Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Those Snowy Waterford Winters
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

For the past 40+ years or so, I have made a rather intensive study of weather, climate, and the seasons.

Much of this study has been by book, and even more by observation. I even taught meteorology in high school for several years. I have finally reached a conclusion: Summer is much nicer than winter!

What astounds me is that upon looking through the photo albums, I see there was a time when I apparently enjoyed winter. That time began in the early 1940s in our old hometown of Waterford.

These were the days before "wind-chill factors" and "lake effect snow." Oh, they existed, but not by those names. It wasn't necessary. We knew that when the wind was blowing, you should probably bundle up a little more or stay inside. And snow -- well, as you all know, Waterford was squarely in the middle of the snow-belt (another term we hadn't heard of then).

We Waterfordians know all about snow, and it doesn't much mater whether it's caused by the lake or a Canadian air mass or an angry snow god. Snow is snow, and we always got a lot of it!

All of us in the four-year-old range knew that snow was great stuff to play in, and the more the better! Of course, there were some drawbacks, and getting all bundled up was one of them.

Dual purpose!

It seems I was usually wearing corduroys that time of year, and trying to stuff them into flannel-lined snow pants was a real hassle. The outer layer of snow pants was wool, not exactly fuzzy, but sort of hairy. It collected snow like no other substance known to man. I thing it actually attracted snow. At least it looks like it did in some of the old photos.

Boots were the over-the-shoe kind, and hats were thickly lined helmets that strapped under the chin. A heavy coat with big buttons, one or two pairs of woolen mittens, and a scarf completed the outfit.

Tied semi-tightly over mouth and nose, the scarf served a dual purpose: 1) nose/mouth/chin warmer; and 2) handkerchief.

Now I was ready for the great outdoors, the first hurdle being getting down the steps. Stuffed into all that clothing, walking was pretty much a rolling, side-to-side gait. The three steps down off the porch were tough to negotiate.

Once on the ground, everything was all right unless I encountered a snowdrift of a few inches or so. The danger here was that I might fall down and if I landed on my back, it was all over. It was much like being a turtle, except that a turtle has a lot more mobility.

Hot bumper!

Sooner or later -- usually sooner -- I'd be ready to go back inside because I had to -- well, you know what I had to do. Getting into the house could be a problem, too. For one thing, there were the steps again; and for another; I couldn't get my arms up high enough to reach the doorknob. So, I'd just stand there until someone came looking for me, hoping it wouldn't be too long.

It was always nice to get back inside the warm house after those 10-minute arctic adventures.

There were still many houses without furnaces in those days, and our house was one of them. We had big kerosene heaters in the kitchen and dining room -- "Sunray" and "Duotherm" respectively. These stoves were about two feet square and five feet high. In the coldest part of winter, I think Dad filled their fuel tanks once each day.

In the living room, we had a hard-coal heater. This was a huge, cast iron stove with lots of shiny nickel trim. It sat on a metal-covered asbestos stove board, and we had a sheet of asbestos on the wall behind it. (This was before asbestos was found to be dangerous.)

The stove had isinglass (mica) windows in the front and on both sides so you could see the orange glow of the burning coal.

This particular heater was a "magazine" type, which meant you dumped the coal from the coal scuttle into the top of the stove instead of through the front doors.

No heating unit ever put out hotter heat than that old stove. What a great place to be on a cold winter night, and an even greater place on a cold winter morning. I used to grab my clothes and head for the living room to get dressed for school.

One morning I got careless and inadvertently stuck a bare toe on the nickel "bumper" around the mid-section of the stove. HOT! Hot enough to raise a blister and generate a few tears. I did, however, get to stay home from school that day, so it wasn't a total loss.

When I was in second grade, the winter that began in the tail-end of 1944 and spilled over into 1945 was a super-deluxe winter. I don't remember any specific snow amounts, but I do know we had all the snow anyone could ever want.

A new furnace!

Schools were closed for awhile, and we were all "walkers." We had to go to class on a couple of Saturday mornings to make up some of the time missed.

Our neighbor's roof was so loaded with snow that she hired a man to shovel it off. It was nearly waist-deep, according to old pictures.

Snow removal on the municipal level back then was as good as or better than it is today. The streets were plowed with the one and only borough truck by the one and only borough employee. He used to plow all night to keep the streets open, and he did a great job.

The sidewalks were also kept clear. The borough had a horse that pulled a big, wooden, V-shaped plow. They did all the sidewalks in town, walking behind the horse and plow every time it snowed.

In 1949, my parents bought a house up on Cherry Street, and that house had a furnace! There was heat in every room! Imagine that!

The furnace burned soft coal and was fired by a stoker, "Iron Fireman" by name. The stoker was an automatic coal feeder controlled by the thermostat upstairs. When the thermostat called for heat, a shaft -- which looked like a huge screw -- began turning at the bottom of the stoker's hopper. It forced coal into the furnace along with an air supply for draft.

Hard like coral!

My job was to keep the hopper full of coal. Two or three scuttles of coal were required each day, but sometimes I'd really load it up so that I could skip a day.

This furnace didn't produce ashes; it made rock like clinkers, sharp and hard like coral. Each night, the clinkers had to be dug out of the furnace with long clinker tongs and deposited in five-gallon metal buckets. Once a week or so, we'd haul the clinkers out of the basement and dump them in the driveway.

It also became my job to drive the car back and forth to mash down the clinkers. Not bad duty for a 12-year-old. That driveway ended up with a better base than the highway.

Back outdoors, my neighbor Bud and I did a lot of sledding on a small hill behind our houses. I spent some time following animal trails in the little woods at the top of the hill. We built snowmen and made snow angels. I found that if you lie on your stomach when making a snow angel, it will not only have wings, it will have a face, too.

Sometimes I would content myself by snow-balling the garage. The idea was to spell a word or draw a face with the splattered snowballs. It was fun, and the garage couldn't throw back.

Once I went with Bud to check his trap line. It was snowing hard, those big snowflakes the size of silver dollars. There was no wind, and the snowflakes drifted down lazily, but thick enough so that we could see only a few yards ahead. It was the kind of snow everyone wants for Christmas Eve.

I had never been one to stray very far from home. So that, combined with the blinding snow meant that I was completely lost within 10 minutes of leaving the house.

It was great fun, and it seemed to me like we were in the Northwest Territories, or maybe somewhere between Dawson and Selkirk. Twelve-year-old imaginations are great, aren't they! If Yukon King had been along, I'd have felt just like Sergeant Preston. And if you don't know to whom I'm referring, well, you're just way too young!

You know, all this reminiscing has made me think that maybe winter isn't so bad after all.

Maybe I should go outdoors and build a snowman or wade through a big drift or throw snowballs at something.

Of course it is awfully cold out there.

I might slip and fall or catch a cold or get the flu. It would probably take an hour to get all bundled up.

I don't think I even have a scarf. And my arthritis always acts up when it's cold.

No, I was right in the first place. Summer is much nicer than winter!

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