‘Century Moment’ writer recalled fires and floods
SULLIVAN COUNTY – We at The Luminary appreciate hearing from readers, and sometime ago received a letter from Janet (Peterman) Stugart, daughter of the late Howard Peterman, who for many years wrote a column in this paper. We reached out to Stugart who provided us with her father’s biography listed at end of story.
This writer had the privilege of visiting Mr. Peterman at his retirement residence at the Masonic Home in Elizabethtown. As he was from my parents generation he’d had like experiences. Even before meeting Mr. Peterman, I’d couldn’t wait to read his weekly submissions to the paper under the heading “A Century Moment.” He was a historian and a native of Sullivan County, an area I was researching having there two early generations of my Sones family.
During my visit, Mr. Peterman opened one of several scrapbooks where a news clipping appeared on one page, and on the facing page were his additional personal notations on the subject. It was much like “The Rest of the Story,” as radio broadcaster Paul Harvey would do, an elaboration on a topic.
Oh that more folks would take Peterman’s lead leaving a treasure trove of information for succeeding generations. Some events are repetitive and timeless such as Mr. Peterman’s ‘up close and personnel’ memories of his area’s fires and floods.
THE BIG FIRE
About 1910 when I was four years old, I would run down toward Muncy Creek from our house and see the Nordmont Chemical Company train of an engine and two flat cars going up the mountain where trees were cut into four foot long pieces. This was the size cordwood used in the chemical factory.
The locomotive was about 50-ton standard gauge. It burned coal and each day an ash pan under the fire box was dropped and the ashes removed. One morning, the ash pan had not been fastened in place and the engineer went as usual for the mountaintop where a large loading dock where horses and wagons had brought the cordwood. Hundreds of cords of wood was piled beside the track as there was limited space at the factory.
On the way up the mountain, a few small fires were set by the hot ashes. But when it got to the top, a lot of dry brush from the wood cuttings was ideal for starting fires and a great blaze was started along the tracks.
Well, it burned for three days before rain stopped it. I remember the flames lit up the night sky.The dry limbs burned so hard that years afterward there were many areas where nature was unable to restore the land with trees again.
This great loss of spent money was to bankrupt the Chemical Co. but a strange thing happened. The Kaiser in Germany was starting World War I and a main product of the company was needed for making gunpowder. It turned out that the factory was watched over for a time by National Guards.
Then another event happened. Smokeless powder was invented used in large ammunition, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
These are some of the happenings in the little town of Nordmont during the years I was growing up there.
THE BIG STORM OF 1939
(Partially edited) I was the night mechanic and watchman at the state highway unit when it came to Sullivan County. It was my job to report storms and call out the men for the plows. Due to this, I took extra notice when snowfalls began.
I looked at the barometer and was surprised to see the dial had dropped below the ‘storm’ rating and rested near the end of the dial. I called my superintendent and the men to operate the snow plows.
Once all trucks and plows left the parking lot, we realized our supply was not enough, so we turned to back-ups. They consisted of two giant “V” plows mounted on a giant Caterpillar tractor.
The giant 20-ton Cletrac with ice tread still had her summer grease that froze solid when cold. With the severity of the storm, we were short on operators so I drove the hydraulic plow used when snow was too deep for regular tracks.
We started at the county line, near Rickets, and reached Lopez by morning. After turning in our equipment, the day crew left immediately for Cherry township. After two days and nights, I did not return home, but rather stayed late in the day to fix them.
All in all it took 14-days to clear off all the roads in the area. The only causality of storm was the “v” plow and tractor which had somehow become so stuck in the snow we had to leave it sit where it was and wait for warmer weather.
Our troubles, however, were not over for when warmer weather arrived, so did the floods. As snow melted, the rivers began to rise as all of central Pennsylvania experienced the infamous flood of 1939. The flooding was such that once waters receded, all shore cities built dikes to prevent similar situations. And so, the big snow of 1939 had one last laugh before disappearing.
Biography of Howard Peterman
Howard Peterman was born in 1907 on the James Peterman farm in Laporte Township east of Nordmont, the eldest son of Glen Peterman. For eight years he attended the Sugar Point School then graduated from Sonestown High School in 1924. After teacher’s training at Muncy Normal School, he taught in Davidson Township, Sonestown and LaPorte.
In 1930, he attended an automotive trade school in Cleveland, Ohio. Returning to Nordmont, he did auto repairs at his father’s store and worked as a night mechanic at the state highway department at LaPorte.
In 1936, Peterman purchased property in Picture Rocks erecting a gas station/garage/house which he operated until 1951. During WWII, he also taught auto mechanics at the Williamsport Technical Institute and worked on aircraft engines at AVCO Lycoming.
From 1947 – 1951 and through the GI Bill, he taught evening classes in practical mechanics to veterans in Sunbury. Moving to Hughesville in 1951, he worked part-time at AVCO and in local garages.
He retired in 1976 after fifteen years with Freezer’s Auto Parts. Eight years later, he took a part-time maintenance job at Lycoming Mall. In 1993, he moved to the Masonic Home in Elizabethtown and began writing letters printed in The Luminary and The Sullivan Review. In 2001, a booklet of these selections were published and became a fundraiser for the Sullivan County Historical Society.
Mr. Peterman’s first wife was Naomi Travelpiece, whom he met in 1926 when she was working at the Eagles Mere Inn. The couple parented two daughters, Lois and Janet. Following Naomi’s death, he wed Josephine Taylor Buck, a high school classmate.
(A special thanks to subscriber Esta Weiler, a former Muncian, who’d share her paper with Janet)