William F. Wheeler – In His Own Words

The Memories of William Wheeler

 

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In the later years of his life, Bill Wheeler had created a series of audio tapes where, after the encouragement of his family, he recorded highlights of his early life.  This document, taken from the written transcript of these recordings, highlights the time frame between 1906 and 1940.  The vast majority of the text is taken directly from the original transcript and is in Bill’s own words.  I have taken the liberty to correct a few spellings and footnote particular areas that I believed would support the text.

Special thanks goes out to all of those who have helped contribute the recordings, transcripts, pictures and articles that are incorporated into this document.  In particular, I’d like to give special thanks to Marcia Coomber for providing the original transcription, Jim and Anita Wheeler for the countless number of photographs and articles and Marylee Brown for allowing me to listen to and archive the audio tapes.

I hope you find the end product as engaging as I found the editing process to be.

— gmsc

Bill & Anna Schaurers Wheeler
Bill & Anna Schaurers Wheeler

Family Lineage

My name is Bill Wheeler, I was born on August 1st, 1906 and believe that I was born in the town of Geddes in Onondaga County on Onondaga Lake in an area called Pleasant Beach, just near Lakeland Road. The whole area is now called Lakeland.  We moved from there, before I can remember, to Free Street on the north side of Syracuse, now Hiawatha Boulevard.

My maternal great grandfather, Vincent Metzgar, was born in 1796 in Bavaria and was a barrel maker. He married my great grandmother, Catherine Drearueils. Their first born, Anna Maria, was my maternal grandmother, born August 15, 1838 in Alsace-Lorraine, near the German border, a place called Baden-Baden.  She came to America and married my grandfather John Schaurer.  They had three children, Mathew, John and Anna, my mother.

After his death she married my step-grandfather Jacob Frey.  My mother, who was born in Maryland in 1869, married my father, James Wheeler and died at age 70, in 1939. It was confusing as a child to have some relatives named Schaurer and some named Frey.

Catherine Jane Radley Wheeler
Catherine Jane Radley Wheeler

My paternal great grandfather, John Wheeler, married Jennie and had a son named Samuel Wheeler.  He was born 1829 in Collamer, New York. Samuel was a soldier in the Civil War, and received an honorable discharge for injuries sustained in the battle of Honey Hill.  He was hospitalized at Hilton Head, South Carolina before returning home to New York* Samuel was married to Catherine Jane Radley and had nine children, the eighth child, James, was my father. The ninth was my Uncle John.

James & Alice Wheeler

The summer I was five, my older brother Jim was seven.  He was a pale boy with sunken eyes, blond hair, and full of life. He was in between John and I. On a hot summer day, just after we had had a nice summer rain, the sun came out and Jim went out back to chase a grasshopper. He stepped on a rusty nail and the only known remedy then was to put salt pork on it to draw the poison out. He died within a few days, I had another brother, the first born, who also died when he was seven, before I was born. He died of what was then known as membranous croup. It may have been diphtheria. Everything had different names then, even the streets and it makes it hard to remember. Shortly after Jim died, a sister, Alice was born who died from pneumonia when she was two years old. That left my eldest sister Bertha, Genevieve, John and me.

Christmas on Salina Street

Onondaga Savings Bank – Early 1900s
Onondaga Savings Bank – Early 1900s

One year during the Christmas season, when I was seven or eight years old, my brother John told me to bundle up good and he would take me down to see the store windows. We were living on Lodi Street then, at the end of Center Street which is now LeMoyne Boulevard. We realized that we weren’t getting anything for Christmas. It was the German tradition at that time for mourning a death in the family there was abstinence from singing, laughing or having a Christmas tree. My family couldn’t afford a tree, anyway. We walked down Salina Street from Wolf Street into the middle of the city looking in all the windows to see the toys and things. Then we walked back the opposite side of the street looking in all of those windows. I began to get cold and John said he would show me what to do. He led me into the vestibule of the Onondaga Savings Bank on Salina Street, near the elevators, and we pretended to be waiting for an elevator.  When I began to get warm, he said we should get going before they chased us. It was getting dark, and we were in the center of the city, but John wanted one last look into the windows of a large well-known variety store call Nick Peters. Christmas didn’t mean much in my family. It meant enough to Jack, though, to take me down to see the stores. We were always close. This home was owned by the Picket and Box Factory and my mother used to clean the office there. The house was destroyed in a fire, the whole factory burned down. Our family was then split up and taken I by several other families, temporarily.

Solar Salt Vats – c1910
Solar Salt Vats – c1910

Syracuse as a Child

When we lived on First North and Second North Streets, I remember the salt covers across the street on the salt vats.  The Polish, Irish, and German families that lived nearby were hired to push the covers back when it wasn’t raining to let the water evaporate.  Then, the salt would be scraped and shipped.  There was always someone on watch at night and if it started raining they would ring a large bell and everyone would have to run out and push the peaked covers, which were attached to wooden rollers.  When the sun came out, they would ring the bell and push the covers again. We moved here to Spring Street.

When I was about seven, we lived in a three family house, one story.  I was taken out of Dudley School on Park and Court streets and put in Salina School.  About this time, my sister, Genevieve married a man named Joseph Banker, a German, and had a daughter, Catherine.  Catherine told me, a few years ago, that her mother Genevieve, had told her that I used to babsit her and push her in her carriage.  My sister lived in an apartment house where Lodi crosses Salina Street.  At the top of the hill, a street cut across to the left called Lillac Street.  She lived two or three houses in from the corner.  The front was on sidewalk level, but going into the house from the parlor to the kitchen, there were several steps up to go out into the back yard.  It was dug out on the side of a hill.  The front had two entrances on the right and left side for the apartments, but also had another door in the middle.  I was babysitting there at my sister’s one day and I opened up the middle door.  In there was a beautiful stone arch with a tunnel going through.  Over the years, the residents used this for their trash and ashes.  I was too scared to go down exploring this tunnel.  Recently the “Stars” section of the Herald American newspaper had an article about and old tunnel that ran from Pond Street near Alvord Street.  I believe it could be referring to this same tunnel even though it did not begin on Auburn Street.  I would imagine the house and tunnel are still there.

My father had a horse he kept on Salina and Center Street. When he got home at night he would leave the horse there, about three blocks from our house, and have Jack go to the stables to feed, water, brush, and bed the horse for the night. The watering trough was around the corner from the stable. Jack would sometimes take me with him. He would put a box on a sled, with a lantern inside the box to keep me warm and wrap a blanket around me. I would wait in the stables while he cared for the horse.

Jack would take me down along the train tracks on Free Street when we would run short of fuel.      The fireman on the train that ran through there knew that a lot of poor lived there and often he would throw a shovel of coal alongside the tender off the train, knowing I’m sure, that someone would pick it up.  Jack would take me on a sleigh with a burlap bag and once in awhile he would climb up on the train and ‘accidentally’ knock some coal off.  We would take that home and it kept us warm during the winter.

We used kerosene lamps to light the house when I was young but one house on Wolf Street had a $0.25 meter in the basement. For a quarter, the family could buy the city gas to light lamps for a certain amount of time. We used the wood stove in the kitchen for light and warmth.

The street names have changed in Syracuse, going out Wolf Street from Salina, it started at Park and went from to Carbon Street, then Spring Street going north, then from First North to Seventh North, which was the city line.  Later, Third North Street was named Grant Blvd. after I left Syracuse.  Below Free Street (Hiawatha Blvd.) Spring Street used to run across there out to Green Point, but I think it stops at Free Street now.

The next bridge on Salina Street was a hoist bridge. It had hoists on all four corners, People walking down Common Center when the bridge was up would walk up a few steps onto a foot bridge as high as the bridge. South of the stairs was the Gridly Building[1].

MacArthur Stadium
MacArthur Stadium

Another street in Syracuse that has changed over the years was Knox Street, to the right of North Salina Street near the public market.  It is now Herald Place.  On the north side of Second Street, where the salt flats were, there was a swimming pool called LeMoyne Public Swimming Pool.  It’s now Macarthur Stadium[2], the kids used to skate where in the winter.  On Salina Street, where it stopped near the Lake, near the railroad tracks, there was crossover, a half circle of tracks. The freight came into this to continue north instead of going through Syracuse.

Iron Pier – Onondaga Lake Park
Iron Pier – Onondaga Lake Park

At the end of the trolley line on Onondaga Lake, I remember seeing huge pilings where a large resort once was.  It was known as the “Old Iron Pier”[3].  That’s where my mother and father met and took an excursion trip on a boat across the lake.  It was a beautiful place with a boardwalk.  I have seen pictures of it, but it was all gone by the time I went there, destroyed by the ever increasing pollution of Onondaga Lake by Solvay Process[4].

Wolf Street back in the early 1900’s ended at Seventh North Street. Along Lodi Street there were a few houses, and McMiller’s had a large field where they bleached their beeswax for the candles. Their factory and an apartment house was across the street.  After crossing Salina Street on Wolf, on the right corner was Bloomingdale’s Saloon and Hotel.  Across the street was a vacant lot, then Mahoney’s Bakery.  Going north from Salina was Nan & O’Connor’s Garage in the old fire house.  The new fire house was across the street.  The next building on the right, going north, was a pool room.

On the left side was Moyer’s building[5] where carriages for horses were made in earlier times.  When I was young, automobiles were being manufactured there.  Johnny Comerfort’s Saloon was the next building, then George M.’s Soda Fountain and Candy Store.  The Nickel Theater was the next building.  It cost $0.05 to see a silent movie.

Next on Park and Wolf was Sweet’s Grocery Store.   This two sons, one of whom was William Sweet of Pulaski who also ran a grocery store in Pulaski for many years.

Then crossing Park Street the old Dinetto Plant was on the left and a gas station was on the corner, which was one of the first being built. One day they had a leak in the basement and a plumber working in the basement, not familiar with gas, lit a blow torch. The; explosion killed the plumber, destroyed the building and blew windows out of neighboring establishments.

There were houses on both sides of the street and on the left was a potato chip plant just being built[6]. This was one of the first appearances of fried foods in my neighborhood. On the right was a white front saloon and restaurant, more houses on the right then Carbon Street and a grocery store run by a woman named Briggs. On the other side of the street was a tin shop, Carbon Street houses and a blacksmith shop. On the corner of Spring and Wolf Street was a large tin shop named Saks and Bower. Going North the rest of the street was residential. At First North was Howard’s Grocery Store. On the right were houses. Next to that was a two family house, then my house next to Dephold’s Meat Market. Across the street was the barn where my father kept his horses along with the Dephold’s horses. Next to Dephold’s on the left was a shoe cobbler named Louie. Across the street was Wild’s Livery Stable.

On the left were several houses where the Maloney’s lived. Jim Maloney was a politician, Kate and Lucy Maloney taught school at Salina School. Their two brothers, Tom and Will, had a large general stare with clothes, groceries, and feed. They also owned a coal yard down the street and were the dealer for the “Indiana”, a large truck.

The next street was Second North Street where Casey McDonald’s Saloon was  and another large general store called Beeley’s General Store. They had a big canapy out front where they would display their wares. Next door to that was Morton’s Barber Shop. That was the father of Harold Norton, who used to run the Pulaski Bowling Alley.

From there to Third North was residential. On the corner of Third North Street was another grocery store. Beyond that was a “beanery”, or small restaurant. Then on the right were the lots for the trolley cars called the Wolf Street Trolley Barn. There was nothing beyond that. The Trolley company owned all the property from there down to Free Street on the left. The right side at the corner of Sixth North and Wolf was Flynn’s General Store with a concrete pier out front that enabled the customers to load their wagons at the entrance level. After that was a saloon which was run by the Burns, then the Gilfords, This was where the trolleys going north on Wolf made the loop and would then head southwest. Across from the loop was another small grocery store on the corner where Crouse Hinds is now located.

St. Lawernce Seaway Construction – 1959
St. Lawernce Seaway Construction – 1959

Food of My Youth

When I was young, donuts were called fried cakes. In the 1950’s when I was working on the St. Laurence River, I went into a diner and asked for a couple of fried cakes and a cup of coffee. The waiter said he was sorry he didn’t know what fried cakes were but he had some donuts! Donuts then were large puffy round shaped pieces, much larger than a donut with frosting on top.

Where I lived in Syracuse, we ate a lot of soups. The Germans liked potato soup with salt pork. Then salt pork had a lot of lean in it not like it is now, only fat back. They also ate a lot. of sauerbraten. The Polish used to eat kapousta which was a cabbage soup with kielbosi. My mother didn’t bake due to lack of ingredients. We used to buy the stale bread from the bakery and get 2 for the price of 1. Sometimes we’d have bread, lard and scalding water to make a soup or sometimes a spoon of catsup with the hot water and bread. The butcher shop would sometimes give their customers a. piece of calf’s liver for their cat on Saturday when they paid their bills. Years later, calf’s liver and pickled tripe became a delicacy and sold for over $1.00 per pound. The butchers would also give their customers soup bones with a little meat on them. Fried foods were not popular then. There was something called sandfere which people canned for food during the winter. It was a different tasting kind of green which grew where the salt flats were. It. was the only thing which grew there and I’ve never heard of it anywhere else since. At the time of WWI we couldn’t get the white sugar, we used unbleached sugar. We had a lot of oatmeal and oatmeal gruel. When they called it gruel it was being stretched almost to soup. We also had cornmeal bread and pone.

Our butcher was John Depolt and his son was a friend of mine. Once in awhile he would get his father’s key to their chicken house they had behind the meat market. They would use this house to kill the chickens on Friday and sell them within a few days, keeping them in the meat market cooler. Sometimes we’d get a chicken, take it out back in the fields, clean it and boil it over a bonfire in a salt water brine. We’d dig a few potatoes from a farmer’s field and put the plants back — the potatoes went in with the chicken. When the chicken and potatoes came out they were snow white from the salt and delicious!

Canal Recreation

Early in the spring, when I was about 7 years old, it was still very cold and we were out under Black Ridge where the train ran over Oswego Canal. The Canal was pretty cold and had not been raised yet. My brother and my cousin, Bud Wheeler, were on the canal edge and I was in the water. They had thrown an inner tube-to me and I was backing up to get it when I lost my balance and went under. My brother. Jack, jumped in the canal with all his clothes on, and saved me. Bud never moved. We were both cold and wet but he built a fire under the bridge to dry and warm us.

One day I cut my foot badly, it became infected and hurt quite a bit. My mother made a poultice with sugar and bread and washed it with brown soap. She used salt pork to draw the infection out. She carried me piggyback to a silent movie a few blocks from our home to help me forget the pain. She used to take me on a trolley car once in a while to Onondaga Park to swim. We would occasionally take a trolley car to visit my aunts and uncles in Syracuse, but I’ve lost track of them. Very few people had automobiles. One time she took me on a passenger boat at Bear Street and went through Syracuse to Green Lakes for a picnic. It wasn’t a park then, like it is now. It was quite swampy and we had to walk on planks from the boat over to where we could see the lake.

Green Lakes – c1908
Green Lakes – c1908

When we lived on Spring Street, I had the measles. We had a rung rockinq chair and my mother rocked me for several days. I guess they thought I might not make it, like so many children then. When I finally came around, she took me to the candy store and bought me a penny ice cream cone. She told me I had been sleeping for two days with a high fever.

One day we loaded our belongings on a wagon and moved from Spring Street to a farm in Marcellus between Camillus and Otisco Lake. Jack and I went to a school on Route 20 between two hills, in a valley, called Tater Hollow School. In the Spring when muskrat season opened, Jack and I would set traps along Nine Mile Creek. We’d check them on the way to school in the morning and pick up anything we caught at night and take it home to skin them. There was an old policeman who used to walk our beat and asked me to let him know if I ever caught a live muskrat. When I did he would take the hind quarters. He claimed that it was good to eat. My father would gladly take any of the skins into the city and sell them. I was able to buy clothes and shoes with the money.

Chapman’s Lumber Company mill was on the corner of Carbon and Free Street. Across the street, the lumber would be brought in and put in kilns and some would be taken to the lower part of the yard between Spring Street and the Oswego Canal. The old train used to come down through on Free Street (Hiawatha Boulevard) and drop off trolley cars, lumber, coal and numerous things to the plants through there, especially Crouse Hinds, The trolley cars used to come in on flat cars on the trains that came to Crouse Hinds on Free Street. Fifth North Street had a track for the trolley and bays for the trolley to be lifted and set on the trucks to Wolf and Sixth North where there was a large parking lot for them. At the end of Carbon Street was a small bridge where we learned to swim between Number 2 and Number 3 locks on the old Oswego Canal.

“City of Fulton” tugboat arriving in Phoenix, NY via Oswego Canal
“City of Fulton” tugboat arriving in Phoenix, NY via Oswego Canal

There were two boats I remember that went toward Oswego on the Oswego Canal, loading up with produce in downtown Syracuse and traveling down through Number 2 and Number 3 locks where we would be swimming. They were steam express boats, one was named “City of Fulton”, which delivered product to Fulton. The one was named “E.W. Tucker”.

Solvay Process Company
Solvay Process Company

The old canal went out Park Street and followed parallel to it and split into a ‘v’ at the railroad tracks going south and u-turned under Salina Street Bridge, turning back north toward the lake.  It followed parallel with Salina Street to Star Park.  The bathhouse across the street was called Hanley’s Bath House.  There were many bathhouses clustered close together there.  There was a lot of boating on Onondaga Lake before my time and before it became polluted by Solvay Process.

I didn’t learn to swim until old but no one ever drowned in the canal where we swam.  The older boys always watched the younger kids.  No one swam between the Number 1 and Number 2 locks on Salina Street, however? they just fished there in the backwash.  There was one boy named Miller who used to play there all alone and had built himself a raft. He used to play there for hours by himself while we splashed and swam, but he never came down to swim with the rest of us. One day while we were swimming and he had been playing, as usual on the raft with his clothes on, someone saw the empty raft out in the middle of the water and called the ambulance. He had fallen in fully clothed and probably unable to swim. They found him and tried to revive him with oxygen but they were unsuccessful.

Where the water spilled over a little at Number 1 lock and went back down behind Number 2 lock and then down 3 lock and hit the mud lock level, Pop Tracy had an ice house. This was between the Oswego Canal and Park Street by the railroad tracks. In the winter they had a scorer, a big blade which would score the ice, then the men would follow with saws and cut the ice into three or fourth lengths. They would bring it in through a channel which was cut through the ice. He would give us $0.25, $0.50 or $0.75 for pipehauling it there. A team of horses at the ice house would pull a rope which had a hook on the end of it and was attached to three or four squares of ice, weighing about 300 pounds. They would pull the ice up a ramp into the ice house through a narrow door.  Each level of the ice would be covered with three inches of sawdust.  Then the ramp would be moved up to the next level.  This ice was meant only for use in ice boxes, but you couldn’t keep the kids from jumping on the tailgate and grabbing a piece of ice and eating it.  No one would ever take a drink of water from the Oswego Canal, but the kids thought that if it was okay to use in an ice box, it was okay to eat. There was a lot of sickness then, like Polio, but that was before the health department was involved. A lot of my friends died of Polio.

At that time Free Street had outhouses. The “honeywagon” came around with barrels to clean them out. Rumor had it that they took the waste to Frank Matty out in Mattydale and put it on his muskmelons. He always grew the biggest muskmelons around. They did take garbage from the northside to Frank Matty for fertilizing. Health problems weren’t looked at as much as they
were overlooked back then.

Free Street had open fields around it with salt boilers which had been used to boil the salt rather than evaporate it from the salt vats but I don’t remember seeing that done. On the old Swamp Road, now Hiawatha Boulevard, at the south end of Onondaga Lake, before the Barge Canal went through, they drilled holes and pumped water through a salt vein and a few yards away, it was pumped back out as brine,, It was pumped up to a pump house on Salina Street and at the canal bank.  It was pumped into a tower, then it would gravity feed salt covers in Galeville and on the north side of Syracuse. I used to like to wander around in these fields. I had a cave back in where the salt factory had been. I would go around the big boulders which were put in along Onondaga Lake for the railroad bed. On a cold, chilly day I would climb back into the boulders and build a fire and just sit there and enjoy myself. I must have reeked of wood smoke when I returned home.

Canal Boats Passing Under Salina Street Bridge, Syracuse, NY
Canal Boats Passing Under Salina Street Bridge, Syracuse, NY

The trolley car went out from Syracuse over the Salina Street bridge, over Erie Canal, and to Greene Point. Spring Street ran from the city to Will & Baumers where they had built houses for their employers. The trolley ran through there, across the canal from Greene Point to Galeville and swung back over the railroad tracks and a came out into Liverpool at Heid’s and made a left hand turn onto Tulip Street. They would stop there and put the cowcatcher down on the front and pick up the one on the back. We could get on a trolley car at Crouse Hinds at Seventh North Street and ride to Rockwell Springs (now Nedrow) for $.05. We used to catch the trolley when they would stop at the lift bridge on Salina Street. We’d wait in the dark and when they’d stops we jumped onto the back cowcatcher, which was held up by chains into a semicircle. It was better than a roller coaster, bouncing up and down! We would ride it out over the Erie Canal to Greene Point then to Galeville, back over the railroad tracks and into Liverpool, At the end of the line, Tulip Street, we’d jump out and hide in the bushes while they switched their cowcatcher up in the back and down in the front. Then we’d jump back in and ride back, getting off at Salina Street bridge and walk back home.

One of the trolleys went out through Wolf Street, past, where we were living, to Brewerton and then to Terry’s Hotel in South Bay. Sunday’s they would put a trailer car on for the increased business. One Sunday, the conductor on the trolley saw me sitting on the steps of my house. On his way back he came to the back end of the trolley and hollered to me, “Hey, do you want a free ride?” and I said, ” Sure, I do!” He said “Okay, here’s a ticket.” He told me what time to be ready and said “Just give me that ticket when you get on.” He did that, for me several Sundays, I remember riding out to South Bay and getting off at Terry’s Hotel and he would tell me what time he’d be coming back. He would give me another ticket and tell me to watch for him. He-must have been a guy who couldn’t stand to see a kid just sit every Sunday without being able to go anywhere. He always stuck in my mind. I never had any time I had to be home. I was free as a kid and I had a pretty good time.

Another favorite play spot was a place we called “the old monkey tree”, now Spring Street, just under the railroad bridge. Going out Spring Street there was a jut, almost an island, where Ley Creek came down and a stream from the other side created a swampy peninsula. An enormous willow tree was there and bent way over to one side. It was possible to walk up the tree and three or four of us kids loved to play there. A broken water pipe was there for the trains to fill their tenders, which was just like a spring, and we would get that water to drink with our lunches. We’d go down early in the morning and play there all day.

One afternoon when it was raining very hard, my mother asked me to take an umbrella and meet Jack when he got through with work. I met him at Will & Baumers with an umbrella and we walked home Spring Street. My Uncle John worked there, too, for years as a stationery engineer, and lived in one of their houses they had built for their employees. I wasn’t old enough to work yet. Just after we passed under the railroad bridge beside the Chapman Lumber piles, a bolt of lightning hit a tree beside the road a hundred feet ahead of us. It stunned us and we stopped and looked at the tree, it had been split down the middle. It never occurred to us, until we got home, how close the lightening had come to hitting us!

One warm sunny Sunday I went with my next door neighbor, Art M., to the Naphtha launch which carried passengers out the Oswego Canal and tied up at Mud Lock. We walked to the ferry boat and crossed the river at Three Rivers and went out to Long Branch Park. We enjoyed the entire day there and came back late in the afternoon.

The Dorchbacks were friends of ours on Free Street. One day, Andy and I hiked to their camp on Seneca River. We walked up the Oswego Canal and crossed the bridge that went into Long Branch, then crossed another bridge over the river at Onondaga Lake. We went down the other side of the river, following it to the camp. It was half way from Long Branch to Baldwinsvi11e. Andy had a key to the camp, which was a small one room building. We chopped wood in the yard for the fire and spent the day. He boiled some potatoes at noon and we had salt pork. We cleaned everything up and started walkinq back late in the afternoon stopping at Galeville[7] so he could say “Hi” to his girlfriend, while I waited outside for him, We were so tired when we got home! He liked hunting and camping a little but he was more for dancing and dating.

At 8:00 p.m. every night in Syracuse, in the First Ward, the firemen would have a drill and all us kids would stand out front and watch. The horses were in box stalls behind the fire equipment. The harnesses were suspended with ropes from above. All the box stall doors had a spring latch and when th would ring all the doors on the stalls would spring open horses would run right under their harness which would be dropped onto the horse with a rope and pulley. The fireman would slide clown the pole from their upstairs living quarters. They had all their meals there, living there for three to four days. The bell would ring again, which would mean it was a drill and the horses would then be returned to their stalls. It was always quite a sight to see all the horses run right out in under their harnesses.

The open trolleys in the summertime brought the ball players to Star Park. The Old Star Park was on the end of Park and Salina Streets almost to the railroad tracks. Walter Gaughn, in the “Stars” section of the Herald-American Newspaper has referred to the second Star Park on Genesee and Geddes Street. At that time the trolleys had “flushers” on them. They would load up with water at hydrants at 3:00 a.m. and flush all the streets down in the summer, if it wasn’t raining. One summer night my mother let me take some blankets and camp out on the grass so I could watch the flushers. About 3:30 a.m. the farmer’s came into the city on Wolf Street from North Syracuse going to the public market on Pearl Street. I could hear the clip-clop of the hoofs and see their wagons laden with produce.

One time Jack and I had a canvas covered canoe that another friend from the first ward had made and had wanted us to try it out. It was made from wooden barrel hoops and canvas.  It was covered and painted, but it was tipsy. The canal was bitter cold, the ice just barely gone and we were out checking traps. We put the canoe in and instantly tipped over. We were at Spring Street, where the water was shallow and we could walk back to shore, but the water was up around our chest. We built a bonfire under the bridge to dry and warm ourselves. I don’t know how Jack always had dry matches. He must have had a little tin that kept them dry when we got wet. We must have looked like a sight, nearly naked, dryinq our clothes under the bridge!

In the winter, after a good snowfall, we would go down to a Huge old oxide refuge pile on Spring Street.  It was left from a chemical company that went out of business when the canal stopped operating. We took old automobile fenders and dragged them up on the refuge pile and slid clown the pile all the way across Spring Street! We had a lot of fun on that pile. It was like a mountain.

One cold, crisp winter day, Jack and I took our skates and went to the end of Spring Street and got on the canal after hiding our shoes on the bank. We skated out the canal to Liverpool near the Lemoyne Salt Museum where the lake comes close into Liverpool.  We walked across the tow path from the canal to Onondaga Lake.  We skated almost to Lakeland and came back and skated the Oswego Canal to the foot of Park Street, where it goes under the bridge.  By the time we got our skates off, I was exhausted, but we sure weren’t cold! Then we had to walk four long city blocks to get back home on Wolf Street. Jack was so good to me when I was a little guy.

Baptism and First Communion

I was baptized when I was 11 years old at St. John’s Church on Court and Park Streets in Syracuse and it was there that I made my First Communion. I was going to parochial school on Salina between Turtle and Court, the Sacred Heart Academy. We had one-picture taken of another girl and myself on the front steps but the picture disappeared, my sister must have gotten it.

My First Job

My Dad died the summer I was 14 of appendicitis. He had taken a job hauling sand by the Erie Canal behind the State Fair grounds. They were putting up a building for an oxygen supply company in Bel Isle Yards.  My mother asked the owner of the team of horses if I could replace my father, driving the team for the rest of the summer and he agreed.

The team was stabled down on State Street.  The older men would help carry the biggest part of the double harness and I would get the collar on.  I only weighted about 120 lbs.  I was thin and small, not very husky.  They would help me with the britchen, tugs and neck yolk.  I would drive the team up State Street to the tow path, behind the fairgrounds, early in the morning.  There a crane with a bucket on the end would be dropped to some men in a canal boat who filled it with shovels.  A horse would walk along the tow path and draw the bucket over the top of the hopper and into the wagon.  It passed through the hopper and into the wagon. I would wait until they did that, several times and got my wagon loaded. There were several teams of horses and wagons waiting behind me in line. Then I would draw the load to the specified place, dump the load and return to the lineup at the tow path under the hopper. I worked until late in the day. That was my first job.  I don’t remember the salary, but he was a good man and paid my mother the same wages he had paid my father.

In the fall that job ended.  Jack was working at Crouse Hinds and helped with the household upkeep. We always rented our home and it took quite a bit for the three of us to keep it going. I don’t recall the girls bringing home any money.

North Salina Street – c1917
North Salina Street – c1917

Joe Casey

When I was 16 years old, I had a friend who lived across Wolf Street from me named Joe Casey. He used to hunt and trap with me and had an old dog named Buck. Buck was good at anything, like bringing ducks back to us or chasing rabbits. He was an all around good dog for a couple of guys like us. Casey never cared much about fishing and when I would go, he would do something else.  But always during hunting season we would be together looking for pheasant, rabbit and other small game. He worked at Nap’s Candle Factory at North Street and I worked at McMiller’s Candle Factory at Salina and Wolf Streets. We would both get through work at. 6:OO a.m. and meet at Spring Street. We’d check our traps at daybreak and bring anything home that we had caught. He didn’t like to skin them so I would do that. We were good trapping partners for years.

Long Branch Park – c1910
Long Branch Park – c1910

Joe also liked roller coasters and was always in search of the biggest roller coaster thrill. We used to go to Owasco Lake Park at the edge of the city, now called Energetic Park. We also went on the roller coasters at Long Branch and Suburban Park, east of Manlius, and Forest Park in Utica, which was the best one we found. Eventually, we both took different jobs and I lost track of him.

Tom Kennedy

A friend of mine named Tom Kennedy, whose Grandmother lived on Second North Street, and I hitchhiked the summer I was 16 to visit his Aunt and Uncle in Frankfort, New York. We got there late in the afternoon, there wasn’t much traffic then. We ate supper with them and we were to stay overnight and start back the next day. But, Tom wanted to start back that night and go toward Watertown. So we began hiking through Rome to Westernvilie where we camped in a pup tent under a bridge by the Black River Canal.  We got up bright and early, we were freezing, and stopped in a store in Westernville for a loaf of bread and a pound of bologna. We stopped to eat about five miles away, on the canal bank. The bread was moldy, and we had to throw a lot of it away, but the bologna was good. Then we hitched a ride on an old milk truck, and the driver said he’d take us to Copenhagen, if we’d load the milk cans on and off. At Copenhagen we got a ride into Watertown late in the afternoon. By now we didn’t know whether we wanted to continue going north or go back home. Tom suggested we hitchhike on both sides, going north and south and take the first ride, whichever way it was headed. The first car that stopped was headed south so we headed home, our adventure over, or so we thought.

The driver seemed very glad to have a couple of guys riding in the back end of his big beautiful touring car. He took off at about 70 MPH, which was fast in those days because the roads were little more than dirt paths.  It was an open car and he took us right into Syracuse to Wolf and Second North. We made it home so quick it was hard to believe that, the whole trip had taken several days. Later we realized he most likely was a bootlegger on a run from Canada!

Grocery Deliveries

After working nights at McMiller’s for several years, I had a job driving an old Ford delivery wagon for the grocery stores. We had a contract with Procter and Gamble and a few other companies. We would load the trucks up at West Yards of the New York Central, what is now Erie Boulevard West and deliver the produce around the city.  One day they gave me a brand new Sanford Speed Wagon and shortly after that I was making deliveries late one cold, icy Saturday afternoon in the winter. The roads were slippery and I was about to turn on the headlights when I went into a spin and hit a tree head on at the corner of South Avenue and Castle Street.  The headlights, which were attached with a bar across the front, were knocked off.  I put the headlights in the back of the wagon and headed back to the barn on Wolf Street even though I had deliveries left to make.  I parked the wagon and went in to the boss.  He asked why I still had merchandise in the wagon and I told him because I just quit.  He asked me why and I told him because he was going to fire me.  I took him outside and showed him the wagon and he said I was right, I was fired. But, I said, “No, I told you, I just quit!”  That job had lasted about a year. The following spring, I got a job at an ice company.

The People’s Ice Company

After I quit driving the wagon, I went to work for the People’s Ice Company. Someone told me if I called the boss by his first name, “Old Gary,” he’d give me a job. So I went down and got a job hauling ice from the ice house to the trucks. One day he asked me if I wanted a city route, one of his drivers was sick.  The driver never came back and I had the route for a short time.

While I was working on the ice wagon one day, I went into an upstairs restaurant on the corner of Salina and Jefferson Streets with a 100 lb chunk of ice on my shoulder.  I had to climb a step ladder to get to the ice box and as I turned to push the ice into the ice box, a loose piece of zinc lining caught my elbow and put a 2” gash in my arm. The doctor, two blocks away, gave me a tetanus shot and sewed up my arm.  Walking home, I began to itch something terrible.  I had to stop at nearly every building and tree to rub my shoulders and sides up against.  I must have looked like an old dog!  By the time I got home, I had broken out into a severe case of hives. I never knew until years later when I was injured working on the St. Laurence River, that I can’t have a full tetanus shot, it could be lethal.  I have to have a partial shot with a booster. There was a very heavy snowfall that year and the ice business slacked off. I was then laid off from People’s Ice Company.

Working on the Railroad

The heavy snow meant that the railroad needed snow shovelers that winter for the tracks and I took a job with them.  We started at 7:00 p.m. and shoveled all night!  They would bring us a sandwich and tepid coffee every four hours.  We shoveled almost to Dewitt.  While we were out there, I heard the yardmaster was hiring a dol1yf1opper, which was a switch hand.  There were four or five switches in the rail yard to tend when they would push the cars over a hump and cut them loose.  The brakeman would ride the cars and have a list of what number tracks at which to brake the cars.  I worked a few nights there but the weather got worse and I heard they were hiring roadmen on the railroad.  I went down to see Charlie Ray, the road master who got a release from T.L. Leonard, my former boss.  He sent me across the street for an examination and had me call off colors.  He then gave me a switch key and told me I would be “hitting the list” or called when needed.  I went home and at 2:00 a.m. they called my neighbor and asked to get me out of bed to catch a west bound freight at Dewitt.  I knew very little about it but I took a loaf of bread and some potatoes and went out there where the rest of the crew were waiting.  I did braking with doubling over.  It entailed pulling one line of freight ahead and backing the other up on a “ladder”.  I had to catch the caboose after the train started, which was a semi-circular bar on the back.  As it sped by me, I would grab on and the forward movement and speed of the train would throw me up onto the caboose platform.  We went up to Suspension Bridge near Buffalo, where the train stayed overnight.  The regular crew got off at the roundhouse and went to the YMCA, but I spelt in the caboose.  There were blankets and bunks along the walls with a stove.  I cooked my supper, went to sleep and never heard a thing.  When I woke up the next morning we were at the other end of the yard moving out!

Vanderbilt Square – NY Central Railroad Station – c1920
Vanderbilt Square – NY Central Railroad Station – c1920

The passenger trains used to run down to Washington Street to the depot at Franklin Street.  The trains were almost as tall as the buildings and they would go right across Salina Street.  One I was called to work on the railroad on a local train going to Rochester.  I was new and the brakeman was off sick.  I was hired on as a brakeman in Syracuse.  They told me they had to do a lot of shifting in the train yard and would rather I took the flag and let the flagman do the braking so I wouldn’t get hurt, due to my inexperience.  I still had to run the brakes when we were out in the open.  In the yard, they put me on top of the cars because the engineer couldn’t see the rear brakeman with his signals, due to all curves in the yards.  I passed the signals forward from the rear brakeman to the engineer with a lantern.  On the icy nights it was tough trying to stay on top of the cars!  They had made me chief cook and bottle washer and I made coffee and food when we had a break.  I remember going through Syracuse looking out the caboose while I was peeling potatoes.

While I was working on the railroad, my co-workers had told me that if there were another passenger train coming the opposite way on a parallel track beside the train we were on, we’d never hear it in time to react since the they travel at 90 MPH and the sound wouldn’t be audible until impact.  They also said if I ever saw a light coming toward me that I should get between the cars, where ever I could, because the force of the air would throw me around.  The passenger trains would sneak up on us at that speed and all that could be heard was a swoosh as they passed.  They described them as being like a cat.  This helped me a lot one night when we were pulling out of Dewitt for Suspension Bridge.  I was on the side of the train checking all the brake shoes prior to starting out.  We were ready to “double over”.  The two tracks beside me were called the “high iron” where the passenger trains came through.  I saw a light coming toward me and jumped up between the cars as fast as I could.  They were right!  It was just like a cat sneaking up and it did throw me around.  That information save my life.

I spend several years working on the railroad but I was on the list for substitution and only got called on the worst nights of sleet and ice.  It had always been a childhood fantasy of mine to ride a locomotive and I sure got my fill of it!

Jefferson Street Armory
Jefferson Street Armory

The National Guard

When I was about 17 years, I joined the National Guard in the First Battalion Headquarters Company at the old Jefferson Street Armory.  Andy Dorchback, one of my friends, unlisted in Regimental Headquarters.  We used to have our drills the same night, so we went together once a week, which got us a shower and a couple of weeks vacation in the spring at Camp Smith, near Peakskill, across from West Point.

The New York State Troopers

My brother had joined the troopers in 1926 and I saw in the newspaper that they were putting on 100 new troopers, so I applied.  I waited for a notice to go to Albany to take the exam.  I was notified in December to go to Albany but I was broke, between railroad jobs in the winter and the ice house job in the summer.  I caught a trolley out of Syracuse and rode as far as Fayetteville and hiked Route 5 to Albany.  The first night I made Little Falls and stayed in an armory.  I had a card that entitled me to a shower and a bunk at all the National Guard armories.  I made it to Albany late the next day, living on two fried cakes and a cup of coffee at every meal for $0.15.  I spent that night at an armory in Albany.  I went to the Capitol early the next day.  It was a bitter cold, clear day.  I took the exam and had a personal interview with Major Warner, the son-in-law of Al Smith, the Governor of New York State.  I had to wait until 5:00 p.m. for my turn, since we were called alphabetically.  I was the last one out so I stayed in Albany at the armory that night.  I started walking early the next day to Syracuse and caught a ride to Schenectady and another ride in an open car to Syracuse.  What a cold ride!  The worst part, though, was the long wait to see if I was accepted into the New York State Troopers.

I finally received a telegram from the State late in February, 1927, asking me if I would accept a position with the New York State Police as a Trooper to be stationed in Oneida, New York.  If so, would I notify them collect by telegram.  I asked my mother if she minded if I accepted.  She agreed she would like to see me join, so I immediately sent a reply telling them that I would accept the position.

I left Syracuse on the morning of March 1, 1927, never to return.  I got on the “third rail” trolley car in Syracuse.  It was called that because it had a pad alongside the wheels from which it got it’s electricity instead of an overhead trolley.  It’s speed was so great that the trolley wouldn’t always stay on the rails.  I arrived at Oneida Castle, where the trolley stopped.  I had a small suitcase, or a gripsle, a cross between a satchel and a grip.

I checked in the barracks with 1st Sgt. Johnny Corsar, and was told to wait in the recreation room.  There I met Dick Voit who was also coming in.  It was his first day, but he had checked in the day before.  He said he was glad he did because the food was so good.  They had a nice mess hall and I think that’s why everyone wanted to get in!  Dick was from Utica and had lived in an orphanage all his life.  He had no parents and worked in Utica from the time he was 16 years old until he was 21 and had seen the same ad as I had.  Apparently, he had taken his exam at the same time.

Troop D – Oneida, NY
Troop D – Oneida, NY

That was Troop D in Oneida, New York, on Route 5 or Genesee Street and Oneida Castle, my first barracks.  They have since bulldozed it.  It was a beautiful grey stone building with pillars out front.  They have built a small building across the street which has no appeal to it like the old barracks had.

Postcard – Troop D Headquarters in Oneida (1922)
Postcard – Troop D Headquarters in Oneida (1922)

I was called down to the Quartermaster’s Room in the basement to pick up my equipment. The Quartermaster’s name was Earl Stickles who was originally from Syracuse.  I was issued uniforms, gun belt, puttees, spurs, shoes, socks and neckties. They didn’t supply shorts, tee shirts or handkerchiefs.  We got old barrel .45 revolvers.  I was assigned a large metal locker on the second floor.  On one side of the floor were showers and toilets and on the opposite side were the “non-com’s” rooms sleeping 4-5 corporals and sergeants to a room.  At the top of the stairs on each side were two rooms for the lieutenants.  I was told to put my uniform on and hang my equipment in a specified manner.  I was then assigned a single iron bed in the upstairs dormitory.  The dorm had a partition down the middle of the room which gave us four rows of beds, one on each side.  A dresser between each bunk was assigned half to each person on either side of it.  Then I was told to report to the stables.  I hated to get my new uniform dirty!  But I knew how to care for horses, even though I had never learned to ride with a saddle, only bareback.

At 4:30 the bell rang and everybody came inside and got cleaned up.  A warning bell rang at 4:55 and at 5:00 the door to the mess hall opened.  When the officers came in we had to drop everything and put our hands in our laps until they were seated.  It would have been much simpler to have the officers come in first and the enlisted men last!  We had steak that night and I hadn’t steak in such, a long time I had forgotten it existed!  There were six of us at a table and each table had a gallon of water and a gallon of milk.  The waitress would come around and ask if we wanted tea or coffee, but by the time she came, we would have devoured all the bread and butter at the table and she would bring us more.  I had just made the weight requirement at 150 Ibs., but it wasn’t long before I had put on a few pounds!  We all allowed it was good eating.

When I enlisted in 1927, the required time to sign up for was two years.  They supplied us the clothing and food, but the salary was only $900 per year.  If we were on the road, the allowance for room and food was $6OO per year.  It included $.25 for breakfast, $.50 for lunch and $.75 for supper.  The food was better at the barracks than on the road, although if we skimped while we were out, we could save a few pennies.

Learning to Ride

The next day at roll call all the new recruits were called out.  Our riding instructor was Lt. Walter Crowsdale, whose home was in Oswego.  He took us all out with only a bridle, bareback.  We would line up in a straight row and he would call the order, “Prepare to mount.”  The number one man would pull out ahead and the number 3 man would lead his horse out ahead.  We stood on the left side of the horse.  Then he would say “Mount.”  It was pretty muddy there and some of the men had a terrible time trying to get on the horse by hanging onto the mane.  We were a pretty ragged outfit but he drilled us in two’s and four’s.  We started at a walk and then went to a trot.  The trot was what really wore calluses on us. Once in a while we could go into a canter.

That went on for a week, then we were given a blanket and a sirsinqle, which held the blanket on the horses’ back.  We rode like that for about a week.  The stirrups had to be thrown over the saddle so we wouldn’t stand in them.  We rode like that for about a week, then we were permitted to put the stirrups down the following day, if we had shown we could stay on.  But if we were caught standing in them, we had to start all over. The riding was pretty rough, getting broken in.  It was every day, after stables, but he did a good job on us.  Then we started drills.  After that we were asked if anyone wanted to volunteer for the trick riding team.  I had seen the men training and that’s when I volunteered for the team, in the spring of 1927.  Along with my childhood fantasy of riding a locomotive, I had always dreamed of riding a horse with the state police.  I wondered if I would regret it later!

Rough Riders – abt. 1927
Rough Riders – abt. 1927

After my training in trick riding, the first place we exhibitioned was Moravia, New York in 1927.  Then we performed at Canandaigua.  That summer we rode at the Oneida County Fairgrounds, in Rome and also in Vernon.  We rented trucks from cattle dealers to transport our horses for the Moravia appearance.  For the Canandaigua appearance, we loaded the horses into box cars and two men rode with them on army cots.  They were blocked off by 2x4s and we had to walk under their heads to feed them or carry buckets of water to them.  I had to ride this horse detail when we rode in Boonville.  They loaded us at 7:00p.m. in Oneida and we never made it to Boonville until 7:00a.m. the next morning!  We traveled to Utica then to Boonville.  It was difficult to transport horses then.  When we arrived and began unloading the horses everything seemed in an uproar. There had been a murder committed that night.  One of the carnival workers had stabbed another carnival worker.  Back then, it was uncommon to hear of a murder.  Within a few days, they had found the murder hiding in the woods.

1927 Losses

In the spring of 1927, the first year that I was in the troopers, a trooper by the name of Buster McGinn, from Skaneateles, was riding double cycle patrol out of Remsen.  We used to ride tow on a cycle, one in a side car.  A car they were chasing, backed out of a driveway and into the cycle.  He was killed and his rider was injured so badly they retired him.

Harry Wheeler and Deveans
Harry Wheeler and Deveans

In the summer of 1927 Harry Wheeler, a Sgt, from Schenectady, was riding cycle patrol with Sgt. Devons to Vernon.  Coming back it started to rain.  The narrow macadam roads back then became pretty slippery.  The road passed under a railroad bridge and made an “S” curve.  Sgt. Devon rode through in the lead but Harry went into a skid, didn’t make the curve and hit the abutment.  It fractured his skull and he died.

In the fall of 1927, during the Cortland County Fair, Lt. Crowsdale was returning to Oneida in his car and was killed.  So that was three troopers that died during my first year and the flag was kept at half mast for a month for each of them.  It seemed a dismal place to be for those months.

At the end of the trick riding season, the end of the summer, we were kept in barracks until we got sick of shoveling all that horse shit and then were transferred out on patrol to different substations until the following march.  My first transfer was to Fayetteville.  I was riding tail end of cycle which meant riding one with a bucket seat behind the operator.  Sgt. Tommy Rand went with me.  They had shipped our foot lockers ahead of us.  He had a very nice voice and I can still near him singing a Frank Sinatra song “… they say all the world is a stage and life is only a drama …”.  I received two weeks vacation in the fall and was then transferred to Homer, New York from fall 1927 to spring 1928 with Sgt. Fred Sponable, then Sgt., Keely was in charge.  In the spring of 1928 I was transferred back to Oneida.  Other substations to which I was transferred included Williamson, Newark, Waterloo, Canandaigua, Mexico, Pulaski, Boonville, New Hartford, Hamilton, North Syracuse, Cazenovia, West Winfield, Sylvan Beach, Camden, Elbridge, Auburn, Baldwinsville and Liverpool.  They believed in variety!

Trooper Joe Deveans
Trooper Joe Deveans

Learning to Fly – Sgt. Deveans

Lt. Hughes
Lt. Hughes

After Lt. Crowsdale was killed in 1927, Lt. Tremain Hughes was transferred from Troy, New York, to take over the trick riding team.  Sgt. Deveans lead the team in between.  Lt. Hughes got us new horses and saddles from donations and our money earned during exhibitions.  Lt. Hughes had his horse, Gypsy, sent to Oneida from Troy.  It was a beautiful palomino horse.  We have some pictures of it.  He was an active person, an amateur radio operator and a flyer.  He instigated the troopers jointly buying a Fleet, a five cylinder airplane, 90h.p.  He gave 15 minutes of instructions a day to those who had chipped in $300 apiece on the plane.  There were nine troopers who had bought it.  About daylight he would leave the small Oneida airport and pick me up at Canastota on his way through.  We would land at Cicero and he would give me 15 minutes of instruction there.  Then we would fly to Amboy, the old Syracuse airport, and he would give another trooper-instruction there.  After that, we’d fly back together.  The plane was a duel stick, one in the front and one in the back.  Lt. Hughes would give me instructions from the back and I’d take the stick going out and coming back so it wouldn’t be borinq for him.  We had to be back to the barracks at 8:OOa.m. for roll call. Then we’d go out to do stables and trick riding practice for the rest of the day.  It seemed good to wake up and start the day.

We held field days in the corral behind the barracks after Lt. Hughes took over and transported the bleachers from all over: Syracuse University and the armories in Syracuse and Utica.  We hauled them in on trucks and assembled them.  The American Legion Bugle Corp from Oneida joined us in putting on the field days to defray the cost of their trip to France to visit the graves of their comrades.  We did this in 1929, 1930 and 1931. We took in quite a bit of money and put on exhibitions: east as far as Brooksville, west farther than Rochester, northwest to Detroit, east to Boston, Massachusettes, Pennsylvania and all around New York State.  We rode as a good will gesture in any large horse show or attraction, to present horse riding skills.

Bill Wheeler on Tony – c1927
Bill Wheeler on Tony – c1927

Saddling Tony

We received our horses from out west from a man by the name of Judge Hopkins, who always wore a stovepipe hat.  He was a judge of the county fair racing horses.  Many of our horses were mavericks, horses that had been abused or unwanted.  Many had multiple branding scars, indicating that they had been passed around a lot for various reasons.  My horse, Tony, had a mean streak.  He would use any opportunity available bite or squeeze me into the side of his stall.  I had to use a stick pointed at both ends, held across in front of me to allow me to walk between Tony and the stall sides.  I learned quickly not to turn my back on his teeth when within biting range!

The trick riding saddles had to be modified to allow easy slipping into and out of the saddle during full speed mounting and dismounting.  We started with the “Old McClellen saddle”.  All the military used these but we had to cut the back down. We all had to learn to do these modifications ourselves.  There was a saddler’s horse, a devise we would sit on and hold the saddle in a vise while cutting and stitching.  We also inserted a stove bolt through the pommel with round washers which was taped and allowed us the to do the tricks of throwing our bodies up and over the horses at a full gallop.  There were men who did this full time and made a lot of money making or modifying saddles.

After Lt. Hughes took over the trick riding team, he found better riding saddles from a western company which had a brass riding horn with the cantle cut down and with flaps on the back.  They had additional straps for holding on when swinging on the saddle.  We each were allowed to make our own individual selection of saddle and a Navajo blanket, each one being different.  The stamped our number on it and no one else was allowed to use our saddle or blankets.  Mine had a design which was an Indian good luck sign and was later used by Hitler in reverse and called the swastika.   When the trick riding team dispersed years later, we were not permitted to participate in the auction in which they disposed of all those beautiful blanket and saddles which had meant so much to all of us.  I would have loved to have kept it as a memento and hung it up to show my children.

The blacksmith was as important as the saddler and he would fashion a stick with a hole drilled in it.   A rope was laced through and attached to the horse’s muzzle.  This was used while the blacksmith was shoeing the horse so the horse would concentrate on this, allowing the blacksmith to shoe him.  The blacksmiths were always huge men but they needed this help to do their job.  The blacksmith that worked with the troopers was named Christianson, a Swede, that made all kinds of ornamental metal gates and hinges in his shop.  He was the old style blacksmith from the Dakatos.  Another blacksmith name Oli Gardener, also a Swede, came to work with us after Art Christianson left.

One time we presented a show on New Year’s Eve at midnight in Albany for a group of politicians in the early 1930s.  We stayed at the medical school and a few of the evenings we were there, a doctored toured us through the medical laboratories were they were experimenting on monkeys with a polio vaccine.

When we exhibited in Utica, in the early 1930’s, we stayed at the Armory there for two weeks.  Two troopers were assigned to exercise and care for nine horses to keep them from getting spry before an exhibition.  This was very close to where Mohawk Valley Community College is now.

Troop D – New York State Fair
Troop D – New York State Fair

In 1927, and for several years after that, we exhibited at the New York State Fair and a picture of me and Sherm Tubbard at the 1927 fair is in my scrapbook.  It was used on the brochure cover for the 1928 fair when Al Smith was Governor.

Amateur Radio

In 1928 Billy was born.  I was in Canastota and that’s when I first began working on my amateur radio license.  There were four men who got their licenses together.  One was an insurance agent, Willard Wolf.  One was a substation operator on the trolley line from Syracuse to Utica, and Ray Russa, who was the telegraph operator in Canastota.  Terry Grinner had his license and he helped us.  Ray knew the Continental Morse Code but he had to learn the radio code called International Code.  They talked  me into practicing and trying for a license.  Three of us took the test at the same time at the Federal Building in Syracuse, Ray, Willard and myself in December of 1929.  I didn’t think I was going to pass it.  I had just returned from the hospital after a hernia operation from injuries sustained during trick riding, but somehow I did!

Trooper Hughes and Plane
Trooper Hughes and Plane

Lt. Hughes already had his amateur license. He had partitioned off a small area in the hay loft in the barn where he kept his radio equipment.  We were planning on putting a radio in the airplane.  I was to be the ground operator keeping in touch with him in the plane, until we could get better equipment.  But shortly after that he was killed in a plane accident.

Jack Auditions for the Trick Riding Team

During the second year that I was riding with the trick riders, my brother, John, tried out for the team. On Easter Sunday, he came out on Lt.’s horse when I was in the lower corral. They blew the whistle for him to jump off the saddle and jump back in at a full gallop.  All of a sudden the horse fell.  Jack had slid out of the saddle at the whistle but had hit the front leg of the horse, which threw the horse on its back and threw Jack about 20 feet away.  He landed on his back too.  Jack was badly hurt and went to the hospital.  His back bothered him for years after that.  It was a miracle that he didn’t break it.  The horse had broken its leg and had to be shot and buried.  The guys were mad they had to dig a horse grave on Easter Sunday, but they didn’t want to take him to a rendering plant.  Jack never tried again because of chronic back pain.

Auburn Prison Riot
Auburn Prison Riot

Auburn Prison Riot

One Sunday in July 1929, we were out back cleaning up from the field days when we got an emergency call to go inside and get into uniform for immediate dispatch to the Auburn Prison riot.  We got into uniform and had role call.  We were issued 30-30 carbines and ammunition and sent in to quell the riot.  We hit the front gate, a winding stairway up to the front wall, on the outside of the building, to get up onto the wall.  We went around the east wall, which ran alongside the Owasco Creek.  The catwalk was close to the building and as we walked along we could hear the bullets singing past us and hitting the wall.  It was only a short distance to the first balky, an observation tower constructed of wood.  There were pot belly stoves in each one to keep the guards warm in the winter.  It was a blistering hot August day and I ran as fast as I could to the bulky and dove in there.  To this day I don’t know who the trooper was that was in there, it was pretty upsetting!  I told him we should tip the stove over and brace it up against the door because it opened up to the prison wing.  Soon we heard the convicts coming up wall.  I knew the only way to keep them and us from getting killed too was to fire warning shots and drive them back down, which we did.  Then I hollered to them that unless they were firing at us, not to come near that window because they would get shot if they did.  But they took off.  I think it must have been some convicts who just wanted to see what was going on.  That was at the old “death house”, which still housed the electric chair although it wasn’t being used.

About 7:00p.m. they notified us by bullhorn that a man would be coming around the wall.  As soon as they were sure all the prisoners were back in, they brought around a milk can full of coffee and “billybeef” sandwiches.  At midnight the two of us were relieved by two other troopers.  We were allowed to go into the infirmary where we were locked in.  We discharged our revolvers; put the cartridges in our pockets and our revolvers under our pillows.  One of us would sleep for four hours and then we would switch.  About midnight a bad thunderstorm started and the lightning flashes lit up a huge statue in the courtyard of a revolutionary war hero, nicknamed “Copper John”.  That was what I last saw as I fell off to sleep on my first day at the riot.

Auburn Prison Riot
Auburn Prison Riot

During the Christmas season in 1929, I had just started a vacation when I was called back to Auburn Prison for another riot.  It was a bitter cold day.  14 convicts had been killed and one trooper was nicked with a bullet.  Several guards were hurt and the principal keeper had been killed.  The convicts had taken over the arsenal.  I had to stay in Auburn for three weeks for that riot.  I was able to sleep at the Hotel Auburn and worked the night shift at the prison from 12:00 midnight to 7:00a.m. as the telephone operator.  The Bulkys would call and check in hourly and I would record it.  The residents of Auburn were so pleased to have us there to quell the riots that we received many invitations to Christmas and New Years dinners but we weren’t able to go because we had to be on call at all times.

In 1930, I went to police school at R.P.I. in Troy and was then transferred to Herkimer.  The following year, I did trick riding and then in 1932 while I was stationed in Boonville, Janis was born.  In February, Lt. Hughes was killed.

Prohibition

In 1932, prohibition was in effect and we had knocked off a lot of stills during this time in the Adirondacks.  Utica was a popular place for bootleggers.  Operators would set up the stills in the hills, but we could see the smoke and smell the odor.  We would destroy the still, arrest the operators and within a few months, they would be operating a still someplace else.  There were many speak-easies that sold liquor in those days.  We would raid them by going in dressed in street clothes and buying a few drinks, then go over and sit at a table.  We’d order a few mere drinks and pour them in a bottle, putting them in our pockets for evidence.  Then we’d go back with a warrant and close the place. Usually, though, someone would warn the big places and they’d call you by name and they would make believe they knew you.  Whiskey was run through Pulaski by car after being brought by-boat from Canada.  Cars and trucks would carry a false load.  They even used hearses with undertakers, and they got away with it best with a casket in the back!  Very few people were in favor of prohibition.

A Suspense Thriller

In 1932 I was stationed in Boonville when the justice notified us about a rash of burglaries.  We went to Pitfour where we had heard a couple of wood bums were hanging around, and went into a shack to find a man named Joe.  We told him to get his coat, we were taking him in for questioning.  He reached into a pack-basket, he said to get his mittens, but I jumped in front of him and pulled a .35 revolver from the basket just before he did!  I put that in my pocket and handed his mittens to him.  We started walking back along the railroad tracks when the Sgt. with me wanted to check another camp nearby.  As I walked along the tracks alone with Joe, I noticed steep banks on both sides and heard a train coming.  I made him lie down on the bank about five feet ahead of me and I got down behind him until the train passed.  I told him I would kill him if he moved.  Joe was a huge man and I knew if he ever got his hands around my neck with the handcuffs on, I’d be a dead pigeon!  We walked back to Pitfour to our car and went back to the station late in the day.

Later that evening, the Sgt. came in and told us that there were more burglaries in New York Mills being reported and he needed evidence from Joe’s camp.  He warned us that there would be a train coming on that track about midnight.  Another trooper and I went back to Pitfour, found a pump handled railroad scooter to ride back to the camp and picked up the evidence, which included a stolen pick axe.  We started back up the tracks about midnight, heard the train tracks clicking and saw a light coming around the bend.  I grabbed the handle of the scooter and hit the brake.  When I did, it tilted up in the air and threw us down the embankment.  When I landed and looked around for the other trooper.  I couldn’t see anything.  It was dark and I had lost my flashlight, but he was alright.  He had his flashlight and the pick axe.  It’s a miracle he didn’t cut his head off with that axe!  We got back up on the tracks and realized it wasn’t a train coming, but the lights from the railroad station that I had seen and the clicking of our wheels on the track!  We arrived in Pitfour before the train and took a lot of stolen goods back to the station.

A few days later we took the prisoner to in New York Mills where he was positively identified as the burglar.  I put the prisoner in the car and the Sgt. got in the front.  Before I could get in, the prisoner jumped out of the car and ran up the street.  The Sgt. and I both shot at and wounded him.  We later learned that he was involved in several other burglaries and shootings.  Years later, in 1933, radio station WHAM dramatized our Boonville experience with Joe and the pump handled railroad car. They broadcasted it as a suspense thriller.  Mother and I listened to the dramatization in the sand dunes at the lighthouse at Port Ontario while enjoying a picnic supper.  It was much more fun that way!

Bruiser

In the Fall of 1933 and the spring of 1934 I was stationed in Cazenovia.  I received a call from the Slab Sides Inn at Erieville Resevoir, from a man named Stephen.  He was bartending for his brother-in-law and asked if I could come right over.  I was alone in the barracks that night, the other officer was off.  Stephen recalled that a man named “Bruiser”, a well known rowdy who would visit several local establishments looking for fights, had come into the bar and begun tormenting Stephen’s dog by grabbing his ears and yanking on them until the dog yelped.  This continued until Stephen requested Bruiser leave the dog alone.  Bruiser responded that he would leave the dog alone, if Stephen would rather he pulled his ears. Stephen, who was a slight man, paralyzed in his right arm from polio, told Bruiser not to come behind the bar.  With that Bruiser threw open the bar entrance and came back after Stephen.  Stephen grabbed the nearest thing he could find which was a baseball bat used to push the ice down in the bar cooler and managed to hit Bruiser on the side of the head knocking him out.  Stephen then called the ambulance and the troopers.  A doctor from Cazenovia looked at Bruiser and told the ambulance to take him to Syracuse.  Dr. Raymond asked me to accompany him and Bruiser to Syracuse since his skull was fractured.  He showed me his scalp was bleeding and that one eye was dilated and the other wasn’t, which meant that Bruiser had a severe concussion and probably wouldn’t live long.  Dr. Raymond was also the coroner, and wanted me to be witness to the autopsy at the hospital.  He asked the nurses to get us pillows and we slept in large chairs for a short time.  When he died, Dr. Raymond performed the autopsy and I could see his skull had been cracked at the ear up across the front and to the middle of the top of his head.  The brain was bruised and bloodshot. Stephen must had known that his life depended on incapacitating Bruiser.  I had to arrest Stephen and locked him up overnight, awaiting action of the Grand Jury.  The next day he was arraigned and put in the county jail.  He was scheduled before the Grand Jury and Dr., Raymond and I both testified.  Our testimony reflected the fact that Bruiser was capable of killing Stephen and he had been threaten. Stephen was found not guilty and Dr. Raymond and I both believed that it was a case of true justice.  It seemed an example of someone who wanted to kill someone else but ended up getting killed himself.  A few weeks later, I received an abusive phone call from Bruiser’s father cursing me and saying that he didn’t appreciate my testimony about his son.

In 1933, Billy became very ill and a local doctor wanted to operate on him at home, but I called Dr. Raymond.  Dr. Raymond had me bundle him up in my trooper sheepskin coat and we took him into Syracuse to a special facility for infectious disease.  They operated on his glands in his throat and kept him in isolation for awhile.  Shortly after we had taken him back home, he had to go back in for a tonsillectomy.  The tonsils continued to bother him and upon examination, the doctors found another lingual tonsil that had to be removed. While he was recovering from that operation, he began having problems with his legs.  Durinq this time, he fell off a neighbor’s cellar door and broke his collar­bone! I look at Billy now, it’s hard to believe that he had such a rough time as a little guy.  Maybe that’s why he’s so healthy now.  He just wouldn’t give up!

The Millionaire Kid

While I was stationed in Cazenovia, there was a well known, well liked orphaned Western Union Telegraph boy who used to wear roller skates to deliver messages.  While he was doing this, he would tell the executives that he was to inherit a million dollars when he turned 21 years.  He would solicit a few thousand dollars from each person and reassure his investors that they would double their investment when he received his inheritance.  For proof, he gave them the name and address of a hotel in New York City for them to confirm his story.  He would then go down to New York and write back to the investors on the hotel letterhead that his nephew had notified him that he had borrowed that amount and that they would receive what he promised them when he came into his inheritance.  This boy took advantage of many people and when we broke this scam, we arrested the boy and he was indicted for embezzlement and sent to prison for a year.  Shortly there after, however, the local townspeople liked him so well, they offered to give him a job if the prison would parole him.  The Cazenovia Hotel gave him a job and had him tending bar!  Everyone wanted to come to the hotel and see the “Millionaire Kid”!  He had such a personality that the people didn’t blame him for what he had done, but rather thought that the investors shouldn’t have been so gull able and greedy!

Oneida Barracks – Cycle Patrol
Oneida Barracks – Cycle Patrol

In 1935 I was injured while trick riding and forced to apply for cycle patrol.  I was used to being outside and felt too confined at being on inside duty, so cycle seemed like the next best thing to my years as a trick rider.

On September 27, 1939 I received the last letter from Kathleen ever receive.  It was a beautiful letter telling me, just before we were married, about how she hoped our marriage would endure and that she would stay with me forever.  I’ve kept it over the years and it is worn and hard to read, but still means a lot to me.

The cost of food has changed drastically.  In 1939, when Mother and I got married, calf’s liver was about $.10lb. and hamburger was $.11lb.  If three pounds were purchased at once, it was $.30lb.  It has spiraled tremendously since then.

Celebrity Assignments

I felt fortunate to have met some famous people during my years as a trooper.  Some of these people were Tom Mix, who was a famous actor in the silent movies, and Hope Gibson, a famous cowboy actor of the time, who was a guest at the field days.  I was a private guard for Ameila Erhart during her promotional tour to raise money for her trans-Atlantic flight, which turned out to be fatal.  I was escort and bodyguard for Eleanor Roosevelt when Franklin was Governor for New York State.  I was riding cycle and stationed in New Hartford when she had a meeting in Utica in 1940.  She flew up by pontoon plane and landed on the Barge Canal just west of the old Utica airport at Marcy.  She was very nice and asked if I was satisfied in the State Police and if the pay was fair.  I think I said yes.  I didn’t want to lose the job!  I was bodyguard for Sonja Heinya, Oylmpic Figure Skater, when she was at the state fair during her performances.  At Forest Park, where I used to ride the roller coaster with my friend Joe Casey, there was a boxer from Italy who was about seven feet tall named Premo Canaro.  He was a huge man who was trying to establish himself as a world champion boxer.  The troopers were asked to send a body guard for him and they picked me of all people!  At the time, I weighed about 150 pounds and looked like a half a pint of cider standing next to a gallon jug!

An Unforgettable Easter

In 1940 1 was stationed in Homer and Mother drove from our apartment in Pulaski to Agnes’ in Oriskany Falls to meet me for Easter Sunday.  I was about to go to Agnes’ when I received a call from Little Falls about a bad train wreck and all the troopers nearby had to go.  It was a fast passenger train packed with Easter travelers.  As the story came out later, the Engineer was coming into a curve at too high a speed when the traveling engineer, who occasionally rode with and supervised engineers, reprimanded him for excessive speed.  This apparently angered the Engineer who threw the throttle back and kicked on the brakes.  That tore the tracks completely out without even skidding.  Between the sections of day coaches and sleeper cars were the postal service sections.  Inside the postal car, employees were sorting mail.  When the front end of the train tore loose and unhooked from the mail section, the back section behind the mail section broke loose, the mail car jumped over the train ahead of it and continued down the tracks.  That’s how the rescue crews found it, although everyone claimed that it was physically and practically impossible for that to happen.  The other cars had crumbled together and the locomotive went up the side of the rock bank.  When it did, steam pipes broke and scalded the engineer to death.  The fireman and traveling engineer survived.  We had to spend Easter Sunday walking along in the cinders collecting body parts and putting them in garages of the local people who had donated the space as temporary morgues.  That was an Easter Mother and I will never forget.

Another Easter Sunday King George had come from England to America and all the troopers were to guard the train which he was to travel on.  Every crossing and spur on the train trip had to be guarded to prevent any sabotage.  This was just before WW II and everything was pretty touchy.  My station was Saratoga Springs and we had to sleep on cots in a local armory and be on duty at the crossing at 1:00 a.m. when the King and Queen would be passing through.  I have a picture of all of us that were involved in my scrapbook.  For all the preparations, the actual train passing was over in a few seconds.  The sergeants returned to the substations but we were allowed the night there to get some rest before returning.  We went down to a local establishment where the owner regretted not being able to serve us.  We chipped in some money and paid him to close the place so he wouldn’t lose any money.  We then we had a private party until about 4:00a.m., went back to the armory and got a few hours of sleep before we had to return to our substations.



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gridley_Building

[2] Macarthur Stadium was torn down and is now the site of Alliance Bank Stadium.

[3] By 1900, the shoreline of Onondaga Lake was dotted with major tourist attractions including hotels, restaurants, amusement parks and seven resorts. At that time, fish from Onondaga Lake were served at restaurants around New York State. Lakeview Point was the first resort built in 1872. In 1906 it made way for the White City amusement park, built by the Syracuse, Lakeshore and Northern trolley company. By the end of the 1890s, the Syracuse, Lakeshore and Northern Railway provided a busy trolley schedule, bringing patrons from Clinton Square to White City in just 12 minutes for a fare of five cents. Just before reaching White City, the trolley would pass by the Syracuse Steam Yacht Club, built over the water on wooden pilings. By 1899 the trolley company had built the Rustic Theater at Maple Bay, hosting vaudeville acts and special events such as “The Wedding of the Century,” attended by thousands. The Iron Pier resort, a large amusement complex, was the gateway to the west shore resorts. It was located near the current site of the Carousel Center Mall. The resort’s 600-ft pavilion offered steamboat service to other resorts on the lake for a fare of 25 cents. Each resort had its unique character. Rockaway Beach was famous for 25-cent duck dinners and was the headquarters for ice boating enthusiasts.

[4] The Golden Age of Onondaga Lake Resorts, Donald H. Thompson, Purple Mountain Pr Ltd; 1st edition, October 15, 2002, ISBN: 1930098367

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._A._Moyer_(automobile)

[6] This may be Crispy Maid Potato Chips, http://www.terrellspotatochip.com/About%20Terrells.htm

[7] Thomas K. Gale owned a salt storehouse, which would later be known as the “Galeville Grocery Store”. In 2011, the store was sold and replaced with a Byrne Dairy, currently located on Old Liverpool Road.

5 thoughts on “William F. Wheeler – In His Own Words

  1. This is great. My dad Charlie Randall was born in Syracuse in 1906 also. He told similar stories that are still vivid on my mind. My grandfather had a team and hauled for customers in the city, including bootleggers. Tough times but they knew nothing different. You are so lucky to have recorded this.

  2. Thank you so much for doing this. I go back in read it often. I miss them both so much. When I read this, it is like papa is right there telling the story.

    Drew

  3. What a wonderful story. Sgt. Joseph Deveans was the twin brother of my father Michael. He was also my God-father.

  4. I grew up in Pulaski and remember Bill during my teens. He was still patrolling on a cycle nearing retirement . I became a trooper in 1954 and didn’t see much of Bill after that. He was a troopers, trooper. It was very interesting to learn of his early years.

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