Hard Knocks at the Big Rock

Growing up in the country in the 1950’s, we often used the landscape for play. the “Big Rock” as we all called it was in the background of many good times. It was also the location for a couple of catastrophes of mine.

I recall my early tree climbing training. I’m a self- taught tree climber, school of hard knocks type lessons. A couple of the neighbor boys and I were out near the big rock and the older and bigger of the two, Keith was discussing how he could climb the wild cherry tree that grew in the stone wall. I decided that was good idea too, and began climbing right behind him. He was, as I said taller and had a longer reach so he was able to grab the first limb and begin upward progress right away. I jumped and barely grabbed the branch, but followed right behind, mimicking his choice of limbs.

We were quite a ways up and I was right under Keith waiting to take the next branch. As he went upwards, I put my arms up and grabbed the branch he was standing on. His weight evidently was all the strength the branch could muster, and as I pulled with my hands and searched for a place to get footing, the branch snapped. Continue reading

Icy Ambush

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There are many influences that can make adolescence a complicated time of life. Bullying is one of them, and the defense against it can make or break someone’s self-esteem. When I was a kid, I was proud of my ability to defend myself against the worst kind of bully I ever encountered. He is still in jail for murder, and was an adolescent who should have been stopped then, but somehow manipulated the system and made it through without any deterrent that he respected. Later in his life, he admitted to figuring out how to give the right answers during interviews and to get by the authority that should have kept him off the streets.

I made it through many stressful meetings with him, and to make matters worse he was my neighbor on our country dirt road. Here is one incident to show the devious bully I knew. This one I’d say was the worst, but I lived to tell about it afterwards. This person is an example of how someone devious and without proper direction can manipulate those around him until it’s too late. I have changed his name.

I was about 13 or 14 years of age and lived out in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. One of the life skills my woodsman father and his friends taught me was trapping. During the winter it’s the season for muskrats and mink. I checked the trap-line every day and roughly at the same time because there isn’t a lot of daylight after school. One particular night I recall having yet another violent encounter with the tall and mean neighbor up the road. Johnny lived about a half mile away but it was within view of the path I followed through the snow along the banks of the beaver pond and stream where my trap-line was set.

Johnny evidently was waiting for me to show up that day, and had some sort of plan in his head about what he wanted to do to wreak havoc on Continue reading

“Standard” Procedure

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As a teenager, I was often trading cars or trying to “upgrade” the one I was currently driving. I had a 1960 Chevy impala that my Uncle Dave gave me for free. I remember it had wide “bat wing” tail fins. All I had to do was put a new transmission in it, as he had an automatic transmission and it had gone south, never to work again. A few friends and I towed the car to my house. I could keep a car running if I had to, but I had friends who knew much more than me on the subject, so when I got in over my head it was always a good bet to call one or more of them. It was a dream of mine to change it over to a standard. I believe it cost me about 50 dollars total to change it over. This included purchasing a defunct 1962 Chevy which we towed home with a chain right up route 103 in Chester, Vermont. I sat in the driver’s seat while the driveshaft banged on both the pavement and the underside of the car floor. The noise was deafening inside the car, and we finally figured out a way to wire it so it wouldn’t hit the pavement, just the floor. Amazingly, we never got picked up by the police. The whole junk car cost me $15.00 and I used the transmission for my ‘60 Chevy. The guys that were helping me change it over were great and enthusiastic. As long as I agreed to keep buying the beer, they agreed to keep putting parts on the Chevy. I think the whole labor thing cost me about 3 or 4 cases. The neighbor let us use his garage to do the work, which was a nice gesture, as it was warm and dry.

One night, while we were working on the car, one of the guys decided we needed a case of beer and some chips. It was just about eight minutes before the store closing time, but he decided to try to make it. He raced the whole eight miles from my house to town, some of which was dirt road, to get there before the doors were locked. Evidently they were successful because they returned in one piece and with the beer.

We were able to hoist the motor out and put in the standard transmission. It all fit, but we still had to search and scavenge for a few parts, including a shifting lever from the floor. I found one in a near-by town and we went to see if it would fit and work with what we had. I of course relied on the experienced guys to offer the opinion on how it would all mesh for the best results.  I paid for the shifter and parts and got ready to take it back to put in the 1960 Chevy. Just as we were getting ready to take our seats in the car, a train pulled up and slowed at the railroad crossing where it crossed the paved street. One of the guys yelled out. “Hey, Wyman! Do you think you can catch that train and jump on the caboose?”

It sounded like a fun challenge to me, and I was never one to turn down a Continue reading

Part 2…A Career Not Meant For Me

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The summer got shorter, and so did my construction job, as I was enrolled at Castleton State College for the fall semester. Being on the construction crew still required me to be there at an early hour, usually 6 days a week as the deadline for finishing the bridge neared. This made for very tense times when it rained, or when the specialty skills guys couldn’t make it.

The rest of us were pushed onward and upward to get things ready for the “big guns” to inspect the work, such as the angle of the bridge approach, the amount of right of way, and the pouring of the structural concrete. Being nineteen years old,  I made sure my life was fun as well as productive. My mother was a big fan of me never being idol,  making sure I was up in time to get to work. A motivational alarm clock, if you will. Some days I’d make it to work early, and fall asleep in my car at the job site. If I did fall asleep, I’d be awakened by a fellow worker or the foreman rapping on the windshield, telling me to get up and get started.

I was on the crew picked to cut the trees for the right of way, and pile the debris to be burned. We had spent the week cutting and piling so the heavy equipment guys could make sure the entrance and exits onto the bridge were ready to set, and the temporary crossing was clear for everyday traffic. We had a giant pile of brush and chunks of wood ready to be burned. The workers with carpentry skills were on the bridge building the forms that would hopefully soon be full of concrete.

Another worker, a year or so younger than me, was on the job that day too. He was a pleasant kid, and told me he had a wife and a baby at home. I wondered how he’d gained all this responsibility at his age. We got along well and had become friendly during the time we had spent on the same tasks. He was supposed to help me control the burn and clean up the area. We had chainsaws and gasoline cans around in case we had to make further cuts for managing the project. There were storage tanks of fuel to fill the heavy equipment machinery. I remember standing next to the brush pile and telling my coworker friend to go and get 5 gallons of diesel fuel oil to start the pile on fire. He took off in a chipper mood with the empty can.

I was leaning on my shovel when he returned and said he’d soak the pile so we could get a good ignition and feed the fire. I stood and watched as he shook the last drop out of the can. In great anticipation I watched him squat down to strike the match. As soon as his hand swiped across the friction pad on the match book, Continue reading

Nine Lives Countdown…A Career Not Meant For Me…Part One

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During the time adolescence turns to adulthood, dreams become prevalent about what profession might bring both satisfaction and large earnings. When I was in college, in the early 70’s, the time between semesters brought a couple of jobs I had randomly acquired. These soon fell off the list of things I’d choose for future careers.

I will be the first to admit that I am someone who has been described as accident prone. I have been getting injured since clumsy toddler-hood (check my mother’s entries in my baby book) and have not had a respite from damaging my body since.

Despite all the signals, I still found myself working a construction job building a bridge in southern Vermont. The job had a variety of risky tasks to perform working toward its completion. Safety rules were not as diligently observed then as they are now. The owner of the construction company decided to recycle the steel beams that spanned Continue reading

Antique Purchase, Overenthusiastic Seller.

 

As an antique dealer, I’ve been on hundreds of meetings with clients to buy antiques and collectibles. Each time I enter the home of a potential client to make a purchase, it is a very curious and unpredictable conversation. I’ve bought some wonderful and valuable items and I’ve also bought thousands of average and interesting, yet not so valuable items. I always enjoy looking at things, no matter what they are. It’s an adventure to view people’s personal collections, or items they have accumulated during the setting up of their own homes. Yard sales create similar excitement when I find something I take a fancy to. I have bought tools that I use, and pieces that add to my personal collections and interests. I also like to find things my wife and daughter can use and enjoy.

One of my most vivid memories in my years of antiquing was when Continue reading

A Couple of Those Baby Boomer Winters

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I had a lot of things happen in the winter as a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s. It happens frequently that I hear people about my age refer to the deep snow falls we used to have back then. They are constantly comparing them to the snowfalls of now. I imagine most people forget or choose to ignore climate change as a valid factor. I was one of the unfortunate children of the 50’s that had a birthday in the middle of January. January 20th seemed often blessed by a snowstorm of substance, which was great for sliding and building snow forts, but not so great for having a birthday party. We lived on a single lane dirt road in Vermont.

Continue reading

Christmas Tree Memories Made

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Now that people are getting ready to dismiss their Christmas trees, I am reminded of one of my favorite Christmas memories. When I was just 16 years old, I was looking for something to do to make a little money and feel creative in some way. I remember talking with our neighbor from Massachusetts about possibly getting some evergreen trees from someplace place in the woods. He had a few acres of groomed scotch pines growing near his house that he’d eventually cut and sell. He told me to go up on the hillside behind the houses on a place we knew as Pine Knoll. It was his land and he wouldn’t miss those ungroomed trees. Until that day, I never thought of anyone actually owning the land on Pine Knoll. It was just part of the hill where we deer hunted.

I was excited to have permission to cut a few Christmas trees right out of the woods. I grabbed a bow saw and a hatchet and climbed up the hill with great enthusiasm. After a hike up the hill and a long search, I discovered that nicely shaped trees were fewer and farther between than I had assumed. I cut about 4 or 5 trees and realized that I had to get them down the mountain unharmed, to the house in order to sell them. Big, bulky and delicate trees. I took a rope and tied three together and dragged them down the logging road. Dragging trees down the hill wasn’t that difficult but they were showing a little wear on the bottom long branches. There was no snow so I decided I needed to get a barrier between them and the ground. I used a piece of fabric for the next several trips. The trees weren’t uniformly grown. The height and diameters were all different, but all in all they were pretty good looking trees. I didn’t cut any that were too far from symmetrical. It was a major hike to go up and down the hill while cutting and dragging the trees I’d scouted out and selected. I thought they were all nice trees and surely hoped the people in the town of Cavendish would think so also.

My father let me use his Jeep pickup to carry them up to town. I gave one of the trees to my parents and one to the neighbors a quarter mile down the road, so I had about 10 trees left to sell in the village. At first I thought it would be good to sit by the fire station and lean a couple of trees on the side of the 50’s vintage Jeep pickup, but not one person stopped to ask about the trees. I hadn’t thought of a sign, so perhaps they thought I was just waiting for someone to come for a tree they’d had me save. Then I came up with the idea of going house to house and offering trees for sale so people could come out and choose one. I decided on a firm price of $1.75 per tree. A bargain price, even then, for a cut and delivered Christmas tree!

It was a pleasant adventure for the most part. I offered trees to some of the parents of kids I had attended Duttonsville Grade School with. The cul-de-sac where Stanley Hoskiewicz’s mother lived was a good starting point. I pulled up and knocked on a door, and Mrs. H. came out. She recognized me of course and called me by my last name. She asked, “What do you want Wyman?”

“I’m selling Christmas trees and am delivering them door to door,” I said. I tried to sound cheery and confident even though I was quite shy around the parents of kids I’d gone to school with. She stood near the truck and asked to see a specific tree on the load. I pulled it down off the truck and she asked to see another one. Pretty soon I had unloaded about half the load. She chose one and happily paid me. She suggested I leave them all leaning on the truck and knock on her neighbor’s door. Her neighbor walked over to check out the trees and asked how much. Once I said $1.75, it didn’t take long for them to pay me. I was smiling and excited to see anyone had wanted to buy my trees. I reloaded the remainder of standing inventory. I drove around to a couple more neighborhoods and unloaded a few trees and stood them up around the truck. It was fun talking to the people and having someone actually be appreciative of having me offer the door to door tree sale. It wasn’t long before I’d run out of trees.

This was one of my more positive experiences while growing up. I made less money in selling nearly a dozen trees, than half the price of one tree today. Christmas is a great time of year for memories and thinking of all the great family times around the tree. Real trees and the genuine smell of evergreen are things we relate to our heritage and give us warm feelings. So before you undecorated and throw out the tree, reflect a moment and place it in your memory as a life giving holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

(c) Rick Wyman

 

 

 

Skis & Sleds & Being A Kid In Vermont

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Everyone who lives in Vermont has memories of some small hill, or some big hill, they used to slide on during the winters of their youth. Sliding and skiing were about the only things that got me through the winters in the 50’s and 60’s. There were hills and of course there were logging roads on those hills to tackle. There were fields down the road, and the very minor incline on our lawn that qualified as a hill until I was a bit older. I remember the single-bulb outdoor light my mother would turn on at dusk. It was next to the kitchen door and lit up the stone steps down to the driveway. There was a dim, but bright enough glow Continue reading

Billy Goat for Music

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Over the course of my youth I had a variety of pets, some cats and dogs which were all very meaningful to me.  One pet in particular stands out as more memorable and unusual than the others. I had a Billy Goat. A rather large pet with an ornery disposition. Very often I would stand up petting the goat and before long, I’d be on the ground with Continue reading