Archive » September 2021 » Columns

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

This old postcard view shows the original grade-level crossing at Guilderland Center. The huge building on the right was the Hurst Feed Mill, which burned before it could be moved to make way for the 1927 overpass. On the left side of the road was a small West Shore station and the large building beyond was a hotel, which burned shortly after the empty feed mill. Today, this original road is a short dead end stopping at the tracks called Wagner Road. It branches off from Route 146 as you approach Guilderland Center.

At the Guilderland Center crossing, West Shore Railroad workers came on the run when the sound of an approaching pair of coupled locomotives was followed by a loud crash. Confronted by a horrific scene, the men looked 50 feet down the track to see, crushed in front of the now-halted locomotives, the remains of a demolished Dodge automobile, its engine hurled into a neighboring field.

Two men ejected by the impact lay crumpled near the tracks, one dead at the scene, the other so critically injured that he died five hours later at Albany Hospital.

Earlier that August 1919 Friday morning, the two men, Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Co. employees, had been assigned to inspect boilers in Altamont, but tragically later that day the two had become statistics in the ever-increasing toll of grade crossing train-car collision fatalities.

In 1914, records show 199 people lost their lives at New York grade crossings; a year later, the fatality rate increased by 50 percent. By 1927, there were 668 fatalities during the first four months alone. With the explosive increase in automobile ownership, fatalities at grade crossings had become a major safety issue.


PSC intervenes

The recently formed New York State Public Service Commission quickly stepped in, insisting that construction of underpass or overpass crossings should replace grade-level railroad crossings and promised to make railroads pay for a good portion of the work.

Even if local residents were dead set against a crossing proposal, the Public Service Commission had the power to overrule them.

In our area, the initial focus was on the busiest D & H railroad crossings in Bethlehem and New Scotland, but by 1919 Guilderland had also caught the attention of the Public Service Commission. Ironically, earlier on the very day of the Guilderland Center double fatality, officials had been there photographing that very dangerous crossing, the site of other fatalities.

Crossing railroad tracks in those days was a challenging proposition for drivers whose noisy cars made it difficult to hear approaching trains, while their sight lines were often obstructed by buildings, brush and trees, or a curve in the tracks. Rarely were there gates, at that time requiring a railroad employee to operate them.

In Guilderland, only Altamont’s D & H railroad crossing had a part-time gatekeeper. Otherwise, drivers were on their own to stop, look, and listen.

A July 1925 Public Service Commission legal notice in The Enterprise notified residents that public safety required that the crossing at Guilderland Center be replaced with an overhead bridge to the north of the grade-level crossing.

At Fullers, the Western Turnpike (Route 20) would be carried underneath the track at the same site as the current grade crossing. There was to be a public hearing but, if there were any opposition, it would be overruled.

The Guilderland Center plan rerouting the road entering the village 175 feet to the north necessitated removal of Hurst’s Feed Mill. Before construction began, Hurst’s empty feed mill, recently purchased by a new owner who planned to move the building, burned before it could be relocated to make way for the overpass.

The cost of the overpass was estimated to be $120,000, half of it to be paid for by the New York Central Railroad Company, owner of the West Shore Railroad.

Work on the Guilderland Center project took place in the spring and summer of 1927. Artificial hills or inclines had to be built as approaches to the new overhead bridge and by midsummer the project was completed allowing traffic to move over it. The original road (now Wagner Road) dead ended as it approached the tracks.

Two lesser overhead bridges carrying roads over the West Shore tracks were also put in place at the same time, one over the tracks carrying the road to Frenchs Hollow (now Frenchs Mills Road), the other at McCormicks unpaved dirt road (now West Old State Road). Note that in the 1920s most local roads did not yet have officially designated names.


Countryside changed

Fullers’ situation physically disrupted that small community. The writer of a 1926 article pointed out the year before construction began, “The entire character of the countryside is to be changed.”

Being that the West Shore Railroad was a division of the New York Central Railroad, management made the decision that, as long as the Public Service Commission was forcing them to construct an above-ground crossing over Route 20, this would be a good time to bring this branch line up to main-line standards to speed up the movement of freight traffic.

Heading southbound toward Guilderland Center, freight trains approaching the trestle over the Normanskill at Frenchs Hollow had to climb a steep gradient. By the 1920s, freight trains had become longer and heavier, requiring a very slow climb to reach the level of the Normanskill trestle.

Therefore the plan was to lower the approach gradient by creating a long artificial incline to raise the track approaching this trestle gradually. Instead of a short steep climb to this trestle, the long approach would allow locomotives to keep up speed.

This would result in faster freight service on the West Shore, but at the same time artificial construction of a high dirt berm to carry the southbound track created a barrier that would now physically divide the hamlet of Fullers. Instead of the former grade-level crossing, the tracks would now cross Route 20 on two trestles, the higher one carrying the southbound track. Unfortunately the August 1926 Enterprise article detailing the Fullers proposal is extremely blurry, making the exact statistics of the gradients illegible.

In 1926, the contract for all four of these projects was awarded to the Walsh Construction Company, an experienced contractor who had worked on similar projects in surrounding areas. In preparation, they sent in surveyors and arranged for equipment such as steam shovels to be ready to work by April 1, 1927.

Houses were purchased or possibly built on both sites to be used as offices for project foremen. Charlie Quackenbush’s farm was rented as the location for their “camp” where their laborers would live while construction was underway. When the projects were completed, the houses were each later sold to local men.

In the meantime, the New York Central Railroad bought a farm in Guilderland Center adjacent to the railroad tracks just north of the bridge project there to be used as a gravel pit. It was necessary to acquire additional farmland in Fullers because of the extent of their project creating the huge incline and erecting the crossing trestles.

Early in April 1927, actual work began. Walsh brought in a crew of laborers, setting up the camp with Mr. and Mrs. John Mullaney doing the cooking and managing the camp. The type of worker housing is unknown, but establishing these camps at work sites seemed to be their standard practice, mentioned in relation to Walsh projects in the town of Bethlehem.

Andrew Wyatt, a Walsh employee, was in charge of 30 mules pastured on the Quackenbush farm, probably used in hauling wagon loads of dirt as the turnpike was dug out under the tracks. At dawn one morning, all 30 managed to take a jaunt out of the pasture, parading down the turnpike before being rounded up.

The Fullers project was more involved than the Guilderland Center overpass. First, a wooden trestle over the entire stretch of gradient was constructed, reportedly using timber from trees cut while clearing land for Albany Air Port.

Trains hauled in carloads of gravel dug on the Guilderland Center farm over tracks laid on the temporary trestle, dumping their loads on the wooden framework that was left in place and eventually rotted away. Work went on day and part of the night using electric light.

By July 1, the major project was complete, except for concrete work. Two trestles crossed above Route 20, one above the other while the road dipped down underneath.

Some sources have stated the higher of the two trestles was constructed at a later date, but this is inaccurate. A photograph appearing in the April 17, 1927 Knickerbocker News showed the construction project underway with both trestles in place.

Not only was Fullers transformed by the divisive berm and trestles, but once there was no longer fear of a collision at the grade crossing, cars could go racing at high speed along Route 20 through the little community.

In his Enterprise column, the Fullers’ correspondent bemoaned that the “changed appearance of the country with its trestle and huge banks of dirt is no improvement” and complained about “the rate of speed at which motorists tear through the new underground crossing at this place ….”

Digging an underpass without adequate drainage created an additional problem for Fullers. A February 1930 thaw accompanied by a rain storm flooded the underpass with more water and mud than the usual flooding.

Conditions became so bad the State Highway Department was called in with flagmen to warn approaching drivers, and trucks were sent in to pull out marooned cars and set up pumps that worked to lower water levels. Underpass flooding remained a periodic problem until the mid-1990s when an expensive reconstruction project there sought to end flooding on Route 20.

In 1941, the town of Guilderland purchased the land used to mine gravel to build the approaches to the Guilderland Center overpass and the huge berm to change the gradient of the tracks at Fullers. Today it is the location of the town highway department and town transfer station.

The original overpasses deteriorated due to age and use. In the 1980s, both the Frenchs Mills Road and West Old State Road overpasses were permanently closed to traffic while the heavily used Route 146 overpass at Guilderland Center was replaced in 1984 slightly to the south of the 1927 overpass with new entrances to the Northeastern Industrial Park.

Today, grade crossings such as those at Stone Road and County Line Road, the two West Shore crossings in Guilderland where the Public Service Commission did not insist that the New York Central construct a West Shore overpass or underpass, have modern-day electronic gates with sensors to automatically lower them when a train approaches, warning drivers.

The New York Central Railroad and its West Shore Division are long gone, but these tracks are currently used by numerous CSX freight trains daily. Drivers are grateful that with the Guilderland Center overpass and Route 20 underpass traffic moves quickly and safely instead of being stopped idling while a lengthy freight rolls through.

Editor’s note: Rail Safety Week runs from Sept. 20 to 26 in North America this year. About 2,000 serious deaths and injuries occur each year around railroad tracks and trains in the United States; last year, 19 New Yorkers lost their lives due to collisions with trains, according to New York State Operation Lifesaver.

Driving is an everyday part of our lives that allows us to travel easily to the places we need to go. Being able to drive gives us the freedom and independence to enjoy a multitude of activities or simply get tasks done.

Unfortunately, our ability to drive is affected as we age, especially after we turn 65. We begin to experience medical conditions and undergo physical and cognitive changes that make driving a more hazardous task.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day about 700 older adults are injured in a car crash. Thus, it’s important that we become more vigilant and careful drivers for not only our own safety, but others around us.

Here are some helpful driving tips from the CDC to assist older adults stay safe on the road:

— Whether you’re the driver or the passenger, it’s important to always wear a seat belt. It’s one of the best ways to lower the chances of getting hurt;

— Don’t drink and drive. Alcohol has negative effects on cognition, coordination, and judgement skills that impact driving;

— Exercise is important in all facets of health. Being active helps us maintain our ability to control a vehicle and remain alert on the road;

— As we get older, various medical conditions may interfere with our driving ability. It’s important to consult a physician to see how they may alter our driving skills and seek treatments that keep us healthy and allow us to safely stay on the road;

— Ask your physician or pharmacist about your medications’ side effects as some may cause drowsiness, blurry vision, dizziness, and confusion. It’s also important to ask how your medications may interact with one another and what occurs when you stop or change that medication. This allows you to be aware of any unwanted effects on your driving. If any of your medications impair your driving, try asking your physician if it’s possible to stop or change your medication;

— Check your vision yearly with your doctor. Ensure you’re wearing your glasses or contact lenses while driving. It’s also important to check your hearing at least once every three years after the age 50. Wear any necessary hearing aids while driving;

— Drive cautiously. As we get older, our reflexes and reaction time get worn down. It’s important to maintain a safe distance between the car in front of you and your own. Reduce any distractions in the car. While driving, avoid talking, being on the phone and loud music;

— Plan where and when you drive before going out. Drive during the day, during good weather, and on well-lit streets. Avoid driving when it’s night time, snowing, raining, or icy outside as this increases the chances of potentially getting in an accident;

— Avoid driving while you’re drowsy. According to the CDC, driving while sleep deprived is similar to driving under the influence. Ensure you are getting between seven and nine hours of quality sleep; and

— Finally, consider a substitute for driving. Instead of driving by yourself, consider carpooling with family or friends. Albany also offers some great public transportation options.


Community Caregivers is a not-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health, and the Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Hyun Ah Michelle Yoon is a Community Caregivers student volunteer, slated to graduate from Albany Medical College in 2024.

I disapprove of your refusal to get the COVID vaccine, but I will defend to the death your right to refuse it. Specifically, your death. I will defend to your death your right to die.

But you have to meet me halfway. Because if you’re going to decline the vaccine, you can’t then be a sniveling crybaby who runs to the emergency room when your infection gets out of hand. No. Stand tall and proud — or, more realistically, lie shivering in a fetal position — and demonstrate the courage of your conviction by riding out the illness at home.

You’ll be OK. After all, I survived COVID before there was a vaccine, and you’re probably also in your thirties and in the best shape of your life. So you’re good.

But, if your luck does run out, have some dignity; don’t be posting TikToks or Snaps or Tweets imploring others not to make your same mistake. I’ve seen hundreds of those videos, and, frankly, the production quality is lacking. That said, if you feel irrepressibly compelled to film yourself gasping for air as you mournfully lament rejecting the vaccine, please at least do it over a sick techno beat.

Whatever you do, stay bedridden in your apartment, like the American hero you are.

To be clear, I’m not saying the unvaccinated shouldn’t go to the hospital for other afflictions. Like, if you don’t have COVID and you break your arm, by all means book a room at Albany Med. (Assuming, of course, that hospital beds are still available. You’ll want to beat the rush, since your unvaccinated compatriots are 29 times more likely than their vaccinated counterparts to be hospitalized with an avoidable COVID infection.)

What I’m saying is that, if you’re unvaccinated and you get COVID, stay home and shut up. Shutting up will help you avoid wasting the oxygen you’ll so desperately need while struggling to respire.

Let’s review:

Vaccinated? Go to the hospital.

Unvaccinated and COVID-negative? Go to the hospital.

Unvaccinated and infected by COVID? Snuggle up with some saltines and a ginger ale so you can binge-watch Netflix until you either beat the virus or die.

No matter what, don’t call 9-1-1. You’re better than that. Be a man and commit to your decision. You made your bed, now lie in it, as your night sweats drench the sheets and you lose the ability to smell the putrid stench of decay. Your blood oxygen level may plummet, but maintain your resolve; through the haze of fevered dreams, remember that you knew better than presidents Biden, Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Carter, all of whom implored you to get vaccinated.

Remember that you knew better than 96 percent of accredited medical doctors, to include your own. You knew better than the United States military, insurance companies, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and God.

That’s right, even God is urging you to get jabbed. He hath already smitten five radio broadcasters who previously called the virus a hoax, and now He’s dispatched the Pope to make His point. If that’s still too ambiguous for you, just promise me you’ll tune in when the pestilence and locusts show up.

Let’s pivot from Exodus and jump right into Numbers:

Of the nearly 182,000,000 people in the United States who are fully vaccinated, 3,040 have thereafter contracted COVID and died. That’s a death rate of .0017 percent, or about 1 out of every 60,000 infected people.

Meanwhile, the death rate among unvaccinated Americans who contract the virus is 1.6 percent, i.e., a 1 in 62 chance of dying from COVID. That might explain why unvaccinated people represent 99 percent of all those now dying from the virus. Or it could just be a coincidence.

Look, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to get the vaccine. Because you might never get COVID. And if you do get it, you might not get sick. And if you do get sick, it might not be that bad. And if it is that bad, you might not die. And if you do die, well, dying a preventable and senseless death is your right as an American — something my aging father reminds me each spring when he scales a three-story ladder to clean the gutters. Take that, Soviets.

Besides, if being unvaccinated means your principal threat is to other unvaccinated people, then you’re somewhat of an inadvertent hero, like the suicide bomber who blows up his fellow terrorists when the vest accidentally detonates too early.

Hold on; I can feel you pulling away. To spare my readers the burden of authoring yet another letter to the editor complaining that my columns are too confusing, I’ll just come out and say it:

No, I do not believe unvaccinated Americans are biological terrorists. They may be misinformed, self-deluded, walking petri dishes of mutating microscopic death, but they probably can’t be deemed biological terrorists. You can quote me on that.

Indeed, when it comes to our national discourse, we need to lower the temperature, to be less inflammatory, to take a deep breath, and to stop using clichés better suited for describing COVID symptoms such as high fevers, lung irritation, and labored respiration. Yet that doesn’t mean I can’t still express my irritation about your unscientific stubbornness.

Because gallivanting about unvaccinated is like skydiving without a reserve parachute. Sure, you might not need it, but if your main chute fails and you’ve deliberately chosen not to jump with that extra canopy, must I be upset when gravity does its job? Or can I be annoyed when your mangled carcass splatters all over my new patio?

In a recent interview, 19th-Century fictitious English businessman Ebenezer Scrooge expressed his loathsome distaste for anti-vaxxers. “If they would rather die,” he said, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

His words were harsh; I, for one, don’t agree with them. Yet he has a point. Because as long as there exists a critical mass of the unvaccinated, COVID-19 will continue mutating into deadly new viral strains that further justify the preposterous requirement that we all wear masks.

And that’s why, intellectually, Mr. Scrooge can’t be faulted for hoping people either get vaccinated or expeditiously succumb to their infections, since those are the only two means by which we’ll finally ditch these horrendous face-coverings.

It should be noted that Mr. Scrooge really hates wearing a mask. No, like, he despises it. Like, he can’t breathe when he wears it, and it’s really hot and itchy, and it muffles him when he talks and he can’t hear what people are saying and he always forgets his mask in my car and he thinks the whole thing is stupid and he fantasizes about violence every time the flight attendant reminds him that his nose has to be covered. (It’s Ebenezer Scrooge, guys; you know him as well as I do.)

Again, I’m not telling you to get the vaccine; I acknowledge that you’ve yet to finish “doing your own research” on YouTube, Craigslist, and the Alex Jones podcast. Moreover, just because your cell phone already tracks your every move doesn’t mean that lizard people aren’t trying to inject microchips into your bloodstream. And I’ll admit it: “lizard people” is an area wherein my own research is lacking.

But just do me a solid and, if you contract COVID after refusing to get vaccinated, stay out of the hospital. Because on Sept. 27, when New York’s mandate that all healthcare workers be vaccinated goes into effect and thousands of unvaccinated nurses lose their jobs, the demands on the 81 percent of state hospital workers who actually are doing their part to end the pandemic will be enormous.

Nurses are already being forced to work 24-hour shifts across New York at substantial personal risk. And it’ll be hard to thank them for their service when a ventilator tube is pummeling its way down your trachea. So stay home, where at least you won’t have to wear a mask.

Jesse Sommer is a lifelong resident of Albany County.
He welcomes your comments at .

— Photo by Irving Rusinow, National Archives and Records Administration

John R. Williams’s mother cooked on a stove similar to this one. “If I remember right, my mother had two cans of grease, one was just bacon, and the other had different kinds of grease and fat in it,” he said.

The Old Men of the Mountain are still hanging around the Schoharie Valley and on Tuesday, Sept. 14th, they met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie. A couple of the OMOTM decided to save room in the parking lot and showed up on their motorcycles. The next thing you know, some of the OFs will be showing up on their horses.

One OF reported that, on the way to the restaurant on Route 145, a short way past Knox Cave Road, he had to slow down to let a black bear cross the road. The bear just took his time as he crossed and then disappeared into the woods headed in the direction of Middle Road.

This started a conversation about recent spotting of bears in the area. The chat included Altamont and Guilderland, Old Stage Road above Altamont, and more sightings over in the valley. There could be three bears or more or just one bear that likes to go for walks.

Again, the talk continued on big cats spotted in the same area, and of course, deer. One OF mentioned the weather has produced an abundance of food for all the critters that roam the fields and woods. It was expressed that all the animals did not have to search for water at least in the Northeast this year.

It might be the reverse. Actually, there was too much water and the creatures large and small have had enough — even the animals with opposing thumbs think there has been too much heavenly water so far this year.

One OF said currently the Gulf at the Mexico arch (also known as Land’s End at the extreme southern end of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula) has seen enough rain. “If only we could catch it some way and send it to the West Coast, it would be great,” an OF mused.


Bacon grease

The scribe was doing his duty, reporting on the doings of the OMOTM basically to supply alibis. Over his morning coffee, he read in the food section of the Times Union on Sept. 16 a section on keeping bacon grease. At last week’s breakfast, there was quite a discussion on how our (the OFs’) mothers kept a can of bacon grease on the top shelf of the stove. This grease was basically bacon but sometimes there was other grease dumped into the can.

The discussion was on how the grease was used and how good that grease made a lot of food taste. One OF mentioned how the smell of eggs and bacon, as he opened the woodshed door to go through to get to the kitchen when he came in from milking, was great. The OF said he wished he could capture all that again. This keeping of (especially) the bacon grease must be making a comeback.

Another OF said that, on one of his trips to Maine, he found a restaurant that had a bacon-grease-and-lettuce sandwich. The OF was questioned if it was just bacon and lettuce, without the tomato, and the OF said, “No, it was just bacon grease and lettuce.”

Sounded weird, but worth a try, probably cheaper than bacon and lettuce, and just about the same thing — the flavor without the bacon.

One OF said, if you haven’t had pancakes cooked on a cast-iron skillet, coated with bacon grease, smeared with butter, and real maple syrup, two or three eggs and a cold glass of raw milk, you haven’t had pancakes, or even a whopping breakfast.

This scribe notices at the breakfast some of the OFs try to emulate these early farm breakfasts, by ordering pancakes with a couple of eggs on top, toast and coffee, and the OFs stow all this away each Tuesday morning.

All of the talk about eating brings to mind a small witticism. Bread is like the sun: It rises in the yeast and sets in the waist.

After eating like this on a regular basis, some of the OFs who are in their seventies and eighties were planning to take some people on a hike. Maybe it is because the OFs ate like this when they were young, worked hard outdoors, and the food had only the chemicals in them that came from basically natural sources that they had a good start.

None of this food was processed; a lot of it came from the backyard. The OFs threw in how they were out digging up dandelions for salads, and whatever grasses and weeds that were edible.

These were much different times, and there was space to hunt for wild greens suitable for eating. Today, with a couple million people living in a few square miles, this is a little hard to do.

Jumping back to Tuesday morning’s previous exchanges, the OFs started talking about hunting large animals — especially with bow and arrow. Those OFs who were talking about this made it sound like quite a challenge and apparently not one for those weary of heart, or muscle.

These OFs discussed eating the venison which is a good thing; after all, we started out as hunter-gathers.

Those OFs attending the breakfast at the Your Way Café in Schoharie and not out scurrying about taking advantage of the early days of fall, and the late days of summer, were: Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Rich LaGrange, Miner Stevens, Jake Lederman, Robie Osterman, Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Pete Whitbeck, Marty Herzog, Jake Herzog, Elwood Vanderbilt, Dave Hodgetts, Bob Donnelly, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, John Dabrvalskes, and me.

The Old Men of the Mountain met again in Middleburgh, this time at Mrs. K’s Restaurant on Sept. 7. At Mrs. K’s there is generally a lively crowd and Tuesday was no different.  

Topics were many, from local Indians, to upcoming trips to Maine. A tad of time-jumping here.

The art of keeping pets was mentioned and then confined to one OF who has three dogs. This OF claims that he has taught these dogs to drive. He also claims that this wasn’t hard to do.

He feels that the reason most dogs have their heads out the car window, with their ears flapping in the breeze, is so that they can learn how to operate that vehicle. So the OF thought, “Why not let them try?”

The OF said it takes quite a bit of strain off him, but their eyesight is much better than his. Also it takes more than one dog to attempt this. When anyone meets this OF on the highway, they will see what this scribe means. It is very hard to tell who is behind the wheel.


School is back, so are packs

The breakfast is on Tuesdays and some of the schools were open. This was evidenced by kids along the road waiting for the yellow conveyance to pick them up.

One OF wondered what was in all the backpacks every one of the kids had slung over his or her shoulders. Some of the packs were larger than the little kids hauling them.

The OFs remembered when they were in school and school work was done in school. There was darn little homework because on the Hill and in the valley the teachers knew, when the kids arrived home, for most of them there was work to be done, and it wasn’t schoolwork.

One OF said books are heavy, but a 6-year-old might weigh 45 to 55 pounds, and it looks like these backpacks are heavier than that. But the backpacks might have other things than books because many of these kids have computers and they don’t weigh that much.


Fair memories

The OFs talked about flies again, and fairs.

The OFs remember at least the Altamont Fair being on when they were in school, and all the kids wanted to go to the fair. That would put the fair around Labor Day, and still the flies came out.

One OF mentioned he particularly liked Kids Day at the fair. Boy, this exchange went back quite away because another OF mentioned the fair had a really cool aroma, and he still remembers that. Another OF said this OF was still smelling the barn on the farm.



It was found that some of the OMOTM travel to Maine and more than was first mentioned in last week’s column. Tourism, according to the politicos, is a big money-maker for that state.

It must be for other states too. The OFs travel all over, and many people must travel to New York. But this scribe finds that many OFs travel right here in New York and this must lump them with tourists.

In listening to the OFs chatter about their travels, Maine and Florida appear to be the two at the top of the list. Florida must be the big draw in the colder months because the OFs mention making friends with people from Michigan and Canada while they are in Florida.

Snow may call some, but the sun seems to be number one, especially with the OFs and their creaky bones.


Back In Time

The Times Union has recently copied what The Enterprise has been running as long as this scribe can remember, and that is an informative small section on 100 Years Ago Today. These are very interesting to the OFs.

So much of their conversation of “when we were young” is beginning to border on these little snippets of 100 years ago today. If the report was 80 years ago today some of the OFs would be 8 or 9 years old and able to remember it firsthand.

This is getting scary. As one OF put it, “You would think a lot has changed but it hasn’t; all they have done is covered the same old stuff with plastic, and called it ‘new’.”

Some of the OFs didn’t know about that.

As Benjamin Franklin noted, aging folks really need only three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh and would like to be the age of kids in junior high, or high school, but not have to learn all this new stuff were: Joe Rack, Mark Traver, Ken Parkes, Glenn Patterson, Paul Nelson, Jake Lederman, Wally Guest, Harold Guest, Rich LaGrange, Roger Shafer, Otis Lawyer, Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Pete Whitbeck, Duncan Bellinger, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, John Dabrvalskes, Jake Herzog, Marty Herzog, Russ Pokorny, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Rich Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, and me.

One thing I like to do, when I’m at a party for example, is point out how things don’t have to be the way they are. I might mention that, in other countries, it’s common to shut down for a couple of hours in the afternoon so that a nice, relaxing lunch can be enjoyed, perhaps followed by a nap. Doesn’t that sound great?

In some countries, I’ll observe, everyone has health coverage and access to higher education. I could go on — dedicated bicycle lanes, plenty of clean public bathrooms, etc. The point I’m trying to make is that many things can be different, and in some ways certainly better, than they are here.

When I espouse this line of thinking, invariably I’ll get some version of, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just leave?”

Often it’s not as polite as that, but you get the drift. Please note that I’m not saying I don’t like it here. I, in fact, love living in the northeastern corner of the greatest country in the world. I just like to point out that there are other ways of doing things, that’s all.

A lot of us make fun of some other countries because the people there don’t bathe as often as we do. That is true in some cases, but here’s the thing: They use bidets, which is something we generally don’t do here.

I guess the thinking is, if you can keep that delicate area clean, it’s easy to keep everything else clean without that much fuss. Well, I’m about to put that to the test myself, as I now own and use a bidet.

It used to be that you had to buy a dedicated bidet or a conventional toilet. However, now all you have to do is replace your toilet seat, and voilà, you have a bidet. To get water for the bidet, you install a tee on the water supply to the toilet.

Then you have to plug it into a GFCI [ground-fault circuit interrupter] outlet, because it requires power. Once you do that, you’re all set for quite a new experience.

The one I have is fine; however, as with a lot of products, the instructions aren’t the best. There is a combination off/turbo button. Yes, turbo. The way this works is, if any bidet function is operating — and there are a lot of them — you can hit the off button at any time to stop it.

But, if you hit the off button a second time, you activate the turbo function, which jacks up whatever is happening to make it more intense. So the first time I used it, I completed the wash function and then had activated the dryer function. This actually blows hot air on your nether region to dry you off.

The thing is, it blows for five minutes and I didn’t want to sit that long. So I got up, hit the off/turbo button, and immediately shot a huge plume of water over my head and into the sink in front of the toilet.

Turns out the dryer function is not related to the off/turbo button. When you select “dryer,” it just blows warm air for five minutes, period. Of course, they should have said that in the manual. Sigh.

This bidet has many functions. There is the general wash function, which shoots a stream of warm water right up your rear end. There is a male button and a female button.

Other members of my family who have used the female button at first told me it wasn’t “hitting the right place.” However, in a case like this, you have to think like an engineer.

Consider: They have to design this for both genders and all ages, heights, and weights. So what really helps is if you use good posture when sitting on the bidet. I assure you, if you do this, the water will hit the right spot.

This particular bidet has as many functions as a high-end car. While the bidet is running, you can adjust the temperature of the water, the position of the wand that shoots the water, and even engage an “oscillating” function that is almost like a perineal massage, if you can believe that.

There is also a heated-seat function as well, but I never use that. I prefer my toilet seat, just like my whisky, to be at room temperature, thank you very much.

Despite the plethora of functions, most times I just want to do my business and move on to the next thing in life, so I wind up just using the basic wash and dry functions. Even just using it this way is pretty good, though. You really do feel a lot cleaner down there.

You may be thinking at this point that this bidet business is all a lot of silliness and a big waste. I mean, we’ve all been wiping forever, right?

But think about this: When the pandemic started, what was the first item that cleared off the store shelves? If you said toilet paper, you are right.

So now, between the bidet and the miracle that is Metamucil (go ahead and make fun if you must, but this stuff is just great), I literally do not need toilet paper anymore. So there you go. I’m ready for the next pandemic, haha.

It seems obvious to me that, if you eat a lot of fast food, or have a bad diet in general, or have some other stomach or digestive issues, a bidet can be a game-changer. You still have to shower now and then of course, but this could really help to eliminate a lot of daily wiping. However, cleaning up your diet is always a good thing health-wise, bidet or no bidet.

If you’ve never used a bidet, I’ll admit it does take some getting used to. But like so many things in life, just because bidets aren’t big in this country doesn’t mean they can’t be a good thing. The bidet won’t eliminate my daily showers — I don’t think I’ll ever get there — but it is nice to have it for sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to use the bathroom.

Every day should be different, yet most of the time every day seems to be the same. For instance, Tuesdays, for the Old Men of the Mountain, are different. Tuesday, Aug. 31, was different. It was the last day of the month and this is true for all those in our time zone, and using the calendar as most do.       

For the OMOTM that is the same, but who was going to be at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh? What would the sunrise be like? What would the weather be like? Is all that routine stuff, which seems to be the same, going to be different?

Who might show up at the breakfast? Will that be different? What will the OFs wear? That should be different. There is so much difference going on and the OFs haven’t even had their first cup of coffee yet.

The OFs, being the people they are, can remember the past firsthand and the more breakfasts the OFs put under their belts, the deeper the past becomes.

At one point in time, there was a really productive cement plant in Howes Cave, New york. Howes Cave is a very small hamlet in Schoharie County.

At one time, a few people from the Hilltowns worked at that plant. Though the work was hard and dusty it was one of the better-0paying jobs in the valley. It was one of the first cement plants in the country, and the stone was mined before it was quarried.

The OFs were telling stories of people who worked there in the plant’s “heyday” in the late forties and through the fifties. At times, the OFs struggled to remember names of people they worked with, though eventually the names came through.

What did come with ease were the events and stories and who was involved. Being 70 and 80 years old (and some approaching 90) digging back that far to relate a story and be reasonably accurate is pretty good.

Once the door of the brain is open to that time, the stories come more fluently, the stammering stops, and the hesitation lessens, as the mental images of what happened become sharper. This conversation was only between a couple of OFs who knew people who worked at the plant or they worked there themselves. The stories were just that to the others. Stories.


Ocean attracts

Some of the OFs travel to the coast of Maine whenever they get a chance. It must be the draw of the ocean, the waves rolling in with routine laps, or crashing roars. Some go to Cape Cod for basically the same reason.

One of the OFs just returned from Old Orchard Beach in Maine and the discussion centered on lobsters. Eating lobsters. To think they used clams and lobsters for driveways in colonial times, and lobsters were fed to their workers just to get rid of these crustaceans.

As one OF put it, “Now look at what a lobster meal costs!”

Catching lobsters is now highly regulated in order to perpetuate the species, and the same with clams. How times have changed. A good lobster meal for four can set you back a house payment.

The retired can go to the coast after school starts when the crowds are gone. The Old Orchard Beach OF said the crowds were horrendous and we are supposed to be in a pandemic.

But “in the good ole summer time” the crowds along the waterways are like that. Young and old people go, and it is getting to be really expensive, especially the gas to get who knows where. One OF piped up, “or work.”


A bummer

It is fair time and as mentioned before some of the OFs went to the state fair and they came back quite disappointed.

These OFs said, “There was not an animal there. No cows, horses, pigs, sheep — nothing. The only animals there were not remarkable animals at all — there were just a few ducks and chickens.”

“What a bummer,” one OF said.

The OFs can remember it was a big deal to have your cow win at the local fair and then take it to the state fair. The same feeling went for horses and other animals.

Fair time always means fly time especially on the Hill. Come the fair, comes the black cluster flies, and the green buzzy ones.

One OF said they got prepared by purchasing two rolls of fly paper, the sticky kind that pulls down from a little tube with a tack in it to fasten the fly paper to molding or whatever. The OF said they hung the two strips of fly paper and it hung for a couple of days and did not catch a fly.

Lots of flies but none on the paper. Either the flies are more educated or the manufacturers are not using, or are not allowed to use, the bait that entices the fly to the sticky part.

Generally those things work, not only with flies but other flying pests, but the OFs have never seen a bee stuck on one, which is a good thing.

One OF said he doesn’t know where the flies come from, but he does know they want to be outside. This OF said, just open the window and most of the flies will fly outdoors.

Then another OF said, “Yeah, the flies just fly around to the back door and wait for that to open and fly right back in.”

His advice? Swat the buggers.



The Old Men of the Mountain would like to offer their condolences and sympathies to the family of a loyal old man of the mountain, Roger Chapman, who passed away at St. Peter’s Hospital last week.

The Old Men of the Mountain who met at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh on what felt like an early fall day, were: Wally Guest, Miner Stevens, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Joe Rack, Otis Lawyer, Jake Lederman, Marty Herzog, Pete Whitbeck, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Duncan Bellinger, Rev. Jay Francis, Russ Pokorny, Jake Herzog, Gerry Chartier, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, and me.

What do these three people have in common?

— A photographer whose work so eloquently captures the sheer majesty of creation that her pictures are used in publications like National Geographic;

— A violinist who can make the instrument cry and sing like it’s alive;

— A professor who has a waiting list for all his classes and regularly appears on TV as a subject-matter expert in his field.

Know what it is? Each one never gave up. It’s as simple as that.

You might think you have to be born special or be connected or have some other fantastic act of luck to reach the top of your field. Maybe with something like setting a marathon running record, this is true; you really do need to be born with the right mix of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers to excel at distance running.

But with just about everything else, it is sheer hard work, determination, and simply refusing to give up that will get you there, if you want it badly enough.

The world-renowned photographer, the concert violinist, and the top professor all got there by working relentlessly and by making every mistake there is to make in their field. If you work so hard that you make, and then learn from, all the mistakes in your field, you will reach the top.

A lot of becoming the best at something requires delayed gratification. This is where you hold off on immediate pleasure as you pursue a long-term goal.

Many, many people have trouble with this. I still remember one Monday night a long time ago. It was the night of the college football bowl game that would decide the national championship.

This was a year when Miami had at least a dozen players who would go on to be exceptional pros. I wanted to watch that game badly, but the next day I had to go to work, followed by night school. I knew if I stayed up I’d be worth nothing the next day.

I skipped the game, and of course it was a game for the ages, but I was able to go to work and go to school the next day with no problem. So there you go.

At some point, if you want to succeed, making proper choices like this is key. Believe me when I say this, because I’ve made enough bad choices in my life to know the difference, yes siree.

Not many can throw away a full scholarship to a top college like I did and still graduate and have a good career, but I was able to do just that. At some point, the “light” went on for me. Skipping that championship game was a big part of it.

There is a very famous psychology experiment that has been repeated over and over and perfectly exemplifies what I’m getting at. They put a small kid in a room with a hidden camera. There is a cookie on the table.

The moderator explains that the kid can eat the cookie now, but if she waits a few minutes while the moderator leaves, the kid can have a second cookie upon his return. When the moderator leaves the room, some kids immediately gobble down the cookie. Others look at it longingly, but hold off because they’d rather wait to get the second cookie.

They have gone on to track these kids over their entire lives, and over and over, the kids who waited for the second cookie have much better outcomes: health, success, happiness, etc. That is the power of delayed gratification.

I think a big problem we have is that, due to being saturated in media, we see all the very best at everything all the time. Then, when we try something and see how hard it is, we just give up because there is no way, we think, we can ever be that good.

Think about how many guitars go unplayed, how many golf clubs sit in garages, and how many rusted hulks of former classic cars sit in fields or barns, waiting to be restored. Doing anything that is non-trivial requires the big three: drive, determination, and tenacity.

You can’t buy these, either; you have to have them inside you. The good news is they are always waiting around for you to discover them.

As I write this in August, I have now lost 26 pounds and 2 inches off my waist since February, and am continuing to lose. This requires quite a bit of discipline on my part. Who doesn’t like huge ice cream sundaes, fresh crusty bread, and going back for seconds and sometimes thirds?

But I have made up my mind that nothing tastes as good as losing weight, period. It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to something. Too bad you can’t bottle and sell it.

Some of us have been fortunate to join payroll-deduction programs at work. This is where a small amount of your pay goes into some kind of long-term investment for retirement.

I call this kind of thing “paying yourself.” If you let them deduct it for you, you don’t even feel it. Then, when you retire, it’s something there to help with whatever pension and Social Security you might have earned.

Yet many people choose to live paycheck to paycheck, and have little or no savings at all. In fact, the Social Security Administration estimates that 21 percent of married couples and 45 percent of single people rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. This is really sad.

Social Security was created to give our seniors some dignity in their retirement years. It was never intended to be their only income. Yet delaying gratification — saving now to have for later — seems just to be so hard for so many.

It’s difficult to promote saving for oneself when the country is trillions of dollars in debt and looking to borrow even more. Yes, the proposed programs are all great and much needed, but I know if I owed anybody anything I’d be canceling cable and eating rice and beans until I caught up.

It’s a shame we as a country don’t see how powerful that is. I’m no economist, and I know they say borrowing promotes spending, which creates more revenue, but crushing debt is crushing debt no matter how you look at it. What a message it would send if we as a county could show some fiscal restraint for once.

Learning how to delay gratification means learning about discipline, or about controlling yourself. Eating, spending, swearing, and many other behaviors are all waiting for you to exercise control over them. Can you do it? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

It was Aug. 24, and the Old Men of the Mountain gathered at the Chuck Wagon Diner on Route 20. As most in the area know, Route 20 travels basically east and west and the sun comes up in the east and sets (duh) in the west.

Many OFs at this time of the year are driving directly east as the sun peeks over the horizon. Going east and meeting the glare of the sun in the morning can be an experience with old eyes. However, one OF said he would rather put up with the glare than drive in fog, drizzle, and gloom, and expect no better for the rest of the day.

The OFs are guaranteed to talk about the weather; who is ill or under the weather; old times, including tractors, cars, trucks, and motorcycles; what they did in school, mostly high school (college seems to be left out); what they did at work, and current events.

Some mention odd or universally interesting hobbies, or gossip; many other topics are just touched on or not mentioned at all.

This leaves the scribe reporting on, and trying to make different commentary on, the same topics over and over. Again, this is understandable; it happens in any group that has been functioning for years.

This past Tuesday, the chatter was on the weather and all the water and how wet it has been, because the OFs remembered how devastating Irene was and how this tropical storm affected so many of the OFs from actual damage, or volunteering to help others who were in need.

So, in talking about weather, that storm of 10 years ago was real weather, and is still talked about off and on today. Not only is it talked about but the evidence is still around.


Stringing phone lines

The Middleburgh Telephone Company was a discussion that was different. The OFs remember when the company was around in the forties and fifties, and at that time it was like a backyard operation.

The OFs remember working with actor John McGiver who lived in West Fulton (about 40 miles west of Albany). They were stringing phone lines through and on trees, even on fence posts.

Maybe there are phone lines strung like that in the North Country or out west someplace, but like one OF said, “If it works, so what?”

The Middleburgh Telephone Co. was started in the late 1800s and has been around ever since.


Fair talk

Some of the OFs talked about going to the New York State Fair in Syracuse. That is quite an event.

Local fairs are fun, especially when young, when youngsters belong to a club or organization that participates in these local fairs. Sometimes this even leads to their taking part in the state fair.

The state fair has a butter-sculpture exhibit that appears just about as people enter the fairgrounds. These sculptures are very well done.

Some of the OFs have seen these works and are really impressed. This scribe has seen the sculpted butter and, like the rest, is impressed.

What happens to all this butter when the fair is over? This scribe would hate to see it go to waste, and so would the OFs, but the OFs think this butter has to be destroyed just to be safe.

It is like sand art. Once it is done, and viewed by those that attended, whoever sponsored the event must have made plans for what they would do with this display when the fair is over.  All the sculptors have now are photographs of their works.

Going to the state fair on a good day, you will find the exit to get off the New York State Thruway can be packed.

One OF said, on a trip to the fair, the right lane of the Thruway was stopped quite away from the exit ramp. Of course, that exit ramp was backed up also.

The OF explained that, as his family inched their way along the Thruway to get to the exit ramp, a vehicle went scooting by on the right of their car. Just as the exit ramp left the Thruway, there was a police car and alongside the car stood a state trooper.

He was waving that car to stop and the trooper did not look too happy. One OF mentioned that rarely does anyone get to see that happen. Generally the guy with the guts to pull a stunt like that gets away with it.

The state fair or the Eastern States Exposition are not venues that (to some of the OFs) can be seen in one day. When we were younger, it was a camping trip; today it may be necessary to rent a room, motel, or B&B.

Trips like this, one OF commented, really make a dent in the ole pocketbook.

“So does a day at the track; rarely do I win,” the OF said. “But I am sure to bring a cooler. Grabbing a bite at the track is expensive.”

Just living today is expensive. A cemetery raises its costs and blames it on the cost of living. Indeed a grave situation.

Those OFs who were at the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown regardless of today’s prices were: Roger Shafer, Rich LaGrange, Jake Herzog, Jake Lederman, Harold Guest, Wally Guest, Bill Lichliter, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Marty Herzog, Monty Hounshell, Pete Whitbeck, Otis Lawyer, Joe Rack, Duncan Bellinger, Gerry Chartier, Herb Bahrmann, Rich Vanderbilt, Elwood Vanderbilt, Dave Hodgetts, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Paul Whitbeck, Mark Traver, John Dabrvalskes, and me.

I recently had a rather eye-opening conversation with a cicada. His name was Terrence. He had more than a bit to say about the world and how we humans are not necessarily doing a great job. So, here’s how this happened.

I was walking up our driveway and looked down to see a very large distinctive bug sitting quietly in the sun. I bent down to look closer, and I recognized it as a cicada.

“Well, hi there,” I said.

You must understand that I do tend to greet most living things I come across. It just seems like the polite thing to do.

Anyway, much to my surprise, I heard a small, but rather British sounding voice say, “Hello.”

Not what I was expecting.

“Um, I had no idea you guys could talk,” I said. “I thought it was all high-pitched buzzing and stuff.”

“Well, we tend to try and respond when spoken too; it seems the polite thing to do. I’m Terrence, by the way, and my family has been here in Altamont for the past 20 generations,” he said, crossing his rear legs and relaxing in my shadow.

I did a little quick math based on the cicada’s 17-year life cycle and discovered he and his kin had been here for 340 years. When I said that he just yawned and nodded.

“So, you’re brood X? You guys were supposed to inundate the East Coast this year and you’re the first one I’ve seen. What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Our PR department kind of jumped to gun with the publicity before they got our advanced report,” he said, sounding a touch defensive. “Once we reported back, the brood decided to come out just enough to breed and then head back down.

“That’s our job; we check in periodically to see how you people are doing and then report back to the natural world. Frankly, we’re not too impressed, especially for the past four generations,” he sniffed.

“Um, where were you before Altamont?” I asked, knowing that cicadas dated back thousands of years, if not millions.

“Oh, New Jersey. Even back then, the place was kind of squidgy, so Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandma moved our brood up here and we’ve been here ever since. At first, it was just the Native Americans, and they took very good care of the place and then white folks sailed in and early on they were pretty decent, too, but boy, once the Industrial Revolution hit, you really screwed the pooch,” he said.

“Uh, yeah, I did read about that in history class,” I mumbled.

“Well, that was just the beginning. Mechanized farming, mass hunting, mass transit, widespread pollution, and good lord, what you people did to MTV was just a crime. And social media, what on earth were you thinking? All this technology and you idiots can’t even handle a simple worldwide pandemic. Do you know the dinosaurs handled that meteor more gracefully?”

“Well, there certainly have been some missteps,” I agreed.

“Missteps? Last month we read in The Enterprise about that school board meeting where crazy parents were threatening board members over masks in school.”

“Wait, you read the local newspaper?” I asked, rather surprised.

“We monitor various media outlets. The Enterprise does a rather nice job on local news and, since we’re based in Altamont ,that’s a bit of a no-brainer. But that story rather upset me and the rest of the brood.

“How can a supposedly intelligent species take a public-health threat and turn it into a political fiasco? We expect that sort of behavior in Texas or Alabama or Berne, but in Guilderland? You people are in a blue state, in a blue county, have quite a good educational system and yet you threaten elected officials for trying their best to protect your children?”

Terrence looked distinctly peeved.

“Hey, listen I agree with you. This whole COVID thing has been largely weaponized by the right since day one,” I tried to say before he cut me off.

“Right, left, Russian trolls, it really doesn’t matter. You people need to step back and use the common sense the Goddess gave you.

“If your race is challenged by a simple virus, and you have the means to eradicate it through vaccinations, social distancing, masking, and common sense, why, for the sake of all that’s holy, don’t you just shut up, step up and get the thing done? You beat polio, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, and even beat back Carrot Top before he could get any real media traction and yet here you have totally blown it.”

“Well, in New York we’re doing pretty well,” I countered.

“You were doing pretty well. Then the anti-vaxxers rallied and you stopped at about 60 or 70 percent vax rates. You morons should be at or near 100 percent and now states are having to offer bribes to get people to get a simple shot.

“They whine that they don’t know what’s in the shot, but the same idiots will march into McDonald’s and swallow anything they’re handed, or chow down on a hot dog? Do you have any idea what’s in those things?”

“So, we’re not the sharpest tools in the shed,” I admitted. “But what do you propose we do with your centuries of observation?”

“Be smart, be kind, and do the right thing. It’s really quite simple. If you can’t figure that out, you won’t be here for a whole lot longer. If COVID doesn’t slowly wipe you out then climate change will. Either that or you’ll all just march off a cliff while staring at your stupid cell phones.”

“Do you think we’ll be able to save ourselves?”

“Look, I’m not a fortune teller. But if you have the technology to send a jerk like Jeff Bezos into space riding in a giant penis-shaped missile, you may have some hope. Like I said, be kind to one another. Your neighbors aren’t the enemy, the wealthy and the mass media are the real evil on the planet. That and basic human selfishness.”

And with that, Terrence flew off to who knows where.

I hope he’s right and we have a chance to fix things. I, for one, am tuning out of the news more than I ever have and am also trying very hard to be a kind person each day. I got my shots, and continue to wear my mask when necessary.

And now I’m off to try and help keep my grandchildren from killing themselves through sheer toddler exuberance. Those little people are the real future.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he spends most days fixing bikes, writing, chasing tiny people, reading, and mowing the lawn; it’s been that kind of season.