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Archive for April, 2016

The Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Commission stocks the ‘crick’ in Three Springs with trout. Former President Jimmy Carter fished in nearby Trough Creek State Park when he was the President. There was rumor he sometimes came to Huntingdon County. Funding he likely made available must still be around, because every Spring, just as tiny tributaries lapping down a sandstone mountain rush into what townspeople call “the crick”. men with buckets stand on bridges and dump rainbows into the rapids and watch as every unsuspecting insect hovering near or around this slow part of the crick, vanish instantly as the fish make their way in both directions.

To those who live in this little part of Appalachia, a creek is a waterway that flows through a place of importance, like Washington D.C. The crick is what the government stocked to help feed those in need.

Following the collapse of the sandstone mining industry in the 1940′s, fishing was nearly the only occupation in Three Springs.

The borough used tax dollars to maintain not only a larger than Olympic size public pool, but managed to keep the largest of its streams well- stocked with rainbows and brook varieties. The once blue-collar town, through hard economic times, blossomed because of that crick and the fish placed there. Most of the town was on some form of public assistance. Not only was there free cheese and butter, but Carter let them eat fish.

Fishing and hunting became the favored recreational hobby and a means of survival for the decedents of sandstone miners who continued to live in Three Springs. Men were proud that sand for the largest telescope at the time came from stand harvested here. After the quarry closed, a means of scraping up a living there trickled away.

The population of Three Springs was only several hundred in 1976, and the ratio of fish to men was nearly 1 to 500 thanks to Jimmy Carter.

Three Springs was known for excellent fishing holes. With a pair of hip-boots and the right bait, one was likely to catch the daily limit of seven, or at least have a few stories to tell after a day of roaming the somewhat greenish waters, drinking Iron City beer.

The best fishing holes in Three Springs were accessible only by foot and sportsmen desiring seclusion while fishing could walk along the abandoned East Broad Top Railroad tracks, and steer clear of heavy brush.

The only note worry tourist attraction in this neck of the woods is the East Broadtop Railroad in nearby, Orbisonia. The railroad is the only single engine steamer of its kind still in operation. Train enthusiasts travel from Oregon to ride on it. Part of the tracks run along the crick in Three Springs. When there was mining of fine sandstone being done in Three Springs, it had to be hauled from the mountain somehow. The crick simply was not deep enough for boats, but the crick proved to be the most logical of places to build train tracks. Fishing the creek banks was made possible in the ’80’s due to the brush free walkways along the rails. Coal had fallen from locomotives years ago and littered banks with what seemed like charcoal. A faint odor, usually on cool, wet mornings,hit one like the smell of a freshly lit grill to an attendee of the Smith Family Reunion.

Avoiding the swamps filled with patches of skunk weed was easy. Fishers cast their lines into a mountain stream without having to fight for the best currents or sit shoulder to shoulder with other fishermen with lines in the water.

Few waded upstream where the big trout hid among slime covered crick rocks. Women in Three Springs never fished. The weeds were thick along the riverbanks and if wading, one could easily stump a toe.

My brother Bill was often the only one brave enough to wade and fish the crick upstream. Our home was atop the hill in Three Springs. Bill followed a deer trail down the mountainside. He knew that most of the stocked trout migrated to cooler waters upstream where very few rods were ever cast.

Getting to the best fishing spots in Three Springs was easy for a kid who loved to fish. He tumbled down the mountainside with his fishing pole in one hand and fresh bait in the other. Most often, when I tagged along, I was empty handed, with no interest in fishing but wanting to look for sunk-weed which amazed me because it smelled not only like a skunk when kicked, but rumor was, some people ate it.

Getting home with an armload of trout was difficult. The river there was untouched and its banks unpolluted by beer cans and cigarette wrappers. Only we were rambunctious enough to traipse down the hill behind Miller’s Diner and make our way through the thorns.

It seemed Jimmy Carter must have used Marine 1 to get there.

Bill had a fishing bait business. He sold live minnows and nightcrawler worms. A small stream behind our trailer– another for which the town of Three Springs is named–was the perfect spot for keeping inventory.

Fishermen driving by or having breakfast at Miller’s diner across the street, spotted a sign in our front yard–

“Live Bait”

Bill netted his stash of minnows from the creek below Miller’s Diner, where he loved to fish. He used sweet corn from a can and a wire-mesh cylinder contraption for harvesting the fish. He tied the wire tube to a rotted tree that fell over a portion of the crick showered in heavy currents. He knew that rarely did anyone fish that part of the crick, nor would they ever dare to crawl out on the log like a monkey, as Bill could do with his eyes closed, to steal the device and the captured minnow bait within.

Minnows entered the trap by swimming through small holes at the end of an inverted cones on each side. The apparatus was designed with funnel-like entrance ways at which point, the minnows could not see to escape.

The minnows filtered in effortlessly, lured by the scent of sweet corn that bill dumped inside. Unable to recognize the two exit holes among the mesh of wire, the tiny fish were stuck, for now the way out was no longer a funnel-like passageway, but a mere point on a cone and everyone knows—fish are color-blind.

Bill emptied his minnow trap every morning into the little stream behind our trailer. A partially-submerged plastic bucket with holes on the sides and bottom hung by a chain from a tree limb and stuck into the water over where we built a dam. When a customer stopped by, Bill simply lifted the bucket and removed the live inventory.

Nightcrawlers were captured from our front yard. We used flashlights at dusk to find the worms that came to the surface of the soil to get air following rains or sprinklings from the garden hose.

Steady hands were necessary for extracting the nightcrawlers from holes in the ground. Pulling too fast caused them to snap. One first pinned the smelly creatures with two fingers and waited for the worm to tire, and slowly tugged the slippery creatures like pennies from a jar.

After each nightcrawler was pulled alive and intact from the ground, they were tossed into plastic tackle boxes that fastened to our belts. We moved slowly across the lawn, often shaking our flashlights to regenerate fading batteries, pulling what was on business standards, ten-cents a pick.

Nightcrawler inventory was maintained in the tractor shed inside a large wooden box filled with topsoil, dead leaves, and used coffee grinds.

We had a steady stream of customers. Fred Parks, an avid fisherman who was rich on Three Springs standards, made a purchase almost every Saturday morning.

I bought my own shoes for the second grade on nightcrawlers.

“Do you got any of those stick worms today,” Fred often asked. Stick worms were taken from atop Jack’s Mountain, near the abandoned sandstone quarry, where a spring bubbled from the ground and formed an ice-cold pond.

An unusual worm that covered itself with a camouflaged shell of decayed leaves and sticks lived in those waters. Fishermen could strip away the shell and find inside, the juiciest of white worms that no fish in the world could swim by.

Fred paid $3 a piece for stick worms, but like wild raspberries along fishing spots in a creek, finding stickworms was not easy and the walk up Jack’s Mountain to that icy pond, took almost an hour.

For every dollar we made, Bill pocked seventy-five cents because he caught most of the bait. I was often disgusted by smell of worms on my fingers and never would I crawl across the crick on a log to pull up the minnow trap. I maintained the dam mostly and was content with my quarter.

Our uncle Frank Brown fished the Auwick Creek in Orbisonia almost every Saturday in summer. He bought a minimum of forty fresh nightcrawlers every time he took his canoe out on those muddy waters. We knew almost all our customers, but one morning in 1976, a stranger knocked on the trailer door at 4 a.m. to buy bait.

“You got a customer,” Mom said, turning on the light in our bedroom. Bill crawled like a stick worm from the top bunk, stepping on my arm that dangled from the side of my lower mattress. Barron, sharing the bottom bunk with me had peed on my back.

“Get up, Charlie,” Bill yelled. “If you want your quarter, you gotta get- up and help me.”

“Who do you think it is at this hour?” I asked.

“Probably Max Parks. He’s always up early.”

A stranger dressed in a suit was standing on the front porch.

“Good morning. I’d like forty dollars worth of live bait.”

“Forty dollars?” I asked, rubbing bird shit from my sleepy eyes. “That’s almost everything we got.”

“Do you have a bucket?” Bill asked. The man in the suit indicated that he did not.

“We have some milk cartons,” I said. “You’ll need something to put stick worms in. Do you want any stick worms? They are five dollars a piece.”

“I guess so,” the man in sunglasses ordered. The sun wasn’t up yet. “What else to you sell?”

“Nightcrawlers, minnies and stickworms. That’s it,” Bill informed.

“I’ll take twenty in nightcrawlers, twenty in minnows and ten in stick worms.”

“That’s just two stick worms,” I reminded.

“I tell you what. Make it thirty-five dollars worth of those stick worms for a total of seventy-five dollars,” the man said winking at me, as if I already knew everything there was to know about how Washington works.

I considered giving up my paper route that morning. Riding the hills of Three Springs on a bicycle, delivering newspapers for less than five cents a piece, was hard work. It felt like I was a miner. After selling our entire live bait inventory in just one day in one simple delivery, I was convinced that life as a fisherman was easier than that of a writer.

A shipment of 250 Huntingdon Daily News newspapers arrived on our front porch on Monday evening. I cut the bundle open with a pair of scissors and sat on the front step to wrap seventy-five copies with red rubber bands realizing I should be hunting nightcrawlers. On the front page of the paper was our President, Jimmy Carter who stopped in Huntingdon County to fish again.

According to headlines, President Carter went fishing in an undisclosed region of Southern Huntingdon and managed to catch seven fish that day. My hands, covered in black ink, trembled as I folded the papers– knowing that I, with a stick-worm, would catch my limit too.

Jimmy Carter made the news that day, but I knew I would one day write a story about it and get rich.

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Heavy springtime rains saturated the wooded topsoil of the forests of Three Springs, PA. Winters that were spent filling hungry stoves with chopped wood melted away as the musty scent of burnt ash vanished and was replaced with cool, crisp air that seemed almost drinkable.

As blizzard snows melted away, tiny streams that ran amuck gathered into tributaries that could wash out entire driveways. Bob Cat, as my step-dad was called on the CB radio, carved a ditch with a backhoe back in ’72.

We needed dry land to keep our trailer from washing off the small ridge upon which it was parked. The deep channel, four feet deep at the time of original construction, had caved- in due to erosion and what was left was a little Grand Canyon in my view.

Despite the danger of catastrophic floods upon our land, I found the perfect location to build a dam that exists, in a near natural perfection, to this day. A natural mound appears amidst the willows– a little hump in the land, back where saplings once fought with sprouting acorns for the right to sunlight. I called the mound across the trench ‘Lady Slipper Dam’, but no matter how many of the orchids I attempted to transplant to the breast of my little Hoover, those delicate tissue tulips did not transplant well and were wiped- out due to my unquenchable desire to build a dam upon that little stream.

Like a beaver in heat, I flooded fields of the pretty flowers away, and as of 2016, none of the nearly extinct orchids exist on this piece of land despite the many years the pink little flowers spent attempting to make a comeback under the harsh sunlight of summer that came after neighbors moved in behind us just above the trench that marked a property boarder.

Bobcat never named the creek he dug to keep the basement under our green and white mobile home dry, but his common sense led to the creation of man made water-way that I, almost single-handedly, was able to tame for the purpose of forming a summertime lake that survived droughts of August. I spent so much time playing there, alone and with friends, upon the little damn that deserved a name.

The cool little pond glittered when shreds of filtered sunlight dripped through an umbrella of oaks and pines. Trout my brother Bill caught in a local creeks were brought home in buckets and thrived there. A million mosquitoes must have hovered up there at night, because our pet fish got fat, and lived most comfortably, at least until winter came and Lady Slipper Lake froze solid. We never knew where the trout went when the pond froze, and always assumed that a bear or raccoon got to them in the shallows of November.

A dam of mud and rock made one handful at a time was covered with moss gathered from northern sides of century- old locusts and elm. The organic carpet took to root upon the clay mounds. I dug deep down to find clay to use– chopping my way with chunks of broken sandstone through the roots of trees that seemed so long; my hands were cruddy and fingernails were encrusted with topsoil.

The damn was built a bit stronger, year after year.I chased spring showers like kick-balls. The neighbor boys came over to help– Chris Smith, shortstop of the Three Springs little league team was there to build. Chris had a grandmother who owned Miller’s Restaurant– a coffee shop across the road, downhill from our place, where eventually, that little ditch gave way to a more natural stream and crossed under a bridge on Hudson Street. The muddied currents we stirred passed down a gully just West of Miller’s Diner.

Chris lived in a trailer next door. When he wanted to come out to play with my three brothers and I, he’d stop at his grandmother’s restaurant and pick up four cans of Donald Duck orange juice. Chris always had a can of snuff too.

“What younz doin’ ta-day?” Chris would ask, handing us the offerings. Chris was an only child and lived with his mother. Like us, Chris’s parents were divorced, but Chris’s mom had not yet secured a second husband, and worse-off for Chris was the fact that he did not have any brothers. He thought of the dam as his too, although it was on our land.

“Puttin’ in a spill-way,” I explained, showing Chris a piece of plastic tubing I found in Bobcath’s race car garage.

Before finishing his juice, Chris would dig into the clay trench and grab handfuls of material for the damn. Brian Hoffman sometimes came over. He lived next door to Chris. The arguments over how to increase the size of the lake without having to take down the old dam and put up a new one were as common as our screams and yells when we played with a Nerf football in Brian Hoffman’s yard where there was another lake– a septic tank that bubbled like an untapped oil field somewhere in Iraq. His yard was so dry, with the exception of that black little pond, that clumps of grass only grew here and there, like Lady Slippers once did before I built that dam.

Tadpoles– the infestation of tadpoles that happened in our lake the first year we built it– handfuls of jelly with tiny spots inside. We had to take mounds of the tadpole embryos out of that lake, just to see our spillway work! We tossed them like Nerf footballs and played tackle on the moss and Lady Slippers near Lady Slipper Dam.

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