Category Archives: Life

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 10, Son of a blacksmith.

My father was a lifetime learner with many skills, a practical and intuitive engineer, he was also a competent electrician, mechanic, fabricator, as well as able to do basic carpentry. Over the course of his lifetime he wore many hats and designed many things from the small to the incredibly large. Be it a belt buckle or an overhead crane capable of lifting 100 tons, he could design and build it. The skill he enjoyed most, though, was blacksmithing.

Dad made many cool things as a blacksmith, from hand-made chains that were used in a movie to a candelabra that sat on a friend’s wedding altar, from belt buckles to broadaxes. He did his smithing to make money but it was also his therapy, hobby and fun. He would spend a couple of weeks every summer living in a tent and smithing at the Great Pennsic War, both as a crafter and a merchant. He loved beating Iron and creating with it.

As I sit in the house he and mom lived in I can almost hear the ringing of the hammer and anvil in his shop out back… Sadly, they are phantom and a memory of when the toughest guy I ever learned to love still walked the Earth.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 9, Railroads & Trains

My pap Ashcraft instilled what became a lifetime appreciation of trains and railroads of all sizes. Ironically, he could have hated them as he lost one of his legs in an occupational accident working as a brakeman on the Penn Central Railroad. He continued to love trains his whole life.

We would visit the switching yards at Mingo Junction, OH, Weirton, WV and Conway, PA many times as I was growing up. He had many reasons to go, first to visit former coworkers, but also as a salesman of Knapp Shoes. He sold thousands of pairs of high quality shoes and work boots to railroaders. “If your feet hurt your shoes, call me,” was prominently featured on his business card.

Pap’s love of trains wasn’t limited to full size ones. He had a very cool “O” and “HO” gauge model train setup that he could set up in his basement by hinging it down from a wall. We also took trips to see train displays at Buhl Planatarium, Oglebay Good Zoo and other model train shows around the region. Most of these are now, sadly, gone. I recently read that, after decades, Oglebay finally dismantled their fascinating train room.

Another part of every visit to oglebay was the joy of riding their narrow-gsuge train around the zoo.

I still enjoy trains, though not with the deep passion my grandfather had. But you’ll rarely hear me complain about the train whistles living 300 yards from a major rail line, or waiting for the train to pass. Trains, at different points in my life have entertained me, provided income for me and provided me with a way to work via light rail. Maybe someday I will build a model railroad. It’s in my blood.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 8, Fundamentals of Marksmanship, late 1970’s.

My grandfathers were both shooters, my dad’s father was an amateur competition trap shooter, trick shooter and marksman from his World War 2 service in the United States Marine Corps, my mother’s dad from growing up hunting in the hills of Smith County, West Virginia. As I spent a lot more time with my Pap Ashcraft, mom’s dad, he took on the task of teaching me to shoot and started a life long love of firearms.

The rifle above is a single shot, Stevens Junior Model 11. It is identical to the one that my pap taught me to shoot on and that I fired literally thousands of rounds through. It served several generations of our family only to go missing after his death. The rifle was older and field worn. It had many repairs over the years but it shot true. Simple, non adjustable iron sights, manual extraction and loading, and you clocked the hammer to fire it. The trigger was crisp and effortless and it just managed to hit exactly where you wanted out to over 100 yards. It was not unusual for me to toss a soup can out into the yard and then shoot it until it rolled down over the hill over 100 yards away. But, most often my target was a paper plate with a dot in middle that pap would set up at 50 or 100 feet away.

I would sit or stand on the back step and put round after round through that rifle. Usually 50 or 100 rounds at a session several times over each visit. Every hardware store and bait shop knew what I wanted when I showed up for miles around. Yes, they would sell live ammo to a 5, 7, 13 or whatever age boy… Kids didn’t do the stupid stuff with guns then they do now. Probably still was technically illegal, no one cared.

To this day if I had that rifle I could likely dispatch a soda can at 100 yards with it on the first shot. My pap taught me the gun, then gun taught me to shoot it the way it needed to be shot to put rounds on target. The tool was the tool, you adjusted to it.

My grandfather instilled in me what later became the 4 rules of firearms safety that are taught today:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
  2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

I seriously need to find another model 11. I own some of the most advanced firearms in the world but my heart longs for that old, beat up, well loved rifle. I hope whoever has it appreciates it.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 7, Girton’s Gas Staton, New Milford, OH.

Growing up in New Milford, Ohio, a fixture of our lives was the gas station located down the road. Girton’s was owned and ran by Russ and Betty Girton. Russ was a mechanic, Betty ran the store operations and they usually employed one or two clerks. Anything a young woman or man could want, and most things many adults did, could be had from Girton’s.

Girton’s was a full service operation with garage. “Ding ding” as you pulled a car in, or your bike if you hit the rubber line just right. Gas, checked the oil and tires and cleaned the windshield, all with a smile.

Inside, coolers filled with beer, wine, dairy goods and deli meat and cheese, ice cream and ice cream novelties… Shelves for basic pantry items, snacks, smokes, and… A huge candy counter.

We all ended up at Girton’s pretty much daily as kids for a soda or candy, or for air in our bike tires. As we hit the age of driving, we stopped for our gas and oil. Sadly, small independent gas stations were driven out of being profitable by the larger stations and chains.

I don’t remember exactly when it closed. I feel sad that I don’t because it’s closing was a bellwether of the charges of our entire world, in which the warm and local was displaced by the cold and corporate for profit.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 6. Gary’s Barber Shop.

Growing up I can always remember my pap wore his hair high and tight. Not a military cut but a buzz cut and, occasionally, a flat top. Thinking about my dermatology issues with seborrheic dermatitis and his itchy scalp I figure he wore it close for the same reason I do… Less hair, less oil, less itch and sunlight kills it.

Haircuts were done 27 times a year, every other week and an extra before Christmas. Haircuts were done by Gary at Gary’s Barber Shop in East Springfield, Ohio. It was a small building next to his house on Ohio 43 and you parked along the street and walked down the hill to the shop. I mean, you could walk down the driveway and around the house, but no one ever did. If you think of James Dean as Floyd the Barber, you understand Gary. He was the only person growing up I ever knew who had tattoos, he was a volunteer fireman and active in his church. His shop was every small barber shop in America. An impressive bar of barber tools, powders, after shaves and combs in blue alcohol. Newspaper articles and photos on the walls, a nickel pop machine that sold little glass bottles of Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (Leave the bottle, please.)

It wasn’t unusual to make the 45 minute drive to Gary’s only to find he wasn’t in. There was no phone in the shop and sometimes he had stuff to do or just went fishing and left a sign on the door. You waited or came back. No one minded. See, for more than a couple of generations of men, Gary was their first real haircut away from home, myself included. For many people he also gave them their final haircut. I distinctly remember that he made a trip to the funeral home to cut my grandfather’s hair one last time, and him being at the funeral. I’m sure that he did this for other’s, as well.

Gary is long dead, I’m sure. I haven’t been down by where his shop was in 20 years. I tried to find it on Google maps, but couldn’t. I honestly didn’t know him, and yet he was a friend of mine and anyone whose hair he cut… Strangers don’t come to your funeral.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 5. Wine coolers.

I honestly can’t say if I only remember tidbits about my Junior and Senior years of high school and the time just after graduating from the later damage to my brain or because of drinking… A lot… Of wine coolers. For the younger folks, long before Budweiser made strawberry and other Rita’s in a can, we had wine coolers… Refreshing, sometimes fizzy mixed wine drinks that came in 12oz bottles… But a few geniuses at the companies making them decided to package them in 2l boxes and soda bottles. They went down smooth, were incredibly cheap and I drank so much of them that my friend John nicknamed me “Cherry Passion” and called me that for as long he was alive. Yeah, imagine being out with friend and a dude yells out of his car window “Yo! Cherry Passion! What’s up, son?!” God I miss John. It was a much simpler time of life… Get lit, go to bed, go to work, repeat. Did they give you a hangover? Oh sweet Jesus, yes they did.

Postcards Of My Life #pcoml No. 4. The house with our initial in the chimney.

My mother and father were neighborhood kids. My mother’s family lived about a mile down the hill on Rte 213 from my dad’s parents’ house. I didn’t spend nearly the time in my paternal grandparents home as the other, sometime around 1979 or 1980 they sold it and moved permanently to Texas. A couple of things that I remember about it are that it had the letter “H” molded into the chimney. I remember my grandpa had a leather Lazy Boy. I remember my grandmother making us breakfast of saltines with sugar and milk like cereal.

And I remember the wall at the foot of the stairs to the basement. The wall was murderous. It was textured in this brutally sharp texture that you couldn’t touch without getting cut and I remember it would keep you from running down those stairs for fear of touching it. The sample photo isn’t even remotely how sharp it was. That wall had the blood of every person who was ever in the house in it. I am fairly certain that grandma was a witch.