Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, area in little stories from the 1940s to the 1970s

Category: Climate

SNAPPING THE WHIP AT BUHL PARK

As some of us face another hot, humid Pennsylvania summer or a long season of 100+ degree heat here in the Arizona desert, let’s imagine instead chilly temperatures, snow and ice skating. 

For years, the Sharon-Sharpsville area community enjoyed boating, fishing, swimming, and ice skating on Lake Julia, at Buhl Farm Park, named after Julia Forker Buhl, the wife of the park’s founder and donor, Frank H. Buhl.

Then, in 1969, a skating rink was built to the east across the road from the Buhl Park Casino, the columned two-story building that overlooks the lake. When the rink came in, skating was no longer allowed on Lake Julia. This new rink was gone by 1985.

Happily, ice skating returned to Lake Julia on February 22, 2015, and it’s again a highly popular place for people of all ages and skating skills, often along with their dogs.

Eric Bombeck kindly contributes the following remembrance which originally appeared in his senior shopper newsletter, The Way It Was. Check it out on Facebook: “The Way It Was/ Senior Shopper – Mercer County,” the companion page to the newspaper.

Enjoy the read and stay cool!


Snapping the Whip at Buhl Park:
The Shenango Valley Ice Rink

by Eric Bombeck

Ice Rink at Buhl Park, Hermitage, PA, under construction, c. 1969.

The average snowfall for the month of March in the valley is about four inches. When I was a kid in the 70s, it was my favorite “winter” month to play outside because it was snowy, at least at the beginning, but still warm. We moved to Ninth Street in Sharpsville from Wheatland in 1965 when I was four. Our house (my dad still lives there) is less than 50 yards from Buhl Park. The park was a winter wonderland, one I didn’t truly appreciate until I moved away.

In the late 60s, before they built the Shenango Valley Ice Rink in 1969, you could still skate on Buhl Park’s Lake Julia. I had double runner ice skates that went over top my of my shoes that I’m pretty sure were from the thirties, maybe even older. You couldn’t really skate in them, you had to run and then slide. It was a lot of work. Skating on the lake was the last vestige of the old days when people boated and even swam there.

Ice Skating on Lake Julia, Buhl Farm Park, Hermitage, PA. (n.d.)

Then, the new ice rink was built. (The current bathroom and maintenance shed at shelter number four is the back end of what was then the skate shack.) I remember that it always smelled the same in there, like leather and metal and hot chocolate. I can’t explain it except to say I have never experienced that smell since. I don’t remember what it cost to get in, maybe a buck and a half or two, and fifty cents to rent skates. That Christmas, after the rink opened, a pair of brand new skates appeared under the tree. I was now a citizen.

The rink was a valley melting pot, which is code for… there were girls from all over town there! The skate house had long rows of wooden benches, a place to rent skates, and machines where you could get a snack. The hot chocolate machine was very popular. There were skate guards there who wore red jackets and patrolled the ice. Dennis Racketa was one, until the place closed around 1980. He says the guards weren’t paid a dime to work at the rink; their only payment was skating free. Each night before the rink opened, the Zamboni machine would clean the ice and then the guards cleaned out the corners with shovels.

Once the doors opened, the guard’s job was to keep us kids from getting too rowdy and that included preventing us from snapping the whip. Two people held onto a long scarf and the guy in the front would whip the guy or gal in the back around really fast. I remember more than once seeing some unsuspecting skater, looking like a deer in the headlights as the guy or gal was being whipped right at them; a collision imminent. If you ran afoul of the skate guards, you could be sentenced to a “time out” off the ice, in the skate shack. Dennis says exceptionally severe winters (remember the blizzard of ’78?) and the opening of the roller rink in town doomed the rink at the park, a mere decade old.

When skating got old, you could go sled-riding down “Pork Chop Hill,” located at the top of the kite field on the top of Hazen Road. Franny Perfett and I did it all the time. I remember putting plastic sandwich bags over the first pair of socks and then putting socks over those. I’m pretty sure once snow got inside the “baggies,” it just kept the moisture in, making it worse. When the conditions were right, you could sled down the road and one time I ended up at the road in front of the park’s Casino, the longest ride ever!

The memories are endless…Kevin Frankovich and I hitting golf balls across the frozen lake, climbing trees in the park and throwing snowballs at cars (dumb because there was nowhere to run.) Dennis Racketa reports his skate guard jacket from the rink at the park still hangs in the back of his truck to this very day. It all seems like so long ago…then again maybe not.

— Eric Bombeck (Sharpsville H.S. 1979), South Pymatuning, PA. June 2017.

YouTube: Buhl Park Ice Skating 2015
Scott Brown


See Also:

BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL PARK  II: Clubs and Library

Read More Wintertime Stories Here:

THE BIG SNOW OF 1950
A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS
A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS
SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

A STORY ABOUT SNOW
WALL-TO-WALL SANTAS IN SHARPSVILLE

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.


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A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Even the cactus in my daughter's front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The cactus in my daughter’s front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The winters here in the Sonoran Desert aren’t anything like the icy, snowy, overcast winters I experienced for most of my life in the Northeast U.S. But there are clues to remind us southern Arizonans which season we’re in: the daytime temperatures gradually change from sweltering 100 degrees to a springlike 60-70 degrees, cacti in front yards suddenly sport Santa hats, strings of colorful lights outline an increasing number of houses and, of course, the stores are in full commercial steam as they tout their holiday wares.

Many of us, particularly retirees, have relocated to the Phoenix area to escape the inclement weather of northern winters. The closest we come to snow here is when trucks bring in piles of the clean, white, fluffy stuff from the high country, usually Flagstaff, for snow-deprived Phoenix-area children to play in. But I’ll admit that I miss at least one good Western Pennsylvania-style covering of snow during the holiday season in the desert.

The following story by Judy Caldwell Nelson, formerly from Sharpsville and now living in Washington State, can make anyone nostalgic for such a snowfall.


An Evening Snowfall

Behind Stesharpsville_snowingwart’s, the grocery store on the corner of 7th Street and Ridge Avenue was a vacant area with trees and bushes and a small creek running through it.

One winter during a spectacular snowfall, I was out walking in the evening snow bundled in a snowsuit and galoshes. I was probably between eight and ten years old at the time. As I walked up Ridge Avenue, I turned my head to look at the lot behind the store. The bushes and stunted trees, like everything else, were clothed in overcoats of white. I walked into the area.

The rocks in the stream had pillows of snow on them and the creek trickled around them on its way to some unknown destination. The dim streetlight on the corner reflected off the trees. The stream ripples reflected the light. I breathed in the brisk, clean air smell that always accompanies a snowfall. Blue shadows outlined the mounded snow drifts in the open areas between the trees. Each tree branch and twig was outlined in white. And everything sparkled. Huge snowflakes were silently falling all around me, and I felt alone in a place of great beauty.

I didn’t want to leave the moment. I wanted to wrap up my feelings and the beauty and save it forever.

I’ve always wondered at the fact that snowflakes fall so silently. It seems that all those swirling, falling and drifting flakes should somehow cause a small faint tinkling sound – just as stars ought to have a few faint heavenly notes accompanying their nightly appearance in the sky.

Now the vacant lot has been filled in and paved over to create a parking area for store patrons. In the song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell described a “paradise” that was paved over for a parking lot. Those lyrics perfectly described my sadness at the loss of this beautiful bit of nature.

– Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA, March 2013


Read More Wintertime Stories Here:

THE BIG SNOW OF 1950

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS

SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

SNAPPING THE WHIP AT BUHL PARK

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.

christmas-snowflake-3


BIG SNOW OF 1950

sharpsville_snowing

The current winter weather woes of the northeast U.S. had me thinking of a particularly snowy event in my past that was so cold, so windy, so widespread, so destructive, and resulted in snow so deep that it has been named the “Storm of the Century.” It seemed a good time to record memories of the Big Snow of 1950.


Anyone from the Sharpsville area knows about snow, ice, sleet, slush, and drizzle. Sharpsville gets an average of 55 inches of snow per year, according to www.usa.com. The State of Pennsylvania’s average is close to 36 inches and the average in the U.S. is 23.27 inches.

Sharpsville’s cold and snowy winters are often made worse by the town’s location approximately 50 miles south of Lake Erie. When the arctic winds blow across Lake Erie’s relatively warmer waters, they pick up moisture and then dump it as snow in the higher elevations downwind from the lake. This lake-effect can sometimes extend into Mercer County.

Besides the annual experience of numb fingers and toes as kids, icy weather meant a precarious trek up South Second Street hill each weekday to attend high school, when it seemed that we slid back two steps for every step forward. The street itself was often deep in snow, creating a slippery slope that tempted neighborhood boys to try out their sleds. The ride must have been exhilarating as the daring sledder raced down that steep hill, across Main Street, down North Second Street, and finally coming to a stop at the railroad embankment.

sharpsville_image_icicles1_jpg

The biggest snowstorm in my memory occurred on Thanksgiving 1950 while my family still lived in Wheatland, PA, only a few months before our move to Sharpsville. (A tiny village on the Shenango River, Wheatland was about 5 miles south of Sharpsville. It was there that my paternal grandfather, August Angel Sr, lived as a farmer on his own land and where my family joined him when World War II ended.)

The Big Snow, also known as The Great Appalachian Storm, began Wednesday night and fell all day Thursday and Friday until it was approximately 32” deep. My brother Mike and I put on our snow pants, coats, hats, and mittens, eager to experience such a heavy snow firsthand. But first we had to push hard on the front door, blocked as it was by so many feet of snow. Once outside, we dug our way as far as we could manage, creating walls as tall as we were on each side of our path.

My dad wrote about the Big Snow in his memoir. He began with a visit by my aunt and uncle from Cleveland, Ohio:

[My brother and his wife] were at the farm for a 1950 Thanksgiving weekend. Weather predictions were for snow, so my brother decided to return to Cleveland early to avoid getting caught up in it. But it was too late – snow began falling even as they prepared to leave Wheatland. There was no trouble getting to Sharon to catch the bus for Cleveland, but the snowflakes were so large and fluffy and falling so fast that, before the bus arrived in Warren, Ohio, travel became slow and hazardous…. Normal travel time of the last leg of the trip would have been an hour – but only after 8 to 10 hours later did [they] arrive home, after a harrowing travel experience.

That same snowfall continued after [my brother’s] visit and kept falling Thanksgiving eve and on “Turkey Day” until there was a 32-inch depth on the Wheatland farm by Friday morning….

He continued with an incident that became one of our favorite family tales:

Our son Michael donned heavy clothes to frolic in the snow. He slowly plowed his way out of sight. For a while his mother and I kidded each other that a rescue party might be in order to find and save him. But he was quite safe in the kitchen of a neighbor’s house, enjoying breakfast with his playmate….

On Friday morning after the snowfall ended, a bright sun was shining, despite the crisp, sub-freezing temperature. Early commentators on the local radio station, the weatherman, and distant news media reported a virtual shutdown of all street and road traffic, with a message that all should remain home. The entire area of northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania, from Columbus to Pittsburgh, was under a snow-bound alert, and it could be a day or two before snowplows would make roads passable.

Dad was one of the few employees to miraculously show up on Friday at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant where he worked. Here’s how he got there:

That Friday morning I was up early to go to work. I trudged my way to the railroad roundhouse two blocks distant and boarded the Pittsburgh-Sharon passenger train that was being coaled up for the daily trip. It started each morning in Sharon and returned that evening from Pittsburgh. Due to the snow, the short ride out of Wheatland took a bit longer in time. The conductor remarked that, in all his years, he had never experienced so much snow.

I arrived at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant and was welcomed by a surprised composing room foreman, a front office manager, and the night watchman – the only people in the plant…. I worked all day Friday, then waited for the train to arrive from Pittsburgh and backtrack to the roundhouse for its next day’s trip.

Listed by some websites as one of the top ten blizzards of the twentieth century, this was indeed a storm to remember. If you, too, were around during this climatic event, please share your memories with us.

sharpsville_clipart_snowscene

There are a number of sites that describe this storm, often with anecdotes, photographs and maps. Here are a few:

To view a video of The Big Snow in New Castle, PA, go to:

http://www.lawrencechs.com/publications/videos/

The Big Snow in Farrell, PA, is chronicled at this site:

http://www.nauticom.net/www/planet/files/Archives-HistoryFarrell-2.htm

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the storm’s effect on the city:

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2013/11/27/Thanksgiving-storm-of-1950-stopped-Pittsburgh-cold/stories/201311270042

From another Pittsburgh news source:

http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/4984337-74/inches-snow-storm#axzz3RfcHf42o

The History Channel describes the “storm of the century”:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/storm-of-the-century-hits-eastern-us


Read More Wintertime Stories Here:

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS

SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

SNAPPING THE WHIP AT BUHL PARK

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ