Archive » February 2022 » Columns

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the day after Valentine’s Day (did you remember?), the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Country Café on Main Street in Schoharie. Again it was chilly; the weather was described by some of the OFs as a yo-yo.

Some of the OFs remember playing with this kids’ toy and a few became really good at it. Think back to the Smothers Brothers. The brother that played the guitar (not the one that played the bass) was a whiz at playing with a yo-yo. “Walk the Dog,” “Around the World,” and “In the Cradle” were some of the yo-yo tricky maneuvers.


Beards hide wrinkles

A good while back, the OMOTM talked about shaving and the problems lines in the face caused. Well, about 10 years has passed and these lines on the older OFs are now canyons, with deep, cragged cliffs that have to be shaved.

The OFs cannot drop their jaws far enough now to straighten out these riffs, so they complain about having to push on the razor harder to get at the whiskers hiding deep in the valleys. One OF mentioned that, if he doesn’t get those whiskers out of there, it accentuates the lines and it looks like snow where the whiskers are gray and, where it isn’t gray, the crags look deeper.

The younger OFs are not at this point yet but sooner than they think, they, of course, will be. One of the younger ones said that will be the time when he grows a beard. The OF even brought up the hypothesis of why many OFs have beards. That reasoning being it’s just to hide the wrinkles.

Another OF said it isn’t only the OFs who have beards now, most of the young men seem to be sprouting facial hair growth.

One OF said he can remember when lines around the eyes and down the face showed character, and were considered classy and made a man look sexy. Another OF said, to him, guys with beards seem to be peering out from behind a dead bush; he would rather see lines any day.

Then the conversation segued to the subject of age spots, moles, hang tags, and little red blood dots. All the OFs now look like they are checkerboards or dart boards.

A long role in the aches and pains and the scars department and now, my goodness, the Old OFs look like road maps as well. The aches and pains just go with the territory and the column has mentioned those before. But, for some reason on Tuesday morning, it was all lumped together: lumps and bumps, aches and pains, lines and scars. The creature from the black lagoon is beginning to look better than the OFs.

This was prompted by the OFs wearing beards for the town of Knox, which is getting ready for a bicentennial celebration that will be ongoing throughout the year, but the main events will basically be held during this summer. There is a best-beard contest for those in the town that should be fun.

Another thing about beards, which was mentioned, was that beards can be trimmed and faces with the beards do not have to shave. So digging out whiskers in the valleys and caverns of the older OFs face is not necessary.


Old pets mirror OFs’ ailments

Many times, OFs have old pets, i.e., cats and dogs especially. This scribe doesn’t know of any OFs that had a turtle.

We talked about old pets on Tuesday morning. One OF explained what he goes through taking care of a 19-year-old dog  (that is 133 people years, holy cow!).

Another OF piped up that they had a 19-year-old cat. How many years cat years are to people years, this scribe doesn’t know, but this OF supposes the net will tell him. The OF is so full of aches and pains (part of OFism), he is too lazy to bother checking this out; anyway, the cat is old.

So many of the OFs grow old with their animals, and that may be best; a young puppy or frisky kitten may drive an OF nuts. Then again, maybe not; at least the young animal may keep the OF active.

Old pets seem to have the same maladies as their human caretakers, and it costs just as much to keep them going as it does humans.

Some of the OFs mentioned that they cannot remember not having a dog.

One OF added, “Until recently.”

The OF offered that it takes as much effort to take care of an old dog, as it does an OF, and he can’t do both. The OF added, having a devoted pet is such a comfort that it is a shame to have to give one up.


OGs like to drive themselves

The subject of drive-yourself and electric vehicles was another healthy conversation. On this topic, the option of riding in a car that can drive itself was not something the OFs wanted to do.

This scribe can say it was a 100-percent turndown; the OFs would rather drive themselves. However, this was from a group that still feels comfortable driving.

This scribe thinks an older person who can no longer drive but is still somewhat ambulatory would like a vehicle that all the OF would have to do is get in and say to the vehicle, “Take me to Wal-Mart,” and the vehicle would do it.

Many OFs don’t like to put people out to haul them around.

There will be more information on electric cars to come in the future, as some of the OFs now have them. One OF who leases them says he has had seven of them, and right now all he has are electric vehicles.

His internal-combustion engine truck is buried in snow and, at this point in time, it is not worth the effort to dig it out. Good OF thinking.

Those OMOTM who made it to the Country Café in Schoharie (and at least one used no gas to get there) were: Glenn Patterson, Miner Stevens, Roger Shafer, Russ Pokorny, Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, John Dabrvalskes, Paul Guiton, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, and me.

By the way, a 19-year-old cat is 92 in human years.

Poets and friends gathered at Smitty's Tavern. The buzz of the place was a beautiful piece of music.

For Anthony Cronin

Though I’ve never seen it written in a history book, May 27, 2017 is a day that lives in infamy.

A flotilla of ships was not bombed in a faraway port or the tops of towers cut with the wings of enemy planes. It was the day that Smith’s Tavern in Voorheesville, New York closed its doors forever. A pall came over the town.

Hospitality had been the signature dish served in that building for 117 consecutive years in the form of food, drink, and a place to stay upstairs — sometimes the owner lived there.

During that time, the property changed hands five times. The Smith in Smith’s Tavern came when the Frank Smith family took over the business in 1945. There was a Frank Sr. and a Frank Jr., the son still held in honor today.

When Smitty’s — that’s what the place came to be called — finally shut its doors, I thought it was part of the jinx.

That is, Nick Oliver — who raised the building in 1900 as the West End Hotel — saw his 15-year old daughter die within a year.

And shortly after Ernie Albright bought the place, his baby girl, Coretta May, died. A 1915 edition of The Enterprise said she was “aged 2 years 9 months, 8 days.” And that her “funeral was held Wednesday morning from the West End Hotel, where her parents reside.”

Albright felt the jinx — he changed the name to the Brook View Hotel.

The editor of the paper who reported on the child’s death felt compelled to offer the community a maxim of consolation: “There is no flock however watched and tended, but one dead lamb is there; There is no fireside, howe’er defended, but hath its vacant chair.”

Some of Smitty’s patrons I met over the years would fully understand the meaning of that because they themselves were outside time, like characters in a storybook. I see their faces clear as day as I write this.

The tavern was situated on State Highway 85A diagonally across from the village elementary school and a few hundred feet from the Vly, a beautiful creek that winds through Albany County.

But go there today and all you’ll see is a frame looking like a soufflé ready to fall or a Halloween pumpkin slumped in winter snow.

For 50 years, when Friday night rolled around, friends, neighbors, and especially people with kids, headed to Smitty’s for a night out.

Sometimes there’d be a wait but nobody cared, it was a time to say hello to a neighbor at the bar or a family seated at a table waiting for dinner. The buzz of the place was a beautiful piece of music.

And, while it can be said there was no such thing as a stranger at Smitty’s, at times one of the regulars got out of hand and had to be talked to. I never saw a fight at the place nor even heard a voice raised in anger — though at times the owners did call for public assistance.

During the tenure of the last owners — business partners Jon and John — the place sported a poets’ corner, which the regulars at the bar knew well. Nailed to the wall by the heated soup tureen was a street sign with block letters that read POETS’ CORNER. It’s in the village archives now.

There are two other great institutions that have a poets’ corner: the famed Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York; and Westminster Abbey in London (where Mr. Chaucer resides).

Nearly always, as you came through the front door at Smitty’s, you’d catch a fluffle of poets in the corner, reciting Keats or debating Miss Emilie’s pedigree. Above the street sign was a plastic holder with copies of the poem of the Poet of the Month. Inquisitive regulars always availed themselves.

Jim Reed — who stood at the end of the bar that curved into the kitchen, a short one in front of him always — read the poems with childish delight. One day he got into a terrible fix over the word “rill.”

And when National Poetry Month rolled around in April, some of the poets put on a confab called the Smith’s Tavern Poet Laureate Contest.

The prizes were underwritten by the owners: $100 for Laureate; $75 for second place; $50 for third. Poets came from Massachusetts and as far west as Utica.

On contest day, you could hear the genial buzz as the poets and their fans packed into the dining room shoulder to shoulder: The owners were reimbursed after the first hour as pizza, whiskey, beer, and esoteric stout filled the tables nonstop.

And while the poets read their work amid the deepest silence, the waitresses served drink and food in the tightest of spaces with ne’ery the clink of a plate. At Smitty’s, the waitresses were impresarios; most were older women with day jobs who came at first to make an extra buck or two but soon became part of Smitty’s family.

Some were there for 30 years. I won’t name any here but their sweet womanly kindness I still feel today — better than anything on TV’s “Cheers.”

From time to time one of the waitresses, while waiting for her orders to come, penned a line or two on the back of a placemat and brought it to the poets for their review: brass duende, but always the best of fun.

And with respect to the pizza itself: Each year, when the region’s “best of” notices came out, Smitty’s was right near the top. In a 1989 interview, Frank said he’d just finished baking his millionth pie — but that quality was always the measure.

At the beginning of the week, he’d head to the butcher to buy the best prime beef for his burgers, served beside the incredible German potato salad of his German-born wife Gert, a force in her own right. They used to refer to themselves as equals.

And some nights after the kitchen closed, Frank would make the rounds and hand out little gifts: one time a frisbee with Smith’s Tavern printed on the side; another time a key ring with nail file and pen blade enclosed — Smith’s Tavern engraved on the side. I always marveled at the quality of his offerings.

And just as sandwiches at the Carnegie Deli in New York had names, so did Smitty’s pizzas. A person might walk in one day and say: I’ll have the “John Gray.”

But all that’s gone now and Voorheesville is worse for the wear: a life-giving organ of its collective self sold.

In 1916, Mr. L. J. Hanifan, the State Supervisor of Rural Schools in Charleston in West Virginia, wrote about the disappearance of communal treasures that might be as small as a quilting group — never mind the community bee that brought the stones for Nick Oliver’s foundation in 1900.

In “The Rural Community Center” Hanifan wrote, “When the people of a given community have become acquainted with one another and have formed a habit of coming together upon occasions for entertainment, social intercourse and personal enjoyment, that is, when sufficient social capital has been accumulated, then by skilful leadership this social capital may easily be directed towards the general improvement of the community well-being.”

“Social capital” is not money or real estate but the communal joy people experience living with others in mutual aid and fun and bonding in accord.

Some days I wonder if there’s others who feel the loss as I do. When the place was sold, angry critics said the owners had no right to sell a public trust.

Frank Cramer, who bought the place from Ernie Albright in 1937 and called it the Cramer House, was part of the jinx: He died upstairs, never thinking a place like Smitty’s would suffer a fate like his own.

On Feb. 8th, and the Old Men of the Mountain visited the dining car diner in Princetown called the Chuck Wagon Diner. A busy place on Route 20.

This was the first breakfast after a nasty winter storm called on our area and also a better part of the country. The OFs discussed their snowplows and what a time they had trying to plow this stuff.

Hearing the OFs who had snowplows talk about them, this scribe did not know there were so many different kinds, and different approaches to plowing snow. This scribe found out what worked and what didn’t work because he was the only OF at the table who didn’t do this type of work.

The OFs who had plows performed much humanitarian work, and for no pay. The OFs (plural) plowed out their churches’ parking lots, shoveled the walks, and basically cleaned up these hazardous spots.

One OF said he got up at 4:30 in the morning to be sure his church parking lot and walkways were cleared before services began. This scribe did not ask but noted that these OFs are making contributions that are not recorded.

The OFs were in agreement that this snowfall (or whatever it was) was tough to handle and to move. One OF said it was harder to plow three inches of what fell than it was 14 or 15 inches of snow.

Checking the ages of some of the OGs plowing and shoveling snow, especially this stuff, is not recommended for these guys. But judging from how active the ones discussing doing this type of work, in one way or another throughout the year, it is this scribe’s guess the OFs are in shape to handle it.

There was much chatter at the table that this scribe was at, and much of it was of how to take care of the snow, and the equipment used. One thing noted was that the work on clearing the snow or ice takes quite a toll on the equipment.

Snowplows, snow blowers, shovels, and the human body take quite a beating. It is good exercise to some extent, but in many cases the wrong kind. The heart and back don’t seem to be made for too much shoveling snow; however, working in the garden is different.

To go along with all this discussion, the OFs (and modern technology) brought out the cell phones. This was particularly showing work done with their equipment and what can happen to it.

One OF showed pictures of a broken part that should not have broken. This was immediate evidence as the photos showed how the work was being done and then showed a broken part.

This OF said the dealer took care of the broken part right away and was good about it. However, the OF said the dealer stood behind his equipment and said the part was up to snuff.

All this points up to what can be done with a phone now. These smartphones are not that simple; many OFs can’t operate them. They can operate the older “flip” phone because all the OFs want to do is make a phone call.

But in cases like above it is handy to know how to use the more sophisticated phones. Saves a lot of “he said vs. they said.”


Better bartering

The way prices are going with the “supply chain” right now, it seems the old-fashioned barter system is coming back. The OFs talked about services for goods, or swapping “I need and you have” for “I have, and you can use so let’s make a deal.”

One OF suggested this sounds like it could be an internet thing, and maybe there is one out there that I don’t know about. For old cars and tractors, there are swap meets all over the place and this is close to what could happen.

Have a barter site on the net where the OFs could list what they need and others could list what they have and want to get rid of, and are willing to swap the item out.

One OF suggested he thinks this would be a good idea for those OFs, or anyone for that matter, who are downsizing. One OF thought this would be better than a garage sale.

The way this OF described it, it would not be necessary to haul all that stuff out, price it, and hope the weather holds for when the OF scheduled the garage sale. Now the OFs are talking about taking advantage of using the new technology.

This scribe then thought, here the OFs are talking about using the “new” technology. This “new” technology has been around for so long now that it is not new; maybe a better word would be current.

Using the current technology seems to be a better word to describe using the net, the “smart” phones, and some of these “apps.” These apps are another thing. Many people use “apps” while many OFs are leery of getting involved with them.

Well, when you fall down and your iPhone is in your pocket and you hear a crack, you’ll be thinking, “Lord, please let that be my leg.” That’s when you realize you’re really hooked on this new/old technology.  

When looking at what people the ages of the OMOTM have accrued, downsizing is a full-time job for months. What the OFs have collected over the years (in many cases) is only valuable to the OFs who have it. Not much good for bartering.

Those OFs who made it to the Chuck Wagon in Princetown on a pretty nice day (considering the nasty weather days before) were: Miner Stevens, Jake Herzog, Roger Shafer, Rick LaGrange, John Muller, Ted Feurer, Jake Lederman, Bill Lichliter, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, John Dabrvalskes, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, Paul Bahrmann, and me.

— NBC Radio

Two white men — Freeman Gosden, left, and Charles Correll — portrayed Amos and Andy in the popular radio show that was emulated in local minstrel shows. In this 1938 publicity photo, they prepare to dig into a cake celebrating the 10th anniversary of their show, which ran until 1960.

Editor’s note: When writing about local social history, it’s important to examine the ugly parts as well as the heroic parts. In this column, Mary Ellen Johnson takes an unflinching look at a racist form of entertainment that Enterprise reports show was both unquestioned and popular as late as the 1950s.

During the 19th Century, minstrel shows were professional performances presented in theaters where paying audiences were entertained by white actors in blackface who sang, danced, and performed variety acts and comedy. Sometimes Black performers also participated.

The premise was to satirize and ridicule Black culture by imitating and exaggerating their dancing, manner of speech, supposed ignorance, and music. Today this type of performance would be considered outrageous and racist.

It simply wouldn’t be done, but until the 1960s and beyond the majority of Americans had little problem enjoying entertainment featuring this racist representation of Black Americans.

Since 1884 when it first began publication, The Altamont Enterprise has been the chief source of information about the social history of Guilderland and the surrounding towns. There are 771 references to minstrel shows in the paper’s digital index, proving minstrel shows were a highly popular and newsworthy form of entertainment, not only in Guilderland, but in all the local areas covered by the newspaper.

The last professional minstrel show to appear on Broadway in New York was in 1909. Before this time, references to minstrel shows in The Enterprise were rare. One of the paper’s earliest editions ran a short piece reprinted from some other publication titled “Actors in Burnt Cork” in which “two noted minstrels speak on different styles of fun” in what would now be unprintable racist terms.

Occasionally during these early years there was the opportunity to view touring Black performers locally. The Fullers Station correspondent reported in1889 that “a colored minstrel troupe with a donkey” had traveled through, stopping at the local one-room school to perform, noting that the people who attended agreed it was “well worth the price of admission.”

At the 1902 Altamont Fair, a “genuine colored troupe” was hired to perform “the latest Negro specialties.” A decade later, a “big colored company” put on “Way Down South in Dixie” at Altamont’s Masonic Hall, a show featuring “genuine southern scenes, dances and melodies.”

An early local exposure to a minstrel show occurred in 1894 when a group of Albany amateurs traveled to Altamont, performing at Union Hall on Maple Avenue. The evening’s proceeds were to benefit the Fresh Air Fund, beginning the tradition in this area at least, that raising money for an organization became the reason for future minstrel shows to be scheduled in the area.

When the Hamilton Union Church reported on the success in1922 of the minstrel show it put on at the old “town hall” in Guilderland Center, $83 had been taken in at the door. Obviously it had been a popular attraction.

Before 1920, there were few mentions of minstrel show performances, although the Altamont Athletic Association advertised one in 1914. As time went on, minstrel shows were noted in The Enterprise more frequently. Altamont’s Colony Club used “home talent” in 1920 for its show while a year later Guilderland Center Fire Department members were planning to perform at the old “town hall.”


Radio influence

Was the increasingly frequent mention of local groups in the 1920s putting on minstrel shows tied in with the popularity of movies and that new medium radio? Al Jolson appeared in blackface in several movies, the most famous being “The Jazz Singer,” a smash hit.

During the era’s silent movies, there was much stereotyping of Black culture in the same vein. Locally, WGY’s radio programs were listed weekly in The Enterprise. For the week of May 18, 1922 listed among the station’s offerings were:

— Introducing Some Darktown Humor;

— Georgia Minstrel Boys;

— Male Quartette: I Wish I Was in Dixie; and

— Humorous Dialogue: William Jackson & Washington Lee.

After going on the air in 1928 “Amos ’n’ Andy” quickly became the nation’s favorite radio comedy with two white actors playing two African-American men who had moved from the country to Chicago to start the Fresh Air Taxi Co. It lasted until the early days of TV in 1953.

Many white Americans saw nothing wrong in these comic characterizations of the Black community because racism was so prevalent in American life during these decades.

During the next three decades, groups from all over Guilderland and other area towns volunteered their time and talent to produce minstrel shows to amuse their neighbors and at the same time raise funds for their organizations. Several local churches, fire departments, clubs, and civic groups got into the act, sometimes giving repeat performances in different locations.

The minstrel show as a community activity and entertainment flourished until the civil rights movement and changing attitudes made this kind of performance untenable.


Three-part form

The Enterprise articles announcing upcoming minstrel shows almost always placed the advance publicity on the front page. In the publicity notices, terms were mentioned such as endmen and olios, unfamiliar to later generations.

The Altamont Entertainers Guild presented a minstrel show and olio in 1948. The audience applauded and laughed loudly at the endmen’s jokes and antics. A 1946 production put on by the Altamont Fire Company featured endmen named “Charcoal, Debris, Embers and Smokey.” Others in the cast included “Amos, Andy, Bones, Evelina, Heliotrope, Mandy, Rastus, Sambo and Violet,” all singing old-time musical numbers.

There was a three-part form to traditional minstrel shows. First, the full ensemble sat in a semicircle with Mr. Interlocutor in the center and blackface comedians at either end. These were the endmen who spoke in colloquial Black speech while Mr. Interlocutor used an exaggerated, elegant pattern of diction, both getting the comedy rolling.

After an intermission, the olio followed with a variety of songs and acts and a speech by one of the endmen poking fun at the issues and political figures that could be personalized to fit the community.

After a second intermission, there was another piece with the two endmen playing two Black buffoons, a country bumpkin type and a city slicker know-it-all who is easily tricked.

Local groups of differing sizes and talents may have followed their own pattern, but the basic element of characterizing Black culture remained the same. Many traditional minstrel songs reflected the image.

Some went all the way back to Stephen Foster’s melodies, while other were like the 1890s hit about a Black woman unable to choose between two suitors entitled “All C**** Look Alike To Me.”

A 1930 production put on by the Altamont Lady Minstrels not only had a cake walk contest, but songs by a sextet made up of “Turpentina, Vasolina, Listerina, Benzina, Gasolina and Energina.”


Friends on stage

The great attraction to the public was seeing their friends and neighbors in the cast and figuring out “who is who” was noted when the Goodfellowship Minstrels announced their show to be performed at Altamont’s Masonic Hall, promising it to “Be the Hit of the Season” in 1924.

Often it wasn’t that the comedy itself was all that hilarious, but the incongruous situation of a church elder, proper matron, or local businessman doing the nonsense involved.

The Guilderland Center Fire Department’s 1953 minstrel show with a cast of 40 assured the prospective audience “When you see Clyde S……. doing a ballet with Ormond B…. you will have tears rolling down your cheeks,” both men being well known in the community at that time.

This particular show was performed two nights in Guilderland Center, after which it was announced, “the Center Dixie Minstrels to Hit the Road,” giving two additional performances of two nights each in other locations.

Were these shows popular? A 1934 headline promoting an upcoming minstrel show said it all: “Advance Sale of Tickets Indicates a Capacity House.”

By the end of the decade of the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement and growing sensitivity about the treatment of America’s Black population led to the end of the local minstrel show.

Today, reading this description of the traditional minstrel shows performed in our own town makes us cringe, but it surely illustrates how this facet of racism was part of the fabric of life during the first half of the 20th Century.  No longer acceptable, minstrel shows have been relegated to our past social and racial history.

We are done with January, so the Old Men of the Mountain met on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Middleburgh Diner. Only a handful of OMOTM were there but the conversation was lively.

One topic was about who rules the world. The OFs say that people think they are the top of the ladder — they rule the world. People think they were given orders to subdue the Earth and take care of it. The OFs say that is not true. Cats rule the planet!

The OFs maintain that, when we stop and think about cats, they are top dog, and cats know it. People who have cats know the score.

One OF said, “We don’t own cats.”

Two OFs have cats that behave in the same way. The only people who see these cats are those who have the cats. Both OFs said their cats know when a strange car drives in the driveway and then those cats just disappear. Even the OFs who have them can’t find them.

One OF said cats are no more attached to people than the sun is to the moon. The cats own the house; quite often, if the OFs move to another place and take the cat, the cat gets out and returns to the original house, saying to heck with you. The cat is not attached to you no matter how much it lies in your lap.

One OF thought the pecking order is cats, women, and then men, and even that may be suspect. It just may be kids then men. Guys like to think they are leaders of the pack, but tain’t so Magee.


Square dancing

When the OFs were younger, square-dancing was the entertainment of the time and apparently many of the OFs were square dancers. The OFs started talking about square dancing and it was noted most of the OFs were once square dancers and knew many of the places that the dances were held.

It was funny that no one seemed to recognize the OFs from being at these events. One OF said they continued to square dance right up until the pandemic hit.

Some of the others thought that square dancing was petering out but apparently from some of the discussion there are vestiges of it still around if you want to participate in the exercise. All that the OF would have to do is find a still-active club.

The OF who still does dance said that matching outfits are out. It used to be everyone gussied up and donned an outfit to go dancing.

One OF said they still had at least two closets full of these clothes in their cellar. Some of the OFs said they couldn’t dance anymore because they can’t raise their arms, and twirling would make them dizzy and they would fall down.

They all admitted it was lots of fun, great exercise, and got them out with some really nice people. One OF said they often went dancing in Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee and many times these were their vacations.


Gambling and drugs

The talk then melted into comments on all the ads for gambling that are on the radio and the TV. One OF said New York is now run by gangsters.

Now that is a little harsh, but the OFs look at what is legal and advertised now, drugs and gambling.

“Great for the kids, huh?” was the comment.

How do we tell our grandkids that gambling and drugs are bad for you when it is advertised all over the place as the thing to do

 Oh well, time marches on; however, the OFs think it is out of step and there is a cliff straight ahead, and no one is there to call about-face.


Future of energy

The OFs had quite a discussion on the previous subject, and then switched to the issue of electric this and that.

From what knowledge the OFs have, and it is not limited, the OFs don’t think the way new power plants under proposal now are right. The OFs think that too much raw material is being used to generate power the way it is being touted, either with wind or solar. Even with electric vehicles.

The OFs have a problem with how long these batteries, windmills, and solar panels will last as opposed to a generator. A couple of the OFs suggested there is not enough work being done (as much as these OF can tell) on hydrogen, which would still let us use the internal combustion engine.

A few of the OFs suggested magnetism is a source of energy not being explored at all, at least again, from what the OFs can ascertain.

One OF said that he thinks the plans are not for the long haul but are very short-sighted. This OF thinks it all comes down to bucks.

This OF, in his cynical way, thinks the biggies are thinking only of themselves and care nothing about the environment, or global warming. This OF says it is all words just to sound good and makes one great big whoop.

This OF thinks everything being talked about uses finite material. He mentioned that the engineers should be working more on infinite sources, like nuclear.

It was a good conversation, and one OF mentioned that a solution to the energy problem would be to generate large amounts of electricity by working on scrubbers and filters, and go back to coal. Our own country has thousands of years of that stuff, but again, the OF said it is a finite product.

The OF added we can use this stuff until we find out what the other planets are doing to power their planets and run their spaceships.

One OF added that he thought this OF was right. This second OF maintained that, in the vastness of space, if anyone thinks we are out here all alone they are in for a big surprise.

Speaking of surprises: What modern square dance do all astronauts know? The Moonwalk.

Those OFs who made it to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh, arriving in their air cars, which caused a stir in the parking lot, were: Paul Nelson, Miner Stevens, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, Jake Herzog, and me.

“Solitude,” an 1809 painting by Frederic Leighton.

Share your reading list with me and I will tell you who you are; a reading list is food and we are what we eat.

And, if you tell me you do not have a reading list, I will tell you who you are as well: why you’re starving, and how to restock your shelves to offset the disease.

Years ago, I was editor-in-chief of an international journal on justice called Contemporary Justice Review. It’s out of the U.K., under the imprint of the esteemed Routledge, a subdivision of Taylor and Francis. It was my brainchild.

For a proposed special issue of the journal, I put out a call for papers to the academic community — as well as the public at large — asking folks to submit an essay on their moral and ethical development, that is, the emotio-socio-cultural foundation stones on which their being rested, a personalist vision of what Nietzsche was talking about in “On the Genealogy of Morality.”

Thus the writer had to reveal his overriding vision of life — concepts like freedom and justice — as well as the spiritual foundations on which his rules of life were based, his system of ethics, and because all rules and ethical systems have to do with happiness, the call for papers was essentially asking the writer to say what made him happy.

Delineating such mental frameworks is not an easy task; it requires naming the persons, places, and events that shift the axis of a person’s being and force him to build his ethical foundation anew — from the bottom up.

Thus, if a writer saw himself as a five-story building, he had to say how (and why) each floor came into being, right down to the rooms. It’s a level of self-analysis the great psychoanalyst Karen Horney championed all her life.

The special issue of the journal never came about; the response was too lukewarm — and I knew why.

First, the process is painful. The writer, explorer, thinker, analyst, must engage in a near-Marxian economic analysis of every aspect of his life — every person, place, and event — and reveal the worth he has assigned to each.

The human personality is a pool, a gestalt, of all such rankings combined. And they might be as basic as: I like pasta over pizza but, on a larger social-structural level, it’s: men are superior to women; whites outshine Blacks; fascist societies surpass those where people have a say.

And the ranking process is not some option, it’s grounded in our DNA: parents do it with their kids. They say they love their every child the same but deep down say one of the kids tugs on their heartstrings in a special way — a hierarchy of worth. A Freudian would say it’s the ego moving the soul toward Nirvana.

When a person’s rankings leak out and I’m there, I always ask how they came to be. Economics are not Marxian but arise with the birth of time and consciousness. The human being prices things like the Antiques Roadshow.

When people get old and lose their inhibitions, they say aloud — often to the embarrassment of their kids — what they think a thing is worth. Life’s clock freed them; saying their piece is a source of peace.

As a country, as a culture, America has long rejected reflective self-analysis — what do the Proud Boys read? — thus splinter groups keep springing up that lionize aggression and violence, nihilists who deny the worth of anything not themselves.

On the other hand, contemplatives — I read their work daily — speak (and write) a poetry of peace. It might not be Yeats or John of the Cross but it’s the language of mystics.

The issue of my journal never came about as well because contemplative self-reflective activity is not rewarded in the academic marketplace; it does not lead to tenure or a full professorship. Who will pay for periods of meditative reading and a space for solitude (could be a room in the public library) and, for some, a pen to log their experience?

But people reject such a life because they view solitude as loneliness, with being disconnected from everything that makes them happy: phone, TV, computer, shopping. And they are partially right because solitude requires time alone.

The irony is: The deeper a person’s solitude, the more he’s connected to others — a paradox of consciousness. It translates into living in accord with “other” at every level: neighborhood, town, village, partner, mate, and family; aggression and violence are rejected as means to deal with “difference.”

The aspirant speaks of such accord with elation and strives to keep that way of life intact. Some Asian mystics say they fear no hardship because they can sever soul from body — elation as inexhaustible.

I love to write. I love to read what I write, I read what I write over and over, it’s a source of meditation: a record of me listening to myself in solitude. It’s not trite to say it’s a gift.

The great psychoanalyst Carl Rogers said that, when people came in for therapy, they came packing a facade behind which they were hiding all the assessments of worth they made of every person and being in their life, including themselves — and the repression was killing them.

The aggressive, violent American we see in the papers and online today — even those in public service — is hiding behind a façade that keeps breaking out into violence: sometimes with a gun; sometimes in denial of reality; sometimes with a flag pole — to which the American flag is attached — beating down on a neighbor the community hired to keep itself safe from flag-pole-beaters like themselves. Communitas non compos mentis.

Seven years before Nietzsche’s morals book came out, his overlooked “Daybreak” appeared in which he called for the “reevaluation of all values.”

He said, “I go into solitude so as not to drink out of everybody’s cistern. When I am among the many, I live as the many do, and I do not think as I really think; after a time it always seems as though they want to banish me from myself and rob me of my soul and I grow angry with everybody and fear everybody. I then require the desert, so as to grow good again.”

Where America is now: in the desert trying to find a way to grow good again.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie. On Jan. 25, we were approaching the end of the month, a month that has been consistently chilly.

As the OMOTM were saying, we have had colder weather but have been spoiled so far this year. The OFs did not remember a January thaw this year.

One OF said the cold has kept the snow on the ground (at least in the hills) and that is a good thing. A foot of snow on the roof is a good insulator; also snow cover on the ground keeps the frost from getting to the pipes. Old farmer knowledge.

The OFs were talking about taxes — it is that time of year. Some of the OFs have not received all their information yet and it is getting time when it is supposed to be there.

The IRS is not adhering to its own rules. The IRS is saying that a letter is coming out in a couple of weeks or so (say what) that is to be considered like a 1099 or that other one that is supposed to be filed with your taxes. Well, the OFs started discussing “Do we all have to wait until we receive that letter or what?”

One OF said he has already done his taxes and sent them in. Whoops.

All this talk sent this scribe to his tax guy. The tax man said he does not think the OMOTM have anything to worry about because the letter is all about child care, and child-care expenses, and how to claim it with all the changes going on.

Unless the OFs have kids in child care then it does not pertain to them, or anyone that does not have kids in child care. At least that is the way this scribe understands it. It’s all about the kids, so from what this scribe knows the OFs are off the hook on this one, unless there is some hanky-panky going on that this scribe doesn’t know about.


Compressed time

The OFs discussed some emails and phone calls they have received from friends that either have flown to warmer climes for the winter or are now inhabitants south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They are all complaining that they are having winter as far as Florida.

In the Carolinas — snow and ice; in Florida — having to scrape the windshields. In some of the southern states, the highway department doesn’t even have snowplows, and buying a snow shovel is a joke.

One OF mentioned that the friend he spoke to said, “The cold weather won’t last long down here; the garden tools are already in the hardware stores along with seed and fertilizer, and you guys up there still have two months to go. So ha-ha on you,” the southern OG told the northern OG.

One OF took all this chatter one step further and offered his thoughts that the older he gets, the shorter all the seasons are. Summer is short and so is winter; the spring and fall just seem to run into summer and winter.

This OF remembers winters that used to be fun with lots of time to ski and sled and the holidays seem to last much longer. The OF said even lunch and supper seemed to last longer. Now everything seems to be over before it starts.

A recent post received on the net said every time we try to eat healthy, along comes Christmas, Easter, summer, Friday, or Tuesday and ruins it for us.

The OF can’t remember when this happened or what age he noticed when cold angered his joints, or when heat made him puff and want to cool off. The OF added that for him the OMOTM breakfasts were different. The time spent was long enough, the coffee (no matter what) tasted good to him, and just to shoot the bull and listen to what the others were doing was a great break in the week.

This scribe imagines this happens within any group of like-minded people, but age just seems to make time fly — darn.

The OFs then talked a little bit about the internet, and how it now seems too loaded with junk and not what it used to be. This is another thing falling into the category of “used to be” only the internet is not that old.

Facebook started (as stated on the internet, what else) February 2004 and the OFs are already attaching an “it used to be” connotation to it. “Used To Be” used to be 40 or 60 years ago; now with the internet it is only 17 years ago next month. Well eight-track tapes and a lot of things got “used to be” in a hurry.

The OFs who made it to the Your Way Café included a few other OFs who joined in the group. Strange how when in a group of OFs people don’t mind being OFs, but when they are alone some take umbrage to being referred to as an OF. Anyway, the Your Way Café in Schoharie hosted the OMOTM and they were: Rick LaGrange, Roger Shafer, Bill Lichliter, Elwood Vanderbilt, Bob Donnelly, Dave Hodgetts, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, Jake Herzog, Laudy Howenga, Bill Fonda, John Dabrvalskes, Carl Stefanick, and me.

— From the Guilderland Historical Society

This pre-1927 photo of the original entrance to Guilderland Center as it was before the overpass was erected shows poles carrying electric lines down the main street. Residents living along the side roads waited for years for lines to reach their neighborhoods.

“De-lighted” was the general consensus when, at 4:37 p.m. on Jan. 20, 1916, electric current flowed through wires strung into Altamont by way of Voorheesville and Guilderland Center. Local folks were well aware of the convenience and superiority of electric power, eager to simply flip on a light switch.

After all, articles about the wonders of electricity had appeared in The Enterprise and other publications for decades and most townspeople at one time or another had hopped the train for Albany or for a holiday excursion on one of the local railroads to experience it for themselves.

However, much as with internet cable today, utilities such as the Municipal Gas Company of Albany would run electric lines only to sites where they could profitably reach a cluster of many potential customers in a small area. Altamont, and to a lesser degree Voorheesville and Guilderland Center, fit the bill and the company decided to connect with the line already reaching as far out of Albany as Slingerlands.

Initially, the Municipal Gas Company’s proposal to bring electric power to Altamont met with resistance due to the village’s own gas works. However, when the Albany Company arranged the sale and removal of the gas plant and streetlamps to a Coeymans’ man for $2,200 (approximately $56,100 in 2022 dollars) the franchise to bring in electric lines and put up streetlights was then awarded to the gas company by the Altamont Village Board.

With the agreement finalized, poles began to be set along the main road between Slingerlands and Altamont, about 15 per day on most days, covering about one-half mile daily. In anticipation of the power being turned on within coming weeks, many Altamont buildings including the Altamont Hotel, the Altamont Pharmacy, National Bank, The Enterprise, and several private homes were being wired for electricity.

Once the power would be turned on, gas production would cease, giving Altamont residents the choice of either wiring for electricity or reverting to kerosene lights.

Many homeowners opted to wire their homes as quickly as they could contract to get the job done, their names appearing week by week in the local columns for Altamont and Guilderland Center. The Reformed Churches in both Altamont and Guilderland Center and Altamont’s Lutheran Church immediately wired for electricity.

The cost of Guilderland Center’s Helderberg Reformed Church and parsonage was $500 (approximately $12,750 in today’s currency) and within a year was paid for.

Jesse Cowan and A.J. Manchester were the two Altamont electrical contractors who seemed to be doing almost all the wiring in Altamont and Guilderland Center and a few years later in the hamlet of Guilderland when power finally reached that section of town.

When Altamont’s 75 new streetlights came on, it was noted that the results surpassed residents’ fondest expectations. Previously, Altamont’s village streets had been dimly lit by 35 acetylene gas lamps provided by the Altamont Illuminating Company. Lit at dusk, they were extinguished at 10 p.m. except on moonlit nights when they remained dark.

In Guilderland Center, home and business owners who could afford wiring also immediately began investigating getting electric water pumps installed, allowing them to have running water, indoor plumbing, and flush toilets — no more hand pumping water or trips to the outhouse.

Altamont already had had a municipal water supply for years. The mention in the Guilderland Center column a few years later that one woman was “pleasantly surprised” with a birthday gift of an electric washer shows how delighted people were with these new labor saving devices.

A notice in The Enterprise alerted folks with newly wired buildings that their insurance would be void if they did not attach a “standard electricity permit” to their policy.


Innovations abound

Lighting was not only a boon to electrical contractors. At least two local young men became electrical engineers and left town to work for large companies.

The Enterprise had a bonanza selling ad space to contractors; the Municipal Gas Company of Albany, which ran large ads tempting consumers with all kinds of electrical appliances; and to Albany department stores — W.M. Whitney’s had a special sale on a set of lighting fixtures, enough for a six- to seven-room house, a $45 value for $29.95 (which would be $763 today).

Even the Altamont Pharmacy had begun to sell small appliances and electrical supplies including Christmas lights.

Schenectady’s General Electric plant was booming, providing employment for many local young men whose names were mentioned in the columns covering the different areas of town. Several times in 1917, G.E. actually placed help-wanted ads in The Enterprise, seeking office boys, young women between the ages of 18 and 30 needed to operate sensitive drill presses and do small assembly work, and young men with high school training.

Exciting innovations began to pop up. At a Christmas party at the “old town hall” in Guilderland Center, the “little tots” were mesmerized by the Christmas tree “bespangled with decorations and electric lights.”

In Altamont, a lighted sign advertising Forest City paints appeared in Lape’s Paint Store window. And at the Masonic Hall the 10-cent ($2.55 today) silent movies were now shown using the “new electrical apparatus,” which was “equal to any city theatre.”

Gaglioti’s barbershop boasted a lighted barber pole in front with not only interior lights but an electric massage machine. The pharmacy may have had a new electrical machine for shaking malted milk drinks, but topping that was the new corn-popping and peanut-roasting machine that was run, heated, and lit by electricity at Keenholts’ newsroom, a really big attraction for the curious.

Almost no one would argue that electricity was not an improvement over the past, especially when each year at the Altamont Fair all sorts of appliances and labor-saving devices were on display and demonstrated.

But installation, including wiring, fixtures, revision of insurance policies, and monthly utility bills, required a degree of affluence. Not every church could afford to do it immediately — Guilderland Center’s Lutheran Church took until 1920 and St. Lucy’s Church in Altamont was wired in 1922 when other renovations were being done.

Altamont’s high school building was finally wired in 1921 after taxpayers had voted it down once in spite of power having been available since 1916.


High demand, slow progress

What about other areas of Guilderland? One of Albany’s electric trolley lines ran out to the border of McKownville by the turn of the 20th Century, but no information could be uncovered telling just when power lines began to be extended along the Western Turnpike.

Since a 1918 letter to The Enterprise from “a citizen” mentioned electric lines had been installed to a point on the turnpike one mile east of the hamlet of Guilderland and stopped there, obviously by then McKownville had electricity.

It was only in 1920 that the mention of Guilderland individuals and the foundry installing electric wiring appeared in Guilderland’s Enterprise column.

There was such demand for power in the populated areas south of this part of New York State that in 1922 the New York Power and Light Company decided to run powerful transmission lines through Guilderland, carrying electric current from north of the Mohawk south into the Hudson Valley, its path cutting east of Dunnsville and continuing south across Guilderland into New Scotland.

The Enterprise’s Dunnsville correspondent gave a detailed description of the 70-foot-high transmission towers set 600 feet apart in an 18-foot square base of concrete seven feet below ground. To this day, transmission lines are still running along this route through Guilderland although today they are gigantic descendants of the originals.

It took over a decade after power originally reached Altamont and Guilderland Center for electric lines to reach out to Fullers and Dunnsville. Finally, in the spring of 1927, it was announced that poles were being set in along the turnpike.

Although in 1924 the Guilderland Town Board expanded the franchise to erect poles and erect power lines on all town roads instead of being limited to the main roads, the power company wasn’t interested and those living off of the main roads continued to use kerosene lights, scrub clothes over a washboard, pump water by hand, head out to the outhouse in all kinds of weather, and carry a lantern to the barn.

If you had the money, you could purchase one of the electric generators such as the “Silent Alamo Lighting Plant” or the “Delco-Light” using a gas engine and dynamo to generate current for your house and barn. The cost was $250 (which would be $6,375 today) less 5 percent if paying cash.

Even when electric lines were run along your road, if your house happened to be set back in a lane requiring two or three additional poles to carry the line into your house, utility companies usually expected the homeowner to pay the cost of these  poles, an extra expense some families were unable to afford, delaying the convenience of electricity.

It took the Roosevelt administration’s push for rural electrification to get power companies to extend their power lines out to more sparsely populated rural areas with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

At long last, the New York and Light Company, the successor to the Municipal Gas Company, began to wire up the outlying areas of Guilderland.

One two-mile line along “Crounse Road,” from its description probably now called Hawes Road, would be serving eight new customers, seven of them farms. A year later, 10 homes and farms along Meadowdale Road got power.

And finally, 22 years and two miles from Altamont in the last area of town to be electrified, in 1938 Settles Hill residents could finally turn on the lights.