This week sees the continuation of the ‘History: Remembering a Neighborhood’ series by my immensely talented father, Jerry R. Giuliano. Please enjoy this wonderful piece, and – if you missed it – catch the rest of the series.
History: Remembering a Neighborhood Pt IV: From Backyard Baseball to Coal Yard ‘Courage’
by Jerry R. Giuliano
The railroad tracks at the end of our backyard was used for trains carrying passengers travelling northeast from Philly and for delivering freight, including sand, and coal, to the coal yard next to our next door neighbor.
My friends and I loved the railroad tracks and we loved the coal yard. It’s easy to conjure a picture of 4 or 5 boys walking a rail with outstretched arms, and an occasional knee in the air for balance. Once, Joey B started on Seventh Street, and walked a rail all the way to Fifth with his hands by his sides; backwards.
Carmen, Bidgie, Joey, Babe, Reds, and I enjoyed putting found pennies on a railroad track. One of us, usually Babe, would put an ear on the track to feel for trains on the way. If the all clear sign was announced, a penny was placed in the middle of a track, and everyone took off running, fast and far enough away, to be safe if the train derailed. It never did. When the train passed, the penny was still there, double the original size and paper thin. It was worthless, except for the thrill of having eluded the “railroad dicks” that, we thought surely, would have sentenced us to life in prison for attempting to derail a freight train.
The coal yard that began alongside my next door neighbor faced Maple Avenue, backed up against the railroad tracks, and extended most of the way, to Fifth Street. On the RR tracks’ end of the coal yard, there were eight big, concrete, storage bins. The first bin, up against my neighbor’s yard, stored the softest sand; the next two bins’ were coarse, and then courser; the next five bins stored coal. Each bin stored larger-sized coal, starting from pea-size to big chunks, and sorted between anthracite and bituminous.
The coal yard presented better opportunities than the field for boys to find risks, make noise, and get dirty. When we were there, every thought we had developed into a contest. So, jumping over, or into anything, was less about the act itself, and more about who could do it best. “The best “changed daily with a new twist on some older, already been done coal yard challenge.
There were three silos, each one about 40 feet tall in the middle of the coal yard. Atop one of the silos, and stretching to the railroad tracks, was a steel beam used to support containers carrying coal from the train. The steel beam and looming silos invited us to play with them. Every day they called us; challenged us; taunted us. Every day one of us saved the rest of us from having to accept the invitation.
The jump, from the top of any bin into the sand, ranged from 3 to 6 feet, and depended upon when, in the sand delivery cycle, we jumped. Most times we jumped into the soft sand because it was most fun, it didn’t hurt, and it felt the best. But, “soft sand is for sissies”. Jumping into coarser sand, or into a coal bin, took courage reserved for the few, the proud, and the insanely ridiculous.
Jumping into a bin three quarters filled with medium sized coal, was a brave (translate stupid) outward sign of transitioning from “kid” to “one tough *^%&%*”. So, sooner or later, every kid made the jump, at least once, and just before going home, black, bruised, bloodied, in some degree of pain, and with a triumphant grin that stretched from one ear to the other. No one ever smiled bigger than Skinny Louie when he became our living legend by climbing to the top and walking, silo to track, across the entire beam, after jumping into the chunky coal bin.
The Montgomeryville-LansdalePatch has some amazing “Then and Now” pictures of Lansdale at the links below:
Also on the blog: Names by Jerry R. Giuliano