The Hunky Winter Olympics

After this past weekend’s snowfall, it made me smile to see a few parents and children making the best of the situation and trying their hand at sledding with their kids. The Eastern Shore doesn’t offer much in the way of slopes to sled on, so if I do see them attempting to sled it is usually on some highway embankment. Kinda sad if you ask me.

We never had a problem finding a place to sled in Duquesne. Hunkies are a resourceful bunch. I grew up at the base of St. Joseph’s Cemetery which is “technically” in West Mifflin Borough (what is a Borough anyway?) Nonetheless, I always thought of it as Duquesne since it bordered Mifflin St. One side of the street was Duquesne and the other side was West Mifflin, so it was close.

I bring up the cemetery for the fact that it was one of the best local places to sled.  We would wait with such anticipation hoping that the snow would be the good sledding snow and would ice-up nicely. There was a stretch of straight road that ran directly from the end of Thomas Street all the way to the top of the cemetery, nearly reaching homes on Crawford Ave (aka Pennsylvania in West Mifflin.) Back then, it seemed so-o-o-o long that they could have held the Olympic Luge event there. That is if we even knew what the luge was back then. This stretch of private road provided the ideal venue for sledding; nice and wide, a great incline, no traffic to speak of, and tons of snow. There were some negatives that we all were aware of however. Namely; drainage grates at a few spots in the middle of the road, a chain link fence and gate at the end of the slope at Thomas Street and then the fact that it emptied directly onto Thomas Street. These hazards and obstacles paled and became insignificant when compared to the thrill of the sport!

Whenever it snowed, we always knew when it was time to hit the slopes with our trusty Flexible Flyers. It was as if there was a mystical calling of the troops to assemble on the hill. It was not much unlike the Steven Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in which people were “drawn” toward some mountain for unknown reasons. Yeah, that was us! All of the gang would trudge up the hill to the top of St. Joe’s Cemetery pulling their sleds behind. The attached ropes were kinda stiff from the snow and freezing temperatures. They were usually pieces of Mom’s clothesline that had been adapted for the purpose of winter fun. One by one, we made our way up; Stevie Joe, Paulie, Oknats, and me.

Now, you have to understand that type of snow that had fallen determined how soon the fun began. If the snow was “heavy” with moisture, it might take a number of runs before the sleds could race down the hill without coming to a halt. If it was powdery, well that was only good if there was already an icy base present. Somehow or another, we made what ever had fallen work for us. Although we each had our own sled, part of the fun would be to sled in pairs or even three at a time. The additional weight gave the sled more momentum going down the hill. There were times when we would shift as a group a bit too much on the sled and we would all go tumbling into the sideline snow!

After the completion of each run down the hill, we would head back up with sleds in tow, ready for some more thrills. There was never a complaint about it being cold. I recall bright red cheeks, snotty noses and frozen gloves being standard equipment. Thank goodness for the long sleeves on our coats, what an ideal handkerchief for us!!

We would spend hours and hours on that hill. I often wonder if it is still put to the same use. During a recent visit to the area, I once again ascended “the hill.” This time I had the benefit of a vehicle for the climb. Once I reached the top and turned toward Thomas Street, let me tell you, the thrill wasn’t gone!!

Happy New Year to my fellow Hunkies, friends and readers!!

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14 Responses to The Hunky Winter Olympics

  1. Mary Heaps says:

    Thw most dangerous ride for me was the Library hills. They were fun with or without snow. A cardboard box went jast as fast on the grass. It was always a hidden worry that the watch out person wouldnt do their job. I seen a few come barreling thru the hedges and out on to 2nd Street. Always loved it! Funny…never minded playing in it but cried having to walk to school from Viola to Holy Name!. Id get to that path that crossed above the Library and below the other school(forget the name.) i would swear I couldnt go any futher. My older sister would then tell me school was closer than home and off we went! What memories. Id love to do it all over again. Maybe thats what heaven is like…Duquesne!

  2. Bob Chermonitz says:

    My freshman year at DHS opened up a new world of social changes that the nuns at Holy Name tried to warn us about. Chief among them was GIRLS!! God, they were everywhere! And the best way to meet them was by sled riding!! Those of us from Duquesne Place would venture to the top of the Kennywood parking lot and build a huge bonfire. The gang from Duquesne Place, guys and gals, and the gang from Homeville, guys and gals also, would have a wonderful day of sled riding. From the path in the woods onto the hill, across the entire parking lot all the way down to the Kennywood tunnel entrance! All of this accomplished, if you were lucky, with one of the girls hanging on to your back for dear life. Yep, Kennywood Memories of a different kind. We would head home in the dark frozen to the point of frostbite. But in our innocence of the times, it was a great way to meet girls!!

  3. Bob Chermonitz says:

    So many stories here! At Holy Name I remember how we would make an ice skating track down the hill in the alley behind the church and school. As you know we wore “dress” shoes to school in those days and, after you took off the 5-buckel artics, the leather soles made great skates. We had a blast and I never remember anyone getting seriously hurt. And we didn’t have helmets or elbow pads. Parents today would be shocked and the school would have a lawsuit against it! God, did we grow up in good time or what!!

  4. Michael Bashista says:

    Loved your description of the old sledding days. Another good place was Viola Ave when it crossed Catherine St going up a steep Hill to Goldstrom Lane. Only problem was the forced crash if the person at the bottom near Catherine St let you know a car was coming. Center St was definitely the Olympics of hills. We just had a bad [by GA standards] ice/snow storm a month ago. It was great fun watching my daughter and son-in-law [30 yr olds], their daughter [2] & my grandson [18] , along with my wife sledding down our hilly back and front yards. This would be ‘beginner runs’ for the Duquesne crowd but still brought great joy and memories.

    Keep up your great blog!

  5. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    I lived on Omar Street in West Mifflin. I remember sled riding in St. Hedwig’s cemetery Dean Bradley . Deannie and we called him was in my class at Holy Name. A bunch of kids from our neighborhood would light a big bond fire in the evenings.

  6. Jim Hartman says:

    I agree that Center Street was the best sled riding hill in Duquesne. Grew up in Duquesne (we moved to West Mifflin (south area) about 1959) on Oak Street. That was the “second dip” coming up. BTW I was born in 1945. My mother’s parents had a confectionery store on South 2nd Street known as “Duquesne Cut-Rate” (they just knocked it down this summer [2010] and was near the corner of Priscilla Avenue. Right near Kocheran’s Market, on the corner the old Russian Club (that moved to S. 5th and Priscilla Ave.) which became the “O” Bar.
    Back to sled-riding — the other great place was where the USS parking lot was next to the Duquesne Library. In the 50s we would sled from the corner of S. Third and Viola Ave. diagonally to S. 2nd St. and Whitfield Ave. This was before SS Peter & Paul GC Church sold the property to USS for a parking lot. You guys are lucky we usually used garbage can lids… and not the fancy ones that you would buy in the store. But the ones made from 25 or 40 gallon oilo drums. The handle in the center of lid made a nice place to hold onto.

  7. Paula (Manns) Niedoba says:

    We also would sled ride on an alley behind 7th street. The City often blocked it off just for that purpose. In those days you just put on your snow clothes, grabbed your sled and ran out the door with just a vague mention of your intended destination. What ensued was hours of delight as us sledders fought our way into position at the top of the alley. I knew it was time to go home when I could no longer feel any pain in my hands or feet!
    Hot chocolate and Adventure Time with Paul Shannon topped off the whole deal. Simple pleasures…

  8. Steve Barczy says:

    Bob, hi we know each other who is this author? we lived in Md. for 20 yrs.
    Know all these places in Duquesne Including our version “Park and eat it”
    Friends with Gedman, Sikora, Provaznik, to name a few.

  9. Bob Cusick says:

    You forgot Center Street. Sledding was unbelievable if you did not mind getting killed. On the last dip you would have to violently turn your sled sideways and hope the blades would act like brakes.

    • Lou A. says:

      Hey, Bob! Remember Eddie Rosenbush, lived in the black sided house on Crawford at the top of Center Street? He and I were in the same grade at St Joe’s; any snowy winter day I asked to go play with him, the first thing Mom would say was, “Don’t you DARE go sled riding down Center!” It has literally gone down hill, we don’t even drive it now that the Belgian Blocks need a serious renovation. Dad said when he was a boy, the city would get prisoners from the county lockup and they would start at the bottom, pull them, flip one quarter turn and replant them. “Shakin’ a bush, Boss”.

  10. Paula Smith says:

    This is wonderful Jim! My parents are Uncle Lou and Aunt Mary in previously mentioned posts.
    Do you remember your Dad taking us to the driving range near Green Valley Beer Distributor to go sledding? (They used the place for sledding on snowy days). I was terrible! Sledding is NOT good for me…blood and pain always follow.
    Keep writing…and I can’t wait for Kennywood stories! Hugs

    • Lou A. says:

      Mary and Lou Goldman LIVED WITH MY PARENTS at 910 Maryland when I was an infant, Mom still talks about them; she’s 85 and still lives there…

      And I could write a book about Kennywood- worked there 4 summers, ’69-’73!

  11. Amy T. says:

    Hi Jim…just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. My cousin, Wendy (Bobbie Carr’s daughter) told me about your blog and now I’m hooked! I am Joanne’s daughter. Wendy and I have forwarded some of your posts to my mom to read (my dad prints them out for her…no computers for her!). Thanks for sharing all your stories….I can’t wait to read more!

  12. Lou A. says:

    In our neighborhood, the question was always “Maryland or Burns”? As I lived on Maryland Ave., it was home turf, but Burns was only slightly safer, since it was a longer, straight shot. Maryland had more cars on both sides, what we called a “wicked bend” and both required a fast stop at the intersections w/ Wool St! Always had a lookout at the intersection to give the all clear. I still have my Flyer, but our neighbor in Elkins WV is pretty flat and so far this winter we’ve only had 18+ inches! This is SKI country: Canaan Vallley and Wisp to the North and Snowshow to the South. C’mon over!

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