Dumb Things We Did as Kids and Survived - Ken Bracken
I have been a resident of Bradford Street in Sayre most of my life. The house we live in was built about a hundred years ago, as were the ten houses at our end of the street. My grandparents, Harry and Mamie Shaffer, purchased this house 1909. My mother was born in this house; I was born at the Packer Hospital, but lived with my mother and grandparents from birth until I purchased the house in 1961. This has been my home with the exception of a few years in the Army, college and a rented apartment when my wife and I were first married.
I guess I have established myself as a long term Bradford Street resident, so lets fall back a few years to 1940. That is when Bob and Florence Satterly and the six boys moved in next door to us. By age, I fell about in the middle of the pack, so most of my adventures were with Ed, Gene, Jack and Dick. Bob, the oldest Satterly son, purchased his parents home on Bradford St and resides there today, so we have been neighbors for over 60 years.
As the title of the article implies – we did a lot of dumb things and somehow managed to live through it. However, looking back I sometimes wonder how.
Go fly a kite with Fred
My grandfather had constructed this great two-story garage many years before I arrived on the scene. The downstairs was used for car storage/workshop and the upstairs just had lost of great stuff. Grandpa didn’t throw things away. The upstairs was a great place to hang out and explore. One of our discoveries was a very large spool of manila twope (not quite rope, but much heavier than twine). I asked my grandfather if we could use to fly a kite. He said, “if you can build a kite big enough to handle the rope you can use it” - “just don’t get it in a tangle”. The kite project begins.
First a trip down the street to Croft Lumber. Back then they cut their own lumber from logs hauled into the mill. We would go down and ask the mill workers for scraps which we used to frame the kite. Next was a short hop up the street (5 houses) to Wes Miller’s neighborhood grocery. Wes provided the wide brown paper from his roll that we pasted together to form a cover for the kite frame. The kite frame was nearly six foot tall and probably four feet wide. A tail worthy of a kite this size was crafted with scraps of cloth from “the rag bag”. Everyone saved rags and papers to sell to Harry the junk man. Now we wait for the right wind conditions. We did not have to wait tool long for a sufficiently windy day to arrive. We did not have to haul the monstrosity too far as we were going to fly it in the open field between Bradford and Elmer Ave. Our youthful ingenuity devised a plan to secure the spool to the ground yet allow the spool to spin freely. Ok lets get this thing airborne. As I recall it require about five or six of us boys to get the kit into the air, but fly it did. After a short amount of flying time it was decided that the kite was big enough to handle a payload. We found a very small chair that we tied to the kite and had convinced Fred Satterly (probably about 3 at the time) that it would be fun to go for a ride on our kite. Unfortunately for us, but probably fortunately for Fred, Ma Satterly came out on her porch to check on us as we were securing Fred in place. The project was brought to an abrupt halt. The rope went back to the garage and the kite to the burn barrel and grounded took on a whole new meaning.
King of the Hill at Croft
As previously mentioned, Croft Lumber was just down the street and was a source of scrap wood for projects, and other deviltry. I tell this story, as I am sure the statue-of-limitations for trespass should have run out long ago. At the time frame we are looking at, logs were hauled into the mill site and were sawed into boards. The green boards were piled in large stacks to dry. The stacks stretched from the back of the mill up along the Lehigh tracks about half way to Bradford St. The lumber was moved from the mill to the stacks on a flat cart that ran on rails on wood tram about 5 feet off the ground. A byproduct of the mill was sawdust. The mill had a huge sawdust pile, in our eyes, as high as a mountain - probably all of 25 feet.
As you will surmise our playtime activities at Crofts occurred after everything was closed down for the day, or weekend. Playing king of the hill on a sawdust pile on a hot summer evening was great sport, but was probably not worth the aggravation when we arrive home and had to strip and shake out our clothes on the back porch. I can remember several occasions when I was escorted to the back lawn to have a bucket of water poured over me to remove the sawdust and presented a broom on the way back in to clean up sawdust I had tracked into the house.
Tag on the lumber stacks was a disaster looking for a place to happen. We played tag jumping from stack to stack. The lumber stacks were 15 to 20 feet high with about a 4 or 5-foot space between them. To allow air circulation, wood scraps “stickers” were place perpendicular to the boards on each layer of boards. The “stickers” extended into the space between the stacks waiting to skewer anyone unfortunate enough to fall between the stacks. There were a few falls, but they only resulted in some minor cuts and scrapes.
It never had any disastrous consequences, but that flat car that was used to transport lumber from the mill to the piles was too much of a temptation for a group of young boys to pass. We would ride the cart up and down the tramway and carefully reposition it as we found it.
Lets build a hut
Boys need a clubhouse, or in our time a hut. There were many built and they would get bigger and better. Material for huts was donated, salvaged, scrounged or otherwise secured. One masterpiece that I recall was the one that had a cellar. The basement was dug out with pick and shovel over a couple weeks time. The cellar was about six feet deep with nothing to reinforce the walls. A one-room shack was built over the hole with a secret trap door to get down to the dungeon. This masterpiece even had a “bucket-a-day” stove in it that was donated by someone on the street. The stench that occurred when someone would wiz on a cherry red stove still lingers in my mind. Not only did we have heat we had electric lights. On one of our frequent scavenging runs to local dumps we found a partial roll of doorbell wire. One of the more knowledgeable of the group came up with a plan – connect a model train transformer (6 volts) to the bell wire, run the wire from the Satterly house out to the shack (100+ feet), attach a sealed beam auto headlight to the end of the bell wire. Presto – we had lights with a dimmer. Pa Satterly was so impressed with this project; he purchased a roll of tarpaper for us so we could have a “real roof”. Looking back I cannot understand how the whole thing did not collapse into the hole with us, burn down with an overheated stove, or we did not get fried with the jury-rigged electrical system.
Occasionally we would come by a “torpedo”. This was a device the railroad crews would put on the tracks to warn another oncoming train to be on the lookout for a train ahead of them. The torpedo had an explosive powder in a heavy foil wrap with straps that could be bent around the track to secure it in place. The torpedo could be disassembled and by using pieces of the foil we could make several smaller less destructive, but loud devices. We found a number of ways to touch off the mini torpedoes, but the favorite was to go out back where the Lehigh tracks going to Waverly passed under the DL&W tracks. We would place one of the mini torpedoes on the Lehigh tracks, place a flat stone on it, then go up on the DL&W overpass bridge and try to drop a ballast rock on the flat rock to explode the torpedo. Needless to say the entire scenario was filled with disastrous possibilities – stone fragments in an eye, get hit by a train etc. On one occasion it was my turn to “drop the rock” – Ed Satterly was below placing the torpedo and flat rock on the tracks. At about the time I released my rock Ed stepped back in to reposition the flat rock and was hit in the back of the head by the falling rock. When he regained consciousness and we confirmed that we had not killed him we packed it in for that day.
The Bradford St. Parachute Brigade
Growing up during World War II provided many play scenarios for active young minds. We fashioned rifles out of boards and broom handles, made cannons out of cardboard linoleum tubes that launched rocks with automobile tire inner tube rubbers. The greatest find if all was an open gondola car parked on the back tracks that had scrap Army Colt 45 frames. Every boy in the north end of Sayre was soon outfitted with a somewhat authentic looking side arm. At one point in our youthful military training we decided we should give parachuting a try. We obtained an old bed sheet, tied some light rope to the corners and found that if you flip the sheet up over your head as you jump off the chicken coop roof it provided a somewhat gentle descended to the back lawn. The parachute provided several days of entertainment until we decided to move the launch platform up a notch to the shed roof on the back of our garage. I do not recall the unlucky jumper, but at one point the strain became too much for the old bed sheet - it tore in two in mid descent leaving the jumper with a very badly sprained ankle.
Each neighborhood had a baseball/softball/football team. There were regular games conducted between the Elmer Avenue, the Milltown and the Bradford/Hoover Street teams. We were a little short on numbers on Bradford Street so we combined with Hoover Street boys across the tracks. Every neighborhood had a “home field”. Our home field was the flat triangle at the end of Hoover Street next to the DL&W railroad embankment (about where Route 17 eastbound off ramp for Exit 61 is today). Elmer Avenue played at the schoolyard, and over in Milltown we played in a pasture – cow pies added to the challenge. Rules were generally set at the beginning of each game. Neighborhood football was full contact tackle football, usually without any pads or protection. If you had equipment you could wear it if the other side did not object. I recall one heated rules negotiation when a couple of the Milltown players came to play football wearing baseball spikes.
Skating on Thin Ice
Winter did nothing to diminish our propensity for doing dumb things. Ice-skating on the Mill Pond was a favorite pass time. The Mill Pond was located between the DL&W track embankment and the Kasco Mills. The pond can still be seen from Route 17 westbound just before you reach Exit 61. Skating on 6 or 8 inch ice was lots of fun, but the real adventure came early in the winter when the ice was only an inch or so thick. Skating on thin ice required a running start from shore, keep up your speed, make a full circle and don’t fall down.
When we would skate on the thin ice you could hear the sound of the ice cracking across the pond and the ice would rise in a wave in front of the skater, as the ice would flex with the water movement under it. We had elaborate plans for rescue if anyone should go thru the ice. Fortunately, they only had to be employed near to shore, as any attempt to rescue someone in the middle of the pond would have been doomed to failure.
Another wintertime venture into idiocy was the Ice Raft. One winter we came by an old hatchet. With hatchet in hand we would walk to Shepard’s Creek above Broad Street in Waverly. On the way we would cut a couple long poles. There was a quiet spot in the creek where ice would form at a good thickness. Using the hatchet we would chop out a large block of ice, two of us would pole the ice floe into the creek and proceed to ride downstream on the ice. Key to the success of the whole operation was to have the ice raft ashore before we arrived at Penn Elec. There was, and probably still is, remnants of an old dam that would make ice cubes the raft in a heartbeat if we did not beach the raft above the dam. In addition to the potential for hypothermia, the water was quite deep on the downstream side of the dam. Again we survived with no terminal disasters - wet feet and frozen pant legs were the only shortcoming from this adventure.
Swimming at the Flat Rocks
Shepard’s Creek drew us like a magnet both winter and summer. Swimming at “the flat rocks” was a regular hot summer day activity. Flat Rocks is located at a sharp bend in the creek about 200 yards upstream from Milltown Bridge. Where the creek made the right angle turn there was a deep hole perfect for swimming. The flat slate rocks on the far side of the creek were a great spot to soak up some rays. The adventure of swimming at flat rocks came from the fact that Waverly, at that time, dumped their raw sewerage in the creek above Broad Street less than a mile upstream. Ducking chunks as you swam added to the sport.
I recall one occasion shortly after I learned to swim when I was approaching shore on the Spring Street side of the creek. There was a gravel bar on that side of the creek and a small eddy on the downstream side. When I touched down in about neck deep water I stood on a large rock that suddenly started to move. I made shore in about two strokes. A couple days later one of the older boys was out plinking with his 22 rifle and shot an killed a snapping turtle in the swimming hole that had a shell as large around as a bushel basket. I think I counted my toes at a couple dozen times before going to sleep after that incident.
The Tarzan Swing
Here we are at Shepard’s Creek again. This time it is on Spring Street about where Dandy Mini Mart is located today. Some of the older boys had tied a very substantial rope to a limb of a large oak tree that leaned well over the creek. We discovered the “Tarzan swing” and found it a source of hours of entertainment. Someone would climb the tree and swing the rope back to the first rider. The object then was to swing out over the creek and get back to dry land on the first try. We were well aware that a swinging object loses momentum quickly. Consequently, if the person on the swing did not make it back to dry land on about the second arc the choices became very grim – drop off the swing on the far side of the creek into rock strewn shallow water, or the less desirable alternative to end up dangling over the deep water. The patron saint of foolish young boys was certainly looking after us as the only injuries I recall were rope burned hands, and a few minor scrapes and sprains. Oh by the way – at that time none of could swim a lick.
Halloween Prank Gone Bad
Participants will remain nameless to protect the living. We had often heard parents and grandparents brag about their Halloween pranks. One year after soaping windows became dull we decided to try to old “lets tip over an outhouse” bit that we had heard from the grownups. The sewer system was installed in Sayre many years earlier, so an outhouse was a rare commodity. As luck would have it we still had two in the neighborhood. One was quickly ruled out as the homeowner had a pretty nasty reputation with the neighborhood kids – rumor had it that he kept a shotgun loaded with rock salt by his back door. So off we went one Halloween night to outhouse number two. We gathered a rather large contingent as we did not know how much muscle it would require to tip an outhouse. We probably had a few too many hands as one of the group got tangle up and fell in the hole. He started yelling for us to help him out, but the light came on at the house so we split. I am not sure how he explained his situation when he arrived home, but we did not see him for a couple weeks even then his mood was quite cool toward us. I wonder why?
Brady the Iceman
Brady Smith lived next door to the Satterly house and two doors up Bradford Street from our home. Brady had an old flat bed truck with removable side panels. In the winter Brady delivered coal around town and in the summer he delivered ice. Occasionally Brady would allow Jack Satterly and myself to accompany him delivering ice. That was a great change of pace on a hot summer day. Riding around town with Brady sucking on a chunk of ice fresh from the ice plant in Athens was about as good as it gets. Brady was never without his chew of Red Man tobacco. Summer and winter the driver side window was rolled down so Brady could spit his tobacco juice with a slight glance to the left. One evening Jack and I decided we should do something nice for Brady in return for letting us ride with him. We filled a couple buckets with water and washed the cab of the truck inside and out. We polished the windows, but forgot to roll the driver side window back down. The next evening was the first time I every saw Brady get upset. He did not notice the window was not open and the first time he let fly with a stream of tobacco juice he ended up wearing most of it. Brady tried his best heap his displeasure on us, but the humor of the situation took over and we all ended up having a good laugh.
A subscript to the Brady story – Jack and I thought any thing Brady did had to be ok, so one day we decided that if Red Man Chew was ok for Brady we should give it a try. It was a summer evening and the truck was parked in Brady’s driveway next to the Satterly house. The doors had been taken off the truck as Brady sometimes did in the summer. The pack of Red Man was on the seat of the truck in its usual place. We decided it was time to give it a try. We both took a small bit of the tobacco, leaned up against the back of Jack’s house and began the adventure into chewing and spitting Brady style. It was not long before we both started to get a little green around the gills, but neither would be the first to get rid of the chew. Consequently, we both became ill at about the same time. That evening was my one and only exposure to the fine art of chewing tobacco.
As I write this article more stories come to mind, but I am sure that by now you get the picture. What we lacked in common sense we certainly made up in ingenuity and lots of pure unadulterated luck.