Friday, August 22, 2014
Necessities of a Country Boy
There wasn't much around back then. A few houses scattered far more than a stone throw apart dotted the hills across the road. There was a large house on our side, belonging to an auctioneer and hidden by brush and trees, and nothing else but fields and woods.
The Village down the hill aways was just a crossroad on the map, a gas station on one corner, a couple stores and a slaughter house. There was a field of exotic cattle from around the world, the collected pets of the slaughter house owner. They would build the new high school up on the hill top over looking the village, the school I would graduate from, but it wasn't up until I was a senior.
Behind my home was a large field, big enough for a baseball diamond, and a woods that run up the hill behind. All that was on my parents property. Between the field and the woods was a stream and a small marsh, where my friend Rich and I once began trapping Muskrat, certain we could go into a Muskrat pelt trade. This venture didn't last long.
During those years I had what every other boy about had…and needed. Simple things for the most part and not many, the most basic being three items.
This wasn't just a teen thing. I can't even remember when I got my first pocket knife or penknife as we called it, but I was pretty young when I did. The first one I remember was given me by my grandparents after they returned from a vacation trip. It had a white handle with "Atlantic City, NJ" across the center and I believe some little tiny illustration, of what I forget. It didn't have all the gizmos in my current pocket knife (pictured right), but it did glow in the dark. It had two blades, a large and small, and I think a plastic whistle that folded out on one end and a magnifier glass on the other.
What we would have done to whittle away our time (little play on words there) if not having a handy pocket knife to play mumbly peg at recess?
I got the second necessity after we moved from Downingtown and I became a true country boy again. This was my "gun". It was actually a rifle, which I was always taught I better not call a gun if I went into the Army. I was warned any recruit who made that mistake in terminology would pay the price. He would find himself standing on a cafeteria table holding his weapon in one hand and a certain private part of his anatomy in the other declaring, "This is my rifle and this is my gun. One is for killing; the other's for fun."
Now I didn't have a rifle, pistol or gun of any stripe as a lad in Downingtown, except for some Roy Rogers' cap pistols. I did long, as did Ralphie in "The Christmas Story", for an air rifle, Red Ryder or Daisy, just like those advertised in the comic books of the day.
I bet you don't find such items advertised in todays comic books.
Of course, the rifle I had as a country boy of 15 wasn't some bee bee rifle. It was a 16-shot repeating bolt action .22. Don't leave home without one.
I was actually a pretty good shot with that rifle. I did sometimes get to shoot my dad's double-barreled .12 gauge shotgun or one of his two pistols, a revolver and one with a clip up the grip.
The most important item by far was a car. There wasn't much convenient you could get to without an auto. It was five miles to the "big town" that being Pottstown, which had a movie theater and on the far end, a ballroom. Things like miniature golf or bowling were further afield. You drove up to Reading for the golf, maybe stopping in Pottsgrove at the Tropical Treat coming or going. You could go bowling in Reading, too, or in Exton or Phoenixville. There was a roller rink in Exton as well, which sometimes had sock hops. Even the local teen hangout, Rock's Restaurant, was a couple or so miles up the Pottstown Pike. You'd need a car if you were to take a girl on a date to any of these places. You'd need a car even to pick up a girl for they were scattered hither and yon across the countryside.
The car in the top photo with the three guys leaning over the engine was Richard's. He paid $40 for it and we were his crew trying to make the thing run. It was a 1949 Plymouth. I'm the guy on the left with glasses. Jim Witlach is the kid on the right and the boy in the middle was the real mechanic among us, Tommy Frame.
I had been more fortunate than Rich. I had a car already when I turned sixteen and I didn't even have to
The Ford had been my grandfather's, but he died in the early part of the year I turned sixteen and the car came to me. It was only three years old and in very good shape. I took care of that.
The day I passed my driver's test, I got home and proudly drove it into the garage beneath our house and directly into the support beam you see in the photo. That put a nice dent in the driver's side front fender.
To give it that smooth appearance we removed the chrome on the truck along with the lock, plugged the hole and sanded down and painted over. A cable was run from the locking mechanism along the left side on the inner frame to a lever by the driver's seat. I pressed the lever down to unlock the trunk. However, something didn't function correctly and the truck didn't pop.
Now what do I do? How do I open the trunk? Aha, I know - a crowbar! Yeah, that's right. I got a crowbar and stuck one end down the crack between truck and fender and pried upward. The trunk
Oh well, a few dents didn't stop the engine. I could still pursue the popular pastime of drag racing at the traffic lights on the main street of Pottstown. I didn't have the most powerful car, but I had hair-trigger reflexes and usually got a good jump when the green light flashed. For the short stretches between lights I ofter held my own each time as we repeated the stop-starts the length of town.
Drag racing being the thing, Richard and I often drove to Perkasie or Lancaster for the more official races. Perkasie had an actual track, but Lancaster events were held on the runway of the airport. Spectators could drive their cars right up near the edge if early enough, which we tried to be. We would sit up on the roof of the Ford to watch the races. Richard would get excited and bounce up and down and this left me with a hard to explain large dent in the roof.
I did suffer some variation of a blown engine racing a guy between Pottstown and Reading on Route 422 one Saturday night. Not exactly sure what went wrong because the car didn't stop running, in fact, it got what I thought was a neat sound, almost like I was running with glass packs, but it did slow the car down. There was no real compression going on. My dad and I ended up in a garage in Gap where they rebuilt the engine and fixed a hole in a cylinder, and I was embarrassed by my dad making me draw a life-sized chalk drawing of a naked woman on the garage door.
Don't know how long after that it was, but one day on a nice stretch of back country road I pulled to a stop and then decided to push it through its paces. I floored the pedal and slapped my way through the gears (stick shift, you know) and spread parts of my transmission all over the road surface.
Incredibly I drove that Ford through the rest of my teens up until the month I got married at age 20. I admit I had some concern when the very first time I picked up the girl, who would become my wife, in that car. It wasn't all the dents or the fact that by that time the hood lay cockeyed. I feared her dad would send me packing when he saw me crawl out the driver side window because the door wouldn't
Of course, he didn't and we went on our date and we later got married. Just before we did I traded in my '54 Ford for a 1961 Studebaker Lark.
It was green.
But we were off on our honeymoon, so who cared about the car?