Noted historian recalls the years of The Great Depression for Picture Rocks
HUGHESVILLE – Setting eel lines, hand suckering fish, climbing trees and playing baseball were a few of the childhood memories fondly recalled by Robert Webster as he related the years his family resided in Picture Rocks.
The historian ventured into his first presentation about the village during September’s meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society.
“I’ve considered this topic for years,” Webster said of the time period from 1936 until 1942. He, his parents and Sister Jean moved from a farm near Huntersville to spend six years in Picture Rocks before moving on to Hughesville.
As it was the time of the Great Depression, Webster said, “Everyone was living and coping with life without a great deal of money.”
His father’s wages at the H & E factory paid thirty cents an hour and when given a two cent increase, totaled twelve dollars and eighty cents a week. “To put that in perspective, bread was nine cents a loaf, eleven cents for the king size,” he said.
Stores in the borough were identified as Edward Bailey, owner of a general store/hotel/post office complex where True Value Hardware is currently located. Before moving to Hughesville, “Doc” Arnold operated a pharmacy and soda fountain, Harry Bond had a general grocery and Paul Houseknecht operated a meat market.
Though most stores extended credit, Sam Jacoby was the exception. What became known as Jacoby’s jingle was boldly painted on the store front’s weather boards. “To trust is bust, to bust is hell, no trust, no bust, no hell, no credit.”
Six gallons for a dollar was the price of ‘Tydol Flying A’ gasoline at Howard Peterman’s garage (not Sheets) near the bridge.
Roadways were not exclusive to vehicles, for spring cattle drives were a common sight through town. C. W. Sones was the owner of a large herd of young cattle driven up Route 220 to summer pastures in the mountains. So numerous were they that the lead cattle would be exiting the town while the last were crossing the bridge at the south.
School and childhood friends were important during this time in Webster’s life. Dan Little, son of D. B. Little and owner of the Lycoming Ladder Company, was a close personal friend. “We both had a thirst for knowledge, especially in geography and history. Little went on to become a professor at Lycoming College,” the former teacher said.
Miss Esther Nunn was Webster’s teacher for four years. Her students were taught well in the rules of grammar, usage of commas, diagramming sentences and conjugating verbs.
The teacher chose Webster to be school patrol crossing guard at the corner of Route 220 and Laurel Street. In addition to traffic, the site was a hub of other activities. Ed Jr. and Calvin Bailey would be receiving instructions from their father as they fueled their delivery truck to haul wooden props to the mines and return with coal for their coal yard business.
At the post office, post master Harry Fague and Jenny Meluish unloaded mail bags to begin sorting letters.
The mass of activity was observed by Arlin “Bud” Price, then four or five-years-old, who decided help was needed. In an effort to replicate Webster’s official white “Sam Brown” type belt, Price donned his father’s leather belt. The youngster’s greeting was, “I got my ‘catrol’ belt and I’m gonna ‘catrol’ with you.” Smiling about the memory now, Webster said, “We had all we could do to keep things moving.”
“Everything south of the bridge where Webster resided was known as Bridgeport, neighbors just north of the bridge were the O’Conners: Howard, or “Sharkie,” Florence, Dale, Gene, Bill and Louise. Bill and I were classmates and trotted along together like a team of horses. Both Dan and Bill left this earth way too early,” he said.
It was “Sharkie” who’d taught them to set eel lines and “we got pretty good at suckering fish with our hands,” Webster said.
Gansell was another surname mentioned. Nick names between Webster and Charlie Gansell were “Web and Dut.” Louis Gansell, the father, was a woodcarver who owned a fine fire arm, a German officer’s Lugar pistol. “He let us use his woodworking tools to make replicas from a couple chunks of wood. Oh, the things we let go,” Webster lamented.
Also mentioned were Johnnie and Mary Warner. “He was a man when he was in elementary school, and Mary could lick any boy her age and some older. The Fisher brothers, Herman and Christian, especially Christian could really play marbles and usually went home with all we had,” the speaker said.
Baseball was a tradition in Picture Rocks. There were three factory teams with some great players including Alvin Mecum, John Brink, Jack and Frank McClain and Tom Montgomery. James “Sock” Montgomery, also known as “Mr. Baseball” was for years coach and manager. “I’m thinking the money for many of the balls came out of his pocket,” Webster said.
And then there were Lee Sprout and Harry Frey who went on to earn notoriety as athletes. “I recall when Frey and the football team played Shickshinny with a score of 119 to zip,” Webster said.
Additional references included Gene Witmer, who played every baseball game; Raymond and Kenneth Hoover; Clair Day and his sister Barb; Jackie Cruse, The Campbell’s, Carl, Dorothy, and Betty Lou.
Summertime meant swimming either below town at the splash dam or at the upper end at “The Rock Hole.” There were only the Williamsport and North Branch (W&NB) railroad tracks that separated the hole from Route 220.
It was about 1938 or ’39 when rail service ended on the line and tracks were removed beginning at Satterfield. The train would come down the tracks carrying the demolition items. Todd Simmons of Hughesville was the engineer. He’d stop and yell, “Do you guys want a ride back to town? What a thrill and what a memory,” Webster said.
In winter, even adults joined the ice skating fun after a natural low lying area at the Francis “Doc” Foster place filled with water. When ‘wintered up’ it made a rink where even if you didn’t have skates, hockey was played with tin cans and sticks.
NOTE:The preceding is a portion of names and events shared. Watch for places where Webster’s program may be repeated.