Monday, April 30, 2012

The Big Snake

The center of "our world" was the one and only firehouse in town and reaching out about 1 mile in every direction. We knew just about every tree, hole in the ground, every swimming spot and just about anything that was to be known within "our territory".

About the year 1938 or '39, every once in awhile I would hear someone at Holdrum's garage talk about seeing "The Big Snake". As the story went at that time, there was to have been an exceptionally big snake in the area within our "territory". When certain of the older fellows that hung around the garage would talk about this creature, I would figure that they were just trying to scare the "little guys" like myself, and I can still remember wondering if this granddaddy snake really did exist. I probably would not have given it a thought, except that both Abe Holdrum and his father Garrett went along with the stories and the Holdrum's would not try to fool any of us kids or in any way try to scare us. I remember asking my mother about this "monster" and she said that she had heard about this thing for years, but did not know if it was a true story or not. One could find those large, lazy, harmless black snakes most any time just by going down behind the firehouse on a summer day and with a little looking, you could see them sunning themselves on a log or something. A small one would be 2 feet long and a big one would be 3 feet or slightly larger. They didn't scare us at all.

One day, probably about 1940 or 1941, I was going somewhere in a big hurry and was running at my top speed on a path that ran from the big Holdrum House in a Westerly direction going towards the race track. As I approached a wooden bridge that crossed a little creek on the pathway, I noticed that someone had left an old tire on the bridge. I kept on running. As I got real close, I suddenly realized that this was not a tire and not an old hose, but in reality was "The Big Snake". I jumped over this thing, and was sure that I jumped at least 4 feet high (probably more like 2 feet actually), but I had the presence of mind to stop and quickly return to the spot to see what exactly I had seen. Sure enough, it was "The Big Snake". As he slowly slithered away, I tried to estimate exactly how big he really was. Judging by the fact that he spread out the the entire length of that bridge, he was at least 5 1/2 feet long and most likely a few inches beyond that.

One odd thing that I noticed and others affirmed was that his tail was blunt and did not taper down to a point as it should have. He must have had a close call with something at one time in his life. I do know that on that one and only occasion, I truly saw "The Big Snake". They really were telling the truth!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Fire Department

I have previously mentioned the firehouse, but this section looks at the firemen themselves. These were the fellows who took care of the firehouse, the fire trucks, and actually headed out to extinguish any fires that managed to get started in town. It was very rare, during my era, to have anything burn other than some woods, a vacant field, or just untamed brush that lined the streets of town, River Vale Road in particular. People who travelled through town, especially on weekends, would occasionally throw cigarette butts out of their car windows and in short order we would have a brush fire somewhere in town. The big noisy horn on top of the firehouse would blast out the coded signal as to the location of the fire. This could be heard from one end of town to the other end. All the kids in town (about 8-10 of us) would immediately jump on our bikes and head for the fire. Some of us would get to the fire before or about the same time as the fire department.

The first thing we would look for as we approached the fire trucks would be to see who was left at the truck to be on duty there. We would hope that it would be our good friend Nick Dobroslovich. Good-natured Nick would always be willing to give us equipment to assist in putting out the fire, such as a broom or on a real good day he would give us portable "Indian Tanks" which were water spraying tanks that went on your back. This was total delight, to be able to play with water and fire at the same time. We could get into the fire and help the couple of firemen put out this pesky brush fire. Most of the firemen didn't seem to care if we were there or not, but one fellow in particular would attempt to scold Nick for giving us this equipment. Nick would, in his nice way, laugh and pay no attention to this fellow, who would go away grumbling. Which is what he did about most things anyway.

I remember one other scrap drive also in the early days of the war. This was a paper drive that the town organized and someone's personal dump truck was used to pick up the paper. While the truck was traveling along Westwood Avenue, it decided to dump it's load of papers and teenage boys onto the hard Westwood Avenue pavement. There was lots of paper and kids lying all over the place for awhile, but everyone and everything got picked up and all it cost anyone was several yards of bandage, and, I imagine, a good supply of Vaseline and a bit of iodine. The paper drive continued... No yelling, no lawsuits. Things were different back then!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Memories

I remember swimming in the nice, clean, sandy-bottomed pool that John Handwerg built between the 4th and 5th holes on the River Vale Country Club. The pool never received too much attention from the golfers, I guess because they came there to play golf and not to play in the water. The pool shut down probably prior to the war.

By far the best and most memorable memories of mine all related to the outdoors of River Vale. All the years of my growing up in town, the woods, fields and little rivers were totally open areas. Anyone could go anyplace that they wanted. I can remember coming home from school and running toward the house already removing my school clothes so I could get out into the outside world in my old clothes with a minimum of lost time. I think that I hunted each and every day of hunting season and fished every day of fishing season and even beyond that.

I always felt that all the fields and woods and streams were my private playgrounds. All during the War it was very rare to meet anyone else in the woods because all the younger fellows were in the armed forces and all the older men were working in the defense plants day and night. No one but me seemed to have the time and passion to be out in the open all his waking hours. Sometimes with a friend, but very often all alone. Either way was fine with me.

Another outdoor pastime was muskrat trapping. I did a little of that for one or two years but I guess I left that up to those who were more interested in that pursuit than I was. We would sell the pelts, usually to Gordon's Hardware store in Westwood for about 3 or 4 dollars each. I think that people that went in to trapping seriously probably made quite a bit of money during the winter months. I was not one of these people.

There are just so many things that can be put on paper. The things such as the feeling and smell of the fresh air blowing through the tree tops or blowing across the field or the total peacefulness of fishing or playing in the beautiful Hackensack River cannot be transferred to paper, so they will remain only in the memories of those who have experienced them firsthand, as those of my era have experienced them. These things, coupled with the friendliness of the adult community of the little town of River Vale, have left me with most pleasant memories of the best possible place in the world where anyone could have grown up during my era.

The End. (almost)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Old Tappan

Old Tappan was so close to River Vale and much of their beginnings were connected so I will put a page in here about Old Tappan. All we had to do was walk across the Hackensack River and we were in Old Tappan. This we did quite often...

A place that was most fascinating to me was about 200 feet into Old Tappan on Poplar Road. It was a most memorable place. About the year 1936 my uncle, Harold Riedel, took me to see his friend who lived there in this little place not much bigger than an old chicken coop. This was just across Slunski's bridge on Poplar Road which is presently covered by the big reservoir. This friend came from Missouri and looked to us kids like a big bear. He and his house and property could easily have come from a scene from " The Grapes of Wrath." We barely made it down Poplar Road because of all the mud and then had to park my uncle's truck on the road and walk 100 feet to the house. The path leading to the house had mud at least a foot deep and there was no other way to get there. The house did not seem to have any heat except a kerosene heater and part of the house had a dirt floor. I think that the ceiling was not much more than 6 feet high.

The best part of the short visit was when 2 goats came out of the back bedroom to see what was going on in the front room of the place. We were informed that the goats lived inside because it was too cold in the outside barn.

I used to wonder why my uncle and my father were so friendly with this man until I learned a few months later that they helped him process some great firewater in his working still on the property. Fortunately neither one of them were working the day that the federal agents raided the place and took this fellow off to jail. Seemed like he was back in town only a day or two later.

He also had a herd of unruly pigs that he would let roam around where ever they wanted to go. A while later the pigs made a real mess of Mr Handwerg's golf course by rooting up the place with their snouts.

Someone probably could have written a book just on this unusual man alone. He always told us that his family left Missouri because of Jesse James. Supposedly Jesse would rob his father's store once a year at least. Taking this as an unfriendly act the father packed up and moved to New York and then to Old Tappan...

A Little More Old Tappan...

If you were to cross Lachmunds bridge and head into Old Tappan you would have come upon this building about 400 feet into Old Tappan. This was what was known to us as Lachmund's Hotel. This place was built in the 1870's and was where most everything happened that happened in Old Tappan. It provided a place for wedding receptions and dances, occasional silent movies, had a general store on the right end , had a bar room, also had rooms for the "city slickers" who would come to the "country" for a brief stay, also had the local post office for a time plus a meeting hall for town meetings . You could buy your hunting and fishing license there too... It surely was the most important place in the town. (This picture is from a very old post card)

In 1894 this small area was not a part of Old Tappan, but rather a part of Eastwood, which was later to become River Vale, but when Eastwood disincorporated in 1896 Lachmunds all of a sudden was not part of any borough.

Soon after, also in 1896, John Lachmund petitioned Old Tappan to annex the small area so he would be part of something. Old Tappan had no problem doing that so thus Lachmund's became part of Old Tappan. They then used the Hackensack River as the boundary between the two towns..

This place was one of our regular stops for penny candy, soda or an occasional cupcake when we happened to be walking or bicycling by...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Map of River Vale Circa 1930

This is a map of River Vale as it was when I was growing up. You can easily see that there were not many streets in our little town. We didn't mind a bit. The folks who lived here were very satisfied with the rural setting of the town.

Map of River Vale circa 1930
Map of River Vale, circa 1930