Tuesday, March 7, was a gray and dreary day, at least early in the morning — freezing rain, fog, and just plain rotten. The Old Men of the Mountain endured all this by traveling to Duanesburg for the comfort of the Duanesburg Diner to have breakfast.
For some reason, the weather spiked conversation about cutting ice from frozen ponds in the winter to be used in the summer. One OF mentioned that his family owned Warner Ice Co. and they cut ice from Warner Lake and stored it in large ice houses with sawdust to sell in the warmer months.
Some of the early OFs remember the ice house on the farm where they cut ice to use in the summer — especially for the milk cooler. Cutting the ice from ponds was hard work, and the ice just looked cold with the blue-green color of the fresh cut ice squares.
How times have changed. Now our refrigerators dispense ice through their doors, or we just place a glass in the door of the refrigerator and cold water comes out.
The OFs discussed how many of them still have these ice-cutting saws stashed away someplace. If there ever happens to be a disaster that knocks out the power in the winter, some OFs still will be able to resort to the old ways and cut some ice.
However, if the problem happens in the summer, there will be lots of bad food out there. It was added that, with the increasing use of wind and solar power, the problem will be less likely that refrigeration or heat will shut down because many people will have their own source of power.
The storing of food, and the lifestyle on the Hill, means most of those on the Hill do have rather large stashes of food because they can’t run to the store every day and many have to shop for weeks in advance. Some of the OFs have extensive gardens and can or freeze this produce. The OFs put up jams and jellies, veggies, turkey, chicken, sauces, maple syrup, and some OFs even make their own brew.
Listening to these conversations on conservation, this scribe had a sudden thought: Wouldn’t it be neat if in these large apartment complexes that rise many stories in the air would have on every fifth floor nothing but dirt, and each four floors could have their own community garden? Nah! This would never work, because those floors of dirt would not make enough money for the owners of the building.
Idling means less eating
The OFs continued to discuss food but this time it was how much less they eat as they get older. They all said they could not pack it away like they used to.
But one suggested that’s because they don’t do anything to work off all those calories the OFs used to suck in. The analogy used was an idling engine does not use as much fuel as one going 60 miles an hour and we are all in idle mode right now.
“Not me,” one OF said. “My mode is, ‘I am completely shut down.’ But I still need my can of beans every now and then.”
Learning by observing
The OFs then talked a little bit about their educations and how they learned to do what it is that they do. The OFs said some of their knowledge came from schooling but a good part of it came from watching and learning.
One OF said his father did not talk much and was a very hard worker, at which most OFs chimed in that was the way with their dads also. The OFs felt that to be on the good side of dad was to learn how he did things and then the Young OF would do it the same way.
There were no how-to books thrown around, nor Google to run to, so the Young OF had to SOR (see, observe, and remember). That little phrase this scribe has on the bottom of his handout to the students in his art class, but it also applies to how to make an apple pie alongside Mom at the table, or how to weld two pieces of metal together alongside Dad in the garage.
Going to the dogs
As the OFs entered the diner in Duanesburg, they saw a new sign on the door. This sign caused some of the OFs to mill around outside, waiting for other OFs to show up.
The quandary here was the sign read, “No pets or animals allowed in diner except service dogs.” The OFs who were staying outside were considered animals and were waiting for an owner, which would be another OF, to bring them in as “service dogs.”
This attested to some of the OFs having a well-deserved reputation as being animals, although at their ages now the animal OFs are completely harmless. (It takes so little to amuse us).
The Old Men of the Mountain who made it through the freezing rain and fog to the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg were more than expected and they were: Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Chuck Aelesio, Ray Frank, Roger Shafer, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter, Andy Tinning, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, and me.
On Tuesday, the last day of February 2017, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie. This scribe generally calls the restaurants a day ahead of when we are supposed to be there to warn them the OFs are coming.
Sometimes, when they ask how many will show up, this scribe takes a stab at it. When advising the Your Way Café this particular Tuesday morning, this scribe guessed 20 to 25 people would be there. Boy, did this scribe throw the Your Way Café a curve! Sorry, Your Way.
The OMOTM held the restaurant to its name (Your Way Café) and they ordered their bacon medium or burnt to a crisp, their eggs like rocks or just warm, and their sausage with which some have links, and some have patties. The guys are even fussy about their home fries, and, again, some wanted them with onions, some wanted them really crispy, while some wanted hash browns, and even a few wanted them with horseradish.
Some of the OFs watch what the waitress scribbles down and say it is a wonder the cook comes up with anything close to what they order. Yet most of the time the OFs get exactly what they order so there must be some kind of standard to eggs over easy; or crispy bacon; or the difference between light, medium, and dark toast.
The OFs stick to much of the bylaws — especially the ones about no politics, no religion, and no tattling on why one OF or the other is in the pokey — however, they did wander a little bit into politics with a few comments. These comments were not too controversial such as how tough it is for a red guy to be in a blue state, county, or city; conversely, it is tough for a blue guy to be in a red state, county, or city. No one got bent out of shape over these observations.
Mainstays are vanishing
The OFs talked about how their shopping mainstays have either bit the dust and are no longer around, while some others are starting to show signs of joining the group. Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Wards, Macy’s, Woolworths, Kresge (which became Kmart, then Kmart purchased Sears).
The OFs remember all these stores when they were places to shop, especially Wards and Sears for the farmer. Both sold tractors and tractor supplies; both sold chickens, and ducks; plus they were the places to go for tools, and tires — all good stuff and all made in the USA. Camping equipment; guns; hunting and fishing supplies, including boats, were all available at Sears and Wards. The customer could buy a violin, a motorcycle, or even a car, at the same place. Going shopping (for the OFs) is not fun anymore.
The OFs talked about the new Dollar Store distribution center that is being built in Amsterdam. A few OFs said they would believe it when the earth movers move in. Some of the OFs were wondering why the Dollar Store chose that particular site until they realized that there are train tracks to that section of town so the location began to make sense.
To add to this is the proximity of the Thruway — the exit will be almost like the I-88 exits for Walmart trucks and other haulers getting off the interstate and going through Central Bridge to get to the Walmart distribution center in Sharon Springs. The OFs were wondering why Walmart doesn’t sponsor a NASCAR Racecar as Dollar General did, or does. One OF suggested that Walmart is supposed to appeal to rednecks, so what better way than through NASCAR?
The OFs discussed the storm that rolled through in the early evening on Saturday, Feb. 25, and the church in Cobleskill that had lightning strike its tower from that short nasty storm. The OFs who live in that area said it lit up the whole town, and they could feel the thunder clap.
Some of the other OFs didn’t know if it was that exact strike or not but there was one rumble of thunder that seemed very low and shook everything. This clap was felt in Schoharie, Middleburgh, and up on the Hill in Berne and Knox.
The timing, according to the OFs anyway, did place the clap at about the same time as the strike on the church steeple in Cobleskill.
Ways of working
A dialogue that solidified what many conversations of the OFs have on some Tuesday mornings was on how people work, particularly the OFs.
Some OFs want to work alone; they don’t want any help. Some like company while they work and these OFs continue to work on whatever project the OF has underway.
Others like all the help they can get when they have a project going and when another OF shows up he had better have work gloves with him because the OF will put him (or them) to work.
Then there is the OF who likes people to help because most of the time these OFs think the OFs helping knows more about what is going on than he does. These are very good examples of whatever floats your boat; eventually the boat will get the OF to shore.
Also, there is the OF who knows what he is doing but, if another group of OFs comes to “help,” after they are gone, the OF goes and does a lot of it over because it didn’t pass muster.
Now comes (and the OMOTM don’t have any of these) a different group of people that would rather have anyone else do the work but them. These people are good pointer-outers of what has to be done but don’t ask them to do it.
Yep, many ways people, and not only the OFs, work.
The OFs filling up the Your Way Café in Schoharie on a very unusual winter’s day were: Miner Stevens, Harold Guest, Ray Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Roger Schafer, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Dave Williams, Roger Chapman, Jim Heiser, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Marty Herzog, Sonny Mercer, Ted Feurer, Wayne Gaul, Don Wood, Ray Kennedy, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Rev. Jay Francis, Ted Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.
— Photo from John R. Williams
Four generations of Miner Steven’s family breakfasted with him and the other Old Men of the Mountain last Tuesday. From left, in back, are Debbie, daughter; Olivia, great granddaughter; Erika, granddaughter; and Miner, the dad. Peeking out from the right hand side of the photo is Brad, a grandson. Miner celebrated his 80th birthday last week.
On Feb. 21, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Country Café on Main Street in Schoharie.
While the early arrivers of the OMOTM gathered on the sidewalk outside the restaurant on this Tuesday morning in late February, they talked about what Schoharie was like in the forties, fifties, and sixties.
This conversation was carried inside and it was decided that the Country Café was the old Badgley & Wheeler’s soda fountain with booths and various sundries. Many seniors would walk to Badgley’s from the Schoharie School on the hill at lunchtime and eat junk food for lunch. Those were the days.
Reminiscing is fun, and the reality was fun because then there weren’t so many rules and regulations. The brains of the OFs were working overtime, trying to reconstruct the village in the 1950s and ’60s.
Like the OF’s conversations of a week or so ago about Gloversville and Johnstown, Schoharie, too, had stores, bars, a bowling alley, and a theater — all gone now and nothing there to replace them. One OF blamed Wal-Mart for much of the demise of the little shops, while others blamed the flood, but another OF said the demise of the village was before the flood.
An additional OF mentioned that, if politics would get out of the way, and someone with bucks would restore the Parrott House, the village would be a different place. We are now all OFs; some even miss the clutch and shifting lever, raw milk, and Schoharie County Jumble cookies that everyone’s mother and grandmother once made.
Part of the conversation was where the driver’s tests were given so the young farmers could obtain their driving license. Most of the OFs’ vehicles were of the clutch vintage, hand out the window for signaling turns, and maneuvers like that not even considered now.
The OFs remember having to drive up the hill by the theater, stop the car in the middle of the hill, and go forward by letting in the clutch and not rolling backwards. Many of the OFs who were raised on the farm had been driving since they were 9 or 10 years old and could back up a four-wheel wagonload of hay and still had to take the test over a couple of times.
One OF wondered what the new tests are like; an OF thought the driving part may be the same except for stopping on the hill and sticking your hand out the window for turns. However, some of the rules of the road may now be somewhat different.
Illicit activities elicit memories
The OFs remembered a few illicit activities that went on in the county when the OFs were YFs. One was cock fighting, and the other was the “stills in the hills.”
The smoke from an operating still could be seen from across the hill; this was not an easy thing to hide. If a casual passerby could see the smoke so could the law, but brew was legal so this stuff was made mostly for family and friends. None of the OFs could remember a bust on a still.
Occasionally the cock fights would be chased down but there were more fights than those caught. When they were caught, though, the law did get tough on those running the fights. The chickens were confiscated, and little was known about what became of those chickens.
Those Bantams were beautiful birds like something out of the rain forest. The OFs don’t hear of these two events going on now and haven’t in a long time.
Casino is for high rollers
A continuing conversation from a couple of weeks past was on the new Rivers Casino in Schenectady. The consensus of opinion was the casino in Schenectady is designed for the high rollers.
One OF said he had a small sandwich and a soda and it cost 17 bucks. The OF about fell over. To get in on a table game also requires a few dollars, one OF said.
This scribe checked the menus out on Google and has to agree that this is no place to stop in to get a cup of coffee. The restaurants around the place have nothing to worry about unless they see what the casino is charging and jack their prices up to meet them.
According to the OFs this is a Boston, New York City type of place, not a Schoharie, Amsterdam, Gloversville, Johnstown, Canajoharie, Ballston Spa, Pittsfield, Bennington type of place.
One OF said he thinks the casino is a good idea for Schenectady. That city may get some of the money from the high rollers who might come from the big cities in their boats to the casino on the river. This OF said, “Let the gamblers from the smaller towns go to the Turning Stones, or Foxwoods, but have the big bucks come here.”
There are two sides to everything.
The Old Men of the Mountain that found time to wander to the Country Café in Schoharie and fill the place up with their bodies and their chatter were: Bill Lichliter; Roger Chapman; George Washburn; Robie Osterman; Frank Ray; Chuck Aelesio; Dave Williams; Otis Lawyer; John Rossmann; Harold Guest; Mark Traver; Glenn Patterson; Jim Rissacher; Ted Feurer; Wayne Gaul; Lou Schenck; Mace Porter; Jack Norray; Bob Fink; Bob Benninger; Warren Willsey; Mike Willsey; Russ Pokorny; Elwood Vanderbilt; Richard Vanderbilt; Harold Grippen, Miner Steven who was accompanied by just a few of his kids and grandkids to make a table of four generations of Stevens, including Bradley McLaughlin (grandson), Erika Gibbons (granddaughter), Olivia Gibbons (great-granddaughter), Debbie McLaughlin (daughter); and me.
The Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh on Valentine’s Day; they did not bring their wives or girlfriends. Some of the OMOTMs were going to take their wives out to eat in celebration of the day.
The OFs planning this get to eat out twice on the same day. This ingenious plan saves on dishes and electricity, and cleaning up after the meal. No one mentioned flowers; however, some mentioned cards and candy, while others said, “What’s Valentine’s Day?”
Some OFs say they clean up the kitchen in the evening after the last meal of the day and that is a lot of work. One OF said he thinks his wife takes advantage of his doing this and uses every pot and pan in the cupboard to prepare the meal.
The OF continued his complaining by saying that, when he grills in the summertime, he does the whole ball of wax: the preparation, the cooking, and the cleaning up afterward.
One OF said, “Your wife has trained you well. It’s too late now,” the OF continued, “You are stuck.”
“Naw, he ain’t,” a second OF added and then the second OF told the first OF just to let everything pile up, and don’t do the cleanup, and then, when she goes to get a pot to cook with and can’t find any clean ones, she will get the idea.
“Not my wife,” the OF said. “H---, she will just go out and buy some more pots, and get paper plates with plastic flatware and serve the beer in a red plastic cup.”
The OFs talked about how when the OFs were YFs on the farm — we all had animals. Other than cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, we had our pets like cats and dogs.
None of the OFs could remember running them to the vet, or even getting the cat or dog special food. The cats had better earn their keep by catching rats, mice, and voles.
One OF said there was always an old milk-can lid filled with fresh milk daily and the cats would gather around that lid in the morning to lap it up. The dogs ate leftovers from what we ate.
These animals seemed to be healthy, live long, and great companions — and we didn’t have mean dogs either. Some of the OFs remember going out to get the cows on an early summer morning and the dog or dogs running along with them. It was a great time.
One OF mentioned that he remembers the vet coming to the farm. Another OF said their vet came at a specific time, which the OF now knows was arranged by his dad but at the time when he was a kid the vet just showed up like magic.
The new Rivers casino in Schenectady was discussed with many of the OFs saying they are staying as far away from that as they can. A couple of the OFs mentioned they will visit it just to see what it is like because there has been so much hoopla about it
Another OF said he doesn’t think he can afford this particular casino, while others said now they don’t have to travel to Turning Stone in Verona, which is in central New York. One mentioned he still likes the atmosphere of Saratoga.
One or maybe more OFs suggested that their better halves like the slot machines. One OF said he can’t drive by a casino without his wife nudging him to turn in.
An OF pointed out that some of the casinos have nothing around them so there is nothing to do except be at the casino. The plus for the one in Schenectady is there is plenty to do outside of the casino.
If you like boats, the OFs said, there is supposed to be a marina at the site, or, if you like sports, Goldstock’s Sporting Goods is across the bridge and right up the road. There are lots of other shopping places, gyms, Mohawk Honda, and M&S Cycle (for motorcycles and scooters) just a little further from Goldstocks.
Guy stuff — drop the wife off — and the OF might come back with some new skis, or maybe even a new car. That’ll teach her; then again, the wife might just win enough to pay for some of these unexpected purchases.
If the OF is interested in history, there is the Stockade area of Schenectady with a little park where the OF can sit in peace and watch the river, while feeding the squirrels.
The problems with the dam in Northern California were discussed, which brought up dialogue about our own Gilboa dam in Schoharie County; however, the dam in California seems to be much worse in scope.
This brought up the discussion of what the OFs would take if they had to evacuate in a hurry. Many answers were alike, such as important papers, medicines, photos, and some cash. A few OFs had some interesting add-ons like water, and one said to be sure to take the wife.
Another OF had a keen idea. This OF’s suggestion was, if you live in an area prone to flooding or natural disasters, to have a small lightweight and tight trailer. Keep your records in there, your photos, water, blankets, and whatever else you deem necessary — sleeping bags, camp stove with fuel, etc. — so, when the evacuation notice comes, all that is required is to hook it to the vehicle and take off. The medicines should be all that would be necessary to grab. That sounded like a cool idea.
The Old Men of the Mountain who hit the highway for Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh, expecting to have snow-covered highways, and who were pleasantly surprised by how well the highway crews had cleaned them, were: John Rossmann, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Ray Frank, Harold Guest, Bill Lichliter, Jim Heiser, Chuck Aelesio, Roger Chapman, Otis Lawyer, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Marty Herzog, Sonny Mercer, Ray Kennedy, Mace Porter, Pastor Jay Francis, Don Wood, Ted Willsey, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Mike Willsey, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh.
This was a morning when the weather guys and gals were predicting some nasty winter weather but the OFs headed out anyway. Those who arrived had nice weather but, when it came time to leave the diner, the freezing rain and sleet had begun.
The OFs who lived below 1,400 feet had only the rain and sleet — those over 1,400 feet had large wet snowflakes thrown in for good measure, at least in the Helderbergs. The OFs are in the hills west of the Hudson so that is the geography the OF use as reference.
The OFs were wondering how National Grid comes up with the report it sends out on how your use of electricity compares to your neighbors. The OFs said they look around at their neighbors and they see the neighbors have as many lights on as they do, only according to National Grid these neighbors are using less electricity.
One OF said his neighbor across the street is a graveyard. He said those guys really don’t use much electricity. His other neighbor lives there only part of the year so he does not use much. The other neighbor is a vacant building so, of course, he is using more than that neighbor.
Another OF said three of his neighbors are on solar power and this OF wonders if his usage is based on a comparison with them. The point is the OFs don’t know what neighbors they are being compared to.
One OF suggested there should be a little map with an arrow pointing to his place and little dots or something denoting what neighbors he is being compared to. The report says it compares your home to approximately 100 homes of the same square footage as the OF’s home and uses the same type of heat.
Many OFs say that is a lot of real estate to find 100 homes close to his home. The OFs look at this notice, find it interesting in a way, but still look at it and then say “so.”
The report says this OF’s house is 1,500 square feet and has electric heat. He has never used the electric heat. In the beginning, he used a wood stove, but converted to oil quite a few years ago. The OF said the wood had become just too much work.
One OF mentioned this notice from National Grid is a good idea. The OF can use it as ammunition to show his wife that they are using too much power and she should turn off the lights when she leaves a room. The OF maintained his house is so lit up that planes use it as a beacon; it is even listed on aircraft routing maps.
I-88: Lonely street
The OFs discussed traveling to Binghamton or to Oneonta prior to the construction of Route I-88 and after. Using Route 7 before the interstate was completed was interesting but took some time to get to places. I-88 did not do as much damage to the small towns along Route 7 as the Thruway did to the towns along Route 20.
Many OFs say it is still faster to come from Syracuse to Albany on Route 20 than it is to use the Thruway. The OFs claim I-88 is only a late spring, summer, and early fall road. It is a dangerous highway in the winter.
A couple of the OFs said it is a dangerous highway any time of the year in bad weather. Some OFs said it is the wind, while another said it is the wind, but it is also the deer, and he continued with comments concerning the sun. The sun never shines on the highway through some of the cuts in the hills that were made when the highway was built.
One OF thought it was not maintained as well as the Northway or the Thruway because there is nobody on it. Another OF said that he sometimes thinks he is still in his driveway because there are stretches where he can drive for miles and be the only car on the road.
“My kind of road,” one OF added.
This scribe mentioned the optical illusion for about three or four miles where the road appears to be going downhill when actually it is necessary to apply pressure to the accelerator to maintain speed because the road is in fact going uphill. The scribe also added the driver wouldn’t notice this if the car is on cruise control.
Who are we?
At one end of the table, there was some discussion on where we come from, and are we really are who we think we are.
Included in this was some discussion on Warners Lake and Thompsons Lake. The OFs said the fishing on Warners Lake was not as good as it had been in previous years. It could be the open winters one OF thought.
Then followed a dialogue in which one OF was informing the other OFs how, after precise instructions were dictated by the manufacturer of his home, the foundation and yard grading had to be exact before they would deliver the home.
The OF related that, when the home came, the trailer was moved into position and beams were laid; then one man came and pushed the house onto the foundation with one hand.
This should have been a Kodak moment, or even a video moment. One OF said a bare house with nothing in it really doesn’t weigh that much.
Those OFs who made it to the Middleburgh Diner ahead of the freezing rain and sleet, and whatever else was coming, were: Harold Guest, Bill Lichliter, John Rossmann, George Washburn, Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, Robie Osterman, Don Wood, Mace Porter, Gerry Irwin, Mike Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Marty Herzog, Elwood Vanderbilt, Warren Willsey, Ted Willsey (with Denise Eardley, Ted’s private chauffeur; if you have a Hilltown Willsey gene, be prepared to have a long, productive life, so behave yourself when you are young because, if you do anything stupid and go to jail for life, it is going to be a very long time), Harold Grippen, and me.