Have You Driven a Ford Lately?

Today “the boys” will come over to pick up our old Ford 8-N tractor. Built in 1952, it has served us well since the fateful day in 1979 when we bought it. I say fateful, because it was a day I’ll never forget.
The owners, back-to-the-land acquaintances not very unlike ourselves, were splitting/divorcing, and the stuff they’d accumulated for working the land had to go. A divorce is divisive in more ways than one, and apparently this divorce was leaving the male half of the sketch – whom I’ll call Exhibit A – with a strong need to show he knew what he was doing.
It was a chilly March day, and we arrived around 10AM with the F-600 flatbed truck we used in our firewood delivery business, expecting, as we’d been led to expect, to back it
up to an embankment or ramp of some kind, but Exhibit A waved off this necessity. He said there wasn’t anyplace we could do that, and he had some planks we could use to drive it up and onto the truck bed.  Keep in mind that this bed was a good four feet off the ground.
He produced the planks: 2x10x12s. (If you can do the math, you find that two planks twelve feet long rising to a height of four feet is… well, pretty damned steep). Exhibit A was very hard to dissuade, but there were three of us telling him it was an extremely bad idea, so he hauled out two more planks and some cement blocks with which to make a longer – and therefore less steep – ramp, and this time there was no dissuading. Finally, anxious to get the thing done and get out of there, we caved, and he mounted the tractor. I tried to get him to wait for us to nail the planks to the truck bed, but he drove on.
Up the ramp he went – the three of us holding our collective breath – past the cement block support and joint between between planks, and about two feet from his destination atop the truck, and to our amazement, it looked as though he’d been right, that he could just drive the 8-N onto the truck.  He stopped…, calling out, “Am I okay?” Collectively we shouted, “KEEP GOING!!!!!”  He yanked down on the throttle, the burst of speed spun the tractor’s back wheels, sending the planks flying backwards and out from under the tractor, and as it fell, it’s bucket-loader caught on the right side rack on the truck! Ford and driver swung back and forth wildly as he tried to jump off, not sure which way it might fall, as we gasped a terrified breath.  Slowly it stopped swinging and was still. Exhibit A stepped gingerly onto the truck bed and then jumped down to Mother Earth.
No one spoke. Silently, we all walked to the house. Tea was made in silence as our minds re-ran the near tragedy we had just witnessed.
Eventually, we returned to the yard and the dangling tractor.  Its rear wheels were nearly three feet off the ground.  We chain-sawed a vertical line down the side rack of the truck, separating the tractor-hanging section from the rest of the rack, and then I took over the engineering. Exhibit A wisely kept his mouth shut.
The task involved a lot of used tires and a rope, and it’s a bit long to describe, but several hours later my husband was driving an empty Ford F-600 and our two kids the 35 miles back home, and I was learning to drive the other Ford.  It had to be that way because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals in the truck.


Our son, whom we named Joseph Whittier, was born in mid-May of 1977.  It was a little less than a year after we had the bright idea, a no-brainer, actually, to buy a used trailer (what is known in more civilized parts of the country as a mobile home) and move from our in-town apartment to the land we had bought.  We wondered why that plan hadn’t come to us sooner than it did, for building a house in one place while living in another some twelve miles away was a pretty ridiculous and unrealistic scheme.
Within a week we had found a trailer.  It was quite an interesting experience.  The thing was 12 x 60′ and had two bedrooms and two baths.  Part of an estate sale, it sold completely furnished. The thing cost around $2,000 – less, at the time, than a late-model used car.
We’d been living in it for a little more than a month when I began experiencing some nausea. Our water was being pumped from a spring about 500′ away, in a pipe laid on top of the ground.  This was a temporary arrangement, as a well would soon be drilled at the actual house site.  We attributed my illness to the water and began boiling it for drinking.  It was now at least mid-September, and in addition to nausea, I began feeling physically exhausted.
Finally, it seemed to me that I had only felt this way twice before:  when pregnant for our daughter, and when pregnant for a baby we lost.  But that couldn’t be.  I had been diagnosed sterile.  I had seen the x-ray of my blocked fallopian tubes.  Not possible.  And yet the signs were there, such that I finally made an appointment with a local doctor.  As the doctor would later say, “Well, if it’s the water, there’s a lot of fertile water around here.”
During the long winter nights of that first year on Orebed Road, as I grew in girth, Bob and I frequently read poems from a collection of John Greenleaf Whittier’s work.  We’d take turns reading aloud just before turning out the lights for the night.  I think it was Whittier’s Snowbound that had spoken to us because of the cold darkness and snow that surrounded us on those nights.
Our due-date was the end of May, and while we had settled on a girl’s name, the right choice for a boy had eluded us.  Two weeks before I was expected to deliver, I felt particularly tired and lay down on our bed with our copy of A Gazillion Names for Your Baby (or whatever it was titled). An idea came to me: Why not Whittier?  But what if the kid didn’t like that?  Well, maybe Joseph Whittier… Joseph is my husband’s middle name, and if the kid didn’t like Whittier, he could choose to be Joe.  I wrote the name Joseph Whittier  on the inside back cover of the book, but I didn’t think to mention my idea to the father-to-be.
The next morning, my water broke and we were hospital-bound.  On the 25 minute drive to town, he spoke.  “What do you think about naming him Joseph Whittier if it’s a boy?”  I replied that he must have seen that I wrote that in the baby names book.  “No, I just thought of it.”  And that was that.  The baby was a boy, and Joseph Whittier has called himself Whit ever since.


May 1930 Adirondack Canoe Trip

Written by Bill Toporcer, my father.  This is an account of a week-long trip to and across the Adirondack Mountains.  The original notes were typed in 1988, two years before his death in 1990.  I am transcribing from that typed copy.

May 15, 1930 – Thursday

Rain made starting doubtful this morning, but at 9:30 I decided to leave. It was 10:30 when I said goodbye to Mabel, Ruth, and Bob and got into the car with George. He drove me to beyond Egypt – 14 1/2 miles. He had to be back at the ball park at 11:45, so could take me no farther. Shook hands with him and waved goodbye as the car took a turn out of sight.

I walked nearly a mile, then received a lift to Lyons in a fast moving truck. Driver made short stops at Palmyra and Newark. Had a pleasant conversation. Walked about a mile out of Lyons. Next got a lift to Syracuse. Driver a middle-aged man, a very fine person. Enjoyed the ride with him. Walked from the heart of Syracuse over 5 miles. Very much traffic, but no rides. Finally a lift that was bound for Clinton. I alighted at the Rome road about 2 miles beyond Sherrill, deciding to avoid going through Utica, where I would no doubt have to walk a good deal. Got a lift into Rome from an Italian. He was coming from southern New Jersey, having driven 400 miles since “half past two – two o’clock” this morning. A rattling old car, but it traveled at a fast clip. Rome not very inviting, approached from the south. Walked a considerable distance beyond town. A couple of short lifts to Lake Delta; then a very welcome ride through the Lansing Kill Gorge to about nine miles from Boonville. The driver was a farmer, shrewd after a fashion, a talkative person, but one to whom I took an instantaneous liking. He remarked on many things and he pointed out a few interesting things along the way, one of them a very old tunnel, the entrances of which are now blocked by earth and rock, but still to be seen if one knows where to look. Old Black River canal, now out of use, is beside the road. There are numerous locks. When we reached his home the farmer expressed his pleasure in my company and remarked that he was sorry he was not going farther. “You can pitch your tent right out here,” he added, indicating the yard. But I said I would walk another mile, trying for one more lift. I walked nearly a mile, but got no lift. I had my eyes watchful for a spot to camp, one that would be near the road, but hidden from it. I found it, a level, grassy spot on the incline between the old canal and Lansing Kill Creek, below it. I crossed on one of the locks. I looked over the situation and unslung my pack. It was past seven o’clock – twilight. I had very little time. I pulled out the tent and the hatchet (the top things in the pack, so the tent could be pitched at once in the event of rain and, because in the event of breaking camp in the rain, everything would be packed under shelter).

I cut a pole about 6 1/2 feet long and five or six sticks for pegs. The tent was up in less than ten minutes. I hastily pulled handfuls of grass and various green plants, which I tossed on the tent floor for a “mattress” for my bed. Over this went my poncho, then the sleeping bag and cover. I sat down on the bed and ate an uncooked supper of all-bran with evaporated milk, raisins, and sugar, an orange, a pat of butter, and an apricot or two. Although I had not eaten anything but an orange since breakfast, I was only ordinarily hungry. It was 8:10 when I finished eating. I had cut the evaporated milk can with my scout knife and used it as a candle lantern. I undressed, wiped my body with the towel, put on fresh socks and underwear, and went to bed.

The scenery between Rochester and Syracuse (Routes 31 and 5) is very fine, typical Finger Lakes countryside. From Syracuse to Rome is too populated and there is too much traffic. Lansing Kill Gorge is a splendid, wild, narrow valley, bounded by heavily forested hills. Unfortunately, I saw it after sundown.

In spite of all the skiing of the winter and all the walking of the spring, my feet were in miserable shape this evening. I had walked about 11 miles, on macadam and concrete, and the soles of my feet were hot and blistered. It is the result of wearing different fitting shoes and socks. I went up and down Marcy* in a day last fall in the same shoes without an ache. When I got back to New York, my feet had burned in street shoes. So it is. It was painful for me to move about when pitching camp.

I am running into details again, when I have only time for outline, but it is the details I enjoy. What I thought and felt is more to me than where I was or what I did. I regret that I cannot write out the most pleasant thoughts. The chief regret was leaving home – parting with what I like of life at home – parting from George and Mabel, Ruth and Bob. They are a great deal to me. They do not see where my pleasure comes in leaving good home, good meals, good surroundings, for a series of discomforts. I must own up that often on a trip like this I wonder why I do it myself. The first few days – with thoughts of recent interests fresh in mind, are always hard for me – whether it be camp, Keene Valley, or any other change of place and activities. Then, when I round into the new order, its loveliness grows, and leaving it becomes likewise sorrowful. So, I hope, it may be with this trip.

* Bill had climbed Mt. Marcy, N.Y. State’s highest peak, some twelve times, mostly in the winter, twice on snowshoes and once on skis

May 16, 1930 – Friday

The first streaks of dawn were welcome to me. It had rained in the night, but the tent was scarcely wet, and this mostly in the form of drops that could be shaken off. I munched a few raisins to tide my appetite to breakfast. Broke camp after making a repair on the knapsack, one of the buckles having torn a hole in the canvas to which it was riveted. I used a couple of rivets, a piece of leather, adhesive plaster, and a needle and thread.

It was raining lightly when I took to the road. My blistered feet ached badly. In less than a half mile I got a lift to Boonville – about 8 miles. The driver, a young fellow, had a rifle in the car, which he used to take a shot at a woodchuck he asw about 150 yards from the road. He missed – which pleased me. I engaged him in conversation to detract his attention from looking for other woodchucks. I saw a large bird, which I think was a great blue heron, but kept the observation to myself.

I had breakfast in a lunch room in Boonville; half a grapefruit, Pep with milk and sugar, a glass of milk, and a cup of coffee. Walked out of town. Two short lifts of less than a mile each, then a third lift to Alder Creek. Some walking and two lifts of short distances; then a ride through to Old Forge with two men – school teachers, one quite young. They stopped at Thendara for coffee and doughnuts. Invited me to eat with them. I accepted a cup of coffee. It was 10:20 when we reached Old Forge. I limped down to the nearest dock. Inquired about canoes, rates, expressage of canoes from R.R. points, carries, etc., from a Mr. E. L. Marks. Said his rates were $1.25 per day, or $7.00 per week. Lightest canoe 50 pounds, Old Town model. Expressage about $5.50 from Saranac Lake and about $5.00 from Tupper Lake. I told him I was informed that canoe rates were $1.00 per day, $6.00 per week. I could not afford to pay more. This rate I got from him. I paid him $16.00, for which I got a receipt. $6.00 is for the canoe for one week. The $10.00 is to cover expressage and deposit. He is to mail me a money order to Keene Valley covering the deposit as soon as the canoe is received by him. I am to send the canoe express collect. His receipt contains these arrangements.

He attached a carrying yoke to the gunwales, I selected two paddles – one of which I tied to the canoe with a rope; and at 11:23 I shoved off for points northeast. My pack was in the bow. It was cloudy. There was a gentle wind at my back, which aided me greatly throughout the day. It was nice through the narrows to First Lake. I put around the point abutting it from the west, and read my map before crossing between the island and the north shore peninsula to Second Lake. Swallows flew about me for several miles, seemingly wishing me a pleasant trip. I christened the canoe Swallow. I entered Third Lake at 12:30, and emerged into Fourth Lake from the channel at 12:45. I kept to the south shore of the lake, passing close to the points but running offshore between them. Summer camps and cottages on both shores, but without occupants except for native workmen who, no doubt, were putting in stovewood, joining water and sewer pipes, etc., in preparation for the summer season.

I had my first taste of swells and small waves whenever I approached a jetty or a point. It was 2:10 when I docked in the channel at Inlet – good time. I drew the canoe up on a rickety pier and went to the village close at hand for lunch of a malted milk, chocolate, and fruit. Then I purchased a few groceries – potatoes, carrots, two eggs, graham crackers, and fruit. I reembarked as rain commenced. It approached a shower as I paddled for the east shore of Fifth Lake, but it had ceased by the time I docked beside the macadam road. I shouldered my pack for the first carry. It goes uphill at a gentle slope for a half mile on the road, then about 80 yards along a dirt drive to Sixth Lake. I counted my paces on the return for the canoe. I figured the total distance as 950 yards. I was greatly pleased how easily the canoe could be carried with the yoke. I called it an Easter bonnet in replying to a good natured remark a man made about my “umbrella.”

I kept to the south shore of Sixth Lake and passed under a highway bridge to enter Seventh Lake. This I crossed to Seventh Lake inlet. I watched for a suitable campsite but saw none to lure me from going to Eight Lake and to spend the night at a lean-to I hoped to locate. Quite a way up the inlet I saw the landing at the carry, but, supposing it to be a summer cottage pier, and observing I could proceed farther up the channel, I passed it by (a costly error in time and effort), and made a landing about a quarter mile beyond it. An automobile road is close to the terminus of navigable water. Up this I carried my pack – probably a mile – until I saw Eighth Lake, through thick trees on my left. I left my pack on shore, realizing I had not come via the carry, and started back for the canoe. It was getting late – nearly 6 o’clock Standard Time. Nevertheless, I decided to do some exploring. About a quarter mile back toward where the canoe was was a very inviting dirt road. This, I learned later, leads to Uncas. It is given on the U.S. Topo sheet, but the auto road is not. I took it and struck the regular carry road, which crosses the Uncas road. I turned north along the carry to make sure of where it reached Eighth Lake. There was the lean-to, facing the lake and providing a good view of it. There were also two fireplaces where one may pitch a tent. After debating two alternatives, I decided to go back on the carry in the hope of retrieving the canoe and returning via the carry. It was 7/8 of a mile to the landing. How to get to the canoe? I took to the woods along the bank of the channel and found a place I could cross over, beyond the canoe. Reaching the canoe, I paddled against a strong wind and rain back to the carry, and trudged to the lean-to with the canoe on my back. I embarked on the lake and retrieved my pack. I was dog tired. It was 6:50. Between my aching feet and my tiredness from exertion I called it a day’s work; but there is no rest for the wicked or the weary, so I hustled through camp preparations. This consisted of chopping a little wood, cutting three balsams for browse, cooking supper (potatoes, carrots, bacon, coffee, graham crackers and fruit). There was also the problem of making my bed. It was 10:30 when I turned in, but not until I had punctured five or six large blisters on the soles of my feet.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I will be adding more to this in the coming week or two.


To be honest, this is not a story I tell proudly…

I grew up on a secluded two acre paradise about 1/4 mile from the center of a village. Also within smelling distance was a sizable herd of goats, and in spring, if memory serves me, those goats were highly odoriferous. Perhaps love was in the air.

One afternoon, the biggest billy-goat I’d ever seen – although I confess to not having seen any others at close range at my tender age of 9 – appeared in our front yard. My sister and I and a friend were playing just outside the garage. Said goat was white, though he undoubtedly had a black heart or maybe a heart beating with passion, his horns were long, and he chased us into the garage, where we were able to climb to the attic for safety while screaming, “DUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”   (“Duch” was what we called my mom, but that’s yet another story). Duch apparently didn’t hear us, and after some time, Mr. A. Goat left.

The scene repeated on the next day, this time sending us up onto our screened porch just in time. I can still see that damned goat standing with hind legs on the front steps and front feet up on the screen of the door.

My mother, who was no sissy, tried to chase him, but the score was very quickly Goat – 1, Duch – 0. She made some phone calls, and in about 15 minutes a man showed up, grabbed the amorous goat by one horn, and led him away. I presume some fence mending was also done that day, or perhaps a goat pilaf was eaten, for that was the last time a billy got my goat.

On Track


Eve and I ringing the bell

This weekend my husband and I met our son and his family at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.  The place is interesting and its grounds are lovely with quite a wonderful view of the much of the lake, but for me, besides the fact that a pair of moleskin britches and a diary belonging to my father are housed in the museum’s archives, the main attraction is the old steam locomotive that once carried the wealthy over the 3960′ between Racquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake which could not be navigated by boat.

IMG_4640-1-2I was about seven years old when my father parked our station wagon beside Rte. 28 and led us a short distance into the woods on a seldom-used trail.  He didn’t tell us where we were going, probably because he wasn’t sure just what we’d find, but eventually we emerged onto a broad, cindered opening.  There were no rails remaining, but we followed the cindered bed a very short distance past a worn, elevated water tank, and then caught our first glimpse of what we would later always refer to as “The Old-Timer”:  two open-air rail cars and an old steam locomotive.  It was a thrilling discovery!  We spent a very long time climbing all over it, pretending to be engineer, passengers, and crew, and taking imaginary trips.  It was an excursion that came to be part of several future family camping trips.

Years later, I took my own children to visit The Old-Timer, but to our great disappointment, it was gone.  The roof that had covered it was falling in, and the water tank was down and broken.  Empty beer bottles told a much more modern story than the one I knew.

Although I did not know it, The Adirondack Museum was created in 1947 by Harold K. Hochschild as an effort to protect the steam locomotive and two cars that had been abandoned on the Marion River Carry between Utowana and Racquette Lakes.  Although the museum opened in 1957,  The Old-Timer wasn’t moved there until some years later.

My father knew of the train because he had taken the canoe trip through the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Racquette Lake, then through Utowana and the Marion River to Blue Mountain Lake, a ninety-mile route that eventually ends in Saranac Lake.  Although he never rode the train, there was a small conveyance that carried his gear over The Old-Timer’s tracks.

Marion River Carry Bill Toporcer and friends 1931 (2)








My father on the right atop the canoe.

Marion River Railroad 1931 (qf)

The train cars in 1931 (above), and history repeating (below).


What a wonderful 71st birthday gift!


My father didn’t earn a very big salary, and although we were comfortable and never felt we lacked anything, there were some things we just didn’t own. A TV set was one of them.

In my early childhood, TV wasn’t a common household item, and my father had loudly vowed it would not become one in ours. Back in those days, his aversion to the snowy black and white screen was reasonable: we could listen to a number of radio dramas (and did), and we could read. The radio sat beside our round kitchen table in the small apartment upstairs in my grandmother’s house, and our tiny family huddled close as Straight Arrow yelled “Kenneewah, Fury!” and galloped from his secret cave to capture the rustlers. It just could never get any more exciting or better than that – really and truly.

We moved to our own home in 1950, bringing Grandma with us, and my mother set about making repairs (she was the handyman of the family) as my father began turning the two acre yard into his own small version of Central Park. In the excitement of nesting, the first year or two must have flown by for them. I loved this new home too. There were neighborhood kids to play with, including some with TV sets, and I would regularly go to their homes to watch The Lone Ranger, Sky King and The Cisco Kid.

Fall came in the third year of our residency, and – perhaps sensing that he was losing his daughter to the neighbors – my father suddenly embraced the modern age: he announced we were going to get a television set. He purchased a small, used Philco, and we impatiently awaited its arrival. (In those days, apparently it was assumed that the average homeowner was not technically savvy enough to carry one home, place the “rabbit ears” on top, and plug it in.) The delivery man/technician arrived in the knick of time: the Yankees were just taking the field, and we were all seated in a straight row of wooden chairs in front of the space prepared for the electronic marvel. It took the Bronx Bombers six games to beat the Bums from Brooklyn, and we saw every minute of it, animistically letting the TV “rest” between games.

With the exception of “The Two Ronnies,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” the 1980 US vs. USSR Olympic hockey game and an enjoyable run of “Northern Exposure” in the 1990s, I guess you could say the experience went downhill from there. These days, the TV “rests” between Netflix offerings, replaced by NPR, good music or just plain sweet silence. Whenever I drive through the Tug Hill region, I can pick up a station that plays the old radio dramas, and you know what? They are still great!


Imgp5970 33pct
November 11, 2006

Several weeks ago I spent an interesting and enjoyable few days pooting around the Upper Hudson with a Toronto chum. Here, at the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, she gets a better understanding of the lay of the land.

We followed the routes of ancestors, pored over old land records, visited museums and historic sites, stomped through old cemeteries and visited locks along the waterway connecting Lake Champlain and New York City. She taught me the value of “trying on” a locale to better understand one’s ancestors; I taught her that ice cream cones are sold in Stewart’s shops and can be found in nearly every village.

Here’s to fun with a purpose, and here’s to friendship!