Remembering a Long, Scary Ride

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Front Page / Feb. 16, 2017 9:58am EST

Tobogganing Down Bethel Mtn. Road
By Patrice Lary Buxton


Back in 1968, the Lary family was just one of many who enjoyed an exciting afternoon of “sliding” down Bethel Mountain Road into Rochester village. (Provided) Back in 1968, the Lary family was just one of many who enjoyed an exciting afternoon of “sliding” down Bethel Mountain Road into Rochester village. (Provided) This story is about sliding, not sledding. No one in Rochester EVER called it “sledding” in 1968. And in 1968, Bethel Mountain Road wasn’t paved under that plowed, narrow, smooth surface.

Even if you’d wanted to, you wouldn’t have been able to drive to the top of the mountain and then pitch down the Bethel side because the town plow stopped before the top. All the babies born to Rochester parents in the winter months had mothers who had to be driven all the way around by Tozier’s to Gifford Memorial in Randolph when their time came.

Bob Leister is taking the photograph on this page. He was Rochester’s principal at the time and he was always organizing an outing somewhere. This afternoon he captured 4/7 of the Larys and 3/6 of the Leisters getting ready to slide down Bethel Mountain Road to what is now Riley Bostwick’s turnout. That’s where another car or pick-up had been left behind to warn anyone in an ascending vehicle that a bunch of people were using the road up ahead and to please wait.

These watchers got to switch places with the sliders after they took the sleds back up for another run after everyone in the first batch had come down. (And yes, the watchers had been counting.)

Sometimes there were six or seven cars full of people in the whole sliding party. Conditions had to be perfect—on a day the sand truck hadn’t been up or a night when the moon would be out so you could in theory see where you were going as you hurtled down the road.

In the Photo

Patty Lary (no hat as usual) has just closed the tailgate of the Lary Fairlane, which probably transported the travis up. Mickey Lary (where are his mittens?) is pulling the travis into position. His baseball cap, blue wool, gold “R” for Rochester, was worn year-round. He didn’t have to coach basketball on a Sunday, hence Sunday was likely the day this sliding was taking place.

Dicken Lary and Chris Leister are in back, both looking a little sheepish about having their pictures taken. Dicken is probably wearing red and black checked wool hunting pants. (Patty thinks you told John Murray at Murray’s Store that you needed to order a pair, and that’s how everyone acquired them.) They weren’t from Johnson Woolen Mills—too expensive for kids.

Dicken’s also probably wearing hand-knit mittens that Great-Aunt Vera Flanders in Brandon made. After wool gets wet, it shrinks, so Grandma Lary probably crocheted extensions onto the wrists to help them keep out the snow. They’ll continue to get wet, though. No one wore double layers.

Ready To Go!

In the foreground, Mike Lary is not looking at the camera. He is so eager to start down the mountain! I hope Bob quickly got out of the way because Mike is raring to go! He’ll probably get up, run with the sled grasped in both hands, thump down flat length-wise, and start steering with each hand.

Dicken maintains that Flexible Flyers were the best sleds and Speedaways (shorter) were a poor second. (The Hardware in Rochester sold sleds, a staple at Christmas under the tree.)

Mike is probably wearing twice-hand-me-down wool pants. Once Dicken, the oldest boy, outgrew them, Gram Lary patched the knees with spare pieces saved from worn-out pants (her daughter had provided her with five other male grandchildren) and black carpet thread and then Zeus, the middle Lary boy, wore them. Back to Gram for patches–on-patches, and Mike got the third wearing.

He’s also wearing high, green non-insulated rubber boots worn over higher grey mostly- wool socks, another Christmas present. Earl Hubbard’s store in Hancock sold these boots, and since they were worn three seasons, they were rarely passed down.

Harry Leister is patiently and genuinely smiling at his father. He is used to this documentation of his father’s “extravaganzas.”

What’s a Travis?

You might be wondering about the travis, which I have spelled as it is pronounced in Rochester, accent on the first syllable. Patty’s father, George O. Martin, paid Henry Carey (”Uncle Hen”), a one-legged neighbor on Brook Street, to make it. It was pretty slow, but it had metal runners, a movable section in the shape of a small sled in front, and an attached, pivoting extended back section that lots of people could sit on and it did best on a plowed road. (It was very heavy to pull back up, though.)

Patty, Mickey, Dicken, Chris and Bob will be the passengers on this run, each placing their legs around the waist of the person in front of them as they sit interlaced upright while hanging onto the sides of the travis. Dragging feet was not smart. Mickey will probably steer, as he is good at this sort of thing. Mike and Harry will beat them to the bottom on their sleds.

Sliders didn’t limit themselves to daylight hours. Everyone remembers sliding at night, very cold, dark but for the moon- and star-light reflecting off the snow. The single lane plowed road surface shone white to help guide you to stay on the road.

If you went too fast, the high snowbanks (or dirt roadbed) could snag your sled and shoot you up and out into the air. If the banks had been there for a while, the hard crust could be dangerous. Fluffy snow was just wet as it melted down the neck of your jacket. Of course, no one would have ever thought of helmets or goggles; no one had them anyway, not even skiers.

If many runs had been made, sled runners would shoot off sparks as the metal rushed over the exposed dirt surface of the road, helping the folks behind you stay on the road.

Tricks of the Trade

Some people rubbed steel wool on the bottoms of the sled runners before sliding to ensure the fastest speed, as rust developed after a sled had been put away. Soap was also used to decrease friction and increase speed.

On a long dip, you, on your stomach, would pump your legs back and forth to increase your momentum, sort of like pumping your legs the other way when swinging. Very few people would sit on a sled to descend the mountain; that was for sliding on small hills behind your house back in the village. You had more control and speed lying on your stomach.

The Ultimate Ride

My parents’ generation also used to slide down Bethel Mountain, and there are still stories of people going all the way down off the mountain, hanging a sharp left by Louise McIntyre’s, zooming all the way down (that section wasn’t paved then either) to and by the top of the Park in Rochester, continuing across Rte. 100 and only stopping when they went up the hill by the Federated Church and finally lost speed.

Some of those older folks continued to slide with their children’s generation; Linda Pollock remembers being on a sled with Elma Kidder, with Elma on the bottom, Linda lying piggy-back on top of her! (Those who remember Elma will not be surprised at this!) Bob remembers that this made sense; adults, with their greater combined weight, were always the fastest. Mary, his daughter, remembers Adam Pollock, at age 4 or 5, being placed on top of her father Bob, only to end up going end-over-end into an icy snowbank. Adam declined to ride with Bob again!

Sometimes folks would end up at the Pollocks after several runs for hot chocolate and to thaw out. Bill Pollock was principal after Bob Leister. He enjoyed the same sorts of outings. The Rochester folks were so fortunate in their school leaders at this time…

Even kids home from college at Christmas would want to slide down Bethel Mountain again. Mary Leister Eastridge remembers that “it was a perfect time to catch up with old friends and risk life and limb careening down a mountain in the pitch black at breakneck speeds! Who wouldn’t want to do that? Best of memories.”

Linda Pollock sums it up this way: “This intergenerational community activity ended with the widening and paving of Bethel Mountain Road. This improvement was probably well-received by many commuters, but a sad loss to the sliders.”

Did anyone slide down the Bethel side? she wonders. That could be another whole story.

The people who shared these reminiscences at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 are Bob Leister, Mary Leister Eastridge (who also unearthed the photograph from her father’s archives), Patty Martin Lary, Dicken Lary, Zeus Lary, Mike Lary, and Linda Pollock.

Patrice Lary, whom her father called a “housecat,” remembers going sliding once on Bethel Mountain and deciding it was much too cold and lonely to want to do again.

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