Author Bio Introduction

Jim Degerstrom
Born 1949 in Milo, Maine

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 25 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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In 2012 I wrote about the coal tower at the B&A Railroad Shops in Derby, Maine, as viewed from the Iron Bridge.

Flashback to the 1950's. That coal tower was surrounded by a wonderland within a quarter square mile.

Viewed from the bridge and to the right of that tower through a small stretch of woods was the baseball field.

Again, to the right further along and next to the tracks was the playground and tennis courts, plus the old hotel on the hill.

Past that, and still on the right was the Derby Pond aka Lake Edith shown here except 50 years later, plus drained and overgrown.

Unless told, my friends from that era could not recognize or identify that as Derby Pond from this photo.

A tad further was the Derby train station. Past that on the right a gorgeous park with large rocks painted white went the length of the village.

Not much for a simple small town. Fact is, that little piece of real estate was a childhood wonderland that provided 100's of kids 1000's of memories that last to this day.

Except for the coal tower, everything described "on the right" from the 1950's is gone, drained, overgrown, or demolished.

I wouldn't trade that childhood for all the gold in the world.

Jim's handwritten signature

Childish juvenile pranks can sometimes backfire. Pull my finger is harmless enough. You become the victim once, then pass it on.

One of the Hogan boys, not naming names, came up with a not so funny practical joke he thought was really cute.

His trick involved getting "caught" picking his nose.

Standing nonchalantly in front of someone, he buried his middle finger up to the first joint aggressively digging deep with his boogar hook.

Next, he would quickly extract the finger, reach out with that same hand and pull a switch by extending his index finger instead.

He would immediately wipe that clean finger on the other person's shirtsleeve.

The illusion worked every time. A shocked or angry reaction was predictable as everyone else burst out laughing.

Once you were a victim of the switcharoo practical joke, it was entertaining to watch him pull it on someone else.

To his credit he was quick to demo what actually happened - especially to the angry victims, and everybody had a good laugh.

Not so funny was the time he was too slow to explain and a guy retaliated in silence... with a right hook to the face.

Never saw him pull that trick again.

Jim's handwritten signature

Growing up in the 1950's with an appreciation of the simple things in nature brings back fond memories of Derby Hill in Derby, Maine.

The photo shown was taken in 2011 with a view looking south from the top of Derby Hill, and at the bottom of the hill you can see one of two 4 way intersections in our small town.

What made Derby Hill so special was not apparent during my childhood. It was always there. Looking back, one realizes the wealth of enjoyment that hill provided year round.

On the left, and from the foot of the hill to the first house, was a large field half way up the hill. In summer, we played ball there. In winter, we rode sleds or toboggans.

On one occasion, the opportunity came up to ride a homemade soapbox car from the top. Built by the Hogan boys, that streamlined machine was a beauty and as nice as any in the national soapbox races.

However, the distance and estimated top speed would be at least twice a normal race. Out of a half dozen or more teenage boys, my older brother was the only volunteer willing to drive.

Guards were posted at the intersection to stop traffic in the unlikely event cars came along. Cars aside, this was still an extreme and dangerous ride.

To left was a deep ditch from top to bottom. On the right were light poles, mailboxes, and trees.

Long story short: He almost made it half way. Nearing top speed the steering became a problem as my brother adjusted to keep a straight line. The soapbox car fishtailed slightly as the rear end zigged and zagged just enough to lose control.

As the homemade soapbox car left the street hitting the grass on Perry's lawn, car and driver flipped sideways turning over and over several times. Both survived.

Though the car was salvaged and repaired, the challenge of conquering Derby Hill was a one time event.

In winter, however, we did create a sled trail the full length of Derby Hill along the 30 foot easement clearing between the woods and backs of the homes. That we rode from the top to bottom all they way to the schoolyard of the Derby Grammar School.

Ayuh. Derby Hill was a gift of nature. Fun back then. Fond memories and more appreciated now.

Note: Readers are welcome to download full color desktop wallpaper of the photo I took of Derby Hill. Follow links to view each, and then right-click to download the standard wallpaper (1200 x 900) or the widescreen version (1600 x 900).

Jim's handwritten signature


High altitude exhaust trails from aircraft flying by was rare in our neck of the woods Growin' Up in Maine back in the 1950's. Television brought the prospect and reality of flying closer to home and easier to imagine.

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.

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The huge fallen tree in the photo here shows the true power of nature, and finds like this as a kid Growin' up in Maine were something you don't forget.

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.

Jim's handwritten signature

Unlike unfriendly encounters selling door to door, Halloween is a magical time for kids Growin' Up in Maine to get free candy. Social events at church back in the 1950's are especially memorable like going to a Halloween party with cider and donuts.

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.

Jim's handwritten signature


Digging deep into the past of life in a small town in Central Maine brings back memories of good times down at Papa Joe's in 1963.

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.

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TV treats on Saturday night were a family tradition Growin' Up in Maine. In the 1950's there were 3 small convenience stores on Railroad Street in Derby, Maine, where I lived, and they serviced the entire village. McKusicks at the foot of Derby Hill specialized more in dry goods or hardware, and had trucks that delivered heating oil.

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.

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Some kids Growin' Up in Maine in the 1950's liked the bubble gum that came with packs of baseball cards more than the cards.

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.

Jim's handwritten signature


Iconic landmarks in Derby, Maine, bring back thoughts of small town living in the 1950's like the railroad coal tower and pigeons.

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.

  Jim's handwritten signature