Spring Comes to the Mountains

Spring Comes to the Mountains
Cultured Carbon County's long awaited "SPRING" Layout

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ups and Downs, Breaths In, Breaths Out in Carbon County - A writer in repose

Fall is certainly my favorite time of year to be in.
But Spring is the season that is hoped for.  On the tails of this Winter, it was yearned for.

At long last, in the past fourteen days, Spring finally arrived here.

It has been a productive winter as far as research for CulturedCarbonCounty.  Stories keep cropping up like a multi-headed hydra, as stories presented themselves and try as I might to finish one, three more would crop up in the midst.
My son Nate and his friend Cris Hess, the artist.  Atop Sleeping Bear above the Bear's Den.  Looking toward Flagstaff.
Lehighton is out of frame left, Packerton in view, Jim Thorpe out of frame right.

Extant Nature after a harsh winter - The cotton wood
catkin buds stand at the ready to spring forth across
from Tank Hollow near Stony Creek.

Today I actually said the word "hiatus" to myself, in regard to the works of this blog.  Covering local history here is an insatiable mistress.

Like this relentless winter that had still been lurking over our shoulder as of just days ago, I find writing the stories I do to be both gratifying and exhilarating but the hours it takes in front of a computer screen typing and searching away and rough drafts and checking and double checking sources, can be brutally harsh at times.  (I've actually developed an impinged shoulder from sitting here in this computer-human symbiotic relationship in delivering this blog to Carbon County.)
And here, on April 21 on the inside of the Stony Creek curve off the
Central Jersey rail mainline exists this severe overhang where
perhaps the last snow of Carbon County remains.

There are times when we take in pure mountain air, (like at Hawk Falls, along the water reservoir, of Stony Creek, or Tank Hollow) holding in its sweetness, in both mind and body.  But as I was reminded by a friend recently, we too must remember to breathe out.  Which is why the word hiatus from local history writing entered the vernacular of my brain today.

Taking in things of beauty is high on my lists of things to do to relax as the last two weeks show here.  Looking back in such as recent a proximity as today, tells me that these whirlwind of good time memories in nature are all blurring together.  In a few months and ensuing years, they will not even be dust traces in the boot treads of my memory.  So I ask for my reader's indulgences to place this little resting spot here, a post of reflection of one of the most hoped for springs in recent memory.

The following pictures are representative of some high points of beauty atop some well known peaks around these parts, Mount Pisgah, above the Black Creek, and Sleeping Bear.  Interspersed and linking them together were hikes and bike rides along the Lehigh Gorge from Lehighton to Mud Run on more than a handful of runs these last two weeks.  All of it culminated with a satisfying Easter dinner eaten outside on a grand porch of a secluded cabin in White Haven.
She is just right - My beautiful wife Kim at Hawk
Falls as it empties over the Mud Run Gorge.

I look forward to possibly taking some time to sit and read and think about something other than the multiple stories swimming around in my frontal and parietal lobes that are willing their way out through my fingertips and onto my keyboard.  Balance comes to mind.

Life can be as sweet as the teaberries found all around this county come May.  It can be as harsh as the roots of horseradish in a Dutch wife's herb garden too.  It's important to take in what is freely given to us.  It too is important to freely give.

Happy Springtime Carbon County.  Thank you.
Lock #1 of the upper Grand is newly exposed as progress toward a new bridge is made.
Old and New - As piers for the new bridge are prepared, a silent testimony to the olden days of steam trains looms
rusted at the right of the frame - an old water tender for the thirsty locomotives of the past.

The Rimbey twins clowning around at Hawk Falls entertains Kim.
Ron and Kim Along the Mud Run Gorge

Ron, Cris and Nate atop Sleeping Bear.

The Nesquehoning Junction control tower winds around the curve of the
trestle as the lookout from Mt Pisgah hovers overhead.
The forty or so odd parents and students of the Lehighton Area Middle School Fifth Grade out for the annual Spring hike to the top of Mt Pisgah and on out to the Hackelbernie Tunnel.  The hike is also completed each Fall as well.  This year's Spring Hike was on a beautiful day before Easter, April 19th.
The Black Creek Ravine is at right and the Lehigh descends past Penn Haven Junction at left.  The view from Dr. Stanley F. Druckenmiller's front porch of his old hunting cabin.  Today the property is claimed by the Lehigh Gorge State Park..

One of the Rimbey twins proves Carbon residents are friendly as he says hello to a sportsman on the fly-fishing only
Mud Run Creek beneath the highest bridge on the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike. 
The Writer in Repose - Breathing in, breathing out.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Carbon's Most Desolate Place: Penn Haven Junction...the story of Reds O'Donnell

The area around what is known as Penn Haven Junction was called “one of the most desolate places in Carbon County” in a 1905 newspaper account.  A visit there today reveals that little has changed in the 100 years since.

This shot is looking North or toward the west bound lanes of the mainlines of the Lehigh Valley and Central Jersey
lines.  The two lines on the left belong to the M & H branch which runs to Weatherly and Hazleton.  The double tower/depot of the
Valley railroad is in the center, obscuring the view of the 20-room hotel/residence that was home to Richard "Reds"
O'Donnell and his parents from the early 1940s until 1958 and the company abandoned residential workers at this most
remote spot.  The former incline planes, abondaned some 100-years earlier are still visible in the background.  The tracks on the right are following the Lehigh River while the Black Creek enters from the left of the frame, entering the river beneath the trestle seen supporting the passenger car at the right.  Photo appears courtesy of Bernard Krebs of Jim Thorpe.

Penn Haven’s location was the site of many floods, rockslides, and wrecks over the years.  With several mainlines running through here, the Central Jersey Railroad and Lehigh Valley Railroad, along with branch lines to Hazelton (Mahony and Hazleton) following the steep gorge of the Black Creek, this area was busy yet extremely remote.

Back in 1850, the emphasis of coal transport rested mainly on Josiah White's Lehigh Canal.  This area became the crowded focal point of the Beaver Meadow and Hazleton Railroads, the first steam railroad built in Pennsylvania.  It terminated here from the Hazleton fields and shipped via Josiah White’s “Upper Grand” section of Lehigh Coal and Navigation’s Lehigh Canal.
A modern view from about three-fourth's the way up the newer of the two planes givens an idea to the viewer just how desolate and rugged this place is.  The plane descending on the left of this frame was built by the Hazleton Railroad in 1859 and abandoned after the June 6, 1862 flood.  The winding S-curves along the rockslide-prone Black Creek ravine looks beautiful, however the steeply graded decline of at time 9%, in addition to the curves, have proven deadly to both man and machine.  "Mauch Chunk" and Glen Onoko Falls can be reached about seven to six miles down the gorge at left and Weatherly is just over five miles up the ravine at the right.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

(The Switchback Gravity Railroad was the first railroad of consequence in PA, dating back to the time when rails were applied to the all downhill “Stone Turnpike” in 1827.  The “Back Track,” completed in 1845, created an 18-mile loop with two stationary steam engines atop Mt Pisgah and Mt Jefferson allowing cars and passengers to return to Summit Hill.)  

The first incline was built in 1850 to try to overcome the continual rockslides and floods of the steep ravine leading from Weatherly to the gorge.  The plane was 1,200 feet long and rose over 450-feet in elevation.  The first plane installed was the one on the right with two lines.  As one loaded car was lowered, an empty car was pulled up the hill.
The Penn Haven Planes and the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company's coal wharves as they looked from across the river just two years before the flood that ended this method of transport here forever.  It did lead to the modern
way of the rail the world was moving at that time.  Photo appears courtesy of Robert F. Archer.
This is how the junction looked previous to the 1862 flood.  Back then, the
Penn Haven Junction was further south or eastward bound down the line.
The Black Creek flows between the above mountain side and the tracks
curving left.  This photo and the following photo appear courtesy of
the Central Jersey Railroad website.
You can access this informative site by clicking here.

Looking straight up the 6-lines of the 1,200 foot long planes
rising 450-feet of elevation.  The Black Creek flows beneath
between the photographer and the workers shown.  Note
how narrow the engine house looks toward the right.
Compare this image to the latter modern image of the
stone foundations.

The second incline, a four-track plane, was built by the Hazleton Railroad in 1859 but it was to be short-lived.

A walk to the top of this plane today reveals a 30-foot high rock foundation over which the cars rode over and which housed the engines which operated the machinery.  Incredibly, hemp rope was used before the advent of metal rope. 

The June 6, 1862 flood proved to show a fatal flaw in White’s grand dream.  The Upper Grand contributed to its own demise in that the dams and locks necessary to allow the coal barges to travel on the river meant that huge pools of water sat at the ready.  Once the heavy June rains began, and dams began to be breached, devastating tidal waves of flood water burst dam after dam causing a great flood and loss of life.

John J. Leisenring Jr., then Superintendent of the LCN & Co. estimated that 200 people lost their lives from White Haven down to Lehighton.  The state legislature stepped in and prohibited the LCN & Co. from rebuilding. 

These two pictures of the engine house remains belie their height.  The exterior wall on the right exposes toward the Lehigh River is about 30-feet high.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

Thus once the LVRR took over this location in favor of direct rail access, the once inventive planes of Penn Haven were abandoned.  The Hazleton Railroad was absorbed into the Valley in 1868.  Another railroad that moved through this busy intersection was the Penn Haven and White Haven Railroad.  It too was taken over by the LVRR.

There is one man, Richard “Reds” O’Donnell, who can lay claim to being the last living person to live there.

His childhood there was chronicled by a two-part story in the Times News four years ago written by Al Zagofsky (Click here for the link to Part One.  Part Two.).

All lines had section gangs of “gandy-dancers” who maintained the lines.  But given Penn Haven’s location of being miles in the middle of nowhere, the rail workers often were held over in the company’s hotel.  One half of the building was a hotel of ten rooms. 

The other half with its identical ten rooms is where Reds O’Donnell and his family lived.  By the 1950s, the railroad starting its decline into bankruptcy, they were unwilling to put money into the home despite its dilapidated condition.   
This black and white shot of the hotel at Penn Haven harkens of better
days.  The picture below was taken sometime near the year the O'Donnells
moved away, as the house was in great disrepair. 

This color picture from the late 1950s shows just one of the interlocking towers remaining of the two that can be
seen in the earlier photo at the beginning of this post.  This picture appears courtesy of Robert J. Yanosey.

Reds has many fond memories of living there.  He recalls the common and dramatic rail incidents both, as well as of wild animals like black bear playing tag with each other.  And of course were the hard working men themselves, each with a good story from working the section.  But when these men, tucked into this steep and remote intersection of the Black Creek ravine and the Lehigh Gorge, began to unwind from their working day, much of them often times would revel into long rowdy nights of hard drinking.

This even later photo shows the lone tower after the hotel was torn down
shortly after 1958, a symbol of the decline of railroading in general and
specifically chronicling the Valley's demise.  Photo courtesy of the
Central Jersey website.
Reds was born to Margaret and James O’Donnell in 1943, the last of their nine children.  James was born in January of 1896 and Margaret in 1903, making them 47 and 40 when Reds was born.

James worked for forty-seven years on the “Valley” (Lehigh Valley Railroad).   He remembers fondly how the stories would pass from the “deadheaders,” other day labors, and during the winter months of big game season, the numerous hunters who collected themselves at the desolate depot along the LVRR and Central Jersey main lines. 

Many had extended stays at the twenty-room hotel the O’Donnells called home.  (“Deadheaders” refers to workmen who travel from one depot or work section in preparation for work at another.)

The O’Donnell family rented the once fine home from their railroad owner landlords for $5 per month.  Reds’s father often questioned the arrangement, often times saying most wouldn’t live in it if they were paid for it. 

One of several locations the water supply pipe is
still visible along the plane.  Up to three times per year,
Reds and his father James would tote shovel and
rakes up the plane to clear debris away from the opening
of the spring that funneled into this pipe.  "That
water was cold and clear mountain water," Reds
recalls.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

The roof was beginning to fail and the ice cold water from atop of the Penn Haven Planes that was piped down the mountain side in a 1-1/2-inch pipe would freeze in the winter if they didn’t leave the water run full force.  He recalls on at least one occasion of how the spray from the splashing water caused an ice slick across the kitchen floor one morning.

Reds also remembers how about three times a year, how he and his father would climb the plane with shovels and a rake, and clear the debris out and away from the spring that supplied their water.

Reds recalls how much he favored the hunting season for the rowdy parties the men would have.  Hunters paid $3 per week to stay there and he recalls many large deer being taken and the stories he’d hear of their pursuits.  The men often sang, playing their accordions, fiddles and guitars.  Eventually Reds too joined them when he turned twelve.  These were some of the best hunts of his life.
Among the many hazards to rail traffic in this steep
gorge was the even present threat of rockslides.
James O'Donnell took his duty seriously and
walked the tracks of his section each time it rained
heavily to call in rock obstructions.

His father James was a “trackwalker” in constant pursuit of rockslides during the fiercest of storms, between Penn Haven and Rockport, which was about six miles west or up river.  But he also considered himself Mayor, Postmaster, Fire Chief and Police Chief all rolled into one.  Other official duties included ensuring the switches and “frogs” (the “X”-shaped connectors of the junction) were in working order and weren’t frozen in the winter time.

Back then, workers had to manually monitor canister switch heaters to keep switches working in cold conditions.  Reds said, “And you know when it’s ten degrees everywhere else, it was below zero at Penn Haven.”  This and many other situations made it necessary to employ a full-time resident at the junction. 
James O'Donnell's WWII Draft Card shows his simple address as "Penn Haven

One story goes how James O’Donnell found been doing his due diligence and found a 12-inch section of track broken out.  When he called in the problem to stop the scheduled train, the dispatcher questioned his sobriety to which James answered, “I may have been drinking, but I still know when a foot of rail is missing.”

As chronicled in the Zagofsky article, as a very young boy, Reds would have to wake at 5:00 AM to catch the 5:31 train to Weatherly.   But school didn’t start until 9:00 so he finished his night’s rest by sleeping at the train station. 

And though it was a harsh and unforgiving landscape, Reds said they never felt cut off.  The passing engineers did their best to keep them supplied with newspapers from far and wide.  Sometimes they stopped to chat and other times they simply tossed them out to them from their moving trains.  Reds remembers up to twenty different titles including the Daily Mirror and the Wall Street Journal.  They also pulled in radio stations from Indiana and Chicago.

Another pastime for the young boy was to sit in the control tower with the tower-man/telegrapher.  To this day Reds can tell you about the signals and semaphores (the “boards”) and how things operated there.  Today, the complex system of switches all across Pennsylvania are controlled from a central dispatch in Harrisburg.
Here is towerman'telegrapher John J. Bittorf Jr. as he calls
in from his Ashmore tower near Hazleton which summons
a very similar scene to the scene Reds O'Donnell had
sitting at his tower at Penn Haven.  Photo appears
courtesy of Bill Baker. 

Reds remembers how the junction had a special siding used to rest cars dubbed as “hotboxes” from over-heated brakes from the steep grade of the main line along the gorge.  The decline from Weatherly was particularly brutal for both man and machine.  There were many runaway trains due to human error and failed braking systems most of which predated Red’s time there.  (These incidents will be explored in a follow-up post.)

Likewise, sometimes engines had trouble pulling their loads up the grade to Weatherly/Hazleton branch as well as toward Wilkes-Barre/Buffalo on the mainline.  “Pusher” engines were necessary to get the 100-car coal trains up the grade.  The engines would return solo, “deadheaded.”

The post-war uptick in rail traffic was winding down but the cold war was not.  This brought an influx of government geologists who were in pursuit of uranium that was said to be contained in the exposed rock along the gorge. 

Reds remembers accompanying them with their diamond-tipped drill head the size of half-dollars.  They’d bore into the mountainside to pull out samples, careful to have him step aside when they came out as to not get hit by debris in the face and to prevent him from potential radiation exposure.

The above to views appear courtesy of the Central Jersey website.  The picture here below shows the junction
when both the Central and the Valley were both operating and is looking northward, or toward west as the trains

He also remembers watching in frozen pantomime, how the passing mail train passed by from Lehighton to Wilkes-Barre of the men inside sorting the mail on the fly, and how those men knew to look and wave to him most days. 

He also recalls how the engineers and firemen would throw him and his family hot potatoes, baked atop their boilers, as a special treat, like manna from heaven.
By 1958, the Valley Railroad ceased to require a resident worker. 

Reds was fifteen and despite pleas from his son that he wished to stay, James knew it was time for them to move.  He sought a transfer within the company. 
A modern day view shows the tracks for the most part
remaining, except for the Central Jersey lines that are
now the rails-to-trail of the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
Beyond the port-a-john in the grassy meadow-like
area at the trees is where the hotel and tower/depot
once stood.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

The house was in major disrepair with no prospects from the railroad to fix it.  It was time for the O’Donnells to say good-bye to their remote mountain home.  They were its last permanent residents.  The building was razed shortly after.

Today, tanks of propane for heating switches and solar-power aided by generators that are now replaced by underground electric, in addition to the precipitous drop in rail usage since then, all together have afforded the rail companies the ability to remove all full-time station workers from these outposts.
How the above triangle of land of the junction appears from Druckenmiller's porch.
The Black Creek white-caps can be seen at the bottom left flowing up and left.
Photo by Ron Rabenold.

It was in those last few years there that Reds became friends with Lansford physician Dr. Stanley Freeman Druckenmiller.  Druckenmiller owned a large section of land overlooking Penn Haven from above the abandoned planes of the Beaver Meadow and Hazleton Railroads.  His land also reached to the bottom abutting to the rail junction. He built a one-room cabin high in the clouds that remains there today.
This map courtesy of the Central Jersey Railroad website shows the configuration of buildings at Penn Haven from
over 60 years ago.  The Valley tower building is still two-sided as well as the lesser in size CNJ Depot.  A residence is
pictured beyond the Black Creek's entry into the river, is perhaps the stone foundation visible along the line
in a draw in the moutain.  (Click here to see photos of it on another page of this blog.)

Dr. Druckenmiller’s roots extend back to the Kistler Valley (New Tripoli) farm of his grandparents Charles and Maria (Kistler) Druckenmiller.  They were married at the Ebenezer Union Church in 1841.  Charles fought with Co I of the 176 PA Volunteers in the Civil War.  Dr. Druckenmiller’s father was Wilson, who was the sixth child of eight children born to them.  (He had five brothers and two sisters.).

By 1880, Wilson Druckenmiller was working as a carpenter but still living unmarried on his parents’ farm.  In 1883 his mother died and by March of 1894, his father has also died.  It was somewhere in this time that Wilson made his move to the coal regions of Carbon County.

From 1900 until the 1930s, Wilson and his wife Mary lived in Weatherly.  Wilson worked as a carpenter for the silk works there.  Among their children were Erasmus, Stanley, and Barton.  Though his brothers too followed their father’s laborer vocation, Stanley sought a lifetime of study of medicine.

The doctor and his wife Fan (Thomas) lived and conducted his practice at 35 East Ridge Street in Lansford.  They had a daughter named Gretchen who married William Kellow.  He was the son of Joseph Edgar and Alice Kellow of Lansford.  He was a musician at one time in Lansford and he and his wife are buried in Nisky Cemetery in Bethlehem.

William worked for Baldwin Locomotives at Eddystone outside Philadelphia for a number of years before relocating his family to Tuscan Arizona.  Even though he lived outside the area for a long number of years, he kept his ties to the Lansford Panther Valley Lodge #677 for over fifty years.

The Drukenmillers also had a son, Stanley “Thomas” Druckenmiller who was married to Eleanor (White) and had worked for DuPont in Delaware for thirty-seven years in employee relations before retiring to Lake Harmony.  Stanley died in 2005 and William Kellow died in 1997.  According to her brother’s death notice, Gretchen (Druckenmiller) Kellow was still alive in 2005 and would have been about eighty-nine.

Even though Stanley spent most of his life living outside of the area, when he died in 2005, he was buried at Weatherly’s Union Cemetery.  Perhaps there is a Druckenmiller family plot there.
Dr. Druckenmiller's WWI Draft Card.

Druckenmiller was fond enough of the outdoors to purchase the top of the former planes that were abandoned in 1862.  The property had an access road from the outskirts of his hometown of Weatherly.  The doctor had big plans for this remote hunting get-away and saw more work than he could do on his own.

That’s when Reds became Dr. Druckenmiller’s right-hand man (or “Golden Boy” as the doctor liked to call him).  Because there was no one else around, Reds was a willing helper and a godsend of help to the middle-aged doctor.
Here is Druckenmiller's privy as it looks today.  The chimney and left
side of the porch roof line is seen center of the open space to
the left of the outhouse.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

Without a phone or any other way of knowing when Druckenmiller was coming to work, Reds would be summoned to the top of the mountain by the doctor with blows from the horn of the yellow army jeep.

Hearing the horn and Reds knew he had a 450-foot elevation climb to do some work.  He’d walk along the cast-iron pipe that carried water to his home on his way.  Together, Reds and Druckenmiller would make food plots, planting pine and oak trees, and wrapping the saplings in fencing to keep the deer from eating off the tops.
Richard "Reds" O'Donnell:
I have much gratitude to Kevin O'Donnell for providing
the impetus for me to write this post which, like many,
are long overdo.  And of course to Reds too, for
graciously allowing me to pick his brain and allowing
his story to be told here.  Thanks too to Al Zagofsky
for allowing me to use this photo of Reds.

Though Drukenmiller is long gone, his cabin remains and still affords the hearty visitor a breath-taking view of the Lehigh Gorge and the steep hillsides of the Black Creek ravine.  The privy is also still there along with a few other outbuildings, all now on Lehigh Gorge State Park land.

 “I wished I had stayed in touch with the Druckenmiller’s after we moved away,” Reds now relates.  “He meant a lot to me...I guess I just kind of lost track of him due to my youth.”

Visiting Penn Haven today, one can find the solitude that Reds and Dr. Drukenmiller once appreciated here.  With a determined climb of 450-feet of elevation over 1,200-feet of run of these nearly 200-year-old planes, one can take in the peace and quiet, and enjoy the view that these men too once found in their lives.
This is the view from Dr. Druckenmiller's cabin atop the Lehigh and Black Creek Gorges today.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.
(Given its sparse and remote location, Penn Haven today can only be reached by the State Gorge Rails Trails path from Glen Onoko by foot or bicycle six miles up-river.  It is also about six miles from Weatherly on an abandoned set of tracks though it is not as easy to ride and it is about seven-miles down-river from the Rockport access.

Part two of this story will detail the fifty or so deaths from accidents and murders that occurred in the Penn Haven vicinity from the 1870s until 1910.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ode to Spring: Moonshine and Horseradish, the life and wisdom of Joyce Gaumer

There’s a certain constancy that lingers here, in pockets of woods and runs, in places where time is trapped in the ticking calls of the chickadee above gurgling springs, where kingfishers work the same worn beat as their mothers and grandmothers. 

Mountain life included getting what you
could from nature.  Which meant
harvesting what was available: Root
vegetables and greens in springtime
and black bear in the fall.  This hunt is
from the Ahner clan of Franklin Township
who had kin ties with the Eckley clan of
the mountain.  This shot from 1922.
Author's note: I've been sitting on this story since last spring (2013).  Like many of my stories, I often need some final push to finish them.  Most times, as in this case, I'm searching for that elusive last shred of the story that the perfectionist in me must have in order to finish it.  In this case, I've been waiting for to hold in my own hands that copper pitcher her grandfather caught alternating drips wintergreen oil and moonshine from the coil of their still.  It was a hard winter. I'll be sitting with Joyce tomorrow, but today is the first of spring.

It’s a steady rhythm, the Lehigh waters resound today as they did when the hardscrabble immigrants first gathered around her to work, developing a distinct work ethic unique to these woods and valleys.  

The Great Pine Swamp was home to virgin hemlocks, oaks and pines.  Development though, soon followed with sawmills and tanneries.  Then came Josiah White’s Upper Grand and the railroads and soon the forest was deflowered.

It’s not certain whether the Great Depression ever left from here, it’s embedded in a culture of remembrance, of self-reliant resilience.

Joyce (Eckley) Gaumer just remembers being poor and moving around a lot, between Meckesville to Stoney Creek.  Her Stoney Creek home for the last fifty-four years once held the postal address “Christmans.”  Today it’s Star Route Jim Thorpe or Penn Forest.
One view of the Great Pine Swamp of Northern Carbon County.  Photo
courtesy of PA Department of  Conservation and Natural Resources

Something can be said for keeping one’s roots here, connected to a land largely unchanged, though surrounded and increasingly permeated by an electronic grid that frazzles the senses and breeds an aversion to sinking one’s fingers into the earth. 

Mountain top living was austere, honest and tough.  Its people were bound to the earth, in timbering and tanning jobs.  But they also found work on the canal and the railroad as boatmen, brakemen, mule boys and firemen.
Archie Eckley's Bethlehem Steel photo.

Joyce's father was “Archie” Eckley (Archibald was born October 19, 1898).  As a young man, he worked in a stave mill along the Stoney, making slats for barrels.  

There were many sawmills here around the Great Pine Swamp, there was one where Yellow Run and Stoney Creek come together.  (Joyce's grandfather Eckley's sister Lillian married a Schock who ran Schock's sawmill at Mecksville.) Archie’s kid brother Isaac too worked at the same mill, doing the timbering.

One of the Pine Swampers or Ridge Runners, as people the mountain were known, was A. W. Smith (Anna Smith's father, Curtin Gaumer's grandfather).  He was a railroad track walker and also was a "distiller of wintergreens."

Always making do, Alexander Wilson Smith (known as "Willis") and his wife Anna secured contracts from New York City firms who procured an agreed upon number of gallons of extract a year.  the 1918 letter from Joseph H. Bowne of New York City states his firm would take twenty-five to fifty pounds at $5.25 per pound.
"A. W." and his wife Alice Smith - He was Alexander
Wilson Smith, but everyone called him "Willis."  He
worked a still but was also on the Drake's Creek
School Board.  They were parents to Annie
Smith who married Martin Gaumer, Curtin's parents.
Alice had 19 brothers and sisters.  After their daughter
Annie became an early widow, they moved into her home
in Christman's, which is today near Stoney Creek, just
up Route 903 from "This Old House."

It went into all kind of flavorings from ice cream to cough syrup.  
This is Abraham Ahner, son of Amos Ahner of Franklin Township.  He was a brother to Herman Ahner.  This
photo certainly harkens to the Bonnie and Clyde days.  Herman did know his way around the still.  In fact, our home
today still bears the scorched joists in the cellar from the day Herman's still exploded.  According to family lore,
the oil cloth on the kitchen floor above lifted off the ground and Herman's wife was scalded.  Nearly all the men
on this branch of the Ahner clan distilled spirits.  Amos had public square dances on his property during Prohibition.
Those he knew and trusted got the Applejack.  All the rest got Near-Beer.  Earning extra money with a still even ran into
Herman's offspring.  One of his sons lost all his firearms after the ATF descended upon his property in the 1980s for
operating a distilling operation.

Today, teaberry goes largely untouched here on the forest floor, synthetic flavoring being more convenient. 
The Drake's Creek School ran from October 3, 1910
to April 25, 1911 and ran for 140 days.  The calendar
was more reflective of the closeness the people of the
area held to the land.  Children were needed for farm
work from May through September.  A. W. Smith was
a school director and Annie was a student.

Joyce remembers picking teaberry leaves with her mom and grandmother Amanda Eckley (both Adam and Amanda were first generation German-Americans) at an early age.  

The sliding around on the stony forest floor on her hands and knees was tough work.  They would use a short handled wooden rake with two-inch long dowel rod tines to pull leaves and twig debris away for the five-inch tall teaberry or winter greens.
A distiller's home - Alexander "Wilson" and Alice Smith's
home near Drake's Creek.

They would take it to Paury Green who also distilled and he would sift through their burlap sacks for any foreign material, especially rocks that would drive up the cost he'd pay.  

Joyce recalls being paid five cents per pound of teaberry.  She and her cousins would try to pick at least five pounds worth for spending money for special events like their community picnics.

Other than a few times a year when they looked forward to the pin-money, most times she and her cousins would cringe when their mother of grandmother announced it was a day for picking.  It must have been difficult and dirty work, for knowing Joyce now you know how hard she works and cleans.
Annie and Martin Gaumer in early 1930s
with their only child Curtain.  Martin
died young before the start of WWII.  Annie
helped make do running a "speak easy"
on the mountain. 

Her mother would say, "Dirty windows, a dirty house."  (As well as "A dirty kitchen door sill, a dirty house.")  Note: Joyce's house is spotless.

Wintergreen can still be found in many places in Carbon County forests.  But like the huckleberry, the terrain is lacking.  Joyce cites the source of the problem due to lack of the once intentionally set brush fires.  The now frowned upon practice would burn off enough undergrowth that allowed these low growing cash crops to thrive.

Later on, once A. W. Smith gave up the still and took on the job as a bonded supervisor of the township, they would take their teaberry greens to Paury (pronounced "Purie") Green’s grocery store, who also ran a still on the side. 
An early courtship letter from Martin to Annie.  Martin's family left the mountain for the "city life" of Weissport.
This letter offers to take Anna back home Sunday if she can find a way to Weissport on Saturday.  The postcard
of 100 years ago has been replaced by more instantaneous messaging of the texts or tweets of the cellphone.

And as the Smith-Gaumer family lore goes, Curtin's grandfather would occupy his still’s slack time by making Moonshine between the wintergreen and apple harvests.  Applejack season was his favorite.  Many a hunter lodging around Lake Harmony in the late fall came calling for his cider spirits.
Joyce Gaumer poses with Curtin Gaumer's grandfather's
distilling pitcher.  The copper container caught the
drips from the copper coil, whether those drips were
from wintergreen or other mountain products.

An early picture of the Martin and Anna Guamer home.
It still stands today, relatively unchanged, near Stoney
Creek, along Route 903. 

Though some considered it bootlegging, to them it was a plain matter of making do.  Curtin’s father Martin (born May 13, 1896) died near the start of the war when Curtin was just 17, leaving both he and Anna with an extra burden.  Anna like many others on the mountain enhanced her small grocery business with a little speakeasy, selling ‘shine and beer.'

Sometimes the revenuers would come to claim their share in raids and stings.  But the Pine Swampers went on about their business, in full knowledge of those possible setbacks, just as one looked upon the coming of a hard winter, taken as a matter of course, as something one simply endured.

The final raid came in November of 1950.  The agents, dressed in the clothes of house painters, were escorted by a here to be nameless man married to Joyce’s sister Marie.  Legend says the licensed inns on the mountain paid the said man $100 to help root out the speakeasies.

Curtin Gaumer was a veteran of the Great War, surviving the beaches of Normandy.  And when he came home he reacquainted himself with Joyce, the girl next door. They married in 1949.
Curtin and Joyce Gaumer homestead next door to
Anna Gaumer's home.  Joyce and Curtin built this home
side-by-side, like that did so many other things in life.

Joyce and Curtin were as natural together as the cool beneath the pines.  When he went fishing, Joyce fished too.  They loved to fish together, occasionally traveling to Canada.  When his old Dodge truck needed a tune-up, she stood across the fender, taking care of the plugs on her side of the block just as well as Curtin took care of his.

In 1959, the wooded lot of pines and oaks next to his mother’s home and store was cleared by Curtin and Joyce with their two-man saw.  Together they drew up the prints and took the timbers to Milton Schock’s sawmill. 

Curtin loved to make homemade wines, like dandelion wine, from oranges, lemons, currants, raisins and of course sugar and dandelion.  He was a foreman on the railroad and Joyce worked in Dr. Thomas’ office and after his passing she continued working in Attorney Carol Walbert’s office.

When they both retired, they took a cross-country trip, across the north, through the Badlands, Yellowstone, to the space needle in Seattle and along the Puget Sound.  They enjoyed salmon cooked on open-grills by the Northwest Indians as well as fresh caught tuna in Oregon. 

They returned through California, saw the swallows of Capistrano, then onto Texas, and the Grand Ole Opry.  They saw Lincoln’s log cabin of his birth in Kentucky.  Joyce was struck by its primitiveness, lacking windows.  
Spring emerges with promise of life.
The horseradish emerges during the
dogwood winter in the Gaumer back yard.

Joyce set the “Dogwood Winter” as our appointed date to meet to make some horseradish, a time of the first warm days just after the last of the snow is gone, when the blooms of the Dogwood set.  Had we waited too long past the early, hoped for Spring, the horseradish would otherwise become too “pithy.”

I waited for Joyce to come home, she arrived in Curtin’s old black Dodge, her “fishin’ truck.”  Once again she showed up the men at “the Pond” up in the Swamp, catching four meaty brookie’s in less than two hours.  She soaked them in the kitchen sink while she went to work chopping up the horseradish roots. 
Joyce once again shows up the men at her favorite
fishing hole.

We saved the peelings and the tops to replant, most of which ended up on my patch, the former farmette of Herman Ahner in Franklin Township, who also knew his way around a still.  And along with it, comes the hope that the tradition will carry on. (Click here to read more on the Herman Ahner family.)  

And now, just a few weeks later, the green leaves are already reaching into the air, to produce white flowers by June.

One of the smaller roots to go into our horseradish.
The peelings though, were transplanted to the Rabenold
homestead in Franklin Township so the tradition can be
restarted at the former Herman Ahner homestead.
In talking of these old habits, of reaping sustenance from these springtime offerings, Joyce laments, as perhaps only a Dutchwoman of her generation can, of how “young people today don’t take the time to do the simple things,” like picking dandelion greens for salads and making home-made hot bacon-dressing for on top.  (The key is to pluck the leaves before the flowers emerge.) 

She was always told how dandelion was good for “cleansing the blood.”  Of course there is science today that supports this Dutch wisdom, citing dandelion’s plentiful iron and antioxidants.   

Joyce also remembers how the Swampers would forage through the hills for early spring teaberry sprouts, coming up in a deep burgundy color.  These were sought after because they too were good for the blood.

It’s the same wisdom that tells her to put bay leaves in her cupboards to keep the ants away each spring.  It’s common sense. 

We placed the pieces of horseradish root into her food processor, adding “enough vinegar (only use white vinegar) to hold it together, to make it wet.”   

We underestimated the power of our creation, it having thoroughly cleared our sinuses to such a degree that the open window wasn’t enough.  We had to finish bottling it out on the porch. 
Joyce reels from the vapor.

We took to the porch as we were overcome by the strong horseradish vapors.

We took our rest at the kitchen table, reflecting on our productive day over a glass of Curtin’s last bottle of dandelion wine.  It was labeled “1984.”  

We were warmed not only by our friendship and our little homesteader’s project but also by Curtin’s labors of so long ago.  

We drank a toast, to spring and to the many springtime gifts, to Curtin, and to all good things that had passed, to the simple things, to the goodness of life to come. 

If you have the pleasure to talk to Joyce you won't miss the joy in her voice when she speaks of her departed husband.  The two were surely happy.


The following account has been transcribed word-for-word from The Miami News of Palm Beach, August 18, 1928 describing the wintergreen industry in the Pocono Mountains:

Waning Wintergreen
The old mountain industries die out as we progress.  The wintergreen still, under pressure of the black birch, in on shaky legs.  A few wintergreen distillers may be found up in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania and in several adjoining states, but they grow fewer. 

The evergreen teaberry, or checker berry, is one of the commonest of mountain herbs.  It is a pretty plant.  Its flowers are white and bell shaped, its leaves of a leathery texture.  Pleasantly flavored red berries follow the blossoms, but the wintergreen is distilled from the stems and the leaves.  The checker berry grows in great abundance in the mountains of the Atlantic states and once yielded a fair income to collectors.

The remaining stills not infrequently afford a means of livelihood to several families each.  Wintergreen oil was once a common cure for rheumatism.  It is widely used now as a flavoring in cooking, medicine, chewing gum and confections.  The distiller finds a market for all he can produce, but his small-capacity plant cannot compete with the chemist who produces synthetic wintergreen or extracts, as a substitute, the oil of the black birch.

Most of the gatherers of the checker berry herb are women.  An efficient picker can collect 200 pounds a day, but the average is 125 pounds.  This is brought to the crude outfit of the distiller, who pays about $3.25 for 100 pounds.  The plants are put into the still with water.  The container is sealed airtight.  A fire beneath the great kettle boils the mixture.  The condensed vapors drip from a coil into a jar.  The oil sinks to the bottom, and the waste flows off the top.  Then the oil is filtered and sold.  The day’s production averages from two and one-half to three and one-half pounds of oil.

The distiller as a rule makes little more than 250 pounds of oil in a year.  More energetic and larger operators have produced 600 pounds, but that output is rare.

The extracting of the oil from the bark of the sweet or black birch is a forest industry which has supplanted, to a great extent, the picturesque figure of the wintergreen distiller.  In time it will be crowded out by the artificial product.  The dawning synthetic age is due to bring many changes.  It will be a more efficient, but hardly as colorful, era.