Mainline of the PRR travel choice for hoboes

Growing up in South Fork during the Depression, we witnessed daily freight trains roaming through town on the Mainline of the PRR. These trains carried many unemployed men we called hoboes.
If a freight slowed or was stopped at the signal bridge, these men embarked and ventured into the community looking for a handout of food and water. Some offered to work.
One individual, I remember, stayed and became a longtime resident of a neighboring family's extra room and became their handyman, performing all types of chores for a place to stay and enjoy the family's food. We knew him as “Bill.” Eventually, one day he left just as he arrived.
My mother and others in the neighborhood felt it was sinful not to share their home.baked bread with anyone who knocked at the door.
Food was scarce. In our Italian family, our meals were predominantiy pasta dishes - one day with spinach, another with kale, then beans, endive or any- thing that was grown in the back garden.
Meat was a rarity. Bread was the main staple. Freshly baked bread, just out of the coal stove oven and topped with some olive oil, was a delight.
Who could afford canned goods?
Ice cream cones, when the carnival came to town, were a special treat. We attended the movies for a nickel after spending a week collecting and selling junk
We rarely traveled out of town. We made do with what was available - playing mushball with a homemade ball, playing catty or marbles on the ground, chasing each other in tag games.

Frank Alcamo of Johnstown is a historian and author. In 1987, his book The South Fork Story, the First 100 Years, was released during the borough's centennial.

Dad begged for funeral expenses

I was born on March 8, 1924, in the village of Colver. When I was 9, my mother gave birth to my brother, Octavius, in April 1933. My father said he was named Octavius because of the eight children in our family - five boys and three girls.
Octavius lived for only a few months before dying in November.
Then came the problem of not having money to bury Octavius. Although my father worked for Ebensburg Coal Co. at the tipple, his wages were meager. There was only enough to provide for the family through the credit system at the company, which was owned by Colver Store Co. When my father got a pay statement and it showed no figures, that meant that there would be no cash in his envelope.
Everyone knew what the “snake” meant on a pay statement. Although there would be no cash, the company store provided our needs such as food, clothing and other items. The store butcher shop had the best meat anywhere.
Getting back to the problem of Octavius' burial. First, my father went to the men he worked with and they told him they could not help. But they offered a suggestion, that he stand in the area where the miners came to get their pay envelopes. The workers were paid by cash and there was always a red, wooden box there where the men would drop their change. The money was used to help the poor. My father stood there with his hat out, begging for money so that my brother could have a proper burial.
What an impression that had on me, as a 9-year-old boy, standing beside my father as he begged for money. I will never forget it.
Before Octavius could be buried, the following had to be paid: Mortician, grave digger, burial plot and the priest of Holy Family Church in Colver. Along with me, three other brothers, James, Alfonso and Johnny, were pallbearers for the tiny coffin.
We had a beautiful church Mass as we laid Octavius to rest in Holy Name Cemetery. I remember how my mother cried at the loss of her last child to be born.
As the years passed, we four remaining brothers would go on to serve in World War II. I was wounded twice and how I can imagine the suffering for my mother and father when they received the War Department telegram.

Charles Vizzini is a resident of Ebensburg:

Money from Slovenia godsend
Family helped support widow and six children

The 1930s were my growing-up years in Parkhill. Dad died in August 1930, one month before my eighth birthday, leaving behind a widow with six kids. Through the efforts of some caring and somewhat influential Slovenes, the bank wrote off the mortgage balance on our house. We were spared the roof over our heads, thus allowing Mom to keep us together as a family unit.
Those were tough times. Mom would receive letters from relatives in her native Slovenia, and in them would be Italian currency, the lira. It wasn't much: The relatives were poor, too. Mom exchanged the lira for US. currency
Talk about foreign aid in reverse!


This photo of downtown Johnstown's Glosser Bros. Store after the 1936 flood was taken by Bill Flamm of Shanksville, according to Mr. Semich. He said Flamm was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Camp SP-8, located at what now is Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County. His CCC company came to Johnstown to help with the cleanup.

One day my brother and I walked to Johnstown to, get a free bag of potatoes being doled out in the building at the south end of Baumer Street. “Not to Be Sold” was conspicuously printed on one side of the bag. We twisted and turned that bag every which way on our 4 ½ mile walk back home so passersby wouldn't notice. Our pride was on the line.
The '30s were fun times, too. Playmates were aplenty as was the variety of pickup games played. Our baseballs were hand-me-downs with missing leather covers. A quick friction-tape wrap put them back into play. Tackle football, Bucketybuck and Shinny were some of the rougher games. An occasional scuffle ensued, but
our wounds healed quickly and we'd get back in the game. It all came with the territory.
At the time of the 1936 Johnstown flood, I was a 13-year-old living in Parkhill. Our neighbor had a married daughter living in Cambria City The morning after the flood, her father and his son were going to drive to town to check on her, and I tagged along.
We took the Benshoff Hifi route and got to within walking distance of the Fourth Avenue bridge. We walked across the bridge into Cambria City. Mud and debris were everywhere.
The front door of every home was open and the people inside were swooshing the muddy water out onto the sidewalks.
We were heading for Broad Street and just as we turned the corner onto Broad, there was chaos. A crowd of people came rushing toward and past us yelling, “The dam broke, the Quemahoning Dam broke."
We turned around and joined the throng, hightailing it toward the bridge. As we were running across the bridge, we passed elderly men and women who just couldn't run any farther. They had stopped to rest and were clinging to the bridge railing. All were facing upstream.
After reaching our car we drove to higher ground and waited. We had no clue as to how long it might take for the Que water to reach Cambria City
After awhile, we drove back to Parkhill. The rumor about the dam break was, of course, a cruel hoax and, as I found out later the neighbor's daughter was alright.

Edward Semich is a resident of Elton.

Back to Page List

Visit our advertisers. (c) 1997/99 Michaels Computing
Send Email To: