What’s in a seal? The Old Men of Mountain tell the story behind the horse in Schoharie County’s seal.

As the Old Men of the Mountain traveled over the hill to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh some were wondering how the tour buses handle the lack of color that the tours have been scheduled for in our area. The OFs say they are still keeping up with mowing the grass, a few trees have changed, and the white pines are still hanging onto to their needles.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, with all the leaves that remained on the trees, the OFs remembered the October snow storm of Oct. 4, 1987 when a freak snowstorm fell with leaves still on the trees and the trees came crashing down.

One OF reported he was in the hospital having his gallbladder removed (this was when they cut you from stem to stern to remove the diseased bladder, and this OF has the scar to prove it) when the snows came. The OFs said that his doctor had a huge tree come down against his home and one across his driveway.

The doctor could not get his car out and borrowed a neighbor’s chainsaw to cut his way through the trees so he could get to the hospital. The doctor had a heart attack in the process and passed away. The follow-up and the rest of his care, the OF said, was by doctors he didn’t know or had anything to do with the operation. They must have done OK because the OF said he is still here.

That snowstorm some mess, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen this year at least on Oct. 4 because, by the time this hits the paper, the 4th will have come and gone.

A real whopper

The case of “the one that got away” from the State Police in Schoharie was talked about.  It was commented that the Troopers and the police departments had better be careful in handling these farm girls — these girls seem to be able to escape on a regular basis.

One OF mentioned it is no wonder the girl in Schoharie slipped her handcuffs off since the pictures of her on the news seemed to indicate she is no bigger than a mite, and the OFs think that the cuffs might not go small enough to really fit the young lady.

Another OF opined she went from a rinky-dink type of crime to a real whopper. And finally one OF said she must be real stupid, or real frightened, to pull a stunt like that.

Dry season

The OFs mentioned that the area really needs rain — a good rain! Many of the creeks are just dribbles of water.  It’s hard to imagine from what the Fox Creek and the Schoharie Creek look like now, that we had a flood — Tropical Storm Irene — of such magnitude five years ago.

One OF said, even though it is dry, he sees farmers still out cutting hay, probably their third cutting.  A second OF mentioned some farmers were out cutting the day before the breakfast; this is nice looking hay.  

County seal

A few weeks ago, this column had a section in it about history, and part of the history of Schoharie County is contained in the county seal. The seal is of a horse. The OFs talked about this at that time but no one could quite come up with all the facts.

At Tuesday morning’s breakfast an OF brought in a book on the history of Schoharie and this accounting was in that book with names of who owned the horse and how it came about. The following is a paraphrase of the story.

This horse is very important to early settlers of the valley and the Hilltowns. At that time, after the grain was harvested, it had to be taken to Schenectady to be ground into flour and this was the job of the women, to haul these sacks of grain to the mill and return with the flour.

It wasn’t only flour but other staples that were required by the community that was transported in this fashion and by the women. If only they had a horse to haul the loads, it would be easier and they could do more.

One day on the way to the mill, they spotted a horse for sale and mentioned it when they returned home. The horse was more expensive than they thought they could afford but with what money they could round up, they went to inquire about purchasing it anyway.

The owner of the horse pulled a switcheroo and brought out an old nag instead of the stallion they first saw. The owner was bargained down to what money they had brought with them and he told them it was still a good horse.

On the way home, the women weren’t sure the horse would make it back, but it did. The next morning, when they went to check on the horse, they found it had given birth to a spry, perky foal. Now they had two horses, and in a year the foal would be big and strong.

Some looked on it as a miracle and said they were being taken care of by a greater being. This event became the seal of Schoharie County.  

Condolences

The Old Men of the Mountain would like to offer their condolences to the family of Paul Giebitz with the passing away of Paul in a tractor accident. Our thoughts and prayers go with them as Paul joins the other OMOTM at the table in the clouds.

Those OFs who will take this kind of weather right up until spring so they can make it to restaurants like the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh were: Miner Stevens, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Dave Williams, Roger Chapman, Robie Osterman, Harold Guest, Sonny Mercer, Ray Kennedy, Don Wood, Ray Gaul, Jack Norray, Mace Porter, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Marty Herzog, Jim Rissacher, Bob Giebitz,  Ted Willsey, Duane Wagonbaugh, Roger Shafer, Gerry Chartier, Mike Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.

Location:

Some Old Men of the Mountain still can’t find their way through these hills, and wander all over the place. Some blame it on the signs on county roads not marking north, south, east, or west on their route numbers. If you are not paying attention when driving, it is easy to miss things.

Some of the OFs can’t talk or chew gum while they are operating a motor vehicle. The OFs, when doing these normal functions, are apt to turn left instead of right, or drive past a turn they know they should take, then wonder why they are where the heck they are.

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, on the way to Kim’s West Winds Diner, some OFs headed over the hill in the dark of early morning and in some pockets of fog they drove around in circles twice in the hills where many of the OFs have lived for 70 or 80 years and they have even hiked some of the areas they were wandering around in. The OFs tempered this with how beautiful a morning it was and a great day for a ride anyway.

Leaving leaves

Some of the OFs who summer in warmer climes are beginning to leave and some have already flown. So far this year, the summer and early beginning of fall have been one of the better times, although it has been a little on the dry side. One OF who is leaving said that it is a good idea to close the place down now because a cold snap can come when least expected — then it is hurry-up-time to shut things down.

This OF would rather leave when it is still nice and take his time in buttoning up the place. Look at all the beautiful fall scenery the OF will be missing by abandoning the ship so early.

He said he has seen enough fall colors in his lifetime and raked enough leaves and it does not break his heart to leave. (This scribe just typed that sentence and looked at leaves, and leaves. Boy, the English language to newcomers must offer a challenge. There is no connection between the two words spelled exactly the same way.) Some of the travelers to Florida commented that the state is getting so crowded it may break off and sink.

Polling the OMOTM on the presidential debates

In a question about the debates, not the debaters, just the debates, it was found by the respondents and those at the breakfast that the OFs may be a microcosm of the nation with about a 60/40 split, with the 60 not bothering to watch and the 40 really interested, watching either 80- to 90-percent of the debate or all of the way through.

For the most part, all the OFs vote, for whatever that is worth. Many of the OFs already have their minds made up, and have trouble with all the political ads that bombard the airwaves around election time each year. Many OFs are confused with the logic of wasting money to run these ads.

One OF said he can understand why some people take a gun and shoot out the TV. He comes darn close to it when four and five of these ads follow one another on the screen.

A few other OFs mute the ads when they start and that includes all of them even the ones from Raymour & Flannigan, and Huge. They do click the sound back on occasionally if the ads from Geico, or the ads with the duck are sandwiched between a series of political ads.

When pranks were fun

The OFs have delved into this topic before and it generally sticks its head out around Halloween. The mischief the OFs took part in when they were young about this time of year would land them in jail today.

The pranks when verbalized were harmless and funny. Some of the pranks took a considerable amount of time to plan and execute. None of the OFs considered any of these pranks vicious or mean. The general populace expected, for the most part, many of the pranks and people even prepared for them as if they, too, were part of the game. Today it seems that some pranks go over the top, which spoils it for everyone else.

The OFs remembered good ole fashioned “hornings.” When a young couple married, a horning was planned by friends and neighbors.

The young couple had no idea when this was going to happen but, through the advice of their parents, they made preparations for it. Being young, broke, and newly married, the couple generally had help from their parents in putting in a good stock of beer, cheese, and crackers, and pepperoni for when it happened.

The day of reckoning of a horning was kept a secret better than any surprise party. When the day came, and the midnight hour rang, all cane broke lose — shotguns fired in the air, horns blasted, old large sawmill circular saw blades suspended on steel bars beat with hammers, torches lit, and the friends and neighbors marched around the house — then the party began.

The party generally broke up by the time for milking and the farmers had to get to the cows. That was usually about 4 or 4:30 in the morning. Try doing that today!  Every cop and trooper in the surrounding area would be there shutting that thing down. Gee, it’s no fun anymore.

Thin skins

Then the OFs started talking about a much more serious topic and that was: Why does a banana skin get thinner as the banana becomes older? Where does it go? The banana actually becomes softer and smaller.

One OF suggested the banana skin loses air.  He thought the skin, when new, is full of air and the air escapes and the solids fill in the voids.

What happens to the rest of the banana was a question asked. It is like a balloon, one OF thought, and, as when the air leaks out of a balloon, it becomes smaller and squishy. Hey, could be.  

The OFs who made it to Kim’s West Wind Diner in Preston Hollow to escape the political ads were: Bill Lichliter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, Marty Herzog, Pete Whitbeck, Bill Bartholomew, Dave Williams, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Glenn Traver, Karl Remmers, Bob Snyder, Don Wood, Sonny Mercer, Ray Kennedy, Otis Lawyer, Bob Benac, Don Gates, Jim Rissacher, Duane Wagonbaugh, Ted Willsey, Rich Donnelly, Jessie Vadney, Elwood Vanderbilt, Gerry Chartier, Mike Willsey, Harold Grippen, and me.

Location:

It’s Tuesday morning — time to shake off the covers, sit on the edge of the bed, wiggle the toes and feet, squeeze the hands, and if everything works head out to the breakfast with the Old Men of the Mountain.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, breakfast was at the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville. Many of the OMOTM got an early start because there was dense fog all around. However, as the OFs drove up the hill to Rensselaerville, they drove out of the fog (just like Brigadoon) and at the Hilltown Café the sun was shining.

This was great way to start the day, only there was no young lady picking flowers along the path as in Brigadoon, but there was a young lady flipping pancakes in a small kitchen, in a neat café that would fill the bill. On a morning such as this, there is stiff competition between enjoying the scent of moist-laden flowers in the morning, as opposed to the satisfying aroma of bacon and eggs on the grill.

Tales of roots

The OFs discussed many topics on Tuesday morning; one was the origin of the horse as the seal for Schoharie County. This is an interesting tale; along with this, the OFs discussed the origin of the Plank Road turnpike, another interesting tale.

The OFs talked more history that is not really taught in the early years of formal schooling. They talked about the Isle of Shoals and how the English and French were using those waters for fishing and trading with the Indians years before the Pilgrims set foot at Plymouth Rock. This explains why the first Native American to greet the settlers strolled right into camp speaking English and knew many of the habits of the Pilgrims.

Much of what is taught in school, the OFs are finding out, is just a smattering of what really goes on; primarily it is to pique the interest of us (when we were students) in many things such as science, history, art, music, and much more.

The OFs thought that, when each individual wanted to know more of what interested him, he had some inkling of how to go about finding it, and where to go to retrieve this information. American history is one subject that anyone can get into and go deeper into areas such as naval history, political history, medicine, etc.

As mentioned in last week’s report, certain organizations cover specific interest, like the American Revolution, the Civil War, and artists’ and writers’ groups and clubs. There is much that goes on that keeps the mind active right up to being OFs. Most schools offer continuing education, and many of these classes are filled with the OFs that occupy the chairs at the breakfasts.   

Hearty harvest

The OFs reported that the produce from their gardens this year is great, especially with some plants. The corn this year seems to drip with sugar.

One OF reported his peppers are as big as soccer balls. That may be a stretch, but even close makes the peppers quite large. Some said their tomato plants have so many tomatoes that the plant is red, not red and green. The OFs mentioned that this is a little odd because it has been so dry.

Bionic men

The OFs have another of our group out for a few weeks for some bionic work — this OF is having a knee replaced. My goodness, if the OMOTM wanted to travel somewhere by plane as a group it would take them forever to get past the metal detectors.

Past relations

As part of the normal conversation of the OFs, it is typical of them to bring up their parents, aunts and uncles. These people were sucking in oxygen many, many years ago.

One OF mentioned that his uncle worked on the cog railway that brought people from New York City up the mountain to the Catskill Mountain House in Palenville. The Otis Elevating Railway started operation in August 1892, and the OF said his uncle worked for this railway for 40 years.

Birthday boy

The OFs today had the celebration of Elwood Vanderbilt’s 89th birthday, so another muffin with a candle and another birthday song was sung on a Tuesday morning.

Condolences

The OFs also have to offer their condolences to the family of Joe Loubier, one of the snowbird OFs from Woodstock, who passed away recently. Our thoughts and prayers go with both Joe, and Elwood, only on different levels.

All the OFs that have passed away are becoming more in number than the OFs wandering around down here on our dot in the universe. Those OFs amassed in heaven must be having a ball if they are continuing the Tuesday morning gatherings on rotating clouds in that same heaven. The OFs that trod this planet wonder if Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John is acting as a scribe and writing a column for the “Heavenly Gazette.”

Those OFs on this side of the sod, and able to get to the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville were: Miner Stevens, Robie Osterman, Pete Whitbeck, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Otis Lawyer, Dave Williams, Bill Bartholomew, Bob Benac, Gary   Bates, Don Wood, Sonny Mercer, Richard Frank, Chuck Aelesio, Jack Norray, Mace Porter, Gerry Irwin, Duane Wagonbaugh, Rich Donnelly, Ted Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Ray Kennedy, Gerry Chartier, Mike Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Harold Grippen, and me.

Location:

The Old Men of the Mountain are going to get used to this weather to the point where the snowbirds might not fly. On Tuesday, Sept. 13, it was the type of day where whatever you wanted to do — go do it.

One thing the OFs wanted to do was use the time to go to the breakfast at the Home Front Café in Altamont. It is good the OMOTM carpool.  At many of the establishments the OFs frequent, 30 to 35 cars just wouldn’t fit in the parking lots.

To bring the reader up to date, the 1932 Studebaker has been sold.  Once that thing hit the market it was like putting peanut butter in a rat trap for old-car enthusiasts; many buyers were attracted to the bait.

One would have to live on the Hill to hear of the place called “Skunk’s Misery,” and it is a real place. The old-timers on the Hill know where it is.

For those just riding around, maybe on the Hilltown Artisan tour, it is where (and this is no joke) Pleasant Valley Road meets Route 156. It is hard to figure out how “Skunk’s Misery,” and Pleasant Valley go together but that is where it is.

There is even a seasonal business there at Christmastime.  It’s a Christmas-tree farm where people can go and cut down their own tree for Christmas. This business actually lists its location as “Skunk’s Misery.”

The trees on this farm are getting a tad on the large side right now. They have been at this location for years; however, who knows about the coming year. Some of the OFs who have purchased their Christmas trees at “Skunks Misery” say they still smell like fresh-cut pine when the OFs get them home.

Keeping up with technology

The OFs have covered this topic many times — technology and how fast it is developing — and to the OFs the development is so fast that, by the time they get the latest item out of the store, it is already out of date, and is not the latest item.

The OFs wondered how the purchasing agents for large stores keep up. How do they handle the sales people who are trying to sell them a product that is going to be outdated the next day?

Does the Purchasing agent buy 100,000 and his stores only sell 50,000 before the new ones are out? Or, does the purchasing agent purchase 50,000 on a hunch and new ones are not made and the purchasing agent is stuck having his stores run out? What a dilemma.

As one OF put it, you ask the customer what his needs are and just stick to that — forget the rest. A couple of the OFs said they still have a few appliances that are analog, especially microwaves. Some OFs said they have microwaves still running that are 25 to 30 years old and are analog.

When the grandkids come and go to warm something up or use the microwave, they just stand there and look at it. There is no keyboard with numbers. Both waves have just a round dial, a button to open the door, and an off and on switch. That is it, and the kids can’t run it because all it has is this on and off switch, with a round dial timer that actually points to minutes.

These older microwaves are big enough to get a small turkey in as compared to most of the newer one, which are just large enough to get a couple of cups of soup in the wave to warm them up. The older waves would cook a meal.

Re-creating battles

It was found out at Tuesday morning’s breakfast that some of the OFs are Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactors. What prompted this was a flyer that the proprietor (or thinks he is) of the Home Front placed on the table for the OFs to peruse on the History Fair going on at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie on Oct. 1 and 2.

The OFs remembered this as Old Stone Fort Days, and it was free. At the Old Stone Fort days (which were held about the same time as the History Fair is now), there were many times more re-enactors than were in the original battle. In looking at the OFs at the table, it looked like many of these OFs could have been in the original battle, at least as drummer boys if not militia.

All this discussion on the Revolution brought up the name of Timothy Murphy, a Revolutionary War marksman who was a major contributor to the victory in the battle at Bemis Heights in Saratoga. In four shots, under orders from Benedict Arnold to bring down General Simon Fraser who was rallying the British troops for an assault on the Americans, Timothy Murphy not only took care of the general, but also the chief aide-de-camp to General Burgoyne, Sir Francis Clark. This action by Murphy put the whole British assault is complete disarray.

Murphy fought in the battle of the Middlefort in Schoharie County and is buried in the “Upper Cemetery” in Middleburgh. There is a bronze “bas-relief” of him as a marker in the cemetery. The OFs talked quite a bit about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as re-enactors, and the OFs learned more about American history of these periods than they ever did in school.

Those OFs who were re-enactors of America’s earlier battles, on her own soil and the rest of the OFs were at the Home Front Café (and what a place to discuss the re-enacting) in Altamont and all together they were: Pete Whitbeck, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Bill Lichliter, Harold Guest, Marty Herzog, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, Bob Benac, Joe Ketzer, Andy Tinning, Dave Williams, Bill Bartholomew, Rich Donnelly, Duane Wagonbaugh, Bob Lassome, Jim Rissacher, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Henry Whipple, Warren Willsey, Mike Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Richard Vanderbilt, Daniel Mctoggard, Mark Traver, Harold Grippen, and me.

Location:

Here we are into September: The kids are back in school; the school buses are picking up the little darlings; and on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown.

The OMOTM need a school bus of their own to gather the OFs up for their trips to the restaurants. The kids and grandkids of the OFs would be out there with their cameras on the first day the OF bus made its rounds to pick up the OFs.

They would have to get pictures of them getting on the bus with their canes, or having the little lady pushing them up the stairs onto the bus so the OF could get on. It would be so sweet; there would be tears in the eyes of the grandkids as they watched Grandpa board the bus.

An OF came in Tuesday morning with a great greeting; he placed his hand on the shoulder of an OF already at a table and said, “Good morning, who ya mad at today?”  Great.

OFs are tough

Many of the OFs not only use hearing aids, and have false teeth but they also wear glasses. Misplacing teeth and hearing aids is tough to do but misplacing glasses is rather easy, especially for the OFs. The OFs were talking about how many pairs of glasses they have had to replace because they were lost.

One OF said the trouble in losing his glasses is because he can’t see to find them once they are gone. Many of the OFs said they have dollar-store reading glasses that seem to work fine, and for only a buck they are able to have pairs all over the house.

One OF said when his prescription changes he has a couple of pairs made and put in the cheapest frames the eye doctor has. One pair he places where he knows he can find them and then, when another pair is lost in the house, he goes and gets those so he can locate the other.

Another OF said he tried using the glasses with a chain attached to them that goes around his neck. This does not work, the OF said, because, when he is working and doesn’t need the glasses, they are always in the way when he bends over, or because the glasses hang right where he holds stuff to his chest to carry. The OF said he has crushed more glasses than he has lost.

Another OF said he has his glasses made with those foldable frames and, when he takes them off, he just folds them up and put them in his pocket and for him it works great. The OF hasn’t lost a pair since.

As this scribe added, this is just one more problem that adds truth to the statement, “You gotta be tough to be old”; along with the aches and pains, the OFs can’t hear and they can’t see.

Remembering silo work

The OFs remarked that, no matter which way you travel in our area, the Schoharie Valley, the Mohawk Valley, the Hoosick River Valley, the Hudson River Valley, or even into Vermont and beyond, all you see is corn. Acres and acres of corn.

It seems that even gentlemen farmers with just 10 acres have these acres planted to corn. This is corn for ethanol or so the OFs have been told. It is not cow corn for silage (although some may be).

One OF noted that he sees these acres of corn growing all over but he doesn’t see any cows. When the OFs were farming, the garden had a few rows of sweet corn and the fields had the corn for the silo. Some OFs remember eating the cow corn especially when it was not quite ready — it was not bad. If you put enough butter and salt on it when it was a little older ,it still wasn’t bad.

Most of the OFs who farmed remember filling silo and it was a fun time. Farmers got together and they filled each other’s silo, and generally there was a large spread afterwards. These spreads were like church potluck dinners; all the ladies brought the best of what they made. How it worked out the farmers did not quite know because seldom were there any duplicates.

Actually, silo work could be very dangerous. Some farmers were known to pass out when working in the silo because of the gases formed and limited air space in the silo. Back in the day, safety guards on spinning equipment were few and far between, if any at all, and, in filling a silo, there were lots of belts flapping, flywheels whirring, PTOs (power takeoffs) spinning, choppers chopping, blowers blowing, and nary a guard.

Not a place for kids, but they were there — not toddlers — because, when the OFs were on the farm, if you were 8 or 9 years old, you were out there and had better be earning your keep.

An OF mentioned that, back on the farm, it was nothing to see a young lad who was 10 or 12 years old repairing an old (at that time it wasn’t so old) hit-and-miss one-cylinder engine. Today, as another OF mentioned, he still looks for the even younger kid to come fix his stupid phone, computer, or TV. Times they are a-changing — both the people and their paraphernalia.

Farm tales and smells

The OFs continued with their old farm tales on how things used to be done and in some cases may still be done the same way.  Raising turkeys for Thanksgiving was one of these memories.

None of the OFs said they did this anymore because it is cheaper to get a turkey all ready to go at the store than it is to try and raise them. What did they do, you may ask?

Well, for one thing, after the turkey met the chopping block, it was hung in the shed for a few days. This made the bird much easier to pluck and clean.

One OF said that his father would cover the birds with grain sacks to keep the flies off them.  However, dunking the turkey or even chickens in hot water to start the plucking was the worst smell on the farm.

Much of farm life had its own particular aroma, most of which is not bad. Today they have added one that is a winner.  An OF said he can’t stand the smell of the new way of seasoning manure before it is spread on the fields — that is a rank odor, the OF opined.

One OF spoke up, “Do you guys have to bring all that up now?  We are eating here ya know.”

To which another OF added, “Suck it up.  I once ate my lunch at the bottom of the septic tank we were cleaning because I didn’t want to climb out and get all cleaned up to go eat and then have to climb back down to finish the job.”  Ugh!

This scribe would like to say that last part was made up, but the scribe knows for a fact it wasn’t.

Those OFs who were able to live through farming in the early years and make it to the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown, where the smell of breakfast is not bad at all, and the OFs just sit there and get waited on, were: Miner Stevens, Roger Chapman, Bill Lichliter, Henry Witt, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Chuck Aelesio, Richard Frank, John Rossmann, Art Frament, Bob Benac, Jack Benac, Joe Ketzer, Roger Shafer, Low Schenck, Jack Norray (who was serenaded and received a muffin with a candle for making it to 82 today), Mace Porter, Wayne Gaul, Andy Tinning, Bob Lassome, Duane Wagonbaugh, Rich Donnelly, Don Chase, Gary Bates, Jim Rissacher, Marty Herzog, Pastor Jay Francis, Richard Vanderbilt, Elwood Vanderbilt, Jess Vadney, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Harold Grippen, and me.

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