Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Eugene Gochenour Memoirs Part III

I have been sharing Dad's memoirs over the past weeks. Today's excerpt continues his childhood memories from the Depression.
Gochenour family in late 1930s; Eugene is front right; his mother back right,
sister Mary back left and to her right is Al Gochenour.
"Military Road was built centuries ago for armies to travel from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. The road was elevated at the location where the house we lived in was built. On each side of the house was a gully. The strip of land where the farm house was placed was filled [with dirt] to the level of the road.

"The foundation of the house was about three feet thick, built of stone that probably came from a nearby quarry. When we first moved there the house had a dirt floor in the basement but later Dad and some friends put in a concrete floor. Huge logs with one flat side supported the floor of the house. Wooden pegs held the logs together. A cistern was located under the rear porch but of course it had not been used for dozens of years.
1865 Military Rd in the 1940s after Al Gochenour bought the
property and fixed it up. 
"The house sat quite far back from the road and one day as we sat on our front porch, to our amazement, we saw elephants walking past on the road. The elephants led a parade of horse-drawn wagons filled with lions, tigers, and other animals. Now as children we had never seen elephants, and we were amazed to see the size of them. The circus had come to town and this was their way of advertising it.
Circus passes down Military Rd at Ensminger Rd; an Ensminger family house in the background.
"The first photo shows the elephants as they passed by. Across the street is the Ensminger farm house. It sat at the corner of Military and Ensminger Roads.

"When we first moved there Ensminger Road was just a dirt road leading into the fields. The barn that sat behind the house had already been torn down, and soon [about 1960-61] the house would be intentionally be burned down to make room for a bowling alley. A childhood friend, Ridgely Ware, had lived there with his mother and aunt. As a child I remember drinking water from a well with a hand pump that was on their side lawn. I drank it with cupped hands and it was cold and delicious. Before the barn was torn down, two old horse carriages were parked in it. Ridgely was about two years older than I, but occasionally we did things together. Sometimes we would go into the barn and sit in the carriages and make believe we were driving them. There was also a well with a hand pump in the barn, but I was told that the water in that well was bad, so I never tried it.

"During the ‘40s the Ensminger barn was torn down then during the ‘50s the house was sold. One
day early in the morning I looked out of my upstairs window and saw the Ensminger house burning. Rather than tear the house down the owners decided to have it burned down. So they got the firemen to set it afire and control it. It is an awesome sight to see a burning house with the flames reaching high into the sky. The heat was so intense it could be felt blocks away. A bowling alley was built on the lot next to where the house had been, and the house lot became a parking lot. Such is progress.
Circus parage with donkeys passing on Military Rd near Ensminger past
where a bowling alley would be built in the 1960s
"The next photo shows a donkey, pony, and horse. As you can see the previous animals had made their contribution to the highway and the fly population. Across the road is the field where there would soon be a bowling alley.
Circus parade traveling on Military Rd north towards City of Tonawanda;
field would later house the Erie County Highway Department garage; foreground
later had a Texaco gas station and Schwinn Bicycle shop.
"The third photo shows the parade as it travels north toward the city of Tonawanda. The field across the street is where the Erie County Highway Department garage would be built. The lot on this side of the street is where a Texaco gas station and a bicycle shop would be built. The lot had once been a town dump.

"The old farm house had a basement only under part of the house. When we first moved there, it had only a dirt floor. The kitchen area had a crawl space under it, and when the water pipes would freeze during the winter father would have to crawl under there with a blow torch to thaw them out. Rats and mice had chewed passages through the walls and ceilings for a hundred years, and during the fall and winter you could hear them scurrying around. Our kitchen cupboards had many holes covered with tin can patches that had been nailed on probably from the time when tin cans were first made. But the rats would just chew another hole. One night a rat got into the house, and we saw it. Well, everyone went chasing it through the house trying to whack it with a broom or stick. We finally cornered and killed it. That was our excitement for that evening! A few years later when I was older, it was my job to go into the crawl space and retrieve any dead smelly rats that had ate the rat poison bait that we had set out for them. We eventually hired an exterminator who treated the house monthly.
Emma Becker Gochernour with Mary and Alice on left,
Gene on right, and Emma's brother Lee in center. Open land on right
would eventually be where Rosemont Ave. was built.
"As kids we could always find something to eat. There was a house on Deleware Avenue that had a garage that sat quite far back from the street. There a person sat all day making the sugar cones used for ice cream cones. Broken cones were always left on the window sill for us to eat. They were like candy to us.

"Many people had fruit trees, strawberry patches, and grapevines in their yards, and we always knew when they were in season. We usually would raid them at night, but occasionally we would pull a daytime raid. The neighbors we took from probably did not even care, but to us it was exciting. We also had a Bartlet pear tree in our yard that had great pears.

"In the springtime, [my Uncle] Lee and I would pick and eat all the meadow mushrooms we would find in the fields. Eaten fresh and raw, they are very good. The second week of June is when the wild strawberries were usually ripe, and mother would spend hours in the fields picking them. She always took the dog along because she was afraid of snakes, and the dog would chase them away. Mother made jam from the strawberries. Mother would also pick dandelion leaves during the spring, and make a salad with it. Even I liked that salad.

"Near the airport and the dump was a golf driving range. During the late ‘30s some of us kids were hired to pick up golf balls from the field. We were paid ten cents for our work and we would give back five cents for our favorite candy bar, a Milky Way. We liked to go to the dump also. There we found what we thought was some neat stuff, and took it home. When our parents saw what we had hauled home, they made us put it out to the street so the rubbish man could haul it back to the dump. I often wonder if the rubbish man thought that some of those things seemed familiar!

"The Sheridan Park Golf Course had some nice hills where we could sled during the winter. One day I slid down the hill and ended in the creek. It was a long freezing walk home! There was also a pond where we ice skated on.

"When summer came, I would go to the fields next to the golf course to find golf balls that the golfers had lost. Then I would sell them back to them. One day I found and sold twelve dollars worth of balls, with which I bought a portable radio. Since they were new on the market at that time few people had them. The radio was large by today’s standards. I liked the smell of the plastic material that covered it. The plastic looked like leather, and the radio had large batteries. It was great to take anywhere and have music.

"During the '30s and '40s I had many ways to make money. I picked up pop and beer bottles from along the roadways and took them back to the store where I got two cents each for them. I had a paper route, cut lawns, worked in the field with John Kuhn, and got a weekly allowance of twenty five cents from mother for my home chores. During the fall and winter, I went to the housing project where I received a dollar for each ton of coal I could carry from the street to the customer’s coal bin. My friend Dale Thiel and I would usually do the coal jobs together. We would use the customer’s trash cans to haul the coal. It took about 20 to 23 cans for the ton of coal. Also during the winter I would shovel snow from people’s driveways and sidewalks, for two or three dollars.

"The nearby horse riding stables rented out horses to the public. They made many trails through the woods and fields that we would ride our bikes on. We literally had trail bikes in those days! Also in the woods we would build tree houses from scrap wood we found."