Saturday, September 3, 2016

Memories of Eugene Gochenour: Scouting, School, and Accidents

Today I am sharing selections from my father's memoirs about growing up in the 1940s in Tonawanda, NY. These stories are about accidents, Boy Scouts, and school days at Philip Sheridan Elementary School and Kenmore High School.

Accident Prone 
Ray Grace and Gene Gochenour
Boy Scout Troop 146
"I was a very hyper kid so I was always getting cuts and bruises, unlike my sisters who never got hurt.

"One winter day my father and I went to a Boy Scout camp at Holland, New York, about forty miles away. It was called Camp Ta-wi-e, probably an Indian name. When we arrived there we met the rest of the troop in the parking lot and unloaded our clothes and equipment. There was snow on the ground and we had to hike about a quarter of a mile to get to our campsite. The troop consisted of about twenty scouts, with Stan Grace and my father as leaders. We were all excited when we arrived at our campsite, and set about preparing for our weekend stay.

"I had a new hatchet I was waiting to use, so I started to chop wood so we could get a campfire going. I was not chopping for very long when the hatchet glanced off of a log and struck my foot. Well it was sharp all right, because it went through my overshoe, my shoe, my sock, and into my foot. My foot was bleeding quite bad and I could not walk on it, so they all took turns hauling me back to the car. No one noticed how deep the snow was on the way in, but they sure did on the way out!

"Somehow Dad found a doctor at East Aurora, a town not far from the camp. The cut on my left foot was near my big toe, and it took three stitches to close it. That was the shortest camping trip we ever had! Dad never hollered at me when I got hurt."

Troop 146 at Summer Camp

Troop 146 at Summer Camp. Gene is at the end of the middle row on the right.

Gene Gohenour on the left, Ray Grace on right, 

Gene Gochenour holding turtle. Harry Summerville, Louie Grace,
unknown, Keith Rhodes, Roger Schneckenberger, unknonw, Ray Grace.

Swim race at camp

1940s, Troop 146 in parade.

Alger Gochenour was part of the Sheridan Parkside Men's Club sponsoring Troop 146

Alger Gochenour listed as part of the Sheridan Park Men's Blub for Troop 146

"As a youngster, I went to the Philip Sheridan Elementary School. It was about a half mile away and I walked through the fields to and from there. It had five classrooms and a fenced playground. Once when I was in the lavatory I started running to get to class and a kid tripped me. My head hit the wall and when I put my hand to my head, because it hurt, I found my hands were covered with blood. It must have been quite a sight when I came screaming out in the hall with blood running down my face, and bloody hands from holding my head. The kid who tripped me was probably scared for what he had done. Someone from the school took me to the doctor, and he put in three stitches, after calling my parents.
The "old" Philip Sheridan Elementary School
"Keith Rhodes was a friend who lived two houses away. One winter day we decided to go over to the hill by the railroad track and do some skiing. On my first trip down the hill, I fell at the bottom. When I fell, my knee struck a clinker, a large rough stone that had fallen from a train. It cut a hole in my pants, and when I looked into that hole, I saw blood. The wound hurt bad, and I started hollering. This probably scared the “H” out of Keith, but he helped me up the hill. We had a sled with us, and I sat on it, and Keith hauled me to John Kuhn’s house, a couple of blocks away. So here we come, me hollering, and holding my bloody knee, and Keith pounding on their rear door to get their attention. Lucille and Alma came to the door, and looked shocked, but then wrapped a towel around my knee. One of them went to Keith’s house next door, and brought back Keith’s uncle Jim Turk, who was visiting there. My parents were not home, so he took me to the De Graff Hospital in North Tonawanda, about five miles away. When I arrived they put me into a room, but they could not do anything until they got my parents’ permission. My Uncle Abbey came to stay with me till my parents came. Then the doctor fixed me up with twelve stitches. Eighteen stitches, and still counting!

"It was my job to cut the lawn, usually once a week, and one day I decided to adjust the lawnmower blades because it was not cutting right. I had watched Dad do it, and thought I could. To check to see if the blades are set right, you take a piece of newspaper, set it between the blade and the cutter, and rotate it. If it cuts the paper clean, it is good, if not, then you turn the adjustments until it is set right. Well I rotated them all right, except the palm of my hand, by the wrist, was also between the blades. So I cut my hand, and off to the doctor we went to get two more stitches.

"We kids were not supposed to go into the [Sheridan Park] creek at the golf course but sometimes the temptation was too great and we would sneak in to look for golf balls. An old man, who we called the Geezer, patrolled the course, and would holler at us, and kick us off when he caught us. We were terrified of him. Well, we were finding a lot of balls that day in the creek, and everything was fine until I stepped on a piece of glass, and cut my foot. I think it was a broken bottle. So I had to ride home on my bike with my bleeding foot. It was about a mile to our house and when we got there I showed it to my mother. She probably thought “Good Lord here we go again!” So off to the doctor we go again for three more stitches. Now were up to twenty three stitches!

"At least I never broke any bones as a child. Even after I grew up, I occasionally needed to get stitched up. While working at the station one day I was loading up the pickup truck with used batteries to take to the scrap yard to sell. The truck was parked in the front driveway, and when I bent over to set a battery down, it slipped, and I dropped it. When it fell into the bed of the truck, battery acid squirted straight up into my left eye. I was terrified, and jumped off the truck, and ran for the station. It was winter, and when I got to the front door, I skidded on the ice, and when I put out my hand to stop, it went through the front door window, and I cut my arm. But then I opened the door and ran to the lavatory to wash out my eye. I wasn’t worried about my arm, just my eye. Flushing
out my eye quickly saved my eye from serious damage.

"Bad things always seemed to happen to my left eye. When I was in school, I took up a course of Machine Shop. When working on a grinding machine I got a tiny piece of steel in my left eye. Then working at the garage, at various times, I had brake fluid, anti-freeze, motor oil, and dust in my eyes. Luckily, the eyes have survived all the abuse!

School Days

"The year was 1935 and the first school I attended was the Philip Sheridan Elementary School. It was located on Elmwood and School Streets near Sheridan Drive. That was about a half mile from our home on Military Road. I remember crying when mother left me after enrolling me for the kindergarten. I was not happy, but I soon became distracted by all the toys and the sandbox they had there to play in.

"Since the school was not too far from our house, I had to walk to and from there. Sometimes I would take a shortcut and walk through the fields. On the way I would pick and eat strawberries when they were in season, or I'd kick up a pheasant, or see a muskrat, or other animal, so I liked doing that.

"I think the school had five classrooms. It had an auditorium with a stage and a large fenced playground. One day during recess, while playing at the playground, I found a chain with a metal pendant on it. I threw it into the air a few times to see how high it would go. But then I threw it and it went over the fence and landed in the deep grass in the field. So it was gone. I later decided it was a religious medal I had thrown there. So much for trial and error!

"This was the school where the kid tripped me in the lavatory and my head hit the wall. When I came screaming out of the lavatory with bloody hands holding my head, it must have been quite a sight to see! That episode cost me three stitches.

"One of our teachers decided we should all get harmonicas and learn to play them. Well the day came when we all had them, and at the teachers instructions we started to play the designated song. I did not know how to make music with it so I just blew into it and faked it. I think many of the other kids did the same, because the song was a disaster. After a few sessions like that the teacher gave up trying, and that was the end of our harmonica lessons. My harmonica was a Honer, and I did eventually did teach myself to play a little.

"Not long after I left and went on to the Washington Middle School, the little Philip Sheridan School was closed, and a new, large, and modern school was built two blocks north of it on Coventry Road during 1947. My first real job was working as a waterboy for the John W. Cowper Construction Company that built the new school. Years later my daughter Nancy went to that Philip Sheridan School.

"The next school I attended was the Washington Middle School. It was located on Old Delaware Road in the city of Kenmore, about five miles from our home. The kids in the area where I lived were bussed to and from that school. At the Philip Sheridan School I was the fastest runner, but not when I got to the Washington School. That school had many more students and I was no longer top dog at running.

"Behind the school was a ball field, and one day while playing baseball there, a ball was hit over the fence, and I climbed over it to get it. When I climbed back over it my hand snagged the sharp wire at the top and I was momentarily hanging from it. When I got it loose and dropped to the ground it was bleeding quite bad. The school nurse put a bandage on it, but I don’t remember if I had a tetanus shot.

"The school was located near the center of the town and there were many stores nearby. One of my favorite things to do on the lunch hour was to go to Galagher’s Bakery and get what was called a fruit doughnut. At that time they cost five cents, and I loved them.

"The Second World War was going on when I went to that school, and kids would take money to school to buy war saving stamps. The stamps pasted in a booklet and when it was filled, exchanged it for a war bond. The bonds were in $25, $50, $100, and larger dollar denominatons. The money was used by the U. S. government to help pay for the war effort.

"Then came Kenmore Junior High School. It was located on Old Delaware Road, about a few blocks north of the Washington School. During the Second World War there were scrap drives to collect metal to be used for the war effort. Everyone was patriotic and wanted to do their part to help. We would scrounge around home to see what we could find, and haul it to school on the school bus. When we arrived at school, we threw it on a huge pile at the rear of the school building. It grew to be a small mountain. The bus dropped us off and picked us up at the back of the school, and when the scrap metal pile was removed, we would play handball at that wall while we waited for the bus to take us home. During the winter we would sit in the hallway and play Pinochle until the bus came for us.

"I worked at the teacher’s cafeteria for a while. When I worked there I got free lunch meals, eating what the teachers ate, and the food was better than at the student cafeteria.

"The school had a print shop and the teachers name was Walter Faxlanger. I went to that class for a semester and enjoyed it. We learned how to set type, how to run the printing press, and did some bookbinding. Walter would sometimes give us a lecture on the evils of smoking and how much money it would cost to smoke for a year. Years later when I operated the service station that my father built, Walter had also gone into the same business, and he was the head of the Gasoline Retailers Association of Buffalo. He talked me into joining, and I served on the board of directors for a few years.

"The next school I went to was the Kenmore Senior High School. It was also located on old Delaware Road, about 8 blocks north of the junior high school. It was a very beautiful school with three floors, very wide hallways, and a locker for each student. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, and a large gymnasium that had a huge doorwall that could divide the gym in half so the girls were out sight from the boys when in use. The auditorium was like a movie theater with a huge stage, floor to ceiling curtains, carpeted aisles, and upholstered seats. There was a typing room where each student had a typewriter, and at the chemistry class each student had a stool and a granite work table with a Bunsen burner, water faucet, test tubes, beakers, etc.
Gene Gochenour, Sophmore year at Kenmore HS

Gene Gochenour, Freshman at Kenmore HS

Mary Gochenour yearbook photo, Kenmore HS

Mary Gochenour, yearbook photo Kenmore HS
"The machine shop metal brake, and individual benches with vises. The wood shop was equally equipped with everything including a workbench for each student. There was an electrical shop, and a home economics room with stoves and ovens where students made cakes and meals. At the wood shop I made a darning egg, a baseball bat, and a small table that I had designed. At the metal shop I made a hammer with a screw driver inside the handle. I also made a V block, a device used in metal working to hold objects as they were machined. Each project involved using all the machinery at the shop to build.

"The swimming pool had bleachers where people could sit and watch swim meets and swim shows put on by the students. Behind the school was a football field and running track and bleachers for many people when there were football games or track meets. I think the school was as modern as any in the country.

"My grades were never outstanding except for Earth Science and the shop courses. I rode the school bus to and from school until the last year when I drove the motorcycle.

"Archie Henderson and Joe McAuliff were two of my school buddies. They were in many of my classes and they were both bigger than I. One day when they were picking on me in fun, a teacher saw us, and gave them a scolding for ganging up on me, not knowing they were not serious. After he left we all got a big laugh out of that! Those two big bullies picking on poor little me! Joe and Archie lived at the housing project, and we played baseball and basketball together, and Archie sold me my first car.

"Every year the school would put on a sport competition day. We would all gather out by the football field where we would compete in various events. The events were running, long jump, ball throwing, etc. I entered the basketball throw and won one year. Maybe nobody wanted to compete in such a dumb event!

"At the time when I graduated in New York State two certificates could be earned. One was a High School certificate, the other was from the State of New York. The reason this happened is that at the end of the year when the students were given their final exams, one of them was a test for the state that was comprehensive, covering all of the students’ past education. The high school test covered only the past year. Each year we would spend some time studying past Regent tests to prepare for the next. Earning the State certificate was more important than the school one.

"My graduation class had 466 students. When I graduated I had a major in shop, and also had taken the classes for college entrance. Little did I know that many of the courses would be helpful even though I decided not to go to college. I took business courses that came in handy when we opened the station. And the chemistry and shop courses were invaluable when I went to work at Chrysler. I never took any classes to be an auto mechanic, I learned them on the job, and from reading repair manuals."
Gene Gochenour's Senior Photo, 1948

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