On Jan. 14, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Blue Star Restaurant in Schoharie. The contingent of Old Men that attacked the Blue Star was large in number.

The OFs thought it was the good weather that brought so many to the breakfast, or maybe it was just timing. One OF started counting backwards the last three or four Tuesdays, and recounted the temperature for those Tuesdays, and it was zero or below.

Tuesday was 40 degrees when most of the OFs started out. This OF, too, may be right — it could be the weather.

The OFs started talking about how the concern for our country’s past is quickly being lost by many of our young people because of the desire for the dollar.

So much of the country is being bought up and torn down to build this mall or that mall, or this housing development or that development, or this parking lot or that parking lot; soon all the young people will have to remind them of their heritage will be photographs.

The OFs said that many developers will destroy a historic building to build a mall when two miles down the road is a mall that has been abandoned. The OFs can’t understand this, and the thinking of the town fathers that let it happen.

“It all comes down to greed, and greased palms,” one OF said.

“And who owns what,” another added.

The OFs mentioned two barns that are in good shape coming down. The key word here is “good” shape. The OFs agreed that, if something is ready to come down around its ears, tear it down before someone gets hurt and replace it with something useful. So often that does not seem to be the case.

Maybe it is because the OFs are antiques themselves that they are concerned with preserving antiquity. It is thought that thousands of people travel thousands of miles to countries abroad to see, touch, and feel buildings, streets, and communities of old, and here, in many cases, we bulldoze the same things down.

Moldy material

The OFs discussed the newer composite decking material that was supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. Some of the OFs who have used the material say there is, in a short period of time (depending on location), mold that appears quite quickly on this material.

These OFs said that, once the mold does occur, the material becomes very slippery. One OF went so far as to purchase a pretty good-sized pressure washer to wash the mold off.

One OF also said, the older the material is, the quicker the mold reappears. None of the OFs knew why this happens or if it is something they missed in the instructions.

For instance, should their deck be located where it receives a lot of sunshine?  One OG said the stuff is expensive, and he is stuck with it now.

“Oh well, live and learn,” one OF pined.

 Better doesn’t always win

One OF mentioned that his kids gave him a new iPod. (This scribe thinks this is right.) And, if this scribe understood the OG right, this new piece of technology does not work with the other computer equipment he has, like printers and scanners.

Kodak found that having a proprietary product does not work, and so did Beta way back when. Beta had the better product but it only worked with Beta.

The OFs think that there should be ways that, if some company comes up with a great product, that company should allow for connections to all the other products that pertain to that product instead of making it so the purchaser of that product has to go and buy another printer, scanner, or whatever to work with that product. This would make the connections and compatibility universal.

“Nah, too simple,” one OF said.

Eventually, in many cases, the better product will go the way of the Dodo bird just like Beta.

Tapped out

Most of the OFs have received their power bills and were ready to take what muscles they have left and attack the power company.  Of course, this would not be a fair fight because the power company employees wear hard hats.

Then the bills came from the fuel oil companies with their outrageous price for home heating oil.

“No wonder,” one OF said, “couple these charges with the taxes and anyone can see why so many are leaving the state.”

One OF said, “When the last one leaves, will they please close the door and turn out the light?”

One OF commented he hears one legislator wants two billon dollars for this, and another wants a billion for that, and yet another wants a billon so his yacht club can have another ramp.

The OF chuckled and said, “I just made that last part up.”

But, by golly, the scribe bets it is true and this money could be hidden somewhere in all these billons of dollars.

The same OF said he remembers when a hundred bucks was a lot of money. The OF continued with the key issue, “Where in h--- (fill in the blanks with letters of your choosing) do they think the money is coming from?  I am already tapped out just from paying those ridiculous power, heating, and gas bills, let alone my meds. And I am getting tired of eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with a cup of soup day in and day out; there is nothing left in my pockets but lint!”

(What is a billion?  This number gets thrown around like chump change.  A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive and the Roman Empire was in full swing.  A billion hours ago, we were in the Stone Age.)

Those attending the Blue Star Restaurant in Schoharie and becoming really concerned about the health of some of the OFs and their wives were: Kenneth Parks, Jim Heiser, Mark Traver, Miner Stevens, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Otis Lawyer, Glenn Patterson, Andy Tinning, Harold Guest, Frank Pauli, John Rossmann, Dick Ogsbury, Roger Chapman, Chuck Aleseio, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Bill Krause, Bill Rice, Don Moser, Don Wood, Henry Whipple, Elwood Vanderbilt, Ted Willsey, Harold Grippen, and me.

On Jan. 7, the Old Men of the Mountain’s first breakfast of 2014 was at the Country Café in Schoharie, and it was cold. The OFs were talking about how cold it was and that most of the OFs have experienced colder weather than this but, for some reason the air on Tuesday, was cold.

One OF remembered the real temperature, not this wind-chill thing, on the Hill was about 20 or maybe even 30 below. This, the OF thought, was in the mid 1980s to early ’90s. (With the OFs, time is so irrelevant that they may say something happened a couple of years ago when, in fact, it would by more like 10 years ago. So the ’80s or ’90s could be a tad off. )

Back to the conversation.

“At that time,” the OF said, “the coldest temperature in the nation was announced on the radio to be in Canajoharie, N.Y.”

This OF said, on that particular day, he was supposed to go to Utica, N.Y. and, as he drove up the Thruway towards Utica, the OF noticed the highway was like a tractor-trailer parking lot.  All along the Thruway, the big rigs were brought to a standstill by the fuel gelling, even with additives.

This OF said he got off at Canajoharie just to see what the coldest temperature in the nation would be like. The OF reported it was no different than the 20 to 30 below on the Hill.

When it gets that cold, cold is cold!

However, this same OF said that the cold walking up the sidewalk in Schoharie to the Country Café, was cold and he noticed it. Some OFs wondered if it was because back then the OF was about 45 years old, and now he is 80.

“Well,” the OF said.

Then another OF said, “We are not used to it; we have not had a real cold snap like this in years.”

“Whatever…” the OF was sure glad to close the door behind him as he went into Country Café.

News stays the same

This scribe is reviewing his notes taken at the breakfast, and the list runs from bottom to top, cars, kids, stories, pigs, cows, health, who you know better than what you know, and reporting the news. Much of that is redundant like cars, kids, pigs, cows, and especially health, which leaves the talk of who you know better than what you know, and reporting the news.

A little clarifier here, many of the OFs do not watch the news, but, when they do, they find that the news doesn’t change. One OF mentioned that, if he catches the news one day, and then does not watch it for a couple of weeks, and happens to catch it again, it is the same news; just the names and locations are different.

Another OF said, if something really spikes his attention, he will become interested and watch it until that event plays out. This OF mentioned the 911 attack on our country, and another news episode was the landing of the plane in the Hudson River.

One a disaster, the other a miracle, and that is about it.

One OF said that he gets really ticked when he does catch the news and can understand why people who watch it on a regular basis are so stressed out.

Another OF made only one brief comment.  He claimed that so much of the news is slanted one way or the other and the newscasters act like they are holy. Whichever way the station is bent, they think they have the solution to the problem, when, in his opinion, they are the problem.

“Conversely,” an OF commented, “I watch the news all the time. How do you guys know what’s going on? How do you know what the weather is going be?”

“You believe those guys; I just look out the window,” said another OF.

Give me a newspaper any day, get one paper leaning one way and another paper leaning the other and somewhere in the middle they just may be right and there is always the funnies to balance it out. Any way the paper bends the news, “Pickles,” “Pearls,” and “Speed Bump” are great stress relievers.

Getting somewhere

Many of the OFs think this is too true. You might have the solution to solving the most demanding problem going, like curing cancer, or a propulsion system that does not require fossil fuels, and, if you do not know the right people, it goes nowhere.

One OF asked the rhetorical question: How many of the OFs got their first job from someone they knew, or someone told you that so-and-so was looking for somebody to do a certain job?

It was interesting how many wound up working at a job that, in their formative years, the OF was not even trained to do.  Because someone recommended the OF and the someone the OF was recommended to had a matching karma, that OF turned out doing really well at whatever it was.

In college, it is quite often said, the contacts made are better than the education.

“Yeah,” an OF said, “but, even then if you are a wise guy and a slacker, that trait will come through and the contacts will not be worth anything because that is how you will be remembered.”

“You’re right,” a second OF said. “I guess the real approach is to try and do your best all the time.”

This OF said he wound up working at a position that was nothing like what he studied for and did very well. One thing the OF did in college was learn to adapt, and to study, and to retain what he studied. Life is funny that way.
Those gathering at the Country Café in Schoharie and having the Hungry Man Special, which should hold anyone for a week, were: Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, John Rossmann, Roger Shafer, Mark Traver, Harold Guest, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Roger Chapman, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Gary Porter, Jack Norray, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, and me.                                  

On New Year’s Eve 2013, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh.  Winnie, one of the waitresses at the Middleburgh Diner who has been waiting on the OFs for many years, decided she had had enough of us and thought now would be a good time to retire, and she did.

Now the OFs at the Middleburgh Diner have to break in another waitress — or in some cases breakdown. The OFs wish Winnie well in her retirement and hope she enjoys it as much as most of the OFs enjoy theirs.

In the town of Berne, a new sewer system is being installed, and, in the village of Cobleskill, the sewer and water is being extended along Route 7 towards Central Bridge. One thing these contractors are running into in both cases is rock — deep, solid rock.

The OFs talked about the machines that are used to break up this rock so the pipes can be buried. In the town of Berne, it is this solid rock that many of the homes are built on. The pounding by these machines actually follows the rock and vibrates the homes.

The OFs think, by the time this is done, these same homes will have doors that don’t shut and windows that won’t open, and these windows will leak air. One OF thinks that the dust in their attics is now in their cellars.

So the conversation continued along the rock line, and how the hills of the Helderbergs are basically rocks. The most miserable spring farm job, for many of the then-YFs was using the stone-boat and picking rocks.

Before quick disconnects on plows were invented, plowing back then and snagging a large rock would bring the front of the tractor right up in the air.

“When the OFs were YFs,” one OF explained, “we learned quickly to hold on the wheel of the tractor with both hands so, when this happened, we were not tossed off the tractor.”

It was like riding a bucking bronco, plowing with a two-bottom plow, an old (back then not-so-old) steel-wheeled Fordson tractor. When the OFs plowed with horses before they got tractors, they would just plow around the big rock.

Then the “young-uns” on the farm would get bars and roll the rock to the top of the ground and this rock would eventually be rolled on a stone-boat (whether it was brought up with horse or tractor) and hauled off the field to the rock pile, or stone fence, along with the rest of the picked rocks.

The OFs continued to talk about rocks and stone-wall fences. Not only in the Hilltowns of the Helderbergs but in many farming communities in the Northeast stone-wall fences can be seen running through the woods. The OFs said that, at one time, these stone fences were an indication that on one side or the other — or maybe both sides — of the fence there must have been fields.

Think of the work. The trees had to be cleared, the land had to be worked, the stones picked, the fence built, and then the land could finally be used for crops or pasture.

One OF wondered how many pinched fingers and sore backs were encountered by our founding fathers after all this work. Now these fields have long been abandoned and nature has taken over with more trees, brush and vegetation, but the stone fence is still there, meandering through the woods to nowhere.

Nature prevails

The same vein of conversation prevailed with the OFs saying it will not be long before all the hard work we do as humans (if left unattended) is quickly taken over — grabbed back by nature.

One OF said, “Just look at your own driveway; how soon the ants have worked their way through four inches of blacktop, or how soon weeds starts showing up in a parking lot that has not been used for a little while. It doesn’t take long for the larger brush and trees to take over after that.”

A second OF opined, “There is a lot of power in one little acorn.”

Another OF said, “That is the case in many areas of the world where there is plenty of moisture.  This causes the plant life to get started.  However, in other areas, where it is dry, the process doesn’t start and that is why archeologists can find dinosaur bones, and remnants of ancient civilizations.”

What makes the floor move?

Many times, the OFs talk about how they worked when they were younger and why the OFs are even here. Some OFs maintain we all should have been dead long ago.

This time they were talking about how they used to climb on ladders and scaffolds, and go 40 to 50 feet in the air and think nothing about it. Building chimneys, working with hot tar on roofs, the OFs doing their own roofing on barns and sheds and their own homes was normal. So was climbing up the slippery ladder of the silage chute to get to the top of a freshly filled silo and throw down the ensilage and then climb back down.

“Not now,” one OF said. “I think twice before stepping on a stool. It must be the inner ear that let us do all that climbing without even thinking.”

A second OF said, “I have such trouble hearing I think that is what makes me think that sometimes the floor is moving.”

“Nah,” another OF said. “It has nothing to do with your ears, the floor wouldn’t move so much if you spent more time being sober.”

The OFs never attempted to sing “Auld Lang Syne” and that was a good thing. The Old Men of the Mountain wish all a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

The OFs who braved the cold and made it to the Middleburgh Diner in Middleburgh, and started breaking in a new waitress were: Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, Harold Guest, Steve Kelly, Mace Porter, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Don Wood, Bill Krause, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.

— By John R. Williams

On Christmas Eve, many of the Old Men of the Mountain, served on a Santa-strewn tablecloth, were dressed in red and green or wore Santa hats for the occasion.

 

On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh for their traditional Christmas Party. Again, the staff of the restaurant out- did themselves with the hors d’oeuvres on the tables.

There was enough there to feed all the OFs without ordering breakfast. Of course, the OFs did order their normal breakfast plus they cleaned up a lot that was placed on the table, especially the hot meatballs. The OFs would like to thank Loretta, Patty, and their team for having such a scrumptious holiday spread for the Old Men of the Mountain.

Some of the OFs came all decked out for the occasion — some in Santa hats; and others with Christmas sweaters; some wearing red and green; and there was one fellow there with a battery-operated Christmas-tree-bulb necktie, which was all lit up. 

A couple of the OFs who are musically inclined brought their instruments and the restaurant had a small area set up for them to play Christmas music.  The OFs joined in on the tunes they knew.

Of course, Gene Autry was doing a couple of flips in his grave, and maybe even holding his ears as the OFs attempted to sing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” 

This year, on the “eves,” the Old Men of the Mountain will stay in Middleburgh because, on New Year’s Eve, the OFs will be at the Middleburgh Diner. This makes two attacks (in Middleburgh) by the OFs to end the year 2013.

Can that little town take it? The town fathers might think about reactivating the Schoharie County Militia, muskets at the ready with fixed bayonets, prepared to run the OFs out of town if they even attempt to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Tractor origins

This scribe had to raise his eyebrows as some of the OGs’ next conversations and observations did not seem correct. However, there is always the chance the OGs might be right, so it was off to the Internet to check them out. (The Internet is always right, you know).

The flat statement made by a couple of OFs was that “no” tractors were made in this country, that “all” tractors were made elsewhere. The words “no” and “all” are what drew attention to the conversation.

In checking, this scribe found a real mixed bag, so, using John Deere as one example, it was found that Deere manufactures tractors in many countries throughout the world. 

Most of these factories make farming equipment, lawn and garden equipment, harvesting equipment, heavy constructing equipment, among a slew of other products, including toys and clothing, which are done on a leasing basis. Depending on the size of tractor the OFs want, it can come from the United States, India, or wherever. 

McCormack International, though, is quite convoluted.  Sales to companies and different conglomerate organizations are now in business from Italy.  Another company is currently buying the rights as this scribe understands the dealings. This scribe can’t follow all this high-end business intrigue, so it is suggested, if you are interested, go check it out on the net.  

Kubota Tractors were originally built, starting in 1890 in Osaka, Japan; however, in 1988, Kubota opened a huge plant in Gainesville, Georgia, where it produces the tractors for the U.S. 

So, in two of the examples, John Deere started here and built plants all over; Kubota started there, and built plants all over. The answer is: “Yes,” many tractors are still built in the U.S. and are competitive.  Smart moves by both companies.

Why leave NY?

Now that New York is the fourth most populous state, behind Florida, the OFs jumped on the bandwagon, asking why people are leaving New York.

It came down to two explanations with two side bets thrown in: One, taxes (politics); two, weather.

The two side bets were, cost of maintaining a building, and the cost of doing business.

The OFs said even farming, which was shielded from much of this, is beginning to feel the pinch of being over-regulated by a select group of do-gooders in New York City making rules and regulations for farmers, and this group doesn’t know the difference between a rabbit and a cow.

One OF threw in the ringer of New York being known as the welfare state.  The reason this state’s population is where it is, is because other states ship the ne’er-do-wells to New York where the state will take care of them.

“Then,” an OF added, “we have a juxtaposition here, this OF thinks the state of New York has one of the highest educated populations in the country and that is why we have as many people here as we do.”

This OF said, “Companies are after the brains of New York.”

And so it goes. ’Tain’t this fun?  It is.

The OFs get their points across either way; no one changes anyone else’s mind because that is what we are — OFs!  Our minds were made up years ago, so the OFs laugh or grunt and go on to something different.  

Those OFs who gathered at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh and absorbed what holiday spirit they could were: Elf one Harold Guest, Elf two Mark Traver, Elf three Glenn Patterson, Elf four Roger Shafer, Elf five George Washburn, Elf six Roger Chapman, Elf seven John Rossmann, Elf eight Jim Heiser, Elf nine Otis Lawyer, Elf ten Steve Kelly, Elf eleven Robie Osterman, Elf twelve Mace Porter, Elf thirteen Gary Porter, Elf fourteen Ken  Hughes, Elf fifteen Jack Norray, Elf sixteen Lou Schenck, Elf seventeen Don Wood, Elf eighteen Ted Willsey, Elf nineteen Jim Rissacher, Elf twenty Bill Krause, Elf twenty-one Mike Willsey, Elf twenty-two Elwood Vanderbilt, Elf twenty-three Gilbert Zabel, Elf twenty-four Harold Grippen, Elf twenty-five Gerry Chartier, Elf twenty-six Todd Wright, and Elf twenty-seven, the littlest Elf, me.

On Dec. 17, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville. On such a cold day, the restaurant was inviting.

The OFs agreed that the ride to Rensselaerville was like driving through a Christmas card or a winter photo on a calendar; then they were all rewarded by a warm start-to-the-day breakfast.

The riders in one car reported that on the trip up to Rensselaerville — and Rensselaerville is up — the temperature changes in just the few miles to get there. The outside temperature gauge showed one degree when starting out, the OF said, and, as they approached the dip between Thompson’s Lake, and Cole Hill Road, the temperature dropped to 13 below zero.

As they made the turn on Cole Hill, the temperature was up to seven below, and, by the time they were on the top of the hill, the temperature had risen to 2 degrees above zero. That change is in the mere distance of approximately four or five miles and an elevation change of about 400-plus feet (that is only a guess).

Many years ago, there was a ski area on Cole Hill with a rope tow to the top. The OFs thought it was a Farmall H, jacked up a tad and it had a rope around the rear tire that was the drive for the rope tow.

Old wooden skis, rubber boots (i.e., barn boots for many of the OFs, with felt liners) and leather buckled bindings on the skis buckled around the boot.  Then the OFs tightened them up and down the hill the OFs went.

The OFs did not have ski outfits; the only cost was a pair of wooden skis, and the rest is what the OFs had in their closets. Today, to be fashionable on the slopes costs as much as a good used car, and, as one OF said, he bets we had more fun.

The OFs wondered if there were any vestiges of that little ski trail left. Those who travel the hill say they don't think so because they are pretty sure where the trail used to be is overgrown into trees now. Times change and sometimes, time change is not for the better.

“Unteaching” the old dog

The OFs are having as much trouble keeping up with the technology advances as everybody else.

One OF said he has the newest gadget going and says it is great.  It is some kind of tablet that takes pictures, answers the phone, makes apple pies, and scrubs your back all at the same time.

One OF said, “Yeah, that is for today; tomorrow, it will be something else.”

The OFs thought that the end of the telephone party line was the ultimate in technological advancement.

The familiar ding of the typewriter as it reached the end of a line alerting the typist he had to slide the lever over to go to the next line, then along came IBM’s Selectric typewriter and the lines changed by themselves.  The world was going crazy, the OFs thought.

The OFs thought for years there were just 72 elements in the periodic table and that was it; now look, they (whoever they are) say there are 118 elements. The OFs say, if you change the 72 to 118, why not change it to 218.

One OF said it is not the teaching the old dog, it is the “unteaching” that is so hard.

Getting there

The OFs were contemplating outer space and getting there and the OFs had a hard time comprehending that latitude and longitude, as the OFs once learned, is not right for space travel, and NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, uses something else.

One OF said he has enough trouble heading to Aunt Tillie’s house and arriving there and she is only one hundred miles away. It is amazing to him that the astronauts can go to the moon and land right back where they started from.

“Yeah,” one OF mentioned, “and, if they can't make the initial starting point, they just recalculate and proceed to site number two.”

Those OFs who did not study navigation are envious of those that know how to navigate by the stars, or how to navigate with maps using the latitude and longitude that the OFs know. The OFs who can't read music are in the same mode, envious of those that can.

Road trip

down Memory Lane

Most of the OFs have new or newer models cars, trucks, and vans. A conversation started on how the newer cars drive themselves, and this scribe noted we have been down this road before. (No pun intended.)

The OFs have driven cars and trucks in their early years where it was necessary to place your feet in the right place when the OF entered the vehicle because the road was visible through the rotted out floor board. Fumes from the engine wafted in underneath the vehicle, but not to worry — there were so many other holes in the older vehicles that the fumes did not cause any harm. The fumes just found another hole to go out of the car or truck.

In these vehicles, the engine sounds were right in the car with you. The OFs could tell how ole Betsy was running just by these sounds.

Today, the cars run as quiet as the morgue. The engine runs effortlessly and the next thing the OF knows he is going 70 miles an hour when, in his youth, 50 miles per hour was exciting.  Today, 70 is like having coffee in the living room.

One OF asked the question that is quite often asked when the OFs travel back in time:  “So, do you want to go back to these old vehicles, with heaters that didn't work well, no air-conditioning, mechanical brakes that could freeze, no power steering, having to carry a spare tire or two, and rides that were like wooden wagon wheels going over farm roads?”

“Not really,” one OF said, “but back then at least I was able to fix the car on the side of the road. Cars came with tool kits, remember.”

One OF remembered his brother and he going someplace, and they had the family vehicle, which happened to be a Ford sedan.  Back then, Fords had only one spring in back that went side to side.

“This is an important point,” the OF said.

The OFs picked up their girlfriends and started out. On Route 443, between Gallupville and Schoharie, the rear spring broke. Not far from where it broke was a small junkyard-type repair shop. The OFs pulled in there and explained their problem to the proprietor.

“Yep,” he said, “I have a spring.”

The OFs said, “Great, we can fix it right here.”

The proprietor said, if they could do that, he would give them the spring. The OF had a rather strong brother, who actually was able to lift the car. The OF said they had the old spring out and the new one in less than half an hour.

The proprietor was true to his word and gave them the spring, and he said, “If I didn't see that I wouldn't believe it!”

“Try doing that with one of these new cars,” the OF said.

The OFs who made it to the Hilltown Café in Rensselaerville, and who found that Amanda was the only one there (she waited tables, prepared the food, bussed the tables, and kept the coffee cups filled) were: Harold Guest, John Rossmann, Frank Pauli, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Roger Chapman, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Gary Porter, Ken Hughes, Ted Willsey, Elwood Vanderbilt, Mike Willsey, Gerry Chartier, Harold Grippen, Gilbert Zabel (Elwood's grandson), and me, happy.

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