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Life Before Pennsylvania’s Interstate-80 on a Quiet Farm

Wed September 24, 2003 - Northeast Edition
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BLOOMSBURG, PA (AP) Before all the noise from construction and interstate traffic, it was bullfrogs that broke the silence on a Hemlock Township farm in the 1930s.

Bellowing bullfrogs at the Appelman lily pond were so loud that they made it difficult to hear a conversation on the home’s porch, said Harris Appelman, who recently discussed how different life in Buckhorn was before Interstate 80 came through the area.

The farm animals have been replaced by big rigs, cars and pickups that barrel down Interstate 80, which runs right through the former farm and site of the old pond.

The frogs, however, left a bit earlier.

One night in the late 1930s, the family returned from a trip to town and noticed there was something wrong; all was quiet, Appelman said.

Someone had stolen all the bullfrogs from the pond.

“You could just whack them over the head and take them,” he said.

The pond was a popular spot on the farm with the family and neighbors. It was used for fishing and swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter, Appelman said. His father strung a light over the lily pond so they could skate at night in the winter.

It held carp as large as 36 in. long, in addition to bass and sunfish, he said. At one time it was full of trout, he added.

As a kid, Appelman would fish the pond with a piece of bread and a fly rod. The carp would suck in the bread, Appelman would set the hook, “and away we’d go,” he said.

The pond also had approximately 8 in. of mud on the bottom, which fueled a few mud battles when he was a youngster.

At the farm house, an old generator ran the lights, and ice was used to keep food cool in an icebox, Appelman said.

The house had running water, due to to a spring house, and a windmill that powered a pump. But the bathroom, complete with a Sears and Roebuck catalog, was outside, he said.

A wood- and coal-fired cook stove in the kitchen provided heat.

Large milk cans from the barn were set in the icy water of the spring house, which kept the milk cold for a few days until the milk man could pick them up, explained Appelman.

His mother churned butter by hand and sold it, along with eggs, at a market in Bloomsburg, he said.

Some friends versed in butchering would visit the farm each year to help the family butcher two or three hogs, he said.

A large fire-heated kettle was used to cook the meat. Appelman said he remembers taking out a heart or tongue, adding a little salt and eating it.

“Delicious,” he said.

His father had an old tractor with a crank starter, but most of the plowing was done with horses, he said.

The family’s telephone also required some cranking to operate, Appelman recalled.

While the family had cars and trucks on the farm in 1939, there are many more roads, and cars, winding around Buckhorn today, Appelman said.

He used to walk a mile to school, which held six grades. The school still stands on Schoolhouse Road.

If Appelman were running late, he’d cut across the field that is now the site of the Buckhorn Super Center.

Occasionally, his teacher would drive by and offer him a ride, he recalled.

The family would head to town Saturday nights to get groceries and needed supplies, said Appelman.

That was a pretty big deal, Appelman said, because it was usually the only time he got to town.

Sometimes he and his sister would walk to town on a Saturday to see an old “flicker” movie at the Capitol Theater, he said.

The main road to Bloomsburg ran from what is now Firehall Road in Buckhorn to Wedgetown, below the truck stop, and down past Larry’s Lumber and the Red Mill Antiques, Appelman said.

The road led to the double-track bridge and onto Main Street.

Millville Road didn’t exist then, he said.

He was 11 years old when his father sold the farm in 1939 to run Appelman Paint Store on Jefferson Street in Bloomsburg full time.

With milk prices at one-and-a-half cents a quart then, it was more profitable selling paint and painting services, he said.

“It was tough making money on a farm then. It still is today,” he said.

Appelman, 75, eventually took over the store, which he ran for more than 20 years. He retired in 1989. The store opened in 1901 and operated for 80 years, he said. The building is still family owned, and now contains eight apartments.

Even as a youngster, Appelman had his chores on the farm.

He got out of milking the cows and feeding the chickens and hogs in the morning due to school, but had to tackle those jobs when he got home, Appelman said.

But he had fun, too.

A home movie from 1938 shows a young Appelman chasing a calf around the farm, and climbing the windmill. It also shows his sister, Beverly, and a cousin jumping into a hay stack.

“I was always glad I was raised on a farm,” he said. “I left when I was just getting into heavy-duty work. We had a lot of fun.”

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