Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday’s Goings On and another Story from Long Ago

Another work week is complete. I am very glad for the weekend and time to not think about work. Today has been a busy day filled with lots of work and trying to keep Zack occupied as he had school off today. I don’t understand the Cherry Creek School District scheduling policy, as the kids in grades K – 8 had two days just two weeks ago and once again they have a 4 day weekend. It must really be hard for families in which both parents work outside of the home. I am very glad that I have a job that allows me to work from the majority of the time. During my lunch break we went to the bank and pulled Zack’s birth certificate out of the safety deposit box. From there we headed to the post office in Highlands Ranch to have Zack’s passport application processed. I submitted it on an expedited basis, so we will have it back in our hands by March 13th. Zack is very excited to get his passport! We have tickets to the Nuggets versus Lakers game this evening. We are planning to leave the house around 5:45PM to catch a train into downtown. Though the train ride is expensive - $14 for both of us round trip is worthwhile as I don’t have to worry about parking and if I have 1 or 2 beers at the game I don’t have to worry about driving. I thought I would post another story from long ago today. When I used to travel all the time for work I would spend countless hours on airplanes. Most of the time I would spend my plane flights either reading or sleeping. Sometimes however I would write. I wrote a lot of stories about my past. These stories were written to eventually be shared with Zack. I will be sharing all these stories with Zack, but some of them I feel are good enough to post here and share with the world. Today’s story is about my childhood living out in the middle of no-where in Norvelt, Pennsylvania and the adventures I had in the woods behind our house. The pictures with this post are just some random pictures of me as a kid. They aren't anything fancy or anything - they are just some pictures to break up the story. My family’s home in Norvelt was located on the edge of a large wooded area. At one time the wooded area had been part of farm. Once you left our house walking to the west you crossed our field and then came to the woods. First you went down a small grade. Then there was a flat section maybe fifteen feet across. This flat section had once been a road that ran to various farms throughout the area. After the flat section there was another downhill grade at which time you came to our stream. The stream was very small, maybe only a foot or two across. After you crossed the stream there was a large hill. The woods sloped upwards for the next ½ mile until you came to a tar and gravel road that marked the boundary of the woods. Located throughout the woods were the ruins (foundations only) of a farmhouse and barn. Near these foundations and in the stream I would constantly find the remains of porcelain plates, cups and other things. As a kid I constantly dug in the ground and in the stream to uncover these “treasures”.
Further up the stream from the foundation of the house were the remains of a mine railcar. This wasn’t a large railroad car. It was simply a steel cart with wheels by which miners would haul coal and slag from the mine. I always assumed that this car had come from the remains of a small mine that was found high above on the hillside. When the mining operation closed this car was probably let go or rolled down the hillside. Eventually it came to rest in the little valley through which our stream ran. Over the years it filled with dirty and sank into the soft soil. I can only ever remember it as a steel frame with a cross bar sticking up from the dirty. I suppose in the intervening 25 years or so since I last played around this cart it has probably sunk totally into the ground. A man named Fenton had planted trees throughout a large portion of the woods decades before. He had intended to turn it into a park. At the top of a large hill he built a stone pavilion that could be used for picnics. (I later found a picture of this area and found that it was called “Reservoir Hill”.) When I was a child the pavilion was still in relatively good shape. There were a few holes in the roof but nothing major. During a trip back to Norvelt in November 2000 I drove by this area and noticed that the pavilion had collapsed. The only things that remained intact were the floor and the chimney.
In addition to the pavilion a reservoir had been built on top of the hill. I believe the reservoir was built to aid in fighting fires in the area. However it had been many years since this reservoir had seen any kind of activity. This reservoir wasn’t that large but it was very deep and the sides were lined with concrete. If some one were to step into it they would plunge to the bottom. In the past water had been released from the reservoir down the hillside. This had caused a very deep and ragged gully to form down the side of the hill. Unfortunately there was a tragedy associated with this reservoir. Two kids from the area were killed in this reservoir in the early 1970’s. They had been out riding “mini-bikes” when one of the bikes caught fire. To put out the fire one of the boys dipped his riding helmet into the reservoir. The helmet, which was lined with foam, became very heavy when filled with the water. This caught the boy off guard and he lost his balance and fell into the reservoir. The second boy, Eddy Yakobishin jumped into save the first boy. Eddy was a great swimmer but the first boy who could not swim panicked and wrapped his arms around Eddy’s legs. Both boys drowned. Needless to say these woods provided me and my siblings with a playground of unlimited possibilities. Though typically it was my brother Tim and I who would be out in the woods – at least that is what I remember. Fall was always a special time of year to play in the woods. Dried weeds with long thick stocks would provide us with “truncheons”. We would use these “truncheons” as spears and swords and fight imaginary battles across the woods. Besides the “truncheon” battles, building dams was another huge activity for us. The stream I mentioned above flowed the length of the property. It originated in the many natural springs that were found throughout the woods. We built countless dams across the stream over the years. We would usually start with a large flagstone that we would position in the muck and clay at the bottom of the stream. This flagstone would usually block the majority of the stream. We would then add more rocks of various shapes and sizes, logs and then mud to chink the holes between the rocks. Eventually we would end up with a dam that would hold back a pool of water ten to twelve feet across. Sometimes the dam would stand for a couple of days. Usually we would tear it down ourselves so we could see the “huge” wall of water surge down the stream. Another fun thing to do was to topple dead trees. In one section of the woods there were mostly pine trees. A lot of trees had died and provided us with a lot of fun by pushing them to the ground. The problem was of course that this could be really dangerous if the trees were really big. To push them to the ground we would start by pushing on the tree to get it swaying back and forth. Sometimes this would result in the top section of the tree coming crashing done on top of us. Numerous times either Tim or I were nearly impaled by the tops of these trees. It was always fun to do but dangerous. We ended up getting banged up a bit but nothing major. The woods were also great fun for us with our B-B guns and shotgun. Each of us had a B-B gun of one type or another. Tim had a CO2 powered Daisy B-B gun that ran off the little CO2 cartridges. I had a pump B-B gun. We would go throughout the woods shooting at trees and leaves. We never tried really tried to kill birds with the B-B guns. However, one time I did kill a Robin by shooting it in the eye with a B-B. After that episode I made sure I never shot anywhere near birds again, because I felt so bad that I had killed the Robin. We also had a 12-gauge shotgun and 22 caliber rifle. These were used exclusively for target practice. We would mount targets of one sort or another (mainly cans) at the edge of the woods and then shoot at them from the field. We were always very safe with these guns – no Dick Cheney kind of accidents. (I added the Cheney part in 2009 just for the blog.) We realized the danger they presented to us and handled them in a safe manner. Other people who lived near us weren’t always so safe with their guns. The woods were a very popular place for people to go small game and deer hunting. I would always be very cautious between October and January because there were usually hunters everywhere. Fluorescent orange was a distinct requirement for any time I spent in the woods during these months. Needless to say people were careless and I was shot at on at least one occasion. The shooter was shooting at sound as opposed to visual confirmation of his target. Thankfully, it was only a small gauge shotgun and I was not hit by any of the pellets. Once the rest of my brothers and sisters had gone to college, I began to spend more and more time in the woods by myself. I would wander through the woods for miles and miles on the weekends. I knew every trail that ran through the woods. The woods connected into a much larger area of open land used for farming and other large wooded tracks of land. Much of the land had either been farms in earlier times or had been used for coal mining. The mines had all stopped operating 40 – 50 years earlier during the Great Depression and the area was over grown with trees and scrub brush. However, a lot of the mining equipment and structures still remained hidden under the cover of the trees and brush. This provided me with a great opportunity, though very dangerous to find new and exciting areas to explore and play. In the hey day of the mines a railroad line had run the whole way through the area. In the late 1970’s, the rails and ties that made up the railway were removed for re-cycling. This opened a huge path through the old mining areas and more desolate areas of the region. The railway had run next to the largest creek in the area called the “Big Sewickley”. There were swamps and desolate areas were no one lived for long distances around the railway line. Prior to when they took the railway line out, these areas had been total inaccessible to me. When the railway line was removed this opened these desolate areas up for my exploration. I spent countless hours and days exploring these areas. I found any mining area of interest. I collected countless railroad spikes and small pieces of mining equipment. To reach the railroad tracks, I would walk from behind our house through the woods until I reached the top of the hill above Hubert’s farm – one of our neighbors. From there I would cross the top of the ridge above farm and then cut down through their farm to reach the Big Sewickley creek. The railroad berm ran along the Big Sewickley. I would then walk on the rail road berm in either direction for miles and miles. Frequently I would walk as far to the west as the little town of Armburst. Or going to the east I would walk as far as old Mammoth mine slag heap. There were a couple of really neat bridges that were left intact when the railroad was taken out. The first was near a small development called 20th Century Estates off the Brinkerton road. This bridge was a stone arch bridge that was no problem to cross. The other was the remains of a steel span bridge that was located not too far behind Jay Hoffer’s funeral home. This bridge was a little scary to cross as the steel slats that made up the bridge were only 4 or 5 inch wide. The fall to the stream below wasn’t that far, but it sure would have hurt to fall. I never had a problem crossing that bridge except for a couple of times when I was out late at night and I crossed it in the dark. That was a little bit scary. Another fun thing I did in the woods was build myself a major “campsite” area. I never camped there per say, but I created a nice area with fire circle, log seat, lean-to and an elevated fire table. My campsite was built on the flat area that had been a road directly behind our house. It first started as simply a fire circle where I could build a fire and hang out. I then added a bunch of log seats by splitting several choke cherry logs in half length-wise and then putting them on smaller logs. I put my lashing skills together to build my elevated fire table and my lean-to. I hammered 4 hip-level wooden branches into the ground as the starting point for the fire table. I then lashed 4 more branches around the ones I hammered into the ground to form a frame. To create the table I lashed lots of other branches across the frame to form a table. To complete the fire table, I dug up a bunch of sod and placed it on top of the wooden table. This allowed me to have a fire without having to bend over to work with it or to burn through the framed table I made. The lean-to was pretty simply, just a frame lashed together. I thatched it by harvesting long swamp grass from the swamps next to the Big Sewickley. There were many slag heaps or “bony piles” located throughout my roaming range. These “bony piles” were the result of “coking” operations near the mines. As the coal was dug from the mine, it was carted to the “beehive” coke ovens nearby, put in one of the ovens, lit on fire and then bricked over. The resulting slow burning fire would cause the impurities to separate from the coal and the final product – a high carbon, cleaner burning fuel called coke would be shipped off to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Of course by the time I was wandering these woods, the coke oven operations were a thing of the long ago past. The ovens and bony piles remained but that was all. As a little kid I never attempted to climb them. But as I became I teenager I climbed every single one of them. Some of these heaps were 200 – 300 feet tall. Most of them looked like the long drawn back of a whale due to the way the slag had been dumped on them. Besides going up the long gradual incline to the top, I would also scale the steepest parts of these piles. There were many close calls for me during those times. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it my parents never realized how far a field I was roaming. They assumed that I was staying close to home in the woods right behind our house. I do remember once explaining to my mom how far I went and she was amazed. I don’t know that she really like it, but, I wasn't getting into any trouble so it was OK. The woods provided me with a wonderful place to play and imagine. I remember those times I spent in the woods with happiness and joy. Even today whenever I go back to Norvelt I try and spend time in those woods. They will always be special to me. Please check for updates later this weekend. Zack and I plan to get out and about tomorrow and do some hiking. My head needs some serious solitude of the wilderness. Thanks and peace to all!

1 comment:

ashok said...

That is a wonderful descripion. I think just you and Zack are doing very well indeed. Keep it up