Author Bio Introduction
Three generations of the Degerstrom family lived in Derby, Maine from the early to late 1900's. This small railroad town was more like a suburb of Milo with 2,800 combined population.
The 20 year old portrait here with my wife was taken Down Back in Derby, Maine, one of my favorite childhood places Growin' Up in Maine.
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Space related shows like Buck Rogers gave rise to reports of UPO sightings, and the cold war kept people on edge, too.
The phrase "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's SUPERMAN!" was a well known opening line on television with George Reeves as Superman. Us kids would point and repeat that same phrase on the... again rare occasion a jet would fly over.
Jet planes at 20,000 feet were a mere dot and silent at that distance, so the only evidence of life was their trail of smoke marking the sky. I first rode a jet at 19. I last rode one at 59. Drugstore rides at a dime don't count.
As kids, our idea of high altitude was climbing a 50-75 foot pine tree to scout the countryside from an eagle's point of view. A lucky few from our neighborhood enjoyed the adventure of climbing the 5000 feet up Mount Katahdin in Central Maine. That's gorgeous, too.
Looking back and recalling simple moments of childhood wonder, I believe most Maine boomers long for the past because they truly love and appreciate that place and time Growin' Up in Maine.
TAGS: Maine stories adventure
Other examples of nature's power viewed on occasion were similar sized trees split down the middle by lightning. That was never witnessed as a child, but was as an adult. There's better reasons to avoid getting wet and running inside when a thunderstorm comes through.
More than anything, this photo reminds me of the joy of exploring the woods and enjoying the natural beauty.
TAGS: Maine stories exploring
For some reason that combination of sweet and tart flavor still makes me smile. The donuts in the photo here are the LaBrees brand, and represent just one of their lines of top quality baked goods made in Maine.
Food at parties included stale sandwiches slightly dried from being left out, and sometimes made with odd ingredients that I'd never eaten like cream cheese and grape jelly.
Halloween parties in the 1950's meant good clean fun with no tricks, just treats. Bobbing for apples was a spectator sport for sure. I tried, and did okay. It was more fun to watch.
Yes, we dressed up as ghosts, goblins, or ghouls, plus super heroes, royalty, or cartoon characters. Trick or treatin' door to door was our family tradition, yet the few times I opted for the church event was without regret.
Good times. Great friends. Oh, and yes... cider and donuts.
TAGS: Maine stories Halloween
Papa Joe's Pizza on Main Street in Milo, Maine, was a favorite lunchtime spot within walking distance of Milo High School.
The Milo High School building photographed in August 2011, and shown here in sepia, was MHS until 1968.
Besides pizza, soft drinks and a pinball machine, Papa Joe's had a jukebox that played 45 rpm records.
A recording that made #9 on the Billboard Charts in September 1963 was an instant hit at this 1960's teenage hangout.
Listen now to Down at Papa Joe's by the Dixibelles as you continue to read.
Wow! That was 49 years ago this month! That bouncy tune that we played over and over in 1963 sounds more like music from an earlier era like the 1930's or 40's. Not to worry.
Within 6 months of Down at Papa Joe's being in the top 10 on Billboard, the British invasion introduced the Beatles in 1964 and rock music was changed forever! Our parents agonized over the new sounds, and made fun of lyrics much as we did criticizing their childhood tunes.
They laughed and ridiculed lines like "Well I've never been to heaven... but I've been to Oklahoma" just as boomers shake their heads today over a new generation using expletives in lyrics.
The pinball machine at Papa Joe's brings back another memory. It was a dime per game and free games could be earned by achieving a minimum score, or multiple extra games for racking up even higher points. My youngest brother and I set what I believe may be a Papa Joe's record for continuous play on a single dime.
Taking turns after a half hour or more each on that first dime, we continued to rotate and kept the game going for 12 hours. One dime. 12 hours. Unlike youngsters today who could match that with a handheld electronic game, other days we played real football on real grass for 12 hours, too!
As times change, pizza, music and pinball as entertainment provided a level of innocence that we can only recapture in fond memories. Disaster struck Milo 45 years later and in the same month that Down at Papa Joe's was a hit in September 1963.
A fire set by an arsonist on 14 September 2008 erased many of the landmarks on Main Street in Milo. That fire destroyed half of the businesses on the west side of Main Street. Though memories may fade, recollections of moments like good times down at Papa Joe's in 1963 will last forever.
TAGS: Maine stories Milo
Hackett's and another store owned by Helen and Quincey Livermore were closer to the railroad tracks, and had mostly food items (and treats) or sundry goods like a general store.
Go back 50 years earlier at the turn of the century, and I'm told the front room of our home on Railroad Street was an ice cream parlor. All that including the stores are gone. The post office and grammar school are gone, too.
Imagine the excitement of 8 kids given their choice of individual treats of ice cream, popcorn, candy, chips, or nuts.
Store bought treats weren't always in the budget. TV treats on Saturday night might be homemade, yet they were still a treat even though the only choice was one choice.
Dad made fantastic chocolate fudge with walnuts from scratch cooked in a cast iron frying pan. At other times he and Mom popped popcorn that was covered with caramel, and rolled into balls the size of a softball.
The treat shown in the photo here is a Drumstick made with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a wafer cone dipped in chocolate and covered with crushed peanuts. Penny candy, literally for 1 cent each, is a thing of the past, but you can still get Drumsticks!
That photo is a modern Drumstick, and that's my hand holding it. You notice how small it looks? As prices for everything rise over the years, product size and packaging has become deceptively smaller and smaller. Those who grew up enjoying TV treats on Saturday night in the 1950's have noticed. The memories are still priceless.
TAGS: Maine stories treats
We never realized our error using a clothespin to create a $5000 Mickey Mantle bicycle motor.
The card in the photo shown is a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card pinned to the bike to create a flap-flap-flap noise against the spokes as we rode around Derby, Maine.
That same card today goes for $5000 to $20,000 depending on the condition. His real rookie card was a 1951 Bowman that goes for far less nowadays.
What a shame we didn't have a crystal ball for sports or other collectibles like comic books. Just imagine. 100 of those Mantle cards would be worth a half million dollars in 2012, or more.
I do own a personalized baseball with Mickey Mantle's autograph signed in person in February, 1991. The price was $55. The wait was 6 hours. Mantle died 4 years later having earned more in personal appearances signing memorabilia at card shows than he ever made in his baseball career.
The autographed Mickey Mantle baseball is worth up to $400. Unlike his card kids pinned to flap in the spokes of a bicycle in the 1950's, that baseball won't be used or abused for batting practice.
TAGS: Maine stories sports baseball
I'm not old enough to remember steam locomotives on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad that would have used the coal tower in the photo shown. Look closer and you can see the railroad's Iron Bridge in the distance.
As kids, we passed that landmark coal tower many times on the way to the Iron Bridge that spans the Piscataquis River from Derby to Milo, Maine. That area was secondary to Down Back, our regular summer playground on the Sebec River which joins the Piscataquis near the Iron Bridge. Downback was a half mile upstream from where they converge.
This other corner of Derby still provided adventure. Walking the rails while imagining yourself in a circus high wire act was always fun. We'd have contests to see who could go the farthest without falling off. Passing that coal tower meant stopping for a childhood ritual. Pigeons lived there.
Chunks of granite rock in the railroad track bed were just the right size for tossing. Our target was the iron coal chute shown in the photo hanging down beyond reach, and a direct hit would create a rock-on-metal Ka-BOOM.
Then we'd wait for a reaction.
If that didn't work our next target was a large opening positioned even with the large red sign shown, yet to the left facing the tracks. The opening was up 20 feet or higher, so several tries were needed for success tossing a chunk of granite through that opening.
A direct hit usually worked. The disturbance would cause the flock of pigeons living inside to panic and all would fly out of the opening. City folks may not "get it", but that formation of pigeons making an exit, flying in a wide circle for a minute or two, and then coming back to roost was entertainment to us youngsters.
Simple times? Yes. Harmless fun? Yes, again. No pigeons were ever harmed. Our aim wasn't that good. I suppose as government has managed to come up with more and more civic ordinances over the years, you might get arrested for that nowadays.
TAGS: Maine stories Derby
Basketball at the Wingler Auditorium was a favorite. The main floor was likely the smallest basketball court in the state of Maine with limited seating on 2 sides, a stage at the edge on one end, and entrance doors at the edge of the court on the other end. A balcony on the upper floor covered 3 sides, so overall the seating was 2-300. The roar of the fans was always deafening.
Some jokingly referred to the layout as a cracker box.
From the balcony, if you looked straight down all you could see were the lines for out of bounds. Milo High School which I attended and Brownville Junction High about 8 miles away were fierce rivals in the 1960's. Both had a great year in 1963.
In the 1963 Maine high school Class M East quarterfinals, Brownville Junction was ranked #1 and defeated Woodland 50-42. Milo was ranked #2 and defeated Sherman 46-41. Both won in the semifinals. Brownville won 59-52 over Easton, and Milo won 61-44 over Lubec which placed the rivals head-to-head for the Eastern Maine finals. A win would mean going to the state finals, and the game was an electrifying and closely fought battle.
In the 1963 Eastern Maine basketball finals, #2 Milo High School defeated rival #1 Brownville Junction High School 55-51 for the Eastern Maine Class M Championship. In the 1963 Maine State Finals, Milo played the Western Maine Champs from Greely High, which was 137 miles away, and they lost 45-42.
I'm reviewing that last phrase "...they lost 45-42". Please forgive my poor grammar matching subject and verb if you're confused about who won the Maine Class M 1963 State Championship high school basketball game. Beating a rival 8 miles away who was ranked #1 was more important than an unknown school from 137 miles away.
Visit the Milo Historical Society Museum the next time you're in town. They have lots of trophies on display. Hopefully there's some donated from 1963.
Ed Wingler Auditorium events in Milo, Maine, include their annual Milo High School banquet and reunion usually held in July. Attend and you may just meet players from that phenomenol basketball team of 1963 for a blow by blow of the entire championship run.
To this day I still love the smell of burning wood in an old fashioned cast iron wood stove. In the 1950's you never had to ask if someone in Derby, Maine, had a woodpile to help get through the winter. It was a matter of how big. Bigger families in bigger homes may have had more than one stove, and their woodpile was more like a mountain.
You were likely too late if you waited to gather wood after the first blizzard of the season. Even in freezing weather you could harvest frozen logs easier than trees buried in snow. Nowadays harvesting wood for a wood stove is easier than ever what with chain saws becoming common and more affordable.
We didn't have the luxury of a chain saw. Cutting logs to length was done with a bucksaw or two-man crosscut saw. We owned both, but when old enough to help, I preferred the crosscut. The blade was about 5 feet long with wooden handles at each end. The teeth were bigger than a bucksaw.
The sawing motion involved a person on each end pulling on the saw handle. You pulled while the other person held on. As you completed your stroke, they pulled in the opposite direction back towards them. While one was pulling the other released pressure and gently held the handle. Besides being fun, you pulled every other stroke so it was half the work.
Logs cut to length to fit in the stove still needed work. Splitting logs into practical size was next. Youngsters today have learned the importance of grip on video game controllers, and may never learn the satisfaction of breaking a sweat over a saw or ax.
When I was old enough to drive, gasoline was 25 cents a gallon. Fuel oil for heating in Maine was still very reasonable, too. As time went on, bucksaws and crosscut saws became antiques, yet wood stoves are as popular today as way back when.
Chainsaws may have made the old saws obsolete, yet wood stoves and woodpiles in Maine are almost as common today and still being enjoyed just like in the good old days. Driving through small towns, and especially as fall approaches, you can still see evidence of the importance of woodpiles and survival in Maine.
TAGS: Maine stories woodpile
From the Catholic Church in Derby, the hill down Daggett Street was steep for about 100 yards before making a sharp right turn. Most kids would ride regular wood slat sleds going solo while staying flat on their stomach and using the front handles for turning.
Others, and depending on the size of the sled, would ride with 2-4 kids sitting upright with the front daredevil steering with their feet.
The Scandinavian kicksled shown was an interesting alternative to normal sleds set low to the ground. These were used in Sweden, home of my ancestors, and our family owned one. The driver would stand on the two back rails and hold onto the cross bar.
On flat ground, a person would move by standing on one rail and pushing against the snow covered ground much like kids today propel a skateboard. You could pick up speed by running between the rails and jumping back on if you wanted to coast for a short distance.
The seat shown at the front of the kicksled was for moving supplies or transporting a person in ancient times. The back rails were flexible, so the driver could push left or right to steer the kicksled. Pushing out on both rails at the same time worked like brakes. Braking was in important skill for coasting downhill.
Our generation used the family kicksled for fun, and usually solo unless someone was foolish enough to ride up front.
Regular sleds picked up plenty of speed flying down that hill. Wax rubbed on the runners helped minimize friction for even greater speed. Making that sharp right turn at the bottom of the hill on Daggett Street was a challenge. Fail to turn at all, and you might flip or fly over the bank and towards the woods.
The Scandinavian kicksled was a novelty. No one else owned one in Derby (population 300). Youngsters unfamiliar with the sled were quick to volunteer for a ride up front. Seat belts were not optional. Like cars in the 1950's, the kicksled had none. You literally had to hang on to your seat.
Flying through the snow going down that hill on the kicksled was a thrill not easily forgotten whether as the driver or passenger. I do not recall any driver ever making that sharp right turn, so the ending depended on the driver's braking skill mentioned earlier.
One of my 4 brothers, who I won't mention by name, decided a run without any brakes would be exciting. He drove. I sat. Starting from a dead stop is no problem on a hill. Gravity and minimal friction meant you would accelerate. He decided running for 20 feet while pushing for maximum speed would be even more exciting, so off we sped.
I should have guessed he was serious about no brakes. He stepped off the rails about 20 feet before reaching the snowbank on the curve at the bottom of the hill, and rolled in the snow off to one side. Seconds later the kicksled hit and stopped instantly buried in the snowbank as I shot forward up and out towards the woods like from a cannon or catapult. Fun? Yes. Try it again? No thanks.
That beautiful Scandinavian kicksled would have made a great family heirloom. Unfortunately, it only lasted for about two seasons of winter fun. The memory, on the other hand, will last a lifetime.
TAGS: Maine stories snow