Photos from the book will be added later
Farmer, Lumberman, State Official
ELECTED COUNTY COMMISSIONER OF TIOGA COUNTY—LUMBERING DAYS ARE OVER—THE OLD ENVIRONMENT PASSES AND A NEW LIFE BEGINS
During the time I was canvassing the county I had occasion to use a telephone so many times that I became quite fond of that new-fangled thing, and, during the spring months, had organized a company to build a line from Gaines up Elk Run. We called this organization the Elk Run Telephone Association. I took general charge of the building, furnished the poles and helped to erect the entire line. This brought us a little closer to civilization and was a great convenience to this somewhat isolated community.
Early in September we had completed the line to my farmhouse and had hardly made the connection with the main lines when we were compelled to use it to call a doctor. Dr. Phillips and Dr. Bently were the practicing physicians at that time, and the call was for a doctor. Both these doctors were out of town and a new doctor was sent as a substitute. This substitute was Dr. Harry W. Howland, who has now been the resident physician for more than a quarter century at Gaines, and this was his first visit up Elk Run, in 1905.
Our youngest son, Harry, had been ailing for a few days, and when this new Dr. Howland arrived he pronounced his trouble appendicitis. Again using the ‘phone he called Dr. Niles of Wellsboro, who came at once in an automobile—and, to the best of my knowledge, it was the first automobile to be seen on that road. Dr. Niles said that the child could not live without an operation, and when asked if he could live if operated upon his answer was that he did not know. Again I asked if he should be removed to Williamsport or to Blossburg. He replied that he could not live to reach either place. That was about the darkest hour of my life and there seemed to be but one answer: That the operation should be there and at once.
Dr. Niles performed the operation successfully there in the home and, after a desperate illness, the boy was again apparently as vigorous as ever. This was just one other experience that helped to make that season full of exasperating difficulties, for Harry was a jolly, handsome, efficient lad and we were fearful that he would not survive the ordeal.
At this time I was leader of that delightful cornet band in our community; was president of the school board of which I had been a member for eight years; was superintendent of the Knowlton Sunday School and had held that position for eight years; I was somewhat useful in the Grange; was Past Noble Grand in the I.O.O.F; had held the position of Chief Templar in the Order of Good Templars; was a consistent member if the ///////Baptist Church; had helped to build and make this community in which I had lived all these years. And now I was resign from all the positions I held, to give up all connections of every kind and nature, because of the lack of school advantages for my children.
Always remembering that an illustrious ancestor of mine was the originator of Thanksgiving Day, I have always looked forward to that day with a true spirit of thanksgiving. When I came to that day in November, 1905, after taking an inventory of our blessings I was truly thankful that our lot was not worse. I believe that this spirit of thanks, especially at a time when all are celebrating together, has been the means of carrying many a desolate and distracted soul over rough spots of life. And I am sure that from Thanksgiving day I began to be myself once more.
December 26th was the day agreed upon to move off the old farm and to the county seat at Wellsboro. Little did I think at that time that I would never again live there as in the days of yore. And yet after twenty-seven years I have never slept a night in the old home.
The changing of a life of activity such as I had lived was in effect
almost like a transfiguration. My breakfast hour had been five o’clock
in the summertime and four o’clock in the winter for nearly a quarter century;
and now we were to get up in time for the children to get off to school
and I was to reach the office at nine o’clock.
We stacked our cellar with every conceivable kind of food commodity that required a cool place, and our pantry was filled much after the manner we had always lived on the farm. It seemed so ridiculous to see our neighbors going several times a day to a store or to market for fresh vegetables, meat, butter, etc., when we were in the habit of having such things stored away to last us for months. We soon fell into the ways of our neighbors, however, and it was not long before we were compelled to visit the store if we chanced to have company. Frank was still stocking logs on the old job, and finished the following May. My lumbering days were over—my farming days were over—my connection with my old associates had come to an end. My life had undergone such a change that “old things had passed away and all things became new.”
I liked my work very much and soon became thoroughly familiar with every phase of my duties. I had not been there very long before I was called upon to visit Mr. M.K., an old resident of Mansfield whom I had known for thirty years before as president of the town council, the owner of mills and who owned a farm; and, to me as a lad, was the biggest, richest man in the whole world.
I was astonished to see the change that had come over this thrifty and successful business man. I found him sitting behind a poor excuse of a coal stove with little fire and with a shawl thrown over his shoulders—a man of eighty-four years, without a dollar and apparently, nearly friendless. I asked him the reason for his condition and he replied that his family was all dead; that “when I could no longer look after my business I was robbed by those who knew my condition until I have nothing left, and but for a few loyal friends I have few that care much about me now.
I would that whoever reads this story will profit as I have profited by this experience. That is why I am telling it here and now. While you are in a position to look after your business, look after it, and see to it that this story is never told about you some day. It was one of the greatest lessons of my life and one that will never be erased from my memory. It is another maxim, and has so impressed me that during these years to follow I have felt compassion for and sympathy with anyone who has seen days of prosperity and success and then has had the hand of adversity laid heavily upon him in later life. Do not feel too secure in your own prosperous moments, for I have seen prosperity vanish in the twinkling of an eye, like vapor from a morning mist. I have seen the upstart poke fun at a clumsy neighbor boy and compelled, later in life, to seek refuge from that same lad because their stations in life had been reversed. I have seen poorly clad boys at school made fun of by those who seemed to come from more prosperous homes, and later in life, those same smart alecks were glad to receive alms from those poorly clad boys. I have known of rugged, strong men who, in the days of their strength, would have made fun of a lame boy or man, and later become afflicted with the same malady in worse form. So in this lesson, which I have not the ability to overdraw, I have endeavored to point out to those of less experience the danger that lies just around the corner, the cynic, the smart aleck and the upstart.
My duties now, as I looked upon this venerable, magnificent business man of a quarter century before, were those of county poor master; and this form before me was but the faded remnant of a once strong but now weak man. How our status in life had changed from the days I had looked up to him as the greatest man in the world! I administered to his comfort as was my duty. The privilege of living in the greatest commonwealth in the greatest country in the world had, by its wise laws, made it possible for me to do so. And, after a few weeks, we buried that great soul in an unmarked grave; but his last moments on earth were in comparative comfort.
Again I was called upon to administer to one of my old teachers, in the same town. This teacher had married a man who could not manage the best, and sickness had dragged him down until the commissioners were obliged to help out during the last sickness; which again illustrates how uncertain are the fortunes or misfortunes of fate.
My first few weeks of experience as poor master were filled with heartaches by day and sleepless nights to follow. To one who is not accustomed to seeing the misery and suffering that a poverty stricken family must endure, the experience is unbelievable. Frequently I felt compelled to give my last dollar to some destitute mother whose children were clinging to her skirts. In one home I found six children, ranging from infancy to ten years of age. Three of these children were helpless imbeciles who had never spoken a word or done an intelligent thing in all their lives—a most pitiable sight to look upon to say nothing of being a great responsibility and care through life.
In another home I visited the husband and wife were both sick in bed in mid winter, with only a few potatoes to eat and nothing more.
In another home I found nine children, the infant had just died, the mother was sick in bed, the husband away at work somewhere but could not be found, and the weather far below zero. They had subsisted for days upon nothing but apples—and these had been frozen.
Another home was without food or fuel, the husband and father dying – and this in mid-winter.
In still another home where father and mother were both sick with typhoid fever, a little boy and girl came home from school while I was there and the mother to them they would have to go back to school without any dinner, for there was nothing in the house to eat. In this instance I went to a near-by store, made some purchases and spread a dinner for them. The gratitude and satisfaction displayed by those youngsters toward me will never be forgotten.
Of course, in all these cases as well as hundreds of others, provision was immediately made for their comfort and welfare.
In serving two terms as county commissioner I had time to learn well the lesson of life as seen and known by those who have, for some reason or another, became unfortunate to that degree that they must be helped by the authorities. I soon became accustomed to meeting with this class of people until my duties could be performed without hesitation; and I rather enjoyed my work for it was humanitarian; but I never became hardened against the unfortunate or forgotten man and have throughout my life contributed as much as my limited means permit to bettering condition.
The reader will undoubtedly understand that while in some of the counties of the commonwealth the county commissioners, in addition to their regular duties, have charge of the poor and insane of their district, there are many things, which are by no means unpleasant to the taste of a versatile man while performing the duties of a county commissioner. He sits in judgment over the assessment of real estate at the triennial assessment; he makes the contact with the sheriff for the care of prisoners; he appoints a superintendent of the County Home and has general oversight of that institution; he pays the bills for the cost of the courts and the care of the insane; he levies the assessment for the county tax and sees that the same is collected; he sees that the county bridges are built and maintained, as well as any county roads; whenever a new road is laid out and built, he pays for the damages for such right-of-way; he prints the ballots for elections and sees that they are distributed at the polling place in time for the election. In fact, the county commissioner is charged with the collection of all the funds of the county.
These duties I learned to the best of my ability and for two terms did my best to serve my constituents in a thoroughly and business like manner. Judge Cameron, who was elected and took office on the same day that I did, once said of me in a public meeting: “ For two terms he adorned the office of county commissioner.”
During these years I found time to do some other things which I believe should be mentioned here: I served as president of the Wellsboro Military Band; president of the Elk Run Telephone Company; president of the Dewey Paint Company; president of the Board of County Commissioners; president of the Supervisors’ Association of Tioga County; president of the Sunday school Association; president of the Baraca Class and Trustee of the First Baptist church of Wellsboro; president of the County Commissioners’ Association of the State of Pennsylvania; I organized a brass band at Leetonia and taught some for several years, besides playing in the Wellsboro Band.
While in office of commissioners built the first concrete bridge floor in the county, at Sabinsville, and it may have been the first in the state. During my first term the macadam road was built from Mansfield to Blossburg, a distance of ten miles, which was the first improved road in northern Pennsylvania. During my tenure of office the road from the County Home to the Matson Club House was built, which included the main street in Wellsboro, from Jobs Corners to the Bradford line, from Knoxville to the State line—in all about twenty miles. Suring this period we built several substantial iron bridges with concrete floors. This constituted the very first efforts in modern road building in northern Pennsylvania.
In 1909 and 1910 I served as president of the County Commissioners’ Association of the State and this brought me in close touch with road enthusiasts from every section of the Commonwealth. During my experience as a supervisor in building roads, as well as in lumbering, I had become fascinated with the possibilities of road improvement for the future. Accordingly, I was appointed legislative representative for the Commissioners’ Association by my successor at the 1910 convention.
During the building of the first improved roads in Tioga County I had become very well acquainted with Joseph W. Hunter, the first highway commissioner, and we became very fond of each other. During the winter of 1911, while we were engaged in getting this road legislation through, Mr. Hunter had faithfully promised me a position in the department as superintendent.
About this time some ingenious scribe had discovered the word “superintendent” in the bill and had changed it to “engineer.” Discovering this change and realizing it would destroy my chances of ever holding the position I had endeavored to create, I hurried to Harrisburg and sought an interview with the “Committee on Highways.” Luckily and happily for me, Representive E.E. Jones, better known as “Good Roads” Jones, was chairman of the committee.
I was permitted to address that committee and I called their attention to the fact that they were about to vote on an important bill—then paused long enough to take an inventory of the number of men in that committee that were civil engineers. Just one young man responded. When asked whether he was ever interested in road making he admitted that he followed the business of a drug clerk. Then I called attention to the fact that I knew several men on that committee were deeply interested in road making, and that I had good reason to believe that they would some day aspire to hold the position of superintendent of roads in his district; but the word “engineer” would have to be cut out and the word “superintendent” put in its place or it would not only bar all but one of the members of the committee but would bar the Governor of the State or the President of the United States.
I believed that to be a good speech, and my guess must have been well accepted, for it came out on the third reading as I had hoped. Thus the victory was won after a trip all the way to the State Capitol for the changing of a single word.
This was not the only hurdle that I must overcome before reaching my dream, for that same session demoted my good friend Mr. Hunter, and placed another in his stead. As soon as I learned of this I made another trip to Harrisburg to get the promise from the new commissioner. This promise was faithfully given and again I journeyed back to await the time when I was to receive my appointment as superintendent.
My second term as county commissioner was to expire the first of the following January, and this was mid-winter. Others aspired to run for that office providing I should decide not to again be a candidate. Upon receiving the promise of appointment I gladly gave way to my friend Rube Cleveland, and helped to elect him to that office.
I kept up all my interests except that of commissioner, after my term was out, and patiently awaited the time when the appointment was to come through. Week after week went by. I had five children in school, one had graduated from college, and our baby was too young to attend school—for Katherine Louise had been added to our little band after we left the farm. The winter went by, the spring came and went. About the first of June 1912, I learned that through the influence of political friends another had received the position that I had created and for which I had waited for more than a year after receiving the absolute promise of appointment.
My friends, I just want to say that after living up to that time after the manner of Christ’s teachings, believing in men as I had always believed, the blow was more than some would or could stand. This sudden realization that men could be so deceitful, so lacking in all that constitutes fair play or, as some would say, sportsmanship, crushed me as I have nave never been crushed in my life. Whenever I allowed myself to try to take into my confidence some friend that I hoped would have some spark of sympathy for my unhappy situation, usually the sympathy was expressed in the following two words: THAT’S POLITICS.
This particular part of my humble is not inserted here for the purpose of soliciting sympathy or for assistance of any kind. Long since I have learned some of life’s perplexities and vicissitudes, and have become accustomed to overcoming obstacles that have seemed to just naturally fall across my pathway. I have learned that some men are true in adversity as in prosperity, and that many are apparently true in your days of prosperity and as false as Satan is wicked in your days of adversity. It seemed to me that I had spent a lifetime in trying to play the game square, and that if I accomplished anything worthwhile I must perform some Herculean task—and when the goal seemed almost reached, another should reap the harvest that I had sown and cultivated.
My last dollar had been used in rent and in taking care of other obligations that are so common in rearing a family and keeping them in school. Something must be done and done quickly, for I had set my heart on spending the remainder of my life in bettering conditions of the highways of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—and now I must select some other vocation other than farming else my children could not finish their schooling as we had planned.
It was then that I learned of the Scranton Life Insurance Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and took out a contract to solicit insurance. I had done almost everything in the world, it seemed to me, except to sell or solicit. The business was entirely new to me and it took me a long time to get started. After a time, however, I seemed to strike my stride and was making a fairly good income.
About this time I received a call to organize a cornet band at Leetonia, Pennsylvania, and teach them to play. The history of Leetonia, well written, would be one of the most beautiful stories ever written, for it covers the entire span of the lumbering epoch in northern Pennsylvania. Briefly and, it would not be amiss to relate a little of its history because it has been so closely woven into portions of my own career.
Leetonia is situated on a tributary of Pine Creek, called Cedar Run, and in an earlier day, one “Lunger” Billings came into possession of several thousand acres of timberland, embracing nearly all of this beautiful stream and its smaller tributaries. Hemlock and pine timber stood in great abundance on nearly every acre of this territory, and the outlet or market for this timber was Williamsport, Harrisburg, Marietta and Baltimore.
Mr. Billings built the first stream sawmill ever erected in that part of the country, alongside the stream, about two miles from its source and about twelve miles from its confluence with Pine Creek. Near the mill he also built a very substantial house for that day and place, and called it the “White House.” The mill and house formed a semblance of a town. And it was called Lungerville.
This twelve miles from Lungerville to Cedar Run, situated on Pine Creek, was through one of the most inaccessible mountain chasms east of the Rocky Mountains. The gorge was so deep and the hillsides so steep that it seemed almost impossible to build any kind of road so that logs or lumber could be taken to the deeper water of Pine Creek and floated down the river to market. Had the art of log driving been known at that time as well as in later years, the problem would have been easy. But it was then thought to be necessary to saw the logs into lumber near where the timber grew, then draw the lumber in some way to deep water where it must be built into rafts, and then floated down the river to its destination.
First a tram road was made by using long trees placed lengthwise upon cribbing built with other logs, and these long rail-like trees were hewn in such manner as to resemble the ordinary railroad, and upon which cars were moved down by gravity with the load of lumber, and with the use of mules or horses these cars were brought back to the mill. After a time this process was superseded by building a plank road down the entire length of the stream and the lumber transported by using wagons in the summertime and bobsleds in wintertime.
Both the tram and the plank road were built along side the stream, which it crossed many times on its way down. After a time the lumbering interest at Williamsport contrived a way of holding logs in the Susquehanna River, as has been described in a former chapter, by first building a dam across the river, then building a boom across the river to hold the logs. Then it was that the sawmill at Lungerville was abandoned. Several splash dams were built across the stream, and from that time on the timber was cut into logs and “driven” or floated to the Williamsport mills.
Soon, however, the Lees of New York bought the bark and Williamsport parties purchased the timber. Then it was that Leetonia was founded, in 1878, about four miles down stream from where the Billings sawmill had been.
Eventually two sawmills and a large tannery were running full time. A railroad was built from Tiadaghton to Leetonia across the hills, and for nearly fifty years Leetonia was an outstanding inland lumbering town, isolated from the rest of the world as few other towns have been. The people of that community kept abreast of the times, and it was never known as a “wild and woolly” town, but as a town populated by a forward-looking class of people, refined and cultured, with a desire for education for the young and a strictly religious tendency among the older people.
A highway had been built alongside the mountain all the way to Pine Creek, for the valley was too narrow to permit of a road because the stream occupied about all the space at the bottom of the hills. Truly, it is now a delightful drive through that section of Tioga and Lycoming Counties, for the scenery is unsurpassed and there is still enough evidence of the habitation and industry to fill the traveler with wonder, with delight and with awe.
It was in this delightful village that I taught and led the “Hicks Cornet Band,” the only band that the town ever had. It was a revelation and proved to be a great asset to the entertainment and enjoyment of that unique habitation. I had fairly well mastered the brass instruments, but in order to teach the clarinet I must know at least something about that instrument as well. Night and day, at every interval, I would labor with that difficult instrument, until I could get along fairly well and knew enough about it to teach other
I managed to sell more and more insurance as the time went by, and, strange to say, I soon forgot about my great disappointment in losing the appointment of highway superintendent.
About this time I leased the Elk Run Telephone Lines, of which I had been president so many years, and took full charge, with the understanding that I could develop the territory as much as I cared to do and any improvements made were to be my own. Accordingly, I started out extending the lines in and around Germania, purchased the Germania and Galeton lines, the Galeton and Hull lines, and built new lines all through the surrounding Communities until there were about two hundred miles of line to look after.
In the spring of 1913 I purchased a house and lot at Watrous and moved there. There was a school very handy, gas to burn, and the town was situated on the bank on Pine Creek, facing the west, with a delightful growth of pine trees along the water’s edge, and surrounded by the most pure, wholesome air and agreeable neighbors to be found in the world. I have thanked God many times for the prank of destiny that saw fit to deprive me of that highway appointment and turn it over to another.
Soon after moving to this new location, about five miles from my farm and in the same township, I organized another band of about thirty pieces, called the “Watrous Concert Band.” There were eight young ladies and twenty-two young men. Six of these were my own children-----two sons and four daughters. Two daughters played the slide trombone, and in the march occupies the two front corners of the formation. The other two played the clarinet and occupied the corners of the back formation. The two sons played the cornet. This band soon became so popular that we had calls from nearly all towns and cities around bout, and from as far away as Baltimore and Boston. We liked concert work best, as our name would imply, and made a specialty of that phase of musical entertainment.
At the November election of that year, 1913, I was elected to the office of supervisor and justice of the peace for the township of Gaines. And be it said that both offices were thrust upon me without even asking or making an appeal of any kind. To say that my life was quite full would be placing a rather mild expression upon the matter. Besides the farm, the telephone business, the insurance business, supervisor, justice of the peace, I was teaching and leading two brass bands.
Somehow I still found time to keep rather well posted in several fraternal organizations to which I had become attached. The Grange was now attracting my attention rather more than any of the others, and I was elected Master of Marshfield Grange, No. 1113, which office I held for two terms of one year each. Learning all the work completely so that I was never compelled to use a book or manuscript in the performance of any of the duties, probably accounted largely for being selected by the State Grange for the office of Overseer at the 1918 session, held at Tyrone, Pennsylvania. On the day of this election I met for the first time the future Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot.
February 5th following, I was called to Turtle Point, McKean County, to install officers of the Pomona Grange of that county. An itinerary had been planned for me for that entire week. Before the week was over calls reached me from other sections of the State. Thus my time was filled with Grange work from the first day so that, eventually, I was compelled to give up some of my other activities and, accordingly, I dropped out of the insurance business---although I had acquired the management of six counties and the income from that source was very gratifying.
As mentioned before, I had committed all of the Grange work, so that in conferring degrees, installing officers, dedicating Grange Halls, instructing in the unwritten work, etc., engagements came to me faster than I could take care of them—often filling as many as three engagements in a single day. Great demands were made upon me from not only every county of our own State but from many of the other States. I was sent by the National Master into Tennessee, Ohio and all of the New England States; I often visited New Jersey, New York and Maryland; I later did some organizing in Wyoming and got as far as Sacramento, California.
In December 1920, I was elected Lecturer of the Pennsylvania State Grange and it seemed as though my duties almost doubled—if such a thing could be. Itineraries were planned for me to spend several days in one section of the State and then, journeying via Pullman, be in another section of the State next day, thereby filling every day and every evening for weeks at a time so that I was not able to get back to my home for long periods of time. In one single week, while in the lecture field, I filled engagements in the following places: Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburg, New York and Springfield, Mass., and spent each night on the train.
My first experience in broadcasting was over the WGY station at Schenectady, N.Y. Since then, of course, it has become quite common and I have my share of broadcasting in many cities of the land. I was called to Chicago by Sears Roebuck and Company on one occasion to give a lecture on roadside marketing—and was given ten minutes to earn my money, which was something like one hundred and fifty dollars.
In most of my lecture work my theme was for advancing the community and home life. While the colder and more economical questions such as taxation, prices, rates and money matters generally were not overlooked. I will confess that I could never see as much real results ensuing from my efforts in that phase of Grange work as I could in getting down to the matter of improving the home surroundings, the school advantages, the questions of general deportment of the offspring, of beautifying the community generally, and, in fact, trying to make better citizens out of ourselves. I have witnessed the big, awkward, bashful boy coming down from the pioneer countryside farm to join the Grange; have watched him turn the ice cream freezer at the picnic celebration and for the harvest supper; have seen him carry water, build fires, light lamps and, in fact, become the general roustabout while he is presuming to learn something about Grange life. I have seen him gradually unfold and improve from the most obscure position to the most lofty position because of the environment and training he has been able to get from time to time in coming in contact with his fellow Grangers. I have seen men and women who were careless in their dress, because of their earlier training, gradually take on form and manner until they were sought out by the best men and women of the day, and all because of the environment and training they had received from Grange teaching and contact.
I was reelected Lecturer in 1922 and filled that position until 1924.
At the State Grange meeting held in Williamsport, December 1922, it
fell to my lot to write a resolution providing fro the State Grange to
build some kind of building at State College to be used for educational
purposes, to be known as a memorial to the State Grange. John A. McSparran,
Master of the State Grange, very graciously appointed me chairman of the
building committee and my associates were M.B. Orr, of Mercer County; Robert
G. Bressler, of State College; Mrs. Georgia M. Piollet, of Bradford County;
Mrs. Agnes Van Kirk, of Washington County.