FROM THE VALLEY: Part 2 - Where's The Fire Fellas
Part 2 - Where's the fire, fellas?
Last week in this space, I spoke of my time growing up in northern New
York and how my brother and I, along with friends in Ogdensburg, built our
own hockey rink. We did it, I mentioned, with little, if any, help from
grownups. Of course, our folks were always there if we needed them.
And with that reassurance, it was all the incentive we needed to tackle the
project. Aspiration coupled with determination is a surefire way to get young
people to think on their own and learn through trial and error. At least, it did
back then. Today? I'm not so sure if teens would/could set their cell-phones
down for the necessary time and effort. (Too harsh? Okay, I'm sure they could
Nonetheless, our parents were proud of our accomplishment. They liked the
rink so much, that they suggested we let them use it for a skating party of their
own. No problem.
My dad installed a couple floodlights on the side of the garage. Even though
they were initially put up for his get-together, it turned out to be a lesson in
quid-pro-quo in our young lives. They got to use the rink, we got to use the
lights from then on. A great trade-off; we'd found out the hard way that
flashlights sticking out of the snowbanks were as useless as glass hockey-pucks
and rubber lips on a woodpecker.
That tit-for-tat became a handy bargaining tool. We negotiated a deal of
unlimited skating for one set of parents who agreed to drive us across the
bridge to Canada to get some real hockey gear. We crowded into their two-
tone, Pontiac station-wagon and headed – with paper-route money in hand - to
the Great White North, eight miles away.
With delusions of becoming the next Bernie “Bom-Boom” Geofrion, Jean
Beliveau or Maurice 'Rocket” Richard, we bought shin-pads, hockey pants and
Montreal Canadian jerseys. “How do I look, eh?” Like dorks!
One time, several years after the rink had become a winter fixture, an idea
backfired. The surface had to be “flooded” on a regular basis. About three or
four times a week, someone had to thaw the outside water spigot to hook up a
frozen-almost-impossible-to-handle hose and spread a new layer of water on
the thinning ice. Not fun but necessary.
That job usually fell upon my brother, Tim, and me. We would get up
before school, bundle up like we were auditioning for “A Christmas Story” and
slowly get it done. With single digit temperatures quite the norm, it was like
sitting on a brass toilet seat in an iceberg outhouse.
Anyhow, to help us with the tedious chore, my dad set it up (it wasn't us) to
have some members of the fire department swing by and flood the rink. We
weren't in on the specifics of the deal, but whatever. True story. (And long
enough ago that I can let the cat out of the bag. Imagine the consequences
My brother and I were a little skeptical, but went along hoping it would
make the ice thicker - which in turn would allow us a couple more hours of
sleep before heading off to B.C.M.S. (Bishop Conroy Memorial School).
The next day, there it came rolling down Patterson Street: a big-ass, red, fire
truck. It came to a stop two houses past our house next to the fire hydrant.
Three guys got out; replete with official Ogdensburg Fire Department yellow
rain-jackets, helmets and boots. They casually strolled over to our yard and
surveyed the scene.
After a brief conversation with my dad, they returned to the truck and
unrolled a monster hose and hooked it up to the hydrant. Two of them, then,
dragged the nozzle-end across the street to where both my brothers, Tim and
Mike, and I stood. We had no idea what to expect.
Standing along the corner of the rink, the uniformed men aimed the hose
toward the center of the ice. One of them turned back to the to where the other
guy was kneeling by the hydrant, raised his arm and yelled “Let 'er go!”
And then, all hell broke loose.
The water shot out of the hose like a Saturn moon rocket on steroids. It
savagely ripped through the ice and bulldozed the bejesus out of any and
everything in its way. The fragile base-layer of ice - which we had
meticulously nurtured - was violently flung up and out of the rink scattering
debris all the way to the neighbor's house about 80 yards away. Mud splattered
out of the frozen ground like Jed Clampett's oil well on fast-forward. Visualize
someone igniting ten tons of dynamite inside an igloo of ice and mud and you
pretty much get the picture.
It felt like my brothers and I were watching Benny Hill on meth as the two
fireman were flung all over the place trying to contain the hose and the
mangled mess they were creating. What a disaster.
More next week when I calm down from just thinking about it.
And that's the way it looks from the Valley.
PHOTO ID: Ogdensburg's "Boys of Winter" are: Tom Valley (front left) and Robbie "Calkie" Calcaterra (front right). Standing from left are: Tim Valley, Jim "Pinkie" Pinkerton, Dick Sherman, Reg Baker and Gordy Douglass.