Growing up on the crick

My Dad had the first motorized bicycle I ever saw.  A Briggs and Stratton motor on the back fender platform on an old bicycle with a basket in front.  He would put me in the basket and crank that engine up and take me to the crick.  Redband Valley Creek, runs down the valley alongside New Bethlehem and it was the main reason the town exists.  It was used for logging when the town was started (DATE?).  In the southern part of town the creek is almost 100 yards across and make a right angled turn where it goes over a man made falls.

I don’t know what existed there before, I’m told a grist mill.  My home was only a block or so from the falls and it was my childhood.  When I was a baby, Dad would stand me at the top of the falls in the summer, still in diapers I’m told where the breast of the damn was about 4 ft wide, and the water going over it about 6-8 inches deep.  Dad would jump down below the falls where the water was 4 ft deep and tell me to jump.  If I sat down, and I did on occasion, I was flushed over the falls, so it wasn’t too long till I jumped.  Then he would take me under the falls where it went out over the 8 ft drop and one could breathe under them.  As soon as I was determined water safe, it was my playground from morning till well after dark almost all summer long.  We swam and dove and tubed and caught fish and snakes and crawfish and loved life.  Our “house” was the top floor of Dads machine shop, 3 stories straight up a stairstep.  When I was 12,  I went into the living room Christmas Day to find a 12 ft Old Town canvas canoe for my present.  I can’t tell you how exciting that was.  I had a Dalmation dog, Pepper, and he was my constant companion.  I could carry that canoe by myself, and Christmas Day, down the steps I went.  I had to chase Pepper back into the house as I didn’t want to have to bother with him in the foot or so of snow.  I carried the canoe down to the crick and carefully I was getting in, I had canoed before, when with one foot in the canoe and one foot on ground I heard the 4 foot beat of Peppers feet in a rush.  He weighed about 60 pounds.  I hollered Noooooo, but too late.  He hit the far side of the canoe, it rolled and soak and wet, I carried the canoe back to the house.  My first canoe ride in my new canoe.  I had forgotten about the “Milkhole” door where the milkman left milk so that it didn’t freeze and pop that little cardboard disk up with the cream.  Pepper had gotten out thru that door.  In the times to come, he would ride with me in the canoe; sometimes jump from the canoe into the water, even swimming around ice floes, and when tired go to shore and bark till I went and picked him up.  I had a trap line of several miles for a couple years where I caught muskrat and sold the hides to a guy at the Post Office for fifty cents a hide.

Here’s a pic of the dam before they changed it.  It was like this when I learned to swim and all of my childhood.  In 2010 they changed it to something safe.

Original Falls

Original Falls over Redbank Creek, New Bethlehem, Pa.

Dad had a machine shop with several portable welding machines on trucks and quite a few oxy-acetylene outfits for cutting and welding.  It was about this time that swim masks came on the market the first time.  The first ones had twin snorkles up and out of the mask and then curved back down posteriorly with a ping-pong ball in a basket, designed to block water from going back into the mask.  They didn’t work very well, but I loved getting to see the fish I swam with.  I got the idea to use a garbage can over my head and sit on the bottom in shallow water, where I could see without the fog and snorkle fuss.  It didn’t take me to long to discover the physics of water displacement when I couldn’t pull the can far enough down over my head.  So I made a rope net and used big rocks…that helped a little, but then it wasn’t too long I used up the good air and had to fight back to the surface for good air.  Dad had a single piston air compressor that he used to spray paint.  I disconnected his pairs of oxy-acetylene hose and strung them end to end, and with about 200 ft of extension cords from the old scout-house, I found I could slowly get a full breath of air from the compressor.  I sat with the mask on, but on the bottom of the crick in about 5 ft of water, with a large rock on my lap and I sat there for well over a couple hours.  Dad came home from a job to discover what I had done.  He stood there and looked at it…and was so impressed, he just said, “put it back the way you found it when you’re done.”  I was 14.  Christmas morning age 15 there was a scuba tank and regulator under the Christmas Tree.  I was in heaven.  I had read “The Silent World” by Jacques Cousteau” and it spurred me on.  There was no real deep water in the creek and only rare to have clear water.  I talked the YMCA in neighboring town Brookville to let me practice in the pool.  I practiced the things Cousteau talked about, donning and doffing equipment, using quick release D-ring harness, breathing in one side and exhaling out the other.  It was no time at all till I was an expert.  I was very careful to learn and explore the dangers of scuba.

Here’s the dam after they “improved” it.  Can you believe they won’t even let me swim in it.  I bet I could go over that spillway naked without harm.

Improved Falls

"Improved" Falls over Redbank Creek, New Bethlehem, Pa.

Cousteau was my hero.  I read “The Silent World” with a passion.  He pointed out that oxygen was somehow poisonous when used below 30 ft.  Of course I had no place to get in that kind of water then but I did remember it.  Many years later, when certification for diving became mandatory, I appreciated his hands-on education.  Even better, I can now also say I’ve been diving with his youngest son, Jean-Michel on San Salvador Is. Bahamas.  At 73, we both have white hair.

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