Forgotten Sounds from the Past

Hobie Morris

Recently my wonderful wife Lois and I had an unexpected visit with a remarkable man and legendary Utica business icon Bill Chanatry. It was a very special time and an incredible blessing. Mr. Chanatry is widely known and admired for being, among other things, a charter member of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” Men and women who in the post World War II decades significantly helped making America’s greatness unmatched in history.

For a few minutes we enjoyably reminisced about a Utica which we remembered growing up. Mr. Chanatry’s wisdom, keen memory and love of Utica and country are so impressive. Our visit opened up even more boyhood memories of my Utica youth.

I grew up in what at that time was a secluded corner of South Utica within a stone’s throw of the Sauquoit Creek that separated Utica from New Hartford. I lived on a street that an OD article described in 1953 as being “a street of flowers, foliage and friendly folks.” Our family knew personally every family on the street. We were a small community of concerned and helping neighbors. From my adolescent perch I was aware of many sounds now long forgotten. A few of them I’ll describe in a few words. Maybe you remember many of these too.

The blaring, but welcomed 5:00 whistle from local factories and mills, ending the work day; the powerful dishes rattling sound—the New Hartford fire whistle; the countless church bells; the house rattling stamping boom from the American Emblem factory on Genesee Street; the thunderous sound of coal going into your basement bin; shot gun pellets bouncing off our aluminum house siding from shooting across Sauquoit Creek. This whole area was a wild life bounty all the way up to Washington Mills before the four land highway replaced it. The many services that came into our neighborhood—the ice man, with heavy chunks of ice for our ice box, Max delivering glass bottled milk in a metal carrier. We heard him walking up the driveway before we saw him; immigrant artisans who would sharpen all your knives and other tools; the grocery delivery man driving in the driveway with a box of groceries from his parents’ store on Sunset and Seward Avenues; the sounds of kids playing under the street light, having fun until called for supper or bed time; only propeller airplanes overhead; life long neighbors chatting with each other, and who can forget the ringing bell of the ice cream man slowly driving up our street, ringing his summons bell, and the bakery man from Hathaway with his delicious cupcakes, pies, breads and cookies. I can still hear his truck stopping in front of our house. Possibly the greatest sound of all that is increasingly absent from American life today—silence and peace.

There are two sounds that I remember so clearly and memorably. Both were related to transportation, of sort.

In my mind I can still see and hear the huge DL&W steam engine—the rhythmic pounding, clanking, whistling letting off steam from various places as it moved along the track within earshot of where we lived. The line ran up through the city of Utica, crossed Genesee Street, then Higby Road and continued south to Washington Mills with the main line eventually reaching Waterville and all points south and a branch line going from Cassville to Bridgewater, where it continued to Richfield Springs and from
Bridgewater by the Unadilla Valley Railroad to New Berlin and southward.

Day and night the huge, majestic steam engine pulling box and flat cars, and occasional passenger coaches, thundered noisily along the shiny, well used tracks. The huge steel drive wheels taller than a man. The great coal fed engine furnace billowing steam, hissing ane snorting as it slowly picked up speed heading south up the Sauquoit Valley. All this was music to my young ears. I know now that these great steel steam engines made America great before being replaced by the more cost effective diesels that had in my simple mind about as much sex appeal as a doorknob.

I love the sights and sounds of the steam engine age that I sadly saw come to an end. Before it ended I got one boyhood wish. My father bought tickets at the DL&W station on Genesee Street. I would ride, possibly the last passenger train south. The train stopped at North Brookfield, where my father and family car would drive us to our Brookfield property.

I can still imagine, as a DL&W train slowly crossed Higby Road, the engineer waving at an old man driving a team of horses, waiting for the train to pass.

Growing up the old man and his team (Bing and Sandy) were a seasonal reminder of the horse and buggy era that he would close the final chapter on. He was known as Pappy. Born in Utica, 18 years after the end of the Civil War, one of 12 children, he would have 7 of his own. Just before 1900 his family moved to 200 acres on Higby Road. Harry worked around the farm and in a few years bought a milk delivery route. Needing a month off to get married, he asked a New Hartford friend and prominent local athlete to take over. Jack Hughes did so. To Harry Benton’s surprise, while he was gone Jack Hughes had married Ada Lashure. The year was l905. Jack and Ada were my mother’s parents and my maternal grandparents.

Harry Benton never owned a car, always used horses. Between 1926 and 1956 he gave hundreds of sleigh and hay rides to countless thousands of people. Our quiet area was a safe place to give these very popular rides. I can still hear the clip-clopping of his team pulling his wagon full of hay and excited kids a street over from where we lived. Two red lanterns, both on the front and back, were easily seen from our backyard.

In the spring Pappy would plow your garden and in the fall would cut the hay or weeds in your vacant lot. While living on Scott Street as a teenager, Harry remembers driving to the Advance and School, Elizabeth and Charlotte Street, with a horse and buggy. A daily passenger was his sister, who attended Utica Free Academy located then at Bleecker and Academy Streets.

Like the sounds of the steam engine and clip-clopping of horses are sounds heard now only in our memory. They represented the last and for me today represented the best of times.

Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.

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