Before I Was Born

On the road...again!!!
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek

 

Before I Was Born

 

As much as the Footloose Forester tried to avoid nostalgia in his Chronicles of a Footloose Forester, there are certain images that contain so much personal meaning that it is like swimming against the tide.  He was born in Stanhope New Jersey in 1938 but his growing up years in next-door Netcong, New Jersey began within a very few years.  Unabashedly, he admits to having an unusually clear but short memory of several places where the Pellek family lived from that birth in August in 1938 until they moved into the vacant house on Church Street in 1941.

Although the memories are random and sometimes faulty, the Footloose Forester remembers seeing a hole in the roof and a few uneven floorboards as his mother held his hand during an inspection of the house that we would soon own.  Some might challenge him and his memories, and that is their privilege, but he will never change his story about hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the radio in that same house.  That date is marked in history and in infamy, as December 7, 1941.  At the time, he also recalls asking his mother where Pearl Harbor was.  Perhaps that began his self-knowledge that he could remember many things quite clearly.

The object of this chronicle is not to delve into nostalgia about Netcong, but to share some personal viewpoints and memories about some of the iconic places in Netcong.  The Netcong Train Station is among the most memorable, for a variety of reasons.

The train station was a local icon long before the Footloose Forester was born and remains one today. It is kept up and diversified in its appeal through community participation. 

 

 Netcong-Stanhope Station as seen in 1922

 

The Footloose Forester is keen on having photos as part-and-parcel of his chronicles, as far as he is able, because he believes that a photo is the baby in the bathwater.  As a willing storyteller, he wants to share memories with others who are willing to listen—and to read so that they are more able to relate to their own growing-up years.

Without further need to explain himself, the Footloose Forester, henceforth commences to describe what he remembers about the Netcong-Stanhope Station and its environs, when he was growing up in Netcong.

The tracks you see are still in use.  Nowadays, they are owned by Conrail, successor to Amtrack, successor to the Erie Railroad, successor to Erie-Lackawanna, and successor to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.  We kids just called it the Lackawanna Railroad and so did most of the people in town.  The Footloose Forester can identify a few features at and around the station because he went there six days a week for several year as he awaited the arrival of the 5:21 from Scranton, Pennsylvania that carried his Easton Express newspapers.  He was a paperboy, a job he inherited from his older brother Ronny.  Except for the occasional pickup football game we played in the tiny, grassed area directly in front of the house on the right, the train station seldom had visitors except during train arrivals and departures.  Those were the times when the baggage carts got put to use.  Notice the steel-wheeled baggage cart between the house and the railroad tracks.  There were two of them that were still in use in the 1950s, one kept handy near the lower tracks (no longer in service) and probably the one you see on the upper level.  The steel fencing in the approximate center of the photo was also still standing in the 1950s, as was the middle house.  Would you believe that our family lived in that house for a short time?  The address would be listed as Church Street Extension, and that is where the road ended.  And at the lower end of that road was the place we bailed out of our 3-man bobsled during top-to-bottom winter sleigh rides from the top of Quinn’s Hill.  We were aware that it was possible to continue down and over the bank leading to the railroad tracks below, hence the decision to bail out.  The house and tracks frame the scene, but the reader must imagine the existence of a graveled Church Street Extension. And the bare earth pathway leading up the bank was a shortcut we took between town and his home near the church. It was wider in the 1922 photograph but many people used it throughout the 1950s.

The bank to the left and right of the tracks was steep enough to require that the land be excavated before the tracks could be lain. Not by happenstance, the New Jersey Geological Survey chose that cut to examine and subsequently name the soil found in its profile.  Modern soils maps show the name Netcong Till, a soil type derived from samples taken from the defile.  The Footloose Forester remembers the bank well, and its mixture of different species of stones found there.  At the time, he did not know that one type was a sandstone, another was shale, another a sample of conglomerate, and the most common stone was gneiss. 

 

 

Unconsolidated sediments found at the site of a glacial drumlin in Homer, New York

 

It would take many more years of observing and reading geology to understand that he was looking at either Loci Gneiss or Byram Gneiss, based on percentages of certain minerals.  As a youngster, all he could do was delight in having such serendipities all around him.  After all, Netcong sits at the terminus of the Wisconsin Glacier, a place where numerous species of boulders and large rocks were finally dumped at the end of the last Ice Age more than 11,000 years ago. Fantasy, you say?  Take a look in front of the house on the left.  Those glacial-deposited boulders are no longer there; but there are plenty of others that were excavated adjacent to St. Michaels’s Church, further up Church Steet.  A veritable treasure trove of boulders was unearthed there in 2006 when the wooded land above the church was cleared for a parking lot.  If you look there today, those sandstones, granites, shale,gneiss, and conglomerates are still there.

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