Hart, Milton - Stories

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY

Milton Hart - Stories

Milton and Ruth Hart 2006

I was born Feb. 6, 1926 in the Albany City Hospital. On the Hart side of the family, my great grandparents built the first hotel on Thompson’s Lake, in 1876; it was called the Lakeview Hotel. My grandfather was a young guy helping to run the place. I have heard a lot of great stories about the New York crowd coming up to spend the summer. One I can recall is about the Bob Cat. My grandfather and a friend darn near ended up getting shot. They had a tin can they put rosin on and ran a string thru it and when you pulled the string it would howl. The people around the lake thought it was a Bob Cat. They would use this in different locations and then run and hide in the woods. After about two or three weeks, half the guys were toting their shotguns around, but they never did see any cats. It wasn’t until years later that the true story got told. My grandparents sold the hotel in 1906. My grandfather and father then moved to Berne and ran the Mill.

We had a furnace in the basement and a wood stove in the kitchen. My job after school was to empty the ashes and make sure the coal bin was full. I used to stay at school in the wintertime and play ping-pong as long as I could. In the summertime my favorite sport was baseball. All the kids within walking or biking distance would hang out at the ball field at school. In the winter they let us stay around school and play in the gym until Ivan Mattice, the janitor showed up and put us out. We had two ping-pong tables set up in the lower corridor all winter.

The bus companies used to bring their busses out for a demonstration and take people around for a ride. Insurance wasn’t such a big factor back then, so we kids would stand around and ask for a ride whenever there was a demonstration. We would hop on and they would take us up around Warner’s or Thompson’s Lake or over to South Berne and back.

I can remember being out on the front lawn of our house on Rte 43, with Bobby Hill and Johnny Herrick, watching the road crews bring the crushed stone in and mix it with the amasite and lay it down. That was a big deal to a bunch of little kids, watching them pave the road.

As a kid, I usually hung out at the old mill, my folks place, or at Fred Hochstrasser's Store. We would hang out at one place or the other until we became a nuisance and then either Fred or my grandfather would throw us out. I remember the year Frank Buck became quite famous, he went to Africa and other places. He would wear a pith helmet in his adventures. Well Shultes store saw an opportunity and got a whole bunch of pith helmets. I think every kid in town wore one that summer. Percy Law had a store by the bridge in town, and he sold Fro-Joy ice cream. The Popsicles used to come in a box and there were a few that had a stick that said free on it. When you got one of those, you could trade it in for another pop, Percy would turn those in to the company for credit. All us kids used to save up our free sticks and wait for a good hot day and all of us would go down to Percy’s store. We would go in one at a time and get our Popsicle and then go right back in with the free stick we had been saving. After about three or four kids, we were driving him crazy and he would shove that box aside and open another one, of course it wasn’t costing him any money. I don’t think anyone has ever lived or is alive today that could top old Percy at dipping a cone. That man could dip ice cream with that scoop he had and when he got done and placed it on top of the cone it looked the size of softball and it only cost $.05. When you got outside and took the first bite you found out that the entire middle was nothing but air. He was notorious for this, so we would wait until he went up to the house and then we would go in for our ice cream. Usually it was his daughter Irene who took over, and she would give you a real good cone.

When I was younger, my grandfather would make up some excuse to leave the mill and he would slip out the side door and go across the street to Clint Farrell’s Berne Hotel [Charles Clinton Farwell (1874-1950)]. He would meet some of his other buddies there like old Percy Law and Doug Hinman the attorney. They would all have a couple of $.05 short ones and then he would come back to the mill. If it were a good hot summer day the process would repeat itself every couple of hours. I think he made up excuses so I wouldn’t know he was drinking. That group kind of kept old Clint in business. Clint always liked kids, but we were never allowed in the bar room, we had to stay out front in the lobby. We used to go in there because we liked his soda. I believe it came from J. Fairlee in Altamont. I can still taste it now; he made the best ginger ale, man that had some bite.

Sanford Shultes ran the store right at the intersection [ Shultes and Adams Store ] and his son Franklin ran it for a while after him. Sanford who we all called Sant, sold mostly groceries and a little bit of hardware but not too much. At that time the mill was strictly a farm store where you went to get feed or get grain ground. When the ice would go out of the old milldam in April, Bobby Hill, Johnny Herrick, Joe Jaycox and I would start to build a dock behind Pete Bassler’s house. There was a nice deep hole there and we would have our dock and a rope swing in one of the old elm trees. We used to go into Sant’s store and try to wrangle him out of some nails because we didn’t have any money. We only needed two or three handsful to put our dock together and he usually came across. When I was in about the second grade I used to walk down to the corner and get the bus coming from Knox. One morning it must have been -30 and the wind was blowing very hard. My Mother bundled me all up including a scarf and sent me down to the corner. Sant never did show much emotion, but when I showed up at his door that morning, he put his arm around me and brought me in.

“ My gosh, my gosh, Jr. why would anybody have school on a day like today.” He went over to the telephone and called the principal of the school Mr. McKean. Sant was treasurer of the school at that time. He gave him hell over the phone about having these kids stand out in weather like this. Just about that time the bus from Knox rolled up and I got on. Well the heaters on the bus back then were not very good and old Philo LaGrange who was driving had about a 6 inch hole too see out of the windshield. Old Sant’s message must have gotten thru because when we got to school, old McKean the principal met us in the yard. When Philo opened the door, he told him to bring us all back home, school had been closed down for the day.

On the top of the hill was Fred Hochstrasser's Store. This was more of a general store. Fred was hooked up with Albany Hardware and Iron. I remember he sold everything from shotguns, rifles, ammunition and a little bit of groceries. He was quite a jokester old Fred was. Whenever us kids were around he would have to ask us the question, if 2+1 was shoe polish, and 3+1 was oil, what was 4+1. Well the first time we bit, saying we didn’t know, 5 he would say and then laugh and laugh over this. Of course he would ask us the same question the next week and if we said 5 it would ruin his day. So we always went along and pretended we didn’t know the answer. One day a truckload of watermelons came out from the city for Fred’s store. Well we kids saw that and we could just taste some of that melon. Fred told us that if we would help unload the melons and carry them to the back of the store, which was partially underground so it would stay cooler, he would treat us to some watermelon. When we were finished, he cut up half a watermelon and gave each of us kids a nice big slice. “I got some new stuff to put on it” he said and he came out with a little red bottle of Tabasco sauce. Well we had no idea what it was and he proceeded to sprinkle some on everybody’s melon, mine, Bobby’s, Johnny’s, Bill Flagler’s and Frank Becker, the whole crew. Well we all attacked that watermelon at about the same time. Well wow, the smoke was coming out of our mouths and Fred standing there laughing like crazy because he had put another one over on us. At the time we didn’t think it was very funny and we wanted to kill him, but we were taught to respect our elders. After he had enjoyed his little joke long enough, he cut the other half of the melon and gave us some that we could enjoy.

Ralph Barton bought the old Settler’s Store Settle's Store, which is now the Berne Food Store. He had the first of the modern markets; he got hooked up with the Van Curler food stores. I think they were the forerunners of Central Markets and then the Price Chopper’s. It was like a co-op that he belonged to.

Upstairs was a hall where the Maccabbees held their meetings and I believe they eventually built the present Masonic Lodge. When their membership dwindled they sold the lodge to the Mason’s. The bottom floor of the Masonic Lodge was Brunk’s Funeral Parlor. Floyd Brunk ran the parlor for many years until it closed in the 1950s The Grange got organized about WWII and they shared the upstairs with the Mason’s. Now getting back to Ralph Barton, he used to have flyers like you get in the newspaper today. Every week he would give us kids a soda as payment for delivering the flyers to all the homes around the village. I delivered to Jug Street on my bicycle about as far as where White Sulphur Springs was. The other kids did the west end of town and down on the flats.

Across from the school was a barbershop run by George Angle. School was different back then, you could bring a note in and during study hall you could go across the street for a haircut. At about this same time Alvy Hill had a barbershop next to the S. S. Shultes store, he was Bobby Hill’s father. As a matter of fact there was a shed connecting the two buildings. A guy could pull his horse and wagon in and hitch his horse while he shopped or got a haircut. Alvy retired not too long after George started at the other end of the village. Alvy was a Spanish American War veteran and was getting older so he retired. George was quite a character, he could argue a point either way, and he would always take the opposite view of who ever he was talking to at the time. Mike Willsey, Johnny, Stew Becker and all of us who knew each other would go over and get a haircut. We wouldn’t all go on the same day, but close together whenever we had a study hall. One of us would go over and start it, like boy what a president Roosevelt is. Then George would start about what a bad job Roosevelt was doing and how he was ruining the country and he was the worst president we ever had. The next kid to go over for a haircut would remark about the lousy job the president was doing. George would start right in about all the wonderful things he was doing for the country and how he thought he was the best president we ever had. No matter what the subject was, he would always disagree with you.

New teachers coming to the school was always an exciting time. First you had to find out if they were single and then proceed from there. Many around here can attest to the fact, like Tony Yarmchuck, Herb Quay , Jim Knox, and I. How the local boys took care of the new teachers and took many of them out of circulation. Soon after you were married, you knew you were going to be serenaded by the locals. You never knew what night it was coming, but there it was, shot guns going off and Tony Yarmchuck carrying around a big buzz saw blade on a stick and another fellow hitting it with a 4lb. Sledgehammer. All this sure made a very loud racket and woke you up. When this happened you were expected to get up and entertain and feed all of your unwanted guests. I was told that one time they carried the bed outside and another when they dropped a quarter stick of dynamite down the chimney and blew the stove apart.

I served with the 20th Armored Division in WWII. We were rather late getting over there and the battle of the bulge was mostly over. We traveled down thru Belgium and Holland, in fact the 20th Armored, liberated the Jewish concentration camp at Dachau. We were way down near the Brenner Pass when the war ended. Fortunately for us, dropping the A-Bomb probably saved our lives. We were one of the first outfits back from Europe, and ready to go to camp Cook in California, where we eventually ended up doing amphibious training. After training we were to head right out for the Pacific to take part in the invasion of the Japanese homeland. After the war ended, the Historians figured there would have been about 40% casualties in an invasion.

The day I got off the boat in New York City, we disembarked, and all the little kids were running around with newspapers, “America drops the A-Bomb”, so I have to believe that event probably saved my life. When I came home from the service, my old man was hell bent he was going to send me to college. He wanted me to use the G I Bill, but I didn’t want to go. I told him if he harped on it too much more I was going to re-enlist. I worked at the mill with my father and grandfather and a couple of hired hands. When my father died I had the responsibility of running the mill and I had just gotten married a couple of years earlier. I talked my wife Ruth into becoming the bookkeeper and secretary. When my mother died there was just the two of us, but it kept us pretty busy most of the time until we retired in 2000. Who knows, if my knees hadn’t given out I might be there yet.