Winter Recreation 101

By on March 25, 2015

With all this snow and ice and record low temperatures, the season brings back some memories of growing up in Manheim in the mid-1950s. If you ever watched reruns of “Spanky and Our Gang,” that is exactly how it was for us kids- back in the day.

All of our fathers worked at “the asbestos” and there was not a lot of money floating around at that time. If you wanted recreation you had to create it yourself. That never seemed to be a problem because we knew no other way existed. Even in the winter months our mothers would kick us out of the house. “Go outside and get some fresh air.” Right. It’s 15 degrees and all I want is fresh air. The little hairs in my nose were frozen and the Milky Way in my coat pocket was hard as a rock. (The way I got that Milky Way was to shovel someone’s sidewalk, walk a dog, or go to the store for the neighbor lady).

Then would come news via the grapevine that White Oak Dam was frozen over! Transportation was a factor since the three-mile walk was out of the question. If some kid’s brother’s friend had a car we would try to hitch a ride. If there was no snow on the ground, we’d ride bike out to White Oak along the railroad bed.

Equipment was at a premium for me, since my dad would not consider buying me ice skates for a few days of selfish pleasure. I had an old pair of hockey skates (which I still have hanging in the attic) that had a few nicks, but were still better than sliding on my boots. They were old and worn out when I got them from somebody (?). Hockey sticks were an unknown, since we didn’t know how to play hockey and never actually saw a game.

Arriving at the White Oak Dam, located at the intersection of White Oak Road and Elizabethtown Road, one would find a huge expanse of ice, covered with other kids and a few parents out on the ice. The skating surface extended in a northerly direction, following the Chickies Creek which narrowed down to a meager, trickling stream in its travel. Once we skated all the way up to Route 72 near Elstonville, having climbed over fallen trees and rocks along the way.

An undated aerial photo of White Oak Dam, north of Manheim. D. Yvonne Kreider, who lived near the dam, had this to say: “In the winter, the water at the dam would freeze. If it froze when the wind was calm, the ice would be smooth and skating would be easy. If it was windy, the ice would be rippled and skating would be rough. Jay Nissley would build a huge bonfire on the ice. The skaters would hold hands, making a circle around the fire and skate round and round. On windy days, the big guys would take a bed sheet, tie the ends to long poles, skate to one end of the frozen water, open the poles and let the wind ‘sail’ them to the other end. When the sun cast its last rays on the ice and then disappeared, more wood was put on the fire. A window was opened at the mill and a floodlight turned on and hot food and drinks were served.”

An undated aerial photo of White Oak Dam, north of Manheim. D. Yvonne Kreider, who lived near the dam, had this to say: “In the winter, the water at the dam would freeze. If it froze when the wind was calm, the ice would be smooth and skating would be easy. If it was windy, the ice would be rippled and skating would be rough. Jay Nissley would build a huge bonfire on the ice. The skaters would hold hands, making a circle around the fire and skate round and round. On windy days, the big guys would take a bed sheet, tie the ends to long poles, skate to one end of the frozen water, open the poles and let the wind ‘sail’ them to the other end. When the sun cast its last rays on the ice and then disappeared, more wood was put on the fire. A window was opened at the mill and a floodlight turned on and hot food and drinks were served.”

A local farmer, Jay Nissley, lived across the road next to the dam, and would occasionally groom the ice with his Farmall Cub and a blade attachment. He even set up lights for us at night. We would build a campfire along the bank to warm our hands and wet butts.

It was not unusual for some young fellows to drive their cars out on the ice. They would tie a long rope on the back bumper and tow us around. (Don’t tell your kids about this).

Of course, today, these antics would definitely be taboo. Where is the supervision? How thick is the ice? Do you have a first-aid kit? Does your mother know where you are? Do you have a way home? Is your cell phone charged up? Does it cost anything? How about: “Let’s go snowmobiling.” Now that was a dream yet invented.

“Winter Recreation 101” was very simple. There were no problems because nobody told us there would be. There was only success back then because you made adjustments to any situation. If no adjustments were in order, you just lived with it.

The Chickies Creek practically encircles Manheim, leading to many other recreational advantages throughout the year for the town kids. We will get into these details at a later date.

Richard Martin is a published historical author, historical researcher and genealogist. He has been a resident of Penryn for more than 50 years. He welcomes your comments and questions at jiberish@windstream.net.

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