bought an old Maxwell automobile. He did not drive it very much, so he parked it in a shed on the farm. An incident of brake failure caused him to quit using it. Early cars had only small brakes on the rear wheels. They had to be adjusted constantly. As the old Maxwell touring car with a canvas roof sat in the shed for many years, it became a play place for me. I would sit on the leather seat behind the large steering wheel pretending to drive it. This old car that would be very valuable today ended up as the power source for a feed mill. The family bought the old mill to grind grain for the chickens and other animals. Chuck, my inventor brother, took the body off the car. He removed the long drive shaft, and then he connected the differential and rear axle directly to to the transmission and the engine. The extra frame was cut off and removed. The engine portion of the car was put on permanent blocks. One rear wheel was clamped in place which allowed only a wheel to spin when the engine was run. This became the drive wheel. A long flat belt connected the drive wheel with a pulley on the grain mill.
Later Chuck bought an old Model T Ford. This car was not used much. He only drove it to work. The Model T was a strange car. It had a third pedal that was used for reverse. A battery was not necessary to run the car because it had a magneto. It had to be started by cranking it or letting it coast down a hill and then shifting it into gear. Chuck quit using it, and it sat in the barnyard for a couple of years. He then sold it for five dollars to a couple of teenagers. They put a gallon of gasoline in it, and then they coasted it down a hill. It started immediately. That was the last time I saw the old Model T.
In 1935 Chuck bought his first good used car. It was a 1930 Graham Paige. It was a heavy car with four wheel hydraulic brakes and many other luxury features. This was the car in which I learned to drive. No one taught me. I experimented and found out the purpose of each gear. Chuck did not object to me playing with his car. I was soon backing it up and turning it around. This helped Chuck when he brought chicken feed home from the feed store. I would unload it at the barn.
By 1937 Chuck had become a foreman in the Allenport Steel Mill. He now bought a new 1937 Chevrolet. Four years later he bought another new Chevrolet. It was in this car that I finally took took my drivers test when I was nineteen years old. It was easy to pass the test because I had been driving for five years. Sometimes I had driven to Roscoe to pick up Elizabeth when she came home from work after dark. This gave Chuck a break from that chore. No one bothered to stop me while driving on the lonely dirt road. There were no police in Long Branch.
After coming back home after World War II I bought a series of old beat-up cars. I needed a car to get to work at Allenport and to drive to classes at California State College. My first car was a l934 Plymouth four door. It had wooden floor boards. One night when I was driving this car along a country road I saw a reflection of fire under the car. When I stopped there were flames under the floor boards. It did not take me long to pry loose the wooden boards. A full fledged fire was in progress around the flywheel between the transmission and the drive shaft. This flywheel had a brake band around it that was connected to the parking brake. I had left the hand brake partially on. As it heated up, it set the oil around the transmission on fire. I smothered the flames with a blanket, and then I continued on my way home. My next car was a 1937 Ford with a powerful eight cylinder engine, but it had poor brakes. It was a real rattletrap, but it got me to classes and to work. My next car was a 1934 Chevrolet. It was a clean and well kept car, but I discovered that it had a leaking transmission. It could not be fixed since it was so old, and there were no parts available. I kept this car for about a year by pumping heavy grease into the transmission so the leak would be slower. The final used car that I had during my college days was a 1940 Plymouth. It was a good car that served me well until I got my first new car. This was a Ford that I bought in the summer of 1950. My new wife, Virginia, and I used this car for transportation during our honeymoon in August of that year. The luxury item in that car was a radio. The hit tune on the radio that summer was Good Night Irene. From that time to the present, all my cars have been new cars.
After eight years in a country school, the last four years of which were taught by my sister Eva, it was difficult to start in a large high school. I could have chosen to attend either Charleroi or California High Schools, as the Long Branch school district would pay my tuition. Charleroi was a slightly larger school and was located in the town where our family did most of its shopping for clothing and other goods. I had no connection to California High School. Most of my sisters, except for Elsa, had attended Charleroi High School. I was the first of my brothers to attend high school. During the Depression, all young working class men tried to find jobs as soon as possible to help support their families. This was true in my family.
Travel to high school required either walking or hitching a ride to Roscoe to catch the trolley. Sometimes my brother Chuck would give me a ride on his way to work. Charleroi High School was located at the top of a steep hill. After the trolley dropped me off, I still had a long climb to get to school. I was only thirteen years old when I began high school. Since I was so young and immature, I did not put my best efforts into my schoolwork. At the time, I thought that working on the farm was a far more important task. Fortunately, I selected the academic curriculum in high school, which was later to my advantage when I chose to go to college after World War II.
After graduating from Charleroi High School in 1939 I worked a year on the farm. The winter was spent trapping. When I was nineteen, Chuck got a job for me at the Allenport Steel Mill. I remember that first day in the mill very well. The dirt, grime, and the noise of clanging pipes was overwhelming. While walking home to the farm with my ears ringing, I hoped for better things. Perhaps I could become a chicken farmer. There was no hope of getting an education. I was in no better situation than my immigrant father. He and his immigrant peers had no choice but to take jobs in the coal mines and steel mills. Their most common escape was to save a little money and buy a farm. I soon settled down into the routine of being a steel worker. It was the first time that I had any money. The wages were $5 a day. That was big money for a person who had been working on the farm for nothing but his food. When I received my first pay I gave most of it to my mother. This was a routine passed on to me by my older brothers Oliver, Charles, and John. Mother never asked for any money. It was that pleased look on her face that I sought. Father was also pleased to see his boys gainfully employed. It was this cooperation that enabled Eva, Ida, and Elsa to get a college education.
Before the United States declared war, John was among the first group to be drafted into the army. That left me to be the lone help for my father on the farm as I continued to work in the steel mill. I volunteered for the Air Force later and spent three years in the service. My desire to be on an air crew led to this decision.
When I went into the service I declared my parents and Henry as my dependents. The government took one-half of my meager pay and added more money to the allotment. As a result, my mother received a monthly check. Either John or I could have done this, but only one was eligible to do so. I felt that I should be the one to do it. After the war, I came home to a new house on Speers Hill. The farm had been sold, and a mortgage was incurred on the new residence. John and I went back to our jobs as steel workers. We continued in the old routine of bringing money home so the mortgage and the necessities of life could be paid. Lib spent her small salary on trying to make the house a better place to live.
The war had broadened my vision. I did not want to spend the rest of my life in the mill. After working full time for a year I enrolled at California State College. I was 25 years old, and there was a need to make a decision. The government paid my tuition and gave me a monthly allotment check. I continued to work in the mill three days a week. This was done on weekends and night turns during the week. With the government check and the days I worked in the mill my salary remained the same. This country has been good to me. I gave a little, and the country gave me much in return. I graduated in three years by going to school both summers and winters. I did not take a teaching job until two years later because I could not afford to take a cut in salary. Steel workers were now making more money than teachers so I worked two more years full time in the mill. It took me five years to get my Masters degree at the Pitt on a part time basis.
After I got married in 1950 I continued to give money to Mother. This was done with Virginia's blessing. She felt that Mother was such a nice and deserving person. This giving ended when my own needs became too large. I developed rheumatoid arthritis and many medical bills. There was also a need to save money for a down payment on a house. By this time Henry had gotten his first job as tax collector of Speers at the age of fifty. Things were getting better in my parents' old age.
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