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Community Voices

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  1. As I sit down to write this, I’ve just completed another yearly tradition. That being, watching Peppermint Patty’s ungrateful ass give Charlie Brown a hard time about the meager offerings served up for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner. And while watching, it kinda helped a few things on my mind gel together, a message I feel compelled to share with the world. Or the twelve or so of you that read this.

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    This year our celebration of Thanksgiving is looking a little different, thanks to the pesky little virus known as Covid-19 floating around. Health officials are urging Americans to reconsider large gatherings this year in an effort to stem the continued rise of infection across the country. And of course people, weary of having to put their lives on hold, are pushing back.

    I’m not here to tell you how to live your life or make a case for or against these warnings. However I’d like to point out to my fellow Americans that despite what they may think, no one is “canceling” anything this year. We’re merely being asked to do things a little differently than we normally would, or than we would like, for Thanksgiving.

    By it’s very name, “Thanksgiving” tells us what the day is all about. Notice it’s not called, “Macy’s Parade Day”, or “Huge Family Feast Day”? It’s called “Thanksgiving”, a day to give thanks for what we have. Simple enough.

    Like Peppermint Patty, I think too many Americans have forgotten the reason for the day. And despite all the hardship this pandemic has brought us as a country, we still have so much to be thankful for.

    But folks, it’s just one day. Hell, it’s not even a whole day, it’s a few hours of one day.

    And yeah I understand the argument that we should still celebrate this year, because we don’t know that we’ll be here next year. But let’s be honest, there’s no guarantee we’ll even be here tomorrow let alone in a year. But if you knew there was a chance that you could increase the odds of one or more of your loved ones becoming gravely ill or dying, would you still do it? Of course not, right?

    Then what’s the problem?

    As for me and my family, we’ll be staying home this year and having Thanksgiving dinner here instead of going to my parent’s or in-law’s house like usual.

    Yeah, it’ll suck. A lot of things have really sucked this year, just like I told our sons it would way back in March. And like we’ve done these past several months, we’ll adjust, do what needs to be done, and know that if we’re smart, maybe things will be better next year. Making that change for one day, this one time, could make all the difference, and ensure that we’ll all still be here and healthy for Christmas and beyond.

    So maybe instead of thinking negatively about how different things will be this Thanksgiving, maybe this year celebrate the day in its purest form. This Thursday stay home and have a small turkey, or even a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Observe the holiday for what it is: A day to be grateful for all that we have here, now. ( I’d have suggested Chinese takeout, but the irony of that would be too deliciously funny, even for me. )

    Happy Thanksgiving.

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    The opening of this year’s regular deer hunting season means it’s time for this annual reminder on the Southern Tier-based Venison Donation Coalition.

    And with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) already having reported record-breaking sales of hunting licenses for 2020, it’s an especially meaningful reminder during this time of great need throughout so many communities continuing to be hard hit by COVID-19.   

    Over the past 20 years, the Coalition has helped put a good meal on many tables across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout New York State.

    Millions of tables, in fact.

    Since 1999 the coalition has coordinated the processing of an average of 38 tons of venison annually and, through its partnership with The Food Bank of the Southern Tier and other regional food banks, provided more than 4 million highly nutritious, low-fat, high-protein servings to individuals, children and families in need.

    Talk about making a difference, and talk about timely. Good meals are needed now like never before.

    The opening of the regular deer season represents one of the most important economic cycles of the year. Hunting is a mainstay of the regional and statewide recreational economy, by some estimates accounting for $2 billion of economic activity and nearly 30,000 jobs statewide. Steuben County, for example, remains one of the Northeast’s premiere deer hunting destinations.

    The Venison Donation Coalition is supported by sportsmen’s organizations, of course, but also by local farm bureaus, food banks, civic and religious groups, and so many individual citizens. I am always grateful to call attention to its work and its contributions to the overall quality and strength of our communities. 


    It was over 25 years ago when a local "Hunters for the Hungry" program was prepared to donate 400 pounds of venison for distribution to the needy and discovered that state law prevented it. As a result, “Hunters for the Hungry" programs operating throughout New York at that time, 1993, were being told they couldn’t donate over 10,000 pounds of venison to food banks and other organizations providing meals to the unemployed, shut-ins, senior citizens and other needy citizens. It made no sense. As a result, the Legislature quickly acted to establish a program to authorize the donations. The resulting Venison Donation Coalition got started in 1999 when sportsmen’s federations in Chemung and Steuben counties got behind the effort with funding to pay two processors. Two decades later, the coalition is a broad-based partnership including many area supporters.

    It is, simply put, an admirable effort. Never underestimate the spirit of commitment and giving it has encouraged.

    According to the Coalition, “We would not even have this program if it weren’t for our amazing processors. They work diligently on getting the deer to the food banks in record time at a reduced rate. Our many thanks to our meat processors for making Venison Donation a success! Meat processors, like farm families, like hunting families, like Food Bank families, have strong family values, strong work ethics and a true desire to help folks. Many meat processing businesses have been family run for generations. It’s the same kind of family values and grassroots efforts that make the Venison Donation Coalition a success.”

    As I have often said, we will continue to develop infrastructure, promote tourism, improve schools, protect citizens, and do anything and everything possible to enhance our economic position. Nevertheless, along with these fundamental responsibilities, the ongoing work of groups and organizations like the Venison Donation Coalition is important, inspiring, and meaningful.

    As the Coalition notes, “One dollar goes a long way to help curb hunger throughout New York State.” The donation of just $1 provides four meals. For every dollar donated, the Coalition puts 90 cents towards processing donated venison.

    For more information, visit the Venison Donation Coalition online at www.venisondonation.com or call 1-866-862-3337 (DEER).

    My very best wishes to you and your families for a safe and meaningful Thanksgiving.


  3. Thanks Giving Day… a time of reflection, appreciation, gratitude… recalling blessings even among the difficulties of this most unusual year… and memories shared from years past as we recall what touched our hearts deeply… remembering our loved ones who are no longer here among us… for extended family gatherings with delicious food and lots of it… for endless football games (sorry, not my favorite)… for hunting (let’s go!), especially if there’s fresh snow for tracking… all felt with grateful hearts!

    We really do have so much to be thankful for… like starting each new day with a heart that simply appreciates the little things of life… because it’s so easy to fuss and fret about those little things that annoy me/us… yet it’s the grateful heart that brings out the best in each of us!  And simply thinking about being thankful got me pondering deeper. 

    How grateful I am for the love of family and friends, smiles, cards, and encouraging words!  With love, we lift each other up, strengthen, bring comfort in difficult times, and see the good in each other… reminders of hope and renewal to cheer us on. 

    As I began to write this reflection a year ago, it was another cool and dreary, cloudy, drippy, fall day… much like it is now while reviewing this blog to repost.  It was the kind of day that tends to depress me just a bit… warm summer days have passed and the cold snowy winter is coming.  But then I realized that we were blessed with a good summer and sufficient rains during a warmer-than-usual fall, overcoming the droughts of recent years.  Though they might seem an irritant to enjoying sunny days, the rain and snow are so needed to renew and replenish the earth and our water supply, and so I am thankful.

    A grateful heart shares love and joy.  From our own thankfulness, we reach out to others.  I have often admired those who give their time to serve holiday dinners at local missions.  Yet, I have not volunteered as I also feel it’s important to spend holiday time with my husband who cannot go out and about… a way to make his day special.  Family time and making precious memories are also blessings from God to treasure with a heart of appreciation.

    I also like the idea of a thankfulness jar, but never implemented one in my home.  Throughout the year, family members can write notes about what they’re especially thankful for and put the slips in the jar.  On Thanksgiving Day, or perhaps several days in a row, slips are removed and read aloud, reminding everyone in the family of all the ways we appreciated and blessed each other.

     A thankful heart is at the root of the joy and happiness we so often search for.  With a thankful heart, we praise the Lord for His many blessings each and every day, even for every breath we take.  With a grateful heart, we express love for each other in a myriad of ways, and are open to seeing the hidden beauty among us and around us.  With a thankful heart, we are more apt to focus on the good that can come from trials we face.  And with a grateful heart, we see that which we tend to overlook, or take for granted, as the genuine blessing it truly is.

     For with a thankful heart, we will readily say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  His love endures forever…”  (Psalm 107:1) 

    Happy Thanks Giving Day!


    Thanks Giving

    Linda A. Roorda


    For the dawning of each new day

    For the sun which shines its brilliant rays

    For the birds who share their sweetest songs…

    We thank you, Lord, for blessings rich.


    For desperate pleas You hear with love

    For all the ways you meet our needs

    For answers to our many prayers…


    For all the friends who grace our lives

    For the ones who left our arms too soon

    For tears and peace that fill our hearts…


    For those who fight for freedom’s sake

    For those who protect our streets from crime

    For those who gave all that we might live free…


    For each new season in the cycle of time

    For spring’s rebirth and summer’s bright sun

    For autumn’s harvest and winter’s rest…


    For the joy of life in a newborn’s cry

    For hope-filled days as our youth pursue dreams

    For resilient smiles that greet a harsh world…


    For our great bounty midst a world in need

    For each new breath in a day not promised

    For all the ways we love each other…

    We thank you, Lord, for blessings rich.



  4. by Erin Doane

    On July 5, 1914, Dr. Sherman Voorhees, his wife Lilian, and their son Sherman, who was known as “Laddie,” were motoring along what is now Comfort Hill Road in the town of Ashland. Somehow, the doctor lost control of his 1913 Chalmers, and it went careening over an embankment. The vehicle rolled over and over, expelling the three passengers along the way, and came to rest in a field of daisies. Sherman was gravely injured; Laddie suffered from multiple cuts and bruises; and Lilian was killed almost instantly when her neck was broken. This is thought to have been the first fatal automobile accident in the county.


    Sherman was a medical doctor who came to Elmira in 1897 to open a practice. Lilian was a socialite and philanthropist who was well known throughout the city. Laddie was a care-free 13 years old. It was a lovely, dry summer day when the family decided to take a drive over South Mountain. They could never have imagined how the day would take a tragic turn.


    Laddie was the first thrown from the tumbling car. He suffered comparatively light injuries, and was able to rush to his mother’s side and then to his father. Unable to help either, he climbed back up the embankment and hurried to the home of William M. Kimball for help. Floyd Kimball and Morris Butman and his mother, who were spending the day at the farm, rushed back to the scene of the accident with him. Someone went to the home of Arthur Millard and more people came to help. Soon, dozens had arrived to offer assistance including several doctors and the motor patrol from the city. Despite all efforts, there was no saving Lilian. 


    Many worried that Sherman’s injuries were so severe that he would soon follow his wife, but he slowly and steadily improved over the course of many weeks. By early August he was finally able to move around his home on crutches, and in late August he was taken to the Glen Mary Sanitarium in Owego to speed his recovery. One month into the stay, he was walking about the sanitarium yard and was recovering his physical vigor. On October 9, it was announced that he would finally be returning home.

    While Sherman was undergoing his convalescence, Laddie was also recovering physically and emotionally. He joined the newly-formed boy scout troop in Elmira and was chosen as No. 3 patrol leader. On October 10, the day his father returned from his stay at the sanitarium, Laddie and Scoutmaster John G. Addey led a boy scout hike to Daggett’s beyond Bulkhead.

    While Sherman’s return home was celebrated, he never did recover from the injuries he suffered in the crash. Shortly after leaving Owego, he went to Atlantic City for three weeks then spent some time in New York City before moving in with his sister Dr. Belle V. Aldridge in Brooklyn. On May 1, 1915, ten months after the accident, Dr. Sherman Voorhees passed away from complications which developed from a fracture at the base of his skull. His body was brought back to Elmira on Erie train No. 7, and he was interred next to Lilian in Woodlawn Cemetery.

    After Sherman’s death, John N. Willys of Elmira was formally appointed the guardian of Laddie. The young man went on to be a successful business man and was instrumental in bringing the first soaring and gliding contests to Elmira in the early 1930s. He passed away unexpectedly at his home in Hartford, Connecticut on February 7, 1964 at the age of 63.

    Sometime after the accident, a cross was erected on the spot where Lilian died. No one is sure who created the memorial, but it may have been her husband or, more likely, her son. The inscription on the cross reads: This spot is made sacred by the death of Mrs. Sherman Voorhees by accident July 5, 1914.


    In 1959, a sign was placed at the edge of the road to bring attention to and provide an explanation for the cross down below. The sign lasted about 14 years before it disappeared. In 1989, John F. McDonald, who lived next door to the monument, decided to recreate the original sign. He and his son Chad built the sign and holder, and he had Arden May of Millport paint it. 


    Over time, the sign weathered and became unreadable, so the town of Ashland stepped in. In 2001, a new metal sign was unveiled. You can still visit the site today on Comfort Hill Road, about halfway between Rogers and Walsh Roads, and see both the sign and the memorial cross.


    Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of the museum's blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com

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    We’ve had a lot of gray days this month --- quite typical for our region.  But we’ve also had some delightfully sunny, mild days; it would be great if we could preserve some of those.  Gladys Taber** had the same idea: “I wish we could put this late summer sunlight in jars.  If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun!  I can see how it would look with the jars arranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup.  And on a dark November day, we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine, open it and smell again the warm, dreamy air of a late-summer day.”  Fun thought!

    We recently had a back yard full of downed trees.  It looked rather as though a tornado had gone through.  There were five trees either quite dead or in their last stages of life that threatened to fall on buildings if they were blown down.  So woodcutters came and felled them ----- leaving a ton of logs, branches and twigs to clean up.  I will miss the big white pine especially.  It was a tree full of birds and lovely to sit beneath on a summer day.  The now wide-open back yard is startling, and some of our plants that demand shade will, I think, have to be moved.  The downed and tangled trees created a playground for cats.  They sharpened claws, pounced from one branch to another and sat at the top like kings of the mountain.  I imagine they were sorry to see it cleaned up.

    This is fruitcake-baking week after which I’ll stash them away to “ripen” on our cold, inside porch   I’m hearing no cheers from immediate family; they are not enthusiastic about my venture into the land of fruit cakes; they don’t like candied fruit, but too bad!  It is a time-honored tradition.  In Scotland and England (anyone who reads Anne of Green Gables knows about this) wedding cakes were usually fruit cakes, made as soon as the engagement was announced and packed away to mellow.  Mine don’t get to “mellow” very long.  If my family doesn’t appreciate my fruity wonders, I have friends who do.  A cup of tea with a slice of spicy cake bursting with Brazil nuts, pecans, candied cherries, raisins and citron makes a dreary day shine.

    Thanksgiving is only a week away.   In fifty-six years, we’ve had celebrations of this holiday in a myriad of different ways ---- with family, with friends and by ourselves.  One of our sons was born a few days after Thanksgiving, and that year, we had to stay in Pennsylvania rather than going home to be with family.   I remember that the day was cloudy, mild and we took a walk to enjoy the central Pennsylvania scenery.   We’ve had many enjoyable years celebrating with extended family in Howard (Steuben County) and in Victor (Ontario County).  One year, snow came, and on Sunday afternoon, we crawled south on Rt. 15 at about 35mph the whole way.  There was one lane plowed and I’m sure the traffic stretched from Buffalo to Washington DC.

    I miss those big family gatherings ---- the laughter, the futile attempts to keep grapes in the fruit centerpieces until after dinner, wonderful dishes-to-pass, loud games of Euchre and shared stories and laughter.  There were often as many as twenty-five or thirty of us.  But even with our family of eight, we do quite well.  With two dogs, two teenagers, six adults --- and sometimes a stray guest or two ---- we still have plenty of laughter and lots of stories.   The main point of the celebration is to enjoy each other and to bring to mind all that for which we are so very grateful.  This year may be different as we avoid infection, and yet, we still have reasons for thanks.  We are healthy as are those in our family. We have plenty to do and many ways to communicate.   We may not be sharing dinner as usual, but we are still connected.  Traditions should not be freeze-framed.  Necessary change often brings its own gifts.

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    Thanksgiving is surely a good time to share kindness and consideration with others.  While I was working at the Office for the Aging, the staff there decided to do a dinner on Thanksgiving Day for those who had no family.  People had confided that their loneliness was far more intense at Thanksgiving than Christmas.  The dinner was a purely volunteer project, although the county was generous enough to allow use of the kitchen and dining room at work.  Those of us who were traveling to family on that day brought goodies to leave off.  I still remember with pleasure, the warm, happy atmosphere in that dining room as people once more found joy in the holiday.  One of the churches in the S-VE area was doing something similar, but of course, not this year.

    Currently getting ready for snow and cold is a priority.  I’ve had to make two spots for feeding the cats, out of sight of each other.  We’ve acquired a truly feral cat; I believe it was injured when it decided to camp in our former feeding area.  It has an unpleasant yowl, and our long-time outside cats are afraid of it; we’ve dubbed it “Nasty Cat”.  Thus, we have two feline dining spots.  There are also lined baskets tucked beneath a table by the back door, sheltered from the winds and snows for fairly comfortable sleeping.  The woodpeckers are glad that the feeders are once more stocked with suet now that our intrusive bears seem to have gone to wherever they go for the winter.   The scarves and mittens have been retrieved from their storage tubs and the boots located.  The snow shovel is at hand.   Inside the wood stove is ready to add comforting warmth when the winds blow cold.

    November is always a month of nostalgia for me.  It is not only because of Thanksgiving but also, I think, the effect a waning year has.  I find myself actually wanting to polish the furniture, wash the cut glass and bring out the linens I happily put away last spring.  We “nesters” like change of seasons.  We can make things fresh and new four or five times a year and the possibilities make up for the same old-same old that annoys most of us about keeping house.  One of the things I try to do is to make the house fragrant.  Of course baking bread or cookies is the best way to do that.  But in lieu of baking, I try to have candles, reed diffusers and fresh herbal scents instead of industrial cleaning smells. I’ve put together an herbal/vinegar solution for wiping off of counters that includes basil, sage, rosemary and (if I recall correctly) tansy.   Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.”  So the lavender furniture polish, the cinnamon candles and linseed oil all take me right back home to where my mother was baking molasses cookies and painting country tin.  And when we put a turkey in the oven and make stuffing, I’ll be able to imagine being at one of those wonderful family gatherings that were such a great part of our lives.

    As we consider and express our gratitude this Thanksgiving, it might also be a good time to  dispense with uncharitable and/or arrogant thoughts about others.  I will share an old poem…….  “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase), awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, and saw, within the moonlight of the room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom, an angel writing in a book of gold ----Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, and to the presence in the room he said: ‘What writest thou?’ The vision rais’d his head, and with a look of all sweet accord, answer’d: ’The names of those who love the Lord.’  ‘And is mine one?’ said Abou.  ‘Nay, not so,’ replied the angel.  About spoke more low but clearly still and said: ‘I pray thee then, write me as one that loves his fellow men.’  The angel wrote and vanish’d.  The next night  it came again with a great wakening light, and show’d the names whom love of God had bless’d, and lo!  Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”**** Happy Thanksgiving!

    Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

    *”Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart” praise song with lyrics by Don Moen.

    **Gladys Tabor --- American writer who wrote for “Family Circle” magazine and authored 59 books;  is most recognized for her “Stillmeadow” books.  1899 -

    ***Helen Keller--- American author, lecturer and political activist.  Is the first blind and deaf person to achieve a BA.  1880-1968.

    ****”Abou Ben Adam” by Leigh Hunt ---- British critic, essayist, poet and writer.  Actual name is James Henry Leigh Hunt.  1784-1859.  (And I thought for years that Leigh Hunt was a woman!!)

  6. by Kathleen Reed


    While my own birthday won’t come with any festivities this year, my thoughts are on someone else’s birthday. One very dear to my heart.

    April 26, 1920. This year would have been my father’s Centennial.

    Happy Birthday, Daddy!

    You know how we see toddlers’ eyes widen in awe at the sight of an airplane….as wonder and amazement registers with the realization that there are people flying through the air?

    I found it fascinating that as a child, my Dad watched adults share in that childlike wonder. And he held onto some of the wonder and amazement through his lifetime.

    At the age of nine, he witnessed the stock market crash that would plunge the nation into the Great Depression. But he witnessed so much progress in his lifetime (1920-2006) that it makes my head spin.

    His boyhood home on Hudson Street was lit with gas lamps. His family didn’t get electricity or radio until he was a teenager.

    As a youth, it was still a big deal when a “talking movie” hit the local theater. The concept of home movies and camcorders were inconceivable back then. Television didn’t come along until he was a grown man, and he saw that evolve into the technology to change channels with a remote control, then record on VHS – and later DVD. Live streaming from your phone to social media across the world would happen a few short years after his passing.

    He witnessed telephones that didn’t have dials (requiring an operator) evolve into technology that allowed rotary dialing….and later direct dial even for long-distance calls in the late 1950s. By the 1980s, he saw phones without cords…and then they left the house entirely. And a few short years later, cell phones shrunk from shoebox to pocket size.

    And my adult children scarcely recall a time before smart phones.

    As he grew into an adult saw many societal change changes – some that caused concern.

    When he was young, the Bolshevik Revolution that spawned the USSR (after a massacre of Russian royalty and culture) was still practically “current events”. With that in mind, he instilled values of Liberty in us and warned that we “would” see a similar fate in our lifetimes.

    Having experienced the Great Depression, he’d seen ‘poverty’ in its original definition and was concerned as the word began to include lack of things that he considered comfort and conveniences – rather than necessities.   

    As social programs and government “safety nets” steadily expanded, he worried that growing dependency would inevitably result in widespread loss of independence.

    Many of the tremendous strides in ‘human evolution’ brought on by the Industrial Revolution were very ‘recent history’ that his parents and had witnessed firsthand. Historical rises in literacy and life expectancy….while destitution and infant mortality declined at record rates.

    He was perplexed as he watched the “heroes” he’d learned about as a child become regarded as evil capitalists and “robber barons”.

    Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller, the “Great Entrepreneurs” of the Industrial Revolution.

    Railroads and automobiles that created mobility, freedom and opportunity – the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the invention of ocean travel. And using their fortunes to build hospitals, libraries and schools that elevated disadvantaged populations as never before.

    He was dedicated to finding old books and magazines….and often pointed out when contemporary publications contradicted them. It saddens me that many were lost over the years.

    Even with some trends that he found unsettling, he remained in wonder at the leaps mankind took in his lifetime.

    When he taught us to drive in the 1980’s…Dad still considered automatic transmissions to be a “new-fangled” thing that just wasn’t as ‘tried and true’ as standard. But he still marveled that the technology existed. Although he’d always favor his trusty slide rule for calculations, his amazement at our first pocket calculator was clear.

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    I was about eight. As he went on and on about the liquid crystal display and how many things we could soon be doing with a printed circuit board so small, I sort of felt a little guilty that I didn’t understand enough to share in his delight.

    But there were so many other things that he showed me, that I did share the enthusiasm. The way he showed excitement over everything made him a powerful storyteller and teacher. Whenever he’d have me ‘help’ with a simple household chore it turned into a colorful presentation that may take hours……but usually left me certain that science was magic and my Dad was a wizard.

    He never wanted or expected me to memorize facts, figures or formulas. He showed me. We wanted me to see it, question it, understand it. And he usually made it seem fun.

    To this day, I couldn’t tell you which one of Newton’s Laws was applied….but after spending the better part of an afternoon trying to meet Dad’s challenge to make it up a down escalator, I had a better understanding of how motion in opposite directions will counteract one another. And we had ice cream afterward even though the escalator won.

    He truly appreciated that learning by watching, understanding by doing and teaching by demonstration was how humans evolved.  When he was a boy, learning how the world around us works wasn’t necessarily giggles and ice cream. Carrying water in a leaky bucket was learning the ‘hard way’. Understanding the how and the why was the best way to improve things.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many medical breakthroughs he witnessed, in addition to the technology that fascinated him so much.

    The Polio outbreak began a few years before he was born. Through the 1940’s when it was paralyzing 35,000 Americans each year, it was for his generation, a tragic fact of life that seemed to have ‘always been. Then it slowed to hundreds, then dozens a year. And for the last few decades of his life, it was gone.

    He watched a few pandemics make it to the USA, including the “Hong Kong Flu” that took a million lives worldwide, and 100,000 here. And after nearly 30 years of watching the world suffer from HIV, he barely missed seeing a cure developed.

    I think if he were still here, he’d tell me to be sensible and make good choices….but that this will pass.

    And he’d probably consider staying home a fantastic opportunity for everyone to spend time learning how everything we take for granted works….and building a greater appreciation for the modern marvels that we rely on every day. And instilling the same in the younger generation.

    "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." –Ellen Parr

    Kathleen Reed is a resident of Catlin. 


  7. Who among us isn’t fascinated by the steam trains of yesteryear?  As the big locomotives and cars rumble past, you can’t help but wonder where they’ve been and where they’re headed.  To feel the pulsing ground vibrations of an old steam engine as it chuffs down the track, to see huge billows of smoke and steam with cinders and ash in the air, to smell the smoke and oil, and hear the blowing of the whistle and clanging of the bell all make the heart beat just a little faster!  The train’s a’comin’!


    Constructing model trains was a hobby of my dad’s, along with setting up a track and miniature town for display.  I remember watching him when I was in kindergarten as he built a passenger car with its tiny pieces.  In the mid to late 1960s, I also enjoyed it when he took us kids on the annual drive to a small, non-descript building in Carlstadt, New Jersey.  There, our eyes were opened to a whole ‘nother world as both O (1/4” scale) and HO (1/8” scale) gauge trains were set up in working displays.  And, many a youngster has been thrilled to open the much-anticipated Christmas gift of a model train set like these!


    At the Carlstadt Model Engineers Association’s display (341 Hoboken Rd, Carlstadt, NJ 07072), the HO-gauge trains run through small towns, farming communities and mountain passes – with sound effects of the old locomotives.  It’s not huge by any means, encompassing two rooms, but it’s a fantastic setup nonetheless.  Check out their website for photos, videos and further information.  


    My dad, Ralph Visscher, was born to Dutch immigrants in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but grew up in Clifton, New Jersey next to the train tracks, where he developed his love for the old steam engines.  Clifton had two train stations – one for the Erie Railroad and one for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad.  Eventually, they consolidated as the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad in 1960.  We lived opposite the closed Erie station in the latter 1960s, a great paved playground for us kids; but it has since been demolished like many others, the loss of a priceless piece of history.


    In speaking with my father while writing this article in 2014, he told me, “Steam engines were doing a great job, getting better and better, especially when the Big Boy locomotives were developed and used out west.”  He told me their wheel designation was 4-8-8-4, which I’d learned from my research so I knew exactly what he was talking about.  He explained, “They had a front 4-wheeled truck to stabilize the engine on the curves, followed by 8 driving wheels, another set of 8 drivers, and a rear 4-wheeled truck underneath the engine’s firebox with the tender car coupled behind that.  Tenders carried the train’s fuel [coal, wood or oil] and water.  The Big Boys were used to pull freight cars a mile or more in length over the western mountains.” 


    In the 1940s after World War II, he added that it was determined diesel engines could do a better job and go faster than the old steam engines.  “But, actually, a steam locomotive could accelerate faster from a standing start than diesels, which were slower to get started; once they got up to speed though, the diesels could travel much faster than steam engines.”  By 1950, he said, the railroad companies had switched all their locomotives to diesel.  “But, now and then you might see a rare steam engine being used on the track just because it was available.”


    My dad also explained that steam locomotives needed a tremendous amount of water to create steam from the burning fuel.  For example, in The Great Book of Railways, I learned that the Big Boys used “22 tons of coal and 44 tons of water every hour.” (p.20)  Clean-burning anthracite coal from Pennsylvania mines was used to fuel steam engines in the eastern U.S. with coal from Wyoming used for the western trains.  I was surprised to hear my dad say that oil was also used for trains out west because of the availability, but with the proximity of oil wells that makes sense.  “And, water tanks,” he added, “were set up every so many miles along with places to take on more coal.  Some trains used extra tenders to carry additional fuel needed for their run.  And, sometimes, to get a train up a mountain, more than one engine was coupled together to haul the freight cars up, or they used pusher locomotives at the rear of the cars.”


    And then my dad, who never passes up the opportunity to tell a good story, shared this one about a well-seasoned engineer running a steam locomotive with a long line of cars.  They’d just hired a new young fireman on the crew.  As the train pulled up to a water tower, the engineer placed the tender exactly in position to take on water.  Pulling the chain on the gantry (crane), the young fireman filled the tender.  When he was done, he released the chain, took a look in the tender to check the water level and fell in, yelling for help, paddling to stay afloat, wondering how long it would take for them to get him out of there.  After a while the old engineer strolled back to see what was taking so long.  Peering into the tender, he pondered the sight that met his eyes, and calmly said, “You know, son… you don’t need to tamp the water down!”


    I have to admit – I really enjoy researching and writing articles for the learning I gain in the process, but this article was one of my absolute favorites as it meant so much to my Dad who was on Hospice at the time of this writing (passing away in April 2015).  And it carries childhood memories of time spent with my dad at the train shows.  So, come along and together we’ll learn the history of those grand old iron horses, the steam locomotives.


    Looking back to the start of the 19th century, life was moving forward at a relatively slow pace.  The times still invoked thoughts of the century past in every-day life, but now there was a sense of optimism in our new nation.  And, if they could only have known of the many improvements to come in the new century, they’d have shaken their heads in disbelief, just as our view backward amazes us at how far we’ve come.


    Since the invention of the wheel, man has been contemplating how to make a better wheel or vehicle to transport all manner of goods.  England’s mines were the backdrop for development of the early steam locomotives by some of the best engineers in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.  Beginning in February 1804, Richard Trevithick’s locomotive invention hauled iron and passengers, followed by locomotives for racked/cogged rails (trains with a center driving wheel which engages with the racked or cogged rail for climbing steep grades) as designed by John Blenkinsop in 1812.  The next year William Hedley’s Puffing Billies came on the scene (the first smooth-wheeled locomotives), with George Stephenson’s steam locomotive of 1814 designed to work at a typical colliery (British deep-pit coal mine).  [The Great Book of Railways, pp.8-9]


    On a side note, the above research regarding Hedley’s Puffing Billy trains brought to mind a favorite children’s song that perhaps others remember.  “Down by the station, Early in the morning, See the little pufferbellies, All in a row.  See the station master, Turn the little handle [we sang throttle], Chug chug, puff puff, Off they go!”  Supposedly written by Lee Ricks and Slim Gaillard in 1948, the words go back to a 1931 Recreation magazine, with a tune similar to Alouette; and first popularized by Tommy Dorsey.  (Wikipedia) 


    American ingenuity took a little longer than the Brits to work itself up to full steam.  With the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company forming in 1823, the intent was to construct and operate canals between New York City and the coal mines near Carbondale in northeast Pennsylvania.  Eventually, the idea of locomotive power became their focus as a more efficient means of transporting both coal and passengers.  With that in mind, the D&H engineers took a tour of England’s renowned locomotive factories to gauge what would best meet their needs. 


    This tour led the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company to order the first steam locomotives for use in the United States.  Built in England in 1828 by Foster, Rastrick & Company, the Stourbridge Lion was shipped over in pieces and reassembled at New York’s West Point Foundry.  Ready for its first official run on August 8, 1829, it was meant to carry coal from the mines near Carbondale to the canal at Honesdale, Pennsylvania.  Weighing about 7-1/2 tons, however, it was too heavy for the wooden track, a definite disappointment as the engineers had sent requirements to England for a locomotive weighing not more than 4 tons.  However, by the early 1830s, steam locomotives were being built in the United States.  


    Col. John Stevens, the “father of American railroads,” set up an experimental track by 1826 on his property in Hoboken, New Jersey to prove the viability of a steam locomotive operation.  In 1830, Peter Cooper built the first American-made steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb, which ran on common track.  The public was additionally impressed when George Pullman invented the Pullman Sleeping Car in 1857, improving passengers’ over-night travel. 


    With much of our early transportation dependent upon beasts of burden over roads which were not of the best quality (see Homestead article No. 5, Traveling From Here to There), or by boats on the rivers and lakes, a boon developed with the construction of numerous canals.  Following close on the heels of New York’s Erie Canal debut in 1825 (see Homestead article No. 24, Clinton’s Ditch, aka The Erie Canal) was the burgeoning development of the railroad.  With a good percentage of engineers graduating from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, their knowledge was put to active use in surveying, planning and developing the railroads.  With their expertise, many of these West Point graduates soon became presidents and officers of the various railroad companies. 


    Each state soon began granting charters to these newly-formed railroad companies.  Among the earliest to be chartered was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1827.  Intended to run between Baltimore and the Ohio River, its first section opened May 24, 1830.  New York’s Mohawk & Hudson Railroad was incorporated in 1826, and began operating in August 1831.  Its first locomotive was the DeWitt Clinton, named for the former governor of canal fame.  The Saratoga & Schenectady Railroad followed soon after with its opening in June 1832.  Even then, ideas were being discussed regarding laying longer track from New York to Buffalo; but, it was a delicate subject as the state was heavily in debt for the Erie Canal which had just opened in 1825.  


    Throughout the succeeding decades, many small railroad corporations merged to operate more efficiently.  In particular, the New York Central, headquartered in New York City, eventually became the main consolidated corporation in the northeast and Midwest as it merged with more than half a dozen other companies.


    Innumerable side tracks were laid to meet the transportation needs of outlying regions as freight was shipped more efficiently than previously.  Towns vied for the opportunity to be on a rail line or spur, able to ship products out from a nearby hub rather than the expense of taking goods to a station many miles away.  Some towns were established after track was laid.  Stations built in towns on the line included water towers there and along the route to replenish the locomotive’s need to create steam and thus power.  The public found it convenient to take a passenger train for a trip to the next town or hundreds of miles away.  It sure beat the slow horse and buggy!


    But, a major issue began to build as train schedules were based on differing times in towns along any given route.  To bring this under control, the railroads determined standard time was of vital importance.  At noon on November 18, 1883, standard time zones for both American and Canadian railroads began.  Prior to this date, both nations were riddled with innumerable differences in time across the countryside.  The vast differences stemmed from the use of “high noon” as each town clock was set depending upon when the sun was at its peak above their town.  Obviously, the discrepancies in time caused a nightmare for train schedules, and standardized time was the only logical answer.  Without government approval, the powerful railroad companies established four standard time zones which remain close to those still in use.  In 1918, Congress formalized the arrangement, putting the railroads under the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Prior to America’s adoption of standard time, the Great Western Railroad had established standard time in Britain beginning in 1840, with virtually all railroads adopting London time by 1847.


    It should also be mentioned that tracks were also built to different size specifications.  Northern railroads typically used a standard 4 ft 8-1/2 inch or 4 ft 9 inch wide track.  This was based on English track dimensions and the fact that U.S. railroads expected to import more British-made locomotives.  This was the gauge used by George Stephenson (British inventor above) for his locomotives simply because he was familiar with this track width from a local mine near Newcastle.  As it turns out, that gauge was used for the mine track just because it was the common width of local ancient Roman roads in England.  It was next determined by measurements taken at excavations in Pompeii and elsewhere that ancient Roman roads were made for a standard chariot wheelbase of about 4 ft 9 inches or slightly less!  And that is how 4 ft 8-1/2 inch rails became the industry standard.


    The early American railroads like the Baltimore & Ohio and Boston & Albany set their rails at 4 ft 8-1/2 inches, the Pennsylvania R.R. used 4 ft 9 inches, the Erie and Lackawanna both used 6 ft 0 inch tracks, Canada used a 5 ft 6 inch gauge, while Southern U.S. rails were set at 5 ft 0 inches. 


    Obviously, the discrepancies prevented trains from running on certain track, necessitating standardization throughout the industry.  I found it interesting to learn that for 36 hours over two days commencing May 31, 1886, thousands upon thousands of workers pulled spikes from all west-bound tracks in the South, moved the rails in by 3 inches to 4 ft 9 inches, and immediately replaced the spikes. Thus, as of June 1886, all North American tracks were capable of running locomotives built for standard 4 ft 8-1/2 inch rails.


    Impressive tunnels, bridges and viaducts were also designed and constructed to carry trains over stunning views of open water or above valley floors between steep mountain cliffs.  With the need for better materials, wrought iron rail was produced in England by 1820.  Following this, steel in America became available in the mid-1800s with the process improved in England by 1860.   


    Naturally, the feasibility of a transcontinental track came under discussion and planning for several years before it became reality.  With the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 under President Lincoln, healing began for a war-torn nation as the north and south pulled together in a common goal after the Civil War.  The idea alone of a main railroad line from one ocean to the other across an entire continent was exhilarating!  Thus, the Central Pacific Railroad toiled westward over the plains and up the eastern Rockies while the Union Pacific laid its track eastward out of California, over and through the western side of the Rockies. 


    Meeting at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869, the Golden Spike was nailed into the track in an exciting celebration.  In honor of the occasion, the Union Pacific’s No. 119 and the Central Pacific’s No. 60 (Jupiter) steam locomotives met face-to-face with a single railroad tie width between them.  See painting: Celebration of the meeting of the railroad in Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869.”


    This event was the conclusion of several years’ worth of investment in time spent planning, designing, and hard physical labor of laying track.  Many an immigrant, particularly the Irish and Chinese, found work in this venture.  Across the plains and through tunnels blasted out of the seemingly impassable Rocky Mountains, the rails moved inexorably toward each other with much of the original roadbed still in use today. 


    The meeting of tracks thus created a transcontinental railroad connecting innumerable side tracks and spurs from all across the nation.  It was where the east met the west, no longer necessitating travel for months by wagon train from the Mississippi River to the Oregon Trail and points along the west coast.  Nor did it require a lengthy sail by ship through dangerous seas around the horn of South America to reach our nation’s western lands.  


    Closer to home, Sayre, Pennsylvania housed the extensive Lehigh Valley rail yard.  Completed by 1904, it held the second largest factory of its kind in the world.  Large cranes were in place to lift a locomotive and move it anywhere.  With nearly everyone in Sayre working in one way or another for the railroad, it’s been said that the huge factories were noted for building or rebuilding one steam locomotive every day during peak production.   In fact, between 1913 and 1921, the factories at Sayre built over 40 K-class locomotives.  (The History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, p.181.)


    Along with a growing railroad industry came the need of medical services for injured railroad workers. Robert Packer Hospital, established with railroad money, was named for Robert, son of Asa Packer who was the director of Lehigh Valley Railroad.  The hospital’s adjoining Guthrie Clinic was modeled after Rochester, Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic.  Donald Guthrie, MD, a graduate of Mayo, was appointed Superintendant and Surgeon-in-Chief of Guthrie Clinic (named in his honor), taking up his position in January 1910.


    Headquartered in New York City, the Lehigh Valley Railroad made an obvious impact on our region’s economy.  Begun as the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company in the 1820s, it once held a monopoly in the mining and transporting of coal.  In order to break its monopoly, the Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad was incorporated in 1846.  In 1853, under Asa Packer’s expert management, this mouthful of a company name became known simply as the Lehigh Valley Railroad.   One of its passenger trains, the Black Diamond Express, with an Atlantic 4-4-2 locomotive, held quite a reputation.  Known as the “Route of the Black Diamond” (named for the clean-burning anthracite coal it carried), the track ran from New York City, west through New Jersey to Easton, Pennsylvania, northwest past Wilkes-Barre and through numerous switchbacks to climb the mountains on its trip northwest to Sayre, Pennsylvania, then into New York by going north to Van Etten, northwest to Geneva, and finally west to Buffalo. 


    Beginning in 1876, the Lehigh Valley Railroad “took control of the newly reorganized Geneva, Ithaca, and Sayre Railroad, started by Ezra Cornell of Ithaca.  The famous university that he founded in 1865 would fill regular and special trains with college students and their families for decades.  Special excursion trains were often set up with tiered-bleacher seating on flat cars for passengers to watch crew races on Cayuga Lake as the train kept abreast of the scullers. (History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, p.126)  The line to Geneva provided the Lehigh Valley a means to construct their own line into Buffalo, but its grade out of Ithaca to Geneva was too steep for heavy freight trains to travel.  A diverging route was planned from Van Etten (then known as Van Ettenville) to Geneva along the east side of Seneca Lake.  In 1892, the new bypass was open and the line was also completed from Geneva to Buffalo.  The original route from Van Etten [through Spencer] to Geneva via Ithaca was now used for passenger trains and local freights.”  Lehigh Valley Railroad Historical Society.


    With a new luxury train scheduled for its first run on May 18, 1896, the Lehigh Valley Railroad ran a contest to name the train.  With over 35,000 entries received, the winner was Charles Montgomery, a hotel clerk from Toledo, Ohio.  His submission, Black Diamond Express, “was considered most befitting the premier train of a railroad whose history and revenues were so closely intertwined with anthrocite.”  [The History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, p.152]


    “Running from New York City to Buffalo, the Black Diamond was promoted as a train of luxury.  The 315-foot long train was the fastest in their fleet.  The Black Diamond had chefs on board who were skilled in culinary arts.  Complete kitchens had every facility present for ‘preparing and serving substantials and delicacies in most appetizing fashion.’  Day coaches were outfitted with plush velvet chairs, a large comfortable smoking room, and lavatories for both men and women.  The last car seated 28 passengers and included a parlor and an observation platform.  It was equipped with plate glass windows at the rear and wicker chairs for passenger pleasure.  Touted by the Lehigh Valley as ‘The Handsomest Train in the World,’ the roadbed it traveled soon became known as “The Route of the Black Diamond.”  Because of its appeal to newlyweds on their way to Niagara Falls, the train was nicknamed the ‘Honeymoon Express.’”  (The Lehigh Valley Historical Society took much of its information from the book, The History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, pp.152-153]

    Of course, accidents occurred for all railroads and the Lehigh Valley was no exception.  Its second worst passenger train wreck took place on August 25, 1911.  As the No.4 train headed east out of Buffalo, it derailed on the Canandaigua Outlet Bridge because of a broken rail.  One passenger car rolled over onto its side, while two others fell into the creek 40 feet below with 29 killed and 62 injured.


    Built in 1916, a 30-bay roundhouse and turntable just south of Manchester, New York was used by the Lehigh Valley Railroad on its route to and from Buffalo.  With the train yard seeing a decline in freight traffic during the post-World War II era, its doors closed forever in 1970.  Once considered the largest in the world, the Manchester Yard employed over 1000 people during its peak years.  In the mid-1960s, my dad had taken us kids on a ride to see the train yards along the Jersey shore.  Touring a round house, I can still envision the locomotive inside as it was turned onto a different track.  Fascinating stuff!

    In the decades after World War II, as better and more modern means of transportation came onto the scene with trucks traveling over better paved roads and planes reaching distant destinations in only hours, the old trains and their tracks began disappearing.  Lehigh Valley passenger service also declined, ending with the Black Diamond Express making her final run with her sister train, Star, on May 11, 1959.

     The famous Black Diamond Express on the Lehigh ValleyAbove photos and article extractions obtained from Lehigh Valley Railroad Historical Society


    As bigger and better locomotives were built throughout the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, record speeds were reached at or above 100 mph.  The first train ever to record a speed of 100 mph was the Empire State Express of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad on May 9, 1893 on a run between Rochester and Buffalo, NY.  Great Britain’s famous Flying Scotsman hit 100 mph in 1934, while the British Mallard reached a record 126 mph pulling 245 tons in 1938.  Just recently, on February 25, 2016, the Flying Scotsman returned to the tracks in England, fully restored.  Retired in 1963 when diesel engines took over, she spent a number of years pulling tourist trains along the western coast in the U.S. Press release


    Sandwiched in the years between two world wars, the largest steam locomotives were built in both America and Europe.  In the U.S., engines were often coupled together to provide strength for running with longer lines of loaded freight cars strung out behind, especially as they traversed the mountain passes of the western states.  Then, in the early 1940s, the American Locomotive Company (Alco) in Schenectady, New York built 25 of the largest locomotives ever.  They were dubbed “Big Boys,” intended for hauling freight over the western Rocky Mountains.  


    In August 2013, Big Boy Engine No. 4014 was prepared for return to the Union Pacific’s Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming from a Pamona, California museum.  Expected to begin its journey in April 2014, it will be pulled by several modern locomotives.  Following complete restoration over the next several years to full working condition, it will be put back on the line for excursions.  [An internet search of Big Boy No. 4014 will provide photos and videos of this magnificent locomotive.  Follow the story of this steam engine online here.]


    Over time, the amount of coal needed to fuel these big steam engines contributed to their demise.  In order to stay competitive with OTR (over-the-road) truck transportation and by plane, diesel and electric engines were designed and implemented.  Germany’s Rudolph Diesel designed the first successful engine in 1897 which bears his name.  By 1912, the first successful German-built diesel locomotive was also in use.  Simply put, I learned that diesel operates differently by using an oil injection as compared to a gasoline-powered engine with spark plugs. 


    Freight cars in America have often been pulled by several locomotives coupled together, providing greater strength than a single engine.  Modern locomotives are designed with diesel engines and electric generators which help them reach top speed much quicker than a simple diesel engine alone.  Thus, the “world’s first streamlined diesel-electric [locomotive was] a Denver-Chicago express” which began running in 1934.  (The Great Book of Railways)


    With the invention of electricity, it wasn’t long before the great inventors put it to use in operating trains.  Electric trains are connected to an overhead electric wire/cable which provides power.  The first electric tram, designed by another German, Werner von Siemens, was on working display at the Berlin Trades Exhibition on May 31, 1879.  His brother, Sir William Siemens, settled in England and designed the first electric railroad which began running in 1883 in Northern Ireland.  It was not until 1890, however, that London’s first electric railway began operating in underground tunnels.  London’s Metropolitan Railway soon became the world’s first subway in 1863 by using underground steam trains.  Following these world firsts, America’s first electric railway was put to use in 1895 by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with electric locomotives pulling steam trains through tunnels under Baltimore, Maryland.  (The Great Book of Railways)


    And, of course, we also have subways and elevated rails which provide convenient transportation beneath and above city streets.  In the latter 20th century, travel by traditional passenger train declined.  There are, however, some passenger lines still in operation, including scenic excursions, just as there are freight lines providing an important transportation option.  Locally, we can watch a freight train pass through Van Etten and Spencer.  I do enjoy the days when I can clearly hear its whistle and the sound of the heavy engines and cars clicking and creaking over the rails as it passes through our community, reminding us of the halcyon days of long ago.


    At the end of every freight train was the red caboose.  These cars were used until safety laws were relaxed in 1980 at which time improved safety monitoring devices were implemented.  Cabooses provided shelter and cooking facilities for the crew who were needed to switch or shunt a train or individual cars onto another track.  This was dangerous work as men could become injured or run over when coupling or uncoupling the cars.  The crew also kept an eye out for any shifting of loads in the cars, or damage to equipment and freight, or axles that might be overheating.  The cupola on top helped them keep an eye out for problems on the track or with the cars. 


    I love to watch a train, hear the whistle, count the cars, and pace my car with the train if the track is parallel to the road just to see what its traveling speed is.  I remember our fascination as kids as we watched trains and waved to the engineer or brakeman.  The son of our friends, Scott, is an engineer for CXS in the Midwest, gave a few wise words of warning in an interview several years ago:  “Please wait at railroad crossings.  If your route takes you across a busy set of railroad tracks, leave earlier for your destination.  Something that weighs 3 million pounds, moving at 50 miles per hour, does not stop fast.  It can take a mile or more for something like that to stop.” 


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    It’s been about a month since we had to finally have our family dog, Ginger, euthanized and able to share some thoughts about the old hound. While we were never sure just how old she was, somewhere towards the high end of 12-14, she was obviously old when we parted ways. And while her mind was relatively sharp ( although sometimes she stood in front of the refrigerator and barked when she needed to go out ) the sad truth is that her body was failing. Arthritis, an enlarged heart, chronic cough… as the vet said, we knew it was time.

    We got Ginger from the Elmira Animal Shelter after I saw an ad in the paper. I’d been wanting a beagle, and one day there she was. I went to visit her, later returned with my wife, and then a few days later she was home with us. Over the past seven years she made up for whatever hard life she may have had before she was at the shelter. She often got a little something we were eating and developed a special love for pizza. If one of the boys were sitting in "her spot' next to their mother on the couch, she would bark and fuss until they moved. In short, she had it pretty good here. 

    Now I don’t want to paint any fairy tale pictures about her time with us; it wasn’t always easy. Truth is, she was a difficult dog at times. We were assured she was housebroke. She wasn't. I may or may not have texted the director of the shelter, and old friend of mine, and told him he was getting her back if she peed on someone’s bed one more time. She must have heard me though, because with that threat combined with a promise of being allowed on the furniture if she caught on, one day like magic she got the message.

    Also she was listed as spayed. Well, someone at Cornell missed a tube, because she went into heat. Back to the vet for that.

    Screen Shot 2020-02-15 at 9.25.05 AM.png

    The 2012 newspaper pic that started it all.

    She got in the garbage, had farts noxious enough to gag a maggot, begged at the table, and, as she got older would eat her own poop if we didn’t pay attention. No amount of supplements or preventatives could seem to assuage her love of a frozen turd on a cold Winter’s morn. Woe unto those who let her lick their face. And for the past year or so she’d be up at night  about every two hours unless medicated enough to knock ME out. ( Seriously. Valium, Trazadone, Benadryl, melatonin… a couple more I forget now. )

    Even the vet admitted, she’d been a complicated dog. Still we loved her. She was a pain in the ass, but still, she was our pain in the ass.

    I never liked using the term “rescue” when asked where we got her. It was more a work of fate that we came into each others’ lives when we did. She needed someone to love her, and I needed something to motivate me to do something I’d long stopped doing, but loved: going for long walks daily. Makes you wonder exactly who rescued who.

    But despite all those difficulties, when the decision was finally made, it was honestly one of the hardest experiences we’ve ever gone through. Like, you know on an intellectual level that yeah, having a dog put down plain sucks. However until you experience it… I know we aren’t the first to have done it, but it was the first time for us. 

    Rather than bury her in the cold, wet ground, we had her cremated. Well worth the money if you ask me, and she’s in a pretty little wooden box that we intended to put in the ground when things get warmer. However a part of me is okay with that little box being on the mantlepiece, so we’ll see. 

    It's funny how they come into your life and when you're not looking become such a big part of it, and how much it hurts when they leave. Life isn't the same around here now, even a month later. I still eat my breakfast, which I would share with her every day, the same as when she was here. I catch myself thinking, “I need to get home and let the dog out.” I look for her on the couch sometimes when I walk in the room. Like one of this site's long time members once wrote in a bittersweet way that sums it up well: "Damned dogs."

    But you know I have to admit, it’s nice to not nearly trip and fall over her as I’m cooking supper. Yet I still have to remind myself that I now have to bend down and clean up the dropped food because she’s not there to get it the moment it hits the floor.

    Although as I type this, I could swear her box just shifted when I dropped a crumb. Strange…


    *Extra special THANK YOU to Dr Delaney, Dr Speek, and every single person on the staff at Compassionate Companion Care in Elmira. Not only for the years of excellent care for Ginger, but the added care and compassion shown other family in the final days and after. You ladies are awesome. 

  8. I have seven grandchildren; six grandsons and one granddaughter.  The six eldest are now teenagers ranging in age from 17 to 13.  Our youngest grandson turned 5 this past July.

    When the six older grandchildren were little, I started calling them all Roy, including our granddaughter.  I told them I was doing this in case I became forgetful as I got older and couldn't remember their names.  The boys thought it was hilarious that I also called our granddaughter Roy.

    The fun thing was that when all the grandkids were at the house and playing outside I would just yell Roy and they would all come running, laughing like crazy.  I thought of it as something special between us.  When our youngest grandson was born he was known as Little Roy.

    Something else I always did with my grandchildren was to randomly ask them "who loves you".  Their answers were always "you do".  I realized the other day, after a conversation with my youngest grandson that I haven't asked that question of my teenage grandchildren in a long time.

    I will have to remedy that.

    I have never seen myself as a very demonstrative person.  I always knew my parents loved me but I don't ever remember hearing the words.  Saying "I love you" is not always easy for me.  With age comes wisdom and I'm working on that, consciously saying the words especially to those who are important to me.  I don't want them to assume like I did, I want them to hear the words and know they are loved.

    Unfortunately old habits and patterns are difficult to break and my most recent reminder came from Texas.

    Hubby's cousin Patsy moved back home with her husband, Len.  They are two very kind, thoughtful and caring people.

    Patsy's mother, Aunt Marian, was such a loving, kind, thoughtful woman who loved freely and shared that love with everyone.  The first time I visited Aunt Marian and her family as a young bride, I remember feeling so uncomfortable.  They were not the cause of my discomfort, it was something within me.  You see, Aunt Marian and her family hugged each other just leaving and entering a room.  "I love you's" were said like "hello's" and you knew they were genuine.  Aunt Marian was always telling someone "you're so special", "you're wonderful", or "you make me so happy".

    Patsy reminds me of her Mom and has also reminded me that the words are just as important as the actions.  

    The other day Little Roy was riding along with me as I drove to finish my last errand, and as always he talked about everything.  The changing colors of the trees, the shapes and colors of the clouds, what his brothers did, how he cracked his Mom's cell phone and was grounded.

    We were chatting along and I asked him "who loves you".

    "You do" was his immediate reply.  He then started talking about how he won't be going to kindergarten because he doesn't like school and his next question was "Grandma, will you love me when I get big"?

    "Of course I will" I told him, "just like I love your older cousins".

    "Will you love me when I get older" I asked him.

    "Grandma, you're already old" he calmly told me.

    "Yes, I know I'm old but hopefully I'll get older.  If my hair turns white and I get wrinkles (luckily he let that go by), will you love me then" I asked him.

    "Yep" was his short and sweet answer.

    He changed the subject to where we were going next and we talked about that; one question leading to ten more.

    "Will you love me forever, Grandma" he asked out of the blue.

    "Yes I will" I told him.

    "Forever is a long time Grandma" he reminded me.

    "Yes, I know.  That's exactly how long I'll love you".

    Three little words, so very important to say.



    All rights reserved.


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    “Silent night, Holy night”. Christmas festivities in colonial America were in stark contrast to the celebrations and preparations of modern day. Christmas was celebrated by early settlers of Chemung and throughout the newly formed United States of America. New York was the 11th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on July 26th, 1788, the same year the Town of Chemung was established. Although the celebrations would not have been as elaborate as those in the cities or of the wealthy, a modest celebration would have taken place. It has been noted in writings of how generous and extravagant George Washington was on Christmas to his family, guests and servants. The Christmas of 1788 found our Country without a President, it being run instead by the Confederation Congress.[ii] The election held for the First President of the United States of America actually ran from Monday, December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789. No doubt politics would have been a newsworthy item spoken around the dinner table. Whether or not the settlers in Chemung were given the opportunity to vote is not known.

    Decorations would have been very simple by today’s standards. The German settlers most likely would have brought a small tree into their home. If they had the means to do so they might have adorned the tree with candles. New England Puritans preached against frivolity and the pagan heathen traditions of Christmas trees, Christmas carols and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”[iii] Although there were hymns, Christmas Carols weren’t actually sung until the later part of the 19th century.

    Fruit of any kind was too precious to be wasted on decorations. You would not have seen any apples or other fruit adorning the mantel. The home and church might have been adorned with what was called the "sticking of the Church" with green boughs on Christmas Eve. Garlands of holly, ivy, and mountain laurel were hung from the church roof, the walls, and perhaps the primitive church benches. Lavender, rose petals, and pungent herbs such as rosemary and bay were scattered throughout the churches, providing a pleasant holiday scent. Scented flowers and herbs were chosen partially because they were aromatic and thus were considered an alternative form of incense.[iv]

    Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians celebrated the traditional Christmas season with both religious and secular observances in the Middle Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and in the South. However, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in parts of New England by Calvinist Puritans and Protestants. [v]

    By the 18th century, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Christkind or Kris Kringle might have made an appearance at Christmastime to leave a gift. Similar figures were a jolly elf named Jultomten, who was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats and Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Babouschka and La Befana; depending on the nationality of the family home.[vi]

    Although private celebrations would have been held in the confines of some of the first log cabins and frame homes in the town, it is possible that some of the families came together to celebrate with bible readings and prayers provided by family members. Little is known about the first church erected in the Town of Chemung. It sat on the bank of the Chemung River several miles from what is now “Chemung Proper” on the south side of the river. Travel to the church especially in the cold winter months would have been difficult. A ferry would have been needed to traverse the icy water in December. For those living on the south side of the river, their difficulties would have been to travel the rutted path with their families. At that early a time in the history of the town, there were few horses or oxen and little or no carts or wagons. Most settlers would have traveled by foot. It was here where “The beginning of Christian Organizations in Chemung and Neighboring Valleys” was organized. “The site of the first church of any denomination in Chemung Valley.” It was “organized September 2, 1789 by Roswell Goff, Pastor and William Buck, John Hillman, Peter Roberts, John Roberts, Jesse Locey, John VanCamp and Elizabeth Hillman. (All Baptists)”. (A monument, located ¼ mile from the site of the church can be seen today on the Wilawana Road, located approximately 2 miles east of Wellsburg at what is known today as the Tanner Farm.)

    A small gathering met in worship, according to the early minutes of the Wellsburg Church. From this beginning, the Baptist Church grew, expanding to the building of a Meeting House in 1812 on land purchased by Abner Wells for 50 cents.[vii] The log cabin church and a cemetery were washed away in a flood. There are no remains today and no record of burials in the cemetery.

    Traditions from various nationalities were brought with the early settlers from their homes in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England States and from their homes across the Atlantic. Many of the earliest settlers arrived between the years 1788 and 1791. Depending on when they began homesteading and growing crops, their harvest and winter supplies of food may have been lean for several years. If they had a roof over their head, a warm fireside and enough food to eat, along with the courage and fortitude to better their circumstances, they were wealthy in their own right. “All is Calm, All is Bright”. 

    Merry Christmas to All,
    Mary Ellen Kunst

  10. Fall has finally arrived on Wipjibber Mountain, which means the boys of Troop 000 are back up and running after time off for summer vacation. The scouts are just back from their first camping trip for the 2018-2019 season and I’m told it was one for the history books.

    In an effort to train for next Summer’s backpacking trip in the Allegheny Mountains, the scouts hiked from the Methodist Church to the property of their scoutmaster, Gary Inzo. It was fair weather for the 5 mile hike with an overnight stop in the woods near the old railway station.

    The following morning they arrived at Inzo’s property and set up camp. The older scouts instructed their younger charges in the ways of woodcraft including cooking a meal over an open fire. I’m happy to report no injuries other than an incident in which Lawrence Hubschmidt got smoke in his eyes and recoiled, sending his pan full of half done fried potatoes flying through the air. As his spuds returned to earth, some landing in a fresh mug of coffee, just poured, Lawrence lost his balance and went rolling down the hillside, his scoutmaster following closely behind him. Lawrence was uninjured, thankfully, largely in part to the strength of the adult leaders who restrained said scoutmaster until a fresh cup of joe could be poured for him. The adults later remarked it was a good thing Inzo forgot about the shotgun he’d brought in case of a visit by a nuisance bear that’d been having around his place.

    The scouts enjoyed a rousing game of “Flashlight Tag” in the wooded section of the property until the game took an interesting turn which will not be soon forgotten.

    Bobby Joe Olson, being designated as the person who was”it”, heard what he suspected to be another scout in a nearby thicket. He snuck up on the unsuspecting boy aided only by the moonlight. He was nearly on his quarry when he heard a low, deep snuffling sound.

    “B-B-B… BEAR!!!!” he bellowed, before stumbling over a tree root and falling backwards, losing his flashlight in the process.

    Scoutmaster Inzo, seeing the opportunity to finally be rid of the bear, remembered he'd brought his 12 gauge and, grabbing it, sprinted up the hill towards the sound of Bobby Joe’s yelling. Arriving where the boy was still  thrashing in the dry leaves trying to get to his feet he took aim at the thrashing weeds where  he knew the bear stood, and let fly with two rounds of buckshot.

    At the report of the old Remington, Bobby Joe snapped to his senses. He also snapped countless small trees and limbs as he bolted into the night towards camp.

    Certain the bruin was down,  Inzo went to his tent, fetching a lantern and returned with the rest of the group. All were anxious to see the monster which nearly ate their fellow scout. All that is except said scout who was occupied cleaning up the mess in his shorts.

    Shining the lantern on his trophy, Inzo was immediately crestfallen to find not the bearskin rug he’d long desired, but Ollie, his grandson’s prize Hereford steer which until this weekend was bound for next year’s State Fair.

    The remainder of the weekend was a somber affair as scoutmaster searched for ways to break the news of the steer’s demise to his grandson. But all agreed it was a weekend they’d never forget.


                                   Community Announcements

    The Wipjibber Mountain Audubon Club will host a Pancake Breakfast at the fire department November 10th from 8-11 am. A free will donation is suggested.

    Scout Troop 000 announced they will be postponing their annual Fall Spaghetti Dinner. Instead, there will be an “all you can eat” roast beef dinner held in the dining hall of the Methodist Church on Nov. 17th from 4-7pm. Cost is $10 for those 12 and up, children $5. All proceeds will go towards the troops newly planned Summer trip to New York City.



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    The Chemung County Matters blog exists to help promote discussions about local issues. The views expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect my own, but are rather shared here in order to provide information and hopefully stimulate ideas.

    Last night the Chemung County Legislature voted 14-2 in favor of a new sales tax plan, with only Peggy Woodard (District 8) and Rodney Strange (District 15) voting no.

    The old plan has been under intense scrutiny since it was passed in 2013 for taking resources from the towns, villages and City of Elmira, causing many of them to suffer fiscal hardships.

    Numerous candidates for local office have strenuously advocated for a change in the way sales tax monies are allocated between the county and its municipalities, something that is undoubtedly part of the decision of county leaders to change course.

    However, the new plan has many problems as well.

    Prior to the vote, I offered comments to the sitting legislature about new plan as it relates to the towns and villages. I intend to describe my position in a subsequent post within the next day or so.

    John Burin, a former manager of the City of Elmira and current candidate for legislature in the 9th District, offered comments about the new plans as it relates to the city. A copy of his statement is shown below.




    October 9, 2018

    Honorable Legislators:

    On September 24, 2018 I mailed each of you a letter with supporting documentation asking that you table this proposed plan to revise the reallocation of sales tax. I also referenced a process by which the 2019 county budget and budget message could move forward without the revised plan being in place. In my op ed on September 23, 2018, I pointed out in three months, newly elected officials should have the right to vote on this multi-year funding program.

    I fully support a plan to reallocate sales tax revenue however, I believe the plan should be based on more than fund balances and debt. For example, the County apportionment of real property taxes creates an unintentional double taxation for certain services. These inequities, which are common to most of the towns/villages in varying degree, should be taken into consideration with the allocation of sales tax dollars. Additionally, from 2013 to 2018 Chemung County expenses increased $15 million dollars. During this same time period five county budgets were passed with deficits that required $10.5 million dollars of fund balance to close the gap. Future estimates of county revenues and expenses should be projected showing the impact of a sales tax reallocation plan.

    In order for our county to realize desired social/economic growth, we must work together for a common cause. It was in this spirit that the City of Elmira allowed it’s Empire Zone Benefits to be used outside the City. The City’s willingness to share its zone in early 2000 produced economic benefits we still enjoy today and will continue to enjoy into the future.

    According to the Chemung County Industrial Agency report, Project Information, December 31, 2009 the City of Elmira Empire Zone;

    *Leveraged over $700 Million of private investment.

    *Generated new property tax revenue for the County in excess of $900,000 and $1.7 million local and school tax revenue. Each year as property tax exemptions expire, the real property tax revenue increases and therefore current tax revenue is significantly greater.

    *The City’s zone created 4,500 jobs and retained 10,000 jobs.

    *14,500 jobs with an average salary of $20,000 generated $290 Million of payroll.

    *$290 Million of payroll generates millions of sales tax dollars.

    This is a billion dollar infusion of economic benefits. If not for the City of Elmira sharing its Empire Zone, Chemung County finances would be quite different today.

    In June 2016, the New York State Financial Restructuring Board commented on the City of Elmira’s Bond Rating. “Prior to June 2015, the City had a bond rating of A2 with a negative outlook from Moody’s. On June 1st, 2015, Moody’s released a new rating for the City’s General Obligation bonds and lowered the rating by five notices – to Ba1 with a sustained negative outlook. This is non-investment grade (junk bond) rating from Moody’s.”

    The reasons Moody’s cited for this severe reduction in the City’s credit rating are:

    *Significant loss of revenue from the County sales tax sharing agreement;

    *Health insurance overruns;

    *Recurring general fund deficits

    Moody’s will view new development positively however this plan that defers City debt will most likely not improve the City’s poor investment grade of bonds. The mixed use $14,000,000 development project in Elmira was granted a twenty year payment in lieu of tax agreement with the first four years being 100% exempt, after eleven years the project will pay 30% and in year twenty 60%. Property tax revenue from the affordable housing projects are restricted by law and proposed private developments have been given multi-year tax exemptions. It is for these reasons additional sales tax revenue to the City should be a part of tonight’s plan. Even if the revenue is restricted as to use, Moody’s may look favorably at a slight upgrade.

    Sound business practice would suggest that this proposed sales tax allocation is deficient of solid reasoning for the suggested allocations. Over the next three months, a cohesive legislature working together should develop a plan that addresses the needs of the community keeping in mind the future needs of county government as well as the social and economic challenges inherent with high poverty levels, effective tax rates that stagnate real estate values and the ever increasing cost of providing efficient public safety services.

    The plan before you tonight falls short in capturing these community needs. Lets take a step back, analyze the financial impact of what is being proposed and compare those findings to the needs of our community.

    Thank you,

    John J. Burin