A Mercersburg Memoir, 1938-55 - By David Clutz
By David “Archy” Clutz
A resident of Binghamton, New York, Mr. Clutz, son of the late Dr. and Mrs. Paul A. Clutz, grew up in Mercersburg. He is the author of War and Redemption, an historical novel set in the Civil War years, Rebels in the Front Yard - Liberty at Gettysburg, a non-fiction account of Mr. Clutz’s family living in Gettysburg at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Fields of Fame and Glory Col. David Ireland and the 137th NY, a history of that regiment. In the following essay Mr. Clutz remembers his growing up years in Mercersburg.
The recent Commemoration of the 100th year of the Mercersburg Public Library brought me back to my home town. I parked my car in front of the 1790 stone house at 29 North Main the house my parents had bought 75 years ago, just in time for my birth into this magical town. I say it was magical - for kids of my generation, spanning the end of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the A-bomb threats of The Cold War, our daily lives were full of fun, adventure, and education in the lessons of life. Great world events may have occupied our parents, but to us kids they were just something we saw in the MovieTone News at the Star Theater on Saturday mornings or saw in the headlines of the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Public Opinion.
In the 1940s and 50s, a boy’s life in Mercersburg revolved around school, friends, and adventures in and around town. Mercersburg in those days was a bustling rural market town. We could walk to everything. Our schools were a block from the Square on West Seminary Street. Shops were near-by, wherever you lived. On Saturdays the farmers would come into town, park their vehicles or tie up their horse & buggies in the Hitching Yard on North Fayette, behind my yard. They did their banking at the First National on the Square, or the Farmers Bank on North Main. Bought the week’s supplies at the A&P on the Square, or at Vic Bowman’s Pen-Mar grocery, or Russell Shaffer’s Market, get their shoes at Metcalf’s, everything else at Myers & Trifle on the Square, Patterson’s or Oyler’s Hardware Store, or at Wolf’s Racket Store, Philips Seed Store, Philips Stationery Store, and the Builder’s Supply on Oregon Street. There were car dealerships in town, Red Sixeas’ Nash on South Main, Ray Rockwell’s DeSoto and Chas Taylor’s Ford on North Main, Wilbur Grossnickle’s Chevrolet on East Seminary. No Japanese cars then!! We town kids could run to either C.B. Zitzman’s or Eddie Lowans’ meat markets to get the ground beef, pork chops, or lard that out mothers would send us for, and while we were at it, stop at Trimmer’s 5&10 on the square for a treat or toy if we had a nickel left over.
Back then, we had no “Farmers Market”. Instead, we had Jake Stein. He’d come into town with his wagon, and slowly move up Main Street calling out ‘Sweet corn! ‘n Apples!” and our mothers could come out and buy fresh produce from him.
We had two dentists - Doe Grove above Miller’s Clock Store at the Square, and Doc Heefner around the corner on East Seminary Street. Doctor Dovey had his office on South Main Street, and my father had his office, complete with X-Ray machine and blood lab in our house on North Main. Dr. Juanita McLaughlin was the third doctor, though she limited her practice to the children of the School District. The Academy physician, Dr. Lewis Hitzrot, lived in (what was to me) a marvelously modern and lovely one-story home in a wooded lot on the campus north of the Chapel. The drugstores were “Doc” Smith’s Rexall, just off the Square on South Main, and Jack McLaughlin’s in the Buchanan Hotel on North Main, across from the Parker House (now the Fendrick Library).
“Jack’s” was far more than a pharmacy. In fact, we kids hardly knew it was there. While the Rexall had a small soda fountain too, “Jack’s” was where kids went to hang out. In the days before video games, the row of pinball machines in the rear of the store were where we could apply our eye-hand coordination, outwitting the steel ball fired up the side chute by the spring-loaded launcher, as we deflected its course through a maze of bumpers with our skillfully activated flippers, while the back panel loudly rang up our points with lights flashing. “Jack’s” was where we gathered after school, getting a fountain coke or a cherry phosphate, or maybe a soda with Jack’s own handmade ice cream, and crowding into one of the booths on the north wall in the back. In the mid-fifties, chess became the new craze. After school, you could find Larry Richesson and his cronies in the booths, engrossed in a serious game, pondering their strategy, trying to outwit their opponent. They only needed a chess board and some plastic chessmen - far more demanding of the mind than today’s “Grand Theft Auto”!
“Jack’s” was where the adults hung out, too. In the days before Starbucks, this was where men in town got their morning coffee. Our local milk deliverer, Monte Cramer, would stop in after he dropped off the cream Jack used to make the ice cream sold at the counter. (Back then, every housewife had her pasteurized milk delivered in quart bottles at the front door each morning.) Kidding around with the customers were the girls behind the soda fountain counter-”Cookie”, a vivacious brunette who could give as good as she got, trading good-natured barbs with the guys. Gertie Zeger, who largely ran the store (and who continued in successor stores until just recently - a fixture in Mercersburg who was rightly proud that her son James would become a long-serving mayor of the town she gave her life to). Gertie knew everyone, treated everyone, adult or kid, as a long-time friend. She was trusted and respected, indeed loved, by adults and kids alike. To the Academy boys, “Jack’s” was an escape from the rules and regimentation of the boarding school. And they were there every time the rules allowed the boys to venture into the town. After all, there were girls to flirt with at “Jack’s”! And at an all-male boarding school, as the Academy was then, that was a welcome change of scenery.
The Academy Chapel carillon has always been, to me, one of the singular features of our town. Its distinctive bells ringing out across the town on a summer afternoon formed my earliest memory. My crib was in a bedroom whose window faced the Academy. The window sill was as deep as the limestone walls of our house - wide enough for me to nap on, with a breeze through the screen (a heavy wire mesh overlaid the usual screen so that I couldn’t fall through). The sound of the bells never seemed to wake me up, just provide a unique lullaby. Carilloneur Brian Barker’s recitals of Bach still resonate in my memory, emplaced there in infancy, enjoyable in mental recall even today. As a student, I was impressed one day in the Academy gym, seeing Barker duck-walking for what seemed like an hour, to stay in shape for the rigorous demands of the carillon “keyboard” - not really a keyboard, but a row of long wooden levers, directly connected by wires to the heavy clappers of the bells. To ring the bell, Barker had to literally pound each lever in the proper sequence. How he managed to create the amazing glissandos that he wove into his recitals is truly a marvel to me. There are but a handful of such carillons in America, and I doubt any had a carilloneur more masterful than Brian Barker. His recitals when I was a boy were so frequent, during the day, and in late evening, that we all took them for granted - just an expected part of our environment. Sadly, I rarely seem to be back in town when the occasional recitals occur in this present age. But the music of Brian Barker’s carillon genius comes back to me whenever I think of it, sort of my mental I-Pod, no earphones required.
I said we kids weren’t much interested in world events surrounding us. Well, that’s not quite true. Everyone in Mercersburg was affected by World War II. Fathers, older siblings, older friends were gone to the war. Sadly, some homes had Gold Star Mother plaques in their front windows - a Mercersburg boy who would come back only to Fairview Cemetery. We were patriotic. Us kids did our bit. We collected scrap metal for the war effort. My brother Billy and I took our little red wagon up and down Main Street to collect tin cans from the housewives who had washed and flattened them. We knew that some of the older men in town were air raid wardens that went up into the cupola of the Academy’s Main Hall to scan the skies of the Cumberland Valley for enemy bombers. Really! And when the air raid siren went off, we stayed inside, turned off the lights, pulled the curtains, and trusted that this was just another air raid drill.
Our mothers helped, volunteering at the Red Cross to make bandages. Mother would put me down for a nap, then walk down West Seminary to the Red Cross office to help out One sunny summer afternoon, I was probably 4 years old, I woke up from my nap, went downstairs in my pajamas, got on my tricycle and rode it a block up Main Street to the Sunoco Station (across the street from the Harriet Lane House). My best friend Happy Glazer stopped pumping gas. “David, go home and get your clothes and come on back.” I did. “Now let me stand you up here, and we’ll put your clothes on for you.” He lifted me up, stood me on the narrow ledge of the plate glass store-front window, took off my pajamas, and put on my summer shorts and shirt, socks and shoes. When Mother came back from the Red Cross and saw me happily riding my trike at the gas station, she was first horrified, but then laughed and thanked Happy for looking after me. The “loafers” - the old men who sat in the three chairs in the station, swapping stories, would have a new story to tell - “Remember David, when Happy changed you at the window?”
Happy was a wonderful friend to a little boy whose father was off in Guadalcanal fighting the Japanese. (A Navy doctor assigned to the Marine Corps, Pop first tended wounded Marines. But he had earlier been an Army artillery officer in the Reserves. So when the hospital was quiet, the Marines sent Pop up to the top of the ridge to serve as a forward artillery observer. He was, like his Marines, fighting.) Mother had told me a little about the war, but censorship meant that Pop’s letters home had little detail of the fighting. Still, from comic books I knew the Japanese, and the Nazis, were our country’s enemies - the bad guys. So when Happy told me “David, we’ve got some Japs locked up in the town jail, and we’re going to shoot them. Want to come see?”, and got all his “loafers” joining in the game, I took him seriously. I was sure the Japanese had somehow gotten right here to Mercersburg! Mother, of course, told me that Happy was only kidding. That Pop and the Marines would keep the Japanese far away from us.
After the war, Henry Steiger and Ralph Glazer kept Happy’s Sunoco in business, selling gas and tires. In the front part of the store three comfortable wood and wicker seat chairs were on one wall, normally occupied by retired farmers and townsmen who delighted in regaling a young boy with their own stories of growing up in Mercersburg. One of my favorite stories came from my next door neighbor Seth Steiger. Seth and his brother Lynn had a number of farms in the area, and often took me along in their Chevy pickup to visit the farms - a treat for a town boy. Seth told me about his boyhood adventures herding turkeys from Berkeley Springs across the Potomac and on up the trail that came over Cross Mountain where it joins Cove Mountain in “The Corner”. One trip, they were late getting across the river at Hancock. It was getting dark, and the turkeys went to roost on the cars of a B&O freight in the rail yard. During the night the train pulled out, with the turkeys aboard!
Happy Glazer was not my only friend along Main Street during the war. Victor Bowman, who ran the Pen Mar Grocery next to Happy’s Sunoco Station, was also my good friend. And on one cold day, he saved my bacon, so to speak. During the War, many items like sugar and coffee were rationed. To buy a jar of coffee (tin cans were needed for the war effort, so glass was used instead), you had to present the grocer with a coupon from a government ration book. Mother liked her coffee, and sent me up the street to the Pen Mar with money and a ration coupon for a jar. Mr. Bowman got me the coffee, and I started to walk home, the jar tucked under my arm. I could see my breath that cold morning. So when Marie McBain, walking up the sidewalk across the street, called out “David, it’s cold this morning, isn’t it!” I turned toward her and replied “Brrr, it’s really cold!” and to show just how cold, I gave a big exaggerated shiver with my arms and body. The jar of coffee slid out from under my arm and crashed onto the sidewalk. I looked down at the mess of ground coffee and glass shards and began to cry. Mother would have no coffee this week, thanks to me. Dejected, I slowly walked back and told Vic my tale of woe. He smiled, got me another jar of coffee, and sent me home, a chastened and much more careful little boy!
Next summer, I had another friend come to my aid. Our house at that time had a porch that extended out to the sidewalk, with a wide limestone wall topped with flagstone that sat some 8 feet above the pavement below. Back then, people sat in chairs on their porches and socialized with folks walking past. That afternoon, I climbed up lay down on our porch’s warm stone ledge and promptly fell asleep. In my sleep, I rolled over and fell off! Frank (“Shorty”) Long was walking up Main Street on his way back to his barber shop after lunch and saw me lying there, out cold. He picked me up, carried me up to the front door, rang the bell, and handed me over to my very surprised Mother! She thanked Shorty, grateful that once again for good neighbors who watch out for us kids.
Another good friend in my childhood was Preston Amspacher. Mary Ida Amspacher was a school teacher up on Linden Avenue that Mother sent me to for reading lessons before I entered grade school. She started me on a lifetime of reading for both learning and pleasure. And when her lesson was done, she often let me go down into the basement where her husband had his wood shop. I can still smell the fresh sawdust from his cutting the maple and oak boards from which he made so many fine pieces of furniture. He indulged this little boy, letting me play contentedly with scrap blocks while he worked, cautioning me to stay away from the machinery. Many years later, as a wedding present, Preston gave us a walnut cheeseboard that he had fashioned from an old headboard, with an embedded tile that reads “He who cuts his own wood is twice warmed”. Later, I would know him in a different role, as my math and physics teacher at the Academy, but then, he was just a big, red-headed nice man who was friend to a little boy.
Martha McDowell, her sister Mary, and their mother lived in a pretty white house a few miles from town, at the point where the road from Lemasters joined the road to St. Thomas east of Markes. Their brother had a dairy farm across the road. There was a lovely Oak Grove across the way, and behind the house beside the garage was a row of raspberry bushes. They became my childhood friends first when Martha also taught me in her home as a pre-schooler, then even more so when they allowed me to stay over for days during the summer when I was in grade school. I learned to milk a cow, to pick raspberries (and ate more than I brought in, I suspect), and to play in the oak grove.
Several times during the War, I left Mercersburg with Mother and brothers Henry and Bill. For a time when the furnace broke down we lived in an apartment in Gettysburg near our grandparents. For us three boys the Gettysburg Battlefield was a place to play and explore. With gas rationing, there were no tourists to interfere with our play. We especially liked to crawl in and around the giant boulders of Devils Den. Toward the end of the War, Pop returned to the States to work at the hospital at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and we lived in an apartment in Lansdowne. I missed my Mercersburg playmates, but made new friends in the neighborhood and within the Navy family community. We returned to Mercersburg in June of 1945, in time for the great impromptu celebration of V-3 Day, August 14, 1945. Times Square may have had the more famous celebration as shown by the LIFE photo of the sailor kissing a young woman. But Mercersburg celebrated in a big way, in its own way. Cars drove around the fountain in the square, horns blaring, teen boys riding on the hoods, on the fenders, hanging from running boards. We young kids stood along Main Street and on the sidewalks at the square waving flags, cheering, caught up in all the excitement. Rationing would soon be no more, the soldiers, Marines, WACs and WAVES would be home again, and life could get back to normal.
The late 40s and early 50s were exciting, fun times. The returning veterans opened new businesses on Main Street - Tim Rockwell’s father opened a Chrysler dealership near the bridge over Johnston’s Run. Bucky Stultz’s dad opened an appliance store next to Oyler’s Hardware. Larry Taylor’s dad had the Ford dealership on North Main across from Ruby Ensminger’s businesses. Sam Hetrick’s dad ran the Supplee Creamery near the train depot. Sally Lininger’s dad had the funeral parlor, Judy Etter’s dad, the “Ice and Storage”, Celia Myers dad, the Star Theater, Cliff Myers’ dad, the insurance agency. The Dodsons opened their New House Restaurant near the American Legion building on North Main. Henry Hamilton opened a barbershop in the basement of Poppy Ott’s apartment building on North Main, just two doors south of our house. Henry became a friend as well as barber to me. The Lowengart Tannery and the Shirt Factory on East Seminary street were humming. Mercersburg was a busy, thriving community.
Our parents were busy working, or busy at home. So boys my age could wander freely around town. “Mother, is it OK if I go out to play?” led to a fun time at a friend’s house or yard, or at a favorite local spot. One of those was at Johnston’s Run at Bridgeside - the Steiger sisters home on North Main just north of the Park Street intersection. Before the Sunoco station was built on that corner, this space was a grassy lawn hidden behind a green hedge that ran along the Main Street Sidewalk. The only thing there was a low stone monument with a brass plaque darkened by age, commemorating the birthplace of Governor William Findlay. On a warm summer evening this was a favorite place for neighborhood boys to play hide and seek in the gloom. But on a sunny afternoon, the Run was the favored play spot. Mercersburg sits on a long deep slab of limestone, and just west of the bridge the water had exposed the limestone, leaving deep furrows in the surface. The stream ran through the channels just deep enough, wide enough, and swift enough to let us boys race our home-made wooden boats. And there were enough loose stones to construct dams and mill-races to force the water into interesting paths of our choosing. We learned a lot of practical hydraulic engineering without any adults to keep it from being fun. Fortunately for our parents, the water was shallow enough that there was no danger of drowning. And if we slipped on a rock and cut ourselves or got a goose-egg knot on our head when we fell, it was rare that our parents found us out, and rarer still that we got hauled off to Doc Clutz.
My father had given thought to setting up practice in Chambersburg, nearer the hospital, but chose instead to come back to Mercersburg. He had the porch torn down and a new medical office wing added to our house, complete with all the latest medical equipment, including an X-Ray and darkroom. There was no ambulance service in those days, so his office served as a local emergency room and clinic. He could X-ray and set broken bones, do minor surgery to sew up cuts, draw blood and run many tests to diagnose diseases. He became an expert diagnostician, using his knowledge of treating a family’s multiple generations to spot illnesses in their children. These were days before most vaccinations for childhood diseases other than small pox ( we all sported the nickel-sized scars on our upper left arm). We all went through the days of lying in bed with chicken pox, German measles (the little measles), the two-week measles (the big measles), and for some, the agony of staying in a darkened room for weeks with scarlet fever.
Students at the Academy, we knew, were removed from the dormitories by Dr. Hitzrot and made to tough it out in a separate building near the Infirmary that we called The Pest House. At least we got to be at home! My father was quite innovative in treating my case of the big measles. He drew blood from my oldest brother, who’d already had the disease years before. Separating out the plasma with his office lab centrifuge, he injected it into my blood stream. I immediately shared my brother’s hard-won resistance and got over the two-week measles in just a few days of mild discomfort.
These were the days before the polio vaccine had been created. Polio was a scourge for teens, and many children contracted the debilitating muscle disease, though few of our town wound up in an iron lung because their lung muscles had been so severely weakened. It was thought that it was spread through the water. So one summer all our swimming classes were canceled, the public pools closed. The Red Cross swim lessons we had so enjoyed, at the pool at Red Bridge Park in Chambersburg, or one summer, at the pool at Caledonia, were suspended.
When we went to Boy Scout Camp at Sinoquipe outside Fort Littleton, swimming in the lake was forbidden - torture for boys who had always had lots of time in the water in previous summers. Of course, some of us were creative. We would organize an informal hike around the lake to the dam, out of sight of the Camp Director and his staff. There, we often found the trail at the dam to be extremely slippery, and one by one, we would fall into the lake. Sometimes it took us a half hour of intense swimming before we could find a way to get back onto land! Fortunately none of us had to pay for our forbidden swim by contracting polio.
My mother, a doctor’s daughter herself, was always very conscious of the duty of her sons to behave in a way that didn’t reflect badly on Dr. Clutz. Henry was exemplary, Bill was careful. I’m afraid I was not so considerate of my father’s sterling reputation. Especially in my later teen years. Poor Pop. He’d have to respond to a patient saying “Someone said Clutz was (pick an indiscretion),” with “Heck, that was my son!”
Fortunately most people in town “cut me some slack”, and rarely did my wilder moments seem to get back to my parents’ ears.
Being a doctor’s son did have some advantages, of course. When I had severe appendicitis, Pop drew blood and diagnosed it, took me immediately to Chambersburg, and within hours it was removed, apparently before it was likely to burst. In fact, the day I was born he saved my life. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, and I would have strangled during birth had he not been there to assist the surgeon. These were the times when doctors made housecalls, delivered babies in the middle of the night, and knew their patients well. Pop wanted me to get a taste of his work life, and often had me accompany him on his longer house calls, like those up over the mountain down into the Little Cove. We could have long talks that way, and I got to understand what it really was like to be a country doctor in the 1950s. Sadly, those days are gone, vast bureaucracies now stand between doctor and patient. Mother tried very hard to convince me to follow in her father’s and my father’s footsteps, but I don’t envy doctors today. I’m glad I followed my eldest brother, and my grandfather Clutz and became an engineer instead. But I’ll be forever grateful that my father chose his profession and that he chose to practice in Mercersburg where I enjoyed such a marvelous magical childhood.
Of course we were deprived - no television back then. Instead, on summer evenings folks sat on their porches and socialized with neighbors. There were no baseball games on TV to watch. Instead, we listened to the Phillies on WCHA while we did things around the house - built model airplanes, or, in my case, built model railroads. For real baseball action, we all went to the baseball diamond behind the high school and watched our local semi-pro teams, the Blue Sox and the Mercersburg Giants, play teams from other towns in the county like Pond Bank - always a hard-fought game. There were no prize fights on TV to watch. Instead, at the big summer block parties, also on the school grounds, big speakers were erected and we listened to the heavyweight battles of the century - Joe Lewis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Billy Conn. Yelling and cheering for whichever fighter we were backing. Then next day we would argue about which one was the better fighter, who should have won, who would win the next fight. We listened to the Legion Band concerts (it’s gratifying to know the Community Band still is active).
No, we didn’t have TV. But we did have a wonderful town library. Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings I went to the Town Hall and climbed the stairs to the Mercersburg Library. Miss Ruth Steiger was librarian then, a cheerful, friendly, helpful guide to all the wonders to be found in the many books lining the shelves. Being a typical boy who liked Red Ryder Daisy bb guns, the cowboy movies on Saturdays at the Star Theater, I normally managed to go back down the stairs with an armload of westerns. I think I read every Zane Grey western in the library before I was thirteen. Today, seeing the airy, open and expansive reading rooms of the Fendrick Library, I’m glad Mercersburg kids have an even more enticing world of books to enjoy.
There weren’t organized sports for kids then, though the town’s parents did start a Little League that began play on a field at the new Lions Club Park on South Park Avenue in 1951. I couldn’t play, having just turned 13. So instead Lion Vic Bowman asked me to man the concession booth, serving cokes from a commercial ice chest cooler with the big Coca Cola script label on it Folks attended those free games with the same enthusiasm, if not more, than minor league baseball team ticket-holders over in Hagerstown.
But we boys didn’t lack for ball-playing. I spent almost every summer afternoon playing ball in Emory Myers’ sheep pasture on Johnston’s Lane. It was too small to allow for a full diamond, and we never had anywhere near 18 players for two regular baseball teams. So we played with a softball, with only first and third bases. In the outfield we had to run around the limestone rock outcroppings, and try to avoid the sheep dung that punctuated the grassy field. At least the sheep kept the grass cut’ Of course, we dubbed our field “SheepS**t (dung, politely) Stadium. In the fall, too young for the high school team, we played soccer in Sam Hetrick’s big side yard just up the street from the “stadium”. We had no referees, no parents to chaperone us, just our own need to maintain order. In many ways, that in itself was a wonderful life lesson that often gets lost when adult organization takes over.
In winter, at the first good snowfall, we kids grabbed our Flexible Flyer sleds and walked up Linden Avenue to “Pigs Misery”, the insiders’ name for East Fairview Avenue. As little kids, the Byron field on the north side of Fairview was the site of the Lions Club annual Easter Egg Hunt, where we would run up the steep slope with our little wicker baskets, searching among the tufts of grass for the colorfully decorated hard-boiled eggs, hoping to find one marked as a prize winner. But in winter, for big kids, “Pigs” was a place for more unsupervised winter sport. The hill was steep, and unplowed, unsalted - a perfect slope for fast descents on a Flexible Flyer aptly named, since the wooden slats sat on thin steel rails controlled by a horizontal bar in the front of the sled. We got off to a running start, slammed the sled down and belly-flopped onto it in one smooth motion, a hand on each end of the horizontal control bar. The sled flew down the hill, and as it crossed Linden Avenue, we skillfully tugged on one end of the bar or the other, bending the steel rails to divert course to avert the large iron fire hydrant on the far corner. When the sled ran out of slope and came to a stop, we’d grab its lead rope and head back up the hill to do it again. The kids that didn’t have sleds rode down on top of a kid who had one - not the safest way to travel. I recall one trip down when the kid riding on top of me was tall enough that my head was forced down, so I couldn’t see up in time to turn at the bottom of “Pigs.” My rider wound up in a snow bank, flying over top of the fire plug when my head rammed it and brought the sled to an abrupt halt. No harm, no foul. We laughed and pulled the sled back up the hill for more runs. In those early post-war days, we had no skis, had never heard of a snow board, and didn’t have to leave town to make runs down a mountain we had our Flexible Flyers, and “Pigs Misery!”
As we grew into teen-agers, a ride down “Pigs” on a fast sled was “old stuff” - we went everywhere on our bikes - out the road past the Academy to “Black’s” - the little park at the Conococheague that had a good swimming hole, was a favorite destination on a hot summer day. Our bikes were heavy Schwinns or Rollfasts single speed, balloon tires - almost like an engine-less motorcycle. To make it up the steep hills on the roads outside town, we had to stand up and bear down hard, swaying side to side for each exhausting pedal stroke. Delivering newspapers every morning all over town had gotten me pretty proficient at surmounting the hills. On one occasion I even challenged myself by riding my Schwinn out the Warm Spring Road all the way to Chambersburg and back.
I was pretty pleased with myself until I realized that John McFadden, an adult much older than me, regularly made that same trip to Chambersburg on the same kind of bike, to buy model railroad gear for his extensive train layout! I was in awe of John both for his prowess with a bike, and for his hobby. I was a model railroader myself, following a hobby that my father had enjoyed before the war. With Pop’s encouragement, I built from scratch a model logging railroad in a small room next to my bedroom– I got powdered asbestos at Oyler’s hardware, then mixed it up like plaster to cover screen wire to make the layout’s hills. I cleaned the tracks with carbon tetrachloride in that small enclosed space. Now they tell us that these are deadly substances, but needless to say I’m alive to say that I’m skeptical of those claims. Many years later, I was delighted to learn that thanks to Henry Steiger, John McFadden’s classic model railroad layout had been preserved and installed in a building at the Academy for the students and townspeople to admire and enjoy.
In 1954, it was time to move on from two-wheel transportation. Our 16th birthday was eagerly awaited we’d be able to drive, legally, day or night! Before Howard Tessier began giving driving lessons at the new Buchanan Jointure high school, we kids learned to drive from our parents and our friends. Walter Oyler, for example, was brave enough to let me take his old stick-shift pickup truck to make a hardware delivery to Grossnickle’s Chevrolet garage on East Seminary Street. I had only just learned to drive on my Grandmother Clutz’s ‘49 Oldsmobile with a Hydramatic transmission. That was easy. Just put the car in drive and steer. Now I was sitting high in a pickup truck, having to shift gears while not-so-deftly depressing and releasing the clutch pedal with my left foot, the right foot simultaneously switching from brake to accelerator. Somehow I maneuvered down the back alley from Oyler’s hardware store to North Main and East Seminary to Grossnickle’s and back without burning out the clutch, though I’m sure I stalled the engine at least once before I got the hang of it. Later, when Pop had a little Jaguar convertible with a stick shift, I sure became adept at down-shifting into a turn and up-shifting as I hit the gas coming out, like I was driving in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix. (To my delight, that wonderfully fun-to-drive exemplar of automobile perfection is still owned by a Mercersburg area resident who has preserved it in mint condition).
We boys learned how to deal with treacherous winter roads by driving on them. Four of us would pile into Sam’s father’s Chevy sedan and drive out toward Church Hill after a big snow. The road was slippery with packed snow, the roadside lined with high drifts. We’d take turns driving, whipping the wheel to start a turn, whipping it back to right the path, learning just how much we could do before the car skidded out of control. Of course, if we turned too far or fast, we’d wind up in the snow bank. Then three of us would hop out and push, while the driver learned how to effectively use clutch and gas to rock the car free. Fortunately Mr. Hetrick’s Chevy always came out of the snow bank unscathed. Many times over the years, when surprised by an icy patch of road, I’m grateful for the muscle-memory that let me react instantaneously to keep the car out of a ditch, or worse. Growing up in Mercersburg had provided me one more life lesson worth its weight in gold, as they say.
In the late forties and early fifties, Roosevelt’s New Deal paternalism hadn’t reached the levels of today. Then, kids were still allowed to work. We had newspaper routes. We mowed lawns. We picked apples and peaches in the many near-by orchards. We picked strawberries out at Heisey’s Orchards. Heisey would have somebody pick us up at the Square and drive us the 4 miles out to the berry patch. I’m afraid I wasn’t much for that stoop labor. I joined the pickers one morning and rode out to the patch. It was hot. By about 2 pm I’d had it. For a nickel a quart, I wasn’t making much money for all the effort it took. My paper route made me a lot more money, and riding my bike around town each morning for 45 minutes was a lot more fun than stooping in a field for eight hours. So I turned in my full tray of quart boxes, said “I quit”, and walked the 4 miles back to town.
I’d started delivering papers when I was ten or eleven, delivering the Philadelphia Inquirer from Happy Glaser’s Sunoco Station, working for Happy at a fixed amount per week, probably about $2. Later, I took over the Hagerstown Morning Herald business from another boy. Now I was my own boss, with my own business. The Herald sent me 48 papers each morning except Sunday, dropped off at my house by the Bonnie Bread truck that came from Hagerstown every morning to supply the local stores and restaurants with baked goods. I sent a check to the Herald each month for papers delivered, and I in turn went around to each of my customers every Saturday morning to collect the week’s payment due. With customer tips, and my share of the paper’s fee, I made a nice little income each week. I learned the fundamentals of a business - income, expense, cost of labor (when I hired Sam Hetrick to fill in for me if I was sick or away), customer relations. I learned the discipline and responsibility of delivering the product to my customers reliably, on time, regardless of weather. I learned time management, making sure to get my delivery bicycle run done before the start of school each morning. It was a great experience, knowing I was a valued member of Mercersburg’s business community. When I dropped off the paper at the Tannery Cafeteria to “Mid” McClurg who ran the place, I always had time to trade a joke or a good-natured bit of kidding with her and her early morning customers. And when I collected on Saturday morning, I really got to become friends with my older customers. Occasionally I got not just a tip, but a special treat, like fresh home made bread from Mrs. Jack Bowers’ kitchen on West Seminary St. My route spanned the entire town, from Linden Ave to Selser’s Shell Station at the end of North Main, and from South Fayette Street and South Park Ave to Oregon Street. I didn’t lack for exercise those years, but it was sure a lot more fun than picking strawberries at Heisey’s Orchard!
Scouting was an important part of my life as a boy in Mercersburg. I started late, at 12, urged to join Troop 28 by my friend and North Fayette Street neighbor Ronnie Blattenburger. Six years later, as an Explorer Scout, I bowed to the urging of our Post 28 Advisor Joe Landis, and finished the Merit Badges I needed to become an Eagle Scout. “Archy, you’ve got to do it. We haven’t had an Eagle in Mercersburg since Bill and Bob Grove more than ten years ago.” Joe had been like a favorite uncle to me for years. I couldn’t say “no”.
Scouting led me to some wonderful experiences. At age 14, I talked Mike Harris into joining me for a 5 day hike on the Appalachian Trail. We were dropped off east of Waynesboro where the AT crosses Rt. 16 (now called Buchanan Trail), and headed south. We had planned this expedition ourselves, bought our special trail food packs, packed it with our tents and gear carefully in backpacks that we could manage by ourselves over a long hike. This was when the government was secretly building the “Underground Pentagon” deep in the mountain at Raven Rock. The Appalachian Trail ran right over top of it And so when we got to the top of a steep climb, we found barbed wire fencing with a large “U S Government Property - Keep Out” sign blocking our way. Mike was tired after the hard climb- “Maybe we should go back, Arch.”. “No way!” I said “This is a national trail, Maine to Georgia! They can’t block it off! Come on, we’re going over the fence!” And we did. No one bothered us, and a mile or so later we went over the fence there and continued on our way uneventfully. Crossed the Potomac at Weverton, indulged ourselves with a NeHi Orange and a Montgomery Pie at a little country store, and continued on the trail. Three days after we set out, our parents drove down the Shenandoah Valley to pick us up at Snickers Gap in the Blue Ridge. This experience in self-reliance was part of the good fortune we had, growing up in Mercersburg in the fifties. Today, I doubt most parents would feel comfortable letting two young boys head off for days on their own in the mountains.
Scouting gave more such early training in self-reliance. Our Scoutmasters and advisors like Bill Gearhart and Joe Landis took much care and patience to teach us camp craft and the principles embodied in The Scout Law when we were at troop meetings and on “official” troop hikes and campouts. When we were on our own, we practiced what we’d been taught, without any adults around. We had a campground just a mile from town, “The Scout Woods”. Set in the woods among the low hills and little streams east of 13yron’s sheep pasture (what later became Lenwood Heights), this camp was in constant use by us boys in the summer time We erected pup tents and left them up, and even left a lot of our gear there. And except for one instance, it was all left undisturbed by others. We’d gather and play “capture the flag” in the evenings, settle in for a meal cooked over the open fire, and walk out onto the sheep pasture to pick out constellations and try to spot a shooting star before crawling into our sleeping bags for the night. One summer, when I was sixteen, Joe Landis took sick at the last minute before Troop 28 was to leave for its annual week at Camp Sinoquipe at Ft. Littleton. “Archy, I want you to take the troop for me.” And so for that week I was the very junior assistant scoutmaster, with occasional assistance from the camp staff (and I’m sure lots of unobtrusive oversight from the Camp Director, a fine fellow who never once made me feel he lacked confidence in my leadership, despite my age). The other boys listened to me when they had to, rarely gave me any trouble. In fact, Tommy R. showed me a great sign of respect and friendship - “Have you ever eaten frog’s legs, Archy?” He went out and caught several fat bull frogs at the lake, cut them up and fried them in a skillet over an open fire. They were delicious! A year later, the Camp Director hired me for Camp Staff. Of course at the time it was just a great, fun way to spend the summer and get paid for it - that got me my first social security card. Five years later, entering the Army and enduring the rigors and insults of boot camp, the experiences and training of scouting stood me in good stead.
Growing up in Mercersburg in the forties and fifties for me meant always being able to walk to school. From second grade in 1945, through eighth grade in 1951, school meant the two-story Mercersburg Elementary School at the west end of West Seminary Street. We were blessed with dedicated teachers who taught the basics of education along with the social graces respect for each other and for our teachers. For the most part we all were willing to accept our role as good little students. Mercersburg Elementary in the early fifties taught respect for God and Country. We opened every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and a hymn. I still hear Miss Highlands leading us in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” most mornings - it was easy, and we all knew it. By seventh and eighth grades the hymns were gone. The Whitmore sisters ruled our classrooms with an iron hand. Our new-found freedom of moving in lines from one classroom to another for a specific subject (in earlier grades, we were in our “home room” all day), was carefully monitored. Talking or fooling around in line was quickly squelched with a hard look or, in severe cases, by a Whitmore sister’s skillfully administered and painful pinch of the shoulder muscle. All things forbidden to teachers today, and in my humble opinion, not necessary for the better. It was about this time that my classmates discovered my middle name was Archibald, and “David Clutz” very quickly became “Archy Clutz”. I know it’s an old friend, when I get back to Mercersburg and hear someone call “Arch!” or “Archy!”
It was a rare treat for a town student to ride a school bus, as when I was given permission to go on the bus with my friend Nelson B. to his home in Welsh Run. I had recently had the great good fortune to become friends with the kids from the Little Cove when their school burned down, and they had to bus every day up over Cove Mountain to Mercersburg. They were a fun bunch - just great boys and girls. But I sure didn’t envy them that long ride every morning and afternoon. Today, all but the elementary kids in town have to ride the bus. I not only got to walk to school, but could walk home for lunch every day, and still get back in time to play in the school yard for a bit before afternoon classes. That continued through the first year of high school at Mercersburg High. But then the merger with Lemasters that created the James Buchanan Jointure, and the building of its new high school in the cornfields out by the Junction meant riding the bus at the beginning of the sophomore year.
Mother had always wanted me to attend the Academy, like my brothers before me. I suspect that among other motivations, she felt that my father had passed up potentially greater career opportunities to stay in Mercersburg so that his sons could attend a good prep school affordably. In 1952, Academy tuition for day students was but a few hundred dollars a year. I had resisted for a year, when I could still walk to school. I loved my classmates. We had been together for years. I didn’t want to leave them. And my freshman year Mercersburg High School was a wonderful time. In Miss Scott’s English class, Clair H., Sam H., Larry T. and I would sit in chairs in the back, make wisecracks, and generally make that wonderful teacher’s class fun for us and our classmates, but Pm sure to her dismay at times. But she was patient with us, and nurtured a love of literature and language arts for which I remain grateful today. Miss Mary McDowell had been my good friend since childhood (and remained a dear friend until her passing), but in that freshman year she was both math teacher and Latin teacher. Patient with us, but demanding of good performance, she gave me a solid foundation for my future engineering career. Indeed the Mercersburg High faculty was outstanding. Don Saunders as my science teacher, Gregg Davis for social studies ( he knew how to get us going in some pretty intense discussions), and Jim Hoch as my running and soccer coach, Dan Hooley as our music instructor, were all fine examples of the best in teaching
In the fall of 1952, I rode for one week to Buchanan High. It was enough. I was spoiled. I wanted to go back to walking to school. So I enrolled at Mercersburg Academy. I missed many of my friends, though several of my town pals also switched and were with me at the Academy. Deke, Larry, Cliffy, C.B. and later Tom H., Mike H., were fellow townies, and we all hung out together. In many ways, it was good training for going away to college. I only had to show up for classes, Chapel, and Assembly. Both give special memories - George Hamer’s organ playing at Chapel, the school choir, sitting in that magnificent Gothic mini-cathedral, admiring the wonderful art of sun-lit stained glass windows; the school band playing Sousa’s “Thunderer” March at assembly, Dr. Tippetts’ exhortations to greatness). As a townie, I avoided all the many opportunities to violate restrictions that the dormitory boys faced, and thus the Saturday morning punishments of “walking guard” as Dean Spike” Andrews sat in his folding chair and supervised. As at Mercersburg High, my teachers were men that I had known most of my life. Preston Amspacher, who had let me play in his woodshop as a little boy, now was my physics and math teacher at the Academy. But I was no longer a little boy. He was as demanding of me as all his students. If one of us surreptitiously picked up a pencil to do a problem he gave us to solve as “mental arithmetic”, he’d fire a piece of chalk with unerring aim at the offending student’s hand!
I remain grateful for the fine preparation I got at the Academy. My background in English, math and physics from the Academy was so superior to that of my freshman classmates at engineering school, that I literally loafed through my first year, while getting top grades. Then those classmates, brilliant men all, despite poorer high school preparation, began to pass me and I had to remember all the hard-work habits from High School and Academy to keep up with them. Today I maintain an association with the Academy Alumni (after 50 years, we survivors have a common bond), but I still am most proud that the Buchanan High Class of ‘55 considers me to be one of them. These are friends of my growing up in Mercersburg. And somehow, on those all to infrequent occasions when we meet, the years melt away and our friendship is undiminished by time. This, with the friendship of all those from my growing up, remains the great gift of growing up in Mercersburg.
When Joan McCulloh asked me to write a short article about growing up in Mercersburg, it brought back many fond memories of my boyhood in this very special small town. In the foregoing, I’ve set down some of the wonderful memories of the good times I was so fortunate to experience in my home town. Some are a bit personal, but I hope some of them will find a responsive nod from some of my fellow Mercersburg natives. And for those who have grown up later in the century, I hope that these antiquated anecdotes give you some understanding of what Mercersburg was like for kids, back in the day.