Corydon Neeley was the oldest of the boys in the South-end gang but by the time I was in the seventh grade I was taller than he was and about as strong. Most of our play, or course, was spontaneous; on one suggested we start a ball game; it started by itself. For projects that required a little advance planning, however, I was generally the one who started the ball rolling, probably because I did a lot of day-dreaming, especially when I was supposed to be doing my lessons.
I think it was in the sixth grade that we studied the history and geography of Ohio and I was soon involved in a scheme to build a boat, launch it on Flatrock Creek, follow the creek to where it emptied into the Auglaise River then paddle on down to the Maumee and finally reach Lake Erie. Instead of studying my lessons I drew plans of a flatboat in which we could make the trip. I didn't really hope to accomplish all that but at least we could build the boat. I enlisted the whole gang in the project and we built the boat in our backyard using some T&G boards that Bob Barne's grandfather said we could have. None of us considered the logistics of the problem, carrying all of those boards two blocks to our backyard, then getting the boat three blocks back to the creek. We could just as well have built the boat right on the creek bank. The finished boat was a lot heavier than we had anticipated and we were exhausted by the time we slid it over the bank into the water. To our dismay, jets of water began squirting up where the bottom and the sides joined and in less than a minute the boat was on the bottom of the creek full of water. We tried to salvage it by hauling it out on the bank and tacking flattened out tin cans over the bottom but our masterpiece headed for the bottom just as quickly as before. It was too much work to haul it out of the creek again and it was time for supper anyway and our enthusiasm for travel by boat had evaporated like smoke in a strong wind.
One of my Christmas presents when I was 10 or 12 years old was a copy of the Deerslayer by James Fenone Cooper. The illustrations of Indian artifacts, particularly of birch bark canoes, in the book inspired me to attempt to build a canoe - with the help of the other boys, naturally, to help collect the necessary materials. As there were no birch trees in our part of Ohio we decided to we would make them out of flour sacks and barrel hoops. As everything was then shipped in barrels, kegs and sacks it was no problem to find discarded sacks and take the hoops off of old barrels we found in the dump. Half hoops fastened to a four-inch board formed the ribs with a quarter hoop at bow and stern. The canoe was so simple to make that each of us decided to make his own. The final step was to paint the outside of the canoe with tar which we found at a building site, getting ourselves pretty well stuck up in the process. After the tar dried we carried our canoes down to the creek - they were very lightweight - and set them in the water. They didn't leak as our boat had; instead they flipped upside down as soon as we pushed off from shore. I never say any contraption turn upside down so fast! One at a time we sat down in the bottom, those waiting on shore gave us a push and we found ourselves under water. It was hilarious to the kids on shore, they split their sides laughing, and it would have been funny to those in the water but the human anatomy is not designed to laugh under water. After some practice we discovered we were able to stay upright but it was like balancing yourself on a tight rope. If you didn't want a dunking you had better keep your mind on what you were doing.
It was Thanksgiving vacation when I was in the eighth grade that we started building our tree house. We had started assembling boards, nails, old rolls of tar paper, shingles and so on the week end before around a group of four big cottonwood trees at the north end of the millpond that I had picked out as a good place for it. The trees were some two feet in diameter five feet from the ground and rose nearly thirty feed into the air before they branched, gradually bending away from each other as they went up. Early on Thanksgiving morning we assembled at the foot of the trees with hammers, saws, ropes, crowbars and any other tool we could get hold of. As support for the house we built two triangles on the ground; then cam the first serious problem, how to get all of those boards up thirty feet off the ground and construct a house up there. We solved it by building a ladder up the tree trunk, no easy feat when you are standing on the third rung from the top holding on with one hand while you nail the next rung to the tree. It was finally accomplished however, and Corydon and I found ourselves sitting on the first big branch. We threw a rope over a branch above us and hauled up the triangles, which we nailed to two of the trees facing each other. When we had a platform built on the triangles the rest was easy but we didn't finish it that day. There was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings awaiting Raymond, Russell and me at grandma Bashore's. At first we merely built a railing around the platform but when the weather began to get cold we enclosed the platform and put shingles on the roof. We even made a stove out of a lard can and ran the stovepipe out the window. When Doc Ayres, Uncle Scott's newspaper friend, wrote a piece about it for the Paulding Republican we were famous. It must have been well built as it was still there after I graduated from college.
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:08