Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Grandma Lena's House on Oil Creek

Dave Hyre was kind enough to share his memories of visiting his grandmother's place on Oil Creek in the 1950s. His grandmother was the widow first of Dave's grandfather Frank Lake and then the widow of Frank Fisher. For the memories others have of this time and place, go to Five Remembrances of Orlando, WV

I remember staying a summer with Grandma Lena Gay Fisher's house after [her second and last husband] Frank Fisher’s death . . . what can I say other than “Rail Side Shanty?” It sat on stone piers with a crawl way beneath. I am sure that was a purposeful design for when Oil Creek overflowed it’s banks. It had a front porch, with rocking chairs and chain suspended slat settee swing for two. My sister and I would sit there and watch the never ending coal trains rumble by just yards away.

Thanks to Jim Reese for permisssion to use the photo below. The description accompanying this photo reads, "In the days before AC locomotives, the Chessie System often relied on several six and four axle units on the Burnsville Helper. Just east of Orlando, Western Maryland GP40 #3798 is the trailing unit in the helper as it shoves a loaded drag upgrade in the summer of 1985."

Grandmother Lena lived in an asphalt shingle sided house about a half mile downstream from downtown Orlando. To get to the house, one walked down a dirt road, and crossed over the B&O tracks, stepped down the rail embankment stile (steps) to a house lot eight feet below the tracks and the house 20 feet from the tracks. Huge mile long coal trains would rumble past. Indoor water was a kitchen sink mounted manual pump. The water smelled of sulphur. Baths were heated pots of that smelly water on a kerosene stove. Sixty feet back was the two hole outhouse sitting on the edge of Oil Creek. And yes, it had a Sear's Roebuck catalogue for paper!! Hey, EPA was 45 years away into the future. I would prowl the creek catching crawdads, never considering the outhouse issue!!

Inside was a modest sized living room, eat-in kitchen and two bed rooms. No closets, just free standing wardrobes. The beds were crude but comfortable, hand stuffed sack mattresses, sitting on bare wire spring sets on wood slatted cast iron frames with cast iron head boards. Linens were fresh and hand sewn quilts topped the beds. Washing was in a tub. Stove heated water from a hand pump....Saturday was “Bath Night” and Monday was “Laundry Day” with tub and scrub board.

Furniture in general was modest and typical of period. I do remember the enamel/ceramic topped kitchen table with red trim about the edges. First time ever experiencing grits and hominy for breakfast. Heat was a coal stove in the living room. Plenty of shake loose coal along the tracks to guarantee a ready supply . The kitchen stove was kerosene. Refill of the kerosene dispenser can came from a hand cranked Bung Hole pump mounted on a 55 gallon drum to the side of the house. A delivery man refilled that drum with jerry cans. Small back porch, utilitarian to descend to back yard area and outhouse back by creek.

It also had storage area for mops and brooms and was covered in Morning Glory vines. Gardens provided vegetables, corn, tomatoes, greens, onions, beans, radishes, squash and carrots.

I learned about canning from grandma Lena. Hey I was a city kid from Boston, vegetables came in a can from the A&P Market!! How the hell did they grow those cans in the ground?? I learned to use Mason Jars steaming on a stove to preserve garden harvest. Still do it today, My grown children laugh at me for all the trouble, but still line up for their share when the canning is done.

The photo of the Western Maryland engine above was taken in 1985 just east of the Route 5 crossing in Burnsville (near the old Sugar Shack) where the helpers tie onto loaded trains.

For more on the railroad, see the Northern West Virginia Railroads site, particularly the section on the Cowen Subdivision.
Thanks to Brad Moyers for identifying Jim Reese's photo and assisting us in obtaining permission from WVRailFans to use it.

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