Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Tar roads and clanking bells in Waterford
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

I was born in Waterford and spent the best years of my life growing up there in the 1940s and 1950s.

When a person is young, he is so busy being a kid that he takes things for granted. I never dreamed how my town would change. Heck, I never even thought about it. But change it did, and sometimes it's hard to remember how things were back in the good old days.

I do, however, recall a few things of interest.

Until World War II ended, none of Waterford's streets was paved, except for East and West 3rd Streets, which are state roads. In the summer, things got pretty dusty between rains. But before the season was too far along, the streets would be scraped with one of those big Galion road graders. You know the kind - rear engine, tilting front wheels, center-mounted blade, sort of skeletal-looking.

It was a good time for me. I loved big machinery. Still do. One of my fantasies was to drive a road grader. Still is.

Sometimes after the grading was done, oil was sprayed on the streets. At other times, dry calcium chloride was sprinkled on them. The chloride absorbed water from the air and soon became wet. In either case, the dust was kept in check for a while.

The most lasting dust control came from a big tank truck with tar gushing from a row of "faucets" at the rear which would slowly spread a coat of glistening blackness on the road. Lots of folks hurried to close their windows because the tar was rather odoriferous. It didn't bother me. I kind of liked the smell of it. The tar hardened up after awhile, and it was almost like a paved street. (CAUTION: If the urge ever seizes you to walk barefoot in fresh tar, don't!)

There was a man who used to walk very rapidly along the sidewalks bordering these streets. He bought rags from anyone who had rags to sell. As he was striding along, he would holler, "Rags, rags, rags!" Actually, it sounded more like, "Regs, regs, regs." His voice had a peculiar duck-like quality and was really loud. I could hear him a block away, and it used to scare the daylights out of me when I was five or six years old.

I don't know who he was, or where he came from, or where he went, or what he did with the "regs."

Waterford's old Town Hall stood on High Street just a little south of East 2nd Street, The bank is there now. The Town Hall was a white, frame building with a belfry complete with a bell. I only heard the bell twice: once in the middle of the night when the Allies invaded France, and another time when the fire siren was being repaired. It probably sounded on V-J Day, too, but so did every other bell, siren, whistle, and horn, so it was hard to tell. The bell was kind of clanky-sounding, not like the pleasant tones of the church bells.

Council meetings were held on the second floor of the Town Hall, and the fire truck was kept on the ground floor. The 1930s vintage fire truck had an open cab and a hand-cranked siren. It looked like a fire truck ought to look.

Floyd Irwin usually drove the fire truck. Floyd had a grocery store and had been friends with my folks forever. Because he drove the fire truck, he was a celebrity in my eyes. I always wanted to ride in it with him, but not to a fire, that was too scary! I just wanted to ride in a parade or something, but it never happened. I had to wait 40 years for a ride in a fire truck. It was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it! But, gee, I wish I could have gone with Floyd.

I don't remember exactly when the Town Hall was torn down, but afterwards, the fire truck was kept in a garage on West South Park Row. After the war, the Stancliff Hose Company purchased two new trucks: a Ford pumper and a Chevy tanker. I remember watching the firemen practice with the new equipment on the baseball diamond.

Around that same time, a new firehouse was built on the southeast corner of the Diamond. Today, that building is the borough building/library.

Of course, these were the days before 9-1-1. If you had a fire, you called Eddie Briggs, and he sounded the siren. Eddie was crippled in an auto accident before my time. I knew him only as the guy on crutches who blew the siren. The strange thing is that when the siren went off, everybody in town called Eddie to find out where the fire was. I assumed that's the way the fireman found out since emergency radios weren't around yet.

Along the south edge of the Diamond, a large concrete grandstand was build in the late 40s to accommodate spectators of the athletic events, which were mostly high school football and baseball. However, Waterford did have an adult baseball team, as did many other small towns back in those days. Dad and I went to those games quite often. Little League was yet to come.

But the most important function of the grandstand (in my view, anyway) came each September when the Waterford Fair set up on the Diamond. It was from the grandstand that we viewed the "free acts" each night of the fair, hosted by the perennial emcee, Sheriff Paul Babbitt. At least two or three times each year, Sheriff Babbitt would introduce an act by saying he or she came from a place, "where the wind blows hard and the ducks fly backwards." We must have heard that line a million times over the years, and yet it was funny each time.

During most of the 40s, we lived on East 2nd Street, so the Diamond was just a short walk down the alley that ran behind our house. We just about took up residence at the fair for those four days in September. So did everyone else in town.

Across High Street from the Diamond is The Park. I don't remember any organized activities being held in The Park except for the Memorial Day services (we called it "Decoration Day" back then). Among other things, Mr. Thomas Shallenberger always recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Mr. Shallenberger was a retired high school teacher. I didn't know him well, but I was in awe of him nonetheless. When he gave the Gettysburg Address, I thought he was Abraham Lincoln!

Both my mother and father were in Mr. Shallenberger's classes when they were in school. I was told many times that he could write on the blackboard with either hand! I used to try, but to no avail. One hand is trouble enough for me.

The speeches in The Park were given from the Pavilion. The younger generation doesn't use the word "pavilion" nowadays. They call it a "gazebo." Gazebo is a perfectly legitimate word, but to me, it sounded like some kind of antelope. I do not like the word "gazebo." The structure in The Park will always be the Pavilion as far as I'm concerned!

The old Pavilion was torn down several years ago, and a new one was built in its place. It looks about the same as the old one except that it's only half as tall. But it's nice, and I'm glad the old one wasn't torn down and just forgotten.

During World War II, the American Legion erected a "Roll of Honor" at the edge of The Park facing High Street. It was a billboard-sized sign that listed all the Waterford area men who were in the service. I think most small communities had one. It's gone now, but I do have a photograph of it.

Speaking of photographs, here's some advice for younger readers: No matter where you live, the place is going to change. And chances are that someday, in your old age, you're going to try to remember how things were and you may not be able to. So, get a camera and take a few thousand pictures of your town. You'll be glad you did! I wish I'd have done that, but I couldn't. I didn't have time. I was too busy trying to get the tar off my feet.

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