Luzerne County Memories

Part 3

PART 3:

* Stearns Station

* A Company Home

* Home, Home with a Range

 

STEARNS STATION

Stearns Station was a patch of 8 double block homes and one single home for the superintendent of the colliery. It was owned by the Susquehanna Coal Company and was located a few hundred yards south of the #6 shaft.

In 1934, the residents were:

B. Boyle, superintendent; H. Smith, Pieseno (sp?), Cymbalysti, Rogowicz, Kopko, Zakszewsi/Smith, McGill/Zlotowski, Kivler, Walkewicz, Howells/Lewis, Wallace, Dinardi/Zakszewki, Campbell and Selecky. The names with the slash indicate two families living in the home. Many times, a daughter got married but could not afford to go housekeeping so she brought her husband to live with the in-laws.

During the depression, the mines did not work every day. Paydays were small, so the ladies of the house were interested in knowing if the mines were working on the following day. It was always on a day-to-day basis. A Wilkes-Barre radio station (WBAX or WBRE) would broadcast

the schedule every noon for the following day. It was sponsored by Fred S. Petit, a local feed store owner, who began the program with the sound of baby chicks peeping. At the time, it was unique. The announcer then began giving the schedule ... Alden, working ... Auchinclos, idle ... Avondale, idle ... Loomis, working ... Susquehanna #6, working ... Susquehanna #7, idle ... etc. There must have been 20-30 mines in the Wyoming Valley, so it took a little while.

 

A COMPANY HOME

The 1930's continued to be a period of decline for the anthracite coal industry. My father moved our family to a patch because he thought it would be less expensive to live. Being a laborer, he didn't work often and had low pay as well as no pay periods. However, many men (i.e., pump runners, hoist engineers and fire bosses) worked seven days

a week regardless if the mine worked or not.

The house into which we moved had six rooms and no bath or central heating. The rent was ten dollars a month and the electricity, which was supplied by the company, was two dollars a month. However, there were restrictions. No appliances, especially those that heated, were permitted. The double block (duplex) homes were painted light colors (i.e., light yellow, light green or light blue). They were in a row with three going up the hill and the rest going across a level at the top. Our house was the third one up and gave us a good view of the colliery. The front porch was a great place to sit on a rainy day and watch the mine at work.

A wire fence extended the length of the front of the property and along the sides. A board fence enclosed the rear. There were no sidewalks or paved roads. The "street" in front of our house had deep ruts and couldn't be traveled by a vehicle. The space at the top of the hill afforded parking for visitors to the mine or patch. Inside the yard, there were large plank boardwalks leading to the front porch, side/rear porch and out to the coal shanty at the rear of the property.

About twenty feet from the houses, there was a row of double block outhouses which were painted to match the main dwelling. However, the toilets had running water. When the seat was depressed, the water carried the waste down to a black creek which carried it to the Susquehanna River. (An environmental nightmare.) There were a few homes that had baths. They were rented to the men who had seven day per week jobs. At their own expense and with permission from the company, the renters installed the baths themselves.

Each home had a backyard large enough to grow a variety of vegetables. Everyone planted tomatoes, potatoes, beans and other vegetables. Most everyone home canned many of the items. By the time December came round, the shelves in our cellar were filled with all sorts of pickles, tomatoes, beans, chili sauce and a variety of jams and jellies. Beyond the back fence, was a row of coops where people raised chickens, ducks, geese or turkeys. One of my chores was to see that the stock was fed and watered.

The year we raised ducks, our neighbor, Mrs. "Pete", asked to kill the duck so she could have the blood to make czarnina (sp?) which is blood soup. When we offered her the duck, she insisted that she only wanted the blood, but she had to kill it. Out of curiosity, I watched. It was the worst thing I could have done. I couldn't stand to see my "pets" killed in that manner. The next year, I asked my dad not to raise ducks and he agreed.

The houses were built long before the electric lights were installed. Each room had the bare bulb hanging from the center of the room. There were no wall switches. The bulb was screwed into a socket that had a brass chain which one pulled to turn the light off or on. It was very frustrating entering a dark room and searching for that chain. The solution was to tie a string to the chain and fasten it to the door jamb. Or, in the bedroom, we would tie one end of the string to the chain and the other end to the head of the bed. There was an outlet in the front room and one in the middle room but only on the first floor. The outlets were in the floor and not in the wall as they are today. Since there was no bathroom, we were required to use the round galvanized tub for bathing. That's why I went down to the colliery for a shower as I stated in an earlier message.

HOME, HOME WITH A RANGE

Our company house in the 30's was heated by a coal heater in the middle downstairs room and a coal range in the kitchen. It was one of my chores to see that the ashes were taken out and enough coal was brought in to last the next day. Our heater was a large, nickel-plated, decorative stove with doors on the sides and double doors on the front. The doors had isinglass windows through which one could see the glowing coals. It helped give a warm, cozy atmosphere to the room.

The kitchen range was a real "work horse." It was the domain of the woman of the house. All the cooking and baking was done in or on it, and it heated the water for our use. The fire box had three sides of fire brick and one side held a water back. The water back was connected to a tank at the rear of the stove and the tank connected to the sink and water supply. Convection circulated the water and the heated water was stored in the tank. There was always a kettle on the stove containing heated water just in case a friend or neighbor dropped in for a cup of tea. When that happened, Mom would put some loose tea in the teapot, put some boiling water over it and when the tea was ready, poured the tea through a tea strainer into a cup. Breakfast toast was made over the glowing coals. We had a special rack into which we put the slice of homemade bread and, after removing a lid, placed it on the stove over the coal. When smoke started to rise, we would flip it over and toast the other side. We had a griddle which was large enough to cover the two lids directly over the firebox. Mom used the griddle for making pancakes, Welsh cookies and froice (sp?). Froice was a pancake made from extra thin batter and, after it was done, was rolled up. Sometimes they were plain, or had cinnamon or sugar inside. Other times, they had very thin, small pieces of apple. Whichever way they were made, they were delicious and just the thing to eat when I got home from school.

Washday was what the name implied. It usually took most of the day. The wringer washer was put in the middle of the kitchen and a chair with a galvanized tub to hold the rinse water was put alongside. Mom would take the wet clothes out of the washer, put them through the wringer, put them into the rinse water and back through the wringer. They were then put into a basket and taken outside to be hung on the Clothesline. When they were dry, Mom would bring them in and, one at a time, would place them on the table, sprinkle the garment with drops of water and roll them up in a tight roll. It was very difficult to get wrinkles out of dry clothing. When she ironed, she would place the ironing board near the stove. She had three or four irons with which to iron. The irons had holes in the top to hold a common handle which fit all. She would put the irons on the stove and when they were hot enough, she would proceed to iron. When the iron she was using got cool, she would put it back on the stove, release the handle and put it on another iron. She did this until the ironing was finished.

Even in those days, the ladies were concerned about their appearance. Mom had two irons which she used to "fix" her hair. (Her words, not mine.) One was a curling iron and the other was a waving iron. They both worked like a large pair of scissors. When she was about to do the girls hair or her own, she would put the irons in the hot coals to get warm. When she thought they were hot enough, she'd test them on a newspaper. If they scorched the paper, they were too hot. In any case, if one smelled burnt hair, she was in trouble! :-)

During the winter months, we always had hot bricks in the oven. They were not the small bricks used in building houses but the large, yellow bricks used for paving the roads. Each night before bedtime, Mom would take out a brick, wrap it in cloth, take it upstairs and put it under the covers at the foot of the bed. It sure was nice crawling into a warm bed and putting cold feet on a warm brick. In the morning, when she made the bed, she'd return the brick to the oven to heat up for bedtime.

I think it is safe to say that most of us have suffered through a spell of diarrhea leaving us with a sore posterior. Mom had a remedy for the discomfort! She took a lid from the stove, wrapped it in newspaper and cloth, put it on a chair and ordered us to sit on it. Believe me, it was very sooooothing. Coming in from sleigh riding or walking in the snow always left me with cold, wet feet. Putting my "high tops" behind the stove to dry, I'd open the oven door and put a chair in front of it. It was great to sit in the chair with my feet on the little shelf below the oven and read a Big Little Book. (What! You never heard of a Big Little Book?!) "High tops" were shoes usually worn by kids in the country. I can't recall seeing many city kids wearing them. They came up over the calf of the leg to help keep your legs dry when walking through snow. At least, that's what I told my parents so I could get a pair. They had a little pocket on the side of the right boot which held a small penknife. Can you imagine what would happen if a kid wore shoes with a knife in a pocket, today? And yet, we did it all the time in our one room schoolhouse.

"Backward, O backward

O time in your flight

Make me a child again

just for tonight."

-- Elizabeth Akers Allen

 

(And you thought it was a plain old stove.)

This page copyright 1997-20162010 by Bob Howells. All Rights Reserved.

On to page 4 of Luzerne County Memories.

1997-2016 Mary Ann Lubinsky for the PAGenWeb Project, and by Individual Contributors